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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