All posts by Bobby Franklin

Review: “The Cake” At The Lyric Stage In Boston

The Cake

Nobody Has The Corner On Self Righteousness 

Reviewed By Bobby Franklin

Karen MacDonald

I almost declined the invitation to review The Cake, now playing at the Lyric stage in Boston. Many works today are taking on societal issues, and getting people to think about what is going on around them while being more open to listening to the views of others is a good thing. It is healthy when we challenge ourselves and our, very often, deeply held views. It doesn’t mean we will necessarily change them, but understanding where others are coming from and why they feel the way they do helps to prevent us from putting up walls between one another and feeling anger. As hard as it is to believe, we can actually get along with people with whom we disagree. 

The problem with much theatre that I attend today is that it is self righteous. Instead of posing questions that will make us consider other views, many of the works I see tend to preach, and worse, demand that the audience members fall in line with a particular view point. I have received press packages that are filled with materials that all but tell me what I am supposed to feel about the play and about myself. Frankly, I find this insulting and disrespectful. It is also counterproductive. 

Kris Sidberry and Chelsea Diehl
Photo: Mark S. Howard

This used to be rare, but it is becoming too common today probably due to the polarizing times we live in. One exception to this is Ayad Akhtar’s The Who & The What that played at The Huntington Theatre in 2017 and dealt with the issues facing a Muslim family living in America. It was thought provoking but not preachy. Mr. Akhtar has said “Advocacy is not art, it’s advertising”. I couldn’t agree more.

In The Cake, author Bekah Brunstetter takes a similar approach. The play is about a gay couple living in New York, Jen (Chelsea Diehl) and Macy (Kris Sidberry), who have traveled to Jen’s original home in North Carolina where they plan to get married. Jen wants the ceremony to take place in the same venue where her parents were wed. Her mother has passed on but it is apparent she is looking for acceptance as she can not know, but does suspect, how her mother would feel about this. 

The play opens at Della’s Sweets, a bakery run by Della (Karen MacDonald) who was close to Jen’s mother and has known Jen since she was little. Della is very excited about having become a contestant on The Great American Bake Off, and is describing what it takes to make a good cake. Jen wants Della to bake the wedding cake for her and Macy. Macy arrives at the shop ahead of her and engages Della in conversation. 

At this point it all seems to be very predictable; the dumb and bigoted hick will respond with hate and disgust at the request while the enlightened couple will be both victim and moral superiors to the backward folks living down south. That is not at all how this plays.

Karen MacDonald and Chelsea Diehl
Photo: Mark S. Howard

Ms Brunstetter shows empathy for all of the characters and allows that many issues are not that cut and dried. In a twist, Macy turns out to be the self righteous one who has no room for differing views, while Della is willing to face the conflicts she faces with her beliefs. It is refreshing to see a Southern Evangelical treated with respect. And while Della is willing to question herself, Macy is very judgmental and believes “If you don’t want to be a bigot you have to think like me”. 

Jen is the most conflicted as she had been close to Della and was brought up in the same cultural environment. It is clear that Della is a mother figure to her. Having Della bake the cake for the wedding is important to her, but Jen is also understanding, while hurt, when Della makes excuses for not doing so. Della is also feeling pain as she loves Jen. There is a lot of emotional conflict here that spills over into the relationship between Macy, who grew up in New York, and Jen.

Fred Sullivan,Jr. and Karen MacDonald
Photo: Mark S. Howard

Karen MacDonald is perfect as Della, a woman without an inch of hate in her heart but views that are considered backwards, and even hateful, by big city liberals. Tim (Fred Sullivan, Jr)., Della’s husband, is a plumber. This is where I felt things could fall apart as the stereotype so often portrayed of white working class men is not usually flattering. While Tim is set in his ways, he is also a decent man who deeply loves Della. He also enjoys mashed potatoes which makes for a very funny scene, but you will have to see the play to find out what that is all about.

The interactions between Macy and Jen as well as between Della and Tim are both insightful into why they believe the things they do and what they believe about others. It is this hard facts back and forth that occurs between Della and Jen that really digs into the conflicted feelings they both are dealing with as well as a way to start understanding each other. 

Chelsea Diehl digs deep down into Jen emotions, those of a woman with a foot in two cultures. Jen does not agree with Della, but she understands her, while Della’s moral code precludes her from baking the cake, her heart tells her it is good that the little girl she has always loved has found someone she is in love with. They truly care for each other.

Chelsea Diehl and Kris Sidberry
Photo: Mark S. Howard

The one fault I found with the play is in the character of Macy. Kris Sidberry gives us a character that is so certain of her beliefs that she has an almost religious fervor about them, and many of us will recognize that person; the take no prisoner true believer. However, by the time the play moves to where the characters are beginning to find common ground it is too little too late for Macy. She has done something particularly cruel that gets brushed off and shouldn’t. And though she finds some common ground toward the play’s end, her journey there is not fully developed.

The Cake may involve a baker and the choice not to bake a cake for the wedding of a gay couple, but it is not about the right or wrong of making that choice. This is a play about how listening, and more importantly, treating one another with respect is the way to finding a way to understand one another. A way not to react with hate at that with which we do not agree. That goes for all people. 

This is a sweet play baked with warmth and humor about people being, for the most part, kind and understanding of one another without having to compromise their beliefs. This is not a dig in your heels political diatribe, but rather a thoughtful look at how we are all human, and of how we really can get along. The Cake is refreshing and delicious and is certainly worthy of being tasted.

The Cake

Directed By Courtney O’Connor

Through February 9

The Lyric Stage, Copley Square, Boston

617.585.5678

lyricstage.comR

GREATER BOSTON STAGE COMPANY PRESENTS THE WORLD PREMIERE OF “SWAN LAKE IN BLUE: A JAZZ BALLET”

 

Greater Boston Stage Company is proud to announce the World Premiere Dance Event Swan Lake in Blue: A Jazz Ballet, created and composed by renowned jazz musician and composer Steve Bass. Choreographed and staged by GBSC Associate Artistic Director and multiple IRNE and Elliot Norton Award Winner Ilyse Robbins, Swan Lake in Blue: A Jazz Ballet is inspired by and loosely based on Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece, Swan Lake. 

Featuring big band jazz music as well as a company of tap and jazz dancers, Swan Lake in Blue: A Jazz Ballet tells the story of a Broadway producer who falls madly in love with a burlesque dancer, Odette. He then discovers that she is under the control of a terrible mob boss and is being forced to perform nightly at The Swan Club. Passion, betrayal and mistaken identities ensue—will Odette fly away from her past or stay caged forever? 

Choreographer Ilyse Robbins is a celebrated tap dancer, having danced with tap legend Gregory Hines. She has won IRNE awards for Best Choreographer for Dames at Sea, How to Succeed in Business…, and 42nd Street, among others. She is thrilled to be staging to Bass’ creation. “This production is the perfect complement to GBSC’s commitment to telling familiar stories in fresh new ways,” says Robbins. 

Composer and creator Steve Bass says of the Premiere, “Jazz was my first musical love, and I’ve also always loved tap dance. This piece is ballet at its core— storytelling though dance and instrumental music—and I have replaced the classical orchestra with a jazz big band and replaced the ballet dancers with tap, jazz, and lyrical dancers. The idea was to have something that looked and sounded much closer to a Broadway musical, but with no words—a Jazz Ballet. I immediately knew I wanted to base it on Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and I began adapting the classic fairy tale into a 1940s New York City setting.” 

Cast Members:

SARA COOMBS (Odette/Odile) is an actress/choreographer/teaching artist based in NYC. As a performer, she was most recently seen on the GBSC stage as Doris Walker in Miracle on 34th Street. Other GBSC credits include: 42nd Street, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Dames at Sea, She Loves Me and Being Earnest. She has choreographed Off-Broadway shows, national tours, and many musicals in regional theatres. Sara is a member as well as thechoreographer of Manhattan Shuffle: NYC’s Premiere Song and Tap Trio – manhattanshuffle.com. With over 15 years of teaching experience, Sara has taught tap dance and theatre at Broadway Dance Center, Peridance Capezio Center in NYC, and at multiple theaters throughout New England. She holds a B.F.A in Musical Theatre from The Boston Conservatory. Instagram: @coombaloo 

Andy McLeavey and Sara Coombs
Photo Credit: Nile Scott Studios

ANDY MCLEAVY (Florenz Siegfried) – is thrilled to return to GBSC having previously appeared as Billy Lawlor in 42nd Street. A few of his favorite credits include Antipholus of Ephesus in Boys From Syracuse (Commonwealth Shakespeare Company/Boston Landmarks Orchestra), Jimmy in Thoroughly Modern Millie (Merry-Go-Round Playhouse/Rev Theatre & Reagle Music Theatre), Pat Denning/Dancer in 42nd Street (Atlantic City’s Tropicana Casino), George in Goldilocks (NYC’s Opening Doors Theatre Company), Gaston in Beauty and the Beast (Company Theatre), On The 20th Century w/Alice Ripley, and Carousel w/Shirley Jones. Andy is proud to have sung the national anthem multiple times at Mohegan Sun Arena, McCoy Stadium, and the Ryan Center. He also loves teaching Zumba & Tap, as well as singing and songwriting under the nickname “Andy Macktastic”. Andy is a former joke writer for SomeEcards.com. Instagram: @andymacktasticmusic 

 

 

What: Swan Lake In Blue: A Jazz Ballet

Where: Greater Boston Stage Company, 395 Main Street, Stoneham, MA

When: February 15 through March 1

How: Box Office: (781) 279-2200

Website: www.greaterbostonstage.org
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Lynn Nottage’s “Sweat” Opening At The Huntington Theatre January 31. Now Extended Through March 1

Huntington Theatre Company has announced the extension of the Boston premiere of the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Sweat.  Due to high ticket demand, this “breathtakingly timely” (The Wall Street Journal), Tony Award-nominated play by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage and directed by Kimberly Senior (The Niceties at the Huntington, Disgraced on Broadway) will now run at the Huntington Avenue Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue, Boston from Friday, January 31, 2020 through Sunday, March 1, 2020.
 
Five new performances have been added; the dates are Thursday, February 27 at 7:30pm; Friday, February 28 at 8pm; Saturday February 29 at 2pm and 8pm; and Sunday, March 1 at 2pm.

Hailed as “a gripping play with humor and humanity” by Time Out New York, Sweat is based on playwright Lynn Nottage’s interviews with residents of Reading, Pennsylvania.

The play chronicles years in the lives of a group of friends from this working-class community who are struggling to stay connected as the local factory industry, which has employed them for generations, crumbles. In a neighborhood bar, each of them reaches for their piece of the American dream while their friendships are put to the test. Nottage weaves a tale of trust and doubt, longtime bonds and short-term possibilities. The New York Times raves “Superb…Nottage is writing at the peak of her powers.”
 
Sweat was first performed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2015, the following year it opened Off-Broadway at The Public Theater and transferred to Broadway at the beginning of 2017. After a run on Broadway, numerous regional productions throughout the United States and a stop at London’s West End, Sweat comes to Boston in this moving and urgently relevant new production.

Kimberly Senior (The Niceties and the upcoming, Our Daughters Like Pillars at the Huntington) takes the reigns of this play that The New Yorker designated “the first theatrical landmark of the Trump era” at the beginning of what could be our nation’s most important presidential election year in history.

As previously announced, the cast of Sweat features (in alphabetical order) Tyla Abercrumbie (Magnolia at the Goodman Theatre, Showtime’s “The Chi”) as Cynthia, Norton Award winner Marianna Bassham (Yerma and Romeo and Juliet at the Huntington) as Jessie, Norton Award winner Brandon G. Green (An Octoroon at Company One, The Scottsboro Boys at SpeakEasy Stage Company) as Chris, Shane Kenyon (Buzzer at the Goodman Theatre, Hushabye at Steppenwolf Theatre Company) as Jason, Norton Award winner Maurice Emmanuel Parent (Romeo and Juliet, Skeleton Crew at the Huntington) as Evan, Jennifer Regan (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf on Broadway, How I Learned to Drive at Second Stage Theatre) as Tracey, Tommy Rivera-Vega (A View from the Bridge at Teatro Vista, Three Sisters at Steppenwolf Theatre Company) as Oscar and Guy van Swearingen (The Time of Your Life and Taking Care at Steppenwolf Theatre Company) as Stan. Actor Alvin Keith (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on Broadway, Novenas for a Lost Hospital at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater) joins the cast as Brucie.

The creative team for Sweat includes set design by Cameron Anderson (Yerma and The Niceties at the Huntington), costume design by Junghyun Georgia Lee (Tiger Style!, Smart People at the Huntington), lighting design by D.M. Wood (The Niceties at the Huntington, 4.48 Psychosis at the Royal Opera House), fight direction by Ted Hewlett (Quixote Nuevo and Yerma at the Huntington), and sound design and composition by Pornchanok Kanchanabanca (Skylight at the McCarter Theater, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at Steppenwolf Theatre Company). The production stage manager is Emily F. McMullen and stage manager is Kelsy Durkin and Sam Layco.

What: Sweat by Lynn Nottage
When: January 31 through March 1, 2020
Where: The Huntington Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston
How: In person at the Huntington Avenue Theatre Box Office, 264 Huntington Ave. and the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA Box Office, 527 Tremont St. in Boston’s South End.
By phone: 617.266.0800
On Line: huntingtontheatre.org

Can Boxing Be  Made Less Dangerous?

Can Boxing Be 

Made Less Dangerous?

By Bobby Franklin

Jerry Quarry

Recently, I watched a news story from 1995 about heavyweight contender Jerry Quarry. The very popular Quarry who had twice fought Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier was being inducted into the International Boxing Hall Of Fame. This was considered a great honor and Jerry was there to bask in the glory. Well, he wasn’t exactly there. While his body was, his mind was no longer working, and the formerly very articulate Quarry was in such bad condition he was unable to sign autographs without the assistance of his brother James. 

It was heartbreaking watching this footage. Not only was Jerry unable to sign his name he also needed assistance dressing himself. When asked questions he just stared off into space. This is something you might see in an elderly person who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, but Jerry Quarry was far from elderly; he was only fifty years old. He would be dead in less than three years. He was also broke.

Seven years after his passing, Jerry’s brother Mike would die from the same disease. Mike was only 55 and had been suffering for many years. At the time the cause was called boxing induced dementia. For years it had been confused with Alzheimer’s Disease, but it is quite different. Today, it is known as CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). It is caused by trauma to the head and is most common in boxing and football. It has also been found in military combat veterans, soccer players, ice hockey players, and victims of domestic violence.

Unfortunately, a true diagnosis cannot be ascertained until after death, when the brain can be dissected and studied closely. Dr. Ann McKee, Director of The Boston University CTE Center, has led the research into this terrible affliction. Doctors are becoming aware of the importance of looking at symptoms and patient history so as to be able to differentiate between Alzheimer’s and CTE. 

Paul Pender

In 2003, after former Middleweight Champion Paul Pender passed away from what was thought to be complications related to Alzheimer’s Disease,  his widow Rose asked to have Paul’s brain examined by Dr. McKee. Rose was concerned that if it was Alzheimer’s it could be genetically passed on to their children. The results showed no signs of the beta-amyloid protein found in Alzheimer’s but did show clumps of Tau Protein which is now known to form because of repeated blows to the head. The hits do not have to cause concussions as the damage is cumulative. Also, the younger the athlete when the head trauma begins, the higher the risk of developing CTE. In Pender’s case the damage may have begun while he was playing high school football.

Thanks to the courage of Rose Pender and the dogged research of Ann McKee and others, much is being learned about this terrible disease. I highly recommend the documentary “The Brain of a Boxer” which delves into the story of Paul Pender and Rose’s search for an answer to why her husband suffered so. The tragic part about this is how it is very preventable and how little is being done to stop it from happening.  

Jerry And Mike Quarry

In recent years I have had a number of conversations with people who love boxing but also are very conflicted because of the injuries caused to those who partake in it. These conversations usually circle around how to make the sport less dangerous. To be sure, there are things that can be done to lessen the danger, but seeing as the whole point of the sport is to inflict injury to the opponent’s brain it is unlikely, short of not allowing head blows, to stop participants from ending up victims to CTE. 

While it is true not all athletes who participate in contact sports will end up suffering from CTE, the risk is very high that a large number of them will. In the early years of the 20th Century President Theodore Roosevelt intervened when severe injuries and deaths were mounting in college football. There were calls to abolish the game. At TR’s urging, the rules were changed and football became safer. It is once again very dangerous, but rule changes could improve things. That is not likely in boxing as there is no way for the sport to be practiced without imposing head injuries. Rendering the opponent unconscious is the point of the sport and the thing that most excites the fans. 

Ali At Joe Frazier’s Funeral

The Quarry brothers are just one of many examples of boxers who have ended up suffering from the blows they received years earlier in the ring. Former heavyweight champions Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson both were diagnosed with pugilistica dementia when they died. Mickey Walker and Sugar Ray Robinson, two of the greatest fighters of all time, also had it. And most ironic of all was Muhammad Ali, a man who used to brag that he would never end up like the others. He  was perhaps the biggest victim of the sport. It is a myth that he would have been fine if it hadn’t been for Parkinson’s Disease. Ali, like the Quarrys, began boxing at an early age and stayed in the sport long after his skills had eroded. In the last decades of his life his mind and body succumbed to the punishment he took. One of the most gifted athletes in history ended up physically and mentally destroyed by the sport he so loved.

Everyday we face danger. Crossing the street and driving a car can lead to severe injury or death. However, unless one is crazy, we take precautions when doing these things. We also don’t do these things with the intent of causing harm to others. In boxing, while there may be some precautions taken, the aim is to cause injury. There’s just no getting around that. 

Years ago it was thought people watched auto racing because they wanted to see the crashes. It was found out that wasn’t sure. People watched because they enjoyed witnessing the skill of the drivers and the roar of the cars. When it comes to boxing, fans show up to see the accidents. 


Trailer: The Brain of a Boxer from Felice Leeds on Vimeo.

Review: “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” At The Boch Center Wang Theatre, Boston

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas 

Is A Dream 

At The Boch Center Wang Theater

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

White Christmas now playing at the Boch Center Wang Theatre in Boston is based on the 1954 movie of the same name. The story of two WWII veterans and Army buddies, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis who form a musical act after the war and, at the urging of Phil, start pursuing love interests Betty and Judy Haynes is corny, formulaic, and great fun. 

During the course of catching up with Betty and Judy, who are also performing as musical artists the Haynes Sisters, they end up at the Columbia Inn in Vermont run by their former Commanding Officer General Waverly. The inn is failing, and well, you can figure out the rest. 

What is wonderful about musicals like this is they are a perfect showcase for the amazing music taken from the Great American Songbook, in this case the songs of Irving Berlin; tunes such as Count Your Blessings Instead Of Sheep, I Love A Piano, Let Me Sing And I’m Happy, and Blue Skies. It is also, as the title reminds us, Christmas Season and Mr. Berlin wrote many of the Christmas songs that have become standards. Along with the title number these include Happy Holidays, Snow, and I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm.

Blue Skies

The huge stage of the Wang Center can be overwhelming, and at first I thought the players were going to be lost in their surroundings. However, their powerful performances and the beautiful scenery prove large enough to fill their surrounding and more. Blue Skies performed by David Elder as Bob Davis along with the chorus all dressed in white and  set against a  background of sky blue with wisps of clouds was food for the eyes while the singing and dancing were spectacular. 

Kerry Conte and Kelly Sheehan as the Haynes Sisters are delightful while performing the number Sisters, a song that is later reprised by Bob and Phil in a bit of  twist. There is great chemistry among the four actors both when all together and when paired off separately. 

Judy and Phil

Phil played by Jeremy Benton sings one of Berlin’s best songs I Love A Piano while dancing atop a small grand piano. He is joined by Judy and the pair perform a tap dance routine while seated on the piano with their feet hitting the stage. It is innovative and received a well deserved round of applause.

Bob and Betty bring tenderness to Count Your Blessings, a song that is not only appropriate for the Christmas Season, but one that delivers a message we should all take to heart each and every day.

Judy performs How Deep Is The Ocean set at the Regency Room in New York City. Here is where that large stage really works. Judy is joined by Phil as they sing and dance under a beautiful chandelier and are surrounded by gorgeous white draperies. 

The set designs adapted by Kenneth Foy from the 2009 production sets designed by Anna Louizos are breathtaking. The colors vivid and warm are marvelous. The scenes at the inn capture what it feels like to be in New England at Christmastime. I don’t want to give away the ending, but I can assure you that you’ll be in awe at what you see.

Lorna Luft

Lorna Luft plays Martha Watson the manager of the Columbia Inn in Vermont. When she sings Let Me Sing And I’m Happy it is impossible not to think of her mother Judy Garland, but she is not performing an imitation of her famous mother. Ms Luft is a consummate stage professional who can not only sing beautifully but also has tremendous stage presence and exquisite timing. 

Conrad John Schuck as General Henry Waverly is a cross between George Patton and General George C. Marshall, proud, firm, and tender. In the performance I attended Kyla Carter played Susan, the granddaughter of General Waverly. (The role is alternated with Emma Grace Berardelli). Ms Carter was impressive when she reprised Let Me Sing And I’m Happy. It must have been a bit intimidating to be performing the number in front of Lorna

Kyla Carter, Conrad John Schuck, and Lorna Luft

Luft just minutes after Ms Luft had sung it, but Ms Carter was poised and powerful. 

The character of Ezekiel Foster has few words, but his “ayuhs”, high waisted pants, cigar, and facial expressions are subtle and very funny. Cliff Bemis originated the role and is on the stage here in Boston. It takes on even more meaning to native New Englanders. Is he good? Ayuh!

Director and choreographer Randy Skinner has put the large stage to good use, keeping it open and vast on numbers such as Blue Skies, while using the scenery to shrink it a bit and frame scenes tastefully such as the ones at the inn. 

This is a big production with a full orchestra and very large cast. Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is just the thing to make you forget about your troubles and become filled with the joy and spirit of Christmas. Great music, great talent, and great scenery on a great big stage is just the ticket for a great night of theatre.  This should be a part of any Christmas celebration in Boston.

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas 

Directed and Choreographed by Randy Skinner

The Boch Center Wang Theatre, 270 Tremont Street, Boston

Through December 29

bochcenter.org 

Greater Boston Stage Company Partners With Christmas In The City To Collect New Toys For Needy Families

JOIN GREATER BOSTON STAGE COMPANY AND BE ONE OF SANTA’S HELPERS 

Greater Boston Stage Company is committed to giving back to the community as it celebrates its 20th Anniversary Season. As part of this promise, GBSC is partnering with Christmas in the City during the run of Miracle on 34th Street to make the holidays a little brighter. 

From November 29th through December 19th, 2019 Greater Boston Stage Company will be collecting new toys to donate to Christmas in the City so that they can pull off a miracle of their own: providing thousands of toys to needy families in the Greater Boston area. 

Share some holiday happiness with kids who could use a little extra comfort and joy. Bring your donation of a new toy to the Griffin Museum Gallery attached to the theater and put it under the tree. Your gift and your generosity are truly appreciated. 

Christmas in the City is a 100% volunteer non-profit that since 1989 has been dedicated to helping relieve the impact of homelessness and poverty on Boston-area children and their families.
Learn more: christmasinthecity.org 

And while you’re here… stay for the show! Based on the much-loved motion picture from Twentieth Century Fox, Miracle on 34th Street reminds us that if you really believe, anything can happen. Miracle on 34th Street celebrates the season by taking us to Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the 1940’s where a gentleman named Kris Kringle steps in as a last-minute replacement for Santa. When he claims to be the true Santa Claus, he needs to convince the doubters, including a little girl longing to find something to believe in. Directed by Associate Artistic Director, Ilyse Robbins runs from November 29 – December 22, 2019. For more information or to purchase tickets, call the Box Office at Greater Boston Stage Company at (781) 279-2200, or visit www.greaterbostonstage.org.   

Greater Boston Stage Company is dedicated to fostering an inclusive and accessible environment for all. A sensory-friendly performance of Miracle on 34th Street will be offered on December 21, 2019 at 2:00pm. The sensory-friendly production will be a performance dedicated to creating a more welcoming space for individuals with sensory-input disorders. There will be modifications throughout the theatre that create a friendly and supportive environment, encouraging patrons to experience the magic of theatre in their own way. Families, friends and caregivers of individuals with sensory-input disorders are also encouraged to attend. Please visit https://www.greaterbostonstage.org/sensory_friendly.html for more information. 

 

“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” Opens At The Boch Center Wang Theatre December 17

 

 Irving Berlin’s White Christmas

Comes To  The Boch Center Wang Theatre

December 17 Through December 29

Starring

David Elder, Kerry Conte, 

Jeremy Benton, and Kelly Sheehan

 Featuring Conrad John Schuck As The General, 

And Reprising The Role Of Martha Watson, Lorna Luft 

 

The producers of IRVING BERLIN’S WHITE CHRISTMAS, the stage adaptation of the beloved classic film, have announced casting for the upcoming National Tour, coming to the Boch Center Wang Theatre December 17 – 29, 2019.

The 2019 season will star David Elder as “Bob Wallace,” Jeremy Benton as “Phil Davis,” Kerry Conte as “Betty Haynes,” and Kelly Sheehan as “Judy Haynes.”  Also featured are Conrad John Schuck as “General Waverly,” Lorna Luft as “Martha Watson,” Brad Frenette as “Ralph Sheldrake,” Danny Gardner as “Mike Nulty,” and Cliff Bemis as “Ezekiel Foster.” Additionally, Emma Grace Berardelli and Kyla Carter will be reprising their role of “Susan Waverly.” 

Rounding out the cast of returning cast members are Darien Crago, Sarah Fagan, Drew Humphrey, Bryan Thomas Hunt, Brianna LaTrash, Stephanie Brooks Martin, Chris McNiff, Daniel Plimpton, Kristyn Pope, Sean Quinn, and Karilyn Ashley Surratt. Additional new cast members for the 2019 season include Lamont Brown, Kimberly Immanuel, Tina Johnson, Kristie Kerwin, and Chris Shin. 

IRVING BERLIN’S WHITE CHRISTMAS tells the story of a song-and-dance team putting on a show in a magical Vermont inn who fall for a stunning sister act in the process. Full of dancing, laughter and some of the greatest songs ever written, including “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” “Happy Holiday,” “Sisters,” “Blue Skies,” and the unforgettable title song, Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.”

The New York Times exclaims “this cozy trip down memory lane should be put on your wish list.” And, the New York Daily News hailed IRVING BERLIN’S WHITE CHRISTMAS as “a holiday card come to life.”

IRVING BERLIN’S WHITE CHRISTMAS features music and lyrics by Irving Berlin with book by David Ives and Paul Blake and is based upon the Paramount Pictures film written for the screen by Norman Krasna, Norman Panama and Melvin Frank

Tickets are available at the Boch Center Box Office,  www.bochcenter.org, by calling 800-982-ARTS (2787), and via Ticketmaster or by calling 866-348-9738.

Wishing Sally Struthers A Speedy Recovery As Ruth Gottschall Steps In To Play Miss Hannigan In Annie At The Music Hall In Portsmouth, NH

Ruth Gottschall to Step Into the Role of Miss Hannigan in the
Ogunquit Playhouse Holiday Production of Annie at The Music Hall

Ruth Gottschall

Broadway’s Ruth Gottschall has returned to the seacoast to step into the role of Miss Hannigan in the Ogunquit Playhouse production of Annie now on stage at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Ms. Gottschall replaces Sally Struthers who is recovering from surgery for a broken leg which was caused by a fall on an ice covered walkway earlier this week following the recent snow storms. Ms. Gottschall will take the stage the week of December 9, and through the end of the run.

“Our Dear Sally will need to step out of Annie for the rest of the run to get herself back on her feet. But she will be nearby – so don’t be surprised if you see her sneak in to watch to the show! We are grateful that Sally is resting comfortably and feeling great right now. While we will miss her very much in this role, we want her to continue to rest and to enjoy time with her family and friends over the holidays. We of course look forward to welcoming Sally to our stage in 2020. With Sally’s blessing, the Ogunquit Playhouse is thrilled to announce that Ruth Gottschall, the brilliant Broadway actress who delighted Ogunquit audiences this past summer in Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express, has arrived in Ogunquit to take over the role of Miss Hannigan,” stated Executive Artistic Director Bradford Kenney.

Ms. Gottschall made her Ogunquit Playhouse debut as Helen Hubbard this past summer in the critically acclaimed mystery, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. On Broadway she has performed in Mary Poppins, The Music Man, Laughing Room Only, Cabaret, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas among others. At regional theatres she has portrayed Aunt Eller in Pittsburgh CLO’s Oklahoma!, Maggie in Bucks County Playhouse’s 42nd Street, and Mrs. Tottendale in Goodspeed Opera House’s The Drowsy Chaperone.

Annie is on stage now through December 22 at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Annie is the story of a spunky, red-headed orphan who lands a holiday stay with Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, a billionaire trying to do good. This delightful musical has become a worldwide phenomenon and is the winner of seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. The acclaimed book and score by Tony Award-winners Thomas Meehan, Charles Strouse, and Martin Charnin feature some of the greatest musical theatre hits ever written, including “Tomorrow.”

The Ogunquit Playhouse production is helmed by Broadway Director/Choreographer James A. Rocco. The cast includes Josie Todd as Annie, Emmy nominee Robert Newman as Oliver Warbucks, and Broadway veterans Angie Schworer as Lily St. Regis, Jeffry Denman as Rooster Hannigan, and Gail Bennett as Grace Farrell.

To purchase tickets call The Music Hall box office at 603-436-2300 or visit TheMusicHall.org. 

Hypothetical Matchup, Foreman vs Johansson

Thor’s Hammer

And Foreman’s Fatal Flaw

How Would Johansson Do Against Big George?

By Bobby Franklin

Ingo and Machen

Recently I wrote a column asking how well the second tier heavyweight champions would do when matched up with some of the greats when their different styles are taken into consideration. After all, even some of the best have problems with a less talented opponent because a certain technique can cause even the best difficulties. Ali always had major problems with Ken Norton, a fighter who was far from an all time great. 

While it is safe to assume the greats would have beaten the not so greats, it is interesting to try and find matchups where an upset could have occurred. 

Recently I’ve been thinking about a hypothetical matchup between Champions George Foreman and Ingemar Johansson. Johansson has never been considered an all time great, while there are many who would rank Foreman in the top ten greatest. In my opinion George is not an all time great and does not have the record to put him in the lofty company of Dempsey, Louis, Tunney, Marciano, Johnson, and Ali. But seeing that so many boxing fans do consider him to be one of the best I thought it would be interesting to consider how he would do against the Swede with the monstrous right hand.

While I believe Foreman is very overrated as a fighter, I also believe Ingo deserves more credit than he gets. George fought an incredible number of stiffs on his way up in contrast to Ingo who never faced an opponent who had a losing record. In fact, going into the first Frazier fight Foreman’s opponents had a collective record of 100 wins with 355 losses, and 48 draws. 

By contrast, going into his first title fight against Patterson, Ingo’s opposition had a collective record of 466 wins, 150 losses, and 43 draws. Quite a difference. On top of that, Johansson had some notable names among his wins. These included Joe Bygraves, Henry Cooper, Joe Erskine, Archie McBride, and most impressive of all, his destruction of Eddie Machen in one round. Machen was undefeated and the number one contender at the time and would go on to fight a prime Sonny Liston, taking the future champ the full twelve rounds while losing a very close decision. 

The most notable wins on Foreman’s record leading to to the Frazier fight were over George Chuvalo and two victories over blown up light heavyweight Gregorio Peralta who gave George all he could handle over almost 20 rounds of fighting.

The two most impressive wins in Foreman’s career part one were his victory over Frazier, though while impressive has to be considered in the light of Frazier being a shot fighter at that point in his career, and his blow out of Ken Norton. He was outsmarted by Ali and Jimmy Young, and struggled to defeat Ron Lyle in an exciting fight but not one where great boxing skills were on display.

Beyond their records it is important to contrast their styles to figure out how they would do against one another. It is here where I see Ingo being able to pull out the win. George had a serious flaw that only got worse as his career progressed. It was this flaw that would have played into Johansson’s strength.

Foreman Displaying His Fatal Flaw Against Ali. Reaching Out With Both Arms.

Early in Foreman’s career he had either gotten some instruction in parrying blows or he picked up the idea from watching footage of great defensive fighters such as Jack Johnson and Gene Tunney. The problem is, George never learned how to do it correctly. Instead of catching his opponents punches with an open hand when the fists came close to him, he would reach out and try to stop them just as they were being thrown. In doing this he also dropped his hands while his arms were extended. This left his chin exposed. Peralta, Ali, and Young all used that defect to great effect in countering Foreman. It is also the reason Lyle was able to deck him so many times. It was a very amateurish move that he never got over, in fact it got even worse as his career went on. It is also the reason any one of the great champs, and even many of the second tier ones would have beaten him. It is the reason I could not rate him as an all-time great. 

Foreman’s Flaw On Display Again

Going into a fight against Foreman, Johansson would have been very conscious of this flaw and would have exploited it. Ingo was a thinking fighter. He was quick on his feet, looked for openings, feinted well, had a tremendously powerful right hand, and knew how to set up an opponent.

In the first Patterson fight he used his left jab in a flicking manner that was employed to block Floyd’s vision so he would not see the right hand coming. The strategy worked perfectly as he destroyed Patterson and won the title. 

Ingo’s fatal flaw came outside of the ring. After winning the title he became quite the celebrity. He made the rounds of televisions shows where he would joke and sing. He loved the nightlife and his training took a back seat to the jet setter lifestyle he was living. It was this behavior that cost him the title.

In the Foreman/Johansson fight Johansson would not be a stationary target for the ponderous Foreman. Ingo, who was quite fleet of foot would be circling big George and feinting him with the jab. As he employed these feints Foreman would begin reaching out with his arms, just as Johansson would expect. This would go on for a few rounds as the Swede found the range and George became frustrated and would begin to tire. Being a patient boxer, Ingo would wait until George started pawing and reaching with both arms. At that point he would hit George with his hammer of Thor. If George got up after being floored by the punch he would get even more sloppy as he did with Lyle. Ingo, unlike Lyle, would not get wild but would continue to measure Foreman for the followup punches and would finish him off. In my opinion this would happen around the 7th or 8th rounds.

Of course, as with all of these hypothetical matchups, it is impossible to know what would have happened. The benefit of thinking these fights through is it forces you to think more deeply about the abilities of these fighters. If you had asked me a couple of years ago who I thought would win between George and Ingo I wouldn’t have blinked and gone with Foreman. However, now that I have taken the time to analyze both fighters more closely having written about each, my mind has been changed.

Review: “Annie” At The Music Hall In Portsmouth, NH

Leapin’ Lizards!

The Ogunquit Playhouse Production Of

Annie

Is Great Fun At The Music Hall

In Portsmouth

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Josie Todd as Annie and Macy as Sandy
Photo By Gary Ng

The Ogunquit Playhouse has been closed down for the winter, but the season is not quite over. Ogunquit’s Executive Artistic Director Brad Kenney has joined forces with Patricia Lynch who is the Executive Director of The Music Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire to bring a lovely holiday gift to New England theatre goers. That gift is the superb production of the musical Annie playing at the Music Hall through December 22.

Directed and choreographed by Jamie Rocco, Annie is running on all cylinders on the stage of the magnificent Historic Theater in Portsmouth. Just stepping into this beautifully restored Victorian Era theater is a breathtaking experience. Even before the curtain goes up it is impossible not to be impressed by the surroundings. And once the orchestra starts playing the overture and the actors first take to the stage it all comes together for a wonderful night of theatre

Annie first appeared on Broadway in 1977 and has lost none of its charm over the years and through many revivals. The Ogunquit Playhouse version  playing in Portsmouth has been freshened up a bit while retaining its original score and still brings smiles to the faces of the audience while tugging at the heartstrings. 
ring that dream with a very lucky audience.

This production of Annie is flawless and rivals anything you will see on Broadway. It is a top notch production that should not be missed.

Josie Todd as Annie, the orphan who sets out to find her birth parents, is feisty and lovable. She leads the other orphans in great renditions of Maybe and It’s A Hard Knock Life and takes it to the top with Tomorrow. I would imagine this is a dream role for Ms Todd and she is sharing that dream with a very lucky audience.

The orphans at the Municipal Girls Orphanage run by Miss Hannigan are played by an ensemble of young actors who are excellently choreographed and get to really show their talents in the number You’re Never Really Dressed Without A Smile. Each and every one of them performed like experienced Broadway performers.

Robert Newman brings an Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks to the stage who shows the strength and drive that made him a billionaire while conveying the warm heart that is melted by his relationship with Annie. Mr. Newman’s version of Something Was Missing is touching and lovely. 

I last saw Gail Bennett in the 2014 production of Mary Poppins at the Ogunquit Playhouse. In Annie she is cast as Grace Farrell the personal assistant of Oliver Warbucks. It was a pleasure to see her on the stage again.

Josie Todd (Annie), Robert Newman (Daddy Warbucks), and Cast
Photo by Julia Russell

The scene recreating a 1930’s radio broadcast where Oliver Warbucks takes to the air offering a reward to find the birth parents of Annie, it is filled with nostalgia. Kevin McMahon plays host Bert Healy wearing a straw hat and accompanied by a ventriloquist with a dummy, and a sound effects man (Trent Kidd) There is also an Andrews Sisters style singing group the Boylan Sisters (Karen Largerberg, Zina Ellis, and Kym Chambers Otto). The program revolves around the song You’re Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile. It is all set in a recreated radio station. There is quite an enjoyable tap-dancing number performed by the sound effects man using  wooden shoes on a table. 

Cast of Annie
Photo by Gary Ng

This wonderful cast has another member who is truly unforgettable; Sally Struthers reprising her role as Miss Hannigan. It is more than a bit ironic that Ms Struthers who has spent her life advocating for children would be playing a character who runs an orphanage as if it were a prison. In the number Little Girls she is very funny while displaying her dislike of the children by manipulating a doll in a rather sociopathic manner. It is a scene that was suggested by Ms Struthers and could only be pulled off by her.

Sally Struthers is a regular at the Ogunquit Playhouse every year and never disappoints. In her role as Miss Hannigan she outdoes herself. I’ve mentioned it before but must do so again in saying that she has a knack for comedic timing that is rarely seen. Her pauses and glances at the audience induce laughter every time. Ms Struthers also shows what a true professional she is by never attempting to steal scenes from the other actors. She works well with everyone. Of course, she is working with a cast that is deeply talented and all enhance one another.

Ms Struthers is at her character’s conniving best when plotting with her younger brother Rooster (Jeffry Denman) and his girlfriend Lily St. Regis (Angie Schworer). They are all wickedly funny.

What would Annie be without her dog Sandy who is played by rescue dog Macy. Macy comes close to stealing the show and captures the hearts of the audience with her beautiful eyes. She was an orphan in real life so it is only fitting she has a role in this play about orphans.

Set during the Great Depression the story has many references to figures of that era and includes a scene with Franklin D. Roosevelt (Doug Carfrae) and his cabinet joining Annie in singing Tomorrow. I’m not sure how many young audience members will be familiar with the names of these confidantes of FDR as well as the references to figures of the day such as Harpo Marx, Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth, Bernard Baruch, Herbert Hoover, and Fiorello LaGuardia, but not knowing them takes nothing away from the enjoyment. Mr. Carfrae is returning to the Ogunquit Playhouse after an absence of a mere 46 years. He still has it!

In the spirit of the season the play closes with a beautiful Christmas party. This combined with the festive decorations in the theatre and then stepping out to the streets of Portsmouth to breath in the Christmas Season is a delightful experience.

This production of Annie is flawless and rivals anything you will see on Broadway. It is a top notch production that should not be missed. I highly recommend you take in a performance. It’s a wonderful coda to this year’s Ogunquit Playhouse season. 

Many people give up on the coast of northern New England after summer, but by doing so they are missing out on a very beautiful time of the year.

Ogunquit Playhouse’s Annie at the Music Hall in Portsmouth is just the recipe for getting into the holiday spirit. You’ll leave the theatre filled with the Christmas Spirit that will have the biggest Scrooges smiling. Head north, see Annie, enjoy Portsmouth, and then continue on to Ogunquit and the many other places that put the joy in this time of the year. You’ll be glad you did.

Annie

Though December 22

The Music Hall at the Historic Theatre

28 Chestnut Street,

Portsmouth, NH

603.436.2400 themusichall.org