Monday, March 5, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW Musical Balm for a Long Winter By Beverly Creasey

After a bleak and harrowing winter, aren’t we all in need of renewal? Thankfully spring is showing signs of hope: A warm February forced snow drop shoots up through the ground to remind us of a new season about to bud. Then miraculously, the theater offered transformative performances to lift us out of the doldrums.

First, Jane Staab’s life affirming production of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST for Wheelock Family Theater offers what the well-oiled Broadway tours do not: endless heart and a palpable exuberance that reaches across the footlights. You can’t help but be moved by the tender relationship of Belle (Justine Moral) and her hapless father (Bob Saoud), not to mention her ability to see the kindness in a sorrowful beast (Jared Troilo). Laurel Conrad’s spirited choreography and Steven Bergman’s sumptuous orchestra had a houseful of children at my performance singing and dancing in their seats. From Chip Phillips’ fussy grandfather clock to Brad Foster Reinking’s charming candelabra; From Gamalia Pharms’ sunny teapot to Brittany Rofs’ spitfire French maid… everyone, including the bad guy (Mark Linehan) generated welcome laughter and smiles. (Playing through March 4th)

Praxis Stage’s remodel of Ntozake Shange’s [updated] FOR COLORED GIRLS WHO HAVE CONSIDERED SUICIDE WHEN THE RAINBOW IS ENOUGH is a fresh, visceral look at the revolutionary choreo-poem. I can hardly believe forty years have gone by since I first saw Shange’s fiercely intelligent ensemble piece. Director Dayenne C. Byron Walters and choreographer Lola Remy add music, movement, dance and connective tissue to the vignettes, making each piece more than just part of the whole. The searing but often witty portraits seem even more relevant today, in light of “Me, Too” revelations. The women suffer and rebel, resist and conquer…falter and rise. I couldn’t keep Maya Angelou’s “And still I rise” from my thoughts as I watched these luminous performers: Karline Desir takes your breath away in the pleasing, rapid fire scold, “Without any assistance from you”…then she hurls you to the depths of your fears as she recounts the events of an unspeakable tragedy. Thomika Marie Bridwell, too, reclaims her strength in a commanding metaphorical twist on “identity” theft. Verna Hampton magically morphs from innocent child to righteous woman. The entire cast excells, from tiny powerhouse Ciera Sade-Wade…to Karima Williams to Tonasia Jones and Byron Walters herself. Each “poem” empowers us, as we witness women surviving the weight of the world. (Closed)

AMERICAN CLASSICS has the knack for inventing one-of-a-kind musical niches, shows that are so delightful, you wonder why no one else thought of, say, LONDON PRIDE. After all, there’s a trove of musical treasures in the “American Songbook,” composed around the people and places of London: Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Lerner & Lowe, and of course, Noel Coward, all honored his “dear, old town.” Most significantly, AMERICAN CLASSICS has the unique ability to find the ideal singers to make a revue more than just a revue. There’s the burnished baritone of Ben Sears and gorgeous piano arrangements of Brad Conner, co-founders of the CLASSICS. And their guests: Tenor Davron Monroe (who often sings with them) lifted “On the Street Where You Live” to anthem heights in the MY FAIR LADY segment. Then Teresa Winner Blume made you feel like you had seen the whole musical with her touching, exuberant “I Could Have Danced All Night.” But it was Michelle Deluise who out-Hollowayed the vaudeville star as Alfred P. Doolittle (!) performing a rousing “With a Little Bit of Luck!”…This versatile comedienne could knead a chill into SWEENEY TODD with Sondheim’s “The Worst Pies in London” and she’s able to switch gears (and wring tears from my eyes) with the somber “Streets of London” (by Ralph McTell) where children starve and desperate men drown their troubles with drink. The ensemble took us from Berkeley Square to Neverland and back… It must have been the pixie dust…because every song soared. (Closed)