Saturday, December 29, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Captivating SHIPWRECKED!

One of the most charming productions of the year comes at the very end of the year. SHIPWRECKED! An Entertainment—The Amazing Adventures of Louis De Rougemont (As Told By Himself) is elegantly performed by Moonbox Productions, with the same talented cast alternating evenings in TWELFTH NIGHT, also a tale set into motion by a shipwreck.

SHIPWRECKED’s playwright, Donald Marguiles, creates a larger than life world where a sickly young lad can dream of sea voyages, rugged sailors and strange animals like flying marsupials—then sign on with an eager captain and discover new lands for himself. We sign on, too, hanging on every word the elderly De Rougemont utters. We suspect he may be embellishing the story but he seems so sincere and kind (a tour de force for Kevin Cirone as both the old and the young explorer), that we give ourselves over completely to him.

We appreciate Marguiles’ tongue in cheek reminders here and there that the truth is being stretched or misrepresented entirely (those flying wombats) but this is a NICHOLAS NICKELBY experience and we’re all in. Part of the allure is Allison Olivia Choat’s ingenious staging where everything can become something else in the blink of an eye, as we watch Michael Lin’s “Foley” sound effects come to life (a wind machine, aluminum panels for thunder, etc.). Most impressive is the music (Dan Rodriguez’ department), performed on stage by the extraordinarily versatile cast.

The sincerity of the players allows us to laugh at De Rougemont’s innocence, as he recounts his wild discoveries. But when De Rougemont counts his losses, Cirone breaks our hearts, especially when he loses his faithful friend, Bruno (Sarah Gazdowicz in a star turn) and when he loses favor with his fellow Londoners.

Levity is provided by the barrelful by Arthur Gomez as the blustery captain, by Charlotte Kinder as De Rougemont’s over-protective mother, by Gazdowicz and Andrew Winson as stuffy old society ladies, by Matthew Zahnzinger as a doddering, pinched, octopus expert…Every member of the taut ensemble has the chance to find laughter in a moment and lose themselves in a touching character role.


Monday, December 24, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey MILE 26.2

Act I of Leah Nanako Winkler’s TWO MILE HOLLOW (@ Apollinaire through Jan 20th) reminded me a little of Charles Busch’s wild send-up of those 1950’s Annette Funicella / Frankie Avalon BEACH movies. Winkler certainly catches Busch’s over the top spirit but to sustain that level of outrageous hilarity, the liveliness has to increase exponentially. Act I is hilarious but only in waves. The success of outsized farce depends on brazen momentum and Winkler’s parody of rich white families picks up steam, then runs out of it, then gathers it again and runs out again.

The plot, if there is one, hinges on a fraught reunion, when, after the patriarch’s death, the surviving family members return to their sprawling beach house in the Hamptons, to divvy up possessions, and revisit old grievances, before it is sold. Mother (Paola M. Ferrer) is a terror. Daughter Mary (Christa Brown) is a basket case. Two insecure brothers (Armando Rivera and Mauro Canepa) fight over father’s motorcycle/metaphor (Don’t ask) and Jasmine Brooks, as the latter brother’s personal assistant, tags along in the first act and becomes the focus of the second.

The beach house, we’re told, has a strange way of “affecting” its inhabitants. Evidently, it’s haunted by the ghost of the late father who seems, in his afterlife, to have grown fond of lightening strikes. Peculiarly, the HOLLOW affects the play, too, turning Act II into a serious attempt at “message” drama, pontificating about being “true to oneself.” This carnival of the bizarre is a marathon of unwieldy dialogue and nonsensical allusions to weighty dramas by Chekov and Tennessee Williams… not to mention Hitchcock when mother and daughter engage in earsplitting (Caw Caw) bird-shrieks.

Speaking of carnivals, David Reiffel’s delightful sound design whisks us from “The Days of Wine and Roses” to Saint-Saens’ gorgeous “Aquarium,” with clever original music thrown in for the wonderfully goofy “Extraordinary.” Director Danielle Fauteux Jacques knows her way around comedy and there are plenty of opportunities for merriment but the playwright moves the target on herand for me, it was too late for the rather weak socio-political points about race and status. The revelations come tardy as well. (We didn’t even know there were any for most of the play. What is a revelation anyway, without suspense and anticipation to precede it?)

What there is in TWO MILE HOLLOW is an abundance of silliness, like the zany, recurring mispronunciationswhich made me giggle every time because I didn’t see them coming… Even though I knew there’d be more of them. So, if you can shift gears half way through, you may “get” what the playwright is trying to accomplish. There is an exhibit of photos in the lobby which makes the point that the play missed. You’ll cringe when you see Lawrence Oliver in blackface as Othello (hovering over a young, white Maggie Smith). The exhibit doesn’t include brown/black faced opera singers but it should. The Metropolitan Opera still presents white singers “bronzed up” as Othello and as Aida, broadcasting the performances without shame, to millions of viewers in theaters via HD simulcast. No one bats an eyelash!

Thursday, December 6, 2018


Two companies cast fresh eyes on historical figures with strong ties to Boston this month. New Repertory Theatre gives 1776 the “Hamilton” treatment (through Dec. 30th) and Lyric Stage Company (in association with The Front Porch Arts Collective) remembers the extraordinary African-American tenor, Roland Hayes, with BREATH & IMAGINATION (through Dec. 23rd).

New Rep’s daring re-imagining of Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone’s 1776 puts all of us on stage, in all our diversity, to tell the story this time out. Lin-Manuel Miranda created a theatrical revolution with his commitment to a theater which reflects society and, as John Adams famously says in 1776, “We’ve crossed the Rubicon.” There’s no going back. HAMILTON re-sets the bar. Hallelujah!

Austin Pendleton and Kelli Edwards beef up the choreography and tweak the focus, but otherwise, it’s the 1776 you know. Perhaps their biggest hurtle is the music. Because women are singing some of the male roles (and visa versa in one case), music director Todd C. Gordon had to rework the score, changing keys to accommodate the higher voices. He did. It works brilliantly and as a result of the new casting, you sit up and take notice!

The most conventional role (as in “traditional” casting) is Benjamin Evett’s as Adams and he gives a passionate performancebut swirling all around him is the brave new world reinterpreting the old white world of our founding fathers. You might not think it would work but it does and there’s resonance to be had that the old, pale version didn’t have. When Thomas Jefferson is played by an African-American actor, (a serene KP Powell as the quiet, cerebral author of the Declaration), you’re not about to forget that Jefferson kept slaves and fathered children with at least one slave. (The “Declaration Descendants” project at has found twenty-nine living multi-racial descendants of the signers!)

The strange alchemy at work is that, at the same time, you forget the casting altogether and are swept up in the action of the musical. Bobbie Steinbach may be portraying Ben Franklin, but it’s still the cantankerous Ben Franklin out there. Shannon Lee Jones is delivering the “Molasses to Rum to Slaves” showstopper but Rutledge still takes your breath away with his indictment of the tall ships “out of Boston” (knowingly transporting slaves from the West Indies to the South). The entire ensemble is flawless, with Dan Prior a shimmering Martha Jefferson (the show’s most courageous role), with Rachel Belleman hilarious as the hard drinking R.I. delegate and Liliane Klein wonderfully acerbic as the Scotsman from Delaware.

 “Momma Look Sharp” (sung from the perspective of a dead soldier on the Lexington Green) is always devastating and Steven Martin’s gorgeous elegy is exceptionally sweet and powerful. Carolyn Saxon’s cheeky Abigail Adams contributes spice as well as salt peter to the revolution. You’ll relish Cheryl Singleton as John Hancock, Aimee Doherty as the conservative Pennsylvania holdout, Pier Lamia Porter as the preposterous Henry Lee (of the Virginia Lees), Luis Negron as the steady congressional secretary, Gary Ng as the delegate who saves the vote, and more, many more. Don’t miss out.

I recall a reenactment one July Fourth at the Old State House downtown wherein the Declaration of Independence was solemnly read aloud, followed by Roland Hayes singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” It must have been well over forty years ago, yet it made an indelible impression on me. How sad it is that not many Bostonians remember the ground breaking tenor who lived in Brookline for the last fifty years of his life. Daniel Beaty’s BREATH & IMAGINATION is making some restitution (although the script only covers the early part of Hayes’ remarkable ninety year lifespan).

Davron S. Monroe gives a tour de force as the pioneering African-American singer in director Maurice Emmanuel Parent’s evocative production at the Lyric. The Beaty script focuses in large part on Hayes’ relationship with his mother: Yewande Odetoyinbo turns in a stellar performance as the tenacious woman who won’t give up easily on her dream to have a preacher for a son. Beaty takes liberties with timelines and omissions but manages to convey the hardships Hayes endured on his way to becoming one of the preeminent interpreters of both operatic and spiritual music in America.

In addition to Monroe and Odetoyinbo, both of whom are impressive vocalists, BREATH & IMAGINATION features Doug Gerber as Hayes’ kindly first voice teacher (who plays a life-changing recording of Enrico Caruso for the young Hayes) and Nile Scott Hawver who plays everyone else (including a “non-traditional” role like the ones in 1776). Music director Asher Denburg accompanies the singers on piano, no small accomplishment. His is quite a spirited performance, as well.

Hayes’ ties to Boston began in 1917 when he rented Symphony Hall and produced his own sold out concert. Six years later after major success in Europe, he made his “official,” invited debut with the BSO. He gave his last concert at the age of eighty-five at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge. Of course, his voice is the most important element in BREATH & IMAGINATION so we hear Monroe singing Scarlatti, Faure, Schubert and Donizetti as well as famous spirituals like “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord.”

Monroe triumphs in Nemorino’s gorgeous aria from L’ELISIR D’AMORE, “Una Furtiva Lagrima,” when a tell-tale tear reveals true love. Every operatic tenor worth his salt covers the aria. Add Monroe’s name to that list. Kudos to the Lyric and Front Porch for reminding us of the treasure that was Boston’s for so many years.



Wednesday, November 14, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey PANdemonium at Hub

As the variegated pirates and wildly weird inhabitants of PETER AND THE STARCATHER are wont to say in the Hub Theatre extravaganza (@ The First Church downtown through Nov. 17th) :T T F N (Ta Ta For Now)… which means they’ll be back, again and again, swanning and swashbuckling to the delight of children, parents and ordinarily crusty reviewers. What’s not to like in Hub’s madcap mash-up of the tightly wound original PETER PAN.

Director Sarah Gazdowicz makes the production look like the inmates have taken over the asylum. The (barely) controlled hysteria reminded me of Imaginary Beasts’ free wheeling Pantomimes. Gazdowicz and several others in the Hub cast are stellar IB alumni, where imagination leaves no stone unturned. The best part of the PAN prequel is watching the characters wind up and then spin out all over the stage. Chief among them is Joey C. Pelletier’s nefarious Black Stache, arch-enemy of Peter. You know him as Captain Hook from the J.M. Barrie version. The clever children in the audience knew at once and said so out loud. (This version, imagined by comedian Dave Barry takes place before the other Barrie story. If this is confusing to you, just wait for the wacky exposition, which I still haven’t fully grasped)

Pelletier is a whirling dervish whose manic quips and quotes fly so fast, you can hardly keep up. He’s aided and abetted by Michael John Ciszewski as his right hand man who’s always right at hand, although the captain doesn’t notice him, thereby cementing his name. Pelletier bellows and Ciczewski answers frenetically “It’s me.” (Say this a few dozen times and you’ll see.)

Ciszewski specializes in running the best amok you’ll see all season. What’s more, you can’t wait to see Bob Mussett return as the elderly lady who thinks she might like to try romance again… even better still, she (in full beard, mind you) catches the eye of a gentlemanly seaman portrayed in marvelous deadpan by Lindsay Eagle! More delicious turns from Robert Orzalli as a Cosa Nostra chef with a menu you can’t refuse, from Jon Vellante as one of the lost, so hungry boys that he faints at the mention of sticky pudding, from David Makransky as the other lost boy who wants to be “leader” and from Molly Kimmerling as a nasty villain of a captain.

The plot is hung on the (mostly serious) characters… who don’t get to be funny but they do get to deliver some very touching moments. Claire Koenig as Peter is a wonder. We believe she’s the boy who doesn’t want to grow up (because grown-ups lie and cheat). Smart fellow! Lauren Elias as the Wendy stand-in (Please don’t ask me why she’s not actually named Wendy), does have some sport, challenging and besting the “lost boys” and some heartache when she leaves them. Liz Adams as her stalwart father oozes good breeding and fair play. Valera Bamgala, likewise, is the stand up captain of the ship with the wrong cargo. (Again, don’t ask me about the cargo. I completely lost track of the second treasure chest and I’ve seen the play before.)

Here’s the deal. The brilliant ensemble cast keeps you on your toes, expecting another surprise around the next corner. And the surprises keep coming. You’re laughing so hard, you’re afraid you’ll laugh over the dialogue so you try to squeal quietly, using your inside voice so you won’t miss anything. It’s exhausting, having such a grand time. Who cares about the silly plot anyway.



Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Capsule Review By Beverly Creasey ACCOMODATION COMPLICATION

One of the best performances of the season is Paula Plum’s as a lonely, timid soul who opens up to a ROOMMATE (@ Lyric Stage through Nov. 18th). The play turns on a very thin, implausible dime about half way through but director Spiro Veloudos picks up the pace and pulls it off, even as you shake your head in disbelief that it could work. The best line in the play is Adrianne Krstansky’s about children: “They don’t have to like us. They just have to live long enough to become us.”




American Classics’ revue, YIP! YIP! YAPHANK (Irving Berlin’s World War I Soldier Show) pulls out all the stops. Berlin became a citizen, became famous for his popular songs, got drafted into the Army and convinced the Brass he’d be more useful writing them a show. Everyone, not just the doughboys, knows Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning (Someday I’m going to murder the bugler…) The American Classics’ combo, led by Joe Della Penna, included drums (Dean Groves), and of course, a bugler (Jason Huffman)!

Since 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the “War to End All Wars” you’ll be seeing a lot of historical footage but American Classics’ effort, for my vote, hits just the right notes. It seemed like a cast of thousands (really only 17) but they packed the Longy Stage in Cambridge with precision marching, not to mention an impressive precision tambourine drill from one of Berlin’s Minstrel Shows.

Just like the boys at boot camp (near Yaphank in Long Island) donned wigs and pearls, the American Classics ensemble dressed up as the famous Floradora Girls, led by AC founder Brad Conner as Ethan Sagin’s sweetie in Sterling Silver Moon. Ben Sears kicked off the bittersweet songs Berlin wrote to buck up his fellow infantrymen, with the charming Smile and Show Your Dimple (Light your face up and brace up).

Narrated by Peter A. Carey, AC found delightful parodies and more than a few show stopping sentimental songs like Joel Edwards’ gorgeous (Dream on, Little) Soldier Boy, sung with a humming chorus. If Brian DeLorenzo’s letter home to mother, (I Can Always Find a Little Sunshine in) The YMCA, didn’t already have us in tears, the barbershop harmony sold it, sliding into a heart-wrenching finish. Then the soldier boys trooped off the stage with the sobering We’re On Our Way to France. They returned for an encore of the original 1918 version (two decades before Kate Smith’s smash hit) of God Bless America, written to a slightly different tune. For an hour or so, you felt hopeful for a world dedicated to peace and prosperity.

Saturday, November 3, 2018


Theatre on Fire has a gift for finding cheeky, boisterous British comedies like Lucy Kirkwood’s naughty, savagely funny NSFW (playing @ CWT through Nov. 17th). NOT SAFE FOR WORK debuted in 2012 at the Royal Court Theatre in London and it couldn’t be more current now.

You know, of course, that the British are obsessed with sex… not just those cringe-worthy BENNY HILL comedies. Their daily rags sport titillating front page headlines like “House of Lords entangled in sex ring” and worse on line. It’s the way we’re obsessed with political conspiracies here (although thanks to this president, you’re hard pressed to find a respected daily that doesn’t reference his sexual assaults). We’re at last becoming British! Two wars couldn’t do it but this pathological narcissist has accomplished it without even trying.

Here’s the set-up for NSFW. A British version of PENTHOUSE named DOGHOUSE may have published something clearly illegal and we get to see A) How they try to wriggle out of it and B) How everyone, it seems, will compromise their morals when there’s a substantial payoff involved and C) We get to observe the inner workings of a creepy, sexist enterprise. In point of fact, we see it twice, when C) reverses itself in Act II, with turnabout/fair play except that nothing is fair in Kirkwood’s dog eat dog publishing world.

The dialogue is clever and heady, referencing everything from the latest endocrine research to Nancy Mitford’s code words to identify class. Director Darren Evans’ cast is spot on. The physical comedy is inspired, with one character’s humiliating journey from pillar to post (the hilarious Isaiah Plovnick) to another’s battle to the death (metaphorically speaking, of course) with Spanx. Anna Wintour can’t hold a candle to Becca Lewis’ man-eating managing director.

David Anderson turns in another tour de force (you may recall his dazzling work for Zeitgeist), this time as the sleazy head of DOGHOUSE magazine. He knows every dog whistle in a journalist’s lexicon, reducing each and every one of his employees to rubble. There’s Ivy Ryan in a nicely nuanced performance as his willing assistant (whose face and body language register “unwilling”) and Padraig Sullivan, utterly charming as a poor, benighted, Argyle (sweatered and souled) homebody totally unsuited for this kind of work.

Best of all, to my mind, is Dale J. Young as a wronged citizen, a father who just wants to bounce his little girl on his knee again, a wretched creature with no family now, no hope ahead of him and no way to prevail against Anderson’s cold-hearted, manipulating bastard.  

Saturday, October 27, 2018

New Review By Beverly Creasey Nunsensical Naughtiness

Who would have thought that a small, out-of-the-way theater like Curtain Call would have the answer to the overwhelming Sturm and Drang oppressing us daily! They’re offering the chance to escape the relentless political mayhem by embracing the comic mayhem of NUNSENSE THE MUSICAL (playing through Nov. 4th). Laughter, it seems, may be the only respite we have.

Audiences evidently adore nuns behaving badly… almost as much as misbehaving puppets: Dan Goggin’s musical has both, from an irreverent Reverend Mother to an unruly puppet called Sister Mary Annette. It seems the NUNSENSE franchise is going strong still, with sequels and spin-offs everywhere. But essential to a successful send-up are comic timing, truthful portrayals and crackerjack performers who can sing, dance and spoof. Director/choreographer David Costa has a professional cast who make it look easy, even the raucous tap number!

Mary Beth Murphy as Mother Superior reigns over her brood with a severe side glance that most school children instantly recognize… but you don’t have to be Catholic to be familiar with the stern stance of authority, or to delight in the Reverend Mother’s unintentional tumble from grace. Murphy’s momentarily lapsed Right Reverend is a hoot.

Christine Kenney as Sister Robert (with a decidedly broad Bronx accent) gets lots of laughs complaining about playing second fiddle to Mother Superior. She even gets a song about it. Nikita DaRosa gives a winning performance as the sweetest ballet dancing Sister Mary Leo I’ve encountered in many a NUNSENSE… and Kels Ferguson wins our hearts hands down, as the slightly vague Sister suffering mightily from amnesia. Ferguson and her puppet steal the show outright. Not only does she voice Sister Marie Annette without moving her lips, her own voice in their duet is a unique blend of Disneyfied warble and operatic Bel Canto. Bravo.

Rena Pemper-Rodriguez gets to fire up the audience as if it were a Revival Meeting with her Holier Than Thou hoedown. Music director Danielle Clougher steps up the tempo for a rip-roaring finish to the show. When I attended, the audience was responding to Sister Hubert like it was an evangelical service with call and response! David Costa and company have conjured up some virtuoso alchemy for a truly delightful NUNSENSE.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Remembering and Revisiting Childhood

FUN HOME (@ BCA through Nov. 24th) is the kind of intimate, artful musical which is right up SpeakEasy’s alley. They take small works like Jason Robert Brown’s A New Brain or Tony Kushner’s Caroline, or Change and give them the definition that might be lost in a huge theater. That said, FUN HOME won a slew of Tony Awards in New York including Best Musical, being the first musical with a lesbian central character to do so.

FUN HOME (music by Jeanine Tesori/book and lyrics by Lisa Kron) is based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, which Bechdel sardonically calls “A Family Tragicomedy”… Tragic certainly as the loss of a parent can be to the survivors, but comic because she had inventive siblings for support. In the musical they make up a delightfully irreverent, faux advertisement for their father’s funeral home business (hence the title of the musical).

All isn’t fun for Alison and her brothers. Their father is remote and can be cruel on occasion. We meet Alison at three times in her life, as a schoolgirl (Marissa Simeqi), as a college student (Ellie van Amerongen) with Amy Jo Jackson as principal narrator of the musical at age 43. The trick is that they’re all sharing the stage together.

The forty three year old has a grown-up’s empathy for her gay, closeted father because “he didn’t know what to do… he wanted more out of life” but the eight year old didn’t understand why he constantly belittled her ideas. In fact both father (Todd Yard) and mother (Laura Marie Duncan) burden Alison with their problems. Both parents have musical moments where they lay bare their emotions but Duncan’s “Days and Days” about “the day you disappear” is a show stopper.

Director Paul Daigneault has a talented cast to bring home the coming of age story… and because music director Matthew Stern and the small-scale ensemble are on stage, FUN HOME becomes a cozy chamber musical. Tesori’s score ranges from mother’s classical etude to a wonderful rock n’ roll number, Ring of Keys featuring solid guitar work from Tom Young.

Van Amerongen totals up lots of laughs when she finally feels comfortable enough to come out, in the riotous Changing My Major [to Joan]. Desire Graham is a standout as the object of her affection, as are Cameron Levesque and Luke Gold portraying her precocious, younger brothers.



Monday, October 22, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Line of Demarcation

The Improbable Players develop plays about addiction (alcohol/ cocaine /heroin/opiates etc.) which they perform in schools and community settings, with education and prevention their goal. Their impressive showcase, END OF THE LINE: “Confronting the Epidemic” occupied the Mosesian main stage at the Watertown Arsenal this past Wednesday night (Oct. 17th).

Originally conceived and directed by Lynn Bratley (and continued by Joanna Simmons and Chris Everett), the evening of stories and vignettes were gathered by interviewing people who know the pain of addiction without knowing how to embrace change. The actors have lived similar stories because they themselves are in recovery. What comes across to an audience is their generous spirit and a genuine affection for the characters they inhabit.

In one heartbreaking sketch, a small child (Caryn May) finds drugs in her mother’s unattended purse. In another a desperate woman (Meghann Perry) calls multiple pharmacies to renew an opiate prescription with “no refills.” In another scene, a game show host (Jon Riemer) asks the audience to identify the addict. In the last scene of the evening Christian Santilli’s character is literally tied in knots trying to find his way out of the addiction cycle. What we witness in all the depictions is how easily someone in dire need will turn to another, far more dangerous drug without realizing or caring what it will do to them.

Years ago it was thought that ads and slogans could “scare people straight”… Now we know that doesn’t work. Remember Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign or the public service television spot showing an egg crack open in a frying pan. The baritone voice warned us “This is your brain on drugs.” The problem is that these platitudes are impersonal or at best, one size fits all. The dozen or so actors of Improbable Players make their live message of hope “up front and personal” and that makes all the difference.


Sunday, October 21, 2018


Although David Meyers’ WE WILL NOT BE SILENT (@ New Rep through Nov. 4th) takes place in Nazi Germany over 70 years ago (based on real members of the Resistance movement) it seems to mirror events in our time…the only difference is that the German woman at the heart of Meyers’ play is put to death for protesting against Hitler and protesters in the U.S. are not… Except that it does happen here. A woman attending a peaceful rally in Charlottesville, Virginia was murdered by Neo-Nazis… and the president refused to condemn the right wing nationalists, saying there were “good people on both sides.” And now he sets the tone for more violence by telling his supporters that peaceful dissenters are “angry mobs” which should be feared.

Sophie Scholl’s small resistance organization (the White Rose) published leaflets which were her undoing when the police found them in her possession. Among other charges against Hitler were the words, “Every word that comes from his mouth is a lie.” We often wonder how the Germans could let the Holocaust happen. “Never Again” is written above the concentration camps that still stand as horrific reminders. Yet the Nationalist (trans. Nazi) Party is gaining ground today in Germany (and all over Europe). And here.

Tim Spears gives a strong performance as Sophie Scholl’s interrogator, playing “good cop/bad cop” with her emotions. Sarah Oakes Muirhead as Sophie has the difficult task of playing the nobility beneath her stalwart exterior. Muirhead seems so frail, yet the resistance rested on her small shoulders. Like Brecht’s Galileo, she is offered leniency if she recants and like Shaw’s Joan of Arc, she can’t deny what she believes, even to see her beloved family again. Like Shaw’s Joan, Meyers gives Sophie a lovely speech about the earthly beauty she will lose. Meyers also affords her the chance to see her brother (a graceful Conor Proft) again, if only in her imagination. Director Jim Petosa’s resonant production reminds us of the terrible consequences of “silence.”


Sunday, October 14, 2018


Boston Lyric Opera pulls out most of the stops in Rossini’s knock about comic opera, THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, parading through Oct. 21st @ Emerson Cutler Majestic. Director Rosetta Cucchi (and scenic designer Julia Noulin-Mérat) have imagined a set inspired by M.C. Escher with endless stairways, some going nowhere. Certainly, mistaken avenues and mistaken identities pepper the (Beaumarchais) story. Precautions prove useless (as in Rossini’s first title for the opera) as a lecherous old doctor tries to outwit a dashing count in pursuit of a beauty.

The “beauty” is mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack, as Rosina, who delivers a triumphant Una Voce Poco Fa, as Rossini wrote it, in the original key! We know everything we need to know from that aria: She can be sweet if she wants, but do not cross her or you will feel her wrath. Her gorgeous top notes are surpassed only by her astonishing, comic low notes. Equaling her prowess and power is tenor Jesus Garcia as the count. Their playful duets propel the comedy forward. (The speed of the music has to match the speed of the farce and music director David Angus keeps the momentum apace.)

Act I by itself is a wonder, with Matthew Worth’s brash Largo Al Factotum to “humbly” introduce himself as the “barber of quality,” with Rosina’s spectacular aria, Figaro’s driving duet with the count, Steven Condy’s hilarious Doctor Bartolo, a wild sextet to end the act and, best of all, David Crawford’s lashing, scene stealing turn as Don Basilio: Looking like one of the Munsters, walking like a peacock who is having difficulty unfurling his tail, Crawford makes the schemer irresistible. His La Calunnia, to my mind, is the highlight of the opera.

For BARBER veterans, little unexpected touches are a delight, as long as they don’t change the narrative or the music. Case in point, Don Basilio’s slightly sado-masochistic bent and his misinterpretation in Act II of the endless farewells. It’s extremely clever to have him return because he wants to be polite… And Rosina’s personal tempest for the orchestral storm… And Dr. Bartolo’s headphones: so silly but effective in keeping him occupied while the lovers plot their elopement. (A few of the comic bits seemed cringe worthy to me but they got lots of laughs.)

I wish director Cucchi and company had embraced the ‘useless stairway’ conceit to its full extent, mining humor from foiled exits but I only noticed one false comic departure (Don Basilio’s) and it didn’t involve a stairway at all. Dr. Bartolo trouped endlessly up and down the same flight but mostly, the Escher effect itself went nowhere except to separate characters who are ordinarily in the same room (Dr. Bartolo eyeing the furtive lovers at the piano). I did love Rosina’s frustration, however, when neither the count nor the doctor paid her any attention in the music lesson.

See this BARBER for the lovely voices and the ingenious flourishes, both vocal and dramatic.

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Perilous PICNIC

If you know Imaginary Beasts from the inspired lunacy of their Winter Pantos, you will be surprised by the depth and intensity of their haunting PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (through Oct. 27th @ Charlestown Working Theater).

This is the 50th anniversary of the Joan Lindsay novel (which inspired the eerie Peter Weir film) about several impressionable schoolgirls who went missing during a field trip to the 500 foot high volcanic rock “corpse” hanging over the Australian plain.

Imaginary Beasts is the always inventive brainchild of Matthew Woods. He fuses atmospheric music, physicality, shadow play and a powerful gestural language into his creations… whether or not he’s working from a pre-existing script.

This adaptation (by Tom Wright from the novel) is enhanced by the ensemble’s seamless story telling. (Each IB project is a collaboration.) Six actresses trade characters as diverse as a crusty old carriage driver, a dogged policeman, an Englishman on holiday and the highly susceptible students of Appleyard College.

In the same way that you give yourself over to a puppet (blinding yourself to the puppeteer), your eyes will see only the climbers, as the foolhardy girls clamber up the (human) rock face and tumble over an actor’s back into a ravine below. Woods manages to evoke the wild spirit lurking beneath the repressed veneer of a Victorian education (reflected cleverly in Cotton Talbot-Minken’s proper, buttoned up British attire).

Woods has found some wonderful additions to his solid troupe of performers, who when exchanging persona and placement, act as an organic whole, all contributing to the unity of the performance. IB is unique in making the ensemble the point, and the star, of their shows.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Fission Vision at Flat Earth

FLAT EARTH THEATRE, despite its playfully antediluvian name, is carving out a niche for itself, discovering lovely plays about women of science. DELICATE PARTICLE LOGIC by Jennifer Blackmer (pulsing through Oct. 13th) places atomic physicist Lise Meitner (a tour de force by Christine Power) at the epicenter of the unearthing of nuclear fission… for which her male laboratory partner, the noted chemist Otto Hahn (a solid Thomas Grenon) received the Nobel Prize. (You may remember Flat Earth’s extraordinary production of SILENT SKY from last season, about the women of the Harvard Observatory who weren’t credited for the stars they discovered.)

In Blackmer’s ingenious memory play, Meitner and Hahn join forces to find the next new element… and beat out the rest of the field, which included Enrico Fermi, for the bragging rights. Everyone, it seems, was bombarding radium and uranium to find heretofore unknown heavier elements. Meitner suggested to Hahn that what they were, or rather, weren’t seeing, were lighter elements emerging with unstable centers, and those center nuclei would yield infinite energy when bombarded. Please insert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity here because I, not being a scientist, can only grasp that splitting these molecules creates fission and fission is essential for a very, very large explosion… like the horrific bombs unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

It is now widely accepted that Meitner and Hahn should have shared in the accolades. Blackmer ingeniously places Meitner in the center of a tiny emotional sphere as well, with Hahn and his wife (a glorious performance from Barbara Douglass) swirling in various combinations. We first meet Edith Hahn in a sanitarium of sorts, where she has been committed for hurling a vase at her husband! When she is visited by Meitner, the two reminisce as if they were old friends. We’re given several versions of the past to choose from, charming recreations, which, like Edith’s water colors, float in undulating memory pools.

Blackmer is extremely kind to Hahn, painting him as an affectionate lab partner to Meitner, even helping her escape from the Nazis. However, the playwright intimates that the two may have been more. Meitner calls him Hahnchen, the “chen” indicating intimacy, perhaps only ‘wished for’ on her part. And he may have been nudged, the playwright hints, to accept sole ownership of the Nobel. You decide once you’ve weighed all the dramatic evidence. That’s what’s so fascinating about Blackmer’s play, that all this information has been filtered through time and fragile recollections.

Director Betsy S. Goldman’s shimmering production is enhanced exponentially by Christine A. Banna’s dancing projections (from sparkling snow to theoretical formulae which flow right over the actors) and PJ Strachman’s shadowy, evocative lighting. Kudos to Flat Earth for again offering performances with American Sign Language interpreters.

As I was leaving the theater, bemoaning Meitner’s fate, a friend reminded me of the wonderful Nobel news of last week. Even as half the Senate was dismissing a woman’s testimony and embracing a judge’s lies, two women were recognized by the worldwide scientific community. Frances H. Arnold (and two men) won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Donna Strickland won the Nobel for Physics. Flat Earth Theatre calls us to remember all the women who have stood up over the centuries. Thanks, Flat Earth.



Sunday, September 30, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey BURGESS Goes Mamet One Better

Eleanor Burgess’ brilliant two hander, THE NICETIES, may have used David Mamet’s OLEANNA structure (student confronts teacher/ professor gets rattled/ says and does untoward things/ consequences ensue) but that’s where the comparison ends. THE NICETIES isn’t about radical feminism. Racism and history are at odds in the Huntington’s savvy production (playing through Oct. 6th) and unlike the static Mamet play, I truly enjoyed Burgess’ serious and often humorous writing.

The law of unintended consequences, however, has intervened in my review because I saw Burgess’ extraordinary play mere hours after I watched Dr. Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh testify before Congress on Sept. 27 (prior to Senator Flake’s successful maneuver for an F.B.I. investigation). Words like prep school, bravery, hearings and death threats jumped across the footlights at me, clanging like “The Anvil Chorus.” Suddenly, Burgess’ play became an indictment of the current (hopeless, helpless) state of our democracy, when, in fact, she sets her play in 2016 before the car wreck of an alt-right government.

Burgess is concerned with the bias of history, especially American historywritten, as the pundits say, by the victors. So why should we be surprised that there are few accounts from African slaves or Native-Americans of what transpired? The young African-American student whose paper is being skewered for both grammar and content (by her elegant but pretentious white professor) makes the case that she’s carrying around “real history” in her skin and bones. (Fats Waller made the case seventy years ago about “what is on my face” in his searing “Black and Blue.” Yet African-Americans today still find their lives endangered by the color of their skin.)

Jordan Boatman’s Zoe is audacious and impetuous and her professor (Lisa Banes, oozing a Seven Sisters superiority) doesn’t much like her tone. She tries to tell the student she’s sympatico: “I get it,” she says. And you know the response to that! The back and forth is exciting stuff. You think the teacher has a point (about books being better than Google for academic reference material), then you side with the student (about the importance of demonstrations and marches over classes). It’s a marvelous debate until it goes very wrong.

You’re even drawn into the argument at the center of their academic disagreement: that revolutions don’t work. The professor maintains that the repressive government which is violently overthrown makes way for yet another repressive regime, citing Russia, Iran and Cuba. The student is sure that in America’s case, “democracy was fertilized by oppression” but her professor isn’t signing on, especially without proof.

Director Kimberly Senior gets a clever dramatic rhythm going on stage for the two dynamic performers and Act I hurtles by. The second act resolution, for me, is less satisfying than the set-up but whether we favor one point of view over the other, Burgess manages to make both characters compelling and sympathetic.


Saturday, September 29, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey “Not a Puppet… Not a Puppet” Fred is us.

You must MEET FRED, at the Boston Center for the Arts only through Sept. 30th so hurry! He’s a plucky little fellow who just wants “to be a regular guy.”… But it’s not so easy for someone who needs help to get around. The PUPPET SHOWPLACE in Brookline (celebrating its 45th year) is instrumental in bringing FRED all the way from Wales to Boston as part of FRED’s cross country tour. (The Showplace presents ingenious puppet performances for adults, in addition to their children’s shows and their riotous puppet SLAMS.)

Two Welsh companies conceived MEET FRED, their hilarious and deeply touching theater piece about a puppet and his existential existence. The puppeteers from Blind Summit joined up with the Hijinx organization, which creates extraordinary work performed by actors with and without learning disabilities… and the result of their merger is remarkable.

Fred resembles those small, featureless, wooden models with hinged appendages, used to practice drawing the human figure. No face, just an oval head perched on a moveable torso. But FRED is definitely not made of wood. He’s soft cloth, animated by three puppeteers in black who recede, like the puppeteers in WAR HORSE did. We experience Fred’s enormous struggle to stand up (literally and figuratively) in a world not particularly interested in him. He’s got heart and gumption and he’s determined to make his mark. (Dan McGowan, Morgan Thomas and Sam Harding work every joint and sinew the little guy has, with McGowan supplying Fred’s charming, squeaky and sometimes defiant voice.)

Lucky for us, Fred’s adventures take him into Monty Python territory: He meets a hostile job councilor in Richard Newnham, a bewildered human date in Lindsay Foster and a fifty mile per hour hurricane, conjured up by director Ben Pettit-Wade and stage manager Gareth John.

If you have seen Boston’s IMAGINARY BEASTS, then you’re familiar with the seamless mix of puppetry and humanity for creating profoundly moving theater. This is the Welsh version of the Beasts. When Fred expresses deep sorrow, you’ll feel it, too. But mostly, the show mines laughter born out of the everyday frustrations we all experience. Fred really is all of us.

Monday, September 24, 2018


We’re not safe from President Trump, even in the theater. He gets a mention or two in SpeakEasy’s comedy and the whole evening at Zeitgeist. First let’s cover the crazy, funny love at SpeakEasy Stage.

BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY (playing through Oct. 13th) is Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Pulitzer Prize winning comedy (and some ‘drama’ too) about a gloriously dysfunctional family living in a rent controlled apartment on Riverside Drive. The action swirls around Pops, who left the police force when he was shot by a fellow officer who didn’t know he was NYPD. Guirgis could have, but he doesn’t, get righteous about the shooter being white and Pops, African American. (We go there in our heads, though. You can’t help thinking of all the horrific shootings of African-Americans in the news. And we all know now, if we didn’t before, that a Black man isn’t even safe in his own apartment.)

But Guirgis has many more fish to fry in his play. This shooting is only one. His brilliant, hilarious dialogue turns some heavy plot twists into comic gold. Just when you think the Act I set-up is a little top heavy, some surprising magical realism ties up every loose end… and you never see the cogs that turn the dramatic wheel. Tyrees Allen is superb as the irascible Pops. Everyone in director Tiffany Nichole Greene’s sharp cast is in top form, especially Alajandro Simoes as a recovering drug and sugar addict, Stewart Evan Smith as Pops’ world weary, depressed son and Octavia Chavez-Richmond as the son’s wacky girlfriend BUT it’s Celeste Oliva who steals the show as the red hot church lady. Don’t miss out on Guirgis’ love fest.

Much closer to the vest is Jon Robin Baitz’ cautionary tale entitled VICUÑA (playing @ Zeitgeist Stage through Oct. 6th). Without Baitz’ immensely serious prologue and epilogue (which he added after the election) VICUÑA seems like a SNL send-up of the candidate. What makes it remarkable is that Baitz wrote it during the 2016 presidential campaign, when no one thought Trump could win… making VICUÑA the first theatrical imagining of a Trump presidency. As absurd as he could make his play, of course, HE HAD NO IDEA.

That’s the problem with the original script about the candidate and his tailor, now presented as the first act. We’ve been there and done that. And once we’ve experienced the entire evening, it’s the rewrites that pack the punch. For cryin’ out loud, he made me think of DR. STRANGELOVE (when Keenan Wynn’s colonel discovers Peter Sellers’ RAF officer breaking into a vending machine and utters one of my favorite lines, “What kind of a suit do you call that, fella?”) and that gets Baitz at least mentioned in the same paragraph with Stanley Kubrick.

The nifty, sartorial magic in VICUÑA and some heavy post-apocalyptic comeuppance for everyone (except you-know-who) gives the flimsy material of the first act some weight. The new scenes are messy and some threads are lost but you can’t dismiss Baitz’ righteousness. Director David Miller even keeps the house lights on the whole time, making us complicit in the abomination that is upon us in real life.

Miller’s cast is first rate, with Robert Bonotto leading the pack as the astute tailor, shrewdly turning Baitz’ lines into witty repartee. Steve Auger has the formidable task of turning Trump funny when it’s almost impossible for us to think anything he does is humorous. Likewise with Srin Chakravorty, as Trump’s daughter but Chakravorty has the epilogue to make her human. Jaime Hernandez gives a riveting, edgy performance as the tailor’s apprentice and Evelyn Holley gets to make the congressional republicans almost as despicable as the current crop.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

LONG TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Exquisite Suffering

You know from the play’s title that it won’t be a walk in the park but James Wilkinson’s flawless production of HANG (at the Arlington Masonic Temple through Sept. 30th) will be one of the best plays about pain and retribution you’ll see this fall. The playwright, Debbie Tucker Green, is British and her subject matter for HANG plays out in real time all over the globe.

Our news outlets cover all Trump all the time so we don’t hear much about the rest of the world but BBC radio (on NPR in the wee hours of the A.M.) plunges you into world news, with first hand accounts of horrors and atrocities (some perpetrated by our drones). You hear news from the World Court in The Hague, trying to work out (imperfect, impossible) solutions to redress wrongs. You hear about “truth and reconciliation” panels where perpetrators face their victims and admit to their actions. Miraculous stories, like Mandela forgiving the Afrikaners, like Tutsis and Hutus forgiving each other. It’s war inventing a new aftermath for itself.

All this and more floods your consciousness as you take in the play. You feel the blood rushing to your brain to absorb it all, as you try to figure out what has happened to the witness sitting so uncomfortably in a spare government office. Here’s the extraordinary craft and craftiness of the playwright: Green doesn’t tell us much at all. What isn’t said in Green’s play is what lurks in the Pinteresque pauses: The alchemy in her writing makes those powerful silences fairly scream in our souls. The three women in the play speak an economy of words because no one wants to dredge up the pain the witness has suffered. We have to fill in the gaps. We have to imagine the crime.

We think we know. Certainly the title gives us a clue but just who will or has been hanged? My brain is working in overdrive trying to figure out what countries sanction hanging so I know where these women are. But do I need to know where they are? I know Nigeria hangs dissidents because playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa was hanged for merely writing his ideas. (I can barely keep it together writing this review. It’s no picnic having to tap these memories of atrocities I store in my brain.) Green gives us another hint, about the children who survived the crime. Their childhood has been stolen, she tells us. Green says the children are now “hollow” and “mute.” And my brain rushes to the Mexican border where three thousand children have been separated from their parents, and are now living in cages in Texas, sleeping on a floor, muted, covered with silver sheets of mylar.

Exiled Theatre specializes in tough scripts. Somebody has to. I’m a firm believer in the change that words can make. Exiled is committed to “visceral” work which “fosters conversation,” it says in their mission statement. So far, and I’ve been to most of their plays, they do that. Here, director Wilkinson deftly molds the silences in HANG down to the millisecond. The three actresses working so feverishly NOT to say what has happened, do the impossible. They tell us in a shudder. In a helpless shrug, In a clenched jaw. In a forced kindness.

Angela Gunn and Angele Maraj portray the infuriating, supercilious bureaucrats trying so hard not to offend. Thankfully, they supply a (very) small window of humor, as they try, stumbling over each other, to coax a “decision” from the witness. They’re quite wonderful, placing their collective feet into their own mouths.

Imani Powell in a tour de force as the victim/witness (?), physically conveys how difficult it is, not only to testify about this crime, but how difficult it is to live with the crime still coursing through her veins. She sits like someone whose body has been restored to her but nothing in the restoration helps. Perhaps her organs, including her brain, have been returned to her but in the wrong order. She looks whole but inside she’s a jumble. When her patience with the bureaucrats runs out, we’re delighted that she can tell them off in no uncertain terms, that their proffered “concern” won’t do anything for her.  The point of the play, I think, is to ask can anything help after an atrocity?

Thursday, September 13, 2018

INTERVIEW with Composer Steven Bergman The Long Awaited Studio Recording of “Jack the Ripper: The Whitechapel Musical” By Beverly Creasey

JACK THE RIPPER, THE WHITECHAPEL MUSICAL by Steven Bergman and Christopher-Michael DiGrazia is a Gothic juggernaut, driven by Bergman’s dark, hypnotic score. If you missed it on stage, the premiere Studio Recording is now available on CDBaby, Amazon and iTunes, where you can discover what makes this retelling of the tale shockingly unique.

You’ll find, surprisingly, that it’s the women of the story who interested Bergman and DiGrazia. “We’ve given voice to the victims,” Bergman emphasizes. “[The story] is told from their perspective… the tale is such juicy fodder for a musical. [It has] all the elements… a great story, an unsolved mystery… It gave Christopher and I the opportunity to take an actual piece of history, and (figuratively, of course) flesh out what was missing in an attempt to give audiences an engaging story.”

Right from the get-go, the sinister, foreboding Story of the Century carries us into the heart of tabloid journalism. Bergman tells, “The Jack the Ripper murders were one of the first instances of sensationalism in the press, and we strove to make sure the listener makes the connection between this case, and the ‘fake news’ we have to endure today.” We then meet Jack (Matt Phillipps), as he gives us insight into his contorted perspective with the chilling Finger of God.  The scenes shifts to the Brittania pub, where we meet the women who, DiGrazia writes in the intro, “become immortal at the edge of a knife.” The Likes of Us (featuring Lori L’Italien and Agatha Babbitt) and Here and Now (performed by Maryann Zschau, Kathryn Howell, and Broadway’s Cristin J. Miller) are just two of the powerful songs which allow the humanity of these victims to seep through their sad souls. Other powerful performances on this recording include Cilla (Michael Levesque as the conflicted Inspector Abberline), and Walls Closing In (Holly Jennings as the young prostitute, Mary Kelly).

Most Ripper vehicles sensationalize the murders, concentrating on the Ripper’s ghoulish exploits, his victims merely a footnote to history. Speculation for more than a century has fueled theories which link the Ripper to the royal family… Queen Victoria’s son drew attention at the time for carousing from night ‘til dawn, often with ladies of the evening. One theory about why the murders abruptly ceased sent the Ripper to America! “Precisely because the murders are unsolved,” Bergman explains, “we were afforded dramatic license to fill in the pieces.” From Johnny Depp in From Hell, to Jack Palance’s terrifying performance in the 1953 Man in the Attic, there has been no shortage of conjecture as to the identity of the killer.  Sherlock Holmes’ help has been enlisted in several films and an Italian-Spanish entry into the horror genre even depicts the Ripper as a cannibal… but my favorite is Peter O’Toole’s wild and wooly performance in The Ruling Class.

I’ve seen two versions of the Bergman/DiGrazia musical, years apart, with major revisions built into the current one. (The music is Bergman’s. DiGrazia wrote the book but they both shared in the lyrics.) The new recording represents for Bergman “the way I heard [the songs] in my imagination.” After a 25-year creative process, he cites Smarter Than You, a humorous face-off between Abberline and the Gentlemen of the Press as to who knows more about the best method for capturing the slayer, among his favorite songs on this recording. “I wrote this piece while on a national tour over twenty years ago.  We had stopped in Indiana for the night, and there was a piano in the lobby, so I sat down to give it a play, and came up with the opening accompaniment.”

Several of the songs have benefitted from the passage of time. Mary’s Reminder is one of the last songs to have been written for the show. Placed near the end of the show, it features the ghosts of all the women and allows Bergman and DiGrazia one final opportunity to reinforce and gruesome nature of the killings.

Bergman hopes this recording of “Jack the Ripper: The Whitechapel Musical,” will entice perspective producers into bringing Jack to the stage for years to come.  In the meantime, listeners can enjoy the premiere of a new musical through the digital outlets mentioned above.


Monday, August 20, 2018

MUSICAL REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Rapturous RAGTIME

Sometimes—and it doesn’t happen very often—theater can move you like nothing else. It can lift you up, fill you with joy and despair, take you out of yourself and transform you with its ephemeral power. It can do all this in an instant, with a moment, with a turn of a phrase, the sound of a note, the unison voice of forty singers… the soaring beauty of a musical like RAGTIME.

Company Theatre’s radiant production of the Ahrens & Flaherty masterpiece (book by Terrence McNally from the sprawling E. L. Doctorow novel) moved a whole audience as if we were one being—with its rousing promise of opportunity at the turn of the century. (WWII lies ahead but only one character in RAGTIME knows that.) Alas, RAGTIME, at this time in this century, resonates for quite another (horrifying) reason.

The musical contrasts three segments of society to represent the colliding, coalescing forces in the newly prosperous industrial nation: Immigrants arriving, as the Emma Lazarus inscription pledges, to a welcoming nation; African-Americans moving to America’s cities and prospering, despite the indelible legacy of slavery; and the affluent whites, becoming richer as the working class becomes poorer.

When McNally/Ahrens/Flaherty wrote RAGTIME, they of course had no idea that their portrait of an optimistic America would have us gasping at a line about separating children from their parents, or interpreting a depiction of police beating a woman to death as “living,” not “past” history, or seeing the elated RAGTIME immigrants arriving on our shores, knowing that in 2018, they’d be turned away, reviled.

The beauty of directors Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman’s spirited production is that it contains this terrible resonance, yet it pulls us through it to experience RAGTIME’s magnanimous story of hope and despair. Every character stands out in relief in their production, punctuating the (many) throughlines. (The Doctorow tome is four inches thick so McNally’s distillation proves quite a feat.)

Sally Ashton Forrest’s choreography is a marvel of gestural intricacy: The dancers become cogs in Henry Ford’s assembly line and they become the syncopation within the bars of the ragtime rhythm. (Kudos to music director Steve Bass for elevating the importance of the gorgeous score. Sometimes it’s lost in the maelstrom.)

I’m recalling so many remarkable performances. I wish I could highlight them all. First and foremost is Davron S. Monroe in a tour de force as the ragtime pianist at the center of the musical. Next and foremost is Paula Markowicz as the privileged but caring Mother. You expect the big production numbers to wow but Markowicz brings down the house with her solo(s), especially the song about not being able to go “Back to Before.”

You can’t have RAGTIME’s coping mother without a blustering father and Peter S Adams captures the essence of a man who knows he’s lost and can’t go backward in this burgeoning new world. (You don’t often see a three-dimensional Father in other productions.) And you can’t have Monroe’s righteous Coalhouse without his Sarah. Arielle Rogers as his true love, carries us with her in her journey from shy, naïf to committed mother in the exquisite solo she sings to her newborn boy. (The directors smartly cast singers with operatic voices...which enhances the characterizations and makes the choral numbers sublime.)

More standouts: Sarah Kelly as a “real” character not just a cipher (as the Girl on the Velvet Swing); the same with James Fernandes as Houdini; Melissa Carubia, too, makes Emma Goldman a necessary part of the story. Todd McNeel, Jr. is a strong Booker T. Washington; Mildred E. Walker’s grieving soprano rises in flight over the mourners; Owen Veith, a fourth grader no less, can hold his own with the pros as the “little boy” who warns us that war is coming. Jeffrey Sewell gets the best line in the script and Hannah Dwyer charms us as the frail daughter of Michael Hammond’s immigrant father.

Sometimes, and it doesn’t happen very often, you see a one-of-a-kind, transcendent version of a favorite work and you realize that it can’t be frozen (in film or smart phone video) or ever repeated with the same cast. That’s the fleeting, magical nature of theater. You want to see it again. You will see it again in your mind, over and over but you want others to see it and feel the alchemy. Sadly, it’s gone. If only I hadn’t seen the very last performance.

Friday, August 10, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey The Piper Pays Him!

He’s so slick that folks don’t even know they’ve been had, ‘til he’s on the train fifty miles away, about to swindle the townspeople at the next stop. He’s Harold Hill, THE MUSIC MAN, temporarily in residence (through August 12th) at the Reagle Music Theatrecelebrating their fiftieth anniversary this summer.

Meredith Wilson’s hit musical has won a slew of prizes, including five Tony awards… and Reagle’s many productions over the years have been recognized by the local critics. So how do you make this MUSIC MAN stand out above the others we reviewers have seen at Reagle? You get Susan Chebookjian to restage the original Broadway and film choreography and make it look like a million bucks. Nothing can compete with a top flight chorus of fifty professional hoofers.

Director/choreographer Chebookjian kicks up the comedy as well as those heelsbut without stinting on the charm and romance: After all, the quintessential traveling salesman meets his match in River City’s Marian the Librarian and the clinches have to touch our hearts. (They do and I have the wrinkled hankie in my purse to prove it.) You might think casting for corn would be a gamble but this is Iowa for heaven sakes. I found Mark Linehan’s jaunty music man absolutely refreshing. He knocks ‘em dead from the get-go with a snappy, rousing “Ya Got Trouble.” Then he does it again, with “Seventy Six Trombones.”

Jennifer Ellis’ Marion the Librarian doesn’t just “fall” in love; she plays a willing participant, all the while keeping her petticoats starched and proper, not an easy trick to pull off. No saccharine bookworm, she. Ellis’ wry smile tells us that she might just enjoy the mayhem erupting on top of the reading tables!

Reagle has music director Dan Rodriguez at the helm so you know the singing is first rate, even from the childen (Jonathan Tillan and Cate Galanti). Many of the performers in the secondary roles often have principal roles in other shows, so even the smallest of gestures adds to the whole. Reagle favorite Harold “Jerry” Walker returns in top form as the wonderfully clueless River City Mayor. Lori L’Italien, too, scores laughs as the Mayor’s over-enthusiastic wife. I could go on: The always willing, easily distracted barbershop quartet… the gossiping ladies, singing counterpoint… the spectacular, syncopated opening number: I had forgotten what a lovely, genuinely funny show THE MUSIC MAN is. Don’t miss the train.

Monday, August 6, 2018


Local professional opera companies like Boston Midsummer Opera, Opera Hub, MetroWest Opera (and others) are on to something: They’ve performed recently in theater venues at Boston Center for the Arts and at Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown, where New Repertory Theatre makes its home. And they’ve hired theater directors with new ideas and a fresh perspective on the art. The result is that their productions are hip and innovative without destroying the charm or integrity of a “traditional” opera.

What’s more, they’ve attracted (younger) theater audiences who are used to theater venues. Several women in line for the ladies room (yes, we become fast friends in those interminable lines) revealed this was their first opera! They came because of a poster up at a familiar theater company. Theater reviewers, too, are crossing over to cover these productions. Maybe opera isn’t doomed after all.

Boston Midsummer Opera just sold out their Watertown run with a crackerjack production of Rossini’s THE BARBER OF SEVILLE. Their delightful take on the classic amped up the comedy, sending the singers flying into the aisles, in director Antonio Ocampo Guzman’s freestyle romp. Music director Susan Davenny Wyner won the day in two ways: Her orchestra never overpowered the singers (something that happens A LOT) and her singers were encouraged to go to town with the ornamented rouladeswhich were breathtaking, hilarious and most importantly, executed without microphones!

Robert Balonek as Figaro stood out in high relief: Duets with Balonek made all the other singers shine even brighter. As the lovers, Theo Lebow and Alisa Jordheim shared sweet harmonies and treacherous high notes but the secondary comic roles made the evening. Jason Budd fumed and blustered as the foolish old doctor who planned to wed the heroine (not a chance) and David Cushing ran away with the evening in his showstopper about the thunderous power of slander.

Opera, even more than theater, can elevate a supporting role so that it lingers on in the memory. Case in point is local soprano, Abigail Whitney Smith, who appeared in two separate productions I saw, one at Metro West (THE BEAUTIFUL BRIDEGROOM) and one at Opera Hub (DIVAS). She was surrounded by extraordinary voices in both operas but it’s her performances that I remember in vivid detail: one wildly comic and one, truly heartbreaking. Opera, for me, is theater on a high wire. All your senses, your emotions, and your intellect are enthralled.




Sunday, July 15, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey More Squirrels, Less Frenzy

I’m a fan of playwright Lauren Gunderson. Her SILENT SKY (about the unsung women of Harvard Observatory) won lots of local awards, not to mention her quirky, ursine filled EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR, which got a crackerjack outing at Theatre on Fire. Her THE TAMING (@ Hub Theatre through July 28th) however, has absolutely nothing to do with the Shakespeare version except for part of the title and several mentions of an endangered pygmy panda squirrel, misidentified as a “shrew.” And everyone knows, you can’t tame wild animals.

The thinnest of plots swirls around three females, an intense Beauty Queen (imagine Norma Desmond’s “close-up” gaze), a ruthless Republican operative, and a wacky left leaning activist dedicated to animal rights. So, from the get-go you know where I stand. My ears perk up whenever squirrels are mentioned. And my eyes glaze when humans start to winge. What’s more, I couldn’t make out a good portion of the dialogue because most of it is delivered at fever pitch and maximal volume.

The scary Beauty Pageant contestant (Sarah J. Mann) somehow (I have no clue) traps the Rep (Lauren Elias) and the Dem (Katie Grindland) in a hotel room without their pants but with a scheme to rewrite the Constitution. Warning: They remain pant-less through the play, regardless of century. Yes, they start in the present, then visit the past, then return… which results in one very funny line about the course of time: “In the future everyone will be gay.”

The remainder of the play, I’m very sorry to say, was lost on me, except for one section which inexplicably morphed (without the singing) into the musical, 1776: “It’s hot as hell in Philadelphia… Why doesn’t someone open up a window,” with the South Carolina indictment of Northerners, “Molasses to Rum to Slaves,” right on its heels. There I was, humming 1776 lyrics (thank heaven, to myself) for the rest of the show. I didn’t get the time travel or for that matter, how a beauty queen could possess magical powers. Then again, I’ve never been one, have I!

Friday, June 22, 2018

QUICK TAKE REVIEW By Beverly Creasey Ghosts in the Machines

The only things Michael Crichton didn’t envision in 1973 with his dark, sci-fi take on Disney (Frontier/Tomorrow Land) were the internet and virtual reality. WESTWORLD introduced us to a violent theme park with a gun slinging cyborg behind every swinging saloon door. Unfortunately, malfunctions turned the robots against the paying “cowboy” customers… not unlike the velociraptors in JURASIC PARK.

The 2017-18 television version of WESTWORLD blurs the distinctions between humans and androids, so much so that villains can be either. Jennifer Haley’s THE NETHER (@ Flat Earth through June 23rd) explores the “deep world,” as in “deep state,” at the thinner edges of the internet (known in centuries to come as the nether). These are secret realms most internet users don’t know even exist.

Like WESTWORLD, Haley’s “hideaway” locale allows customers to indulge their vilest fantasies without consequence, and in person. Haley offers up “Papa’s Realm,” where guests (we observe only men) pay to meet, fondle, even murder a precocious little girl (no little boys) who looks like Alice in Wonderland… an apt choice as Charles Dodgson, A.K.A. Lewis Carroll, loved to surround himself with little girls, taking pictures of them, reading stories to them. Evidently Papa caters only to men. Not to worry, the child tells them, she reanimates immediately after she’s hacked to bits.

In addition to toying with this child, one can, if one is weary of this world, reincarnate (without the carnal component), that is, cross over and take over the little girl’s spirit, thereby existing forever. This is where the police come in. They’d like to eliminate Papa and his malignant operation. Director Sarah Gazdowicz has a first rate cast, led by Regine Vital as the sharp detective who dogs Papa and his customers. Bob Mussett is frighteningly creepy as the cold, elegant, Victorian Papa who glibly confesses he is cursed with “both an obsession and insight.” Julia Talbot plays the child just unaware enough to be innocent and knowing at the same time.

Jeff Gill plays the spent man with the weight of the world on his shoulders, ready to sign on with Papa no matter the consequences, a character we can (sort of) identify with. Arthur Gomez plays an under cover cop who may be enjoying the dark side too much. I couldn’t say because I ran out of steam, trying to put this all together when I really didn’t want any part of it. I know children are abused. Plays that tell us about abuse are preaching to the converted. The abusers aren’t going to the theater. And if they are, they are not being transformed. WESTWORLD is the same as THE NETHER or PILLOWMAN to me.

We’re watching it play out on the nightly news, for heaven’s sake. Our government is kidnapping thousands of children, ripping them away from loving parents, and all we do is protest at the State House and march ourselves to Washington. It’s not enough.

Thursday, June 21, 2018


Alcohol and firearms: What could go wrong! John Minigan’s NOIR HAMLET (@ Centastage through June 30th) is a wacky, whiskey soaked send-up of the Bard’s most famous play, with enough disjointed allusions to stymie any private eye. It’s the ‘40s. Hamlet has seen his father’s ghost and is bent on payback. His mother is about to marry his uncleso many clues, so little time in a one-actso Hammy is hot on the case, having stepped into his father’s gumshoes (and maybe the old detective’s secretary, too.)

Director Joe Antoun leaves no stone unturned, no banana unpeeled, no entendre un-doubled in pursuit of laughter. Even the stagehands get into the act. Funny stuff! Just what the doctor ordered to distract us from the sad state of the world… even for a few minutes. Minigan throws the strangest references our way: You’ll find Duke Orsino lurking in the dialogue, along with Signor Wencas, and patter from Casablanca and The Mikado, no less!

Best of all is Antoun’s cast: Paul Melendy, whose arched, left eyebrow has a comic life of its own, is our hapless P.I. (The noir treatment of the story is mother’s milk to the ravenous actor). Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia is ravishing as the femme fatale (!) and plenty creepy as the sinister coroner. Robert Murphy, too, pops up as the ghost, the uncle and a nefarious character with insider info to trade. Liz Adams as Gertrude steals the show in her slinky, red negligee and platinum Jean Harlow coif, not an easy task with Mancinas-Garcia looking so coquettish in drag! You know the scenery will be chewed to bits. It’s NOIR on steroids. Antoun even borrows from THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY for the lunatic gunfight finale. Don’t miss the hilarious mayhem