Review: 'Queens for a Year' at Hartford Stage

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic
  • Connecticut Critics Circle

“If we remain ignorant of our history, we’re lost. –All. Is. Lost. Only shame remains, and lashing out; an eye for an eye and an I for an I; no justice, only the unquenchable thirst for retribution, repeating the same mistakes over and over and…” Mae in ‘Queens for a Year’ by T.D. Mitchell

Hartford, CT The 2016-2017 season at Hartford Stage opens with a world premiere of a play written by T.D. Mitchell entitled ‘Queens for a Year.’ Originally developed as part of the Center Theatre Group’s new play program, the play was featured at the Bay Area Playwrights Festival before receiving a workshop at Hartford Stage in March of last year. 

‘Queens for a Year’ tells the riveting story of two women Marines in 2007 that struggle to find justice in a system weighted against them. One is Molly, a young, newly minted officer in the Corps, and the other is Amanda, a young enlisted woman. Together they arrive at the farmhouse of the officer’s grandmother in southern Virginia. Her family proudly boasts five generations of female Marines and four of them gather for what begins as a celebration of women’s history and grit. In flashbacks, it is revealed that their visit is actually a flight from immediate danger that is within the violent, male-entrenched culture that they have all so desperately fought to be a part of. 

In fact, the title refers to a derogatory term for a female soldier or Marine that is serving her overseas tour of duty year. The implication is that even a homely female gets away with slacking off and being treated as a queen due to the lack of available women in a culture and profession of heterosexual men. Throughout the two acts, cadences, or call-and-response “work songs,” punctuate the action. All the cadences in the play are actual ones used in military training, although (not surprisingly) not all are officially sanctioned. All of them were degrading, and a few were cringe-worthy; I told myself that they added to the authenticity of this difficult story.

The cast of eight Equity actors, all but one in their Hartford Stage debut, pulls the audience into the drama with just a handful of light moments.  Vanessa R. Butler stars as 2nd Lt. Molly Solinas and brings a gritty integrity to the challenging role. The younger PFC Amanda Lewis is stunningly brought to life by Sarah Nicole Deaver. 

Molly’s mother is Mae Walker, a civilian midwife with a strong faith. Mary Bacon as Mae opens the play then returns in the middle of the second act; the actress does well as the only major character that was never in the military. Charlotte Maier plays Gunny Molly Walker, the grandmother of the younger Molly who is always referred to as “Gunny.” Heidi Armbruster shines as Molly’s aunt Lucy who helps care for Lucy “Grandma Lu” MacGregor, the elderly matriarch of the family whose health and mind is failing. Alice Cannon (‘Imaginary Invalid’ at Hartford Stage) plays the retired Marine with spunk. 

Jamie Rezanour is credited as the female ensemble and Mat Hostetler as the Male Ensemble, but I would argue that the amount and variety of the roles they played qualifies them both as ensemble in name only. Ms. Rezanour had to master several foreign tongues and transform herself into many characters, both military and civilian and she did so easily. Mr. Hostetler’s male characters are hard to like because of his strong acting. 

Cpl. Brianna Morgan Maldonado (USMC, Ret.) served as US Marine Corps Advisor to ensure authenticity and Robert H. Davis was dialect coach with Sarab Al Ani as the Arabic language advisor. Daniel Conway designed the deceptively simple set that the director Lucie Tiberghien used perfectly. Robert Perry lit the Hartford stage with realism. The costumes designed by Beth Goldenberg include crisp uniforms as well as street clothes and Jodi Stone provided the wig design. Associate Artistic Director Elizabeth Williamson served as dramaturg for this production. 

I am always struck with the professional level that both plays and musicals attain at Hartford Stage. The look is modern and the productions are consistently seamless, and this piece is no exception. I found the play to be a thoroughly riveting tale that shed a sometimes harsh light on the experience of women in the military. Recent military history is woven in, as is Greek mythology, and it all somehow works. 

‘Queens for a Year’ runs through the matinee on October 2, 2016, and the theater offers both open captioned performances and an audio described performance on specific dates. 

Pictured: L-R: Charlotte Maier, Vanessa R Butler, Heidi Armbruster, Alice Cannon in uniform in 'Queens for a Year' Photo byT. Charles Erickson

Review: 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' by Elm Shakespeare Company

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic
  • Connecticut Critics Circle

New Haven, CT - Hermine stayed away on a late-summer Sunday so that Elm Shakespeare Company could present their closing performance of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in the beautiful Edgerton Park in New Haven. “A company for all seasons” that has a strong focus on education, Elm Shakespeare is now the Theatre in Residence at Southern Connecticut State University. The new long-term partnership will allow them to share both resources and expertise in ways that will help both institutions serve the New Haven community. Many college students helped to fill the audience of over 1000 happy Shakespeare lovers for closing night. 

In what was certainly a unique curtain speech, Development Director Barbara Schaffer literally stopped the battle between the soldiers of Theseus and the Amazonian warriors to welcome the audience and fundraise. The actors reacted at certain points of her appeal and then froze in place on the two fabulous stages. One side of the huge space was the mortal village of the Athenians and the other served as the magical forest of the fairies, although the trees that sheltered the audience became part of their scenery thanks to sparkling lighting. Kudos to set designer Elizabeth Bolster and Jamie Burnett who designed the truly luminous lighting. 

Photos by Mike Franzman Photography

Photos by Mike Franzman Photography

The flawless sound system was designed by Mike Skinner; this was the best sound I have experienced at any outdoor venue in the state. When I arrived 30 minutes before the curtain, I could only find a place for my lawn chair extreme house left, thereby making it difficult to see much of what happened at the edge of the forest stage, but I could hear everything. 

The players included many Equity members in leading roles, college students and many interns with the Elm Scholars high school program. The mortal roles included Dave Demke as Theseus and Tai Verley as his bride to be Hippolyta. Gracy Brown Kierstead played Egeus as the mother of Hermia, who was played with gusto by Anna Paratore. Steven Godoy played Hermia’s love Lysander and Anthony Peeples was the rich Demetrius that Egeus prefers for her daughter. Stephanie Jean Lane played the taller Helena, who is in love with Demetrius. 

The group of actors dubbed the Mechanicals could not have been more fun. Caley Miliken was the whistle-blowing (Peter) Quince, the director of the the theatrical group. Raphael Massie was a stand-out in the role of Bottom, here reimagined as a park ranger. The actors played by Jeremy Funke (Flute,) Jordan Simpson (Snug,) Nathan Tracy (Snout,) and SCSU grad Elisa Albert (Starveling) were both updated and comical. 

The fairy kingdom was populated with strong performances. Frederick Secrease ruled as King Oberon and Kristin Wold was his lovely queen Titania. Evan Gambardella in his debut with this company made Puck/Robin Goodfellow somewhat manic and full of mischief. Brianna Bauch, a SCSU senior, led the group of Titania’s fairies (all played well by Elm Scholar apprentices Zoe Eklund, Cameron Gaulin, Leone Rodriguez, Haley Maruca, Asela Shabazz, and Elisabeth Boshka) with an ethereal quality as Peaseblossom and sang the lullaby for their mistress. Ms. Bauch appeared in the 1214 Foundation’s original Shakespeare adapted musical, ‘A ROCKIN’ Midsummer Night’s Dream’ as Hermia, for which she recorded an original cast album with Broadway Records. Because I had been listening to my copy of this CD on my drive to New Haven, I found it very difficult to refrain from comparing this production with just a touch of music to the musical in Newtown that I will never forget.

Director Tina Packer intentionally mixed up three time periods. She writes in her note: “As the whole thing is a dream, and we dream about events in our unconscious mind, the mixing of time periods and costumes makes perfect sense to me.” The ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome, the period the teenagers live in, were now set in 1909, the year that the Brewster house was built in what is now Edgerton Park was built. The park itself was the forest of the fairy world and the ordinary people who maintain the lovely park became the Mechanicals. It all worked nicely once I figured it out. There was some political fun poked at the expense of the wall that is imperative to the action of the comical tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe and Bottom’s death scene was comically extensive. Purist might object at the attempts to enhance the humor of the Bard’s text, but I enjoyed most of them. Every aspect of this production was of the highest quality and I look forward to attending their future productions both on and off campus. 

Review: 'Ring of Fire' by Landmark Community Theatre

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic
  • Connecticut Critics Circle

“In a small cast setting, this show has just the right formula to bring the story of Johnny Cash to the audience in a very intimate and personal way that will touch each and every person throughout the show.” - First time Director Jim Luurtsema 

Thomaston, CT - Landmark Community Theatre presents ‘Ring of Fire - The Music of Johnny Cash’ through September 18 on the stage in the historic Thomaston Opera House.The show was created by Richard Maltby, Jr. and conceived by William Meade.  Landmark’s production was directed by Jim Luurtsema in his directorial debut, although the active trombone player has served as music director (and sometimes sound designer) for numerous local productions. Matt Albert made his debut in the role of music director.

‘Ring of Fire’ struck me as the ultimate jukebox musical, with a minimum of spoken lines and 32 of the songs of Johnny Cash that are performed in quick succession. Many of the pieces were not written by Mr. Cash, but he did record all of them during his long career. There are gospel songs, some silly pieces (“Egg Suckin’ Dog” for instance) and of course some of his hits. True Johnny Cash fans were in their glory as the two acts unfolded, and for many in the opening night audience, it was their first visit to the Thomaston Opera House for a show.

Vice Chair of the Landmark Board of Trustees Foster Reese manned the bar with a temporary liquor license in front of the stage as patrons were shown to their seats. Before the lights went down, the five cast members mingled with the audience in their first costume. Lori Holm (Trenna) stopped by my seat to say hello and reiterated what she had written in her bio, namely that this role has been a journey through so many of her real-life memories and “truly brought her home.”

The five cast members took to the stage and easily began to accompany themselves as they performed the wide variety of musical numbers. Payton Turpin, who served as the narrator dubbed Jason, also played rhythm guitar. The smooth voice of this community theatre veteran served him well as he sang and told us about the life of the man in black. Ms. Holm covered many of the vocals and played auxiliary percussion like tambourine. This talented singer was a stand out, and not simply because she was the only woman in the cast. 

Robert Saunders (Eddie) played rhythm guitar as well as aux percussion; this singing actor appeared in both ‘1940’s Radio Hour’ and ‘Memphis’ at the TOH. Edward Rosenblatt (David,) who is excited to perform onstage with his fiancee Lori, played electric guitar, resonator, banjo, mandolin, accordion and aux percussion, all with mastery. In his bio he thanked his late parents for insisting on all those music lessons. 

Michael Conroy (Mark) performed on the upright bass (on loan from Torrington HS) and also aux percussion. Usually sitting in the pit of local theaters and schools, this talented musicians plays trumpet, guitar, bass and flute, and is a founding member of the band Opening Night. As Mark he returns to the stage after 21 years and I wished that his role allowed him more time in the spotlight. 

Mr. Luurtsema did a fine job of making the intimate nature of this show work in the Opera House space and Mr. Albert made sure that the musicians would shine. The show neatly fit into two hours with an intermission.

The costumes designed by Barbara Piscopo and stage manager Kate Luurtsema were perfectly Southern and Mrs. Luurtsema designed the video and photography that graced the stage with purpose. Lighting by Tori Campbell and Alex Dunn was done well, but there were some very loud sound issues that led the cast to mention “thunder” in the Opera House. Before the show, Juan Cardona worked his magic on the theatre pipe organ and in fact, produced sounds to simulate a train in a manner I had never experienced. 

Broadway Review: 'Waitress'

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic
  • Connecticut Critics Circle

“Inspired by Adrienne Shelly’s beloved film, ‘Waitress’ is an uplifting new musical celebrating friendship, motherhood and the magic of a well-made pie. Order up!”

New York, NY - It was another great Broadway Experience with the Warner Theatre Center for Arts Education when my soon-to-be college freshman headed to the Big Apple with a group of Performance Lab teens and other theatre friends. The coach bus is always comfortable, the conversations stimulating and who doesn’t love five hours of free time to explore the city on your own. The two of us had lunch at a very crowded Shake Shack, visited both Hershey’s and M&M’s and used my smartphone to find (in the rain) the closest Chipotle for dinner. Northwest Idol runner up CJ Barber and her family went with music director Beckie Wallace and her daughter to visit the Stardust Diner to listen to see waiter Zach Carter of Naugatuck sing during his shift. At the end of the day, our bus driver navigated through a powerful rainstorm to get everyone back to Torrington safely. 

However, the real reason for this trip was to see the hit musical ‘Waitress,’ starring the wonderful Jessie Mueller.

‘Waitress’ is a musical based upon the 2007 film of the same title that was written by Adrienne Shelly. The book for the musical version was written by Jessie Nelson and the music and lyrics were done by Sara Bareilles. The orchestrations were written by Ms. Bareilles along with The (fabulous) Waitress Band and Diane Paulus served as the director. The show is running at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre and stars the luminous Ms. Mueller in the role of Jenna the waitress. 

I remembered most of the film version as what WTCAE director Isabel Carrington called “an emotional roller coaster” unfolded on the Broadway stage. It tells the story of Jenna Hunterson, a waitress in a bad marriage who bakes amazing pies with unique names that are sold at the diner where she works. At the insistence of her work friends, Jenna learns that she has unexpectedly become pregnant and she begins an affair with her hunky gynecologist Dr. Jim Pomatter (who was played in the film by the ruggedly handsome Nathan Fillion.) Looking for any way out of what her life has become, she sees a pie contest and its grand prize as her chance.

What I didn’t realize was the fact that the film was written and directed by Ms. Shelley who also appeared in the supporting role of Dawn the waitress. More tragic is the fact that her appearance in the film marked her final appearance before her death. In late 2006 Ms. Shelly was the married mother of an infant daughter and was waiting to see if Waitress would be accepted for the Sundance Film Festival. On November of that year she was found dead, hanging in the shower of her studio apartment in New York. Her husband insisted that it could not have been a suicide and police ultimately arrested an undocumented immigrant from Ecuador who confessed to the killing. Ms. Shelly's husband established the Adrienne Shelly Foundation, which awards scholarships, production grants, finishing funds and living stipends to artists. 

Ms. Mueller is so brilliant in the title role that I can only imagine how beautiful she must have been as Carole King in ‘Beautiful.’ As the other waitresses in the diner, Keala Settle is big and loud and Jenna Ushkowitz (‘Glee,’ of course) is little and geeky, but both made us laugh. 
Drew Gehling is convincing as the hard-to-like husband. Nick Cordero takes on the role of the handsome but unprofessional doctor. Dakin Matthews is spot on as the demanding diner owner with a secret and Eric Anderson is memorable as the man in the kitchen. Jeremy Morse covered for Christopher Fitzgerald as the character (and he is a character) Ogie, who falls in love with the unlikely Dawn. The very young Claire Kean shares the role of Lulu with her sister McKenna and both are just adorable when one appears in the final scene. 

That ‘Waitress Band’ wins the prize for best integration of musicians into the action of a musical. They slid on to the stage on a platform into a back corner of the stage and fit easily into the diner, even with a grand piano. Then some of the members of the band stepped out of the group to be highlighted during a number. It showed such respect for the talented musicians, who include conductor Nadia DeGiallonardo on piano, her associate Adam Michael Kaufman on keyboard, Rich Mercurio on drums, Lee Nadel on bass, Yair Evnine on cello and guitar and Meghan Toohey on guitar. 

I loved the spinning pies under glass that reached all the way up the sides of the stage in the set designed by Scott Pask, and beautiful lighting by Christopher Akerlind made everything look even better. Suttirat Anne Larlarb designed that setting-appropriate costumes. Lorin Latarro was the choreographer. 

Overall, ‘Waitress’ is in fact a drama/comedy that takes the audience on an emotional ride. It would be difficult not to feel sorry for Jenna as she navigates her way out of her awful marriage and I think most of us in the audience were rooting for a happy ending. Waitress is running at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York City.

Review: 'Murder on the Nile' by Aquila Theatre

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic
  • Connecticut Critics Circle

Danbury, CT - New York based Aquila Theatre presented ‘Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Nile’ this weekend at the MainStage Theatre at the Visual & Performing Arts Center at Western Connecticut State University. Aquila’s mission is to make classical works accessible to the greatest number of patrons and they feel a responsibility to acknowledge and explore newfound classical works. This production, which was funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Artworks, was directed by Peter Meineck.

Murder on the Nile is based on Ms. Christie’s 1937 novel titled ‘Death on the Nile’ which she wrote during the darkest days of World War II. Aquila decided to set it in the BBC Home Service studios in London during an air raid. The air raid has prevented most of the cast members from making it to the radio studio in time for the live broadcast, so the three who are there must pick up the slack. The director writes “I hope that in Aquila’s 25th Silver Jubilee year, this production of ‘Murder on the Nile’ breathes new life into a much-loved classic work by a seminal author years ahead of her time.”

A mere three cast members formed the company that played 13 roles, eight males and five females. Think about the logistics of all that. Some scenes had two or three characters, but some bumped up to four or five, so actors needed to literally change hats back and forth quickly to keep up. Many of the 13 characters were played by all three cast members at different times and all three played said character with the same mannerisms and accents. Genders were switched as well; in fact, one male actor began the play as a cleaning woman at the station and never changed out of his dress, although he changed his characters repeatedly. 

The talented actors who accomplished this were Lincoln Hudson, Palmyra Mattner and Toby Miller. If they had been members of a company of 13, I would be saying that they did a great job with their characters; the fact that they all pulled off all of them, shifting with lightening speed, made this a very unique and most memorable production. 

James McDaniel designed the period costumes, while Mr. Meineck designed the lighting. Chase Duhe was the sound designer, Dave Tennent did the wonderful projections and Desiree Sanchez was the movement consultant for the added dance numbers to Egyptian-themed contemporary tunes. 
 
This production coincided with Welcome Week at WCSU, so there were many college students in the audience enjoying the show. Aquila has come to the university with previous productions including ‘Sherlock Holmes,’ and ‘Romeo and Juliet.’

Review: 'The Fantasticks' at Connecticut Cabaret Theatre

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic
  • Connecticut Critic Circle

Berlin, CT - ‘The Fantasticks’ was written in 1960 by Tom Jones with music by Harvey Schmidt and tells an allegorical story that was loosely based on a play called ‘The Romancers’ by Edmond Rostand. The show is the world’s longest running musical with over 40 years of performances, so it must be doing something right. The production running at the Connecticut Cabaret Theatre and Performing Arts Center in Berlin was produced and directed by Kris McMurray, who in his curtain speech called the piece “the essence of theatre,” after which he mentioned the names of some of his cast members and then cheekily dismissed the other “schmucks” he had directed. 

It tells the tale of two neighboring (and very funny) fathers who trick their children into falling in love by pretending to be feuding. The dads improbably hire traveling actors to stage a mock abduction so that the 20-year-old Matt can heroically seem to save the 16-year-old Luisa and thereby end the feigned feud. Of course the children discover the deception, and they immediately reject the arranged marriage and break up. The young people get a taste of reality out in the world that are shown in parallel fantasy scenes and then reunite bruised but enlightened and renew their love with some maturity. 

The score, including the familiar “Try to Remember,” is breezy and quite inventive and the book often includes pure poetry. When licensed, the show has stiff requirements for scenery and props to guarantee that the audience gets an identical experience, although each cast surely puts their own stamp upon the characters. The small CCT cast and crew along with the three piece orchestra did just that to the delight of the Saturday night audience who came out to enjoy the cabaret seating with snacks and beverages at this performance. 

Jon Escobar (who played Lucas Beineke in CCT’s ‘The Addams Family’ in 2014) was smooth in every way in the role of the storyteller/bandit El Gallo. George Lombardo (as the Boy’s dad Hucklebee) and Russell Fish (as Bellomy, the father of the Girl) were a riot in the roles of the scheming parents. Dave Wall had fun as the old actor named Henry and  James J. Moran was his partner Mortimer, who has mastered a death scene and dresses like a Native American. Sue Emond was indeed silent but pretty cute as The Mute; she got to play the wall built by the fathers to separate their two children and throw different-colored confetti at various points in the show. 

As the young lovers, the glorious Jillian Caillouette and Jordan DuVall were simply perfect. I had never had the pleasure of seeing Ms. Caillouette in a full-length production, but I have heard her marvelous soprano when I witnessed her winning the High School Musical Theatre Awards for Best Actress in Musical two years in a row. This young singing actress has also performed at New York City’s hottest supper club, 54 Below. She was a luminous Luisa and it was such a treat for me to hear her sing every one of her numbers. Fortunately, she was equally matched by the beautiful tenor voice of Mr. DuVall and they both did justice to the role of the young lovers. 

T.J. Thompson  was the musical director of this fine cast. The small orchestra at this performance included Tina LoRusso covering on piano, Jamie Sherwood on guitar and Tim Urso on drums. The fine lighting was designed by James. J. Moran. The uncredited costumes were very well done, especially the magnificent white dress with a light blue ribbon for Luisa. 

This tender coming of age story with a dose of nostalgia continues at Connecticut Cabaret Theatre through Sept. 24. The first musical of their 2016-2017 season runs Friday and Saturday at 8:00pm with no performances September 2nd and 3.)
Photo by Connecticut Cabaret Theatre

Review: 'A Man of No Importance' by Phoenix Stage Company at Clockwork

Nancy Sasso Janis 

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic
  • Connecticut Critics Circle

Oakville, CT - Phoenix Stage Company at Clockwork presents the musical ‘A Man of No Importance’ through Sept. 5 on their stage in Oakville. The little-known musical is based upon a film of the same name. The show was written by the same team that brought us both ‘Ragtime’ and ‘Seussical.’ The book is by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty. This tender piece is on a smaller scale perhaps, but there were moments in the music that echoed ‘Ragtime’ and some gentle humor that made this a memorable production.

Donna Storms directed the talented cast while Maurice Steinberg did well as music director and conductor of the five-piece orchestra that sat on the corner of the stage and was perfectly suited for the space. 

‘A Man of No Importance’ tells the story of an amateur theatre group in 1963 Dublin and their leader, a bus conductor named Alfie Byrne, who is determined to stage an amateur theatrical production of ‘Salome’ at his church, despite the objections of church authorities. More to the point it tells the important story of a closeted homosexual as he struggles with temptation and friendships in the early sixties in staunchly Catholic Ireland, when pious groups called sodalities worked hard to maintain traditional ways. 

PSC founder and managing director Ed Bassett stars as Alfie, a role that is close to his heart. He sang the songs of Alfie, “Love’s Never Lost,” “Man in the Mirror,”  “Love Who You Love,” and the final “Welcome to the World” with a gentle tenor voice and gave a heartfelt performance as this unassuming character. Some audience members were brought to tears by the end of the second act by his work onstage.

In the supporting role of bus driver Robbie Faye was the magnificent voice and stage presence of Ian Diedrich. He took the lead on “Streets of Dublin” and with the fine support of the company made it memorable. It is always a treat to see this singing actor on any stage and he was perfectly suited for this role. 

Jane Coughlin took on the role of Alfie’s devoted sister Lily as only she can in a show that has been near and dear to her heart for many years. Brian Elser stepped out of his role as assistant stage manager to play Father Kenny, the overbearing supervisor Mr. Carson and a thug; this young man has shown such growth as an actor throughout his years at the PSC. 

As members of the acting troupe (and bus riders) were Kathy Cook as Miss Crowe, Deb Diamante as Mrs. Grace, Beth Steinberg as Mrs. Curtain, Aric Martin as Ernie Lally, Bill Knight as Sully O’Hara, and Leland Schick as Rasher Flynn (and what a tenor this young man is!) Deborah Goodman was strong as Mrs. Patrick and Jeff Savage as Baldy touched our hearts with the song for his deceased wife, “The Cuddles Mary Gave.” 

Tony Enright played the mysterious Breton Beret, while Glory Smith (PSC debut) played pub bartender/Irish dancer Kitty Farrelly. Denise Skelton rounded out the ensemble.

Chuck Stango pulled a hat trick to play sodality member William Carney with only seven days of preparation. He also played the shadowy role of Oscar Wilde so well that I wasn’t entirely sure that it was him until he had a line. 

Breakout star of this production was Leah Nashel in her debut with the PSC in the role of a young newcomer Adele Rice. Her lilting soprano and earnest face were perfect for her character and her costume designed by Lori Poulin was my favorite.I look forward to seeing this Westover School graduate from Newtown in future productions. 

Lighting designed by Mr. Diedrich was done well and Erin Elser helped with the Irish Dance choreography. Rob Richnavsky consulted as fight director and Mr. Bassett constructed the set. 

It was wonderful to see the PSC “Going Up!” with a musical production in the new home that they have been in for over year. For some reason it made me miss them being in Naugatuck even more. 

The collaborative production of ‘Loose Ends’ with Backyard Theatre Ensemble has been pulled from their schedule. Next up will be ‘The Mystery of Irma Vep’ opening on October 8. Try to catch a performance of ‘A Man of No Importance’ before it closes next weekend. 

Review: 'Boeing, Boeing' by Connecticut Theatre Company

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic
  • Connecticut Critics Circle

“So, through some retro humor and farce, let’s remember our past and move forward into the future.” - Johnny Revicki and Duane Campbell

New Britain, CT - Duane Campbell and Johnny Revicki co-directed the play entitled ‘Boeing, Boeing’ at Connecticut Theatre Company in New Britain. In their “Message from the Co-captains,” the two acknowledge the humor of this farce set in the swinging sixties. The duo also discuss the misogyny of the decade and bemoan its treatment of women. They conclude, “The men start this day thinking they’re outsmarting these ladies, using them for their amusement, and yet by the end of the night, all four women end up in a better situation than they had at sunrise. This was a bright spot, a glimmer that at least one man, playwright Marc Camoletti, had his head on straight in the 60s.”

The entire action of the play does indeed take place in one day in the flat of Bernard (played by Steffon Sampson) located near Orly Airport in Paris. An employee of the airport has supplied Bernard with the names of beautiful “air hostesses” and now he has become engaged to three of them. Along with his housekeeper Berthe (played to perfection by Mary Roane,) he must maintain a carefully coordinated schedule to avoid having the three women run into each other at his beautifully decorated apartment. The speed of the newest planes being built by Boeing wreaks havoc on the juggling of the three very different fiancees for both Bernard and his old friend Robert (played ever so well by Damian Dominguez.) 

The three young women are identifiable by the primary colors of their uniforms and their distinct accents. In the blue of Alitia is Gabriella, played with Italian intensity by the brunette Laura Bailey. Gloria, who flies in TWA red, hails from New York and is brought to life convincingly by the beautiful Brooke Ferguson. A 2015 CCSU graduate, Ms. Ferguson had an accent that made me smile. Wearing the yellow of Lufthansa was the acting CTC president Erin Campbell, in her first non-musical production since the age of 11. Ms. Campbell brought the comic timing of the fabulous Michelle Gotay, with whom she bears a striking resemblance, to the role of Gretchen. She pretty much stole every scene in which she appeared. 
Ms. Dominguez made his CTC debut as the fast-thinking best friend of Robert. Originally from Georgia, this actor relocated to Hartford, CT for a costume apprenticeship at Hartford Stage. As such has been involved in the construction of the excellent costumes for ‘Anastasia’ at Hartford Stage, as well as costumes for ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ ‘Beautiful’ and (wait for it…) ‘Hamilton’ on Broadway. 

Speaking of costumes, the audience for the Saturday of closing weekend have a special appreciation for the weight of a character’s wardrobe because the air conditioning in the venue ceased to work. It was uncomfortable for all of the audience members, so one can only imagine how difficult it was for Mr. Dominguez in his sweater and Ms. Roane in several layers. Mr. Sampson as the harried Parisian bachelor did not have to pretend to sweat when the traffic in his apartment got tangled. 

The set for ‘Boeing, Boeing’ was probably the best one I have ever seen at CTC. I loved the initial “G” (which worked for all three fiancees) hanging on the wall, the mod primary colors accents that matched their uniforms, and the small beanbag chairs that served as props, as did the large blow-up globe. Congratulations to technical director/set designer Michael J. Bane on a job well done. Costumes by Rose Masselli Morse for her fourth show with CTC were perfectly appropriate despite the temperature on the stage. There was a bit of choreography by Kristen Norris for the curtain call. 

I am sorry that I wasn’t able to see this fine production in New Britain until the closing weekend, but I was glad that I was able to fit it in. Next up at CTC is ‘Sweeney Todd’ opening on October 14, followed by the return of ‘The Christmas Schooner’ in early December. 

Pictured: The cast of 'Boeing, Boeing' at CTC Photo courtesy of CTC

Review: 'The Taming of the Shrew' by Connecticut Free Shakespeare

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Columnist
  • Connecticut Critics Circle

By the end of the play Petruchio and Kate have established their own unique road map to find their way--one that is equal in love and humor, equal in strength and equal in respect.” - Ellen Lieberman, the director of Connecticut Free Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’

Stratford, CT - I was excited to return to the grounds of the American Shakespeare Festival Theater in my hometown of Stratford CT. It didn't matter that I had to bring my lawn chair and bug spray or even that no one was allowed into the once beautiful theater that I remembered from my visits when I was just a teenaged Shakespeare lover. I could not miss a chance to see a production of a play by William Shakespeare on the historic grounds with a lovely view of Long Island Sound and I claimed a spot on the lawn with a large crowd for opening night of 'The Taming of the Shrew' performed by Connecticut Free Shakespeare. The free performances that run through August 21 are part of Festival! Stratford and the public is encouraged to come early and bring a picnic to enjoy before the comedy begins at 8pm.

‘The Taming of the Shrew’ is one of the Bard's comedies that is played very broadly by this troupe of actors and crew, most of whom are Equity members or candidates. This production is labeled a “retelling” of Shakespeare’s play and it was adapted and directed by Stamford CT native Ellen Lieberman. In her notes, she writes that she has resisted producing this piece for the past 16 years because it is “problematic, to say the least.” Over a year ago and with much preliminary study, Ms. Lieberman approached the script as a contemporary feminist and wanted Petruchio and Kate to “negotiate their relationship-still within the broad confines of the familiar battle.” 

The show began even before the curtain speech was over when a young man, perhaps inebriated, crashed the stage loudly singing "Happy," although he was wearing a microphone. The audience knew something was up when the stage managers were called onstage and invited him to put on a costume and sit stage left to watch the performance. Christopher Sly (Western CT State University grad Myles Tripp) did just that and often led the applause and broke into the action. The ensemble, that included WestConn alum James Goggin, sat on both sides of the stage as a kind of Greek Chorus until their entrances. Some provided a wide variety of sound effects that included a slide whistle, train whistle, tambourine, bird tweets and more.

For the most part, the sounds enhanced the slapstick comedy that was used throughout; for the purist, it might have been a little too Laurel and Hardy. It probably made the plot easier to follow for everyone in the audience, which is part of CFS’ mission statement, and did not overshadow the excellent performances of the diverse cast. While the costumes designed by Valarie Henry were Elizabethan, there were some hints of modern times, especially in the music sprinkled throughout. 

Craig Anthony Bannister returned to CFS to play the patriarch Baptista regally, and Karina Foy appeared for her sixth summer as the shrewish Katherina, the Kate who must be tamed by Petruchio, played well by Ian Eaton in his 14th summer with CFS. Marca Leigh played the lovely sister of Kate, Bianca, in pigtails. 

Joel Oramas made his CFS debut as the love struck Lucentio, Ryan Halsaver made his CFS debut as Hortensio, and Andrew Bryce made a very funny CFS debut as Old Gremio in green velvet. Mark Friedlander played the role of the fool Grumio, Uma Incrocci cross dressed to play Tranio well and Company Manager Alejandro Lopez was great in the role of Biondello. Every member of the ensemble served as understudies for a principal role, some pre- and some post-intermission. Speaking of intermission, it was deemed to be a “living intermission” that included singing, dancing with audience members, and the collection of free-will donations in buckets. There was also a list of high school students serving as technical interns. 

This season of Connecticut Free Shakespeare is dedicated to coworker Leroy Walton, who passed away in April at the age of 22. 
The sound for an outdoor venue was excellent and the lighting was good overall and at times spectacular, especially when the trees behind and above the stage were illuminated. If you go, bring picnics, blankets and/or lawn chairs. The shows are cancelled if it is raining; call 203 232-8455 for updates. 

Review: 'The Wizard of Oz' by NewArts

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Columnist 

Bethel, CT - The seventh show produced by the NewArts wing of the 1214 Foundation in Newtown was the classic ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ There were two complete casts (including two separate Oz and Munchkin choruses) for this production that featured mostly younger performers, the aptly named Tornado cast and Twister cast. Unfortunately, this was a tough technical season for NewArts and two days of performances needed to be cancelled completely, moving opening night to the Saturday matinee at the massive Walnut Hill Community Church in nearby Bethel. This gave each cast two chances to display all of the hard work they had put into the musical during their summer rehearsals with their dedicated director and producer, Michael Unger.

 

In his curtain speech only twenty minutes after the scheduled curtain time, Mr. Unger spoke of how proud he was of his young performers. He thanked all of the professionals and volunteers who worked as a team around him and said how honored he felt to serve once again as the director of both summer shows. He has watched some of the students grow up on his stages through the four years of summer productions. I was able to use my ticket for the Saturday matinee that featured the Twister cast; the smaller number of performances made it impossible for me to return to the church to experience a performance by the Tornado cast. I am sorry that I cannot write about both casts as I have usually done in the past.

 

Those dedicated professionals involved in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ included Brian Prather as scenic designer, Kristina Sneshkoff as costume designer, Mitchell Girgasky (in his fourth NewArts season) for lighting design and Sean Sonntag from Sandy Hook on sound design. Production manager was Jared Beaulieu, production stage manager was Samantha Flint and stage manager was Michael R. Smith. Eric Greto, who was brought in to make puppets for last year’s ‘The Lion King, Jr.,’ was in charge of the adorable props and served as fly master and Steven Dean Moore was in charge of special effects and was the associate choreographer. Make-up design was by Joe Dulude II (‘Wicked,’ ‘Beautiful,’ and ‘Anastasia’) and the associate director for her third summer with NewArts was Sarah Jane Schostack. Jeffrey Saver, with 20 Broadway shows to his credit, was the music director and Abbey O’Brien (the current associate choreographer for Broadway’s ‘Waitress’) did the fine choreography.

 

Western CT State University senior Michelle Spanedda was Mr. Unger’s assistant and social media coordinator, and WCSU graduate Victoria Rojas, who designed the costumes for the production of ‘Cat in the Hat’ that I recently reviewed, was costume shop assistant. Naugatuck Teen Theatre alum Miette Deschenes was the production assistant and Miles Dievert has been assistant stage manager since year two. David Mercier joined NewArts this year as another assistant stage manager. Sarah Desrosiers of Newtown was production assistant.

 

Brianna Bauch, an actress in a NewArts show for each of the first three summers, returned this year to assist with teaching the young dancers in Oz their dance moves as choreography assistant. High school sophomore Nathaniel Unger was a production assistant and dog wrangler for the adorable Cosmo Unger (Toto.) Sandy Hook music teacher with 32 years experience, Maryrose Kristopik, returned this summer as music and casting consultant. Broadway Record’s Van Dean served another year as production consultant and was in the lobby with copies of many of his famous CDs. Katina Wall is the NewArts operations manager and many volunteers served as stage crew, followspot operators, costume shop crew and Oz flight crew.

 

The fabulous 19 member Oz Orchestra sounded just like the movie soundtrack as Mr. Borque conducted them onstage.

 

In the Twister Cast, Aubrey Hankin played the role of Dot, a young Wizard of Oz lover who sat on her bed stage right in a Wizard of Oz nightgown and served as a magical onstage prop mistress/dancer. Her little round face was pleasure to watch as she watched the proceedings onstage and took care of Toto. Annelise Raedy was a wonderful Dorothy and sang well. Payge Shaw was a natural in the roles of Aunt Em and Glinda the Good Witch, the latter always arrived in a metal bubble a la ‘Wicked.’

 

The trio of Dorothy’s friends were strong triple threats despite their costumes. Paige Farley made us laugh as the Cowardly Lion and Zeke the farmhand. Kyle Shelton was the tall Tinman and Hickory the farmhand and Tain Gregory took many pratfalls in the role of Scarecrow and also played Hunk.

 

Jane Shearin, who has appeared at Westchester Broadway Theater and Hartford Stage, was convincingly nasty as Miss Gulch and put on the green makeup to play the Wicked Witch of the West. This young performer has such stage presence and rocked the role of the evil witch with a fabulous broomstick. The tornado scene involved lights and shadows and a cow and was quite impressive, as was the smoke and mirrors/projections in the throne room. There were plenty of flying characters and not just the monkeys.

 

The Oz Chorus wore lots of emerald green and had lots of stage time. The Munchkin Chorus was dressed in a rainbow of colors and wild wigs and charmed everyone.

 

The musical version of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ by L. Frank Baum has music and lyrics of the MGM motion picture score by Harold Arlen and E.Y.Harburg. Background music was written by Herbert Stothart and the book adaptation from the beloved motion picture screenplay was written by John Kane.

Photo courtesy of NewArts

Review: 'Children of Eden' by Square Foot Theatre

Nancy Sasso Janis

OnStage Connecticut Critic

"I am not a stranger to the rain, Let it rain..."

Wallingford, CT - It was the first time that I had the experience of driving to a new venue and realizing that I had already reviewed one of their productions in a different space. Square Foot Theatre has moved around a lot. They have performed past shows in middle school auditoriums, pool clubs, retail storefronts and synagogue social halls (which is where I enjoyed their production of ‘Rent.’) Over 950 different actors have graced their various stages and over 25,000 people have sat in their audiences. The production of ‘Children of Eden’ that opened on August 11 on the stage of the space in Wallingford that will be theirs for at least the next five years marks their 50th production.

One thing about Square Foot has remained permanent -”our endless love and devotion to our everyone that walks through our doors.” The company is made up of all ages and walks of life, craft, and a passion and drive to create an atmosphere that nurtures as well as inspires so that all of these “square feet” make them who they are: “a true community theatre in every sense of the word - community.” The focus is on nurturing the talents of local children and adults in a cooperative setting, much like a teaching hospital operates. The headlining sponsor is The Jamie A. Hulley Arts Foundation. 

The new venue is located in two unit of an easy to find strip mall on Yale Avenue in Wallingford. There is a small lobby that was used as a backstage area and the stage is a semi-circular area of the floor surrounded by cabaret seating. The ‘Children of Eden’ set contained elevated platforms on both sides and the actors moved freely throughout the audience, often sitting on the floor between the tables to be part of the action on the stage. It was exciting to hear the various vocal parts of the musical numbers in a kind of personal surround sound. This staging by director Patrick Laffin effectively brought the audience into the biblical stories being told, whether the young actors playing the animals being named by Adam and Eve or loaded onto Noah’s Ark passed by the tables or a dancer performed a foot away. This space gives new meaning to an intimate venue and forces the actors to work even harder to stay in character.

The talented performers in the large ensemble made it all look easy. Featured storyteller soloists included the vocal talents of Emma Lampropoulos, Francis Michael, Tony Palluzzi, Gabriella Riccio, Amanda Starr and Nicole Bregman, a local singing actress I have watched grow in grace since first grade and who will enter high school at Waterbury Arts Magnet School in a few weeks.

Young Abel was played by Ethan Bazinet and Young Cain was played by Joey Rebeschi; both young actors did well. Seventeen year old Jane Kos brought beautiful sincerity to the role of the servant Yohan. Caroline Thompson and Maria Teresa Lonetti played wives Aysha and Aphra in the second act with grace.

All the rest of the actors played their dual roles with ease. Francis Michael played Seth/Shem. Kyle Riedinger took on the roles of Adam’s son Abel and Noah’s son Ham. Moses Beckett (Roger in ‘Rent’) sang perfectly in the featured roles of his brothers, Cain and Japeth. 

Tina Valente (Mimi in ‘Rent’) displayed her wonderful voice once again as the first woman Eve and Mama, the wife of Noah. Tenor Christopher Sumrell sang his way through the roles of both Adam and the builder of the ark Noah. Alex Forte brought the sound of a cantor to the role of Father God and plenty of paternal love for his children as well.
The look of the costumes worn for both acts was noticeably dirty and distressed/frayed and more modern than biblical. It gave the show a unique look that went well with the set and it was nicely lit by Mr. Laffin and choreographer Jennifer Kaye. 

The choreographer designed motions that seemed like sign language using the entire body. It worked with the musical numbers and was beautiful to behold. The graffiti on the set designed by Mr. Laffin gave it an urban feel and the props were made of reused materials. The four-piece orchestra under the direction of Music Director Alan Dougherty sat in far corner and sounded great while not overpowering the space. Many of the actors wore microphones on their heads and I heard no sound issues. The one sound that was constant at this performance was the raging thunderstorm outside during the second act that did not cease after the forty days and forty nights had ended.  

‘Children of Eden’ features a book by John Caird with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and was based on a concept by Charles Lisanby with orchestrations by Bruce Coughlin and Martin Erskine. The Square Foot Theatre Company production did well with including the youngest members of the cast and allowing them to learn from the more seasoned performers and the production team. Auditions for the 2016-2017 season begin on Aug. 28 with auditions for all ages for ‘Ragtime.’ 

The Jamie A. Hulley Arts Foundation will present their 14th annual ‘Evening for the Arts’ on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016 at The Quick Center, Fairfield University, The auction preview and reception begins at 6pm, followed by the performance of ‘Four by Four,’ a tribute from the creators of ‘Oh What a Night’ to the music of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Bee-Gees and Motown, at 7pm. Tickets are available at the Quick Center Box Office. 

Photo courtesy of Square Foot Theatre

Review: 'Heathers The Musical' by Landmark Student Theatre

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic

Thomaston, CT -So I saw ‘Heathers The Musical.’ Based on the cult film written by Daniel Waters, with book, music and lyrics by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe. A rock musical that is a comedy, but deals with issues of teen suicide, bullying, homophobia, and gun violence. So risque and often vulgar that Producer Jeff Dunn apologized to the audience at the Thomaston Opera House before the Landmark Student Theatre production even began. 

I joked that every teenager in the tri-state area had come to Thomaston to support their theatrical friends, which was of course a bit of an exaggeration. Nonetheless, when they cheered after every number, it was earsplitting up to the highest seats in the balcony. 

Even if the dark comedy was a bit hard to take, I cannot deny the talent of the teens that took on a wide variety of high school cliches, ranging from the three Heathers, “Bitter Geek,” “Hipster Dork,” and “Stoner Girl,” who was easy to find as played by Kristen VanDerlyn. Many of the most talented local teenagers came together to present a fantastic production and it was fun for me to try and pick them out.

Isabella Riccio was the perfect mix of geeky teen and hero as she played her “dream role” of Veronica. I have heard Ms. Riccio sing so well in several of her performances at the Warner; the graduate of Cheshire HS will head to Berklee College of Music to study jazz vocal performance in the fall. The amazing Lauren Stango was big and brassy as the ultimate mean girl Heather Chandler and commanded the stage whenever she appeared, even as a ghost. Ms. Stango is one of the talented daughters of “THE Chuck Stango.” 

Ryan Glander returned to the summer program and was very strong in the tricky role of the damaged JD. Sydney Wyatt made her Landmark debut as Heather McNamara and St. Paul Catholic HS grad Dana Wilton was Heather Duke. Lindsey Sawyer was the mistreated Martha Dunnstock and Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts senior Brigette Horan played the aging hippie Ms. Fleming. Parental figures were played well by Allison VanDerlyn (Veronica’s mom) and WAMS graduate Chris Briney (Veronica’s dad) and with broad strokes by Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts senior Liam Dempsey (as JD’s father Big Bud Dean.)

Josh Viltrakis as Ram’s dad and Josh Rodis as Kurt’s dad gave everything they had to “My Dead Gay Son,” to great acclaim. The pair of guys that almost stole the entire show as the jocks were WAMS graduate Nolan Cummings as Ram and college sophomore Connor Dunn as Kurt Kelly

Ensemble members included Mr. Briney, Jess Cocomazzi, Grace Consonni, Mr. Dempsey, Chloe Ewait, Sarah Feero, Lilly McGrath, Shaila Murdock, Alyssa Renick, Mr. Rodis, Kevoy Somerville, Destini Stewart, Marley Thompson, both VanDerlyn sisters, Mr. Viltrakis and Jon Yatco. All of them nailed the choreography by Jennifer Checovetes, who was assisted by Rhiannon Carta, and they sounded pretty special when they sang together. Beckie Wallace made her debut with the company as musical director and Dan Checovetes did a great job of directing this talented cast of teens. I thought the slow-motion fight scenes were very well done.

The set by the director was simple but it worked and the costumes designed by Debbie Cashman along with hair and makeup, screamed “eighties.” The five-piece offstage orchestra directed by Ms. Wallace sounded great on all of the various numbers in the score. Gary Kingsbury designed the sound that worked well, although I personally had some difficulty understanding a lot of the dialogue from my seat up in the balcony. 

As I left the theatre, I honestly was not sure how I felt about this show. I was not offended by the foul language and risque aspects of the musical so much as the insanity of the ways the high school characters behave. I enjoyed the music and I couldn’t help but watch the outstanding performances of these young performers. From the powerhouse two part opening number “Beautiful” to the precision of “Shine A Light,” I enjoyed the big numbers as much as the small ones. And the teens in the audience clearly enjoyed every single one of even the oddest moments.

‘Heathers The Musical’ closes on Saturday evening at 8pm at the Thomaston Opera House in Torrington.  

Photo of the Heathers by Lisa Cherie 

Review: 'Chicago The Musical by Get Up Stage Company

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic

Bristol, CT - Get Up Stage Company (GUSCO) worked with performers ages 16 to 22 to produce a danced-filled production of ‘Chicago The Musical’ on the stage at Trinity-On-Main in New Britain. There was an impressive crowd on hand for a stormy opening night; the weather and the steamy temps only added to the dark ambiance of the musical by Kander and Ebb. These teen theatre performers strutted their stuff in both song and dance throughout the dark tale of murder and corruption with a book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse. Lindsey DiPietro directed these talented teens and early twenty-somethings with a sharp eye to detail, while Nick Stanford served as music director and conductor of the amazing ten-piece onstage orchestra.
 
I have grown to appreciate ‘Chicago’ over the many times I have seen it and the complex choreography by Samantha Putko made this production one I won’t forget. The young dancers carried it off without a misstep and in fact, everyone had beautiful lines; kudos to dance captain and Southington HS senior Katerina Belales (who played Katalin Hunyak) for helping to keep everyone in line. “All That Jazz” was a spectacle, but so was “Roxie” and “Razzle Dazzle (even without feathered fans.) I loved the marionette motions in “We Both Reached for the Gun Suffice” and the moves of the six girls (and the awesome lighting) during “Cell Block Tango.” Suffice it to say that I repeatedly noted “dancing” next to number after number in my program. 

The staging of so many of the classic scenes on the stark black set designed by Lea McCabe and Joe Guerin was fresh and the costumes designed by the director were a bit more age-appropriate without losing the feel of the era. The location of the orchestra was literally in the middle of the action, so a few times the musical director joined the action with the well-rehearsed members of the cast.

Declan Devaney, in what he calls “tight pants and a vest,”  served as the Master of Ceremonies of the proceedings. Benjamin Marcil was the doomed Fred Casely and Bristol Central HS senior Kevin Michaud tugged at the heart strings as the put-upon Amos Hart (“Mr. Cellophane”) who doesn’t even have exit music. 

The six merry murderesses included, in addition to the lovely Ms. Belales, Katerina Levasseur as Liz (“Pop,”) Ariana LoCascio as Annie (“Six,”) Marisa Sullivan as June (“Squish,”) and Destiny Whitten as Mona (“Lipschitz.”) Devin Orde (Pennywise in ‘Urinetown’) was also strong in the role of their matron, Mama Morton.

Bristol Central HS senior C. Runkle was a riot in falsetto as Mary Sunshine; he wore a red suit and fox stole and senior Thalia Palacios was Go-To-Hell Kitty. Andrew Ewart played both the doctor and the courtroom judge, Simon Andrews was a tailor, Harry, and Martin Harrison, while Lauren Santiago made her GUSCO debut as the court clerk (“blah, blah, blah, truth, truth.”) Alonzo Santiago played Aaron and Jared Greenbacker was a riot as the entire jury, as well as playing Sergeant Fogarty. 

The wonderful Michael Ricciardone took on the role of lawyer Billy Flynn and was spectacular; a true song and dance man, this rising senior at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts will make his mark. Shannon Sullivan, another graduate of the Greater Hartford Academy, kicked the role of Velma Kelly up to the next level; from her first note in “All That Jazz” to her duets with Roxie, this young lady commanded the stage. 

Reilly Lincavicks was so polished in her GUSCO debut in the role of Roxie Hart that is was difficult to believe that she just recently graduated from the Greater Hartford Academy. She was “on” 100% of her stage time and both sang and danced beautifully; this triple threat will be pursuing her BFA in Musical Theatre at Shenandoah University in the fall and I expect to hear great things about her in the future. 

Congratulations to this teen theatre company on yet another impressive production. Try to catch one of the remaining performances through August 13 at Trinity-on-Main in New Britain.

Photo by Kristen DiPietro, Illuminating Photography

Review: 'Gypsy' by Two Planks Theater Company

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic

"Goodbye to blueberry pie......"

Monroe, CT - The weather was not a friend to Two Planks' outdoor production of 'Gypsy.' The opening weekend was completely rained out and the shows they added to the beginning of the second weekend still didn't help me get there until the closing performance for my review. So with apologies to the theater company that is named for fourteenth century troubadours who would lay boards over their wagons to create their stages presumably outdoors, I submit my better-late-than-never review.

Producer Brooke Burling acknowledged the joys of outdoor theater but pointed out the beauty of Wolfe Park where the summer performances are held. Two Planks has to bring in everything to pull them off, from the stage to the lights and the trussing to the tents that protect the dressing area and the light board operator. The beautiful surroundings are provided by the town of Monroe.

David Halliwell directed the large cast required for Gypsy, where Pop (played well by Joe Stofko) appears in one scene early in act one and does not return to the stage until curtain call. There are baby versions of daughters June and Louise (fifth grader Aubrey Hankin and Bella Raucci respectively,) five young newsboys, many other named characters and three fabulous strippers. Their careful director kept all the moving parts working well.

The versatile Jason Maur covered the roles of Georgie, Kringeline, Webber, the character dubbed 'Cigar' and Bourgeron-Cochon. John DiTaranto was both Uncle Jocko, Mr. Goldstone and came back as Phil. Zach Blanchette did well as Yonkers and Pastey. Robert Thomas Halliwell brought style and grace to the featured role of Tulsa.

Jennifer Sokira was a wonderful Tessie Tura, and her son Ryan appeared as the clarinet boy in his first show with his mom. Jacqueline Maclean (who also played Miss Cratchitt) was shining as Electa. Newtown HS Theatre teacher Janice Gabriel was a riot as the shiny trumpet-playing Mazeppa in her Two Planks debut. They shared a well-deserved ovation at curtain call because they all had made good use of their respective gimmicks.

Carolyn Savoia was perky as the adult Dainty June in the first act before she passed the torch to her sister Louise, played with grace and with a wonderful singing voice by the lovely Catherine Gomez (Landmark's 'Sister Act.')

The always charming Chuck Stango (Dan Goodman in last year's 'Next to Normal') was so great in the role of the ever-faithful Herbie that I couldn't help feeling more sorry for the character than I usually do when Rose puts off marrying him for the final time. "You'll Never Get Away From Me" was a highlight for me. I responded to his instant message from backstage that it was so cool to see him in his straw hat that I remembered from its appearance in 'Music Man' at the Thomaston Opera House. 

Of course Juliette Koch (Diana in 'Next to Normal') was an amazing Mama Rose. The ultimate stage mother was brassy and beautiful. As I fully expected, Mrs. Koch put her heart and soul into every one of her magnificent solo pieces and what a treat to hear her give commands to her real-life husband playing the conductor of Uncle Jocko's orchestra referred to as "professor." It was heartwarming to see some of her beautiful family in the audience on closing night. Kudos to this pro on her fabulous final performance as Rose.

I especially enjoyed being able to see the cast members awaiting their entrances at the stairs stage left and the actors walking there from the tents in back. Even in silhouette I knew when Herbie had a scene coming up.

All of the young performers were adorable and got to wear some great costumes. Shoutout to Brighton Davis Gomez making his debut in theatre as Rose's dog Chowsie. The costumes designed by Susan Halliwell were appropriate for the era; the strippers were big and brassy and the ladylike gowns for Gypsy Rose Lee were quite lovely. Good outdoor lighting designed by Rob Primorac made the set designed by Mr. Burling fill the space, and the sound was not bad.

Judy Abbatiello served as choreographer and I always enjoy watching Mr. Stango have to dance. The band under the direction of Ms. Koch's husband Dan, played the classic score with flourish and included Leo Lavallee and Tom Storace on trumpet and trombone master Charley Marenghi. 

Photo of Juliette Koch as Rose by Jeanette Raucci for Two Planks 

'Into the Woods Jr.' by Spark Arts

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic

Bethel, CT - Spark Arts of Bethel CT presented two performance of ‘Into The Woods Jr.’ this weekend at the Palace Theater in Danbury. 

The music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine were adapted into a child-friendly version for use by schools and young companies, with the second act completely removed, as well as almost half the material from the first. The show was so shortened that this first act was only 40 minutes, while the music was transposed into keys that more easily fit the young voices of most of these cast members. 

The small stage of the Palace (a space which has a pretty magnificent lobby area and lots of seating) required small props and scenery (designed by Peter Hall) and over the ear microphones were used to be heard over the recorded tracks. Pretty impressive costumes were designed by Julie Edwards, Andrea Barrett and Erin Volpintesta.

There were many very young kids who came out to support family members in the cast and the removal of the scary bits made it appropriate for even them. 

Director Anthony DePoto told us that the group had been rehearsing the musical for two months and only three days at the Palace. They all knew their music and did well with the challenging score. Ms. Volpintesta did the musical direction. The transitions between scenes were quickly carried out by the stage crew and cast members.

Brooke Brescia, Gwen Welfield, and Haley Cronin made up Cinderella’s evil step family, with Katie Boraski was her biological mother speaking to her through a tree. Leo Fagan was Cinderella’s father and Dayo Garritano was her dashing prince. Nicole Bagala was Jack’s demanding mother and Miles Snyder showed off his fine tenor voice and considerable stage presence as Jack. 

Perri Englund also sang very well as the spunky Little Red Riding Hood, with Marissa Uva as her Granny. Zoe Edwards played both a steward to the prince and served as one of the narrators, with Kayleigh Wood and Ms. Welfield as the other storytellers. 

Allison Mele did a fine job of using her voice and movement to play the role of the witch, since she wore a mask that only showed her mouth until her transformation. Shannon Gondoly played her adopted daughter Rapunzel hidden in a tower. Lorenzo Volpintesta was pretty funny in the role of the wolf and also acted well as Rapunzel’s prince. 

Farrah Volpintesta displayed her fine voice and stage presence as the Baker’s Wife and Quentin Marcus as the Baker had an expressive face and easy baritone voice. Stage Crew included Gabriel Obadia and Michaela Louche.
 
Congratulations to the Spark Arts students on a fine production that showed all of the hard work that they had put into it this summer. Next up will be ‘Seussical The Musical’ with rehearsals starting in November and performances expected to be in January/February. 

Photos courtesy of Spark Arts

Review: 'I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change' at Sharon Playhouse

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic

Sharon, CT - This season Sharon Playhouse decided to present two musicals on their stage 2 at the Bok Gallery, right next door to the mainstage.  Artistic Director John Simpkins explains that he felt the two musicals were best told in a more intimate setting; the Bok Gallery seats only 85 people per show in a long rectangular space. I missed ‘Judge Jackie: Disorder in the Court,’ but managed to visit the stage 2 for the first time on Thursday for a performance of the musical revue ‘I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.’

The small show with the big title ran for 12 years Off-Broadway, making it the second-longest Off-Broadway musical in history. (Number one? ‘The Fantasticks.’) The ever-changing vignettes pay tribute to all of us who have loved and lost with clever musical numbers and lots of humor. It is a fun romp that begins with dating and moves through marriage and beyond and it makes the four actors, two men and two women, work VERY hard to pull off innumerable costume, set and character changes at breakneck speed. 

photo: Sharon Playhouse's "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" stars (from l-r) Sarah Cline, James Crichton, Dylan S. Wallach, and Lee Harrington with performances now through August 14. photo credit: Randy O'Rourke


photo: Sharon Playhouse's "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change" stars (from l-r) Sarah Cline, James Crichton, Dylan S. Wallach, and Lee Harrington with performances now through August 14. photo credit: Randy O'Rourke

The titles of the scenes and songs give you an idea of where this is going. They include “Cantata for a First Date,” And Now the Parents, Wedding Vows, “The Baby Song,”  Funerals are for Dating, and finally the title song. 

‘I Love You….’ has a book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro and music by Jimmy Roberts and is easy to follow because there is not too much to follow. Jennifer Werner directed the cast of four with precision and did the choreography as well. Music director Joshua Zecher-Ross returned to the piano (wearing shorts in a space that wasn’t as cold as the mainstage but not warm either) and Dan Cooksey played a quiet bass guitar so that the actors didn’t have to strain their marvelous voices.
 
Jamie Roderick lit the space well and Michelle Eden Humphrey provided the contemporary costumes that allowed for many a quick change. Lauren Mills designed the simple set that contained a space to hide a couch and a casket...seriously.
 
I love to watch Sarah Cline do anything at all onstage; she was the best Fantine ever, Gussie in ‘Merrily We Roll Along,’ and Tessie Tura in ‘Gypsy,’ all in Sharon. She further proved her versatility in this production and I hope that she will be back on the Playhouse’s stages soon. Lee Harrington was also very strong in all her various ‘I Love You…’ roles and sang wonderfully. Their men brought charm and muscle to all the male roles. Ms. Harringtons’ boyfriend (awwwww) Dylan Wallach made his debut at this venue and is a Carnegie Mellon graduate. James Crichton rounded out the cast and was in the national tour of ‘Peter and the Starcatcher.’ He is a graduate of Hofstra University. 

Kudos to the cast, crew (who worked throughout the intermission) and director on a finely-tuned production of this fun piece that continues with performances this weekend on Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 1pm and 5:30pm. Call (860) 364-7469.

Review: 'If/Then' National Tour at the Bushnell

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic

“Make a map of NYC, where I’ve been and who I’ll be, and you’ll find me…”

Hartford, CT - ‘If/Then,’ another uniquely punctuated [title of show] for my summer reviews, opened the 2016-2017 Broadway Season at the Bushnell on Wednesday evening. Hartford is the next-to-last stop in the current leg of the tour and welcomes UCONN alumna Jackie Burns (who grew up in Middletown and Ivoryton) back to Connecticut to lead the cast in this new musical with music by Tom Kitt and books and lyrics by Brian Yorkey (‘Next to Normal.’) It tells the moving story of a contemporary 38-year-old woman named Elizabeth who has moved back to New York City for a fresh start after a divorce. 

The plot is all about the choices that Elizabeth (as “Liz” and “Beth) makes that affect the trajectory of her new life. The book has been criticized as being difficult to follow, specifically that the audience has trouble keeping track of the two distinct paths as they unfold. Despite the eyeglasses worn by Liz and changes in the projections for the scenes, there is some validity to that point. I quickly chose to simply enjoy the music (and the humor) and be in the moment for each scene, and in hindsight discovered that I hadn’t mixed up the two possible life tracks at all. The work is like a complicated puzzle that eventually works itself out, punctuated with some excellent music on both of the distinct paths. The orchestra was conducted by Kyle C. Norris and four touring musicians welcomed ten local musicians to the pit to play the beautiful orchestrations by Michael Starobin. 

The set designed by Mark Wendland had the look of a very NYC fire escape and an entire snug city apartment, backed by the helpful projections designed by Peter Nigrini and Dan Scully. Contemporary costumes designed by Emily Rebholz worked well on everyone and lighting by Kenneth Posner improved the look of everything.
 
Ms. Burns is returning to many of the cities where she played Elphaba in Wicked, a role that she subsequently played on Broadway. She was also a member of the original cast of ‘If/Then’ on Broadway as the standby for Elizabeth (Idina Menzel) until it closed in March of 2105. In January of this year, the Idina Menzel lookalike joined the National Tour of If/Then as the full time Elizabeth replacing Ms. Menzel (who played the first seven lucky cities) in Dallas TX. 

I saw Ms. Menzel in her 2012 “Barefoot at the Symphony” concert on the Bushnell stage (well before she became more famous due to the ‘Frozen’ mania,) so I would have loved to experience her performance as Elizabeth if Hartford had been scheduled to be one of the first seven cities. However, Ms. Burns was superb in the leading role, with a powerful voice that sounded eerily similar to that of the very first Elphaba on Broadway and I was not disappointed in the least with anything about this touring company production. Whether singing as Liz or Beth, this singing actress raised the rafters of the Bushnell.

It was so exciting to see Anthony Rapp as Lucas, the featured role that he originated on Broadway. (The only other member of tour that was in the original Broadway cast is Tyler McGee, who plays a street musician with a guitar and other roles.) Mr. Rapp originated the role of Mark Cohen in the Broadway production of ‘Rent’ in 1996 and later reprised the role in the film version and the Broadway Tour of ‘Rent’ in 2009. He was cute and funny, and despite a comment he made on the director’s cut of the film version of ‘Rent’ disparaging his own dance moves, he danced well enough with the other members of the cast. 

Matthew Hydzik brought plenty of warmth and good looks to the role of Army veteran doctor Josh. He also appeared on Broadway as Buddy in ‘Side Show’ and Tony in ‘West Side Story.’ Tamyra Gray appeared in the inaugural season of ‘American Idol’ and also was part of ‘Rent’ on Broadway. Here she sang beautifully as Elizabeth’s friend and kindergarten teacher Kate. Janine DiVita (‘Anything Goes’) played her girlfriend. Jacques C. Smith (‘Rent’ on Broadway) was sublime in the role of Stephen and Marc Delacruz, who was the understudy for the role of David on Broadway, is now full-time in the role of the young doctor.

The other talented and very busy members of the cast included English Bernhardt (in her first national tour as Paulette,) Charissa Bertels, Xavier Cano, Trey Ellett, Kyra Faith, Corey Greenan, Cliffton Hall, Deedee Magno Hall, Mr. McGee, Joseph Morales, Emily Rogers, and Alicia Taylor Tomasko. 

This tour of what is a very ambitious production is completely professional and I loved it. If/Then’ continues at the Bushnell in Hartford through August 7. Be aware that the show contains strong language and mature themes. 

Review: 'Cabaret' by Castle Craig Players

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic

"In here life is beautiful..."

Meriden, CT - Castle Craig Players are taking packed audiences back to 1930’s Berlin in a stirring production of ‘Cabaret’ through August 7, 2016. The musical was directed keenly by Ian Galligan, with excellent musical direction by Andrew Gadwah and unique choreography by Tessa Grunwald. ‘Cabaret’ features a book by Joe Masteroff that was based on a play called ‘I Am A Camera’ by John Van Druten and ‘Goodbye To Berlin’ by Christopher Isherwood. The iconic music was written by John Kander with lyrics by Fred Ebb, the team that wrote the Tony Award-winning 'Chicago.'

I realized as I became engrossed in the story of Cliff and Sally Bowles that I have never watched the movie version of ‘Cabaret’ to the end. I learned a lot from the page in the program that featured (more than) “a few words from the director.” Mr. Galligan notes that he finds it ironic that Castle Craig is currently producing the classic American musical that he describes as a “cautionary tale... given the volatile political climate we are living in.” He calls this piece “truly moving, yet also unexpectedly disturbing” and appreciates the way “it leads you down a path that is alluring, and then you find yourself in an unexpected place.” 

The show has also evolved over time more so than most musicals, both musically and “reflective of the cultural context of its era.” Only in the most recent incarnations can the character of Cliff be truly gay. In addition, the structure of the play was streamlined for a smaller space (which is a good fit for the Castle Craig space) and has become darker to capture the sordid and decayed state of this period of German history without sugar-coating it, making for a powerful piece indeed. Not for the easily shocked, not for children, but worth the attention to be a camera, passively recording and deciding: “What would you do?”

‘Cabaret’ is presented in the converted storefront space with cabaret seating; patrons were invited to bring snack and beverages to enjoy before and during the performance. Audience members seated at the round tables were probably better able to view the stage than I was from my seat at a rectangular table perpendicular to the stage. I did get to see the fantastic opening number “Willkommen” before the final three patrons seated at my table arrived after the show had begun. 

The Kit Kat Club performers mingled on the stage for a while before the first line was spoken and it was an effective beginning. The music director played piano onstage, with cast members Arthur Canova and Oliver Kochol across the small stage on drums. Cast members Nick Ciasullo, a music teacher by day, masterfully played sax and clarinet for various numbers and the multi-talented Jennifer Del Sole played sax, clarinet, flute and accordion. The Kit Kat Band truly was beautiful. The set, constructed by Bill Westermeyer, was simple and could be rearranged quickly. Costumes were skimpy but not indecent and included many silky robes.

There was not a weak link in the ‘Cabaret’ cast; they were led so well by Mr. Galligan to bring each character to life. Jason Perry commanded the stage as the leering Emcee of the Kit Kat Club who popped up in many scenes for many reasons. Mr. Perry, a Connecticut native, made his CCP debut in what he deems a dream role and he was spectacular in it. Recent CT transplant Jessica Rohe embodied the tragic Sally Bowles and sang beautifully. Ian Lynch-Passarelli gave life to the pivotal role of Cliff Bradshaw.
 
The ubiquitous Wesley Tack nailed another character as Ernst Ludwig and Ms. Del Sole was sassy in the featured role of Fraulein Kost, in addition to dancing as one of the Kit Kat Girls. Deane Poirier was the person in the gorilla suit and Mr. Canova played Max. The Kit Kat Girls included Ms. Del Sole, Lisa DeAngelis, Chelsea Dacey, WCSU student Alex Colavecchio, Emma Czaplinski (in her eighth CCP show!,) and dance captain Allison Koppel. The Kit Kat Boys included CCSU student Jorge Melendez, UCONN senior Oliver Kochol, Nick Ciasullo and CCSU student Arthur Canova.

Special mention must be made of the two mature actors involved in the subplot of Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, both of whom made their CCP debut. Betty McCready gave such a strong performance as the rooming house owner that the audience applauded as she exited one important scene. Caroll Spinney look-alike David E. Schancupp was just as convincing as the Jewish shop owner that falls in love with her. Kudos to both of them on their wonderful performances.

Mr. Galligan will be reprising his role of the disgruntled Macy’s elf in the hilarious one-man show ‘The Santaland Diaries’ that will return to CCP by popular demand in December and I hope to catch it this year. Also on tap for the upcoming season are ‘Blithe Spirit’ in October, ‘The Curse of the Hopeless Diamond’ in February, ‘The Marvelous Wonderettes’ in May and Monty Python’s Spamalot’ in late July through August, 2017.

Photos by Wendy Stephan Manciagli

Review: 'Seussical: The Musical' by the Warner Stage Company

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic

“If you open your mind, Oh, the thinks you will find, Lining up to get loose…”

The Warner Theatre Stage Company invited 700 audience members to look “at life through the wrong end of a telescope” for opening night of their splashy summer production of ‘Seussical: The Musical.’ These are the words that Dr. Seuss himself used to describe how fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living and director Richard McKenna, in his main stage directorial debut, has brought fantasy to life in a big way with this whimsical, joyful and very colorful production.

Mr. McKenna got involved with the Warner Theatre when he was “just a kid,” and he never left. In fact, he considers the Warner to be a second home and the people there as a second family. Dressed in a tuxedo, this “much older kid” was bursting with pride for his cast members following the opening night performance.

The first-time director showed a knack for perfectly casting the right person for each role as he filled the large stage with local community theatre talent. He was lucky to have TJ Thompson as musical director/conductor and the pit that played one of my favorite scores included Meric Martin on guitar, Scott Friend on trumpet, Dan Ringuette on keyboard and James Allen on drums. WSC Production Manager Sharon A. Wilcox was responsible for the adorable choreography, and after she and Mr. McKenna did the curtain speech in rhyme, she served as a member of the running crew dressed as Thing 1.

I never tire of hearing the music written by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics of Lynn Ahrens, who also wrote the book for ‘Seussical’ that they co-conceived with Eric Idle. It is based on 19 of the “wubbulous” works of Dr. Seuss, but mostly Horton Hears A Who. The overarching plot reminds us that “a person’s a person, no matter how small” in such a lovely way as Jojo tries to find his way home and Horton the elephant sits on Mayzie’s large egg and watches over the Whos. 

A good-sized group actors of various sizes played the Whos and I loved when they moved together as a tight group. Shout outs to Elisabeth Leifert (‘Ragtime,’) Kerri Morris, NTT’s Alexander Tenbrink, and Claire Roberts, who played Mrs. Mayor in Blessed Sacrament School’s production of ‘Seussical.’ Another group got to play the animal citizens of the Jungle of Nool and there was a fine subset of featured dancers for “It’s Possible” and other numbers. Shout outs to dancer Jake Finch (Landmark’s ‘Billy Elliot,’) Western CT State University sophomore Katie Kelly, and the lovely Kelsey Morris. The smallest cast members were the cadets with General Gengus Kahn Schmitz (sternly played by Conrad Sienkiewicz.)

Jake Kordas was the dog of the green Grinch (Adam Fancher) and Dylan Zawisza played Vlad. Joe Guttadauro judged as Yertle, the Turtle. WCSU sophomore Raymond Cook, Theron Johnson and Michael Newman got to monkey around as updated Wickersham Brothers. Chase Collegiate junior Veronica Johnson, WCSU student Caleigh Lozito, and the talented Kennedy Morris sang backup as anime-inspired Bird Girls. 

AlexaRae Campagna (Regina in ‘Rock of Ages’) nailed the role of the Sour Kangaroo; she raised the roof on her solos and looked amazing in her one piece kangaroo costume. Mary C.Johnson joined her children onstage as the amazing Mayzie La Bird, and was, well, amazing, as usual. 

Sara Wilson, who I remembered from the ensemble of ‘Ragtime,’ did a great job in the role of Mrs. Mayor and JD Bauer was ever at her side as Mr. Mayor. Josh Newey (who was so good as Uncle Fester in ‘The Addams Family) gave a heartfelt performance in the role of the Horton the Elephant as he repeated his plaintive reminders about personhood. Samuel Everett was a bouncy and mischievous Cat in the Hat and Trevor Rinaldi was simply wonderful as young Jojo. 

It was so exciting to see Maggie Gillette in her Warner Stage debut as Gertrude McFuzz. I remembered her as Morticia at Nonnewaug High School and she is now a rising sophomore studying acting at Ithaca College. Ms. Gillette was perfect for the role of the bird who adores her neighbor Horton and goes to extreme lengths to get him to notice her. Kudos to this young actress on a smashing debut on the magnificent Warner stage. 

And then there were the costumes….Renee C. Purdy and Aurora Montenero rose to a new level of brilliance for this show. From the black leather vests for the Wickershams, to the whimsical Who and circus outfits, each ensemble was a work of art. The co-costume designers were also in charge of the spectacular wigs, hair and makeup. The multi-leveled Seuss-inspired scenery designed by Steve Houk was fine, if a bit treacherous. There were a few sound issues, unusual for this venue, but the lighting was well-executed. 

I recommend that you put this on your list of “not to be missed.” ‘Seussical: The Musical’ runs at the Warner through August 7. 

Photos by Mandi Martini.
©2016 The Warner Theatre

Review: 'The Music Man' by Whimsicality

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic

“Good night ladies, good night ladies…”

Watertown, CT - Whimsicality: A Theatre for Young Actors presents their annual summer camp musical at Watertown High School. Director Devin Brown told the Republican-American that ‘The Music Man’ will be the final such production for “Whimsy.” I was pleased to catch almost all of the first act on opening night on Thursday before I had to leave for Mom Taxi duty.

‘The Music Man’ is a musical with book, music, and lyrics by Meredith Willson, based on a story by Willson and Franklin Lacey. The plot concerns con man Harold Hill, who poses as a boys marching band organizer/leader and sells band instruments and uniforms to the naive Iowa townsfolk, with a promise to train the members of the new band. In reality Harold is not a musician and plans to skip town without giving any music lessons. Prim librarian and part-time piano teacher Marian Paroo sees through him early on, but when Harold helps her younger brother overcome his lisp and social awkwardness, Marian begins to fall in love in spite of herself.

“Rock Island” was a strong opening number and “Sincere” was just a duet, but the “Pickalittle” ladies sounded great. "Marian The Librarian" was made better by fine choreography and movements involving library books, all of which were “left to her.”

What I saw of the production was quite impressive. Lisa Hamel worked her usual magic as choreographer and the young performers carried it off perfectly. The many hours of rehearsal showed in every step and Ms. Brown made lots of smart directorial choices. The large set was executed well and the lighting well done, although the sound was hit or miss for much of the first act. Thankfully, the musical track functioned well. The actors carried on regardless and for the most part, the audience could hear their lines.The costumes evoked the time period well.

Aidan Boisvert played young Winthrop and Rosemarie Mitchell was young Amaryllis. Marissa Ingerson played the mayor’s wife Mrs. Shinn and Jacob Rogotzke stepped out of the role of Shrek (that he nailed last weekend) and turned into Mayor Shinn. Both members of the town’s first family did well.

Danny Nelson played the title character’s old friend Marcellus Washurn with a twinkle in his eye. Victoria Baloni played a friend of the mayor’s wife, Ethel Toffelmier. Nate Davino played anvil salesman Charlie Cowell. 

The rest of the cast included Emily Dowling, Lindsey Dowling, Hannah Jack, Isha Patel and Agon Ismaili, Justin Canada, Kasey Ingerson, Sarah Woermer, Alexa Philippi, Cailin McGuire, Courtney Candee-Zubik, and Laura Sali. Unfortunately the printed programs were not available for opening night, so I cannot name the young actress who played the Widow Paroo; she did a great job with both her singing and her accent. 
The lead role of Howard Hill was brought to life by the talented Christopher Varanko. This young man is a natural in all of the roles that I have seen him play; he can sing, dance and act equally well. The soprano voice of Mary Ryan was such a pleasure to listen to as she sang the songs of Marion the librarian. 

The swan song of Whimsy was a good one. Best wishes to Ms. Brown and Ms. Hamel in wherever life takes them. Whimsicality's production of 'The Music Man' is at Watertown High School at 7 p.m. through Saturday. 


Photos by Whimsicality