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Thursday, December 22, 2011


Bushnell’s “Cirque Dreams Holidaze” an amazing holiday delight

by Kory Loucks

HARTFORD — Over 30 tumblers, jugglers, skaters, clowns, contortionists, and singers from Mongolia, Uzbekistan, China, Ethiopia, the United States, and many other countries join together for an amazing performance of holiday delights in “Cirque Dreams Holidaze” at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts through Saturday.
There is no real plot to this stunning acrobatic circus, created and directed by Neil Goldberg, with Assistant Artistic Director Heather Hoffman. The premise is simply that Christmas ornaments come to life, and it works splendidly.
The recorded music was too loud to start Tuesday, but then became more tolerable, with music and lyrics by Jill Winters and David Scott, and additional music by Lance Conque and Tony Aliperti.
There are familiar holiday songs such as “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Rockin Around the Christmas Tree,” and the beautiful “Holy Night” all sung by Joanna Carpenter and the fabulous Christina Rodi. Rodi could probably tour all by herself — she’s that good.
Devid Tsytko from the Ukraine kicks off the evening, after the opening ensemble song “Once Upon a Dream,” with some precise Diabolo work that he performed seamlessly. The Diabolo is a kind of freeform yo-yo tossed on a string or stick held by the performer’s two hands. A simple concept, but like juggling that is well done, it’s fascinating to watch.
Buyankhishig and Erdenesuvd Ganbaatar, contortionists from Mongolia, played Flying Reindeer and Flexible Dolls, twisting their lithe bodies into incredible pretzel shapes both on the ground and spinning in the air.
Bing and Jun Long, also contortionists and jugglers from China, squeezed into tiny tubes that made me a bit claustrophobic, but were also incredible to witness.
The degree of professionalism and quality of the acts was impressive. There is never a moment when there wasn’t something engaging happening on stage.
Even when the acts were changing, other entertainment was taking place, making for smooth transitions from act to act.
Kaylee Couvillion, Louis Joseph LaVecchia, Charles Robinson, and Colleen McCary from the United States are Skipping Elves, performing some unbelievable jump rope action.
They even have a magic act with Natalia Khazina and Ilya Ryzhkov from Russia as quick-change artists that perform costume changes that defy the imagination.
Probably the most frightening act was performed by Anatoliy Yeniy of Moldova and Vladimir Dovgan from the Ukraine as the Wobbly Penguins. The two men were linked arm in arm on a tall, small platform balancing on a skateboard sized board with a cylinder underneath. The first attempt didn’t work and the board went flying. Then they added platform after platform until they were extremely high in the air.
There has got to be an easier way to earn a living. It was really incredible and breathtaking to witness.
For comic relief Martin Lamberti of Germany played the bell conductor clown who had four people from the audience participate in bell ringing. Lamberti was commanding, delightful, and thoroughly engaging.
Less successful was Jose Henry from Columbia as the tightrope walking Toy Soldier who fell off the bouncing rope more than once. Let’s hope he was just having a bad night.
Olena Piontkevych from the Ukraine and Andrey Lyamin from Russia were exquisite as the beautiful Flying Angels, gliding gracefully high in the air on two silken drapes.
The numerous day-glow colored costumes by Cirque Productions, Lenora Taylor, and Santiago Rojo were garish in the extreme, with strange bobbles and spikes coming out of some headpieces, but they got the point across that they were all ornaments.
Goldberg founded Cirque Dreams in 1993, and has numerous shows that tour, similar to the more familiar Cirque du Soleil. Cirque Dreams isn’t as sophisticated as the latter, but is more jam-packed with acts.
This is a terrific show for children, with Santa and Mrs. Claus available for photo ops, as well as ice skaters on a small rink in the lobby. At two hours it is a bit long for the very young.
Take a break from the hustle and bustle of the hectic holiday season and give the family the entertaining gift of “Cirque Dreams Holidaze.”

CIRQUE DREAMS HOLIDAZE
Four Stars
Theater: The William H. Mortensen Hall at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts
Location: 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford
Production: Created and directed by Neil Goldberg. Music and lyrics by Jill Winters and David Scott with additional music by Lance Conque and Tony Aliperti. Costume design by Cirque Productions, Lenora Taylor, Santiago Rojo. Act design by Goldberg, Heather Hoffman, louri Klepatsky. Scenic design by Jon Craine. Lighting design by Kate Johnston.
Running time: 2 hours, plus one 20-minute intermission.
Show Times: Thursday at 6:30 p.m., Friday at 3 and 7 p.m., and Saturday at 1 p.m., through Dec. 20.
Tickets: $30 to $65. Call 860-987-5900 or visit their website at www.bushnell.org.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Dan Domingues, from left, Kevyn Morrow, Ariel Woodiwiss, and Kate MaCluggage in "It's A Wonderful Life - A Live Radio Play" at Long Wharf Theatre. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Long Wharf’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life — A Live Radio Play’ holds its own

by Kory Loucks


NEW HAVEN — When it comes to the play adaptation of the beloved Frank Capra film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” one of the most inspirational shows ever, there’s no need to mess with perfection.
Directed by Eric Ting and written by Joe Landry, this mostly faithful reworking of the film has the entire dialog, but sets it in a 1940s radio studio and turns it into a radio play. So far, so good, but for some reason they make it seem like a person from today’s world stumbles upon this old studio and then becomes the lead in the show.
I would have much preferred just doing the show as a straight radio play of the script, because it more than stands on it own. Even the title is overdone. It could simply be called “It’s a Wonderful Life — a Radio Play.” Obviously if it’s a play it’s live.
The plot set in the 1940s was originally written as a story by Philip Van Doren Stern called “The Greatest Gift.” It follows the life of George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart in the film and Alex Moggridge on stage.
George lives in a little town called Bedford Falls and as a child dreamed of traveling the world on grand adventures. When he is old enough to pursue his dreams, they are quashed when his father suddenly dies and he has to run the family business, the small savings and loan company that helps families own their own homes in the community.
When George’s absent-minded uncle who also works for the family business goes to make a deposit at the bank one day he inadvertently gives it to Mr. Potter, the scrooge of the town who wants to monopolize and control everything and everyone.
Unlike scrooge, however, Potter goes through no transformation. It is George who must change. George becomes desperate and convinces himself that he would be better off dead than alive.
About a third of the way through the production when George is about to commit suicide, the five talented actors who play all the indelible characters, leave the stage and George is left there on his own.
The other characters are still audible, as are the sound effects, but they are no longer on the stage.
This started me to wonder if any of the sound effects that appeared to be made by the actors when they were on stage were actually done by them or if they were all recorded in advance and they were just going through the motions. I don’t know the answer, but their absence detracted from play.
Alex Moggridge as George is believable and tugs at your heart as the man who finds out how important he is to his whole community, but there is no reason to leave him on stage alone during this section of the show.
I am not sure if they felt that the story wasn’t interesting enough as it is and needs something more, but it is and it doesn’t.
The set by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams is convincing as an old radio recording studio and the costumes by Jessica Ford are all fine period outfits, especially the women’s clothes since the men’s styles really haven’t changed all that much.
The actors, including Dan Domingues, Kate MacCluggage, Kevyn Morrow, and Ariel Woodiwiss, are simply amazing, doing the voices of all the characters so well. The are the real delight of this show.
Despite the unnecessary fiddling about, this iconic tale still holds its own in “It’s a Wonderful Life — A Live Radio Play,” at the Long Wharf Theatre through Dec. 31.
3 Stars
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE — A LIVE RADIO PLAY
Theater: Long Wharf Theatre
Location: 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven
Production: By Joe Landry. Directed by Eric Ting. Set design by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams. Costume design by Jessica Ford. Lighting design by Stephen Strawbridge. Sound design by John Gromada. Foley Artist Nathan Roberts. Stage Manager Lori Lundquist.
Running time: One hour 50 minutes with no intermission.
Show Times: Monday through Wednesday at 7 p.m., Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 6 p.m. on Dec. 24, and Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. through Dec. 31.
Tickets: $70. For more information call their box office at 203-787-4282, or visit their website at www.longwharf.org
ACTORS
Dan Domingues
Kate MacCluggage
Alex Moggridge
Kevyn Morrow
Ariel Woodiwiss

Monday, December 12, 2011

Shakespeare's "Cymbeline" a romance for the ages

by Kory Loucks

NEW HAVEN — One of the many pleasures of reviewing college plays such as Yale School of Drama’s production of Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline” is the chance to see shows which are seldom seen but worth the effort.

Regarded as one of his romance plays written later in Shakespeare’s illustrious career, “Cymbeline” has many serious elements in it, such as war, kidnapping, death, and deception, that could have easily turned this happy ending play into a tragedy, had the characters made other, less thoughtful choices.

The plot has two recently married lovers, Imogen, the daughter to King Cymbeline, and Posthumus, driven apart by her father. He is influenced by his second Queen (a scheming Miriam A. Hyman), who wants her stepdaughter Imogen to marry her doltish simpleton son, Cloten (a delicious Lucas Dixon.)

Posthumus goes to Italy where he meets a man named Iachimo (a wily Brian Wiles) who says he can corrupt Posthumus’ wife and return with proof of it. Posthumus takes up the challenge, believing his wife is incorruptible.

In the meantime, it is revealed that Imogen (an effervescent Adina Verson) had two older brothers who were kidnapped 20 years ago by the banished Lord Belarius, (an expansive and intense Paul Pryce,) named Guiderius (Joshua Bermudez) and Arviragus (William DeMerritt.)

In addition to all this, Caius Lucius (Jack Moran), a general in the Roman army demands that Cymbeline pay tribute to Rome, which the king refuses to do, and so they go to war.

It’s a lot of plot, with many side issues, such as when the physician Cornelius (Tim Brown) gives the Queen what she thinks is poison, but turns out to be a potion that only imitates death. This is reminiscent of the potion that Juliet takes to feign death in the tragedy “Romeo and Juliet,” except in this case, Imogen thinks the potion is helpful medicine, being given it by the trusted servant, Pisanio, who believes the same.

When Posthumus (a passionate Fisher Neal) is tricked into believing that his wife Imogen has been unfaithful, rather than rashly killing her himself, as Othello does to Desdemona, he sends another, less reliable emissary to do the deed, Pisanio, who is loyal to Imogen.

And when he believes she is dead, Posthumus doesn’t kill himself as Romeo does, but repents and regrets his harsh judgments of his wife.

Cloten seems so childish, with an adult tricycle that pushes the joke a little too far, that when the tide shifts to dismemberment, it comes as a real surprise. In Shakespeare the most gruesome deeds often take place off stage, as is the case in “Cymbeline.”

Ably directed by Louisa Proske, the play is set behind the normal proscenium stage, giving an even more intimate and secret feeling to this unusual play. The period costumes are well made and give grandeur to the elegant regal scenes, and baseness to the forest setting, with costume design by Nikki Delhomme.

The dream scene with projections and the blue sky, along with little Jupiter (darling Rachel Miller) add depth and whimsical fantasy to this fine production.

With just a few props, such as chandeliers for the formal castle, and lowered stage lights for the battle scenes, and a raised backdrop with leaves for the cave, the sets, designed by Meredith B. Ries, communicate clearly the change in settings.

The music is spooky and eerie and moody and contributes to the melodrama, by composer and musician Michael Attias with sound by sound composer Palmer Hefferan.

The play came about during the start of the Comedy of Manners plays around 1608, but unlike others of its ilk, the characters in Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline” are all more than one dimensional stereotypes. Even the silly Cloten is brave and valiant, if unsuccessful in his efforts.

I would prefer that the Italians have Italian accents, and the English speak with English accents, instead of all sounding the identical.

The Yale School of Drama’s production of “Cymbeline” takes many twists and turns, but it’s an enjoyable and entertaining ride.



CYMBELINE
4 stars
Theater: University Theatre
Location: 222 York St., New Haven
Production: By William Shakespeare. Directed by Louisa Proske. Scenic design by Meredith B. Ries. Costume design by Nikki Delhomme. Lighting design by Solomon Weisbard. Sound Composer Palmer Hefferan. Composer and Musician Michael Attias. Dramaturg Kee-Yoon Nahm. Stage Manager Nicole Marconi.
Running time: 3 hours including a 15-minute intermission
Show times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through Dec. 16.
Tickets: $25. For tickets 203-432-1234 or visit their website at drama.yale.edu.
ACTOR ... CHARACTER
Adina Verson … Imogen
Fisher Neal … Posthumus
Brian Wiles … Iachimo
Miriam A. Hyman … The Queen
Robert Grant … Cymbeline
Lucas Dixon … Cloten and others
Paul Pryce … Belarius and others
Joshua Bermudez … Guiderius and others
Tim Brown … Cornelius and others
William DeMeritt … Arviragus and others
Michael Place … Pisano
Jack Moran … Caius Lucius and others
Rachel Miller … Jupiter

Carson Waldron, seated left, with girls Addison Marchese, Kearney Capuano, Kaitlyn Vitelli, and adults Carolina Read and Michael McDermott in Ivoryton Playhouse's original "Home for the Holidays." Photo by Anne Hudson.

Whimsical, spontaneous ‘Home For The Holidays’ at Ivoryton

by Kory Loucks

IVORYTON — “Home For The Holidays” is a sweet new holiday production that hopefully will become an annual tradition at the Ivoryton Playhouse.

Conceived and directed by Ivoryton Artistic Director Jacqueline Hubbard, it’s a holiday gift to the community and the special, magical theater.

The premise is that they are rehearsing the play “A Christmas Carol” on Christmas Eve when the weather outside turns into a blizzard and the old tree in front of the playhouse crashes into the road, blocking traffic and taking out the power lines.

Sound familiar? The roads are impassible and other people traveling through are forced to come to the theater, which is equipped with a generator. Throughout the evening parents, friends, and children sing Christmas carols that fit seamlessly into the story, such as when the children sing the lullaby “Away in the Manger” to the little boy infant to help him sleep.

Liz Pester is sarcastic and amusing as Holly, whose birthday is on Christmas day. She playfully teases Joe, played by Brandon Clark, for having a crush on the actress Christina, played by Alanna Burke.

Clark is fine as the lovesick young man, and Burke hits just the right notes as the narcissistic actress singing “Santa Baby.”

Norm Rutty is really funny and touching as the grumpy old Norm, and sings a delightfully anti-Christmas song.

Music Director John Sebastian DeNicola plays John, who is frantic to reach his partner and sings one of my favorite songs of all time, Joni Mitchell’s “River.”

Jason Naylor plays the stagehand Steve and sings a touching duet with Erica LuBonta, the single, harried mother named Cat.

Gayle LaBrec plays the sweet Jennifer, with a beautiful voice, and sings a clever rendition of “The 12 Days of Christmas” about her loser ex-boyfriend.

“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a coffee mug he got at work for free,” she sings.

Addison Marchese is absolutely adorable as the little girl, Sammie, who wants a puppy for Christmas and just steals the show when she is on stage.

All the children give the show so much energy and life, including Kaitlyn Vitelli as Emily, Carson Waldron as Tucker, and Kearney Capuano as Cassie.

Beverly J. Taylor plays Helen whose car got stuck on the road while taking home her elderly and hard-of-hearing friend Jane (a fantastic Maggie McLone Jennings.)

Jennings is witty and sharp with her constant misunderstandings of what is being said.

When Helen says to Jane, “I’m going to see if the car starts,” Jane replies, “No dear, I don’t need anything from Wal-Mart.”

It’s also moving when Jane talks about her grandfather who was in World War I, and how he told her that on the front lines both sides stopped fighting on Christmas Eve and sang “Silent Night.” The cast then sang the hymn in English and German. Carolina Read is marvelous as the mom Sarah, dancing gracefully on toe shoes to “The Nutcracker.”

Michael McDermott has a glorious voice. He plays Sarah’s husband Rob, and is very funny and real when he blames Sarah for making them late. Celeste Cumming plays Celeste the cellist, who, along with the talented Gayle LaBrec on the violin and flute and DeNicola on piano, adds so much to this production.

The set by Jo Nazro, of “A Christmas Carol,” serves the plot well and I love the whimsical Christmas tree created out of garlands on a ladder.

Kudos to Hubbard for somehow pulling this off in just over a month. All the performers work smoothly together in this lovely and loving, spontaneous production, “Home For The Holidays,” through Dec. 18.

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
Three ½ Stars
Theater: Ivoryton Playhouse
Location: 103 Main Street, Ivoryton
Production: Conceived and directed by Jacqueline Hubbard. Music direction by John Sebastian DeNicola. Choreography by Meghan McDermott. Scenic design by Jo Nazro. Stage Manager Jim Clark. Lighting design by Doug Harry.
Running time: 2 hours plus one 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. through Dec. 18.
Tickets: $30 for adults, $28 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 www.ivorytonplayhouse.org
ACTOR ... CHARACTER
Liz Pester ... Holly
Brandon Clark ... Joe
Jason Naylor ... Steve
Celeste Cummings ... Celeste
Erica LuBonte ... Cat
Norm Rutty ... Norm
John Sebastian DeNicola ... John
Alanna Burke ... Christina
Addison Marchese ... Sammie
Beverley J. Taylor ... Helen
Maggie McGlone Jennings ... Jane
Kaitlyn Vitelli ... Emily
Michael McDermott ... Rob
Carolina Read ... Sarah
Carson Waldron ... Tucker
Kearney Capuano ... Cassie
Will Schneider ... David

Thursday, December 08, 2011



Ryan Winkles as Crumpet the Elf in David Sedaris' "The Santaland Diaries" at Shakespeare & Co.

"The Santaland Diaries" at Shakespeare & Co. a mixed bag

by Kory Loucks

LENOX, Mass. — The holidays are definitely upon us, with lots of seasonal activities and traditions. One that is becoming its own new tradition is “The Santaland Diaries,” written by David Sedaris and adapted to the stage by Joe Mantello.

The premise is basically a retelling of the story of Sedaris’ time working at Macy’s Santaland as Crumpet the Elf during the Christmas season.

Ryan Winkles plays the perky, somewhat salacious, and occasionally creepy elf. He is in his tastefully decorated Pottery Barn living room in a New York City apartment, with set design by Patrick Brennan.

At the start of the show he is preparing for a holiday party when he sees the audience and gently chastises us for being an hour early. It’s a cute premise that allows him to launch into his story about his time as a Christmas elf. Interacting with the audience and offering us candy canes is a sweet touch, directed by Tony Simotes.

Sedaris’ tale was first a book, and despite all the dancing and twirling and skipping around by the graceful, energetic, and adorable Winkles, it feels for the most part like a saga best told on paper.

He regales us with stories of his experiences, good and bad, in great detail, bordering on too much information. For example, when he talks about the women elves not wearing underwear and the reason that isn’t acceptable, it’s gross and not necessary.

He also talks about the abusive parents he saw who slapped their children to get them to stop crying. If that really happened, and there’s no reason to believe that it didn’t, it’s pretty disturbing that no one did anything to stop them.

Most of the elves are high school kids, we learn, which this 33-year-old man says he likes because “I get to see them in their underwear” in the changing rooms. That is not cool and very creepy.

The elf suit, by Costume Designer Govane Lohbauer, is just as cute as can be, and Winkles dons the outfit before our eyes, which gives his story more color.

The rest of the show is dedicated to giving descriptions of his fellow elves, the Santa Clauses, and the abuse he takes from customers for being an elf.

I was deeply moved when he described the last Santa speaking to the children and their parents, not about toys and presents, but about loving and caring for each other. It was sincere and beautiful.

This is the behind-the-scenes look at the world of Santa, so it’s probably not best for young believers.

Winkles started out a little rocky at a recent Sunday matinee, as if he didn’t know all his lines, but he picked up steam near the end and finished with a flourish.

It’s a mixed bag of Christmas cheer at “The Santaland Diaries,” playing at Shakespeare & Company through Friday, Dec. 30.

Stage review

3 stars

"The Santaland Diaries"

Theater: Shakespeare & Company.

Location: Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, 70 Kemble St., Lenox, Mass.

Production: Written by David Sedaris and adapted by Joe Mantello. Set design by Patrick Brennan. Costume design by Govane Lohbauer. Lighting design by Stephen D. Ball. Sound design by Michael Pfeiffer. Stage Manager Hope Rose Kelly.

Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission.

Show times: Friday through Sunday, including most Saturdays, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. as well as performances Monday through Friday at 7:30 p.m. during Christmas week through Dec. 30. There is no performance on Dec. 25.

Tickets: $16 to $49. For more information, call the box office at 413-637-3353 or visit: www.shakespeare.org.

Actor.................CHARACTER

Ryan Winkle.......................Crumpet the Elf

4 stars Excellent 3 stars Good 2 stars Fair 1 star Poor

Wednesday, December 07, 2011



Maria Dizzia as Abby, and Gilbert Owuor as Alioune in a scene from "Belleville." (Photo by Joan Marcus.)
"Belleville" a compelling, dynamic play


by Kory Loucks

NEW HAVEN — Not all is as it appears in the world premiere of Amy Herzog’s play “Belleville” — a fine contemporary drama with unexpected twists and turns.

Newlyweds Abby and Zack, a recent medical school graduate, are living in the funky Belleville district of Paris where he has accepted a position as a pediatric AIDS researcher.

Abby has many neurotic issues including an over-attachment to her father, and Zack is doing all he can to manage her, to the point of withholding her cell phone from her.

She is something of a lost soul, taking French lessons then giving them up saying that it is unnecessary because everyone speaks English, and teaching a little yoga.

She arrives home early one afternoon and finds Zack unexpectedly there. As the play continues, the landlord and his wife, Alioune and Amina, enter, and it becomes evident that something is not right in this dimly lit corner of the City of Light.

Maria Dizzia plays Abby, a sarcastic woman who is drifting through life, opting to have her primary identity be that of a doctor’s wife, a role for the 32 year old that is far too narrow for her, but one that she thinks she wants.

Abby’s sister back in the United States is having a difficult pregnancy, but they can’t go home because of Visa problems, we learn.

I had some problem believing that Abby was talking with anyone on the other end of the phone. Zack was more convincing.

In France, the Belleville district is an area where few tourists visit, but where a richly diverse population lives and works.

The impressive set is the one bedroom flat where Zack and Abby have been living for the past four months. Designed by Julia C. Lee, it is one of the best, most detailed sets I have seen in a long time, with even the rooftop view of the chimneys.

I wondered about the broken restaurant sign visible out their apartment window, however. Granted, it’s supposed to be a lower income area, but it looks like something one would see in a war zone.

Still, the overall set looks like a work of art, and was fully utilized by director Anne Kauffman.

Kauffman showed courage allowing some scenes to be completely silent for what felt like an almost excruciatingly long time, but at the same time the silence felt completely appropriate and compelling.

It was the same, too, at the end of the play, where little is said but so much is communicated.

The French immigrant’s accents of Alioune and Amina, played by Gilbert Owuor and Pascale Armand, were believable and necessary to give the play its sense of foreignness. Fine work by vocal and dialect coach Beth McGuire.

There are some genuinely frightening and disturbing moments where the unstable characters reveal their long-kept secrets.

This underlying and increasing tension holds “Belleville” together and sweeps the audience along, even when logic says that the secrets probably would have been discovered long before they saw the light of day.

The combination of dynamic acting, confident direction, and strong writing make “Belleville” an excellent, compelling play.

Stage review

3 1/2 stars

Belleville

Theater: Yale Repertory Theatre

Location: University Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven.

Production: Written by Amy Herzog. Directed by Anne Kauffman. Scenic design by Julia C. Lee. Costume design by Mark Nagle. Lighting design by Nina Hyun Seung Lee. Sound Designer and Composer Robert Kaplowitz. Production dramaturgs Amy Boratko and Alex Ripp. Vocal and dialect coach Beth McGuire. Fight directors Rick Sordelet and Jeff Barry.

Running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.

Show times: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. with Saturday matinees as 2 p.m., through Nov. 12.

Tickets: $25-$54. Call 203-432-1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.

Actor.................CHARACTER

Greg Keller...............................................Zack

Maria Dizzia............................................Abby

Gilbert Owuor....................................Alioune

Pascale Armand..................................Amina

4 stars Excellent 3 stars Good 2 stars Fair 1 star Poor

1/2 star designates half-rating higher

Monday, December 05, 2011



Ryan Speakman as Bobby in "Company" at Playhouse on Park. Photo by David B. Newman.

Ageless, timeless "Company" at Playhouse on Park
by Kory Loucks
WEST HARTFORD — To be single or not to be single, that is the question which never seems to grow old and is what makes Steven Sondheim’s “Company” an ageless musical.
It’s striking how much this award-winning show, which ran on Broadway in 1970, predates the “Sex and the City” craze as well as the metro-male sexually ambiguous mid-30s guy.
Bobby, played with angst by the excellent Ryan Speakman, is the relationship allergic man in question, who is surrounded by couples who want nothing more than to have him join their team.
He is a serial dater living in New York City with three single women he keeps in various states of relationship limbo, always being the gentleman, and retreating as soon as one of them gets a little too close.
There’s the energetic sophisticate, Marta, played with sass by Keisha Gilles, the ditzy, vapid flight attendant April (an amusing Lea Nardi), and the good girl, city misfit Kathy played by Alexandra Cutler.
Bobby only takes a perceived risk when he is confident that he will be shot down, and prefers the idea of having a significant other in his life — just not the reality.
The horrified look on Bobby’s face when April complies with his professed wish that she stay says everything we need to know about Bobby.
This show is perfectly cast and well acted with tight direction and smart choreography by Leslie Unger.
Without exception, each of the actors sings beautifully. I also love the audacious way that the first and the second act open with the same a cappella number.
“Side By Side By Side” is another strong song near the start of the second act, which is even better than the first act, as well as shorter.
Bobby has lots of well-meaning friends, each of who adds their own take on the relationship continuum in short vignettes throughout the evening.
There is wealthy, brassy, cynical Joanne (a snappy Amanda Bruton) with her long-suffering but loving husband Larry (a kind Ben Beckley). My favorite song in the show is the harsh and acerbic “The Ladies Who Lunch,” sung with fabulous venom by Bruton.
There’s the friendly bisexual Peter (Kevin Barlowski) and his open-minded wife Susan (the funny, perky Victoria Thornsbury)
Meredith Swanson plays the controlling argumentative Sarah, who does some convincing karate moves with her equally argumentative and combative husband Harry, played by Erik Agle.
Sarah also has some pronounced issues with food and dieting that ring just as true today as they must have decades ago.
Hillary Ekwall is believable as the straight-laced square wife Jenny, with an understanding, patient husband, David, played by Scott Caron.
There’s somebody for everybody to relate to in this substantial cast and my favorite is the funny, fiercely intelligent and thoroughly neurotic Amy, played by Jennifer Lauren Brown, with her sensitive and loving fiancée, David, played by Scott Caron.
Brown walks the fine line between sweetly neurotic and downright nuts and does it with flair, even when she is literally climbing the walls.
The orchestra, directed by Music Director Colin Britt, is supportive, tuneful, and never too loud in the small, intimate space at Playhouse on Park.
The set by Dan Nischan, is simple, with a wooden box in the center of a large and a raised stage platform where most of the action takes place, with chairs in the background for the couples to rest. It works well with the non-linear, episodic nature of this musical.
The costumes by Erin Kacmarcik, along with some towering high-heeled shoes for the woman, suit the characters; however, Sarah and Joanne wear black and navy blue together, which are not my favorite color combos.
“Company” is a timeless musical with a super cast that is tight, strong, and beautifully realized at Playhouse on Park, running through Sunday, Dec. 18.
If you enjoy musicals and love Sondheim you must see this show.

COMPANY
4 Stars
Theater: Playhouse on Park
Location: 244 Park Road, West Hartford
Production: Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by George Furth. Directed with choreography by Leslie Unger. Music direction by Colin Britt. Costume design by Erin Kacmarcik. Set design by Dan Nischan. Lighting design by Tim Hache. Production Manager Ryan Bell.
Running time: 2 ½ hours plus a 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through Dec. 18.
Tickets: $20 — $32.50. Call the box office at 860-523-5900 ext. 10 or visit their website at www.playhouseonpark.org
ACTOR ... CHARACTER
Ryan Speakman ... Bobby
Amanda Bruton ... Joanne
Kevin Barlowski ... Peter
Lea Nardi ... April
Jennifer Lauren Brown ... Amy
Keisha Gilles ... Marta
Victoria Thornsbury ... Susan
Meredith Swanson ... Sarah
Erik Agle ... Harry
Brian Detlefs ... Paul
Hillary Ekwall ... Jenny
Ben Beckley ... Larry
Scott Caron ... David
Alexandra Cutler ... Kathy

Saturday, December 03, 2011



Jerry Adler and Joyce DeWitt in Mike Reiss' "I'm Connecticut" at Connecticut Repertory Theatre through Saturday

Hysterical sitcom play "I'm Connecticut" at CRT
by Kory Loucks

STORRS — Ever realize that Storrs has no stores? Ever wonder why there are so many grapes on the state seal, although we aren’t really known as the wine growing Capitol of the nation, while being best known as the Insurance Capitol of the World-a rather dubious accolade, to be sure.
These and other Connecticut conundrums are examined, diagnosed, turned upside down and backwards in the hysterically funny world premiere of Mike Reiss’ “I’m Connecticut,” the much anticipated new play that didn’t disappoint at University of Connecticut’s Connecticut Repertory Theatre.
Reiss is a co-writer of the animated television phenomena, “The Simpsons” and has been for most of the show’s existence. He is also writes children’s books and was at UConn’s children’s book fair awhile ago when CRT Managing Director Frank Mack challenged him to write a play about Connecticut, and this is it.
“I’m Connecticut” follows the life of brain researcher Marc, (Harris Doran) a young Jewish Connecticut native from Simsbury who moves to New York City and searches for love. Marc lives with his grandfather, played by Jerry Adler of HBO’s Soprano’s fame, who in the show is starting to show symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
Marc meets Diane, an adorable Maggie Sulka, a receptionist at a speed dating service, and tries to impress her with his tragic life story, which is a total fabrication.
He gets caught in his web of his lies and blames it on the state he hails from — Connecticut.
Doran is confidently wimpy as the Jewish nerd who jumps from New York City to Storrs and back with the help of the magic of theater. He breaks through the fourth wall at times and speaks directly to the audience, with amusing results.
Joyce DeWitt plays Polly, the grandmother of Diane, as well as Grandpa’s first wife Judith, with a zippy enthusiasm and chutzpah that is just terrific. She is instantly recognizable as Janet Wood from the television sitcom “Three’s Company.” It’s great to see her still being her perky self.
Polly and Grandpa meet and have a sweet flirtation of their own, and argue as if they have been married for years. When DeWitt plays grandpa’s first wife in a wheelchair, she is completely believable and heartbreaking as the ill and dying woman. It is the saddest and sweetest moment in this otherwise lighthearted and gag-filled play.
Marc has a co-worker, Kyle, played by Michael John Improta, who is Marc's know-it-all friend who loves birthday cake, so everywhere he goes, he tells people its his birthday so he can get free treats. The character feels like one right out of a sit com, which isn’t a bad thing.
Darrell Hollens plays the pompous speed-dating manager who gets his comeuppance in the end.
The rest of the fine supporting cast is made up of secretaries, waiters, baristas, speed-daters, and a droll Mark Twain. They even play states that look much like cartoon characters.
Paul Mullins directs this farcical fun play that is actually quite technically complex, with technical direction by Gordon Sanfacon.
They incorporate some incredible, magical video projections that add much to the enjoyment of this production.
Some of the one-liners, and there are many, aren’t as successful as others, but it appears that Reiss took a kitchen sink approach to this show, throwing everything out there to see what sticks, and most of it does.
It is so funny at times that on opening night the actors didn’t always pause long enough for the laughs to subside — not a bad problem to have and something that will probably improve in the far too short run of this funny, funny show.
The real tragedy of this comedy is that “I’m Connecticut” is only running through Saturday, so do all you can to get tickets and see this new play that all residents in “the land of steady habits” should see.

Four Stars
I'M CONNECTICUT
Theater: Connecticut Repertory Theatre
Location: Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre, Jorgensen Road, Storrs.
Production: Written by Mike Reiss. Directed by Paul Mullins. Scenic design by Michael Anania and Matt Iacozza. Lighting design by William R. Albertelli. Sound design by Steven Magro. Production design by Allison McGrath and Greg Purnell. Technical direction by Gordon Sanfacon. Music direction by Ken Clark. Choreography by Posy Knight.
Running time: 1 hour and 15 minutes with no intermission.
Show Times: Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and
a Saturday and Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. through Dec. 10.
Tickets: Range in price from $6 to $29. Call the box office at
860-486-4266 of visit their Website at www.crt.UConn.edu.
ACTOR ... CHARACTER
Harris Doran ... Marc
Joyce DeWitt ... Polly, Judith
Jerry Adler ... Grandpa
Maggie Sulka ... Diane, Georgia
Michael John Improta ... Kyle
Darrell Hollens ... Manager
Alyson Danielczuk, Kaityn Gorman, Will Graziano, Harrison Greene, Hanna Kaplan, Briana Maia, Ryan Marcone, Molly Martinez, Coles Prince, Adam Schneeman, Bryan Sworstedt, Tiffany Vinters ... Ensemble

Thursday, December 01, 2011


Cast of Yale Repertory Theatre's production of Moliere's "A Doctor in Spite of Himself." Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Vulgar, irresistible ‘A Doctor In Spite of Himself’ at Yale Rep
by Kory Loucks
NEW HAVEN — Even before Moliere’s “A Doctor In Spite of Himself” at the Yale Repertory Theatre begins, it’s clear you’re in for an experience like no other.
As the song “Put the Lime in the Coconut” wafts through the air, the ushers and then even some irrepressible audience members start dancing to the music. The party is on.
The stage is bare, with a few instruments tucked into a nearby corner, and then a small puppet theatre is rolled into view by a very old man accompanied by a fluttering moth.
The Punch and Judy type puppets start to argue and hit each other when from the back of the puppet theater the two actors pop out and continue fighting.
Adapted by Steven Epp who plays Sganarelle and Christopher Bayes who directs, the play is about a woodcutter who is forced to pretend he is a doctor and cure a wealthy girl who stopped speaking.
It’s a silly plot, but the actors are spectacular, taking the broad Italian Commedia dell’Arte style of acting that was popular in Moliere’s 17th century and exploding it to excessive proportions that are crazy and wacky fun.
Sexual innuendoes run rampant in this kooky world, where Sganarelle the woodcutter is out “whacking his wood” in the forest when he is accosted by two men, looking like Lewis Carroll’s Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.
The woodcutter’s wife Martine (a shrewish Justine Williams) told the two that Sganarelle is such a great “genius doctor” that he pretends he isn’t until he is beaten.
Liam Craig plays Lucas with a vacant vapid stare, while Jacob Ming Trent plays the other dunderhead, Valere.
During the course of this amazing evening, they all burst out in song, turning this play into a musical of sorts. When Trent sings, it’s all too brief. He also does a stint as Cupid, which confirms my belief in the comedy of costumes, by Costume Designer Kristin Fiebig.
Another fabulous costume is the one the rich father M. Robert wears with a huge front butt that Allen Gilmore exploits to the hilt. The naïve aristocrat M. Robert wants his daughter, Lucinde, to marry the rich man of his choosing but she is in love with less wealthy Leandre.
Robert says, “You can’t put hope in the bank,” while the wet nurse replies, “Happiness is worth more than money.”
Renata Friedman plays the silent Lucinde, who bays like a donkey, looking like an exaggerated Goth chick in a wheelchair.
Chivas Michael plays the vain poser, Leandre, with a ballet theatricality that is thoroughly delightful.
Julie Briskman plays the buxom wet nurse, Jacqueline, and practically steals the show when she switches from a Southern Belle to a Cockney chambermaid, and then to a New Jersey Mafioso within the same monologue. Stunning.
Williams also plays the diapered Perrin to Craig’s hick Thiabaut, who come to the genus doctor looking for medical help. They and many of the other characters wear various masks and false noses that add to their exaggerated natures.
Greg C. Powers and Robertson Witmer are the band members who give continuity and structure to the circus-like atmosphere, with music composed by music director Aaron Halva.
There are no lulls in this play, so that even when there is a scene change it’s filled with an entertainment in front of the old-fashioned footlights, with crisp lighting by Yi Zhao.
The larger-than-life French living room gives a surreal silliness to the show, with set design by Matt Saunders.
How many plays can incorporate Nyquil, ABBA, Rolling Stone, and David Hasselhoff with the Occupy Wall Street movement and get away with it? Just about anything goes in this wildly vulgar and wickedly irresistible comedy where laughter really is the best medicine.
At one point during the shenanigans Sganarelle looks at the audience and asks, “When is the play going to start?” Thankfully nothing like a normal play ever does in this satirical, remarkable adaptation of “A Doctor In Spite of Himself” that you simply must see.
4 stars
Theater: The Yale Repertory Theatre
Location: 1120 Chapel St., New Haven
Production: By Moliere. Adapted by Christopher Bayes and Steven Epp. Directed by Bayes. Composer and musical direction by Aaron Halva. Scenic design by Matt Saunders. Costume design by Kristin Fiebig. Lighting design by Yi Zhao. Sound design by Ken Goodwin. Production Dramaturg Benjamin Fainstein. Vocal Coach Walton Wilson. Stage Manager Brandon Curtis.
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Show times: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. with Saturday matinees as 2 p.m., through Dec. 17.
Tickets: $20 — $88. For tickets 203-432-1234 or visit their website at www.yalerep.org.
ACTOR ... CHARACTER
Steven Epp ... Sganarelle
Justine Williams ... Martine, Perrin
Allen Gilmore ... M. Robert, Geronte
Liam Craig ... Lucas, Thibaut
Jacob Ming Trent ... Valere, Cherub
Chivas Michael ... Leandre, Old Man
Julie Briskman ... Jacqueline
Renata Friedman ... Lucinde, Puppeteer

Brian Dennehy in Samuel Beckett's "Krapp's Last Tape" at Long Wharf Theatre. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Dennehy comes through in Beckett’s black comedy “Krapp’s Last Tape” at Long Wharf
by Kory Loucks

NEW HAVEN — There’s no way of knowing for sure, but in a perverse way I think Samuel Beckett would have reveled in the failure and success of “Krapp’s Last Tape,” performed by the fabulous and mighty Brian Dennehy, at Long Wharf Theatre.

Beckett himself said, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

On opening night the computerized tape system, and evidently the operator of the system, didn’t line up the taped dialog with the spoken lines. Dennehy left the stage after an excruciating few minutes where he was left to twist in the wind waiting for someone to fix the problem.

It was eventually repaired, with a brief glitch later on, but the damage was done. It was intense and fascinating and horrible. I spent most of the rest of the performance psychically holding my breath waiting for it to possibly fail again. Dennehy was not pleased.

Invited back again, I saw the play Sunday. The tape system worked without a hitch and the performance was compelling and spellbinding, with Dennehy admittedly a bit old to be playing the 69-year-old Krapp. It was perhaps unnecessary to give him such exaggerated bushy eyebrows.

The story is an autobiographical account of what Beckett’s life might have been like if he had never been a success, and having sacrificed the love of his life for an ultimately failed career. It’s also an account of the epiphany Beckett had right after his mother died of what the rest of his writing career would be like.

The play was written in English in 1958 when Beckett was actually at the height of his career, and is in part a lament on regret, artistic sacrifice, and what might have been, if life hadn’t turned out as it did for him.

Krapp listens to a tape he recorded when he was 39 years old about the love of his life wearing a green shabby coat, who he abandoned when he was even younger to focus on his art and move to Paris. It’s a conversation the older Krapp has with his younger self and his palpable sense of loss and his anger and frustration at the arrogant person he once was.

It’s also quintessential Beckett, the Irish avant-garde and absurdist playwright who turned the theater world upside down with his existential, minimalist plays that were like nothing that came before them. It is filled with anger, but also black comedy, and even a bit of slapstick with a banana peel.

The youthful Krapp is Dennehy’s recorded voice, and he sounds young and enthusiastic enough, but for some reason he has almost no Irish accent, while he does as the old man, which seems incongruent.

The set by Eugene Lee is a stark, barren room with a desk with drawers in the front and a light high above. There is also a door leading to another room behind, also with a single hanging light. Lee also designed the simple costume that Dennehy wears, with a fine white shirt and tattered vest.

After most shows Dennehy speaks about the play, Beckett, and anything the audience asks, in a generous, educational, spontaneous session. He’s vibrant and vital and a force to be reckoned with in Beckett’s dark comedy “Krapp’s Last Tape,” playing through Dec. 18.


3 ½ Stars
KRAPP’S LAST TAPE
Theater: Long Wharf Theatre
Location: 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven
Production: Written by Samuel Beckett. Directed by Jennifer Tarver. Set and costume design by Eugene Lee. Lighting design by Stephen Strawbridge. Sound design by Richard Woodbury. Stage Manager Katrina Lynn Olson.
Running time: One hour with no intermission.
Show Times: Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. through Dec. 18.
Tickets: $70. For more information call their box office at 203-787-4282, or visit their website at www.longwharf.org
ACTOR ... CHARACTER
Brian Dennehy ... Krapp
‘Jacques LaMarre Has Gone Too Far’ four edgy, dark one-act comedies at Hole in the Wall

by Kory Loucks

NEW BRITAIN - Playwright Jacques LaMarre definitely pushed the politically correct envelope at Hole In The Wall’s world premiere of "Jacques LaMarre Has Gone Too Far," four one-act plays, running through Saturday, Dec. 10.
Each one act had its own director. The first, "Mignonette" directed by Bethany Sanderson, was my least favorite, perhaps because it was so mean-spirited and extreme.
The plot centered on two women at a dog park " One, a secretary named Kim, played by Rebecca Meakin, with a newborn in a stroller, the other, Fern, played by Angie Jochim, with a dog.
Kim had an affair her boss, who happened to be Fern’s husband. In retaliation, Fern bought the ugliest dog she could find and named it after the baby.
It was played in a broad, super campy style, with lots of glaring and gigantic pregnant pauses that felt totally bizarre and unreal.
Fern was staring so intensely at Kim, that if nothing else but to protect her child from potential violence, she would have left the stage before they had any altercation.
Of course there wouldn’t have been any play then, but it just didn’t feel at all based in anything resembling reality.
The second play, "The Buck Stops Here," directed by Michael Daly, was absolutely my favorite.
It is the story of a Archie Bunker-type fellow, Buck, whose wife, Ellen, has won a marketing makeover, and rather than do a marketing strategy on a business, the marketing experts, Dot and Dash, "re-branded" Buck in the couple’s bedroom at 11 p.m. on a Monday night.
Granted, that is a far-fetched premise too, but it is written well and acted with confidence and good humor.
Charles Merlis plays Buck with just the right amount of grossness to make him a prime, makeover candidate. Kathleen-Marie Clark plays his wife Ellen, with sweet forbearance.
Terri D’Arcangelo and Roy Donnelly are the dynamic-duo, Dot and Dash, spouting marketing jingo and statistics with the smarmy enthusiasm of polished salespeople.
D’Arcangelo also directs the next one-act play called "Cain DisAbled" about two brothers, Allan (James DeMarco) and Bob (John Peifer) who have a major falling out over a virtual farm game on Facebook, that is cleverly interspersed with biblical parallel references of Cain and Abel by the narrator (Joachim.)
The last of the one-acts is called "Jacques LaMarre Has Gone Too Far," directed by Kit Webb. It is set in a scary suburban place called Celebration, Fla., which is a Disney Company town.
It is very campy and extremely outrageous, especially when there are references to a black man and a gay Frenchman who enter their lily-white God-fearing, gun-toting community. It has the feeling of a Saturday Night Live segment that would never reach the airwaves.
Donnelly plays the gun-wielding Glenn, and Joan DuQuette-Aresco plays his righteous hyper-kinetic wife with blazing blue eye shadow and fabulously poofed hair, Sara.
"God and Disney know what’s good for us," Sara says to console herself.
Jillian Dion plays the hysterical neighbor, Michelle, who spots one of the outsiders in their midst.
"Can’t they go and be equal somewhere else?" one of them says.
Matthew Skwiot plays Rand who goes undercover as a Polish cleaning woman, which is quite amusing. I love comedy with clothing.
Devin Horner plays their savior, Pastor Ted, who clearly has his own hypocritical secret agenda.
The sets are simple with some movable wooden boxes that function beautifully to create benches, a bed, and a couch, with set design by Technical Director Bill Arnold.
At almost 90 minutes, the entire show is really short enough that an intermission isn’t necessary.
Sometimes the plays feel like they are shocking just to shock, but overall they are smart, funny, outrageous, dark comedies with an edgy and wicked perspective from talented local playwright LaMarre.

JACQUES LAMARRE HAS GONE TOO FAR
3 ½ Stars
Theater: Hole In The Wall Theater
Location: 116 Main St., New Britain
Production: Written by Jacques LaMarre. Produced by Pan Riley. Directed by Michael Daly, Terri D’Arcangelo, Bethany Sanderson, and Kit Webb. Stage Manager Rebekah Poppel. Technical direction and set design by Bill Arnold. Sound design by Lawrence E. Niland. Costume design by Stephanie Layne and Dianne Zabor.
Running time: 85 minutes plus one 15-minute intermission
Show Times: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. on Sunday, through Dec. 10.
Tickets: $20. Call 860-229-3049 or visit their website at www.hitw.org.
ACTOR-CHARACTER
Rebecca Meakin - Kim
Angie Joachim - Fern, Narrator
Kathleen-Marie Clark - Ellen
Charles Merlis - Buck
Terri D’Arcangelo - Dot
Roy Donnelly - Dash, Glenn
Joan DuQuette-Aresco - Sara
Jillian Dion - Michelle
Matthew Skwiot - Rand
Devin Horner - Pastor Ted


Bill Raymond as Ebenezer Scrooge in the Hartford Stage Company's production of Dicken's "A Christmas Carol - A Ghost Story of Christmas." Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Beloved HSC "A Christmas Carol- A Ghost Story of Christmas" continues to enchant
by Kory Loucks

HARTFORD - Long before the Occupy Wall Street movement, Charles Dickens pointed out the evils of greed and the joys of redemption and giving, which has been adapted to the annual reminder of the importance of charity and goodwill in "A Christmas Carol, A Ghost Story of Christmas."
Nothing much has changed in this classic, enchanting play at the Hartford Stage Company, originally adapted by former Artistic Director Michael Wilson that still makes me tear up after all these years.
Director Maxwell Williams did well not to mess with a good thing, while keeping the production moving along at a good clip.
Now celebrating its 14th year, part of the fun for us regulars is to see the old familiar faces and meet the new additions to the cast.
Bill Raymond is back again playing Ebenezer Scrooge with just the right amount of curmudgeonly stinginess and down right meanness to make his transformation believable.
There was a time when he was too sweet and silly from the start, making his performance flat, but his interpretation is spot-on these days.
"Aren’t there workhouses, aren’t there prisons?" Scrooge callously asks when people come looking for charity from him.
The other actors, including regulars Robert Hannon Davis as the long-suffering employee Bob Cratchet, and his much put upon wife, played by Rebecka Jones are touching, as usual.
Johanna Morrison is magnanimous and graceful as doll vendor Bettye Pidgeon and the Spirit of Christmas Past, and Alan Rust is hearty and cheerful as Bert, the fruit and cider vendor as well as the Spirit of Christmas Present.
Rust is also comical as always as fussy Mr. Fuzziwig, with his silly wife played by Jones.
Michael Bakkensen continues to be generous and kind as Fred, Scrooge’s loving and forbearing nephew.
Michael Preston is inquisitive and sweet as the watchworks vendor, Mr. Marvel.
As delightful as this morality tale is to see again and again, it’s even more fun to watch it through the eyes of children in the audience.
Bear in mind that the numerous ghosts, including Scrooges’ old business partner, Jacob Marley, played by Noble Shropshire, are really scary, with horrible white faces, bloody axes, jangling chains, and loud, frightening lightning and gothic music by John Gromada.
I wouldn’t recommend this show for children younger than 5 years old. Best to go online to the Hartford Stage Company’s website and play the abbreviated video of the show to test the waters before bringing a little one along.
My niece, Lindsay Hillemeir, 5, of Farmington enjoyed the Saturday matinee performance immensely and recommended it to other children, but she had seen the video beforehand and was well prepared for the spooky ghosts. When the scary parts where happening, she quickly covered her eyes.
"It was awesome," she said afterwards, observing, "It’s scary, but not too scary."
They really poured on the artificial snow this year, a little too much at times, with some people in the audience getting drenched with fake flakes.
The fog is also intense this year, with so much of it on stage at times that the actors completely disappeared from view - an effect that I don’t think was intended.
Here’s to many years ahead for this blessed production of annual cheer "A Christmas Carol - A Ghost Story" with its reminder that it really is much better to give than to receive.
As angelic little Tiny Tim so eloquently says, "God bless us, every one."

A CHRISTMAS CAROL - A GHOST STORY
Four Stars
Location: Hartford Stage Company, 50 Church Street, Hartford.
Production: Story by Charles Dickens. Adapted by Michael Wilson. Directed by Maxwell Williams. Set design by Tony Straiges. Choreography by Hope Clarke. Costume design by Zack Brown. Lighting design by Robert Wierzel. Original music and sound design by John Gromada.
Running time: 1 ¾ hours, plus a 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. There are no evening performances on Dec. 24 and Dec. 28, and no performances on Dec. 25; matinees are Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 2 p.m. with additional performances from Dec. 26 through Dec. 30.
Tickets: $24 - $69. Children 12 and under save $10. Call 860-527-5151 or visit their website at www.hartfordstage.org.
ACTOR - CHARACTER
Bill Raymond - Ebenezer Scrooge
Noble Shropshire - Jacob Marley, Mrs. Dilber
Robert Hannon Davis - Bob Cratchit, Jacob Marley, Mrs. Dilber
Michael Bakkensen - Fred, Scrooge at 30
Alan Rust - Spirit of Christmas Present, Bert, Mr. Fuzziwig
Johanna Morrison - Spirit of Christmas Past, Bettye Pidgeon, Old Jo
Michael Preston - Mr. Marvel
Rebecka Jones - Mrs. Fezziwig, Mrs. Cratchit
Curtis Billings - First Solicitor, Undertaker
Gustave Johnson - Second Solicitor, Ebenezer Scrooge
Michelle Hendrick - Belle, Fred’s wife
Salvatore Zullo - Scrooge at 15
Lorenzo Dalton or Ethan Pancoast - Tim Cratchit

Tuesday, November 22, 2011




Schticky "Ain't Misbehavin'" at Longwharf a muscial revue

by Kory Loucks

NEW HAVEN - Think of the heydays of The Cotton Club in Harlem with Duke Ellington, Cab Caloway, and the hep cat jazz musician and entertainer Fats Waller.

That’s the era of the award-winning musical "Ain’t Misbehavin’, The Fats Waller Musical Show" - a revival that is cutting the rug and having a ball at the Long Wharf theatre through Nov. 20.

Waller was one of the greatest jazz pianists of the 1920s and 1930s, according to the helpful and informative playbill, and wrote and recorded many of the many songs in this musical revue.

The show is really more of a cabaret revue than a musical, since it’s based jazz pianist and musician Waller’s songs, without a plot.

Some of the more familiar of these old numbers would be the title song "Ain’t Misbehavin’." along with "T’Ain’t Nobody’s Business if I Do," "I Can’t Give You Anything But Love," and "Honeysuckle Rose."

The playbill also includes an informative glossary of jive talk, which is very useful. For example, the word "Viper" means drug dealer, while "woofing" is aimless talk, "bust one’s conk" is to work hard, and "July Jam" is something really hot.

This is a show of originals, with Richard Maltby Jr. directing the same show that garnered him a 1978 Tony Award, along with the choreographer Arthur Faria, returning to recreate the original dances that are so much a part of this production.

For those interested in meeting the show’s creator, Maltby is going to speak after the 2 p.m. matinee performance on Sunday, Nov. 13.

All the talented performers are also "Ain’t Misbehavin’" veterans. They know this music well and clearly have a great time doing their bits alone and together.

Eugene Barry-Hill is suave and silky as Andre, although all the character names are superfluous. He dances like a cloud, and is especially magnetic when he sings and dances the sultry, smooth "The Viper Drag," also known as "The Reefer Song."

Barry-Hill and Doug Eskew as Ken sing the rousing "Fat and Greasy" at the beginning of the second act that really got the crowd going on opening night Wednesday.

Many in the audience must have seen this show before, because they treated it like a concert and were singing loudly to many of the songs and were even giving audible running commentaries about how they liked the performances.

Eskew has a smile as big as all outdoors and he turns up those pearly whites to great affect at every opportunity. His comic song "Your Feet’s Too Big" is silly and delightful.

Cynthia Thomas plays Armelia with a sassy, vampy charm. Sometimes she sings in an annoying cutesy voice, but I think that’s intentional and part of the 1920s style.
Kecia Lewis-Evans, who understudied for Nell Carter in the original 1978 Broadway production, has a hearty, stunning voice that is a pleasure to hear.

Both Thomas and Lewis-Evans are full figured gals and they make the most of their cleavage - a schtick that gets tiresome by the middle of the first act.

Debra Walton plays Charlayne with kewpie doll charm. The diminutive performer, along with Barry-Hill, are both strongest when they dance. Her singing was tight at the start, Wednesday, but as the show progressed it improved, and by the end it was excellent.

The five also make a lovely ensemble, blending together in beautiful harmony and backed by a strong, tuneful band.

The single set designed by John Lee Beatty has a large arch in the back and rounded Art Deco railings on the bandstand. It’s functional and looks much like a cabaret or nightclub space.

Costume Designer Gail Baldoni has the actors decked out in bright, sparkly, snazzy outfits, with three-piece suits for the men and numerous flowing, low-cut dresses for the women. I particularly like the color-coordinated broad-brim hats for the gals that cleverly transform into cloche hats.

At one point in the show Thomas as Armelia mentions that Waller would sell his songs along Tin Pan Alley but write and play a whole different style of music in Harlem.
I only wish that the whole show had been interspersed with more colorful anecdotes about the fascinating Waller and his interesting life story. It would make the show much more compelling and cohesive, and fulfilling.

That observation aside, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” is a rollicking, rolling, feisty, and fun night full of solid songs and swell dancing from an jazzy era long gone but not forgotten.

3 ½ Stars
AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’
Theater: Long Wharf Theatre
Location: 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven
Production: Conceived by Richard Maltby Jr. and Murray Horwitz. Created and directed by Maltby. Choreographed by Arthur Faria. Musical adaptations, orchestrations, and arrangements by Luther Henderson. Vocal and musical concepts by Jeffrey Gutcheon, with musical arrangements by Gutcheon and William Elliott. Set design by John Lee Beatty. Costume design by Gail Baldoni. Lighting design by Pat Collins. Sound design by Tom Morse.
Running time: 2 ½ hours plus one 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. through Nov. 20.
Tickets: $40 to $70. For more information call their box office at 203-787-4282, or visit their website at www.longwharf.org

ACTOR ... CHARACTER
Euegene Barry-Hill ... Andre
Doug Eskew ... Ken
Kecia Lewis-Evans ... Nell
Cynthia Thomas ... Armelia
Debra Walton ... Charlayne

Monday, November 21, 2011


Ian Lowe, left, and Steven L. Barron in "The Woman in Black" at the Ivoryton Playhouse, running through Nov. 20

‘The Woman in Black’ a scary ghost story at Ivoryton

by Kory Loucks

IVORYTON — If you feel at a loss because you missed out on Halloween this year because of power outages, the Ivoryton Playhouse has the perfect solution with its spooky, truly frightening production of “The Woman in Black.”

The play, written by Stephen Mallatratt, based on Susan Hill’s novel, is a ghost story about a man named Kipps who years ago traveled to the north of England on business after a woman died, to review her myriad of papers and close out the estate for his company.

Once at the strange and gloomy mansion on a remote island that is only accessible at low tide, Kipps discovers odd sounds and endures terrifying experiences.

He also meets the town’s bleak and morose inhabitants, who fill him with even more trepidation and dread. One of the town folk tells him that “those that have seen the most say the least.”

The story is the retelling of his horrendous tale. But Kipps is no storyteller, so he hires an actor to bring his story to life for the family members he wants to share his life-altering event with, and thereby purge him of the horror he lives with every day.

The two meet in an old gothic Victorian theater in England where Kipps first reads his story. At first Kipps is stilted, dull, and extremely awkward as he speaks, just as one might expect someone who isn’t used to public speaking to sound. But as he practices, with the help of the actor, he improves, to the point of miraculousness; the sudden transition is a huge relief for those in the audience.

The actor (Ian Lowe) suggests that he play the part of Kipps while Kipps (Steven L. Barron) assumes all the other characters. In retrospect, it would make more sense for the inexperienced Kipp to play himself, but for plot reasons that I won’t expose here, that wouldn’t do.

Barron plays Kipps with the convincing demeanor of a haunted man desperate to exorcise his demons. He handles the transition from stodgy solicitor to polished and confident actor with grace and skill. A dusty, gray pin-stripped suit makes him appear even more dull and bland — with fine costumes by Vickie Blake.

Lowe plays the actor with enthusiasm and energy. It seems for a while that he has grander plans for this story other than just presenting it to Kipp’s relations, when he says that he would also like to invite a theater manager or two to the presentation.

Both Barron and Lowe have excellent British accents, complete with dialects, which are essential to this tale, sprightly directed by Maggie McGlone Jennings.

Gloomy lighting and accurate timing are essential for the fright factor, and they don’t disappoint, with lighting by Doug Harry.

The occasional rolling fog that we are told is caused by “sea frets” adds beautifully to the murky, mysterious atmosphere.

The set, by Tony Andrea, is basic but effective, with dusty old pieces of furniture piled on the sides of the stage, and a gothic curtain swag over the top in front.

Across the back of the stage there is a gauzy cloth through which a graveyard and, later, a child’s nursery can be vaguely and mysteriously seen.

The cloth is also used as a projection screen onto which the vision of the large gothic mansion is projected, to excellent effect.

The sound by Tate R. Burmeister adds much to the eerie mood, with extremely loud screams at key moments that made me jump on more than one occasion.

I don’t like the feeling of being scared out of my wits, but for those who love a scary ghost story, “The Lady in Black” more than delivers.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Andrew Small as Prince Christopher and Caitlin Fahey as Cinderella in the Opera House Players production of Oscar and Hammerstein's "Cinderella" running through Nov. 27 in East Windsor. photo by Bob Lyke.

Opera House Players’ ‘Cinderella’ romantic and beautiful

EAST WINDSOR — Some might say that putting on a production after a week without electricity might verge on the impossible, but not for first-time Opera House Players Director Barbara M. Washer and her extremely capable cast.

They might have been thinking about those marvelous lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and the terrific music by Richard Rodgers from the song “Impossible,” that Cinderella and the fairy Godmother sing, to carry them through.

“Impossible things are happening every day,” the lyrics say.

The Cinderella fairytale is well-known: A poor girl, treated terribly by her stepmother and her daughters, gets to go to the Prince’s ball, where he falls in love with her at first sight.

Caitin Fahey plays Cinderella with understated conviction. She is believable as the abused stepdaughter and simply marvelous as the transformed beauty. How she completes her costume change in seconds flat including the hairpiece is amazing.

Fahey has a lovely, strong, and lyrical voice and is animated and charming when she sings “In My Own Little Corner.”

Even though this musical clearly appeals to young girls, there’s some grown-up humor, too.

King Maximillian, played by the robust and hearty David Climo, has some amusing lines, and he makes the most of them, such as when they sing the rousing “The Prince is Giving a Ball,” where he protests that it’s the king who is paying for it.

They want to have wines from around the world, but the king insists they have the wine from his country. “And the wine of my country, is beer,” he states.

Possibly one of the most beautiful love songs ever written, “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful,” is sung by Prince Christopher, played by Andrew Small, and Cinderella.

Oscar and Hammerstein must have liked the song too, because they have Queen Constantina and the Prince sing it again, and again at the end of the show.

Small has a natural sound and carries himself with the brooding confidence of a prince.

Julie M. Martini plays the queen with a sweet sense of playfulness and a clear strong voice.

Reva Kleppel has the perfect supercilious sneer as the haughty stepmother and does a lovely turn bossing Cinderella around.

Sara Steiner plays the Fairy Godmother with a irreverent and saucy persona that works well.

Megan Graul plays the ignorant Portia and Khara Hoyer plays dour Joy, the two stepsisters. Graul has the ditsy, dippy airhead attitude pegged, while Hoyer is equally fine with a constant scowl on her face.

The two sing one of the most delightful comic duets, the “Stepsisters Lament,” with hysterical lyrics like “She’s a frosty little bubble, with a flimsy kind of charm, and with very little trouble, I could break her little arm.”

It’s really wonderful stuff and they are wonderfully wicked. Their oversized Marie Antoinette wigs with bows and feathers, along with the stepmother’s white wig are ridiculous and funny too, with hair and makeup design by Erica Romeo.

The glorious period costumes, with costume design by the dependable Moonyean Field, help this show immensely.

Walker also adds a light touch by employing a sprite and a pixie, played by the delightful Jessica Turgeon and sweet Christine Zdebski.

The two play different characters throughout, and even have a marionette rat puppet that works well — nicely done by puppet and mask creator Robin Hillary McCahill.

The set by Jill Abele Butcher, who also is the scenic artist, is simple but works well, with many fast scene changes. And that pumpkin coach is everything a fairytale coach should be.

The orchestra, led by Music Director Deborah Curylo, was lyrical with a light touch and thankfully never overwhelmed the performers.

As they say, the show must go on, and it certainly does, in the romantic, beautiful production of “Cinderella” at the Opera House Players, running though Sunday, Nov. 27.

Stage review

4 stars

CINDERELLA

Theater: Opera House Players

Location: 107 Main St., Broad Brook section of East Windsor.

Production: Music by Richard Rodgers. Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Directed by Barbara M. Washer. Music direction by Deborah Curylo. Choreography by Bryna Kearney. Costumes by Moonyean Field. Set design by Jill Abele Butcher. Lighting operation by Diane St. Amand. Stage Manager Lauren Grottole. Hair and make up by Erica Romeo. Sound operation by Dylan Fields.

Show times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through Nov. 27.

Running time: 2 hours plus a 15-minute intermission

Tickets: $21, $17 for seniors over 60 and children 12 and under. Call 860-292-6068 or visit their website at www.operahouseplayers.org.

Actor.................Character
Caitlin Fahey ................................… Cinderella
Andrew Small ..............… Prince Christopher
David Climo ......................… King Maximillian
Julie M. Martini ….......... Queen Constantina
Reva Kleppel …............................ Stepmother
Megan Graul …........................................ Portia
Khara Hoyer …............................................. Joy
Sara Steiner .....................… Fairy Godmother
Aaron Gilberto ..................................... Herald
Deb Brigada …................................ Royal Chef
Patrick O’Konis …............................... Steward
Jessica Turgeon ..................................… Sprite
Christine Zdebski ..................................… Pixie
Brett Gottheimer …................... Clumsy Man
Katie Bianchi, Liz Hoffman, Brett Gottheimer, Eliza Polukhin, Aidan Gillies ..... …...................................................... Ensemble

4 stars Excellent 3 stars Good 2 stars Fair 1 star Poor

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


From left, Michael Lomenda, Joseph Leo Bwarie, Preston Truman Boyd, and John Gardiner play Nick Massi, Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, and Tommy DeVito in the musical "Jersey Boys" at the Bushnell through Nov. 6. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

‘Jersey Boys’ sensational at the Bushnell

HARTFORD — What could be better than a bunch of fantastic songs and a terrific, true story all wrapped up in one amazing musical?

“Jersey Boys” is back at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, and it’s once again rocking the house with the pop songs that made The Four Seasons with Frankie Valli a music sensation of the ’50s and ’60s.

Not much has changed since the cast was here in 2009, including the fabulous Joseph Leo Bwarie, who practically channels Frankie Valli and is a star in his own right.

Bwarie isn’t in every show during the run at the Bushnell, and although the other Frankies are probably very good, try to see Bwarie if you can. He has the voice of an angel.

The fine Joseph Siravo also makes a return appearance as Gyp DeCarlo, the Mafia boss with a soft spot, and other characters.

Joseph Handley is back playing a number of characters, including producer Bob Crewe, with panache.

Des McAnuff, director, added a hip-hop number that started the show with The Four Seasons’ hit “Oh What a Night,” with Donald Webber Jr. playing a French Rap star, showing how well their music holds up today.

The story follows the lives of the four men from their rough and tumble beginnings in New Jersey and their struggles to find a way to break into the big time.

The leader of the band is Tommy DeVito, played by John Gardiner, a fast talking hood who got them into deep financial trouble with the Mafia and the IRS.

DeVito is good, but sometimes he talks too fast and rushes his lines, to the point where the audience missed some of the jokes.

All the actors are also musicians, or else they play air guitar very well.

Preston Truman Boyd doesn’t look at all like the real life Bob Gaudio, but he is excellent as the youth who wrote hit after hit, including his first, “Who Wears Short Shorts.”

It’s interesting that the man who introduced Gaudio to The Four Seasons was Joe Pesci, who was a lowly punk back then, eventually becoming the famous film actor we all know. Pesci is played with hyper squeakiness by Courter Simmons.

Michael Lomenda plays the curmudgeon Nick Massi, who is always complaining, and not without reason, about his sloppy roommate, DeVito.

Kara Tremel is notably strong as Valli’s first wife, Mary, who got Valli to add an “i” to his last name rather than a “y.” Her explanation for the “i” is very funny but not printable.

In fact, most of the characters use profanity in about every sentence they speak, and there are some sexy scenes, making the show not so good for children.

The book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice is solid, giving different recollections of the four through time. As with any past memories, people have different perceptions of what actually happened and their stories gives each character depth.

The play mixes the past well, with projected video of different television shows The Four Seasons were on, including “American Bandstand” and “The Ed Sullivan Show,” and then project the stage actors singing, dressed all in black and white.

But the music is the thing, and here there are 20 of the songs by The Four Seasons, including “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “Bye Bye Baby”; and the list of hits goes on.

On opening night, the audience was ecstatic, but some treated the show like it was a music concert and were loudly singing along to the hits. If you feel you can’t hold back, please remember that as much as you love the music, others pay to hear the singers on stage.

“Jersey Boys” is a hit musical that has it all, playing through Sunday, Nov. 6.

Stage review

4 stars

"Jersey Boys"

Theater: The William H. Mortensen Hall at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts.

Location:166 Capitol Ave. Hartford.

Production: Directed by Des McAnuff. Book by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Music by Bob Gaudio. Music directin, vocal arrangements, and incidental music by Ron Melrose. Lyrics by Bob Crewe. Choreography by Sergio Trujillo. Scenic design by Klara Zieglerova. Costume design by Jess Goldstein. Lighting design by Howell Binkley. Sound design by Steven Canyon Kennedy.

Running time: 2½ hours plus one 15-minute intermission.

Show times: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinee performances Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m., through Nov 6.

Tickets: Start at $25. Call 860-987-5900 or visit: www.bushnell.org.

Actor...................Character
Joseph Leo Bwarie ..... Frankie Valli
John Gardiner ......... Tommy DeVito
Preston Truman Boyd ... Bob Gaudio
Michael Lomenda ....... Nick Massi
Jonathan Hadley ....... Bob Crewe and others
Courter Simmons ....... Joey and others
Joseph Siravo ......... Gyp DeCarlo and others
Kara Tremel ........... Mary Delgado, Angel, and others

4 stars Excellent; 3 stars Good; 2 stars Fair; 1 star Poor

Photo of Al Jarreau and me back stage on Nov. 11.

Al Jarreau still has that "fire in the belly"

For Al Jarreau, life is a joyous, excellent adventure.

The legendary singer continues to tour, and is bringing his signature smooth jazz sound to the Jorgensen Cabaret at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 11 and 12.

“I’m really so blessed with a joy in the music that just spills over,” Jarreau, 71, said in a telephone interview from his home in Los Angeles. “When I am standing there and singing, something special happens. It is very precious stuff.”

The world-renowned, gifted star is one of the few artists to have won seven Grammy Awards in three separate categories — jazz, pop, and rhythm and blues — over four decades.

Jarreau possesses a voice that feels safe, warm, and reassuring. His band, which has been with him for 15 years, perfectly complements his enduring sound that never goes out of style.

A natural baritone, Jarreau said he often stretches to the top end of his range, observing that as he has aged, his voice has naturally deepened.

Familiar songs

His latest CD, “The Very Best of Al Jarreau: An Excellent Adventure,” includes many of his hits, such as “After All” and “We’re In This Love Together,” which he will include on this weekend’s playlist.

It is more than just his singing, though, that makes Jarreau such a consummate performer.

Much of his set is improvisational and inspired by the moment — interspersing the songs with spontaneous conversation with the audience.

“Being in the moment and having fun, that’s the thing, and just forgetting your problems for a while,” Jarreau said.

Where does he get the energy to continue touring?

“It is the music,” Jarreau responded. “It is a deep-seated love that comes with that fire in the belly that spills over into other areas of your life.”

Jarreau grew up in Wisconsin where he started singing in public with his mother, a church pianist, when he was 5 years old.

As a youth he was also a cross-country runner, where he learned endurance and perseverance.

“You have teammates, but you learn to suffer in silence,” Jarreau said. “I had a lot of conversations with myself.”

Jarreau earned a master’s degree in vocational rehabilitation and worked in that career for a while in San Francisco, but through it all he always continued singing.

“If I had the smarts I would have gone into medicine,” Jarreau said. “But the smiles I get from the people I sing to are better than being a social worker and better than being a physician.”

Returning to Connecticut

Jarreau was last in Connecticut in 1989, where he saw the Welterweight Championship fight with Marlin Starling at the Hartford Civic Center, now the XL Center.

“I made some good friends in Hartford,” Jarreau said. “I am sorry I’ve been away so long.”

When he learned that he was returning to Connecticut after all these years he was delighted.

“I am tickled about doing this music to have a platform to say something to people,” Jarreau said. “There is fun to be had.”

Aches and pain are all a part of life, he observed, but it is a joyous life. “The journey is learning how to live it,” Jarreau said. “You’ve got to work.”

And although performing and touring is a lot of work, it’s meaningful work for Jarreau.

“Music is one of those magical things,” he said. “You smile a lot and you find joy in a lot of things. It makes for better lives, and makes you a better neighbor and citizen of the community. Finding music is a great thing.”

Ticket prices range from $10 to $55. For tickets call 860-486-4226 or visit:

jorgensen.unconn.edu

Sarah Hayes, left, as Trix in The Little Theatre of Manchester's production of "The Drowsy Chaperone," through Nov. 20. (Photo by Chris Heustis.)

"The Drowsy Chaperone" a grand, luscious musical at Little Theatre of Manchester

MANCHESTER — Don’t feel bad if you missed “The Drowsy Chaperone” on Broadway, because you can see the rousing, raucous, rambunctious production of this delightful musical right here at the Little Theatre of Manchester.

This show has everything you could ask for in a musical — fun, frolicsome songs, a lighthearted story, talented performers, dynamic dancing (by director Todd Santa Maria), vibrant costumes (Christopher Clark), and a solid set (Joe Russo).

It’s really a show within a show, with book by Bob Martin and Don McKellarson, and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison.

The narrator, played with sweet sensitivity by Chad Shipley, is going through a bitter divorce and tries to cheer himself up by playing the soundtrack to a fictional 1928 musical called “The Drowsy Chaperone.”

He says he hates the modern theater and doesn’t like intermissions, but adores this old musical.

He takes the audience with him through the record he has listened to many times, playing it on an old-fashioned record player.

“There’s a mixup, some mayhem, and a gay wedding,” says the narrator, referring to a time when “gay” had a different connotation.

Janet (a terrific Kristen Shaw), the glamorous star performer in a Feldzieg Follies show, decides to marry oil tycoon Robert (a dapper Ric Plamenco) and leave the theater forever.

Producer Feldzieg (played with panache by Mike Zizka) is in trouble with some thugs for losing his leading lady and does his best to end the wedding.

He gets leading man Adolpho (played with flourish by John-Michael Whitney) to seduce Janet and break up the impending wedding, but Adolpho seduces her chaperone instead.

Nicole Giguere is at her theatrical best playing the chaperone — who is drowsy because she is drunk most of the time.

This was set during prohibition, so they call vodka “ice water.”

Giguere’s role is that of a Broadway star who gets to sing anthems in the middle of shows, even if they have little to do with the musical, the narrator explains.

The dancing is wonderful too, with excellent tap dancing by Plamenco and George (Rick Fountain), who dance and sing to “Cold Feets,” with direction from tap choreographer Sheila Waters Fucci.

The athletic Plamenco is Gene Kelly to graceful Fountain’s Fred Astaire. They were both fantastic, as was Plamenco when he roller-skated while blindfolded.

Mike King and Jimmy Donohue are a fantastic comic duo as the punny, harmless gangsters who become stars thanks to Feldzieg. They sing “Toledo Surprise” and are joined by the rest of the company, which is one of the best of many songs in the show.

Other strong performances include Jillian Holt as the ditzy starlet Kitty, Kathy Cook as the wealthy matron Tottendale, and David Lally as the unflappable servant Underling.

The band was strong, but often too strong, and competed with all but the most powerful vocalists, even though they were miked. Either crank up those mikes or tone down the musicians, or both.

Although there’s no intermission, there is a second act that starts with a bizarre Chinese number, until we learn that it is the wrong record playing.

It is a whimsical touch to this delicious musical, and they really took it to the limit.

The costumes, by first-time costume designer Clark are as numerous as they are gorgeous, especially Janet’s brilliant red gown that was only seen momentarily. The costumes were funny too, including the hysterically silly hats with paper lanterns in the Chinese sequence.

Kudos also to Russo for that spectacular biplane that Trix (a high flying Sarah Hayes) lands on the stage.

The show is a loving homage to the days of old time musical extravaganzas, and LTM really lived up to all that this show demands.

Come have a grand time celebrating the luscious musical “The Drowsy Chaperone,” playing through Nov. 20.

Stage review

4 stars

"The Drowsy Chaperone"
Theater: Little Theatre of Manchester
Location: Cheney Hall, 177 Hartford Road, Manchester.
Production: Music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. Book by Bob Martin and Don McKellarson. Directed and choreographed by Todd Santa Maria. Music direction by Angela Klimaytis. Tap choreographer Sheila Waters Fucci. Technical direction by Glen Aliczi. Costume design by Christopher Clark. Stage Manager Gretchen Wiedie. Set design by Joe Russo. Lighting design by Meg Ryan.
Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes with no intermission
Show times: Today, Nov. 10, and Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., through Nov. 20.
Tickets: $22-$29. Call the box office at 860-647-9824, or visit:
www.cheneyhall.org

Actor....................Character
Chad Shipley.............Man in Chair
Kristen Shaw.............Janet
Nicole Giguere...........Drowsy Chaperone
Ric Plamenco.............Robert
Rick Fountain............George
John-Michael Whitney.....Adolpho
David Lally..............Underling
Kathy Cook...............Tottendale
Mike Zizka...............Feldzieg
Jillian Holt.............Kitty
Sarah Hayes..............Trix
Mike King................Gangster #1
Jimmy Donohue............Gangster #2
Superintendent...Joe Lucenti
Christine Noble, Diane AmEnde, Susan Melnick, Debbie Gustafson, and Joe Lucenti..................Ensemble

4 stars Excellent 3 stars Good 2 stars Fair 1 star Poor

Maria Dizzia as Abby, and Gilbert Owuor as Alioune in a scene from "Belleville." (Photo by Joan Marcus.)

"Belleville" a compelling, dynamic play

NEW HAVEN — Not all is as it appears in the world premiere of Amy Herzog’s play “Belleville” — a fine contemporary drama with unexpected twists and turns.

Newlyweds Abby and Zack, a recent medical school graduate, are living in the funky Belleville district of Paris where he has accepted a position as a pediatric AIDS researcher.

Abby has many neurotic issues including an over-attachment to her father, and Zack is doing all he can to manage her, to the point of withholding her cell phone from her.

She is something of a lost soul, taking French lessons then giving them up saying that it is unnecessary because everyone speaks English, and teaching a little yoga.

She arrives home early one afternoon and finds Zack unexpectedly there. As the play continues, the landlord and his wife, Alioune and Amina, enter, and it becomes evident that something is not right in this dimly lit corner of the City of Light.

Maria Dizzia plays Abby, a sarcastic woman who is drifting through life, opting to have her primary identity be that of a doctor’s wife, a role for the 32 year old that is far too narrow for her, but one that she thinks she wants.

Abby’s sister back in the United States is having a difficult pregnancy, but they can’t go home because of Visa problems, we learn.

I had some problem believing that Abby was talking with anyone on the other end of the phone. Zack was more convincing.

In France, the Belleville district is an area where few tourists visit, but where a richly diverse population lives and works.

The impressive set is the one bedroom flat where Zack and Abby have been living for the past four months. Designed by Julia C. Lee, it is one of the best, most detailed sets I have seen in a long time, with even the rooftop view of the chimneys.

I wondered about the broken restaurant sign visible out their apartment window, however. Granted, it’s supposed to be a lower income area, but it looks like something one would see in a war zone.

Still, the overall set looks like a work of art, and was fully utilized by director Anne Kauffman.

Kauffman showed courage allowing some scenes to be completely silent for what felt like an almost excruciatingly long time, but at the same time the silence felt completely appropriate and compelling.

It was the same, too, at the end of the play, where little is said but so much is communicated.

The French immigrant’s accents of Alioune and Amina, played by Gilbert Owuor and Pascale Armand, were believable and necessary to give the play its sense of foreignness. Fine work by vocal and dialect coach Beth McGuire.

There are some genuinely frightening and disturbing moments where the unstable characters reveal their long-kept secrets.

This underlying and increasing tension holds “Belleville” together and sweeps the audience along, even when logic says that the secrets probably would have been discovered long before they saw the light of day.

The combination of dynamic acting, confident direction, and strong writing make “Belleville” an excellent, compelling play.

Stage review

3 1/2 stars

"Belleville"

Theater: Yale Repertory Theatre

Location: University Theatre, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven.

Production: Written by Amy Herzog. Directed by Anne Kauffman. Scenic design by Julia C. Lee. Costume design by Mark Nagle. Lighting design by Nina Hyun Seung Lee. Sound Designer and Composer Robert Kaplowitz. Production dramaturgs Amy Boratko and Alex Ripp. Vocal and dialect coach Beth McGuire. Fight directors Rick Sordelet and Jeff Barry.

Running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.

Show times: Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. with Saturday matinees as 2 p.m., through Nov. 12.

Tickets: $25-$54. Call 203-432-1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.

Actor...............Character
Greg Keller.........Zack
Maria Dizzia........Abby
Gilbert Owuor.......Alioune
Pascale Armand......Amina

4 stars Excellent 3 stars Good 2 stars Fair 1 star Poor. 1/2 star designates half-rating higher