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.