Monday, April 28, 2014


At the very end of Company Theatre’s delightful production of THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, the narrator, called “Man in Chair” (played with touching exuberance by Danny Bolton) suggests we start over from the beginning. We should have shouted “Yes!” en masse. The delicious wedding cake of a “musical within a comedy” is so short and yes, sweet, that I would have loved to see it again. Alas, the run is over this weekend.

Bolton and a slew of consummate pros sail through the (Lamber/Morrison/Martin/McKellor) faux, “old fashioned,” practically plot-less musical with panache and exquisite comic timing. Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman’s cast makes fun of those creaky conventions which weighed down the musicals of yesteryear without even one wink to the audience: The secret to a successful send-up is sincerityand a music director like Michael V. Joseph. His orchestra of a dozen or more musicians makes the wacky score pop and his singers deliver the goods.

DROWSY is chock full of wonderful clichés: Andrew Giordano is hilarious as the Latin lover who mistakes the chaperone for the ingénue. Corinne Mason is a force to be reckoned with as the drowsy, martini swilling, aforementioned chaperoneand the happy recipient of the Latin lover mix-up. Juliana Dennis is the ditsy hostess whose poker faced butler (the marvelous A. John Porcaro) repeatedly keeps her abreast of the proceedings.

David Giagrando is the big time producer who does not intend to lose his leading lady (the multi-talented Cat Umano) to groom-to-be Matthew Brendan Ford. Umano juggles, twirls and splits her way through the roof raising “Show Off” number while Ford and his best man (Matt Maggio) tap up a hurricane on their “Cold Feets” (niftily choreographed by Sally Ashton Forrest). As everyone prepares for the wedding, Giagrando keeps the plot moving by hatching his devious plans for sabotage.

Carole Shannon is the quintessential “dumb blonde” who outsmarts the producer and Justin Selig and Paul Brennan III supply the “singing and dancing” gangster element. Evette Anderson swoops in to save the day just when you think that wedding might not happen. With a nod to 42nd STREET, KISS ME KATE, ANYTHING GOES, THE KING AND I and any number of lovely chestnuts, THE DROWSY CHAPERONE is a frothy, retro wake-up call: Who says they don’t make shows nowadays like they used to!


The American Classics folks know how to throw a party. Well, it was disguised as a concert, but for the hundred or so of us at Longy on Sunday, it felt like a party. Their DIZZY FINGERS: Piano Pyrotechnics and Delectable Ditties offering featured dazzling piano rags and hilarious novelty songs from the first half of the 20th century (and one naughty song, by Tom Lehrer, from slightly later).

Brad Conner and Ben Sears are celebrated for their wealth of historical knowledge on the subject of the American Songbook so you always learn something new at their performances: An obscure song by a familiar composer or a bit of ephemera you can pass along to your friends. If that isn’t enough, they’re consummate interpreters of those songs as well.

American Classics co-founder, Margaret Ulmer, is equally knowledgeable in the realm of ragtime so it was especially thrilling to hear (and see those incredible fingers fly with) Felix Arndt’s wildly syncopated “Desecration: A Rag Humoresque” which must be the Mt. Everest of piano rags for its twists and turns, not to mention those perilous crevices! Joining Ulmer in the rag department was Steve Sussman who made Zez Confrey’s “Stumbling” rag seem like the perfect soundtrack for a silent movie…Laurel & Hardy perhaps.

AC’s resident romantic tenor, Eric Bronner, exercised his funny bone with Frank Loesser’s “Rumble, Rumble, Rumble” about a man being driven mad by the pianist “upstairs from me…making a nightmare of some melody.” Cynthia Mork lent her vocals (and a nifty update) to the song long associated with Rosemary Clooney, William Saroyan & Ross Bagdasarian’s “Come On-a My House.” (Who knew Saroyan wrote those lyrics? Sears and Conner, of course.)

Sears introduced us to a wonderfully ditsy song called “When Yuba Plays the Rhumba on the Tuba” by Herman Hupfeld (most famous for CASABLANCA’s “As Time Goes By”). Hupfeld rhymes tuba with Cuba, then shamelessly applies literary license to “knocking ladies for a loop-a” and “funny looking boob-a.” But what makes the song (which Sears and Conner unearthed from the bedrock) is Sears’ duet with Eli Newberger, punctuating those outrageous rhymes on the tuba!

Conner showed off his superb comic timing with the Edwin Weber, Will Mahoney & Jack Hoins gem, “I Love Me (I’m Wild About Myself),” then topped himself in a quirky piece with Zachary Chadwick on piccolo called “Piccolo Pete.” We were even treated to Conner dancing a jazzy gigue to the song. And these are only a few of the astonishing party favors cooked up by the company. See what you missed!

Put November 14 and 16 on your calendars now because American Classics’ next production is Irving Berlin’s first Broadway show, WATCH YOUR STEP. You can’t see it anywhere else!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


If you haven’t been to a Hub Theatre performance, you have no excuse. They’re a savvy, new company whose every show, every performance is pay-what-you-can. They choose unusual scripts and play the heck out of them. Their current production of Richard Greenberg’s smart, brooding THREE DAYS OF RAIN (through April 19th) proves their mettle.

Director Daniel Bourque’s cast makes every piece of Greenberg’s puzzle stand out in relief, every clever quip land precisely where it should. Act I introduces us to the charming misfit son of a famous architect. He’s by his own admission “not a people person” and he tends to disappear when the going gets tough. John Geoffrion makes him just prickly enough for us to see how he might infuriate his sister or his best friend. Yet his “exquisite perversity” endears him to us wholeheartedly.

Act II is thirty-some years earlier, so the responsible sister of the first act (Mary Seeger Mason) now plays her unpredictable, high-strung mother. Tim Hoover, the siblings’ lifelong friend in Act I is now his own father in crisis. For an actor, THREE DAYS OF RAIN is a juicy opportunity to play two quite different, yet related roles. For an audience, it’s the chance to see how it’s done and I’m happy to say Hub Theatre does it elegantly.


STUPID F***ING BIRD, Aaron Posner’s raucous riff on THE SEAGULL, (@ Apollinaire Theatre through April 26th) is especially delightful because we come to it fresh from the Huntington’s straight up version of the original. The two are so similar and yet not. For one thing, Posner has his characters detonating F-Bombs at every turn, as if David Mamet had visited him while he was writing. What makes his “adaptation” so bloody inviting is the permission he gives us to laugh at the pomposity of these self-important, self-deluded aristocrats.

Posner updates the whole rigmarole but he sticks to Chekhov’s plot and uses the same characters (all but one). The difference is that many of Posner’s characters are fully aware of their absurdity and possessing keen powers of observation, they let us in on, even demand we respond to their slant on the proceedings. It’s cheeky, darned clever and although it’s a wild send-up of the original, we’re fully engaged in the story. What’s more, as the travails are unfolding, we can’t wait to see where they’re going even though we think we know what will happen.

Posner supplies lots of surprises, like the musical flourishes (James Sugg’s wonderfully depressing songs) for poor, despairing Masha. (Emily Hecht is gloriously cranky in the role.) Brooks Reeves is hilarious as her hapless pursuer, the man who dreams of ice cream…and a sack of spoons. Director Danielle Fauteux Jacques has a crackerjack cast to make merry: Diego Buscaglia oozes torment as the tortured, “thwarted” playwright/ son of the great actress (Janine Frost in high dudgeon as the queen bee whose drone has been buzzing around another female).

Kevin Cirone swaggers mightily as the famous poet drawn to the impressionable, innocent young thing (Alana Osborn-Lief) while Jack Schultz clothes himself in world weariness as the hybrid uncle/doctor. You’ll be taken by David Reiffel’s ingenious sound design (from ironic snatches of vaudeville ditties to the loud intrusion of a clock), by Julie Dauber’s magnificent, sumptuous costumes for Frost, by Megan F. Kinneen’s dramatic set for the play within the play, but you’ll be amazed (and disturbed and amused and thrilled) by Fauteux-Jacques daring tableau that ends Act II. Don’t miss a moment of Apollinaire’s exceedingly smart STUPID F***KING BIRD.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey The Missing Minstrel

The unvarnished truth (and I am truly sorry to say it) is that THE UNBLEACHED AMERICAN (@ Stoneham Theatre thru April 27th) isn’t yet a fully formed script. Playwright Michael Aman sets out to tell the compelling story of Ernest Hogan, one of America’s leading African-American entertainers in the late 1800s and the first Black man to star in a Broadway show.…but we don’t learn anything of substance about him except that he’s dying of tuberculosis.

If Aman had included a flashback or a memory scene, we could witness Hogan in his prime. As it’s written now, we have to take it on faith that he had the charisma to sell out a Broadway house “for forty weeks.” We only meet the man at the end of his life and he’s not divulging much. Hogan’s historical career is the stuff of legend. Katy Monthei’s evocative set of framed vaudeville performers hints at the wealth of material at Aman’s fingertips. How it all got left out of the script is a mystery to me.

To make matters worse, director Weylin Symes’ production is almost lifeless, with zero chemistry between Hogan and the Irish nurse/maid who’s been hired to look after him. Johnny Lee Davenport appears awfully robust (with hardly a cough or a wheeze) for a man who can’t breathe and hasn’t been eating. Even more puzzling is Laura Latrielle as the nurse. She displays so little affect that we might wrongly assume she’s the consumptive.

In addition, the play has an unfortunate false ending, when Hogan and the nurse perform a comic bit from a minstrel show and take a prolonged bow facing the audience, bent over as if it’s their actual curtain call. Almost everyone applauded at my performance, thinking this was the end of the show. Now I know fully well that developmental scripts usually have bugs to be worked out in successive productions but this iteration just doesn’t do the man any justice at all.

Friday, April 11, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEWS By Beverly Creasey Next Rep’s Two Tours de Force

New Repertory Theatre’s Next Rep Festival features two remarkable one-man shows with little in common except for some joyous dancing, very tall puppet creations, and two disapproving fathers. That may seem like a lot to have in common but their approach and performance styles are wildly different.


Ibrahim Miari’s solo piece, IN BETWEEN (playing through April 20th), begins at the airport where a menacing Israeli security guard has pulled Miari aside because of his Moslem name or his appearance or the tags on his luggage or the contents of his luggage. It doesn’t matter: he’s half Jewish (on his mother’s side) and half Moslem (on his father’s) and destined always to be betwixt and between. He’s not “Arab” enough because he’s an Israeli citizen and not “Israeli” enough because he’s an “Arab,” he ironically jokes.

Miari plays all the roles with aplomb, from the nasty guard to his parents to himself. He moves easily among characters and situations, interweaving material interrupted by another scene or another thought. His impersonations (a rabbi, two grandmothers etc) are delightful and his genial comic approach to a serious matter is utterly charmingwhich is not to say he isn’t making a political statement. We’re well aware of his predicament, and that of a thousand others like him, who are targeted because of their name or their religion.

Aside from his expertise at storytelling, Miari sings and dances and caresses a drum so exquisitely that you wish the music hadn’t stopped so soon. He whirls about and you are swept up in his rapturous abandon.


Teen suicide is an epidemic. Someone’s child kills himself every five hours. James Fluhr offers up this statistic in his redemptive, very personal one man show called OUR LADY (playing through April 27th). Fluhr’s father has rejected him, he tells us, because he’s gay and because the father found photos of him on line, in drag, three years ago. (To be offended by cross dressing in this day and age! For heaven sakes, Milton Berle performed in drag on TV back in the fifties, but I digress.)

Of course, there are parents who, for whatever reason (usually religious), choose not to support their children and in Fluhr’s case, his father made it abundantly clear even when Fluhr was a child that he disapproved. Yet Fluhr holds out the hope that someday his father will attend one of his performances. He saves a seat for him at every show, so strong is their bond.

But Fluhr’s anger is just as strong: He recounts a fairy tale his mother told him as a child to comfort him, about a magical lady who rises from the ashes and triumphs over evil. He’s cast his father as the monster in this tale, taunting victims to self destruct. (The monster has an amplified, cinematic “horror” voice which creates a Grand Guignol feel to the piece.)

 The fairy tale melds with Fluhr’s own life story as he tells us of a true love who killed himself to stop his pain. Fluhr creates moments which stand out in relief, like the image of him dancing and holding, protecting his true love’s lifeless body. Some of his imagery is lovely and some is graphic and disturbing, like the unseen monster forcing a gun into his mouth. Fluhr is certainly a master of imagery: I still remember his thrilling set design, a couple of years ago for an Athol Fugard play. Hundreds of bottles hung from an old house, like jewels to catch and refract the light.

Like Albin in LA CAGE AUX FOLLES and Prior Walter in ANGELS IN AMERICA, Fluhr sits in front of a mirror and transforms himself into a gorgeous woman who will strut about and lip sync (of course!) to Cher’s “Do you believe in Love?” and the Weather Girls’ “It’s Raining Men.” The audience cheers as Fluhr exorcises his demons in swift order. If only those children who committed suicide had theater to save them…or music….or art to ease their suffering. Fluhr proves without a doubt, with his performance, that art possesses the power to heal.

Friday, April 4, 2014


The Imaginary Beasts are such chameleons that whatever theater piece they tackle, you think they were destined for that form. I’m now convinced they’re French. Their delightful, magical, frothy production of Moliere’s (rarely-performed) second verse comedy, LOVERS’ QUARRELS (bouncing through April 19th) is a must see this spring.

Director Matthew Woods’ troupe of comedians (in the classic sense) is second to none. They handle the featherweight verse like jugglers, keeping it aloft even as they are turning somersaults. Richard Wilbur’s glorious translation fits the company’s physicality like hand and glove/or visa versa.

The delicious plot has lovers thinking they’ve been overthrown when they haven’t. Or someone thinks he’s in love with someone and he isn’t. Or rather he is but she’s disguised herself as a man. Hang it all. Plot doesn’t matter a whit. The romping and rousting is what will have you giggling non-stop.

What marvelous performances: William Schuller’s (totally unnecessary) depression is a thing of beauty. He cannot be comforted by logic. He slumps beneath an absurdly funneled hat (by Cotton Talbot-Minkin), aided and abetted by Amy Meyer’s wonderfully droll, likewise misinformed, servant. The objects of their affections are Erin Eva Butcher as a flighty, easily deluded young Lady and Beth Pearson as her highly emotional servant whose face contorts into the most expressive wail you will ever witness.

Bryan Bernfel holds royally forth as a Latin-prattling prelate whose sole purpose is to confound Joey C. Peletier as one of the two paters familias. (Sorry, that Latin bug is infectious, isn’t it?) It works. Peletier suffers magnificently. Melissa Walker is unrecognizable as the other feuding father whose son (a dashing Will Jobs) loves the wrong woman. The right woman (the charming Lynn R. Guerra) contorts herself into pretzels trying to attract the man without giving away her disguise.

Anneke Reich will try to explain all the fine points of the story but it’s Cameron M. Cronin in a tour de force as the son’s much maligned servant, who is Moliere’s mouthpiece: “Love’s an ass,” he tells us, “and he isn’t very smart.” Poor fellow, with the weight of the world on his shoulders (literally), he can’t seem to get out from under. And we profit, as the French would say, from his misery. We profit handsomely.


The Nalaga’at Deaf-Blind Theatre Ensemble’s NOT BY BREAD ALONE (@ Paramount Theatre thru April 6th) allows us, on the outside, a privileged look into a world we can only “assume” about. We assume that permanent silence is bleak, empty, perhaps white noisewhen it’s actually extremely loud. The company plays an audio simulation for us and it’s not at all benign: We’re quite uncomfortable, stressed by the incessant scratchy sound in a matter of seconds. Even our thoughts about blindness are altered. We may think that blindness would make a person tentative, hesitant, and wary of dangerous obstacles but the Israeli performers bravely dance, walk and run fearlessly around the stage.

Some of the performers are blind. Some are deaf and many are both. Vibrations from large drums give them cues for scenes, as well as Israeli sign language and Russian sign language (which is translated into touch signing for many of the actors). Seeing and hearing signers at the side of the stage translate for us and for some of the actors with minimal vision. Setters help some performers hit their marks.

The performance piece opens with all eleven company members seated at a long table. They’re kneading dough into tiny loaves which will be baked while we watch scenes revealing their dreams and ambitions. The title is both metaphor and germ of the piece. These eleven people do not live just to survive. They live to laugh, dance and love, just like us. One of the loveliest parts of the performance (so difficult to pick, so many beautiful vignettes) is each’s chosen recipient for the bread: “I would feed it to orphans” or “I would feed it to a poor, tired old man” or “I would feed it to birds.” At the end of the show, they feed us.

The performance was created by Nagala’at founder Adina Tal and effusively narrated by Itshak Hanina, who is often found stage left at a Braille typewriter. (In addition to his acting, he writes poetry.) A couple of deft vaudevillians, Mark Yaroski (who pays homage to his idol, Charlie Chaplin) and Igor Osherov (a chess champ in his other life) clown around like Laurel and Hardy, with Yaroski madly darting around Osherov to confound him and delight us. Evgenia Shtesky gets to portray a bride in one fantasy and she plays a familiar Russian melody at the piano. Rafael Akoa’s dream is to visit Italy and so he does in NOT BY BREAD ALONE.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


RICH GIRL by Victoria Stewart (@ Lyric Stage through April 26th) is based on the Henry James novel about a shy, dutiful daughter of a controlling father who does not approve of his daughter’s choice in men. Stewart updates it and makes the father a controlling mother. And she makes it funny!

The heiress, Gloria Vanderbilt, famously struggled as a child in a difficult relationship with her litigious family. Newspaper’s in the 1930s called her “the poor little rich girl” when everyone wanted her inheritance but no one wanted her. The heroine of Stewart’s RICH GIRL has the advantage of times being different nowadays …and she has an advocate in her mother’s sympathetic assistant. Unfortunately she has a mother from the l930s who tells the girl that she “ruined” her mother’s life by being born.

Amelia Broome plays the mother with the hard edge of a pragmatist. She’s a financial guru, a la Suzy Ormond, and she’s determined to keep her daughter from “ruining” her own life. The daughter will inherit her financial empire and run the company’s philanthropic foundation so she’ll be easy prey, the mother reasons, for fortune hunters. Of course, the daughter falls for a penniless theater artist.

RICH GIRL is smartly directed by Courtney O’Connor. Sashsa Castroverde, as the daughter who thinks (because mother told her so) that she is unlovable, undergoes a physical and emotional transformation when the power shifts in her direction. We’re on her side when she’s a bundle of frayed and shattered nerves and we’re delighted when she blossoms. But we’re not sure whether or not to root for the suitor with feet of clay (nicely played up the middle by Joe Short). It’s Celeste Oliva, as the trusted assistant, who holds the solution to the conundrum. Her advice is simple and profound and makes the play worth seeing.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


I’m surprised Andrew Lloyd Webber hasn’t written a musical about the legend of Jack the Ripper. With its Victorian sensibilities—and sensationalism, it would seem the natural successor to PHANTOM. Tell Webber not to bother. Steven Bergman and Christopher Michael DiGrazia’s sardonic JACK THE RIPPER: THE WHITECHAPEL MUSICAL (playing through April 12th) brilliantly captures all the grisly details (and then some) of the 1888 London murders. The sweeping musical takes the insatiable press to task for hyping the mayhem just to sell papers. Their ever present cry of “Crime of the Century” is precisely what anchors the musical.

Bergman’s gorgeous music soars over the lurid story with lush melodies and catchy tunes which lodge themselves in your brain. There’s even a vaudeville turn to mock the stymied police inspector (“Smarter than you”). The Bergman/DiGrazia musical touches on the many theories of the Ripper’s identity (that he was a surgeon, even that he was Queen Victoria’s son!) and comes up with one more!

Director Joey DeMita’s dark, brooding production doesn’t stint on the raw aspects of life in the street. We see the prostitutes at work and the crimson gore when the Ripper disembowels his victims. (For my taste, it was a bit too explicit, yet another depiction of women being brutalized. Now that I think about it, the omnipresent, voyeuristic images of women being tortured and killed, which dominate our present day culture, probably got their start in the 19th century London press.)

DeMita and music director Ben Oehikers have a gifted group of singer/actors to tell the tale, with Matt Phillips leading the cast as Jack. You can see it on Phillips’ face, as Jack slowly deteriorates into total madness. The savvy book gives Michael Levesque, as the inspector, demons of his own and Levesque deftly navigates his journey. Kyle W. Carlson, as the earnest doctor, impresses, as do Anne Marie Alvarez, Molly Gervis, Lori L’Italien and Katie Preisig as four of the Ripper’s prey. The musical makes them rich, full characters, not just victims… and can they deliver a ballad!

Hollyann Marshall plays the fifth prostitute with such anguish that we wonder, as the inspector does, what she’s hiding. Kathleen Comber, too, as the disdainful barmaid, gives her character oodles of spirit. Eric Rehm, Jermaine Golden and Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia are front and center and frightening as the headline hungry press.

DeMita also designed the ingenious, deceptively simple, vertical set of softly glowing, over-hanging windows and dim streetlights (eerily designed by P J Strachman) which counterpoint Bergman’s sumptuous music and underscore the haunting, horrific story.