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Monday, September 17, 2007


Three stars


Phoenix Theater’s production of the seven-time Tony Award-winning musical “Evita,” at St. Paul’s Hall in Glastonbury is not to be missed.
From the show’s leading characters to the well-rehearsed chorus, musicians, sets, choreography, and costumes, this clearly challenging show was convincingly performed.
The costumes, by Starr McLean, were simple but effective, with the cast in basic black, and changing jackets for shawls or military garb when appropriate. Eva Peron’s outfits, of which there were many, were gorgeous.
The set was spread out into four separate areas in the basement of St. Paul’s Hall — a bar, a radio station, a bedroom, and military office — on either side of the stage where the band was located.
This creative solution to a less than ideal space worked perfectly, and saved the need for major set changes which helped keep the production on the move.
And move it did. This musical does not allow for any margin of error for two hours. With the syncopated rhythms and musical dialog, it is clear that if any of the actors missed one line, they would be sunk. There is no safety net in this musical high-wire act.
Fortunately, none was needed.
Joyce Sakowicz played Eva Peron with a charisma and charm that was enthralling with a fine, strong clear voice.
Jason Ferrandino’s narrator Che blended the right balance of anger, admiration and sarcasm with power and conviction.
Jim Metzler, who played Juan Peron, was also convincing as the Argentinean general who loved and admired remarkably ambitious wife.
John Peifer as Augustin Magaldi was pitch-perfect as the sleazy lounge lizard who was Evita’s first in a long line of lovers.
The band was excellent and never overpowered any of the performers, who each gave it their all.

Theater: Phoenix Theater Company

Location: St. Paul’s Hall, 40 Naubuc Ave., Glastonbury.

Production: Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics by Tim Rice. Directed by Chris Ryan. Produced by Maggie Jackson. Musical direction by Jason Ferrandino. Choreographed by Keri Boe. Costumes by Starr McLean. Tech direction by Roy Ryzak. Light operator, Debbie Staves. Spotlight operator, Stacy Constantine. Sound operator, Chris Ryan. Poster design by Peter Riley. Playbill by Keri Boe. House manager, Patrique Hurde. House staff, Emily Mazotas and Kate Shaw

Band: Aaron Sinicrope on piano, Mark Monroe on drums, Stevie Ray on guitar, and Steve Anderson on bass

Running Time: Two hours with one intermission

Show Times: Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m., and Sunday 2 p.m. through Sept. 29.

Tickets: $20, $18 for students and senior citizens. Call 860-291-2988

Jason Ferrandino...Che
Joyce Sakowicz... Eva Peron
Jim Metzler...Juan Peron
John Peifer...Augustin Magaldi
Jessica Reily...Mistress
Samantha Frank, Evan Galatz, Maggie Jackson, Stephen Kelly, Jessica LaRussa, Doug Seelye, Jennifer Swerdlick...Chorus
Stage Review

Two and a half stars

Theater: Broad Brook Opera House
Production: Book by Sybille Pearson, music by David Shire, and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. Directed and Lighting Design by Paula Cortis. Musical Direction by Tom Slowick. Pit Orchestra, Tom Slowick on piano, John Hagopian on bass, and Dane Scozzari on drums. Stage Manager, Paul Leone. Stage crew, Rebecca Murray. Light Hang by Sharon FitzHenry, Jerry Zalewski. Light Board Programmer and Operator, Diane St. Amand. Sound Design by Devon Gamache. House Managers, Joy Iloff and Michelle Tetrault. Box office, Ginny Zdebski.
Running Time: Three hours with one intermission
Show Times: Friday and Saturday, Sept.21 and 22 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 23 at 2 p.m.
Tickets: $17, $15 for over 65 and under 12

Richard Damaso...Danny Hooper
Amy Szczepaniuk Meek...Lizzy Fields
Paul DiProto ...Nick Sakarian
Christine Voytko ... Pam Sakarian
Marge Stepansky ... Arlene MacNalley
Ed Reed III...Alan MacNalley
Reva Kleppel...Nurse, Ensemble
Pam Dexter, Khara Hoyer, Barbara LaValley, Michael May, James Rhone, Julie Thorin ...Ensemble and various characters

“Baby” has to win the award for one of the most unusual concepts for a musical — no pun intended.
First produced on Broadway in 1983 and nominated for seven Tony Awards, the story revolves around three couples, one in their 20’s, another in their 30’s, and a third in their 40’s, who all have dramatically different feelings about children.
The young college couple is caught unprepared for the news of a baby on the way, as are the older couple who thought their child rearing days were a thing of the past, while the couple in their 30’s who passionately want children are experiencing difficulties conceiving, the reasons for which they learn under amusing circumstances is a “common problem.”
There is some choreography, but the show’s strength is in it songs, of which there are over 30. The theme song “Baby, Baby, Baby,” is a catchy and memorable tune interwoven throughout the show.
It is remarkable that so many talented local people willing to devote their time committing to memory a three hour musical — particularly considering, according to the program notes, the entire production was put together in just four weeks.
This is truly a production where the star of the show is the ensemble cast of six. Each performer has their clear strengths, while all performed with convincing affection. Most outstanding vocally were Marge Stepansky, playing Arlene MacNalley, the wife in her 40’s, Richard Damasco, and Christine Voytko, who plays Pam Sakarian, the wife trying without success to become a mom.
Amy Szczepaniuk Meek, who has a striking resemblance to the actor Claire Danes, brings wide-eyed enthusiasm to her role as Lizzie Fields, the college student.
Paul DiProto as Nick Sakarian, the want-to-be dad, plays his humorous and sometimes frustrated character with energy and wit.
Ed Reed III is convincing as Allan MacNalley, a man who admits he has been a better father than a husband to his wife.
The singing could be challenging, especially during the finale when all three couples sing distinctly different parts contemporaneously. It could have easily collapsed into a cacophonous mess, but they admirably plowed through the complex number with aplomb and verve.
Special mention goes to the outstanding orchestra of three, lead by musical director Tom Slowick on piano, John Hagopian on bass, and Dane Scozzari on drums, who performed without a hitch practically non-stop for the entire show.
Kudos too go out to the backstage crew — stage manager Paul Leone and stage crew Rebecca Murray — who, with help from the cast, have to make at least a scene change a song. These unsung heroes dressed in black moved faster and with more precision than a NASCAR pit crew.
The musical “High Button Shoes” a perfect fit for Goodspeed Opera House

EAST HADDAM — What can you say about a slap-stick, high-kicking musical with not one, but two con artists, two polkas, two gorillas and even a bicycle built for two?
“I’ll take two,” Mr. Pierre Pontdue, one of the con artists played with the requisite goofiness by Ken Jennings, says, as a running joke in this fast-paced, smile-a-minute production of the 1947 musical, “High Button Shoes,” at the Goodspeed Opera House.
The musical, set in 1913, and based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Stephen Longstreet, feels like it was custom-made for the Opera House, which opened in 1877, and reopened again in 1963.
The plot, such as it is, centers on Harrison Floy, played with charismatic broad humor by Stephen Bienskie, a flimflam man who returns to his hometown of New Brunswick, New Jersey, with his sidekick Pontdue, to ply his con-artist ways on the unsuspecting townsfolk.
Whether it is selling new-fangled Model T’s, in any color as long as it is black, or making Real Estate deals for useless swampland, the plot is the goofy vehicle for the dancing and singing that make this 2 ¼ hour show a fly by.
What helps this production pop are the terrific, catchy tunes, written by Sammy Kahn, Frank Sinatra’s longtime lyricist, and Jule Styne, who wrote “Funny Girl” and “Gypsy.”
The choreography, by Linda Goodrich, is a wonder, with the tap-dancing Keystone Kops, an old soft-shoe number, and the afore-mentioned polkas performed flawlessly by 22 actors on a stage merely 21 feet wide.
The period costumes by Gregory Gale are gloriously detailed and numerous, right down to the custom-made high buttoned shoes, elaborate pheasant-feathered hats, highly tailored elegant dresses, and brilliantly colored turn-of-the-century swim suits.
Jennifer Allen who plays Mrs. Sara Longstreet, along with her two bird-watching friends, Mrs. Shirley Anderson, played by West Hartford native Dorothy Stanley and Tillie Hanson, played by Cheryl McMahon, are endlessly funny, and hit just the right note for this non-stop romp.
Russel Arden Koplin who plays Miss Fran Beck stood out among the other solid vocal performances, with a voice that never sounding forced, but was crystal clear and easy to hear over the occasionally dominant orchestra.
Young Emmett Rahn-Oakes, 11, who looks like a young Harry Potter with round wire-rimmed glasses, held his own during the song and intricate dance numbers with the ensemble.
What a joy to have such a jewel of show at such a gem of a theatre tucked away in picturesque East Haddam.
High Button Shoes runs through Sept. 22 with performances Wednesday through Sunday. Tickets cost $26 through $66. For further information call 860-873-8668 or visit their website at

Saturday, September 15, 2007

"Baby," has to win the award for most unusual concept, no pun intended, for a musical. Three couples, one in their 20's, another in their 30's, and a third in their 40's, all have different feelings about children. The young college couple are caught by surprise, the older couple are also caught unprepared, thinking their child rearing days were a thing of the past, while the couple in their 30's who passionately want children are having difficulties conceiving, which they learn under amusing circumstances is a "common problem."

There is some choreography, but the one scene that stands out is the ensemble of men dancing with their baseball bats, but the show's strength is in it songs, of which there are over 30.

Some songs are stronger in message, such as "Easier to Love," sung by Reed, while others have a lovely tuneful pathos, such as "I Chose Right," performed by Damasco, and the theme song "Baby, Baby, Baby," is a catchy and memorable tune that reoccurs throughout the show.

Kudos go to the backstage crew who have to make at least a scene change a song, and there are a lot of them. These unsung heroes dressed in black were moving faster and with more precision than a Nascar pit crew.

It is amazing that there are that many talented people willing to devote their time to committing to memory a three hour musical and perform it seamlessly, particularly considering, according to the program notes, the entire production was put together in four weeks.

Evidently there had been a lighting problem which the Suffield Players assisted in resolving, but the lighting worked well. No one was left in the dark.

Special notice goes to the outstanding orchestra of three, lead by musical director Tom Slowick on piano, who performed without a hitch almost non-stop for the entire show.

Each performer had their strengths, while each one performed with convincing affection. Most outstanding vocal were Arlene and Richard and Pam. Lizzie, who has a striking resemblance to Claire Daines, brought enthusiasm and believability to her role. Paul DiProto as Nick Sakarian played his humorous and sometimes angry role with energy and wit, and Ed Reed III, playing the role of Alan MacNalley was convincing as a man who acknowledges the fact that he has been a better father than a husband to his wife, Arlene, play by Marge Stepansky.

The singing could be challenging, especially at the end when there when all there couples were singing different parts concurrently-a 3-part duet? It could have easily collapsed into a cacophonous mess, but they admirably pulled off the complex number with aplomb and verve.

The Broad Brook Opera House, in the Broad Brook section of East Windsor, should not go without mention. It is a hidden gem. Constructed by ship builders in 1892 during the former mill town's heyday, with a magnificent ceiling of exposed wooden beams, and similar in design and size to the Goodspeed Opera House in Essex, the theater is the perfect venue for the Opera House Players.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Driving Miss Daisy Blossoms

I have never seen the movie version of Driving Miss Daisy, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Screenplay in 1987, and I think it is just as well not to clutter my mind with distractions of comparisons, but to take the play as it was originally produced 20 years ago when it first ran on Off-Broadway and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Even still I had some preconceived notions that the play would be a sweet but rather sentimental play about a crotchety old widow with a patient but kindly chauffeur.

And, in some ways it was that - but what I didn't anticipate that in it's own quiet way, it would have such depth, humor, as well as political implications.

The plot is simple enough. Daisy Werthan, played by Rosemary Prinz, is a wealth Jewish widow in her early 70's who crashes her car and, although uninjured, she can no longer drive, primarily because, as her son repeated states, no one will insure her.

Her sometimes understandably exasperated but genuinely loving son, Boolie Wertham, played by John Leonard Thompson, buys her a new car, but insists he get her a driver, which she steadfastly refuses, preferring instead to take the bus to the Piggly-Wiggly market. (I love that name - Piggly-Wiggly)

The chauffeur, Hoke Coleburn, played by Mel Johnson, Jr., waits her out, and finally after a week she allows him, begrudgingly to drive her where she needs to go. And drive her he does, over the next 25 years.

The play which is set mostly in Atlanta, Georgia, begins in 1948 and takes us through to 1973 and runs 90 minutes, without an intermission.

The play is broken up into numerous vignettes and scene changes which are creatively implied with a table here and a desk there, and a background of changing symbols in shadow - a chandelier for Miss Daisy's house, a tree limb for the outdoors, venetian blinds for Boolie's office. Very effective.

One Vignette has Miss Daisy and Hoke in the car, driving her to the synagogue, when they learn it has just been bombed. As horrid as this is, Miss Daisy insists to Hoke that the bombers made a terrible mistake, because theirs is a "reformed" synagogue, not one of those unenlightened orthodox synagogues.

Later when she wishes to go to a diner for Martin Luther King, Jr., her son Boolie, a prominent businessman in town, tells her he and his wife will not be attending because it might negatively effect his business. Thompson somehow manages to make Boolie's decision sound understandable and reasonable from his perspective, which is a real accomplishment.

Between each of the vignettes during the blackout and change of scene a musical interlude of pre-recorded violins and banjos played. The original music, composed by Robert Waldham, almost imperceptively links together the entire production.

The lighting was unnoticeable, which in the end is all I ask of lighting. The only time I notice the lighting is when a cue is missed.

The beginning, I felt was a bit over-directed. I rarely notice the direction, which I honestly think is a good sign. If the direction starts to become noticeable, the magic is broken. There was too much pacing back and forth. After that, there was no problem.

The sound otherwise was fine, except for one vignette set in the evening when some of the dialog was overpowered by excessively loud chirping crickets.

All three characters slowly, convincingly and almost inperceptively age over the 25 years of the play, their bodies changing slowly as particularly Miss Daisy and Hoke who are contemporaries, enter their 90's, with the associated aches and pains that come with old age.

But Prinz's Miss Daisy, determinedly insisting on life over everything, is a thing of wonder and beauty which brings tears to my eyes just remembering her popping open her beak-like mouth like a baby bird to receive a bite of pumpkin pie from Hoke, It is stunning. And to watch her insistently - almost fiercely, edge her walker forward, with the determination of a mountain climber scaling Mt. Everest is a monumental tribute to the human will.

Mel Johnson's chauffeur, Hoke Coleburn, is everything the part demands. He is totally believable as a black man living in a time and a place where his options are limited. But, even within the confines of a stifling social paradigm, he consistently brings a quiet joy and personal dignity and self-respect to his character.