Saturday, June 30, 2012

Pirates and Carmen

"Pirates" Opens at CRT
Connecticut Repertory Theatre will present Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance" starting July 12 and running through July 22 at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre on the Storrs campus.

The operetta is directed by Broadway's Terrence Mann (the original Rum Tum Tugger of "Cats" fame) and stars Steven Hayes as the very modern major-general, Sean Martin Hingston as the pirate king, and Diane Phelan, a Connecticut native, as Mabel. One of Gilbert and Sullivan's most popular operettas, "Pirates" is a wacky, irreverent take on the essence of "Aarrgh!" It begins with Frederic, a young boy, being apprenticed to a pirate rather than a pilot, thanks to his hard-of-hearing nurse. What ensues is a delightful romp into the world of piratedom, complete with the fast-singing major-general, his bevy of unmarried daughters, and a coterie of tap-dancing constables.

For tickets or more information call 860-486-2113 or go to www.crt.uconn.edu.

Oh the Farce We Weave -- "Opera Comique" Opens at the Sherman Playhouse
                       John Taylor as Charles Gounod and Sara Pannaccio as La Tartine.
                                                    Photo by Josh Siegel

 Nagle Johnson's "Opera Comique" will open at the Sherman Playhouse on July 13 and will run until July 28.

This farce focuses on the 1875 opening night of Bizet's "Carmen" at the Opera Comique in Paris. It's a wacky belnd of musical history and hilarious conjecture. There are mistaken identities, many doors a-slamming, tangled relationships and ribald double entendres, plus lust, infidelity and murder. Who could ask for anything more!

For tickets or more information call 860-354-3622 or go to www.shermanplayers.org

Let's Play "Romeo and Juliet"

"Romeo and Juliet" -- Shakespeare on the Sound'


Oh, what are we to do with a folded, spindled and…no, not mutilated…ah, mutated… “Romeo and Juliet,” Shakespeare on the Sound’s 2012 production currently playing at Baldwin Park in Greenwich? Well if we are die-hard traditionalists we will say Pshaw! (if anyone can actually say “Pshaw”), turn our backs and look superior as we amble off the grounds, mumbling indignantly, “How could they! I mean, really!” Yet…if we stay and ease back a bit, we’ll find that, despite some jagged edges and wrong notes, this production, under the guidance of artistic director Joanna Settle and executive director Steven Yuhasz, is quite compelling, with some acting turns that are first-rate.

One of the major problems with this production is the creative premise, or framing device, which could have been intriguing if it had been fleshed out and made a bit more integral to the Bard’s work. To, wit, we have a modern-day birthday celebration, an annual event in which a play is chosen and the attendees act out the various roles. The venue is a successful architect’s deck, a multi-level structure of straight and curved wooden platforms (created by set designer Laura Jellinek) of which the architect, married to a much younger woman, is extremely proud.

His wife has chosen the play, “Romeo and Juliet,” and the roles the guests will play (this preamble dialogue, and much of the music, is written by the interestingly named STEW, creator of “Passing Strange”). Playing the part of Romeo will be the wife’s ex-boyfriend and playing the part of Juliet will be … well, you guessed it. The husband is not very happy with this determination, and there seems to be another young woman at the party who has a substantial ax to grind with the proposed Romeo. Hmmm, could be interesting. Alas, the initial party moments, wherein modern relationships are established, goes nowhere, and the heart begins to sink. Oh, what are we in for? How long is this going to take? Is the Bard spinning in his grave?

The guests are reading from scripts, and there’s a lot of role-trading and role-grabbing in the early part of the production as we start to roll out this play within a play, which isn’t working because it isn’t worked, but, wonder of wonders, we get to the balcony scene and everything comes into focus, for the modern frame is eschewed, scripts are dropped, and we have pure Shakespeare, well, not pure iambic pentameter, but something better, and it’s damn fine. The creative premise falls away and we are treated to a vibrant “Romeo and Juliet” that, save for some dissonant moments, gloriously captures the pubescent drive of the play.

Once Ali Ahn is relieved of her responsibilities as modern wife and takes on the role of Juliet she is a delight, a Juliet eager to experience love, a young girl on the cusp of adulthood who can’t contain her child-like, delicious delirium in simply being loved, and as her Romeo, William Jackson Harper delivers a definitive performance, speaking his lines as a street-wise yet sensitive and confused boy-man, violence, need and sexual urgency percolating beneath a fa├žade of cool.

Shriven of their “modern” roles, other actors come to the fore, especially Chinasa Ogbuagu as Juliet’s nurse. She, as well as Ahn and Harper, benefit from the modern overlay in that they get to deliver their lines, both verbally and physically, in the vernacular, which means that the iambic pentameter is subsumed…it’s there, but it’s not the horse that the actors ride or are ridden by. Oddly enough, this allows us to hear what Shakespeare’s audience heard, not a “Hi-falutin,” nasal delivery but a more robust, earthy prose and poetry that captures Shakespeare’s essence.

Yes, the production allows the actors, at times, to soar, but it also forces them to crash as well, and this is no more evident than when Romeo’s and Juliet’s bodies are discovered in the crypt at the end of act two. Juliet’s father (Tony Torn) and mother (Rachael Holmes), along with the nurse, break out into a cacophonous dirge that sounds like it was orchestrated by cats in heat…the dissonance is astonishing.

There are other musical moments, many of them, too many of them, that are more distracting than supportive. As dialogue is delivered there are underlying themes being played, many of which are reminiscent of the music played for fade-outs in soap operas such as “Days of Our Lives” or, more ominously, “Dark Shadows.”

This ‘take’ on “Romeo and Juliet” succeeds in spite of itself. There’s a concerted effort here to update the tale, yet the Bard wins out, as he must, and when the tale is played straight it resonates, for there are some very fine actors who accept the premise but still deliver the essence of the play. Overlook the stagey musical interludes and attend to the cast when it is doing Shakespeare as written…you’ll be enchanted.

“Romeo and Juliet” runs through July 8 at its Baldwin Park, Greenwich, venue, then opens at Pinkney Park in Rowayton on July 18 and runs there until July 29. Admission is free but a $20 donation is suggested.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

STONC Presents "Jospeh..."

                     Corrine C. Broadbent as the Narrator and Chris DeRosa as Joseph

Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice's "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" opens July 14 at the Summer Theatre of New Canaan, and will run through August 5.

This slightly skewed take on the biblical story of Joseph and his brothers is most notable for the range of musical styles that Weber and Rice were able to squeeze in: everything from 50s rock and calypso to country-western and French Apache. The story follows Joseph, son of Jacob, who is sent into exile by his brothers, only to end up one of the most powerful of men in Egypt.

Besides a cast of seasoned professionals, director Melody Libonati has added a choir consisting of area children.

For tickets or more information call 203-966-4634 or go to www.stonc.org.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Three Openings

Summer Theatre of New Canaan

STONC continues its season of Theatre for Young Audiences with a frothy production of "Pickalicious The Musical" under its tent at Waveny Park.

Based on the popular book by Elizabeth and Victoria Kann, "Pinkalicious" is about learning the power of self-control and the importance of moderation, as framed by the story of Pinkalicious, who is obsessed with pink cupcakes. After eating one too many, she turns pink from head to toe. What's a pink girl to do?

The show premieres July 4 and will run on weekends through August 5. For tickets or more information call 203-966-4634 or go to www.stonc.org

The Ivoryton Playhouse

                    Michael Barra and Jill Sullivan. Photo courtesy of The Ivoryton Playhouse

"Hair Spray," the rockin' musical set in Baltimore in 1962, also opens on July 4, for a run through July 29.

It's the story of size-challenged Tracy Turnblad, who has one great desire, to dance on the Corny Collins Show. She gets her wish, but along the way must deal with a Teen Queen, win the heart of heart-throb Link Larkin and integrate a TV station.

For tickets or more information call 860-767-7318 or go to www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

Town Players of Newtown

The Town Players are presenting Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs," which opens on July 6 and runs through July 29.

The play is a coming-of-age story focusing on Eugene Jerome, a Jewish teen growing up in 1937 in Brooklyn. While dealing with his family he experiences puberty, sexual awakening and bgegins a search for identity.

For tickets or more information call 203-270-9144 or go to www.newtownplayers.org.


Monday, June 18, 2012

A Mesmerizing "Magical Thinking"

"The Year of Magical Thinking" -- Westport Country Playhouse

                    Maureen Anderman as Joan Didion. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

The last time I saw “The Year of Magical Thinking” my wife was alive. She chose not to attend that evening, so I went to Hartford TheaterWorks alone to see and review the play.
           
Now, several years later, it is over four months since she passed away – “passed away,” what a strange phrase; “away” to where I often wonder – and I am sitting in orchestra seating at the Westport Country Playhouse on the opening night of Joan Didion’s play about the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and the subsequent passing of their daughter, Quintana. Over the next 90 minutes I will see a play totally different than the one I saw up in Hartford, not because the words have changed but because I have.
           
The magical thinking that Didion refers to in the title is a curious mindset, familiar to those who study atavistic religions and cultures, which holds that certain actions – the sacrifice of a maiden, the slaughter of a ram -- will bring about a change: the rains will come; the plague will depart. In Didion’s case, these actions include an agreement with herself that if she plays the “game,” arranges for the funeral, agrees to the autopsy, she is giving her husband enough time to return to her. If she gets all of the facts right, dates and the times, knows the names of all the drugs, understands the medical terminology, her daughter will make it through her illness. If she can just control the situation all will be well.
           
The production, subtly directed by Nicholas Martin, and starring the absolutely mesmerizing Maureen Anderman as Didion, plays like one of Schubert’s quintets, perhaps his String Quartet in C, his last composition, for bittersweet themes are introduced early on, played with, doubled-back on, with variations offered along the way – themes such as remorse, denial, the aforementioned magical thinking, the need to be “right” and the need to just let go. Memories are resurrected, then re-resurrected, only to be turned away from; actions are analyzed from an intellectual point of view, then analysis is tossed aside and raw emotion spins Didion’s “magical thinking” off in another direction.

The play is an extended threnody, and could, at any moment, topple over into a maudlin abyss, but Anderman gives a wonderfully controlled performance, allowing the audience to sense the emotions roiling inside her character but never allowing these emotions to burst forth. Her gestures are precise, her body language evincing a control that is part of the magical thinking, and yet you sense the powerful, dark forces lurking beneath, the urge to scream, to rend clothes, to toss a priceless vase against a wall.
           
The set, designed by Alexander Dodge, is spare: a gauzy, curved, pleated curtain upstage, a raked, planked platform center stage framed by a towering rectangular arch made of rough lumber, and a single, cushioned Adirondack chair set stage right on the platform. It is a dreamscape appropriate for magical thinking, a “nowhere” that allows for desperate flights of fancy enhanced by Philip Rosenberg’s lighting design, save for some follow spots that seem a bit uncertain, unsure of exactly how to frame the actress.          
           
In the opening minutes of the play, Anderman, as Didion, warns that she is going to speak of things that the audience, in a denial that allows people to go about their quotidian tasks, doesn’t want to hear about, but she tells the audience members that it will, inevitably, happen to them. I can’t remember what my reaction was to these words up in Hartford, but as Anderman spoke them all I could do was nod, for I, too, have gone through my period of magical thinking, and yes, it will happen to all of us.
           
“The Year of Magical Thinking” runs through June 30. For tickets or more information call 203-227-4177 or go to www.westportplayhouse.org.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Fair "Fair Lady"

"My Fair Lady" -- Summer Theatre of New Canaan

                     Richard Willis as Henry Higgins, Gary Harger as Pickering and
                                   Jazmin Gorsline as Eliza Doolittle


Summer Theatre of New Canaan has come a long way from its inception, when the audience brought its own chairs and blankets and sat under the stars (or storm clouds) on a grassy knoll to watch a Shakespeare play performed on an open-air, platform stage. Now it has found a convivial home at Waveny Park under a sheltering tent and has opted to eschew the Bard in favor of tried and true musicals such as “My Fair Lady,” which is the opening offering of STONC’s 2012 season. Yet, there is still a “Let’s put on a show” feel to what STONC is doing, and it by and large works.
            Certain shows are haunted, if you will, by the actors who first created the pivotal roles: think Yul Brynner in “The King and I” and Zero Mostel in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Such is the case with “My Fair Lady.” Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews.
Try as you might to wash your mind clean of these performances as you hear the opening strains of the overture, you can’t help but remember. Thus, like it or not, one of the challenges of producing…and acting in…”haunted” musicals is to deal with the ghosts. In the case of STONC’s “My Fair Lady,” Richard Sheridan Willis, who play’s Professor Henry Higgins, the role originally created by Rex Harrison, cuddles up to the ghost and in the process gives us a “Rexy” Higgins that is almost dead-on, save for some excessive body language and constant movement.
However, Jazmin Gorsline opts to give us an Eliza Doolittle that, based on productions I have seen, is (perhaps with the help of director Allegra Libonati) all her own. It’s like she is saying, yes, Julie Andrews once played the role, as did Audrey Hepburn in the film version, but here’s my Eliza, more feisty and forward, and, like her or not, this is what you get. Hence, as the musical unfolds, Willis kept on reminding me of Harrison, while Gorsline…well, I forgot Andrews and Hepburn, not because I wanted to but Gorsline made me do so…and thus her performance is worth the price of admission. She’s simply a wonderful Eliza, shining every moment she’s on the stage.
That’s not to say there aren’t problems with this production, although the positives far outweigh the negatives. One problem is the damn stairs in Professor Higgins’ abode, which is part of the tripartite turntable set (designed by Charles Pavarini III) that dominates center stage. One of Allegra Libonati’s tasks as director is to block her actors movements, which basically means telling them where to move in each scene, and since these stairs dominate, she has her actors moving up and down these stairs with, quite often, no more motivation than, well, they’re there, so let’s use them. Some of the movements, and moments created, are effective, while others are just…movement for movement’s sake. I’m going up the stairs and now I’m going down…and then up again. Don’t ask me why.
This “works” and “doesn’t work” extends to the performances of the actors portraying secondary characters. Sandy York, as Mrs. Pearce, the ruling factotum in Professor Higgins’ household, seems to have one expression, and one somewhat stilted way of speaking, though she does shine (watch her eyes and her lips) as the silent recipient of the good professor’s complaint about why women can’t be more like men late in Act Two. Her facial features all of a sudden speak volumes.
As an avuncular Colonel Pickering, Gary Harger seems, at times, to be channeling Nigel Bruce of Doctor Watson fame, but he also has his moments, especially in the Act Two “You Did It” number. Another actor that seems to be channeling is Christian Libonati as the love-besotted Freddie Eynsford-Hill. In his rendition of “On the Street Where You Live,” you’d swear Jack Nicholson had taken possession of him: his eyes seem crazed and his smile even more so. Speaking of facial expressions, Brian Silliman as Alfred Doolittle appears to have just one, whether drunk or sober, a sort of bland befuddlement. Whether he’s pontificating about the poor or singing that he’s “getting married in the morning,” his expression remains essentially “mute.”
Much more expressive, and beautifully cast, is Anna Holbrook as Henry’s mother, Mrs. Higgins. She is both regal and arch and treats her son as the spoiled little boy that he is, but perhaps the strongest element in this production, aside from Gorsline’s performance, is the wonderful collection of young actors and actresses that plays the tertiary roles or in the ensemble. Whether they are acting as part of a Cockney crowd, butlers and maids in Higgins’ household, or members of the landed gentry attending a race at Ascot, they are superb, filling the tent with a marvelous sound and dancing (under the guidance of choreographer Doug Shankman) over the somewhat limited stage space with exuberance.
Whatever problems the production might have, the presence of Gorsline and the ensemble makes it well worth the watching. The show itself is well over 50 years old, having opened on Broadway in 1956, but it doesn’t show its age. The transformation of the flower girl into a beautiful, sophisticated lady is still mesmerizing, and the professor’s growing realization of his love for her still touching.
“My Fair Lady” runs through July 7. For tickets or more information call 203-966-4634 or go to www.stonc.org

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Turnpike Trysts and Interactive Theater

"Project: Turnpike" To Get Staged Reading





HartBeat Ensemble will perform a staged reading of its newest play in development, "Project: Turnpike," at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 20, at the Hartford Public Library, Center for Contemporary Culture Auditorium.

Based on a 2007 landmark federal trial, the play presents 72 hours in the lives of four exploited sex workers in a motel room on the Berlin Turnpike.

Admission is $5 general admission and free for students with studnet identification For tickets or more info call 860-548-9144, Ext 115.


Bated Breath to Create Interactive Theater

                         Debra Walsh and Briana Maia converse with a turkey sculpture
                                        entitled "Squeak" by Laura Marsh



This summer, Bated Breath, a theater collective, will be in residency at Real Art Ways, creating new, bite-sized works of interactive theater inspired by the visual arts program. The 5-year-old company will work in the galleries devising theatrical responses to each art installation as part of Bated Breath's "Interludes" program, which conceives short theater pieces custom tailored to engage other organizations' particular audiences.

From June through August, Bated Breath will perform at the Real Art Ways' Creative Cocktail Hours, which are held on the thrid Thursday of each month. Performances will occur throughout the evening, starting at 6 p.m. on June 21, July 19 and Aug. 16. A full evening showcasing all of Bated Breath's works produced during the residency will be performed at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, July 27 and 28 at Real Art Ways, which is located at 58 Arbor St. in Hartford.

For more information go to www.batedbreaththeatre.org.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A "Golda" With Pacing Problems

"Golda's Balcony" -- TheatreWorks New Milford

                                       Sonnie Osborne as Golda Meir



On the heels of Playhouse on Park’s production of “Golda’s Balcony” comes TheatreWorks New Milford’s interpretation of the story of the little Russian girl who grew to become one of the guiding forces behind the creation of the State of Israel and who shepherded that young country through one of its most trying times, the Yom Kippur war of 1973.
            Written by William Gibson, the author of “The Miracle Worker,” and directed by Jane Farnol, the play uses the war as a frame that allows Golda Meir (Sonnie Osborne) to reflect on her 80 some years, beginning with a memory of her carpenter father hammering planks over windows to protect the family from the latest Russian pogrom and ending with Meir, now Israel’s Prime Minister, ailing and world-weary, blackmailing the US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, into providing vital military supplies for her struggling nation. Along the way, she touches on her early years as a committed Zionist, her marriage to Morris Meyerson, and her growing dedication to the idea of the Third Temple, that is, the Jewish people who had returned to Palestine to recreate a homeland of their own, all underscored by the defining question: what happens when those infused by utopian ideals actually achieve power? Does a new Eden ensue, or does reality demand that one decide whether to fight or flee (once again into the gas chambers)?
            The play opens with Meir confessing that she is tried, and that is one of the minor problems with this production, for Osborne’s Meir is anything but tired. She (or director Farnol) has opted to emphasize the firebrand side of the woman, so even when she says she is weary – of war, of bloodletting, of the sacrifices that she, her family, her nation and her people have been forced to make -- she does so as if she is delivering one of the speeches the young Meir made at socialist rallies in America during the early part of the twentieth century. In other words, her delivery often belies the words she is saying.
            The script calls for Osborne to recreate many conversations: with her mother, with her husband, with Kissinger, King Abdullah, David Ben-Gurion, General Moshe Dayan, David Elazar (another Israeli general), Simcha Dinitz (Israeli ambassador to the United States), Lou Kaddar (her female secretary) and Pope Paul VI. The problem here is that with the exception of Kissinger, all of her interlocutors sound the same, primarily because Osborne offers these “conversations” with a rapid-fire delivery that does not allow for much nuance or interpretation. One gets the feeling that she is aware that the play is supposed to run approximately 90 minutes and she doesn’t want to go over her time limit. I don’t think the audience would have minded sitting the extra 10 or 15 minutes that would have allowed Osborne to modulate her delivery so that when she is issuing commands to her generals she spits out her words but when she is talking with her husband, who never shared her commitment to a hard-nosed, Kibbutz-style Zionism, she slows into rueful reflection.
            This is not to say that Osborne doesn’t have her shining moments – she’s especially good in the aforementioned confrontations with her generals -- but the pacing of the show turns what is essentially a theatrical memoir into more of a polemic. Gibson has given the work a definite rise, climax and denouement, but director Farnol doesn’t seemed attuned to this. Hence there is little emotional release when Meir gets the call from Dinitz that helps is finally on the way from a waffling United States.
            The two venues – Playhouse on Park and Theaterworks New Milford – are distinctly different, and that perhaps explains the variations in sets. However, the Playhouse scenic design, created by Jo Winiarski, gave the audience the feeling that Meir was operating out of a bunker, which enhanced the idea that she, and by extension her nation, was under siege. In contrast, Theaterworks’ set designer Richard Pettibone gives us walls made to look as if they are constructed out of blocks of sandstone (perhaps seeking to evoke Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall or the Masada fortress) with a small table and two chairs situated stage center on a raked portion of the stage. It is evocative yet, since stylized, lacks the gritty, under-seige feel that the Playhouse set added to the production. However, Pettibone, in conjunction with Scott Wyshynski, have created a lighting plot that accentuates both the light and the dark – and the horrific – that is dealt with in the play.
            In sum, this “Golda’s Balcony” is a workmanlike effort marred mainly by no nod to nuance or pacing. The Golda we get at the start is the Golda we get at the end, and since she has not gone through any transformation, neither has the audience.
            “Golda’s Balcony” plays on weekends through June 30. For tickets or more information call 860-350-6863 or go to www.theatreworks.us

Saturday, June 9, 2012

"Spaghetti" Cooked to Perfection

"I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti" at Hartford TheaterWorks

                                Antoinette LaVecchia. Photo by Lanny Negler


Sometimes you go out for an evening of dinner and the theater. Then there’s dinner-theater. Seldom, however, is dinner cooked and served to you from the stage by a cast member, but that’s exactly what happens in “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti,” which recently premiered at Hartford TheaterWorks. Based on Giulia Melucci’s memoir of the same name, and adapted for the stage by Jacques Lamarre, this delightful one-woman show mixes Italian cooking with a run-through of less than felicitous amorous relationships, all served up by Antoinette LaVecchia, who plays Melucci with a wry insouciance and a perceptive sense of her character’s emotional hang-ups.
            Skillfully directed by Rob Ruggiero, TheaterWorks interim artistic director, the play’s main focus is on Melucci’s search for a mate and the therapeutic value that cooking provides as the search leads the character down multiple dead-ends. One-woman shows lamenting one’s love live, with some occasional male-bashing thrown in for good measure, have been done before – Teresa Rebeck’s “Blind Dates” comes to mind – but never while the actress is preparing a three-course meal on stage – interrupted by numerous telephone calls from her mother -- that she serves to ten members of the audience who have paid $76 a pop to sit at small tables set in front of the thrust stage (it’s called “Kitchen seating”).
Over the course of the evening, LaVecchia serves up an antipasto, a salad, and finally spaghetti Bolognese made with – get this – pasta that LaVecchia makes from scratch as she relates the details of her character’s many failed relationships. If nothing else, one must marvel at LaVecchia’s ability to concentrate on the cooking while staying in character and delivering her lines, often in a rapid-fire manner as she describes the perpetual amorous rollercoaster her character has ridden.
LaVecchia, a striking brunette with a vivacious personality, expressive face and a nice ear for accents (she does a Jewish mensch, an over-the-top Charles Nelson Reilly and a Scottish writer, among others) appears to be, well, a “catch,” a woman any intelligent, cultured man would eagerly pursue, so there’s something of a disconnect between the woman we see on the stage and the stories of failed relationships (and the desperation underlying her search for a mate) that she retails. However, accept the premise and the evening is one of unrelieved hilarity interspersed with moments of poignancy. The laughs come non-stop as LaVecchia introduces the audience to one “bozo” after another, each with his own quirky nature, which LaVecchia captures with delightful verbal and physical accuracy.
Not having read Melucci’s memoir (there are signed copies available for sale at the theater), I can’t say for sure how much of the witty, sophisticated, allusion-filled dialogue is Melucci’s and how much is Lamarre’s, but that really doesn’t matter. What does matter is LaVecchia’s delivery of said dialogue, which is pitch-perfect as she introduces us to the nice Italian girl educated behind the formidable walls of a Catholic girls school who ventures out into the world of lechers and losers. LaVecchia’s facial features and her hands – in fact all that constitutes body language – convey delight, rapture, confusion, disappointment, lust, anger, haunting self-doubt and an indomitable spirit that continues to hope that the next man she meets (a clink of a wine glass indicating that once again the fires have been lit and the game is afoot) will be the one.
This is a true “feel-good” play, and the opening night audience, filled with notables, theater-wise aficionados and TheaterWorks regulars, ate it all up with relish. Yes, there was the inevitable standing ovation at the end of the evening, but in this case it was well deserved. It is not often that as soon as a play ends I think to myself, “Gee, I’d like to see this one again,” but that’s what ran through my head as I exited.
            “I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti” runs through July 8. For tickets or more information call 860-527-7838 or go to www.theaterworkshartford.org.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Stars on Stage, a Wizard, a Gala, and a Renovation

Aglet Theatre to Hold Annual Gala

This year, Aglet's annual gala is themed "A Fine Romance," and will feature Broadway orchestrator Jonathan Tunick, who is one of only eleven people to have won a Tony, an Oscar, an Emmy and Grammy, and Boradway star Leigh Beery Tunick.

The gala will be held at the Ragamont House in Salisbury on June 23, starting at 6 p.m. Cost is $100 per person. For reservations send an email to aglettheatre@comcast.net or call 860-435-6928.

STONC Presents "The Wizard of Oz"

                         Dru Serkes-Lion, Katelyn Miles-Dorothy, Ryan Bloomquist-Tinman,
                                              Bobby Godas-Scarecrow


A great production for the entire family -- "The Wizard of Oz" will be presented in the Summer Theatre of New Canaan's spacious tent at Waveny Park on select Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from June 17 through August 4. Families are encouraged to picnic and/or party before or after the performances.

For tickets, show dates and times or more information call 203-966-4634 or go to www.stonc.org

Fall and Rise of Long Wharf's Mainstage





Long Wharf Theatre is ready to hand over the Mainstage to Petra Construction for demolition and reconstruction. The $3.8 million renovation will commence on June 8 and is slated for completion by mid-October. To prepare for the demolition, a general house-cleaning was in order, with the track lighting removed (the first time since the theatre's inception), the backstage area stripped of its temporary dressing rooms and theatrical arcana and detritus lining the tunnels that run beneath seating area removed.


Crystal Gayle to Appear at Downtown Cabaret

                                                        Crystal Gayle





Just days after her long-awaited return to the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, Crystal Gayle will take the stage at Bridgeport's Downtown Cabaret Theatre on Saturday, June 23, for two performances at 5 and 8 p.m.

The first female artist in country music to achieve platinum album sales, Gayle, who is the sister of Loretta Lynn, has played at Carnegie Hall, Las Vegas and the London Palladium and won numerous awards. Her distinct musical styling has made her a "cross-over" star, and her signature song, "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" was recognized by ASCAP as one of the ten most performed songs of the 20th century.

For tickets or more information call 203-576-1636 or go to www.downtowncabaret.org.

Kathleen Turner Returns to Long Wharf

                                                            Kathleen Turner


Legendary film and stage actress Kathleen Turner is returning to the stage at Long Wharf Theatre to star in and direct "The Killing of Sister George," a new adaptation of the Frank Marcus play by Jeffrey Hatcher. This show replaces the previously announced "God of Carnage" on the schedule and will run from Nov. 28 to Dec. 23.

The play deals with an actress who by day plays Sister George, a nearly saintly woman who tends to the sick and downtrodden on the hit radio show "Applehurst." However, off the air, the actress is a cigar-shewing, gin-swilling holy terror. When her ratings drop and the show is cancelled, all hell breaks loose.

For more information about this and other upcoming Long Wharf shows, call 203-787-4282 or go to www.longwharf.org/


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Kids Earn an A+

Something very important happened Monday night at the Palace Theatre. It was here that the Fourth Annual Connecticut High School Musical Theater Awards were given out, and although the import of these awards to the recipients is certainly unarguable, what I’m referring to is the visible, visceral proof that the true measure of the value of education cannot be found simply in grade point averages and standardized test scores.

During the meetings of the awards adjudicators, of which I was one, that led up to the selection of this year’s winners, Brett Bernardini, founding artistic director of Norwich’s Spirit of Broadway Theater and the producer/director of the awards ceremony, returned again and again to the importance of the arts in any high school curriculum, saying that the CHSMT awards were one very important way to draw attention to the immeasurable value derived by students, teachers and the entire community through participation in programs such as the production of a musical play as part of a school’s curriculum. Proof of Bernardini’s beliefs could be seen on the stage and in the audience Monday night.

These are perhaps dispiriting times for public education in the United States, what with funding being slashed, teachers and administrations contending over unionization and tenure, and classroom time more and more taken up with preparing students to take tests than allowing young minds to explore and experience the new, the different and the challenging. However, if one searches for a ray of sunlight in the prevailing gloom, one need look no further than the CHSMT awards.

When was the last time you heard an entire audience erupt, and I mean erupt, in adulation when a teacher’s name was mentioned? It happened again and again on Monday night. When was the last time you heard massed screams of delight and approval as a student stepped on stage to receive an award that had nothing to do with his or her GPA or athletic ability? It happened again and again on Monday night. When was the last time you saw the results of months of dedicated work by students and teachers not quantified by static, dry numbers but rather displayed in artistic, disciplined presentations that exuded not just enthusiasm but sheer joy? Yes, it happened again and again on Monday night.

For anyone – politician, administrator or concerned citizen – to believe that our high school students need only to learn the Pythagorean theorem, the dates of the battle of Gettysburg and what C6H12O6 stands for is to misunderstand the true nature of education, an education that embraces responsibility, dedication, a willingness to accept and act upon constructive criticism, commitment, the camaraderie that arises from working with many people to achieve a shared goal, and the challenge of going beyond your limitations and in the process becoming a better person for having been involved. No grade or test score can measure any of this, but it was impressively made manifest on Monday evening as the cast members of the seven productions nominated for Best Production performed at the Palace Theater. The heart leapt and the mind boggled at the talent and the professionalism of these young people, a talent nurtured and a professionalism taught by the teachers who guided them in the process. Now that’s education!

Congratulations to all of the schools who participated in this year’s awards program. Following is a list of those singled out for their excellence.

Connecticut High School Musical Theater Award Recipients – 2012

Hair & Makeup Achievement
            VRMP Parents, Titanic – Valley Regional High School

Ort Pengue Costume Achievement
            Tina Stoddard, VRMP Parents, Titanic – Valley Regional High School

Lighting Achievement
            Kevin Gleason, Swet Charity – new Canaan High School

Scenic Achievement
            Janet Spatcher, Nicole Hokansson, Nancy Hayes, No, No, Nanette – Granby High School

Outstanding Direction
            Ingrid A. Walsh, Titanic – Valley Regional High School

Outstanding Choreography
            Frank Root, The Wiz – Trumbull High School

Outstanding Musical Direction
            Melissa Lewis, Ryan Driscoll, Titanic – Valley Regional High School

Outstanding Student Orchestra
            Kurt Eckhardt, Sweeney Todd – Newtown high School

Outstanding Leading Female
            Ali Kramer, Elle Woods – Legally Blonde – Amity Regional High School

Outstanding Leading Male
            Shevance Stephens, Coalhouse – Ragtime – Regional Center for the Arts

Outstanding Supporting Female
            Emily Young, Paulette – Legally Blonde – East Lyme High School

Outstanding Supporting Male
            Mikko Valkonen, Adolopho – The Drowsy Chaperone – Westhill High School

Outstanding Chorus
            Titanic, Valley Regional High School

Outstanding Featured Performer
            Juwan Crawley, Paul – Kiss Me Kate – Fairfield Prep

Outstanding Ensemble Member
            Megan Minucci, Enid – Legally Blonde – East Lyme High School

Outstanding Ensemble Group
            Gabby Bottschall, Annie Strachura, Jenna Bellofiore, Emily Ruchalski, Sarah Tyler, Kaelyn Mostofa – Twister Sisters – The Wiz – Trumbull High School

Outstanding Lobby Display
            Immaculate High School

Outstanding Production of the Year
            Valley Regional High School, Titanic

Achievement in Arts Education
            Plainfield High School

Student Achievement Recipients:
                        Jake Hill - Guilford High School - Stage Management
                        Sloan Churchill - Amity High School - Stage Management
                        Michael DeMattia - New Canaan High School - Student Producer
Lizzy Emond - New Canaan High School - Production Stage
                                                                    Manager
                        Greg St. Germain - Trumbull High School - Lighting Design
                        Annie Lane - Trumbull High School - Assistant Musical Director