Thursday, May 28, 2015

Lyric Stage Ends Their Season With a Bang - "Light Up The Sky" Features An All-Star Cast

When I saw the cast list for "Light Up The Sky," Lyric Stage's current offering, I said to myself, "This is going to be fun!"  And it certainly was.  Director Scott Edmiston has assembled some of the most well known actors of Boston stages to mount this production of Moss Hart's classic comedy about Opening Night of a Boston tryout of a play that may be heading to Broadway - or may close after the first perfromance.  This send-up of the world of theater in those halcyon days of out of town tryouts paints with broad strokes some of the most stereotypical of theater world denizens: the diva, the over-reaching producer, the histrionic director, the stage mother, the milquetoast husband, the neophyte playwright, the stage struck fan.

Former truck driver turned playwright, Peter Sloan has written an edgy work that producer Sidney Black believes will "stick a Roman candle in the tired face of show business."  He sinks $300,000 of his money into producing this play, much of the money earned in promoting his ice skating wife, Frances.  They hire director Carleton Fitzgerald and diva, Irene Livingston to turn this raw play into a Broadway smash.  The complications that ensue are full of old but hilarious show business jokes. Add in some inebriated partying Shriners, and things get interesting on Opening Night.

Although some of Moss Hart's dialogue and characters may seem a bit dated, this wonderful ensemble of actors makes the one-liners sting and the action gallop.  They are helped by a gorgeous hotel suite set designed by Janie E. Howland, stunning period costumes by Gail Astrid Buckley, Lighting by Karen Perlow and Sound by Samuel Hanson.

Let's discuss Edmiston's all-star cast, to whom he gives great latitude in chewing the scenery as Hart intended in some of the most melodramatic scenes.

The Cast of
"Light Up The Sky"
by Moss Hart
Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Through June 13
Photo by Marl S. Howard

  • Paula Plum is clearly having a ball in portraying diva Irene Livingston, the Leading Lady. She runs the gamut of feigning hysteria over some imagined tragedy, excoriating the young playwright when she thinks the play may be a flop, and turning on the charm when she needs to reconcile with Black and Fitzgerald after the early reviews are glowing.  It is a funny and delicious performance by one of Boston's Leading Ladies.
  • Will LeBow plays the role of Producer Sydney Black to the hilt.  Having made his money promoting his ice skating wife, he wants to enter the world of legitimate theater, and takes a shot with Peter Sloan and his new play.  One of his best scenes occurs when he is woken up by his wife to come meet one of the Shriners, who may be a potential investor in the play. Initially disheveled, and dismissive of the Shriner, Mr. Gallagher, Black perks up when money is mentioned.
  • Richard Snee is Owen Turner, an elder statesman of the theater, and veteran playwright who hangs around to offer advice, commentary and snide remarks about what he is observing among this ship of fools..  As is often the case, Mr. Snee is strong on charm and savoir faire as he portrays the sage playwright.
  • Will McGarrahan hams it up wonderfully in the delicious role of Carleton Fitzgerald, who cries at the drop of a hat.  He is smarmy and histrionic, and no one in the group respects him - until the reviews come in praising his work in this new play.
  • Kathy St. George is Frances Black, ice skating star of a certain age who loves spending her husband's money on baubles and furs.  She also passes the hours in Boston playing gin with Stella Livingston, Irene's mother.  Ms. St. George is hilarious as the brassy dame whose Opening Night Gold-lame gown is in gloriously bad taste.
  • Bobbie Steinbach almost steals the show as Irene's mother.  Two of the best scenes involve her describing sneaking into the dress rehearsal disguised as the cleaning woman, and later hearing Fitzgerald rhapsodize about this bedraggled cleaning woman he spied in the balcony.  Ms. Steinbach's facial expressions and slow burn as she listens to herself being described are worth the price of a ticket to this show.
  • Alejandro Simoes plays the taciturn young playwright, Peter Sloan.  Initially meek and idealistic about the world of show business, Sloan quickly grows up and learns to accept the world as it is and to play the game by the rough and tumble rules.  Mr. Simoes is appropriately understated in this crucial role as he deftly portrays the arc of his character's development.
  • Terrence O'Malley is Tyler Rayburn, Irene's husband, whom no one regards as anything but a fifth wheel.  His character is set when he shows up at an awkward moment during an Opening Night toast, and Irene reads him the riot act for choosing to take a train that would dump his at the hotel at such an unfortunate hour.  It is a small and difficult role, but Mr. O'Malley plays it with grace and a vacant smile on his face. 
  • Jordan Clark is Miss Lowell, Irene's secretary and ghost writer for her autobiography.  She is all innocence about the complex world of the theater.  Her facial expressions register her every though as she observes the nature of each character and their less than honest interactions with one another.
  • Bob Mussett as Shriner William Gallagher comes late to the party, but makes the most of his time on stage in portraying a stage struck Midwesterner who is a frustrated actor and would be mogul.

An additional couple of treats are the two Wills at the baby grand crooning away some old familiar tunes.

As an ensemble, these actors are a perfectly matched set - playing off of one another with seasoned proficiency.  Watching them in their acting and their mugging is a delight and worth every dollar.  If you want some good old fashioned fun at the theater, "Light Up The Sky" is your ticket - through June 13. 

There's No Business Like Show Business!



Friday, May 15, 2015

Zeitgeist Stage Company Presents "The Submission" by Jeff Talbott - An Incendiary Look At Race and Gender

Artistic Director David Miller of Zeitgeist Stage Company has a well-earned reputation for producing plays that are edgy, that push the envelope, and that cause the audience to engage at a deep level with difficult and complex issues.  He builds upon that reputation with the latest production, Jeff Talbot's provocative and incendiary play, "The Submission." This four-handed drama asks a number of timely questions. What are we capable of doing and expressing when under duress?  Is the pain that a gay white male experiences at the hands of gay-bashing homophobes at all equivalent to the pain felt by a black female who has been the victim of racism?  What happens to loyalty when a person has two friends who become enemies with each other?

The premise of the play is brilliant and intriguing. Danny, a gay white writer in his late 20s, gains some insight into life in a black neighborhood of Brooklyn, and writes a play that incisively captures the ethos of the neighborhood and some of its denizens.  He decides to submit the play for consideration by the prestigious Humana Festival.  Fearing that no one will believe that a white writer could have such deep understanding of an alien culture, he makes the rash decision to submit the play under a made-up name that sounds African-American: Shaleeha G'ntamobi.  He is pleasantly surprised when the festival accepts his play for production, but quickly realizes that he has a problem.  They will expect a black woman to collaborate with them in mounting the production.  So, he hires Emilie, an actress, to play the role.  Complications ensue that involve miscommunication, apparent betrayal,divided loyalties, and  mutual accusations of stereotyping.  The arc of the play leads inexorably to a fiery confrontation between Emilie and Danny, and Danny is left to ponder just who he is at the core of his being.

Mr. Miller has cast four talented young actors to tell Mr. Talbott's story.

Victor Shopov portrays a mesmerizing and conflicted Danny.  Mr. Shopov is fresh from a stunningly successful 2014 season, garnering both IRNE and Elliot Norton Awards.  He continues his skein of award-worthy performances in this role.  As written, the character of Danny travels a rocky road.  He feels the usual artist's self-doubt and angst in putting his creative baby in the hands of others.  His writing demonstrates a liberal openness to and understanding of other cultures, but when push comes to shove, different sensibilities emerge that shock him and his circle of friends.  Mr. Shopov is at his best when venting his spleen and his rage at Emilie after he feels that she has double crossed him by not following the script he wrote for her to read at the Humana Festival.  His anger is volcanic, and words pour out of his mouth and out of his soul that have the effect of molten lava - they sear and destroy everything in their path.  As the play winds down, we find Danny sitting and sulking in a Starbucks, his de facto office and home away from home..  He is clearly shaken and broken, contemplating how such a stream of vitriolic magma could have spewed forth from the caldera at the depth of his being. After his outburst, he wonders what is his future as a playwright and as a human being?  Mr. Shopov traverses the landscape of Danny's ambivalent journey with his usual pinpoint control. Even if there were not other compelling reasons to see this show, the chance to see one of Boston's best actors at the top of his game should be enough to motivate you to click on the link below and buy a ticket to see "The Submission."

Aina Adler portrays Emilie.  She too is required to cover a broad spectrum of emotional states.  She is alternately skeptical, dubious, intrigued, excited, controlling, defensive, insecure, dominant and furious as she tries to figure out how this short-term paying gig as an actress may impact her future. Ms. Adler, too, is at her strongest in the climactic scene when everything hits the fan.  Both Emilie and Danny, in the heat of verbal battle, find themselves slinging epithets at one another that they would never consider uttering under more subdued circumstances.  Once the ultimate verbal atomic bomb has been dropped, all four characters are frozen in place in shock.  It is a powerful moment beautifully staged by Mr. Miller. Each character is clearly wondering what life will be like now that this bell has been rung that can never be un-rung.  And the audience is wondering what may happen next. As the frozen tableau persists for several minutes, tensions and doubts arise for all parties.

The always entertaining and engaging Diego Buscaglia plays Pete, Danny's live-in lover.  Pete functions both as an encourager to Danny's creative pursuits and as a Jiminiy Cricket-type conscious, occasionally trying to hold Danny back - sometimes even physically - from giving vent to his inner demons and subterranean prejudices.  Pete has his own journey to take as he begins to realize that the man he loves may be both more and less than he first imagined.  Can they stay together once Danny's Mr. Hyde has been exposed.  His best moment on stage occurs early in the play when Pete is in high dudgeon, his nose out of joint when he learns that Danny had chosen to show the manuscript of his new play to Trevor before allowing Pete to read it.

Matthew Fagerberg is Trevor, Danny's longtime friend, Yale classmate and muse.  He is first to read the play and encourages Danny to submit it to the Humana Festival.  When Emilie is hired to impersonate the fictional Shaleeha, an instant spark is struck between Pete and Emilie.  As their relationship grows closer, and the partnership between Emilie and Danny begins to show cracks, Tevor is placed squarely in the middle.  Mr. Fagerberg does an excellent job of portraying his dilemma oftentimes through gesture, body language and other non-verbal clues.  He brings an energy to this role that is infectious and winsome.

Victor Shopov as Danny
Diego Buscaglia as Pete
Matthew Fagerberg as Trevor
Aina Adler as Emilie
"The Submission" by Jeff Talbott
Zeitgeist Stage Company
At Boston Center forthe Arts
Through May 30

David Miller has designed a tripartite set - a generic Starbucks, Danny and Pete's apartment, and a middle ground that serves as a hotel room where Emilie is able to use a dressing table to make some needed costume changes.  Mr. Shopov doubles as costume designer, Michael Clark Wonson provides atmospheric lighting and J. Jumbelic has designed sound that fills the space between scenes.

Mr. Talbott's writing is strongest in his dialogue.  The characters all sound as if they are genuine 20-something New Yorkers caught up in the worlds of theater and finance.  The diction is just right in capturing the ethos of that generation.  They often interrupt one another, finish each other's sentences and generally comport themselves as Millennials are wont to do. If there is a weakness in this fine script, it is in the length and in the pacing of the play. There is one scene in particular in which Danny is trying to screen potential actors for his play by spying on them from across the street as they exit the audition space.  For me, the action ground to a halt and the energy sagged - not because of the actors, but because of the writing.  But I am quibbling, for on the whole this is an intriguing play and an outstanding production of that play.

You have until May 30th to "Submit" yourself to the BCA box office to procure your ticket for a play that you do not want to miss.

Zeitgeist Stage Website



Thursday, May 14, 2015

SpeakEasy Stage Company Presents "Mothers and Sons" by Terence McNally - A Spectacular Success and a Must See Show!

As I entered the theater at Boston Center for the Arts Stanford Calderwood Pavilion, I bumped into my friend, Nancy, a fellow theater critic.  I said to her: "I am so excited to see this play again.  I loved it in New York, and Tyne Daly was superb."  Nancy replied, "Be sure to give Nancy Carroll a chance." She need not have been concerned, for Nancy E. Carroll in the role of Katherine Gerard, grieving mother of a son who had died of AIDS many years ago, anchors this splendid production with all of the grit, grace and artistry that anyone could ask for.

This play, "Mothers and Sons" by Terence McNally is about many things - gay marriage, gay adoption, the lingering pain of the AIDS epidemic, jealousy, grief, and moving on.  But at the heart of the story is the painful personal journey of Katherine.  She shows up unannounced at the Upper West Side apartment of Cal Porter, her deceased son's former lover.  She has come ostensibly to return a diary that her son had written.  Cal had sent it to her after Andre's death.  Her real reasons for showing up in New York and at Cal's home is to find occasion to vent her spleen.  She is furious at the disappointments that she has suffered since growing up poor in Port Chester, New York.  She is angry at almost everything - at life, at the world, at New York for her belief that Andre was not gay when he left Dallas, and at Cal for being complicit in Andre's death.

In order for this gorgon to be believable and at all a sympathetic character, much is required of the actress chosen to portray Katherine.  Ms. Carroll delivers an award-worthy nuanced performance. When we first meet her, bedecked in her second-hand fur coat, her face is set as hard as rock in a stern grimace.  In fact, her profile reminded me of the Old Man of the Mountain - angular, chiseled, apparently immutable and implacable.  Those of us who have lived for any length of time in New England know what befell the image of the State of New Hampshire.  Forces of nature - wind, storms, freezing and thawing finally took their toll on the iconic stone face and one day it crumbled and was no more.  In the same way, forces at work within Cal's apartment that cold and blustery winter day.began to work on Katherine.  The story arc includes some freezing and thawing of her attitudes and beliefs, and finally the combination of confrontations with Cal and his husband, Will and several doses of talks and Oreos shared with Bud, their son, causes the stone face to crack and disintegrate.  In its place is the beginning of a real human face, and perhaps a real sensate heart beating underneath the cheap fur coat.

Nancy E. Carroll as Katherine
"Mothers and Sons"
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Through June 6
Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

Despite the importance of the role of Katherine, this is at its heart a wonderfully constructed ensemble piece, and Director Paul Daigneault has assembled a team of three strong male actors to serve as counterweights to Ms. Carroll's formidable Katherine.   As Cal, Michael Kaye is pitch perfect.  He conveys with great effect the difficult juggling act of handling his still palpable grief over Andre's death with his excitement over his marriage to Will and their co-parenting of the endearing Bud.  He tries to be gracious to this woman who wounded Andre and who has shunned Cal - refusing to hug him at Andre's memorial service.  He needs to balance his role as host to this uninvited guest against his desire to placate Will, who feels that the sanctity of their home has been breached by this intrusion by a physical reminder of the ghost of Andre that always lingers over the marriage and their life together.  Mr. Kaye conveys all of these dynamics with clarity and an impressive range of emotions.

Michael Kaye as Cal
Nancy E. Carroll as Katherine

"Mothers and Sons"
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Through June 6

Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

Cal's husband, Will Ogden, is played by Nile Hawver.  As written, the role of Will is that of the nurturing parent - taking Bud to the park, supervising bath time, and responding to an accident in the kitchen.  As tender as Will is with Bud, he is equally firm and cold with Katherine.  "What are you doing here?" he asks accusingly the first time that the two of them are alone together in the living room.  It is clear that what this character wants is to be rid of this woman whom he had heard about for years through Cal's descriptions of the havoc that she had spread through Andre's life.  She represents opposition to everything that define Cal and Will's world - she hates gay marriage and gay adoption, and she does not hesitate to dispense her vitriol whenever an opening appears that allows her to do so. Mr. Hawver's performance is a strong one, and we feel both his tenderness and his prickliness.

Liam Lurker plays a winsome and precocious Bud.  His is perpetually inquisitive - often asking questions that at first appall Katherine, but which eventually begin the early stages in a thaw in that ice cold soul of hers. Young Master Lurker handles himself as a confident professional on the stage, and his character proves to be irresistible to both Katherine and the audience.

Liam Lurker as Bud
Michael Kaye as Cal
Nancy E. Carroll as Katherine
Nile Hawver as Will
"Mothers and Sons"
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Through June 6

Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

The creative team that Mr. Daigneault has employed is also impressive, beginning with Erik D> Diaz, who designed the gorgeous set of the Manhattan apartment.  Costume design is by Charles Schoonmkerr, Lighting by Jeff Adelberg and Sound by David Remedios

This is a play you do not want to miss.  It will run through June 6.  Click below for ticket information.

SpeakEasy Stage Website



Thursday, May 07, 2015

Review of "It Shoulda Been You" - Bring Your Mother, Your Mother-In-Law and Your Wife for Mothers' Day!

Principal Cast Members
"It Shoulda Been You"
Brooks Atkinson Theatre

Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts!  Such is the case with the delightful Broadway musical comedy "It Shoulda Been You."

  • Based on the stock characters that populate this play, IT SHOULDA BEEN BORING, but it was anything but boring!
  • Given the shop-worn plot premise - Jewish girl marries Irish Catholic lad - IT SHOULDA BEEN PREDICTABLE, but the delicious plot twists kept it fresh and hilarious.
  • Given the star quality of the actors portraying the two mothers, IT SHOULDA BEEN MERELY A VEHICLE FOR THEM TO STRUT THEIR STUFF, but it turns out to be a wonderful ensemble piece in which each performer has his or her time to shine.
  • Given the age-old jokes and sight gags, IT SHOULDA BEEN A GROANER, but it was a total delight from start to finish.
Can you tell that I loved the show much more than I had expected to love it?  On the day that I attended the show at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, the audience was enraptured and exuberant in their show of appreciation throughout the performance and at the curtain calls.

With a book and lyrics by Brian Hargrove and music and concept by Barbara Anselmi, Director David Hyde Pierce has crafted a show that should play for quite awhile if word of mouth spreads as it should. Tyne Daly and Harriet Harris anchor an excellent cast.  Anna Louizos has designed a wonderful set that made me think of "Plaza Suite."  There are several sumptuous levels of a hotel decked out for a wedding and a reception that may or may not take place.  Costumes by William Ivey Long are stylish and eye-catching..Lighting by Ken Billington and Sound by Nevin Steinberg enhance the versatile set.  Choreography is by  Josh Rhodes.  Musical Director and Arranger Lawrence Yurman conducts an excellent orchestra that keeps the pace of the show lively enough to keep the audience engaged throughout the shenanigans that take place on the stage..

The plot - with twists I will not reveal - revolves around both the Jewish family and the Catholic family trying to sabotage the wedding on the day of the nuptials.  The bride's ex-boyfriend - It Shoulda Been Him! - reappears and is also intent on putting a stop to the proceedings.  The bride's big-boned older sister is charged with working closely with a very experienced wedding planner to make sure that nothing goes wrong.  Throw in a few quirky relatives, an interesting mix of a Maid of Honor and a Best Man who are more than they appear to be at first blush, and we have a recipe for quite a tasty wedding cake.

Lisa Howard as Jenny
Sierra Boggess as Rebecca
"It Shoulda Been You"
Brooks Atkinson Theatre

One of the things that keeps this multi-tiered cake from collapsing on itself is the professionalism of this superb ensemble cast.  They deserve individual recognition.

  • Tyne Daly continues to do outstanding work.  She was magnificent in the recent "Mothers and Sons," and she brings a very different flavor and sensibility to the role of the uptight Jewish mother of the bride role in this show.  One of the delicious subplots is the instant animosity that develops between Ms. Daly's character and the mother of the groom, played by Harriet Harris. The two of them shoot verbal daggers and poisonous glances at one another from the moment they first face off.
  • Harriet Harris is a perfect dueling partner for Ms. Daly.  As Georgette Howard, Irish Catholic mother of the groom, she orchestrates her own machinations to try to ensure that the dreaded wedding never is consummated.  In fact, she does not ever want him to marry, but rather stay and care for her.  When a shocking plot twist is revealed that hits like a thunder bolt, it appears that one of her strategies has finally borne fruit.
  • Lisa Howard embodies Jenny Steinberg, the older sister of the bride. Jenny is perennially overshadowed by her more svelte and more beautiful little sister.  The play opens with Jenny sitting at a dressing table wearing a bridal veil. We soon realize that the veil belongs not to Jenny but to Rebecca.  Jenny sings the lament "I Never Wanted This," and we are instantly aware that Ms. Howard possesses a voice born for Broadway.  Her range, her projection, her ability to tell a story through song all serve to make this character the emotional heart of the show.  Later in the show, she gets to shine again in "Beautiful" and "Jenny's Blues."
  • Sierra Boggess is luminous as the bride, Rebecca Steinberg.  Highlights of her performance include her duet with her sister, Perfect" and "A Little Bit Less Than."
  • David Burtka plays the groom, Brian Howard..  He is intent on fulfilling the requirements of  a will that sets him up to inherit a significant fortune if he complies will the stipulations.  He shares a duet with his father, "Back In The Day."  Quiet on the surface, he harbors a secret that will emerge that sends tremors throughout the two extended families.
  • Michael X. Martin plays George Howard, father of the groom.  He spends much of the play trying to keep Georgette in check, and contributes admirably to the rousing old fashioned anthem "That's Family."
  • Chip Zien is Murray Steinberg, obsessed with making sure that everything is perfect and that everything for the wedding and reception is procured at a discount.
  • Nick Spangler is the Best Man, Greg Madison.  A highlight of the show is the duet that he and the Maid of Honor sing at the reception, "Love You Till The Day."
  • His partner in that duet is Montego Glover who plays Annie Shepard, the Maid of Honor.  She ends up playing a more significant role than we first imagined.
  • Edward Hibbert is Albert, the wedding planner.  Mr. Hibbert's histrionics and posing are so over the top that they would be off-putting if they were not so funny and arch.  His character is able to anticipate every need and every crisis, always being there to smooth things over just in time.  That is the case until the big plot twist is revealed, and he utters one of the best lines in the show: "I did not see that coming!"
  • Josh Grisetti plays Marty Kaufman, Rebecca's ex-boyfriend.  His entrance is memorable, and he is so good throughout the play that he almost steals the show.  There is a sense of justice in this development, since several shows were stolen from him.  He had been cast earlier in a few Broadway shows that all ended up being cancelled before they opened.  So in this, his Broadway debut, he shines brightly, and is amassing much critical acclaim and award recognition.  His duet with Jenny, "Who," and his solo number, "Whatever," are highlights. Watch for a bright future for this talented actor.
  • Adam Heller is the bombastic Uncle Morty, Anne L. Nathan is the randy Aunt Sheila and Mimsy.
Sierra Boggess as Rebecca

David Burtka as Brian
Montego Glover as Annie
Nick Spangler as Gregg
"It Shoulda Been You"
Brooks Atkinson Theatre

This play is one that would make a perfect Mothers' Day gift for your mother, mother-in-law, or wife. But if you can't make it this weekend, book ahead and make your own special occasion.  It is a good old fashioned musical with some very contemporary ornaments atop the wedding cake.  I encourage you to come and claim your slice of that special cake.

Chip Zien as Murray Steinberg
Anne L. Nathan as Aunt Sheila
Josh Grisetti as  Marty  Kaufman
Tyne Daly as Judy Steinberg
Adam Heller as Uncle Morty
"It Shoulda Been You"
Brooks Atkinson Theatre



New Rep Theatre Presents The World Premiere of "Scenes From An Adultery" by Ronan Noone - Through May 17 at Arsenal Center for the Arts

New Rep Theatre closes its 2014-2015 season with the World Premiere of Ronan Noone's play, "Scenes From An Adultery."  Fresh from his success in seeing his play, "Second Girl," produced by the Huntington Theatre, in this new play, Mr. Noone wades into the deep waters of marriage and fidelity and rumor mongering.  I was not sure what to expect, but knowing the playwright's work, I was pretty sure that I would be entertained and challenged.  I was not disappointed.

The set, designed by Janie E. Howland, doubles as a home and as a pub.  It also includes luminous panels hung upstage that change colors as the intensity of the emotions  among the three characters in the play wax and wane. There is a husband and wife, Tony and Lisa and their close friend, Gasper. Tony and Gasper begin to discuss the possibility that another one of their friends may be having an affair.  They eventually also begin to suspect that the friend's wife may also be having an affair.  The plot because complex and convoluted when Lisa wants to know what Tony and Gasper have been talking about.  Tony must decide how much to tell his wife, since the other couple are close friends, and Lisa sees the suspected wife often.  Discussions of adulteries - real and imagined - dominate much of the dialogue.  Tony finds that he is "damned if he does and damned if he doesn't" with regard to sharing information with Lisa.  When he withholds knowledge to protect his friend, Lisa feels betrayed.  When Tony tells Lisa what he knows and suspects, she blames the messenger..There is also the question of how much good friends should confide in one another.

The play succeeds on many levels.  The writing is crisp and captivating, with sharp dialogue and plausible plot twists.  The three actors are directed with a steady hand by Bridget Kathleen O'Leary. Costumes are by Molly Trainer, Lighting by Christopher Brusberg and Sound by David Remedios.

The trio of actors are well cast in their roles.  Ciaran Crawford as Gasper has wild and unruly hair which sends a strong message about how he views the world and lives his life.  He makes himself at home in the house where Tony and Lisa live - not always with favorable results for the three-way friendship.  The actor creates a powerful presence and we feel as if we have a good handle on who this man is.  Peter Stray portrays Tony as a man caught in the middle of dynamics he does not always understand and can almost never bring under control.  His role is less flamboyant than that of Gasper, but no less compelling. Leda Uberbacher brings an energy and credibility to the role of Lisa that is very convincing.  The three-way interactions among the characters sparkle, as do the various pairings of Gasper-Tony, Gasper-Lisa, Tony-Lisa.

Ciaran Crawford as Gasper
 Peter Stray as Tony
Leda Uberbacher, as Lisa
Scenes From An Adultery"
by Ronan None
New Rep Theatre
Through May 17

The complex plot can best be understood by quoting a line that is offered late in the play as things begin to fall apart and Tony and Gasper are analyzing what has happened. The quotation has to do with the legend of the extinct and mythological WooWoo bird: "It would fly around in ever decreasing circles, until finally it flew up its own arse and disappeared."

This play is well worth seeing and discussing.  There are two more weekends of performance at the Watertown Center for the Arts.  HOw about an outing to the theater for Mother's Day?

New Rep Website



"Londoners" by Craig Taylor - An Intimate Patchwork Portrait of London

I have loved London from the moment I purchased my first order of fish and chips from a fish monger with bright orange hair in the East End.  She wrapped my meal in newspaper, and sent me on my way.  Now that one of my sons and his family live in the south of London, I have occasion to visit more often than in the past.  Craig Taylor has done an excellent job in distilling into print two years worth of oral histories that he accumulated from individuals in all corners of the city.  "Londoners" gives a comprehensive and balanced view of life in one of the liveliest cities on earth.  His interviews range from a squatter who has lived in a succession of abandoned buildings to people living the high life in Mayfair and Belgravia.

There are those who embrace the city and its many quirks and who could not imagine living anywhere else.  And there are those who have tasted life there and have returned to their roots in Poland or in Newcastle.  We hear from those who run the Underground and those who fly the planes that take off from Heathrow and Gatwick.  Crematory workers, fruit market vendors, sellers of antiques, taxi drivers, manicurists, currency traders, night club bouncers, social workers and policemen all weigh in to opine on what their corner of London looks like, feels like and smells like from day to day.

The overall effect of reading this book is that it made me aware of corners of the city that I do not yet know, but am eager to explore.  This book is an excellent read both for those who know London well as well as those who are looking to begin to understand this fascinating metropolis.



Saturday, May 02, 2015

BabsonARTS Presents Jeremy Jordan in Concert - Mr. Jordan Escalates His Love Affair With Boston Area Audiences

Under the inspired leadership of Steve Maler, BabsonARTS pulled off a major coup in bringing Broadway, film and TV star, Jeremy Jordan to the Babson Wellesly campus for a night of his solo concert entitled "Breaking Character."  I reviewed an earlier version of this concert when Jeremy premiered it at 54 Below in NYC  I suggest that you take a moment to read the comments that I made after that inaugural concert.

Blog Review of Jeremy Jordan at 54 Below

All of the comments that I made about the 54 Below concert apply to the rendition he gave to Boston area audiences last weekend in Wellesley.  Much of the material was the same, but there were several significant differences. Mr. Jordan has been presenting this concert around the country since last November.  As the months and the miles have accumulated, it is clear that Mr. Jordan has become much more comfortable and confident in being himself on stage.  In his interactions with his wife, Ashley Spencer, who joined him for several numbers, he was playful.  It was clearly that they enjoy performing together and playing off of one another's remarkable vocal gifts.

Another difference is that he was now willing to talk about his experience in playing the lead role of J. M. Barrie in the A.R.T. version of "Finding Neverland."  He alluded to the  drama surrounding the decision to replace him in that role with Matthew Morrison when the show moved to Broadway.  He talked about his summer spent in Cambridge as a time of real growth for him as an artist and as a person.  He mentioned the irony of the fact that while playing the role of a man who never really grew up, Jeremy himself did some significant maturing.  He talked of his love of playing before Cambridge and Boston audiences, and then he delighted the audience sitting before him with the signature song from that show.  His rendition of "Neverland" was the most poignant moment of the evening for me.  The song speaks of going to a place where one can escape from pain.  Clearly the "Finding Neverland" experience for Jeremy Jordan was one of both triumph and pain, and those conflicting emotions came through loud and clear in his moving rendition of this gorgeous song written by Gary Barlow and Elliott Kennedy.

The audience response was what it should have been - enthusiastic clapping and cheering. It was a special moment in the growing love affair that exists between Mr. Jordan and Boston area audiences. He will be putting together a new concert to be first presented this summer at 54 Below.  We all look forward to continuing to watch him grow as an artist as new challenges will await him on Broadway, film and TV projects.


Friday, May 01, 2015

Fiddlehead Theatre Presents A Bold "Jesus Christ Superstar" at the Strand Theatre - Through May 3

The Fiddlehead Theatre  production of rock opera "Jesus Christ Superstar" currently running at the Strand Theatre in Upham's Corner is not easy to encapsulate in a brief review.  Director Stacey Stephens has made some bold choices.  The story is now set in New York City on and after 9/11. Peter is played by a woman, and Mary Magdalene is cast as transgendered.  Let me address how these risky choices worked for me and how they did not completely achieve the Director's vision.

The Ground Zero setting shocked me, and caused me to ask the questions: "Why did the Director make this choice?  What correlations exist between the troubled 1st century Jerusalem and New York City in a panic over a terror attack?  Then I began to think along these lines: "The Jerusalem-based  trials and crucifixion of Jesus depicted in this opera (along with the resurrection, which is not part of the plot of this story) represent "Ground Zero" for the beginning of the faith that we now call Christianity.

In this production, Jesus first appears as he emerges from one of the World Trade Center towers - looking like Superman, and holding in his arms the lifeless body of Mary Magdalene. The image gave me chills.  It struck me almost as a reverse image of Michelangelo's iconic Pieta.

Justin Raymond Reeves as Jesus
S. Caron as Mary Magdalene
"Jesus Christ Superstar"
Fddlehead Theatre
Strand Theatre
Through May 3

Casting Mary Magdalene as a trangendered person, played by S. Caron, certainly caused me to draw parallels.  Mary Magdalene has been misunderstood throughout the two millennia that have elapsed since she walked the earth as one of Jesus' disciples.  Her sexuality has been questioned and she has been relegated to the status of prostitute, without strong historic evidence to prove that she actually served in that oldest of professions.  Where the casting choice fails to hit the mark is in S. Caron's vocal performance.  During the powerful ballad "I Don't Know How To Love Him," the actor's voice  was not always on the right pitch, and the transitions between falsetto head voice and lower register were not always smooth.

The set design by Mac Young is brilliant, and was strongly enhanced by the lighting design by Michael Clark-Wonson and Sound Design of Mark DeLuzio.  Costume design is by Stacey Stephens, Choreography by Kira Cowan-Troilo and Music Direction by Balint Varga.

While setting the action in lower Manhattan was a bold and risky artistic choice by the Director, and proved to be jarring and thought-provoking at the outset, it did nothing to advance or to clarify the telling of the story.  In a sense, this production takes a story firmly placed in the context of 30 A.D. Jerusalem, uproots it and transplants it atop the grid of 20th century Manhattan.  There ensues much narrative confusion.  I found myself asking questions like: "In modern day NYC, what role would a religious leader like High Priest Caiaphas have in determining the guilt or innocence of a public figure like Jesus.  What about the presence of a King - Herod?  The rare audience member not familiar with the Jesus story would have been totally lost in trying to following the sequence of events depicted on this stage.

The only way that this mash-up could work would be to grant the Director enough artistic license to let him tell the story in this way, ignoring the incompatibilities of the incongruous elements.  I did just that - suspended disbelief and let the music wash over me.

Here were some memorable moments offered up by cast members.
  • Justin Raymond Reeves portrays Jesus and has some wonderful vocal moments, especially in the stirring and heart-breaking "Gethsemane."  Because this is a sung-through opera, each actor is limited to creating a convincing character through voice, facial expressions, gestures and body language.  While strong vocally, Mr. Reeves is limited in his range of facial expressions, and I was never drawn to him as a charismatic figure who could turn the world on its head.
  • Devon Stone has created one of the most convincing Judas characters I have seen.  The part is written with much vocal wailing and shrill upper register singing.  Mr. Stone nailed every difficult passage and stands out in "Heaven On Their Mind" and "Damned For All Time."
  • Christhian Mancinas-Garcia delivers the best work I have seen him do to date as a troubled Pontius Pilate.  His rendition of "Pilate's Dream" is a highlight of this production.
  • Gene Dante sets just the right lounge-lizard tone as Herod, and his rendition of the ironic "King Herod's Song" is right on the money.
  • Brian Bakofen brings his impressive basso profundo chops to the role of High Priest Caiaphas, highlighted well in "This Jesus Must Die" and "The Arrest."
There is some wonderful ensemble singing, especally during "The Last Supper," sung while recreating the DaVinci painting eating pizza atop I-beams from the wreckage.

"The Last Supper"
"Jesus Christ Superstar"
Fddlehead Theatre
Strand Theatre
Through May 3

Other cast members not previously mentioned:

Jay Kelley, Samuel Forgie, Katie Howe, Janett "Becky" Bass, Kristl Courtemanche, Arthur Cuadros, Lydia Ruth Dawson, Rylee Doiron, Paul Hoover, Athena Horton, Steven Martin, Brian Miner, Kara Nelson, Carl-Michael Ogle, Alex Kirsten Paul, Christopher Leon Pittman, Anthony Rinaldo, Ryoko Seta, Gigi Watson.

Perhaps the most poignant moment occurs at the end, and comes as a result of another choice by Director Stephens.  Following the very moving and disturbing crucifixion scene when Jesus is taken off the cross and carried to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, the action ends.  The audience awaits the usual curtain call, but nothing happens.  I believe that there are at least two valid reasons for this choice.  A curtain call following such a moving and sacred moment could have felt sacrilegious.  But, even more significantly, we were all put in the position of wondering what would happen next.  Is that the end?  Will the cast members emerge from the sepulcher of the wings and take their bows, or have we reached the end of the line?  These are precisely the uncomfortable thoughts the disciples would have had in the hours and days following Jesus' crucifixion and death. "Is that the end of our gig as disciples?  Or will Jesus return as he had promised and take a curtain call.  Should we just wait or should we do something proactive?"  Brilliant!

Despite its flaws, this is a production of the classic Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice  rock opera well worth seeing.  You have this evening, Saturday and Sunday to catch it.  Click below for tickets:

Fiddlehead Theatre Website