Monday, October 10, 2011

Full of Heart and Love : The Wellesley Players Present "Little Women"

Little Women

Marmee:  Suzanne Spezzano
Aunt March: Margaret McCarty
Jo March:  Angela Richardson
Meg March:  Olivia Rizzo
Amy March:  Alissa Palange
Beth March:  Gillian Gordon
Mr Laurence:  Dan Moore
Professor Bhaer:  David Wood
Mr. Brooke:  Matthew Brendan Ford
Laurie:  Todd Sandstrom

Artistic Team:
Producer:  Diane Rothauser
Stage Manager:  Emily Hart
Director:  Celia Couture
Music Director:  Shawn Gelzleichter
Choreographer:  Kelly Murphy
Set Design:  Douglas Cooper
Lighting Design:  Doug Gordon

I recently checked out a performance of "Little Women, The Musical" presented by The Wellesley Players at the Arsenal Center for the Arts.  I was somewhat familiar with the original book and had seen the movie and wanted to see how it translated to the stage. The performance was presented in a black box theatre, which can easily present a challenge with many productions. However, it was a show I wanted to see.

The story focuses on the adventures of the four March sisters:  firey Jo, beautiful Meg, young Amy and tender Beth living in Concord, MA during the Civil War with their mother, Marmee. Mr. Marsh is absent, as he is off in the war, leaving all five at home.  Jo is the main focus as she constantly struggles with her place as a sister and daughter as well as her desire to become a writer.  Each of her sisters do the same, as they start to find their own place.  Along the way, Jo and her sisters meet Laurie, a young man staying in the area, and bring him into the fold, specifically becoming Jo's best friend, creating their little group, continuing their adventures.  But as it is with life, things unexpectedly occur and they all must adjust accordingly. Adapted from Louisa May Alcott's novel, the musical is written by Allan Knee, Jason Holand and Mindi Dickstein. Everything is written well enough, but with only a few moments here and there, nothing is too memorable. It is a good score, but it is nothing too groundbreaking.

The cast manages to come together well, and they each give strong performances.  Angela Richardson plays the outspoken and tempestuous Jo incredibly well. She is strong as well as caring, whose desires in this world are evident. Richardson has the pipes to carry the role and we see her develop a solid arc from girl to woman, while still managing to stay true to herself. Gillian Gordon plays the sweet and soft-spoken Beth, who in many ways, represents the heart of the family, as she is incredibly supportive and loving. Gordon carries herself well, especially with her interaction with her family.  In "Some Things Are Meant To Be" she and Jo have a particular sweet moment on the beach, as you see their bond and love as sisters created effortlessly. Olivia Rizzo plays Meg as a full-hearted romantic, while remaining consistent in her desires.  Her chemistry with John Brooke, played by Matthew Ford, is sweet and adorable to watch. They both fall so hard for each other initially that it overwhelms them to the core.  Ford bumbles yet remains a gentleman throughout. They both share a wonderful duet "More Than I Am" and we see how much they truly care for one another and it is played wonderfully. Alissa Palange plays a wonderfully catty and spoiled Amy initially, especially as a young girl.  Though she is comfortable in the role, there are a few moments where there is conflict between her and Jo that falls short, as the writing lends to a more intense moment.  Also, her transition into a young woman at times felt forced, and her as a young frustrated individual seemed to be her only side. Todd Sandstrom plays the jovial and sweet Laurie, who is full of life and love. He manages to fit well with the March sisters, as it is clear in "Five Forever". Sandstrom shines with optimism and a care-free attitude that is constant throughout.  Margaret McCarthy plays the cold and stern Aunt March, but with such subtle humor. Her deadpan is uncanny and she shows us there might be bit more to this character, hinting at some kindness here and there. She remains vigilant in her character and is indeed fun to watch. Dan Moore, who clearly belongs in every period show, plays the stern Mr. Laurence who might have more to him as well. Though Moore attempts to be commanding and intimidating, it doesn't play as well as it could, as we see more transition to a sweeter version, something we desire to see more of. He seems uncomfortable at times, but his arc is fairly interesting to watch.  Suzanne Spezzano's performance as Marmee is solid as well, as she struggles to keep her daughters strong and we feel that she truly misses her husband. Her motherhood though, seems more like an acting governess at times, sometimes never truly connecting with her children. Her connection as a mother does however come in strong during "Delighted", a sweet dance number, where we see her beautiful support to make her children truly feel special.  David Wood plays a bumbling and proper Professor Bhaer who clearly harbors feelings that even he can't understand sometimes.  His interaction with Jo has something more going on, and their awkward yet strong friendship longs for more.  Wood could have easily given more to the role sometimes in his moments alone, perhaps enhancing his desire to accept his emotions, but he brings it home nicely in the end.  The entire cast all comes together in one particular wonderous moment during Jo's second retelling of her story in "The Weekly Volcano Press". Each actor plays a vital part in the story and bring it home in the climax of the song, with all their voices coming in strong.  Again, the cast each brings their own flavor to the production, creating wonderful moments.  It is a joy to see how much chemistry is evident amongst this particular cast as they all work to bring Louisa May Alcott's characters to life.

Ceclia Couture's direction works well for this space.  She does manage to do her best to not create too much congestion when characters were on stage.  At times, a use of levels might have worked in some moments, but there was only so much that could be done. All in all, it is clear that Couture is no stranger working in black boxes as she utilizes each area very well. Shawn Gelzleichter's music direction is strong, as he as well must do what he can in the space.  The show is clearly called for a much larger orchestra, but Gelzleichter pulls together his wonderous skeleton crew of musicians to create a solid sound, having all his string players working in tandem.  He clearly works hard to have the space work for him, rather than against him. Kelly Murphy's choreography is very well executed as well for this production. With minimal and simple movement, she doesn't create too much congestion either.  It is light and adorable, continuing to contribute to the heart of this production.

Douglas Cooper and Libby Ostrowski create a very functional set within the space itself, but it is not as nearly belieavable as it could be. Black boxes present so many different challenges when it comes to staging, but the use of multiple white walls really took away focus from the world. Granted the perfromances became the focus of attention, but the world must be present as well. However, with some minor set pieces, some scenes played well, as it was established where one thing began and one thing ended. The lighting design, created by Doug Gordon,  had some good use of colors in some scenes, especially in Jo's storytelling moments and a usage of gobos were present throughout that gave some good texture. There was a particularly nice look to create the light coming through in attic scenes.  However,  more colors could have been used and there was no clear establishment and sometimes the lights felt flat. For the most part, the effort for the costumes were strong, as it seemed like multiple people were involved.  The pieces were very much period, which really helped with the production.  Many dresses were beautifully constructed and really helped in character development.  However, some of the costumes were not particular appropriate for some moments, as a vision was not in place. The hair and make-up was very well done, though many of the wigs did not seem natural.  They were used well to establish each character, but they became distracting throughout the production. There was strong balance for all aspects but there could have been more in each design. 

Again, as mentioned before, black box spaces are small and come in all shapes and sizes.  However, with each, they all present challenges. Wellesley Players had their work cut out for this show, but manage to bring together a solid production.  With some incredibly shining moments and features, well-honed performances and strong direction, this production of "Little Women" is a joy to watch.  The Wellesley Players will only continue to put on future productions full of heart for all audiences to enjoy.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Second Visit to the magical Garden: MIT Gilbert and Sullivan Present The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden

Book and Lyrics by Marsha Norman
Music by Lucy Simon
Based on the novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Kelsey Peterson W '05

Stage Directors
Garry Zacheiss '00 and Ky Lowenhaupt

Music Director
Ian Garvie

Stage Manager
Kristyn Brophy

Technical Director
Garry Zacheiss

Dramaturg & Dialect Coach
Bridgette Hayes

Set Designers
Garry Zacheiss
Ethan Tyndall

Lighting Designers
Garry Zacheiss
Paul Quimby


Archibald Craven
Shawn Gelzleichter

Dr. Neville Craven
Rishi Basu

Mary Lennox
Abigail Dickson

Bridgette Hayes

Sam Lathrop

Mrs. Medlock
Jennifer Ryan

Ben Weatherstaff
Michael DeFillippi

Colin Craven
Alexandra Upton

Lily Shannon
Rose McAuliffe

Rose Lennox
Rachel Baum

Capt. Albert Lennox
Terry Tamm

Lauren Burke

Lt. Peter Wright
Sean Benak

Lt. Ian Shaw
Brad Amidon

Maj. Holmes
Robert Morrison

Claire Holmes
Kelsey Peterson

Maj. Shelley
Brett Popiel

Mrs. Shelley
Lorraine Fryer

Jenn Woodward

Branigan LaCount

Lorraine Fryer

Kelsey Peterson

Mrs. Winthrop
Lorraine Fryer

Children's Chorus
Ryan Burke
Andy Edelman
Sara Molano
Alexandra Upton

Theatre companies in and around Boston tend to do the same show as another company and I realized thats just the way it is. In the last several months, I have heard of multiple productions of Chicago, Spelling Bee, Rent and now The Secret Garden. These are wonderful shows and its always interesting and often rewarding to see them done differently.

This past weekend I had the pleasure of seeing MIT's Gilbert and Sullivan put up The Secret Garden. This was the 2nd production I had seen and another chance to talk about a completely different production. The musical is based on the famed novel of the same name, telling the story of young Mary Lennox, orphaned in India after the cholera epidemic took her parents. She is sent to live with her reclusive uncle, Archibald Craven in Yorkshire, England. Living in such a new and seemingly empty house, young Mary finds solace in trying to bring back a once-thriving garden on the estate grounds. She soon also discovers her sickly cousin, Colin, and forms a unique bond with him. As this goes on, we see Archibald dealing with the loss of his wife, Lily, ten years later, struggling to live his life while falling deeper and deeper into depression. As the book focuses more the children, the musical looks at the story of the adults. We see Archibald's and Mary's struggle to come with grips of this new situation, the best they can, but soon discover that it takes a great deal to overcome everything and try to find a semblance of family to help them get through their losses. With the use of flashbacks and then seeing the present, we see more into the lives of each characters. Family is a glimmering hope in all this, and we hope all comes together in the end. The driving force bringing everything together is a garden that causes something more than each character expected in not only themselves but for their world around them.

As I mentioned before, the music itself is very unique and works well with the particular period. Its a great score and is used very well to heighten several emotional scenes and moments. The book is based off the novel, and it does again, take several liberties. The aspects of India from Mary's past comes in when its convenient to attempt to fuel the story. My only complaint about the show itself is the book, as it tries to add additional exposition to an already established story. India is shoe-horned and makes some of the story feel uneven.  It doesn't make it less of a tale, just another look into different perspectives. This worked sometimes, but not as a whole. Also, some scenes where the ghosts from the past and Cholera epidemic would appear on stage were confusing, as there was no real establishment of reality and dream.

The set of the show, designed and created by Garry Zacheiss and Ethan Tyndall is a beautiful world. Kresge Little Theatre at MIT presents many challenges, as the stage is a bit small for such a large scale show. However, they use it very well, creating different areas for Archibald's office, the garden area, and bedroom. Behind the bed, there were several doorways that were created, overlaid with see-thru curtains that were used as portals almost, for different characters to use to blur the lines of past and present. Almost like a curved balcony area, the area was effectively used to join both worlds. Each doorway was lighted different colors from time to time, which was the fine work of lighting design by again, Garry Zacheiss, who apparently does everything and does it well, and Paul Quimby. Not only do they have excellent eyes to blend such unique colors like purple and reds effectively, but they are not afraid to use gobos. Gobos are often terribly underused in staging but also can be dangerously tacky if overused. However, the lighting designers used them as they were intended to create a believable and engaging environment. With a strong understanding of design, much love and appreciation was put in to bring the audience in, making it simply captivating. It was very impressive. The set and lights complimented each other well.

As for the direction, I appreciated the spacing and the proper usage of the ensemble. Garry Zacheiss, strikes again it seems. During a particular moment, he was able to create a nearly startling moment when he paired them up during the cholera breakout. With the use of white handkerchiefs, each ensemble member almost seemed like wind-up toys, one by one, running out of time. It was a great use of stylized movement combined with the reality of death and fear. However in some moments, I felt he could've given more for some characters to do. The space, is again, limited, but the director should give more freedom to his actors. In some numbers, more movement could've been used, causing a contrast between the song itself and the actor singing it. A minor issue, considering the show came together fairly well. Zacheiss is clearly a Renaissance Man, who accepts the challenge of creating such a world and manages to do a pretty great job.

There were plenty of strong performances in this production. Shawn Gelzleichter is at ease in the role of Archibald Craven, a character with such a soft, yet conflicted demeanor. Gelzleichter brings more to the surface then a man in mourning. We see bits and pieces of a once, sweet and happy man, but time and sadness has hidden that part away. He plays the role extremely well, fighting the coldness that may consume him. As all his numbers are beautifully sung, its his number he sings to his son, Colin, "Race You To the Top of The Morning" that was the one that stood out. He carries the story of the song from beginning to end with utter sadness and beauty. Another performance that stands out is Bridgette Hayes, who plays Martha the maid. She full of spritely, no-nonsense pride, and brings a bit of color to previously dark intro to the show. She is having fun with the role and her song "If I Had A Fine White Horse", is a joy to see as she brings amazing energy, clearly having fun. Rishi Basu, playing Archibald's more practical brother, Dr. Neville Crane, has a commanding presence that is only broken down briefly from time to time, as we see he is only human as well. Basu looks like he belongs in that period indefinitely, and he creates a wonderful performance. It plays well, especially with his duet with Archibald, "Lily's Eyes" where see these two vocal powerhouses share the stage. They are believable brothers and are strong contrasts that work extremely well together. Shannon Rose McAuliffe plays Lily, Archibald's wife, simply beautifully. With a marvelous voice, we see her move in and out of the present and past, creating such tender moments with Archibald. McAuliffe's chemistry with Gelzleichter is so wonderful to see, and we see each actor giving so much. Their duets together blend so perfectly that we only can imagine how strong their love was before her passing. Mary, played by Abigail Dickson, gives a strong performance, and it is clear she is on her way to many other great roles in the future. She plays the role with a obvious, simple maturity beyond her years, but her overall character arc is a bit muddled, due to the script and not a reflection on her performance. Alexandra Upton, plays Archibald's son, Colin. She is comfortable playing the young boy and many of the scenes she shares with Dickinson are memorable as we really see a strong bond created between the two. As for the Ensemble, they were strong as a unit and worked well with each other. With swelling voices, they help us see more of this world, coming in and out, wonderfully establishing their individuality. Even though there were stronger singers on the female side, it did not take away from the performances. All in all, everyone in the show gave good performances, bringing a wonderful story to life. There was much love for the material and it showed. We see the characters find their journey and destination unexpectedly, discovering that despite everything, they never truly lose those in our hearts.

This production of The Secret Garden is filled with wonderment and possibility. Through the characters' past and present, we see so much that can be realized, at the most important moments of their lives. Its the fact that they know in their hearts that they cannot give up and must go through so much to discover the things that matter the most. With all the pieces of performance, design and music, MIT's Gilbert and Sullivan's production is full of heart and establishes that even at our saddest and darkest moments, something hidden can be found again.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Anectodally Polictical: Lyric Stage Company Presents According to Tip

According To Tip

Again, one the most rewarding things about doing this blog is of course is able to see so many interesting productions in the city of Boston. I've talked about it before, but I think I find myself in a state of constant euphoria when I am about to attend a play or musical in and around Boston.

This was again the case when I went to go check out According to Tip, a one man show about the late and great Speaker of the House, Thomas "Tip" O'Neill. Truth be told, I discovered a few days before I was actually on the schedule to usher the show. I put on my blacks and headed downtown.

Produced by local film group, Harborside Films, According to Tip explores a local Cambridge man, Thomas O'Neill, who found his way through the trials and tribulations of local politics to the great House of Representatives in Washington DC. The show is a one person show, set between Tip's local office and his office in DC. We see his journey all through the elegant means of storytelling from his humble beginnings to the giant arena of the House of Representatives during the 60s, 70s and 80s. We get a chance to see the life and times told by the man himself.

Played subtly and simply by Dick Flavin, Tip's depiction is a kind man, full of spritely humor and has a knack for bringing you into his stories. Dick Flavin, a local radio personality, was very close with O'Neill and it made sense that he would be the one depicting him. There were some moments, in which Flavin would do a little jig or sing a bit to a piano track and would be a bit off, but that was mostly a sound issue. This particular device was used to break up much of the show. There was one adorable moment where Flavin as Tip sang a song to his wife and pantomimed a dance with her, reliving his wedding day with her. It was particularly cute to watch and it really showed us what kind of man Tip was. He commits fully to the role, and weaves his stories beautifully. Not being a politically minded person myself, I found it hard to follow some of the stories, but the script was written in a way that it not only did its best to describe the events and stories simply, but it managed to hit home with the born and bred audience. We hear his tales of his friendships and working relationships with the past great presidents, including Ford, Carter and Regan. He opens the show with a one-sided phone conversation with Ronald Regan and his establishing relationship, though are meant to imagine the other side of the talk, is believable. We see and believe that Tip’s friendship with Regan is real and genuine. Its Tip's story and Flavin takes us through his life, his events and his regrets. You see the genuine feeling in Flavin as Tip, especially since he knew him so well.  He interacts with the audience as well beautifully, really solidifying his relationship with us. He doesn’t speak at us but to us. It’s that connection that helps contribute to a strong experience. He was just a man, who like all of us, lived his life and did what he loved. It was that part of this show that I immediately identified with and appreciated.

The set is again, Tip's Washington DC office and his local Massachusetts office. Each office is dressed nicely, with keepsakes and collectibles from Tip's life. Giving us a sense of the time period as well, we are given a look into where he worked. With photographs and props, everything compliments the set fairly well. There also was a podium that was set up for Tip to show us various moments where he would be speaking up in a town hall or at another political event. Each moment is a bit of his history and a chance for some relive those times. I appreciated the attention to detail in the set design, especially because we were transported into his world.  It was put together not as an afterthought, but as a believable place where this man could have been working, knowing his personality and what kind of man he was. At times it was difficult for one side of the theatre to see what was going on, as the space worked against the show. Being only one person in it, Flavin had to play as much as he could to everyone else, though there was room to it do it a bit more.

As this play is again about the life of a political individual before my time, I found a lot of it hard to grasp some of events that he mentioned during his time. However, as I mentioned before, it was the fact that it was his story and we were drawn in as an audience. Thomas "Tip" O'Neill lived his life and chose his path to fight for what he believed in and to give voice to those that couldn't be heard. According to Tip is a well put together theatrical production that highlights the stories of a great man who was really there in the trenches, fighting the good fight. It reminds us that everyone has a story to tell, big or small, but like all great stories, it should one that cannot be forgotten. A great man who was just like us brings us into his world so we can truly understand where we were and where we are going.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Heart and Soul: The Anarchist Society of Shakespeareans Present A Midsummer Night's Dream

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Written by William Shakespeare
Director - Ron Lacey
Stage Manager - Lena Davis
Sets & Costumes - Sharon Lacey
Lighting - Jon Taie

Theseus/Oberon - Ron Lacey
Hippolyta/Titania - Marty Seeger
Philostrate/Puck - Mike Carr
Peaseblossom - Mindy Klenoff
Mote - Corina Bucora
Mustardseed - Leslie Drescher
Cobweb - Susan Rubin
Egeus - Rob Noyes
Hermia - Katie DiMarca
Lysander - Brad Smith
Helena - Mary Ferrara
Demetrius - Stephen Bagg
Peter Quince - Jon Taie
Bottom - Tom Beyer
Flute - Lou Lim
Starveling - Dennis Stevens
Snug - Gilly Rosenthol

A Midsummer Nights Dream is probably one of William Shakespeare's most produced shows, as I have seen or heard of at least a dozen productions over the last several years. It is no secret that it is definitely a popular one for that matter, as the piece itself can be interpreted in so many different ways.

A new company, the Anarchist Society of Shakespeareans recently put up a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream as their first show. They presented it at the Democracy Center in Harvard Square. As I am a huge fan of Shakespearen shows and I had yet to actually review one, I decided to check it out. A Midsummer Nights Dream, written by the one and only bard himself, William Shakespeare, focuses on the  events surrounding the marriage of  Theseus, the Duke of Athens, and the Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. These include the adventures of four young lovers and a band of amateur actors, who are manipulated by the fairies who inhabit the nearby forest. Through the use of magic and other devices, the characters are changed and reverted back to their original states, making them question the possibility of what happened or what they thought happened. Love and relationships are tested and despite various happenings, everything works out in the end.

Immediately coming in, I noticed the space was creating some challenges. The space was not completely unusable and not necessarily a bad place to put up a show, but it did seem rather cramped.  Though, in this town, free to cheap theatre space is hard to come by. No fault of the group, as it did create a more intimate space when effectively used. Also, since being in the middle of Harvard Square, the doors and windows were open throughout the production, allowing outside noises to travel in, which was severely distracting. As it is with any production, things will happen as it was no fault of the company's.

Ron Lacey's direction and vision is a strong effort, as having a pre-show with music from the 60s and dressing his actors in the garb of the same era. It had potential to create a world of the particular era, but it never goes beyond its initial presentations, ie the music and costumes. Its almost as though he could've spent more time creating the world, as we cannot always rely on the text to do all the work for us. Granted, I give him kudos for the effort of working with the text and having his actors be comfortable in this world. As he starred in it as well as Theseus and Oberon, his time did seem split amongst acting and directing duties, but not enough to really take too much away from the show. He does each well, but there always could’ve been a tad more effort. Some staging was also questionable as well, as we were in a function room; the seats were right behind each other on a flat floor. Anytime there was action below our sight lines, we had to adjust. The minimal vision did almost make the production at times feel very one dimensional. Again, it was the space working against the show.

As for the sets and lighting, there was not much there to actually constitute a world. Sharon Lacey and Jon Taie take on this space with their vision, but it falls short as an actual theatrical production. Again, in the space where the production takes place, lighting from the ceiling and Christmas lights were used. It was a nice touch, but again, to give more to the lighting would’ve been nice. Nothing substantial was needed, but if this world was meant to be in the 60s, more distinct lighting could have been used. Also, the set, dressed with flowers did give a nice feel as well as the use of chairs, but they were not enough to bring us into the characters' environment. They could’ve gone a bit further and threw in some more pieces, wall hangings or the like. The ideas were good and they played, but the lack of other additions made the show feel very flat at times. However, the costumes were nice, as they were very period. Dressed as hippies, partiers or staunch uptight types, each costume helped established each character well, adding more flavor.

The performances were solid, as they actors did their work and really became familiar with the text. Shakespeare is considered difficult in many circles and this group does a good job of holding their own. No one really stood out as a performer, but some real great moments were created during several points of the production. Some performances were stronger than others, and the weaker performances were the result of rushing the text and moments that were meant to be savored. Also, some tried for a laugh which worked some times but other times took too much away from the moment. As the show is comedy, much of the humor comes from the text and potential physical action so it really depends on the choices that are made. Mike Carr's Puck is wicked and playful enough, but his moments in his more memorable speeches are too quick. The text presents opportunities for so much interpretation, but a few disjointed moments were present throughout the show. The four lovers, Brad Smith, Mary Ferrara, Stephen Bagg and Katie Dimarca, were played well, however their relationships between them at times seemed forced and chemistry was not as strong as it could’ve been. Each did well in establishing their own individuality, but it was not fully developed when it came to how they interacted with each other. The players, Jon Taie, Tom Beyer, Lou Lim, Dennis Stevens, and Gilly Rosenthal, are strong as well, as they again do a good job in establishing who they are as well as their own personalities. They of course pull off their show within a show with flying colors, something that is always a hit with audiences. All in all, everyone, each part, does a good job and brings together a show filled with heart and soul. They all seem to feel at ease in their roles.

The show itself presented many good moments. It is a challenge to present such a well-known show in such a space, but I think for what they did it was a good starting foundation and template for future productions, taking in, of course, consideration of the size and to use that to their advantage. With some whimsical and fantastical moments, this particular interpretation of Midsummer could go even further and create an even stronger world. They have the makings of a great company as they just need a few things that can be used to create a stronger theatrical experience. As it is their first production, I hope to see more shows and continue to see their growth as a new promising Shakespearean group.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Mess of a Show - Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark

Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark

Book by Julie Taymor, Glen Berger and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa;
Music by Bono and The Edge, Lyrics by Bono and The Edge

Original Direction by Julie Taymor;
Choreography and Ariel Choreography by Daniel Ezralo

When I heard they were doing a musical based on the famous comic book web-slinger, I was skeptical, but at least I thought to myself it could be very interesting to see how they could pull it off.   Julie Taymor, Bono and The Edge were going to be involved.  I admit, I was intrigued a bit, but again, I think it was mostly because of the names that were attached to it and they all had a great track record to take on such a huge project.

Fast foward a couple of years. Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark is currently playing in previews on Broadway.  The reason? It has been continuously hitting several production and creative snags.  Also, there have been several accidents involved with the show. Rewrites, recasts and various other changes in the show have been constantly going on. I don't think anyone these days hasn't heard of the many issues with putting this show up. With a whopping 65 million dollar budget, this is the most expensive Broadway show ever conceived.  If you want to read more, as I don't want to spend this review talking about it forever, just Google "Spider-Man Musical Problems." I guarantee you'll find something worth reading. Also, the Wikipedia article is worth checking out.  I for one can't help but admit that for all these reasons and more, I found myself buying a ticket and checking it out.

Bono and The Edge of U2 fame are responsible for the score for this show. Best known for their rocking and pounding music, U2 is one of the most popular and influential bands, proving that they still rock after 30 plus years. Julie Taymor, Glen Berger, and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa were responsible for writing the book and story for the show. Taymor, of course, is best known for her work on the staged musical of The Lion King, putting her on the map as one of the most imagery and scenery driven directors.  Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark is based on the Marvel superhero of the same name.  The story follows young Peter Parker as he is endowed with super spider powers after being bitten by a genetically altered spider.  Struggling with the day-to-day problems of the average teenager, his relationship with his girl friend Mary-Jane, finding his place in the world around him and stopping the crazed Green Goblin, Peter finds his calling as a hero and as Spider-Man and tries to balance it all. 

I have to say, that this show, every single bit of it, was a complete mess.  The first obvious parts were of course the book and music. Taymor, Berger and Aguirre-Sacasa struggle to form some sort of story that is loosely based on the first movie that came out years ago.  The story apparently went through several changes and you could tell that pieces of each person's ideas came together, but not in the best way.  There was the introduction of Arachne, the character from Greek mythology who apparently represented a sort of guide for Peter. She was supposed to anyways, as she was terribly underused and was kind of shoe-horned into the story. Her addition neither took away nor gave something to the story. She was just there. Also, there were many elements of the original story of Spider-Man that were removed, that didn't necessarily effect the overall arch much, but to many die-hard comic book fans, it presented many problems.  There were many plot elements that didn't make sense and it left you questioning the holes they made. The first act was rushed as Spider-Man had to make his debut. As for the music, U2’s Bono and The Edge are known for their pulsing and rocking songs that have been some of the biggest hits with the masses. This was not the case for this score. There was lots of power behind the music, but it had no substance. With unmemorable songs, this was another issue that plagued the production. I want to go to a show, walk out and hum the music because it should stick with the average theatre goer.  I was not impressed by the music and I felt a bit let down, knowing the two's particular track record.

Taymor's initial direction is as expected. She clearly captures the story as well as she can, but combined with elaborate costumes, moving set pieces and big projection screens, I could only wonder how this production could look so cheap with such a huge price tag.  It felt lazy and forced.  I think at this point, everything on stage, between the stylized set pieces and over-the-top costuming for the villains, was doing it just to make it a statement.  Granted, the city set pieces, moving walls and projection screens were quite impressive as a part of design concept but just didn't fit with this show. However, the high-flying wire work was really fun to watch. As Spider-Man swooped down from the balcony and over the audience, I got goose bumps and was really impressed.  The frustrating thing of course was the fact that you'd have to pay a bit more to be a part of the "Flying Circle" area to have the action fly over your head. Being the balcony was nice, but you would catch only about a third of what was happening. At one point I realized that I was not actually watching a musical. At that moment, I remembered reading somewhere Taymor, The Edge and Bono described it as a rock opera/circus show.  Clearly, I could see what they were going for, but it seemed rather ambitious combining all those different elements.  If several things didn't sync up too well, it creates a messy vision. Perhaps changing the show into a more Cirque De Soliel show would be a much better idea. With high-flying acrobats and huge sets, it seems like the better direction

The performances of the actors were less than impressive. Reeve Carney, who pays the title hero, has the pipes, channeling a bit of Bono.  However, he was clearly phoning it in. As his wire work was impressive, his actual performance was a bit dull.  Jennifer Damiano, who just recently came off of Next To Normal, falls short as Mary Jane Watson. The chemistry between the two is no where to be seen, as both of them are clearly going through the motions. Patrick Page is probably the more active one of the three leads, as he plays the sprightly Norman Osborne well enough.  When he transforms into the Green Goblin, he clearly enjoys hamming it up and has a particularly cheesy moment a la lounge singer when awaiting his final battle with Spider-Man. He has fun and makes his performance stand out.  Everyone else in the cast is talented for sure and works their butts off to put on a show, but again, with the material, they can only go so far. Again, the actors pull of the aerial stunts well, but like the leads, everyone was going through the motions. Literally.

So there you have it. Spider-Man.  I felt like I was a part of history in some ways. There is no denying that the show had some really interesting elements and some great aerial acrobatics.  That was about it. When I went to the show in NY, the house was packed with families and tourists alike.  The show will continue to sell but the question remains: Will it actually open?  I didn't hate the show, but as you can see, I thought it was a complete mess, but I am glad I was a part of it. With giant sets, highflying moments and a sub par score and plot, Spider-Man stands out as a very unusual and confusing experience. The show will continue on and remain as a slice of Americana in its most unique form.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Nearly There: Hotel Cassiopeia presented by Fort Point Theatre Channel

Hotel Cassiopeia
By Charles Mee

Production Design/Concept by Sylvie Agudelo
Stage Direction by Marc S. Miller
Assistant Director, Christie Lee Gibson
Stage Manager, Aaron Cohen
John Crowley: Set construction
Jennifer Hardy: choreographer
Tanya Kutasz, stage manager
Andrew Neumann: composer
Robin Reilly: costume consultant, set construction
Todd Sargent: lighting design
Nick Thorkelson: set design collaborator, graphic design
Douglas Urbank: film design
Daniel J. van Ackere: set construction, photography
Mark Warhol: sound design

The ensemble
Robert Murphy (appearing courtesy of Actors Equity Association)
Jake Berger
Mary Driscoll
Silvia Graziano
Meredith Stypinski
Allison Vanouse
Rick Winterson

There are many places that I find myself venturing to all over Boston in order to catch a show. I think that’s probably one of my favorite things about doing these reviews. Specifically, I found myself in South Boston at the Channel Center, a small office/restaurant park checking out the Fort Point Theatre Channel's production of Hotel Cassopeia.  The play was written by Charles Mee, a writer best known for his collage like work in his text for the stage. He is inspired by other works and existing texts to create his own interpretations. The story takes a look into the life of artist Joseph Campbell and his relationships with the various people in his life, including famous celebrities of the time and his family members.  Campbell was known for his assemblage type pieces that were essentially interactive wooden boxes or frames that had bits and pieces of found objects, from a time piece, paper, seashells, etc. Whatever he could use was placed in his art. Not having seen anything like it in person, I was going off on what I had read and seen pictures of. It was very fascinating to see what exactly he was trying accomplish. Mee's play is appropriate to tackle Joseph Cornell's life and relationships, as they both share the common ground of assemblage.

The space where the production was presented laid out a lot of different challenges at first glance. Placed in a art gallery type area, it was clear that trying to put on a show in that space was most likely difficult to stage effectively. The obvious issue was the fact that huge pillars obstructed the views of various set pieces. Though the design was a good one and a great idea, specifically a large city skyline, a giant pillar was standing in the way, preventing a much desired view to see more. Again, this is the space the show was in. As for some other pieces of the set, it seemed it was trying to integrate an Art Deco feel, but never going on to expand on it. It was simple enough with chairs, tables and the like, but to see more would’ve created a stronger world. There pieces that were put in that almost felt out a place but would’ve been other complimented if more was added.  Pieces or actual examples of Cornell's work would've added a nice touch as well. Nothing substantial is needed, but enough to give a sense of his mind. It was nice to see some of it included, like papers and a seashell here and there, but again, it couldve have been pushed further. As for the lighting, I appreciated the use of strong colors lighting various walls of the stage. I enjoyed seeing such a nice blue, pink and turquoise, but there were some black spots that were obvious and often when an actor couldn't find their light, it ended up being distracting. Even at certain times, either of emotion or isolation, it would’ve been good to see more specials or a few other colors thrown in. The designs had started a good foundation but more could've been built upon it. As for the costumes, I appreciated the simplicity and the period appropriate feel of the attire.  The red ballerina dresses stood out for obvious reasons, but they were not only well crafted but worked for the show.

As for the direction, I felt the world that was created was almost an assemblage, much like Cornell's work. I appreciated this choice, especially since the text lends itself to so much interpretation.  However, there were times where I felt the blocking ideas were very strong, but there was almost a lack of intention with certain moments.  I wanted to see Cornell showcased more downstage and often felt he wasn't utilized as much as he could’ve been.  Also, there were few moments where various clips of black and white movies that were highlighted.  As I appreciated the usage of film in a stage production, it felt sometimes shoehorned into this production and out of place. As for the sound design, the classical music was an incredibly nice touch and played well to the more emotional moments throughout. The harsher sounds and tones used were a bit too much at times, though and felt anachronistic, not necessarily fitting in. This doesn't take away from the fact that there so many great ideas integrated into the show, but it didn’t seem like they would’ve worked for this one in particular.

The ensemble pulls of some good performances. Robert Murphy's Joseph Cornell is believable enough as an unsure, quiet, soft-spoken kind individual. He carries the show well and he displays a soft demeanor incredibly well. However, with Mees' text, he doesn't expand and build upon what he speaks about and what he’s passionate about. The relationships he has with others, including his ill brother could’ve been a bit deeper, knowing that he had given up so much in order to take care of him. He does it without thinking, knowing he would never regret the decision. As for the rest of the ensemble, everyone else does a great job in establishing various characters. It was very noticeable that even with different characters; each actor interacts with Murphy's Cornell carefully and are aware of their world. Again, the text creates a wonderful opportunity to take characters and moments to varying levels. I felt everyone did a great job in really taking their time with and understanding the words.  In one moment, the roles of the ballerinas are done beautifully and Silvia Graziano, Meredith Stypinski, and Allison Vanouse create three very lighthearted and sweet characters and are a joy to watch on stage. Everyone does a strong job in creating believable and engaging characters.

Again, this particular production presents a very strong foundation. The envelope could've been a pushed more here and there, but the show stands alone on its own two feet incredibly well. The ART has always been known to do these kinds of shows and Fort Point Theatre Channel creates a staged performance art piece that isn’t necessarily in your face about it. I appreciated that their attempt to create this world was filled with so many great ideas. Even though some worked and others didn't work as well, there was an enjoyable night of theatre displayed, filled with strong moments and performances.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Garden of Worlds: Secret Garden

The Secret Garden

Book and Lyrics by Marsha Norman
Music by Lucy Simon

Directed by Kaitlyn Chantry
Music Directed by Jason Luciana

Ben Weatherstaff
Lewis Blair

Madeleine Carbonneau

Lieutenant Wright
Michael Chateauneuf

Neville Craven
Kevin Cirone

Mary Lennox
Lucy Gladstone, Allsun O'Malley

Mrs. Medlock
Jocelyn Hesse

Susan Johnston

Claire Holmes
Heather Karwowski

Lieutenant Shaw
Sam Lathrop

Taylor Lawton

Martha Sowerby
Shonna McEachern

Major Holmes
Aaron Moronez

Colin Craven
Joseph Nedder

Albert Lennox
James Neufeld

Dickon Sowerby
Stephen Piergrossi, Jr.

Pavithra Rajagopalan

Lily Craven
Renee Saindon

Alice / Mrs. Winthrop
Michelle Vachon

Rose Lennox
Eliza Xenakis

Archibald Craven
Matthew Zahnzinger

I managed to catch the opening performance of The Secret Garden presented by The Longwood Players the other night at the Cambridge YMCA. Needless to say, I have never been a huge fan of this particular space because of the ability to actually use the space effectively. Also, the last time I was there, I didn’t recall it being the prettiest of spaces either. However, the night I came to see the show, it looks like the space was recarpeted and repainted giving it a bit more character and it became a hundred times more presentable. I was very impressed.

The musical is based on the famed novel of the same name. The story tells of a young girl named Mary who moves in with her reclusive uncle Archibald Craven in Yorkshire, England. She moves from India since being orphaned after parents were taken during cholera epidemic. She realizes she has to do her best to make do. However, she soon discovers a garden hidden away that only requires some attention to bring it back to its once-thriving self. She quickly befriends her sickly cousin and also enlists help from the various grounds keeping staff to help bring the garden alive. Along the way she learns a great deal about her new world and about herself. As the book focuses more on the children of the story, the musical focuses on the adults, including Archibald and his relationships with others, specifically having a hard time with moving on after losing his wife. The show moves back and forth between the present and past and we learn more about Archibald's state and eventual acceptance of the circumstances placed upon him. We also see Mary grow over the course of the show as well, accepting her new calling. People from the past make their way into their story, giving us a better sense of the world where this takes place.

The score for the show is beautiful. Written by Lucy Simon, it definitely has a very powerful and swelling sound. I appreciate how much of it felt right for the particular era the show fit in. Marsha Norman wrote the book and lyrics and knowing that the basis was the novel, it was obvious that certain liberties were taken, specifically adding or amplifying certain moments. Young Mary had lived in India and it was clear that there was a presence of it throughout the show and it almost felt shoehorned into the actual story itself. It felt tacked on and at times confusing almost changing important moments. Also, the writing also presents a challenge by having the dead from the past be a part of the story. This creates a major issue for costuming and staging, considering its up to audience to figure out who is dead and who is alive out of the ensemble. However, as the overall story is still there and there were some moments, specifically seeing more of Archibald's struggle, were particularly interesting to watch.

Kaitlyn Chantry's direction is unique and well executed. In this production, she knows that YMCA is a small space and does her best to use every bit of it. She creates a community-like world and has all ensemble members present on stage. When a scene comes about where the ensemble must come forth, like the soldiers from India who knew Mary's father, they slip into the scene, and then quickly out. There were some moments it felt, however, that it was sometimes distracting to have everyone on stage when certain action was going on, but not enough to create complete congestion. Various moments with Mary trying to make her way through the rest of the cast worked, as it created a sense of alarm and confusion, which heightened the emotion very well. Music Director Jason Luciana does a great job of keeping the orchestra in tandem with each other. He brings together incredibly talented musicians to create a strong sound. They are neither to quiet nor overwhelming and they bring a subtle feel to the overall score. They are just right in order to help us lose ourselves in the story on stage. They play the softer moments especially beautifully, including "Race You to the Top of the Morning".

As for the cast of the production, everyone did a marvelous job. As a unit, the ensemble sounds wonderful and each player holds their own. Some strong performances included Shonna McEachern, who plays Martha Sowerby the maid, who is a joy to watch. Not only does she play it with a wee bit of sass and the right amount of kindness, she has the pipes to boot. Her song "If I Had A Fine White Horse" is beautifully sung and her Yorkshire accent is done well for the piece. Matthew Zahnzinger plays the brooding and quietly reserved Archibald Craven incredibly well. You see the guilt and sorrow he carries and brings such intensity to his moments. His song "A Bit of Earth" was a highlight of his performance and he plays it simply and you start to see a new side of him. Mary is played by up and coming Allsun O'Malley. She does a great job of carrying the show on her shoulders. She not only has a great interaction with the rest of the cast, but you genuinely see her grow throughout the show. With talent like that at such a young age, she will be one to look out for in future theatre productions around Boston. Each actor in the cast goes to great lengths to create a unique and interesting character. They succeed and bring a noticeably strong chemistry to the stage. When "There's a Girl" swells, the ensembles voices carry through the theatre wonderfully. Many kudos to the cast.

The lighting design uses so many different warm colors and tones that help create this world. One minute there are beautiful reds and oranges that really bring out the feeling of sunlight. The next, each actor has a small candle on a darkened stage during the Storm moments. It was a strong and effective lighting choice that helped convey the story. There is such variation that it brings such a great flavor to the production. The set is a hodgepodge of various items and I appreciated the detail that was implemented. Portraits and other items from the time period are displayed on the walls created an almost pack-rat feel that gave a sense of the disorder Archibald's world was in. Bits of the neglected garden sneaks its way through as well, bringing these worlds together. The costumes fit beautifully as well with the show and are a perfect reflection of the time period. Again, the details are amplified in the show from the soldier’s time period appropriate hats to the earthy tones for various members of the cast. It was a strong choice that not only makes sense for this show, but also blended well with the vision.

The Secret Garden is a classic story of growth, love and family. The Longwood Players create a beautiful production with a strong cast of talented actors. The emphasis of such powerful themes is present and each piece of the production contributes a great deal creating a wonderful visual for the stage. The importance of family is ever present throughout this show and teaches us the lesson that the future can be bright for everyone,  even if we can't see it right away. There is hope. Everything comes together nicely and intertwined in a very unique way, creating a very enjoyable night of theatre.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Decently Done: MIT's 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Producer Jackie Simpson '14
Director Dawn Erickson '07
Music Director Matthew Putnam '09
Vocal Director Danbee Kim '09
Choreographer Dawn Erickson '07
Technical Director Edmund Golaski '99
Stage Manager Christiana Toomey
Set Designer Kelsey Brigance '12
Publicity Manager Kaitlin Burroughs
Publicity Designer Helen O'Keefe '09
Program Designer Daniel Sngiem '12
Lighting Designer Sophie Lee '12
Master Electrician Becky Bianco '12

Chip Zach Barryte '13
Olive Betsy Flowers
Rona Krista Sergi
Marcy Amanda Lazaro
Leaf Rachel Bowens-Rubin 11
Barfee Christopher Puchi
Logainne Jasmine Florentine '11
Mitch Carlos Cardenas '09
Panch Jeffrey "Q" Quinlan

Yet another production has cropped up of "25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" in Massachusetts, specifically with MIT's Musical Theatre Guild. I had seen the show done before, but didn't review it. This was a chance to see a new interpretation and go through my thoughts. The music and Lyrics were by William Finn, best known for his work on "A New Brain" and "Falsettos". The book was written by Rachel Sheinkin. Before I saw the show, I was very familiar with the music and really enjoyed the concept. This was a college production so I wanted to see what direction they took.

The story takes place in the gynamsium of the local middle school where 6 youngsters, played by adults, compete in the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. The characters included William Barfee, or rather BarFAY, who spells out his words first with his foot, Olive, a neglected child whose best friend is the dictionary, Leaf Coneybear, a child of hippies who is easily distracted, Marcy Park, a studious child prodigy, Chip Tolentino, last years straight laced champion, and lastly Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre, the youngest and most politically concious speller. To moderate is Putnam County's number one realtor and former champion, Lisa Rona Peretti and Vice Principal Douglas Panch. To help counsel the ones who don't make it through, is ex-con Mitch Mahoney, doing his community service. Guest spellers are invited on the stage and interact with the cast members. The show requires a great deal of improvisation and creative words and spelling.

When I saw the stage, I felt the set was a bit of a let down. Kelsey Brigance's created a simple enough set with bleachers and a table, but that was about it. It never went beyond this concept, as I wouldv'e liked to see more of a dressed set, giving the feel of being in an actual gynamsium. Perhaps a banner or two would've given it a bit more flavor, creating a world to get in to. Sophie Lee's lighting design was at times a bit confusing. I felt at times that colors that were used througout various numbers were thrown in just to give color to a moment, with no real intention behind it. However, it worked for some scenes, though, including the rousing "Pandemonium" where hightened craziness was present, but it lacked consistently throughout the rest of the show. Also, there were several black spots in the lighting which was very distracting. Between that and actors putting themselves in black spots, it took away a great deal from the show.

The performances in the show didn't mesh as well as they could've. Even though everyone is hamming it up and having a good time, one of the more noticable things was the fact the break down's of the vocal parts were poorly assigned. Some people were given parts they couldn't sing as strongly and others were given songs that were challenging due to their ranges. The actors were also given fairly simple choreography but they never really committed to a lot of it at some points, and it felt like they were going through the motions. They did however have a chance to be a little erratic during bigger group numbers, which in some cases worked. Rachel Bowens-Rubin, who was cross cast as Leaf Coneybear plays the role a bit too distracting and erratic. She at least she looks like shes commited to having fun, but she never really establishes a consistent character. Zach Barryte plays Chip Tolentino, who like everyone else, has fun with the role, but brings a tad too much intensity to the character. In his number "My Unfortunate Erection" he is near to the point of yelling, causing the audience to become a little uncomfortable not because of the song itself, but his interpretation of it. Amanda Lazaro's Marcy Park is strongly established and she seems calm but with a underlying frustration, creating a good character choice. However, her number "I Speak Six Languages" lacks a bit of commitment to the movement and vocal strength to carry it throughout. Betsy Flowers' Olive is good as well and she manages to pull off a nice sweet individual who you feel for lack of parent attention. During her number "The I Love You Song" she in her own touching way, loses herself with the vision of her parents, desiring only to be united with them. Jeffrey "Q" Quinlan plays a simple enough Panch, but doesn't really tell us what kind of character he is. Though he has good comedic timing, he is a bit repetitive in his on stage choices. Jasmine Florentine's Logainne gives a decent performance as a politically concious child who struggles with her own overbearing two dads. She sings it well and gives us a solid journey. Krista Sergi's Rona Lisa Peretti is played sweetly and you feel that she is truely a caring and loving individual. She is assertive in her attitude. Carlos Cardenas plays the silent and intimidating Mitch Mahoney extremely well, who deep down is a bit of a softie. He carries his own number "Prayer of the Comfort Counselor" with killer pipes, utter confidence and joy. Christopher Puchi pulls off a triple threat that is Barfee. He is clearly comfortable in the role, full of confidence and silliness and is fearless showing off his crisp dancing and singing in "Magic Foot". Even though there was a split between stronger and softer singers, evert actor clearly had fun with their characters as it showed throughout.

Dawn Erickson's direction at times made sense, specifically bringing characters throughout the audience as well as having the guest spellers be pulled into various dance numbers. However, there should have been a bit more work with character development, as it felt some actors were given free range and not being pulled back. She does a good job of bringing it all together but at many times the attention was pulled away because of sudden choices by the actors during pivotal scenes. At several points, the production lacked the strength and potential to amplify simpler moments and often had too much for the moments that were meant to be savored. As far as the music, Music Director Matt Putnam chose to rewrite a lot of the score which seemed odd at the time, but he and his orchestra manage to pull off a strong sound. As they were loud even behind a curtain, they often overwhelmed the actors. There were also sound issues with the speller's microphone, which was somewhat distracting as well.

Despite the shows weaker moments, the production is decently done. The cast and crew clearly had a great time pulling it all together. MIT's production was full of heart and a lot of effort was put in to create a fun evening for the audience.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Circus of Movement and Beauty: Eurydice presented by the Independent Drama Society


Written by Sarah Ruhl
Directed by Lindsay Eagle
Stage Manager - Laura Schlein
Movement and Circus Choreographer - Naomi Bennett
Scenic and Properties Designer - Abigail Neuhoff
Costume Designer - Samara Martin
Lighting Designer - Matthew Breton
Sound Designer - Chris Larson
Master Carpenter - Rob Lemire
Assistant Director - Michela Ricci
Assistant Sound Designer - Melissa DeJesus
Production Manager - Chris Anton

Eurydice - Annie Winneg
Orpheus - Greg Nussen
The Father - Cliff Blake
Nasty Interesting Man/The Lord of the Underworld - Adam Lauver
Big Stone - Glen Moore
Little Stone - Sarah J. Gazdowicz
Loud Stone - Sierra Kagen

The Chorus of Stones
Chris Anton
Melissa DeJesus
Zach Eisenstat
Coriana Hunt Swartz
Chris Larson
Micah Tougas
Victoria Townsend

I had been hearing many good things about "Eurydice" presented by the Independent Drama Society so I decided to check it out.

"Eurydice" is based on the original myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The story tells of a musician, Orpheus who had the most beautiful voice in the world, marries his love, Eurydice. Tragically, Eurydice is taken away on the day of their wedding to the underworld and Orpheus must rescue her. With his gorgeous voice, he convinces the powers that be to release her, they do, but on one condition: he must walk out with her behind him and must not look back, or she will be lost forever. Ruhl's story has a few changes, including a unique addition and decides to add Eurydice's father to the mix, having been living in the world of the undead. Eurydice is torn between her love for Orpheus and her desire to stay with her father. A new twist on this story examines the harsh realities of the choices we make and the results we must deal with.

The black box at the BCA is probably one of my favorite spaces in Boston. Its potential is limitless and that’s exactly how IDS looked at it. Within the first few minutes of arriving, the stage was set as a small little circus tent. During the preshow, the members of the chorus dressed as clowns in tutus, baggy pants, vests and the like, were interacting with their surroundings, each other and the audience. This was the experience and world that we start to become a part of. It was beautiful.

Everyone in the cast displays very strong performances. The chorus of stones, played by Chris Anton, Melissa DeJesus, Zach Eisenstat, Coriana Hunt Swartz, Chris Larson, Micah Tougas, and Victoria Townsend, are a unit of playful misfits who each have their own unique little quirks, defined by how they move or speak, not just by how they are costumed. They function as energetic commune, infused with a nice blend of Commedia Dell'arte and acrobats. They are a part of the action or to move the story along, including their ability to create a very convincing elevator to carry Eurydice down to Hades. They are easily one of most interesting and wonderfully created aspects of the show. Their acrobatics and movements are a sight to see. Naomi Bennett's movement and choreography blends well and it brings additional flavor to the production.

The three major stones, big, little and loud played by Glen Moore, Sarah J. Gazdowicz, Sierra Kagen respectively, become the ones that have dialogue with the other characters, stand out with distinct facial expressions and voice, but are able to meld back into the chorus of stones. Their ability to stand out and fit in is remarkable. Cliff Blake plays the caring and gentle father of Eurydice. He manages to create a tender and beautiful relationship with his daughter, quietly and subtlety, making us believe his role as a father. Blake's voice and movements are careful and fluid. One scene in particular involving string brought me to tears due to his simplicity of this character. Annie Winneg plays Eurydice well, a girl full of hopes and dreams, with a child-like quality. Her chemistry with Blake is sweet and touching, however, her time alone we don't feel as much as we could of her struggle and her difficult journey, emotionally and mentally. Greg Nussen's Orpheus is quiet, relaxed, and carefree, but his angst and feelings of loss don't come through as much it could, considering his love is gone and his desire to bring her back is mixed with numerous emotions. Though not needing be over the top, something must bubble to the surface. Adam Lauver's Mystery Man/Lord of the Underworld is dark fellow and makes the line between charmer/creeper uncertain. Though the choice is strong, it continues to go back and forth, never getting a true beat on who he really is, creating a confusing arc.

The set designed by Abigail Neuhoff, as mentioned before was a wonderful choice of putting everything in circus-y world, with the colors of red and white. There were levels constructed as well, with various half empty glasses and bottles of water, something that stood out but for some reason added a nice touch. Matthew Breton's lighting design at times was a bit confusing and there was a good amount of pink used throughout was at times distracting, though creating a nice warm tone. However, the use of gobos and other colors at other points including Eurydice's descent and in certain points of isolation in the story played incredibly strong. The costuming done by Samara Martin fit well with this world that was created, and as mentioned, the chorus had mixed pieces that contributed a great deal to their quirkiness. The principles were dressed in contemporary outfits that displayed a nice contrast to the world. I also appreciated the lack of footwear in the majority of the production, specifically seeing Eurydice and her father dressed nicely barefoot. It was a nice touch, helping us to picture their surroundings.

Lindsay Eagle's direction is smart and effective. Her constant use of water was interesting and came out at very specific times. Being such a significant element, I appreciated its subtlety, representing various transitions. It went almost unnoticed but remained a constant element in the play. Her choice to stage it with different aspects of clowning, circus and the dream world was an excellent choice, blurring the lines of reality and the unknown.

The sound design and music done by Chris Larson and Melissa DeJesus was a nice idea added to this production. Through heightened scenes, there was an excellent use of tonal music that contributed a great deal. Also, the simple sound effects from the descent of the elevator the continual rain brought forth the unique world.

IDS presented a strong production of a wonderfully beautiful yet tragic story. The visuals and world created is wondrous and full of the unknown. "Eurydice" is something that must be experienced and be a part of. With strong performances and captivating moments, the show pulls you in and leaves you with a memorable theatrical journey.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Witty and Silly: A night with "Blackadder II: Live!"

Blackadder II: Live!

Written by
Richard Curtis and Ben Elton
Originally produced by the BBC

Directed by
Darren Evans

Asst. Director/Dialect Coach
Nadia de Lemeny

Scenic Design
Luke J Sutherland

Lighting Design
Eric Jacobsen

Costume Design
Eric Propp

Lord Edmund Blackadder
Craig Houk

Lord Percy
Wayne Fritsche

Chris Wagner

Queen Elizabeth I
Crystal Libson

Lord Melchett
Michael Steven Costello

Jenny Gutbezahl

Flashheart, Prince Ludwig, Arthur the Sailor, Simon Partridge
Jason Beals

Lady Whiteadder, Mrs. Ploppy, Wisewoman
Ann Carpenter

Lady Farrow, Mrs. Pants, Young Crone
Nadia de Lemeny

Balladeer, Mad Beggar, Geoffrey Piddle, Messenger, German Guard
John Geoffrion

Sir Walter Raleigh, Torturer, Mr. Pants
Terrance P Haddad

Kate, Mollie
Chelsea Schmidt

Capt. Redbeard Rum, Lord Whiteadder, Leonardo Acropolis, German Guard
David Schrag

Bishop of Bath & Wells, Gaoler Ploppy, Dr. Leech, Monk
Gerard Slattery

Now, I have been reviewing several musicals up until this point, so I decided to check out some plays, which I can say is a bit more of a challenge. I managed to catch both part of one and two of Theatre on Fire’s production of Blackadder II Live, a stage adaptation of BBC’s classic comedy of the same name. The show itself focused particularly on the 2nd season of the series, which is considered one of the best by many fans. Originally conceived by Ben Elton and Richard Curtis, the show debuted and helped fuel the careers of some of the most talented comedians including Rowan Atkinson of Mr. Bean fame, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, a man who would later star in the series as the title character in House. Blackadder examines the life of one Edmund Blackadder and his journeys and misadventures through various time periods in British and European history. The one we saw was his time during Elizabethan England. Full of sharp wit, dry humor and tremendous wordplay, the series became one of the most popular television series of all time.
The show is broken up in episodes from the series, three as part one and the last three in part two. Whether Blackadder finds himself attracted to his cross-dressing manservant Bob, who is in fact a young woman to juggling a party with his uptight religious relatives and his own rambunctious alcohol-filled party with his loud and crazy friends, he manages to hatch the most ridiculous schemes and ideas to keep himself and his sanity intact. Each episode’s premise is more ridiculous then the last and we as the audience tune in intently.

The cast is full of such comedic energy, and is both wonderful and talented, pulling off the dry humor and silliness, whilst capturing each of their characters in their own way. They have worked diligently on their British accents as well with the help of Dialect Coach Nadia de Lemeny, helping fuel the performance. Craig Houk stars as the pompous and ridiculous Edmund Blackadder, who seems very comfortable in the role itself, and manages to capture the arrogance and charm of the character incredibly well. His charisma is one thing to lock on to and he has it in spades. Another strong performance is that of Jason Beals, who pulls of many characters including a loud and obnoxious Flashheart and the treacherous German prince Ludwig. Each depiction is strongly established and his commitment is uncanny. It’s a great joy to watch and we can’t help but squeal with laughter. Michael Steven Costello plays Lord Melchett or “Melchy” as dry and droll as possible with a bit of a silly side. His seriousness and sternness is only matched by his comedic timing with the role and his jokes. All in all the cast itself is incredibly talented and establish some of the best chemistry I have seen on stage. They manage to commit to each of their characters and to each other in this world. The razor banter and wit of the original series come through as this cast is clearly having a great time with the material.

Eric Propps’ costumes are simply wonderful. Not only does he manage to capture the Elizabethan period magnificently, but also he dresses the cast in costumes perfectly. Each actor doesn’t look constrained and are clearly one with their outfit, giving more to their character. I thought they were conceived very well and you could tell a lot of love and effort were put into their creation. Bravo to Mr. Propps. The costumes looked genuine and are incredibly detailed.

The set itself is simple and the stage has 5 different areas that the characters interact on. Whether we are looking straight ahead on 3 areas on stage or the house left or right, we are thrust into this world in such an intimate space. Luke Sutherland’s set captures each area perfectly and thanks to the effective lighting design of Eric Jacobsen, we are able to see each area for each scene. Whether we are in house of Blackadder or the Queen’s throne room, we get to see a simple and effective set create this world. One set that was particularly impressive was in one “episode” where Blackadder, his friend Percy, servant Baldrick and Captain Redbeard Rum are upon a ship, due to Blackadder’s attempt to travel the unknown (thanks to a large part to his pride and short-sightedness). The four in are sitting a small cabin that wonderfully creates a sense of claustrophobia, which was in a small open room above the entrance of the theatre space.

As mentioned before, the show is literally a staging of the 2nd season of Blackadder. With a few minor changes, including adding a balladeer to transition each scene with cheesy recorder music or each episode with some cheeky exposition, the show is pretty much word for word. A lot of time was put into the study of the original work it seems. Also, in many ways its nice to see such a popular show done in such a unique way but its hard to get past the original depictions and writing from the series. Emulation is a hard to avoid in such a production and at a few points, bits of the television series crept through which made it difficult to get on board with the stage show. Darren Evan’s directorial choice to have each scene on various areas in the space worked in many ways, having the actors move to and from each place. He effectively used the entire area of the theatre itself. It also seemed that he gave actors free range with their characters to create their own depictions while using the originals as a launching point. It was a good attempt to avoid repetition and imitation. He manages to create the world of Blackadder on stage in order to familiarize the masses and broaden their horizons, really showing that they’ve been missing out.

Blackadder II Live has some of the most talented comedic actors in Boston sharing the stage. Moving past the fact that the show itself is recreation of a TV series, the work and effort put in is remarkable and there is no denying that everyone had a great time hamming it up. Capturing silliness and true appreciation for the original work, Blackadder II Live puts on a fun evening of incredible humor and ridiculousness that all audiences have enjoyed.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Perspective...A funny thing

Ok, so I realize now that I have been dilligently reviewing several shows, 4 by my count. The latest was a bit of turning point for me, as I have decided to be a bit more honest. I think its important and to be Frank, or even Samantha...Well..actually Michael, I find it a bit more refreshing.

At this point, I have several more shows I want to review, specifically plays. The last few shows have indeed been musicals, and as much as I love them, I need a bit more perspective. A few plays in the future I am planning on reviewing:

ILove - The Boston Stage Company
Eurydice - Independent Drama Society
Black Adder II - Theatre on Fire
Book of Grace - Company One

However, I will still be looking into musicals as well. I haven't done many plays, but I want to try to see if I can get a handle on them. They are a completely different animal in many ways from the musical. Like the fierce lion on the Serenghetti...Wait...What?

Anyways, now that this theatre blog has some steam, Ill be trying my darndest to review shows as much as I can. There is a lot of theatre out in Boston, and I really have learned a lot already.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Marathon of A Show: "Rent" at the Footlight Club

Directed by Bill Doscher
Music Directed by Shawn Gelzleichter


Mark: Todd Sandstrom
Maureen: Anne Olmsted
Mimi: Sara Jane Burns
Angel: Jose Romero
Roger: Joshua Rajman
Benny: Matthew Ford
Joanne: Shira Cahn-Lipman
Collins: Rishi Basu

Alana Sacks
Kathleen Comber
Keri Boisclair
Alex Davidson
Sean Benak
Krista Dietz
Channa Gilbert
Michael Glicksman
Ariella Katz
John Deschene
Brian Bakofen
Kate Enos

I remember when "Rent" first came out it was essentially the bees knees. Now nearly 15 years later, the show is still a favorite among the masses. I first saw the show in 2001 and immediately became a fan of the music. A few nights ago, I was able to catch one of the many productions that have debuted in Massachusetts at the Footlight Club.

The story is adapted from Puccini’s opera, La Boheme into an original rock opera written and composed by Jonathan Larson. We are taken into the world of various artists and musicians who are living and creating in the lower east side in Alphabet City in New York City. They deal with many different issues, including love and loss, but more importantly the encroachment of HIV/AIDS. We see the lives of Mark, an aspiring filmmaker, Roger, a musician, Collins, a former MIT professor, Angel, a cross-dressing musician, Mimi a dancer, Maureen a performance artist and her girlfriend, Joanne, a lawyer and Benny, a former friend now turned antagonist. The story takes place over the course of a year.

As a show, "Rent" presents many different challenges. The show is very difficult to stage effectively without creating a lot of problems of congestion. One the major things I noticed in this production are that the direction was very difficult to understand and get on board with. Specifically, I felt the placement of the actors during the bigger numbers felt like they were almost out of place. The attempt to create a community of characters didn’t work. They could've used the rest of the stage and set a bit more. Also, throughout the show we hear the voice mails of the character’s parents. When they appear on stage, they had masks covering their face, thus abandoning the whole point of an ensemble, especially if their function is to play multiple characters. Also down center stage was terribly underused. I’m not saying it needs to be used all the time, but when I’m watching the opening number, “Rent” I wanted to see Mark and Roger be the focus, as they open the song. My attention wants to be drawn to center and then follow them as they utilize other parts of the stage. There were other places in the show that would’ve benefited from this, not just with solo singing moments.

Brian Crete created a very simple and strong set. The levels and balconies that were created for the space worked. I loved the use of cobbled together pieces and flats, creating a Frankenstein-esque feel. As for the lighting, I was surprised that there was very little beyond simple front and back lighting and the use of spots. In “Contact”, however, red lights were used to heighten the emotions and the sexual energy that was being displayed. Combined with the heavy and well choreographed, stylized movement, it played extremely well. However, for certain moments and changes in emotion, there was a lack of color and feeling. It would’ve been nice to see some warm tones thrown in once in a while. It felt very limited.

The performances that stood out were Rishi Basu’s Tom Collins, who is at ease in the role. He is comfortable in the character and sings with a nice soothing calm. His voice is unique and he plays the friend that everyone wants and needs. Another strong performance was Anne Olmstead, who as Maureen plays the rambunctious performance artist. Her voice rocks out extremely well and her attitude was sharp to boot. Her piece “Over The Moon” is hilarious and well done, though at times felt she didn’t milk it as much as she could, rushing moments that needed to be savored. However, there is no denying that show had strong performances in general from all cast members, but one key ingredient that was missing was chemistry. Actors captured their individual character strongly, but the interaction between them fell short. The show "Rent" is written to bring forth intensity and raw relationships that are created throughout the story. In this production, some major relationships are lost because very few went beyond the motions of blocking and singing. There could've been stronger established relationships. As whole though, the energy is strong and everyone is able to keep going throughout the production. In addition, a lot of the musical numbers were good as well, especially “Santa Fe”. It’s beautifully done and sounds so smooth and sweet. You can almost picture the place itself. Another good number was “Take Me Or Leave Me” where the uncompromising Maureen her girlfriend Joanne, played smartly and strongly by Shira Cahn-Lipman, volleyed back and forth, refusing to cave on their individuality. It’s a great moment to see and you really feel where they are coming from. A lot of the other numbers sounded really good, but as mentioned before I expected and wished for a tad more of intensity.

Shawn Gelzleichter’s music direction is extremely well developed. The band is strong and it is able to capture the rocking score of this beast of a show. To me, that is one the of the many important things that needs to be showcased in "Rent". It represents the backbone and nerve center and Gelzleichter and his crew pull it off. They work incredibly well as a unit and blend strongly. I look forward to seeing more of his work in the future. Since he had his work cut out with him in this show, he handles it with ease and is fearless with his direction.

"Rent" is a good production but as I mentioned there are a few aspects that I wished I had seen more of. It is important to know that this is a very heavy and emotionally challenging show, but like any major production, it requires a lot of work. The performers keep their energy up and are able to create a solid interpretation of this show, especially because it has been done so much recently. I admire this production of "Rent" for the amount of work and love that was put in.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Age of The Packaged Musical: “Hair” rocks out


Steel Burkhardt


Matt DeAngelis

Phyre Hawkins

Kaitlin Kiyan

Darius Nichols

Paris Remillard

Kacie Sheik

Caren Lyn Tackett

Emily Afton

Shaleah Adkisson

Nicholas Belton

Larkin Bogan

Corey Bradley

Laura Dreyfuss

Mike Evariste

Marshal Kennedy Carolan

Lulu Fal
Tribe/Abraham Linocln

Tripp Fountain

Nkrumah Gatling

Allison Guinn

Josh Lamon
Tribe/Father/Margaret Mead

John Moauro

Christine Nolan

Emmy Raver-Lampman

Arbender Robinson

Cailan Rose

Tanesha Ross

Sara Ruzicka

Jen Sese

Lee Zarrett
Tribe/Principal/Hubert/John Wilkes Booth

Now having seen yet another musical, I appreciate it for a piece of work, but also as a brand name. This was very much the case with “Hair” which is currently playing at the Boston Colonial Theater. The show is currently on tour, having had a very successful revival and run in New York, nabbing the Tony for Best Revival. I had seen a production of “Hair” years ago so I wanted to see a new interpretation. As expected, this show was strong and had great talent and technical aspects to boot. In this easily accessible show, you get a taste of Broadway in a prepackaged rocking experience.

To me, doing “Hair” today makes sense, considering the parallels of what was going on back then and today. I was there to see a show and I ended up being thoroughly impressed with the production as a whole. The story depicts various hippies during the late sixties, who refer to themselves as “The Tribe” who are dealing with the changing world. They embrace love and life and continuously stand up to the establishment. We get a glimpse of a few characters who struggle to keep true to themselves and to never lose sight of their beliefs and ideals. Specifically, the only character with a genuine story in all of this is Claude. He must come to terms with his family and their desire for him to enlist and go fight for his country. Does he choose his friends and their free lifestyle, or the pressures of duty and family? It is a hard path to travel. Amongst the Tribe are various races that want to love and help change the world. Looking beyond the color of the skin, they are community first, entwined in their love and ideals.

The book and lyrics were by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot composed the music. I’m not all that familiar with them, but as a rock musical, it definitely had some great moments. A lot the numbers were fairly strong, but the numbers that stuck with me were the obvious opening “The Age of Aquarius” which was beautifully sung, starting off the production with a bang. To me, the number can either make or break a production. I was happy to see and hear it soar through the house. The other song that has been a favorite was “White Boys”. The song is fun, bubbly and all around a good time. The ladies rocked it out and you could tell they were having a blast. It was definitely an energetic number and it gave me goose bumps. "Let The Sunshine/The Flesh Failures" also makes its way into all the hearts and minds of the audience. Its delivered with so much underlying power. As its reprise comes around, you feel the energy of the house and the cast. You can't help but dance and move.

As for the performances, the Tribe was an integral part of the show and they did a good job. At points, it was hard to hear a lot of the singing from them, but I imagine a lot of it had to do with the tech and sound of the mics. Steel Burkhardt, who plays Berger, immediately jumps into the role, and into the audience. He plays a carefree jokester, playing to the crowd and seemed at ease in the role. Paris Remellard, who plays Claude, creates a very conflicted character in the show, as he carries the bulk of the story on his shoulders. We see and feel his confusion and his desire to become invisible, wanting to escape this harsh reality. However, the role that I was probably impressed with the most was Dionne, the girl responsible for “Age of Aquarius” and the ringleader during “White Boys.” Played with such raw sexuality and attitude, Phyre Hawkins nails her songs with such power and emotion. With names like that, you got to deliver. They definitely seemed like they were having a lot of fun. As for the orchestra, they caught the feel and sensations of the sounds of the sixties. They were spot on and blended well with the stage and performers.

Technically, the show is mind-blowing. The lights in every scene capture every emotion that is presented on stage. With love, the warmer colors come out, with confusion, sharper colors, and with frustration, the darker colors present themselves. I loved the lighting design of this show. One particular part is a hallucination appears on stage, and various colors are used to bring us into the world of the mind. The doubts, the frustrations and fears have colors that I never expected. It was amazing. The set also was extremely impressive. With several carpets laid about and a giant sun in the background, it’s a beautiful tapestry that has been brought to life. The set, staging and lights work in tandem. I can only imagine there were a thousand different cues at least. I was a huge fan of the effort and work that created this world.

The direction of the piece is bold yet simple. With minimal dancing but stylized movements, it works very well. As expected, the cast makes it way into the audience making us part of the show. It would be a crime NOT to have audience interaction. Its something that goes hand in hand. As I mentioned earlier, the staging of various scenes, including the hallucination, was so incredible. As I don’t want to reveal specifically what happens, everything works. There is not a bad staging choice in the moments and I felt that we were really in the plane of the mind. In a highly stylized version of the mind, obviously, its definitely a departure from everything else. I loved it. As for the ending of the show, as I don’t want to spoil anything, is something you must see for yourself. I couldn’t believe how it was done. Less is more, apparently. It worked.

“Hair” is a solid rock musical with a gaggle of performers who not only work hard to create this world, but you can see why they do what they do. The sheer joy of it is definitely present. With a powerful opening and finish, the show presents a never-ending message of sense of identity and choice, something many of us struggle with in our own lives. I love the fact that shows tour, giving a chance for everyone to see the work and love that gets put into a production of this size. For those who can’t make it to New York, it’s a chance to get a sense and feel of the energies. It’s a great experience.