The Art of Boxing

“In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade and he carries the reminders of every blow that laid him down or cut him till he dried out in his anger and his shame, I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains.”  Paul Simon, The Boxer

Terme Boxer
Terme Boxer

 There has a been a strong connection between boxing and the arts that goes back thousands of years. The Terme Boxer from 1st Century ancient Greece is one of the finest pieces of sculpture ever created, and it shows clearly the face of a veteran boxer who has suffered the blows that Paul Simon wrote so expressively about. Look closely at this work and you will see the broken nose and cauliflower ears that is the trademark of boxers throughout the ages. Note how his hands are bandaged to not only protect his fists, but to also

allow him to inflict more punishment on his opponents. The grim determination in his face is very moving. After a visit to New York City, this warrior is back home in Rome.

Sugar Ray and Sammy Davis Jr. rehearsing Golden Boy
Sugar Ray and Sammy Davis Jr. rehearsing Golden Boy

Fighters have been portrayed in plays and movies over and over again. On the stage Golden Boy, by Clifford Odets first played on Broadway in 1937 with Luther Adler playing the lead role of Joe. The supporting cast was absolutely amazing and included Lee J. Cobb, Karl Malden, Elia Kazan, Harry Morgan, Howard DeSilva, Karl Malden, and John Garfield.  It doesn’t get any better then that. Garfield would go on to play the lead role in a revival of the play in 1952. Garfield also portrayed Charley Davis in the movie Body and Soul, another great boxing movie and his most famous role. Years later Sammy Davis Jr. would step into the same role of golden Boy. He got some expert coaching for the part from a guy who knew a little about boxing, the great Sugar Ray robinson.

In 1997 I had the good fortune to see the world premiere of a new play, Tunney / Shakespeare In Six Rounds. The play was written by David E. Lane and starred Jack Wetherall. Appropriately, it opened at the Merrimack Rep in the great boxing town of Lowell. The story line is based on the time Gene Tunney gave a lecture on Shakespeare at Yale University. Wetherall was superb in the role of Tunney and showed the intellectual side of the great champion who loved Shakespeare as much as boxing. I hope to see it revived some day, as it deserves to be seen by a larger audience.

Rocky The Musical, Doodle by Ken Fallin
Rocky The Musical, Doodle by Ken Fallin

Rocky, The Musical will be opening on Broadway this February. I am curious to see how that is staged. Will Rocky be serenading Apollo Creed? Could be interesting.

Boxing lends itself very well to the big screen. I have already mentioned Body and Soul, but there are so many others. Who can ever forget Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy in On The Waterfront. His lines, “I could have been a contender” are firmly embedded in the American culture. Robert Ryan was outstanding in the role of Bill Stoker Thompson, the washed up pug stepping into the ring in The Setup, a great film noir and one of the best boxing movies ever made. Ryan had been a champion college boxer and it shows in the fight scenes. Other great boxing movies include Fat City with Stacy Keach, Champion starring Kirk Douglas, and Raging Bull, the life of Jake LaMotta with Robert DeNiro in the lead role. Filmed in balck and white and filled with raw intensity, it is considered one of the best American movies ever made.

Stag at Sharkey's, George Bellows
Stag at Sharkey’s, George Bellows

Both Thomas Eakins and George Bellows did some great paintings of boxers. Bellows was from the Ashcan School of Art and portrayed the fighters in his work as almost blending into each other. Stag at Sharkey’s was his most famous, but he also did a terrific piece with his subject being the Dempsey Firpo fight. Bellows always included himself in his paintings. It is a bit like how Alfred Hitchcock always made an appearance in his films.

Eakins’ work was more traditional but very detailed and impressive. His two most well known boxing pieces are Between Rounds and Salutat. Both were painted in the 1890s and appear to be set in private clubs. They look quite sanitized when compared with Bellows’ work, but are beautiful works.

Shakespeare Boxing

Take some time to explore this connection between the arts and boxing. You will also find plenty of music, literature, and poetry on the subject. It is a rich and fun topic. If Will Shakespeare had been around back in the glory days of boxing, I am sure you would have found him hanging out at Stillman’s Gym.

Happy New Year to all of my readers. I do hope this is a safe year for all those brave boxers who enter the ring, and I hope they are respected and cared about by those who make so much money off of them.

 

 

Talking with Joe Cross About Not Being Fat, Sick, And Nearly Dead

“People are sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

In 2010 the movie “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” was released. It was directed by Joe Cross and chronicled his journey from a 310 lb man suffering from a rare autoimmune disease and taking a handful of medications everyday to a 210 lb picture of health.Joe Cross Reboot He did this by drinking only vegetable juice, what he calls a Reboot, while spending 60 days driving across the United States. The movie was a great hit and is still very popular. Joe, 47 years old and a native of Sydney, Australia is back on the road, this time with a book, “The Reboot With Joe Juice Diet”. I recently caught up with him by phone while he was traveling to Albany, NY for an appearance.

Speaking with Joe, you immediately feel his optimism and positive attitude. His Australian accent is infectious, and his story of how he took control of his health is truly inspiring. He plans traveling the world in an effort to lead by example in showing people how they too can change their lives. He is quick to point out he is not a doctor or scientist, but a man who just wants people to see how he was able to improve his health by making some important lifestyle changes. He is spreading the word about how we all have the power to do the same thing.

I began our conversation by telling Joe how most of the books and movies I have read and watched about changing to a healthy lifestyle when it comes to food tend to be preachy and not at all flexible. Many interject a strong political bias as well. His approach is different. He tells me “I think, predominately, that people are pretty smart and crowds are dumb. We tend to do things as a group, but I think trying to reach people as a crowd and then work that down to the individual doesn’t work very well. You already know fruits and vegetables are good for you, but when someone gets up and says you should do this and you should do that, the message gets lost. The preachy side is not the way we educate, not the way we inspire, and certainly not the way we entertain. Make it fun, make it interesting, and make it something that resonates within. Find the answers we all know and then present the questions in interesting, fun, and inspiring ways. Healthier is happier. I have a view that happiness is by default about being useful, but unless you have your health you can’t be fully useful.” He asks rhetorically, “ Who’s unhealthy and happy? Very few people.”

Joe Cross 2In the movie Joe drank only fresh vegetable juices for sixty days and then the viewers assume he was able to stop taking all of his medications. “ No, after the sixty days I continued with a very strict vegan diet for an additional ninety days. At that point I was pill free. I had done some research and found that for 70% of us our health problems are caused by lifestyle choices, the other 30% is from genetics. I wanted to give myself the chance to find out if I was causing my own disease or if I was one of the 30% for whom it is genetic. Was I in the bad luck crowd or the stupid crowd? I got my answer.” Should those who are unfortunate to be in the 30% crowd just give up? “No, they should still make the changes, and they will most likely find they will need less medication and will feel a lot better.”

Is Joe a vegetarian? “No, I can tell you what I don’t eat. I don’t drink soda or alcohol. No caffeine. I don’t eat fast food. I will eat a hamburger but only in if it is good and from a reliable source. I do not push a plant only diet. I talk about plant based. There are three things available for us to eat: plants, processed food, and animal food. If you can make the plants the base, 40 to 50%, and then split the others up at 20 to 30% you will be doing well. I know when I do eat plant-only I feel better, but I am not ready for that now.”

Joe talked about how are bodies are programmed to go into famine mode, a survival mechanism from a time when we would live through feasts and famines. After all, fat is stored energy. “A lot of people wake up in the morning and are not happy with what they see in the mirror, not a good way to start the day. Don’t look at it as a negative, just think about how your body is protecting you and storing up a lot of energy in case a famine is coming. I would advise before doing a Reboot checking the Internet to make sure there is not a food shortage happening in Boston anytime soon. As long as the coast is clear, maybe it’s time to bring on your own nutritional famine.”

There are many who believe government should step in and play a role in what we should be allowed to eat. Joe leads by example and believes “healthy is happy”. “I don’t want to become a nanny state. I am all about market forces, and my role is writing books, making movies, and doing TV shows. I want to educate people, entertain people, and inspire people to make healthier choices that can affect their happiness and existence. People are sick and tired of being sick and tired. The more we demand it the more the tsunami of change will happen.” I mentioned how I am seeing more and more healthier alternatives on menus. “People are voting with their dollars, and when you vote with your dollars in America s..t happens. Those businesses that don’t keep up with the changes will be left by the wayside.”

What’s next for Joe? “The book is number one in Canada and in the top 100 on Amazon. The tour is going global. The movie is now available in 15 languages. I have a new movie coming out in September and am working on a possible program to be aired on PBS. With a base of ten million viewers of my movie, the scientific community is now talking to me. I take their advice and regurgitate it in simpler ways so we can all understand it.’

Joe Cross is leading a revolution that is gaining tremendous momentum. He has boundless energy and the power to motivate and inspire. Watch his movie, read his book, listen to him talk, and you will be inspired to make the changes that will keep you from being Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. Check him out at Rebootwithjoe.com

Bobby Franklin can be reached at bob [at] boxingoverbroadway [dot] com

Rest In Peace Jimmy Ellis

Rest In Peace Jimmy Ellis

Former WBA Heavyweight Champ Passes

Another Loss From The Era Of Competitive Boxing

The boxing world was saddened by the recent death of former WBA Heavyweight Champion Jimmy Ellis. Ellis passed after a long battle with dementia pugilistica. For years Jimmy was best known for being Muhammad Ali’s sparring partner, but it is unfair to remember him for that. Jimmy Ellis was a superb boxer puncher who rose through the ranks beginning his professional career as a middleweight.

Jimmy Ellis fought in what was probably the most competitive era in heavyweight boxing.

Ellis and Ali were both from Louisville, Kentucky and began as boxing as amateurs under the tutelage of Officer Joe Martin. They fought twice before turning pro with the young Clay winning their first encounter, and Jimmy taking the decision in the rematch.

Ellis turned pro under the management of Bud Bruner with whom he compiled a record of 15-5 with 6 knockouts. Jimmy’s losses were to Ruben “Hurricane” Carter, George Benton, Henry Hank, Don Fullmer, and Holly Mims, whom he defeated in a rematch. All of these opponents were top rated contenders, and many of the losses were by very close decision.

Jimmy left Bruner and began training with his old friend Ali under the tutelage of Angelo Dundee. He also put on weight moving up to light heavyweight and then heavyweight. Ellis scored a spectacular one round knock out of Jimmy Persol in 1967. This win catapulted him onto the world stage and earned him a berth in the WBA Heavyweight Tournament to find a successor to Ali who had been wrongfully stripped of his title for refusing to be inducted into the Army.

Ellis was considered a long shot to win the title, but he surprised everyone by stopping Leotis Martin, winning a decision over Oscar Bonavena in a fight where he dropped the tough Argentinean twice, and then defeating Jerry Quarry over fifteen rounds to win the title in 1968. Later that year he would successfully defend his crown against Floyd Patterson.

In the meantime, Joe Frazier, who had chosen not to enter the WBA tournament, defeated Buster Mathis in a fight recognized by the New York State Athletic Commission as being for the World Championship. It was just a matter of time before the two would meet to unify the title.

On February 2, 1970 Frazier and Ellis stepped into the ring at Madison Square Garden to decide who the better fighter was. Ellis was coming off a layoff of a year and a half, while Frazier had remained active and was at the peak of his ability. Jimmy put on a valiant effort landing a number of strong right hands on Joe, but Frazier was unstoppable that night. After decking Ellis twice in the fourth round, Angelo Dundee stopped the fight before the bell rang for round five.

Ellis would never again challenge for the title, but he did fight his old friend Muhammad Ali in a twelve round bout in 1971, with Ali stopping him in the final round.

Jimmy Ellis fought in what was probably the most competitive era in heavyweight boxing. There were many exciting bouts at that time with so many of the contestants being evenly matched. Also, the top fighters did not duck each other. When the public clamored for a unification bout between Ellis and Frazier, both men agreed to fight. What a contrast to today when fight fans have been waiting years for Mayweather and Pacquiao. In the 70s just about every top fighter met at some point. Ron Lyle, Jerry Quarry, George Chuvalo, Earnie Shavers, Jimmy Young, and many others were in the mix. Many, if not most of the matches then were highly competitive as the fighters were evenly matched. Before these fights, fans would argue for hours over who would win, and no one could be sure. It was a very exciting time for boxing.

Jimmy Ellis was not a big heavyweight, but his years working his way up from middleweight to heavyweight were a time when he learned his craft.

Jimmy Ellis was not a big heavyweight, but his years working his way up from middleweight to heavyweight were a time when he learned his craft. Even though he had a number of losses, he was learning his trade, and he learned it well. He had a tremendous right hand, which he combined with great footwork and speed. This combination allowed him to defeat much stronger fighters such as George Chuvalo and Oscar Bonavena while also outspeeding Floyd Patterson, and outsmarting slick counter punching Jerry Quarry.

Jimmy’s career came to an end in 1975 after he was poked in the eye during a sparring session. The accident caused him to lose the sight in that eye. His career was now over, but unfortunately, it was too late. The years in the ring both in matches and the thousands of rounds of sparring in the gym had already taken their toll. For a number of years before his death he suffered the effects of dementia pugilistica, an Alzheimer’s type of disease that is the result of repeated blows to the head. Jimmy’s former rivals Jerry Quarry and Floyd Patterson suffered the same fate.

 

For years Jimmy Ellis lived under the shadow of having been Ali’s sparring partner, but make no mistake about it; Jimmy was a world class boxer puncher who fought and beat many of the top contenders of his day, and that was quite a day. Ellis was also a deeply religious man who sang Gospel along with his wife Mary Etta, who passed away in 2006.

Jimmy Ellis was a gentleman who never spoke a bad word about anyone.

Jimmy Ellis was a gentleman who never spoke a bad word about anyone. He never gave less then one hundred percent when he stepped into the ring. He always carried himself with dignity, and was a true Champion in the ring and out. He will be missed. Rest In Peace Champ.

 

Tinker Pincot

Rest In Peace

 

Former light heavy weight contender and long time Ring 4 member Jordan Tinker Picot passed away recently. Tinker was one of the hardest punching fighters to come out of the New England area with a pro record of 17-3-1 with all of his wins coming via knock out. At Ring 4 events Tinker was always one to elicit laughter and he will be missed by all of us.

Rest in Peace Brother.

Ken Fallin

Ken Fallin:

Doodling The Stars From The Broadway Stage

To The World Stage

Ken Fallin
Ken Fallin

You have most likely seen Ken Fallin’s work as it appears with “alarming regularity” in the Wall Street Journal, Playbill Online, The Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker and on the posters for Forbidden Broadway. He also got his start here in Boston doing a weekly drawing for the Sunday Arts section of the Herald back in the 80s. You may not know his name because he prefers to not allow it to intrude into his pieces.

Woody Allen
Woody Allen

Ken has always loved cartoons, and has been drawing, or what he calls doodling, since he was a kid. His dream was to be an actor and he pursued that career for many years, but found he made more money drawing caricatures of his fellow actors on the side. Eventually, he got his big break, not in acting, but when he was asked to do the drawings for the poster for “Forbidden Broadway” in 1983. This led to the job at the Boston Herald, followed by working for Wall Street Journal, where he still contributes work every week. I recently spoke with Ken by phone from his home and studio on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

The first thing you notice when speaking to Ken is that there is a calmness to his voice. He comes across as a man who loves people and enjoys his work. I ask him about how he calls his work doodling and not his art.

“I try not to take myself too seriously.” Did you doodle when you were a kid?

Aladdin
Aladdin


“I did, I did, but it was something that was just a lot of fun. I loved cartoons. I loved comic strips in the newspapers. I loved watching cartoons on television, and I loved Mad Magazine. Warner Brothers made a lot cartoons with caricatures of their famous players like Humphrey Bogart, and that just blew my mind that they were taking real people and making them into cartoons. That’s how I saw it…it was just the best, because when I would look at people, especially funny looking people, I would think this person looks like a cartoon. That’s where I think I got my love of caricatures.”

 

Max Schmeling
Max Schmeling

Were you taught drawing?“It wasn’t taught. It’s kind of an instinctual thing. You see somebody and the way you see them is your own vision of them, and I don’t think you can teach that. It’s the way you see the person.”Ken has doodled just about every major Broadway performer in the past thirty-five years as well as world leaders including President Obama for the Wall Street Journal. I was curious what it was like to sit with these famous people and sketch them. I was in for a surprise.

 

“I don’t get to meet them. It’s not a glamorous life like a photographer where you actually get to go and see the person. I work from photographs. Photos are sent to me via the Internet. Sometimes I get an assignment at 11:00 A.M. that has to be done by 4:00 P.M., I can work fairly fast.”

Ian McKellen as Richard III
Ian McKellen as Richard III

A lot of the time Ken does not know anything about the person he is drawing,

“I usually try to pull probably a dozen photos, and if something catches my eye I think, I can draw that, I can draw that angle, the eye, or the nose, or whatever; and I try to do that, and sometimes it doesn’t work and I have to switch over to another photo.

 

Commissioner William Bratton
Commissioner William Bratton

Ken has been heavily influenced by the work of Al Hirschfeld. I ask if he had ever met the great artist,

 

“I have. Well, this is funny because years ago I actually got my big break doing a show called “Forbidden Broadway”, and Al used to go to all the opening nights. He went to one in New York and they showed him the program cover that had my drawing on it and said, ‘what do you think of it?, and he thought he had done it. I took that as the ultimate compliment. He was a very nice man. I never got to know him really well. After he died I got to know his wife and I got to go up to his studio. I actually got to sit in his chair. That was

Rocky The Musical
Rocky The Musical

very exciting. Louise Hirschfeld and the people at the Al Hirschfeld Foundation have been very supportive of my work. They can see I am influenced by, but not copying him.”

 

Other artists, photographers, and architects, have influenced Ken including Aubrey Beardsley, Richard Avedon, and Irving Penn. I read a quote from Irving Penn to him. “Sensitive people faced with the prospect of a camera portrait put on a face they think is one they would like to show to the world…very often what lies behind the façade is rare and more wonderful then the subject knows or dares to believe.” I was curious if this would apply to Ken’s art.

Madmen
Madmen

“Usually, when I am drawing, my mind is pretty blank because I need it to be that way in order to create something. It’s probably subconscious with an artist. Anytime you do anything creative you’re not really aware of it at the time, but things come through when you love it, and I really love what I do. I am an old fashioned illustrator. I use a quill pen that I have to keep dipping in ink, and scratching on illustration board. I love the old fashioned stuff, and I’m hoping that comes through, and when people buy my stuff and they tell me they love looking at them that means the world to me.”

Billy Joel
Billy Joel

With his upbeat yet easy going manner, Ken hardly seems to be a suffering artist. I mention that I don’t see him pulling a VanGogh and cutting an ear off. “I sometimes clip a fingernail, but that is as far as I go.”

I find it amazing he is able to draw such meaningful doodles without having met his subjects. It is as if Ken has a sixth sense.

 

“I’ve had relatives of people I’ve drawn tell me you captured something there, and I’m like I did this from a photograph. I guess it was subconscious, but that is such a compliment.”

 

Rocky
Rocky

Ken got his start with the Wall Street Journal in 1994. “I had an agent and she got me my first WSJ job, and they hired me to draw sports figures. I did every sport. I even did the Winter Olympics that year.” I ask if he got to go, “Oh no, it’s all photographs. You’re trying to make my life much too glamorous. I’m not a sports person and I know very little about it, but I would look at photographs and just hope they wouldn’t come out looking like chorus boys or something. And it worked cause they had me doing that for almost four years.”

 

I bring up the subject of drawing political figures without having his own views, either positive or negative, come across.

“I have to be real careful if it’s somebody I know and that I don’t like, and they don’t want my drawings to be editorial. They just want me to show the person. It can be frustrating, but then I think of the paycheck and I push forward.”

Bullets Over Broadway
Bullets Over Broadway

Caricature can be a bit of a minefield particularly when drawing different ethnic groups. Because so many of the early illustrators had a field day making hateful statements with their disgraceful pieces. Ken is comfortable with any subject he doodles.

Chuck Berry
Chuck Berry

“I grew up around a lot of prejudice, but I never understood that, it didn’t make sense to me to be prejudiced. I just didn’t understand why people didn’t like other people. It usually is from ignorance and fear of the unknown. With caricatures, it’s interesting we are talking about this, when I got my first assignments to draw black people my editors would sometimes be very nervous, but I would say, ‘You shouldn’t be nervous’, and this is true, I’ve drawn blacks, I’ve drawn Asians, you know, all types, and I approach all of them the same way, and I think it shows in that. It’s not like I’m trying to make fun of any particular person, it’s just the way I see them without being cruel, I never try to be cruel. I’ve never had a problem.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Death of a Salesman
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Death of a Salesman

I ask Ken how old he is, and as he tells me he is 65 he reflects a bit on his very interesting journey.

 

“When I turned 50 my life was actually better. I got started in my late 30s that is when I got my first big break. Things have just gotten better. The really great thing is I don’t think I peaked too young, and I’m not jaded. It’s like things are happening. I’m hearing from all these people I went to high school with and they are so happy to be retiring, and I’m thinking I love what I do, I would never retire unless somebody stopped paying me.”

 

Fallin talks about his time in 1975 at the New School in New York and studying under famed cartoonist Mort Gerberg.

Joel Grey Caberet
Joel Grey Caberet

“I wanted to be a cartoonist for a brief period. Mort knew all these cartoonists at the New Yorker, and every week he would bring one in to talk to us, and we had people like George Booth and Charles Addams, and they were wonderful. And for our assignment every week we had to send a batch of cartoons to the New Yorker, and we had to bring in our rejection slip to show proof that we did it.”

 

Ken had spent a number of years after school as a starving actor as he kept pursuing his dream. What went on during those “lost years” from school until your big break in 1985?

 

“I did everything you can imagine. I’ve had just about every job. I’ve never worked in a hospital, but I’ve done just about everything else. I’ve been a waiter and a cab driver (Ken drove for Red Cab in Brookline, MA). I was drawing and acting, that was my original goal and the reason I came to New York. I got a job in 1979 working in a summer stock company in Connecticut, and I was making more money doing their posters for the shows and doing caricatures for the actors. You know, they’d pay me like five bucks for a drawing of them, and since I was only making like $45.00 a week as an actor, this came in very handy. I still thought of myself as becoming an actor but it got to the point I was making more money doing illustrations, these rinky-dink jobs, but they were coming in. What’s ironic is now a days I have meetings with Broadway producers and directors and writers about my art, but I’m always thinking, gosh, why didn’t I know these people when I wanted to be an actor. But it all worked out, I have no complaints.

Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett

“It wasn’t until my late thirties when I got my big break. It got to the point where I didn’t think anything was ever going to happen, and I was very discouraged. But then things just started happening and it was great. I think you just sort of have to be ready. If you believe in your self, and I have to admit there were periods that I didn’t, but if you can just sort of hold on and have somebody else tell you they believe in you that helps too.

 

“I have to throw this in because everyone has a parent story. My father never understood what I did as an illustrator until I started working for the Wall Street Journal, and other people would say ‘look at what Ken’s drawing here.’ And he started taking pride in it, but he could not believe people would pay you to draw. He was a salesman. If I was selling drawings that would be one thing, but he finally got it. Just before he died he told me he was proud of me, and that made it all right, but for years he thought I was a bum.”

 

What else would he like people to know about him?

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“You can say I am very kind to animals. I do dog rescue, that’s my big, big thing. I help rescue dogs out of the shelters here in New York. Our main goal is to get them out of the kill shelters cause we have very bad shelters here in New York. We try to get them either into foster homes or into a shelter that doesn’t kill. I like drawing dogs too. I don’t get to do that much in my pay work. I think they are such characters.”

 

After my conversation with this very warm and talented man I feel it is never too late to pursue your dream. It wasn’t easy for Ken, but he persisted and we are all the better for having him sharing his art with us. I hope you will now feel you know the man behind those wonderful doodles you see in so many publications.

 

Originals and prints of all Ken’s work are for sale including his work for the Wall Street Journal. The day we spoke he had earlier been on the phone with Patrick Stewart who was buying a copy of the wonderful piece Ken did for Playbill of “Waiting For Godot” starring Stewart and Ian McKellan.

 

You can contact Ken through his website at kenfallinartist.com

 

Holman Williams and Marcel Cerdan, The Boston Strong Boy, And Boxing At Boston City Hall Plaza

Williams-Cerdan-RooftopThe photo of Holman Williams and Marcel Cerdan which accompanies this article, having a conversation on a Paris rooftop has always fascinated me. I first saw it in the International Boxing Research Organization Journal, and Dan Cuoco, the director of that fine organization shared it with me. On July 7, 1946 Williams and Cerdan fought each other in Paris with Cerdan winning a decision over the American. Holman Williams was one of a group of boxers that came to be known as The Black Murderers’ Row. Others in this elite crowd were Charley Burley, Cocoa Kid, Eddie Booker, Bert Lytell, Loyd Marshall, Jack Chase, and Aaron “Tiger” Wade. All were great fighters who never got a shot at the title partly because of race, and partly because they were just too good. Author Harry Otty has written a fine book chronicling the careers of these boxers who deserve to be recognized by all boxing fans. His book, “Charley Burley and The Black Murderers Row’’, is a must read for anyone interested in the history of the sport.

In this photo, we see Williams who is at this point on the downside of his career, speaking with Cerdan who would two years later win the Middleweight Title from Tony Zale. I don’t know if this was taken before or after the bout, but it is interesting to see how intently they are listening and speaking to each other. This is not a photo of two wise mouth punks talking trash to each other, but of two professionals, of two gentlemen spending some time together. Are they talking about their fight? About boxing in general and the techniques they use? Perhaps they are having a conversation about the cultural scene in Paris. What I find striking is how relaxed they are with each other. These are two great fighters who would, or have already, put on a very tough fight; yet they are completely at ease in each other’s company. In this photo, both men convey class and dignity. The backdrop of Paris further enhances them. Both are impeccably dressed and could easily pass for a couple of writers or actors. It is a snapshot of a very different and interesting time. Take a moment to study this picture and let your mind wander to just what their conversation was about that July afternoon on a rooftop in Paris.

Strong Boy, The Life and Times of John L. Sullivan
America’s First Sports Hero
By Christopher Klein Published by Lyons Press

John-L-SullivanJohn L. Sullivan was America’s first larger then life sports star, and author Christopher Klein has written a fine account of the Boston Strong Boy. Sullivan, the son of Irish immigrants who had arrived in Boston during the great wave of Irish migration in the mid nineteenth century, was born in Boston’s South End, not Roxbury as many have believed. He made a reputation for himself at an early age with his amazing strength, intimidating stare, and powerful right hand punch.

Klein’s book follows Sullivan’s life in detail and shows just how the Great John L was the right man at the right time to win the adoration of fans nationwide. His fistic talent along with his magnetic personality and booming voice made him an instant celebrity. But, he never would have attained the prominence he did had it not been for the completion of the intercontinental railroad system. This feat of technology, comparable with the internet today, allowed Sullivan to crisscross the country putting on exhibitions and taking on all comers in four round matches. For the first time, Americans were able to see one of their heroes up close, sometimes too close, because Sullivan’s proclivity to drink would make him a very difficult character to control.

I learned much about John L from Klein’s book. Many things I didn’t know, such as the fact that after Gentleman Jim Corbett defeated Sullivan for the crown, the men would later engage in at least two exhibition matches. That Sullivan was a somewhat talented actor who loved performing on the stage, and that he was the first athlete to earn over a million dollars, most of which went to living the high life. The only fault I find in this book is that often times I found myself wanting more details about some of the events, such as the time in Augusta Georgia where Sullivan, who had been drinking heavily grew so verbally abusive that a train hand knocked him out. Surely, this was a big deal, and I would love to have had more details about that incident. I found this book a very interesting read and highly recommend it.

Boxing At City Hall Plaza
June 29th

This Sunday a live boxing show will take place out doors at City Hall Plaza in Boston. It is the Neighborhood Youth challenge and will feature a team of young amateurs from the local gyms going up against a team of boxers from Connemara, Ireland. Outdoor boxing in Boston is a bit of a throwback to the days of the Great John L and should be a lot of fun. I hope to see you there.

Reading The Gods Of War – Shadow Boxing With Golovkin

Review: The Gods Of War

Springs ToledoSprings Toledo is well known in boxing circles as a very good writer who also knows his boxing. Whether writing about Harry Greb or one of the current champions, his style is a throwback to the days when boxing writers knew the craft of writing as well as the sport. You do not have to be a boxing fan nor do you need a knowledge of the Sweet Science to enjoy his work. However, if you do know your boxing history Springs will make you think more deeply about it.

In his book The Gods Of War, Toledo has compiled a collection of his essays in the first section and then takes us on a run through his selection of the ten best fighters of the modern era (fighters who hit their prime after 1920) he calls this select group The Gods of War.

Gods of WarReading the essays in the first section you will hear echoes, not imitations, of A.J. Leibling and Raymond Chandler. Springs is not attempting to set the clock back with his style of writing, but rather he understands that boxing is the perfect subject for interesting and creative writing. I think of the term coined by Gay Talese, creative non-fiction, when reading these pieces as they all have a certain sense of drama to them that deserves to be explored.

I was pleased to see four essays on Sonny Liston, a fighter much too little has been written about. Springs absolutely nails it when he discusses the Ali Liston fight that was called off in Boston. If that fight had taken place history may have been very different. Much of what is revealed here I know to be true.

He talks about Alexis Arguello and the suffering this very decent man lived with all his life, a life that ended tragically and too soon, but one that is not uncommon in boxing. Boxing has a way of focusing our attention on the unfairness and cruelties of life, and Toledo uses his pen to paint a picture of this reality.

In the section entitled The Gods of War, Springs has developed a criteria for rating the greatest fighters. These greatest of all time lists are always controversial and guaranteed to raise the hackles of boxing fans, but in this case the author has used a very interesting and solid system for rating his picks. Will you agree with his choices? Probably not. But that is part of the fun. What will happen is you will be forced to think more deeply about your own picks. This is not just a list, but a series of short pieces that give the reader insight into each of the Gods of War. I feel I am pretty knowledgeable about the sport having spent a lifetime around it, but I learned much by reading these essays. For instance, I had not known about the connection between the Bob Fitzsimmons Shift and Roberto Duran. I would advise not jumping to the end to see the pick for the top spot, but rather read and savor each bio has you work your way to the end. There are surprises, but Springs backs up each of his choices with his terrific writing and deep insight.

There are many books on boxing being published today. Some very good, some that are labors of love that just don’t measure up, and some that would have been better off remaining as trees. The Gods of War is one that deserves to be read by everyone with an interest in boxing, an appreciation of good writing, and those with an a desire to know more about the human condition. I know it will remain in my library for many years to come.

Shadow Boxing With Golovkin

Gennady GolvkinA couple of weeks ago I watched the Gennady Golovkin Daniel Geale bout on television. I saw something before the bout when the cameras were in Golovkin’s dressing room, something you rarely if ever see today, Gennady was shadow boxing. This used to be common practice as fighters warmed up for their bouts, loosening up and getting ready to do battle. Today, they are usually spending their time warming up while robotically playing patty cake on the mitts with a trainer or having batons swung at them. Golovkin actually moves around the room getting loose and is practicing the movements he will be using in the ring. His mind is engaged. He is not just going through drills and repeating the same moves over and over again. He is visualizing his opponent in front of him, imagining what he will be facing in the ring. He is getting his body ready while engaging his mind.

Golovkin is a very good fighter. He showed that when he rolled with a right hand while delivering his own knockout punch in the Geale fight. He has power, is in great shape all the time, and knows how to think in there. He knows how to slip punches and create angles. He has been well taught and is learning his craft. He is also a class act, behaving as a gentleman before and after a bout. There is no cheap talk or language you wouldn’t want you kids to hear. He carries himself well and sets a very good example.

Golovkin GealeI do see problems for him though. I think he can dominate the division, but I doubt we will ever see him reach his full potential. We may even see him regress a bit. This is because he does not have the level of competition to force him to improve. At this stage in his career he should still be forced to learn in each fight he has. He is a very focused and intellectual boxer, but he does not have the peers to pressure him to go beyond where he is now. I saw some signs that he was getting just a bit sloppy in the Geale match. This is not to take anything away from him, it just shows that he is so good he does not have to pay for his mistakes. I doubt his camp is even able to find good sparring for him. In an earlier age they would have had solid journeyman sparring partners for a fighter like Gennady. Guys that would make him work in there, forcing him to hone his skills and continue to learn new moves. I hope he continues to improve so we get to see if he is able to develop into a great fighter, but I fear that instead of improving, he may be brought down by the caliber of fighters he is facing in today’s game. He is very smart. He is very talented. I want him to prove me wrong.

Bobby can be reached at bob2boxer [at] yahoo [dot] com

Leonard Nimoy: The Vulcan With A Cauliflower Ear

Leonard Nimoy, who was born and raised in Boston’s West End, passed away recently. While Mr. Nimoy was never a boxer, and is best known for his role as Mr. Spock in the Star Trek TV series and movies, boxing did have a part in shaping his acting career.

I was never a big fan of Star Trek, but I have always found Leonard Nimoy to be a very fascinating man outside of the role he is famous for. He led a very interesting life and was active in many different art forms. Not only was he a TV and movie star, he also spent time on stage, was an accomplished photographer, poet, narrator, and even released a record album.

I recently viewed a 2014 documentary, “Leonard Nimoy’s Boston”, his son Adam made about him. Mr. Nimoy and Adam spend time reminiscing and walking through the areas of Boston where Leonard grew up. The stories are wonderful to listen to, (tales of selling newspapers, working for a vacuum cleaner dealer, and selling greeting cards), and it brings us back to a very different Boston then the one we know now, before urban renewal destroyed a vibrant neighborhood and displaced many poor but happy families.

The old West End was a lively neighborhood where many immigrants first settled when they came to this country. Leonard’s parents arrived here from Ukraine and were Jewish. There were many Jews in the area and also a huge population of Italians plus many other ethnic groups. The West End was a beautiful representation of the American Melting Pot.

The Nimoys lived at 87 Chambers Street, which has since been covered over by the Charles River Park luxury apartments. Three doors down from their building was a synagogue where the Nimoys would worship. The only remaining Jewish House of Worship from that period is the Vilna Shul on Phillips Street . A number of years ago Leonard Nimoy narrated a documentary about the Vilna Shul in an effort to raise money to restore and preserve it. Towards the end of the film the camera zooms in briefly on a golden pair of hands that appear to be giving the Vulcan sign of greeting. Mr. Nimoy in interviews has said that it was his memories of seeing this ancient symbol while worshipping that gave him idea for it in the Star Trek series. He remembered seeing worshipers using it while he was at the synagogue and thought it was a beautiful gesture, and seeing that Earthlings of all backgrounds make some gesture towards each other when first meeting, be it a handshake, bow, salute, or something else, he thought it would be fitting for Vulcans to have such a thing. I believe it was in a Boston synagogue that the young “Spock” first saw this, so I think Boston can take some credit for what has become a gesture of peace known throughout the galaxies.

Leonard got his first taste of acting at the Elizabeth Peabody Community Settlement House at 357 Charles St. While there he was spotted by a priest who was so impressed with his talent that he offered to fund 50% of a scholarship for him to attend a summer acting program at Boston College, and offer the young Nimoy jumped at. It would take years before he found success in the world of acting. While working to get by he tells the story of the time he was driving a cab in California when a young Jack Kennedy hailed him. They had a wonderful conversation in which they compared the commonalities in politics and acting. Kennedy told him that while there were many competing for leading rPosteroles in both professions, “There was always room for one more good one.”

So, where does boxing fit into all of this? Well, it turns out the first major film role Mr. Nimoy had was as a boxer in the movie “Kid Monk Baroni”. I watched the movie recently and it is pretty good. The future Mr. Spock plays the lead role of Monk Baroni, an angry young man with a disfigured face who finds an outlet for his anger in the boxing ring. It is appropriate that a priest leads him in this direction as that mirrors his journey to acting in his own life. The movie follows the usual boxing movie formula with the leading man finding success in the ring and love outside of it only to squander both but to be led back to a good and meaningful life by his friends who never lose faith in him. Jack Larson, who portrayed Jimmy Olsen in the Superman TV series, plays Monk’s best friend Angelo. LarsonBruce Cabot is Monk’s manager Mr. Hellman. Cabot is best remembered for his role in the original King Kong with Fay Wray. The entire movie was filmed in nine days and Mr. Nimoy was paid less then a thousand dollars for the part. It did receive decent reviews and was shown at the Bowdoin Square Movie House where the marquee proudly proclaimed “The West End’s Own Leonard Nimoy Starring in Kid Monk Baroni”.

MrKid Monk B. Nimoy has said that the role did not lead to fame and fortune, it would be many more years before that happened, but it did something very important for him. He said it gave him the confidence that he could do the work. This confidence would serve to motivate him to keep sticking with it until he finally made it. He had the determination of a championship boxer. Oh, and he also showed some good footwork and hand movement in the movie. I have not been able to find out if he ever actually spent any time in the ring outside of the movie, but he certainly showed ability in the scenes I saw.

Kid MonkIn 2012 Mr. Nimoy was given an honorary degree by Boston University. In his speech he said to the graduates, “You are the creators and curators of your own life and work. Give us your best. We crave it, we hunger for it.” Leonard Nimoy always gave us his best and we are all the better for it.

Mona Golabek

Mona Golabek Is Magnificent in
The Pianist Of Willesden Lane
At The Hartford Stage Through April 26

I love theatre and have seen many great performances. I have seen many not so great works too, and some down right awful stuff, but I enjoy almost anything performed live on a stage. It also gives me pleasure to tell others about my experiences in the theatre, and by doing so, to inspire people who may not have had an interest in theatre to go and see what they are missing.

Lisa JuraI have just returned from Hartford where I have seen one of those very special performances, one that I wanted to never end. “The Pianist of Willesden Lane” is the true story of Lisa Jura, a 14 year old Jewish girl living with her family in Vienna during the beginning of the Nazi occupation in 1938. Lisa is played by her real life daughter Mona Golabek in this one actor production. Ms Golabek is an internationally celebrated concert pianist who co wrote a book about her mother’s life entitled “The Children of Willesden Lane”. Hershey Felder, remembered here in Boston for his superb performance in “George Gershwin Alone”, which he also wrote, adapted the book for the stage and asked Mona Golabek to play her mother. Though not a trained actress, she takes command of the stage in this incredibly moving story in which she includes playing pieces on the piano while she, in the role of her mother, tells the story of her journey from Vienna to London.

Lisa’s, who’s passion was the piano, and who dreamed of one day playing in recital The Piano Concerto in A Minor by Grieg, has her first experience of how her life was about to change when her piano teacher tells her he will no longer be able to give her lessons as it is now forbidden to teach Jews. Her father is no longer able to continue in his profession as a tailor and turns to gambling to support the family. On one terrible night, Krisatllnacht, he returns home bloody and beaten, but holding on to his winnings from a poker game. It is a single ticket for the Kindertransport, a program set up for Jewish children to be able to leave Austria and go to London. The Jura’s have three daughters, but Lisa is the one chosen to go. At the train station her mother tells her, “Lisa, Hold on to your music, it will be your best friend for life, and I will always love you.” With those words she is off on her journey all alone.

The Pianist of Willesden LaneMona Golabek plays not only her mother but many other major and minor characters in this performance. She tells of living with dozens of other Kindertransport children at a home in Willesden Lane in London. Of the friendships she makes, of the people who inspired and helped her, of the bombings, the destruction and rebuilding of the home, and how she had to continue her lessons without a teacher. She beautifully relates working as a seamstress by comparing it with music, “Each stitch was like another note of music…ending in a beautiful tapestry.” She does this while moving her hands along the piano keyboard to mimic the sewing machine, simply wonderful.

We are told of her playing the piano for the soldiers the night before D Day, and the French Resistance Officer she meets who would later become her husband. So much of this is sad, but it is also very uplifting to see how Lisa and all those with whom she is now sharing her life are able to survive and, more importantly, thrive amid the madness of war.

Ms Golabek is beyond outstanding in this performance. Every word, every note, comes from her heart. She is wonderful at the piano, and her acting skills are amazing as she moves among the many different characters and voices, but what is truly magnificent is how she tells her mother’s story, and how we are brought into her life. There was no one in the audience who wasn’t deeply moved by the story of Lisa Jura, and I am thankful to Mona Golabek for sharing her family and friends with us.

Lisa Tells Her StoryAs her performance comes to an end she takes time to tell the audience her story is dedicated “To every parent who had the courage to save their children by saying goodbye.”

I strongly recommend you see The Pianist of Willesden Lane. I could watch it over and over. For those of you who have never been to the theatre, this is as good an introduction as you will ever have. For those of you who do go, you will not be disappointed.

Mona Golabek In
The Pianist of Willesden Lane
Adapted and Directed by Hershey Felder
At The Hartford Stage Through April 26
www.hartfordstage.org
860.527.5151

Ali vs Folley: Another Phantom Punch?

March 22, 1967 would turn out to be the date of Muhammad Ali’s last bout for three years. He had been classified as 1A by the draft board and ordered to show up for induction in the coming months. Before the bout Ali spoke about this possibly being the last time for the public to see him in the ring “Live and in living color”. The bout was held in Madison Square Garden and his opponent was the veteran contender Zora Folley from Chandler, Arizona. The fight was televised on home TV, so it was guaranteed to be seen by a large audience.

As a young boy I remember watching the fight, and what stands out in my memory from that night was the fact that, even at such a young age, I thought there was something odd about the fight. I didn’t know what, but it just seemed that things weren’t quite right.

Looking at a recording of this fight now I still feel that way, though now I know why I felt that way. There were a number of things that went on before, after, and during this fight that were not typical of a Muhammad Ali fight.

Folley jabs bodyFor one thing, this was one of the only black opponents whom Ali faced where he didn’t demean him and come up with some disgraceful name for him. He called Ernie Terrell an Uncle Tom, Floyd Patterson a rabbit, and Liston was the ugly bear. In the future he would use the term gorilla and to describe Joe Frazier and also call him an Uncle Tom. Ali showed no restraint in using racist language to insult his black opponents.

With Zora Folley he took a very different tone. He was subdued and spoke respectfully of his challenger. He brought up how Folley was a good family man with many children. He spoke of the respect he had for him. This was a very different Ali. Even after the fight he continued to praise him and even reached out to one of Zora’s sons telling him to be proud of his father.

If Ali’s behavior seemed odd, things were also a bit strange in the Folley Camp. Historian Mike Silver visited the gym where Folley was training and describes the atmosphere there as being filled with “…an air of depression.” Even though Zora was past his prime and getting his first shot at the title late in his career, he should have been embracing this moment. Finally, his dream of fighting for the championship had come true. Silver mentions others who didn’t get a chance until very late in their careers; fighters like Jersey Joe Walcott and Archie Moore, both of whom went all out once their long overdo opportunities finally arrived. There was none of this excitement in the Folley camp.

On the night of the bout Folley entered the ring quite a while earlier then Ali. He just remained seated on his stool while former champs and current contenders were introduced to the crowd (a great tradition that is now lost).When Ali made his entrance, Folley finally got up and loosened up a bit, but not much, odd behavior for a slick boxer who would normally want to break a sweat and be loose before the opening bell. Zora looked more like he would rather be someplace else then in the ring. It wasn’t a look of fear, but rather one of resignment. This was also strange behavior coming from a veteran of over 80 fights who had been in with most of the top contenders of his day including Sonny Liston whom he showed no lack of confidence with.

The fight itself looked almost surreal. Ali danced and circled for the first three rounds while Folley jabbed to the body and threw a few right hand counters that grazed Ali’s chin. There was a definite lack of urgency to Zora’s moves, but I suppose that can be attributed to patience as he was a methodical boxer, though I think it was something else. Those three rounds could be given to Folley but more because of the lack of any aggression on the part of Ali.

The fourth round was interesting. Ali hit Folley with an overhand right that did not seem to carry much power, and Zora went down flat on his face. He appeared to be out cold, and usually when a fighter is stretched out like that he is unconscious, but miraculously, at the count of four Zora suddenly came to life. He did a push up and got onto one knee. From that position he carefully listened to the referee count to nine before getting up. He was clear as a bell. I have never seen anything like this since. This seemed more like something from pro wrestling then boxing. Was Folley thinking of taking the full count and then had second thoughts? That’s what I believe.

Once he regained his feet he went right after Ali landing a good right that he did not follow up on. It was the only time in the bout where looked like he wanted to really win, but it was short lived.

The next couple of rounds were fairly slow though Ali did pick up the pace and won them. Between the sixth and seventh rounds, Ali’s manager Herbert Muhammad climbed up to the champion’s corner and whispered something in his ear. Afterwards, Ali would say that Herbert told him to stop playing around and get to work.

Folley's PushupIn the seventh round Ali came out and hit Zora with two overhand rights that were carbon copies of what he threw in the fourth. Again, Zora went down on his face, and again he came back to life, only this time instead of taking a knee he stumbled around the ring while the referee counted him out. He left the ring quickly after the announcer gave the official time of the ending of the fight.

In a New York Times wire story filed after the fight, Robert Lipsyte described the punch that floored Folley as a “phantom chop” and compared it with the punch that dropped Liston in Lewiston, Maine. Ali himself briefly described it as the Anchor Punch, the term he had used for the blow he hit Liston with. He quickly backtracked on that statement.

After watching this fight a number of times, I believe Zora Folley took a dive. Why would he do that? Well, it is pretty well known that most of Ali’s opponents received death threats before facing him. I think this happened to Folley and that it really had an effect on him. I think the Zora Foley who stepped into the ring that night was in fear of his life. Not because he was facing the fists of Ali, but because of what went on leading up to the fight. Of course, we’ll never know for sure.

Kiss Me Kate

The Hartford Stage Brushes Up “Kiss Me Kate”
With A Beautiful Production That
Is Pleasing to the Eyes, Ears, and Heart

I last saw a production of the Cole Porter musical “Kiss Me Kate” in 2009 in Boston, and I was very disappointed. I left the theatre thinking that perhaps this wonderful play was too dated to go over today. Well, I was greatly mistaken. In the hands of Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak along with choreographer Peggy Hickey, Kate is alive and well and living on a stage in Hartford.

This is the first musical I have seen at THS and I was impressed. With a sixteen-piece orchestra, yes, a real orchestra led by Kris Kukul, amazing sets and costumes, and a fantastic cast, this production of Porter’s take on The Taming of the Shrew will have you humming Wunderbar as you leave the theatre.

Mike McGowan and Anastasia Barzee
Mike McGowan and Anastasia Barzee

Set in a theatre in Baltimore in the late 1940s, the play revolves around an acting company that is staging Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew”. The actor’s personal problems, which include love, gambling, keeping the production financially solvent, and dealing with the leading actors being a divorced couple who still carry a torch for each other, though they try very hard to hide it, all spill over to their performances of the Bard’s work.

The back stage scenes are very realistic with a multi level rehearsal space and dressing rooms. The center of the stage revolves so we can see the entrances to actor’s quarters as well as the interiors..

Anastasia Barzee and Neptune
Anastasia Barzee and Neptune

As beautiful as these back stage settings are, your eyes are in for an amazing treat when the scenes turn to the staging of “The Taming of the Shrew”. The colors are vivid and absolutely beautiful. The costumes gorgeously detailed. Watching this performance I felt as if I had tuned in to high definition theatre. I don’t think I have ever seen as beautiful a setting in all my years of going to theatre. With the multi level sections now being used as buildings where the actors open doors and pop their heads out, particularly Kate who uses her perch from above to pelt suitors: Just the thing for the woman who proclaims “I Hate Men”.

“While my eyes were drinking in this beauty, my ears were filled with the pleasure of hearing the wonderful songs of Cole Porter”

While my eyes were drinking in this beauty, my ears were filled with the pleasure of hearing the wonderful songs of Cole Porter being performed by singers who knew how to put them over, with choreography that matched perfectly. Of course, it is hard to miss with songs such as “Too Darn Hot”, “Another Op’nin, Another Show”, “So In Love”, and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare”, but this isn’t just a bunch of very good singers belting out a few songs. No, this is a group of actors doing justice to this marvelous play.

Even the statue of Neptune that takes center stage for a good portion of the play gets in on the act in the number, “Tom, Dick, and Harry”. I won’t go into detail, but what would a Shakespeare inspired play be without a touch of the bawdy.

It is too much of a challenge to name all of the actors in this small amount of space, but I can say without reservation that everyone was top shelf.

If you want to brush up your Shakespeare, your Porter, and your musical theatre, get down to Hartford for this one. This is a Kate worthy of a huge kiss.

Kiss Me Kate Cast

Playing at the Hartford stage through June 14th. Info at www.hartfordstage.org

The Gloves Are Always Loaded

May 31st was the 32nd anniversary of the death of the great Jack Dempsey. On social media people marked the date by showing clips of Jack’s winning the Heavyweight Championship in brutal fashion from Jess Willard. In that bout Dempsey floored the giant Willard seven times in the first round administering one of the most severe beating ever seen in a boxing ring. By the end of the third round Jess was unable to continue having suffered broken bones in his face and ribs. For years it had been rumored that Dempsey’s hands were loaded (something heavy was put into his gloves along with his fists) for the fight. His former manager, with whom Jack had had a falling out, fed the flames by claiming to have taken part in the scheme. His accusations were driven by a desire to hurt his former champion. This controversy has been argued to exhaustion by fight fans over the years with most agreeing the fight was on the up and up, so I will not rehash the arguments here.

“In reality, the boxing glove has made the sport more dangerous.”

What has not been discussed much is the fact that in reality all boxers enter the ring with their gloves loaded, and I don’t mean with just their fists. It is interesting to learn just why the boxing glove and the taping of the hands came into existence, as most people believe it was to make the sport safer. That couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, the boxing glove has made the sport more dangerous. I will give a very short history of how the boxing glove evolved and I think you will begin to understand what I mean.

The CestusThe first version of a boxing glove appeared in ancient Greece. The boxers of that era found they were breaking their hands when hitting each other in the head, so they began wrapping pieces of leather around their fists as a way to give more support to the bones in their hands. The ancient Romans, being the innovators they were when it came to making sports more barbaric, started adding small spikes to the leather hand wraps in order to make them even more deadly. There is an excellent example of this hand wrapping, or what was to become known as the cestus in the remarkable statute of “The Terme Boxer” or as it is more commonly known “The Boxer At Rest” in Rome. I have written about this incredible work of art before and include a photo of it with this article.

James FiggI will now skip ahead a couple of millennium to the period in England when boxing started to become very popular. In the 18th Century, James Figg, who has become known as the Father of Boxing, began developing a style of boxing, that while quite different from what we know it as today, set the stage for what would later develop into the modern sport of boxing. Figg incorporated many moves from the art of fencing into a sport that was to become known as boxing. This early version allowed for punching, but that was not the main emphasis. Grappling was also a big part of what went on in these matches. One of the reasons for the lack of punching was the fact that the combatants would break their hands hitting each other on the head. Our hands are made up of many small bones that break and bruise easily. Just ask anyone who has suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome and they will tell you how delicate the human hand can be.

As the sport moved on into the 19th Century, fighters continued to deal with the best way to avoid breaking their hands. In many ways boxing became more primitive as many of the fencing moves were lost and the grappling increased. Many of these later bareknuckle matches would last for hours as neither participant would want to take a chance on throwing a knock out blow until they were sure their opponent had slowed down enough so they could land a clean shot on the jaw, thus not injuring their hand.

Eventually, many of these fighters began wrapping their hands and wearing light gloves in order to allow them the freedom to land more head punches without fear of hurting their hands.

As boxing moved into the 20th Century, hand wrapping became much more sophisticated and the gloves improved quite a bit. At no point were the gloves improved with the idea of making the sport safer. They were further developed in order to allow for more head punching. This actually made the sport much more dangerous, for it was now possible for a large number of punches to be thrown at and landed on the head. This resulted in an increase of head injuries.

caestAt the beginning of this article I stated that boxing gloves are always loaded. I will explain. If you have ever had your hands properly taped for a fight you will know that first a roll of gauze is wrapped around the hand. This is followed by having the gauzed secured with a goodly amount of tape in order to keep it in place and to greatly strengthen the hand and protect the bones. Once this taping is done, that “loaded hand” is placed into a boxing glove which gives it even more protection. Take a well wrapped hand encased in a boxing glove and you can throw a full throttle blow at a brick wall and not hurt your fist. I have actually done that. Now, just think of how much harder you can hit another human being in the head with this set up.

“The modern boxer does not go into the ring with lead weights in his gloves, but he does enter the ring with a fist that is greatly enhanced for the purpose of causing more damage to the head.”

The modern boxer does not go into the ring with lead weights in his gloves, but he does enter the ring with a fist that is greatly enhanced for the purpose of causing more damage to the head. Dempsey’s hands were not illegally loaded the day he destroyed Willard, but I can guarantee you he would not have been able to land those head punches if his hands had not been wrapped.

The idea that somehow the boxing glove was developed to make the sport safer is a myth. The boxing glove, along with hand wraps, have made boxing more dangerous. An argument can be made that if you wanted to make boxing safer you would ban hand protection.

Nice Work If You Can Get It

Nice Work If You Can Get It

At The Ogunquit Playhouse

Is S’Wonderful

A new musical featuring the songs of George and Ira Gershwin, with dance numbers inspired by Busby Berekely and Fred Astaire, along with tear inducing comedy routines, and beautiful sets created by the team at the Ogunquit Playhouse with a superb cast all make for as fun a night of theatre as you will have.

Nice Work first appeared on Broadway in 2012. This run is directed by Larry Raben who collaborated with choreographer Peggy Hickey to build this production from scratch.

Amanda Lea LaVergne and Joey Sorge
Amanda Lea LaVergne and Joey Sorge

The most familiar names in the cast, Sally Struthers and Valerie Harper , both do a fine job in their roles as Duchess Estonia Dulworth, the founder of The Society of Dry Women, and Millicent Winter respectively. Ms Struthers, who returns to the Playhouse each season, sings, dances, and even swings from a chandelier.

Sally Struthers as Duchess Estonia Dulworth
Sally Struthers as Duchess Estonia Dulworth

The play is set in Prohibition Era New York, and the leads Amanda Lea LaVergne as the swaggering bootlegger Billie Bendix and Joey Sorge as the not so terribly bright, but charming, wealthy playboy Jimmy Winter work wonderfully together. The scene where Billie Bendix sings the beautiful love song Someone To Watch Over Me while holding, loading, and cocking a shotgun is original and quite good. And then there is the spanking scene that brought down the house. You have to be there for that one.

“James Beaman as Cookie McGee who poses as the butler at the Winter estate while working with the gang to smuggle hooch almost steals the show with his wisecracking voice and superb timing.”

James Beaman as Cookie McGee who poses as the butler at the Winter estate while working with the gang to smuggle hooch almost steals the show with his wisecracking voice and superb timing. George S. Kaufman would have signed him up after seeing this performance. Of course, in order to deliver great lines an actor has to have them, and there are certainly plenty of them in this play such as when McGee cracks “I’m not going back to prison because it means spending more time with my family.”

McGee cracks “I’m not going back to prison because it means spending more time with my family.”

Sally Struthers is a very strong presence on stage who can say more with a look then many performers can say with an entire monologue; however, she has met her match in Mr. Beaman who never misses a beat.

Amanda Lea LaVergne as Billie Bendix
Amanda Lea LaVergne as Billie Bendix

It is refreshing to see a new production in this era of commodity musicals. While Nice Work would be successful just as a song and dance piece, it is side splittingly funny, so funny in fact that at times the cast members struggle to contain themselves. It is a pleasure to watch a play where the actors are having as much fun performing as the audience is watching it.

I often praise the shows at the Ogunquit Playhouse and there is a good reason for that, they are consistently good. Some are better then others and I have my favorites. Nice work If You Can Get It is now up near the top of my list. You will not be disappointed if you see this. What you will do is leave the theater smiling and humming a tune. I just may go see it again.

Nice Work If You Can Get It at the Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, ME through August 15th. For information call 207.646.5511 or go to ogunquitplayhouse.org

Update:

Brenda Vaccaro will step into the role of Millicent Winter

Academy Award nominated film star Brenda Vaccaro will step into the role of Millicent Winter in the production of Nice Work If You Can Get It now playing on the Ogunquit Playhouse stage through August 15. Valerie Harper, who had been performing in the role, continues to rest after falling ill on July 29. Ms. Vaccaro will take the stage for the 8PM

performance on Tuesday, August 4, and through the end of the run.

 

Brenda Vaccaro
Brenda Vaccaro

“Valerie is feeling great right now and we want her to continue to rest and to enjoy her family. After discussing with them, we decided that we wanted to relieve her of any pressure of having to return to the show, which only runs for two more weeks. With Valerie’s blessing, the Ogunquit Playhouse is thrilled to announce that Brenda Vaccaro, star of film, television and stage, has arrived in Ogunquit to take over the role of Millicent Winter,” stated Executive Artistic Director Bradford Kenney.

Brenda Vaccaro is considered to be one of our nation’s most respected actresses. She has received an Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, the People’s Choice Award, and the Theater World Award. In addition, she has been honored with two Academy Award nominations, five Tony Award nominations, and numerous Emmy Award nominations.

Million Dollar Quartet

Opens At The Ogunquit Playhouse August 19th

The high voltage-voltage rock and roll musical Million Dollar Quartet will run at the Ogunquit Playhouse from August 19th through September 19th. The play is was inspired by the true story of a meeting at Sun Records Studio in Memphis that brought legends Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash together for an afternoon that turned into a legendary jam session.

Scott Moreau as Johnny Cash, Robert Britton Lyons as Carl Perkins, Jacob Rowley as Elvis, and Nat Zegree as Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet
Scott Moreau as Johnny Cash, Robert Britton Lyons as Carl Perkins, Jacob Rowley as Elvis, and Nat Zegree as Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet

The Playhouse production will feature the original Broadway set designed by Derek McLane.  I will be reviewing this play over the weekend. I’ll let you know what I think as soon as I get back. Looks like there will be a whole lot of shaking go on in Ogunquit, so i hope I am not all shook up after seeing this.

 

For more information you can contact the Playhouse at www.ogunquitplayhouse.org  or call the box office at 207.646.5511

Give Him The Left Hook

Give Him The Left Hook

by Bobby Franklin

When first learning how to box, students of the Manly Art are usually told about the three basic punches: The jab, the right cross, and the left hook. (These would be reversed in the case of a southpaw.)

The jab has been called the most important punch in boxing, and it is. If you can’t reach your opponent with a jab, you will not be able to reach him with any other punch. It is both an offensive and a defensive blow and has many variations.

The right cross is used as a counter to the jab as it is the jab that it crosses over. When encountering a jab the person on the receiving end will attempt to slip it and fire a right hand over it with the intent of landing a good shot to the jaw.

The left hook is a great punch, but it is useless if not properly set up.

The left hook can be used in many ways. It is utilized as both a head and body punch. Like the jab, it can be thrown as a single punch or double and even tripled up. I have seen fighters through five and six in a row. It is also usually part of a combination such as, jab, right cross, left hook, all thrown in quick succession.

Robinson vs Fullmer
Robinson vs Fullmer

Many fighters have been known for having a great left hook, and it is a common, and usually true belief, that most boxers who rely on the hook tend to be shorter and often stockier then their counterparts. However, this is not always the case. Gerry Cooney was very tall and possessed a devastating left hook to the body. Tommy Morrison at 6’2” also had a tremendous left hook.

Robinson landed a perfectly timed hook to the chin of Fullmer knocking him out cold. Ray called the punch the most perfect of his career.

What has been called the greatest left hook ever thrown was not launched by a short stocky boxer but instead by a 5’11” middleweight by the name of Walker Smith Jr, more widely known as Sugar Ray Robinson. In the 5th round of his 1957 bout with Gene Fullmer, who was known as a hooker, Robinson landed a perfectly timed hook to the chin of Fullmer knocking him out cold. Ray called the punch the most perfect of his career, and many boxing experts have concurred with that sentiment. It was the only time Gene was ever knocked out. He was stopped in his last fight, but in that bout he retired on his stool.

A tall lanky boxer also landed two other memorable left hooks. Bob Foster at 6’3” and 174 pounds landed a picture perfect hook in winning the title from Dick Tiger. This was not a wild punch. Foster set Tiger up for the blow and then landed it flush on the chin with precision timing. Tiger was out cold for the only time in his career. As in Fullmer’s case, Tiger had only failed to go the distance one other time in his career, and that was a between rounds stoppage because of an injured thumb.

It is the paradox of boxing that fans were witnessing an artful display of boxing skill, a move that would rival that of any world class choreographed dancer, and at the same time watching a man possibly being killed…

In defending his title against Mike Quarry, Foster once again demonstrated the absolutely lethal power in his left hand. Again, he used his jab and shoulder feints to set up the

Bob Foster Stands Over Mike Quarry
Bob Foster Stands Over Mike Quarry

courageous Quarry. Once he made the opening, Foster let go with a left hook that rendered Mike unconscious before he hit the canvass. People in the arena and watching on closed circuit TV gasped as they saw the challenger fall to the canvas in a comatose state. It is the paradox of boxing that fans were witnessing an artful display of boxing skill, a move that would rival that of any world class choreographed dancer, and at the same time watching a man possibly being killed, and for a number of minutes following the blow it was in question whether the young Quarry would ever open his eyes again. Fortunately, he did regain his senses and got to his feet, but that punch will be remembered by all who witnessed it, and it will continue to invoke the question of how we can find such beauty in something so damaging to a fellow human being.

Ironically, Foster would later become the recipient of one of the most deadly left hooks ever landed when he challenged Joe Frazier for the Heavyweight Championship.

Joe fit the stereotype of the left hooker, being shorter and stockier then his opponent. He had also made a name for himself with the punch. His stoppage of Jimmy Ellis was another textbook example of how to throw the hook. In the final knockdown of that bout Frazier pivoted to his right and then landed a left hook flush on Ellis’s chin. Somehow Jimmy managed to get to his feet as the bell sounded, but Angelo Dundee mercifully stopped the fight at that point.

 

Frazier Knocks Out Foster
Frazier Knocks Out Foster

In the Foster vs Frazier fight Bob came out in the first round determined to make distance between himself and Joe. He was not going to fall into the trap of trading hooks with a hooker. He was jabbing and attempting to land his powerful right hand on Frazier, and he did manage to get a few in, but Joe was relentless. In the second round Joe dropped Foster with a left hook. When Foster arose, the champion pummeled him to the ropes where he landed a tremendous left hook to the jaw of the challenger. Foster was out cold. This time it was Bob Foster who was being counted over.

The left hook is a great punch, but it is useless if not properly set up. Yes, many boxers have gone out there and just thrown lots of hooks and eventually gotten lucky in landing one to win the fight, but as they move up to a higher caliber of competition they find that it takes more then just tossing punches. Both Foster and Frazier knew how to set up their opponents for the hook. Foster with his jab and feints, Frazier with his pressuring, slipping, and stepping to the side. It is these moves that put the art into the Art of Boxing.

 

 

Pender vs Hagler

Pender Had The Style To

Give The Marvelous One Trouble

But Could He Have Won?

By Bobby Franklin

The Boston area has produced three World Middleweight Champions. Johnny Wilson, who was originally from Harlem, Paul Pender from Brookline, and Marvelous Marvin Hagler from Brockton by way of New Jersey. Interestingly, two of these champions, Wilson and Hagler, were southpaws.

Pender Defeating Ray Robinson
Pender Defeating Ray Robinson

While watching clips of Paul Pender in action I started to think about how a matchup between these two local world champions would have played out. Hagler’s name is always included in any list of great middleweight champions, while Pender is remembered as a very good, but not great, champion. However, a boxer not being ranked on the all time great list does not mean he would not have posed problems for one of the best. It has been repeated over and over but is still true, styles make fights. Ken Norton is never ranked as an all time great, yet in their three fights he gave Muhammad Ali, the number one choice of many boxing experts, all he could handle. Many believe he deserved the decision in all of their match ups, not just the first one where he broke Ali’s jaw. If they fought a hundred times it would always be a tough fight for Ali. Why? Because Norton had a style that Ali just could not cope with.

…it is interesting to note that neither champion was ever beaten by the same opponent twice.

In comparing Pender and Hagler it is interesting to note that neither champion was ever beaten by the same opponent twice. In Hagler’s case, with the exception of Ray Leonard, he avenged every one of his losses.

Paul Pender
Paul Pender

Pender had a record of 48 bouts with 40 wins (20 Kos), 6 losses, and 2 draws. Paul was stopped on 3 occasions. He fought a total of 345 rounds.

Marvelous Marvin Hagler
Marvelous Marvin Hagler

Hagler’s record stands at 67 total bouts with 62 wins (52 Kos), 3 losses, and 2 draws. He had a total of 398 rounds fought in his career. Marvin was never stopped.

Pender fought most his fights in the 1950s, his pro career began in 1949 and ended in 1962. Hagler’s ran from 1973 until 1987.

Pender and Hagler would both enter the ring supremely confident.

So, what makes this an interesting fight? Well, first off, since this is all conjecture, let’s assume each contestant has a piece of a divided Middleweight Crown. Remember, that when Pender won the title from Sugar Ray Robinson the majority of governing bodies did not recognize it. In promoting the bout at the Boston Garden it would not only be built up as a championship match between two local fighters, but two local fighters with a claim to the title. The winner would walk away as the undisputed titleholder, great motivation for both of them. This would probably be the only time in history that the Boston Garden would be sold out for a boxing match.

Pender and Hagler would both enter the ring supremely confident. Marvin having taken out Thomas Hearns in one of the greatest fights of all time, and Paul having defeated the great Sugar Ray Robinson twice. Neither man would be intimidated by the other.

Now to their styles: Pender is thought of as a boxer, but he was really a boxer puncher. He moved fast on his feet, had quick hands, and was a master of the feint. He also had an excellent left hook that he would work off of his jab, sometimes throwing it immediately after landing a jab, and sometimes feinting a jab and moving in with the hook. Paul also had power in both hands.

Marvin is best known as a lethal puncher, but he could box as well. It was also very difficult to hit him with a clean shot. He kept his chin tucked down and had excellent head movement. Once he had an opponent hurt he would finish him off. Marvin was always in excellent shape and had a burning desire to win that never abated throughout his career.

Hagler Defeating Duran
Hagler Defeating Duran

The two Hagler fights that give us a clue to how Pender would have done against him are the Duran and Leonard bouts. Duran, like Pender, was a master at feinting, though he used more body feints then Paul. That feinting kept Marvin a bit on edge and made the fight competitive. He ended up winning a much closer decision then most experts expected.

Paul’s most effective weapons against Marvin would be his footwork, his left hook off a jab feint, and his follow up right hand

Leonard showed how movement could be a problem for Marvin. Of course, there was a lot more going on in that bout that I will not get into here, but it did show that a boxer who kept his cool, stuck to a plan, and fought in flurries could be a problem for Marvin.

Pender could do all of that. Paul’s most effective weapons against Marvin would be his footwork, his left hook off a jab feint, and his follow up right hand. He would be moving in and out, attacking and retreating, moving side to side. All of this would give Marvin a lot of trouble, but for how long?

While Paul would be frustrating Marvin, he most likely would not be able to get a clear shot off on Hagler’s chin. Hagler would start increasing the pressure and begin cutting the ring off on the Brookline native in the hope of cornering him and landing a barrage of punches in order to at least slow him down. This would be difficult, but not impossible to do as Pender was always thinking in there and did not tire.

I think this would have been a very interesting fight. Remember, I am talking about both of these champions meeting in their primes with the title at stake. It would also be a fifteen round match and both would be local favorites.

I am going to leave the outcome up to my readers, but I do believe this fight would have gone the distance and the fans would have gotten their moneys worth.

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Julius Caesar at the Trinity Rep

Beware the Ides of March,

But Have No Fear Of Buying A Ticket For This Production

Of Julius Caesar In Providence.

The other night I traveled south to Providence, Rhode Island to see the Trinity Rep’s production of Julius Caesar. This play kicks off their 2015-2016, and it is a great start.This version is set in contemporary times with the government rulers in business or military attire. The set conveys a somewhat decaying aura that fits with the turmoil that is to ensue. Director Tyler Dobrowsky also makes interesting use of a live video camera that projects certain parts of the play onto two walls giving us the flavor of the events being covered in this age of the 24 hour news cycle. There are also occasional news scrolls across the same walls.

The cast of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at Trinity Rep Photo by Mark Turek
The cast of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at Trinity Rep
Photo by Mark Turekto ensue.

The set conveys a somewhat decaying aura that fits with the turmoil that is to ensue.

A nice touch is the string quartet that is situated above the action but in full view of the audience. The music, by Polish composer Henryk Gorecki, is somber and influences the mood. My only quarrel with it is in the second act where it is a bit overdone as the mood has already descended and the audience does not need reminding of that fact.

Stephen Thorne’s Brutus is a perfect balance between the cold blooded conspirator, idealist, and a man who’s lust for power equals Caesar’s.

Caesar is played by Anne Scurria who does a wonderful job as a female but not feminine Caesar. I am not clear as to,or if, a message is being conveyed by having him played as a woman.  Ms Scurria is still called Julius and the pronouns referring to Caesar have all been changed to the femine. Calpurnia is renamed Calpurnius, the male version of the name, and is played by Mauro Huntman. Huntman reminds a bit of Al Bundy and you really can’t blame Caesar for not going to the senate on that fateful March day when faced with the choice of staying home with her husband who appears ready to spend the day in pajamas.  I am certain many will read much into this given that the current presidential election season has begun, but I really didn’t see any overt links to any of today’s politicians other than the fact Caesar is wearing a pantsuit.

Anne Scurria as Julius Caesar and Mauro Hantman as Calpurnius Photo: Mark Turek
Anne Scurria as Julius Caesar and Mauro Hantman as Calpurnius Photo: Mark Turek

Stephen Thorne’s Brutus is a perfect balance between the cold blooded conspirator, idealist, and a man who’s lust for power equals Caesar’s. While he may believe he is working for the greater good, and he does his best to convince himself, the people, and the audience, we find he is another manipulating politician.  It is a complicated role for an actor, but Mr. Thorne does a fine job getting all of these emotions across.

This Caesar, as bloody as any, also has a number of laughs. Fred Sullivan, Jr. as the hypocritical Casca is witty and sarcastic as he first takes the stage, though he has to repeatedly reach for liquid courage from the flask he keeps hidden.

 Marc Antony’s playing up to the press and mugging for the camera is very effective.

The funeral oration given by Joe Wilson, Jr.’s Marc Antony is very interesting. The live camera arrives on the scene to broadcast the speech, and Mr. Wilson does a marvelous job

Joe Wilson, Jr. as Marc Antony and Anne Scurria as Julius Caesar Photo by Mark Turek
Joe Wilson, Jr. as Marc Antony and Anne Scurria as Julius Caesar Photo by Mark Turek

of showing with his eye movements and turn of head how well the deep thinking Antony manipulates the crowd by turning what was expected to be a simple eulogy honoring his friend into a rallying cry for civil war.  Marc Antony’s playing up to the press and mugging for the camera is very effective and will certainly resonate in this age of sound bites.

 

It is impossible for the Trinity rep to put on a bad production of a Shakespeare play if Brian McEleney is in it. Having seen him in the Rep’s productions of Richard III and King Lear, I have to say he is one of the finest Shakesperaen actors gracing New England stages today. He does not disappoint as Cassius who at first is petty and manipulative as he convinces Brutus to conspire in the assassination of Caesar. Cassius redeems himself in Act II but it is too late. Mr. McEleney is a joy to watch as he practices his stage craft, and I could envision an evening of him doing a solo performance of the works of Shakespeare. He has a wonderful voice and exquisite timing.Brian McEleney as Cassius and Stephen Thorne as Brutus Photo by Mark Turek

 

Mr. McEleney is a joy to watch as he practices his stage craft

Some liberties were taken with this production, but they work. Particularly the closing scene, which is incredibly effective. I won’t spoil it for you.

I highly recommend this production even sans the togas. It is interesting, well played, staged, and directed as it shows us how ambition and the lust for power are timeless. Beware the Ides of March, but have no fear of buying a ticket for Julius Caesar in Providence.

Julius Caesar at the Trinity Rep playing through October 11th

201 Washington Street, Providence, RI, www.trinityrep.com, 401-351-4242

Directed by Tyler Dombrowsky. Set design by Michael McGarty. Costume design by Oliver Gajic. Lighting by John Ambrosone.

Cast:

Julius Caesar Anne Scurria*
Brutus Stephen Thorne*
Marc Antony Joe Wilson, Jr.*
Cassius Brian McEleney*
Portia RachaelWarren* Calpurnius/Octavius Mauro Hantman* Cicero Barbara Meek*

Casca/Titinius FredSullivan,Jr.*
Decius Brutus/Messalla Richard Donelly* Marullus/Metellus Cimber Timothy Kopacz Flavius/Trebonia Olivia Khoshatefeh Soothsayer/Lucilius GriffinSharps Pindarus GeorgeOlesky
Cinna/Cato Joshua Lomeli
Lucia TaraSullivan

Musicians:

Viola HannahRoss Violin ChaseSpruill Cello AdrienneTaylor Violin EthanWood

 

 

 

 

 

SpeakEasy Stage Presents NE Premiere Of appropriate

From September 12-October 10, 2015, SpeakEasy Stage Company will proudly present the New England Premiere of appropriate, the thrilling new drama about race and identity by acclaimed African-American playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins.

A 2014 Obie Award-winner for Best New American Play, appropriate follows the estranged members of the Lafayette clan as they gather at their crumbling Arkansas plantation home to mourn the loss of their father and settle his estate.  While sifting through a lifetime of memories and junk, they make a gruesome discovery that forces them to examine their own lives and confront their family’s dark past.

appropriate will run for five weeks, from September 12 through October 10, in the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End.

Jacobs-Jenkins has said in interviews that, when writing appropriate, he was inspired by and “appropriated” bits from iconic American Family Drama plays such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Long Day’s Journey into Night, Buried Child, and August: Osage County.  By remixing and riffing on his source material, Jacobs-Jenkins uses a genre traditionally dominated by white American playwrights to comment on race relations in both America’s history and theatre.

Director M. Bevin O’Gara returns to SpeakEasy Stage to direct the New England premiere of appropriate. This is her fourth project for the company, having directed A Future Perfect, Tribes (Elliot Norton and IRNE Award, Best Production) and Clybourne Park. Bevin is the Associate Producer at the Huntington Theatre Company and a recipient of the Lois Roach Award for Outstanding Commitment to the Boston Theatre Community.

To bring the Lafayette family to vivid life, Ms. O’Gara has gathered an exceptional cast of Boston-based actors: Bryan T. Donovan, Katie Elinoff, Tamara Hickey, Melinda Lopez, Brendan O’Brien, Alex Pollock, Eliott Purcell, and Ashley Risteen.

   The design team includes Cristina Todesco (scenic), Tyler Kinney (costumes), Wen-Ling Liao (lighting), Arshan Gailus (sound), and Angie Jepson (fight choreography).

appropriate will run for five weeks, from September 12 through October 10, in the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End.

Ticket prices start at $25, with discounts for students, seniors, and persons age 25 and under. For tickets or more information, the public is invited to call the box office at 617.933.8600 or visit www.SpeakEasyStage.com .

Mayweather Goes To 49-0

Mayweather Goes To 49-0
Am I Supposed To Be Impressed? 
Comparisons To Marciano Are Ridiculous

With his recent decision victory over the very mediocre Andre Berto, Floyd Mayweather has improved his record to 49 wins with no losses. Many in the boxing world are now saying this puts Floyd on a par with Rocky Marciano who ended his career with a record of 49 and 0.

Today, boxing pundits discuss the sport more like it is baseball.

This comparison is just plain idiocy and I feel it sullies the name of Rocky Marciano to even discuss it. But, since so many so-called boxing experts seem convinced that Mayweather has done something earth shattering here, I feel I must chime in.

Former champs Fritzie Zivic and Henry Armstrong would have chased Floyd out of the ring.

Archie Moore vs Rocky Marciano
Archie Moore vs Rocky Marciano

Today, boxing pundits discuss the sport more like it is baseball. They use all kinds ofcrazystatistics to try to convince us that we are living in some golden age of boxing. They cite punch stats, the amount of consecutive rounds won by a fighter, and the most ridiculous of all, the number of titles a champion has won. Seeing that just about every fighter who has over a dozen fights manages to get crowned with some type of a title has only trivialized the whole concept of being a world champion. I have written on this subject before where I discussed how the heavyweight championship has lost any essence of prestige. This also goes for all of the other weight divisions.

 

Henry Armstrong vs Fritzie Zivic
Henry Armstrong vs Fritzie Zivic

As to this 49 and 0 business, Mayweather is a fighter with at most average talent whencompared to the days when boxing was an art. Former champs Fritzie Zivic and Henry Armstrong would have chased Floyd out of the ring. Emile Griffith and Luis Rodriguez would have toyed with him and made him look like an amateur. Curtis Cokes and Tony DeMarco would have destroyed him. Can you even imagine Mayweather putting up with the relentless pressure Carmen Basilio would have applied? Sugar Ray Robinson and Charley Burley would have surely been charged with attempting first-degree murder for even agreeing to fight him.

I could go on and on about the superior records of so many of the fighters of the past when boxing was an art, not the silly carnival it has become today.

Now we have this insane comparison between Floyd Mayweather and Rocky Marciano which is all based on the fact that in a period of almost 20 years Floyd has complied a record of 49 wins and no losses against hand picked opponents. The latest being Berto, a fighter who was not very good at his best and was three and three in his last six bouts.

Ezzard Charles vs Rocky Marciano
Ezzard Charles vs Rocky Marciano

Julio Cesar Chavez was 49 and 0 in just the first three years of his career and went on to have 87 straight victories without a loss. I don’t remember any comparison being made with Rocky Marciano then.

Rocky, unlike Floyd, also took on the top contenders when he was champion and never ducked anyone.

Rocky Marciano was a great fighter who compiled his record in eight years while fighting some of the greatest fighters of all time. What made Rocky’s record unique is the fact he was and still is the only heavyweight champion to retire without ever having lost a professional fight. Gene Tunney retried as the undefeated heavyweight champ but did have one loss on his record from earlier in his career.

Rocky, unlike Floyd, also took on the top contenders when he was champion and never ducked anyone. He took pride in being the champion and it showed in the way he performed both inside of the ring and out of it. He beat three former heavyweight champions, two of them twice. He stopped one of the all time greatest light heavyweight champions. Rocky had the heart, the determination, and the pride that is sorely lacking in fighters like Floyd Mayweather.

Those who insist on making these nutty comparisons have no respect for the rich history of the Art of Boxing. They are grasping at straws when they are making these ridiculous arguments.

Just the other day I read where a noted boxing historian said Roy Jones Jr will go down as

LaMotta vs Robinson
LaMotta vs Robinson

the greatest middleweight champion of all time. That means he would be better than Sugar Ray Robinson, Harry Greb, Jake LaMotta, Emile Griffith, and dozens of others. This is beyond belief.

The hucksters and con men who run boxing today are bamboozling the public into believing they are watching real talent in the ring, and they are having success selling this. They bring on commentators claiming to be “boxing experts” and have them spout all kinds of drivel in order to make it seem like boxing has some connection with the great sport it once was. This is all done to dumb down the average boxing fan. These people have no shame what so ever. It is more true now than ever before that there is a sucker born every moment, and they seem to gravitate towards boxing.

 

James Montgomery To Appear At Jonathan’s

Ogunquit on November 6th

James Montgomery
James Montgomery

When blues legend James Montgomery plays the harmonica, he “brings it on home”. Whether it’s recording with Kid Rock, sitting in with Gregg Allman, or fronting his hot band of thirty years, Montgomery plays with authority. While growing up in Detroit he learned first-hand from the masters – James Cotton, John Lee Hooker, and Jr. Wells – at the legendary “Chessmate.” Over the years, he’s carried on in the tradition and continues to be a vital presence in Blues as one of the most dynamic performers on the scene.

James Montgomery and his band will be playing live at Jonathan’s Ogunquit on Friday, November 6, 2015 at 8:00 p.m.

In 1970, while attending Boston University, Montgomery formed the James Montgomery Band. His inimitable (oh yeah, he majored in English) harmonica playing combined with his incredibly energetic live shows led to the band’s quick ascension on the New England music scene. Within two years, the James Montgomery band was among the hottest acts in Boston along with J. Geils and Aerosmith, and they were quickly signed to a multi-album deal with Capricorn Records.

Montgomery has toured with many major artists, including Aerosmith, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, the Allman Brothers, Steve Miller and others. He has jammed on stage with B.B.King, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Jr. Wells, James Cotton, Charlie Daniels, Bonnie Raitt, Greg Allman, Laverne Baker, Patti LaBelle, and Peter Wolf among others, including an impromptu session with Mick Jagger at New York’s “Trax”
Over the years Montgomery’s band has been a springboard for many musicians. Members of his band have in

cluded Billy Squire, Wayne Kramer (MC-5), Jeff Golub (Rod Stewart), Jim McCarty (Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels), Nunzio Signore Bo Diddley), Jeff Pevar (Ray Charles Orchestra, Crosby, Stills & Nash), Bobby Chouinard (drummer with Ted Nugent, Squire and Robert Gordon), Jeff Levine (Joe Cocker), Aerosmith’s Tom Gambel, and many others.

Back by popular demand, James Montgomery has become a regular at Jonathan’s Ogunquit. Coming up in the afternoon, grabbing dinner at Jonathan’s, playing some music and staying over in Ogunquit…They love the set up and so do their fans!
The James Montgomery Band will be playing live on Friday, November 6th, 2015 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are available on line at http://tickets.jonathansrestaurant.com Tickets start at $22.50.

For more information about the concert please visit Jonathan’s Website.

Jonathan’s Restaurant is located at 92 Bourne Lane, Ogunquit, Maine.

Music Review: Jonathan Edwards

At The Center

For The Arts In Natick

September 26th

An Evening To Soothe The Soul

 

Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards

The program I was handed at the door as I entered the Center For The Arts In Natick read “In Concert, Jonathan Edwards”. I have seen Mr. Edwards perform on a number of occasions and I have never felt as if I was at a concert. Spending an evening with Jonathan is much more than that. Even though I am sitting in a performing arts venue I feel more like I have been invited into his home to share a night of music, stories, laughs, and warmth. Edwards has yet to disappoint me and the other night in Natick was no exception.

 

 

…there was never a dull moment.

From his opening song “Down In The Woods” until his closing encore two hours later with the Stephen Foster classic “Hard Times” there was never a dull moment. There were plenty of old favorites going back to his first album along with a nice taste from his latest and most personal work “Tomorrow’s Child” and many from in between.

 

Tomorrow's Child
Jonathan’s Latest Album “Tomorrow’s Child”

In two of his new songs we learn much about Jonathan. In the very touching “Jonny’s Come Home” Edwards talks about being given up for adoption shortly after his birth and of how he found his birth mother forty years later. It was a happy reunion. He and his 96 year old mother are still close. The song also tells of his own experience in giving up his daughter Brenda for adoption, “I never thought I’d had to do what was done to me.” They, too, reunited after years had passed.

 

If all of this is beginning to sound a bit sad, it isn’t at all. By listening to the songs and hearing Jonathan tell stories, and he is a wonderful storyteller, you understand why this was much more than a concert.

Edwards has yet to disappoint me and the other night in Natick was no exception.

Going back to his eponymous first album Mr. Edwards sang Emma, Sunshine, Don’t Cry Blue, and what is probably his best-known song Shanty. It is ironic that Shanty has become so well known seeing that it got no radio play when it first was released. The censors at the time had figured out what it meant “to get a good buzz on” and were not happy with it; however, the public loved it as did the audience in Natick putting their hands together upon hearing the first few notes on the mouth harp.

Jonathan is also terrific to listen to between songs. His stories are always so interesting, and he can be very funny. While struggling to get one of his guitars to rest in its stand he told it to stay put, he then quipped “The older we get the more inanimate objects need personalities.” And when introducing the song  Mole In The Ground he said “Now that is a title that really excites people.” The crowd loved it.

“The older we get the more inanimate objects need personalities.”

Gracie, from his new album, is a lovely song celebrating his second daughter. Grace is an accomplished musician in her own right and performs on occasion with her father. Talent definitely runs in the family. Sandy Girl is a foot tapping love song to the joy of Jon’s life and soon to be wife. I noticed that Sandy is a bit shy about having the song played in public, but it is also apparent how much in love she and Jonathan are.  Ain’t Got Time, Girl From the Canyon, Sailboat, The Beatles She Loves You, Evangeline, My Love Will Keep were also included in this wonderful evening.

Jon was accompanied by his “band” the extraordinary Tom Snow on keyboard.

 

Tom Snow
Tom’s Latest Album “Thomas Snow Friends”

Jon was accompanied by his “band” the extraordinary Tom Snow on grand piano, keyboard, and backup vocals. During Shanty they did a great dueling piano and guitar. They make it look easy and obviously love performing together. What a joy it is to see and hear such talent. These two elevate each other musically and get a great natural buzz playing together.

 

We are lucky to have Jonathan Edwards here in New England. He plays many nights, and if you haven’t yet seen him be sure to stop in the next time he is in your area. I can guarantee if you see him perform once you will go again and again. I got a good buzz on and didn’t even have to inhale.

For album information, concert dates, and lots of great information go to http://www.jonathanedwards.net

For info on Tom Snow and his album Tom Snow Friends go to http://tomsnow.com

Jonathan Edwards and Tom Snow Perform “Hard Times”

“Shanty” performed by Jonathan and Tom

SpeakEasy Stage Presents Casa Valentina

New England Premiere Runs From October 24 to November 28th

From October 24 to November 28, 2015, SpeakEasy Stage Company will proudly present the New England Premiere of CASA VALENTINA, a hilarious, provocative, and touching new play about gender identity, self-acceptance, and the struggle to find the right pumps.

A 2014 Tony Award nominee for Best Play, CASA VALENTINA is the most recent work by Tony Award-winner Harvey Fierstein

Based on actual events, CASA VALENTINA takes place in 1962 at a Catskills resort where a group of heterosexual men secretly gather to dress and behave like women. Away from their families, in their beehives and brassieres, these men enjoy a carefree camaraderie of cocktails and McGuire Sisters. But when challenged to publicly reveal their female alter-egos in the pursuit of political acceptance, “the sorority” must decide whether freedom is worth the risk of ruin.

 

Casa Valentina
Casa Valentina

A 2014 Tony Award nominee for Best Play, CASA VALENTINA is the most recent work by Tony Award-winner Harvey Fierstein, whose credits include the books for the hit musicals Kinky Boots, Newsies, La Cage aux Folles, and A Catered Affair as well as the play Torch Song Trilogy. As an actor Mr. Fierstein is known worldwide for his performances in films like Mrs. Doubtfire and Independence Day, and his stage work in Hairspray, Fiddler on the Roof, La Cage aux Folles, and Torch Song Trilogy.

Director Scott Edmiston returns to SpeakEasy having previously directed the company’s productions of Far from Heaven; The History BoysThe Light in the PiazzaFive by Tenn; Other Desert CitiesNext FallIn the Next Room (or the vibrator play)RecklessThe WomenThe Last Sunday in June; and The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told. He has directed more than 60 productions across New England and is the recipient of SpeakEasy’s Outstanding Artist Award, three Elliot Norton Awards, two IRNE Awards, the StageSource Theatre Hero Award, and the Norton Prize for Sustained Excellence in Theatre. He is a Professor of the Practice and Chair of the Theatre Department at Northeastern University.

For this New England Premiere production, Edmiston has assembled an impressive cast of veteran Boston actors, including Timothy Crowe, Thomas Derrah, Kerry A. Dowling, Deb Martin, Greg Maraio, Will McGarrahan, Sean McGuirk, Robert Saoud, and Eddie Shields.

       The design team consists of Edmiston’s frequent collaborators: Janie E. Howland (scenic), Gail Astrid Buckley (costumes), Karen Perlow (lighting), and Dewey Dellay (sound).

CASA VALENTINA will run for six weeks, from October 24 to November 28, in the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End.

Ticket prices start at $25, with discounts for students, seniors, and persons age 25 and under.

For tickets or more information, the public is invited to call the box office at 617.933.8600 or visit www.SpeakEasyStage.com.

Why Boxing?

by Bobby Franklin

I have been around boxers all my life, and I’ve gotten to know hundreds of fighters and have spent quite a bit of time speaking with them, getting to know them, and making friendships with them. In the past couple of years as we have gotten older the conversations I have with them have become more reflective. One of my favorite topics is discussing what their motivation was for first stepping into a boxing gym. The answers vary, but I did seem to find a common theme among a number of them.

It is a violent world but also one of serenity.
Stillmans Gym New York
Stillmans Gym New York

Just about every other sport available to young men involves joining a team; Little League Baseball, Pop Warner Football, hockey, and so on. All, of these are good ways for youth to learn the lessons of working together, sharing responsibility, and being a part of something bigger than themselves. It also allows for the sharing in victories as well as failures. Sure, there are times when one player will get the glory for pulling out a victory for the team, or get the blame for blowing it (just ask Bill Buckner), but it still comes down to the team working together to make things happen. It is said over and over again that there is no “I” in team.

The emotions aroused, just as the sport itself, are primitive.

Boxing is very different, it is all about “I”. When a young man first walks into a boxing gym he knows he is not there to join a team. What he is going to have to do is confront himself. He is going to have to deal with his fears; his victories and his failures all on his own. If he losses a fight or even has a bad sparring session he will not be able to point the finger at a teammate. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat are owned by the individual.

Alan Sillitoe wrote a book published in 1959 titled “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”. I often think of how appropriate a similar title would be to describe a boxer; “The Loneliness of the Boxer”. When that bell rings and the lights go down and the boxer steps forward to face his opponent, there is no other sport that comes close to invoking the emotions that erupt within him. He moves forward with no team to look back on for help or support. He is in the ring with only two other people; his opponent who wants to knock him senseless and the referee who is on nobody’s side. This isn’t about moving the ball up the field or striking out a batter. This is comes down to the most basic of human instincts: survival.

A boxing gym is truly a paradoxical place.
5th Street Gym Miami
5th Street Gym Miami

Many of the guys I have talked to about their motives for taking up boxing told me they were shy kids who didn’t feel comfortable playing on a team. They felt insecure and wanted to face their fears. The boxing gym seemed like the best place to go for that. Just about every one of these former boxers have told me their lives were changed because of their experiences with boxing. That they learned more about themselves through the Manly Art of Self Defense than in any other activity they took part in.

A boxing gym is truly a paradoxical place. It is a venue where controlled violence is taught. the participants spend hours practicing moves and conditioning themselves so A may inflict head trauma on their opponents. It is a place where a young man will have to deal with his fear and his fight or flight response to it. Where he will inflict and feel pain.

But, the boxing gym is also oddly Zen like. Boxing forces a person to become self reflective, to look deep within himself, too confront his demons, and oddly enough, to find a certain inner peace. It is a violent world but also one of serenity. This may all sound a bit strange, but if you have been there you will know what I mean.

Stop The Presses! Boxer Wins Fight Using Left Jab!

by Bobby Franklin

Golovkin vs Lemieux
Golovkin vs Lemieux

The other night I witnessed further proof of just how far removed today’s boxing is from having any resemblance to the fine art it once was. It wasn’t so much the fight itself,though that did contribute greatly to my feelings, but more so to the reaction during and after.

The fight was the Gennady Golovkin vs David Lemieux Middleweight Title fight. I had debated whether or not to spend $50.00 (I had sworn never again to buy a pay per view fight) to view the bout as I do feel Golovkin is about the only fighter out there today who is worth watching. While contemplating my decision I watched some footage of Lemieux in action to see if I felt he would be at all competitive. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was certainly not going to be a match worthy of spending money on. Lemieux is a tough, strong kid with almost no boxing ability. Watching him in action I could immediately see he had learned what he knew from spending hours hitting the punch mitts.

I could immediately see he had learned what he knew from spending hours hitting the punch mitts.

He threw his punches from his waist up and had no sense of footwork what- so-ever. He tossed shots in a very predictable one-two and one-two-three manner while pausing in between to regain his balance. He obviously would have no chance against GGG.

Early the following morning I watched a replay of the fight. It was, as I expected, a very one-sided affair. Golovkin utilized a decent left jab to keep Lemieux at pay and to punish him. David was at a complete loss in being able to cope with the jab. He did not know how to slip it. He did not know how to parry it. It was as if he had never dealt with the jab before. It was like a foreign language to him.
Listening to the commentators, you would have thought Gennady had invented a new punch. They were in awe of his phenomenal jab. They kept rattling off the number he had thrown during each round. They also repeatedly commented on how this amazing punch was keeping Lemieux confused and unable to launch an offense. Yes! Gennady Golovkin was actually throwing left jabs. Just amazing!

The incredulity continued on social media. Fans were stunned by this display of boxing prowess. The dominant left jab was something most of them had never seen before. What was once the most basic and important punch in boxing was now being talked about as if it were a secret weapon delivered to the Earth by aliens from another planet with a vastly superior intelligence to us. Shock waves rippled throughout the Blog-a-sphere. Is Golovkin really one of us or some super being from a galaxy far away?

Back when boxing was actually being taught as the serious art it once was the left jab was the first punch taught to aspiring boxers. Students were shown how it was both an offensive and defensive punch. How it was the key to landing any other punch.

“Hey kid, if you can’t land the jab you, you can’t land any other punch.”

“Hey kid, if you can’t land the jab you, you can’t land any other punch.” was a common line heard in boxing gyms. Great contender Tony Shucco used to tell me, “Hit ‘em with the left, they like it. Then every once in a while toss a right so they don’t get bored.” “Stick and Move.”, “Pepper him with the left.”, “Pop that jab out there.”, were other lines you would hear over and over again back in the day.

On the flip side, young boxers were also taught how to slip and parry the jab. As great a punch as the jab could be for setting up an opponent, it could also be the opening your foe could use to counter you. Timing the jab and then throwing a right cross over it is a very effective maneuver. It takes a lot of practice, and not the type of practice you get hitting the foolish punch pads. Another skill is slipping outside the jab and hooking to the body. This is a move rarely if ever seen today.

Another lost move is feinting the jab and then turning it into a hook. This is the tactic that was employed so effectively by Billy Conn in his first fight with Joe Louis. It almost won him the title.

Jabs also come in many different varieties. There is the tapping jab where a fighter doesn’t hit his opponent terribly hard, but he hits him repeatedly and frustrates him by keeping him off balance with it. Then there is the stiff armed jab that was used so well by Light Heavyweight Champion Bob Foster. Foster would snap his jab up from his waist and punch right through his opponents. It was a brutal punch that busted up many of his challengers.

Wepner vs Liston
Wepner vs Liston

It’s funny, but as I was contemplating this column a friend sent me a clip of the Chuck Wepner vs Sonny Liston fight. We had talked a bit about this whole madness over GGG using the jab, and my friend told me to take a look at Wepner in his losing fight with Liston. Yes, Wepner, the Bayonne Bleeder, the guy considered to have very few boxing skills was actually using a fairly effective left jab in this fight. It just goes to show that it wasn’t all that long ago that even the crudest boxers knew how to throw the jab. It would be interesting to see how Mr. Wepner’s jab would do against today’s unschooled heavyweights.

I am often criticized for pointing out the lack of boxing skills in today’s fighters. I don’t blame the boxers as they train hard, are in good shape, and are just following instructions. The problem lies in the fact that there are no good teachers out there. The techniques employed to develop these skills are not there either. Abel Sanchez, GGG’s trainer, appears to one of the only trainers left who has some sense of what skills a good boxer should have, and that is why Golovkin is such a standout. The fact that his use of the most basic punch in boxing is such big news only reinforces my opinion that boxing is a dying if not dead art.

Stage Review: Casa Valentina

Life Is Never Simple

by Bobby Franklin

Thomas Derrah and Kerry A. Dowling Photo Credit: Glenn Perry
Thomas Derrah and Kerry A. Dowling
Photo Credit: Glenn Perry

In the early 1960s small groups of heterosexual men would spend weekends at a bungalow camp in the Catskills called Casa Susanna. While there they would dress and act as women. They were not there to have sex parties, but rather to explore and experience their feminine inner selves and to be in an atmosphere where they felt safe and relaxed. A few years ago a collection of photographs from this retreat were discovered at a flea market and later published in a book. Playwright Harvey Fierstein was approached about making a play based on the happenings at Casa Susanna. He at first refused, but after looking further into the subject decided to move ahead with the project. It is fortunate he did and the result, Casa Valentina is now playing at the SpeakEasy Stage in Boston.

Okay, I can see some of my readers rolling their eyes and saying this has got to be too weird. Why would I spend money to see two hours of drag queens prancing around a stage? Well, I’ll tell you why.

First off this is a very funny play. I don’t remember seeing a play or movie where I wanted to remember so many one-liners since I last saw a Marx Brother’s movie. A number of them are from Oscar Wilde, but most are from the pen of Mr. Fierstein, and they are very, very funny.

While you are laughing you will also begin to see a very interesting story unfold filled with tension and a message of how almost nothing in life is simply black and white. The men who spend time at Casa Valentina are not drag queens.

The men who spend time at Casa Valentina are not drag queens.

The resort is run by Rita and George who are married. George, played by the wonderful Thomas Derrah, also spends time in his female persona Valentina. Kerry A. Dowling plays the part of Rita, a wig designer. The two met at her shop and instantly hit it off and married soon after. George’s dream was to open a place where cross dressing men could spend time together. They opened Casa Valentina in a run down bungalow across the street from a nudist camp in upstate New York.

They play is set in June of 1962 when a small group of men gather to dress and share time together. Jonthan (Greg Maraio) is a newcomer and it is also his first time going public with his other self Miranda. He is very nervous and arrives for dinner looking frumpy and disheveled. The others immediately accept the challenge to give him a makeover and the results are astounding.

Eddie Shields, Thomas Derrah, Robert Saoud Photo Credit: Glenn Perry
Eddie Shields, Thomas Derrah, Robert Saoud
Photo Credit: Glenn Perry

Things turn serious when Charlotte (Will McGarrahan) calls a meeting of the group and tries to convince them to go public with their lifestyle. She has in the past been arrested for what at the time was considered lewd behavior and is defiant. She also publishes a magazine on the subject of cross dressing . Charlotte and Valentina believe it is important for the public to know they are not “faggots”, and are really just normal men doing something they enjoy.

It is interesting that strong feelings of homophobia exist among some of the group

It is interesting that a fairly strong expression of homophobia exists among some of the group who want to exclude gays from being any part of their world. Charlotte tells the others that by going public they will open the door to the day when cross dressing will become as accepted as smoking in public while homosexuals are still hiding in the shadows. We can see how that all worked out.

Most in the group are not at all comfortable with having their names put out publicly, and with good reason. Most are married with families and have jobs. In the early 60s such a revelation would certainly be devastating for them. Given that context,  Charlotte’s request seems quite unreasonable. There is also much disagreement about the banning of gays. Terry (Sean McGuirk) who is one of the older members of the group tells of how she has been thankful for having gay friends because they are accepting of her, and she will in no way turn on them.

To further complicate matters, there is the issue of some pornographic photos that were addressed to George/Valentina but were confiscated by the postal authorities. We come to learn that these photos were meant for Amy (Timothy Crowe), a judge nearing retirement. Charlotte uses this information in an attempt to blackmail the judge and things then explode.

It is very interesting to observe “outsiders” debating how to be accepted by society while at the same time excluding and belittling others who have been shunned and persecuted. It shows that even those who are victims of hate are also very capable of being filled with hate themselves and hurting others.

The scene I found most disturbing is when the Judge’s daughter Eleanor (Deb Martin) arrives at Casa Valentina to retrieve her father’s clothing and wallet. The Judge has been taken to the hospital after realizing his private life was now going to be exposed. She is extremely angry and tears into Rita and George over the pain she and her family have suffered over the years because of her father’s behavior. Ms Martin does a wonderful job in conveying the pent up anger Eleanor is now unleashing, though Rita and George seem completed unaffected by it. They stand there emotionless through it all. Their Narcissism shields them from any feelings of empathy towards Eleanor.

Their Narcissism shields them from any feelings of empathy towards Eleanor.

There is so much more in this excellent play. Direction by Scott Edmiston is top shelf. Costumes, lighting, and set design are also terrific.

I highly recommend Casa Valentina. The one liners are worth the price of admission, but you will get much more than that from this thought provoking play.

Casa Valentina

The SpeakEasy Stage Company

Playing at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion

527 Tremont Street, Boston

Through November 28th

617.933.8600

www.SpeakEasyStage.com

 

 

 

Stage Noir Comes To Hartford

Review: Rear Window at the Hartford Stage

by Bobby Franklin

Hal (Kevin Bacon), Thorwald (Robert Stanton), Mrs. Thorwald (Melinda Page Hamilton)
Hal (Kevin Bacon), Thorwald (Robert Stanton), Mrs. Thorwald (Melinda Page Hamilton)

Rear Window, now playing a sold out run at the Hartford Stage is not an adaptation of the Alfred Hitchcock movie. This version has been adapted for the stage by Keith Reddin from the original story by Cornell Woolrich. The leading chararcter, Hal Jeffries, played by Kevin Bacon, is much darker than the one in the movie. He is an alcoholic who is dealing with many demons that at times lend a dreamlike quality to the play.

I doubt there are many of you who do not know the story, so I will not go into detail other than to describe some of the differences. Instead of a beautiful girlfriend, Hal has Sam, a handsome young African American man who met Jeffries in a bar, though Hal claims not to remember the meeting. The homicide detective is now Lt. Boyne, a homophonic racist who immediately has it in for Sam. The back and forth between the two is not pleasant to watch.

Robert Stanton does a marvelous job of playing Thorwald, the man Hal believes has murdered his wife. He is a milquetoast guy married to an alcoholic woman in a relationship that has no chance of improving.

Sam (McKinley Belcher III) and Hal (Kevin Bacon)
Sam (McKinley Belcher III) and Hal (Kevin Bacon)

The actors in this production are all great, and there is no doubt it sold out before its first performance because of Kevin Bacon. But it is unfair to say this is a hit because of the big name on the marquee. Yes, Mr. Bacon is fantastic in the role, hobbling about on crutches, maneuvering around his flat in a wheelchair, and deducing that a crime has been committed all while he is either drunk or hung-over. The sexual tension between Hal and Sam is also slightly ambivalent as Jeffries has dreams of his former wife whom he confuses with the murdered Mrs. Thorwald, but there is no doubt where his desires truly lie.

The script by Keith Reddin, direction by Darko Tresnjak, and the amazing sets all stand on their own as reasons to see Rear Window.

The Hartford has made Film Noir into Stage Noir

The Hartford has made Film Noir into Stage Noir and the darkness and sultry moods play as well live as on the big screen. Seeing a mystery while already knowing the outcome, or at least thinking I did, is something I thought think would spoil the whole story, but midway through I was not sure I was going to see the same ending as in the movie. This had me moving more to the edge of my seat as the story progressed.

Thorwald (Robert Stanton)
Thorwald (Robert Stanton)

Now to the sets; I have been very impressed in the past by the extraordinary job the team at the Hartford Stage has done, but in this case they have far surpassed even their own high standards. Alexander Dodge has designed a stage that in just a couple of seconds transforms from Jeffries living room to a view into the courtyard where he can see into the windows of his neighbors. Walls disappear and reappear, rooms spin around so they can be seen into and then are neatly tucked back into place. It is just amazing to see. Lighting by York Kennedy and sound by Jane Shaw add so much to the mood of that hot August night in 1947 that I wanted to put my face in front of the one fan in Hal’s apartment to cool myself off. The sound and lights of the train passing outside the window add to the feel of living in a New York City tenement in the days before air conditioning was a household item. Looking at the side of the building with the occupants searching for ways to cool off reminded me of the George Bellows’ painting Cliff Dwellers.

My readers who are fight fans will appreciate how this story fits so well on a stage just as boxing is perfect for the television screen.

This run is sold out and I don’t know if it will move on to another theater or have any performances added at the Hartford. I would urge my readers to sign up to the Hartford Stage mailing list in order to have a chance at any tickets that become available.

Rear Window
Playing at The Hartford Stage
Through November 15th
www.hartfordstage.org
860-527-5151

White Christmas the Musical

Broadway’s Jeffry Denman and Joey Sorge to Star in the Ogunquit Playhouse Production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas the Musical on Stage at the Historic Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH

Two Broadway veterans are slated to star in the upcoming Ogunquit Playhouse production of the beloved holiday classic White Christmas at the Music Hall in Portsmouth, December 9 to 20. Jeffry Denman will reprise his role as Phil Davis and Joey Sorge will play Bob Wallace in this heartwarming musical adaptation that features the book by David Ives and Paul Blake and seventeen Irving Berlin songs including “Blue Skies,” “I Love A Piano,” “How Deep Is the Ocean” and the perennial favorite, “White Christmas.”  The story follows the two World War II veterans whose successful song-and-dance act finds them following two beautiful singing sisters to Vermont in search of romance and to put on a Christmas show –but, will there be snow?

Jeffrey Denman
Jeffrey Denman

Jeffry Denman played Phil Davis in the world premiere, cast recording and original Broadway (Astaire Award nomination) casts of White Christmas and won an IRNE Award in 2007 for the Boston production. An accomplished director and choreographer as well, Jeffry choreographed the Ogunquit Playhouse productions of The Music Man and West Side Story and directed and choreographed Damn Yankees. On Broadway: The ProducersCatsDreamHow To Succeed. Encores: Face the Music, Of Thee I Sing. Off Broadway: YANK! (Drama Desk, Lortel, Callaway noms), PassionChildren of a Lesser GodThe Holiday Guys. TV/Film: Erotic Fire of the Unattainable, Law & Order, Nurse Jackie, PBS Great Performances. Regional: Kid Victory (Signature), Crazy for YouSpamalot (Ogunquit), Singin in the Rain (MUNY), Into the Woods (Baltimore Center Stage, Sacramento Music Circus).

Joey Sorge
Joey Sorge

Starring as Bob Wallace is Joey Sorge who recently played the lead in the Ogunquit production of Nice Work If You Can Get It and was part of its original Broadway cast with Matthew Broderick and Kelli O’Hara. On Broadway he also appeared in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, The Drowsy Chaperone, Thoroughly Modern Millie and as Young Buddy in the 2001 revival of Follies. Sorge also starred in the Ogunquit Playhouse productions of Singin’ in the Rain and The Drowsy Chaperone. Off-Broadway: Sondheims’ Saturday Night (Second Stage) and Summer of ’42 (Variety Arts). National Tours include: Lord Evelyn Oakleigh in Anything Goes, the iconic Fonz in Happy Days – A New Musical, and Jimmy Smith in Thoroughly Modern Millie. He has been seen regionally in Victor, Victoria at TUTS, Animal Crackers at Williamstown, Grease at Papermill, Radio Girl at Goodspeed, and Marty at Huntington Theatre. His film credits include: New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, Contradictions of The Heart, Providence, and Audrey. TV/Web:  “The Knick”, “Alphabet Boys,” “Person of Interest,” “Numb3rs,” “Commander in Chief” and the remake of “Night Stalker.”

Tickets are on sale now at The Music Hall by calling 603-436-2400, online at www.themusichall.org or visiting the box office at 28 Chestnut St, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Two Ton Tony Was No Bum

 

by Bobby Franklin

Had Louis On The Canvas, But That Was Not His Best Round

Classy Tony Galento
Classy Tony Galento

Two Ton Tony Galento was the only opponent Joe Louis ever really disliked. When Joe fought Max Schmeling his fury was based on his wanting to avenge his loss as he felt he would not be the true champion until he defeated the German who had previously knocked him out. He was also was representing the United States in a symbolic battle against the evils of Nazis Germany.

With Galento it was a very different case. Tony had repeatedly made disparaging comments about Joe, his most famous being “I’ll moider da bum.” The Brown Bomber did not take kindly to being called a bum. At one point during training Joe asked a reporter, “Why that little fat man keep calling me a bum?”

Today’s fans may not see what the big deal was in such comments being made, but in the era of Joe Louis fighters, showed respect for one another.

in the era of Joe Louis fighters, showed respect for one another.

Sure, there were plenty of colorful characters around back then, but they rarely launched personal attacks on their opponents. Their was a mutual respect that existed among those in the sport, and Louis felt Galento had stepped way over the line. This was the only time Joe entered the ring where he was angry at his opponent. He said he wanted to punish him. Even years later when both Joe and Tony appeared together on Curt Gowdy’s program “The Way It Was” to watch clips of and discuss the fight you could see Louis still didn’t care for Galento. He said on the program that he wanted to carry the New Jersey brawler for ten rounds before knocking him out in order to inflict damage on him first. So, why didn’t he?

Galento had a big mouth and was obnoxious in his comments before the bout, but he had the punch, heart, and skill, yes, I said skill, to give the champion a fight. Tony was  rated the number one contender for the title by Ring Magazine, and he had earned his shot with a winning streak of eleven straight fights against top contenders. Make no mistake about it, while he hardly looked the part of a great boxer with his rotund figure, he was very talented at fighting out of a crouch and counterpunching. He also had a lethal left hook that was instrumental in his scoring knockouts in 57 of his 80 victories. Tony was also one of the dirtiest fighters to enter the ring. He was well schooled in using his head, elbows, and thumbs.

On June 28, 1939 Joe and Tony entered the ring at Yankee Stadium. In front of a crowd of 34,852 they received their prefight instructions from referee Arthur Donovan. Even at this point Tony couldn’t resist acting up. There was a problem with the amount of Vaseline Galento had on his face, so the referee had his handlers wipe it off. Tony then reached over and rubbed his hand over Joe’s head. This only added to the champion’s anger.

At the bell for round one Galento came out of his corner in a very low crouch and was leaning to his right in order to be on the outside of Joe’s left jab. By doing this he was putting himself into Joe’s blind spot. It was a very good tactic as Joe was known to have some difficulty  with fighters who fought out of a crouch. Tony slipped the jab and landed some decent left hooks to Joe’s body. Joe was making the mistake of punching down at Tony instead of bending at the knees to get on an even plane with the challenger. At one point Galento slipped Louis’s jab and landed a solid left hook to Joe’s chin hurting him and driving the champion to the ropes. Joe looked a bit hurt but maintained his composure. Galento, emboldened by what he had accomplished, went after the champion and got a bit wild. The first round went to the challenger, and the crowd was very excited by what they had just witnessed.

Louis Drops Galento
Louis Drops Galento

In round two Tony was not crouching down as much and Joe was now bending his knees and finding the range. Tony had abandoned what was a good strategy and was now just bulling his way forward. He was also using his head and elbows on the inside. Joe dropped the challenger with a beautiful right left combination that would have knocked out many another man, but Tony was up at the count of two and still full of fight.

Galento Puts Louis On The Canvas
Galento Puts Louis On The Canvas

Round three was interesting for one reason. By now Galento had completely abandoned his crouch and counterpunch tactics and was standing straight up in front of the champion while throwing wild punches. He was hoping to get lucky and land the big one. Mid round, while Louis was throwing a left hook to the body, Tony landed a left hook to Louis’s head that caught the champion off balance. Louis went down more embarrassed than hurt and was up almost immediately. For the rest of the round he pummeled Tony. While this is the punch Galento will be remembered for, it was not nearly as damaging, other than to Joe’s pride, than the hook he landed in the first round. The hook in the opening round was an excellent counter punch that was executed with great skill. The knockdown blow was more of a lucky punch.

The End For Galento
The End For Galento

As the bell rang for round four it was now Joe’s turn to abandon his fight plan. No, he would not get wild, but he no longer was going to punish Tony for ten rounds before knocking him out. He was now going for the kill. I believe it was Max Baer who once said “Fear is looking across the ring at Joe Louis and knowing he wants to go home early.”

“Fear is looking across the ring at Joe Louis and knowing he wants to go home early.”

Well, Joe had decided it was time to go home, and if Galento had any sense he would have been scared, but Two Ton Tony came out ready to go down fighting. He took a horrific beating during the two minutes and twenty-nine seconds that elapsed until Arthur Donovan stepped in to stopped the carnage. Galento was beaten to a pulp and would receive forty stitches to his face after the bout.

In the post fight interview Joe Louis did not gloat. As much as he disliked Tony Galento, he praised his ability and called him a great fighter. Joe Louis was always the definition of class.

This fight will always be remembered for the fact that Galento dropped the great Joe Louis, but Tony’s greatest moments came in the first round when he had the champion hurt.


But Can He Take A Punch?

A Young Cassius Clay Answered

That Question Early In His Career

by Bobby Franklin

When Cassius Clay exploded on the professional boxing scene after winning a gold medal at the 1960 Olympic games in 1960, the public knew they were witnessing the rise of not just a very talented young boxer but also seeing a figure who was going to make boxing interesting and colorful again. This was in his pre Black Muslim days when he was known for his braggadocio rather than his political views.

Young Cassius had watched how professional wrestlers would attract crowds by putting on a show before the matches. They would brag about what they were going to do to their opponents, and in the case of one who had a particular influence on Clay, Gorgeous George would talk about how pretty he was. Cassius, with his outgoing personality, good looks, and gift of gab was a natural for this approach. It also didn’t hurt that he was an extremely talented boxer.

Of course, this bragging didn’t sit well with all boxing fans. Some did, as he knew would happen, pay to see him get beaten. They felt the loudmouth deserved to have his big trap shut by a knockout blow.

Another thing that irked those rooting against him was the fact that he moved fast and was very difficult to hit with a solid shot. Cassius played on that as well by saying

“I am just too pretty to be hit.”

Those who wanted to see him take a licking came to believe that if he was finally tagged he would not be able to take a punch, and that he really wasn’t tough enough to deal with being in a serious slugfest. They questioned his heart. If only an opponent could reach his jaw this big mouth would be finished. He was just talk but would never be able to back it up in a real fight.

This question about Clay’s ability to take a punch lingered for years, but he proved his mettle in only his 11th fight against the hard punching Sonny Banks. Not only could he take a punch, but he also showed he could fire right back when hurt.

Sonny Banks came into the fight with a record of 10 wins and 2 losses with 10 his wins coming via knockout. He was another young prospect and, even this early in his career, was known for his punching power.

The two met on February 10, 1962 at Madison Square Garden in a ten round main event. Clay had predicted he would stop Banks in the 4th round, but the fight almost ended much earlier then that and not in Clay’s favor.

In the opening round Cassius came out dancing. He was circling Banks and throwing jabs. As was his usual form, Clay had his hands down and was avoiding punches by moving his head and staying mobile.

Banks Drops Clay
Banks Drops Clay

Not long into the round Cassius back Sonny into a corner. Clay squared up with Banks and Banks fired a solid left hook that caught Clay flush on the jaw dropping him. It was a sold punch and Cassius went down on his back. It should also be mentioned that shortly before the hook was landed Clay was also on the receiving end of a solid right hand.

It can be argued that Clay went down because he was somewhat off balance when he was hit, but make no mistake about it, this was a hard left hook to the jaw.

So, how did Clay react now that he had finally been tagged? He got to his feet at the count of two. He took the mandatory 8 count and then he changed his style. There was no quit in him at all, quite the contrary. When the action resumed Clay steadied down and began throwing very hard shots at Banks. Sure, he was still circling, but he was more flat footed now and throwing hard punches with great accuracy. He was also throwing them with tremendous speed. He was angry that he had been decked and was now taking that anger out on Sonny.

Clay Stops Banks
Clay Stops Banks

In the second round he dropped Banks with a lightening fast right/left combination. He then battered him constantly and referee Ruby Goldstein was about to step in and stop the bout when the bell rang ending the third round. The doctor was called in to examine Banks before the start of the fourth and allowed the fight to continue. It didn’t last much longer as Cassius unloaded a fusillade of punches causing Goldstein to jump in and stop the fight at 26 seconds of the round.

For those paying attention at the time, they would have seen a number of things in young Cassius that had champion written all over them. He was able to take a great shot to the chin and survive it, and not only survive but not even be flustered by it. His first thought when hitting the canvas was to get right back up again and get back into the fight. He also showed the heart of a champion by fighting back with an intense fury. He adapted his game plan and would not be hit another good shot for the remainder of the bout.

Any talk about Cassius Clay’s heart and ability to take a punch should have ended that night in Madison Square Garden, but many were so blinded by their dislike of the brash youngster they would not give him the credit he earned in that fight. He would go on to prove the critics wrong time and time again.

Looking back on that February night in 1962 I would say Cassius answered his critics and the smart money should have been on him after that.

RINGING IN THE HOLIDAY SEASON WITH TRINITY REP’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL

Storybook London comes to life| November 7- December 31

PROVIDENCE, RI: Trinity Rep announces its annual presentation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, directed by Curt Columbus, and featuring resident acting company member Stephen Berenson as Scrooge. Performances run November 7 through December 31. Tickets are on sale now and by phone at (401) 351-4242, online at www.trinityrep.com, or in person at the theater’s box office at 201 Washington St. A Christmas Carol is presented by Cardi’s Furniture with supporting sponsor Amica Insurance.

Stephen Berenson as Ebenezer Scrooge
Stephen Berenson as Ebenezer Scrooge

A timeless tale of forgiveness and hope enjoyed by generations of New Englanders, this holiday favorite earns rave reviews from audiences and critics year after year. The Boston Globe praises the annual tradition saying, “There is no better Carol than the one that Trinity Repertory Company puts on every Christmas season.”
“A Christmas Carol is a story of compassion, generosity and possibility, which are all part of the holiday spirit,” remarks director Curt Columbus. “It simply would not be Christmas in Rhode Island without this show, and sharing it with the community every year is our way of celebrating the season with our neighbors.”

Stephen Berenson as Ebenezer Scrooge with Rachael Warren and Joshua Lomeli as solicitors for the poor
Stephen Berenson as Ebenezer Scrooge with Rachael Warren and Joshua Lomeli as solicitors for the poor

This year’s Carol features many Trinity Rep resident acting company favorites including Stephen Berenson, Janice Duclos, Phyllis Kay, Brian McEleney, Anne Scurria, Fred Sullivan, Jr., Stephen Thorne and Rachael Warren; guest actors Adrian Blount and Whitney White; and Brown/Trinity Rep MFA actors Dennis Kozee, Joshua Lomeli, and Kyle Vincent Terry.
Trinity Rep also welcomes twelve talented local children, ages 8-12, to the stage. One hundred fifty child actors auditioned and the rotating cast includes: Damola Adebayo of Providence, Calista Aguinado of Warwick, Lillian Johnson of Johnson, Thomas Fitzgerald of Warwick, Gustavo Londono of Cranston, Laurel McMahon of
Warwick, Amaryllis Miller of Cranston, Bobby Miller of Cranston, Antonio Ross of North Providence, Ronin Scott of Warwick, Billy Stockton of Johnston, and Delaney Wilson of Berkeley, MA.

Kyle Vincent Terry as Fred, Whitney White as Lucy, Adrian Blount as Sister-in-law and Dennis Kozee as Topper
Kyle Vincent Terry as Fred, Whitney White as Lucy, Adrian Blount as Sister-in-law and Dennis Kozee as Topper

The design team includes Michael Rice (music direction), Shura Baryshnikov (choreography), Deb O (set design), Toni Spadafora (costume design), Josh Epstein (lighting design), Peter Sasha Hurowitz (sound design) and Aaron Rhyne and John Narun (projection design).
Curt Columbus became Trinity Repertory Company’s fifth artistic director in January 2006. He is also the artistic director of the Brown/Trinity MFA programs in Acting and Directing. Trinity Rep directing credits include Middletown, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, The Merchant of Venice, His Girl Friday, Camelot,
Cabaret, The Odd Couple, The Secret Rapture, The Receptionist, Memory House, Blithe Spirit, A Christmas
Carol, Cherry Orchard and the world premieres of The Completely Fictional, Utterly True, Final Strange Tale of Edgar Allen Poe and Social Creatures. Trinity Rep has been home to the world premieres of three of his
plays, Paris by Night, The Dreams of Antigone, and Sparrow Grass. Trinity has also produced his translations of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and Ivanov, as well as Georges Feydeau’s A Flea in Her Ear.

Whitney White as Ghost of Christmas Past
Whitney White as Ghost of Christmas Past

Prior to coming to Trinity, Curt lived and worked in the Chicago theater scene for almost twenty years. He was artistic associate of Victory Gardens Theater from 1989-1994, the director of the University of Chicago’s University Theater from 1994-2000, and the associate artistic director of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company from 2000-2005, where he premiered his translations of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and The Cherry Orchard, and Elsa Bernstein’s Maria Arndt.

Curt’s adaptation of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (with Marilyn Campbell) has won awards and accolades at theaters around the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. His translation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, developed at the Arden Theatre in Philadelphia, was published by Dramatists Play Service, as was his play, Sparrow Grass, and his translation/adaptation of Ivanov.

Photo Credit: Mark Turek

Quarry Defeats Klitschko And Fury On The Same Night

Jerry Doesn’t Break A Sweat

by Bobby Franklin

Now that November’s Fury vs Klitschko so called heavyweight title fight is history I thought most fight fans would have finally accepted the fact that neither of these guys know how to fight. They don’t even have the basics down. Well, it turns out I was mistaken. If I can believe what I read on the various on line boxing sites there still is a very large number of self described boxing experts who believe Wladimir and Tyson should be ranked among the best of all time. The most common reason cited is their size. Typical of the comments you will read is “Sure, guys like Dempsey, Louis, and Marciano were good in their day, but they were way too small to stand up to the giants that dominate the division today.”

Quarry Lands jab On Foster
Quarry Lands jab On Foster

I have already written about that fight, and I still stand behind my statement that it was the worst heavyweight title fight in history, and that there was not a single former champion from Holmes going back to Sullivan who would have lost to either Fury or Klitschko. There are many who have voiced disagreement with me. What I would like to do with this column is ask my readers to go back not too many years and examine a fighter who never won the title, but one who had a number of victories over opponents bigger than he was and who were murderous punchers. You can watch many of these fights on Youtube. Set emotion aside and take some time to examine Jerry Quarry in these fights. After doing so, watch a replay of the Wlad vs Tyson fight. If you still believe either of these guys could have beaten Jerry send me a case of whatever you are drinking.

 

Jerry Destroys Shavers
Jerry Destroys Shavers

Many believe Jerry Quarry’s best night was his one round knock out win over the murderous punching Earnie Shavers. Jerry was beautiful that night in Madison Square Garden and completely demolished Shavers in a little over two minutes. Earnie entered the ring riding a 33 fight win streak with all but one of those victories coming via knockout. This was a stunning and outstanding win for Jerry, but it was not some fluke. Quarry took on and defeated many other great punchers.

The other two fights to watch are Jerry’s bouts against Mac Foster and Ron Lyle. Foster was undefeated in 24 bouts with all his victories coming via knockout whle Lyle also had an unblemished record of 19 straight wins with 17 knockouts. Both were fearsome punchers who had a hundred times the ability and skill of Fury and Klitschko.

Watching both of these fights you will see Jerry performing as the consummate boxer/puncher. He is cool and methodical as he calmly slips the bombs being tossed at him by both of these opponents. He pivots and throws left hooks to the body in order to get his foes to lower their guards. In the case of Foster he is able to stop him in the sixth round. Against Lyle he handily wins a decision. By the way, both of these men were bigger than Jerry.

Quarry Drops Patterson
Quarry Drops Patterson

Jerry was a brilliant counter puncher who could fight off the ropes. He dropped Floyd Patterson four times in two fights with at least two of those knockdowns being the result of counterpunches thrown while Quarry had his back to the ropes.

Jerry could move on his feet, feint, had terrific head movement, work both the body and the head, and he was able to set traps to ensnare his opponents. The modern day boxing fan might not recognize a lot of this when watching film of these fights. The reason for this lack of understanding involves a few things. First, very few if any fighters today know how to do any of these moves, never mind having a full repertoire in their arsenals, so today’s fans have never seen these things. Two, the commentators, with some exceptions, do not know what these moves are so would be unable to point them out even if they were happening. And three, today’s trainers do not know enough to teach these techniques. This is wildly evident when watching Klitschko and Fury. They do not even have the basics down.

So, let’s transport Jerry Quarry to the present day and have him step into the ring with Wlad and Tyson. In the case of Klitschko, the former champ would come out standing straight up in that very tight wide stance which is all he knows. He would begin pawing with his ponderous jab. At first Jerry would probably be hesitant thinking that he is being lured into some sort of a trap. He would soon figure out what was going on because when he feints Wlad he would see him flinch and close his eyes. After that the end would come quickly as Jerry would slip the jab and land monstrous left hooks to the body that would double Dr. Hammer up. At that point Jerry would easily finish him off.

Having now ended his match against Klitschko, the promoters could immediately bring Tyson Fury into the ring. After a brief introduction the bell would ring for the first round. Fury may last a little longer as he would begin running as fast as he could while the sound of the bell is still lingering in the crowd’s ears. This fight would end in one of two ways. Either Fury is counted out after being hit by the first blows Jerry lands, or he is disqualified for turning his back and attempting to turn a boxing match into a 10K road race.

I am not trying to be sarcastic here as I have no doubt this is what would happen. Jerry Quarry was a top fighter in an era of great fighters. He was a complete professional who had spent years learning and perfecting his craft. Letting him step into the ring against any of today’s heavyweights, and I don’t care how big they are, could be considered a criminal act because Jerry would be bringing in a full arsenal against unarmed men.

If you want to see a fighter who knows his craft don’t waste your time watching the current crop of contenders, check out Jerry Quarry performing his craft. That boy could fight!

A Beautiful Violet Grows At The SpeakEasy

 

“Violet” At The Calderwood Pavilion, Boston

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

My review of the SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of “Violet” could be summed up in just three words: See this play.

Flick, Violet, and Monty
Flick, Violet, and Monty

Violet, which premiered off Broadway in 1997 originally got mixed reviews, but fortunately survived and went on to play Broadway. This Boston run is being directed by Paul Daigneault who is taking it on for the second time, it played the SpeakEasy in 2000, and he has done a masterful job. Along with a remarkable score composed by Jeanine Tesori with lyrics by Brian Crawley and a first rate cast led by Alison McCartan who’s Violet is near perfect.

Violet and Young Violet
Violet and Young Violet

Set in 1964, it is the story of Violet, a young woman who has a severe facial scar that resulted from a tragic accident when she was a child. She has gathered together enough money to take a bus trip from her home in Spruce Pine, North Carolina to Tulsa, Oklahoma where she believes a faith healer can remove her scar and the emotional pain that goes with it.

Along the way she befriends a number of people including two soldiers, Flick and Monty, who both come to care for her very much. There are also scenes that occur during the performance of the young Violet, played with amazing depth by Audree Hedequist, and her father played by Michael Mendiola in a role filled with emotion that seems made to order for him. The two are beautiful to watch together and give the audience insight into how Violet’s strength was developed.

It would have been so easy for this play to have fallen into the story of a bitter young woman who is mad at the world for the bad hand she has been dealt, and the people who look at her and feel pity for her, but that is not how it goes.

Adult Violet & Father
Adult Violet & Father

Violet is tough and smart. Yes, she is angry and hurt, but at no time did I feel pity for her. I was sympathetic towards her, but I also recognized the amazing strength of her character. Flick does as well. Her father did a remarkable job giving her the tools to enable her to deal with life, which is conveyed in the number “Luck of the Draw”. The people Violet encounters on her trip learn as much from her as she does from them.

The musical score is breathtaking covering many genres including gospel, folk, rock, and country. It is hard to believe one composer could master so many different types of music. While all the numbers are outstanding I do have to make mention of “Let It Sing” performed by Dan Belnavis as Flick. His incredible voice fills the theater with emotion.

John King as Preacher
John King as Preacher

I would also note that the scenes with the faith healing preacher are played just right by John F. King who did not slip into parody, which would have been easy to do, but instead showed the human qualities of the man without diminishing him. It was not easy to do, but Mr. King got it right.

Again, see this play, you will not be disappointed. Violet will move you, touch you, and make you want to Let It Sing! What you see and hear will stay with you long after you experience this amazing production. Theatre is alive and well in Boston thanks to the SpeakEasy Production Company.

Photo Credit: Glenn Perry

Violet, playing through February 6th at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont St., Boston.617.933.8600

www.BostonTheatreScene.com


 

 

 

 

The White Chip, A Very Funny Play About A Very Serious Subject

 

At The Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Lowell Through January 31st

Directed by Sheryl Kaller

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Actor #2 (Isabel Keating), Sean Daniels (Jeffrey Binder), Actor #1 (Benjamin Evett)
Actor #2 (Isabel Keating), Sean Daniels (Jeffrey Binder), Actor #1 (Benjamin Evett)

“The White Chip” now playing at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell is an important work. Written by Sean Daniels, MRT’s Artistic Director, it is a no holds barred look at Sean’s painful struggle with addiction. In it he tells the story of how he practically ruined his life, his relationships, and his health because of the hold alcohol had on him. In the play the audience witnesses Sean’s tragic life as we see the disease progress and tear him apart, and while we are watching this tale of self destruction we are many times laughing to the point of tears. I know, it sounds a bit strange.

The cast is led by Jeffrey Binder as Sean who is superb in a role that takes incredible emotional stamina. Within minutes he has formed a bond with the audience who now become immersed in his life story. Mr. Binder is fluid on the stage and his face takes on the years of abuse as the play and his alcoholism progresses. This is not done with makeup.

Isabel Keating, Benjamin Evett, Jeffrey Binder
Isabel Keating, Benjamin Evett, Jeffrey Binder

Benjamin Evett and Isabel Keating are listed in the program as Actor #1 and Actor #2 as they play multiple roles and slip in and out of their various characters without missing a beat. Having seen Mr. Evett perform many times before, I was not surprised at this as he is one of the areas top actors. This was my introduction to Ms Keating and to say I was impressed would be an understatement. It wonderful to watch such talented actors switch from character to character at the drop of a hat.

The title refers to the white chip, or token, that is given to people when they first attend a Twelve Step Program. It is in recognition of their taking the first step towards recovery. Unfortunately, Sean has amassed a large amount of these chips over the years as he has relapsed time and time again, with each new round of drinking dragging him further and further down towards that black hole. Along the way he learns better and better ways to hide his drinking from others, how to lie to himself, and how to avoid responsibilities, but eventually his life starts to completely unravel. Much will be familiar to those who have or know someone who has dealt with this awful disease.

Sean and Bartender
Sean and Bartender

Okay, so you must be wondering why I said this is a funny play. It sounds pretty dreadful, and it is. The great thing about “The White Chip” is how Daniels has filled it with so much laughter. There are jokes about his Mormon upbringing, his embarrassing escapades while on a bender, his relationship with his mother, who also is an alcoholic, and his meeting with the Jews where he is finally able to make some sense of things. Who would have thought such a thing?. There is wonderful banter among all the characters as they move about the stage engaged in quick-witted exchanges. There are projections onto two screens with cartoon like characterizations of the embarrassing escapades Sean has embarked on while drunk as well as graphics listing the pros and cons of his behavior. Mr. Evett is particularly impressive when he plays Sean’s father who is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Many of these scenes are heartbreaking and touching.

If this play weren’t funny it would be unbearable to watch.

And that is what is so wonderful about it. By allowing his audience the release through the comedy Mr. Daniels is able to tell his story of just how terrible his struggle has been, and of how so many people are dealing with the same battle. It is a battle to overcome the shame and ask for help. It is not only a play for those who have or are struggling with addiction, but a story that should be seen by all people so they will begin to realize the stigma associated with addiction is cruel and uncalled for. The way to help people is to allow them to step away from the shame and know they will be able to reach out for help without being branded as weak and lacking in character.

In the program notes Sean Daniels expresses something that has to be a first for an artist. About “The White Chip” he writes “And I do hope that no one produces it in ten years because it feels incredibly outdated-because we have no more silent deaths.” As much as I enjoyed this play and urge people to see it, I have to agree with him.

“The White Chip” playing at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Lowell, MA through January 31st . Box Office: 978.654.4678

MRT.0rg

Photo Credit: Merrimack Repertory Theatre

 

Blood On Their, And Our Hands

The Continuing Tragedy Of Magomed Abdusalamov

by Bobby Franklin

To most boxing fans the events of November 2, 2013 are a distant and faded memory. Those who watched the Mike Perez vs Magomed Abdusalamov bout on HBO that evening will remember that it was a brutal fight and that Mago, as Abdusalamov is more often referred to, took a brutal beating. They also may recall that after the bout the courageous heavyweight lapsed into a coma. The tragedy of that evening was in the news for a very short time, and boxing continued as usual without missing a beat. There was very little outcry about this. Nothing like the days when, in a supposedly more callous time, there were investigations and calls for banning the sport after Benny Kid Paret died after taking a beating from Emile Griffith. Or, November 13, 1982 the afternoon Duk Koo Kim died after being kayoed by Ray Mancini. After that bout their were in depth investigations into the cause of Kim’s death and changes in rules such as changing championship fights from 15 rounds to 12 rounds. The public saw this as a terrible tragedy and it was talked about for months afterwards. It was disturbing to people that they would witness a man being killed on live television and there was a dialog about what should be done including whether or not boxing should be banned.

Mago and Family
Mago and Family

Fast forward to 2013 and we are experiencing a very different reaction to an event that in many ways can be seen as worse than a fighter dying in the ring. Mr. Abdusalamov did not die from his injuries. The husband and father who received all of $30,000.00 for the beating he took lies in a family friend’s home in Connecticut partially paralyzed and unable to speak. Boxing continued uninterrupted after this horrific evening, and nothing has changed. If you watched boxing on TV shortly after that night you will have noted there was very little said about Mago other than a brief update on his condition. Some boxing writers, including me, did write about what we believed to be the negligence that occurred on so many levels that evening in New York City.

Well, thanks to New Times writer Dan Barry who has written a piece entitled “A Fighter’s Hour of Need”, we now have some more insight into the events of that night and just how terrible things were handled o so many levels. Mr. Barry’s piece can be read by going to: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/sports/magomed-abdusalamov-boxing-madison-square-garden.html?_r=0

Though I must warn you, what you will read is positively nauseating. Barry pieces together the events from transcripts of interviews given under oath during a continuing investigation being conducted by the New York State Office of the Inspector General. It is a lurid tale of neglect, incompetence, passing of blame, and cold heartedness that is truly unbelievable.

Between Rounds
Between Rounds

Mago, who had been on the receiving end of a terrible beating, is given a total of 15 minutes medical attention in the dressing room after the bout. He is asked through an interpreter if he has a headache. He responds that his face hurts, the same thing he was saying between rounds during the bout. Because, and even though his response is through the interpreter, he doesn’t specifically say he has a headache, the doctor decides he does not have serious enough injuries that would justify having an ambulance take him to the hospital. There were two on site. Mago’s trainer John David Jackson thought he should go to the hospital, but did not pursue the matter. In this age of cell phones it seems insane that nobody dialed 911. Why didn’t someone just approach one of the EMTs and demand they take the fighter to the hospital?

Dr. Gerard Varlotta was the doctor who examined Mr. Abdusalamov after the bout. Varlotta is a sports medicine specialist. As far as I have ever known sports a medicine doctor’s focus is usually on muscle, bone, and joint injuries. There was a neurologist in attendance that evening, but he remained seated at ringside and Varlotta reported his findings to him. The neurologist, Dr. Barry Jordan, had witnessed the Abdusalamov Perez fight and never once stepped into the ring to examine Mago even though it was obvious even from watching on television that the fighter was taking terrible punishment. Dr. Jordan also seemed not to feel there was any reason for him to leave his seat at ringside to spend a few moments in the dressing room examining the gravely injured fighter.

There is so much more contained in Dan Barry’s article. Clearly there was no one in authority around Mr. Abdusalamov that evening who would step forward and see the injured warrior was cared for. Eventually, Mago was taken by cab to a local hospital where he fell into a coma. His brain had most likely started to bleed during the fight, and certainly had in the dressing room after. It should also be remembered that Mr. Abdusalamov was complaining about “face pain” to his corner men during the fight. It was clear from watching the fight that there were problems early on. Time was of the essence.

If only the chief second had stopped the fight after the 4th round. If only Dr. Jordan had bothered to step into the ring to examine the fighter. If only Mago had been taken to the hospital immediately after the fight. If only the officials and medical people in charge that night were better trained and not just political appointees. If only there was an adult in charge. If only, if only…If only someone gave a damn.

Mr. Abdusalamov’s family has been filing lawsuits but they have an uphill battle suing the government. I do not know what culpability HBO has, but I would think they have at the very least a moral obligation to see Magomed Abdusalamov is not forgotten.

And what about the public? After all, it is our desire to see men step into a ring with the sole objective of inflicting head injuries on one another that makes this all possible. Are we culpable as well?

Please read Dan Barry’s piece. It is important that the public has the facts. It is important that we not allow this to happen again.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/sports/magomed-abdusalamov-boxing-madison-square-garden.html?_r=0

 

Does Size Matter?

Super Size Heavyweights

Are Nothing New

by Bobby Franklin

It is a chorus heard over and over again, “Sure, guys like Dempsey and Louis were good in their day, but today’s giant heavyweights would just be too big and strong for them. The old-timers would wilt under the power they would be facing.”

I guess before the 21st century we were living in a world of small people.

I guess before the 21st century we were living in a world of small people. Those who believe the Klitschkos and Furys of today would beat the greats of the past because they are so big just can’t be convinced differently. They think bigger is better and refuse to take into account boxing skill, something that is sorely missing in today’s game.

I am including some photos with this article along with details that show very big heavyweights have always been around, and there have been plenty of giant killers to accommodate them.

Dempsey Willard
Dempsey Willard

Jack Dempsey is always the first to come to mind with his brutal destruction of the 6’6 ½ “ 245 pound Jess Willard. Take a look at the photo of this bout I have included and tell me Dempsey would not have been able to reach the jaws of today’s slow moving behemoths. Dempsey at 187 pounds and standing 6’1” used his speed and power to make Willard’s size a liability for the Pottawatomie Giant. Not only did Dempsey defeat Willard, but it was one of the most brutal beatings ever handed out in a championship boxing match. And don’t tell me Willard was a bum. A few years before he had defeated the great Jack Johnson while going 45 rounds in the blazing Havana sun. Sure, Johnson was not in his prime, but he was still a great fighter. Plus, battling in temperatures that reached over 100 degrees is something not many today would be able to do, especially for over two hours.

Dempsey and Big Bill Tate 1919
Dempsey and Big Bill Tate 1919

Dempsey beat two other fighters who were much bigger than he was. The 6’4”Carl Morris, who weighed 226 pounds to Dempsey’s 187, lost three times to Jack. Once by decision, once by DQ, and once by first round knock out.

In 1923 Dempsey defended his title against South American champion Luis Firpo in a bout that will be remembered for Dempsey being knocked out of the ring. Firpo outweighed Jack by 24 pounds and was as strong as they come. While Dempsey’s rather awkward exit from the ring makes this sound like it may have been a close fight, the reality is Dempsey administered almost as savage a beating to Firpo as he did to Willard. Firpo was down 7 times in the first round and twice in the second on the way to being knocked out. Dempsey hit the canvas one time on top of the trip outside of the ring, but those knockdowns were caused more by the rushes from the Wild Bull of the Pampas.

Oddly enough, while Dempsey was truly a giant killer he did have some trouble with a fighter smaller than he was. When the champion defended the title against Tom Gibbons in 1923, Jack had a 12 pound weight advantage. The very smart boxing, and survival minded Gibbons, moved deftly and tied up Dempsey for the 15 rounds while losing a unanimous decision. This is one of Dempsey’s most interesting fights to watch in that you see what great boxing moves the Manassas Mauler possessed. He was well taught by the great trainer Jimmy DeForreset.

Louis Carnera
Louis Carnera
Louis vs Carnera 1935
Louis vs Carnera 1935

I will briefly mention a few others. Joe Louis was no stranger to fighting opponents who were much bigger than he was. He fought and beat Primo Carnera at 260 pounds to Louis’s 196, Buddy Baer who came in at 250 to Joe’s 206, and Abe Simon with Louis at 202 to Simon’s 254. The Brown Bomber had no problem reaching the jaws of any of these giants. Again, Joe had more difficulty with the lighter guys. Billy Conn, Max Schmeling, and Joe Walcott were all smaller than Joe.

Starkey and Carnera
Starkey and Carnera

Boston’s Jack Sharkey didn’t believe size mattered either. Jack, at 187 pounds, took on and beat the 6’3”, 220 pound George Godfrey. At 188 he beat Harry Wills who weighed 214, and in his first fight with Primo Carnera he easily beat the 260 pound strong man though only weighing 201 himself.

Again, it was the smaller guys who gave Sharkey more trouble. He lost to Tommy Loughran and Tony Shucco, both of whom he outweighed by a considerable margin.

Kid Norfolk
Kid Norfolk

I would like to conclude this piece by including another very great fighter of the past whom many of you may not have heard of. Kid Norfolk was a middleweight and light heavyweight who fought all comers including Harry Greb. At 5’8” and weighing 182 pounds he took on the 6’6” 235 pound Big Bill Tate and beat him soundly over ten rounds. Tate was a sparring partner for Jack Dempsey and looked formidable against Norfolk. The Kid used his speed and great boxing ability to run rings around Tate. This fight is available on Youtube, and I strongly urge you to view it. Norfolk vs Klitschko or Fury? My money is on Norfolk any day of the week.

Does size matter? I guess you good say it does, but often to the benefit of the smaller man.

The Ogunquit Playhouse Announces Its 2016 Season Lineup

 

The Season Kicks Of With Let It Be: A Celebration of the Music of the Beatles

Let It Be (Photo Paul Coltas)
Let It Be (Photo Paul Coltas)

It looks to be another exciting season as the Ogunquit Playhouse rolls out its schedule for 2016. This will be their longest season ever kicking off on May 18th with Let It Be: A Celebration of the Music of the Beatles. This tribute show follows the Fab Four from their humble Liverpool beginnings through their meteoric rise, and includes such great songs as Twist and Shout, She Loves You, Yesterday, Hey Jude, and Let It Be.

Let It Be will play through June 11th and be followed by Anything Goes, one of the great Broadway musicals featuring the music of Cole Porter.

Ogunquit 2016 SeasonThe season will continue with The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, and wrap up the regular season with the return of the rocking Million Dollar Quartet.

Once again, the Playhouse will work in collaboration with the Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH to present a special Christmas show to be announced later.

The Qgunquit Playhouse is one of the most consistently good venues in New England, and this year’s lineup looks to be very promising.

Artistic Director Brad Kenney completed ten years with the Playhouse in 2015 and has taken the theatre far. Below is a Youtube look back on the many wonderful productions that have taken place under Brad’s incredible guidance.

For more information go to: www.ogunquitplayhouse.org

The Hartford Stage Presents Romeo and Juliet

Kaliswa Brewster and Chris Ghaffari Lead Cast

Directed by Darko Tresnjak

Chris Ghaffari and Kaliswa BrewsterHartford Stage Artistic Director Darko Tresnik will be bringing his magic to William Shakespeare’s most popular play Romeo and Juliet beginning on February 11th and playing through March 20th.

Kaliswa Brewster and Chris Ghaffari will play the archetypal young lovers. Brewster’s credits include Hartford Stage’s La Dispute and Macbeth and Williamstown Theatre Festival’s Under Milk Wood, all three directed by Tresnjak; the new Showtime series “Billions,” which stars Damian Lewis and Paul Giamatti and debuts next month; and the Off-Broadway premieres of Emotional Creature and Soldier X. Ghaffari is in his final year of the MFA program at the Yale School of Drama, where he has performed in Coriolanus, King John and Paradise Lost. His resume also includes King Lear for The Public’s Shakespeare in the Park and As You Like It and Julius Caesar at Shakespeare on the Sound.

Tresnjak said, “Romeo & Juliet is a play of seemingly infinite possibilities, reinvented from generation to generation for over 400 years, a symbol of romantic love infused with iconic imagery and unforgettable language that has become a part of the vernacular. We look forward to exploring this eternally modern play with a company of great stage veterans and rising stars.”

Having seen Darko perform his magic on MacBeth and Hamlet I am very much looking forward to seeing what he does with Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet contains some of Shakespeare’s best known lines including “A plague on both your houses.”, “Good night, good night! parting is such sweet sorrow, that i shall say good night till it be morrow.”, and “What’s on a name? That which we call a rose by any bother name would smell as sweet.”

For more information go to: www.harfordstage.org or call 860-527-5151

A Captivating Romeo and Juliet At The Hartford Stage

 

by Bobby Franklin

“O Romeo, Romeo! – wherefore art thou Romeo?”

In answer to that question, Romeo, Juliet, and all of the Capulets and Montagues are on the Hartford Stage under the very fine direction of Darko Tresnjak.

This Romeo and Juliet is nothing short of superb.

This Romeo and Juliet is nothing short of superb. Written over 400 years ago, the Hartford’s production of Shakespeare’s work is fresh and alive. The beautifully talented Kaliswa Brewster in her “dream role” as Juliet couldn’t be more perfect in the role as the young Ms

Juliet (Kaliswa Brewster)
Juliet (Kaliswa Brewster)

Capulet who is taken with the handsome Romeo played by the equally talented Chris Ghaffari. The two are lovely to watch as their forbidden love blossoms. They perform their parts with much playful humor (the famous balcony scene is among the best and most original I have ever seen) on a versatile set inspired by the work of Italian neorealist cinema, think Rossellini and Visconti.

Romeo (Chris Ghaffari) and Juliet (Kaliswa Brewster)
Romeo (Chris Ghaffari) and Juliet (Kaliswa Brewster)

The first half of this beautiful play is joyful and light. It makes the audience relax and share in the excitement of the title characters as they become more and more enthralled with each other. We laugh and share in their joy. Of course, we are made well aware of the tension that exists between the two families, but some how we feel things will work out just fine. Yes, even knowing the story, our emotions follow that arc. It is the magic director Tresnjak is able to make happen on stage. It is not the first time I have seen him do this.

Mercutio (Wyatt Fenner) and Tybalt (Jonathan Louis Dent)
Mercutio (Wyatt Fenner) and Tybalt (Jonathan Louis Dent)

Mercutio (Wyatt Fenner) is unlike any you have seen before. He is intense and, well, mercurial. And it is when he meets his end that our joyful mood takes a sudden and very real turn. “A plague on both your houses!” Again, it is that Darko magic at work. I observed laughter turn to tears in the audience as things descended into darkness because of the petty hatreds of the two families.

Friar Laurence (Charles Janasz)
Friar Laurence (Charles Janasz)

Charles Janasz brings wisdom and warmth to the part of Friar Laurence, and Kandis Chappell as Juliet’s nurse joins him in the failed and finally tragic attempt to reconcile things for the lovers and families. Our hearts break for them as well.

Everyone in the large cast is terrific, the set, with a balcony that extends and recedes from a wall designed after an Italian cemetery wall, and lighting are to the usual high standards of the Hartford. This production is a joy for all of the senses. Within minutes of the opening the theatergoers feel they are a part of all that is happening on the stage.

If you have seen Romeo and Juliet before do not miss this one as it is unlike any before. If you have never experienced it, there is no better time than now to see it for the first time, though I must warn you it may spoil you for future productions.

Juliet (Kaliswa Brewster) and Nurse (Kandis Chappell)
Juliet (Kaliswa Brewster) and Nurse (Kandis Chappell)

I have now attended enough Shakespeare productions directed by Darko Tresnjak at the Hartford to say his are by far the best in New England.

I urge you to take the short run down to Hartford to see this play. You’ll be sorry if you miss it.

Romeo and Juliet at The Hartford Stage through March 20th.

Info at www.hartfordstage.org Box Office 860-520-7114

Seaglass Chorale in Concert

Presents “Reflection and Meditation”

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Merrill Auditorium, Portland

3 p.m.

I saw the Seaglass Chorale perform this work by Ola Gjeilo last year and it is positively beautiful. The music and photographs are a perfect match. The voices and orchestra soothe the soul.

 

“The voices and orchestra soothe the soul.”

 

Merrill Poster Updated Jan 2016Seaglass Chorale of southern Maine will present its debut concert, “Reflection and Meditation,” at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium under the direction of Jean Strazdes. The concert, scheduled for March 20, introduces the music of contemporary Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo to the Merrill audience and will be performed against a backdrop of images by Maine photographer Peter Ralston. Selections include Sunrise Mass, Across the Vast Eternal Sky, Dark Night of the Soul, and Luminous Night of the Soul.

 

The performance by the 49 member chorale will feature Kim Karchenes, piano; visual artist Stephanie Sanders and a nine member string ensemble.

Tickets are available through PortTIX for $38 with special rates for groups of 15 or more. For more information, see www.tickets.porttix.com, Email: www [dot] boxoffice [at] porttix [dot] com or call 207-842-0800.

Does Character Still Matter?

by Bobby Franklin

“Maybe our society could use a few old fashioned lessons in boxing and what it truly means to be an adult.”

For years parents looked for ways to build character in their children. Quite often sports was seen as one of the best ways for young men to learn the lessons of what it meant to truly be a man in the best sense of the word. Organizations such as the Boy and Girl Scouts were another institution that helped build character in young people in order to prepare them to enter adulthood equipped with the tools to live a decent and productive life where they would contribute to the betterment of society. There were many other ways that these lessons could be learned as well. Things from having an after school job such as working for a local business or having a paper route. These were all ways for young people to learn responsibility and to gain the skills needed to be able to interact with other people.

1940s Young Men Learning To Box
1940s Young Men Learning To Box

There were many ways to inculcate these values in our young people and they were used for years with much success. Unfortunately, many of these things are no longer in fashion. The Boy Scouts have been under assault for years and I can’t remember the last time I saw a young person delivering newspapers. After a snowstorm we no longer get a knock at the door from some eager young people ready to negotiate a price for shoveling the walk. Things have really changed.

I want to mention the connection my thoughts on this have to do with boxing, but first, one other observation.

As I write these words the leading candidates for both parties appear to be on their way to their respective nominations for president. According to polls, they both seem almost unstoppable. What also consistently shows up in polls is something very disturbing. The vast majority of voters, including those supporting both candidates, when asked about the character of each of these people consistently respond they find them both untrustworthy and dishonest. In spite of this they still say they will vote for them. In other words, character, that trait that was so important to Americans for so many years, no longer matters. It could be argued it is a detriment to success in today’s world. This is not only sad but dangerous for the future of our republic.

Joe Louis
Joe Louis

Now on to boxing and character. For most of the 20th Century it was almost impossible to find a man who hadn’t at some point while growing up had a pair of boxing gloves on and who had been given, at the very least, a few pointers in the Manly Art of Self Defense. These lessons were usually given by the young man’s father, but could also have been taught by an older brother, uncle, friend, or even a member of the clergy.

These lessons included, but were not limited to, being taught how to hold one’s hands in a defensive position, the proper use of the left jab, how to throw a one-two combination, and also some pointers in how to keep physically fit as taking care of one’s body was essential to being a good boxer.

Something else even more important was instilled during these lessons. That something else was how a real man carries himself. That with the knowledge of how to overpower someone and protect yourself also came the responsibility not to abuse that power. Never hit a man when he is down was a common refrain that would carry over from boxing into a valuable adage to in life to remind us to offer hand not a fist to someone who was having hard times.

Always fight fair even if the other guy doesn’t would be a constant reminder in life about not allowing yourself to be dragged down into the gutter by another’s ill behavior.

It was amazing how much could be learned from a few hours with the gloves on while listening to a mentor who would guide his student from the use of the right cross to never crossing his fellow man. It is sad that that world seems so far away now.

It is sad that that world seems so far away now.

I am not saying there weren’t always rogues, cutthroats, and dishonest people around able and willing to take advantage of any situation. It is just seems to me the public better understood the difference between good and bad and frowned upon those who would act outside of the society’s code of decency.

Boxing has often been called a reflection of society. I believe this is true. On one hand it has been populated by the poorest members of society, usually immigrants or those recently descended from those new to our shores. They often came from struggling and desperate circumstances. I think of Jack Dempsey who grew up almost in the wilderness and lived the life of a hobo having to literally fight just to feed himself and stay alive. Or of Joe Louis, the son of a sharecropper, who would make all American’s proud to have him as the Heavyweight Champion. In both these men we see examples of people who struggled and rose from nothing to gain great notoriety by using their fists. And in both these men we see how they handled the power they were given with dignity. They were both the type of men who inspired good things in others.

I am sure there are people like them around today, but those people are not being recognized in the way they should be. Mike Tyson, a totally base human being is lauded with a Broadway Show and an HBO special. Floyd Mayweather beats his wife and still makes countless millions of dollars. And the two potential nominees for the highest office in the world are deemed to be dishonest rogues by the very people supporting them.

Maybe our society could use a few old fashioned lessons in boxing and what it truly means to be an adult.

Patty Duke, May She Rest In Peace

Patty Duke, Rest In Peace
Patty Duke, Rest In Peace

Book Review: “Stars In The Ring”

“Stars In The Ring:
Jewish Champions In The
Golden Age Of Boxing” by Mike Silver

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

StarsMike Silver pegs the first four decades of the 20th Century as Boxing’s Golden Age. It was a period where the sport was at its peak in both popularity and talented participants. The boxers of the period were extremely well schooled. Most trainers considered themselves teachers, and were comparable to college professors in the seriousness they brought to teaching the fine art of pugilism.

Mr. Silver also considers this time in history a Golden Age for Jewish boxers. In his new book “Stars In The Ring: Jewish Champions In The Golden Age Of Boxing” (Lyons Press, 366 pgs., $29.95) he does a magnificent job of not only telling the story of the many great Jewish fighters, he also gives a concise and fact filled history of the overall sport of boxing.

Joe Choynski
Joe Choynski

The book is is divided up into an introduction, six chapters, and an extensive appendix. The introduction along with chapters one and two give a wonderful overview of the sport along with setting the background of how Jews became such a big part of boxing. It is filled with such interesting fact as pointing out how Jewish boxers who held world titles during the 1920s ranked only behind Italians but ahead of the Irish in numbers. There were close to 3,000 professional Jewish fighters active during the Golden Age. But make no mistake, “Stars In The Ring” is not just a compilation of statistics; it is a wonderful narrative of a very exciting time not only the history of boxing but also of our nation.

Barney Ross
Barney Ross

In the chapter entitled “The Melting Pot Sport” we learn much about the immigrant experience in America. The various ethnic groups that were at the lower rung of the economic ladder were proud of the fighters who shared their background. Often, matches pitted boxers from the different groups against each other.

Mr. Silver also discusses the Jewish fighters who took on Irish names, or a nom de box, when that became more advantageous for getting fights. There was another reason, perhaps more compelling, why young Jewish men would fight under an assumed named. I’ll quote the author, “Jewish boxers were brave and tough, but they did fear one personage above all others – their mothers.”

“Jewish boxers were brave and tough, but they did fear one personage above all others – their mothers.”
Benny Leonard
Benny Leonard

Benny Leonard was one such fighter. Leonard’s real name was Benjamin Leiner, but he changed it to keep his parents from finding out what he was doing for a living. When a black eye proved to uncover his activity he was quickly forgiven when he handed his father the purse from his evening’s work.

The book is filled with stories like that, but that is just the beginning. Chapters 3 though 6 break the sport up by its various eras. Each chapter begins with an overview of the time period that is extremely fact filled and interesting. These narratives  lead the reader biographies of many of the fighters from the period that has just been discussed.  There are also photographs of the participants. A total of 166 biographies are contained in the book. You will meet the young Charley Goldman, who has an official record of 129 fights, but is believed to have participated in over 400 bouts. If the name sounds familiar, it is because Charley went on to become one of the great boxing trainers, teaching world champions Lou Ambers, Joey Archibald, Marty Servo, and a kid from Brockton, MA named Rocky Marciano.

Georgie Abrams
Georgie Abrams

There is also Georgie Abrams whom Silver ranks as the greatest Jewish middleweight who ever lived. I think Sugar Ray Robinson would agree with that assessment as Abrams gave the great Robinson all that he could handle while losing a disputed decision to him.

Sid Terris, Al Singer, middleweight champion Al McCoy (real name Alex Rudolph), Abe Simon, Ruby Goldstein, Saoul Mamby, “The Fighting Dentist” Leach Cross, Herbie Kronowitz, and Victor Young Perez, who’s tragic story is both heartbreaking and inspiring, are just a few of the many fascinating biographies contained in this wonderful book.

Leach Cross
Leach Cross

Mike Silver could have left it at that and had an outstanding work, but he went even further by interspersing vignettes throughout the book discussing all sorts of boxing related subjects from boxing trading cards to boxing in the movies to a piece about the Shanghai Ghetto. The story of the ghetto in China was new to me and incredibly fascinating. You’ll also learn about the boxing careers of Entertainers Billy Joel and Woody Allen.

To top the book off, Mr. Silver has compiled an extensive appendix that contains, among many other things, his picks for the greatest Jewish boxers of all time. Given Mike’s extensive knowledge of the sport this list is one to be taken very seriously. I know I would not argue its merits with him. He also lists Jewish boxers that have competed in title bouts along with date, location, and results.

Charley Goldman
Charley Goldman

A very interesting section lists the Madison Square Garden Main Events that featured Jewish boxers from 1920 to 2014. It is a very long list. The appendix is an encyclopedia that boxing aficionados will find themselves referring to time and again.

I have to comment on the book as an object as well. When I opened the package it was mailed to me in I was astonished to see how pleasing to the eye it is. It is not a book to be left on a shelf. It is beautiful to hold and look through. Copiously illustrated with hundreds of amazing photographs it is a piece of art unto itself.

Mike Silver, who’s previous book “The Arc of Boxing” rates as one of the all time great works on the Sweet Science (I consider it the best) has not let his readers down with “Stars In The Ring”. This is a book to be displayed so that friends may share it when visiting. I guarantee it will be the cause for hours of interesting conversation. You can pick it up and turn to any page and find something interesting to read.

Mike Silver knows his boxing

Mike Silver knows his boxing, he also knows how to write, and that combination (pun intended) makes this book a joy to own.

If you are one of the many misguided souls who chuckle when you hear someone mention Jewish fighters, you will come away from this book with a healthy respect for the very tough and very honorable men who were Stars in the Ring.

TRINITY REP CLOSES SEASON WITH OKLAHOMA!

A fresh take on a classic helmed by 2015 Emmy Award winner Richard Jenkins and Sharon Jenkins May 5-June 5, 2016Oklahoma art 4 web

PROVIDENCE, RI: Trinity Rep closes out its 52nd season Rebels, Renegades and Pioneers with Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, directed and choreographed by 2015 Emmy Award winner Richard Jenkins and Sharon Jenkins. Oklahoma! runs May 5-June 5, 2016.

At the turn of the 20th century in the western territories, cowboy Curly vies with mysterious farmhand Jud for the heart of Laurey, the woman they both love. Packed with humor, romance, square dances and an unforgettable score, Oklahoma! is a portrait of both the naiveté and complexity of American pioneer settlers.

“We are absolutely thrilled to have Richard and Sharon bringing their signature style and relentless approach to Oklahoma!,” artistic director Curt Columbus said of the pair that brought Trinity Rep’s critically acclaimed 2014 production of Oliver! to life. “They are an incredible team, because of their commitment to emotionally evocative story telling through world class acting. Richard and Sharon personify what it means to be Trinity Rep artists. This is sure to be an Oklahoma! unlike any other.”

The cast includes Trinity Rep resident acting company members Janice Duclos, Rebecca Gibel, Stephen Thorne, Charlie Thurston, Rachael Warren and Joe Wilson, Jr., with Shura Baryshnikov, Royer Bockus, Jon Cooper, Taavon Gamble, Tom Gleadow, Kevin Patrick Martin, Jude Sandy, Hannah Spacone and Stephen Ursprung.

The design team includes Michael Rice (music direction), Eugene Lee (set and lighting design), Toni Spadafora (costume design), Peter Sasha Hurowitz (sound design) and stage manager Kristen Gibbs.

Richard Rodgers (composer, 1902–1979) and Oscar Hammerstein II (librettist/lyricist, 1895–1960) joined forces in 1943, creating the most successful partnership in American musical theatre. Oklahoma!, their first musical together, was the first of a new genre—the musical play—blending Rodgers’ sophisticated style of musical comedy with Hammerstein’s innovations in operetta. Oklahoma! was followed by Carousel (1945), Allegro (1947), South

Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), Me and Juliet (1953), Pipe Dream (1955), Flower Drum Song (1958) and The Sound of Music (1959). The team also wrote one movie musical, State Fair (1945; adapted to the stage, 1995), and one for television, Cinderella (1957; adapted to the stage, 2011). Their musicals have garnered awards including: Pulitzer Prizes, and Tony, Oscar, Emmy, and Grammy Awards, in addition to Drama Desk, Drama Critics’ Circle, Outer Critics’ Circle, Laurence Olivier, and Evening Standard Awards.

Director Richard Jenkins was a Trinity Rep acting company member for 14 seasons, starting in 1970. He served as artistic director for four seasons (1990-1994) and directed numerous productions during that time. Richard has appeared in over 60 feature films, the HBO drama series Six Feet Under, and has been nominated for three Screen Actors Guild Awards, two Independent Spirit Awards, a Critics Choice Award, a Gotham Award, and received a Satellite Award, a Spotlight Award, an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie for the HBO miniseries Olive Kitteridge and an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his performance in The Visitor. Recent credits include the film God’s Pocket with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Trinity Rep’s own Peter Gerety, as well as his Emmy-winning role opposite Frances McDormand in Olive Kitteridge.

Director and choreographer Sharon Jenkins has worked as a choreographer on productions at Trinity Rep for over 40 years, where she has worked with artistic directors Adrian Hall, Richard Jenkins, Amanda Dehnert, Oskar Eustis, and Curt Columbus. She has choreographed The Music Man, Annie, West Side Story, The Fantasticks, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Cabaret, Camelot and Oliver!. Sharon spent 20 years as the dance director at Hope Arts Magnet School in Providence, 15 years as a dance specialist with the RI State Council on the Arts, 10 years as a dancer with RI Dance Rep, and 10 years as choreographer for The Arabella Project. In addition to her work at Trinity Rep, she has worked at Long Wharf Theatre, Arena Stage, Hartford Stage, Center Stage, South Coast Rep and was the choreographer for Paramount Pictures feature School Ties.

website at www.trinityrep.com

Music Review: Reflections and Meditation

 

Performed by Seaglass Chorale

Under The Direction of Jean Strazdes

Ola Gjeilo, Music

Peter Ralston, Photography

March 20, 2016

Merrill Auditorium

Portland, Maine

A Concert To Soothe The Soul

by Bobby Franklin

In 2015 I attended a performance of this work by the Seaglass Performing Arts in a church in Saco, Maine. It was done beautifully and I left that night feeling filled with peace. I really couldn’t imagine how they could do a better job with it.

Well, I returned to see the group again perform this work at the lovely Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine, and they have taken their performance to an even higher level. They were simply outstanding.

Under the direction of Jean Strazdes the chorale was near perfect.

Under the direction of Jean Strazdes the chorale was near perfect. The string musicians, many of whom were from the Portland Symphony Orchestra were a delight with Kim Karchenes on piano.

Terri Ralston, Jean Strazdes, Stephanie Sanders, and Peter Ralston
Terri Ralston, Jean Strazdes, Stephanie Sanders, and Peter Ralston

The music, Sunrise Mass, composed by Ola Gjeilo, will be new to most people but is soothing and joyful. Its world premiere took place in 2008 in Oslo. According to the program, Gjeilo’s intent and story of his Mass are expressed through the way in which the music comes across sonically. The text comes from the Ordinary of the Mass: Kyrie – The Sphere; Gloria – Sunrise; Credo – The City; Sanctus & Angus Dei – Identity and the Ground.

Sea Glass by Peter Ralston
Sea Glass by Peter Ralston

 During the concert, photographs of the MaineCoast by Peter Ralston were projected on a large screen above the singers and were in perfect sync with the music. Media artist Stephanie Sanders did a remarkable job placing the screen so audience members were able to see the performers and the photos at the same time. The voices, music, and visuals all blended together to convey a warmth and peacefulness that did indeed lead the listeners into a state of reflection and meditation.

Pentecost by Peter Ralston
Pentecost by Peter Ralston

Peter Ralston’s photos alone would be enough to inspire and calm,

Peter Ralston’s photos alone would be enough to inspire and calm,but when paired with the music of Gjeilo they are brought to life. Ms Sanders added motion to the still images which gave the feeling of having the audience step into the photographs. At times I found myself in a state of mind where I had let go of any negative feelings about life and was taken to a place of calm. It was truly magical.

Seaglass Chorale and Orchestra
Seaglass Chorale and Orchestra

Seaglass Performing Arts was founded in 1993 by Artistic Director Jean Strazdes, the Seaglass Chorale is a non-auditioned adult choral group of 50-60 voices and represents some 20 southern Maine communities. They regularly perform throughout the area with their accompanist, Kimberly Karchenes. They have also performed in Europe with trips to Rome, Venice, Innsbruck, and Budapest. Fortunately, they always return home.

For more information go to:

www.seaglassperformingarts.org

Peter Ralston’s photography has appeared in over 50 magazines. His work is regularly exhibited in galleries here and abroad. Recently, his work was added to the permanent collection of the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian. You can learn more about Mr. Ralston by going to www.ralstongallery.com

Next up for the Seaglass Chorale will be Pops Concert: It’s Showtime! This concert will feature music from Broadway musicals past and present. This performance will take place in May and is sure to be a fun evening. Check the Seaglass website for further information. You will not be disappointed.

Zale vs Cerdan

A Picture Paints A Thousand Words

by Bobby Franklin

Zale Cerdan (1)

In 1946 a French middleweight by the name of Marcel Cerdan arrived in the United States to campaign for a shot at the world title then held by Tony Zale. Zale would lose the title to Rocky Graziano in 1947 but regain it again the following year in his third fight of an epic trilogy he fought with the explosive punching Graziano.

When Cerdan first arrived on these shores he had an amazing record of 93 wins with only 2 losses, both of those losses came via disqualification. 54 of those victories came by the knockout route. While his record was impressive he was stil a bit of a mystery to American fight fans. He had defeated an aging Holman Williams, a very great fighter, but one who was nearing the end of his career.

In his American debut, Cerdan did not chose an easy mark for his opponent. He took on the very tough Georgie Abrams in Madison Square Garden. Georgie Abrams was another great fighter. He had  held the legendary Charlie Burley to a draw, and just two fights after his bout with Marcel he fought Welterwieght Champion Sugar Ray Robinson in a non title fight. Robinson was awarded a very disputed decision and would never face Abrams again.

The Cerdan vs Abrams bout was a blistering affair

The Cerdan vs Abrams bout was a blistering affairwith the Frenchman winning a close but unanimous decision. That night he proved he was worthy of the praise that preceded him form the European press.

After the Abrams fight Cerdan hit the road compiling 10 wins against 1 loss. That loss was in a fight for the European title against Cyrille Delannoit. Marcel would avenge that loss in a rematch earning himself a shot against champion Tony Zale also know as the Man of Steel.

Tony was a very hard punching fighter who never took a backwards step.

Tony was a very hard punching fighter who never took a backwards step. His three bouts with Rocky Graziano are considered among the greatest slugfests in boxing history. Tony had held the title since the early 1940s with the exception of the brief period when he lost it to Graziano. Tony had taken on all comers and even fought light heavyweight champion Billy Conn in a non-title fight.

The bout between the two was scheduled to take place on September 21, 1948 at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, New Jersey. Everyone knew this would be a fight to see as neither contestant had ever been in a dull fight.

Now the reason for the title of this article has to do with the photo accompanying it. I got the picture from the great boxing historian Gregory Speciale.

This photo not only tells the story of the fight, but it also shows some very great moves, moves you will not see today, being executed. It also gives us some insight into Tony Zale on that night.

Right from the bell starting round one this was an exciting fight. Cerdan came out on fire. He was extremely quick and aggressive. While you would most likely describe him as a slugger, it should be pointed out that he used great head movement in slipping punches. Zale met him head on but was having trouble landing effectively. This is where the photo shows us something about the champion. If you look closely you will see Zale is throwing a very hard left jab, the only way he threw any punch. But notice how he appears to be lurching forward and is off his feet. This is a sign of an aged fighter. His legs no longer have the spring in them, and while he is throwing an excellent jab his legs are not carrying him in. Tony had had a long career at this point and his wars with Rocky Graziano had to have taken something out of him.

Now look at Cerdan. You will see that he has stepped slightly to his right and tilted his head to the outside of the jab. It appears he is about to deliver a left hook as he is shifting his weight at the hips from the right to left side of his body. He is also in perfect position to follow up with a right hand. On top of this, he is in great defensive position. While Zale is off balance and being driven forward by the force of his punch and the stiffness of his legs, Cerdan will still be in perfect position to throw more punches as Tony turns towards him. So much is going on in this photo which only captures a fraction of a second of the fight. You might also note how carefully the referee is monitoring the action. This is like viewing a master class in boxing.

This is like viewing a master class in boxing.

Watching footage of the fight is even more enlightening. While Cerdan dominated most of the bout, Zale was keeping the rounds close. Cerdan was amazing in his use of double and triple hooks, going to the head and body. He also countered beautifully with right hands over the champion’s left jab. Cerdan was very aggressive and fast. He was moving forward throughout most of the fight but at angles. He was throwing magnificent combinations, and was methodical in how he would go from body to head and back again.

Tony Zale, being the great champion that he was, looked like he might have been turning things around in the 7th round as it appeared Marcel was slowing down and Zale may have been changing the tide of the fight. Unfortunately for Tony, this would be his last stand. Cerdan began to pick up the pace again in the 8th round and really began turning it on in the tenth where he was battering the never say die Zale.

In the 11th round Cerdan was unleashing brutal and blistering combinations with incredible speed and power. Tony was taking an awful beating and was dropped by a vicious left hooks just before the bell rang ending the round. His seconds helped him to his corner where they wisely told the referee the fight was over.

Tony Zale went out like a true champion that night

Tony Zale went out like a true champion that night and would retire. Cerdan would have two non-title fights and then defend the title against Jake LaMotta. Marcel’s shoulder was seriously injured in the first round when he was thrown to the canvas by LaMotta. The champion fought on with just one arm until the 9th round when his corner stopped the fight.

A rematch was immediately scheduled, but Marcel Cerdan was killed in a plane crash while on his way to America for the fight.

Cerdan was a great fighter and a charismatic personality. If he won back the title he may very well have gone on to fight Sugar Ray Robinson in what would have been a very interesting fight. Fate stepped in and prevented us from learning just how great a fighter he was. But judging by what you van see in the Zale fight, even from that one photograph, you know you are looking at one of the best.

Review: Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X

By Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith

Basic Books, Hardcover, $28.99, 392 Pages

An Important Book About Two Flawed Men Who Influenced History And Boxing

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

 

Blood BrothersThere have been more books written about Muhammad Ali  than any other boxer, perhaps more than any other athlete. The vast majority of these books play into the Ali myth that has been orchestrated for years by many in the press as well as the former champ’s own publicity machine. Every so often an author digs in and takes an unbiased look at this very complicated man, and the truth is more interesting than the myth.

 

Two of these books, Mark Kram’s The Ghosts of Manila and Jack Cashill’s Sucker Punch: The Hard Left Hook That Dazed Ali and Killed King’s Dream, are among the best when it comes to uncovering the puzzle of understanding the real Muhammad Ali. Joining these works is the meticulously researched Blood Brothers by Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith.

Delving into previously unviewed FBI files, the personal papers of Malcolm X, the notes of Alex Haley, and interviews from the past and present, the authors have written an important history of not only a tragic relationship, but also of the Nation of Islam (The Black Muslims) as well as a very interesting account of Cassius Clay’s early boxing career up to his bouts with Sonny Liston.

Malcolm and Cassius first met in 1962.

Malcolm and Cassius first met in 1962.Clay, after winning Olympic Gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics, was making a name for himself by not only winning fights, but by his unique self promotion influenced by the wrestler Gorgeous George. Malcolm had no interest in sports believing it was just another way that the white establishment exploited the black man in America. However, he was immediately taken by the young contender. In many ways they were similar in that both were outspoken, charismatic, and couldn’t resist the limelight. Malcolm also recognized what an asset Clay could be to the Nation. Having a popular and well-spoken athlete coming out in support of and even joining the Muslims would surely attract many new and young members. Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation didn’t share this view. He not only was not interested in athletes, he also believed Clay was going to be destroyed when he stepped into the ring against Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston. That would certainly not look good for the Muslims.

Roberts and Smith explain how Malcolm had from the beginning unwavering confidence that Clay would not only win the title, but would go on to become the Nation’s greatest asset. While he would prove to be right, it would also be his undoing.

Most people believe the Black Muslims are part of the Islamic religion practice throughout the world. In reality, under Elijah Muhammad, it was a Black Nationalist and separatist movement that was very much at odds with the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King. Muhammad considered King an Uncle Tom who was being subservient to the white establishment by demanding African Americans be fully integrated into society. The Muslims were envisioning an armed revolution with the goal of retribution and creating their own state.

There is much in this book that will make those who have looked up to Muhammad Ali as a great civil rights leader uncomfortable. For a large part of his career Clay/Ali preached separation of the races, though it can be argued his belief in this was not very deep but more of a young man taken in by a cult. It may have also been driven by fear. When asked why he was not joining in on the marches and demonstrations with Dr. King he responded that he did not want to go to a place where he would have dogs set upon him, be clubbed by the police, or worse. Also, once he was involved with the Nation he quickly learned about the punishment, quite often brutal, they would handout to those who did not stay in line.

It can also be questioned just how deep the friendship between Malcolm and Cassius was. The two were certainly very drawn to each other, but as much as Malcolm felt affection for Clay he also knew he would be a useful tool in advancing the cause and also Malcolm’s own stature within the Nation.

For Clay, Malcolm served as a father figure

For Clay, Malcolm served as a father figure one who could teach the barely literate boxer how to speak out on issues, even if he didn’t understand what he was talking about some of the time.

Malcolm’s biggest miscalculation was in believing his friendship and mentoring of Clay would protect him from retribution when he stepped beyond his bounds with the Nation. After Clay defeated Liston Elijah Muhammad also came to the realization of how useful Clay, upon whom he now bestowed the name of Muhammad Ali, would be to the Nation not only for propaganda purposes but as a financial asset.

Boxing has always been a shady sport with underworld figures in the background controlling and robbing fighters. Ali, who may have thought he was escaping being exploited by gangsters, had come under the control of another mob filled with hit men and leg breakers.

When Elijah Muhammad turned on Malcolm, Malcolm saw Ali as his protection only to have the champion turn his back on him. Ali joined in the chorus of those who wanted Malcolm punished and worse. Their friendship meant nothing to him any longer. He had a new father figure to please in Elijah.

The authors’ very detailed account of Malcolm’s last days, constantly under threat of assassination, is harrowing. Incidents such as when his home is firebombed while he, his wife, and two daughters are sleeping, make you feel what it is like to be a hunted man with very few friends.

 

A couple of minor points on the content. The authors describe the Nigerian born Hogan Kid Bassey as former world bantamweight champion. Bassey held the featherweight title. In the chapter about the lead to Clay’s first fight with Liston they say that Sonny stood to make millions from the fight. I don’t recall any heavyweight champ from that era making millions from one bout. I would be curious to know how they determined that figure. Neither of these two items takes anything away from this very fine book.

This is an important book that will leave you rethinking your opinion of Muhammad Ali.

This is an important book that will leave you rethinking your opinion of Muhammad Ali.It is in no way an attack on one of the greatest fighters of all time. It is an unbiased look at a flawed human being and a tragic friendship that will leave you asking. What if?

Seaglass Presents: It’s Showtime – Opening Night

The Seaglass Chorale In Concert

SeaglassFresh off of their very successful performance, Reflections and Meditations, Seaglass Chorale turns to the Broadway stage for their next concert. Under the direction of Jean Strazdes the group will present a selection of music from a number of the great musicals including Wicked, The King and I, and Fiddler On The Roof. 

There will be two performances. The first will take place on Saturday, May 7th at Christ Church, Dane Street, Kennebunk, ME beginning at 7:00 P.M.

The second concert will be held the following day which is Mothers’ Day and will take place at the Wells Historical Society, 938 Post Road, Wells, ME. The performance begins at 3:00 P.M. and as a special treat, all the mothers in attendance will receive a special Mothers’ Day carnation

Kim Karchenes will be featured on piano accompanying the lovely voices of the Seaglass Chorale.

This promises to be a wonderful concert

This promises to be a wonderful concert and a very special treat for the Mothers’ Day weekend.

Tickets are priced at $15.00 for adults and $12.00 for children and seniors. They may be reserved by calling 207-985-8747 or by going to seaglass [at] gwi [dot] net

Springs Toledo Delivers With In “The Cheap Seats: Boxing Essays”

Boxing Writing At Its Best In This Fine Collection 

by Bobby Franklin

Springs Toledo is back with another collection of essays on boxing.

Springs Toledo is back with another collection of essays on boxing. In 2014 his first collection, The Gods of War, was widely acclaimed. It has joined the ranks of boxing classics.

With this latest collection, In The Cheap Seats, he has created another contender. I am not sure it will go on to winning a world title the way The Gods Of War did, but it certainly deserves a wide readership.

In The Cheap Seats
In The Cheap Seats

Many of the essays contained in this latest work by Mr. Toledo focus on more recent fights and fighters. Springs makes connections with the styles and personalities of past greats and those vying for greatness today. He does a fine job of this, but I have a hard time buying a lot of the comparisons. Maybe I am just old and cranky, but to me the glory days of boxing have long passed. While Springs does a wonderful job of linking the past with the present, he knows boxing history and understands the art, I sometimes found myself questioning if he truly believed what he was writing or was trying to convince himself as much as his readers about the quality of today’s sport.

He points out how when Henry Armstrong held three world titles simultaneously there were only a total of eight recognized divisions. It is staggering to look back on that time with the competition Armstrong faced and comprehend his accomplishment. Springs has written about the proliferation of divisions and titles that exist today which makes having a multi belt holder nowhere near the challenge it was in Armstrong’s time, so I wonder why he felt if Floyd Mayweather had added a middleweight title to his array of belts it would have put him up there in stature with the great Henry Armstrong. I am not trying to take anything away from Floyd, but it is a very different sport now than it was in 1938. Again, maybe I am just too jaded to get excited about almost anything in today’s world of boxing.

In The Cheap Seats has many other great essays contained between its covers.

Mr. Toledo’s piece on Bruce Lee and the influence boxing had on him is fascinating to read.

Mr. Toledo’s piece on Bruce Lee and the influence boxing had on him is fascinating to read.Not only does he explain how Lee adapted his martial arts style because of boxing, but, and here is where Springs’ knowledge of the fine points of the Sweet Science come into play, he explains the difference in defensive posture that gives a boxer the upper hand. It is essays like this that set him apart from so many of those who think they know the sport and try to write about the mechanics of boxing. I once remember a self appointed authority on boxing giving a lecture and telling the audience that it was impossible for a boxer to throw a double left hook. These pretenders should not be allowed to use up the perfectly good paper that could be utilized by writers like Springs Toledo.

I found myself really getting into the rhythm of Toledo’s writing when he was recounting a conversation he had in Hyannis, MA with former welterweight contender George Maddox. Using the magic of his pen Springs captured the humanity of this wonderful man. I know George and what I read could only be compared to a fine portrait of him painted by a great artist. This is Springs at his best, describing the movements and words of an eighty-one year old former boxer who still takes great pride in his accomplishments. In just a few paragraphs you will come to know George Maddox. You will also feel the respect the author has for such men. It is beautiful stuff.
There is much more to savor in this collection. In Where Have You Gone Harry Greb? you find out why the Pittsburgh Windmill is rated by Springs as the greatest pound for pound fighter ever.

You get the inside scoop on the sparring sessions between Greb and Jack Dempsey

You get the inside scoop on the sparring sessions between Greb and Jack Dempsey that will lead you to seriously wonder if Harry could have taken the Manassa Mauler. I believe Springs thinks Harry could have done it. I think it would have been a great fight and a difficult one for Jack, but his strength would have won the battle.

You’ll also get to read interesting pieces about how if boxing was more widely taught there could be less need for people to use guns. This subject is discussed in the context of the George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin tragedy. Springs strips away the knee jerk emotions on all sides of the controversy and takes a measured look at how to prevent such things from happening. It is a refreshing piece to read in this age of media sensationalism.

There is even a chapter devoted to the effects a vegetarian diet can have on punching power. Being a vegetarian myself it has made me want to get to the gym and test out my old left hook.

Springs closes out his fine collection with a piece about Mae West and her connection with the boxing world. It is a very interesting piece about a one of a kind personality, and will go down as a classic.

Springs Toledo
Springs Toledo

While I find it difficult to share Springs Toledo’s love of present day boxing, I do enjoy his writing. He is a throwback, an old school writer along the lines of A.J. Leibling whom he admires. Throw in a dash of Raymond Chandler and stir it up with Springs’ own unique style and you have a writer who leaves you wanting more. Many younger readers of these essays will be hearing about the greats of the past for the first time. I hope, and believe they will, be inspired to find out more about the rich history of this great sport.

Jim McNally: Teaching Old School Boxing To A New Generation

 

by Bobby Franklin

Gentleman Jim McNally
Gentleman Jim McNally

Driving up to Jim McNally’s gym in North Reading on a cloudy Tuesday in April I am on the phone with the former professional boxer explaining why I am running late. In the course of our brief conversation I find out Jim’s father Bernie, who was a hard punching heavyweight fighting out of Cambridge during the 1940s, trained at the Cambridge YMCA. My father, who was a professional wrestler, worked out there at the same time. We spent some time going over mutual acquaintances our father’s had and soon realized they must have known each other. Another of those it’s a small world experiences.

I arrive at Jim McNally Boxing a short while later. The sign outside of the former industrial building says Old School Fitness. Jim greets me as I enter and I immediately feel as if we have known each other for years. He looks like he’s at his fighting weight and could go ten rounds without a problem.

Jim McNally
Jim McNally

Gentleman Jim, as he was known during his fighting days, had an impressive professional career racking up 19 wins against only 1 loss. His quest for glory came to an end due to an injury received in an auto accident. Before turning pro Jim had an outstanding amateur career, He won the NE AAU heavyweight title in 1975 and 1976, then won the light heavyweight title in 1977 which took him to the National Finals in Hawaii. Yes, I was feeling just a bit envious. Jimmy also lost a split decision to future World Heavyweight Champion Tony Tubbs in the 1976 Calgary Games. Not bad for a local kid.

After ending his boxing career McNally went to Northeastern University then on to serve 4 years with the Wilmington Police Department, 7 years with the Secret Service, and finally a 22 year career with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). After his years of public service Jim opened the boxing gym, returning to the sport he had never lost his passion for.

Jim with Gene Beraldi and Danny Cronin
Jim with Gene Beraldi and Danny Cronin

As we continue our talk, gym members start showing up for their workouts. Jim tells me he doesn’t have a firm schedule for classes, “I run a class every four minutes” he tells me. What I observe is something not seen in a lot of boxing gyms today, something that is much more old school. As each aspiring boxer comes into the gym he or she goes right to work. They wrap up their hands and start going through the boxer’s workout. Shadow boxing, heavy bag, speed bag, calisthenics, skipping rope. I am impressed by how self-motivated they all are, but I am not surprised as Jim has instilled that drive in all of them.

As I listen to a couple of young students drumming the speed bag with a steady rat-a-tat, I ask Jim how long they have been training at his gym. “Just a couple of months for one and a little longer for the other.” They look like old pros as their hands move in rapid fashion against the small bag.

I mention to Jim how many boxing gyms either do not have any speed bags or, if they do, discourage the use of them.

This sport is rhythm, your own rhythm.

“This sport is rhythm, your own rhythm.You learn rhythm on the speed bag.” I couldn’t agree more.

The McNally Boxing Gym has a regulation size canvas floored ring in which I observe trainer Gene Beraldi doing pad work with a number of the members. I am not a big fan of the punch mitts, but the trainers at McNally’s are not just standing flatfooted in front of the boxers letting them plant punches. Instead, they are moving around the ring forcing them to use footwork and accuracy. That’s the old school touch.

As I look around I see an familiar face from years back. It is Danny Cronin who is here training his sons. Danny and I go back to the New Garden Gym days and we immediately start to reminisce about the old times. Danny was a very successful pro and one of the hardest punchers to ever lace on the gloves. Jim chimes in to say how his mother told him

“Boxing made your nose look better, it was kind of pointy.”

“Boxing made your nose look better, it was kind of pointy.”

The young people who come to McNally’s Gym not only get to experience what it is like to be in an old school boxing gym, they also learn lessons bout life, which is something boxing, when taught properly, instills in people. I like very much something Jim said while we were talking,

“Boxing is about overcoming obstacles – obstacles you put in your own way.”

“Boxing is about overcoming obstacles – obstacles you put in your own way.”That statement is true on so many levels.

As the time winds down for my visit I ask the young pugs who have just finished working out how they feel about the workout. “It’s fun.” “I feel tired but good.” I can tell by the smiles on their faces they have all had a great time. I can also see the admiration they have for Jim McNally who has time for all of them.

Jim With His Mother and Father
Jim With His Mother and Father

Jim, who has been going through some tough times with the loss of one brother and a cancer diagnosis for another tells me “Thank God for my gym. If I didn’t have this I don’t know what I’d do.” In almost Buddhist fashion, the good Jim gets from his gym is returned by him a hundred fold to those who come there. McNally, who sparred a couple of hundred rounds with Marvin Hagler, proved his toughness years ago. Everyday he shows his goodness.

Jim McNally’s Gym is located at 48 Main Street, North Reading. For more information call 978-664-1900. People of all ages are welcome.

Let It Be – A Celebration of the Music of The Beatles

Kicks Off The Ogunquit Playhouse 2016 Season

Let It Be - A Celebration of The Beatles (Photo Paul Coltas)
Let It Be – A Celebration of The Beatles
(Photo Paul Coltas)

You know summer is fast approaching when the Ogunquit Playhouse opens its doors for the season. This year they are are kicking off an exciting season with Let It Be – A Celebration of the Music of The Beatles. The show will run from May 18 to June 11 and promises to be an exciting evening of music from the Fab Four.

The tribute show follows the Beatles from their beginnings in Liverpool’s Cavern Club through the heights of Beatlemania, to their later masterpieces. Let It Be includes forty of the Beatles’ greatest hits including “Twist and Shout”, “She Loves You”, “Yesterday”, “Come Together”, as well as the title tune “Let It Be”.

Let It Be has played London’s West End and Broadway and will now get the full Ogunquit Playhouse treatment, so i am sure you will not be disappointed.

The cast of Let It Be includes Michael Gagliano, who has is spent the last 15 years perfecting his performances of the Beatle’s music on some of the world’s biggest stages from Liverpool’s Cavern Club to the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan, as well as on television all over the world; Neil Candelora, who as a six year old he saw a recording of The Beatles performing on The Ed Sullivan Show and decided to learn to play guitar left handed; JT Curtis, who made his Broadway debut in Let It Be and has performed with several Beatles tribute acts from Los Angeles to New York; Chris McBurney, who also reprises his role from the Broadway production of Let It Be and has toured as a drummer and multi-instrumentalist all over North America, Europe and Japan with numerous acts, while continuing to perform and record in New York.

The Music Director for Let It Be is Daniel A. Weiss, a New York City based musician who was most recently seen music directing and arranging for a sold out performance of West End Recast in London, a concert featuring many of the West End’s finest singers. Mr. Weiss was the assistant musical director and associate conductor for the original Broadway company of Rent.  He has a multitude of Broadway credits for both conducting and/or performing, including Let It Be, Motown the Musical, Godspell, Hair, Taboo, Hairspray and Brooklyn.

Contact the Playhouse for tickets including information about season packages.

Go to:www.ogunquitplayhouse.org or call 207-646-5511

 

“Oklahoma!” At The Trinity Rep

 

Oh, What A Beautiful Production

This is an Okalahoma! not to be missed.

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Charlie Thurston as Curly and Rachael Warren as Laurey (center) Photo by Mark Turek
Charlie Thurston as Curly and Rachael Warren as Laurey (center)
Photo by Mark Turek

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Okalahoma!, now playing at the Trinity Rep in Providence, RI is an outstanding production of one of the greatest musicals of all time. It is staged in an intimate atmosphere that along with the stage, includes three platforms that are placed among the audience, and where much of the cast spends time during the performance. It works beautifully.

From the moment Curly, played by the very talented Charlie Thurston, steps onto the stage to sing Oh, What A Beautiful Morning, you know this is going to be a joy to watch.

Mr. Thurston has a perfect voice for the role

Mr. Thurston has a perfect voice for the role and the acting ability to go with it. He is joined by Rachel Warren as Laurey, and they are wonderful together; you would think the roles were created for just them. They sparkle and hearing them sing is delightful.

Judd (Joe Wilson) and Curly (Charlie Thurston) Photo by Mark Turek
Judd (Joe Wilson) and Curly (Charlie Thurston)
Photo by Mark Turek

There is a dark side to Okalahoma! that is seen in the character of Judd Fry played by Trinity regular Joe Wilson, Jr. Mr. Wilson uses his excellent acting abilities to bring a humanity to a very dark figure in the play. I have not seen many productions of the play, but I do know that Joe was able to evoke sympathy from the audience for Judd, whom many will remember mostly as the evil creature portrayed by Rod Steiger in the movie version. With his subtle and pained expressions he brought a depth to a character that deserves to be better understood, and, in this version, is.

This is not, of course, a full scale Broadway production, but in many ways it is better. It does have an orchestra consisting of six musicians who are as good as any you will hear. They are on the mark throughout the play, and you couldn’t ask for more.

Rebecca Gibel as Ado Annie Carnes and Stephen Thorne as Ali Hakim Photo by Mark Turek
Rebecca Gibel as Ado Annie Carnes and Stephen Thorne as Ali Hakim
Photo by Mark Turek

The entire cast is nearly flawless. Janice Duclos as Aunt Eller conveys a strength of character and kindness. Stephen Thorne in the role of Ali Hakim keeps us smiling as the traveling salesman who is trying to avoid a shotgun wedding. Jude Sandy as Will Parker makes the audience feel like shouting to him as the character seems determined to keep making the wrong decisions. Jude is always just one step away from losing everything.

Finally, included in this great cast is Rebecca Gibel as Ado Annie.

Ms Gibel has talent, real talent.

Ms Gibel has talent, real talent.She is funny, sings beautifully, and can act. The way she conveys Annie’s pent up sexuality by using body tremors along with her facial expressions and absolutely entrancing eyes is just breathtaking. Oh, and she is funny, very funny. In a cast that is abundant with talent, Rebecca Gibel showed that she has what it takes to go far. I look forward to seeing her as she continues on what should be a marvelous career.

This is an Okalahoma! not to be missed. It is warm and intimate. It is full of life’s good and bad. Be good to yourself and travel the short distance to Providence to see this play. You will not be disappointed.

 

Directed and Choreographed by Richard and Sharon Jenkins

Playing through June 5th

Box Office: 401-351-4242 www.trinityrep.com

SpeakEasy Stage’s Dogfight: Solid, Touching, Emotional

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

SpeakEasy Stage Company is closing out their 25th anniversary season with a very strong production of Dogfight directed by Paul Daigneault. The New England premiere of the musical is based on the 1991 film and screenplay by Bob Comfort, and with music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Hey Good Looking' Photo: Glenn Perry Photography
Hey Good Looking’
Photo: Glenn Perry Photography

Most of the story takes place on November 21, 1963 and focuses on three young Marines, Eddie Birdlace, Bernstein, and Boland who refer to themselves as the Three Bees. They are to be deployed the following morning to Southeast Asia and are embarking on a game the Marines call Dogfight. It is where each recruit puts up money that is pooled and will be awarded to the man who can bring the ugliest woman to a party they are having. It is demeaning to women but also serves the purpose of removing any sense of empathy from men who are about to be sent into combat.

Eddie and Rose (Glenn Perry Photography)
Eddie and Rose
(Glenn Perry Photography)

Eddie, (Jordan J. Ford) finds waitress Rose Fenny (Alejandra M. Parrilla) at a local dinner and sweet talks her into attending the party with him in the hope he has found his winning date. Rose is caught up in his flattery and is thrilled to go. The others are also finding their mates for the evening.

It would be easy to settle in at this point and see this play as being about women being objectified. It runs much deeper than that. While what the Three Bees and the other soldiers are doing is cruel, it is also juvenile and demeaning to them as well. But, they are required to give up much of their sense of humanity considering they will soon be in a very inhumane environment. They are young and, because of their weeks of basic training, feel prepared for anything the world will throw at them. Instead of this being about a group of young men acting like jerks,

it has much more serious overtones considering what is about to happen in their lives

it has much more serious overtones considering what is about to happen in their livesand in the world.

Rose is no victim. While she is deeply hurt when she finds out what Eddie was up to, she is also touching him deeply with her warmth and confidence. Eddie at first saw an overweight and insecure girl, but fast begins to learn much about himself and life from Rose. He finds it is not so easy to be cruel. As the story unfolds we are touched on many emotional levels. As one audience member stated after the performance, “I have learned to always bring a box of tissues to a SpeakEasy production.”

The play does have a number of funny and warm moments that will make you smile. Alejandra M. Parrilla as Rose and Jordan J. Ford as Eddie are simply wonderful in the restaurant scene where Rose shows she can match Eddie’s tough guy bravura as well as add a very strong wit. Her kindness is also infectious and is breathed in by Eddie. Their touching duet First Date, Last Night sung while gazing at San Francisco from the Golden Gate Bridge is a beautiful love song.

As the story moves forward in time, much has to be compressed and Director Paul Daigneault does magnificent job of putting so much into so short a time on stage. It really is a bit overwhelming but important as it conveys so many feelings that force us to think hard about all we have just seen.

Ms Parrilla and Mr. Ford are supported by a solid cast

Ms Parrilla and Mr. Ford are supported by a solid castthat includes Jared Troilo (Boland) and Drew Arisco (Bernstein). Patrick Varner will be suffering from a multi personality disorder after playing seven parts, but he handles every one of them just fine.

The theater is set with the audience sitting on three sides of the stage. This, along with two movable staircases, is extremely effective. A beautiful score, fine musical direction, and the intimate atmosphere along with this cast have very talented young actors makes this a play not to be missed.

I know I often say this after seeing a SpeakEasy production, but I left the theater with much to think about, and with much to feel.

We are lucky to have such a great company in Boston.

We are lucky to have such a great company in Boston.I hope you go down to the Calderwood Pavilion and spend a couple of hours being touched by these fine young actors.

Playing through June 4th at The Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont Street, South End, Boston

617-933-6100

http://www.bostontheatrescene.com/season/dogfight/

 

 

 

 

The Beatles Rock The Stage At The Ogunquit Playhouse

 

84th Season Blasts Off Like A Rocket

Let It Be – A Celebration Of The Music Of The Beatles

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Wow! Let It Be – A Celebration Of The Music Of The Beatles is burning up the stage at the Ogunquit Playhouse. This is not simply a tribute band performing Beatles’ songs; it is

a solid theatrical production that brings us back in time

a solid theatrical production that brings us back in timeand allows us to experience Beatlemania from its very beginnings and on up to the post band day when each member was working on his own.

Let It Be (Photo: Julia Russell)
Let It Be
(Photo: Julia Russell)

From the opening number, I Saw Her Standing There, you know you are in for more than just a night of nostalgic music. These five extraordinarily talented musicians, Neil Candelora (Paul McCartney), Michale Gagliano (John Lennon), Chris McBurney (Ringo Starr), JT Curtis (George Harrison) and Daniel A. Weiss (Keyboards) were tight and sharp. They were not only able to recreate the music, but they each also took on the look and personalities of the Fab Four at the different stages of their careers.

The show opens with the band playing behind a mesh material in what represents the Cavern Club in Liverpool where the boys got their start. The stage has two large television monitors in the style of early sets perched atop two gigantic transistor radios on each side of the stage. Live shots of the Ogunquit stage are seen on these screens interspersed with vintage footage from the various eras the Beatles played in. This is very effective and brings back so many memories of all that occurred during the group’s rise in popularity. We relive their appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show along with their sold out performance at Shea Stadium where they stood before over 55,000 screaming fans.

That excitement fills the Playhouse.

That excitement fills the Playhouse.
All the early numbers are there including Please Please Me, All My Loving, I want to hold Your Hand, and She Loves You. A marvelous animation accompanies A Hard Day’s Night, that is vintage perfect.

The Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band set is breathtaking

The Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band set is breathtakingwith the boys dressed up in full regalia to bring the album cover to life. It is magical. Projections on the back wall along with amazing lights that spin in multi colors on both the stage and the audience make this a very interactive show. John (Michale Gagliano) constantly eggs on the audience and gets a fantastic response. He looks like he is having a great time, and I think he would have stayed all night. This show will have you on your feet rocking with the Beatles for a good portion of the over two hours they are performing more than forty songs. You’ll be surprised at how well you know the lyrics as you sing along.

Let It Be (Photo: Julia Russell)
Let It Be
(Photo: Julia Russell)

JT Curtis as George not only has a wonderful voice, but he is a very talented guitar player. His solos on Here Comes The Sun and My Sweet Lord were fantastic, but his guitar solo on While My Guitar Gently Weeps was classic. The boys joked that Eric Clapton might make a surprise visit the evening I was there, but since he didn’t, JT certainly kept him from being missed.

Towards the latter half of the show the performance shifted to a what would it have been like if the Beatles had had a reunion mode. This could have been risky, but it worked just fine as the band got together and played the songs they had each written after having gone their own ways. This is just how it might have been. Chris McBurney (Ringo) was right on doing It Don’t Come Easy while perched high up on the drums.

Neil Candelora was Paul McCartney

Neil Candelora was Paul McCartneyon Band On The Run.

The entire cast captured the Beatles throughout every step of their careers as both a band and solo artists. We see them age before our eyes and got to, for those of us old enough to remember, see so much of what we grew up with. When I’m Sixty-Four had a very special meaning for many in attendance.

You would think all I described here would have been plenty, but they were not through yet. The Beatles, and by now I was fully convinced I was spending the evening with the Beatles, kicked off a tribute set to the greats that influenced them including Chuck Berry and Little Richard. They ripped out, with the crowd dancing and screaming their approval.

The Fab Four (Photo: Julia Russell)
The Fab Four
(Photo: Julia Russell)

I now feel like a late night television ad man when I am saying there was still more. The title song, Let It Be, was as touching as ever. Hey Jude had everyone singing along, and Back In The USSR sent us out rocking.

I would also like to note that during the performance of Imagine the boys asked the audience to light up their cell phones and wave them during the song. What fun.

Daniel A. Weiss on keyboard is also the Music Supervisor, and he was also outstanding. This was a tremendous amount of music to present in one evening. Add to that the whole theatrical aspect of the show and this was one huge challenge. This team pulled it off on the stage of the Ogunquit Playhouse. Just incredible!

What a start to the season. I would urge all of you to

make tracks north and catch this show

make tracks north and catch this show. I would also strongly suggest you buy a season subscription to the Playhouse. If this is any indication, it is going to be a very exciting year in Ogunquit.

Let It Be – A Celebration Of The Music Of The Beatles

Through June 11th

Ogunquit Playhouse 207.646.5511

www.ogunquitplayhouse.org
Video:

Walk Like A Boxer

by Bobby Franklin

There was a time when you could tell a man was a boxer just by seeing him walking. You might be in a restaurant or hanging out on a street corner when a guy would walk by and you could see in his step that he had spent time in the ring. I’m not talking about a fighter who may have taken too many punches and was “walking on his heels”. I’m talking about the light step that most boxers possessed in the days before they were trained to bulk up using weights and muscle building. A well-trained and conditioned boxer was always thinking about staying loose and limber. Even years after retiring, you would see that same agile way of moving in a former boxer. (I’m not sure former boxer is an appropriate term as it is something that, once you have done it, stays in your blood all of your life.)

“Stay away from the weights” was a line heard often from the old time trainers, “They only make you tight and slow.” Back in the days when boxing was taught as an art and not a strong man contest, speed, accuracy, and staying loose was emphasized. “Speed beats power”, “If you are too tense you will be more susceptible to being knocked out”, “Get up on your toes and move”, “Stick and move”, I can still hear these words echoing in my head from my days in the various boxing gyms I trained in.

Now, many people may think I am just talking about the stick and move boxers, but you will see this in the vast majority of boxers regardless of their style.

The ferocious Jack Dempsey moved like a cat stalking his prey.

The ferocious Jack Dempsey moved like a cat stalking his prey.In the Willard fight he is darting in and out. His body is lean and not muscle bound. He has a boxer’s physique, strong in all the right places without being encumbered by bulging muscles that would only slow him down.

Gregorio Peralta and Jack Dempsey
Gregorio Peralta and Jack Dempsey

When I was young I got to meet Dempsey in NYC. To this day I remember seeing him walking through his restaurant to greet visitors. He was up there in age and suffering from arthritis in his hips, but he still moved as if he were gliding across the floor, ready to move left or right and throw a counterpunch. Jack Dempsey still had it.

Today’s boxers are missing out on so much with the focus being on building up muscle. Weight trainers are brought in and muscle is layered on. While a fighter has to be strong, there are different types of strength. So often now a days, the spectacle that takes place at the weigh in before a match looks more like a pose-off at a body building competition with the fighters tensing and pumping up their muscles while mugging for the cameras. These bulky muscles are not only useless in the ring, but they are actually a hindrance as they make it almost impossible to use proper punching technique. It also results in more arm punches being tossed than shots that come from the hips with the full force of the body behind them. Fighters are also more susceptible to being knocked out because of how tight they are. It is much more difficult to “roll with the punches” when carrying that kind of muscle. Of course, that is pretty much a moot topic seeing that fighters are no longer taught defensive moves such as that.

I recently watched a brief video of Jake LaMotta training for a fight. It showed him climbing the stairs up to Bobby Gleason’s Gym in The Bronx where he was working out. Now Jake is hardly remembered as a dancing master, but you can see how light he is on his feet as he bounds up the steps. After the workout, he is seen outside walking down the street. If you had no idea who he was you would still know he was a boxer by the way he was moving along the sidewalk.

If you had no idea who he was you would still know he was a boxer by the way he was moving along the sidewalk.

Why the difference between those fighters from earlier days and the boxers of today? Well, when you went into a gym years back you would see fighters shadow boxing, moving in front of a mirror practicing their form, stretching and shaking out their arms and legs. They were very focused on staying limber. When they would hit the heavy bag they would “work it”, which meant boxing it. Instead of just standing in front of the bag they would circle it and practice footwork as well as punching. In the older gyms there was usually space around the bag so the fighters would have room to do this. In many gyms today the bags are lined up close to each other. Now, you often see fighters just standing flatfooted in front of the bag, their feet planted while they are winding up with punches that are telegraphed as if they were being sent by Western Union. It’s no wonder that is happening since most of the time they spend working with a trainer is wasted while going through the silly mitt punching routine that reinforces these bad habits.

A good boxer has to know how to use his entire body. He needs the grace of a ballet dancer combined with the reflexive power of a trip hammer. Most importantly, he has to be taught how to think in the ring, not to just go through mindless motions. Think, stay loose, find rhythm, treat the sport like the art form it once was.

Ali Running
Ali Running

When I was a young boxer I hated doing road work, today it is called running. Most of us disliked it back then but knew it was important so we did it. As much as I hated it, whenever I saw a clip of Muhammad Ali out on the road it inspired me to go out and put in a few miles. Why? Because Ali encompassed why it was called “road work”. He would be running with a step as light as Bill Rogers, turning on his toes, running backwards and forwards while throwing punches; all the time staying loose. It was beautiful watching him move. I’ll bet he never lifted a weight in his entire life, but he had the kind of strength a great fighter possesses.

Those days are now long in the past.

Boxing has changed, and it is not for the better.

Boxing has changed, and it is not for the better.You can no longer spot a fighter by the way he walks. That is because they are no longer artists and the sport is no longer an art form. It is sad.

Broadway’s Andrea McArdle to Star as Reno Sweeney in Ogunquit Playhouse Production of Anything Goes

Opens June 15th

Andrea McArdel and Company in Anything Goes (photo by Jeff Bellante)
Andrea McArdel and Company in Anything Goes (photo by Jeff Bellante)

 Ogunquit, ME—The Ogunquit Playhouse sets sail with the delightful, Tony Award-winning Anything Goes June 15 to July 9. This splendid madcap musical comedy stars Broadway’s Andrea McArdle as Reno Sweeney and features two-time Emmy Award winner Sally Struthers as Evangeline Harcourt. This tap-happy classic finds a brassy nightclub singer, a starry-eyed stowaway and Public Enemy No. 13 booked on a transatlantic luxury liner bound for romance and hilarity. When the S.S. American heads out to sea, etiquette and convention get tossed out the portholes.

Topping off the fun is Cole Porter’s delightful, delicious, “De-Lovely” first-class score

Topping off the fun is Cole Porter’s delightful, delicious, “De-Lovely” first-class scorethat includes some of musical theatre’s greatest hits, including “I Get A Kick Out Of You,” “You’re The Top,” and of course, “Anything Goes.” Anything Goes features music and lyrics by Cole Porter with original book by Guy Bolton, P.G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay, and Russel Crouse and new book by Timothy Crouse and John Weidman.

 

Andrea McArdle returns to the Ogunquit Playhouse to portray Reno Sweeney. She was last seen at the Playhouse in 2006 as Sally Bowles in Cabaret and in the 2009 production of Les Miserables. She first captured the hearts of theatergoers everywhere in 1977 when she originated the title role in the mega-musical Annie and became the youngest performer ever to be nominated for a Tony Award as Best Lead Actress in a Musical. Since then, she has starred in several Broadway musicals including Jerry Herman’s Jerry’s Girls alongside Carol Channing and Leslie Uggams; Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express; as Margy Frake in State Fair; as Fantine in Les Miserables and, most recently, as Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. She has also appeared in theatres in New York, nationally and internationally and has performed in concert halls from Carnegie Hall to the Hong Kong Philharmonic and casino hotels in both Las Vegas and Atlantic City.

 

Two-time Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award winner

Sally Struthers
joins the cast as the socialite Evangeline Harcout.

Sally Struthers joins the cast as the socialite Evangeline Harcout.She is probably best known for her role as Gloria in the groundbreaking TV series All in the Family. She has also starred in the Fox television series 9 to 5 and her own CBS series Gloria as well as recurred on the CBS comedy Still Standing and the CW network’s highly acclaimed Gilmore Girls. Ms. Struthers joined the Gilmore cast for Netflix’s new four movie limited revival, which will premiere in the fall of 2016, and recently guest starred in the acclaimed IFC comedy series Maron. Sally Struthers has performed many roles at Ogunquit Playhouse including last season’s Nice Work If You Can Get It, as Louise Seger in Always, Patsy Cline, Mama Morton in Chicago, Paulette the hairdresser in Legally Blonde and as Felicia Gabriel in The Witches of Eastwick.

 

Playing Moonface Martin is Ray DeMattis who was last at the Ogunquit Playhouse as Coach VanBuren in Damn Yankees, The Red Sox Version. On Broadway he has appeared in Little Shop of Horrors, City of Angels, Zoya’s Apartment, and the original production of Grease. He has also performed in many Off-Broadway shows and regional theatres across the U.S. as well as in film and several television series including The Sopranos, Everwood, and Law and Order.
Josh Canfield joins the cast as Billy Crocker. He performed in the Broadway production of Doctor Zhivago and will appear in the upcoming Broadway production of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 with Josh Groban. He has appeared on the hit CBS television series Survivor: San Juan Del Sur, and the BBC’s Any Dream Will Do. Mr. Canfield has also appeared in many regional theatre productions including Godspell, Hair, Sail Away, and Iron Curtain.
Also in the cast are Patti-Lee Meringo making her Ogunquit Playhouse debut is as Hope Harcourt; Steve Brady as Elisha Whitney, who appeared in last season’s Nice Work If You Can Get It; Ian Knauer as Lord Evelyn Oakleigh, who is also making his Ogunquit Playhouse debut and has appeared on Broadway in Dames at Sea, Mamma Mia!, By Jeeves and State Fair; and Mychal Phillips who returns to Ogunquit to play Erma after last being seen in the Ogunquit Playhouse production of White Christmas.

Helming the production is Jayme McDaniel who also directed the Ogunquit Playhouse productions of 2015’s sold-out White Christmas; Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat starring Clay Aiken, winning Broadway World awards for best direction and choreography; and Singin’ in the Rain, for which he received an IRNE nomination for his choreography. He is currently a resident artist for EMK Productions in Seoul, South Korea where he has choreographed Rebecca, The Musical and the Yeston/Kopit Phantom and serves as Artistic Supervisor for Elisabeth and Marie Antoinette. He has worked as an associate director, director and/or a choreographer for dozens of shows across the U.S. and internationally, including Laughing Room Only on Broadway; Joseph… at North Shore Music Theatre; Singin’ in the Rain, Grey Gardens, Yankee Doodle and The Rocky Horror Show at the Ordway; The Student Prince, Camelot and Rags at Paper Mill Playhouse; Always, Patsy Cline, Evita, It’s a Fabulous Life, Chicago, Zombie Prom, The Merry Widow, People Like Us, They’re Playing Our Song, White Christmas, Wonderful Town, Sound of Music at the 5th Avenue Theatre and many others. As an arts administrator he was the Associate Producer for the Ogunquit Playhouse and the Associate Artistic Director for the Ordway Center of the Performing Arts. He’s also enjoyed a career on the stage as well, most notably in the final Nat’l Tour of Hello, Dolly! with Carol Channing.

Choreographer for Anything Goes is New York-based Jason Wise who was mentored by the legendary Tommy Tune. He has choreographed and staged musical numbers for over twenty productions in the United States and Canada for Perez Hilton, Karen Ziemba, Brent Barrett, Lee Roy Reams, Maureen McGovern, Karen Akers, Donna McKechnie, Faith Prince, Leslie Uggams, Christine Andreas, Jackie Hoffman, Bridget Everett, Julia Murney, Stephanie J. Block, Megan McGinnis, Paige Davis, Dustin Diamond, Howard McGillin, Dennis Haskins, Ed Alonzo, Ashley Brown, Andrea Martin, Billy Porter, Michael Urie, Linda Lavin, Tovah Feldshuh, Tonya Pinkins, and now Sally Struthers and Andrea McArdle. Mr. Wise’s television credits include Lifetime’s Dance Moms, NBC’s Smash, ABC’s Pan Am, and The Normal Heart for HBO. His work in film includes The Wolf of Wall Street and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Charlie Reuter returns to the Ogunquit Playhouse as Music Director after conducting last season’s award-winning production of Nice Work If You Can Get It. Most recently, he worked with Trevor Nunn to adapt an original score for Pericles for which he received a 2016 Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Music in a Play. He has also served as assistant conductor for the Tony Award-winning musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder at The Old Globe, and for Dreamgirls at The Muny starring Jennifer Holliday. Mr. Reuter other credits include Peter and the Starcatcher at La Jolla Playhouse; The Light in the Piazza at LPT and How the Grinch Stole Christmas at The Old Globe. Following his time in Ogunquit he will conduct the National Tour of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.

Mark your calendars now and get ready to see every show this year. Ticket packages are still available and are the best way to guarantee the best seats for the lowest price, starting at only $129 for a three-show Super Saver package. Individual tickets start at $47 each. To learn more about becoming a Playhouse member, or to purchase tickets and gift cards, visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org or call the Ogunquit Playhouse Box Office at 207-646-5511.

The Ogunquit Playhouse is proud to be the New England premiere and one of the first regional theatres in the U.S. to produce the brand-new musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame July 13 to August 6. This epic tale of passion and hope is an emotionally charged retelling of the famous Victor Hugo love story set in 15th century Paris, created by two masters of stage and screen, composer Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Newsies, Aladdin) and lyricist Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell, Pippin). Get your glitter on for the outrageously fun Priscilla Queen of the Desert on stage from August 10 to September 3. Take the ride of your life with the hilarious and heartwarming Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, based on the Oscar-winning film, with a non-stop dazzling array of over 500 imaginative and outrageous costumes, 200 headdresses and the non-stop hit parade of hit dance numbers from the 70s and 80s. Pull up your boots and hold onto your hats when Seven Brides for Seven Brothers hits the stage September 7 to October 1. This all-dancing, all-singing, all-new production of the rip-roarin’ musical comedy classic bursts onto the stage with rambunctious energy. Elvis, Jerry Lee, Perkins and Cash return by popular demand! Million Dollar Quartet, the best-selling show in the history of the Playhouse, hits the stage October 5 to November 6 with the 2015 cast to once again to rock out the season with one mega-hit song after the next.

About the Ogunquit Playhouse:
The Ogunquit Playhouse, a 501c3 not-for-profit organization listed on the National Historic Register, is located on Route One in Ogunquit, Maine and produces the finest Broadway musicals each season with performances Tuesday through Sunday, from May 18 to November 6. Follow the Ogunquit Playhouse on Twitter (@OgunquitPH) and on Facebook (facebook.com/OgunquitPlayhouse) for behind-the-scenes info, photos and fun throughout the season. For a complete list of show times, pricing and more information about the season visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org.

Photo Caption: Broadway’s Andrea McArdle stars as Reno Sweeney in the delightfully, delicious, “De-Lovely” Anything Goes at the Ogunquit Playhouse June 15 through July 9. The madcap musical comedy set on the ocean liner S.S. American is filled with Cole Porter’s greatest hits, a team of tap dancing sailors, and a whole lot of fun – especially when two-time Emmy Award winner Sally Struthers hops on board as Evangeline Harcourt to stir things up! Don’t miss the boat! www.ogunquitplayhouse.org or call the Ogunquit Playhouse Box-office at 207-646-5511 for tickets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roberto Duran

The Last Of The Great

Old School Fighters

by Bobby Franklin

Duran's Fist
Duran’s Fist

On May 16th “Hands of Stone” the movie biographic of Roberto Duran opened to mixed reviews at the Cannes Film Festival. The movie is scheduled to premiere in the United States in August. I am looking forward to seeing it. Duran is played by Edgar Ramirez with Robert De Niro portraying trainer Ray Arcel. Former boxing champion turned actor John Duddy steps into the role of Ken Buchanan.

While anticipating this movie I have been reflecting on the career of Roberto Duran. Not just his fights but his attitude, training methods, and amazing skills. I believe Duran was the last of the great “Old School” boxers. Roberto had a total of 119 bouts in a career lasting 34 years and in which he fought in five different decades. In that time he won five championships in four weight divisions. He began his career at 119 pounds and fought through the different classes going as high as light heavyweight. He was, of course, at his best while fighting lightweight where he dominated the division and will always be considered an all time great. He is ranked as the best ever by many boxing experts, and they certainly have a good argument for that view.

Leonard v Duran 1
Leonard v Duran 1

Duran won the Lightweight Championship from Ken Buchanan on January 26, 1972 and remained champion until 1979 when he vacated the throne in order to take on Sugar Ray Leonard for the Welterweight title in Montreal, Canada. In a superb fight, Roberto out boxed and outslugged Leonard over fifteen rounds and came away with the belt. It was the highpoint of his career. The great lightweight champion had proven he could step up in weight and defeat the best.

Of course, the glory was short lived as Duran foolishly agreed to a rematch just five months later. Roberto had not even finished celebrating his victory, and celebrating was something he did with as much passion as fighting, He had ballooned to 180 pounds and had to trim down very fast to make the weight for his title defense. He also was not mentally prepared for the fight. Many believe Leonard, along with his very shrewd manager Angelo Dundee, pushed for the quick rematch knowing Duran would not be at his best in such a short time.

The rest is history as Duran would forever have to live with the words “No Mas” after quitting in the 8th round. To this day there has never been a definitive explanation given as to why the fearless Duran just threw his hands up and relinquished the title. Duran has said different things at different times, but I don’t think he is even sure why he did it. My belief is he just was not up for the fight, got frustrated by Leonard’s brilliant boxing and decided to call it a night. It was one of those crazy moments that was completely out of character for the great champion. As a side note, Duran never actually uttered the words “No Mas!

Duran never actually uttered the words “No Mas!”

Now why do I call Duran the last of the great old school boxers? First off, unlike today’s overly cautious so called champions, Duran fought often and against everyone. After winning the Lightweight Championship he was back in the ring for a non-title bout just three months later. He fought an additional two times that same year including dropping a non-title ten round decision to top contender Esteban DeJesus. Instead of then avoiding DeJesus, Duran went on to give Esteban two shots at the title, stopping him both times.

From the time he won the Lightweight Crown until he gave it up in 1980 Duran fought 43 times in both title and non-title fights. He defended the championship twelve times. Over that period he absolutely dominated the division and was, next to Muhammad Ali, the most followed fighter. Every time he stepped into the ring there was excitement in the air.

Duran trained “Old School” and was taught “Old School” methods by Ray Arcel and Freddie Brown. He also had abundant natural talent, which made him reminiscent of Jack Dempsey. When you watch Duran in action you are not just seeing a brutal punching slugger in there, you are also seeing an artist at work plying his craft. He had the moves of a cat, the punch of a mule, and the cunning of a fox.

Duran v Hagler
Duran v Hagler

Look at almost any Duran fight and you will see brilliance. While watching him at his peak is always a pleasure for any boxing aficionado, I particularly enjoy viewing his 1983 match against Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Here was Duran long past his prime fighting way above his best weight against one of the greatest middleweight champions of all-time. On paper this should have been an easy win for Hagler, but Duran reached into his tool box, or perhaps I should say artist’s palette, to come up with an array of boxing moves that have not been seen since. He used body and head feints to confound Hagler.

He used body and head feints to confound Hagler.

He would work his way inside and appear to be about to go for a clinch when he would suddenly unleash a combination to the body. He was rolling with and slipping punches. He knew how to take breaks in order to catch his breath. Going into the 13th round Duran was actually ahead on two of the judges cards. Just amazing. Marvin, with his eye swollen, had to fight hard in the remaining rounds to secure the victory.

In my opinion, that loss made up ten times over for the “No Mas Fight”. Duran continued fighting until 2001and even managed to win the WBC Middleweight Title in 1989 by defeating Iran Barkley.

Duran was an all time great lightweight, an all time great pound for pound fighter, and a true “Old School Boxer”. It is doubtful the moves he executed in the ring will ever be seen again. For all the talk of him being a slugger, it must be remembered how difficult he was to hit. He had amazing defensive skills. Watching film of him gives you an idea of what great fighters used to do. I have included a video of Roberto teaching some young boxers in a gym in England. It is an absolute Master Class in boxing. You will learn more about the Fine Art of Boxing just watching this video than you will  from two or more years in most modern boxing gyms. “Old School Boxing” has become a lost art form. Carefully watching Roberto Duran in action will teach you a lot. Watching him giving pointers in a gym is pure gold.

Roberto Duran meets Brighton & Hove ABC from South Coast Productions on Vimeo.

 

“Anything Goes” Is A Delightful Sail In Ogunquit

Review: “Anything Goes” At The Ogunquit Playhouse Through July 9th

by Bobby Franklin

Put a classic Broadway musical into the hands of the artists at the Ogunquit Playhouse and it is pretty much guaranteed you will be in for a wonderful evening. The current production of Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” is another example of the wonderful things that happen on the Playhouse stage.

Andrea McArdle and Josh Canfield Photo: Jeff Bellante
Andrea McArdle and Josh Canfield
Photo: Jeff Bellante

A great cast led by Andrea McArdle, Sally Struthers, and Josh Canfield make this play simply DeLovely. “Anything Goes” opens strong with Reno Sweeney singing “I Get A Kick Out Of You” to the object of her desires Billy Crocker. With such a strong and well delivered opening number I wondered if they were going to be able to continue the pace for the rest of the show. Well, Cole Porter knew his music, and the cast knows their Cole Porter.

Setting sail to “There’s No Cure Like Travel” led by the Captain (Seth Lerner) and “Bon Voyage” we learn that while Reno loves Billy, he is hopelessly in love with debutante Hope Harcourt (Patti-Lee Meringo) who is engaged to Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (Ian Knauer).

Everything becomes delightfully madcap as Billy stows away on board with plans to win Hope’s heart. While doing so he befriends Public Enemy #13, Moonfaced Martin played by Ray DeMattis who cracks an endless stream of one liners. While some are groaners, they are all funny with his superb delivery. Martin is disguised as a priest in order to evade the authorities, which creates for some awkward and very humorous moments.

Steve Brady, Sally Struthers, and Bradford Little T. Kenney Photo: Jeff Bellante
Steve Brady, Sally Struthers, and Bradford Little T. Kenney
Photo: Jeff Bellante

Sally Struthers, oh yes Sally, who returns to Ogunquit each year and never disappoints, is marvelous as Hope’s mother Evangeline. Ms Struthers brings out laughs with just a sidewards glance. She is as strong as ever in this production. In one scene she spends about fifteen seconds singing her way across the stage, but in this few seconds she has the audience roaring with laughter. She is such a treasure. Evangeline is being pursued by Elisha Whitney (Steve Brady) who is a bit of a tippler and the perfect match for her.

As I said earlier, it seemed that with such a strong opening it would be difficult for the cast to keep moving things along. The play only got stronger as each situation and song were brought out. Reno and Billy dancing and singing their way through a wonderful “You’re The Top” where we see Ms McArdle’s immense talent on display while being complimented by the very able Josh Canfield who was perfect in the role of Billy. Hope and Billy singing “It’s DeLovely”, the lively duet with Reno and Moonface performing “Friendship”, and the toe tapping “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” where Andrea McArdle and the cast light up the stage, all make this a fantastic evening.

Mychal Phillips and Cast Photo: Gary Ng
Mychal Phillips and Cast
Photo: Gary Ng

I have to mention two other numbers that were outstanding. Mychal Phillips as Erma burned up the stage while dancing her way along with the sailors to “Buddie, Beware”. The audience loved her.

Ian Klauer’s playing the very British Lord Oakleigh is sidesplittingly funny in his rendition of “The Gypsy In Me” as he tangos across the stage in John Cleese fashion. Oh, this was funny!

The cast is supported by a six piece orchestra directed by Charlie Reuter. Mr. Reuter and his musicians make it look easy. Choreography by Jason wise is step perfect, and the whole production is in the fine hands of director Jayme McDaniel.
Now, I have left out one new incredible rising young star who took the stage by storm in his debut. That would be charming, talented, four legged sensation Little Bradford T. Kenney. Never have I seen such a strong performance from a first time player. It might be noted that this Mr. Kenney, named after Ogunquit Playhouse Artistic Director Brad Kenney, is a Cairn Terrier and has quite the theatre background. Little Bradford was adopted from a kill shelter by Sally Struthers and went out on that stage a puppy but came back a star.

Andrea McArdle and Ray DeMattis Photo: Jeff Bellante
Andrea McArdle and Ray DeMattis
Photo: Jeff Bellante

Seeing a play on Broadway is now beyond the financial reach of many people, but that does not mean seeing a full fledged Broadway production is. The Ogunquit Playhouse gives us all you will get on the Great White Way and even more as they make their audience feel as if they have found a home there.

I am sure you will find “Anything Goes” delovely and leave thinking it’s the tops.

For ticket information contact the Ogunquit Playhouse at 207.646.5511 or OgunquitPlayhouse.org

The Regional Premiere of the Epic New Musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Set to Open July 13 at the Ogunquit Playhouse

2016_Hunchback_Header01

The Ogunquit Playhouse is proud to be the New England premiere of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, on stage from July 13 to August 6, making the Playhouse one of the first regional theatres in the U.S. to stage this new musical. Victor Hugo’s epic tale of hope, love

Sydney Morton (Esmeralda)
Sydney Morton (Esmeralda)

and passion, with book by Peter Parnell (On A Clear Day You Can See Forever Broadway revival) and music by composer Alan Menken (Newsies) and lyricist Stephen Schwartz (Wicked), soars to life in this emotionally charged retelling of the celebrated classic. The love story of the beautiful gypsy girl Esmeralda, the scorned bell-ringer Quasimodo and the dashing Captain Phoebus comes to glorious life in this powerful rendition of the timeless tale. The bold and dramatic theatrics, combined with the music’s orchestral power and choral beauty provided by a thirty-two member choir that accompanies the cast, promise to transport audiences back to fifteenth century Paris and inside the cathedral walls made famous by Victor Hugo’s novel.

F. Michael Haynie (Quasimodo)
F. Michael Haynie (Quasimodo)

The stellar cast is led by F. Michael Haynie who is making his Ogunquit debut as Quasimodo. On Broadway he performed in Wicked and Holler If Ya Hear Me, on television in Peter Pan Live for NBC, and the film Not Fade Away for Paramount. The beautiful gypsy girl Esmeralda is played by Sydney Morton who has performed as part of the original Broadway casts of Memphis, Evita, Motown and American Psycho, the National Tours of Flashdance and Jersey Boys, and appeared in The Sound of Music Live broadcast on NBC. Christopher Johnstone returns to the Playhouse as Captain Phoebus after playing Lt. Cable in the award-winning production of South Pacific (Best Actor nominee Broadway World). His many theatre credits include the National Tours of the recent revival of Evita, Lincoln Center’s production of South Pacific and regional productions of Fiddler on the Roof, A Little Night Music, and Pirates of Penzance, among many others.

Bradley Dean (Frollo)
Bradley Dean (Frollo)

Bradley Dean joins the cast as Claude Frollo. Mr. Dean is also making his Ogunquit debut and has appeared on Broadway in A Little Night Music, The Last Ship, Company, Doctor Zhivago, Spamalot, The Story of My Life, Evita, Jane Eyre, Man of La Mancha as well as many Off-Broadway, National Tours and regional theatre productions. Paolo Montalban joins the cast as Clopin. He was last seen at the Ogunquit Playhouse in The King and I (Lun Tha) and Cinderella (Prince Christopher). On Broadway he appeared in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Pacific Overtures and Off-Broadway in Two Gentlemen of Verona, and The Romance of Magno Rubio, as well as many regional theatres across the nation. On television Montalban is most recognized as the Prince in the ethnically diverse ABC production of “Cinderella.”

Shaun Kerrison returns from England to direct this epic production for the Ogunquit Playhouse. He has directed many Ogunquit productions, receiving many IRNE and BroadwayWorld nominations for Best Director. Mr. Kerrison was last in Ogunquit in 2014 to direct Mary Poppins the Broadway Musical and The Witches of Eastwick and in 2012 he directed the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic South Pacific. He also directed the U.S. regional premiere of Sunset Boulevard at the Ogunquit Playhouse starring Stephanie Powers, as well as Les Miserables and My Fair Lady for the Ogunquit stage. On Broadway, Mr. Kerrison was the Resident Director of Mary Poppins and was the Associate Director for the Broadway revival of Les Miserables and he redirected the National Theatres production of My Fair Lady for its 50th Anniversary U.S. National Tour. He recently reunited with conductor John Wilson to direct Kiss Me Kate for the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall.

Choreographer for the Ogunquit production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is Connor Gallagher who recently received an Astaire Award for his work on The Robber Bridegroom at the Roundabout Theatre in New York City. His many show credits include the world-premiere stage adaptation of Disney’s Tangled with director Gordon Greenberg; Robert Schenkkan and Neil Berg’s The Twelve at Denver Center; The Fabulous Lipitones for Goodspeed; and Perez Hilton at Lincoln Center. Mr. Gallagher will next choreograph the Broadway-bound musical FOUND for the Philadelphia Theatre Company and as a director, a new musical with Disney Creative Entertainment for fall of 2017.

Fight Director Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum joins the creative team to direct the fight scenes in the show. He has worked on many Broadway productions including Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Peter and the Starcatcher, Cyrano de Bergerac, and On the Twentieth Century as well as many Off-Broadway and regional theatre productions and the television production of Peter Pan Live for NBC/Universal.

Brent-Alan Huffman returns to Ogunquit Playhouse as Conductor/Music Director after having conducted last year’s Playhouse hit Sister Act. Mr. Huffman conducted the recent Billboard number 1 cast recording of Hunchback of Notre Dame, and was Conductor/Music Director for the original U.S. companies in 2014-15. His Broadway credits include Leap of Faith, Disney’s The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, and National Tours include Sister Act, Little Shop of Horrors and Beauty and the Beast. For television he served as Production Music Coordinator on ABC’s The Music Man starring Matthew Broderick and Kristin Chenoweth, and as Associate Music Producer on NBC/Hallmark’s A Christmas Carol starring Kelsey Grammer. Assisting Mr. Huffman is Associate Music Director Jeffrey Campos and Chorus Master Wendell Scott Purrington.

An all new set has been designed by Adam Koch exclusively for the Ogunquit stage that reaches out over the audience complete with areas for Quasimodo to venture. Mr. Koch previously designed sets for the Ogunquit Playhouse productions of Sister Act and Saturday Night Fever. He has designed sets for theatres across the nation, including the landmark outdoor production of Carousel and The Sleepy Hollow Experience for Serenbe Playhouse; the original Chicago production of Million Dollar Quartet at the Apollo Theatre; Hello, Dolly! for Ford’s Theater; Miss Saigon, Dreamgirls, Kiss of the Spiderwoman (2008 Helen Hayes nomination), and See What I Wanna See for Signature Theatre; and Bat Boy for 1st Stage for which he received a 2015 Helen Hayes nomination. His Off-Broadway credits include Rooms: A Rock Romance, Loaded, We the People, Pinkalicious and Freckleface Strawberry. Associate Scenic Designer Steven Royal, who has collaborated with Adam Koch on over thirty musicals, plays and live events including Miss Saigon (Signature Theatre), Carousel (Serenbe Playhouse) and Hairspray (Syracuse Stage) also joins the creative team for the Ogunquit Playhouse.

Also joining the creative team for Ogunquit Playhouse is Costume Designer Martha Bromelmeier who designed costumes for hundreds of theatrical productions including The Kennedy Center Honors, The New Victory Theatre, The Cocteau Rep, The Lucille Lortel Theatre, and Primary Stages among many others. Martha has worked with leading ladies including Patti LuPone, Glenn Close, Audra McDonald, Sutton Foster, Kelli O’Hara, Jessie Mueller, Laura Benanti, Laura Osnes, Patina Miller and Anna Kendrick.

Visit OgunquitPlayhouse.org or call the box office at 207-646-5511 for tickets.

Shadow Box, A Second Look At An Amateur In The Ring

by Bobby Franklin

Shadow Box: An Amateur In The Ring
By George Plimpton
(Little Brown, 347 pages, $20.00)

Shadow BoxEvery young man who steps into a boxing ring for the first time sees himself as a future champion. Appearing so basic in its nature, prizefighting is the one sport where it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see one’s self as landing that knock out blow against the champion and taking the title. Reality is a bit different.

For many, that first experience getting punched on the nose by a blow that seemed to come out of nowhere is enough to send even the most imaginative packing and leaving the gym never to return. For others, it is just the thing that gets the adrenalin flowing and the desire spiked to move forward in pursuit of the nearly impossible dream.

George Plimpton was the editor of the The Paris Review from 1953 until his death in 2003. He was also a frequent contributor to Sports Illustrated Magazine. Mr. Plimpton earned a reputation as a participatory journalist by stepping onto the mound to throw against a number of MLB All Stars, play quarterback briefly for the Detroit Lions (he lost thirty yards in his few minutes on the field), and being beaten at golf by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer among other things.

In 1960 he also decided to experience boxing first hand. Now most people would have gone to a boxing gym and taken a few lessons, stepped in with a sparring partner of similar experience and gotten a good taste of what it is like to be in the ring. Not so in Plimpton’s case. His first choice of opponent was Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson. When that arrangement failed to materialize he moved down a weight class and sought out Light Heavyweight Champion Archie Moore. The Old Mongoose agreed to meet George in the ring at Stillman’s Gym in New York City.

He recounted his session with Moore in Shadow Box: An Amateur In The Ring first published in 1977 and now reissued by Little Brown as part of a delightful set of the sports books by George Plimpton. This title is one of seven in the group, and it is a wonderful read.

I first read Shadow Box in 1977 while I was still active in the ring. Rereading it now has brought back so many memories of that time when boxing was quite different than it is today.

Moore and Plimpton (Photo: Walter Daran)
Moore and Plimpton
(Photo: Walter Daran)

Mr. Plimpton begins with his bout with Archie Moore. He took this match quite seriously enlisting a professional boxing trainer to prepare him for the fatal day. He also read numerous books on the subject and learned he was not unique among writers in getting into the ring with a champion boxer. The poet Arthur Craven, reputed to be the nephew of Oscar Wilde, fought Heavyweight Champion Jack Johnson in Paris. It should be noted that Mr. Plimpton fared much better in his match against Archie Moore.

George had one fatal flaw as a boxer, something he called the “sympathetic response”. This was an involuntary reaction to being hit that resulted in tears flowing from his eyes giving the appearance he was crying. This reaction was a far cry from the Sonny Liston stare and would hardly send chills done the spine of an opponent.

The three rounds with Moore went well in front of a large crowd that had gathered in Stallman’s for the event, and George was very proud of the bloody nose he came away with.

The book moves on from there to many interesting experiences Mr. Plimpton had in the boxing world as well as some wonderful stories about authors such as Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer, and Truman Capote. In one of these tales we learn of how the author attempted to arrange a meeting between Hemingway and Mailer, but it never happened. Perhaps, this was for the better as any restaurant the two would have met in almost certainly would have been busted up. We also learn that Mailer was undefeated at thumb wrestling.

Some of the best parts of the book are about the time Mr. Plimpton spent with Muhammad Ali and his covering both the first Frazier fight as well as the Foreman fight in Zaire.

The author was in Ali’s dressing room immediately after the Frazier bout and describes the pain Muhammad was in after his fifteen rounds with Joe. Most fans are not aware of just how much punishment boxers take in a fight, and this was no ordinary fight. Ali was exhausted and in excruciating pain. He could barely walk. I am sure the situation was as bad if not not worse in the Frazier camp. Mr. Plimpton’s wonderful writing brings this moment in boxing history vividly to life.

The last portion of the book is devoted to Ali’s fight with Foreman in Africa. After the press had arrived the bout was postponed for six weeks due to a cut eye the champion received in training. Being so far from home the writers stayed in Zaire for the six weeks. This leads to a number of tales such as the one where Norman Mailer thought he was going to be eaten by a lion.

Mr. Plimpton spends a number of pages writing about Hunter Thompson. Thompson was sent to cover the fight for Rolling Stone Magazine but didn’t go to the bout. I really don’t know why so many pages are devoted to Thompson as I really never understood why he was ever taken seriously, but it is an insight into the time.

The author talks quite a bit about Drew Bundini, Ali’s sidekick. Mr. Plimpton refers to him as Ali’s trainer. In one depressing scene Ali belittles Bundini and slaps him in the face in front of a roomful of reporters. Mr. Plimpton, who worshiped Ali, says he hated him at that moment.

Shadow Box is a delight. It is a book by an author who is a master with words. A man who brings the enthusiasm of the dedicated boxing fan along with just enough knowledge of the sport to make it all come alive. It is a book about the sport when it was much different and much more exciting. That excitement comes through on every page. If you have not already read Shadow Box, I urge you to do so. if you read it years ago, go to it again. You will not be disappointed.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

An Epic Hit At The Ogunquit Playhouse

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Quasimodo (F. Michael Haynie) Photo: Gary Ng
Quasimodo (F. Michael Haynie)
Photo: Gary Ng

As I waited for the curtain to rise for the opening of The Hunchback of Notre Dame I was fascinated by what I could see of the set for this production. I read in the program notes it was designed by Adam Koch exclusively for the Playhouse. I have seen Mr. Koch’s work before and have been impressed, but his work for this production was beyond impressive, it was positively breathtaking.

Ladders, a movable staircase, giant cathedral doors, five large bells, a choir loft, cauldron, revolving stage upon the stage, all appearing and disappearing seamlessly from scene to scene. This, combined with superb lighting, created a visual epic that held the audience spellbound during the entire performance.

But sets alone do not make for a hit play. While drinking in the creative genius of Mr. Koch, something else began to happen on stage. An incredible story, dark yet touching, unfolded. This story was told by actors with talent who were playing at the top of their game.

As the play opens we see the word “Fate” in large letters over the stage. This word would stay with us as we watch events unfold and it will haunt us with the question: How much do we control our own destinies? One that mankind has struggled with throughout the ages.

Theatre is illusion, and when F. Michael Haynie first appears on stage we see him transformed into the part of Quasimodo right before our eyes. It is a stunning moment when he turns to face the audience, his face with just the right lighting, no makeup, and he is suddenly in full character. It is one of those moments in theatre that is never forgotten. Mr. Haynie goes on to give a full and outstanding performance for the rest of the evening. In a stage populated with talent, he shines.

Quasimodo is the illegitimate nephew of Claude Frollo the Archdeacon of Notre Dame. He took in his brother’s out of wedlock child, and to shelter him from the world, confined him to the belfry of the church where he serves as bellringer.

Frollo (Bradley Dean) Photo: Gary Ng
Frollo (Bradley Dean)
Photo: Gary Ng

Frollo, powerfully portrayed by Bradley Dean, is tormented by his feelings of guilt when he begins to feel lust for the beautiful gypsy Esmeralda portrayed by the very talented Sydney Morton. Mr. Dean takes the audience on an emotional roller coaster as he elicits feelings of warmth, pity, sadness, and anger in his descent into a darkness from within the soul of Frollo.

The magnificent score written by Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken was originally created for the Disney film. It has been since updated with some songs removed and others added. Many of the songs heard in Ogunquit are being performed on stage for the first time. Some high spots among the many are The Bells of Notre Dame, the touching Out There sung from the tower by Quasimodo, the beautiful duet Someday performed by Esmeralda and Captain Phoebus played by Christopher Johnstone who was last seen on the playhouse stage in South Pacific. His voice is as wonderful now as it was then.

Chopin (Paolo Montalban) Photo: Julia Russell
Chopin (Paolo Montalban)
Photo: Julia Russell

I also want to mention the very strong performance of Paolo Montalbano as Clopin, the king of the gypsies. He also plays the roll of narrator. Along with the gargoyles who come to life only to Quasimodo and serve as a sort of Greek Chorus, the story flows continually.

There is a thirty-two member chorus that occupies the choir loft that is perched high up and to the back of the stage. Their magnificent voices fill the theatre. The Playhouse recruited local talent for the chorus from such groups as the Seaglass Chorale, and they are all first class.

This production is something a bit different for the Playhouse as it has only been performed at two venues in the United States, and this run is being directed for the Ogunquit Playhouse by Shaun Kerrison. It is not a touring company show. Under the artistic direction of Brad Kenney, the Playhouse has become a major player in regional theatre. I believe there is a very strong likelihood this production will move on to Broadway. It is that strong. I hope Mr. Kerrison follows it there.

This play is dark in many parts. It will touch your emotions and make you think about how cruel humans can be to each other and wonder why. It will cause you to look at yourself and, perhaps, question some of the quick judgements we all make about people because they are different. The play does not answer these questions, but I believe it will open many eyes so that we all take the time to be more thoughtful before passing judgement on our fellow human beings.

We can take charge of our fate, but we must grasp our hopes and believe in the good we all have to offer.

See this play. You will be delighted by such a beautiful evening of theatre. You will also leave pondering so much more.

Through August 6th.
For information: OgunquitPlayhouse.org 207.646.5511

Ogunquit Playhouse Presents Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

 

Get Your Glitter On for the New England Premiere of 
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert at the Ogunquit Playhouse August 10 to September 3.

Ogunquit, ME — Get your glitter on and take the ride of your life with the hilarious and heartwarming Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, based on the Oscar-winning film on stage at the Ogunquit Playhouse August 10 to September 3. The Ogunquit Playhouse is one of the first regional theatres in the U.S. to stage this outrageous international and Broadway smash hit, with book by Stephan Elliot and Allan Scott, complete with a non-stop dazzling array of over 500 imaginative and outrageous Tony Award-winning costumes and 200 headdresses designed by Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner. Rounding out the fun is a hit parade of infectious dance songs from the 70s and 80s by Tina Turner, Cyndi Lauper, Donna Summer, The Village People and many other pop-stars and include “I Will Survive,” “Hot Stuff,” “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” “True Colors,” and “I Love The Nightlife.” Don’t miss the bus! Hop on for a journey to the heart of fabulous!

Jarrod Emick
Jarrod Emick

The story follows the adventure of friends Tick, Bernadette and Adam who board a party bus named Priscilla and take their outrageous drag show on the road through the Australian Outback to unite Tick with his young son. Starring as Tick is Jarrod Emick who won a Tony Award, Drama Desk and Theatre World Award for his role as Joe Hardy in the 1994 Broadway revival of Damn Yankees. Mr. Emick has performed in many other Broadway shows as well, including Miss Saigon (Broadway debut), Rocky Horror Show, The Boy from Oz opposite Hugh Jackman, and Ring of Fire. He also appeared at the Prince of Wales Theatre in the West End premiere of The Full Monty. His regional theatre productions include Next to Normal, Guys and Dolls, Sweeney Todd, Bus Stop, Picnic, Hank Williams: Lost Highway, Contact, Hands on a Hard Body and The Sound of Music.

William Selby
William Selby

William Selby joins the cast as Bernadette. He most recently enjoyed a long run of Laughing Matters, Vol. 5 at Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota. Off-Broadway he has performed in many editions of Forbidden Broadway, The Daring Duo, Nerds, Forbidden Hollywood, Juba, and The Apple Tree. Mr. Selby has also performed in regional theatres throughout the U.S. in many shows including South Pacific as Luther Billis (for which he received Broadway World and Connecticut Critics Circle Award nominations for Outstanding Featured Actor), Barrymore, The Presidents, Hot n’ Cole, and All Night Strut. Playing Adam is Matthew Marks who is taking a break from his five year run in Broadway’s The Book of Mormon. Among his credits are the Broadway production of West Side Story

Matthew Marks
Matthew Marks

and the National Tour of Fiddler on the Roof. Lisa Helmi-Johanson, Coleen Sexton and Debra Walton join the cast as the three Divas along for the fabulous ride. Ms. Helmi-Johanson has performed in regional theatres in the U.S. in Avenue Q, Waterfall, Taming of the Shrew and …Spelling Bee as well as many others. Ms. Sexton has performed on Broadway in Forever Dusty and the National Tours in Wicked as Elphaba, in Legally Blonde as Brooke Wyndham, and various roles in Chicago. Ms. Walton has performed on Broadway and Off-Broadway in many shows including The Pajama Game, Storyville!, The Bubbly Black Girl and Cookin’ At the Cookery: The Life and Times of Alberta Hunter, which earned her a Drama Desk Nomination and a Barrymore Award. Mitch Poulos, who has also performed throughout the U.S., most notably in the National Tours of Billy Elliot the Musical, is cast as Bob.

Helming the Ogunquit production is David Ruttura who is currently the Associate/Resident Director of School of Rock on Broadway. He has worked as Associate Director for many Broadway productions including Spider-Man, Follies, Lombardi, Million Dollar Quartet, White Christmas and A Man for All Seasons. Mr. Ruttera has also directed many shows for regional theatres across the U.S. including the Kennedy Center, La Jolla Playhouse and Gateway Playhouse.

Gerry McIntyre returns to the Ogunquit stage to choreograph Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. He was last at the Ogunquit Playhouse in 2012 to choreograph 9 to 5 the Musical and in 2010 as the Director/Choreographer for Chicago. Mr. McIntyre’s long career, both on the stage, as director and choreographer has included many regional, Off-Broadway and Broadway productions including, the Dreamgirls National Tour, One Man Two Guvnors, My Fair Lady, A Chorus Line, Oklahoma, Candide, Legally Blonde, Urinetown, and Hairspray.

Michael McAssey is the Musical Director for the Ogunquit production. He has conducted and music directed the Broadway National Tours of Avenue Q and Titanic: The Musical, and toured with Donny Osmond playing piano for Liventʼs Joseph…Dreamcoat. He has music directed at theatres throughout New York and the U.S. for various productions that include Chicago, Man of LaMancha, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, White Christmas, Ragtime, Sunset Boulevard, Gypsy, Violet, Smokey Joe’s Café among others. He appeared with Barbara Cook and Patti LuPone in Paris and toured with Ms. LuPone in her nightclub act, The Argentina Turner Revue.

Set design for the Ogunquit Playhouse production is by Stanley A. Meyer and Jason M. Curtis. Mr. Meyer’s set designs have been seen in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, Aida at the Alliance Theatre, Treasure Island at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, and From Here to Eternity and Saturday Night Fever at Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival. He has been recognized for his work by the League of American Theatres and Producers, National Broadway Award, Drama League Awards, American Theatre Wing Award and New York Outer Critics Circle Award, as well as the Los Angeles Ovation Award. Mr. Curtis has been the assistant designer for International Tour of Beauty and the Beast, Saturday Night Fever and From Here To Eternity at Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival among others.

Sound Designer for the Ogunquit production is Don Hanna whose regional theatre credits include Million Dollar Quartet and Billy Elliot, as well as the National Tours of Million Dollar Quartet and Smokey Joe’s Cafe 20th Anniversary. Lighting Designer is Richard Latta who has created the lighting for dozens of Ogunquit Playhouse productions, including most recently The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Sister Act, Victor Victoria, Nice Work If You Can Get It, Million Dollar Quartet, Saturday Night Fever and White Christmas in addition to many regional theatres in the U.S.

 

The Ogunquit Playhouse Welcomes New Development Director Dan Breen

The Ogunquit Playhouse welcomes Dan Breen as the new Development Director for the historic theatre.
The Ogunquit Playhouse welcomes Dan Breen as the new Development Director for the historic theatre.

Ogunquit, ME – The Ogunquit Playhouse is pleased to announce the appointment of Dan Breen to the position of Director of Development. Mr. Breen has 30 years of fundraising experience at educational and arts institutions including the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Middlebury College. “The Ogunquit Playhouse is a treasure not only for the seacoast region, but for everyone who loves the highest quality musical theater,” said Breen.

Helping to preserve this powerful art form while working to secure and strengthen the physical plant of the Ogunquit Playhouse are two of the overarching goals Mr. Breen will work to achieve. Through building fundraising efforts, his plans are to increase the Ogunquit Playhouse membership program, expand the Hartwig Legacy Society and to work with the Board of Directors and the community to raise funds for the capital needs of the iconic National Historic Register theatre and campus.

Executive Artistic Director Bradford Kenney stated, “We are thrilled to have Dan Breen as part of our growing company to lead us in the area of fundraising in order to help insure our treasured Playhouse will be here for generations to come. As the Ogunquit Playhouse productions continue to reach new benchmarks within our industry, it is more important than ever to raise the funds necessary to preserve our historic building, and to enhance and equip our theatre to accommodate both our artistic goals and to enhance our public areas in order to create the best possible experience for our visitors.”

Dan Breen and his family have relocated from the Philadelphia area to Kittery Point. Please join us in welcoming Dan to the Ogunquit Playhouse.
About the Ogunquit Playhouse: 
The Ogunquit Playhouse, a 501c3 not-for-profit organization listed on the National Historic Register, is located on Route One in Ogunquit, Maine and produces the finest Broadway musicals each season with performances Tuesday through Sunday, from May 18 to November 6. Follow the Ogunquit Playhouse on Twitter (@OgunquitPH) and on Facebook (facebook.com/OgunquitPlayhouse) for behind-the-scenes info, photos and fun throughout the season. For a complete list of show times, pricing and more information about the season visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org.

 

THE KINGSTON TRIO JOINS AMERICAN A CAPPELLA AT OCEAN STATE THEATRE

the Kingston TrioWARWICK, RI – The Kingston Trio, the groundbreaking, Grammy Award-winning American Pop-Folk group, joins 15-Time District Champions, Narragansett Bay Chorus, along with senior quartet champions, Trade Secret and up and coming collegiate stars, Curtain Call, for a very special American A Cappella show on Saturday, September 10, 2016 at 2:00 and 7:30pm.

In 1957, The Kingston Trio emerged from San Francisco’s North Beach club scene to take the country by storm, bringing the rich tradition of American folk music into the mainstream for the first time. During the late 50s & early 60s, the Trio enjoyed unprecedented record sales and worldwide fame, while influencing the musical tastes of a generation. Through changing times, the Trio has played on, remaining popular for a simple reason…great songs that sound as good today as the first time you heard them.

…great songs that sound as good today as the first time you heard them.

And fifty-eight years after Tom Dooley shot to the top of the charts, the Trio is still on the road thirty weeks a year, bringing back all the great memories and making new ones.

The Narragansett Bay Chorus is the performing unit of the Providence Chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society – the largest male singing organization in the world! Competitively, the chorus has been the Society’s District winner on fifteen separate occasions.

Based in the Greater Providence area since 1949, the Narragansett Bay Chorus is a premier chorus that sings popular music a cappella in four-part harmony. They perform, primarily in the New England area, but have also performed in England, Canada, and across the United States. Membership includes men of all ages from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

American A Cappella featuring The Kingston Trio will be presented on Saturday, September 10 at 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm. The theatre is located at 1245 Jefferson Boulevard, Warwick, RI. Tickets are $50 for premium seating, $40 for standard seating and $25 for value seating and are on sale at the box office Monday through Friday from 12 noon – 6:00 pm, Saturdays from 12 noon – 4:00 pm and performance days from 12 noon – curtain. Tickets are also available online 24 hours a day at www.OceanStateTheatre.org and via telephone during normal box office hours by calling (401) 921-6800.

Hartford Stage Announces Cast and Creative Team For Queens for a Year

Cast Features Local Actress and Broadway Veterans

September 16 through October 2

show-queensHARTFORD, CT — AUGUST 23, 2016 — Hartford Stage Artistic Director Darko Tresnjak and Managing Director Michael Stotts announced today the cast and creative team for Queens for a Year, written by T.D. Mitchell and featuring local actress Vanessa R Butler.

The first show of Hartford Stage’s 2016-17 Season, Queens for a Year is a world premiere directed by Lucy Tiberghien, whose recent Off-Broadway credits include Don’t Go Gentle and Blind.

“We’re delighted to have Lucie Tiberghien and such a terrific cast joining us for this timely new play exploring the lives of women serving in the military,” said Elizabeth Williamson, Associate Artistic Director.

Butler’s credits include Gross Domestic Product and Jimmy and Lorraine at HartBeat Ensemble; Juliet in Romeo & Juliet at Capitol Classics; and Freedom: In 3 Acts at Bated Breath Theatre Company.

The cast also includes Heidi Armbruster, Time Stands Still on Broadway; Mary Bacon, Arcadia on Broadway; Alice Cannon, James Joyce’s The Dead on Broadway; Sarah Nicole Deaver, Henry V at Rutgers University; Mat Hostetler, the War Horse national tour; Charlotte Maier, God of Carnage on Broadway; and Jamie Rezanour, Romeo & Juliet at the Classical Theatre of Harlem.

In addition to Tiberghien, the creative team includes set design by Daniel Conway (Horton Foote’s Lily Dale Off-Broadway); lighting design by Robert Perry (Love in Afghanistan at Arena Stage); costume design by Beth Goldenberg (Engagements at Second Stage Theatre); sound design by Victoria Toy Deiorio (Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre); and dramaturgy by Elizabeth Williamson (Anastasia, The Body of an American).

Lori M. Doyle (The Visit on Broadway) will serve as production stage manager.

In Queens for a Year, Molly Solinas, a young Marine Corps Officer, unexpectedly returns to her family home in Virginia, bringing with her an even younger female Private. Four generations of women who’ve served their country in the Marines clash during what at first appears to be a post-deployment vacation – but is revealed to be much more.

“I am grateful to Queens for a Year for telling this difficult story and shedding a light on women in the military,” said Kirsten Gillibrand, United States Senator, New York.

Mitchell, best known as a writer on the popular Lifetime series “Army Wives,” has earned accolades for many works, including her plays Beyond the 17th Parallel (National Endowment for the Arts Artistic Excellence Grant, soon to be adapted for film), A Gray Matter, In Dog Years and the upcoming VRTU-L.

 

Previews begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, September 8
Opening Night: 8 p.m. Friday, September 16
Closes: 2 p.m. Sunday, October 2

Tickets & Performances

Tue, Wed, Thu, Sun at 7:30 p.m.—Fri, Sat at 8 p.m.—Sat, Sun at 2 p.m.
Wed matinee at 2 p.m. on September 21 only
Weekly schedules vary. For details, visit www.hartfordstage.org.

Tickets for all shows start at $25. For group discounts (10 or more), contact Theresa MacNaughton at 860-520-7114.

For all other tickets, please call the Hartford Stage box office at 860-527-5151 or visit www.hartfordstage.org.

Special Events

Sunday Afternoon Discussion, September 18

Enjoy a lecture from artists and scholars connected with the production immediately following the 2 p.m. matinee. Free

AfterWords Discussion

Tuesdays, September 20 and 27 & Wednesday, September 21

Join members of the cast and our Artistic staff for a free discussion, immediately following select 7:30 p.m. performances on Tuesday or the 2 p.m. Wednesday matinee.

 

 

 

SpeakEasy Stage Presents “Significant Other”

From September 9 to October 8, 2016, SpeakEasy Stage Company will proudly present SIGNIFICANT OTHER, a sharply observed new comedy about the challenges of finding love and letting go, written by Bad Jews playwright Joshua Harmon.

so-website_bannerSlated to begin previews on Broadway in February, 2017, SIGNIFICANT OTHER tells the story of Jordan Berman, a 29 year old single gay man whose life up until now has revolved around BFF’s Kiki, Laura, and Vanessa. But as singles nights suddenly turn into bachelorette parties, Jordan starts to worry about his romantic prospects, and sets out on a journey to find his own Mr. Right.

SIGNIFICANT OTHER is the latest from playwright Joshua Harmon, whose play Bad Jews was the third most-produced play in the United States during the 14-15 theatre season. A recent graduate of Julliard, Mr. Harmon has received fellowships from MacDowell, Atlantic Center for the Arts, SPACE at Ryder Farm, and the Eudora Welty Foundation.  He is currently at work on commissions for Roundabout Theatre Company, Lincoln Center Theater, and Manhattan Theatre Club.

SpeakEasy Founder and Producing Artistic Director Paul Daigneault will direct this New England premiere production of SIGNIFICANT OTHER. Mr. Daigneault’s recent SpeakEasy directing credits include the acclaimed productions of Violet, Mothers & Sons, Big Fish, The Color Purple, In the Heights, and Next to Normal. Mr. Daigneault is the recipient of three Elliot Norton Awards, including the 2014 Norton Award for Sustained Excellence.

Norton Award nominee Greg Maraio and Norton Award winner Kathy St. George head the cast, which also includes Sarah Elizabeth Bedard, Jordan Clark, Eddie Shields, Kris Sidberry, and Jared Troilo.

The design team is Christopher & Justin Swader (scenic); Tyler Kinney (costumes); Daniel H. Jentzen (lighting) and Lee Schuna (sound).

SIGNIFICANT OTHER will run for five weeks, from September 9 through October 8, in the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End.

Ticket prices start at $25, with discounts for students, seniors, and persons age 25 and under.
For tickets or more information, the public is invited to call the box office at 617.933.8600 or visit www.SpeakEasyStage.com .

 

 

Seven Brides for Brothers Bursts onto the Ogunquit Playhouse Stage

The Rip-Roarin’ Musical Comedy Classic Runs From September 7 to October 1

2016_Seven-Brides_Thumb-3Pull up your boots and hold onto your hats when this all-dancing, all-singing, all-new production of the rip-roarin’ musical comedy classic bursts onto the Ogunquit Playhouse stage September 7 to October 1. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a big, brawling, rollicking show filled with rambunctious energy and set in 1850s Oregon Territory with a book by Lawrence Kasha and David Landay, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, music by Gene de Paul, and new songs by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn. This beloved musical based on the glorious MGM hit film and Stephen Vincent Benet’s short story “The Sobbin’ Women” tells the story of Adam Pontipee and his backwoods brothers’ unusual pursuit of brides. When Adam goes to town to get a wife, he miraculously convinces the beautiful and feisty Milly to marry him that same day, and then she immediately starts reforming her six rowdy brothers-in-law. When her plan to marry off the boys backfires, this exuberant rousing musical kicks into high gear with a combination of daredevil dancing and wonderful songs like “Goin’ Courtin,” “Sobbin’ Women,” and “Wonderful, Wonderful Day.”

Nathaniel Hackman
Nathaniel Hackman

Broadway performers will headline the Ogunquit production. Starring as Adam Pontipee is Nathaniel Hackmann who is making his Ogunquit Playhouse debut. Mr. Hackmann has appeared on Broadway in Les Miserables, Beauty and the Beast, and Paint Your Wagon. He has also performed in many regional theatres throughout the U.S. in shows that include Oliver!, Sweeney Todd, Oklahoma!,

Analisa Leaming
Analisa Leaming

Camelot and many more. Also making her Ogunquit Playhouse debut is Analisa Leaming who is cast as Milly. Ms. Leaming recently appeared on Broadway in the Lincoln Center production of The King and I and in Roundabout Theatre’s production of On the Twentieth Century starring Kristin Chenoweth. She has performed in regional theatres in shows including Mary Poppins as Mary, The Sound of Music as Maria, The Music Man as Marian Paroo, and many others.

Adam’s brothers are played by Kevin Munhall (Broadway: Anything Goes; Ogunquit Playhouse: West Side Story) as Benjamin, Colin Bradbury (Broadway: Come Fly Away) as Caleb, Brian Martin (Nat’l Tour: Bullets Over Broadway) as Daniel, Abe Hegewald (Sir Tim Rice’s North American Premiere of From Here to Eternity) as Ephraim, Jeff Smith (Ogunquit Playhouse: West Side Story; Damn Yankees) as Frank, and Justin Schuman (1st Nat’l Tour: Nice Work If You Can Get It) as Gideon. The brides are played by Kelly Berman as Alice, Becky Grace Kalman as Sarah, Shelby Putlak as Liza, Maria Cristina Slye as Dorcas, Chloe Tiso as Martha, and Lizz Picini (Ogunquit Playhouse: West Side Story) as Ruth, who is also the Assistant Choreographer for the Ogunquit production.

For ticket information visit www.ogunquitplayhouse.org or call the Ogunquit Playhouse Box Office at 207-646-5511.

 

“45 Plays For 45 Presidents” Opens At Merrimack Repertory

“45 PLAYS FOR 45 PRESIDENTS” OFFERS BOTH HUMOR AND INSIGHT TO KICK OFF MRT SEASON
227 YEARS OF AMERICAN HISTORY IN 2 HOURS
SEPTEMBER 7 – OCTOBER 2, 20

45PlaysFor45Presidents 470x470_0Just in time for the general election, Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) offers offers a one-of-a-kind take on the epic sweep of American history with “45 Plays for 45 Presidents.” In just two hours, through nearly every theatrical device imaginable, we see the highs and lows our country has hit over decades and centuries. With each commander-in-chief in the spotlight for two minutes, we experience not only their lives, but the distinctive American eras in which they served. And ultimately, we appreciate that our nation’s story is one that we all have written—and continue to write—every time we vote.

“45 Plays for 45 Presidents” runs approximately 2 hours, including one intermission. Performances are September 7 – October 2. Press performances are at 8:00 pm on Saturday, September 10 (Opening Night), and 2:00 pm on Sunday, September 11. All performances will be held at the Nancy L. Donahue Theatre, located at 50 East Merrimack Street in historic downtown Lowell. Tickets range from $70 – $26 and are on sale now at www.mrt.org or by calling 978-654-4678.
The evening ends with the audience voting on who the 45th president—and what the 45th play—will be; each audience will see either a Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump play to close the show. MRT is partnering with Rock the Vote and Lowell Votes to encourage voter registration in the lobby.

About Play and its Creators
The Neo-Futurists, whose legendary “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind” has been a staple of the Chicago theatre scene since 1988, first presented this presidential play in 2002, then called “43 Plays for 43 Presidents.” Four of its five writers were members of the troupe, which is renowned for an in-the-moment aesthetic and innovative, multi-modal storytelling. The writers—Andy Bayiates, Sean Benjamin, Genevra Gallo-Bayiates, Chloe Johnston, and Karen Weinberg—created the show not as a series of impersonations, but rather as a set of fully realized theatre pieces that explore the thoughts, feelings, triumphs, and failures of the individuals we have chosen to lead our country—as well as of their families, colleagues, and adversaries.

One of the playwrights, Andy Bayiates, is a Billerica native, who was born at Lowell General Hospital. He is credited as the “Founding Father” of the play for the major role he played in its creation.

MRT Artistic Director Sean Daniels has been directing the play every presidential election season since 2004, and returns to direct again here. When he directed the play in at Dad’s Garage Theatre Co. in Atlanta, Georgia, Jimmy Carter attended (and really enjoyed the Reagan play) and subsequently invited the cast to perform at the Carter Center. Daniels later directed the play at Actors Theatre of Louisville in Kentucky and Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, NY. Of the original Chicago production, Daniels recalls: “I thought it was so smart, and so well-done. How often do you get to see a full American civics lesson in less than two hours? To see the choices we’ve made as a country, over and over again?”

More About the Production
One thing Daniels loves about “45 Plays…” is that it keeps changing, as public perceptions of certain presidents evolve. This year, Barack Obama and George Herbert Walker Bush will both have their plays rewritten. “You find that we all share the same opinions about the first 16 presidents. Everyone loves George Washington… but suddenly when we talk about Reagan, everyone feels very strongly, one way or the other, about what it all means… One thing that’s exciting for me is that the writers have to continually update it, because public ideas change.”

Audiences at MRT’s production will be immersed in diverse storytelling approaches, both comical and serious: ballet, puppetry, personal narrative, prop-driven physical theatre, and Schoolhouse Rock-style musical numbers all converge into a cohesive whole. The set will use projection panels and light boxes scattered across the MRT stage, and costumes will be crafted to represent changing American fashion across the eras. Scene change music will transform as the show progresses to reflect the popular music of each president’s tenure.

Creative Team and Cast
The five-person cast includes Veronika Duerr (MRT’s “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” and “Home of the Brave”), Nael Nacer (MRT’s “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play”), and Terrell Donnell Sledge (MRT’s “The Realness: a break beat play”), as well as newcomers Celina Dean and Aaron Muñoz.

Director Daniels is joined by a creative team that includes Wendy Seyb (Choreography), Michael Raiford (sets), Brian J. Lilienthal (lights), A. Lee Viliesis (costumes), Stowe Nelson (sound), and Ido Levran (projections programmer).

Admission
Tickets range from $70 – $26 and are available at www.mrt.org or by calling 978-654-4678. A senior discount is offered for 10% off adult ticket prices. Student tickets are $15. Group discounts are available for groups of six or more by calling 978-654-7561. $5 Night: Wednesday, September 7 at 7:30 pm. Patrons may purchase tickets for $5, cash only, at the Box Office between 4:30 pm – 7:30 pm. Limit 2 tickets per person. Lowell Night: Wednesday, September 14 at 7:30 pm. Lowell residents may purchase tickets for $10 at the box office from 4:30 pm-7:30 pm. Proper ID required, limit 2 per person. A Military Discount of $10 off per ticket (up to four tickets per production) applies to any performance for active duty, retired, veteran, and reservist members of the military.

Duran v Buchanan

Should Buchanan Have Been Declared The Winner
By Disqualification?

by Bobby Franklin

(This piece was first published in the Boston Post Gazette in January of 2014.)
It was June 26, 1972 and the very popular Lightweight Champion from Scotland Ken Buchanan was stepping into the ring to defend his title against the challenger from Panama, Roberto Duran. Buchanan won the title in 1970 by outpointing champion Ishmael Laguna over 15 rounds under a very hot sun in San Juan, Puerto Rico. That same year the New York Boxing Writers’ Association named him Fighter of the Year, the first time a non American was so honored. Ken was an active champion in both defending his title and also participating in non-title matches. He was well liked by fans in the United States.

Duran-vs-BuchananDuran was a relative unknown at the time of the fight. He had built up an impressive undefeated record scoring 28 straight wins with only four lasting the distance and eleven ending in the first round. He had just one fight in the United States scoring a sensational one round knockout over journeyman Benny Huertas in NY on September 13, 1971. Was he a great knock out artist or just another unknown with a padded record? His trainers Ray Arcel and Freddie Brown knew the answer to that. They were two of the best in the business and worked hard to develop Duran’s raw power into savvy boxing skills.

The fight took place in Madison Square Garden before 18,000 fans. From the opening bell Buchanan knew he was in for a rough night as he hit the canvas within the first minute. Duran pressured and hammered the game Buchanan round after round. Bulling him into the ropes and slamming him with everything in his arsenal.

Despite the onslaught, Buchanan fought back gamely.

Despite the onslaught, Buchanan fought back gamely.He used a very fast jab in an attempt to keep Duran at bay, but the challenger was able to counter that with a very sharp and powerful right hand. Duran was rough, tossing in elbows and a number of blows that were low as well as shoving and pushing Buchanan through the ropes. He was warned only once by referee Johnny LoBianco about the low blows, and that wasn’t until the 12th round.

The fight was all Duran with Buchanan maybe winning one or two rounds going into the 11th. This is where I noticed a change in the dynamic of the fight. While the champion certainly wasn’t turning the tide, he was continuing to fight hard and hadn’t slowed down. It was at this point I saw Duran becoming frustrated with his inability to stop or to again floor Ken. He started getting wild with his punches and was talking to Buchanan.

He started getting wild with his punches and was talking to Buchanan.

It was a frustration that I would later see in his rematch with Ray Leonard, the famous No Mas Fight. Duran just had to keep the pressure on and continue with his game plan to win a decision, but he desperately wanted a knock out. In the corner you could see Ray Arcel getting angry with Roberto and urging him to calm down. Duran was starting to turn this into a more difficult fight as Buchanan was beginning to land on him. I am by no means implying Ken was taking charge of the fight, but it was becoming interesting. It also has to be remembered that Buchanan won the title by coming on in the late rounds against Laguna. In boxing it truly ain’t over till it’s over.

400px-Duran-Buchanan_The-end-of-the-fightNow for the controversy: The bell rings for the 13th round and Duran comes out with fire in his eyes. He is all over the champion who continues to fight back gamely. Ken still has plenty of life left in his legs and is not going to give up his championship easily. Duran bulls him to the ropes, and fires away at him, but Roberto’s punches are wider now, he is also getting hit with more jabs. He desperately wants to end the fight. He has Buchanan against the ropes when the bell sounds ending the round. After the bell rings Duran fires a right hand to the body that lands well below the belt line. The champion falls to the canvas in great pain. He is taken to his corner where the referee takes a quick look at him and stops the fight giving the title to Duran.

Gil Clancy, who was working Ken’s corner that night, made no protest over the stoppage. That was very odd behavior coming from the usually outspoken Clancy. When referee Johnny LoBianco was interviewed by commentator Don Dunphy immediately after the fight he told Don it was not a low blow, and if it had been it would make no difference as it was “impossible’ to be hurt by a low blow because of the protective cup being worn by the fighter. Look at the photo of the punch being landed and you will clearly see it was low. If it had been called a low blow by the ref, Buchanan would have been given five minutes to recover. Also,

LoBianco did admit the punch landed after the bell.

LoBianco did admit the punch landed after the bell.He said he stopped the fight because of that blow, and if it hadn’t landed he would have allowed the fight to continue. He clearly states he ended the fight because of the blow, which by his own admission, was landed illegally. He states that Buchanan was in no condition to continue because of that punch. Going by LoBianco’s own words, Duran should have been disqualified and Buchanan allowed to retain his title. I know Duran was well ahead in the fight, but this fight ended because of an illegal blow, a fact that was acknowledged by the referee.

Questions linger. Why did Clancy remain silent? At the very least a protest would have ensured a rematch. Why did Duran’s team refuse to fight Buchanan again? Why did LoBianco never referee another championship bout? And finally, did we see a flaw in Duran that night that would lead to his quitting against Leonard years later? I believe Duran was one of the greatest fighters of all time. He was devastating, but as with all great fighters, he had his flaws. He would get frustrated with fast moving boxers, and, even though he would be beating them, he would become impatient if it appeared he was being outboxed.

As controversies go, I am sure this doesn’t rate high on a lot of fight fan’s lists, but I still think there are questions to be answered. I have included video of the 13th round including the interview with referee LoBianco aCheck out the fight and pay attention to the interview with LoBianco as well as footage of the entire fight. See what you think.

A Moment From Walcott vs Ray

Jersey Joe Walcott
VS
Elmer “Violent” Ray
A Split Second In That Fight

by Bobby Franklin

Walcott Ray

Followers of this column know I occasionally like to take a photograph from a fight that took place years ago and study it to see what it shows about how the contestants plied their trade. The reason I choose photos from an earlier time in boxing is because it is impossible to find any taken today that show the fighters doing any of these moves.The art and technique no longer exist,

The art and technique no longer exist

and that is borne out by these photos.

The latest in this series is a shot taken during either the second or third fight between Jersey Joe Walcott and Elmer “Violent” Ray. Both fights took place within a few months of each other and both resulted in very close decision wins, one for Ray and the final contest for Walcott. The two had fought each other once before early in their careers when Walcott scored a knockout over Ray. The first fight was in 1937. The final two were in 1946 and 1947.

Fight fans are well versed in the career of Walcott, the man who at the time was the oldest to win the Heavyweight Title. It can be strongly argued he was the best heavyweight of all time when it came to technical skills. He was fast, agile, could punch with the kick of a mule, and had great stamina. He was a true artist when in the ring, and like any great artist he constantly practiced his craft,

like any great artist he constantly practiced his craft

always striving to improve and learn new things. I have been told that if he was in the gym and through working out he would sit and watch other fighters training, even the amateurs. When asked why he would take the time to observe amateurs sparring he reportedly answered, “Because I might learn something, a new move, that I don’t already know.”
Walcott was a master tactician who studied boxing the way a medical student studies anatomy. He would practice his footwork as if it were choreography, which it actually is. To watch Jersey Joe in the ring is to watch a true master at work. Relaxed yet intense.

Elmer “Violent” Ray is an intriguing figure. The man had an incredible record; A total of 108 bouts with 85 wins. A remarkable 64 of those wins were by knock out. He lost just 17 contests and had 5 draws.From October of 1943 until his third fight with Walcott in March of 1947,

Elmer had 50 consecutive fights without a loss

Elmer had 50 consecutive fights without a loss Not only is that an outstanding accomplishment given the period he was fighting in, it is also a huge number of fights to have in approximately 3 and a half years.

While some may question the quality of the opposition he faced, a few names do jump out at me. He kayoed Lee Savold and Jay D. Turner as well as having the win over Walcott. He couldn’t have been fighting all stiffs and been able to come up with those wins.

There is little known about Ray. No film exists of his fights, and nobody seems to know what became of him after he gave up boxing. He just seems to have disappeared. If he had won the third fight with Walcott it is likely he would have gotten the title shot against Joe Louis instead of Jersey Joe. Instead, he fought on for a couple of more years, winning a close decision over Ezzard Charles and then being kayoed by Charles in a rematch. Not long after he quit boxing and vanished like Keyser Soze in the movie “The Usual Suspects”.

Now to the photo. This is another of those amazing pictures that captures so much of what is happening in this fight. Though it is just a fraction of a second of action, it shows us two very skilled fighters at work. We see that Walcott has moved to his right and has let fly a very hard right hand. It is possible he feinted Ray with a jab before doing this as Elmer’s right hand appears to be in position to parry a jab. His left is low but also in position to deliver a hook to the body.

Joe is putting the force of his entire body behind the blow. You can see how he has shifted the weight of his body from his right foot to his left, up on the toes of his right and flat footed with the left. He has also dropped his right shoulder further increasing the force of the blow. Just look at the power and torque in his shoulder and chest muscles. His eyes are focused on Ray, and you can see he is ready to follow up with the left hook.

Jack Dempsey used to say he got his power by punching from his hips

Jack Dempsey used to say he got his power by punching from his hips You can clearly see how Joe has put his hip into this blow. His entire core is at play here. In this photo Walcott is giving a master class in how to throw a right hand.

So, what about Elmer Ray? Well, he certainly is no slouch. As great a move as Walcott has just pulled off, it appears from Elmer’s position that he was sucked in by the feint, but he has reacted well to the move. As soon as he realized what was coming he went to a defensive move and slipped under the punch. Because it happened so fast he is still feeling the power of the blow, but Walcott does not connect to a vulnerable area of Ray’s anatomy. Elmer Ray shows us the art of slipping a punch. Remember, he didn’t have time to think about what he was going to do. He made this great move because he had practiced it over and over again. You are seeing two masters at work.

I would also call your attention to the referee. He is on his toes and as focused on the action as the boxers. He is out of the way but in a position to step in if needed. All three of these men are consummate professionals.

I get more enjoyment just looking at this photo than I can get out of watching any of the so called champs of today in a live fight. Maybe they should take some time to look at pictures such as this. They might learn something. Of course, it would probably just confuse them.

You’re In Good Company At The Lyric Stage

Stephen Sondheim’s Company

Directed by Spiro Veloudos

The Lyric Stage Boston

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Bobby (John Ambrosino)
Bobby (John Ambrosino)

I am embarrassed to admit it, but in all the years I have been attending theatre I have, until now, never seen Stephen Sondheim’s “Company”. Well, I guess the theatre gods wanted me to wait for the Lyric Stage’s production directed by Spiro Veloudos. The gods were smiling on me as I doubt I could have seen a better staging of this wonderful play anywhere else. The wait was worth it.

The play which was considered groundbreaking when it first appeared in 1970 takes on the subject of marriage, commitment, and non commitment. It centers around Bobby, the one person in his circle of friends who has not been in a committed relationship. His friends are concerned that Bobby is not in a relationship, and they are trying to fix him up or convince him that “A person is not complete until married.”

At the same time, we get to explore the question of just how happy Bobby’s married friends are. The songs “The Little Things You Do Together” and “Sorry-Grateful” capture the conflict many couples have using an on the one hand, on the other hand theme.

“Company” is a play that, while dealing with a subject, marriage and commitment that can be touchy and emotional, and is something we all have experienced in some way, it never makes you feel uncomfortable. The music is classic Sondheim, meaning it is simply wonderful. There is humor, and

the cast, without exception, is a joy to watch

the cast, without exception, is a joy to watch.

As I was leaving the theatre two moments stayed in my thoughts. One is when Amy, who is engaged to be married but is getting cold feet, tells Bobby “You are afraid not to get married, and I am afraid to get married.” The other was the song “Marry Me A Little” sung by Bobby. He is onto something.

April (Adrianne Hick), Marta (Carla Martinez), Kathy (Maria LaRossa)
April (Adrianne Hick), Marta (Carla Martinez), Kathy (Maria LaRossa)

There is not a bad seat at the Lyric Stage, but they are limited. I recommend you get tickets soon before it sells out as it most certainly will. Don’t wait. who knows when the gods will send us another production as fine as this one.

Company now through October 9th at The Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon Street, Copley Square, Boston. 617.585.5678
lyricstage.com

Photos: Mark S. Howard

A Dancing Feast At The Ogunquit Playhouse

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers

Through October 1st

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

I have to say I was not particularly excited by the thought of seeing Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. It has never been high on my list of movie musicals, though when it was released in 1954 it was a hit and earned an Academy Award for Best Scoring of a Musical and a nomination for Best Picture. In 1982 it was staged on Broadway but did not last long. It has been revived a number of times over the years with changes being made as it went along.

Frank (Jeff Smith) Challenge Dance Photo: Jay Goldsmith
Frank (Jeff Smith) Challenge Dance
Photo: Jay Goldsmith

The production now playing through October 1st at the Ogunquit Playhouse has original choreography by Parker Esse, a man with no shortage of talent. And it is the dancing that makes this an enjoyable evening of theatre. Oh, the scenery, as usual at the Playhouse, is lovely, and the cast is strong, especially Analisa Leaming as Millie playing opposite Nathaniel Hackman as Adam.Ms Leaming is tall and beautiful with a lovely voice

Ms Leaming is tall and beautiful with a lovely voice

and she knows how to command the stage. Mr. Hackman fits the part of the strong and stubborn mountain man in search of a wife with his deep and full voice. But it is ultimately the dancing that makes this worth seeing.

A nice touch is having members of the orchestra come out onto the stage in costume for a number of the songs. The very lively Challenge Dance number is outstanding with amazing physicality. It is really something to see the potential brides being tossed over the heads of their suitors. The dancers were in perfect sync.

I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw, but I should never underestimate what the team at the Playhouse can accomplish with  Artistic Director Brad Kenney in charge. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a terrific old fashioned musical that makes for a fun time at the theater. This is one for the entire family to enjoy. It will make you feel like dancing down the aisle on the way out of the theater.

Seven Brides For Seven Brothers at the Ogunquit Playhouse
Directed by BT McNicholl
Through October 1st.
Box Office: 207.646.5511
OgunquitPlayhouse.org

There’s A Lot More To Ingo

Ingemar Johansson:
Swedish Heavyweight Champion
By Ken Brooks
(McFarland, 272 pages, $29.95)
www.McFarlandpub.com 800-253-2187

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

978-0-7864-9847-5A few weeks ago I wrote a piece for the Post Gazette about Heavyweight Champion Ingemar Johansson. In the limited research I did on that story I learned what a fascinating character the man with Toonder in his right hand was. In the time since that column appeared I have had the opportunity to read Ken Brooks’ detailed biography of the former world champion.

In recent years biographies of boxers have been coming out on an almost daily basis. Most are labors of love. Many are well researched but poorly edited. Some are quite good. And a few rise to the top of the heap. This book is one of those that deserves a wide readership.

Mr. Brooks has done meticulous research, organized his material, given an array of footnotes to back up that research, and ends up with a lively narrative about a fascinating figure in the world of boxing

a lively narrative about a fascinating figure in the world of boxing

. Though he clearly admires his subject, this is no hagiography.

Ingemar was born in Goteborg, Sweden in 1932, the son of Ebba and Jens Johansson. His father, Jens, was a street paver and it is from him that young Ingo inherited his great physical strength.

The young Swede was not particularly fond of school work, nor did he do well when dealing with authority figures. His career in the military was less than stellar. But this disdain for being a team player made him a perfect candidate for the sport of boxing where an athlete is on his own and answers to no one but himself.
Ingo ran up an impressive amateur boxing record culminating in his representing Sweden in the 1952 Olympics. Fighting against American Eddie Sanders in the final Ingo was disqualified for “lack of effort”. Johansson returned to Sweden in shame and with the press writing off any hopes of his having a future in boxing.

Well, not only did he prove the press wrong by going on to win the European Heavyweight title, he also became the first Swede to hold the World Heavyweight Championship. But, he did much more than that.

Even though Ingemar was champion for less than a year, he singlehandedly revived boxing which, under the reign of Floyd Patterson, had begun to become more of a sideshow.

Ingo1In this book Ken Brooks writes not only about Johansson, but also pens an excellent history of boxing during the late 50s and early 60s. It turns out Cus D’Amato was not the valiant warrior against organized crime that so many believe he was. He had his own criminal connections, and Mr. Brooks lets us in on them. While D’Amato is remembered for standing up to Jim Norris and the IBC, he was not looking to clean up boxing. Rather, he was attempting to make his own power grab. This all makes for fascinating and enlightening reading.

It is interesting to contrast Johansson’s rise up the ranks with the two best known of D’Amato’s protege’s, Patterson and Mike Tyson. Mr. Brooks points out the fact that Ingo never fought an opponent who had a losing record

Ingo never fought an opponent who had a losing record

. Every one of his fights were against fighters who had more wins than losses. Compare that with the steady stream of hand picked opponents that both Mike and Floyd faced on the way up. Ingo earned his title shot by knocking out number one contender Eddie Machen, a man Patterson refused to grant a chance to.

On the night he won the title from Patterson with a devastating seven knockdowns in the third round, very few people gave Johansson any chance of winning the fight. He didn’t appear to have trained very hard for the fight, and in the first round he didn’t appear particularly fired up. Ingo’s laid back personality carried through with him when he climbed through the ropes. The reality was, even though he often seemed disinterested in boxing and more interested in having a good time, Johansson loved boxing and took it very seriously.

Johansson loved boxing and took it very seriously

He had developed an awkward yet effective style that worked well enough to gain him the world title.

Ken Brooks covers much ground in his taut and concise book. Readers learn about Howard Cosell’s first time behind the mic for a national broadcast. The unlikely friendship between Sonny Liston and Johansson. Ingo actually made Sonny smile, and they enjoyed each other’s company. We get the truth behind the two round sparring session between a young Cassius Clay and the former champion that took place before the third Patterson fight in Miami. A myth has grown around this, and once again, the author delves into what actually happened that day.

Ingo and Sonny
Ingo and Sonny

Ingemar’s social life was more one of Hollywood celebrity than professional athlete. The new champion was extremely popular in the United States, particularly among females. His good looks and dimpled chin coupled with his charm made him very sought after. Among his paramours was Elizabeth Taylor. You can get a glimpse of this attraction by looking on Youtube at his appearance on What’s My Line as well as his time on the Dinah Shore Show where he sings and banters with his host. The Champ had a great singing voice.

Mr. Brooks also gives us details on Ingo’s marriages and home life. The saddest part is the description of his final years when dementia set in. Johansson did not want people to think his illness had come from boxing. He loved the sport that much, but it was indeed the tragic outcome of the blows he took to the head.

On a happier note, Ingo was one of the few boxers to leave the sport financially well off. He eventually bought a small motel in Florida where he enjoyed a number of very happy years. He also resisted a number of lucrative offers to return to the ring. When he was done fighting the decision was final.

Ingemar Johansson: Swedish Heavyweight Boxing Champion is a must read even for the most casual of boxing fans. Ingo deserved to have a good book written about him, and Ken Brooks has done him that service.

What Are Friends For

Significant Other”
SpeakEasy Stage
Now Through October 8th

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Significant Other  by Joshua Harmon, who’s Bad Jews was a great hit last year, opens with Jordan Berman (Greg Maraio) celebrating the news of his friend Kiki’s (Sarah Elizabeth Bedard) engagement to be married. Kiki and Jordan are joined by two other long time friends Laura (Jordan Clark) and Vanessa (Kris Sidberry). They are sharing a scorpion bowl and Kiki is feeling no pain. Soon the conversation turns to Jordan, who is gay, and how it is time for him to find a significant other. We learn that Jordan tends to obsess over romantic interests and is now attracted to Will (Jared Troilo) from his office, who may or not be gay.

Vanessa, Jordan, and Laura (Photo: Justin Saglio)
Vanessa, Jordan, and Laura
(Photo: Justin Saglio)

As the play progresses we watch as Jordan pursues Will both in real life and in fantasy. It is very interesting to see how this is staged, having Jordan speak to his friends while also in the moment with Will. It is almost as if the action pauses so he can update his friends. The effect works very well.

As time goes on we see that Jordan has not been able to make a connection with Will or any other man. Meanwhile, Vanessa and Laura join Kiki in walking down the bridal path. This leads Jordan to feeling a bit of a loser. He also begins to feel he is losing his friends and his sadness turns to anger when he confronts Laura at her bachelorette party. it was at this point Jordan started to get under my skin. Sorry, I just cannot feel sorry for someone that selfish.

At first I felt sadness for for Jordan, but my sadness turned to anger at him for his selfishness and inability to understand that life moves on and people have changes in their lives.It does not mean friendships end, but they do change, and he just cannot accept that.

It does not mean friendships end, but they do change

Throughout the play he pays visits to his elderly grandmother Helene (Kathy St. George) and hears advice about life and aging, though nothing  really seems to resonate with him.

Vanessa, Jordan, and Kiki )Photo: Justin Seglio)
Vanessa, Jordan, and Kiki
)Photo: Justin Seglio)

As I was watching Significant Others I couldn’t help but think about Company which I had seen last week. Company had a similar theme about people moving on with their lives and dealing with how these changes effect friendships. What I found striking was, even though the characters in Company are only a few years older than those in Significant Others, they are much more mature than Jordan and his friends. Company was written in 1970, and I think by comparing the two we see how much longer it takes people to grow out of adolescence today. There were times during this play when I just wanted to shout out “Grow up, the world does not revolve around you!”

Okay, so this is not a group of people I would want to spend time with. Having said that, the production is well done, though I feel the play have been shorter. A number of points were made and did not have to be repeated.

It is very funny, and all of the players are quite good.

Greg Maraio has terrific talent

Greg Maraio has terrific talent which is why I disliked his character so much. Unless, of course, he was going for sympathy. If that was the case, I missed it. But i don’t think so. I believe Mr. Maraio captured the frustration and anger that too many young people feel when they realize life is a bumpy ride.

It’s funny, but the SpeakEasy Stage has a way of leaving me thinking about their productions for days after I have seen them. Leaving the theater I felt I really did not like this play. But, I think i could spend hours talking about it.

Significant Other
Directed by Paul Daigneault
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Calderwood Pavilion
527 Tremont Street In The South End
speakeasystage.com
617.933.8600

It’s A Lovely Sunday At The Huntington

Sunday In The Park With George
At The Huntington Theatre Company

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Company of Sunday in the Park with George (Photo: Paul Marotta)
Company of Sunday in the Park with George
(Photo: Paul Marotta)

This past Saturday I saw the matinee performance of the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Sunday In The Park With George, Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical inspired by the George Seurat painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte now playing at the BU Theatre. It was my first time seeing it and I had done some research before going. Reading background pieces about the play made it sound like it was going to be a complicated work and, perhaps, a bit difficult to understand, particularly the second act.

The Huntington has given Boston theatre goers a treat that is not to be missed.

This Sunday In The Park With George is a gift that is not to be missed.
It is complicated, but it certainly is not a difficult play to enjoy. Yes, it has many layers, and I can certainly see why so many people return to see productions of it over and over again. It is one of those works that can be viewed just on the surface or you can dig deeper and deeper and find much more you may not have known was there at first glance. And that is what makes it so wonderful.

I have come a bit late to Sondheim in my theatre going life, this being only the third work of his I have seen performed on stage, the second having just been last week when I saw the Lyric Stage production of Company. I am now hooked.

Adam Chanler-Berat and Jenni Barber (Photo: Paul Marotta)
Adam Chanler-Berat and Jenni Barber
(Photo: Paul Marotta)

As I settled into my seat just in time for the opening act I was already taken with the set. When Jenni Barber appeared as Dot modeling for the artist George, and sang the title song, I knew this was going to be something special. Jenni Barber has talent, not just talent, but that rare ability to convey so much with a nod, a glance, and a pause at just the right time. Add to this her lovely voice, and, well, you have to see her.

This is not, however a one person show. Adam Charnier-Berat as George is in command of his role as the artist obsessed with his work. He moves about the stage with his sketch book sneaking looks at the people in the park for his painting which they will appear in. The use of the stage as a canvas for his work is pleasing to the eye with scenic design by Derek McLane.

Josh Breckenridge, Adam Chanler-Berat, and Aimee Doherty (Photo: Paul Marotta)
Josh Breckenridge, Adam Chanler-Berat, and Aimee Doherty
(Photo: Paul Marotta)

The entire cast is very strong. I was particularly impressed with Aimee Doherty as Yvonne who underplayed her role just right. Josh Breckenridge as Jules and Bobbie Steinbach as Old Lady are a joy to watch.

The musical score by Sondheim is not one that has you leaving the theater humming the tunes. Rather, it is an integral part of the story. Sondheim writes the music in a way that complements Seurat’s pointillist style of having the eye connect the dots in a painting. The music does the same thing only for the ear. It is subtle but effective. It is played by an eleven piece orchestra conducted by Eric Stern.

As for that troublesome second act where the action moves from 1884 to 1984. I saw no problem at all with it. Under the direction of Peter DuBois it was very clear what Mr. Sondheim meant.

Sunday In The Park With George at the BU Theater is an experience theatre goers will not soon forget.

A delectable treat for the eyes and ears. This production connects the dots.

It is a delectable treat for the eyes and ears. This production connects the dots and is not to be missed. You will be sorry if you do.

The Huntington Theatre has promised to produce all of Stephen Sondheim’s plays over the next few years. This is wonderful news. If they come anywhere near the current work being performed on their stage we are in for a great ride.

It looks like I have come to Sondheim at just the right time. I encourage you to jump on board as well. Sunday In The Park With George at the BU Theater is not a bad place to start.

At the BU Theater through October 16th
Huntington Theatre Company
BU Theater, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston
617.266.0800
huntingtontheatre.org

Unforgotten, The Paul Pender Story

A Very Important Film That Will Save Lives

by Bobby Franklin

unforgotten-the-story-of-paul-pender_poster_goldposter_com_1-jpg0o_0l_800w_80qA few years ago film director Felice Leeds got in touch with me about a film she was making about Paul Pender. She told me it would be dealing with more than just Paul’s career as a boxer. We exchanged emails and phone calls. Occasionally, I would hear the production was making progress, but I have been approached by other people trying to make boxing films, and they never seem to go anywhere. With this history, I really wasn’t expecting much from Ms Leeds’ project.

Last Sunday I finally got to see the finished product at a screening at the Boston Film Festival. Not only is this documentary one solid production, it is also an extremely important film.

In 2003 former World Middleweight Champion Paul Pender died at the age of 72. For the previous 15 years it had been thought Paul was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. It wasn’t until his brain was examined after his death that it was discovered not to be Alzheimer’s but rather Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a disease caused by mild repetitive trauma to the head. These sub-concussive blows to the head are most serious when received at a young age. It was found that Paul had a very serious stage of the disorder CTE (stage 4). It became the  index brain for the research that is ongoing Boston University and is the brain all other cases are compared to.

Paul Pender
Paul Pender

Unforgotten, The Paul Pender Story tells us about Paul’s life, his boxing career, his outspokenness about the corruption in the sport, and his battle with recurring hand injuries that often put his quest for the title on hold. There is amazing footage of Paul’s fights, of him training at the New Garden Gym, as well as taped interviews with the champ. Watching the Brookline fireman’s rise to the top culminating in his winning the title from Sugar Ray Robinson is a great story in itself, and boxing fans will be thrilled with just that.

However, there’s much more to this fine movie. We learn that on top of being a great boxer, Pender was also a very intelligent man who attended elocution school and loved to quote Shakespeare. If things had been a bit different for him he very well may have ended up a college professor. He certainly possessed the intellect for it. We also become aware that his very strong brain was also being damaged over his years of playing contact sports.

While CTE was first thought to primarily affect boxers (dementia pugilistica) it has been found to be prevalent among football players as well. It is a progressive disease that can also occur in anyone, not just participants in contact sports, but also in those who have suffered repeated repetitive head trauma in other ways.

Dr. Ann McKee directs the Boston University CTE Center based at the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center in Bedford, MA. In the film she points out how the younger a person is when they suffer a head injury the more susceptible they become to developing CTE later in life. It is very possible Paul Pender already had damage from his days of playing high school football

It is very possible Paul Pender already had damage from his days of playing high school football

in Brookline. If that damage already existed it would have been exacerbated by his career as a boxer. This is something that should give every parent pause when they are considering allowing their son or daughter to play a contact sport. Once damaged, the brain does not heal.

Tony DeMarco and Felice Leeds
Tony DeMarco and Felice Leeds

In a panel discussion after the film Dr. Robert Cantu, author of Concussions And Our Kids, talked about someday having tests that will show whether or not signs of CTE are beginning to show in the brain. Right now the only way to know for certain is to examine a brain after the patient has died. Could finding markers early on help prevent the onset of symptoms later in life? That is a question that can’t be answered, but at least the person, such as a boxer, could be denied a license to fight so that the damage is not made worse. He also points out that research needs to be done on the brains of people who have participated in contact sports but are asymptomatic. It has always been a puzzlement as to why some athletes, in spite of having received repeated blows to the head, never develop CTE. There is so much more to be learned about this terrible but preventable disease.

This movie is great on so many levels. It finally gives Paul Pender the respect and recognition he deserves for his great boxing ability. He has been known as the forgettable boxer, but

after watching this film you will never forget Paul Pender

after watching this film you will never forget Paul Pender.

Audiences are also brought back to the days when boxing was one of the most popular sports in the country. The time when great fighters like Tony DeMarco made Bostonians proud. Tony, along with fellow boxers Joe DeNucci, Tom McNeeley, and Matt Farago are interviewed. Former great amateur boxer Richard Torsney, a longtime friend of Pender’s, gives us insight into the personal side of the Champ. Historian Dan Cuoco and author Mike Silver (Stars In The Ring and The Arc of Boxing) not only share their insights about the finer points of the art of boxing, but also discuss the emotional side of  what it means to be a boxer. Mr. Silver describes it as a “Calling”.

Rose Pender
Rose Pender

Director Felice Leeds reminds us of a person who should definitely not be forgotten, and that is Rose Pender, Paul’s widow. Ms Leeds describes her as the true hero in this story, and I couldn’t agree more. It is Rose who got this all started by making the difficult decision to allow Paul’s brain to be used for research. This courageous woman who spent years caring for her husband while raising a family now has allowed the rest of us to benefit from the research that is based on her husband’s brain. Her action will save lives and prevent much suffering. We all owe Mrs. Pender much gratitude.

Felice Leeds has made a fine documentary. As I wrote earlier, it is an important piece of work and deserves a wide audience. It is time we as a society look at what is happening on the playing fields and in the boxing rings. It is time we consider the danger we are putting our fellow human beings into for the purposes of entertainment. It is time we work to make sports safer while still retaining the competitiveness that builds character and self-discipline.

Richard Johnson, the curator of the Sports Museum in Boston, best described this film during the panel discussion. I believe he was quoting Paul Pender when he said “It is a full day if you have laughed and cried.” This documentary will make you do both.

Many thanks to Felice Leeds for making this film. I urge everyone to see it when they have the chance. It will make you laugh and cry. And I hope it will make you think about the price so many athletes pay for entertaining us.

Trailer: Unforgotten, The Story of Paul Pender from Felice Leeds on Vimeo.

Million Dollar Quartet Returns To Ogunquit Playhouse

Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis Back by Popular Demand 
in the High-Voltage Rock ‘n’ Roll Musical Million Dollar Quartet 
at the Ogunquit Playhouse through November 6th!

2015_MDQ_Robert-Britton-Lyons-Carl-Perkins-Sam-Weber-bass-David-Sonneborn-drums-Nat-Zegree-Jerry-Lee-Lewis-Jacob-Rowley-Elvis-Presley-Scott-Moreau-Johnny-Cash_photo-by-Jay-Goldsmith_pressThe Ogunquit Playhouse is bringing back the most popular show in its history, the Tony Award-winning musical Million Dollar Quartet, on stage October 5 through November 6. This high voltage rock ‘n roll show, with book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, is inspired by the electrifying true story of the famed recording session that brought together music icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins for one of the greatest jam sessions of all time. Featuring timeless hits such as “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “I Walk the Line,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Fever,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Hound Dog” and more, this thrilling musical brings audiences inside the recording studio with four major talents who came together as a red-hot rock ‘n’ roll band for one unforgettable night.
This exciting show features an incredible score of rock ‘n’ roll, gospel, R&B and country hits, performed live onstage by world-class actors who play their own instruments, as well as sing and perform. Returning as the energetic Jerry Lee Lewis is Nat Zegree, who had audiences jumping to their feet with excitement in the 2015 production. Over the last year he has performed at Arena Stage Company in the brand new Pasek and Paul musical Dear Evan Hansen and recently performed multiple sold out concerts at 54 Below, The Laurie Beechman, and Don’t Tell Mama’s in New York City. Scott Moreau is also returning to the Ogunquit stage to once again play Johnny Cash. He recently performed the role in Million Dollar Quartet at Harrah’s Casino in Las Vegas and in the first National Tour. Mr. Moreau has also performed in National Tour of A Christmas Carol as well as many regional theatres throughout the U.S. in such shows as Ring Of Fire, Johnny Guitar, Mary Poppins, Oliver!, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Ragtime. He has also appeared as Young Jim Neary in the series finale of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” Making his debut at the Ogunquit Playhouse as Carl Perkins is James Barry. Mr. Barry has performed on Broadway in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson as well as the National Tour of Million Dollar Quartet. His many New York and regional theatre credits include Pump Boys & Dinettes, These Paper Bullets and The Buddy Holly Story. Joining the cast as Elvis Presley is Beau Cassidy who is also making his Ogunquit Playhouse debut. He is the third member of his family to perform at the historic theatre; his uncle Shaun Cassidy appeared on stage in 1982 and his grandfather Jack Cassidy in 1973. His regional theatre credits include A Hatful of Rain, Proof and The Wedding Singer, and he has appeared on television’s The Voice. He was most recently seen as Mickey Johnston at Feinstein’s/54 Below’s concert of Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers. Mr. Cassidy is also an accomplished songwriter, penning multiple charted pop songs.

The role of Sam Phillips is played by Jason Loughlin who is also returning after playing the role in the 2015 production at Ogunquit Playhouse. Mr. Loughlin was most recently in The Audience with Helen Mirren on Broadway. His other recent credits include the Broadway production of Machinal directed by Lyndsey Turner and the National Tour of War Horse as Major Nichols. Bligh Voth also returns from the 2015 production to play Elvis’ girlfriend Dyanne in the production after spending last year playing Dyanne regionally and internationally. She has performed in regional theatres throughout the U. S., including Signature Theatre, Ford’s Theatre, Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, Lyric Theatre and Boston Conservatory.

www.ogunquitplayhouse.org or call the Ogunquit Playhouse Box Office at 207-646-5511.

Warrior Class At The Lyric Stage Boston

Kenneth Linn’s New Play Opens October 21 And Runs Through November 13

warrior-classPlaywright Kenneth Lin (TV’s House of Cards) delivers “an absorbing, incisive new play that crackles with authenticity” (NY Times), just in time for the climax of a surprising election season. Michael Tow (Chinglish) plays a New York assemblyman who’s been dubbed “The Republican Obama.” The son of Chinese immigrants and a decorated war veteran, he looks forward to a seemingly limitless political career. When someone from his past threatens to reveal a college transgression, he must decide how far he’ll go to keep the incident out of the public eye. Whatever his decision, the consequences may be costly.

lyric_weblogoFor more information: lyricstage.com  Box Office: 617-585-5678

 

 

Figuring Out Sonny

Figuring Out Sonny

After 46 Years Liston’s Death Is Still A Mystery

The Murder Of Sonny Liston: Las Vegas, Heroin, And Heavyweights Blue

by Shaun Assael, Rider Press

reviewed by Bobby Franklin 

sonny-assaelIt has now been almost 46 years since Sonny Liston was found dead in his Las Vegas home by his wife Geraldine. His death was officially ruled as being from natural causes, though there were traces of heroin in his blood and needle marks on his arm. There were and are many who believe he was murdered, but nobody has been able to come up with any proof. Geraldine Liston died in 2005. Most of the people who knew Sonny, if it was possible to know him at all, have passed on.

 

Much has been written but little is really known about the former heavyweight champion. Nobody knows for sure when Sonny was born, and that includes the late champ himself. Springs Toledo in his fine book The Gods Of War did some excellent research and pegs Liston’s birthdate as July 22, 1930. If not exact, I believe it has to be close. Listening to some people you would believe The Bear was born in the Middle Ages.

 

sonny-liston11-530x317Liston, in his prime, was devastating. While champion Floyd Patterson ducked him, Sonny singlehandedly cleaned out the heavyweight division. When Patterson finally agreed defend the title against him in 1962 Liston walked right through Floyd knocking him out in the first round. He repeated his performance a year later. At this point it appeared Sonny would be champ forever. His association with crime figures kept him from being able to obtain a license to fight in New York. It has been said that after he won the title and was en route back to his home in Philadelphia, he wrote a speech expecting to be greeted by well wishers when he disembarked from the plane. The story goes that he wanted to be a good champion and show the world a different side. When he arrived there was nobody there to greet him. He tore up the speech and accepted his role as the bad guy of boxing.

 

Liston would go on to lose the title when he took on the only heavyweight even more controversial than he was, Cassius Clay. He also lost the rematch. Both fights have been shrouded in mystery and have defined Liston. He would continue to fight but never again was he able to get another chance at the crown.

 

sonny_airport_waving-530x317In a new book (The Murder Of Sonny Liston: Las Vegas, Heroin, And Heavyweights, Blue Rider Press) to be released in October, author Shaun Assael, a member of ESPN’s investigations unit, takes a look at the life of Sonny Liston. While Mr. Assael touches on the controversial Clay/Ali fights, he focuses primarily on Liston’s final days and his life in Las Vegas. He also delves into finding out the real cause of Sonny’s death.

 

As Liston’s boxing career started to fade, he became more and more involved with the drug scene in Vegas. Liston was always in need of money. He had nothing from his days as champion. For his last fight, defeating Chuck Wepner, Liston received $13,000.00, $10,000.00 of which he used to pay a gambling debt, the rest went for expenses.

 

Mr. Assael gives a great overview of the crime ridden Las Vegas of the late 60s heading into the 1970s. The mob was still active there as Howard Hughes was making inroads in buying up hotels and casinos in an effort to clean things up. It was a murky and sordid world, but one in which Sonny would have felt very comfortable moving through.

 

Sonny and Geraldine
Sonny and Geraldine

If Liston was indeed murdered, what was the motive? The author speaks with the few remaining people who were involved in the Vegas scene back them. Former cops, undercover drug agents, and dealers. He tracks down a good cop gone bad in Larry Gandy whom he interviews. Assael considers Gandy a prime suspect in Liston’s murder, but is sent on another trail after speaking with him.

 

He traces events back to a drug raid where Liston was present but was allowed to walk while everyone else was arrested. Was this a sign that Sonny was an informant? I don’t think there is enough here to back that up. Liston didn’t like cops. He also appears to have been a fairly small time dealer who ended up using. Is it possible others mistakenly believed he was an informant and had him taken out because of that belief? Sure, but again, there is no solid evidence.

 

One part of the book I found to be very enlightening was where the author dug in and found information about a car accident Liston was involved in not long before his death. I had heard about a crash, but I did not know how seriously Sonny was injured. In the head on collision Sonny’s chest was jammed up against the steering wheel. He had shards of glass in his face that had to be removed in the hospital. A week later Liston asked his wife Geraldine to take him to the hospital as he was experiencing discomfort in his chest. I see this as being more of a contributing factor in his death.

 

Liston was somewhere around forty years of age when he died. He had led a hard life. Heavy drinking and drug abuse were showing on his face. I doubt he had the best dietary habits. The injuries from the car accident coupled with his complaints about chest pain make heart disease appear to be a stronger suspect in his death than a mob hit.

 

liston-graveNobody really knew Sonny Liston, and that includes Liston. Mr. Assael’s book adds to the little that is known and is a good contribution to the literature about the champ, but, as much as it may fit into the narrative of Liston’s life, I am not convinced Liston was murdered. He was a man who was old beyond his years. I believe he wore his body down and finally succumbed to heart disease.

 

Mr. Assael makes a strong argument for Liston’s death being murder, but he is unable to tie it all up. The value in this book, and it is very well worth reading, is in tracing Sonny Liston’s final days. In exposing the corruption of Las Vegas back in the day.

 

It is important to know there is much more mystery to Liston’s life than his two fights with Ali. For a man who said very little he was actually a quite complicated individual. Mr. Assael’s book, while trying to answer questions, actually raises many more. Sonny’s life is like a mystery novel with the final page torn out. Will we ever know the truth about him? I doubt it, but with books like this he will remain a fascinating subject.

Million Dollar Quartet Is Rocking Ogunquit

Million Dollar Quartet At The Ogunquit Playhouse

Through November 6th

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Photo Credit: Gary Ng
Photo Credit: Gary Ng

Last year the Ogunquit Playhouse had a huge hit with Million Dollar Quartet, the fictionalized account of the day in December, 1956 when Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash all happened to drop into the Sun Records studio and proceeded to participate in a memorable session of music and talk. The show was so popular Playhouse Artistic Director Brad Kenney decided to bring it back to cap off what has been a truly incredible season.

While the meeting between the four legends did indeed take place, and it was the only time they ever performed together, the authors of the play decided that instead of recreating that day song for song, they would give us a look at what went on over a longer period. While doing this they include some very interesting history of the early days of rock and roll, a music many never expected to last more than a short while. We get to know Sun founder Sam Phillips, a man who had an amazing eye for talent, but the inability to hang on to those performers once he got them started. Without Sam Phillips there probably would not have been rock and roll.

While the history lesson is important and well done, Jason Loghlin is outstanding in the role of Phillips, it is the music that electrifies the stage in Ogunquit. This show puts the heat in those Great Balls of Fire that blaze across the stage.

This show puts the heat in those Great Balls of Fire that blaze across the stage.

Nat Zegree is frenetic and a real wild child in the part of Jerry Lee Lewis.He is one damn good piano player as well as an acrobat who uses the keyboard as his personal pummel horse. At times I was looking for the wires that I thought must be attached to him as he was flying through the air so much, but he performed with no strings attached and burned up the stage from beginning to end.

Nat Zegree is a real wild child in the role of Jerry Lee Lewis.

James Barry portrays the legendary Carl Perkins brilliantly. He not only was note perfect on the guitar, but he conveyed a respect for the man who it can be argued was the father of rock and roll. Barry gives us the music and the man. The public should never forget Carl Perkins and his importance in the history of rock and roll. James Barry is seeing that they never will.

James Barry portrays Carl Perkins brilliantly.

While it is unclear whether or not Johnny Cash actually joined in on the original jam session, it is a fact that he was a major player in the early days of Sun Records. With Scott Moreau cast as the young Cash, we see him again with his deep voice and haunting look. Moreau should consider doing a tribute show dedicated just to Johnny Cash. He captures him beautifully.

Oh, there was another musician there that day. His name was Elvis Presley. Elvis had moved on from Sun Records and had hit the big time, but his heart was still in the Memphis studio. Beau Cassidy takes on the young Elvis, and, contrary to what many believe, it is a difficult part to play. How do you capture the amazing talent and charisma of the 1956 Elvis without looking campy and exaggerated? Mr. Cassidy is not an Elvis impersonator. He does not stand on the stage and do a take off on Elvis. Instead, he gives us a look into the heart of the man who, while he has made it big, is still very much at home in the small studio with old friends and a new talent. Cassidy captures Presley with his eyes more than his hips and it works very nicely. Oh, you will not be disappointed in his renditions of the music as he gets it right on every number.

Photo Credit: Julia Russell
Photo Credit: Julia Russell

Mr. Kenney has assembled his own million dollar quartet with the performers he has found for the parts. Each is an accomplished musician who can also act. They play well separately and are rock solid when performing together. They are backed up by Nathan Yates Douglass as Carl’s brother Jay on bass and by David Sonneborn on drums.

Bligh Voth plays Elvis’s girlfriend and she also sings two numbers, the very, very hot Peggy Lee hit Fever and the rocking I Hear You Knocking. Voth almost just about makes this a million dollar quintet.

it is hotter than a summer heatwave at the Playhouse.

The weather may be cooling as the season changes, but it is hotter than a summer heatwave at the Playhouse. I highly recommend Million Dollar Quartet. This show will leave you with a whole lot of shaking going on.

The Original Million Dollar Quartet
The Original Million Dollar Quartet

Million Dollar Quartet now through November 6th.
Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, ME
ogunquitplayhouse.org
207.646.5511

New England Premiere of The Scottsboro Boys

Presented By SpeakEasy Productions

October 21st ThroughNovember 20th

Calderwood Pavillon, Boston 

sb-psdFrom October 21 – November 20, 2016, SpeakEasy Stage Company will proudly present the New England Premiere of THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS, a bold new musical by Broadway legends John Kander and Fred Ebb about a sensational true story that changed American history.

The musical, with a book by David Thompson, and which was originally directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, brings to light the shocking true story of nine African-American teenagers jailed in Alabama in 1931 for a crime they did not commit. With an exhilarating and infectious score that mixes gospel, jazz, and vaudeville, THE SCOTTSOBORO BOYS flips the script on the classic minstrel show to lay bare the fateful case that inspired the American civil rights movement.

THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS was the final collaboration for Kander and Ebb

Nominated for 12 Tony Awards, THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS was the final collaboration for Kander and Ebb, whose works include such musical theatre classics as Cabaret, Chicago, and Kiss of the Spider Woman.

SpeakEasy Founder and Producing Artistic Director Paul Daigneault will direct the New England premiere of THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS. Winner of the 2014 Elliot Norton Award for Sustained Excellence, Mr. Daigneault’s SpeakEasy directing credits include productions of Significant Other, Violet, Mothers & Sons, Big Fish, The Color Purple, In the Heights, and Next to Normal.

IRNE Award nominee Matthew Stern will serve as Music Director and Norton Award-winner Ilyse Robbins will choreograph.

The cast for this production includes Darren Bunch, Shalaye Camillo, Taavon Gamble,
Russell Garrett, De’Lon Grant, Brandon G. Green, Sheldon Henry, Wakeem Jones, Steven Martin, Darrell Morris, Jr., Maurice Emmanuel Parent, Aaron Michael Ray, and Isaiah Reynolds.

The design team is Eric Levenson (scenic); Miranda Giurleo (costumes); Daisy Long (lighting), and David Remedios (sound).

THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS will run for five weeks, from October 21 through November 20, in the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End.

Ticket prices start at $25, with discounts for students, seniors, and persons age 25 and under.

For tickets or more information, the public is invited to call the box office at 617.933.8600 or visit www.SpeakEasyStage.com .

In A Class Of Its Own

“Warrior Class”

Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston  Through November 13

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Michael Tow and Steven Barkhimer
Michael Tow and Steven Barkhimer

In this year when what surely can be called the worst presidential campaign in history is taking place, it would not surprise me if you would take a pass on seeing a play about a politician. I could hardly blame you, but in the case of Kenneth Lin’s Warrior Class now playing at the Lyric Stage Company in Boston you would be making a big mistake.

Yes, Warrior Class is about a politician. It is also about manipulation, extortion, dirty deal making, political fundraising, selling out principles, and much more. That’s right, all the things we hate about politics. It is also about much more than that.

This is a moving and emotional work.

Michael Tow plays Julius Weishan Lee, an idealistic young Chinese American New York State Assemblyman who is looking to move up and run for Congress. He enlists the aid of political operative Nathan Berkshire who is portrayed by Steven Barkhimer who is reminiscent of the real life consultant Bob Beckel. Lee is a sincere young man who wants to run and serve based on his beliefs. Perhaps he is naive, I like to believe otherwise, to think he can make it without selling out, but he wants to take that route. However, a problem arises.

In the course of preparing for the race it is revealed, not publicly, that Lee has a skeleton in his closet in the form of Holly Lillian Eames, played by Jessica Webb. This poses a potentially serious problem for the idealistic Lee who has a wonderful resume that includes serving in Afghanistan and working for Teach For America. He is coming off giving an impressive speech at the Republican Convention and is seen as a rising star on the national scene.

Steven Barkhimer and Michael Tow (Photo Credit: Mark S. HowardHolly and Nathan meet to try to work out a deal to keep things quiet. Yes, Holly, who claims to be a victim is also using the situation to blackmail Lee. It all seems like a pretty basic plot about a politician with something in his past to hide and his willingness to deal to make things go away. Something any of us over the age of two have seen in our lifetimes more often than we like.

The difference with Warrior Class is that it is much more than a sordid political story. Playwright Kenneth Lin digs deep into all of the characters. This is a moving and emotional work. It is like watching a game of chess as all involved maneuver to either gain from, suppress, or both from the incidents that occurred twenty years earlier. It turns out one of them is the chess master. During the play, which becomes quite intense, we are faced with asking ourselves questions. Can people change? Is it okay for a victim to become a perpetrator? Is it permissible for a man to use lies and manipulation in order to help a family member? Could any of us be one of the characters? Where is the line that should not be crossed? It is easy to walk away from this play feeling cynical, but I found much more to take away from this fine play.

Jessica Webb and Michael Tow (Photo Credit: Mark S. Howard
Jessica Webb and Michael Tow (Photo Credit: Mark S. Howard

Actors Michael Tow, Steven Barkhimer, and Jessica Webb are superb in their roles.

There was never a moment when my eyes left the stage

There was never a moment when my eyes left the stage,especially during the scene where Julius and Holly meet to discuss working things out. At that point emotions run very high. It is a pleasure to watch three very talented actors taking to the stage and performing seamlessly. It is performances such as this that remind me of why I am so drawn to the theatre. Dawn M. Simmons fine direction leaves enough ambiguity so when you depart the theater you will be thinking a lot about what you just saw and asking yourself many questions.

In a talkback after the performance, the question was asked if the role of Julius Weishan Lee was written specifically for a Chinese character. The answer was yes it was, but Michael Tow pointed out how different it was from so many roles he has played where he was cast because of his ancestry. He told us, while the script called for a Chinese actor, as the name implies, it could have been played by someone from any background. This freed him from feeling typecast. I agree with Mr. Tow. While the heritage of the leading character was a part of the play, it was not a play about a Chinese politician. Refreshingly, it is a play about a politician who happens to be Chinese.

While we are so focused, or perhaps, with good reason not, on the national political scene, this play will make you think more about local politics; especially, here in Massachusetts where corruption is a part of the culture.

I highly recommend you head down to the Lyric Stage and see this play. You will not be disappointed.

lyricstage.com Box Office:

617-585-5678

Laugh And Learn With The Tiger

 Tiger Style

The Huntington Theatre Company At The Calderwood Pavillon

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

A few years ago the subject of Tiger Moms, a term used to describe the hard driving parenting style of many Asian American parents, became a hot topic of discussion. For many parents this method seemed harsh, but there was also some envy in seeing how much these children were able to accomplish. What wasn’t being discussed was the effect this type of parenting would have on them as they entered adulthood, the workplace, and while interacting with more diverse social groups.

Playwright Mike Lew takes on these issues and many more with great humor and depth in his original new play Tiger Style now presented by the Huntington Theatre Company.

Rubio Qian and Jon Norman Schneider Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson
Rubio Qian and Jon Norman Schneider Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Tiger Style focuses on siblings Albert (Jon Norman Schneider) and Jennifer (Ruibo Qian) who who have both excelled academically and artistically, but are struggling now that they have left the nest. They are living together along with Jennifer’s boyfriend Reggie (Bryan T. Donovan) who is ending the relationship as the play begins. Bryan is disappointed, to put it mildly, that Jennifer isn’t more dominant in bed and more submissive around the home, while Jennifer makes it clear how vastly superior she is to Bryan because of her academic accomplishments.

Mr. Lew has written a very funny and insightful play that is fast paced and filled with witty dialog

Albert is struggling at work; not because he isn’t competent, but because he has terrible people skills. Both brother and sister, while knowing they are highly skilled, are unable to function well when interacting with others. This is a failing they begin to see and decide to blame it, with some justification, on their parents.

Francis Jue, Ruibo Qian, Jon Norman Schneider, and Emily Kuroda. Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson
Francis Jue, Ruibo Qian, Jon Norman Schneider, and Emily Kuroda. Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

This leads them on a journey that begins with a planned fight with their parents (Francis Jue and Emily Kuroda), then going “full Western” in a futile attempt to distance themselves from their culture resulting in Albert losing his job and Jennifer driving a therapist to the edge of insanity. Going “full Asian” with a move to China where they eventually end up in prison; it seems living under a totalitarian government is much like having a Tiger Mom only you never get your freedom. And finally returning home with many lessons learned and much to still deal with. As mom and dad explain, life is not easy. At some point you have to take responsibility for your own success and failure.

Mr. Lew has written a very funny and insightful play that is fast paced and filled with witty dialog, such as when Albert tries to curry favor with his manager at work who is also Asian by saying “Don’t be a self-hating Asian, be a self-nepotating Asian.” Or when Jennifer tells her therapist “I want to be the best at therapy”.

While the humor continues throughout the play there is also much that is very serious and important to be learned. When mom and dad talk about the sacrifices they and their parents had to make in order to succeed in their adopted country we get a better understanding of why they drive their children to be successful. Dad, in telling the story of the struggles of his parents says “I came from laundry people”. It is a line, coming on top of the narrative of their suffering and success that hits hard. Yes, it is up from the bootstraps talk, but it is also true.

…a finely crafted work we all can learn from.

love plays like Tiger Style for many reasons including the finely written humor, but mostly because the author is able to show us the struggles within a group of Americans that have to deal with their cultural heritage for both its strengths and its minuses as well. Mr. Lew does this without making victims out of his characters and without throwing a guilt trip on his audience, but at the same time not downplaying the racism and hatred that is much too often directed at those who are new to this country. It is a finely crafted work we all can learn from.

Presented by the Huntington Theatre Company at the Calderwood Pavillon, South End, Boston
Through November 13
Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel
huntingontheatre.org
Box Office 617.266.0800

Uncomfortable and Very Good

The Scottsboro Boys

At The Calderwood

SpeakEasy Productions
Boston

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

The SpeakEasy Stage’s production is as good a one as you will see.

The Scottsboro Boys was John Kander and Fred Ebb’s final collaboration. Mr. Ebb passed away in 2004 and Mr. Kander finished the play on his own. It debuted in 2010. It is a musical about nine young black men, actually boys (the youngest was only thirteen), who, in 1936, were falsely accused of raping two white women in Alabama. It is a tragic and heart wrenching story about a terrible miscarriage of justice and racism.

While the original production received 12 Tony Award nominations, it was greeted with mixed reviews and some protests when it appeared on Broadway.

Wakeem Jones and De'Lon Grant Photo credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots
Wakeem Jones and De’Lon Grant
Photo credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

The SpeakEasy Stage’s production is as good a one as you will see. Staging a musical such as this that deals with a true story that is sure to make an audience very uncomfortable has to be difficult; however, everything about Paul Daigneault’s direction is excellent. The sets, the music, the lighting. And that is just what can make this awkward for the audience. A lively musical with many one liners that stings.

Kander and Ebb set this as a minstrel show with some of the roles reversed. You will see such mainstay minstrel characters as Mr. Tambo and Mr. Bones, only in this case they are black men playing grotesque and exaggerated depictions of white characters. Makes you see things from a bit different perspective to say the least.

At no time during the play do you lose sight of the tragic injustice that is taking place.

Yes, this is a musical, and a lively one too with many great tunes and lively dance numbers. This can also lead to much discomfit. I asked some of the cast members after the show if different audiences react in different ways (at the performance I attended most applauded after each number, though I felt it inappropriate to do so.). They told me that some remain silent until the end and applaud when the play is over. At other times they can feel a hesitation before getting a response. This all makes sense in a show such as this where the music is very good and the performers excellent. However, you don’t exactly want to walk out of the theatre humming Electric Chair or Minstrel March. At no time during the play do you lose sight of the tragic injustice that is taking place, and that took place not very far in our past. The solid cast never allows that to happen. All the players are deeply vested in their characters and it shows.

Darrell Morris Jr. and Isaiah Reynolds (Photo Credit:Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots)
Darrell Morris Jr. and Isaiah Reynolds (Photo Credit:Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots)

Don’t let any of this dissuade you from seeing this fine cast perform on the stage of the Calderwood Pavillon. As usual, the SpeakEasy has assembled a very talented cast that does not disappoint. This is a rare opportunity to see Kander and Ebb’s final work, and we are lucky to have the SpeakEasy that does not shy away from such productions.

Due to popular demand, performances have been extended through November 26.

speakeasystage.com
617.933.8600 At The Calderwood Pavillon, 527 Tremont Street, Boston’s South End

NEW REPERTORY THEATRE PRESENTS FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

directed by Austin Pendleton

Charles Mosesian Theater at the Arsenal Center for the Arts

Watertown, MA

DECEMBER 2-24, 2016

1617_websliders_03-fiddlerNew Repertory Theatre presents Fiddler on the Roof, December 2-24, 2016 in the Charles Mosesian Theater at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA.

“Fiddler on the Roof has a much deserved place in the history of musical theatre,” says Artistic Director Jim Petosa. “It was first produced at a time when ideas of tradition and cultural identity were in an upheaval. It became a response to the transition that was happening in American culture and continues to resonate today as it examines the traditions of life, communities, and family.”

“We’re thrilled to welcome back to our stage so many New Rep favorites in our much- anticipated production of Fiddler on the Roof,” says Managing Director Harriet Sheets. “We’d also like to welcome back Austin Pendleton. While this is his first time directing for us, he is no stranger to our stage having appeared in Quills, Waiting for Godot, and King Lear. His play, Orson’s Shadow, also received its Boston-area premiere during our 2006-2007 season to resounding critical praise, and in 2015 we were honored to present him with New Rep’s Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement at our annual Gala.”

Jeremiah Kissel
Jeremiah Kissel

A spirited revival of the beloved musical, Fiddler on the Roof features Jeremiah Kissel (Broken Glass, The King of Second Avenue, Imagining Madoff) as Tevye, leading a cast of Boston-area favorites in this Tony Award-winning play. Rendered with striking intimacy and simplicity by Tony-nominated director Austin Pendleton, who originated the role of Motel the Tailor on Broadway, this energetic production puts the classic story’s fierce heart at the center of the audience experience with its timeless warmth, humor, and honesty.

Telephone: 617-923-8487, Online: newrep.org

Theatre to Die For

Murder For Two

At The Lyric Stage, Boston

Jared Troilo, Kirsten Salpini. Photo by Mark S. Howard
Jared Troilo, Kirsten Salpini. Photo by Mark S. Howard

Two actors playing thirteen characters while singing, dancing, and playing the piano. Sounds a bit complicated. That’s what I thought as Murder For Two began Sunday afternoon. How would I ever be able to keep track of all that was going on? Well, when the two actors are Jared Troilo and Kirsten Salpini it is not a problem. Add in the fine direction of A. Nora Long and a very funny and fast moving script and music by Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair, and you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy a great time at the theater.

The story is set at the home of the great American novelist Arthur Whitney where his wife has arranged a surprise birthday party for him.

A little song, a little dance, a little murder, what could be more enjoyable?

Unfortunately for poor Arthur, he runs into a bullet before he is able to open his presents. This is where police officer Marcus Moscowitz (Jared Troilo) comes on the scene. Moscowitz is mistaken for a detective, a confusion he does nothing to dissuade the suspects from believing. Marcus sees cracking this case as his ticket to a promotion, as long as he can do it before his superior officer gets there. He is going to go strictly by Protocol, which also happens to be the name of his first musical number.

Ms Salpini is funny, creative, and a joy to watch.

He begins interviewing the suspects, all of whom are played by Kirsten Salpini. She also plays the members of a boy’s chorus who have been hired to provide entertainment for the party. They are a mischievous lot and very funny. Ms Salpini switches roles from moment to moment without the aid of costume changes. She manages this, and very well I might add, by changing her voice and accent along with some very creative body language. I have seen some impressive performances where one actor plays multiple roles solely by changing voice and movement, most notably Chaz Palminteri in A Bronx Tale and John Douglas Thompson in Satchmo At The Waldorf , and while Kirsten Salpini does not rise to their level, she is certainly a contender and does a fine job in her many roles. Ms Salpini is funny, creative, and a joy to watch. Her singing is the icing on the cake.

Jared Troilo as pseudo Detective Moscowitz is right at home in his role as the nervous cop trying to solve the big crime. His singing and dancing is a reminder of how much fun theatre can be, even if it’s about a murder. While the part was not written for him he performs it like it was.

Jared Troilo, Kirsten Salpini. Photo by Mark S. Howard
Jared Troilo, Kirsten Salpini. Photo by Mark S. Howard

Finding two actors who can sing, dance, and also play the piano had to be a challenge for director Long. Finding two with these talents who could also work so well together had to be almost impossible, but with Jared and Kirsten she found a theatre match made in Heaven.

I will not spoil the fun by letting on more about the details of the play, only to say that there was also another crime committed during the party, and those of you with a sweet tooth may consider that one the more serious.

Murder For Two is a great way to take some time out during this busy time of the year to enjoy a very funny and fun play. A little song, a little dance, a little murder, what could be more enjoyable?

Murder For Two Through December 24th

The Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston

(617) 585-5678 http://www.lyricstage.com

 

 

 

 

SPEAKEASY STAGE TO BRING BACK “THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS” DEC. 30 – JAN. 22

Wakeem Jones and De'Lon Grant Photo credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots
Wakeem Jones and De’Lon Grant
Photo credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

Due to unprecedented demand, SpeakEasy Stage will remount its acclaimed production of THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS for four additional weeks, December 30, 2016 – January 22, 2017.The entire original cast will return to the production, which has been hailed as “a powerful and vivid reminder of racial injustice both past and present.” Tickets for the added performances are now on sale.

“I am thrilled to have another opportunity to share THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS with Boston audiences,” said SpeakEasy Founder and Producing Artistic Director Paul Daigneault. “Rarely have I been more proud of a production, and rarely has a show seemed as timely and important as this one.”

Featuring music and lyrics by Broadway legends John Kander and Fred Ebb, and a book by David Thompson, THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS brings to light the shocking true story of nine African American teenagers jailed in Alabama in 1931 for a crime they did not commit. With an exhilarating and infectious score that mixes gospel, jazz, and vaudeville, the show flips the script on the classic minstrel construct to lay bare the fateful case that inspired the American civil rights movement. Nominated for 12 Tony Awards during it initial Broadway engagement, THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS is also notable as the final collaboration between Kander and Ebb, whose works include such musical theatre classics as Cabaret, Chicago, and Kiss of the Spider Woman.

The entire original cast will be back for these additional performances. They are:   Darren Bunch,Shalaye Camillo, Taavon Gamble, Russell Garrett, De’Lon Grant, Brandon G. Green,Sheldon Henry, Wakeem Jones, Steven Martin, Darrell Morris, Jr., Maurice Emmanuel Parent, Aaron Michael Ray, and Isaiah Reynolds.Ticket prices start at $25, with discounts for students, seniors, and persons age 25 and under.

The second installment of THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS will run for four weeks, December 30, 2016 through January 22, 2017, in the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End.

For tickets or more information, the public is invited to call the box office at 617.933.8600 or visit www.SpeakEasyStage.com 

Ezzard Charles, A Gentle Terror

Ezzard Charles; A Boxing Life
By William Dettloff
Published by McFarland, 232 pages $35.00
www.mcfarlandpub.com

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

imagesEzzard Charles was not someone you would look at think of as vicious fighting machine. He looked more like a member of Duke Ellington’s jazz band. He was also very mild mannered with a gentle air about him. As a kid in Lawrenceville, Georgia and later in Cincinnati, Ohio he was friendly but quiet. He did always love boxing and dreamed of one day becoming a world champion.

In 1949, after an amateur career and almost ten years of fighting pro he attained his dream by beating Jersey Joe Walcott for the title Joe Louis had vacated. Unfortunately for Charles he had two things against him. He was stepping into the shadow of the beloved Louis, and he did not possess the exciting and dramatic style of the Brown Bomber. The public just did not take to him. It’s not like Charles hadn’t earned respect. He had fought and beat a number of the Black Murder’s Row fighters. He had two wins over the very great Charley Burley as well as a decision win and a knockout over Archie Moore.

It has often been said that Charles is the most underrated of all heavyweight champions.

While Charles may have looked more like a piano teacher out of the ring, when the bell rang he was a brutal competitor. As I was reading William Dettloff’s excellent biography of Charles I couldn’t help thinking that Ezzard had to have a lot of anger in him that he could only express in the prize ring. He could also be erratic in his performances, sometimes not looking motivated enough to win convincingly. Charles would be a ripe candidate for for some psychoanalysis, and in fact, before his rematch with Rocky Marciano the press, in an effort to drum up interest in the fight had a psychiatrist visit the camps of both fighters. The doctor described Charles as “A dreamer type…who loses the spontaneity in his dreams” because of his many “inhibitions”. Interesting insight even if it was just hype to sell tickets.

Mr. Dettloff has done exhaustive research on the life and fighting career of Ezzard Charles. He takes us to the tragic night in 1948 when Charles fought Sam Baroudi. Baroudi would be carried from the ring and die the next day. Ezzard was devastated by this tragedy, but just three months later would step back into that very same ring and knock out the very formidable Elmer “Violent” Ray. In fact, he would fight four more times in 1948 including a win over Jimmy Bivins.

Louis vs Charles
Louis vs Charles

Charles would continue winning and fighting often, finally landing a fight with Jersey Joe Walcott for the vacant heavyweight crown. Beating Walcott may have made him champion, but he still had to live in the shadow of Joe Louis. He defended the title numerous times and even went on to defeat his idol Louis in a brutal fifteen round affair that should have removed all doubt to his legitimacy as champion. It did not. The problem was, as Dettloff points out, Ezzard Charles was not Joe Louis.

This lack of public support may have had something to do with his not always being to motivate himself. Another reason was his fighting so often and against such tough competition. Ezzard rarely got an easy opponent. In fact, in reading this biography we are treated to a history of the light heavyweight and heavyweight divsions in the 1940s and 50s. Mr. Dettloff gives brief but very interesting biographies of many of Charles’s opponents; Archie Moore, Walcott, Bivins, Harold Johnson, Bob Satterfield, and many others. This all makes for a very interesting book.

Dettloff also introduces us to many of the characters who occupied the world of boxing during that era. One of the most quotable was Charles’s manager (he had many) Jake Mintz. Mintz could twist the English language in amazing ways. For example, when recounting surgery he had to repair a hernia he said “They thought I had some golf stones there so they took an autograph of my heart and said, ‘One of your ulsters is worn out’. William Shakespeare would be envious.

There are also other interesting facts related here. It turns out a young Charles while serving in the military fought a three round exhibition with Joe Louis. Also, while training for his bout against Bob Satterfield the Charles people brought in a crude young heavyweight by the name of Sonny Liston to be a sparring partner. Liston was not up to the task at that point in his career.

After Charles lost the title to Walcott, and a rematch with Jersey Joe, it looked like his hopes of ever regaining the title were over. He began campaigning for another shot at the title but lost back to back matches against Nino Valdez and Harold Johnson. Charles was getting tired and old, but he did come back to life with wins over Satterfield and Coley Wallace. It was enough to earn him a shot at the new and exciting young champion Rocky Marciano.

William Dettloff has written a fine biography of a great champion, and one that Ezzard Charles deserves.

Dettloff writes about this fight in detail. He discusses Charles’s training and strategy for the fight, a strategy that at first glance may have sounded foolish but made sense. Ezzard went into the Marciano bout motivated to win but came up short. He did earned the distinction of being the only man to take the Rock the full 15 rounds and came closer than any fighter to taking the title from him, though the decision was clearly in Marciano’s favor.

Charles would get a rematch based on this performance, and even though he severely cut Rocky’s nose, he just did not have anything left. Though he would continue to fight on for another four years it was all downhill from there. He would end up broke, take up professional wrestling, and struggle to make ends meet. His final years were spent suffering from Lou Gehrigs Disease. A very tragic end for such a great fighter.

William Dettloff has written a fine biography of a great champion, and one that Ezzard Charles deserves. Boxing fans should take the time to read this very interesting book and learn about this man who deserves to be remembered. It has often been said that Charles is the most underrated of all heavyweight champions. Mr. Dettloff has down a terrific job in changing that history.

Seaglass Chorale Presents A Celtic Christmas

A Celtic Christmas In Kennebunkport and Sanford, Maine

December 3rd and 4th
celtic-christmas-poster-2016Seaglass Chorale is excited to announce that its 2016 winter concert will be A Celtic Christmas, featuring Regina Delaney on Irish harp and Ryan J. Thomson and his son Brennish on fiddle. The concert will include a celebration of the Winter Solstice, seen as a most significant time of year in Celtic culture.

There will be two performances of this concert, the first as part of Kennebunkport’s Christmas Prelude on December 3rd and the second at North Parish Church in Sanford the afternoon of December 4th.
Saturday, Dec 3, 7:00 pm
South Congregational Church, 2 North Street, Kennebunkport, Maine
Sunday, Dec 4, 2:30 pm
North Parish Congregational Church, 895 Main Street, Sanford, Maine

Artistic Director Jean Strazdes
Artistic Director Jean Strazdes

Founded in 1993 by Artistic Director Jean Strazdes, the Seaglass Chorale is a non-auditioned adult choral group of 50-60 voices that has established itself as a voice to be heard! The chorale represents some 20 southern Maine communities and regularly performs throughout the area, with concerts in Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, Wells, Sanford, Saco, and other regional venues. We are well supported by our longtime accompanist, Kimberly Karchenes.
Internationally acclaimed, Seaglass Chorale has traveled to Europe twice, performing in Rome, Venice, Innsbruck, and Budapest.

 

In September of 2004, choristers proudly led the musical prelude at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. In March of 2016 the works of Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo were performed in Merrill Auditorium, Portland, Maine while Maine coastal photographs by renowned photographer Peter Ralson of Rockport, Maine were shown. Some members of the chorale sang in the Hunchback of Notre Dame chorale this past summer at the Ogunquit Playhouse. During summer of 2017 the chorale has been invited to perform in Ireland as part of a prestigious music festival.

 

This Celtic Christmas concert features Celtic music including Gaelic sung by the chorale as well as Celtic Harp, Celtic fiddlers, flute, piano & other instruments. There will be an audience sing a long of more traditional holiday carols toward the end of the concert.

 

Ticket Information
Ticket prices are $15 for adults and $12 for children and seniors.
Reserve your tickets by contacting us at 207-985-8747 or seaglass [at] gwi [dot] net.
Tickets can also be purchased at Morse Hardware in Wells or through a Chorale member.

Raise A Glass And Sip A Drop Of Schnapps To This Fiddler

Fiddler On The Roof

New Rep Theatre Watertown

Through January 1

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Jeremiah Kissel as Tevye
Jeremiah Kissel as Tevye

The current run of Fiddler On The Roof at the New Rep Theatre was extended even before it opened. Audiences had high expectations for this production which is being directed by Austin Pendleton. So, did Mr. Pendleton and company meet expectations? The answer is a resounding yes. They met and exceeded them.

This version is a joy to see in the intimate setting of the New Rep Theater. From the opening number, Tradition, it is abundantly clear Jeremiah Kissel is more than up for the role of Tevye. While Mr. Kissel may not have the vocal range for all of the numbers, he does have something more important; Kissel’s voice is warm and full of the decency and kindness that is embodied in Tevye.

Kissel’s voice is warm and full of the decency and kindness that is embodied in Tevye.

Watching and listening to him as he sees life around him changing more rapidly than he can keep up with, and as he struggles with his adherence to traditions while also wanting the best for his daughters brings smiles and tears to the eye. Teyve is a man struggling with many things but who remains optimistic and humorous. His ongoing conversations with God reflect this. Jeremiah Kissel captures all of this.

Make no mistake, this is not a one man show. Director Pendleton has assembled a large and very strong cast for this production. Amelia Broome as Tevye’s wife Golde is perfect opposite Mr. Kissel. Listening to them sing together in Sunrise, Sunset and Do You Love Me? is a joy. Their voices convey a warmth and love that will melt the coldest of hearts.

Abby Goldfarb, Sarah Oakes, Victoria Britt
Abby Goldfarb, Sarah Oakes, Victoria Britt

Abby Goldfarb is radiant on the stage as Tzeitel, the first of Tevye’s daughters to rebel against tradition by pledging her love to Motel the tailor. Motel is played by Patrick Varner in an understated fashion that we soon realize encompasses the full range of growth his timid character experiences as he turns into a strong and confident husband. Varner is damn good in doing this. He is a joy when performing Miracle of Miracles.

When Joseph Stein and Jerry Bock first wrote Fiddler they must have had Bobbie Steinbach in mind for the role of Yenta. She takes over the stage as the busy body matchmaker who is seeing the breaks from tradition affecting her business. Just watching her walk on and off the stage is a pleasure.

Abby Goldfarb is radiant on the stage as Tzeitel.

Mr. Pendleton has the Fiddler, played by Dashiell Evett, remain on stage throughout most of the play. His silent presence can be interpreted as, perhaps, a witness to what is happening, or maybe as representing the traditions that are passing. At one point Tevye, while struggling with the decision to disown his daughter Chava (VIctoria Britt) because she has chosen to marry out of the faith, reaches over and joins hands with the Fiddler. It is a poignant moment as we feel the pain of this kind man forced into a terribly difficult position.

Dashiell Even, Amelia Broome, Bobbi Steinbach
Dashiell Even, Amelia Broome, Bobbi Steinbach

The choreography by Kelli Edwards does not disappoint. At first I thought it was going to be very toned down when the dance in To Life did not live up to my boyhood memories of seeing it performed by the Broadway touring company in the 60s. However, the bottle dance during the wedding scene was superb and had the audience clapping along as if they were participants. It is outstanding.

This is a production not to be missed. I would imagine tickets will be selling rapidly, so I would suggest you get yours soon. After seeing it I can guarantee you will leave the theater shouting L’chaim!

Photo credits: Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures

Fiddler On The Roof

Now though January 1st
New Rep Theatre
321 Arsenal Street, Watertown 617.923.8487
enwrap.org

“Hand to God” Opens At SpeakEasy

From January 6 to February 4, 2017, SpeakEasy Stage Company will proudly present the New England Premiere of HAND TO GOD, the devilishly smart new comedy about good and evil, sex and sin, written by Robert Askins.

h2g-psdDescribed as “Sesame Street meets The Exorcist” by the New Yorker, HAND TO GOD tells the story of an awkward Texas teen named Jason, who spends his afternoons at his local church, practicing for the Christian Puppet Ministry run by his widowed mother. All hell literally breaks loose, however, when Jason’s puppet Tyrone takes on a shocking and dangerously irreverent personality all its own. Nominated for five Tony Awards including Best Play, HAND TO GOD explores the startlingly fragile nature of faith, morality, and the ties that bind.

Like the young protagonist in his play, HAND TO GOD playwright Robert Askins grew up in a small Texas town, lost his dad at a relatively young age, and even participated in the Christian Puppet Ministry which his mother ran at the local Lutheran church. He didn’t start writing plays until he got to Baylor University, which is where he met playwrights Romulus Linney and Horton Foote. These celebrated writers encouraged Mr. Askins and provided a connection to New York’s Ensemble StudioTheatre, which is where, in 2011, HAND TO GOD had its premiere. In addition to his Tony nomination for HAND TO GOD, Mr. Askins has received two EST/Sloan grants, the Helen Merrill Emerging Playwrights Award, and an Arch and Bruce Davis Award for Playwriting. His most recent play Permission, had its world Premiere Off-Broadway in spring 2015 at MCC Theater.

Norton Award-winner David R. Gammons will direct HAND TO GOD for SpeakEasy. Mr. Gammons’ other SpeakEasy credits include Necessary Monsters, The Whale, The Motherf**ker with the Hat (2013 Elliot Norton Awards for Outstanding Production and Outstanding Actress), Red (2012 Elliot Norton Awards for Outstanding Production and Outstanding Actor), and Blackbird.  His work as a director and designer has been featured at American Repertory Theatre, Huntington Theatre Company, New Repertory Theatre, Actors’ Shakespeare Project, and Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, among others

The cast for this New England Premiere production is Marianna Bassham, Josephine Elwood, Eliott Purcell, Dario Sanchez, and Lewis D. Wheeler.

The design team is Cristina Todesco (scenic); Gail Astrid Buckley (costumes); Jeff Adelberg (lighting); and Andrew Duncan Will (sound).

HAND TO GOD will run for five weeks, from January 6 through February 4, 2017 in the VirginiaWimberly Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End.

Ticket prices start at $25, with discounts for students, seniors, and persons age 25 and under.
For tickets or more information, the public is invited to call the box office at 617.933.8600 or visit www.SpeakEasyStage.com .

Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

To Play At the Lyric Stage January 13 Through February 12

Steven Barkhimer and Paula Plum
Steven Barkhimer and Paula Plum

The Lyric Stage has announced the cast for Edward Albee’s classic play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf set to run from January 1st through February 12th.

Directed by Scott Edmiston who’s My Fair Lady at the Lyric was named among “The Best Theatre of 2015” by the Wall Street Journal, the very strong cast will include Steven Barkhimer (Warrior Class) playing George. He will be joined by the award winning Paula Plum who will portray Martha. Erica Spyres (Company) and Dan Whelton (One Man, Two Guvnors) will play Honey and Nick.

The Lyric Stage is located at 140 Clarendon Street, Boston.

For ticket information:

617.585.5678

lyricstage.com

NEW REPERTORY THEATRE PRESENTS
 THURGOOD


 by George Stevens, Jr.
 Directed by Benny Sato Ambush, and featuring Johnny Lee Davenport


JANUARY 7-FEBRUARY 5, 2017


New Repertory Theatre presents Thurgood, January 7-February 5, 2017 in the Black Box Theater at the Mosesian Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA.
“There is no mistaking the powerful and lasting legacy that Justice Thurgood Marshall had on the judicial system in the United States,” says Artistic Director Jim Petosa. “Arguing landmark cases such as Brown v. Board of Education deservedly brought him the national attention that eventually propelled him to the nation’s highest court. His story is one of determination and perseverance, so we’re pleased to present this play as we begin our new Prophetic Portraits Series this winter.”
“Thurgood Marshall is the Civil Rights Movement’s unsung hero,” says actor Johnny Lee Davenport. “His nomination to the Supreme Court literally changed America. Looking to the future sometimes means revisiting the past. By doing this play, I hope to remind, maybe even forewarn people that the politics of our country and the laws governing our nation, based on the Constitution of the United States, apply to, and protect all Americans. Not just the rich, not just the privileged, and certainly not just the interests of certain individuals. Thurgood gives us hope and the assurance that one man can make a difference!”
Featuring Johnny Lee Davenport (The Whipping Man) as Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to sit on the Supreme Court, Thurgood spans Marshall’s impressive career as a lawyer, arguing such landmark cases as Brown v. Board of Education. Presented during the final month of the Obama administration, Thurgood is a tribute to Marshall’s enduring legacy.Johnny Lee Davenport* (Thurgood Marshall) returns to New Repertory Theatre after performing in The Whipping Man and A House with No Walls. Other area credits include The Unbleached American (Stoneham Theatre); It’s A Wonderful Life: A Radio Play (Wheelock Family Theatre); Water by the Spoonful and Broke-ology/Elliot Norton Award, Best Actor (The Lyric Stage Company); Driving Miss Daisy and Master Harold…and the Boys (Gloucester Stage Company); and Invisible Man/Helen Hayes Award, Best Ensemble (Studio Theatre Washington, D.C. and The Huntington Theatre Company). Mr. Davenport has played more than 50 roles in 24 of Shakespeare’s plays including Richard III (Commonwealth Shakespeare Company); Pericles (Actors’ Shakespeare Project); and Richard II (Shakespeare & Company). Film credits include Ted, The Fugitive, U.S. Marshals, and Ascendants. He was named Best Actor in Boston Magazine (2011).
Tickets are $19-$42 and may be purchased by calling the New Rep Box Office at 617-923-8487 or visiting newrep.org.

Jack Sharkey vs Joe Louis

The Gob Showed Brilliance
In His One Sided Defeat

by Bobby Franklin

“Fear is looking across the ring at Joe Louis and knowing he wants to go home early.”

Sharkey and Louis Weigh In

The works of great artists show us something new no matter how many times we view them. I have yet to walk away from viewing or reading a play by William Shakespeare without seeing something in it I had not seen before. That is sometimes true because of the way it is directed or performed, but I have the same experience when I read his works. Great art is always open to interpretation. It also effects different people differently, and even can have a different effect on the same person each time he views it.

Often times there are subtleties we miss during a previous experience. Many times I have noticed something in a movie I had missed before even if I have seen the film multiple times. I have watched The Third Man at least two dozen times and I still find new things in it.

Over the past few years I have enjoyed revisiting fights from the past. I have found it interesting how many times I have been surprised at how different a fight was from my memory of it from either having seen it when it occurred or having watched it many years ago and seeing it again for the first time after all those years. The first Louis vs Conn fight and the Ali vs Foreman fight are two that I have written about that turned out to be very different from what my memory told me. In the case of the Louis Conn bout, there seems to be a collective memory that has grown into a legend about that match that is really quite different from what actually occurred that night.

Sharkey In Defensive Mode

There is something else I have learned from reviewing these fights from boxing’s great past. It is possible to learn a lot from watching a great fighter at the end of his career even in a one sided defeat. I recently watched the Joe Louis vs Jack Sharkey bout and found it very interesting. The match lasted only seven minutes and was a one sided win for the Brown Bomber, but Sharkey was very interesting to watch as he fought the last fight of his career.

The bout took place on August 18, 1936 at Yankee Stadium. Just two months earlier Louis had suffered his first career loss, a knock out at the hands of Max Schmeling. Close to 30,000 fans showed up to see if the loss had a lasting effect on Joe.

Jack Sharkey, also known as the Boston Gob, and his manager, Johnny Buckley, had talked their way into the fight with Louis and even managed to get a guarantee of 25% of the gate. It looked like a good final payday for the ex champ. Unless Louis had been completely demoralized by Schmeling, it didn’t appear Sharkey would have any chance of beating him.

Sharkey had lost the title to Primo Carnera in 1933. After that, Jack had six fights leading up to the Louis fight. He only won two of them with three losses and a draw. Given his record it would appear he would be a perfect comeback opponent for Louis, and maybe that is why they were agreeable to giving him such a good payday. He still had the cache of being a former Heavyweight Champion of the World.

When the opening bell rang it didn’t take long to see that Joe was not at all gun shy. The loss to Schmeling had not hurt his confidence. If anything, it had only made him more determined and focused.

Jack came out to meet Louis in the first round only to run into a sharp young opponent. Max Baer once said “Fear is looking across the ring at Joe Louis and knowing he wants to go home early.” Well, Sharkey may not have felt that when he stepped into the ring, but he certainly knew that’s what he was dealing with seconds into the bout.

Now here is where my comments about seeing things that have gone unnoticed in previous viewings come into play. Jack Sharkey was definitely an artist in the ring. He was a master boxer who’s biggest fault was his lack of consistency. Given that, he still possessed outstanding talent. At this point in his career he was well over the hill. You can see that in his lack of leg movement. Jack had been light on his feet when younger, but now they looked to be stiff and tired. It is not good being in a race with a young athlete while having two flat tires.

Once the bout got underway Jack had to know he had no chance of beating Louis. But Jack was also a champion and wasn’t going to just quit. So, what could he do? Well, this is where you get to see some amazing moves.

Jack reached down for every trick he knew. He used body feints, arm feints, he rolled with the punches, he tied Louis up when he could. He attempted to counter Louis’s jab, but no longer had the reflexes to be effective.

Louis Drops Sharkey

What you end up seeing when watching this fight is a once great boxer preforming some amazing moves, only they are now being done in slow motion, which makes them easier to see. Nothing worked to save him from being stopped, but they did prevent Jack from suffering a much worse beating.

The treat for students of boxing in watching this seven minute fight is in studying how Sharkey attempts to survive the Louis onslaught. Yes, it is a one sided fight, and Sharkey goes down four times, but in between you get to see a formerly great artist reaching to his palate in an attempt to paint one more masterpiece. He is not able to do it, but he does still show amazing skill. A lot can be learned from watching Jack Sharkey during his final few minutes in the ring.

Don’t Bring The Kids To This Puppet Show

Hand To God
SpeakEasy Stage
Calderwood Pavilion, Boston
Through February 4th

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Waiting for the curtain to rise for Hand To God I was listening to the usual pre theatre check list regarding shutting off cell phones and noting the exits. The speech was given in what “enlightened” people in the cities believe is a rural accent, with references to Jesus. I thought, oh here we go, another play that takes plenty of cheap shots at the “uneducated” working class that is motivated by a multitude of “isms” when they vote. You know, those hayseeds who cling to their guns and Bibles.

Tyrone Attacks Timothy
Photo: Glenn Perry Photography

My fears were not realized. While I could see that many believers would be offended by much of the humor in the play, it wasn’t gratuitous. This is a very dark and disturbing comedy that looks into the lives of five characters who are struggling to find answers and meaning in their lives. Primarily, Margery (Marianna Bassham), who has recently lost her husband, and her son Jason (Eliot Purcell) who is struggling with the loss of his father.

Eliot Purcell as Jason/Tyrone is superb.

Margery runs a Christian puppet theatre at the local church and Jason is one of the puppeteers. Things start to go off the rails when Tyrone, the sock puppet Jason manipulates starts to take on a life off his own. Tyrone does not mince words. He is vulgar, vicious, violent, blunt, and truthful. It appears to the other members of the church, as well as the audience, that demonic possession may be at play here. And that is what is at the core of this very funny and unsettling play; Should we listen to that dark side when it speaks to us? Though we say we want to hear the truth, do we often feel so uncomfortable with it that we write it off as something the devil has created?

Eliot Purcell as Jason/Tyrone is superb. In what must be a very difficult role that involves many scenes where he has to play opposite his hand, he nails it.

Marianna Bassham as Margery and David Ladani Sanchez as the unruly teen Timothy are hysterical in the scene where they lust after each other while tearing up the puppet theater. Bassham is also touching in conveying the hurt and loss Margery is suffering.

Tyrone, Jason, Pastor Greg.
Photo Credit: Glenn Perry Photography

Lewis D. Wheeler as Pastor Greg and Josephine Elwood as Jessica are also well cast.

Ironically, as the play concludes the author, Robert Askins, found the need to become a bit preachy himself. This was not needed and actually seemed to be a bit hypocritical.

This play is not for everyone. The language is quite vulgar and the fun made of “uneducated”believers who eat at Chick-fil-a, while not over the top, will offend many.

It would be interesting to attend a performance with a group of devout Christians and then have a talk back afterwards. The results of that conversation may be surprising. And, after all, isn’t theatre about getting people to think about things and then listen to each other’s views? I think it would be fun.

Boxing Is Dead. May It Rest In Peace

My New Year’s Resolution

by Bobby Franklin
It’s the New Year and a time for resolutions. I don’t usually make any as, like rules, they are only made to be broken. However, this year I think I am going to resolve to give up something.

Most of my columns are about fights and boxers from the past. I also try to shed light on the issue of brain injuries that result from a person’s time in the ring (This issue also crosses over into football and other contact sports). On occasion I will write about a current boxing match, but that is rarely done in a positive tone.

Boxing has not been killed by outside forces. It has committed suicide.

A little over a year ago I watched the worst heavyweight title fight in history, the one between Tyson Fury and Wladimir Klitschko. These two proved themselves to be the absolute worst heavyweights in the history of boxing. I wrote about that fight at the time, but looking back I can say that was the day boxing finally died. Oh, it had been suffering a long and painful death for many years, but that spectacle was an absolute disgrace.

After that, I did keep watching boxing. It has been sad looking at just how far this sport has come from what was once known as The Manly Art of Self Defense.

About a week ago former champion Bernard Hopkins took on Joe Smith, Jr for some version of the light heavyweight championship. There are so many different versions and so many different weight classes today that it is impossible to identify any boxer as a true world champion.

The 27 year old Smith came into the ring with what looked on paper to be an impressive record of 22 wins in 23 fights with 18 knock outs. Hopkins at age 51 was once a very good fighter who’s best days should be long past him. Yet, Hopkins still manages to be competitive. In this fight he was stopped after being knocked out of the ring, but until the time of the stoppage he was giving Smith all he could handle.

Now Hopkins is in good shape for a 51 year old man. He takes good care of himself and is quite fit. But he is no Superman. Time has never been kind to aging champions and Hopkins is no exception. What is exceptional is the utter lack of talent in boxing today that allows a man who should be spending time out on the golf course and with his grandchildren to be a factor in championship circles. Make no mistake about it, the only reason Hopkins is able to still challenge the current competition is because they do not know how to fight. It is plain and simple.

I urge my readers to take time and study the videos of the champions and contenders of the past and make the comparison. There is no way you can objectively view a Jersey Joe Walcott, Sugar Ray Robinson, Joey Maxim, Billy Conn, Archie Moore, and many more former champs in action and not come to the conclusion they would crush today’s collection of paper champions.

Even the contenders from the years gone by, those who never made it to the top would have a field day today. George Benton, Artie Levine, Gaspar Ortega, Holman Williams, and thousands of others would have a field day toying with this crop.

Without teachers the students have no one to learn from.

Boxers today are well conditioned and dedicated. Most of them have plenty of heart and a desire to win. The problem is they have never been taught the art of boxing. They also train like weight lifters so their muscles are tight and they do not move with the fluidity that makes for a talented boxer. I feel sorry for them as they devote so much time to learning how not to be a boxer. There is an old saying, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent.” The teaching methods used today have given us a sport that does not even remotely resemble the great profession it once was. Without teachers the students have no one to learn from. The television people are happy to have matches where fighters simply hit each other in the head a lot, and the fans don’t know better as they have grown up watching a generation of unskilled participants going at it.

I realize boxing has been pronounced dead almost from the time of Cain and Able’s epic fight, but today it is different. In the past it may have been counted out because of mob involvement, or a death in the ring, or competition from television, or even over exposure on TV. There was always some reason it was said to be over, but today is different. How can you have a sport continue to exist when the participants do not know how to practice it? When there is nobody left to teach it? Boxing has not been killed by outside forces. It has committed suicide.

I have given up my subscriptions to HBO, Showtime, and the other channels that give us travesties such as the Fury Klitchko fight. I have resolved to no longer torture myself by watching something billed as boxing. Boxing went into a coma a number of years ago and has now finally slipped into that dark night.

I have now resolved to stop watching it. It has become too painful. I will continue to follow the parts of it that relate to brain injuries and to write about the progress being made into the the research being done to make all contact sports safer. I will continue to research and write about the rich history of the once great sport. I will not write about a sport that does not exist any longer.

Boxing will not be back. The days when the Heavyweight Champion of the World was one of the most recognized people on the planet are gone, never to return.

Thurgood Is Supreme At The New Rep

Thurgood

New Rep Theater, Watertown
Through February 7th
newrep.org

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Johnny Lee Davenport
Photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

Last night I got to spend the evening with former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. I and a number of other people got to see him in a small theatre in Watertown, MA. He told us about his life, his struggles, his battles. He was funny and touching. We felt the pain and the frustrations he went through as he fought to desegregate the schools and fight to ensure that all of the citizens of the United States were treated equally. We heard him argue before the Supreme Court. We shared in his disappointment when losing a case and his joy when he shared his victories, of which there were many, most notably in Brown v Board of Education.

Justice Marshall passed away in 1991, but he is very much alive in the intimate setting of the Black Box Theatre at the New Rep in Watertown. He is because of the amazing talent of Johnny Lee Davenport.

Davenport’s portrayal of Marshall in Thurgood will be remembered as one of the great performances of the year.

When Mr. Davenport first steps into the theater he is walking with a cane and begins reflecting on this amazing life. We are at Howard University where Marshall learned that a black law student had to learn to be better than good because of the challenges he would face.

Johnny Lee Davenport
Photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

While attending Lincoln College, Marshall was classmates with Langston Hughes who taught him that “One man can make a difference.” and early on the future Supreme Court Justice vowed he was not going to go through life being humiliated because of the color of his skin.

Johnny Lee Davenport relates these stories and so many others in this amazing journey with such authenticity that there were times when I almost stood up to ask him, meaning Justice Marshall, a question. Mr. Davenport’s movements about the stage, his pauses, the emotions, the subtleties in voice and step that cue us in on the different periods of Marshall’s life are so smooth and authentic that there was never a moment when I didn’t feel I was actually in the presence of Thurgood Marshall.

The Black Box Theater is small. The stage is set with a leather chair on wheels, a table, coat rack, a briefcase, and a stack of books. On the wall are photos of people and places from Marshall’s life including his first wife Buster. Mr. Davenport reaches under the table at times to bring out a small lectern that he uses while arguing cases. It is the ideal setting for such a production. The audience is part of this play as Mr. Davenport makes continuous eye contact with people.

At one point Marshall asks an audience member to read the 14th Amendment. It is a moving moment as we hear the words that guarantee all Americans, ALL AMERICANS, equal protection under the law.

Johnny Lee Davenport
Photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

At another point he reaches into his briefcase and takes out two baby dolls, one black and one white. This was the famous doll test that was conducted by Dr. Kenneth Clark. It is heartbreaking to hear the results of what happened when black children were asked which doll they thought was better and which they would like to be.

Justice Marshall had his flaws as do all humans, but what he accomplished in his life was simply amazing. This man who was born in the same year Jack Johnson became the first Heavyweight Champion, would not rest until this nation abided by the words in the 14th Amendment. He used, in his words, the law as a weapon. It was a weapon he wielded wisely and successfully.

George Stevens, Jr. has put together a wonderful script that never misses a beat. Benny Sato Ambush’s directing is terrific.. They have done an important service in putting together for the stage this amazing story.

I know it is early in the 2017 theatre season, but I can ensure you that Johnny Lee Davenport’s portrayal of Marshall in Thurgood will be remembered as one of the great performances of the year.

A Doll’s House Worthy Of A Visit

A Doll’s House

by Henrik Ibsen

Andrea Syglowski and Sekou Laidlaw
Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Adapted by Bryony Lavery
Directed by Melian Bensussen
At The Huntington Theatre Company
Through February 5th

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

The other night I saw the Huntington Theatre Company production of A Doll’s House. It was an evening of terrific theatre. The Ibsen classic about marriage, blackmail, unrequited love, and finding one’s self is a timeless work. This version has been updated by Bryony Lavery and the language flows beautifully while the story never skips a beat. The beautiful staging also makes this a visual treat.

…the language flows beautifully while the story never skips a beat.

The fine cast is led by Andrea Syglowski as Nora who plays opposite Sekou Laidlow as her husband Torvald. Mr. Laidlow plays his part subtly at first in the way he treats Nora as a child, but eventually it becomes clear just how demeaning he is to her. Nora is content with her life, as Torvald has received a promotion which means more money and a better life. However, when a secret from Nora’s past arises that threatens to destroy their marriage Nora begins to see things in a different light, though it isn’t untill the final scene that she fully understands what her life is about.

Ms Syglowski is an absolute joy to watch.

This is a first rate production, and Ms Syglowski is an absolute joy to watch. She shows great humor in the first act. Her timing is impeccable, with a full range of emotions. She moves from a wife who is being treated as a plaything by her husband to a woman who realizes she must find out for herself what life truly means.

Sekou Laidlow as Torvald plays his part subtly at first but then we see just how demeaning his treatment of Nora is. The progression works well.

It is an outstanding evening of theatre, one not to be missed.

Nael Nacer as Krogstad, the man who attempts to blackmail Nora does not illicit much sympathy, but Nacer conveys the pain his character is in and it is soon apparent that he is motivated by desperation and not cruelty.

Dr. Rank, the longtime family friend of the Helmer’s reveals he is dying. It is also revealed that he has been in love with Nora for years. Jeremy Webb does a fine job of portraying this unhappy man who always has a smile on his face.

Elise Rose Walker, Marinda Anderson, Gavin Daniel Walker, and Adrianne KrstanskyPhoto: T. Charles Erickson

And then there is Christine Linde. Mrs. Linde is played by Marinda Anderson. She and Krogstad were once lovers, and she tells Nora she will try to convince Krogstad to take back a letter he has left for Torvald that exposes Nora’s secret. In his joy at being back with Christine he agrees.  However, it is Christine who is able to see everything in perspective and decides to let things play out for the Helmers. She tells Krogsatd to leave the letter. Ms Anderson plays the part as much with her expressions as with her words, and she does it well.

Andrea Syglowski’s Nora will be remembered.

The final scene where Torvald reads the letter and explodes at Nora is just incredible. He tells her their marriage will now be just for show because she has brought shame on them. Then when he reads a second note from Torvald that includes the promissory note and says he is not going to pursue the matter, Torvald suddenly changes and is the happy husband again. At this point Nora fully comprehends that their marriage has always been for show and she lets all of her feelings out. Ms Syglowski is outstanding in this scene in which Nora describes how she has always been treated as a play doll, first by her father

Andrea Syglowski and Sekou Laidlow
Photo: T. Charles Erickson

and then by Torvald. She is not going to live her life that way any longer. It is a very powerful scene and one you will not forget. Andrea Syglowski’s Nora will be remembered.

A Doll’s House has been called a feminist play, but it is a play that should appeal to all people as it shows how often we make compromises and sometimes make bad choices in order for our lives to have order and make sense. However, by doing so we often end  becoming very unhappy. Nora shows us we have choices.

When you leave the theatre after seeing this production of A Doll’s House you will have much to think about, and that is why I like it so much. You wonder what will become of Nora.

Once again, the Huntington has put on an outstanding production of a classic play. It is not to be missed.

http://www.huntingtontheatre.org

A Fresh And Very Intense Virginia Woolf

Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf

At The Lyric Stage
Copley Square, Boston
Through February 12th
Directed by Scott Edmiston
Lyricstage.com

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Paula Plum and Steven Barkhimer (Photo: Mark S. Howard)

When I read that Steven Barkhimer, whom I had recently seen in Warrior Class, was being cast as George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Lyric Stage I had high expectations for him. Mr. Barkhimer was excellent as the political operative in Warrior Class, and I could envision him in the role of George. He did not disappoint me.

The current run at the Lyric includes three other fine actors, Paula Plum (Martha), Erica Spyres (Honey), and Dan Whelton (Nick). With direction by Scott Edmiston we are treated to a fresh look at this classic play. If you are looking for Liz and Richard go to Netflix. The actors on stage here bring their own interpretations to the roles and they do an excellent job of it.

Ms Plum and Mr. Barhimer are a tour de force as George and Martha.

If it has been a while since you have seen Edward Albee’s classic, or if this is your first time, you may be surprised at how many laughs there are in the first act. George’s sarcasm and cutting remarks directed at everyone in the living room where the play is set are quite funny and elicit much laughter. However, as Act II gets underway we find that he is not just drunk and having fun at the expense of his wife and guests, but is seething with self loathing. This loathing is shared by Martha who is also quite witty in her nastiness.

Barkhimer, Spyres, Whelton (Photo: Mark S. Howard)

The characters get uglier and nastier as the play progresses. This includes Nick and Honey who, at first, appear taken aback by the sadistic behavior but end up getting taken up by it.

Paula Plum captures Martha’s disappointment (that’s certainly a mild word for it) and frustration in George’s failure to accomplish more in his life, while her attacks on him only feed into his own self hate which feeds his anger. They fuel each other’s rage.

The set is interesting in that the frame around it that represents the outside of the house is off kilter as is the front door. As I looked at it I got the sense of the alcoholic haze the characters were in. It was like one of those old movies where a player gets hit over the head and the film goes blurry to give a picture of what he is seeing through his eyes.

Whelton, Plum, and Birhimer. (Photo: Mark S. Howard)

Ms Plum and Mr. Barhimer are a tour de force as George and Martha. Gnawing at each other’s hearts in an alcohol infused rage it is hard to believe, though it is true, they actually love each other. The problem is, they hate their lives.

Ms Spyres and Mr. Whelton do a fine job playing the clean cut early 60s college educated couple who really are not so clean cut after all.

Woolf is not an easy play to watch. It is disturbing seeing these college faculty members cutting each other to pieces. It must have been extremely shocking when it first opened in 1962, and even with the language having been updated by Mr. Albee to include many expletives, you might think it would seem mild by today’s standards. It isn’t. This production is excellent and well worth seeing, but just remember, you won’t leave the theater smiling.

A Little More About The Comedy of Errors In Hartford

by Bobby Franklin

Well, January isn’t even over yet and I have already reviewed five plays to kick off the new year. While just about everything I have seen has been good, some superb, I have to say The Comedy of Errors at the Hartford Stage is going to be tough to top. My review only touched on some of what made that production so great.

Matthew Macca and Ryan-James Hatanaka
Photo: T. Charles Erickson

I have to add that while it certainly had a Greek theme it also included the music from a Chubby Checker recording of Never on a Sunday in both English and Greek versions as transitional music that gave a definite Beach Blanket Bingo feel to it. Two Carmen Miranda tunes, Tico Tico and Cuanto Le Gusta were delightful. Cuanto Le Gusta was performed marvelously by the two Dromeos (Alan Schmuckler and Matthew Macca), while Nell (Tara Heal)treated us to Tico, Tico And, there was a huge Bollywood scene with the entire cast dancing to Chunari, Chunari from Monsoon Wedding. It was spectacular!

All great fun!

 

 

Original review:

There Are No Errors In This Comedy

There Are No Errors In This Comedy

The Comedy of Errors

At The Hartford Stage
50 Church Street
Hartford, CT
Directed by Darko Tresnjak
Through February 12th
www.hartfordstage.org

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Louis Tucci, Paula Leggett Chase, Alexander Sovronsky
Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Returning home after viewing the Saturday matinee performance of the Hartford Stage production of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors I wanted to immediately sit down and write my review. There was one problem however, I could not stop laughing long enough to focus on my keyboard.

Director Darko Tresnjak has taken one of the Bard’s earliest plays and set it in 1965 Greece while adding music and dance to it. From the opening when Paula Leggett Chase steps out and sings a sexy and sultry Never On A Sunday in the best tradition of Melina Mercouri, I knew this was going to be something very special.

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

The set, which was designed by Darko, is breathtaking. Save your money on a ticket to Greece, you are there when you step into the theater. The colors are vibrant, with boats docked at the foot of the stage, the Phoenix and the Priory rising behind it and the Greek countryside as a backdrop is something to behold.
It is the Greece of Topkapi and Zorba.

Save your money on a ticket to Greece, you are there when you step into the theater.

But what would Greece be without music and dance? Drawing on original songs from the period and using onstage musicians playing on a bouzouki and an accordion for much of it, (some of the music is piped in and also great), the audience becomes a part of the experience. Throw in some moussaka and baklava for good measure.

I guarantee you will leave the theater with tears of laughter streaming from your face

Now top this off with Shakespeare’s madcap story about two sets of twins and the mixups that ensue along with an outstanding cast and you have one of the best plays on stage so far this season. Sprinkle some Marx Brothers flavored comedy on top and the laughter never stops. How often do you get to see a Shakespeare play with scuba divers, surfboards, beachballs, rubber chickens, and a human battering ram? All this while retaining the original language and story. And, all taking place within a 24 hour period.

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Trying to chose a particular moment or actor to praise is too difficult in such a fine production. Everyone is just wonderful and spot on. Seeing so many actors staying in synch while so many different and crazy things are occurring is marvelous. This production is fast paced, constantly funny, musically delightful, and filled with wonderful dance numbers. It is a joy to watch all of them perform. The lighting and choreography are up to the usual high standards of the Hartford.

This production is fast paced, constantly funny, musically delightful, and filled with wonderful dance numbers.

When someone asks me to pick a Shakespeare play for their first time experience, I don’t suggest The Comedy of Errors. It is funny but not with the depth of his later work. However, after seeing this production I can recommend it without any reservations. If you
have stayed away from Shakespeare because you thought he wrote in another language, or if you are a lifetime Bardologist, you owe it to yourself to make the trip to the Hartford Stage. If I lived closer I would see it again, and again.

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson

Darko Tresnjak and the Hartford Stage have never disappointed me with their Shakespeare productions. There are many excellent companies in New England performing these works, but The Hartford Stage ranks at the top.

After attending a performance I guarantee you will leave the theater with tears of laughter streaming from your face, the salt of the Mediterranean in your nose, a hunger for some moussaka, and an urge to cry out, “Zorba, teach me to dance!”

A Little More About The Comedy of Errors In Hartford

Johnny Risko The Cleveland Rubber Man

New Biography Gives Rugged Contender
The Recognition He Deserves

Johnny Risko: The Cleveland Rubber Man

By Jerry Fitch

Tora Book Publishing, 168 pages, $18.00

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

The 1920s and 1930s were truly boxing’s Golden Age. Just the shear number of participants in the sport guaranteed it. Boxing historian Mike Silver points out in his book, The Arc of Boxing, there were between 8,000 and 10,000 fighters licensed during this period. In 1927 New York and California alone had 2,000 licensed boxers each. That is way above the total number of fighters participating today, and these fighters were much more active. Because there were so many fighters there were also a huge number of fight venues. During these years, and even during the Great Depression, a boxer could make a decent living fighting every couple of weeks. Add to this the fact that there were gyms everywhere that were filled with excellent trainers. Where a boxer never lacked for sparring, and you can see why fighters from this period were so good.

While places like New York were certainly Meccas for boxing, the rest of the country did not lack in fight clubs. In these pre television days boxing was one of the most popular forms of entertainment. Cleveland, Ohio had a very vibrant fight scene, and  boxing historian Jerry Fitch is working hard to keep the history of boxing in that area alive. Jerry is the author of a terrific biography of the great heavyweight Jimmy Bivins as well as “Cleveland’s Greatest Fighters of All Time”, and a memoir, “50 Years of Fights, Fighters, and Friendships.

Johnny Risko

In his latest work Jerry takes his keen historian’s eye and focuses it on one of the toughest and most prolific fighters to emerge from Cleveland, heavyweight contender Johnny Risko, also known as “The Rubber Man” because of his ability to take punches and still keep coming forward. This is not too say Risko just stood there and absorbed punches, no, he was also a skilled boxer, but it was next to impossible to knock him down or out. In fact, in approximately 140 fights (the exact number is not known) Johnny was only stopped three times one of which was by the great Max Schmeling. He was counted out only one time and that was in his last bout when he was 38 years old.

Reading Jerry Fitch’s book on Risko is a boxing history lesson in itself as it goes beyond the career of Johnny Risko. Just reading through the Cleveland contender’s record is amazing. The names that appear there, the people he fought, is a who’s who of boxing from that glorious period. It is staggering to see who the Rubber Man went up against. Jack Sharkey, Gene Tunney, Mickey Walker, Tom Heeney, Max Baer, Tony Galento, Tommy Loughran, Ernie Schaaf, to name just a few. And Risko was no “opponent”. He beat many of these men. He split a pair of decisions with Baer and beat Louhgran two out of four times. No, Risko was far from an opponent, he is more remembered as a “spoiler” as he ruined many a contender’s chance at getting a title shot.

Max Schmeling and Risko

While just looking at the Risko record can be enough to excite any fight fan, it is in reading Jerry’s lively account of his life and battles that is really a treat. Mr. Fitch has done tireless research in digging up accounts, many of them first hand round by round reports, of these great fights. You are there when Johnny beats George Godfrey, you have a seat at the Risko v Schmeling bout, you can see the smile of frustration on Max Baer’s face as he is unable to hurt the Rubber Man. This is living history.

Along the way Jerry also treats his readers to short, but detailed, biographies of many of Risko’s opponents. His treatment of Max Schmeling is very interesting. In just a few pages he gives a concise account of of the German’s career and fighting style.

Johnny Risko’s life is also covered in great detail. He was a smart businessman who walked away from boxing with money in his pocket and an appreciation for life. As I moved along in this book I felt I was really getting to know this interesting character from Cleveland’s past. He sounds like a guy who was quick with a smile and a happy remark. I doubt anyone would have felt uncomfortable in Risko’s company.

Risko Jabs Jack Sharkey

So why didn’t Johnny Risko ever get a shot at the title? Well, he came close many times but the timing was never quite right. Back then fighters didn’t score a victory over a top fighter and then wait around for the big fight. No, they kept fighting and sometimes would lose and get set back a bit. In the days of Johnny Risko, being a top contender really meant something. As is pointed out in this fine biography, Johnny was a top notch fighter. He was a true contender. Take a second to look at his record and I know you will want to learn more about him. Fortunately, thanks to Jerry Fitch you have that opportunity. His book will bring the Cleveland Rubber Man to life for you.

I would like to point out if it weren’t for dedicated boxing historians such as Jerry Fitch who devote untold hours researching these greats of the past they would be forgotten. Jerry, and others like him, deserve the eternal gratitude of all boxing fans who care about the legacy of this once great sport. It is important to support the work they do.

Thank you Jerry Fitch for the work you do. Johnny Risko and the others are looking down from above and smiling.

Information about and signed copies of “Johnny Risko, The Cleveland Rubber Man” by Jerry Fitch can be obtained by emailing Jerry at JerryFitch1946 [at] gmail [dot] com

Epic Brecht At The New Rep

Brecht on Brecht

Directed by Jim Petosa
New Repertory Theatre
Watertown, MA
Through March 5th

Carla Martinez, Brad Danile Peloquin, Jake Murphy, Christine Hamel Photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures

Bertolt Brecht envisioned plays being performed in settings much the way a boxing match is. He felt the audience (crowd) should not become lost in the production but rather stay aware of the fact they are watching a play and to think about what they are witnessing. He believed in the use of harsh lighting that did not hide the audience. He also wanted people to engage in the ideas that were being presented. This method became known as Epic Theatre.

Jim Petosa has given us a wonderful opportunity to see this type of theatre

The Black Box Theatre at the Mosesian Center for the Arts is the perfect venue for such a work, and The New Repertory Theatre under the direction of Jim Petosa has given us a wonderful opportunity to see this type of theatre close up, as it should be.

With the audience seated on three sides of the stage and the lights kept up throughout most of the piece, the actors engage the spectators as Brecht preferred to call the audience.

Christine Hamel, Carla Martinez, Jake Murphy (Photo: Andrew Brilliant/ Brilliant Pictures)

There are four actors all of whom represent some aspect of Bertolt Brecht. They are accompanied by Matthew Stern on piano. The poetry and lyrics are all from Brecht. At times it can be a bit chaotic, sometimes reminiscent of a beatnik coffee house poetry session, a bit madcap, and always engaging. The actors arrive noisily on the black and white stage in a shopping cart and are wearing bright red clown noses. They immediately disrupt things by knocking over music stands and making firm eye contact with the spectators.

The actors, Christine Hamel, Brad Daniel Peloquin, Carla Martinez, and Jake Murphy who are listed in the program as Mature Woman, Mature Man, Young Woman, and Young Man respectively are all very engaging, which is exactly what this work is meant to be.

We hear Brecht’s thoughts on many subjects including the blight of the intellectual under totalitarian regimes (in one case an author was upset his books had not been destroyed), and theatre. The piece on theatre reminded me of Shakespeare’s advice to the players from Hamlet. While the dialog can be provocative, different conclusions can be drawn from it. Brecht wanted his spectators to grapple with the ideas, not just sit and take them in.

Jake Murphy, Carla Martinez, Christine Hamel, Matthew Stern on Piano. (Photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures)

A scene where Ms Hamel is making numerous calls to friends in order to explain why she must go away for a while is chilling as we realize she is fleeing the Nazis. The changes in her voice when speaking with different people is very telling. Her comments are quite thought provoking as she reveals her change in status and how it has effected her views of others. Matthew Stern’s use of the piano for sound effects is just right.

Carla Martinez and Jake Murphy bring anger and brashness to the poetry. Again, so much is said that could be taken one way at first glance but when thought about more deeply can be seen in different ways.

Brad Danial Peloquin is just marvelous with his amazing tenor voice.

Brad Danial Peloquin is just marvelous with his amazing tenor voice. A voice that is not only a joy to hear when he is singing but also when he is engaged in dialog and poetry. He is simply sublime. His rendition of Mack the Knife is certainly not reminiscent of Bobby Darin, and that is meant as a compliment. Mr. Peloquin is superb as he moves about the stage accompanied by Mr. Stern on the piano.

Brecht on Brecht is not easy if you are walking in cold. The music is almost exclusively written in minor keys and can be quite heavy. It is not the type of theatre most people are accustomed to. It is, however, an experience that should be taken in. Director Petosa has assembled a wonderful cast who are fully up to the task of presenting this work the way it should be done. Bridget K. Doyle’s lighting design was spot on (pun intended).

I would suggest spending a short time reading up on Epic Theatre (just Google the term) before going. If you do that you will understand just what a fine work the New Rep is presenting here. It is something special to see and hear. It is also a work that will make you think. Just remember, you are not being preached to, you are being engaged. You are being asked to think, to argue, to participate. This is an evening of very interesting theatre. Do a little preparation and step into the arena.

newrep.org
617.923.8487

Theatre Openings

Another Round Of Theatre Productions Is Coming Up And There Is No Shortage Of Productions To Fill  Your Calendars.

The SpeakEasy Stage will be kicking things off with Grand Concourse which will run from March 5th to April 1st Calderwood Pavillion located in Boston’s South End.

GRAND CONCOURSE tells the story of Shelley, a Catholic nun and former high school basketball star, who now struggles to find meaning in her work as the manager of a Bronx soup kitchen. With the help of Oscar, a former Dominican dentist now making a living as a security guard, Shelley tends to her flock, a colorful crew that includes Frog, a homeless former intellectual who now passes time writing joke books. The arrival of Emma, a college dropout looking for a sense of purpose, is at first a welcome addition to the team, but the girl’s erratic behavior soon takes its toll. With gentle humor and great heart, GRAND CONCOURSE explores the mysteries of faith, forgiveness, and compassion.

The cast includes Ally Dawson, Thomas Derrah, Melinda Lopez, and Alejandro Simoes.

From March 10th though April 7th the Huntington Theatre Company will be presenting Top Dog/Underdog at the BU Theater on Huntington Avenue in Boston.

Topdog/Underdog is a darkly comic, deeply theatrical fable about family wounds and healing bonds. Lincoln and Booth are brothers: best friends and bitter rivals. Lincoln, a former 3-card monte hustler, works as a Lincoln impersonator in a shooting gallery; Booth is an aspiring grifter. He tempts his brother to get back in the game, but the consequences could be deadly.

Suzan-Lori Parks made history as the first African American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2002 with Topdog/Underdog. Additionally, she is named among Time magazine’s “100 Innovators for the Next Wave” and is also the recipient of two Obie Awards and a MacArthur “Genius” Grant.

Over at the Lyric Stage on Clarendon Street in Boston you will be able to see Stage Kiss running from February 24th through March 26th.

Life imitates Art. Art imitates Life — and Love. In Stage Kiss, two squabbling long-lost loves are cast as long-lost lovers, and quickly lose touch with reality in this comic, romantic, and revealing play-within-a-play. Playwright Sarah Ruhl and Director Courtney O’Connor (Red Hot Patriot, Buyer & Cellar) take us on-stage, back-stage, and right out the stage door in this charming tale about what happens when lovers share a stage kiss and when actors share a real one.

Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9 will run at the Hartford Stage from February 23rd through March 19th in, where else?, Hartford, CT.

The world of Cloud 9 contains unexpected trysts, gender swaps, role reversals and power plays. Victorian repression clashes with liberal expression as the play follows a British family from colonial Africa to London in the 1970s. The tantalizing comedy explores the ever-changing world of sexual politics as it asks what it takes for each of us to reach our own Cloud 9.

Cloud 9 was Caryl Churchill’s first international hit. The playwright’s other works include Top Girls, Mad Forest, Love and Information, A Number and Serious Money. The Guardian recently wrote that Churchill “now shares with Tom Stoppard the title of Britain’s most significant living dramatist.”

There is plenty to see, many fine theatre companies producing excellent work, and so much great talent performing. The weather is improving and there is no better way to spend an afternoon or evening than enjoying a play. The folks at all of these theaters work hard to give us first class productions and they rarely fail. We are lucky to have so many theatre companies near by. Take in a show or two, or three. You won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ali v Frazier I: 11th and 15th Rounds

Remarkable Moments In A Remarkable Fight

by Bobby Franklin

This coming March 8th will mark the 46th anniversary of the first Ali vs Frazier fight, The Fight of the Century. It will also be the first time the date will arrive with both men now having passed on. Rewatching this great fight it is hard to believe neither Joe or Muhammad is still with us. That night in Madison Square Garden they both appeared to be immortal. It was as if two ancient gods had stepped down from their mountains to do battle for control of the universe.

I am surprised how their third encounter has taken most of the spotlight over the years. While that was a great brawl, both men had lost much, if not most, of their great skills. The first bout was the only time in history when two undefeated men with legitimate claims to the Heavyweight Championship met to settle things. The fight lived up to all of the hype and even more. I truly believe the fight would be given more notice if Ali had won, and that is the reason the third fight is so often shown. The Ali publicity machine never stopped working while Joe Frazier slipped into a quiet retirement. It is too bad because their first meeting was one of the greatest fights and greatest sporting events of all time. It should be shown every March 8th. Fortunately, it can be seen on Youtube, and boxing fans should take an hour on the anniversary to watch it.

I have written about the fight on a number of occasions. Each time I watch it I see something new. Each time I watch it I am still in awe of what a battle of wills it was. Each time I watch it I am in disbelief of how these two men were able to hold up for fifteen rounds at such a torrid pace.

Today, as I reflect back on that night, I want to focus in on a couple of moments from that war. These occurred in the 11th and 15th rounds, and I would like to share my thoughts with my readers.

When the bell rang for the 11th round both fighters appeared to be slowing down. Ali was content to stay on the ropes and Joe was not landing with the same power he had been displaying over the pervious 10 rounds. The fight seemed to be losing its intensity and that was no surprise seeing the pace these two had set. Well, that was about to change.

With about a minute left in the round, Ali was on the ropes near a corner. Frazier had landed a couple of left hooks on Ali’s chin, but not with full force. Then it happened, Joe let a hook rip that caught Ali and buckled his legs. Muhammad attempted to get out of the corner and stepped to his right with Frazier in pursuit. This is a key moment in the fight and if things had gone slightly different would have most likely been the end of the bout.

As Ali moved along the ropes trying to escape from Joe, Frazier landed a powerful left hook to Muhammad’s jaw. Ali fell backwards and his arms swung back and away from his body. He was wide open to be hit at will. He was hurt and off balance. So why didn’t Joe follow up?

Watch this moment in the fight and you will see why. There are a couple of different views of it, but all clearly show what happened. After Joe landed that brutal shot and Ali’s legs buckled it appeared he was going down, and indeed he would have. Joe seeing him start to go down stepped away to head for a neutral corner. What then happened is that as Ali was on the way down his backside caught one of the ropes and held him up. Joe looked over as he was walking away and immediately rushed back to Ali. By this time Muhammad had righted himself and had his hands back in position. If Joe had not believed Ali was going down he could have landed at will and very likely ended the contest. In boxing, seconds and fractions of seconds make a difference, and it certainly did in this case. Frazier pummeled Ali for the remainder of the round. He staggered him a couple of more times, but he could not finish him off.

The 15th round produced another amazing moment in a night of great moments. In what is perhaps the most famous knockdown in boxing history, Joe dropped Muhammad with a tremendous left hook early in the round. Ali went down flat on his back. It looked as if the fight was over. However, in what seemed like a miracle, Ali not only got up but rose almost immediately. How was he able to regain his feet after absorbing such a shot? Both men were beyond exhausted. Ali was caught flush on the jaw by one of the hardest left hooks ever thrown. Or was he?

Ali used to brag that he had a built in radar that could detect punches that were about to hit him so he could avoid them at the last second. His radar was working here. He was not able to avoid the punch, but if you watch closely as the blow connects you will see Ali moving his head as the punch makes contact with him. Basically, he, to some degree, rolled with the punch. It was still a brutal shot, but it would have been much worse had he not moved the way he did. It is amazing his mind and body were still able to respond in that manner seeing how grueling the fight had been.

I remember seeing Arthur Mercante, the referee for the fight, interviewed once. When questioned about the 15th round he said he felt the men were so tired that he feared he might push one or the other over while breaking a clinch. It just shows how much Ali and Frazier drove themselves in this battle of wills.

I once had a chance to talk with Arthur Mercante. I asked him how much he got paid for officiating that night. He told me he received $500.00. When I said it didn’t seem like much he turned to me and with a big smile said, “I would have done it for nothing.”

This March 8th take an hour to watch this fight. Do it to honor two great athletes. Do it to remember what boxing once was.

NEW REPERTORY THEATRE PRESENTS

GOLDA’S BALCONY

BY WILLIAM GIBSON DIRECTED BY JUDY BRAHA

MARCH 25-APRIL 16, 2017

New Repertory Theatre presents Golda’s Balcony, March 25-April 16, 2017 in the Mainstage Theater at the Mosesian Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA.

“As one of the first democratically elected female heads of state, Golda Meir’s historic rise cannot be understated,” says Artistic Director Jim Petosa. “Golda’s Balcony is a cornerstone in a season we’ve entitled Prologue, as we look back through history to inform the present. At a time when our current political environment is in flux and America’s standing on the world stage is at a critical juncture, it is illuminating to produce plays that continue to examine today through the lens of the past.”

Bobbie Steinbach

“New Rep is thrilled to welcome back Bobbie Steinbach to our stage after appearing in a number of productions over the years including most recently our smash-hit revival of Fiddler on the Roof last December,” says Managing Director Harriet Sheets. “Bobbie brings with her a creative energy that is unmatched in the Greater Boston theatre community, and we welcome all to join us for our much- anticipated production of Golda’s Balcony this spring.”

Golda’s Balcony follows Golda Meir from her humble beginnings as a Wisconsin school teacher to her meteoric rise through Israel’s early political system, becoming one of the world’s first elected female heads of state and one of the most influential women in Israel’s history.

Tickets are $30-$59 and may be purchased by calling the New Rep Box Office at 617-923-8487 or visiting newrep.org. Student, senior, and group discounts are available.

Kisses and Laughter Aplenty At The Lyric

Stage Kiss

The Lyric Stage

140 Clarendon St. Boston
Through March 26th

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Sarah Ruhl’s Stage Kiss now playing at the Lyric Stage is two plays within a play that centers on the problems that arise when former lovers are cast opposite each other in a revival of a 1930s melodrama, The Last Kiss, which is also about two former lovers.

Make no mistake, this play is very funny.

He (Alexander Platt) and She (Celeste Oliva) the former lovers who haven’t seen each other in over ten years are brought together when trying out for roles in a revival of a 1930s Noel Coward style play The Last Kiss. Sexual tension immediately arises as old passions become inflamed. She, who is now married and has a daughter while He is in a relationship with a woman from either Iowa or Illinois (you’ll understand when you see it), don’t take long to act on their desires.

Will McGarrahan, Celeste Oliva, Michael Hisamoto (Photo: Mark S. HowardMake no mistake, this play is very funny. Ms Oliva, as She, is a positive riot as she reads for the part in front of director Adrian Schwalbach (Will McGarrahan). It is her first time trying out for a production in years and Oliva plays the part with a frenetic humor that conveys She’s self doubt. I couldn’t help but think this might not be much of an exaggeration of what many actors have been through. Mr. McGarrahan as Schwalbach is the perfect straight man. His timing is excellent as he knows just when to deliver a line or a look to allow the lines to sink in. I have seen him in a number of productions and he as yet to disappoint.

Alexander Platt and Celeste Oliva. (Photo: Mark S. Howard)

He is played by Alexander Platt. He, shallow and self centered, lives just in the moment. He seems not at all concerned with the fact that She is married and has a child. At first this doesn’t seem important as the laughs keep coming and it is amazing to see the set for The Last Kiss come together as the action moves along. The play begins with an almost bare stage that evolves into a beautiful setting with lovely costumes. It is magical to see as it happens bit by bit while the lights are dimmed.

Director Courtney O’Connor also plays a bit with the audience on when intermission is about to start. It is all fun and a nice touch.

In Act II things begin to falter a bit. The Last Kiss has been a flop and now He and She are teaming up with Adrian in a new play he has written and is producing in Detroit. She has left her husband Harrison (Craig Matthers) and her daughter Angela (Theresa Nguyen) to be with He. He’s former girlfriend Laurie (Gillian Mackay-Smith) and Harrison have taken up with each other. Angela’s reaction to all of this is not hurt but anger that doesn’t seem all that real. She also seems quite self centered.

And this is why things don’t quite work in the second act. While there are plenty of funny situations, we are still seeing a marriage torn apart and a child whose mother has walked out on her. I never got the sense anybody really was feeling much pain about all that had happened. Towards the end Craig Mathers gives a very moving and well done monologue about marriage that feels out of place as he appears to be the only one who grasps what has really happened. The lines he delivers include “Marriage is about repetition. Every night the sun goes down and the moon comes up and you have another chance to be good. Romance is not about repetition.” Beautiful words, and while She does go back with him, I don’t believe it is the words that have moved her. Her shallowness still rings through. Without an emotional investment in the characters it is hard to feel much even when listening to these lovely words so well delivered by Mr. Mathers.

Will McGarrahan, Celeste Oliva, Alexander Platt, Michael Hisamoto. (Photo: Mark S. Howard)

Now, I do have to say something here about Michael Hisamoto who plays a number of parts including the Kevin the understudy in The Last Kiss and a pimp in the play in Detroit. Mr. Hisamoto almost steals this production. He is positively hilarious in his scenes with Ms Oliva in Act 1. Their kissing scene is side splitting funny. Every time he steps onto the stage you can feel his energy. His presence is subtle but very strong. He can elicit laughter with just a sidewards glance. He is a very talented young actor and I hope we get to see more of him soon.

Mr. Hisamoto almost steals this production

Stage Kiss may have some flaws, but it is still a production worth seeing. It is refreshing to sit in a theater and laugh. It is nice in this very heated political era to be able to step away from all the arguing and be able to escape for a couple of hours. Theatre plays many roles in our society. Some of it is political. But it is also important that it gives us a break from the anxieties that creep into our lives. Stage Kiss does that.

Stage Kiss

by Sarah Ruhl

Directed by Courtney O’Connor

Lyricstage.com

A Moving Look At The Challenges Of Being Kind

Grand Concourse

SpeakEasy Stage

Through April 1st

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

You will be deeply moved by what you see.

The SpeakEasy production of Grand Concourse by Heidi Schreck now playing at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston’s South End is one of those truly wonderful theatre experiences that touches on so many emotions.

Oscar, Shelly, Emma, and Frog.
Photo Credit: Glenn Perry

There are four characters in this play that takes place in the food preparation area of a soup kitchen in the Bronx. As the play progresses the depth and struggles of each of these individuals becomes more apparent. It is impossible to watch this work and not become emotionally invested in each one of them.

Shelly, played by Melinda Lopez, is the Catholic nun who runs the kitchen. She is committed to her work but is having doubts about her faith and purpose. She practices praying while using a microwave timer. Shelly is a kind and compassionate human being, but is that enough and  what does it mean to be compassionate? Melinda Lopez brings depth and warmth to Shelly. I felt I had known her for years.

One day Emma, a college drop out, stops by and offers to volunteer. At first she seems like a young person who wants to do something good, but as the play progresses we see there is much more going on with her. Played by the very talented Ally Dawson, Emma is very manipulative and makes things quite difficult for the others. She also accomplishes much good while pushing the others to the limits of their compassion. Ms Dawson handles this very complex character perfectly. It is an emotional roller coaster watching her, and I have to say I felt drained by her actions. However, it  me feel good in the sense that I was forced to look more deeply into someone whom it would have been very easy to write off as superficial and self absorbed.

Frog and Oscar
Photo Credit: Glenn Perry

Thomas Derrah plays Frog a homeless man who has been a regular at the soup kitchen for some time. In between telling and selling jokes to the others, he also spins his philosophy on life and insights into people and society. I have seen Mr. Derrah perform for more years than I would like to admit, and I have to say it would be a challenge to find an actor who can match him for how consistently good he is. He certainly does not disappoint here. He makes many entrances and exits in the course of this production and each one is fresh and outstanding.

Oscar, played by Alejandro Simoes, is the maintenance man. He is funny and kind. Oscar was a dental student in his native Dominican Republic and is now struggling to put a life together in the United States and marry his girlfriend Rosa. At first he appears to be a fairly light character, but Mr. Simoes treats us to a man who has weaknesses and conflict but is filled with decency. He truly touches us with his goodness.

Shelly and Emma
Photo Credit: Glenn Perry

Grand Concourse easily could have been a very predictable and formulaic work about people helping people and getting caught up with the conflicts in their own lives. At first I thought that’s where it was going. What author Heidi Schreck has given us is a play that goes much deeper than that. I was very moved by this play. It compelled me to ask  what it means to have compassion and what the limits are to it. The Catholic social activist Dorothy Day once said her purpose was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Well, it’s not always easy to tell who is afflicted and who is comfortable.

The SpeakEasy Stage has done it again and this is a play not to be missed.

I have to admit I left the theatre emotionally spent. It was an amazing afternoon watching terrific actors working with a fine script that was well directed and staged beautifully. I highly recommend Grand Concourse. The SpeakEasy Stage has done it again and this is a play not to be missed. You will be deeply moved by what you see.

Grand Concourse

Directed by Bridget Kathleen O’Leary

Through April 1st

The SpeakEasy Stage
At The Calderwood Pavillon
South End, Boston

speakeasystage.com

617.933.8600

When Heavyweights Ruled

 Jerry Izenberg Recalls The Time And Excitement

Once There Were Giants: The Golden Age Of Heavyweight Boxing

Skyhorse Publishing, NY, NY

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

From the time of John L. Sullivan and through most of the 20th Century being the Heavyweight Champion of the World meant being the stuff of legends. It was as close to immortality as any man could get. Young boys would dream of growing up and one day being the next Jack Dempsey or Joe Louis. To hold that great title also meant being arguably the most famous man in the world. It is impossible to recall the Roaring Twenties without thinking of Dempsey. The 30s and 40s always have Joe Louis’s visage looking at us from that time of the Great Depression and WWII. As America got back to work after the War we had Rocky Marciano to remind us of the value of hard work and perseverance. In between each of these great champions were other great men who left their own mark on the history of boxing. The Heavyweight Championship was the most difficult to attain and most prestigious honor to capture in all of sports and I would argue in any realm of the world of entertainment.

It is sad that today it is just a memory. That great title no longer exists. Oh, there are people, a lot of them, who claim it but none who have earned it. I doubt there are any young men today who wake up in the morning with that dream their grandfathers and fathers had of being the Champ. Those days are far behind us, but they didn’t go away without a fight.

The final era when the Heavyweight Title still meant something was also one of its most exciting, Jerry Izenberg in his new book Once There Were Giants: The Golden Age Of Heavyweight Boxing (Skyhorse Publishing, NY,NY) brings us back to that very exciting time.

If you were fortunate enough to have experienced boxing from the 1960s until the late 1980s Jerry’s book will bring back terrific memories of what may have been the most competitive period in the history of boxing among the big men. Mr. Izenberg argues it was, and he is standing on solid ground when he says so. It was certainly a very exciting time to be a fight fan.

In a lively narrative Mr. Izenberg brings us to ringside and into the backrooms to visit with the fighters to relive many great moments.

As background Mr. Izenberg chronicles the rise and fall of the mob that took place from the 1930s up until the 1960s. We are introduced or reintroduced, depending on your age, to such characters as Owney Madden, Frankie Carbo, Jim Norris, Blinky Palermo, and many other gangsters who controlled boxing for decades. It is a sordid history of corruption and strong arm tactics and very worth reading.

After Rocky Marciano retired, the Heavyweight Championship fell into a sorry state. Cus D’Amato who had crusaded against mob control of boxing was able to take hold of the title with his young fighter Floyd Patterson. Mr. Izenberg sheds a lot of light on the real D’Amato who, it turns out, had his own mob connection. D’Amato also made it even more difficult for legitimate contenders to get a shot at the title because he was not going to allow his champion to step into the ring with any opponent who had a pulse. At least with the old mob a fighter could buy his way in. With D’Amato the division went into a period where having talent only increased a fighter’s chances of not getting a title fight.

Ironically, it took the underworld figure Sonny Liston to change things, though it took someone else to shake up the world of boxing. When Sonny won the title by destroying Patterson boxing epitaphs were being written. Boxing had gone from a mama’s boy to a man who was pure evil. It didn’t look like it could sink any further.

This is where Jerry’s book goes from the darkness to the glory times. A young Cassius Clay had returned from the Rome Olympics waving his Gold Medal and proclaiming himself “The Greatest”. He stepped up and whupped Sonny and began a new age in boxing. An age Jerry Izenberg was there to witness from beginning to end.

In a lively narrative Mr. Izenberg brings us to ringside and into the backrooms to visit with the fighters to relive many great moments. When Clay, now Ali, became champion he fought everyone. Of course, a number of these contenders had grown old waiting for a title shot, but they were no longer going to be denied. Ali fought often and was always heard from. He was loved and hated, and he was exciting. Boxing was now back in a big way, and Mr. Izenberg brings it all alive again.

As Ali was mowing down the old line of contenders a whole new crop was sprouting up. While none seemed an immediate threat to Ali, it was going to get interesting. Well, it did get interesting when Ali was stripped of his title for refusing to be inducted into the Army. With Ali sitting on the sidelines the heavyweight division still blossomed as many of the young prospects developed into serious contenders. By the time Ali returned to the ring boxing was a whole new picture. It had certainly become much more competitive and even more exciting.

Jerry Izenberg follows these events up until the implosion of Mike Tyson when it can be said heavyweight boxing was breathing its last. We are there for the three Ali v Frazier fights. The Foreman destruction of Frazier as well as Ken Norton’s win over and two controversial losses to Ali. And the rise of Larry Holmes, a fighter who never got the respect he deserved.

Mr. Izenberg’s insights are terrific, and his chapter on the Holmes v Cooney fight is particularly interesting. The racial overtones that fight took on were a sad episode, but it is good to know they were not shared by the fighters.

There are also many behind the scenes stories about the rise and fall of Mike Tyson that include one very personal moment the author had with the future champ as well as the story of Teddy Atlas’s break with D’Amato and Tyson. Boxing fans will love this.

And if that isn’t enough, Jerry takes you to the Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project in St. Louis for a visit with Michael Spinks. The visit took place at midnight in the notorious project and it took plenty of courage for Jerry to show up. It does result in a very interesting story.

Jerry Izenberg and Ali

If you want to know what competitive boxing is like. If you want to know what it is like to have evenly matched contenders fighting for the title. If you want to get a taste of the electricity that would fill the air all across the country when the Heavyweight Championship was on the line you will find it in Once There Were Giants. It’s unfortunate it will never be seen again.

Throwin’ The Cards At The Huntington

TopDog/Underdog

Through April 9th

Huntington Theatre Company

 

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Matthew J. Harris and Tyrone Mitchell Henderson (Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson)

Two African American brothers named Lincoln and Booth are sharing a one room flat. Lincoln has left his wife, or she has left him. Booth has taken him in and he is sleeping on the recliner. By day Lincoln plays Abraham Lincoln at the local arcade where people can pay for the privilege of assassinating him. “It’s a good sit down job with benefits.” Booth makes his way by boosting (shoplifting), and he is good at it.

Harris and Henderson are perfect together. They never miss a beat with their timing and movement. Both are a pleasure to watch.

In Topdog/Underdog now playing at the Huntington Theatre in Boston we see the two brothers as they deal with the cards they have been handed. In this case the cards are from a deck used for playing Three Card Monte, a slight of hand game used to hustle people out of money. Lincoln used to be very good at the game, one of the best, but gave it up after seeing a close friend shot to death by a disgruntled loser. Booth wants to learn how to be good at it and have the two of them team up and make a fortune. A life Lincoln does not want to return to, or at least he is trying to convince himself he doesn’t want to.

Tyrone Mitchell Henderson and Matthew J. Harris (Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson)

In the course of what seems to be a pretty basic story about two brothers making the best of what they have there are plenty of laughs. The quick banter between the two, Lincoln (Tyrone Mitchell Henderson) and Booth (Matthew J. Harris), is sharp and funny. There is a scene where Booth does a striptease taking off layer after layer of clothing he has boosted, providing two classy suits, one for himself and one for his brother. Matthew J. Harris has all the moves in a dance that seems it will never end, nor do we want it to.

While there are plenty of laughs, as things progress we begin to see the pain the two are in. Frustration, discouragement, loneliness, and anger all begin to show slowly and painfully. Lincoln, who is five years the elder, repeats how lucky he is to have his job so many times that it becomes clear he is trying to convince himself of it. He keeps resisting the temptation to go back to “throwin’ the cards”, but finally succumbs when he is replaced by a wax dummy at the arcade.

The banter and the hand movement makes you want to throw your money down and find where the black card has landed.

The two were abandoned by their parents when they were 16 and 11 years old but were each given a small inheritance. They also have a photo album that they, or at least Booth, keeps up to date. The brothers also talk about their parents quite a bit. It was not exactly a stable environment to be raised in, and they haven’t been left with a lot of options.

As I have written, this is a very funny play, but when the darkness reveals itself it is deep and painful. It is tragic watching Lincoln and Booth working with their very limited options. They do what most people end up doing when they are up against the wall; they return to what they know how to do. Unfortunately, that is not much of a choice for either of them.

Matthew J. Harris is fast, sharp, and fluid as Booth. He is filled with energy as he moves about the stage and talks about his future with his girlfriend Grace.

Tyrone Mitchell Henderson and Matthew J. Harris (Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson)

Tyronne Mitchell Henderson as Lincoln is subtle yet commanding on stage. His voice and movements convey wisdom and conflict; hope and much pain. Watching him show Booth how to set up a Three Card Monte scam is captivating. The banter and the hand movement makes you want to throw your money down and find where the black card has landed

Harris and Henderson are perfect together. They never miss a beat with their timing and movement. Both are a pleasure to watch.

Director Billy Porter has set the play, written by Suzan-Lori Parks, on a stage that is not time specific. It is a reminder of just how long people have struggled under such circumstances, and of how strong the pain is of trying to make it in life when the bottom rungs of the ladder have been removed. For all of the laughs and good natured back and forth in this work, you will leave the theatre wondering why things have to be this way and what can be done to prevent it from happening. People have many different answers. The trick is in finding the right ones.

Topdog/Underdog

by Suzan-Lori Parks

Directed by Billy Porter

Now through April 9thThe Huntington Theatre Company

Avenue of the Arts

BU Theatre

264 Huntington Ave., Boston

617.266.0800

huntingtontheatre.org

 

 

NEW REPERTORY THEATRE ANNOUNCES 2017-2018 SEASON: RESILIENCE

 IDEATION, OLEANNA, MAN OF LA MANCHA, UNVEILED, STATEMENTS, LONELY PLANET, RIPE FRENZY,
THE BAKELITE MASTERPIECE, TWO JEWS WALK INTO A WAR

Johnny Lee Davenport

Featuring nine productions, New Rep’s 2017-2018 season includes Ideation, a dark satirical comedy and Boston-area premiere; Oleanna, David Mamet’s groundbreaking drama, featuring Johnny Lee Davenport; Man of La Mancha, a revival of the Tony award-winning musical, featuring Maurice Emmanuel Parent; Unveiled, a one-woman show written and performed by Rohina Malik and co- produced with Stoneham Theatre; Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act, and engaging political drama by Athol Fugard; Lonely Planet, an evocative social drama by Steven Dietz; Ripe Frenzy, a site-specific drama and Boston-area premiere; The Bakelite Masterpiece, a riveting historical drama and Boston-area premiere; and Two Jews Walk into a War…, a hilarious existential comedy featuring Jeremiah Kissel.

Jeremiah Kissel

“The plays in our 2017-2018 season will showcase the remarkable resilience of the human spirit,” says Artistic Director Jim Petosa. “Theatre has the power to shed light in dark times, to illuminate and stimulate thought, and to provide a forum for us to come together as a community in conversation. It is our hope that these plays will inspire and engage as New Repertory Theatre continues to be a place where the vital ideas of our time can be discussed freely and openly.”

“Our 2016-2017 season was one of our most successful ever, and we owe a great amount of that success to our patrons,” says Managing Director Harriet Sheets. “We heard from so many audiences members throughout the year and

their passion and enthusiasm for our productions and mission was clear. It is because of that support that the Boston Globe recently called us ‘a potent force,’ and so we’re pleased to share another extraordinary lineup in 2017-2018.”

MainStage Theater & BlackBox Theater | Mosesian Center for the Arts 321 Arsenal Street | Watertown, MA 02472

617-923-8487 newrep.org

The Venerable Ogunquit Playhouse Celebrates its 85th Anniversary Season with a North American Premiere, a World Premiere, a Global Sensation and Broadway Hit Shows!

Ogunquit Playhouse

The Ogunquit Playhouse, one of the Northeast’s cultural jewels and a cornerstone of America’s theatrical heritage, is celebrating its 85th Anniversary Season, and, true to its legacy, the 2017 season will be filled with the newest and brightest musicals, world and national premieres and a timeless classic, all complete with top-notch professional casts and creative teams direct from Broadway, Los Angeles, and London. The milestone season runs from May 17 to October 29 and will feature the American and the world premieres of two brand-new musicals, From Here to Eternity and Heartbreak Hotel. It also includes one of the biggest international hit sensations of all time, Mamma Mia!, which will run for an unprecedented seven weeks. Rounding out the 2017 season are Bullets Over Broadway, the delightful and hilarious musical based on the acclaimed Woody Allen film, and Ragtime, one of the most powerful musicals ever adapted for the stage. The season will stretch to the holidays once again with the return of the hit show White Christmas in collaboration with The Music Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

“As we enter our 85th Anniversary Season, we are very focused on the legacy we are proud to preserve and its future so that it endures for generations to come. We are thrilled to bring a mix of pure entertainment along with some of the most compelling stories ever created for the stage, including two exciting new shows to American audiences,” said Ogunquit

Playhouse Executive Artistic Director Bradford Kenney. “This year seems to be the perfect time to share one of the greatest stories ever adapted for the stage, Ragtime. With its beautiful score, it tells the emotional story of three families set against the turmoil and swiftly changing culture of early twentieth century America, when immigrant families were striving to find their place in a new world. Heartbreak Hotel tells the story of a young Elvis Presley and the groundbreaking music he brought to the popular culture during the height of the civil rights movement. It is a true rags to riches tale set within a time period when America was once again challenged with changing times. And, we are so very honored to be working with the great Tim Rice on the development of his musical adaptation of one of the most influential World War II stories, From Here to Eternity.”

10 Main Street (Rte 1)Ogunquit, ME 03907 207.646.5511
ogunquitplayhouse.org

Frazier vs Ellis 1970

Jimmy Showed Incredible Courage

by Bobby Franklin
It was 1970 and Muhammad Ali was still in boxing exile. Ali had been deprived of a license to box by the commissions in all fifty states. The Ring Magazine continued to recognize Ali as the champion arguing a title can only change hands in the ring.

Meanwhile, two other fighters laid claim to a portion of the title. the argument being since Ali could not fight they were deprived of a shot at the championship. In 1967 the WBA sponsored a tournament to find a successor to Ali. Joe Frazier was invited to participate but declined. Jimmy Ellis did take part though he was considered a long shot at winning. He proved the pundits wrong when he went on to win the tournament by defeating Leotis Martin, Oscar Bonavena, and Jerry Quarry. If memory serves me right, Jimmy was the underdog in all three fights.

Frazier went on to win his share of the title with a knock out win over Buster Mathis. Joe’s portion of the crown was sanctioned by the New York State Athletic Commission and a few other governing bodies.

Five months after winning the WBA title Jimmy Ellis traveled to Sweden to defend it against Floyd Patterson. Patterson had taken part in the original tournament but lost a close decision to Jerry Quarry in a semi final match. Ellis, fighting with a broken nose sustained in the first round, won a hard fought 15 round decision over the former two time champion. Because of the damage to his nose Jimmy had to take some time off. When he was better there were proposals for fights against Henry Cooper and Gregorio Peralta, but neither materialized.

During the same period Frazier defended his portion of the title four times defeating Manuel Ramos, Oscar Bonavena, Dave Zyglewicz, and Jerry Quarry. Frazier was staying active and sharp.

The public, now not sure if Ali would ever return to the ring, began to clamor for a unification bout between Frazier and Ellis. You see, back then people were used to there being only one heavyweight champion at a time and having the title divided up just didn’t seem right.

At some point in late 1969 Ali had made a statement that he would never fight again. It was at this point Nat Fleischer, the editor at Ring Magazine, announced he would recognize the winner of an Ellis Frazier fight the undisputed champion.  Fleischer was the most respected voice in boxing and what he said carried a lot of meaning.

The bout was set for February 16, 1970 to take place at Madison Square Garden. As was the norm at the time it was to be a fifteen round affair, fifteen rounds or less.

Ellis entered the ring weighing 201 pounds to Joe’s 206 pounds. This was the heaviest weight Jimmy had ever fought at. Frazier was a 6 to 1 favorite though many in the press gave Ellis a very good chance at winning; after all, he had overcome the odds time and again. He also had something else going for him. Jimmy had tremendous power and speed in his right hand. He had dropped the iron jawed Bonavena twice with that punch. In two fights against Frazier lasting a total of 25 rounds Bonavena was never even staggered.

Both contestants entered the ring looking confident and fit. Ellis did look bigger than in previous encounters, but also looked strong. Frazier was lean and energized.

When the bell rang for the first round it was apparent what Ellis’s strategy was and why he came in at the heavier weight. Jimmy came out with a puncher’s stance. He feet were wider apart than usual, and even though he was moving, he was more setting himself up to be able to throw power shots as Joe came at him.

During that first round Ellis threw dynamite at the bobbing and weaving Frazier. Joe was hit on a number of occasions by the one/two combos Jimmy threw but none of the shots caught him squarely on the chin. While Ellis won the opening stanza Frazier had landed some telling left hooks to the body. Yank Durham, Joe’s trainer had taught his pupil years earlier the old boxing adage, “If you kill the body the head will die” and Joe learned the lesson well.

In the second round Frazier came out on fire. He was extremely aggressive and started crowding Jimmy. Ellis was able to tie him up but it took a lot of strength to do so. He was also taking more hooks to the body from Joe. It is also interesting to see Frazier throwing and landing the occasional left jab.

By round three Frazier was running on all cylinders. While Jimmy was still trying to land the one/two combos he was being kept busy just fending off Joe’s murderous assault. Frazier was firing off brutal combinations to the head and body. His attack was furious and by the end of the round Ellis had been staggered and his legs were very heavy.

Between rounds Jimmy was taking deep breaths while Joe looked like he had hardly broken a sweat.

The fourth round saw Frazier at his murderous best. Jimmy came out and immediately threw two right leads in a desperate attempt to turn the tide of battle. Frazier rolled under both of them and then went to work. He started with a vicious body attack and then moved to the head. At this point Ellis had lost the ability to move much on his legs. With about a minute left in the round Joe backed Jimmy up against the ropes and dropped him with a left hook. Ellis was up at nine and was now fighting on sheer courage.

Jimmy was trying hard to land that one good punch but he had nothing left. As the fighters moved to mid ring Joe stepped to his right and unleashed a brutal left hook to Jimmy’s chin. Ellis went down flat in his back. As the referee, Tony Perez, counted over him the bell rang. By some miracle Ellis staggered to his feet and walked to his corner. It was at this point, against protests from Ellis, that Angelo Dundee called the fight off. It was the right and decent thing to do. Jimmy’s courage could have gotten him killed.

Frazier would go on to defend his title against Bob Foster and then Muhammad Ali. Jimmy Ellis would continue fighting taking on Ali and much later have a rematch with Frazier. He would never again fight for the title.

Review: Our American Hamlet

The Booth Family:
Tragedians On And Off
The Stage

Our American Hamlet
The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

The world premiere of Our American Hamlet now playing at the Sorenson Center for the Arts at Babson College in Wellesley is a fascinating and intriguing look at a family that would have been remembered more for producing two of the greatest Shakespearean actors of the 19th Century, had it not been for actions of John Wilkes Booth who gained infamy by assassinating Abraham Lincoln. His words “Sic semper tyrannis”, shouted on the stage at Ford’s Theater that  April night would become one of the most remembered lines in theatre history. It would also cast a shadow over the Booth name, one that had survived scandals but nothing compared to this horrible deed. It is against this backdrop the play unfolds, and it is an interesting one.

Our American Hamlet is an evening of wonderful theatre and should not be missed.

In Jake Broder’s play we get to see all of the Booths in their greatness, their near madness, and their rivalries. It is a complicated story that Mr. Broder makes easy to follow by using the character of Adam Badeau, which he plays, as the narrator and as a friend of Edwin’s. He is very effective in keeping everything in perspective.

Jake Broder
Photo Credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

The play opens with Mr. Broder taking the stage next to a ghost light. He sets the action with a speech that is reminiscent of the opening scene of Henry V. We then see Edwin Booth as he is preparing back stage for his first performance since his brother’s infamous deed. Much of the play takes place backstage as the action moves to the past and the family history is told.

Jacob Fishel and Will Lyman
Photo Credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

The Booth story is both fascinating and intriguing, one of great success and much pain. Junius Brutus Booth, the family patriarch, is a man with a love for his liquor who appears to be bordering at times on madness. He is played by Will Lyman who takes the role to the edge without allowing it to slip into caricature. Mr. Lyman, who is one of Boston’s great actors, lives up to his reputation in this role.

Jacob Fishel
Photo Credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

As I watched Jacob Fishel in the role of Edwin Booth I was thinking what a challenge it must be to portray a man who is considered to be one of the greatest actors of all time. Mr. Fishel does not appear to be at all intimidated by this and is a joy to watch. The back and forth between Edwin and Junius is sprinkled with lines from Hamlet that are never overplayed and always appropriate to the action. Edwin spent years dealing with his father’s mood changes and alcoholism as well as verbal abuse. He also spent this time observing his father and learning the craft of acting. When the opportunity arose he was ready. Mr. Fishel and Mr. Lyman are at times intense in their roles opposite each other, an intensity that drives the action.

Joe Fria
Photo Credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

Joe Frias brings us a John Wilkes who has much youthful confidence but is lacking in the talent his brother and father possess. Mr. Frias does a fine job in showing the bitterness that develops as John becomes frustrated and then made to feel inadequate by Edwin who not only overshadows him on the stage but also has a penchant for making him feel inferior. How much all of this played into the madness that drove him to assassinate the president is something we will never know.

Brother June (Kelby Akin), sister Asia (Lucy Davenport), and mother Mary Ann Holmes (Maureen Keiller) are the rest of the family. June owns a theatre in California, Asia marries the owner of a theatre not for love but because it will help advance Edwin’s career, and Mary encourages John in his desires to make a career on the stage while at the same time throwing guilt onto Edwin.

The voices of the actors in this production are like music.

Steven Maler has done a fine job directing this original piece of theatre. It is interesting to have scenes where we, the audience, get to sit backstage looking out at a theater while the actors perform scenes from Shakespeare and watch from behind as they take their bows or have their breakdowns. There is even a bit of Our American Cousin performed. The final scene is a wonderful piece of theatre that overlaps the Hamlets and the Booths. It is very interesting to see.

Our American Hamlet is an evening of wonderful theatre and should not be missed.  You will enjoy, learn much, and leave asking many what if questions. The voices of the actors in this production are like music. They are clear and resonant. A joy to hear.

Putting on a new play is a risk for any theatre company and the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company is to be commended for staging this work. I highly recommend Our American Hamlet, you will not be disappointed.

Our American Hamlet
By Jake Border
Directed by Steven Maler
Through April 2nd at the Sorenson Center for the Arts
Babson College, Wellesley, MA
781.239.5660
www.commshakes.org

A note: Wellesley is not on another planet. The Sorenson Theater is very easy to find using GPS. There is plenty of free parking, and the theater is very comfortable with plenty of leg room. The Commonwealth Shakespeare has partnered with Babson College and is now able to stage productions all year long in addition to their free Shakespeare on the Common every summer.

Bobbie Steinbach Shines In Golda’s Balcony

Golda’s Balcony

The New Repertory Theatre

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Bobbie Steinbach
(Photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures)

The New Rep Theatre production of Golda’s Balcony playing through April 16th at the Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown is simply outstanding. The story about the life of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir that centers on the events surrounding the 1973 Arab-Israeli War also delves into the life of Golda Meir and the history of how Israel came into being.

If ever there was an actor suited for a role it is Bobbie Steinbach as Golda Meir.

The one person play directed by Judy Braha with Bobbie Steinbach in the title role relates Ms Meir’s journey from Russia to Milwaukee, where she married and became a school teacher, to her move to Israel where she was elected that country’s only female Prime Minister. It is a story of struggle and determination that is also filled with much humor. It is also a reminder of how close Israel came to being destroyed in 1973, and how Golda Meir through guts, determination, and hard nosed negotiations with the United States was able to secure the weapons needed to defend her country against its aggressors and prevent World War III. The philosopher Eric Hoffer once said “As it goes with Israel so will it go with all of us.” After watching this production there is little doubt about the truth of those words.

Bobbie Steinbach
(Photo: Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures)

If ever there was an actor suited for a role it is Bobbie Steinbach as Golda Meir. She is outstanding from start to finish, moving about the stage telling the story and recreating conversations. To say this is a riveting performance would not be an overstatement.

Golda’s Balcony with Ms Steinbach has everything you could want in an evening of theatre. A fine actor playing an amazing woman whose historical significance is not to be overlooked. The pain, the tears, the laughter, and conflict that comes when, as Ms Meir asks “What happens when idealism becomes power?”

It is a story that should be heard by all, and you won’t find a better telling of it than the one now playing at the New Rep. Don’t miss Bobbie Steinbach in Golda’s Balcony.

Golda’s Balcony
Playing through April 16th
The New Repertory Theatre at
The Mossesian Center For The Arts
Watertown
617.923.8487 newrep.org

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s “Shakespeare and Leadership Series” presents RICHARD II

Carling-Sorenson Center for the Arts at Babson College
Wednesday, April 5 at 7:00P

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, Founding Artistic Director Steven Maler, is pleased to present its annual Shakespeare and Leadership series, focusing this spring on the historical drama Richard II. The event will take place at the Carling-Sorenson Center for the Arts at Babson College on Wednesday, April 5, 2017.
The event is free and open to the public, but reservations are recommended since space is limited. To reserve a seat log onto https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/967285

 

The series features a script-in-hand reading of one of Shakespeare’s plays performed by renowned business, government, and community leaders alongside actors. The plays are cut down to run about 60 minutes. The reading is followed by a panel discussion by the participants addressing leadership questions and themes raised in the text. This year, the title will be Richard II, Shakespeare’s history play that focuses on disruption and the transition of leadership. Although the struggle for England’s throne was never simple, the kingdom lasted for over three hundred years before the sovereignty passed outside a direct familial line. But when an inept ruler – indecisive, frivolous and vain – angered the established nobility, one man interceded and cast doubt over the legitimacy of England’s leadership for generations to come.

 

Participants in the reading and discussion of Richard II will include Dr. Kerry Healey, President of Babson College; Jeff Gonneville, Chief Operating Officer of MBTA; Jon Abbott, President and CEO of WGBH; Harriet Cross, British Consul General in Boston; Donna Latson Gittens, CEO and Founder of MORE Advertising, Dennis Hong, Founder and CEO of ShawSpring Partners, and Yehuda Yakoov, Consul General of Israel. The event will be directed by CSC Associate Artistic Director Adam Sanders, and moderated by CSC Artistic Director Steven Maler.

 

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company (CSC), best known for its annual free performances on Boston Common, is a non-profit theater organization founded in 1996, dedicated to presenting vital and contemporary productions of William Shakespeare and other dramatic works to the people of Greater Boston, and to exploring Shakespeare’s work with youth in innovative and creative ways. CSC’s Free Shakespeare on the Common has served over one million audience members over its 22-year history, and has become a beloved summer tradition enjoyed by nearly 75,000 people annually. In 2013, CSC became the Theatre-in-Residence at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and has been able to expand its offerings beyond the annual Boston Common production. Starting this season, CSC will present fully staged productions in Babson’s Sorenson Center, as well as readings and other events. CSC fulfills its educational mission with actor-training programs for pre-professional and professional actors through the summer Apprentice program and CSC2.

To learn more about these programs, visit commshakes.org.

HUNTINGTON THEATRE COMPANY ANNOUNCES 2017-2018 SEASON – EIGHT RIVETING STORIES, INCLUDING REIMAGINED CLASSICS, A RENOWNED MUSICAL REVIVAL & TIMELY NEW WORKS

THE 2017-2018 SEASON INCLUDES THE DEFINITIVE PRODUCTION OF AN ACCLAIMED SONDHEIM REVIVAL, A RE-INVIGORATED 17th CENTURY COMEDY, A MAJOR REVIVAL OF A CARYL CHURCHILL CONTEMPORARY CLASSIC, AND MORE, TO BE PERFORMED AT THE HUNTINGTON AVENUE THEATRE AND CALDERWOOD PAVILION AT THE BCA

(BOSTON) – Huntington Theatre Company, Boston’s leading professional theatre, announces its 2017-2018 season. The Huntington has long been an anchor cultural institution of Huntington Avenue, the Avenue of the Arts, and will remain so on a permanent basis. The Huntington’s upcoming season will include productions in the Huntington Avenue Theatre (known as the BU Theatre through June 30), and plans are underway to convert the theatre into a first-rate, modern venue with expanded services to audiences, artists, and the community. The 36th season will include four plays at the Huntington Avenue Theatre, as well as three plays at the Wimberly Theatre and one special event in the Roberts Studio Theatre, both located in the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA in the South End.

The season will comprise of world-class productions of classics made current and exciting new work created by the finest local and national talent. The lineup features a definitive production of a legendary Stephen Sondheim musical, directed by the acclaimed actor-director Maria Friedman; a new play by Huntington Playwriting Fellow Ken Urban about chance encounters and redemption; a brilliant classic by Molière directed by Huntington Artistic Director Peter DuBois; a revival of one of 2016’s Best Plays of the Year by Huntington Playwright-in-Residence Melinda Lopez; a riveting and timely new play from Dominque Morisseau; Liesl Tommy’s fresh interpretation of a Caryl Churchill contemporary classic; and from a renowned Hollywood reporter, the world premiere play about famed playwright Arthur Miller and the son he refused to acknowledge; plus one show to be announced soon.

“I woke up the morning after the election and knew the 2017-2018 season needed to be full of theatrically bold, smart, and politically-minded work. I also knew we would all need several laughs and to be reminded of our common humanity,” says Huntington Artistic Director Peter DuBois. “The world-class artists we have assembled to tell these timely, human stories are some of the best in the country and beyond, and as always the Huntington experience will leave audiences equal parts inspired, transported, and entertained.”

THE 2017-2018 SEASON LINEUP
· Merrily We Roll Along: Director Maria Friedman recreates her stunning London production of Stephen Sondheim’s legendary musical for Boston audiences; winner of the Olivier Award for Best Musical; at the Huntington Avenue Theatre, September 8 – October 15, 2017

 
· A Guide for the Homesick: a powerful chance encounter between two strangers offers the possibility of connection and redemption in this arresting new drama by Huntington Playwriting Fellow Ken Urban; directed by Colman Domingo; at the Wimberly Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA, October 6 – November 5, 2017

 
· Tartuffe: devious Tartuffe charms Orgon and his household – will they see through the con in time? Molière spins hypocrisy into high comedy in this hilarious and biting satire, one of the world’s great plays; directed by Huntington Artistic Director Peter DuBois; at the Huntington Avenue Theatre, November 10 – December 10, 2017

 
· Skeleton Crew: a makeshift family of auto workers gather in the breakroom of the last small auto plant in Detroit in this riveting and timely new play from Dominque Morisseau; at the Huntington Avenue Theatre, March 2 – March 31, 2018

 
· Top Girls: career-driven Marlene has just landed the top job at a London employment agency in Caryl Churchill’s dazzling contemporary classic about the sacrifices required to be a “top girl” in a man’s world; directed by Huntington favorite Liesl Tommy (A Raisin in the Sun, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Ruined); at the Huntington Avenue Theatre, April 20 – May 20, 2018

 
· Fall: renowned Hollywood reporter Bernard Weinraub explores the fascinating untold story of celebrated American playwright Arthur Miller and the son he refused to acknowledge; directed by Huntington Artistic Director Peter DuBois; at the Wimberly Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA, May 18 – June 17, 2018

 

PLUS A SPECIAL EVENT:
Mala, a powerful personal drama written and performed by Huntington Playwright-in-Residence Melinda Lopez (Becoming Cuba, Sonia Flew) and named the Best of 2016 by The Boston Globe and WBUR’s The ARTery when it premiered at ArtsEmerson; directed by David Dower; at the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA, January 6 – January 28, 2018
One more show in the 2017-2018 season will be announced soon.

The Who & The What, A Seriously Funny Play

The Who & The What

Huntington Theatre Company
Calderwood Pavilion, South End
Through May 7th

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Aila Peck and Rom Barkhordar
(Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson)

There is something special happening on the stage of the Calderwood Pavilion. The Who & The What, by Ayad Akhtar and directed by M. Bevin O’Gara, is the story of Afzal (Rom Barkhordar) and his two daughters Mahwish (Turna Mete) and Zarina (Aila Peck). Afzai is from Pakistan and has made his home in the United States where he has raised Mahwish and Zarina. He lost his wife to cancer a few years earlier and misses her deeply but has an upbeat outlook on life. He has worked hard and become successful moving from driving a cab to owning 30% of the taxis in Atlanta. Wth his success he has provided his family with a good life. He is a loving father and wants only the best for his offspring. Afzai is also a conservative Muslim who has raised his daughters in the faith.

Rom Barkhordar and Joseph Marrella
(Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson)

Mahwish is studying nursing and Zarina has graduated from Harvard and is now writing a novel about “women and Islam”. Afzal is taking a rather unique approach in the culture of arranged marriages by opening an account on muslimlove.com with Zarina’s profile and meets with prospective suitors for his daughter. This results in a very funny meeting at the local coffee shop wth Eli (Joseph Marrella) an American convert to Islam. While this certainly is a great intrusion into the life of Zarina you can’t help but be taken by the devotion Afzai has for both his daughter and his religion.

The Who & The What is a must see play.

While Zarina is devoted to her religion she is also questioning it. Her reading of the Koran is at odds with Afzai’s and this results in some heated, and quite humorous discussions on the subject. Compromises are made and Zarina does fall in love with Eli. All seems well until her novel entitled The Who & The What is published. In it Zarina questions many of the interpretations particularly the requirement by many that women wear a veil. This creates a conflict between Zarina and her father who is unable to accept these views and feels it reflects negatively on the family and may result in a loss of faith as well as exposing them to danger.

Zarina and Mahwish are devoted to each other and their father, which makes it painful to watch as this rupture occurs in the family as well as the strain placed on Eli and his relationship with Zarina.

Rom Barkhordar is simply outstanding as Afzai.

This is a play that very easily could have slipped into political correctness and sermonizing, but it certainly does not. It is an honest look at the conflicts, sometimes very deep, that can drive wedges between family members. Yes, this is a funny play, but it is also deep and moving. It is also very human. Rom Barkhordar is simply outstanding as Afzai. His rich voice and emotion fill the stage. His humor is natural and wonderfully delivered. And while audience members may cringe at some of Afzai’s views about the roles of men and women, Mr. Barkhordar leaves us with no doubt about the decency and love this man possesses.

The Who & The What is not a play that preaches to the audience. Ayad Akhtar does not give us the Ozzie and Harriet version of a Muslim family. He is honest and open about the conflicts that take place in a modern Muslim family that has assimilated into American culture without losing their identity. It is something people of all religions can be touched by. I know I certainly was.

In Boston, a city rich in good theatre, The Who & The What is a must see play. You will leave the theater happy that you spent time with this at times crazy but very interesting, warm, and touching family. Don’t miss it.

huntingtontheatre.org 617.266.0800

Talking Boxing With Jerry Izenberg The Mob, D’Amato, Liston, Ali and Frazier

 

by Bobby Franklin

Jerry Izenberg

Jerry Izenberg has been covering boxing for sixty-five years, forty-five of which have been spent with the Newark Star Ledger. He has also covered fifty Kentucky Derbies, and has attended and reported on all fifty Super Bowls. In his latest book, Once There Were Giants, he looks back at what he calls The Golden Era of Heavyweight Boxing, the period that began with Sonny Liston’s destruction of Floyd Patterson and ended when Mike Tyson decided to make a dinner out of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

Mr. Izenberg covers a lot of ground in his book in which he discusses the many characters that populate the world of boxing. I had the opportunity to talk with him by phone from his home in Henderson, Nevada.

The 86 year old veteran sports writer still sounds strong and sharp as we begin our conversation. In his book Mr. Izenberg gives a brief but detailed history of mob involvement in the sport. I assumed he kept his distance from these rough characters. He tells me “Not always. I wasn’t a partner. I used them as much as I could. Their information was much more reliable.”

I mention Cus D’Amato, the man who proclaimed himself to be the White Knight riding into town to clean out the crooks from the sport . That is proving to be a myth as Mr. Izenberg points out in his book and reiterates in our conversation. “Cus was mobbed up as well. That’s what was so ludicrous. He would say ‘I’m fighting the mob, I’m fighting the mob’.” “Well, what about Charlie Black whose real name was Charles Antonucci? He was the cousin of Fat Tony Salerno who would become the boss of the Genovese Crime family. Any foreign fighter had to have an agent when he came over to fight in this country Charlie Black would act as one.”

As Mr. Izenberg points out this was useful for Cus when he brought over Brian London and Ingemar Johansson to fight Patterson. Fat Tony Salerno also served as protection for D’Amato. In contrast to what Cus wanted people to believe he was just replacing one mob with another.

I bring up the point that boxing was more competitive when the old mob was running it. “Frankie Carbo who was a murderer and a thug nevertheless would have been a great commissioner. He never could lose and on that basis he picked the fights he wanted. He had the winner no matter what.” This often resulted in great fights.

D’Amato used his power to protect his fighters from tough opponents making for much less competitive matches. Cus was worse? “Well he was different. He was so crazy, he was absolutely nuts. This facade of fighting the mob ruined the best part of Jose Torre’s career. He would have been one of the great middleweights of all time if given the chance to fight better opponents.”

Mob control of boxing ended about the time Liston won the title. Scandals and investigations had pretty much broken the back of organized crime in the sport. “There were still mob guys who had fighters, but there was no cabal. That’s why the era was so good. You could fight whomever you wanted to fight.”

There was another reason the era was so good: Mr. Izenberg asks rhetorically, “Look, how many good trainers are left? Show me somebody who could go through school without a teacher. That’s what is at the heart of the problem.”

Ali And Jerry

We move on to the subject of the second Ali/Liston bout that was originally scheduled to take place in Boston but was canceled three days before when Ali was diagnosed with a strangulated hernia. “ Liston was in shape for that fight. I would have picked him. I don’t think he’d ever been in better shape then he was for that fight and it was impossible at his age to get back into that shape, he couldn’t do it”

The match was rescheduled for Lewiston, Maine and now lives on in infamy. I ask Mr. Izenberg what happened up there. “He (Ali) could have shoved him. He could have hit him with a middle finger and he would have gone down because he was so off balance. He made a decision when he was down. He looked up and saw this maniac who wouldn’t go to a neutral corner standing over him and he thought ‘If I get up he’ll kill me’.”

Jumping ahead a number of years we turn to the rivalry between Ali and Joe Frazier. When it comes to the verbal abuse Frazier took from Ali, the name calling and insults such as “Uncle Tom” and calling him a Gorilla. Mr. Izenberg tells me “It never healed. They had a phony reconciliation but it never healed.” On the anniversary of the Manilla fight Mr. Izenberg contacted a number of people involved with the fight to do a “then and now” story. In Mr. Izenberg’s conversation with Ali, the former champ told him, “I was just trying to sell tickets. Tell him if I offended his family I’m sorry.”

When Mr. Izenberg called Frazier to discuss the fight he mentioned Ali’s apology. Joe’s response: “He said that to you? Tell him to take his apology and stick it up his ass.” It is also interesting that Frazier mentioned the famous story about the young Cassius Clay first going to a boxing gym because his new bicycle was stolen. Joe said to Mr. Izenberg “He got a bicycle. I was working in the fields when he got that bicycle. I never had a bicycle.”

Mr. Izenberg tells me Beaufort, SC was named the Hunger Capitol of America. “It really (Ali and Frazier) was a case of the Black Middle Class and the Black Poverty Class.”

Some thoughts on other Ali fights: “Ali/Frazier II was a terrible fight that could have gone either way.” The Ali/Shavers fight: “I think it was the worse beating he (Ali) ever took. He admitted to me he was unconscious on his feet. Ali was too tough for his own good.” The Thriller in Manilla: “They were fighting for the championship of each other, and it was never settled.” And on Ali staying in the game too long, “I always thought he should have quit after Zaire (the Foreman bout).”
As we wind down our conversation he tells me “You can’t find better stories in the universe than in boxing. You have to write it for the names. Names like Goodtime Charlie Friedman and Willie The Beard Gilzenberg.”

I agree that boxing is the most colorful sport to write about, and Jerry Izenberg has lived through it’s best times. He tells me “This is the first, last, and only boxing book I will write.” I hope he is like most fighters who tell us they are retiring and don’t. I am sure that in addition to the wonderful stories he has included in Once There Were Giants, he has many more tales to tell.

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company Presents BECKETT IN BRIEF: Rough for Radio II • The Old Tune Krapp’s Last Tape

Directed by James Seymour
April 27 – May 7
Carling-Sorenson Center at Babson College, Wellesley, MA

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, Founding Artistic Director Steven Maler, presents BECKETT IN BRIEF – Rough for Radio II • The Old Tune • Krapp’s Last Tape, directed by James Seymour, featuring Will Lyman, Ken Baltin and Ashley Risteen. The production, presented by BabsonARTS, begins performances on April 27 and runs through May 6 at the Carling-Sorenson Center at Babson College, 19 Babson College Drive, Wellesley, MA.

Performance dates: April 27, 28, 29, May 3, 4, 5, 6 at 7:30PM; April 30, May 6 and 7 at 3:00PM

Among Samuel Beckett’s most autobiographical works, Rough for Radio II, The Old Tune, and Krapp’s Last Tape explore universal questions of creativity, memory, aging, sex, friendship, and the proximity of death. These plays from his mid-career are traditionally viewed as individual statements, but the three provide a wealth of impressions when placed in conversation with one another, giving us a better understanding of the legendary playwright’s intellect, passion, and temperament.

Ken Baltin (Cream/Fox)’s credits in the Boston area include Death of a Salesman, Glengarry Glen Ross, Lost in Yonkers, Laughter on the 23rd Floor (Lyric Stage); Kite Runner, Eurydice, Waiting for Godot, American Buffalo (New Repertory); Deported-a dream play, King of the Jews, Permanent Whole Life (Boston Playwrights); Operation Epsilon (Nora Theatre); Copenhagen, A Screenwriter’s Daughter (Vineyard Playhouse); Oleanna (Merrimack Repertory) Brooklyn Boy (SpeakEasy); Last Night of Ballyhoo, I Ought to be in Pictures, Yom Kippur in Da Nang (Jewish Theatre of New England). He teaches acting and directs at The Boston Conservatory at Berklee.

Will Lyman

Will Lyman (Krapp/Gorman) was recently seen as Junius Brutus Booth in CSC’s production of Our American Hamlet at The Carling- Sorenson Center at Babson College, is well known to Boston audiences for his work with CSC, of which he is a founding Board Member (King Lear, Prospero, Claudius, Brutus); Israeli Stage (Oh God, Ulysses on Bottles); the Huntington Theatre (All My Sons, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Dead End); New Rep (Long Day’s Journey into Night, Exits and Entrances, Clean House, Ice Breaker); SpeakEasy Stage Company (The Dying Gaul); Wheelock Family Theatre (To Kill a Mockingbird); Boston Playwrights’ Theatre (The Wrestling Patient in collaboration with SpeakEasy Stage Company, King of the Jews, A Girl’s War); and The Nora Theatre Company (Equus, Operation Epsilon). He is a multiple recipient of the Norton and IRNE Awards and was honored with the Howard Keel Award for service to the Screen Actors Guild. He was given 2013’s Norton Award for Sustained Excellence and 2015’s NETC Award. Television credits include “Crossbow,” “Threat Matrix,” and “Commander in Chief.” Movies for television include Meltdown, Our Fathers, Three Sovereigns for Sarah, and George Washington; he appeared in the films A Perfect Murder, The Siege, Welcome to the Dollhouse, Mystic River, Little Children (narrator), What Doesn’t Kill You. Mr. Lyman has been the narrator of the PBS public affairs program “Frontline” since its second season and has appeared as himself on The Simpsons.

Ashley Risteen (Stenographer) was last seen by Boston audiences in Gloucester Stage Co.’s Man in Snow, which moved on to a run at the La MaMa Experimental Theatre in Manhattan this past November. Her previous Boston credits include Speakeasy Stage Co.’s Appropriate,  Zeitgeist Stage Co.’s Neighborhood Watch, Big Meal, Cakewalk, and Hub Theatre Co.’s 6 Hotels. A native of the North Shore, she has been active in the Newburyport theatre community for many years, notably in the Firehouse Center’s The 39 Steps, and the Actor’s Studio’s Speed-The-Plow.

James Seymour (Director) has appeared in leading roles on Broadway (I Love My Wife), Off-Broadway (Small Craft Warnings, Moonchildren), on television (“Kate and Allie”) and at major regional theatres, including The Long Wharf Theatre, Trinity Repertory Company, and Portland Stage. Directed productions include All the Way Home at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, Road at The Marymount Manhattan Theatre, I Love My Wife at Detroit’s Birmingham Theatre, The Bacchae at UNC-Chapel Hill, and over twenty-five productions for The Island Theatre at the University of Guam. He has also taught Theatre, English Composition, Film, and Literature at Marymount Manhattan College, Queens College, CUNY, The Colorado College, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. His play Two Lovers (A Taotaomona Tale and I Domino) was produced in Guam. Currently a lecturer in English and Film at the University of Maine, Jim was raised in New Jersey and spent most of his life in New York City, after receiving his BFA from Boston University’s College of Fine Arts and Ph.D. from the Graduate Center at The City University of New York.

www.commshakes.org  781.239.5660

New Repertory Theatre Presents The Gift Horse by Lydia R. Diamond, Directed by Jim Petosa April 22 through May 14

 

“New Repertory Theatre is delighted to present the Boston-area premiere of one of playwright Lydia R. Diamond’s earliest works,” says Artistic Director Jim Petosa. “When I first approached her about a project, she suggested a revival of The Gift Horse. The result is a heartfelt and funny play that shines with Lydia’s unique humor and wit.”
“As our season comes to a conclusion, I’m pleased to welcome back several New Rep favorites,” says Managing Director Harriet Sheets. “Lewis D. Wheeler and Maurice Emmanuel Parent both return after many appearances on our stage, Cloteal L. Horne first worked with New Rep’s educational touring program Classic Repertory Company, and Obehi Janice performed in our Next Voices New Play Reading Series last spring. And I’d like to welcome Zachary Rice and Alejandro Simoes to New Rep for the first time!“

A humorous and introspective Boston-area premiere, The Gift Horse follows Ruth, a successful teacher and artist, whose quick and easy wit masks a painful childhood. With the support of her best friend Ernesto and therapist Brian she finally confronts her tumultuous past in a play infused with nationally-acclaimed playwright Lydia R. Diamond’s distinctive voice.
newrep.org 617.923.8487 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown

SpeakEasy Productions Presents The Bridges Of Madison County May 6 through June 3

 

In The Roberts Studio Theatre At The Stanford Calderwood Pavilion At The Boston Center For The Arts

 

From May 6 – June 3, 2017, SpeakEasy Stage Company will proudly present the Boston Premiere of THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, a lush, lyrical musical by Tony Award-winners Marsha Norman (book) and Jason Robert Brown (music & lyrics), based on the best-selling novel by Robert James Waller.

Winner of two 2014 Tony Awards including Best Original Score, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY tells the story of Francesca Johnson, a beautiful Italian woman who married an American soldier to escape the war, and now leads a simple but dispassionate life on an Iowa farm. On the day her family departs for a trip to the 1965 State Fair, she is surprised by Robert Kincaid, a ruggedly handsome National Geographic photographer who randomly pulls into her driveway seeking directions. A quick ride to photograph one of the famed covered bridges of Madison County sparks a soul-stirring affair for the couple, whose lives are forever altered by this chance meeting.

M. Bevin O’Gara returns to SpeakEasy to direct THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. Her previous SpeakEasy credits include directing the New England Premieres of appropriate, A Future Perfect, Tribes (Elliot Norton and IRNE Awards for Best Production), and Clybourne Park.

Ms. O’Gara’s artistic team includes Music Director Matthew Stern, a recent IRNE nominee for his work on SpeakEasy’s productions of Violet (2016) and The Scottsboro Boys; and Choreographer Misha Shields, a Boston Conservatory graduate now working extensively in both New York and Boston.

Norton Award-winner Jennifer Ellis will play Francesca Johnson, and Wisconsin-native and Boston University alumnus Christiaan Smith will play Robert Kincaid.

Featured in the cast are Peter S. Adams, Rachel Belleman, Christopher Chew, Kerry A. Dowling, Katie Elinoff, Will McGarrahan, Taylor Okey, Ellen Peterson, Nicolas Siccone, Edward Simon, and Alessandra Valea.

The design team is Cameron Anderson (scenic); Mark Nagle (costumes); Annie Wiegand (lighting), David Reiffel (sound), and Garrett Herzig (projections).

THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY will run for five weeks, from May 6 through June 3, in the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End.

Ticket prices start at $25, with discounts for students, seniors, and persons age 25 and under.

For tickets or more information, the public is invited to call the box office at 617.933.8600 or visit www.SpeakEasyStage.com .

Seaglass Performing Arts, Under The Direction Of Jean Strazdes, Announces Its 2017 Spring Concerts: An Evening of Spirituals and Heavenly Broadway

 Saturday, May 6, 2017 Christ Church
Dane Street, Kennebunk 7:00 pm

Sunday, May 7, 2017
Wells High School Auditorium
200 Sanford Road (Rtes. 9 and 109), Wells 3:00 pm

The concert will include much loved spirituals as well as music from familiar Broadway productions (Godspell, Ragtime, Rent, Sister Act, West Side Story and more) and movies (Shrek and Working Girl). There will be two performances, the first on Saturday evening, May 6th, at Christ Church in Kennebunk; the second on Sunday, May 7th, at the Wells High School Auditorium at 3:00 pm.

 

Tickets are available through Seaglass [at] gwi [dot] net ; via phone at 207.985.8747; and at Morse Hardware on Post Road in Wells. Tickets are also available at the door.

Prices: $15/adult; $12/senior and student

Don’t Wait To See These Plays By Samuel Beckett

Beckett In Brief

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company

Sorenson Center For The Arts

Babson College, Wellesley, MA

Through May 7th

 

Directed by James Seymour

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Will Lyman (Krapp)Photo Credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

Samuel Beckett’s works are not easy to understand, but don’t let that stop you from seeing it. While they are filled with ambiguity it is fun trying to figure out what the meaning is behind them, or if there is any at all. I have been enjoying Beckett’s plays and novels since I was young and yet I am just beginning to crack the meaning, or what I interpret as the meaning, of some of them. You may wonder how I could possibly enjoy work that is not clear to me. Well, that is the fun in it. While it is difficult it is also fascinating, as well as funny, heartbreaking, soul-searching, and intriguing.

The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company in collaboration with Babson Arts is currently presenting three of Becket’s short plays, Rough For Radio II, The Old Tune, and Krapp’s Last Tape at the Sorenson Center for the Arts in Wellesley. If you have never seen a Samuel Beckett play this is a great opportunity to be introduced to his work.

Ashley Risteen (Stenographer) and Will Lyman (Animator)Photo Credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

With a cast led by Will Lyman (Animator, Gorman, and Krapp), and including Ken Baltin (Fox and Cream), and Ashley Risteen (Stenographer) you couldn’t ask for better talent to present this work. Combine this with the fine direction of James Seymour, and having it set in a very intimate theatre, there are only four rows of seats, and you are in for a special evening of theatre.

Rough For Radio II, which all takes place in silhouette behind a screen is about an artists struggle to dig into his creative spirit. The piece is a conversation between Animator and Stenographer with the voice of Fox that rises up from time to time. It is the most difficult of the three plays to understand but oh so interesting to watch.

Will Lyman (Gorman) and Ken Baltin (Cream)Photo Credit: Evgenia Eliseeva

The Old Tune and Krapp’s Last Tape deal with memories and dealing with getting old, lookingback, and regrets. Will Lyman and Ken Baltin are superb as two old friends who sit at what could be a bus stop and talk about old times. Their memories conflict at times, but memories are very often different from what actually happened. There is something very familiar that comes across when listening to these two.

Krapp’s Last Tape is both disturbing and funny. In typical Beckett fashion there is a bit of slapstick involved. The old banana peel is still good for a laugh. Will Lyman, as Krapp, goes it alone in this piece. Well, not quite alone, he also the voice himself (Krapp) to whom he is listening on tape that he made years before. It is interesting hearing the younger Krapp talking about his regrets and the futility of life yet filled with the energy to push forward in contrast the the older Krapp who is still feeling that same futility but is now tired and appears to have not much hope but is not short on regrets as he makes a new tape. Is it his last tape or just the last one up to that time?

Don’t be afraid of seeing this work. I would advise you not to overthink it. Sit and just let it play out in front of you. Better yet, bring some friends along as you will really enjoy discussing it afterwards. You will be surprised by how much you start to uncover as you talk about it.

Take a shot at Beckett In Brief, you will find it interesting and fun.

So, I have now written a review about three of Samuel Beckett’s plays and I am not even sure I know what the heck I have been talking about. I do know that it was a terrific evening of theatre. I don’t recommend everything I see, as my goal with this column is to get people interested in attending theatre who may have never gone, or who haven’t gone in some time. While this may seem like an unlikely work to recommend for a first time theatre goer I feel comfortable in urging my readers to go. Take a shot at Beckett In Brief, you will find it interesting and fun.

Commonwealth Shakespeare, 781.239.5880

www.commshakes.org

Lyric Stage Announces Cast For Camelot

The Lyric Stage has announced the cast for Camelot which plays May 19th through June 25th. This fresh new adaptation directed by Spiro Veloudas will feature Ed Hoopman as Arthur, along with Maritza Bostic as Guenevere, and Jared Troilo in the part of Lancelot.

Rory Boyd, Jordan Clark, Garrett Inman, Jeff Marcus, Margarita Bamaris Martinez, Davron S. Monroe, Brad Foster Reinking, and Kira Troilo round out the cast.

This is Spiro’s first work since his recent health issues and we are all looking forward to seeing the Master in action again.

Lyric Stage, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston. www.lyricstage.com 617.585.5678

HUNTINGTON THEATRE COMPANY PRESENTS THE COMEDY RIPCORD BY DAVID LINDSAY-ABAIRE

BEGINS FRIDAY, MAY 26 AT THE HUNTINGTON THEATRE COMPANY, CALDERWOOD PAVILLION

The Huntington Theatre Company will present the uproarious comedy Ripcord by Pulitzer Prize winner and Boston native David Lindsay-Abaire (Good People, Rabbit Hole) and directed by Jessica Stone (Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike). Performances begin Friday, May 26 at the South End / Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA.

“With Ripcord, we welcome back two comedic geniuses to the Huntington: Boston native David Lindsay-Abaire and Jessica Stone,” says Huntington Artistic Director Peter DuBois. “David is among the greatest playwrights ever to come out of the City of Boston and the author of our smash-hit about Southie, Good People. Jessica Stone is a lauded actress and the director of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. With this kind of genius at work, it is no surprise that this play is laugh-out-loud funny with a truly moving underbelly. It’s The Odd Couple with old women, nursing home shenanigans, and skydiving – what’s not to love?”

In this deliciously inappropriate new comedy, cantankerous Abby is forced to share her room in assisted living with endlessly chipper Marilyn. The two women make a seemingly harmless bet that quickly escalates into a dangerous and hilarious game of one-upmanship, revealing hidden truths that neither wants exposed.

“I’m thrilled to be back in my hometown, and back at the Huntington which has been my theatrical home in Boston,” says playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. “I’m especially excited that Huntington audiences are going to get to see Ripcord, which is another kind of homecoming for me, as it’s a return to my earlier style of playwriting – more overtly comic, outrageous, whimsical, and a little vicious. But most importantly, of all my plays, Ripcord is my mother’s favorite, so I’m happy that she’ll only have to travel a few T stops to see it.”

“I’m so excited to be jumping into the absurd and moving world of David Lindsay-Abaire,” says director Jessica Stone. “The Huntington and Boston both have ties to this artist and his unique perspective. I look forward to creating my own and to the discoveries that follow and to being back at the Huntington where some of my favorite theatrical experiences have taken shape.”

ABOUT THE ARTISTS
The cast includes Nancy E. Carroll (I Was Most Alive with You; Rapture, Blister, Burn; and Good People at the Huntington) as Abby, a short-tempered woman who is determined not to share a room at her assisted living facility. Despite her efforts, she is paired with the gregarious and optimistic Marilyn played by Annie Golden (“Orange is the New Black” and the film Hair). Marilyn’s daughter Colleen is played by Laura Latreille (Ryan Landry’s “M” and Mauritius at the Huntington) and her son-in-law Derek is played by Richard Prioleau (A Raisin in the Sun at Seattle Repertory Theatre). Eric T. Miller (Awake and Sing! at the Huntington) appears as a figure from one of the women’s past, and the young resident aid Scotty is played by Ugo Chukwu (The Bad and the Better at The Amoralists).

David Lindsay-Abaire (Playwright) is a Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright, screenwriter, lyricist, and librettist. His plays Good People and Rabbit Hole have both been produced at the Huntington. Rabbit Hole was honored with the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, five Tony Award nominations, and the Spirit of America Award. Good People premiered on Broadway and received two Tony Award nominations and the 2011 New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play of the Year. Most recently, his production of Ripcord was produced at Manhattan Theatre Club. Other plays include Fuddy Meers, Kimberly Akimbo, Wonder of the World, and A Devil Inside. Mr. Lindsay-Abaire is also a screenwriter, lyricist, and librettist. He has been nominated for a Grammy Award and two Tony Awards (Best Score and Best Book of a Musical) for his work on Shrek the Musical and the Kleban Award as America’s most promising musical theatre lyricist. Mr. Lindsay-Abaire’s screen credits include the film adaptation of Rabbit Hole (starring Nicole Kidman, Academy Award nomination), Rise of the Guardians (Dreamworks), and Oz: The Great and Powerful (Disney).

Jessica Stone (Director) returns to the Huntington after directing Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike, based on Nicholas Martin’s Broadway direction. She has worked as an actress on Broadway and Off Broadway, and in television and film, for the last 25 years. She performed in the Huntington’s productions of She Loves Me, Betty’s Summer Vacation, and Springtime for Henry (director Nicholas Martin). Ms. Stone’s directing credits include A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Two River Theater, Williamstown Theatre Festival), 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Bucks County Playhouse), Arms and the Man (The Old Globe), Absurd Person Singular (Two River Theater), Charlotte’s Web (TheatreWorksUSA), and June Moon and Last of the Red Hot Lovers (Williamstown Theatre Festival).

The Huntington’s production of Ripcord features scenic design by Tobin Ost (Newsies on Broadway); costume design by Gabriel Berry (Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike at the Huntington); lighting design by David J. Weiner (Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike, Butley, and Springtime for Henry at the Huntington); sound design and composition by Mark Bennett (A Confederacy of Dunces and Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike at the Huntington); and projection design by Lucy Mackinnon (I Was Most Alive with You at the Huntington). Production stage manager is Emily F. McMullen and stage manager is Kevin Schlagle.

The Huntington’s 2016-2017 season is sponsored through the generosity of Sheryl and Gerard Cohen, Carol G. Deane, and J. David Wimberly. The production sponsors for Ripcord are Bette and John Cohen.

www.huntingtontheatre.org  Phone: 617.266.0800

The International Hit Sensation Mamma Mia! Kicks off the Ogunquit Playhouse’s 85th Anniversary Season

Runs From May 17th through July 1st

The Ogunquit Playhouse kicks off its 85th Anniversary Season with the international smash hit Mamma Mia!, dazzling audiences on stage from May 17 to July 1. Over sixty million people from around the globe have fallen in love with the characters, the enchanting story and ABBA’s timeless music which makes Mamma Mia! the ultimate feel-good show! This sunny, funny, international sensation unfolds on a Greek island paradise when on the eve of her wedding, a young woman’s quest to discover the identity of her father brings three men from her mother’s past back to the island they last visited twenty years ago. Non-stop laughs and explosive dance numbers, along with the magic of ABBA’s hit songs that include “Super Trouper,” “Dancing Queen,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “Take a Chance on Me,” “Thank You for the Music,” “Money, Money, Money,” “The Winner Takes It All,” and “SOS,” combine to make this enchanting show a trip down the aisle you’ll never forget!

A cast of Broadway veterans will headline the show including Kate Chapman, Jodie Langel, Angie Schworer, David Engel, Fred Inkley, and star of stage and screen Patrick Cassidy.

Starring as Donna is Jodie Langel, who is making her Ogunquit Playhouse debut. Langel has performed on Broadway and National Tours as Cosette in Les Miserables, as the youngest ever Grizabella in CATS, and as the Narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Her many regional theatre credits include Evita as Eva Peron, and Funny Girl as Fanny.

Angie Schworer returns to the Ogunquit Playhouse to star as Tonya. Schworer was last on the Ogunquit stage as Roxie in 2010’s Chicago and as Irene in 2007’s Crazy for You. On Broadway, Schworer has appeared alongside Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane as Ulla in The Producers, and received an Astaire Award nomination for her performance in Catch Me if You Can. She’s been seen on television in “Law and Order,” “CSI,” “As The World Turns,” and “Smash.” She has also appeared in the film version of The Producers.

Starring as Rosie is Kate Chapman, who hails from Broadway to make her Ogunquit Playhouse debut. Most recently, Chapman starred in the cast of Mary Poppins on Broadway, and was a part of the original 2006 revival cast of Les Miserables. Chapman starred as Ms. Claus for five seasons on the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, and was a part of the ensemble in the films Chicago and Nine.

Briana Rapa is making her Ogunquit Playhouse debut as Sophie, following her international tour as Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

Patrick Cassidy

Star of stage and screen, Patrick Cassidy makes his Ogunquit Playhouse debut as Sam. A veteran of Broadway, film and television, Cassidy most recently appeared in A Little Night Music at A.C.T. in San Francisco and starred opposite Patti Lupone in Annie Get Your Gun. He also had the honor of recreating the role his father, Jack Cassidy, originated on Broadway in the Dallas Theater Center’s production of It’s a Bird It’s a Plane It’s Superman. Cassidy won the 2002 National Broadway Theatre Award for Best Actor for his performance in Elton John’s Aida, and was nominated for an Emmy for his performance on the TV Miniseries “Dress Grey.” In addition to his lauded performance as Julian Marsh in 42nd Street, Cassidy originated the role of Balladeer in Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins at Playwright Horizons, and appeared in Lady in the Dark at City Center’s Encores! On television, Cassidy has guest starred on “Law & Order SVU,” “Castle,” “Crossing Jordan,” “Without a Trace,” “According to Jim,” “CSI Miami,” and “ER,” among many others.

Returning to the Ogunquit Playhouse to star as Harry is David Engel, who was last seen at the Playhouse as Gomez in the 2014 hit, The Addams Family. Engel most recently appeared on Broadway in Putting It Together and Seussical, as well as the original production of La Cage aux Folles. Engel created the role of Smudge in the original New York production of Forever Plaid, and again in Plaid Tidings and Forever Plaid: The Movie. In addition to his work on the stage, Engel shared an on-screen romance with RuPaul in the award winning musical short film Zombie Prom.

Fred Inkley stars as Bill in his Ogunquit Playhouse debut after his lauded tenure as Valjean in Broadway’s Les Miserables. Inkley received a Helen Hayes and Jeff Awards nomination for his performance as Beast in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, as well as a Jeff Award nomination for his touring performance as Valjean in Les Miserables. Inkley appeared as a Guest Artist for the Boston Pops in 2013.

Box Office: 207.646.5511

ogunquitplayhouse.org

 

 

Talking With Stephan Pastis The Creator Of Pearls Before Swine And Author of the Timmy Failure Books

By Bobby Franklin

Stephan Pastis
(Photo: Bobby Franklin)

Stephan Pastis is the creator of the very popular comic strip Pearls Before Swine that he has been drawing for sixteen years and now appears in 750 newspapers worldwide. The lawyer turned cartoonist’s latest book is Pearls Hogs The Road: A Pearls Before Swine Treasury. He is also the author of the Timmy Failure books that are now going to be turned into a movie by Disney. His characters Rat, Pig, Goat, Guard Duck, The Crocs, and many others are irreverent and funny. Judging by the very large crowd that gathered at the Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner, MA to watch him give a presentation and do a book signing he is extremely popular, and that popularity extends to all age groups. I had a chance to speak with Mr. Pastis before his appearance.

“I think most (cartoonists) have a background in art. I don’t have any and I think that’s probably unusual.”

I begin by asking him if he is self-taught, he replies “Yes. Well, I don’t know what school you would go to for cartooning, but I didn’t. I think most (cartoonists) have a background in art. I don’t have any and I think that’s probably unusual.”

Mr. Pastis started drawing as a kid. He tells me, “I guess we all draw at a certain age.” When I ask him if he was good at it he responds, “I was never really good at it. I still don’t see myself as very good at it. I really struggle with the art, and I think the only reason I have a career is because of the writing. If it was because of the art I’d be in trouble.”

With a character like Rat leading the cast in Pearls I ask if many people take offense to his work. “Yeah, for sure. They’re rare, maybe one out of a hundred, but they’re certainly the most fun.”

Later in the evening I find out just how much fun he has with them. During the presentation, he gives examples of messages he has received from people and organizations that were not happy with a particular strip. These range from the International Polka Association to the Turkish Embassy. In true Rat like manner he has an answer for all of them. And his responses are all hilarious. For example, in an apology his publishers drafted for the Turkish Embassy the Greek American Pastis, he ask that they add a P.S. asking that Turkey give Cyprus back. Guard Duck may have to work on that one.

Drawing a comic strip that appears seven days a week has to be a daunting task. I ask if he writes one a day. “Two days a week I do three, two days a week I do two, Monday through Thursday. I’m six months ahead. Probably five and a half when I get home (from the book tour) which makes me scared.”

Writer’s block can be a problem but it never slows Mr. Pastis down. He tells me “…if that happens I switch to something else. Promotional stuff, or Timmy, or the movie I’m working on. I always have some other project I can go to. Just not being able to write doesn’t stop the train entirely.”

Before he had a career as a cartoonist he got to meet Charles Schulz. When he quit being a lawyer he took a part time job at the Schulz Museum where he helped them with their licensing. Eventually, he went onto the board of the museum. Mr. Pastis tells me, “…I wrote the first animated special made without Charles Schulz called Happiness Is A Warm Blanket Charlie Brown.”

Our conversation turns back to Pearls Before Swine and I ask, “Is Rat you?” Mr. Pastis tells me, “Yeah, they’re all me. I think Rat is more me than the others, but they’re all me.” How old is Rat? “I’ve never really said. He doesn’t have an age. None of them do.”

As to how he decides what characters to use each day, “I don’t really think about that. I’ll look back on a time when I do nothing but Rat. It’s probably a time when I’m angrier and more stressed, and then when I’m vulnerable and fail at something I imagine Pig predominates more.

”I’ll look back on a time when I do nothing but Rat. It’s probably a time when I’m angrier and more stressed…”

The Crocs, which are almost a whole different comic strip just came to Mr. Pastis one night. He says, “It was just a weird middle of the night idea that struck me as funny.” Fortunately, he keeps a pad and pen by his bedside so he is able to save these ideas.

Often times in the strip one or a number of the characters will confront Mr. Pastis and get on his case. This leads me to ask if there is some self-loathing going on? At this he shouts over to his publicist who is in the room with us, “Tracy, Do I have some self-loathing going on?” Tracy laughs and responds, “With good reason.” Pastis says, “It’s fun to have them make fun of you.”

He goes on to tell me something I had not thought of but when he says it I have to agree, “People don’t want to see a strip where people succeed. They want to see losers. They want to look down on them. All comic strips are created on losers. Calvin, Peanuts, Bloom County, Doonesbury.”

Before becoming successful as a cartoonist Mr. Pastis had a career in law. When I ask about it he responds rapid fire, “Yeah, ten years. Litigation. San Francisco. Insurance defense. Never liked it. Bad job. Don’t do it.” He then laughs and says, “I’d like to see how that prints…like ten two word sentences all in a row.” Sounds like a man who enjoys words.

“Take two stick figures, totally unadorned art, three panels, and see if you can make somebody who doesn’t necessarily like you laugh.”

His advice for aspiring cartoonists? “Take two stick figures, totally unadorned art, three panels, and see if you can make somebody who doesn’t necessarily like you laugh. So, don’t show it to your mom. Don’t show it to your best friend. Coworkers are good. Stick figures make it so you don’t rely on the art. It will prove whether or not you can write funny. If you can make that coworker laugh three out of ten times you have a hit. It’s harder than it sounds.”

As I wind up my conversation with the very interesting and talented Stephan Pastis I ask if there is anything he would like to add. Referring to recent Pearls strips where his wife has thrown him out of the house leading many readers to wonder if he was getting a divorce he says, “I’m still married. People always ask that question.” He adds, “I do these Timmy Failure Books which most people know is a series of middle grade books. I’m on the sixth volume. It’s being turned into a movie. Disney bought it.”

Millions of readers look forward to reading Pearls Before Swine each day. I have to admit, I am not a big follower of the comics, but I am one of those people. Once you start you will not be able to stop. If you have the chance to see Stephan Pastis in person I urge you to do so. He is not only a talented cartoonist, but he is also a very, very funny speaker. Rat may take issue with that statement, but that just might be a case of that self-loathing.

Stephan Pastis’s latest book, Pearls Hogs The Road: A Pearls Before Swine Treasury, is published by Andrews McMeel Publishing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tommy Farr The British Champ Was A Handful For Joe Louis But Never Got A Rematch. Why?

Tommy Farr
The British Champ Was A Handful
For Joe Louis But Never Got A Rematch. Why?

In a recent conversation I had the subject of Joe Louis’s bout against Tommy Farr came up. Farr was Joe’s first opponent after he had won the title by knocking out Jimmy Braddock, and it was expected he would do the same to the Welsh boxer. Tommy surprised everyone by extending Louis for the full fifteen rounds and looking pretty good while doing it.

Tommy Farr

It was Farr’s first fight in the United States. He had earned the title shot by scoring wins over Ben Foord, former champ Max Baer, and Walter Neusel. All of these bouts took place in London. Farr, who was from Tonypandy, Wales was an unknown quantity when he stepped into the ring with Louis on August 30, 1937. While his record was impressive he had not been seen by the American fans. Farr also got off to a bit of a rough start with the American press not being quite up to speed with the wisecracking New York reporters. In the end, and after a four day rain delay, promoter Mike Jacobs was still able to get almost 39,000 fans to show up at Yankee Stadium for the bout.

Farr vs Louis

It turned out there was much more to Tommy Farr than expected. The Welshman turned in an excellent performance keeping Joe off balance with an educated left hand and and good combinations. He even rocked the champion a couple of times. He did something that was rarely seen against Joe Louis; he was able to be competitive with the left jab. Evidence of this can be seen in photos of Louis taken after the bout where his right eye is quite swollen. Of course, the Brown Bomber did pretty well with his own jab busting up both of Farr’s eyes, and in the end Joe won a unanimous decision,

There are fight fans who insist Tommy was robbed that night, but in watching clips of the fight and reading accounts of it I have no doubt Joe Louis deserved the decision. Even Farr never complained about it. But Tommy certainly showed himself to not only be a very tough and courageous fighter, he also proved to be quite the skilled boxer who was the ultimate professional. He remained cool and composed throughout the fight. While Louis won by a fairly comfortable margin, many of the rounds were close.

So, the question that is often asked is why didn’t Farr get another shot at the title? I’ve heard it said that Joe’s management wanted nothing to do with Farr after having seen Joe extended by him. I don’t buy that. I am confident Louis would have gladly given him a rematch.

Braddock vs Farr

Now this is where things get a bit interesting. After the Louis fight Tommy remained in the states, and five months later he fought Jimmy Braddock. Farr lost a close and controversial decision to the former champ in what would be Braddock’s last bout. Not long after this Farr, wth prodding from promoter Mike Jacobs, took on Joe Gould as his manager. The very same Joe Gould who also managed Jimmy Braddock.

I recently read Tommy Farr’s autobiography, a very enjoyable book, and in it he talks about how, with Gould’s encouragement, he traveled to Hollywood where he started partying with the big names in the movie industry. He spent time at the home of Bing Crosby. Became friends with Clark Gable and Victor McLaglen and many others. He even spent time with the ten year old Shirley Temple who wanted to hear all about the Louis fight.

Farr also made some lady friends while out west. He would arrive at a bar frequented by many of these stars early in the evening so as not to miss out on having time with them. I’m sure he wasn’t sitting there drinking ice water. Now, why on Earth would a fight manager want his charge spending time living it up, especially after he had become a hot commodity off of his great performance against Louis? Farr should have and could have returned to Great Britain where he would have received a hero’s welcome, racked up a number of wins, and worked himself back into another shot at Louis for a big payday. Most people agreed he was robbed against Braddock, so that would not have been an obstacle after he scored a few wins. A second Farr Louis fight would also have been a big attraction.

But instead, he took on Max Baer in a rematch. Farr, who was now not in the best of shape, lost a one sided decision against the man he had beaten quite handily just a year earlier. Max dropped him three times in the fight. He then lost decisions to Lou Nova and Red Burman. After these losses Tommy returned to Britain never to fight in the United States again.

Tommy Farr with Family

In the course of a year the Welshman went from giving one of the greatest Heavyweight Champions the fight of his life to being handed the proverbial one way ticket to Palookaville. He had ended his relationship with the man, Joby Churchill, who had been with him from the beginning of his career and took up with a man, Joe Gould, who’s now retired fighter, Braddock, owned ten percent of Joe Louis’s future purses. (The agreement with the Louis camp struck in order for Joe to get a title shot at Braddock). Gould now sends his new fighter off to the land of wine, women, and song instead of getting him into serious training for a campaign at another shot at the title.

Here’s my theory for why all that went on. While Louis and his team had no fear of losing a rematch with Farr, and knowing how Joe was, he most likely would have welcomed another go at it with Tommy. Joe Gould was afraid Farr may pull off an upset in a rematch. If that were to happen it would be a heavy financial hit for Braddock, and probably Gould. Joe Gould had a great motive for seeing Farr was removed form the picture, and I believe that is why he led Tommy down the road of self destruction.

Tommy Farr was a terrific boxer. A brave and dedicated fighter who deserved better. He showed what he was made of against Louis. It was his misfortune to have walked into the lion’s den. His great showing against Louis turned out to be a liability for him.

Farr would have just a few more fights in his homeland before WWII broke out. In 1950, in need of money, he made an ill advised comeback. The Tommy Farr story should have had a much happier ending. Instead, it is just another one in a long list of boxing tragedies. https https

Hershey Felder Returns to Hartford Stage in Our Great Tchaikovsky

Limited Engagement!
Only 11 Performances –August 19-27

Performer/Creator of George Gershwin Alone;
Director and Adaptor of The Pianist of Willesden Lane

Hartford Stage will present Our Great Tchaikovsky, a celebration of the famed Russian composer, written and performed by internationally-acclaimed pianist, actor and playwright Hershey Felder, for a limited one-week engagement – August 19 through 27.

The Chicago Sun Times raved, “The quadruple threat performer Hershey Felder is an actor, singer, pianist and writer, and all of the first order.” After its record-breaking world premiere at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, the San Diego Union-Tribune called it, “A powerful, emotional experience well worth seeing.”

Our Great Tchaikovsky marks Felder’s return to Hartford Stage. His previous productions include George Gershwin Alone in 2004 and Monsieur Chopin in 2006. Most recently, he adapted and directed The Pianist of Willesden Lane in 2015.

With direction by longtime collaborator Trevor Hay (Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin), Our Great Tchaikovsky celebrates Russia’s most beloved and mysterious composer in a time-bending story of culture and politics.

Among Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s masterworks included in the show are the ballets Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and The Nutcracker; concerto pieces Violin Concerto, Piano Concerto no. 1 and Rococo Variations for Cello; the opera Eugene Onegin; orchestral pieces Romeo and Juliet, the 1812 Overture and Marche Slav; and Symphony No. 6, Pathétique. Just nine days after Tchaikovsky conducted the premiere of Pathétique in St. Petersburg, he died suddenly at the age of 53. Our Great Tchaikovsky explores the mystery surrounding his death while paying homage to the composer and his music.

Felder has played over 4,500 performances of his self-created solo productions at some of the world’s most prestigious theatres and has consistently broken box office records. Maestro, Felder’s tribute to the life and work of composer-conductor Leonard Bernstein, was recognized as a Top 10 Play and Musical by TIME magazine last year. His other shows include: George Gershwin Alone (Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theatre, West End’s Duchess Theatre); Monsieur Chopin; Beethoven; Franz Liszt in Musik; and Lincoln: An American Story. Future productions include the new musical, Chosen by G-d, for which he is writing music, book and lyrics. Felder’s compositions and recordings include Aliyah; Concerto for Piano and Orchestra; Fairytale, a musical; Les Anges de Paris; Suite for Violin and Piano; Song Settings; Saltimbanques for Piano and Orchestra; Etudes Thematiques for Piano; and An American Story for Actor and Orchestra. Felder is the adaptor, director and designer for The Pianist of Willesden Lane; producer and designer for the new musical Louis and Keely: ‘Live’ at the Sahara, directed by Taylor Hackford; and writer and director for the upcoming Flying Solo, featuring opera legend Nathan Gunn.

In addition to direction by Hay and scenic design by Felder, the creative team includes Costume Designer Abigail Caywood; Lighting and Projections Designer Christopher Ash; Sound Designer Erik Carstensen; and Research and Dramaturgy by Meghan Maiya. Our Great Tchaikovsky is produced by Samantha F. Voxakis, Karen Racanelli and Erik Carstensen.

hartfordstage.org     Box Office: 860-527-5151

 

Simply Beautiful

The Bridges of Madison County
At The SpeakEasy Stage

Now through June 3rd

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

By the end of this production of The Bridges of Madison County, produced by the SpeakEasy Stage and playing at the Calderwood Pavillon, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. This is not to say the audience is left feeling sad or unhappy. No, touched is the word that best describes the feeling one leaves the theater with after seeing this exquisite production.

Francesca and Robert
(Photo Credit: Glenn Perry Photography)

The story of the Italian war bride, Francesca, who married and settled in Iowa with her husband Bud where they are raising two children, and her four day affair with a photographer, Robert, is familiar to most people due to the popularity of the book and movie. This in no way diminishes the impact of this musical version of the story.

Jennifer Ellis as Francesca is nothing short of superb…

Jennifer Ellis as Francesca is nothing short of superb bringing one of the most beautiful voices you will hear on a theater stage today as well as the ability to reach the audience with her full range of emotions. Her perfectly underrated Italian accent is right on the mark. This will come as no surprise to those who had seen her in the SpeakEasy production of Far From Heaven or as Eliza Dolittle in The Lyric Stage’s My Fair Lady. Ms Ellis is a joy to behold.

The chemistry between Francesca and Robert, played with a slight ambiguity by the very talented Christiaan Smith, is strong both physically and emotionally. I mention ambiguity because as much as it appears these two star crossed lovers could run off and live happily ever after I was left with the feeling that the very thing that made Robert so exciting was also the thing that would not have made him a good fit for marriage and settling down.

Bud, Robert, Francesca
(Photo Credit: Glenn Perry Photography)

The affair which takes place while husband Bud (Christopher Chew) and children Carolyn (Katie Elinoff) and Michael (Nick Siccone) are off to the state fair could be seen as sordid, but the story is much more than that. Mr. Chew is wonderful in playing the hard working farmer who provides a good home for his family. There is no doubt Francesca loves all of them, but she also yearns for the life she never got to live in Naples. A yearning that is triggered by the emotional scene where Robert shows her the issue of National Geographic containing photos he took of the city she was raised in.

The emotional turmoil raised by this allows us to feel compassion for her even while we feel bad for Bud. In the phone calls to home while Bud and the kids are on the road, we know that Bud begins to suspect something but never digs for answers. Mr. Chew conveys a pain with his eyes that is touching and could easily have us turn on Francesca for what she is doing. But there is much to this story and much to be sympathetic about when it comes to all the characters.

Marge and Charlie
(Photo Credit: Glenn Perry Photography)

Nosey neighbor Marge (Kerry A. Dowling) and her husband Charlie (Will McGarrahan) are very funny while also showing a depth of understanding that coveys sincere kindness. Marge may appear to be a gossip but she knows how to keep a secret. She also begins to question her own marriage. Charlie who at first appears to be detached is actually quite understanding. McGarrahan and Dowling are a delight.

The score by Jason Robert Brown is wide ranging and beautiful. At times operatic, it is performed by a seven piece orchestra led by Matthew Stern. I am no musician, but I can assure you they are just great.

The lighting design by Annie Weigand plays a big part in this production. Stars, clouds, blue skies, and even streaks of light representing the bombing of Naples during the war projected onto the backdrop are both subtle and extremely effective. The set designed by Cameron Anderson is simple, tasteful, very pleasing and warm.

The chemistry between Francesca and Robert…is strong both physically and emotionally.

I highly recommend this very fine work directed by M. Bevin O’Gara. This is the last play of the 2016-2017 season at the SpeakEasy and they couldn’t have closed on a higher note. The Bridges of Madison County will leave you both happy and sad, but you will be very pleased to have seen such a solid work.

Now through June 3rd at the Calderwood Pavillon, Boston Center for the Arts, Boston’s South End. www.speakeasystage.com 617.933.8600

Abba Dabba Do!

Mamma Mia! Is Great Fun In Ogunquit!

Mamma Mia!
Through July 1st
The Ogunquit Playhouse

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Angie Schworer, Jodie Langel, Kate Chapman, and Cast
(Photo: Gary Ng)

You know summer will soon be here when the stage at the Ogunquit Playhouse raises its curtain for a new season. And this year for their 85th anniversary they have kicked it off with the very popular jukebox musical Mamma Mia! With an energetic cast led by Jodie Langel as Donna and Patrick Cassidy as Sam it is a fun evening of music and laughs that has the audience on its feet singing and dancing along.

 

The story about Sophie (Briana Rapa), Donna’s daughter who was born out of wedlock twenty-one years earlier, takes place as she is preparing for her wedding day in Greece where she lives with her mother Donna who runs a local taverna. Sophie desperately wants to find out who her father is and has, by peeking into her mother’s diary, narrowed the possibility down to three men all of whom she invites to the wedding. This leads to some confusion and much laughter as she tries to figure out which of the three is dad.

…an evening filled with laughs, music, and great dancing…

The story is a great vehicle for the music of Abba, and that is what it was written to be. But this is not an Abba tribute show. It is an evening filled with laughs, music, and great dancing, all set on a beautiful stage meant to be the Greek seaside. The story is fun and touching, filled with vivid colors and loaded with energy. Those colors and the changing sets along with beautiful lighting, had me feeling the sea breezes of the Mediterranean. Of course, it helps being within a stone’s throw of Ogunquit Beach.

Oh, did I mention this is fun? The music is fun, the dancing is fun, the story is fun. Seeing dancers performing wearing huge yellow swim fins is, well, fun. There are so many moments like that. The Playhouse has given us all a welcome to summer gift.

Brianna Rapa, Mike Heslin, and Cast
(Photo: Gary Ng)

This is not Chekov or O’Neil, and you won’t leave the theater contemplating the mysteries of life. It is simply a nice story that will have you feeling good. You will  leave the theater feeling happy, with a lot of music dancing in your ears. After an evening of Mamma Mia! at the Ogunquit Playhouse you will be more than ready for summer. This is a production that calls out “Take A Chance On Me”, and will have you saying,”Thank You For The Music”.

Mamma Mia!
Through July 1st
The Ogunquit Playhouse, 207.646.5511
Ogunquit Maine
ogunquitplayhouse.org

Camelot at the Lyric Stage

A Bright Shining Moment 

Camelot

Directed by Spiro Veloudos

The Lyric Stage, Boston

Through June 25th

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Ed Hoopman and Maritza Bostic
(Photo Credit: Mark S. Howard)

As Camelot ends King Arthur tells Tom of Warick to run from the battle so he may live and “Ask every person if he’s heard the story, and tell him strong and clear if he has not.” And that story, the legend of Camelot, is what is given to us in the Lyric Stage’s current production of the Lerner and Loewe classic.

On a beautiful multi-level set that gives the feel of a haunted forest with serpent like trees that appear to be watching the events that unfold, we are treated to a story, the story, that young Tom has passed down through the years. We, the audience, feel as if we are seated by a campfire while the tale is related to us by Arthur, Guenevere, Lancelot, Mordred, and the Knights and Ladies of the Court of King Arthur.

This has been called a “stripped down production”, but I would call it an enhanced work. It is no secret the original Camelot was too long. Shortening it was a challenge from the beginning, and this adaptation by David Lee finally meets that challenge. All of the songs are here, the story is complete, and it moves along seamlessly. Director Spiro Veloudos adds his magic touch to bring it all together for an evening of theatre that will not be forgotten.

Don’t let this brief shining moment pass you by.

The cast led by Ed Hoopman as Arthur speaks in naturalistic voices, so don’t plan on hearing imitations of Burton and Andrews. Hoopman’s voice is rich and smooth connoting the kindness and humanity of the King who wished for a society that was just and fair. Maritza Bostic as Guenevere is lovely and warm with a voice that captivates. It is hard to lose with this score, but with so many people familiar with the original cast album ears may be programmed to hear something else. What is great is how the actor’s make this their own version, and it is a great one.

Ed Hoopman, Jared Troilo, Maritza Bostic
(Photo Credit: Mark S. Howard)

Jared Troilo, who is a familiar face to Boston theatre goers, takes on the part of the brash Lancelot. Troilo’s rendition of If Ever I Would Leave You is positively wonderful. It had to be a challenge.

I have to say that Rory Boyd’s Mordred is truly amazing. His name alone cues us to expect an evil character, but Boyd manages to move him into more of a grey area. He certainly brings a great energy and just enough ambiguity to the role to make one possibly feel a bit of sympathy for him Mordred, and that is something I doubt has been seen before.

What makes this production so special is the intimacy. Not only is it warm because it is set in a small theater, but it feels the players have invited us to sit by the campfire and hear their stories. It is oh so captivating.

What makes this production so special is the intimacy.

Accompanied by an eight piece orchestra, the cast, who work without amplification, fill the theatre with beautiful sounds. There is not a bad seat in the house, and in this age of an over reliance on electronics it is a pleasure to hear such lovely voices going directly to our ears. It is one of the many things that makes the Lyric Stage so special.

I am sure tickets for this run will sell fast, so don’t wait. Don’t let this brief shining moment pass you by.

Camelot Through June 25th
The Lyric Stage, Copley Square, Boston
lyricstage.com 617.585.5678

Jess Willard, The Reluctant Giant

Jess Willard: Heavyweight Champion of the World

by Arly Allen with the assistance of James Willard Mace

McFarland Publishing
300 pp. $35.00

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Not a lot has been written about Jess Willard. Part of the reason for that is because his championship reign was bookended by two champions who not only are considered all time greats, but who were also very colorful figures. It is unfortunate the Willard story has not been told as it is a very interesting one. That oversight has now been rectified with the very detailed account of the Pottawatomie Giant’s life written by Arly Allen. Mr. Allen was fortunate to have had the assistance of Mr. Willard’s grandson James Willard Mace. He also had access to Jess Willard’s unpublished autobiography. The result is a lively story about a man who, while preferring a peaceful life, was repeatedly finding himself in controversial situations.

Willard only had 22 bouts in his 23 year career, but at least two of those bouts are still argued about by boxing historians to this day. Arly Allen digs deep into the details of both those bouts, the title winning knock out of Jack Johnson and Jess’ loss to Jack Dempsey. Mr. Allen has strong views on both of these fights and he presents plenty of evidence to back up his conclusions. Whether or not he changes minds remains to be seen. He certainly has added much to the discussion. Did Jack Johnson take a dive in the 26th round of the bout in Havana? Were Jack Dempsey’s gloves loaded in Toledo? There isn’t a boxing historian on the planet who doesn’t have an opinion on these controversies. Agree or not, they should all enjoy reading this book.

Johnson vs Willard

Jess was born in Kansas in 1881. The young Willard was tall and lanky and was an excellent athlete who excelled at swimming and running. He was also an excellent horseman. The easy going Kansan hardly seemed the type to go in for boxing. In fact, he didn’t really care for the sport, but did get caught up in the search for a Great White Hope to defeat Jack Johnson. Willard’s size, six foot six and a half coupled with his agility got him noticed. His lack of a killer instinct was also picked up on. It seems Jess found it difficult to throw the full force of his body into punches unless he was hit hard first. He also had an aversion to fighting men smaller than he was as he was afraid he would cause them serious harm. Indeed, Willard did kill a man in the ring. His bout with another big man, William “Bull” Young ended in tragedy when Young died the day after his fight with Jess. Willard was devastated by this event but continued to pursue a career in boxing.

The Jess Willard story is a fascinating one.

Mr. Allen’s research comes up with many interesting facts about Willard’s life. He was repeatedly ending up in court  because of boxing in places where the sport was illegal or not clearly defined, because of financial disputes, and the Young situation where he was charged with manslaughter of which he was acquitted. It becomes clear that Jess was an honest man who, and with good reason, didn’t trust anyone around him. This distrust led him to enter the ring against Jack Dempsey without having solid people in his corner to watch out for him. If he had, the results of that bout may have been different.

In an interesting story leading up to the Dempsey fight Mr. Allen relates how there were three people who thought Jess might very possibly kill Jack that afternoon in the ring. They were Jess, Tex Rickard, and Jack Dempsey himself. Jack wouldn’t make eye contact with Willard when he entered the ring. There is much more and it is all very thought provoking.

From the time Jess won the title in 1915 until his loss to Dempsey in 1919 he only defended the title one time. He did, however, make quite a bit of money by making personal appearances, putting on exhibitions, and investing in a traveling circus. Willard made and lost fortunes over his life time.

Jess Willard

Willard’s blunt manner often got him into trouble. Mr. Allen relates the time Jess was booked for an appearance in Boston. He was to be paid $2,000.00 for one evening, a very substantial amount of money for that time. His visit also coincided with the running of the Boston Marathon. When Jess was asked to appear at the finish line he refused saying that if people wanted to see him they would have to pay. Needless to say, this left a bad taste in the mouths of Bostonians and only a small crowd showed up for his paid appearance. There is a similar story regarding Jess and Harry Houdini. These tales all make for fascinating reading.

There is much for boxing historians to learn from Mr. Allen’s well written book. For instance, I knew that the actor Victor McLaglen had fought Jack Johnson in an exhibition bout when Johnson was champion. I did not know that he also once boxed Bob Fitzsimmons and that he went four rounds with Willard.

The Jess Willard story is a fascinating one. He was a decent man who managed to get the public to turn hot and cold for and against him. He always felt he could beat Dempsey and even when nearing the age of forty he campaigned for a rematch. That bout would have happened if he had not been stopped by Luis Firpo. An interesting note, the Firpo bout was held at Boyle’s Thirty Acres in New Jersey, the site of the Dempsey v Carpentier bout. The fight drew nearly 100,000 people, approximately 10,000 more than the Dempsey / Carpentier fight. Willard received nearly $210,000.00 for the fight. That is an astronomical amount for the time.

There is so much more to this book. Willard was champ during WW I and during flu epidemic. The stories of his real estate and farming investments, his sixty year marriage to Hattie and the lovely family they raised all make for fascinating reading. Jess Willard deserves the attention of boxing fans and this book is the place to start. He was not just the guy who held the title between Johnson and Dempsey. He was a deeply interesting man.

Seaglass Performing Arts Ends Season On A High Note

An Evening of Spirituals and Heavenly Broadway

Performed May 6th at Christ Church
Kennebunk
May 7th at Wells High School Performing Arts Center
Wells

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Artistic Director Jean Strazdes has once again raised the bar for the wonderful Seaglass Performing Arts Chorale. Closing out the 2016-2017 Season with a program comprised of spirituals that not only contained traditional music but also included tunes from Broadway, Leonard Cohen, and Carly Simon. It was an exciting and interesting mix that worked so well together.

I took in the Sunday performance at Wells High School, and from the opening number, a medley from Sister Act, the audience knew they were in for an afternoon of wonderful music.

When Seaglass performs you not only get to enjoy the music, but Ms Strazdes also gives background into each song along with short biographies of the composers as well as a brief musical history. For instance, I never knew November 29th was Moses Hogan Day, a day to celebrate and perform spirituals in honor of the composer Moses Hogan. For this concert the group performed one of his arrangements, Music Down In My Soul. Mr. Hogan certainly deserves to be remembered.

Other spirituals included Unclouded Day, Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel, My Lord What A Morning, and Down In The River To Pray.

Joe would have been happy with this rendition as the group hit it out of the park.

In addition to the selection from Sister Act, Broadway was represented by Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat from Guys and Dolls. Eric Mihan led this song and had the crowd smiling as he moved about the stage. Jean Stradzes read from an original opening night review of the play that compared it with the professionalism of Joe DiMagio. I think Joltin’ Joe would have been happy with this rendition as the group hit it out of the park.

The second act opened with a medley of Nothin’ Gonna Stumble My Feet and the Carly Simon song Let The River Run. Accompanied by a double bass played by Bob Daigle as well as percussion by MaryCarol Kennedy, Stephanie Sanders, and Dianne Smallidge. All were fabulous.

The second act was strong on Broadway tunes with a spiritual flavor. These included Seasons of Love from Rent, Somewhere from West Side Story, and Make Them Hear You from Ragtime. Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah with soloist Marilyn Stanley was sublime.

Kim Karchenes accompanied on piano and never missed a note. All of the voices were just beautiful. Seagalss Performing Arts is made up of volunteers, but make no mistake, this is no amateur group. They are all serious musicians who take their art seriously. They work hard so we can enjoy this beautiful music and learn about the rich history behind it. If you haven’t attended a performance yet I urge you to take in the next season. You will be enriched by having done so.

www.seaglassperformingarts.org

You’ll Free Fall For This Wonderful Ripcord

Ripcord

The Huntington Theatre Company

Calderwood Pavillion, South End
Through July 2

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Abby is living in an assisted living facility. She is cranky, miserable, and has driven out every roommate that has been paired with her. Marilyn, always upbeat with a sunny disposition, is her latest roommate. Abby wants her out and Marilyn will not leave. The two make a bet with the winner to get her way. This leads to the two of them doing some pretty nasty things to each other. Sounds like pretty depressing stuff? Well, it turns out this is one of the funniest plays you will ever see.

You will love this play!
Nancy E. Carroll
(Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Nancy E. Carroll is perfect as the cantankerous, miserable, and at times cruel Abby who rarely betrays even a hint of a smile. She is also extremely funny. Annie Golden plays Marilyn who is a Pollyanna, always smiling and seeing the good in everything. Oh, she can play hard when it comes to fighting back against Abby. Both actors play off of each other perfectly. Add to the mix Scotty (Ugo Chukawa) a health aid and also an aspiring actor, who has to deal with these two terrors. Marilyn’s daughter Colleen (Laura Latreille) and son-in-law Derek (Richard Prioleau)  are apples that haven’t fallen far from the tree and you end up with a fast paced work with impeccable comedic timing.

This production has added incidental music along with some very fun dance numbers during set changes. I have not seen Ripcord before but I am sure these additions only enhance it. At the performance I attended the audience loved  these additions.

Cast of Ripcord
(Photo: T. Charles Ericson)

I don’t want to go on too much about what happens here as it will spoil the fun for those of you who decide to see it, and you definitely should head over to the Calderwood for this one. I will tease you a bit with a brief list of things that occur. There is a mugging by a very tall rabbit, a trip through a house of horrors, a skydiving adventure, and much, much more. It is amazing how these situations are staged. The set design, effects, and lighting are all incredible. By intermission youl will be wondering how much more could be left to surprise you. Believe me, there is plenty.

Annie Golden
(Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Ripcord, by David Lindsay-Abaire,and directed by the wonderful Jessica Stone, as well as being funny is also a deeply moving story about two women who are facing the challenges of growing old and dealing with their pasts. Under all of the laughter we are given much to ponder. There is a touching, sad, and even cruel scene where Abby meets her estranged son Benjamin (Eric T. Miller). Marilyn is also a much deeper character than she seems at first glance. There is pain under her happy exterior. It turns out the two women have a lot  in common. Even with all of the laughter you will be deeply moved by this work. This really is, in the end, a very provocative piece that has us deal with what it is like to age and look back on our lives. It is told with, as I have said, much humor. But, it is a work filled with respect and understanding of these very difficult issues.

This has been a great theatre season in Boston. The Huntington, Lyric, and SpeakEasy have all treated us to some wonderful work these past months. Ripcord is a great way to cap this season. You will love this play! Don’t miss it.

huntingtontheatre.org

617.266.0800

Miles And Miles Of Texas

Asleep At Wheel Swings In Burlington

Asleep At The Wheel

Presented by The Burlington Community Concert Series

Burlington High School, Fogelberg Performing Arts Center

Friday, June 9th

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

There was no danger of anyone falling asleep at the wheel after this concert.

Western Swing was alive and well at the Burlington High School on Friday night as Asleep at the Wheel took the stage. From the opening notes of Cherokee Maiden, the near capacity crowd knew they were in for a special night of music.

Led by Ray Benson, who is going into his 48th year of performing, the group focused mainly on their specialty, the music of Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys. Mr. Benson was in fine form, but he wasn’t alone. The eight piece band was an array of solid talent, all of whom made it look easy.

Moving from Miles and Miles of Texas right into the classic Route 66 where Katie Shore got to show us that her amazing talent on the fiddle is matched by her wonderful voice. She was also terrific on I’m An Old Cowhand, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, and I Hear You Talkin’. She and Ray also teamed up for the Johnny Cash classic Big River.

Katie Shore wasn’t the only fiddle player on the stage. She was joined by Dennis Ludiker who was Texas State Fiddle Champion. Dennis also played mandolin (“The biggest little instrument in the world.”). I believe I saw smoke coming from the instruments when Katie and Dennis tore into Tiger Rag. Mr. Ludiker could reign as champ for as long as he wants to. At one point I thought Dave Sanger’s arms were going to fly off as he hit the drums and State of Texas shaped cymbal.

Steel guitarist Eddie Rivers never disappoints. His solo of the classic Teardrop was just beautiful. Eddie also broke out on sax for the onomatopoeic Choo Choo Ch’Boogie. Which also featured Connor Forsyth on keyboard showing us a fine way to play a Steinway.

Ray took time out to remember Guy Clark who passed away in 2016 by singing his beautiful Dublin Blues. It was a touching moment made more so by such a lovely song.

Of course, it would not have been a Texas Playboy night without San Antonio Rose and Faded Love. Eddie Rivers told me whenever he is feeling low he listens to San Antonio Rose. It certainly is great medicine.

Ray Benson was born to perform.

Over the years band members have changed, and somehow Ray is always able to recruit new and amazing talent. Old hands Ray, Eddie Rivers, and drummer Dave Sanger have to enjoy having the new energy that Katie Shore, Connor Forsyth, Dennis Ludiker, Josh Hoag (bass), and Jay Reynolds (saxaphone and clarinet) bring to the group. While Dave and Jay sat towards the back of the stage their presence was right in the forefront. These guys are good.

Ray Benson Friday In Burlington

No AATW concert is compete without Ray’s very special version of Hotrod Lincoln complete with sound effects and Benson’s juggling. It is such fun. Years ago a friend and former member of the band told me Ray Benson was born to perform. I think of how true that comment was every time I see him.

The concert closed out with the audience on its feet having a blast. House of Blue Lights, one of my favorites, was followed by an encore that included Big Balls In Cow Town and, fittingly, the old Roy Rogers song Happy Trails To You with the crowd singing along. One final tune was the Texas Playboy’s Theme.

There was no danger of anyone falling asleep at the wheel after this concert. I’m sure toes are still tapping. I know mine are.

Show Boat at The Reagle Music Theatre In Waltham

Broadway’s Ciarán Sheehan and Boston’s Own Sarah Muirhead headline in

Show Boat

The epic tale of life on the Mississippi

Reagle Music Theatre, July 6-16, 2017 – 8 performances only

Directed and Choreographed by Rachel Bertone

Broadway’s “Phantom,” Ciarán Sheehan, returns to Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston to take on the role of GAYLORD RAVENAL in Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s 1927 masterpiece Show Boat.Running from July 6-16 for 8 performances only, Show Boat will also star Boston’s own Sarah Oakes Muirhead (Sunday in the Park with George) as MAGNOLIA HAWKS.  A groundbreaking show when it debuted in 1927, Show Boat continues to touch audiences with timeless themes and unforgettable music.  Rachel Bertone (IRNE Award Winner, Carousel, Wild Party) will direct and choreograph this intimate Goodspeed Musicals version of the production, in creative partnership with Musical Director and Conductor Daniel Rodriguez (Carousel, Barnum).  Original set design by Mike Micucci.  Producing Artistic Director Robert J. Eagle.

“What’s beautiful about the Goodspeed version of Show Boat, that our producer Bob Eagle has procured, is that it focuses very concisely on the themes of loss and love—the themes that bind all of us.” said Rachel Bertone, Director/Choreographer. “The beauty of the theatre, to me, is how it so powerfully reflects our humanity in all its strengths and weaknesses, how it holds a mirror up to who we are so that we might learn something about our own journeys through life. Great writing, like Show Boat, accomplishes this and as a director I feel an almost sacred responsibility to convey these themes with as much truth and integrity to our audiences as I can muster.”

Show Boat is based on Edna Ferber’s bestselling novel, following three generations of the Hawks family on the Cotton Blossom river boat from 1887-1927. The story chronicles the fortunes of naïve Captain’s daughter Magnolia and her troubled husband Gaylord Ravenal, and the lives of the performers, stagehands, and dock workers whose lives are affected by the ever-changing social current along the Mississippi River. Show Boat was the first fully integrated “book musical”, tackling issues of unhappy marriage, miscegenation and racial prejudice. The musical’s classic songs, including “Ol’ Man River, “Only Make Believe,” “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man,” and “You Are Love,” have become mainstays of the Broadway canon.

Performance Schedule:  Thurs, July 6th at 2:00 PM; Friday July 7th at 7:30; Sat, July 8th at 7:30 PM; Sun, July 8th at 2:00 PM; Thurs, July 13th at 2:00 PM; Fri, July 14th at 7:30 PM; Sat, July 15th at 7:30 PM; Sun, July 16th at 2:00 PM.

 www.reaglemusictheatre.com,  781-891-5600, The Reagle Music Theatre, 617 Lexington Street, Waltham, MA).

Jersey Joe and Muhammad

Walcott and Ali
A Contrast

It was a tragic irony that Ali ended up worse off than any of those who came before him.

Muhammad Ali used to enjoy making fun of his predecessors. He would mock them for being punchy. I remember seeing him do this in front of Joe Louis. Ali would put his finger to his nose pressing it flat and then speak while slurring his speech pretending to stumble around on unsteady feet. He would talk about how guys like Louis and the other champs took too many punches, couldn’t box as well as “The Greatest”, and ended up with their brains scrambled. He bragged how that would never happen to him because he was so much smarter and better than they were.

Holmes vs Ali

It was a tragic irony that Ali ended up worse off than any of those who came before him. By the time he was training for the Larry Holmes fight Ali was already showing serious signs of brain damage. Watching interviews and training footage as he was preparing for that bout you can hear him slurring his speech. His coordination was deteriorating as seen in his difficulty hitting the speed bag. Ali was 38 years old at the time and would lose by stoppage to Holmes. It was a sad sight.

Why did this happen to such a great “boxer”? Let’s compare him to another former champ who was still fighting when he was in his late 30s; Jersey Joe Walcott.

Jersey Joe was 37 years old when he won the Heavyweight Championship by knocking out Ezzard Charles. He would defend it against Charles before going on to lose it to Rocky Marciano in a fight in which Walcott was leading on the scorecards when he was kayoed in the 13th round.

Walcott also had given Joe Louis more than he could handle a few years earlier when he lost a highly disputed decision to the Brown Bomber. He dropped Louis twice in that bout. Louis would win a rematch by knockout, but not before hitting the canvas one more time.

Jersey Joe was a master of the Art of Boxing.

Ali got a lot of laughs making fun of the greats of the past. He not only went after them for supposedly being punchy, but he also demeaned their skills. Well, if Walcott was lacking in skills and Ali was so brilliant why is it Jersey Joe retired with his faculties still intact while Ali ended up a mental and physical wreck? You just have to watch footage of the two men in action and you will see what made the difference. Walcott was a brilliant technical boxer. He could move, he could punch, he was always in good physical shape (except for the times earlier in his career the he was so poor he couldn’t eat properly). He also knew how to avoid taking punishment. Jersey Joe was a master of the Art of Boxing. Watching him move across the canvas is something to behold. Walcott could feint, he could parry, he was always in position and on balance. He would turn and start to walk away from his opponent and then suddenly turn back with a lethal combination. Witness his knock out of Ezzard Charles where Joe very nonchalantly steps in with a half hook, half uppercut to win the title. Just amazing.

Walcott vs Charles

Walcott and Ali both had their last fight at the age of 39. Ali had a total of 61 fights while Walcott had 71. Walcott fought professionally for 23 years, Ali for 21 years. Ali was off for three and a half years when he was banned from boxing, so he actually had around 18 years of activity. Walcott was stopped six times. With the exception of the Marciano and Louis fights these stoppages were earlier in his career when he was struggling to survive. Ali was stopped just once, by Holmes; however, he took a lot more punches than Walcott did.

The difference between the two was in their skills. Walcott actually got better with age. Ali deteriorated as he got older. But why?  Ali depended on his speed when he was younger. He was amazingly fast and had great reflexes. As he got older he began to lose that speed, and without it he started taking punches. He did not have the skills to to avoid being hit. He was no Jersey Joe Walcott. In fact, Ali depended on his ability to take punishment in order to win fights. During training sessions he would allow his sparring partners to unload on him. In a bizarre way he seemed to think by taking more punishment he was toughening himself for his upcoming matches. This took a terrible toll on him. Sure it made for exciting fights, but as can be seen in his fights with the likes of George Foreman, Ron Lyle, Ken Norton, Joe Frazier, and very notably, Earnie Shavers, he took some fearful shots. It is no wonder he ended up the way he did.

Jersey Joe Walcott

Walcott, on the other hand, always worked on his defense. He would spend hours in training honing his defensive skills, shadow boxing, working in front of the mirror, watching other fighters. Most importantly, he would work at not getting hit while sparring. When it came to true boxing skills Walcott was miles ahead of Ali. Joe had a full palette to draw from, while Ali was sorely lacking in the finer points of the Manly Art of Self Defense. Walcott was a true master at his trade, in contrast to Ali who had always depended on his physical abilities, first his speed and then his toughness, to carry him through. Walcott was a technician, Ali was a tough guy.

Compare these two champs in their retirement years and you can see the difference. Walcott remained sharp and clear headed. He became the Sheriff of Camden County New Jersey and also served on the boxing commission until he was 70 years old. From then until his death at the age of 80 he worked helping handicapped and disabled children. His defensive boxing skills served him well as he showed no signs of brain damage.

Muhammad Ali

Ali’s deterioration had already started before he retired from the ring. While he made appearances in his retirement years he had become, to people who were willing to face the truth, a symbol of the dark side of boxing. He had become that which he had mocked. It was almost Shakespearean in that Muhammad Ali would become that caricature of the punch drunk boxer he said would never be.
https://youtu.be/opAJBr9G9MYhttps://youtu.be/opAJBr9G9MY

The Four C Notes

The Four C Notes
Give A Barn Burner Performance
In Arundel

The Four C Notes
At Vinegar Hill Music Theatre
Arundel, Maine
Saturday June 17 and Sunday June 18

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

The Four C Notes

Vinegar Hill Music Theatre has kicked off their second season with the return of the Four Seasons tribute group The Four C Notes led by John Michael Coppola. I attended the Saturday night performance at Vinegar Hill Music Theatre, and if this show was any indication of the upcoming season it is going to be a hot and lively summer in the converted barn that is one of the most beautiful venues for musical performances in Maine.

Dressed in vintage clothing and backed by a terrific seven piece orchestra, Mr. Coppola was joined by Aaron Davidson, Adrian Aguilar, and Tyler Ravelson. The Four C Notes do not impersonate the Four Seasons. What they do is put on a wonderful evening comprised of recreating the still very popular music of the group led by Franke Valli. They do this with energy, enthusiasm, and humor. Mr. Coppola sings the lead with his wonderful falsetto voice and he has what it takes. He also allows the other members of the group to showcase their talents, they all have theatrical backgrounds that add to their performances.

The show opened with Oh What A Night, and then the gang moved right into a medley of Sherry, Big Girls Don’t Cry, and Walk Like A Man. The crowd was already feeling excitement as they were clapping and singing along. This was a high energy performance. As the Cs sang Sunday Kind Of Love a cappella I thought that much of the Four Seasons’ music is actually a cappella with instruments added to it. This led into the very popular Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.

Mr. Coppola sings the lead with his wonderful falsetto voice and he has what it takes.

In case you are thinking this was strictly a concert with one song after another being performed, that was not the case. There was quite a bit of showmanship involved. The Four C Notes were beautifully choreographed as they moved about the stage with precision but also with an ease that was very natural. The banter was funny and informative. Each member had a distinct personality and they all had fun playing off one another. Tyler Ravelson was the self proclaimed “Bad Boy” of the group, and on top of his marvelous bass voice he also showed his acting ability. He shined when taking the lead on Beggin’.  Aaron Davis stepped forward for the Doo-wop number Cry For Me and put it over smoothly. It brought the audience back to the days of street corner singing.

Adrian Aguilar, who had been in Rocky, The Musical on Broadway, led on My Eyes Adored You. It looks like Adrian developed a knock out of a voice while in Rocky and he was in championship form on this night. I will pass on the Yo! Adrian jokes as I am sure he has been hearing them long enough.

In an interesting medley called The Ones That Got Away, the group showcased a number of Four Season Songs that never made it to number ten on the charts. These included Save It For Me, Opus 17, Tell It To The Rain, and Girl Come Runnin’. While I was not familiar with these songs they had the unmistakable Seasons’ sound that drove so many other songs to the number one spot.

Vinegar Hill Music Theatre

The band was showcased at the beginning of the second set as they performed an instrumental version of Grease. With one exception, they were made up of local talent drawn from the Maine and Boston areas and all were excellent. Two favorites of mine were there and were absolutely solid as usual. Rob Doquette on drums and the remarkable Tom Snow on keyboards. They are Maine’s gift to the music world.

In the second set things didn’t slow down a bit. The Four Seasons had a lot of hits and they were included here. Dawn, Big Man In Town, Workin’ My Way Back To You as well as Rag Doll triggered the nostalgia nerve in everyone there.

John Michael Coppola, who was in the Chicago production of Jersey Boys, is just superb in so many ways. He has made this show special in that it was really a night of great entertainment that left the audience shouting for more. His dedication shows alongside his gift as a performer and a singer, a gift that he has made great use of.

With the crowd on its feet there was certainly going to be an encore, and much like the finale of a Fourth of July fireworks display, the boys let it all rip out with Grease that featured each performer, and a reprise of Oh What A Night. What a finish to a great night, and Oh! What a night it was!

 

Vincent Pastore and Sally Struthers to star in Bullets Over Broadway at the Ogunquit Playhouse

Open July 5th And Runs Through July 29th

Vincent Pastore (Nick Valente) and Reed Campbell (Cheech) With Ensemble

The Ogunquit Playhouse takes audience on a hilarious trip back to the Roaring Twenties with their production of the musical adaptation of Woody Allen and Douglas McGrath’s madcap film, Bullets Over Broadway on stage from July 5 – July 29. Hailed by Time Magazine as “Musical Theatre Gold!,” Bullets Over Broadway is the side-splitting musical comedy about the making of a Broadway show, filled with tap dancing gangsters, saucy showgirls, big laughs and colorful characters. A young playwright who is in desperate need of financial backing for his next show accepts an offer he can’t refuse from a gangster looking to please his ditzy, talentless girlfriend. Stage and screen star Vincent Pastore is cast as the mobster Nick Valenti, joined by Emmy-winner Sally Struthers who returns to the Playhouse as the dog-toting Eden Brent. Loaded with songs that made the ’20s roar, this six-time Tony-nominated musical features hits from the decedent decade, including “Let’s Misbehave,” “‘Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do” and “There’s a New Day Comin’!”
Vincent Pastore makes his debut at the Ogunquit Playhouse reprising the role of Nick Valenti, which he originated in the Broadway production of Bullets Over Broadway. He is best known for his long running performance on HBO’s The Sopranos, as well as his work on HBO’s 1996 television movie, Gotti and ABC’s The Practice. His numerous film roles include Goodfellas, Revolver, Made, and The Hurricane. On stage, he has played the role of Amos Hart in Chicago. His Off-Broadway roles include Queen for the Day and Lampost Reunion.

Two-time Emmy Award and Golden Globe Award winner Sally Struthers joins the cast as the dog-toting Eden Brent. She is probably best known for her role as Gloria in the groundbreaking TV series All in the Family. She has also starred in the Fox television series 9 to 5 and her own CBS series Gloria, as well as recurring roles on the CBS comedy Still Standing and the CW network’s highly acclaimed Gilmore Girls. Ms. Struthers joined the Gilmore cast for Netflix’s new four movie limited revival, which premiered in the fall of 2016, and recently guest starred in the acclaimed IFC comedy series Maron. Sally Struthers has performed many roles at Ogunquit Playhouse including last season’s Anything Goes as the socialite Evangeline Harcourt, as the Duchess Estonia Dulworth in Nice Work If You Can Get It, as Louise Seger in Always, Patsy Cline, Mama Morton in Chicago, Paulette the hairdresser in Legally Blonde and as Felicia Gabriel in The Witches of Eastwick.

John Rochette is making his debut at the Ogunquit Playhouse as young playwright, David Shayne. On Broadway, he starred as Norm Waxman in Jersey Boys. Off-Broadway, he’s performed with Blue Man Group at Center Blue Man and some of his many regional credits include Elvis in Million Dollar Quartet, as well as Sir Lancelot in Spamalot and Frank N Furter in Rocky Horror Picture Show. He has performed on television on NBC’s Guiding Light, and on ABC’s One Life to Live and All My Children.

Joining the cast is Reed Campbell, in his Ogunquit Playhouse debut as Cheech. He was Cookie McGee in the National Tour of Nice Work If You Can Get It, and performed off-Broadway in Important Hats Of The Twentieth Century at the Manhattan Theatre Club, in The Comedy Of Errors at The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park, and regionally as Judas Iscariot in Stage 773’s The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot. On television, he’s starred as C.O. Will Frank in Netflix’s hit series Orange Is The New Black and on NBC’s The Blacklist: Redemption. He is the co-creator of BROdway and Broadway Late Night on The Broadway Channel.

Reprising her role from the First National Tour of Bullets Over Broadway as Olive Neal is Jemma Jane. Her overseas credits include Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors, Texas in Cabaret, and as the Narrator in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Kenny Morris is making his Ogunquit debut as Julian Marx, the producer that enlists the help of a wealthy gangster to help pay for David Shayne’s play. On Broadway, he’s starred in Hairspray, Les Miserables, and the 20th Anniversary of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. He was a member of the National companies of Kinky Boots, Hairspray, Sunset Boulevard, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. He was nominated for a Barrymore Award for Best Supporting Actor for his regional performance in Funnyman at Arden Theatre. He can be seen on film in Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick, and on television on ABC’s Law & Order: Criminal Intent and NBC’s Third Watch.
John Paul Almon joins the cast as Warner Purcell. His Broadway and National credits include, Karpathy in the Kennedy Center’s My Fair Lady, Tussaud in The Scarlet Pimpernel, and as a performer in the past twelve seasons of The Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Regionally he was in the World Premiere of The Bridges of Madison County at Williamstown, and in the Carbonnell Award-winning, Romeo and Bernadette at Paper Mill Playhouse.

Joining the cast as Helen Sinclair in her Playhouse debut is Michele Ragusa. On Broadway, she’s starred as Elizabeth in Young Frankenstein, as Evelyn Nesbit in Ragtime, and as Pennywise in Urinetown, among others. Regionally she’s performed in Mame, Hello Dolly, Monty Python’s Spamalot, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Into the Woods, Marry Poppins, and Boeing, Boeing, as well as headlining with numerous symphonies across the country.
Bridget Elise Yingling returns to the Ogunquit Playhouse as Ellen, after last being seen on the Playhouse stage in 2015’s Sister Act. She is a recent graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and has starred as Little Red in Into the Woods, and Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie.

The ensemble members includes Blaire Baker, Jake Corcoran, Elizabeth Dugas, Carissa Fiorillo, Dan Higgins, Justin Jutras, Patrick Lavallee, Will Mann, Brian Martin, Vanessa Mitchell, Corinne Munsch, Kaylee Olson, Joey Ortolani, Kelly Peterson, Lexie Plath, and Ian Saunders.

Helming Bullets Over Broadway for the Ogunquit Playhouse is Jeff Whiting, who is recreating the original direction and Tony nominated choreography of five-time Tony Award winner Susan Stroman. He was associate director and choreographer on the Broadway production of Bullets Over Broadway alongside Stroman, and was director on the National Tour. Other Broadway credits include twelve-time Tony nominated The Scottsboro Boys, Big Fish, and Young Frankenstein as well as the National Tours of Hairspray and The Producers. A member of Disney’s Creative Team, he’s provided television direction for Disney’s Magical Moments Parade, as well as numerous shows and events such as Disney’s Very Merry Christmas, Disney’s 100 Years of Magic, and Disney’s Magic Mirror.
www.ogunquitplayhouse.org.  207.646.5511

 

 

The Hitmen Have A Hit In Ogunquit

Bullets Over Broadway

Ogunquit Playhouse

Through July 29

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Early in Bullets Over Broadway now playing at the Ogunquit Playhouse playwright David Shayne and a group of artist friends are discussing a hypothetical situation; If a building was burning down and the choice had to be made to save a person or the last remaining copy of the works of Shakespeare what would you choose to do? Shane and most of his friends said they would save the Shakespeare, as art was more important than the life of just one person. Later in the play he would be tested on this question and find the decision to be a bit more complicated.

Photo by Jay Goldsmith

Bullets Over Broadway is adapted from the 1994 Woody Allen film of the same. It has been turned into a musical, and after seeing both the movie and this fine production I have concluded it should have been a musical from the outset.

It does not have an original score. The music consists of catchy tunes from the period between World War I and II. Some of the songs will be familiar to the audience and some are fairly obscure. The music adds an atmosphere that was missing in the movie. It works and works well.

Playwright David Shayne, played with just the right amount of angst and comedy by the very talented John Rochette, has agreed reluctantly to compromise some of his artistic integrity by allowing the girlfriend of mob boss Nick Valenti to have a role in his play in exchange for having the gangster bankroll the production. Vincent Pastore, reprising his role from the original Broadway version of Bullets, is ideal as the man who takes time between musical numbers such as Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You sung to his ditzy girlfriend Olive played by Jemma Jane, to order hits on his enemies.

Photo by Gary Ng

Ms Jane is a hoot when she sings The Hot Dog Song, a saucy piece filled with double entendres and some interesting moves on her part. She appears to relish her role as the not so bright Olive. It is all such fun.

Reed Campbell is positively outstanding as Cheech, (“Not Mr. Cheech, it’s just Cheech.”), Valenti’s top hitman, who has been charged with keeping an eye on Olive as she attends rehearsals for the play. Cheech still finds time to make a hit while tending to Olive. There is an interesting scene where he and an accomplice take a victim for a ride while singing Up A Lazy River. Sure, it’s morbid, but it is also very funny.

Meanwhile, Shayne seems to be at peace with the deal he has made now that leading lady Helen Sinclair (Michele Ragusa) has agreed to star in his play. That peace is soon disrupted when he hears Olive rehearsing her lines with a voice that makes him cringe. He lights up the stage with I’m Sitting On Top Of The World. Mr. Rochette shows great chops as a song and dance man as he moves about the stage. He is very good.

Ms Ragusa does a fabulous job as the aging diva with a touch of Sunset Boulevard mixed in. Using an overly dramatic theatrical voice she is funny without becoming a caricature. She and Mr. Rochette are delightful singing There’s a Broken Heart for Every Light on Broadway.

This is musical theatre at it’s best. It is the Ogunquit Playhouse at its best.

One of the high points of the play, and there are many, is when Cheech and his fellow gangsters perform the song and dance number, Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness If I Do, Reed Campbell was absolutely fantastic with this high energy number and had many in the audience on their feet by the end. Campbell is an amazing talent who time and again wowed the crowd at the Playhouse.

In this interesting and funny story we see Cheech taking over authorship of the play as Shayne has to deal with having compromised his artistic integrity. Along the way we are treated to dancing hot dogs, an amazing set consisting of New York City rooftops, a train, vintage car, an actor who is also a compulsive eater who gives new meaning to growing into a part, and wonderful lighting. We are also gifted with the amazing Sally Struthers as Eden Brent who appears with her dog who also displays great acting ability. Ms Struthers take the stage in Ogunquit each season and never disappoints. She is the master of comedic timing.

This production is directed by Jeff Whiting who worked closely with Susan Stroman on the original production. He has recreated that direction and choreography for this show.

I want to add that both John Rochette and Reed Campbell are extraordinarily talented young actors. Having them share the stage with such experienced actors as Vincent Pastore and Sally Struthers is great to see. Both of these men have promising careers ahead of them. I could also say this about the entire cast. Everyone was wonderful. You could just feel the energy and excitement as it spilled into the audience. This is musical theatre at it’s best. It is the Ogunquit Playhouse at its best.

I rarely am disappointed by a show at the Playhouse, though there have been a few that aren’t on my see again list. But, the vast majority are extremely good. Bullets Over Broadway ranks as one of the best I have ever seen there. I strongly recommend you get to Ogunquit and see this production. I have a feeling tickets will be selling fast so I would not hesitate.

Oh, David Shayne finds he has a different answer to the question of whether or not to choose Shakespeare over the life of a human being when he is faced by the choice Cheech makes with dealing with Olive dragging the play down. It turns out Cheech has more artistic integrity, but David has found his humanity.

Bullets Over Broadway
Though July 29
The Ogunquit Playhouse
Ogunquit, Maine
ogunquitplayhouse.org
207.646.5511

 

Talking With Brandon G. Green

Award Winning Actor To Play
Benvolio In Commonwealth Shakespeare’s
Romeo and Juliet

by Bobby Franklin

For its 22nd season Commonwealth Shakespeare Company will be presenting Romeo and Juliet on the Boston Common. The production, which is free to the public, will run from July 19th through August 6th.

Brandon G. Green

Brandon G. Green, will be taking on the role of Benvolio, Romeo’s cousin and friend. Brandon grew up in Selma, Alabama and earned his Bachelor’s Degree from Alabama State University. He moved to the Boston area to attend Brandeis University where he received his MFA. He now teaches at Brandeis.

Most recently he was seen on a Boston stage in the part of Mr. Tambo in the critically acclaimed SpeakEasy Stage production of The Scottsboro Boys. He also won the 2016 Elliot Norton Best Actor Award for his role in the Company One/Arts Emerson production of An Octoroon.

I had a chance to speak with Brandon before rehearsal at the Sorenson Center for the Arts at Babson College in Wellesley.

When we began our conversation I was struck by his rich, deep voice. I could immediately imagine Brandon in the role of the peacemaker Benvolio. His tone would convey both a calming effect and a command that would certainly enable his message to be heard and understood. Accepting that message will prove to be another thing.

Brandon Green grew up in Selma, Alabama. I asked him if there was much opportunity there for a student to pursue acting. “I went to a school that was very much about the arts when I was in the 6th grade, the School of Discovery. I got the bug there. Well, I actually had the bug before then.”

When I asked about what he used as an outlet in his younger, pre 6th grade days, he responded “Yes, I had the bug way before then. I would take part in school assemblies, Christmas Plays, as well as at church.” Was he a class clown? “No, actually, I was really quiet, very quiet. In high school I was in the marching band and choir. There wasn’t a lot, but what they did have helped me out.”

He recalls his time at Alabama State University in Montgomery fondly, “It was a really amazing program. I would argue it is one of the best undergraduate programs in the country.”

“I kind of feel like I’m playing a bit of myself…”

Our conversation turns to his latest project, playing Benvolio for CSC. “I kind of feel like I’m playing a bit of myself. The peacemaker almost reluctantly taking care of his cousin. Benvolio has his own things but he is definitely there for Romeo, and definitely the peacemaker. I was very much that in my friend circles. I was also the one people would come to for counsel in a way. I found myself there a lot of times, and there were times I was in need of a Benvolio in my life.”

Kai Tshikosi (Tybalt) and Brandon Green (Benvolio)

When I ask about Benvolio being a voice of calm and reason in a play where so many characters are irrational, Brandon gives some insight. “Benvolio means good will, well wisher, peacemaker. I feel like the straight man to a lot of the chaos that goes on. He is the cool head that is trying to prevail and survive in a way.” Why is Benvolio no longer in the play after Act I? “The peacemaker in this world has decided go away. He’s not there and that dims the lights a bit.”

Brandon tells me he has always loved Shakespeare. At Selma High while in the 10th grade he took a theatre arts class. He remembers, “LeBaron Mack taught us the Scottish Play (MacBeth). It was my first way into it and I fell in love with it there. When I got to Alabama State I saw Othello. It was amazing.” Brandon would go on to the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey in 2010 and then to Brandeis where he got more training in classical theatre. Two years ago he played Oswald in the CSC production of King Lear.

Fight Director Angie Jepson, Kai Tshikosi, and Brandon Green.

Does he have a dream role? “I kind of already played it and that was in An Octoroon. I could not have dreamt up that role. It scared me. That was the perfect storm. A role that called on all my facilities as a performer. It was fun. It was challenging to myself and the audience. I got to let loose in a way I wanted to, or that I didn’t know I wanted to. I will carry that with me forever.”

As our conversation winds down I ask Brandon why people should see the CSC production of Romeo and Juliet on the Boston Common. “It is a magical experience. I truly believe that. Also, seeing a cast this diverse telling the story is incredible. There is nothing like this, it is transformative. You are out there with thousands of people. It’s crazy and it’s beautiful. A very unique experience.” His enthusiasm is contagious.

“Theatre is a collaborative between the audience and the performers..”

In closing I ask Brandon what he would like to say to the audience. I found his comments very thoughtful, sincere, and important. “Theatre is a collaborative between the audience and the performers, so please, we need your energy as much as you need ours. It’s reciprocal.”

Shakespeare said “All the world’s a stage.” Well, you have a wonderful opportunity to share that stage this summer with a very talented and committed actor. Join Brandon Green and the rest of the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company on the Common for what will surely be a great experience.

Romeo and Juliet
Boston Common
July 19 through August 6
commshakes.org
617.426.0863

Photos by Bobby Franklin

Dempsey vs Sharkey: Protect Yourself At All Times

Did Dempsey Hit Sharkey Low?

by Bobby Franklin

On September 23, 1926 Jack Dempsey lost the Heavyweight Championship of the World to Gene Tunney. Dempsey had been inactive for three years before the bout while Tunney had been racking up wins and staying sharp. After the bout there was a clamor for a rematch, but things were a bit different in those days. Even a former champion had to earn his right to a return title bout.

Dempsey, while champion, had agreed to fight Harry Wills but the fight fell through when the promoters failed to come up with Dempsey’s guarantee. Instead, Dempsey went on to face Tunney. Meanwhile, Boston heavyweight Jack Sharkey was compiling a solid record of wins including beating Harry Wills by disqualification. Though Jack won by a foul because Wills was repeatedly backhanding the him, the outcome was never in doubt as Sharkey had administered a severe beating to Wills before the fight was called in the 13th round. This paved the way for a Dempsey vs Sharkey bout with the winner to face Gene Tunney for the title.

Going into the fight Sharkey had gone unbeaten in his last 13 bouts with wins over such men as George Godfrey, Jimmy Maloney, and Mike McTigue. Sailor Jack was brash, cocky, colorful, and a bit erratic. He was also supremely confident he would beat Dempsey. The oddsmakers agreed with him making Sharkey a 7-5 favorite.

The public was very enthused with this matchup as 82,000 fans showed up at Yankee Stadium on July 21, 1927 to witness the fight. Celebrities were there in abundance including Admiral Richard Byrd, Composer Irving Berlin, Flo Ziegfeld, and theatrical producer David Belasco. The gate was an amazing $1,083,530.00, the largest for a non title fight. Dempsey received $252,759.00 and Sharkey’s share was $208,803.00, huge money for the time.

Both fighters were in great shape, but Sharkey was seven years younger and hungry for a title shot. While Dempsey had showed signs of slowing down he was, well, he was still Jack Dempsey and not one to take lightly. The Manassa Mauler was in there to win.

After receiving instructions from referee Jack O’Sullivan the bout began. Sharkey came out very strong in the first round and had Dempsey hurt almost immediately. Sharkey was fighting beautifully, using a very effective right uppercut and a marvelous jab to keep Dempsey off balance. He continued beating Dempsey to the punch for six rounds and it only appeared to be a question of whether or not Sharkey would win by kayo or decision. It did not look good for the former champ.

Though taking a beating, Dempsey was tenacious. He was also doing a very effective job of going to Sharkey’s body. Jack Dempsey knew he couldn’t stand up straight and trade head shots with Sharkey, so he did what he did best, he fought out of his famous crouched attacking the midsection. While Dempsey was hurting Sharkey with those body shots, he was paying a heavy price having to absorb Sharkey’s uppercut and solid left jab. It is overlooked, but Sharkey had one of the best left jabs in the history of the heavyweight division.

As I have written, it just appeared to be a matter of time until the fight went to Jack Sharkey. However, if you watch closely you can see how the body punches were starting to bother Sharkey. As a matter of fact, he came into the ring wearing his trunks quite high in anticipation of Dempsey banging away to the breadbasket. He could use the high waist line as a way to argue Dempsey’s blows were low and hope the referee would warn him to keep his punches up. Sharkey had won three fights in addition to the Wills fight by disqualification. Was it possible he was using that as an ace in the hole in case things weren’t going well? If he did it certainly backfired on him.

At the bell for the seventh round Dempsey stepped up his attack on Sharkey’s body. If you look closely at the film you can see Sharkey was being bothered by those blows. With about thirty seconds gone in the round Dempsey landed lefts and rights to the body. He landed a right hand to Sharkey’s body that appears to land just about at the belt line. Now remember, Sharkey wore his trunks high so this would be in legal territory. Even if his trunks were worn at normal height the belt line is still fair game.

Here’s my take on this controversial fight; Sharkey was being worn down by Dempsey’s relentless body punching. He had hit the former champ with everything he had and Dempsey just would not slow up. Sharkey had thrown a lot of punches. Combine that with the brutal body punches he absorbed and, even though he was way ahead in the bout, he was wearing down. The final right hand Dempsey landed to the body hurt Sharkey a lot. That’s when Sailor Jack made the fatal mistake of dropping his hands and turning to the referee to complain he had been hit low. The second Dempsey saw that opening he fired off a left hook to the face that floored Sharkey. Referee O’Sullivan counted the Gob out.

Now, that punch may have felt low to Sharkey because it was a brutal shot, but I think Jack had had enough of getting hit to the body and was going to try for the disqualification win. The mistake he made was in complaining to the referee while still on his feet. If he had dropped to the canvas and grabbed his groin he may have gotten somewhere with the complaint. Dropping his hands while within punching range of the great Jack Dempsey was about the dumbest thing he could have done. Sharkey broke the first rule of boxing, “Protect yourself at all times.”

Jack Dempsey would go on to have a rematch wth Gene Tunney in what would turn out to be another controversial fight that became known as The Long Count. Sharkey would also be involved in a controversial fight when he took on Max Schmeling for the title vacated by the retirement of Gene Tunney. In this bout Sharkey would lose by a disqualification when Max claimed to be hit by a low blow. Schmeling was a little smarter than Sharkey as he dropped to the canvas before complaining to the referee. Things may have been different if Jack had one the same with Dempsey.

Ragtime Opens At The Ogunquit Playhouse

Tony Award Winning Musical Plays August 2nd Through August 26th

Ragtime, the Tony Award winning musical, will run at the Ogunquit Playhouse from August 22nd through August 26th. In addition to a cast and creative team made up of Broadway veterans, it will also feature the original Tony nominated costumes by Santo Loquasto.

Ragtime tells the story of three families trying to find their way during the turn of the twentieth century in New York City; each struggling with the changing cultural climate in America and each facing the promise of hope and new beginnings in the midst of prejudice and bigotry. A stifled upper-class wife, a determined Jewish immigrant and a daring young Harlem musician are each united by their courage, compassion and belief in the promise of the future. Together, they confront history’s timeless contradictions of wealth and poverty, freedom and prejudice, hope and despair… and what it means to live in America. Written by the award-winning composer/lyricist team of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, Tony Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally, and based on E.L. Doctorow’s distinguished novel, Ragtime is the winner of the 1998 Tony Awards for Best Score, Book and Orchestrations, and both the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Musical and Best Score.

“Truly a story we need to tell at this point in our nation’s history, Ragtime is one of the most powerful shows ever written for the stage, and possibly my favorite show of all time,” stated Executive Artistic Director Bradford Kenney. “To tell this compelling story we have brought together a stellar creative team led by Director Seth Skylar-Heyn. Broadway set designer Tim Mackabee has also joined the team to create an all-new set for our Ogunquit production. I am looking forward to a production of Ragtime that we all will be so very proud of.”

The Ogunquit production of Ragtime will be directed by Seth Skylar-Heyn who has served as Executive Producer for Cameron MacKintosh Inc. in New York. He is also the Executive Producer and Associate Director for the 2017 Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

Kirsten Scott

The cast includes Kirsten Scott making he Ogunquit Playhouse debut. Ms Scott has played in numerous Broadway productions including Follies, Big Fish, and Jersey Boys.

Also making his Playhouse debut is Jamie Laverdiere whose Broadway credits include The Producers, Pirate Queen, and Motown. He has also played in the National Tours of Urinetown, Motown, and A Chorus Line.

Other members of the cast include Josh Young, last seen in Ogunquit in Les Miserables, Darnell Abraham who was in the Barrington Stage Company’s production of Ragtime, Lindsay Roberts, IRNE Nominee for Best Supporting Actress for her 2016 performance as Queenie in Fiddlehead Theater’s Showboat.

ogunquitplayhouse.org
207.646.5511

Ragtime, A Delightful and Thought Provoking Syncopation In Ogunquit

Ragtime
The Ogunquit Playhouse Through August 26th

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

As the musical Ragtime begins it appears to be a bit overwhelming. The play has a huge cast, and I wondered how I would keep track of all the characters and what was going on. I soon realized that it was like watching a huge chess board with numerous pieces that were constantly in motion. All of these pieces had a purpose that soon became very clear.

Cast of Ragtime
(Photo: Gary Ng)

The story, set in early 20th Century America, revolves around three groups of people, the established old guard, the recent immigrants (Mostly from Eastern Europe), and African Americans. The struggles, pain, hopes, disappointments, coping with change, successes, failures, and tragedies are all captured in this work. And while it takes place over a hundred years ago, many of these struggles are constant in a free society that is continually dealing with changes. It is what makes the United States so great while also so vulnerable to making mistakes.

Ragtime has a truly marvelous score. The fact that so much of it is played with the delightful syncopations of ragtime is fitting. Fitting because the new music of the time represents so many of the changes then occurring. I am not a musician but I felt there was more to the music than just being used as a period piece, so I looked up the definition of syncopation. I found it is a term for “a disturbance or interruption of the regular flow of rhythm” a “placement of rhythmic stresses or accents where they wouldn’t normally occur.”; and that is just what is going on in Ragtime.

This fine production captures so well that interruption of the regular flow in the lives of all involved. Everyone one involved is dealing with change, drastic change. Tateh (Josh Young) the Jewish immigrant from Latvia who has brought his young daughter to America in the hope of giving her a better life, Coalhouse (Darnell Abraham), the African American musician, who has worked hard to make a good life for his family, the unnamed father and mother (Jamie LaVerdiere and Kirsten Scott) who are faced with the “interruption” in their way of living they have known for some time.

For one it turns out well, for another tragic, and for another transformational. It is fascinating, though at times overly predictable, to watch. It is also quite thought provoking because none of the issues addressed are simply black and white. What is to be done when change doesn’t occur fast enough? When justice is not equally applied? Is vengeance ever justified? We hear from Booker T. Washington (Rod Singleton), Emma Goldman (Klea Blackhurst), and Admiral Peary (Joel Robertson).

The discussion between Washington and Coalhouse after a terrible injustice has occurred is very thought provoking. How to deal with such injustice is a question that is not easy to answer.

Josh Young and Ella Luke-Tedeschi (Photo: Gary Ng)

Though dealing with so many serious questions, this is also a lively and funny play. There are appearances by Harry Houdini (Freddie Kimmel) and the singer Evelyn Nesbit (Carly Hueston Ambur), and a wonderful scene at a baseball game that captures the fun of the early game but also shows the difficulty in some being able to accept the changing ethnicities of the players.

The score is superb. It flows smoothly and keeps the story connected. Darnell Abraham’s rendition of Make Them Hear You is particularly powerful not only in its lyrics but because of the deep emotion Abraham brings to it.

As I have said, this play has a huge cast so it is impossible to give credit to all of the excellent performances in the limited space I have. However, I have to mention one member of the cast that not only impressed me but who also had the audience talking about him after the show.

Seven year old Tyler Wladis as The Little Boy was just phenomenal. I have never seen such talent in someone so young. Tyler had a huge part with many lines, both opening and closing the play. His opening monologue set the tone for what was to unfold. His expressions and movements about the stage were just impeccable. This young man has an energy and timing that is truly amazing. He was simply a joy to watch and will surely be seen again.

Ragtime at the Ogunquit Playhouse is an interesting and well done work. It is thought provoking and fun. It will provoke much discussion afterwards. I would just warn you not to take a position of moral superiority when having a conversation about it. Remember, just because someone has views that differ from yours or is not from the same socio economic background does not mean they are evil. I firmly believe that the vast majority of the American people only want better lives for their families and for others. The approaches to the problems facing our society may be different, but if you keep in mind our goals are similar and meant for the better it will maybe, just maybe, make it easier for us to talk to each other.

Ragtime shows us the difficulties in dealing with change, but change will always be occurring as it always has. We can deal with it. Let’s tone down the moral superiority and stop the shouting and lecturing. That is what I have taken away from this wonderful play. It will never be easy, but there s much more kindness than cruelty out there. We just need to listen.

Ragtime Through August 26th
Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, Maine
ogunquitplayhouse.org
207.646.5511

2017-2018 Boston Theatre Season Gets Underway

Lyric Stage, SpeakEasy Stage Company, and Huntington Theatre
Light Up In September

An exciting new theatre season is about to get underway in Boston. Three of our best local companies will soon be raising their curtains in what promises to be an exciting season of both new and classic works. We are lucky to have so many great companies in Boston and this should be another great year of theatre.

Huntington Theatre Company Presents

Merrily We Roll Along

Over at the Huntington Theatre Stephen Sondheim’s legendary musical Merrily We Roll Along will open on September 8th and run through October 15th. Director Maria Friedman will recreate her critically acclaimed West End production for the Boston stage, a production that received the most five star reviews in West End history.

Stephen Sondheim

It also received praise from Stephen Sondheim who said “This production of Merrily We Roll Along is not only the best I’ve seen, but one of those rare instances where casting, direction, and show come together in perfect combination, resulting in the classic ideal of the sum being greater than the parts.”

The cast includes Mark Embers and Damian Humbly who will reprise their roles from the London production, Aimee Doherty who was in last year’s Huntington production of Sunday In The Park With George, and Jennifer Ellis who was just spectacular in last year’s SpeakEasy production of The Bridges Of Madison County.

huntngtontheatre.org 617.266.0800

Men On Boats
At The SpeakEasy Stage Company

From September 8 to October 7, 2017, SpeakEasy Stage Company will proudly present the Boston-area premiere of MEN ON BOATS, a comic adventure tale about an actual 1869 expedition to chart the Colorado River, brought thrillingly to life by a diverse non-male cast.

 

Men On Boats

The play is the work of Brooklyn resident Jaclyn Backhaus, who stipulates that, while the characters in the play were historically cisgender white males, the cast should be made up entirely of people who are not. “I am talking about racially diverse actors who are female-identifying, trans-identifying, genderfluid, and/or non-gender-conforming,” notes the playwright in the script.

The result is a hilarious historical pageant that offers both a provocative and contemporary lens through which to view our shared past.

Somerville resident Dawn M. Simmons will direct SpeakEasy’s Boston Premiere production of MEN ON BOATS. In addition to her many directing credits, Ms. Simmons is co-Artistic Director of New Exhibition Room, Artistic Lead with The Front Porch Theatre Collective, a member of the StageSource Board, and Director of Performing Arts for Boston Center for the Arts.

To go on this journey with her, Ms. Simmons has assembled a talented crew of Boston-based actors: Lyndsay Allyn Cox, Ally Dawson, Veronika Duerr, Bridgette Hayes, Alice Kabia, Mal Malme, Cody Sloan, Robin Javonne Smith, Hayley Spivey, and Ellie van Amerongen.

The all-female design team is Jenna McFarland (scenic); Rachel Padula-Shufelt (costumes); Daisy Long (lighting); and Elizabeth Cahill (sound).

MEN ON BOATS will run for five weeks, from September 8 through October 7, in the Roberts Studio Theatre in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street in Boston’s South End.

www.SpeakEasyStage.com 617.933.8600.

Gypsy
A Musical Fable
At The Lyric Stage

Once again, this year the Lyric Stage will take a lavish Broadway production and set it in the intimate confines of the theatre on Clarendon Street in Boston. My Fair Lady and Camelot both received rave reviews in the last two seasons and the Lyric has shown the magic that can be made by producing intimate versions of these classic musicals.

Featuring Leigh Barrett as Rose, Kirsten Salpini as Louise, Kira Troilo as June, and Steven Barkhimer as Herbie plus direction and choreography by Rachel Bertone audiences will have high exceptions for this production. I doubt the Lyric will let them down.

Jule Styne

With music by Jute Style and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Gypsy is one of the iconic musicals in theatre history.

Tickets tend to sell fast for these Lyric Stage musicals, so I would urge you not to wait long. Gypsy runs from September 1st through October 8th.

lyricstage.com 617.585.5678

 

Ogunquit Playhouse Set to Stage the World Premiere of Heartbreak Hotel

The Story Of Elvis Presley’s Early Years To Run August 30 though September 20

From the creator of Tony Award-winning musical Million Dollar Quartet, the Ogunquit Playhouse is proud to produce the World Premiere of Heartbreak Hotel, as part of its 85th anniversary season, on stage August 30 to September 30. This brand new musical tells the story of Elvis Presley’s journey from an unknown musician to the cusp of his super-stardom. This new musical features hit songs from the King himself, as well as the legends who influenced his iconic music, with chart-toppers including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Tutti Frutti,” “That’s All Right,” “Shake Rattle and Roll,” and, of course, “Heartbreak Hotel.”

Executive Artistic Director Bradford T. Kenney stated, “Throughout this year I have had the privilege of working very closely with Floyd Mutrux, the creator of the Tony Award-winning musical Million Dollar Quartet on its prequel, Heartbreak Hotel, now making its premiere on our stage. It has been an incredible journey working hand in hand with Floyd, the commercial partners, and Authentic Brands Group/Elvis Presley Enterprises, to bring the rich story and music of Elvis to life. Elvis became one of the great icons of our popular culture. He made a lasting imprint on our society, and his career changed the course of popular music, not only in our country, but around the world – all during a time of great change in America. I am thrilled that Ogunquit audiences will be the first to see this exciting new show.”

Eddie Clendening

This brand new tribute to the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” features actors who also play all their own instruments. It stars Eddie Clendening in the role of Elvis Presley, as well as Co-Musical Director. Mr. Clendening originated the role of Elvis in the Broadway production of Million Dollar Quartet, which he played for 1500 performances, and later Off-Broadway for 523 performances. He will recreate the role for this tender story that follows Elvis Presley in the early years of his bourgeoning career as he and Sam Phillips create the music that will forever change their lives. As Elvis’ career skyrockets, both lifting and shattering the lives of those he loves, a secret love story is revealed, a betrayal is discovered, and “Colonel” Tom Parker changes the course of history. When describing the show, Writer/Director Floyd Mutrux explained, “This is the story of 18 months of the life of a truck driver, and how he and his music impacted the world around him.”

Jerry Kernion makes his debut at the Ogunquit Playhouse as Col. Tom Parker, Elvis Presley’s long-time manager. Mr. Kernion has performed around the world with The Reduced Shakespeare Company for the last 15 years; many regional and international productions including Cirque du Soliels’ The Beatles, LOVE, Cirque du Soliels’ Banana Shpeel; and various shows at regional theatres including Laguna Playhouse, Merrimack Repertory Theatre, San Diego Repertory Theatre, and many more.

Joining the cast as Sam Phillips, the record producer who founded Sun Records and is credited with discovering Elvis Presley, is Matt McKenzie. He recently debuted on Broadway in Monday After the Miracle with Jane Alexander, directed by Arthur Penn. He’s played leading roles at many regional theatres across the country. In the Academy Award-winning film Gods and Monsters, he played Colin Clive opposite Sir Ian McKellan.

Also returning to the Ogunquit Playhouse is Christopher Sutton who will portray Dewey Phillips, one of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s early disc jockeys. He was last seen on the Ogunquit stage as Prince Herbert in Spamalot.

Los Angeles music scene veteran Geno Henderson serves as Co-Music Director and also appears as B.B. King, Ike Turner and Chuck Berry in this production. Mr. Henderson is a guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, who has toured, recorded and/or made television with: The Gap Band (featuring Charlie Wilson), The Pointer Sisters, Billy Preston, Roberta Flack, James Ingram and Patti Austin (at Carnagie Hall), Smokey Robinson, Sly Stone, and many others. In 2011, he made his Broadway debut originating the role of Jocko Henderson in the musical Baby It’s You.

Bassist Nathan Yates Douglass returns to the Ogunquit Playhouse as Bill Black, one of the pioneers of Rock ‘n’ Roll music and bassist in Elvis Presley’s trio in the early days of his career. He was last seen on the Ogunquit stage in the 2016 production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Million Dollar Quartet. His National Tour credits include The Buddy Holly Story and The Tammy Wynette Story, and Off-Broadway On the Bum.

Drummer Jamie Pittle will perform as DJ Fontana, a drummer for the Louisiana Hayride radio broadcasts and Elvis Presley’s drummer for fifteen years. Mr. Pittle appeared Off-Broadway in the US Premiere of Missed Connections and Requiem for a Lost Girl. In regional theatres he has appeared in Million Dollar Quartet as Fluke, and The Buddy Holly Story as Jerry Allison. Guitarist Matt Codina will make his acting debut in Heartbreak Hotel as Scotty Moore, the guitarist and recording engineer who was known for backing Elvis Presley in the first part of his career, up to the beginning of Elvis’s Hollywood years.

Brenna Bloom portrays Marion and the queen of Rockabilly, Wanda Jackson. She has performed Off-Broadway in One Day and in regional theatres in such productions as Spring Awakening, Chicago, Grease and A Chorus Line. Erin Burniston plays Elvis’ girlfriend Dixie Lock. She recently performed in the National Tour of Spring Awakening and in regional theatre productions of Gypsy, La Cage Aux Folles, Hello, Dolly!, George M!, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and many more.

Director and writer for Heartbreak Hotel is Floyd Mutrux, who is the co-author of the Tony award-winning Million Dollar Quartet and the co-author/director of the Tony nominated Broadway production of Baby It’s You!

Individual tickets are on sale and prices start at $52 each.  www.ogunquitplayhouse.org  Box Office: 207-646-5511.

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company Announces 2017-2018 Season

Season includes Fear and Misery in the Third Reich,
Old Money, Death and the Maiden,
Richard III on Boston Common, and more

Steven Maler

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company (CSC) Founding Artistic Director Steven Maler announced today the 2017-18 Season, to be presented at the Sorenson Center for the Arts at Babson College in Wellesley, as well as in downtown Boston.

Mr. Maler explained the themes connecting the season offerings: “William Faulkner said ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’  I keep coming back to this quote as I think about the world we find ourselves in today, as we struggle to make sense of our rapidly changing world. Industries are being disrupted, politics are being disrupted, lives are being disrupted. In this sea of change, where norms are being upturned and the future is murky, I wanted to look at how great writers responded to mercurial times, how they captured the fleeting moments of civic and personal decisions when history was not yet inexorably fixed, when a change of direction was still possible. These plays capture the subtle, and not so subtle, fissures in the daily domestic tapestry as the Nazi’s came to power in Germany in Bertolt Brecht’s Fear and Misery in the Third Reich; the half-lives of destruction in the wake of a tyrannical military dictatorship in Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden; the power of money, both old and new, in Wendy Wasserstein’s Old Money; the chaos and devastation of political instability in Macbeth; and of the destructive rise and fall of one of Shakespeare’s most riveting villains in Richard III. It’s an intense season for an intense time, a season of plays that we hope provoke deep thought about how we want to be remembered by history.”

Fear and Misery in the Third Reich:  A Staged Reading
by Bertolt Brecht, translated by Eric Bentley, directed by Steven Maler;
featuring Tony Shalhoub and Brooke Adams
Monday, November 13, 2017 at 7:00 P.M.
Carling-Sorenson Theater, Babson College

Brecht’s series of 18 interconnected playlets describe what life was like in German households in the 1930s as the Nazis came to power. Written while Brecht was in exile in Denmark and first performed in Paris in 1938, these poignant stories dramatize the suspicion and anxiety experienced by ordinary people, particularly Jewish citizens, as the power of Hitler grew. The reading features renowned film and theater actors Tony Shalhoub and Brooke Adams.

Theatre in the Rough is a script-in-hand reading series presented without common theatrical elements like sets or costumes. These pared-down readings uniquely engage the audience by immersing them in the immediacy of the text and the actors’ performances, allowing one’s own imagination to take creative flight.


Death and the Maiden           
a play by Ariel Dorfman, directed by Steven Maler
January 30–February 11, 2018
Sorenson Black Box, Babson College

After the fall of the totalitarian regime in a South American country, a former political prisoner finds herself face to face with the man she believes was her captor, a sadistic doctor who’s face she never saw. Is he guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, or is her paranoia getting the better of her?

Old Money
by Wendy Wasserstein, directed by Karen McDonald
March 6–18, 2018
Carling-Sorenson Theater, Babson College

A dinner party in a fashionable home offers a rich and witty look at social classes and issues of wealth and privilege — from the Gilded Age of the early 20th century to the present day.

Macbeth
by William Shakespeare, directed by David Gammons
featuring the CSC2 Company of early-career actors
Carling-Sorenson Theater, Babson College
June 1, 2018 Shakespeare’s classic tragedy dramatizes the damaging effects of political ambition on those who seek power for its own sake.

Richard III – Free Shakespeare on the Boston Common!
by William Shakespeare, directed by Steven Maler


July – August, 2018Shakespeare’s searing chronicle of a ruthless leader’s ascension through betrayals and multiple murders, and the devastation he leaves in his wake as he gains power over the realm.

In addition, CSC presents its annual series, Shakespeare and the Law and Shakespeare and Leadership as follows;

Shakespeare & the Law: Measure for Measure
Directed by Adam Sanders
Tuesday, September 26, 2017 at 6:00 P.M.
Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston

Info: commshakes.org  617-426-0863

NEW REPERTORY THEATRE PRESENTS
 THE BOSTON-AREA PREMIERE OF 
IDEATION

BY AARON LOEB
DIRECTED BY JIM PETOSA
SEPTEMBER 2-24, 2017

“This season we felt compelled to look at the resilience of the human spirit,” says Artistic Director Jim Petosa. “At a time when it is increasingly difficult to decipher truth from fallacy in politics and the news, Ideation allows us to explore actions of thought in the creation of realties. In this thrilling, and darkly comic mystery, the truth becomes so twisted that we begin to question everything. We’re asking those who see the show to please spread the word, but don’t give away the ending!”
“After the tremendous success of last year, we’re thrilled to present another remarkable season