Friday, May 25, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Town Without Pity

It wouldn’t surprise me (if it were possible to measure) that Boston’s professional Irish performers (working principally in the Sugan and Tir Na theaters) have no peer in North America…and beyond! I don’t think you can see better performances of contemporary Irish theater (with one exception, which would be New Rep’s incomparable production of THE LIEUTENANT OF INNISHMORE a few years back, starring Tir Na’s Colin Hamel).

Tir Na is currently acting the heck out of Martin McDonagh’s outrageous black comedy (a tragedy for some), THE LONESOME WEST. No, nothing to do with “the old west.” McDonagh’s play is part of the Leenane trilogy, about hardscrabble life away from Ireland’s urban centers. McDonagh paints a pitiful picture of the have-nots---imbued with his famous sardonic wit.

Colin Hamel portrays one of two brothers (in director Carmel O’Reilly’s smart production) who are constantly at war, threatening mayhem and inventing ways to aggravate the other. Questionable circumstances surround the death of their father and the subsequent inheritance (meager though it is) by Billy Meleady as the other sibling.

The battles are hysterical. Their braggadocio is wildly inventive and although you could watch the two of them have at it all evening, there are two additional, wonderful characters: Lisa O’Brien gives a marvelously spunky (and touching) performance as the girl who delivers moonshine to the Connor brothers…and Derry Woodhouse as the alcoholic parish priest (who “never touched the stuff before [he] came to this town”).

Woodhouse gives a hilarious tour de force as a defeated, broken-hearted hard drinker. Lord knows, he has reason enough, just in the Connor family. Their amends alone are worth the price of admission. Don’t miss this one.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Coleridge is Spinning on Skates these Days By Beverly Creasey

For its 100th show, SpeakEasy Stage is lighting up audiences (Cue the glow sticks!) with the pop rock infused XANADU. First it was a hack movie (according to Leonard Maltin) starring Rita Hayworth as the muse who comes to earth. Then the film was remade (and bombed) as a roller skating vehicle for Olivia Newton-John. Now Douglas Carter Beane has rewritten the book, sending up Newton-John and the preposterous story ---while retaining the music and the skates! At last, Magic! (Just for the record, the musical has nothing to do with Coleridge, except the title and a throwaway verse.)

Old time rock ‘n rollers swear they were impervious to Top Forty hits like “Have You Never Been Mellow” but Jeff Lynne’s clever hooks made it through the blood/brain barrier. I was humming “Strange Magic” and “Evil Woman” back in the day, despite myself. Imagine my delight when they reappear to spectacular effect in the musical. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that funny lady Shana Dirik can deliver a hokey lyric to beat the band just by crooking an eyebrow. She and Kathy St. George are the hilarious “evil women” who goose the plot into motion.

Director Paul Daigneault mines nugget after nugget of comic gold and a great deal of the credit goes to McCaela Donovan as the muse who defies Zeus and falls in love with a mortal (Ryan Overberg as the roller skating chalk artist with a dream). She’s wistful. She’s calculating. She’s sardonic. No, she’s naïve. She lets you in on the joke without any betrayal of character. It’s a performance only a muse could pull off.

Cheo Bourne and Patrick Connolly join Val Sullivan and Kami Rushell Smith in the muse department, bumping up the camp. Robert Saoud, too, has his tongue firmly planted in his cheek as the original club owner and as the all powerful Zeus. Paul Daigneault and music director Nicholas James Connell make SpeakEasy’s leap into “disco heaven” a gas, even for this old rocker.

Monday, May 14, 2012


To steal a joke from the Lopez/Whittey/Marx megahit musical at Lyric Stage, “If you rearrange the letters in [AVENUE Q] it spells [box office gold].” The big Q just opened yesterday and it’s already been extended through June 24th.

The Lyric Stage version does what the Broadway show can’t. Lyric gives audiences an up close and personal experience with the most adorable puppets this side of Sesame Street. In fact, AVENUE Q manages to send up the PG rated television show and pay homage to it at the same time.

I’m too old to have seen Sesame Street as a child. Howdy Doody thrilled my generation (Maybe that explains the sixties!) but anyone under fifty, if my math holds up, grew up counting with Kermit and Big Bird. The creators of AVENUE Q did. They originally wanted to write for the Muppets. When the Henson Company was not interested, they made their own puppets---and any resemblance to the real characters is intentional. The plunder pays off!

Their puppets are outrageous, irreverent and plenty blue. (For you youngsters out there, blue means x-rated.) My theater companion went wild over their audacity. He’s the right age to remember how sweet Henson’s puppets were, even the crankiest of them. (OK. Miss Piggy is the exception.)

What I discovered to my astonishment is how much emotion is conveyed (or rather, imposed via the magic of theater) on those little puppet faces. They seem to be registering indignation, hurt, even surprise. I swear I saw those little devil id puppets scrunch up their teddy bear noses in mischievous delight. The credit, of course, goes to director Spiro Veloudos and the Lyric puppeteers.

Music director Catherine Stornetta gets lovely singing from the entire cast, with special mention to Erica Spyres for Kate Monster (the “fur” person who teaches tolerance for all sentient beings, including those with fur! This animal lover rejoiced!); and to Phil Taylor for the really grumpy Trekkie Monster; and to humans Harry McEnerny V, Jenna Lea Scott and Davron S. Monroe.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey NEW WORLD: Old Practices

There are two ways to present a song cycle like Jason Robert Brown’s SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD: in concert or as a theater piece. Luckily for The Longwood Players, director Jason Luciana signed up Katie Pickett and Renée Saindon. The two women teach a master class on how it should be done.

Pickett and Saindon turn their songs into magnificent mini-dramas. Saindon whips through a gamut of changing emotions in her triumphant “I’m Not Afriad of Anything”---Then she breaks our hearts with the ironic lament about the love she foolishly discarded in “Stars and the Moon.” It only takes two minutes to reduce us to rubble. That’s the beauty of Brown’s songs in the right hands.

Pickett brings down the house with her hilarious barrage of spousal complaints (against Santa Claus, no less!)---Then she makes “The Flagmaker, 1775” into a mother’s plaintive prayer for any son at war, then or now. Again, our hearts are in our throats, choking back the tears.

The rest of the program is a mixed bag, and I mean “mixed” artistically, not ethnically. In fact, in Brown’s juggernaut, “The Steam Train” (usually performed by an African-American man), “the brother you call” is inexplicably white at Longwood. Kevin Hanley has a powerful tenor with an impressive falsetto in the mega-high range but the stuffing has been knocked out of the song. Likewise the colorless “King of the World” which should stop the show but doesn’t.

Miriam Cross has a sweet, lyrical voice but her acting is minimal. If she had placed her foot from the get-go on the scaffolding (of Brie Frame’s clever set) for “Just One Step,” it would have gone a long way to cueing the audience in on the dark humor of the piece. The comic tone of the mock suicide is, alas, lost.

However, when the entire ensemble (the aforementioned and two Michaels (Gallagan and Chateauneuf) join together, as on Brown’s nod to the African-American spiritual, “I’ll Fly Away”---the harmonies in their “Flying Home” echo through the auditorium, topped by Saindon’s glorious, soaring soprano.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Miracle-Grown Mayhem at New Rep By Beverly Creasey

New Repertory Theatre wraps up its season with the delightfully naughty, shamelessly blood thirsty crowd pleaser, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (running through May 20th). Inspired by the 1959 Roger Corman horror film (with an unknown Jack Nicholson in the dentist role), the musical sends up life in the idyllic ‘50s (and early ‘60s). You know, those pre-civil rights years of manifest destiny, sexual repression and ever-so-helpful fallout shelters!

The ‘50s certainly deserve to be savaged but Howard Ashman and Alan Menken handle the era with kid gloves, skewering it lovingly with songs that make gentle fun of the doo-wop and Motown hits we teenagers adored. (One of the pleasures of LITTLE SHOP is the music, directed with a great back beat by New Rep’s Todd C. Gordon.)

New Rep’s director/choreographer Russell Garrett ramps up the camp in this version, stopping just short of winking exits. He gets high energy performances and maximum laughter from the stereotypes---but he doesn’t neglect the sentiment in the piece--- when romance buds after the man eating plant eliminates Seymour’s rival. Blake Pfeil is just nerdy and innocent enough for us to root for Seymour, despite his lapses in judgment.

Susan Molloy is perfection as the ditsy Audrey. She makes Suddenly, Seymour soar like an anthem and Somewhere That’s Green seem eminently reasonable. Paul D. Farwell is hilarious as the scheming shop owner and Bill Mootos gets to be everyone else in style, including the sadistic, helium (!) sniffing dentist who hijacks Audrey’s smile. (The Mickey Mouse voice is a hoot!)

The teen chorus of Jennifer Fogerty, Lovely Hoffman and Ceit McCaleb Zweil is gleefully cheeky and deliciously hip but the Supremes send up can’t work if you don’t have Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson. Likewise Timothy John Smith (the voice of the plant) is sensationally black but when you see him at curtain call, another joke is lost. There’s no rule, of course, which says who has to play a role. I’m just saying...