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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

“Baby Universe, A Puppet Odyssey” boldly goes where no puppets have gone before

NEW YORK — Imagine it is billions of years from now. Our solar system is dying, and the sun has become a red giant, but a few people are is still alive and desperately trying to create another universe to where they might escape.
This is the premise of “Baby Universe, A Puppet Odyssey,” but don’t let the puppets throw you — this is no children’s show, although children would definitely get it.
It’s a world where the sun has literally turned into a large red giant, played by Andrew Manjuck, and the planet Mercury, (the voice of Kirjan Waage) is burning to a crisp, with the moon doing the jealous sun’s bidding, trying to stop man from creating another universe.
It is also a morality tale and a love story between a creator, here the loving Mother, (the voice of Gwendolyn Warnock), caring for a newly born adorable Baby Universe 7001, complete with mutant constellations, with the voice of Peter Russo.
The actors seamlessly interchange performing the various puppets throughout the show, but the voices of the characters are always the same actors.
There is only one man, one woman, and one child left on the dark and scary planet earth, in addition to the scientists. It doesn’t rain anymore and there are no trees or birds or beautiful things, and everyone wears gas masks and is terrified.
The perennially cheerful Apocalypse Radio host, with the voice of Andrew Manjuck, interviews all three, and they say, “These are the last days. Nothing can keep death from us.”
The scientists are desperately trying to create another world where the survivors can travel to and start again, and so they frantically create baby universes hoping one of them might contain a blue planet in a small solar system where they might find a home.
The puppeteers who anthropomorphize the planets are dressed in dark costumes and wear gas masks next to their various puppets, which renders them almost invisible and add to the dark and desperate atmosphere.
At times there is almost a mystical Javanese shadow puppet feeling when the miniature puppets are projected onto a screen in shadow form, such as when the sun’s henchman, the moon, chases after the new Baby Universe 7001 and delivers it to the sun to destroy as he has other baby universes before him.
Some have criticized the simplicity of the sets, designed by the Wakka Wakka ensemble from Norway and Joy Wang, but I think that they work perfectly well and enable the audience to participate in the fantasy and magic of the show.
Before the one-act play begins in the lobby an amazing robotic puppet named Hawkings 5000, who looks like a tiny version of the physicist Stephen Hawkings, tools about in a miniature wheelchair conversing with the people in the lobby. It’s slightly creepy, but pretty amazing, all guided by computer by creator Brian Patton.
This Off-Broadway production, located in the pristine Baruch Performing Arts Center in New York City, is off the beaten path but definitely well worth the effort.


4 Stars
Location: Baruch Performing Arts Center, 55 Lexington Ave. E. 25th St., at Lexington and 3rd Ave.
Production: Written and directed by Kirjan Waage and Gwendolyn Warnock. Costume design and masks by Warnock. Executive and creative producer in U.S. Gabrielle Brechner. Executive and creative producer in Norway, Waage. Composer Lars Petter Hagen. Video artist Naho Taruishi. Lighting design by Kate Leahy. Sound design by Brett Jarvis. Set design by Wakka Wakka and Joy Wang.
Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission.
Show Times: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 7 p.m. through Jan. 9. There is no show on Friday, Dec. 31, but there is a show at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 1. There are additional shows on Friday, Jan. 7 and Saturday, Jan. 8 at 2 and 10 p.m., and on Saturday, Jan. 8 and Sunday, Jan. 9 at 11 a.m.
Tickets: $30 for adults and $20 for students and seniors. For tickets call 866-811-4111 or go to the website at
Peter Russo ... Baby Universe
Gwendolyn Warnock ... Mother
Andrew Manjuck ... The Sun, Apocalypse Radio host, Scientist 2, the Monitor
Kirjan Waage ... The Moon, Mercury, Scientist 1
Melissa Creighton ... Ensemble

Sunday, December 12, 2010

“Barnum” at Ivoryton a sweet biographical musical

by Kory Loucks

IVORYTON — It’s bah humbug of a completely different sort at the Ivoryton Playhouse production of the musical “Barnum” directed by Jacqueline Hubbard and playing through Dec. 19.
Here, it is Phineas Taylor Barnum, or P.T. Barnum as he is still known the world over, the famous circus impresario from the 1800s and Connecticut native, who is often quoted as having said, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” which is the first of many songs in the show.
It’s not clear if Barmum really said that quote, but one can understand why it stuck to him, because he made his livelihood hyping his productions.
For example, Barnum sold tickets to people to see the 160-year-old woman, Joice Heth, played by Marianne Hile, who was supposed to have been the nurse to George Washington.
In the musical he explains that humbug is just another word for stretching the truth, also known as lying, to give the people a show.
The musical follows the story of his eventful life, played by the energetic and effervescent R. Bruce Connelly, from finding the diminutive Tom Thumb, played by the fine Justin Boudreau, and parading him and other unique people around the world in his show, to running for political office.
The musical also examines his relationship with his wife, Chairy, played by Beverly J. Galpin, who was a conservative New England woman, very different than her flamboyant showman husband.
That’s where this musical bogs down at times, because a musical biography, even if it is historically and chronologically accurate, gets a bit dull. Some of the songs drag.
Usually there a lot of professional actors in the Ivoryton Playhouse productions, but this show is almost all local amateur talent, with many young and well-rehearsed children playing the clowns and gymnasts and all are excellent.
The aerialists, Michael Viau and Sara Stelizer in particular do an amazing job reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil. The gymnasts are the real thing too, and the clowns are a cute as can be. There is even a little dog, Minnie, who does some adorable tricks in a little tutu.
Also believable with a gorgeous voice is Danielle Cohen who does a realistic interpretation of the Swedish Nightingale Jenny Lind, who toured with P.T. Barnum.
It wasn’t until after his political career that he hooked up with James A. Bailey, played by Scott Wasserman, and came up with the idea of a three-ring circus, where three acts could play simultaneously.
Barnum is a fine show for kids too. How can you go wrong with juggling, stilt-walkers, gymnasts, and clowns all performing as part of “The Greatest Show on Earth?


3 Stars
Location: Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton
Production: Book by Mark Bramble. Music by Cy Coleman. Lyrics by Michael Stewart. Directed by Jacqueline Hubbard. Choreography by Francesca Webster. Music direction by John De Nicola. Scenic design by Daniel Nischan. Stage manager Holly Price. Lighting design by Doug Harry. Costume design by Vivianna Lamb.
Running time: 2 hours including 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Wednesday and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. through Dec. 19.
Tickets: $38 for adults, $33 for seniors, $20 for students, and $15 for children 12 and under. Call the box office at 860-767-7318, or visit their website at
R. Bruce Connelly … Phineas Taylor Barnum
Beverley J. Galpin … Chairy Barnum
Marianne Hile … Joice Heth
Justin Boudreau … Tom Thumb, Chester Lyman
Jamison Daniels … Julius Goldschmidt, Humbert Morrisey
Danielle Cohen … Jenny Lind
Scott Wasserman … Ringmaster, James A. Bailey
Patrick Lynch … Amos Scudder
Chris Mahan … Sherwood Stratton
Maureen Alfiero … Mrs. Sherwood Stratton
Zach Ivins … Wilton
Chris Mahn … Edgar Templeton
Michael Viau … Aerialist
Sara Stelzer … Aerialist
Charles Everett Crocco, Olivia Harry, Bridget Harry, Emily May … Clowns
Annie Alfiero, Emma Nanamaker … Female ensemble
Julianna Alvord, Jenna Berloni, Torie Chiappa, Sabrina Henderson, Addison Marchese, Allie Nelson, Sara Stelzer … Dancers and gymnasts

Monday, December 06, 2010

Judith Ivey a marvel as “Shirley Valentine” at the Long Wharf

NEW HAVEN — It’s a leap over the pond and back in time to 1980s Liverpool, England in Long Wharf Theatre’s heartfelt production of “Shirley Valentine” starring the incomparable Judith Ivey.
This one-woman show, which was first produced in England in 1988, is the story of a 52-year-old wife and mother whose children are grown and whose husband is less than supportive. Shirley ends up talking to the wall and to the audience about her life and how she got to be in the sad and depressing rut she finds herself in.
Her friend, Jane, has bought her a ticket to Greece, and the two of them are going off on a two-week holiday.
When I first learned that “Shirley Valentine” was a one-woman show, my heart sank a bit. And when I learned that there were two acts, I was even more on guard. As good as actors are, I have found it difficult for any one person to hold my attention for two hours.
I needed have worried. Ivey is a marvel. And she really isn’t alone on that stage. She brings all the people in her life, including her husband Joe, her daughter Milandra, her son, Brian, her friend Jane, and others along for the ride.
Ivey is pitch-perfect with her dialects and when she speaks as others, it really feels like Valentine imitating people, rather than Ivey just doing accents.
There is a lot of dialog and she is talking all the time, but she manages to make it all sound natural and conversational. The audience is a character also, participating as the listeners to her fascinating story.
And she has a lot to say. It’s a philosophical journey, well directed by Gordon Edelstein and finely written by Willy Russell, who also wrote the terrific “Educating Rita.”
Russell was a hairdresser in his youth and he must have been a very good listener because you can hear all these Liverpool working class gal’s lives wrapped up in Valentine.
Valentine has a lively, down-to-earth, unique way of speaking, such as when she calls the act of making love a “horizontal party.” Her humor isn’t so much one-liners, though, but it evolves naturally from the story of her life she tells.
She says she doesn’t hate men, and isn’t a feminist, unlike her mate Jane who found her husband in bed with the milkman.
“From that day on I noticed she never takes milk in her tea anymore,” Valentine says.
There’s plenty of amusing maxims throughout, as when she says that marriage is like the Middle East — There’s no solution, and the best you can hope for is a cease-fire.
She recognizes that life is hard on men as well as women, and observes that it can’t be much fun for her husband to be stuck in his rut either.
In the beginning she is preparing eggs and chips for her husband Joe in a claustrophobically minuscule kitchen, with set design by Frank Alberino. She really cooks that sliced potato in oil on a stove and the whole theater smells of the grease.
When in the second act she is at a beach on a glorious Grecian isle, it would be wonderful to have the smell of the sea. Just lighting a scented candle would do the trick. Also, it would have been nice to have the sound of waves gently breaking in the background.
I love all the 1980s music by David Bowie, Phil Collins, and others, with sound by Ran Rumery. It really helps give the sense of time and place.
Ivey as Valentine confidently and assuredly takes you on an exciting, brave, and transformational journey of growth and self-discovery that everyone can benefit from.
She’s just the kind of gal I would be pleased to have a cup of tea with, or perhaps share a nice bottle of wine. And in many ways, I feel like I already have.


3½ Stars
Location: 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven
Production: Written by Willy Russell. Directed by Gordon Edelstein. Set design by Frank Alberino. Costume design by Marin Pakledinaz. Lighting design by Rui Rita. Sound design by Ran Rumery. Dialect coach Stephen Gabis. Stage manager Jason Hindelang.
Running time: 2 hours plus one 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays at 7 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Saturday matinees at 3 p.m. and Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. through Jan. 2.
Tickets: $45 to $65. For more information call their box office at 203-787-4282, or visit their website at
Judith Ivey … Shirley Valentine
CRT’s “A Flea In Her Ear” a sparkling quality farce

STORRS — In 1907 Georges Feydeau’s “A Flea In Her Ear” opened in Paris during a golden period in France called Le Belle Epoque, or Beautiful Era.
Now, over 100 years later, this ribald, witty, wacky, and sexy French bedroom farce is still as improbable and hilarious as it must have been back in its heyday.
The ensemble cast of energetic students at Connecticut Repertory Theatre does a fabulous job with the complicated and ever-changing show that requires a high degree of physical and oral dexterity.
As with any good farce worth its weight in silliness, the plot revolves around a mistaken assumption by a society woman, Raymonde Chandebise, played by Grectchen Goode, that her husband, Victor (the versatile Tom Foran) is having an affair with another woman.
Her suspicions are prompted by his lack of amorous attentions along with a pair of his suspenders that arrived in a package from a notorious hotel called the Frisky Puss.
She enlists her childhood friend, Lucienne Homenides De Histangua, played by Christina Greer, to assist her by writing a love letter to Victor and instructing him to meet Lucienne at the rather obviously named hotel.
While the acting, tumbling, and comic timing by the whole cast is terrific, I would have loved it if they had spoken with French accents when playing the French roles. They had either had pseudo-English accents, none at all, or in the case of the character of the jealous Don Carlos, played by Phil Korth, a Spanish accent, and Rugby, played by Robert Thompson Jr. with an Australian accent.
There are lines when the hotel’s proprietors, Ferraillon (Kevin Coubal) and Olympia (Alison Barton) say that they can’t understand what the English guest Rugby is saying, but he is speaking the same language they are.
Of course they couldn’t stick to the original French, but director Art Manke could have certainly helped the suspension of disbelief along with having the actors speak with exaggerated French accents. It would have also added to the comedy — think Inspector Clouseau in the “Pink Panther” films.
The set, design by Cassandra Ireland Beaver, particularly in Act II when they are at the hotel, is a fantastic Art Deco vision in curvilinear lines painted in hot pinks and purples. As with any farce, there are plenty of doors slamming, but here there is also a revolving bed that works like a charm.
The period costumes by Sachiko Komuro work beautifully with muted beige, white and gray colors that pop against the hotel’s pink motif, and complement the Edwardian era living room in the first and last acts.
It’s a couple hours of rapid-fire hijinks that fly by at CRT’s “A Flea In Her Ear.” If you love French farces and quality theater at a reasonable price, you’ll find it in this sparkling production through Saturday.


3 ½ Stars
Location: Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre, Jorgensen Road, Storrs.
Production: Written by Georges Feydeau. Adaptation by David Ives. Directed by Art Manke. Scenic design by Cassandra Ireland Beaver. Lighting design by Michelle Ashley Mann. Sound design by Steven Magro. Fight choreography by Greg Webster. Technical direction by Ed Weingart. Dramaturg Dassia Posner.
Running time: 2 ½ hours with two 10-minute intermissions.
Show Times: Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. through Dec. 11.
Tickets: $11 to $29. Call the box office at 860-486-4266 of visit their website at
Tom Foran … Victor Chandebise, Pouche
Gretchen Goode … Raymonde Chandebise
Leigh Miller … Camille Chandebise
Christina Greer … Lucienne Homenides De Histangua
Phil Korth … Don Carlos Homenides De Histangua
Philip AJ Smithey … Dr. Finache
Ryan Guess … Romain Tournel
Michelle Goodman … Antoinette
Brooks Brantly … Etienne
Kevin Coubal … Ferraillon
Alison Barton … Olympia
Brian Patrick Williams … Baptiste
Robert Thompson Jr. … Rugby
Kelsey Baker … Eugenie
HSC’s “A Christmas Carol” a memorable holiday tale

HARTFORD — Nothing welcomes in the holiday season like a performance of the Hartford Stage Company’s annual production of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, adapted and directed by HSC Artistic Director Michael Wilson.
Now in their 13th year, this delightful morality tale has the familiar all-star cast lead by the effervescent curmudgeon Bill Raymond as old Ebenezer Scrooge.
This year, however, Raymond has undergone a fabulous change himself. In the past I complained that he was too sweet and silly from the start to be a real bah humbug type, but this year he has thoroughly embraced his inner Scrooge, making the old miser’s transformation at the end all the more powerful.
Raymond still has a lot of playful fun rattling his keys and fencing with his sword that turns into a light saber and then an imaginary golf club, to the delight of young and old. This year, however, he has more of an edge to his scrooge-ness that makes him thoroughly despicable, as he needs to be.
I still think this interpretation by Wilson, with the lightening, thunder, and spooky flying ghosts, is far too scary for youngsters under 5 years old, a view that is confirmed by 9-year-old Christopher Hillemeir, a three-year veteran of the holiday production.
Hillemeir enjoyed this production just as much as those he has seen in the past. He particularly liked the silly scenes, when Scrooge shakes the prized goose at people, when he lifts up the maid’s skirt, and when he burps from drinking too much.
As most know, it is a story about a miserly old man who idolizes money over friends and family, and has a vivid dream one night that shows him the error of his greedy ways, with the visitation of three spirits.
They are Christmas Past, played by the lovely and graceful Johanna Morrison, Christmas Present, played by the robust and hearty Allen Rust, and the spirit of Christmas Future, who is the scariest of them all — never saying a word and dressed all in black.
Hillemeir said that Scrooge wasn’t always mean, but his circumstances growing up changed him.
“I think he wanted to be nice, but everyone else was mean to him,” Hillemeir observed. “I think he was hurt in the past but after the dream he was happier.”
He said the lesson of the play is “never give up” and the moral of the story is if you give rather than receive, you will be happier and “you will receive love and more.”
When Tiny Tim Cratchit, played by Fred Thornley IV and Emily Weiner, appears to die in Scrooge’s dream, Hillmeir said it didn’t bring him to tears.
“I’m too young to cry about that stuff,” he said.
Hillemeir liked the humor in the show the best, something that there is just the right amount of in this heartwarming and familiar production of “A Christmas Carol” — A Hartford Stage Company tradition that will hopefully continue for years to come.


Four Stars
Location: Hartford Stage Company, 50 Church Street, Hartford.
Production: Story by Charles Dickens. Adapted and directed by Michael Wilson. Set design by Tony Straiges. Choreography by Hope Clark. Costume design by Zack Brown. Lighting design by Robert Wierzel. Original music and sound design by John Gromada.
Running time: 1 ¾ hour, with a 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Tuesday, Wednesday, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. There is no evening performance Dec. 24, Dec. 25, and Dec. 31; matinees are Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Dec. 31. There is no matinee on Saturday, Dec. 25.
Tickets: $25- $66. Children 12 and under save $10. Call 860-527-5151 or visit their website at
Bill Raymond… Ebenezer Scrooge
Bill Kux … Jacob Marley, Mrs. Dilber
Robert Hannon Davis … Bob Cratchit, Jacob Marley, Mrs. Dilber
Michael Bakkensen … Fred, Scrooge at 30
Allen Rust … Spirit of Christmas Present, Bert, Mr. Fuzziwig
Johanna Morrison … Spirit of Christmas Past, Bettye Pidgeon, Old Jo
Steve French… Mr. Marvel
Himself … Spirit of Christmas Future
Rebecka Jones … Mrs. Fezziwig, Mrs. Cratchit
Nafe Katter … First Solicitor, undertaker
Gustave Johnson … Second Solicitor, Ebenezer Scrooge
Michelle Hendrick … Belle, Fred’s wife
Nicholas Godfrey DeMarco … Scrooge at 15
Rebecka Jones … Martha Cratchit

Monday, November 22, 2010

“Sweeney Todd-The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” darkly humorous opera at the Broad Brook Opera House

EAST WINDSOR — Revenge is a dish best served cold but in “Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” it’s served piping hot in meat pies.
It’s a gruesome tale of a wronged man, Benjamin Barker, who is railroaded out of England by the cruel and creepy Judge Turpin, who steals his wife and daughter.
Barker returns to England and takes on the name Sweeney Todd and goes about starting up his barber business above the meat pie shop owned and operated by Mrs. Lovett.
They team up their efforts, with him killing most of his customers, telling them that he will give them “the closest shave you will ever know,” and Mrs. Lovett using them to fill her pies.
In the meantime he meets up with his competitor barber, Pirelli, played by the expansive Tim Reilly, and Mrs. Lovett takes on his young assistant Tobias, played by the wiry Stephen Jewell. Jewell’s rendition of “Not While I’m Around” with Mrs. Lovett is touching and spine tingling all at the same time.
Todd’s friend, the young sailor Anthony, here played by the operatic Eric Rehm, finds his daughter Johanna, played by the bird-like Janet Pohli. Both of their singing voices are so well suited for this show. Especially the beautiful “Johanna” which he sings alone and then in a quartet, beautifully staged, with Johanna, Todd, and the beggar woman.
Pohli has a pristine, clarion tone that fits her caged bird character perfectly.
The excellent Grace Spelman plays the beggar woman, who turns out to be someone very connected to Todd after all.
Also fine is the pompous lackey Beadle Bamford, played with officious stiffness by Jim Metzler, and the judge, played by Jonathan Trecker.
I have seen this opera a few times, including at the Bushnell, and this is by far the best production of this show I have ever attended. It’s all the more surprising because this show has never been my cup of tea. Instead of disliking it, however, I found that I enjoyed it very much, despite its horrific subject matter.
The cast is first-rate, with a glowering and focused Steve Wandzy playing the murderous Todd, and Erica Romeo giving a remarkable performance as the industrious, cheerful, and evil performance as Mrs. Lovett.
I would prefer that Todd not beam so at Mrs. Lovett when she tries to seduce him while singing “By the Sea.” It breaks his possessed focus on revenge where “half the fun is to plan the plan.” His smiles should be limited to his evil dreams.
All the performances, down to the smallest ensemble roll, are played with energy, gusto, precision, and enthusiasm.
There is some profanity along with broad sexual innuendo and throat cutting scenes, so it is not a show for young children.
Directed by Anna Giza, everything fits together exquisitely including the music, with music direction by Tony B. Romeo, the fine solid, moveable set, by set artist Christopher Berrien, and the detailed costumes by Moonyean Field and Solveig Plfueger.
I have never seen so many connections to other theatrical historical influences before, such as Bertolt Brechtl’s “Three Penny Opera” and Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” I credit that to director Giza for exploiting all the subtle and not so subtle nuisances in this wonderfully dark, dank, and well-performed musical.


4 Stars
Theater: Opera House Players
Location: 107 Main Street, Broad Brook
Production: Music and lyrics and book by Stephen Sondheim. Book by Hugh Wheeler. Based on a version of “Sweeney Todd” by Christopher Boyd. Direction and choreography by Anna Giza. Musical direction by Tony B. Romeo. Stage manager Andrew Holl. Lighting designer Roy Ryzak. Sound design by Avitra, Inc. Costumes by Moonyean Field and Solveig Pflueger. Scenic artist Christopher Berrien.
Running time: 3 hours including a 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through Sunday.
Tickets: $20, $16 for seniors over 60. Definitely not recommended for children due to language and adult situations. Call 860-292-6068 or visit their website at
Steve Wandzy … Sweeney Todd
Erica Romeo … Mrs. Lovett
Grace Spelman … Beggar woman
Eric Rehm … Anthony
Janet Pohli … Johanna
Jonathan Trecker … Judge Turpin
Jim Metzler … Beadle Bamford
Stephen Jewell … Tobias
Tim Reilly … Pirelli
Matthew Falkowski … Fogg, ensemble
Bob Forker … Bird seller, ensemble
Zachary Gary … Police officer, ensemble
Betsy Maguire, Kerrie Maguire, Martina Desnoyers, Reva Kleppel, Marge Stepansky, Bechy Rodia Schoenfeld, Tara Kennedy, Patrick O’Konis, Matt “Sparky” Falkowski, Gwen Moriarty … Ensemble
“God of Carnage” an oral free for all at TheaterWorks

HARTFORD — Buckle your seat belts, because its going to be a bumpy ride at the performance of the bitingly funny “God of Carnage” at TheaterWorks, directed by Tazewell Thompson.
Two couples of two young boys, one of whom bashed the other with a stick and knocked out some teeth, meet for the first time and try to work things out, by having a discussion about what happened, how it happened, and where to go from there.
During their discussions, they devolve into switching allegiances, with some situations where the two men and the two women bond, and others where their mutual spouses turn against each other, in this very civilized, and not so civilized, comedy of manners.
Or perhaps it should be called a comedy without manners, when manners disappear and people say what is really on their mind about each other.
There are the hosts, the seemingly mismatch couple, with wife Victoria being a writer and humanitarian, played by the vibrant and energetic Candy Buckley who never met a word she wouldn’t enunciate, and her blue collar self-proclaimed Neanderthal of a husband, Michael, played with earthy frankness by Wynn Harmon.
Their son received the blow that dislodged a couple of incisors by the Raleigh’s boy, the investment banker and long suffering wife, Annette, played by Susan Bennett, and her workaholic lawyer husband Alan, played with focus and determination and a constant cell phone to his ear by Royce Johnson.
Johnson seems a little young to play the father of an 11-year-old son, but he is convincing enough, and has some of the funniest lines in the play.
In the middle of the conversation, Annette becomes sick to her stomach, but narcissistic Alan is more interested in speaking on his telephone about a potential lawsuit over a pharmaceutical medication that it turns out Michael’s elderly mother is taking.
They remind me of a saying I heard once, that in order to get along in the world, treat children like adults and adults like children.
“God of Carnage” was originally written in French in 2006 by Yazmina Reza and translated into English by Christopher Hampton where it won a Tony Award for Best Play in 2009 on Broadway.
It’s a bit of a free for all, and the actors are all up to the challenge, talking about whether or not we all still live in a dog eat dog world where it’s survival of the fittest, and little hamsters don’t have a chance.


3½ Stars
Theater: TheaterWorks
Location: 233 Pearl St. Hartford.
Production: Written by Yazmina Riza, with translation by Christopher Hampton. Directed by Tazewell Thompson. Set design by Donald Eastman. Costume design by Harry Nadal. Lighting design by Marcus Doshi. Sound design by Fabian Obispo.
Running time: 75 minutes with one intermission.
Show Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Sunday Dec. 5 and Dec. 19 at 6:30 p.m. The show will run through Dec. 19.
Tickets: Unassigned seating is $40; $50 on Friday and Saturday nights. Center reserved seats $12.50 extra. $15 student rush tickets at showtime with valid ID, subject to availability. For tickets call 860-527-7838 or visit their website at
Royce Johnson … Alan Raleigh
Susan Bennett … Annette Raleigh
Wynn Harmon … Michael Novak
Candy Buckley … Victoria Novak

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” an iconic and timeless new musical at the Bushnell

HARTFORD — Dreaming of a white Christmas? No place better to give those dreams a head start than at “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” playing at the William H. Mortensen Hall at the Bushnell Performing Arts Center through Sunday.
More often than not, films are based on plays, but in this case it was the film that came first. Not just any film though. The classic 1954 movie starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera Ellen.
While you can never replace those icons, the cast in this traveling production do an excellent job of ringing in the spirit of the season.
The basic plot has two former World War II soldiers, a solid John Scherer as Bob Wallace and Denis Lambert as Phil Davis teaming up as a duo act after the war. They are fixed up with the singing sisters, Shannon M. O’Bryan as Judy Haynes and Amy Bodner as Betty Haynes.
They all wind up at the inn owned by General Henry Waverly, Wallace and Davis’ former commanding officer, played by Denis Lambert. Things aren’t going so well for the general, with temperatures in the 70s in Vermont over the winter holidays.
Wallace has the idea of doing a musical review at the inn, and he invites all their former army buddies and their families to join them.
There are some misunderstandings and confusions along the way, but mostly it’s just a fine excuse for a lot of snazzy tap dancing by a talented ensemble, with choreography by Randy Skinner.
Scherer plays the Crosby role with quizzical expressions and a real presence on stage. He reminds me of an amicable television game show host. His love interest, the righteous Judy Hayes, is well played by O’Bryan, who belts out the gorgeous torch song, “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” although I could have done with a lot less vibrato from everybody.
Lambert and Bodner as Phil and Betty are terrific together and tap up a storm through the whole show.
There is also the busybody housekeeper, Martha Wilson, played by the colorful and sassy Ruth Williamson.
Two little girls playing the general’s granddaughter, Susan Waverly, who alternate on different nights. On opening night I saw Gianna Lepera and she practically stole the show with her unaffected smile and perky performance.
The costumes were all topnotch by Carrie Robbins, and I loved how many costumes there were. The finale was fantastic too. I noticed that their tap shoes in the finally were used only in that number, a small detail and an added expense, but well worth it.
Directed by Norb Joerder, they captured the feeling of the late 1940s with the clothes along with a zippy pace that kept the show cruising along.
There are lots of great Irving Berlin songs, including “Blue Skies,” “The Best Things Happen While Your Dancing,” “Sisters,” “Snow,” and of course, the most recorded Christmas song of all time, “White Christmas.”
I also enjoyed the song, “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun,” with Martha, Betty, and Judy, which is kind of an anti-depressant for a failed relationship.
One of my absolute favorite songs is the sweet lullaby, “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.”
“When I’m worried and I can’t sleep,
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.”
A perfect song to end a wonderful show. Do see this lovely and timeless new production of “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.”


Four Stars
Theater: The William H. Mortensen Hall at the Bushnell Memorial Center
Location: 166 Capitol Ave. Hartford
Production: Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. Book by David Ives and Paul Blake, based on the Paramount film written for the screen by Norman Krasna, Norman Panama, and Melvin Frank. Directed by Norb Joerder. Choreography by Randy Skinner. Musical direction by John Visser. Set design and adaptation by Kenneth Foy. Costume design by Carrie Robbins. Lighting design by Ken Billington.
Running time: 2 ½ hours including one 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 6:30 p.m., with matinee performances Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m., through Sunday.
Tickets: From $17 to $75. Call 860-987-5900 or visit their website at
John Scherer …. Bob Wallace
Denis Lambert … Phil Davis
Shannon M. O’Bryan … Judy Haynes
Amy Bodner … Betty Haynes
Ruth Williamson … Martha Watson
Gianna LePera and Mary Peeples … Susan Waverly
Erick Devine … General Henry Waverly

Monday, November 15, 2010

“Almost, Maine” a charming gem at the Valley Rep

ENFIELD — In their 25th year, Valley Repertory Company presents a delightful, whimsical, and heart-warming production of “Almost, Maine” that’s a fine reminder of the chilly winter season ahead.
The play is comprised of vignettes of scenes that look into different couple’s lives on a cold, clear Friday night in Almost, Maine. It’s called Almost, because it is so remote from anywhere else in Maine no one has ever bothered to organize it into an official town.
The scenes range from a young couple experiencing first love, played by Aaron Gilberto and Amanda Marschall as Pete and Ginette, to a couple married with children, played by Mark Vogel and Dianna Rothenberg as Steve and Marvalyn trying to find the magic that brought them together in the first place — and a lot in between.
There’s also a perfectly strange and marvelous scene with Vogel and Josh Guenter as Randy and Chad who have a falling down reaction to their feelings for each other that is poignant and sweet.
The simple set, beautifully designed by Jeffrey Flood and painted by scene artisan Marty McNeill, is a field of northern pine and snow, with a beautiful band of stars above.
For each scene a different panel is moved to show a cabin, a door, a restaurant, or another scene. It works exceedingly well and fits the show like a warm winter glove.
Excellent work too by stage manager Amanda Bates and stage crew Logan Lopez to get everything in its proper place before each scene. I love the bluegrass music in between scenes that gently and subtly tie the whole show together, with fine direction by newcomer Becky Beth Benedict.
It’s quite a funny show, such as when Guenter as a sad character named Jimmy says that his parents have moved south to warmer weather — in Vermont.
It’s informative also, with trivia such as the fact that Maine is the only state in the union that is bordered by just one state.
“Almost, Maine” touches on the surreal and existential when Casey McDougal as Gayle demands all the love back that she gave her boyfriend Lendall, played by Guenter. In comes the huge red plastic garbage bags, filled to the brim with all that love. It really is making the invisible visible.
The characters could verge on hick caricatures, with discussions of snowmobiles and bowling, but they each retain their humanity and dignity as interesting and fully realized individuals.
I can’t imagine changing a thing in this delightful, sweet gem of a show.


Four Stars
Theater: Valley Repertory Company
Location: 100 High Street, Enfield
Production: Written by John Cariani. Directed by Becky Beth Benedict. Produced and costume design by Janine Flood. Stage manager Amanda Bates. Set Design by Jeffrey Flood. Lighting design by Jason Fregeau.
Running time: 2 hours including one intermission
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through Nov. 20.
Tickets: $8 — $12. Call 860-749-4665 or visit their website at
Casey McDougal … Glory, Waitress, Gayle, Rhonda
Mark Vogel … East, Steve, Randy, Phil, Dave
Dianne Rothenberg … Sandrine, Marvalyn, Marci, Hope
Josh Guenter … Jimmy, Lendall, Chad, Man
Aaron Gilberto … Pete
Amanda Marschall … Ginette
“One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” an intense drama at Ivoryton

IVORYTON — It’s a titanic clash of wills and opposing agendas in the Ivoryton Playhouse’s production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” written by Dale Wasserman and based on the novel by Ken Kesey.
The play is set in a mental institution in Oregon where inmates get along with their medicated humdrum lives until one day a real wild man, the recidivist Randall Patrick McMurphy, arrives.
McMurphy, played by the energetic Daniel Robert Sullivan, enters their sedated, suppressed world and changes it for all of them forever.
I hope I’m not giving too much of the plot away since this play has been around since the 1960s and was made into the 1975 film starring Jack Nicholson as McMurphy.
McMurphy seems to have all the answers to their problems and for a while his ideas appear to be the way to go. But in the end, institutionalization in the name of mental health wins.
Here, Sullivan is dominant, but doesn’t overwhelm the other characters, including the troubled Chief Bromden, played by the booming Solomon Landerman, who in many ways is the character who comes the farthest, from catatonic to free, thanks to McMurphy’s sacrifice.
Nurse Ratched, played by the wide-eyed, rigid Andrea Maulella, controls the group through subtle humiliation and emasculation, but she doesn’t have that sadistic, smirky smile that was so creepy and effective in the movie with Louise Fletcher. Small point, but I would also prefer to see her in white nursing shoes instead of white heeled dancer shoes.
The supporting cast is spot on, with the stammering mama’s boy Billy Bibbit played by Jonathan Fielding, and the educated but self-doubting Dale Harding, played by Neal Mayer.
Oddly enough, my favorite parts in the show are the times when Lesley Billingslea as the aid walks about the stage with a flashlight singing to himself. It feels strangely compelling and unexpectedly interesting.
Directed by Peter Lockyer, they use a projection technique that shows geese flying, a baseball game, and other projections to excellent effect, with projection design by Tiffany Hopkins. It adds an extra and welcome dimension to the show.
There are some adult situations and profanity, making this play unsuitable for young children.
It’s a tough story that seems on the surface to end tragically, but is a validation of the possibility of change and growth.


3 Stars
Location: Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton, CT
Production: Written by Dale Wasserman. Based on the novel by Ken Kesey. Directed by Peter Lockyer. Scenic design by Daniel Nischan. Stage manager T. Rick Jones. Lighting design by Doug Harry. Projection design by Tiffany Hopkins. Costume design by Vivianna Lamb.
Running time: 2 hours including plus 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Wednesday and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. through Nov. 21.
Tickets: $38 for adults, $33 for seniors, $20 for students, and $15 for children 12 and under. Call the box office at 860-767-7318, or visit their website at
Daniel Robert Sullivan … Randall Patrick McMurphy
Andrea Maulella … Nurse Ratched
Solomon Landerman … Chief Bromden
Neal Mayer … Dale Harding
Jonathan Fielding … Billy Bibbit
George Lombardo … Charles Arkins Cheswick III
Douglas Sobon … Frank Scanlon
Nicholas R. Camp … Anthony Martini
John Samela … Ruckly
Keith Eugene Brayne … Dr. Spivey
Bethany Fitzgerald … Candy
Jenna Sisson … Sandra
Jovan Davis … Aide Warren
Lesley Billingslea … Aide Williams, Turkle

Monday, November 08, 2010

“The Producers, A New Mel Brooks Musical” a rousing entertainment at LTM

MANCHESTER — “The Producers, a new Mel Brooks Musical” is a rousing, raucous, irreverent success and a fitting legacy to Fred T. Blish, one of the Little Theatre of Manchester’s founders, who passed away in October.
This show stars the ebullient and effusive Michael Forgetta as the lovable schemer Max Bialystock, a Broadway producer whose brighter days seem to be behind him.
This 2001 Broadway musical smash is based on the same named 1968 movie written by Brooks and starring Zero Mostel and Bialystock and Gene Wilder as the hapless accountant Leopold Bloom.
Bialystock says he used to get the biggest bathrooms at the Ritz, and his biggest coup was producing summer stock in the winter. After his latest effort setting “Hamlet” to music bombs, he’s down in the dumps.
“Do you know who I used to be?” he rhetorically laments.
However, hope springs eternal in this cantankerous conniver’s heart. And with the help of a neurotic loser, the accountant Leopold Bloom, played by the lithe and lanky Randy Ronco, they plan on finding the worst play ever written, with the worst cast ever chosen, along with the worst director they can find to open a sure-fire flop.
They decide to raise more money than the play is worth and take the $2 million to Rio de Janeiro after it closes on opening night.
The play they find is the audacious and remarkably inappropriate “Springtime for Hitler” written by Nazi-lover, pigeon-fancier, and resident lunatic Franz Liebchen, played by the solid and versatile Mike Zizka. Special notice goes to those fine pigeons that coo on cue with Franz.
The director is the outlandishly flamboyant Roger DeBris, played by John-Michael Whitney, who wears a Chrysler building dress like no other. I love the line when he says how educational the play is, observing, “I never knew that the Third Reich meant Germany.”
On opening night Franz breaks a leg, literally, and DeBris agrees to take the role of Hitler. It doesn’t get much more irreverent than “Heil Myself,” sung by DeBris and others.
Max and Leo hire a Swedish bombshell secretary/receptionist amusingly named Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yonsen Tallen-Hallen Svaden-Svanson played by the effervescent and energetic Sarah Jane Hayes.
The choreography, by the excellent Sheila Waters Fucci, is complex and well executed, including some dynamic tap dancing by the exemplary ensemble cast. Particularly outstanding is the tap dance with walkers that is timed to perfection.
Waters Fucci also does a funny turn as a little old lady nicknamed “Hold Me-Touch Me.” She does a cameo behind the sofa with Ulla and Bloom that is not to be missed.
Ronco is a svelte dancer, and his acting with hair during the song “Where Did We Go Right?” is the best I’ve seen since Jack Nicholson in the film “Something’s Gotta Give.”
The second act loses some steam near the end, and the “Prisoners of Love” number as well as the song “Leo and Max” could have been rehearsed more.
The costumes by Lisa Steier are creative and fun, including an outlandish sausage link outfit.
The set design by Blish and company is flexible and functional, with many set changes. A special shout out to the whole cast and crew for making those frequent changes in lightening fast time, with strong stage management by Heidi Bengraff and commanding direction by Jane Cerosky.
This musical has more double-entendres and sexual innuendoes and situations than you can shake a walker at, along with some very adult language, making this show wholly inappropriate for children, but a heck of a lot of fun for the grownups.
What a super, irreverent entertainment for the last show of the year at Little Theatre of Manchester, now in their 50th year — a class act all the way.


3½ Stars
Location: Cheney Hall, 177 Hartford Road, Manchester
Production: Music and lyrics by Mel Brooks, with book by Brooks and Thomas Meehan. Directed by Jane Cerosky. Musical direction by Angela Klimaytis. Choreography by Sheila Waters Fucci. Stage manager Heidi Bengraff. Sound design by Fred T. Blish and shop crew. Lighting design by Glen Aliczi. Costumes by Lisa Steier.
Running time: 3 hours, plus one 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Sundays at 2 p.m., and through Nov. 21.
Tickets: $21 — $28. Call the box office at 860-647-9824, or visit their website at
Actor …. Character
Michael Forgetta … Max Bialystock
Randy Ronco … Leo Bloom
Mike Zizka … Fanz Liebchen
John-Michael Whitney … Roger DeBris
Todd Santa Maria … Carmen Ghia
Sarah Jane Hayes … Ulla
Leslie Bacon, Brian Courtemache, Nicholas G. D’Agostino, Frank J. Dorio, Lisa Garofalo, Al Girard, Amy Grimm, Marguerite Kelly, Marge Kelly, Mike May, Michael Metsack, Christine Noble, Tom Nunes, Melissa Paul, Kristen Shaw … Ensemble

Thursday, November 04, 2010

“The Train Driver” a tragic story of hope at Long Wharf

NEW HAVEN — “The Train Driver” is a masterful telling of the tragic story of suicide and hope by Athol Fugard and directed by Gordon Edelstein at Long Wharf Theatre.
Set in South Africa as the other Fugard plays that I have seen are, this tale poetically unfolds like a detective mystery, with questions that are indirectly revealed along the way.
A train driver, Roelf Visagie, played by the superlative Harry Groener, is haunted and tormented like a post-traumatic shock victim, after the train he was driving killed a young black woman and her baby.
Roelf arrives at a graveyard for the unnamed dead about four weeks after the incident where he believes she was buried, and wants to find her grave — This discovery he hopes might end his torment.
The thoughtful Anthony Chisholm plays Simon Hanabe, the lone gravedigger, and witness to Roelf’s tragedy.
Simon spends a great deal of his time during this one act play listening to Roelf rant, but then he has nothing but time on his hands. Much of his time is normally taken up with making sure that the unmarked graves containing “the sleeping people” are protected from roving packs of wild dogs and gangs.
As dark and sad as this story is, there is the occasional oasis of dark humor, such as when Roelf interrogates Simon as to why he puts junk and trash on top of the graves.
Do they “get to Heaven faster with a Jetta hubcap?” Roelf cuttingly asks.
Simon puts rocks and hubcaps on the gravesites, he says, not out of disrespect, but to remind him that someone is buried there so he doesn’t dig in the same spot again.
He also has to dig the graves deep enough to keep the wild dogs from digging up the bodies, he explains.
It’s a painful road to self-discovery and revelation for Roelf, who is obsessed by the nameless woman who committed suicide and child who died, and also is tormented by the fact that no one cared about enough to claim from the morgue.
“Nobody could tell me her name,” he says with wild urgency and crazed disbelief.
Roelf does most of the talking and is a man possessed and in search of his sanity, teetering on the edge of reality and driven to find resolution and peace.
“She is dead and I am well. I think I killed her. Everybody says I didn’t,” Roelf says in dismay.
Roelf has moments of grand, operatic emotion, with King Lear like howling at the world and circumstances and unanswerable questions filled with anger and frustration, and beautifully wrought poetic language delivered with passion and pathos.
Through his quest to find out who she is, Roelf learns about who he is and what a different world the blacks in South Africa lead.
“I think I got some sort of feeling of your world,” he says to Simon, observing, “Our world is so different.”
The two develop an odd but real friendship of sorts, which also gets mucked up by circumstances beyond their control.
The ending, which I won’t tell here, is a complete circle of resolution that feels like poetic justice.
The set, by Eugene Lee, of the sandy dry graveyard and shanty that Simon calls home, is perfectly suited to the bleak and desolate mood of the play, while the unobtrusive native music fits well, with sound design by John Gromada.
As tragic as this play is, ultimately it feels like a story of hope and possibility — that despite how bad things are today, there is a chance that they will be better tomorrow.


3½ Stars
Location: 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven
Production: By Athol Fugard. Directed by Gordon Edelstein. Set design by Eugene Lee. Costume design by Susan Hilferty. Lighting design by Christopher Akerlind. Sound design by John Gromada.
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Show Times: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday at 7 p.m., Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 p.m., with Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. and Saturday matinees at 3 p.m. through Sunday, Nov. 21.
Tickets: $35 to $70. For more information call their box office at 203-787-4282, or visit their website at
Anthony Chishom … Simon Hanabe
Harry Groener … Roelf Visagie

Monday, November 01, 2010

“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” incisive biblical trial

STORRS — Once again the University of Connecticut has outdone itself with a stunning intelligent, incisive, and enlightening production of “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, ” written by Stephen Adly Guirgis.
It is the story of Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus to the Romans for 30 pieces of gold. Judas is in purgatory, a place of hope between Heaven and Hell, being tried in a court for his sins to see where he will end up for eternity.
During the court proceedings we get to see both sides of many people, some well known, like Mother Theresa, convincingly played by Laura A. Zabbo, and Sigmund Freud, well done by Harrison Greene.
We also see others on the witness stand who are known too, but perhaps not fully understood, like Pontius Pilate and Simon the Zealot, both by Darrell Hollens, and Caiaphas the Elder, played by Zane M. Roberts and Mary Magdalene, by Maggie Sulka.
Judas is uninterested in having his case heard, having become catatonic, but a defense attorney, Fabiana Aziza Cunningham, played with sharp intelligence and conviction by Brittany Murphy, believes he should have his day in court.
Arron Lloyd and Bryan Swormstedt play the role of Judas and Jesus on alternate nights. The night I attended, Lloyd was Judas and Swormstedt was Jesus, and both were excellent in their respective roles.
The fine Jack Fellows play the smarmy fawning prosecuting attorney, Yusef El-Fayoumy, with energy and grand buffoonery and wit.
Judas’ mother, Henrietta Iscarot, (Hanna Kaplan) opens the show with a heart-felt monologue about the death of her son, and explains heartache better than I have heard it in a long time. “My heart keeps beating only to keep breaking,” she says of her sad life.
Emotional connection is sometimes sacrificed with intellectual discourse, regardless of how passionate. Still, the actors jam bunches of energy and intensity into every line, and each line is clearly enunciated.
The ending, which I won’t reveal here, is deeply moving.
Tiffany Vinters is charming and disarming as the angel Gloria, talking about returning to earth to visit her living children. She tells us that hope changes with time, and these days hope is found in the judicial system — hence the format of the play.
Also excellent is Elizabeth R. McKnight as the hip Saint Monica, who says she is a nag of the first order, which is how she gets things done. She also reminds everyone repeatedly that she is the mother of Saint Augustine, the father of the church.
Monica is darkly humorous when she tries to get the catatonic Judas to speak, taunting him about getting change for 30 silver pieces, and going out on a limb, going to Olive Garden, asking him if he wants to have on last supper. Judas hung himself on the branch of an olive tree.
She and others use a lot of profanity, but probably no more than any PG-13 movie, making the show unsuitable for and probably uninteresting to very young children.
The devil, played by James M.K. Turner, is truly scary. Why Cunningham would have the hubris to cross-examine the devil is beyond me, and the experience ends up confounding and demoralizing both lawyers.
The devil’s shiny gray suit fits the character well, as do all the costumes, from the angel’s satin white dress to Gloria’s hip-hop outfit, by Elicia Lord.
The set is excellent, by Allison McGrath, with large blocks of progressively smaller size in the background, with space in between for the actors to enter. The lighting works in concert with the set, by Greg Purnell, with changing colors varying the set’s whole look.
The music ties the whole production together, amusingly playing Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine” when Freud, a known-addict, enters the stage. Sound design by Courtney Smith.
I particularly admired the beginning of both acts when the actors walk across the stage in a self-consciously stilted, stylized and seemingly arbitrarily manner, with thoughtful direction by the Kristin Wold.
“The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” is a massive undertaking delivered in a lively and compelling manner with intriguing style and flair.


4 Stars
Theater: Connecticut Repertory Theatre
Location: Studio Theatre, 802 Bolton Rd., Storrs
Production: Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis. Directed by Kristin Wold. Scenic design by Allison McGrath. Costume design by Elicia Lord. Lighting Design by Greg Purnell. Sound design by Courtney Smith. Technical direction by Gordon Sanfacon. Fight choreographer Greg Webster. Stage manager Tamsen Brooke Warner. Voice and text coach David A. Stern. Dramaturg Elysse Yulo.
Running time: 3 hours with one 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 Sunday.
Tickets: General admission from $26 to $29. Call 860-486-4226 or visit their website at
Brittany Green … Fabiana Aziza Cunningham
Jack Fellows … Yusef El-Fayoumy
Zane M. Roberts … Judge Littlefield, St. Matthew, Caiaphas the Elder
Arron Lloyd, Bryan Swormstedt … Judas Iscariot, Jesus
James M.K. Turner … Satan
Desmond Thorne … Bailiff, Matthias, St. Peter, Soldier
Elizabeth R. McKnight … St. Monica, Soldier
Hannah Kaplan … Henrietta Iscariot
Tiffany Vinters … Gloria
Maggie Sulka … Loretta, Sister Glenna, Mary Magdalene
Harrison Greene … Uncle Pino, Freud, St. Thomas, Soldier
Joseph Jonah Therrien … Butch Honeywell
Laura A. Zabbo … Mother Teresa
Darrell Hollens … Simon the Zealot, Pontius Pilate

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pedestrian “Blue Man Group” at the Bushnell over-rated

HARTFORD — It’s a blue, blue world at the “Blue Man Group,” an Everyman show that is part vaudeville, part rock show, and part mime act, at the William H. Mortensen Hall at the Bushnell Memorial Center.
The performance, which has evolved since it started in New York in 1991, attracts many who have seen it before and come to expect audience participation, drums — lots of drums, and plenty of splashes of florescent paint that spill into the audience. Audience members in the front rows were given large plastic garbage bags with hoodies to don, so they clearly knew and looked forward to what they were in for.
There is no plot to the show, just one long pedestrian entertainment, with lots of loud booming drum sounds and electronic, sometimes ear-ringing rock music.
Some of the acts were less entertaining than others. The bit about the Capt’n Crunch cereal seemed to go on forever and wasn’t funny, except in a juvenile “how much food can one person stuff in their mouth” kind of way.
Another bit with spitting paint balls to make a pop art painting and stuffing mouths full of something kind of gross went on for quite a while too, and is not for the squeamish. Yes, I had to look away.
There were a lot of bits that included narration, such as one about modern electronics called the “Gi-Pad” that was “gi-normous,” get it?, and lots of texting for the audience to read — making me feel this latest “Blue Man” evolution was geared towards youthful texters and tweeters.
Although there were numerous Blue Men listed in the credits, there were only three of them on the stage, which leads me to believe that they must trade off on different nights.
The three silent blue dudes went into the audience for what seemed like an over-long time, finally selecting a gal who gamely went with them onto the stage and did a little bit with Twinkies, that inedible treat, that turned very gross once again. This time gunk oozed out of their chests onto the table, which they then proceeded to eat. Ick.
At other times they poured florescent liquid onto the lighted drums and splashed way, reminiscent of the comedian Gallagher smashing watermelons — More of a time-worn novelty than comedy.
Another audience member they pulled to the stage was the easy-going Bob Maxon, meteorologist for WVIT-TV 30. He was used as a human paintbrush, which we were prepped for with a video short.
The drumming music the three made with variations of PVC piping was really lovely to hear, and they did it a number of times, to fine effect.
The finale was group participation on a large level that was sufficiently diverting and colorful.
This is a family-friendly event, with no profanity or violence.
Personally, as an audience member, I don’t like to be told what to do, but others didn’t appear to mind at all when we were instructed to yell really loud, wave our hands, get up and “shake your booty,” and then applaud for an encore. If I want an encore I will clap for one without prompting, thank you very much.
I believe I was in the minority with these gripes, however, because everyone around me looked like they were having a blast.


"Blue Man Group" at the Bushnell

1 star

Theater: The William H. Mortensen Hall at the Bushnell Memorial Center
Location: 166 Capitol Ave. Hartford
Production: Created, written, and directed by Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton, and Chris Wink. Directed by Marcus Miller and Blue Man Group. Artistic and musical collaborators Chris Dyas, Larry Heinemann, Ian Pai, Todd Perlmutter, and Jeff Turlik. Production and lighting design by Joel Moritz. Costume design by Chase Tyler. Sound design by Matt Koenig. Music director Byron Estep.
Running time: under two hours with no intermission
Show Times: Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinee performances Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m., through Sunday Oct. 31.
Tickets: $17 to $80. For more information, visit their website at
Kalen Allmandinger … Blue Man
Josh Elrod … Blue Man
General Fermon Judd … Blue Man
Mark Frankel … Blue Man
Kirk Massey … Blue Man
Peter Mustante … Blue Man
Michael Rahhal … Blue Man

Monday, October 25, 2010

Life imitates art at Goodspeed’s “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying”

EAST HADDAM — In case you’re worried about what kind of career U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd might be prepared for after November’s elections, rest assured he has a promising future as narrator of revivals such as Goodspeed’s “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.”
Set in a 1960s corporation where an inexperienced newbie, J. Pierrepont Finch, played with sweet cutthroat narcissism by Brian Sears, is drunk on ambition, many will make the obvious comparison of the musical to the wildly popular television show “Mad Men.”
All the more so with all the pillbox hats for the gals and tweed suits for the guys. The musical is a page right out of history, with in a set that looks remarkably like an old PanAm airline terminal, resplendent with aqua, wood paneling, and stainless steel arranged in Mondrian cubes, by the excellent Adrian W. Jones. Jones did a great job making the small stage seem larger by extending the cubist shapes above and beyond the stage.
But this show is so much more than a nostalgic look to the past — it is a true time capsule. If life ever imitated art, it does so here.
The name of the corporation whose ladder that Finch, our sassy hero, aspires to climb? World Wide Wickets Company, or WWW for short. A coincidence, you say? Perhaps. Or perhaps the show is just prescient enough to have seen the future before the rest of the world did.
The best song in the show comes late in the second act when Finch sings “I Believe in You,” which is a beautiful, melodic ballad, until you realize that the “You” to whom he is singing is his own reflection in the mirror.
Well, as Oscar Wilde once said, “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” Sears’ Finch certainly embraces that dictum.
His hapless nemesis, the flexible and hilarious Tom Deckman, plays the boss’ nephew, Bud Frump, who squeezes every drop of comedy and then some out of the part.
Love interest Rosemary Pilkington, played by the effervescent Natalie Bradshaw, makes the most out of her unfortunate dream of becoming the neglected wife behind the successful executive.
There is also the awkward song “A Secretary is not A Toy” which choreographer Kelli Barclay and director Greg Ganakas do the best they can, making the secretaries the puppet-masters, but it is still uncomfortable.
There’s the big boss J.B. Biggley, played with befuddled fussiness by Ronn Carroll, who played the same role on Broadway opposite Matthew Broderick. To relax, Biggley knits — something that Finch learns about and capitalizes on, as he does with each stumbling block on his way up the corporate ladder.
Biggley is having an affair with a bombshell, Hedy LaRue, played by the delightful Nicolette Hart, who can sing, dance, and turn on a dime, but taking dictation is not one of her skills.
Richard Vida does a fine job as the life-long employee, Mr. Twimble and the pompous, ditzy director of the board, Wally Womper.
Jennifer Smith does a fabulous turn as the uptight executive secretary who really lets loose and has a blast, as does the rest of the cast, in the second act, where you get to see that fantastic dancing that Goodspeed always does so well.
It’s back to the future at the instructive “How To Make It In Business Without Really Trying” at the Goodspeed through Nov. 28.


3½ Stars
Location: Goodspeed Opera House, Route 82, East Haddam
Production: Directed by Greg Ganakas. Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser. Book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, and Willie Gilbert. Based upon the book by Shepherd Mead. Music direction by Michael O’Flaherty. Choreography by Kelli Barclay. Scenic design by Adrian W. Jones. Costume design by Gregory Gale. Lighting design by Paul Miller. Orchestrations by Dan DeLange.
Running time: 2 hours plus one 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Wednesday, Sunday, and selected Thursday matinees at 2 p.m., Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Saturday matinees at 3 p.m., and selected Sundays at 6:30 p.m. through Nov. 28.
Tickets: $27.50 — $71. Call the box office at 860-873-8668 or visit their website at
Brian Sears … J. Pierrepont Finch
Ronn Carroll … J.B. Biggley
Natalie Bradshaw … Rosemary Pilkington
Nicolette Hart … Hedy LaRue
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd … Narrator
Tom Deckman … Bud Frump
Erin Maguire … Smitty
Jennifer Smith … Miss Jones
Ricard Vida … Mr. Twimble and Wally Womper

Monday, October 18, 2010

Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” a moving play at the Suffield Players

SUFFIELD-The Arthur Miller philosophical tragedy “All My Sons” is well done at the Suffield Players, running through Sunday.
The play, first performed in 1947, is about a self-made businessman, Joe Keller, who lives with his surviving son Chris, and his wife Kate in a typical suburb in an unnamed American town after World War II.
Their other son, Larry, was missing in action and is presumed dead by all but steadfast mother Kate, Marge Patefield, who has convinced herself that he is alive after 3 ½ years.
As the play evolves, we learn that Keller and his partner, Steve Deever were charged with selling cracked plane engine blocks to the United States Air Force that resulted in 21 pilot deaths. Keller got off on an appeal, but Deever took the fall and is in prison.
An added twist to the plot arrives in Ann Deever, played by Rayah Martin, daughter of the imprisoned man, who was engaged to Larry, and now is in love with Chris. Played by Shaun O’Keefe, Chris loves her also and they want to marry.
O’Keefe brings life and unpredictability to his role. He seems so easy-going and loving, which he is, but he reveals a deep and unexpected rage that is at once believable and unexpected.
Patefield’s Kate is a complex woman who appears to be a devoted mother and wife, and is, but she is made of steel inside, and has Lady Macbeth-like qualities that help lead to everyone’s undoing.
George Deever, played with intensity by Michael Reilly, has a brief but important appearance as the angry, then relaxed, then furious and heartbroken son of his accused father.
All the actors are very good, but Konrad Rogowski as Joe Keller, is amazing as the family patriarch — a self-made minimally educated but street-smart man who believes in the dog-eat-dog world. It’s all about the choices you make.
I kept thinking of the financial devastation created by former financier Bernard Madoff during the performance. Even though no one was killed because of the Madoff swindle, it’s the years of living with a lie before he was caught that I see as an apt parallel to Joe Keller in “All My Sons.”
Neighbors add a small town familiarity along with a communal feeling of secrets hidden and unspoken. Next door, living in the house from whence the Deevers fled, is the oppressed dreamer, Dr. Jim Bayliss, Robert Lunde, and his blunt, nagging wife, Sue, played by Amy Rucci.
The Keller’s other neighbors are the Frank and Lydia Lubey, played by Dana T. Ring and Ursula A. Nowik. Frank is convinced, through studying his horoscope, that Larry is alive.
Zak Kidd rounds out the capable supporting cast as young Bert, whom Joe teases in an uneasy exchange about a jail in Joe’s basement.
The Suffield Players often perform light farcical comedies, but this time they delve into the darker side of life and do so with style and power, directed by Ed Wilhelms. Occasionally I felt the heavy hand of direction, as when Ann, Joe, and Chris all marched over to sit on the garden bench.
The extensively-detail set of the Keller’s front porch and yard is nothing short of wonderful by the multitalented Rogowski.
The fascination of this moving tragedy lies in the many facets of falsehoods and self-deceits that bubble to the surface throughout, along with the well-acted and believable performances of this fine cast, who were all up to the task.


3½ Stars
Location: Mapleton Hall, 1305 Mapleton Ave. Suffield.
Production: Written by Arthur Miller. Directed by Ed Wilhelms. Stage manager Bob Williams. Technical direction and lighting design by Jerry Zalewski. Set design by Konrad Rogowski. Costume design by Dawn McKay.
Running time: 2 hours, plus a 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through Oct. 23.
Tickets: $17, $15 for seniors and students. Call 800-289-6148 or visit their website at
Konrad Rogowski … Joe Keller
Marge Patefield … Kate Keller
Shaun O’Keefe … Chris Keller
Rayah Martin … Ann Deever
Michael Reilly … George Deever
Robert Lunde … Dr. Jim Bayliss
Amy Rucci … Sue Bayliss
Dana T. Ring … Frank Lubey
Ursula A. Nowik … Lydia Lubey
Zak Kidd … Bert

Monday, October 11, 2010

Outstanding “Othello” at CRT

STORRS — Stunning betrayal combined with singular naiveté are the hallmarks of Shakespeare’s tragedy, “Othello,” a Connecticut Repertory Theatre production at the University of Connecticut, playing at the Nafe Katter Theatre through Sunday.
The story is one of Shakespeare’s tightest, most focused and psychologically-intense plays, taking place in only a few days — adding to the sense of urgency in the haste and rash judgements of Othello the Moor who is more comfortable as a fighter than a lover.
Othello, played on alternate nights by graduate students Brooks Brantly and Philip AJ Smithey, is a well-respected and beloved Italian general who elopes with Desdemona, a headstrong aristocratic gal who falls in love with Othello’s battle tales and rough life story.
She says she wishes she could be him, and so they marry in haste, while her father, Brabantio, feels betrayed, but begrudgingly accepts what he cannot change.
Often at CRT they will have a few professional actors working with the graduate and undergraduate students, but this go around, under the capable direction of Dale AJ Rose, they have only one equity actor, Bill Kux, doing a fine turn as Desdemona’s father.
I thought it was a strange directorial choice, however, to have the first view of Brabantio from his bedchamber with a young harlot in attendance. At first glance she seemed to be his daughter, but then we learn his daughter is wed. Creepy, but probably the intent.
The night I saw the production, Brantly was “Othello.” I was initially disappointed because slender Brantly is far too youthful to play an experienced general, looking more like a junior lieutenant. He also didn’t have the commanding presence of an older general, turning his back to the audience frequently and was difficult to understand at first.
As the play progressed, however, I overcame my disappointment as Brantly’s Othello sucked me into his complex psychological machinations.
This play’s Iago, the unequivocal villian, is also a shared role on alternate nights, between Kevin Coubal, who I saw, and Phil Korth.
Coubal’s “honest Iago” was fascinating and fantastic, consumed by a furious, passionate, hatred for Othello that drives him to all-out villainy, joyously taking down the general, Desdemona, the foppish Roderigo, the handsome Lt. Cassio, and others in his path without a moment’s hesitation or an ounce of remorse.
Ryan Guess plays Roderigo with simpering silliness, while Brian Patrick Williams plays the unsuspecting Cassio with complexity.
I particularly admired how all the actors delivered the challenging Shakespearean prose in a plain and organic manner.
Alexandra Perlwitz as Desdemona particularly shined in her realistic delivery and was all the more believable for it.
The sword-fight scenes were unparalleled — one advantage of having many youths with good knees able to tumble about with aplomb, with fight choreography by Greg Webster.
If only the actors had more rigorously practiced putting their sabers back into their holders — it would have looked more soldier-like and natural, instead it was distracting as they struggled to find their way.
There was some strobe light action during a storm sequence with too much lightning for my taste, making it difficult to hear what the actors were saying, with lighting by Mark Novick.
The smaller roles were standouts too, with Andrea Pane speaking with an excellent accent as the Cypriot Commander Montano.
Also strong was Christina Greer as Emilia, the handmaiden to Desdemona and Iago’s unsuspecting wife.
The set of a castle with two staircases was elegant and solid, if unchanging, by Jennifer Corcoran.
The period costumes by Natalie Abreu were excellent for the most part, except for Desdemona whose gowns were either too low cut or ill-fitting and unflattering for her pale complexion and shorter stature.
It’s one thing to read Shakespeare, but to see it done well live, as it is in CRT’s terrific production, brings this play to life, as during the scene where Othello, this “rash and most unfortunate man,” strangles his wife.
The choking scene was really gruesome, horrid, and grotesque, especially when he rationalizes his actions before the deed is done, saying with calm justification, “she must die or she will betray others. Put out the light and then put out the light.”
I highly recommend this outstanding production of one of Shakespeare’s most modern and compelling plays.


3½ Stars
Location: Nafe Katter Theatre, 802 Bolton Rd., Storrs.
Production: By William Shakespeare. Directed by Dale AJ Rose. Scenic design by Jennifer Corcoran. Costume design by Natalie Abreu. Lighting design by Mark Novick. Sound design by Erin McKeon. Dramaturg Dassia Posner. Fight choreographer Greg Webster. Technical direction by Stefan Koniarz. Production stage manager Mary P. Costello.
Running time: 3 hours including one 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. through Sunday.
Tickets: $11 to $29. Call 860-486-4266 or visit their website at
Brooks Brantly and Philip AJ Smithey … Othello
Kevin Coubal and Phil Korth … Iago
Alexandra Perlwitz … Desdemona
Brian Patrick Williams … Cassio
Gretchen Goode … Emilia
Bill Kux … Brabantio, father to Desdemona
Ryan Guess … Roderigo
Robert Thompson Jr. … Duke of Venice
Andrea Pane … Montano
Christina Greer … Bianca
Tom Foran … Lodovico
Seth Koproski … Gratiano
“Driving Miss Daisy” a sweet love story at Ivoryton Playhouse

IVORYTON — If you are at all hard of hearing, the Ivoryton Playhouse’s production of “Driving Miss Daisy” is for you.
This show about an aging southern widow, Mrs. Daisy Wethan, who is forced against her will by her beleaguered adult son after wrecking her car to take on a chauffeur, is played at top volume throughout, with every word clearly enunciated.
Set in Atlanta, Georgia in the mid-1950s, this story takes us through the last part or her life, from her early 70s until she is in 90s in a nursing home.
Miss Daisy, as her driver, Hoke Coleburn respectfully calls her, is a crusty old Jewish grand dame, who Hoke identifies with and relates to, considering he to has suffered his share of discrimination.
He says to her at one point when her reformed synagogue is bombed by the Klu Klux Klan, “A Jew is a Jew” to them, just as “light or dark” they are all black in their eyes.
He then tells her of a horrendous sight he saw as a child, that let’s you know he is a man who has lived through much in his life.
She helps him when she, a former fifth-grade teacher, learns that Hoke, for all his kindness and wisdom, can’t read.
She is such a crusty, sarcastic old thing, played with a natural and progressive frailty by Rebecca Hoodwin, that she also gains in insight and patience with her steadfast companion Hoke, played by the steady and respectfully Rob Barnes.
Both he and Miss Daisy’s put-upon son, Boolie Werthan, played by Steven L. Barron, care deeply for and clearly love the old gal.
He says, “You’re a doodle, mama,” and often kisses her on the forehead as a sign of affection.
My one complaint is that the two men loudly articulate and emphasize each and every Southern word until all the words sound the same, except Boolie occasionally gets even louder, which I didn’t think was possible.
There were times when a more quiet, easy-going banter would have been a welcome relief.
The set was simple and stark, coincidentally by set designer William Russell Stark, with a chair and table for Miss Daisy’s home, a desk for Boolie’s office, and two chairs for the car Hoke drives Miss Daisy in.
Flashes of a time of social upheaval were evident with the synagogue bombing and a dinner for Martin Luther King, when the social fabric of our society was under transition.
Hoodwin and Barnes gracefully and subtly aged before our eyes over 20 years, but Boolie stayed oddly exactly the same from around 40 to 60 years old. Perhaps a little gray highlighting in his hair would have appropriately aged him a bit.
“Driving Miss Daisy” is a sweet, loving story of three souls who help each other through their lives with kindness, compassion, and a healthy dose of exasperation.


3 Stars
Location: Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton
Production: Written by Alfred Uhry. Directed by Lawrence Thelen. Stage Manager T. Rick Jones. Scenic design by William Russell Stark. Lighting design by Jo Nazro. Wig Design by Joel Sivestro. Costume design by Pamela Puente.
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Show Times: Wednesday and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. through Sunday.
Tickets: $38 for adults, $20 for students, and $15 for children 12 and under. Call the box office at 860-767-7318, or visit their website at
Rebecca Hoodwin … Daisy Werthan
Steven L. Barron … Boolie Werthan
Rob Barnes … Hoke Coleburn

Thursday, September 30, 2010

“Ella The Musical” a colorful tribute at Long Wharf

NEW HAVEN — “Ella The Musical,” a colorful tribute to the legendary singer Ella Fitzgerald stars the inimitable Tina Fabrique at Long Wharf Theatre.
The show, which has been in production off and on since 2005, is a series of songs set in a concert hall in Nice, France, interspersed with mostly monologue from Fabrique telling the story of Ella’s life from the time she was a teenager until her step-sister died in 1966.
It’s not easy to compete with an icon, and for the most part Fabrique does an admirable job, with some pyrotechnic scat bebop singing, a style that Fitzgerald perfected.
Fabrique sounds best, with clear, clarion notes, when she hits the higher ranges, while the lower tones are scratchy and less clear and pure.
Everyone has a story to tell, but Fitzgerald had the disadvantage of being “the good girl.” No drug additions, alcohol abuse, or diva temper tantrums for this consummate driven performer. Her worst qualities appeared to be her lack of maternal instinct and her choice of looser men for lovers.
“I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, and I don’t sleep around,” Fitzgerald tells us, adding that she is more Doris Day than Lady Day, the nickname of singer Billie Holiday.
She also had some good men in her professional life, we learn, such as the bandleader Chick Webb, and a couple of decent agents including Norman Granz played by Harold Dixon.
In earlier productions, all directed by Rob Ruggiero, she spoke of some of the discrimination she endured while travelling around the globe, that is missing from this show.
Fabrique with her toothsome grin has a Kewpie doll awe-shucks cuteness that is cloying when she sings with Ron Haynes Ron Haynes who does an admirable job as Louis Armstrong, while playing a fine trumpet in “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”
It’s a heavy load to carry an entire show, but she has fine support with her band, including pianist and musical director George Caldwell, Rodney Harper on drums, Cliff Kellam on bass and Haynes.
There are zuds of nostalgic tunes in this two act play, including one that Fitzgerald wrote called, “A-Tisket A-Tasket,” along with “That Old Black Magic,” “The Nearness of You,” “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” and “Night and Day.”
The set by Michael Schweikardt is filled with art nouveau curves and rainbow colors by lighting designer John Lasiter, that change from lavender and blues, to gray and black, to radiant red and brilliant yellow that help make this production so appealing.
The sound system, by Michael Miceli, is too loud for the intimate space of the Long Wharf, with some audience members plugging their ears, and needs to be taken down a couple notches.
Once she gets warmed up, Fabrique takes the audience to another time in this night of all “Ella,” running through Oct. 17.

3 Stars
Location: 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven
Production: Book by Jeffrey Hatcher. Directed by Rob Ruggiero. Conceived by Ruggiero and Dyke Garrison. Musical direction by George Caldwell. Set design by Michael Schweikardt. Costume design by Alejo Vietti. Lighting design by John Lasiter. Sound design by Michael Miceli. Wig design by Charles LaPointe.
Running time: 2 hours plus a 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday at 7 p.m., Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 p.m., with Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. and Saturday matinees at 3 p.m. through Sunday, Oct. 17.
Tickets: $35 to $65. For more information call their box office at 203-787-4282, or visit their website at
Tina Fabrique … Ella Fitzgerald
George Caldwell … Piano
Ron Haynes … Trumpet
Rodney Harper … Drums
Cliff Kellam … Bass
Harold Dixon … Norman Granz

Monday, September 27, 2010

Village Players’ “Run For Your Wife,” wacky belly-buster

SOMERS — Time and again I am amazed by the high quality of local talent there is in this area for community theater and “Run For Your Wife,” the current production at the Village Players, is no exception.
This madcap English farce has a seemingly mild-mannered taxi driver living two separate lives with two separate wives between the neighboring towns of Wimbledon and Staigtham.
Bigamy it is, and it has never been as funny, wild, and hysterically hilarious as it is in this show. Why it isn’t called “Run For Your Wives” though, I don’t know.
Fabulous Anthony Urillo delightfully underplays taxi driver John Smith, who somehow has managed to pull off leading his two lives relatively successfully for years.
A monkey wrench of sorts enters the system when he heroically interrupts a mugging in progress, and gets beamed on the noggin with the handbag for his efforts by the old lady he tried to rescue.
He ends up in the hospital, which throws his whole precisely-timed schedule out of whack and the wives start to worry.
Angela Taylor and Regina Erpenbeck as wife Barbara and Mary respectively, set the tone and get things rolling in a duet of sorts, when they both enter the single set, and we are asked to believe that they are actually in different apartments.
It’s a daring conceit, but once established, the audience takes that leap of faith and is duly rewarded by line after line of pithy repartee that leaves the brain somewhat addled, but highly satisfied.
Edwin R. Lewis III is amusing if a little over the top as the unemployed next door neighbor Stanley who says, “I am one of the government’s statistics. I’m temporarily unemployed, but I’m thinking of making it permanent. The hours are good.”
Ed Banas as Sgt. Porterhouse and Ron Blanchette as Sgt. Troughton both are befuddled and amusing, with Blanchette’s Troughton getting the last and best line in this terribly funny play.
There’s plenty of sexual innuendo, with jokes about bulls, cows, and 2 ½ acres of cucumbers, but it’s all in good fun and perfectly fine for all ages.
The English accents are more of an option than a rule for everyone except for the fine Tyler J. Anderson who plays Bobby, a dramatic and lovable homosexual. Although generally I am a stickler for consistent and believable accents, the cast’s eccentric hybrid variation on the theme didn’t bother me too much.
Director John K. Nelson does an excellent job of making sure this farcical festival keeps popping along, and the actors move about naturally and organically on the small but well laid out living room, with set design and décor by Franc Aguas.
Excellent too is the technical direction, light and sound design by Justin Martin, with all those telephone bells a ringing and doorbells a buzzing, that are so important to the success of this show.
If compared to music, “Run For Your Wife” is much like a finely tuned chamber orchestra piece, where the rhythm and timing, always key to successful comedy, is fast-paced and requires skilled performers.
Fortunately, this cast is well up to the task. The witty, belly-busting dialog is tear inducing, and so intelligent and sharp, inventive and clever, that it really is not to be missed.


(no photos)
Three ½ stars
Theater: The Village Players, Inc.
Location: Joanne’s Café and Banquet House, 145 Main Street, Somers
Production: Written by Ray Cooney. Directed by John K. Nelson. Produced by Diane Preble. Technical direction, light and sound design by Justin Martin. Associate producer Betty Domer. Stage manager Tim Lavery. Set design and décor by Franc Aguas. Props by Sherry Samborski. Costumes by Joyce Benson. Light and sound by Ben Bugden.
Running time: 2 hours with one intermission.
Show Times: Friday and Saturday through Oct. 9. Social hour starting at 6 p.m. Dinner at 7 p.m. Show at 8 p.m. through Oct. 9.
Tickets: $35, including dinner, with cash bar. Call 860-749-0245 for reservations.
Actor ... Character
Anthony Urillo … John Smith
Edwin R. Lewis III … Stanley
Regina Erpenbeck … Mary Smith
Angela Taylor … Barbara Smith
Ed Banas … Sgt. Porterhouse
Ron Blanchette … Sgt. Troughton
Tyler J. Anderson … Bobby
John McKone … Reporter
TheaterWorks’ “Broke-ology” poignant story of family and choices

HARTFORD — The Connecticut premiere of “Broke-ology” at TheaterWorks is a poignant, moving and believable story of a small family trying to make ends meet in Kansas City.
True to the saying, “if it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all,” in “Broke-ology” there is the wounded King family with a father, William, and two sons. The younger son, Malcolm, played by clear-eyed David Pegram, has chosen an academic career at the University of Connecticut, while the other older brother Ennis, played with tightly wound energy by Royce Johnson, is working at a dead-end job supporting a young family.
Their mother and William’s former wife, Sonia, is seen in the beginning, and as a recurring memory throughout. She has died sometime after the boys were born, and the father has raised them well, considering their circumstances and their environment, surrounded as they are by drugs, gangs, and blight in a bad section of Kansas City, Kansas.
Now William has contracted debilitating and Multiple Sclerosis just as Ennis’ and his girlfriend’s baby is about to be born and Malcolm is about to return to the university to a teaching career in environmental studies. Or is he going to stay and take care of his father and give up his career hopes? That is the question that dominates the action.
It’s a beautifully realized production, with just the right amount of laughter and sadness, sensitively directed by Tazewell Thompson.
The two boys behave exactly as brothers would — joking and teasing one minute and arguing and frustrated with each other the next. There’s a real and natural friendliness and love they all share, and a willingness to face difficult questions eventually.
William, who has an admirable work ethic, that we learn both the boys share in their own ways, is going down hill fast, and the question of what can be done is the central focus of the show.
The term “Broke-ology” is invented by Ennis as a mock study of what he tells his brother is a new scientific field he’s invented — how to survive less money than you need. In response, Malcolm jokes with Ennis, saying that he’s only been home a short while, but already, he says, “your making my brain hurt.”
Often the sets on the compact stage at TheaterWorks are on the minimalist side, but this set, with the living room, kitchen, and bathroom of the King household, has a detailed, lived-in look about it, with set design by Luke Hegel-Cantraella. It is interesting too that the house remains unchanged throughout, as if it is frozen in time after Sonia’s unexplained death.
The story is a loving and moving one, beautifully acted, which everyone, regardless of their circumstances, can identify with and embrace.


1) Photographs:
three ½ Stars
Theater: TheaterWorks
Location: 233 Pearl St. Hartford.
Production: Written by Nathan Louis Jackson. Directed by Tazewell Thompson. Set design by Luke Hegel-Cantraella. Costume design by Harry Nadal. Lighting design by Greg Goff. Sound design by Fabian Obispo.
Running time: 2 hours with one intermission.
Show Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through Oct. 24.
Tickets: Unassigned seating is $39; $49 on Friday and Saturday nights. Center reserved seats $12 extra. $12 student rush tickets at showtime with valid ID (subject to availability). Season tickets are $129 for five shows. For tickets call 860-527-7838 or visit their website at
Gina Daniels … Sonia King
Frank Faucette … William King
Royce Johnson … Ennis King
David Pegram … Malcolm King

Monday, September 20, 2010

"bare" frank coming of age musical opera makes its Connecticut premiere at the Opera House Players

EAST WINDSOR — In the modern rock opera “bare,” the future of musicals, in the vein of “Rent” and “Spring Awakening,” is alive and well and living at the Broad Brook Opera House.
Music and musicals have a way of expressing what is difficult for words alone to convey.
This Connecticut premiere is set in a present-day Catholic boarding school where teens deal with their burgeoning sexuality, drug abuse, and preferences under the spiritual microscope of confession, guilt, and love, with a twist.
That twist on the usual boy meets girl is that the boy meets the boy and falls in love. I hate to say much more than that, because I don’t want to give it all away, but there is a parallel to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” a play within a play directed by the no nonsense, straight-talking Sister Chantelle, played with confidence by the saucy Melissa Paul.
She sings the hip Motown tune “911! Emergency!” dream song with backup angels Kyra and Tanya played by Gia Wright and Amanda Marschall, and the direct “God Don’t Make No Trash.”
Peter and Jason, played by Opera House regular Christopher deJongh and newcomer Tomm Knightlee, respectively, are secret lovers who are dealing with their burgeoning sexual awareness and the pressure they feel to fit into their heterosexual society.
The lyrics, by John Hartmere Jr., are sensitive and meaningful, such as when Peter satirically sings in “The Role of a Lifetime,” “You learn to play the straight man, Your lines become routine. Never really saying what you mean. But I know the scene will change, White picket fences, and a dog, … And if you dance like hell, You hope you never touch the ground. ... As we dance around and play pretend. Then once again, reprise our roles.”
Peter has no doubts about his love for Jason, but popular Jason is torn and confused and wants to hid his feelings, which lead to a lot of broken hearts.
Jason has a twin sister, Nadia, who is ostracized and feels society’s harsh judgments because she is heavy.
Both Knightlee and deJongh have strong, lyrical voices that blend nicely in duets such as “Ever After,” “Bare,” and “Queen Mab.”
Nicole Giguere, also a Opera House veteran, gives a lively and powerful performance as the wisecracking, self-depreciating, angry teen Nadia, when she sings the brazen “Plain Jane Fat Ass.” Giguere enunciates each word and can be clearly understood.
Unfortunately at times it is difficult to understand what some of the characters are singing, which is the result of the music either being too loud, or the cordless microphones not being loud enough.
A prime example is when the fine Dallas Hosmer, playing the drug-dealing student Lucas, sings the rap tune “Wonderland.” Even though his words are not intelligible, however, the performance is still compelling and interesting.
Erica Lindblad is convincing as the young attractive girl who sleeps around, but is looking for love and an emotional connection, and she really belts it out when she sings the powerful “All Grown Up.”
Smoothly directed by Philip D. Vetro, the show has subtle and organic choreography by Todd Santa Maria. The set, by Peggy Messerschmidt, is simple but functional, with a few crosses, and a bedroom on the second level behind the orchestra, with a second level behind the main stage.
There is no nudity in “bare,” but plenty of profanity and a simulated sex act, making this play definitely unsuitable for young children, but appropriate for teens.
“bare” is a risky show for community theater, but under the sensitive direction of Vetro they do an admirable job of presenting a soulful, thoughtful, and ultimately beautiful production.


Theater: Opera House Players
Location: 107 Main Street, Broad Brook
Production: Music by Damon Intrabartolo Lyrics by John Hartmere Jr. Directed by Philip D. Vetro. Musical direction by Angela J. Klimaytis. Choreography by Todd Santa Maria. Fight choreography by Mark Wantroba. Stage managers Becky Beth Benedict and Caitlin Morris. Assistant director James Rhone. Set design by Peggy Messerschmidt. Costumes by Moonyean Field and Solveig Pflueger.
Running time: 2 ½ hours including a 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through Sept. 26.
Tickets: $21, seniors over 60 pay $17. Not recommended for children under 16 years old. Call 860-292-6068 or visit their website at
Christopher deJongh … Peter
Tomm Knightlee … Jason
Nichole Giguere … Nadia
Erica Lindblad … Ivy
Dallas Hosmer … Lucas
Melissa Paul … Sister Chantelle
Ty Pearson … Matt
Kathi Such … Claire
Joseph J. Martin … Priest
Maria Grove … Diane
Stephen Jewell … Alan
David Addis … Zack
Amanda Marschall … Tanya
Stephanie Layne … Rory
Gia Wright … Kyra
Leah Rosen, Michael Hornig, Aslynn Brown … Students

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ivoryton’s “Finian’s Rainbow” a colorful confection

IVORYTON — It’s a bit of leprechaun’s charm with a touch of old Irish blarney at the Ivoryton Playhouse in their colorful production of the sweet musical “Finian’s Rainbow,” running through Sept. 5.
This is a high school perennial favorite, and one can see why, with many parts along with a good moral story about the evils of racism and the possibility of redemption.
R. Bruce Connelly makes a fine Irishman, Finian McLonergan although his Irish accent evaporates at times, and has an elfin twinkle in his eye.
He drags his daughter, Sharon, to America in order to make a new life for themselves in the fictional town of Rainbow Valley, Missitucky, a combination of Mississippi and Kentucky, in 1947.
When Sharon, played by the excellent Kathleen Mulready, asks her pop if there aren’t people who are hungry and poor in America, he responds enthusiastically that there are but, “They are the best ill-clothed and the best ill-housed in the world.”
And when he says he “borrowed” some gold from the leprechauns, he observes, “Who else would have gold in Ireland?”
Finian has brought that stolen pot of gold to bury it and start good things here, but since he actually stole the leprechauns’ gold, all the leprechauns have started to grow, loose their green color, and become human.
Finian and his daughter come upon a scene where the family homestead belonging to a mute girl named Susan, played by the graceful Tessa Grunwald, is about to be seized by the bigot Senator Billboard Rawkins, played by Larry Lewis, because of unpaid back taxes. Lewis is terrific as the arrogant and obnoxious senator who learns to see the world through a black man’s eyes.
Woody, brother of Susan, played by the swell John Rochette, comes at the last minute with the money, but it turns out he is $70 short. Sharon comes up with the cash, and they fall in love, natch.
Rochette has a fine, warm singing voice, which blends well with Mulready’s strong melodic sound.
They sing some lovely songs together, including the crooning “Old Devil Moon.”
The dynamic powerhouse Patryce Williams plays Dottie and belts out the jazzy doo-wop “Necessity,” practically stealing the show from the leprechaun.
That leprechaun, Og, is played by the quirky and wacky Michael Nathanson, who seems a bit like the naughty Puck from Shakespeare’s “A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream.”
Og is terribly upset that he is becoming human after some 475 years as a leprechaun, but at the same time is learning to enjoy the sensations of being human, including falling in love, and oddly enough, morphing into an Elvis impersonator.
Then there is the Irish-tinged “How are Things in Glocca Morra?” that has a sweet, melancholic sound and appears a couple of times in the musical.
Also nice is the lighthearted gospel novelty song “The Begat,” which is well done, with fine choreographed by Schuyler Beeman.
The show, which was originally produced on Broadway in 1947, feels heavily influenced by Thornton Wilder archetypes, where the characters talk directly to the audience, informing us what is going to happen next, and where we are in the show. Dottie tells the audience when Act I is ending, for example. That style feels somewhat dated, but since the show is set back in that era, it works all right.
The set, designed by Tony Andrea, is simple and functional, with a tree that gets climbed at times, and an undulating backdrop that is elegant and fits this whimsical musical to a tee.
The lighting illuminating the backdrop in shades of chartreuse, fuchsia, purple, pink, and more, designed by Tate Burmeister, is inspired and well executed, adding much to the enjoyment of this colorful happy production.


3 Stars
Location: Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton
Production: Book by E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy. Directed by Julia Kiley. Music by Burton Lane. Lyrics by E.Y. Harburg. Music direction by John S. DeNicola. Scenic design by Tony Andrea. Lighting design by Tate Burmeister. Choreography by Schuyler Beeman. Costume design by Pan Puente. Stage manager T. Rick Jones.
Running time: 2 ½ hours including one 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Wednesday and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. through Sept. 5.
Tickets: $38 for adults, $33 for seniors, $20 for students, and $15 for children 12 and under. Call the box office at 860-767-7318, or visit their website at
R. Bruce Connelly ... Finian McLonergan
Kathleen Mulready ... Sharon McLonergan
Tessa Grunwald ... Susan Mahoney
John Rochette ... Woody Mahoney
Michael Nathanson ... Og
Larry Lewis ... Senator Billboard Rawkins
George Lombardo ... Buzz Collins
Jamison Daniels ... Sheriff
Nicholas Fillippides ... Henry
Patryce Williams ... Dotty
Christopher Brasfield ... Howard
Jayson Kerr ... Sharecropper
Stefanie Foster, Emily Ide, Megan Wingo, and Schuyler Beeman ... Ensemble