Monday, May 22, 2017

COME VISIT "THE CEMETERY CLUB”



People join organizations for a variety of reasons: socialization, improving skills like in tennis or bridge, charitable intentions like volunteering or fundraising, to satisfy political aspirations or for just plain fun. Playwright Ivan Menchell has an idea for a new club and he is inviting you to a  monthly meeting. Tea and cookies are being served (if you bring them yourself) at the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre in Berlin when “The Cemetery Club” members gather weekends until Saturday, June 24.

When a trio of Jewish friends start to lose their husbands one by one, they form a club to go and visit their departed every month, for comfort and little one-sided conversation. The average age of a widow is 56 and these ladies are right on schedule. Barbara Horan’s Ida is sensible  and able to look to the future. She is devoted to her Murray and enjoys her visits every thirty days to the man she spent decades of happy married life with.  Lucille’s spirit has been captured by a flirting Karen Gagliardi who likes to look sexy, drape herself in mink and pay back her cheating hubby Harry now for his actions during their marriage. Tracy Costa’s Doris is compulsively tied to these visits and  to her Abe who is still at the  center of her universe.  She can no more consider abandoning him than she could taking off for the moon.

When on a regular visitation to the graves, butcher Sam Katz, an appealing Russell Fish, wanders by, Lucille immediately latches on to him as a great catch (fish, catch) while Ida and, especially Doris, are appalled by her actions.  It seems, however, that Sam has his attentions fixed on Ida and it soon becomes apparent that the feelings are mutual.  Will Lucille and Doris try to sabotage this hint of romance?  Will an invitation to much married friend Selma’s next nuptuals  be an opportunity to advance the courtship? Who the heck invited Mildred (Bonnie Sprague) to the party?  Will envy and jealousy destroy long time friendships?

Kris McMurray does a great job playing matchmaker and referee in this gentle and humorous tale.  For tickets ($30), call CTCabaret Theatre, 31-33 Webster Square Road, Berlin at 860-829-1248 or online at www.ctcabaret.com.  Performances are Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m., with doors opening at 7:15 p.m.  Remember to bring goodies to share at your table or plan to buy desserts and drinks on site.  There are no performances May 26 and 27.

Come visit with the ladies of the Cemetery Club for some cake, champagne, cookies, chicken wings and chicken livers, companionship, conversation, grief counseling, comedy, cleavage and a little cha-cha.

COME "TRAV'LIN" FOR A HARLEM MUSICAL


When Gary Holmes was ten years old, he met a man who would change the course of his life.  Gary was visiting his father at work, a bank in Wurtsboro New York, and his dad introduced him to J. C. Johnson, an African-American jazz pianist and composer.  Gary had just started taking piano lessons and loved music and the two developed an unlikely friendship that lasted until J. C.'s  death in 1981. Having written 500 songs, some with Fats Waller, for such luminaries as Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, J. C. Johnson told the young lad, his protege, that he wanted his music preserved in a book musical and he would like Gary to write it.  That was quite a responsibility to lay on a youth but Gary rose to the challenge.  It may have taken him decades to complete the work but it is now ready for its Connecticut premiere.

Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury will be jumpin' and jivin' until Sunday, June 11 with "Trav'lin The 1930's Harlem Musical" by Gary Holmes and Allan Shapiro, featuring two dozen of J. C. Johnson's flavorful hits.  As Allan Shapiro recollected, The tunes have a "jazzy, tuneful character...with a natural bounce and swing that is infectious. Gary and I wove vintage songs seamlessly into the script.  There is an emotional quality to his music, with a great deal of empathy for the human condition.  J. C. knew how silly people can be, especially about love."

"Trav'lin" concerns the lives of three couples living in Harlem in the 1930's, in their twenties, thirties and fifties.  George Walker is a retired Pullman porter and deacon of the local church and unofficial mayor of the town.  He meets a stranger to him, a woman who introduces herself as Ethel from Mississippi, when she is actually his sweetheart Billie from forty years ago in New Orleans.  Lothair Eaton is wonderfully warm and welcoming as George and he does not recognize Miche Braden as his long lost love.

Archie, a numbers runner who travels by train, has a rocky relationship with Roz, who owns a hair salon.  They bicker and tease in an off and on courtship that is fun to witness.  Archie's Teren Carter is a lively bundle of nerves as he dances around Yewande Odetoyinbo's long suffering Roz. The youngest couple are the  eager for love Ella, a heart on her sleeve Cherry Torres, who falls instantaneously for Nelson, a sincere and sensitive Jacobi Hall. All the men have been or still are traveling men and the women have waited and waited for their return.  Wonderful tunes like  "Somebody Loses, Somebody Wins," "Empty Bed Blues," "Hold My Hand," "You Better Finish What You Started with Me," "Trav'lin," "Louisiana," "You'll Come BackTo Me" and "Let's Do, Let's Do, Let's Do" push the story forward and help develop the characters. 

This jazzy musical has a contemporary feel as the score shines under the musical direction of John DiPinto, with set designed by Stephen Dobay, lighting by Keith A.Truax, projections by Christopher Ash, costumes by Janell Berte and choreography and overall direction by Paul Stancato. The result of all their efforts is one delightful evening of pleasure, one that J. C. Johnson would approve of heartily.

For tickets ($39.50-54), call Seven Angels Theatre, 1 Plank Road, 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.

Catch the spirit and joy of this tribute to J. C. Johnson that will have you bouncing in your seat, tapping your feet and snapping your fingers happily.

SENIORS GET THEIR DAY ON STAGE WITH STRAY KATS








With a sense of wit and whimsy, the Stray Kats Theatre Company of Newtown is encouraging the more mature senior members of society that  they are invited to be "Still Crazy After All These Years!" The company recently performed a series of eight one act plays in Newtown and at Whitney Center in Hamden to great applause.

A year ago co-producers and co-directors Tom Coash and Kate Katcher wondered if there were plays available for an older and more experienced cast of actors.  They put a call out for submissions and were delighted to receive them in the hundreds.  Carefully culling the contributions, they settled on a menu of eight that center on love and marriage and all the myriad problems contained therein for those over sixty-five.

With a troupe of a dozen talented actors - T. J. Chila, Stephanie Lloyd Ficarra, Dave Gant, Maggi Heilweil, Eric Larson, John Moran, Bob Ponturo, Nancy Ponturo, Patty Shea, Kimberly Squires, Don Striano and Allan Zeller- the races were off and running.

In "Back Fire" by David Lee White, a man and woman meet after four decades ago in high school and finally engage in all the fantasies they were afraid to do way back when.  A series of discoveries after the deed is done put an alarming spin on their indulgences.

A uniquely different idea of retirement is explored in "Second Career" by Ellen Margolis when a woman takes on the commercial world as her own personal Complaint Department.  A broken watch band, a non-functioning smoke detector, a damaged shoe, where she holds companies accountable, have now become a full time job.  DSW, watch out!

Hobbies can be great unless yours is to possess such oddities as "Albert Einstein's Brain" by Ron Burch.  A long suffering wife may be indulgent of hubby's strange passion for the quirky but she may have to draw the line here and now.

What would you do if you were a witness to a crime?  In "Action and Reaction" by joel Doty, the husband sits by and watches, watches in alarm as his wife bravely and foolishly jumps in the fray to stop the assault.

To rekindle a marriage where the flames have been extinguished, a couple embark on an adventure to India, at great expense, in "Kamasutra" by Tom Coash.  Doris is willing to go to great lengths to awaken Harold's sleeping libido.

A cancelled credit card causes no end of confusion and problems in "Funny Valentine" by Kaye Soliton when a couple on a cruise find their souvenir shopping in serious jeopardy.

When empty nesters watch their son leave home for college, the husband finds himself suddenly "Splitting Hares" by Brett Hursey.  He starts identifying with long earred, carrot eating bunnies as a coping mechanism.

Planning for the future quickly becomes an obsessive occupation as two men, Jack and John, meet with a funeral arranger in "Planning Ahead" by Kate Katcher.  Cremation, a party and a Hefty bag are all up for consideration.

To discover where or when "Still Crazy After All These Years!" will appear next, go to www.straykatstheatrecompany.org or call 203-514-2221.  The company, founded in 2003, is a not-for-profit professional theatre company with a mission of presenting contemporary classics, radio shows from the golden age of radio and new works.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

GO “IN THE HEIGHTS” WITH A LATINO BEAT



            WASHINGTON HEIGHTS BRIDGE, NEW YORK CITY

If you want a main course of community and diversity, with a heaping side order of salsa, you only need to look for Lin-Manuel Miranda’s spicy Latino flavored “In the Heights.” As a Puerto Rican-American composer, rapper, lyricist and actor, Miranda calls the musical his first theatrical event.  Written while a sophomore at Wesleyan University in Middletown, he penned it as an on campus project that launched him into a career that has since peaked with his recent success with “Hamilton,”  What will he do to top that?

" In the Heights” celebrates life in the Washington Heights section of New York City and Miranda wants audiences to “walk away dancing” and the current production by the Main Stage Theatre at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre until Sunday, May 21 guarantees that and much, much more.

This culture fest features Marcelo Calderon as Usnavi, an all around good guy who owns a small bodega and has a secret crush on Vanessa, a sweet faced Olivia Grace Rivera, who works at the neighboring hair salon.  Usnavi has been raised by Abuela Claudia, a dedicated Celia Ortiz, who has been like a grandmother to him and his wise-cracking cousin Sonny, a challenging Joe Cardozo.  Life is not easy in the barrio, but it is filled with colorful characters who put their faces up to the sun and pray for better times.

Right now the pride of the neighborhood Nina, a conflicted Jessica Paige Braun, has returned from college in California, with the burden of telling her loving parents, played by Perry Liu and Julie Bell Petrak, that she has lost her scholarship and dropped out of Stanford.  Nina finds comfort and care from Benny, a hard working Everton Ricketts, who is employed by her parents but not accepted by them as a proper suitor.

In the midst of this hot summer, on the eve of the fourth of July, two major events take place that are sure to change many lives.  Come see for yourself in this energetic and enthusiastic cast, led by director Christy McIntosh-Newsom and musical director and producing artistic director Eli Newsom and choreographer Emily Frangipane.  Catch the Latino flavor at its spicy best.

For tickets ($28-33), call the Downtown Cabaret Main Stage Theatre, 263 Golden Hill Street, Bridgeport at 203-576-1636 or online at www.ctcab.com.  Performances are Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 5 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m.

The magic of Lin-Manuel Miranda is evident from the first merry note to the final redeeming dance of joy.  This cast of thirty gives the show 110% wattage power and shines.

Monday, May 15, 2017

COME, YOUR TABLE IS WAITING AT LONG WHARF



       MATT BOGART AS DAVID KAPLAN IN "THE MOST BEAUTIFUL ROOM IN NEW YORK"
Owning and running a restaurant can be a complicated, challenging and, hopefully, rewarding career.  Everything from the name to the napkins, the wine to the wait staff, the menu to the marketing must be perfect.  Today issues like cross-contamination, allergies to nuts and gluten-free items, vegetarians and vegans, health inspections and bad reviews can be troublesome. But for chef David Kaplan who owns TABLE in a desirable corner of Union Square in New York City, the life is perfection.  He is surrounded by his wife Claire, his loving kids Bix and Kate and neighbors, Phoebe and Gloria, who run a green grocery market that supports his concepts of organic and farm to table freshness.  What could go wrong with this picture?

Enter David's idyllic world with Long Wharf Theatre's new world premiere musical about food and family, "The Most Beautiful Room in New York," crafted by Adam Gopnik with music by David Shire on the Main Stage until Sunday, May 28. Come sit down, your table is waiting.

David and Claire's world is turned topsy-turvy when the landlord issues a steep rent increase to $35,000 a month.  Even if the tables are occupied every day, there is no way the couple can meet the new demands.  They need a plan, a great plan, and quickly.  David, a dedicated and hard working Matt Bogart, decides to call in old favors.  Years before he had partnered with an avant garde speculator Sergio, a dipped in olive oil Constantine Maroulis, who talks a good game but can't be trusted to deal honestly in any negotiations. David looks to wife Claire, a fully involved Anastasia Barzee, for the future.  When he discovers she and Sergio share a romantic past, David is unable to understand or forgive either of them.

The kids Bix, a good natured Tyler Jones, has plans of his own that industriously involved  Anna, a sweet Krystina Alabado, and his sister Kate, a helpful Sawyer Niehaus. Bix and Anna use the pizza place owned and operated by her dad Carlo, a cynically witty Mark Nelson, to create a good tasting business that just may solve everybody's problems. Thanks to Sergio and master plans with his cohorts Natasha (Anne Horak) and Gabe (Allan K. Washington), even the outdoor market run by Phoebe (Darlesia Cearcy) and Gloria (Danielle Ferland) is in danger of closing.  David Shire's tuneful music carries the action until a satisfying "Slice of Life" is firmly established for all. Gordon Edelstein directs this delicious combination platter of spicy and savory, sure to please the palate. Michael Yeargan's set design spotlights all the places of interest beautifully.

For tickets ($34.50-89.50), call Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven at 203-787-4282 or go online to www.longwharftheatre.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.

The next time you dine, whether in a pizzeria on Wooster Street or a four star establishment on Chapel, you will have a new respect for all the ingredients that  go into creating a good tasting recipe for success.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Mark Your Calendars For the CT Critics Awards




TERRENCE MANN (ABOVE) AND PAULETTE HAUPT (BELOW) AT CCC AWARDS NIGHT



 The Connecticut Critics Circle announced today that Broadway's triple Tony nominated Terrence Mann will host its 27th annual Awards ceremony on Monday,  June 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Sacred Heart University’s Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts in Fairfield. A private reception will precede the awards show. 

The  event, which celebrates the best in professional theater in the state, is free and open to the public. 

Last year’s top honorees -- Yale Repertory Theatre’s “Indecent” and Hartford Stage’s “Anastasia” -- are currently on Broadway. 

Mann joins the Connecticut theater community as artistic director of the Nutmeg Summer Series at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. He received Tony nominations for his roles as Javert in “Les Miserables,” as the Beast in “Beauty and the Beast” and as King Charles in the revival of “Pippin.” He also originated the role of Rum Tum Tugger in the Broadway production of “Cats.” 

Paulette Haupt will be recognized for her many years as the  founding artistic director of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Music Theater Conference in Waterford.  She will be honored with the Connecticut Critics Circle’s Tom Killen Award, given in recognition of her 40 years of extraordinary achievement and service to Connecticut theater. 


Previous winners of the Tom Killen Award include Lloyd Richards, Michael Price, Gordon Edelstein, Michael Wilson, Lucille Lortel, and Carmen de Lavallade. Last year’s winner was Anne Keefe. 



For further information go to  www.ctcritics.org. The Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts, 5151 Park Ave., Fairfield is just off Exit 47 on the Merritt Parkway 

Monday, May 8, 2017

YOU’RE IN THE ARMY NOW WITH “BILOXI BLUES”




                            CAST OF BILOXI BLUES AT IVORYTON PLAYHOSUE

Eugene Morris Jerome is now a man.  You might remember him as  a precocious teenager dealing with growing up in Brooklyn in Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs.”  Eugene is the central character created by Simon, semi-autobigraphically, in a trilogy.  Now is the time for a second installment and, thanks to the Ivoryton Playhouse, you can come meet Eugene from now until Sunday, May 14 as “Biloxi Blues” salutes soldiers.

It’s World War Ii and our Brooklyn boy is now twenty years old and is leaving home and heading to Biloxi, Mississippi to join the United States Army.  Private first class Jerome is now an active observer, an eager participant in boot camp and a narrator writing about the trials and triumphs of serving patriotically for his country.

Come meet Zal Owen as the lovable Eugene and his best new pals Alec Silberblatt as Arnold, Conor M. Hamill as Wykowski, Ethan Kirschbaum as Carney, George Mayer as Hennesey and Chandler Smith as Selridge. Overseeing their every move and moment is the  hard boiled Mike Mihm as their commander, the dictator Sergeant Toomey. As young recruits, they exhibit all the ABCs,anxiety,bravado and courage that you would expect to witness.  They tease, swear and act tough as they prepare for their new assignment:  going to war. With sly wit and a deep sense of humanity, Simon inducts his soldiers with all the brashness of heading off into the unknown and the fears that entails.

These men, thrown together as they are, have to grow up quickly.  It’s Sergeant Toomey’s job and obligation to toughen them up and supply all the discipline and obedience they will need to endure combat.  Mike Mihm as Toomey is up for the challenge.  Push-ups by the hundreds and long enforced marches through the swamps, peeling potatoes and scrubbing latrines are all part of the patriotic package they must face.  Readiness for battle is a prerogative and instant responsibility is essential.  

As the recruits tease, ridicule and support each other, Eugene records his memoirs for posterity, with pithy comments on the goings on and day-to-day challenges.  A 48 hour pass allows Eugene to explore two of his list of goals, to lose his virginity and to fall in love, both with the help of Moira O’Sullivan and Andee Buccheri.  He also plans to become a writer and not to die in the war. Sasha Bratt as director puts these men through their paces in a heartwarming and poignant way.

For tickets ($50, seniors $45, students $22, children $17), call the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton  at 860-767-7318 or online at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org. Performances are Wednesday and Sunday at 2 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.

Pack your duffel bag and get ready to do some push-ups as a maniacal drill instructor puts you through your paces  or will die trying.