Tuesday, April 24, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Two and Two Equals 2018



Remember when the president claimed he drew the biggest crowd in history for his inauguration? He stole that page from George Orwell. The novelist predicted the rise of an alt-right, “Big Brother” party in his groundbreaking 1984 (@ BCA through the weekend). “Lock her up” is just history repeating itself. Thugs practice violence at will in 1984, no, that’s 2018 urged on by the president. Loudspeakers blare fake news 24/7 in Orwell’s dystopia. In Burgess Clark’s visceral production for Boston Children’s Theatre (@BCA through the weekend), the news is disseminated by a glamorous talking head (a riveting Dylan Kerr) on huge LED TV screens and violence is everywhere.

BCT’s cast is truly remarkable, holding their own against any professional company in town. Clark gets lovely, nuanced performances from Brendan Callahan and Alexandra Upton as the Romeo and Juliet of the future, where romance is forbidden; and a truly frightening performance from Keith Robinson as the embodiment of evil, rooting out resistance and disappearing citizens without notice. Betrayal is mother’s milk to this henchman. He reminded me of Robert Shaw’s blond villain in “From Russia with Love.” And he reminded me that our president would gladly welcome immigrants from Norway, but not Mexico.  BCT opens our eyes to a bleak future of newspeak and cognitive dissonance.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Making America German Again



You can’t experience Moonbox’s stunning version of Kander & Ebb’s CABARET (@ BCA through April 29th) without thinking of the neo-nazis who marched in Charlottesville. The current president and his nationalist (that’s nazionalist auf Deutsch) followers are fanning the flames of white supremacy with every other tweet. CABARET was shocking in 1966 for its dark eroticism but director/choreographer Rachel Bertone creates a chilling resonance in the Moonbox production which is “take-your-breath-away” devastating.

Bertone’s juggernaut marries action and dance so seamlessly that the choreography becomes tactical in her taut reimagining of Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin stories. Even ze costumes (Marian Bertone) and “zey are beautiful” reveal the storyline, to paraphrase the master of ceremonies.

A palpable desperation introduces the Moonbox version, as the emcee (a formidable, alarming Phil Tayler) enters, running, terrified (by what we don’t know), to find safety (perhaps) behind a jagged, distorted triangular door. Janie E. Howland’s off kilter sightlines for the Kit Kat Klub are repeated even in the kick line number. Every element of Bertone’s production suggests despair: It dogs the characters and we, watching, can’t shake it off.

Dan Rodriguez’ perceptive musical direction makes the wildly jazzy entr’acte overture pop and his singers make this CABARET downright unstoppable. Tayler’s frightening “Willkommen” sets the tone for the show. If you haven’t been shaken to your boots by the time “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” comes around again, then Dan Prior’s gorgeous tenor, soaring over Joy Clark and company’s horrifyingly affecting aryan anthem, will put you away.

Aimee Doherty makes Sally Bowles as tragic as any operatic heroine. Doherty shows Sally’s doubts and needs through the manic delivery of a lyric as well as through her canny portrayal of urgency. Jared Troilo, too, as her deluded promise of salvation, carries the weight of conflict on his shoulders. Maryann Zschau deftly delivers the conscience of the musical as the temporarily happy bride-to-be “of a certain age” when the Jewish greengrocer (Ray O’Hare) proposes. Can she marry him and risk certain arrest if the nationalists take over the government? Zschau’s “What Would You Do” is directed, of course, in this production, at us.

Two more performances must be noted: ASL interpreters Rachel Judson and Michael Herschberg bring grace and emotional intensity to the drama through their gestural sign language, depicting what is transpiring behind them on stage. Lucky me, I was seated near the section where they were signing. I could see them and the actors on stage, simultaneously. I don’t understand ASL, but their performances added immensely to my theatrical experience.

Bertone ramps up the energy for everyone on stage, especially in the production numbers: They’re erotic, still, but raw and macabre, with the dancers brazenly inviting us in to a sordid world where a president can grab a woman … by the crotch, perhaps? Most of Isherwood’s characters, like the greengrocer, think the nationalists will go away … that the “unpleasantness” against non-aryans “will pass.” Well, it didn’t then and it’s here now. And our very own supremacist wants immigrants from Norway, not Mexico. How did this happen?

Saturday, March 31, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey ONE AGAINST THEBES



Not seven, just one. It turns out that one powerful woman can bring a tyrant to his knees, as we are seeing nightly before our eyes, but Sophocles’ mighty play about ANTIGONE (reconstructed by Jean Anouilh and adapted by Lewis Galantiere) was written 3000 years ago. Flat Earth Theatre, always surprising us with savvy, potent productions, is presenting a singular, resonant ANTIGONE (through this weekend only) with one of the most gripping performances of the “daughter of kings” I’ve seen in ages. Regine Vital gives a tour de force as the woman who defies the law and reigns destruction down on Thebes.

Director Lindsay Eagle’s vision for this production features yet another commanding performance. Just as it did in Sophocles’ day, the Greek Chorus takes center stage at Flat Earth to proclaim the awful truth: Tragedy will consume every living being (and the dead as well). The remarkable Elbert Joseph leads a dynamic signing chorus to warn us about the consequences of complacency and the grave cost of heroics.

When Joseph’s sinewy arms rise over his head in righteous anger, we tremble imagining the horror to come. His whole body speaks, not just his eloquent hands… and the roar is deafening. Kudos to Flat Earth for entrusting Joseph to elevate the profound weight of the story with his soaring hands. Without him and the other ASL interpreters, this would be just another ordinary retelling of the Greek classic. Instead it’s an extraordinary coup.

Friday, March 9, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey So Many Steves and So Little Time



Zeitgeist’s racy new farce deliberately leads us down the garden path by overwhelming us with characters named Steve. Mark Gerrard’s cheeky comedy of manners (most of them bad) is called, you guessed it, STEVE (playing through March 24th). I’ll try to explain, although I confess, I’m not really sure who’s having an affair, or thinking of having an affair, or who’s sexting whom. To make matters even more complicated, there’s a personal trainer also named Steve and there’s a scene at a gym with a person who’s about to work out, maybe with the personal trainer… or maybe “personal trainer” is a euphemism for body work of another sort.

So it’s Steve’s birthday and his husband, Steve, has organized a little get together at a local restaurant but Birthday Steve has discovered sexting on his partner’s cell phone. Tempers flare and drinks are spilled. (At this point I thought the naughty text message originated with one of the people at the party. I now think it came from Trainer Steve but that throws off my whole comprehension trajectory.) Not to worry. It doesn’t matter because the playwright hides a little magical realism up his sleeve and although drinks are airborne again, the sizzling Latin waiter arrives to clean it all up, no problem this time. I must admit, I couldn’t wait for Esteban, the dancer/waitperson (and so much more) to grace another scene. The hilarious Adam Boisselle has the plum role of Esteban (You guessed it, Spanish for Steve)… and he has all the best lines!

David J. Miller’s talented cast, led by the charismatic Victor Shopov (who manages to emote genuine pain beneath a hard crust of arrogance) have a field day with Gerrard’s angst ridden script. Mikey DiLoreto as Shopov’s BFF, has his trials, as well. Like the Steves (Shopov and a suave Alex Jacobs) his partner (Mike Nilsson) is having a wee bit of wanderlust. Gerrard throws in a dying female friend (Jenny Reagan) and a million show tunes, I presume, so you have some frame of reference.

I was humming along and then Gerrard alluded to THE RAFT OF THE MEDUSA, which sent my mind back to a 1980s production, as well as the painting. Maybe that’s why I lost my way. Or it could have been EVERSOURCE’s fault. When I saw STEVE, it was day two (of the four days and nights) of no electricity and no heat and my brain may have been already frozen.

Monday, March 5, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Musical Balm for a Long Winter By Beverly Creasey



After a bleak and harrowing winter, aren’t we all in need of renewal? Thankfully spring is showing signs of hope: A warm February forced snow drop shoots up through the ground to remind us of a new season about to bud. Then miraculously, the theater offered transformative performances to lift us out of the doldrums.

First, Jane Staab’s life affirming production of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST for Wheelock Family Theater offers what the well-oiled Broadway tours do not: endless heart and a palpable exuberance that reaches across the footlights. You can’t help but be moved by the tender relationship of Belle (Justine Moral) and her hapless father (Bob Saoud), not to mention her ability to see the kindness in a sorrowful beast (Jared Troilo). Laurel Conrad’s spirited choreography and Steven Bergman’s sumptuous orchestra had a houseful of children at my performance singing and dancing in their seats. From Chip Phillips’ fussy grandfather clock to Brad Foster Reinking’s charming candelabra; From Gamalia Pharms’ sunny teapot to Brittany Rofs’ spitfire French maid… everyone, including the bad guy (Mark Linehan) generated welcome laughter and smiles. (Playing through March 4th)

Praxis Stage’s remodel of Ntozake Shange’s [updated] FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENOUGH is a fresh, visceral look at the revolutionary choreo-poem. I can hardly believe forty years have gone by since I first saw Shange’s fiercely intelligent ensemble piece. Director Dayenne C. Byron Walters and choreographer Lola Remy add music, movement, dance and connective tissue to the vignettes, making each piece more than just part of the whole. The searing but often witty portraits seem even more relevant today, in light of “Me, Too” revelations. The women suffer and rebel, resist and conquer…falter and rise. I couldn’t keep Maya Angelou’s “And still I rise” from my thoughts as I watched these luminous performers: Karline Desir takes your breath away in the pleasing, rapid fire scold, “Without any assistance from you”…then she hurls you to the depths of your fears as she recounts the events of an unspeakable tragedy. Thomika Marie Bridwell, too, reclaims her strength in a commanding metaphorical twist on “identity” theft. Verna Hampton magically morphs from innocent child to righteous woman. The entire cast excells, from tiny powerhouse Ciera Sade-Wade…to Karima Williams to Tonasia Jones and Byron Walters herself. Each “poem” empowers us, as we witness women surviving the weight of the world. (Closed)

AMERICAN CLASSICS has the knack for inventing one-of-a-kind musical niches, shows that are so delightful, you wonder why no one else thought of, say, LONDON PRIDE. After all, there’s a trove of musical treasures in the “American Songbook,” composed around the people and places of London: Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Lerner & Lowe, and of course, Noel Coward, all honored his “dear, old town.” Most significantly, AMERICAN CLASSICS has the unique ability to find the ideal singers to make a revue more than just a revue. There’s the burnished baritone of Ben Sears and gorgeous piano arrangements of Brad Conner, co-founders of the CLASSICS. And their guests: Tenor Davron Monroe (who often sings with them) lifted “On the Street Where You Live” to anthem heights in the MY FAIR LADY segment. Then Teresa Winner Blume made you feel like you had seen the whole musical with her touching, exuberant “I Could Have Danced All Night.” But it was Michelle Deluise who out-Hollowayed the vaudeville star as Alfred P. Doolittle (!) performing a rousing “With a Little Bit of Luck!”…This versatile comedienne could knead a chill into SWEENEY TODD with Sondheim’s “The Worst Pies in London” and she’s able to switch gears (and wring tears from my eyes) with the somber “Streets of London” (by Ralph McTell) where children starve and desperate men drown their troubles with drink. The ensemble took us from Berkeley Square to Neverland and back… It must have been the pixie dust…because every song soared. (Closed)

Monday, February 5, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Mamet Meets Sondheim on the Road By Beverly Creasey



It’s almost the turn of the century (that is, the 20th) when two brothers set out to make their fortune and honor their father. They don’t and they don’t…Well, they do after a fashion, but no one (except a mother) would be truly proud. One brother could swindle P. T. Barnum out of a circus while the other peddles sketchy real estate in Florida (à la Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross Estates). They part ways, travel the world and catch the eye of Stephen Sondheim almost a century later. So many adventures! So much inspiration. You can see why Sondheim and John Weidman would write (and keep re-writing) ROAD SHOW and you can see why Lyric Stage would want to produce it. Sondheim is their bailiwick.

ROAD SHOW (running through Feb. 11th) is the sixth or seventh Sondheim show directed by Spiro Veloudos (co-directed, this time out, with Ilyse Robbins). While I was watching ROAD SHOW, I kept recalling snatches of those other wonderful Sondheim shows at Lyric because that’s where the music leads you. It’s almost impossible not to think of the more familiar song traveling along the same notes.

ROAD SHOW does have moments of its own, like the touching love song, “[You’re] The Best Thing That Ever Happened [to me].” Neil A. Casey and Patrick Varner, as the two lonely souls who find brief happiness, are the main reasons to see ROAD SHOW. (However, their story line is so dramatically fuzzy in the plot turn, that you suspect something was left out of this revision.). Nevertheless, if you’re a Sondheim fan, you don’t want to miss the chance to see even a lesser work by the master.

Jonathan Goldberg, who has shepherded many of the Lyric’s Sondheim musicals, makes the tiny three-piece orchestra sound like the full complement, so I’m inclined to conclude that whatever the Lyric team could accomplish with the musical, ROAD SHOW would still need massive infrastructure improvement before it’s reliably roadworthy.


Monday, January 22, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey SCUTTLED



The Imaginary Beasts are back with their annual Winter Panto (through Feb. 4th @ Charlestown Working Theatre). Not to be confused with a pantomime show, the Beastly entertainment is fashioned after the English Panto, a motley mixture of Commedia dell Arte and bawdy British music hall burlesque. This Panto features a nod and a wink to Jules Verne’s 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA.

The Beasts’ imagination is limitless, cobbling together outrageous comedy, popular song, merry dance and more plotlines than you can shake a (slap) stick at. The key for the audience is to play along, to hiss the villain, to boo their shameless puns, to warn the players when a baddie is approaching (the kids love that part)…and to grab onto as many allusions as you can. 

Mind you, these references gallop by faster than the brain can locate their origin but you may be able to snag a few TV salutes: “Kawabunga” was Chief Thunder Thud’s war cry on The Howdy Doody Show and “Papa Oooh Mau Mau” [The Bird is the Word] was the famous Ghoul’s siren song. Of course, in the Panto they’re just funny words all by themselves. You may hear a snatch of a tune that signals “The Poseidon Adventure” or a fleeting hint at Jacques Brel with the mention of “Matelot.”

Matthew Woods, The Beasts’ chief cook and bottle washer (and the narrator, to boot) points out that this is their first sci-fi Panto. Since a league is three miles, the Beasts plumb new depths of comedy, a marathon of 60,000 miles to be exact, ending up (or rather down) in the Lost City of Atlantis. I’m afraid the story line jumped ship way before we boarded the Nautalis, but the stock characters are all you need to keep your moorings.

The grand dame is always played by a man and Noah Simes is garishly, marvelously flirtatious as Mlle. Faux Pas, (that is, inexplicably, when he isn’t Raggety Anne). Luckily for mademoiselle, there are plenty of men, including audience members, for her to pursue. One of the cleverest bits is Faux Pas’ water ballet when she lands in the drink.

Michael Underhill as the loquacious, quote-acious copper is always stopping traffic à la Monty Python’s Graham Chapman. The only reference he doesn’t pinch is The Pirates of Penzance’s “Policeman’s Lot.” Kim Klasner is the sweetest of hapless heroes, who only wants to find her little, lost kitty cat, portrayed with a devilish curiosity by Molly Kimmerling. It’s the cat who almost dispatches them all, Trump-style, by pushing the big red nuclear button.

            Bob Mussett provides plenty of laughs as the pug nosed, seasick Bowery boy; William Schuller is delightfully dense as the explorer who would be adrift, if not for Jamie Semel as his doughty daughter. Amy Meyer is a ubiquitous double agent and Rebecca Lehrhoff floats effortlessly as a helpful choral nymph.

            Jennifer Taschereau first appears as a skipper with a gargantuan beard covering her whole face; then she’s transformed into a gleaming sea creature by Cotton-Minkin’s adorable octopus costume (with its manifolded skirt festooned with pom-poms). It’s Talbot-Minkin’s ingenious creations that make the show!

            The most compelling characters, of course, are the bad guys. The point of a panto is to restore “the right, the good, the true” so you know comeuppance is in the mix. Sarah Gazdowicz is a magnificent, lobster clawed “bottom feeder” who plans to scuttle the lot. Alas she can’t succeed, this being a panto whose point is that crime doesn’t pay…but I was rooting for the Lob Lady.

            She’s joined on the scoundrel side by a charismatic Kiki Samko as the diabolical Captain Nemo. Samko seemed to channel James Mason from the Hollywood movie… Or maybe I was just punch drunk from the long haul conscription. Their sea battle is spectacular but you’re under water for so long, you risk getting the bends.