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.