Friday, August 10, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey The Piper Pays Him!


He’s so slick that folks don’t even know they’ve been had, ‘til he’s on the train fifty miles away, about to swindle the townspeople at the next stop. He’s Harold Hill, THE MUSIC MAN, temporarily in residence (through August 12th) at the Reagle Music Theatrecelebrating their fiftieth anniversary this summer.

Meredith Wilson’s hit musical has won a slew of prizes, including five Tony awards… and Reagle’s many productions over the years have been recognized by the local critics. So how do you make this MUSIC MAN stand out above the others we reviewers have seen at Reagle? You get Susan Chebookjian to restage the original Broadway and film choreography and make it look like a million bucks. Nothing can compete with a top flight chorus of fifty professional hoofers.

Director/choreographer Chebookjian kicks up the comedy as well as those heelsbut without stinting on the charm and romance: After all, the quintessential traveling salesman meets his match in River City’s Marian the Librarian and the clinches have to touch our hearts. (They do and I have the wrinkled hankie in my purse to prove it.) You might think casting for corn would be a gamble but this is Iowa for heaven sakes. I found Mark Linehan’s jaunty music man absolutely refreshing. He knocks ‘em dead from the get-go with a snappy, rousing “Ya Got Trouble.” Then he does it again, with “Seventy Six Trombones.”

Jennifer Ellis’ Marion the Librarian doesn’t just “fall” in love; she plays a willing participant, all the while keeping her petticoats starched and proper, not an easy trick to pull off. No saccharine bookworm, she. Ellis’ wry smile tells us that she might just enjoy the mayhem erupting on top of the reading tables!

Reagle has music director Dan Rodriguez at the helm so you know the singing is first rate, even from the childen (Jonathan Tillan and Cate Galanti). Many of the performers in the secondary roles often have principal roles in other shows, so even the smallest of gestures adds to the whole. Reagle favorite Harold “Jerry” Walker returns in top form as the wonderfully clueless River City Mayor. Lori L’Italien, too, scores laughs as the Mayor’s over-enthusiastic wife. I could go on: The always willing, easily distracted barbershop quartet… the gossiping ladies, singing counterpoint… the spectacular, syncopated opening number: I had forgotten what a lovely, genuinely funny show THE MUSIC MAN is. Don’t miss the train.

Monday, August 6, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEWS By Beverly Creasey OPERA MAKES A COMEBACK


Local professional opera companies like Boston Midsummer Opera, Opera Hub, MetroWest Opera (and others) are on to something: They’ve performed recently in theater venues at Boston Center for the Arts and at Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown, where New Repertory Theatre makes its home. And they’ve hired theater directors with new ideas and a fresh perspective on the art. The result is that their productions are hip and innovative without destroying the charm or integrity of a “traditional” opera.

What’s more, they’ve attracted (younger) theater audiences who are used to theater venues. Several women in line for the ladies room (yes, we become fast friends in those interminable lines) revealed this was their first opera! They came because of a poster up at a familiar theater company. Theater reviewers, too, are crossing over to cover these productions. Maybe opera isn’t doomed after all.

Boston Midsummer Opera just sold out their Watertown run with a crackerjack production of Rossini’s THE BARBER OF SEVILLE. Their delightful take on the classic amped up the comedy, sending the singers flying into the aisles, in director Antonio Ocampo Guzman’s freestyle romp. Music director Susan Davenny Wyner won the day in two ways: Her orchestra never overpowered the singers (something that happens A LOT) and her singers were encouraged to go to town with the ornamented rouladeswhich were breathtaking, hilarious and most importantly, executed without microphones!

Robert Balonek as Figaro stood out in high relief: Duets with Balonek made all the other singers shine even brighter. As the lovers, Theo Lebow and Alisa Jordheim shared sweet harmonies and treacherous high notes but the secondary comic roles made the evening. Jason Budd fumed and blustered as the foolish old doctor who planned to wed the heroine (not a chance) and David Cushing ran away with the evening in his showstopper about the thunderous power of slander.

Opera, even more than theater, can elevate a supporting role so that it lingers on in the memory. Case in point is local soprano, Abigail Whitney Smith, who appeared in two separate productions I saw, one at Metro West (THE BEAUTIFUL BRIDEGROOM) and one at Opera Hub (DIVAS). She was surrounded by extraordinary voices in both operas but it’s her performances that I remember in vivid detail: one wildly comic and one, truly heartbreaking. Opera, for me, is theater on a high wire. All your senses, your emotions, and your intellect are enthralled.

 

 

 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey More Squirrels, Less Frenzy


I’m a fan of playwright Lauren Gunderson. Her SILENT SKY (about the unsung women of Harvard Observatory) won lots of local awards, not to mention her quirky, ursine filled EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR, which got a crackerjack outing at Theatre on Fire. Her THE TAMING (@ Hub Theatre through July 28th) however, has absolutely nothing to do with the Shakespeare version except for part of the title and several mentions of an endangered pygmy panda squirrel, misidentified as a “shrew.” And everyone knows, you can’t tame wild animals.

The thinnest of plots swirls around three females, an intense Beauty Queen (imagine Norma Desmond’s “close-up” gaze), a ruthless Republican operative, and a wacky left leaning activist dedicated to animal rights. So, from the get-go you know where I stand. My ears perk up whenever squirrels are mentioned. And my eyes glaze when humans start to winge. What’s more, I couldn’t make out a good portion of the dialogue because most of it is delivered at fever pitch and maximal volume.

The scary Beauty Pageant contestant (Sarah J. Mann) somehow (I have no clue) traps the Rep (Lauren Elias) and the Dem (Katie Grindland) in a hotel room without their pants but with a scheme to rewrite the Constitution. Warning: They remain pant-less through the play, regardless of century. Yes, they start in the present, then visit the past, then return… which results in one very funny line about the course of time: “In the future everyone will be gay.”

The remainder of the play, I’m very sorry to say, was lost on me, except for one section which inexplicably morphed (without the singing) into the musical, 1776: “It’s hot as hell in Philadelphia… Why doesn’t someone open up a window,” with the South Carolina indictment of Northerners, “Molasses to Rum to Slaves,” right on its heels. There I was, humming 1776 lyrics (thank heaven, to myself) for the rest of the show. I didn’t get the time travel or for that matter, how a beauty queen could possess magical powers. Then again, I’ve never been one, have I!

Friday, June 22, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Ghosts in the Machines


The only things Michael Crichton didn’t envision in 1973 with his dark, sci-fi take on Disney (Frontier/Tomorrow Land) were the internet and virtual reality. WESTWORLD introduced us to a violent theme park with a gun slinging cyborg behind every swinging saloon door. Unfortunately, malfunctions turned the robots against the paying “cowboy” customers… not unlike the velociraptors in JURASIC PARK.

The 2017-18 television version of WESTWORLD blurs the distinctions between humans and androids, so much so that villains can be either. Jennifer Haley’s THE NETHER (@ Flat Earth through June 23rd) explores the “deep world,” as in “deep state,” at the thinner edges of the internet (known in centuries to come as the nether). These are secret realms most internet users don’t know even exist.

Like WESTWORLD, Haley’s “hideaway” locale allows customers to indulge their vilest fantasies without consequence, and in person. Haley offers up “Papa’s Realm,” where guests (we observe only men) pay to meet, fondle, even murder a precocious little girl (no little boys) who looks like Alice in Wonderland… an apt choice as Charles Dodgson, A.K.A. Lewis Carroll, loved to surround himself with little girls, taking pictures of them, reading stories to them. Evidently Papa caters only to men. Not to worry, the child tells them, she reanimates immediately after she’s hacked to bits.

In addition to toying with this child, one can, if one is weary of this world, reincarnate (without the carnal component), that is, cross over and take over the little girl’s spirit, thereby existing forever. This is where the police come in. They’d like to eliminate Papa and his malignant operation. Director Sarah Gazdowicz has a first rate cast, led by Regine Vital as the sharp detective who dogs Papa and his customers. Bob Mussett is frighteningly creepy as the cold, elegant, Victorian Papa who glibly confesses he is cursed with “both an obsession and insight.” Julia Talbot plays the child just unaware enough to be innocent and knowing at the same time.

Jeff Gill plays the spent man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, ready to sign on with Papa no matter the consequences, a character we can (sort of) identify with. Arthur Gomez plays an under cover cop who may be enjoying the dark side too much. I couldn’t say because I ran out of steam, trying to put this all together when I really didn’t want any part of it. I know children are abused. Plays that tell us about abuse are preaching to the converted. The abusers aren’t going to the theater. And if they are, they are not being transformed. WESTWORLD is the same as THE NETHER or PILLOWMAN to me.

We’re watching it play out on the nightly news, for heaven’s sake. Our government is kidnapping thousands of children, ripping them away from loving parents, and all we do is protest at the State House and march ourselves to Washington. It’s not enough.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey HAMMY DELIGHT



Alcohol and firearms: What could go wrong! John Minigan’s NOIR HAMLET (@ Centastage through June 30th) is a wacky, whiskey soaked send-up of the Bard’s most famous play, with enough disjointed allusions to stymie any private eye. It’s the ‘40s. Hamlet has seen his father’s ghost and is bent on payback. His mother is about to marry his uncleso many clues, so little time in a one-actso Hammy is hot on the case, having stepped into his father’s gumshoes (and maybe the old detective’s secretary, too.)
 

Director Joe Antoun leaves no stone unturned, no banana unpeeled, no entendre un-doubled in pursuit of laughter. Even the stagehands get into the act. Funny stuff! Just what the doctor ordered to distract us from the sad state of the world… even for a few minutes. Minigan throws the strangest references our way: You’ll find Duke Orsino lurking in the dialogue, along with Signor Wencas, and patter from Casablanca and The Mikado, no less!

 
Best of all is Antoun’s cast: Paul Melendy, whose arched, left eyebrow has a comic life of its own, is our hapless P.I. (The noir treatment of the story is mother’s milk to the ravenous actor). Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia is ravishing as the femme fatale (!) and plenty creepy as the sinister coroner. Robert Murphy, too, pops up as the ghost, the uncle and a nefarious character with insider info to trade. Liz Adams as Gertrude steals the show in her slinky, red negligee and platinum Jean Harlow coif, not an easy task with Mancinas-Garcia looking so coquettish in drag! You know the scenery will be chewed to bits. It’s NOIR on steroids. Antoun even borrows from THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY for the lunatic gunfight finale. Don’t miss the hilarious mayhem




 
 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Hello Again CHORUS LINE

            While the company is singing “Hello Twelve, Hello Thirteen,” it’s really Hello Reagle, celebrating fifty years of fully staged Broadway musicals. At Reagle’s helm is the remarkable Bob Eagle… and the anniversary awards are pouring in.
 
A CHORUS LINE came into being when Michael Bennett struck theatrical gold by highlighting the individual “gypsies” in a show. Many of the stories he recorded made it verbatim into A CHORUS LINE. (Alas none of the gold made it into any of their pockets. That’s the legend, anyway.)

Reagle’s kick line for this production has its own backstage drama: Aimee Doherty (who stole the show as the wise cracking Sheila last time Reagle did A CHORUS LINE) got the chance to sing at POPS on press night so most of the reviewers didn’t see her. Oh, no! (I feel certain she’s still capable of larceny.)

Bob Eagle cements his reputation as a wizard because he flew in Lauren Gemelli for one night for the plum role. (I wouldn’t be surprised if it involved a magic carpet.) Gemelli is on loan from the national tour of CHICAGO. (I’ve seen her in CHICAGO and she’s one of the best things in it.) By the by, “Sheila” is the best role in A CHORUS LINE. (Scholars differ, I know!) But Gemelli nails it.

Mind you, there is no plot. And most of the stories are pretty schmaltzy so cheeky stands out in welcome relief. Sydney Parra proves my point with a solid “Nothing,” about a nasty drama school instructor. So does Ansley Speares in the naughty “Dance: Ten. Looks: Three.”

For my money, if you’re delivering one of the sad stories in A CHORUS LINE, and you make me believe, even “feel” something (that’s the risk in Parra’s song), then you’re a knockout. Makai Hernandez did. Director Leslie Woodies found a stash of talented conservatory students to fill out the line.

Best of all in Reagle’s production is Taavon Gamble as Richie He sure can “do that.” He’s delightful. He’s funny. He can sing and oh, can he dance!

Monday, June 4, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW BESOTTED WITH SWEENEY By Beverly Creasey

 
Shana Dirik is a force of nature. Any production she’s in is enhanced by her presence. Now she’s her own theater company! Last evening her brand new enterprise, THEATER UNCORKED, staged a staggering, one-time-only event in Harvard Square, a rip roaring presentation of Stephen Sondheim’s SWEENEY TODD. Far more than a staged reading but less than a full production, this TODD featured Dirik and her former Sweeney from the award winning Metro Stage production, Ben Discipio. That production earned them a passel of IRNE certificates. This “pop up” event will have theater fans who missed it, beside themselves, and the rest of us, endlessly talking about it. If only they could do it again. Please. Please.
 
I’m reminded of the (one performance only) concert productions of operas performed in the many cathedrals in England and France. These sanctuaries come with an organ, lots of space and pews to seat several hundred. THEATER UNCORKED’s choice of The First Church Cambridge afforded them enough room for a full, seventeen piece orchestra and an exquisite organ which did indeed pull out all the stops for those earth shattering chords which usher in the Grand Guignol  musical.
 
While music director Gina Naggar conducted the sonorous orchestra, director Allison Olivia Choat maneuvered almost three dozen performers on and off the platform (which I wish had been raked so we could see better). Discipio broke my heart again, as he did at Metro years ago, when Sweeney remembers his infant daughter, singing his sorrowful “I’ll never see my girl again.” Dirik makes your blood run cold when Mrs. Lovett answers her shop boy’s tender pledge of protection with his own words, even as she contemplates his demise. Dirik pulls Alex Boyle’s sweet, innocent “[Nothing’s Gonna Harm You] Not While I’m Around” inside out, with gut wrenching precision.
 
Jordan Reynolds, as the na├»ve sailor who falls in love with Sweeney’s daughter (Audrey Clark), wins us over with his clear, ringing tenor, swearing earnestly “to steal” her from the wicked Judge. Matthew Zahnzinger is magnificent as the loathsome, leering, self-flagellating magistrate and Christopher Porth has a delightful scene, infuriating Mrs. Lovett with interminable parlor songs. What an undertaking. What an evening. But one SWEENEY TODD is never enough.