Review: 'Chicago' at the Wilton Playshop

Amanda Christine

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic

Dear Wilton Playshop, 

After viewing your production of "Chicago", you have my permission(not that you need it) to do as many musicals as you want.

Last year I was blown away by their production of "She Loves Me" and they have only improved their efforts with "Chicago". With sleek design, strong vocal performance and the right amount of sexy and sass, this is one of the stronger musicals I've seen this season. 

It starts with excellent direction and choreography. Ralph Pastore did a skillful job of staging a large scale within the confines of the intimate Wilton space without diminishing the spectacle. Music Director Tom Cuffari also did impressive job and choreographer Christine Titus hit all the right moves giving the piece the right amount of style this pieces deserves. 

In short, the plot is as follows. In 1920’s Chicago, Roxie Hart ends up in prison after shooting her lover, and, along with nightclub performer turned double-murderess Velma Kelly and smooth-talking lawyer Billy Flynn, she pulls every trick in the book to get off death row and out into the limelight of the roaring 20’s.

The cast was truly marvelous as well. Claire Kenny and Nikki Scamuffo were sensational as Roxie and Velma. These roles call for not only strong vocals, but complex dance and comedic timing and both actresses nailed every moment.  

Also stealing every scene they were in was Bob Filipowich as Billy Flynn and Lisa Caporizzo as Mama Morton. And Seth Barkan was a perfectly sympathetic Amos. 

As great as these principal actors were, the ensemble for this production was truly spectacular. Each handled the challenging choreography perfectly and only enhanced each scene they were involved with. I've seen musicals live and die with the performances of their ensemble and this one soared. 

This show has since closed but it will certainly be on my mind for a while. After a track record like this, I'm looking forward to seeing what the Wilton Playshop has in store for us next. 

Review: 'RENT' at Little Radical Theatrics

Amanda Christine

  • OnStage Connecticut/New York Critic

YONKERS NY - With most musical theatre, spectacle is welcomed. However, while the razzle dazzle might be eye popping, the soul needs to come through as well. That's exactly where Little Radical Theatrics lives with their productions, especially with their tremendous production of RENT which closed last week. 

It's hard to build any type of full scale musical spectacle on a small stage with virtually no backstage or wing space. And the auditorium at the Grinton I. Will Library in Yonkers, is the last place you would think a production of, the controversial for its time, "RENT" would be a perfect setting for. But this company of actors were able to find the heart of this piece and for a couple of hours wonderfully embodied a story about living and loving freely. 

Clearly understanding the limitations of the space, direction Michael Mirra and music director Peter Capelle forgot about trying to make things look grand and instead made the piece much more palpable than I've seen it done in the past. "RENT" served raw. And it really worked. 

The cast here, while initially might not look like your typical "RENT" cast, took control of these characters and were each vocally suited for each role. This show has always been about the ensemble rather than any one part and the group here was fantastic. They included Chris Manetakis, Steven Skwarek, Ariana Morales, Markiss Robert, Juan Carlos Rodriguez, Jennifer Silverman, Stephanie Lourenco, Sam Yaggy, Sandra Benedetto, Mike Minecola, Ayanna Williams, Andrew Shepard, Matthew Bautista, Mikey Nunez and Erin McMahon.

This group is getting stronger and stronger since their recent inception. And while they understand their space is limited, they're starting to master the process of knowing what to do within that space. 

In a year when "RENT" is celebrating its 20th Anniversary, any production of it has to be done just right. And I'm happy to report that this company achieved that and more. 

Review: 'The Farnsworth Invention' at the Town Players of New Canaan

Amanda Christine

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic

NEW CANAAN CT - There has always been the stigma that community theatre will never be as "good" as professional theatre. While this statement is ludicrous, it's often accepted as truth. However, one should only look at the Town Players of New Canaan's production of "The Farnsworth Invention" to see that the above statement is untrue. 

With creative staging and her usual cast of actors, director Julie Bell Petrak presents a visually and intellectually superior production to anything else I've seen on a local stage this season. Even more commendable, is that Ms. Petrak and her cast, elevate what is obviously Aaron Sorkin's weakest script. Where Mr. Sorkin lacks in cohesive relationships and character development, this production rises above the text.

For those not familiar with the show, Samuel French describes it as this, 

"It's 1929. Two ambitious visionaries race against each other to invent a device called "television." Separated by two thousand miles, each knows that if he stops working, even for a moment, the other will gain the edge. Who will unlock the key to the greatest innovation of the 20th century: the ruthless media mogul, or the self-taught Idaho farm boy?"

Now it must be mentioned that this play has caused quite a bit of controversy due to its historic inaccuracy. But unless you're a scholar in the history of television, I doubt it will change your opinion. I certainly didn't know the true story until I researched after I saw the show. 

While Sorkin fans can certainly take much glee in his sharp sense of dialogue, what's obvious is that this play isn't meant for the stage. With the amount of locations, characters, etc, it's clear from the script's restlessness that this was meant for either a film or the very invention the show is about. I found out later that it was in fact adapted from a plan to have it as a TV mini-series. 

Eric Regan and Eric Dino in The Farnsworth Invention  Photo: Kevin McNair

Eric Regan and Eric Dino in The Farnsworth Invention  Photo: Kevin McNair

It's clear that with a script like this, a masterful cast is needed. For this show Mr. Petrak assembled an all-star team of actors from her previous productions, with a couple of new faces mixed in. By seeing the work of these actors in previous Julie Bell Petrak productions, high expectations are set, and I'm glad to report that this cast exceeds every single one of them. 

Eric Regan is an actor who is just getting better and better each time I see him. As the tragic title character, Mr. Regan displays the struggles of his character's personal demons in a fully realized performance. As his adversary, David Sarnoff, Eric Dino once again expertly fills Ms. Petrak's combative role. Mr. Dino walks Sarnoff on a fantastic line of likability and makes some very wise choices with the character.  

And while the plot of the play is often centered around the business of men, the production finds most of its emotional core, with its women. Kristin Gagliardi is breathtaking as Farnsworth's wife, Pem. The chemistry between her and Mr. Regan is palpable and genuine which provides real depth in this fast paced show.

The rest of the cast is excellent as well. Often they are playing multiple characters and each one commits fully which is refreshing to see.

Only aiding this incredible production is the scenic design from Robert Doran and lighting from Jeffrey Klein.  When design adds to the tension and tone of a piece, that's a very good thing and the work here is fantastic. 

The fact of the matter is this, right now the Town Players of New Canaan are producing the very best when it comes to community theatre drama. With bold and creative direction, strong acting, eye popping design, "The Farnsworth Invention" rivals only their previous production of "Other Desert Cities" as the best play I have seen this year. Do not miss this show. 

The show runs through May 21st. For tickets and info, visit tpnc.org