Wednesday, December 31, 2014

ENTER THE STRANGE WORLD OF "THE ELEPHANT MAN"

Being labeled a freak of nature or a side show spectacle has to be a devastating judgment by society.  People are too quick to pronounce opinions and accept prejudices, assuming an air of superiority so they can look down their pointed noses in disdain.

Imagine being born Joseph Merrick and being stricken at birth with a debilitating skin disease that distorts and disfigures.  Is anything close to a normal life possible?  Do you spend years trapped in a workhouse or a mental institution?  Do you allow yourself to be put on display in a circus world of oddities?

Meet "The Elephant Man" by Bernard Pomerance currently playing at the Booth Theatre, 222 west 45th Street, New York City until February 15.  Bradley Cooper has crawled into Joseph Merrick's skin, inhabiting all his problems and phobias, absorbing his personality and patterns of speech, capturing his unique walk, adopting his life qualities.  His performance is remarkable as he becomes his character in 1001 vital and distinguished ways.

When the play opens, Merrick has been "rescued" by Dr. Treves (Alessandro Nivola), who oversees his care and treatment, providing him with a semblance of normalcy for the first time in forever.  He introduces him to a lady of refinement and breeding, an actress, Mrs. Kendal (Patricia Clarkson) who treats Merrick as an equal, as a human being of value, as a man.

With a taste of what life could be, Merrick sees what he might have been if not for his disease.  That reality is both a blessing and a curse, a certainty that is ultimately too much for him to accept.  Scott Ellis directs this glimpse in time, this painful and poignant portrait of a man who has little to no control over his destiny.

For tickets ($158 and up), call 212-239-6200 or online at ElephantManBroadwaycom or Telecharge.com.  Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.

Let Bradley Cooper assume the persona of Joseph Merrick so brilliantly that you personally feel all his trials and triumphs.

CURIOUS PLAY INTRIGUES VIEWERS IN ITS APPROACH



"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" may be the most wildly different, imaginative, remarkable and disturbingly emotional play you will ever experience.  You don't just see the play, you feel it.  You are a witness and a participant in the engaging action that swirls around a 15 year old teen with autism, Christopher Boone.  The Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th Street, New York City has been transformed into a mathematical cube of lights and directions to accommodate Christopher's unusual world.

Alex Sharp's Christopher is capable of amazing mind shattering revelations.  Sharp invites you, the audience, into his vastly different views of reality and lets you hang on to his coattails for a bumpy and unbelievable ride.  Based on a book by Mark Haddon, it has crossed the pond from London in the form of a new play by Simon Stephens.

How disturbing is it to discover a neighbor's dog has died...not just died, but murdered?  What if you are then suspected of committing that heinous act?  Christopher Boone determines that he must clear his own name and learn who the real culprit is.

That decision takes him on a disturbing and frightening journey.  In his autistic world, many things are too difficult for him to comprehend.  Anything new is scary, being touched is an anathema, loud noises are disorienting.  With a resilence that is almost beyond his ken, Christopher sets off on an odyssey worthy of Ulysses, a young detective determined to uncover the truth.  With resources he didn't even realize he possessed, he leaves the safety and ordered life he has always known, to go on a grand and dangerous and mysterious adventure.  Along the way, he encounters teachers, subway and train conductors, policemen and an assortment of strangers who aide or abort his mission.  Marianne Elliot direct this theatrical revelation into the mind.

For tickets ($36.45-403.65), call Telecharge at 212-239-6200 or online at Telecharge.com or CuriousOnBroadway.com.  Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.

Follow Christopher on his journey of discovery, one that is unexpectedly shocking and totally unanticipated.

Monday, December 29, 2014

SOAR WITH "PIPPIN" INTO A WORLD OF CIRCUS AND DISCOVERY



    LUCIE ARNEZ AS BERTHE, PHOTO BY TERRY SHAPIRO

You may feel compelled to take an acrobatics class, try balancing on a giant ball, jumping through a high flying hoop or practicing for a knife-throwing act before heading off to the Bushnell Performing Arts Center in Hartford to see the all-new circus-inspired production of "Pippin."  Now four decades after it was originally composed by Stephen Schwartz, with book by Roger O. Hirson, it has been re-imagined by Diane Paulus and transformed into a three ring circus of spectacular pageantry.

From Tuesday, January 6 to Sunday, January 11, the Bushnell will be afire with color and high flying hi-jinxs as it tells the incredible tale of a young, naive sweet and innocent prince Pippin who desperately wants to follow his destiny.  He is ready and willing to leave the home he knows, as the privileged son of King Charlemagne, to seek adventure and a life of meaning.

Kyle Dean Massey is the vulnerable and impressionable lad who wants to soar like an eagle and fly free, hoping to find his "corner of the sky."
Not content with the small life he feels he is trapped in, he seeks change and experiences.  Sasha Allen, with top hat and cane, plays the Leading Player, the temptress/narrator who has the power to control the directions and misdirections that Pippin pursues.

Along the way, Pippin will encounter the advice and counsel, both good and bad, from his father Charles, a role played by John Rubinstein who was the original Pippin in 1972, Sabrina Harper as his step-mother Fastrada, Kristin Reese as Catherine, a woman who has the power to heal and Lucie Arnez as Berthe, his grandmother.  This production began long, long ago as an after-school project by Stephen Schwartz, whie he attended college.  Called "Pippin, Pippin," it was originally an historical melodrama.  These first seeds have taken root and blossomed into the wildly different and fantastic fable it is today.

Noted for sensational songs like "Magic To Do," "Corner of the Sky," "Glory," "No Time At All," "Morning Glow" and "Love Song," it is sure to astonish and amaze.  For tickets ($21-80), call the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Avenue, Hartford at 860-987-5900 or online at www.bushnell.org. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

With the Montreal-based circus company Les 7 doigts de la main (7 Fingers), prepare to soar in spirit and spectacle in a colorful creation of music and magic.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

“WHITE CHRISTMAS” A DELIGHTFUL HOLIDAY GIFT






Do you have room on your holiday wish list?  If so, be sure to add the Shubert Theatre's delightful present of "Irving Berlin's White Christmas."  Just in time to usher in the New Year, it will play from Tuesday, December 30 to Sunday, January 4 and what better way to begin 2015. In 1954, “White Christmas” was made into a movie of the same name starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. Now it is coming to the stage in all its sentimental glory, with book by David Ives and Paul Blake.

Irving Berlin, the immigrant son of a Russian cantor, wrote a significant portion of America’s Songbook.  Capable of composing one song, music and lyrics, every day, he would begin writing at 8 p.m. and frequently continue until 4 or 5 in the morning.  Ironically, Berlin, a Jew, is credited with two of the greatest holiday songs, “Easter Parade” and the world favorite “White Christmas,” as well as with the grand patriotic anthem “God Bless America.”

The stirring musical, “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” is set when the world was struggling with the repercussions of World War II. It tells the tale of two charming and talented soldiers, James Clow as Bob Wallace and Jeremy Benton as his pal Phil Davis, who enjoy entertaining the troops with a holiday variety show.  This song-and-dance team continues their act after the war and meet up with a singing sister duo, Kristen Beth Williams as Betty Haynes and Kaitlyn Davidson as her sister Judy.  About to part company, the guys heading to Florida to work and the girls going north, a swift change of train tickets finds all four at an inn in Vermont for Christmas.

A lack of snowfall, a need for guests, a little romance, an avalanche of singing and dancing and a reunion with General Waverly, played by Conrad John Schuck, from their army days all combine into a whirlwind of fun. Songs like "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep," "Sisters," "Blue Skies" and "White Christmas" are all guaranteed crowd pleasers.

The show is a big movie musical that will make you feel good and smile throughout.  It was originally written when the country was in bad shape and needed to feel better and be entertained, a situation not so different today.


For tickets ($15-110), call the Shubert Theatre, 247 College Street, New Haven at 203-562-5666 or online at www.shubert.com. Performances are Tuesday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, New Year's Eve at 8 p.m., Thursday New Year's Day at 1 p.m. Friday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.,  Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

End your 2014 on a high note or start 2015 with a bang by making the Shubert Theatre your stepping off point for a joyous holiday celebration with enough music and dance to fill an inn in Vermont to the brim of entertainment.

Monday, December 22, 2014

GOODSPEED FESTIVAL: A DEFINITE CURE FOR WINTER BLUES


    PHOTOS OF LAST YEAR'S FESTIVAL BY DIANE SOBOLEWSKI

Do you dread winter?  The cold, the ice, the snow, the inconvenience?  What if I said there was an antidote...an oasis in time that is meant to counteract all the blahs of January.  Unbelievable? Impossible? Well, abandon your snow shovels and head to Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam for a hearty weekend dose of pure sunshine and fun.

From Friday to Sunday, the weekend of January 16-18, the Tenth Annual Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals will be aching to serenade you with stirring selections of brand new works.  Check in at Goodspeed, on the Connecticut River, for one to three days of never been seen or heard before musical works.  Staged readings will take place on all three days and you can bear witness to the "births." A cadre of talented students from the Hartt School of Music and the Boston Conservatory of Music will delight you with their skills and performance.

On Friday, January 16 at 7:30 p.m., "Outlaws" will debut, with book by James Presson and music and lyrics by Alexander Sage Oyen, directed by Noah Himmelstein.  Enter the Old West and travel aways with Jesse James and his brother in crime Frank as they take matters and the law into their own hands.  Are they reckless villains or is there a smidgen of salvation in their souls?  A Friday night cabaret of new tunes by Festival composers will follow at the Gelston House next door at 10 p.m.

Saturday, January 17 features a full day, starting at 10 a.m., of seminars, a musical preview of a Norma Terris show, a musical theatre symposium, a festival dinner at the Gelston House or at La Vita, the new musical and another cabaret at the Gelston House. To date, the seminars include author Jennifer Ashley speaking about her new book "The Untold Stories of Broadway: Volume Two"  and set designer Paul Tate dePoo revealing the secrets to detailing the varied sets of "Guys and Dolls" in his talk "How Do They Do That?"

 The new musical at 7:30 p.m. at Goodspeed will be "The Noteworthy Life of Howard Barnes," with book and lyrics by Christopher Dimond and music by Michael Kooman.  What would happen if you woke up one day and discovered your life was a musical?  Could you handle the songs and satire, the love, lyrics and laughter?  Ask Howard Barnes and he'll tell you what it's like in great detail.

On Sunday, January 18, come early at 11 a.m. to tour the new state-of-the-art Cynthia Kellogg Barrington Costume Center that houses over 250,000 costumes, enough to clothe more than two dozen Broadway shows.  At 1 p.m., view the third musical preview "For Tonight," with book by Whitney Rhodes, Spencer Williams and Shenelle Williams and music and lyrics by Shenelle Williams and Spencer Williams.  A trio of siblings, Thomas, Hayden and Nettie, have their insulated lives in a tiny Welsh village rocked off its foundation when their parents die of a mysterious illness.  This Indie-rock/folk score will follow Hayden as he travels, guitar in hand, to Liverpool to discover the wide worlds he's never known. There he finds a woman Mirela, who speaks to his searching soul.

The Festival will conclude at 3:30 p.m. at the Gelston House with a Meet the Writers Reception, when all the composers will speak to their creative process.  Single tickets to events are $20, students $15, while two packages are available, the Gold for $99 that includes almost all events and the Silver for $65, that includes all three staged readings, the symposium and the new musical preview.  Call 860-873-8668 for tickets or go online to www,goodspeed.org.  Don't wait as this is sure to sell out.

Forget the winter blues and blahs and let Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals light your way through the storm.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

DINNER THEATER FUN IS COMING TO CONSIGLIO'S

Ever feel like you could be a great Sherlock Holmes or one of television's master sleuths like on "C.S.I.," "Bones," "The Mentalist" or "Castle"?  Many of us love to dissect clues (not bodies) and evaluate alibis, get inside the head of the killer and discover who-dunnit.  Consiglio's Restaurant on Wooster Street in New Haven, known for fine Italian cuisine for over seventy-five years, is offering a plethora of opportunities to get out your magnifying glass and finger print kits to dust for evidence with a bevy of murder mystery and dinner events.

Just in time for Christmas, our favorite Detective Chester Hadlyme is dapper and chipper and eager to get on the case of "Something Elfy."  How could a mischievous elf cause someone to commit murder or be murdered himself?  Upcoming shows are Tuesday, December 16 at 7 p.m. and Thursday, December 18 at 7 p.m. and come complete with an outrageously delicious 3-course feast Italiano.  Interactive comedy is on the menu as the cast mixes and mingles at your table dropping napkins and clues for your investigative pleasure.

Ring those bells to signal the New Year 2015 and let Consiglio's and its magical master of ceremonies Michael Sayers help you usher out 2014 on New Year's Eve.  Starting promptly at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, December 31, the festivities will end at midnight with a champagne toast.  On the agenda is another mystery murder "That Kills Another Year!"  What happens when a trio of women all make a  date and discover it's all with the same man?  The results might be messy!

Your menu for the evening will feature a choice of five appetizers including spicy Tuscan shrimp, grilled jumbo shrimp over a bed of white beans simmered with tomato, garlic, onion and a hint of cayenne or Stuffed Mushrooms, with sausage, roasted red peppers, spinach, mozzarella cheese, drizzled with a garlic lemon butter sauce.  Out of the ten entrees, you might select New York Strip Steak Gorgonzola, an 8 oz. steak topped with sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts in brandy gorgonzola sauce, served with herbed roasted potatoes or homemade Lobster Ravioli with Shrimp, ravioli stuffed with fresh lobster meat and ricotta, served with jumbo shrimp, tossed in a light plum tomato cream sauce.

For dessert, sink your taste buds into a choice of three:  Godiva Tiramisu, mascarpone, espresso and Godiva liquor soaked lady fingers, or Strawberry Napoleon, layers of fresh strawberries and whipped cream in flaky pastry or Chocolate Mousse Cake, a creamy and chocolatey confection with Oreo cookie crust.  Tickets ($65) include the show and 3-course meal, with beverage, tax and gratuity not included.

Start you January off to an exciting start by making a reservation for "Murder on the Menu" on Friday, January 23, 2015 when our trusty Detective Hadlyme tries to solve another mystery, with your help.  Millionaire Sir David Fairchild is celebrating a birthday but not all the guests on the invitation list want him to enjoy good health in the future.  Doors open at 6 p.m and the show starts at 7 p.m.  The 3-course dinner and show are $55.

For reservations to any of these special evenings, call Consiglio's Restaurant, 165 Wooster Street, New Haven at 203-865-4489 or online at www.consiglios.com.

If you haven't experienced the delicious joys of Consiglio's, seventy-six years of excellence in dining, now is a fine time to sign up for special treats as 2014 ends and 2015 begins.  Mangia!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM THE RANDAZZOS TO YOU


Mark Holleran, Paul Hatrick, Barbara Brown, Beth Bria, Tracey Marble, Peter Randazzo

For more than two decades, the talented husband and wife team of Peter and Karen Randazzo have been entertaining audiences all over the state of Connecticut, even through New England, and Christmas is their favorite time of the year.  This time around is no exception and you can follow their merry trail of tunes in a trio of locations:  Cinzano's in Fairfield, Michael's at the Grove (formerly Capellaro's) in Bethel and Adam's Mill in Manchester.

"Christmas in the Air" will feature an old-fashioned dinner theater atmosphere with luncheon and evening performances, with a delicious four-course meal punctuated by rousing musical comedy sketches centered on the holidays.  Way back in 1987, the shows were held at the Spinning Wheel Inn in Redding, conceived by Robert Butler who desired a Christmas play designed around a medieval feast.

This year's offering features two different casts from Steppin' Out Entertainment, written and directed by Karen Randazzo.  Entitled "Good Day Ludlow's Christmas Special," the show captures the spirit of the day with a sprinkle of sweetness, the embrace of love, the joy of laughter and a hearty helping of family togetherness.  Discover what happens when the cast and crew of a show prepare to go on but their guest host has yet to appear.  All the songs sung in glorious harmony will warm your heart and make the holidays glow.

For tickets (prices and menu vary by locations, $48-69, and include meal, show, tax and tip), call for reservations to 203-261-4868 or online at www.thechristmasshow.org.  Upcoming shows are Friday, December 19 at 7 p.m. at Cinzanos, 1920 Black Rock Turnpike, Fairfield, Saturday, December 20 at 12:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Adam's Mill, 165 Adams Street Manchester and 7 p.m. at Cinzano;s, Sunday, December 21 at 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. at Cinzano's and 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. at Michael's  at the Grove,(formerly Capellaro's) 42 Vail Road, Bethel.  On Saturday, December 27 there is a snow day if needed at Cinzano's at 7 p.m.  To view the menu, calendar, prices and directions, go to www.thechristmasshow.org.

Let the Randazzos dazzle you with a fine array of Christmas stories and songs while you dine elegantly on a holiday feast.  What could say "Merry Christmas" more delightfully and deliciously!

Monday, December 15, 2014

"ALTAR BOYZ" SIMPLY DIVINE


When divine and devout meet irreverent and inspiring, the sinfully spectacular song fest that results is sure to lift you high enough to visit the angels in heaven.  For almost a decade, five young men have been plying pious pop tunes to the populace, encouraging salvation and the abandonment of sinful ways.  In need of being saved, let Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham (the token Jew) cleanse your soul and polish it up for a perfect shine.

"Altar Boys" has been engaging in seriously light hearted fun using parody and song, laughter and dance, to convince people to reform.  Now Playhouse on Park in West Hartford is opening its gospel revival meeting hall for conversions and baptisms until Sunday, December 21. Come and have the spirit move you with Mark G Merritt as Matthew, Brandon Beaver as Mark, Adam Cassel as Abraham, Greg Laucella as Juan and Nick Bernardi as Luke raise the rafters and fill the joint with joy.

As a spoof of boy bands and Christian-themed music, it focuses on one group band in Ohio who get the chance to spin their spiel for the big Time in New York City.  It's the final concert of their "Raise the Praise" tour and these guys are primed and ready to take the audience straight to the Promised Land.  They even have a Soul Sensor DX-2 right on stage with them to measure all the souls who have been redeemed.

This musical comedy is based on a book by Kevin Del Aguila, with music and lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, conceived by Marc Kessler and Ken Davenport. In order to prove it's cool to be Catholic, these guys hear the messages from Jesus on their cell phones, faxes, emails and beepers.  They mean to convince you God is making a comeback and they are filled to the brim with love and forgiveness and the value of family.  Kyle Brand directs and choreographs this foot-stomping tribute to the big guy upstairs, with all its heavenly harmonies set to hold court in your head and heart.

For tickets ($35-45), call Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford at 860-523-5900, ext. 10 or boxoffice@PlayhouseOnPark.org. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. (with talk back with cast).

Let this male Hallelujah chorus convince you to be a believer. Sunday school is now in session.

COME TO EARLENE'S DINER FOR A HOLIDAY SHOW


A blizzard packed with ice and snow is not the best invitation to the holidays. If you have plans, the storm can be a major inconvenience.  For Earlene Babcock, the inclement weather is throwing a fireplace andiron into her Christmas plans.  It's Christmas Eve and the long awaited night of the 50th Annual St Francis Christmas Variety Show and this year it's scheduled to be broadcast on television.  What can a body do if you're snowed in with nowhere to go without a dog sled of huskies or Santa's sleigh?

For Earlene Babcock, the owner of Earlene's Diner, it's time to change the menu and be an inventive chef.  With a little ingenuity and creativity, this sassy and savvy lady will transform her diner/motel into the site of the Christmas Variety Show.  If you're snowed in with her, you'd better start practicing your tap dance routine or Perry Como imitation for the stage.

Waterbury's Seven Angels Theatre is whipping up one hooting and hollering hootenanny of a holiday show, "Christmas Eve at Earlene's Diner," and you're invited to the festivities.  Until Sunday, December 21, the tinsel will be glittering and the star at the top of the tree will be sparkling.  Michele Gotay will reprise her role as the genial and generous-hearted Earlene whose spirit is big enough to fill the state of Texas and then some.

Just like the post office service, Earlene isn't going to let a little storm of snow stop her.  She'll gather her guests and guarantee the good times will roll. Despite her own private worries about foreclosure, she'll rally the troops.  Will the Rockettes manage to make their way?  Can she get the Talent Contest and the Bakeoff to emerge through the curtains of white stuff?  What surprises are likely to blow in through her welcoming doors?

For tickets ($37.50, children $20), call Seven Angels Theatre, One Plank Road, Waterbury at 203-757-4676 or online at www.SevenAngelsTheatre.org.
Performances are Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Now is definitely the time to make your reservations for Stand Up and Count Down to 2015 on New Year's Eve, featuring a quartet of New York comedians, with shows at 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. The later show features appetizers and a champagne toast at midnight.

Usher in the spirit of the holiday season with Earlene and her gang as she improvises on a grand impromptu Christmas singing celebration.

COME HEAR "THE CAROL OF THE BELLS" IN IVORYTON


Where better to imbibe the spirit of Christmas then to belly up to a bar and where better to find fine drinking buddies than in Dublin?  It's time to get reacquainted with the Bell family and their invincible patriarch Paddy as he welcomes the wee little people and the lucky leprechauns to join in for a grand Christmas celebration.  Faith and begorrah, but it's that time of year again when families gather and exchange good wishes and presents, sing a song or three to the season and raise a pint to the baby the day commemorates.

Ivoryton Playhouse is decking its halls with mistletoe and holly once again to welcome back the Bell family with "The Bells of Dublin: Part II:  The Carol of the Bells" until Sunday, December 21. Last year Jacqueline Hubbard, Ivoryton Playhouse's spirited Executive Director, wrote a wonderful family story about Irish folk and superstitions and traditions and this year, she's penned a second installment, stuffed with songs with an international flavor and steins of Christmas cheer.

R. Bruce Connolly is back as Paddy, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye and an inclination to discover trouble whether he's looking for it or not. Never at a loss for a wild scheme to make mountains of money, this time around he has outdone himself in the wild department with a plan to turn the Dublin bar into a restaurant of Mediterranean cuisine, by exchanging Irish stew for Spanish plates of tapas.  What could possible go wrong? He'll be joined by Playhouse favorites Michael McDermott, Ted Philips and Norm Rutty (from Save the Train, a local band), Jenna Berloni, Nancy and David Cardone, Olivia Harry, Larry Lewis, Maggie McClone Jennings, Michael Hotkowski, Holly Price and Celeste Cumming.

This original holiday musical is sure to grab you by your suspenders and spin you off to do an Irish jig, especially if you've had a hot rum toddy or two.  Melanie Guerin, who arranged the music, will have you levitating as the band captures the joy of the season.

For tickets ($32, seniors $30, students $20, children $15), call the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton at 860-767-7318 or online at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.  Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with matinees Saturday  and Sunday at 2 p.m.  Lights, thousands of them, are setting Ivoryton village aglow.  Come early to enjoy the sight.

Warm your heart and hands with Paddy and his extended family at Bell's Pub for a glass filled to the brim with holiday happiness.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

HOP ABOARD THE SANTA CLAUS EXPRESS

                                   Mr. and Mrs. Claus Celebrate the Holiday

All aboard the Santa Claus Express leaving from the Milford Center for the Arts (and a former train station) until Sunday, December 28, a perfect departure point for the whole family.  This original musical production, "Christmas at Santa Claus Station," is a brand new holiday gift from Bert Bernardi for book and lyrics, Justin Rugg for music, Jimmy Johansmeyer for colorful costumes and Von Del Mar for welcoming set.  Pantochino Productions is known for its original works that are guaranteed to delight and entertain.

It's almost Christmas Eve and there's a crisis at Santa Claus Station.  The train to the North Pole isn't working so how is  the jolly red hatted man going to get home in time to load his sleigh and deliver all the children's presents.  The trusty train conductor (George Spelvin) is in a tizzy.  He quickly assembles Santa's Elite Team Mr. Bells (Jimmy Johansmeyer), Miss Bows (Rachael Dugas) and Mr. Baubles (Justin Rugg) in the hopes they know the right magic to solve the problem.

The trio is soon joined by Santa's elegant elves, Sparkle (Olivia Foley), Twinkle (Thea Ryan), Holly (Meg Cardi), Merylee (Hannah Kupson) and Twice (Tyler Panck), who come up with some clever ideas to save the day.  Trying to help are the holiday twins Marianne Bright (Kylie Poggio) and Judith Lights (Cassie Gerace) and their talented friends Miss Flake (Ashley Ryan Lord) and Mr. Trimatree (Jeremy Tortora).

To add a giant measure of urgency to the cause, Mrs. Claus (Shelley Marsh Poggio) is soon joined by the big man of the moment himself (George McTyre) who need to get home immediately. Before you can say "Merry Christmas" three times quickly, a pair of strangers arrive at the holiday train station, a super chatty Stella Amblecantor (Dani Corrigan) and her anxious protective mom (Dale Allen) who may just have the solution to the pressing problem.

Come watch how Bert Bernardi directs this charming Christmas tale with clever characters and happy tunes.  For tickets ($20 at the door, or online $18 at www.pantochino.com), the shows will be held at Milford Center for the Arts, 40 Railroad Avenue, Milford.   Performances are Friday, December 19 at 7:30p.m., Saturday, December 20 at 2 p.m. and Sundays, December 21 and 28 at 2 p.m.

Let the Christmas spirit choo-choo-choo and chug-chug-chug along to create happiness and joy for the whole family.

Monday, December 8, 2014

PAINT A PORTRAIT OF PARIS WITH PICASSO

In the twentieth century, luminaries in the world of art could easily conjure up Pablo Picasso and in the sphere of science one could quickly mark Albert Einstein at the top of his field.  Comedian and playwright Steve Martin, who penned an adaptation of "The Underpants" to hilarious response last season is bringing his wisdom and wit back to the stage of Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven until Sunday, December 21.  This time around he has abandoned the pursuit of frilly undergarments and focused his attention on much more heady topics.

In "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," Martin has moved the action from Germany to France, from a parade for the king to a bar in Paris (although you might see a King of a different crown), from a married lady's lament to a battle of the minds.  What might happen, Martin muses, if the artist Pablo Picasso walked into a bar and bumped into Albert Einstein?  The two legends are both callow youth, not yet famous, but with the seeds of brilliance starting to germinate.

Picasso, a confident and self-assured man of many passions portrayed with hot and cool colors by Grayson DeJesus, encounters a calculatingly studious genius by the name of Albert Einstein.  Einstein, a mathematical mastermind in the hands of Robby Tann, has arrived at the Lapin Agile to meet a lady friend.  For a man known for his precision and preciseness, he is cavalierly whimsical about this amorous assignation. As he awaits his countess (Dina Shihabi), his path crosses with the arrogant artist.  It is 1904 and the pair are both on the verge of greatness.

As they spar with words and with pencils, trying to prove superiority, they encounter an art dealer Sagot (Ronald Guttman), an unusual construction tycoon Schmendiman (Jonathan Spivey), an admirer of women despite his prostate problem Gaston (David Margulies) and a stranger with most colorful shoes (Jake Silbermann).  The bar's proprietor Freddy (Tom Rhs Farrell) and his lady friend/waitress Germaine (Penny Balfour) preside over the fireworks, making sure the sparks don't ignite to a conflagration.

With sparkling wit and clever conversation, the patrons who people the scene create a lively give and take, under the artistic direction of Gordon Edelstein.  Michael Yeargan has created a welcoming saloon to house the activities.  For tickets ($25-75), 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. and8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Take a seat at a little table in the corner, sip a glass of merlot, eavesdrop on the famous and yet-to-be famous patrons and learn about the bonne life of gay Paree.

"WAR" HAS BEEN DECLARED AT YALE REP


                                                PHOTOS BY JOAN MARCUS


Family secrets can explode like an erupting volcano and the hot lava of disclosure can burn its victims.  Such is the premise of a world premiere drama "War" by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins sending out sparks until Saturday, December 13 at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven.

Initially commissioned by Yale Rep's Binger Center for New Theatre, the playwright traveled to Germany to research his basic premise:  what happens when an African-American soldier stationed in that country during World War II fathers a child, abandons it and returns home, never disclosing that event to his family.  Imagine for a moment how you might react if you learned about this child you never knew existed decades after the fact, a situation created by your grandfather's actions.

 Siblings Tate (Donte Bonner) and Joanne (Rachel Holmes) are in the midst of a crisis.  Their mother Roberta (Tonya Pinkins) has suffered a stroke and they have rushed to her hospital room. Once there they discover a strange woman Elfriede (Trezana Beverley) at her bedside, a woman who claims in her broken English to be Roberta's sister.

When Elfriede's son Tobias (Philippe Bowgen) bursts into the room, the chaos continues in an escalation of anger, misunderstanding and disbelief.  Joanne's Caucasian husband Malcolm (Greg Keller) tries to disarm the verbal bombs that keep exploding but he is no more successful than the nurse (Tyrone Mitchell Henderson) also in attendance.

The family matriarch Roberta appears as a confused woman trying to find her way, a stroke victim who doesn't understand what has happened to her mind and body. She creates the touching and troubling tremors of a woman in the grips of a nightmare of illness.  A simbian-like character Alpha (also played by Tyrone Mitchell Henderson) tries to translate and clarify her confusion.  Like monkeys in a zoo, he attempts to make sense of what the two families, who have just met, are experiencing. We watch the monkeys perform and they, in turn, mimic our actions.

The deeds of their grandfather have come back in a haunting reality.  Tobias is brutally unhappy about how he and his mother have been treated, especially because of a genetic disease that plagues them both, a gift from that soldier in the war.  Can these combatants resolve their conflict?  Can war be transformed into a blessed peace?  Director Lileana Blain-Cruz takes the roller coaster ride to an answer through a series of twists and turns you might not anticipate.

For tickets ($20-98), call the Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel Street, New Haven at 203-432-1234 or online at www.yalerep.org or yalerep@yale.edu.  Performances are Tuesday at 8 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursday at 8 p.m, Friday at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Prepare for battle in this confrontational drama where the opponents strike out in anger, trying to discover what is at stake to both sides of the conflict.

HAVE A HAUNTING GOOD CHRISTMAS IN HARTFORD



                          PHOTO OF SCROOGE AND THE GHOSTS BY T. CHARLES ERICKSON
 
If Christmas has an enemy, someone who hates everything from mistletoe to merriment, gifts to glee, charitable causes to cheer, the mean-spirited personage of one Ebenezer Scrooge would be the poster child.  Some might nominate the lean and green Grinch but, in a contest, Scrooge would win mittens down.

How a trio of ghosts could appear and disappear, soar and fly, dance and cavort, and cause this most cantankerous of cusses to reevaluate his actions is at the heart of Charles Dickens' classic holiday tale of hauntings: "A Christmas Carol."  Once again Hartford Stage is bringing back the incomparable Bill Raymond to inhabit the character of one E. Scrooge and bring him miserly and merrily to life.  Until Sunday, December 28, the whole family is invited to root for the "Bah Humbug" King to change his spots and reform. Will it happen?  Come and find out for yourself.

In Victorian London, it's Christmas Eve and for Mr. Scrooge it's business as usual.  He even begrudges his faithful employee Bob Cratchit (Robert Hannon Davis) a day off, with pay no less.  If Scrooge had his way, the holiday would not be celebrated for as much as a minute.  Counting his money is all that matters to this skinflint of a man who has no room in his heart for charitable thoughts, orphans or widows.  If he could dictate it, they would all go live in the poor house.

Imagine his surprise when his long dead partner in business, Jacob Marley (Noble Shropshire) comes to visit him on that very night with a dire warning:  mend your ways or you will suffer my fate of grief and chains and regret.  While Scrooge laughs off his cautions, he soon finds himself haunted by three ghosts.  The Spirit of Christmas Past (Johanna Morrison), the Spirit of Christmas Present (Alan Rust) and the Spirit of Christmas Future (Death) warn Scrooge to change his ways, to reform, so he doesn't suffer the same destiny as Marley.

How Scrooge responds is at the tender heart of the story, when he has the chance to change, to value his sister's son Fred (Curtis Billings), to treat his tenants (Johanna Morrison, Alan Rust and Michael Preston) with kindness, to help his clerk Bob Cratchit's son Tiny Tim (Alexander Dante Butler or Silvan Friedman) with healing benevolence and to value his faithful housekeeper Mrs Dilber (Noble Shropshire).

Director Maxwell Williams keeps the story as fresh and delightfully delicious as a fattened turkey stuffed with goodness.  This year, the seventeenth anniversary of the production originally adapted and directed by Michael Wilson, there are more surprises and special effects than ever before.

Call for tickets ($25-85, students $25-65), call the Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street, Hartford at 860-527-5151 or online at www.hartfordstage.org.  Performances are Tuesday to Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., with selected matinees at 2 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday.  At the student matinees, Scrooge will be played by Buzz Roddy.

The crack of thunder and flash of lightning, the clang of creaking chains, the fog and mist in the night, all conjure up the hauntings that usher in this most excellent tale of a man who learns the errors of his ways before it is too late.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

THE CGMC IS READY TO BE "NAUGHTY OR NICE"


However you prepare for the holidays, whether it's making a wreath of chestnuts and berries, wrapping the lampposts with red and green ribbon, spiking the eggnog with a dollop of rum, cutting down your own Christmas tree with an axe on a tree farm, the celebration won't be complete without a visit from the boys.

What boys you might ask? Those jolly guys who make up the Connecticut Gay Men’s Chorus!   Whether dressed in tuxedos, tutus, red sequined gowns or elf costumes, the CGMC is always ready to party.  This season is no exception.
Thanks to artistic director Greg McMahan, the theme this year is “Naughty or Nice” and you can bet your angel’s wings that the gentlemen in question will be both.  Of course, the show will feature a selection of Christmas carols in the traditional tone, but also a sprinkling of songs they feel should be Christmas fare but aren't.  And there’s also room for a hint of spice with parodies galore. 

“Reminiscent of a Carol Burnett Show,” according to McMahan, there will be skits and sketches sure to put you in stitches, stitches of laughter that is. Irreverent humor is a hallmark of the CGMC and everything and everyone are fair  game, even Santa himself. As McMahan can attest, "We're really nice guys but we can be naughty."

Lots of material for the musical tree will come from Broadway and nothing is sacred or too holy to be a subject of a little poking for fun.  These guys are festivity itself and a required essential for any holiday celebration. This time around look for Joe Evangelista, traditionally Joan Crawford, appearing as a harried housewife. There is sure to be something for everyone, cool songs heard in a different way.

For tickets ($25-30), call 1-800-644-2462 or online at www.ctgmc.org.  Performances are Saturday, December 13 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, December 14 at 4 p.m. at the Co-Op High School, 177 College Street, New Haven.

Grab some jingle bells, a stocking cap and a hearty sense of humor for our favorite Christmas elves, the CGMC, are ready to sing up a storm of joy.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

TUNE IN TO "A CHRISTMAS CAROL"



Imagine a classic Christmas tale with a slightly modern twist in presentation.  Music Theatre of Connecticut has just the right mistletoe decorated present ready for opening and you're invited to do the honors.  MTC has taken Charles Dickens" famous story of that irascible curmudgeon Ebenezer Scrooge and the heart-tugging Tiny Tim and created a radio show to bring this beautiful story of redemption and second chances to life.

For two performances only, Saturday, December 13 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, December 14 at 2 p.m., with a post-show reception with spirits and good cheer with cast and staff, you're welcome to join the party.  Joe Landry, who has already created "It's a Wonderful Life" as a successful radio show, is adding "A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play" to his colorful and creative repertoire.

The idea occurred to Artistic Director Kevin Connors last summer that MTC wanted to do a holiday show again this December but not "It's a Wonderful Life." A nearby theater was already booked to do its presentation and Connors wanted a new venture.  The first time around Joe Landry was inspired by Woody Allen's film "Radio Days" and the concept of nostalgia.  He knew "A Christmas Carol" had been a successful radio show in the past but he wanted to give it a new spin. Landry began by using the full text and making it into a stage play, "chipping away," reforming it and breaking down the scenes.  He even watched the film version to discover what other writers and directors had done with it.

One of the most fun aspects was finding the perfect commercials to use, remember this is a radio show set in the 1940's, and settled on one featuring a Fruitcake Club of the Month and a second showcasing a department store, after researching authentic Fairfield County ads from the era. Landry hopes these two radio shows will be done in repertory to provide the ultimate holiday experience. This year alone, one hundred productions of "It's a Wonderful Life" will be performed across the country.

This world premiere benefit reading will feature music by Kevin Connors, with traditional holiday themes, Christmas carol tunes and jingles for the commercials, and take place on a fictional Christmas Eve in the 1940's.  Five actors -John Flaherty, Cynthia Hannah, Chilton Ryan, Jim Schilling and Nadine Willig - with a galaxy of sound effects, like creaking chains for ghosts, mysterious moanings from the other world, doors slamming and carriages arriving, create the intriguing atmosphere of this holiday classic.

From Scrooge's first "bah humbug" to Tiny Tim's heartfelt "God bless us everyone," you will be caught up in this perfect  production for the whole family to enjoy.  Where else can you find a trio of ghosts paying visits after midnight to a cranky cuss who claims Christmas is a cause for complaints and chaos.  Scrooge is set to learn a powerful lesson about life and love.  His heart, hardened like steel, is softened and sweetened in the process.

Come see MTC's new digs in Norwalk, about a mile from their old Westport home, at 509 Westport Avenue, Norwalk, behind Jones New York and Nine West Outlet. Look for the new orange awning. For tickets ($30-40, $5 off students and seniors if available), call MTC at 203-454-3883 or online at  www.musictheatreofct.com.  Proceeds will benefit MTC and its programming.

Let playwright Joe Landry and composer Kevin Connors put you in the Christmas spirit by producing spirits of a ghostly nature, all designed to entertain and, for Scrooge, to haunt first and to enlighten second.

Monday, December 1, 2014

BECOME MESMERIZED BY "JEKYLL AND HYDE"

The forces of good versus evil have long battled for supremacy.  Nowhere has that struggle been more vibrant and vivid, agonizing and desperate, than in Frank Wildhorn and Leslie Bricusse's stirring musical "Jekyll and Hyde."  This classical tale of a monster captured in the guise of a passionate physician will play for three gripping performances Saturday and Sunday, December 6 and 7 at the Palace Theater in Waterbury.

Imagine yourself in the dark and foggy streets of Victorian London, scurrying home with your packages, eager to reach the safety of your domicile.  You know you should have finished your business earlier, in daylight, but the velvet blackness of the night fell too suddenly.  Your heart beats faster as you hear the rhythm of footsteps behind you on the cobblestones, reinforcing your fears that a madman is on the loose.  Will you be his next victim?

The original tale was penned by Robert Louis Stevenson, the grisly yet glamorous story of a romantic doctor and his black-hearted alter ego, two very different men trapped in one body.  Two women are caught in his machinations, trusting their souls to what could be a terrifying fate, both in love with the same man, who not knowing his terrifying secret.

Memorable music like "This Is the Moment," "Someone Like You" and "A New Life" punctuate the drama with force and fervor.  The longest running show in the history of the Plymouth Theater, "Jekyll and Hyde" has been viewed from Austria to Australia, Sweden to Spain.  Now Waterbury audiences can be trapped in its powerful and wicked claws, on Saturday, December 6 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, December 7 at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.  For tickets ($45-65), call the Palace Theater, 100 East Main Street, Waterbury at 203-346-2000 or online at www.palacetheaterct.org.

Before the Sunday, December 7, 6:30 p.m. performance, Riverhouse Catering will prepare at 4:30 p.m. a pre-fixe four-course dinner in the Palace's Poli Club, on the mezzanine level.  The $62.50 price includes tax, service fees, coffee and tea, with a cash bar available.  Make reservations in advance when you purchase your tickets.

Be mesmerized as this monumental musical of a madman and a medical man makes its mark so magically.

COME AND HAVE FUN AT A MUSICAL SPELLING BEE



Do you like to spell?  Is the dictionary one of your best friends?  Is Scrabble your game of choice?  If you answered yes to at least two of the three questions, then Connecticut Cabaret Theatre of Berlin has the perfect holiday gift for you and your family in the engaging and fun musical "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."  Weekends until January 17, 2015, a collection of slightly bizarre contestants will be representing their schools hoping to win a $200 Savings Bond and a trophy that is almost bigger than they are.

"Spelling Bee" started out life as an improvisational play, penned by Rebecca Feldman, but she was encouraged by the late great playwright Wendy Wasserstein to craft it into a musical .  The delightful result is thanks to a book by Rachel Sheinkin and the words and music of William Finn.

As adolescents go, this group of six is unique and special.  Sitting on stage ready to challenge their brain power is Logainne (Carleigh Schultz) who wants to please her two dads and proudly represent her school's Gay and Lesbian Alliance. Leaf Coneybear (Rick Bennett) boasts his own homemade fashion line of clothing and is determined to overcome his siblings' lack of faith in his abilities. With a chest full of Boy Scout medals, Chip Tolentino (Chris Pearson) has a major problem with a rising situation, one that rhymes with imperfection and rejection.

Imagine what a great speller you could be if you had a magic foot?  Just ask William Barfee (Bobby Schultz) who uses that important appendage to figure out the letters before he confidently proclaims them.  There is no lack of self-assurance in Marcy Parks (Grace Rizzuto) who was blessed with enough faith in her own abilities to support a third world country.  As for Olive (Jess Rubin), she practically takes her dictionary to bed with her in place of a comfy teddy bear.

Speaking of comfort, Mitch Mahoney (Jon Escobar) is on hand to give encouragement, consolation and hugs, as well as a juice box, when the dreaded bell rings to signal a word is misspelled.  Serving out his community service, while on parole, Mitch is generous with his words of regret.  Rounding out the contest are Rona Perretti (Kaite Corda) who helps with the bee's organization, a job she is well suited for since she won the 3rd Bee years before and the competition's word giver, the vice principal Mr. Panch (Doug Lebelle) who has a dubious past and delights in pressing the "for whom the bell tolls" eliminator.  Kris McMurray joyfully puts this talented and skillful cast through its well enunciated paces.

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.  Remember to bring goodies to share at your table or buy cake and drinks on site at the delicious dessert bar.

If you're really lucky, you can get one of the four coveted places - on stage- and show off your own spelling skills.  Spell F-A-N-A-S-T-I-C Fun!

Monday, November 24, 2014

HAVE 4 TIMES THE FUN WITH "4 GIRLS 4"

If one is good and two are better and three are best, then four must be spectacular.  In this case, the four are four gals, a quintet of talent that will trumpet in the holiday spirit in a great big way.  "4 Girls 4: A Christmas Together" is guaranteed to have your red, green and gold lights twinkling and set your holiday season ablaze with brightness.

The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford will be sparkling in splendor for one night only: Monday, December 1 at 8 p.m. at the Belding Theater, as a fundraiser for Hartford TheaterWorks. As girls go, these ladies are stars spectacular from movies, television, records and Broadway.  You're invited to be up close and personal, fun and flirty, with Andrea McArdle of "Annie" fame who grew up to star in "Beauty and the Beast" and "Starlight Express." 

Maureen McGovern has a collection of Grammy Awards to her credit, a #1 Gold record for "The Morning After" and a Drama-Desk nomination for "Little Women,"  You'll recognize Donna McKechnie for her performances lighting up the stage in "Company" and "State Fair" as well as her TONY winning role in "A Chorus Line."  Last but certainly not least is Faith Prince who was a dynamo as Miss Hannigan in "Annie" on Broadway, a TONY winner for "Guys and Dolls" as well as TV's "Drop Dead Diva" and "Bells Are Ringing."

These gals have the musical goods and they will deliver them right to your front row seat.  You'll hit the holiday jackpot as they belt out the tunes they made famous from the shows that made them stars.  These leading ladies will start your holiday season off with a bang and a rat-a-tat-tat and a hoopla of happiness.

Tunes you might hear from their magical jukebox of hits could include "Strike Up the Band," "Broadway Baby," "The Morning After," "Miss Adelaide's Lament," "It's Marvelous," "Together" and "A Tisket A Tasket." Individually or all together, these women will sing and schmooze, share a laugh and a memory and royally entertain.  Musical director John McDaniel will lead this festive parade of hits.

For tickets ($55-100), call 860-527-7838.  The performance will take place at the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Avenue, Hartford.  The $100 tickets will include a post-performance party with the stars, a Meet and Greet!  $50 of each ticket will benefit the Hartford TheaterWorks Annual Fund.

Ring those bells for these four leading ladies of Broadway as they usher in and celebrate the holidays in regal style.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

HAVE SO MUCH FUN AT THE PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE




Whether you're a great speller or have trouble with words of one syllable, you are going to take a whole dictionary full of pleasure when you sign up for
 "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."  The Connecticut Repertory Theatre on the campus of the University of Connecticut at Storrs, at the Jorgensen Theatre, will be encouraging you to come and practice your spelling bee list for the competitions to be held until Sunday, December 7.

The late great playwright Wendy Wasserstein is credited with putting composer William Finn together with his former student Rachel Sheinkin and her co-creator Rebecca Feldman to turn this original non-musical C-R-E-P-U-S-C-U-L-E (one of the spelling words) into this Tony Award winning musical.  If you've never experienced it, what a  treat.  If you're already a fan, go again and take some friends or family with you.

At UCONN, they have already lined up some celebrity guests to come on stage and show off their literary stuff. If you're daring and live on the edge, you might even volunteer to be one of the extra hand-selected to join the bee-on stage-with an official entry number and everything.  You, too, can earn a juice box and a hug from the official comfort counselor Mitch (Melvin Abston) who is there serving out his community service while on parole.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee is held in Washington, D. C. over Memorial Day weekend and has been held every year since 1925, except during World War II, but "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" deserves kudos and accolades as well. Where else would you find a Boy Scout named Chip  (Kent Coleman) who wears a chestful of badges, a pig tailed angel (Gina Salvatore) who sports not one dad but two which influences her leadership of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance, an original Flower Child named Leaf Coneybear (Gavin McNicholl) who makes his own cheerful and colorful clothing, William Barfee (rhymes with parfait) who has a rare mucous membrane disorder and (thanks to Ryan Shea) a sparkly magical and moving foot that spells out the words, an over-achieving parochial student, Marcy Park (Julia Estrada) who can't help how incredibly smart she is and, lastly, a young girl who talks into her hand to spell, Olive (Whitney Andrews) who bravely stands alone, with her mom off in an Indian ashram and her dad busy at work.

Each contestant wants to win so they can proudly say they succeeded at something special.  They are each a bit of a misfit but they stand tall and are willing to risk everything to write their own ticket to destiny and pride.  Along the way, as they compete and rise to the challenge, they learn enough about themselves to earn the title of champion, whether they win the trophy or not.

Overseeing the proceedings are Vice Principal Panch (Mark Harapiak) who has a dubious past and eager-to-please Rona Lisa Perretti (Blythe Wilson) who has the double distinction of being a class A realtor and of winning the 3rd Annual Bee.  Under the direction of Paul Mullins, and choreography of Sara Andreas, with a cast of top notch performers and words to spell like "weltanschauung" and "cow," you are guaranteed a lively, animated and entertaining evening.

For tickets ($7-36), call The CT Rep at 860-486-2113  or online at www.crt.uconn.edu.  Performances are a student matinee at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, December 2, Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and  8 p.m. and closing Sunday, December 7 at 2 p.m.  There are no performances the week of Thanksgiving.

You'll enjoy everything from the initial musical recitation of "The Rules" to the interim "Pandemonium" all the way to the crowning of "The Champion."
I p-r-o-m-i-s-e you!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

FLY THROUGH THE SKY WITH RUDOLPH


Going through life with a shiny red nose can only be desirable if you're a clown in the circus or a famous reindeer leading an even more famous sled.  Hold on to your sleigh bells and give them a big jingle as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer:  The Musical" flies straight in for a fabulous landing at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts from Tuesday, November 25 to Sunday, November 30 for a festive holiday welcome.

Get ready for this wonderful television classic to burst into life right before your eyes.  Dressing yourself in red, green and gold is optional.  This fifty year old classic tale is bound to excite the Christmas spirit in everyone in the family, even if your name is Ebenezer Scrooge.

It's time to greet the jolly Mr. Claus and his wife, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius, the Misfit Toys and don't forget the shining star of the show, that red-nosed reindeer.

Conceived by Jeff Frank and First Stage, with script adaptation by Robert Penola and arrangements and orchestrations by Timothy Splain, this merry musical comes with a message.  Learn first hand with Rudolph that what makes you different just might be what makes you special and that there is a little misfit in all of us.

In honor of this production, a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Ben's Lighthouse, a Newtown-based group that supports communities impacted by tragedy.  It honors those teachers and children who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School and its motto is "Helping Is Healing." A children's chorus from Ben's Lighthouse, named for Benjamin Wheeler, will perform in the lobby and at intermission at November 28 and 29 morning and afternoon shows.

For tickets ($21 and up), call the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Avenue, Hartford at 860-987-5900 or online at www.bushnell.org.  Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 7 p.m., Friday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Saturday at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. There are no shows on Thanksgiving.

Come help Rudolph realize how important he is and help him guide that fabulous sleigh for a jolly holly holiday for all the little ones in your life.

Monday, November 17, 2014

FIND YOUR HEART IN "ONCE WE LIVED HERE"



Being tied to the land can be a blessing or a burden.  It speaks to heritage and tradition and family.  For Amy McPherson, her family's sheep shearing ranch in California is her entire world.  While her siblings Lacy  wants a big time career and Shaun, who has clearly lost his way, Amy will move heaven and earth to be sure the ranch Emoh Ruo (Our Home spelled backward) survives and thrives.

Amy is willing to battle a long drought, the danger of wild fires and the financial uncertainties of her quest. No task is too hard or too difficult to face and overcome. "Once We Lived Here" with book and lyrics by Dean Bryant and music by Matthew Frank will be offered at Spirit of Broadway Theater in Norwich until Sunday, November 30. The musical is Artistic Director Brett Bernardini's signature swan song, his farewell tribute to the theater that has been his home and focus for the last seventeen years.

To Bernardini, "Once We Lived Here" is a great musical with an amazing cast, about family and the memories it creates, the home that holds it together.
The ultimate message is "family matters."

Originally set in Australia, the composer's home, the musical has been relocated  to California where the realities of lack of rainfall and dangerous brush fires and economic downturns are all too real.  The McPhersons have gathered their wagons together to survive another family tragedy.  Eight years ago their father was tragically killed.  Now their mom Claire (Jennifer Killinger Blackwell) is seriously ill. Despite all of Amy's (Samantha Souza) diligence and hard work, the future of the family farm is in question. Will Shaun (Dakota Dutcher) or Lacy (Bessie Fong) step up to help?  Can Burke (Matt Smolko ), a hired hand who helped in the past, ride back in as a white knight to save the day?

Here is a disfunctional unit who harbors secrets and lives on lies.  Their memories creep in and explode in their faces.  Will a fresh wind of change help them rediscover what family means and uncover the love they all need to survive?  Brett Bernardini works wonderfully well to help the cast discover the anchors they need to thrive.

For tickets ($32), call Spirit of Broadway Theater, 24 Chestnut Avenue, Norwich at 860-886-2378 or online at www.spiritofbroadway.org.  Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

A 2014 Spirit Gala will be held on Saturday, December 6 to honor and pay tribute to Founding Artistic Director Brett Bernardini with a reception at 6 p.m., dinner at 7 p.m. and special guest performances at 8 p.m.  This black tie event is sure to be special.  For tickets ($125), call the theater box office.

You can vote on the future of the theater at www.surveymonkey/r/SpiritofBroadway.

Discover that "All Roads Lead to Home" in this musical where unanswered questions, guilt and memories must be addressed.



'

SING ALONG WITH PATSY CLINE IN WATERBURY



Tune up your guitar, start speaking with a twang, grab a cold Bud and find a comfy pair of cowboy boots as that great country western gal with a resonating voice that rocks the rafters is coming to town.  None other than Miss Patsy Cline will be creating her honky tonk heaven at Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury until Sunday, December 7 and you surely don't want to miss the fun.

"Always, Patsy Cline" is the brain child of Ted Swindley, who created and originally directed it, based on a true story of one devoted fan for a star.  When Louise, a divorced mother of two, heard Patsy on the Arthur Godfrey Show on television, it was love at first note.  Her worship of her idol bordered ever so slightly on a stalker status, but her genuine reverence could not be ignored.

When Patsy comes to Louise's Texas hometown to sing, Louise is the first in line to say "howdy."  Their instantaneous mutual admiration brings them both a ten gallon cowboy hat full of pleasure.  Rebecca Barta's Louise is a true red, white and blue admirer, the president of Patsy's fan club and her most loyal supporter.  Her enthusiasm is contagious and captivating.

Louise's admiration is not misplaced. Christine Mild has channeled Patsy and made her her own, with a deep whiskey laced voice that captures her unique sound. Tunes like "Walkin' After MIdnight," "I Fall to Pieces," "Your Cheating Heart," "Stupid Cupid," "Crazy" and "True Love" are either lively and spirited or romantically challenging.  This vivacious lady can put a solid spin on any tune, like a jukebox bonanza.  A fine five piece combo of piano, fiddle, electric guitar, bass and drums, with Luke Nelson, Guy "Fooch" Fischetti, Jamie Sherwood, Danny Kraszewski and Mary Ryan are a royal court of musical majesty.  Semina DeLaurentis directs this bittersweet tale of a life cut too short, yet packed with a lasting and lingering melody.

For tickets ($47), call Seven Angels Theatre, 1 Plank Road, Hamilton Park Pavilion, 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.

Now is the time to mark your calendars for a return to the stage of that king of irreverent comedy, Mr. Rob Bartlett, for Sunday, December 7 at 7 p.m.
Make a date with Michelle Gotay to celebrate "Christmas Eve at Earlene's Diner" December 11 to 21 to enjoy some old fashioned hometown fun.
 New Year's Eve will see New York City comedians ready and willing to usher in the holiday with humor, at 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.  The late show includes appetizers and a midnight champagne toast.  Call the box office for more information.  Also plan your early Christmas shopping at the annual Silent Auction, with winning bids closing December 7.

 Let the incomparable Patsy Cline bring her special brand of country western styling right to your seat.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

RAISE A GLASS OF IRISH STOUT WITH “THE SEAFARER”

 Being drunk on Christmas Eve is not a necessary event but it often helps survive the holiday.  Just ask the scruffy blokes who inhabit the space that could pass for a flat in the seamy side of Dublin where lumpy and bumpy seem to characterize their existence. Plop yourself down, if you dare, on that well used sofa, being careful to not fall on the legions of discarded liquor bottles and beer cans strewn about for color.  Martha Stewart is not coming any time soon and don't look for anything too cheery to boast about for the Christmas holiday.

The flat is peopled with a sad lot of humanity, mostly drunk and hardly ever sober.  Enter the world craftily created by Conor McPherson in his play “The Seafarer,” being brought to entertaining life by the New Haven Theater Company from November 20-22, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.
  
 One of Ireland’s best known contemporary playwrights, McPherson has skillfully drawn a motley crew of characters with his sharpened quill.  It’s Christmas Eve and what better way to celebrate the savior’s birth then with a bottle or three of whiskey and a rousing game of poker.  The stakes for the game are exceptionally high, even if most of the players are clueless.
  
 Jim Lones is wonderfully wrapped in the role of Richard, a curmudgeon recently blinded in a freak accident, who loves to make his brother “Sharky” (J. Kevin Smith) dance to his piper’s tune.  Their poor friend Ivan (Steve Scarpa) seeks refuge  at their place, to give himself time to sober up and only manages to make his home situation mountains worse. He is clearly afraid to face his wife Karen and his children. To stir up a little fun and mischief,  Richard invites his brother’s nemesis Nicky (Peter Chenot) over to share a brew, the man “Sharky” blames for much of his disappointing life and Nicky, in turn,  introduces a stranger into their pathetic Christmas pageant.  Will the unknown Mr. Lockhart (George Kulp) be Scrooge or Santa or someone altogether different?
 
 Deena Nicol-Blifford directs this Irish tale, peppered as it is with salty language, with a firm and steady hand and a fine cast of talented blokes.
   
For tickets ($20), contact The New Haven Theater Company  online at www.newhaventheatercompany.com.
The theater is located inside the English Building Markets, 839 Chapel Street, in downtown New Haven.  This is the second anniversary at its new home.

Pull up a chair, drink a drop of Irish in honor of the holiday and ante up for a spirited game of chance where you may lose or win much more than you bargained to wager.
  JIM LONES, STEVE SCARPA, J. KEVIN SMITH, PETER CHENOT AND GEORGE KULP




Saturday, November 15, 2014

SAVING THE WORLD'S CHILDREN ONE BABY AT A TIME

               CARYL STERN AT WORK FOR UNICEF IN KENYA

Do you remember the orange cardboard boxes carried by goblins and ghosts and cowgirls who were trick or treating on Halloween?  All the money collected went to save the lives of children around the world, to provide vaccines, emergency disaster relief and educational opportunities like School-in-a-Box kits and much more.  In the name of UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, chidren's lives have been saved since the organization was created more than 65 years ago to provide aid after World War II.

Way back in 1950, a group of school children in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania donated $17 at Halloween to this worthy cause.  Since then Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF has filled coffers of over $157 million in the United States alone and is still going strong.

You have the unique opportunity to learn more about this distinguished team effort when Caryl Stern, the President and CEO of the U. S. Fund for UNICEF delivers the Jacoby-Lunin Humanitarian Lecture, "I Believe in Zero: Learning from the World's Children."  The lecture will be held at the Regina Quick Center on the campus of Fairfield University on Wednesday, November 14 at 8 p.m.

Stern, who has been an advocate for children and a civil rights activist for more than three decades, will speak about her mission to reduce the number of preventable deaths of kids under the age of 5 from 19,000 every day to zero.  She will also address efforts to stop Ebola for children  who are its most vulnerable victims.  Statistics say that nearly 5000 people have died from this devastating disease since March, with 3700 children orphaned as a result.

Stern has written a book that is also the title of her talk.  For tickets ($45), call the Quick Center at 203-254-4010 or 1-877-ARTS-396, or go online to www.quickcenter.com.

Let Caryl Stern take your hand to walk through crowds of needy children whose lives are improved and saved every day through the efforts of UNICEF.  Come share in the smiles of success.

Friday, November 14, 2014

PROMISING A GHOST OF A GOOD TIME





If you're fascinated by things that go bump in the night as well as being a bit of a history buff, then journalist, author and raconteur Cindy Wolfe Boynton has just the proposition for you.  She'd like you to accompany her one dark night soon on a Ghost Walk in Milford.

Boynton has some real credentials for contacting the supernatural:  she apprenticed years ago, at age 20, with two of Connecticut's premier ghost hunters,  Lorraine and the late Ed Warren.  She was supposed to research and write a book about a murder and a haunting but, frankly, it got too spooky for her to continue. Now it's just another good story to add to her repertoire on her walk.

Boynton is using all that contact with witches and warlocks and goblins and ghosts to promote her hometown of Milford's intriguing spiritual history.  I had the opportunity to join the walk on the most appropriate of evenings, Halloween, and many on the tour came dressed appropriately:  one came as a black hatted witch, one all in a protective white cloak to ward off evil spirits and even one provocatively clad as a devil, complete with red ears and a pitchfork.

The 1.15 mile stroll began at the end of the footbridge at Hotchkiss Bridge, on Helwig Street.  Some hearty souls took the ghost meters Boynton provided that lit up and made a beeping racket whenever we walked past houses, mainly older ones, where psychic energy made its presence felt.  We were encouraged to take pictures as images often appear to "make you pause and wonder."

The historic district of High Street offers us the opportunity to seek out (or have them seek us out) a trio of different apparitions.  Boynton explained the three types as human spirits who have not yet crossed over and have chosen to stay on earth for a specific reason.  These ghosts can't let go and like to communicate, often by playing tricks.

The most common are residual ghosts that can "come out" years later  Their trapped energy lives on in paint on wood and in the air etched in walls.  The last kind is the type you want to avoid, the inhuman demons and those you don't want to meet.  Boynton cautioned that "your intention plays a role in what comes to you."  She advises "go looking for good times and good stories...being open to vulnerability."

As we set off, she recommended "invisioning yourself wrapped in a white light, a bubble of protection, so all the negative energy will bounce right off."  We deliberately walked by older areas of homes, where tragedies were more likely to have taken place, because spirits could linger there.

Boynton is a font of historical knowledge, sharing facts like Connecticut having the distinction of being the most haunted state, and Milford being high on the list as a town with the most spirits.  Stories of apparitions and hauntings punctuated the whole stroll, from the tale of Peter Prudden in 1636, Simon Lake's submarine, Charles Island and Captain Kidd, Revolutionary War cannon, a pair of funeral homes sandwiched around a popular local eatery, Rainbow Gardens, mysterious candles in the Chamber of Commerce building and many more.

When the ghost energy meter went crazy as we went by Brats and Bud Tavern, many were ready to check it out for a quick liquid quaff.  By then, a light drizzle of cold rain added to the ambiance of spookiness.   To investigate taking a ghost walk of Milford with Cindy Wolfe Boynton and experience all the tingles and chills that come along at no extra expense, go to spiritsofmilford.tumblr.com for more information. Tours are $15 for adults and $10 for children and run November 15, (a special evening with William Hall, the author of a book about the famous Lindley Street haunting in Bridgeport) 16, 22 and 23 at 7 p.m. and maybe more in December.  Check the website or call 203-214-7554.

Soon you can sign up for a special "Dinner with the Dead" with medium Catherine Crowley from Mystics by the Sea on Wednesday, January 21 from 6-9 p.m. that is sure to sell out quickly. Tickets are $53.74 for a 3-course dinner.  Rainbow Gardens will experience a "crossing over."

Let Cindy Wolfe Boynton use her family's personal history with ghosts (at the New Haven County Home for Children) and her own experiences with the Warrens, where as a reporter she "challenged the devil," to make a visit to mysterious Milford so memorable.  Cindy promises you a "frighteningly good time!"

Monday, November 10, 2014

HANG ON AS "THE WORLD GOES 'ROUND"


      "THE WORLD GOES 'ROUND" PHOTOS BY JOE LANDRY

What do cellophane, coffee cups, cabarets, carousals, colored lights, coloring books, cakes by Sara Lee, the city of Chicago, cats and class have in common?  They are all touched on and sung about, with refreshing wit or tender and tasteful timing, in the perfectly delightful tribute to the music of John Kander and Fred Ebb. Music Theatre of Connecticut, in its lovely new space at 509 Westport Avenue in Norwalk (just a few miles from its former black box space in Westport) has done itself proud in this sassy, sophisticated and thoroughly satisfying musical revue, "The World Goes 'Round."

Weekends until Sunday November 23, MTC, under its smashing orange awning, will be offering up an evening of musical entertainment worthy of a New York City supper club.  A quintet of fresh faced singers and dancers - Kathy Calahan, Melissa Carlile-Price, Eric Scott Kincaid, Trisha Rapier and Aaron Young - all members of Actor's Equity, will be strutting their considerable talents on MTC's intimate space.  Still intimate, they now can seat double the audience.

Imagine a parade of Kander and Ebb hits from such shows as "New York, New York." "70, Girls, 70," "The Happy Time," "The Rink," "The Act," "Woman of the Year," "Funny Girl," "Cabaret" and "Chicago," to name drop a few.  You'll get the caffeine jitters from the lively patter of "Coffee in a Cardboard Cup," feel the obvious joy of one man's love for "Sara Lee" and one gal's affection for "Arthur in the Afternoon," while "All That Jazz" is super-duper electric and "Class" will have you checking your teeth for spinach bites.

The poignancy and sadness of "Mr. Cellophane" is countered by the absolute joy of "Ring Them Bells, and the clever lyrics of "The Grass Is Always Greener" will have you laughing out loud.  More than two dozen great Kander and Ebb tunes will have you applauding the length and breath of their musical talents.

For tickets ($30-50, seniors and students $5 off), call MTC, 509 Westport Avenue, Norwalk, behind Nine West and Jones of New York, at 203-454-3883 or online at www.musictheatreofct.com.  Come take your seat at the Melissa and Doug Theatre at MTC and see the spanking new digs for yourself and congratulate director Kevin Connors and stage manager Jim Schilling on a job well done.

Now is also the time to reserve your seat for the world premiere of "A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play," another holiday hit by Joe Landry, on Saturday, December 13 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, December 14 at 2 p.m.  Tickets are $30 and $40 and come with goodies too.

Come and enjoy the snazzy new space where this talented quintet welcomes you as only five fine cabaret performers can.  Bienvenue!

TAKE AN EMOTIONAL DIP WITH "DANNY AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA"

 
                                                                        Jonathan Gregg
Thirty years ago playwright John Patrick Shanley penned a two person play that is still devastatingly raw and emotional.  On an elemental level, the pair are the epitome of unhappiness, the poster children for loneliness and alienation, each calling upon violence as a temporary solution to their intense problems.

With the colorful and simple title of "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea," this intense drama might seem at first blush to be a play for children.  Please disavow yourself of that mistaken assumption immediately.  According to Playhouse on Park's director Sean Harris, this work, long a favorite of his, may be the first production of the play ever in Connecticut.  As part  of the theater's On the Edge series, it will play weekends until Sunday, November 16 at their West Hartford location on 244 Park Road.

Sitting at solo tables in a seedy bar, Roberta, a bitter divorced mother with a teenage son, initially won't share her pretzels.  Also sitting alone, Danny, a trucker who habitually uses his fists to resolve any confrontations, reluctantly offers her a refill of beer.  These two loners, with enough problems to fill a giant statue of Paul Bunyan, tentatively reach out and expose the demons that plague them.

Erin Lindsay Krom and Jonathan Gregg are convincingly flawed individuals, letting their emotional pain ooze out.  Their acting is exquisitely vulnerable and real.  They have no inhibitions:  what they think and feel they say.  Both are unbelievably unhappy.  Roberta has a terrible secret she has never shared.  She tells Danny.  He thinks he may have killed a man the night before.  She wants to help him.

Can these two damaged souls find healing in each other's arms?  Are they capable of changing their self-destructive ways?  Will forgiveness and redemption be the answers they seek?

To director Harris, "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea" is "a mix of brutality and beauty.  They see love and life without a filter.  They are honest and say what they feel. Ultimately it is hopeful."

For tickets ($22.50, students and seniors $20), call Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford at 860-523-5900, ex. 10 or online at www.playhouseonpark.org.  Performances are Thursday at 7:30 p.m, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m and Sunday at 7 p.m.

You cannot help but feel the pain of these two disenfranchised souls who share thin threads of tenderness despite the odds stacked against them.