Friday, March 28, 2014


There aren’t enough “bloody”s in the title to describe the carnage Andrew Jackson wrought in his long seventy eight years on earth but Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman’s outrageous rock musical, BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON (@ The Umbrella through April 6th) will do its damndest to set the record straight.

When I was in school (during the Dark Ages), we were taught how heroic “Old Hickory” Jackson had been in the War of 1812.We weren’t told that he conducted military raids when he saw fit, perpetually disobeying orders from Washington. Even as he was being censured by Congress, he drove out the French, the British, the Spanish and the Native-Americans from Florida, Georgia and Louisiana, amassing vast, new territory for an expanding United States. To say he was reviled by the governing elite is putting it mildlyalthough they didn’t see fit to return the illegally procured land.

Friedman and Timbers’ sardonic musical not only chronicles Jackson’s rise to the Presidency, it manages to show us how little has changed over the years. An election not decided by the vote? Involving Florida? If you’re thinking Gore/Bush and the hanging chads, you’re not going back far enough. In his first run for the Presidency, Jackson won the popular vote outright but the “Washington insiders” and their “one party rule” named John Quincy Adams the winner instead.

When he ran again, his platform sounded a lot like Ronald Reagan’s: He vowed to take the country back from the “Federal Monarchy” up north. He stirred up the electorate with talk about “fear along the borders.” He created an oppositional party (which would become the Democratic Party). But it was his claim to be a “man of the people” that got him elected. He was a man of contradictions. He owned slaves. He instituted a forced march which killed over 4000 Native-Americans, pushing them west and away from the white “pioneers.” Yet he adopted an orphaned Native-American boy as his son.  

Director James Tallach’s wild, “take no prisoners” production plays up the humor lurking beneath the history lesson, so we see our forefathers at their worst. Gene Dante gives a fiery tour de force as the conflicted Jackson, belting out one of the best numbers in the show (Why don’t you just shoot me in the head…?) like a rock star. Dante keeps the energy on stage pulsing to music director Maria Duaime Robinson’s pounding beat, as if he were the lead singer in a rock concert.

Shana Dirik is hilarious as the unwanted narrator/tour guide and Andrea Giangreco supplies lovely pathos as Jackson’s wife (although she was already married when they wed). Tallach has a talented cast to supply all the historical figures. Robert Case is wonderfully preposterous as that “weasel,” Henry Clay and Stefanie Ernst and crew deliver a fierce “Ten Little Indians” (and then there were none). As Tallach says, “The show is part rock show, part comedic farce, and almost entirely insane.” I would agree.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Underground Railway Theater is affording a new generation of theatergoers an opportunity to learn about the Holocaust with two extraordinary, achingly beautiful theater pieces. Director Scott Edmiston’s lovely, soul rending productions speak volumes about man’s inhumanity to man while reasserting the human capacity for kindness and the overwhelming power of art.

BRUNDIBAR & BUT THE GIRAFFE (playing through April 6th) are companion pieces, written many generations apart. You may recall that Tony Kushner authored the children’s book, BRUNDIBAR with Maurice Sendak, based on the famous 1938 children’s opera presented at the Terezin concentration camp. It’s his stage adaptation of Hans Krasa’s opera, BRUNDIBAR, sung by dozens of local school children from around Boston, which URT is presenting along with his BUT THE GIRAFFE.

The giraffe play comes first in preparation for the opera: A little girl doesn’t want to leave her beloved stuffed giraffe behind as the family packs up their belongings. Mother explains that the toy won’t fit in the case unless they take out the oversized, sonorous score (every time the little girl opens it, she hears snatches of the opera). It’s of vital importance that the score not be lost. Who knows, the uncle says, it may be performed for future generations.

We, of course, know where they are going, even before we hear the railway announcement in the background but we keep our hearts beating and psyches in denial until we see them marching in circles, their cases over their heads, finally stopping in a tight group, staring at their barracks like Six Characters In Search of….God? Then the arch over their heads is lit and we’re slain, devastated, the elevator cables have snapped. We’re unable to move. It’s intermission.

(I glanced around and saw many a parent about to explain to their children…What? The unexplainable? I was immensely grateful I did not have that task.)

If you are unfamiliar with Terezin, URT has an exhibit in their lobby of artwork from the camp. The Nazis created this particular camp, full of art and music, to “deceive” the Swiss Red Cross into thinking all concentration camps were so accommodating. Buildings with false fronts, flower lined streets and strains of Beethoven and Mozart greeted the visitors. (Many scholars think the Swiss knew exactly what was happening and went along to save their country from being invaded.)

BRUNDIBAR’s composer, Hans Krasa and librettist, Adolf Hoffmeister began the opera about a group of resourceful children (who “save the day” and defeat a villain) as metaphor for the dictators about to take over Czechoslovakia. Before it could be staged in Prague, Krasa was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Terezin.  The children in Terezin performed it fifty-five times (including a performance for the Red Cross) until they were all murdered.

The URT production is brimming with moving performances: Debra Wise as grandmother/the sparrow breaks your heart in THE GIRAFFE and embodies hope in BRUNDIBAR; Phil Berman as father/ the dog who bites the organ grinder, Brundibar, embodies heroism; Christie Lee Gibson as mother/the cat who scratches him (and sings Krasa’s soaring soprano arias) embodies beauty; Jeremiah Kissel as grandpa/ policeman brings humor to the piece; Nora Iammarino as the little girl with the giraffe brings innocence; John King as Brundibar makes the hair on your neck stand on end to think such evil can exist in such banal a form; Rebecca Klein (what a voice!) and Alec Shiman as the children (and the whole cast of local students) make us believe, for a short while anyway, that there is Good in the world.


Just across the river, Bridge Repertory Theater is staging the heck out of Michael John LaChiusa’s HELLO AGAIN (through March 29th), a musical which nudges the form fearlessly into “new music” territory. One might call the collection of musical scenes (based on Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde) pastiche except that when you think you hear the Andrews Sisters in the second scene, the nurses’ boogie-woogie morphs into a harmony Hans Werner Henze might have inspired.

Sondheim-esque dissonances mirror the sardonic tone of the book, where the coupling in each vignette is followed by one partner’s coupling with someone else…until at last it returns to the beginning when the first twosome meets again. Michael Bello’s direction is quite graphic, with brutal encounters upping the nasty ante in Schnitzler’s play…which is not to say Bello downplays the humor in the piece. Many of the scenes are very funny. And Bello invents wonderful scene changes so that the vignettes flow seamlessly into one another.

Bridge’s company is top notch, with exceptional performances from Aubin Wise as a trusting, then quite naughty nurse; from Sean Patrick Gibbons as a jaded soldier and a hilarious writer; from Jared Dixon as a self righteous, philandering husband, then a pompous senator; from Lauren Eicher as two sides of “the whore”; from Andrew Spatafora as the boy the nurse teaches a lesson to, then as the “young thing” looking for love; and from Sarah Talbot as the neglected wife looking for romance in all the wrong movie theaters.

LaChiusa’s through line is niftily pinned together with a brooch. Bello glues the scenes together with artistry, symmetry and plenty of chemistry.

Monday, March 24, 2014


Only two performances of Boston Lyric Opera’s stunning RIGOLETTO remain. If you haven’t attended in a while, now is the time to revisit this solid company of young (but fully experienced) singers. The BLO can match any of the top companies with their musicianship and their exceptional acting and well as singing performances. With RIGOLETTO you’ll witness BLO’s taste in directors, as well, and Tomer Zvulun is top of his game, with a brilliant interpretation which doesn’t change the opera one whit (Traditionalists have nothing to fear.) but lifts it to new heights.

If you are going, don’t read on because you will be transported, thrilled and moved like no other production you’ve seen. We were stunned by the sublime ending. Knowing ahead of time how Zvulun does it will spoil the surprise.

Here’s how Zvulun enhances the story with just a few tweaks in the staging: Most productions do not show the personification of Monterone’s rage. He simply arrives, tells his story and curses everyone. Zvulun puts Monterone’s raped, ruined daughter on stage in the very first scene where she’s manhandled, maybe even drugged, poor thing. She can barely walk. And yes, she runs into Papa’s arms just like Gilda will run to Rigoletto in Act II. An eye for an eye. A daughter for a daughter.

The inspired ending has Rigoletto receive the body bag from the assassin, Sparafucile, with the daed Duke, he thinks, inside, when he hears the Duke’s “La donna è mobile.” He’s horrified, disoriented. He thinks the singing is coming from the sack so he stabs at it trying to finish him off. His metaphor about killing his daughter by “his own hand” is now literal.

He opens the bag, finds her lifeless body and we’re on the edge of our seats, wondering how she can possibly be alive long enough to sing her goodbye. She isn’t but her transcendent spirit is. (The nifty body double switch is accomplished during the thunder and lightening strikes.)

Gilda is now free to sing the exquisite “V'ho ingannato” without diminishing her voice to simulate loss of breath. As the spirit passes behind Rigoletto, he is still begging the lifeless corpse not to die. Just as she’s exiting, though, he senses a presence and turns his head in her direction, as if he feels her spirit leaving. It took our breath away!

Christopher Franklin’s orchestra had passion and strength. Bruce Sledge as the Duke sang beautifully, with clarity, despite a head cold. Michael Mayes acted and sang his way onto my list of favorite Rigolettos, including Richard Fredericks, Cornell MacNeil and Sherrill Milnes. Nadine Sierra gave an ethereal, gossamer performance as Gilda, Morris Robinson took over the stage as the evil assassin, Sparafucile and David Cushing as Monterone was a righteously frightening presence. Every member of the cast added immeasurably to the whole. This is one RIGOLETTO I can’t stop talking about.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey GYPSY Lament

Next Door’s GYPSY (running through March 29th) is a study in contrasts: Kerry A. Dowling stars as Mama Rose, the ferocious, over the top mother of all stage mothers, practically devouring her young while she professes to make them “stars.” Marge Dunn is her polar opposite as sweet Louise, the overlooked sister who finally comes into her own to become Gypsy Rose Lee, consort of kings (Hollywood kings, that is: Many years later she revealed that director Otto Preminger had fathered her son.). The Arthur Laurents/Jule Styne/Stephen Sondheim musical stops the story after Baby June leaves and Louise becomes a star but their real life stories could fill another whole musical.

Some of the scenes seem crowded into the corners of the stage in director SaraJane Mullins Pompeo’s production, making Next Door’s GYPSY seem unnecessarily claustrophobic but some fine performances (and clever choreography) center the story. Haven Periera and Eowyn Young play June and Louise as children, introducing the “Let Me Entertain You” number which will take on an entirely different meaning when Louise grows up to perform David Costa’s smart, suggestive choreography in the burlesque.

Allison Russell and Dunn excel as the sisters: Their “If Mama Was Married” is as innocent as it is charming. (You really notice Dan Rodriguez’ stripped down, four piece orchestra in some numbers but not that one.) Doug Jabara is a kindly Herbie (whose “Together” with Dowling and Dunn is delightful) and Robert Hallisey shines in several roles (a sleazy clown, an overwhelmed Mr. Goldstone and a crusty, cigar chomping stagehand). But it’s Sarah Jones who runs away with the show as the tough, trumpeting stripper with the “Gimmick.” She doesn’t miss a note. If only she’d been in the pit.

Monday, March 17, 2014


Kirsten Knisely’s clever SOUL MATES or UNDER THE APPLE TREE (@ BCA through March 22nd) unfolds in a series of nine vignettes (of two characters each) which explore human relationships in various stages of connection.

Early on we meet two giddy teenage girls (Angela Keefe and Laura Menzie) who wonder if “boys will ever stop being jerks” and if the two friends will ever find their soul mates. It’s a delightful scene, made even more delicious by director Caroline L. Price’s sound design and her hilarious choreography, which includes stage manager Samantha MacArthur behind the console, grooving out in her seat to the rock ‘n roll. The smart Boston Actors Theater production enhances Knisely’s script (and ups the comic ante by having MacArthur take part in another scene as well).

As the performance moved pleasantly along through almost half the vignettes, I thought to myself what an amusing little play…and what a versatile foursome to portray all the entertaining, interlinking characters. Then Knisely got serious. One of the men (Joseph Kidawski) from a lighthearted previous scene (involving a shootout with plastic “nerf” guns) comes out to his parents and to his immense disappointment, they’re not happy about the news. Luckily, he has his brother (Brett Milanowski) in his corner. Then Kidawski breaks our hearts again in the next scene (with Menzie) as a young man headed off to Viet Nam. All of a sudden the play acquired considerable weight.

The only vignette which seemed out of place to me (in time and theme) was the last (which bookended the enigmatic first), a scene right out of HOBSON’S CHOICE where the daughter of a wealthy tycoon decides on her own to marry a man in her father’s employ. This fait accompli comes as quite a surprise to both the man and her father. Fortunately Boston Actors Theater has Keefe and Malinowski to pull it off. The BAT’s fine ensemble work is what makes SOUL MATES a cut above.


 If you haven’t been to a Hovey Players production, now is the time. Director Michelle Aguillon and company are giving RABBIT HOLE (through March 29th) the best production of it I’ve seen yet. (Yes, it’s even better than the Huntington’s.) David Lindsay-Abaire’s hip, smart, surprisingly gentle play about grief over the death of a child lovingly nudges its characters toward acceptance. The journey for them is divisive, painful and often sardonically funny (especially when the pushy grandmother arrives). For us, it’s endearing, amusing and finally, uplifting.

Lindsay-Abaire invents outlandish characters like the child’s aunt (Brooke Casanova), whose out-of-control life, she thinks, will magically come together if she gets pregnant. It’s her sister (Katie Gluck) whose son has died. She’s fallen into a deep depression which only lifts when she makes an unusual, unexpected human connection. Her exasperated husband (Alex Thayer) is ready to give up on her when she doesn’t seem to want help, from him or anyone. (The playwright miraculously keeps the subject matter miles away from TV “movie of the week” territory.)

Aguillon’s cast is extraordinary, deftly mining the humor in the piece without sacrificing the pathos. Maureen Adduci, as the acerbic grandmother, tries her daughter’s patience but never comes across as unfeeling. Jordan DiGloria is the optimistic student who believes in parallel universes and worm holes but never seems anything but genuine. Best of all, the company manages a Zen finish for the play by slowing down time itself so that we can savor the lovely, emotional, redemptive ending.

Friday, March 14, 2014


Playwright Ann Marie Healy tweaks Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (where banned books are burned) with her WHAT ONCE WE FELT (playing through March 22nd at the Davis Square Theatre). In Healy’s nightmarish utopia A) There are no men (We could debate whether that’s a loss!) and B) Books are on the way out, being replaced by digitized versions which “crunch the themes” and “do away with interpretation.”

When Healy goes for the jugular (designer babies for the “haves,” no medical care for the “have-nots”), the play kills. When she stabs at the capillaries (new age food and TV talk shows), it loses focus. The good news is that Flat Earth’s production, under the sharp eye of Lindsay Eagle, grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. Eagle directs from every angle, cleverly foreshadowing events (a sick have-not lingers near the audience through the first scene) and she wrings extra laughs from Healy’s sardonic script.

The production values are sky high, with a gallery worthy, handmade multi-screen installation of books as a backdrop, which change the scenery with the flip of a page. (Crisp artwork by Allison Olivia Choat; ingenious dowel machinery by Leigh Downes) When the play finishes its run, it ought to go into someone’s art collection.

Endangered books are the central metaphor in Healy’s play: No books, no freedom. Her central character (Colleen Moore) the narrator of the play, is in fact a character in “the last published print novel”….and she’s a have not. The author of that book (Kelly Chick) is at the mercy of a manic publisher (Emily Kaye Lazzaro), not to mention a wildly flamboyant agent (Mary Ferrara) and a scheming line editor (Meredith Saran). She doesn’t stand a chance.

A subplot about ordering up or rather “downloading” a baby has Kamela Dolinova and Nicole Dunn contemplating parenthood and having to deal with the unpleasant consequences of a glitch in the system. Alissa Cordeiro is Healy’s tragic anti-hero, who knits like Mme. Defarge, watching her mother suffer. Healy wants us to think ‘revolution’ from the start, way before “the resistance” is mentioned by Saran. I found the dense story convoluted at times but the crackerjack ensemble is the reason WHAT ONCE WE FELT succeeds.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Snatches of memory, shards of moments which inform consciousness: Ellen McLaughlin’s ethereal TONGUE OF A BIRD is an impressionistic painting transformed into a play. The first of three in New Rep’s “NEXT REP” series, TONGUE OF A BIRD (running through March 30th) mixes poetic images with a search (actually many searches) for a child.

A young woman stands at the base of a gleaming mountain face. She remembers looking down from a high window as a child. She thinks something was lost but she can’t find the memory. She’s drawn to the sky, she tells us. She pilots a Cessna now but when she was a girl she could fly up over her body and look down on herself, a “trick [she] learned early,” one of the many wonders we can create as children which are lost to us as adults.

With TONGUE OF A BIRD, McLaughlin taps into a universal female consciousness. (My male friends who saw the same play at the same time tell me they had trouble relating to the imagery so I shall assume it’s more easily accessed by women.) The young woman’s grandmother tells her flight is in her blood. Her great grandmother and her mother’s mother could fly away like birds to protect themselves (which made me think of the African-American spiritual, “I’ll Fly Away”). Surprisingly, miraculously, McLaughlin is able to stir primal perceptions in the listener.

A narrative slowly emerges from beneath and around the elaborate allusions and by the end of the play you’ve pieced together a story but the journey is what matters in TONGUE OF A BIRD, not the destination. The mythic language, the fierce sensibilities in McLaughlin’s writing make the characters soar.

Director Emily Ranii has an inspired cast to embody all the metaphors in TONGUE: Elizabeth Anne Rimar is the driven adventuress, endlessly searching the skies for a lost child who may or may not be the impetuous little girl Claudia Q. Nolan impersonates. Bobbie Steinbach is the strong, immigrant grandmother whose heart was broken and had to “throw away her daughter piece by piece”… who warns us of an unfeeling world that “forgets [its] children.”

Ilyse Robbins is the desperate mother who hires Rimar’s plane to search the snow for her lost daughter. Olivia D’Ambrosio is another mother who, too, sacrificed in her way, for hers. There is so much to absorb in the play, so much which reverberates, resonates, that I suspect you’d find more layers in a second visit. There’s lovely dialogue about the everyday joys children don’t remember when they grow up that I would like to hear again. (I can’t quite recall it now that a whole day has gone by, such are the cruelties of memory.)


Large metaphors float aimlessly through Samuel D. Hunter’s THE WHALE (@ SpeakEasy Stage through April 5th). Some, like Captain Ahab’s obsession with Melville’s leviathan, seem plausible when you have a six hundred pound man obsessed with death center stage. Some, like Jonah’s escape from the whale (the playwright’s long awaited “revelation”) don’t fit so easily. Metaphors aside, THE WHALE is a strangely voyeuristic story of a man who cannot revise his life, a man bent on dying.

Charlie (John Kuntz, like Jonah trapped inside a whale of a costume) wants to reconcile with his daughter before he dies. She’s an angry, destructive teenager who hates her father for abandoning her and her mother when he realized he was gay. The playwright inexplicably assigns Charlie’s lover a polar opposite dysfunction: He starved himself to death. To answer why he embarked on that path, Hunter introduces a young Mormon who knocks on Charlie’s door purely by chance.

Ryan O’Connor is delightful as the nineteen year old missionary (“I’m not a kid!”) who tries to help. O’Connor and Josephine Elwood as the spiteful daughter have one of the best, and funniest, scenes in the play when she willfully undermines his piety.

Hunter creates quirky characters like Charlie’s nurse-friend who seems as if she wants to help: She finds him a wheelchair, encourages him to go to the hospital, then incongruously, feeds him endless meatball subs with extra cheese! Georgia Lyman is a plus as Charlie’s mouthy, pushy link to any outside medical care.

Happily, Hunter creates a character to provide Charlie an exquisite moment of pure affection. We see Maureen Keiller as his ex-wife slowly realize what is happening to him and years of rancor subside. The distance between them melts and it’s then we truly see Charlie as he was when he was a fully functioning being.

Director David R. Gammons’ well paced production is immeasurably enhanced by David Remedios’ rapturous sound design. We hear the glug-glug of water sloshing through pipes (mimicking intestinal gurgle), we hear oceans lapping the shore, we hear slow, labored breathing and we hear the haunting whale songs which Roger Payne first discovered and recorded over fifty years ago. Their elegant music lifts Hunter’s play out of its banality.

Saturday, March 8, 2014


Hats off to Argos Productions for not only shining a bright light on new plays but for staging the heck out of them. David Valdes Greenwood’s BULLY DANCE (playing through March 22nd at the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre) is getting a top quality production, directed by Sarah Gazdowicz.

Chris Larson’s sound design and Sam Beebe’s original music play a pivotal role in creating the haunting, atmospheric setting for Valdes Greenwood’s expressionistic play. Central to BULLY DANCE is a lonely, internet fueled teenaged gunman who embarks on a “mission” of revengebut the play is truly about the reverberations of his actions.

Why, you might ask, do we need another play about teenagers bent on violence when it’s on the television and news every day? Valdes Greenwood’s play has a unique perspective: He asks us not to judge a book by its cover, or even by one chapter. He asks his characters to heal. He writes from experience.

His play is anchored by a narrator (Juliet Bowler) who brings all the characters together (for our benefit and maybe for theirs) with a nifty dramatic device. Valdes Greenwood invents a form which isn’t exactly magical realism and isn’t exactly naturalistic, either, although it feels all too real. The women in the story who have lost a loved one wail and keen in voices which blend symphonically. As they grieve in harmonic screams, you begin to think this must be the universal, undulating sound of suffering.

Impassioned performances inform director Gazdowicz’ production: Charlotte Kinder as the younger widow gives full vent to her anger. Lida McGirr as the older, wiser widow lets us see the depths of her distress. Veronica Anastasio Wiseman as the killer’s mother suffers the pain of Greek tragedy, her body seeming to slump under her torturous burden. Bowler, as narrator, is a modern earth mother.

You don’t get to know the killer in most plays about serial murder but Valdes Greenwood gives us the chance. Christopher Nourse as the disturbed teenager is able to make us laugh, believe it or not and Valdes Greenwood gives the character the ability to look back on the destruction he’s caused and reflect. All the other males (police, victims etc.) are played by Adam Lauver, who morphs easily into each role.

The more violence in the world, it seems the more plays about it. This past year I’ve seen three others about teenage mass murderers. Too many for me.

Sunday, March 2, 2014


Something’s up at the Stoneham Theatre. It’s the “delicious…capricious… suspicious” murder mystery musical, SOMETHING’S AFOOT (playing through March 23rd). The creators (James McDonald, David Vos and Robert Gerlach with additional music from Ed Linderman) manage to spoof two genres with one fell swoop: They send up traditional musical theater while they “steal” every juicy character Agatha Christie ever invented.

SOMETHING’S AFOOT is loosely based on AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, with snatches of movie perils tucked in: The bridge is out. The generator is blown. Poison has been planted. A will is missing. An inheritance is at stake. You name the cliché and you’ll find it lurking in plain sight! As Miss Tweed (the sensational Margaret Ann Brady) ever so efficiently recounts her favorite motives, there’s always “revenge, passion, lust and greed.”

The tongue-in-cheek songs are delightfully awful or are they awfully delightful? Both. You’ll hear clever musical references and Ceit Zweil’s spot on choreography matches their intent to the letter (or note, as the case may be). The overblown dancing is, in fact, a joy.

Director Caitlin Lowans’ cast of misfit suspects had me giggling non-stop: Brady, as the no nonsense Miss Marplesque cheerleader (“Remember, We’re British: Stiff upper lip!”) gamely dispatches the corpses without so much as a “by your leave.” Off stage they go. Then there’s the cheeky caretaker (John Davin in top form pinching all the ladies), Nick Sulfaro as the hapless butler, Russell Garrett as the dashing doctor, Mark Linehan as the devious nephew (whose tango with himself, one leg involved in another dance altogether, is a sight to behold) and J.T. Turner as the blustery colonel.

Kathy St. George may not be who she says she is and Andrew Oberstein may or may not be a student. He and Stephanie Granade may or may not be meant for each other but they’re certainly charming together. Zweil as the not so loyal maid and Davin have a hilarious escape number together, turning the corniest of vaudeville songs into gold. No one is safe: Even the pianist (Bethany Aiken) is at risk in Stoneham’s comic triumph. Don’t miss it.