Tag Archives: Theatre Review

The Beatles Rock The Stage At The Ogunquit Playhouse

 

84th Season Blasts Off Like A Rocket

Let It Be – A Celebration Of The Music Of The Beatles

reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Wow! Let It Be – A Celebration Of The Music Of The Beatles is burning up the stage at the Ogunquit Playhouse. This is not simply a tribute band performing Beatles’ songs; it is

a solid theatrical production that brings us back in time

a solid theatrical production that brings us back in timeand allows us to experience Beatlemania from its very beginnings and on up to the post band day when each member was working on his own.

Let It Be (Photo: Julia Russell)
Let It Be
(Photo: Julia Russell)

From the opening number, I Saw Her Standing There, you know you are in for more than just a night of nostalgic music. These five extraordinarily talented musicians, Neil Candelora (Paul McCartney), Michale Gagliano (John Lennon), Chris McBurney (Ringo Starr), JT Curtis (George Harrison) and Daniel A. Weiss (Keyboards) were tight and sharp. They were not only able to recreate the music, but they each also took on the look and personalities of the Fab Four at the different stages of their careers.

The show opens with the band playing behind a mesh material in what represents the Cavern Club in Liverpool where the boys got their start. The stage has two large television monitors in the style of early sets perched atop two gigantic transistor radios on each side of the stage. Live shots of the Ogunquit stage are seen on these screens interspersed with vintage footage from the various eras the Beatles played in. This is very effective and brings back so many memories of all that occurred during the group’s rise in popularity. We relive their appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show along with their sold out performance at Shea Stadium where they stood before over 55,000 screaming fans.

That excitement fills the Playhouse.

That excitement fills the Playhouse.
All the early numbers are there including Please Please Me, All My Loving, I want to hold Your Hand, and She Loves You. A marvelous animation accompanies A Hard Day’s Night, that is vintage perfect.

The Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band set is breathtaking

The Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band set is breathtakingwith the boys dressed up in full regalia to bring the album cover to life. It is magical. Projections on the back wall along with amazing lights that spin in multi colors on both the stage and the audience make this a very interactive show. John (Michale Gagliano) constantly eggs on the audience and gets a fantastic response. He looks like he is having a great time, and I think he would have stayed all night. This show will have you on your feet rocking with the Beatles for a good portion of the over two hours they are performing more than forty songs. You’ll be surprised at how well you know the lyrics as you sing along.

Let It Be (Photo: Julia Russell)
Let It Be
(Photo: Julia Russell)

JT Curtis as George not only has a wonderful voice, but he is a very talented guitar player. His solos on Here Comes The Sun and My Sweet Lord were fantastic, but his guitar solo on While My Guitar Gently Weeps was classic. The boys joked that Eric Clapton might make a surprise visit the evening I was there, but since he didn’t, JT certainly kept him from being missed.

Towards the latter half of the show the performance shifted to a what would it have been like if the Beatles had had a reunion mode. This could have been risky, but it worked just fine as the band got together and played the songs they had each written after having gone their own ways. This is just how it might have been. Chris McBurney (Ringo) was right on doing It Don’t Come Easy while perched high up on the drums.

Neil Candelora was Paul McCartney

Neil Candelora was Paul McCartneyon Band On The Run.

The entire cast captured the Beatles throughout every step of their careers as both a band and solo artists. We see them age before our eyes and got to, for those of us old enough to remember, see so much of what we grew up with. When I’m Sixty-Four had a very special meaning for many in attendance.

You would think all I described here would have been plenty, but they were not through yet. The Beatles, and by now I was fully convinced I was spending the evening with the Beatles, kicked off a tribute set to the greats that influenced them including Chuck Berry and Little Richard. They ripped out, with the crowd dancing and screaming their approval.

The Fab Four (Photo: Julia Russell)
The Fab Four
(Photo: Julia Russell)

I now feel like a late night television ad man when I am saying there was still more. The title song, Let It Be, was as touching as ever. Hey Jude had everyone singing along, and Back In The USSR sent us out rocking.

I would also like to note that during the performance of Imagine the boys asked the audience to light up their cell phones and wave them during the song. What fun.

Daniel A. Weiss on keyboard is also the Music Supervisor, and he was also outstanding. This was a tremendous amount of music to present in one evening. Add to that the whole theatrical aspect of the show and this was one huge challenge. This team pulled it off on the stage of the Ogunquit Playhouse. Just incredible!

What a start to the season. I would urge all of you to

make tracks north and catch this show

make tracks north and catch this show. I would also strongly suggest you buy a season subscription to the Playhouse. If this is any indication, it is going to be a very exciting year in Ogunquit.

Let It Be – A Celebration Of The Music Of The Beatles

Through June 11th

Ogunquit Playhouse 207.646.5511

www.ogunquitplayhouse.org
Video:

A Captivating Romeo and Juliet At The Hartford Stage

 

by Bobby Franklin

“O Romeo, Romeo! – wherefore art thou Romeo?”

In answer to that question, Romeo, Juliet, and all of the Capulets and Montagues are on the Hartford Stage under the very fine direction of Darko Tresnjak.

This Romeo and Juliet is nothing short of superb.

This Romeo and Juliet is nothing short of superb. Written over 400 years ago, the Hartford’s production of Shakespeare’s work is fresh and alive. The beautifully talented Kaliswa Brewster in her “dream role” as Juliet couldn’t be more perfect in the role as the young Ms

Juliet (Kaliswa Brewster)
Juliet (Kaliswa Brewster)

Capulet who is taken with the handsome Romeo played by the equally talented Chris Ghaffari. The two are lovely to watch as their forbidden love blossoms. They perform their parts with much playful humor (the famous balcony scene is among the best and most original I have ever seen) on a versatile set inspired by the work of Italian neorealist cinema, think Rossellini and Visconti.

Romeo (Chris Ghaffari) and Juliet (Kaliswa Brewster)
Romeo (Chris Ghaffari) and Juliet (Kaliswa Brewster)

The first half of this beautiful play is joyful and light. It makes the audience relax and share in the excitement of the title characters as they become more and more enthralled with each other. We laugh and share in their joy. Of course, we are made well aware of the tension that exists between the two families, but some how we feel things will work out just fine. Yes, even knowing the story, our emotions follow that arc. It is the magic director Tresnjak is able to make happen on stage. It is not the first time I have seen him do this.

Mercutio (Wyatt Fenner) and Tybalt (Jonathan Louis Dent)
Mercutio (Wyatt Fenner) and Tybalt (Jonathan Louis Dent)

Mercutio (Wyatt Fenner) is unlike any you have seen before. He is intense and, well, mercurial. And it is when he meets his end that our joyful mood takes a sudden and very real turn. “A plague on both your houses!” Again, it is that Darko magic at work. I observed laughter turn to tears in the audience as things descended into darkness because of the petty hatreds of the two families.

Friar Laurence (Charles Janasz)
Friar Laurence (Charles Janasz)

Charles Janasz brings wisdom and warmth to the part of Friar Laurence, and Kandis Chappell as Juliet’s nurse joins him in the failed and finally tragic attempt to reconcile things for the lovers and families. Our hearts break for them as well.

Everyone in the large cast is terrific, the set, with a balcony that extends and recedes from a wall designed after an Italian cemetery wall, and lighting are to the usual high standards of the Hartford. This production is a joy for all of the senses. Within minutes of the opening the theatergoers feel they are a part of all that is happening on the stage.

If you have seen Romeo and Juliet before do not miss this one as it is unlike any before. If you have never experienced it, there is no better time than now to see it for the first time, though I must warn you it may spoil you for future productions.

Juliet (Kaliswa Brewster) and Nurse (Kandis Chappell)
Juliet (Kaliswa Brewster) and Nurse (Kandis Chappell)

I have now attended enough Shakespeare productions directed by Darko Tresnjak at the Hartford to say his are by far the best in New England.

I urge you to take the short run down to Hartford to see this play. You’ll be sorry if you miss it.

Romeo and Juliet at The Hartford Stage through March 20th.

Info at www.hartfordstage.org Box Office 860-520-7114

The White Chip, A Very Funny Play About A Very Serious Subject

 

At The Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Lowell Through January 31st

Directed by Sheryl Kaller

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Actor #2 (Isabel Keating), Sean Daniels (Jeffrey Binder), Actor #1 (Benjamin Evett)
Actor #2 (Isabel Keating), Sean Daniels (Jeffrey Binder), Actor #1 (Benjamin Evett)

“The White Chip” now playing at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell is an important work. Written by Sean Daniels, MRT’s Artistic Director, it is a no holds barred look at Sean’s painful struggle with addiction. In it he tells the story of how he practically ruined his life, his relationships, and his health because of the hold alcohol had on him. In the play the audience witnesses Sean’s tragic life as we see the disease progress and tear him apart, and while we are watching this tale of self destruction we are many times laughing to the point of tears. I know, it sounds a bit strange.

The cast is led by Jeffrey Binder as Sean who is superb in a role that takes incredible emotional stamina. Within minutes he has formed a bond with the audience who now become immersed in his life story. Mr. Binder is fluid on the stage and his face takes on the years of abuse as the play and his alcoholism progresses. This is not done with makeup.

Isabel Keating, Benjamin Evett, Jeffrey Binder
Isabel Keating, Benjamin Evett, Jeffrey Binder

Benjamin Evett and Isabel Keating are listed in the program as Actor #1 and Actor #2 as they play multiple roles and slip in and out of their various characters without missing a beat. Having seen Mr. Evett perform many times before, I was not surprised at this as he is one of the areas top actors. This was my introduction to Ms Keating and to say I was impressed would be an understatement. It wonderful to watch such talented actors switch from character to character at the drop of a hat.

The title refers to the white chip, or token, that is given to people when they first attend a Twelve Step Program. It is in recognition of their taking the first step towards recovery. Unfortunately, Sean has amassed a large amount of these chips over the years as he has relapsed time and time again, with each new round of drinking dragging him further and further down towards that black hole. Along the way he learns better and better ways to hide his drinking from others, how to lie to himself, and how to avoid responsibilities, but eventually his life starts to completely unravel. Much will be familiar to those who have or know someone who has dealt with this awful disease.

Sean and Bartender
Sean and Bartender

Okay, so you must be wondering why I said this is a funny play. It sounds pretty dreadful, and it is. The great thing about “The White Chip” is how Daniels has filled it with so much laughter. There are jokes about his Mormon upbringing, his embarrassing escapades while on a bender, his relationship with his mother, who also is an alcoholic, and his meeting with the Jews where he is finally able to make some sense of things. Who would have thought such a thing?. There is wonderful banter among all the characters as they move about the stage engaged in quick-witted exchanges. There are projections onto two screens with cartoon like characterizations of the embarrassing escapades Sean has embarked on while drunk as well as graphics listing the pros and cons of his behavior. Mr. Evett is particularly impressive when he plays Sean’s father who is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Many of these scenes are heartbreaking and touching.

If this play weren’t funny it would be unbearable to watch.

And that is what is so wonderful about it. By allowing his audience the release through the comedy Mr. Daniels is able to tell his story of just how terrible his struggle has been, and of how so many people are dealing with the same battle. It is a battle to overcome the shame and ask for help. It is not only a play for those who have or are struggling with addiction, but a story that should be seen by all people so they will begin to realize the stigma associated with addiction is cruel and uncalled for. The way to help people is to allow them to step away from the shame and know they will be able to reach out for help without being branded as weak and lacking in character.

In the program notes Sean Daniels expresses something that has to be a first for an artist. About “The White Chip” he writes “And I do hope that no one produces it in ten years because it feels incredibly outdated-because we have no more silent deaths.” As much as I enjoyed this play and urge people to see it, I have to agree with him.

“The White Chip” playing at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Lowell, MA through January 31st . Box Office: 978.654.4678

MRT.0rg

Photo Credit: Merrimack Repertory Theatre

 

A Beautiful Violet Grows At The SpeakEasy

 

“Violet” At The Calderwood Pavilion, Boston

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

My review of the SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of “Violet” could be summed up in just three words: See this play.

Flick, Violet, and Monty
Flick, Violet, and Monty

Violet, which premiered off Broadway in 1997 originally got mixed reviews, but fortunately survived and went on to play Broadway. This Boston run is being directed by Paul Daigneault who is taking it on for the second time, it played the SpeakEasy in 2000, and he has done a masterful job. Along with a remarkable score composed by Jeanine Tesori with lyrics by Brian Crawley and a first rate cast led by Alison McCartan who’s Violet is near perfect.

Violet and Young Violet
Violet and Young Violet

Set in 1964, it is the story of Violet, a young woman who has a severe facial scar that resulted from a tragic accident when she was a child. She has gathered together enough money to take a bus trip from her home in Spruce Pine, North Carolina to Tulsa, Oklahoma where she believes a faith healer can remove her scar and the emotional pain that goes with it.

Along the way she befriends a number of people including two soldiers, Flick and Monty, who both come to care for her very much. There are also scenes that occur during the performance of the young Violet, played with amazing depth by Audree Hedequist, and her father played by Michael Mendiola in a role filled with emotion that seems made to order for him. The two are beautiful to watch together and give the audience insight into how Violet’s strength was developed.

It would have been so easy for this play to have fallen into the story of a bitter young woman who is mad at the world for the bad hand she has been dealt, and the people who look at her and feel pity for her, but that is not how it goes.

Adult Violet & Father
Adult Violet & Father

Violet is tough and smart. Yes, she is angry and hurt, but at no time did I feel pity for her. I was sympathetic towards her, but I also recognized the amazing strength of her character. Flick does as well. Her father did a remarkable job giving her the tools to enable her to deal with life, which is conveyed in the number “Luck of the Draw”. The people Violet encounters on her trip learn as much from her as she does from them.

The musical score is breathtaking covering many genres including gospel, folk, rock, and country. It is hard to believe one composer could master so many different types of music. While all the numbers are outstanding I do have to make mention of “Let It Sing” performed by Dan Belnavis as Flick. His incredible voice fills the theater with emotion.

John King as Preacher
John King as Preacher

I would also note that the scenes with the faith healing preacher are played just right by John F. King who did not slip into parody, which would have been easy to do, but instead showed the human qualities of the man without diminishing him. It was not easy to do, but Mr. King got it right.

Again, see this play, you will not be disappointed. Violet will move you, touch you, and make you want to Let It Sing! What you see and hear will stay with you long after you experience this amazing production. Theatre is alive and well in Boston thanks to the SpeakEasy Production Company.

Photo Credit: Glenn Perry

Violet, playing through February 6th at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont St., Boston.617.933.8600

www.BostonTheatreScene.com


 

 

 

 

“The Heidi Chronicles”

At Trinity Rep, Providence, RI

Reviewed

by David Curcio

“Valuing happiness is not necessarily linked to greater happiness. In fact, under certain conditions, the opposite is true. Under conditions of low (but not high) life stress, the more people valued happiness… the higher their depressive symptoms.”*

In an interview with Vivienne Benesch, the director of The Heidi Chronicles at the Trinity Rep in Providence, she pulls an unusual quote, made by the main character, from a highly quotable play: “I’m afraid I haven’t been happy for some time.” With this line, Benesch reveals her vision of the play as a study in the search for happiness, with its backdrop of militant, idealistic second-wave feminism in the 1960s and 70s and the insufferable self-obsession of the 80s, when money rendered such ideals a lot less pressing.

Angela Brazil as Heidi Holland Photo Mark Turek
Angela Brazil as Heidi Holland
Photo Mark Turek

Heidi, played with blushing earnestness by Angela Brazil, is an art historian with a focus on arcane female painters from the Madonnas of the Renaissance to “the present day.” With her focus on the ways in which women portray themselves (and other women) through the ages, she seems to be looking for the ways these pictures of women in liminal moments – at once inviting us in while remaining slightly aloof – might reveal something about herself, and maybe they do. Like these woefully underrepresented artists and their subjects, Heidi is forever skirting the esprit de corps without fully engaging. Like Zelig, she’s a witness when it all goes down but never an active participant. From a college “Students for McCarthy” mixer to “Consciousness Raising” feminist retreats to baby showers in apartments on Central Park West and power lunches with her executive friends, Heidi remains an outsider.

Angela Brazil as Heidi Holland and Rachel Christopher as Susan Johnston Photo Mark Turek
Angela Brazil as Heidi Holland and Rachel Christopher as Susan Johnston
Photo Mark Turek

The looming question is why Wendy Wasserstein’s play, a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner, is relevant today. For all of the (fantastic) cast’s enthusiasm, it feels a bit dusted off, and a dismal reminder of how little progress feminism has made. Director Benesch laments that “we will probably never be post-feminist,” and if we define post-feminist as a meaningful reaction against the contradictions and black-and-white thinking of the second-wave feminism of the sixties and seventies, or as the notion that second-wave feminism is so assimilated into our society we assume it has “won” (a phenomenon also referred to as Enlightened Sexism), she is at least partly right. Feminism as a movement is protean, with definitions and goals that are forever shifting with the political, financial and social climate of the day. With ongoing wage discrepancies, the dearth of women in executive positions, the all-out war on birth control, abortion and HPV vaccination, and a presidential frontrunner who attributes much-deserved criticism by a female journalist to her period, can this battle ever end, let alone be won?

Heidi art for webBut I think Heidi already knows this. As a woman who looks at paintings for a living, she sees the subtle shades of gray that compose the world, and her militant friends’ taunts “either you shave your legs or you don’t” demand self-definition based on arbitrary black-and-white thinking that Heidi cannot accept. Her two male friends, one a handsome, sensitive homosexual doctor and the other a philandering blowhard, represent the breadth of the male sex in Wasserstein’s universe: either a perfect but unattainable specimen or a (surprisingly ernest) scumbag who’s always up for a romp. She remains friends with them throughout the play’s span of twenty one years, but they show little change or growth. Peter is steady and compassionate, but ultimately a crushed cynic in the face of the AIDS epidemic. Scoop takes Heidi’s virginity at a college mixer and appears and reappears over the years with the same frequency as Peter – a friend perhaps, albeit one who forever wants to get in her pants just one more time despite his marriage. He’s played with a believable, endearing schmuckiness (if there is such a thing) by Mauro Hantman.

The idealism of the seventies caving to the self-absorption and financial highs of the eighties is embodied in Heidi’s friend Susan, a “lingerie burning” radical turned Hollywood Power exec. In an exclusive restaurant where Diane Keaton is dining a few tables away, she tells her lunch companions, “Equal rights is one thing. Equal pay is one thing. But winning because you’re a woman is something else!” And with that kind of dough, who has time to think about equality? The shift from idealism to self-absorption begs the question: were Heidi’s peers this shallow all along, and does money just allow them to embrace it?

As I sat in the theater I wondered what the intended audience might be. Vivienne Benesch says that “any play with this many funny, smart women can be an eye-opener for men.” A bit of condescension from the director – as a man, it should sting, but it doesn’t. Just what kind of bimbos does Benesch think us men hang out with? While executed seamlessly, the production is ultimately a nostalgia piece for the baby-boomer set, who can first have a good laugh at the funny ways they dressed and then a serious reflection on whether their lofty ideals were really attained.

The brilliant, spare sets and one thousand percent believable costumes (by Lee Savage and Tracy Christensen respectively), and the charismatic, wholly believable performances across the board were not enough to save this production from its worn material. Happiness, Heidi’s ever-elusive ideal, is presented in the play as life’s greatest of mysteries. It is therefore apposite to paraphrase Heidi’s friend Scoop, the jagoff philanderer, who provides Heidi with the maxim that if one aims for a six out of ten in life, there will be no disappointments. It is when one shoots for the ten that things get depressing and despair can set in. The play’s ending shows Heidi as a single mother. Is this a cop out? Does it perpetuate the notion that only by having children will a woman be happy, or does it acknowledge a genuine, biological maternal instinct, the fulfillment of which brings meaning to this life of an observer? Scoop might ask if this a six or a ten, and I wondered the same. But did feminism ever address the key to individual happiness, and does Heidi’s motherhood provide satisfactory closure to these twenty nine years? Sadly, it translates more as an admission that the progress we were hoping for never really happened and that hopefully the next generation will fix it.

*From Can seeking happiness make people unhappy? Paradoxical effects of valuing happiness.

by Iria B. Mauss, Maya Tamir, Craig L. Anderson, and Nicole S. Savino, Nicole S. in

Emotion, Vol 11(4), Aug 2011.

The Heidi Chronicles is playing at the Trinity Rep in Providence through January 3rd. www.trinityrep.com