Category Archives: Theater Reviews

Review: 7 Fingers’ “Passengers” At ArtsEmerson

7 Fingers’ 

Passengers 

At ArtsEmerson

Is Astounding

 

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Sereno Aguilar Izzo and Sabine Van Rensburg
Photo Credit: Alexandre Galliez

I am a late arrival to the experience of contemporary circus, and if  Passengers performed by The 7 Fingers now playing at the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre is any indication of what I have been missing, I have been making a huge mistake in not attending a performance years ago. I am now hooked and can’t wait to go again.

Presented by ArtsEmerson, this United States premiere is not your father’s big top. Contemporary circus brings the essence of circus combined with dance, music, and a theme that runs throughout the performance. In this case the theme is passengers on a train that can be interpreted different ways, but at bottom it is what the production notes say; “The journey is the destination” and that captures it perfectly.

What I witnessed was astounding. Performances of death defying feats (and I am not exaggerating when I use that term) moving seamlessly from one to another while tapping into a wonderment that at times was mesmerizing. This was mixed with a raw beauty and a celebration of the human body that was breathtaking. 

Freyja Wild
Photo Credit: Cimon Parent

The performance opens with eight performers boarding a train and using their breath to create the sound of the locomotive picking up speed. Rear projections, shadows and silhouettes are used subtly and with great effect. The action moves to each performers’ particular talent while never straying from the theme. Freyja Wild with hula hoops demonstrates an art form I didn’t know existed. Hoops were rolling in from off stage and Ms Wild would catch them with her feet, hands, and arms. She was fascinating to watch.

Sabine Van RensburgPhoto
Credit: Sébastien Lozé

Freyja also plays ukulele and sings a tune entitled Roam about her colleague Sabine Van Rensburg who performs using aerial silks. The song describes the beauty that Sabine creates while climbing high on the gorgeous silks that make her appear to be floating on clouds that she has made. While this is extremely dangerous and physically incredibly challenging, she looks as if she is doing it all effortlessly. I couldn’t help but think of the lines from the poem “High Flight”; “Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth.” as I watched.

Sereno Aguilar Izzo displays a number of talents highlighted by his juggling that is both deeply intricate and humorous. At one point he was tossing about more balls than I could count, catching them in not only his hands, but with the crux of his elbows, chin, and in his shirt. His expressions contained a warmth that was charming and kind.

To a tango/blues version of St. Louis Blues, Sereno and Sabine worked the trapeze. At times the two appeared as one with their bodies connected and arms and legs seeming to be extensions of each other. The musical arraignment was superb as was the performance.

Sereno Aguilar Izzo Juggling
Photo Credit: Alexandre Galliez

Contortionist Maude Parent put on a display that had my tight and aching back envious. What makes this special is she is not performing a feat as much as giving expression with her amazing talent that touches on the beauty and adaptability of the human body. It isn’t so much being an observer of what she was doing as being moved deeply by it.

As with Ms Parent, Brin Schoellkopf’s performance on the tight wire was about grace and balance, something that speaks to us as we strive to lead better lives. This is not to take away from his amazing physical talent but to appreciate how he uses it to convey much more than just the physical.

Conor Wild
Photo Credit: Alexandre Galliez

Conor Wild is a master of the Chinese pole. The smooth metal pole rises high from the center of the stage and Mr. Wild climbs it without any aids. Once at the top he performs moves that make him appear weightless. At times when he is reaching out from the pole with only his leg barely wrapped around it to hold him, he looks free and peaceful.

Towards the conclusion, Louis Joyal and Samuel Renaud give a performance of Russian cradle. Playing on a theme that runs throughout the production, this epitomizes the trust one human will place in another to survive a dangerous challenge. From a platform erected high above the stage, Joyal makes acrobatic flips and leaps into the air trusting Samuel to catch him as he begins to fall. Renaud covers his hands and forearms in rosin for a better grip. The powder drifts into the air. This combined with rear wall projection gives an amazing feeling that was like something out of  scene from an old movie showing the steam from trains at a station.

I have given a rundown of the various parts of Passengers, but it is not a series of acts. Rather, it is an interwoven work that creates an emotional stirring within. It is contemplative, thought provoking, and inspiring. The mixture of theatre, dance, and music with circus performance skills results in an expressive art form unto itself. 

The music is mostly original and the arrangements are excellent. In fact, I have just purchased the score which is a joy to listen to by itself. Lyrics, music, and arrangements are by Colin Gagne in collaboration with Jean-Sebastian LeBlanc, Boogat, Freyj Wild, and Jerome Guilleume. Direction and choreography are by Shana Carroll.

Sereno Aguilar Izzo and Sabine Van Rensburg
Photo Credit: Cimon Parent

I think what I found most impressive, and there was plenty to be impressed by, was that while these talented people were in constant danger of serious injury and even death, I never felt they would get hurt. There were a couple of reasons for this. One was the fact that they were not emphasizing the death defying aspect of what they were doing, but rather the beauty contained in their movements, which were indeed beautiful. The other, and more important part was how they conveyed the trust they had in one another. They had no hesitation at all when leaping, hanging, swinging, or balancing that they would be there for one another. There was a beauty in that display of the human spirit that was deeply moving. I might also add that each had to trust in his and her self; to have the confidence their training, practice, and physical conditioning would carry them through. It is all quite remarkable.

Seeing Passengers is an incredible experience. It is something you most likely will want to see more than once. ArtsEmerson continues to enhance its reputation for bringing the unusual and unique to Boston stages. I look forward to seeing much more in the future.

ArtsEmerson Presents 

7 Fingers

Passengers

Through October 13

Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre

219 Tremont Street, Boston

617.824.8400

tickets [at] artsemerson [dot] org

Review: “Kinky Boots” At The Ogunquit Playhouse

Walking In One Another’s Shoes

Kinky Boots At The Ogunquit Playhouse

Kinky Boots

Through October 27

The Ogunquit Playhouse

ogunquitplayhouse.org

207.646.5511

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Photo by Gary Ng

Kinky Boots, the smash Broadway hit musical by Harvey Fierstein and with music by Cyndi Lauper, is closing out the Ogunquit Playhouse’s 87th season, and what a way to end the summer. This powerful production is led by Graham Scott Fleming and Kyle Taylor Parker as Charlie and Lola with direction and choreography by Nathan Peck. The sets and costumes from the Broadway production have been brought in and are incredible.

The story about Charlie who has reluctantly taken over his father’s shoe manufacturing factory which has fallen on hard times is one about looking beyond the differences in people’s lifestyles and working toward finding what makes us alike.

Photo by Gary Ng

Graham Scott Fleming brings complexity to the character of Charlie who has been struggling to establish his own identity against the wishes of his father who wants him to take over the factory. This is laid out in the opening number Price & Son. Charlie does not share his father’s love of designing and manufacturing shoes (The Most Beautiful Thing).

Kyle Taylor Parker’s Lola is outrageous and explosive as he takes the stage (The Land of Lola) surrounded by six angels, all men dressed in drag. The costumes and Angels are stunning and very high energy. When Mr. Parker makes the transition from Lola, the flamboyant and exciting drag queen to Simon, his real name, dressed in men’s clothing it is amazing to see the difference in personality. It is also quite touching.

Lola and Charlie have teamed up to start producing women’s shoes for men, a move that has saved the factory but caused tension between some of the workers who are not comfortable working with a drag queen. Charlie also begins to have some issues with this even though he and Lola/Simon have learned they share very similar issues with their fathers (I’m Not My Father’s Son). 

Don (Joe Coots), one of the factory workers, is unable to accept Lola and the tension between the two leads to Lola challenging Don to a contest where each must do one thing requested by the other. This leads to a boxing match, Don’s request, between them (In This Corner). The scene is choreographed beautifully and leads to the pair finding respect for one another. Lola’s request is an interesting one and not what you may think. I’ll leave it at that, but it is moving.

Lauren, played by Maggie McDowell, is also a factory worker who has a crush on Charlie but believes he is out of her reach (The History of Wrong Guys).  Ms McDowell brings a subtle humor to the role that is perfect for the part.

Photo by Gary Ng

George (John Scherer) the factory manager is staid yet able to adapt to the changes that are happening. He is loyal to the Price legacy and is the man behind the man who keeps things together. Mr. Scherer underplays the part just enough while conveying humor and tradition.

Other outstanding numbers include Everybody Say Yeah where boots and dancers cross the stage on conveyor belts. It is original, lively, and exciting. Charlie’s reflection on his struggling with accepting his friendship with Lola and his new business venture is captured beautifully in The Soul of a Man.

Photo by Gary Ng

The finale which is staged as a Milan fashion show with the Angels strutting down the runway in elaborate and colorful costumes while showcasing the new line of boots from Price and Son is incredible. Even Don puts on a pair and struts his stuff.

This is a feel good musical with a very touching story. Everything about this production is tops. It is so strong that I left the theatre feeling a bit drained as energy is flying is all directions. It’s a good way to feel.

I have talked with friends who are planning on going to see Kinky Boots at the Ogunquit Playhouse and they tell me tickets are selling fast. It is playing through October 27, so I would suggest ordering your tickets soon. Ogunquit is lovely this time of the year, and adding Kinky Boots to your visit will guarantee you will have a great time. I have no reservations about recommending this one.

Review: “Little Shop of Horrors” At The Lyric Stage In Boston

Little Shop Of Horrors

At The Lyric Stage 

Will Grow On You

Review: Little Shop of Horrors

Directed by Rachel Bertone

At The Lyric Stage

Copley Square, Boston

Through October 6

lyricstage.com

617.585.5678

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Dan Prior, Katrina Z Pavao with Audrey II
Photo: Mark S. Howard

Little Shop Of Horrors, the rock and roll musical based on the 1960 cult film of the same name has shown incredible legs. It first appeared Off-Off-Broadway in 1982, moving to Off-Broadway, and then finally to a full Broadway run. It is as fresh today as it was then. The wonderful score which is based on a combination of Rock and Roll, Motown, and the girl groups of the early 1960s is the kind of music that has audiences tapping their feet and experiencing ear-worms as they leave the theatre.

Little Shop Of Horrors is an ideal musical with which to begin the 45th season at the Lyric Stage in Boston, and it gets the full Lyric treatment from Director/Choreographer Rachel Bertone. Set in Mushnick’s Florist shop on Skid Row in New York, the set, designed by Janie E. Howland, is inviting with various hues of green. Add in Dan Rodriguez as Music Director along with costumes by Marian Bertone and lighting by Franklin Messner Jr and you have a must see production that is nothing short of sensational.

Dan Prior, Remo Airaldi
Photo: Mark S. Howard

Remo Airaldi plays Mr. Mushnik, the florist who is struggling to stay in business while employing two workers, the hapless Seymour Krelborn (Dan Prior) and Audrey (Katrina Z. Pavao). Just when Mushnik is about to close up shop for good, Seymour reveals a “strange and interesting plant” he has been nurturing. The plant is put on display in the window of the flower shop and business begins to boom. There is just one problem; the plant named Audery II by Seymour, has a strange dietary requirement. The Venus Flytrap style vegetation desires human beings rather than houseflies. This all makes for an interesting story that combines Science Fiction and musical comedy all flavored by the 1960’s rock theme. This formula makes for two hours of great fun.

Chiffon (Pier Lamia), Crystal (Lovely Hoffman), and Ronnette (Carla Martinez) perform as a Girl Group version of a Greek Chorus and get things off to a strong start with the title tune. Moving through various homages to the music of the early Rock years, they touch on such memorable groups as the Ronettes and the Supremes. In both shimmering and taffeta dresses that invoke the period, they are outstanding while performing from various spots on the stage including the two balconies, one on each side. The score is well crafted and gives all the flavor of the period while also remaining original. 

Lovely Hoffman, Carla Martinez, Pier Lamia Porter, Katrina Z Pavao, Dan Prior
Photo: Mark S. Howard

Katrina Z. Pavao as Audrey, the sweet girl who has been finding love in all the wrong palces, displays wonderful acting skills along with a singing voice that delights. On Somewhere That’s Green she takes us on a nostalgic trip through the 1950s complete with mentions of Betty Crocker and I Love Lucy. Corny? Not really. Ms Pavao delivers it with a soft warmth that is touching. She brings a depth to her character that transcends the comedy. Yes, she is quite funny, but also a very sympathetic character. It would be easy to play Audrey as a ditz, but Ms Pavao takes it much further and displays wonderful talent. This is her Audrey. 

Audrey is in an abusive relationship with a sadistic dentist (is there any other kind?) played by Jeff Marcus,and a black eye and a broken arm make for some moments that are very dark. Mr. Marcus plays multiple roles and uses many different voices, not an easy task. His rendition of Be A Dentist with backup by Lovely, Crystal, and Ronnette is painfully funny as he describes taking his mother’s career advice; “Son, you have a talent for giving pain, be a dentist”. If you’re an anti-dentite, after seeing the dreaded chair and drill on stage this will only fuel your hatred. Ouch!

Dan Prior, Lovely Hoffman, Carla Martinez, Pier Lamia Porter
Photo: Mark S.Howard

Dan Prior as Seymour fits into his role as if it were a suit tailored especially for him. His timing is perfect, and his interactions with Remo Airaldi’s Mushnik work very well. As usual, Mr. Airaldi does not disappoint. I still remember his terrific performance in last year’s SpeakEasy production of Shakespeare In Love. There is a degree of abuse in the relationship between Mushnik and Seymour as well, and it is that common trait shared by Audrey and Seymour that draws them together.  They both lack in self-esteem and find love as they see the good in each other, and express it in  Suddenly Seymour. It is a touching and sweet number as the two open up to one another.

There is one other character not to be overlooked, a certain plant that eventually takes center stage and has a voracious appetite. Audrey II has four incarnations as the play progresses. The creation of puppet designer Cameron McEachern, Audrey II is simply amazing. Growing from a small potted plant sipping on blood to a full grown man-eating creature, it is a marvel to see. Tim Hoover inhabits the large version and moves it in synch with the words spoken and sung by Yewande Odetoyinbo. 

Katrina Z Pavo and Audrey II
Photo: Mark S. Howard

It is fascinating to watch Mr. McEchern’s creation in action as it swallows people whole.  After the performance I attended had concluded, audience members lined up at the stage to stare at Audrey II who was still on display. The plant that drew spectators to Mushnik Florist had that same pull at the Lyric. People were fascinated by it, I know I was. What a piece of work is this plant.

The Lyric Stage’s Little Shop of Horrors is theatrical perfection from top to bottom. Don’t miss it. I doubt a better production of it has ever been done, nor will there be one to top it in the future. 

Review: “Murder On The Orient Express” At The Ogunquit Playhouse

Murder, Mayhem, And Laughs

On This Express Out Of Ogunquit

Murder On The Orient Express 

The Ogunquit Playhouse

Adapted By Ken Ludwig

Directed By Shaun Kerrison 

Through August 31

ogunquitplayhouse.org

207.646.5511

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Steven Rattazzi and Christopher Gurr
Photo Credit:Jay Goldsmith

The Ogunquit Playhouse is well known for the musicals performed on its stage each year. They are consistently good and among the best to be seen anywhere. In fact, they are so good it is all they have presented for over 12 years. Why tinker with success? 

Well, this year Artistic Director Brad Kenney has decided to do just that. For the first time on his watch a non musical has been included in the lineup. Brad has chosen Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express, and it is proving to be a very wise move.

Adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig and directed by Shaun Kerrison, this is a not to be missed production which may very well turn out to be the high point in what has been a very strong season at the Playhouse. 

Photo Credit:Julia Russell

The set design by Beowulf Boritt and costumes by William Ivy Long are magical. It is amazing to watch what is created on stage as the Orient Express rolls into the theater. The use of projections and the framing of scenes is spectacular, the colors are vivid, and the costumes would be the envy of Edith Head. Most of the sound effects are created through the use of music, a touch that is quite effective.

While the mise en scene alone makes this is an extremely strong piece of theatre, the actors put it over the top. Led by Steven Rattazzi in the role of Hercule Poirot, the cast is just amazing.

“Mr. Rattazzi is brilliant as Poirot”

Mr. Rattazzi is brilliant as Poirot. It is almost surreal to see how he embodies his character. His accent is impeccable, his movements purposeful yet effortless, his timing absolutely perfect, and his mustache exquisitely groomed. Agatha Christie would be very pleased.

I mentioned Mr. Rattazzi’s accent, I was also fascinated by the panoply of accents used in the play. From Swedish to French to Hungarian, to Russian, to American they are all captivating and musical. The dialog is crisp and fast with many witty one-liners that are quite funny.

Photo Credit: Gary Ng

The play is fast paced and has a rhythm to it that never skips a beat. Each player is perfectly on time with his and her lines. Anita Gillette as Princess Dragomiroff is captivating. On the night I attended Ms Gillette was celebrating her 83rd birthday, and she has the energy of a person half that age. Known for her role in Moonstruck as well as numerous stage, screen, and television roles she is the consummate professional. 

All 10 members of the cast give solid performances. Ruth Gottschall, Christopher Gurr, Kate Loprest, Stephan James Anthony, Andrew Dits, Patricia Noonan, Olev Aleksander, and Anna Tempte each put their own special stamp on the character they play. Each deserve special praise for bringing the audience such a varied array of personages who all in the end have something in common. 

The train is also a star. It is stunning when the light from it first shines through the theater. Watching the scenes as they move from the different cars is amazing. It is remarkable to see what is done on the stage at the Ogunquit Playhouse; really breathtaking. With so little downtime between productions, it is hard to comprehend how the crew was able to create such a complicated set so quickly. The people behind the scenes deserve a standing ovation for the work they do.

Photo Credit Julia Russell

While the story is intriguing and also very funny, it is about a murder, actually two murders, and it ends with a moral dilemma. Many are already familiar with the story so are aware of this, but when Mr. Rattazzi’s Poirot steps forward to address the audience about making such a choice it is quite moving and thought provoking.

Murder On The Orient Express is only playing for two weeks. Tickets will become scarce, so I suggest you don’t hesitate and get down to the station to book your seat for this incredible ride. I hope the success of this non musical will lead to another next year. I have a suggestion: Why not go with Agatha Christie again; perhaps Witness For The Prosecution. 

Review: “Cabaret” At The Ogunquit Playhouse

Cabaret

A Dark and Decadent 

Reminder

At The  Ogunquit Playhouse 

Cabaret

Through August 10

The Ogunquit Playhouse

Directed By BT McNicholl

207.646.5511

ogunquitplayhouse.org 

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Randy Harrison and Cast
Photo:Gary Ng

When you enter the theatre for the production of Cabaret now playing at the Ogunquit Playhouse, the curtain is already up and some of the cast are on stage slinking about and interacting with the audience. You have not only arrived at your seat, you are now in the Kit Kat Club where much of the story unfolds. 

I have seen a number of productions of Cabaret over the years, and they keep getting darker and rawer. This is not to say the original was an uplifting story. It is, after all, set in Berlin in the early 1930s at the time the Nazis were gaining power and much was changing. None of it for the better. 

The play, with music by John Kander and Fred Ebb, is based on the story I Am A Camera which was included in Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Diaries. Many musicals, while still very enjoyable, become dated. This is not true with Cabaret. The story set against the backdrop of extremists gaining control of government while using fear and hatred to stir up support is as relevant today as ever. In a time when we are seeing politicians from both sides of the political spectrum spouting hate and instilling fear in people, it makes seeing a work such as Cabaret even more important to serve as a reminder of just how far out of hand this  rhetoric can lead. Politicians from both major parties have become comfortable spewing repellent bigotries such as anti Semitism and hatred of immigrants. Class warfare is also on the rise, with people being told there is always someone else to blame for their troubles. 

“Even the orchestra is beautiful”

Overall, the Cabaret I saw the other night in Ogunquit was excellent. The  14 piece orchestra led by Bruce Barnes that was onstage throughout the performance lived up to line in the opening number “Even the orchestra is beautiful”. 

Randy Harrison as the Emcee puts his own interpretation on the role and was entrancing and disturbing. As the symbol of the decay and sickness that was engulfing the Weimar Republic, he haunted the stage throughout the evening. As soon as he opens with Willkommen, it is clear his will be an incredible performance, and it is.

Randy Harrison deserves high praise for his bravura performance.

Mr. Harrison, joined by a member of the cast dressed as a gorilla in If You Could See Her, has the audience smiling at first, but when he sings the final ugly line of the song it feels like a punch to the stomach. He is also superb on the decadent Two Ladies, as well as Money, and the ominous I Don’t Care Much. Randy Harrison deserves high praise for his bravura performance. 

Mariette Hartley, John Rubinstein, and Cas
Photo: Gary Ng

The legendary Mariette Hartley plays Fraulein Schneider, the proprietor of a rooming house who is trying to survive amid the rampant inflation of the time. Ms Hartley’s presence on the stage is striking. She does fall just a bit behind on some of her lines, but when she sings What Would You Do? in Act II, she so captures the struggle of choosing between principle and survival that it forces audience members to grapple with that question. By the time she is done, you understand why she has endured as a star for over fifty years.

Broadway veteran John Rubinstein plays Herr Shultz, the owner of a fruit store, who is Jewish and believes the Nazi movement will pass. He is quite taken with Fraulien Schneider. To show his affection he brings her a pineapple and they sing It Couldn’t Please Me More while pineapple lanterns descend from above the stage. 

When he proposes marriage to Fraulein Schneider, he sings Married where he explains to the skeptical Schneider “the world can change, it can change like that, due to one little word, married…”.  An absolutely amazing performance is given by Katrina Yaukey who sings Married in German from above the stage while standing behind a frame hanging at an angle. Her voice is beautiful and reminiscent of Marlene Dietrich as it carries over the couple while they are dancing. I was very taken with Ms Yaukey’s performance. 

Closing out Act I is the rousing and chilling Tomorrow Belongs To Me. What has always fascinated me about this song is how moving it is until you realize what it foretells. It is  with songs like this that Kander and Ebb let you know how easy it is to get caught up in the emotion of a political movement. It begins with a promise of hope and revival, but by its conclusion you feel the hate.

Kate Shindle
Photo: Gary Ng

I have left the roles of Sally Bowles (Kate Shindle) and Cifford Bradshaw (Billy Harrigan Tighe) for last. While both were adequate, they lacked the emotional synergy to really make the impact that was needed. Ms Shindle, while hitting all the right notes and lines, but was just not convincing. Mr. Tighe  also did not seem fully engaged in his role as Cliff. Neither is awful, they just were a bit flat .

Despite this weakness, it is still a solid and emotionally jarring production.  It’s a bit different than the usual Ogunquit Playhouse musicals in that it is not a toe tapping musical comedy. However, even with the play’s darkness, the music is beautiful and powerful. Along with fine choreography and   its magnificent staging it  serves as a  reminder that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. The final scene is something you will not forget. It is disturbing and ugly and a reminder of what hate can motivate people to do. 

I have seen four previous productions of Cabaret including one with Mariette Hartley in 2003, and the 1987 revival with Joel Grey. I have pointed out some weak points, but this may have been the best I have seen. In fact, I might see it again before it closes. I highly recommend it. Cabaret at the Ogunquit Playhouse should not be missed. 

Review: “The Sound Of Music” Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

The Reagle Music Theatre

Of Greater Boston

Is Alive With A Beautiful

Sound Of Music

 

The Sound Of Music

Through July 21

Reagle Music Theatre Of Greater Boston

Waltham, MA

Directed and Choreographed by Daniel Forest Sullivan

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Aimee Doherty
Photo: Herb Philpott

The Sound Of Music was the last musical written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Mr. Hammerstein died nine months after it opened on Broadway in 1959. The play, based on the story of the von Trapp family and their escape from Austria on the eve of the Anschluss (Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria in 1938), is still as touching, warm, and fresh as when it debuted. This makes it a perfect production for The Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston where classic Broadway musicals are given the respect they deserve.

“You will be hard pressed to find a better production of The Sound of Music anywhere.”

This was my third time at the Reagle, and I am still very impressed by how much of an authentic Broadway experience is created there. The full orchestra under the direction of Dan Rodriguez is a big part of this, as is the talent on stage as well as the direction, choreography, lighting, and sets that all make for an evening of great musical theatre.

Aimee Doherty is simply sublime as Maria. She captures the innocence as well as the instinctive worldliness of the young postulant who has entered Nonnberg Abbey in pursuit of the religious life only to find out she will travel a different road. Ms Doherty’s stage presence is as warm as her voice, and listening to her performing such great songs as My Favorite Things, I Have Confidence, and the title song is a delight.

Aimee Doherty and Children
Photo: Herb Philpott

The von Trapp children played by Emma Heistand (Liesl), Wade Gleeson Turner (Friedrich), Jane Jakubowsksi (Louisa), Ryan Philpott (Kurt), Fiona Simeqi (Brigitta), Addison Toole (Marta), and Libby Sweder (Gretl) are wonderful. Each one is a star and left me impressed and smiling as I watched them perform with Ms Doherty on Do-Re-Me and The Lonely Goatherd. So Long, Farewell is performed twice by them and I was happy for that, as once was not enough for these talented young thespians.

Mark Linehan
Photo: Herb Philpott

Mark Linehan, last seen on the Reagle stage in Mame, once again showed why he is so popular with audiences. He portrays Captain von Trapp, and his character is strict and a bit cold at first as the Captain struggles with the loss of his wife. Mr. Linehan really hits his stride when he takes his character from authoritarian patriarch to warm father under the influence of Maria. This transition is where he excels as he brings his heart into the role. Linehan’s rendition of Edelweiss is lovely and deeply moving. Midway through this farewell song to his homeland he is choked with emotion when he is joined by Maria who gives him strength. It is a beautiful moment that captures a family in its struggle not to become a part of the darkness that is overtaking their home. Set in front of a red curtain with two swastikas projected onto it, the contrast between good and evil is clearly conveyed.

Mara Bonde and Aimee Doherty
Photo: Herb Philpott

Yewande Odetoyinbo (Sister Bertha), Sara DeLong (Sister Margaretta), Margaret Felice (Sister Sophia), along with Mara Bonde (The Mother Abbess) make up the nuns of Nonnberg Abby who grapple with how to solve a problem like Maria. Ms Bonde performs a stirring rendition of Climb Every Mountain as she encourages Maria to follow her heart. She reaches deep down and has the audience cheering as she hits the final notes.

The Reagle is known for showcasing young talent, and a great example of this is when Emma Heistand (Liesl) and Max Currie (Rolf) step onto the stage with Sixteen Going On Seventeen as the teenagers pursuing their first kiss. Set around a garden bench the two glide gracefully about the stage while their lovely voices fill the theater.

Max Detweiler is played by Robert Orzalli while the role of Elsa Schraeder is taken on by Janis Hudson. Mr. Orzalli as Captain von Trapp’s friend and agent is always looking to make a deal that usually includes getting himself invited to fancy parties. Elsa is from an aristocratic family and Ms Hudson portrays her with the air of her high social status while also allowing her character to display a depth of understanding.

Emma Heistand and Max Currie
Photo: Herb Philpott

After seeing and reviewing the Reagle’s Mame last month, I went into this current production trying to keep my expectations a bit low as I didn’t think they could reach that high bar twice in a row. I was mistaken. Under the direction and choreography of Daniel Forest Sullivan and the leadership of Producing Artistic Director Robert J. Eagle, The Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston proved they are capable of reaching even greater heights.

With the talent assembled on the stage in Waltham, MA I have no reservations about saying you will be hard pressed to find a better production of The Sound of Music anywhere.

There are four more performances of The Sound Of Music scheduled starting this coming Thursday. It would be a mistake not to take one in.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

617 Lexington Street

Waltham, MA

781.891.5600

www.reaglemusictheatre.org 

Review: 42nd Street At The Ogunquit Playhouse

A Broadway Lullaby That

Will Keep You Awake 

In Ogunquit

42nd Street

Through July 13

The Ogunquit Playhouse

Ogunquit, Maine

Directed and Choreographed by Randy Skinner

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Photo Credit: Gary Ng

At the height of the Great Depression Hollywood produced many feel good musicals that were a source of escape for people struggling through very difficult times. One of the most popular of these was the Busby Berkeley film 42nd Street that starred Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler, with music by Harry Warren and Al Dubin. In 1980 Gower Champion and David Merrick brought a stage version of it to Broadway. The play was a huge hit and has been revived repeatedly since then, most recently in London’s West End where it was directed by Mark Bramble with choreography by Randy Skinner.  

The latest revival has just opened at the Ogunquit Playhouse with original sets from the London production. Randy Skinner is directing and choreographing this production. Unfortunately, Mark Bramble passed away earlier this year. 

The backstage musical about aspiring hoofer Peggy Sawyer having to step in when leading lady Dorothy Brock breaks her ankle during rehearsals for the play Pretty Lady is the standard “the show must go on” theme that was popular in the 1930s. What is so special about this piece is it has many great, if corny, lines, some of the greatest songs ever written for a musical, and stunning dance numbers. 

This is one of the largest casts ever assembled on the Ogunquit Playhouse stage, and the sound of all those tapping feet is intoxicating.

It really is all about the dance, and who better to make that happen than Randy Skinner who worked on the original Broadway production in 1980. The dance numbers here are simply exquisite. This is one of the largest casts ever assembled on the Ogunquit Playhouse stage, and the sound of all those tapping feet is intoxicating. 

Jessica Wockenfuss as Peggy Sawyer, the starry eyed kid from Allentown, PA who’s golly gee demeanor belies her drive to make it in the city that never sleeps is outstanding. She puts it all together with her lovely singing voice, delivery, and amazing dancing feet. She is a Peggy Sawyer to remember. 

Steve Blanchard is Julian Marsh, the hard driving director who gives more pep talks than the manager of a baseball team playing in the World Series. He delivers his lines in rapid fire without missing a beat; “You’re going out there a youngster, but coming back a star”. His performance  of  Lullaby of Broadway is marvelous. You can just taste the theatre district of old New York as you listen to him sing the lyrics.

In Shadow Dance, Rachel York as the snooty and aging star Dorothy Brock, dances in front of a large curtain on which her shadow is double cast. Ms York and Ms Wockenfuss perform a lovely duet on the classic About a Quarter To Nine. It is one of those great Broadway tunes and gets a bit of a modern arrangement here. 

Tenor Billy Lawlor is played by Con O’Shea-Creal. He and Ms York perform another favorite in You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me. Mr. Con-Creal gives a convincing  happy-go-lucky Lawlor filled with enthusiasm.

Sally Struthers is Maggie Jones and, as always, brings her wonderful comedic timing to the Playhouse stage. Along with Cliff Bemis as Abner Dillon, Dorthy Brock’s sugar daddy, and Ryan K. Bailer as her not so secret paramour, there is a stage full of talent performing here.

While the story is fun and fast moving, if predictable, 42nd Street is all about the singing and dancing. The numbers are spectacular. We’re In The Money is performed with giant dimes being rolled on stage (They are Mercury heads in keeping with the time frame). Shuffle Off To Buffalo with Kilty Reidy as Bert and Megan McLaughlin as Lorraine, a couple heading off on their honeymoon, is sweet and fun. 

Photo Credit: Gary Ng

The best is saved for last when the stage is filled with dancers on rows of lit stairs tapping away to the title song. Signs with the names of theaters, shows, and performers hang above them while they sing and dance. It is an outstanding number that brought the audience to their feet. It has been said there is a broken heart for every light on Broadway, but these lights bring happiness. 

Last month I got to experience the new lighting that was installed at the Playhouse when I saw Jersey Boys. It is an investment that is paying great dividends. Of course, it takes more than lighting to make for great theatre, and those ingredients are in abundance at the Ogunquit Playhouse. Artistic Director Brad Kenney proves over and over again he knows how to choose great plays, find the best talent, and bring in the finest creative teams available. It is all on display in 42nd Street. 

If you love a fast paced, toe tapping, Broadway musical filled with some of the best songs ever written, you will find it playing now in Ogunquit, Maine. I loved it and can’t imagine anyone wouldn’t.

For information:

ogunquitplayhouse.org 

207.646.5511

Review: “Mame” At The Reagle Music Theatre Of Greater Boston

Mame At The Reagle Music Theatre Of Greater Boston

Is A Satisfying Banquet

Don’t Miss Out

 

Reviewed By Bobby Franklin

Through June 23 At The Reagle Music Theatre Of Greater Boston

617 Lexington Street

Waltham, MA

781.891.5600

www.reaglemusictheatre.org 

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Ensemble With Leigh Barrett
Photo: Reagle Music Theatre/Herb Philpott

One of my favorite lines from Mame is “Life is a banquet and most poor sons of bitches are starving”. The production of Mame now playing at the Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston in Waltham is a delicious feast of this classic Broadway musical. It will nourish your theatrical soul.

Led by uber talented Leigh Barrett as Patrick Dennis’s Auntie Mame, the entire cast is solid and tight. Ms Barrett who thrilled audiences in last year’s Lyric Stage production of Gypsy has met, or I would argue, even exceeded that performance here. Leigh Barrett delivers what is best described in the words of the great theatre critic Kenneth Tynan, “a high definition performance”. She is stage presence personified. 

This is the story of the “live life to the fullest” Mame who has taken on the care of her nephew Patrick Dennis. Mame faces many obstacles in watching over young Patrick, including threats to have him taken away from her for her unconventional lifestyle, as well as financial ruin (the play is set in the 1920s and 30s when the stock market crash destroyed many people’s finances), but you can’t keep her down.

While Ms Barrett’s performance is something to behold, she is not on the Reagle’s stage by herself. In fact, she is accompanied by 38 other highly talented actors who light up the theatre along with a full orchestra, a rarity today and such a pleasure, led by Dan Rodriguez. Upon entering the theatre I could hear the musicians tuning up. This lends an air of anticipation and excitement to the evening. 

Ben Choi-Harris and Leigh Barrett
Photo: Reagle Music Theatre/Herb Philpott

Regarding the other performers; well, there are too many to mention by name and any omissions are in no way a slight against any of them. Eleven year old Ben Choi-Harris who pays young Patrick Dennis is a rising star who more than held his own playing opposite Leigh Barrett in the first act. I had to check to make sure this wasn’t a fifty year old veteran actor heavily disguised to look like a boy, as Ben looks as if he has been on the stage for years. The duet between Mame and young Patrick on My Best Girl is just beautiful. Their warmth and love are fully conveyed to the audience. Mame’s nephew also makes a fine martini.

Katie O’Reilly takes on the role of the homely and lovable Agnes Gooch, who learns to open up and let go; well, a bit too much. In Gooch’s Song, Ms O’Reilly shows incredible comedic timing while keeping her character real and sympathetic. 

Mark Linehan, seen last year at the Reagle as Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man, plays Beau, the Southern Gentleman who falls for Mame and takes her hand in marriage bringing her love and wealth. He also ends up taking another fall, literally, while traveling with his new bride. Mr. Linehan has appeared on the Reagle’s stage eight times and once you see him you will understand why they keep bringing him back.

Mame’s house servant Ito is played by Simon Rogers. Mr. Rogers brings a depth to this loyal character while not sinking into caricature. The laughs are never at him, but with him. He, along with Vera, Mame, Patrick, and Miss Gooch are all family.

Maureen Keiller and Ensemble
Photo: Reagle Music Theatre/Herb Philpott

Speaking of Vera Charles, this has to be a dream role for many actors, and Maureen Keiller is having her dream come true. Ms Keiller is hysterical as the “world’s greatest lush” and dear but difficult friend of Mame’s. In fact, they are Bosom Buddies which they sing together in one of the many well known songs from the play. Ms Keiller also gives a hilarious performance on the number The Man In The Moon Is Lady. 

At the beginning of Act II the role of young Patrick transitions to the older Patrick played by Will Burke. The reprise of the song My Best Girl is begun by young Patrick and moves smoothly to older Patrick. It’s a touching moment.

Mame is directed and choreographed by Eileen Grace and the stage is filled with music and dance. The large cast is always in synch, and if you love dancing you will not be disappointed. It is a treat to see and hear them work the boards.

If He Walked Into My Life Today is one of the better known songs from Mame, but it is often not heard in context and is usually thought of as a romantic song about lost love. Seeing it sung here by Ms Barrett you fully grasp the feelings of doubt and regret Mame has over whether or not she has made the right choices in how she raised Patrick. Every parent feels this way at one time or another. 

Maureen Keiller and Leigh Photo: BarrettReagle Music Theatre/Herb Philpott

The title song, which closes the first act, is a lavish musical number that fully allows the audience to see what a classic Broadway Musical looks like. The stage is filled with dancers and singers all moving about effortlessly while performing their hearts out. As I was exiting the theatre I could hear people singing and humming the tunes. That’s a nice feeling.

Artistic Director Robert J. Eagle founded the Reagle Musical Theatre of Greater Boston fifty-one years ago and it is a gift to have his creation still going strong after all that time. I suspect it easily has another fifty ahead of it. If you haven’t yet been there, well, what are you waiting for? If you have, I’m sure you won’t want to miss the current production. Mame is playing through June 23 and the theater is easy to find and has plenty of parking. 

As the Mame household reminds us, there are times We Need A Little Christmas, and I couldn’t think of a better Christmas present with which to begin your summer.

Review: “Jersey Boys” Ogunquit Playhouse

Jersey Boys

Stays Just A Little Bit Longer

At The Ogunquit Playhouse

Even Better The Second Time Around

Jersey Boys

Though June 15

The Ogunquit Playhouse

Ogunquit, Maine

207.646.5511

ogunquitplayhouse.org

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Photo Credit: Paul Charest

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 in  for 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. 

Photo Credit:Morgan Gavaletz LaMontagne

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. 

Photo Credit: Morgan Gavaletz LaMontagne

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 the  four 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. 

Photo Credit: Paul Charest

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!

Review: “American Moor”

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

Photo Credit:Chris Lang Photography

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.

Photo Credit: Ernesto Galan

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.