Sunday, June 28, 2015

Think Pink

Legally Blonde -- Summer Theatre of New Canaan -- Thru Aug. 9

                                            Kara Dombrowski as Elle Woods

It was a book, then it was a movie, then it became a musical, but none of the transitions has reduced the cotton-candy sweetness of Legally Blonde, that paean to blondes with brains. In its current manifestation at the Summer Theatre of New Canaan, it is as light and fluffy as ever, with an engaging cast that has obviously been well-drilled to “think pink.”

For those of you who have not been “pinkified,” this is the story of Elle Woods (Kara Dombrowski), a sorority girl from Malibu who appears to be as light in the head as she is on top of it. Elle is in love with Warner (Preston Ellis), but graduation at UCLA is nigh and Preston, who has dreams of a political career, decides that he needs a woman who is more “serious,” so he jilts Elle.

The young lady goes into a tail-spin that involves eating Milky Ways, but her sorority sisters buck her up and Elle decides to apply to Harvard Law School in pursuit of Warner. She studies real hard, aces her LSATs, and performs an untraditional “personal essay” that lands her a place in Cambridge. Initially clueless about the rigors of law school, she is ejected from class by Professor Callahan (Stephen Hope) but is mentored by Emmett (Matthew Christian), a teaching assistant, and given sisterly advice by her hairdresser, Paulette (Jodi Stevens), a lady whose love-life is in the doldrums.

Elle eventually wins an internship in Callahan’s office and helps the firm win a big-money murder case involving fitness guru Brook Wyndham (Shannon Mullen), in the process showing that blondes not only have more fun but can litigate with the best of them.

If you want dramatic meat on the bones of your musical, you’ll just have to go find where Next to Normal is being performed, but if you want to just sit back and enjoy some “Omigod!” fun, then Legally Blonde is your piece of cake, as long as you don’t mind pink icing two inches high.

As directed by Allegra Libonati, with athletic (if somewhat derivative) choreography by Doug Shankman, Legally Blonde, with music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin and a book by Heather Hatch, is a two-act romp complete with cute dogs, cheerleaders, a Greek (read sorority) chorus and enough bounce and spirit to keep you off Red Bull for at least a week.

Julia Noulin-Merat’s extremely functional unit set allows for easy transitions from Delta Nu’s sorority house to Harvard Yard to a courtroom (and then a bathroom complete with shower stall), with some very effective shuttered windows used for emphasis. There’s enough space for this large cast to do some flamboyant dance numbers, chief among them the “What You Want” essay and the second act’s “Whipped Into Shape.”

Driving this pink pastiche, Dombrowski is all one could ask for in a clueless blonde who actually has a clue. She is lithe, perky and completely engaging. Equally entrancing is Stevens as the boy-friend-hungry hairdresser -- she has just the right mix of moxie and insecurity. Although Ellis enters with just a tad too much smarminess (this is an aspiring Senator?) dressed for a role in Saturday Night Fever, he comes down a bit and does a nice job breaking up with Elle in “Serious,” and you can’t fault Mullen as the fitness video queen – she doesn’t seem to be breathing hard at the end of “Whipped,” a number that would put many of us on the floor gasping. God bless youth – and training.

Libonati shows she knows what she is dealing with in Legally Blonde. There’s not a serious bone in this musical’s structure, so it can easily slide into sloppy camp if the cast doesn’t sell that they actually buy into the froth. This cast does. It’s a challenge to be seriously silly, but this cast is up to the task. From the “Omigod You Guys” opening number to the closing graduation scene, there’s not a smirk to be seen. The 27-member cast sells the premise right from the start so, for at least two hours, the audience buys in.

If there’s any problem with the production it is in A & L Sound Partners sound design. The mix is off – the orchestra often overwhelms the performers, and even when there’s no music, some of the dialogue gets lost. Of course, given that this is an open-air theater, sound is tricky, but balance should go to the talent on stage rather than the musicians. However, this is early days for the show, which runs through August 9, so the sound problems should be corrected.

In all, Legally Blonde is a perfect “summer” show. It’s light, breezy and family-friendly. You have to be a dyed-in-the-wool curmudgeon not to respond to Elle and her efforts to prove that she is serious. It’s a bouncy, bright pink parfait,

Legally Blonde runs through August 9. For tickets or more information call 203-966-4634 or go to

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Somewhat Earth-bound "Peter Pan"

Peter Pan -- Connecticut Repertory Theatre -- Thru July 3

                              Riley Costello (left) as Peter and Annie Wallace (right) as 
                              Tiger Lily. All photos by Gerry Goodstein.

Peter Pan, which opened as a musical on Broadway in 1954, and is based on J. M Barrie’s 1904 play, has always had the feel of a cobbled together show. The central conceit is that a rather magical boy who resides in Neverland has chosen not to grow up, an idea perhaps more alluring to world-weary adults than children who can’t wait to, well, grow up. The fact that Peter can fly and, with the assistance of some fairy dust and some “lovely thoughts,” help others to do the same, adds allure, but the plot is thin, the characterizations broad, and the score less than memorable. Thus, there was an inherent challenge in Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s decision to stage this production as part of its Nutmeg Summer Series. The challenge is met, if not totally overcome.

                                                         Riley Costello

Assuming that everyone is familiar with the story (if you’re not, blame your parents and get psychiatric help), we can skip the plot scenario and get to an evaluation of the show, which stars the engaging, talented Riley Costello as Peter. Costello brings the necessary impishness to the role (which is often played by a woman – Mary Martin was the flying waif in the initial Broadway production – Sandy Duncan and Cathy Rigby have followed in her footsteps). He struts, he preens, he flies (with the assistance of much-apparent rigging) and he crows with aplomb. He also dances, especially in the engaging shadow dance in the first act and the second act’s “Ugg-a-Wugg” number, both choreographed by director Cassie Abate.

                                                         Terrence Mann

Pan’s nemesis in Neverland is the delightfully evil Captain Hook, played by Terrence Mann. This character is written as over-the-top, but Mann takes it to another level, often breaking character in the second act, much to the delight of many in the audience, but in doing so he draws attention to himself as an actor and shatters the fourth-wall illusion, making it difficult to say, “I do believe – I do believe.” His asides draw laughter, but they change the tone of some of the numbers and somehow manage to flatten the finale, which should be just a tad more poignant than it is. There’s a psychological point to be made in that the same actor plays Mr. Darling (i.e., father) and Hook that also seems to get lost in this production.

Thinking about the evening while driving home, what struck me was that the show, well-produced and technically correct, lacks a sense of wonder and whimsy. There are certainly enjoyable moments: the flight of Peter and the three Darling children – Wendy (Maggie Bera), John (Troyer Coultas) and Michael (Atticus L. Burrello) – over the darkened London rooftops is nicely handled via scrim and Tim Brown’s projections; Hook’s “Tango” and “Tarantella” are humorous; the aforementioned “Ugg-a-Wugg” number is engaging…and yet…

                                             Maggie Bera and Riley Costello

There’s a ragged side to the production, and that comes any time there are chase scenes, and they are numerous. Always difficult to block or choreograph, they can turn into nothing more than random movement. There’s a lot of leaping, a lot of helter-skelter, but it really doesn’t amount to much and, after a while, it all simply feels like fill.

Perhaps the most deadening scenes are the lead-up to the show’s finale, which involve Peter’s “tribe” of lost boys, along with the Darling children, first being captured by Hook and his henchman Smee (Jonathan Cobrda) and the other “Aarrghing” pirates, and then eventually being rescued by Peter and Tiger Lilly (Annie Wallace). Brown’s scenic design essentially squeezes and squashes a lot of the action and Abate’s direction here seems less than inspired: as the lost boys are being captured they are filtered through a doorway, up onto a walkway and then down stairs, all with Hook standing on a balcony with nothing much to do other than observe – it seems to take forever. The subsequent “battle” and rescue is an amalgam of faux swordplay, posings and postures, with little or no sense of pleasing visual aesthetics. At this point, one gets the feeling that many in the cast are just going through the motions, with some actors not really sure what those motions should be.

If you are six years old, the evening may seem magical. If you are a bit older (or, some might say, a bit jaded), it is, at times, enjoyable, at others ponderous, and sometimes even painful. Would that Peter had, during rehearsals, actually flown in and spread around a bit of fairy dust so the cast and the entire production could fly. Alas, it was not to be. Although over the evening many actors leap, spin and tumble in the air, the production never really soars.

Peter Pan runs through July 3. For tickets or more information call 860-486-2113 or go to

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Cast Makes "Nightingale" Sing

"And a Nightingale Sang" -- Westport Country Playhouse -- Thru June 27

                           Richard Kline, Sean Cullen, Deirdre Madigan, Brenda Meaney,
                          Jenny Leona, and John Skelley. All p
hotos by Carol Rosegg.

There’s a war going on, and the Stott family living in Newcastle, England, has to soldier through as best it can, what with rationing and German planes flying overhead, bombs dropping and young men going off to war, perhaps never to return. That’s the premise of C. P. Taylor’s “And a Nightingale Sang,” which recently opened at the Westport Country Playhouse. The play, written in 1977 and commissioned by Newcastle upon Tyne’s Live Theatre Company, will resonate based on one’s age and heritage. For Brits seeing this, or any production of this bitter-sweet comedy, there might be a lot of head nodding and whispers of, “Yes, love, that’s the way it was.” For an American audience, however, there might also be some heads nodding, but for a different reason.

Take away the frame of World War II and what we have here is a garden-variety melodrama: George (Sean Cullen), the Dad, is somewhat preoccupied with his music and his politics; Mam (Deirdre Madigan), also know as “The Saint,” is preoccupied with the church. Their marriage has devolved to mere moments of contention and convenience. Andie, (Richard Kline), a.k.a “the old soldier” (he fought in WWI), is the wise-foolish Grandfather, devoted to pets and, Lear-like, shuffling between the homes of his daughters. Then there’s George and Mam’s “pretty,” flighty daughter, Joyce (Jenny Leona), and Helen (Brenda Meaney), the “plain,” down-to-earth daughter who limps because one leg is shorter than the other.

                                                Jenny Leona and John Skelley

These are all, initially, stock characters, as are the two soldiers who come into their lives: the somewhat feckless Eric (John Skelley), who woos and wins (sort of) Joyce, and his oh-so-sincere comrade in arms, Norman (Matthew Greer), who is drawn to Helen. Bombs may fall, planes may strafe, but people are, after all, people (though Grandpa may disagree), and they will get themselves involved in all sorts of emotional quagmires that involve a possible unwanted pregnancy, falling in love with someone who hides his past, and making do in a marriage that functions on formality. It’s all been seen before on stage and on screens, and familiarity might very well breed, if not contempt, then at least a certain degree of been-there-done-that boredom. But wait…

                                            Brenda Meaney and Matthew Greer  

This rather mundane material is brought to life by an absolutely stellar cast under the direction of David Kennedy, led by Meaney, who is both entrancing and beguiling. Even before the play commences she is on stage, roaming scenic designer Kristen Robinson’s set (a blend of representation and presentation that works but, somehow, has the feel of a warehouse), touching and remembering, for she will not only be the primary character in the play but also its narrator, which calls for her to seamlessly shift from character to commentator, which she does with delightful aplomb. At one moment she is the awkward Helen, unsure of herself, and in the next she is the wistful, wise historian (and analyst) of her own and her family’s actions. It’s a bravura performance.

To modify an old theater bromide, there are no dull roles, only dull actors, and none of the actors on the Westport stage is dull. Given the rather cardboard characters they are asked to portray, they infuse life and vitality into them and make you believe that these are living, breathing people, and that their problems, fears, desires and failures have meaning.

                                              Richard Kline and Deirdre Madigan

Besides Meaney’s lustrous performance, there are two other stand-outs: Kline’s Andie and Madigan’s Peggy (on Mam). Playwright Taylor has given the Grandfather character some of the play’s best lines, and Kline delivers them with a world-weary, somewhat nihilistic bent that can’t help but elicit laughter. However, it is Madigan who totally overcomes the banal character she is asked to portray, making what could have been a side-show religious zealot into a rounded character with heart, soul and feelings that hide beneath the surface of her formulaic piety (her “He touched me” scene is a wonderfully nuanced portrayal of a woman dealing with repressed sensuality).

Staged in a different manner, with a different cast, you might come away from “Nightingale” saying, “So what?” However, in the case of the Playhouse’s production, you don’t, and it’s all to the credit of the marvelous cast, though lighting designer Matthew Richards might want to take a seat out in the house – many of the instruments seem aimed more at the audience than at the characters on stage.

No, “Nightingale” is not great drama, for Taylor hasn’t really captured the reality of a society under siege, threatened with total destruction, but there’s a great deal of theatrical satisfaction to be had here, and it all is due to the skill and talent of those who are up there on the stage. So, I turn to Seneca for a final comment: “Life's like a play: it's not the length, but the excellence of the acting that matters.”

“And a Nightingale Sang” runs through June 27. For tickets or more information call 203-227-4177 or go to

Saturday, June 13, 2015

An Exuberant "Hair"

"Hair" -- Playhouse on Park -- Thru July 19

                                   The cast of "Hair." All photos by Tibor Zoller

Playhouse on Park has wisely chosen to close out its fifth season with a show that will have audiences eager to return next season. The show is George Ragni, James Rado and Galt Macdermot’s “Hair,” the counter-culture sensation that opened on Broadway in 1968. A paean to the hippie life-style as well as a protest against war (specifically the Viet Nam war), the musical, under the astute direction of Sean Harris, is as relevant today as it was half a century ago, and in this production, just as exciting.

The Playhouse’s relatively confined space may seem, at first, to be a detriment to staging this sprawling musical, but Harris’s direction and Darlene Zoller’s excellent, kinetic choreography magically expand the experience – every square inch of stage is utilized, with the action often flowing out into the house. And then there’s the cast.

 The Playhouse seems able to regularly gather together ensembles that are both exciting and professionally adept -- this season’s ensemble for “Spelling Bee,” for example, was nominated for a Connecticut Critics Circle award, and I wouldn’t be surprised if lightening doesn’t strike twice.

Given the close proximity of audience to actors, it is easy to see if anyone on-stage is phoning-in a performance. No one does. Energy and electricity abound. Although, technically, there are leads in the show – Ryan Connolly as Berger, Michael J. Walker as Claude, Tara Novie as Sheila and Kristen Jeter as Dionne – this is truly a collective effort.

 Backed by a talented eight-member orchestra that is housed in a cage stage-right by scenic designer Demaia Cabrera (who also created the costumes), the cast moves through the familiar score with an excellent feel for time and place – there’s anger, passion, youthful exuberance and, underlying it all, a sense that the free-form, all-embracing life-style may not be sustainable.

“Hair,” at least in its theatrical form, is very light on story-line (the 1979 Milos Forman film made additions/changes to provide a stronger sense of narrative). Thus, it is the musical numbers – and their staging --  that drive the evening, and although you may, at times, have difficulty hearing exactly what is being sung (Joel Abbott’s sound is just a tad mushy and the balance between single vocals and orchestration is often uneven), when you do it is a compelling experience.

That experience is certainly enhanced by Zoller’s choreography – it’s innovative and exciting and, given that the cast is in almost constant motion, surprisingly non-repetitive. It’s always difficult for an observer to know exactly who is responsible for the creation of certain visual set-pieces ending in tableaux – director, choreographer or both – but Harris and Zoller, working together, give the audience some wonderful visual moments, not the least of which is the final “funeral” scene as the cast sings “Let the Sun Shine In” – a moment that is filled with anger, frustration and hope.

The evening speeds along, punctuated by some truly memorable moments. Late in the first act, Jose Plaza, as the Margaret Mead character, stops the show with “My Conviction.” Not much later, the entire cast moves through the pulsating “Hare Krishna/Be In” number, enhanced by Aaron Hochheiser’s dramatic lighting design, a design that also embellishes “The Trip” in the second act – a series of drug-driven dream numbers that are a more than satisfying example of pacing and emotional build to release in a musical.

Yes, you can go down to the Big Apple to see and enjoy the multi-million-dollar productions, but for my money, watching “Hair” at Playhouse on Park is more exciting. It took guts to put on this show, and it could have failed in any number of ways, but it doesn’t. For anyone who lived through the era of protest, assassinations and youthful rebellion, “Hair” will be a reminder of how fraught -- and yet how compellingly vital – that time was. For those who came on the scene later, this production will not only be an emotional history lesson of sorts (do you know who LBJ was?), it will also open some eyes: yes, Mom and Dad, or Grandma and Grandpa, used to be sexually, emotionally and politically alive and passionately committed! Of greatest importance, the evening will entertain on just about every level. The Playhouse has a winner here, so there shouldn’t be an empty seat throughout the entire run.

“Hair” runs through July 19. For tickets or more information call 860-523-5900, X10, or go to

Saturday, June 6, 2015

More than Months in a Calendar

"Calendar Girls" -- Ivoryton Playhouse -- Thru June 21

                     Katrina Ferguson, Maria Silverman, Jacqueline Hubbard, Erik
                     Bloomquist, Beverly J. Taylor, Lily Dorment and Maggie McGlone
                    Jennings. All photos by Anne Hudson.

Yes, movies and plays are different. No surprise. Movies are, by their very nature, visually dictatorial, by which I mean the camera determines what you do and do not look at. What with establishing shots, close-ups, two-shots and tracking shots, what the movie-goer sees is what the lens allows him or her to see.

Such is not the case with plays – the eye is free to roam. The lead character may be delivering poignant lines but the eye may choose to focus on a subordinate character sitting in a corner, or on a piece of scenery, or down at the program curled in one’s hands. Thus, it is the job of the play’s director to stage (or block) scenes using every trick in the theatrical book to keep the audience’s eyes focused on what the director wants them to be focused on. This, director Jacqueline Hubbard, does with skill and talent in the boarding of “Calendar Girls,” which recently opened at the Ivoryton Playhouse. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that clothes are shed during the evening – a focus-sharpener if there ever was one.

                              The ladies fortify themselves before the disrobing.

The rule of thumb is that movies are often adapted from novels or plays, not vice-versa. “Little Shop of Horrors” is an exception to the rule, as is Tom Firth’s “Calendar Girls,” which he adapted for the stage from a screenplay he wrote with Juliette Towhidi that made it up onto the silver screen back in 2003 starring Helen Mirren. The play, which is receiving its American premiere out at Ivoryton, is a somewhat faithful re-telling of the true story of a group of British women who decide to raise funds for the purchase of a new settee for the visitors’ room of a hospital’s cancer ward by posing, albeit decorously, for some risqué pictures that will adorn an annual calendar produced by their branch of the Women’s Institute, a church-affiliated organization that seeks to develop women’s talents by focusing on knitting, baking and attending lectures on the history of broccoli.

                                     Beverly J. Taylor, R. Bruce Connelly,
                                     Jacqui Hubbard and Katrina Ferguson

The impetus for this project is the passing of John (R. Bruce Connelly), who is married to Annie (Hubbard – yes, she does double-duty). Annie’s friend, Chris (Beverley J. Taylor), seeking to give her friend a new focus in life, suggests the project, and the other members of the local WI -- Cora (Maria Silverman), a vicar’s daughter with an attitude, Jessie (Maggie McGlone Jennings), whose wrinkles belie her feistiness, Celia (Katrina Ferguson), a golf-widow who hides liquid refreshment in her golf bag, and Ruth (Lily Dorment), a repressed “yes-woman” with a wandering husband – all eventually agree to sign up and disrobe.

The first act is essentially devoted to the gestation of the project and ends with a delightfully staged photo shoot overseen by Lawrence (Erik Bloomquist), a local photographer. The shoot is interrupted at the curtain by the arrival of the WI’s straight-laced mother hen, Marie (Victoria Bundonis). As might be expected, the calendar goes viral, and most of the second act deals with how the ladies deal with their new-found notoriety, what with the world press knocking on their doors and the sudden possibility that real money might be made from the project.

                                Erik Bloomquist jumps for joy during the photo shoot.

As the descriptions above might suggest, Firth has given us one-note characters, so it falls to the cast members to put flesh onto these skeletons, which they do with great success. Although you might think the play’s draw is the creation of the calendar (Yes, -- “Local actresses bare all” is a great come-on), it really lies in the relationships of the six women and the badinage that suffuses their relationships. This is established early in the first act as Chris is leading the group in Tai Chi exercises, a discipline of which she has only passing knowledge. The ladies create their own poses, each one a comment on an idiosyncrasy or hang-up of one of the group’s members.

That being said, it can’t be denied that much of the interest in “Calendar Girls” is in how the director will pull off the photo shoot, and this Hubbard does with a lot of wit and style, with the result of each set-up being projected onto screens set extreme stage right and left. With each click and flash, the audience laughs and applauds. The shots (and Hubbard’s blocking -- never was the term more appropriate) have the feel of the playfully naughty photos that appeared in men’s magazines of the 50s, before the let-it-all-hang-out of Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler left little or nothing to the imagination.

If there is a problem with the show it rests not with the actors and creative team but with the script itself, for these women, with their decision to produce the calendar, are flying in the face of local mores and morals. This is toyed with but never fully developed – it’s a Hallmark set-up, and you never get the feeling that the women are really in any danger of being ostracized.  

Firth also tries to generate a bit of conflict between Chris and Annie as the possibility of fame and fortune become temptations that draw Chris away from the needs of her husband, Rod (David Edwards) and the original intent of the calendar project. Once again, it’s surface tension and easily resolved in an “I’m really a good person” scene that might make some members of the audience want to squirm a bit (or gag). It’s the stuff of banal sitcoms and poorly scripted Family Channel feel-good movies – there’s just more syrup on the pancake than one can swallow.

In all, “Calendar Girls” is a cute, often funny play that succeeds in spite of the somewhat heavy-handed, message-laden script. There were some minor technical glitches on opening night that I’m sure, by now, have been ironed out (silence and an empty stage does a lot to disengage the audience). The cast was still learning where the laugh lines are and when to hold a bit of dialogue to allow the laughter to subside but, by and large, the thirteen actors on stage are eager and effective, and the idea that you can’t keep a good group of girls down is always appealing.

“Calendar Girls” runs through June 21. For tickets or more information call 860-767-7318 or go to 

Friday, June 5, 2015

Connecticut Critics Circle Announces Special Awards

Carmen de Lavallade to be Honored

The Connecticut Critics Circle has announced the recipients of Special Awards to be presented at its annual ceremony, this year to be held at The Iseman Theater in New Haven on Monday, June 22. The recipients include Carmen de Lavallade, who will receive the Killen Award for outstanding contribution to Connecticut theater, the Summer Theatre of New Canaan for its DramaRamas program, the Split Knuckle Theatre Company for its production of “Endurance,” and Shawn Boyle, for his work on Yale Repertory’s production of Elevada.”

The Iseman Theater is located at 1156 Chapel Street in New Haven. The event, which begins at 7:30 p.m., is open to the public. Seating is limited and will be available on a first-come-first-served basis.

About the recipients

Carmen de Lavallade

                                                Carmen de Lavallade

Carmen de Lavallade -- dancer, actor and teacher -- was a key member as teacher and performer in the early days of the Yale Repertory Theatre and the new Yale School of Drama under the tenure of Robert Brustein. She was a powerfully influential teacher to a generation of actors there, including Meryl Streep, who has often cited De Lavallade as having a profound influence on the shaping of her talent in those early days. Some of de Lavallade’s performances -- including in "The Tempest" and especially her Titania in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" -- are often cited as some of the best ever at the Rep; indeed in CT.

Now 84, de Lavallade is performing her solo autobiographical show, "As I See It," which will be playing at the International Festival of Arts & Ideas at the Festival during the week of the awards ceremony.

De Lavallade was a member of the Lester Horton Dance Theater in 1949 where she danced as a lead dancer until her departure for New York City with Alvin Ailey in 1954. Like all of Horton's students, de Lavallade studied other art forms, including painting, acting, music, set design and costuming, as well as ballet and other forms of modern and ethnic dance. She studied dancing with ballerina Carmelita Maracci and acting with Stella Adler. In 1954, de Lavallade made her Broadway debut partnered with Alvin Ailey in Truman Capote's musical House of Flowers (starring Pearl Bailey).

In 1955, she married dancer/actor Geoffrey Holder, who died last year. It was with Holder that de Lavallade choreographed her signature solo Come Sunday, to a black spiritual sung by Odetta (then known as Odetta Gordon). The following year, de Lavallade danced as the prima ballerina in Samson and Delilah, and Aida at the Metropolitan Opera.

She made her television debut in John Butler's ballet Flight, and in 1957 she appeared in the television production of Duke Ellington's A Drum Is a Woman. She appeared in several off-Broadway productions, including Othello and Death of a Salesman. An introduction to 20th Century Fox executives by Lena Horne led to more acting roles between 1952 and 1955. She appeared in several films, including Carmen Jones (1954) with Dorothy Dandridge and Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) with Harry Belafonte.

De Lavallade was a principal guest performer with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company on the company's tour of Asia and in some countries the company was billed as de Lavallade-Ailey American Dance Company. Other performances included dancing with Donald McKayle and appearing in Agnes de Mille's American Ballet Theatre productions of The Four Marys and The Frail Quarry in 1965.

Summer Theatre of New Canaan’s DramaRamas Program

In June 2011, the Summer Theatre of New Canaan expanded its educational programs to
include a unique musical theatre program, the DramaRamas. The program is designed specifically for young people with special needs (such as those with autism, Down syndrome, developmental delays and disorders, etc.).

                                                 DramaRamas and their mentors

Created and directed by Melody Meitrott Libonati, Summer Theatre’s artistic director, the program matches a DramaRama actor with one of the college interns and professional actors who will be performing in the festival show. They mentor each DramaRama actor one on one, helping them interpret and perform the roles in a special presentation performance which is open to the public with free admission. While working with professional staff and volunteers, the DramaRamas learn basic performance skills such as singing, dancing, acting, and experience the magic of a professional show with a full house audience. The program has profoundly affected the students, their families, the summer theatre staff and the audience attending their performance. Many of the students return year after year.

The DramaRama program is now in its fifth year with the production of “Legally Blonde Jr.”  Previous productions have included “Frog and Toad”, “The Wizard of Oz”, “The Little Mermaid,”, and “Hairspray, Jr.”

Scholarships are made available to any DramaRama who wishes to participate regardless of ability to pay the tuition fee. The Summer Theatre of New Canaan acknowledges with gratitude the many local individuals and organizations supporting the program and continue to recognize the value of this program for its students, their families and the community in general.

Split Knuckle Theatre Company

Split Knuckle is a critically acclaimed company that creates dynamic, physical, visually striking theater from simple materials. The company members trained at the London International School of Performing Arts in the methods of Jacques Lecoq, leading them to through imagination, text and movement to create vast landscapes, vivid characters and epic stories. 

                                  Greg Weber, Jason Bohan, Andrew Grusetskie and
                                  Michael Toomey 
in "Endurance" 

This was evident in the company’s 2014 presentation of “Endurance” at Long Wharf Theatre. With minimal costume changes – just some hats and a shawl – the actors bring to life a host of characters while physically manipulating the few props they have – chief among them desks, which serve as, among other things, a shower, an elevator, several boats and menacing towers of ice. In a review of the performance, one critic wrote: “In an era often dominated by excess and over-production, ‘Endurance’ cleanses the theatrical palate and again makes us realize what four talented actors are capable of creating…almost out of thin air.”

Shawn Boyle

                             Laurel Casillo in Elevada, framed by astral projections
                             created by Shawn Boyle. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Shawn Boyle designed the projections for the Yale Repertory production of “Elevada,” which dramatically and often viscerally captured and enhanced the various moods and tensions inherent in the play. Boyle is a third-year MFA candidate at Yale School of Drama, where his credits include “Bird Fire Fly” and “THUNDERBODIES.” He holds a BFA from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University and is a member of United Scenic Artists 829.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Critics Circle Nominations Announced

The Nominations Are In

Nominations for the 2014-2015 Connecticut Critics Circle Awards have been announced. The awards cover the full gamut of theatrical endeavors -- everything from "Outstanding Production" to "Outstanding Sound Design."

The ceremony, which is as much a celebration of theater in Connecticut as it is the opportunity to acknowledge excellence, will be held at The Iseman Theater in New Haven on Monday, June 22, beginning at 7:30 p.m. The event is open to the public on a first-come-first-served basis.

Connecticut Critics Circle Awards – 2014-2015 Nominations

Outstanding Production of a Play

Arcadia, Yale Rep
Elevada, Yale Rep
Hamlet , Hartford Stage
Reverberation, Hartford Stage
The Liar, Westport Country Playhouse

Outstanding Production of a Musical

All Shook Up, Ivoryton
Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed
Holiday Inn, Goodspeed
Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage
Spelling Bee, Playhouse on Park

Outstanding Actress in a Play

Laurel Casillo
Elevada, Yale Rep
Margaret Colin
Second Mrs. Wilson, Long Wharf
Keilly MacQuail
Bad Jews, Long Wharf
Nikki Walker
Intimate Apparel, Westport Country Playhouse
Shaunette Renée Wilson
The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Yale Rep

Outstanding Actor in a Play

Zach Appelman
Hamlet, Hartford Stage
Aaron Krohn
The Liar, Westport Country Playhouse
Luke Macfarlane
Reverberation, Hartford Stage
Tom Pecinka
Arcadia, Yale Rep
Steven Skybell
The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Yale Rep

Outstanding Actress in a Musical

Nancy Anderson
Guys and Dolls, Goodspeed
Danielle Bowen
All Shook Up, Ivoryton
Elissa DeMaria
Little Shop of Horrors , MTC Mainstage
Patti Murin
Holiday Inn, Goodspeed
Rebecca Spigelman
Hairspray, STONC

Outstanding Actor in a Musical

David Edwards
La Cage Aux Folles, Ivoryton
Preston Ellis
All Shook Up, Ivoryton
Michael Damian Fasano
Footloose, Seven Angels
Adam Heller
Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed
Noah Racey
Holiday Inn, Goodspeed

Outstanding Director of a Play

James Bundy
Arcadia, Yale Rep
Jackson Gay
Elevada, Yale Rep
Penny Metropulos
The Liar, Westport Country Playhouse
Darko Tresnjak
Hamlet, Hartford Stage
Maxwell Williams
Reverberation, Hartford Stage

Outstanding Director of a Musical

Richard Amelius
All Shook Up, Ivoryton
Gordon Greenberg
Holiday Inn, Goodpseed
Susan Haefner
…Spelling Bee, Playhouse on Park
Rob Ruggiero
Fiddler on the Roof, Goodpseed
Darko Tresnjak
Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play

Edward James Hyland 
Hamlet, Hartford Stage
Greg Keller
Elevada, Yale Rep
Andrew Long
Hamlet, Hartford Stage
Carl Lundstedt 
Reverberation, Hartford Stage
Max Gordon Moore
Arcadia, Yale Rep

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play

Rebekah Brockman
Arcadia, Yale Rep
Rebekah Brockman
The Liar, Westport Country Playhouse
Kate Forbes
Hamlet, Hartford Stage
Kristin Harlow
Angels in America, Playhouse on Park
Tonya Pinkins  
War, Yale Rep

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical

Elizabeth DeRosa
Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed
Barrie Kreinik
Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed
Sharon Malone
Hairspray, STONC
Susan Mosher
Holiday Inn, Goodspeed
Megan Sikora
Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical

Scott Cote
Guys and Dolls, Goodspeed
Stephen DeRosa
Sing For Your  Shakespeare, Westport Country Playhouse
Noah Marlowe
Holiday Inn, Goodspeed
John Payonk
Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed
Nick Reynolds 
Hairspray, STONC

Outstanding Choreographer

Richard Amelius
All Shook Up, Ivoryton
Peggy Hickey
Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage
Denis Jones
Holiday Inn, Goodspeed
Alex Sanchez
Guys and Dolls, Goodspeed
David Wanstreet
Fingers and Toes, Ivoryton

Outstanding Set Design

Andromache Chalfant  
Reverberation, Hartford Stage
Alexander Dodge
Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage
Alexander Dodge
Private Lives, Hartford Stage
Chika Shimizu  
The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Yale Rep
James Youmans
Ether Dome, Hartford Stage

Outstanding Lighting Design

David Lander
Ether Dome, Hartford Stage
John Lassiter
Fiddler on the Roof, Goodspeed
Tyler Micoleau
Elevada, Yale Rep
Matthew Richards
Hamlet, Hartford Stage
Matthew Richards
Reverberation, Hartford Stage

Outstanding Costume Design

Tracy Christensen
Guys & Dolls, Goodspeed
Jessica Ford
The Liar, Westport Country Playhouse
Fabio Toblini
Hamlet, Hartford Stage
Fabio Toblini
Kiss Me, Kate, Hartford Stage
Alejo Vietti
Holiday Inn, Goodspeed

Outstanding Sound Design

David Budries
Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Long Wharf
Kate Marvin
Elevada, Yale Rep
Adam Phalen
Forever, Long Wharf
Jane Shaw
Hamlet, Hartford Stage
Matt Tierney
The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Yale Rep

Outstanding Ensemble

Cast of Altar Boyz
Playhouse on Park
Brandon Beaver
Nick Bernardi
Adam Cassel
Greg Laucella
Mark G. Merritt
Brock Putnam

Cast of Picasso at the Lapin Agile
Long Wharf
Penny Balfour
Grayson DeJesus
Tom Riis Farrell
Ronald Guttman
David Margulies
Dina Shihabi
Jake Silberman
Jonathan Spivey
Robbie Tann

Cast of …Spelling Bee
Playhouse on Park
Kevin Barlowski
Hillary Ekwall
Emily Kron
Steven Mooney
Maya Naff
Joel Newsome
Norman Payne
Natalie Sannes
Scott Scaffidi

Cast of Woody Sez
David Finch
David M. Lutken
Leenya Rideout
Helen J. Russell

Outstanding Debut

Curtis J. Cook
Brownsville Song, Long Wharf
Carl Lundstedt
Reverberation, Hartford Stage
Dina Shihabi
Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Long Wharf
Brittany Vicars

Hamlet, Hartford Stage

Do You Hear the People Sing?

Les Miserables -- Connecticut Repertory Theatre -- Thru June 7

                      The cast of "Les Miserables." All photos by Gerry Goodstein

There are two kinds of people: those who have seen “Les Miserables” in one of its iterations and those who have not. Thus, there can be two reactions to seeing the concert version of Claude-Michel Schonberg and Herbert Kretzmer’s iconic musical that recently opened at the Connecticut Repertory Theatre on the UCONN campus. For those familiar with the show, the evening is a cooperative effort – the outstanding cast supplies the music and the audience knowingly fills in the blanks. For the uninitiated, however, the reaction might be: nice songs and stirring melodies, but what the hell is going on?

An attempt has been made by director Terrence Mann, who also stars as Javert, and scenic and projection designer Chuan-Chi Chan to help fill in the blanks via rear-screen projections, but these are somewhat murky – vague scenes of churches and buildings with less than vivid scene titles that do not draw attention to themselves. Thus, some in the audience are both literally and figuratively left in the dark, with no synopsis in the program to shed some light on the goings-on.

For those in the know, the evening is a celebration of the longest-running musical in theater history. In fact, there’s probably not a day that goes by that “Les Miz,” in one form or another, is not being performed on some stage. The initial draw for the CRT show is, of course, Mann, who played Javert as part of the original Broadway cast (it opened in 1987), but he does not have to carry the show, for David Harris, who plays Jean Valjean, an actor of equal star-power in his native Australia, is impressive as the ethically-challenged former convict. The cast in supporting roles is equally pleasing and proficient: Alex Zeto as Fantine, Chandler Lovelle as Cosette, Philip Hoffman as the inn-keeper Thenardier and Liz Larsen as his wife, Mmd. Thenardier, Ariana DeBose as Eponine, Will Bryant as Enjorlas and Joe Callahan as Marius. Supported by an energetic ensemble of young actors playing multiple roles, the primary cast delivers a cast-album performance of Victor Hugo’s sprawling tale of love, sacrifice and redemption.

                                                          David Harris

There are some quibbles, however. The first being the sound, designed by Michael Vincent Skinner. The problem? Well, often it’s just too damn loud. In fact, the decibel level had people changing seats at intermission and actually caused some people to flee the theater. When a 10-year-old places his hands over his ears you know you have a problem.

Then there’s the hybrid nature of any concert version of a musical. What to do about costumes? Should there be blocking or should the actors simply stand before microphones? It seems like Mann, along with Chan and costume designer Lisa Loen, wanted a little bit of everything. Some performers are fully costumed while others seem to be wearing modern street clothes. At some points, the actors are in front of the microphones, at others they are going up and down stairs set stage center, often for no better reason than that the stairs are there. Thus, you end up with a production that is neither fish nor fowl.

                                           David Harris and Terrence Mann

Quibbles aside, there’s no denying that if you know your “Les Miserables” you will enjoy this production. The voices are all equal to the task of selling the familiar ballads and anthems, and while the staging is, at moments, somewhat schizophrenic, all you need do is close your eyes and listen. What you will hear will be more than pleasing.

“Les Misreables,” the opening production of CRT’s Nutmeg Summer Series, runs through June 7. For tickets or more information call 860-486-2113 or go to