Monday, February 28, 2011

Turtle Lane’s Got the Goods! By Beverly Creasey

Remember the ads for Richard Kiley’s last tour of MAN OF LA MANCHA? “This is your last chance” sounded pretty compelling…and we all went. Thank goodness. Well, I’ve got another “last chance” you mustn’t ignore. This is the last time you can see Steven Michael Key reprise his show stopping turn in THE FULL MONTY. He’s retiring the role at the end of the Turtle Lane run (March 20th)…which is where he first played it by the way, in 2006. He’s nothing short of spectacular (and the rest of the strippers are pretty darn good, too).

If you haven’t seen the musical before (or the cheeky film which inspired it) I should warn you that stripping is integral to the plot. A couple of out-of-work machinists who can’t find a job anywhere decide to do something about it. They see women spending a “girls’ night out” and a fair amount of cash at Chippendale’s so why not get a bunch of their buddies together and put on a show! They may not be as buff as the Chippers but they’re boffo and they’ve got moxie.

Director James Tallach gets hilarious performances with this motley crew of misfits, from Key’s mashed potato/hully gully/frug dancing dynamo to James Fitzpatrick’s bumbling wall flower to Robert Klimeczko’s frenetic wall crasher. There’s a sweet story, too, behind the strip line. James Casey’s character gets to “man up” for his son (Andrew Cekala) and Timothy Lawton’s depressed couch potato gets to impress his wife (Brittany Rolfs) and get back in the game. Lawton has one of the sweetest songs in the show, a duet with Bill Toll, dedicated to their wives (Rolfs and Tracy Nygard). Fitzpatrick gets to show off his impressive range in the gorgeous “You Walk With Me” (duet with Klimeczko) but it’s Key’s naughty “Every Woman Loves A Big Black Man” which brings down the house.

Erik Diaz’ corrugated set is the perfect backdrop for the labor intensive script and Donald Gregorio’s chair slamming/testosterone raising choreography hits all the right notes. Even the women (in Richard Itczak’s finery) look good. Nygard struts her stuff in the sassy “Life with Harold” number but it’s the men who take over center stage in this show. Sorry, Ladies.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Is there any form of puppetry more delicate and graceful than Indonesian shadow figures, with their elegant outlines and intricate silhouettes? Now imagine the SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE version of same and you have a little idea of the madness of the NEW EXHIBITION ROOM show integrating “storytime” and puppets (playing at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre thru Feb.26th).

Does it sound like a children’s show? It isn’t…except it is. Several children in my audience just gave themselves over to the silliness and enjoyed it for silliness’ sake without absorbing the outrageous allusions (to pop rock, feminism and anarchy).

If you think there’s nothing new under the sun, wait ‘til you see a baby zombie morph from a shadow puppet to a hand puppet (both incarnations quite delightful), navigate the MBTA and partake in a poetry slam. The puppetry is wildly imaginative and amazingly dexterous.

After baby zombie’s adventures, we meet a princess who learns to trust her own capabilities. “The Paper Bag Princess” utilizes humans as well as brown bag puppets to hilarious effect… but Mac Young’s paper set pieces steal the show. His giant pop up books inspire awe and his folded library stacks are a marvel of large scale origami.

The wonderfully shameless humor is delivered absolutely deadpan. You’ll shake your head but dissolve into giggles nevertheless at the fire breathing dragon (Joseph Mirrella) who singes a princess (Hannah Husband in a fabulous gown/cloud of dust and debris by Cara Pacifico), who enlists the help of a minstrel (Chuong Pham) and falls for a goofy librarian (Alejandro Simoes in a dual role). What’s not to love? Who wouldn’t welcome an off-the-wall experience which ends in homemade cookies for everyone? Best of all, the NEW EXHIBITION ROOM has cured me of my forty year puppophobia!

HEARTS AND MINDS By Beverly Creasey

What a clever idea for a Valentine’s Day cabaret, especially in these cynical times: GET OVER IT! explores the flower-less, loveless side of the holiday with humor and style. Who needs candy and roses when you can hear cheeky songs like He Ain’t Mr. Right or Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover – and nosh on yummy cornbread at Ryles Jazz Club.

Pamela Enders and Wayne Fritsche celebrated “the Martyrdom of St. Valentine” with a mix of traditional and pop songs under the musical direction of Doug Hammer. Enders sailed through the comic material with just the right touch of flirty innuendo. With gorgeous low notes and an ethereal top range, she is as at home with heartbreak (like Irving Berlin’s ironic You Can Have Him) as she is with musical theater numbers like So What? and Mein Herr (from CABARET). Her defiant Mein Herr brought down the house.

Fritsche, too, knows his way around musical theatre, having performed in shows like FIDDLER ON THE ROOF and OLIVER. His voice is as big as his towering stature, which he spoofed in I Enjoy Being a Girl from FLOWER DRUM SONG and used to advantage in the duet with Enders in the all out Enough Is Enough.

The godfather of Boston cabaret, John O’Neil, did the introductions and John Baboian and Steve Chaggaris joined Hammer for the snazzy accompaniment. As Edna St. Vincent Millay famously wrote, “Forget the epitaph. Take up the song!”

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Ask any gardener. Working the earth is good for the soul. Health professionals promise that digging and planting will lower your blood pressure. Philosophers and novelists have touted the healing power of nature for centuries. Candide chose gardening for his “best of all possible worlds” and Frances Hodgson Burnett made a garden the centerpiece of her children’s novel, THE SECRET GARDEN.

Burnett’s stories were wildly successful in the late 19th and early 20th century. Popular films of the ‘30s and ‘40s renewed interest in her work but most people these days recognize THE SECRET GARDEN because of the Broadway musical. Jane Staab and Susan Kosoff have revisited the novel and fashioned a new musical from the source material. Their SECRET GARDEN (at Wheelock Family Theatre through February 7th) simplifies the tangled plot of the Broadway version, restores the core of Burnett’s story and makes the songs themselves part of the narrative.

The musical opens with Mary Lenox’s arrival at lonely Misselthwaite Manor and her immediate impression of the place: “No, I Don’t Like It.” The catchy tune (which I’ve been humming since) sums up the whole plot, simply and effortlessly. She doesn’t want to be in England under her uncle’s care and he doesn’t much like the idea either. Only the maid seems happy to interact with the girl.

With little amusement for Mary at the edge of the forbidding moor, she follows the grumpy gardener about. Mary befriends the unfriendly man and with a robin as her only playmate, she decides to plant her very own garden. (NOTE: Don’t hurry out for refreshments at intermission until you witness Mary’s garden miraculously bloom before your eyes. It’s one of the “secret” surprises in Matthew Lazure’s grand Victorian set.)

Kosoff’s smart book and clever lyrics (like the amusing notion and play of time in “Let’s Do It Now”) and Jonathan Goldberg’s gorgeous orchestrations of Staab’s lovely music lift their GARDEN head and shoulders above the gloomier Broadway version, in my opinion. It’s a whole lot more enjoyable for children: The two in my party, ages five and seven (ordinarily a hard sell) sat glued to their seats, waiting for the story to unfold.

The relationships Mary forges give the story its redemptive spirit. Kosoff, as director as well as writer, gets fine performances from everyone. Katherine Leigh Doherty (fresh from her Broadway appearance with Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC!) makes Mary a force to be reckoned with. She wins over the crusty gardener (Neil Gustafson) and soon they’re inspiring each other (“Tha’ an’ Me Are Alike” is cheeky and charming).

Jennifer Beth Glick radiates kindness as the maid whose affection for her young charge is unconditional. Jacqui Parker as the severest of housekeepers and Russell Garrett as the distant, depressed uncle even manage to soften under Mary’s indomitable influence. Andrew Barbato lights up the stage as the country boy who talks to animals and knows their secrets. Ellis Gage gets lots of laughs as Mary’s sickly cousin whose temper tantrums she simply will not abide. (Composer Jane Staab even has a wee cameo as the tyrannical boy’s nurse.) And if that’s not enough to entertain us, the country boy brings on an adorable lop-eared rabbit which draws plenty of oohs and ahs from the audience.

THE SECRET GARDEN reveals its metaphors on the technical side of the production, too. Stacey Stephens creates soft, supple garb for the country folk and stiff, starched Victorian garb for the housekeeper and her employer. Franklin Meissner, Jr. gives the secret garden its very own light and the cold manor house, its lack thereof. Don’t miss Wheelock’s delightful promise of spring.