"A CIVIL WAR CHRISTMAS" BY PAULA VOGEL AT CT REPERTORY THEATRE AT STORRS
At a bakery shop, a baker’s dozen can mean an extra donut, 13 instead of 12. In the parlance of an annual theater review, it means one more special production to highlight. For 2018, the pickings were plentiful and hopefully you have seen and enjoyed a number of my personal favorites.
What would January be without a weekend visit to the Goodspeed Festival of New Musicals, #13 in fact. The trio of days include 3 staged musical readings, 2 cabarets, symposiums and seminars and an exciting atmosphere for theater lovers to enjoy. Here’s where the Broadway nit “Come From Away” was birthed, as Gander, Newfoundland figured so humanely in the 9/11 trauma.
For pure drama, Music theatre of Connecticut in Norwalk set Tennessee Williams’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” sizzling. You will not soon forget the Pollitt family, Big Daddy, Big Mama, Brick and Maggie the Cat as the family dynamics explode and threaten to destroy all those caught in its path.
The speed of the moment slowed down considerably to 33 and 1/3 as Goodspeed Musicals introduced that musical afficianato Man in Chair, captured in all his wit and deprecating humor as tour guide in ”The Drowsy Chaperone.” As Man in Chair, splendidly played by John Scherer, puts his favorite score on the turntable, the musical springs to life in all its colorful glory.
The grand scope of song continued as Westport Country Playhouse presented the grandeur of our favorite undaunted knight, Don Quixote, in “Man of La Mancha.” Philip Hernandez easily made “the impossible dream” come true.
Hartford Stage brought Mona Golabek back for a second concert turn with her personal tale of her mother’s journey as a teenager during World War II and her harrowing survival in “The Pianist of Willesden Lane,” Playing all the characters, while serenading with classical compositions, Ms. Golabek amazed audiences with her acting and musical skills.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first musical hit, begun while a student at Wesleyan, took center stage at West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park with “In the Heights.” Set in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge, it told the diverse tale of a Latino culture, with immense hip-hop humor and flavor.
A gospel experience by African-American church going ladies came to life in Regina Taylor’s “Crowns” at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre. Wearing elaborate hats that proclaimed their pride and religious passion, these women strutted and preened in all their Southern style.
On a more serious note, New Haven’s Yale Repertory Theatre took audiences back in time to Suzan-Lori Parks’ moving “Father Comes Home from the Wars Parts 1, 2 and 3.” This Civil War drama explores issues about slaves, soldiers and owners and the choices they are forced to make.
The epic saga of the Civil War continued in musical form in Paula Vogel’s unique “Civil War Christmas” with the Connecticut Repertory Theatre at the University of Connecticut. Soldiers from both sides, slaves seeking freedom and President and Mrs. Lincoln figure prominently.
The world premiere of “Queens of Golden Mask” by Carole Lockwood at Ivoryton Playhouse introduces the women behind the men and the mask, as the Southern roots of the Ku Klux Klan are revealed in all their twisted philosophies.
Hartford TheaterWorks for the sixth year returned with their traditional and untraditional “Christmas on the Rocks.” Our favorite childhood characters, like Tiny Tim and Clara from the Nutcracker, wander into a bar on Christmas Eve, only now they are all grown up. Jenn Harris, Randy Harrison and Tom Bloom master all the vignettes.
The Bristol Place Senior Living Facility is about to erupt when Marina Re’s Abby gets a new roommate played by Peggy Cosgrove’s Marilyn in David Lindsey-Abaire’s “Ripcord” at Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury. Soon the pair is raising the stakes to see who will cry “wolf” and move out first.
Clearly the “WOW factor” of the year is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s genius musical “Hamilton,” performed for three weeks by a National Touring Company at Hartford’s Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts. This historical musical lives up to all the hype and more as it tells the tale of an orphan from the Caribbean, poor without promise, who comes to America to earn ”his shot,” becoming a true Founding Father in his adopted land.
As the New Year begins, hopefully you will fill your calendar with laughter and drama, and musicals too, as Connecticut ‘s theaters offer up their best for your entertainment.