Sunday, December 26, 2010


Some people prefer Shakespeare, some musicals, some light comedy. Some, (that would be me) adore the counterclockwise world of Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter, theater you have to work at. Imagine my surprise—and delight to discover that the A.R.T.’s multi-media BLUE FLOWER is right up my alley. You can immerse yourself in its wildly imaginative songs and images and still not absorb it all. (I’m hoping to go back to see what I missed the first time.)

This baby boomer grew up in an eccentric Esperanto speaking household with music for mother’s milk and war stories in lieu of fairy tales: In short, the quintessential audience for Ruth and Jim Bauer’s oddly magical cabaret cycle infused with Dada expression, war horrors and neo-Esperanto. The latter Bauer’s Kurt Weill-ish music, which he impishly calls “Sturm und Twang,” owes a bow to ‘60s musicals like HAIR (You can hear a snatch of Let the Sunshine In throughout the Paris Trio) as well as country western rhythms (in John Widgren’s heavenly pedal steel), overlaying the German oom pah pah. (You’ll find many a musical allusion niftily tucked into the songs.) Who would have imagined such a combination would sound so gorgeous?

The stylized acting dovetails perfectly with Ruth Bauer’s angular videography and the sharp edges of her narrative (which follows an artist and his friends back and forth through the madness of two world wars).All the characters bear a resemblance, or are reminiscent of historical figures from the Weimar years–and yet they’re only a shadow of reality.

Director Will Pomerantz creates searing images with gestural movement alone (credits, too, to Tom Nelis who also performs the (narrator) role of Fairytale Man), like the agonizing death of a horse in the Franz’s War number. Lucas Kavner gives a powerful performance as the tragic hero whose very soul is disfigured by war while Daniel Jenkins exudes a pitiable, quiet desperation as the artist who glues all their lives together in his collages. The women they love are beautifully portrayed by Teal Wicks and Meghan McGeary. Jenkins and McGeary’s Eyes and Bones song haunts me still and Wicks’ Eiffel Tower is a heartbreaking paean to loss.

I haven’t been so enamored of a work in a long time. You may not make out all the lyrics (I didn’t) but you know nevertheless what BLUE FLOWER is saying about the ravages of war.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Jingle those bells as fast as you can: New Rep’s Darling Divas Deck the Holidays is only running one week, ending Dec. 23rd. The intimate cabaret show (on the big stage at New Rep) unites four veterans of past productions with music director Todd Gordon for a happy celebration of Christmas and Hanukkah.

The divas share personal memories, cabaret style, and offer their favorite songs, like Michele DeLuca’s delightful homage to Barbra Streisand with her breakneck version of Jingle Bells (sounding a whole lot like [I Like To Be In] America! from WEST SIDE STORY), and Aimee Doherty’s lovely Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire for her beloved grandfather.

Kami Rushell Smith gets a doo-wop version of All I Want for Christmas is You and Bobbie Steinbach gets to cavort in Eartha Kitt’s naughty Santa Baby. The quartet reads stories about the season of miracles, both Christian and Jewish, covering all the bases but Kwanzaa.

My favorite moment is Gordon’s duet with DeLuca in Baby, It’s Cold Outside. They manage to spoof and pay tribute to the Loesser gem all at the same time.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Rock ‘n’ Roll By Beverly Creasey

SpeakEasy Stage Company has a novel idea for New Year’s Eve – or any (less stressful) eve of your choosing (through Jan. 2nd): A chamber rock performance called STRIKING 12. The quirky pop theater/concert features keyboard, percussion and an electric violin (which reminded me first of the strings in Celtic Woman and later of the nasal sound of Chinese stringed instruments). The trio portrays three people in search of meaning on New Year’s Eve. The drummer (a dapper Zachary Hardy) wants nothing more than a party with friends. The keyboardist (the multi-talented José Delgado who also music directs) wants to be left alone and the violinist (the gorgeous Erikka Walsh) wants to spread a little light in the world.

The Rachel Sheinkin script (for the indie rock trio GrooveLily who originated the project) gives the title its resonance, adding in the Hans Christian Anderson fable of The Little Match Girl, so that STRIKING 12 means matches as well as the New Year countdown. The intimate cabaret set-up at SpeakEasy (upstairs at the BCA) allows the music to take center stage. The songs are hip with cheeky lyrics (cleverly rhyming ‘lazy boy’ with ‘hoi polloi’ in Resolution) which send up just about every pop genre. Delgado gets an amusing rap number and Hardy provides laughs as “postnasal drip guy.” Walsh contributes the heart so that STRIKING 12 has a warm, fuzzy ending for the holidays. Director Scott Sinclair keeps the pacing sharp and the sound balance just right for the small space: You don’t even need earplugs!

STRIKING 12 begins and ends with a catchy Snow Song (and projections of the white stuff). I don’t know how SpeakEasy did it, but the evening ended with a light snow shower as we left the theater: not enough to stick but enough to remind us of the song!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Juggernaut By Beverly Creasey

The Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston has been staging their Christmas extravaganza for more than a quarter century. Over forty choristers, one hundred dancers and eighty children are participating in this year’s IT’S CHRISTMASTIME (playing through Dec. 12th) …and each and every one of them enters and exits on cue. Imagine stage managing that throng! (By the way, her name is Lori E. Baruch.)

The Christmas themed variety show thrilled and amazed the little girls in my party who best liked the wee Santas-in-Training (racing headfirst through a chimney) and the Beach Boys’ tribute of “Little Old Saint Nick” (Go figure! I would have bet on the Teddy Bear Nutcracker.)

IT’S CHRISTMASTIME has been abridged over the years but it’s still an embarrassment of riches – which this time includes the hilarious last minute buying frenzy in “the shop around the corner” from the musical, SHE LOVES ME. (Long time Reagle supporter, Yolanda, gets her name over the transom!) From the crackerjack Reagle Rockettes to the Olde English John Mason Neale carols, Reagle’s spectacular delivers.

Broadway star Sarah Pfisterer adds elegance and warmth to the big choral numbers and R. Glen Michell as narrator (and soloist) adds a “radio announcer’s” gravitas to the proceedings. Tableaux Vivantes are a specialty of director Bob Eagle, freezing a Victorian street scene into a “living” painting, reminiscent of the Museum of Fine Arts’ famous Childe Hassan view of Boston Common.

Lavish details are the hallmark of Reagle’s holiday shows and audiences have come to expect them. A reverent Biblical reenactment of the Nativity ends the show with a breathtaking tableau of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus in the manger, surrounded by angels, shepherds, sheep and the three Wise Men.

Here’s my dilemma: Gold can be mined anywhere but frankincense comes only from Africa and myrrh only from Ethiopia so two of the three Kings are definitely not European, an historical detail that escaped someone’s attention. Certainly in a show which highlights “Peace on Earth and good will to all men” the performers could reflect all of us in this “weary world”… but that’s just my opinion on the subject.

Friday, December 3, 2010

MOON SHADOWS By Beverly Creasey

Today being World AIDS Day, I’m remembering again all my friends and family who died from the disease in the ‘80s – which is when Terrence McNally wrote FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE. Although it was written with AIDS in mind, it’s not about AIDS per se…it’s more about the world after the plague. As Frankie tells Johnny, she longs for times gone by, when people weren’t afraid of each other. Frankie and Johnny are two misfits, groping their way through the darkness alone. Now they have the chance to connect to someone before it’s too late, despite the odds, despite the fear.

The New Repertory Theatre’s heartfelt production (playing through Dec. 19th) unites two of Boston’s best actors for the thorough workout that is McNally’s intense two character play. Director Antonio Ocampo-Guzman emphasizes the naked vulnerability of the pair—which works in all but one aspect. We’re to believe Johnny when he says neither of them is a prize. Both Anne Gottlieb and Robert Pemberton create characters who are scarred and flawed–but when the physical is out there for us to see, I wondered why Johnny didn’t notice that Frankie is drop dead gorgeous. (Kathy Bates originated the role although Michelle Pfeiffer starred in the film—and managed to look dowdy, believe it or not.)

Gottlieb is such a skilled performer that I soon forgot my reservations and was swept up in Frankie’s desperate attempt to keep pain (and love) away. You see why she wants to keep this needy, cloying man at bay but you’re rooting for him all the same. McNally does the impossible, creating romance out of sheer isolation.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Jesus Christ Superman By Beverly Creasey

GODSPELL debuted in 1971, following the phenomenal success of HAIR in 1968, becoming yet another anti-establishment (i.e. preaching love not war during the Viet Nam conflict), hippie-dippy (albeit soft) rock musical. But the award winning retelling of the last seven days of Christ had stiff competition from a British import which already boasted a best selling album by 1971. Where GODSPELL was sweet and ingenuous, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR was raucous, campy and immediately stole GODSPELL’s thunder.

The Turtle Lane Playhouse debuted with GODSPELL in 1980 – so it’s only fitting that the revival mark their thirty year anniversary, arriving December 9th.Stephen Schwartz’s catchy songs (Day By Day crossed over to the pop charts) lend an earnest glow to John-Michael Tebelak’s re-working of the gospel according to Matthew. Luckily TLP has a fresh-faced newcomer named Chad Moores to portray Jesus. He radiates goodness and light all over the place in Act I, in his cheerful yellow britches and superman T. (Act II reveals a testier Jesus, not entirely thrilled, understandably, with what’s coming.) NOTE: The role of Jesus is double cast and I only saw Moores. (Choreographer Jason Hair-Wynn is the alternate.)

More problematic than the material being so “nice” compared to SUPERSTAR – was TLP’s misbehaving sound system. At my performance, it alternated from not enough volume on some numbers to way too much, crackling at top volume and distorting the voices. (Maybe the devil was at work, considering all the attention to Christ!) But since Moores was so convincing as Jesus, I shall take his lesson about charity to heart and concentrate on the pluses in the TLP production.

All for the Best is aptly named, as it’s the best number in the show, with its cheeky vaudeville patina…with Light of the World a buoyant close to Act I. Kudos to director Lisa Rafferty for the lovely ASL in All Good Gifts and the touching tableau in By My Side…to Erin Beaber for her rousing Day By Day…and to costumer Richard Itczak for the authentic sixties garb. (Running through December 30th.)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Goody Goody For Us By Beverly Creasey

Everyone knows GUYS AND DOLLS but maybe you don’t know that Frank Loesser won an Oscar, a slew of Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize (which he spoofed, calling it “the putzlitzer”). He had an acerbic wit (naming his first wife the “evil of two Loessers”) but could give himself over to a sentimental song just as easily.

This weekend American Classics celebrated the hundredth anniversary of Loesser’s birth with a chipper cabaret concert called LUCK BE A LADY (performed by GOODY GOODY, i.e., three American Classics regulars and pianist Robert Humphreville).

Humphreville finessed Loesser’s lyrical melodies (and a few by collaborators like Irving Berlin and Hoagy Carmichael) while Valerie Anastasio, Mary Ann Lanier and Heather Peterson inhabited his delicious lyrics---with Lanier ripping Loesser’s sassy, bluesy Junk Man (“I’m gonna fix your wagon…do you black and blue [so the junk man] can pick up what’s left of you”) – with Anastasio proving she’s the consummate comedienne in Loesser’s (other) Runyanesque send-up, Murder, He Says. Then they gave us a medley of GUYS AND DOLLS with Peterson getting the most famous case of sniffles in all of showbiz, the hilarious Adelaide’s Lament.

If you haven’t experienced an American Classics performance, you’re missing the joy. Treat yourself to their next event in March, Alexander’s Ragtime Band at 100!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Adventure Of A Lifetime By Beverly Creasey

In case you haven’t heard, something extraordinary is happening at the Lyric Stage…twice! You can attend Part I of Charles Dickens’ NICHOLAS NICKLEBY, then come back another night (or do them both in one day) for Part II. The experience is nothing short of thrilling.

The shimmering adaptation has been engineered by David Edgar, shortening his first version for the Royal Shakespeare Company (presented on PBS with Roger Rees and David Threlfall). If you missed the first, miraculous incarnation – and even if you saw it – I’m happy to report that the Lyric’s version is just as delightful and uplifting.

Dickens’ idealistic tale of triumph over adversity has all the hallmarks you expect from his work. Drawing from his own family’s stay in debtor’s prison when he was twelve, Dickens chronicles the social evils of the time: the cruelty visited on children by knowing adults, the vulnerability of women and the infirm and the growing ranks of the impoverished.

Dickens threw his lot in with the Romantics who approached realism with a fanciful eye. The characters of Dickens’ creative imagination may seem at first glance to be melodramatic, especially the villains – but soon you’re aware of the emptiness in their hearts, too. The alchemy involved is quite remarkable: These broadly drawn inhabitants of Dickens’ London seem utterly real, despite Dickens’ romantic embellishment. In director Spiro Veloudos’ pitch perfect production at Lyric, twenty four actors portray one hundred and fifty roles and you marvel at each and every portrayal.

THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF NICHOLAS NICKLEBY begins, of course, with Jack Cutmore-Scott as the bravest of young men thrown to the wolves by circumstance (that would be the stock market crash, in case you’re looking for resonance to our time). Cutmore-Scott plays Nickleby with a righteous swagger. He’s kind, he’s good, but he’s no patsy. Jason Powers portrays the unfortunate Smike with an inner glow which fairly ignites under Nickleby’s protection. You cannot watch their friendship and not have your faith in man renewed.

Will Lyman gives a charismatic (and slightly wry) performance as Nickleby’s uncle and arch enemy. Wonderfully evil, too, is Nigel Gore as the nasty boarding school master and later, as a lascivious gentleman bent on deflowering Nickleby’s sweet sister (Elizabeth A. Rimar who blossoms as her independence and confidence grows). Maureen Keiller gets lots of giggles as her gregarious, chattering twit of a mother. Larry Coen is hilarious as the boarding school master’s potty son and later, as master of the revels. Sasha Castroverde is impressive in every role, from the conniving daughter of the schoolmaster to the gracious beauty who captivates our hero.

The Lyric stage overflows with rich performances; from Peter A. Carey’s compassionate, heaven sent clerk to Eric Hamel’s deliciously pompous wannabe actor, from John Davin’s greedy, grasping bachelor to Daniel Berger-Jones larger-than-life great hearted Scot, from Alycia Sacco’s clever en pointe “Phenomenon” to Leigh Barrett’s generous landlady. I wish I could name all the talented actors who enliven Dickens’ visionary adventure. I wish I could entice you to attend by revealing director Veloudos’ inspired comic touches…Better you enjoy them firsthand.

It’s not often a piece of theater can hold you in its thrall long after you’ve seen it. NICHOLAS NICKLEBY does just that. I can re-imagine every scene in my mind’s eye and be thrilled all over again exactly as I am with every year’s A CHRISTMAS CAROL. How many authors’ works can do that?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Body Politic By Beverly Creasey

Walt Whitman sang the body electric and now Annie Baker offers up BODY AWARENESS in her award winning play of the same name (running through Nov. 20th as part of the SHIRLEY, VT. PLAYS FESTIVAL). What makes BODY AWARENESS cheeky and smart are her quirky characters: They’re delightfully self-absorbed and at the same time, lovingly human. Baker manages to spoof political correctness and work in a nifty conundrum about the politics of art ...without us really noticing. We’re too busy giggling.

Paula Plum plays one half of a hip lesbian couple and doting mother to an extremely bright but noticeably strange child. Gregory Pember is nothing short of brilliant as the toothbrush sucking twenty-one year old who seems to be an emotional twelve. The remarkable Plum pulls off “saintly” and “funny” without batting an eyelash. Her partner (the always compelling Adrianne Krstansky) is hosting a conference at her women’s college in observance of “eating disorders week.” Their son is not the only obsessive. The professor has changed the name of the conference to “Body Awareness Week” so that the students can “reclaim their body image” from those who seek to “objectify” them.

Into their out of control but tightly knit little family unit marches a guest artist (a droll Richard Snee), a macho, new age, male photographer who specializes in nudes (female only). Even worse than the exploitation factor the professor infers, he calls her ‘honey’… Even worse for the uninitiated son, he imparts some hilariously appalling advice to him about sex. Baker has the perfect setup to whirl into motion – and does it ever in director Paul Daigneault’s deft, seemingly effortless production. BODY AWARENESS pleases, from Nathan Leigh’s spot on (laugh out loud) musical interpretations to Bobby Frederick Tilley II’s collegiate garb to Cristina Todesco’s sophisticated, book filled, light filled (Jeff Adelberg) apartment.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

She’s Back! By Beverly Creasey

It’s A Hard Knock Life. Tomorrow. You know the show by heart: A dozen adorable little girls, one nasty matron and a cute dog. The Wheelock Family Theatre’s production of the famous musical is not your grandmother’s ANNIE. It’s still plenty sweet but director Jane Staab’s version is more than timely, with its Depression ethos. The Wheelock’s ANNIE (playing thru Nov. 22nd) has satiric bite.

It’s almost inconceivable that the 1930’s are back, with unemployment skyrocketing and foreclosures exploding across the country. When ANNIE first took Broadway by storm in the ‘70s, its creators had no idea that the stock market crash of 1929 would resonate in our time. Staab and company highlight the politics of poverty for maximum effect, from the billboard outside the radio studio proclaiming “The World’s Highest Standard of Living” to the breadlines forming outside Daddy Warbucks’ Christmas celebration.

Anita Fuchs’ suggestive expanse of skyscraping iron and glass easily accommodates a broadcast studio, a high rise orphanage and Daddy Warbucks’ Fifth Avenue mansion. Staab’s clever “radio serial” frame for the musical is a perfect fit, since Chauncey Moore’s corny radio show is already part of the musical. The cast, too, is perfection, from Grace Brakeman’s spunky Annie to Cheryl McMahon’s villainous Miss Hannigan. Aimee Doherty makes Daddy Warbucks’ Gal Friday irresistible (especially when she’s excited) and Timothy John Smith adds dash to the character of the charismatic billionaire industrialist.

John F. King brings style and pizzaz to the featured role of Rooster: Easy Street gives him plenty of opportunity to show off Laurel Conrad’s smart choreography. The orphans do her proud, as well, in the bucket slamming, floor scrubbing Hard Knock number. Music director Steven Bergman keeps all the orphans (and adults, for that matter) on pitch, not an easy task for children. Lisa Simpson’s costumes not only suit each role. They clearly define the chasm between the haves and have-nots, the former sparkling under Daniel H. Jentzen’s lush lighting while the latter suffer the dark.

Here’s why you should give ANNIE another turn around the block: Each scene, each character has new meaning for us watching what we thought was so familiar, thanks to Staab’s brilliant, audience friendly staging. The children in my party were delighted and the adults were moved.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Legends at Reagle By Beverly Creasey

Reagle Music Theatre hosted Broadway legend Leslie Uggams over the weekend and she showed why her star shines just as bright today as it did when she appeared weekly on the Mitch Miller television show. She can bend a note, rocket that note to the stratosphere and bring it back with a whisper safe and sound. She delivers gorgeous standards and familiar show tunes but most impressive is her magical ability to take a pop tune like the Drifters’ Up On The Roof and turn it into the sweetest of dream songs, as if “On the Roof” were “Over the Rainbow.”

If you missed her UPTOWN, DOWNTOWN cabaret at Reagle, you may be able to see her as Lena Horne on Broadway in STORMY WEATHER, the new tribute musical she hopes to bring to New York.

The next legend coming to Reagle is Patti Page, queen of the airwaves in the fifties and early sixties. She “owned” songs like Old Cape Cod, The Tennessee Waltz and of course, that little Doggie in the Window. Radio had just begun to play Top Forty music and Page came of age with Elvis, believe it or not. Imagine hearing Les Paul, Mary Ford, Page and Elvis, one right after the other on the radio. Then rock n’ roll transformed inventor Les Paul’s electric guitar into a weapon for social change and the crooners were crowded out. I knew all the lyrics to the “doggie” song but Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and Fats Domino were irresistible to us teenagers. When we were coming of age in the sixties, we never imagined we’d be sixty! Now nostalgia reaches back to those days by the radio when it all started. It’ll be lovely to hear those old songs again. Page comes to Reagle November 21st.

Murder Most Foul By Beverly Creasey

Used to be, every school, every town had a couple of scary guys… but they couldn’t wreak much havoc on their own. Now they can hook up on the internet and find a cluster of other like minded fanatics. And as we’ve witnessed, the mayhem is far more serious.

David Gow’s play, CHERRY DOCS, focuses on one instance of racially motivated violence perpetrated by a white supremacist. The skinhead is now on trial for murder and has been assigned a public defender… who is Jewish.

The stunning New Repertory Theatre production of CHERRY DOCS (playing through Nov. 7th) is helmed by David R. Gammons who directed their heart stopping production of THE LIEUTENANT OF INISHMORE two seasons back. Gammons extracts all the physical intensity he can from CHERRY DOCS (named for a pair of steel toed Doc Marten’s boots). Voices scream, bodies flinch and chairs fly.

Gow’s script elegantly traverses the evolving relationship of the two men: their growing dependency and their dual transformations. Both change: one for the better and one for the worse or should I say for the “sadder but wiser.”

Gow uses Judaism and the Bible as touchstones for redemption and forgiveness, with lovely metaphors sewn into a prayer shawl belonging to the lawyer’s father. If only the defendant’s turnaround didn’t seem so contrived. Tim Eliot and Benjamin Evett suffer and spar for ninety minutes in tour de force performances, heightened by Adam Stone’s startling sound effects and Jenna McFarland Lord’s claustrophobic cell/set, lit without mercy by Karen Perlow.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Here Comes the Sun Again By Beverly Creasey

When it premiered in 1973, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC (playing at the Cambridge YMCA thru Oct. 23rd) was unique for its unusual score, in 3/4 (waltz) time and for its overture, sung by the chorus. Thirty-seven years later, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC is a guilty pleasure: a hearty helping of sardonic Sondheim wit served over James Lapine’s lovely book (inspired by the Ingmar Bergman film).

The Metro Stage production has a delightful cast to pose as restless Scandinavians—whose antidote to endless days in the land of the midnight sun appears to be romantic liaisons. To add to their troubles, everyone seems to be involved with the wrong person. Fredrik thinks he adores his child bride. His son, too, loves his father’s bride. The Count thinks he wants Desiree but Desiree loves Fredrik. Talk about lover’s knots! Untangling the couples is the real joy of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC.

Metro has four solid performers in the lead roles so that any combination of the four creates sparks. James Fitzpatrick as Fredrik and Robert Case as the count lock horns in pursuit of Tracy Nygard as Desiree. Case and Shana Dirik lock horns as husband and wife…and Fitzpatrick and Nygard lock arms as lovers in times past. Everyone knows Send in the Clowns (Sondheim’s only crossover pop chart hit) but Nygard gives it new, tragic life. If you need one reason to see Metro’s production, Nygard is it.

Director Maryann Zschau (who has played Desiree herself) gets charming performances from the whole ensemble, especially from John Coons as Fredrik’s smitten son, enamored of Joelle Kross as the immature child bride…and from Mary O’Donnell as the wise grandmama to Desiree’s daughter, sweetly portrayed by Isabelle Miller. Kudos to Neil Fortin (with help from Richard Itczak) for the sumptuous period costumes, to Rachel Bertone for the elegant waltzes and to Maria Duaime for the gorgeous music.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lovely Tree Tale from Blue Spruce By Beverly Creasey

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND is a charming little musical with an infectious Caribbean beat. The calypso infused story is a magical folk tale about gods and humans and the trouble they wreak. At the heart of the Ahrens/Flaherty musical is an enchanting young girl (Kira Cowan) who learns about love and the cruel world. Just beneath the lilting melodies and whimsical lyrics lies a serious lesson about the evils of colonialism. Blue Spruce Theatre’s clever production (running through Oct. 24th) plays up the inventive nature of the piece with ingenious double casting (which works via impressive acting and Lindsay Hurley’s distinctive headwear).

Directors Jesse Strachman and Jennifer Condon manage to capture pure air in their light, breezy production and Condon’s hip, syncopated choreography amuses with every turn. Dan Rodriguez’s combo infuses the music with sweet island spirit. (If you’re not swaying to the Afro-Cuban beat of the drums, your heart just isn’t in the right place.)

What a cast Blue Spruce has assembled! Each and every performer brings a sense of joy and wonderment to the piece….and first rate vocals as well. Kendra Alati adds her gorgeous, soaring soprano to the mix. Kira Cowan adds remarkable footwork. Abigail Cordell adds warmth. Kaedon Gray adds humor. David Lucey adds menace. Alaina Fragoso adds style. David Carney adds drama and Alexa Niziak is just plain adorable as Little Ti Moune.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Almost Heaven By Beverly Creasey

Theatre On Fire has a reputation for unearthing smart, sardonic scripts from writers known for more famous works. ALMOST AN EVENING (at the Charlestown Working Theatre thru Oct. 23rd) by one of the filmmaking Coen brothers is TOF’s latest coup. Screenwriter Ethan Coen mixes the zaniness of RAISING ARIZONA (one of my favorite movies) with the menace of FARGO for an evening of offbeat musings on life, death and everything in between.

ALMOST AN EVENING begins with Marc Harpin waiting ad infinitum in (of course) a waiting room. Harpin contorts his wonderfully malleable face into expressions of boredom, impatience and desperation, reminiscent of Stan Laurel in distress. Even Harpin’s sobs are delightful.

He delivers the goods again in a short play called DEBATE as a smarmy new age pitch man. He’s selling love and good fortune, acting like he knew each and every one of us intimately. His polar opposite at the morality seminar is Jeff Gill in a riotous rant about how rotten we all are, caring about no one but ourselves…fretting over trivialities like parking. (How did he know that?) Gill spews such hilarious fire and brimstone that you wish his character was in every scene.

Between those two playlets is a less successful piece about spies and the people they have to dispatch (with Craig Houk and Phil Thompson). The first scene of FOUR BENCHES is performed entirely in the dark (except for five uncomfortable seconds). Here’s what I’ve discovered from that little theatrical experiment: It’s much more difficult to hear dialogue when your senses aren’t working in harmony. Without my sight, I had trouble figuring out who was speaking and that preoccupied my brain instead of absorbing what was said. Thank heaven the rest of the play, with Houk, Bill Doscher and Jorge Martinez was well lit!

Director Darren Evans gets fine performances all around, especially in Coen’s perceptive gender gymnastics, where two couples (Gill & Lisa Caron Driscoll and Chris Wagner & Kate Donnelly) spar about “feelings” and the usual hot button topics of disagreement. Coen goes right for the jugular and the performers don’t miss a beat. ALMOST AN EVENING, it turns out, is just the right amount.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Room of Her Own By Beverly Creasey

Sarah Ruhl’s strange, provocative play, IN THE NEXT ROOM (or the vibrator play) is getting a smart production at SpeakEasy Stage. Director Scott Edmiston has assembled a first rate cast to enliven Ruhl’s tale of mass hysteria in the Victorian age. Ruhl based her play on a scholarly study of Victorian medicine (years before Freud’s revolutionary theories of sexuality) at a time when “nervous prostration” was understood to have its origin in “congestion of the womb.” Even more outlandish was the accepted medical practice of massage to achieve a “release” of the toxins. When doctors needed more time for other patients, a mechanical vibrator took the place of manual stimulation. Clinical vibrators, believe it or not, were advertised for sale in the Sears Roebuck catalog!

Ruhl has crafted a comedy of sorts about a practitioner and his wife to highlight the gulf between pleasure and marriage, a rift echoed in the off kilter arrangement of the set (by Susan Zeeman Rogers), whereby the parlor and the doctor’s adjoining office slant away from each other, just like their occupants. The wife prefers candlelight to electricity. She likes long walks and the scientist can’t waste the time … and sex for them, evidently, is merely an obligation.

This being a comedy (at times) the women will discover a more practical use for the office equipment. Anne Gottlieb and Marianna Bassham are downright hilarious, experiencing orgasm for the first time thanks to this new invention. Ruhl joins the ranks of Eve Ensler (vocalizing varied orgasms within different cultures in The Vagina Monologues) and Meg Ryan (in the famous “I’ll have what she’s having” scene in When Harry Met Sally) for getting us to laugh about a ticklish subject.

Unfortunately the play loses ground when Ruhl switches focus, as if she changed her mind about the issues she wanted to cover. Motherhood, surrogacy, feminism, homosexuality and the nature of the soul all make an appearance, but threads are dropped and characters abruptly change trajectory. Luckily, the SpeakEasy performances are what keep us in thrall. In addition to Gottlieb and Bassham’s star turns, Frances Idlebrook (as the doctor’s assistant) gives a heartbreaking portrayal of unfulfilled promise and Lindsey McWhorter gets a stunning speech about her love for a child (although it seems like it belongs in another play altogether). Many of Ruhl’s tangents seem peculiarly at odds with the love story at the heart of the play. (I’m only guessing at the “heart” of the matter because of the romantic revelation at play’s end.)

The men are peripheral (for the most part) to the joy and discovery of the female characters, although they initiate actions which set the women on their journeys: Derry Woodhouse is the doctor sorely out of touch with his emotions, Dennis Trainor, Jr. is the clueless husband of the depressed patient who flowers apart from him, and Craig Wesley Divino cuts a swath as the manic artist who awakens possibility in two of the women. Gail Astrid Buckley’s infinite layers of under- and outer clothing for the women speaks volumes about the strictures of the age.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

An Ostentation of MAMET By Beverly Creasey

You have your choice of Mamets this week at the Arsenal Center for the Arts. BOSTON MARRIAGE is playing upstairs at New Repertory Theatre and GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS leases the Black Box Theater downstairs.

GLENGARRY is Mamet’s most celebrated play for its take-no-prisoners portrait of the gritty real estate game. (Mamet knows whereof he speaks, having worked in the business). He writes smart, nasty dialogue for his male characters but his female characters are another story. He’s been accused of being a misogynist, as most of the women he creates are predatory (Think OLEANNA). For my money, though, the women in the BOSTON MARRIAGE are not of that ilk. They’re supposed to be strong, turn of the century gals who don’t want or need men. Yet they come across as tropes, not as real women. They’re evidently what Mr. Mamet thinks women were like a hundred years ago: scheming, petulant, needy, hyperbolic and brutally class conscious.

When all the men in a Mamet play like GLENGARRY (or my favorite, AMERICAN BUFFALO) are despicable, we’re amused, delighted even, with their extraordinarily bad behavior, but make both women in the Boston alliance cruel, deceitful and callous and there’s little delight in it. I’ve seen two versions of BOSTON MARRIAGE: the initial outing directed by Mamet himself and this “Oscar Wilde” version directed by David Zoffoli (where the characters speak like Lady Bracknell). Even a stylized delivery doesn’t make the oddball dialogue funny. When the foulmouthed salesmen of GLENGARRY kid about “courtesy class” it’s cheeky and sardonic. When one of the women contends that “men live but to be deceived” or that “one must follow the buffalo herd,” it’s neither witty nor sardonic. It’s just strange for strangeness sake.

Try as they might, Jennie Israel and Debra Wise, both fine actresses, cannot make us understand why they’re speaking like Victorian poseurs. Melissa Baroni has an easier time of it as the longsuffering maid, the only character who’s authentic. She doesn’t engage in banter about the ruination of purses or the longing of loins. One syllable says it all for her. (I wish I could supply the “mute appreciation” the central character craves from her sister but I cannot.) The contentious BOSTON MARRIAGE plays through Oct. 3rd.

I can, however, rave about a shoestring production of GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS from Zero Point Theater. They may not have fancy sets (or Spellcheck) but they have crackerjack acting to create Mamet’s dog-eat-dog banquet of bad behavior. Before the housing bubble and the ’08 crash and the banks to blame, there was GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, a celebration (or vilification depending on your point of view) of the tract salesman, the guy who sells units before there are any. Mamet called them “a dying breed” and he was right…soon thereafter replaced by rapacious mortgage lenders.

Director Emil S. Kreymer gets supple performances from David DiLillo as the desperate old fashioned salesman who isn’t cutting it any more, from Brian Zifcak as the parasitic office manager, from Kenneth Siddons as the larcenous “mastermind” behind the scenes, from Jack Agnew as the benighted client conned by sales leader Ricky Roma (Sean Stanco in a charismatic turn as the brash know-it-all) and from Walter Driscoll as the funniest Aaronow I’ve encountered in many a GLENGARRY performance. Watching Driscoll suffer the closer he gets to his interview with the police is simply delicious. Director Kreymer filled in nicely for an ailing actor (as the policeman) the night I attended. See it before the closing this weekend!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Cautionary CABARET By Beverly Creasey

The A.R.T.’s CABARET at Club Oberon, not their theater space, encompasses a world where Kit Kat Klub pranksters intrude on almost every scene — infiltrating the audience, checking our bags, crawling up the balcony railings, standing on audience chairs, balancing on our tables, knocking over our drinks. Director Steven Bogart does not let you forget that Berlin was a dangerous place in the ‘30s and anonymity was impossible. A ruffian, or rather a prankster, can ruffle your hair at any moment. The Dresden Dolls’ phenom, Amanda Palmer (who plays the emcee) wanted an interactive setting for her production of the Kander & Ebb musical (running through the end of October) and she gets it.

A consequence of this frenetic atmosphere is that the absence of the whirlwind heightens the dramatic punch: The Nazi threat (personified in the elegant presence of David Costa as everyone’s seductive “friend”) and the impossible marriage of the rueful landlady (Thomas Derrah) to her beloved greengrocer (Remo Airaldi) stand out in relief like a fresco. We’re of course charmed by Sally Bowles (Aly Trasher) and the Isherwood stand-in (Matt Wood) but the stage is electrified when the threat is undeniably immediate. Director Bogart gives us another, stunning “immediate” horror at the end of the musical (reminiscent of Stacey Klein’s ashen rain in Double Edge’s SONG OF ABSENCE) which triggers a flashback to his clever foreshadows like the train which transports the “Money” number to its climax.

Palmer gets a plaintive, sardonic duet with Tom Duprey on trumpet (I Don’t Care Much) and cheeky gender bending with the naughty Two Ladies but curiously, Tom Derrah as Fraulein Schneider makes no waves, not a ripple in our suspension of disbelief. He plays it absolutely straight, as it were, and we’re completely convinced. Fraulein Schneider’s affection for her Jewish suitor and his mistaken belief that the Nazi menace will “pass” is the story that stays with you long after you’ve “Come to the Cabaret.”

Monday, September 13, 2010

Casting A Sweet Spell By Beverly Creasey

The 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE is an affable little musical ostensibly about the precocious children who compete in spelling competitions. Underneath its cute façade, the musical embraces the joy—and pain of growing up. Bees used to be niche events, not unlike chess, until they both became media darlings. Hollywood was quick to cash in on the craze with films like Akeelah and the Bee (with Lawrence Fishburne) and Bee Season (with Richard Gere). The national bee even attracts picketers from organizations who advocate spelling the way words sound not the way our ancestors dictated. No less an advocate than Teddy Roosevelt championed the cause for spelling reform. (Congress overruled him.)

The Lyric Stage Company’s whimsical version (playing through Oct. 2nd) features Kerri Jill Garbis as the terminally cheerful hostess (a former winner herself), assisted by the hilarious Will McGarrahan as the sour vice principal (evidently born without a sense of humor). In a show crowded with smart children (actually actors portraying children) a spoilsport like the vice principal is welcome relief, especially when he’s torturing the volunteers from the audience with very difficult words. (The audience amateurs on my night were savvy competitors.)

All the contestants have their moments to shine but it’s Krista Buccellato as the unaccompanied speller without the entry fee who transcends the material and breaks your heart (in a production which doesn’t go for the jugular). Director Stephen Terrell stresses the cheeky, good natured disposition of the piece over the pathos—so. if you want to be in touch with your rambunctious inner child—and maybe even strut that inner child as one of the audience spellers, then PUTNAM COUNTY is your oyster.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Irish Traditions You Never Imagined By Beverly Creasey

If you missed Tir Na’s outrageously funny TRAD last season, you’ve been granted a reprieve. Gloucester Stage is reprising the show, lock, stock and barrel through the end of September. You’ll be seeing director Carmel O’Reilly’s hilarious father and son odyssey, trekking from pillar to post in search of an heir. It matters not that father is a hundred or so and son is twenty years his junior. They’re determined not to be the last of the line. Billy Meleady and Colin Hamel are the irascible geezers and Nancy E. Carroll is everyone they meet along the way. Think Beckett on hallucinogens. You’ll laugh yourself silly. Then just when you think it can’t get any nuttier, a nifty ending will touch your heart.

Real Wit in the Face By Beverly Creasey

Taking the rest of Stoppard’s plays into account, THE REAL INSPECTOR HOUND (playing through Sept. 25th ) is a trifle but a darn clever one. Stoppard manages to send up whodunits while mocking the theatrical form itself. And he takes a swipe at critics to boot. (Stoppard was a theater critic himself for the Bristol Evening World.)

It’s no secret. Stoppard is my favorite playwright and the Publick Theatre has mounted several of his plays while other theaters keep their distance. Let’s hope they don’t stop because Diego Arciniegas and company know how to nail that arch British style of high “wit in the face of adversity.”

Barlow Adamson portrays a second string drama critic looking for “God” in all the wrong places (including in the murder mystery play-within-the-play before him). Instead he finds a leading role for himself – and his destiny. Adamson plays wrong headed certainty with daffy gusto. William Gardiner is likewise hilarious as the other critic who would be more than delighted to take any of the gorgeous actresses in the play under his “influential” wing.

Now to the murder plot: Stoppard gives us an Agatha Christie load of suspects but who done it is not Stoppard’s game. The who’s who are what’s important in HOUND. Sheriden Thomas gives a star turn as the housekeeper who upstages everyone merely by serving tea. (Director Arciniegas gets wonderful laughs by milking the cream and sugar.)

Georgia Lyman plays a cool sophisto in love with her missing husband – but not so much that she won’t dally with a handsome stranger. Danny Bryck masters that fabulous aristocratic nasal drawl as he masters both the lady of the manor and Anna Waldron as the pretty tennis player. Gabriel Kuttner adds intrigue as a maniacal Canadian speed demon in a motor chair and Wayne Fritsche tries with minimal success to corral them all together as the droll inspector.

All the elements converge in the Publick production: ingenious sound (John Doerschuk), ultra-dramatic lighting (Jeff Adelberg), elegant costumes (Molly Trainer) and a luxurious Victorian drawing room (Dahlia Al-Habieli). As the critic pontificates, “élan while avoiding éclat!”

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

NOT FADING AWAY at Turtle Lane By Beverly Creasey

What do I say about the Buddy Holly musical? Act II plays like gangbusters. (I think I saw the roof levitate at Turtle Lane!) Act I, not so much. Thank heaven for the Apollo Theatre scenes with Nella Mupier and Chauncey Moore or there’d be nothing to write home about until after intermission.

The Patsy Cline musical suffers from the same limitations (radio station static, recording studio doldrums) but once you bypass the set-up, you get to the music – which is the whole point of these tribute shows anyway. BUDDY’s director James Tallach wrings what laughter he can from the script but it’s the recreation of the last concert for Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens that lifts you right out of your seat.

The TLP production (running through Sept.25th) has a dynamo to portray Buddy Holly: Patrick Maloney is a teenager who plays in local bands, looking like a cross between Bob Dylan and Holly and sounding remarkably like the rock ‘n roll pioneer. Craig McKerley, too, channels The Big Bopper, right down to his signature elevator voice drop. Music directors Sarah Hirsch and Kaley Sullivan deserve the lion’s share of the credit for the sensational concert replication. As soon as the orchestra begins to wail (with a first rate female brass section!), the audience can’t wait to start dancing in the aisles. “Rave On” simply brings down the house.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Proof of Life by Beverly Creasey

I’ve seen David Auburn’s Pulitzer and Tony winning play {PROOF} before – but it never added up to much (for me) until I saw the Independent Drama Society’s fiercely intelligent production (playing through Aug. 28th). I watched the DVD starring Anthony Hopkins the evening after I saw the IDS production and it didn’t come close to summoning up the energy of director Chris Anton’s version. (Auburn’s screenplay completely sacrifices the comedy for some inexplicable reason …but, hey, I’m not here to review the film.)

On the one hand, PROOF can mean conclusive evidence, and on the other, it can mean the process of checking the validity of a mathematical computation – but you needn’t have heard of Fermat’s last theorem to be swept up in the (algo)rhythms of the story. Auburn plays the meaning of “proof” both ways in his engrossing drama about trial and error and fathers and daughters.

The father in PROOF was a brilliant mathematician before his “beautiful” mind began to deteriorate. (For the record, Auburn wrote his play before “A Beautiful Mind” was published.) The daughter who took after her father, mathematically speaking, gave up her studies to look after him. Now she’s confronted by an overbearing sister and a former student of her father’s who wants to peruse his notebooks, not to mention the fear that she may end up just like him. She’s a bit strung out, to say the least.

Kate Daly is a revelation as the depressed, defensive daughter who prefers to be left alone…but who blossoms, despite herself, into a beautiful woman in love. Daly and Chris Larson transform what is “theoretically physical” into gorgeous physicality in their oh-so-sweet love scene. Kudos to director Anton for her elegant touches which enliven each scene (like the breakfast confrontation over a bagel or the funny post-party entrance of the unkempt, hung over sister). Kara Manson makes the most of the controlling sibling role and Mark Bourbeau breaks your heart as the disintegrating genius sure he is receiving “mathematical messages from the universe.”

Every element of PROOF dovetails seamlessly, from Lindsay Eagle’s character-perfect costumes to Larson’s note-specific musical choices to Kirsten Opstad’s enormous set of a house (in the postage stamp Piano Factory space!) to Kimberly Smith’s evocative lighting. The Independent Drama Society proves itself to be a prime company to watch.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Back in the day, “nice” girls at my school teased their hair into “flips” like Mary Tyler Moore. The more adventurous girls sported big “beehives” and the “bad” girls brushed their hair straight back into a “D.A.” so it feathered out like a duck’s {well} “rear end.” That was 1962. We didn’t know teasing caused breakage and spraying melted the ozone. And we didn’t know a lot about the world. John Waters set his (now cult) film, HAIRSPRAY (ostensibly about integration on an erstwhile Bandstand TV show) in 1962 when a chubby, white teenager in Baltimore takes on the establishment. HAIRSPRAY introduced Ricki Lake and the fabulous Divine to audiences everywhere.

As you well know, HAIRSPRAY is now a Tony Award winning musical (eight, to be exact). I’ve seen several versions, including the original and I’m here to tell you that you won’t find a better production than Reagle’s, playing through August 22nd. Marissa Perry repeats her Broadway performance as Tracy Turnblad, the teenager with a heart as big as all outdoors and hair almost as high as the giant sequoias. There are two BIG reasons to see Reagle’s production: Perry’s thousand watt energy surge and Dan Dowling, Jr. as Perry’s mother.

Dowling is nothing short of miraculous. He’s hilarious, of course, as the dragged out, dragged down drudge of a housewife who just wants the best for her daughter BUT he gives Edna an inner glow which touches the soul. How often does that happen in musical comedy? If HAIRSPRAY goes back to Broadway, he oughta be their man.

The Reagle production has even more stars: Davron S. Monroe, as Tracy’s detention buddy, can dance (and sing!) like nobody’s business and Angela Birchett delivers the gorgeous “I Know Where I’ve Been” so powerfully, you almost believe it’s a real anthem. Nick Peciaro is a delightful Beau for Tracy and Mark Linehan makes the Dick Clark caricature deliciously over the top.

Directors Todd Michael Smith and Judine Somerville come from the original Broadway production. To their credit, every nuance of the plot is crystal clear (which I can’t say of other productions of HAIRSPRAY I’ve seen). They know when to push the slapstick and when to pull the heartstrings. When they bring on the showstopper, “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” you’ll feel “the motion of the ocean ... etc.” and you won’t be able to stop your feet from stomping. I wish I could see it again!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

FOUR STARS A LA CARTE By Beverly Creasey

Clearly you have to be out of your mind to work in a restaurant. (That’s experience talking: You’re hired as a waitress and when the cook doesn’t show, you’re slinging hash in a 102 degree kitchen. I quit.) Becky Mode must have put in her time because she’s written a hilarious play about a tony New York eatery and the insanity on the other side of the table. FULLY COMMITTED (playing through Aug. 29th at the MDC stage in Brighton) doesn’t refer to an involuntary stay at Bellevue. It’s restaurant lingo for “no reservations, we’re all booked up.”

Thirty-six wild and wooly characters in FULLY COMMITTED are all gloriously played by Gabriel Kuttner. The transformations happen in the blink of an eye: He’s the benighted reservation guy. He’s the bully of a chef. He’s the officious Maitre D, the super busy busboy…and the impossible customers. Kuttner’s tour de force is a must see this summer. The Charles River is gorgeous at sunset, viewed from the old Publick Theatre digs (opposite WBZ). The mosquitoes have turned in for the evening (No bites whatsoever!) and the breeze off the water is heavenly on a sultry night.

Steven Barkhimer has directed with wings on his heels – the whole performance is over in 75 minutes. FULLY COMMITTED serves up the laughter 7 p.m. Thurs-Sun. You could even have dinner after the show. No reservations. I give it four stars.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

CORPUS DELECTUS by Beverly Creasey

CURTAINS is the Kander and Ebb musical whodunit set in Boston which curiously did not play here originally. You probably know about it because it starred David Hyde Pierce (FRASIER) and Debra Monk (NYPD BLUE). I satisfied my curiosity last night at the Newton Country Players’ version (through August 14th), directed by Bill Doscher – and Doscher knows his way around musical comedy so the laughs are solid and the leads are strong, especially Nathan Lamont and Mary O’Donnell in the Pierce/Monk roles.

Lamont saunters blissfully on stage as the police detective (with a song in his heart, of course) dispatched to investigate the murder of a nasty leading lady on the opening night of a new musical. As you might imagine, the suspects are legion. Kander and Ebb spoof a number of musicals in CURTAINS, sending up OKLAHOMA with their “new” musical set in Kansas…and ripping Cole Porter’s theater anthem, There’s No Business Like Show Business, with a fabulous volley called It’s A Business (gloriously nailed by O’Donnell). And they strike a blow for show folk everywhere with a deliciously sardonic What Kind of Man [becomes a critic?].

Mostly, though, CURTAINS’ book (by Rupert Holmes) misses its mark, bogging down in too many iterations of the show within the show. To Doscher’s credit, his cast makes it fly, chiefly because of Chrissy Lamont as the vamp who sizzles in Thataway, a real Kander and Ebb foot thumper…and Laura Espy’s inventive choreography, most delightful when Erin Beaber as the ingénue “teaches” Lamont to dance: hop-step-step. The policeman awkwardly (and hilariously) plods through her instructions, then in two seconds, hoofs like a pro! Once he’s had a taste of the limelight, he even takes over rehearsals from the wonderfully conceited director (David Lucey). What an arresting guy!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

No Frills Quills by Beverly Creasey

Doug Wright’s decorated drama, QUILLS, about the Marquis de Sade and his tormentors, is getting a thorough going over by Bad Habit Productions (at the Cambridge Y through August 8th). Wright’s clever diatribe on the nature of evil doers doing what they do “in the name of goodness” takes a heck of a long time to get somewhere. When it does, in Act II, and especially at the surreal ending, it’s worth the torturous route.

The men fare better than the women in director Daniel Morris’ production––mostly because the Y space is cavernous and the female voice tends to be swallowed up so a good deal of the dialogue doesn’t reach the audience under the balcony overhang. Happily, Timothy Otte and Eric Hamel as the philosophical duelists, have strong voices––and even stronger acting skills. Otte’s tour de force as the joyously self-obsessed de Sade is reason alone to see the play. Hamel as his (self) righteous nemesis gives a chilling performance as we witness the monstrous cost of a cure.

QUILLS is not a play for the faint of heart as the playwright parades horror after horror before us, heaping cruelty upon cruelty to make his point. Kudos to Bad Habit Productions for taking on such a daunting drama.