Review: “A Christmas Carol” at Central Square Theater

Ashley DiFranza

The story of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is a timeless one. It tells the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, an irritable, selfish old man who sees no value in the holiday or the spirit of giving it elicits, and who is visited by three ghosts on the nights leading up to Christmas. Through a series of glimpses into his own history and the lives of those around him, the spirits teach Scrooge the error of his ways and help him embark upon his life with a renewed sense of selflessness come Christmas Day.

The meaningful messages in this classic tale are still as relevant today as ever before, making “A Christmas Carol” a traditional holiday staple for theater companies across the country to perform come December. Yet the telling of this story at Central Square Theater, produced by Underground Railway Theater and The Nora Theatre Company, is anything but traditional. Through puppetry, music, movement, and an incredible use of an ensemble cast, this production is able to shape and mold this classic tale into something fresh and utterly unique, while never once compromising the powerful morals within it.

Brilliantly adapted and directed by Debra Wise, this production establishes very quickly that it will not follow the norms of conventional theater. Produced in the round and placing the audience right in the middle of the action, the production does a fantastic job of blurring the boundaries between story and reality usually defined by a proscenium stage. This, coupled with a pre-show segment in which the ensemble interacts with the audience, sets a very specific tone for the piece; right from the start it is clear to audiences that they are about to see a piece of theater that is aware that it is a piece of theater, and that they should be ready to go along for the ride.

It is a risky choice to take a show that people know and love and transform it into something entirely new, but Wise’s intricate vision for this production is so well developed audiences barely have time to miss the classic telling as they’re swept into this creative and artistic variation.

At the heart of this adaptation is Wise’s innovative approach to storytelling as something that extends far beyond words and action on stage. In scenic designer David Fichter’s beautiful Victorian-era London cityscape, for instance, there are modern sayings and Banksy-inspired cartoons integrated into the multi-dimensional piece, accenting the timelessness of the story being told. Perhaps most significantly, this deviation from the norm is highlighted by Wise’s use of ensemble in the production. Rather than just portraying characters, the cast of this show takes on the intimate role of the storytellers themselves, facilitating aspects of the play far beyond just performance.

Throughout the piece, ensemble members can be seen just off stage or even in the midst of the action, reflecting light off the walls with mirrors to signify a ghostly presence, or layering in hand-made sound effects into the scenes, whether through music or the simple ringing of a bell—a silly but standout gag where Scrooge’s clerk physically rings a bell to signify a doorbell every time someone enters or exits the office. The entire character of the Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come is produced through light and sound, with different cast members playing eerie noises on string instruments from different sides of the space, creating an all-encompassing, haunting effect.

Set pieces and props are moved and manipulated, for the most part, by the actors themselves, as well, creating many of the most visually stunning moments in the production. One particularly poignant example of this is produced during Scrooge’s journey through his past when the actors maneuver the set pieces into a stunning physical representation of Scrooge’s memory piecing itself together. As Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past stand center, members of the ensemble enter pushing dollhouse-sized, fully lit structures of house and buildings on baby carriages and rustic wheelbarrows. Clearly meant to represent the village in which Scrooge grew up, these structures circle the two as Scrooge starts to recall exactly where in his past they are visiting, and the structures finally come to rest at their correct locations. It is moments like this that, when executed by Wise so thoughtfully, add an invigorating sense of magic and wonder to an already powerful story.

What’s more, this cast—which consists of not only seasoned adult actors but a handful of talented children, as well—does a fabulous job of creating a compelling and energetic dynamic on stage. Through their commitment to character and the story at hand, these actors are able to help audiences embrace the intimacy of the production by making the world of the show one which you can’t help but want to be a part of.  And where so often it feels invasive when actors break the fourth wall, in this production what little fourth wall there is to be broken is done so with vigor and excitement, so that by the time the opportunity arises for audiences to get on stage and dance with the characters, patrons young and old are practically leaping from their seats to join in the fun. It is a because of the comfort and ease through which these actors tackle the telling of this story that audiences are able to enjoy this piece of theater for what it is, and leave having experienced Scrooge’s tale in an entirely new way.

Apart from their work as a full ensemble, Wise did a wonderful job of incorporating the personal skills of the performers into the show and using them to add dimension to the world in which this story unfolds.

Mesma Belsaré (The Ghost of Christmas Past), for example, has trained in dance in the classical medium in India and parlays that training into her portrayal of this role. She creates a character that communicates through not only speech but the movement that appears both very controlled and very fluid at the same time, a depiction of this role I had never seen before and yet one that rang true for this production and its use of non-typical storytelling devices.

The music incorporated in this production is another aspect that flourishes due to the talent in the ensemble. Cast members Eliza Rose Fichter and Caitlin Gjerdrum stand out specifically for their musicality, the former playing the fiddle and the latter singing in spots throughout the performance. The production’s Tiny Tim, played by an adorable Ben Choi-Harris, also uses his sweet singing voice to pull at audiences’ heartstrings, most significantly in the moment when Scrooge sees into the future and realizes that Tiny Tim has passed away due to lack of caring from people like himself. In this moment, Tiny Tim is standing a level above his family, illuminated in soft light and singing gently as the weight of the loss of this character sinks in. It is a powerful moment, made even more so by the Choi-Harris’ light vocals and sweet demeanor.

Other prominent acting moments in this production were brought forth by ensemble members Ramona Lisa Alexander (Marley et al.), Jesse Garlick (Bob Cratchit et al.), David Keohane (Nephew et al.), and Vincent Ernest Siders (Ghost of Christmas Present et al.),who round out some of the more character-driven roles in the show. Siders’ portrayal of the Ghost of Christmas Present strikes the perfect balance between lighthearted and all-knowing, while Alexander’s take on Marley’s Ghost is far more chilling than personable. Additionally, Garlick and Keohane are both able to showcase their versatility as actors in this production, switching seamlessly between performing a hysterical, coordinated dance together in one scene, to a heartfelt portrayal of family values in the next.

At the center of all these fabulous standout roles is Ken Cheeseman, who plays a unique and oddly charming version of Ebenezer Scrooge. In his hands, this iconic role becomes flushed out as a real person, with jaded and stubborn tendencies but also a huge capacity to learn and grow. The moments of humor he is able to incorporate into the character that has audiences invested in his journey from the moment he steps on stage, and really contribute to the overall immersive and welcoming tone of the production.

This production of “A Christmas Carol” at Central Square Theater provides a refreshing reminder of what can be done with a group of artists and a story to tell, and it is not one you are going to want to miss this holiday season.

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“A Christmas Carol” runs through December 31st at Central Square Theater. For tickets visit www.centralsquaretheater.org or contact the Box Office at (617) 576-9278, Extension 1. Central Square Theater is located at 450 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge, MA.

Review: A fresh take on the holiday classic ‘A Christmas Carol’ now plays at Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Angelica Potter

  • OnStage Boston Theatre Critic

‘A Christmas Carol’ was written by Charles Dickens in 1843 and has since become a holiday classic. It tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge who is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve who remind him of his past, guide him through his present and show him his potential future. By the end of these visits, Scrooge finds himself permanently changed and vows to be a better man to those around him and keep the Spirit of Christmas alive all year long.

Over the years this story has been adapted into films, stage productions and more. Each year families will gather together to take in a production of this story, be it a film like ‘A Muppet Christmas Carol’ or a lavish stage production performed by a local theatre company. What makes MRT’s production stand-out amongst the rest is its simplistic approach to sharing this story as Charles Dickens himself would have shared it and allowing the audience the opportunity to focus on its message of hope, redemption, compassion and love.

Adapted by Tony Brown, this version gives us the story as told by author Charles Dickens in a similar fashion to how Dickens himself did public readings of the novella over the last eighteen years of his life before passing in 1870. What enriches this minimalistic production further is the performance of traditional carols by two musicians throughout. The choice by the creative team, led by director Megan Sandberg-Zakian, to include music in the telling of this well-known story was an inspired decision that I believe truly enhanced the performance. Music director Nathan Leigh selected songs that were around when Dickens was writing the story and was careful to include the lyrics of the time and not the revised versions that were written years later. So while the tunes were oftentimes familiar to audience members, many might not have noticed the lyrical differences which added another level of authenticity to this production.

Taking on the role of Charles Dickens and wonderfully bringing life to characters of this story, including the wealthy but tightfisted Ebenezer Scrooge, is stage veteran Joel Colodner. With his rich voice and charming persona, he grabs the audience’s attention within moments of stepping on stage and for the next two hours had us amused and chuckling one minute and pondering our own lives the next. His invested, emotional portrayal of Scrooge humanized a character who oftentimes can be viewed as just a cranky, stingy old man. Colodner brought new life to him and gave the audience a fresh perspective of this old story.

Also on stage were Rebecca White, one of the musicians who also portrayed the three ghosts, as well as Nathan Leigh the second musician and music director whose instrument selections for the carols were ingenious and completely fit within the story. Having seen this play performed with these two fantastic musicians, it makes me wonder if I would have liked it as much without them. And honestly, I don’t think the play would have had the same impact on the audience as it does with the added musicians. 

The technical elements of this production nicely matched the tone of the play and made the audience feel as though we may be sitting in someone’s living room hearing this story told to us and singing carols during a holiday gathering. The scenic design was by Randall Parsons with lighting design by Devorah Kengmana. The costumes were designed by Miranda Kau Giurleo.

 

This production is unique from any other I have seen and it was refreshingly enjoyed by the audience who gave it a well-deserved standing ovation. © ‘A Christmas Carol’ plays at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, located at 50 East Merrimack Street Lowell, MA, until December 24th, 2017.  Tickets range from $73-$26 with discounts available for groups, students, seniors, Lowell residents, and military service members. To purchase tickets or find more information visit www.mrt.org or call 978-654-4678.

Photo Credit: Rebecca White and Joel Colodner. Photo by Meghan Moore. 

Review: “She Loves Me” at Greater Boston Stage Company

Ashley DiFranza

The holidays can be a busy time of year, but “She Loves Me” at Greater Boston Stage Company is the lighthearted, romantic musical comedy you’re going to want to make time for this season.

This Tony-Award winning show—with book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock, and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick—follows the story of two perfumery employees in Hungary during the 1930’s. Georg Nowack (Sam Simahk), is a senior clerk at Maraczek’s Perfumery and a bachelor who finds himself in love with an anonymous pen-pal. It is soon disclosed to the audience, however, that his pen pal is none other than Ms. Amalia Balash (Jennifer Ellis), an enthusiastic if not unreliable new clerk in his store. While their in-person relationship teeters between unpleasant and hostile as they work together, their romantic relationship unfolds behind the mask of lonely hearts letters, with neither character realizing it is the other with whom they are corresponding.

These themes of love and missed connections are common ones within romances, serving as the backdrop for hundreds of different stories on the screen, the stage, and even the pages of novels. Yet, when accompanied by the thoughtful vision of Director and Choreographer, Ilyse Robbins, and the enthusiastic performances of this character-driven cast, it’s easy for audiences to get lost in the journey as if for the first time.

Perhaps the most significant difference between Robbins’ “She Loves Me” and similar love stories of the past, is the incredibly relatable portrayal of the leading couple. Rather than caricatures of lovelorn women and suave but misunderstood bachelors, Ellis’ Amalia and Simahk’s Georg are depicted as real people with skills, friendships, and lives outside of their quest for love. What’s more, Ellis and Simahk do a stunning job of embracing their characters’ flaws and transforming imperfections like Amalia’s flakiness and Georg’s short temper into the types of endearing qualities that make us human. This in turn opens the characters up into people the audience can actually identify with, illustrating a story of love and mistaken identities that feels much more like a reality than a Hallmark movie.

Robbins also uses comedy expertly throughout the production, both in the blocking and the musical numbers, to add an entirely new and lighthearted layer to the story. The song “Where’s My Shoe?” for example—in which Amalia, having taken a heartsick day from work, is confronted by Georg for staying home—features Ellis stubbornly bumbling around her bedroom wearing only one high heel, and side stepping Georg and his attempts to get her to lay back down. This scene did a fantastic job of highlighting not only Ellis’ breathtaking soprano, but her extraordinary comedic timing and physicality, as well.

In another instance, the entire Ensemble portrays carolers and shoppers at Maraczek’s Perfumery in the days leading up to Christmas. Throughout the song, “Twelve Days to Christmas,” the carolers and shoppers run in and out of the store, their insanity and panic about getting the perfect last minute holiday present growing and growing as the days until Christmas dwindle down to one. This panic is reflected not only physically by the shoppers—who are left practically doubled over in shopping-induced exhaustion by the end of the song—but vocally, as their speed and intensity builds to an all-time high. Clever and well executed numbers like this add a wonderful energy to “She Loves Me,” something that often falls flat in contemporary performances of Golden Age musicals.

Alongside the occasions for laugh-out-loud moments like this, this script also provides many rare opportunities for the exploration and development of dynamic secondary characters. Tied into the narrative through their work at Maraczek’s Perfumery, these characters are given real chances to shine through witty dialogue, complex relationships, and solo musical numbers. And in the hands of the incredible supporting cast of this production, which includes many Boston favorites, these roles brought forth even more humor and heart than what is presumably written on the page.

Jared Trolio gives an outstanding performance as resident “player” in the perfumery Steven Kodaly, that one character that audiences can’t help but love to hate. In his rendition of “Ilona,” which he sings to fellow clerk and ex-lover, Ilona Ritter (Aimee Doherty) in an effort to get back into her good graces, Trolio sambas around the stage, successfully captivating both the audience and Ritter with his smooth voice, suave dance moves, and comedic use of Christmas decorations as tools in his seduction.

Subsequently, Doherty’s Ritter, a romantically forward woman, is developed to be an interesting foil to Ellis’ Amalia. Where Amalia faces feelings of insecurity in her quest of for love, Ilona definitely knows what she has to offer, despite being dragged along by the undeserving Kodaly. Doherty’s powerful “I Resolve,” leaves audiences truly rooting for her character to find the happiness she deserves, a testament to Doherty’s touching performance.

Rounding out the talented cast are perfumery owner, Mr. Maraczek (Tom Gleadow), sales clerk Ladislav Sipos (Robert Saoud), and delivery boy, Arpad Laszlo (Brendan Callahan), whose lopsided smile and boyish energy had audiences won over far before his sweet rendition of “Try Me” in Act Two.

Jennifer Ellis

Jennifer Ellis

Robbins also found creative ways to highlight the show’s immensely talented Ensemble in this production–which includes Sara Coombs, Sean Mitchell Crosley, Bransen Gates, Angelo McDonough, Jennifer Mischley, Sarajane Morse Mullins, and Kirsten Salpini—through moments of well executed comedy and movement. Especially for a production that could have easily excluded choreography for lack of space or plot advancement, Robbins found smart ways of integrating both formal dance and synchronized movement into the piece, using it not only in moments of transition, but as a way to help establish the tone in various scenes.

This tactic worked particularly well while establishing a scene in an upscale restaurant. As members of the cast skillfully manipulated Scenic Designer, Brynna Bloomfield’s beautiful perfumery set into a dining area—the backdrop for Georg and Amalia’s would-be first date—others in the Ensemble arrived on stage in formal evening gowns, evolving somehow seamlessly from a Horah-like dance into a gorgeous tango. Although only really a written as a transitionary piece, this choreography, coupled with Nick Sulfaro’s scene-stealing performance as the snarky Head Waiter, allowed the scene to develop into a living and breathing piece of theater within the larger show as a whole, only further emphasizing the intricate vision Robbins had for this production.

Truly the only complaint to be had after watching this story ramp up to the inevitable happy ending, is that after Georg and Amalia do share their first kiss, there’s simply no more story left to see. The lights go black, the audience begins to clap, and the characters on stage are replaced by actors, taking their final bow and enjoying a very well-earned applause.

It is a testament to Robbins’ direction that after two and a half hours of watching these characters’ lives unfold, audiences are still left wanting more. And although there is nothing more written after the happy ending, I know that I will soon be returning to Greater Boston Stage Company to experience the journey of “She Loves Me” from start to finish once again.

“She Loves Me” runs through December 23rd at Greater Boston Stage Company. For tickets visit www.greaterbostonstage.org or contact the Box Office at (781) 279-2200. Greater Boston Stage Company is located at 295 Main Street in Stoneham, MA. Photos: Maggie Hall
 

Review: Boston Ballet opens their season with ‘Obsidian Tear’

Angelica Potter

  • OnStage Boston Critic

Boston Ballet opens their 2017-2018 season with two exciting premieres by two master choreographers. ‘Obsidian Tear’, by Wayne McGregor, is a co-production between The Royal Ballet and Boston Ballet. The Royal Ballet performed the world premiere in 2016 at the Royal Opera House. The second ballet entitled ‘Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius’ is world premiering right here at the Boston Opera House and was choreographed by their resident choreographer Jorma Elo. While these pieces are both stunning and wonderfully danced by the artists of Boston Ballet, each has its own unique way of captivating the audience’s attention through variations of classical and contemporary ballet. In the case of ‘Obsidian Tear’ its mix of ballet and multiple modern techniques is what caught my attention and kept me fascinated throughout. 

Interestingly, the performance does not start out with one of these aforementioned ballets, but with the beautiful tone poem “Finlandia”, composed by Jean Sibelius and performed by the Boston Ballet Orchestra led by guest conductor Daniel Stewart. A smart choice on the part of Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen, the piece allowed the audience to settle, quiet their racing thoughts and just listen. Musically, it transitioned nicely into Esa-Pekka Salonen’s “Lachen verlernt” and “Nyx” which were the melodious foundation for ‘Obsidian Tear’.

‘Obsidian Tear’ begins with two male dancers, one in red pants and one in black pants. At times, they move in unison, other times they shadow each other. They mostly danced individually, contrasting one another’s movements all while each keeping a close eye on the other. It didn’t take long for the audience to start wondering where their relationship would go; would they be friend or foe? Irlan Silva, who danced in the red pants, danced with graceful fluidity. His movements were all connected to one another, whether they were slow and drawn out or quick and distinct. Paulo Arrais, wearing the black pants, moved with intensity and precision. They each exhibited an emotional connection to the music, their characters and each other.

The piece is powerfully rounded out by seven additional male dancers including Paul Craig, Roddy Doble, Lasha Khozashvili, Patric Palkens, Lawrence Rines, Matthew Slattery and Patrick Yocum. They, like Arrais, wore various black garments leading the audience to believe that Silva, in red, was the outsider to their group. The athleticism, seemingly boundless stamina and ferocious strength exhibited by this group was truly incredible to watch and is unlike any other ballet I have seen. They continuously pushed the intensity of their performance while at the same time guiding the audience through an exploration of the darker side of humanity. By the end, the audience seemed to be in a mixed state of awestruck and amazement, taking a few moments after the blackout before they began their applause.

Following the intermission, the mood lightened as the music of Jean Sibelius, “Symphony No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 82”, filled the theater and thirty-five company members sprang onto the stage. With a desire to honor the centennial of Finland’s independence, Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo created his newest piece based on the music of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. Elo was inspired by the Finnish landscape and the changing of the seasons. The dancers, separated into pairs and smaller groups, wore pastel colored costumes designed by Yumiko Takeshima. Ashley Ellis, the singular dancer dressed in pale blue, was charming and joyfully portrayed her youthful character. Overall, this ballet was gracefully danced and pleasing to watch. ©

Unfortunately, ‘Obsidian Tear’ only runs from November 3rd to November 12th, but hopefully now that the company has added these two ballets to their repertoire we will see them back on stage sometime in the not so distant future.  For more information about Boston Ballet’s 2017-2018 season visit www.bostonballet.org

 

For more of my reviews and theatrical thoughts check out: http://intheatresome1isalwayswatching.blogspot.com/

Photo Credit- Boston Ballet in Wayne McGregor's Obsidian Tear; photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Boston Ballet

Review: A Mesmerizing Production of ‘Silent Sky’ now plays at Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Angelica Potter

Having thoroughly enjoyed other works by writer Lauren Gunderson, including MRT’s production of ‘I and You’ in their 2015-2016 season, ‘Silent Sky’ was high on my list of plays to see this fall. Creatively directed by Sean Daniels, the play is based on the life and work of Harvard astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, who yearned to do, learn and discover more than the men she worked for were accustomed to allowing women to do. In developing the techniques that led to the first discovery of galaxies beyond our own, she learns just how much strength, determination and passion she is capable of and surprises everyone around her.

When I walked into the theatre, I was awestruck by the impeccably detailed and elaborate scenic design. I couldn’t stop staring and taking it all in as I awaited the start of the performance. Scenic designer James J. Fenton, along with lighting designer Brian J. Lilienthal, created a magnificent place in which the characters would soon come to life. As I scanned the theatre I noticed dozens of various shaped lights that encircled not only the stage, but extended out above the heads of the audience. While I assumed, based on the subject of the play, that these lights would represent the sky and stars in some way, I was curious to see exactly how and when they would be illuminated. Trust me when I say, that moment is one of the most spectacularly crafted moments of the show.

The first act flew by as the audience became fully engulfed in story being told by the charismatic five member cast. Marvelously lead by Alexis Bronkovic, as Astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, they transported us back to the early 1900’s, just as the women’s rights movement was ramping up and traditional gender roles where being challenged. Bronkovic is joined by Julia Brothers as Williamina Fleming, Tom Coiner as Peter Shaw, Victoria Grace as Margaret Leavitt and Polly Lee as Annie Cannon. The chemistry and camaraderie amongst this cast made their characters and their performances even more believable and enjoyable. The playful and affectionate relationship between sisters Henrietta and Margaret, Bronkovic and Grace, was portrayed just right. It was easy to accept them as adoring sisters. Bronkovic, Brothers, and Lee were spirited in many of their interactions as Henrietta, Williamina and Annie. Though at times they squabbled back and forth, there were also many amusing comments made and loving moments shared throughout their scenes together. Coiner as Peter, supervisor to Henrietta, played his awkward yet flirtatious scenes with her in a way that was endearing and had the audience hoping the pair would end up together. These five actors portrayed their characters with truth, conviction, raw emotion and clear passion.

The second act brought changes in relationships, the increasing presence of the women’s fight for a vote and equal rights, as well as important and life changing discoveries. It further solidified for the audience the strength of the women in this play and their determination to make progress not only in the field of astronomy and science, but for their gender and for future generations of women. It was inspiring to witness. As the play reached its climax and began to conclude sniffles could be heard throughout the theatre, and tissues could be seen dabbing eyes as many in the audience wiped away tears.

Though the story is based in the scientific world, the writing is full of honest humor and relatable characters. It is a story full of discovery, laughter and heart. This production is stunning from start to finish and I highly recommend seeing it. It is overall, one of the most beautiful productions I have ever seen. ©

‘Silent Sky’ plays at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, located at 50 East Merrimack Street Lowell, MA, until November 12th, 2017.  Tickets range from $73-$26 with discounts available for groups, students, seniors, Lowell residents, and military service members. To purchase tickets or find more information visit www.mrt.org or call 978-654-4678.

 

For more of my reviews and theatrical thoughts check out: http://intheatresome1isalwayswatching.blogspot.com/

Photo Credit: From Left to Right: Julia Brothers, Polly Lee, Alexis Bronkovic, Victoria Grace, and Tom Coiner in 'Silent Sky'. Photo by Meghan Moore.

Review: Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s production of “The Royale” is no doubt a knock out!

Angelica Potter

  • OnStage Massachusetts Critic

Merrimack Repertory Theatre sets the bar extremely high for their 39th Season with the New England Premiere of the award-winning boxing drama “The Royale”. The play, written by Marco Ramirez, is inspired by the life of Jack Johnson, the first black man to fight for the title of World Heavyweight Champion. First premiering in 2013, this play won numerous awards including Obie and Drama Desk with an Off-Broadway run at Lincoln Center. MRT’s production is smartly staged and directed by the company’s Director in Residence Megan Sandberg-Zakian.

When I walked into the theatre on opening weekend, I was not sure what to expect from a drama concentrated around the sport of boxing. I was intrigued for sure; as I am sure many in the audience were as well. As the play began and the first “fight” started at the sound of the bell, I was amazed at the decision to have the actors fight towards the audience rather than toss fake punches at each other. The lines we hear are the thoughts going through their heads as they give and receive hit after hit. The choreographed theatricality of their boxing and the focus on rhythm and timing was marvelous to watch. From the first round, I was hooked.

The cast features five incredible actors all making their MRT debut in this production. Jay, whose character is based on Jack Johnson, is passionately and intuitively performed by Thomas Silcott. He portrayed his character’s many layers with conviction and laser focus. With every scene we saw a different side of Jay and we began to understand his motivations. His friend and trainer, Wynton, was played by Jeorge Bennett Watson. He easily reminded me of a real boxing trainer with his commitment to the sport and to his star athlete. Fish, Jay’s opponent turned sparring partner, was strongly portrayed by Toran White. He played the younger boxer with fresh, optimistic energy. During his first match with Jay, White’s facial expressions and his delivery of his character’s inner thoughts and feelings were perfectly timed. The chemistry between Silcott and White was fantastic and the rivalry turned friendship they portrayed as their characters was very easy to believe. Max, Jay’s booking agent and announcer, was played by Mark W. Soucy. His character’s relationship and interactions with Jay, Wynton and Fish, received numerous audience chuckles at times, yet in other moments, got us thinking about the reality of social norms in the early 1900’s and how blacks and whites were very much segregated and seen as unequal. Lastly, the sole female in the show, playing Nina, Jay’s sister, was Ramona Lisa Alexander. Though her scenes with Jay came late in the show, her performance was nothing short of powerful and deeply emotional. Alexander and Silcott were believable and showed a strong bond as brother and sister. Their final scene had the audience fully captivated and I dare say there were few dry eyes in the house. This cast as a whole was exceptionally strong and in sync.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the performances by the cast, the technical aspects of this production were also very impressive. The scenic design by Lawrence Moten was detailed, but sparse with a raised platform that served as the boxing ring and a punching bag hanging from above. Karen Perlow’s lighting design played off the set nicely. Her use of special spot lights that focused on the boxers in the ring showcased the performers and the creative way they brought their matches to life. The intricate sound design was created by David Remedios and the costumes were designed by Miranda Kau Giurleo. The fight choreography was designed by Kyle Vincent Terry.

Both the technical and performance elements of this play were impeccably well done. Though I didn’t go into the show with expectations, I found myself completely blown away by what I had witnessed. And I am sure I wasn’t the only one based on how quickly the audience stood for a robust and lengthy ovation at the close of the performance. This production is a must see this fall and I believe it to be one of the best plays of 2017! © 

This 80-minute production runs with no intermission. “The Royale” plays at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, located at 50 East Merrimack Street Lowell, MA, until October 8th, 2017.  Tickets range from $73-$26 with discounts available for groups, students, seniors, Lowell residents, and military service members. To purchase tickets or find more information visit www.mrt.org or call 978-654-4678. Photo Credit: Toran White, Mark W. Soucy, and Thomas Silcott. Photo by Meghan Moore.

For more of my reviews and theatrical thoughts check out: http://intheatresome1isalwayswatching.blogspot.com/

 

Review: Shakespeare & Company presents a delightful production of ‘The Tempest’ in their new outdoor theatre

Angelica Potter

Shakespeare and Company presents William Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ in their new outdoor Roman Garden Theatre, located in the Shakespeare Garden adjacent to the Tina Packer Playhouse. Directed by Allyn Burrows, the Company’s newly appointed Artistic Director, it is the story of Prospero, a betrayed duke and magician, who is fixated on justice and revenge until he sees, through his daughter, the power of love and forgiveness. This play touches on many themes including envy, betrayal, redemption, forgiveness, freedom and love. Shakespeare’s writing beautifully encompasses the human spirit and the resiliency and ever-changing emotional and mental states of his characters.

All performances of this play are performed in-the-round at dusk and it is the perfect fit for the new, intimate outdoor venue. The atmosphere is woodsy with ample natural lighting. The set includes ropes that hang over the stage and above the heads of the audience. Well placed sails hang over one section of the audience to decrease some of the glare of the setting sun while also hinting at the storm that swells and wreaks a ship at the start of the play. The wooden stage is cut with jagged edges and is surrounded by large rocks, sand, shells and beach grass. The set, designed by Jim Youngerman, features multiple levels and locations throughout the space for the actors to utilize and fully immerse the audience in the world of this island and its inhabitants and visitors. The added musical elements and creative magical moments were unexpected, but enjoyed. They added humor, lightness and intrigue to the overall performance.

Taking on one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters, Prospero is veteran actor Nigel Gore. He was commanding of the stage, and performed a believable and tender father-daughter relationship with Miranda, played by Ella Loudon. Gore has a fantastic grasp of the Shakespearian language and he seemed very comfortable in his character. Loudon, as Miranda, was innocent with youthful esperance. She was fully invested in her character and never broke from her character, staying fully present in each scene as it took place. She was very natural, with a sweet, yet strong demeanor. In an early scene where Miranda lashes out at Prospero’s savage servant Caliban, Loudon was boomingly infuriated. She exhibited fiery power and anger that once the scene was over we didn’t see come out of her again. It was a very powerful and riveting moment.

Caliban, the savage son of the witch Sycorax, was born on the island and cared for by Prospero and Miranda. He was perfectly portrayed by Jason Asprey who, in detailed costume and make-up, gave a horrifying, but at times humorous performance of the servant monster. He fully embodied his characters’ voice, physicality and quirks while also showing various emotional sides of his character. He didn’t just play the monstrous qualities; he portrayed a multi-faceted character, who experiences a variety of emotions, thoughts, impulses and temptations. His portrayal was impeccably well done and one of the strongest performances I’ve seen this summer.

A few stand-out scenes during the production include the multiple drinking scenes involving Stephano (Josh Aaron McCabe), Trinculo (Bella Merlin) and Caliban (Jason Asprey). Each was very funny with superb physical comedy elements and characterizations by the trio. The audience couldn’t help but smile and laugh aloud during most of the time this group was on stage. Another scene was when Ferdinand was carrying logs for Prospero, and Miranda joins him and easily takes the logs from him and adds them to the pile for him. Their interaction was full of sweet, falling in love moments that were performed genuinely by Deaon Griffin-Pressley, as Ferdinand, and Ella Loudon, as Miranda. The pair had wonderful chemistry. It was easy to believe they were falling love in at first sight and becoming completely infatuated with one another.

The cast is rounded out by a number of other Company favorites including Tamara Hickey as the airy sprite Ariel who is impatiently awaiting her freedom from serving Prospero. Thomas Brazzle as Sebastian, the brother to Alonso, King of Naples played by Josh Aaron McCabe who also played Stephano, and Mark Zeisler who played Prospero’s brother Antonio.

Shakespeare’s language is so melodic, that though you may not understand each word and phrase that is spoken you can understand the sentiment that’s there through the actor’s passionate portrayals and their wonderful story-telling ability. This play was very well done and I was captivated from start to finish. Looking around at the other audience members, it was clear they too were enthralled by these characters and the world they had brought us in to. The audience thoroughly enjoyed the production giving it an enthusiastic standing ovation. This show was definitely worth the long drive and traffic I experienced to attend and I encourage any Shakespeare lovers within a 3 hour drive to go see this production.©

 

‘The Tempest’ plays through September 3rd at the Shakespeare & Company campus located at 70 Kemble Street in Lenox, Massachusetts. Tickets and more information about this play as well as Shakespeare & Company’s full season can be found at www.shakespeare.org or by calling the box office at 413-637-3353.

For more of my reviews and theatrical thoughts check out: http://intheatresome1isalwayswatching.blogspot.com/

Promo Photo credit: Courtesy Shakespeare  & Company.

Review: Reagle Music Theatre’s production of the classic musical ‘Show Boat’ fails to impress

Angelica Potter

‘Show Boat’ originally opened on Broadway in 1927 and is based on the novel of the same name by Edna Ferber and features music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Reagle’s version of ‘Show Boat’ was originally produced by Goodspeed Musicals in 2011 and runs a bit shorter than the original version.  This production was directed and choreographed by Rachel Bertone with music directed by Dan Rodriguez. Unfortunately, the production was plagued with problems in both technical and performance, leaving much to be desired.

The mediocre opening should have been a clue that this production was going to lack excitement, investable characters and overall cohesiveness. Unfortunately, the way the characters were portrayed, I didn’t connect with them or their stories. The accents were varied and erratic amongst the cast and even with individual characters. The scenery was plain and could have easily been used for any number of productions just by changing the paint. It seemed more often than not that the cast was play acting and not fully committing to their characters; they were performing caricatures rather than real people living out real stories.

Furthermore, the choreography was extensively ballet based, making it inconsistent with the characters who danced it. One minute they’re picking cotton or working on the docks and the next they are turning and moving gracefully across the stage like a well-trained dancer. It fractured the illusion and therefore the story.

The biggest problem with this production was the poor sound quality. The microphones continually cut in and out making it difficult to hear a few of the leads. The sound problems in this theatre are incredibly frustrating and need to get figured out! Not being able to hear Sarah Oakes Muirhead (Magnolia Hawks) sing for half the show is not only annoying, but incredibly unfair to her because she has such a beautiful voice. She’s well-trained with great musicality and a wonderful, clear tone. It’s too bad we couldn’t hear more of her! 

While there was not much I liked about this production, it did, thankfully, have some top notch vocalists in the leading roles; like the aforementioned Sarah Oakes Muirhead as Magnolia Hawks. Both “Make Believe” and “You are Love”, her duets with Ciarán Sheehan (Gaylord Ravenal), were beautifully sung. Their voices blended nicely together and made their romance more believable. Michel Bell, as Joe, delivered in his deep and rich rendition of “Ol’ Man River”. Regretfully, his words were muddled at times and he was difficult to understand.

The male ensemble that joined him for the ending of the number could have been more powerful and impactful had there been more than three of them. Nonetheless, they were strong and confident in their parts. Dani Wrenn, as Julie LaVerne, showcased strong vocals on both “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” and “Bill”. While she didn’t come across as heartbroken and distressed in “Bill” as she could have, her sweet nature and joyful smile captured the audience during “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man”. Yewande O. Odetoyinbo, as Queenie, was naturally funny and a delight to watch. Joy Clark, as Ellie May Chipley, and Kevin Patrick Martin, as Frank Schultz, were amusing and showed off some of their stellar dance skills. 

Though some audience members seemed to really enjoy this production, many commented on the poor sound quality and how it negatively impacted their overall enjoyment of the show. They thought the talent was good, but wished the cast had been larger and the overall production more grandiose. ©

‘Show Boat’ plays until July 16th at the Robinson Theatre (617 Lexington Street, Waltham, MA). For information and tickets visit www.reaglemusictheatre.com. Photo: Michel Bell as JOE (center) and ensemble perform “Ol’ Man River”. Courtesy Reagle Music Theatre/©Herb Philpott

For more of my reviews and theatrical thoughts check out: http://intheatresome1isalwayswatching.blogspot.com/

 

Review: 'Children of A Lesser God' at the Berkshire Theatre Group

Erin Karll

This production feels timeless. Set in the late 1970s some of the costumechoices (Dede M. Ayite) did date the piece, but could also could be looked at as retro. Until mentioned in the plot, and with some sign choices, I assumed it was updated and taking place now. This proves the themes of oppression and equality that dominate the play are as prevalent today as they were when it was written by Mark Medoff.

The story follows a speech therapist who begins work at a residential institute and falls in love with a woman who has decided to continue to live there. Deaf culture is respectfully and truthfully shown by Director Kenny Leon. I chuckled at the times 'James Leeds' had to stop signing and shake his hands off. Been there, done that.

As is the case with professional productions that are bilingual this production has hired a director of artistic sign language. Alexandria Wailes was recently seen on stage in the Deaf West revival of Spring Awakening. In the talkback after the show she explained the planning that went into some of the signs. Teaching certain actors confidence as if they had been signing for years, and deciding on specific sign based on the time the play was set and the character's language level. The ASL was clear and touching and was aided by a caption screen and interpreters, truly making this production accessible. The minimalistic set (Derek McLane) and beautiful lighting (Mike Baldassari) perfectly works with the quick transitions of the play.

Joshua Jackson rakes in the respect points from me for his work as James Leeds. He nails the finer points of the play where he is communicating in two different languages, sometimes in the third and second person and not for his character. Let that sink in for a second, because the difficulty of the language barrier would be a challenge, but the topics covered by the show are deep and emotional and Jackson delivers on every level. Turning on the charm and the anger during the legendary arguments between James and Sarah Norman (Lauren Ridloff) completed the amazing chemistry between Jackson and Ridloff. Lauren Ridloff played Sarah with an underlying strength of trying to figure it all out, and showing those she loves that she can handle it on her own. John McGinty could lead me into any revolution as the self-proclaimed leader of the school Orin Dennis, powerful and witty. Treshelle Edmond took the character of Lydia and made it her own. Flirty, but embarrassed when caught Edmond had some funny one liners that made the audience chuckle.

Rounding out the amazingly talented and diverse cast is Stephen Spinella (Mr. Franklin) the principal of the school, Kecia Lewis (Mrs. Norman) 'Sarah's' mom, and Julee Cerda (Edna Klein) the lawyer hired by 'Orin'.

I would recommend this show to anyone who likes good powerful theatre, and wants to expand their world a little bit. Children of A Lesser God runs at the Berkshire Theatre Group in Stockbridge MA until July 22nd. Please visit berkshiretheatregroup.org for ticket and show information.

Photo: Matthew Murphy

Review: ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ opens the summer season at The Winnipesaukee Playhouse

Angelica Potter

‘The Rocky Horror Show’, with book, music and lyrics by Richard O’Brien, has gathered quite the following since its premiere in London in 1973. This dark but humorous rock musical was also made into a film entitled ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ in 1975. As the years went on the show’s popularity grew as obsessed fans would crowd into theaters for midnight showings. Even today, fans will dress up, bring props and enthusiastically participate using the many “shout-out” lines throughout the production. Seeing the musical live is truly a wild theatrical experience. 

The Winnipesaukee Playhouse opens their summer season with this cult classic and it surpassed all my expectations! Directed by Timothy L’Ecuyer and choreographed by Bryan Knowlton, this production grabs a hold of the audience during the pre-show as cast members guide audience members to their seats. Music directed by Shoshana Seid-Green, it features a lively five-piece band. The detailed, multi-level set was designed by Dan Daly and housed the band up stage under the open stairs. The intricate lighting was designed by Matthew Guminski and featured multiple chandeliers and strings of colored lights hanging over the stage. The set and lights paired together wonderfully, each accentuating the other. The costumes were nicely designed by Chelsea Kerl and of course included heels & fishnets. The hair and make-up designs by Nick Cochran further enhanced the costumes and the uniqueness of the characters themselves.  

While the entire cast, which featured Playhouse veterans as well as newcomers, was fully immersed in their characters, singing and dancing up a storm, there were a few stand-out performances that took this show to the next level of professional, high-quality theatre. Rebecca Tucker, as Janet Weiss, and Michael Luongo, as Brad Majors, were perfect together. They had great chemistry and demonstrated strong vocals and character choices. John-Michael Breen, as Riff Raff, showcased stellar vocals throughout and perfect characterization. His, is the best portrayal of Riff Raff I have seen. I loved every minute of it! Last, but certainly not least, was the phenomenal portrayal of Frank-N-Furter played by Mark Stephen Woods. His characterization was, thankfully, unlike the others I have seen and his vocals were on point. I really enjoyed his diva fierceness that was always ready with snappy comebacks not only shot at the other characters, but towards the audience as well. Woods was amazing and the audience clearly loved his performance as noted by the standing ovation they gave. 

The only problem I found with this production was the sound quality. There were many instances where the microphones either were not working for an actor’s vocal lines or they were not leveled properly against the volume of the band. Other times there was feedback or static in the speakers making it difficult to hear certain performers. That being said, the technical difficulties within the performance were minor and didn’t inhibit the audiences’ ability to enjoy the production. Overall, this was a fantastic show and for fans of the musical, it is a must see! ©

The show runs 2 hours including intermission. It plays at the Winnipesaukee Playhouse until June 24th with performances Mondays through Saturdays at 7:30pm, a 2pm Matinee on Monday, June 19th and a special Midnight performance on Saturday, June 17th. Tickets range from $20-$34. For additional information and tickets visit www.winnipesaukeeplayhouse.org  
Please Note: ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ is recommended for mature audiences as it contains graphic language, sexual
content and adult situations.

Special Events from the Education Department: 
Tuesday, June 20th at
6pm – Symposium
Join us for an enlightening conversation led by an expert in a field connected to the production.
Wednesday, June 21st - Talk-back
Following the performance, you’re invited for an informal discussion with the cast and creative team.

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Angelica has an A.S. in Theatre, earned a specialty degree in Shakespeare from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and a B.A. in English Language and Literature with a minor in Psychology from SNHU. In addition to writing, she stays busy teaching dance and choreographing for a local studio. 

For more of my reviews and theatrical thoughts check out: http://intheatresome1isalwayswatching.blogspot.com/
 

Review: I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti closes out the season at Stoneham Theatre

Angelica Potter

Based on the memoir ‘I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti’ by Giulia Melucci and adapted by Jacques Lamarre, this one-woman play stars Kerri Jill Garbis as Giulia and was directed by Ilyse Robbins. Giulia, invites the audience into her kitchen as she prepares a three-course meal and shares stories of past loves, life lessons and of course food.

With a scenic design by Erik D. Diaz, the fully functional kitchen set included ample counter space, working sink, refrigerator, and stove top. The audience got a kick out of watching her prepare her Bolognese sauce and fresh, hand-made pasta. Eight audience members, who were seated on the sides of the stage, got to enjoy everything she made, while the rest of us merely watched the steam rise from the pots on the stove and enjoyed the smell of what looked like a delicious Italian meal.

Garbis was wonderful as Giulia. She was able to easily keep the audience engaged with her great story-telling all while creating a three-course Italian meal. She was believable, funny and a delight to watch. It truly felt like we were just old friends sitting in her kitchen, listening to her stories, and watching her cook. This light-hearted and fun play was thoroughly enjoyed by the audience who spent much of their time chuckling at Melucci and Lamarre’s clever writing. ©

‘I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti’ runs about 2 hours including intermission and plays at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main St. Stoneham, until June 25th. Tickets range $50- $55 Adults, $45-$50 Seniors and $20 Students (with valid ID). For tickets or more information visit www.stonehamtheatre.org or call the box office at 781-279-2200. Photo credit: Kerri Jill Garbis* courtesy Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots.

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Angelica has an A.S. in Theatre, earned a specialty degree in Shakespeare from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and a B.A. in English Language and Literature with a minor in Psychology from SNHU. In addition to writing, she stays busy teaching dance and choreographing for a local studio. 

For more of my reviews and theatrical thoughts check out: http://intheatresome1isalwayswatching.blogspot.com/

‘Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ at Reagle Music Theatre

Angelica Potter

Reagle Music Theatre opens their forty-ninth season with Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s classic pop musical ‘Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’. Based on a biblical story, this family friendly production is once again delighting Reagle audiences with its fun music, bright costumes, and story of family, faith and forgiveness. Director and choreographer Susan M. Chebookjian skillfully incorporated the talents of the cast into the choreography, which featured a number of turns, jumps, and lifts. While this production had its standout moments, it was not without a few unfortunate and consequential mishaps.

The cast was very energetic and their enthusiasm clearly showed in their dancing. That being said, it seemed as though this production leaned heavily towards the hokey and, at many times, overacted side, as noticed by the casts’ substantial “face acting”. While most of the audience seemed to enjoy it, I found it a bit too overdone and disingenuous.

Thankfully, the cast featured three charismatic and incredibly talented performers in the roles of the Narrator, Joseph, and Pharaoh. Country music singer Ayla Brown guided the show along as the Narrator. Her stage presence was cool and collected, moving easily from telling the story to singing and dancing along with the characters. Her stellar vocals and charming demeanor quickly made her an audience favorite. As Joseph, Peter Mill was incredible. His rendition of “Any Dream Will Do” was genuine and meaningfully sung; while his performance of “Close Every Door” was chilling and powerful. It was easily one of my favorite numbers. He played Joseph with truth and conviction, which really had the audience rooting for him during his many trials and tribulations. Andrew Giordano was amazing as the Pharaoh. Though he was only on stage a short time in act two, he quickly captured the audience’s attention with his smooth vocals and Elvis-like dance moves. It didn’t take long before the audience was happily applauding.

My major concern with this production was the number of sound problems it had throughout the performance. Microphones were cutting in and out, full lines of songs were missed and there was a surplus of crackling and static which was difficult to ignore. Thankfully the microphones of the Narrator, Joseph and Pharaoh had the least amount of problems so their voices could be heard and more fully enjoyed. The ensemble, however, was very difficult to hear at times and it noticeably effected how the audience responded. Nonetheless, the audience, overall, seemed to enjoy this production giving it hearty applause during the curtain call. ©

‘Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ plays until June 18th at the Robinson Theatre (617 Lexington Street, Waltham, MA). For information and tickets visit www.reaglemusictheatre.com.  

Photo: Peter Mill (center) as JOSEPH & male ensemble perform "Joseph's Coat". Courtesy Reagle Music Theatre/©Herb Philpott

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Angelica has an A.S. in Theatre, earned a specialty degree in Shakespeare from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and a B.A. in English Language and Literature with a minor in Psychology from SNHU. In addition to writing, she stays busy teaching dance and choreographing for a local studio. 

For more of my reviews and theatrical thoughts check out: http://intheatresome1isalwayswatching.blogspot.com/

Review: ‘4000 Miles’ opens Shakespeare & Company’s 40th Anniversary Season

Angelica Potter

Opening their 40th Anniversary Season, Shakespeare & Company presents Amy Herzog’s award-winning dramatic comedy ‘4000 Miles’. Exhausted physically, emotionally, and mentally, Leo rolls his bike into his grandmothers’ New York apartment early one morning, both shocking and confusing her. His grueling and traumatizing experience on his 4,000 mile bike trip across the country has led him to her door hoping for sanctuary. They struggle to understand one another, often times irritating and baffling each other; after a while they learn to communicate and appreciate one another in such a way that it helps them not only to heal, but to grow.

Herzog’s sharp and witty writing realistically demonstrates a generational divide, one we all will find ourselves in at some point, and how it can make communicating and empathizing difficult and seemingly impossible. While this play will resonate with baby boomers and millennials alike, at its’ core is something audience members of any age and background can understand and appreciate, and that is the complexity of making real human connections and experiencing honest and truthful dialog.  

Directed by Nicole Ricciardi, the four-person cast, led by Annette Miller and Gregory Boover with Emma Geer and Zoë Laiz, immediately grasped the audience’s attention and kept them engrossed for the entirety of the production. The humorous, often bantering, conversations between Vera (Annette Miller) and Leo (Gregory Boover) were realistic and reflected real-life struggles and emotions that the audience, based on their reactions, clearly related to. The genuine performances by Miller and Boover paired with impeccable comedic timing and chemistry made their relationship as grandmother and grandson entirely believable. They were perfectly cast and I couldn’t help but smile during many of their scenes as they quibbled back and forth.

Delightful as Vera, Annette Miller’s characterization embodies both the lovable and the exasperating traits of an aging grandmother who isn’t so fond getting older. Miller ideally portrayed the confusion that comes with old age, the wittiness of a young at heart mind, the concern and sympathy a grandmother has for her grandchildren and the feistiness of a strong-willed woman. Gregory Boover gives a powerful and emotionally dynamic portrayal of a heartbroken and lost young man struggling to deal with tragedy. As Leo, he delivers an intense and heart wrenching performance with characterizations and quirks that were meticulously well placed and often subtly executed. Their masterful performances are not to be missed! 

The production features a detailed set design by John McDermott, lighting design by James W. Bilnoski, costume design by Stella Schwartz, and sound design by Amy Altadonna. This play is an amusing and heartening look at real life and the relationships that guide us to be who we are. According to audience members, this play will make you laugh, make you cry and make you think and reflect on your own life. ‘4000 Miles’ perfectly demonstrates the high quality, professional performances audiences have come to expect and enjoy from Shakespeare & Company and was a fantastic opening to their 40th season. ©

 

‘4000 Miles’ plays through July 16th in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre on the Shakespeare & Company campus located at 70 Kemble Street in Lenox, Massachusetts. Tickets and more information about this play as well as Shakespeare & Company’s full season can be found at www.shakespeare.org. Photo Credit: Gregory Boover and Annette Miller in 4000 Miles. Photo by Christopher Duggan.

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Angelica has an A.S. in Theatre, earned a specialty degree in Shakespeare from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and a B.A. in English Language and Literature with a minor in Psychology from SNHU. In addition to writing, she stays busy teaching dance and choreographing for a local studio. 

For more of my reviews and theatrical thoughts check out: http://intheatresome1isalwayswatching.blogspot.com/

Review: ‘I, Snowflake’ by Anthem Theatre Company

Angelica Potter

As part of their “Cabinet of Curiosities” festival, Theatre On Fire and Charlestown Working Theater bring Anthem Theatre Company’s newest play ‘I, Snowflake’ to the stage. It is described as a post-election reaction play, a commedia tragi-farce for the world we now live in. Devised by Anthem Theatre Company, it was conceived, written and directed by Anthem’s Artistic Director Bryn Boice. This play was created out of the results of the ‘Snowflake Questionnaire’ sent out by the theatre company in November of 2016 following the election.

Scenically minimalistic, the words spoken by the cast are the focus of the play; which allows them to more fully resonate with audience members. The intimate space allowed the audience to become engrossed in the stories being told. Using various theatrical elements including simple movement, music, singing and mime the all-female cast shared the concerns, fears, thoughts and feelings of the many people around the country who participated in the survey. Creatively written and directed by Bryn Boice, the play flowed seamlessly from one subject to the next. Each scene focused on a different issue including the Supreme Court, reproductive rights, violent crime, divided families and more. They were welded together by a recurring theme: the feeling of déjá vu.  

The ensemble includes Leighsa Burgin, Olivia Caputo, Siobhan Carroll, Katie Finkelstein, Caitlyn Jones, Erica Jade Simpson, Sharon Squires, Sylvia Sword and Maryanne Truax. Julee Antonellis, featured as Snowflake, performed almost entirely in mime. Her facial expressions, physicality and interactions with the ensemble were superb. Overall, the cast was wonderfully in-tune with one another, actively listening and reacting to the words spoken by their fellow actors. Their lines, spoken one right after the other or overlapping, kept the pace of the play brisk and the audience engaged. Additionally, with each line they spoke, the actors were believable and seemed to really feel and believe what they were saying. © 

While this interesting and socially relevant new work has completed their three performances, “The Cabinet of Curiosities” festival runs until May 27th. For more information on these companies and their upcoming productions visit www.anthemtheatre.org, www.charlestownworkingtheater.org and www.theatreonfire.org.

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Angelica has an A.S. in Theatre, earned a specialty degree in Shakespeare from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and a B.A. in English Language and Literature with a minor in Psychology from SNHU. In addition to writing, she stays busy teaching dance and choreographing for a local studio. 

For more of my reviews and theatrical thoughts check out: http://intheatresome1isalwayswatching.blogspot.com/


 

Review: Boston Ballet’s latest triple bill production “Robbins/The Concert” delights audiences

Angelica Potter

Boston Ballet’s latest triple bill production includes a Boston Ballet premiere, a world premiere, and an audience favorite. Each ballet features uniquely beautiful choreography and wonderfully showcases the talented dancers of the company. Conducting the Boston Ballet orchestra, who did a marvelous job with each musical variation, was guest conductor David Briskin.

Opening the production is the Boston Ballet premiere of the “Stravinsky Violin Concerto” which first premiered at the New York State Theater in 1972. It features the music of Igor Stravinsky with choreography by George Balanchine. It is being produced through a special arrangement with The George Balanchine Trust and in accordance with the Balanchine Style® and Balanchine Technique® Service standards as established and provided by the Trust. The ballet included four segments: an opening and a closing with the full cast of dancers, while featuring two couples dancing a pas de deux in the middle two sections. Toccata, the first part, was upbeat with lively dancing by the company. Aria I was beautifully danced by Lia Cirio and John Lam. They had a fantastic partnering connection and were captivating to watch. Aria II highlighted very nice technique from partners Lasha Khozashvili and Seo Hye Han. Capriccio was fantastically flirty and fun. This enjoyable ballet was a great start to the evening.   

The second piece is a world premiere entitled “Creatures of Egmont” by Boston Ballet resident choreographer Jorma Elo. It features twelve dancers, six men and six women, who are constantly moving. Dancing in this ballet on opening night were, Lia Cirio with Lasha Khozashvili, Misa Kuranaga with Paulo Arrais, Dusty Button with Sabi Varga, Seo Hye Han with Junxiong Zhao, Maria Baranova with Patrick Yocum and Addie Tapp with Drew Nelson. This ballet is physically challenging for the dancers and includes many lifts and flipping of partners, in addition to a myriad of jumps and turns. Each pair of dancers were superbly matched and danced beautifully together. Elo masterfully matched his choreography with the various musical pieces he selected for this ballet. The choreography often featured angular lines paired with both smooth and sharp movement. The dancers all displayed impeccable musicality, technique and understanding of the choreography. Their lines and extensions were exquisite. The overall artistry of this ballet and the dancers within it was outstanding to watch.  

Jerome Robbins’ “The Concert (Or, The Perils of Everybody)” was a playful, fun, and humorous ballet to end the production. Robbins’ choreography blends nicely with the music by Frederic Chopin and together they delightfully bring a collection of characters and their story to life.  Kathleen Breen Combes, Lasha Khozashvili and Dusty Button led the company with wonderful character roles. Each dancer’s character was specific and clearly portrayed to the audience through their acting and dancing. One standout section was when a group of ballerinas danced with numerous intentional and often comical mistakes. Being able to pull off intentional mistakes while staying in character is much more complicated than it may seem. It takes a lot of talent, technique, focus and teamwork. Their pristine musical timing and perfect facial expressions during this section made their dancing even more enjoyable. The audience clearly enjoyed this ballet as noted by their constant chuckles and by their giving it a hearty standing ovation. ©

This triple bill production is perfect for the dance enthusiast and runs about 2 hours including two intermissions. “Robbins/The Concert” performs at the Boston Opera House (539 Washington St, Boston, MA) through May 27th rotating with Boston Ballet’s production of “The Sleeping Beauty”. Tickets and more information can be found at www.bostonballet.org or by calling the Box Office at 617-695-6955.

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Angelica has an A.S. in Theatre, earned a specialty degree in Shakespeare from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and a B.A. in English Language and Literature with a minor in Psychology from SNHU. In addition to writing, she stays busy teaching dance and choreographing for a local studio.

Fortunate to have been a member of the audience for over twenty years; Angelica has enjoyed performances not only in and around the Boston area, but also on Broadway and in the West End in London. These experiences on and off the stage have given her the ability to understand the art of theatre and to recognize great performances. Be it a ballet, a musical or a straight play, she appreciates every moment from the overture to the final curtain.   

For more of my reviews and theatrical thoughts check out: http://intheatresome1isalwayswatching.blogspot.com/

Review: ‘Gabriel’ at Stoneham Theatre

Angelica Potter

  • Massachusetts Critic

This captivating play written by Moira Buffini, takes place during WWII on German occupied Guernsey Island. It tells the story of 10-year-old Estelle, her family and a young man with amnesia who washes up on their shore. When they decide to save his life and shelter him in their home, their own lives are endangered. While this drama is dark and often intense, there are numerous moments of humor that lighten the heavy mood. Director Weylin Symes made creative use of the set with his staging. The detailed living space with a small second floor room above it was designed by Matthew Lazure and was nicely lit by lighting designer Jeffrey E. Salzberg.  

The cast overall was strong in their characters. Thomas Derrah was cunning, ferocious, and sadistic as German Officer Von Pfunz, giving one of the strongest performances in the show. 

Josephine Moshiri Elwood, as Lillian, was sympathetic as a young Jewish girl hiding her true beliefs so that she doesn’t get sent to a concentration camp. Lake, played by Cheryl McMahon, was realistic and practical, only wanting what is best for the family. As Estelle, Marissa Simeqi, though innocent and naïve of the world she lived in and its complexity, was compassionate without reserve and a feisty protector of her family. Georgia Lyman, as Jeanne Becquet, dynamically portrayed her complex character as one who must make difficult choices to protect those she loves. She was often the one to break tension with a humorous or sarcastic line which she timed perfectly. Alexander Molina, as Gabriel the young amnesiac saved by Lillian and Estelle, was completely believable and secure in his character. His sincere confusion about who he is and what had happened to him was heartbreaking.

While the cast had good chemistry and seemed to work well with each other, there were a number of instances when they were not actively listening to one another and thus some line flubs occurred. This also may have impacted their accents as well, as those went in and out during the performance. People’s lives are at stake in the story line of this play and yet the pacing seemed to lack a sense of urgency and the tempo, at times, was slow. Increasing the sense of urgency and pacing of the production would have heightened the emotional stakes of the characters and made their portrayals more believable. That being said, I did enjoy the silent acting moments by the actors when they were not directly involved or present in the scene or conversation. It added realism and depth to the production. Unfortunately, the play ended just after the climax leaving many questions unanswered.

Overall, ‘Gabriel’ was an interesting play with admirable performances by the cast and the audience seemed to really enjoy the production despite some hiccups. ©

Running close to two and a half hours including intermission, ‘Gabriel’ performs at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main St. Stoneham, until May 14th. Tickets range $50- $55 Adults, $45-$50 Seniors and $20 Students (with valid ID). For tickets or more information visit www.stonehamtheatre.org or call the box office at 781-279-2200. Photo: Cast of 'Gabriel' courtesy Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

For more of my reviews and theatrical thoughts check out: http://intheatresome1isalwayswatching.blogspot.com/

Review: World Premiere of ‘My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend’ at Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Angelica Potter

  • Massachusetts Critic

Closing out the season at Merrimack Repertory Theatre is the world premiere production of ‘My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend’ conceived and performed by Charissa Bertels, with book and lyrics by Christian Duhamel, and music and lyrics by Edward Bell. It’s the story of an actress, Charissa, and her much older companion, Milton, from whom she learns so much.  Its message is one of acceptance, personal growth, and the power of honest human connections and relationships. The detailed and creative lighting design by Brian J. Lilienthal paired nicely with the scenic design by Neil Patel. Additionally, it was wonderfully connected to the music and script, accenting and highlighting many moments throughout. Directed by Sean Daniels and with music directed by Kevin David Thomas, this one-woman-show features a variety of musical numbers, including up-tempos and ballads, each showcasing Bertels’ impeccable vocal abilities.

It didn’t take long for Bertels’ presence and fantastic, comedic story telling ability to enthrall the audience. Over the next 90 minutes the audience was in the palm of her hand, laughing at the witty one-liners, getting choked up during the more emotional scenes and songs, and thoroughly enjoying every minute of it. Her portrayal of Milton, his characteristics and voice, and her facial expressions and reactions as Charissa to his blunt and often times amusing comments were perfectly timed. With every song she displayed believable sincerity. Her powerful and incredible vocal range was highlighted in each song making it difficult to choose a favorite number. “What a View”, early in the show, was performed with genuine excitement and thrill. Just as “My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend” and “Together With You” were lighthearted and fun, “The Love Left Behind” and “Our Time” were tenderly moving and tear-jerking.

Within seconds of singing her final note in “What Counts” the audience leapt to their feet with robust applause and cheers giving Bertels a long-lasting standing ovation that was entirely well deserved. This touching and humorous musical is bound to not only tug at your heartstrings, but make you laugh and send you out of the theatre smiling. This new musical is a must see this May and Charissa Bertels’ performance is not to be missed! ©  

Running around 90 minutes with no intermission, “My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend” plays at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, located at 50 East Merrimack Street Lowell, MA, with performances Wednesday through Sunday until May 21st, 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 www.mrt.org or call 978-654-4678. Photo: Charissa Bertels in "My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend". Photo by Meghan Moore. 

For more of my reviews and theatrical thoughts check out: http://intheatresome1isalwayswatching.blogspot.com/

Review: 'The Sleeping Beauty' by Boston Ballet

Angelica Potter

  • OnStage Boston Critic

Boston Ballet’s production of Marius Petipa’s ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ first premiered in 2005 and is once again enchanting audiences with its classic story, familiar music and sensational dancing.

The ballet features majestic music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky with choreography by Marius Petipa and additional choreography by Sir Frederick Ashton. It tells the story of Princess Aurora who was cursed as an infant by the Fairy Carabosse. Thanks to the Lilac Fairy, Aurora will not die from this curse, but will instead fall into a deep sleep to only be awakened by a Prince’s kiss. After one hundred years in slumber and with help from the Lilac Fairy, Aurora is found by Prince Desire, who wakes her with a kiss thus breaking the spell. 

The costume and scenic design for this production are by David Walker, with lighting by John Cuff. The detailed backdrops of the set were natural in their color and blended nicely with the more muted tones of the costumes during the Prologue. This allowed for the brighter and richer tones of the King, Queen and Fairies’ costumes to really stand out. The lighting nicely amplified these differences making it clear to the audience who was who in the Royal Court, and in the case of Carabosse and her creatures, who was not welcome.

From the start of the overture Tchaikovsky’s music, played by the Boston Ballet orchestra and wonderfully conducted by Jonathan McPhee, was magical and hushed the chatty audience right away. The prologue featured smooth and flowing movement from the Fairies, their Cavaliers and Lilac Fairy Attendants. Each Fairy demonstrated their unique personality within their solos even though their tempos and dancing varied. Some were sharp, some were bouncy, while others were smooth and delicate. One of the highlights of the Prologue was the incomparable Dusty Button as the Lilac Fairy. She was perfectly in-sync with the music, with each accented note precisely in time with her dancing. She was absolutely stunning. Shortly after her, Carabosse’s creatures, all wearing malicious looking masks, creepily danced around the stage. When they rolled Carabosse, played by Erica Cornejo, on stage in her dark and eerie coach, the moment was both amazing and terrifying. Act one featured a beautiful garland dance by the company to the familiar tune of “Once Upon a Dream”.

Misa Kuranaga, as Aurora, was dazzling, receiving applause after many complex sequences including extended balancing on pointe, boundless leaps and supreme turns. Her facial expressions matched her sixteen year-old character precisely and she danced with joyful gracefulness. While Kuranaga was fantastic throughout, her dancing became stronger over the duration of the ballet. She fully engages her back when using her arms, showing masterful awareness of the body and how movement, no matter how slight, is connected and impacts the rest of the body.  She maintains full control of her movement, lifting her extensions higher and breathing through her transitions, making them just as important as the complex choreography they intertwine.

Act two introduces us to Prince Desire on a hunting expedition in the woods one hundred years after Carabosse’s spell put Aurora to sleep. As Prince Desire, Paulo Arrais was strong and confident in his dancing all while portraying his character’s longing for fulfillment and true love. Kuranaga glowed as Prince Desire’s vision of Aurora. Their partnering was confident and fluid. They truly brought the fairytale magic to life on stage and were entirely mesmerizing. Act three concludes the story with the celebration of the marriage of Princess Aurora and Prince Desire. Their pas de deux was breathtaking to watch and it exemplified their characters’ happiness and love. Arrais once again demonstrated impeccable skill and artistry as he leapt across the stage in a lengthy sequence and completed it with ease as if it took no effort at all.

Other highlights of act three include Ji Young Chae as Princess Florine and Junxiong Zhao as Blue Bird. She was dainty, but strong with pristine balances, exquisite extensions and exuberant facial expressions. His high flying jumps were energetic and well executed. Their musicality and partnering was fantastic. They were wonderful to watch. The White Cat and Puss’N Boots, danced by Rie Ichikawa and Lawrence Rines, were amusingly delightful to watch. Their cheeky interactions and bouncy “pas de chat”, meaning “step of the cat”, made them an audience favorite for sure. ©   

Though this production runs about 2 hours and 45 minutes including two intermissions, the classic love story and beautiful dancing by the company make this a ballet for the whole family. ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ performs at the Boston Opera House (539 Washington St, Boston, MA) through May 27th. Tickets and more information can be found at www.bostonballet.org or by calling the Box Office at 617-695-6955.

For more of my reviews and theatrical thoughts check out: http://intheatresome1isalwayswatching.blogspot.com/

Review: ‘Paradise’ presented by Underground Railway Theater at Central Square Theater

Angelica Potter

  • OnStage Massachusetts Critic

Now on stage at Central Square Theater, presented by Underground Railway Theater, is the world premiere of Laura Maria Censabella’s Paradise. Directed by Shana Gozansky, it features two talented actors portraying compelling and complex characters. Barlow Adamson plays Dr. Guy Royston, a high school biology teacher who wants nothing more than to be back experimenting in the college labs he was blacklisted from. Caitlin Nasema Cassidy plays Yasmeen al-Hamadi, a Muslim-American high school senior from the Bronx, who is intent on getting a full scholarship to Columbia with the hopes of pursuing a career in science. Guided by Dr. Royston, Yasmeen works on a neurobiological experiment to investigate adolescent romantic love. While working together to complete her experiment their beliefs clash, not only about science, but about religion, family, responsibility and obligation and subsequently their lives are transformed.

The classroom set design by Jenna McFarland Lord allowed the audience, who sat on three sides of the stage area, to be very close to the interactions between the characters. The detailed lighting design by Karen Perlow subtly added depth to the scenes, while the sound design by Nathan Leigh kept the changes lively from one scene to the next.

Tensions are high from the start as Yasmeen desperately tries to salvage her 4.0 grade point average after failing her last science test. Cassidy’s portrayal of Yasmeen was very intense. Her mentality, attitude and overall portrayal were all familiarly reminiscent of smart, dedicated students working towards scholarships and an Ivy League school. But her path towards a career as a scientist is compounded by her religious beliefs and obligations and her family responsibility.  Contrarily, Adamson’s portrayal of Dr. Royston made him seem more lackadaisical at the start. But once he started working on the experiment with Yasmeen, his joyous passion for science began to show. Each actor carries on an accent during the production, Adamson’s is Virginian while Cassidy’s is Bronx, New York. While each seemed comfortable in their accent, Cassidy’s faded in and out during the performance. The duo displayed a wonderful teacher-student and mentoring relationship. Additionally, they had strong conversational and comedic timing throughout.  While the script at times dived deep into scientific jargon, the actors grasp of the language and their execution of it made it easier to understand.

Highlights of act two include Dr. Royston’s scientific juju dance in the first scene. The audience found Adamson’s dancing around the stage very amusing. Another highlight was when Yasmeen (Cassidy) sang a section of the Quran for Dr. Royston. The audience was just as raptured with her voice as he was. It was a one of the most beautiful moments in the production.

Though the story line and performances were interesting to watch, a two-person play that runs over two hours with intermission may be a bit long to sit through. ©

Paradise runs until May 7th, tickets and more information can be found at centralsquaretheater.org. Tickets may also be purchased by calling 617-576-9278 x1 or by visiting the Central Square Theater box office. Ticket prices begin at $20, Seniors save $5, Students with valid University I.D. are $20 and Under 18 are $15. There are also group discounts. Photo Credit: Caitlin Nasema Cassidy and Barlow Adamson in 'Paradise'. Courtesy Central Square Theater. 

For more of my reviews and theatrical thoughts check out: http://intheatresome1isalwayswatching.blogspot.com/