ArtsImpulse Must See: March 2015

What makes something “un-producible”?  What is an artistic risk and what is a “safe bet”?  What challenges do we face as theatre professionals to create new, innovative work for contemporary audiences?  These are questions that are buzzing around my head as I look at the upcoming work for March 2015.  This feature is a non-exhaustive list of Must See productions; however, these productions shone as bold retellings and innovative approaches to theatrical storytelling.  But they come with a price: they are challenging—often exceedingly so—and expose the producing theatre company to a high level of artistic and financial risk.

Whether the story is an ancient tale, such as Tristan and Isolde (also known as, Tristan and Yseult), a contemporary reimagining, an original play, an epic movie to stage adaptation, or a rarely produced cult favorite musical, each of the ArtsImpulse March 2015 Must See productions features theatrical risk-taking in the Greater Boston theatre scene, as theatre companies continue to produce innovative and groundbreaking theatre.  With such lofty goals, will every production be a success?  I wouldn’t bet on that challenge.  However, how are we measuring artistic success within our community?  By the financial break-even point?  By the amount of glowing reviews?  By the awards captured at the end of the season?  Or, should we instead create more subjective benchmarks for artistic excellence in our community?

Too much artistic risk-taking without the proper financial backing closes companies far too quickly and then encourages safe storytelling on our stage.  How many productions of Annie fill our stages because the company knows that they will make a financial profit?  How many times do you see a popular play float from theatre company to theatre company because they see the popularity within the community?  As a tax lawyer, I can’t fault the theatre companies that produce “safe” theatre for the mainstream, contemporary audience.  However, as a theatre reviewer and avid supporter of the arts, I applaud the theatre companies that continue to push the threshold for the endless possibilities of creative storytelling on our Greater Boston stages.  This month, I chose a few of my upcoming favorites, but there are countless more that will surprises and delight throughout the month. 

My challenge, if you choose to accept, is to #DigOutArts and #FillASeat this month at a production for a show about which you know nothing.  Take a risk as an audience member, and reward the companies that are producing rarely-produced, the “un-producible,” and the original on our Greater Boston stages.  You might find that the risk was nothing, and the reward was everything.  Email us at brian@artsimpulse.com or tweet us @ArtsImpulse with your most daring March 2015 production, and why it was so groundbreaking for you.

To be considered for April’s entry, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com by March 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.  April’s entry will be posted at the very beginning of the month.

This month, we feature:

·       TRISTAN & YSEULT by ArtsEmerson

·       SHOCKHEADED PETER (New England Premiere) by Company One

·       FROM THE DEEP by Boston Public Works Theater Company

·       BIG FISH (New England Premiere) by SpeakEasy Stage Company

·       CITY OF ANGELS by The Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Hannah Vassallo (Yseult), kirsty Woodward (Whitehands), Dominic Marsh (Tristan), and Damon Daunno (Frocin) in Kneehigh's Tristan y yseult (ArtsEmerson). Photo by Richard Termine.

Hannah Vassallo (Yseult), kirsty Woodward (Whitehands), Dominic Marsh (Tristan), and Damon Daunno (Frocin) in Kneehigh's Tristan y yseult (ArtsEmerson). Photo by Richard Termine.

Tristan & Yseult

Writing by Carl Grose and Anna Maria Murphy

Adapted and Directed by Emma Rice

Created by Kneehigh

ArtsEmerson

Emerson/Cutler Majestic Theatre

219 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02116

About the Production

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March 5 – 15, 2015

I will tell you a little secret: some of my favorite theatre transforms and transcends classic works into new and contemporary theatre that feels original and breathtakingly fresh.  Tristan and Yseult is the love story for the ages; you may have seen the recent movie or read one of the many adaptations in English classic.  It is legendary, and, this month, we have a legendary production coming to Boston.  Kneehigh is a UK-based, touring theatre company that blends performers with artists with sculptors with musicians.  This production looks nothing short of sexy.  It ignites with passion and excitement, and feels fresh and contemporary, despite telling a story that is centuries old.  You will feel young and alive after seeing this intimate theatre, and who doesn’t want that? 

Alexandria King, Brooks Reeves, Lisa Dempsey, and Jake Athyal in Shockheaded Peter. Photo by Paul Fox.

Alexandria King, Brooks Reeves, Lisa Dempsey, and Jake Athyal in Shockheaded Peter. Photo by Paul Fox.

Shockheaded Peter (New England Premiere)

Created for the stage by Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott

Original music and lyrics by The Tiger Lillies

Originally conceived and produced by Michael Morris for Cultural Industry, London

Directed by Steven Bogart

Featuring Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys

Company One

The Modern Theatre at Suffolk University

525 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111

About the Production

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March 6 – Apr. 4, 2015

I am almost just tempted to quote their promotional materials on their websites; it’s that good.  SteamCrunk mashes with the Victorian world, and madcap toys and manic music boxes.  We have naughty children and misguided parents.  We have the whimsical and the frightening.  What is devised theatre?  Why is it important?  Who is Shockheaded Peter?  And why do we care?  As we explore what it means to grow up in a world of the scary and unknown, and as we try to protect our children from life’s dangers, we are aware of the challenges, the humor, and the despair of our world.  Through the unique eyes of this production, perhaps we will find that the risk in storytelling is not so different from the risks that we take each day.

Charles Linshaw and Jeff Marcus in Boston Public Works' From the Deep by Cassie M. Seinuk. Photo Courtesy of Boston Public Works.

Charles Linshaw and Jeff Marcus in Boston Public Works' From the Deep by Cassie M. Seinuk. Photo Courtesy of Boston Public Works.

From the Deep

By Cassie M. Seinuk

Directed by Lindsay Eagle

Boston Public Works

Boston Center for the Arts

Plaza Black Box Theatre

539 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02116

About the Production

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March 12 – 28, 2015

Attention must be paid to the original works and theatrical risk-taking by Boston Public Works Theater Company.  As a relative newcomer to the Boston fringe scene, they have developed an impressive mission, and they are sticking to it.  This month, they feature their second production, From the Deep, an intimate and fantastical story of an imagined scenario between two prisoners who are on the precipice of disaster and death.  The question of what we do to stay alive and survive is a raw and interesting perspective on how we live our lives, especially when caught in moments of upheaval and change.  This play has been in development for a few years, and has garnered significant accolades by various playwriting competitions.  Lindsay Eagle is a favorite local fringe director, who creates theatre that pulses with excitement; she is the perfect director to bring this suspenseful new play to the stage.  I can’t wait to find out what these characters do to survive.

Zaven Ovian, Aubin Wise, Sarah Crane, Aimee Doherty, Sara Schoch, Will McGarahan, and Daniel Scott Walton in SpeakEasy Stage Company's Big Fish.  Photo by Craig Bailey / Perspective photos.

Zaven Ovian, Aubin Wise, Sarah Crane, Aimee Doherty, Sara Schoch, Will McGarahan, and Daniel Scott Walton in SpeakEasy Stage Company's Big Fish.  Photo by Craig Bailey / Perspective photos.

Big Fish (New England Premiere)

Based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and the Columbia Motion Picture written by John August

Book by John August

Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa

Directed by Paul Daigneault

Music Directed by Matthew Stern

SpeakEasy Stage Company

Stanford Calderwood Pavilion

529 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02116

About the Production

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March 13 – Apr. 11, 2015 

I talked with a friend a few years ago about Big Fish, a musical that we had seen on Broadway; I posited that the musical is ripe for a pared-down revival for the local Boston stages.  Imagine my delight when I learned that Paul Daigneault, master of bringing popular and edgy Broadway hits to the Greater Boston community, had chosen Big Fish for his 2014-2015 splash.  And my excitement was met with multiple comments from knowledgeable friends about the musical being “un-producible” on the Greater Boston regional theatre stages.  A tour? No problem, financial backers would ensure that we saw the Broadway spectacle worthy of the Columbia Motion Picture movie.  But a regional theatre production, relying on the subscribers (and generous donors) of the Greater Boston theatre community?  That’s a challenge that few other communities other than the SpeakEasy Stage Company could meet. 

First, they needed some rewriting and permission from the original composers and writers to adapt the work to their intimate space.  Check.  Next, they needed the passionate and educated director and production team with enough creativity and mastery to reimagine the book, movie, and Broadway musical to their own stage?  Check and check.  Then, they needed the talented cast with epic storytelling and musical abilities to create these larger-than-life folk tale characters with the heart and humanity of your next-door neighbor.  Check.  And now, they need the curious and the compelled Greater Boston theatre audiences to attend and share this magical tale of love and acceptance, mystery and magic, forgiveness and understanding with them.  I’ll let you check that box with me.

Ed Hoopman and Samantha Richert in The Lyric Stage Company of Boston's City of Angels. Photo courtesy of The Lyric Stage Company of BOston.

Ed Hoopman and Samantha Richert in The Lyric Stage Company of Boston's City of Angels. Photo courtesy of The Lyric Stage Company of BOston.

City of Angels

Music by Cy Coleman

Lyrics by David Zippel

Book by Larry Gelbart

Directed by Spiro Veloudos

Music Directed by Catherine Stornetta

The Lyric Stage Company of Boston

140 Clarendon Street, Boston, MA 02116

About the Production

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March 27 – May 2, 2015 

The Lyric Stage Company of Boston does musicals well.  They create some of the most artistically successful musicals in the area, adapting them for their intimate space.  They are always before the cultural curve, producing musicals before they resurface in the mainstream popularity (notable recent examples include their On the Town and Into the Woods, though more examples are readily available).  Now, they are set to do it again with the cult-favorite and rarely-produced City of Angels.  Yes, FUDGE did it to much success this past summer at the Arsenal Center for the Arts.  But The Lyric is a much more public, accessible, and, dare I say, popular theatre company because of its location and longevity in the downtown Boston area. 

And why don’t more theatre companies produce City of Angels?  The musical is a film-noir for the stage, which is a tough style for even cinematic experts to replicate and on which to succeed.  Additionally, the musical features relatively unknown writers and composers.  The draw is in the seductive storytelling of our famed age of the 1940s with Hollywood at its highlight, and the juxtaposition of the “reel” world with the “real” world.  Blending clever lines, lyrics, and songs, City of Angels is ripe for a Broadway revival.  However, Boston gets it early again, thanks to The Lyric and Spiro Veloudos and his impressive team.  Who needs New York when we have so much fine regional theatre filling our stages and our hearts?