Wednesday, December 7, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Captivating, Urgent FIDDLER

New Repertory Theatre’s FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (extended through Jan 11th) is not the same FIDDLER you may remember from years ago. Director Austin Pendleton adds lovely symbolic touches to the “traditional” staging for timely effect. For one, the fiddler isn’t on the actual roof (generally visible at the start and the end of the musical), he’s omnipresentin Tevye’s imagination, perhapsor ours. He follows the milkman around and once, even nudges him to look toward the heavens. He constantly reminds us of Tevye’s opening words about the difficulty of keeping one’s balance in changing timessomething we’re about to experience politically and very personally in our own country.

 Pendleton gets even more resonance from the storyline as we watch a whole community becoming refugees, dispersing in all directions. Tevye’s family stands in for every Jewish family in Anatevka just as the open set (designed by Stephen Dobay) stands in for the whole village. (It’s framed high above by adjoining rooftops out of which grow leafless, wintering trees reminiscent of THE CHERRY ORCHARD.) The musical itself is so beautifully rendered, (book by Joseph Stein; songs by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick) that the residents of Anatevka stand in for any persecuted people and Tevye’s strained relationship with his daughters reflects any child’s struggle to separate from a previous generation.

The New Rep production features Jeremiah Kissel as a longsuffering Tevye, a little more prone to depression than some, with Amelia Broome plenty feisty as his wife, Golde. Bobbie Steinbach, too, makes Yente, the matchmaker pretty cagey. The daughters are all delightful with each completely different from the other. Of the suitors, Patrick Varner as Motel, the tailor stands out for his joyous transformation from mouse to lion. Kelli Edwards’ choreography is effervescent, with the requisite thrill from the bottle dance. Music director Wade Russo gets wonderful singing all around, with an exquisitely moving “Sabbath Prayer” one of the many reasons to see New Rep’s striking, rewarding production.

Monday, December 5, 2016


Mash-ups from Heart & Dagger Productions are always a hoot: Cross dressing performers skewer popular musicals without mercy, so I assumed they would be sending up SWEENEY TODD with the usual suspects. Not so! SWEENEYwhich, alas, ends this weekendis their first legit musical with a professional orchestra AND they put it all together for a song. When you don’t have a lot of money to throw at a project, you rely heavily on invention and imagination. You don’t need bells and whistles. (Well, you do need that bone chilling whistle, I grant you that.)

Mind you, Heart & Dagger still has a few tricks up their collective sleeves (like an actress playing the bloodthirsty Sweeney). The story is well told, extremely well sung and the toddler swing set (with slide), it turns out, is all you need to set up a barber shop. Just to be clear, Kiki Samko doesn’t make Sweeney female. She sports a male costume, fluffy sideburns like the caricature on the Broadway playbill, and she’s lowered her voice an octave (which is mighty hard on the tonsils). Even though I knew from the press release that it was Samko, it took me a few seconds to wrap my mind around the absolutely male character in front of me. It was she, almost completely unrecognizable.

Director Joey C. Pelletier is fortunate to have singers with wide ranging capabilities, like James Sims who can carry off the high soprano role (Johanna) as well as the tenor part (Anthony) and this being Heart & Dagger, they have him sing both, sharing the gender bending with Meghan Edge since Johanna and Anthony have a bunch of duets. Wigs are the big indicator in this production.

Music Director Michael Amaral has a modest five piece ensemble (and a nifty kettle drum which does double duty when Mrs. Lovett rolls out her piecrust on it) sounding like a whole orchestra. Best of all, H&D has Melissa Barker as the purveyor of “the worst pies in London.” I’m still amazed that they pulled off one of Sondheim’s most difficult and dissonant musicals with sheer will and an abundance of talent.

When you do have the money for a lavish musical like MAME, (playing @ Stoneham Theatre through Dec. 23rd), you can afford to throw a dozen Equity performers at it. Director/choreographer Ilyse Robbins has rounded up a passel of Boston’s best character actors to punch up the creaky Jerry Herman musical: We’re supposed to be scandalized when an innocent child is handed over to his boozy, bohemian aunt. And we’re supposed to be shocked when the boy’s nanny throws caution to the wind and winds up pregnant, (gasp) out of wedlock but it’s pretty hard to shock an audience nowadays, when marihuana has been legalized for recreational use.

What makes Stoneham’s MAME tick despite the dated story, are the familiar songs (Kathy St. George as Mame and Mary Callanan as Vera sing the heck out of “Bosom Buddies” and St. George delivers a lovely “If He Walked into My Life”) AND the familiar stock characters, chiefly Ceit Zweil as the frumpy nanny and Margaret Ann Brady as the ferocious, prospective mother-in-law. Will McGarrahan, especially, adds warmth to the production as the Southern gent smitten by St. George.

Robbins and music director Matthew Stern get fine work, too, from Cameron Levesque as the little boy who comes to live with and love his Auntie Mame. Having seen the ten year old give stellar performances in several musicals of late, I can say without reserve that he’s an actor who’s going places. As they say, children and animals always steal any scene they’re in so I have to mention a little fox who manages to escape the hunt and wag his tail as the humans set about to ride to the hounds. (I haven’t been so amused by a fox since THE RULING CLASS!)

Monday, November 28, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey A La Mia Lista

Moonbox Theater puts its heart where its art is: With each new production, Moonbox finds a community non-profit to partner with. This holiday season it’s a food bank called FOOD FOR FREE, reclaiming food from restaurants etc which might otherwise be discarded ( There are but a handful of arts organizations truly committed to making a difference in the world by reaching out beyond performance and Moonbox is top of the list. (Hub Theatre also comes to mind for its all performances-pay-what-you-can program to make theater accessible to everyone. I’m sure there are others. I hope there are others.)

Moonbox, you may recall, produced last year’s THE WILD PARTY, certainly the most exciting musical of the season. They’re always on my list of companies who can deliver solid, well made theater… so here’s my dilemma. AMADEUS is not, despite a tour de force from Matthew Zahnzinger as Antonio Salieri. Even though AMADEUS is named for Mozart, Peter Shaffer’s exacting play is centered on his celebrated rival.

The play is entirely Salieri’s: He’s obsessed with the “boy-genius” whose father paraded him across Europe and who now could threaten Salieri’s reign as court composer. When Salieri realizes he is no longer “God’s chosen composer” and this man-child Mozart is, he sets about to ruin him. What’s more, he feels betrayed by God and declares war on the almighty!

Zahnzinger’s physical performance is impeccable, seamlessly moving from an invalided quavering of aging voice and body to a flourishing and robust middle age. And Zahnzinger’s emotional performance shifts from thriving confidence to crumbling corrosion in a breathtaking transformation. Director Allison Olivia Choate and music director Dan Rodriguez create a heart-stopping moment to illustrate the damage Salieri has caused: At the very moment he crushes a page of Mozart’s gorgeous Requiem in his fist, the music stops cold.

The role of Mozart isn’t an easy one. The historical facts are that Mozart’s childhood was stolen when his father exploited his children to enrich his own fortune and fame. Mozart grew into a merry prankster, with a penchant for scatological humor (as evinced in his fond, naughty letters to his sister) and scant knowledge of how to survive on his own without his father.

Shaffer makes his Mozart brash and completely unconcerned with proper social behavior, so much so that Salieri is scandalized that the most sublime music in the universe could emanate from this unruly, irritating creature. Whoever portrays Mozart must convey a lot more than rudeness and silliness. He must portray Mozart’s warmth and vulnerability. Otherwise why would Constanze (Caroline Keeler in a lovely, spunky performance) give him the time of day! Alas, Cody Sloan’s Mozart is one note.

Shaffer was never finished with the play, writing several endings. Alas, Moonbox has chosen the longest and least effective dramatically (in my opinion). It distresses me no end to be writing this, knowing how much work Moonbox put into this production: gorgeous costumes (David Lucey), sensational wigs (Peter Mill) and most importantly, smart direction which allows an audience on three sides to see and hear clearly. (Sightlines are a tricky business. I can think of at least three shows this year when I couldn’t hear from where I was seated.)

Alas, although it’s an inspired idea to use historically informed instruments for the soundtrack, they come through sounding garbled and muted some of the time. When Shaffer wanted those bone chilling chords from DON GIOVANNI to scare the heck out of us, he didn’t envision two emasculated chords which land practically without impact.

Alas, although the program “beg[s] our indulgence” if some of the French or Italian is amissand I must say the conversational French and Italian both sounded excellent to methere’s a glaring mispronunciation of an Italian opera which set my teeth on edge. Since the play is about composers of opera, I would think correct titles would be paramount.

If you can overlook my list of complaints, and this really is just my opinion, you will be amazed by Zahnzinger’s stellar performance.

Friday, November 25, 2016

CD REVIEW: AMERICAN PLACES Musical Travels New Release from American Music Recordings Collection American Music Rediscovering AMERICA with Margaret Ulmer By Beverly Creasey

 One of the pleasures of a new concert season is hearing Margaret Ulmer play ragtime. It’s not just feeling the rhythmand you do start to swayUlmer’s hands seem to be dancing. That’s the jazz component of rag: You can’t help but move with the music, and ragtime is Ulmer’s beat. In fact, she was instrumental in creating a program for American Classics called One Hundred Years of TREEMOMNISHA to commemorate Scott Joplin’s groundbreaking ragtime opera.

You can hear Ulmer and her infectious ragtime on a new CD called AMERICAN PLACES (Musical Travels) recorded for American Music Preservation. The CD not only celebrates ragtime but a wide swath of historical, distinctly American material from a Cape Cod sea chantey to the cowboy laments of the California territories… with composers from Edward MacDowell whose reverent, painterly New England Memories evoke a solitary country walk, to Roger Lee Hall’s remarkably inventive, surprisingly impressionistic Seven Variations (on a Shaker Marching Tune) which bring Debussy to mind.

Ulmer is joined on the recording by bass-baritone Eric Sosman for gems like their exquisitely mournful Shenandoah and an odd, amusing theatrical composition by E.T. Paull, which takes the form of a musical dramatization of Sheridan’s “heroic” Civil War ride to the battlefield. The Descriptive March Gallop is narrated directly over the music, with hilarious, redundant commentary like “Bugle sounding” over the sound of a bugle and then over the pianissimo bugle call, “Bugle in the distance.”  I can’t help but recall what critic Richard Dyer opined about an effusive Russian concert: “Dogs would weep.”

Ulmer can make a tune like Yankee Doodle Dandy (Benjamin Carr’s 1804 Rondo version) sound like pure Mozart embellishment. She can make John Philip Sousa’s very last patriotic march, Hands Across the Sea, sound like a duet for four hands as the thrilling music tears up and down the keyboard! She fuses two versions of Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair, transforming it with chilling, sorrowful chords into a dark, despairing memento.

The CD visits the Missouri Valley, specifically St. Louis, for a sweet two-step rag by an itinerant, blind pianist named Charles Hunter… and of course Ulmer is in her element in a playful, jaunty Cake Walk by Scott Joplin and his student, Arthur Marshall. And she honors female composers with a majestic funeral march dedicated to the memory of Abraham Lincoln by Mrs. E. A. Parkhurst, (as the sly CD commentary tells us) “of parlour song, temperance and spiritualist fame.”

The recording is full of treasures: folk arrangements by Ruth Crawford Seeger, compositions by Steven Foster and Paul Bowles and achingly sad settings for the familiar western songs, Streets of Laredo and Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie.

In her CD notes, Ulmer quotes Alan Lomax from his prodigious Folk Songs of North America: “The map sings.” I’ll add that in Ulmer’s AMERICAN PLACES, the piano sings.   

Monday, November 21, 2016


When you see a lot of theater, for the most part it’s hit or missbut this past week it was downright thrilling: Two companies delivered flawless productions, one here in town and the other in Rhode Island. Alas, the R.I. show closes Nov. 20th but the Huntington production runs through Dec. 11th.

The Huntington’s BEDROOM FARCE is… what else can one say… pure perfection top to bottom. Director Maria Aitken’s staging for Alan Ayckbourn’s delicious comedic four-part disharmony is spot on. Speaking of spots, there’s even lighting laughter (from Matthew Richards) when one of the three bedrooms on Alexander Dodge’s set is momentarily inactive. It’s lit for a nanosecond, then hastily departs for more prolific terrain.

Ayckbourn has intentionally avoided the traditional bedroom conventions: No one is getting any sleep in these three bedchambers. What they do get are endless invasions by unwanted guests. Never has physical comedy been so sublime, especially in the hands of Nael Nacer, as the impatient husband whose only desire is to immobilize his bad back in bed and read. You know that book will go AWOL and he will have to maneuver a painful inch at a time to retrieve it. And you know that someone will arrive to ruin his repose.

It’s the great stuff of an Ayckbourn script. If you haven’t seen one of his plays, don’t miss this chance. If you have, you will delight in the magnitude of the mirth Aitken and company have uncovered in this Ayckbourn treasure.

Ocean State Theatre Company’s riveting production of John Patrick Shanley’s DOUBT (A Parable) aims for the solar plexus and it delivers: There’s a popular priest and an exacting nun and a school full of children she wants to properly educate. But there’s a suspicion she has about this priest and that’s Shanley’s brilliant play in toto. He isn’t going to tell you who’s in the right or who is wronged. You will have to decide for yourself.

I’ve seen one version of DOUBT where the sister was an out and out monster and I was convinced the young priest was her victim. I saw another version where I was certain he was a molester, all with the same script. Aimee Turner’s production for Ocean State adds an element I hadn’t seen before. This Father Flynn is an older priest and he towers over the nuns physically, tipping the scales dramatically.

Shanley supplies the given hurdles for Sister Aloysius: A hierarchy prevents her from going to the Bishop with her concerns. She must proceed through channels and Father Flynn outranks her. Turner supplies another. Donna Sorbello’s Sister Aloysius is dwarfed by Greg London’s Father Flynn. And he’s not only more powerful in physique, London makes him a powerful presence… and a spellbinding speaker. His sermons are mesmerizing. You clearly see why he’s so well liked. (Unfortunately we don’t come to the theater without our prejudices and it’s the older pedophile priests who are in the news and in the movies so London has an uphill battle to convince us that Father Flynn singled out a child solely to protect him from being bullied.)

Sorbello in a tour de force makes Sister Aloysius a formidable match for the priest, plotting to “outshine the fox in cleverness.” Sorbello’s nun speaks in a commanding low voice that demands obedience…and scares the devil out of her young charge, Sister James. Caitlin Davies as the sweet James unwittingly sets the plot in motion when she gives Sister Aloysius a reason (and ammunition) to take on the priest. Lovely Hoffman supplies the play’s surprise when, as the mother of the boy in question, she comes to the table with her own priorities. Hoffman makes the mother’s position understandable, something I’ve always had difficulty swallowing in other productions. Kudos to Ocean State for a gripping and gorgeous (an exquisite set by Erik D. Diaz) presentation of Shanley’s compelling play.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

SHAKE-TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey All The World’s His Stage

Everyone, it seems, is celebrating Shakespeare, this being the 400th anniversary of the Stratford man’s death. (Even Oxfordians are getting props as part of the Boston Public Library’s thrilling panorama.) The BPL is showing historical films, hosting myriad performances and for the very first time, exhibiting the exceedingly rare Thomas Barton collection of precious First, Second, Third and Fourth Folios as well as the infamous will and testament (the one that mentions his “second best bed” and no manuscripts!). Their “Shakespeare Unauthorized” Exhibit will run through March of 2017. All free and open to the public!

In an increasingly bookless age, the BPL is offering a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the Bard’s world and his legacy first hand. You’ll see the many versions of his plays and many mentions of them in books by his contemporaries. Then you can place the work in topographical context in the library’s map gallery, where an exhibit highlights the locales of the plays, almost half of them in Italy. You can peruse authentic 16th century depictions of the globe as Elizabethan mapmakers imagined it.

Local companies like Actors’ Shakespeare Project, Bridge Rep, Company One and Boston Lyric Opera are contributing classes, lectures and performances. Esteemed playwright Ken Ludwig will visit Boston in May to speak about introducing Shakespeare to children, having won the Falstaff Award for best Shakespeare Book of 2014 about instilling a love of Shakespeare in the very young. In addition to the central exhibits, Shakespeare performances will travel to the BPL Branches: Celebrated Walt Whitman lecturer/impersonator, Stephen Collins, turns his attention to the characters in Shakespeare and takes his moveable feast from BPL Central to the West End, North End, Dorchester and W. Roxbury branches, among others, from October through March.

You can explore the birds mentioned in Shakespeare and those you will find here in Boston, or you can learn about the influence of classical literature on Shakespeare’s writings: Many of his plots were lifted in toto from Italian and Greek texts! You can enjoy Shakespeare’s sonnets and soliloquiesand you even can hear Shakespeare translated into hip hop! Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the BPL’s exhibit is the exploration of the debate over what Shakespeare actually wrote… and who really wrote the most treasured canon in Western literature.

NOTHING IS TRUER THAN TRUTH is Cheryl Eagan-Donovan’s film (screened last week at the BPL) about Edward de Vere, the Seventeenth Earl of Oxford, a favorite at Queen Elizabeth’s court, versed in the law, medicine, Greek and Latin, who traveled to Italy and beyond, learning about commedia dell’ arte and collecting the experiences which are told in the Shakespeare plays. Renowned Shakespeare scholars in the film, including Sir Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance, present a preponderance of evidence to link Oxford (known to Elizabethans for his pseudonym, “Shake-speare”) to the works.

Donovan’s film mentions, among other evidence, that deVere’s Geneva Bible has his own notes in the margins indicating verses he would use in his plays. His travels took him to Titian’s salon where he saw the master’s first rendering of the painting, Venus and Adonis, inspiring him to write about it, in detail, including features which disappear in Titian’s final version. The man from Stratford, who never traveled outside of England, could not have known about the painting’s early features.

Computer analysis, unavailable to early Oxfordians like Emerson, Whitman, Twain and Freud, can now make the case that the Earl of Oxford is the true author. Because of the strides in Shakespeare research, more and more books and films are chronicling the life of deVere. Who would have imagined the excitement that now surrounds the work four hundred years later!

Of all the performances swirling around the 400th anniversary, perhaps the most unexpected so far, and the most fun by far, was last weekend’s SHAKESPEARE IN SONG, presented by American Classics. You might think they’d be performing songs from the Elizabethan era, did you not know that American Classics is devoted to the American Songbook… So with Shakespeare as inspiration, they embraced WEST SIDE STORY (of course) and KISS ME, KATE (to be sure) but also THE BOYS FROM SYRACUSE and an obscure little show called GRAB ME A GONDOLA (Who knew?).

Highlights were Eric Bronner’s breathy, breathtaking “Maria” and Ben Sears’ melancholy, heartbreaking “So in Love am I” (with Brad Conner’s gorgeous phrasing underneath). Caroline Musica waltzed through “I Feel Pretty” and Cynthia Mork and Sears delivered the exquisite “One Hand, One Heart.” Mork’s lovely, ethereal “Somewhere” was lifted by Carol Epple’s lilting flute and Elizabeth Connors’ supple clarinet. And it wouldn’t have been right to neglect those adorable thugs from New York. As the lyrics insist, we were indeed “wowed” when they sang “Brush Up Your Shakespeare!”

Monday, November 7, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey No Man Is An Island

Reasons to seek out Hub Theatre’s lovely production of Margaret Edson’s WIT (playing through Nov. 19th): First, Liz Adams’s astounding performance as the fearless professor ambushed by terminal cancer. Adams always gives her all to a role (her magnificent performance in DOG ACT comes to mind) but she delves so deep into the imposing professor’s psyche that her anguish is palpable to everyone in the room.

The next reason: Hub offers pay-what-you-can tickets for every performance. The Hub folks are committed to presenting theater that matters and is accessible to everyone. And they’ve been doing it successfully since 2013. WIT won the 1999 Pulitzer and just about every other critical award for its raw intensity and its stunning universality. (Don’t we all know someone with cancer?)

Professor Vivian Bearing is an expert on the works of John Donne, specializing on the Holy Sonnets. Donne scholarship is her life’s work, examining every nuance in every line of poetry, down to every choice of punctuation. How ironic that she has made herself into an island: Parents dead, no children, no friends to rely on now that she is out of her depth.

She still has her acerbic wit and her fierce intelligence but they’re no match for this foeand they don’t impress her doctors, one of whom (Tim Hoover) was her student years before. It’s not that they’re callous. They see her as a biological being, whose data may contribute to cancer research. Come to think of it, a lot of them are callous. Only one of her caretakers isn’t: Lauren Elias as the professor’s sweet, compassionate nurse gives Bearing (and us) welcome respite from the protracted suffering.

Robert Bonotto commands the stage as the formidable chief of surgery, surrounded by quaking, intimidated interns. But as Bearing’s father, in a brief, immensely touching scene, he shares a tenderhearted moment with his five year old daughter, teaching her a new word. (And now we understand her love for language and literature.)

Director John Geoffrion gets stellar work from the entire ensemble of techs, orderlies, etc., especially Dayenne C.B. Walters as the teacher who mentored Bearing early on.

Don’t miss this play!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Hard Freeze

Underground Railway Theater’s WHEN JANUARY FEELS LIKE SUMMER (Running through Nov. 13th) starts out like gangbusters. I couldn’t help but think of the two teenagers in the movie CRASH, so sure of themselves, so delighted with the possibilities the world offers them that questionable behavior just seems like a lark to them. (It’s not their fault: Teenaged brains aren’t fully developed so they can’t see very far ahead of their actions.)

Seth Hill and Marc Pierre are the best things in JANUARY. Were it not for their antics, Cori Thomas’ play would have nowhere to engage the “global” problem, which is what Hill’s hilarious character calls global warming. The two are typical teenage boys, chasing skirts and sharing dubious information about what females likeand what type of female is worth liking. Both Hill and Pierre are gifted physical comedians, with Hill contorting his face as he tries so diligently “to comprehend the magnitude of the situation.” They’re always slightly misinformed, but so sincere, that they’re utterly charming. Director Benny Sato Ambush mines oodles of humor from their scenes. In fact, once they exit, we can’t wait for them to return.

JANUARY is billed as a romantic comedy but the weight of the subject matter, in my opinion, keeps it too tightly grounded for out and out comedy. Two operations figure in the story. One has left a husband on life support and the other hasn’t happened as yet. The anticipation of the latter procedure fuels one of the two romances. The other is sweeter and simpler: A customer of an Indian grocery has fallen for the proprietress (a gentle soul who can’t face turning off the aforementioned life support). David J. Curtis and Sanaa Kazi perfectly capture the elation/embarrassment quotient in a budding relationship where each shares their hopes and pasts.

The problem I have is with the seriousness of the second romance. Mesma Belsare’s character implores Ganesha, the highest Hindu deity (who famously removes obstacles) for help with a rather significant deception. Belsare’s Indira is twenty-seven and savvy in the ways of the world. As savvy as Hill’s teenager is, he’s still a teenager and mighty gullible, falling hook, line and sinker for the deceit. The play ends with the two couples headed for their various bedrooms but I kept thinking of THE CRYING GAME.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Making Friends With The Truth

THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS (@ SpeakEasy Stage, extended through Nov. 26th) is one of Kander & Ebb’s last musicals together, Fred Ebb having died in 2004. THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS received 12 Tony nominations but that didn’t keep it from closing. You see, it’s a scathing indictment of our American past, when nine innocent Black teens were accused and convicted of rape in 1931. If that reminds you of something, it’s probably the five innocent Black and Latino teens accused and convicted of the “Central Park rape” in 1989, who were eventually freed and completely absolved of any involvementonly to be accused again by Donald Trump in 2016, as an example of our pressing need for his racist brand of “Law and Order.”

People don’t much like revisiting instances of racial injustice. It makes them uncomfortable or outright horrified to be reminded that people will go along with atrocity and not speak up, which is the searing point of Kander and Ebb’s brilliant CABARET. Just like the sardonic emcee in CABARET, THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS has a menacing “Interlocutor” (Russell Garrett as the racist “master of ceremonies”) to introduce the vaudeville numbers and reinforce the spurious stereotypes.

David Thompson’s Tony winning book for the musical sets the action in a minstrel show about dubious “Dixie Justice.” Two comic “endmen,” (Maurice E. Parent and Brandon G. Green) trade jokes and play various villains, like the bowlegged white sheriff who arrests the nine and the corrupt Southern judge who locks them away. Two of the defendants (Darrell Morris, Jr. and Isaiah Reynolds) also play their accusers, two white prostitutes who, to avoid arrest, claim they were raped by the Black men. While their exaggerated portrayals are genuinely funny, the situation is anything but. It’s a difficult balance that director Paul Daigneault and company navigate perfectly.

De’Lon Grant gives a powerful, standout performance as the righteous defendant who, unlike the others, will not accept a plea bargain (“Make Friends With The Truth”) to get out of prison. The actual Scottsboro nine were tried and retried many times, the case(s) reaching the Supreme Court with little redress. Not until three years ago, long after their deaths, were the nine officially exonerated by the state of Alabama.

This being a musical, we’re treated to some stunning footwork designed by Ilyse Robbins (after Susan Stroman’s original choreography) and some stellar show-stopping, mainly from Grant (“Commencing in Chattanooga”) and from Reynolds (“Never Too Late”), but that said, music director Matthew Stern gets wonderful singing from the whole ensemble. You won’t leave humming any of the songs but you won’t forget them. Bravo SpeakEasy, for rescuing another important workand giving us the chance here in Boston to see THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Bliss and Bliss-ability

Having seen the successful Ang Lee film and at least a half dozen stage versions of Jane Austin’s SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, I can proclaim unabashedly that the Maiden Phoenix incarnation (playing through Oct. 30th) is the most delightful yet.

The ability to instill bliss in an audience is possessed by only a few companies I can think of. (At the moment Imaginary Beasts and Boston Lyric Opera come to mind.) It’s no surprise then, to find the Beasts thoroughly enmeshed in this production, adding their signature “enhanced” theatricality to the romantic adventures of the highly impressionable Dashwood sisters.

Kate Hamill’s spirited adaptation is directed by IB’s associate honcho, Michael Underhill, which means: Gossip will run rampant for our entertainment. Misunderstandings will flourish for our pleasure. Dinner dialogue will frolic so rapidly, all we can do is luxuriate in the chaos. Inspired silliness fills every nook and cranny of Hibernian Hall: Up on the raised stage for hilarious dining diversion, down on the floor for utterly charming travel in bumpy, improvised carriages. Old fogies will stutter; Shy lovers will stammer and crowds will smother.

Assistant director Kiki Samko invents a delectable reel, where giddy dancers shake and stumble through their paces, bumping fannies as they weave their way to the top of the line. Deirdre Benson’s sound design, in no small way, adds to the joy. (A cello, at one point, cannot contain its laughter.) No stone is unturned in pursuit of our happiness… which is not to say that gender politics is neglected in the Maiden Phoenix adaptation. We’re keenly aware that alliances at the time were forged for money, not love, because laws governing inheritance dictated a male inheritor (a practice only now being debated in England around the inheritance of the crown).

And the performances: Sublime all around. Samko’s dithering ancient, Cameron Cronin’s blustering old men, Anna Waldron’s sweet, longsuffering eldest sister, Sarah Mass as the curious youngest Dashwood sister, Erin Eva Butcher as the susceptible dreamer of the brood, Elizabeth Addison as their patient mother, William Schuller’s dashing cad, Dan Prior’s endearing slow starter, Marge Dunn as his disapproving sister, Underhill as his inheriting brother and Cameron Beaty Gosselin as the solid, gallant colonel. Sense and nonsense have never coexisted so seamlessly.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016


Revisiting Viet Nam is not pleasant for those of us it directly affected. Friends and classmates killed. Innocents slaughtered. Wild profits for Dow Chemical. PTSD and Agent Orange for the survivors. Loss in every sense of the word.

Eisenhower warned about the Military Industrial Complex but no one listened. Martin Luther King railed against the war. Protesters marched, sat in, and stood up against the killing. Presidents turned a deaf ear. Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon chatted over coffee about the numbers of soldiers they considered expendable that week.

Defense secretary Robert McNamara issued an apology of sorts a couple of years ago, saying he “had been wrong about Viet Nam,” too late for sixty thousand dead Americans and incalculable dead Vietnamese. So here we are again because of an unlikely play by Livian Yeh.

MEMORIAL (@ Boston Playwrights’ Theatre through Oct. 23rd) is Yeh’s play about Maya Lin, the young architectural student whose plans were chosen in 1981 for a memorial to the soldiers lost in Viet Nam. I remember being elated that the winner was only twenty-one, a woman and Asian-American, to boot. The women’s movement was losing momentum so this was a coup.

Unfortunately not everyone thought so. We learn from Yeh’s play that Lin faced opposition at every turn. Congress blocked construction. The military balked at the lack of statuary in her sleek, minimalist design. Even her mother gave her a hard time. Yeh’s script concentrates on these obstacles in expository vignettes where a composite character stands in for and represents a whole institution, like the tightly wound colonel (John Kool) who speaks for the military and the kindly architect (Dale J. Young) who speaks for the selection committee.

I wish the playwright had made us privy to Lin’s inner life. By straining the mother/daughter relationship, Yeh forfeits the opportunity to show us what Lin (Amy Ward) really feels. Just like the colonel, the mother is reduced to a stereotype, cemented with a lengthy tea ceremony. There goes the chance for Lin to confide in someone. It’s a pity we don’t see her other life, apart from this defining, and dramatically limiting, event. Still, this is a developmental script, which may change as it has more productions.

Kudos to director Kelly Galvin and sound designer Oliver Seagle for the omnipresent stonecutter soundscape: The echo of marble yielding under the pressure of a chisel is expressly haunting and evocative of Lin’s struggle to see her vision manifested.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Ghost in the MACHINE

Theater companies have to be especially innovative these days because performance spaces have become scarce and smaller companies often cannot afford the ones that are rentable. Hence the now popular “home invasion.” No, robbery has nothing to do with it. In fact, these companies are welcomed with open arms.

Theatre On Fire, for one, is taking Meghan Brown’s delightfully creepy (in the complimentary sense) THE GYPSY MACHINE to homes in neighborhoods from Allston-Brighton to Davis Square. (TOF has only one week of performances left: To find out where, go to their website:

THE GYPSY MACHINE is a nifty little paranormal thriller like the scripts Rod Serling used to write for THE TWILIGHT ZONE. This ghastly, ghostly tale keeps you on your toes as it shifts your perception from scene to scene. Just when you think you know who’s evil, you begin to doubt yourself, just like the characters do.

We meet a young couple (Clare Tassinari and Grant Terzakis) in search of answers around an unusual missing person (Gigi Watson) case. They, in turn, meet a mysterious stranger (Casey Preston) with inexplicable knowledge about their lives. I can’t divulge much more for fear of spoiling the spooky surprises in the taut TOF production.

Darren Evans directs the four character piece with an eye for maximum chill as well as an ear for an amusing turn of phrase. The acting is first rate, naturalistic enough for us to believe, with heightened realism in the quirky nooks and crannies, to deliver the requisite shivers.

Sam Baltrusis, the author of several books on Massachusetts hauntings, says that although New Englanders are a skeptical lot, 90 % of us believe in ghosts. Even if you scoff, TOF’s THE GYPSY MACHINE is a well oiled contraption definitely worth the ride.

Friday, October 14, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Amoral Truth?

I can see the appeal of staging CP Taylor’s GOOD (@ New Rep through Oct. 30th) right now. Alas, the comparison of our election campaigning to the rhetoric of Nazi Germany’s rise isn’t that far fetched. Mr. Trump’s supporters say he doesn’t really mean the racist ideas he spouts: It’s just to attract the conservative base. In GOOD, a Jewish character reassures himself that “they’ll drop the Jewish persecution once they have the vote.” Of course we don’t know what Trump really believes but we do know what the Nazis wrought on six million Jews after they got the vote.

GOOD’s protagonist, a university professor (Michael Kaye), tells the audience that music always seems to accompany “the dramatic moments” in his life. In truth, the moments are far more dramatic to the people he’s watching or disappointing or condemning to death by his inaction. He rationalizes book-burning because “learning by living” could be a better method of teaching. He rationalizes euthanasia as an end to the suffering of those who have no “quality of life.” He turns a deaf ear to an old friend (Tim Spears) who needs help getting out of Germany, dismissing him because he has too many “worries” of his own to see to.

His lyrical “addictions” (bits of pop songs, Beethoven, Bach, Wagner and more, which play in his brain) keep interrupting the flow of the play. Sometimes they’re staged as vaudeville with histrionics from a mock Hitler. But this breaking the fourth wall and distracting us with irresistible music serves mainly as a distancing effect (beloved of Berthold Brecht to keep an audience on its intellectual toes).

The talented cast of ten deliver Sigmund Romberg’s drinking song in gorgeous, four part harmony. Certainly we can appreciate the professor’s musical obsessions. Director Jim Petosa’s staging for New Rep is inventive and the diversions amusing but the interruptions keep the emotional impact of impending horror at arm’s length. For example, the actors cleverly create a fiery conflagration with their fingers flickering like flames licking at the burning books but we concentrate on the masterly stagecraft, like the cast morphing into the circling, mechanical figures on the famous Munich clock tower.

I’m afraid I think any hope of landing a searing, emotional reaction to the play is lost in a large space like New Rep’s main stage. (Perhaps it might work better in a more intimate setting.) What does work is the intellectual punch, reminding us that “good” citizens can be corrupted and convinced to go along with obscene semantics like the professor espouses at the end of the play: “The objective moral truth eliminates the subjective… It’s not good or bad…[It’s] just the way it is,” as if morality can be debated. Chilling words, indeed.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Keeping COMPANY Alive

I’ve seen COMPANY a good many times and it always seemed, alas, to amount to less than the sum of its parts. The songs and their contexts never came together for me. Mind you, I loved the songs but the stories seemed disconnected. Last night I saw the Lyric Stage’s version of COMPANY (playing through Oct. 9th) and I believed that these vibrant people celebrating Bobby’s birthday really know each other… and are truly connected to each other. And now I see that there’s a plot! And a very sad ending, to boot. Who knew!

Spiro Veloudos did. His production has the characters always watching, sharing, despairing over Bobby’s meandering, anchorless life. Now Sondheim’s songs are lovely and funny and sardonic… and they have a trajectory! The Lyric cast delivers the momentum and sings the heck out of them (under Catherine Stornetta’s smart music direction). I noticed the clarinet laughing this time and I even found George Furth’s book delightful! Everyone has a moment or two or three or four.

It’s really not fair to pick one song or one performer over another, except to say, these are my favorites: Erica Spyres’ on the money “I’m Not Getting Married Today” with Teresa Winner Blume’s fabulously over the top, operatic wedding singer; the cheeky vaudeville “Side by Side by Side” (deliciously choreographed by Rachel Bertone); Matthew Zahnzinger’s hilariously awkward proposition to John Ambrosino’s Bobby; Maria LaRossa’s gorgeous, frenetic dance solo; Adrianne Hick’s quirky take on the “dumb blonde” role; Keri Wilson’s karate coup and the goose bump raising, desperate, tragic “Ladies Who Lunch” from Leigh Barrett (paired with Will McGarrahan’s elegant, longsuffering husband).


Wednesday, October 5, 2016


The musical, PRISCILLA QUEEN OF THE DESERT (@ Shubert Theatre through Oct. 9th), is based on the 1994 Australian movie starring Terrence Stamp as an aging transsexual, crossing the outback with two drag queens in a rickety, old school bus. Like the musical does, the film depended on the glitz of the wild drag costumes (and they snagged the film an Oscar!).

The very best thing about PRISCILLA (the musical) is the rock ’n roll. Where scenes in the movie were punctuated by ABBA, the musical is built on the characters delivering (and sometimes reinterpreting) a wide variety of pop songs from the ’70s and ’80’s. Three “Supremes” (Tamala Baldwin, Onyie Nwachukwu and Lindsay Roberts) even function as a Motown version of a Greek chorus.

And the costumes! Never mind the aesthetics of Stacy Stephens’ extravagant creations for Fiddlehead, the sheer volume of costumes is mind blowing. Two dozen characters parade about in at least a dozen costumes each, changing in mere secondswhich means stage manager Alycia Marucci and crew have their hands full getting everyone on and off stage with military precision.

Back to the delicious music of my misspent youth: (I just did the math; that would be my misspent middle age). Who wouldn’t groove out to the Weather Girls or Tina Turner or Cyndi Lauper or Gloria Gaynor or Richard Harris (!), the latter providing the best laugh of the silly, often hilarious, more often than not naughty book (by Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott).

Andrew Giordano portrays the drag queen who sets the road trip into motion (Don’t think Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, please.) to see the child he fathered, one presumes, while dazed and confused. Giordano and Cameron Levesque, as the six year old wise beyond belief, tug on our willing heart strings, weakened no doubt by the heart pulsing disco beat of the score.

The show belongs to Larry Daggett as the girlish, older, lip syncing transsexual who finds love anew (Bob Knapp) when the bus blows a head gasket in the desert. Daggett has the love story we care about, albeit any storyline is welcome in this truthfully plotless vehicle. By the by, Brian Ruggaber’s vehicle is itself a star, packed to the gills with boas and sequins.

Arthur Cuadros’ vigorous choreography has the dancers flipping and flouncing across the stage in 6-inch platform kinky boots, with Matthew Tiberi (as the third member of the road trip), leading the talented corps in the ballet-boogie woogie. When Tiberi and the Supremes sing “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” you’ll want to sing along… but don’t. Just relish the fun.

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey FALL RIVER Revelation

Everything I knew about Lizzie Borden I had learned either from the whacky jingle (“Lizzie Borden took an axe…”) or the Agnes DeMille  balletbut now that I’ve been to Imaginary Beasts’ THE FALL RIVER AXE MURDERS (@ BCA through Oct. 22nd), I know Lizzie’s (extremely sympathetic) side of the story. British novelist Angela Carter’s luminous short stories have served as the jumping off point for other Imaginary Beasts productions. Like her Vampire stories were, this one proves to be the perfect armature for the Beasts’ imaginative brand of theatrics.

The Beasts, under Matthew Woods’ dexterous direction, often duplicate roles in a story, exchange roles with puppets or integrate narration and repetition into the action of a piece… all of which amplifies the material and causes it to resonate in the brain. Their spoken and gestural language marries dance, song, sound and ritual to metaphor, working in a way that is unique only to them. If you haven’t experienced an IB production, you’re missing what theater can become, beyond the traditional form.

Carter’s sumptuous storytelling illuminates the facts in glorious detail like the monks illuminated ancient manuscripts with color and filigree. Her vivid descriptions cut through mere words like a knife. Take the self-righteous “gentlemen” of the era who “garrote[d] themselves with neckties” equating virtue with discomfort; Her Lizzie is a prisoner of a time when women, even women of privilege, “belonged” to men, as possessions to be displayed and controlled, corseted and blanketed in layers of clothing to cover and keep their bodies hidden, one presumes from other men.

The scene is set for murder: A humid, “combustible day” in August, a father who cruelly deprived his daughter of her beloved birds, a stepmother who could never replace Lizzie’s own, and the deep, soul numbing realization that she could never escape her life. The performers unwind the thread of fate, tangling it about her, sending her downward on the thinnest of tightropes, surrounding her ears with the relentless, buzzing wings of a fly… despairing and depriving her of hope, perhaps even of sanity.

Six remarkable women people the play as the many Lizzie multiples/narrators, as Victorian ladies, ghosts, flies, father, servants, stepmother, even death. They work so seamlessly that when they switch a role, it’s impeccably designated, always expertly defined. Kamelia Aly is the portrait keeper; Catherine Luciani is the Victorian companion; Kaitee Tredway is the Master Puppeteer (although they all manipulate the various puppets); Melissa Barker is the voice of Mrs. Russell; Joy Campbell is the fly; Cari Keebaugh is the voice of Lizzie. Most importantly, even as they share the role of Lizzie, they emote as one.

Cotton Talbot-Minkin’s stark, exaggerated costumes evoke stifling emotionality, as does Christopher Bocchiaro’s shadowy lighting and Sam Beebe’s eerie sound design. Woods, Beth Owens and Jill Rogati share puppet design with Luciani, Treadway and Sarah Gazdowicz in the puppet shadow play. What sets IB apart is the ensemble work which is so integrated in the DNA of the piece that separating out the individual components seems a disservice to their creativity. Suffice it to say, you will not find better ensemble performance anywhere.

Monday, September 26, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Death Becomes Her

Sarah J. Mann’s quirky SHE LOOKS GOOD IN BLACK (produced by Exiled Theatre @ BPT through Oct. 2nd) throws a number of clever curves at the audience while masquerading as outrageous comedy… or is it comic tragedy? Mann’s off kilter take on the concept of grief work is refreshing. This particular widow (Cailin Doran) is distraught but not particularly over the death of her husband. She likes wearing slinky, tight, black spandex.

Doran makes her a woman aching for approval (with a smidgeon of vulnerability), craving to be desired by everyone, by anyone, including the gravedigger who has just interred her husband’s body. He turns out to be a Zen master/philosopher/grief counselor (and something much much more grave). Alexander Rankine gives a memorable performance as her curious, extremely spooky mentor.

Mann doesn’t just jumble together a collection of oddballs. Her characters have inner lives, granted mostly of desperation, but their torment shapes the playand makes us think seriously about sufferingeven as we’re laughing at the bizarre trajectory of the play (which I cannot divulge). The dialogue is witty and Mann’s ideas are delightfully, disturbingly eccentric. Director James Wilkinson keeps the unconventional material remarkably lighthearted.

John Kinde delivers the one pensive, sobering monologue of the piece in flashback for the day of their wedding. Then we’re quickly returned to the widow’s pursuit of some sort of release. As entertaining as I thought the dialogue was, I missed a good portion of it, when actors dropped their voices at the end of a phrase or when they turned toward a fellow actor. I wish I could have heard it all.

Monday, September 19, 2016

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey SIGNIFICANT Performance

Joshua Harmon’s SIGNIFICANT OTHER is an actor’s dream. The quirky play (@ SpeakEasy Stage through Oct. 8th) has it all: an unusual number of dicey monologues which can make or break an actor; optimum face time; and the play comes with a rep: Harmon takes it to Broadway after the SpeakEasy run, sadly with another cast.

Greg Maraio should be going. His tour de force, as the gay everyman who just wants to get married and have kids, is the main reason to see the production. His misadventures fill the play with hilarious disasters, like the overwrought e-mail he should never, never have sent (which turns out to be one of the best physical bits in the show). His “wallowing and spiraling” is the stuff of classic comedy. Maraio turns out to be a master of the soliloquy (one of which is wordless!) as well, but as funny as he is, he makes us care for this hapless romantic.

Harmon gives him three best friends, all female, all of whom (unintentionally, of course) will neglect him when they find someone and get married. (Why Harmon doesn’t give him male friends is a mystery to me. He lives in New York City for heaven sakes. There must be a zillion gay bars and I know there are a zillion theaters, but I digress.)

Back to the play: Maraio gets to be plenty serious as well, pouring out his heartand his resentmentto one of the deserters at her bachelorette party. Jordan Clark gives as good as she gets in a nifty, angry monologue/response.

Director Paul Daigneault gets strong comic performances from the rest of the cast, too, from Sarah Elizabeth Bedard and Kris Sidberry (as his BFFs), from Kathy St. George as his wise Jewish grandma, and especially from Eddie Shields, superb in three different roles, with charisma to spare. When you triple roles, each has to be distinct. (Alas, the other triple performer seemed the same each time). Shields is a bona fide chameleon but anyone who saw SpeakEasy’s Casa Valentina last season knows that. He’s an asset to any production.