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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