Sunday, March 25, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Love Me and/or Leave Me By Beverly Creasey

I became a John Kolvenbach fan after seeing the magnificent Orfeo production of LOVE SONG last year. His quirky narratives keep your guessing all the way through and oddball surprises keep you in stitches. Now Merrimack Rep is giving MRS. WHITNEY a lovely whirl (playing through April 8th). Kolvenbach’s sardonic little comedy follows an elegant divorcee “of a certain age” (the gorgeous, sophisticated Dierdre Madigan) as she abandons her quiet, orderly, but boring life in search of her first love, ostensibly, she says, “to confirm his uselessness.”

We learn pretty quickly that he’s no prize. Wife #5 (the wonderfully wacky Rebecca Harris) advises that “he gets better after you’ve left him.” He himself (the charismatic Dennis Parlato) cops to being “broken:” A whiff of conflict and he’s out the door. BUT he’s plenty charming and worst of all, his admissions are totally disarming. Poor Mrs. Whitney: Can she resist? Can her next door neighbor (the offbeat but earnest Joel Colodner) accept her rash new plans when for years he’s been carrying a torch for her? What about her ex’s son (a spunky Jay Ben Markson): Can he risk yet another mother attachment?

And what about her daughter, to my mind MRS. WHITNEY’s only flaw: She’s gone after one mention in the first scene. Wouldn’t you think Mrs. Whitney would tell him about her? Never mind, Kolvenbach gets great mileage from unexpected entrances and abrupt exits and his clever dialogue keeps you entertained. Endless twists keep you laughing. How often do you encounter a refreshing script that can do all that?

Friday, March 23, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Normal is just a Setting on your Washing Machine By Beverly Creasey

SpeakEasy Stage has just extended its highly successful run of the Tony and Pulitzer Prize winning musical about mental illness called NEXT TO NORMAL (through April 15th). Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s pop rock musical about bipolar disease has humor in abundance, thank heaven. If it didn’t, the relentless onslaught of failed treatment modes and family heartache would be intolerable.

What’s truly remarkable about NEXT TO NORMAL is the deep anguish (experienced by the characters) which reaches across the proscenium, right into our stomachs. The poor mother (flawlessly sung by Kerry A. Dowling) lurches from pillar to post to find help for her endless despair and we can feel it. The overwhelmed father (Christopher Chew) and daughter (Sarah Drake) can’t cope with mother’s swing from deep depression to impulsive mania and our hearts go out to them, even break for them, their portrayals are so beautifully drawn. Were it not for the cheeky, irreverent songs (like “A Few of my Favorite Pills” and “My Psychopharmacologist and I”) and offbeat secondary characters, NEXT TO NORMAL would be too painful to enjoy.

In Britain they call shrinks “trick cyclists” because that’s what the French word for psychiatrist (pronounced puh-sick-ee-a-trick) sounds like. It connotes even more skullduggery than our term “shrink” does. It seems quite apt in NEXT TO NORMAL since the two doctors, magnificently portrayed by Chris Caron, each have an abundance of tricks up their sleeve. Each’s introduction scene is simply delicious. The cures are definitely not, returning the tone of the piece to sorrow and suffering.

 Everyone, from Michael Tacconi’s needy grown-up baby to Michael Levesque’s quirky, “perfect” boyfriend, adds immeasurably to director Paul Daigneault and music director Nicholas James Connell’s compelling, disturbing portrait of an American family. Only the artificially “happy” ending seemed to me to be out of place. (Mother sets herself “free” by going to live with her parents, which is presumably where her illness started in the first place! How can this be a good choice? But that’s just my opinion, for what it’s worth.)

Monday, March 19, 2012


So you’re heading to Boston because that’s where the flashy shows are, right? Not always. Sometimes a little company like Turtle Lane gets it together to produce a dazzling production of a classic like WEST SIDE STORY (playing in Newton through April 1st).

Think WEST SIDE STORY is dated? Think again. The Arthur Laurents/Bernstein/Sondheim masterpiece confronts gang violence head on. (Granted police had only a million gang bangers to deal with in the 1950s). WSS also tackles immigrant issues (NYC in the ‘50s was home to more Puerto Ricans than San Juan). A Polish-American member of the Jets accuses the Puerto Ricans of taking away jobs from “real” Americans: “The PRs are the reason my old man’s gone bust,” he asserts. And Laurents et al put gun violence on trial with Maria’s indictment of our American culture of hate. (Turtle Lane director Julia Fiske hits that point home with a clever “spotlight” message for the final moment of the musical.)

Even more compelling reasons to see the vibrant, high energy production at Turtle Lane Playhouse are the leads. Both Matt Torrance (Tony) and Aliana Fragoso (Maria) starred in critically acclaimed productions last season: Torrance in Metro’s BATBOY and Fragoso in F.U.D.G.E.’s SPRING AWAKENING. It’s a thrill to see talented up and comers and it’s rare to feel that chemistry between Tony and Maria. Talk about charisma! Ianthe Marini, too, electrifies the stage as Anita. Music director Daniel Rodriguez gets stellar singing from the entire cast and lifts the exquisite score to the stratosphere.

Did I mention the stunning choreography? Rachel Bertone captures the high flying, turf grabbing exuberance of Jerome Robbins’ original “gang” choreography then takes your breath away with the fantasy (Somewhere) ballet featuring the lovely Johanna Recko and the gorgeous vocals of Allsun O’Malley. Do not miss out!

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Stephen Sondheim lures us INTO THE WOODS with glorious rhyme and sardonic sensibilities. Familiar fairy tales are deconstructed and brilliantly reconfigured by James Lapine, to the tune of Sondheim’s most haunting music.
Director Brian Milauskas scores a delicious hit with his cheeky, fresh look at the material for the Next Door Arts Center (playing through March 24th). This WOODS fan was delighted by wildly imaginative touches like an elegant, martini sipping Noel Coward narrator (the hilarious James Tallach), a rapper witch with a mad Norma Desmond stare (the formidable Maryann Zschau) and a frenzy of manic feather duster birds who communicate in semaphore!
From Milkauskas’ book strewn, toppled marble smash up of a set to SaraJane Mullins’ delightfully syncopated choreography, this WOODS has tricks galore up its sleeve—not to mention the top notch performances which make it pop. Kendall Hodder and Angela Richardson as the Baker and his Wife deliver wonderful tongue in cheek portrayals which can turn on a dime and melt your heart away.
Ashley Korolewski is one of the best Cinderellas I’ve encountered and Mullins gives Little Red just enough brattiness to make us sympathetic to the wolf (Ronny Pompeo in long blonde lupine tresses). My favorite duets belong to the vapid princes—and Pompeo and Kevin Parise do not disappoint. Music director Brett Hinkel gets solid singing all around. Don’t miss this one.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Classic All Singin’ All Talkin’ Baseball By Beverly Creasey

What comes to mind when you think of Boston? World class music? The Red Sox? What if you combined the music and the grand slams? A nation that loves baseball has memorialized the game in song since the 1800s.From Take Me out to the Ball Game to Where have you gone Joe DiMagio, we’ve celebrated the national pastime in song. No so for football…Not hockey….Not basketball…Not even golf!

Just about a month from today, Fenway Park will turn 100 years old. American Classics had the inspired idea to plan a concert called FABULOUS FENWAY around the event – and they had the genius to call the poet laureate of the Red Sox, Dick Flavin, to join them.

You may remember Flavin from his days as resident wag on WBZ-TV or you may know that his play about Tip O’Neill won the Independent Reviewers nod for best new play. With countless broadcasting awards and accolades for his witty “Round Table” writing, Flavin shows off his wry style – and considerable comic chops acting it out – in his paean to Ted Williams (based on the famous Casey at the Bat, now called Teddy at the Bat. He winds up, twisting his body into a whirlwind. He calls the batters out with flailing arms. He echoes the crowd. He’s a one man band!

Flavin’s rewrite of Charlie on the MBA lampooning last year’s team is a palpable hit. He sends up the fried chicken- and-beer-in-the-dugout mentality and slays them with the naughty lyric “Did they finish the race? No, they fell on their face. At floppin’ they were tops. The revoltin’ news is the bums were losers. The 2011 Red Sox.”

If that weren’t enough, American Classics serenades the new coach with the nostalgic oldie Stay, Valentine, Stay. Then we are treated to sparkling medleys from 1912 when mayor Honey Fitz threw out the very first pitch at Fenway. American Classics co-founders, Ben Sears and Brad Conner, performed a jaunty Those Were the Days with (of course!) additional lyrics by Flavin and Cynthia Mork lifted a jazzy Blue Skies into the stratosphere. A coquettish Caroline Musica made a corny song like My Little Baby Bumble Bee seem positively profound and Eric Bronner lent his gorgeous tenor to Along Came Ruth.

Flavin debunked the legend that Ruth was traded to the Yankees to finance No, No, Nanette and the ensemble hit one out of the Longy with the hilarious baseball scene from William Finn’s Falsettos. We even got CrackerJax pitched into the audience. And we stood and sang the national anthem! I have to say, American Classics’ FABULOUS FENWAY tribute was more fun than – well – baseball!