This month’s Must See feature is even more important to me than months prior. For the first time in seven years, I do not live in the Greater Boston area. As some of you may know, I relocated to Ithaca, New York at the end of July 2016 to pursue my MBA at Cornell University. And for the first time in five years, I will not be in Boston during the exciting fall theatre season, which, now, more than ever, offers arts programming for everyone. Despite the miles, I still consider Boston home and the Greater Boston theatre community an important part of my daily life and relationships.
So, here is the ArtsImpulse September 2016 Must See, a collection of new plays; engaging theatre; groundbreaking musical theatre; and, of course, Sondheim masterpieces. Stringing a narrative or theme over the rich diversity of these productions doesn’t do them or Boston justice in its complexity and depth. Each of these theatre companies grounds their season opener in part of their mission, from SpeakEasy Stage Company’s return of playwright Joshua Harmon (before even the New York City premiere of this new play!), to Off the Grid Theatre Company offering its in-yer-face theatre with breathtaking acting and realism, to Fiddlehead Theatre Company dazzling with its rich design coupled with Broadway-level performances.
A few friends recently asked me for my recommendations for Must See theatre in Boston. I had taken a break from the Must See features, figuring that other notable theatre reviewers were covering this area better than I could. However, upon recent requests, I have challenged my assumptions, and I am back to providing my (biased) recommendations. One caveat: these recommendations are based on my own viewing interests. Most people know that I am a huge Sondheim fan, so two of his works make the list. Are they notable? Yes, in their own ways. However, the diversity among the group is a bit lacking by my usual standards. I could apologize, but I know what I like. I encourage all of you to find what you like. The only way to do that is to see and try new theatre. Will you always love it? No, that’s not practical. Will you always feel inspired? No, though most Greater Boston theatre companies are now striving for this ideal of inspiration, a focus of ArtsImpulse. But will you have a great knowledge base from which to draw upon for your arts interests and a greater understanding of the human condition and lifestyles? Absolutely. And, for that, I’d rather be at the theatre than anywhere else.
This month, we feature:
- SIGNIFICANT OTHER (Boston Premiere) by SpeakEasy Stage Company
- BLASTED by Off the Grid Theatre Company
- COMPANY by The Lyric Stage Company of Boston
- SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE by The Huntington Theater Company
- OUROBOROS TRILOGY (World Premieres) by ArtsEmerson
- PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT (Boston Premiere) by Fiddlehead Theatre Company
SIGNIFICANT OTHER (Boston Premiere)
Written by Joshua Harmon
Directed by Paul Daigneault
Stanford Calderwood Pavilion
Boston Center for the Arts
527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02116
September 9 – October 8, 2016
Many of you will remember the critical success of Joshua Harmon’s production of Bad Jews at the SpeakEasy Stage Company in 2014. I can hardly forget how riveted I found the conflicted characters and nuanced storytelling. Harmon returns with a new hit, Significant Other, performing in Boston prior to its Broadway run. This production gives Boston a unique treat to experience a seemingly autobiographical play before New York audiences. The play is described as a comedy (we’ll see how light Harmon treads this time) about “the challenges of finding love and letting go.” Greg Maraio returns after his stunning turn in Casa Valentina last season as the lead, Jordan Berman, a gay man who is experiencing a 27 Dresses kind of moment with his best girlfriends, and embarks on a journey of “misadventures” to find Mr. Right.
As a gay man, I can all too well identify with Jordan, especially as my best friend from high school finally got the ring and found her own Mr. Perfect. But I am left wondering who is my Mr. Right? What makes him “Right”? How much of growing up is discovering what you want is not always what you need? When do we start letting go of our perceptions of what a perfect relationship entails? How do our friendship change as we grow up, start a family, and move away? With so many questions, I look forward to tackling the nuances of Harmon’s crisp writing and identifiable characters, and, of course, the SpeakEasy Stage Company’s resilient theatrical excellence. Featuring local Boston favorites Kathy St. George, Jared Troilo, Eddie Shields, Jordan Clark, Kris Sidberry, and Sarah Elizabeth Bedard, this cast is, in a word, incredible. I have rarely been so excited to see a new play feature so many of my favorite award-winning and versatile actors.
Now, who wants to be my Mr. Right date to this stunning new play?
Written by Sarah Kane
Directed by John Kuntz
Stanford Calderwood Pavilion
Boston Center for the Arts
527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02116
September 2 – 16, 2016
As graphic as it is beautiful, Sarah Kane’s Blasted is a daring theatrical event for the senses. You know that you are in for something riveting and shocking when they advertise as “not intended for audience members under age 17.” How is that for marketing? Aren’t you curious now? Let’s add three of the more visceral actors in the Greater Boston area, Christopher James Webb, Alexis Scheer, and Maurice Emmanuel Parent. Anyone who knows Director John Kuntz knows that he does not shy away from the conflict and tension inherent in all of us and grappled with within our best theatre. The result is an explosive combination that will leave you shaking to your core.
Within and without a small hotel room, Ian, Cate, and Soldier must face their own insecurities, desires, and most primitive instincts. From this conflict comes a play with both savagery and compassion, and we are left with a more acute understanding of the human condition through its pain, desperation, sorrow, and, maybe, even redemption. While this play will have multiple trigger points, I would encourage everyone (of the appropriate age) to push themselves out of their comfort zone in the safety of a confined theatrical production. Theatre like this offers a catharsis that is not otherwise available to communities. I applaud this bold, young theatre company for continuing to dare us to face our fears, confront our conflicts, and explore our possibilities for growth.
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by George Furth
Directed by Spiro Veloudos
Music directed by Catherine Stornetta
Choreography by Rachel Bertone
140 Clarendon Street, Boston, MA 02116
September 2 – October 9, 2016
I was lucky enough to produce Company in Spring 2016, and I could not be more excited to see another production of this ground-breaking musical by one of my favorite Greater Boston theatre companies. Spiro Veloudos needs little introduction, especially when his transcendent Sondheim direction says it all for him. He has assembled a top-notch cast, including the return of John Ambrosino, who impressed as The Baker in The Lyric’s Into the Woods, as Bobby. Company follows Bobby on his 35th birthday, as he reflects upon his relationships with his married friends and his girlfriends. A mature, intelligent, and funny exploration of relationships forces us to review what it means for us to connect in this digital world of superficiality. Ultimately, like Bobby, we all hope to find what it means “being alive” in today’s society.
As someone who watches his friends with more clarity and introspection than necessary, I connect with Bobby and his story, especially as I approach my own 30th birthday with hesitation and fear. For the first time in a while, I am alone, watching from the outside as my friends grapple with wedding plans, first years of marriage, crying newborns, and bitterness of unmet expectations. Like Bobby, I waver in a world of superficial connections, missed moments, and lost love. While Company hits an emotional chord for me, especially the older I get, I can’t help loving the 1970s groove of Sondheim’s music. From “Another Hundred People” to the title number to “The Ladies Who Lunch" (sung by the incomparable Leigh Barrett) and ending with Bobby’s soulful and belty bari-tenor “Being Alive,” Sondheim offers a little something for all of our musical tastes, richly grounded in this concept musical, transcending its time and place to reach a new generation of theatregoers and continuing to engage its original audiences.
SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by James Lapine
Directed by Peter Dubois
Music directed by Eric Stern
Choreography by Daniel Pelzig
Avenue of the Arts / Boston University Theatre
264 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115
September 9 – October 16, 2016
I have not seen this masterpiece Sondheim musical since 2009 at the Shaw Festival in Canada. I have been waiting for another opportunity to see this musical. Sunday in the Park with George features one of my favorite Act I closings in all of the musical theatre canon. Sondheim does an astonishing job of opening and closing the first acts of his musicals; it would be far too easy to list my favorites, but far harder to rank them. “Sunday” in the kind of breathtaking beauty for which all great art should strive. Director Peter Dubois returns as a veteran Sondheim director, following his award-worthy A Little Night Music, along with most of his exceptional production team. You will also see some returning faces, including local Boston favorites Aimee Doherty, Patrick Varner, Jessica Kundla, Nick Sulfaro, Morgan Kirner, and Bobbie Steinbach. However, you will also experience some of the incredible national talent that few theatre companies other than the Huntington can not only assemble, but integrate into the Greater Boston theatre community.
Adam Chanler-Berat (Peter and the Starcatcher, Next to Normal) plays George, the painter Georges Serat in Act I and his grandson in Act II, with Jennie Barber (Wicked, Annie) playing Dot, George Serat’s lover, in Act I and Marie, George’s grandmother, in Act II. Originally played by Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters, respectively, the roles are incredibly nuanced and as musically challenging as Georges Serat’s work. The musical is an odd duck for some people, focusing on the challenges of living as (and living with) an artist. However, when you extrapolate out, you begin to see the hyper-focus, the obsession and the workaholic behavior in Georges that reflects many successful people in their careers. However, when you look at Act II’s George, you begin to see the doubt that years of hard work begin to have on this emerging (and even established) success. Ultimately, like Dot sings, we have to “Move On,” the choice isn’t where we’re going but that we’re moving somewhere. The opportunity to revisit this rarely-performed and ambitious Sondheim musical is a treat for me, and a production that others need to experience to appreciate.
OUROBOROS TRILOGY: NAGA, MADAME WHITE SNAKE & GILGAMESH
Created and written by Cerise Lim Jacobs
Composed by Scott Wheeler, Zhou Long, and Paola Prestini
Directed by Michael Counts
Conducts by Carolyn Kuan, Lan Shui, and Julian Wachner
Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre
219 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02116
September 10 – 17, 2016
The only word to describe this trilogy is epic. You might recall that an ouroboros is an ancient Greek icon of a serpent eating its own tail. From this image comes the 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning Madame White Snake and two world premiere operas, Naga and Gilgamesh. The trilogy of operas explores the themes of life, death, and rebirth, each featured by a different composer, but strung together by the expert Cerise Lim Jacobs of Boston. Each of the operas can be viewed separately as a stand-alone piece (about 90-100 minutes each), or you can enjoy a full-day, seven-hour marathon opera-viewing experience. Each of the operas is sung in English with projected supertitles on the sides of the theatre.
ArtsEmerson has defined itself recently as the more innovative arts programmers in the Greater Boston area, highlighting their commitment not only to artistic excellence but through international programming and local community partnerships making the artistic scene richer and reflective of our changing population and demographics. These opera productions fully commit to the organization’s values while expanding access and understanding to artistic excellence in Boston. Consider my boundaries pushed and my expectations exceeded.
PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT (Boston Premiere)
Based on the Latent Image/Specific Films Motion Picture
Book by Stephen Elliott and Alan Scott
Directed by Stacey Stephens
Music directed by José Simbulan
Choreographed by Arthur Cuadros
Citi Shubert Theatre
265 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02116
September 30 – October 16, 2016
Color me gay but I cannot wait for spectacular treat and glitzy dance party. With outrageous costumes, hit songs such as “It’s Rainin’ Men,” “I Will Survive,” and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” Boston is in for the ride of the season. Fabulous. Adapted from the 1994 film, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the musical follows two drag queens and a transgender woman across the Australian desert to a remote town where they are scheduled to perform. Along the way, they encounter strange characters; expand their comfort zone; and find new common ground that defies gender identity, gender expression, and sexuality identity towards a richer human emotion and acceptance.
Priscilla is a musical of celebration and acceptance, but it is not without its heartaches and growing pains along the way. This musical is even more timely this fall as we enter a turning point in this country, post-marriage equality, where many people believe that our “fights” are over and we have won the war for acceptance and equality. Even in a progressive and liberal city like Boston, we encounter stereotyping, masc4masc culture, and stigma against defined cultural and gender norms. A party to shake up the status quo, to celebrate individuality and freedom, and to grow as more compassionate people is exactly what we need. Helmed by veteran Director and Costume Designer Stacey Stephens and produced by his better-half, Meg Fofonoff, Priscilla has assembled some of our country’s finest chorus boys and leading men to kick their faces, shake what their momma gave them, and party with us like we are the fabulous creatures that we are. Don’t miss why Star wrote: “This eye-popping, ear-pleasing, toe-tapping honey of a show moves like a cyclone from start to finish and will leave you gasping for breath on numerous occasions, thanks to its spectacular spectacle, its raunchy humour and its virtuoso performances.”