Posts Tagged ‘Gail Burns’

OPERA REVIEW: “Madama Butterfly” @ Hubbard Hall [Berkshire on Stage]

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016
Bei-Bei Guan

Bei-Bei Guan

Opera review by Gail M. Burns

When Alexina Jones founded Hubbard Hall Opera Theater in 2008, one of her goals was to “engage and build rural audiences for opera through offering affordable, intimate, high-quality musical and theatrical performances.” This she achieved immediately when HHOT’s premiere production of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte started out playing to 85 percent capacity its first few performances, and then it sold out.

This year, which is Jones’ last at Hubbard Hall as she is moving on in her arts management career, 25 people were turned away from the open dress rehearsal of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly that I attended. The Hall only seats 120. A “rural audience” for opera has not only been engaged, they have been enthused. In case you are not sufficiently impressed, Jones is well under age 40.

Jones started out producing truncated, comedic, family-friendly operas – although the singers and musicians have always been professionals – on the theory that full-length grand opera might scare off first-time opera-goers. And now they are packing the house for full-length productions of Rigoletto and Madama Butterfly.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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THEATER REVIEW: “Forever Plaid” @ Theater Barn [Berkshire on Stage]

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016
Forever Plaid at Theater Barn.

“Forever Plaid” at the Theater Barn

Review by Gail M. Burns

I have lost track of how many productions of Forever Plaid I have now seen, but this time was special because I brought my 20-year-old nephew and he had never seen the show before. I had the pleasure of watching the Plaids work their magic once again, and as we exited the Theater Barn in New Lebanon, my nephew proclaimed that Forever Plaid was now his favorite musical of all time. The last show to earn that approbation was Cabaret, which actually IS one of the great masterpieces of 20th century musical theater. What is it about this little piece of fluff that has made it so hugely popular over the last quarter of a century? It holds the record as one of the longest running shows on the Vegas strip – and this is a show with no scantily clad women (in fact, there are no women at all!) What makes Forever Plaid work?

One word: writing. Stuart Ross didn’t just craft a great line-up of late 1950s/early 1960s guy-group harmony tunes; he created a story and four distinct, lovable characters. Over the course of a mere 90 minutes you genuinely come to care about Frankie, Sparky, Jinx and Smudge, even though you never learn their last names, or even their real first names except for Frankie/Francis. These four guys are the schleppy everymen we all knew or once were. Sort of the upbeat version of Seymour Krelborn, if he’d had pals instead of plants to hang out with.

For those of you who haven’t seen this show (where have you been for the past quarter century?) Forever Plaid is the story of a mid-20th century close harmony “guy group” who are dead. On February 9, 1964, en route to pick up their custom-made plaid tuxedos, they were driving in their cherry-red 1954 Mercury convertible and rehearsing their big finale when they were slammed broadside by a school bus filled with eager Catholic teens on their way to witness the Beatles make their U.S. television debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The schoolgirls miraculously escaped injury. The members of Forever Plaid were killed instantly. Through the power of Harmony and the Expanding Holes in the Ozone Layer, in conjunction with the positions of the planets and all the other astro-technical stuff, they are allowed to come back to perform the show they never got to do in life.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage

THEATER REVIEW: “The Pirates of Penzance” @ Barrington Stage Co. [Berkshire on Stage]

Tuesday, July 26th, 2016
Will Swenson and  pirates ensemble (photo: John Rando)

Will Swenson and pirates ensemble (photo: John Rando)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns

If you are looking for a traditional, D’Oyly Carte staging of The Pirates of Penzance, keep on moving. There is nothing for you to see here. What is on the Main Stage at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield is what you get when you let two award-winning 21st century artists and the perfect cast loose with one of Gilbert & Sullivan’s silliest masterpieces. It is a tidal wave of music and mayhem guaranteed to thrill and entertain all but the stodgiest of Savoyards.

After the colossal international success of their fourth collaboration, H.M.S. Pinafore (1878) – think of it as the Hamilton of the Victorian era – Gilbert & Sullivan were free in Pirates (1879 NYC/1880 London) to be fully themselves artistically. The result is G&S at the top of their form – witty, silly fun set to sublime music. It is also the most American of their operettas in feel, and the only one to premiere in New York instead of London.

In 1980, the centennial of Pirates’ London premiere, the New York Public Theatre, then under the leadership of Joseph Papp, presented this operetta as one of its free summer offerings outdoors on the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. This production was directed by Wilford Leach, choreographed by Graciela Daniele, and featured new orchestral arrangements by William Elliott, who also served as the musical director. It went on to a successful run on Broadway, winning seven Tony Awards including Best Revival of a Musical, Best Director for Leach, and Best Choreography for Daniele.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER REVIEW: “Big River” @ Oldcastle Theatre Co. [Berkshire on Stage]

Tuesday, July 19th, 2016
Big River at Oldcastle Theatre.

“Big River” at Oldcastle Theatre

Theater review by Gail M. Burns

I am on record several times over with my loathing of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” which I generally refer to as “two-thirds of a great novel,” and I didn’t like Big River the first time I saw and reviewed it many years ago, but Oldcastle Theatre Co. has done the impossible and CHANGED GAIL BURNS’ MIND!! Thanks to the directorial vision of director/choreographer Tim Howard and his very talented cast, I finally see and accept this story for the ground-breaking piece of anarchy that it is.

The last third of Mark Twain’s novel remains an embarrassment, but the reason the rest of the story soars is the central relationship of Huck and Jim as they glide down the Mississippi on that raft. Two outsiders – a runaway slave and an orphaned lower class boy who are, as composer/lyricist Roger Miller so aptly writes, “Worlds Apart” – on a grand adventure. And while all of this production is fine and entertaining, the show really takes wing during the song “Muddy Water” when Huck and Jim hit the river. Here Howard and lighting designer Scott Cally bring Dan Courchaine’s previously spare set to vivid life as the raft rolls and the waters of the Mississippi swirl around it and Huck and Jim’s hopes are so high and yet so close that they can reach out and touch them…

Anthony J. Ingargiola simply IS Huckleberry Finn, portraying the character’s vulnerability as well as his much touted tough and mischievous sides with energy, humor, and a fine voice. Huck has not had an easy life, and, now that he is about 14, society is expecting him to start taking on adult responsibilities. Reji Woods is a gentle Jim, patiently schooling Huck that “Slaves Lives Matter” while steadfastly focused on his goal of gaining his own freedom and reuniting his family.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER REVIEW: “The Merchant of Venice” @ Shakespeare & Company [Berkshire on Stage]

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016
John Hadden, Jonathan Epstein and Jason Asprey

John Hadden, Jonathan Epstein and Jason Asprey

Review by Gail M. Burns

The Merchant of Venice is fairly early play in the Shakespearean canon, and it is not a particularly good one, being a mash-up of two or three folk tales well known to Elizabethan audiences, that don’t hang together particularly well. Add to that that attitudes towards Jews are very different in 21st century America than they were in 16th century Britain, and you have a real “problem play.” When Shakespeare & Company last staged this work in 1998, then as now with Tina Packer directing and Jonathan Epstein playing Shylock, there was a great public outcry against the play, with questions raised about whether it could, or even should, be staged in modern times.

Having taken the plunge and mounted a new production, I can only imagine the dismay with which Packer and company watched racial tensions and violence erupt nationally during the course of their previews. Merchant… is the big Shakespearean production for 2016, the centerpiece of their season. Would the national mood turn audiences against their choice? Or would they be more open to exploring the prejudice that has always raged within society?

At least on the official opening night, the audience, comprised primarily of the press along with Shakespeare & Company board and company members and donors, was open to being schooled in the depth and persistence of anti-Semitism in particular and racial/ethnic/religious hatred in general. It was perfectly acceptable to be prejudiced in Shakespeare’s time, particularly on religious grounds, as Roman Catholics and Protestants of various ilks waged bloody warfare across most of Europe for the right to be considered the “true” religion of the people. Catholics considered Protestants, Jews and Muslims alike to be pagans and heretics. Their souls were going to burn in hell if not “saved” by conversion to Christianity.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

Theater Review: 10×10 New Play Festival @ Barrington Stage [Berkshire on Stage]

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016
Best In Class from the 10 x 10 plays at Barrington Stage 2016.

Best In Class from the 10 x 10 plays at Barrington Stage 2016 (photo: Scott Barrow)

Theater review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: As theater-lovers who live year round in the Berkshires, Gail, winter can be like Lent is for Catholics and others. What we seem to give up from January to April are the live performances that we thrive on the rest of the year. Which is why, for the fifth year in a row, we were delighted to get a generous serving of on-stage belly laughs, drama, pathos and even a bit of bathos at the opening of the fifth annual 10×10 Upstreet New Play Festival. The ten mind-tickling moments came from ten new ten-minute plays, all slices of life that shed light on things like beginning a relationship, or ending one.

Gail M. Burns: To paraphrase Forrest Gump, the 10x10s are like a box of chocolates. Each one is a treat; some will be your favorites, and some will be mine. And they are brief enough it takes you at least 3-5 minutes to decide this one’s not for you, which means it’s almost over anyway. Once again Barrington Stage Co. in Pittsfield has assembled a versatile cast of six: three men – Jake Keefe, Andrew May and Matt Neely – and three women – Madison Micucci, Kelley Rae O’Donnell and Peggy Pharr Wilson. Neely and Wilson are popular local actors and 10×10 veterans, while the rest are newcomers, but they work as a seamless ensemble here, as they are mixed and matched in a variety of roles.

Larry: The ten playwrights (three women, seven men) covered an amazing variety of topics, while Julianne Boyd and John Miller-Stephany split the role as directors with five plays each. Boyd has been artistic director of the company since its inception, and while Miller-Stephany is new to the company, he has an enviable record of success with the Guthrie in Minneapolis and before that with the Acting Company in New York City.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage

Theater Review: “Little Shop of Horrors”@ the Ghent Playhouse [Berkshire on Stage]

Friday, October 16th, 2015
Audrey II and Kelly Sienkiewicz. Photo by Daniel Region.

Audrey II and Kelly Sienkiewicz. Photo by Daniel Region.

Theater review by Gail M. Burns

When staging a musical at a community theatre you often have to choose between casting an actor or a singer. In this production of Little Shop of Horrors at the Ghent Playhouse, Michael C. Mensching has cast singers and then leaned heavily on boosting the comedy and emphasizing the ensemble in order to compensate. Trouble is that Little Shop is a tragedy and not an ensemble show. The “jokes” spring directly from character and situation, both of which are tragic rather than comic in nature. This is a show where you have to laugh or else you’ll run screaming from the theater. By playing tragic figures like Seymour Krelborn and Audrey as funny happy people, the show is bled of both its pathos and its humor.

But this is community theater, and it is wonderful to see a dedicated theatrical community come together and craft a solid production of this beloved and technically difficult show. Mensching gives each of his talented singers a moment to shine, and they are often breathtaking. The story suffers, but the production entertains.

For a small cast show, Little Shop places big demands on the design crews. The set calls the interior and exterior of Mushnik’s Skid Row Florists to be visible and for movement between the two to be fluid. The interior set for the shop needs to be rearranged during musical numbers, and there is another complex interior of a dental office that needs to appear and disappear quickly for just one scene. And then there are the puppets…

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

THEATER Review: “God of Carnage” @ the Theater Barn [Berkshire on Stage]

Monday, September 14th, 2015
Upper: Brett Milanowski (l) and Aaron Holbritter (r) Lower: Erin Waterhouse (l) and Kathleen Carey (r)

Upper: Brett Milanowski (l) and Aaron Holbritter (r) Lower: Erin Waterhouse (l) and Kathleen Carey (r)

Review by Gail M. Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: At first, I was lulled into the thought that God of Carnage at New Lebanon’s Theater Barn was going to be a civil, if testy exploration of the issues surrounding a playground fight between two boys. The two sets of parents meet to calmly discuss the situation in this gem of a play by French playwright Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton. The words and tone change as the polite niceties soon give way to more primal behavior.

Gail M. Burns: In present day Brooklyn, Michael (Aaron Holbritter) and Veronica (Kathleen Carey) have invited Alan (Brett Milanowski) and Annette (Erin Waterhouse) over to discuss the fight between their 11-year-old sons. It seems that Alan and Annette’s Benjamin has whacked Michael and Veronica’s Henry with a stick, resulting in some superficial injuries and two broken teeth. The adults, who have not met until this encounter, are gathered awkwardly to discuss and “resolve” this crisis.

Larry: With direction by Phil Rice, this dark comedy comes as close to being the theatrical answer to an R-rated movie as I have ever seen on stage, as four grown-ups duke it out using every sort of humor you can imagine, from deadpan cracks to gross-out gags. There is something wickedly delightful in being able to watch other people’s decorum go south along with their marriages, and it is obvious that the actors have managed to cross the fierceness of Albee’s Virginia Wolf with TV’s laugh-out-loud characters in The Honeymooners.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage

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