Monday, September 18, 2017

TAKE A CHARMING STROLL DOWN TO “AVENUE Q”




                            THE GREAT CAST OF "AVENUE Q"


Graduating college, finding an apartment, one you can afford, securing a job, one you are qualified to perform, and growing up are all the responsibilities and requirements facing an anxious young puppet named Princeton.  He starts his search for housing on New York City's Avenue A and by the time he reaches the 17th street of possibilities, he is  not sure he will ever find a roof to call his own.

Happily for Princeton and for the audience, he finds the perfect place on "Avenue Q," a delightful puppet/people graced musical with music and lyrics by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez, with book by Jeff Whitty.  Playhouse on Park in West Hartford will be entertaining Princeton and his friends until Sunday, October 8 and you don't want to miss their highly special world.

If you’ve grown up on “Sesame Street” and call Mr. Rogers a friend, and you’re a mature teenager or older, this is the show for you.  “Avenue Q” is a musical that began life at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford at an International Musical Conference  and went on to great acclaim.  Now the puppets and their puppet masters are ready for some colorful and off- color fun.

Pop over to the Playhouse for this smash-hit Broadway musical about making your way in life.  Weston Chandler Long stars spectacularly as Princeton, a recent college graduate, with big dreams and a small wallet.  He finds his way to Avenue Q because it’s the only street in the Big Apple he can afford. Soon he determines he must find and identify a PURPOSE in life.

There he meets some unique neighbors, friendly and not so much, like Kate Monster (Ashley Brooke), a cute kindergarten teaching assistant, a possibly gay couple Rod ( Weston Chandler Long) and Nicky ( Peej Mele), Lucy Slut ( Ashley Brooke), Trekkie Monster (Peej Mele), an internet addict, Christmas Eve (EJ Zimmerman), a therapist, Brian (James Fairchild), an out-of-work comedian, two bad bears (Colleen Welsh ) and their plucky landlord Gary Coleman (Abena Mensah-Bonsu). 

Follow the life and loves, the downs and ups, of this bunch of young adults as they work their way to find a job, a companion and a purpose, with a lot of singing and dancing along their journey.

With life-size puppets as well as people, “Avenue Q” celebrates the angst of growing up and facing responsibilities, challenges like how to get and keep employment and how to get a date, in addition to more intense issues like full-puppet nudity, alcohol and internet porn. Kyle Brand does double duty as a great director and choreographer. Video designers Zach Rosing and Ben Phillippe  add a special artistic touch and musical director Robert James Tomasulo leads a super live band. 

For tickets ($40-50), call the Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford at 860-523-5900, ext. 10 or online at www.playhouseonpark.org.  Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinee at 2 p.m., followed by a talk back. There is a special Tuesday matinee at 2 p.m. on September 26, all seats $22.50.

Stroll along with Princeton as he bops down "Avenue Q," the show that won the 2004 Tony Award for Best Musical.

COME TO THE CABARET, AT YALE


With our hearts and minds consumed with images of the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma as well as the fate of millions of immigrants currently living on our shores, who may face deportation, it is timely that the first offering by the Yale School of Drama at the 50th anniversary of the Yale Cabaret is focused on water, escape and refugees.  Penned by Drama School student Josh Wilder, who is also co-artistic director, Yale Cab 50 opened with a mighty splash.  "One Big Breath," which played the weekend of September 14-16, dealt with "current images, refugees in the world and a journey across water," according to Wilder.

Wilder asked the audience "How long is one breath under water," and provided a collage of images, some in effective silhouette, to answer that question.  Relying on experimentation, the cast that included Francesca Fernandez McKenzie, Antoinette Crowe-Legacy, Patricia Fa'asua, Jakeem Powell and Catherine Maria Rodriguez, dealt with the fears of escaping persecution, the perilous and arduous trek across a vast sea, the real threat of drowning and the often impossible task of trying to be understood once free in a new and strange land.

Francesca Fernandez McKenzie is a co-artistic director as well as an actor in the piece and explained that "students in the Drama School are free to fail, to step out of the curriculum, to experiment, to absorb themselves in the 'passion project.' "  She feels there is an "electrifying feeling" that promotes trust and security as artists, "a collaboration with spirit."

The Yale Cabaret is celebrating its 50th anniversary and it seems like forever and only a minute since it opened its doors at 217 Park Street in New Haven, just one day after Richard Nixon was elected President in November 1968. The current leadership team which also includes Rachel Shuey as Managing Director, Rory Pelsue as Associate Artistic Director, Latiana (LT) Gourzong as Production Manager and Jaime Totti as Associate Managing Director, are dedicated to doing projects that help them grow as artists, to plum the Cab's  rich history and to bring back prior alumnae.

For each play, the basement space at the Cab is creatively reconfigured for maximum effect.  From September to May, eighteen productions will be offered from drama to comedy to opera to drag.  Every show is diverse, all student run, with a shoestring budget of a mere $350.  Come early at 6:30 p.m. and dine on an eclectic menu that includes small plates like salad nicoise with grilled swordfish $10, sweet potato lentil cakes $8 or lamb kabobs $12 and desserts like flourless chocolate cake $6 as well as snacks, sides, beer and wine. Selections change often thanks to Chef Anna Belcher's culinary touch.

Next up is a musical about Adam and Eve from September 21-23, a political thriller about Vietnam from October 5-7 and a multi-media assault on the Real Housewives from October 12-14.  Performances are 8 p.m.Thursday to Saturday with late nights Friday and Saturday at 11 pm.  Call the Yale Cab at 203-432-1566 or online at www.ysd.cabaret@yale.edu or yalecabaret.org. Tickets are $20, Yale faculty and staff $15, students $12, with various flex passes available for purchase.

Come celebrate five decades of diversity and dedication as the Yale Cab embarks on new and exciting paths to adventurous entertainment.


Friday, September 15, 2017

NVESTIGATE THE COMPELLING MYSTERY “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE” AT THE WARNER

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 In 1939 that dame of murder mysteries, Agatha Christie, penned a masterpiece novel “And Then There Were None.”  This best selling book has been named by Publications International as the seventh top title of all time.  You can now, if you dare, see the dramatic adaptation of the novel into play form courtesy of the Warner Stage Company at the Nancy Marine Studio at the Warner Theatre in Torrington from Saturday, September 23 to Sunday, October 1.

A number of strangers receive personally designed invitations to an island off the Devon coast of England from a man they do not know.  One thinks she is being hired for a job as a secretary, a doctor is lured on the supposition he has a new patient to treat, some think they are coming to reunite with old friends and two believe they are being asked to observe the comings and goings of the other guests in the guise of conducting detective work.
When they arrive, they find the butler and the housekeeper but learn their host, Mr. Owen, will appear tomorrow.  What do these strangers have in common?  Why have they been singled out for an unusual invitation?  After an excellent dinner, they begin to learn their potential fate.  Each of them has been complicit in a criminal act where someone died.  Each escaped punishment…until now.  A nursery rhyme “Ten Little Soldiers” hangs in every guest’s bedroom and strongly suggests the manner of death each will experience. 

 One by one the guests meet their guilt-ridden ends but who is the executioner?  They are trapped on the  island with no means of calling for help or of escape.  On the dining room table, the ten china soldier figurines are quickly disappearing.  Who is to blame?  Will the police eventually discover the master culprit?  Lynn Paulella Beard with John Ozerhoski as assistant director steer this diabolical plot with maniacal skills.

The drama features Nicholas Bourne, Tony Enright, Roger Grace, MayTae Harge, Eric Lindblom, Scott Murphy, Lana Peck, Thursday Savage, Anthony Stachowitz, Payton Turpin and Mike Zizka. Performances are September 23, 29 and 30 at 8 pm and September 24 and October 1 at 2 pm. To purchase tickets, ($27) call the Warner Box Office at 860-489-7180 or visit www.warnertheatre.org.

Feel like playing Sherlock Holmes?  Come consider yourself invited to this island retreat for a most amazing vacation into the mysterious unknown.

Monday, September 11, 2017

“SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS” HAS A LOT TO SAY


Being a good listener is an art.  We are usually so anxious to contribute our thoughts, that we impatieantly interrupt one another.  What if we had no words, like monks in a monastery who have taken a vow of silence? Would we use that time to seek enlightenment within, to soul search, to examine our inner beings and try to resolve issues and make changes for the better? Playwright Bess Wohl will give you the opportunity for that reflection as she takes you on a journey with six lost souls seeking answers in her involving “Small Mouth Sounds” at Stage II of Long      Wharf Theatre in New Haven until Sunday, September 24.

You are in the woods at a retreat where cell phones, cigarettes and words are forbidden.  You are to follow the directions of the teacher/guru (Orville Mendoza) who is ironically experiencing problems of his own. His advice is not always accurate but he is the best model available for achieving a sense of inner peace. You are one of six seekers, three men (Connor Barrett, Ben Beckley and Edward Chin-Lyn) and three women (Brenna Palughi, Socorro Santiago and Cherene Snow) who all have their individual reasons for signing up for five days of silence.  Each is unhappy, lonely and in need of soul sustenence. 

The projections outside the walls, courtesy of Andrew Schneider, sound like Harvey and Irma and they mimic the interior unrest of the participants.  Each has come with a dilemma to solve.  Jan has a picture of a child which he guards protectively and since he doesn’t speak English may have an advantage with the rule of non-communication. Ned is like Job, a man who has endured a  plethora of problems that would defeat a lesser man. With a well toned body he is proud of displaying, totally, Rodney used yoga as his means of self-communication.

Alicia is unhappy, disorganized, a nibbler and perpetually late and her cell phone, that she should not have, is not allowing her to reach out and touch someone.  Joan and Judy are a lesbian couple who are dealing with illness and failure to connect and their long standing partnership is in danger of unraveling.  All six are looking for answers and, as the guru instructs, aligning their intentions with actions, whatever that means.
Rachel Chavkin directs this 100 minute search for life’s meaning that is both enlightening and excruciating in its anguished quest.  “Small Mouth Sounds” is decidedly different  and worthy of your exploration.

For tickets ($34.50-90.50 ), 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 7p.m.,Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m .and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Look for compassion and healing, commiseration and silent communication as we struggle together and separately to make of our lives a blessing.

Monday, September 4, 2017

BE SWEPT AWAY BY “SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD”



                         ACTOR/DIRECTOR CHRISTOPHER FAISON
For new director Christopher Faison, producing his debut musical at the Chestnut Street Playhouse in Norwich, has been a homecoming of sorts.  The work, “Songs for a New World” by Jason Robert Brown, is an unusual song cycle that deals with decisions made at a precise moment in time. We all have those moments, moments that are momentous and life altering, fraught with decisions that have far reaching consequences.   For Faison, who has long been an actor, it began in 1996 just after this show debuted Off-Broadway.  He was introduced to the music and it affected him deeply.  He identified with the four main characters who are embarking on different paths and journeys and the hopes that fueled their awareness.

In the year 2000, the show was produced at Chestnut Street Playhouse’s former iteration, the Spirit of Broadway, and when Faison was offered the opportunity to direct, this show was the one that leaped to the forefront.  Faison admits, “I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather do.”  He “feels like I gave birth.  It’s a full circle moment.  I hope the audience identifies with it as being about the world right now and will be moved and feel chills.”

“Songs for a New World” will play until Sunday, September 10. It includes a string of tunes connected by a theme “the moment of decision.”  The songs are pop and gospel and jazz that enjoy a spiritual flavor.  They span decades and eons, from a 1492 voyage literally to a new world to a flag being sewn in 1775’s Revolutionary War to honor the two men most important to Mrs. Ross's life to an angry Mrs. Claus who accuses her famous hubby of being neglectful. Personally I would have preferred a little spoken dialogue to ground each piece as they are wildly different in nature as to time and place.

These stores in song explore relatable connections and you are sure to identify with one or three of them yourself.  The energetic company includes Robert Ball, Audrey Rummel, Chris Stanley and Erin Sousa-Stanley, with Michael Goldman and Violet Saylor.  One of the most powerful numbers is “King of the World” where a man proclaims his right to be free so he can return to a life of leadership.  Along the way, we hear abut sacrifice, about choosing security over love in “Stars and the Moon,” how lovers unsuccessfully try to live without each other in “I’d Give It All For You," to a soldier who has given up his life for his country, the ultimate sacrifice, in “Flying Home.”

We meet a woman about to take a flying leap over a ledge to gain her husband’s attention in “One Last Step,” to one who bravely proclaims “I’m Not Afraid of Anything,”  to two men who announce that “The River Won’t Flow” for either of them. The songs skip in a dozen directions and hopscotch from place to place, many with a common thought of understanding heaven’s grand design, with the prayer for God to shine upon them.  Brown even touches on addictions and segregation.

For tickets ($27), call the Chestnut Street Playhouse, 24 Chestnut Street, Norwich at 860-886-2378 or online at http://bit.do/CSPSongs or www.chestnutstreetplayhouse.org.  Performances are Thursday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Come explore new musical worlds courtesy of Jason Robert Brown who went on to compose “Parade,”  “The Last Five Years,” “13 the Musical,” “Prince if Broadway” and “Bridges of Madison County,” and actor Christopher Faison who is making his directorial debut.

Monday, August 28, 2017

COME HAVE TEA WITH KATE AT CT CABARET


KELLY BOUCHER AS KATHARINE HEPBURN

Katharine Hepburn was a Hollywood leading lady for over six decades, the winner of four Academy Awards, a true Connecticut daughter, who was named in 1999 the greatest female star of Classic Hollywood Cinema by the American Film Institute. Kate died in 2003 at her home in Fenwick, a part of Old Saybrook, at the venerable age of 96. You have the unique opportunity to make her acquaintance over a cup of tea courtesy of the remarkable acting talents of Kelly Boucher and the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre of Berlin weekends until September 23.

Thanks to Matthew Lombardo’s revealing comedy “Tea at Five,” we are privileged to meet Ms. Hepburn at two distinct stages of her life, the first when she is mentally reviewing her career to date and actively lobbying to get the role of Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind,” and fifty years later when she is contemplating her life and her choices, now a victim of Parkinson’s disease.

Kelly Boucher becomes this venerable actress, who is aggressive, self-assured, strong willed, an athlete, a non conformist, independent, unconventional and eccentric, with a distinctive patrician voice.  Boucher shares intimate details of Kate’s life, in a progressive and structured family that kept secrets, her early drive and ambition to be a movie actress, her many missteps along the way, and the plays and movies and even television roles she accepted.

She happily admits that the press was not fond of her or her of it, and she even earned the title Katherine of Arrogance.  When she had six or seven flops in a row, she also earned the appellate “box office poison.” Her relationships with many Hollywood big wigs were often contentious and she was known to bully and boss to get her way.  A creature of habit, she often sought the comfort of her family when things went awry, and she enjoyed a cup of tea every day at five o’clock.  The audience is privileged to be in her company for that tradition.

Her father had a tremendous influence on Kate, one she reveals in difficult confessions.  Tom, her older brother, was her protector and she terms it “Paradise” when she was home in Fenwick with him.  His death had a tremendous influence on her life. As she sips tea, she sprinkles her stories with tales of the 1938 hurricane that washed her home away, her dalliance with such suitors as Howard Hughes, her relationship with her German acting teacher, her abhorrence of calla lilies, her brief marriage and her dislike of the institution and her conflicts with leading stars like John Barrymore.

In the second act, we meet a Katharine who has suffered many disappointments  and is now battling Parkinson’s.  She has just suffered a car accident and has a broken ankle.  Warren Beatty is actively pursuing her to end her retirement and return to the screen and he has mistakenly sent her a bouquet of calla lilies to woo her.  This is a frail and fragile queen who is still in charge of her reign. Her attention to detail is still a primary key to her success in life.  Even now she is finally ready to reveal her private relationship with Spencer Tracy, one she kept secret for more than twenty five years.

Through all her trials and triumphs, she freely admits that work has always been her salvation and her priority. After Tracy's death, she returned to acting to survive.  Even at the finale, she was always seeking her happy ending. 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. There are no performances September 1 and 2. Remember to bring goodies to share at your table or plan to buy desserts and drinks  on site. Now is the time to sign up for the cabaret’s next season, its twentieth anniversary.

Don’t miss Kelly Boucher’s outstanding performance as one of America’s foremost females of stage and screen and be guaranteed to learn some intimate secrets and gain even more admiration for our personal Connecticut star.

THE TEMPERATURE IS RISING ON “SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER” AT IVORYTON


Be nostalgic and raise your hand triumphantly to the sky, slick your hair back, practice your dance moves and get set to move and groove, jump and jive, as the Ivoryton Playhouse welcomes the classic hit show “Saturday Night Fever” to town until Sunday, September 3.

Get set to conjure up the iconic image of a man, in this case John Travolta, clad in vanilla colored suit, passionately dancing to win his future. Now with the help of Michael Notardonato’s magnetic Tony Manero we meet a young man trapped in Brooklyn who yearns to escape and his cool dance moves are his ticket out. Thanks to a book by Nan Knighton, in collaboration with Arlene Phillips, Paul Nicholas and Robert Stigwood, you have the exciting opportunity to watch Tony reach out to catch his dreams.

By day Tony works in a paint store but the colors there are  drab black and white and gray. He deals with a crowd of deadbeat pals, Colin Lee, Pierre Marais, Tom DiFeo.Joey Lucherini and Jamal Shuriah,  who aren’t going to win any prizes in the game of life.  When the workweek ends, however, Tony crosses into a technicolor world when he struts into the local disco.

At the discotheque, he is morphed from a lowly frog into the worshiped prince and suddenly he owns the musical world.  Here he is admired.  All things are possible, even a courtship with the much appreciated Stephanie Mangano, Caroline Lellouche. Tony quickly forgets his former dance partner Annette, a loyal Nora Fox, to pursue the exotic new girl.

Will Tony’s smooth and groovy dance floor moves help him win Stephanie’s heart?  Could they even be the magic gold ticket that will launch him out of Brooklyn into the big time? Stephanie, however, is the “maybe” girl, who is reluctant to make a commitment.

The great tunes from the Bee Gees' repertoire, starting with the smart and savvy lyrics of “Stayin’ Alive,” pulsate compellingly to aid the story’s advance.  Other tunes like “How Deep Is Your Love,” “If I Can’t Have Him” and “Top of Your Game” stroke the momentum, especially with impressive choreography.

For tickets ($50-), call the  at or online at www..org.  Performances are Friday, February 19 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, February 20 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.  

Watch temperatures rise to an explosive pitch as “Saturday Night Fever” raises the Ivoryton roof and sets it sailing to the strastosphere.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

GLORIOUS "OKLAHOMA!" RIDES INTO GOODSPEED MUSICALS UNTIL SEPT. 27





                                      PHOTO BY DIANE SOBOLEWSKI






If it had been about Michigan or Mississippi, history would have been quite different. If the title hadn’t been changed from “Green Grow the Lilacs” and “Away We Go,” it might not have won a Special Pulitzer Prize for Drama or become the first Broadway musical honored with a commemorative U.S. stamp. If millions of people hadn’t flocked to see it, it might not have been translated into over a dozen languages from Hebrew to Hungarian.

Now celebrating over seven decades of popularity is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s gift to American musical theatre, one of Broadway’s longest running shows, “Oklahoma!”  Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam will be decorating surreys and picking elephant high sweet corn until Wednesay, September 27th in an effort to make this a remarkable theatrical experience, one not to be missed.
This is pure Americana at its best.

This production, beautifully directed by Jenn Thompson and choreographed with spirit and spunk by Katie Spelman is guaranteed to present the sunshine of the Oklahoma prairie from the dawn of each “oh, what a beautiful morning” as farmer battles the cowman for supremacy in the territory trying to reconcile how both can be friends.
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Love swirls around the Box Social as Will Parker (Jake Swain) bargains for the picnic basket made by Ado Annie (Gizel Jimenez) and Curly (Rhett Guter) and Jud (Matt Faucher) try to outbid each other for Laurey’s (Samantha Bruce) offering. While Ado Annie has to deal with the fast talking salesman Ali Hakim (Matthew Curiano), Laurey’s dilemma with the sullen farm hand Jud and the energetic and engaging Curly poses the show’s real conflict in an otherwise sunny and optimistic landscape. A kindly Aunt Eller (Terry Burrell) and a feisty Andrew Carnes (C. Mingo Long) try to keep the folks peaceful.

Songs like the show stopping title “Oklahoma!,”  "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top,"  the lovely duet “People Will Say We’re in Love” and the comic “I Cain’t Say No!” attest to why this show is a classic family favorite. A intriguing ballet poignantly ends the first act. The cast is awesome and the festivities abound with joy tinged with sorrow.

For tickets ($29 and up) call the Goodspeed Musicals, on the Connecticut River in East Haddam at 860-873-8668 or online at www.goodspeed.org. . Performances are Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (with select shows at 2 p.m.), Friday at 8 p.m.,  Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.,  and Sunday at 2 p.m. (with select shows at 6:30 p.m.).


If you weren’t lucky enough to be at the show’s premiere at New Haven’’s Shubert Theatre on March 15, 1943, don’t compound the mistake by missing this outstanding opportunity to climb aboard the most famous surrey with the fringe on top and merrily ride into musical history.

Friday, August 25, 2017

DISCOVER WHAT IS "APPROPRIATE" OR NOT IN INTENSE FAMILY DRAMA


                THE LAFAYETTE FAMILY     PHOTO BY CAROL ROSEGG

Arguments, accusations and apologies mark the uncomfortable "reunion" of the Lafayette family at their crumbling plantation home in Arkansas. They are gathering to prepare for an estate sale, now that the patriarch of the clan has died.  At the same time a relentless and shrill buzz of insects, cicadas, is experiencing its 13-17 year explosion of promulgation.  The insistent and annoying summer mating song of the insects is like the hostile environment that the Lafayette family is engaged in trying to survive.

The Westport Country Playhouse  will be caught in this storm of emotion as Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' Obie Award-winning play "Appropriate" shows its family fangs until Saturday, September 2.  Be forewarned you may need a shot of whiskey straight as you bear witness to three siblings, their partners and offspring, as they struggle to come to terms with the death of dear old dad.

A major debt to the bank is prompting an estate sale and it is questionable if the proceeds will be barely enough to cover the indebtedness and whether there will a pittance left over to share.  Sister Toni, a decisive and determined Betsy Aidem, holds court and commands the role of four star general.  She knows best and woe to anyone who opposes her leadership.  She has come home with her son Rhys, Nick Selting, without a husband or a job and with excuses for everything that has happened in the past.

Toni holds sway over her younger brother Bo, an indecisive and anxious David Aaron Baker, who wants the sale to go well so he can return home with his wife Rachael (Diane Davis) and children Cassie (Allison Winn) and Ainsley (Christian Michael Camporin).  This visit to the homestead is stirring up lots of angst and emotions, and that is before the third member of the triumvirate appears, unannounced and largely unwelcome.  When Franz (or Frank, if you will) literally falls into the home, any evidence of civility flies out of the doorway.  Franz, the brother with the past litany of transgressions, a contrite Shawn Fagan, has returned to the scene of his crimes, for the primary purpose of apologizing for sins of the past.  He is accompanied by his spiritual soulmate River, a consoling Anna Crivelli, to prove he has changed and wants to resume his place in the family order.

Suddenly a photo album opens a hailstorm of secrets and revelations that threaten everyone. Toni's Betsy Aidem is fierce in her condemnation and verbal fisticuffs fly in all directions.  Who was their father in reality?  What are they descended from as an inheritance?  Can these rifts be mended or are they too deep and scarred to ever heal?  David Kennedy directs a drama that will long haunt you as you contemplate how like our nation the Lafayette family truly is.

For tickets ($30 and up), call the Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, off route 1, Westport at 1-888-927-7529 or 203-227-4177 or online at www.westportplayhouse.org.  Performances are Tuesday at 7 p.m., Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.

Become intimately involved with the Lafayettes as they struggle to reconcile the past with the present and survive the intensely personal encounter, just like the cicadas swarming in the woods outside the door.

Monday, August 21, 2017

ELM SHAKESPEARE INTRODUCES “ROMEO AND JULIET” UNDER THE STARS


New Haven's lovely tree scape Edgerton Park becomes a colorful quilt of families every night, except Mondays, until Sunday, September 3 as the tragically romantic tale of Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet"reveals itself, thanks to Elm Shakespeare, under the stars. For the 22nd year, this fine acting company brings exceptional theater to the community so people of all ages can enjoy the Bard up close and personal.

On opening night, I spied a woman knitting a fuzzy blue blanket while her black bunny BoonBoon (short for Brunhilda) scampered near by enjoying the greenery, kids played ball, couples dined on tuna fish sandwiches or fried chicken, babies happily broke crackers on a blanket, cell phones were activated, plastic cups of white wine were toasted and one woman sported a head of bright purple hair...until the magic happened and the play began.

Brawls and bawdy language and tenderness and tears mark this current production of the classic Shakespeare tale “never was a story of more woe than Juliet and her Romeo.”  You are invited to visit these star-crossed lovers who meet, marry and die in way less than a fortnight, plagued by two families who consider feuding their special right.

The Capulets and the Montagues will be entertaining, but definitely not each other, on an elaborate set designed by Elizabeth Bolster over five weeks at the company's new alliance and home at Southern Connecticut State University.  Directed by long time actor Raphael Massie, this version of “Romeo and Juliet” is blessed with love songs of a contemporary flavor. 

To Massie, "The challenge is how do I keep the story fresh and relevant.  Here there is no particular time period.  The story transcends time.  Here we have a mix of fresh faces as new actors as well as veterans on the board.  This is compelling theater that crosses every time period since the year it was written."  Additionally, he hopes that love will always triumph over hatred and prove "we are one humanity."

Courtney Jamison is chaste and charming, soft and luminous, as the young teenage girl, barely fourteen,  eager to embrace love and choose her own mate, not willing to concede to the pressures of her parents (Mark Sage Hamilton and Samantha Dena Smith) to marry their choice of suitor Paris (Martin K. Lewis).  When Juliet meets the dashing and newly devoted Romeo (Steven Lee Johnson) at her parents' ball, her fate is sealed and the tragedy quickly unfolds.

The ancient grudge between the two families leads to the deaths of two young citizens, Tybalt (Claire Warden) and Mercutio (James Udom).  For the role Romeo plays in the battle, he is banished from Verona.  Despite the helpful and often comic aid of Juliet’s nurse, a cunning Gracy Brown, and the well-meaning advice of Friar Laurence (James Andreassi), the young lovers are doomed by their parents’ animosity to a tragic end.  Their first bloom of love is destined to be short lived. Just as in our present world, hatred often trumps love and understanding and we are all the poorer for it.  Escalus, Prince of Verona, (Tamika Pittwayspeaks sagely about the great price this hatred has wrought.

Come learn the costs of adversity in ancient Verona and in our present world.  Elm Shakespeare requests donations to fund their year round activities in school and with youth.  To help in their goal of raising $50,000, make a donation by texting elm91011 or do so at the performances where suggested donations are $20 adults, $10 students and $5 children.

Other activities of note to add to your calendar are "An Evening Under the Stars," a Gala and Auction at Edgerton Park on Thursday, August 31, with cocktails, buffet and auction at 5 p.m. followed by the performance.  Tickets start at $75 and are available at ElmShakespeare.org or 203-392-8882. 

On Thursday, October 26 from 6:30-8:30pm in the Curran Community Room at Gateway Community College founding board member of Elm Shakespeare Bill Curran will celebrate his 90th birthday. Call for tickets in mid-September but reserve now at ElmShakespeare.org or 203-392-8882.

The joy of wedding planning quickly turns to preparations for funerals as the two feuding families learn too late what their enmity has cost.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

THE MASTER OF MUSICAL BIOGRAPHIES STRIKES AGAIN



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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 14, 2017

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

KRISTIN HANGGI, DIRECTOR (TOP)







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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For tickets ($42-59), call Goodspeed Musicals at 860-873-8668 or online at www.goodspeed.org.  Performances are Wednesday at 2 p.m and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m and 6:30 p.m. The Terris Theatre is located at 33  North Main Street, Chester, exit 6 off route 9.

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

Monday, August 7, 2017

"RAGING SKILLET" COOKS UP COMEDY UNTIL AUGUST 27


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 31, 2017

“MADAMA BUTTERFLY” SOARS INTO CLINTON


                       BUTTERFLY   (SHANNON KESSLER DOOLEY) WITH SWORD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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