Tag Archives: Westport Country Playhouse

“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.

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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.

“Invisible Hand” at Westport Is Engrossing Political/Financial Thriller

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Rahesh Bose, Fajer Kaisi, Eric Bryant and Jameal Ali. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

By Karen Isaacs

 Money is the subject of many adages – from “money is the root of all evil” to “money makes the world go round” to the biblical lines about the difficulty the rich have in entering heaven. In the 1980’s the motto seemed to be that “greed is good.”

The very talented playwright Ayad Akhtar has combined all of these viewpoints with a political thriller to create the compelling The Invisible Hand now getting an excellent production at Westport Country Playhouse through Aug. 6.

The play opens with Nick Bright (is the name a little too symbolic?) handcuffed in a small room with an obviously Muslim guard, Dar. During the exposition we learn that Nick works for Citibank in Pakistan and has been kidnapped partly by mistake; the group wanted his boss. They have demanded a $10 million ransom but nothing is happening. The group led by Imam Saleem; wants to use the ransom to fund economic and health projects to help the country. Saleem’s lieutenant is Bashir, whose parents left Pakistan for England years ago.

Nick is a brilliant trader in all sorts of financial instruments, able to determine how to make money in almost any situation and to find “the edge.” He is also very knowledgeable about Pakistani politics. In fact he has advised Dar how to make money on the potato crop.

As the rather long first act unfolds – it is over an hour – we see the gratuitous cruelty (Bashir kicks Dar in the groin), the despair of Nick and the intricacies of the relationship between Bashir and Saleem.

Since the bank seems in no hurry to pay the ransom, Nick and Saleem negotiate a deal. If Nick can make his ransom within one year, using as a starter money he has stashed in a Cayman Island account, he will be released. Bakshir will be his assistant and Nick is charged with teaching him how the markets operate.

Thus the title: The Invisible Hand. The termed is by the early economist Adam Smith to describe the unintended social benefits that arise from individuals pursuing their self-interests; that they balance out each other for the good of the whole.

Nick and Bakshir set to work; soon Bakshir gains some knowledge of an impending political assassination by another group and Nick parlays that into a $700,000 gain. But fissures start to appear. Barkshir feels he is being used as an errand boy, not a student and the Iman takes $400,000 from the working capital account to purchase vaccines. Nick suspects a large part of that went into the Iman’s pockets.

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Eric Bryant and Rajesh Bose. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

The three men clash with Nick often forgetting that he is their captive and at their mercy. He believes they need him for his ability to “create” money. The Iman, while autocratic and ruthless, seems more practical than the younger Bakshir who is filled with resentment for the Western world and its values. He remembers the numerous slights and insults he endured in England.

At times the dialogue seems like a class in economics from the Bretton Woods agreement after WWII that made the American dollar the de facto monetary standard for the world, to the meanings of stock market terminology such as “put” and “calls.”

Yet, it never becomes dry or boring. We are caught up in the suspense. Will Nick succeed in raising his ransom?  Will his captors actually release him? As Bakshir gains knowledge will he challenge either Nick or the Iman?

In keeping with the political thriller genre, I won’t tell the answers to any of this. Let’s say some of it was predictable and some was not.

Playwright Akhtar, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning Disgraced has again created a play that will have you leaving the theater thinking. While American born and raised, Akhtar has an almost innate understanding of the perceptions and philosophy of the Islamic world. He is able to let us into a world that to Americans seems strange and perhaps “wrong.” He also articulates how the third world sees the dominant political and economic powers, of which the US is the most powerful.

Associate Artistic Director David Kennedy has kept the pacing tight and helped the actors delineate their very different characters. His direction helps us look at the various viewpoints presented.  The structure of the playing space, designed by Adam Rigg assists. The “curtain” – it isn’t really that – triangulates into the audience. In addition, Fitz Patton has created a sound design that lets the outside world infiltrate into Nick’s prison. Special mention must be given to Louis Colainni, who as the dialect coach, helps all of the actors to be both understandable and “in character.”

Rajesh Bose, who played the lead in Akhtar’s Disgraced at Long Wharf last year (and won awards) plays the Iman. He has to convince us that this pragmatic man who will let Nick manipulate money so that the Iman can use it, is also naïve enough to misjudge the results. The playwright has given him a difficult task. Fajer Kaisi is very effective as Bashir, the younger and both angrier and more idealistic follower of the Iman. It is he who carries the burden of presenting the third world view of America.  Eric Bryant is outstanding as Nick. His posture and gestures show us what may have happened (abuse?) before the play opens, but also his confidence as he gets into job. This is a multi-dimensional, layered performance that encourages us to be protective of him while also at times amazed at his sometimes dangerous outbursts.

The Invisible Hand through Aug. 6 will both have you on the edge of your seat and questioning some of your assumptions. It is at Westport Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport. For tickets visit wwestportplayhouse.org.

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Rajesh Bose, Eric Bryant, Fajer Kaisi. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

One Actor, Many Characters, Great Satire of Celebrity Egos

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Michael Urie. Photo by Carol Rosegg

By Karen Isaacs

When Buyer and Cellar opened off-Broadway in 2013, it was an instant hit. One reason was the play itself about celebrity hubris; the other reason was the performance of Michael Urie.

Now Connecticut audiences can get a chance to see both the play AND the performance. Urie is at Westport Country Playhouse through July 3 performing this piece that sends up Barbra Streisand. In fact Channel 13, New York’s public television station is filming a performance for airing sometime next year.

Buyer and Cellar is not a play with a deep message; you won’t be pondering its meaning for days after seeing it. Instead you will leave the theater with a smile on your face.

The show opens with Urie telling us that this is a work of fiction; that the events did not happen. Why the necessity for this? Partly because some of the true parts – he alerts us when they occur – are so over the top that you would think they are made up.

But the main reason is, I suspect, a recommendation by playwright Jonathan Tolins’ lawyer. For this play which is really a satire is set mainly in the Malibu home of La Streisand.

In 2010, she published a coffee table book, My Passion for Design that described the construction and furnishing of this pseudo-New England house complete with barn and waterwheel. Since she’s known for her control freak personality, she not only wrote the book but photographed it as well. She may well have operated the printing presses, also.

What’s real is that she took an idea from the Winterthur Museum in Delaware that houses one of the major collections of Americana including furniture, glass, china and more. The Museum displays some of its collection in a series of shops, as if they were for sale. Streisand – who is known for collecting and shopping almost as much as for anything else – thought this would be a fabulous way to display her multiple collections: dolls, clothing, hats, and more. So she had built in the cellar of the barn, a “shopping mall”.

The fiction is that Streisand hired someone to staff the shops – dusting, arranging, and sometimes interacting with her when she visited “her” mall.

Alex Moore is the out of work actor who is interviewed by Streisand’s assistant and hired.  He whiles away the days, dusting, re-arranging and fantasizing about meeting the great Streisand.  One day, it happens: Barbra comes down to the mall and, into the doll shop, Alex “sells” her an antique doll using his acting chops to create a reality for her. He even refuses to negotiate the price of the doll, though Barbra ultimately triumphs; she just “happens” to find a coupon that brings the price down to exactly what she wanted.

Streisand begins to visit more frequently, though there are still long days of nothing to do for Alex. One night, Streisand wants him to stay late so that her dinner guests can come down to get frozen yogurt – yes, there is a sweet shop with both popcorn and frozen yogurt machines!  Of course, no guests arrive but after they leave, Streisand does. And just a few minutes later, her husband James Brolin arrives wanting another frozen yogurt.

All goes well – he even “coaches” her as she thinks about a film remake of Gypsy (this was really talked about, but has not come to pass). He, in fact, becomes somewhat charmed or smitten by Streisand as she tells him stories of her childhood. He begins to view her as a “friend” which Sharon, the assistant tries to warn him against. Even Barry becomes annoyed with his sympathy for her apparently sad childhood: after all she is now a celebrity with money, fame and talent. Barry things, Streisand should “just get over it.”

As can be expected, one day he annoys Streisand and he is gone.

 As Alex (Michael Urie) tells us this story, he becomes the various characters: Vincent, the guy he told him about the job; Sharon, Streisand’s house manager; his boyfriend Barry who both adores and is annoyed by Streisand; James Brolin, Streisand’s husband; and, of course, Streisand herself.

He tells us up front he is not going to imitate Streisand, but he manages to create the

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Photo by Carol Rosegg

illusion with some mannerisms and vocal techniques. No one would think he IS Streisand, but if you are aware of her, you will recognize her in his performance.

This play depends on a stellar performance as well as an audience willing to accept that his illusions are real. Urie does this expertly. He is chatty and friendly with the audience, he does not overdo gay stereotype mannerisms, he moves seamlessly from character to character. And he does show us how he views Streisand, but also his inner life.

Humor is a big part of the success of this show, it has lots of funny lines. Plus, some of the situations and “facts” including the existence of the shops themselves are so absurd as to be funny.

In reality, this is the off-Broadway production; Stephen Brackett is still the director, and the design elements replicate it. Andrew Boyce has created a bland set (beige walls, chair rail,) that is colonial in tone.

Now of course, you can find a deeper meaning in it. It is a commentary not only on our celebrity fascination but how those with celebrity and power often lose sight of the realities of the world. The begin to think that not only the earth but the sun revolves around their wishes and commands.

So, if you are looking for enjoyable but not weighty evening at the theater, check out Buyer and Cellar through July 3, at Westport Playhouse, 1 Playhouse Square, Westport. For tickets visit westportplayhouse.org.

A Glittery Night for Connecticut Theater

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By Karen Isaacs

 The night after the Tony Awards, Monday, June 13, Connecticut theater celebrated its best and brightest achievements at the Connecticut Critics Circle Awards program at Hartford Stage. Indecent which had its world premiere at Yale Rep last fall was named Outstanding Production of a Play and Anastasia which has just concluded its world premiere at Hartford Stage was named Outstanding Production of a Musical. Indecent is currently playing off-Broadway where it has received rave reviews.

the audience

Photo by Mara Lavitt.

While there was no red carpet – maybe next year – the 26th annual awards program sponsored by the organization that represents many of Connecticut’s print, radio, and other media theater critics – was an exciting event.

Hartford Stage and TheaterWorks co-hosted the event on the Hartford Stage with the set of Anasatsia as background. Tina Fabrique, who has performed throughout the state and just completed a run at Connecticut Repertory Theater, served as emcee.

Throughout the evening, many presenters and winners referred to the shooting in Orlando that had occurred just two days before. All stressed how inclusive, welcoming and supportive the arts and theater are and hoped that they could serve as a model for all the world.

While some winners were working away from Connecticut and could not attend (Darko

Bill Bertone by Mara Lavitt

 Presenter and legendary theatrical animal trainer Bill Berloni with two of his current animal actors Frankie, left, and Trixie, right. Photo by Mara Lavitt.

Tresnjak was in Los Angeles directing an opera), those present not only expressed their gratitude for the awards but also for the supportive environment that Connecticut’s theaters provide and the responsive and welcoming nature of the audiences.

Teren Carter who received the award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical for Memphis at Ivoryton deeply moved the audience as he dedicated the award to a young relative who had just recently been shot and killed in Baltimore. He said that his involvement with theater beginning at 13 may have saved him from a similar end.

In his opening remarks, TheaterWorks Producing Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero, said that while the Tonys were all about Hamilton – the Broadway smash, the evening was going to be all about Anastasia, the Broadway-bound musical that just premiered at Hartford Stage. But while he was correct, if you count the number of nominations and awards it won, many awards and nominations went to other theaters both large and small.

Mohit Gautam debut award by Mara Lavitt

Mohit Gautam – Debut Award.Photo by Mara Lavitt .

In fact, Ivoryton Playhouse was nominated was for 10 awards split between two shows: South Pacific and Memphis. The small Playhouse on Park in West Hartford received five nominations, for Hair and Wit. Music Theater of Connecticut in Norwalk was nominated for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike and Evita. Co-host TheaterWorks was nominated five times for three different productions: Good People, Third, and The Call.

Yet the “major” theaters were also well-represented.  Goodspeed received five nominations for Anything Goes and La Cage aux Folles. It should also have “reflected glory” for the nominations Long Wharf received for My Paris, which had its first major workshop at the Norma Terris Theater last summer.  Westport Country Playhouse received 10 nominations: Red (5), And a Nightingale Sang (2), Broken Glass (1), Art (1).

But Yale Rep, Long Wharf and Hartford Stage led the way in both nominations and awards.

Benim Foster  by Mara Lavitt

Rajesh Bose – Outstanding Actor in a Play. Photo by Mara Lavitt.

Yale had 15 nominations for Indecent (7), The Moors (5), Happy Days (2) and Cymbeline (1). Long Wharf garnered 17 nominations; the most for My Paris (11), with Disgraced (5) and Measure for Measure (1). Eighteen nominations went to Hartford Stage productions: Anastasia (11), Rear Window (4), Body of an American (2), and Romeo & Juliet (2).

The Tom Killen Award for outstanding contribution to Connecticut Theater was presented to Annie O’Keefe.  During her long career she has served as Long Wharf and Westport Country Playhouse, as stage manager, production manager, Artistic Director and more. During the presentation letters were read from actor John Lithgow, former Long Wharf Artistic Director Arvin Brown and Darko Tresjnak,

Anne Keefe by Mara Lavitt

 The 2016 Connecticut Critics Circle Awards. Tom Killen Award recipient Anne Keefe. Photo by Mara Lavitt.

Hartford Stage’s artistic director.

Other award recipients are:

Outstanding director of a play: Rebecca Taichman for Indecent.

Outstanding director of a musical: Darko Tresnjak for Anastasia.

Outstanding actor in a play: Rajesh Bose for Disgraced at Long Wharf Theatre

Outstanding actor in a musical: Bobby Steggert for My Paris at Long Wharf Theatre. Steggert has received several Tony nominations.

Outstanding actress in a play: Erika Rolfsrud for Good People at Hartford’s TheaterWorks.

Outstanding actress in a musical: Christy Altomare for Anastasia.

Outstanding choreography: Peggy Hickey for Anastasia.”

Outstanding ensemble: Indecent.

Outstanding featured actor in a play: Charles Janasz for Romeo and Juliet at Hartford Stage.

Outstanding featured actress in a play: Birgit Huppuch for The Moors at Yale Repertory Theatre.

Teren Carter by Mara Lavitt

Teren Carter, Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical.Photo by Mara Lavitt.

Outstanding featured actor in a musical: Teren Carter for Memphis at Ivoryton Playhouse.

Outstanding featured actress in a musical: Mara Davi for My Paris.

Outstanding debut: Mohit Gautman for Disgraced” at Long Wharf Theatre

Outsanding set design: Alexander Dodge for Rear Window at Hartford Stage.

Oustanding costume design: (a tie) Linda Cho for Anastasia and Paul Tazewell for My Paris at Long Wharf Theatre. Tazwell had won a Tony Award for his costumes for Hamilton the previous evening.

Outstanding lighting design:  Donald Holder for Anastasia.

alexander Dodge  by Mara Lavitt

 Outstanding Set Design winner Alexander Dodge. Photo by Mara Lavitt.

Outstanding sound design: Darron L. West for Body of an American for Hartford Stage.

Outstanding projection design: Aaron Rhyne for Anastasia. at Hartford Stage

Special awards were presented to Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva, co-composers and co-music directors who created the Klezmer music for Yale Rep’s world premiere of Indecent. A special “Shout Out” was given to Vincent Cardinal who has been artistic director of the Connecticut Rep and department chair at UConn. He is leaving to go to University of Michigan where he will head the Department of Musical Theater.

Among the award presenters were Gov. Dannel F. Malloy and Cathy Malloy, CEO of the Greater Hartford Arts Council, O’Neill Theater Center founder George White, animal trainer Bill Berloni and Tony Award nominee (and Connecticut Critics Circle Award winner) Tony Sheldon, just completing a run at Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theater in The Roar of the Geasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd.

Musical selections were performed by Tina Fabrique and nominee for South Pacific at Ivoryton (and Connecticut resident and opera star) David Pittsinger. He will be starring in Man of La Mancha at Ivoryton later this summer.

All Connecticut theaters with contracts with Equity, the major stage acting union, are eligible, over 14 theaters from Norwalk New Canaan to Storrs, and East Haddam.

This content is courtesy of Shore Publications and zip06.com

CT Critics Announce Award Nominations

By Karen Isaacs

Anastasia (Hartford Stage), My Paris (Long Wharf), La Cage aux Folles (Goodspeed Musicals), Hair (Playhouse on Park), South Pacific and Memphis (Ivoryton Playhouse) were among the top nominees in the musical and production categories for the Connecticut Critics Circles.

The plays receiving multiple nominations included Disgraced (Long Wharf), Good People (TheaterWorks), Indecent (Yale Rep), Red (Westport Country Playhouse), Happy Days (Yale Rep), The Moors (Yale Rep) and Broken Glass (Westport Country Playhouse.

The award recipients will be announced at the ceremony at Hartford Stage on Monday, June 13 at 7:30 p.m. The ceremony is free and open to the public; the general public can RSVP at hartfordstage.org. For information on the Connecticut Critics Circle Awards, visit ctcritics.org.

The awards recognize outstanding achievements from the state’s 2015-’16 professional theater season by the group comprised of theater critics and writers from the state’s print, radio and on-line media.

Connecticut Critics Circle Awards Nominations 2015-16 Season

Outstanding Production of a Play
Disgraced – Long Wharf Theatre
Good People – TheaterWorks
Happy Days – Yale Rep
Indecent – Yale Rep
Red – Westport Country Playhouse
Outstanding Production of a Musical
Anastasia – Hartford Stage
Hair – Playhouse of Park
La Cage aux Folles – Goodspeed Musicals
My Paris – Long Wharf Theatre
South Pacific – Ivoryton Playhouse
Outstanding Ensemble
Cast of Art – Westport Country Playhouse
Cast of Hair – Playhouse on Park
Cast of Indecent – Yale Repertory Theatre
Cast of Measure for Measure – Long Wharf Theater
Cast of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike – Music Theatre of Connecticut
Outstanding Director of a Play
Gordon Edelstein – Disgraced – Long Wharf Theatre
Jackson Gay – The Moors – Yale Repertory Theatre
Mark Lamos – Red – Westport Country Playhouse
Rob Ruggiero – Good People – TheaterWorks
Rebecca Taichman – Indecent – Yale Repertory Theatre
Outstanding Director of a Musical
David Edwards – South Pacific – Ivoryton Playhouse
Sean Harris – Hair – Playhouse on Park
Kathleen Marshall – My Paris – Long Wharf Theatre
Rob Ruggiero – La Cage aux Folles – Goodspeed Musicals
Darko Tresnjak – Anastasia – Hartford Stage

Outstanding Actor in a Play
Rajesh Bose – Disgraced – Long Wharf Theatre
Ward Duffy – Good People – TheaterWorks
Conor Hamill – Third – TheaterWorks
Stephen Rowe – Red – Westport Country Playhouse
Steven Skybell – Broken Glass – Westport Country Playhouse

Outstanding Actress in a Play
Felicity Jones – Broken Glass – Westport Country Playhouse
Brenda Meaney – And a Nightingale Sang – Westport Country Playhouse
Elizabeth Lande – Wit – Playhouse on Park
Erika Rolfsrud – Good People – TheaterWorks
Dianne Wiest – Happy Days – Yale Repertory Theatre.
Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Riley Costello – Peter Pan – Connecticut Repertory Theater
Carson Higgins – Memphis – Ivoryton Playhouse
David Pittsinger – South Pacific – Ivoryton Playhouse
Bobby Steggert – My Paris – Long Wharf Theatre
Jamieson Stern – La Cage aux Folles – Goodspeed Musicals

Outstanding Actress in a Musical
Christy Altomare – Anastasia – Hartford Stage
Adrianne Hicks – South Pacific – Ivoryton Playhouse
Renee Jackson – Memphis – Ivoryton Playhouse
Katerina Papacostas – Evita – Music Theatre of Connecticut
Rashidra Scott – Anything Goes – Goodspeed Musicals
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
Benim Foster – Disgraced – Long Wharf Theatre
Charles Janasz – Romeo & Juliet – Hartford Stage
Richard Kline – And a Nightingale Sang – Westport Country Playhouse
Michael Rogers – The Call — TheaterWorks
Richard Topol – Indecent – Yale Repertory Theatre
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
Shirine Babb – Disgraced – Long Wharf Theatre
Megan Byrne – Good People – TheaterWorks
Kandis Chappell – Romeo & Juliet – Hartford Stage
Birgit Huppuch – The Moors – Yale Repertory Theatre
Jodi Stevens – Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike – Music Theater of Connecticut
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
John Bolton – Anastasia – Hartford Stage
Teren Carter – Memphis – Ivoryton Playhouse
Christopher DeRosa – Evita  – Music Theater of Connecticut
Tom Hewitt – My Paris – Long Wharf Theatre
William Selby – South Pacific – Ivoryton Playhouse

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
Mara Davi – My Paris – Long Wharf Theatre
Caroline O’Connor – Anastasia – Hartford Stage
Mary Beth Peil – Anastasia – Hartford Stage
Patricia Schumann – South Pacific – Ivoryton Playhouse
Jodi Stevens – Legally Blonde – Summer Theatre of New Canaan.
Outstanding Choreography
David Dorfman – Indecent
Peggy Hickey – Anastasia
Kathleen Marshall – My Paris
Todd Underwood – Memphis
Darlene Zoller – Hair
Outstanding Scenic Design
Alexander Dodge – Rear Window
Alexander Dodge – Anastasia
Derek McLane – My Paris
Allen Moyer – Red
Alexander Woodward – The Moors
Outstanding Costume Design
Fabian Fidel Aguilar – The Moors
Linda Cho – Anastasia
Michael McDonald – La Cage aux Folles
Paul Tazewell – My Paris
Outstanding Light Design
Christopher Akerlind – Indecent
Andrew F. Griffin – The Moors
Donald Holder – My Paris
Donald Holder – Anastasia
York Kennedy – Rear Window
Outstanding Sound Design
David Budries – Red
Peter Hylenski – Anastasia
Brian Ronan – My Paris
Jane Shaw – Rear Window
Darron L. West – Body of an American
Outstanding Projection Design
Rasean Davonte Johnson – Cymbeline
Alex Basco Koch – The Body of an American
Sean Nieuwenhuis – Rear Window
Aaron Rhyne – Anastasia
Olivia Sebesky – My Paris

 

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