Monday, March 23, 2015

DIG THOSE DANCING DIGITS



           PHOTOS OF DIGITS ...DIG IT! BY RICH WAGNER


By day, these dedicated troupers are teachers of third grade, special education, Spanish, math and reading, full time students, IT specialists and managers, physical therapists, parents, a dentist and one professional dancer.  Under the direction and encouragement of Darlene Zoller, they all become professional dancers and the proof is in the pudding stirred to perfect confection in "DIGITS Dig It!," a new show by the stop/time Dance Theater, the resident dance company of West Hartford's Playhouse on Park.

Until Sunday, March 29, this truly talented troupe will explode with energy and enthusiasm and Cheshire Cat grins as they perform this show conceived, directed and choreographed by Ms. Zoller.  These dancers with a passion for movement have willingly entered "Darleneland" and boy, do they have a lot of rhapsody and rhythm to show for it.

With a theme of digits as fingers, Zoller originally collaborated with composer and pianist Sean Pallatroni, bouncing musical ideas as "a series of musical puns" surrounding the number of things you can do with your hands.  Exploring the concept of one digit, two digits, three digits (well, you get the idea), the pair worked out songs and numbers that fit the concept.  As Sean so quaintly put it, "God, I hope this works."

Fortunately and fortuitously, work it does.  Beginning with one as the "loneliest number that there ever was," we meet a solitary dancer, Spencer Pond, who initially delights in having studio time all to himself.  He resents the intrusion of other hoofers who disturb his privacy and he sends his jazzy invaders scurrying away.

The two dozen ensuing numbers include an original words and music by Sean Pallatroni that serenades the Great White Way, with Rick Fountain crooning "King of Manhattan."  Victoria Mooney strikes an apologetic pose in Cole Porter's deliciously irreverent "Miss Otis Regrets" about a woman who can't come to lunch because she has shot her lover and has been punished, permanently.

Standards like "Too Darn Hot" and "Bye, Bye, Blackbird" sizzle and snap, flutter and fly, while numbers like "Queen Bee" rhythmically explore the insect world.  "Cinema Italiano" sparkles with sleekness and shine. The dance company also includes the creative moves of Michael Barker, Jennifer Bunger, Lisa Caffyn, Lynsey Chartier, Beckie Correale, Amelia Flater, Constance Gobeille, Laurie Misenti, Erica O'Keefe, Sheri Righi, Melissa B. Shannon, Alicia Voukides and Courtney Woods. DeMara Cabrera's primary color set resembles a flattened Rubix's Cube in the style of "Laugh In" while Lisa Steier's costumes light up each dramatic staging with dazzling effects.

For tickets ($25-35), call Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford at 860-523-5900, ext. 10 or online at www.playhouseonpark.org.  Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. (with a talk back with the cast).

So whether your "life is just a bowl of cherries," way "cool," or packed with "uptown funk," let the stop/time Dance Theater show off their spectacular moves and grooves, jazz hands and tap feet and all.

A PLETHORA OF CHOICES AT ELIM PARK'S NELSON HALL


BRYAN ANTHONY WITH THE NELSON RIDDLE ORCHESTRA


Whether you raised a pint of green beer in tribute or donned a green shirt or tie, everyone is Irish on ST. Paddy's Day and Elim Park in Cheshire planted shamrocks and four leaf clovers in honor of the holiday.  With the rousing music and foot stomping tunes of The Kerry Boys, the rafters of Nelson Hall were raised a significant foot or two on Friday, March 13 when these balladeers and troubadours got the crowd singing and clapping about ramblers and gamblers, whiskey and rye, celebrating wakes and gals like sweet Molly Malone.  A wee bit of Scotland crept in with sentimental songs like Danny Boy while tunes like Wild Rover practically had the audience levitating with joy.


If you missed this rousing tribute to St. Patrick, never fear, there's lots more entertainment coming down the road, the high road and the low road, and coming to Nelson Hall at Elim Park, 150 Cook Hill Road, Cheshire for your listening pleasure.  Baby Boomers, it's your time for a musical salute when Squire and Louise come to call.  On Saturday, March 28 at 2 p.m., the joint will be jumping with all the music, comedy and inspiration of the Boomer generation. Relive those grand old days with two folks who know all the buttons to push and tunes to sing and jokes to tell to make these years come alive once more.


Get your entertainment calendar ready to mark the dates for Saturday, April 11 at 2 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. when the Grand Ole Opry comes a knocking.  The Truck Stop Troubadours will open the country western song book and let out all the timeless hits of that unique part of the globe.  A live band will jiggle and jive so fast that you'll literally jump out of your seat as the rhythm gets your blood pumping and your hands clapping and your feet kicking.


A change of pace will welcome Will and Anthony Nunziata, known affectionately as the singing brothers of Broadway, as they carry the audience From Broadway to Italy with a medley of hits that will stimulate your memories and have you crooning along with these two talented guys. They combine comedy and conversation with tunes like "O Sole Mio" and "Somewhere," bridging the musical gap from Broadway to the land of their ancestors.  On Saturday, April 25 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., you'll find yourself sailing across the pond in a bevy of brilliant musical magic and mirth that will transport you to heaven and back.


Ready to dance on your toes?  Let the Connecticut Ballet sweep you away on a glorious journey with Will Shakespeare as the famed dance troupe presents A Midsummer Night's Dream in all its color and splendor on Saturday, May 2 at 7:30 p.m. The Bard's classic comedy of lovers sprinkled with fairy dust by a mischievous Puck and all the misadventures that ensue is sure to delight audience members of all ages. This is the ninth full length ballet produced by the company, under the leadership of Artistic Director Brett Raphael. An added bonus, you can meet the dancers in the lobby after the show.


Hold on to your felt hats because there's more as the essence of Ol' Blue Eyes comes to town with Bryan Anthony's smooth and elegant tribute to the man himself in Celebrating Sinatra: His Life in Music. On Saturday, May 8 at 7:30 p.m. and again on Sunday, May 9 at 2 p.m., you will be entertained by this super performer who will delight you, with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra accompanying him. He will croon the tunes of Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, Irving Berlin and Sammy Cahn, to name drop a few.  The Great American Songbook will be ablaze with memorable hits from "I've Got You Under My Skin" to "Night and Day" to "All the Way."


For tickets, call Nelson Hall at Elim Park at 203-699-5495 for prices and more information.


Enjoy the variety of choices for a gala spring as Nelson Hall at Elim Park fills your dance and entertainment card.


TAMMY WYNETTE STANDS BY HER MAN


BEN HOPE AS GEORGE JONES AND KATIE BARTON AS TAMMY WYNETTE

This Mississippi gal taught herself a passel of musical instruments, was an all-star basketball player, a waitress, a receptionist, a barmaid, worked in a shoe factory and kept her hairdresser license renewed every year in case she ever needed it as a profession. Fortunately Tammy Wynette transformed herself into "The First Lady of Country Music" and never looked back.

To get up close and personal with Miss Wynette, born Virginia Wynette Pugh in 1942, mosey on over to the Ivoryton Playhouse for a tasty morsel of music history with "Stand By Your Man The Tammy Wynette Story" playing until Sunday, April 5.

Tammy started singing early on at a Mississippi radio show, raised by her mother, MeeMaw, a feisty Marcy McGuigan, and marrying the first of her five husbands before she graduated high school.  As a country western singer and songwriter, she never knew about instant stardom, but advanced up the charts with such winning tunes as "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad," "D.I.V.O.R.C.E," "Stand By Your Man," "I Saw the Light," "We Go Together," "Did You Ever" and "I Still Believe in Fairytales." She continued to record with her third husband George Jones, a smooth crooning Ben Hope, long after their stormy divorce.

They were known as the King and Queen of Country Music and they made beautiful music together until they didn't.  His predilection for alcohol and her addiction to pain pills, due to her multiple surgeries, took a toll on their marriage. Katie Barton's Tammy captures the spirit of this intrepid singer who fought to achieve stardom and to keep her daughters protected.

Mark St. Germain's insightful musical provides glimpses into her complex, hard scrabble life, one that follows step by step her circuitous route to the top of the marquee.  There were a number of salty tears and no happily ever afters for this soulful star who struggles for every rung up on the success ladder. Her life is chronicled from her early beginnings with a perky young Tammy played by Lilly Tobin, and her relationships with the many men in her life performed by Morgan  Morse, Louis Tucci, Guy "Fooch" Fischetti, Jonathan Brown, Eric Scott Anthony and Sam Sherwood. All the men also comprise one jive  jumping band, under the musical direction of David M. Lutken, that make each tune terrific. This musical biography of Miss Wynette is directed with spice by Sherry Lutken.

For tickets ($42, senior $37, student $20, children $15), call the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivortyon at 860-767-7318 or online at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Come watch how the "Love Bugs," Tammy and George Jones, are brought to glorious life by real life wife and husband Katie Barton and Ben Hope.  They'd love you to come by and say "Howdy" and sit and listen a spell.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

"MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS" A COMIC LOOK AT HOW MOVIES ARE MADE


What do peanut shells and banana peels have to do with the movie "Gone With The Wind"?  Those meager pickings are all producer David O. Selznick would allow his "kidnapped" writer and director to eat, peanuts and bananas, while they solved a great conundrum:  how to create a script of the Margaret Mitchell book that was less than seven hours long.

The turbulence of the Civil War, an epic saga penned by  Mitchell, her one and only masterpiece, became "Gone with the Wind."  Translating its 1037 pages of romance and drama in the old South into a four hour film by David O. Selznick, producer, ended up being ranked number 4 on the 100 Best American Films of All Time list of 1998. But how it came to pass, against great odds, is a unique story all on its own.

To be privy to the inside scoop of how the movie came to be written and splashed across the silver screen, ultimately to win ten Academy Awards and be one of the highest grossing films of its time, head over to the Connecticut Playmakers to see the frantic slapstick comedy "Moonlight and Magnolias" by Ron Hutchinson Friday, March 27 and Saturday, March 28 at 8 p.m. at First Congregational Church, 108 Sound Beach Avenue, Old Greenwich.

Producer David O. Selznick's career and reputation and future and fortune are all on the line.  Every day it is costing him $50,000 to make a film that has no viable script.  Fraught with obstacles, the project to make "Gone with the Wind" is in tremendous trouble.  He finally has a cast, Vivien Leigh as his daunting and determined heroine Scarlett O'Hara and Clark Gable as the dashing and enigmatic Rhett Butler, but without a workable screenplay he has nothing.

Every script to date is flawed, too long or not practical.  Atlanta has to burn, the Confederacy has to be defeated and Scarlett has to face surmounting problems.  Selznick (Adam Auslander) implores his good friend the journalist Ben Hecht (David Pollard) to come to his rescue.  Hecht, who has never even read the book, reluctantly agrees to try.  Locked in a room for five days, with Selznick and his brand new director Victor Fleming (Tim Cronin) acting out the plot, Hecht is forced to live on peanuts and bananas and produce a masterpiece.  How the trio survive with the aid of the producer's faithful secretary Ms. Poppenghul (Tina D'Amato) is a comic circus, under the deft direction of Dan Friedman.

For tickets ($25), call  the Connecticut Playmakers at 203-249-5419 or online at www.ctplaymakers.org.  Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. This is a cabaret setting, so bring goodies to share at your table. Come witness this plucky Connecticut community theatre group that has produced 225 Broadway hits over its 67 year history in the Greenwich area.

Make your plans now to have "Dinner with Disney" that will take you on a musical journey of Disney songs for the last 75 years.  Come hear tunes from such hits as "The Lion King," "Aladdin," "Snow White," "The Jungle Book," "Frozen," "Tarzan" and "Cinderella," to name a few.  Bring your kids and your dinner on Friday and Saturday, May 8 and 9, 15 and 16 and 22 and 23 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 17 and 24 at 2 p.m.

You'll surely want to rent a DVD of this classic film once you witness the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that unbelievably led Ben Hecht, "the Shakespeare of Hollywood," to succeed where so many others before him had failed. All David O. Selznick wants is one great movie before he dies and without becoming a monkey's uncle he manages to pull off the trick of the century.

Monday, March 16, 2015

HARTFORD STAGE ENCOURAGES YOUNG PLAYWRIGHTS








Do you have a young budding Neil Simon or Will Shakespeare living at your home?  If so, maybe he or she is a finalist in the Hartford Stage's Young Playwrights for Change Competition held during the month of January in Hartford.  Three free workshops were conducted at the Hartford Stage Education Center, 942 Main Street, Hartford for middle schoolers from Connecticut and neighboring states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

The contest question was "What is Family?" and students were encouraged to explore situations about single parents, biracial, adopted, gay and lesbian and blended families and their home life, 8-10 pages in length,  and last 10 minutes on stage.  The top four plays will have a staged reading by Hartford Stage's Youth Studio and Adult Acting Classes.  The free performances will take place Saturday, March 21 at 2 p.m. at the Classical Magnet School, 85 Woodland Street, Hartford.

Winning top honors is Daniel Coppinger, an eighth grader at the Henry James Memorial School in Simsbury. His play, "Who is My Family?" focuses on a 13 year old boy from Korea being raised by a Caucasian mother and father.  He questions where and how he belongs.  Coppinger's entry will be included in an anthology with other regional winners.  He used his own personal experiences as an adopted child to inform his play. Although never having written a play before, he "is happy to know that my hard work has paid off."

Other students from the Henry James Memorial School in Simsbury took honors for second and third place, Kevin Kurian, an eighth grader, for his play
Promise" and Lindsay Madigan, an eighth grader, for her play, "Coming Together."  Another eighth grader, Carter K. Brown, from the Sage Park Middle School in Windsor, won an honorable mention for her play "Sky Blu."

This is the second year of this national competition that encourages young students to develop their writing skills.  Ashley Baker, Resident Teaching Artist at Hartford Stage, coordinated this literary effort. Come and cheer on these enterprising youth as they exercise their growing talents as writers.
Perhaps one day in the not so distant future the Hartford Stage will raise the curtain on one of their creative works as a world premiere.

SIT FOR A SPELL "ON GOLDEN POND"

NANCY SINACORI AS ETHEL AND WILL JEFFRIES AS NORMAN "ON GOLDEN POND"


The twilight years are not the easiest time of life for many. Parts we've always counted on, like legs and eyes and ears, don't always work the way we want them to function.  Memories dating back decades or mere minutes become problematic.  We enter a room with a specific motive or goal in mind and can't remember it worth a fig.  For Ethel and Norman Thayer, their summer home in New England has been a refuge and source of comfort for almost five decades.  They've raised their daughter Chelsea there and delighted in watching the seasons evolve.

Now the Thayers are changing quicker than the summer skies.  In Ernest Thompson's poignantly simple and bittersweet love story "On Golden Pond," we find ourselves enscounced in lawn chairs at that summer house, listening to the loons on the lake, and enjoying the tart-tinged squabbles that pop up between the pair thanks to Darien Arts Center Stage weekends until Sunday, March 22.

The years are creeping up on Norman.  He will soon celebrate his eighth year while Ethel is a spry seventy.  The sharp minded professor who taught English at the University of Pennsylvania is now experiencing bouts of forgetfulness.  How many more years will he be able to make this annual summer pilgrimage? Affectionately called an old poop by Ethel, a sincerely caring Nancy Sinacori, Will Jeffries' Norman is sure this will be his last summer on the lake.  Their wonderful banter and bickering is delightful to be witness to as they repeat the traditions that have made the lake so significant in their married lives. David Eger's comfortable cottage set adds to the ambiance as does the happy chirping of birds and calls of the loons.

Daughter Chelsea, a vibrant Kitty Robertson,  sweeps into the cottage with her dentist fiance Bill, a straight arrow Eric Dino, in tow, as well as his teenage son Billy, a chipper kid who is ready for new adventures.  Chelsea and Bill have one foot on the departure gate to Europe and want the older folks to babysit Billy for the duration.  The rocky relationship between Norman and his uninvited house guest mellow in a fishing boat on Golden Pond as well as through books that Norman brings to Billy's interest and attention.

In a strange way, Norman and Billy pave the way for years of conflict to be resolved between father and daughter, as they forgive and forget and make amends for past difficulties and disappointments. Will Jeffries leads this talented cast as the fixed in his ways Norman who often favors fish over humans. Patrick Kiley directs this gentle tale with a tender hand. An extra dose of down home Maine humor is provided by David Jackins as Charlie, long time admirer of Chelsea and loyal post office delivery man. Holy Mackinoli!

For tickets ($20), call the Darien Arts Center Stage, 2 Renshaw Road, Darien (exit 11 off I-95, behind the Darien Town Hall) at  203-655-5414 or online at www.darienarts.org. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Let this lovely waltz of a play lure you in and catch your heartstrings as Norman and Ethel continue the dance steps they have perfected over the decades, even if they occasionally miss a beat or two.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

NO "DOUBT" ABOUT THE NEW HAVEN THEATER COMPANY

The future of a boy is in question.   The fate of a priest is under scrutiny.  The certainty of an accusing nun is startlingly evident.  All of these are judge and jury in New Haven Theater Company's current offering, John Patrick Shanley's involving drama "Doubt" playing Thursday to Saturday this week at their new home, the English Building Markets.

What is not in doubt is the sincerity and enthusiasm of the New Haven Theater Company.

Through many iterations of this plucky group since it was founded in the 1990's by T. Paul Lowry, the NHTC has changed and modified itself to accommodate its members.  Now fifteen members strong and numbering entrepreneurs (at least two), an arts administrator, a lawyer, a retired reading teacher, a scientist, marketing managers, a current teacher and a former professional actor, the present version has strengthened and solidified its structure over the last six years.

Once T. Paul Lowry left New Haven for Chicago, the initial group was forced to reinvent itself.  According to Peter Chenot, one of those original members, by 2009 "we have assembled a team that has stayed intact.  It's a labor of love.  The people involved in NHTC respect and love each other a lot.  They bring their own life experiences to the process."  Peter has just accepted a new position with Westport Country Playhouse and he and his wife Megan are intimately involved with the day-to-day functionings of the group.

Everyone by necessity wears a variety of hats, like the director of "Doubt" George Kulp and his star nun, Margaret Mann as Sister Aloysius, who found themselves painting the floor of the stage on Tuesday night, preparing it for the debut performance last Thursday.

While NHTC has a history of being a site-specific theater, moving the performances to a space that fits with the play's action, like office and real estate buildings and banks, it is delighted to have a new place to call home.  Thanks to the generosity of Carol and Robert Orr, the English Building Markets at 839 Chapel Street, New Haven is its intimate location.  It's not often you can walk through a cluttered consignment shoppe, past china, furniture, artwork and jewelry, past racks of vintage clothing and shoes and discover a small forty seat theater in the back. A bonus is you get to window shop before and after the show and maybe take home a new bauble or bead.

One of the most amazing facts about NHTC, according to Steve Scarpa, whose day job is as Director of Marketing and Communications at Long Wharf Theatre, is "there are no egos here.  We are 15 equals from all walks of life and we work together with great trust. We get to try all avenues of theater life, like designing and writing.  We really engage with the show we are doing to create the perfect format for what we want to do."

With "Doubt," the suggestion to do it was made by Steve and put forth for a group discussion, with ways to approach it discussed and by democratic process it was voted to do it.  The fact that Scarpa was an altar boy in his youth and was now going to play Father Flynn was just an added bonus.  "Doubt" focuses on Father Flynn and whether or not he is guilty of an inappropriate relationship with Donald Muller, a 12 year old, the first African- American boy who has ever been admitted to St. Nicholas School.  The time is 1964.

Margaret Mann's Sister Aloysius is stern, pious and unbending as the principal whom all the students fear. She cautions the naive and eager-to-please Sister James, a sweet and innocent Mallory Pellegrino, that she needs more starch in her spine.  She urges Sister James to spy on Father Flynn and confirm her convictions.  As she states unequivocally, "I will bring him down."  Her vigilance is her guardian.  After all, Father Flynn writes with a ball point pen, has long finger nails, takes three sugars in his tea and likes Frosty the Snowman.  These are all evidence of his guilt.  She even seeks the counsel of Donald's mother, a concerned and caring Aleta Staton, to stand with her in her judgmental accusations.

As  for whether or not Father Flynn is guilty or innocent, the playwright leaves the question open for personal interpretation.  Early on in the rehearsal process, director George Kulp met with his Father Flynn, Steve Scarpa, and they discussed "how to approach his part and what it was about."  They refused, however, to discuss it with me.  If you see "Doubt," you'll have to decide on your own.

Next up in May is a new play "The Cult" by the company's resident playwright Drew Gray.  He describes it as "a comedy about a young man with a regular office job who happens to run a cult in his off hours.  It's humane, unique and funny."  Other members of NHTC include Donna Glen, Erich Greene (stage manager for "Doubt"), Ally Kaechele (board operator for "Doubt"), Deena Nicol, Christian Shaboo, J. Kevin Smith and John Watson.

In the final tally, what has never been in doubt, clearly, is the fact that NHTC's goal is to put on a really good show and earn enough money to pay the rent...to produce excellent theater for theater's sake and to have fun in the process. 


New Haven Theater Company
839 Chapel Street
New Haven, CT
www.newhaventheatercompany.com   $20
instagram@newhaventheatercompany