Category Archives: Theater Reviews

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

Leapin’ Lizards!

The Ogunquit Playhouse Production Of

Annie

Is Great Fun At The Music Hall

In Portsmouth

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cast of Annie
Photo by Gary Ng

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Annie

Though December 22

The Music Hall at the Historic Theatre

28 Chestnut Street,

Portsmouth, NH

603.436.2400 themusichall.org 

Review: “An Iliad” ArtsEmerson

The Anger of Achilles

An Iliad

At Emerson Paramount Center 

Through November 24

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Denis O’Hare
Photo by Joan Marcus

The other night I saw An Iliad at the Emerson Paramount Center. Presented by ArtsEmerson, this modern take on Homer’s Iliad is funny, stirring, and thought provoking. Written by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare, it is directed by Ms Peterson and stars Mr. O’Hare. 

It first played in Boston the weekend after the Marathon bombings and has now been brought back for a very limited engagement. 

In approximately 100 minutes, Denis O’Hare accompanied by Eleonore Oppenheim on bass, tells the story of the Trojan War and the endless saga of man’s attraction to war and addiction to power. Mr. O’Hare is a dynamo on the stage while Ms Oppenheim adds mood and sound effects that beautifully enhance the performance.

There is a lot packed into this production, and you may feel a bit lost at moments, but you will never be bored and you will be moved. As time is running short, rather than have you spend time on more of my take on it I suggest you head over to the Paramount and see for it yourself. You’d better hurry though as there are only two performances left. Saturday at 8:00 P.M. and Sunday at 2:00 P.M.

An Iliad

Presented by ArtsEmerson In Association With Homer’s Coat

The Emerson Paramount Center

559 Washington Street, Boston

617.824.8400  artsemerson.org

Review: “Admissions” At The SpeakEasy Production Company, Boston

Talking The Talk

Not Walking The Walk

Admissions 

At SpeakEasy Stage Explores Privilege, Values, Snobbery,

And Hypocrisy

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Nathan Malin Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

A few years ago I was watching a news program featuring a story about a successful inner city high school where most of the graduates were going on to college. It was an uplifting story, but one part stuck in my mind to this day. A young African American girl was asked why she wanted to go to college. She responded, “So I can be better than other people.” My heart sank when I heard those words.

In watching Joshua Harmon’s newest play Admissions, now at the SpeakEasy Stage Company in Boston, those words kept echoing in my head. The play which takes place far from the inner city, at a second tier, on the verge of being first tier, prep school in New Hampshire, deals with what happens when white liberals who are in a position of power, in this case expanding minority admissions to the school, talk the talk of making their school more inclusive and diverse and then have to face the reality of walking the walk when it turns out it means giving up their own privilege. 

Sherri Rosen-Mason is the Head of Admissions for Hillcrest Prep School. Her husband Bill is the Headmaster, and their son Charlie is a senior who’s dream has always been to attend Yale. He has worked hard toward that goal and has the grades and test scores to show for it. Things don’t work out as planned when Perry, Charlie’s close friend who is biracial is accepted at Yale while Charlie’s application is deferred. Charlie believes it is his skin color that has made the difference.

Cheryl McMahon and Maureen Keiller
Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

I have seen three of Joshua Harmon’s plays, and he is a master at writing dialog. In the opening scene of Admissions the back and forth between Sherri Rosen-Mason (Maureen Keiller) and Roberta (Cheryl McMahon) who works in development at the school is both funny and telling. Roberta is working on the school catalogue and Sherri is critiquing her work for not showing how racially diverse the school is. It becomes a numbers game about how many students of color attend the school and if they are properly represented in the catalogue. More so, are minority kids made to feel comfortable when perusing it. 

The conversation between the two on who qualifies as black enough becomes awkward for Sherri as Roberta cuts to the quick with just what Sherri is trying to say. While funny, the conversation can also make many in the audience feel uncomfortable as while the goal of being more inclusive is good, the discussion of putting people into boxes based on ethnicity has ugly overtones.

This combination of humor and questioning of values is also evident in Charlie’s diatribe when he confronts his parents about why he wasn’t accepted at Yale. Nathan Malin as Charlie is positively outstanding when he goes on about what he sees as the absurdity of figuring out who qualifies as a minority and who doesn’t.  Sherri and Bill (Michael Kaye) are stunned by what their son has said. Bill, “It looks like we successfully raised a Republican”. Oh! The horror! 

Marianna Bassham and Maureen Keiller
Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

Another awkward moment occurs when Perry’s mother Ginnie (Marianna Bassham) is sharing her joy over her son being accepted to Yale when she realizes Sherri is implying he only made it because of his skin color. Later in the play Ginnie captures the difficulty her son and so many others have to face because many people feel that way. Marianna Bassham is terrific as always.

The part of the play I found most revealing was where Charlie had decided to take things into his own hands and walk the walk that his parents talked, and made his own decision about where to attend college. Bill launches into a revealing screed about how his son will now have to do such low level jobs as “tossing pizzas and bussing tables”. He also can’t contain his disgust for community colleges. It really does all come down to being better than other people. 

While the play is meant to make people look at their own privilege, in this case white privilege, it is about much more than that. No matter how well intentioned people are, when it comes to getting ahead, or having their children get ahead, are they ever going to cede their connections and power to make things happen? 

White liberals will see this play and feel appropriately guilty. But how many of them will be willing to have a minority student take the seat at the table they reserved for their son or daughter? And is that really the solution?

Michael Kaye and Nathan Malin
Photo by Maggie Hall Photography

As with other Speakeasy Productions, I would love to see a more politically diverse audience attend and participate in a discussion. Joshua Harmon knows how to raise questions. He is not afraid to make people uncomfortable, and I would assume this includes himself. And, unlike so many of today’s authors, he does not preach. The audience has to grapple with these questions on their own. 

Sherri’s words are very telling, “If you don’t have a school like a Yale or Harvard on your resume, that actually puts a ceiling on what’s possible in your life. And our son is smart enough to see that. Going to Yale means your life contains all the possibility in the world. Not going there, or one of a handful of schools like it, means there are tables you will never get to sit at, tables whose existence you may never know about.” 

Keeping the table small means always putting limits on what people can achieve. Maybe it’s time to find new places to sit.

While it is easy when hearing about Admissions to put it in a box as a play by and for liberals, it should not be dismissed as such. This is an excellent work and a superb production. The talented cast is outstanding. The set which smoothly transitions from campus office to family kitchen is perfect. No matter your political beliefs, I would strongly urge you to pull up a chair to this table at the SpeakEasy.

Admissions

By Joshua Harmon

Directed by Paul Daigneault

Through November 30

SpeakEasy Stage Company

South End, Boston

speakeasystage.com

617.933.8600

Review: “Marie And Rosetta” At The Greater Boston Stage Company

The Godmother Of Rock And Roll

Receives The Respect She Is Due

In 

Marie And Rosetta

At The 

Greater Boston Stage Company

Reviewed By Bobby Franklin

Lovely Hoffman
Photo: Nile Scott Studios

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a major influence on rock and roll music. She was a favorite of Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and many other top names from the early days of rock music. Beginning in 1940 Sister Rosetta began using electric guitar in her Gospel Music performances. Her unique style would influence Chuck Berry and Elvis. Just last year she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Still, most people have not heard of her. With the advent of Youtube, videos of her performances are now available for the general public to view. 

In Marie And Rosetta, playwright George Brant has attempted to tell the story of Sister Rosetta Tharpe. This is done by setting the play in a funeral home where Tharpe and her young protege Marie Knight are having their first rehearsal, as they are joining together for upcoming performances. Why a funeral home? The story takes place in 1946 in Mississippi and the Jim Crow South wasn’t exactly accommodating to black performers traveling through the area. Since they could not stay at the local hotels, they were dependent on friends finding them a place to stay. On this night it happened to be a funeral home. Toward the end of the play that symbolism will play into the story.

Lovely Hoffman and Pier Lamia Porter
Photo: Nile Scott Studios

Pier Lamia Porter as Marie and Lovely Hoffman as Sister Rosetta both deliver terrific performances and have amazing voices. Ms Hoffman’s interpretation of Tharpe brings the soul of her being to life at the theatre in Stoneham, MA. This is not impersonation or caricature, but rather an exploration of a dynamic and powerful woman. Accompanied by Marquis Lewis on guitar and musical director Erica Telisnor on piano, (Ms Hoffman and Ms Porter go through the motions on muted instruments) the musical numbers are outstanding.

Pier Lamia Porter and Lovely Hoffman
Photo: Nile Scott Studios

Not all of Sister Rosetta’s hits will be familiar to most audience members, but you will leave the theatre wanting to hear more. From Gospel songs such as Were You There, to This Train, and Didn’t It Rain to the smoking Tall Skinny Papa and rocking Up Above My Head, there is never a dull musical moment. 

Ms Hoffman, who said she grew up in the church (her father was a minister) knows her Gospel music. She, as Sister Rosetta did, is able to combine the spiritual with a rocking and soulful influence to recreate the sound that was at the root of the early rock era. While she is not actually playing the guitar, her movements with it show how much Tharpe influenced the early musicians. I was very much taken with her performance and was left wanting more.

Ms Porter as Marie is at first seen as shy and reluctant to step into the spotlight but quickly gains confidence with Tharpe’s encouragement. Her interpretation of Were You There is marvelous, as was her take on Peace In The Valley. 

Lovely Hoffman and Pier Lamia Porter
Photo: Nile Scott Studios

Both Hoffman and Porter were outstanding when singing together, most notably on Didn’t It Rain, Up Above My Head, and Tall Skinny Papa. The two had just worked together in Little Shop of Horrors at the Lyric Stage and actually began prepping for Marie and Rosetta while still there. If there was any strain with working together through two shows without a break, it didn’t show here.

The music is the strong part of this production, and while Sister Rosetta’s story is a fascinating one, the dialogue gets a bit muddy and drawn out at times. This is not a major flaw and certainly is no reason to pass on this wonderful show. I just wish it had been a bit stronger. I think what is a very good story could be made into a fantastic one with a little touching up. 

The Sister Rosetta Tharpe story is an important one to tell. She is known as the Godmother of Rock and Roll, and is certainly deserving of that title. Seeing Marie and Rosetta at the Greater Boston Stage Company is a fine way to be introduced to this musical legend. As was the case with me, you will find yourself wanting to hear more of her music. You will also want to learn more about this amazing woman who said “I brought a little club to the church, and a little church to the club”.  

I recommend you head up to Stoneham to see this solid and very enjoyable musical play, not only because it is very good, but also because it is important to get to know Sister Rosetta Tharpe. You’ll be glad you did.

Marie And Rosetta

Directed By Pascale Floresta

Though November 10

The Greater Boston Stage Company

In Collaboration With Front Porch Arts Collective

Stoneham, MA

781.279.2200

greaterbostonstage.org 

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