Sunday, November 19, 2017

SETTLE DOWN FOR A MUSICAL VERSION OF “A CHRISTMAS STORY” AT THE BUSHNELL




Every good little girl and boy, and even the ones not so good, have a long and involved Christmas list for Santa.  If your name is Ralph and you are nine years old, live in Indiana and are growing up in the 1940’s, you only have one item written in bright red on your wish list.  Ralphie desires above all else one genuine, official, Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle, with a compass in the stock and a thing that tells time.  What he does not want are a pair of pink bunny pajamas.  You know he will get the pjs.  But is there any chance he will also get the magical, mysterious air rifle he has set his little heart on?  To discover the answer, you must go to one of the performances of “A Christmas Story,” a musical by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, based on the book by Joseph Robinette.

The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford will be entertaining Ralph and his gang from Friday, November 24 to Sunday, November 26 and you’re invited to share this classic tale of childhood desires. Forget old Ebenezer Scrooge and the mean-spirited Grinch.  Let Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer nap the holiday away. Now is the time to concentrate all your efforts on encouraging Ralph in his quest.  He wants that BB gun, but his mother is sure and positive, that he will shoot his eye out.

With grit and determination, this little son of a gun (catch the pun?) will do anything to get what he wants to find under the Christmas tree.  In his plot to succeed, he will shamelessly involve his little brother, his school mates, his teacher, and even a mean old mall Santa Claus.  He is not above scheming and finagling his way to the prize.  The musical numbers, with a whole lot of tap dancing tunes, resonate.  Come hear “It All Comes Down to Christmas,” “Ralph to the Rescue,” “Parker Family Singalong,” and “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out.”

Don’t bother to get Ralph an Erector Set or Legos, and certainly no socks.  Watch out for that frozen flag pole so keep your tongue clearly in cheek.  Remember what it was like way back when, when you had a must have gift on your Christmas list that made or broke your day. Now is the time to polish your lamps made from luscious legs of ladies, if you are lucky enough to have won one like Ralphie’s dad.

For tickets ($22.50-103.50), call the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Avenue, Hartford at 860-987-5900 or online at www.bushnell.org.  Performances are Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 1 p.m.and 6:30 p.m.

The Parker family is expecting you.  Take a seat near the Christmas tree or at the kitchen table.  Come root for Ralphie to have all his dreams come true and, hopefully,  to not lose any eyes in the process.

Monday, November 13, 2017

THEATRICAL SPLENDOR IN “THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA” AT WATERBURY'S PALACE



CHRISTINE (EVA TAVARES) AND THE PHANTOM (DERRICK DAVIS)
[PHOTO BY MICHAEL MURPHY

In a conspicuously immodest way, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber announces his presencewith the booming crash of a thousand pound chandelier, bedecked with 35,000 crystals, on the theatrical stage.  This time the platform is Waterbury's Palace Theater.  The dates are Wednesday, November 15 to Sunday, November 26 and the show is none other than that dramatically impressive musical "The Phantom of the Opera." Whether you are gliding underground in a dusty dungeon or captured in the glittering gleam of the Paris Opera House, you will be transfixed by the grandeur of this presentation.

Dramatic flair and theatrical splendor mark this tale that shines a light on a lovely young singer Christine, brought to life by  Eva Tavares who is the object of the phantom's fixation. He is thought to be a ghost who haunts the opera house, hiding behind a mask to conceal his deformities.  

With a bevy of devious tricks at his calling, the Phantom  masterfully created by Derrick Davis succeeds in terrorizing the entire company.  In this mysterious way, he hopes to entice Christine’s affections.  Unknowingly, she has pledged her heart to another, Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny, a captivating Jordan Craig, thus putting both of them in danger of receiving the Phantom's wrath.  
With amazing tunes like "The Music of the Night" that resound in the underground labyrinth where the Phantom resides and the fantastic New Year's Eve “Masquerade." this production is a classic favorite.  Through it all, Christine is the innocent victim of an unrequited love, one she neither seeks nor understands.
This is the stunning new Cameron Macintosh North American Tour that is touted to be bigger and more spectacular than ever, with new scenic design by Paul Brown, costuming by Maria Bjornson, lighting by Paule Constable , choreography by Scott Ambier and staging by Laurence Connor. A 52 piece orchestra soars with spectacular sounds to the rafters.  
For tickets ($48-125), call the Palace Theater, 100 East Main Street, Waterbury at 203-346-2000 online at www.palacetheaterct.orgPERFORMANCE SCHEDULE November 15 - 26:
Wednesday, November 15, 7:30pm; Thursday November 16, 1pm and 7:30 pm; Friday, November 17, 8pm: Saturday November 18, 2pm & 8pm; Sunday November 19 1pm & 6:30pm; Monday November 20, 7:30 pm:Tuesday November 21, 7:30pm; Wednesday November 22: 7:30pm; Friday, November 24, 2pm & 8pm; Saturday, November 25, 2pm & 8pm and Sunday, November 26, 1pm. 

Cautiously enter a world of darkness were you can examine the face behind the mask, the soul in the shadows, as you confront the disturbing genius of the Phantom of the Paris Opera House.

THE GAME IS DELIGHTFULLY AFOOT IN IVORYTON




SPOILER ALERT:  the butler did not do it!  Get set to speed off and running for Ivoryton Playhouse’s current fun offering of Ken Ludwig’s highly entertaining murder, mystery, melodrama, farce and  comedy “The Game’s Afoot” until Sunday, November 19. You may find yourself in need of a scorecard as to who is dead, might be dead, is pretending to be dead or who someone wants to be dead.  Remember the game of Clue where it could be Colonel Mustard or Miss Plum with a knife or a candlestick, in the kitchen or the drawing room? Here the possibilities are endless.

Daniel Nischan has created a wonderfully detailed set of William Gillette’s castle on the Connecticut River, complete with an number of deadly instruments to commit a felony, lethal and absolute.  It  has a number ofcomplicated gadgets to record voices and even a bookcase that revolves around to display a bar for liquid refreshments.  The famed actor William Gillette is best known, in the 1930’s, for a play he penned about Sherlock Holmes, one he starred in for two decades.  He played the astute and clever detective Mr.Holmes, a character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, for so long, Gillette somehow believed he had mastered the detective’s skills.

Now while taking a bow after a performance as the sleuth at the Palace Theatre in New York, Gillette is shot. The wound is, thankfully, not mortal, but he wants to determine who pulled the trigger.  To that end, he hasinvited the entire cast of the show, all the “suspects,” to his fantastic new home on Christmas Eve to unmask the perpetrator. 
 Now he is Sherlock Holmes for real. One by one, or in pairs, the cast members arrive.  Felix (Michael Iannucci) and his wife Madge (Katrina Ferguson) who love to bicker and spar with each other, and Simon (Erik Blomquist)and his brand new wife Aggie (Molly Densmore). On the scene to greet them is Gillette himself, the impressive personage played by Craig MacDonald and his spry mother Martha, the take charge Maggie McGlone-Jennings. The stage is set, or is it?  The unknown catalyst, the one who is going to stir the cauldron, has yet to make an appearance:  that deliciously mean and spiteful theater critic Daria Chase, who has burned each of the thespians in turn, played by a wickedly perfect Beverley J. Taylor. The entire cast works wonderfully together to create a perfect blend of suspicion and camaraderie.

 Spouting lines of Shakespeare as actors are wont to do, the assembled guests are soon flinging accusations at each other: of jealousy, blackmail, adultery and, especially, of murder.  Into this caustic mix ventures a slightly inept policewoman (Victoria Bundonis) who emerges in the middle of a snow storm  to try and make sense of this mysterious chaos.  Jacqueline Hubbard directs this frantically funny foray that has victims hiding behind every velvet curtain and secret sliding panel. For tickets ($50, seniors z45, students $22                              and children $17), call the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street,Ivorytonat 860-767-7318 or online at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.  Performances are Wednesday and Sunday matineesat 2 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday andSaturday at 8 p.m..

If you love a good mystery and enjoy a jolly comedy, look no further than this delightful marriage of both in Ken Ludwig’s “The Game’s Afoot.”  Now that you know the butler did not do, can you unveil the real culprit? Are you even sure who is the intended victim?  You may not even be sure if it’s poison or a gun or a knife.

CONNECTICUT IS THE NEW STAR OF “A CHRISTMAS CAROL” IN CHESTER



        LENNY WOLPE AS SCROOGE  PHOTO BY DIANE SOBOLEWSKI

If you like your musicals with a spicy flavor of nutmeg, paying homage to our fine state of Connecticut, look no further than the lively and imaginative new offering at Goodspeed’s Terris Theatre until Sunday, December 24:  “A Connecticut Christmas Carol.”  This new show, the brainchild of LJ Fecho and Michael O’Flaherty,  It shines a whole new light on the enigmatic and mean spirited  Charles Dickens’ character Scrooge and moves him to our state shores. This new adaptation of a holiday classic is determined to win your heart and warm it in all novel and happy ways.

The creators, LJ for book and Michael for music and lyrics, have been friends for decades and used their previous collaboration on a similar show about Scrooge set in the Pennsylvania Dutch country as a jumping off spot for their newest venture.  Michael Price, and later Michael Gennaro, who served as Executive Directors of Goodspeed Musicals, Mr Gennaro still enjoying that position, both desired the creation of a special holiday musical that could become a traditional favorite.

In a recent interview with LJ Fecho, he called the show “awesome and a great experience.  The director Hunter Foster is doing a great job directing, and Lisa Shriver is doing wonderful choreography. This is an interesting adaptation of an iconic work,  We’ve set it in 1925 on the Goodspeed stage.  Mr Goodspeed has asked the famed Sherlock Holmes actor William Gillette, who lived in a castle near by, to play Scrooge in a final production of “A Christmas Carol” before the legendary theater closes its doors forever.”

While doing research for the production, Fecho discovered that Gillette knew Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe and P. T Barnum, a trio of Connecticut’s favorite personages.  With a little magic and imagination, they became “the pesky spirits- past, present and future-who visit Scrooge on Christmas Eve.  To represent his old business partner Marley, enter J. P. Morgan, the financier, who visits Scrooge with a dire warning. Change or face the consequences.  Fecho sincerely thanks the Internet that translated “into a million library books” and helped him create the huge historical figures who populate the story.  The fact that they actually knew each other was a great bonus.  Fecho discovered that Mark Twain loaned William Gillette $5000 to start his acting career and his company. Harriet Beecher Stowe was a neighbor of Twain’s, living next door to him in Hartford. Fecho used classic quotes from all of them to create the show’s dialogue.

Lenny Wolpe will be the irreverent Scrooge, the man who needs to learn a lesson and find redemption. Michael T. Holmes will inhabit all the ghosts who come to visit and as Mark Twain actually speaks some of his own sardonic and pithy sayings. Others in the cast who play everyone including the Cratchits, Scrooge’s family, and the Connecticut personages are Matt Gibson, Samantha Bruce, Mark DiConzo, Patrick Graver, Lec Harrington, Celeste Rose, Jeff Sears, Daisy Wright and Robert Berson as Tiny Tim.

The musical, rife with local geographic references, is a tale of good will and, ultimately, of good people.  Scrooge experiences an epiphany and Fecho wants the audience to be surprised.  He emphasizes that it is a very funny, light hearted musical, upbeat, and that Lenny Wolpe is a great comedic actor. Working at the Goodspeed has been a wonderful experience with so many people and ideas who come together as one.  He feels “blessed to be here.”

For tickets ($49-59), call the Goodspeed at 860-873-8668 or online at www.goodspeed.org.  The production is at the Terris Theatre, 33 North Main Street, Chester. Performances are Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.  Note the special times Thanksgiving week.

According to Fecho and O’Flaherty, “It’s our sincerest wish that you and all of Connecticut embrace our new version of “A Christmas Carol” that features this great state and the wonderful people in it as we hope you make this your newest holiday tradition.” Come with your family and make this a permanent present under your Christmas tree to enjoy again and again.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

WALT DISNEY: THE MAN AND THE MYTHS AT NHTC




               WALT DISNEY AND HIS FRIEND MICKEY


For many of us, Walt Disney is the epitome of creative genius, a masterful entrepreneur, a pioneer in the world of animation, and a lover of making children happy, special and cherished.  The originator and voice of Mickey Mouse, the legions of Technicolor cartoons like Cinderella and Bambi, the impetus behind theme park magic, Disney was a force like no other in the entertainment world.


To take a peek inside the darker version of this complicated man and the swirl of myths that surrounded him, you’re invited to the New Haven Theater Company’s intriguing production of “A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay about the Death of Walt Disney" by Lucas Hnath, as if it were written by the great man himself.  Hurry, for shows are only November 15-18 at 8 p.m. at EBM,(English Building Markets), 839 Chapel Street, New Haven.

While the public persona of Walt was all lollipops and cotton candy, behind the Mickey Mouse ears was a man who demanded perfection, an egomaniac, a master puppeteer who manipulated family, friends and colleagues to get his own way.  He was not above blackmail.  J. Kevin Smith has assumed the cloak of this dynamo himself, dramatically portraying Walt, flaws and warts and all.  Steve Scarpa plays his scapegoat brother Roy whom Walt often bullied to take the blame for his own mistakes.

Completing the cast are Melissa Smith as his daughter, one who fears him for his control and threats and Trevor Williams as her husband Ron who is so busy ingratiating himself to Walt that he is capable of caving under pressure.  The dialogue is staccato, shotgun fast, David Mamet-like, with no thought being completely expressed.  Even with that rat-a-tat shorthand, it is quickly clear that Walt had a mean streak, under all the sugar coated public surface. Drew Gray directs this behind-the-curtain revelation with dedication.

For tickets ($20), contact the New Haven Theater Company at nhtcboxoffice@gmail.com.  Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday.

One can not dismiss the grandiose visions that Walt Disney gave to the world, even if some of his motivations were ill-fated and flawed.  His contributions in the arenas of animation and entertainment will happily live on in perpetuity for generations to come.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

MTC ENTERS “THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY” UNTIL NOV. 19


Music Theatre of Connecticut is celebrating its 31st season with a bittersweet tale of love and longing. Twenty five years ago. Robert James Waller wrote a novel about a lonely woman who, although married with a family, felt something missing in her sensitive soul.  Her accidental meeting with a National Geographic photographer from the state of Washington changes her life forever.  He is in Madison County, Iowa doing a photographic essay on the covered bridges in the area.  Their relationship sparks flames of kinship and love.

Recently  the novel was  adapted into a new musical, "The Bridges of Madison County,"  with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and book by Marsha Norman, and MTC is giving it a lovely airing until Sunday, November 19. A film had also been made starring Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood.

Juliet Lambert Pratt is the searching for love and fulfillment Francesca who sings her heart out with a rich and vibrant poignancy that will almost bring you to tears while Sean Hayden's Robert Kincaid is the handsome stranger who invades her quiet life and churns it into glorious possibilities.

Greg Roderick plays Bud Johnson, Francesca's husband, the staid and serious man who cares deeply for his family.  Now he is traveling with his kids Carolyn (Megan O'Callaghan) and Michael (Matt Grasso) to the Indiana State Fair for three days to show Carolyn's steer Stevie in the hopes of winning a blue ribbon in the 4H National Finals. Mia Scarpa plays assorted females in the storyline.

Eighteen years before, Bud had been a soldier in the Army, stationed in Italy, where he met Francesca. She was still reeling from the death of her fiance and she clung to Bud, as her chance for a new life.  While Francesca has security,  a loving family and good neighbors like Marge (Kirsti Carnahan) and Charlie (Frank Mastrone ), she knows something is lacking in her life in the level and plain Iowa corn fields.

When Robert Kinciad walks into her world, with an air of mystery and adventure, of danger and of caring, Francesca is faced with a momentous decision.  Can she leave what she knows and holds dear, her husband and children?  Can she grab the gold ring on Robert's merry-go-round that is so tempting?  Kevin Connors directs this wonderfully schmaltz story of longing and fulfillment, devotion and promise, on an interesting road map set designed by Jordan Janota. Michael Biagys’ lighting sheds emotion at every turn.

Songs like "Falling Into You" and "Before and After You/One Second and a Million Miles" soar with emotion, with almost operatic intensity.
The musicians play on stage, adding to the poignancy of the story, piano/conductor Nolan Bonvouloir, cello Susan Jiminez, violin Jennifer Brown and guitar Michael Mosca.

For tickets ($30-55), call MTC, 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.

A lifetime of love is captured in a few days of wonderfully intense desire as a chance encounter has far-reaching consequences and an incredible sweetness.