Monday, September 26, 2011


Molly Sweeney has created a world for herself over the past four decades that is both comfortable and rewarding, even though she has been blind almost from birth. Her father has taught her, from the age of five, to identify every cornflower and iris, every spruce and oak, every parsley and chive from their garden, by smell and touch.  Her career as a massage therapist is emotionally and financially secure while vigorous walks and energetic swims are vital parts of her day. Surrounded by good friends and a husband Frank who love her, what more could Molly Sweeney want or need?

Playwright Brian Friel and the Irish Repertory Theatre invite you into the cocoon of life that Molly inhabits in “Molly Sweeney” at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre until Sunday, October 16.  You will long be haunted by your acquaintance with this Irish lass who is offered a gift she may not choose to open.

Simone Kirby as Molly will wrap herself around your heart as she describes her unsighted life as she knows it, filled with “red cheeky faced petunias,” swimming medals, dancing Irish jigs and a fierce independent spirit. Her husband Frank, a protective crusader in the hands of Ciaran O’Reilly, has a history of failed schemes, well meaning but unsuccessful attempts with whales, goats and salmon.  Now he has turned his efforts on Molly and fixated on the chance that her sight can be restored.

With careful research, Frank has latched upon an ophthalmologist, Mr. Rice, (Jonathan Hogan) who was once at the top of his medical game, who has the talents and skills to perform miracles.  Both Frank and Mr. Rice have much to gain by a successful surgery, achieving recognition and prestige.  But does Molly have more to gain or to lose by the operations?  Charlotte Moore directs this poignant tale that is told in a series of monologues, reflecting on the events from each point of view.

For tickets ($55-65), call Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven at 203-787-4282 or online at  Performances are Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., and selected Wednesdays at 2 p.m.

Get caught up in the profound drama of a young woman whose life changes with a husband’s prodding concern and a surgeon’s scalpel.


Those engaging Little Sisters of Hoboken are on the move again, thanks to playwright Dan Goggin, and they are kicking up their sturdy heels weekends until Saturday, October 22 at the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre in Berlin.  Dressed in their black and white simplicity, Mother Superior Mary Regina and her favorite quartet of sisters want to entertain you and they are willing to pull out all the stops to showcase their talents.

In “Nunsense,” the good sisters have to solve a sticky problem:  how to bury the last four nuns, victims originally numbering 52, who were accidentally poisoned by Sister Julia, Child of God, in a bad soup incident.  When the sisters ran out of burial fees, they stuck the last four nuns in the freezer and now the New Jersey Board of Health is on the way for an inspection.

What can the Little Sisters do, after they panic, but put on a fundraising party, a variety show, to raise the much needed funds.
To that end, Mother Superior (Lousie DeChesser), who once was a tight rope walker in the circus, is calling upon all her theatrical skills.  She is mobilizing the talents of the Sister Mary Hubert (Joanne Callahan-Rhoor), the second-in-command who oversees the novices, to “Tackle That Temptation with a Time Step.”  For the budding ballerina Sister Mary Leo (Jessica DeMaio) who dedicates the dance to God, it’s the sweet and sentimental thoughts conjured up with “Lilacs Bring Back Memories.”

For Sister Amnesia (Lola Elliott Hugh), who lost her memory when a crucifix fell on her head, it’s using her best friend, the puppet, Sister Marionette, and giving a lesson on joining the convent for the trio of benefits:  poverty, chastity and obedience.  Last, but not forgotten, is Sister Robert Anne (Kristin Ceneviva) who grew up as a troubled kid in Brooklyn and is the perpetual understudy for the cast.  Until, that is, an accident sidelines the Reverend Mother and Sister Robert Anne gets to belt out “I Just Want to Be a Star.”

Between the religious quizzes, the cooking lessons from the B. V. M. (Blessed Virgin Mary), the country singing sessions, a quick trip to the drive-in movie, the show under the fine direction of Kris McMurray, will prove that “Nunsense is (delightfully) Habit Forming.”

For tickets ($30), call the CT Cabaret, 31-33 Webster Square Road, Berlin, exit 22 off route 9, at 860-829-1248  or online at  Performances are Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m., but come early, doors open at 7:15 p.m., and bring snacks to share at your table.  Desserts and drinks are also available for purchase on site. 

Discover the humor of the nun, complete with clackers and rulers, to make sure you sit up straight, are respectful and, most of all, have a great time.

Monday, September 19, 2011


Book lovers, start your engines!  It’s time to reserve your front row seat, or any seat in the house, at Woolsey Hall in New Haven for a special treat:  a chance to meet and greet three superb authors in the world of first class writing today:  Jodi Picoult, David Baldacci and John Grisham.

This trio of top flight writers will be gathered for one great event on Wednesday, October 19 at 8 p.m. for “Mark My Words,” with Malaak Compton-Rock as moderator, who is an author in her own right, a public speaker, an advocate for many charities and causes and the wife of comedian Chris Rock.  Don’t miss this unique program, a fundraiser for the Mark Twain House and Museum. The Mark Twain House and Museum is dedicated to the author who wrote many of his most beloved works, including "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" while living in the now fully restored Hartford home.  He resided at 351 Farmington Avenue, Hartford with his family from 1874 to 1891 and the house is now a National Historic Landmark, open for viewing.  Go to for more information.

With a writing career that began in 1992, Jodi Picoult is known for penning books about medical and ethical issues, in such a way that even a King Solomon would have difficulty balancing the scales of justice.  She writes in many voices, alternating chapters as she views an issue from a mother, father, child, attorney or friend’s perspective.  Her novels often have a surprising twist in them, that catches her off-guard herself. “I know the beginning and the end but I don’t know the path it will take and, oh my god, I am often taken by surprise.”  Her characters “arrive in my head and I get paid to hear their voices.  I see them.  It’s organic.  But they make decisions on their own and I can’t stop them.”

 Picoult knew she was going to be a writer in fourth grade when a teacher she “really hopes is dead now” assigned that dreaded “what did you do over summer vacation?”  She wrote from the point of view of the piano she practiced on every day and got an “F” for her efforts.  Her mother had her teacher changed and she went on to get degrees from Princeton and Harvard.  She wrote her first novel “Songs of the Humpback Whale” while pregnant with her first child.

 Her novels, eighteen to date, have been translated into thirty-four languages, in thirty-five countries.  Her latest “Sing You Home” was released this March and is about Zoe, a music therapist, and the issue of gay rights.  It is accompanied by a CD of music and songs to be played with each chapter.  Most of her books take nine months to produce, much like the gestation of a baby.  Picoult admits to being a New Hampshire farm girl who “writes as a mom and wants to do justice (to her characters) and give them a voice…When I write, I am writing for me, a story I need to tell, not for my readers.  I want to ring true as a storyteller.”

 Picoult considers her books “a love letter to New England…to celebrate small towns and that charming lifestyle.”  She once complained to her mother that she had no anguish, drama or incest in her life so how could she become a writer?  She realized quickly that she couldn’t write what she knew because she “knew absolutely nothing.”  Lucky for her readers she successfully tweaked that axiom into “write what I am willing to learn.”  As Jodi Picoult has learned and researched, her readers are the beneficiaries of books that are heartwarming, thought-provoking and excellent reads.

 Thanks to that fourth grade harridan, the teacher who by giving a young and precocious Jodi Picoult an “F,” and set her on a writing career path to inspired greatness.  Let’s hear it for talking pianos everywhere.

A Virginian by birth, David Baldacci has served as both a corporate and trial attorney as well as authoring nineteen adult novels, two novels for young adults, seven original screen plays and numerous articles for newspapers and magazines. 

As a writer of mysteries and political thrillers, Baldacci scours our nation’s Capitol for intrigue and conspiracies and secret missions but he can travel internationally as well. Just start turning pages of “Split Second,” “Simple Genius,” “First Family” and “Hell’s Corner” for vivid characterizations and plots that will keep you up late into the night on Washington politics and their inner workings or “The Whole Truth” that puts Balducci at the world’s door for suspense.

His latest release “The Sixth Man” reunites his favorite team-up of Sean King and Michelle Maxwell as they try to help an attorney assure the release of an alleged serial killer.  When the attorney is found murdered, King and Maxwell find themselves in an all-out chase to find the truth.  The confrontation they face can have dire consequences for their partnership.

Baldacci who graduated from law school and practices law within the shadows of the White House naturally gravitated to Washington as a source for many of his novels.  In an interview, he remarked,” It’s sort of an energetic place; it just seemed like a lot of fodder.  I like to call Washington the only place that can raise your federal income tax and declare war.  It just seemed like there were a lot of story ideas from there.”

An Arkansas boy who dreamed of being a professional baseball player, John Grisham took accounting at college, graduated law school, practiced a decade in personal injury and criminal defense and then served in the state House of Representatives in Mississippi.

His career as a writer took root when he heard a twelve-year old rape victim give testimony in the courthouse and imagined what might have happened if the girl’s father had taken justice into his own hands.  For three years he got up at 5 a.m. to write what resulted in “A Time to Kill.”

This avocation suddenly became a new career when he penned a tale about an eager young attorney whose perfect law practice is anything but in ”The Firm,” which was soon followed by “The Pelican Brief” and “The Client.”  As a master of the legal thriller, Grisham now writes one novel a year, all international bestsellers, translated into 29 languages, nine of which have made their way to the big screen.

Soon to be released, one week after the talk at Woolsey Hall, is “The Litigators,” a juicy tale of a small, select law firm of two, Oscar Finley and Wally Figg (think the Odd Couple) who stumble onto a potential legal goldmine.  They will attach themselves with a few clients to a class action lawsuit against a wealthy producer of a cholesterol drug that causes heart attacks and come away rich or will they?  Follow the theatrical legalese as this “boutique law firm” tries to enter the big time.

For tickets ($25, 45 and  65), call 888-736-2663 or 203-562-5666, go to the Shubert Theatre box office or online at  Woolsey Hall is 500 College Street, at the corner of Grove Street in New Haven.  A book signing with all three authors will take place that morning from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at The Study at Yale Hotel, 1157 Chapel Street, New Haven.  Only books purchased at R. J. Julia Books in Madison can be signed.

Be inspired  as these much admired writers talk about Mark Twain and their own adventures with pen and ink.

Monday, September 12, 2011


No need to hop aboard a time travel machine courtesy of H. G. Wells, a trip of nostalgic note has already been arranged by the Downtown Cabaret Theatre of Bridgeport.  For one weekend only, Saturday and Sunday, September 17 and 18, you can revisit the glory days of two legendary rhythm and blues and rock and roll groups when The Ink Spots and The Mills Brothers take the stage.

The Ink Spots were a popular vocal group of the 1930’s and 1940’s who still have a place in our musical hearts today.  They, along with The Mills Brothers, were black vocal groups who defined their times, paving the path from rhythm and blues to rock and roll, with more than a nodding acknowledgement to doo-wop.

Originally hailing from Indianapolis, Indiana, their name changed from “The Four Riff Brothers” to “King, Jack and Jester” to become “The Four Ink Spots” at the suggestion of bandleader Paul Whiteman in 1934.

Known for their “natural instinct for hot rhythm” according to Melody Maker, their first big hit was “If I Didn’t Care,” followed quickly by “Address Unknown,” “Java Jive,” “I Can’t Stand Loving You,” “Cow-Cow Boogie” and “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire.”  The Ink Spots were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 and into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999.

The last original member of the group, Charley Fuqua of New Haven died in 1971.  Ray Richardson has kept the music of the legendary group alive for the last forty years.  According to Richardson, the group added talking parts in the middle of the songs, so you could say The Ink Spots were the first “Rappers.”
Elvis Presley said he copied The Ink Spots when he spoke a chorus in “Are You Lonesome Tonight.”  This current assemblage in addition to Ray Richardson includes lead singers Ervin Payne and Leroy Harris and second tenor Doyle Jones.

Inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998 and the recipient of a Grammy for Lifetime Achievement that same year, The Mills Brothers can boast at least three dozen gold records, 2000 recordings and over 50 million copies sold. As an American jazz and pop vocal group, they began in Ohio in the late 1920’s as the “Four Kings of Harmony.” Their early signature sound was their imitation of musical instruments, which grew out of an incident at an amateur talent contest when they discovered, while on stage, that their kazoo was lost.

Under the leadership of John Mills, the son and grandson and nephew of the original group’s members, the magic continues with the addition of Elmer Hopper, who spent over two decades with the legendary Platters.  Their parade of hits includes “Tiger Rag,” “Cab Driver,” “Glow Worm,” “Lazy River,” “Paper Doll,” “Yellow Bird” and “Basin Street Blues,” among many others.

For tickets to “Magic Moments” ($39.50-59.50), call the Downtown Cabaret Theatre, 263 Golden Hill Street, Bridgeport at 203-576-1636 or online at www.,  Performances are Saturday, September 17 at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday, September 18 at 5 p.m. Don’t forget to bring goodies to share at your table.

Stroll down memory lane with these two legendary groups for thousands of “magic moments.”

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Few families can lay claim to having a greater influence on the history of musical theater more than the Hammersteins.  Their unique legacy that changed the course of theatrical productions has been encapsulated and captured beautifully by Oscar Andrew Hammerstein when he writes about his great grandfather Oscar I and his grandfather Oscar II in his fascinating new book “The Hammersteins A Musical Theatre Family.”

Theater lovers and history buffs alike will treasure this influential saga that bursts with anecdotes, theater trivia and photos of a family who created Times Square, literally building the theaters that would become Broadway.

When a poor sixteen year old immigrant boy landed on America’s shores from Germany in 1864, no one could have predicted the course his life would take or the imprint his decisions would make that are evident to this day.  Oscar I started as a lowly sweeper at a cigar factory and through hard work and ingenuity created patents that would revolutionize that industry and provide him the dollars to finance his true love: opera.

This “wide-awake young gentleman” was soon buying land in Harlem and building theaters to showcase his theatrical love.  As a larger than life impresario, in addition to his skills as an inventor, builder, editor, writer, promoter and dreamer, he let his passion for opera drive his ambitions, even it it took him to the poor house.

The traditions he started where carried on by his sons Arthur and Willy as their theater legacy took root.  Whether it was in buildings or in talented acts they promoted,  their contributions to the theatrical stage cannot be questioned.  The grand heritage continued with Oscar II who, despite promising his father on his death bed he wouldn’t choose theater as his calling, found the lure too great to resist.

Imagine a world without Oscar II’s lyrics in such monumental classics as “Show Boat,” “Carousel,” “South Pacific,” “The Sound of Music,” “Oklahoma!” or “The King and I.”  A promise to his dying father Willy aside, Oscar II could not deny his fascination for the stage.  Partnering with Jerome Kern and Richard Rodgers, among others, would lead to masterpieces of musical theater that have not been seen before or since. He also mentored a young Stephen Sondheim and set him on his path in the world they both loved.

Rich in family history, on and off the stage, with family recollections only a grandson or great grandson could be privy to, “The Hammersteins A Musical Theatre Family” does justice to their incredible story, “ a book that connects the creative continuum.” (Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers $35.00).  The author spoke recently at Goodspeed in an event sponsored by Essex Meadows,  a retirement community in Essex,  sharing insights on his personal history.

There is still time to see one of Oscar II’s crowning achievements in “Show Boat” at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam until Saturday, September 17. For tickets ($28 and up), call the Goodspeed Musicals, on the Connecticut River in East Haddam at 860-873-8668 or online at  Performances are Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and on select days at 2 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.  and select days at 6:30 p.m. The song “Ol’ Man River”  is a “transformative moment in theater.”

Prepare to be swept along in the grand family tradition that makes the Hammerstein name synonymous with American musical greatness.


 Singer and performer Enzo Boscarino celebrated the 150th anniversary of Italian Unification with a musical tour of some of his favorite regions of Italy.   A ride through the Italian countryside with Enzo Boscarino, originally of Siracusa, was a wonderful serenade and sing-along for all who attended the event August 31st at the New Haven Library.  It was a great send-off if you are planning a trip to Italy like my good friends Phyllis and Stephanie!


Hauntingly frightening, with characters who will be seared in your memory for ages, you will quickly be caught up in the morbid fascination of Tennessee Williams’ drama set in 1935 New Orleans:  “Suddenly Last Summer.”  Westport Country Playhouse will be casting light on this absorbing play until Saturday, September 10 in honor of the centennial of the playwright.

As chilling as the frozen daiquiri drink that the formidable Mrs. Violet Venable sips every evening precisely at five o’clock, “Suddenly Last Summer” explores the death of her beloved and cherished son Sebastian.  A sensitive poet, Sebastian was a traveler who sought inspiration from his foreign adventures which he took with his mother every year.  Annilee Jeffries is fiercely protective as Mrs. Venable.

When his mother suffers a stroke, he selects his cousin Catherine, an emotionally provocative Liv Rooth, as his new traveling companion.  When they are in Cabeza de Lobo, Spain, Sebastian uses Catherine, just as he previously employed his mother, as a lure to attract the boys he wishes to procure for sexual favors.  An incident at a restaurant one hot scorching day results in a gang of hungry, poverty-stricken boys to turn on Sebastian and chase him.  When they catch him, he is literally torn apart and cannibalized.

Now in the garden of Violet Venable’s wealthy home, Catherine is being interrogated by Dr. Cukrowicz (Lee Aaron Rosen).  She alone knows the true story of Sebastian’s death and Mrs. Venable will go to any lengths to prevent the truth from surfacing, even if it means having Catherine lobotomized.

As witnesses to the doctor’s questioning, Catherine’s mother (Charlotte Maier), brother (Ryan Garbayo), a nun (Tina Stafford) and Mrs. Venable’s secretary (Susan Bennett) serve as an audience, as Catherine reveals, under a truth serum, what actually happened suddenly last summer.  David Kennedy directs this gripping drama.

For tickets ($35-60), call the Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, off route 1, Westport at 203-227-4177, 1-888-927-7529 or online at  Performances are Tuesday at 8 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., and Saturday at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Immerse yourself in the intrigue that surrounds the legacy of a perceptive poet as written by his matriarch, even if it has no resemblance to the truth.