Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Faeries, Bikinis and a Theater Camp

Shake-it-up-Shakespeare at Long Wharf

                              Fairy Queen Titania (Nina Dicker) sleeps in her bower as 
                                     Peaseblossom (Dawn Williams) stands watch

William Shakespeare's classic tale of love and magic gets a new twist in thi8s summer's Shake-it-upShakespeare Youth Ensemble production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream."

Adapted and directed by Long Wharf Theatre's director of educatoin Annie DiMartino, the play features twenty-three local actors ranging in age from 2 to 15.

The show will run from Aug. 23 through Aug. 25. Tickets can be purchased by calling 203-787-4282

Pantochino Productions Offer Broadway Theatre Camp

Pantochino Productions, a non-profit theater company, will host a Broadway Theatre Camp for young actors at the former St. Ann's School in Milford from Aug. 6 to 10 that will feature Broadway, national tour and regional guest artists.

The camp, led by Pantochino's Jimmy Johansmeyer, will focus on a themed exploration of various Broadway shows and styles. Tuition is $250. For more information go to Registration forms can be obtained by emailing

"The Bikinis" Opens at Goodspeed's Norma Terris Theatre

"The Bikinis," a new musical beach party, will open at the Norma Terris Theatre in Chetser on Aug. 9 and will run through Sept. 2

The musical revolves around The Bikinis, a girl-group from the 60s that reunites to help raise money for the Sandy Shores Mobile Home Beach Resort in New Jersey. Created and Written by James Hindman and Ray Roderick, the show has the girls singing such Golden Oldies as "It's His Kiss," "Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini, "Heat Wave" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."

For tickets or more information call 860-873-8668 or go to

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Titillating "Tartuffe"

"Tartuffe - Westport Country Playhouse -- thru Aug 4

Charise Castro Smith and Jeanine Serralles in "Tartuffe." Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Resurrecting a 17th century play might seem an exercise in futility. After all, what can we moderns share with those who knew nothing of computers, cell phones and Paris Hilton? Of course, the lie is put to this every time a Shakespearean play is staged. Humanity is humanity, whether dressed in sweat suits or broad lace and slashed sleeves, and this is made abundantly clear in the engaging, witty, modern-dress production of Moliere’s “Tartuffe,” which recently opened at the Westport Country Playhouse.
            The play, translated by Richard Wilbur and directed by David Kennedy, is a satire on religious charlatanism, pillorying the philistines who both preach to and prey on the pious. It opens with Madame Pernelle (Patricia Conolly) chastising members of her son’s household for their loose behavior (too many visitors) and, more importantly, their lack of respect for Tartuffe (Marc Kudisch), an exceedingly “holy” man who has wangled his way into the household by beguiling Pernelle’s son, Orgon (Mark Nelson), who worships the ground Tartuffe’s sandaled feet walk upon.
The rest of the family is not taken in. They all protest: the outspoken maid, Dorine (Jeanine Serralles), Orgon’s son, Damis (Justin Adams), Elmire (Nadia Bowers), Orgon’s wife, her brother, Cleante (Tyrone Mitchell Henderson), and Orgon’s daughter, Mariane (Charise Castro Smith), all to no avail. Orgon will not hear a word against Tartuffe.
The stage being set, the rest of the play deals with the efforts of those opposed to Tartuffe to open Orgon’s eyes, which they finally accomplish but, alas, too late, for by this time Orgon has already signed over his inheritance to the rogue and entrusted him with dangerous documents. Ousted from Orgon’s home, Tartuffe retaliates by going before the king to demand his “inheritance” and the arrest of the “seditious” Orgon.
Originally written by Moliere in alexandrines (12 syllable, rhymed lines), Wilbur’s translation keeps the rhymed couplet format but eschews the 12 syllables. However, the dialogue’s structure presents a potential problem. How easy it is to fall into the trap of emphasizing the dialogue’s form. Fortunately, the only actor who tumbles is Henderson, who bangs on the rhymes as if they are bells to be rung. The rest of the cast, in varying degrees – Serralles, Kudisch and Bowers succeed best at this – overcome the temptation.
The production sometimes drags, mainly because Kennedy, in these moments, has his actors simply stand and deliver their lines, especially in the early, expositional minutes of the play. Fortunately, soon after Madame Pernelle’s departure, Dorine and Mariane argue over whether Mariane should, at her father’s behest, marry Tartuffe. The stage lights up, drawing energy from Serralles’ bravura performance.
In this scene, and several that follow, Serralles basically establishes the fact that she owns the first act, enabled by Kennedy, who allows her to pull off a monumental, authorized bit of upstaging: as Mariane and her intended, Valere (Matthew Amendt) have a lover’s quarrel, Serralles sits center stage, filing her nails and commenting on the quarrel with facial expressions that range from disdain to disbelief. Hey, if the director gives it to you, go with it, and she does.
Another staged high point is Tartuffe’s seduction of Elmire – here both actor’s shine as Orgon hides beneath a table until he is finally satisfied (much too late for Elmire’s liking) that Tartuffe is a cad. Lots of nice stage business here, with perhaps the show’s funniest line coming from Elmire as Orgon finally reappears.
                         Marc Kudisch. Photo by T. Charles Erickson
Kudisch plays the cad role so well that at the curtain call he was good-naturedly booed. Seeming a force of nature, Kudisch grovels when necessary, piously orates when in preacher mode, makes lusty advances when the moment seems right and domineers when he has the upper hand.
The play ends with an extended paean to the glories of the king, who resolves everything. It’s Moliere trying too hard to please the powers that be, but in a delightful coup de theatre created by scenic designer Wilson Chin, Moliere’s sycophancy is itself satirized.
Get over the form of the dialogue and you’ll have a rollicking good time watching Tartuffe try to inveigle his way into the hearts and minds of a dysfunctional family and get his just (zapped) comeuppance.
The run is through Aug. 4. For tickets or more information call 203-227-4177 or go to

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Pulsating "Joseph"

"Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"
Summer Theatre of New Canaan -- Thru Aug. 5

                                        Christopher DeRosa as Joseph
If you have any old batteries sitting around the house that could use some recharging, bring them along with you to Summer Theatre of New Canaan's production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." Put them down in front of you and let them soak up the energy, then bring them home and run them for six months.

            Director Melody Meitrott Libonati and choreographer Doug Shankman have crafted a high-energy retelling of the biblical story of Joseph, favorite son of Jacob, that simply pulsates beneath the sheltering tent at Waveny Park. It’s a smile-generating production with an absolutely fabulous ensemble of young dancers and singers, plus a choir of local children, that visually and vocally satisfies on just about every level.
            Though “Joseph” is in the title, this is really the Narrator’s show, and Corrine C. Broadbent delivers. This strong-voiced lady lights up the stage from the moment she appears and is simply a delight to watch. She interacts well with the children, delivers witty comments on the action with appropriate body language and facial expressions, and sells every song she sings.
            Much of her interaction is with Joseph, played by Christopher DeRosa. They work well together, and the handsome, buff DeRosa is an engaging if somewhat restrained Joseph. One might ask for a bit more emotion and angst in the delivery of his signature number, “Close Every Door” – the voice is fine but the feeling is somewhat flat, as is his interaction with his brothers late in the second act when they seek succor from the Pharoah’s numero uno, which Joseph has become.
            Ah, the Pharoah, the King – of course, Elvis – played by William Hammons. He’s got the gyrations, the arched eyebrows and the slurred delivery but, as with DeRosa, there seems to be something missing, some over-the-top attitude that just isn’t there – this is, after all, satire, and as such it has to over-reach while at the same time evoke. Hammons’ Pharoah comes close. He’s very entertaining, but he doesn’t exactly nail it.
            Whatever reservations individual performances may engender (and they are minor), they are washed away by the ensemble performances, for this is truly what propels this show. In number after number, the ensemble, dancing and singing, makes this a joyous presentation of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s music and Tim Rice’s lyrics. You just can’t help your foot from tapping and your hands from clapping, and this urge is helped along by the fine group of musicians under the direction of Stephen Purdy that fills the tent with pulsating music that seems greater than the sum of its parts.
            I return, at the end, to choreographer Doug Shankman’s work, which is superb, right down to the movement of the children’s choir. In scene after scene he fills the stage with visually satisfying motion, whether the beat is calypso, country two-step or pseudo-Fred Astaire, and it is this ensemble presentation which really sells this show, as is proven in the “Mega Mix” that wraps up the evening. Yes, the stars get to do their final turns, but the ensemble, including the children’s choir, is omnipresent and makes the tent flutter, bulge and flap. They hold nothing back and constantly overwhelm.
            This is a fast-moving production – you’re in at 8 and out by 9:45 p.m. – made to seem even more so because from the opening notes of the overture you’re riveted, thus unaware of time’s passage. There’s something for the whole family to enjoy in this sprightly production, including the opportunity to picnic on the grounds prior to the show. As I mentioned in a previous review of a STONC production, the group has come a long way in a few short years and one can only imagine that it will continue to improve, much to the delight of theatergoers.
            For tickets or more information call 203-966-4634 or go to

For CT Theater News and Reviews.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Local Talent in "High School Musical"

"Disney's High School Musical 2" at STONC
                                 Cast of "Disney's High School Musical 2"

Disney's "High School Musical 2" will be performed on Friday, July 27, at 4 p.m. at the Summer Theatre of New Canaan's Festival Theatre Tent in Waveny Park, New Canaan. The show features STONC's Junior Company of actors, composed of 5th and 6th graders who have rehearsed for three weeks under the tutelage of the Summer Theatre's actors and the direction of chorographer Doug Sherman and directors Melody Libonati and Jodi Stevens Bryce. Admission is free.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Malaprops - Part 2

Here are some more "insights" from my students.

Poor Joyce must be spinning in his grave. Here’s another comment inspired by “Eveline”:

“She lives in a house that dusts once a week for many years.”

Apparently a self-cleaning model

Given this student’s biographical tidbit, maybe Joyce can’t spin in his grave:

“James Joyce was an Irish novelist born in 1882 and pasted away in 1941.”

Wasn’t there a shortage of paste during WW II?

A student describes the ending of “Desiree’s Baby” thusly:

“There’s one letter left; the rest he is burning in my eyes out of guilt.”

Who says you don’t have to be tough to read literature!

One wonders how this student might have explained the plot of Ulysses:

“You know, before the author ever tells you that Eveline doesn’t get on the boat that she doesn’t take it, as soon as Joyce mentions the boat, as a black mass, it tells you there that she won’t be able to leave, a forboding feeling about the boat tells you that, she just can’t get on it; and so she chooses in the end to continue on with what would happen to be her comfort zone instead of leaving, to what could be so much better, or so much worse then what she already knows about life.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Who says reading literature doesn’t improve the mind?

“Everyone is different and that is what makes us all so different and unique.”

Well, that explains something I’ve been confused about for years.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

We're Not In Kansas Anymore, Watson

"Wizard of Oz" at Windham

The Windham Theatre Guild presents "The Wizard of Oz," which opens on July 20 at the Burton Leavitt Theatre in Willimantic. The stage version has more of the storyline from the original book than was seen in the Judy Garland film...but all of the well-known characters are there. Great fun for the whole family.

For tickets or more info call 860-423-2245 or go to

Sherlock in East Haddam

                     Left to right are Jamie MacKenzie of East Haddam as sound effects,
                     Billy the page, Announcer and Dr. Roylott. Rick Bean of New Haven
                     is the tall fellow and plays Dr. Watson Next to him in the rocking
                    black vest is Len Fredericks of East Berlin as Sherlock Holmes and
                    the lady is Libby Miserendino of Southbury as Helen and Julia Stonor.

Through August 12 the East Haddam Stage Company is presenting a reenactment of a famed William Gillette radio broadcast of the Sherlock Homes classic, "The Adventure of the Speckled Band," at the park at Gillette Castle in East Haddam. The program presents four actors playing seven roles, supported by old-time sound effects. The show runs 30 minutes and admission is free. Bring a chair or blanket and plan to picnic. For more information and directions go to

Sunday, July 15, 2012

"Pirates" a Palpable Hit

"The Pirates of Penzance" -- CT Repertory Theatre

                  Steven Hayes, the Very Model of a Modern Major General, is surrounded
                          by pirates and maidens. Photo by Gerry Goldstein
Long before Captain Jack Sparrow, long before the Dread Pirate Roberts, there was the Pirate King, a seemingly nasty piece of work who’s really a softy at heart, a man who admires poetry almost as much as he admires himself and lives by a strict code that disallows abuse of orphans, he being one himself, and the attacking of any ship smaller than his own. Hence, he’s dashing and debonair, but not a very good pirate. The Pirate King is currently sailing the waters of the Connecticut Repertory Theatre in Storrs, and he is such an enjoyable rogue that a trip up to UConn to see Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” is well worth the mileage.
            Most productions of “Pirates” are energetic, but CRT’s production is kinetic. This is made manifest from the opening moments when the pirates appear, leaping, tumbling and spinning. This entrance sets the pace, which never flags. Director Terrence Mann (Broadway’s original Rum Tum Tugger in “Cats” and Inspector Javert in “Les Miserables”) and choreographer Cassie Abate keep the cast moving in a constant whirligig of motion, acrobatics and dance that culminates in a tap-off (yes, a tap-off) between the Pirate King (Sean Martin Hingston) and the Sergeant of Police (Alex Gibson) near the end of the second act. No one stays still for very long, least of all the daughters of the Very Modern Major General (Steven Hayes), who flitter and flutter, providing a feast of color and synchronized motion.
            The Pirate King role is written to be larger than life, and Hingston delivers, constantly striking heroic poses that are undercut by an equal number of pratfalls. He sneers, he grins, he prances. He also calls his band of pirates together by shouting “Day-O,” which allows the pirates to break into a calypso dance – one of the many running jokes that Mann has knitted into the production, which often pauses to allow the actors to comment on the skill and talent of fellow actors, much to the delight of the audience. Perhaps the only running gag that wears thin is Samuel (John Bixler) using “Arrrgh-speak” and then being forced to translate what he just said into the King’s English. Fortunately, this joke is allowed to disappear late in the first act.
            Hingston’s stellar, over-the-top performance is matched by several others, chief among them the crowd-pleasing Hayes, who plays the Major-General as if he is fresh from doing a Bert Lahr retrospective heavy on the Cowardly Lion. He is peerless in delivering his signature song – “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” – and adorable, clutching his Teddy bear, in “Sighing Softly to the River,” and Teddy bear he is forced to hold in his mouth through most of the finale.
            However, as good as these performances are, they are matched and perhaps exceeded by Lynn McNutt’s turn as Ruth, the former nursemaid of Frederic (Ryan N. Phillips) a young man indentured to the Pirate King because Ruth misheard her master’s request that his son be taught to be come a pilot – she heard “Pirate.” McNutt is absolutely fabulous as the pirates’ “maid of all work” – in the first act desperate to get Frederic to love her (he having never seen another woman), and in the second, now given over to piratical ways, a lusty, sword-carrying maid of the seas.
            Phillips gives us a very likeable Frederic, although in his duets with his love interest, Mabel (Diane Phelan), the Major-General’s major-domo daughter, his voice seems a bit strained, singing notes that seem a quarter-tone off. Perhaps that’s because Phelan is an exquisite bel canto singer (hence the applause from her fellow actors late in act two), and Phillips more pedestrian style simply doesn’t mesh.
            Then there’s the lithe Gibson, with his marvelous vocal range, who physically reminds one of Tommy Tune – a tall man you would expect to be gangly and awkward but who moves his body with grace and precision…and a great comic sense.
            To be blunt, CRT’s “Pirates of Penzance” is a hoot. There are enough sight gags, double entendres, comic asides and campy stage business to satisfy the most jaded of theater-goers, and it’s all done with a great sense of fun. It takes a talented cast to pull off a show that focuses on tomfoolery. CRT has the cast, so the tomfoolery works. Treat yourself to two hours of silliness…and exceptional talent, then go and get some ice cream at the UConn Dairy Bar.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

CFS's "Romeo & Juliet"

Connecticut Free Shakespeare -- "Romeo & Juliet"
                 Erin Scanlon, Liliane Klein and Virginia Bartholomew. Photo by Judy Barbosa.
That’s all you really need to know. Go see Connecticut Free Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet,” currently playing at the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport and then moving on to McLevy Green in Bridgeport.
I’ve been doing this reviewing gig for quite some time and I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so thoroughly entranced, not just by the production but by the whole evening, the gestalt, if you will, that CFS, under the creative and perceptive direction of Ellen Lieberman (who also did the adaptation), has created. It’s invigorating, embracing and, though the play is a tragedy, a whole lot of fun.
Fun? “Romeo & Juliet” fun? Well, yes. There’s death, I know, but Lieberman has chosen to keep death in its place and not allow it to suck the vitality out of the play -- or the evening. After all, nothing really bad happens until (in this production’s case) well into the second act. Her deft hand is everywhere, with marvelous blocking, keen character development, eye-catching, crackling stage business and an intermission that is unlike any other I’ve experienced – totally unexpected and totally delightful. It is, quite simply, a bravura directorial effort, one that rivals that of the finest productions of Shakespeare’s plays I’ve seen here, in Canada and in England.
I assume you are all familiar with the plot – the rivalry between the Montagues and the Capulets in old Verona, and the secret marriage of the Capulet’s Juliet and the Montague’s Romeo, which leads to their double suicide – so I won’t take up space with synopsis, other than to mention that the production has the best death scene of all the R & J productions I’ve attended. It’s quick, gripping and emotionally riveting.
What I will take up space with is the wonderful sense of theater as an embracing event that Lieberman has infused into the evening and the fine delivery of Shakespearean lines she has engendered in her actors. First, the latter.
Iambic pentameter, which pervades Shakespeare’s plays, is often delivered in a sing-song manner, as if there is some internal metronome in the actors that tick-tocks the lines. There’s none of that in this production. Often, when watching a production of one of the Bard’s plays, it takes five or ten minutes to adjust to the somewhat arcane verbalization. Not so with this production. From the first moment, dialogue is delivered with verve, intensity and clarity – and no slavish devotion to the “beat” inherent in the lines. Thus, characters are immediately realized, not subtly formed out of the mist of stilted delivery. Romeo (Mark Friedlander) is a young man swept up by the idea of love; Juliet (Erin Scanlon) is a young woman swept up by the idea of being a young woman in love; Tybalt (Stephen Humes) is a young man consumed by his immature passions and skewed sense of loyalty; Mercutio (Eric Nyquist) is a young man too witty, adept at swordplay and worldly-aware for his own good. It is out of this mix that the tragedy develops.
All of these actors turn in stellar performances. Scanlon is luminous as Juliet – at various moments passionate, unreasonable, flighty, delirious, distraught and – a girl. Friedlander gives us a smitten young man who can barely contain his joy at finding his true love, and yet, he also gives us a young man who, if he only paused for a moment might have averted the tragedy. He’s a love-struck Andy Hardy without a Judge Hardy to counsel him. Humes’ Tybalt is a classic angry young man who brings his doom upon himself, and Nyquist’s Mercutio is a young man who likes to walk on the edge just to see if anyone will try to push him over.
The stellar acting isn’t limited to these four. Liliane Klein’s Nurse is pitch-perfect and Jamil Mangan’s Friar Laurence is avuncular and intensely earnest. Jonathan Holtzman, Juliet’s father, is both tender and self-righteous as needed, and his wife, played by Virginia Bartholomew, is a perfectly conflicted mother.
I could go down the list of actors in the program, making positive comments for each. Suffice it to say, Lieberman has assembled a cast of very competent actors that she has guided to deliver gripping performances, and this might be, in part, due to how she has staged the intermission and the curtain call. By that I mean she has involved rather than distanced her actors from the audience.

                                  Eric Nyquist. Photo by Judy Barbosa
The intermission is normally a time for audience members to stretch and relieve themselves. Not so with this production. When it’s time for a break, Nyquist appears on stage with a guitar to announce intermission, and then, with the help of various cast members, runs through several familiar songs, ending up with an invitation for youngsters to come up on the stage to help with the penultimate number. There’s dancing and clapping and singing – by the cast and audience. This just doesn’t happen in most productions. Then, as everyone settles back in, there’s a musical synopsis of the first act.

Curtain call? Well, once everyone bows and the applause dies down, the actors normally disappear back stage. Not in this production. After the last bow, the actors move forward into the audience, shaking hands and thanking people for coming to the show. Again, totally unexpected – and totally embracing.

So, a critic is also supposed to point out failures and faults, otherwise it wouldn’t be a balanced review. And…? Well, in the balcony scene a peacock decided to perch itself on a ledge above Juliet’s head (A peacock? The show is staged in Beardsley’s Peacock Pavilion). It was, for a moment, distracting, and drew some audience laughter, but Romeo’s lines include mention of birds, so, it works out. Other than that, I don’t have a quibble.

Thru July 22 at Beardsley Zoo, Bridgeport
July 25 - 29 at McLevy Green, Bridgeport
Aug 1 - 5, Stratford Festival Theater

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Photo Show, Cabaret and an Anniversary

Abstract Photography Exhibit at MAC 650 Gallery

                                                Photo by Zoraida Lopez
On view through Saturday, July 14 at the MAC 650 Gallery in Middletown, CT, is the work of Zoraida Lopez and Keith Claytor, two artists who explore divergent paths of abstract photography.

Born and raised in Bloomfield, Lopez is best know for her images dealing with art and social activism. She has exhibited in galleries across the United States and Latin America, offering work that explores such themes as gender relations, domesticity, loneliness and vulnerability.
                                                    Photo by Keith Claytor
Bloomfield native Keith Claytor has had his images featured in several national periodicals and exhibited in galleries throughout New England. His most recent series draws attention to aspects of thre human experience that are overlooked and in so doing evoking senses of form, texture, color and curves.

MAC 650 Gallery is located at 650 Main St. in Middletown.

Patio Cabaret at the TriArts Sharon Playhouse

TriArts Sharon Playhouse has a new covered patio attached to the playhouse, which will be used as cabaret after regular main stage performances on selected dates. Cabarets will feature production cast members from "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and "Altar Boyz" singing material of their own choosing -- Broadway, standards, pop, country. Cabaret evenings will be July 21, 25, 26 and 27.

Suffield Players 60th Anniversary Season
As part of its 60th anniversary celebration, the Suffield Players in announcing "New Faces," an educational summer theatre opportunity forf people who have limited or no stage experience. Performances of the short scenes developed in the progam will be at 8 p.m. on Aug. 25 at Mapleton Hall. Admission is free. For information about "New Faces" contact Shaun O'Keefe at

Celebrations will continue in the fall with a production of "Regrets Only" a contemporary comedy by Paul Rudnick. The play will run from Oct 11 through Oct. 27.

The rest of the season includes the holiday show, "A Christmas Pudding"; Ira Levin's "Death Trap" in February; and "As You Like It" in May.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Happy "Hairspray"

"Hairspray" -- Ivoryton Playhouse -- Thru July 29
                                  The cast of Hairspray. Photo by Anne Hudson
“Hairspray,” which recently opened at the Ivoryton Playhouse, is about transformation. A young girl, size-challenged, transforms into a TV star and a firebrand. A mother, equally size-challenged and house-bound, blossoms. And a society, shackled by de facto and de jure segregation, begins to shrug off its chains -- all accomplished to the pulsing beat of rock and roll music circa 1962. Under the direction of Jacqueline Hubbard, this bouncy, breezy, message-laden musical, with book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman, and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman, is an audience pleaser that, however, in this case, seems somewhat smaller than it should be, even though it boasts one of the largest casts ever to grace Ivoryton’s diminutive stage.

Based on the John Waters indie film of the same name, the musical focuses on the Turnblad family: Tracy (Jill Sullivan) the daughter whose biggest dream is to be a regular on the Corny Collins (Sam Schrader) show (think “Bandstand” in a B-market, i.e., Baltimore); Edna (Michael Barra), the agoraphobic, oversized Mom; and Wilbur (Neal Mayer), the understanding Dad who owns a magic shop.

Tracy’s quest to get on the teen TV show, and to win the heart of its leading heartthrob Link Larkin (Justin Gerhard), soon morphs, for no apparent reason other than plot necessity, into a desire to integrate the dance show, much to the consternation of the show’s producer, Velma Von Tussle (Tara Michelle Gesling) and her “regular on the show” daughter, Amber (Bethany Fitzgerald), who thinks she has Link wrapped around her crooked little finger. Tracy’s efforts lead her to ‘the other side of town,” where she meets Motormouth Maybelle (Karen Anderson), the host of the “Negro Day” segment of the Corny Collins Show, and her son, Seaweed J. Stubbs, who is attracted to Tracy’s best friend, Penny (Abby Hart), a young lady under the repressive thumb of her mother, Prudy (Melissa McLean). Initial integrative efforts lead to mass arrests, but through subterfuge Tracy gets to compete in and win the Miss Teenage Hairspray contest, as well as Link’s 
heart, and successfully integrate the dance show.

Ivoryton’s production has many fine moments and many fine performances, but there are certain scenes that should take off and soar but don’t, and it’s difficult to understand why. This becomes apparent from the opening number, “Good Morning, Baltimore,” a bouncy paean to the city and the sheer joy of being alive. There should be throbbing elation here, but this seems somehow sadly lacking, perhaps because Sullivan’s vocal range simply isn’t up to the task. Her voice, pleasant enough, seems unable to “sell” a song. “Good Morning…” is a belter’s number, and Sullivan is not a belter. She’s energetic and nimble, as is evident in her many dance numbers, but she just can’t seem to translate this physical exuberance into vocal exuberance.

The ensemble backing up Sullivan in this opening number also seems somewhat muted, surprising given the size of the theater and the number of actors on stage, but this “muting” occurs in several other ensemble numbers, which leads one to question the sound design – there’s no accreditation in the program for sound – perhaps that is the problem. In any event, the sound is very uneven. At times the actors seem overly harsh and sharp and at other times strangely blurred. Sound is a subtle thing in a musical production – it succeeds best when it doesn’t call attention to itself. In the case of “Hairspray,” it calls attention to itself on a regular basis.

Staying with “calling attention to itself” for a moment, scenic designer Cully Long, whose major work here is extremely fluid, effective and period suggestive, has also given us a projection screen stage left (if, in fact, this was his decision), that presents a constant flow of period images that relate to the dialogue and songs being sung. It’s totally superfluous and distracting – you have actors doing their “stuff” and a constant flow of images stage left – why would anyone want to draw attention away from what is occurring on the stage?

Yes, there are problems, but they are outweighed by the many positives this production offers, chief among them Edna, which has traditionally been played by a man. Barra’s Edna is, quite simply, a fine piece of work. He doesn’t overwork the conceit but rather allows the fact that he is a man to subtly underscore both dialogue and song, no more so than in the absolutely delightful “You’re Timeless to Me,” a duet with her husband – Mayer doesn’t miss a beat throughout the entire evening -- that is, dare I use the word, adorable. These are two pros working the moment for all it’s worth, and the result is a theatrical treat that harkensback to cherished vaudeville routines

Another plus is the work of choreographer JR Bruno, who uses the Playhouse’s limited space to great effect – both the stage and the orchestra aisles -- and creates some numbers – especially “The Big Dollhouse” and the finale, “You Can’t Stop the Beat” – that please on a number of levels: movement that is visually balanced, enhances the plot, and is emotionally satisfying

Four other performances stand out, and make the show well worth the price of admission. The first is Gesling’s Velma – she is arch and bitchy, creates the woman you love to hate, and totally entrances in “Miss Baltimore Crab.” Then there’s Anderson as Motormouth – she looks like Eartha Kitt and sings like Queen Latifa – and her two featured numbers, “Big, Blonde and Beautiful” and “I Know Where I’ve Been” – are show stoppers. The third performance worthy of mention is McLean’s, who not only plays Penny’s mom, but a butch gym teacher (girls get extra credit if they take a shower) and a prison matron, and it is as the 
matron that she really shines in “The Big Dollhouse” number.

Finally, the best for last: Abby Hart as Penny Pingleton, the socially challenged best friend of Tracy. As hard as I tried, I just couldn’t keep my eyes off her (I suspect director Hubbard had something to do with this, sensing she had a goldmine here) as Hart projects an awkward young lass who is just a beat off in the dances (intentionally), uses her fluttering fingers to express her awkwardness, and delivers her lines with a delightful naïveté. It is her transformation in the final scene – from an awkward naïf to a beautiful young woman (which she is) – that is, surprisingly, the most satisfying transformation of all.

“Hairspray” is a big production for Ivoryton to take on, and by and large, the century-old theater succeeds. The house, packed at the performance I attended, just lapped it up, as well it should. This is quality musical theater. Yes, there are problems, but they don’t get in the way of enjoying a robust, vibrant and engaging t
wo-and-a-half hours that prove that “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”

 “Hairspray” runs through July 29. For tickets or more information call 860-767-7318 or go to

Monday, July 9, 2012


In my other life I am a teacher at a local community college. Over the years, I've collected some very "interesting" excerpts from student writing. Once a week I'll be sharing some of the "best."

Here's a sample:

Analyzing a James Joyce short story, a student wrote:

“Eveline is caught between a rock and a hard ball.”

Just slightly more painful than between a pebble and a softball.

A student explained the ending of Hamlet this way:

“But just before Hamlet dies, Fortinbras arrives and Hamlet  thrones him King of Denmark.”

The ceremony is akin to royal musical chairs.

In an attempt to critique a poem, a student explained that:

“These were not your normal six to eight line sonnets.”

I find six-line sonnets banal and eight-line sonnets somewhat stifling.

Of the symbolic import of dust in Joyce’s “Eveline” a student wrote:

“Dust is mentioned so often in my mind, because it represents an old life…”

Gotta wash that dust right out of your mind!

Another fascinating observation:

“Eveline starts realizing that she did make a promise to upload the family before she dies.”

Obviously to a far, far better place.

Do you have some interesting malaprops or other writing faux pas? Please send them along to me at I'll be happy to post them and, of course, give credit where credit is due.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Delightful "Desperate Measures"

"Desperate measures" -- The Spirit of Broadway
                      The Act One finale, IN THE DARK, performed by members of the
                         Spirit of Broadway Theater cast of DESPERATE MEASURES

What do the Bard, “Blazing Saddles” and the Marx Brothers have in common? Well, if you travel up to The Spirit of Broadway in Norwich you just might find out. Not going there this weekend? Okay, well, I’ll tell you. They all are drawn upon by Peter Kellogg for his “Desperate Measures,” a new musical under the direction of Brett Bernardini, Spirit’s artistic director. The result? Well, it’s a B-Movie experience, but a very good B-Movie experience, one that despite its limitations you just can’t help but warm to.

First, the Bard. The musical is loosely (I mean very loosely) based on his “Measure for Measure,” originally dubbed a comedy but later moved over to the “problem play” list by Shakespearean scholars. Whatever “problems” the Bard’s original play dealt with have essentially been removed by Kellogg, leaving us with comedy that sometimes teeters on the brink of farce – hell, it doesn’t teeter, it tumbles over, but that’s okay.

The Bard’s setting was Vienna, but Kellogg has placed his characters in the Old West, where we find cowboy Johnny Blood (Michael Sullivan) in jail awaiting hanging for killing a man, in self-defense, over an argument about Bella (Shauna Goldgood), a dancehall girl with a heart of gold. The Governor (Keith Johnson), a German émigré, is a strict law-and-order type who believes hanging is good for the community. It stiffens the civic spine and puts fear into the riffraff. Thus, no leniency for Johnny. The Sheriff (Corrado Alicata) has other ideas, and in an attempt to help Johnny seeks out the cowpoke’s sister, Susanna (Aline O’Connor), who just happens to be days away from taking her final vows as a nun.

The good Sister-sister pleads her brother’s case before the Governor, who offers her a deal: Johnny’s life for her virginity. Horrors! Can’t be done. But, where there’s a Will (pun intended) there’s a way, which involves both a bedroom and a wedding bait-and-switch, the latter abetted by a besotted Priest (Johnny Marion) with a Nietzsche fetish.

So, there you have it. The Bard westernized (it’s been done before). As for “Blazing Saddles,” well we have a lascivious governor, a righteous sheriff and a dancehall girl who may not be “So tired,” but certainly should be.

And the Marx Brothers? Well, in “Duck Soup,” Groucho and Harpo do a scene where they are both dressed in nightshirts and gaze at each other in what is supposed to be a mirror, Harpo mimicking Groucho’s every move. The same shtick is acted out by Sister-sister and Bella, albeit they are dressed in wedding gowns.

Kellogg has written the book in what might be termed rhymed Free Verse, with some iambic pentameter overtones. It’s not intrusive and, if you listen closely, the rhyming is often quite witty, especially when the rhymes are split between characters. The only actor who, initially, seems to have a problem with the verse is the winsome O’Connor. It’s not that she can’t deliver her lines, it’s just that, at least for most of the first act, she bangs the rhymes, that is, she puts an end-stop to each of her lines where there is a rhyme when, in fact, there should be a flow that allows the rhymes to take care of themselves. Thus, her delivery is a bit sing-song. However, as the evening progresses she seems to loosen up and by the end of the show she is simply entrancing.

Kellogg’s script doesn’t ask for subtlety and Bernardini’s direction plays to that. There are sight gags, double-takes, and humorous interplay between the actors as actors, all of which serve to lighten the proceedings. Bernardini also has to address the configuration of his theater, and this presents a problem, at least from where I was sitting.

The theater has stadium seating that is set off on three sides of a modified thrust stage, with the majority of the seats facing the stage. Acknowledging that all seats must be played to, Bernardini has blocked some scenes with the actors (either sitting or standing) facing the stage, which means that their backs are to the majority of the audience. Once and it’s a minor irritant; twice, especially in such a central scene as Bella’s becoming a nun (don’t ask), and it’s off-putting. You want to see the actors’ faces as they deliver their lines and sing their songs.

And sing their songs they do. I’m always wary of attending a “new” musical, since I’m averse to atonal wailing and numbers that eschew any nod towards lyrical sensibility. Fortunately, David Friedman’s music takes pity on Luddite ears by delivering songs that are snappy, toe-tapping and even moving. I was especially taken by the “In the Dark” number that closes the first act. It’s sung by the entire cast and is the type of anthem you just want to go on and on.

There are also a couple of show-stoppers, including “Just for you,” sung by the irrepressible Bella and her true love, the cowpoke Johnny, “It’s Getting Hot in Here,” again with Bella and her two co-workers (Jeanette Kearney and Kaila Galinat), “Life Takes You by Surprise” – the entire cast -- and the tender “What is This Feeling,” one of O’Connor’s finest moments.

In all, this is a frothy, light-hearted summer treat. It’s not hard on the eyes or the ears and, as the evening goes on, simply wraps you in silliness until you succumb. Put quite simply, it’s a hell of a lot of fun and well worth the drive up to Norwich.

“Desperate Measures” runs through July 29. For tickets or more information call 860-886-2378 or go to

For CT Theater News and Reviews

Friday, July 6, 2012

"Godspell" and a Promotion

"Godspell" -- Two Nights Only at TheatreWorks New Milford
TheatreWorks New Milford Stage 2 program is presenting "Godspell" for two nights only, Friday and Saturday, July 13 and 14, at 8 p.m. Senior citizens may attend the dress rehearsal on Thursday, July 12, free of charge.

The production's cast consists of talented teens from the area, as the Stage 2 program was designed to hone the skills of local youth, giving them a broader view of theater and live performance. The musical is based on the Gospel of St. Matthew and features such well-known songs as "Day by Day" and "Learn Your Lessons Well"

For tickets or more information call 860-350-6863.

Hartford Stage Names Maxwell Williams New Associate Artistic Director
Hartford Stage's artistic dirtector, Darko Tresnjak, promoted resident director Maxwell Williams, an artistic presence at the theater for overe ten years, to the positon of Associate Artistic Director.

Williams has directed many of the company's productions, including "Boeing, Boeing," "The 39 Steps" and "Dying City," and has had a hand in developing new plays for the venue. A member of the inaugural class of the Hartt School's theater program, Williams has directed plays across the country, includign at such venues as the American Repertory Theatre and Lincoln Center Theater.