Review: 'Billy Elliot The Musical' by Landmark Community Theatre

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic

Thomaston, CT - ‘Billy Elliot The Musical’ is the story of a motherless young boy named Billy, who trades boxing gloves for ballet shoes. The story of his personal struggle to do so takes place during the strife of a miner’s strike in England in the 1980s. Landmark Community Theatre opened their production of this musical that features a book and lyrics by Lee Hall and music by Sir Elton John this weekend. Katherine Ray directed the multi-aged cast and also designed the lovely set; she summarizes the story as one of “love, acceptance and unity” that does not require the technically difficult bells and whistles to “create a truly magical theatre experience.” 

I found Billy’s story and that of his working class family and community to be engrossing; the juxtaposition of the gritty mine workers and the lyrical ballet dancers worked well. The music also worked well, even if it wasn’t particularly memorable. My favorite numbers included the company’s “Solidarity” and “Grandma’s Song” that involved Billy, Billy’s grandmother and a piece of dancing by Cailtin Barra (the show’s dance captain) and Jake Finch that told her story. 

Amy LeBlanc convincingly portrayed Billy’s (dead) mum via video. Mr. Finch also danced the lyrical choreography of Jerri Kansas beautifully in the role of the adult Billy. 

The striking workers included Daniel Wagoner as George the boxing coach and Steven Taliaferro as Big Davey. Jake Finch, Chris Gilbert, Marc Crawford Leavitt, Collin Larson, Allen Marko, Matt Monitto and the ubiquitous Cole Sutton. The female ensemble Ms. Barra and Jodi Tryzna, in addition to the younger ballet girls, played by Jillian Alena, Allison Coney, Olivia Cotter, Kati Seppa and Yumeko Stern as Debbie.

All of the adults turned in very strong performances. Eve VanSyckle was a standout in the role of Grandma. Thomas Netter made the most of the role of the ballet school’s pianist in his LCT debut. It was great to see Suzanne Powers in another memorable role as Mrs. Wilkinson, the ballet teacher who sees the potential in Billy. Shawn Wodraska did well in his community theatre debut as the older brother of Billy and the booming voice of Joe Harding played well as Billy struggling father. Mr. Harding made clear his character’s arc and also did some very funny ad libbing when the curtain refused to fully close. 

Now can we talk about the Waterbury Arts Magnet School students? Eric Canfield, who will enter eighth grade at WAMS, was in their outstanding production of ‘Grand Hotel.’ Here he played Billy’s cross-dressing friend with aplomb and lots of talent. Rising seventh grade WAMS student Cailee Harvey, who played a ballet girl, has performed in the 1214 Foundation productions of ‘Liberty Smith,’ “The Lion King’ and ‘101 Dalmatians.’ Sophia Dadamo, another rising eighth grader at WAMS and another Grand Hotel cast member, did well as a ballet girl.

Her brother Vincent, who will begin his sophomore year in high school at WAMS and played Erik in ‘Grand Hotel,’ began the show with a solo and was a strong member of the male ensemble. 

Billy himself was played to perfection by Charlie Pelletier, who will move up to eighth grade at WAMS in the fall. His strong acting skills were evident as he played the title character and his dancing was equally as impressive. Congratulations to all of these talented WAMS students who represented their school well in this production in Thomaston. 

Jeffrey Dunn was the producer and Michael Berkeley, who was artistic director for many years at  (TriArts) Sharon Playhouse, served as musical director/conductor. The nine-piece orchestra was seated backstage and did well with the varied score. Jerri Kansas, a Musicals at Richter director/choreographer, did some fine work as the show’s choreographer. Taryn Glasser, who one usually finds at the Warner Theatre, gets the credit for some fine projections. The sometimes tricky costumes were designed by partners Renee Purdy and Aurora Montenero.

Jim Luurtsema produced the video and designed the sound. Matt Delong did the fine lighting design.

On opening night, LCT honored Kelley Hutton with a Volunteer Spotlight Award for her work as volunteer coordinator, resident stage manager for their teen drama program, and stage managing many other LCT production. At the first matinee, which was an almost full house, Juan Cardona entertained the audience on the pipe organ with many selections from the 1980s. 

This was another outstanding production by Landmark Community Theatre that is definitely worth the trip to Thomaston. ‘Billy Elliot’ runs at the Thomaston Opera House through July 24. 

Review: 'No Dogs Allowed' by Landmark Student Theatre

Nancy Sasso Janis

Thomaston, CT - Landmark Student Theatre presented two performances of an adorable production of ‘No Dogs Aloud’ live on the main stage of the Thomaston Opera House this weekend. Four of the cast members were young actors and the other four were community theatre adult actors; they all worked nicely together to get this little show on the Opera House stage for young audiences to enjoy.

Director Jeffrey Dunn calls ‘No Dogs Aloud’ a timeless story about family and reveals that during the rehearsal process the cast has become a theatre family. “We have worked, laughed, played and even yelled once or twice.” The Mcdougal family in the play has left the city for a simpler life on a farm in the country. “This is a story for any child that has ever wanted a pet and EVERY parent that at one time or another says NO.” 

Cast member Steve Sorriero came out to do the curtain speech in costume and did so in an endearing grandfatherly manner that put the young ones in the audience at ease. The first two acts were a neat 50 minutes; after intermission the third act resolved the chaos that closed the second act and even included a dream sequence.

In the role of Junket, Caitlin Barra was a believable farm dog so named because she had taken so many trips around the countryside. Ms. Barra never broke character and charmed the little ones in the audience as easily as the grownups that brought them. Mr. Sorriero (with his signature handlebar mustache) was the genial farmer hand Peter Paley who had worked with Junket before the farm was sold. 

Lou Guertin played the new homeowner Mr. McDougal, a former professor bringing his family to the country for fresh air and quiet, and Kate Sileo played his wife. Their children were played by Brady Mckenna as Michael, Jordan Mae Curtis as Margaret and the unsinkable Hailey Auburn as Molly. All three young actors did well with their roles and Ms. Auburn’s stage presence belied her age. The wonderful Kathy Cook had the role of their new neighbor, Miss Peckett. 

The show is set in a typical farmhouse and yard somewhere in the country and scenic painters Bob Brophy, Pat Piscopo, Ashley Royer (who also did the props) and David Verdosci did a fine job of putting that scene on the stage. The staff of Mindscape Industries conceived and constructed the many elements of the production.  Barbara Piscopo’s costumes were up to her usual standards. Lighting by Abbey Elias was nicely done and sound by Jared Albi worked well. 

After the curtain call, the actors remained onstage to interact with audience members, sign autographs and pose for photos.

Photo: Landmark Community Theatre

Review: 'The 1940's Radio Hour' by Landmark Community Theatre

Nancy Sasso Janis

“Celebrate the holidays with a vintage family musical!”

Landmark Community Theatre is doing just that with their current production of ‘The 1940’s Radio Hour’ by Walton Jones. Dan Checovetes directs this period piece that features a list of characters broadcasting classic musical numbers, comedy and radio spots at a seedy little New York radio station for the troops overseas. 

Set at the beginning of World War II, lights come up (beautifully) with the crotchety stage doorkeeper/race bookie Pops Bailey (Jeff Savage) arriving at the station. He is followed by the delivery boy who wants nothing more than a chance in front of the mike, the harassed radio producer, the often drunk leading singer, the second banana, the sound effects guy and a cavalcade of others with a backstory. After probably too much pre-show interaction, the cast gets down to the Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade broadcast and we, the studio audience, are taken back to the era of radio.

There is dancing thrown in just for the studio audience, although presumably listeners could hear the tap number, and the choreography by Rhiannon Carta is very well done. The set designed by the director, Alex Dunn and Jim Luurtsema brought us into an old-time radio studio and the costumes designed by the incomparable Barbara Piscopo (with her army of assistants) added to the feel of the era.

High school history teacher Allen Marko played the sometimes hysterical announcer and general manager of WOV and was the complete opposite of Tom Chute (Billy Flynn in Landmark’s hit ‘Chicago,’) the modern day manager of the show’s media sponsor 1320 WATR. Steve Sorriero provided the wonderful sound effects and reminded the audience to obey the lighted applause sign. Robert Saunders of Thomaston played the featured crooner with a drink in his hand and Frank Beaudry was perfectly cast as the cab driver who is eyeing that featured vocalist spot. Mr. Beaudry’s comic timing, singing and dancing made his character so much fun to watch.

Another fun character was WAMS senior Nolan Cummings as the eager delivery boy Wally Ferguson. His antics had both me and his classmate sitting next to me giggling throughout. WAMS graduate Justin Normandin played the handsome trumpet player Biff Baker who is heading off to war. 

Betsy Ingraham sang well as the standard vocalist Ann Collier and Becky Sawicki (Ariel in LCT’s ‘Little Mermaid’) brought her impressive talents to the role of the young bobby soxer Connie Miller. 

It was so good to see Alexa Campagna on the Thomaston Opera House stage for the first time in the role of the bubble-headed Ginger Brooks. Ms. Campagna was an impossibly cute bombshell and sang beautifully on “Blues in the Night” with the guys.  

I looked forward to Geneva Lee Browne’s solo because the amazing Carletha Hawley (Mama Morton in Landmark’s ‘Chicago’) was able to use that voice to perform “At Last.” Naugatuck High School graduate Michael Newman was strong in his role as the squeaky-clean and preppy B.J. Gibson; his duet with Ms. Sawicki on “How About You?” was a musical highlight.

Jim Luurtsema was part of the action as bandleader Zoot Doubleman, in addition to conducting the onstage orchestra. Pianist John Dressel was the co-musical director.  The musicians had the requisite Big Band sound and deserved to take their bow at curtain call. 

Before the opening night performance, Executive Director Jeff Dunn honored long-time organist Juan Cardona Jr. in the Thomaston Opera House Volunteer Spotlight. The audience was treated to a video of Mr. Cardona speaking about his many years playing the magnificent theatre organ and we even got to see some of the inner workings of the instrument. 

The final production of the 2015 Season is a big band holiday musical, 1940’S RADIO HOUR, runs December 4, 5, 11, 12 @ 8pm and November 28, 29, December 6, 13 @ 2pm. Tickets: Adults $24.00 Seniors & Students $20.00

'Veronica's Room' by Script Tease at Landmark Community Theatre

Nancy Sasso Janis

A new script reading group in northwest Connecticut has produced their inaugural production thanks to Landmark Community Theatre at the Thomaston Opera House. The group that gave themselves the cheeky name Script Tease chose Ira Levin’s script of ‘Veronica’s Room’ for their very first play and presented three performances this weekend in the tiny Arts Center Theatre of the TOH.

J. Timothy Quirk described how the play came to be produced on Nutmeg Chatter. “Using the tool of Facebook to organize, members of the northwest Connecticut local community scene gathered to form “Script Tease” in May of this year,” writes Mr. Quirk. Community theatre actress Colleen Renzullo described it as a “group is a casual ‘come if you’re available’ script reading group.” Their first script reading was the play ‘Vonya, Sonia, Masha and Spike.’ Mr. Quirk adds, “The second script reading was ‘Veronica’s Room’ and the group found the play so engrossing and engaging” that members Ingrid Smith and Ms. Renzullo “decided to produce and direct the play so that a northwest Connecticut audience could experience it.”

The directors thanked Jeff Dunn and Landmark Community Theatre, Jeff Savage, and Backyard Theater Ensemble for leaving the group the bones of their last set. The pride they felt was evident on the faces of both directors during their curtain speech. Many community theatre people came out on Saturday to support the new venture, including Betsy Ingraham, Eric Wilczak, Becky Sawicki, Joao Farias, KC Rachuba, Jonathan Ross, Lana Peck and Priscilla Squiers.

The mystery/thriller by the author of ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ explores the thin line between fantasy and reality, madness and murder. Set in the 1970s near Boston, two college students are enticed to an old mansion by its caretakers on the premise that the young lady bears a strong resemblance to Veronica, the long-dead daughter of the family for whom they work. The older couple want her to impersonate the girl briefly to comfort Veronica’s older sister, who is near death. Once dressed in Veronica’s clothes, the young woman finds herself locked in the role and locked in Veronica’s room. Soon everyone’s role become questionable.

To call this play creepy is an understatement; under the skillful direction of Ms. Renzullo and Ms. Smith, it felt like a nightmare come to life. It is a psychological thriller that has lots of twists. I was so engrossed with trying to figure out what would come next that I didn’t really have time to be scared. The piece is perfect for the Halloween season, but not for children.

The cast of characters have generic names in the program so that the plot details are not revealed too early. Lucia Dressel played the woman and Wes Baldwin played the man. Erin Shaughnessy appeared as the girl and Ryan Wantroba was billed at the young man.

The four actors did an amazing job of allowing the audience to watch them effortlessly switch roles, but I will refrain from going into too much detail to protect the guilty. Ms. Dressel was eerily convincing as the woman who was probably the most chilling character in the play. She masterfully navigated the tricky roles along with her talented fellow cast members. The towering Mr. Baldwin was pretty scary as the man and he mastered the accents required in his roles. Ms. Shaughnessy (‘Time Stands Still’ at TheatreWorks New Milford) once again shines in this role of the frightened girl and remained onstage during intermission in character. Mr. Wantroba convincingly played the young man with some scary secrets.

Mr. Baldwin served as technical director, master carpenter and lighting designer. The period costumes were designed by the cast with some assistance from Helen Adams. The wonderful props and set painting were done by the cast and Tracy Rowe. Kate K. Luurtsema was the producer of this inaugural production by Script Tease.  I look forward to more productions from this group, perhaps a little less creepy.

Pi ictured: (from left) Erin Shaughnessy, Lucia Dressel and Wes Baldwin in 'Veronica's Room' Photo by J. Timothy Quirk

Piictured: (from left) Erin Shaughnessy, Lucia Dressel and Wes Baldwin in 'Veronica's Room' Photo by J. Timothy Quirk

Review: Memphis The Musical' by Landmark Community Theatre

Nancy Sasso Janis

‘Memphis’ is a musical with music and lyrics by David Bryan and a book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro. The show ran on Broadway from 2009 to 2012 and won four Tony Awards in 2010, including the award for Best Musical. It is loosely based on a Memphis disc jockey named Dewey Phillips, one of the first white DJs that played black music on the radio in the 1950s and it certainly examines race relations at the time. At times tense and even a bit uncomfortable, it is perfectly balanced with joyful dancing, lots of humor, one beautiful song after another, and in the case of this Landmark production at the Thomaston Opera House, a stellar cast giving it their all. For all of these reasons, this is a show not to be missed.

On opening night, Landmark Community Theatre held a reception to honor one of their long time volunteers, the wonderful actress and director Donna Storms. A large contingent of her theatre friends sat around her as Jeffrey Dunn introduced a videotaped tribute that was shown before the show began. Another celebrity in the house was Broadway actress Tracee Beazer Barrett originally from Waterbury who appeared in ‘Hairspray,’ ‘Honeymoon in Vegas’ and was a “Someday” backup singer in the original cast of ‘Memphis’ and an understudy for the lead role of Felicia. Seated behind me with members of her family, the actress enjoyed this production as much as the rest of the opening night audience.

Foster Evans Reese really wanted to bring this piece to the TOH stage and served as director and choreographer. His clear vision of what ‘Memphis’ should be is evident in every step and every word of the actors in the amazing cast that he assembled. The fact that he had cameo appearances as a Baptist minister and a television camera operator allowed him to watch their performances up close and personal. Aaron Bunel got the thrilling vocal performances out of this cast as the music director and he also directed the stellar onstage orchestra. The solos were just as great as the production numbers and at intermission I felt that I did not want the show to end.

Felicia was played by Connecticut newcomer Samantha Rae Bass in her Landmark debut. This young lady has the vocal chops required for this role of a powerhouse singer and an acting ability to match. Congratulations to this actress on hitting the local stage in a big way. Dan Beaudoin brought so much depth to the role of the DJ Huey that I was mesmerized by his performance. He never faltered in the way the character should speak and move, and his vocal performance could not have been better. For him, playing Huey was a dream come true and it showed.

Moses Beckett did not speak in the role of Gator until the end of the first act, but this gifted actor let the audience know what his character was thinking without a word. Of course his performance of “Say A Prayer” with the clubgoers brought down the house immediately before the intermission. I was glad to see that the character had a few more lines, lyrics and dance moves in the second act where this young man was able to put his talent to work. Overall, the choreography by Mr. Reese was energetic and impressive enough to remind me a little of the guys in ‘West Side Story.’

Two other standouts were Mensah Robinson in his TOH debut and Penelope Kokines Sanborn as Huey’s mother Gladys. Mr. Robinson traveled from Danbury to take on the role of Felicia’s protective brother Delray and gave us chills during all his heartfelt musical numbers. Ms. Sanborn made the most of the humor in the role of Huey’s mother and had her turn as a star in “Change Don’t Come Easy.”

The outstanding ensemble included Ashley Almodovar, Sasha Brown, Katie Brunetto (giving it her all,) Alyssa Fontana Bunel (Landmark debut,) Jasmine Clemons, Shelby Christopher Davis, Robert Hagedorn, Mark-Anthony Hamblin, Rodney K., Laureen Monge, Justin Normandin, Ruben Soto and Chelsea Winborne. St. Paul Catholic HS senior Dana Wilton was simply amazing in the featured role of The Teenage Girl. Diwan Keno Glass played the role of janitor turned tv show host Bobby, a role originated on Broadway by James Monroe Iglehart, currently playing Genie in Disney’s ‘Aladdin.’

John Chenkus was believable as Mr. Collins and Gordon Grant. Kyrell Clemons wailed as Wailin Joe. Be Black Trio was comprised of Mr. Clemons, Kyle Davis, and Mr. Hamblin. Felicia’s backup singers included Brittany Fitzpatrick, Elizabeth Bernard, Karen Robinson and Ms. Brown. Lou Guertin was impressive as bewildered station owner Mr. Simmons and Patricia Paganucci had a walk on as a white mother.  

The set was designed by Kate K. Luurtsema and it worked well. Period costumes designed by Ms. Luurtsema and Barbara Piscopo were also very well done. A valiant attempt to project the black and white television camera feed on a screen house right was well-intentioned but grainy and a bit of a distraction in my opinion; I just watched the cast onstage.

After the curtain call had ended, I remained in order to congratulate members of the cast and production team on their amazing accomplishment. While waiting for the actors to change out of their costumes, I discussed specifics with community theatre veteran Lyle Ressler. I always enjoy talking theatre with Mr. Ressler, but it is a special treat when I am able to collect my thoughts with him immediately after a performance. My reviews are always better as a result. When the ‘Memphis’ performers reentered the stately Opera House in their street clothes, many were greeted with applause from well-wishers and it was well-deserved.

Do not miss this outstanding production that runs through October 4.

The third musical of Landmark’s 2015 Season features the sensuous, soulful sound of rhythm 'n' blues, MEMPHIS, showing September 19, 25, 26, October 2, 3 @ 8pm and September 20, 27, October 4 @ 2pm. In 1950s Memphis, Tennessee, the soul of a new era is dawning as the first incredible sounds of rock ‘n’ roll, blues and gospel emerge. Falling in love with a beautiful club singer, one young man’s vision to bring her voice and her music out of the clubs and onto the airwaves of America will fly in the face of cultural divides and spark a music revolution that will shake the world. Tickets: Adults $24.00  Seniors & Students $20.00

Photo by Lisa Cherie

Photo by Lisa Cherie

Review: 'The Wedding Singer' at Landmark Community Theatre

Nancy Sasso Janis

Now in its third year, the drama program at Landmark Community Theatre offers teens from the area real world experience, with qualified production staff, in all aspects of the performing arts. The culminating activity is a high quality, full-scale musical production and it was presented this weekend at the Thomaston Opera House. The Student Theatre worked together this summer to bring to the stage three performances of a musical cult comedy, ‘The Wedding Singer.’

 The show is based upon the hit Adam Sandler movie and features a new score to bring us back to the ‘80s. Rock-star wannabe Robbie Hart is New Jersey’s favorite wedding singer. He is the life of the party until his own fiancee leaves him at the altar. He sets out to make every wedding as disastrous as his own until Julia, a winsome waitress, wins his affection. Unfortunately for him, Julia is about to be married to a Wall Street shark named Glen, and unless the wedding singer can pull of the best performance of his life, the girl of his dreams will be gone forever. 

Connor Dunn as the Wedding Singer Robbie Hart and Jess Cocomazzi as Juila Photo courtesy of Landmark Community Theatre

Connor Dunn as the Wedding Singer Robbie Hart and Jess Cocomazzi as Juila Photo courtesy of Landmark Community Theatre

 This cute story   with a book by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy is combined with music by Matthew Skylar and  lyrics by Chad Beguelin  . Slightly raunchy in parts but reportedly toned down for the teens, I wasn’t offended and found some of it to be the funniest bits at the final performance. What made it such an enjoyable production for me was the wealth of talent that united this summer to entertain us, while no doubt having a great time together. While I understand that Landmark can only produce as many performances as they think they can sell, it is too bad that there couldn’t have been more chances to catch it.

 Connor Dunn played Robbie Hart, the in-demand wedding singer. Mr. Dunn proved once again that he can do pretty much anything onstage and do it well. This Thomaston High School graduate, who will head to SUNY Purchase in the fall, was the star of this one in a signature wig and a loud suit and he was so much fun to watch as he went into the downward arc of his character’s life (as odd as that may sound.)

The wedding singer’s bandmates were played to perfection by WAMS senior Nolan Cummings as Sammy and Wolcott’s Thomas Bergamo as the Boy George wannabe named George. These two talented young men showed off their comedic talents in these fun roles. Zachery Cipriano gave a strong performance as the rich but unfaithful Glen that doesn’t deserve the lovely Julia.

 Jess Cocomazzi, a rising junior at Chase Collegiate School, played the wedding banquet hall waitress beautifully. I last saw this young performer as the Ghost of Christmas Past at Landmark in one of her four shows at the TOH. Her sidekick is her cousin and fellow waitress Holly and the wonderfully talented Marley Thompson played that role for all it was worth in her first teen production at the Opera House. Rhiannon Carta (Evelyn Nesbit in ‘Ragtime’ at the Warner…”wheee”)  played the fickle and sensual fiancee Linda and then danced really well in the ensemble. Kudos to all of these ladies on their standout performances. 

 Another standout was the always memorable Lauren Stango in the role of Robbie’s spry grandmother Rosie. Now a rising sophomore at Pomperaug HS where she recently played Amy in ‘Little Women,’ this young actress showed off her comedic timing and dancing skills. She rocked both “A Note from Grandma” and “Move that Thang.” Reilly Lincavicks, a rising senior from Southington who attends the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts for Musical Theatre, appeared much older in the role of Julia’s mother due to her acting and another good wig. 
In the fabulous ensemble that danced up a storm were Alison Hudson, Allison VanDerlyn, Amber Clavette, Christy Dzubay, Dan Smyth-Temple, Gillian Russo, Grace Consonni (Cyndi Lauper impersonator,) Jennifer Beveridge, Jon Yatco, Joshua Rodis, Joshua Viltrakis (Ronald Reagan impersonator,) Julia Squillace (Imelda Marcos impersonator,) Kasey Geremia, Lillianna McGrath, Lindsay Cronin, Lindsay Sawyer, Megan Foell, Morgan Griffin, Stephanie O’Keefe, and Victoria Bottass.
Dan Checovetes directed the teens to bring to life an era that none of the students were alive to witness, and he credits them in his notes with having done a “fantastic job of recreating the decade.” They were also helped by the amazing period costumes by Debbie Cashman that were big and bright.The simple set designed by the director allowed the outstanding orchestra to sit onstage upon an elevated platform and almost be a part of the action. The talented group included Music Director AJ Bunel on keyboard, TJ Thompson (Marley’s dad) on keyboard, Meric Martin on guitar, Mark Wilcox on guitar, Paul Bilodeau on bass and Noel Roberge on percussion. They simply rocked. Congratulations to the choreographer Jennifer Bunger on bringing her 80’s to the stage.  

Review: 'The Little Mermaid' at Landmark Community Theatre

Nancy Sasso Janis

‘Disney’s The Little Mermaid’ produced by Landmark Community Theatre has had a triumphant run at the Thomaston Opera House. Parents and grandparents have brought many young well-dressed children to their first theatrical production because they knew this would be a good choice. Of course there were the well-known songs featured in the Disney animated film mixed with many more that have been added to the musical, as well as a wonderful set and a huge number of great costumes. Not to mention a boatload of talented community theatre actors that sang and danced as the familiar characters from the beloved tale that I will in fact mention later.

 Producer Jeff Dunn gave a tutorial on wand technology during his curtain speech so that the patrons who had purchased light-up toys in the lobby would know how to use them during their two audience participation numbers. From my seat in the mezzanine, I must admit that the colorful lights in the audience added a lot to “Under the Sea” and “Kiss the Girl,” but the few wands that were activated for no reason throughout the rest of the show proved to be distracting at best. For the record, I felt the same way about the cell phones that were lit up for extended periods.

 Director Eric Wilczak writes in his playbill letter that he believes that the true story of ‘The Little Mermaid’ is one of finding your voice. I believe that he found his voice in this production that is visually beautiful and also a joy to hear because of outstanding vocal performances and an excellent orchestra under the direction of Holly J. McCann. I was especially impressed by the quartet of “If Only” in the second act. Choreography by Jennifer Lynn Clark was well-executed by everyone in the cast from the members of the adorable children’s ensemble to the leads. I loved the tap dancing by the seagull chorus for “Positoovity.” 

 From the first note of “The World Above” that opened the show, Becky Sawicki as Ariel was the perfect little mermaid in every way. This young actress has the kind of voice that any sea witch would covet and was a pleasure to watch in her Landmark debut. Just as strong was the performance of Zack Heidorn as her beloved Prince Eric. This CCSU graduate was a strong actor as the very handsome prince and he sang beautifully. Kudos to both young actors on their splashy performances.

 New to the Opera House stage was Hal Chernoff in the role of Ariel’s stern father King Triton. Ben Stone-Zelman was just adorable as her friend Flounder in a great fish costume designed by Judith Tringali. Steve Sorriero was the prince’s guardian Grimsby and newcomer Kyle Davis did a great job in the role of the befuddled seagull Scuttle. Frank Beaudry was at his comic best in the role of the singing  Chef Louis in “Les Poissons.” 

 Cat Heidel took on her dream role of the nasty sea witch Ursula and sounded amazingly evil in her solos. Her hench-eels were well-played by Rob Hagedorn as Jetsam and WAMS graduate Justin Normandin as Flotsam. Dan Beaudoin (Mary Sunshine in Landmark’s critically acclaimed ‘Chicago’) brought down the house as the nervous crab Sebastian. Mr. Beaudoin proved that he can do it all once again.

 Dan Checovetes designed the sparkling lighting and the sound issues were minimal. The orchestra sounded even more impressive with the addition of Juan Cardona on the magnificent pipe organ for several of the bigger numbers. After the show ended at a family-friendly hour, the actors generously remained on stage for photo opportunities with the youngest patrons. 

 Congratulations to the creative team, cast and crew of this wonderful and large scale production at the Thomaston Opera House. 

'Chicago' at Landmark Community Theatre

Nancy Sasso Janis

Landmark Community Theatre opened their first musical of the 2015 season on Saturday night. 'Chicago' runs through May 3 at the historic Thomaston Opera House. Even if you have seen another production of the Bob Fosse musical, the dancing (and everything else) in this Landmark version makes it one that you truly do not want to miss.
Foster Reese not only directed the talented cast but also served as their choreographer, as he has often been known to do. The cast of 'Chicago' had the pleasure of working with and learning from two Broadway veterans during rehearsals. Carolyn Kirsch was Velma Kelly in the first National touring company and worked directly with Bob Fosse. Mary Ann Lamb played June in the original company of the 1996 revival with Anne Reinking and Bebe Neuwirth, the version currently running on Broadway. The cast members will forever have the stories that these dancers told about Mr. Fosse and the mounting of this iconic show. The ladies worked on the choreography for final three dance numbers of the Landmark show.

Janina Gozalez (center) with members of the cast of 'Chicago' Photo by Erin Drew

Janina Gozalez (center) with members of the cast of 'Chicago' Photo by Erin Drew

The quality of the dancing, the look of the show and the talented cast members made me appreciate this show more than I have in the past. Mr. Reese made some excellent choices in his staging, especially during Roxie's trial scene. Paul Revaz designed the simple set of a black staircase that separated the halves of the onstage orchestra under the direction of TJ Thompson. The talented music director became a part of the action a couple of times and this orchestra was one of the best he has ever assembled.
Aurora Montenero designed the all-black costumes that definitely set the mood, as did the outstanding lighting designed by Alex Dunn. Organist Juan Cardona Jr. also helped set the mood for the audience before the show began on the beautiful theatre organ. After one major sound issue on opening night, the rest of the show ran smoothly.
The gushing about the cast begins here. Dan Beaudoin showed off his amazing range as reporter Mary Sunshine and the uncredited and dreamy Moses Beckett performed as one of the wonderful male dancers as well as the doomed Fred Casely. Other male dancers included Nathan Rodriguez, Shelby Davis, Jonathan Zalaski, and Naugatuck native James Goggin.  
The Cell Block girls included Erin McAvoy (Murderess,) Katie Brunetto (Annie,) Amber Mason (Murderess,) Caitlin Barra (Kitty/Murderess,) Jean-Marie McGrath (Mona,) Malie Grasmere (June,) Martha Martin (Liz,) Leslie Bacon (Murderess,) Beth Harvision (Murderess,) Leanna Scaglione (Hunyak,) Erika O'Keefe (Murderess) and Jennifer Bunger (Murderess.)
The wonderful Chuck Stango made the most of the relatively small role of   Roxie's long-suffering husband Amos. Clad in a frumpy sweater and white gloves, his "Mr. Cellophane" brought down the house and made everyone notice him. WATR's Tom Chute returned to the stage to play one of his favorite characters, the slick lawyer Billy Flynn. He brought considerable charm to the role and his smooth voice and fine dancing made "All I Care About" and "Razzle Dazzle" a pleasure to behold.
Waterbury resident Carletha Hawley returned to the TOH to play prison matron Mama Morton and wow, can this lady sing! Emily Diedrich returned to the stage after a maternity hiatus to play the role of Roxie Hart. Janina Gonzalez made her Landmark debut in her dream role of   Velma Kelly. These two triple threats were equally matched and turned in amazing performances as the rival murderesses.  
Landmark Executive Director Jeffrey P. Dunn honored Opera House Commission Board Member and long-time volunteer "costume maven" Barbara Piscopo before the show with a video tribute and framed certificate. He also informed her onstage that a much-needed washer and dryer would be added to the costume shop. A reception had been held in the costumer's honor before the doors to the house opened. Ms. Piscopo has costumed over 100 shows on the opera house stage. Upcoming volunteer opportunities at the TOH include running crew, ushers, box office attendants, marketing and office assistant and construction and set builders. 

Review: 'Winnie-the-Pooh' by Landmark Community Theatre

by Nancy Sasso Janis, Critic Landmark Community Theatre will present the live theatre show 'Winnie-the-Pooh' this weekend, but I was invited to attend one of the final rehearsals at the Thomaston Opera House. The show opens on January 31 and tickets are available on the Landmark website or at the box office.

The action takes place in the beloved Hundred Acre Wood, where Winnie the Pooh is once again in search of honey. His pals Tigger, Piglet, Rabbit, Owl, Kanga, Roo, Eeyore and Christopher Robin are all on hand, and together the animals learn about teamwork, friendship, and sharing snacks. Based on the beloved characters of A.A. Milne, this live theatre show with interactive sing-a-long truly is the perfect first pick for young audiences.

This cast is made up of young actors very well directed by David Verdosci, the only adult in the cast who appears at the beginning of each act as a "voice/storyteller." Mr. Verdosci admitted that the cast has missed some recent rehearsals due to the weather, but this cast is clearly ready for their close-ups. This director is so very encouraging to his cast members and it was heartwarming to see the mutual respect they shared. "Winnie-the-Pooh is just fun," he told me and it showed in his production.

The talented Connor Dunn is perfectly cast as the title character; he is cute, loveable and very funny. Connor's dad and LCT Executive Director Jeff Dunn was on hand to block the curtain call. Young Nicholas Santovasi is a strong actor in the role of Christopher Robin, and Megan Foell is simply adorable as Piglet, right down to her stutter. Eeyore will be played by Blaise Russo. Jonathan Yatco has the perfect British accent as Owl, as well as one of the best costumes. Noah Scott has a cameo as Tigger.

Lots of young ladies cover the roles of the other forest creatures. Rachel Foell is Pooh's buddy Rabbit. Kristen Foell is a commanding helicopter parent in the role of Kanga, while Elisabeth Leifert (last seen in Ragtime at the Warner) is her little Roo. The Woodland Animals include Hailey Auburn as a skunk, Jillian Alena as a zebra, Abigail Scott as a beaver, Chloe Beach as another rabbit, Olivia Sevas as a fox, and Gabi and Sami Verdosci as yellow bunnies. Each and every one is impossibly cute.

The beautiful set is painted in perfect pastels and includes some cute little details like the requisite bee hive and a huge birthday cake. The ladies in the costume shop came up with great whole-body costumes for the kids, but Owl's and Pooh's were my favorites. Their impressive make up added to the authenticity of the critters. There will be some cartoon-like sound effects and some not scary special effects.

All performances of 'Winnie-the-Pooh' will include a sing-a-long of children's classics and will be followed by a meet and greet for photos. On Saturday, Jan. 31 there are performances at 2:00pm and 6:00pm and on Sunday, Feb. 1 there is a matinée at 2:00pm. Tickets are $10.