Monday, July 30, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW ANY DREAM WILL DO By Beverly Creasey


The F.U.D.G.E. Theatre Company is taking JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT (at Arsenal Arts through Oct. 4th) back to its roots. JOSEPH started out as a Bible lesson for London school children so director Joey DeMita and Friends are using the original, simplified version, even scaling that down to fit their small ensemble.

The Friends (the “F” in F.U.D.G.E.) capture the playful spirit and innocence of the piece --- so much so that at times it seems a bit freewheeling, like a Sunday school production might. The acting is uneven but always exuberant and with DeMita in charge, always inventive.

Aidan Nevin as Joseph is a bit tentative at first but he warms to the role and his singing is lovely. Alaina Fragoso (who dazzled in F.U.D.G.E.’s SPRING AWAKENING last year) is charming and (normally) sure voiced but why didn’t anyone think of transposing her music so she could reach those high notes? It’s a shame because she’s JOSEPH’s best asset.

Part of the delight in JOSEPH, this being Webber and Rice’s first show, is listening for musical phrases which will reappear in EVITA and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. With Mario Cruz’ tight band, you hear every note. The music in JOSEPH is pastiche so there’s lots of room for broad comedy, like an Elvis-ized Pharaoh (David Gerrie) and a hilarious “Benjamin Calypso” with Kelton Washington and a sweet faced puppet Benjamin!

The adorable puppets are just one of DeMita’s ingenious ideas for the musical. Pity there weren’t more little ones in the audience to enjoy them: This really is a show for children.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Transformation and the Future of Theater By Beverly Creasey


Digital marketing pioneer and author Seth Godin offered a provocative approach to the one thousand TCG annual conference attendees in Boston last month. Instead of using up resources to reach new audiences and trying to interest the uninterested in theater, we ought to focus on the people who are already engaged and work from there. Just about everyone who signed up for the Theatre Communications Group annual event called “Model the Movement” was anxious to hear from the successful theaters just how they “modeled” it.
The subtitle “to transform a field into a movement, one new model at a time” shakes out to finding new ways to finance theater, new ways to perform, new ways to run a company, in other words, new ways to think about theater. Boston co-chair Kate Warner best summed up the strength that comes from putting people in the same place to share ideas. “There is something palpable, significant and unique about being in the same room with each other and talking about what’s relevant and important to us and our audiences.”
Wide ranging sessions offered marketing ideas, on line resources, new venue ideas and new programs, like playwright fellowships, a hot button issue among the many writers in attendance. Theaters across the country like the Huntington Theatre Company of Boston and The American Repertory Theatre here in Cambridge are giving access to local playwrights with new play series and apprenticeships. Business cards were exchanged by the pocketful.
Two of the most powerful sessions to my mind centered on inclusion…or as someone in the session sardonically quipped, “You mean exclusion.” In the frank “Open Conversation on Diversity and Inclusion,” the sadness and frustration in the room was clear. “I don’t want to be talking about this,” one man lamented. “I want to be talking about Henry V.”
Yet here it was: a session to articulate the lack of real involvement in managerial decisions, the absence of design and other technical opportunities for people of color, the lack of roles available and the dearth of chances to direct. One panelist called our present day theater “the malignant microcosm of the country as a whole.” Yet all throughout the conference, you heard repeated mention of commitment to diversity.
There seems to be agreement (in the abstract) that theater can only thrive in the years ahead when everyone is represented. So why the reluctance to do so now? One reason, it was suggested, is the distribution of resources. According to the NEA, 2% of the theaters in this country get 55% of the philanthropy. Another is that racism is institutionalized within organizations (for instance with glass ceilings for employees of color)…which brings me to the second meaningful session I attended, called “Allies Eliminating Racism in Theater.”
This session lifted up everyone in the room. Here was a model for change right in front of us. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival came to Boston with a blueprint and handouts. When you think of Oregon and Shakespeare, well, you’re apt to think “white.” The Oregon Theater decided that since their commitment to Shakespeare was because the plays speak to the human condition…then why not to all humans? Executive director Paul Nicholson made one thing absolutely clear. They did it because it was the right thing to do.
So simple a reason that you wonder why this hasn’t occurred to everyone: After all, theater has historically striven for social justice. Think the Greeks, Moliere, Ibsen, Shaw, all those “dead white guys” concerned about moral obligation.
So with the help of L.A. community organizer, Carmen Morgan, the Oregon folks set out to transform their organization, which, they point out, was not easy. Morgan comes from the “real world” where statistics are important. “You have to interrupt the structured system of white privilege,” she said. “You have to know your optics (i.e. stats)” For example, the leading birth rate in the U.S. right now has Asian-American births surpassing the Hispanic birth rate. “The demographic is changing,” she affirmed. “It’s not theoretical. It’s an eventuality.”
Executive director Nicholson added that the first thing you have to do is admit that barriers exist. “Inclusion has to be created,” added Freda Casillas. As the new audience development manager, she has the extremely difficult task of diversifying Oregon’s audience. She’s locked horns, for example, with the business staff over reduced price tickets which she offers to inner city residents, tickets which could be sold for three or four times as much at the box-office.
Casillas stressed the importance of face to face dialogue within the institution. Before they established a space for the old staff to meet and share concerns with the new staff, the tensions went underground. Resistance became subtle and covert. “People go on Facebook because they don’t have a way to [air their concerns where it matters],” Casillas cautioned. But once they included the former staff and gave them a place to be heard, they saw progress. Actors of color were sought out and multicultural staff was hired.
Oregon walked the walk and talked the talk, literally putting their money where their mouth is. You could feel the astonishment in the room when the presenters finished and asked for questions. Hand after hand shot up to express gratitude for the first hope out there in a long time: Hope for people who had given up hope for change in their individual theaters and hope on the grand scale for an enduring theater.
It’s the first ray of hope this reviewer has had in a while, after seeing, of late, example after example of roles designated for people of color (like the Brother role in Songs for a New World or the Asian-American part of Connie in A Chorus Line) inexplicably go to white actors. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised in a climate where a national mortgage lender like Wells Fargo is still discriminating against people of color (This week’s news announced heavy fines for the bank.). Maybe the Oregon Shakespeare Festival people should be running the nation’s banking system!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A GOOD HAIR DAY By Beverly Creasey


Wrapping your hair in toilet paper when you sleep so you won’t ruin your do? Really? The outrageous women of Robert Harling’s STEEL MAGNOLIAS swear by it. Director Nancy Curran Willis’ smart version of the beauty parlor play runs through July 28th at the Next Door Center for the Arts in Winchester. Set your curls and your GPS. It’s worth the visit.

The wacky customers of Truvy’s salon don’t just have appointments. They have a field day gabbing and plotting and gossiping. Miss Truvy (a spunky Jackie Coco) loves “anyone with a past”---which is what she gets when Sarajane Mullins’ naive, dorky Annelle arrives, desperately needing refuge. Beth Gotha and Margaret McCarty provide the over the top comedy and Amelia Broome and Melissa Marie Walker deliver the tragedy.

I’ve seen STEEL MAGNOLIAS about a dozen times, including two this year alone. Theater companies choose the piece because it’s entertaining but more importantly it gives actresses of a certain age the chance to cut loose in juicy roles. How often do you see a script for six women? Mind you, it’s not Shakespeare but it is sweet and funny (in a silly, loopy vein) and it can be sentimental and moving. Thanks to a lovely performance by Amelia Broome as Walker’s distraught mother, you’ll have a lump in your throat despite yourself.

Set designer Brian Milauskas’ attention to detail is remarkable. Most productions simply mock up a beauty parlor but Milauskas paid attention to the text, specifically “the breezeway” mention. We can see where Truvy’s husband converted it into a salon. Kudos, as well, for Annelle’s hilarious curler and rod Christmas decorations which twinkle in Erik Fox’s lighting…for Bob Pascucci’s clever sound effects… and especially, to Magda Aliberti for her authentic ‘80s costumes, culminating in Broome’s red Christmas theme sweater and Annelle’s “handmade poinsettia earrings.”

Monday, July 16, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW HELLO, BIRDIE! By Beverly Creasey

Anita Gilette (30 Rock, Moonstruck) positively devours the role of the overpowering smother-mother in Reagle Music Theatre’s delightful BYE BYE BIRDIE (playing through July 22nd). She’ll save her son (Jacob Sherburne) from the stunning Rosie Alvarez (Carman Napier) if it’s the last thing she does. She’ll lie across railroad tracks, stuff her head in an oven (big enough to fit all of her!) and throw herself out with the trash to attract his attention. In other words, the show is hers.

No. Wait a minute. That would be the case if it were not for Carman Napier in the sizzling role of Rose, mother’s lovely nemesis. Napier just graduated from Boston Conservatory and is on her way to NYC…and a surefire career judging from the Broadway caliber performance she gives in BIRDIE. She’s got that star charisma few performers have.

Wait another minute. Shonna Cirone has the hilarious show stopping role of the va va voom secretary/dancer mother has inveigled to hire as a replacement for Rose. She’s only on stage for a few minutes but what an impact. She’s gorgeous and funny and she’s got presence to spare. Director Larry Sousa knows how to pick leading ladies!

Sousa has revamped BIRDIE (lots of extra business begetting extra laughs) and re-choreographed the production numbers (boosting the energy and injecting humor into the dances). From Fosse to American Bandstand, the ensemble hoofing is one of this BIRDIE’s highlights (with ingenious touches like the foot to mouth phones in “The Telephone Hour”).

More praise: Gillian Gordon makes the role of Kim (the girl chosen to kiss Conrad Birdie as he leaves for the army) adorably sweet and the perfect match for Matt Phillips’ wonderfully na├»ve Hugo, poor fellow. He’s no match for the sexy, swivel hipped Elvis look alike Ryan Overberg (as Conrad). And yes. I was a teen when Elvis was drafted. The musical does not exaggerate the brouhaha it caused.

Brad Walters and Linda Lodi are amusingly flustered as Kim’s (“What’s the Matter With Kids Today”) parents and David Carney and company elevate the bar scene with their surprising peek-a-boo quartet. Naree Ketudat is another name to look out for. She plays Birdie’s number one fan with such cockeyed zeal that you can’t take your eyes off her (and she’s still in high school!).

The teens in Sousa’s ensemble all perform like pros and then some: Their enthusiasm on stage is palpable. Kudos, too, to music director Dan Rodriguez and the jazzy 20 piece orchestra (led by Jeffrey P. Leonard).

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Tragic Carnival By Beverly Creasey


The last time I saw CARNIVAL on stage was forty years ago although I’ve seen the delightful film (called LILI) many times since. I couldn’t wait to see Gloucester Stage’s CARNIVAL (playing through July 22nd). The productions I’m familiar with have played up the magical, ethereal spirit in the sweet-natured story of a girl who surrenders her heart to a handful of charming puppets. Director Eric Engel’s production is decidedly darker. Drunks, lechers and rapists populate this traveling circus, as if Brecht had gotten ahold of the script.

The outsize comic relationships which surround Lili (Victoria Thornsbury), specifically the magician and his assistant, aren’t funny anymore. Marco the Magnificent (Daniel Robert Sullivan) is sinister and downright nasty and some of his magic tricks have gone missing, to boot. The Incomparable Rosalie (Shannon Lee Jones) is so jaded she doesn’t even wake up when the roustabouts carry her on stage. What could have been hilarious kvetching about Marco’s roving eye (in Engel’s version, he’s dangerous), turns shrill and annoying.

Everyone sings well. Music Director Todd Gordon has seen to that. Because the puppet Marguerite praises Lili’s high C, they’ve cast a strong singer but we have to see that she believes in the puppets without truly realizing there’s a man (the wonderful Gus Curry) behind the curtain. I couldn’t read her at all.

Curry makes the wounded (in every sense) puppeteer a rounded character. You feel his pain and when he falls in love with Lili, you feel his trepidation, making “Her Face” a gorgeous lament. Engel interprets the line about “cruelty” so completely that by the end of Act II, where I should have felt hope for Lili’s unconditional kindness to cure the puppeteer of his despair, I felt they were doomed to a life of abuse.

Monday, July 2, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Shout Hallelujah! By Beverly Creasey


Hooray for Hollywood! Kathy St. George is doing Judy Garland again. This isn’t the “poor Judy” show you may have heard about. This is the joyous one. This is the show with the spectacular ten minute WIZARD OF OZ reduction. I laughed so hard that tears spilled down my face. Once is not enough for this mini- romp. I have to see it again.

DEAR MISS GARLAND (playing at Stoneham Theatre through July 22nd) is St. George’s love letter to her idol (co-written and directed by Scott Edmiston). Act I traces Garland’s early years in vaudeville and films and Act II places St. George on a stool in front of an orchestra led by consummate music director Jim Rice. They’re tight. She’s where she belongs.

How often do you get to hear those glorious songs the way you could back in the day, with a full orchestra? Yes, she sounds like Garland and she sure looks like Garland when she tilts her head back or curls inward before she expands her arms and voice in triumph---but St. George captures the emotion. That’s what makes the show work. St. George has the pipes and the savvy to make “The Man That Got Away” break your heart in two. That’s what unites her and Garland, that ability to make you feel every lyric, as if “Over the Rainbow” had been written just for you.