note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi
These are my choices for the Best of New England Theatre for 2006. Congratulations to the recipients! Due to my playwriting duties --- I completed three full-length scripts, this year --- I cut back on my reviews (and there were numerous shows that I regret having missed) but much of what I did see was wonderful (see below!). Please, please, PLEASE keep up the excellent work!
Those passages in quotes come from my reviews which were posted on this web site.
CHARLIE VICTOR ROMEO (American Repertory Theatre / World Music / CRASHarts; Cambridge, MA). Created by Bob Berger, Patrick Daniels and Irving Gregory. Directed by Bob Berger and Patrick Daniels. Cast: Paul Bargetto; Bob Berger; Parick Daniels; Noel Dinneen; Debbie Troche; Nora Woolley; Sam Zuckerman. You can’t beat CHARLIE VICTOR ROMEO at the Zero Arrow Theatre for white-knuckled suspense: in a cockpit setting, five actors and two actresses act out the final moments of Black Box transcriptions from six real-life airline emergencies, all of the planes going down due to human error, mechanical malfunction or Nature itself. (The evening’s title is a nickname for the CVR, or Cockpit Voice Recorder.) Some may take offense at such material being offered as entertainment, others may pass due to the high death factor, but CHARLIE VICTOR ROMEO is neither sensationalized nor morbid but, instead, a tribute to the everyday men and women who take our lives in their hands upon take-off and do all that is humanly possible to set us safely on the ground, again. … Considering the company worked from bare-boned transcripts, the juice of life squeezed out of them, the talented cast floods us with vivid turns of human nature under pressure and in minute detail, and Jamie Mereness’ breathtaking soundtrack, recreating the sounds of a plane in health, warning and death agony, plays around and underneath you, sealing you in with the actors for ninety unrelenting minutes; Death comes each time as a silencing black-out with the outcome flashed upon a screen. CHARLIE VICTOR ROMEO is not everyone’s idea of a night out but if the requirements of Art are to disturb, provoke and enlighten, then this is Art, indeed --- and you’ll never feel so glad, afterwards, to feel your feet on terra firma, once again.”
CHRISTINE JORGENSEN REVEALS (The Theatre Offensive; Boston, MA). Conceived by Bradford Louryk. Directed by Josh Hecht. Cast: Rob Grace; Bradford Louryk. “Christine Jorgensen, of course, was one of the most famous women of her day, being born George Jorgensen, Jr. in 1926 and undergoing one of the first successful sex changes in 1952. Miss Jorgensen underwent her transformation never dreaming that fame and notoriety would be thrust upon her (“Ex-GI Turns Blonde Beauty!”) but she lived out the rest of her life with grace and good humor as a personality, a nightclub performer and an admitted curiosity. Now Miss Jorgensen herself has become a performance in CHRISTINE JORGENSEN REVEALS, entirely lip-synced by two actors to a 1958 recorded interview. … Bradford Louryk mouths Miss Jorgensen and Rob Grace, a white actor, does [Nipsey] Russell. Mr. Louryk appears onstage, dressed in New Look regalia; Mr. Grace, on a 1950s television screen. (The content of Miss Jorgensen’s recording has been rearranged for smoother continuity.) The Messrs. Louryk and Grace lip-sync and react remarkably well; thus, Miss Jorgensen’s ghost rises not once, but twice: not only does the audience see “Christine Jorgensen” before them, but the novelty of Miss Jorgensen’s existence is reinforced by the novelty of her being channeled through Mr. Louryk, making her different and new, again. Mr. Louryk does not physically resemble Miss Jorgensen who adopted the hard manikin look of the mature Crawford (Mr. Louryk is next door to the mature Dietrich) and since the evening begins with a televised montage of Miss Jorgensen, hearty and commanding, Mr. Louryk’s imitation seems reserved and tremulous, in comparison --- otherwise, his is an amazing piece of conjuring, played without a trace of Camp as the legendary Lypsinka would do, and he goes along with the recording’s unintended sound effects (i.e., the squeak of Miss Jorgensen’s chair; the sudden dissonance from the microphone, etc.). The Roberts Studio Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts has the right acoustics so that the recorded dialogue does seem to be coming from the right directions.”
COMING UP FOR AIR: AN AUTOJAZZOGRAPHY (Alliger Arts; Boston, MA). Conceived and performed Stan Strickland. Written and directed by Jon Lipsky. “Saxophonist Stan Strickland, a mainstay of Boston’s jazz scene for more than 30 years, has brought his acclaimed one-man show COMING UP FOR AIR: AN AUTOJAZZOGRAPHY to the Boston Center for the Arts and said acclaim is justified within seconds --- Mr. Strickland, a handsome, playful presence with a Slinky for a skeleton and a jazz ensemble for vocal chords, spins his personal odyssey beginning in childhood and concluding with a life- and music-changing experience when he nearly drowned while body surfing in Hawaii (his two thoughts at the time: “Look for the light” and “What a shame not to have had a hit CD”; his first CD, entitled “Love & Beauty”, has since been released). Jon Lipsky has captured Mr. Strickland’s thoughts in a hypnotic tone-poem that allows Mr. Strickland to become Jazz incarnate with or without his various instruments, backed by Justin Grant’s layered sound design --- eighty minutes later, performer and audience are old friends. … And how encouraging to see Mr. Strickland picking up where the recently departed PATIENCE OF NANTUCKET left off in terms of bringing good, satisfying black theatre to Boston audiences --- and, amazingly, in the same Black Box Theatre where BEE-LUTHER-HATCHEE was sadly ignored, three seasons ago.”
A PLACE TO SAY SOMETHING: THE OFF-OFF-BROADWAY PHENOMENON OF THE ‘60s (The Boston Conservatory Theater Division; Boston, MA). Panelists: Edward Albee; George Birimisa; Daniel Haben Clark; John Gilman; Robert Heide; William M. Hoffman; Larry Loonin; Michael McGrinder; Robert Patrick (on video); Steve Susoyev; George White; Doric Wilson; Phoebe Wray. Plays performed: “Sex is Between Two People” by Lanford Wilson. Directed by Will Blum. Cast: Tim Markman; Jesse Swenson. “Thank You, Miss Virginia” by William Hoffman. Directed by Doug Lockword. Cast: Brendan McNab. “”The Foreigners” by Michael McGrinder. Directed by Ken Baltin. Cast: Isaac Elkiss; Cayt’lan Wayt. “The Warhol Machine” by Robert Patrick. (Staged reading.) Cast: Ricky Denning; Richard Hoehn; Christopher Lyons; Krissy Price; Amanda Wilson. “And He Made a Her” by Doric Wilson. Directed by Austin Regan. Cast: Emily Ferranti; Will Larch; Adam Levinskas; Ryan Lile; Frankie Marrone. “Moon” by Robert Heide. Directed by Ryan Wood. Cast: David Albright; David Christiansen; Chase Davidson; Elizabeth Maslen; Jessica Norland. “Daddy Violet” by George Birimisa. Directed by Tima Kava. Cast: Andrew Durand; Chris Ruth; Ilana Toeplitz. “The Rue Garden” by Claris Nelson. Directed by J. T. Ross. Cast: Dani Burr; Morgan Darian; Taylor Oldner; Rebecca Zaretsky. “The Mulberry Bush” by Phoebe Wray. Directed by M. W. Ammons. Cast: Langley Denton; Courtney Garton Evans; Diana Jelmini; Rachel Jeisen; Niki Michaelson; Lauren Nedelman; Stephanie Alyse Sanford; Whitney Snow; Kristen Sweeney; Tiffany Wiesend. “Love Me, Or I’ll Kill You” by Daniel Haben Clark. Directed by Bryce Chaddick. Cast: Cameron Bautsch; Christine Nolan. “You shoulda been there, when Boston Conservatory’s festival A PLACE TO SAY SOMETHING: THE OFF-OFF-BROADWAY PHENOMENON OF THE ‘60s paid hommage to Joseph Cino (1931-1967), the former dancer turned café-owner whose Caffe Cino in Greenwich Village gave birth to the Off-Off-Broadway theatre movement, “Off-Off-Broadway” defining those experimental and avant-garde plays performed in coffee houses, church basements, etc. Mr. Cino had envisioned Caffe Cino as a Great Good Place for socializing and where poetry readings and folk music could be heard; the first theatrical offerings were excerpts and one-acts by established playwrights but Caffe Cino made its mark with works by a new generation that included Doric Wilson, William Hoffman, Robert Patrick, John Guare, Tom Eyen, and Lanford Wilson who broke down theatre’s illusionary fourth wall and tackled such taboos as the Vietnam war and sexual freedom (you must remember that the national mindset at the time was one of numbing conformity --- and, children, those days are returning). The Caffe Cino plays were of varying quality as Mr. Cino said “yes” to scripts before reading them and their productions were built from scraps, performed on a 8 foot x 8 foot stage and lit by electricity stolen from the city grid; hats were passed to pay the actors, whose roster includes Al Pacino, Bernadette Peters and the legendary Neil Flanagan, best known as the title role of Lanford Wilson’s THE MADNESS OF LADY BRIGHT. Mr. Cino was constantly harrassed for licensing violations and refused to accept government grants, fearing that they would kill the Caffe’s spirit; he became addicted to amphetamines and died on April 4, 1967, four days after attempting hari kari. Caffe Cino struggled to stay open but closed in 1968, a victim of the strict cabaret laws being enforced by the young alderman, Ed Koch. … Boston Conservatory faculty members Phoebe Wray and Neil Donohoe --- she, an Off-Off-Broadway actress/playwright/director; he, the director of BoCo’s mindblowing IOLANTHE --- brought together veteran O-O-B playwrights to reminisce and to set the record straight and BoCo student-directors and actors staged ten of these playwrights’ early works under similar no-budget conditions. … Do these ten plays still hold up? Considering they were written forty years ago by young playwrights in an angry era, yes, most of them do, quite nicely. They may not do as well with polished actors and honest-to-goodness sets (that fourth wall, again) but they flourished in BoCo’s bare, black box theatre --- the energy and trust of these talented young artists simply floored the creators....”
SHAKESPEARE’S ACTRESSES IN AMERICA (American Repertory Theatre; Cambridge, MA). A recital performance created and performed by Rebekah Maggor. Directed by Dan Cozzens. Movement direction by Anna Weiss. “For three evenings and one afternoon at the Zero Arrow Theatre in Cambridge, a willowy actress in a bottle-green gown, breeches hidden, underneath, performed her recital SHAKESPEARE’S ACTRESSES IN AMERICA, the most entrancing Bard encounter I’ve seen in ages. The actress, Rebekah Maggor --- remember her name --- worked her magic not by what she said but in how she said it, performing Shakespeare as celebrated actresses have done in the past, based upon detailed research, a gift for mimicry and, of course, her own superb instrument. What reads like a gimmick on paper became an illuminating lesson on changing fashions in declamation ranging from Julia Marlowe’s sing-song to Ellen Terry’s bleats and Sarah Bernhardt’s rattle, from Dame Sybil Thorndike tolling like a brass bell and Mary Pickford pouting a la Shirley Temple to Elizabeth Taylor’s clipped haughtiness and Claire Danes’ flatness geared for younger audiences, with Eva La Gallienne and narrator Margaret Webster as satisfying compromises. Ms. Maggor did not settle for clever impersonation alone but first captured each woman’s personality and style prior to channeling the Bard and three-dimensional figures stepped forward once again to charm, impress or unintentionally amuse. … The time could not have been better spent, nor the Bard better served.”
AMADEUS (Vokes Players, Wayland MA). Written by Peter Shaffer. Directed by Kirsten Gould. Cast: Jim Barton; Evan Bernstein; David Berti; Peri Chouteau; Jim Curley; David Gould; Michael Lague; Jeff Mahoney; Michelle Mount; Mary Rutkowski; Rich Schieferdecker; Melissa Sine; John Small; Bill Stambaugh; Robert Zawistowski. “AMADEUS is Peter Shaffer’s third play dealing with an older man (representing Reason) confronted by a Wild Child of Nature: in THE ROYAL HUNT OF THE SUN, the agnostic Pizzaro, leader of the conquistadors, clashes with the young Inca ruler Atahuallpa who believes he is descended from the Sun God and thus immortal. In EQUUS, Apollonian psychiatrist Martin Dysart takes on Dionysian Alan Strang who blinded six horses in a frenzy; in exposing the boy’s demons, Dysart comes face-to-face with his own. AMADEUS spins one of opera’s most famous legends: that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91) was poisoned by rival composer Antonio Salieri (1750-1825). Told as a flashback by the aged Salieri on the night he attempts suicide, AMADEUS is not so much about Salieri’s battle with Mozart but with the God who fashioned him: as a youth, Salieri bartered with his Maker, offering goodness in exchange for fame; later, as a court favorite of Emperor Joseph II, Salieri hears the music of the newly-arrived Mozart and realizes that as a composer he (Salieri) lacks only one thing: genius. Upon learning that the wunderkind is a spoiled, scatological brat, Salieri bites the hand of God --- he, the chaste, the pure, can never rise above mediocrity while sublime music flows from the obscene Mozart --- and sets about destroying His mouthpiece by blocking Mozart’s advancement at court, starving him out and driving him to madness and death while wearing the mask of Friend. Salieri’s comeuppance is to have fame heaped upon him for the next thirty years then be consigned to obscurity while Mozart’s music --- dismissed while he was alive --- is posthumously acclaimed; Salieri can only immortalize himself by going down in history as Mozart’s assassin --- ironically, he proves a mediocrity to the end. … [T]he Vokes Players’ intimate production proves that the smaller the playing space the more concentrated and involving AMADEUS becomes and director Kirsten Gould keeps things crisp and cool, especially in her group-tableaus so that Mozart’s heavenly inserts are a natural extension to the impassioned declaiming. … [T]he evening is a wonderful montage of 18th century faces in all their shapes and expressions, particularly those who have little or no lines to speak. … James Barton (Salieri) and Jeff Mahoney (Mozart) are an astonishing team. Mr. Barton is a self-editing performer --- nothing he says or does is flamboyant or excessive --- his is not a larger-than-life presence but neither is Salieri’s; when Salieri falls as angels do, Mr. Barton does not switch from chamber music to grand opera but adds only those ornamentations necessary to evoke this particular soul in torment: the flames that lick at him are blue and cold. A good Salieri takes his cue from his Mozart and Mr. Barton is blessed to be paired with Mr. Mahoney whose hyper mannerisms have been caught by Ms. Gould and properly channeled unlike his recent Chuck Baxter (PROMISES, PROMISES) which, frankly, drove me up the wall. On paper, Mr. Shaffer’s Mozart is a chain of vocal shocks; Mr. Mahoney, however, forges a tragicomic portrait of the Artist in all his mercurial moods and does it, breathtakingly, with an air improvisational. If the Messrs. Barton and Mahoney are sparring in the heavens, Michelle Mount’s Constanze, part chippy, part earth-mother, is no less engrossing --- her animal cries at Mozart’s death are heart-rending. The ever-charming Vokes interior, over a century old, frames the action lovingly --- had orange girls appeared at intermission, hawking their wares, they would have been the dot at the end of the sentence.”
AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (Stoneham Theatre; Stoneham, MA). Written by Mark Brown, based on the novel by Jules Verne. Directed by Weylin Symes. Cast: Steven Barkhimer; Christopher Brophy; Eve Kagan; Robert Saoud; Victor Warren. “The thrill of Jules Verne’s AROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS lies in Mr. Verne pleading so convincing a case that such a feat could indeed be done in the 1870s … By being so practical an author, Mr. Verne could not but help inspire future scientists to pick up in life where he left off on the page; indeed, upon reading Mr. Verne’s novel, so marvelously researched in its geographical detail, one is tempted to test the fictional path traveled by Phileas Fogg and Passepartout, so long ago. (Such a trip would take far less time, of course, unless you go the old-fashioned way by train and steamer.) In the end, Mr. Verne’s greatest gift was not to Science but to his readers, bringing back the wonder of childhood into their lives, and dreamers are the ones who set things in motion… A stage adaptation by Mark Brown is currently playing at the Stoneham Theatre, and both adaptation and production are clever fun. Mr. Brown is faithful to the breathless plot … and he condenses several days of reading to two hours of stage traffic with a quintet ensemble, four of its actors in multiple roles. Thus, the suspense is doubled: can Phileas Fogg win his bet and can Mr. Brown pull off his own challenge? The answer to both is “yes” … Since the Messrs. Verne and Brown are the stars, here, a director has no choice but to carry out their orders but Weylin Symes proves himself an adept juggler of bodies and once his five actors are tossed into the air, then do not touch ground until curtain call. They, too, are marvelous: Steven Barkheimer, whose comic technique is one of owl-like solemnity, is an ideal Phileas Fogg, the stiff upper lip in the whirlwind of events; twice I have seen Christopher Brophy play all-too-convincing rednecks and was delighted with his fluffy but dapper Passepartout --- who would have guessed a boulevardier lurked within him? Eve Kagan, new to me, is pretty and seems as spunky as Mr. Brown’s Aouda; Victor Warren works the audience with obvious relish as Detective Fix, among others, and Robert Saoud is protean-rich impersonating everyone else.”
BEEHIVE: THE 60’S MUSICAL SENSATION (Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, ME). Created by Larry Gallagher. Directed and choreographed by Russell Garrett. Cast: Trish Aponte; Gretchen Goldsworthy; Marcie Henderson; Rebeka Jacobs; A’lisa D. Miles; Aléna Watters. “BEEHIVE: THE 60’S MUSICAL SENSATION has kicked off the Ogunquit Playhouse’s 74th season and is already one of the delights of this summer’s theatre-going: this joyous revue celebrates the girl- and women singers of the 1960s, not to mention their ever-changing hairstyles, clothing and social behavior. … Larry Gallagher has lovingly staged BEEHIVE, occasionally bringing it to Camp’s door but at no Flower Child’s expense (were 60s white girls really that drippy?), and his gifted ensemble reaps thunderous applause with each and every number, especially Marcie Henderson for her hilariously stuck-up Diana Ross and stunning Tina Turner (“Ha!”); A’lisa D. Miles and Aléna Watters’ soul-duet will send you into orbit.”
BROOKLYN BOY (SpeakEasy Stage Company; Boston, MA). Written by Donald Margulies. Directed by Adam Zahler. Cast: Ken Baltin; Ellen Colton; David Kristin; Joy Lamberton; Brad Smith; Victor Warren; Debra Wise. “The themes of “Who am I?” and “You can’t go home, again” transcend geographical and cultural boundaries and Donald Margulies’ BROOKLYN BOY is a heartwarming, funny-sad comedy about Eric Weiss, a Jewish-American author who writes the bestselling, semi-autographical novel “Brooklyn Boy”; finally a success, Eric returns to his old neighborhood where his widowed father is dying, his estranged wife wants a divorce and the world he once knew has vanished, by and large, behind his back; in Hollywood, Eric abandons his “Brooklyn Boy” screenplay to the Fates after being told that it is too Jewish. Eric’s father dies but makes a ghostly return to heal their mutual grievances and bring Eric to closure. Mr. Margulies has written the loveliest dialogue to be heard in a many a season, the type that is hard to write so simply yet plays so effortlessly --- many an entertainment nowadays can freeze you with its gory, bleak or black-humored vision but Mr. Margulies has a Shakespearean soul and BROOKLYN BOY will make you laugh, heartily, but also melt you, pure and simple. … The Speakeasy production has been lovingly staged by Adam Zahler … David Kristin’s father and Ken Baltin’s childhood friend [were] flawless “neighborhood” portrayals.”
CAROLINE OR CHANGE (SpeakEasy Stage, Boston, MA). Book and lyrics by Tony Kushner. Music by Jeanine Tesori. Directed by Paul Daigneault. Musical direction by José Delgado. Choreographed by Jackie Davis. Cast: Emilie Battle; Breanna Bradlee; Jacob Brandt; Shavanna Calder; Sarah Corey; Dominic Gates; Sean McGuirk; Michael Mendiola; A’lisa D. Miles; Jacqui Parker; Merle Perkins; Brian Richard Robinson; Dorothy Santos; Dick Santos; Nikki Stephenson; Anich D’Jae Wright. “Tony Kushner’s CAROLINE OR CHANGE, at the SpeakEasy Stage, is his most accessible work thus far, a play that is mostly sung or declaimed, throughout: Caroline, an embittered black woman working as a maid in 1963 Louisiana, feels the social winds of change a-blowing yet cannot make herself over, having lived so long in segregation’s shadow; her various struggles are semi-narrated by Noah Gellman, the young son of Caroline’s employers, presumably the playwright as a child. Mr. Kushner concludes with Caroline accepting her lot while her three children face the future, proud and free and shining with hope --- and in the Jim Crow South (but, to paraphrase Mr. Wilde, that is the nature of musicals). … Jacqui Parker is the SpeakEasy’s Caroline. Ms. Parker is at her best when she is challenged as in HAYMARKET and, unforgettably, ASCENSION where a searing tragedienne suddenly sprang out of nowhere; otherwise, she glows in her familiar cool, blue flame. CROWNS introduced Ms. Parker’s vocal talents; CAROLINE OR CHANGE opens them up for full display --- Ms. Parker is first heard humming, in the dark, and the sense of a Presence is thrilling, once visible, Ms. Parker’s declamation of the word “Louisiana” speaks volumes of weary oppression with the last vowel cut off with a glottal stop; as her performance continued, however, I realized that Ms. Parker’s Caroline would go no farther than being a deep, troubled pool with widening rings whereas the role suggests a woman poisoning herself with rage, leading to her eleventh-hour spot, “Lot’s Wife”, in which she erupts for the first and last time. Ms. Parker carefully picks her way through this crucial number (hers is not a rich, wailing instrument) but that should not undermine the rest of her achievement; a Mama Rose who delivers all of the goods except for “Rose’s Turn” can still command respect --- likewise Ms. Parker’s Caroline. … The two pleasant surprises are Merle Perkins as Dotty, Caroline’s best friend, and Sarah Corey as Noah’s well-meaning stepmother. I have heard Ms. Perkins ring hollow when singing in her upper register; Dotty lies in mid-range, freeing Ms. Perkins to beautifully flesh out this woman who is cautiously moving ahead while still turning a respectful cheek. Twice I have seen Ms. Corey do camp turns; here, she displays a fine singing-acting technique, alert to every nuance and shading in this busy score --- may she continue in that direction even if it means missing out on instant diva-dom. Jacob Brandt does some admirable Sprechstimme as Noah, and it was good to hear Brian Richard Robinson’s soaring baritone, again, having missed it these past few seasons; Mr. Robinson’s flamboyant Dryer is a bit much but he contracts movingly into a rattletrap, segregated Bus. Emilie Battle, Nikki Stephenson and Anich D’Jae Wright are delightful as the Radio (a pop Greek chorus) and A’lisa D. Miles is a sensuous Washing Machine; her gentle undulations cleverly suggesting the wash cycle.”
CLOUD 9 (The Longwood Players; Cambridge, MA). Written by Caryl Churchill. Directed by Marc S. Miller. Cast: Danielle Bauman; Mike Budwey; Tara Jean Conway; Adam Friedman; Christopher J. Hagberg; Gillian Mackay-Smith; Josh Pritchard; Erin Scanlon. “[Caryl] Churchill’s CLOUD 9, a “Comedy of Multiple Organisms”, remains her most popular work: in a nineteenth-century British colony in Africa, surrounded by restless natives, the administrator Clive and his family strive to keep up appearances as their sexual frustrations mount. Family friend and explorer Harry Bagley yearns for Clive’s wife Betty, seduces Clive’s servant Joshua, has sexually initiated Clive’s young son Edward and even makes a pass at Clive, himself. Harry is quickly married off to Edward’s lesbian governess; the natives revolt, and Joshua supposedly shoots everyone at the wedding. In Act Two, set in modern-day London, some of the characters are still working through their frustrations: the grown-up Edward, though gay, becomes attracted to his sister Victoria who, in turn, is lured from her marriage by the divorcée Lin; Betty, now middle-aged, leaves Clive and begins to shed her Victorian values, flirting with Edward’s ex-lover Gerry and rediscovering herself through masturbation --- the play concludes with the two Bettys (Then and Now) coming together as one. Some of the roles are played by the opposite gender to point out the bisexual in us all. … When I saw the original New York production over two decades ago, Act One was played as a romp (no doubt, to get Ms. Churchill’s points more smoothly across) whereas Act Two’s drama and frankness were at odds with the preceding mock-evasiveness. The Longwood Players production reflects how times have softened, for better or worse, allowing director Marc S. Miller to wed the acts together; there may not be as many laughs as before but here the focus is on character, not Camp, with Act One demonstrating what repression does to the soul and Act Two, tentative steps towards the greening of one’s life. Mr. Miller’s agreeable troopers are led by the Falstaffian Josh Pritchard, nimble of voice if not of body, and Christopher J. Hagberg whose Betty is similar to his Zaza (LA CAGE AUX FOLLES) but still sweetly engaging. Erin Scanlon correctly plays Edward as a hard, green little creature rather than a coy impersonation and Gillian Mackay-Smith as Betty’s mother and Betty, herself, continues to fascinate and frustrate me: when playing Act One’s laced-in role, Ms. Mackay-Smith is true; in Act Two, where freedom rules, she continues to pass off her fumbles and mugging as a Presence --- but I’ve not given up on Ms. Mackay-Smith: she has begun to listen to her fellow actors, is not afraid to be vulnerable (her most engaging trait) and may prove a better tragedienne than comedienne; she may even make me cry, someday…”
DISNEY’S ALADDIN: A MUSICAL SPECTACULAR (Godief Theatrical Productions, Winthrop, MA). Music and lyrics by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, based on the Walt Disney Pictures animated film “Aladdin”. Directed by Michael Diefenbach. Choreographed by Shannah Kane. Musical direction by Annemarie Alvarez. Cast: Lesley Anderson; Gideon Bautista; Michael J. Borges; Justin D’Amour; Constantine Giannakopoulos; Christine Glowacki; Megumi Haggerty; Lindsay Hurley; Nimisha Kashyap; Chris Kingston; Robert LoBrutto; Sarah-Allison Lohr; Lorianne Major; Justin McCoubry; Stephanie Moskal; Jessica Naimy; Wendy O’Byrne; Kevin Pasdon; Evan Rhoda; Katy Rosin; Michael J. Sgrignari; Carson Shelton; Jaime Arin Swartz; Herve Tennessee. ““Youth, Triumphant” could well be the battle cry at the Winthrop Playhouse, beginning with Michael Diefenbach, who works energetic wonders with his “round” actors to Timothy Greenway’s economically clever settings which include a nifty magic carpet ride, to the spunky ensemble who perform to a pre-recorded soundtrack and dole out the whimsy with infectious glee. (Amazingly, the evening flies by without an intermission.) Evan Rhoda’s bland, bright presence makes him a perfect storybook Aladdin (here, plot-sweep rather than character detail is demanded); Jessica Naimy is a stolid Jasmine but sings prettily enough; Michael J. Borges’ blue-skinned Genie, endlessly morphing into this or that, may be a Class Clown on a sugar-high but never raises the specter of the role’s original manic creator, and a stunning, cat-eyed beauty named Justine D’Amour opens the show before disappearing into the choral ranks. On the night I attended, I was also amazed at the number of teens and twentysomethings in the house; granted, their woof-woof cheers were neighborhood sounds but the important thing is that they were inside a theatre, on their own free will, and should they continue to sample live entertainment in and beyond their own community, ah, the wonders that await them!”
THE GRAND DUKE, or THE STATUTORY DUEL (Sudbury Savoyards; Sudbury, MA). Libretto by W. S. Gilbert; music by Sir Arthur Sullivan. Directed by Paula Moravek. Musical direction by Stephen Malionek. Cast: Michael Belle; Marco Bonito; Elaine Crane; Art Dunlap; Ed Fell; Mary A. Finn; Cavalyn Galano; Julie Kingman; Tambre Tarleton Knox; Kathy Lague; Stephanie Mann; Sara Williams; Laurel Martin; Dennis O'Brien; Tony Parkes. Emsemble: Russell Adams; David Baldwin; John Covert; Debbie Crane; Janice Dallas; Arthur Dunlap; Meryl Eisenstein; Ed Fell; Beth Fowler; Marcia Goldensher; Beth Goldstein; John Gorgone; Fred Hughes; Rollin Jeglum; Bill Johnson; David Kehs; David Lopshire; Laurel Martin; Linnea Martin; Neil McCormick; June McKnight; Rich Olsen; David Owen; Roy Paro; Tom Porcher; Karen Powers; Nancy Powers; Jon Saul; Ellen Simmons; Heather Sliney; Paul Sliney; J. Donald Smith; Ellen Spear; Ted Sullivan; Stacey Teman; Marla Zucker. “In 1896, W. S. Gilbert wrote, “I’m not a proud Mother, and I never want to see this ugly misshapen little brat again.” He was referring to THE GRAND DUKE, his fourteenth comic opera in collaboration with Arthur Sullivan; the “brat” proved the final offspring of the G&S team and was rarely performed during the last century; only in recent times has it been brought back into the repertoire. How bad (or good) is THE GRAND DUKE? For starters, the original version is overly long and the plot, overly complicated: in the Grand Duchy of Pfennig Halbpfennig, a theatrical troupe plots to overthrow the tyrannical Grand Duke Rudolph and elect its manager Ernest Dummkopf to the throne. When Ludwig, the leading comedian, unintentionally leaks the plot to a spy, he and Ernest save their skins through an obscure dueling custom where they draw cards and the man with the lower card is declared legally dead, thus becoming the scapegoat. Ludwig “duels” with both Ernest and Rudolph and twice draws the higher card, becoming manager of the troupe and Duke of Pfenning Halbpfennig, but now he cannot wed the soubrette Lisa as the law requires that the winner inherits all of the deceased’s responsibilities; thus, he is claimed by Julia, the troupe’s temperamental leading lady, and Rudolph’s two betrotheds: the Baroness von Krakenfeldt and the nouveau-riche Princess of Monte Carlo. The topsy-turvydom is sorted out and four couples pair off, accordingly. Mr. Gilbert’s formulaic libretto ignites only when Ludwig finds himself a husband in demand and though Mr. Sullivan produced no recognizable tunes, there is lovely music throughout in jolly and/or satirical vein. … The Sudbury Savoyards have mounted their first production of THE GRAND DUKE which, carefully trimmed, proves an amusing-enough entertainment, after all. Michael Belle, in a welcome Savoyard debut, makes a bright, ringing Ernest; Dennis O’Brien’s Ludwig is a study of a Ham being born compared to last year’s Ko-Ko which was nimble and Ham-free. Kathy Lague was a matronly Mabel, two seasons ago; as Julia, she is handsome and commanding in true diva fashion, especially in her Mad Scene --- her lower register may wobble but her coloratura is secure and she floats some lovely, honeyed high notes. Onstage, Tony Parkes is all Vulcan solemnity yet such woodenness makes his sourpuss Rudolph rather endearing and he effortlessly fills the house with his crystal-clear diction. Happily, the numerous Savoyard choruses now stay stock-still when they are not the focus of a scene rather than engage in a mugging free-for-all, and they continue to sing gloriously (their hushed utterance of the word “broken” is a marvelous Act Two moment); on the debit side, they remain leaden in their movements and a goodly handful still cannot make it offstage in sync with a song’s closing strains --- next year’s offering is IOLANTHE and they will have to work at “tripping hither, tripping thither.””
HOT MIKADO (Footlight Club; Jamaica Plain, MA). Based on “The Mikado” by W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan; book and lyrics adapted by David H. Bell. Musical concepts and arrangements by Rob Bowman. Directed by Richard Repetta. Musical direction by Tim Evans. Choreography by Michael Hogman. Cast: Bruce F. Blaisdell; Jenny Bragdon; David Chin; Jeff Ferraro; Daraiha Greene; Brandon Grimes; David Ieong; Karen Ieong; Artie Leger; Joel Light; Kristin McEntee; Alex Paquet-Whall; Rena Pemper-Rodriguez; John Raftery; Sparkle; Lauren Sprague; Rydia Q. Vielehr. “Those who cannot stand Gilbert & Sullivan --- and those who do --- will delight in this swing (and swinging) version of the masters’ most popular comic opera and what is equally delightful is how much of it adapts so well to the be-bop/boogie-woogie era, accented with contemporary touches. … If Richard Repetta’s sole directorial command was to have fun, that was direction enough and it is good to see his ensemble biting into such tuneful, older fare and relishing the taste, the standouts being Lauren Sprague’s cute-as-a-toy Yum-Yum, Artie Leger’s Ko-Ko, bouncing about like a helium balloon, and David Ieong’s suave Pooh-Bah. Said fun proves so infectious that it is easy to overlook the occasional sour note from the orchestra, the wooden chorus member or two, or a solo voice too green and imitative. In short, I had a grinning good time at HOT MIKADO and so will you --- if you can get to a phone, of course.”
THE HUMAN COMEDY (Barrington State Company; Pittsfield, MA). Music by Galt MacDermot; libretto by William Dumresq, based on the novel “The Human Comedy” by William Saroyan. Directed by Julianne Boyd. Choreographed by Lara Teeter. Musical direction by Darren R. Cohen. Cast: Debby Boone; Heath Calvert; Lori Brooke Cohan; Kimberly Cuellar; Colin Cunliffe; Colin Cunliffe; Matthew-Lee Erlbach; Eamon Foley; Cheryl Freeman; André Garner; Donald Grody; Morgan James; Doug Kreeger; Megan Lewis; Bobby List; Kiera O’Neil; Adam Sansiveri; Robb Sherman; Molly Sorohan. “The Barrington Stage Company is currently offering the rarely-seen musical THE HUMAN COMEDY (it briefly played in New York in the mid 1980s); musical-historian Ken Mandelbaum declares it the Great American Opera --- it is, indeed, sung through from beginning to end though it is more oratorio in nature and there are some pleasing, if not mind-sticking, pastiches by Galt MacDermot of HAIR and TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA fame. Whenever the phrase “Great American” prefixes anything, you can expect something Big coming at you, and THE HUMAN COMEDY is decidedly Big whereas its source, William Saroyan’s novella, is decidedly Small. Mr. Saroyan’s direct, childlike writing may strike today’s readers as maudlin and sentimental, which may partly explain why the original New York production failed at the time, competing against the mordant Mr. Sondheim and the grandiose Mr. Lloyd-Webber; to me, the far greater flaw lies in the novella’s sea-change: William Dumresq’s libretto barely skims through the townsfolk of Ithaca, California circa 1943, in particular the Macauley family and their encounters with Life and Death, and Mr. MacDermot pumps Broadway razzmatazz, ‘80s style, into their veins which results in one “A” number after another bowling you over, with the ensemble repeatedly joining in at the most intimate moments --- when you step out into the real world, afterwards, you are amazed at how quiet it is…. But the Barrington production is wonderful: director Julianne Boyd and choreographer Lara Teeter have it running like clockwork, scene changes included, and their cast may be hard and shiny as a lollipop but is just as sweet --- what a rich array of powerful singing voices! The drawing name is Debby Boone as Mrs. Macauley and before you think “Corn” let me say that Ms. Boone has evolved into a beautifully detailed singing actress, properly downsized to fit in with the others --- she had been onstage for awhile, doing her homespun thing, before I realized who she was; Ms. Boone even manages to sound as if she is singing quietly while going at it full throttle.”
NO EXIT (American Repertory Theatre; Cambridge, MA). Written by Jean-Paul Sartre. Translation by Stuart Gilbert. Direction and set design by Jerry Mouawad. Cast: Remo Airaldi; Will LeBow; Karen MacDonald; Paula Plum. “In Jean-Paul Sartre’s NO EXIT, written and premiered in Nazi-ruled France, a dead man and two dead women, each with a past, are sealed off in a room to torment each other forever with their incompatibility … [Director Jerry] Mouawad has drawn some of the best work thus far from Will LeBow, Karen MacDonald and Paula Plum … Mr. LeBow is a bedrock actor: no matter the directorial vision, Mr. LeBow carries it out as realistically as possible and his Garcin is a detailed portrait of a Little Man who has died with nothing to show for it. Ms. Plum is saddled with a stock character --- the Predatory Lesbian --- but makes Inez work by playing her in period, i.e. not underlining every Sapphic glance or line reading. Best of all is Karen MacDonald’s Estelle, the aging beauty dependent upon others’ admiration --- warm A.R.T. memories are few and far-between, for me, but two have revolved around Ms. MacDonald: in THE BIRTHDAY PARTY, her nattering landlady endeared amidst the hideous mise-en-scène and in DIDO, QUEEN OF CARTHAGE, her Anna’s death-tableau with Iarbus was as moving as any good Pieta should be. Mr. Mouawad mines the Absurdist humor embedded in Mr. Sartre’s script, and Ms. MacDonald’s moment comes when she realizes she cannot murder Inez with a letter opener since she is already dead --- laughing hysterically, Ms. MacDonald mimes slashing her own wrist in demonstration, doubling her mirth, and ours; it is a human moment in an inhuman situation and, between Ms. MacDonald and her director, Estelle chooses to laugh rather than go mad over it.”
RESPECT, A MUSICAL JOURNEY (The Stuart Street Playhouse; Boston, MA). Conceived and written by Dorothy Marcic. Directed by David Arisco. Music staging by Barbara Flaten. Musical direction by Catherine Stornetta. Cast: Kareema M. Castro; Tiana Checchia; Aimee Collier; Kathy St. George. “I recently returned to the Stuart Street Playhouse to see Kathy St. George in a four-woman show --- no, not MENOPAUSE: THE MUSICAL which closed after a two-year run but, rather, RESPECT: A MUSICAL JOURNEY, conceived and written by Dorothy Marcic, a popular music authority. … Ms. Marcic has selected songs of the twentieth century which both defined and controlled women, with Ms. St. George as her representative; Ms. Marcic dilutes her lesson by alternating sweeping long-shots of Woman through the ages with close-ups of her own revelations and her generalizations are sweeping, indeed --- I find it hard to believe that the cartoon character Betty Boop was the Ideal Woman of the 1930s, for starters, and Ms. Marcic takes the familiar stance that the generations of women preceding her own led wasted lives, as if getting married and raising one’s children were wash-outs; thus, the earlier songs are tweaked whereas the more recent ones are held up as paeans to true sisterhood (mind you, not every woman went around singing “I Am Woman” in 1972). RESPECT works better as nostalgia than as a social tract and, on the night I attended, the packed house showered its heartiest applause on “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’”, “I Will Survive” and the title song; a delightful rendition of “Lollipop” was over before it had even begun --- more sweeping, again. David Arisco and Barbara Flaten keep the body-flow as punchy and direct as a newsreel and Russ Borski has designed a charming collage-setting in the Sgt. Pepper manner. … [T]he evening belongs to Ms. St. George, who has been cannily cast for her Presence as well as her voice: those who admire this pixy charmer will be stunned at the mature, confident hostess now appearing at the Playhouse and I commend Mr. Arisco for allowing Ms. St. George to stretch her muscles and become all the more beautiful for doing so. Piaf, not Peter Pan, please.”
1776 (The Lyric Stage Company of Boston; Boston, MA). Music and Lyrics by Sherman Edwards. Book by Peter Stone. Directed by Spiro Veloudos. Musical direction by Jonathan Goldberg. Choreographed by Ilyse Robbins. Cast: Jack F. Agnew; Ken Arpino; Kevin Ashworth; Gordon Baird; Peter A. Carey; Christopher Chew; John Costa; Dan Cozzens; John Davin; Robert De Vivo; Jennifer Ellis; Frank Gayton; Andrew “Curly” Glynn; Kevin Groppe; Thomas Keating; John King; Jeff Mahoney; Brendan McNab; Mark D. Morgan; Eileen Nugent; Terrence O’Malley; Dafydd Rees; Brent Reno; Blake Siskavich; Gerard Slattery; Timothy John Smith; J. T. Turner. “The Lyric Stage’s production of the musical 1776 brought tears to my eyes, several times --- the production itself is very much worth your while but my eyes stung mainly over Peter Stone’s masterly history lesson which pushes our Founding Fathers off their pedestals and back amidst the heat and flies of Philadelphia and, also, over how far our country has come for better or worse, especially when the current administration would gladly revise the original Declaration to fit its own definition of Freedom (how sobering should you compare our nation to the Roman Empire, 330 years after its own birth). … Spiro Veloudos’ eye has never been sharper when putting together the largest ensemble in the Lyric’s history, right down to the smallest roles; thus, Kevin Ashworth, a former Henry Higgins, supplies the necessary authority as John Hancock, the President of the Congress and the occasional tiebreaker; the role of Secretary Charles Thompson may consist of his tallying the votes and declaiming General Washington’s dispatches but in Bob De Vivo’s hands it becomes a touching cameo of a cut-and-dried little man who feels that the General is writing directly to him. And so it splendidly goes from Dafydd Rees’ bluff Col. McKean (Delaware) to Gerard Slattery’s rotund Samuel Chase (Maryland), alternately choleric and jovial, to Dan Cozzen’s Rev. Witherspoon (New Jersey), sitting awkwardly in black like an old maid at a stag party --- just to pick a few portraits from this teeming gallery (the gentling of male actors over the past few decades now enables them to slip into period costumes without a sense of being in drag; thus, the exquisites of Jeff Mahoney (Delaware, again) and Brent Reno (New York) are firmly kept from dissolving into mere foppery); on the distaff side, Eileen Nugent and Jennifer Ellis supply sweet and pretty frosting as the Mss. Adams and Jefferson, respectively.”
TALLEY’S FOLLY (Lyric Stage Company of Boston; Boston, MA). Written by Lanford Wilson. Directed by Adam Zahler. Cast: Marianna Bassham; Stephen Russell. “Lanford Wilson’s TALLEY’S FOLLY, the centerpiece in a trilogy that began with THE FIFTH OF JULY and concluded with TALLEY & SON, starts with Matt Friedman, a St. Louis businessman, telling the audience that the play runs ninety-seven minutes during which time he will win the hand of one Sally Talley on a summer’s night in rural Missouri, 1944. The lovers secretly meet in her family’s old boathouse where they play out their thrust-and-parry courtship; Matt tells of his family’s persecution in Europe which has left him not wanting to bring children into such a world and he coaxes a dark secret out of Sally which, in context, is not so dark, after all --- as promised, Sally’s hand is won within the set time frame. … Director Adam Zahler, Stephen Russell (Matt) and Marianna Bassham (Sally) make welcome Lyric Stage debuts. Matt describes his story as a Waltz and Mr. Zahler keeps his lovers circling about though he should also have dug for suspense and passion, but his actors are never less than watchable: Ms. Bassham contributes yet another high-strung filly and is fortunate this time to be paired with a horse-whisperer as gentle and supportive as Mr. Russell who wisely refrains from underlining Matt’s obvious lovability (especially in a cloying moment with ice skates).”
TOM CREAN, ANTARCTIC EXPLORER (The Súgán Theatre, Boston, MA). “The award-winning TOM CREAN, ANTARCTIC EXPLORER, written and performed by Aidan Dooley, is a soaring paean to the Irish explorer who made three (in)famous expeditions to Antarctica in the early twentieth century --- two with Captain Robert Scott; one, with Sir Ernest Shackleton. Twice Mr. Crean made astonishing rescues: one, covering thirty-five miles alone on foot; the other, crossing eight hundred miles of ocean in a lifeboat and scaling the uncharted glaciers of South Georgia (miraculously, rescuers and rescued all came through, each time). … Mr. Dooley’s play works beautifully as performance piece and as family entertainment --- Mr. Dooley begins and remains in character with his impersonations filtered through Mr. Crean’s eyes, alone (including some hilarious seconds as a leopard seal), steering away from a mere protean turn, and his narrative packs plenty of drama, lusty comedy and verbal scene-painting so that it springs to life on a bare stage with minimal props. … “[A]stonish me,” John Lahr once wrote and Mr. Dooley does as writer and as actor, evoking the terror and majesty of a vast frozen world where Man is but an ant creeping to triumph on willpower, alone. Several times I caught myself listening, open-mouthed, like a child, especially in Act Two, where I wondered how the Messrs. Dooley and Crean could ever top themselves after Act One’s tour de force but they do and have earned their thunderous applause at curtain. Welcome to the magic of Theatre.”
TWO GENTLEMEN OF SOHO (Salem Theatre Company; Salem, MA). Written by A. P. Herbert. Directed by John Fogle. Cast: Kristine Burke; Jim Butterfield; Dorothy Eagle; Bob Karish; Mark O’Donald; Erik Rodenhiser; Steve Walsh; Jennifer Wilson. “The Salem Theatre Company is a company without a home but it has its eye on Salem’s Old Town Hall in Derby Square and for two weekends the company performed in the Hall’s courtyard A. P. Herbert’s 1920s farce TWO GENTLEMEN OF SOHO, free to the public though donations were most welcome. Mr. Herbert had written a mock-Shakespearean romp about a Scotland Yard inspector and a private eye, each on a mission, clashing in a speakeasy over a dowager who has succumbed to the Jazz Age, much to the shame of her socialite daughter who slums in the same dive, herself --- the evening ended in a hilarious bloodbath whose final tableau put the Bard to shame. TWO GENTLEMEN OF SOHO was clever-clever fluff and Mr. Herbert, whoever he was, was a good-enough playwright to know how to write deliberately bad soliloquies, duets and ensembles, and John Fogle --- still one of the area’s finest directors --- staged it with the same customary care and detail as he does with his more substantial, indoor productions. His cast was no less exquisite, proving that it takes as much passion to mock-declaim as to declaim, seriously, and they remained stylized in the midst of late comers crossing their lines of vision, zephyrs that threatened to blow apart their makeshift setting, and the unexpected appearance of a tourist horse-and-buggy, followed by its hasty retreat down an alley (cloppity-clop) --- a day in the life of a strolling player. The Derby courtyard had no acoustics to speak of, thus, those who declaimed the loudest made the more lasting impression: the Inspector of Erik Rodenhiser, an ever-amazing chameleon with a profile that is both handsome and a send-up of handsomeness, Bob Karish’s sleuth, right out a penny-dreadful, and, especially, the booming Kristine Burke as the Duchess, a dainty dragon that only a Dickens could love (a priceless moment: Ms. Burke shifted a corpse’s leg ever so slightly to give herself more room for expiring). Audiences who prefer to hear all of their actors might well consider a donation to the company’s Setting the Stage Campaign and help to bring these actors into the Old Town Hall sooner than later. Donations may be processed through the company’s website (http://www.salemtheatre.org/).”
UNFORGETTABLE: THE NAT KING COLE STORY (Stoneham Theatre; Stoneham, MA). Written by Clarke Peters & Larrington Walker. Music supervision and arrangements by Edison Herbert. Cast: Monroe Kent III. Musicians: Jesse Hautala; Edison Herbert; Robert Stevens III. “UNFORGETTABLE at the Stoneham Theatre celebrates the artistry of singer Nat King Cole (1919-65); a more probing look at the man himself must wait for another time. Clarke Peters and Larrington Walker have drawn up a gentle one-man show studded with standards about a man who was taught to always turn the other cheek and who lived his life with dignity and grace through segregated times; the narrative is equally divided between Mr. Cole and Sparky, his devoted valet --- not surprisingly, the songs are often used as autobiographical insights. Today’s younger audiences may declare Mr. Cole to be not angry enough, not “black” enough, but it is their own loss should they never encounter the man’s velvety, purring style at least once; UNFORGETTABLE will do as a nostalgic introduction. … In addition to the songs, enjoyable in themselves, there is also the performance of Monroe Kent III who is better looking than Mr. Cole, is convincing at playing “colored” and is blessed with his own smooth voice that slides back and forth from butter to molasses. His speaking impersonation evokes Jack Benny saying, “Well!” and only in the quieter ballads (i.e. “Stardust” and “Mona Lisa”) does Mr. Kent match the master, note-for-note; he has a campy moment to get through --- impersonating one of Mr. Cole’s wives --- but bounces back with the evening’s one satirical thrust: Mr. Cole wearing “white” make-up to appease the television censors and performing “Smile” with the arm gestures of a robot or marionette. A few more nods in that direction would have burned some welcome holes through the Messrs. Peters and Walker’s loving, glazed tribute.”
URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL (Vokes Players; Wayland, MA). Music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann. Book and lyrics by Greg Kotis. Directed by Donnie Baillargeon. Musical direction by Mario Cruz. Choreography by Jennifer Condon. Cast: David Berti; Max Bisantz; Paul Brennan III; Sarah Consentino; Peri Chouteau; Janet Ferreri; Katie Ford; David Herder; Kendall Hodder; Kathy Lague; Robert Mackie; Kristen Palson; Mark W. Soucy; Bill Spera; Bill Stambaugh; Brian Toney. “URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL remains one of the best New Musicals: five years ago, this satire with the unsettling title gathered three Tony Awards to its soiled breast and had a healthy Broadway run, to boot; since then, it has gone on to become America’s THREEPENNY OPERA, arty enough for the intelligentsia yet popular with the masses. The plot is pure comic book: Caldwell B. Cladwell, the corrupt owner of Urine Good Company (UGC) exploits his city’s water shortage by banning private toilets and charging the citizens a fee to use the public restrooms; those who buck the system are carted off to the dreaded “Urinetown”. The idealistic Bobby Strong leads a rebellion against UGC despite falling in love with Cladwell’s daughter Hope; the evening does not conclude as expected but is far too cheeky to succumb to pessimism or despair. … I wondered how the Vokes production could ever top last year’s triumph at the Lyric Stage and if the former doesn’t surpass the latter, it is just as good and therefore just as great (a tribute to both Messrs. Kotis and Hollman’s creation and the ever-growing excellence of Boston’s community theatre); could this be one of those rare shows where it is impossible to do a so-so job? The Lyric’s three-quarter thrust floor had the audience looking down on the characters as if peeping into a manhole; the Vokes’ low, intimate stage keeps everything at eye-level but with no sense of proscenium distancing (think: cabaret). The Lyric’s URINETOWN had a metallic, smoky taste; the Vokes’ mise en scène may be just as grimy but Donnie Baillargeon’s direction is warmer and the performances more human, allowing the romantic moments to go down more smoothly as well as slyly leading you to believe that Man can change for the better, after all… Kendall Hodder’s Bobby Strong, though a bit of a lump, is believably downtrodden and Mr. Hodder’s thin but elastic vocals triumph over the score’s demands, for the most part; the character Hope must evolve from mock-ingenue to boardroom dominatrix with charm as her main ingredient and Sarah Consentino achieves this sweetly but never cloys. Robert Mackie is a cuddly ol’ Cladwell in keeping with Mr. Baillargeon’s vision, balanced by Janet Ferreri as an alleycat Penelope Pennywise who could stop Brecht & Weill in their tracks (“Surabaya Johnny”, anyone?). The Lyric’s Little Sally mugged, throughout; the Vokes’ Peri Chouteau could never pass as a child and wisely declaims her lines simply and directly; Kathy Lague is impressive bedrock as Bobby’s mother and those bookend thugs Officers Lockstock and Barrel are embodied by David Berti, that self-effacing leading man and, as always, a great onstage listener, and the wonderful Bill Stambaugh at his most sardonic --- he’s got my vote as Old Crookback in the Vokes’ upcoming RICHARD III. URINETOWN is such an ensemble piece that no one in its so-called chorus has a change to sit backstage, for long, since they must be protean, be a part of the social landscape and be able to switch musical gears in an instant --- hosannas, then, to Max Bisantz, Paul Brennan III, Katie Ford, David Herder, Kristen Palson, Mark W. Soucy, Bill Spera and Brian Toney, who prove there are neither small roles NOR small actors.”
THE WOMEN (SpeakEasy Stage Company; Boston, MA). Written by Claire Booth Luce. Directed by Scott Edmiston. Cast: Courtney Branigan; Shelley Brown; Nancy E. Carroll; Ellen Colton; Aimee Doherty; Kerry A. Dowling; Alice Duffy; Sheryl Faye; Anne Gottlieb; Elizabeth Hayes; Sandra Heffley; Amanda Good Hennessey; Maureen Keiller; Kerrie Kitto; Mary Klug; Georgia Lyman; Elisa MacDonald; Sonya Raye; Sophie Rich; Carly Sakolove. “Claire Boothe Luce’s THE WOMEN [is] set in 1930s New York café society and played out with an all-female cast: in Ms. Luce’s cat-fight, the noble Mary Haines loses her husband Stephen to the gold-digging Crystal Allen and wins him back only after sharpening her own claws. … The SpeakEasy production is so entertaining, like its COMPANY, two seasons ago, that I don’t see why SpeakEasy doesn’t produce more of the classics as well as New England premieres; despite the costumes and the classical setting looking budget-conscious and some of the hairstyles being anachronistic, Scott Edmiston directs with a sure period hand and if the Lyric’s 1776, still playing down the street, shows what Boston (male) actors can do, SpeakEasy provides an impressive showcase for its actresses. Anne Gottlieb is an inspired choice for Mary, her wine-dark persona saving her Poor Little Rich Girl from being so much sugar-water and her throbbing declamation firmly focuses the play in the character’s evolution. Maureen Keiller, who earned an Addison last season for her classy Sapphic turn in PULP, is back on familiar turf as Sylvia, Queen of the Cats --- Ms. Keiller would be wise to put her mugging on hold and continue stretching untried muscles. Georgia Lyman, a newcomer to me, is the evening’s stunner: her Crystal Allen is such a glittering pair of scissors that she recalls Nathanial West’s description of Faye Greener in THE DAY OF THE LOCUST: “If you threw yourself on her, it would be like throwing yourself from the parapet of a skyscraper. You would do it with a scream.” (mind you, this is intended as a compliment) --- somebody should next coax Ms. Lyman into something fluffy to balance such a startling first impression. Kerry A. Dowling has been Boston’s Earth Mother for so long that there is no surprise at her being cast as the eternally-pregnant Edith Potter nor that she filters the role through her maternal warmth --- Christopher Chew as Doc and Ms. Dowling as Lola in COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA, please. Alice Duffy and Mary Klug, respectively Mary’s mother and the much-married Countess de Lage, give lovely studies of old, dignified women; Nancy E. Carroll wanders through the evening reciting the stage directions to build up her cameo role of a caustic lady novelist --- it is good to see Ms. Carroll take on cocktail comedy as her starkness translates well into drollness --- and Elizabeth Hayes is such a sunshiny presence as the maid that she should be given more center-stage opportunities as demonstrated in Lyric’s SPITFIRE GRILL, several seasons ago; Boston theatre would be a dimmer place should it lose her half-moon smile.”
The Disappointment of the Year: RADIO GOLF (Huntington Theatre Company, Boston, MA). August Wilson’s tenth and final installment of his celebrated cycle, completed shortly before his death was all-too-tame, especially when immediately following the Press Night build-up which included Mr. Wilson’s widow intoning such sentiments as “The giant no longer walks among us…”
The Buttinsky of the Year: JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR (North Shore Music Theatre; Beverly, MA). “Who decreed that the Virgin Mary should now wander in and out as a wimpled den mother, claiming some of Mary Magdalene’s lyrics along the way? … [E]ven the Crucifixion was ruined for me when Jesus muttered from the Cross, “Who is my mother? Where is my mother?” and Guess Who was already stretching her hand up to him while the Magdalene gets to huddle with the others?”
The Gobble-Gobble Moment of the Year: LES LIAISIONS DANGEREUSES (Huntington Theatre Company, Boston, MA). Unbelievably bad --- and on the night I attended, the size of the Huntington audience was noticeably reduced after intermission.
The Grievance of the Year: “Don’t directors realize how exhausting it is for Shakespeare lovers to comprehend their visions? First, a character/line/scene must be remembered in its original state; second, the director’s glass must be simultaneously accessed to determine be it cloudy or clear; third, if the merged results fail to enchant, the Shakespeare lover must do his own filtering to salvage some enjoyment from the evening.” (My reaction to Trinity Repertory’s Edwardian spin on HAMLET.]
The Hurry Up and Wait Moment of the Year: One year ago, Boston’s Gaiety Theatre was torn down --- a gaping hole continues to take its place on lower Washington Street. Hurry up and wait.
The Image of the Year: WONDER OF THE WORLD (Vokes Theatre; Wayland, MA). The closing tableau: Cass and Lois, oil-and-water friends, miraculously saved from going over Niagara Falls in a barrel; they remain poised between the United States and Canada, gazing upon a bright new future. “…the most original, touching ending I’ve seen in years --- who’d have thought [playwright David] Lindsay-Abaire had a heartbeat in him, after all?”
The Joyful Moment of the Year: THROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (Reagle Players, Waltham, MA). “Mammy…..Mammy……”
The Light Under the Bushel Moment of the Year: Richard Snee in THE CHRISTMAS REVELS, IN CELEBRTION OF THE WINTER SOLSTICE (Revels; Cambridge, MA). “Richard Snee’s Sankt Nikolaus is the true revelation: this Germanic Father Christmas allows Mr. Snee to display a droll majesty, onstage, backed by plummy declamation that’s been hidden far too long under the mugs and lugs in which Mr. Snee has often been cast --- Mr. Snee also adds welcome salt to all that sweetness. I’ve been demanding his Willy Loman for some time, now; should Mr. Snee switch his bishop’s topper for an Elizabethan crown and retain his wig and beard, his Lear may be no laughing matter, either…”
The OMG Moment of the Year: Brendan McNab in William M. Hoffman’s “Thank You, Miss Virginia” (A PLACE TO SAY SOMETHING: THE OFF-OFF-BROADWAY PHENOMENON OF THE 60s; The Boston Conservatory Theatre Division; Boston, MA). “A bored, blasé boss’ son tangles on his office telephone with his spying secretary, his demanding girlfriend and a dominatrix named Miss Victoria whom he dials on a friend’s dare, falls under her spell and ends up stark naked on the floor, humping his desk to a climax. Mr. Hoffman’s outrageous comedy (yes, comedy) could only go so far in the 1960s; thus, the original actor was not completely stripped whereas BoCo alumnus Brendan McNab most certainly was. Director Doug Lockwood wisely, subtly, took the monologue for what it is --- phone-sex, with its own escalating climax --- so by the time Mr. McNab bared all, the tickled crowd was ready for anything. Stage nudity is the most difficult costume to wear; Mr. McNab, to his credit, was relaxed and handsome in his own skin and all the funnier for it.”
The Saddest Moment of the Year: The quiet departure of the Súgán Theatre, Boston’s showcase of classic and contemporary Irish and Irish-American plays; hopefully, this departure will prove only temporary…?
The Trooper Moment of the Year: Maryann Zschau in Seacoast Repertory’s production of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. “Ms. Zschau … went back to every actor’s roots --- community theatre --- in the tradition of stage stars of old who graced humble boards with their presence (sadly, most stage actors upon attaining Equity status turn their backs on their non-Equity brethren; I cannot recall the last Equity face glimpsed at a community performance, and I know my audiences). The proof of Ms. Zschau’s generosity was in the pudding: her Lyric Desiree was a subtle, layered creation; her Seacoast Desiree became simpler, lighter, blending in with the ensemble --- paradoxically, that lightness coupled with Ms. Zschau’s vocal ease made her the youngest of them all…”
The WTF Moment of the Year: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, Animus Ensemble. “Those who know and love this musical may be disappointed with part of the Animus Ensemble’s production: instead of the familiar giant puppet-plant dominating center stage, there is an actor in a green T-shirt, mugging and writhing, assisted by three dancers who presumably are his tendrils; the plant’s victims, once consumed, become part of the writhing. (Is this a deconstruction of a not-so-old musical or simply a shoestring budget?) There is some compensation in Neil Graham having the correct dark-humored soul-voice required for the role but if I may tweak one of the show’s lyrics, it sure looks like rehearsals to me…”
MY WISH LIST (casting certain actors in certain roles):
I have only one wish for this year: Sarah Corey as Fanny Brice in FUNNY GIRL; that way Ms. Corey can clown to her heart’s content, sing the house down and demonstrate her dramatic skills so impressively introduced in SpeakEasy’s CAROLINE OR CHANGE.
…and Barbara Stanwyck feels the same way.