'The Addams Family' at Nonnewaug High School

Nancy Sasso Janis / On the second weekend where it felt like every high school within a 40 mile radius of Naugatuck was putting on their spring musical (and it didn't feel much like spring,) Nonnewaug High School in Woodbury presented their production of 'The Addams Family A New Musical Comedy.' Luckily I was able to squeeze in the Sunday matinée by the Nonnewaug Dramatic Society before it closed, and I was glad that I did.

The ghoulish musical has a book written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice with music and clever lyrics by Andrew Lippa. The students took on the creepiness with a playful spirit and their directors Walter Culup and student Maggie Gillette (Morticia) clearly encouraged them to shine. From the opening notes of "When You're an Addams," the audience was with them.

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The choreography by Gemma Bauer (Grandma) and Ms. Gillette was very impressive, especially the tango production. I was also impressed with the quality of all of the costumes and liked the purple tone of Morticia's tight dress. Gomez had several changes, all of them character appropriate.

The mostly student orchestra was a small one but they sounded frighteningly powerful. TJ Thompson was on hand to play piano. The director played tenor sax. The scenery was quite large and was often enhanced with smoke and lightning. There were a couple of smoke and lighting errors, most of the technical aspects only made the scenes more effective.

All of the ten ghostly ancestors in the ensemble looked their part and danced well, but because they weren't wearing microphones it was hard to hear their singing. Freshman Matt Gilligan, appearing in his first show, was a tall Lurch who made us smile even as he did not. Ms. Bauer, a NHS junior, was a riot as the crazy grandmother of the clan (or is she?) Freshman Jacob Kelsey played Lucas Beinike, the "normal" boyfriend of Wednesday Addams and brought an earnest quality and a fine voice to the role. Beth Mieczkowski and Laura Contento shared the role of his mother Alice, while senior Michael Vollmer did a great job in the role of his father Mal.

In the Addams family (snap, snap) were some serious triple threats. Ms. Gillette was the perfect Morticia, with stage presence and a super singing voice that reminded both my son and me of Watertown High School's very talented Kristen VanDerlyn that I had seen the night before in 'Leader of the Pack.' This NHS senior hopes to pursue her dreams in acting at a NYC college of her choice.

Ian Bauer, a seventh grade student at Woodbury Middle School and the younger brother of Gemma, played young Pugsley. Junior Henry Heilshorn was the perfect choice for the role of Uncle Fester and managed to sing very well despite using the Fester voice. Kate Rupar had another strong voice in the role of Wednesday, who is growing up before her family's eyes. This NHS sophomore has been an actress and dancer for 11 years and it shows.

Full disclosure: The young actor who played Gomez is former first grade student of mine named Grant Herchenroether, now a junior at Nonnewaug. I could not have been more proud of this young man in only his second year of performing with the NHS drama club. He demonstrated maturity in the role of the Addams family patriarch, as well as a fine sense of comic timing. He sang, he danced (tango, no less) and appeared in the vast majority of the scenes.

I was quiet impressed with the overall quality of this production at a school that I visited for the first time. I look forward to seeing some of their future productions.

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Pictured: Members of the cast of 'The Addams Family' at Nonnewaug High School Photo courtesy of Lisa Herchenroether

Review ~ "Sister Act The Musical" Tour

Nancy Sasso Janis / Critic Gloriously Broadway 'Sister Act The Musical' makes a stop at Waterbury's Palace Theater this weekend and I was blessed to attend the opening night performance. The musical is based on the Touchstone Pictures motion picture 'Sister Act' written by Joseph Howard that starred Whoopi Goldberg and is one of my favorites. Once I gave up expecting the musical to be an exact copy of the film, I was able to enjoy the musical version for what it was, "a heavenly good time."

The opening night performance shattered the illusion that touring companies can't possibly be as stellar as the original cast on Broadway. This one had all the glitz and combined talent of what I suspect was evident in NYC. Moreover, Kerissa Arrington is simply stellar in the role of Deloris, the lounge singer who hides out in a convent for her own safety. This young woman, who makes her National Tour debut in the show, has an outstanding singing voice and the stage presence to raise this production to a heavenly level. WATR's Tom Chute was also in the audience, and he concurred by calling her performance even better than the one he had seen on Broadway. She truly is "Fabulous, Baby!"

Sister Act is at it's very best when the nuns are on the stage and the ladies on the ensemble are two notch nuns. Their choreography by Anthony Van Laast is inspired and I could listen to them sing in Latin or disco for many other numbers. Also fabulous was Emily Kay Shrader as the young postulate Sr. Mary Robert, who possessed the necessary pipes to reach her high notes. Ms. Shrader lists Maggie in a Chorus Line at Connecticut Repertory as one of her favorite roles. Maggie Clennon Reberg is also superior as the not so severe Mother Superior, the role played by Maggie Smith in the film. The bubbly Sr. Mary Patrick is well played by Sarah Michelle Cuc, Nancy Evans plays choir director Sr. Mary Lazarus and Tara Tagliaferro is the dippy Sr. Mary Martin-of-Tours.

There are some guys that round out the cast. Kolby Kindle, who was in the ensemble of Ragtime at the Westchester Broadway Theater, is the hard to like Curtis Jackson and Lamont O'Neal plays Eddie Souther, the lawman trying to protect the sometimes ungrateful Deloris. Gordon Gray, a Yale School of Drama grad who was the in the national tour of Elf, plays the nimble Monsignor O'Hara.

The music by Alan Menken with lyrics Glenn Slater is completely original (at least I didn't recognize the Latin pieces as sacred music) and therefore different from the film. Think disco with a bit of gospel. I really liked "Raise Your Voice" and Mary Robert's "The Life I Never Led." The small orchestra in the pit that included five musicians played orchestrations by Doug Besterman and I think it was conductor/keyboard Christopher Babbage who got a cameo of sorts. Jerry Zaks is the director of the tour. The book is written by Cheri and Bill Steinkellner with additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane. Whoopi Goldberg is a producer of the tour and has called the show "fun." The amazing costumes by Lez Brotherston feature more sequins than most shows I have seen, let alone in a convent and the glitzy set by Klara Zieglerova was most impressive and was beautifully lit by Natasha Katz.

The opening night audience loved the performance as much as my teenaged companion and I did. There is a matinée today at 2:00pm and another at 8:00pm and tickets are available at the Palace Theater box office. "Raise Your Voice" and go see it.

Review ~ 'Through A Glass Darkly' at Hole in the Wall Theater

by Nancy Sasso Janis, OnStage Critic

Hole in the Wall Theater is presenting Ingmar Bergman's 'Through A Glass Darkly' in its New England premiere. The play runs at the New Britain theater through February 8.

Matty Skwiot is the director of this play that is an adaptation by Jenny Worton of the film of the same name. Mr. Skwiot wondered how a film that he loved would translate to the stage and he knew that he had to direct it. His own mother's battle with manic depression made him especially interested and in order to take advantage on an opportunity to raise awareness of mental illness,

he took great pains to execute this psychological family drama as effectively as he could.

He dedicates the production to the memory of his mother Pauline.

The action of 'Through A Glass Darkly' takes place on an island in 24 hour period. A young woman named Karin, who has recently been released from a mental hospital, is spending her vacation with her husband Martin, a doctor, her father David, a writer just back from Switzerland, and her teenaged brother. Karin is suffering from hallucinations and hysteria and ultimately thinks she thinks she is visited by God. It is all very intense. The title is supposed to refer to the characters mirroring each other, a motif that I did not catch in this play.

Describing himself in his notes as a minimalist director, he decided to go with stark staging that would reflect the main character's "chaotic state of mind." There are no walls around the set that he designed and all the props and set dressing are visible on stage at all times, "with the actors continually present, making costume changes behind screens." There is one important freestanding wall with wallpaper and a visible crack that plays into the madness; mix in the evocative lighting by Johnny Peifer and some incidental but loud violin music and

it was all most effective.

First time HITW producer Kelly DiMauro describes this cast as seeming to be born to play their exceedingly complex roles. I would agree that these are wonderfully intense characters and that the four very talented actors that play them were riveting to watch.

Emily Nyerick, an alum of St. Paul Catholic HS performing arts department and currently studying nursing at UCONN, was simply amazing in the role of Karin. The audience can see on her face every step that she makes in her descent back into her mental illness. At one point her acting had shades of the always marvelous Kristen Jacobson. Kudos to this young actress on her stellar performance.

James Hyland, who has studied at the National Shakespeare Co in NY and makes his HITW debut, showed his strong acting chops in the role of Karin's distant father David.

Thomas Bryda, who has worked both on and off-Broadway, was also strong in the role of her younger brother, here called Maxi. Tristan Cole makes his debut at this wonderful little theater to play the role of Karin's loving husband and gave a heartfelt performance.

My one criticism of the casting is that the ages seemed a little off, but the performances of the talented actors clearly outweighed the mismatch. This is not a drama for the faint of heart, but I enjoyed watching it unfold.

Coming up next at Hole in the Wall is their eighth annual Ceildh featuring the Rude Mechanicals on Feb. 28, followed by 'Fat Men in Skirts' by Nicky Silver opening in late March. Check their website hitw.org for details.

New York ~ Review: Brevity, Obscurity, and Why Won’t Someone Answer the Phone? – "No One Loves Us Here” at Urban Stages

By Steven Kopp, OnStage Critic & Columnist New Light Theater Project’s world premiere of No One Loves Us Here at Urban Stages, directed by award winning director Jerry Heymann, plays until February 7th. Written by Ross Howard (resident playwright of NLTP, Edward Albee Playwright Fellowship), No One Loves Us Here is a black comedy set in the neutral toned cartoon world of Central Valley, California. Here, obsession disguised as love takes the form of 19-year-old Washington, a Native American employee at the local video rental store of yester year, who arrives to pick up the belated DVD’s of Mr. Beaumont only to be pulled into the gravity of the ailing marriage of Mr. & Mrs. Beaumont. After inviting Washington to stay in their guesthouse, the couple uses him as a weapon against each other to escape their misery. Unbeknownst, Washington reveals his own hand, having manipulated husband, wife, father, and even neighbor that leads to a Dexter-like bloodbath. Like a bored 19-year-old burning ants alive on a summer’s day, No One Loves Us Here takes a magnifying glass to an already disintegrating notion of white class and laughs as gleefully as Bart Simpson.

I have to applaud Brian Dudkiewicz for his set; which feels like a German Expressionist painting meets west coast housing development minus the desert hues and Kokopelli wall art. I’ve seen many ‘living room’ plays but never one with such a unique eye catching perspective. The use of an off center, slight vanishing point plus the angle of the apron on the proscenium kept me asking, “Why haven’t I seen this before?!” Also congratulations to Ross Howard for playing me like a violin the entire length of the play. I won’t give away too much as not to ruin the twist but I will say the conversation you’ll be having during intermission is in no way the same conversation you’ll be having once everything is said and done. I will ask Mr. Howard though when the last time he was in California as Samuel French claims this play to take place in present day but what present day still has a video rental store?

Jessica Kitchens handles the character of Mrs. Beaumont in full alcoholic Stepford Wives fashion while Christian Ryan, Mr. Beaumont, leans more into the cartoonish aspect of the text and character. His physicality and demeanor infer something of Bill Hader meets a macabre version of Marvin the Martian. But it is Anthony Michael Irizarry who brings it home. Although occasionally dropping line endings like each half smoked stage cigarette, Anthony fools you into believing his outsider sincerity until it is too late. A combination of James Holmes meets Wilmer Valderrama, his is a take on discarded youth that is worth the voyeuristic exploration.

As a columnist who seeks constructive criticism, I applaud New Light Theater Project’s brave world premiere of No One Loves Us Here. The production runs the weekend of January 22nd - 24th, 29th - 31st, and February 5th - 7th at Urban Stages with every performance at 8 pm.

Tickets: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1012730

New Light Theater Project: http://www.newlighttheaterproject.com/

Urban Stages: http://urbanstages.org/

Connecticut ~ Review: "The Buddy Holly Story" at the Palace Theater

By Nancy Sasso Janis, OnStage Critic The dates that "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story" tour hit Waterbury coincided with a winter storm warning posted for the second of their two day run at the Palace Theater. The theater posted that "the show must go on" and ticket holders were offered the option of switching to the Friday night performance that thankfully ended before the snow began to fly. The irony of the fact that the scene of what would be Buddy Holly's final concert in Clear Lake takes place during an onstage snowstorm was not lost on the opening night audience.

This show marked the first time that I have reviewed a touring company production of a piece that I had already seen at a local community theater. I am referring to the excellent version of Buddy that was produced by Landmark Community Theatre at the Thomaston Opera House. One might think that a touring company could easily outshine a little community theater, but in this case LCT was the one to beat. My teenaged son, the ultimate Buddy Holly fan/expert who very much enjoyed the musical in Thomaston, begged me to take him to the Palace to see the tour. He called Mr. Holly an influential rock and roll pioneer and knew every word of every song. He was the youngest person in the audience and probably enjoyed it more than anyone else in the theater.

The musical (and it is packed with musical numbers) written by Alan Janes tells the true story of the iconic Buddy Holly from his rise to stardom to his untimely death. The second act is the more dramatic but the joy in the rock and roll that its star brought to the fifties musical scene far outweighs the drama. The tour is directed by Steve Steiner with the fine lighting designed by Darren Coopland.

The multi-talented cast is what made this production exciting to watch. There was no orchestra, so the actors doubled as musicians, and very good ones at that. They also had to dance and sing and move all the scenery around. The only thing they didn't do was run the light board and it all worked seamlessly. It was hard to believe that they were a cast of only eleven members.

Todd Meredith, in his 17th production of Buddy as the title character, has the role down to a science. A great actor/singer/musician, his performance was flawless. Mike Brennan was big and loud as the Big Bopper and Eddie Maldonado, in his touring debut, was a fantastic Ritchie Valens.

Here is where the program is a little confusing but I think Alejandro Gutierrez danced his way through the role of Tyrone Jones at the Apollo Theater and David Reed was billed as Marvin Madison. Nathan Yates Douglass, who covered very well for a little wardrobe issue, played music producer Norman Petty and Maryann DiPietro played his wife Vi, as well as the piano.

Logan Farine played Crickets drummer Jerry Allison and an uncredited actor did bass gymnastics while playing the upright bass during "Oh Boy" as Joe B. Mauldin. The musical abilities of both of these actors were very impressive to me and the kid next to me that plays both instruments. Martin Murray played Lubock DJ Hi-Pockets Duncan in addition to many of the eleven instruments that he has mastered. Zach Sicherman played the 4th Cricket on guitar. Jenny Stodd was believable as Maria Elena who becomes Buddy's wife.

While there was noticeably no Apollo Theater featured performer, there was another uncredited female singer. The scenery and costumes designed by Adrian Rees set the mood and was lit well. While my son would disagree, I missed an ensemble during the aforementioned final performance and I felt that the acting by a couple of the cast members was not quite as good as their musical ability.

Everyone around us had a great time during this feel-good musical, but not as much as my young seatmate. The two performances of "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story" on Saturday will go on as scheduled.

Review: "Galavant" Fails Where It Counts Most

by Chris Peterson, Moderator

With Glee ending its run and the "success" of NBC's live musical theatre broadcasts, it was only a matter of time before the other networks started to get in on the act. So ABC enters the fray with Galavant, a medieval musical comedy mini series that premiered tonight and will air for the next four Sundays.

While the premiere was full of witty humor and some of the best lyric work that Glenn Slater(Tangled) has ever done, the show fails in the one area that was supposed to make it special, music. Adding insult to injury, all the other characters are far more interesting than the one the show's named after.

I don't know if Menken has lost his touch, but much of the music in Galavant is forgettable. The opening number, which Menken generously borrows bars of "If I Can't Love Her" from Beauty & the Beast, is the most memorable mainly because ABC used it in every commercial break to preview its other shows. Other than that, most of the music is simplistic, sounding like more of a mailed in first draft than that of a 8 time Oscar winner. I've often thought that partnering with Glenn Slater was a mistake for Menken but its Slater's work that shines here and carries most of the numbers.

The cast is ultimately forgettable too. For a musical, the singing is slightly above average. Only Timothy Omundson as King Richard truly stands out. The other problem that Galavant faces, is that the story line is barely compelling or interesting. Creator Dan Fogelman has already made the mistake of revealing too soon the truth of Galavant's quest and his lady love. By doing so, the quest seems directionless and predictable.

It would seem that the producers had planned for an 8 week engagement but ABC has smartly downsized that to 4. Judging from its premiere, that still might too much.