Tag Archives: Westport Country Playhouse

“Appropriate” – a Dysfunctional Family Drama Now at Westport

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Betsy Aiden and Nick Selting. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

By Karen Isaacs

 Writers, including playwrights, love dysfunctional families. From Oedipus to August, Osage County and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? dysfunctional families have populated the stage.

For any family, the death of the last parent and the dismantling of the home and possessions of the parents are times of stress, bringing up emotions, resentments and memories. For a family that is fractured in some way, these events can trigger Armageddon.

This is the basis of the story of Appropriate by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins now at Westport Country Playhouse through Sept. 2.

The play opens with what seems an eternity of blackness and loud whirring sounds that could be traffic, machinery, or as we learn actually are cicadas, those insects that emerge from the ground every 13 years to mate, bury the eggs and then die.

Into a darkened overly cluttered house, a man enters through a window followed by a younger woman. It is Frank and his fiancée, River, entering his father home in rural Arkansas. He has returned because the house will be auctioned within days. Frank, who now calls himself, Franz, is, we learn, the “wayward” son – the last to leave the family home, the one who has battled addictions, who committed a terrible act, and who has been out of touch for ten or so years.

Why has he come?

We soon meet Toni, the eldest sibling who is tactless, aggressive and angry. During the course of the play, we learn her backstory. She mothered her two younger brothers when their mother died, she has spent time looking after their ailing father, and she not only recently was divorced but she has lost her job and her son is estranged from her. She feels put upon, unappreciated and overwhelmed.

By morning we have met Bo, the middle child and his wife, Rachel, and their two children – the younger Ainsley and the 13-year-old Cassie. Bo, too has resentments and pressures on him: he has supported his father and the house during the final years and resents that Toni was named the executor; he is also under job pressure, plus his wife harbors resentment towards the father.

I can’t tell you about all the resentments and family skeletons that emerge during the course of this rather lengthy (2 hours 45 minute) play. Let’s just say that at the heart of the revelations and fights are how each sibling views the father and how each feels he or she was treated. Each believes he or she was short-changed in some way.

Jacobs-Jenkins has added in a large degree of mysticism or spirits: is the house haunted?

But one of the primary conflicts, besides the age old question of who did dad love best, is how each of the siblings and Bo’s wife, view the father. Toni has idealized the man, while Bo and Franz have varying degrees of realistic understanding.

Yet all of them, seem blindsided when one aspect of their father’s history (and beliefs) is discovered:  a photo album that contains horrifying images. Toni resists accepting that her father, a Harvard educated lawyer who was talked about as a possible Supreme Court candidate, could have harbored such beliefs.

As with any young playwright, Jacobs-Jenkins has tried to cram too much into this work. He is very talented, but in his program interview he talks about family dramas and that they are all about race or ethnicity or identity. In some ways it is easy to see the sources of his inspiration.

Adding to all of that, is very heavy and sometime obvious symbolism. He has titled the three acts of the play: The Book of Revelations, Walpurgisnacht (or witches’ night) and The Book of Genesis. Then there is the supernatural element to the play.  River, Franz’s fiancée, believes she detects ghostly vibes in the house, and this is carried through to the rather bizarre and overly long ending. Let’s just say that it doesn’t end when you think it does.

Even the title of the play, Appropriate, has multiple meanings and pronunciations.  It can be suitable or to take without permission.  Both seem operable in this play.

Director David Kennedy has done an excellent job with his cast to keep the play moving and to illuminate, at least some of the issues.  He is aided by the various sound, lighting and set affects the play requires. So kudos to the production team: Andrew Boyce (scenic design), Matthew Richards (lighting) and Fitz Patton (sound).

It is a compliment to Betsy Aiden who plays Toni, that by the end of the first act, you want to strangle her. She makes no attempt to soften the character, but goes full throttle with her resentments, anger and sense of victimization.  Shawn Fagan plays the damaged Franz for just that, a man trying hard to reconnect and gain acceptance from a family that only remembers his problems. David Aaron Baker has a difficult job with Bo, the middle sibling, partly because the character seems rather passive. He does not seem to react to what is going on around him, but fades into the woodwork even during the angry scene between his wife and Toni.

Perhaps the clearest voice of sanity is Anna Crivelli, as River. She may be young and be a little too “new age” but as played she also seems to have the ability to remain clear-eyed. This undoubtedly is due to having no history with anyone in the family.

Diane Davis is good as Bo’s wife, Rachel. She has felt estranged from the family for years. The two teens are played by Nick Selting as Rhys, Toni’s almost adult son, and Allison Winn as Bo’s early teen daughter.

How you react to Appropriate may reveal your own family problems or lack thereof and your tolerance for watching people try to avoid hurtful truths.

It is at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport. For tickets call 888-927-7529 or visit wWestport Country Playhouse.

Westport’s “Grounded” Is Chilling and Thought-Provoking Drama

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Elizabeth Stahlmann. Photo by Carol Rosegg

By Karen Isaacs

 War is getting both more remote and more personal. In the last century, we have moved from being able to see the faces of those a soldier is about to kill to them becoming simply “targets” for long-distance equipment. But with drones, we are moving back to being able to see and identify who is about to be killed.

That is at the root of the play Grounded which is now at Westport Country Playhouse through July 29.

The 100 minute, one woman show introduces us to “the pilot” – a female major who flies F-16s on bombing missions in the Middle East.  She is confident, sassy and at home in the male-dominant culture. She loves flying and has a deep connection to “her” plane. Home on leave, she has some drinks one night and is impressed with the civilian (Eric) who makes his way through the group of pilots to talk to her. One thing leads to another and they spend several days together.  Back on duty, she realizes she is pregnant.

Flying would be dangerous and she is transferred home.

She marries the man and they have a daughter. Now what was confusing, is it seems that several years pass, but there is no mention of her military assignment or duties during that period. It seems that after three years, her commander tells her she will be flying again. She is ecstatic until she learns that she won’t be flying a plane but will be sitting at a desk stateside (in Nevada) manipulating or “flying” a drone. She will be, in military slang, part of the “chair force.”

So, the pilot, her husband and her daughter, Samantha, pack up and move to Nevada. She works 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week. That also seemed a bit much – no time off at all!

Her days are spent looking at grey bits on a screen with “her team” that includes a young man next to her and others who communicate through her headset. They tells her what to follow, when to zoom in, and when to release the bombs. At the beginning she is following convoys looking for individuals who might be planting mines or bombs in the road. When she finds one, the voices in her ear tell her if they have determined the people to be “guilty” which usually means they are male of military age. She then destroys them.

After a time, she and the others on the team (which operates 24 hours a day) are following a car supposedly carrying the number 2 man. He is a prime target. And it seems as though they track him for days or weeks, yet he never exits the vehicle. He needs to do that so they can be sure of their identification – he limps.

As these days stretch on, The Pilot becomes more and more vested in “getting him” and not wanting the other pilot to do so. But she also finds it harder and harder to block out the blips on the grey screen that she watches daily. The transition from work to home becomes more and more difficult.

I don’t want to reveal what occurs except to say that the remote control war takes a very heavy toll on her. It’s not clear what the results totally are or why, which is a failing of playwright George Brant.

Grounded is not a new play; it was written in 2013 and has received numerous productions all over the world including an off-Broadway production starring Anne Hathaway. It has also won numerous awards.

But I am hard pressed to think any of these 100+ productions could have a better performance as The Pilot than that given by Elizabeth Stahlmann. She brings to the role all that you would expect from the character. Even though there is little movement and no props, your eyes and ears are riveted on her. She shows us the conflicts, the emotions and the enthusiasms of this woman.

Liz Diamond has directed this play with a sure hand. The set is simple, what appears to be a wall and an office chair. The lighting by Solomon Weisbard is interesting but at times distracting since it lights the far sides of the theater. It is the projections of those blips by Yana Birÿkova and the sound design by Kate Marvin that really takes you into The Pilot’s world.

This is not what typical summer theater is: light, frothy and meaningless. This play and production makes you confront and experience something that most of us either would prefer not to confront, or will never experience.

It is well worth seeing.

For tickets, visit, Westport Country Playhouse or call 203-227-4177.

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Elizabeth Stahlmann. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Connecticut’s Smaller Theater Well Represented at Awards Ceremony

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Rob Ruggierio and the cast of Next to Normal. Photo by Mara Lavitt

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.

Complete list of nominees and winners.

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Karen Ziemba, Andre de Shields and me.

The Hits & Misses of the 2016-17 Connecticut Theater Season

By Karen Isaacs

 Connecticut’s professional theaters produced over 40 shows from June 2016 to the end of May 2017; plus various national tours played the major producing houses. Connecticut theatergoers had over 60 productions to choose from. I saw nearly 90 percent of the shows at the professional theaters and some of the national tours.

So how did the season measure up?

My top plays:

The Invisible Hand at Westport Country Playhouse

Queens for a Year at Hartford Stage

Scenes of Court Life at Yale Rep

A Comedy of Errors at Hartford Stage

The Piano Lesson at Hartford Stage

Meteor Shower at Long Wharf

Endgame at Long Wharf

Heartbreak House at Hartford Stage

My top musicals:

Next to Normal at TheaterWorks

Bye, Bye Birdie at Goodspeed

Gypsy at MTC

He Wrote Good Songs at Seven Angels

The top touring shows:

 The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelsky at Hartford Stage

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Marriage at the Bushnell

The King & I at the Bushnell

An American in Paris at the Bushnell

A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime at the Bushnell

Shows that pleasantly surprised me:

Absolute Turkey at CRT

Bilox Blues at Ivoryton

Trav’ling – the Harlem Musical at Seven Angels

Interesting Observations

Half of my top plays were new – often world premieres..

Many musical productions were fine overall productions, but either not exciting shows or not exciting productions.

The Bushnell had a stellar season of national tours including the rarity of a play.

Darko Tresjnak continue to prove he is also a terrific scenic designer with Italian setting for A Comedy of Errors.

Among the Disappointments.

Unfortunately some shows that I had looked forward to disappointed me. Mostly they were well directed and well- acted, but they just did not maximize their possibilities.  Sometimes it is new play which is still being developed or trying to do or say too much.

Assassins at Yale Rep.  I’ve seen and liked the show in the past, but this production just missed, at least for me.

The Most Beautiful Room in New York at Long Wharf. What can I say? It didn’t live up to my expectations.

Napoli, Brooklyn at Long Wharf.  More soap opera than compelling drama.

Camelot at Westport. This minimalist version was just too minimal though the performances were fine.

 But even these productions had elements that were enjoyable and were well worth seeing.

 

“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

Sentimental, Classical, Cynical – Connecticut Offers Holiday Performances and Concerts for All Ages and Tastes

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It’s Bill Raymond’s last year as Scrooge at Hartford Stage.  Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

By Karen Isaacs

 How do you like your holiday entertainment?  Sentimental? Serious? Classical?  Popular? Young child-friendly?  Cynical?

You can find performances that will entertain you no matter how you answered the questions. Connecticut’s varied theater and musical venues are offering a wide variety of events suitable for all ages and tastes.

The Classics

Just as A Christmas Story and White Christmas are among the classic holiday films, you are bound to see on TV, A Christmas Carol, The Nutcracker and The Messiah are classics of theater and music.

The most famous production of A Christmas Carol is the one that has been enchanting audiences at Hartford Stage for 19 years. It runs Friday, Nov. 25 through Friday, Dec. 30. This production which breaks box office records every year was adapted and originally directed by then Artistic Director Michael Wilson. He brought it from Fort Worth/Dallas when he arrived in Hartford and it has been a smash ever since. This production is official called – A Christmas Carol—A Ghost Story of Christmas. It features lots of ghosts – not just Marley – and they fly around the stage. It also features music of the period, but this is NOT a musical. Many of the cast members have returned year after year.

Bill Raymond has announced that this is his last year as Scrooge. As Michael Wilson has said, “Bill Raymond and I created Hartford Stage’s A Christmas Carol together 19 years ago.  He has, for 17 of the last 19 years, put his inimitable, distinctive mark on one of the greatest characters of English literature.  He joins actors such as Lionel Barrymore, Alistair Sims, Albert Finney and George C. Scott in an elite club of extraordinary actors who have left their indelible mark on Dickens’ classic story of redemption and grace.”

Each year the cast is joined by area children and students from the University of Hartford’s Hartt School. The show is recommended for children eight and older, though my granddaughters were about six when they started seeing it. The ghosts can be scary, so use your own judgement.

As part of the production, Holiday Market Days are held before specific Saturday and Sunday matinees. Local artisans offer unique gift items for sale in the lobby between 12:30 and 2 p.m.

For information contact Hartford Stage or call 860-527-5151.

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Elm City Girls Choir

Handel’s The Messiah is the most famous piece of classical holiday music. While many groups perform it during the holiday season, the New Haven Symphony together with the Christ Church Choir will offer four performances conducted by Maestro William Boughton.  The performances kick off on Thursday, Dec. 15 at Woolsey Hall in New Haven. At that performance there will concession sales and other features that raise money for the New Haven Community Soup Kitchen. Additional performances are Friday, Dec. 16 at Sacred Heart University Chapel, Fairfield; Saturday, Dec. 17 at the First Congregational Church, Madison; and Sunday, Dec. 18 at the Performing Arts Center at Middletown High School. Tickets and information are available New Haven Symphony or 203-865-0831.

The Kate in Old Saybrook will present the Annual Handel “Messiah” Sing (or Listen!) on Sunday, Dec. 18. The professional soloists and the chorus of talented singers conduct a sing-a-long for everyone. Or you can just listen. Contact The Kate or 877-503-1286 for information and tickets.

The Nutcracker is the classic holiday ballet and many dance groups offer their versions of it. New Haven Ballet presents its production of the Tchaikovsky classic at the Shubert Theater from Friday, Dec. 9 to Sunday, Dec. 11. It features students from the Ballet and live music by the Ballet Orchestra. Guest artists from major ballet companies dance as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier.

If those dates or location aren’t convenient, the Nutmeg Ballet will present its production at the Bushnell Theater in Hartford on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 17 and 18. The cast includes professional trainees from the Nutmeg Conservatory of the Arts. Visit The Bushnell.

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The Hip Hop Nutcracker

Would you like to see a more irreverent take on The Nutcracker? The Bushnell is presenting The Hip-Hop Nutcracker which is described as a holiday mash-up of the classic. There’s a DJ, a violinist, dancers and Kurtis Blow as the special guest MC. It’s on Sunday, Dec. 4. Visit The Bushnell.

The Kate is also presenting the Bolshoi Ballet’s Nutcracker on its HD screen on Sunday, Dec. 17.

For Younger Children

 Younger children (from 3 to 8 or 9) may get restless at a full-length production that is 2 hours or more even if it has an intermission. But rest assured, Connecticut’s performing venues have not forgotten them during the holidays. And while these may be ideal for children, they often pleasures for the adults accompanying them.

downtown-cabaret-frostyBridgeport’s Downtown Cabaret Theater has had a well-respected children’s theater that runs year around for decades. It is geared to children below pre-teen age and has the added benefit that it is set up as a cabaret: round tables and you can either purchase or bring food and drink that will help keep younger kids occupied. For the holiday season the theater will offer its take on Frosty, the Snowman which runs through Thursday, Dec. 29. Tickets are quite reasonable but many weekend dates sell out early. For tickets visit Downtown Cabaret or call 203-576-1636.

A little farther afield, Westport Country Playhouse is presenting A Very Electric Christmas produced by the Lightwire Theatre on Sunday, Dec. 18. As the press materials the show includes “timeless holiday hit tunes by Nat King Cole, Mariah Carey, Tchaikovsky, and more.  Santa’s helpers are putting the final touches on presents as a young bird finds himself lost at the North Pole.  As he makes his way home, he meets dancing poinsettias, Nutcracker soldiers, and other festive characters. Recommended for ages 5 and up. For tickets visit Westport Country Playhouse or call 888-927-7529.

The Bushnell is once again presenting Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: the Musical which is based on the classic TV show. It’s the third year that Rudolph, Santa and the other reindeers will delight the entire family. It runs Friday and Saturday, Dec. 9 and 10. Visit The Bushnell.

Another Frosty is at The Kate on Sunday, Dec. 11. The Theatreworks USA production features original music. The plot has been changed from the popular TV version. In this version, “A young orphan named Billy discovers magic in a stolen hat. When he places the hat on a snowman’s head, the snowman comes to life! But can Frosty the Snowman help Billy find his real family in time for Christmas?” It’s recommended for K-5. Visit The Kate.

Celtic Holidays

 I don’t know when it happened, but concerts on the theme of Celtic Christmas have become very popular; it probably traces back to the very popular Irish Tenors and their concerts and TV shows. So for lovers of all things Celtic, there are many choices.

The Kate has too such shows. On Saturday, Dec. 3 the Tartan Terrors performs Christmas Celtic Style which includes comedy, music and dance. On Thursday, Dec. 22, Cherish the Ladies, a Celtic Christmas features five talented women. According the press materials, the evening includes “a blend of virtuoso instrumental talents, beautiful vocals, captivating arrangements, and stunning step dancing. “ Visit The Kate.

Lyman Center at Southern Connecticut State University presents Christmas with the Celtic Tenors on Sunday, Dec. 18. Matthew Gilsenan, James Nelson and Daryl Simpson preform music from classical to folk to Irish and pop. Recently they have added a more contemporary edge. For tickets, visit Lyman Auditorium.

More Music

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James Sinclair of Orchestra New England.

Orchestra New England gets the holiday season off with its  37th annual Colonial Concert on Saturday, Nov. 26 at United Church on the Green, New Haven. Under the direction of James Sinclair, the concert takes us back to the music and atmosphere of the Colonial Era with a mixture of familiar classical music, holiday music and some long forgotten music. Wigs, candles and waistcoats as Thomas Jefferson, minister to France, visits New Haven. For tickets, call 203-776-4690 or visit Orchestra New England

The Elm City Girls’ Choir will join the New Haven Symphony Orchestra’s Pops Concert, Holiday Extravaganza. The two shows, Saturday, Dec. 10 (at Hamden Middle School) and Sunday, Dec. 11 (Shelton High School) almost always sell out early. It features a mixture of light classics as well as popular holiday music and carols. Santa often appears and there is a sing-along. Tickets and information are available New Haven Symphony or 203-865-0831.

The Hartford Symphony annually presents its Holiday Cirque Spectacular under conductor Carolyn Kuan at The Bushnell. While the Symphony plays various holiday inspired music, the Cirque de la Sumphonie which includes aerialists, contortionists and jugglers perform. Visit The Bushnell..

The Hartford Gay Men’s Chorus and the Connecticut Gay Men’s Chorus both have holiday concerts. These are talented musicians and their shows feature great arrangements and often some humor. The HGMC performs A Wish Come True! Friday to Sunday, Dec. 2-4 at the Aetna Theater at The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art. For tickets. Tickets are available at HGMC.

CTGMC performs its holiday show Christmas Stories Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 17 and 18 at the theater at the Co-op High School for the Arts on College Street, New Haven. For information and tickets visit CTGMC

Trinity Church on the Green in New Haven has had a men and boys choir since the 1880s and added a Girls and Men Choir in 2003. The two choirs have toured and performed throughout the US, Canada and England. This year’s concert includes Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols and carols from The Alfred Burt Carol Collection. These were written by Burt, a well-known American composer and sent as annual Christmas cards. The annual Christmas Concert is on Friday, Dec. 16. A donation is requested; for information visit: Trinity Chruch on the Green or 203-776-2616.

The Humorous and Cynical

 twSometimes we need some spice mixed with our holiday good feelings. TheaterWorks in Hartford is bringing back its very successful Christmas on the Rocks from Tuesday, Nov. 29 to Friday, Dec. 23. It’s accurately described as “an offbeat collection of twisted holiday tales”. A number of current playwrights have contributed scenes that show how the children from famous Christmas tales – from Ralphie and Tiny Tim to Charlie Brown and Clara from The Nutcracker turned out as adults. This year, a new scene has been added. Last year’s cast — Ronn Carroll as the bartender, Jenn Harris as the female characters and Matthew Wilkas as the male return. Tickets are on sale at TheaterWorks or 860-527-7838.

The Kate presents Will & Anthony’s Broadway Holiday on Friday, Dec. 2. Will and Anthony Nunziata are a singing and comedy duo (they are brothers).  It’s billed as  reminiscent of the classic Christmas specials of Bing Crosby with a contemporary flair and celebrates the joys of life, music and family. The concert includes fresh takes on classic Christmas songs along with Broadway hits and Italian music. Expect to hear such songs as “Joy to the World,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” ”Silent Night,” “The Christmas Song,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” “O Sole Mio” and more. Tickets are at The Kate.

The Santaland Diaries, based on David Sedaris’ book takes the stage at the Shubert in New Haven, Friday, Nov. 25 to Sunday, Nov. 27. The one man show recounts the adventures of an out-of-work actor who becomes one of Santa’s elves at the Macy’s on 34th Street. It’s a behind-the-scenes look. Call the box office at 203-562-5666 or visit Shubert.

playhouse-on-park-mama-dWest Hartford’s Playhouse on Park is presenting a “strictly adult” show, Mama D’s Chirstimas Stocking, described as a celebration of all things sexy and bawdy in an evening of music, dance and comedy. Shows begin December 9 and run on selected dates to December 30. Plus there is a special New Year’s Eve show with lots of extras. For tickets, please call our box office at 860-523-5900 x10 or visit Playhouse on Park.

More Classics

mtc Connecticut’s Joe Landry adapted the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life  into an unique stage presentation. The holiday classic is brought to live as a live 1940s radio broadcast complete with microphones and the sound effects man. This show has been performed throughout the country. You can see it this year at MTC (Music Theater of Connecticut) in Norwalk weekends, Friday Dec. 9 to Sunday, Dec. 18. For tickets call 203-454-3883 or visit MTC.

shubert-elfElf became a new classic almost from the time the film starring Will Ferrell and old time stars was released in 2003. In 2010 Elf – the Musical hit Broadway earning several Tony nominations. Each year since then, there’s been a tour of the show. This year, Elf – the Musical at the Shubert in New Haven from Tuesday, Dec. 20 to Saturday, Dec. 24. I enjoyed the show and the CD; it is a tuneful delight. Call the box office at 203-562-5666 or visit Shubert.

Ivoryton Playhouse is continuing its multi-part Christmas story, The Bells of Dublin with Part III: A New York Fairytale. Once again it is written and directed by artistic director Jacqueline Hubbard. This year, Paddy brings his whole family to NYC for the holidays where on Christmas Eve at O’Lunney’s Pub, Maggie the bag lady settles in to weave a story of the holidays. The Christmas carols, Irish songs and a little vaudeville.  R. Bruce Connelly heads the cast of audience favorites. It runs Wednesday, Dec. 7 to Sunday, Dec. 18. For tickets visit Ivoryton Playhouse or call 860-767-7318.

This content courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.

 

Westport’s Pared Down “Camelot” Features Terrific Performances

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Photo by Carol Rosegg

By Karen Isaacs

 The production of Camelot now playing at Westport Country Playhouse through Nov. 5. Is a major revision/reimagining of the original large scale musical by Lerner and Loewe that opened in 1960.

Elements of this show work particularly well, the three leads are terrific and the ensemble is also good. But I had some reservations that the show has been so pared down, it has lost some of it essence.

The musical by Lerner and Loewe (My Fair Lady, Gigi) tells the story of King Arthur, his Queen Guenevere and the virtuous knight, Lancelot. The book of the musical, originally by Lerner, is based on T. H. White’s trilogy The Once and Future King which tells the story of King Arthur from a boy receiving tutoring from the magician Merlin to the downfall of the Round Table and Arthur’s ultimate defeat/death. It is a long book.

That was part of the problem with the original show; trying to cram all of White’s story led to a very long show. The out-of-town tryout in Canada ran over four hours; by the time the show made it to Broadway in 1960, it was down to under three hours but the result was that some elements did not seem set up properly.

In the last years, several attempts have been made to streamline the book, usually removing elements to focus on the love triangle.  Lerner’s son attempted it and that version was used for the outstanding 2009 production at Goodspeed.

Now David Lee has adapted the book, removing even more elements and characters. He may have gone too far.

This Camelot is almost what would be called “a chamber musical.” Besides the three principals, there are only six other characters including a child who is used as a framing device for the show. In fact the orchestra has almost the same number of players (eight) as the entire cast. But I particularly felt the lack of other women. The ensemble is totally male. In this court, only the Queen was allowed.

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Britaney Coleman and Stephen Mark Lukas. Phot by Carol Rosegg

The scenic design by Michael Yeargan features a looming silhouette of a castle in the back, a series of arches framing parts of the stage and minimal furniture and props. One that was annoying were two beds that were supposed to stay together, but kept coming apart. Luckily, this production does not try to overly simplify the costumes by Wade Laboissonniere. They still have a regal medieval sensibility and at times seems quite luxurious. Also a major contributor to the show’s success is the lighting design by Robert Wierzel who enfuses the rear of the stage in saturated colors.

In this version of Camlot , the haunting “Follow Me” is removed. But also several characters are missing – some are missed more than others. Merlin the magician had served a function of helping set the stage – after all he was Arthur’s teacher and a major part of the Arthurian legend; since he lived time backwards, he knew what would happen Also missing is the comic King Pellinore, though he contributed little except some laughs to a rather serious story. Morgan Le Fey, the witch is also gone; she had seduced Arthur when he was young which resulted in the birth of Mordred who engineers the downfall of Guenevere, Lancelot and the Roundtable.

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Robert Sean Leonard and Patrick Andrews. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Mark Lamos, who has a sure hand with musicals, opera and Shakespeare has directed this expertly. He is blessed with a fine cast and excellent voices. Though the running time is shorter than the original, he still develops the emotional impact of the piece. For this is a show where the only villain is the cynical Mordred. Arthur, Lancelot and Guenevere all gain our sympathy. I do question how he has framed this piece. The show opens with a young boy in pajamas who at times returns to play with toy knights. Is this to imply that it is all a dream? It just seems distracting and reminiscent of a Royal Shakespeare film version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Robert Sean Leonard is excellent as Arthur. He does not try to duplicate Richard Burton’s portrayal but develops his own. Perhaps my only complaint is that in the opening numbers where he and Guenevere meet, he doesn’t seem quite boyish enough. But he handles the scenes where he becomes increasingly aware of Guenevere and Lancelot’s love for each with finesse. His rendition of “How to Handle a Woman” and the duet ‘What Do the Simple Folk Do?” are excellent.

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Robert Sean Leonard and Britney Coleman. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Britany Coleman is a delight as Guenevere. She has a light soprano voice well suited to the songs from the light-hearted “Simple Joys of Maidenhood” and “Then You May Take Me to the Fair” to the serious “I Loved You Once in Silence” and “Before I Gaze on You Again.” But she also create a character obviously torn between two men – one she loves passionately and one she is fond of and respects.

As Lancelot, Stephen Mark Lukas is also excellent, tempering Lancelot’s sense of his perfection with awareness that he is failing both himself and Arthur. His duets with Guenevere and his egotistic song “C’est Moi” are well done.

Patrick Andrews plays the villain, Mordred, who appears in the second act looking and acting like the snake in the Garden of Eden. His two numbers, “The Seven Deadly Virtues” and “Fie on Goodness” both hit the mark.

The actors portraying the three knights who are supplanted by Lancelot create individual characterizations: Mike Evariste (Sir Dinadan), Brian Owen (Sir Lionel) and Jon-Michael Reese (Sir Sagamore).  Brian Owens played Sir Lionel with a punk rock look and a Scottish accent.

Wayne Barker’s musical direction and the ensemble never overpowered the performers but added to the production. It was especially good to hear a strings (violin, cello and bass) as part of the ensemble.

Camelot may not be a perfect musical but it is blessed with wonderfully lyrical music. Though this revision may have gone too far, it is still a production well worth seeing.

It is at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport through Nov. 5. For tickets visit Westport or call 203-227-4177.

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Britney Coleman and Robert Sean Leonard. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

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.

 

Orton Farce Starts Slowly at Westport – Then WOW!

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Paxton Whitehead, Sarah Manton and Robert Stanton. Photo by Carol Rosegg

By Karen Isaacs

 Joe Orton died too young. The iconoclastic British playwright was killed by his lover in 1964 when he was just 34 and had written only a handful of plays.  As Mark Lamos, artistic director of Westport Country Playhouse wrote in his program notes – he might have given theater goers a “legacy of ground-breaking comedic works that would have entertained generations of theatergoers.”

Yet we are still blessed with several masterpieces – Entertaining Mr. Sloane, Loot and the play currently at Westport through Sept. 10 – What the Butler Saw.

 It is a farce – but a farce probably unlike any you have ever seen before, unless you saw the terrific Westport production of Loot a few years ago.

Orton came out of the “angry young man” school of British playwrights and authors in the 1950s and ’60. While many of the playwrights wrote “kitchen sink” dramas that featured working class characters and were critical of the British class system, its post-Empire society, and its values and hypocrisy Orton turned to comedy.

He incorporated his criticisms of British values, traditions and society into plays that used the farce format – improbabilities, multiple doors, confused identities and double entendres.

What the Butler Saw is just such a play. The title draws on the titles of more traditional British farces because there is NO butler to see anything in this play.

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Chris Ghaffari and Julian Gamble. Photo by Carol Rosegg

It is set in the dispensary of a psychiatrist, Dr. Prentice who is interviewing a young woman, Geraldine Barclay, for a secretarial position. Yet the questions he asks seem inappropriate for the position; the young woman has an interesting history – her father abandoned her mother after a night of sex in a hotel linen closet. The woman who raised her has recently died due to a very unconventional accident.

Soon the mayhem commences. He convinces Geraldine to remove her clothes and lie down, but just as he is about to “examine” her, his wife makes an unanticipated entry.  He barely gets rid of her when Dr. Rance barges in; he is a psychiatrist from a government authority there to inspect the clinic.

But Dr. Rance seems more than a little unconventional. He quickly decides that Geraldine is insane and must be hospitalized. When the stage is empty we again meet Mrs. Prentice and the hotel bellboy, Nicholas Beckett. It seems that they have had a recent rambunctious encounter in the hotel’s line closet and he has the photos to prove it. He wants money.

That is the set up for the mayhem that follows. It is almost indescribably but let’s say that soon Dr. Prentice is accused of being insane, Geraldine keeps trying to get away, various people switch clothes and personas and Sergeant Match arrives to investigate the disappearance of Geraldine.

The conclusion draws references to both Oscar Wilde and Gilbert & Sullivan.

A show like this requires a cast with spectacular timing as well as an ability to make the characters seem like real people. It also requires a director who keeps the whole thing moving and can develop both the laughs and the feelings in it.

Luckily Westport has both.  Director John Tillinger has years of experience directing British works that require exquisite timing – at Westport and elsewhere he is considered the go-to director throughout the country for works by Orton and Alan Ayckbourn His credits go on and on as do his list of awards and award nominations.

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Patricia Kalember and Robert Stanton. Photo by Carol Rosegg

The cast is more than up to the demands of the play and the director. Again, many are veterans of this style of theater. Even those who don’t have the experience, Chris Ghaffai as Nicholas (he most recently was Romeo at Hartford Stage), perform like veterans.

Through her posture and voice, Sarah Manton immediately gives us a complete character as Geraldine and she continues to build on that first impression.  Robert Stanton as Dr. Prentice does a good job as a man who is not only losing control of the situation – and doesn’t really understand why – and someone trying to figure out a solution.

Chris Ghaffari is excellent as the blackmailing bellboy but Tillinger has incorporated a brief nude scene that seems unnecessary.

The other cast members – Patricia Kalember as Mrs. Prentice and Julian Gamble as Sergeant Match are equal to the others.

But if there is a standout, it has to be Paxton Whitehead, who has almost made a career out of playing somewhat dotty, bewildered Englishman. Here as Dr. Rance he is always confident no matter how misguided he is, always convinced of his infallibility and unflappable as everything goes crazy about him.

Praises must be given to the scenic design by James Noon – that gives an elegant touch to the clinic and provides the necessary multiple doors, the costume design by Laurie Churba, and the dialect coach Elizabeth Smith. Singling these three members of the production team, does not imply that the others – lighting design by John McKernon, sound design by Scott Killian or the movement/firearms choreographer Robert Westley did not also do great work.

What the Butler Saw provides a lot of laughs and a ridiculous situation; it is good fun.

It is at Westport Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport through Sept. 10. For tickets visit westportplayhouse.org.

what the butler -wpt 4

Chris Ghaffari and Robert Stanton. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Looking at the 2016-17 Connecticut Theater Season – My Top 10 Plus More

By Karen Isaacs

 Each year as I start to think about the upcoming theater season in Connecticut, certain productions jump out at me. Some revivals, new plays or cast/production teams seem to guarantee an exciting evening in the theater.

So, let me tell you about the productions that most excite me, listed by dates.

This summer has already given us some productions that I was anticipating with pleasure – most of them delivered including Bye, Bye Birdie at Goodspeed, The Invisible Hand at Westport, and Rent at Ivoryton though that might have been better.

Joe Orton’s comedies may be not for everyone, but they definitely are for me and Westport Country Playhouse has proved it knows how to do them – particularly when John Tillinger is directing. Add in Paxton Whitehead and What the Butler Saw (Aug. 23-Sept. 10) should be a laugh fest.

 Man of La Mancha has had only an occasional production in the last few years. While it is not one of my top ten favorite musicals, I am looking forward to the Ivoryton production (Sept. 7 – Oct. 2) in part because David Pittsinger has a magnificent voice for the part.

Goodspeed is presenting another new musical in its third slot this year. Chasing Rainbows (Sept. 16-Nov. 27) has potential, so I’m interested. It combines the making of The Wizard of Oz and the early life of Judy Garland.

Steve Martin writes quirky, humorous plays: I’m looking forward to the world premiere of his latest, Meteor Shower at Long Wharf, Sept. 28-Oct. 23.

I’m also anticipating Yale’s opening production; a new play by Sarah Ruhl’s Scenes from Court Life or the whipping boy and his prince (Sept. 30 –Oct. 22) about Charles I and II of England AND Jeb and George W. Bush.

Mark Lamos directing a musical is a formula for success. Plus, I have fond memories of Camelot since I saw the original production. So I’m looking forward to Lamos’ reimagined production at Westport (Oct. 4 -30).

I see potential in Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Story also at Ivoryton (Oct. 26 – Nov. 13). It’s billed as not just a juke-box musical; its success will depend on the quality of the book based on Clooney’s life.

I’ve seen Hartford Stage’s production of A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas multiple times; but I will see it again this year, Nov. 26 – Dec. 31.

Brien Dennehy and John Douglas Thompson – two fine actors are bringing Samuel Beckett’s existential classic Endgame to Long Wharf, Jan. 4 – Feb. 5. This will be a must see.

Combine Shakespeare, in this case the raucous A Comedy of Errors and director Darko Tresnjak and I will definitely want to attend. It’s at Hartford Stage, Jan. 12 –Feb. 12.

Another world premiere that sounds interesting is at Long Wharf, Feb. 15-March 12.  Napoli Brooklyn is a co-production with NYC’s Roundabout Theater.

Yale always has an interesting season. This year I’ve circled the Stephen Sondheim/John Weidman Assassins, March 17-April 8; it is a fascinating musical that I’ve seen several times and want to see again.

End of the Rainbow. Judy Garland is a beloved performer whose life was marred by drugs, alcohol and tragedy. This play looks at her later years; it won acclaim in London and Broadway; if a terrific actress plays Judy, this should be compelling. (MTC – April 7-23).

Broadway saw Shufflin’ Along the story of a 1920’s African American musical last season; now Seven Angels is bringing Trav’lin – the 1930s Harlem Musical to Connecticut, May 11-June 11. It features music and lyrics by Harlem Renaissance composer J. C. Johnson; I know little about him but he wrote “The Joint Is Jumpin’” among his works recorded by Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, the Boswell Sisters and others.

I love George Bernard Shaw and his plays have recently not been done enough in Connecticut. So I’m delighted that Darko Tresnjak is directing Shaw’s Saint Joan, May 11 – June 11, at Hartford..

Connecticut theater goers will be blessed with productions of two of August Wilson’s plays. The Piano Lesson which premiered at Yale will be at Hartford Stage, Oct. 13-Nov. 13.  Yale Rep will present Seven Guitars, Nov. 25 –Dec. 17.

But just about every play on Yale’s and Hartford Stage’s schedule sounds interesting.

Touring productions are in a different category. A number of award winning productions will play Connecticut this year, including:

Tony winning A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is at the Bushnell, Oct. 25-30. If you didn’t see its birth at Hartford Stage, and I did as well as on Broadway, see it again.

In fact the entire Bushnell season looks great – I loved An American in Paris, Nov. 15-20; The King and I, May 30-June 4, won the Tony for best revival and the play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Dec. 27-Jan. 1 is magnificent.

I’m also looking forward to Elf the Musical at the Shubert, Dec. 20 -24. This stage version of the classic movie has a delightful score.

I’m sure that other productions will pleasantly surprise me. I’m constantly amazed at how excellent theater in Connecticut is. And unfortunately some of the things I am most looking forward to will disappoint me.

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