Wednesday, August 16, 2017

THE MASTER OF MUSICAL BIOGRAPHIES STRIKES AGAIN








Canadian born Hershey Felder excels as a pianist but his many titles include playwright, composer, producer, director and master of musical biographies.  He has brought to life, in his amazing one man shows, the lives and works of such notables as George Gershwin, Fryderyk Chopin, Ludwig van Beethoven, Leonard Bernstein and Franz Liszt. Now he is prepared to bring you the musical works of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in his newest offering "The Great Tchaikovsky."

From Saturday, August 19 to Sunday, August 27, the Hartford Stage will present this gifted maestro in a new play with music, weaving politics with his favored works, in a fascinating journey into the past.  Felder will play excerpts from Tchaikovsky's classic ballets, "The Nutcracker," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Swan Lake" as well as concertos and symphonic pieces, all while being the great man himself and sharing secrets and revelations about his life and his mysterious death.

The culture of 19th century Russia will be revealed in such a way that you will feel a kinship with this man and his music and all he suffered, trying to conceal his sexuality, a fact that could have led to his exile in Siberia.  With his director Trevor Hay, Felder will make this musical master come alive, showcasing his signature pieces and intimate details of his life.

For tickets ($25 and up, student $20), call the Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street, Hartford at 860-520-5151 or online at www.hartfordstage.org.  Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday.

Enter the heart and soul of this musician who brought such beauty to his works but yet who suffered deeply in his personal life as he created.  Let Hershey Felder bring Tchaikovsky to life in his words and music.

Monday, August 14, 2017

MEET KRISTIN HANGGI, “SHOW MIDWIFE,” AND HER LATEST BABY

KRISTIN HANGGI, DIRECTOR (TOP)







BRYAN FENKART AND EMILY WALTON IN "DARLING GRENADINE"
PHOTO BY ADRIAN BROOM
Self-described on her website as a director, writer, producer and dreamer, Kristin Hanggi has recently devoted her time and talents to a few projects of note:  “Rock of Ages,” “Clueless,” and “Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List.”  While “Rock of Ages” celebrates the classic rock hits of the 1980’s from Pat Benatar to Poison and Styx to Twister Sister, and “Clueless” is a coming-of-age comedy reminiscent of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel “Emma,” the third “Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List” is a movie about what happens when the title pair’s long time friendship and bonding are threatened by a new guy and all bets are suddenly off.

Hanggi is equally at home and equally excited whether she is working on musicals, plays, movies or television.  “In the job, I follow my heart and the story will dictate the particular directions I take.  I am attuned to the music, the dance and the story telling and seek the best format.”  An adaptation of the 1997 cult film “The Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion Musical,” premiering in Seattle this summer, is a perfect example of her talents.  It features two single L. A. party girls who need to reinvent themselves for their ten year reunion.

This “lover of new musicals and spiritual exploration” is in the midst of a new challenge,directing “Darling Grenadine” with book, lyrics and music by Daniel Zaitchik that will be enjoying its first full mounted production at Goodspeed Musicals’s little sister spot, the Terris Theatre in Chester, August 18 to September 17.

Three years ago, Hanggi heard the composer sing and play a number of his tunes at an L.A. showcase and immediately knew “his music was special and I had to direct it.”  At the time it was "just a handful of songs” and she encouraged him to expand it with a storyline and “Darling Grenadine” is the happy result.

With good reason, Kristin Hanggi calls herself “a show midwife,” taking a seedling of an idea and nurturing it until it is fully grown.  This is a “personal relationship, as intimate as raising a child should be.”  As with an individual child, each show is different and the challenges always change. “The process of discovery is an adventure.”  She reads a script, has a vision, with tone and color, but can get into the rehearsal room and it all changes.  Finding creative solutions can be “happy accidents.”

With “Darling Grenadine,” we meet Harry (Bryan Fenkart), a singer/songwriter who has a hit jingle about burgers that gives him financial security.  Harry is a modern man living in Manhattan who falls in love with Louise (Emily Walton), an actress in a Broadway show “Paradise.”  In addition, Harry has a brother (Ben Mayne) and a labrador retriever, a marionette created by Philip Huber, both of whom are named Paul.  This “musical within a musical” has an old-fashioned quality: think “Singing’ in the Rain,” as well as a contemporary feel.  Zaitchik describes it as “one foot in the past and one foot in the future” while Emily Walton claims “it is equal parts funny and moving and no better showcase for Daniel’s work." Woven into the piece are illusion and magic, a fantasy about how we perceive things.

For Hanggi, “Darling Grenadine” is a magical wonderful ride and she calls Zaitchik a genius who does incredible work that she is honored to be part of developing.  The title comes from a love of Shirley Temple cocktails and the true sweetness they contain.  Harry is a great pianist and singer, a funny man who never leaves the stage.  He has a dark and a light side, is charming, and a man we want to root for.  His dog Paul is a puppet who can exhibit emotions, from shy to afraid to joyful and he is beautifully voiced by a trumpet.  Zaitchik, who has known Emily Walton for over a decade wrote the part of Louise for her, a woman who has a whole journey of her own.

As a director, Hanggi finds the music filled with fantasy and whimsy that honestly explores emotions  She feels listening to the tunes will dictate how to treat them, to “decode” them, “like being on an adventure with absolutely no map.”  She has to trust her actors and “figure out how to sculpt like Michelangelo handled his David.”  Seeing images in her head and visualizing the writer’s intent are her primary jobs and, for her, “nothing is more fun.”  Doing this innovative work for fifteen years, she rarely says yes to revivals.

For tickets ($42-59), 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. The Terris Theatre is located at 33  North Main Street, Chester, exit 6 off route 9.

As for the audience’s reaction to “Darling Grenadine,” Kristen Hanggi would like the focus to be on “personal power and responsibility that at any moment can transform ourselves into the kind of person we choose to be.” Let “Darling Grenadine”, thanks to  Daniel Zaitchik and Kristin Hanggi and whole team of collaborators, cast you under its spell, in a brand new musical that captures the old school magic of the MGM Golden Age married to a contemporary New York beat.  Shine on!

Monday, August 7, 2017

"RAGING SKILLET" COOKS UP COMEDY UNTIL AUGUST 27


CHEF ROSSI, AKA DANA SMITH-CROLL, PREPARES A NEW RECIPE
Chefs are noted for being temperamental and demanding divas who rule their domain, kitchens, like a dictator and hold dominion over all the appliances and food preparation .  Their menus are sacrosanct and the specific property of their creators, not subject to questions or reproach.  All that being said, you probably have not met the likes of Chaf Rossi, that distinct breed of food preparer who is taking over the kitchen set, created with care by Michael Schweikardt, at Hartford TheaterWorks until Sunday, August 27.

Thanks to playwright Jacques Lamarre, there's a new meal maven in town and you're invited to make her acquaintance.  Please note she is a punk rock, lesbian, Jewish, independent and free spirited caterer of a distinct rebellious nature in the world premiere of "Raging Skillet."

Dana Smith-Croll's Chef Rossi is her own woman, secure in her title and career and mistress of her destiny.  She has just written a new tell-all book about her life, complete with recipes, and tonight is her book launch party.  Signed copies of her book are available for purchase after the show.  Together with her right hand man and helpmate, George Salazar's D J Skillit, she is literally on top of her form, the meatball on top of her flavorful mound of spaghetti.

All is going swimmingly in rich tomato sauce until her mother invades the scene, a woman who has been dead since 1992.  Marilyn Sokol's mom upsets the culinary cart and spills the baked beans and Ritz crackers and has a kniption fit when she finds her daughter, for all her kosher upbringing, is cooking with bacon.  It's a shanda, a scandal, an outrageous act against God.

The mother-daughter dynamic is explored and shaken in a beer batter concoction.  Mom can accept the recipes that make up a Snickers and Potato Chip Casserole but bacon, even when it is dipped in chocolate, is too much.  It may cause mama to die all over again.

Audience members get to sample some of the unusual and tasty treats (I recommend the pizza bagels) and the even stranger drinks.  The ultimate message, after the chopped liver hits the fan, is that "food is love" and family is family.  John Simpkins directs this intriguing "sound track" of Chef Rossi's unorthodox life.

For tickets ($50-65, seniors Saturday matinee $35, student rush $15 when available), call TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford at 860-527-7838 or online at www.theaterworkshartford.org.  Performances are Tuesday to Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday matinee 2:30 p.m.

Bring your coupons, coriander and chopping block as this wild child reminisces about adventures and guilt trips on her way to success as a chief chef and caterer.

Monday, July 31, 2017

“MADAMA BUTTERFLY” SOARS INTO CLINTON


                       BUTTERFLY   (SHANNON KESSLER DOOLEY) WITH SWORD

The foreign intrigue, incomparable passion, heartbreaking urgency, classic visual beauty, glorious arias and ill-fated romance of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly" is one of opera's most beloved masterpieces. Set in imperial Japan in the early 1900's, it is the breathtaking tale of a fifteen year old geisha named Cio-Cio-San who because of her fragile beauty and delicate ways is called Butterfly.  Opera Theater of Connecticut is poised to give this magnificent musical piece a momentous production at the air-conditioned Andrews Memorial Theater, Main Street, Clinton on Tuesday, August 8, Thursday, August 10 and Saturday, August 12 at 7:30 p.m. and again on Sunday, August 13 at 6 p.m.

Whether this is your favorite opera or you have yet to witness its soaring splendor, you are in for a special treat.  With a full orchestra led by Kyle Swann, musical director,  be prepared for a trip to foreign lands as the young geisha, portrayed by Shannon Kessler Dooley, soprano, transports you with her precise lyricism and expressionism.  It is her wedding day, for a marriage that has been arranged for her with an American naval officer, Lt. Pinkerton, portrayed by Joshua Kohl, tenor, who matches her in impassioned intensity. The unscrupulous wedding broker Goro, a conniving Stefan Barner, has arranged the match, which to Butterfly is a sincere one of love but to the officer is a game to pass the time. 

Butterfly is the faithful bride, unaware that to her groom she is merely a toy to be amused by and to enjoy for the moment.  She even renounces her religion as part of her commitment to the union and a sign of her loyalty. Once married, Pinkerton leaves her and his return is in question. When Pinkerton finally comes back after three long years away, it is with a new American wife Kate, performed by Carly Callahan. He then discovers he has a son.

 Despite the good efforts of Consul-General Sharpless, played by John Dooley, the disruptive plot of her uncle Bonze played by Andrew Potter, the comforting words of her maid Suzuki portrayed by Evanna Lai, the commanding nature of Zachary Johnson as Prince Yamadori and the sweetness of Butterfly’s child, Dolore Sadness, this dramatic tale ends in tragedy. The opera is sung in Italian, with English supertitles to enhance your understanding.

For tickets ($55 regular, $50 seniors, $35 students), call Opera Theater of CT at 860-669-8999 or online at www.operatheater-ct.org. Dinners from Chips Pub III for $15 can be preordered and enjoyed on the theater lawn, on the lovely Indian River, an hour before the show. Artistic Director Alan Mann will present an Opera Talk for $5, an hour and a half before curtain. Kate Ford serves as General Manager of Opera Theater of Connecticut. To Mann, "Heartbreaking and stirring music is the hallmark of this Puccini masterpiece...This glorious and heart-rending clash of cultures and the tragedy that results is perhaps the most beautiful of Puccini's scores and the most memorable musically, dramatically and visually."

The production is made possible in part by The Howard Gilman Foundation, The National Endowment for the Arts, DECD/COA and The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

 A golden silk screen of cranes and cherry blossoms becomes a royal setting for this magnificently costumed and beautifully rich in song tale of love, devotion and abandonment in Imperial Japan. Surrender to its musical magic.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

GOT "MILK"? THROWN STONE THEATRE HAS PLENTY






"MILK" AT THROWN STONE  THEATRE        EXTENDED TO AUGUST 5
Gnaw a chicken leg and chase it down by chugging a giant glass of milk in preparation for a challenging new play by an equally new theatrical company in Ridefield, Thrown Stone Theatre. Thanks to co-producer and director Jason Peck, the U.S. premiere of Ross Dunmore's "Milk" will take place at the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance, 440 Main Street, Ridgefield until Saturday, August 5 (extended due to popular demand).  Peck discovered it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland last summer and brought it home for its initial airing.

"Milk" is about appetites, the need for food, for validation, for love, for connections with other human beings. It crosses generational gaps as it deals with three couples at varying stages of life and requirements. First we meet Steph, a starving for affection  fourteen year old who is consumed with passion, giving it and receiving it, totally driven by her hormones.  Alexandra Perlwitz is wonderful in her Lolita-like role as she bubbles over with plans for a future stuffed with grand ambitions.  She overwhelms her high school counterpart Ash, a conservative and shy Aidan Meachem, who does not know what to do with her excesses.  He hopes by consuming and devouring a chicken a day he will grown macho enough to satisfy Steph's unusual needs.

Next meet the abundantly pregnant Nicole, a nervous and anxious Alana Arco, who can't wait to be a mother, one human being who can nurture another, a love goddess with her milk. Her husband Danny is supportive, a reassuring Jonathan Winn, who yearns to be kind.  As a teacher, his kindness leads him to make wrong choices, especially with Steph, his student, who fancies herself a siren who can make him crash on her rocks of temptation.

Completing the triumvirate are May and Cyril, a couple in their nineties who survive on memories, of grand feasts and great heroic deeds.  Melody James and Cyrus Newitt are poignant as they huddle together at the end of life, afraid of shadows and children and dogs, awaiting death. With musical interludes breaking the patterns and two chairs and two tables as props being rearranged with emotional commentary, "Milk" continually makes statements as the couples interact across their scenes, striving for validation and redemption, thanks to strong direction by Jason Peck.

For tickets ($49, and $29 for those 29 and under), call Thrown Stone Theatre at 203-442-1714 or online at info@thrownstone.org.  Check the website for associated activities to enhance your enjoyment of the play.

Look for nourishment for the mind and the emotions as "Milk" feeds the stomach and the soul.

FLIGHTS "GROUNDED" AT WESTPORT COUNTRY PLAYHOUSE



                        ELIZABETH STAHLMANN       PHOTO BY CAROL ROSEGG
As a teenager, if you flunked algebra or had a bumper accident with the family car, you might find yourself grounded for a specified period of time with a lose of privileges attached.  As an adult, however, being grounded would have incredibly different causes and equally divergent consequences. To enter the world of a female fighter pilot, a jock who is justifiably proud of her daring and courage in the face of danger, let playwright George Brant open the cockpit door.  In "Grounded," you will discover an intimate and emotional conversation being conducted by Westport Country Playhouse until Saturday, July 29.

Elizabeth Stahlmann takes off on a one woman mission into the rarefied atmosphere of an Air Force officer whose career is suddenly sidelined by an unexpected pregnancy.  One moment she is the commander of the skies, ruler of the blue horizons, shooting down the enemy, a military marvel, and the next moment she is literally and figuratively shot down herself, and earthbound without options.

Her days and nights are quickly peopled with a husband and baby daughter and her high powered controls are exchanged for toys, toddlers and domesticity.  When she is finally ready to resume her mission and maneuvers, she finds, to her dismay, that the game plan has changed.  No longer is she free to scan the skies from above,  overseas where the action is.  Her task is to command a drone stateside as a "chair force," conducting the war from thousands of miles away from the real action.  For twelve hour shifts, she is  forced to exchange her vast blue skies for grey screens and it takes a devastating toll on her psyche and mind.  Elizabeth is fearless as she tackled this role, bringing to life all the trauma and trials of a woman who dedicated her life to protection, yielding power over the elements.

LIz Diamond directs this personal battle of purpose with a strong handed force.  For tickets ($30 and up), call the Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, off route 1, Westport, at 203-227-4177 or 888-927-7529 or online at www.westportplayhouse.org.  Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. 

Watch how one woman, a soldier, takes control of her destiny and tries to fly free.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

"MARY POPPINS" SAILS INTO TORRINGTON




Using the pen name P. L. Travers, this Australian born author, dancer, journalist, poet, storyteller and Shakespearean actress named Helen Lyndon Goff made the world a magical and happy place with the creation of an unusual nanny who carried a carpet bag and an umbrella with the head of a parrot and could hold tea parties on the ceiling.  Modeled after her own aunt who in her childhood saved the family from emotional and financial disaster, she gave the world "Mary Poppins" in a series of eight books that earned instant success.

Even as a child she was precocious and imaginative, picking a  giant sunflower from a neighbor’s garden thinking the great golden face was the face of God. To learn more about this nanny named Mary, fly over to the Main Stage of the Warner Theatre in Torrington from Saturday, July 29 to Sunday, August 6 to get better acquainted thanks to the innovative Warner Stage Company. With music and lyrics by Richard and Robert Sherman, new songs by Anthony Drewe and George Stiles, the award winning musical was co-created by Cameron MacKintosh.

As nannies go. Mary Poppins is one of the magical best.  Hailing from England in 1910, she unexpectedly arrives at number Seventeen Cherry Tree Lane when the Banks family is in desperate need of her services.  A strong wind delivers her, carpetbag in hand, to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Banks and their children Jane and Michael.  Flying in with an umbrella is only one of her fanciful feats.

Jane and Michael Banks are thoroughly terrible and have chased their current nanny right out the door.  Mere minutes after the children pen their advertisement for  a new one, sung delightfully as “The Perfect Nanny,” who should arrive but Mary Poppins.

Here is a woman who can make statues come to life, whose best friend is a chimney sweep named Bert, who can befriend unusual people like a Bird Woman and a lady who runs a magical sweet shop and who can encourage toys to dance.

While trying to teach the children life lessons, like learning to value each other again, Mary P. inadvertently puts their father’s job at the bank in jeopardy.  But, never fear, all will come out right in the end.

For tickets ($19-27), call the Warner Theatre, 68 Main Street, Torrington at 860-440-8539, ext. 151 or 800-440-8539 or online at tickets.warnertheatre.org.  Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Travel with Jane and Michael as they learn that “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down in the most delightful way,”
when a most amazing Mary Poppins has the spoon and the magic firmly in hand. It's "supercalifragilisticexpialidocius"(ly) great.