“Spring Awakening” Soars with Youthful Energy in Theatre Institute at Sage College Production [Berkshire on Stage]

April 24th, 2015, 1:00 pm by Sara
L to R Amelia Morgan, Annaleigh Lester, Katie Pedro, Taylor Hoffman, Kelci Loring.

L to R Amelia Morgan, Annaleigh Lester, Katie Pedro, Taylor Hoffman, Kelci Loring.

Review by Larry Murray and Gail M. Burns

Larry Murray: With book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik, the 2006 Tony Award-winning alternative rock musical “Spring Awakening” is now playing at Sage College’s audience-friendly Meader Little Theatre in Troy. Last performance is Sunday (April 26). I am putting all this information up front because this review is more of a “must see” reader advisory: this production with its youthful cast is directed by Leigh Strimbeck and utilizes a functional and ingenious set by Juliana Haubrich.

Gail M. Burns: The Theatre Institute at Sage is a great company that is doing some really great theatre. TIS is only five years old, but it is carrying on the tradition established on its campus by the now defunct New York State Theatre Institute, which utilized Sage facilities, faculty and students to provide quality theatre for schools and the general public from 1974-2010. The connection with Sage was NYSTI’s greatest asset, and in turn the company helped the Sage Colleges develop a robust theatre curriculum. It is not at all surprising to see what talented students select Sage today.

Larry: We haven’t had a chance to see this cutting edge musical much in these parts, the only production I can remember is the one at the University at Albany Department of Theatre which was last year. None of our Equity companies, nor even the Mac-Haydn or Theater Barn have staged it. That may because the music is so important to the whole production, and it requires violin, cello and bass in addition to piano, drums and guitar. Two or three synthesizers will never do the score justice. I was as impressed with the accomplished musicians and Music Director Marcus Schlegel, as with the actors. The cellist, Erin Rousseau, on whom much of the melody line rests, has a vibrato and intonation that infused the songs with real heart.

Gail: I saw a production of the 1890/91 Franz Wedekind play of the same name, upon which this musical is based, at Williams College many years ago. “Spring Awakening” is an ideal college show because you need to have a young cast and a fairly sophisticated audience. Really, the best way to “get away with” staging this fierce and graphic material is to bill it as education. The play has a prominent role in the development of 20th century theater, and, as you mentioned, this musical version has made history, too.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.


Review: “Lucky Stiff” a Musical Farce from Class Act Productions in Troy, NY [Berkshire on Stage]

March 22nd, 2013, 1:30 pm by Sara

Lucky Stiff @ Class Act Productions in Troy, NY

by Gail Burns and Larry Murray

Larry Murray: Lucky Stiff is a daring choice for Class Act Productions. From the first moment it appeared on the off-Broadway scene in 1988, just about everyone has hailed the clever lyrics of Lynn Ahrens. Who else could come up with a love song called “Nice” that starts off “It was nice hating you…” It’s little wonder she won the Richard Rodgers award for them.

Gail Burns: This is the very first musical from the Tony award-winning team of Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music) who went on to fame and fortune with Ragtime and Once on This Island. Ahrens and Flaherty were taking a course in musical theatre, and this was their final exam, if you will, the culmination of their work. This shows in its tight construction and brisk pace – I imagine that their assignment was to write a 90-minute musical, which this is, once intermission and the laughter of the audience is shaved off.

Larry: One of the toughest things in the world is writing musical farce, Stephen Sondheim did it with A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. That show opens with a chorus singing “Comedy Tonight” while Lucky Stiff belts out “Something Funny’s Going On” which, appropriately enough, ends with a gunshot and a corpse, setting up the whole premise of the show.

Gail: Let me see if I can give you the essence of the fun without giving too much away. Lucky Stiff, based on the British murder mystery The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo by Michael Butterworth, concerns a young British shoe salesman named Harry Witherspoon (Oliver Ord) whose lackluster life is suddenly and dramatically altered when he is left $6 million in the will of his American Uncle Anthony. But the money can only be his if he takes the corpse (Michael McDermott) on a final vacation to Monte Carlo. In hot pursuit is the rival inheritor, the Universal Dog Home of Brooklyn, represented by one uptight chick named Annabel Glick (Erin Harwood). They are in turn pursued by the legally blind Rita La Porta (Katie Hughes), Uncle Anthony’s lover who believes she is also his murderess, and her hapless optometrist brother, Vinnie DiRuzzio (Brian McBride Land). Along the way they meet a mysterious Arab (Bill Depew) and a sexy French chanteuse Dominique du Monaco (Elizabeth Sterling), along with an assortment of others (Alan Angelo, Peter Caracappa, Henry DiMaria, Maria Lally Clark, Michael O’Farrell, Melissa Pelletier, and Cait Webber). Mayhem ensues! Who will get the money? Will the fact that Harry and Annabel are escorting a corpse scuba-diving and sky-diving be discovered? And what about that heart-shaped box?

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

Gail Burns Reviews “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” by Class Act Productions at Russell Sage [Berkshire on Stage]

August 3rd, 2012, 12:00 pm by Sara

by Gail Burns. For the Berkshire-Capital region’s most comprehensive listing of theatre offerings visit GailSez.org

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

The Broadway season runs from September through May for one reason and one reason only: it was too hot to open or even run shows in New York City in the summer months in the days before air conditioning. Now shows run year round, but the official “season” is still confined to the cooler months. Here in the Berkshires its the reverse – the season runs from May to October with the highest level of activity occurring in July and August – and so smaller companies usually stay out of the rat race and present during the academic year.

Class Act Productions has tempted fate twice by opening a show in the summer in an unairconditioned house. Why??

The Schacht Fine Arts Center on the Russell Sage campus is an enormous, ugly theatre and way too big for CAP. The stage is too big for them to fill with sets or performers, and the house is too big for them to fill with ticket buyers. The heat is oppressive and turning the house lights off in an attempt to make it cooler only makes it depressingly dim and dingy.

Notice that I haven’t even mentioned the title of the show yet? That’s because it really doesn’t matter what you put up under those conditions, actors and audience alike are guaranteed to be miserable.

This is a real pity because “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” is a fun show and this is a decent amateur production. In the right house it could have really sparkled.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.

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