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Friday, May 27, 2011

"West Side Story" a nostalgic classic at the Bushnell

HARTFORD — As times change, it’s amazing how they stay the same. “West Side Story,” playing at the Bushnell through Sunday, was originally produced on Broadway in 1957, and deals with conflicts between races that are still an issue today.

by Kory Loucks


This musical, with fantastic songs by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, are classic, including “Maria,” “I Feel Pretty,” “America,” “One Hand, One Heart,” and “Tonight.”

Interestingly, when the idea for the musical was first conceived, Jerome Robbins, who created the original choreography and directed the original production, had envisioned the trouble being between Jews and Catholics during Passover in the Lower East Side of New York City.

It wasn’t until the recently deceased Arthur Laurents, who wrote the book for the show, came up with the idea of having the conflict be between the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks, and White gang, the Jets, that the show took shape and became the classic musical that it is today.


The story is a modern-day version of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” where a white boy, Tony, and a Puerto Rican girl, Maria, meet at a dance and fall in love, complete with a balcony (here a fire escape), but become star-crossed lovers when their worlds collide.

Kyle Harris plays the love-struck Tony with passion and a fine clear voice, although sometimes, particularly in the beginning, he swallowed the higher notes.

Ali Ewoldt is excellent as the youthful Maria, and possesses a gorgeous strong sound. Ewoldt and Harris’s duet “Tonight” is gorgeous.

Michelle Aravena plays the sassy Anita, the Hispanic gal who’s in love with Maria’s brother, the macho Bernardo, played by the sexy German Santiago.

Here, the Puerto Ricans seem to have the stronger sense of family and dignity, while the white boys come across as nasty punks who attempt a gang rape.

I wasn’t sure by the costumes what era we were in. The Hispanic gals all wore brightly colored dresses with full skirts, clearly reminiscent of the 1950s, but the white boys were dressed in clothes that could pass for today, with jeans and button-down shirts. It was a little confusing. I say pick an era and stick with it. Costume design by David C. Woolard.

The choreography, reproduced by Joey McKneely, is clearly in line with the original ballet style of Robbins that works so well with the music. It reminds me of Martha Graham’s modern dance ballet “Appalachian Spring,” with the angular lines, twirls, and swirling movements.

The problem with this style then and now is, ballet is all about romance and feels incompatible with brawling rough and tumble action.

The fight scenes also lacked a feeling of authenticity and felt very stylized, which is fine, but it seems that they appeared authentic at times and stylized at others, which was confusing.

The sets by James Youmans, with wrought iron balconies, fire escapes, and bridge girders, were true to the New York City location and added a sense of place.

The lighting, designed by Howell Binkley was serviceable, but the spotlights on the stars were wobbly and unsure. Here’s hoping the spotlight operators get their cues down before the show closes Sunday.

There’s a lot of sexual innuendo and some violent sexual scenes that might be a bit much for the very young.

Stage review

3 1/2 stars

"West Side Story"

Theater: The William H. Mortensen Hall at the Bushnell Memorial Center.

Location: 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford.

Production: Book by Arthur Laurents. Music by Leonard Bernstein. Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Directed by David Saint. Choreography originally by Jerome Robbins, reproduced by Joey McKneely. Musical supervision by Patrick Vaccariello. Scenic design by James Youmans. Costume design by David C. Woolard. Lighting design by Howell Binkley. Sound design by Dan Moses Schreier. Music direction by John O’Neill.

Running time: 2½ hours including a 15-minute intermission.

Show times: Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Matinee performances Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m., through Sunday, May 29.

Tickets: From $89 to $381. Call 860-987-5900 or visit the Bushnell website at www.bushnell.org

Actor.................CHARACTER
Ali Ewoldt .............................................… Maria
Kyle Harris ..............................................… Tony
Michelle Aravena …................................. Anita
Joseph J. Simeone .................................… Riff
German Santiago .........................… Bernardo
John O’Creagh ........................................… Doc
Mike Broland .....................................… Krupke

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

1/2 star designates half-rating higher


Photo: Kyle Harris and Ali Ewoldt as Tony and Maria in "West Side Story" at the Bushnell through Sunday.
credit: Joan Marcus

Sunday, May 15, 2011

“Ragtime” a nostalgic trip in time at the Broad Brook Opera House

by Kory Loucks

EAST WINDSOR-What a difference a century makes. The Broad Brook Opera House production of “Ragtime” is a musical journey of plangent nostalgia to the early 1900s when Henry Ford’s Model T was transforming the landscape, and immigrants, blacks, and the white bourgeoisie were clashing and melding in that great melting pot known as America.
This show features 25 performers lead with strong direction by Sharon FitzHenry, who also did the limited choreography for the show.
Based on E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel by the same name, this musical looks at the three different groups represented by a rich white family from New Rochelle, blacks from Harlem, a immigrants among many others, including the rich and famous of the day.
They all have their travails, and their problems intermingle. Mother, played with heart by Sue Dziura, has an wandering husband (J.J. Martin) who leaves her home alone. She finds an abandoned black baby, belonging to Sarah, a woman whose lover, Coalhouse, treated her badly.
Mother takes Sarah and the child into her home. Complications ensue when the contrite and determined Coalhouse, a musician in Harlem, tries to woo her back again.
Chae-vonne Munroe plays Sarah and Jerrial Young is Coalhouse, and the two who sing many songs together, are magical. Their voices are plaintive, and soulful.
Meantime, a new Latavian immigrant, Tateh, played by Luis Manzi, along with his little girl, played by the pixie Maeve Jordan, come to the new world with great hopes, only to live in abject poverty. Manzi has an good solid voice, and a fine accent.
Recognizable famous names are mixed into the group, including JP Morgan (David Climo, who also plays Admiral Perry), Henry Ford (Matthew Falkowski Sr.), Booker T. Washingon (Joshua Thompson), and Houdini (Andrew Small).
In addition are two who were well-known in their day, include the anarchist and political activist Emma Newirth (a terrific Jayne Newirth), the infamous vaudeville star Evelyn Nesbitt (the petulant Sara Steiner).
It’s a shame not to mention each and every actor, because they are all very good. When this show first ran on Broadway in 1998, the compliant was that the set overwhelmed the show. Here, the simple set, by FitzHenry, of an abstract American Flag, is the perfect backdrop for the show.
I love how FitzHenry uses simple chairs to depict scenes, such as in the Lawrence, Mass. mill where Tateh and his daughter work long hours for little pay.
The period costumes, by costume designer Moonyean Field, deserves special mention, because they are numerous, detailed, and beautiful, and they add a lot to the authentic feeling of this musical.
There is some strong, racist language, which is disturbing, but appropriate for this show. It’s not all good times and happy songs, but a depiction of a time and place that feels true to our shared heritage.

More than once during this show I had a visceral reaction of pleasurable chills from the impact of the powerful and moving music, notably during “New Music” sung by Mother, Father, Younger Brother, Coalhouse, and Sarah.

It’s an important story of intolerance, understanding, growth, and success, that speaks to our common and unique experience as Americans. I highly recommend “Ragtime,” playing through Sunday.

4 stars
(4 stars, excellent; 3 stars, good, 2 stars, fair, 1 star, poor)
Theater: Opera House Players
Location: 107 Main Street, Broad Brook
Production: Music by Stephen Flaherty. Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Book by Terrance McNally. Based on E.L. Doctorow’s novel “Ragtime.” Direction, choreography, scene design, and painting by Sharon FitzHenry. Musical direction by Bill Martin. Stage manager Paul Leone. Costumes by Moonyean Field.
Running time: 3 hours including a 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through Sunday.
Tickets: $21, $17 for seniors over 60 and students under 12. Call 860-292-6068 or visit their website at www.operahouseplayers.org
ACTOR…CHARACTER
Jerrial Young … Coalhouse
Chae-vonne Munroe … Sarah
Luis Manzi … Tateh
Sue Dziura … Mother
J.J. Martin … Father
Sara Steiner … Evelyn Nesbitt
Jayne Newirth … Emma Goldman
Andrew Small … Houdini
Jonathan Simmons … Young Brother
Joshua Thompson … Booker T. Washington
Matthew “Sparky” Falkowski … Little Boy
Maeve Jordan … Little Girl
Moonyean Field … Grandmother
Reva Kleppel … Brigit
Khara Hoyer … Kathleen, Sob sister
Matthew Falkowski Sr. … Henry Ford
David Climo … JP Morgan, Admiral Perry
Stephanie Foster … Sarah’s friend
Erica Romeo … Sarah’s friend, Sob Sister
Anthony Coleman … Coalhouse’s friend, Conductor
Issa Best … Coalhouse’s friend, Hensen
Jessica Serra … Sob Sister
Mike May … Police
Jonathan Trecker … Conklin
Kason Sheffield … Young Coalhouse




Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” an ambitious drama at the Valley Repertory Company














ENFIELD-The Valley Repertory Company gets an “A” for effort for taking on the challenge of producing Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy “Romeo and Juliet.”

Some might call it brave, others foolhardy to take on the bard, but thanks to a talented cast and strong direction by Jeffrey Flood, they pulled it off.

Few plays showcase a director’s choice more than Shakespeare’s, because there are literally as many ways to produce them as there are directors.

In this production, Flood sets the play in present-day Verona, somewhere in the United States. It turns out to be an excellent choice. A feud exists between two families-Montagues and the Capulets. Romeo (a quixotic Logan Lopez) meets and falls in love with Juliet (an earnest Amanda Marschall). He’s a Monagues, she a Capulet. Trouble ensues.

Previously, Juliet’s father, (Christopher Duzak) wants her to marry the wealthy Paris (Ryan Coe). She’s all for it until Romeo enters the picture. Her mother (the dependable Nicole R. Giguere) and nurse (the delightful Elizabeth C. Reynolds) give her advice.

Meanwhile, Romeo’s buddy, the fiery Mercutio (played with sly streetsmarts by Emily Engel) gets into a fight and is killed by Juliet’s cousin, the angry Tybalt (a strong Dallas Hosmer.) Then Tybalt attacks Romeo and is killed by him.

Juliet and Romeo go to the Friar Lawrence (Aaron F. Schwartz) who marries them, then later, when Romeo is banished for killing Tybalt, he comes up with a scheme for Juliet to avoid marrying Paris.

The Friar gives her a potion that makes her appear dead for 48 hours. Then he arranges for the banished Romeo to learn about the plan, come to the burial chamber and take his bride away.

As most know in this most famous of plays, things don’t end so well for our “star-crossed lovers.” Romeo never learns of the friar's scheme, but only hears that Juliet is dead. He finds her there and, after killing Paris who attacks him, he takes poison and dies. She, awaking moments later, finds him dead and kills herself.

The brawling fight scenes, under fight choreographer Charles Schoenfeld, are some of the best and most believable ones that I have seen on any stage.

Other standouts are the modern day details, like the iPods Mercutio and others listen to at times. The costumes, by Denise Clapsaddle, are seemingly easy, since they are the clothes people wear today, but they are many and they all work to give the show a solid base.

The set is a simple design, complete with the famous balcony, and they work. I like the three large triangular blocks that are moved to different positions to represent different scenes, but they were a little ungainly. Perhaps if the large panels were made of canvas instead of wood, the hardworking backstage crew could have more easily manipulated them.

The challenge and the delight of a Shakespeare play is the glorious, almost miraculous language. Here, most of the time, the lines were intelligible. My recommendation if you can’t understand every word is not to fret. There’s a lot of language here and it will all become clear as the play soldiers on.

Although “Romeo and Juliet” is undoubtedly a tragedy, there is humor in it too, such as when the Nurse returns to share news with Juliet about Romeo, but complains that she is out of breath. Juliet responds with exasperation, “How art thou out of breath when thou hast breath to say to me that thou art out of breath?”

Many mistakenly judge Shakespeare’s plays as being reserved and intellectual, but he was really the playwright of the people. There are many bawdy, off-color, sexually suggestive moments that are exploited to the hilt in this show, which is true to the earthy humor of Shakespeare.

Thanks too to the fantastic program, which gives names and even times to each of the multiple scenes, and even has photos of the cast and crew along with their biographies.

With Shakespeare, though, it all comes down to the language. And in Romeo and Juliet, some of the most famous lines ever written are brought to life. As when Romeo says, “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the East, and Juliet is the sun! Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon.” And to Romeo, Juliet’s “Parting is such sweet sorrow. That I shall say good night till it be morrow.”

And then Juliet again, when she says to Romeo, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

But in the end, the Prince (a fine Becky Beth Benedict) couldn’t say it better, when she says, “For never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”

Come and revel in a night of Shakespeare at the Valley Repertory Company’s production of “Romeo and Juliet,” playing through Saturday.

3 1/2 Stars

(4 stars is excellent; 3 stars, good; 2 stars, fair; 1 star, poor)

Theater: Valley Repertory Company
Location: 100 High Street, Enfield
Production: Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Jeffrey Flood. Produced by Janine Flood. Stage Manager Peter Scibak. Set and lighting design by Marin McNeill. Costume design by Denise Clapsaddle. Fight choreography by Charles Schoenfeld. Dance choreography by Yvonne Lacombe.
Running time: 3 hours including one 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through May 21.
Tickets: $8 - $12. Call 860-749-4665 or visit their website at http://www.valleyrep.com/

ACTOR…CHARACTER
Logan Lopez … Romeo
Amanda Marschall … Juliet
Emily Engel … Mercutio
Dallas Hosmer … Tybalt
Aaron Gilberto … Benvolio
Elizabeth C. Reynolds … Nurse
Becky Beth Benedict … Escalus Prince
Aaron L. Schwartz … Friar Lawrence
Christopher Duzak … Capulet
Nicole R. Giguere … Capulet’s wife
Ryan Coe … Paris
David Basile … Montague
Aslynn Brown … Montague’s wife, Apothecary
Jennifer Rawlings … Balthasar
Aaron Muhlmeyer … Sampson, guest, 2nd Watch
Dan Graef … Gregory, guest, 3rd watch
Jeff Lange … Citizen, DJ, Friar John
Anthony Piccione … Peter, citizen
Tori Vonkaenel … Citizen, guest, Paris’ Page
Mike Strevel … Abram, Chief Watch


Top photo: Tybalt (Dallas Hosmer) fighting Romeo (Logan Lopez) as Benvolio (Aaron Gilberto) and Sampson (Aaron Mulmeyer) look on.

photo to left:Logan Lopez as Romeo

photo to right:Logan Lopez and Amanda Marschall as Romeo and Juliet

photo credit: Lesley Arak of Lesley Arak Photography

Thursday, May 12, 2011



















“My One and Only” a tap dancing extravaganza at Goodspeed
EAST HADDAM — “My One and Only” at the Goodspeed Opera House brings the art of tap dancing to a whole new level.
If you can sit through the entire performance without starting to tap your feet yourself, you might want to make sure you’re still breathing. The dancing is infectious, with fabulous choreography by Kelli Barclay.
This stellar, gifted, and energetic cast is lead by the superlative Tony Yazbeck as the country bumpkin flyboy Captain Billy Buck Chandler.
He is trying to become as famous as Columbus, only in reverse, by being the first man to fly from the U.S. to Paris. Set in 1927, but actually created in 1983, there is some raunchy language that isn’t horrible, but feels a little gratuitous in this vaudevillian style show.
Tommy Tune originally played Chandler in the show on Broadway in 1983 with Twiggy as his co-star.
Chandler falls in love with Edythe Herbert, played with pixie perkiness by Gabrielle Ruiz.
Her manager, the womanizing Prince Nikki (played with a Boris Badenov comic touch by Khris Lewin), says Edythe is the third woman to swim across the English Channel, but the first good-looking one. Ruiz’s character is supposedly from England, but her accent is more the exception than the rule.
Chandler gets sidetracked from his mission of being the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean solo because of true love.
He tries to learn to become more sophisticated, with the help of Mr. Magix, played by the indomitable talent, Alde Lewis Jr., who played the same role when this show ran on Broadway.
Lewis is remarkable in the old school style of tap. And when Lewis as Mr. Magix and Yazbeck as Chandler go at it in a tap dancing toe-to-toe at the beginning of Act Two, well, it is simply tap dancing heaven.
Also delightful and spirited is Trent Armand Kendall as the holy-roller Rev. J.D. Montgomery, who brings a new meaning to the term “Black Irish” in a delicious cameo as Mrs. O’Malley.
Kirsten Wyatt makes every moment count as the mechanic with a secret, Mickey.
Coming in dead even with the dancing, as far as fabulous is concerned, are the spiffy songs by those inimitable brothers, George and Ira Gershwin.
The musical is a showcase for some of their most memorable tunes, including “He Loves & She Loves,” “Funny Face,” and the whimsical “S’Wonderful.”
As usual, the costumes at the Goodspeed, this time by Robin L. McGee, are as numerous as they are festive and stunningly detailed. There are more top hats, tuxes, tails, vests, spats, and canes than you can shake a feather at, and plenty of 1920s flapper gowns with sparkling fringe, dramatic bathing suits, and even belly dancing outfits.
I still don’t know how they manage some of those split-second costume changes, but the choreography back stage must be as interesting as it is on stage at times.
The youthful ensemble cast tapping again and again in unison is simply irresistible.
This is a show that goes all out and over the top to please, and boy oh boy, do they ever succeed.
And what a treat to have scenes from an old Rudolph Valentino silent movie, that they call “White Baggage of the Casbah,” projected onto the backdrop. A terrific idea that adds even more life to this lively show. Also a clever touch is the flying plane aided by umbrellas that just has to be seen to be believed.
The music, the dancing, the set, the costumes, they all add up to another “s’wonderful” slam-dunk musical treat at the consistently “s’marvelous” Goodspeed Opera House.

Stage review
4 stars
"My One and Only"
Theater: Goodspeed Opera House
Location: 6 Main St., East Haddam.
Production: Music and lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin. Book by Peter Stone and Timothy S. Mayer. Directed by Ray Roderick. Choreography by Kelli Barclay. Set design by James Youmans. Music direction by Michael O’Flaherty. Costume design by Robin L. McGee. Lighting design by Paul Miller. Production design by Michael Clark. Sound by Jay Hilton.
Running time: 2½ hours including 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 June 25.
Tickets: $28-$72. Call the box office at 860-873-8668 or visit their website at: www.goodspeed.org.
Actor.................CHARACTER
Tony Yazbeck ..… Capt. Billy Buck Chandler
Gabrielle Ruiz .....................… Edythe Herbert
Trent Armand Kendall ........................ Rev. J.D. Montgomery
Khris Lewin .......… Prince Nicholai, Achmed
Alde Lewis Jr. …............................... Mr. Magix
Kirsten Wyatt ….................................... Mickey
4 stars Excellent ; 3 stars Good; 2 stars Fair; 1 star Poor

photos from Goodspeed Opera House

Sunday, May 08, 2011

"Italian American Reconciliation" at Longwharf a lesson in growing up
three stars
(one star is poor, two is fair, three is good, and four is excellent)
Location: 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven
Production: Written by John Patrick Shanley. Directed by Eric Ting. Set design by Scott Bradley. Costume design by Linda Cho. Lighting design by Russell Champa. Sound design by Jill Pickett.
Running time: 2 hours including one 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays at 7 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. and Saturday matinees at 3 p.m. through May 22.
Tickets: $60 to $70. For more information call their box office at 203-787-4282, or visit their website at www.longwharf.org
ACTOR…CHARACTER
John Procaccino … Aldo Scalicki
Michael Crane … Huey Maximillian Buonfigliano
Stephanie DiMaggio … Teresa
Lisa Birnbaum … Janice
Socorro Santiago … Aunt May
NEW HAVEN-Growing up is hard to do, at any age. That’s the theme in a nutshell of “Italian American Reconciliation” written by John Patrick Shanley, who wrote the screenplay for “Moonstruck” at about the same time as this play in the late 1980s.
More recently Shanley wrote “Doubt, a Parable,” a very different play from this one, and one that I just happened to see earlier this weekend at the Little Theatre of Manchester.
This production at the Longwharf Theatre directed by Eric Ting, moves the 1980s play to the present time, with Aldo Scalicki, played by the affable John Procaccino, reminiscing about an important event in his life over 20 years ago.
As Aldo’s recalls, his best friend, the wiry and hyper Huey Maximillian Buonfigliano, played by Michael Crane, is distressed because he can’t get over his 3-year divorce from his former wife, the sadistic Janice, played by the lovely Lisa Birnbaum.
Buonfigliano has taken up with another gal, the kind and understanding Teresa (Stephanie DiMaggio) but it’s no good. Huey feels that something has been taken from him, and he needs to get back with Janice to regain his confidence.
Being his best bud, Aldo does his best to talk his looney friend out of his hair-brained scheme, but gets nowhere.
“Talking to you is like being alone,” Aldo says, exasperated.
Aldo then decides to help Huey by trying to seduce Janice, even though he’s scared to death of her. Thinking that if he seduces Janice then Huey will forget about her. Weird logic.
And he has good reason to fear her. Janice killed Huey’s dog with a zip gun, and then tried to shoot Huey dead with that same zip gun, but it jammed.
Now Aldo is unmarried and in his 50s looking back on this episode that he has told many times. It is a story that defines him, or at least who he thinks he is, which is tantamount to the same thing. He is a mama’s boy who is afraid to grow up, take a chance, and settle down with a woman.
They are all Italian Americans, except for Teresa’s Aunt May, played by Socorro Santiago, who is Latino, which is slightly confusing, even though Santiago is terrific as the wise and thoughtful May. She has some good insight into life and facing up to fears and moving beyond them that Aldo tries to take to heart.
But, its not clear if he is going to move on, or just repeat this episode in his life as a cautionary tale to remain alone and lonely.
He blames his fears on his relationship with his father, which might be true, but still, his father’s dead, he says, and he recognizes he has to live his own life.
At the end of Act One we finally get to see Janice, but here she appears all in white, stands on a stage that lifts into the air and at the top of the lift, she takes out a gun and points it at Aldo. This was not in the original script, but an addition by Ting, and although it gets a big laugh, it feels out of place from the rest of the play.
The set, by Scott Bradley, is the remnants of the end of a wedding reception, in a Veterans of Foreign War’s hall. The level of detail is extraordinary, and feels just like a real banquet hall.
The play starts out with Aldo sitting in one of the chairs at a table on his own, drinking some wine, while the accordion player (DiMaggio) plays in the background. I’m still not sure if the accordion player is also supposed to be Teresa or not.
It starts gradually, with the lights still on the audience, which makes the transition to the world of the play feel a little awkward. Part of the same set becomes Huey’s apartment and then it becomes Janice’s backyard, which takes some stretching of the imagination.
Shanley’s language is funny and insightful. When Aldo gets mad he says, “I feel the pulse in my nose.”
When Aldo decides to seduce Janice, he refers to it as a “military objective. Janice is like taking a hill” but then he goes on to say, “my stomach is against this.”
Some of the humor just doesn’t translate to the page, because it is the context and the delivery that mean everything and the actors all have terrific timing and good instincts.
All the characters mean well and are trying as best they can to get through life with dignity and love.
As May tells Aldo, “Open your heart and forget your fear. Stop this scaredness of women.”
Aldo takes this to heart and tries to share what wisdom he has gained with the audience.
“In the end you are dead,” Aldo says, “In the beginning you are taken care of.” Everything in the middle takes courage.
“The only success is be able to live,” he says. That’s not a bad motto to live by.
Suffield Player’s “South Pacific” filled with youth and joy
Three Stars
(one star is poor, two is fair, three is good, and four is excellent)
Location: Mapleton Hall, 1305 Mapleton Ave. Suffield.
Production: Music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Directed by Frank P. Borrelli. Musical director George A. Garber Jr. Produced by Rob Lunde. Stage manager Mary Fernandez-Sierra. Assistant stage manager Chelsea Skawski. Technical direction and lighting design by Jerry Salewski. Costume design by Dawn McKay. Sound by Al LaPlant. Set design by Konrad Rogowski.
Running time: 3 hours, with a 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. through May 22.
Tickets: $17, $15 for seniors and students. Call 1-800-289-6148 or visit their website at www.suffieldplayers.org.
ACTOR…CHARACTER
Stephanie Devine … Nellie Forbush
Rich Moran … Emile de Becque
Becky Rodia Schoenfeld … Bloody Mary
Shaun O’Keefe … Luther Billis
Danny Viets … Lt. Joseph Cable
Hal Chernoff … Cmdr. William Harbison
Mark Proulx … Capt. George Brackett
Zachary Gray … Stewpot
Erica Bryan … Liat
Michael Holt … Professor
Amy Rucci … Lead nurse
Andrew Holl … Lt. Buzz Adams
Laura Markis … Ensign Dinah Murphy
Grace Spelman … Ensign Janet MacGregor
Mary Roberge … Nurse
Bradshaw Mattson … Jerome
Kennedy Mattson ... Ngana
Daniel Candella … Henry
Tony Andruss, Daniel Candella, Timothy Glynn, Zachary Gray, Andrew Holl, Michael Holt … Seabees and sailors
SUFFIELD-It might be as corny as Kansas in August at times, but there’s nothing like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical “South Pacific,” playing at the Suffield Players through May 22.
The solid cast is lead by the perky Stephanie Devine who has a lovely clear voice, in the role of Nellie Forbush, that enthusiastic, wide-eyed optimist from Little Rock, Arkansas.
She falls for sophisticated Frenchman Emile de Becque, played by the capable Rich Moran, who possesses a lovely resonant voice along with a fine French accent.
The show’s plot centers on their love relationship, along with a secondary love interest between a youthful Princeton graduate, Lt. Joseph Cable, and Liat, an Island girl.
Danny Viets plays Lt. Joseph Cable, looking like a young Tom Cruise. He sings one of the most beautiful of all Oscar and Hammerstein’s songs, “Younger Than Springtime.” Viets has some genuine and beautifully authentic moments.
Although she has a small part, Erica Bryan who plays Liat is graceful and elegant, and she has a beautiful voice when she sings.
Set in the South Pacific on a U.S. Naval base on an island, the navy is trying to beat the Japanese. Cable, who is with the Marines, goes on an undercover mission to a key island with de Becque to find out where the Japanese are moving and intercept them.
Others in the excellent cast include Becky Rodia Schoenfeld as the islander Bloody Mary, who sells grass skirts and shrunken heads as souvenirs to the seabees and sailors. Rodia Schoefeld is terrific as the tough-talking entrepreneur who works as a matchmaker between her daughter, Liat, and Cable, singing the beautiful “Happy Talk.”
Also fine is Shaun O’Keefe as Luther Billis, the sailor who is also trying to work some angles and make some extra cash on the side. Billis has a good heart, and O’Keefe has a fine voice and strong stage presence too.
The stage at the Suffield Players is small for musical theater, but set designer Konrad Rogowski does a creative job making a multi-layered set, although the two side stages are a little high. I was a concerned that the actors might take a step too far and fall about 10 feet. They used the space underneath two more entrances, which made sense.
One of the nice things about the smaller theater is that the actors didn’t have to be miked to be heard. That is also credit to the orchestra, lead by Musical Director George A. Garber Jr.
The radio communications are remarkable, sounding authentically like how I would imagine the scratchy fading communications sounded during World War II, with sound by Al LaPlant.
The costumes are all fine and fit the time period of the play, although I think in World War II the women officers and nurses would have been in skirts, not pants.
Directed by Frank P. Borrelli, the actors moved comfortably on stage, but they could have used a choreographer during some of the musical numbers, where the movement feels stilted.
While the story is good, this musical is all about the terrific, timeless songs, in addition to those already mentioned, like, “Honey Bun,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “A Cockeyed Optimist,” “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” and the exquisite mournful melody, “This Nearly Was Mine.”
Come away to your own special island in paradise and see The Suffield Players’ production of “South Pacific.”
“Doubt, a Parable” powerful revelatory drama at Little Theatre of Manchester
Three Stars
(one star is poor, two is fair, three is good, and four is excellent)
Location: Cheney Hall, 177 Hartford Road, Manchester
Production: Written by John Patrick Shanley. Directed by Sara Logan. Stage manager Tom Goodin. Technical direction and lighting design by Glen Aliczi. Set design by David Moske. Sound design by Ron Schallack. Costume design by Marge Patefield.
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission
Show Times: Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. through May 22
Tickets: $16 - $23. Call the box office at 647-9824, or visit their Web site at www.cheneyhall.org
ACTORS … CHARACTERS
Debi Freund … Sister Aloysius Beaufier
Christopher Berrien … Father Flynn
Clare Fravel … Sister James
Latoya Williams … Mrs. Muller
MANCHESTER-From all accounts, Vatican II was not such a good idea after all. The concept was that the Catholic priests and nuns should have a more nurturing friendly approach to parishioners and their families, rather than remain austere and removed as they generally had in the past.
As shown in “Doubt, a Parable,” playing at the Little Theatre of Manchester, as well as thousands of horror stories from adults who were youths then, the results could sometimes lead to acts of pedophilia that, even worse, would go unchecked and covered up by church authorities for decades.
Not that that kind of perverse abusive behavior didn’t exist before, but the close, familial contact seemed to exacerbate a potentially dangerous and devastating relationship with vulnerable youths.
In this production, written by John Patrick Shanley, Debi Freund plays Sister Aloyisus Beauvier, who is an older experienced nun who is principal of the church’s middle school in the Bronx in 1964.
Freund, a veteran of LTM productions both on and off the set, does a fine job as Sister Aloyisus, representing the old school of church authority, where youths are supposed to be fearful of their elders, and learn in a safe and structured environment.
When a youthful nun, Sister James, played with passion and wide-eyed enthusiasm by Clare Fravel, says she loves to connect with the children, Sister Aloyisus advises against that type of relationship.
“I question your enthusiasm,” she says to Sister James.
Children have enough friends with their peers and don’t need the teachers as friends, Sister Aloyisus continues. In her view, the new approach is not a good one.
“Every easy choice today will have their consequences tomorrow,” Sister Aloyisus says, and encourages her to teach her beloved history classes “without pouring sugar all over it.”

Father Flynn, played by Christopher Berrien, also embraces the friendly, easy-going approach to his parishioners and the youths in the school, but his motives are less certain.
Father Flynn gives sermons and stories about faith, intolerance, and hope that are stirring, sometimes funny, and inspiring. He is charming and energetic, and Sister Aloyisus has significant doubts about him.
Those doubts are based on fleeting observations of his interactions with the boys, and past experience. She also has a male dominated hierarchy, with a particularly weak Monsignor, so she decides to take matters into her own hands.
Flynn befriends the first black student to attend the parochial school, Donald Mueller, but Sister James notices that after visiting with Flynn in the rectory, he returns to class with alcohol on his breath.
She reports this observation to Sister Aloyisus, who concocts a premise to interview the priest with Sister James in attendance.
What proceeds is a fascinating and interesting cat-and-mouse game between Aloyisus and Flynn. With little more than her intuition, she tries to get Flynn to confess to something he says he is unjustly accused of.
Sister Aloyisus also interviews Mrs. Mueller, the mother of Donald Mueller, to see if there is anything that she can add to the case she is trying to build against Flynn.
Latoya Williams plays Mrs. Mueller, with a naturalism and calm dignity that quietly almost steals the show. With an abusive husband and a sensitive son, she proves a fierce and determined defender of her child, Mrs. Mueller’s views and attitudes are unexpected and heartfelt.
The simple set, of a park bench, a door and office, function perfectly for this play, although the door and windowsills were painted in a non-solid color, which looked like it was a shabby-chic d├ęcor rather than a respectible well maintained school. Set design by David Moske.
The costumes, designed by Marge Field, are solid and faithful to the time period. The matching blue pillbox hat for Mrs. Mueller is a nice touch.
This beautifully written play, well directed by Sara Logan, looks at the ways people choose to live their lives, and the consequences of those choices.