Monday, March 2, 2015

"REVERBERATION" WILL RESONATE LONG AFTER CURTAIN CALL




Everyone experiences moments of being alone and lonesome.  If those moments, however, linger for months and even years, that emotional state can sink you into depression. Such is the fate of 35 year old Jonathan who has lost his life partner Gabriel in a tragic incident, one that Jonathan can't erase or forget.  His world is now permanently colored in dark shadows that  cause him fear and unhappiness.

In his world premiere play "Reverberation," playwright Matthew Lopez is inviting you to enter into Jonathan's state of being and become up close and personal with its realities.  Ready or not, fortified with prozac or zoloft, the Hartford Stage is unmasking this psychological conundrum until Sunday, March 15.

Luke McFarlane's Jonathan does not easily share his secrets.  He holds them close to his chest and guards them fiercely.  If he isn't illustrating greeting cards of sympathy, he is indulging in alcohol, working out or surfing the web for casual male sex partners.  Suddenly his new upstairs neighbor, in his cluttered Astoria, Queens apartment created in great detail by Andromache Chalfant, literally clomps into his life over his protestations. It seems her breezy outlook on life will bring his existence both hope and promise.

Aya Cash's Claire is eternally sunny and just what the psychiatrist would order for Jonathan's wounded soul.  With her whimsical nature and his solid physical stability, they bring a freshness to their new friendship and it appears for a precious moment in time that their mutual needs can be met.

Bookending Claire's arrival is Wes, a young and eager-to-please boy toy captured in his sincere naivety by Carl Lundsfelt.  His appearance, before Claire arrives and again after Claire and Jonathan reach a certain plateau in their relationship, causes a ripple in the lake, much like a stone sent skipping, with endless circles of reverberations.  Maxwell Williams directs this brutally honest and often disturbing punch of reality with a steady hand.

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 at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Be prepared for explicit sexual permissiveness as Jonathan struggles to surface from his spiritual drowning.

"SISTER ACT" IS HEAVENLY FUN




If you're unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the definitely worst time and witness a murder, there may not be a good spot to hide.  Just ask that wannabe cabaret lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier (Kerissa Arrington) who finds herself in just that pickle and predicament.  Now her boyfriend's gang is after her and the best place for the police to hide her is just what William Shakespeare might have suggested. Deloris is told to "get thee to a nunnery."

For three fabulous performances, Friday, March 6 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, March 7 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., the Palace Theater in Waterbury will have the rosary beads ready for their newest novitiate as "Sister Act" comes to town.  Just what Mother Superior (Maggie Clennon Reberg) thinks of her latest charge is immediately evident.  She's suspicious.

At the Holy Order of the Little Sisters of Our Mother of Perpetual Faith, Deloris has become Sister Mary Clarence and reluctantly gives up her vices like smoking, drinking, dancing and suggestive clothing.  With the help of perky and peppy Sister Mary Patrick (Sarah Michelle Cue), Deloris gets indoctrinated into her new life and uses her previous life as a disco singer to inject the order's anemic sounding choir with new vigor and vitality.

This lively musical written by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner and Douglas Carter Beane, with lyrics by Glenn Slater and music by Alan Menken is based on the hit 1992 film comedy of the same name. Of course, eventually the gang traces Deloris down and invades her solemn hiding place.  Glorious songs like "Take Me to Heaven," "Spread the Love Around" and "Raise Your Voice" send melodies heavenward.

For tickets ($45-65), call the Palace Theater, 100 East Main Street, Waterbury at 203-346-2000 or online at www.palacetheaterct.com.

Before the  Friday, March 6, evening performance, Riverhouse Catering will prepare a 6 p.m. pre-fixe, four-course dinner in the Palace’s Poli Club, located on the mezzanine level of the theater. Dinner is $62.50 per person, which includes tax, service fees, coffee, and tea. A cash bar is also available and the menu can be viewed in advance at www.palacetheaterct.org/dining. Seating is limited and reservations can be made when purchasing tickets through the Box Office.

Let Deloris and the Good Sisters entertain you with their angelic voices as chaos invades the religious order  and justice is at stake.  Hear the rafters ring with joy.

"BAD JEWS" PROVOKES FROM THE TITLE ONWARD AND UPWARD


 
                 PHOTO BY T. CHARLES ERICKSON

 Imagine two sisters who didn't speak for ten years when their mother gave a quilt she had made to one sibling, forgetting she had promised it to the other. Meet a daughter who devotedly cared for her mother for years who was heartbroken when her father gave away her mom's prized diamond ring, in what he thought was a fair distribution of her jewelry. Her brother got the ring and gave it to his wife.  Neither the brother nor his spouse ever helped during the mother's lengthy illness.  Another brother and sister fought over their mother's prized china.  The sister won it and spitefully kept it in boxes in the attic. They haven't spoken in years.

Do you know any similar tales of controversy where the desire for a family's prized possession caused chaos and a mad scramble to establish bragging rights?  Enter Joshua Harmon who has crafted a provocative look into family dynamics in "Bad Jews" being harpooned with wit and barbs at Long Wharf Theatre's Stage II until Sunday, March 29.

A beloved grandfather, Poppy, has died and the family is about to sit shiva, a period of mourning Jews observe to help adjust to their great loss.  Poppy's grandchildren arrive to stay with Jonah at his New York City apartment, one that even commands a view of the Hudson River from the bathroom.  His cousin Diana, now calling herself Daphna in preparation for her aliyah, a permanent move, to Israel arrives with an agenda carved in stone:  she is the only one worthy of inheriting Poppy's necklace, a chai meaning life, which he kept hidden while in the death camps during the Holocaust.

Keilly McQuail's Daphna is outstanding in her combative stance, a David ready to take on any Goliath, demanding and compelling, judgmental without the fairness of a King Solomon, equally parts selfish, offensive and admirable in her righteousness.  Max Michael Miller's Jonah is mild mannered and basically neutral like Switzerland.  He needs to mourn his grandfather in peace and wants to avoid conflict at all costs.  When his brother Liam, a defensive Mike Steinmetz, arrives, after the funeral is over if you can believe it, bringing his non-Jewish girlfriend Melody in tow, Jonah is suddenly the judge and jury between the two cousins.  In his own mind, Liam believes Poppy had decreed the chai to be his.  He plans to gift it to Melody, a sweetly naive Christy Escobar, as an engagement present, just as Poppy had given it to his wife decades before. Pick a side as tempers flare and fire and Oliver Butler directs this thought stimulating comedy with a golden chain of darkness.

For tickets ($74.50), 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 at 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Whatever your family or religious observances, "Bad Jews" will speak to you, as it escalates from sympathetic remembrances to venomous attacks, all quicker than you can spread cream cheese on an onion bagel.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

FOLLOW THE WAR CRY OF "LYSISTRATA" AND PREPARE TO LAUGH



                          LYSISTRATA, PHOTO BY MATTHEW PUGLIESE
Almost 2500 years ago in ancient Greece, Aristophanes penned a seriously funny comedy about one woman's crusade to end the Peloponnesian War.  With a grand battle cry, a courageous gal, Lysistrata, rallies her female brigade in a unique plan to force their male lovers and husbands to lay down their arms and surrender in peace.

This mightily clever plan has been transplanted and wildly updated by Jen Wineman, an innovative and inspired adapter and director of "Lysistrata."  It will boldly dance across the stage of the Nafe Katter Theatre on the campus of the University of Connecticut until Sunday, March 8.

Think improv comedy, slap stick, burlesque and add a healthy dose of Groucho Marx, Commedia dell'Arte and modern pop music, and you still won't be close to describing this physically funny theatrical experience.  Wineman has moved the story to World War II when folk heroes like Rosie the Riveter were embodying a female work force, ready, willing and most able to assume the jobs of the men who went off to fight.

When Lysistrata, a fiercely focused and vocal Lisa Birnbaum, calls an emergency meeting, she summons Calonike (Adetinpo Thomas), Myrrine (Madison Coppola), Lampita (Arlene Bozich), Venus (Shavana Clarke) and Serena (Susannah Resnikoff) to join her protest.  With a rallying cry of "peace is more important than pleasure," she urges her charges to withhold all sexual favors until the men sign a treaty of surrender.

On an amazing set designed by Geoff Ehrendreich, the story explodes in farce that is blatantly bawdy and lavishly lewd, not to mention outrageous in an enormously obvious way.  There's nothing subtle about this talented troupe, with costumes to the max and mini by Fiona Shaw-Mumford.

The entrance of the Commissioner of Public Safety, a double-talking Blake Segal, moves the comic battle to new heights and lows of humor.  Will the women, headed by a determined Lysistrata, prevail?  Is sex the newest weapon in the seemingly endless series of war games?

For tickets ($7-30), call the Connecticut Repertory Theatre at 860-486-2113 or online at www.crt.uconn.edu.  Performances are Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.  The Nafe Katter Theatre is located at 820 Bolton Road, Storrs.

Strip shows and sex strikes exploit the women's perfume and powder power as they seek to transform weapons into statues of peaceful doves.

Friday, February 27, 2015

JODI STEVENS: HER STAR IS RISING



If you're singer and actress Jodi Stevens, there is no such thing as a typical day. And forget bored, she doesn't have time for it.  As an artist, she crafts her day, well, creatively.  It usually starts with getting her son Jackson, 8, up, fed, watered and clothed and off to school.  She thrives on the chaos that quickly ensues and finds great delight in making order out of that unique state.

As a successful juggling act, Jodi admits, "I wouldn't change it for the world."  On the morning we spoke, at 8:15 a.m., she was preparing to mentor a class of eleven eighth graders at a middle school in Weston, conducting a master class in the performing arts.  She teaches her eager students how to do mock auditions by preparing songs or monologues and has even taken them to New York City to visit her agent, go to Actors Equity or see a Broadway play.

Then she could be off to dance class or the gym, to care for aging parents, to teach a private class out of her home, to head to NYC for an audition, to fulfill the 101 artistic needs she has as well as the needs of her son and husband, Scott Bryce, a film producer and TV actor.  She is continually "reinventing myself."  A special love is the extraordinary program she leads for mothers and babies "Music Together," for kids newborn to six, to instill basic music competency, like learning how to listen and she delights in  "watching children blossom." This Bridgeport outreach program has just lost its funding so you can add fundraising to Jodi Stevens' list of accomplishments.

This Energizer Bunny credits her amazing support team at home with allowing her the freedom to pursue her many activities.  A favorite teacher once told her, "If you want to work on your art, you have to work on your life," a lesson she has carefully cultivated.  Her artistic family, her mom and grandfather were involved in a band, her dad is a painter, Arthur Miller is a distant relative, all combined to push her to perform.  "They always forced me to perform and I didn't want to do it.  I wanted to be different."  Something happened in junior high school, however, that changed her path.  "I auditioned for the play "I Ought to be in Pictures" and even though I didn't get the part, the emotional work I did started me on a journey I didn't want to stop.  It was a delicious experience under extraordinary circumstances.  I began to fantasize. I had found my real outlet, my team sport."

Theater has continued to open doors for this talented lady. She is "passionate" about playing roles like Marlena Dietrich, found Velma Von Tussle in "Hairspray" at Summer Theater of New Canaan "so much fun," and being with her husband Scott Bryce in "Love Letters" and Maggie in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" were all wonderful experiences.  She gravitates toward playing wayward girls like Lucy in "Jekyll and Hyde" and whether it's Sam Shepard or Sondheim, or Shakespeare, Stephens is ready for the challenge.  If she had her way, she'd love to play the witch in "Into the Woods," 101 parts in Alfred Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps,"  or Carole King in "Beautiful."  A girl can dream, can't she?  Theater is clearly where she belongs.

As for her newest gig, her own cabaret show, "A Broad's Way," coming to Music Theatre of Connecticut on Saturday, March 7 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, March 8 at 2 p.m., she has spent years creating a show where she sings and tells funny stories, colorful tales about the characters she has met along the way, the romantic heartbreaks that momentarily stopped her, promising to "change the names to protect the guilty."  From Broadway and beyond, she has found "my own voice," and looks forward to inviting the MTC audience into "my living room for entertainment and fun and authentic connections, like they went through it with me.  I intentionally plan to break the fourth wall."

For tickets ($30-40), with a complimentary  glass of wine, call MTC, 509 Westport Avenue, Norwalk (behind Jones of New York and Nine West outlet) at 203-454-3883 or online at www.musictheatreofct.com.

Come see Jodi Stevens alternately sparkle and sizzle, with Broadway and pop tunes like Carole King's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" and favorite standards like "That Old Devil Moon," sprinkling anecdotes from her technicolor career like so many bonbons along the way.  You're sure to still love her tonight as well as tomorrow.

Monday, February 23, 2015

YOU'RE INVITED TO TAKE A SEAT IN "THE DINING ROOM"



 THE CAST OF "THE DINING ROOM"                 PHOTO BY RICH WAGNER



A formal dining room can be the simple setting for a hurried bowl of corn flakes and a fast read of the headlines at breakfast, a friendly ladies lunch where gossip is more important than the spinach and onion quiche, a gala engagement party to celebrate an upcoming and long awaited nuptials, all the way to a family gathering to acknowledge the multitude of blessings of a Thanksgiving feast.  Seldom has it been the setting for a plethora of stories more fulfilling and rewarding than in A. R. Gurney's sweet, sentimental, slightly serious, often silly play "The Dining Room."

Until Sunday, March 8, West Hartford's Playhouse on Park will be setting a place for you in the honored seat at the head of the table. There you will bear witness to a wonderful variety of stories that take place in that venerable room of the house. A series of scenes will collide and overlap seamlessly in "a mosaic and evolution of time passages" according to one of the featured actors, Ezra Barnes. The observations of life tell volumes about the characters, from their use of finger bowls to their fiery defense of any slight that affects a family member.  The traditions of the dining room are sacred and have experienced a  succession  of changes over the decades, all delightfully captured by the playwright.

A talented and incredibly versatile troupe of performers - Ezra Barnes, Annie Grier, Susan Haefner, Sean Harris, Susan Slotoroff and Jay William Thomas - will tackle a multitude of roles, from scrappy lad to forgetful grandma, architect to real estate agent, lecturing father to unfaithful mother, a Thanksgiving of disappointment to a marriage that needs repairs.  What they all have in common are the sturdy table built in 1898 and the occupants are all WASPS, Gurney's favorite culture, wealthy and privileged White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, who portray the declining vitality of their lifestyle and of the table that was once the focus of their power.  Because of the success with "The Dining Room," Gurney left teaching at MIT to write full-time.  Sasha Bratt directs this involving collection of family tales that pays homage to a dying tradition and the people who kept it sacred for so long.

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.

Let A. R. Gurney be your guide into a world he knows intimately well and introduce you to a clan of people whose lives have changed dramatically over the years, even if their beloved dining room table has endured in tact over the decades.

Monday, February 16, 2015

TAKE A MAGIC RIDE WITH "THE WILDEST!"


                   PHOTO OF "THE WILDEST" BY PAUL ROTH

Turn your entertainment clock back a multitude of decades from the 1920's to the 1960's to celebrate the legendary Louis Prima.  As a bandleader, singer, songwriter, actor and trumpeter, Louis Prima transformed his musical career to match all the trends that changed every decade.

In the beginning in the twenties, Prima conducted a seven-piece band that specialized in New Orleans jazz.  By the 1930's, he had moved his rhythm to the current swing tunes and by the 1940's he turned his attention to the big band.  Las Vegas lured him and with the edition of a new female vocalist, Keely Smith,he  created a lounge act that was wildly successful.  In the 1960's, Prima transformed his genre again, this time into a pop-rock band.

Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury is focusing on this musical duo in the late 1950's in "The Wildest! Hip, Cool and Swingin! The Musical Sounds of Louis Prima and Keely Smith" until Sunday, March 8.  Conceived and written by Randy Johnson, Thomas Porras, Luanne Prima and Toni Elizabeth Prima, the show concentrates on the music, unfortunately with no patter or anecdotes about the pair and their relationship.

Married in 1954, they were hired for a two week gig at the Casbar Lounge at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, an engagement that escalated to five shows a night, six nights a week, from midnight to dawn.  The two weeks morphed into a fantastic six years.

Come hear the energetic and exciting talents of Lizzie Wild, Kristy Merola, Jillian Wallach, Mike Nappi, Paul Binotto and James Donohue as they rock the house.  Their enthusiasm is contagious as they belt out, in song and lively dance, tunes like "The Lip," "How Are You Fixed For Love?," "Everybody Loves a Lover," "Fever," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "That Old Black Magic," "I Wish You Love," "St. Louis Blues" and "When the Saints Go Marching In."  Fun songs like "Hey Ba Ba Re Bop," "Nyow, Nyot Nyow! (The Pussycat Song)," "Bim Mam," "I Beeped When I Should Have Bopped" and "I Wanna Be Like You (The Monkey Song)" are a pure delight.

Semina De Laurentis directs this nostalgic song fest, a tribute to this iconic singing duo.  For tickets ($39.50-52.50, children and students $25), call Seven Angels, 1 Plank Road, Hamilton Park Pavilion, Waterbury at 203-757-4676 or online at www.sevenangelstheatre.org.  Performances are Thursday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Come listen to this sextet as they make "That Old Black Magic" and "Sing, Sing, Sing" because they know its "All or Nothing at All."