ArtsImpulse Must See: February 2015

It’s easy to forget about the amount of theatre around Boston while you’re cooped up inside in the dead of Boston winter.  With the snow piled high around us, we barely notice the wide array of theatrical productions opening in February.  January 2015 had a low number (but high quality) of productions, but February is already off to a hot start to warm up our minds and hearts.

The biggest thematic ties for our MUST SEE list are diversity and dreams.  Diversity is apparent in the types of productions; they range (as always) from new musicals and original plays to the classic and rarely-done musicals and operas.  We are so fortunate in Boston to see this depth and variety within the theatre scene.  We see theatre professionals and artists taking chances with their craft and stepping outside of their boundaries.

And here, we also find the second theme: dreams.  We all have dreams and some of the most powerful are the dreams deferred or the dreams that deliver challenges for us to achieve.  Each of these plays, musicals, and operas presents protagonists who dream of a different world, a world more fulfilled and less damaged.  These worlds are colorful, and a dizzying mix of characters and stories collide towards a more bright future.  What better for the winter months than a dream of a sunnier and more hopeful tomorrow?  Which production is your dream? Tell us your favorites!

To be considered for March’s entry, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com by February 21, 2015, with information on your production, including company name, production title, director, location, production dates, and a brief reason why your production should be considered.  March’s entry will be posted at the very beginning of the month.

This month, we feature:

  • THE KING OF SECOND AVENUE by New Repertory Theatre (New Rep)

  • UNCLE JACK by Boston Center for American Performance and Boston Playwrights’ Theatre

  • THE WIZ by Fiddlehead Theatre Company

  • ANGELS IN AMERICA (Opera) by Boston University College of Fine Arts, School of Music: Opera Institute & School of Theatre

  • SIMON SAYS by Little Seer Productions

DaCosta (Will LeBow) and Joseph E. Lapidus (Jeremiah Kissel) in The King of Second Avenue at the New Repertory Theatre. (Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures)

DaCosta (Will LeBow) and Joseph E. Lapidus (Jeremiah Kissel) in The King of Second Avenue at the New Repertory Theatre. (Andrew Brilliant/Brilliant Pictures)

THE KING OF SECOND AVENUE

Based on The KIng of Schnorrers by Israel Zangwill

Book & Lyrics by Robert Brustein

Music by Hankus Netsky

Directed by Matthew “Motl” Didner

Choreographed by Merete Muenter

New Repertory Theatre (New Rep)

Charles Mosesian Theater

Arsenal Center for the Arts

321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA 02472

About the Production

Buy Tickets

Feb. 7 – March 1, 2015

I have waited for this particular production with growing fascination.  To say that this musical will be a cultural experience unlike anything else in Boston this month (or even season) is not an understatement.  It’s a common lament that Jews control Broadway and show business (if you need any verification, Mel Brooks parodied this belief in his The Producers), but we have a severe lack of Jewish culture on our stages and in our stories.  If they are portrayed, they have taken a secondary role to some greater story with some “greater” hero (though I don’t need any The Merchant of Venice commentary).  For New Repertory Theatre, a company of considerable worth and accolades to include this new musical as part of their 2014-2015 season, titled, “Paradox: Heroes & Antiheroes, Virtues & Vices," is impressive and noteworthy.  To explore Jewish culture and some of their people’s beloved stories within this lens is a progressive move to understanding, accepting, and appreciating the rich diversity of stories.

The King of Second Avenue is an exciting new musical written in the klezmer musical style.  Not familiar with it? Neither was I.  The style is described as having "expressive melodies, reminiscent of the human voice."  Most of the songs in this style, for which there are many, are for dancing, and, therefore, I expect vibrant dancing in this production.  I am excited for the style and variety, and to experience a different culture through the lens of their music.  The musical is a living and breathing new work, complete with groundedness and comic skills to keep you entertained and excited.  For this month, New Rep may be King

Jack (John Kooi) and Sonya (Maria DeCotis, CFA’15) in Uncle Jack at Boston University Playwrights' Theatre.

Jack (John Kooi) and Sonya (Maria DeCotis, CFA’15) in Uncle Jack at Boston University Playwrights' Theatre.

UNCLE JACK

BU New Play Initiative Production

Written & Directed by Michael Hammond

Boston Center for American Performance and Boston Playwrights’ Theatre

Boston University Theatre, Lane-Comley Studio 210

264 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115

About the Production

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Feb. 12 – March 1, 2015

We have no lack of Chekhov stories in Boston recently (see, e.g., Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, The Seagull, Stupid F***ing Bird, and The Cherry Orchard).  However, modern re-tellings of some of Chekhov’s universal and timeless themes hit a special place in my reviewing heart.  Uncle Vanya is one play that I’ve always avoided out of ignorance; I never felt like it resonated enough with me, unlike The Seagull or Three Sisters.  However, as I age and reminisce on my life and my choices, I appreciate the “frustrated hopes” and idea of a “wasted life” in a way that Chekhov so wonderfully articulated in Uncle Vanya

Michael Hammond modernizes this story by setting the scene in a small summer theatre company in the Berkshires with enough heart and comedy to keep us from the depths of despair.  It’s a fine line that Chekhov walked between comedy and tragedy, but isn’t that what we all experience on a daily basis?  How many of us look back at the end of the year and bemoan our lackluster year in reflection and hope for a better life to come?  Hammond’s new play with Boston legends like Nancy E. Carroll and Will Lyman, along with Michael Kaye and John Kooi, might be just the sort of heartbreaking, introspective comedy to awaken all of our hearts to our dear Uncle Jack, a loving and misunderstood familiar relative who has reappeared for another story in the Boston theatre scene.

(Left to Right) Damien Norfleet (Lion), Quiana Holmes (Dorothy), Carl-Michael Ogle (Scarecrow), and Justin Raymond Reeves (Tin Man). Photo by Matt McKee.

(Left to Right) Damien Norfleet (Lion), Quiana Holmes (Dorothy), Carl-Michael Ogle (Scarecrow), and Justin Raymond Reeves (Tin Man). Photo by Matt McKee.

THE WIZ

Adapted from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Music & Lyrics by Charlie Smalls

Book by William F. Brown

Directed by Stacey Stephens

Music Directed by Balint Varga

Choreographed by Wendy Hall

Fiddlehead Theatre Company

The Strand Theatre

543 Columbia Road, Dorchester, MA 02125

About the Production

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Feb. 13 – 22, 2015

The Wiz is a retelling of L. Frank Baum’s classic book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  The catch? It’s set in the context of African-American culture.  Imagine my delight then when Fiddlehead Theatre Company decided to mount a production of this soulful musical at the historic Strand Theatre in Dorchester, Massachusetts.  The Wiz did well on Broadway, earning seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical, but its 1978 film adaptation is nothing short of a laughable flop (despite the strong talents of Miss Diana Ross and Mr. Michael Jackson).  The stage production was one of the first large-scale, big-budget musicals to feature an all-black cast.  Despite having less overt commentary on African-American culture in the 1970s than its movie counterpart, The Wiz is remembered for its cultural shift in Broadway history.

Fiddlehead Theatre Company has decided to ignore this history, and they have reimagined (and cast) the musical in a race-blind world.  Details are minimal on casting (though present in their Press Release), but the casting does not seem to rely on its African-American roots.  So why would such a production that flies in the face of its precedent get onto a MUST SEE list?  Notably, because the production is a fun romp through the iconic tale of finding home and the magical people that one meets along the way.  Perhaps, more importantly, we can see this rarely-performed musical in all of its glory at the beautiful Strand Theatre.  Best of all, we can determine for ourselves whether The Wiz relies on race as a vehicle to segregate, separate, and delineate where we belong and how we get there.  For me, there is truly no place like The Wiz to call home.

Benjamin Taylor (BU CFA '16) in Angels in America (opera) at Boston University College of Fine Arts. Photo by Oshin Gregorian. 

Benjamin Taylor (BU CFA '16) in Angels in America (opera) at Boston University College of Fine Arts. Photo by Oshin Gregorian. 

ANGELS IN AMERICA (Opera)

Based on the plays by Tony Kushner

Composed by Peter Eötvös

Libretto by Marl Mezel

Conducted by William Lumpkin

Stage Direction by Jim Petosa

Boston University College of Fine ArtsSchool of Music: Opera Institute & School of Theatre

Boston University Theatre

264 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115

About the Production

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Feb. 19 – 22, 2015

I had the immense pleasure of finally seeing Tony Kushner’s two-part epic theatre, Angels in America, onstage in the Spring and Fall of 2014.  The productions were immense, gripping and emotional theatre at its best, poignant and heartbreaking despite being decades old at this point.  The plays naturally lend themselves to the style of opera, grandiose and magnificent.  Boston University College of Fine Arts does impressive theatre and perhaps few productions as well as their operas.  With singers who can act and actors who can sing, the program features some of the best emerging talent in Boston, directed by William Lumpkin and Jim Petosa, some of the finest theatre educators and university directors in the Greater Boston area.  The production promises to be a treat for all of the senses.

Angels in America defies description, and I cannot imagine how an opera will condense or otherwise solidify the six-and-a-half-plus hour epic plays into a manageable piece of theatre.  There are multiple and interweaving stories about what it means to approach the Millennium and handle change, whether that change is the shortening of your life, the loss of a lover, the realization of your sexuality or religion, or the second coming.  The beautiful tapestry of characters and their struggles for acceptance is the perfect story and vehicle for an engaging and thrilling opera.  Expect to be moved, expect to be changed, and expect the unexpected from Angels in America.

Simon Says

SIMON SAYS: A DRAMATIZED SEANCE

Written by Mat Schaffer

Directed by Myriam Cyr

Little Seer Productions

Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) Plaza Theatre

539 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02116

About the Production

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Feb. 26 – March 14, 2015

I’m nothing short of intrigued by a “dramatized séance.”  On what side of reality will this production perform?  The metaphysical?  The fantastical?  Or the real?  Little Seer Productions is not a company for which I am familiar, but their all-star cast, especially Ken Baltin (who recently performed as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman), provide some validation for this production’s worth.

In order to prove life after death, a professor has been following a young physic who channels an all-knowing being.  When a young widow visits the professor and physic, their worlds are thrown into turmoil, resulting in “reunion, redemption, and resolution.”  A thrilling mix for all in a compact 90-minute production.  As someone who appreciates theatre that breaks the mold, I hope that this production will take chances and won’t just be a modern interpretation of Blithe Spirit or the like.  Nonetheless, I guess that I’ll have to do whatever Simon Says.