Saturday, July 16, 2011

InDepenDent Sketches from Chekhov By Beverly Creasey

For their last production, the InDepenDent Drama Society presents Chekhov, by way of Neil Simon in THE GOOD DOCTOR (playing through July 23rd) The American master of comedy turned his eye on Chekhov’s early comic sketches for his eight part tribute to the playwright/doctor who famously said all his plays were comedies!

A few mispronounced Russian names aside, the InDepenDent folks are on target, giving the mini-dramas just the right 19th century stylization. Director Christine Toohey creates a robust Russian feel for the stories, many of which are set in winter. Pity the brave actors who sally forth under layer upon layer of vests, corsets, petticoats, bustles, overcoats and military uniforms in the sweltering heat of the tiny Factory Theater space. (Note to playgoers: Bring frozen bottles of water to cool your neck and slake your thirst as they thaw because it’s hot as hell in the audience, too.)

Bob Mussett as The Writer serves as our affable host, commentator and narrator. Simon has him address us as if he were Chekhov, despairing that people find his work “clever and charming” and little more (a charge leveled frequently at Simon). Mussett is suave and “charming” (Sorry!) and immensely amusing as the unifying element that holds the stories together.

The sketches vary in tenor, from physical comedy to political satire to psychological intrigue. My favorite is the ingenious tale of the “seducer of other men’s wives.” Zach Eisenstat is nothing short of brilliant as the cocksure Don Juan, methodically setting his cap for the exquisitely elegant Sarah Gazdowicz. He is certain that she will hurl herself at his feet but will she? Gazdowicz is equally impressive, slowly succumbing to the flattery repeated by, of all people, her husband (Chris Larson), completely unaware that he is the unwitting go-between. THE SEDUCTION is marvelously “clever” (Sorry, again) and deftly executed with a lovely surprise to boot.

THE SNEEZE is vintage Chekhov (with a little Gogol thrown in). Brian Tuttle is marvelously smarmy as the toady who can’t leave well enough alone. Melissa DeJesus and Kate Daley make THE GOVERNESS resonate chills and Mark Estano masters the pratfall in A DEFENSELESS CREATURE, with Victoria Townsend as his pursuer. Chris Anton and Mark Estano, likewise give merry chase in SURGERY.

In the spirit of THE GOOD DOCTOR, I offer an alternate ending. A cold front hits New England and the rest of the summer cools to a comfortable 72 degrees. IF ONLY.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

QUICK TAKE REVIEW: A Very Merry Go ROUND By Beverly Creasey

It’s hot. You’re not up for Shakespeare. How about some hilarious hi-jinks and the best songs Kander and Ebb ever wrote? New Rep’s delightful musical revue of songs from Cabaret, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Chicago and more is called THE WORLD GOES ‘ROUND and it’s running through July 31st.

Director/choreographer Ilyse Robbins gets maximum comic effect from songs like the fabulously naughty “Arthur in the Afternoon.” Dynamo Shannon Lee Jones proffers a girl’s best “secret to happiness” while the dashing De’Lon Grant reveals some outrageous, muscular musical timing. Jones then knocks “All That Jazz” out of the ballpark and Grant shows his vulnerable side with the Spider Woman’s “Kiss.”

Speaking of comic gold, chanteuse Aimee Doherty reveals her considerably talented funny bone in the ensemble romp, “Coffee in a Cardboard Cup” and “Class” with Leigh Barrett. Then she turns the tables on “How Lucky can You Get.” Barrett can do it all and she breaks your heart big time in “Colored Lights” and again in “My Coloring Book.”

David Costa, too, can bring a tear to your eye in his sad sack “Mr. Cellophane,” then get lots of laughs with his delicious “Sara Lee.”…not to mention the laughter Robbins gets from the staging. Her clever choreography and Todd Gordon’s musical direction make this revue much more than mere cabaret. It’s the best of both worlds: You can see your favorite numbers from lots of Kander and Ebb shows and all in one magical evening.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


The Reagle Music Theatre specializes in historically informed performances of classic American musicals like their OKLAHOMA (running through July 17th). Thanks to legendary choreographer Gemze DeLappe (who performed in many of Rogers and Hammerstein’s original productions) Reagle audiences can witness Agnes DeMille’s groundbreaking choreography.

DeMille and Rogers and Hammerstein transformed musical theater by introducing ballet to express a character’s inner thoughts. In her OKLAHOMA dreamscape, the heroine dances a nightmare reverie in which her worst fears are realized. Rie Ogura and Joshua Andino Nieto (as the dream Laurey and Curly) make the Reagle’s production soar. Director Holly-Anne Ruggiero is fortunate, as well, to have Eliza Xenakis and Stephen Mark Lukas as the singing/acting Laurey and Curly. Both give lively, heartfelt performances.

Ellen Peterson as Aunt Eller brings a spunky, pioneer spirit to the central role of everyone’s confidante/touchstone. Doug Jabara supplies the chills (and a wonderful baritone) as the villain. Steve Geary is hilarious as the cowboy who keeps losing his intended (Maggie McNeil) and Todd Yard adds mirth as the peddler who can’t seem to get rid of her.

Act I is a bit long and the stilted, gestural language of the choreography may seem dated to today’s audiences but patience will be rewarded in Act II with not one, but two big production numbers for the cast of fifty. “Territory Folks” is a show stopping hoedown and the title song, “Oklahoma” brings down the house.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Skyrocketing RENT at the BCA By Beverly Creasey

Director David Bloom and Dream Out Loud Productions have a hit on their hands. Putting Jonathan Larson’s RENT (running through July 9th) into the Plaza space at the BCA was a brilliant idea. I’ve never felt it really worked in the huge Broadway houses. Bloom concentrates the action around one small set and it pays off. You pay close attention to the songs because you’re not looking all over to see who’s singing from the rafters (and thanks to Joshua Finstein’s deft music direction, you can make out the lyrics). Bloom and company focus on the story and his cast tells it beautifully.

RENT is my generation’s HAIR – except there’s no draft to dodge, no war to protest in RENT. Larson’s “tribal rock musical” has characters with AIDS but no outrage. Larson chose to keep the stories (and the tragedy) personal. The only politics in RENT revolve around homelessness but that thread unravels in the fray. RENT’s great strength lies in Larson’s depiction of human relationships.

The young Dream Out Loud actor/singers inhabit their bohemian characters seamlessly. As in Puccini’s LaBoheme (Larson’s inspiration), Ryan Vona and Kelly McIntyre’s characters meet on Christmas eve and fall in love amidst the squalor of a tenement where no one is paying their rent (to Ahmad Maksoud). Their intense duet, ‘Light My Candle” begins their bumpy relationship (Fans of the opera will laugh out loud at what Mimi drops instead of her key!).

But another couple meets that night and it’s their love story that sets the Dream Out Loud production ablaze. Matt Romero as Angel and Michael Levesque as Collins make this RENT soar. Their version of “I’ll Cover You” (Larson’s homage to Puccini’s “Coat Song”) will break your heart and their story will move you to tears.

Matthew Phillipps and Hayley Travers tear up the joint with a hilarious “Tango: Maureen.” Travers and Ashley Korolewski deliver a fiery “Take Me or Leave Me” and the entire company rocks the heck out of “La Vie Boheme.”

Monday, July 4, 2011

QUICK TAKE REVIEW: Most Impressive FELLA By Beverly Creasey

The theater season is always full of surprises – which is what keeps it alive and fresh. And Gloucester Stage is where to go this summer for one of those happy surprises. It’s Frank Loesser’s rarely performed THE MOST HAPPY FELLA (playing through July 17th). It walks like a musical and talks like a musical but it sings like an opera and Gloucester has the voices to pull it off.

Love letters figure center stage in FELLA and just like Cyrano, the author conceals his identity in order to woo fair lady. The similarities end there. Loesser’s story (based on the Sidney Howard theater- and movie script, THEY KNEW WHAT THEY WANTED) plays out as a clash of old and new world values when an immigrant grape grower struggles for his share of happiness.

The Gloucester production plays it two ways at once, as a concert performance (complete with music stands and faux scores) and as a fully staged musical (with choreography and slides of scenery as backdrops). It’s a small quibble, but I could have done without the music stands. I didn’t even mind two keyboards standing in for an orchestra. As soon as you hear the gorgeous singing, you forget all about it.

Director Eric Engel and music director Michael V. Joseph have a couple of knock-your-socks-off performers in Drew Pulver as Tony, the gentleman farmer and in Timothy John Smith as Joe, his foreman and unintended rival. As in grand opera, it’s the arias which give the singers their personality and you simply can’t do better than Pulver’s idealistic, dreamy songs about imagined happiness or Smith’s seductive paean to the beckoning, wandering wind.

Jennifer Ellis is lovely as the object of Tony’s dreams and Kerry Dowling and Bob DeVivo make the comic relief hilarious, especially when DeVivo’s Herman inexplicably finds a fist at the end of his pacifist wrist. Gloucester has a veritable bounty of top Boston performers in the cast: From Eric Hamel to John King to Dawn Tucker, this is an abundant (as in the “Abondanza” celebration in the barn), fully rounded production, one not to be missed.