Archive for the ‘Theater’ Category

THEATER: “The Golem of Havana”: The Mystical Musical at Barrington Stage Musical Theatre Lab [Berkshire on Stage]

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014
Julie Benko and Ronald Alexander Peet. (photo: Kevin Sprague)

Julie Benko and Ronald Alexander Peet. (photo: Kevin Sprague)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: The creators of The Golem of Havana deserve to light up some nice big Cuban cigars, because they have a lot to celebrate following the world premiere of their smash new musical. And those associated with William Finn’s Musical Theatre Lab should be popping some champagne corks over at Barrington Stage in Pittsfield right about now. They have told a complex story exceptionally well.

This tale of a Hungarian-Jewish family living in Batista’s 1950’s Cuba conflates history with a legendary protective golem. The combination sets up all the drama one could ask for in a musical, a story replete with good fortune and deadly reversals as Fidel Castro brings revolution to the Frankel family. To dramatize the story, the company uses everyday realism mixed with nighmarish surrealism; and the memories of a bright and imaginative young girl mixed with the mysticism of Jewish and Santeria traditions.

Gail M. Burns: This is an original story, based on the composer and lyricist’s personal experiences in Venezuela. The American media keeps us so very ignorant of events on the whole South American continent that the creative team was wise to move the story to Ricky Ricardo’s pre-Castro Cuba, not only for us Ugly Americans but also, as I understand, for their own political safety as artists.

Larry: What I most liked about The Golem of Havana is the music itself, and when it is brought to life in songs that move the plot along it has me singing its praises. Much of it is delivered in snippets, as when first Laszlo and later Yutka sings; “I had no choice, I bear no blame, I had my family, You’d do the same” Or when Teo laments “Rich Men’s Sons, Poor Men’s Sons.” Written by Salomon Lerner, the music is a colorful tapestry of sounds, often distinctly Cuban and Caribbean, and at others clearly Jewish with Klezmer influences. The scene dictates the style. It is at its best when the two meet, sort of in the middle, and the songs become a blend of the two cultures. Lyricist Len Schiff wastes no time in finding words to the winsome melodies that either express the characters feelings, or advance the plot, sometimes both at the same time.

Gail: The music is lively, melodic, and beautiful. And eminently danceable. Choreographer Marcos Santana blends the dancing seamlessly into the characters’ movement. He is likely also responsible for the striking shadow work that opens the shows and which helps anchor the ancient tale of Rabbi Loeb and the Golem of Prague in its time and place.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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John Doyle, Chita Rivera, Roger Rees All Excited by the Kander-Ebb Musical “The Visit” at WTF [Berkshire on Stage]

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014
Chita Rivera stars in the Williamstown Theatre Festival production of The Visit. (photo: Laurie Duncan)

Chita Rivera stars in the Williamstown Theatre Festival production of The Visit. (photo: Laurie Duncan)

Preview of “The Visit” by Larry Murray

There’s a lot going for the Kander and Ebb musical The Visit, which runs on the Main Stage of the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown from Thursday (July 31) through August 17, 2014. First and foremost is its lead actor, Chita Rivera. And then there is the return of John Doyle as director and Roger Rees, a WTF favorite.

I had a chance to chat with all three briefly before one of their rehearsals. I asked Doyle, who is known for having actors play instruments during a performance (Remember Donna McKechnie in Ten Cents a Dance at WTF?) if that was to be for this new project, and he laughed, “No, not this time. It’s really a rather dark musical, very European, and not at all what you might expect from a Kander and Ebb score.”

Rivera for her part was delighted to have a chance to put together a large scale musical once again, thinking out loud that “It’s very exciting, very unique, dark [and] passionate. It’s one of the last scores Freddie and John wrote. I am enjoying the challenge and who knows where it might go.” With luck, it could have a life on Broadway after Williamstown.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER: Small, Quirky & Fun: “Gutenberg! The Musical!” @ the Theater Barn [Berkshire on Stage]

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014
Dominick Varney and Shaun Rice play Doug and Bud.

Dominick Varney and Shaun Rice play Doug and Bud.

Theatre Review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Gail M. Burns: Gutenberg! The Musical! is the kind of small, quirky musical that the Theater Barn in New Lebanon does extremely well, and that their audience just loves. And with just two actors, one pianist and virtually no sets or costumes, it also suits their small space and modest budget requirements

Larry Murray: I am always amazed at how the Theater Barn finds these little musical gems to keep us amused. And coming back for more. Anthony King and Scott Brown, who wrote this two man show were also in it originally, when it ran just 45 minutes. Later it was expanded to two acts and had a significant 2007 New York production directed by Alex Timbers (Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson and The Last Goodbye) that starred our Williamstown favorite, Christopher Fitzgerald, and Jeremy Stamos.

Gail: The show is presented as a Backer’s Audition, a theatre ritual in which the creators of a musical do a concert version of their work before an audience of potential investors/producers. If the show involves proven talent, say, Stephen Sondheim or Jason Robert Brown, stars interested in appearing in the production participate in the audition, but that is at a higher level than these two guys – a caregiver at a nursing home and a senior barista at Starbucks – have achieved.

Larry: Dominick Varney and Shaun Rice play Doug and Bud, an aspiring words-and-music team peddling their musical very loosely based on the story of Johannes Gutenberg (1398-1468), inventor of the printing press. Their comic timing and energy levels are remarkable, and Varney’s lithe and rubbery body is pretty amazing to see in action. Rice keeps up, barely, his strong suit being his amazing range of voices. He uses them to portray many of the dozen-plus characters in this musical. Both use a variety of imprinted hats to indicate which role they are playing at the moment.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER: Brilliant Production of Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love” at Williamstown Theatre Festival [Berkshire on Stage]

Monday, July 28th, 2014
Sam Rockwell, Nina Arianda (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Sam Rockwell, Nina Arianda (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Gail M. Burns: Playwright Sam Shepard says that his own experience of being in love inspired the aptly titled Fool for Love, now on the Nikos Stage at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Williamstown through Saturday (August 2). He wrote: “[Falling in love is] such a dumbfounding experience. In one way, you wouldn’t trade it for the world. In another way, it’s absolute hell.” In the play, May and Eddie (Nina Arianda and Sam Rockwell) are both trapped, dumbfounded, in their own mutual hell of love.

Larry Murray: Their relationship hit the rocks ages ago, yet something still binds them together. This passion is at the core of Shepard’s raw and emotion-drenched drama. Like watching a catastrophic storm destroy the foundations of our lives, we watch the two lovers cling to each other like life rafts even as they try to flee from the tumultuous waters of their own unpredictable relationship.

Gail: And we discover the brutal roots of their affair over the brisk, intermission-less 75 minutes of this production. Eddie and May are more than lovers, they are half-siblings whose mutual father kept two wives and families secret from each other until after his unwitting offspring had fallen in love in high school.

Larry: Fool for Love was written three decades ago, yet like so much of Shepard’s work, it still holds us in its thrall as the pair confront their passion for each other and the inevitable pain that May will feel when Eddie’s wanderlust kicks in again. The script is at times subtle with much to read between the lines, a masterpiece of understatement and allusion. But as with Sam Shepard plays, the words escalate into explosive action, the actors tearing at each other like mortal enemies. Everything happens in May’s seedy motel room while Eddie practices his lasso tricks, swigs beer and cleans his shotgun. When Eddie isn’t looking, she packs her suitcase in order to make a quick getaway. As a story, how do you feel this 1983 play has held up?

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

“Living on Love” brings classy comedy to Williamstown Theatre Festival [Berkshire on Stage]

Friday, July 25th, 2014
Douglas Sills and Anna Chlumsky

Douglas Sills and Anna Chlumsky (photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Theatre Review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: What I liked most at the opening night performance of Living on Love was being in the middle of an audience that is laughing constantly, getting all the jokes and having a ball. When Joe DiPietro rewrote Garson Kanin’s play Peccadillo for the Williamstown Theatre Festival, it was like taking a classic 1950’s car and rebuilding it, better than before. It takes the typical tale of the trials and tribulations of a celebrity marriage, both down-to-earth and alternately stormy and sweet. In the end this is a classy comedy that is as much fun to watch as to listen to. It reminds me of the Broadway period that headlined great talents such as Jackie Gleason, Phil Silvers and Nancy Walker. I so enjoyed all of them when I was a youth.

Gail M. Burns: While I thoroughly enjoyed the show in the end, it took me a while to warm up to the rather creaky 1950′s humor. What won me over were the excellent performances by all six actors in this piece.

Larry: The six members of the cast were as fine an ensemble as the WTF has ever put together, though seemingly unlikely choices. Douglas Sills was very Beethovenesque as the internationally acclaimed conductor Vito de Angelis and physically imposing, while his wife, Rachel de Angelis, was played by the great opera singer Renée Fleming, taking on the first straight theatre role of her illustrious career. Of course, she managed to get a few notes in, starting with Vissi d’arte from Tosca and finishing the show in a duet with Vito of “Always,” which Irving Berlin wrote in 1925 as a melodic birthday gift to his wife. People always assume Fleming is a diva, but she told me that she began in jazz, and has a classic American Songbook side to her vocal delivery that is both lush and totally un-operatic.

Gail: I loved the shock of grey hair that Sills displayed as he put Beethoven’s Fifth on the record player for his seduction scene with Anna as Iris. George S. Kaufman, co-author of June Moon, the most recent occupant of the WTF Main Stage this summer, told Berlin that while he liked the melody, he thought the lyrics should be changed to something more realistic, like “I’ll be loving you…Thursday.”

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER: Mark H. Dold as Alan Turing in “Breaking the Code” at Barrington Stage Company [Berkshire on Stage]

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014
Mark H. Dold and the cast of "Breaking The Code" (photo: Kevin Sprague.)

Mark H. Dold and the cast of “Breaking The Code” (photo: Kevin Sprague)

Theatre Review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Gail M. Burns: If we had awards for theatrical achievement here in the Berkshires, I would immediately hand over the Best Actor in a Play award to Mark H. Dold for his tour de force portrayal of the complex and brilliant Alan Turing (1912-1954) in Breaking The Code, which is currently at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield. I understand that this was a role of great importance to him personally, and his dedication, commitment and hard work are evident.

Larry Murray: Yes, Dold is a major reason to see Hugh Whitemore’s play, it is a work that demands much from the person playing Alan Turing. In a pre-show interview, Dold summed up Turing this way: “He didn’t quite trust the human mind, it could be prone to make mistakes. He felt the only way to counter human error was to create a machine, a computer.”

And the play is designed as a bit of a puzzle starting in the middle, going back and forth in time and ending at the beginning, with his first true love.

Gail: Turing might admire the semi-cryptic style in which Whitemore has chosen to tell his life story.

Larry: Most people don’t know much about Turing, but he figured out how to break the Nazi enigma code and went on to develop the first computers and artificial intelligence. But tragedy was to be his lot, not because he was gay, but because he was honest about his homosexuality in England in the 1950′s when it was not only against the law, but terribly misunderstood, and considered a terrible security risk.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

Real Good for FREE: Performing Arts Family Series @ Clifton Common

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Performing Arts Family Series
Clifton Common, Clifton Park
7pm on Wednesdays
Admission, of course, is FREE.

Tonight (Wednesday, July 23)
Seth & the Moody Melix: Join the Local 518 children’s band for a fun and exciting multi-cultural musical experience designed not only to entertain, but also to educate.

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James and Keira Naughton Preparing for Premiere of “Cedars” [Berkshire on Stage]

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014
James Naughton stars in Cedars at the Berkshire Theatre Group.

James Naughton stars in Cedars at the Berkshire Theatre Group.

Berkshire Theatre Group presents James Naughton in the world premiere of Cedars at the Fitzpatrick Main Stage in Stockbridge. Opening night is Saturday (July 26) at 8pm; preview performances begin on Wednesday (July 23) at 8pm and the production closes Saturday, August 9 at 8pm.

In this world premiere, two-time Tony Award-winner James Naughton takes the stage as Gabe in Eric Tarloff’s one-man comedy, a raw and witty exploration of an estranged father-son relationship. Cedars is directed by Naughton’s daughter, Keira Naughton, who is a long-time BTG artist. She has acted in productions including: Birthday Boy, Macbeth, Faith Healer and The Book Club Play and most recently directed a stage adaptation of Roman Fever by Edith Wharton which featured Kim Taylor and BTG’s Artistic Director, Kate Maguire in 2013.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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