Review: “It’s A Wonderful Life” at Greater Boston Stage Company

Review: “It’s A Wonderful Life” at Greater Boston Stage Company

Greater Boston Stage Company provides a theatrical take on a classic Christmas story with its production of “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Similar to the beloved film, the stage version, which has been adapted from Frank Capra’s original screenplay by Weylin Symes, features many of the same famous characters, themes, and morals, with a couple unique elements that turn this well-known tale into something fresh and new.

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Review: “Being Earnest” at Greater Boston Stage Company

Review: “Being Earnest” at Greater Boston Stage Company

Kicking off Greater Boston Stage Company’s 19th season is new musical “Being Earnest.” Based on Oscar Wilde’s 1894 play “The Importance of Being Earnest,” this show successfully takes the themes, plot, and characters from the well-known farce and layers in a 1960s vibe and a plethora of upbeat musical numbers to fill out the story. And while “Being Earnest” is not the first musical re-telling of Wilde’s comedy—some will consider “Who’s Earnest” or “Earnest in Love” among the originals of this kind—it is certainly a much more creative and conceptual take on the piece, handled masterfully in this production by director/choreographer Ilyse Robbins.

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Review: Shakespeare & Company presents Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons

Review: Shakespeare & Company presents Terrence McNally’s Mothers and Sons

Having premiered on Broadway in 2014, Terrence McNally’s incredible drama Mothers and Sons is now playing on the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre stage at Shakespeare and Company in the Berkshires. It is a timely play about the complexity of the relationship between a mother and her son. McNally skillfully crafts characters that seem all too familiar and yet we in the audience don’t see how events will unfold as we become engrossed in each scene. We laugh at the uncomfortable jokes they make in their effort to ease the tension that is building. We gasp at the harshness and bluntness of the things they say. We tear up when they break down in unbearable pain. We see our family members, our friends and our coworkers in the various facets of these characters. In this play about change, personal growth, acceptance of others and, without a doubt, love, we see a glimmer of hope and compassion come from the youngest character; who in his innocence and kindness, shows us that good can come from bad and love can be shown in the smallest of ways. 

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Review: Simon Stephens’ Heisenberg at Shakespeare & Company

Review: Simon Stephens’ Heisenberg at Shakespeare & Company

Written by Simon Stephens this two-person play features talented actors Tamara Hickey as the talkative Georgie Burns and Malcolm Ingram as the mature and compassionate Alex Priest. Set in present-day London, we watch as the relationship between two unlikely companions changes over the course of six scenes. A common thread that connects them is the loneliness they feel because they have lost the people who meant the most to them. Georgie is a vibrant, spirited woman in her forties who mistakenly kisses the neck of Alex in a busy train station thinking he was someone else. Alex, poised, quiet, and seventy-five, becomes entangled in Georgie’s life, but it might just be the excitement his solitary life needed.

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Review: As You Like It at Shakespeare & Company

Review: As You Like It at Shakespeare & Company

William Shakespeare’s comedy As You Like It is a story of love and the adventurous journey towards new beginnings. Duke Senior has been banished from court by his younger brother Duke Frederick. Frederick then banishes his niece Rosalind who has grown close with his daughter Celia. The pair attend a wrestling match where Rosalind first lays eyes on Orlando whom she quickly becomes enamored with. Orlando flees from his older brother Oliver who is threatening his life and withholding his rightful inheritance from their father Sir Rowland. He ends up in the Forest of Arden, where Duke Senior, Rosalind and Celia have also found sanctuary. But as we see in the play, when characters take on a foreign persona and live in disguise happily ever after doesn’t come as quickly as they’d like. 

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Review: An Engrossing Production of August Strindberg’s "Creditors" Now Plays at Shakespeare & Company

Review: An Engrossing Production of August Strindberg’s "Creditors" Now Plays at Shakespeare & Company

August Strindberg’s tragic comedy Creditors is a fast-paced, psychologically intense look at life and the cost of relationships. In this adaptation by playwright David Greig, three characters must face their past choices, and in doing so come to the realization that their present state is a result of those choices. Through deception they come to realize the debts they owe others and the unfathomable cost of love. Strindberg, in his naturalistic style, is a master of balancing the darkness of a dramatic psychological thriller and an authentic, unapologetic comedy. The three veteran actors (Jonathan Epstein, Ryan Winkles and Kristin Wold) who have taken on this play under the incredible direction of Nicole Ricciardi have expertly captured each facet of their multidimensional characters. In doing so, they grabbed the audience’s attention from the onset and held it to the end.

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Review: "A Doll's House Part 2" at Barrington Stage Company

Review: "A Doll's House Part 2" at Barrington Stage Company

Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House premiered in Denmark in 1879. Over one hundred and thirty years later, A Doll's House Part 2 by writer Lucas Hnath, brings us back to Norway and the Helmer house where Nora slammed the door and left her family and life behind her. Premiering on Broadway in 2017, this play begins fifteen years Nora left her family. Directed by Joe Calarco, this emotional roller coaster of a play is performed by four talented actors who are so deeply invested in their characters it is easy for the audience to get wrapped up in the story.

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Review: A unique production of Macbeth now plays at Shakespeare & Company

Review: A unique production of Macbeth now plays at Shakespeare & Company

Written by William Shakespeare, Macbeth, or as most theatre folks refer to it, The Scottish Play, is a psychological and tragic tale of blind ambition and destructive, consuming power. It is a play full of malicious intentions and gruesome murders. Fantastically directed by the Obie Award-winning Melia Bensussen, who was inspired by the ghost stories of Edgar Allen Poe, this production with its intriguing artistic choices made it unique, unlike many of the others I have seen. In this rendition, Macbeth’s ambition and belief in his imagination lead to his destruction more-so than the witches and supernatural forces who, in other productions, are so often blamed. He mercilessly pursues his dreams and desires.

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Review: “A Chorus Line” at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Review: “A Chorus Line” at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

“A Chorus Line” opened at Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston last weekend, providing a fantastic start to the theater’s 50th Anniversary Summer Season. With book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, Music by Marvin Hamlisch, and Lyrics by Edward Kleban, this musical tells the story of a group of seventeen inspiring performers auditioning for a place in a Broadway show’s chorus line. The roughly two-hour piece is conducted like a legitimate audition during which the audience gets to witness these individuals share their fears and motivations with the directing team and one another, all while dancing their hearts out for a chance at one of eight coveted roles.

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Review: “Calendar Girls” at Greater Boston Stage Company

Review: “Calendar Girls” at Greater Boston Stage Company

“Calendar Girls,” by Juliette Towhidi and Tim Firth, marks Greater Boston Stage Company’s last show of their eighteenth season, and is quite the uplifting note to go out on. Based on a true story, this show has been adapted to the stage from the Miramax motion picture of the same name, and tells the story of a group of ladies in a Women’s Institute organization in Yorkshire, England who decide to raise money for leukemia research through the selling of a nude calendar. The catch? The calendar features these women themselves, who are by no means the young model-types that one may come to expect in such calendars, as the art. Soon the project, which starts in memoriam to one of the women, Annie’s, late husband, turns into an opportunity for her best friend Chris, a failing florist, to finally find her place in the spotlight. Yet as the powerful impact this small act of charity has made becomes clear to these women, they are suddenly forced to evaluate their own actions and their place in one another’s lives, leaving them as exposed emotionally as they are on each calendar page.

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Review: The Nora Theatre Company presents Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Review: The Nora Theatre Company presents Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Now playing at Central Square Theater (Cambridge, MA) is Les Liaisons Dangereuses presented by The Nora Theatre Company. The novel, of the same name, was written in 1782 by Pierre-Ambroise François Choderlos de Laclos. Two hundred years later Christopher Hampton penned the play that would go on to premiere at The Royal Shakespeare Company in 1985. While the story is familiar and has been produced a myriad of ways, in this version all ten characters, including six women, are portrayed by an all-male cast. Director Lee Mikeska Gardner first did this play with an all-male cast when she directed a production in Washington, D.C. in 2005 and wanted to direct a similar production here in Boston over a decade later. This concept is a new, intriguing way to tell an old story and I’m sure while some are confused by it, others are curious to see how it would play out on stage. 

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Review: Shakespeare & Company opens its 2018 Summer Season with Morning After Grace

Review: Shakespeare & Company opens its 2018 Summer Season with Morning After Grace

Shakespeare & Company begins its season with the New England Premiere of Morning After Grace by Cary Crim. Directed by Regge Life, this new comedy explores the themes of loss, of love and of second chances. Crim carefully constructs a play that tackles some heavy subjects displaying the full extent of human emotions and the need for acceptance and love. What makes this play enjoyable to audiences is how Crim pairs very raw and intense moments with those of realistic and relatable humor. Life and his cast authentically invite the audience to journey with them on the path to recovery and to discover how to be truthful to themselves.

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Review: Boston Ballet’s ‘La Sylphide’ is a mesmerizing masterpiece

Angelica Potter

  • Boston Theatre Critic

Opening the show is the Boston Ballet Premiere of choreographer August Bournonville's Bournonville Divertissements. It features three selections from his vast work. Following intermission is the full length production of La Sylphide.

It all begins with an ethereal Pas de Deux from Flower Festival in Genzano danced by Seo Hye Han and Junxiong Zhao. They are a well matched pair who danced to the music of Edvard Helsted with ease. The upbeat Jockey Dance from From Siberia to Moscow featured fast footwork from soloists Isaac Akiba and Irlan Silva. The pair was playful and comedic in their interactions with one another as they portrayed jockeys at a horse race. While their piece was fun and engaging for the audience to watch, it was also sharply danced by the pair to the music of C.C. Møller.

Thirdly came Pas de Six and Tarantella from Napoli. Both were stylistically very similar to the earlier Pas de Deux with light, elevating movement. The upbeat group sections were reminiscent of the local Italian folk dancing Bournonville was inspired by. This selection featured Kathleen Breen Combes, Ji Young Chae, Lia Cirio, Ashley Ellis, Paul Craig, Patric Palkens and Lawrence Rines. The talent of the individual dancers was highlighted throughout the piece with each having their own solo moments. It was seamlessly performed with the dancers switching partners and various small group combinations throughout. They all seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. Even more so when tambourines were brought on and the dancers added percussion to the music of Holger Simon Paulli being played by the orchestra. This fun addition brought youthful energy and exuberance to the dancing. It was less “dancers performing on stage for an audience of hundreds” and more “a group of young people dancing with their friends, keeping tempo by hitting their tambourines.”  

 Photo Credit: Boston Ballet in August Bournonville's La Sylphide; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet. 

Photo Credit: Boston Ballet in August Bournonville's La Sylphide; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet. 

Following intermission the curtain rises on an immensely striking stone home where the tale begins. A story ballet from start to finish, La Sylphide is full of romance, sorcery and tragedy. Set in the Scottish Highlands, the scenic and costume design by Peter Cazalet and lighting design by John Cuff quickly transported the audience back in time and amplified the atmosphere surrounding the story. Bournonville's La Sylphide is one of the world's oldest surviving ballets. It is the story of James, a young Scotsman, who is set to marry Effie, but on the eve of their wedding he dreams of a beautiful sylph whom he, upon awakening, briefly sees before she mysteriously disappears. His friend Gurn has also fallen for Effie, but believes he'll never have the chance to be with her. That is until the village sorceress Madge tells Effie that it is Gurn she'll marry, not James. James is outraged and sends Madge away, but his outrage is quickly diminished when he sees the sylph playfully dancing around the room, apparently unseen by his other guests. When she leaves, James follows her, leaving Effie confused and crushed. Act two takes place in the forest, where witches dance around a cauldron, sylph's float through the trees and tragedy befalls James and his beautiful woodland fairy.

Patrick Yocum dances the role of James while Misa Kuranaga dances the role of the Sylph. He is strong and adventurous throughout with hints of boyish innocence. She, as always, is stunning and graceful. She’s the perfect embodiment of the playful fairy. When tragedy strikes, her body language completely changes and she crumbles as if merely standing is torture. The contrast between how she danced at the start and how she moved at the end was fantastic.

Derek Dunn portrayed Gurn, friend of James, and seemingly the comedic character within the ballet. The humorous elements of his role were strongly and clearly executed and received numerous chuckles from the audience. His soaring jumps make him a dancer to keep our eyes on in future Boston Ballet productions. The sorceress Madge is cunningly portrayed by Maria Alvarez who, from the way she walks to her facial expressions, fully embodies the darkness and conniving evil within her character.

This ballet features intricate footwork as well as dreamy and flowing romantic movement. It is playful and flirty with extensive character and acting moments. My one critique is that there were moments when certain hand gestures were barely visible and could have been easily missed had an audience member not been watching carefully. While we don’t want the acting and hand or arm motions to come across as forced, we also want them to be big enough and sustained long enough for the audience to see them.

Beautiful dancing and charismatic characters make this production an enjoyable evening of classical ballet. © Boston Ballet's La Sylphide plays at the Boston Opera House from May 24th- June 10th. The Boston Ballet Orchestra is conducted by Beatrice Jona Affron. Though the production runs 2 and a half hours including 2 intermissions, time flies just as quickly as the dancers fly across the stage. For tickets and more information visit www.bostonballet.org

For more of my reviews and theatrical thoughts check out: http://intheatresome1isalwayswatching.blogspot.com/

Review: “The Legend of Georgia McBride” at Greater Boston Stage Company

Review: “The Legend of Georgia McBride” at Greater Boston Stage Company

Contemporary comedies are commonplace in theater, but very rarely does a production surface that manages to produce the sought-after balance of humor and heart needed to make an impact that lasts longer than a well earned laugh.

Greater Boston Stage Company’s “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” directed and choreographed by Russell Garrett, is one of these productions.

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Review: ‘True West’ Hilariously Kicks Off Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s 6th Season

Review: ‘True West’ Hilariously Kicks Off Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s 6th Season

‘True West’ was written by Sam Shepard in 1980, and yet his understanding of family dynamics and the volatility of stage and screen producers, allows this play to burst from the page decades later when his characters are portrayed with boundless energy and charisma. What makes them all the more believable is when passionate, seasoned actors are partnered with a visionary director to present a realistic look at a tumultuous relationship. That is what I have found with Hub Theatre Company of Boston’s production of ‘True West’.

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Review: “A Christmas Carol” at Central Square Theater

Ashley DiFranza

The story of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a timeless one. It tells the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, an irritable, selfish old man who sees no value in the holiday or the spirit of giving it elicits, and who is visited by three ghosts on the nights leading up to Christmas. Through a series of glimpses into his own history and the lives of those around him, the spirits teach Scrooge the error of his ways and help him embark upon his life with a renewed sense of selflessness come Christmas Day.

The meaningful messages in this classic tale are still as relevant today as ever before, making “A Christmas Carol” a traditional holiday staple for theater companies across the country to perform come December. Yet the telling of this story at Central Square Theater, produced by Underground Railway Theater and The Nora Theatre Company, is anything but traditional. Through puppetry, music, movement, and an incredible use of an ensemble cast, this production is able to shape and mold this classic tale into something fresh and utterly unique, while never once compromising the powerful morals within it.

Brilliantly adapted and directed by Debra Wise, this production establishes very quickly that it will not follow the norms of conventional theater. Produced in the round and placing the audience right in the middle of the action, the production does a fantastic job of blurring the boundaries between story and reality usually defined by a proscenium stage. This, coupled with a pre-show segment in which the ensemble interacts with the audience, sets a very specific tone for the piece; right from the start it is clear to audiences that they are about to see a piece of theater that is aware that it is a piece of theater, and that they should be ready to go along for the ride.

It is a risky choice to take a show that people know and love and transform it into something entirely new, but Wise’s intricate vision for this production is so well developed audiences barely have time to miss the classic telling as they’re swept into this creative and artistic variation.

At the heart of this adaptation is Wise’s innovative approach to storytelling as something that extends far beyond words and action on stage. In scenic designer David Fichter’s beautiful Victorian-era London cityscape, for instance, there are modern sayings and Banksy-inspired cartoons integrated into the multi-dimensional piece, accenting the timelessness of the story being told. Perhaps most significantly, this deviation from the norm is highlighted by Wise’s use of ensemble in the production. Rather than just portraying characters, the cast of this show takes on the intimate role of the storytellers themselves, facilitating aspects of the play far beyond just performance.

Throughout the piece, ensemble members can be seen just off stage or even in the midst of the action, reflecting light off the walls with mirrors to signify a ghostly presence, or layering in hand-made sound effects into the scenes, whether through music or the simple ringing of a bell—a silly but standout gag where Scrooge’s clerk physically rings a bell to signify a doorbell every time someone enters or exits the office. The entire character of the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come is produced through light and sound, with different cast members playing eerie noises on string instruments from different sides of the space, creating an all-encompassing, haunting effect.

Set pieces and props are moved and manipulated, for the most part, by the actors themselves, as well, creating many of the most visually stunning moments in the production. One particularly poignant example of this is produced during Scrooge’s journey through his past when the actors maneuver the set pieces into a stunning physical representation of Scrooge’s memory piecing itself together. As Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past stand center, members of the ensemble enter pushing dollhouse-sized, fully lit structures of house and buildings on baby carriages and rustic wheelbarrows. Clearly meant to represent the village in which Scrooge grew up, these structures circle the two as Scrooge starts to recall exactly where in his past they are visiting, and the structures finally come to rest at their correct locations. It is moments like this that, when executed by Wise so thoughtfully, add an invigorating sense of magic and wonder to an already powerful story.

What’s more, this cast—which consists of not only seasoned adult actors but a handful of talented children, as well—does a fabulous job of creating a compelling and energetic dynamic on stage. Through their commitment to character and the story at hand, these actors are able to help audiences embrace the intimacy of the production by making the world of the show one which you can’t help but want to be a part of.  And where so often it feels invasive when actors break the fourth wall, in this production what little fourth wall there is to be broken is done so with vigor and excitement, so that by the time the opportunity arises for audiences to get on stage and dance with the characters, patrons young and old are practically leaping from their seats to join in the fun. It is a because of the comfort and ease through which these actors tackle the telling of this story that audiences are able to enjoy this piece of theater for what it is, and leave having experienced Scrooge’s tale in an entirely new way.

Apart from their work as a full ensemble, Wise did a wonderful job of incorporating the personal skills of the performers into the show and using them to add dimension to the world in which this story unfolds.

Mesma Belsaré (The Ghost of Christmas Past), for example, has trained in dance in the classical medium in India and parlays that training into her portrayal of this role. She creates a character that communicates through not only speech but the movement that appears both very controlled and very fluid at the same time, a depiction of this role I had never seen before and yet one that rang true for this production and its use of non-typical storytelling devices.

The music incorporated in this production is another aspect that flourishes due to the talent in the ensemble. Cast members Eliza Rose Fichter and Caitlin Gjerdrum stand out specifically for their musicality, the former playing the fiddle and the latter singing in spots throughout the performance. The production’s Tiny Tim, played by an adorable Ben Choi-Harris, also uses his sweet singing voice to pull at audiences’ heartstrings, most significantly in the moment when Scrooge sees into the future and realizes that Tiny Tim has passed away due to lack of caring from people like himself. In this moment, Tiny Tim is standing a level above his family, illuminated in soft light and singing gently as the weight of the loss of this character sinks in. It is a powerful moment, made even more so by the Choi-Harris’ light vocals and sweet demeanor.

Other prominent acting moments in this production were brought forth by ensemble members Ramona Lisa Alexander (Marley et al.), Jesse Garlick (Bob Cratchit et al.), David Keohane (Nephew et al.), and Vincent Ernest Siders (Ghost of Christmas Present et al.),who round out some of the more character-driven roles in the show. Siders’ portrayal of the Ghost of Christmas Present strikes the perfect balance between lighthearted and all-knowing, while Alexander’s take on Marley’s Ghost is far more chilling than personable. Additionally, Garlick and Keohane are both able to showcase their versatility as actors in this production, switching seamlessly between performing a hysterical, coordinated dance together in one scene, to a heartfelt portrayal of family values in the next.

At the center of all these fabulous standout roles is Ken Cheeseman, who plays a unique and oddly charming version of Ebenezer Scrooge. In his hands, this iconic role becomes flushed out as a real person, with jaded and stubborn tendencies but also a huge capacity to learn and grow. The moments of humor he is able to incorporate into the character that has audiences invested in his journey from the moment he steps on stage, and really contribute to the overall immersive and welcoming tone of the production.

This production of “A Christmas Carol” at Central Square Theater provides a refreshing reminder of what can be done with a group of artists and a story to tell, and it is not one you are going to want to miss this holiday season.

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“A Christmas Carol” runs through December 31st at Central Square Theater. For tickets visit www.centralsquaretheater.org or contact the Box Office at (617) 576-9278, Extension 1. Central Square Theater is located at 450 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, MA.

Review: A fresh take on the holiday classic ‘A Christmas Carol’ now plays at Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Angelica Potter

  • OnStage Boston Theatre Critic

‘A Christmas Carol’ was written by Charles Dickens in 1843 and has since become a holiday classic. It tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge who is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve who remind him of his past, guide him through his present and show him his potential future. By the end of these visits, Scrooge finds himself permanently changed and vows to be a better man to those around him and keep the Spirit of Christmas alive all year long.

Over the years this story has been adapted into films, stage productions and more. Each year families will gather together to take in a production of this story, be it a film like ‘A Muppet Christmas Carol’ or a lavish stage production performed by a local theatre company. What makes MRT’s production stand-out amongst the rest is its simplistic approach to sharing this story as Charles Dickens himself would have shared it and allowing the audience the opportunity to focus on its message of hope, redemption, compassion and love.

Adapted by Tony Brown, this version gives us the story as told by author Charles Dickens in a similar fashion to how Dickens himself did public readings of the novella over the last eighteen years of his life before passing in 1870. What enriches this minimalistic production further is the performance of traditional carols by two musicians throughout. The choice by the creative team, led by director Megan Sandberg-Zakian, to include music in the telling of this well-known story was an inspired decision that I believe truly enhanced the performance. Music director Nathan Leigh selected songs that were around when Dickens was writing the story and was careful to include the lyrics of the time and not the revised versions that were written years later. So while the tunes were oftentimes familiar to audience members, many might not have noticed the lyrical differences which added another level of authenticity to this production.

Taking on the role of Charles Dickens and wonderfully bringing life to characters of this story, including the wealthy but tightfisted Ebenezer Scrooge, is stage veteran Joel Colodner. With his rich voice and charming persona, he grabs the audience’s attention within moments of stepping on stage and for the next two hours had us amused and chuckling one minute and pondering our own lives the next. His invested, emotional portrayal of Scrooge humanized a character who oftentimes can be viewed as just a cranky, stingy old man. Colodner brought new life to him and gave the audience a fresh perspective of this old story.

Also on stage were Rebecca White, one of the musicians who also portrayed the three ghosts, as well as Nathan Leigh the second musician and music director whose instrument selections for the carols were ingenious and completely fit within the story. Having seen this play performed with these two fantastic musicians, it makes me wonder if I would have liked it as much without them. And honestly, I don’t think the play would have had the same impact on the audience as it does with the added musicians. 

The technical elements of this production nicely matched the tone of the play and made the audience feel as though we may be sitting in someone’s living room hearing this story told to us and singing carols during a holiday gathering. The scenic design was by Randall Parsons with lighting design by Devorah Kengmana. The costumes were designed by Miranda Kau Giurleo.

 

This production is unique from any other I have seen and it was refreshingly enjoyed by the audience who gave it a well-deserved standing ovation. © ‘A Christmas Carol’ plays at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, located at 50 East Merrimack Street Lowell, MA, until December 24th, 2017.  Tickets range from $73-$26 with discounts available for groups, students, seniors, Lowell residents, and military service members. To purchase tickets or find more information visit www.mrt.org or call 978-654-4678.

Photo Credit: Rebecca White and Joel Colodner. Photo by Meghan Moore.