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Thursday, May 14, 2009

42nd Street zippy Goodspeed production

EAST HADDAM — Put on your dancing shoes because “42nd Street” is hitting the boards at the Goodspeed Opera House.
This zippy production of the award winning 1980 musical has everything a musical devote could ask for — dancing, singing, and more dancing.
It’s difficult to believe this musical of musicals was produced as late as 1980. It feels more like the good old-fashioned musicals from the turn of the 1900s.
The plot is a bit hokey, but the cast has a blast with what they have to work with. Set in the time period just after the stock market crash of 1929, this show couldn’t be more timely too.
It’s a perennial fairytale of overnight success based on sheer talent and heart. A group of dancers are auditioning for a new show when a newcomer, Peggy Sawyer, played with wide-eyed optimism by Kristen Martin, is befriended by the sweet and welcoming chorus girls.
None of the gals has a professionally jealous bone in their super-fit bodies, and they welcome the fledgling hoofer from Allentown, Penn. with open arms. You know, just like in real life.
The star of the show within the show is Dorothy Brock, played with plenty of moxy by the sultry Laurie Wells. Brock can sing, but can’t dance her way out of a paper bag. She is accidentally tripped up by Sawyer, breaking her ankle.
The hard-nosed producer with a heart of gold, Julian Marsh, played with confidence by James Lloyd Reynolds, begs Sawyer to step into the lead role.
It’s always spectacular to see how the Goodspeed choreographers and directors, here Rick Conant and Ray Roderick, manage to squeeze so much dancing and action onto the tiny stage.
The costume changes are too numerous and fast to count, with candy colored rainbow delights of festive period getups — Costumes by David H. Lawrence.
Less successful is the Hollywood Squares-like dressing room ensemble number that seems a little cheesy, and would have been migraine producing if it continued much longer. The Shadow Waltz, with dancing behind a screen in silhouette is an imaginative idea, but is not so effective in delivery.
Notable is the incorrigible tenor, Billy Lawlor, played by the dashing and flirtatious Austin Miller, and the sultry femme fatal, Lorraine Fleming, played by Erin West. Fine comic relief to the comedy is provided by Dorothy Stanley and Dale Hensley as the show’s songwriting team, Maggie Jones and Bert Berry.
There are some classic musical numbers in the show, including “Lullaby of Broadway,” “We’re in the Money,” “Shuffle Off to Buffalo,” and of course, “42nd Street.”
Few sights are more stirring and spectacular than experiencing a talented chorus line tapping their hearts out. Come enjoy the ballyhoo at the Goodspeed Opera House through June 28.


Three Stars
Location: Goodspeed Opera House, Route 82, East Haddam
Production: Music by Harry Warren. Lyrics by Al Dubin. Book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble. Directed by Ray Roderick. Choreographed by Rick Conant. Produced by Michael P. Price. Scene design by Howard Jones. Costume design by David H. Lawrence. Lighting design by Charlie Morrison.
Running time: 2 hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Wednesdays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., and select Thursdays at 2 p.m.; Friday, and Saturday at 8 p.m. with Saturday matinee at 3 p.m., and Sunday matinee at 2 p.m., with select Sunday evening performance at 6:30 p.m. through June 28.
Tickets: $27.50 — $69.50. Call the box office at 860-873-8668 or visit their website at
James Lloyd Reynolds … Julian Marsh
Kristen Martin … Peggy Sawyer
Austin Miller … Billy Lawlor
Laurie Wells … Dorothy Brock
Dorothy Stanley … Maggie Jones
Dale Hensley … Bert Berry
Erick Devine … Abner Dillon
Erin West … Lorraine Fleming
Tim Falter … Andy Lee
Elise Kinnon … Phyllis Dale
Jenifer Foote … Ann Reilly

Monday, May 11, 2009

“Buried Child” a finely acted, surreal gothic tale at the Valley Rep Company

ENFIELD — If the title doesn’t give it away, “Buried Child,” written by Sam Shepard and playing at the Valley Repertory Company, is no comedy.
Shepard won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Drama this extraordinary play, which is set in the living room of a dilapidated farmhouse on a farm that no one is farming in Illinois.
It is a surreal, macabre, modern gothic tragedy of a dysfunctional farming family’s demise.
An invalid, alcoholic father, Dodge, has become dependent on his grown sons, Tilden and Bradley, while their mother, Halie, lives in a bizarre religious fantasy world of her own, idolizing a third dead son who died in a motel room on his honeymoon under mysterious conditions that are never explained.
She relentlessly and heartlessly nags what remains of her miserable family, finding relief flirting with the priest and solace in the religion of denial.
Tilden’s son, Vincent, and his new girlfriend, Shelly, unexpectedly drop in while on a road trip to New Mexico, where the son thinks his father is living. When Vincent arrives, however, the father and grandfather act as if the grandson is a stranger.
Odd things start happening, such as when Tilden enters the room with an armful of corn, and then an armful of carrots, even though the father and mother insist that nothing has been planted.
The family is unhealthily united under the shared burden of an incestual and murderous secret that eventually is revealed, but nothing is ever clearly spelled out or fully explained.
Each cast member is excellent, but Don Thomas’ nuanced and complex portrayal as the diminished curmudgeon, Dodge, is nothing short of remarkable.
He plays a man desperate for some whiskey, starring blankly at the television screen, and carrying the burden of a desperate secret like a cancer eating at him from the inside.
His hollowed out cheeks and weak condition belie a stubborn determination along with a wickedly funny intelligence that is believable and natural within the surreal proceedings.
Still, as sad and depressing as this story is, it is also bitingly and darkly funny at times, thanks mostly to Thomas’ Dodge, who, although he is on his last leg, hasn’t lost his wits.
Denise Walker plays the menacing Betty Davis-like matriarch Halie, and the confused and permanently depressed and depleted eldest son, Tilden, is played with unending sadness by Chris Kibble.
Jim York as the other living son, Bradley, who accidentally sawed his leg off with a chainsaw, is singularly creepy and totally scary, while Aaron L. Schwartz fits into the craziness of the household well as Tilden’s long-absent son, Vincent.
Janine Flood plays the relatively normal girlfriend, Shelly, as the outsider who is alternately repelled and oddly intrigued by the family lunacy.
Gary Turrel plays the Father Dewis with ecclesiastic hypocrisy.
The choice of blues guitar music between scenes works well to set the melancholy mood, but perhaps blending the second and third acts together would be a good idea. One intermission a show is preferable.
The solid set is beautifully and solidly constructed, with set and lighting design along with directing credits going to Eric Albetski, but it might have been more dilapidated to match the decrepit reality of these characters’ existence.
Make no doubt about it though, this is Dodge’s play, just as Shakespeare’s “King Lear” belongs to the monarch and Willy Loman is integral to Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” In it Thomas plays the role of a lifetime, and is one of the best and most believable actors I have ever seen on any stage.
Perseverance along with perversity pervades in this dark but fascinating tale — a brave choice by the Valley Repertory Company.


3½ Stars
Theater: Valley Repertory Company
Location: 100 High Street, Enfield
Production: Written by Sam Shepard. Directed by Eric Albetski. Produced by Jan Albetski. Stage manager and assistant director Jason Fregeau. Costumes by Jeffrey Flood. Set and lighting design by Eric Albetski.
Running time: 2 ½ hours, with two intermission
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through May 16.
Tickets: $10 in advance and $12 at the door. $8 prepaid and $10 at the door for seniors over 60 and youth under 18. Adult language & situations. Call 860-749-4665 or visit their website at

Don Thomas … Dodge
Denise Walker … Halie
Chris Kibble … Tilden
Jim York … Bradley
Janine Flood … Shelly
Aaron L. Schwartz … Vincent
Gary Turrel … Father Dewis
Follow your dreams with “The Sound of Music” at the Opera House Players

EAST WINDSOR — The East Windsor hills are alive with “The Sound of Music,” the classic musical about Maria, the captain, and the kids.
Producing a musical that is so familiar to so many because of the timeless musical and famous 1965 film “The Sound of Music,” starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, is a double-edged sword.
The songs are ingrained into our social unconscious, and for a good reason — they are delightful — but the risk is that the production could easily pale by comparison.
Fortunately, that is not a problem for the Opera House Players’ production. This cast does a smashing job of putting on a seamless, well-rehearsed entertainment, lead by the near-perfect Rosanne Sweeney, as Maria Rainer, who has a clarion, clear voice with terrific enunciation, along with an innocent honest and intelligence that really could not be better.
Set just before World War II, the German Nazi’s are about to invade Austria. Maria is a young novice studying to become a nun in a convent and is sent to be a governess for a wealthy widower, Capt. Von Trapp’s seven children. She and Von Trapp fall in love and decide to flee Austria before the Third Reich takes over.
Unlike the film, the musical begins with an a capella preludium sung in complex yet glorious harmony by the nuns that really sets the high bar for the rest of the show to follow.
Dallas Hosmer plays Capt. Von Trapp with a stern stiffness and fine presence. He is especially appealing when relating to the children. And, as anyone who has ever seen the movie knows, there are lots of children, and they comprise much of the show.
This impressively large cast is even bigger than it appears, because director Patrique Hurd took on the Herculean task of having two complete children casts.
The eight youth roles are played on alternate nights by 15 children, playing the roles of Rolf Gruber, Liesl, Rolf, Louisa, Kurt, Brigitta, Marta, and Gretl, with only the role of Fredrich being played by one actor, Conor Ellis.
If Saturday night’s performance is any indication, all the children are enchanting and delightful, but some of the kids, as well as some of the adult performers (who should really know better) occasionally stole indulgent glances at the audience — a definite no-no.
Brianna Mello as the wealthy Elsa Scraeder and Gary Rhone as the self-serving sarcastic Max Detweiler are well cast with plenty of personality between the two. They do the best they can with less than memorable songs.
Nina McFerrin plays the Mother Superior of the convent, Mother Abbess, with a compassionate understanding. She also has a lovely singing voice, and gets to belt out the gorgeous, heart-stirring song “Climb Ev’ry Mountain.”
Songs like “Do-Re-Me,” “My Favorite Things,” “So Long, Farewell,” “Sixteen going on Seventeen,” “Edelweiss,” and of course the perennial “The Sound of Music” are all sung with heart and soul, with strong musical direction by Michael Gowdy.
The choice to have Maria and the children sing “The Lonely Goatherd,” and perform the darling puppet show below the stage level was not the best idea, because the children could not be seen beyond the front row.
The many costumes by Solveig Pflueger are outstanding, particularly when the children are dressed in their curtain-play clothes, and then in their travel outfits at the end of the show.
Sadly this show is closing Sunday. “The Sound of Music” is a joyful, exuberant production that will put a song in your heart and just might encourage you to follow your dreams.


3½ Stars
Theater: Opera House Players
Location: 107 Main Street, Broad Brook
Production: Story by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Music by Richard Rodgers. Directed by Patrique Hurd. Musical direction by Michael Gowdy. Staged managed by Khara C. Hoyer. Technical direction by George Fields. Costumes by Solveig Pflueger. Lighting design by Diane St. Amand.
Running time: Under 3 hours, including a 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through May 17.
Tickets: $20, seniors over 60 and youth under 12 pay $16. Call 860-292-6068 or visit their website at
Rosanne Sweeney … Maria Rainer
Dallas Hosmer … Capt. Von Trapp
Nina McFerrin … Mother Abbess
Brianna Mello … Elsa Scraeder
Gary Rhone … Max Detweiler

Sunday, May 03, 2009

LTM’s “Inherit the Wind” a timeless tale based on America’s historic past

MANCHESTER — Creationism goes head to head with Darwinism in the classic tale based on a 1925 legal trial that pitted Bible against science, and also the rights of free speech, in “Inherit the Wind” a play from the 1950’s that still has meaning today.
The play is loosely based on the “Scopes Monkey Trial,” as journalist H.L. Mencken dubbed it.
The actual trial was held in Dayton, Tenn., where two renowned lawyers came to the small town to argue the case of a biology teacher, John Scopes, who taught Charles Darwin’s theory that man evolved from the ape.
The full biblical quote of “Inherit the Wind” is, “he that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.”
The play, through its protagonists, is focused on the right to think, and the freedom to draw one’s own conclusions, rather than take information at face value. It was written by Robert E. Lee and Jerome Lawrence partly as a reaction to the McCarthy trials.
In the Scopes trial, the famous attorney Clarence Darrow defends the part time biology teacher Scopes for teaching Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, and three-time presidential candidate and Congressman William James Bryan was the prosecutor for the state, defending creationism. In the play Darrow is renamed Henry Drummond and Byran is Matthew Harrison Brady.
The excellent Charles Merlis plays lawyer for the defense, Drummond. First off, Merlis bears an uncanny resemblance to Spencer Tracy, who played the same role in the 1960 movie version of the play. Merlis’ Drummond hits all the right notes of the world-weary, angry, wise, frustrated, and appropriately bemused attorney.
Ken Adamson plays the Holy Roller self-aggrandizing politician Brady with fine bravado. He could have been nothing more than a pompous caricature, but Adamson gives him a humanity and pathos that makes him sympathetic and pitiable.
In one scene a minister, Rev. Jeremiah Brown, well played by Stephen Dombeck, humiliates his daughter, Rebecca, played with tearful sincerity by Trish Urso.
Rather than just stand by and allow the disgraceful spectacle to continue, Brady steps in and stops the bullying minister. That scene and the romance between Rebecca and the accused, Bertram Cates as John Scopes, played by Mark Musco, were not part of the original trial.
The journalist character, E.K. Hornbeck, based on Baltimore Sun newspaper reporter H.L. Mencken, is played by Michael Forgetta, who displays a searing sarcasm and sardonic wisdom that is spot on for the role.
Hornbeck is amusing when he tells Brady, “It is the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
The dialog was a little choppy at times, but there was a lot of it, and it should improve as the actors gain confidence in this fine ensemble effort.
The simple set, with the town in the background and the witness stand in the foreground, by Fred T. Blish, is sturdy and functional, while the scratchy radio music that wafts in and out between acts, by Doug AmEnde, sets the 1920’s mood.
Lest you think creationism, or the literal, non-metaphorical interpretation of the Bible, has disappeared by now — think again. There are those who are absolutely convinced that the earth is no more than 6,000 years old, and the only reason dinosaurs are no longer on the earth is because they couldn’t fit onto Noah’s Ark.
“An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral,” Drummond says, while observing that “progress has never been a bargain.” He doesn’t attack people’s thoughts and views, but rather their right to think differently than others.
The Little Theatre of Manchester gives a respectable solid performance of the timeless American drama “Inherit the Wind.”


Three Stars
Location: Cheney Hall, 177 Hartford Road, Manchester
Production: Written by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Directed by Sharon FitzHenry. Stage manager Paul Leone. Produced by Chuck Burns. Set design by Fred T. Blish. Sound design by Doug AmEnde. Lighting design by Jared Towler.
Running time: 2 hours, plus one 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Thursday, May 7, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Sundays at 2 p.m., and through May 17.
Tickets: $16 — $23. Call the box office at 860-647-9824, or visit their website at
Charles Merlis … Henry Drummond
Ken Adamson … Matthew Harrison Brady
Stephen Dombeck … Rev. Jeremiah Brown
Mark Musco … Bertram Cates
Nick Demetriades … Judge
Trish Urso … Rachel Brown
Michael Forgetta … E.K. Hornbeck
Sam Greene … Mayor
Jared R. Towler … Meeker
James Demetriades … Howard
Nancy Gatto … Mrs. Brady
Scott Dehart … Elijah
Ron Blanchette … Bannister
Jim Powers … Tom Davenport
Don DiGenova … Hurdy Gurdy man/Reporter
Scott Ironfield … Mr. Goodfellow
Cathy Topping … Mrs. Krebs
Philip Anthony … Dunlap
Doug Soyer … Sillers
Joanna Schiff … Mrs. Loomis
Alex Pazda … Hot dog man/Dr. Page
Darlene LaPointe … Mrs. Blair
Ron Gatto … Court reporter
Leo Reaves … Reuters man/Aaronson
Brain Courtemanche … Harry Y. Esterbrook
Jen Lysomirski … Dr. Ruth Keller
Catherine McElaney … Melinda
Victoria Dehart … Victoria
Alexandria Dehart … Alex McLain
“What the Butler Saw” a comedy of manners gone haywire

SUFFIELD — First of all, don’t expect to see a butler in the Suffield player’s production of “What the Butler Saw.” There isn’t one.
Written by Joe Orton, this door-slamming, clothes-shedding, gun-toting roller coaster ride of a play is a biting social commentary disguised as a black comedy of the highest order.
Evidently the term “what the butler saw” is an English slang reference to peeking through keyholes, or voyeurism, something the audience is voluntarily participating in. Probably not the best comedy for kids — not so much for the language but for the subject matter.
Set in a psychiatric clinic consulting room somewhere in England, the play begins with Dr. Prentice, played by a Bob-Newhart like Dana T. Ring, leeringly interviewing a potential secretary, Geraldine Barclay, played with doe-eyed innocence by Rayah Martin.
Ring is soft-spoken and sometimes difficult to hear, especially when the mood-setting music overwhelms him.
When Barclay says she can’t recall having a father, Prentice says that he can’t employee her if she is “in any way miraculous,” and so sets the tone for the ensuing shenanigans.
In walks Dr. Prentise’s simultaneously oversexed and under-responsive wife, played with confidence by Dorrie Mitchell and her one-night lover and subsequent blackmailer, who happens to take great shorthand, Nicholas Beckett, played energetically by Steve Wandzy.
Prentice says to his wife that she is so over-sexed that when she is buried, it will have to be in a Y-shaped coffin, and later says, “all appearances to the contrary, she is harder to get into than the British Public Library.”
As if this weren’t enough craziness, next arrives the fully certifiable government official, Dr. Rance, played by Bruce Showalter. Showalter steals the show when he is on stage with his gleefully insane circuitous logic and singularly over-active imagination.
At one point he tells Dr. Prentice there is no need to give him explanations, “I can supply my own.” At another he speaks of a psychiatrist he once knew as someone, “having failed to achieve madness himself, he took to teaching it to others.”
The play is a fabulous fantastical comeuppance to our crazy world. Orton was clearly influenced by Oscar Wilde in this comedy of manners gone haywire.
When under cross-examination by Dr. Rance, Barclay vehemently denies being molested as a child by her father, but Rance is undeterred, gleefully proclaiming that her energetic denial is proof-positive it happened.
Even the institution of public safety is lacerated when the dazed and confused Sgt. Match, well played by Larry Chiz, enters the action, attempting to arrest Nick, euphemistically charging Nick of “misconducted himself” with a group of school girls in a hotel where he works.
While the dialog is spat-out with machine-gun precision, the action, with plenty of door slamming and clothes flying off and on, is also precise and imaginative, with admirable direction by Philip Vetro.
Come and surrender to a night of hilarious black humor with an unexpected, twisted ending at the Suffield Players darkly delirious production of “What the Butler Saw.”


3 Stars
Location: Mapleton Hall, 1305 Mapleton Ave. Suffield.
Production: Written by Joe Orton. Directed by Philip Vetro. Stage managed by Becky Schoenfeld. Costumes designed by Dawn McKay. Set Design by Konrad Rogowski. Lighting design by Jerry Zalewski.
Running time: 2 hours, plus a 15-minute intermissions.
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through May 16.
Tickets: $17, $15 for seniors and students. Call 1-800-289-6148 of visit their website at
Dana T. Ring … Dr. Prentice
Rayah Martin … Geraldine Barclay
Dorrie Mitchell … Mrs. Prentice
Steve Wandzy … Nicholas Beckett
Bruce Showalter … Dr. Rance
Larry Chiz … Sergeant Match