By Karen Isaacs
Have you seen Sweeney Todd?
Do you love Sweeney Todd?
Do you have some free time?
If the answer is “Yes”—then make plans to see the production of this classic musical at the Nutmeg Summer Series of the Connecticut Repertory Theater on the UConn campus in Storrs.
It only runs through July 1.
This production is billed as “a musical thriller in concert” but it really is a small scale production. When I think of concert versions of musicals, I think of little staging, sets or costumes and minimal movement.
This concert version features scenic design by Tim Brown, lighting by Alan C. Edwards, sound by Michael Vincent Skinner – all excellent. Plus great costumes by Christina Lorraine Bullard. Even the make up is terrific.
When you enter the theater you see a row of microphones on stands; what you might expect from a concert version. But after the opening, the microphones disappear.
Kudos must go to director Peter Flynn for his handling of the staging – the orchestra is on stage – and integrating students into a production that features many award winning professionals. It seems like Artistic Director Terrence Mann (a well-known Broadway performer) may have called in some chits.
Mann plays Sweeney, the barber who returns after 15 years and seeks revenge first on Judge Turpin and then on everyone for the injustice done to him, his wife and daughter. He is excellent. He handles the difficult score smoothly; perhaps a little overly emotional.
But he is abetted by Tony nominee Liz Larsen as Mrs. Lovett who becomes his comrade in arms. She won’t make you forget Angela Lansbury, but she is very good.
Ed Dixon, who just won awards for his solo show about actor George Rose, plays the villain of the piece, Judge Turpin.
But the four students who play major roles are all excellent. I particularly liked Lu DeJesus who plays the Beadle, Turpin’s henchman. Vocally he is very strong. But his overall performance is also very good. The same can be said for Hugh Entrekin as Anthony Hope (his singing, tops his acting), Kenneth Galm as Tobias, Nicholas Gonzalez as Pirelli and Emilie Kouatchou as Emilie.
Get to see Sweeney Todd before it closes. For tickets visit Connecticut Rep or call 860-486-2113.
Three-time Tony Award-nominee Terrence Mann will be master of ceremonies for the 27th annual Connecticut Critics Circle Awards on June 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Sacred Heart University’s Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts in Fairfield. A private reception will precede the awards show.
The Monday night event, which celebrates the best in professional theater in the state, is free and open to the public. At the ceremony, Paulette Haupt, founding artistic director of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Music Theater Conference in Waterford, will be honored with the Connecticut Critics Circle’s Tom Killen Award, given in recognition of her 40 years of extraordinary achievement and service to Connecticut theater.
Last year’s top honorees — Yale Repertory Theatre’s “Indecent” and Hartford Stage’s “Anastasia” — are currently on Broadway.
Mann joins the Connecticut theater community as artistic director of the Nutmeg Summer Series at the University of Connecticut at Storrs.
Mann received Tony nominations for his roles as Javert in “Les Miserables,” as the Beast in “Beauty and the Beast” and as King Charles in the revival of “Pippin.” He also originated the role of Rum Tum Tugger in the Broadway production of “Cats.”
His Broadway debut was in 1980 in “Barnum.” Other Broadway credits include “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” “Rags,” “Getting Away with Murder,” “Lennon,” “The Rocky Horror Show” “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway,” “The Addams Family,” “Finding Neverland” and last season’s “Tuck Everlasting.” He was in the original off-Broadway production of “Assassins.”
Mann also has a recurring role in TV’s “Sense8.” Other television roles include the role of Earl Boyd in “All My Children.”
In film, Mann played bounty hunter Ug in the four “Critters” films. Other movie roles include “A Chorus Line” and “A Circle on the Cross.”
He has also acted and starred in productions at UConn, including “Les Miserables in Concert,” “Peter Pan,” “Man of La Mancha” and “My Fair Lady.” Mann will direct the first show of the Nutmeg season, “1776,” with performances starting June 1.
A graduate of North Carolina School of the Arts, he is a professor of musical theater at Western Carolina University in North Carolina. He is married to actress Charlotte D’Amboise.
By Karen Isaacs
The Broadway musical, Peter Pan, is getting an absolutely wonderful production at the Connecticut Repertory Theater on the UConn campus in Storrs through July 3. This is not just a production that children will enjoy; the inventiveness and the excellent performances will delight everyone.
If you saw — and either loved or were disappointed by — the NBC live broadcast last December of the show, you should still see this.
What sets it apart? First of all Peter is actually played by a young actor, Riley Costello who can easily pass for 12 or 13 years old but has a load of credits and is a skilled performer. He brings a veracity to the role that a more mature woman playing a boy has difficulty managing. Yes — the play and the musical has traditionally featured women in the part (from Maud Adams to Mary Martin to Cathy Rigby) — but given the number of talented young men there is no reason for it. It also makes it easier to suspend your disbelief and immerse yourself in the story.
Secondly is the delicious Captain Hook (and Mr. Darling) of Terrence Mann. Hook is a deceptively difficult role partly because so many of us have the image of the talented Cyril Ritchard who originated it and played on the early TV versions firmly in our heads. Hook must be comic but a tad frightening, reveal insecurities underneath, and mix both “camp” and sophistication. He also has several tricky patter songs to navigate. Mann’s Hook is utterly delightful. He keeps a wicked gleam in his eye at all times. If I had a quibble it would be with his Mr. Darling, which stuck an occasional false note.
Many of the remainder of the cast are students and recent graduates, but they do an excellent job. I particularly liked Jonathan Cobrda as Smee, Hook’s “right hand man”. I hope he will soon get his Equity card so he can move on to bigger things. Maggie Bera was an excellent Wendy, Raegan Roberts and Sydney Goodwin were very good as twin lost boys, and Annie Wallace was also good as Tiger Lily.
The musical Peter Pan began life as a play with music for Mary Martin in 1954. It’s creative process was difficult; though many of the songs were written by Moose Charlap with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, the decision was made to make a full musical and Jule Styne was brought in to compose additional songs with Betty Comden and Adolph Green writing the lyrics. It did land on Broadway successfully, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins who also got credit for adapting it. While it sticks closely to J. M. Barrie’s original play, it does add the ending that Barrie included in the later novel version of the play, Peter and Wendy.
A number of songs became well known — “I Won’t Grow Up,” “Neverland,” “Tender Shepherd,” and “I Gotta Crow” among others.
Director/Choreographer Cassie Abate has assembled a professional creative production team. Tim Brown, the scenic & projection designer, does an excellent job with the multiple sets in this show. He has created a realistic nursery but has made Neverland a place reminiscent of a child’s coloring book. Plus he has also created a wonderful pirate ship. Costume designer Lisa Loen has given the boys individuality so they do not blend into a group — each has his own distinct look which helps him have a distinct character. Captain Hook’s costume is appropriately over-the-top; it reminded me of the costume of a fop in a restoration comedy.
Credit must also be given Daniel Moctezuma, the music director and conductor. This is a well played and well sung show.
Peter Pan is just what you hope to see at CRT — the seamless integration of excellent Equity performers working with less experienced performers who rise to the occasion combined with talented production teams that use imagination and creativity instead of huge budgets.
Peter Pan runs through July 3 at the Harriet Jorgensen Theater on the UConn campus in Storrs. For tickets call 860-486-2113 or visit crt.uconn.edu.