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Friday, August 26, 2011

Wicked" better than ever at the Bushnell
4 Stars
Theater: The William H. Mortensen Hall at the Bushnell Memorial Center
Location: 166 Capitol Ave. Hartford
Production: Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz. Book by Winnie
Holzman. Based on the novel by Gregory Maguire. Directed by Joe
Mantello. Musical staging by Wayne Cilento. Orchestration by William
David Brohn. Sets by Eugene Lee. Costumes by Susan Hilferty. Lighting
by Kenneth Posner. Sound by Tony Meola. Music direction by P. Jason
Running time: 3 hours including a 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 6:30 p.m.,
Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinee performances Saturday and
Sunday at 2 p.m., through Sunday, Sept. 11.
Tickets: From $59 to $1,013. Call 860-987-5900 or visit their website
Dee Roscioli ... Elphaba
Amanda Jane Cooper ... Glinda
Colin Hanlon ... Fiyero
Kevin McMahon ... Wizard of Oz
Randy Danson ... Madame Morrible
Paul Slade Smith ... Dr. Dillamond
Stefanie Brown ... Nessarose
Justin Brill ... Boq
HARTFORD -"Wicked" is back and better than ever.
Perhaps one litmus test for a smash hit is the price that a ticket can
command. At $1,013 for a premium seat, "Wicked" is an unmitigated hit.
Another sign of the show’s undeniable success is that even at those
prices, it is sold out through the weekend at the Bushnell Center for
the Performing Art’s 2,800-seat Mortensen Hall. That is one popular
musical phenomenon.

"Wicked," which opened on Broadway in 2005 and is still going strong
there, has music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz of "Godspell" and
"Pippin" fame, while the book is written by the wonderful Winnie
Holzman of TV’s "thirtysomething" and "Once and Again," based on the
novel by Gregory Macquire.
It is a different take on L. Frank Baum’s beloved story, "The
Wonderful Wizard of Oz."
In "Wicked" Galinda, blonde, ambitious, and exceedingly popular, and
Elphaba, green, smart, and rejected, have yet to become Glinda the
Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West, and are roommates at Shiz

It’s hate at first sight, but eventually they learn to admire, care
for, and finally love each other. I have seen this production before
and always thought it was a love triangle between Galinda, Elphaba,
and the spoiled prince Fiyero.

This go round, however, it is evident that the real love story is
between the two very different witches.

On opening night Thursday the effervescently perky understudy Megan
Campanile played Galinda with confidence and didn’t miss a beat.
Dee Roscioli is stunning, powerful, and vulnerable as the
misunderstood, unnaturally, phosphorescently green and gifted Elphaba,
who is rejected by everyone because she isn’t normal.

They attend Shiz, where the only reason Elphaba is there is to
take care of her wheelchair-bound half sister, Nessarose, (Stefanie
Brown.) They have the same mom, but different dads. Nessarose’s dad is
the governor, while Elphaba’s her mother had an affair with mysterious
man who fed her mother a green elixir that made Elphaba green for

Randy Danson is glamorously conniving as the University’s
headmistress, Madame Morrible. She has a glorious exotic accent and
makes the most of it.

The Wizard of Oz is up to his old tricks, requiring that Elphaba do
his bidding before he grants her wish to help the animals that are
loosing their ability to speak.
Paul Slade Smith is touching as the goat professor Dr. Dillamond.
But the Wizard is all show and Elphaba is crushed. Kevin McMahon has a
showman’s pizzazz as the Wizard of Oz.

Along comes a lazy but handsome prince Fiyero, (Colin Hanlon) who at
first falls for the blonde and beautiful Galinda, but then goes for
the brains and realizes that it is Elphaba who he adores.
The Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and the Tin Man all come into being
through very different circumstances than the original version, but
many of the locations, like the yellow brick road and the Emerald
City, remain.

In this version of the story, the Wicked Witch of the West gets some
extremely bad press. While she is trying to save the animals, those in
power convince the masses that Elphaba is evil.
It’s an interesting take on that classic tale, but the music and the
lyrics are really what packs the house.

The songs are first rate, with tunes such as "Popular," "Unlimited,""No One Mourns the Wicked," "Wonderful," "I’m Not That Girl," and "Defying Gravity."
At first it was a little difficult to hear the singers over the
orchestra, but they settled down quickly. However, Hanlon as Fiyero
rushed his lines and mumbled his words and was difficult to

The ensemble is just "fantabulous," with distinct personalities
assisted by many asymmetric, eccentric, and unique costumes, Dr.
Seuss-like hats and wacky and wonderful wigs. Costumes by Susan

The bones of the set, with their nightmarish metal frame, remain the
same as the previous North American tour, but the lights seem brighter
and the Emerald City seems even more emerald. Set by Eugene Lee.
One of my complaints at opening nights at the Bushnell is that often
the spotlights would miss their intended spot, but thankfully that
wasn’t an issue on Thursday.

"Wicked" deserves all the accolades it receives and this fine
production more than lives up to the high expectations.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Nature and music together at Tanglewood

LENOX, Mass.-The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s retreat at theTanglewood Music Center in the pristine, bucolic Berkshires is a perfect getaway for a day, a weekend, or a longer visit.

And although performances by James Taylor, Steely Dan, and Garrison Keillor have already come and gone, there is still plenty of music toenjoy from renown artists such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, violinist Itzhak Perlman, conductor John Williams, pianist Andre Previn, and actor and narrator Morgan Freeman.

Benjamin Schwartz, BSO’s assistant artistic administrator, explained that there are two sides to the campus that occupies over 500 acres.

"Nature and music are the things that make it so special," Schwartzsaid, observing that "the lawn’s are meticulously maintained."

Now celebrating their 74th year at Tanglewood, the BSO performs in the Koussevitzky Music Shed, built in 1938, which seats about 5,100, and is open on three sides to allow patrons to enjoy the music from the lawn as well as inside the facility.

Free chamber concert performances are available in the stunning Seiji Ozawa Hall at 6 p.m. prior to the main performances and are a lovely way to start the evening before the 8:30 p.m. performances in theMusic Shed.

Ozawa Hall was built in 1994, with over 1,200 seats. It and was acoustically designed to have one wall open for those seated on the lawn to easily hear the music, Schwartz explained.

Schwartz recommended arriving early and enjoying the hour-long chamber concerts at 6 p.m. at the Florence Gould Auditorium in Ozawa Hall, leaving plenty of time to enjoy a picnic meal prior to the main event.

Lawn seating is available at both locations on a first-come-first-serve basis.

"It’s a leisurely, pleasant way to spend the evening," Schwartz said."It’s a real retreat that is peaceful and receptive."

The BSO, in its 130th season, spends eight weeks each summer in residence in Tanglewood, and while other major orchestras have retreats and temporary summer locations where they perform, only the BSO has a permanent location to come to each summer, he said, which is "something quite unique in the music world."

"No other orchestra has such an extensive venue," Schwartz said. In 2010 they had over 350,000 visitors to Tanglewood. Tanglewood visitorsAt under two hours from Manchester, it’s an easy day trip or weekend visit.

Harvey and Claudia Sniticker have been coming to Tanglewood since 1982 and spend six months of the year in Lenox and the other six months in Florida.

On a warm Saturday evening, July 23, they set up their folding lawnchairs under a tree and were reading a newspaper before the performance. They like to have dinner before arriving, they said, because there is less to carry.

"What’s not to love here," Claudia Sniticker asked. "There is plenty of room."

Eve Spett of Queens, New York has been attending events at Tanglewood since 1956 and enjoys getting out of the city and into the countryside in the summer.

"The atmosphere is very uplifting and there are very nice people here," Spett said. She was staying at a nearby bed and breakfast fort he weekend.Projection screens

Projection screens inside and on top of the Music Shed allow thosewith lawn seating to get up close and personal with the musicians asthey perform, while listening to the amplified music.

"The screens are fantastic," Frank Penglase of North Egremont, Mass. said. He and his wife, Hilary, were relaxing with a plate of green grapesand glasses of red wine before the performance. They have been coming to Tanglewood for about 17 years and attend every week in the summer.Earlier this year their children gave them a mobile wagon, that let’s them wheel in their chairs, tables, and coolers without difficulty,and easily collapse it into their car when they are done.

Harvey and Randye Sussman from Long Island, New York were happy and relaxed after spending 10 days at a local Inn.They attended on a tour of Tanglewood earlier in the day where they learned that the floor of the Music Shed is made from clay to prevent flooding when it rains.

They also learned that at the end of each summer season most of the 75 Steinway concert pianos are sold and new ones are brought in the following year.

Prior to the Music Shed concert Saturday, students performed in the Florence Gould Auditorium in Seiji Ozawa Hall, with selections including Irving Fine’s "Partita for Wind Quintet" along with "Five Songs, Opus 37" by Jean Sibelius, performed by soprano Clarissa Lyons and Matthew Gemmill on piano.

Saturday evening’s performance in the Music Shed featured "Rhapsodies" a contemporary piece by composer Steven Stucky, followed by JohannesBrahms’ "Violin Concerto in D," performed by violinist ArabellaSteinbacher, both conducted by Jaap van Zweden. After intermission, van Zweden conducted Ludwig van Beethoven’s"Symphony No. 7 in A."

Upcoming performances of "Tanglewood on Parade," an annual favorite, is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 2. The event will start with chamber music at Ozawa Hall at 2:30 and 5:30 p.m., with an 8 p.m. concert in the Music Shed with music by Richard Wagner, Ralph Vaughan Williams, along with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s "1812 Overture" followed by fireworks.

In addition to their classical music offerings through Aug. 28 they will also hold the 2011 Festival of Contemporary Music from Aug. 3 to Aug. 7 and the Tanglewood Jazz Festival 2011 Sept. 2 to through Sept. 4. Individual tickets cost from $11 for lawn tickets to $102 for special concerts at the Music Shed.

For more information visit their website

Photos by Jessica Hill

Monday, August 01, 2011

Norfolk Chamber Music Festival a mini-Tanglewood in the Northwest corner of Connecticut

NORFOLK-Nestled in the Northwest hills of Connecticut is the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival-truly one of the best kept secrets in New England.

This festival, overseen by the Yale School of Music, is in its 105th season. Only an hour’s drive from the Manchester area, it is like a mini-Tanglewood, without the traffic and the crowds.

In fact, it is the precursor to the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer series in Lenox, Mass.

Ellen Battell Stoeckel started it all with tea parties in her music room in the late 1800s, according to Paul Hawkshaw, director of the Yale Summer School of Music and the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival.

"She knew how to throw a tea party," Hawkshaw said. In her day Battell Stoeckel and her husband, Carl Stoeckel, son ofGustave Stoeckel, the first professor of music at Yale, brought many famous musicians to perform, including Fritz Kreisler, Jean Sibelius, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and even the Metropolitan Opera in their 35-room family home called Whitehouse. As the popularity of the performances grew, the family commissioned architect E. K. Rossiter to design the acoustically superior Music Shed, made out of redwood, which can seat 800.

Stoeckel left her entire 70-acre estate in a trust to Yale University,with the stipulation that they hold a summer music school for aspiring young musicians every year, something they have faithfully continued.

While there are cottages on the campus for faculty, all the studentsstay in homes of area residents."A great strength of the festival is the synergy between the studentsand the community," Hawkshaw said. The faculty performs concerts on Friday and Saturday nights, while free student concerts are given each Thursday night and Saturday morning.

The faculty and visiting artists enjoy the relaxed environment, Hawkshaw said, and although they don’t get paid an exorbitant sum, they get the luxury of rehearsing for a week before performances.

"A week’s rehearsal is a blessing you almost never get," Hawkshaw said. "They know when they come they will have lots of time to rehearse."

And just as at Tanglewood, guests can arrive early and enjoy a picnic on the expansive and well-maintained grounds of the estate. Also, for the first time this year, they will sell wine from The Land of Nod, a local winery.

Young artists audition to be able attend the highly competitive music program, Hawkshaw said, with 35 musicians participating this year from around the world, including England, Canada, Ukrainia, Russia, and Korea, as well as the United States.

Brittany Harrington, 23, from Texas plays bassoon and is participating with the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival as a fellow for the first time.

"It’s phenomenal," Harrington said, adding that she has attended many other summer music programs but really loves the rigor of the schedule withthe serenity of the landscape.

"It’s sort of laid back, but they take care of you," Harrington said-freeing them to focus on nothing but their music.

Emily Westell, 26, of Calgary, Canada, plays the violin and is attending for her second summer.

"We get coaching every day," Westell said. Westell hopes eventually to perform for a living as well as teach at auniversity, while Harrington said she just wants to perform whenever and wherever she can.

"I love to play," Harrington said.

Peter Heller and Barbara Glasser work at Tanglewood Music Festival as ushers, but Friday night they were enjoying the Norfolk Chamber MusicFestival as patrons.

"It’s heavenly," Heller said, adding that the Music Shed is equivalent to Seigi Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood."The acoustics are wonderful," Heller said.

He especially enjoys the tradition at the end of intermission of bringing the audience back into the hall with a brass ensemble fanfare, which they did Friday.

From 1 until 5 p.m. on Sunday, July 31 they will hold their Family Day at the festival, starting with the Norfolk Fellows’ performance for the children, followed by a free ice cream social and children’s games in the Music Shed, sponsored by the Battell Arts Foundation. After the ice cream social the United States Coast Guard Band, conducted by Commander Kenneth W. Megan, will perform in the Music Shed at 4 p.m., all for free.

Tickets for the visiting artists and faculty performances on Fridays and Saturdays are $15 to $50 and $15 to $30 for youths age 18 to 25.

The Young Artists’ Performance Series held Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings, as well as the New Music Recitals are free. Children under 18 years old can attend all the events for free.

For more information visit their website

Photos by Jessica Hill

Acadia National Park in Maine a true national treasure

MT. DESERT ISLAND, MAINE -From the heights of Cadillac Mountain, to the aqua blues of Sand Beach, with camping, hiking, biking, kayaking, rock climbing and more, Acadia National Park surely must be the vacationland capitol of Maine.

Founded in 1901 by President Woodrow Wilson, the 6,000 acres of parkland was at first called Sieur de Monts National Monument when in 1919 the United States Congress changed its designation to a national park, the first established east of the Mississippi River.

The only trouble with visiting Acadia National Park on the gorgeous, if somewhat misnamed, Mt. Desert Island is that there is too much to see with too little time to explore it all, even in a week.

Thanks to the efforts of many volunteers over 100 years ago, withmajor funding from John D. Rockefeller Jr., Waldron Bates, and one of the park’s founders, George B. Dorr, 125 miles of hiking trails of varying degrees of difficulty were constructed.

Flat, easy trails such as Wonderland, Jordan Nature Trail, and the Bar Harbor Shore Path are available, along with steep-grade rigorous climbs for the more adventurous, including the Acadia Mountain Trail with views of the Somes Sound, and the Cadillac South Ridge Trail.

The aptly name Perpendicular Trail and Precipice Trail have such steep inclines that iron rungs and ladders have been provided along some portions of the trails. They also have 45 miles of carriage roads for biking and hiking over 17 hand-hewn stone bridges.

To fully experience the romance of abygone era, horse draw carriage rides are available. For those less athletically inclined there are plenty of scenic roads for vehicles to traverse, with many turnouts along the way, including the 3.5 mile Park Loop Road that leads to the top of CadillacMountain, which at 1,532 feet is the highest peak along the Eastern seaboard.

For part of the year this mountaintop is the first point in the United States that the sunrise is visible. French explorer Samuel Champlain claimed the island in 1604 and named it "Isle des Monts Deserts" or Desert Island, while Cadillac Mountain was named after explorer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac.

Cadillac Mountain along with the other mountains on the island all derive their distinct barren appearance from glaciers that scraped and polished the distinctive pink granite surfaces over the eons, leaving few trees and little soil behind.

Access to the whole park costs $20 per week in the high season, and passes are available at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center, at the start ofPark Loop Road-a perfect place to get acclimated to all the park has to offer.

Since it’s about a seven hour drive from Connecticut, finding a placeto stay overnight on Mount Desert Island is a must.Fortunately there are a plethora of motels, hotels, cottages, bed and breakfast inns, and campgrounds to choose from on the island, with a place for every budget, but do call ahead, particularly in the summer.

In addition to the numerous privately owned and operated campgrounds, the United States Park Service runs two on the island, Blackwoods and Seawall, which are definitely the cheapest way to go at $20 per night for tent sites. Reservations and information are available

Seawall and Blackwoods campgrounds offer campsites for tents and recreational vehicles, which include clean, well-lighted central bathrooms, but keep in mind that there is no electricity, hot water, or showers provided.

While you can always have an "Out of Africa" experience and wash your hair in a basin with water heated on your camp stove, fortunately coin-operatedshowers are available at two locations on the island. Relying on pay-per-use showers for the week gives one a whole new appreciation of indoor plumbing.

As fun as tent camping can be, keep in mind that mosquitoes love it too, so be sure to bring massive quantities of bug spray, which you will practically bathe in religiously. And not only are their mosquitoes to contend with, but there are also stinging horseflies and blood-sucking deer flies that are so large they should probably be regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Campfires are allowed at designated areas within each campsite, weather permitting, and strangely, firewood costs less the closer you get to the park.

The opposite is true for lobster, however. Even though this is a banner year for lobster and an army of lobster pot buoys bob on the waters surrounding the island, lobster is no bargain, at about $12 a pound on the island, while lobster rolls start at $13.

A must-see is the historic Jordan Pond House, located along the scenic Park Loop Road that overlooks the comically named Bubble Mountains and Bubble Pond, where they serve lunch, tea, and dinner. They offer entrees, but are best known for their popovers. An order of two with strawberry jam, and butter with a beverage cost$11-Not cheap, but worth it. They serve them one at a time to assure that they are piping hot when they arrive at the table.

The distinctive rocky terrain that make for dramatic and picturesque cliffs and rocky coastlines allow for few sand beaches. One of the most beautiful is the small and popular Sand Beach located in the park along the Park Loop Road. On sunny summer days the beach draws large crowds, while a few intrepid souls even brave the icy 50-degree Atlantic waters.

Because of the unique geology along the Northeastern seafloor with it’s close proximity to the Bay of Fundy, the island has some of the most extreme tides in the world, changing up to 12 feet every 12 hours.

Nature and artifice strike a perfect balance in the vibrant, dynamic, and endlessly dramatic Acadia National Park-truly a national treasure that everyone should visit.