Monday, February 6, 2023

A SWEET "TOOTSIE" AWAITS YOU AT THE BUSHNELL FEBRUARY 21-26

In 1896 a chewy piece of chocolate candy, a Tootsie Roll, entered the confection market place. This iconic piece of oblong delight is more popular now than ever. The candy was named by an Austrian immigrant Leo Hirshfield, who owned a candy store in New York City, for his daughter Clara then five years old, Her nickname was “Tootsie.” In one day 64 million Tootsie Rolls are produced. During the Korean War, Tootsie Rolls were parachuted in to a Marine Division out of ammunition. They provided nourishment for the troops and, when warmed, were used to plug bullet holes to seal them when they refroze. In 2018 Tootsie took on a new distinction, as a musical based on the highly successful film of the same name. Now it will be at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford from Tuesday, February 21 to Sunday, February 26 so prepare to laugh out loud. With a book by Robert Horn and a clever score by David Yazbek, “Tootsie” has been termed a “joyful delight” by the New York Times Critics. When a difficult actor whose talents are unquestioned can’t find work, he connives to secure a role of a lifetime. Complete with wig, make-up and body padding, Michael Dorsay disguises himself as a woman and sets out to get a starring role on “Julia’s Nurse.” Because of his volatile nature, it is only as a woman that he can hope to land a part, and, in doing so, gains a healthy respect for the female sex. It’s his 40th birthday and just the right time for a crisis or three. His new part in the show sets him on the right course to resolve his problems, even though it causes all his friends and colleagues a ton of angst...with music, dance and humor, For tickets ($35-135), call the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Avenue, Hartford at 860-987-5900 or online at bushnell.org. Performances are Tuesday to Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m and 8 pm. and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Come meet Michael Dorsay at a crucial crossroads in his career and witness how cleverly he manipulates fate to achieve what he wants, even if he has to become a woman to make it happen.

"I HATE HAMLET": A DUELING COMEDY AT MTC UNTIL FEBRUARY 19

Actor Andrew Rally has a new apartment, a new city and a new job opportunity. So why is he so scared? When successful Los Angeles television star Andrew Rally moves to New York City on a whim, settling into an apartment previously owned by the grand theatrical force John Barrymore, strange things start happening. Playwright Paul Rudnick has conjured up a particularly clever premise in his comedy offering “I Hate Hamlet” gracing the stage of Music Theatre of Connecticut until Sunday, February 19 and this talented cast takes that premise and runs for the finish line. Andrew clearly has a comfort zone. Playing a doctor on a television series is an easy fix, but when he gets to the Big Apple he is offered the starring role in Shakespeare’s classic tragedy playing Hamlet in the Park. After he accepts the challenge, he changes his mind and wants to back out. Constantine Pappas’s Andrew has a Greek chorus of voices urging him to say yes or to say no. He plays conflicted very well as his girlfriend Deirdre (Elena Ramos Pascullo) can’t wait for him to tread the boards as does his psychic realtor Felicia (Liliane Klein). His agent Lillian (Jo Anne Paradyl) is all for his donning tights and wielding a sword. Pushing him to go in the opposite direction is his over-the-top friend Gary (Robert Anthony Jones) who has decidedly other plans: a lucrative television season of 24 episodes, on a new show "Night School,” dangling a paycheck in the millions. As Andrew agonizes over his decision, he receives a powerful push from the undisputed star of the Shakespeare sphere: John Barrymore’s ghost. Dan O’Driscoll is persuasive and potent as the master manipulator who wants to inspire the reluctant protagonist to strike a victory for the Bard. Using encouraging arguments and dramatic swordplay, the legendary star challenges him to take a risk, with full support from the spiritual world, of course. Can the sweet Prince of Denmark be convinced to trust his own acting chops? Will Deirdre provide physical confirmation of her faith? Will Gary use greed to convince him to forsake glory for the lure of the almighty dollar? Kevin Connors directs this duel of desires on a tasteful penthouse set conceived by Sean Stanford, with effective lighting by RJ Romeo. For tickets ($45-65), call Music Theatre of Connecticut, 509 Westport Avenue (Route One) Norwalk at 203-454-3883 or online at www.musictheatreofct.com. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Masks will be required at the performances February 10 at 8 p.m. and February 18 at 2 p.m. Please note that Giving Day 2023 in Fairfield County is Thursday, February 23 and MTC welcomes your financial support. Let one of the greatest Hamlets of all time, even if he is often in his cups, try to convince one of the newest actors on the scene to rise to the occasion and fortify his backbone to take that great leap of faith that spells stardom.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

ARETHA FRANKLIN: THE QUEEN OF SOUL

Ever since she was little girl singing in a church, the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, where her father was the charismatic minister, Aretha Franklin knew her destiny. She has stated, “Being a singer is a natural gift. It means I’m using to the highest degree possible the gift that God gave me to use. I’m happy with that.” As a teen, her father became her manager and by 18 she was signed as a gospel singer with Columbia Records and soon after Atlantic Records. Born in Memphis in 1942, Aretha Louise Franklin became a renown American singer, songwriter and pianist who won eighteen Grammys, received the Living Legend honor of Lifetime Achievement and was the first female to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in addition to the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. In 2019 the Pulitzer Prize jury awarded her posthumously a special citation “for her incredible contribution to American music and culture for more than five decades.” You now have the unique opportunity to meet this singing star and her the songs that made her great when the Palace Theater in Waterbury presents R.E.S.P.E.C.T. on Friday, February 17 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, February 19 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. As she said herself, “Music does a lot of things for a lot of people. It’s transporting, for sure. It can take you right back, years back, to the very moment certain things happened in your life. it’s uplifting, it’s encouraging, it’s strengthening.” This tribute concert has been called “electrifying” as it features her story of triumph and trials, love and disappointment, overtures and obstacles. You just might find yourself dancing to such tunes as “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Loved You), “Chain of Fools,” “Think,” “Respect,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “A Rose is Still a Rose,” “Ain’t No Way,” “Jump to It,” and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” For tickets ($45-85), call the Palace Theater in Waterbury at 203-346-2000 or online at palacetheaterct.org. On Friday, February 17 at 6 p.m. a special dinner swill be held upstairs in the Poli Club for $73 a person. Call for reservations. Take a page out of Aretha’s book. She felt “Every birthday is a gift. Every day is a gift.” Give yourself a special gift and come rejoice with Aretha as she celebrates life. According to her gospel, “I’ve never recorded anything I didn’t like.” So you are sure to love all the songs you will hear in this concert.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

"INDECENT" AT PLAYHOUSE ON PARK" A TRUE LITTLE PLAY THAT CHANGED THEATER

In 1907 Sholem Asch wrote a play in Yiddish, "God of Vengeance," that changed his life and the world of theater. Ignoring the advice to burn the play and forget it, he sees his personal project performed across Europe to great acclaim. Only when the drama crosses the pond to America does it incite controversy from Jews and others who view it as anti-Semitic. Good theater is supposed to inspire conversation and maybe even a little controversy. Playwrights like audiences to leave their seats with questions and comments, hopefully eager to discuss the play’s finer points or disturbing elements. Sometimes one leaves humming a title song or buzzing with excitement. One never knows and that’s half the fun of venturing into the theatrical unknown. For Paula Vogel’s play within a play “Indecent,” we are invited into the lives of Sholem Asch and his wife Matl, snugly ensconced at the Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, until Sunday, February 26. While a violinist, folk dance, song and a father who is questioning his faith all figure prominently and the old world flavor and charm of the shtetl are clearly evident, this is not your grandfather’s “Fiddler on the Roof.” “Indecent” lets us be privy to that journey and those complications as an intrepid troupe of performers dedicates itself to bringing this controversial tale to the public. While it was cheered in places like Berlin, Rome and ST. Petersburg, this “daring play” confronting “contemporary moral values” led to the entire cast being arrested on obscenity charges when it premiered on Broadway in 1923. “The God of Vengeance” deals with a devoted Jew who loves the Torah but also runs a brothel in the basement of his home. His virginal daughter Rifkele falls in love with a female prostitute Manke, a forbidden relationship that causes Papa to denounce both her and his religion. Kelly O’Donnell directs this production with skill, with Alexander Sovronsky providing lively musical direction and Katie Stevinson-Nollet adding lyrical choreography. A talented troupe of eleven actors and musicians -Dan Zimberg as Lemml the stage manager, Noa Graham, Bart Shatto, Kirsten Peacock, Helen Laser, Dan Krackhardt, Alexander Sovronsky, Michelle Lemon, Jack Theiling, Ben McLaughlin and Sydney Weiser - bring this involving story to fervent life with words, movement, playing violin, accordion and clarinet in an almost two hour production without intermission. For tickets ($42.50-55), call Playhouse on Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford at 860-523-5900, ext.10 or online at https://www.playhouseonpark.org. Performances are Tuesday at 2 p.m., 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 2 p.m., followed by a talkback. It is interesting to note that January 27 was International Holocaust Remembrance Day to honor the memory of the six million Jews killed by the Nazis in World War II. In 2023 a Florida high school was forced to cancel its production of “Indecent” due to sexual content, where two actresses kiss on stage. Today on Broadway audiences are flocking to see “Leopoldstadt” by Tom Stoppard about a Jewish family striving to survive in times of peril over a span of fifty years, called the Best Theater of 2022. Immerse yourself in this extraordinary theatrical production that wrestles with sin and with God, that bears witness to souls rising out of the ashes until they are returned dust to dust, and celebrates a pure love, in the rain, of one young woman for another. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, this play is transfused with light and joy.

Monday, January 23, 2023

HARTFORD STAGE OPENS NEW BI-LINGUAL VISTAS UNTIL FEBRUARY 5

The Hartford Stage is opening challenging vistas in innovation and cultural diversity with a new play “Espejos: Clean” that speaks in two voices, both English and Spanish. Using pictorial projections and Supertitles, we clearly hear the stories of two women, one from Vancouver, Canada and the other from Chetumal, Mexico. The experience is theatrically dramatic. Until Sunday February 5, playwright Christine Quintana, with Spanish translation by Paula Zelaya Cervantes, will take the audience into the heart and soul of these two different women, with quite different stories, whose lives collide at a Mexican resort and are forever altered. Emma Ramos’s Adriana grows up in a household where her father rules. All she wants to do is escape his control and she does so when a male friend Nicholas drives her six hours away to a Mexican resort to start a new life. Adriana never looks back and starts as a maid, working her way after eight years of hard work to become the Head Housekeeper, supervising thirty women. The sudden knowledge that her father has died shakes her world at its foundation. Kate Abbruzzese’s Sarah is reluctantly the maid of honor at her younger sister’s destination wedding. She uses alcohol as her medication to endure the festivities, slowly acting out of control. Both women are the victims of trauma and need to discover how to heal. As magic and storms and ever present water influence their actions, they meet and their stories merge in their shared secrets. Family tensions erupt and each women must face a past that has shaped their present and future. An event occurs that forces each to reevaluate their choices, thrusting them together to find solutions, to face the consequences of their actions, to remove the masks they have been hiding behind. Melissa Crespo directs this intriguing play of complicating situations, a co-production with Syracuse Stage, that forces both females to see the world as it actually is. For tickets ($30 and up), call the Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street, Hartford at 860-527-5151 or online at HartfordStage.org. Performances are Tuesday to Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with Saturday, Sunday and select Wednesday matinees at 2 p.m. It is not necessary to know a word of Spanish to get completely absorbed in this tale that honors women in its conception and telling.

Monday, January 16, 2023

“SPELLING BEE” SCORES AN A+=EXCELLENT AT SEVEN ANGELS IN WATERBURY

Did you like to compete in brainy and nerdy activities in grade school, ones that promoted school spirit? Is spelling one of the skills you retained from your early learning days? Do you like to read the dictionary just for fun? Is Daniel Webster one of your heroes? If you answered yes, then have I got a theatrical experience for you! Conceived by Rebecca Feldman, with book by Rachel Sheinkin, music and lyrics by William Finn and additional material by Jay Reiss, “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” oozes with charm as a half dozen middle school kids who are the nerds and the geeks of the area classes compete for the coveted trophy and savings bond that go to the winner. You might even find yourself on stage with them...if you are brave and confident and ready for a challenge. But never worry, you have to volunteer to find yourself in the spotlight on stage. Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury, until Sunday, February 5, is anxious and able to provide just the perfect setting for the fun and angst that goes with the competition. Come meet Marcy Park (Holly LoRusso) as the dedicated parochial school entry who speaks five or six or seven languages and determines for herself whether she will win or lose. She rejects being perfect, with the help of a heavenly creature. Chip Tolentino (Michael Newman) is the perpetual Boy Scout and a great ball player but he develops a physical problem related to puberty that erupts on stage and ultimately determines his fate. With a sinus condition, an allergy to nuts, a handkerchief and a magic foot, William Barfee (James Donohue) dances his way into spelling stardom. He resents his name being continually mispronounced but manages to show a softer side. Also hot into the competition is Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre (Katie Brunetto) with two papas and a whole lot of pressure and the need to stand up for equality for all genders and sexualities. In Olive Ostrovsky (Rosalie Corry Pena), we find a bouncing bundle of enthusiasm who only wishes at least one of her parents were there for encouragement. Her dad is busy at work and her mom has elected to go to an ashram in India for nine months. Sporting a bike helmet and wearing his self-designed clothes, Leaf Coneybear (Jonathan Zalaski) is the home schooled speller. His siblings have tried to convince him he is dumb, but he knows better. Four lucky volunteers (local “celebrities”) from the audience are also invited on stage to prove their spelling prowess...or not. In addition, Miss Peretti (Alyssa Fontana Bunel), Vice Principal Mr. Panch (Johnny Ozerhoski) and a felon doing community service named Mitch (Moses Jacob) deliver the words, the rules, the definitions, the pronunciations, language of origin, use in a sentence and the comfort hugs when they lose. Marissa Follo Perry and Jimmy Donohue co-direct, with choreography by Foster Evans Reese and musical direction by Holly McCann, and this Tony award-winning musical comedy has a heart bigger than the entire gymnasium. The songs are heartfelt and sweet and express how each kid is feeling and what their world is really about in words and dance. For tickets ($25), call Seven Angels Theatre, One Plank Road, Waterbury at 203-757-4676 or online at www.sevenangelstheatre.org. Performances are Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Grab your dictionary and be prepared to join the p-a-n-d-e-m-o-n-i-u-m when “Spelling Bee” rings your bell. Brushing up on words that name South American rodents isn't a bad idea either.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

"MY FAIR LADY" DELIGHTS IN WATERBURY AT THE PALACE

When you seek theatrical perfection, look no further than the romantic musical classic “My Fair Lady.” For more than six decades, the story of a poor, dirty faced and uneducated Cockney flower girl, eking out a living selling bunches of violets for a tuppence in Covent Gardens, has charmed the world. This particular girl, one Eliza Doolittle, is ready to spread her magic once again when the Waterbury’s gilded Palace Theater brings the wonderful musical "My Fair Lady" to the stage for three days only, Tuesday to Thursday, January 24-26, at 7:30 p.m.. This is the acclaimed production from Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Lerner & Loewe’s “My Fair Lady" and is the winner of 5 Outer Critics Circle Awards including Best Revival of a Musical and was nominated for 10 Tony Awards including Best Musical Revival, 5 Drama Desk Awards including Best Musical Revival and 3 Drama League Awards including Best Musical Revival. The production premiered in the spring of 2018 at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater. Come make the acquaintance of as delightful a Eliza Doolittle as you could hope to meet, with just the right amount of skepticism and wonder as you might expect when, suddenly, she is plucked from the gutter by an arrogant and aggressive Professor Henry Higgins and informed that he has the powers to make her a princess, or duchess, or any number of a member of royalty as he so chooses. The professor in question, a master of languages and at the top of his field, has been challenged by his good friend and colleague Colonel Pickering to take this "squashed cabbage leaf," this "guttersnipe," and pass her off as a sophisticated lady of privilege. As the masterful professor, Higgins is clearly up to the daunting task. How Henry accomplishes this feat, which he takes full credit for, discounting all the work and effort by one Miss Doolittle herself, is a pure pleasure to watch. When Eliza's old dad comes by to save her soul, or at least get paid for her loss of reputation, the goose feathers fly. The wonderful Lerner and Loewe tunes are stuffed in that fat pillow and soar through the air, like "I Could Have Danced All Night," "Get Me to the Church on Time," "On the Street Where You Live" and "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face." For all her efforts, Eliza only has the support of two females, the professor's mother who knows all too well what a bully her son is and the professor's housekeeper, Mrs. Pierce who sees his impervious ways on a daily basis. Eliza also earns the adoration of her suitor Freddie. For her part, Eliza is swept up in the monumental task of transforming herself from head to toe, inside and out, and she does a magnificent job of the business at hand. Samantha Saltzman directs this tour cast, fit for the whole family to enjoy, with energetic choreography by Jim Cooney, lovely sets by Michael Yeargan and lush costumes by Catherine Zuber. For tickets ($45-85), call the Palace theater, 100 East Main Street, Waterbury at 203=346-2000 and online to www.palacetheaterct.org. You can reserve a four course dinner for $73 at the Poli Club at 5:30 p.m. before the show. Special events such as 2nd Act, Jazz Series, table readings, I Wrote That! and Coffeehouse Series are also available to enjoy in the Poli Club. Cheer on Miss Eliza Doolittle as she trades in her bunches of flowers for a tiara and title, all thanks to a bet that the conceited Professor Henry Higgins can't resist making and winning.