Tuesday, April 14, 2015

ARE YOU UP TO THE LEONARDO CHALLENGE?


                                LEONARDO DA VINCI

            
    DOWNEAST MAHOGANY TABLE BY JIM GOODRIDGE
 
What do ice cream spoons, pencils, keys, rulers, mirrors, matches, buttons, clothespins, playing cards and knots all have in common?  While you might find them all in a junk drawer in your kitchen, that's not their primary connection.  In the past 21 years, they and many other objects have been the fascinating focus of the Eli Whitney Museum's Leonardo Challenge.

Located on the border between New Haven and Hamden, the Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop, at 915 Whitney Avenue, is a treasure trove of creativity and inventiveness.  Encouraging students to learn by doing, it is dedicated to building minds as well as models, stimulating imaginations to experiment and discover.  From birds to bugs to blockheads, catapults to cars to colonial toys, children have been excited by the myriad possibilities at their disposal.

With creativity as practically its middle name, you wouldn't expect the Eli Whitney Museum to hold a run-of-the-mill traditional fundraiser.  After two decades, the Leonardo Challenge will now provide and provoke comments and enthusiasm as it offers "Uncharted Imagination" for new paths of discovery.

The ancient art of cartography, or map writing, will be given an infusion of imagination as the "material" from which one hundred artists from all over the country will be urged to make something novel and unconventional.  Each entry will be on display at the museum, revealed in all their unique glory, on Thursday, April 23 from 5:30 p.m. - 9 p.m. as part of the 21st Leonardo Challenge. The entries will continue to be on display, free and open to the public, for several weeks after the event.

Maps have been designed to chart land masses, the stars in the skies and the complexity of the seas.  Maps and Leonardo da Vinci are tied together.  While da Vinci is known for his endeavors as a mathematician, scientist, inventor, artist, sculptor, architect, musician and writer, he was also  well known as a cartographer, drawing maps for his elaborate engineering projects and even constructing a world map of the globe, naming the Americas, configuring the continents, with an ocean at the north pole and a continent at the south pole.

How fitting, therefore, that "uncharted imagination"is the  challenge for this year's artists who will use their unbridled directional senses to bloom with romantic flair.  The invitation, designed by Associate Director Sally Hill, is an artistic adventure for those willing to capture the whimsy and wisdom intricately trapped within its folds. For museum CEO and executive director Bill Brown, "maps are so ubiquitous that we take them for granted and not for what they are: a social architecture that connects us on many levels."

The evening will include the delicious spicy and crusty creations of the Big Green Pizza Trucks, the smooth flavorful cheeses of Caseus, the toothy and exotic breads and confections of Whole G's artisan bakers, the fresh and local offerings paired to the seasons from Small Kitchen, Big Taste, the around the globe liquid delights of Koffee's baristas and the Napa Valley spirits from Diageo Wines.

For reservations ($70, with additional levels of giving from $250-$2500), call the Eli Whitney Museum at 203-777-1833 (ask for Dana Clough) or online at www.eliwhitney.org.

What better way to support and encourage the budding child inventors of tomorrow, than by endowing the Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop projects today.

Monday, April 13, 2015

MUSIC WITH A MESSAGE: "I AM HARVEY MILK"


The music has a message and the Connecticut Gay Men's Chorus is the perfect group to deliver it.  You may know Harvey Milk and his unique story or you may be totally unfamiliar with this unlikely American hero.  Either way your life will be enriched for bearing witness to his life and works, his pride, his courage and his tragic death.

"I Am Harvey Milk," the concert oratorio composed by Andrew Lippa, celebrates the existence of this gay rights activist who spoke up and stepped out long before it was fashionable or safe to do so.  Milk was one of the pioneers and one of the first to hold public office in this country and announce his position with strength and courage, in the face of great opposition.

For two performances, the CGMC, in words, song and dance, will proclaim Harvey Milk's bravery as a political prophet, on Saturday, April 25 at 8 p.m. and on Sunday, April 26 at 4 p.m. at the Theatre at the Co-op, 117 College Street, New Haven.

Milk's life growing up in San Francisco, up to and including his sudden death at the hands of an assassin on the steps of San Francisco City Hall in 1978, will be captured in all its dramatic and heartfelt humanity.  This musical piece was commissioned by the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, with the Gay Men's Choruses in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Dayton, Denver, Twin Cities, Vancouver and Heartland.  It enjoyed its world premiere in San Francisco in June 2013 and later its New York premiere at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center in October 2014.

Incorporating a variety of musical styles, with a dozen stirring songs like "An Operatic Masterpiece," imagined by a young Harvey Milk about his future, "Lavender Pen" which celebrates the passage of San Francisco's gay rights bill and the exuberant "Friday Night at the Castro," complete with a giant mirrored disco ball that turns the stage into a grand night club scene.

The hour long oratorio is packed with musical punches as Milk's impact on the social and political stage is recounted in song and verse.  One of the most emotional moments of the show might be "I Am the Bullet" that traces the trajectory of one of the bullets that takes this folk hero down,  The concluding number "Tired of the Silence" soars to a triumphant arc and includes the words actually spoken by Harvey Milk at a gay rights parade.

"The piece shows how the man was, and continues to be, an inspiration; not only to gay people but all who have experienced oppression of some sort in their lives," according to Ken Sawicki, CGMC board member and singer, "It’s got a wonderful score that incorporates choral music with musical comedy touches and even disco! Ultimately it is a very uplifting experience to be singing it, and I think you’ll find it the same as an audience member. In addition to the Chorus, the CGMC version features some very talented soloists and for the first time since I've been a chorus member, a full orchestra, which make the show even more exciting!"

For tickets ($25-30), call the CGMC at 800-644-2462 (CGMC) or online at www.ctgmc.org.

Don't miss the New England premiere of "I Am Harvey Milk" described by Playbill as "a powerful night full of chill-inducing moments in drama and music." Be there to experience the musical tour-de-force!  Come out and be counted!

VICKI AND MAMA ARE COMING TO TOWN


After lacing up her sensible and sturdy oxford shoes, donning her prettiest floral house dress, covering her grey curls with a fashionable hairnet, Thelma Harper, better known as Mama, is ready to hit the road.  That old gal has been putting young whippersnappers in their place for decades so why should she slow down now.

Believe it or not, actress, singer and comedienne Vicki Lawrence has been giving Mama her way  as if she has a choice), sassy and cranky and just plain adorable, for four decades.  As part of her 40th anniversary tour, she will be appearing at the Palace Theater in Waterbury on Saturday, April 18 at 8 p.m. and you're invited to meet them "both" when Vicki Lawrence and Mama come a calling.

Lawrence's career got a giant jump start way back when this enterprising high school senior sent her idol Carol Burnett a letter noting their physical resemblance. She even invited the star to attend the local fire department's "Miss Fireball Contest" in which she was performing.  With a touch of serendipity, Ms. Burnett was looking for an actress to play her kid sister for a new variety show, she contacted Vicki, and the rest is the stuff legends are made of in show business land.  Vicki went to UCLA and simultaneously started a relationship with Carol on "The Carol Burnett Show" that lasted eleven years.

In a career that spans television talk shows and game show hosts, stage productions like "Carousel" and "Hello, Dolly," appearances on the Grand Ole Opry, promoting women's rights, performing for our military troops, supporting causes like D.A.R.E. and heart and women's cancers and even playing Miley Cyrus' grandma on "Hannah Montana," Vicki Lawrence has been a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment super circle.

Since 2002, she has focused her considerable talents on her one woman show "Vicki Lawrence and Mama, a Two Woman Show."  Prepare to laugh and be hugged to death by this talented star who credits Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman as her exclusive professors who guided her through the "Harvard school of comedy."

For tickets ($42-62), call the Palace Theater, 100 East Main Street, Waterbury at 203-346-2000 or online at www.palacetheaterct.com.

Come discover who has the sharpest and funniest tongue in the west, north, south and east when Mama brings her alter ego Vicki Lawrence to the Palace.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

FAIRFIELD GLEE CLUB PRESENTS "STAR SPANGLED SHOWCASE"




Grab a red, white and blue flag and wave it high when the oldest glee club at Fairfield University, numbering 130 voices strong, presents a stirring and patriotic "Star Spangled Showcase" at the Regina Quick Center for the Arts on campus. On Saturday, April 11 at 8 p.m., the Fairfield University Glee Club, that has been performing for almost seven decades, will delight audiences with Broadway favorites and patriotic tunes,.

Kicking off the celebration will be a tribute to the 250 year old classic of our country, the
"Star Spangled Banner."  What will follow is sure to please:  soaring songs like "On My Own" from "Les Miserables," "Don't Rain on My Parade" from "Funny Girl" and even a little stroll down "Avenue Q."

Featured performances by the full Glee Club, conducted by Carole Ann Maxwell, D.S.M. will be complemented by an all-male a cappella group The Bensonians, the all-female chamber group Sweet Harmony as well as The Chamber Singers.

As if that wasn't enough, there will be the world premiere of "But Now I See," scored for choir, soloists and percussion, composed by Robert Schwartz, class of 2016, as a medley of spirituals.  The piece begins with "Sign of the Judgment" and includes "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "Get Down Moses."

For tickets ($10, students $6), call the Quick Center Box Office at 203-254-4010 or 1-877-ARTS-396 or online at www.quickcenter.com.

The Fairfield University Glee Club has performed throughout Europe, singing in such prestigious places as Rome at the Vatican, Florence, London and Galway, as well as closer to home at Carnegie Hall, , the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and U.S. military academies at West Point and Annapolis.  To hear these strong and vibrant voices for yourself, just take a short trip to Fairfield University and the Quick Center and prepare to be wowed.

Monday, April 6, 2015

COME HEAR THE UNIQUE SOUNDS OF "brownsville song"

DEVINE (KAATJE WELSH) AND  BIG BROTHER TRAY (CURTISS COOK JR)
Random acts of violence are, unfortunately, so common that they rate a mere few lines of newspaper print or acknowledgement on air.  We are almost immune to their impact, giving them a momentary blink of time in noting their tragedy.  But to the families and friends intimately involved, lives change forever and the impact never disappears.

Thanks to playwright Kimber Lee, we are privy to the devastation of one such random act in her new play "brownsville song (b-side for tray) being showcased at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven until Sunday, April 19 on the Claire Tow Stage in the C. Newton Schenck III Theatre.

The Brownsville section of Brooklyn is the setting, but it could be Anywhere, U. S. A., where we first meet Lena, the strong matriarch of this splintered African-American family.  Catrina Ganey's masterful performance as Lena introduces us to her grandson Tray and she, reluctantly, begins his tale.  Tray, captured in the ambitious and hopeful hands of Curtiss Cook, Jr., is packed with promise.  He works hard in school, holds a part-time job at Starbucks and lovingly cares for his younger sibling Devine, a sweet but easily frightened Kaatje Welsh.

In addition, he is training for a Golden Glove championship boxing bout and is struggling to write a college essay that will secure him a much needed scholarship.  While Lena and Devine are the center of his world, Tray also deals with his friend (Anthony Martinez-Briggs) and his step-mom Merrill (Sung Yun Cho) who has suddenly reappeared in their lives after abandoning them due to her alcoholism and addictions.

This reliant young man, Tray, is killed, senselessly and tragically.  His life is explored, weaving a tapestry that goes back and forth between present and past.  Highlights of the production, which is co-produced with the Philadelphia Stage Company, are Lena's initial impassioned speech about the loss of her "man" Tray, the delightful dance between Devine, the "tree," and Tray, and the powerful essay Tray pens about who he is.  Eric Ting directs this moving and emotional literary piece, soaked in sorrow but saturated with a sense of salvation.

For tickets ($5-40), 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.

Discover how Tray Thompson becomes more than just a name in a story of his death, but a real person, a young man of  hope who keeps his own dreams
close to his heart and, ultimately, of yours.

SIT AND LISTEN TO "THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE"

         

 MONA GOLABEK AS "THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE"


Imagine you're sitting in an elegant and comfortable living room, listening to a piano concert of concertos by Grieg, Beethoven, Debussy, Liszt and Rachmaninoff.  The woman at the piano is a gifted musician and a captivating storyteller who fervently wants to pay tribute to her mother Lisa Jura by telling you her remarkable story of survival during the Holocaust.  Come meet the musically mesmerizing Mona Golabek who weaves a seamless tapestry of history, from her mother's youthful days in Vienna, where she is forced to flee from the Nazis, losing her family in the process.

Hershey Felder has adapted Mona Golabek's tale from her book written with Lee Cohen about the kindertransport, a train that spirited thousands of mostly Jewish children, fleeing for their lives, to safer ports in Europe during World War II.  In "The Pianist of Willesden Lane," the Hartford Stage is providing a unique opportunity until Sunday, April 26 for both lovers of inspiring theater and connoisseurs of beautiful music.

Although not trained as an actress, Mona Golabek dips stunningly into this story she knows intimately, portraying her mother Lisa from her childhood in Vienna, a city of dreams, her rescue from the Nazis on the kindertransport, her rocky survival in and around London in a variety of homes and hostels, most notably at 243 Willesden Lane, and how her piano playing helped her survive, even the terrors of dropping bombs.

The simple black and gold set designed by Trevor Hay and Hershey Felder is an artistic window for a grand Steinway piano to hold center court, while empty picture frames on the wall are filled with the images that portray Golabek's moving words.  She becomes all the figures in her mother's life, from her tearful farewell to her parents in 1938, her interactions with Mr. Hardesty who has so much influence on her fate in London, the stern but loving concern of Mrs. Cohen who takes her into her already crowded home and the young French soldier who hears her play the piano and is so eternally moved by her music.

Through her travels and travails, the skills taught to her by her parents, her father the tailor's sewing prowess and her mother's piano lessons, serve Lisa well.  Hershey Felder directs this emotionally entertaining epoch with spellbinding finesse.

For tickets ($25-85), call the Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street, Hartford at 860-527-5151 or online at www.hartfordstage.org.  Performances are Tuesday - 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. and occasional 7:30 p.m.

Part stirring piano concert, part moving true tale of a teenager, "The Pianist of Willesden Lane" is packed with all the love and respect and honor one daughter can gift to her mother.



Monday, March 30, 2015

ENTER THE CIRCLE OF FATE AND JUSTICE

THE JUDGE (STEVEN SKYBELL) AND GRUSKA (SHAUNETTE RENEE WILSON)
                    PHOTO BY CAROL ROSEGG

When the peasants revolt, the rulers often lose their heads.  In the fictional land of Grusinia, the Governor Abashvili (Max Gordon Moore) and his wife Natella (Brenda Meaney) are swept up in the revolution and in the ensuing fire and confusion their infant Michael is abandoned and lost to them.  Thanks to the quick thinking and compassion of a palace kitchen maid Grusha (Shaunette Renee Wilson) who values life, rather than Natella who puts her wardrobe above her son's well being, Michael is rescued and is taken on a journey of danger and risk.

Bertolt Brecht has penned this epic folk tale and courtesy of the Yale Repertory Theatre, you can be swept away in its all encompassing drama, in "The Caucasian Chalk Circle," until Saturday, April 11 at the University Theatre, 222 York Street, New Haven.

The political regime in Grusinia is being toppled and the Governor loses everything, up to and including his head.   With appreciation to the ever present and singing narrator/storyteller Azdak (Steven Skybell), we are privy to all the action, the disputes, the adventures, the conflicts, the battle of good versus evil and the struggle for justice.  This parable is long in the telling, but filled with amazing scenic designs and unique special effects, courtesy of Chika Shimizu, that make the odyssey more enjoyable, like melting icicles and a perilous trek across a foot bridge.

One moment Grusha is being wooed by the friendly soldier Simon (Jonathan Majors) and the next she is putting her own life at risk as she flees with the infant Michael in tow, trying to find a safe place for them to hide.  The blood thirsty Ironshirt soldiers are in swift pursuit.  All the turmoil has been set in motion by the Fat Prince, the Governor's brother, (Jesse J. Perez) who causes the coup.

After Grusha protects her "little burden," engaging in actions to unselfishly shield him, like marrying a man Yussep (Aubre Merrylees) on his death bed to give the baby a legitimate name, she finds herself in a court of law. Natella has returned to claim her son and the vast estates that are now his.  A large chalk circle is drawn to establish his true parentage and a crafty judge has the powers to sway the court's verdict.

Liz Diamond directs this well crafted tale with hints of humor sprinkled through the life threatening action, with original music by David Lang, musical direction by Daniel Schlosberg, in this work translated by James and Tania Stern and W. H. Auden.

For tickets ($20-99), call the Yale /Repertory Theatre at 203-432-1234 or online at www.yalerep.org.  Performances are Tuesday to Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and occasional Wednesdays at 2 p.m.

Come witness the drama of young Michael (Kourtney Savage and Fred Thornley IV) being placed in the center of the chalk circle in a true King Solomon moment in time.