Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A NOSTALGIC VISIT TO "OUR TOWN"




If playwright Thornton Wilder was asked for an adage for life, he might reply "Don't postpone joy" or "Appreciate the little moments of life."  In his iconic play "Our Town," he clearly states "You have to love life to have life and you need to have life to love life."  In his moving soliliquey about three average, unremarkable days in Grover's Corners, New Hampshire, he makes a plea for valuing the simple joys of existence.

Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven will be turning the clock back to the turn of the twentieth century to bring this classic play, the winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, "Our Town," to nostalgic life until Sunday, November 2.

We like to think of Thornton Wilder as a native son since he spent so many years here, living in Hamden, and is laid in perpetual rest in a Hamden cemetery.  There is a universality to Grover's Corners that makes it Anytown USA and we readily identify with the doctor Frank Gibbs and his wife Julia and their children George and Rebecca and the Webb family, the newspaper editor Charles and his wife Myrtle and their children Emily and Wally.

A budding romance develops between George (Rey Lucas) and Emily (Jenna Leona) as teenagers that is a delight to witness and progresses through marriage, a family and Emily's tragic death in childbirth.  All along the way, the townspeople weave in and out of the action, as Howie Newsome (Jojo Gonzalez) and his cow Bessie deliver the milk, Dr. Gibbs (Don Sparks) delivers twins, Mrs Gibbs (Linda Powell) and Mrs. Webb (Christina Rouner) exchange gossip as they snap green beans and George and Emily grow up right before our eyes.

Myra Lucretia Taylor is the beautifully eloquent narrator/stage manager who annotates our journey, offering tidbits of wisdom to make our odyssey more meaningful.  Gordon Edelstein has chosen to cast the production wlth actors who have all previously trod the boards at Long Wharf, a diversified troupe, and even the graveyard has portraits of performers who are no longer with us but whose memories linger in our hearts and minds.

Even if you've seen "Our town" before, this production is worthy of a second or twenty-second viewing.  For tickets ($25-75), call Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven at 203-787-4282 or online at www.longwharf.org.  Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. On Sunday, October 26, playwright and professor Donald Margulies will speak after the 2 p.m. matinee about the timelessness and profound meaning of the play.

Come help Long Wharf celebrate its 50th Anniversary with this favorite offering that brings home the message "notice the little things in life" for in the end it is the little things that matter the most.

Monday, October 27, 2014

ENTER THE BIG TOP FOR "THE CIRCUS IN WINTER"

                          THE CIRCUS IN WINTER   PHOTO BY EMMA
 

Have you ever just wanted to run away...to the circus?  Would owning a circus be high on your to-do list?  Author Cathy Day wrote a book, "The Circus in Winter," about her family and her hometown, Peru, Indiana, deemed the Circus Capitol of the World and the winter headquarters of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus.  Her story cycle of eleven tales of the Big Top is being tumblesaulted into a brand new musical, of all things colorful and creative, and a strange and most intriguing tale it is.

In her three decades of teaching, Beth Turcotte never imagined herself at the center of a three ring circus.  An Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance Performance at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, she had always wanted to write a musical, but the opportunity never presented itself.  In the spring of 2010, however, the universe aligned itself in a bizarrely wonderful configuration and Turcotte grabbed the brass ring and ran for the gold.

Leading an immersive learning experience with fifteen undergraduates, Turcotte found herself with redheaded twins Christopher and Justin Swader who had talents in lighting design and big dreams of making a musical of "Hocus Pocus" as well as a music student Ben Clark who walked into class with a musical version of "Robocop."  Clearly the class was ripe for a new musical adventure.  This student driven production began with an exchange of ideas, looking for the perfect topic to forge into a musical show.  In Turcotte's mind, "It takes a community to write a musical."

That community effort began when some kids who had just finished reading "The Circus in Winter" for another class, suggested it for the launching pad.  Virginia Ball had left funding for a faculty member to take a semester to complete a creative project. Cathy Day, the author of "The Circus in Winter," gave her enthusiastic approval and was available to help.  She also provided her book material at no charge.  Since then Broadway actress Sutton Foster and her brother writer Hunter Foster have provided invaluable advice and support.

The Indiana Hoosier spirit took hold and the creative class was on a merry-go-round of imagination.  Their initial desire to dedicate a piece to 9/11 and its impact on the Midwest morphed into the indomitable will and bravery of circus performers who face what's ahead with a strong attitude.  The tale concerns Wallace Porter and three central characters who start off in different places and "collide" under the Big Top.

After working a whole semester, with student Ben Clark, a self-taught guitarist creating 75-80 songs which have since been pared down to 25, the class put on a two hour show as a concert reading.  After that the show went to the American College Theater Festival in Washington, D.C. and then was only one of eight finalists, from 250 submitted, and the only undergraduate work to be considered, at New York's National Alliance for Musical Theatre's Annual Festival of New Musicals.  That's where Goodspeed Musicals discovered it and is now giving it a full workshop production at its Norma Terris Theater, from now to Sunday, November 16.  Director Joe Calarco will acting as the ring master from the side lines,

Beth Turcotte calls this experience at the Norma Terris "the crown jewel, a magical place, a pie-in-the-sky fairyland," where it is allowed and encouraged to be "a work in progress up to the last performance." As for Turcotte, she's already on to her next big project: a new Musical Festival Theater at Ball State University where 139 submissions were received right out of the gate.  The winner of a full production is a California entry about the creation of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" with a rock and roll theme.

For tickets to "The Circus in Winter" ($45), call Goodspeed Musicals at 860-873-8668 or online at www.goodspeed.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 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at the Norma Terris Theatre, 33 North Main Street, Chester.

Come take a seat under the big tent and discover a lonely circus owner Wallace Porter (Aaron Ramey), his wife Irene (Emily Behny). a death-defying acrobat Jennie Dixianna (Dee Roscioli), a sideshow African Queen Pearly (Shannon Antalan), assorted clowns like Ollie (James Penca) and even an elephant of enormous proportions.  Bring your own bags of peanuts and Cracker Jacks.

HEROICALLY TRAGIC "HAMLET" AT HARTFORD STAGE



Revenge is a great motivator.  Combine it with righteous indignation and the need to correct a grievous wrong and you have the relentless passion that consumes Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. His good father, the King, has been murdered, his life snuffed out by none other than his own flesh and blood, his brother Claudius.  To compound this deadly deed, the new King, Claudius has within one month, a mere thirty days, taken Hamlet's mother, Queen Gertrude, his own brother's widow, to wed and assumed the heavy crown as ruler.

You may think you know this dramatic tale by Shakespeare, but enter into the intriguing world painted by director Darko Tresnjak in the brilliant production of "Hamlet" currently being plotted at the Hartford Stage until Sunday, November 16.

Zach Appelman is amazing as the conflicted youth whose father's apparition sets him on a course of enacting justice by unveiling the current monarch's
treasonous deed and revealing the unfaithful heart of his mother, the Queen.  Feigning madness, Hamlet seeks his revenge, holding his own counsel and swearing his closest friends to secrecy.

To say his loving friend Ophelia (Brittany Vicars) is confused by his words and acts is an understatement.  Her deep affection for Hamlet is tested to the point where she genuinely assumes a cloak of madness, especially after her father Polonius (Edward James Hyland) is slain by Hamlet's hand. The absence of her brother Laertes (Anthony Roach) only compounds her grief.

Hamlet's disdain for his mother Gertrude (Kate Forbes) is evident in his every word and gesture.  As for Hamlet's uncle, now his step-father, Hamlet can't wait to catch him in a lie and even has a troupe of theatrical players perform a show that reveals his treachery and evil.

Swept into the devious plot, his seeming comrades Rosencrantz (Curtis Billings) and Guildenstern (Cliff Miller) are revealed to be disloyal, while his good friend Horatio (James Seol) remains steadfast in his trust. The set designed by Darko Tresnjak is a giant cross, that gives note to the religious references of the tragedy and changes colors to match the action.  The elaborate costumes by Fabio Toblini are an exquisite addition.

For tickets ($25 and up), call the Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street, Hartford at 860-527-5151 or online at www.hartfordstage.org.  Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Follow the ghost of Hamlet's father (Andrew Long) as he appears in a swirl of fog and mist to guide his son to the brink of danger and death.

"RAGTIME" WILL MOVE YOU EMOTIONALLY AND MUSICALLY




Turn the hands on the grandfather clock back in time to the turn-of-the-twentieth century in America when the dicotomy between the poor and the wealthy, the desperate and the hopeful, the prejudiced and the privileged was most pronounced.  The sweeping grandeur and poignancy of "Ragtime The Musical" will follow a trio of families as they struggle to achieve the American dream.

This multi-award winning show by the composer/lyricist team of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens and book by Terrence McNally is based on the distinguished novel by E. L. Doctorow.  Torrington's grand Warner Theatre will be dedicating its Main Stage to this sweeping musical from Saturday, November 1 to Sunday, November 9.

A parade of famous people like Harry Houdini (Meric Martin), Henry Ford (Jamie Murphy), Booker T. Washington (Jamal Ford-Bey), J. P. Morgan (George Murphy), Emma Goldman (Priscilla Squiers) and Sanford White (Lyle Ressler) march in and out of this histoirically relevant tale.  The worlds of three vastly different families collide on America's divergent shores.  We meet a wealthy Protestant clan who include Father (Pat Spaulding), Mother (Rebekah Derrick), Mother's Younger Brother (Ryan Pipke), Grandfather (Mark Pronovest) and the Little Boy Edgar (Trevor Rinaldi).  They represent the sheltered white privileged, living in New Rochelle, New York, who have been spared the difficulties of life.  Their existence is far removed from the African-American one headed by Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (John E. Carter) who plays Ragtime music in Harlem and has his heart fixed on Sarah (Gia Wright).  At Ellis Island, we meet newly arrived Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Tateh (Dan Porri) and his daughter (Kennedy Morris) who are praying for a better life in this land of plenty, hoping his silhouette art will bring them prosperity.

Each family, in turn, experiences love and loss, joy and sorrow, violence and redemption as they struggle to hold on to a flag of justice.  Inspiring and emotional songs move the story onward and upward as causes are adopted, lives are sacrifised, wishes are fulfilled.  Ultimately the desire for hope and for the future is triumphant.  Sharon A. Wilcox will direct this passionate portrait of turn-of-the-century life, with Musical Director Dan Koch providing the stirring songs.

For tickets ($18-26), call the Warner Theatre, 68 Main Street, Torrington at 860-489-7180 or online at wwwarnertheatre.org.  Performances are Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m and Friday at 8 p.m.

Come let the Warner Stage Company with a cast of 64 bring to life this monumental musical guaranteed to inspire patriotism as its stirs your heartstrings.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

"THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST" FLYING INTO MILFORD


                                        PHOTOS BY JULIA GERACE


Dorothy and Toto have skipped along the Yellow Brick Road all the way from Kansas to the Land of Oz.  Their adventures with the Scarecrow (Jimmy Johansmeyer), the Tin Man (Justin Rugg) and the Lion (Andrea Pane) are legendary.  But now our spunky heroine is back among the corn fields with her Auntie Em (George Spelvin) and her Uncle Henry (Jimmy Johansmeyer) and she is bored, bored, bored.  But not for long!

Follow the magical road of yellow bricks, courtesy of master map makers Pantochino Productions to their delightfully entertaining spoof "The Wicked Witch of the West Kansas or Bust!" playing weekends until Sunday, November 2 at the Milford Center for the Arts, 40 Railroad Avenue, Milford.

Think green and mean and before you can say "Munchkins" three times who should appear but that scary madame of malice The Wicked Witch of the West, wonderfully captured by Shelley Marsh Poggio.  She has a specific agenda:  to get  back her magical powers, her broom and her ravishing ruby slippers.  To accomplish this, she must, at all costs and comedy, find Dorothy who stole them away from her, right under her pickled green nose.

Dorothy is portrayed by the adorable pigtailed sweetheart, Mary Mannix, who is plum full of spirit and perkiness. With her trio of hearty and trusted cohorts, the Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man, they all set off to find the mysterious Wizard of Oz, another characterization assumed by the versatile George Spelvin.  It's rumored that the Wizard is in possession of all the good stuff.

That road of yellow is getting mighty crowded as the ragged Vagabelle kids, Elrod (Matthew Ranilla), Faylene (Hazel Foley) and Billy Jay Ray (Jay Maroney) are also on the trail of the treasure.  And don't forget that big green lady who's determined to get all her goodies back.

Thankfully Dorothy remembers to ask for help from her friend from her last giant adventure and the Good Witch Glinda (Rachael Dugas) flies in with a little comforting advice.  Bert Bernardi has outdone himself in the clever department as this show is filled to the top of the corn fields with genuine humor (most of it corny).  Justin Rugg's music, like the Wicked Witch's "I'm Back with a Vengeance," adds a delightful liveliness to the action. Jimmy Johansmeyer's costumes are a Halloween hoot.

For tickets ($18 online, $20 at the door), go to www.pantochino.com.  Performances are Saturday at 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Polish your crystal ball, practice your cackles, look for rainbows and bluebirds and bring a big glass of water for you-know-who!

Monday, October 20, 2014

STOP THE PRESSES FOR "NEWSIES"


                                         PHOTOS BY DEEN VAN MEER

" Hear ye. Hear ye. Extra. Extra. Read all about it" might be the rallying cry of newspaper boys all the way back to colonial times.  They are the energetic, paper-in-your-face kids ready to earn a penny or two hawking the latest headlines of the day, scrapping by on the pittance they earn from the big publishing giants like Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.

Hold on to your reading glasses and run as fast as you can to Waterbury's Palace Theater tonight through Saturday, October 25 as "Disney's Newsies The Musical" flies into town.  With book by Harvey Fierstein, music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Jack Feldman, "Newsies" has been making its own headlines, winning Tony Awards in 2012 for Best Choreography and Best Original Score.

Based on a real newsboy strike in New York City in 1899, it centered on child labor practices, when the kids united to change the way the big powers compensated them.  In the two weeks the boys refused to sell newspapers, circulation dropped from 360,000 to 125,000 and the kids were victorious in having their voices heard.

Now you're invited to get in on the exuberant musical and dancing action as newspaper boys called "newsies" take to the streets to sell their wares.  Often homeless and orphaned, they were not employees of the publisher.  They couldn't return unsold goods.  Working from early morning often to late in the night, they typically earned 30 cents a day.

Come meet Jack Kelly, an enthusiastic hard working Dan DeLuca, who rallies his gang when he realizes the cost of the papers from the publisher has been raised.  Jack gathers his force to protest and finds unexpected support from a reporter Katherine (Stephanie Styles).  With the help of Davey (Jacob Kemp) who is helping the family when his dad is disabled, the boys are encouraged to "Seize the Day."  The police and strikebreakers try to snuff their spirit but, ultimately, Jack's championing of their cause prevails and Pulitzer (Steve Blanchard) backs down on his monetary demands.  Even Governor Theodore Roosevelt rides in to help save the day.

For tickets ($30-70), call the Palace Theater, 100 East Main Street, Waterbury at 203-346-2000 or online at www.palacetheaterct.com  Performances are tonight at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Help Jack and his pals carry the banner of truth, justice and the American way as they hit the streets of 1899 New York City to battle the giants and win the day.

TAKE A CLIMB UP "ANNAPURNA"


Photo of Ulysses(Vasili Bogaziano) and Emma (Debra Jo Rupp) by Larry Nagler
Life in a trailer park of accidental nudists is complicated.  Just ask the cowboy poet Ulysses who has sought refuge in the mountains of Colorado after his wife Emma stole away one night with their son Sam, never to be heard from again. That was twenty years ago and a lot of snow and ice have frozen over their initial love and caring.  Now, without warning or explanation, Emma is at Ulysses' trailer door.  Why?  What good reason could she have?

Sharr White has penned an intriguing premise in "Annapurna," letting it all hang out at TheaterWorks of Hartford until Sunday, November 9.  In Ulysses, he has created a character who has given up climbing any personal mountains. He's lost his wife and son years ago and doesn't remember why and now his health has deserted him, with death seemingly imminent.

With no danger of winning a Betty Crocker or Martha Stewart Award for cleanliness or gourmet food preparation, Vasili Bogazianos' Ulysses has thrown in the dirty crying towel on life.  The only things that keep him going are his slightly crazy incessantly barking dog and his active hatred of his trailer park's director Marty McNeely.

With his life already in the crapper, he is still astonished to find Emma at his door, ready to move in, once the debris has been shoveled out.  Debra Jo Rupp's Emma is in take charge mode and doesn't care that Ulysses doesn't want her, her bottle of Lysol or her cheese and anchovy sandwiches. It's a long trek up a dangerous mountain, alluding to the Nepal mountain noted in the play's title, but accusations and confrontations reveal the circumstances surrounding Emma's abrupt departure.  The resolutions are amazingly quick and satisfying when they come, like a slide down a cliff, thanks to the perfect timing of director Rob Ruggiero.

For tickets ($50-65, senior matinees $35), call TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford at 860-527-7838 or online at www.theaterworkshartford.org.  Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m  Come early to see a display of sculpture by artist Susan Clinard in the gallery upstairs, sponsored by The Hartford Financial Services Group.

Clear off a space in a corner of Ulysses' messy home, designed by Evan Adamson, complete with ants, so you have an up close and personal view of what love, loss and reconciliation look like and learn what he has been doing with himself for the last two decades.