Total Pageviews

Thursday, April 30, 2009

“Noises Off!” farcical fun at the HSC

HARTFORD — Throw common sense out the door when you see this farce to beat all farces, “Noises Off!,” at the Hartford Stage Company.
The play is all sardines and doors on the surface and squabbling, gossip, and wacky situations under the surface.
Written by Michael Frayn, this English farce is a play within a play. It starts the night before the play, called “Nothing On” opens. The actors don’t know their lines, and even if they did, the play is clearly bad. The actors limp through their lines and complain bitterly about anything and everything, to which the director alternately yells, supports, or consoles, depending on the person.
The second act starts behind the stage, where you see the actors getting ready to make their entrance on tour, while having pantomimed screaming matches at one another.
Then, half way through the second act, the set reverses back to the front of the stage again, and the actors’ start the play within the play, which comes totally unglued.
In the slapstick tradition of Laurel and Hardy, the Three Stooges, the Keystone Cops, and Charlie Chaplin, this play escalates from the silly to the ridiculous, and some might say hilarious.
It’s the kind of humor that is based on character and situations, rather than just one-liners, and lots of slapstick humor. There is plenty of running into walls, tied shoe laces and conjoined costumes, missing and misplaced props, and lots and lots of sardines.
The cast who play the English-accented dual roles are in great shape, and they need to be, because there is much physical humor here, scampering up and tumble down stairs, fling themselves in and out of doors, and pretty much non-stop action throughout.
There’s the maid, Mrs. Cratchet, played by the actress Dotty Otley, who is played by the fine Johanna Morrison. Morrison, last seen at the HSC in “A Christmas Carol” sets the tone from the play-within-a-play’s opening, and from the start there is no looking back.
Noble Shropshire, who plays the alcoholic Selsdon Mowbray playing the burglar, seems a little frail for the roles, and is too soft spoken at times. He is enthusiastically driven to acquire a bottle of scotch that floats about behind the stage.
Bill Kux, also in “A Christmas Carol,” makes a believable director within the play as Lloyd Dallas.
Michael Bakkense as Garry Lejeune/Roger Tramplemain, is funny trying to express himself, with limited success, while David Andrew Macdonald, as Frederick Fellowes/Philip Brent really has the vapid stare down pat.
Liv Rooth as the sexy Brooke Ashton/Vicki runs into walls with the best of them, and has distilled bad acting down to a science.
As the farce progresses, it enters into the tangled web of nonsense, too complicated to decipher, but that show-train kept on rolling, taking no prisoners, but causing plenty of laughs in the audience, who adored the performance Wednesday.
Excellent playbill too, highlighting both plays.
Don’t try to make sense of the nuttiness, but sit back and enjoy the wacky world of “Noises Off!” at the Hartford Stage Company, running through May 17.


3 Stars
Location: Hartford Stage Company, 50 Church Street, Hartford.
Production: Written by Michael Frayn. Directed by Malcolm Morrison. Scene design by Tony Straiges. Costume design by Ilona Somogyi. Lighting design by Rui Rita. Original music and sound design by David Stephen Baker.
Running time: 2 1/2 hours including one 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Tuesdays, Thursdays, and selected Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees performances Wednesdays and Sundays, selected Saturdays at 2 p.m. through May 17.
Tickets: $23 — $66. Call 860-527-5151 or visit their website at
Johanna Morrison … Dotty Otley/Mrs. Clacket
Bill Kux … Lloyd Dallas
Noble Shropshire … Selsdon Mowbray/Burglar
Michael Bakkensen … Garry Lejeune/Roger Tramplemain
Liv Rooth … Brooke Ashton/Vicki
Andrea Cirie … Belinda Blair/Flavia Brent
David Andrew Macdonald … Frederick Fellowes/Philip Brent
Veronique Hurley … Poppy Norton-Taylor
Daniel Toot … Tim Allgood

Monday, April 27, 2009

Opulent, phantasmagoric “Phantom of the Opera” at the Bushnell

HARTFORD — “The Phantom of the Opera” is a “phantastic” gothic musical for all at the Bushnell through May 10.
Pyrotechnics abound in this production, with numerous loud blinding blasts giving off enough heat at times to be felt by those up close.
The balcony seats offer the best vantage point, with excellent views of the huge chandelier flying to the ceiling, and provide a good look at the golden, garish, faux-baroque carvings that imposingly frame the stage.
The musical is based on a French novel by Gaston LeRoux. LeRoux was a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, and this dark tale has all the grotesque and macabre imagery of a Poe tale. A disfigured man escaped from a gypsy freak show and made his home in the musty bowels of the Paris opera house.
Here the Phantom with the masked face tutors a woman, Christine Daae, to become an opera star. She is an overnight sensation, while an old beau, Raoul, reappears after years, and they fall instantly in love.
Played with pathos and power by John Cudia, this love affair doesn’t fit the Phantom’s plans, since he wants Christine, his invention as he sees her, for himself.
People start dying, and the Phantom insists through many notes, that his opera be produced and Christine star in it.
The music, by the inimitable Andrew Lloyd Weber, is fantastic as always, with unforgettable numbers such as “Angel of Music,” “Masquerade,” “Think of Me,” and “All I Ask of You.”
Christine is played by the lovely Trista Moldovan, whose voice is almost always up to the challenge of the demanding soprano range.
The portly tenor lead, Ubaldo Piangi, is well played with goofy humor by John Whitney, while Kim Stengel is amusing as Carlotta Giudicelli, the over-acting spoiled diva.
Stengel is almost too good though. Instead of loving to hate her, as the role demands, one almost feels badly that an upstart ingenue, Christine, is squeezing her out.
No expense was spared on the sets, with huge swaths of Victorian-style draperies, designed by Maria Bjornson.
The costumes with their bright, brilliant, sometimes garish colors are glorious and eye-popping wild, especially when the ensemble is dressed for the masquerade ball. They are a nice counterpoint with the ballerinas who are dressed at times in Monet-like white outfits.
And don’t forget the elephant, which looks terrific on the stage, giving the show an “Aida” like feeling.
The precise choreographed movement, like a formalized dance, perfectly complements the complex octet of “Notes/Prima Donna,” with musical staging and choreography by Gillian Lynne.
“Phantom of the Opera” is confidently directed by the legendary Harold Prince, and appeals to all ages. The love story speaks to everyone, but seems to really hit a strong chord with teen-age girls, if the audience Saturday is any indication.
With all its pageantry and glitz, however, some of the show’s emotional intimacy is sacrificed. Still, there is much to enjoy in this polished production of “The Phantom of the Opera.”


3 Stars
Theater: The William H. Mortensen Hall at the Bushnell Memorial Center
Location: 166 Capitol Ave. Hartford
Production: Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics by Charles Hart. Book by Webber and Richard Stilgoe. Directed by Harold Prince. Musical Staging and choreography by Gillian Lynne. Lighting by Andrw Bridge. Music director Jonathan Gorst. Sound by Martin Levan. Production design by Maria Bjornson.
Running time: 2 ½ hours, plus one 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. through May 10.
Tickets: $28 — $82. Call 860-987-5900 or visit their website at
John Cudia … the Phantom of the Opera
Trista Moldovan … Christine Daae
Sean MacLaughlin …Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny
D.C. Anderson …Monsieur Andre
Michael McCoy …Monsieur Firmin
Kim Stengel …Carlotta Giudicelli
Nancy Hess …Madame Giry
John Whitney …Ubaldo Piangi
Jessi Ehrlich …Meg Giry
“Hair” still joyous, meaningful after all these years

STORRS — Get out your tie-died t-shirts, patchouli incense, and your fringe vests, because “Hair,” that 60’s iconic musical of love and letting it all hang out, is happening at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre through Saturday.
With such classics as “Aquarius,” “Easy to be Hard,” and the perennially upbeat “Let the Sunshine In,” plus many more, “Hair” still has a strong and pertinent anti-war message to impart.
In it’s day, it was the Vietnam War and the draft that the youth was railing against, but even today, without conscription, over 4,200 American soldiers have died in Iraq and hundreds of American soldiers lives have been lost in Afghanistan — something a blackboard outside the theater reminds the audience as they depart.
The University of Connecticut’s Connecticut Repertory Theatre combines graduate and undergraduate students with equity professionals, and here the lead role of the charismatic Berger is played by equity actor Fabio Monteiro and Sheila is dynamically played with a soulful, belting, strong voice, by Stephanie Umoh, also an equity member.
A perfect production for a large cast, where many get a chance to shine, like Noah Weintraub with an angelic voice as Woof singing the nasty song “Sodomy” and Hud, played by the lithe Philip AJ Smithey singing “Colored Spade,” with the ensemble, known as the tribe.
Claude, played by Brian Patrick Williams, is the show’s central character. Wanting to burn his draft card, but torn about breaking the law and going against his parents, Williams has a strong and clear voice and holds his own with the pros.
Everything about this production, directed by Gabriel Barre, is first rate, with kaleidoscope colored flower-power costumes by Lucy Brown, vibrant multi-level scenery by Jennifer Corcoran, and psychedelic lighting by Brad Seymour.
The backdrop projection is an inspiration of changing images from peacocks to stained glass to parachutes, and really makes the stage pop with energy.
Not that the troop needs any more energy than they already have. Extra special is the choreography, by Mark Dendy, with constant but meaningful motion and dance. The rock band, with brass backup, is super too.
There is some brief but intense profanity and nudity, so this isn’t a show for children.
Even puppets are used to fine effect, particularly when the gargantuan likeness of the incomparable American icon Kate Smith singing “God Bless America” appears.
The counter culture Timothy Leary mantra, “Turn on, tune in and drop out,” getting high on marijuana and LSD, and pre-AIDs indiscriminant free sex is celebrated in “Hair.” In its era society was going through an extreme pendulum swing in reaction to the repressive 1950’s that in hindsight clearly has its shortcomings and limitations.
While the show drags some in the middle of the second act, overall it is an enthusiastic dance down macramé lane for some, while love, questioning authority, and working for peace always remains relevant.


Three ½ Stars
Theater: Connecticut Repertory Theatre
Location: Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre, Glenbrook Road, Storrs.
Production: Music by Gait MacDermot. Book and lyrics by Gerome Ragni and James Rado. Directed by Gabriel Barre. Choreography by Mark Dendy. Musical direction by Ken Clark. Scenic design by Jennifer Corcoran. Costume design by Lucy Brown. Lighting design by Brad Seymour. Sound design by Wilson Tennermann.
Running time: About 2 hours plus one 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. through May 2.
Tickets: General admission $11 to $29. Call 860-486-4266 or visit their website at
Fabio Monteiro … Berger
Brian Patrick Williams … Claude
Stephanie Umoh … Sheila
Philip AJ Smithey … Hud
Noah Weintraub … Woof
Rebecca Dale … Jeanie
Carolyn Cumming … Crissy
Meghan O’Leary … Dionne

Monday, April 13, 2009

“Old Man and the Sea” fine adaptation at Long Wharf

NEW HAVEN — Anyone who hasn’t read Ernest Hemmingway’s novella “The Old Man and the Sea” will most likely have at least heard of the story that was made into a 1958 film staring the oddly cast Spencer Tracy.
Oddly cast because this is definitely a Cuban story, demanding Hispanic and island actors, of which this play thankfully provides.
Well adapted by director Eric Ting and set designer Craig Siebels, “The Old Man and the Sea” is almost mythic in it’s presentation of a man against the elements.
The play centers on the old man, Santiago, who has had an 84-day run of bad luck catching no fish, while others, using more modern techniques, fair better.
Deciding to travel out farther than ever, by himself, he lands a 1,500-pound marlin that is bigger than his little skiff.
Here an aged fisherman, Santiago, ably and energetically played by Mateo Gomez, fights against his bad luck, with King Lear-like rage, pitting himself against fish and sea.
At one point Santiago asks of the fish, “am I bringing you home, or are you bringing me?”
Referring to the sea as a woman, he says, “I think that the ocean can be so cruel …wild and wicked, she cannot help it.”
And like Icarus who flew too close to the sun, Santiago traveled too far out to sea.
The two-act play strangely feels both longer and shorter than is 90-minute run, which is not a negative comment, but more an observation of the trance-like state it casts.
Hemingway wrote his stories in everyday language that conveyed drama within the simplicity, and this adaptation does the same.
Not shy of self-promotion, he said, with typical Hemmingway brevity, that “The Old Man and the Sea” was “the best I can write ever for my whole life.”
The boat, painted a brilliant weathered blue, has beautiful lines and is set well against the variegated wooden flooring that doubles for a beach, the night sky, and the shack floor of the old man’s home.
Far too old to be fishing by himself, the old man pushes himself beyond endurance, and then further still. Watching him struggle against nature and his mortality is both admirable and sad.
References to baseball, and particularly the fishermen’s beloved Yankees and their hero Joe DiMaggio, parallels Hemmingway’s experience as an avid sportsman and fisherman with the Cuban fishermen he knew while living in his adopted country in the 1940’s.
Supporting actors include the loving and devoted boy, Manolin, played with compassionate respect and admiration by Rey Lucas, and the guitarist and arm wrestler, Cienfuegos, well-played by Leajato Amara Robinson.
There are no surprises in this adaptation, nor does there need to be. The play is all one could ask for from “The Old Man and the Sea” — A finely acted, well directed and well-produced play.


3 Stars
Location: 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven
Production: By Ernest Hemingway. Adapted by Eric Ting and Craig Siebels. Directed by Eric Ting. Set design by Craig Siebels. Costumes designed by Kaye M. Voyce. Lighting designed by Michael Chybowski. Sound by John Gromada. Original music designed by and co-sound by Ryan Rumery.
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes plus a 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays at 7 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. and Saturday matinees at 3 p.m. through April 26.
Tickets: $32 to $62. For more information call their box office at 203-776-2287, or visit their website at
Mateo Gomez … The Old Man (Santiago)
Rey Lucas … The Boy (Manolin)
Leajato Amara Robinson … Cienfuegos