The Ogunquit Playhouse closed out their 2018 season with the hit jukebox musical Jersey Boys, which played to sold out audiences for eight weeks. Building off of that success, OPH Artistic Director Brad Kenney chose to hang on to what they got and begin the 87th season where they left off.
I very much enjoyed Jersey Boys last August and gave it high praise. Settling in for this year’s return engagement, I planned on reliving that experience and looked forward to another great evening with the music and story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. Well, it turns out I was infor a surprise. The great production I saw last year has been ramped up and matured. A new lighting system, some tweaking of the script, and the actors reprising their roles with more depth has taken the 2019 version of Jersey Boys to another level.
Matthew Amira, Andy Christopher, Matt Magnusson, and Jonathan Mousset playing Nick Massi, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito, and Frankie Valli respectively dig down deeper into their characters. The story of the four boys from New Jersey who went on to record mega hits amid much drama in their relationship served as a solid narrative to support the great musical score. That narrative has now become a more integral part of the production as the personal aspects of their lives are brought out more powerfully. The result is a Jersey Boys that is nothing short of spectacular.
This enhancement of the story does not take away from the power of the musical numbers; in fact, it adds to them by stirring the emotions while leading into each song. Mr. Mousset’s amazing take on My Eyes Adored You coming off the scene where we see Frankie Valli’s marriage breaking up really tugs at the heart.
While standing ovations are not unusual, especially at the Ogunquit Playhouse, it is rare to see audiences jump to their feet during a performance. Both Sherry and Walk Like A Man had the crowd out of their seats cheering the performers on. I could see just how much this touched the members of the cast. One of the wonderful things about attending live theatre is getting to experience that symbiotic energy occurs between actors and the audience. In this case it was electrifying for both.
The boys went through a number of names for the group before settling on The Four Seasons and later, after a couple of them left, it became known as Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. In Jersey Boys, each of thefour originals is given the recognition they deserve.
Matt Magnusson plays Tommy DeVito, the bad boy who got the group going. A part time crook who had done time, he had that combination of daring and recklessness that it often takes to succeed in such a tough business. Mr. Magnusson captures his character with a Jersey accent and a mischievous twinkle in his eye. DeVito can drive you crazy but you can’t help but like him. He also serves as narrator for the first part of the play.
In contrast to DeVito is Bob Gaudio who was introduced to the group by Joe Pesci (Tommy Martinez), yes, that Joe Pesci. Andy Christopher takes on the role of the man who not only wrote the songs that put the group on the map, but also was able to use his keen head for business and making deals to get them heard. Mr. Christopher plays the part of Gaudio with the perfect balance of calmness and drive that helped make the group so well known.
Bass player Nick Massi describes himself as the Ringo of the quartet. Played by Matthew Amira, Massi is not left out. Mr. Amira gives a strong performance that is filled with humor and frustration. His description of rooming with Tommy DeVito is a riot.
And that brings us to Jonathan Mousset who is reprising the role of Frankie Valli from last year. As I said earlier, there is a deeper layer of emotion in the 2019 Jersey Boys, and Mr. Mousset really plumbs the part and gives us a Valli torn between driving for success and living up to his “Old School Values”. Along with his amazing falsetto voice, he shows fine acting chops and brought more than a few tears to the eyes of those in the audience on the evening I attended.
The entire cast is great, including Doug Storm who plays a number of roles including lyricist Bob Crewe. Storm comes close to stealing a few of the scenes with some well timed glances and asides. You might want to consult him about your horoscope. While Neal Benari as the gangster Gyp DeCarlo is the local Godfather type who helps the boys out of a few jams. The scene where he is brought to tears when he hears Frankie sing My Mother’s Eyes, is one of those touching comedic moments.
The new lighting system that has been installed at the playhouse is incredible. In the hands of lighting designer Richard Latta the effects are amazing. The use of spotlights and shadows is breathtaking. The scene recreating the evening the boys debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show is striking. Add in Choreography by Gerry McIntyre, Scenic Design by Adam Koch, and the work of Costume Designer Tristan Raines and this rivals anything you will see on Broadway. I also want to note that Ogunquit Playhouse productions are not touring companies, but are built from the ground up.
Director Holly-Anne Palmer has been with Jersey Boys from its inception and she clearly has lost none of her enthusiasm for it. She has upped her game with this run.
The music is still front and center with all of the hits plus more being performed powerfully, and the unique sound of the Four Seasons is captured perfectly. Dawn, Big Girls Don’t Cry, Let’s Hang On, Stay, December ’63, along with some early 60s standards such as Short Shorts and Earth Angel. Caroline Iliff led Hillary Porter and Bailey Purvis in a smashing rendition of My Boyfriend’s Back complete with big hair and bobby sox. Music to feed the nostalgic soul.
Jonathan Mousset’s rendition of Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You is a classic show stopper. Seeing it performed after hearing the story of how it almost never got released is amazing. Hey, the entire show is amazing.
The 2019 Season at the Ogunquit Playhouse is off to a tremendous start. Tickets for last year’s performances of Jersey Boys sold fast. I would recommend you book your seats soon so you don’t miss out this year. If you’ve never seen Jersey Boys, don’t let this opportunity pass you by. If you have seen it, come back and be as surprised as I was at how a very good play can get even better . Oh! What a night it is!
Pacific Overtures deals with the opening of Japan to the West and Commodore Perry’s excursion there in 1853. The Japanese had isolated themselves from the rest of the world many years earlier. They had decreed that no foreigners would ever again be allowed to step on their soil. They saw outsiders as barbarians and savages, as people who would destroy their culture and exploit their products. It has a familiar ring to it: Gunboat Diplomacy, isolationism, xenophobia, expansionism, and a fear of change are subjects touched upon.
It was first produced in 1976 at a time when the Vietnam War was very fresh in people’s memories, so it would have been natural for people to have focused on American forays into other nations at that time. Given the state of the nation today, where trade wars and isolationism are popular, and a fear of those who are different is in ascendence on both the Left and the Right of the political spectrum, it is very possible audiences will see another message in this very fine work.
I last saw Pacific Overtures in 2003 in a lavish production that was incredible. From my count, the original consisted of a cast of 36. The Lyric is working with just 11, with actors taking on multiple roles. Of course, the theatre in Copley Square is also quite small, and the orchestra is much reduced. So how does taking such a huge production and reducing it in size work out? In a word, magnificently.
Director Spiro Veloudos, working with Musical Director Jonathan Goldberg and four additional orchestra members take Sondheim’s score and work wonders with it. The music which plays off many Japanese styles includes Haiku, as well as nods to Gilbert and Sullivan, and a multinational flavor that, while showing how different nations can be, also captures the fact that all countries benefit when they cooperate with one another. Unfortunately, historically this cooperation has not always gone smoothly, and that is also brought out clearly here.
The set is simple yet gorgeous. Designed by Janie E. Howland, it has a backdrop made up of four Japanese screen panels with Hiroshige style illustrations on them. They are rotated very subtly during the play depicting different scenes as the story moves along . The floor gives the appearance of tatami mats, an item that will serve an important purpose in the negotiations between the Americans and the Japanese. Branches from a cherry blossom tree hang from above. I have read that Someone In A Tree is Stephen Sondheim’s favorite song from his own work, and seeing it performed by Brandon Milardo and Karina Wen under the branches is just lovely.
The cast is led by Lisa Yuen as the Reciter and Shogun. From the opening number The Adventures of Floating in the Middle of the Sea, Ms Yuen keeps the narrative flowing without forcing it. Her voice is clear and warm.
Carl Hsu and Sam Hamashima play Kayama and Manjiro. Kayama is a low ranking Samurai who ends up as the leading negotiator with the Americans, a job he was not exactly thrilled to be appointed to. Manjiro is a fisherman who had lived in the United States after being rescued by American sailors. He has returned to Japan to warn his leaders of the approaching Americans. He is not received well. Kayama and Manjiro form a bond when they find they can help each other through their problems.
In Poems the two exchange multiple haiku. It is fast paced and through it we see their friendship grow. I loved how Hsu and Hamashima moved about the stage while performing this number. Choreographer Micheline Wu deserves much credit for the fine work she has done.
The entire cast, playing multiple roles, did not disappoint. Gary Thomas Ngplays the Madam leading her Geisha Girls in Welcome to Kanagawa. With twirling umbrellas and flirtatious glances the number was fun and beautiful.
In Please Hello, representatives from the United States, France, Holland, Great Britain, and Russia all besiege Lord Abe (Jeff Song) with trade agreements. The play on Gilbert and Sullivan’s Modern Major General is delightful along with some French Can-Can, Dutch clog shoe dancing, and the frequent admonition from the Russian representative to “Don’t touch the coat!)
Spiro Veloudos has chosen to have the actors wear masks when playing non Japanese parts. The masks are somewhat grotesque and reminiscent of the caricatures of foreigners that have been used over the years in many countries. These caricaturization represent how the Japanese saw outsiders. It is also interesting that many of the American parts were spoken with Southern accents. It is funny, but I notice that many directors in this area do that when trying to show Americans in a negative light. I wonder if directors in the South have their actors use Boston accents to get the same effect..
Pacific Overtures may very well have Sondheim’s best score. It is certainly the one that will continue playing in your head when you leave the theater. I loved every song and will be listening to the sound track often.
One of the beautiful things about theater is it can be fun at the same time it is dealing with serious and difficult subjects. We live in very polarizing times and have for many years. Too often when trying to make a point, a playwright can leave the audience feeling further divided. I found much in Pacific Overtures to give us reason to strive to understand each other and find ways to exchange the best we all have to offer. Tearing down walls and barriers to the free exchange of ideas and goods is a positive thing, though it is difficult to accomplish. I think of the words of Frederic Bastiat “If goods aren’t allowed to cross borders, armies will.”
This is the final production of the Lyric’s 2018-2019 season, and they are finishing on a high note (pun intended). Pacific Overtures should top your list of plays to see. You are making a huge mistake if you miss this one. Spiro Veloudos works magic when he brings these large productions down in size for the intimate confines of the Lyric Stage Theater. After attending a number of these scaled down versions, I could argue this is a better way to see them. Well, it certainly is when produced by the Lyric Stage.
Cleveland Williams Never Should Have Been Allowed To Face Ali
By Bobby Franklin
In the opening sequence of the movie Requiem For A Heavyweight, a young Cassius Clay is seen throwing a punches during a fight. The view of the action is seen through the eyes of his opponent Mountain Rivera, played by Anthony Quinn, a washed up former contender who is now being used as an opponent and as a way for his unscrupulous manager Maish Rennick, played by Jackie Gleason, to keep squeezing a few more dollars out of him. It is a tragic story about a fighter on the way out being milked by the creeps that infest the world of boxing. The movie is fiction, but the real life world of boxing is not much different from what is depicted in it.
The story of Cleveland Williams and his fight against Muhammad Ali fits the ugly narrative of Requiem For A Heavyweight pretty closely. In fact, what was done to Williams was much worse than what was done to the fictional Rivera. First, some background.
When asked what fight shows Muhammad Ali at his absolute peak, most boxing aficionados will point to the champ’s bout against Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams. That choice makes sense when you look at the fight without knowing the background of the challenger and his physical condition at the time of the fight. It also adds up if you only look at Ali’s performance and don’t examine Williams’ moves during the fight.
The fight took place on November 14, 1966 at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. Ali had won the title on February 25, 1964 with a stunning upset over Sonny Liston. A little over a year later he again defeated Liston, this time by a first round knockout in Lewiston, Maine. Muhammad vowed to be an active champion and he lived up to that promise. Over the next year leading up to the Williams bout, Ali fought five times defending the title both in the United States as well as in Europe. He decisively defeated all the opponents put in front of him. The list includes Floyd Patterson, George Chuvalo, Henry Cooper, Brian London, and Karl Mildenberger. These opponents may not make it to anyone’s list of all time greats, but they were the leading contenders at the time. Ali was not one to duck an opponent.
During the reign of Floyd Patterson, most of the top contenders were denied a shot at the title. Things were different with Ali as champ. Talented and confident, he was willing to take on all comers. But unfortunately, as 1966 was closing out there really weren’t any outstanding contendersthat stood a chance against Muhammad. The young crowd which included Jerry Quarry, Joe Frazier, Oscar Bonavena, and Thad Spencer were still a few years away from being ready to challenge for the title. Ali had been going through the former champs and contenders that were now beginning to age. There had been an effort to make a match against Ernie Terrell who claimed the WBA Heavyweight Championship, but terms for a contract had not been able to be worked out. Ali would go on to face Terrell the following year. He would also give Zora Folley a chance in 1967 in what would be Muhammad’s last fight before being exiled from boxing over his refusal to be inducted into the United States Army.
In the meantime, the name Cleveland Williams was tossed into the mix. A resident of Houston, Williams had a reputation as a very hard puncher. At the time, Ali had been so successful at not getting hit it was thought he might have a weak chin. After all, Henry Cooper had decked him with a left hook. Even though he was not a ranked contender, the fight was sold on the basis of Cleveland’s punching power. While Ali would certainly be the favorite, Williams had a “puncher’s chance,” at least that’s what the promoters convinced the public of.
The fight drew a live audience of 35,460 fans to the Astrodome, setting a record at the time for the largest crowd to witness an indoor fight. Gross receipts were $461,290 plus revenue from television and radio. The hype had worked.
As for the fight. Ali certainly looked impressive as he moved around Williams landing punches at will while never getting hit a serious blow in return. It was all over at 1:08 of the third round after Williams had been dropped on four occasions, three times in the second round and once in the third before the referee stopped the carnage. It was one of the most one-sided fights in heavyweight championship history.
Did Ali look magnificent that night? Without a doubt he did. He had the grace of a ballet dancer, the speed of a middleweight, and reflexes that were phenomenal. He was poised and relaxed. However, this was not a great win for him. While it is breathtaking to watch him in action against Williams, it must also be taken into account the caliber of his opposition. This is also not the fight to use when arguing how great Ali was. For while Ali had been staying very active in the years leading up to the fight, things were a bit different for Williams.
And The Ugly Side Of Boxing
Cleveland Williams was born on June 30, 1933 in Griffin, Georgia. He has stated he began his professional boxing career at the age of fourteen, lying about his age in order to get a license to box. When his real age was discovered he had to put his career on hold. A few years later he moved to Florida where he began boxing again.
According tom BoxRec, his first official pro fight was against Lee Hunt on December 11, 1951. He won by a knockout in the 2nd round. He went on to win 28 in a row with 25 victories by knockout. All his fights were in the South. He proved to have terrific punching power but, with the exception of Omelio Agramonte who was long past his prime, had not beaten any significant opposition.
The win against Agramonte did earn him a chance to fight in New Yorkwhere he took on Sylvester Jones who was in only his tenth fight. This was a four round preliminary bout and Cleveland was dropped twice on his way to losing a decision. The fight was on the undercard of the Marciano/LaStanza Heavyweight Title fight.
Williams returned to Florida and ran off five more wins including a knock out over Jones. He was now matched against Bob Satterfield in Miami Beach. Williams was a late substitute for Satterfield’s original opponent. Even though he had a 25 pound weight advantage, Williams was knocked cold by Satterfield in the third round and it took several minutes to revive him.
Again, Williams resumed his career and ran up a series of wins. His next big chance would be against top contender Sonny Liston. It was April 15, 1959 and Liston stopped him in the third round. The two would fight again a year later and Liston would win by kayo in the second round.
Williams did not give up and had his best years in 1961 and 1962. During this time he scored wins over such fighters as Alex Miteff, Wayne Bethea, Alonzo Johnson, and Ernie Terrell. He also held Eddie Machen to a draw. There was now some talk of him getting a shot at the title. In a rematch with Terrell he lost a decision and in the meantime a young upstart named Cassius Clay had wrested the title from Sonny Liston.While Clay was winning the title in 1964, something major was also happening in the life of Cleveland Williams, something major and tragic.
On the night of November 29, 1964 Williams was stopped by a Texas State Police officer for suspicion of driving while intoxicated. What ensued is somewhat disputed, but the two got into a struggle and during the altercation the officer’s 357 Magnum was fired sending a bullet through Williams’s body ripping through his intestines and right kidney, lodging against his right hip. He was taken to a hospital where he died three times on the operating table. He lost a kidney and the bullet remained in his body. He shrank down to 155 pounds and had several more operations over the next 7 months. During his time in the hospital, Williams’s co-manager, Bud Williams, told him not to worry about the cost of his care as it was all being covered. Williams was not told by Adams that a tally was being kept and that Cleveland would be held liable for the expenses.
Cleveland Williams proved to be an amazing patient. In spite of all the damage he sustained from the shooting, he was determined to fight again. This was not a wise decision for a man who had been through what he had, but even though he now had only one kidney and a bullet still lodged in him, his managers encouraged him to continue boxing. They knew they could still make money with him. He began regaining his strength by working on his manger’s ranch. The manager, Hugh Benbow had bought out Bud William’s share of Cleveland’s contract and now was fully in charge. Williams regained much of his muscle mass and once again looked formidable, but the nerve damage had caused permanent harm to his reflexes. Just imagine, having your insides shot to pieces from a 357 Magnum and then stepping back into the ring just a little over a year later. That is just what Cleveland did.
On February 8, 1966 Williams faced Ben Black, a fighter with only four bouts on his record. He scored a first round kayo. He then went on to fight Mel Turnbow, Sonny Moore, and Tod Herring. He won all three but Turnbow dropped him during their match.
Based on these four wins and some amazing promoting by Hugh Benbow, Williams was now signed to fight Muhammad Ali for the title. Benbow must have had some real pull with the press as it was written that Ali’s camp was afraid of having him take on The Big Cat. It was claimed the only way Benbow could get them to agree was to convince them Williams was still suffering from his injuries from the shooting. To believe Ali only took the bout because he felt he was facing a semi invalid is ridiculous. However, it is true that Williams was in no condition to fight.
I looked back at the ratings during Cleveland Williams years boxing. Ring Magazine only rated him in the top ten during four years: 1961, 1962, 1963, and 1964. He was never ranked higher than number four, and was unranked at the time of his fight with Ali. His reputation was based on his punching power and the fact that Sonny Liston had called him one of the hardest punchers he had ever faced. His biggest fights were his losses to Liston, the victory, later reversed, over Ernie Terrell, and a draw with Eddie Machen.
On the night of the Ali fight, Williams was served with papers from lawyers representing his former manager Bud Adams. The suit being filed claimed Adams was owed $67,615.00 by Williams for the money that was spent while Cleveland was in the hospital. This meant that his purse for the fight would be attached and he would end up with pocket change after the bout. On top of having partial paralysis in his right hip, only one kidney, and a bullet pressing against his hip, Williams now knew he would make no money for the fight. He had to step into the ring that night against one of the greatest fighters of all time dealing with that burden. It was like a scene out of The Harder They Fall.
When you watch the fight, instead of focusing on Ali pay attention to Cleveland Williams. At the opening bell you can see how stiff his legs are. He actually stumbles a bit as he moves out from his corner. His legs have very little muscle mass. When he misses with a left hook he stumbles. He might look powerful, but the man still should have been in a rehab working on his reflexes and coordination. For Ali, this was more like working out on a heavy bag than fighting a man.
What Williams did was remarkable in coming back from death. He worked hard and restored his muscles, but he had been torn apart physically and emotionally. He never, never, should have been in a boxing ring.
Calling this Muhammad Ali’s greatest fight is a travesty. Ali had many great fights, but judging his greatness off of this one is plain silly. I asked boxing historian Mike Silver, the author of The Arc of Boxing about this and he said: “To say that Ali’s knockout of a damaged Cleveland Williams was his greatest performance is like saying the greatest performance of Larry Holmes’ career was his fight against a damaged Muhammad Ali. Both Ali and Williams were “shot” fighters (Williams literally) and were incapable of offering serious resistance.” He is correct. To Ali’s credit he never bragged about this victory.
Williams quit boxing after this fight, but broke and without a way to earn a living he made a comeback two years later. He fought from 1968 to 1972 when he retired for good. He ended up losing his remaining kidney and had to have dialysis treatments twice a week for the rest of his life. Boxing promoters and managers milked him for all they could get out of him and then left him to fend for himself.It is an ugly story, but one not uncommon in boxing.
Cleveland Williams died at the age of 66 broke and sick. He was killed when hit by a car while returning home from a dialysis treatment, marking a tragic ending to a tragic life.
Next time you are watching the Ali/Williams fight and in awe of how “great”Ali looks in it, just take some time to think about what condition Cleveland Williams was in that night. Also consider the type of people who inhabit the world of professional boxing. These are people who would throw an invalid into the ring with a great fighter and then take him for all he’s worth. Instead of watching that fight and getting all excited about Ali’s performance, you should feel sick when you know what really happened that night.
Ogunquit Playhouse Season Opens with the Multi-Tony Award-Winning Musical “Jersey Boys”
Runs From May 15 Through June 15
The Ogunquit Playhouse 2019 season kicks off withJersey Boys! The multi-Tony Award-winning, international sensation that performed to sold-out houses during its run in 2018,is back by popular demand May 15 through June 15. The cast that BroadwayWorld exclaimed to be “the closest you’ll ever get to having seen Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons,” also returns to the Ogunquit stage – Jonathan Mousset (Frankie Valli), Matt Magnusson (Tommy DeVito), Andy Christopher (Bob Gaudio), and Matthew Amira (Nick Massi).
Follow the incredible story of four guys bound by one dream, who worked their way from the streets of New Jersey to the heights of stardom. Jersey Boys takes audiences on an exhilarating journey with the electrifying performances of the golden greats that took these hometown boys from Jersey all the way to the top of the charts: “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “Dawn,” “My Eyes Adored You,” and many more. If you missed it last year, don’t miss your chance to see this blockbuster show – you’re sure to leave exclaiming, “Oh, What a Night!”
Starring as Frankie Valli, lead vocalist of The Four Seasons is Jonathan Mousset. His phenomenal performance, falsetto, and range was described as astounding by the Portland Press Herald last season. Mr. Mousset has performed in many regional theatres across the U.S. in such shows as Newsies, In the Heights, and Godspell. He has also performed in concerts at New York City venues including 54 Below, the Times Center, and the Town Hall. Matt Magnusson returns to play charming bad-boy Tommy DeVito, the lead guitar player of The Four Seasons, who serves as the show’s primary narrator and founding member of the band. Mr. Magnusson has numerous regional theatre credits including Grease, Spring Awakening, American Idiot, and Ring of Fire.
Reprising his role from last season as Bob Gaudio, the sensible and poised songwriter behind The Four Seasons is Andy Christopher. He has performed as Buddy Holly in the National Tour of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story and in many regional theatres across the U.S. including Bucks County Playhouse, Flat Rock Playhouse, West Virginia Public Theatre, The Muny, Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, Great Lakes CFA, Fulton Theatre, Maine State Music Theatre, Casa Mañana, and the Ogunquit Playhouse where he got his start in 2012. Matthew Amira also returns to the Playhouse after his highly regarded portrayal of The Four Seasons bassist Nick Massi. Mr. Amira also performed at the Ogunquit Playhouse in the 2016 production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. His many regional theatre credits include Madame Defarge, She Loves Me, Fiddler on the Roof, and South Pacific among others.
The Ogunquit Playhouse production will once again be helmed by Award-winning director, writer and producer Holly-Anne Palmer. Ms. Palmer is the lead Producer and Creative Director of theglobal hits Wine Lovers the Musical, PROHIBITION, and Holiday Happy Hour. She has numerous Broadway credits including Jersey Boys, Billy Crystal’s 700 Sundays, Bring It On: The Musical, Dracula, Walking With Dinosaurs, and Cover Girls. Her many Off-Broadway and regional credits include the 25th Anniversary Production of Steel Magnolias at Le Petit Theatre, Gentleman’s Wish and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? at Barrow Group, Platforms at TASC, Autophobia at Ars Nova, Inventing Avi Aviv at Abingdon Theatre, Oklahoma! for the Reagle Players, and for the Ogunquit Playhouse 2009 production of All Shook Up starring Sally Struthers.
SECOND-GENERATION SURVIVORS OF THE KHMER ROUGE GENOCIDE SHATTER ITS SILENCE
SEE YOU YESTERDAY
BY GLOBAL ARTS CORPS
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH PHARE PERFORMING SOCIAL ENTERPRISE AND PHARE PONLEU SELPAK ASSOCIATION
FIVE PERFORMANCES ONLY
MAY 16 – 19, 2019
AT THE EMERSON PARAMOUNT CENTER
On the heels of Cambodian New Year, ArtsEmersonis honored to welcome See You Yesterday, a moving performance by Global Arts Corps which explores the painful history of the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. Directed by Michael Lessac, nineteen Cambodian performers utilize their extraordinary physical skills, including acrobatics and circus arts, to travel back in time and shatter a legacy of silence. Global Arts Corps brings See You Yesterday’s U.S. premiere to Boston to close ArtsEmerson’s 2018/2019 season, for five performances only, May 16-19, at the Emerson Paramount Center Robert J. Orchard Stage.
Over 22 weeks of development since 2012, Global Arts Corps—whose celebrated work brings together people from opposite sides of violent conflicts—collaborated with these young Cambodian artists as they grappled with the painful history of their country’s genocide. While details of the four-year horror have largely gone unexplored by younger generations of Cambodians, the cast of See You Yesterdayinterviewed their elders (and even a former Khmer Rouge child soldier) to build a stunning performance that is both beautiful and cathartic.
“In 2013, when we brought our Northern/North of Ireland production Hold your Tongue, Hold your Deadto Boston audiences, we witnessed two communities, separated by an ocean and burdened by their own personalized historical memories, find a common healing ground in talk- backs across the footlights,” says See You Yesterday director Michael Lessac. “At a time when we seem to be clinging to what separates us and not what connects us, we wanted to be in the same place again to see what happens when another, totally different, theatrical vision of honesty, tenacity, and imagination takes the ArtsEmerson stage. See You Yesterdaybrings to Boston a cast of young Cambodian circus artists whose culture has forced them to live in silence with a harrowing memory. They have created a performance that shows us how hope can emerge from despair and how truth can emerge out of a powerfully moral and courageously honest imagination. I could not be more proud to be working with David Dower and his extraordinary team, in the namesake space of my old friend, Rob Orchard, as we once again explore together what happens when inherited conflict and unspoken multiple truths are surfaced across continents so that generations can talk to each other again.”
“See You Yesterdayis precisely the kind of experience that ArtsEmerson has become known for over these past nine seasons,” says ArtsEmerson artistic director David Dower. “The show puts one of most vibrant world cultures in the spotlight. Our region hosts one of the largest Cambodian communities in the nation and as with last season’s Bangsokol, we are presenting it in deep partnership with that community, both in Boston and in Lowell. This effort to put the world on stage in dialogue with diverse communities delivers that particular synergy between the art and the audience that our supporters have come to count on. See You Yesterdayalso uses a form of storytelling that is entirely ArtsEmerson – sharing its moving search for restorative justice through the tools of circus and dance. We are proud to be working with Michael Lessac and Global Arts Corps to tell this story.”
Directed by Spiro VeloudosMusic Director, Jonathan GoldbergChoreography by Micheline Wu
Additional material by Hugh WheelerOrchestrations by Jonathan Tunick
Original Broadway production directed by Harold Prince and Produced by Harold Prince in association with Ruth Mitchell
May 10 – June 16, 2019
This startling, entertaining, and thrilling masterpiece puts a cap on Spiro Veloudos’ multi-year Sondheim Initiative. An unlikely friendship is forged between a samurai, Kayama, and an Americanized fisherman, Manjiro, during Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853 mission to open trade relations with isolationist Japan. The two friends are caught in the inevitable winds of change and tell the story of Japan’s painful and harrowing Westernization. A highly original, inventive, powerful, and surprisingly humorous theatrical experience.
Kai Chao, Sam Hamashima, Alexander Holden, Elaine Hom, Carl Hsu, Brandon Milardo, Gary Thomas Ng, Jeff Song, Karina Wen, Micheline Wu, Lisa Yuen.
Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Copley Square, Boston
Box Office 617-585-5678 lyricstage.com
Keith Hamilton Cobb Starts An Important Conversation
Review: American Moor
Written and Performed by Keith Hamilton Cobb
Directed by Kim Weild
Presented by ArtsEmerson
Through April 21
Emerson Paramount Center, Boston
Reviewed by Bobby Franklin
Keith Hamilton Cobb loves the work of William Shakespeare. His passion for and relationship with the words are conveyed strongly early on in American Moor, the autobiographical play he has written and he is now performing in at the Emerson Paramount Center in Boston. His enthusiasm is infectious as he takes the stage and recites lines and passages while telling the story of how he came, at an early age, to love the great plays. He is funny, provocative, and touching. If this were only a work about one man’s journey of discovering Shakespeare it would be outstanding. However, there is much more to Mr. Cobb’s story.
You see, Mr. Cobb is an actor and a Shakespearean. He is also a 6’4” black man, and in his relationship with the theatre that fact cannot be ignored. Early on when he was asked what characters from Shakespeare he would like to perform he mentioned Hamlet, Romeo, and even Titania from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was assumed he would say Othello, or the big “O” as the role as become known. It is here where we begin to see his anger.
Mr. Cobb is on the stage alone for the entire 90 minute performance. Josh Tyson plays a director who speaks from a seat in the audience, and the dialog between the two is both funny and revealing. As Cobb is reciting his lines the director is giving him suggestions on how he should deliver them. Cobb pulls no punches in his feelings about people who interpret Shakespeare with an arrogance and superiority as if they had been close friends with him. It is particularly irritating to him when he hears “What Shakespeare was trying to say here…” His responses to these comments are spoken aloud with anger and frustration, and he is quick to point out that he didn’t actually say them when being auditioned but was thinking then. After all, he was trying to get a job, and he doesn’t get to interview the artistic directors.
At this point we see his bond with Othello begin. Othello was also involved with acting a certain way in order to maintain his job. He becomes protective of the Moor and questions how a white director can understand what goes on in the mind and psyche of a black character, and a black actor. He argues that his being a large black man gives him a particular insight that a white person could never feel.
This work is a great starting point for a “conversation”, a word that is so often used today but rarely happens in America, about race. Is it true that only a black man can inhabit and understand the role of Othello? And if that is true, doesn’t it mean that Mr. Cobb could end up pigeon holed in roles that only match his race? I certainly hope not. I’d love to hear more of his thoughts about cultural appropriation and how it should be handled in the theatre.
In the end Cobb does reveal that he was making it too personal, that he is the vessel for the words of Shakespeare. It might also be asked how this dead white male was able to create such a complex character who was so different from himself.
American Moor is a fascinating work that touches on so many emotions and questions. It would be easy to sit through it and treat it as a lecture on how white people just don’t get it, and in so many ways that is true. But, it would be a shame if it is only seen as that. It is such a good place to begin the conversation, and theatre is a place to explore the feelings of those different from us and to speak openly and honestly with those with whom we have differences.
I do know the hour and a half I spent watching Mr. Cobb perform got my mind working. His strong emotions got my own to react. In my mind I was having a conversation with him, and I left the theater with many questions.
He talked about people expecting a black actor to behave in a certain way. It is also true many white people think they have to behave in a certain way when interacting with a black person. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be ourselves and speak openly about these issues.
Keith Hamilton Cobb has been open with his emotions. He is honest and revealing and that takes courage. Exploring these issues through the work of William Shakespeare is a fine way to approach them. I recommend you head over to the Emerson Paramount Center and listen to what Mr. Cobb has to say. If the conversation makes you uncomfortable, he is doing his job. If you manage to leave the theatre without wanting to hear more Shakespeare, well, then you really weren’t paying attention.
Sanford Performing Arts Center at Sanford High School, 100 Alumni Boulevard, Sanford, Maine 3:00 pm
Seaglass Performing Arts Chorale, conducted by Artistic Director and Founder JeanStrazdes, will be performing Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana at the new Sanford Performing Arts Center at Sanford High School, Sanford, Maine at 3:00 pm on April 28, 2019. The performance will be one of the premiere concerts at the new center and is in celebration of Seaglass Performing Arts’ 25th anniversary performance year. The Chorale will be collaborating with the Chamber Singers of Sanford High School under the direction of Jane Kirton and the Marshwood Middle School Chorus under the direction of Kris Bisson.
Seaglass Chorale is proud to present Carl Orff’s masterwork, Carmina Burana, featuring soprano Sierra Marcy, baritone Will Prapestis, and a children’s choir from Sanford Middle School. Carmina Burana is a scenic cantata composed by Carl Orff in 1935 and 1936, based on 24 poems from the medieval collection of the same name. The first and last movements of the piece are called “Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi” (“Fortune, Empress of the World”) and start with the very well known “O Fortuna”. Carmina Burana was first staged in Frankfurt, Germany, by the Frankfurt Opera on June 8, 1937, to wide acclaim. Since then, no other Orff composition has approached the renown of Carmina Burana, as evidenced in both pop culture’s appropriation of “O Fortuna” and the classical world’s persistent programming and recording of the work. In the United States, Carmina Burana remains intensely popular.
Tickets for this single performance of Carmina Burana are $20 (at the door); $15 (online and advance purchase); $10 (students 12 to 18); free for students under 12. Tickets can be purchased online at seaglassperformingarts.org, from any chorale member and are also available at Morse Hardware on Route 1 in Wells.
Seaglass is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization.
GREATER BOSTON STAGE COMPANY
PRESENTS THE TONY AWARD-WINNING SMASH HIT MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Greater Boston Stage Company proudly presents the beloved rock ‘n’ roll musical Million Dollar Quartet. Million Dollar Quartetbrings to life the famed 1956 on-the-fly recording session at Sun Records that brought together icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins for one of the greatest jam sessions ever. Featuring a score of hits that includes “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Walk the Line,” “Hound Dog,” and more, Million Dollar Quartetwill have audiences dancing in their seats. Directed by Associate Artistic Director Ilyse Robbins, performances run April 25 – May 19, 2019.
Shares Robbins, “I first heard about Million Dollar Quartet from my parents. They enjoyed it so much, that they saw it twice – in New York and on tour. It turns out that in one of the productions, my parents saw our Music Director and Jerry Lee Lewis, James Scheider, who was their favorite part of the show.” She continues, “Million Dollar Quartet is an evening of song, joy, and story – three things that I love.”
The Million Dollar Quartet Cast features Melissa Geerlof, Nile Scott Hawver, Luke Linsteadt, Trey Lundquist, Matthew Pitts, Austin Wayne Price, Robert Saoud, and James Scheider.
The Design Team is comprised of Scenic Designer Patrick Lynch, Lighting Designer Jeff Adelberg, Costume Designer Stephen LaMonica – a Young Company alum, Sound Designer John Stone, and Props Master Emme Shaw. Music Direction is by James Scheider.
Box Office: (781) 279-2200, 395 Main Street, Stoneham, MA 02180Mondays – Fridays, 11am to 6pm; Saturdays, 1pm to 6pmwww.greaterbostonstage.org
Art Thou Ready To Rumble? Paula Plum Scores A Knockout With The Lyric Stage/Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s
Reviewed by Bobby Franklin
Twelfth Night is considered one of William Shakespeare’s three great comedies. It is also a dark comedy, as well as the Shakespeare play that contains the most music. While it is not exactly known what the songs would have sounded like in the original productions, the lyrics are contained in the plays.
In this production, the Lyric Stage Company has joined with Actors’ Shakespeare Project and the results are delightful. Under the creative direction of Paula Plum, the action is moved from the Elizabethan Period to the 1920s. The set is modeled after New Orleans’ French Quarter and is softly lit, giving it a jazz club feel.
This is fitting, as Ms Plum has employed the very talented David Wilson to compose music to accompany the lyrics Mr. Shakespeare has provided. The bluesy jazz has the feel of Billie Holiday crossed with George Lewis. The songs are performed by Rachel Belleman in the role of Feste. Ms Belleman has an exquisite voice as she sings while being accompanied by digital music that is piped in through a juke box. Other than realizing there is not an orchestra present, you would never guess Mr. Wilson has made this happen through the wonders of modern technology. There are also flapper era songs such as I Wanna Be Loved By You and Someone To Watch Over Me that are played as incidental music.
Twelfth Night utilizes many of the familiar devices Shakespeare uses. A pair of twins that are separated, gender bending, a shipwreck, mistaken identity, and a character who is outcast by the others. It can get confusing, but that is the charm in it all.
In addition to Rachel Belleman’s Feste, and she brings much to her fine performance than her amazing singing talents, the stage is populated with a strong cast of Boston veteran actors and young talent who do not disappoint.
Bobbie Steinbach and Alejandro Simoes as Sir Toby Belch and Aquecheek respectively, bring a vaudeville/slapstick flavor to their parts. There are also shades of Laurel and Hardy. They are dressed in brightly colored costumes and wear derbies. Ms Steinbach reminded me a bit of the Penguin from the Batman series. As usual, she is a presence on the stage but never at the expense of her fellow players. Michael Forden Walker in straw hat as Valentine and Maria played by Jennie Israel round out the gang who set up Malvolio. This is Shakespeare meets vaudeville.
They are really funny, but the darkness also comes through when they begin to gaslight the somber Malvolio played by Richard Snee. This is a more sympathetic Malvolio than is sometimes seen. He is stern and unforgiving in his treatment of Sir Toby and Viola. A steward to Olivia, he is duped into believing she has romantic intentions toward him. The scene where he dresses in cross garters and yellow stockings is right out of Sid Caesar and is hysterical, which makes his embarrassment the more palpable when he finds out he has been duped. Imprisoned for madness, his rage is understandable, and Mr. Snee delivers Malvolio’s angry words to his tormenters like a cannon shot fired into the audience.
The dueling scene is presented as a boxing match, and while the legacy of Joe Louis is not threatened, it is fun and lively. Hearing the lines “Art thou ready to rumble?” was really amusing and a nice touch by Ms Plum.
Samantha Richert is a boozy Olivia dressed as a 1920’s flapper. She and Orsino are both smitten with Cesario who is really Viola in disguise. Played by Hayley Spivey, Viola has been shipwrecked in Illyria and believes her twin brother Sebastian (Dominic Carter) has been lost.
Ms Spivey and Mr. Carter are both making their Shakespearean debuts in Twelfth Night, but you would never know it by their performances. Hayley Spivey is confident and recites her lines flawlessly. Her timing is impeccable and precise as she moves effortlessly across the stage.
Dominic Carter has fewer lines, but the old saying about less being more certainly holds true for him. There is almost a shyness about his performance that makes it both subtle yet understatedly powerful. I was very impressed with both Mr. Carter and Ms Spivey. I hope they will take to the stage in future Shakespeare productions.
This Lyric Stage/Actors’ Shakespeare Project collaboration is terrific. The Lyric has not put on a Shakespeare play in some time and opening up the theatre in Copley Square for this production shows how well two different companies can work together. I thought “Oh No! Two Artistic Directors working on the same project at the same time! This could get crazy.” However, Spiro Veloudos at the Lyric and Christopher Edwards from ASP obviously work well together. I think they also let director Paula Plum have a free hand, and that was wise.
Some people are not happy when a Shakespeare play is set in a more modern era. It never has bothered me as long as it stays true to the original in dialog and meaning. This does not mean it always works. This one does, and it works extremely well. It is highly entertaining, funny, the music is perfect while the story remains intact and as meaningful as ever.
To those of you who still suffer from the slings and arrows of that high school teacher who managed to instill in you a lifelong dislike of the world’s greatest playwright, have no fear as you will enjoy this production. I heard some people at intermission saying the play was confusing. Well, it is and is supposed to be. The characters become confused. Many plays take time to resolve themselves as they progress, and this is rarely an issue. In Shakespeare, however, I think the ghosts of teachers past sometimes haunt us. My advice: don’t hang on every word, don’t worry if you feel you are not getting the story immediately, remember that you will not be given a test right after, and most of all, remember that you are not reading it. You are watching it which is the way it was meant to be experienced.
Relax and enjoy what has to be one of, if not the, best productions of a Shakespeare play this season. As Orsino says “If music be the food of love, play on; Give me excess of it”. The music at the Lyric stage is certainly the food of love…and of great theatre.
Photos by Mark S. Howard
Through April 28
The Lyric Stage, Copley Square, Boston