ArtsImpulse Must See: October 2015

I am not surprised to feature three New England/Boston/Boston Area Premieres in this month’s Must See feature.  The other four productions are long-overdue plays, musicals, or operas, under fresh tutelage that feels like a premiere or revival.  Greater Boston theatre companies continue to offer new works for our communities.  Yes, they are not world premiere productions, but they are new for us (Greater Boston), so why shouldn’t that be enough?  Why can’t we find and appreciate productions that have had critical success elsewhere around the world?  Why must we try to re-create the wheel by inventing new forms, new stories, and new plays?  The power of engaging in a dialogue across communities and testing the resilience of a play, musical, or opera in a new environment is as (if not more) valuable as discussing a new story or production. 

Because no two cities are alike, no two premieres will generate the same impact, appeal or criticism.  What succeeds in Chicago in 2014 might flop in Boston in 2015.  And that is fine.  We must learn to accept the challenges and triumphs of staging premieres in our community, as we explore how we define ourselves within our Greater Boston communities.  These productions span the breadth of themes, genres, and interests, from musical commentary to harrowing dramas.  This month, the ArtsImpulse Must See feature is as much about highlighting noteworthy productions as emphasizing the works that are good for our souls.  Each of these productions, in their own ways, asks deep questions about what it means to love and to be loved.  With broader themes of acceptance and shifting social understanding and awareness, these productions keep us riveted to the potential for change within our communities and the influence of profound theatre on us as individuals and as community members.  Who needs new stories when we have many stories that remain untold and unexplored within our own community?  Do we, as part of the Greater Boston theatre community, have an opportunity to engage not only in important discussions of these productions’ themes and stories within our own community but also with other communities across the country and around the world?  What is our potential to grow as active and engaged theatre professionals and audience members when we see new productions that shape and transform our lives and communities?  And who will we ask to join with us in appreciating these premiere experiences?

This month, we feature:

  • CASA VALENTINA (New England Premiere) by SpeakEasy Stage Company
  • WEST SIDE STORY by Fiddlehead Theatre Company
  •  LA BOHEME by Boston Lyric Opera
  • THE THREEPENNY OPERA by The Boston Conservatory Theatre
  • DRYLAND (Boston Premiere) by Company One Theatre
  •  THE TRUMPET OF THE SWAN by Wheelock Family Theatre
  •  LUNA GALE (Boston Area Premiere) by Stoneham Theatre

CASA VALENTINA (New England Premiere)

By Harvey Fierstein

Directed by Scott Edmiston

SpeakEasy Stage CompanyCalderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02116

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October 24 – November 28, 2015

Playwright and actor Harvey Fierstein has had his share of award-winning successes on Broadway and beyond, but his biggest achievement has been to add a layer of visibility to the LGBTQ theatre canon with his sharp and aspirational plays.  His most recent play is Casa Valentina, a 2014 play about a group of men who escape to a Catskill mountain resort, where they dress as women.  SpeakEasy Stage Company has a vibrant history of producing important LGBTQ theatre, and I am proud to support this New England premiere as part of the theatre company’s twenty-fifth season.  The play speaks to gender identity, self-acceptance, and the camaraderie desperately needed within the LGBTQ and gender non-conforming communities.  Perhaps even more enjoyable, however, is the wealth of talent and ArtsImpulse favorites who fill the cast’s pumps and heels, including, Greg Maraio (Company One’s Colossal), Tommy Derrah (SpeakEasy Stage Company’s Necessary Monsters), Will McGarrahan (SpeakEasy Stage Company’s Big Fish), Robert Saoud (Wheelock Family Theatre’s Hairspray), and Eddie Shield (Company One’s Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them).  The play is in the expert hands of Scott Edmiston, a director who would I trust with telling my life story, and I could not be more excited to see these talented men bust out their brassieres.

WEST SIDE STORY

Music by Leonard Bernstein, Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by Arthur Laurents

Directed by Stacey Stephens, Choreographed by Wendy Hall, Music directed by Charles Peltz

Fiddlehead Theatre Company

The Strand Theatre, 543 Columbia Road, Dorchester, MA 02122

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October 16 – 25, 2015

Few Greater Boston theatres and stages are worthy of a new production of West Side Story quite like The Strand in Dorchester.  In a community fraught with racial tensions and as gentrification threatens the foundation of its core, Dorchester is ripe for a sociopolitical discussion brought by Fiddlehead Theatre Company’s fresh revival of Bernstein’s classic musical.  Under less capable hands, this musical could be like any other production of the musical Romeo and Juliet story. However, Stacey Stephens has developed a reputation for securing some of the best local and New York City talent for his productions, as well as offering unique and controversial re-imaginings and interpretations of popular musicals.  Fiddlehead Theatre Company opens its explosive new season with a production worthy of our attention, our respect, and, if the stars align for these star-crossed lovers, our admiration.

LA BOHÉME

Music by Giacomo Puccini, Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa

Conducted by David Angus, Directed by Rosetta Cucchi

Boston Lyric OperaCiti Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02116

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October 2 – 11, 2015

Few operas have made it into pop culture quite like Puccini’s La Boheme.  You may know the story generally from Jonathan Larson’s musical adaptation in his Rent, but the story has been adapted and re-staged around the world for years.  Its popularity with audiences has not declined even into the twenty-first century as the Boston Lyric Opera ignites its passionate season with this famous opera originally set in 1840s Paris. Director Rosetta Cucchi innovatively stages the opera during the 1968 Paris student revolutions, adding to the flurry of emotions and passions.  The music has been criticized by some opera experts as being remarkably unsophisticated; however, this simplicity allows for us to focus instead on this beautiful story, these stunning characters, and the wealth of perspective that we can gain from understanding and appreciating Puccini’s passionate opera.  La Boheme’s accessibility makes it the perfect treat for people who see opera as boring, pretentious, or incomprehensible.  Under the Boston Lyric Opera’s steady hand, La Boheme promises to remind us about why we continue to fall in love, and it opens doors to experiencing this gorgeous story with a new young audience in mind.

THE THREEPENNY OPERA

Music by Kurt Weill, Lyrics and book by Bertolt Brecht

Directed by Neil Donohoe, Choreographed by Michelle Chassé, Musical directed by Bill Casey

The Boston Conservatory31 Hemenway Street, Boston, MA 02115

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October 15 – 18, 2015

I have anxiously awaited a production of The Threepenny Opera for the past four years of reviewing Greater Boston theatre.  The Boston Conservatory answered my request, under the incredibly capable direction by Neil Donohoe, choreography by award-winning Michelle Chasse, and musical direction by Bill Casey.  The Threepenny Opera is a Brechtian masterpiece for musical theatre, telling the story of Macheath (Mack The Knife), an amoral and antiheroic criminal in Victorian London.  The musical is a wicked satire and commentary on capitalist England and continues to enchant audiences around the world today.  The beautiful aspect of the musical is its malleability in its direction and interpretation, as well as the gorgeous music by Weill and clever and provocative lyrics by Brecht.  Featuring famous songs like “The Ballad of Mack the Knife” and “Pirate Jenny,” The Threepenny Opera is just the kind of wicked good and wicked commentary that the Greater Boston area needs to experience.

DRYLAND (Boston Premiere)

By Ruby Rae Spiegel

Directed by Steven Bogart

Company One TheatrePlaza Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02116

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October 2 – 30, 2015

You should never be surprised to see a Company One production make a Must See feature.  The vibrant Boston theatre company, now in its seventeenth season, brings engaging and provocative theatre experiences and develops audience members into the critical body that we need in our communities.  This New York Times critics’ pick is a no-holds-barred play that packs a punch about contemporary American theatre for a new audience of millenials, telling sh*t as it is.  About teenage girls on the brink of womanhood, Dryland is a new play by rising star Ruby Rae Spiegel.  The play is an uncomfortable mix of touchy (read: controversial) topics, which might repel some audience members from experiencing the greater truths and identities of the play: the strengths of the bonds of friendship and shifting comfort with and accompanying fear of the unknown future in today’s society.  As a young, progressive and introspective critic and audience member, I would not miss the ability to engage in an authentic, jarring, and important experience such as Company One’s production of Dryland.

THE TRUMPET OF THE SWAN

Based on the book by E. B. White, Written and adapted for the stage by Joseph Robinette

Directed by Shelley Bolman

Wheelock Family Theatre200 The Riverway, Boston, MA 02215

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October 23 – November 22, 2015

I am a firm believer in providing age-appropriate theatrical experiences for younger audiences.  As an original company member and someone who helped found a children’s theatre, I recognize the potential for theatre to help develop children and adolescents in their cognitive, social, and emotional awareness.  Few companies in the Greater Boston area do this better than Wheelock Family Theatre.  This fall, they bring the classic E.B. White novel The Trumpet of the Swan to the stage, adaptation by the talented Joseph Robinette.  Robinette has an impressive breadth of stage adaptations of classic novels, including my favorites, I Never Saw Another Butterfly, The Chocolate War, and Anne of Green GablesThe Trumpet of the Swan follows Louis, a trumpeter swan, who is shy and cannot trumpet or communicate.  With his father’s help, and the assistance of a young boy Sam, Louis matures into a leader and a moral compass for right and wrong.  The beautiful evolution of Louis, along with the intriguing and diverse characters in this classic story, will appeal to audiences of all ages.  More importantly, it provides a lens for young audience members to engage with live theatre as a form of storytelling and further discussions with their parents, teachers, and peers.

LUNA GALE (Boston Area Premiere)

By Rebecca Gilman

Directed by Rebecca Bradshaw

Stoneham Theatre395 Main Street, Stoneham, MA 02180

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October 22 – November 8, 2015

Brava to Stoneham Theatre for bringing weighty and meaty theatre to the Greater Boston theatre community.  Rebecca Gilman is a well-established female playwright who explores complex social issues under the disguise of (originally) cookie-cutter plots and characters.  What seems predictable quickly evolves into something far more complicated, and her new play Luna Gale is no exception.  In Luna Gale, an Iowa social worker (and the audience) must decide to whom a recently-hospitalized baby should belong: an evangelical grandmother or the former-meth-addict birth parents?  A gripping tale of shifting sympathy, this play tackles what it means to forgive, the costs and consequences of our decisions, and the questions of our faith, in an unforgettable and heart-wrenching tale of love and neglect.  Featuring Paula Plum, Stacy Fisher, Bob Mussett, and Jacob Athyal, this production promises to be an unforgettable as its critically-acclaimed performances in London and Chicago.