Review: Altar Boyz at Stoneham Theatre

Angelica Potter

OnStage Massachusetts Critic

The musical comedy ‘Altar Boyz’ was conceived by Mark Kessler and Ken Davenport and ran for over 2000 performances Off-Broadway. The book was written by Kevin Del Aguila with music and lyrics by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker. The show focuses on a fictitious Christian boy band giving the last performance of their national ‘Raise the Praise’ tour. These five best friends have been singing and dancing their way around the country while sharing their faith with their audiences. ‘Altar Boyz’ cleverly and satirically pays homage to the Christian church and 1990’s boy bands in a wonderfully entertaining way.

Stoneham Theatre’s production was co-directed by Tyler Rosati and Ceit Zweil with choreography by Ceit Zweil and music direction by Matthew Stern. In addition to playing the keyboard, Stern also leads the rockin’ four piece band elevated upstage. The concert-like set design was created by Jenna Lord and was further exemplified with the lighting design by Jeff Adelberg and sound design by John Stone.

One of the most important aspects to get right with this musical is the vocal power, quality and ability of the performers. Without the right vocalists, the show can literally fall flat. Thankfully Stoneham Theatre completely nailed their casting with five exceptionally talented vocalists:  Sean Mitchell Crosley as Luke, Ricardo D. Holguin as Juan, Michael Levesque as Matthew, Michael Jennings Mahoney as Mark, and Bryan Miner as Abraham. There wasn’t a weak link among them! This is the most perfectly cast musical I have seen in the last year!

From the start, the cast brings energy and fun onto the stage. Their excitement quickly grabbed a hold of the audience, who were laughing and applauding in no time. The opening number “We are the Altar Boyz” swiftly got the audience’s attention and we really felt like we were at a [insert your favorite ‘90’s boy band] concert. Upbeat musical numbers including “Rhythm in Me” and “La Vida Eternal” featured fantastic choreography that was very reminiscent of the ‘90’s boy band era. Choreographer Ceit Zweil took the abilities of the cast and mixed it with some great early hip hop, jazz and pop moves making each number fun and funky. While the whole cast may not have been extensively trained dancers, their rhythm and unification were great. They took the choreography, made it their own and looked like they were having a blast performing it.

Throughout the show, their singing, especially their harmonies, were on point. Their solo numbers allowed them each to shine and further highlight their talent: be it an extensive vocal range or the ability to jump through vocal hoops during a song. The themes of faith and friendship were wonderfully represented by the dynamic cast. “I Believe” was especially poignant and powerful. The professionalism of this cast is unparalleled. Even when a technical problem arose, their performance didn’t falter and they made it work. This absolutely outstanding production fully deserved the extended standing ovation they received. Without hesitation, I would go see this again!!  

If you’re looking for a musical to see this spring, ‘Altar Boyz’ should be that musical! It’s hilarious, the voices are top notch and the dancing is excellent! You’ll leave the theatre smiling for sure!  

‘Altar Boyz’ runs about 80 minutes with no intermission and plays at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main St. Stoneham, until April 9th. Tickets range $50- $55 Adults, $45-$50 Seniors and $20 Students (with valid ID). For tickets or more information visit or call the box office at 781-279-2200. The Cast of Altar Boyz (2017). Photo Credit: Maggie Hall Photography.

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Review: 'Kylián/Wings of Wax' at Boston Ballet

Angelica Potter

OnStage Massachusetts Critic

Boston Ballet’s latest production features three very different, but equally challenging and stunning ballets. From a fast, classical ballet loaded with technique, to an incredibly intricate chorographical masterpiece, to an indescribable contemporary ballet, this production has something for each audience member to enjoy. And based on their response, Friday’s audience was certainly entertained.    

The production started off with Donizetti Variations with choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust and music from Gaetano Donizetti’s opera Don Sebastian (1843). This twenty-six minute ballet features classic ballet technique and lovely costumes courtesy of Miami City Ballet. It is performed by a corps of six females and three males who dance all together as well as in small groups. There were moments, while in the small groups, where their timing lacked precision. When they began the ballet, it seemed as though some had just plastered a smile on their face and they were merely going through the motions. Their facial expressions improved during the ballet and though they were energetic, they lacked the exuberance. At one point, when a few ladies were standing on the side of the stage, they appeared to have “checked out” and forgotten that whether you’re dancing or not, if you’re on stage you need to be engaged and in character.

The pas de deux of this ballet was wonderfully danced by Ji Young Chae and Irlan Silva. Their up-tempo section was crisp and clean, while their adagio was smooth, fluid and perfectly controlled. They exhibited great partnering skills and superb musicality. Chae’s solo was spirited and fun. She completely lit up the stage displaying obvious joy in her expressions and movements. It was clear she was having a blast. Silva’s solo featured high jumps and boundless energy. Their turn sequences were very well done receiving applause from the audience. Together they were lovely to watch. Later when she (Chae) danced with Samivel Evans, Lawrence Rines, and Marcus Romeo, their dancing and expressions were sweet and playful. The audience, though not overly enthusiastic, seemed to enjoy this upbeat classical ballet.

The second ballet of the evening was Jiří Kylián’s Wings of Wax, and after seeing it, it is undoubtedly one of my favorite ballets performed by the company in recent memory. The choreography was amazingly complex and meticulous and mashed classical and contemporary ballet with various modern techniques and styles. The eight dancers: Rachele Buriassi, Dusty Button, Misa Kuranaga, Dalay Parrondo, Isaac Akiba, Roddy Doble, Lasha Khozashvili, and Patrick Yocum, performed with precision and immaculate musicality. The jumps were high, the turns were fast and every step was strongly executed. One of my favorite sections was when Misa Kuranaga, Isaac Akiba and Lasha Khozashvili danced together. They moved through each other and with each other with angular sharpness and a fantastic connection. The group as a whole danced perfectly in unison. The male solos included fast jumps and turns that flew across the stage. They were able to lift their partners with ease and the females, with complete trust, were tossed, turned, lifted and dragged about the stage. Each musical variation led to new emotional explorations and characterizations. It was fascinating to watch and captivating from start to finish. The dancers fully embodied their movement, the characters they were portraying and the stories they were telling. The audience highly enjoyed this ballet giving it a standing ovation and robust applause.

Alexander Ekman’s Cacti was the third and final ballet of the night and it was odd, amusing and unlike anything I have ever seen. I was mesmerized by not only the choreography, but the entire piece and everything it encompassed: the stunning dancers, the lighting, the string quartet on stage, the set design and of course the cacti. The movement was most often fast and intricate and varied: from following the music to following the spoken word. The duet between Dusty Button and Paul Craig featured a narration that was intended to be a conversation that took place in their heads. It was really cool and it captivated the audience who chuckled numerous times at what was being said and the movement that was paired to the narration.  While it was not clear if the audience fully understood or appreciated this ballet, it was obvious that they enjoyed it, giving the dancers and musicians a standing ovation and hearty applause. 

These three unique and beautiful ballets make for an enjoyable and entrancing two hours. © Kylián/Wings of Wax performs at the Boston Opera House (539 Washington St, Boston, MA) through April 2nd. Tickets and more information can be found at or by calling the Box Office at 617-695-6955.

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Photo: Boston Ballet in Alexander Ekman's Cacti; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy of Boston Ballet. 

Review: ‘Chill’ at Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Angelica Potter 

OnStage Massachusetts Critic

Now playing on the Merrimack Repertory Theatre stage is Eleanor Burgess’ funny and relatable play ‘Chill’. Directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian and featuring four talented actors, the play takes place on two nights, ten years apart, where four high school friends learn about themselves, each other and how difficult it can be to go from being a teenager to an adult. Act one takes place in 2001 as they impatiently await their college acceptance letters and make plans for their future. Act two takes place in 2011 when the world seems much darker, life has gotten more complicated and they struggle with feeling unaccomplished. The themes of friendship, self-discovery and following your heart were prevalent and clearly portrayed by the cast.

The cast features Danny Bryck as Ethan, Kim Fischer as Stu, Monica Giordano as Alli, and Maria Jung as Jenn. They had great chemistry and were realistic in both ages they had to play. The well written and funny script includes many pop culture references. Each character is different and has their own quirks and personality traits that both compliment and clash with the others. All four actors were solid in their characters and understanding their relationships to each other. Act two really allowed the actors to express the emotional growth of their characters and the complicated aspects of their grown-up lives. Things have not worked out as they’ve expected and they’re not where they’d thought they’d be at this point in their lives. While they still care for each other and enjoy having fun together, the closeness they once had has diminished.

I really appreciated how each act ended strongly with a profound line or phrase. As act one draws to a close, Alli and Jenn are wishing something would happen to break through the boring lives they feel they are stuck in. Little did they know how overwhelmingly their world was about to change. Audio begins to play of the important and traumatic events that began to unfold in 2001, starting with the 9/11 terrorist attacks. As Alli and Jenn sit on the couch watching the news reports unfold on the television, their posture and expressions begin to change. Once relaxed, they are now shocked, confused, anxious and distraught. Though they weren’t speaking, Giordano and Jung’s reactions to the audio recordings were powerful. Act two ends with another poignant line from Alli who reassures Jenn that even though things haven’t gone exactly according to plan, they’ll be ok. They have each other’s backs and will continue to support one another. 

This play is real to life in all its complexity and clearly shows how confusing our relationships can be. While young adults will more closely relate to this play, its characters and the struggles they face as they try to be mature individuals, older audience members will enjoy it as well.©

Running just over two hours with one intermission, ‘Chill’ plays at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, located at 50 East Merrimack Street Lowell, MA, until April 16th, 2017.  Tickets range from $70-$26 with discounts available for groups, students, seniors, Lowell residents, and military service members. To purchase tickets or find more information visit or call 978-654-4678.

Photo: Maria Jung, Monica Giordano, Danny Bryck, and Kim Fischer. Photo by Meghan Moore.

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Review: 'Jonah and the Whale' at Stoneham Theatre

Angelica Potter

OnStage Massachusetts Critic

A new musical with book by Tyler Mills, and music and lyrics by David Darrow and Blake Thomas, this Jonah and the Whale contemporizes the biblical story. Jonah is a happy young man, married to the love of his life and is always willing to help out his neighbors and friends. An unexpected turn of events changes Jonah’s world and rocks him and his beliefs to the core. He is heartbroken; feeling completely lost, he leaves his town to wander the world. 

Directed by Weylin Symes, with music direction by Bethany Aiken and choreographed by Ilyse Robbins, the ensemble worked together wonderfully to bring this story to life. 
The cast never left the stage and was responsible for moving all the props and set pieces around. A circular, elevated, center section of the stage was manually rotated by the cast during the show. A square of metal pipes encased a smaller circular section that remained stationary in the middle of the rotating section. From this, a tall, metal ladder led up to a clock with various sizes of light bulbs hanging down around it. The scenic design was created by Katheryn Monthei and was complimented nicely by the lighting design by Christopher Fournier. With the four piece band sitting off to the side, the entire stage was visually interesting to look at.  

There are many themes addressed in this musical including faith, love, loss, and forgiveness. The characters are likeable and relatable. The music often has a folk and blues feel to it. A few highlights include, “Lordy Mine” that was incredibly sung by Nick Sulfaro as the Pastor. It was upbeat with a Southern Gospel feel to it and was highly enjoyed by the audience. Sarah Elizabeth Pothier beautifully played Jonah’s wife Susan. Her performance was heartfelt and her vocals were clear and pure. Her interactions with Taavon Gamble, who played Jonah, were sweet, loving and believable. “Children, Children”, another upbeat number, was nicely led by Christopher Chew. Kathy St. George was feisty and funny as the Captain and sang “Captain Song”. The final two songs, “Lord, Am I Dying?” and “Prayer” were genuinely and powerfully sung by Taavon Gamble. As Jonah realizes the error of his ways, he asks “Lord, give me time” and knows he must return home. His performance really touched the audience. The prayer for more time is universally common: more time to make things right and more time to spend with family. The final minutes of this musical left many in the audience teary-eyed and in search of tissues. 

The audience gave this show a standing ovation and they seemed to really enjoy it. © Jonah and the Whale is a family friendly production that runs 90 minutes with no intermission and plays at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main St. Stoneham, until March 12th. Tickets range $50- $55 Adults, $45-$50 Seniors and $20 Students (with valid ID). For tickets or more information visit or call the box office at 781-279-2200. 

Photo Credit for both pictures: Cast of "Jonah and the Whale" at Stoneham Theatre. Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

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Review: William Forsythe’s 'Artifact 2017' performed by Boston Ballet

Angelica Potter

OnStage Massachusetts Critic

William Forsythe’s Artifact 2017, a ballet in four parts, is a revamped version of the original production that world premiered in Germany in 1984 as danced by Ballet Frankfurt. Part III is completely new.  Part IV was redeveloped by Forsythe as he worked with the Boston Ballet company dancers. Subsequently, this gives Boston Ballet audiences the first look at this unique and stunning work. 

The production is set against a simple, black backdrop and no wings on the sides of the stage, allowing for a vast, open space for the dancers to use. In the second half, white flats with simple graphics painted in clean, black lines are placed across the rear of the stage. Forsythe not only created the choreography for this four-part ballet, but also the set, lighting, and costume designs, in addition to the music for part III and the text spoken throughout by the “Woman in Historical Dress” and the “Man with Megaphone”. The technical aspects of the show were kept simple, which truly showcased the stunning dancers and complex choreography.

The “Woman in Gray”, Caralin Curcio, started the show slowly walking diagonally across the stage gracefully moving her arms as she walked. The house lights remained on as the chatter of the audience gradually decreased while they focused their eyes towards the stage. The
“Woman in Historical Dress”, guest artist Dana Caspersen, glided onto the stage as the “Woman in Gray” exited and as she started her opening monologue the house lights dimmed. Once she arrived at upstage center she clapped her hands together and two chandeliers lit up over the audience. The “Man with Megaphone”, guest artist Nicholas Champion, made his way through a space in the black backdrop and began to talk to the audience using his megaphone. His words were at times muddled by the megaphone or eaten up by the theatre space itself; many in the audience seemed to have difficulty understanding what he said during the performance. 

Fascinatingly, the “Woman in Gray” improvised her dancing. Her movement was often angular and very precise. It matched the music so well that the audience would have no idea it wasn’t set choreography while watching her. This makes each performance unique because multiple times during the show the ensemble dancers must mirror her movement without knowing what she’ll do. Even though they were completely in the moment following along, their movements were wonderfully in unison. The pas du deux sections danced by Kathleen Breen Combes with Eris Nezha and Misa Kuranaga with Patrick Yocum were exceptional and each pair danced together beautifully.   

The ensembles’ dancing was crisp and clean with majestic lines. The males were sharp and powerful while the females gracefully melted from one motion to the next. Many of their sequences were done in a ripple effect with each person or group starting a count or two after another. It made even some of their simpler, positional dancing that much more interesting and captivating to watch. When they were in unison it was absolutely mesmerizing. While some of their movement was very staccato, others were smooth and fluid. The sections of back and forth clapping were really well done. The male dancers had a few connected line sequences that were exquisitely executed. At one point, as the male dancers were walking around the stage, most led with their heels making quick, purposeful steps, however, I noticed a few of them leading with the ball of their foot and rolling through their foot as they walked, causing them walk more gracefully than the others. 

During part II, the audience was jarred by the curtain that would quickly drop to the floor while the music continued to play. When it ascended moments later, the lighting would be different and the dancers would be in different positions. This happened multiple times and while it worked creatively, it seemed to confuse much of the audience. Part III opened with the male company on one side, the female company on the other and the “Woman in Historical Dress” and the “Man with Megaphone” sitting in between them. What transpired next was incredibly fast and ever changing. She quickly spoke to him and the company members interjected with tapping of their feet, clapping of their hands, slapping of their knees, and vocalizations of their own. Both groups kept their own tempo and clashed with the other, but remarkably the contrasting rhythms blended nicely. This went on for a while, but because it kept changing in some way, it continued to enthrall the audience. Joining together, with staggered counting and moving through ballet positions, they transformed from two separate clashing groups to one magnificent dancing ensemble. It was impeccably done. Moments later, the bickering of the man and woman as they walked through the dancing company amused the audience; though it was a bit difficult to hear them both. 
William Forsythe’s masterful choreography is so detailed and intricate it’s stunning to watch. I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage. He perfectly mixes classical ballet technique with fresh, bold and innovative choreography that push the boundaries of what people think ballet is or should be. 

Artifact 2017 is an incredibly creative and complex ballet. While I encourage readers to attend, it is not a story ballet so having a previous knowledge or love of dance will certainly help audience members more fully appreciate the production. This riveting ballet is unlike any I have seen before. It was truly an amazing two hour experience that flew by far too quickly. ©

Artifact 2017 performs at the Boston Opera House (539 Washington St, Boston, MA) through March 5th. Tickets and more information can be found at or by calling the Box Office at 617-695-6955.

Photo: Reina Sawai & Nicholas Champion in Artifact 2017. Photo credit Rosalie O'Connor

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Review: Women In Jeopardy! at Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Angelica Potter

OnStage Massachusetts Columnist

The marketing of this play as a “riotous comedy about solving crimes in middle age” gives the audience much to expect as they take their seats for “Women In Jeopardy!” at Merrimack Repertory Theatre. To their delight it is everything you want in a comedy: brilliant writing, fantastic comedic timing, outstanding actors, amusingly relatable to real-life and of course some unexpected twists and turns. Director Sean Daniels informed the audience before the show that our performance was the first sold out opening night performance MRT has had in at least ten years. That alone tells me the word is spreading, after only a few preview performances, that this show is hit! 

Wittily written by Wendy MacLeod, the play focuses on three women living near Salt Lake City, Utah and finding their way through the challenges of middle age. Mary and Jo are desperately trying to hold onto their friendship with Liz, who is head-over-heels about her new boyfriend, Jackson, whom they find creepy. When one of his employees goes missing they instantly think he may have had something to do with it, yet Liz will hear none of their concerns however genuine or crazy they may seem. So, it’s up to Mary and Jo to solve the crime and save their dear friend from a potentially disastrous fate.  

L to R: Lou Sumrall, Jacob York, Ashley Shamoon, Julia Brothers, Jessica Wortham, Gail Rastorfer. Photo Credit MRT.

L to R: Lou Sumrall, Jacob York, Ashley Shamoon, Julia Brothers, Jessica Wortham, Gail Rastorfer. Photo Credit MRT.

Before the show, fun and upbeat music plays getting the audience ready for an entertaining evening. The mood was electric from the moment the lights went down. The pulsing music instantly captured the audience and geared them up for what was expected to be a good show. Sound designer David Remedios did a great job selecting music that fit the “mood of the moment” throughout the production. The tunes were familiar and when added to a bit of dancing in some of the scene transitions, the audience was clearly amused. Scenic designer Michael B. Raiford and lighting designer Brian J. Lilienthal kept the set simple, but with many small details that enhanced the overall design. These included tall birch tree trunks set against a dark blue sky-like background that stood on either side of the stage. In between them, was a comfortable kitchen space where much of the action took place. In act two, additional panels of sky and trunks were moved across the stage covering the kitchen and turning the stage into the starlit outdoors of the Utah mountains. The panels were seamlessly moved into place and tiny lights in the blue background were illuminated to create the outdoor feeling. 

Daniels, who also directed the world premiere production at the Geva Theatre Center in New York a few years ago, creatively uses the space within each scene to guide the audience’s attention. His staging was well executed by the cast. The cast of six featured two actors returning to roles they’d played before: Julia Brothers as Jo, and Ashley Shamoon as Amanda. The cast also includes Jessica Wortham as Mary, Gail Rastorfer as Liz, Lou Sumrall as Jackson/ Sgt. Kirk Sponsüllar, and Jacob York as Trenner. The chemistry and comedic timing of the cast was fantastic. Each nuance of their characters and their relationships with each other was superbly played and there wasn’t a weak link among them. Their facial expressions spoke volumes and perfectly matched their characters and lines. The audience clearly found this show hilarious, laughing aloud almost continuously throughout and jumping to their feet at the end to give the cast a well-deserved standing ovation. 

This hysterical show is one of the best I have seen at MRT and the best comedy I’ve seen anywhere this season! © Running at about two hours with one intermission, “Women In Jeopardy!” is comedy at its best and plays at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, located at 50 East Merrimack Street Lowell, MA, until March 12th, 2017.  Tickets are bound to sell fast so get yours while you can. Tickets range from $70-$26 with discounts available for groups, students, seniors, Lowell residents, and military service members. To purchase tickets or find more information visit or call 978-654-4678. 

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Title Photo: L to R: Julia Brothers, Gail Rastorfer, Jessica Wortham. Photo Credit MRT.

Review: Fresh Ink Theatre’s Don’t Give Up the Ship

Angelica Potter

OnStage Massachusetts Critic

Entering their sixth season, Fresh Ink Theatre brings us the World Premiere of Laura Neill’s Don’t Give Up the Ship. The play follows Diana, a middle-aged mother of two, who wakes up as Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, hero of the War of 1812. In learning from the past, Diana finds her courage to take control of her life, discover who she really is and who she’s meant to be. Neill’s writing is fast-paced, multi-dimensional, and humorous. Her characters are complex, and true to life. While the core of this story is heavy and at times emotional, Neill’s colorful and witty humor is sprinkled throughout. Directed by Joshua Glenn-Kayden, the five member cast magnificently brings this unique story to life. 

The intimate Plaza Blackbox, part of the Boston Center for the Arts, was well utilized with simple, but meaningful nautical décor, and necessary props and set pieces. The scenic design was done by Madelynne Hays with props by Kelly Smith and Julia Fioravanti. The sound design by Andrew Duncan Will, assisted by Matthew Goode, added an additional layer of complexity to the production. The lighting was purposefully designed by Harrison Pearse Burke and added depth and clarity to Diana’s moments of delusions or dreams. Each technical aspect worked in sync with the writing, characters and emotional tones of the play.  

Plunged into darkness as the show began, the packed audience was surrounded by the thunderous sounds of an ocean storm and crashing waves. It silenced the outside thoughts of the viewers and immediately engulfed them into the world of the play. The cast featured Alex Alexander as Diana, Tonasia Jones as her daughter Martha, Louise Hamill as her other daughter Olive, Hayley Spivey as her nurse Lizzie, and Robert Cope as her ex-husband Jeff.  As a whole, they had great chemistry and were believable and relatable. Alexander displayed both strength and vulnerability as she portrayed the Commodore and Diana. Jones delivered many snappy one-liners with fantastic comedic timing. As Olive, Hamill was gentle and sympathetic, but also a fierce protector of her mother. Lizzie was dynamically portrayed by Spivey; who also had great comedic timing. As Jeff, Cope was distressed with his ex-wife’s condition, but clearly willing to do whatever he could to help his daughters and be with them when they needed him most. This ensemble play was wonderfully brought to life by these actors who were perfectly cast as these richly layered characters. 

One entertaining aspect of this show was that it didn’t play out as the audience might have anticipated. Almost never does a show capture my attention and keep my focus for its duration, but this show did. The rest of the audience was fully captivated as well by what was being played out mere feet in front of them. They were vocally supportive of the cast and seemed to very much enjoy the performance. The story is full of adventure, family drama, and love. Overall, it’s a highly entertaining production that is certainly worth attending. ©

The show runs approximately 90 minutes with one 10 minute intermission and is suitable for an adult audience. The play is performing at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Plaza Blackbox, in downtown Boston, February 10th-25th with performances Wednesday & Thursday at 7:30pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm, and matinees Saturday 2/18 and 2/25 at 2pm. Tickets are General Admission for $25 with matinee performances $25 online or Pay-What-You-Want at the door ($6 min). Groups of 8 or more get $5 off. For more information or to purchase tickets online visit: or 

Special events for the show include: 
--Cheap Date Night on Wednesday, February 15th and 22nd - Buy One Ticket, Get One Free, online only with code DATE
--Playwright's Night on Thursday, February 16th and 23nd with a Tootsie Pop Talk following the performance
--Pay-What-You-Want performances ($6 min) at the 2pm matinees on Saturday, February 18th and 25th

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Review: The National Tour of “Something Rotten!” kicks off in Boston

Angelica Potter

OnStage Massachusetts Critic

Launching their national tour in Boston this week, Something Rotten! plays at the Boston Opera House until January 29th. The tour features Rob McClure as Nick Bottom, Josh Grisetti as Nigel Bottom and Adam Pascal as Shakespeare. All three closed the Broadway run in those roles a few short weeks ago. Lucky for us they are now touring this hilarious show with twenty-four other incredible performers and it is clear from the start why this show was nominated for ten Tony Awards in 2015. 

The show transports us to London, circa 1595, where the Renaissance is well underway. There we meet the Bottom brothers, Nick and Nigel, who are writers and actors constantly competing with William Shakespeare to put a hit play on the stage. After one too many failed ideas, Nick visits a soothsayer to find out what Shakespeare’s biggest hit will be, and what the future holds for the theatrical world. The pandemonium that ensues keeps the audience laughing for the rest of the show. 
Rob McClure, as Nick, was energetic and funny throughout, delivering solid vocals and sharp comedic timing. His interactions with Maggie Lakis, his wife Bea, were believably heartfelt. 

Her vocals were superbly showcased in “Right Hand Man”. With his pure vocals, Josh Grisetti, as Nigel, was delightful and his interactions with Portia, played by Autumn Hurlbert, were adorably sweet. Both pairs had great chemistry and their voices blended wonderfully. 

Adam Pascal is outstanding as Shakespeare and shined in both “Will Power” and “Hard to Be the Bard”. His “duel” of sorts with Nick, towards the end of act one, was fantastic and impeccably well timed. The soothsayer Nostradamus, played by Blake Hammond, was hilarious and his visions of future musicals and Shakespeare’s greatest play instantly generated exuberant laughter from the audience. Hammond was exceptional! 

The audience produced robust, long-lasting applause after three of act one’s numbers: “A Musical”, “Will Power” and “Bottom’s Gonna Be on Top”. Similarly, “Something Rotten!” and “Make an Omelette” in act two had the audience laughing hysterically. After the finale, just as the lights came up for the curtain call, the audience leapt to their feet with thunderous and vocal applause. They clearly enjoyed this production. Though I think this production is best enjoyed by people who are familiar with famous musicals and Shakespeare’s works, it’s ridiculously fun enough that even the occasional theatre goer, unfamiliar with the many references made, will find it amusing. Something Rotten! reminded me of the first time I saw Monty Python’s Spamalot. Having at that time, a very limited knowledge of the Monty Python films and humor; I didn’t get every joke, but still found myself laughing and enjoying the overall production. With this show, I caught almost all of the references and was able to enjoy it even more, laughing aloud at many comical moments. 

Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, this production is full of exciting, well executed dancing and smart staging. The transitions between scenes and songs were quick and seamless. All the technical elements from the sets to the costumes were stunning and blended together wonderfully. If you didn’t get to see this on Broadway, you have got to check out the tour! Due to the “colorful” content, I recommend this show for a mature audience. It’s a fun, lighthearted, musical comedy sprinkled with farce that will make you laugh and elevate your spirits for a little over two hours.© Like Nostradamus sings, and I completely agree, “go see something more relaxing and less taxing on the brain…there’s nothing quite like a musical!”.

Visit ,, or to purchase tickets, to learn more about the show or to find out where the tour goes next. Photo: Joan Marcus

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Review: The World Premiere of “The Making of a Great Moment” at Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Angelica Potter

OnStage Massachusetts Critic

Written by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb and directed by Sean Daniels, “The Making of a Great Moment”, in its world premiere at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, stars Aysan Celik and Danny Scheie as actors Mona Barnes and Terry Dean. Written and developed with Celik and Scheie in mind for the roles, this fast-paced comedy follows its characters as they tour their play “Great Moments in Human Achievement” around the country via their bicycles. With the goal of changing lives and inspiring their audiences, the pair cycles from gig to gig, laying their sleeping bags where they can and always hoping the next location has a better performance space than the last. 

The witty banter and charisma of this talented duo grabs the audience’s attention from the start. Within moments the audience is chuckling at the situation on stage and from then on they are captivated by Celik and Scheie’s ability to transform from one character to the next, often changing accents and costume or prop pieces. In doing so, they transport the audience to dozens of different places and times throughout history when great moments occurred. They were phenomenal in their ability to transition so quickly from sharing their story to jumping into a part of the play they were performing.

Mona and Terry are relatable, flawed individuals who struggle, at times, to find the positive amongst all the challenges they face. Mona is kept up at night wondering how the play can be better which leads her to think how can she make an impact on their audiences and make the world better. They pose that question to the audience, what can you do to make the world better? This recurring theme is one that stays with the audience even after the play is over. 

The scenic design was created by Apollo Mark Weaver and though it seems simplistic at the start, the complexity and artistry of its design are discovered throughout. All in all it was effective at creating the various spaces the characters were at: be it a theatre stage with only one light, the passing countryside as they pedaled their bikes to their next location or sleeping on the ground looking up at the stars. The technical aspect of creating a way for the pair to actually bicycle on the stage without actually moving around the stage was ingeniously designed and extremely well executed. Additional elements were designed by Brian J. Lilienthal (lighting), David Remedios (sound), and Jessica Ford (costumes). 

While this play is an enjoyable comedy, it is also intellectually stimulating. It keeps you thinking while laughing and is full of historical anecdotes and characters. As we follow these characters on their cycling journey, we recall our own journey and how it, in some ways, is similar to that in the play. We learn from past experiences, from our mistakes and accidents, as well as from the joyful fortunes and discoveries. All these things make up the moments in our lives. Some may  seem small, but as we learn from Mona and Terry some may be great. 

This 90-minute performance will make you laugh, but it will also get you thinking about how you can more positively influence the world around you and make it a better place. © “The Making of a Great Moment” is a fantastic play to start this fresh new year. It plays at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, located at 50 East Merrimack Street Lowell, MA, until January 29th, 2017.  Tickets range from $70-$26 with discounts available for groups, students, seniors, Lowell residents, and military service members. To purchase tickets or find more information visit or call 978-654-4678. 

Photo: Danny Scheie & Aysan Celik in "The Making of a Great Moment." Photo by Meghan Moore.

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Review: The Santaland Diaries at Peterborough Players

Angelica Potter 

  • OnStage Massachusetts Critic

For over eighty years, Peterborough Players has been presenting professional theatre during the summer months. This year they have added a winter season with three plays taking the stage in December and February. Their inaugural winter season kicks off the holidays with a very entertaining one-man play entitled The Santaland Diaries. Directed by Gus Kaikkonen, it stars Kraig Swartz in the role of Santaland elf: “Crumpet”. Originally written by David Sedaris and adapted for the stage by Joe Mantello, it is the comedic true-life tale of Sedaris’ two-year stint as a Macy’s store elf. In the play, Crumpet recounts to the audience his experience as a Macy’s Santaland elf in the weeks leading up to Christmas. For audience members who have ever worked in retail during the holidays, or even gone to the mall and have witnessed the craziness that ensues, this play will hilariously bring back memories of all the delightful and horrifying aspects of the holiday season. 
Designed by director Gus Kaikkonen and props designer Jessica Ayala, the simple, yet detailed set includes a Christmas tree, lockers, toys, a big chair and a large video screen that changes pictures depending on the scene. String lights hang above the stage as well as over the gift boxes and stuffed animals. It wasn’t hard to imagine Santaland as Crumpet describes it and tells us stories of his daily encounters. 

Kraig Swartz has the wonderful ability to alter his vocalizations and characterizations to shift from playing Crumpet to a nasty Santa, an overbearing parent, a confused foreigner, misbehaving children and many more. He easily engages the audience and draws us into his story from the start. His performance is so realistic that he makes it easy to forget we are in a theatre watching a play. Swartz has spot on comedic timing and facial expressions that perfectly match each of the tales he tells. He delivered a highly enjoyable performance that had the audience chuckling throughout. 

With each anecdote we find ourselves laughing because of the inalienable truth behind it. We have witnessed the scenes Crumpet describes, those filled with obnoxious children and intensely pushy parents. While the show is very amusing, it is also incredibly relatable and that’s what makes it a great adult’s night out. When you attend this production you’ll be able to sit back, relax, have a good laugh and maybe even leave the theatre with renewed holiday spirit. © This production is rated PG-13 and is not recommended for children.  The Santaland Diaries plays on the Peterborough Players stage, 55 Hadley Road, Peterborough, NH, until December 17th. For tickets call the box office at 603-924-7585 or check out

Photo credit: Kraig Swartz as "Crumpet". Photo courtesy Will Howell. 

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Review: “Going To See The Kid” at Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Angelica Potter

- OnStage Massachusetts Columnist

In the opening scene of Steven Drukman’s new play “Going To See The Kid”, Ellis tells the audience that every story needs an angle. What she has yet to decide upon, is what angle her story on Red Sox legend Ted Williams will be. The play takes place in 2001 when Ellis and fellow journalist Simon, both from The Boston Globe, head out on a road trip from Boston to Florida to interview the ailing Ted Williams. The pair couldn’t be more different, and yet as their trip progresses they discover the value of empathy and teamwork. 

Directed by MRT’s Director of New Play Development, Alexander Greenfield, this cast consists of three MRT audience favorites who each have the natural ability to bring their characters to life in an interesting and believable way that instantly engages the audience. From the start we see their spirit, drive, passions and what makes them tick. All while chuckling at their feisty interactions. Dialect Coach Christine Hamel worked with the actors to authentically use specific accents. Veronika Duerr, as Ellis, spoke with the all too familiar Boston accent; making it clear to the audience her character was born and bred here.

Both Joel Colodner and John Gregorio portrayed multiple characters, each with their own specific vocalization and flare. Their main characters of Simon (Colodner) and David (Gregorio) were more refined in their speech, and the way their speech differed from Ellis (Duerr) was intriguing to listen to. Each of them portrayed their characters wonderfully. Ellis was relatable, spunky and exhibited ultimate Red Sox fan passion; especially when relaying stats about her beloved team. Duerr’s portrayal was multilayered and evolved during the play. She wasn’t just a journalist who loved baseball, but also an educated woman trying to be a better wife and daughter. Simon was an older, wiser, more dignified journalist who spoke fervently about the arts and literature. His excitement regarding the Red Sox was more subdued and internal; especially when compared to Ellis. Colodner was polished and portrayed Simon as a wise mentor of sorts. David, Ellis’ husband, joins the pair on the road trip to Florida and is often a buffer when Ellis and Simon don’t see eye to eye; which is most of the time. Watching Gregorio portray David, in addition to a few other secondary characters, was fascinating as each had his own accent and mannerisms that completely separated him from Gregorio’s portrayal of the loving and supportive David.  

Designed by Jason Sherwood, the set consisted of actual news stories from The Boston Globe printed on plexiglass boxes that were lit with LED lights that changed color depending on the scene. At some points they were all lit up while at other points only a small section was lit while the rest was dark. Lighting Designer     Brian J. Lilienthal was creative in how he used the light to exemplify or hide sections of the set. Both elements complimented each other nicely and were visually appealing. The addition of falling snow in the last scene really added to the holiday aspect of the production. It was enchanting while not distracting or overdone. 

Written by lifelong Red Sox fan Steven Drukman, this play is a different kind of holiday show. Its spirit and message of hopefulness and the power of teamwork reminds us there is nothing that can bring people together like the shared love of their favorite sports team. At only ninety minutes this heartwarming comedy is the perfect show to bring your Red Sox loving family and friends to see this holiday season. If opening night of this world premiere is any indication, and considering how fast the audience was on their feet giving the performance a standing ovation, this show will sell fast so don’t wait to get your tickets. © “Going To See The Kid” is on stage at Merrimack Repertory Theatre (50 E. Merrimack St. Lowell, MA) until December 24th. Tickets range from $70-$26 and there are discounts for seniors, students, military and groups. To purchase tickets or find more information visit or call 978-654-4678. 

Photo Credit: (L-R) Joel Colodner, Veronika Duerr, John Gregorio. Photo by Meghan Moore.

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Review: ‘Mame’ at Stoneham Theatre

Angelica Potter

  • Massachusetts Columnist

This Tony Award-winning Broadway classic centers on the incomparable Mame Dennis, brilliantly played by Kathy St. George, whose carefree life in 1920’s New York City unexpectedly changes when she becomes guardian to her 10-year-old nephew, Patrick. She introduces him to her exciting and unconventional world and together they learn the joy and love that comes from having a family. Wonderfully directed and choreographed by Ilyse Robbins this talented cast brings this fun and heartfelt story to life. 

The set, designed by Katheryn Monthei, was black and white with two levels and featured sparkly stars and moon in the background as well as triangular columns that were rotated depending on the scene. Music Director Matthew Stern led the live seven-member band. Sound designer John Stone kept the volume of band well matched with the volume of the vocalists throughout the two and a half hour production. 

The opening number, “St. Bridget”, was divinely performed by Ceit Zweil as Agnes Gooch, and Cameron Levesque as Young Patrick Dennis. Both had beautiful vocal tones and their higher notes were lovely to listen to. This number was a solid start to the show and set the barre high for the rest of the performance. The following number, “It’s Today”, showed that the rest of the cast was ready to give the audience a top-notch night of entertainment. “It’s Today” was very upbeat and celebratory and it was clear the cast was having a great time on stage. Their momentum continued with their energetic performance of “Open a New Window Parts I and II”, led by St. George and Levesque. 

The choreography in the song “Mame” was especially well performed. It was clean, crisp and fantastically danced by the ensemble who were dressed head to toe in riding outfits. It was certainly one of the best numbers in the show. While everyone was cheerfully singing and dancing, young Patrick was off to the side silently coming to the realization that his Auntie Mame was getting married and thinking that this man was going to take his place. Levesque demonstrated acting skills beyond his years as he silently felt his world crumbling in front of him. His facial expression was full of uncertainty and sadness. As he started singing the act one finale, he was embraced by his Aunt in a way that let him know he would always be the main man in her life. 

From the moment St. George stepped on the stage as Mame Dennis in “It’s Today”, she engaged the audience and kept them captivated by her charismatic performance for the rest of the show. Not only does St. George deliver passionate vocals, but incredibly sharp comedic timing and dancing that fully embodied her character. Her witty banter with Vera Charles, played by Mary Callanan, was highly amusing and thoroughly enjoyed by the audience; especially their rendition of “Bosom Buddies” that included tight harmonies and was humorously sarcastic. St. George’s interactions with Levesque are even more wonderful. They were perfectly cast in these roles and their relationship is realistic and genuine. “My Best Girl”, sung by the pair, is so sweet and tender sniffles could be heard from the audience. 

Other highlights include a kick line in “We Need a Little Christmas” performed by Mame (St. George), young Patrick (Levesque), Agnes (Zweil) and Tanner (Robert Saoud) that received robust applause from the audience. Callanan’s powerful vocals shined in “The Moon Song”, just as Zweil’s shined in “Gooch’s Song”. Between them and St. George it was clear to see this show wasn’t short on talented female vocalists. Will McGarrahan, as Mr. Burnside, was the quintessential Southern gentlemen. His interactions with St. George were sweet and tenderhearted. St. George’s whole-hearted performance of “If He Walked Into My Life” was powerful and touching. One of the most hilarious moments in the show was when Levesque played bartender for Mr. Babcock (Sean McGuirk) by mixing him up a martini like a pro which generated chuckles and well deserved applause from the audience. 

Kathy St. George as Mame is exquisite and her performance is not to be missed. This family-friendly musical is a beautiful reminder of the importance of family, love and a positive outlook on life. © Mame plays at Stoneham Theatre (395 Main Street, Stoneham, MA 02180) until December 23rd. Tickets range between $20-$55 with discounts for Seniors and Students. For tickets or more information visit or call the Box Office at 781-279-2200. 

Photo: Kathy St. George as Mame. Photo Credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots. Courtesy Stoneham Theatre.

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Review: Boston Ballet’s production of Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker

Angelica Potter

  • Massachusetts Columnist

Mikko Nissinen’s The Nutcracker World Premiered in 2012 and is back again this year performed by the Boston Ballet Company, Boston Ballet II, and Boston Ballet School Students with approximately 150 dancers involved in each performance. Mikko Nissinen’s production is based on the libretto by Alexandre Dumas père, titled The Tale of the Nutcracker, which is adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Set in Germany in the early 1800s, The Nutcracker, is a story of a young girl named Clara, her family’s Christmas Eve party, and the adventure she has when her nutcracker doll comes to life. 

Conductor Beatrice Jona Affron masterfully led the orchestra through the delightfully familiar music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The set and costumes were exquisitely designed by Robert Perdziola and were pleasantly complimented by the lighting, designed by Mikki Kunttu. The detailed sets were all painted by hand and roughly three hundred and fifty costumes were made for this production to accommodate multiple casts. One hundred and eighty-two of those costumes appear on stage in each performance. Each was creatively designed to not only look stunning on stage, but also be fully functional for the dancer wearing it. Meticulously crafted, many costumes feature hand painted patterns and hundreds of jewels.   

The prologue features Drosselmeier, expressively portrayed by Eris Nezha, putting on a Children’s Theatre performance in the town square. Minutes later the curtain opens to further to reveal the Silberhaus’ home and the Christmas Eve party they are hosting for family and friends. The interactions between siblings Clara (Delia Wada-Gill) and Fritz (Kao Chun) were nicely acted. They and the other children in the party scene were energetic, engaged in the story they were sharing, and demonstrated clean technique. There were a few instances however, where their smiles were not realistic and looked forced as if they were trying really hard to continue smiling throughout the scene. The adult characters, on the other hand, all exhibited more natural and cheery expressions. Drosselmeier brings larger-than-life toys to perform for the party guests and each was thoroughly enjoyed by the audience. Both Harlequin (Irlan Silva) and the Ballerina Doll (Ji Young Chae) were fantastic and their movements were spot on with the music. The audience gasped when the Bear (Lawrence Rines) emerged from his gift box and he quickly become one of their favorite characters. 

As the Christmas tree grows and reveals the life size nutcracker, the amazed audience applauds the wonder before them. It is truly one of the most magical and stunning moments in the show. If the audience wasn’t engaged in the performance before that point, they certainly were now. Overall, the battle scene between the Mouse King, mice, baby mice and the Nutcracker Prince, soldiers, bunny and gingerbread man is amusing and action packed; though it is hard to focus on any particular part because so much is going on at once. The mice sneaking treats was adorable and the small gingerbread man being nibbled on by the baby mice and being saved by the bunny was a very cute interaction receiving chuckles and awes from the audience. 

Act one ends with the elegant and enchanting snow scene. The snow sparkled as it fell to the stage and little reindeer pulling a carriage carrying the Snow Queen and King appeared. The Snow Queen was beautifully danced by Seo Hye Han, who was partnered by Paul Craig as the Snow King. Their Pas de Deux was exquisitely magical. Their expressions were blissful and their dancing divine. The snowflakes, as a whole, all had sweet smiles on their faces as they gracefully floated across the stage. They danced completely in sync and were a spectacular end to act one. 

Act two opens in the clouds of the Nutcracker Prince’s Kingdom. The Nutcracker Prince, played by Patrick Yocum, and Clara float into the Kingdom on a cloud and are greeted by the Sugar Plum Fairy and many members of the royal court. The Nutcracker Prince shares with them how Clara aided him in defeating the Mouse King and a special performance ensues to show Clara their gratitude. The first performance is an upbeat Spanish routine danced by Emily Entingh, Kathryn McDonald, Alexander Maryianowski, and Desean Taber. Next is an Arabian number that was supremely danced by Lia Cirio and Lasha Khozashvili. His entrance was incredibly strong and he continued to demonstrate his strength and power in his partner work with Cirio. In one moment they were flying through the air, in the next he was lifting her overhead as she extended her limbs into various positions. Cirio demonstrated exceptional flexibility, control and fluidity throughout. Their performance was easily a favorite of the night. 

The Chinese number was led by Ji Young Chae and Irlan Silva who nicely executed each jump and turn all while maintaining pleasant expressions. The highlight of Pastorale were the lovable bouncing little sheep who received an audible “awe” upon their entrance. While the trio of Florimond Lorieux, Diana Albrecht, and Maria Alvarez danced wonderfully, these sheep stole the scene for sure. Next up was Mother Ginger (Marcus Romeo) and her children who were an instant crowd pleaser. Romeo was fantastic with expressive facials and great character choices. 

The exuberant Russian routine led by Isaac Akiba with Mamuka Kikalishvili and Lawrence Rines was bursting with energy and power from start to finish. They consistently soared across the stage with numerous and fast jumps and turns. Akiba, a Boston native, was confident as he strongly executed a turning combination that got the audience cheering. By the end the audience broke out into thunderous applause for this powerful trio making it clear this was another of their favorites. 

The gorgeous Waltz of the Flowers followed, led by Lead Flowers Lauren Herfindahl and Addie Tapp and the always graceful Ashely Ellis as the Dew Drop. The trio was lovely together and when joined by the other flowers it was easy to be enrapt in their performance. Their grande développé’s towards the end of the routine were high and executed in perfect unison. Ellis as the Dew Drop was dazzling and not just because of the sparkles in her costume. Her joyful facial expression and the way she glided around the stage with ease made it clear that she truly enjoys dancing and sharing this magical story with the audience. 

The Grand Pas de Deux featured Misa Kuranaga as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Patrick Yocum as the Nutcracker Prince. They maintained great eye contact and moved together with perfect musicality. They were graceful with exquisite extensions and impeccably timed lifts. Yocum’s solo was strongly executed with sharp, clean lines and jumps that ascended off the floor. Kuranaga’s solo was flawless. Her footwork was precise and delicately executed. She maintained supreme balance and control and her turns were quick and clean, moving around the stage effortlessly. Their Pas de Deux was breathtaking and received roaring applause. The audience clearly loved this pair. 

The finale was energetic and brought all the characters bursting back onto the stage including the strong Arabians with perfect double attitude jumps, the powerful Russian trio and the beautiful Dew Drop and Flowers. Overall, this performance was a glittering, majestic production full of holiday magic. This family-friendly holiday masterpiece is not to be missed and will certainly give you memories that will last for years to come. © Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker performs all 43 performances at the Boston Opera House (539 Washington St, Boston, MA 02111) from November 25th through December 31st. Tickets and more information can be found at or by calling the Box Office at 617-695-6955.

Ashley Ellis as Dew Drop (in center) and Boston Ballet in Mikko Nissinen's The Nutcracker; photo by Liza Voll, courtesy of Boston Ballet

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Review and Reflect: “The Scottsboro Boys” at SpeakEasy Stage Company

Tara Kennedy

  • Connecticut Critic
  • Connecticut Critics Circle

Those of you who have read my other reviews may recall that I was disappointed to have missed Kander and Ebb’s “The Scottsboro Boys” when it was on Broadway. Thanks to my sister attending Emerson and once working at the Huntington Theater, she was still tapped into the Boston theater scene and let me know that this show was happening at the SpeakEasy Stage Company. I sent a number of ALL CAPS emails to my husband, telling him that in no uncertain terms WE ARE GOING TO GO SEE THIS SHOW. And we did.

The night after Donald Trump was elected as our next President of the United States.

Based on the platform that our President-elect ran on, you could call it timely or ironic that we sat in a darkened theater watching a minstrel-show-within-a-musical about nine African-American men who were (repeatedly) wrongly convicted in the 1930s Jim Crow South. The mood in the theater was palpable, and there is no doubt that these performers – who were primarily Black – must’ve felt some sense of emotional pain and betrayal. But, as they say, the show must go on, and thank God it did. This show is every bit as provocative and poignant as I had hoped it would be, and it is more important than ever that people go and see it. It is an exceptional theatrical experience.

For those unfamiliar with the history behind the show, nine African-American men were rounded up off of a train near Scottsboro, Alabama after being accused of rape by two white women, who were also on the train. The unjust trials of these men climbed all the way to the Supreme Court – twice!  The Supreme Court found justification for new trials based on the Alabama courts’ gross violations of due process and the Equal Protection Clause; the state of Alabama had violated portions of the 6th and 14th Amendments of the Constitution.  

If the history of the law doesn’t excite you, don’t worry: there isn’t much didactic rhetoric going on in this musical. What is going on is spirited storytelling that will make you squirm in your seat. Hey, no one said art is supposed to be comfortable, and this most certainly isn’t, but it isn’t meant to be. If you’re not uncomfortable, then you are not paying attention.

The minstrel show within this musical is orchestrated by the Interlocutor AKA the “master of these folks” (played with brilliantly-disturbing condescension by Russell Garrett) and two minstrel performers, Mr. Bones (Maurice Emmanuel Parent) and Mr. Tambo (Brandon G. Green), who portray a number of the white characters throughout the show. Mr. Parent is particularly brilliant at making of a mockery of these Jim Crow bigots; his ability to lampoon through his physicality is awesome.  

What’s great about this play-with-a-play is that it’s the traditional minstrel show turned on its head: blacks ridiculing whites. As a white woman who had just cried all day because a racist was elected to the White House, I found it cathartic.  I laughed even though most of the audience was not comfortable enough to join me. I had some seriously stoic audience members around me, short of my husband.  I say to my fellow audience members: folks, this is a show where the quality of the performance must win over your repulsion of the material. Case in point: my husband and I were the first to stand up and applaud at the end.

I also want to mention the two actors who played the Scottsboro Boys’ accusers, Victoria Price (Darrell Morris, Jr.) and Ruby Bates (Isaiah Reynolds). Their caricatures of these two instigators were excellent in their song, “Alabama Ladies.” Another favorite was “Never Too Late” which focuses on Ruby Bates’ recanting of her testimony against the men. Mr. Reynolds was delightful as a repentant Ruby. 

One element that would not be evident if one only listened to the soundtrack: a character known as The Lady (Shalaye Camillo) who is the omnipresent observer of the minstrel show. She sees it all and occasionally comes into the scene to provide comfort and support to the Scottsboro Boys, primarily Haywood Patterson (De’Lon Grant). She represents the suppressed and the silent; the quiet witnesses who have seen history and know what they need to do. 

Another element that requires the visual for its horror factor: the tap dance number, “Electric Chair.” The dancers sport the leather headgear that one would wear if being executed in one of those devices.  The up-lighting during that number made the dancers look like hollow ghosts, the stuff of nightmares. 

There are fantastic, emotional moments as well: Grant’s “You Can’t Do Me” is one of them. He cries out for justice with impassioned vigor: “We won’t stand with our hands in our pockets… What was once a whisper is now a roar!” Never was there a time when those lyrics mean so much. In general, the singing in this show was fantastic: beautiful, heart-melting harmonies sail through the theater. 

The simplistic, rustic set design by Eric Levenson was versatile and worked wonderfully: the proscenium was painted in a crude, vaudevillian design, and using rolling scaffold platforms for the boxcars and as bunk beds in the prison scenes? Genius! 

Toward the end of the show, attorney Samuel Leibowitz encourages Haywood Patterson to write down what he has experienced. Haywood looks at him and says, “Who’s gonna learn from it?” I want to yell, “US!” from the top of the raking seats in the theater, but have we? I thought we had, but as this election has demonstrated, we have a long way to go from the minstrel show.  

Photo: Nile Hawver

Review: West Side Story at North Shore Music Theatre

Angelica Potter

  • Massachusetts Critic

West Side Story was originally conceived, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins for the Broadway stage back in 1958. It is a modernized version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. 

This production is led by husband and wife director and choreographer team Bob Richard and Diane Laurenson. Music director Milton Granger conducts the wonderful sixteen member orchestra, whose beautiful playing of the well-known score is truly a highlight of this production. 

Robbins’ original choreography was adequately performed by the cast, but often seemed cramped on the circular stage. The formation and spacing adjustments may have been to blame when it came to the synchronization and timing of some of the numbers; notably the dance-break in “Cool”.  However, the dancers’ skill and their high energy made “Dance at the Gym” and “America” instant audience favorites. “America” was fiercely led by Anita, played by Michelle Alves, who shined not only as a strong dancer, but vocalist throughout the production.
Tony, played by Bronson Norris Murphy, executed smooth and controlled vocals in both “Something’s Coming” and “Maria”; though, at times, he was drowned out by the orchestra. Murphy’s portrayal of Tony came across as low key and passive which made it difficult to believe that Tony was ever the leader of the Jets gang. Evy Ortiz as Maria, however, was youthfully in love and completely believable. Her heartbreak and anger in the finale was genuine and palpable, pulling on the heartstrings of the audience. Their duets: “Tonight”, “One Hand, One Heart”, and “Somewhere Ballet”, were sweetly and beautifully sung by the pair whose classically trained voices were perfectly matched and a delight to listen to. 

The most emotionally driven performance was the duet between Anita (Alves) and Maria (Ortiz) in act two: “A Boy Like That/I Have a Love”. The pair was connected and wore their hearts on their sleeves in this riveting and powerful number. Interestingly, while the Jets delivered concrete vocals in the “Jet Song”, “Cool” and “Gee, Officer Krupke”, the humorous lyrics in the later failed to land with the audience. NSMT audience favorite, David Coffee, delivered a notable performance as Doc, an older shopkeeper who was often trying to talk sense to the younger generation. 

The finale is one of the most tense and emotionally powerful scenes in the show, however at this performance, the audience seemed caught off guard and nervously laughed when the gun was shot, immediately breaking the tense mood and causing the dramatic ending to fall flat. One has to wonder if there was a “gunshot notification” posted on the theatre doors that the entire audience missed. This production lacked character and emotional depth; the racial strife and intolerance, at the core of the story, was not believably conveyed. The audience seemed unengaged at times as their reaction to the action on stage was noticeably minimal. ©   

West Side Story runs about 2 hours and 20 minutes including intermission and plays Tuesdays-Sundays through November 20th. Tickets range from $54-$79 with group rates available for groups 10 or more. The show contains violence and adult language; it may not be suitable for all audiences. For tickets or more information visit , call 978-232-7200 or visit the box office in person at 62 Dunham Rd. Beverly, MA. 


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Review: 'Monty Python’s SPAMALOT' at North Shore Music Theatre

Angelica Potter

  • Massachusetts Critic

Based on the outlandish humor of Monty Python and affectionately ripped off from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, this 2005 Tony Award winner for Best Musical is the story of King Arthur, his Knights of the Round Table, and their quest for the Holy Grail. The book and lyrics were written by Eric Idle, who was also one of the original writers of the film’s screenplay.  The memorable music was written by Eric Idle and John Du Prez. 

This production was cleverly directed and choreographed by Billy Sprague Jr. to suit North Shore’s in-the-round theatre.  It features bright and functional, yet realistic costumes from Mark Nagle that shine against the simplistic set design from Michael M. Harvey. I particularly liked that the stage was painted to look like stone and easily took on the appearance of the round table mentioned in the show. In addition, projector screens were used for animated clips at various times throughout the show. Music director Jesse Warkentin conducted the ten person orchestra while often actively participating in the humor with a number of bits that are unique to this production.  

In his curtain speech, owner and producer Bill Hanney told the audience to “prepare to sprain your funny bone” and while I thought this was a bold statement to make, it turned out to be quite true for many audience members; especially those familiar with Monty Python’s farcical comedy style. While the audience enjoyed most numbers, there were a few that received uproarious laughter and/or applause. The first was “I’m Not Dead Yet” lead by Not Dead Fred, played by Sean Bell, whose portrayal was hilarious. Bell also played the Historian, French Guard, Minstrel and Prince Herbert, each with unique characterizations and vocal variation, but all with supreme comedic timing and talent. He was easily an audience favorite. Another was Brad Bradley, as King Arthur’s sidekick Patsy. Last seen as Bert in NSMT’s production of Mary Poppins, I was thrilled to see him back for this production in a role that he was understudy for in the original Broadway production.  As Patsy, his characterization and vocals were perfection and he fantastically led “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”. His interactions with King Arthur, remarkably played by Al Bundonis, were delightful to watch as they were both amusing and heartwarming. The Knights were wonderfully portrayed by James Beaman as Sir Robin, Jonathan Gregg as Sir Lancelot, and J.D. Daw as Sir Dennis Galahad. All three each played two additional roles with similar gusto.  

The Lady of the Lake was stunningly played by Haley Swindal. Though her vocals in “Knights of the Round Table”, at times, lacked support and control, she handled the vocal Olympics rather well, especially considering it is one of the most complex and challenging songs in the show; particularly for the Lady of the Lake part. Minutes later however, in “Find Your Grail” and again in “The Diva’s Lament”, her powerhouse vocals reigned supreme and the audience was enrapt by not only her voice, but her charismatic characterization of the iconic Lady of the Lake. Swindal is certainly a force to be reckoned with and it is easy to see why she was cast in this role. 

The large, talented cast was bursting with energy and enthusiasm throughout; dancing up a storm and singing their hearts out. Most played multiple roles changing costumes every few minutes. It was clear from start to finish that they enjoy performing this production and bringing lighthearted joy and laughter to the audience. 

While being familiar with Monty Python is not necessary to enjoy this production, it certainly helps you fully appreciate the humor. © SPAMALOT runs about 2 hours and 30 minutes including intermission and plays Tuesdays-Sundays through October 9th. Tickets range from $54-$79 with group rates available for groups 10 or more. The show contains adult humor and profanity; it may not be suitable for all audiences. For tickets or more information visit , call 978-232-7200 or visit the box office in person at 62 Dunham Rd. Beverly, MA. 

Photo: Al Bundonis (King Arthur) and Brad Bradley (Patsy) in North Shore Music Theatre's production of Monty Python's SPAMALOT playing thru October 9. Photo © Paul Lyden.

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Review: “45 Plays for 45 Presidents” at Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Angelica Potter

  • OnStage Massachusetts Critic

Opening up the 2016-2017 season on the Merrimack Repertory Theatre stage is a unique and very funny production of “45 Plays for 45 Presidents”. It has been written, rewritten and added to by Andy Bayiates, Sean Benjamin, Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, Chloe Johnston, and Karen Weinberg since it was first created as “43 Plays for 43 Presidents”. Each play is about 2 minutes long and each focuses on a different president. The show begins with George Washington and ends with a play about the next president: either Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump; as elected by the audience. Five fantastically versatile and wonderfully comedic actors play not only the presidents, but other historical figures during each time period. This show is a fast-paced look at the past leaders of our country, their presidency, what they’re remembered for and a few unknown facts about them. 

The set featured square boxes with quotation marks, the word “quote” or a comic strip-like talking bubble. These boxes lit up red when an actual quote from one of the presidents was said. There was also a large oval picture frame at center stage where projections were seen throughout the show. On either side of the frame were pieces of a very large dollar bill. This very cool and unique scenic design was created by Michael B. Raiford with projections designed by Ido Levran. Throughout the production props and costume pieces are used to bring each president and their term(s) in office to life. One costume piece that was passed from president to president was a suit jacket with a sequined American flag on the back. Costumes were designed by A. Lee Viliesis and were simple, yet able to transcend time. The lighting was designed by Brian J. Lilienthal and the sound was designed by Stowe Nelson. 

Imaginatively directed by Sean Daniels, this cast features Celina Dean, Veronika Duerr, Aaron Muñoz, Nael Nacer and Terrell Donnell Sledge. In just over two hours they use dozens of props, costume pieces, and many story-telling devices to show the audience our greatest and worst moments as a country. We learn new things about presidents that may not have been covered in our history classes. Ultimately, we further realize that the story of our country is written by us when we vote. It is a story that we can effect this November when we choose our 45th president.  

A few highlights from act one include Aaron Muñoz as Benjamin Franklin “roasting” Thomas Jefferson, played by Veronika Duerr. Nael Nacer and Terrell Donnell Sledge got the majority of the audience chuckling during their interaction as Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. Veronika Duerr was intense when stabbing red balloons with a knife as she portrayed William Henry Harrison and his killing Indians to take over their lands. Terrell Donnell Sledge, as Abraham Lincoln, led the group in a captivating song about one of the most well-known presidents. 

Act two also featured a number of memorable plays including the group portraying Theodore Roosevelt, complete with mustaches, as Duerr, portraying his daughter, narrated.  Nael Nacer, as Woodrow Wilson, gave a short but informative lecture on the only president to have earned his PhD. The group, donned in sparkly flag vests, sang a song about Richard Nixon, led by Aaron Muñoz. Veronika Duerr was hilarious as Bill Clinton (when you see it you’ll see why). The election controversy between George W. Bush and Al Gore was hysterically done by Aaron Muñoz and Celina Dean. Terrell Donnell Sledge displayed some great jump rope skills as he portrayed current president Barack Obama. The last play, as chosen by the audience, was a nicely done rap by Celina Dean as Hilary Clinton. 

If you, like many others, need a break from the current political battle taking place, I suggest you check out this intelligent, non-partisan production. It may give you fresh perspective on our past, remind you of what we’ve accomplished, and recharge your American spirit to go out and urge those around you to vote this November. As we’ve learned from the past every vote counts, and as we look towards the future, this amusing, but thought-provoking production is just what we need to remind us that we are writing our history. © “45 Plays For 45 Presidents” is on stage at Merrimack Repertory Theatre until October 2nd and tickets range from $70-$26. To purchase tickets or find more information visit or call 978-654-4678. 

45Playsfor45Presidents----A splashy musical number for Richard Nixon. Terrell Donnell Sledge, Veronika Duerr, Aaron Munoz, Celina Dean, Nael Nacer. Photo by Meghan Moore

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Review: 'Lucky Stiff' at Stoneham Theatre

Angelica Potter

  • OnStage Massachusetts Critic

Stoneham, MA - Opening their 17th season, Stoneham Theatre presents the musical murder mystery farce Lucky Stiff. It is based on the book “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo” by Michael Butterworth, with music by Stephen Flaherty and book and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. It is the comical story of an unhappy shoe salesman who learns that he will inherit six million dollars from his recently deceased uncle, whom he never met, if he follows his uncle’s last wishes to the letter. Little does he realize that those last wishes include a trip to Monte Carlo with his embalmed uncle, whom he must pass off as alive for the duration of the trip in order to claim the inheritance. To complicate his task even further, if he does not follow these last requests the money will go to the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn. Directed by Caitlin Lowans, choreographed by Ilyse Robbins and music directed and conducted by Bethany Aiken, this production features a fantastic ten person cast who, with energy and excitement, bring this outlandish story to life. 

The scenic design by Jon Savage was creatively utilized throughout the production. It featured walls of boxes, which at the start, seemed to only make sense in the shoe store. But as the show progressed walls were moved, hidden compartments were revealed, trap doors popped up, doors swung open to reveal the band and a bed slid out from the bottom of the main wall. The set was truly a part of the show in a refreshing and intriguing way. The cast and crew seamlessly transformed it from one scene and location to the next with simple, yet effective alterations. 

The cast features Andrew Barbato as shoe salesman Harry Witherspoon who must take the corpse of his uncle on vacation to Monte Carlo. Barbato was charming, amusing and delivered solid vocals throughout the production. The body he rolls around in a wheelchair was convincingly portrayed by John O’Neil who managed to stay frozen and lifeless. He never broke his dead character by smirking when he heard something funny, or reacting when someone lifted his arms or hands or moved his head. Rita LaPorta and her brother Vinnie DiRuzzio were incredibly played by Ceit M. Zweil and Mark Linehan. Their comedic timing was spot on, their sibling relationship was believable and very funny, and their vocals were top notch. Their duet in act one: “Rita’s Confession” was supremely well done and an instant audience favorite. Linehan’s “The Phone Call”, later in act one, was hilarious. As Rita, Zweil was the quintessential New Jersey housewife, with just the right amount of seductress and feistiness paired with powerhouse vocals that made her performance one of the highlights in this production. 

Annabel Glick, a representative of the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn, was sent to Monte Carlo to spy on Harry Witherspoon and to wait for him to make a mistake so her organization would get the inheritance.  As played by Lizzie Milanovich, she was quirky with a dash of sass that paired nicely with Barbato’s portrayal of Witherspoon. The cast was rounded out by Thomas Derrah as Luigi Gaudi, Bryan Miner as Emcee/Ensemble, Jade Wheeler as Dominique du Monaco/ Ensemble, Samantha Richert as Landlady/Ensemble, and Stewart Evan Smith Jr. as Solicitor/Ensemble. Both Miner and Wheeler showcased their vocals in the Club Continentale with their featured musical numbers “Monte Carlo” and “Speaking French”. The ensemble was wonderful in their many different roles; as they often added to the hilarity on stage which in turn increased the laughter coming from the audience. ©

This farce is a truly enjoyable two hour escape at the theatre. Lucky Stiff plays at the Stoneham Theatre through September 25th. More information can be found at 

Photo: Nile Scott Shots

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Review: 'Cymbeline' by Brown Box Theatre Project

Angelica Potter

  • OnStage Massachusetts Critic

Brown Box Theatre Project is performing its Sixth Annual Free Shakespeare Tour with William Shakespeare’s tragedy Cymbeline. This production is being performed in various locations on the East Coast throughout August and September in the hope of sharing Shakespeare’s work with those who ordinarily may not get to see live theatre. It is a story about love, loss, family, and honor. Cymbeline is the King of Britain whose sons were taken from him when they were infants leaving Cymbeline with only a daughter, Imogen, as heir to his throne. His second wife conspires to wed her son, Cloten, to Imogen in order to gain control of the throne. Imogen is already secretly wed to Posthumus, a young man her father does not fully approve of. Imogen despises Cloten and wants nothing to do with him.

When the marriage of Imogen and Posthumus is discovered by the King, Imogen is imprisoned and Posthumus is banished and must flee to Italy to save his life. Imogen, not wanting to endure Cloten’s advances any longer and afraid she has lost her husband, disguises herself as a boy to escape the country, with help from Posthumus’ servant Pisanio, and finds comfort and company amongst new friends. This story is a tragedy, and has its fair share of sword-fighting, battles and death, yet the play ends happily for most of its characters. 

Although this play is performed outdoors, the creative team did a nice job of using modern technology to aid in its telling. The cast wore wireless microphones that fed into a few speakers on either side of the performance area. Original music and sound design by Andrew Paul Jackson also played through the speakers, but at times the volume over powered the lines being spoken. Occasionally, gusts of wind would be picked up by the microphones but that can’t be helped being outdoors. The lighting design by Joey Guthman was simple, using a dozen or so lights, but they were very effective in setting an eerie tone and projecting just enough light for the actors and set to be seen. The set was made of wood and featured various levels for the action to take place including the bare ground in front of it. Creative staging by director Kyler Taustin fully utilized the set and the outdoor space. 

The cast of twelve each portrayed their character with various degrees of understanding, charisma, emotional depth and strength. As a whole, they had wonderful chemistry with one another and did a nice job making the story understandable for the audience. The cast includes Isa Braun as the conniving Queen, Kai Tshikosi as King Cymbeline, Jamie Davenport as Imogen’s servant Helene, and Sydney Lynn Stachyra as Roman Ambassador to Britain Caius Lucius. Cymbeline’s daughter Imogen was dynamically played by Austyn Davis who wonderfully displayed both the strength and vulnerability of her character. She was able to fervently dismiss advances from Cloten and Iachimo and later, in her grief-stricken state, beg Pisanio to kill her. Her love, Posthumus, was played by Felix Teich who was convincingly heartbroken by news he receives from Iachimo that his wife has been unfaithful to him. His sadness quickly turns to anger when he orders Pisanio to kill her; a request he later regrets. Teich and Davis, though they spent much of the play apart, had a believable connection that had the audience rooting for their marriage to survive the chaos that surrounded it. Pisanio, who was at times conflicted about his loyalties to Imogen and Posthumus, was strongly portrayed by Will Madden. Even when he was held at knife point and forced to serve Cloten, Pisanio’s loyalties to Imogen and Posthumus held fast. Pisanio was a man who undoubtedly wanted to do what was right and Madden clearly portrayed this quality in his performance.   
Cymbeline’s long-lost sons were played by Ben Heath as Guiderius and Marc Pierre as Arviragus.

They were believable as brothers as they were both playful and protective of each other. Belarius, the British nobleman who was banished by Cymbeline and who kidnapped the King’s infant sons, was portrayed Cameron Scott. Scott played Belarius as a fierce leader, hunter and protector. His strong, deep voice fit his character well. Cloten, as played by James Wechsler, was full of himself and his only power was that he was good with his sword. He used this power to intimidate and control others. Wechsler’s characterizations were fantastic and completely unexpected. He was at times amusing, for instance as in his early morning wake-up song that he sang for Imogen, while at other times he came across as a terrible person and very sleazy. Ben Heath and Marc Pierre, who also performed as Cloten’s servants, had comical facial expressions during his early morning song to Imogen and their musical accompaniment was nicely done. Chris Olmsted as Iachimo delivered a remarkable performance with intelligent choices and characterizations.  He clearly understands the text as if Shakespeare was his first language. Notably in act one, Iachimo says, “I am the master of my speeches” and I think the statement applies not only to Iachimo but Olmsted himself. He was suave and charming as he tried to woo Imogen and quick on his feet playing it off as a misunderstanding when she turned him down. 

Highlights of the performance were the quick swordplay and fight choreography by Ben Heath. The swordfight between Heath and Wechsler was very well done and the full cast battles were exciting to watch. Another highlight is the original music by Andrew Paul Jackson for “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun” that featured three part harmony performed by Pierre, Heath and Scott during the burial scene in act four. The new tune was haunting and dark and fit well with Shakespeare’s lyrics. © 

Cymbeline is being performed at a variety of locations in and around Boston through August 28th and then plays at a number of locations in Delmarva September 2nd -18th.  The play runs 2 hours with no intermission. These are free performances with donations always welcome. For more information, specific performance locations and times visit  


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Review: Regional Premiere of The Mountaintop at Chester Theatre Company

Angelica Potter

  • OnStage Massachusetts Critic

Chester MA - The Regional Premiere of The Mountaintop written by Katori Hall tells a story of one night in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. It features two actors who tell the playwright’s captivating story. Jordan Mahome, as Martin Luther King Jr., and Shelley Fort as Camae, over the course of one evening, come to fully realize the societal impact Dr. King has accomplished, yet at the same time realize he is only one man and he can’t carry the baton of social change alone. He will soon need to pass it off to the next person who will carry on his mission. 

Photo Credit:Jordan Mahome and Shelley Fort. Photo courtesy Chester Theatre Company. 

Photo Credit:Jordan Mahome and Shelley Fort. Photo courtesy Chester Theatre Company. 

Both Mahome and Fort were strong in their rolls and fully captured their character’s spirits. Mahome, as Dr. King, spoke with clarity and conviction. He realistically displayed a range of emotion that made it easy for the audience to sympathize with him, his struggles, his hopes and his fears. Fort, as Camae, a maid hiding her true identity, was contrary to the poised Dr. King. She was straightforward, sharp of tongue and quick-witted while at times also showing a softer, gentler side. They had a great chemistry that made their dialogue seem fluid and free. It was easy for the audience to become enthralled with this drama. When the story took an unexpected turn, the audience shifted in their seats and was more intently drawn into the play. From that moment it seemed as though the pace quickened and the story unfolded faster. By the time the last five minutes came around, the audience was captivated on the edge of their seats. When the lights went down it didn’t take long for them to stand to their feet and applaud the superb performance they had just seen.  

Director Colette Robert and the design team that includes Travis George (scenic), Lara Dubin (lighting), Tom Shread (sound) and Heather Crocker Aulenback (costume) created a world that was neatly tied together by each technical element. From the use of sound to create a thunderstorm to a machine that dropped snow to a backdrop that historic film clips were projected on; each played a role in making this story realistic and intriguing for the audience. 

The Mountaintop is a provocative and thought provoking play that is sure to spark conversations amongst its audience members. It is best viewed by a mature audience due to language and mature content. © It runs about 90 minutes with no intermission and plays until August 28th at the historic Town Hall, 15 Middlefield Road in Chester, MA. Show times are 8:00pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and 2pm on Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. Ticket prices are $37.50 for general audiences and $10.00 for students and residents of Chester. For tickets or more information visit 

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