By Karen Isaacs
The gala celebration of Connecticut’s professional theater, co-chaired by Shore Publishing’s own Amy Barry, produced winners from both the largest professional theaters in the state and some of the smaller.
The big winners were The Invisible Hand produced by Westport Country Playhouse and Next to Normal produced by TheaterWorks.
Invisible Hand by Ayah Akhtar won outstanding drama, outstanding director (David Kennedy) and outstanding actor (Eric Bryant). The play is about an American banker who is held hostage in Parkistan; it deals with economics, terrorism and religious fundamentalism.
Next to Normal, the musical about a family dealing with the mother’s bipolar condition received awards as outstanding musical, outstanding director (Rob Ruggiero), outstanding actress (Christiann Noll), outstanding lighting (John Lasiter). Maya Keleher who played the daughter received the debut award.
Special awards were presented to actor Paxton Whitehead for his body of work; he has appeared frequently at Westport Country Playhouse in productions of works by Joe Orton and Alan Ayckbourn. The presentation was made by noted director John Tillinger.
Tillinger also made a brief tribute to playwright A. R. Gurney who died in June. Not only did Gurney live in Connecticut, but many of his works were produced here. Tillinger directed a number of them at Long Wharf and Hartford Stage.
James Lecesne, actor, playwright, novelist and activist was honored for his outreach activities while performing his play The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey at Hartford Stage this year. Lecense talked about the impact theater can have on audiences and spoke of how it had “saved” him as a gay teenager. Many winners made similar comments on the importance and impact of theater.
The Tom Killen Award for contributions to Connecticut theater (and theater in general) was given to Paulette Haupt who has served as the artistic director of the National Musical Theatre Conference at the O’Neill Center in Waterford since 1978. Among the 120 new musicals she has selected and helped include In the Heights, Nine, Avenue Q and many more. She’s been instrumental in the careers of Lin Manuel Miranda, Maury Yeston, Tom Kitt and others.
Three of Connecticut’s smaller professional theaters – the Summer Theater of New Canaan (STONC), Music Theater of Connecticut (MTC) and Seven Angels Theater in Waterbury were honored. Jon Petersen received the award for outstanding solo performance at Seven Angels as Anthony Newley in He Wrote Good Songs. Peterson was unable to attend because he is starring as the Emcee in the national tour of Cabaret which was in Portland, Oregon.
West Side Story at STONC received awards for outstanding choreography (Doug Shankman) and outstanding actor in a musical (Zach Schanne)
Kate Simone received outstanding featured actor in a musical for her performance as Louise in Gypsy at MTC.
Hartford Stage took home awards for outstanding actress in a play (Vanessa R. Butler) in Queens for a Year, outstanding featured actress in a play (Connecticut resident Mia Dillon) in Cloud 9 and featured actor in a play (Cleavant Derricks) for The Piano Lesson. The theater also received three awards for A Comedy of Errors) – outstanding set design (Darko Tresjnak), outstanding sound design (Jane Shaw) and outstanding costume design (Fabio Toblini).
Rhett Guter who is now in rehearsal as Curly in Goodspeed’s Oklahoma! won outstanding featured actor in a musical for last year’s Bye, Bye Birdie at Goodspeed. He played Birdie.
Long Wharf’s production of Steve Martin’s Meteor Shower received the award for outstanding ensemble.
Among the presenters were Sirius-XM radio’s Broadway channel program director Julie James, producer Patricia Flicker Addiss, Tony-winning set designer Michael Yeargen and two former artistic directors of Connecticut theaters: Michael Wilson of Hartford Stage and Michael Price of Goodspeed Musicals.
Terrence Mann, three time Tony nominee, and artistic director of Connecticut Repertory Theater’s Summer Stage hosted the evening. Bobby Conte Thornton, star of Broadway’s A Bronx Tale provided two terrific songs.
But perhaps the stars of the evening were sisters Ella and Riley Briggs, two adorable young girls with bright futures ahead them. Ella played the young Frances Gumm in Chasing Rainbows last year at Goodspeed and she and Riley were both in Godspeed’s It’s a Wonderful Life.
This content courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com.
TheaterWork’s production of the musical “Next to Normal” led the nominations for the 27th annual Connecticut Critics Circle Awards event to be held Monday, June 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Sacred Heart University’s Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts in Fairfield.
The show received a total of 10 nominations, including best musical. Westport Country Playhouse’s production of Ayad Akhtar’s play “The Invisible Hand” led the non-musicals, receiving seven nominations, including outstanding play.
Other outstanding play nominees are: “The Comedy of Errors” at Hartford Stage; “Mary Jane” at Yale Repertory Theatre; “Scenes From Court Life” at Yale Repertory Theatre and “Midsummer” at TheaterWorks.
Also nominated for outstanding musical are: “Assassins” at Yale Repertory Theatre; “Bye Bye Birdie” at Goodspeed Opera House, “Man of La Mancha” at Ivoryton Playhouse and “West Side Story” at Summer Theatre of New Canaan.
The awards show, which celebrates the best in professional theater in the state, is free and open to the public.
Three-time Tony Award-nominee Terrence Mann will be the master of ceremonies for the event. Mann joined the Connecticut theater community this year as artistic director of Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series at the University of Connecticut at Storrs.
Last year’s top honorees — Yale Repertory Theatre’s play “Indecent” and Hartford Stage’s musical “Anastasia” — are currently on Broadway.
Also receiving special awards this year are James Lecesne for his work using theater as a way to connect with LGBT youths in works such as his solo show “The Absolute Brightness off Leonard Pelkey,” which was presented this spring at Hartford Stage, and Paxton Whitehead, for his longtime career in theater, especially in Connecticut
Receiving the Tom Killen Award for lifetime achievement is Paulette Haupt, who is stepping down after 40 years from her position as founding artistic director of the National Music Theater Conference at Waterford’s Eugene O’Neill Theater Center
Other nominees are:
Actor in a play: Jordan Lage, “Other People’s Money,” Long Wharf Theatre; Tom Pecinka, “Cloud Nine,” Hartford Stage; Michael Doherty, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series; Eric Bryant, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; M. Scott McLean, “Midsummer,” TheaterWorks.
Actress in a play: Semina DeLaurentis, “George & Gracie,” Seven Angels Theatre; Emily Donahoe, “Mary Jane,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Ashlie Atkinson, “Imogen Says Nothing,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Vanessa R. Butler, “Queens for a Year,” Hartford Stage; Rebecca Hart, “Midsummer,” TheaterWorks
Actor in a musical: Robert Sean Leonard, “Camelot,” Westport Playhouse; Riley Costello, “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying,” Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s Nutmeg Summer Series; David Harris, “Next To Normal,” TheaterWorks; David Pittsinger, “Man of La Mancha,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Zach Schanne, “West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan.
Actress in a musical: Ruby Rakos, “Chasing Rainbows,” Goodspeed Opera House; Christiane Noll, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Julia Paladino, “West Side Story.” Karen Ziemba, “Gypsy, Sharon Playhouse; Talia Thiesfield, “Man of La Mancha,” Ivoryton Playhouse.
Director of a play: Darko Tresnjak, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; David Kennedy, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; Marc Bruni, “Other People’s Money,” Long Wharf Theatre; Tracy Brigden, “Midsummer,” TheaterWorks; Gordon Edelstein, “Meteor Shower,” Long Wharf Theatre.
Director of a musical: Rob Ruggiero, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; David Edwards, “Man of La Mancha,” Ivoryton Playhouse; Melody Meitrott Libonati, “West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan; Jenn Thompson, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Kevin Connors, “Gypsy,” Music Theater of Connecticut in Norwalk.
Choreography: Denis Jones, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Chris Bailey, “Chasing Rainbows,” Goodspeed Opera House; Doug Shankman, West Side Story,” Summer Theatre of New Canaan; Patricia Wilcox, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Darlene Zoller, “Rockin’ the Forest,” Playhouse on Park.
Ensemble: Cast of “Smart People,” Long Wharf Theatre; Cast of “Trav’lin’ ” at Seven Angels Theatre; cast of “Meteor Shower,” Long Wharf Theatre; cast of “Assassins,” Yale Repertory Theatre; cast of “The 39 Steps” at Ivoryton Playhouse.
Debut performance: Maya Keleher, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Dylan Frederick, “Assassins,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Nick Sacks, “Next to Normal, TheaterWorks.
Solo Performance: Jodi Stevens, “I’ll Eat You Last,” Music Theater of Connecticut; Jon Peterson, “He Wrote Good Songs,” Seven Angels Theatre.
Featured actor in a play: Jameal Ali, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; Andre De Shields, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Cleavant Derricks, “The Piano Lesson,” Hartford Stage; Steve Routman, “Other People’s Money,” Long Wharf Theatre; Paxton Whitehead, “What the Butler Saw,” Westport Country Playhouse
Featured actress in a play: Miriam Silverman, “Mary Jane,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Rachel Leslie, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Mia Dillon, “Cloud Nine,” Hartford Stage; Christina Pumariega, “Napoli, Brooklyn,” Long Wharf Theatre
Featured actor in a musical: Mark Nelson, “The Most Beautiful Room in New York,” Long Wharf Theatre; Edward Watts, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Goodspeed Opera House; John Cardoza, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Jonny Wexler, “West Side Story,” Summer Theater of New Canaan; Rhett Guter, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Michael Wartella, “Chasing Rainbows,” Goodspeed Opera House
Featured actress in a musical: Maya Keleher, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Jodi Stevens, “Gypsy,” “Music Theater of Connecticut; Katie Stewart, “West Side Story,” Summer Theater of New Canaan; Kristine Zbornik, “Bye Bye Birdie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Kate Simone, “Gypsy,” Music Theater of Connecticut.
Set design: Colin McGurk, “Heartbreak House,” Hartford Stage; Michael Yeargan, “The Most Beautiful Room in New York,” Long Wharf Theater; Wilson Chin, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Adam Rigg, “The Invisible Hand,” “Westport Country Playhouse; Darko Tresnjak, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage.
Costume design: Ilona Somogyi, “Heartbreak House,” Hartford Stage; Marina Draghici, “Scenes from Court Life,” Yale Repertory Theater; Fabio Toblini, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; Gregory Gale, “Thorough Modern Millie,” Goodspeed Opera House; Lisa Steier, “Rockin’ the Forest,” Playhouse on Park.
Lighting design: Matthew Richards, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse; Yi Zhao, “Assassins,” Yale Repertory Theatre; John Lasiter, “Next to Normal,” TheaterWorks; Matthew Richards, “Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; Christopher Bell, “A Moon for the Misbegotten,” Playhouse on Park, Hartford.
Sound design: Jane Shaw, “The Comedy of Errors,” Hartford Stage; Fan Zhang, “Seven Guitars,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Shane Rettig, “Scenes from Court Life,” Yale Repertory Theatre; Karen Graybash, “The Piano Lesson,” Hartford Stage; Fitz Patton, “The Invisible Hand,” Westport Country Playhouse.
2017 Nominations List
Outstanding Solo Performance
Jodi Stevens I’ll Eat You Last MTC
Jon Peterson He Wrote Good Songs 7 Angels
Maya Kelcher (Natalie) Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Dylan Frederick Assassins Yale Rep
Nick Sacks Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Cast of… Smart People Long Wharf
Cast of… Trav’lin 7 Angels
Cast of… Meteor Shower Long Wharf
Cast of… Assassins Yale
Cast of… The 39 Steps Ivoryton
Michael Commendatore Assassins Yale
Jane Shaw Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
Fan Zhang Seven Guitars Yale
Shane Retig Scenes From Court Life Yale
Karin Graybash Piano Lesson Hartford Stage
Fitz Patton Invisible Hand Westport
Outstanding Costume Design
Ilona Somogyi Heartbreak House Hartford Stage
Marina Draghici Scenes from Court Life Yale
Lisa Steier Rockin’ the Forest Playhouse on Park
Fabio Toblini Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
Gregory Gale Modern Millie Goodspeed
Matthew Richards Invisible Hand Westport
Yi Zhao Assassins Yale
John Lasiter Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Matthew Richards Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
Christopher Bell A Moon for the Misbegotten Playhouse on Park
Outstanding Set Design
Colin McGurk Heartbreak House Hartford Stage
Michael Yeargan Most Beautiful Room… Long Wharf
Wilson Chin Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Adam Rigg The Invisible Hand Westport
Darko Tresnjak The Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
Denis Jones Modern Millie Goodspeed
Chris Bailey Chasing Rainbows Goodspeed
Doug Shankman West Side Story STONC
Patricia Wilcox Bye Bye Birdie Goodspeed
Darlene Zoller Rockin’ the Forest Playhouse on Park
Outstanding Featured Actor – Musical
Mark Nelson (Carlo) Most Beautiful Room…. Long Wharf
Edward Watts (Trevor) Modern Millie Goodspeed
John Cardoza (Gabe) Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Jonny Wexler (Action) West Side Story STONC
Rhett Guter (Birdie) Bye Bye Birdie Goodspeed
Michael Wartella Chasing Rainbows Goodspeed
Outstanding Featured Actress – Musical
Maya Keleher (Natalie) Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Jodi Stevens (Secretary/Mazeppa) Gypsy MTC
Katie Stewart (Anita) West Side Story STONC
Kristine Zbornik (Mother) Bye, Bye Birdie Goodspeed
Kate Simone (Louise) Gypsy MTC
Outstanding Featured Actress – Play
Miriam Silverman (Brianne/Chaya) Mary Jane Yale
Rachel Leslie (Vera) Seven Guitars Yale
Antoinette Crowe-Legacy (Ruby) Seven Guitars Yale
Mia Dillon Cloud 9 Hartford Stage
Christina Pumariega (Tina) Napoli, Brooklyn Long Wharf
Outstanding Featured Actor – Play
Jameal Ali (Dar) The Invisible Hand Westport
Andre De Shields Headley) Seven Guitars Yale
Cleavant Derricks Piano lesson Hartford Stage
Steve Routman (Coles) Other People’s Money Long Wharf
Paxton Whitehead (Dr. Rance) What the Butler Saw Westport
Outstanding Director – Musical
Rob Ruggiero Next to Normal TheaterWorks
David Edwards Man of La Mancha Ivoryton
Melody Libonati West Side Story STONC
Jenn Thompson Bye Bye Birdie Goodspeed
Kevin Connors Gypsy MTC
Outstanding Director – Play
Darko Tresnjak The Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
David Kennedy The Invisible Hand Westport
Marc Bruni Other People’s Money Long Wharf
Tracy Brigden Midsummer TheaterWorks
Gordon Edelstein Meteor Shower Long Wharf
Outstanding Actor – Musical
Robert Sean Leonard (Arthur) Camelot Westport
Riley Costello (Finch) How to Succeed… CRT
David Harris (Dan) Next to Normal TheaterWorks
David Pittsinger (Don Q) Man of La Mancha Ivoryton
Zach Schanne (Tony) West Side Story STONC
Outstanding Actress – Musical
Ruby Rakos (Judy) Chasing Rainbows Goodspeed
Christiane Noll (Diana) Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Julia Paladino (Maria) West Side Story STONC
Karen Ziemba (Rose) Gypsy Sharon Playhouse
Talia Thiesfield (Aldonza) Man of La Mancha Ivoryton
Outstanding Actor – Play
Tom Pecinka (Betty/Edward) Cloud 9 Hartford Stage
Michael Doherty (Black Stache) Peter and the… CRT
Eric Bryant (prisoner) Invisible Hand Westport
Jordan Lage (Garfinkle) Other People’s Money Long Wharf
Scott McLean (Bob) Midsummer… TheaterWorks
Outstanding Actress – Play
Emily Donohe Mary Jane Yale
Semina DeLaurentis (Gracie) George & Gracie 7 Angels
Ashlie Atkinson (Imogen) Imogen Says Nothing Yale
Vanessa R. Butler (Solinas) Queens for a Year Hartford Stage
Rebecca Hart (Helena) Midsummer TheaterWorks
Outstanding Production – Musical
Next to Normal TheaterWorks
Man of La Mancha Ivoryton
West Side Story STONC
Bye Bye Birdie Goodspeed
Outstanding Production – Play
The Comedy of Errors Hartford Stage
Midsummer (a play with songs) TheaterWorks
Scenes From Court Life Yale
The Invisible Hand Westport
Mary Jane Yale
By Karen Isaacs
Sharon Playhouse is closing its season with a gentle comedy, Quartet, about four elderly British opera singers spending their last years at a retirement home for musicians.
Some of you may remember the film of the same name in 2013, directed by Dustin Hoffman and starring a pantheon of British actors – Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly, Pauline Collins and Michael Gambon among others.
Though I had seen the play before the film including in the Berkshires with Robert Vaughn in the cast, I had not seen it since the film came out. What struck me is the added pleasures of the film, and not just because of the stellar cast. The film which was written by the playwright Robert Harwood included other characters and information.
The play has just four characters – each an opera singer (one a star) who at one time sang the quartet from Verdi’s Rigoletto to great acclaim. The recording has been reissued on CD. Three of them are living at this retirement home. It is clear that many of the retired musicians are at the home “on charity” and one of the big events is the Gala on Oct. 10, the birthday of Giuseppe Verdi. In the film this is a fund-raising gala for the home but in the play that is not so clear.
The three current residents – none of have been there very long – are Reginald (Joseph Hindy) a tenor who is actually paying his own way; Cecily (Patrician McAneny) a mezzo and Wilfred Bond (Greg Mullavey) a baritone who played Rigoletto. As the play begins, Cecily discovers that a new arrival is expected and from the staff excitement, it must be someone very well known.
They soon discover it is Jean (Elizabeth Franz) who was the biggest star of them all but who suddenly stopped singing at a young age. She also was once married to Reginald who is not happy about her arrival.
The remainder of the two act play focuses on the interactions among the four of them, the revealing of some regrets and secrets and the efforts of the three to convince Jean to participate in the gala and recreate the famous quartet.
The movie fleshed out both the characters and the others residing the home.
None of them planned on spending their “golden years” like this and all are afraid that one of them will develop dementia and be forced to leave the home. They are particularly worried about Cecily.
Each of the four characters is a “type” – Cecily is flighty, forgetful, full of life and obviously was somewhat sexually promiscuous. Wilfred plays the clown with lots of sexual innuendo though he was happily (and faithfully) married. Reginald never got over Jean and has spent his life reading and quietly contemplating the world. Jean is still the diva though she hasn’t sung for years. Despite a number of marriages, she has no funds left.
This production directed by John Simpkins has both strengths and weaknesses. First, I had not recalled the play as being either so long or so talky. I’m not sure if the movie has spoiled the play for me, or if this production needed a spark. I also noticed how quiet this production is. It is set in a retirement/assisted living home with musicians around; even though the four congregate in a salon you would expect to hear ambient noise and music. Yet it is very, very quiet. Some classical music is played before the curtain goes up for each act, but you would think the four were totally isolated from everyone. Perhaps this was a conscious decision by Simpkins to reinforce the solitariness of old age.
I do applaud the scenic design by Michael Schweikart and the costumes by Michelle Eden Humphrey.
The cast is good but sometimes it sounded as if all were talking much too loudly. While Elizabeth Franz is the best known of the performers, I actually preferred the work of the two men – Joseph Hindy as Reginald and Greg Mullavey as Wilfred. Each seemed to fully embody their characters and gave each a depth that the script did not provide. Patricia McAneny as Cecily is hindered by the role’s single note. Franz gives us a good Jean but neither a regal nor imperious Jean.
So while I cannot rave about this production, if you want a pleasant afternoon evening including a drive into the lovely Litchfield hills of Connecticut, you will find Quartet, a nice addition to the day.
Quartet is at Sharon Playhouse, Sharon, CT. through Aug. 28. For tickets or information, call 860-364-7469 or visit sharonplayhouse.org.
By Karen Isaacs
Let’s all salute Broadway veteran Karen Ziemba who is showing her range as Mama Rose in Gypsy at Sharon Playhouse through July 3.
It is an old-fashioned summer theater in the far northwest corner of Connecticut near both the Massachusetts and New York borders. It’s a pleasant summertime drive, about 90 minutes from the New Haven area.
The Playhouse follows the older format for summer theater: bring in a veteran performer who may or may not have box office draw, surround him or her with a couple of other professionals, and then fill out the cast with aspiring performers who may also be apprentices and help with scenery, box office, concessions, etc.
Broadway aficionados know Karen Ziemba for her consistently fine work. She has won a Tony and multiple other awards for her performances in Contact, Curtains, Never Gonna Dance, And the World Goes ‘Round, Steel Pier and others.
Now she is taking on one of the great female roles in musical theater: Mama Rose. While her performance is very good, I have no doubt that as the run progresses (it runs through July 3), her performance will deepen and become even better. After all, there was only two weeks of rehearsal.
She gives us a Rose who doesn’t belt as much as Merman though her vocal chops are excellent, but she does add more femininity and flirtatiousness than Merman did. She makes obvious that Rose is making up for what is lacking in her own life with her determination to make her children stars, even if they don’t want to be them. She needs them to succeed or rather she needs to succeed in making them stars. The line between her and her children is very blurred.
“Rose’s Turn” is the big eleven o’clock number where Rose finally recognizes some truths about herself. It has to be a challenge to perform that emotionally and vocally difficult number after close to three hours of performing. Ziemba does well by it, but again, I suspect as she settles in to the role, it will become truly a tour de force.
The two main supporting roles: Herbie and Louise (Gypsy) are played by Rufus Collins and Kyra Kennedy. Both are solid professionals but neither bring anything special to the roles. Collins’ Herbie just seems too glum; even at the curtain call, he did not smile. Kennedy is very good in the scenes as the teenage tomboyish Louise; but her strip routine as she moves from scared novice to star lacks pizzazz and star power. You never believe her.
The other members of the cast vary from quite good to adequate. Julia Hemp is very good as June and I enjoyed Emily Soell in the two roles of Miss Cratchitt and Electra. In the latter, she really played well with the audience.
The sets – there are many of them – costumes (ditto) and lighting were all good.
One complaint I had – and I overheard audience members at intermission expressing the same one – was the sound system. I do not know exactly what the problems were. One, it was often way too loud; this is a relatively small theater and it was loud enough to amplify a 500+ seat theater. Also, higher pitched voices sounded screetchy. This was particularly a problem for Julia Hemp as June. I saw audience members putting hands over their ears.
The show was directed and choreographed by Richard Stafford. The pace needed to be picked up; as I was watching this show that most view as one of the top ten musicals, I realized that some songs could easily be cut, and that the scenes seem to have a similar format: set up with some short dialogue followed by a song. I’ve seen numerous productions and never found myself with such thoughts.
Gypsy is worth seeing for Karen Ziemba’s performance. I look forward to seeing her do the role again as I am certain it will continue to develop.
Gypsy is at Sharon Playhouse, Sharon, CT. through July 3. For tickets or information, call 860-364-7469 or visit sharonplayhouse.org.
Inside notes and comments about Connecticut and New York Professional Theater
By Karen Isaacs
King Arthur and the Holy Grail: Monty Python’s famous movie about this was turned into a terrific musical, Spamalot that won numerous awards. Now the Connecticut Rep on the UConn campus is presenting it from Thursday, April 21 to Sunday, May 1. Rickard Kline will play King Arthur; he was at CRT in The Sunshine Boys and played the Wizard in the national tour of Wicked. He will be joined by Mariand Torres as the Lady of the Lake. She has played Elphaba in the same tour of Wicked. For tickets, visit crt.uconn.edu or call 860-486-2113.
World Premiere: Long Wharf is presenting the world premiere of Lewiston through Sunday, May 1, directed by former associate artistic director Eric Ting. According to the press materials, Lewiston is about “Alice and Connor [who] sit by their roadside stand selling cheap fireworks while developers swallow the land around them. Promised a condo in the new development, their future is secure. Enter Marnie, Alice’s long lost granddaughter, proposing to buy the land to save her family legacy. Marnie and Alice will become reacquainted with each other’s deeply held secrets, uncertain pasts, and hopeful futures.” For tickets visit www.longwharf.org or call 203-787- 4282.
Favorite Songs: If “Take Me Home, Country Roads” or “Rocky Mountain High” are among your favorite songs, you will want to see the east coast premiere of the new musical Back Home Again: On the Road with John Denver at Ivoryton Playhouse. It runs through Sunday, April 24.
David M. Lufken and Katie Deal star; they have been with the show since its original production at the Milwaukee Rep. Lufken created the show Woody Sez about Woody Guthrie which had a successful run at TheaterWorks. You can expect to learn lots about Denver as well as to hear many of his songs. For tickets visit ivorytonplayhouse.org or call 860-767-7318.
News from the Shubert: New Haven’s Shubert Theater will host a return engagement of Jersey Boys, Tuesday, May 3 to Sunday, May 8. For tickets to Jersey Boys or information on subscriptions to the Broadway series visit Shubert.com or call 203-562-5666.
Matilda: Hartford’s Bushnell Theater is hosting the national touring production of the musical Matilda, based on the Roald Dahl book and the film. It runs Tuesday, April 26 to Sunday, May 1. For tickets visit bushnell.org.
New Haven in New York: In the last weeks, several shows that New Haven area audiences saw have opened on and off-Broadway. Eclipsed by Daniel Gurira has opened on Broadway starring Lupita Nyongo’o, who was a Yale Drama student and understudy when it had its premiere at the Yale Rep. She has since won an Oscar. Guiria’s Familiar¸ which opened at the Yale Rep in February 2015 has opened off-Broadway. Opening soon is Indecent by Paula Vogel. It ran last fall at the Yale Rep and will feature the Yale cast.
The Last Five Years: MTC (Music Theater of Connecticut) is closing its season with the award winning musical The Last Five Years which features book, music and lyrics by the Tony winning Jason Robert Brown. The show tells the story of a relationship; but the man tells the story from beginning to end while the woman tells the story from the end back to the first meeting. Nicolas Dromard who has appeared on Broadway in Jersey Boys and Jennifer Malenk who has appeared in Into the Woods star. The show runs to Sunday, April 24. For tickets call 203-454-3883 or visit musictheatreofct.com.
Anastasia: Excitement is building about the world premiere of Anastasia at Hartford Stage beginning Thursday, May 12. The last musical to premiere there, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, went on to win the Tony for best musical and a Tony for the director Darko Tresnjak, Hartford’s artistic director. Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty who wrote the music for the animated film, are writing new music for the show. In an interview with the Manchester (CT) Journal Inquirer, Tresnjak said that 16 new numbers have been written for the show; only six from the original film are in the score. For tickets visit hartfordstage.org.
This Summer: Sharon Playhouse, in the northwest corner of Connecticut is presenting five shows this summer. The season begins with Gypsy from June 16-July 3, followed by the Tony-winning musical Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from July 21-31. Then is Quartet, a play about elderly opera-singers from Aug. 18 to 28. On stage two, the Playhouse will present a new musical Judge Jackie: Disorder in the Court from July 7-17 and the long-running off-Broadway hit, I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change from Aug. 4-14. For information or tickets visit sharonplayhouse.org. The box office, 860-364-7469 x100 opens Friday, April 15.
New Plays: Westport Country Playhouse has launched an initiative to develop new plays and musicals through workshops and readings. Two works will be receiving a workshop and later a staged reading before an audience. The two works are a new play, Out of the Mouths of Babes by Israel Horovitz (in partnership with New York’s Cherry Lane Theatre) and a new musical The Rivals based on the classic comedy by Sheridan.
New York Notes: The musical comedy The Robber Bridegroom is being revived by Roundabout Theater at its off-Broadway Laura Pels theater. Steven Pasquale is starring. It is billed as a “raucous, hilarious, sexy theatrical gem with an irresistibly catch bluegrass score.” It runs through Sunday, May 29. For tickets visit roundaboutTheatre.org. Marin Mazzie will take over the role of Anna in the Lincoln Center revival of The King and I. She succeeds Kelli O’Hara. Side Show, a musical Stephen Sondheim has been working on for years under various titles is getting a production the Signature Theater in Arlington, Virginia. It often present new works that eventually make it to New York. Last summer a new musical about James Cagney got a brief run off-Broadway. Most people don’t know that Cagney started as a song and dance man. Now Cagney is getting a full off-Broadway production with an opening set for Sunday, April 3.For tickets visit Telechaerge.com.
New York Plans for Next Season: A musical version of Sponge Bob is aiming for Broadway next season. It will preview in Chicago beginning June 7. Derek Hough of Dancing with the Stars will star on Broadway next season in Singin’ in the Rain. He will, of course, play the Gene Kelly role. The show will begin in Paris as the successful An American in Paris musical did. Also next season is a revival of William Finn and James Lapine’s musical Falsettos. It will begin previews on Sept. 29.