Monday, September 18, 2017

TAKE A CHARMING STROLL DOWN TO “AVENUE Q”




                            THE GREAT CAST OF "AVENUE Q"


Graduating college, finding an apartment, one you can afford, securing a job, one you are qualified to perform, and growing up are all the responsibilities and requirements facing an anxious young puppet named Princeton.  He starts his search for housing on New York City's Avenue A and by the time he reaches the 17th street of possibilities, he is  not sure he will ever find a roof to call his own.

Happily for Princeton and for the audience, he finds the perfect place on "Avenue Q," a delightful puppet/people graced musical with music and lyrics by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez, with book by Jeff Whitty.  Playhouse on Park in West Hartford will be entertaining Princeton and his friends until Sunday, October 8 and you don't want to miss their highly special world.

If you’ve grown up on “Sesame Street” and call Mr. Rogers a friend, and you’re a mature teenager or older, this is the show for you.  “Avenue Q” is a musical that began life at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford at an International Musical Conference  and went on to great acclaim.  Now the puppets and their puppet masters are ready for some colorful and off- color fun.

Pop over to the Playhouse for this smash-hit Broadway musical about making your way in life.  Weston Chandler Long stars spectacularly as Princeton, a recent college graduate, with big dreams and a small wallet.  He finds his way to Avenue Q because it’s the only street in the Big Apple he can afford. Soon he determines he must find and identify a PURPOSE in life.

There he meets some unique neighbors, friendly and not so much, like Kate Monster (Ashley Brooke), a cute kindergarten teaching assistant, a possibly gay couple Rod ( Weston Chandler Long) and Nicky ( Peej Mele), Lucy Slut ( Ashley Brooke), Trekkie Monster (Peej Mele), an internet addict, Christmas Eve (EJ Zimmerman), a therapist, Brian (James Fairchild), an out-of-work comedian, two bad bears (Colleen Welsh ) and their plucky landlord Gary Coleman (Abena Mensah-Bonsu). 

Follow the life and loves, the downs and ups, of this bunch of young adults as they work their way to find a job, a companion and a purpose, with a lot of singing and dancing along their journey.

With life-size puppets as well as people, “Avenue Q” celebrates the angst of growing up and facing responsibilities, challenges like how to get and keep employment and how to get a date, in addition to more intense issues like full-puppet nudity, alcohol and internet porn. Kyle Brand does double duty as a great director and choreographer. Video designers Zach Rosing and Ben Phillippe  add a special artistic touch and musical director Robert James Tomasulo leads a super live band. 

For tickets ($40-50), call the 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 matinee at 2 p.m., followed by a talk back. There is a special Tuesday matinee at 2 p.m. on September 26, all seats $22.50.

Stroll along with Princeton as he bops down "Avenue Q," the show that won the 2004 Tony Award for Best Musical.

COME TO THE CABARET, AT YALE


With our hearts and minds consumed with images of the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma as well as the fate of millions of immigrants currently living on our shores, who may face deportation, it is timely that the first offering by the Yale School of Drama at the 50th anniversary of the Yale Cabaret is focused on water, escape and refugees.  Penned by Drama School student Josh Wilder, who is also co-artistic director, Yale Cab 50 opened with a mighty splash.  "One Big Breath," which played the weekend of September 14-16, dealt with "current images, refugees in the world and a journey across water," according to Wilder.

Wilder asked the audience "How long is one breath under water," and provided a collage of images, some in effective silhouette, to answer that question.  Relying on experimentation, the cast that included Francesca Fernandez McKenzie, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Patricia Fa'asua, Jakeem Powell and Catherine Maria Rodriguez, dealt with the fears of escaping persecution, the perilous and arduous trek across a vast sea, the real threat of drowning and the often impossible task of trying to be understood once free in a new and strange land.

Francesca Fernandez McKenzie is a co-artistic director as well as an actor in the piece and explained that "students in the Drama School are free to fail, to step out of the curriculum, to experiment, to absorb themselves in the 'passion project.' "  She feels there is an "electrifying feeling" that promotes trust and security as artists, "a collaboration with spirit."

The Yale Cabaret is celebrating its 50th anniversary and it seems like forever and only a minute since it opened its doors at 217 Park Street in New Haven, just one day after Richard Nixon was elected President in November 1968. The current leadership team which also includes Rachel Shuey as Managing Director, Rory Pelsue as Associate Artistic Director, Latiana (LT) Gourzong as Production Manager and Jaime Totti as Associate Managing Director, are dedicated to doing projects that help them grow as artists, to plum the Cab's  rich history and to bring back prior alumnae.

For each play, the basement space at the Cab is creatively reconfigured for maximum effect.  From September to May, eighteen productions will be offered from drama to comedy to opera to drag.  Every show is diverse, all student run, with a shoestring budget of a mere $350.  Come early at 6:30 p.m. and dine on an eclectic menu that includes small plates like salad nicoise with grilled swordfish $10, sweet potato lentil cakes $8 or lamb kabobs $12 and desserts like flourless chocolate cake $6 as well as snacks, sides, beer and wine. Selections change often thanks to Chef Anna Belcher's culinary touch.

Next up is a musical about Adam and Eve from September 21-23, a political thriller about Vietnam from October 5-7 and a multi-media assault on the Real Housewives from October 12-14.  Performances are 8 p.m.Thursday to Saturday with late nights Friday and Saturday at 11 pm.  Call the Yale Cab at 203-432-1566 or online at www.ysd.cabaret@yale.edu or yalecabaret.org. Tickets are $20, Yale faculty and staff $15, students $12, with various flex passes available for purchase.

Come celebrate five decades of diversity and dedication as the Yale Cab embarks on new and exciting paths to adventurous entertainment.


Friday, September 15, 2017

NVESTIGATE THE COMPELLING MYSTERY “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE” AT THE WARNER

I


 In 1939 that dame of murder mysteries, Agatha Christie, penned a masterpiece novel “And Then There Were None.”  This best selling book has been named by Publications International as the seventh top title of all time.  You can now, if you dare, see the dramatic adaptation of the novel into play form courtesy of the Warner Stage Company at the Nancy Marine Studio at the Warner Theatre in Torrington from Saturday, September 23 to Sunday, October 1.

A number of strangers receive personally designed invitations to an island off the Devon coast of England from a man they do not know.  One thinks she is being hired for a job as a secretary, a doctor is lured on the supposition he has a new patient to treat, some think they are coming to reunite with old friends and two believe they are being asked to observe the comings and goings of the other guests in the guise of conducting detective work.
When they arrive, they find the butler and the housekeeper but learn their host, Mr. Owen, will appear tomorrow.  What do these strangers have in common?  Why have they been singled out for an unusual invitation?  After an excellent dinner, they begin to learn their potential fate.  Each of them has been complicit in a criminal act where someone died.  Each escaped punishment…until now.  A nursery rhyme “Ten Little Soldiers” hangs in every guest’s bedroom and strongly suggests the manner of death each will experience. 

 One by one the guests meet their guilt-ridden ends but who is the executioner?  They are trapped on the  island with no means of calling for help or of escape.  On the dining room table, the ten china soldier figurines are quickly disappearing.  Who is to blame?  Will the police eventually discover the master culprit?  Lynn Paulella Beard with John Ozerhoski as assistant director steer this diabolical plot with maniacal skills.

The drama features Nicholas Bourne, Tony Enright, Roger Grace, MayTae Harge, Eric Lindblom, Scott Murphy, Lana Peck, Thursday Savage, Anthony Stachowitz, Payton Turpin and Mike Zizka. Performances are September 23, 29 and 30 at 8 pm and September 24 and October 1 at 2 pm. To purchase tickets, ($27) call the Warner Box Office at 860-489-7180 or visit www.warnertheatre.org.

Feel like playing Sherlock Holmes?  Come consider yourself invited to this island retreat for a most amazing vacation into the mysterious unknown.

Monday, September 11, 2017

“SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS” HAS A LOT TO SAY


Being a good listener is an art.  We are usually so anxious to contribute our thoughts, that we impatieantly interrupt one another.  What if we had no words, like monks in a monastery who have taken a vow of silence? Would we use that time to seek enlightenment within, to soul search, to examine our inner beings and try to resolve issues and make changes for the better? Playwright Bess Wohl will give you the opportunity for that reflection as she takes you on a journey with six lost souls seeking answers in her involving “Small Mouth Sounds” at Stage II of Long      Wharf Theatre in New Haven until Sunday, September 24.

You are in the woods at a retreat where cell phones, cigarettes and words are forbidden.  You are to follow the directions of the teacher/guru (Orville Mendoza) who is ironically experiencing problems of his own. His advice is not always accurate but he is the best model available for achieving a sense of inner peace. You are one of six seekers, three men (Connor Barrett, Ben Beckley and Edward Chin-Lyn) and three women (Brenna Palughi, Socorro Santiago and Cherene Snow) who all have their individual reasons for signing up for five days of silence.  Each is unhappy, lonely and in need of soul sustenence. 

The projections outside the walls, courtesy of Andrew Schneider, sound like Harvey and Irma and they mimic the interior unrest of the participants.  Each has come with a dilemma to solve.  Jan has a picture of a child which he guards protectively and since he doesn’t speak English may have an advantage with the rule of non-communication. Ned is like Job, a man who has endured a  plethora of problems that would defeat a lesser man. With a well toned body he is proud of displaying, totally, Rodney used yoga as his means of self-communication.

Alicia is unhappy, disorganized, a nibbler and perpetually late and her cell phone, that she should not have, is not allowing her to reach out and touch someone.  Joan and Judy are a lesbian couple who are dealing with illness and failure to connect and their long standing partnership is in danger of unraveling.  All six are looking for answers and, as the guru instructs, aligning their intentions with actions, whatever that means.
Rachel Chavkin directs this 100 minute search for life’s meaning that is both enlightening and excruciating in its anguished quest.  “Small Mouth Sounds” is decidedly different  and worthy of your exploration.

For tickets ($34.50-90.50 ), 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 7p.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.
Look for compassion and healing, commiseration and silent communication as we struggle together and separately to make of our lives a blessing.

Monday, September 4, 2017

BE SWEPT AWAY BY “SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD”



                         ACTOR/DIRECTOR CHRISTOPHER FAISON
For new director Christopher Faison, producing his debut musical at the Chestnut Street Playhouse in Norwich, has been a homecoming of sorts.  The work, “Songs for a New World” by Jason Robert Brown, is an unusual song cycle that deals with decisions made at a precise moment in time. We all have those moments, moments that are momentous and life altering, fraught with decisions that have far reaching consequences.   For Faison, who has long been an actor, it began in 1996 just after this show debuted Off-Broadway.  He was introduced to the music and it affected him deeply.  He identified with the four main characters who are embarking on different paths and journeys and the hopes that fueled their awareness.

In the year 2000, the show was produced at Chestnut Street Playhouse’s former iteration, the Spirit of Broadway, and when Faison was offered the opportunity to direct, this show was the one that leaped to the forefront.  Faison admits, “I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do.”  He “feels like I gave birth.  It’s a full circle moment.  I hope the audience identifies with it as being about the world right now and will be moved and feel chills.”

“Songs for a New World” will play until Sunday, September 10. It includes a string of tunes connected by a theme “the moment of decision.”  The songs are pop and gospel and jazz that enjoy a spiritual flavor.  They span decades and eons, from a 1492 voyage literally to a new world to a flag being sewn in 1775’s Revolutionary War to honor the two men most important to Mrs. Ross's life to an angry Mrs. Claus who accuses her famous hubby of being neglectful. Personally I would have preferred a little spoken dialogue to ground each piece as they are wildly different in nature as to time and place.

These stores in song explore relatable connections and you are sure to identify with one or three of them yourself.  The energetic company includes Robert Ball, Audrey Rummel, Chris Stanley and Erin Sousa-Stanley, with Michael Goldman and Violet Saylor.  One of the most powerful numbers is “King of the World” where a man proclaims his right to be free so he can return to a life of leadership.  Along the way, we hear abut sacrifice, about choosing security over love in “Stars and the Moon,” how lovers unsuccessfully try to live without each other in “I’d Give It All For You," to a soldier who has given up his life for his country, the ultimate sacrifice, in “Flying Home.”

We meet a woman about to take a flying leap over a ledge to gain her husband’s attention in “One Last Step,” to one who bravely proclaims “I’m Not Afraid of Anything,”  to two men who announce that “The River Won’t Flow” for either of them. The songs skip in a dozen directions and hopscotch from place to place, many with a common thought of understanding heaven’s grand design, with the prayer for God to shine upon them.  Brown even touches on addictions and segregation.

For tickets ($27), call the Chestnut Street Playhouse, 24 Chestnut Street, Norwich at 860-886-2378 or online at http://bit.do/CSPSongs or www.chestnutstreetplayhouse.org.  Performances are Thursday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Come explore new musical worlds courtesy of Jason Robert Brown who went on to compose “Parade,”  “The Last Five Years,” “13 the Musical,” “Prince if Broadway” and “Bridges of Madison County,” and actor Christopher Faison who is making his directorial debut.

Monday, August 28, 2017

COME HAVE TEA WITH KATE AT CT CABARET


KELLY BOUCHER AS KATHARINE HEPBURN

Katharine Hepburn was a Hollywood leading lady for over six decades, the winner of four Academy Awards, a true Connecticut daughter, who was named in 1999 the greatest female star of Classic Hollywood Cinema by the American Film Institute. Kate died in 2003 at her home in Fenwick, a part of Old Saybrook, at the venerable age of 96. You have the unique opportunity to make her acquaintance over a cup of tea courtesy of the remarkable acting talents of Kelly Boucher and the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre of Berlin weekends until September 23.

Thanks to Matthew Lombardo’s revealing comedy “Tea at Five,” we are privileged to meet Ms. Hepburn at two distinct stages of her life, the first when she is mentally reviewing her career to date and actively lobbying to get the role of Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind,” and fifty years later when she is contemplating her life and her choices, now a victim of Parkinson’s disease.

Kelly Boucher becomes this venerable actress, who is aggressive, self-assured, strong willed, an athlete, a non conformist, independent, unconventional and eccentric, with a distinctive patrician voice.  Boucher shares intimate details of Kate’s life, in a progressive and structured family that kept secrets, her early drive and ambition to be a movie actress, her many missteps along the way, and the plays and movies and even television roles she accepted.

She happily admits that the press was not fond of her or her of it, and she even earned the title Katherine of Arrogance.  When she had six or seven flops in a row, she also earned the appellate “box office poison.” Her relationships with many Hollywood big wigs were often contentious and she was known to bully and boss to get her way.  A creature of habit, she often sought the comfort of her family when things went awry, and she enjoyed a cup of tea every day at five o’clock.  The audience is privileged to be in her company for that tradition.

Her father had a tremendous influence on Kate, one she reveals in difficult confessions.  Tom, her older brother, was her protector and she terms it “Paradise” when she was home in Fenwick with him.  His death had a tremendous influence on her life. As she sips tea, she sprinkles her stories with tales of the 1938 hurricane that washed her home away, her dalliance with such suitors as Howard Hughes, her relationship with her German acting teacher, her abhorrence of calla lilies, her brief marriage and her dislike of the institution and her conflicts with leading stars like John Barrymore.

In the second act, we meet a Katharine who has suffered many disappointments  and is now battling Parkinson’s.  She has just suffered a car accident and has a broken ankle.  Warren Beatty is actively pursuing her to end her retirement and return to the screen and he has mistakenly sent her a bouquet of calla lilies to woo her.  This is a frail and fragile queen who is still in charge of her reign. Her attention to detail is still a primary key to her success in life.  Even now she is finally ready to reveal her private relationship with Spencer Tracy, one she kept secret for more than twenty five years.

Through all her trials and triumphs, she freely admits that work has always been her salvation and her priority. After Tracy's death, she returned to acting to survive.  Even at the finale, she was always seeking her happy ending. For tickets ($30), call the CT Cabaret Theatre, 31-33 Webster Square Road, Berlin at 860-829-1248 or online at www.ctcabaret.com.  Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with doors opening at 7:15 p.m. There are no performances September 1 and 2. Remember to bring goodies to share at your table or plan to buy desserts and drinks  on site. Now is the time to sign up for the cabaret’s next season, its twentieth anniversary.

Don’t miss Kelly Boucher’s outstanding performance as one of America’s foremost females of stage and screen and be guaranteed to learn some intimate secrets and gain even more admiration for our personal Connecticut star.

THE TEMPERATURE IS RISING ON “SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER” AT IVORYTON


Be nostalgic and raise your hand triumphantly to the sky, slick your hair back, practice your dance moves and get set to move and groove, jump and jive, as the Ivoryton Playhouse welcomes the classic hit show “Saturday Night Fever” to town until Sunday, September 3.

Get set to conjure up the iconic image of a man, in this case John Travolta, clad in vanilla colored suit, passionately dancing to win his future. Now with the help of Michael Notardonato’s magnetic Tony Manero we meet a young man trapped in Brooklyn who yearns to escape and his cool dance moves are his ticket out. Thanks to a book by Nan Knighton, in collaboration with Arlene Phillips, Paul Nicholas and Robert Stigwood, you have the exciting opportunity to watch Tony reach out to catch his dreams.

By day Tony works in a paint store but the colors there are  drab black and white and gray. He deals with a crowd of deadbeat pals, Colin Lee, Pierre Marais, Tom DiFeo.Joey Lucherini and Jamal Shuriah,  who aren’t going to win any prizes in the game of life.  When the workweek ends, however, Tony crosses into a technicolor world when he struts into the local disco.

At the discotheque, he is morphed from a lowly frog into the worshiped prince and suddenly he owns the musical world.  Here he is admired.  All things are possible, even a courtship with the much appreciated Stephanie Mangano, Caroline Lellouche. Tony quickly forgets his former dance partner Annette, a loyal Nora Fox, to pursue the exotic new girl.

Will Tony’s smooth and groovy dance floor moves help him win Stephanie’s heart?  Could they even be the magic gold ticket that will launch him out of Brooklyn into the big time? Stephanie, however, is the “maybe” girl, who is reluctant to make a commitment.

The great tunes from the Bee Gees' repertoire, starting with the smart and savvy lyrics of “Stayin’ Alive,” pulsate compellingly to aid the story’s advance.  Other tunes like “How Deep Is Your Love,” “If I Can’t Have Him” and “Top of Your Game” stroke the momentum, especially with impressive choreography.

For tickets ($50-), call the  at or online at www..org.  Performances are Friday, February 19 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, February 20 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.  

Watch temperatures rise to an explosive pitch as “Saturday Night Fever” raises the Ivoryton roof and sets it sailing to the strastosphere.