Category Archives: Theater Reviews

These Grumpy Old Men Will Put Smile On Your Face

“Grumpy Old Men: The Musical”

At The Ogunquit Playhouse

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Brenda Braxton, Mark Jacoby, and Ed Dixon
Photo by Gary Ng

The United States premiere of Grumpy Old Men: The Musical, based on the 1993 movie, is now playing at the Ogunquit Playhouse, and it is a show filled with lively music, funny lines, great scenery, as well as a touching story. In short, this is a play not to be missed. The music written by Neil Berg with lyrics by Nick Meglin is memorable, and Dan Remmes has done an excellent job of adapting the movie for the stage.

The story about neighbors John Gustafson (Mark Jacoby) and Max Goldman (Ed Dixon) who have been feuding for fifty years is peppered with one line insults, many of which you might want to jot down for future use. “I’d give you a dirty look, but I see you already have one”, is just one example of the shots these two take at each other. I won’t ruin the fun by giving away the others, but I can assure you they get even better. The two were childhood friends but became enemies when John married Max’s high school sweetheart. Both are now widowers with children of their own. Max has a son, Jacob (Kevin Massey) and John has a daughter, Melanie (Laura Woyasz). 

Mr. Jacoby and Mr. Goldman are well paired in their roles as Gustafson and Goldman. These two really know their way around the stage and exchange their lines with perfect timing. They also convey how underneath all of the animosity there is still a bond between the old curmudgeons. I very much doubt that two people who hate each other as much as John and Max would have us believe they do could put so much feeling and energy into their insults.

The opening number Wabasha introduces us to the town and people of Wabasha, Minnesota where ice fishing is a popular pastime. There is the upbeat owner of the general store Chuck Barrels (Doug Eskew) the accident prone Harry (Blake Hammond) the mailman, and the ditzy but very lovable Punky Olander played by Ogunquit Playhouse favorite Sally Struthers. 

Eric Jon Mahlum, Blake Hammond, Tony and Emmy winner Hal Linden, Mark Jacoby, and Doug Eskew
Photo: Gary Ng

Hal Linden plays Grandpa Gustafson. On the number Way To Go, John, Max, Chuck, and Grandpa are ice fishing and we begin to see the direction the story will take as the four reflect on life. Do we stay stuck with our regrets or do we move forward and live?  Mr. Linden brings a depth to this song that will have you taking stock of your own life.  Ultimately, it is all about choices, and sometimes people don’t realize they have choices until something or someone comes along to open their eyes. In this case that someone is Ariel Truax (Leslie Stevens), a college professor who has inherited a house in Wabasha. 

Ariel arrives on the scene riding a snow-mobile with her red hair blowing in the wind singing Heat Wave. This heatwave puts Max and John back into the love rivalry business as they both vie for her attention. Ariel likes to drop quotes from classic authors but she is no highbrow. She is a caring and insightful person, and Ms Stevens gives her character the depth that she deserves.

The book is great, the score is outstanding, the cast

is solid from top to bottom.

Tony nominee Brenda Braxton plays Sandra Snyder an IRS agent who has come to Wabasha in pursuit of unpaid taxes owed by John Gustafson. In Snyder Comes Along we see just how much she relishes her work. You wouldn’t want Ms Braxton showing up at your door to conduct an audit, but you will certainly enjoy watching her perform on the stage. There is a touch of the devil in her, but also a twinkle in her eye. 

I loved the music in this production. Doug Askew’s Chuck touched everyone with Angel. His voiced filled the theater with warmth and richness. It is a powerful number well done. Our Friend Is Gone sung by the ensemble is sad but also reminds us to appreciate the blessing of friendship. Jacob and Melanie sing Parents and Paradise, a song that deals with their life choices and with the difficulty when those choices conflict with caring for parents. 

Grumpy Old Men: The Musical has so much going for it. It is a pleasure to watch the strong cast perform. Sally Struthers’s role has Punky could have been written just for her. Her non-sequiturs are very funny and when she breaks into faux Swedish along with yodeling, well you just have to see her. 

Hal Linden, best known for playing Barney Miller on TV, has also had a long career in music and on stage. He brings that experience to the Playhouse stage and it is a pleasure to watch such a master at work. When he says the line “Life is all about livin’” he is proof of it. Mr. Linden has amazing stage presence. You don’t want to miss him.

This musical really works. The book is great, the score is outstanding, the cast is solid from top to bottom. Every song is good and filled with meaning. It’s a feel good play that doesn’t get hokey. It’s also a play about choices, about how we can do that “livin’” Grandpa Gustafson is talking about, and age should not get in the way. 

I would be very surprised if this production does not move on to Broadway. I recommend you see it now at the Ogunquit Playhouse while you have the chance, you won’t be disappointed. 

As I have said, this play is about choices, and you have a choice; Head to the Ogunquit Playhouse and have a memorable evening or stay home and miss out on some very good theatre. I highly recommend Grumpy Old Men: The Musical.

Grumpy Old Men: The Musical

Through September 1

The Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, Maine

ogunquitplayhouse..org 207.646.5511

Reagle Music Theatre’s “The Music Man” Knows The Territory

Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man” At The Reagle Music Theatre Of Greater Boston

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

 

Mark Linehan and Cast: Ya Got Trouble

The other night I paid my first visit to the Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. The Reagle stages productions of Broadway Musicals at the Robinson Theatre located in Waltham High School. Don’t be fooled by the location. The auditorium is a great venue with comfortable seats and a great view no matter where you are seated. More than that, the play I saw was a top notch production that included a full orchestra, something you rarely see today in regional theatre. That full orchestra really makes a difference and was extremely impressive. 

The production currently playing at the Reagle is Meredith Willson’s The Music Man, one of, if not the, best musicals ever written. It is certainly a favorite of mine and I was skeptical that this would rate very high in quality. My doubts were soon chased away once the orchestra began playing the overture which led into the opening number, the onomatopoeic Rock Island, which takes place on a train. This train left the station and the audience was in for a wonderful ride to River City along with Professor Harold Hill, the flim flam man who would eventually be won over by the Iowa Stubborn folks he was trying to take with his scam about starting a boy’s band.

Mark Linehan, in his seventh production at the Reagle, had his work cut out for him in the role of Hill. Most audience members know Hill from the movie version of the play and have Robert Preston’s version burned into their memories. Mr. Linehan does not attempt an impression of Preston, but instead gives his own interpretation of the smooth talking traveling salesman. It doesn’t take long to embrace Linehan’s Hill and to appreciate what he does with the role. Ya Got Trouble, The Sadder But Wiser Girl, and the rousing Seventy-Six Trombones are all classic Broadway musical numbers that Linehan delivers right on the mark. 

Jennifer Ellis and Mark Linehan

It is also quite the treat to see Jennifer Ellis as Marion Paroo, the librarian with a heart like a lump of lead as cold as steel, but who eventually finds her way to allowing that heart to melt and opens her eyes to seeking her white knight. Ms Ellis puts her heart as well as her beautiful voice into Willson’s warm and touching numbers Goodnight My Someone, My White Night, Will I Ever Tell You, and Till There Was You. Was there ever a better score than this? I don’t believe so, and Jennifer Ellis was born to sing these amazing songs. 

The Music Man has a huge cast and you might think a small company would pare it down a bit, but the Reagle does not. Director and choreographer  Susan M. Chebookian goes all out to give a full scale production here. Using choreography based on the original by Onna White, the huge dance numbers in Seventy-Six Trombones and Shipoopi are a site to behold. Watching and listening to The Wells Fargo Wagon gives you the feeling of excitement the residents of River City have while waiting for the approaching delivery. 

 Ms Ellis and Mr. Linehan are superb, and they are backed up by a strong cast including Harold “Jerry” Walker as Mayor Shinn and Lori L’Italien as his wife Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn. Both have wonderful comedic timing and both are able to push their characters to the edge without crossing into caricature. They are real pros. 

 Shipoopi is a number that is sometimes knocked as not fitting into the play, but when you see see Daniel Forest Sullivan as Marcellus Washburn lead the cast in this more than lively number you won’t be able to imagine it not being included. Sullivan really kicks in on it. 

School Board

Oh, such a large and wonderful cast. The School Board comprised of Louis Brogna, Matthew Gorgone, Antonino Ruggeri, and Tom Sawyer keep perfect harmony in their barbershop quartet numbers. Singing in counterpoint with Ms Ellis on Lida Rose/ Will I Ever Tell You it is a feast for the ears. 

Jonathan Tillen, Marylee Fairbanks, and Jennifer Ellis “Gary Indiana.

I’ve always felt that the Mrs Paroo must be a dream role, and Marylee Fairbanks makes that dream come true as the mother of Winthrop and Marion. Strong and kind with her Irish determination and heart of gold. Ms Fairbanks’s Paroo has the twinkle in her eye and just enough skills at manipulation to push her daughter in the right direction.

Perhaps the real stars of this production are the children and young adults who worked endless hours preparing for their moments on the stage. Jonathan Tillen as the withdrawn Winthrop Paroo shows us the growth of the self conscious young boy with a lisp who has sunk into despair since the death of his father but now begins to find himself through Professor Hill. In both The Wells Fargo Wagon and Gary, Indiana we see him emerge and you can’t help but feel touched by young Tillen’s performance.

Jennifer Ellis and Cate Galante

Winthrop’s friend Amaryllis who prays for him every night is played by Cate Galante. Cate’s Amaryllis is full of life and love. Her feelings for Winthrop warm the heart. She sparkles on stage.

Ye gods! I can’t forget Isabelle Miller who takes on the role of Zaneeta Shinn, the Mayor’s daughter. Zanneta is quite taken with bad boy Tommy Djilas played by Bernie Baldassaro who saves the day, and Professor Hill’s neck, by putting a band together. Both performers are vibrant and interact well together. 

The ensemble is large and in sync. It is quite something to see how they light up the stage in Waltham. Their energy is boundless. The Music Man has a short run at the Reagle in Waltham so you should plan on getting there soon. You don’t want to miss this one. A classic musical with a cast and director that gives it the treatment it deserves. Hop on board, River City next stop!

Meredith Willson’s The Music Man

Through August 12

The Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

The Robinson Theater, 617 Lexington Street, Waltham

781.891.5600 www.reaglemusictheatre.org

Review:”Born For This: A New Musical” At Emerson Majestic

Born For This: A New Musical 

At Emerson Majestic

Is Musically Uplifting

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Born For This: A New Musical now playing at the Emerson Majestic Theater in Boston is the story of BeBe and CeCe Winans. The brother and sister are the youngest members of the Winans family and a number of their ten siblings, comprise the Gospel singing group The Winans. 

Milton Craig Nealy as Pop Winans with cast. (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

Raised in a religious and loving family, BeBe and CeCe  were not part of the group their brothers formed, but in 1982 CeCe was invited to audition for Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Praise The Lord Network in Pineville, North Carolina. When CeCe was accepted her parents agreed to let her move south from Detroit on the condition BeBe would accompany her. Before long BeBe would also join the network as a singer. 

Born For This has a compelling story about the rise of the two young Winans and the success and conflicts they faced; however, the musical numbers overshadow that story. This is not a bad thing as the score, written by BeBe Winans, is powerful, spiritual, and uplifting.

Donald Webber Jr. plays BeBe and Loren Lott takes on the role of CeCe. Both are fine musical talents and deliver their numbers exquisitely. Milton Craig Nealy as Pop Winans nearly steals the show with his rich voice which is filled with warmth and strength. His rendition of I Got A New Home is something to behold. 

Chaz Pofahl as Jim Bakker, Kirsten Wyatt as Tammy Faye Bakker, Loren Lott as CeCe Winans, and Donald Webber Jr. as BeBe Winans (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

Chaz Pofahl and Kirsten Wyatt play Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Mr. Pofahl gives us a sympathetic Jim Bakker who was the first white televangelist to have African Americans included in broadcasts. The Bakker’s received multiple threats when they first featured the Winans, but they did not back down and to this day BeBe feels he and his sister were treated very well by the couple whose ministry ended up mired in scandal. Unfortunately, Ms Wyatt’s Tammy Faye is played more in caricature, and while quite funny, diminishes the deeper story.

That story is a good one and deals with so many issues such as struggling with what success truly is, the conflict with monetary gain while retaining one’s integrity, the strength of family, faith in God, and the flawed nature of even the best intentioned people. But as I said, the music takes front row in this production. 

At times I got the feeling I was at a taping of American Idol, as each cast member stepped forward and gave every number their all while the audience cheered them on. The theater was filled with energy. There is no lack of musical talent on the stage of the Emerson Majestic.

While the entire cast is strong I would just like to mention a couple of others who were particularly moving. Nita Whitaker as Mom Winans and Brad Raymond who plays Ronald Winans both have great presence as well as great voices. Both were deeply moving.

Though lacking in dramatic tension, the story is still a touching one that will leave you feeling good. The music will leave you smiling. 

It will be interesting to see how well a musical that shows Evangelical Christians in a good light is received here in the Northeast, but it is hard not to feel positive after being filled with the wonderful spirit and music of BeBe Winans. 

Born For This: A New Musical

Presented by Emerson Arts

Now through July 15

Emerson Cutler Majestic Theater, Boston

Bostontickets [at] artsemerson [dot] org

617.824.8400

 

 

“Oklahoma!” At The Ogunquit Playhouse Is More Than Okay

Oklahoma!

Directed by Fred Hanson
Through July 7
The Ogunquit Playhouse
Ogunquit, Maine
ogunquitplayhouse.org
207.646.5511

Stephen Mark Lukas and Cast
(Photo: Gary Ng)

It has been seventy-five years since Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein collaborated on their first play and changed musical theatre forever. Oklahoma!, with a bit of refreshing, has held up well and the latest production now playing at the Ogunquit Playhouse gives this great work the respect it deserves.

The play about the growing pains of the soon to be 46th state takes place, with the exception of the final scene, in one day. There are two romantic stories, the one between Curly (Stephen Mark Lukas) and Laurey (Taylor Quick), and Ado Annie (Chessa Metz) and Will (Colby Dezelick), as well as the conflicts that arise as two groups, the cowboys and the farmers have to learn to live together and share the land. There is also the matter of Judd (Timothy John Smith), the brooding and scary loner, who doesn’t fit in.

As the overture plays, beautiful scenes are projected on the curtain that give us a sense of the vastness of the Oklahoma territory. The opening scene, which was a departure from usual theatrical formula at the time in which the play first hit Broadway, shows Aunt Eller (Susann Fletcher) churning butter while, from offstage Curly begins singing Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’, which is as effective now as it must have been in 1943.

The sets which include a cabin, windmill, cornfield and a backdrop that seems to go on forever are constant reminders of the vastness of and challenges faced by those building a community on this new land.

The Farmer and the Cowmen
(Photos: Gary Ng)

The score is still as fresh as the morning dew on the cornfield. Stephen Mark Lukas and Taylor Quick in the leading roles combine the acting chops and voices that their parts demand. It is said that Rodgers and Hammerstein would cast singers who could act rather than the usual model of finding actors who could sing. I’m not sure what formula was used here, but it certainly works.

This production is based on the 1998 London revival, which ironically did not transfer directly to Broadway because Actors Equity demanded only American actors be allowed to play in it. The choreography by Susan Stroman is the same used in that revival, and is led here with some additions by choreographer Ginger Thatcher who has worked with Stroman. It is important this was handled well as Oklahoma! is as much a dance piece as it is the musical, and Ms Thatcher gets it done darn well.

The dream sequence ballet ending Act I is breathtaking.

The dream sequence Out Off My Dreams-Ballet ending Act I is breathtaking. Ms Thatcher along with this amazingly talented cast have given audiences a scene that will be talked about for years. Atmospheric, emotionally jarring, and just magnificent. At the performance I attended the audience was in awe as they stepped out for intermission.

The play, that at moments teeters on the brink of sentimentality but never goes over the edge also has a dark side to it. The character Judd who comes across as creepy and threatening, and with good reason, never fits in with the others. In all of the pieces I have read about the play I have not read any that show sympathy with him. In this production Timothy John Smith gives us all of the darkness of Judd, but also an undercurrent of how things may have been different if the others had made an effort to understand him. I’m reminded a bit of Captain Queeg in The Caine Mutiny. Could a sympathetic ear have made a difference? After all, early in the play it is Curly who shows a dark side when, in jealously over Judd’s escorting Laurey to the box social, he visits Judd and attempts to convince him to commit suicide (Poor Judd His Daid). While the song is funny it is also quite disturbing, and the Calibanish Judd sees through it. Not exactly an invite to join in with the community. Mr. Smith brings more complexity to this character then I have seen before, and he does it very subtly. Quite impressive.

All of the musical numbers are memorable with People Will Say We’re In Love, The Farmer And The Cowmen, The Surrey With Fringe On Top, and the finale Oklahoma! being particularly outstanding.

Taylor Quick and Stephen Mark Lukas
(Photo: Jay Goldsmith)

Oklahoma! is a wonderful musical but it is more. The story has many levels to it, and it is one that can make us think about the challenges of working together to build and maintain a community. In a way we are all farmers and cowmen who have to work on being friends. It is also a reminder that being able to get along does not mean not having differences, but instead to respect those differences. It also means striving to understand the outsider.

With cornfields that literally reach out to the actors, an unbeatable score, a cast that abounds with talent, lighting and scenery that are beyond impressive, this is a theatre experience not to be missed. Director Fred Hanson has pulled it all together and the Ogunquit Playhouse stage is the perfect theater to witness it in.

Every so often I like to remind my readers that the Ogunquit Playhouse is not summer theatre. It is a full blown theatrical company that rivals Broadway in quality. As is seen in Oklahoma!, you get top talent with a production team that knows how to out on a play. And, it all takes place in a beautiful and comfortable theater. If you haven’t been before, don’t hesitate to take a drive up to beautiful Ogunquit, Maine and see for yourself. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein would be pleased. You’ll leave the theater saying “Oklahoma!, You’re Okay!”

Attention Was Not Paid: “Fall”

 Fall

By Bernard Weinraub

Directed by Peter DuBois

Through June 16

The Huntington Theatre Company

Calderwood Pavillon, Boston 

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

(Note: This play had an emotional impact on me, and because of that I have decided to focus more on the story than in writing an in-depth review of the production.)

Watching a recent performance of Bernard Weinraub’s Fall at the Calderwood Pavillon was an emotional experience. The play about Arthur Miller, his wife Inge Morath, and their son Daniel who was born with Down Syndrome is not a happy story. It certainly stirred up a lot of anger in me. Before I get into the story I want to say a few words about the production so as not to confuse my feelings about the play with the my opinion of how fine a production this was.

Nolan James Tierce and Josh Stamberg
(Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson)

The cast is led by Josh Stamberg as the great playwright Arthur Miller, with Joanne Kelly as his third and last wife. John Hickok plays theatrical producer Robert Whitehead,  Joanna Glushak as Dr. Wise. Nolan James Tierce, an actor with Down Syndrome, takes on the role of Daniel, and while Mr. Tierce does not have a lot of lines, I found his words to be the most moving of any uttered by the rest of the cast. 

This was a superb production from top to bottom with each cast member giving strong performances, a tight script, incredible sets and lighting, along with the usual excellent direction of Peter DuBois. 

The difficulty I had with it had nothing to do with the production, it had to do with the subject matter, and Arthur Miller in particular. I know author Bernard Weinraub did not want to portray him as a villain, but after watching Josh Stamberg’s solid performance as Mller I felt nothing but disgust for that self-centered hypocrite. Joanne Kelly’s Inge comes across a bit more sympathetically, but in the end I even felt the pangs of loathing for her.

Josh Stamberg, Joanne Kelly, and Joanna Glushak
(Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson)

Early in the play we witness Miller and Morath after she has given birth to their son Daniel. They are in the hospital and are given the news that there is a problem with their son. When they are told he has been born with Down Syndrome they are devastated, as just about any parents would be. They have to make some decisions about how to care for Daniel. It is 1966 and at that time doctors were advising parents that the best course was to have “these children” institutionalized as that would ensure they would get the best care. Inge wants to keep her son, Arthur can barely look at him. The decision is made to send him to an institution. It is all quite heartbreaking.

For the almost two hours that follow we witness the story of how Arthur and Inge went on with their lives. Of how Miller refused to even see his son, or as it is said “deleted” him from his life. The great moralizer continued to speak out about social justice causes, preaching on how we should treat each other all the while neglecting his own son. He continued living life fully in the public eye while keeping Daniel hidden away.

We hear of how his creative abilities diminished after Daniel was born. I am not sure if that is supposed to elicit some sympathy for the man, but I could not muster any. Now, I am fully aware that at the time of Daniel’s birth things were different. Many parents were only trying to do the right things when following the advice of the doctors who recommended institutionalization. However, in Miller’s case it is clear he wanted Daniel “erased” from his life. He saw this as “a life sentence”. Why? Was it shame? Was it fear he would not be able to be a good father to his son? Or was it merely that Daniel was going to be an imposition on his and Inge’s lives? Whatever it was, I saw no sign that he felt any love at all for Daniel. It was that coldness that struck me deeply and made me unable to find any sympathy for the man. In fact, by the time the play was concluded I was filled with disgust for him. 

Fall gives us much to think about. It is easy to say “it was different then,” that today we understand people better and are more compassionate, but is that really true? Today, more likely than not Arthur and Inge would have known about Daniel’s condition before he was born. They most likely would have “deleted” him before he came into the world. Miller would have been able to continue moralizing with a clear conscience. The latest figures I could find say 67% to 90% of unborn babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome are not brought to term. It has to be a heart wrenching decision for parents to make, and I can’t imagine being in that postion. I doubt very much that the parents who make such a decision feel they are erasing a child from their lives. They must suffer greatly. I doubt very much Miller would have agonized for even a moment over the decision, and that is what I found so disturbing. It is and should be, a very difficult and heart breaking decision. 

We find out at the end of the play that Daniel is still alive, and he has lived a very happy and fulfilling life eventually living with a foster family who loved him. He did go to meet his father once but was not greeted warmly. Daniel’s words spoken by Nolan James Tierce at the end of the play show what a truly remarkable man Daniel has become. How he came to know the true meaning of family. And, how lucky the world is that he was not deleted. 

On a personal note. I grew up in a neighborhood where there were a number of children with Down Syndrome. This was not long before Daniel was born. I never heard about having such children sent off to institutions. They were part of our community and were well loved. Maybe, people in my area could not afford to send their children away. I believe they kept them because they could not imagine life without them. With the advances in science that now allows us to know before birth if a child will be born with Down Syndrome I can’t help but wonder if we really have changed all that much. Some questions haunt me. Is a child with Down Syndrome less worthy of being brought into the world? If so, what does that say about the children who are living? Are they less worthy than others? These are hard questions.

Nolan James Tierce
(Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson)

As I was leaving the theater I was thinking how nice it would have been to see the story told from Daniel’s side. This was still all about Arthur Miller and his egotism. Attention must be paid, and it should be paid: to Daniel. When you see Fall listen closely to the words spoken from the heart by Nolan James Tierce at the end. Pay close attention to those words as they are so much more important than trying to figure out why Arthur Miller behaved so terribly.

The Monster Speaks: Dr. Jordan Peterson at the Shubert

By
Edmond D. Smith

Tuesday night, May 22 at the Shubert Theater in Boston the monster spoke. Dr. Jordan Peterson the Canadian clinical psychologist, author, professor and newly minted YouTube and media sensation gave a two hour (a one-and-a-half-hour lecture followed by a half hour q&a) presentation expounding on the themes of his internationally bestselling book, 12 Rules For Life, An Antidote To Chaos. Dr. Peterson’s emergence as a public intellectual with a growing following has been met by howls of protest and derision including accusations of his being a Nazi, homophobe, misogynist, anti-Semite and the leader of a cult of neocavemen.

Tuesday night, the monster himself took the stage at the Shubert to a capacity house of, if his critics are to be believed, exclusively male, knuckle-dragging troglodytes. The first shock of the evening came when it turned out that in reality his audience consisted of casually dressed, polite (predominantly but not exclusively) men; but women were certainly there in abundance as well. The evening’s second shock came when Dave Rubin walked onstage to warm up the audience and introduce the monster. Rubin is a former liberal, a Jewish comedian, and host of the increasingly popular podcast The Rubin Report. He is also a happily married gay man. His introduction of Peterson was funny, warm and admiring.

Then came the main event. The monster walked out onto a stage bare but for a stool holding bottles of water. He was thin, of average height, wore a gray suit and tan shoes (loafers?). When he began to speak his voice was mild. His mannerisms were restrained. He presented as the antithesis of the fire-breathing hate monger that much of the press has portrayed. Over the next two hours he covered a wide-ranging territory that included some personal history, (He grew up in a small, rather bleak town in Alberta, Canada. The closest big city was Edmonton, five hundred miles distant.) much discussion of his intellectual heroes Carl Jung and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, his distaste of deconstructionist philosopher Jacques Derrida, and his fascination with both biological and social hierarchies. Apparently, his audience of devolved knuckle-draggers had come out to hear a lecture about ideas.

And he was an explosion of ideas. His manner of speaking was professorial without being didactic.

And he was an explosion of ideas. His manner of speaking was professorial without being didactic. He gave the impression of a man who isn’t just teaching: he paused often as he seemed to be carefully considering what he would say next, checking it in his mind for consistency, veracity and value. Its an unusual style that has the effect of making his audience feel as if they are discovering ideas with him, as if they are part of his process. And he readily admits that he doesn’t have all the answers but is sincerely interested in finding them.

At times he was personal and emotional, choking up a bit in remembering his mother-in-law’s difficult passing. At other times he was amusing as when he talked about the need rats have for physical nurturing. He also addressed some of the criticism he has gotten from the media including his now infamous TV interview with British journalist Cathy Newman, in which prior to the TV cameras coming on she was polite, charming and sympathetic and then completely changed her demeanor when the cameras were  turned on. He also addressed another recent controversy in which a phrase, “enforced monogamy”, has been used to delegitimatize him. His explanation of his actual meaning was dealt with in the post-speech q&a which can be seen in the link below:

If there was any one issue that propelled him into the spotlight it was his stance on a piece of Canadian legislation, Bill C-16 which stipulates that people must address transgendered or other “non-binary” people by a pronoun of their choosing. To fail to do so can lead to governmental sanctions. Peterson took to YouTube to voice his objection to the idea of compulsory speech which he vociferously contends is a violation of the principle of free speech. Suddenly he went viral.

Much of what Peterson has to say is his extrapolation of what are the consequences of the hierarchical structure of society, itself embedded in the biological foundations of humanity. His analysis considers the stories of ancient heroes and stories of how man succeeds and fails. This leads him to Christianity which relies on the primacy of the individual. This he contrasts with the collective, which history shows invariably leads to tribalism and the segmentation of society into separate interest groups. And it is here that we can see the genesis of the Left’s hatred of Peterson. By his reckoning history is rife with the failures of collectivism, including the horrors of Nazism, socialism and communism. And he sees the current growth of intersectionality, the collision of differing groups invariably leading to the strong marginalizing the weak, bringing about group conflict, with groups of the privileged victimizing the groups of the less powerful.

He believes that the only way out of these constantly recurring collectivist societies which distort man’s true nature and inexorably leads to societal disaster is through making the individual preeminent. Thus Christ is literally and metaphorically the individual who shoulders responsibility and saves the world. Individual consciousness, the individual’s sense of responsibility despite the burden it places on man is the way out of the collectivist trap.

And it is Peterson’s utter rejection of collectivism as anathema to the flourishing of the human spirit that makes him such a target for the Left.

And it is Peterson’s utter rejection of collectivism as anathema to the flourishing of the human spirit that makes him such a target for the Left. If people once again start to believe in the primacy of the individual, the individual with a sense of meaning, then the Left’s entire narrative crumbles and blows away like dust. This is why they see him as such a danger, as such a monster. To watch the cheer that rose up from the audience when Peterson pointed to the necessity of their taking responsibility for their own actions would be enough to drive the Left to the paroxysms of hate that they have directed at Peterson.

So the monster concluded with a call to people to live up to their “true nature” by accepting personal responsibility for their lives, and taking up… “an ethic of fair play and courage” which “…keeps us a good distance away from Hell.”

By the conversations that could be heard when Dr. Peterson had concluded his presentation the now obviously non-troglodytic audience left inspired to shoulder heavier burdens of responsibility in order to dedicate themselves to a higher purpose.

At this point it became impossible to view the humble academic whose words had just held our attention for two hours as having any of the characteristics of a monster. If a monster had been expected to show up on the Shubert stage that night, he never appeared. In fact he seems never to have existed at all.

 

Smokey Joe’s Cafe At The Ogunquit Playhouse Treats You Nice

 

Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Music of Leiber and Stoller

Through June 9 at The Ogunquit Playhouse

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Kyle Taylor Parker, Dwayne Cooper, John Edwards, and Jelani Remy
(Photo by Gary Ng)

Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Music of Leiber and Stoller now playing at the Ogunquit Playhouse is 90 minutes of non-stop entertainment. This high energy musical revue showcasing the classic rock and roll hits of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller has a cast of ten backed up by a six person orchestra. The musicians are onstage, and sometimes take center stage, throughout the performance. 

Most people are familiar with the Leiber and Stoller songbook. 38 of the songs are performed on the Playhouse stage, including a few of the lesser known works, which is an added treat as they should be better known. 

If you are looking for the story behind the songs you won’t find it here. What you will find is a cast that works non stop from start to finish while all the time appearing to be having as good a time on stage as the audience is having while watching them. From the opening number to the final encore there is never a dull moment. The cast has the Ogunquit Playhouse really rocking. 

The outstanding set is two levels with winding iron stairways on both sides. It has a bar and the walls are mostly red brick. There is much neon lighting. Those neon lights are put to good use during the number On Broadway. The tables and chairs are also used in many of the numbers. Scenic designer Beowulf Boritt has done a marvelous job. 

Dionne D. Figgins and Dwayne Cooper
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

At no time during the performance did I feel like I was simply watching a bunch of musicians belting out one song after another. Thanks to the brilliant choreography of Josh Bergasse who is also the director, each number was something unique and special. Running through just a few of them, there was Jelani Remy’s Jailhouse Rock with some acrobatic dancing that would have impressed Elvis. 

Remy, along with John Edwards, Dwayne Cooper, and Kyle Taylor Parker captured the original Coasters sound on Searchin’, Young Blood, Charlie Brown, and a truly inspired and crowd pleasingly funny version of Along Came Jones. John Edwards brought the house down with his portrayal of Poor Sweet Sue who keeps falling into the clutches of Salty Sam. 

Nicole Vanessa Ortiz and Alysha Umphress, along with Max Sangerman on guitar gave a solid performance on Kansas City. Ms Ortiz’s version of Hound Dog reached back to the wonderful original version by Big Mama Thornton while Dionne Figgins and Jelani Remy gave a sensual Spanish Harlem with Ms Figgins moving beautifully around the stage while being serenaded by Mr. Jelani. The touch of Spanish guitar was perfect for it.

Emma Degerstedt withJelani Remy, Shavey Brown, Dwayne Cooper, and Max Sangerman
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

Emma Degerstedt on Teach Me How To Shimmy is attired in a hot pink shimmy dress that in and of itself deserves to be listed as a member of the cast. Alysha Umpress captures the melancholy mood on Pearl’s A Singer. 

Max Sangerman and the rest of the male members of the cast harmonize beautifully on an a cappella version of Loving You. Alysha Umpress performs Trouble while accompanied by Yuka Tadano, giving it a jazz flavor.

For Dueling Pianos most of the orchestra was rolled out on center stage with two upright pianos back to back. With Sonny Perkins and Matt Oestreicher facing off on the keyboards it was like having Jerry Lee Lewis in stereo. This was a rip roaring number. 

I have only touched on a few of the many great songs performed in this revue. There is much, much more. 

 

Jelani Remy, Shavey Brown, John Edwards, Dwayne Cooper, and Max Sangerman
(Photo by Joan Marcus)

Smokey Joe’s Cafe is really enhanced by the choreography. All of the movements on stage go perfectly with this great music. The energy pumping out on stage is impossible to resist. At times the cast members dance up and down the aisles while the entire theatre is rocking. It is something to experience. 

On the evening I was there Mike Stoller was also in the audience. After the encore he took to the stage to say a few words. It was very touching as he spoke of his late partner Jerry Leiber. He told of how he would call him whenever he had news, and took this occasion to relate what he would have said to him after watching these young performers do such a fine job with the music he and Mr. Leiber created. He was deeply touched by it all. 

This production of Smokey Joe’s Cafe; cast, sets, and costumes, along with director Josh Bergasse will be transferring to New York in July. I highly recommend seeing it now before it moves on. It’s been a long winter and I can think of no better way to get ready to welcome the summer than by taking a ride to beautiful Ogunquit, Maine and getting your rock and roll juices flowing with this knock out of a show. 

Smokey Joe’s Cafe: The Music of Leiber and Stoller

Playing through June 9

The Ogunquit Playhouse

Rt. 1 Ogunquit, Maine

207.646.5511

ogunquitplayhouse.org 

A Family’s Struggle With Its Government And With Itself

 

Allegiance

By Marc Acito, Jay Kuo, & Lorenzo Thione

Directed by Paul Daigneault

SpeakEasy Stage Company, Calderwood Pavillon

Boston

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

The production of Allegiance currently running at the Speakeasy Stage Company in Boston shows everything they do best. In the capable hands of director Paul Daigneault, with choreography by Ilyse Robbins, and their truly amazing design team, the SpeakEasy has breathed new life into this work that has met with mixed reviews in the past. One of the critiques is still valid and I will speak to that later, but this is really a remarkable production.

The story is loosely based on actor George Takei’s experiences from when he and his family were sent to an internment camp for American citizens of Japanese background. It was a shameful episode in the history of our country. The play deals with that and also with the conflict it caused within the families sent to these camps over how to deal with the situation.

“Gotta Get In The Game”
Photo: Nile Scott Studios

The story revolves around the Kimura family and how they dealt with the requirement to sign a loyalty questionnaire, specifically questions #27 and #28. Question #27 asked if the men would be willing to fight with the armed forces of the United States, while question #28 asked about their loyalties to the Emperor of Japan and if they would swear loyalty to the United States. Some agreed, believing this would help allay suspicions many had about Japanese Americans’ support of the United States, while others saw this as a violation of their rights, after all, they were American citizens and no other American citizens were being asked to fill out such questionnaires. 

Grace Yoo and Sam Tanabe
Photo: Nile Scott Studios

Sammy Kimura (Sam Tanabe) and his sister Kei (Grace Yoo) are at odds on this with Sammy willing to answer and also anxious to join the army and fight for his country, while Kei sees it as a violation of their rights. Their father Tatsuo refuses to answer and is taken away in handcuffs to another camp. It is all heartbreaking.

The song Gaman, Japanese for “endure with patience and dignity” leaves the question open as to how you retain your dignity under such circumstances. It is a beautiful and moving song delivered with “dignity” by Grace Yoo whose voice is lovely.

Michael Hisamoto plays Mike Masaoka who represents the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) that was highly criticized for not taking a stand against the interment. His go along to get along attitude certainly does not endear that organization with the audience. 

Cast of Allegiance
Photo: Nile Scott Studios

Frankie Suzuki (Tyler Simahk) who becomes a leader in the resistance movement begins seeing Kei romantically. He and Sammy are at odds as seen through the song “Resist”. Sammy sees Frankie as being disloyal for not being willing to sign up with the armed forces to fight while Frankie believes in the principle of not giving any ground in defending his rights as an American citizen. This all gives a micro treatment to the larger issues and is quite effective.

With a beautiful set and lighting that conveys much atmosphere and including Japanese lanterns hung around the theatre that dim and are blown around to great effect, this play touches many emotions. There was hardly a dry eye in the house at the end. 

I have heard criticisms of the score, but I found it beautiful and the choreography amazing. Get In The Game is a unique piece with a baseball theme that is a joy to watch. What Makes A Man sung by Sammy poses questions that are not easy to answer, especially when faced with this situation. It may seem odd when seeing a work that deals with such a dark subject, but there is much that is uplifting in this story as well. 

My one quibble with Allegiance is with the many historical inaccuracies in the script. I fully understand the artistic license that is used and can understand the reasons for it, but the actual story is bleak as it is, and I fear straying too far from the truth gives those who would want to diminish what really happened ammunition to say it all as been exaggerated. That simply isn’t true. It was a terrible thing and we should see that it never happens again.

As I said at the beginning, this is the SpeakEasy at its best. Simply outstanding. 

speakeasystage.com  Box Office: 617.933.8600

This Elvis Impersonator Won’t Drag You Down

 

“The Legend Of Georgia McBride”

By Matthew Lopez

Directed by Russell Garrett

Greater Boston Stage, Stoneham, MA

Through May 20

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

In The Legend of Georgia McBride, Casey (Jared Reinfeldt) is an Elvis impersonator whose career is hardly on the road to Vegas. Working at Cleo’s Bar on the Beach in Panama City, Florida before sparse audiences he is finding it difficult to pay the rent for the apartment he shares with his pregnant wife Jo (Jade Guerra). The landlord, Jason (Alex Pollock),  has come knocking and they are on the verge of eviction.

Alex Pollack, Jade Guerra, Rick Park, Jared Reinfeldt,and Ed Peed

Eddie (Ed Peed), the owner of Cleo’s is also having trouble making ends meet and has made the decision to try out a new act comprised of two female impersonators comprised of Miss Tracy Mills (Rick Park) and Rexy (also Alex Pollock). This leaves Casey demoted to working as a bartender, his dreams of Elvis gold dashed.

Ah, but in true A Star Is Born fashion, one night Rexy shows up too drunk to perform, and with a full house waiting to be entertained, Casey is talked into taking her place. This he does reluctantly as Tracy transforms him into drag. He overcomes his awkwardness by looking at it as playing it as if he were taking on any role he might appear in in theatre.

This may all sound rather simplistic, but what unfolds is a very charming and enjoyable play with some underlying, though not terribly deep messages. With the exception of one song, all of the music is lip-synced. The scene where Casey is first dressed to perform in drag is interesting to witness. It is quite the transformation. His first number is to be Edith Piaf’s Padam, Padam. Of course, he does not know the lyrics so Tracy gives him a pointer about mouthing a certain expletive in order to fake it. There is also some fun with choosing a stage name for Casey. A couple of the many suggestions include Tequila Mockingbird and Sharia Law, before settling on Georgia McBride. The formula used for this is something you might want to try for the fun of it.

Things work out as you may expect. Casey goes on to become a big hit. Rexy returns angry at what has happened. Her speech about the struggles she and so many other gay men have dealt with over the years is filled with anger and rebellion while also quite moving without turning into a lecture. The words make an important point while not diminishing the fun taking place on the stage in Stoneham.

Ed Peed comes close to stealing the show with his excellent portrayal of the crusty bar owner Eddie who goes from awkward M.C. to being quite the ham. While not taking the drag route, we do see his transformation as well.

Jade Guerra and Jared Reinfeldt

Jade Guerra has wonderful presence playing Casey’s wife who has been kept in the dark about his new career path. It is quite the emotional roller coaster and she conveys those feelings well. Jade is also quite impressive in one of the musical numbers.

Alex Pollack’s Rexy is edgy and intense. The first instinct is to not like her, but she earns respect and understanding in the course of the play. Pollack is also wonderful as Jason, Casey’s landlord. He provides quite a few laughs.

There are many musical numbers that kept the audience in attendance the afternoon I was there more than happy. Rick Park’s Tracy as Carmen Miranda was quite the spectacle, bananas and all. The duet with two Nancy Sinatras and their boots a walking featuring Georgia and Miss Tracy was another treat. 

It is unclear at the end whether or not Casey continues to see performing in drag as just a role he is playing or has found some deeper meaning from listening to Rexy, but it does make good food for thought.

The Legend of Georgia McBride is an enjoyable and mostly lighthearted work. I think you will find it worth the trip to Stoneham.

One reminder. While not gratuitous, there is some pretty salty language and adult themes that may not be suitable for younger ears.

greaterbostonstage.org 781.279.2200

Ishaq and Zeblyan: Stubborn, Vindictive,  Miserable, And Very Funny

Two Jews Walk Into A War…

By Seth Rozn

Directed by Will LeBow

At The New Rep, Watertown, MA

Through May 20

As Seth Rozin’s Two Jews Walk Into A War…begins we see Ishaq (Joel Colodner) and Zeblyan (Jeremiah Kissel) standing over the coffin of Yakob. The three had been the only Jews still living in Kabul,Afghanistan, now with Yakob gone it is down to the two of them. You would think they would feel a common bond that would unite them in their struggle to survive and keep Judaism alive in their part of the world. It turns out Ishaq and Zeblyan hate each other. Yakob had been the peacemaker, and now with him gone the gloves have come off.

Ishaq (Joel Colodner) and Zeblyan (Jeremiah Kissel)
(Photo: Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures)

The bickering begins and insults are exchanged with each trying outdo each other with how much they have suffered, how much their families have suffered, how much each other’s family is to blame for their circumstances, and just about anything else that happens to cross their minds. The exchanges are funny and fast paced. Kissel and Colodner combine great comedic timing with subtle, and not so subtle, facial expressions and hand gestures. 

The two do finally begin to settle on a common goal; Keeping Judiaism alive in Kabul. They first decide that repopulating the city with Jews should be the goal, but war torn Afghanistan is not quite on most people’s lists of places to relocate to. Ishaq then comes up with the  idea of converting a Muslim woman to Judaism and fathering a child by her. This poses a number of problems including the fact that there can be no conversion rite without a Torah, and the Torah from their synagogue had been stolen by the Taliban. The two now set out to produce a new one.

Ishaq and Zeblyan
(Photo: Andrewn Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures)

Ishaq has memorized the words from the Five Books of Moses and will dictate them to Zeblyan who will act as scribe. In fact, Ishaq has not only memorized the words but also the punctuation leading Zeblyan to say to him “You’re a Torah Geek!” The two continue to argue, even coming to blows at one point, but make progress over time in working together to accomplish their goal. 

 Some of the funniest lines come when Zeblyan questions the word of God. For instance, he wants to know why it is forbidden for a man to a lie down with another man but their is no such pronouncement about a woman lying with another woman: “Could Shem have a little girl/girl thing going on here?”  While funny, it does show how when looking into one’s faith questions and doubts do arise. 

The play also relates much about human nature. While both men are petty and vindictive, they both struggle for a common and larger goal, never giving up on their faith. Their spite and stubbornness actually fuel their resolve and give them the strength to carry on. It is where they find their resilience. 

The play is described by director Wlll LeBow as a “vaudeville” but I also see touches of Godot. In spite of their suffering and anger towards each other, Zeblyan and Ishaq never come close to giving up. 

Ishaq and Zeblyan
(Photo: Andrewn Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures)

Jeremiah Kissel and Joel Colodner don’t slow down for a minute in this fast moving piece that makes for a wonderful theatre experience. Two musicians off to the side of the stage playing on drums and an oud along with an excellent and perfectly lit set that recreates the interior of the only remaining synagogue in Kabul, is just the right atmosphere to enhance this fine performance. 

I very much enjoyed my evening with Zeblyan and Ishaq. The New Rep has closed out their latest season on a high note. 

Two Jews Walk Into A War…

By Seth Rozin

Directed by Will LeBow

Through May 20

The New Rep Theatre

Mosesian Center For The Arts

321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA 

617.923.8487

newrep.org