Monday, January 21, 2019

THE BEST OF CONNECTICUT THEATER FOR 2018




"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.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

MILLER, MISSISSIPPI” WILL HAUNT YOU AT LONG WHARF THEATRE




LEAH KARPEL'S BECKY WITH RODERICK HILL'S THOMAS IN "MILLER, MISSISSIPPI"



Long after you leave Long Wharf Theatre, you will be haunted by the memories and images conjured up in Boo Killebrew’s gothic tale of one dysfunctional family in the decades from 1960 to 1994.  Set deep in the South, it explores the ramifications of  the Civil Rights Movement on each individual family member. It begins with a ghost story told by Doris, the powerfully embracing black housekeeper, the lynch pin of the Miller children. Benja Kay Thomas’s Doris keeps the house functioning, not only cooking, cleaning and ironing, but guiding the eldest Thomas, a demanding Roderick Hill, the art loving Becky, a conflicted Leah Karpel, and the rambunctious and affectionate John, a good hearted and concerned Jacob Perkins.

Long Wharf Theatre will offer this compelling and intense drama until Sunday, February 3 on Stage II in New Haven.  “MILLER, Mississippi” immediately pulls you into the center of this disturbed family where the patriarch has just died, in a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  A respected judge in the community, he, nevertheless, abused his daughter Becky sexually, a despicable  action continued by elder son Thomas as if it were a privilege he inherited. The fact that his wife Mildred knew it was happening and failed to protect Becky is one telling truth about this family’s dynamics.

Mildred, a socially proper Charlotte Booker, is concerned with surfaces, appearances and the dictates of  the community.  As long as her bridge club is privy to the best she can offer, then what exists under the rug is immaterial.  When the issue of rights for African-Americans becomes unavoidable and white men from the North try to register voters, the family is forced to take a stand. Mildred and Thomas are clearly against any change to the status quo and don’t want the legacy of white supremacy to change while young John stands firmly with Doris and is eager to help that cause in any way he can. Confused Becky, caught in a morass of abuse, feels powerless to help anyone, least of all herself.

The family struggles and is further divided by the issues.  As time passes, marked by pages of the calendar being ripped off, intensified by sounds and music dramatically filling the house created by Daniel Kluger, on a set designed by Kristen Robinson,  the ghost story initially told by Doris appears to be coming true.  The images on the black and white television set underscore the historical significance of the action. Lee Sunday Evans directs this compelling story this is still being a focus in today’s news with a powerful cast that makes the disintegration seem all too real.

For tickets ($35.50-75.50), call Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven at 203-787-4282 or online at www.longwharftheatre.com. 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. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Boo Killebrew was inspired to write this play after returning home to Mississippi for her grandfather’s funeral, on the fiftieth anniversary of the Freedom Summer, and soon found herself ”exploring topics of race and privilege in our nation, and how the legacy of white supremacy is persistent in our present day America and is not just confined to the Civil Rights era in Mississippi.”  She is named for Boo Radley, a character in Harper Lee’s classic “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  She like the book character can be described as gentle, curious, kind, generous, protective, and, definitely, mysterious.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

SEVEN ANGELS THEATRE IN WATERBURY THINKING SUMMER WITH “THE BIKINIS"


You might want to think pink, as in pink or yellow polka dot bikini, that scantily designed swimwear that defines in two pieces on women and resembles abbreviated underwear. Hard to believe it was named for the site of a nuclear weapons test site, the Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.  Conceived by French engineer Louis Reard in 1946, it has become heralded as one of the most popular female beachwear ensembles, an $811 million industry annually.

Recently it has been reincarnated in an entirely new fashion statement thanks to co-writers Ray Roderick and James Hindman and composer and musical arranger Joe Baker as
 a beach party musical “The Bikinis.”  Debuting at the Goodspeed’s Terris Theatre in Chester back in 2012, it is now toasting up the stage of Waterbury’s Seven Angels Theatre until Sunday, January 20.  Grab your plaid blanket and rub on the suntan lotion and journey back to the 1960
for some musical fun in the summer sun.

You’ve made good friends with the “Jersey Boys,” but now it’s time to make room on stage for the Jersey Girls.  In 1964, four B.F. F.’s (best friends forever) on a lark enter a talent contest wearing (you guessed it) bikinis and win the Belmar Beach boardwalk banners.  Two teenage sisters from Paramus,  Jodi (Erin West Reed) and Annie (Brittany Mulcahy), join forces with their impetuous cousin Karla (Chelsea Dacey) from Philadelphia and their best bud Barbara (Samantha Rae Bass) from Staten Island to make their summer fun memorable and you’re invited along for the roller coaster ride.

With a parade of thirty favorite tunes like “It’s Raining Men,” “Dedicated to the One I Love,” “It’s in His Kiss,” “I’m Every Woman,” “Under the Boardwalk” and “Chapel of Love” as well as brand new songs like “In My Bikini” and “Sandy Shores,” you’ll find yourself dancing in your seat and humming right along.

According to Ray Roderick,  “The show is about fun, females and friendship.  It’s 75% songs we know and love and 25% new material.  It showcases women in a positive way, written by men who love them.”

Calling it “a joyous party,” Roderick finds it “an easy, breezy show where the women don’t stop.  They are a talent pool that delivers and has fun in the process.” Stating that the musical’s title is a metaphor for the struggle for equality women face, he feels they are empowered by it, even as they are still vulnerable.  The quartet of females in the show relive their past but focus, two decades later when they reunite, in the here and now.

The great rock and roll music of the 60’s and 70’s is wrapped around the original talent contest where the goal of the girls was to get on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand and fast forward to their gathering when they meet to save the Sandy Shores Mobile Home Beach Resort, a favorite landmark on the Jersey beach that is being threatened by a land developer who wants to take over and build condos.

Back in 2007, at the Briny Breezes Trailer Park in Florida, the owners were each offered a million dollars to move and “The Bikinis” is loosely based on that true story.  In addition, it touches on the innocent fun of that era as well as the Vietnam War, the Woodstock event, flower children and the rise of women’s voices.  “The Bikinis” is “a coming of age story that views the world through their eyes.”

For tickets ($30 or 4 for $89 using code word BEACH), call  Seven Angels Theatre, 1 Plank Road, Waterbury at 203-757-4676 or online at www.sevenangelstheatre.org. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday  8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. 

Come rediscover the great songs of the 60’s and70’s as this one hit wonder girls’ group reunites as women.  Come hear them roar.





Monday, January 7, 2019

SUSPENSEFUL “WAIT UNTIL DARK” AT CT CABARET



MICHAEL GILBRIDE AND JULIE LEMOS AS 
SAM AND SUSAN HENDRIX

Possessing all your senses is a wonderful way of life, enabling you to see, hear, taste, smell and touch all aspects of your world. What would happen if one of those senses was no longer available?  How might you cope if your eyes no longer functioned?  

The Connecticut Cabaret Theatre has conjured up one frightening possibility in the suspenseful  mystery ”Wait Until Dark” by Frederick Knott, adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher.  Weekends until Saturday, February 2, you are invited into the unseeing world of Susan Hendrix whose husband Sam has unwittingly placed her front and center into danger with a capital D.

Julie Lemos’s Susan prides herself on how well she can cope with her blindness, maneuvering around her Greenwich Village apartment, with Sam’s help (Michael Gilbride) and the aid of Gloria, the teenager who lives upstairs.  Allie Lesser’s Gloria has a little fun at Susan’s expense, naughty and nasty, deliberately moving the furniture and sneaking into Susan’s place to cause mischief.

When Sam, a photographer, comes home with a doll in his suitcase, a doll filled with heroin, he becomes the target of a theft ring.  Gloria steals the doll, innocently putting the Hendrix couple in the center of a hurricane of terror. 

When a trio of men appear at Susan’s door, she doesn’t know who to trust: an old Army buddy of her husband’s (Dave Wall), a policeman (Russell Fish) and a fellow (Josh Luszczak) claiming that his wife is having an affair with Sam. Will Susan’s lack of sight help her elude the thieves?   Can Gloria be depended on to aid Susan as she fights for her life?  Will a series of convoluted clues lead Susan to outwit her frightening foes?

Kris McMurray builds the terror as he directs this mounting mystery where Susan’s ingenuity and ability to keep her cool may be responsible for keeping herself alive.

For tickets ($35), call the CT Cabaret, 31-33 Webster Square Road, Berlin at 860-829-1218 or online at www.ctcabaret.com.  Performances are Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m., with doors opening at 7:15 p.m.  Remember to bring goodies to share at your table or plan to buy dessert and drinks at the concession stand.

A special Kids Cabaret, an 8 week spring program in acting, singing and dancing, for ages 8-16, will begin Saturday, April 6th from 1-3 p.m., cost $250.

Watch how the recovery of a doll leads to intrigue and murder as Julie Lemos’s Susan plays her own ingenious game of cat and multiple mice.