Monday, September 26, 2016

BUY EXOTIC FLOWERS AT "LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS"




SEYMOUR AND AUDREY DANCE IN "LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS"WITH ORIN

Bouquets of flowers, daisies or daffodils, lilacs or lilies, are a welcome gift for any one who is sick, celebrating a birthday, getting married or, unhappily, being laid to rest.  Florists are called upon to arrange tulips and roses, baby's breath or carnations in pleasing assortments for a multitude of occasions.  What happens, however, when the bell over the door doesn't chime, when the leaves on the philodendron turn brown, when even the cacti look wilted and dry?  Just ask Mr. Mushnik of the Skid Row Floral Emporium whose business is in real danger of closing its doors forever.

To meet Mushnik and his loyal employees Seymour and Audrey, skip on over to West Hartford's Playhouse on Park by Sunday, October 16 to enjoy the musical comedy "Little Shop of Horrors" by Howard Ashman, with music by Alan Menken.

Steven Mooney's Seymour is a loyal albeit nebishy orphan who has been cared for by Mushnik, allowed and encouraged to sweep and clean the floral establishment.  One day on the occasion of a solar eclipse, while Seymour is visiting a Chinese man, he is sold a strange and exotic plant for $1.95 that he names Audrey II, after the gal he fancies at the shop.  Like an experimental botanist, Seymour nurtures the new foliage that does not respond to the usual requirements like sun, soil, potash and fertilizer.

Seymour keeps testing what will make Audrey II thrive and accidentally discovers the secret food formula the plant craves: blood.  While a trio of cute singers, like a Greek chorus - Cherise Clarke, Brandi Porter and Famecia Ward - offer encouragement, Seymour's involvement in Audrey  II escalates dangerously.

Damian Buzzerio's Mr. Mushnik suddenly finds himself with a blooming business success.  Everyone wants to see the crazy new plant in the store window.  The other employee, a sweet tempered Audrey, captured by Emily Kron, is in the throes of a dilemma:  her boyfriend Orin abuses her.  Orin, a devilishly sadistic Aidan Eastwood, is a dentist who gets off on inflicting pain on his girlfriend.  That puts him high on the list of becoming plant food, a hearty meal, for Audrey II.

Clearly even the meekest of men will move mountains and molehills for their sweethearts and Seymour is no exception, even if it means making a pact with a fiendish plant.  As the Venus Fly Trap- like growth becomes Jack in the Beanstalk in size, so does its thirsty need for the red stuff. Songs like "Somewhere That's Green" and "Suddenly Seymour" blossom with charm...but can Seymour live with what he has created?  Susan Haefner directs and choreographs this unique offering, with Rasheem Ford voicing Audrey II and Susan Slotoroff manipulating the hungry plant.

For tickets ($35-50), call Playhouse on Park, 247 Park Road, West Hartford at 860-523-5900, ext.10, or online at www.playhouseonpark.org.  Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

You don't need a green thumb to enjoy "Little Shop of Horrors" but if Seymour offers you a Band-aid run for the door.



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"DISENCHANTED!" THE MUSICAL TRUTHS ABOUT FAIRY TALE PRINCESSES







Wildly wicked and ever so irreverent, the truth is finally being revealed about a slew of fairy tale princesses.  Off come the rosy pink glasses. Throw away the glass slippers and grind up all the poisoned apples.  Don't even think of interrogating the Seven Dwarfs.  The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts is ready to set the record honestly and banish all your illusions from Friday, September 30 to Sunday, October 2 when the mischievous musical "Disenchanted!" with book, music and lyrics by Dennis T. Giacino rocks into Hartford.

Forget everything you know about Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel as well as their sisterhood that includes The Little Mermaid, Belle, Mulan, Pocahontas and Princess Badroulbadour (Aladdin's bride).  It's now the twenty-first century and adult audiences are ready for some hard and clear facts and these feisty ladies, with or without tiaras, are ready to dish it out.

The musical roots are grounded in a history lesson the playwright Giacino was preparing for a class of students.  He was disturbed by the version of Pocahontas Disney-style that was being offered and he strove to musically, tongue-in-cheek, set the record straight. He wanted to see her as a genuine Native American heroine and not a "pin-up vixen of the silver screen."  If he could polish up one image, why not take on the whole stable of princesses in the process?  Thus "Disenchanted!" sprang to life.

At the Bushnell, six outspoken gals will tackle all the well loved tales:   Miriam Drysdale, Madison Hayes-Crook, Merritt Crews, Ann Paula Bautista, Daniella Richards and Amelia Hironaka, under the imaginative direction of Christopher Bond.

Be prepared to witness a makeover that will cause these ladies to proudly strut their stories, providing the lowdown facts about the "happily ever after" myths.  Rapunzel is not the only gal to let down her hair.  Toss out the stereotypes and see these girls for who and what they are:  awesome and able to dictate their own destiny.  Do they need to live in a castle and ride off into the sunset on a white horse with a prince?  Heck, no!  Apparently no topic related to females is off limits so don't be shocked by the subjects they dissect, discuss and complain about openly.

For tickets ($58.50-83.50), call the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Avenue, Hartford at 860-987-5900 or online at www.bushnell.org. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Toss the tiaras, ditch the Disney images, forget the promises of happily ever afters and let these rebels strip down to their essential essences for the adult versions of what happens behind the castle doors.

Monday, September 19, 2016

GOODSPEED INVITES YOU TO GO “CHASING RAINBOWS”




                                    ABOVE:  TINA MARIE CASAMENTO LIBBY
                                    BELOW: JUDY GARLAND

Tina Marie Casamento Libby is more than passionate but less than obsessed about one of America’s sweethearts:  Judy Garland. For the last seven years, she has devoted her time, talents, ingenuity and creativity to producing a story about Judy and her beginning years, her childhood until she wins the coveted role of Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.”

As an homage or tribute, Tina Marie realized early on that to do her story justice she had to use the songs that made Judy famous and an icon.  Garland’s story is certainly not all sugar plums and candy canes, as there is a lot of heartache resting on those capable shoulders.  Singing almost from the time she was in a crib, Judy always had a huge voice that carried her to unbelievable heights.

Using the songs that propelled her to stardom, Tina Marie carefully selected tunes like “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” “You Made Me Love You” and “Over the Rainbow” as well as less well known melodies like “Gotta Pair of New Shoes” and “Thank You, Mr. Gable.”  As Judy herself said, “The history of my life is in my songs.”

With experience as a director, producer, performer, teacher and casting director, Tina Marie is well qualified to take on this mammoth task.  Describing herself as a “musical theatre geek,” she has always identified herself with the star.  Like Judy, she lost a parent at a young age, had a fascination with “The Wizard of Oz,” grew up going to musical theatre with her Uncle Joe and even sang “Over the Rainbow” at her wedding.  With a team that includes Marc Acito as book writer, John Fricke as historian, scenic designer Kristen Robinson, costuming Elizabeth Caitlin Ward, lighting Ken Billington, sound Jay Hilton, wigs and hair Mark Adam Rampmeyer, musical direction Michael O’Flaherty, choreography Chris Bailey, direction Tyne Rafaeli  and her own husband David Libby as musical arranger, who makes the tunes of the 1930’s fresh, new and contemporary, she was off and running.  She began telling Judy’s story with her birth as Frances Gumm of Minnesota, the daughter of vaudevillians, who went on stage at age 2 and a half with her older sisters at their father’s movie theater and continues until she is cast as Dorothy Gale.

To Tina Marie, “this is the inspirational journey of “Chasing Rainbows The Road to Oz,” from Judy’s age 4 to 16, from 1926 to 1938, the trauma and the triumphs of her early days.  She captures “the fresh young years” in what historian John Fricke calls “emotional truth.”  It’s the Depression and Judy feels an obligation to keep her family together, a young girl with an incredible voice who earned $100 a week, all while being told she wasn’t pretty or thin enough to succeed.

“Chasing Rainbows The Road to Oz” got its initial infusion of inspiration at the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony at Goodspeed Musicals so it is fitting that it will be mounted on the Goodspeed stage until Sunday, November 27.  For tickets ($74 and up), call Goodspeed Musicals, 6 Main Street, East Haddam (exit 7 off route 9) at 860-873-8668 or online at www.goodspeed.org.  Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.  During Thanksgiving week, shows are Monday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., with no shows Tuesday to Thursday.

The great big voice in a tiny little body, as co-star Mickey Rooney described her, will be captured by 16 year old Ruby Rakos, who like Judy, sings with joy.  Tina Marie discovered Ruby when she served on a panel at a New York Broadway Artists Alliance session, of kids 10 to 22, and Ruby was the last contestant Tina Marie heard out of 50.  When Ruby belted out “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart,” Tina Marie knew “I had literally found our Frances. She even dressed like an old soul.”

Tina Marie feels everything in her whole life “set me up to do this.  I’m really enjoying the process, especially helping young actors live their dreams.”  Right now, with previews starting, she is “excited, exhausted, nail biting, amazed, still fixing and tweaking.  It looks beautiful, with shunning moments.  I can’t wait to put my heart and soul in front of a paying audience.”  She feels that there is “a little bit of me all over the show, in every character.”  In telling Judy’s story, you’ll also meet her parents (Sally Wilfert and Kevin Earley), her boss at M.G.M. Louis B. Mayer (Michael McCormick) and stage friends like Mickey Rooney (Michael Wartella) among others.

This incredible family friendly lively musical will surely make you laugh, cry and cheer for that buoyant girl as you travel the yellow brick road to Oz with Judy Garland.  Come discover “musical theatre gold” as the show “Chasing Rainbows” aims for the Emerald City that is Broadway.

“MAN OF LA MANCHA” ATTAINS GREATNESS AT IVORYTON




DULCINEA, DON QUIXOTE AND SANCHO PANZA

One day each of us might be asked to stand tall and fight for a cause  even if it seems hopeless.  We must dream impossible dreams and work to make them come true.  The epitome of battling for unrealistic goals is surely Don Quixote. Rarely in literature has there been a more gallant and brave individual driven by fantasies, who has ridden off to battle giants even if they are really windmills, envisioned castles when they are actually only humble inns and courted ladies who are in fact lowly scullery maids.

To meet the classically heroic figure of Don Quixote, one must journey to Ivoryton Playhouse by Sunday, October 2 to witness Dale Wasserman’s legendary tale of the “Man of La Mancha,” with music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion.

When Miguel de Cervantes, poet, playwright, actor and tax collector is thrown into prison and forced to plead his case before the Spanish Inquisition, he finds to his dismay that his fellow prisoners want to put him on trial first. They charge him with being an idealist, a poet and an honest man. In his defense, he conjures up a charade, an entertainment, a tale of a country squire turned knight, one Don Quixote.

dnUsing the inmates as his actors, Cervantes, magnificently and gloriously portrayed by  David Pittsinger, plays the hero who sallies forth into battle to slay dragons and rescue fair maidens. With his trusty servant Sancho Panza, an affable Brian Michael Hoffman, at his side spouting proverbs of encouragement, Don Quixote first faces the Great Enchanter, a giant with many arms, that to some might resemble a windmill.

Soon he seeks shelter at a nearby castle, wanting hospitality from the lord (James Van Treuren), who for all the world looks like a mere keeper of an inn. But it is when Quixote’s eyes behold the unkempt maid, whom he claims as his Dulcinea, a fiery and disbelieving but engagingTalia Thiesfield,  that his illusions truly take wing. Is he a mad man or the sanest of us all?

Musical numbers soar from the title song to the lyrical “Dulcinea,” the sweetness of “Little Bird,” the laughter of “I Really Like Him” to the power of “The Impossible Dream.” This production is gallantly directed by David Edwards, on a versatile set designed by Daniel Nischan, with lighting by Marcus Abbott, and musical direction by Paul Feyer.

For tickets ($50, seniors $45, students $22, children $17), call Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton at 860-767-7318 or online at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org. Performances are  Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at8 p.m., with extra matinees September 24 and October 1 at 2 p.m.  and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Experience theater at its best as you travel across the dusty Spanish plains with a slightly foolish knight who dreams of attaining glory.

Monday, September 12, 2016

MTC UNVEILS A SPARKLING “GYPSY”



CARISSA MASSARO AS JUNE AND KATE SIMONE AS LOUISE, THE COW

Gypsy Rose Lee was known for her talents as a striptease artist, the emphasis being on the tease.  She fell into or rather fell out of the profession in a rather unorthodox manner, as a child vaudeville performer who grew up on stage.  Her story, which is the tale of her sister June and her controlling mother Rose, is told in the magical musical “Gypsy” by Arthur Laurents for book, Jules Styne for music and Stephen Sondheim for lyrics, being unveiled at Music Theatre of CT in Norwalk until Sunday, September 25.

Rose is the epitome of the stage door mama, one who would go to any length to get her girls in the spotlight, ready to crawl and grovel to guaranteetheir success on stage.  A frustrated wannabe performer herself, she projected her own dreams on June and Louise, creating acts that were less than original and focused the spotlight on the blonde haired June to the detriment of Louise.  In her dreams, Rose saw her girls as the stars in a Ziegfeld Follies Revue and she pushed and shoved to make it happen.  It didn’t.

The death of vaudeville gave Rose pause but did not signal defeat. Rose, a determined Kirsti Carnahan, began when her girls were mere toddlers, Abby Sara Dahan as Baby June and Natalie Steele as Baby Louise, and continued her efforts as the girls grew, Carissa Massaro as June and Kate Simone as Louise, but rarely varying the act…except for adding a cow.  Along the way, Rose encounters a  friendly candy salesman Harbie, a helpful Paul Binotto, and persuades him to be their agent.  His long suffering assistance is continually tested as the single minded Rose plows on to her goals.

Stand out moments are provided by the tap dancing skills of Tulsa, a skilled Joe Grandy, and the comic antics of the stripteasing trio of Jodi Stevens as Mazeppa, Marca Leigh as Electra and Jeri Kansas as Tessie Tura who all happily have a gimmick.  Tunes like “Some People,” “Small World,” “Everything’s Coming up Roses, “ “Together, Wherever We Go” and “Rose’s Turn” light up the stage in this classic musical set in the 1920’s  and 1930’s.
Kevin Connors bring this vibrant story to life in the intimate space of MTC as we watch Rose try to live out her own dreams through her daughters.

For tickets ($30-55), call Music Theatre of CT, 509 Westport Avenue, Norwalk, behind Nine West Shoes, at 203-454-3883 or online at www.musictheatreofct.com.  Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Come celebrate MTC’s 30th anniversary season.

How Louise becomes Gypsy Rose Lee is a transforming moment in the history of the theater and you are´invited to be there to witness the revealing event.

Friday, September 2, 2016

CHRISTIAN BRECHNEFF: AN ARTIST WITH THE WORLD AS HIS CANVAS




                                                          CHRISTIAN PELTENBURG-BRECHNEFF

Christian Peltenburg-Brechneff is a landscape painter of the world.  He has called home to a myriad of places, most recently Hadlyme, Connecticut.  Born in 1950 in the Belgian Congo, the child of Russian emigres, Brechneff was educated in Switzerland, England and the United States.  With roots deep in the Swiss Alps, he nevertheless spent three decades defining his painting style, in pen and ink, pastels, gouaches, watercolors and oils, on the remote Greek island of Sifnos, near Crete.

In a modest house, originally without plumbing or running water, on the hilltop of a farm village, Brechneff called this his summer residence.  He felt comfortable with the remote and vivid landscape until it gradually changed, with goat trails becoming paved roads.  Originally the local people welcomed him in charming ways as he was the first tourist who set up permanent residency.  The island’s remoteness from the hectic world appealed to him and he found it healing.  As a young man of twenty-one, struggling with his own sexuality, the structured landscape spoke to him immediately and became the source of great energy and creativity.  It was in a word “magical.”

To learn more about Christian Peltenburg-Brechneff and his intriguing life as an artist, you are invited to the Katharine Hepburn Center for the Arts Thursday, September 8 at 5:30 p.m. to view the world premiere of a new film “Like Notes of Music:  Christian Peltenburg- Brechneff:  The Landscape Painter.”  The man himself will be present to share his thoughts and answer questions.  The film will be followed by a reception and viewing of a selection of his oil paintings at the Cooley Gallery, 25 Lyme Street, Old Lyme from 6:45 p.m. to 8 p.m.  Proceeds from the evening will benefit the Center for the Arts Programming at the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts at the University of New Haven. For tickets ($40), call The Kate, 300 Main Street, Old Saybrook at 860-510-0473 or 877-503-1286 or online at http://katharinehepburntheater.org/events/like-notes-of-music/.

According to Fritz Jellinghaus, Vice President of Development at the Lyme Academy, the association of the Academy with the University of New Haven is a new one, only a year and a half old, but already fruitful, “an extraordinary blessing,” one that has helped the arts nationally and globally.  He terms it “a great partnership” and transforming for both participants in visibility and accountability.  For years, Jellinghaus has been a patron and friend of the artist.  He is delighted that Brechneff, a great supporter and friend to the college, has chosen to screen the film of his extraordinary art and life here in Connecticut. Jellinghaus calls Brechneff both "gifted and passionate.”

 Brechneff calls his best paintings “a surprise” as he has a “series of oil paintings in my head.”  On Sifnos, the land spoke to him immediately and he spent hours every day hiking the mountainous terrain with sketchbook in hand.  He would stop in the shade of a grove of olive trees or behind a church wall as the constant wind prevented setting up an easel. When he realized the once unspoiled world that has communicated with him so directly no longer existed, that the passage of time had civilized the land, his well of imagination went dry and he could no longer paint.  Recognizing it was the end of an era, he sold his house and went to the Swiss Alps for new inspiration.

To learn more about these artistically productive years, which will be a central part of the film that was produced by a Swiss company, you can also read “The Greek House,” a book penned by Brechneff with his artistic partner Tim Lovejoy.  The stone walls, terraces of olive trees, monasteries on mountain tops, twisting streets through tiny villages and the ever present sea and sky served him well as inspiration for his art.

There is an air of fantasy about his landscapes, with layers and swirls of color dominant and untroubled by people or animals.  He draws in the viewer, who can practically feel the cold of the mountain wind, the warmth of the tropical sun, the melancholy of a desolate scene, the fiery sheen of ridges and gullies or the sky a blaze of rainbow streaks burnishing the horizon.

Christian Peltenburg-Brechneff is an international man with a palette and canvas of the world, one who is equally at home in Burma, Bermuda, Brazil or Bhutan, who can find subjects of interest in Cuba or Cambodia, in Sifnos or Switzerland, who can find layers of interest in fog or flowers, mountains or meadows.  Come discover this fascinating man yourself tonight at The Kate.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

COME SEE “WHAT THE BUTLER SAW”



ROBERT STANTON, JULIAN GAMBLE AND CHRIS GHAFFARI
PHOTO BY CAROL ROSEGG



The summer season, with its excesses of heat and humidity, lends itself to a shedding of clothing for comfort and convenience.  The Westport Country Playhouse surely subscribes to that prescription for coolness in its entertaining farce of an offering in “What the Butler Saw” by Joe Orton until Saturday, September 10.  Being scantily clad, with even a streak of nudity, is clearly the order of the day.

When you go for a job interview, you expect to be questioned on your qualifications for the position, your prior work experience, a few references for validation, the standard inquisition.  Geraldine Barclay, an innocent Sarah Manton, discovers early on that Dr. Prentice, an inventive Robert Stanton, has a far different method of determining her suitability for the job as his secretary.  He asks her to undress for his personal, hands on, inspection.  Thus starts the comic chaos that is let loose in this psychiatrist’s clinic.

Before he can properly “handle” the situation, the good doctor’s wife, a sex seeking Patricia Kalember, unexpectedly arrives…with her own set of sexual problems.  She has been attacked by a bellhop at a hotel meeting and now said bellhop, Chris Ghaffari’s Nicholas Beckett, has incriminating photos just properly developed for blackmail.  Tired of carrying luggage, Nick wants to be Dr. Prentice’s new secretary.

Add  to the confusion an unannounced inspection by the government in the form of one Dr Rance by that superb actor of farces Paxton Whitehead who delights in all the myriad of phobias and symptoms of insanity that are flying from desk top to patient couch.  Clothing and the lack of it, cross dressing and disguises, scandalous behavior, accusations of impropriety and general lunacy are the hallmarks of the day.  By the time the police arrive, in the form of Sergeant Match, an easily confused Julian Gamble, all bets and outfits are off and lunacy reigns supreme.  

Bizarre behavior, nervous breakdowns, strait jackets and missing parts of Winston Churchill are all inmates in the madhouse Orton has created, in his last play before his early and untimely death at 34. John Tillinger, who has directed more than a dozen farces at WCP to great acclaim, has done it again with “What the Butler Saw.”

For tickets ($30 and up), call the Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport at 203-227-4177 or 888-927-7529 or online at www.westportplayhouse.org.  Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.

Come laugh at the confusion that erupts as men dress as women and women dress as men and some don’t dress at all in this British take on morals and mores.