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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Inventive, madcap "Around the World in 80 Days"
WEST HARTFORD — Before television’s "The Amazing Race," before the movie "It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World," there was Jules Vernes’ novel "Around the World in 80 Days."

Adapted by Mark Brown and directed by Russell Treyz, this production at the Playhouse on Park takes the play a step farther and has five talented and versatile actors play over 30 characters, including a panther and a monkey.

The play takes place in 1872 as the set, designed by Bob Phillips tells us twice, on the painted floor and on the backdrop of a map of the earth.

The independently wealthy, supremely confident, and fastidious stuffed shirt Phileas Fogg (Russell Garrett) makes a 20,000-pound bet at the Reform Club in London that he can travel around the world by steamer and railway in 80 days.

"The unforeseen does not exist," Fogg boldly states. And when it does, money helps.
With only a table and a few chairs, we travel with the characters from England by boat, train, sled with a sail, and even an elephant to India, Hong Kong, China, Japan, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and back to London.

Just before he departs for his record setting, seemingly impossible journey, Fogg hires French manservant Passepartout (the athletic Aidan O’Shea) who literally flips over backwards to please his new boss. Passepartout says he is looking for a quieter life, but ends up with more excitement than he bargained for.

Meanwhile, a great theft has taken place in London and Fogg is suspected of committing the crime, so Detective Fix (Chris Mixon, looking and acting much like Nathan Lane) chases around the world after him.

While in India they come upon a Suttee, an outlawed Hindu human sacrifice where the wife throws herself on the funeral pyre with her husband when he dies.

They rescue the young woman, Aouda, played by Veronique Hurley, who joins them on the rest of their journey and in the process humanizes Fogg.

Hurley holds her own with the boys, but sometimes her Indian accent drifts into a German sounding dialect.

The dialog is extremely expository and precise, and the actors do a remarkable job of delivering all the exact locations while moving the furniture to create the next scene, which keeps the action always moving ahead.

Except for Fogg, all the actors play other characters, but the imaginative Jef Canter plays around 28 distinct characters with 33 costume changes.

From a Scottish boatman, to an Indian judge, to a western cowboy and a mumbling mountain man named Mudge, and many more, Canter plays them all.

He also had a little fun with an audience member in an improvised bit that works beautifully.

Occasionally a few words were missed Sunday and the actors paused and scrambled to find their place, but that is understandable in this madcap show that rarely lets up and never loses its way.

Physical details abound to sweep us along, like bouncing and jostling to represent a train in motion, the swaying of riding an elephant, and imitating the surging motion of a typhoon so well I felt a little dizzy, with technical direction by Steve Mountzoures.

The sea spray from squirt guns is a nice, whimsical touch too.

This terrific ensemble cast gives a dynamite performance that is full of inventiveness and loads of fun.

Take a trip around the world without leaving your seat at Playhouse on Park’s colorful and entertaining "Around the World in 80 Days" running through Sunday, Oct. 2.

4 Stars
Theater: Playhouse on Park
Location: 244 Park Road, West Hartford
Production: Adapted by Mark Brown from the novel by Jules Verne. Directed by Russell Treyz. Costume design by Jennifer Raskopf. Set design by Bob Phillips. Technical direction by Steve Mountzoures. Stage Manager Dawn Loveland. Lighting design by Will Lowry.
Running time: 2 hours plus a 15-minute intermission
Show Times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. through Oct. 2.
Tickets: $22.50 — $32.50. Call the box office at 860-523-5900 ext. 10, or visit their website at
Russell Garrett … Phileas Fogg
Aidan O’Shea … Passepartout and others
Chris Mixon … Detective Fix and others
Jef Canter … Sir Francis Cromarty and others
Veronique Hurley … Aouda and others

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Delightful, joyful ‘Little Women the musical’

EAST WINDSOR — Once again, the Opera House Players deliver a lovely, life affirming, and joyful show, “Little Women the musical.”

Based on the beloved book by Louisa May Alcott, the musical follows the fortunes of the four March sisters and their mother, whom they call Marmee, left behind in Concord, Mass. while their father fights in the Civil War.

It’s a delightful tale that was turned into a successful 1933 film starring a youthful Katherine Hepburn as the lead character, Jo.

In this musical, with music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein, the story closely follows the original, with book by Allan Knee, and the results are highly entertaining.

Jo March is the aspiring writer of the family and has grand ambitions to become famous and solve all their financial woes, of which there are many. She creates fantastic, romantic “blood and guts” stories and operatic tragedies that are over the top and full of fun.

Meagan Hayes is wonderful as the determined, enthusiastic, headstrong Jo, who will not be denied.

Her well-to-do and imposing Aunt March (the terrific Mary Jane Disco) wants Jo to find a rich husband and marry well, if she will only behave like a lady, but Jo just can’t conform.

Her youngest sister, the petulant Amy March, is milder and reaps the benefits of Aunt March’s wealth.

Jessica Frye is well cast as the spoiled Amy who bristles under her sister’s shadow and in retaliation destroys one of her stories.

Kiernan Rushford couldn’t be better cast as the sweet and doomed Beth March with a beautiful voice.

Elizabeth Drevits is also excellent as the pretty sister Meg March, who falls in love with Mr. Brooke the tutor, played with sweet vulnerability by Dallas Hosmer.

Paul Lietz is very good and has a fine voice, playing Laurie, the wealthy and lonely grandson of Mr. Lawrence, played by Matthew Falkowski. Falkowski has a strong voice too and is well cast as the rigid and gruff Lawrence.

I hope I am not giving too much away when I say that Laurie falls for Jo, but she thinks of him as a brother. He ends up falling in love with Amy, who returns his affections.

Brett Gottheimer has a solid German accent and is believable as the serene and scholarly Professor Bhaer. Donna Schilke is the perfect mom, and has a warm alto voice, full of nurture and love.

Reva Kleppel rounds out the cast as the frazzled rooming house owner, Mrs. Kirk.

Costume designer Moonyean Field really outdid herself this time with the numerous and detailed period costumes that add much to the enjoyment of the production.

The sound system seems better than it has ever been. All the singers could be heard over the excellent music, directed by John Pike with music direction by Melanie Guerin.

The choreography by Kim Cordeiro is well rehearsed and fun.

This time the Opera House Players also have a slide projection backdrop that adds so much to the enjoyment of the show.

Most scenes (whether at the March home, Cape Cod, or from the Civil War) have photos or paintings projected on the backdrop that keep track of the many different scenes without having to move a lot of furniture around — a great and helpful addition to this show.

This excellent and well produced musical brings the touching and uplifting story of a girl finding her way in the world against great obstacles to life. It is inspiring and absolutely delightful.

Little women the musical

Theater: Opera House Players

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

Production: Music by Jason Howland. Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein. Book by Allan Knee. Directed by John Pike. Music direction by Melanie Guerin. Choreography by Kim Cordeiro. Stage Manager Christine Zdebski. Costumes by Moonyean Field.

Show times: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., through Sunday, Sept. 25.

Running time: 3 hours plus a 15-minute intermission.

Tickets: $21, $17 for seniors over 60 and children 12 and under. Call 860-292-6068 or visit:


Meagan Hayes...... .Jo March
Elizabeth Drevits...Meg March
Kiernan Rushford....Beth March
Jessica Frye........Amy March
Donna Schilke.......Marmee
Mary Jane Disco.....Aunt March
Paul Lietz..........Laurie
Brett Gottheimer....Professor Bhaer
Dallas Hosmer.......Mr. Brooke
Matthew Falkowski...Mr. Lawrence
Reva Kleppel........Mrs. Kirk

Photos by Bob Lyke

Friday, September 09, 2011

Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" at the Hartford Stage Company timely classic
HARTFORD — Paranoia, mob rule, and the law mixed with religious hysteria in a perfect storm of tragedy in Arthur Miller’s unnerving and brilliant play “The Crucible,” playing at the Hartford Stage Company through Sept. 25.

From the first moment, firmly and deftly directed by Long Wharf Theatre Artistic Director Gordon Edelstein, you are jolted into strangely familiar world that doesn’t let up in its inevitable conclusion.

Set in the 1600s, teenage girls, one who is the ringleader, dance in the woods naked and flirt with witchcraft. Realizing that the jig is up when they are discovered, they start accusing others for their improper behavior.

Abigail Williams, played by a fine Rachel Mewbron, is the conniving girl who had an affair with her former employer, John Proctor, a powerful and believable Michael Laurence. Abigail wants to replace his wife, Elizabeth, and is doing all she can to make that happen.

Revelations of truth mixed with fanciful imaginings of seeing people fly create a crazy atmosphere that culminates in at least 400 people, mostly women, in Salem, Mass. being accused of witchcraft and consorting with the devil. But they can all be free if they only admit their guilt and confess.

It seems like stuff of the past, but the essence of the societal insanity isn’t antiquated.

In fact, history is doomed to repeat itself, and mass hysteria in this crazy world constantly repeats itself over generations.

The McCarthy era of hysterical anti-communism, institutionalized slavery, ethnic cleansing, and the internment of the Japanese are only a few examples of government sanctioned insanity. But honestly and horrifically the list goes on and on.

Some of the characters in this sizable cast are dressed in dark 17th Century garb and frontier frocks, but others, such as the farmers, are wearing overalls and flannel, which actually works quite well, with costumes by Ilona Somogyi.

This unbelievable witch-hunt spun out of control is so potent because it really happened not only in Salem, Mass. but also in Connecticut.

In the display room adjacent to the Hartford Stage Company’s lobby, we learn that people were hung in this state on claims of witchcraft in the 1600s. The display is a fitting compendium to the play, so arrive early and read the actual commentary of the time.

What makes the characters so compelling and intriguing is that the bad guys aren’t all bad and the good guys have their flaws.

Tom Beckett is the Rev. Samuel Parris, who starts out as the self-interested and smarmy minister whose daughter won’t wake up after he discovers her and the girls dancing in the woods. He never becomes likeable, but does become slightly less odious and more human.

David Barlow is the Reverend Hale, who starts out wanting only facts, and then believes every fairytale he hears as gospel truth, as do most of the others. Anyone who disagrees is suspect. Only later does he see the horror of his own creation, but is powerless to stop it.

Sam Tsoutsouvas is the Deputy Governor Danforth, the ultimate authority at the height of male privilege, who knows the law but bullies the uneducated with his knowledge, and also gets swept up in the machinery of bureaucracy.

When Hale and others plead for clemency for people condemned to hang, Danforth says that he can’t stop now because others have already hung for the same crime.

Keira Keeley is convincing as Mary Warren, the teenager who is caught between wanting to tell the truth and being swept up in the mass hysteria.

Kate Forbes plays Elizabeth with complexity and understandable fear in the face of horror and an insane world.

There are brief moments of humor too, that help relieve the relentless horror of a world that has spun out of control.

My one complaint is the written statement on the backdrop in the second act that reads something like, “You are either with us, or with the terrorists.”

That kind of blatant statement of the obvious is unnecessary, overkill, and an insult to the intelligence of the audience.

Still, this is an important, disturbing, and moving morality tale that exposes the worst along with the best of what we can be.

4 Stars
Location: Hartford Stage Company, 50 Church St., Hartford.
Production: Written by Arthur Miller. Directed by Gordon Edelstein. Scenic design by Eugene Lee. Costume design by Ilona Somogyi. Lighting design by Michael Chybowski. Original music and sound design by John Gromada. Fight choreography by Craig Handel. Choreography by Sharon Jenkins.
Running time: 3 hours including one intermission.
Show Times: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinee performances Sundays and selected Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 p.m. through Oct. 6.
Tickets: $23- $69. Call 860-527-5151 or visit their website at
Michael Laurence … John Proctor
Kate Forbes … Elizabeth Proctor
Sam Tsoutsouvas … Deputy Gov. Danforth
David Barlow … Rev. Hale
Tom Beckett … Rev. Samuel Parris
Keira Keeley … Mary Warren
Rachel Mewbron … Abigail Williams
Annette Hunt … Rebecca Nurse
Ron Crawford … Giles Corey
Rebecka Jones … Ann Putnam, Sarah Good
Richmond Hoxie … Thomas Putnam

Photo: Michael Laurence and Kate Forbes as John and Elizabeth Proctor in "The Crucible." photo by T. Charles Erickson.