Wednesday, October 31, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Exuberant Musical at Wheelock By Beverly Creasey

ANNE OF GREEN GABLES is the kind of delightful entertainment the Wheelock Family Theatre does best. The Campbell/Harron musical based on the L.M. Montgomery novel is kid friendly and adult deep. ANNE OF GREEN GABLES (playing through November 18th) is the loving story of a little orphan girl from Prince Edward Island who does not lack reserve. Anne (with an “e”) always speaks her mind, much to the chagrin of the elderly brother and sister who wanted a boy to help with the farm but quickly fell in love with the spunky whirlwind.

Lucy Maud Montgomery created a world where wrongs are soon righted and misunderstandings soon straightened out…and sometimes adults are as naughty as children. Audiences will respond to the lively songs and spirited antics of the young actors onstage and no one, no one could resist Jennifer Beth Glick as Anne. Glick lights up the musical with her unstoppable exuberance. Glick and Robert Saoud, as the elderly farmer who adopts Anne, create a transcendent father-daughter relationship, making the musical far more than “a children’s story.” I found tears in my eyes, remembering my father, whenever he rescued her or comforted her or did something special for her.

Director Jane Staab’s remarkable cast features Jacqui Parker as Saoud’s stern sister, not as easily won over by Anne. Parker somehow manages to show us the woman’s inward journey, slowly growing with affection for the little girl. Plenty of comic turns grace the musical, from Maureen Keiller’s ever present busybody to Susan Bigger’s absentminded adoption agent to Gamalia Pharms’ eager gossip. Music director Robert L. Rucinski gets fine singing from the ensemble and lovely numbers like “Ice Cream” and “Kindred Spirits” for Glick and Jenna Lea Scott as Anne’s true friend. See what Wheelock can do better than anyone: To present theater which reflects all of us onstage with stories than touch everyone.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


What a brilliant way to get young people (and the rest of us) interested in history. By the time you leave SpeakEasy Stage’s badass BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON (playing through Nov. 17th), you’ll be well versed on early 19th century America. My generation had only a Top 40 hit by Johnnie Horton to introduce us to The Battle of New Orleans!

After seeing SpeakEasy’s outrageous rock musical, I’m reading everything I can find about our 7th President. Mind you, you’ll have to get used to the “language” (as they say on television warnings) but creators Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman have something to say about politics, namely that little has changed over the years. If you’re still smarting from the Bush-Gore election outcome, you’ll be surprised (and appalled) that it’s happened before.

Jackson is considered to be the first democratically elected “man of the people.” If you’ve heard of the infamous “Trail of Tears,” then you know about the forced march which killed 4000 Native Americans, pushing them west and away from white “settlers.” That, too, was Jackson. And, this being in the south before The Civil War, he owned slaves.

You can see from the many parallels to our present day (like the “fear along the borders” concern and the many patronage positions Jackson filled with his friends) why Timbers and Friedman were drawn to this historical period, with its unwanted wars and shady politics.

The music is reminiscent of AMERICAN IDIOT but not as freewheeling because of its subject matter. It soars in numbers like the sardonic “Ten Little Indians,” deliciously rocked by Amy Jo Jackson… and in the Brechtian anthem, “The Saddest Song” where Gus Curry as Jackson laments the wrong he’s done. You can see the madness and the sadness “behind blue eyes” in Curry’s world weary portrayal at the end of Jackson’s life. And he lets you see the wildness in the early Jackson. Director Paul Melone’s entire cast is first rate.

Alessandra Vaganek gives a stong, touching performance as Jackson’s soul mate (who married him before her divorce was final). Music director Nicholas James Connell performs in front of the orchestra as well as in it, leading the powerful ensemble, with hilarious narration by Mary Callanan and cameos by Michael Levesque as Red Eagle, Diego Klock-Perez as Black Fox and Joshua Pemberton as Martin Van Buren.

Eric Levenson’s funky antique farm implements and frontier detritus adorn a nifty fence through which arrows thwack (one of Eric Norris’ clever, cheeky sounds for the production) into the backs of the land-grabbing, genocidal “pioneers.” The BIG message which turns the raucous proceedings serious comes only at the end (in the form of masks). I wish it had come a little earlier.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Crime Doesn’t Pay Off On Stage By Beverly Creasey

DOUBLE INDEMNITY (At Stoneham Theatre through Nov. 4th) is based on the 1944 classic Billy Wilder film starring Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson. The Wilder/Raymond Chandler script (from the James M. Cain serial novels about a real 1927 murder case) has been adapted for the stage by David Pichette and R. Hamilton Wright.

It’s extremely difficult to effect noir atmosphere in a theatrical setting (although director Joe Antoun did it brilliantly this past month at the BCA with Joe Byers’ THE FAKUS). To achieve noir, the acting has to be stylized, to fit the stilted dialogue.

Christopher Ostrom’s grainy B&W projections (onto sliding white panels) dovetail with Nathan Leigh’s almost subliminal thumping drumbeats to ratchet up the suspense but director Weylin Symes’ naturalistic tone for the actors shifts us forward at least ten years to the Actor’s Studio. Gone is the Chandler-esque repartee and alas, with it the “audacity” (as the insurance investigator brags about his scheme) of film noir.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Trial by Audience By Beverly Creasey

New Repertory Theatre’s smart, hip production of David Mamet’s RACE (playing through Nov. 4th) does for lawyers what he did for real estate salesmen in GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS. These attorneys are cut-throat and nasty and they’re hilarious. Mamet revels in men behaving badly—from the petty thieves in AMERICAN BUFFALO to the property hustlers in GLENGARRY to the lawyers in RACE who are happy to represent anyone for any crime because they get to “play” a jury.

Mamet deals in stereotypes. (He’s never been accused of creating deep, meaningful drama.) The characters in RACE are tropes but Mamet nonetheless can hammer home some resonant truths. The case here is race: a rich white man (not unlike Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the chambermaid) is accused of raping a black woman. “Same case. Same place,” says the lawyer. “Fifty years [ago]. You’re innocent.”

That cagey Mamet. He’s written a piece which will affect each audience member differently. Three lawyers on stage with three opinions about how to present the case: two are experienced, one is not. One is a white man and the other two are black, one woman and one man.

Of the audience members I’ve talked to, the white men blame the woman (for the outcome of the play). The white and black women I’ve talked to side with her and a few (Boy, this is hard to say without giving anything away) said, “It’s about time.” Now obviously, I haven’t talked to everyone but Mamet has crafted a play which manipulates some of us to care more about comeuppance than innocence.

Director Robert Walsh drives the play like a bullet train. It went by so fast, it left me wanting more. I have to hand it to Mamet. He’s conjured up a “pageant” just like the “show” his lawyers put on to influence a jury. What a cast New Rep has to “interrupt [our] thinking process.” Miranda Craigwell is perfection as the bright new hire at the firm, fresh out of law school, eager to learn the game. Ken Cheeseman postures and patronizes the new “girl” (girl?) as he brags about his legal prowess. He and Cliff Odle are simply outrageous as the new “old boy” network.

Odle’s comic timing is relentless as he holds forth on race, getting laughs by the carload from his sardonic take on the subject. Mamet hasn’t been this funny in a long time. Patrick Shea has the extremely difficult task of portraying the clueless, rarified CEO who thinks it’s OK to make racial jokes and maybe even to rape (if he’s guilty). Shea pulls it off. You just shake your head in amazement that someone would be so out of touch with reality.

Janie E. Howland’s slick office set (with no personal effects) and Scott Pinckney’s harsh fluorescents speak volumes about these lawyers. Charles Schoonmaker costumes Craigwell in chic right down to her toes, showing us she may be new but she knows how to make a classy impression.

Monday, October 15, 2012


The Nora Theatre Company has a winner in Sarah Treem’s THE HOW AND THE WHY, playing at the Central Square Theater through Oct. 21st. Treem wrote and produced all three seasons of the brilliant HBO series about a psychologist and his patients, called IN TREATMENT. (It is, rather was, my favorite television show. Alas, it’s no longer on the air.) She creates characters who burn with urgency and passion and although THE HOW AND THE WHY is ostensibly about women in the male dominated field of science, at heart it’s about a clash of characters.

Two female evolutionary biologists lock horns: one older and wiser and the other, young and rash and full of promise. Her research, in fact, threatens to supplant the older woman’s famous, accepted theory (on the role early woman played in the development of the advanced human brain). Clearly both women are driven …but what drives them and why? That’s what we find out and along the way we’re enticed by some fancy theoretical footwork on the subject of biology, specifically the reproductive (and post-reproductive) kind--- as well as some delightful and amusing give and take.

Director Daniel Gidron manages to keep the pace brisk, even in the throes of dense evolutionary theory. Debra Wise is elegant and controlled as the brusque senior scientist, while Samantha Richert’s character truly suffers with her insecurity. Wise is such a deft actress that she can convey boundless kindness and affection with a simple touch, creating one of the loveliest moments in the play. She and Richert make Treem’s story resonate beyond the dialogue. In the words of the professor’s (and my) beloved poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, they “take up the song.”

Sunday, October 14, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW American Gothic By Beverly Creasey

If you were to hear a gunshot, you wouldn’t seek out the gunman, would you? And you certainly wouldn’t insult the man brandishing the gun---and you would never, never insult his mother! A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE (at Charlestown Working Theater through Oct. 27th) is chock full of oddballs who constantly act against their own self interest----which, of course, is very funny.

Theatre On Fire’s production isn’t nearly as gruesome as it sounds. Celebrated Irish playwright, Martin McDonagh has a solid reputation for making the macabre hilarious. Think of The Lieutenant of Innishmore or his film, In Bruges. What’s different about this play is that there isn’t an Irishman in it.

Director Darren Evans has a way with the sardonic. Jeff Gill gives a wry, deadpan performance as the one-handed psycho in town to search for what was stolen from him thirty years back. Strangely enough, he’s the only character with his wits about him. He’s surrounded by two wacky weed dealers (Tory Bullock and Becca A. Lewis) and a nosey desk clerk (Greg Maraio) who won’t leave the psycho alone.

Maraio is deliciously spacey in flowing, hippie locks, waxing about a great love for an animal he once knew (which endeared him to me). Bullock and Lewis’ characters get sidetracked so often, you wonder how successful they really are at peddling dope. They just can’t concentrate on the crisis at hand. (I’m sorry for that.) 

It’s a wild ride which Evans drives full throttle.


Director James Tallach jumped at the chance to direct BRIGADOON on this side of the pond. It was his very first acting experience back in Glasgow. He’s directed just about everything else in Boston, to much acclaim, I should add. So here we are in Acton at THEATRE III, a community theater which has been doing shows since 1955!

This BRIGADOON (playing thru Oct. 27th) is a lively and spirited production. Not only does it have a professional director (who has made darned sure the Scottish accents are perfect) it has a virtuoso bagpiper in Tim Sullivan and an operatic Fiona in Elaine Crane. It also has Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia in the pivotal role of Harry Beaton, the one person who can jeopardize the idyllic, little kingdom which comes to life every hundred years. Mancinas-Garcia, to his credit, makes us feel truly sorry for the tortured lad.

The charming Lerner & Lowe musical has one of the sweetest tunes ever written in “Come to Me, Bend to Me,” sung by Brad Amidon to the lovely Hilary Powell. On the comic side, James Hunt makes the most of his constant retreats from the hot blooded Meg, played with gusto by Caroline Kurman.

Crane and Arthur Comer as the lovers from two different worlds duet nicely with “From This Day On” and Sarajane Mullins manages to move the dancing about without it looking cramped on such a small stage. Music director Timothy Lawton gets fine choral work from the company.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

QUICK TAKE REVIEW A Bright New Play By Beverly Creasey

Zeitgeist Stage Company has a solid reputation for finding the quirkiest scripts. You’re almost always in for a surprise. A BRIGHT NEW BOISE by Samuel D. Hunter (playing through Oct. 20th) starts off like a strange little comedy about clerks in a hobby supply store---until it turns into NO EXIT.

Hunter’s characters are a bunch of endearing misfits trying their darnedest to find meaning in life despite their meaningless jobs selling styrofoam balls and sealing wax. The new guy (Victor Shopov) gingerly introduces himself to his fellow workers when one of them announces that “I’m deliberately trying to make you uncomfortable:” Turns out that’s his mission in life. David Lutheran gives a hilarious performance as the clerk with an endless knowledge of inventory and an artistic agenda.

Shopov manages brilliantly to put a face (and a tortured soul) on Christian apocalyptics who pin their hopes on the end of the world. It’s his character who drives the plot into disturbing terrain. Hunter almost pulls off the dark detour but I, for one, wanted more comedy because of the delightful banter. It’s director David Miller’s cast that makes the show crackle.

Zach Winston is perfection as the quintessential prickly teenager struggling with adolescence/identity issues/everything. Janelle Mills is a scream as the store manager with the mouth. You can’t wait for her to try another abysmal attempt at her brand of “conflict resolution.” Dakota Shepard is so sweet and wacky you wish she had more to do with the story. Her absurd ideas come out sounding eminently reasonable until you weigh what she’s said. What a rich collection of oddballs. Don’t miss meeting them in Zeitgeist’s BOISE.

P.S. Wednesdays are pay what you can (with a minimum of $7). Where else can you find a bargain like that!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

TOMMY Rocks and RAGTIME Rises Above Opening Night By Beverly Creasey


The beloved 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 IRNE nominations.
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].”


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 gorgeous.  
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.

                                                RAGTIME: TAKE II

After a 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.
Meg Fofonoff’s 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 Colehouse’s.
On the 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.
McCaela Donovan 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 microphones.
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.