TOMMY ROCKS TURTLE LANE
Turtle Lane Playhouse is about to close its doors this winter. If you want to
know why this is a tragedy, you need only see their passionate production of
TOMMY (playing through Oct. 28th).
TLP has had a
lot of hits and a few misses over the past thirty plus years…but what they have
that few others do is endless heart and an abundance of talent. Their DROWSY
CHAPERONE, for instance, outshone their competition’s production but the
downtown show got all the attention.
Their TOMMY is
the Broadway version by Pete Townshend and Des McAnuff (with additional music
and tweaked lyrics by John Entwistle and the late great Keith Moon). Fans of
the original rock opera, like me, will miss the amperage but music director
Thomas Young’s band at TLP gets the balance just right for the singers: You can
hear every word clearly and isn’t that the point of a musical: To let the
audience hear the lyrics? (See RAGTIME below). Still, this ancient hippie
wishes The Who’s iconic, emblematic chords had been rendered full volume.
(That’s my only suggestion for the show!)
TLP’s cast is
remarkable, with performers in the ensemble who headline elsewhere. (Jared
Walsh, for example, received an IRNE nod for the lead in last year’s SPRING
AWAKENING.) Even the child performers are pros. (Spenser Evett who plays the 10
year old Tommy has been in shows at the Huntington, New Rep and Project
Shakespeare.) And the phenomenal Kendra Alati (the Acid Queen) has multiple
All the elements
(set, costumes, choreography etc) converge in director Steve Black’s powerful
version. I prefer the ‘60s sensibilities at TLP to the emphasis on the ‘50s in
the Broadway version. Even though some of the story takes place in the ‘40s and
‘50s, the music doesn’t. Julie Ann Silverman’s exuberant choreography happily
reflects the music, not the setting and that’s what makes the show. Saulius
Slezas’s projections, too, amp up the production values, as in the WWII
sequence when paratroopers jump out of a plane, niftily staged by Black.
The leads are so
damn good, you’d swear they were all rockers. From the sensational Brendan
Young Colcord as Tommy to Aidan Nevin and Melissa Gates as his parents, right
down to Cameron Levesque as the four year old Tommy (and all the secondary
characters), this TOMMY “gets the glory.” Even the understudies at my
performance, (Sarajane Mullins as mother and Gates in for Alati) kicked it. If
you’ve never seen TOMMY, this is the one to see. If you have, you’ll appreciate
what Turtle Lane
can do. To repurpose a lyric from the original opera for the rock ‘n roll
geezers out there, “Hey you, smoking mother nature, this is a [must].”
SOUND DRAGS DOWN
RAGTIME OPENING BUT IT COMES BACK STRONG
RAGTIME (at the Strand through Oct. 7th) and Turtle Lane have a
strong connection. RAGTIME stars Shonna Cirone as Mother and she and husband
Kevin, also in RAGTIME, have appeared many times at TLP. Director/producer Meg
Fofonoff has assembled a cast of over three dozen performers, many of whom came
from New York
for her extravagant production. All I can say about it is that it looks
On press night
the sound system malfunctioned so badly that no dialogue could be heard and no
lyrics could be understood. Great gashes of feedback punctuated the performance
and I couldn’t tell you whether they sang well or not. It improved a tiny bit
after intermission and then it reverted to garble again. (Friends who went the
next night said they still had sound problems but it was possible to make out
the lyrics.) With all the money spent on the production, they didn’t spring for
a decent sound system?
What a shame. I
know Shonna and Kevin Cirone. I know June Baboian and McCaela Donovan. I know
Matt Phillips. All stellar performers but I didn’t hear the show, an irony
brought home by Colehouse Walker’s final song, “Make Them Hear You.” Much is
made in RAGTIME of the “crime of the century” but the real crime is having all
those talented actor/singers amassed and not being able to hear them. That
means not being able to nominate them, either. More’s the pity there.
TO WORRY. I WENT BACK THE NEXT WEEK. (SEE TAKE II)
disappointing opening night without clear sound in most of the house, RAGTIME
is back and so am I. The opening night problems were, I’m told, “out of their
control” and repairs have been made to the antiquated sound system at the Strand. I only wish everyone who went opening night could
see (and hear) the show I saw today.
Here I am again:
This time crying my eyes out, the depth of emotion in the musical is so strong.
I wept at Mother’s “What Kind of a Woman,” at Tateh’s “Shetl iz Amereke,” at
Sarah’s “Your Daddy’s Son” and buckets over Colehouse. These are performers who
dig deep. What a difference SOUND makes.
cast delivers by the cartload. Anne McAlexander’s choreography soars,
especially for the Harlem Ensemble. Their “Gettin’ Ready Rag” will have your
shoulders dancing. RAGTIME lives large, sweeping us along with the tumultuous
history of the early 20th century but it’s also a love story. Our
hearts break, along with Sarah’s (the lovely Tia DeShazor) when she thinks she
has to live without Colehouse (the magnificent Damian Norfleet). Where Norfleet
makes Colehouse straight-spined and righteous, DeShazor’s Sarah is shy and small
and soft, an elegant study in contrasts.
On the other
side of New York City,
Mother (the luminous Shonna Cirone) is ensconced in white privilege, with maids
to serve their wealthy, intergenerational family. There’s a crusty grandpa (Ron
A. Cook), a spunky, prescient Little Boy (Alec Shiman), mother’s restless
brother (Michael A. Dunavant) and an old fashioned father (Greg Balla). Both
Dunavant and Balla are standouts when their stories intertwine with
salt-of-the-earth immigrant side, Adam Shapiro gives Tateh an expansive heart
and a generous soul, even when he’s resisting Emma Goldman’s offers of help.
June Baboian is irresistible as the no nonsense social reformer. “The Night
That Goldman spoke at Union Square”
is a delight.
as Evelyn Nesbit makes the “Crime of the Century” crackle with sardonic wit and
Jared Dixon makes Booker T. Washington a tower of serenity. Matt Phillipps’
Houdini is bombastic, as you would expect, but Phillips gives him a vulnerable
side when he finally understands the Little Boy’s warning. Every character has
character, even the secondary roles. Todd Alan Little is a driven Henry Ford
and Martin Allegretti literally steps on his fellow human beings as J.P.Morgan.
Only one small
glitch affected the performance I attended. A mic cut out on Aubin Wise as she
began to sing the high flung funeral eulogy but little Julia DeLuzio
unobtrusively emerged like a seasoned trouper with a hand held mic. Nothing
could stop Wise’s mighty “high Cs” from reaching the rafters, not even two dead
From Janie E.
Howland’s breathtaking set- which kept changing in Zach Blane’s impressive
lighting design-to Jennifer Tremblay’s sumptuous turn of the century costumes to
Matthew Stern’s lilting, pulsing, rousing orchestra this is a RAGTIME to savor.