Sunday, May 5, 2013

One Night In Cambridge Makes A Great Night of Theatre: The Longwood Players Present: "Chess"

Music by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeu
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Book by Richard Nelson

Directed by Kaitlyn Chantry
Music Directed by Stephen Peters

"Chess" is an incredibly well-know show in the musical theatre arena, with its setting, overall tone and musicality. Developed by lyricist Tim Rice, ABBA band members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeu, it was initially created as a concept album. Rice had done the same with his previous works "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" and "Jesus Christ Superstar". Later, the show premiered in the mid 80s with the book written by Richard Nelson.  Now a full-fledged production, many theatre companies acorss the world have produced this famed show.  More recently, The Longwood Players in Cambridge opened their production so it was definitely worth checking out.

Taking place during the Cold War Era, "Chess" examines the story of the character simply know as the "The American" defending his championship world Chess title against another, known as "The Russian". The American brings his number 2, Florence, with him to his match, but along the way, certain events occur and like pieces on a Chess board, moves and machinations are made that culminate in an unexpected turn of events, where love, anger and pride come to a head.

The score by Andersson and Ulvaeu is strong, as it contains the tone and feel of their past work in ABBA. However, it's more over-the-top and powerful, specifically in the opening number "Merano". Despite its power in some parts, its uneven and inconsistent. As the music was initially part of a concept album, it truly feels disjointed and lacks cohesion in certain areas. Despite a few missteps, the score is astounding and powerful.  The lyrics and book are on the weaker side, as the dialogue could have easily replaced the singing exposition. The story is difficult to follow and to have the subject material examining Chess, it's hard to stay with the show.  The story seems very much like a "paint by numbers" plot, and feels like it goes through the motions of a generic story. Even though the music and plot had some questionable moments, Longwood does manage to make the most of it and put on a great production and kept it engaging.

The performances across the board were incredibly strong. Kevin Hanley's American is full of wonderful swagger and carries himself with such astounding confidence. His pipes dominate and his charisma is astounding, specifically in "Pity the Child 2", he simply owns it, bringing new levels to the character. Rachel Savage is wonderfully strong and powerful as Florence. She rocks her song "Nobody's Side" as her voice carries through the space.  She brings wonderfully tender yet deep moments to the show. Athan Mantalos' Russian is excellent as well. With such a strong voice, specifically in "Where I Want To Be", he not only has a wonderful grasp on the character, but moments of quiet vulnerability shine through, giving some great depth to his journey. The ensemble, as well as the other characters embroiled in the story, give solid performances. With a choral and epic feel, they are simply wonderous in their moments, continuously bringing the production to new heights. "One Night in Bangkok" is of course a winner for all as well, enabling a rocking good time.

The technical aspects of the production were good in some moments, but it never really added or took away from everything. It didn't hurt the show, but it did contribute all that much. The set was black and white, as it should be, but there were pieces that never really functioned beyond assisting in lighting and setting a few places throughout the show. The lighting was the same, but in some scenes it did have great tones and warm colors that made many things pop. Kaitlyn Chantry's direction was executed well enough, having the orchestra lifted above as well as some strong movements that really gave the production some unique flavor.  Like the set, however, some sections did not necessarily hurt anything, but was difficult to get on board with. Having the Conductor towards upstage was distracting sometimes, especially during deeper moments in scenes. However, the placement was a strong choice, as orchestra and music direction were great, and didn't overpower anyone.   In staging, some minor issues were scattered throughout, but one moment, "Embassy Lament", gave off a Monty Python-esque feel, thus bringing forth a marvelous display of humor and character.  Again, nothing hurt the show, and overall, everything worked well. It was cohesive and it was an incredibly well-put together show.

"Chess" is quite the musical, as it deals with interesting subject material, which is fairly poignant.  Its score and book were uneven, but it still offers the opportunity to put on a great show. The Longwood Players did a fantastic job in performances and with the overall production.  There a few minor issues, but it did not dim the wonderful work and display of great theatre.  Kudos to cast and crew for an excellent show. It is definitely worth checking out.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Unsure And Aching To Be More: Wakefield Repertory Theatre Presents: Lucky Stiff

Lucky Stiff

Director: Samantha Gambaccini
Music Director: Shawn Gelzleichter
Choreographer: Marissa Geller

Music: Stephen Flaherty
Book and Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens

"Lucky Stiff", based on the book "The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo" by Michael Butterworth, is the first musical coming from lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty.   Both have collaborated on a array of shows since this one, each more different then the last. "Ragtime", "Seussical" and "A Man of No Importance" are just a few of the shows they have cranked out.  Wakefield Repertory Theatre recently opened their production of "Lucky Stiff", so a night of theatre was in order to experience the show that started it all.

The show follows the journey of the meek Harry Witherspoon, an English shoe salesman, as he gets wrapped in an unexpected series of events. His long-lost Uncle Anthony's will dictates that Harry will inherit 6 million dollars if he takes the corpse in a wheelchair of said relative to Monte Carlo to experience the sights and sounds in this post-mortem state.  As if this premise is not enough, Uncle Anthony's jilted nearsighted lover Rita, who he abandoned before he died, hears of the inheritance and convinces her optometrist brother Vinnie to accompany her to Monte Carlo to steal back the money. As another piece to this crazy adventure, Ms. Annabel Glick, a representative of a home for dogs, follows him to make sure he meets the demands of the will or the money will be donated to her cause. Along the way, a cast of zany characters are thrown in, thus culminating in twists and turns in this ridiculous plot.

The score is by no means spectacular but it is solid.  As the show is meant to take place in the 80s, Ahrens and Flaherty don't go for the cheap, synthy pop music, but rather present a tamer and rather catchy alternative.  The music is good and creates a nice atmosphere.

Performance wise, not a lot of the actors really stood out. Whether it was a combination of the lack of energy, or the material itself, it felt that much of the cast was going through the motions.  Adam Shuler's Witherspoon had a few fun comedic moments, but it didn't seem as though he could carry the show and his character arc as well as he could have.  Annabell Glick, played by AnneMarie Alvarez was a little more engaging, but her performance at times felt flat and one dimensional. Granted, much of the book could contribute to that, but their interaction with each other was thin and not very exciting. On the flip side, Greg Cushing's Vinne and Susan Austin's Rita had many more strong comedic bits that worked very well. Their chemistry and onstage relationship was good and it was nice to see them have a little fun in their roles. Austin does a great job with the song "Fancy Meeting You Hear", hamming it up a bit, giving a nice high point to the show. Combined with a few bold and funny bits with the ensemble, performances were quite uneven. It is also possible the actors desired to do more on stage as well, as it felt that they could have pushed some performances a bit further.

Samantha Gambaccini's direction was a bit underwhelming.  There was a severe lack of decent blocking during the production.  In several moments, perhaps mostly in the first act, there was not a lot happening on stage. There were awkward moments as the actors could have been doing more.  The choreography by Marissa Geller fell short as well, as there was no real stand out moments. Granted, the show probably doesn't need a lot of choreography, but the movement was lacking in real imagination. The space the production was in was small, so in the respect of using it well, both Gambacini and Geller deserve strong marks.  Music Director Shawn Gelzleichter and his pit sounded strong, though, peeking through as a good moment for the show.  Despite a few sound issues, they sounded clean and in tandem. There was a fairly straight forward set, lighting and costume design, therefore technically it was good in some parts and uneven in others. Some moments it was unclear where people were in different scenes, but with others, whether in an apartment or on a subway, it worked well. Creatively and technically, it was hit and miss.

The show was on the brink of being a bit more, especially with a few performances and direction. There was a great deal of weaker moments that plagued the production, but a few smaller bits that managed to help the show move along. Wakefield Repertory Theatre's production of "Lucky Stiff" had some heart, but it could have easily been pushed futher.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Aching and Dreaming to be More: Next Door Theater Presents: Sunset Boulevard

Sunset Boulevard

Book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Directed by James Tallach
Designed by Brian Milauskas
Music Directed by Maria Duaime

Andrew Lloyd Webber strikes again with a massive musical, this time taking on Hollywood during the 40s and 50s. Based on the film "Sunset Boulevard", the story focuses Norma Desmond, a faded star of the silent film era living in her decaying mansion where in Hollywood, "talkies" are gaining traction. She accidentally crosses paths with Joe Gillis, a young screenwriter whose career is nearly on the rocks as well. She seizes an opportunity to use him to bring her screenplay based on the story of Salome to the screen, marking her great return. Along the way, twists, turns, tragedy and of course, unexpected events result in this culmination of colliding characters. Next Door presented their production on a much smaller scale, when the show usually is done in a larger capacity.  It would be interesting and worthwhile to see a new and ambitious choice.

Webber's score is a memorable one, and with many of his shows, most of it is sung through with very little dialogue.  It has strong notes throughout and still maintains a seedy and complicated view into this world.  However, as it is sung through, many of the lines sung could have easily been spoken. The lines that were spoken were far and few in between, therefore the strong difference was noticeable.  Though noticing the potential of the massive scale of the music, as it seems in this production, a larger orchestra and an especially larger space could have been better. The story and music ached for a larger outing. As for the story itself, despite its presence in the space, is tragic, terrifying, chock full of plot twist and unexpectedly beautiful.

The show is presented in a smaller space that took away from the overall feel of the show sometimes.  The grandeur of Hollywood was begging to come out.  The show didn't necessarily work for the space, but a strong effort was made, which was commendable. James Tallach's direction was a tad on the muddled side.  Granted, he used the space as best as he could, but keeping the actors at bay and not allowing them to explore the space as much as they could weakened the production.  The quintessential "park and bark" technique was used constantly, perhaps too much, causing the some performances to fall short.   Even the musical direction could have been stronger. Aside from the lack of real meat behind the orchestra pit, severe sound issues plagued the production.  Again, the size space and lack of grandeur contributed of the majority of issues.

The performances in the show were somewhat uneven.  Kevin Cirone's Joe Gillis, the screenwriter thrown into Shana Dirik's Norma Desmond's world, acted and sung the part well enough, but did not have the charisma to carry his arc as the character.  He did not have the qualities of the leading man and lacked the muddled and subconscious desperation that plagued Joe.  Shonna Cirone's Betty had the pipes to carry the role, but whether it be due to poor writing on the book's part, she was by no means as engaging as she could be. Moments between her and Joe lacked real chemistry and when they performed "Too Much in Love to Care", they appeared to be incredibly disinterested in each other.  They did have cute moments earlier in the show with "Girl Meets Boy", but their eventual union was disappointing. The ensemble did not bring nearly as much as they could to the production. Individually, none of them necessarily stood out, but as a whole they all seemed like they were going through the motions. However, when the men performed "The Lady's Paying" they were having fun with it and really showed off a great combined talent. The women also go to show off in "Eternal Youth Is Worth a Little Suffering", they all carried the number together incredibly well. The winners of the evening were Shana Dirik's Norma and Pete Adams' Max. Shana gives an astounding performance as the fading starlet, giving true moments as "tragically beautiful".  She not only channeled the grandeur of the character, but sang everything beautifully, especially during "New Ways to Dream".  Adams carries his role equally well, with subtle love and dedication to his Norma.  His moment with "The Greatest Star of All" is heartbreaking and wonderful at the same time. They each carried the show strongly.

Technically, the show had a nice feel. Brian Milauskas' design gave a great sense of the degradation and lost relic feel that mirrored Norma's current state.  However, some tinges of the old days of Hollywood, i.e. bits of Art Deco could have been splashed in.  However, the look worked in the space.  Even the lighting design was strong, with great colors and tones that gave a nice look to the overall production.  One issue was the use of strobe light.  The thought to use it for transitional pieces to emulate an old projector was a good one, but it did not necessarily work.  It was distracting and felt more like a party than a theatrical production. The costumes were quite impressive, though specifically Norma seemed that she received the bulk of the attention. Her impressive gowns and furs were the centerpiece, but as she is the star, it makes sense to have her appear that grand.

Lacking the potential size and feel of what the show could be really effected this particular production.  Choosing such a naturally large and grand show for a smaller space was a questionable choice.  Granted, it was a strong and incredibly ambitious choice for Next Door to make, which they deserve full marks for. But again, a handful of great performances and uneven moments make this a weak and somewhat disappointing version of the show.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Great Modern Flair and Ensuing Hilarity: The Footlight Club Presents "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Director and Choreography: Steve Borowk
Musical Director: Shawn Gelzleichter

The Footlight Club has consistently put on strong productions.  Their most recent production, "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat" had their final two shows this past weekend.  Having seen this show before, I was curious to see a different interpretation.  The music of the show itself is strong, being developed by two musical theatre greats, Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice.

"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" is taken from a story in Genesis. The story focuses on one of the twelve sons of Jacob: Joseph. Joseph had the ability to interpret dreams, however it is soon realized that he is meant to rule over his 11 brothers.  He receives a coat from his father, marking his favoritism among his siblings. Shortly after, due to their jealousy, the brothers sell him into slavery in Egypt. He uses his skills, wits and gifts to find his way, but ends up on his own unexpected journey that takes him to places he never imagined and meets people that would change his life forever.

The show is predominantly music and singing.  Despite the little dialogue, it didn't take away from the overall story at all. The music and lyrics were catchy, smart and incredibly fun.  Shawn Gelzleichter's music direction takes full advantage of this and creates a great sound.  The energy was upbeat and it created a solid feel for the production.  Even the direction and choreography by Director Steve Borowka were very well put together.  He doesn't have major congestion going on and utilizes the space incredibly well with placement and song moments The choreography is simple and fun as well, and its not trying hard to impress us, only to add to the overall joy in the better parts of the story. Borowka also created a modern feel, but with tones of rock and roll that gave the show some nice flavor.

The cast in this production overall is very solid.  Nate Haywood's Joseph has the pipes to carry the role, but doesn't really find his bearings and level of comfort until the second act. However, that might be the issue of the story itself, especially since we don't see much growth until later.  Despite the later immersion in the role, he had a strong presence and charisma, as well as a few hints of strong comedic timing.  He clearly has fun with the role. Needless to say, once he gets his golden chariot, it is by far one of the funniest moments of the show. The Narrator, played by Madeline McCord, carried the vocal demands of the part well enough, but lacks the maturity and strength of the role. At times, it seems like she feels out of place.  Her performance had strong moments and her interaction and chemistry with everyone else was great, especially the children, but overall falls short when it comes to the character. The Children's Chorus are incredibly engaged, as are the Women's Ensemble.  Both groups have fun and they mesh together strongly in tandem.  The big winners of the night were Joseph's father and brothers.  Each didn't overwhelm or upstage each other.  They were all brilliant in their character creation and didn't go over the edge with their performances.  Many hilarious moments from them were the highlights of the production, especially during "Those Canaan Days" and "Benjamin Calypso". There were many great moments with them, but those two songs were their show-stoppers. Even when they get to play other roles throughout the show, they each gave hilarious performances. Again, the entire cast was full of energy, comedic flair, all giving fun performances across the board.

The set, lighting and costume designs were yet another strong addition to the show.  Even though the story happened in many different places, the simple usage of steps and wooden climbing area really gave the production some character.  It was a nice jungle-gym, playground feel. There didn't have to be a lot of set changes. Levels are key the design had that in spades.  The lighting design is by no means overwhelming or over the top, but really utilizes some great color that presented some really memorable and warm moments throughout. The costumes were updated to a more contemporary feel, with jeans, tee shirts and suits. Joseph's coat was a colored leather jacket which actually was a great centerpiece, considering the name of this show.  The brothers all carried colored scarves, dressed a certain way with each of their costumes, adding a nice touch and connection to the story. 

The Footlight Club does a wonderful job with "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat".  With great direction, fantastic cast and playful design, this production had a fun and warm feel to it. It had welcoming and touching vibe that solidified a strong and incredibly well put together show.  Footlight does it again, as they know their audiences love, as they create a great theatrical and adorable experience.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Comically Creative and Cleverly Constructed: Vagabond Theatre Group Presents True Believers

"True Believers"
Written by Thom Dunn
Directed by James Peter Sotis

Comic Con is a fantastical world, overwhelming, yet a sight to behold.  Cosplay enthusiasts run rampant with gusto. Geeks and nerds becoming partners in an ultimate Venn diagram.  The worlds of movies, TV, comic books, fantasy, sci fi and everything in between come and play. Bringing all of that on stage within a theatrical production? Executed masterfully by the clever and passionate minds of Vagabond Theatre Group.  They recently opened their production "True Believers" by local playwright Thom Dunn at the Factory Theatre. It was quite the fun experience. Last year, I participated in their production of "The Unfortunate Cutthroats", so putting on a reviewer hat was lot of fun, especially being on the other side.

"True Believers" is quite the apt name, as it applies to so much more than expected in this production. There was such an interesting intertwining of different characters. Comic book writer Chad Mailer comes to hopefully get his career jump started after a series of setbacks.  His former partner, artist and aspiring writer Kt Watts, is on the rise as she hits big after completing their previous story they had worked on together years before.  Ted Thompson, an editor of DC Comics and one of Chad's friends struggles to keep sane while his online girlfriend, Chloe, is on her way to meet him for the first time.  Ultimate fanboy and writer Box, is over the top and philosophical, spreading his joy and love for the world of comics. Neurotic fan and video blogger Billy Horowitz comes to confront Chad for his recent depiction of a famed comic book character. He is accompanied by his best friend, aspiring artist, Calvin, who is also trying to become a crime fighter, Avenger.  All their stories come together, and its Chad story that takes the driver seat and we see his journey, though we get a taste of everyone's story slowly seep their way in.

Dunn's script is smart and sharply written. He creates memorable and believable characters set in this world who many of us can either relate to, or just be familiar with.  The comedic moments are great and chock full of fantastic one liners. He also is able to create strong and powerful dramatic moments that help balance the comedy.  It doesn't become a parody, but a snap shot of what this world could very well be like.  James Peter Sotis directed the piece, cleverly dropping in geeky and nerdy references here and there, pulling the audience into this world. As a director he accomplishes to not only give us complexity to these characters, but doesn't keep the audience outside. He wants us to be a part of everything on a much larger scale.  Its almost as though he has created a microcosm of sorts, and he executes everything fanastically. The Factory Theatre is a small space, and Sotis uses it every bit of it incredibly well. The set by Josh Friedensohn, lights by Lucas Garrity, sound by Sam Sewell all come together wonderfully and work in tandem, as they are put more than 100% into this world of Comic Con. The props and costumes deserve high marks as well for the originality and construction. Each tech aspect fell into place perfectly.  We even get a taste of an online RPG that seemed like it was created specifically for this show, as as video clips, peppered throughout. They both gave some wonderful flavor to the production. Tech wise, this show sits on high, while still keeping the audience invested in everything around them and still steeped in the world of theatre.

The actors, Ryan Edlinger, Zach Winston, Jeff Marcus, Rachel Katherine Alexander, Michael Avellar, Jim Remmes, Caitlyn Conley, Anne Colpitts and Steve Marois all bring their A-game. From the neurotic to the cavalier, they are all give great performances who would in any other production, could become parodies of themselves. In this production, however, they could easily be real people with doubts, insecurities, confidence and attitudes.  Edlinger plays Chad Mailer with ease and levels of complexity as well as managing to give us a strong sense of an arc, making us all root for him. We have all been there with ourselves. Zach Winston is the conniving and committed Billy Horowitz, and steals many scenes with his over the top grandeur and brilliantly timed one-liners.  Jeff Marcus gives us a sweet turn as Calvin, who himself is loyal to his friend to a fault, but we see there is much more underneath the layers of his calm.  Rachel Katherine Alexander plays the innocent Chloe very well, but like everyone else, has more to her than we realize, growing a great deal during the piece.  Michael Avallar's Ted rides the line between confidence and anger strongly, giving us a sense of what kind of person he was before the man he was today. Its great to see. The odd and philosophical Box, played by Jim Remmes, is hilariously impish and wonderfully theatrical in his representation of the character. Again, with everyone else, gives us something much deeper than what we see in many moments. Caitlyn Conley's Kt is wonderfully brash, confident and incredibly comfortable, as she gives us several helpings of well-placed snark. She is, in a word, awesome.  Anne Colpitts and Steve Marois give strong performances as the Ensemble, as they play different characters throughout, and have funny moments but not taking away from the main scenes at hand. Everyone in this cast shines.

What else can be said about this show except only more praise? The writing, actors, tech, direction and everything in between masterfully and beautifully clashed together.  Vagabond Theatre Group has put so much effort, attention and above all, utter geek and nerdy love into this production.  Yes, we get a taste of Comic Con, but we see that even in an environment that feeds off of fantasy, there is truth and faith under all those layers.  "True Believers", again, seems like not just a clever title, but rather something within, something we maintain as we latch onto something bigger. Even though we might lose faith in ourselves, we realize that we are more much more capable then we first thought.  We just need someone to help us, or in this case, believe in the world of "superheroes, cyborgs and slave Leias" to help give us that extra push. Kudos to Vagabond for wonderfully bringing it all together, culminating in a great night of theatre. Check it out!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Raunchy, Rude and Rocking: Lyric Stage Company Presents "Avenue Q"

In 2004, Broadway brought forth a new comedy musical that was a familiar take on reality that explored the post-college adventures and lives of several unique individuals.  However, these individuals were mostly made up of the furry and fluffy sort.  This show of course, was "Avenue Q". Viewed as an almost  R-rated "Sesame Street" this hilarious musical garnered several Tonys for not only its raunchy humor, fun characters and plot, but the more rambunctious songs peppered throughout, including "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist" and "It Sucks To Be Me". The Lyric Stage in Boston is currently running their production of "Avenue Q".

"Avenue Q" tells the story of young college graduate Princeton, fresh-faced and out to find his purpose in life. After moving to New York, he ends up finding a nice little neighborhood, a bit of the run-down side, but full of heart called Avenue Q.  There he meets all sorts of interesting characters, puppet and human alike, and their own stories intertwine with his as they deal with their own issues.  We see the reality that their adult lives were not all full of promise and hope they dreamed of when they were kids. Also, Gary Coleman happened to be the Superintendent, which of course, adds to the levels of hilarity.

The music composed Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx is without a doubt, clever, witty and above all, extremely funny.  With tones of sing songy children's tunes, the content is far from something for a child.  Most of the score is made up of ridiculous and funny songs, but within it, there are few sweet ones, that really give the show true heart.  However, there were a few in there, including "I Wish I Could Go Back to College" that in content, quietly lamented about the things we all miss about about college, good and bad, that had no real set up. It has no place in the story, but it doesn't mean it wasn't a great song.  It felt all across the board that the songs were written first, with a somewhat relatable story built around it.  Despite the shortcomings of book and song, everything was extremely solid.

The cast was a truly a talented bunch.  Each gave wonderful performances that shined in each of their individual moments and scenes. From the relationships they created, touching to tumultuous, they all shared a strong chemistry. The scene-stealer of the night had to be Phil Tayler, as he portrayed the loud and net surfing Trekkie Monster, fun-loving and well-meaning Nicky and one half the cute yet manipulative Bad Idea Bears.   With his songs and his puppets, they were in sync with plenty servings of hilarity. His moments did not upstage anyone else in the cast, of course,  as everyone in the whole cast not only were expert in their usage of puppets, but all played well off each other.  They were again, a very funny and enjoyable ensemble.

Spiro Veloudos' direction was solid, especially in the space for the Lyric. The stage was center between three audience seating areas, therefore this particular stadium setting had to be used carefully. Veloudos had everyone play to the audience as much as possible on all sides, though not nearly enough to house right. It was distracting, especially between moments where listening to the lyrics helped feed a particular funny song.  The space worked against it, but it was a strong attempt to use every bit of it, especially because of the design.  Kathryn Kawecki's set design  perfectly captured a down-trodden neighborhood and managed to cram it all in the space.  It was full of heart and character and reflected the uniqueness of the residents.  Frank Meissner's lighting was not a super complex design, as nothing over the top would be suited for this particular show. He did give us a great use of a disco ball that when the light hit it just right, it created wonderful moods and moments. 

There is not denying that bringing such a great such to Boston was a perfect move by the Lyric.  The show reflected a lot of what of people knew and felt as they either came right out of school, or found themselves at a difficult point.  Masked in catchy numbers and fun moments, this production "Avenue Q" was of full of heaps of heart and hilarity, and reminding that even though things sometimes don't turn out the way we want, life goes on and its okay to laugh about certain things once in a while.  The Lyric Stage Company presented a great show with a talented cast, human and puppet alike, showing us that in life, good and bad, everything is only "For Now".

Monday, June 4, 2012

Witty and Silly, Very Smart and Full of Heart: The Huntington Theatre Presents "Private Lives"

"Private Lives"

Written by Noel Coward
Directed by Maria Aitken

The Huntington Theatre brings so many interesting pieces to their stage and has had a very strong track record in their theatrical endeavors.  Playwright and songwriter Noel Coward's "Private Lives" recently opened and there was plenty of buzz surrounding it that it was evident that this one was going to be a lot of fun.

"Private Lives" tells the story of divorcés Amanda and Elyot, having divorced each other five years early, starting fresh with their new respective spouses, Victor and Sybl, on their honeymoons.  By unfortunate chance, they both end up running into each other as they both are staying at the same place.   However, unexpectedly, they soon find themselves still harboring feelings for one another and their spark is once again reignited.

Coward's play is made up of three acts, but the structure feels like a miniseries in some ways. In the sense of how it was presented, it could be very well adapted into a TV show, as we are constantly given the typical "cliffhanger" after each act.  Granted, the first act could have been a standalone show because of how much was developed in a short amount of time.  The second act felt unnecessary, as it might have filled in gaps, but instead, it drew certain things out way too long. Very little was developed and watching the third act, it was a wonder why it was not shortened a bit.  All three could have been edited down to a two-act show.  However, despite its length, there was a great deal of clever wit and sharp dialogue within the piece.  Combined with the clever timing and energy of the performances, the words flourished. It was quite the riot.

Across the board, each actor gave a great performance.  Seeing Bianco Amato's Amanda and James Waterston's Elyot play off each was a lot of fun to watch, as their chemistry fired away like pistons.  They were in sync and not only worked well with one another, but their individual performances were strong and extremely, joyously energetic. Biano's Amanda was hilariously sassy and poised, giving a fiery performance. Waterston's wiry movements and reactions mixed with his wonderful comedic timing was quite enjoyable. The show was quite the marathon and those two never let up for a second. Their humorous presences helped carry the piece.  Far from being just the spouses, Autumn Hurlbert's Sybl was sweet yet sharp in her performance, and Jeremy Webb's Victor was confident and firm, always the protector. It was a great bonus to see those two play off each other as they got their moments to shine together.  Though she was only on stage for a few minutes, Paula Plum's servant Louise stole some scenes with her overly ridiculous French attitude and constant sneezing. It was very fun.  Everyone gave strong performances as expected and all contributed to develop fantastic moments.

Maria Aitken's direction was simple, yet she gave us nice scene pictures throughout the show.  Much of the time, there were several silent moments in the play that were sprinkled throughout ended up being quite hilarious.  The choices that were made during said moments were clever and fun, never becoming awkward.  There were also intricate physical and emotional distances that were created on stage, giving a bold statement on the relationship of Amanda and Elyot. It was very strong.

The set design was beautiful. Allen Moyer's design was not only meticulous and extremely detailed in presentation, but it also transported the audience back in time, drawing all of us in. Philip S. Rosenberg's lighting design deserves a great deal of praise as well, as his beautifully creates the afterglow of the evening and early morning sunshine. The colors were simple, but they were perfect choices for setting the moods of each scene. Tech wise, everything came together well and never upstaged each other. They worked in tandem. Overall, everything in presentation was very classy.

Despite being lengthy in some parts, The Huntington's production of "Private Lives" hits it out of the park. The performances, direction and production value were all fantastic across the board. Witty and fun, its a true testament that certain things in life are full of unexpected chances and unusual consequences, and this production has it in spades. This show will most certainly leave you laughing and smiling. This is definitely a show to check out.