SpeakEasy’s "Bridges" Builds A Gorgeous Home

SpeakEasy’s "Bridges" Builds A Gorgeous Home

SpeakEasy Stage Company does a wonderful job of inviting the audience in to enjoy the close of their 26th season with a gorgeous musical and a stellar cast in The Bridges of Madison County. While the original run of this production on Broadway was short-lived (lasting only 3 months with seasoned performers Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale), the show should be recognized for its musical and storytelling mastery. This production helps remind us of that beauty, and I hope that more companies will join SpeakEasy by giving this beautiful show the care and attention that it deserves.

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Fiddlehead's "West Side Story" is A Safe Rumble

When West Side Story appeared on Broadway in September 1957, critics described it as electrifying and savage. Fiddlehead Theatre Company brings this Bernstein/Laurents/Sondheim musical classic to the historic Strand Theatre in Dorchester, Massachusetts.  However, they lack the electric and miss the savage.  By using many aspects of the original production by Jerome Robbins, the musical feels safe.  The vibrancy in the dance is lost, despite the eagerness and ability of the talented ensemble.  While some of the leading characters, particularly Kim Corbett as Maria, Waldemar Quinones-Villanueva as Bernardo, and Pamela Turpen as Anita, offer star-studded and remarkable performances, this West Side Story is set in the safer alleyways, the “Tonight” that fails to reach its apex, but pleases the crowd nonetheless. 

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Ellis and Clark Bring "Wonderful Town" to Life

The rarely-done Wonderful Town, most well known for its music by Leonard Bernstein, concludes Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s forty-seventh season.  The campy, rollicking ride through New York City would be nothing without song-birds Jennifer Ellis and Katie Anne Clark. Wonderful Town surprises in its classic and brassy score and its committed ensemble with Ellis and Clark leading the crowd in rousing group numbers and pacing the show at a delightfully sharp clip. Both Ellis and Clark have proven themselves capable of star-studded success in recent individual performances, but it is their sisterly love and comedic duo that make them an unforgettable pairing for a musical treat to end the summer on a high note.

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Four Charming Performers Treat Us To Extra-"Ordinary Days"

Flyleaf Theatre Company is one of the few companies in Berlin, Massachusetts and its surrounding areas, continuing its strong trend of introducing and performing new and edgy theatre productions.  Their newest production, Ordinary Days, is a song cycle about the way that four lives intersect in New York City in the most unexpected ways.  What could easily be cliché and trivial becomes beautifully simple and entertaining under the talented quartet, lead by Director Krisha Hoyt and Music Director J. Parker Eldridge.  The musical, a song cycle, succeeds under the charming commitment from its cast, Amanda Casale Eldridge (Claire), Jennifer Drummond Morotto (Deb), Skylar Grossman (Jason), and Joshua Wright (Warren), who excel at the challenging music full of life.  Their storytelling makes us feel like we have four new friends, a beautiful testament to the possible humanity and opportunity to connect with people in your twenties and thirties.

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"Urinetown" is Not Quite Liquid Gold

Urinetown may be one of my favorite, yet under-appreciated musicals. You will rarely see a company attempt this parody of life and theatre (blame it on the piss-poor title). So, when I saw that Burlington Players was performing this laugh-a-minute musical, I had to show up. Unfortunately, they did not. Except for a few stunning performances by some leading actors, the production felt weighted by the musical’s hefty demands. For audience members familiar with the show, the Burlington Players’ production felt like a lukewarm and flat take on the vibrant show; for new patrons to the wonders of Urinetown, the laughs kept coming and they were impressed with seeing musicals parodied and life satirized. Don’t confuse good subject matter for good performance.

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A Half-Hearted Smile for "A Little Night Music"

The summer night may smile three times, but it might have smiled a fourth time on The Arlington Friends of the Drama’s 429th production A Little Night Music, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler. The community theatre boasts some wonderful talent on the small stage, and mostly succeeds in orchestrating the complicated waltz of Sondheim’s score and Wheeler’s story under the careful direction of Joe Stallone and music direction of J. Parker Eldridge. They trip in the casting of essential characters, but manage to glide through the production on the coattails of David Warnock’s Fredrik and the surprising luster of Emily Earle’s Petra.

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New Rep's Bookless Book Musical

I went to my first New Repertory show for a rather obscure song cycle musical, Closer Than Ever. I went into the show not really knowing what to expect from this little ditty. Described as a musical revue, Closer Than Everunfolds in two acts of strictly musical treats, music by David Shire and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. (though, on closer inspection, this breakdown isn’t really fair when both men’s works seems interwoven and intricate in their symbiotic relationship). Perhaps the closest approximation to the show’s style is, as the composers term it, a “bookless book musical.” What that means is anyone’s guess, but I’d like to hazard one. Closer Than Ever is the Songs for a New World for middle-aged baby boomers. Is that too simplistic for the musical? Absolutely; as a twenty-something man with no cellulite (yet) overgrowing my body, no lost or broken lover, as far as you can get from the burdens of kids, I found myself touched by this tale of searching desperately for a connection. What are we closer to than ever? The end? Hope of a new beginning, even after hitting the middle? I’d like to assume that New Rep’s Closer Than Ever, directed by the always impressive and stunning Leigh Barrett, is a little closer to my heart and closer than ever to finding some new questions, and maybe even a few answers, to life’s most troubling issues.

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A Haunting Thriller with Safety Clippers

The Lyric Stage Company does Sondheim well. Director Spiro Veloudos speaks Sondheim’s language as if it were his natural tongue, and he does a good job of translating to the stage with the help of his accomplished cast. Except the entire production felt afraid to push the boundaries or explore the nuances of Sondheim’s dense score and haunting book in the latest production ofSweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The Lyric Stage Company produces a thoroughly enjoyable tale of a man who was wrongly convicted of a crime and judgment, and his blood-thirsty revenge against his wrongdoers, but, like a ghost story that is toned down for the little ones, the production felt safe. While theirInto the Woods this past Spring sparkled with new life and interpretation of fairy tale characters, Sweeney Todd was just about what you’d expect from professional and talented actors and designers. I wanted more blood.

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Heavenly Jennifer Ellis Shines

SpeakEasy Stage Company’s Far From Heaven made the My Theatre (Boston) Must See list for many reasons, but the best reason was the all-star cast. Somehow, SpeakEasy, under the steady leadership of Director Scott Edmiston, assembled some of the best talent in Boston for this hopelessly-flawed musical. The production is not flawed, but it’s hard to see heaven when you’re looking at the imperfect world in Hartford, Connecticut in 1957. Thankfully, many of the actors shine through the darkness, but few as brightly and brilliantly as Jennifer Ellis as Cathy Whitaker.

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SpeakEasy’s "Carrie" Is a Bloody Mess

Carrie: The Musical has an awful book; there, I said it. Lawrence D. Cohen took every piece of camp from Stephen King’s popular novel, and removed almost all of the humanity from the characters to create a one-note musical of epic proportions. The SpeakEasy Stage Company attempts to amend this broken musical, but, under the less-than-capable leadership of Director Paul Melone, the production struggles to piece together the mismatch of pieces. While some My Theatre (Boston) favorites make some noteworthy attempts at this flawed piece, the production is belabored by odd technical and directorial choices, which leave the musical as awkward-seeming as its teenage protagonist.

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A.R.T’s "Finding Neverland" : Lost but Soaring

The American Repertory Theatre has introduced their next Boston-to-Broadway commercial hit, Finding Neverland.  Following the life and work of J. M. Barrie, playwright and author of Peter Pan, the musical is an emotional voyage of soaring highs and valley lows; bring the whole family, but also bring the tissues.  Despite the artistic success of the Miramax film of the same name (and mostly the same story), Diane Paulus’s latest directorial endeavor (combined with the efforts of successful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein) is a mixed bag of pixie dust magic for the stage.  The musical combines the magical talents of Jeremy Jordan, Laura Michelle Kelly, and Carolee Carmello with the lackluster score of Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, leaving the production feeling like a Wickedrip-off rather than a work flying on its own merits.

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Brushing Up My Shakespeare with The Longwood Players

Kiss Me, Kate is a tough piece. It requires actors not only to pull off Shakespearean text, but also to dance with expert skill and stretch their range with Cole Porter’s operatic score. It’s not beginner’s musical theatre. Therefore, The Longwood Players’ choice to present this classic is a bold choice. While Director Anna Waldron made some equally bold (and mostly effective choices), the cast did not have the chops to carry the show beyond mediocre community theatre.

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Part of North Shore Music Theatre’s World

Bill Hanney’s North Shore Music Theatre is known in the Greater Boston area for bringing professional and Broadway-quality work to the North Shore of Boston during the lazy summer months and into the fall season. Moreover, they impress with their ability to stage full musical productions in the round, especially New England premieres. Disney’s The Little Mermaid should be no exception. Except parts of the production felt forced into a world well beyond their league because of a lackluster casting decision and a script that only really appeals to the four-year-old child in all of us. For adults, the musical works on nostalgia with a few powerful performances; however, for kids, the production is a magical adventure into live theatre. For that, I’m thankful for North Shore’s willingness to provide multi-generational professional theatre for all local theatregoers.

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Gordon Shines as Boston’s Lucky Star

Singin’ in the Rain was a star vehicle movie musical for the unmatchable Gene Kelly as Don Lockwood, the Golden Globes Best Supporting Actor-winning Donald O’Connor as Cosmo Brown, and the Oscar Best Supporting Actress Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont. However, the glorious feeling comes when the rising star Debbie Reynolds gained critical success as young ingénue Kathy Selden.  Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston mounts an astonishingly impressive stage production of the MGM classic movie with talented leading actors, strong supporting successes, energetic ensemble, and thrilling technical elements.  However, 2013 My Theatre (Boston) Award Nominee Gillian Mariner Gordon’s star turn as Kathy Selden rivals, and surpasses, Debbie Reynolds, making the production not to be missed as we see the making of Boston’s new lucky star.

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Magical Moments in the Woods

Into the Woods may be one of my favorite Sondheim musicals, if not one of my favorite musicals. I have seen and participated in countless productions of this show, so I come to The Lyric’s production with a wealth of knowledge and experience. For any other production, this burden would be insurmountable; I would be unable to clear my preconceived notions of whether Milky White should be played by a versatile and physical actor or a suitcase, whether the Witch should be remorseful or vengeful in her rendition of Last Midnight, or whether the pace of Ever After was brisk enough for the Act I finale. Luckily, I brought my mother for a fond Mother’s Day treat. As a newcomer to the show (though with my endless chatter about the musical for almost twenty years), she brought a fresh perspective to seeing the musical. Even more so, however, The Lyric Stage Company of Boston brought its own fresh and invigorating perspective to the musical with its creative casting, artful storytelling, and powerful performances. This production is (in almost every way) worthy of the Must See praise for which I offered it.

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Blonde is Not Hot

Legally Blonde: The Musical (music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Nell Benjamin, and book by Heather Hach) is an outstanding piece to feature young, strong female musical theatre performers. Following the novel by Amanda Brown and popular movie by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Motion Pictures, Legally Blonde tells the story of pretty SoCal “It” girl, Elle Woods (Cierra Bartelt), as she is surprisingly (or not-so-surprisingly) dumped by her Senate-aspiring pre-law boyfriend, Warren Huntington III (Dylan Waterhouse). This break-up inspires Elle to follow her ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law (we suspend disbelief that the fashionista earned a 175 on her LSATs), where she learns of Warren’s recent proposal to the bland Vivienne Kensington (Kaylee Bugg). To win back the man that she loves, Elle struggles to impress and master the law, most notably in the Criminal Law class taught by the shark, Professor Callahan (Justin Reeves), with a little help from budding attorney and Teaching Assistant Emmett Forrest (Christian James Potterton) and the charming stylist Paulette Buonafonte (Bridgette Graham). With the once-in-never opportunity to assist Professor Callahan in defending buns-of-steel aerobic instructor Brooke Wyndham (Adele Leikauskas) for the murder of her billionaire husband, Elle learns about the strength and perseverance that she has as a student, a woman, and a person, and what it truly means to be “legally blonde.”

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Lord, What Fools These Actors Be

Ever have one of those college English papers which you can’t seem to write because you’re worried that the professor will judge you for your crazy ideas? What if you just wrote your ideas to him or her in a musical adaptation of the most accessible Shakespeare plays and called it a night? Midsummer Night: a musical(loosely adapted from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) attempts to do just that. I can’t explain why Suffolk University wasted their time on this trite adaptation or how I sat through the production, but here goes nothing.

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Populism, No, No

I can’t pretend that I’m not biased when I write this review; I’ve learned that I don’t care for the musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. I keep waiting for a production to change my mind, but I wonder if my disappointment with various productions has more to do with the book and score than any fault in the productions. However, like Jackson’s displaced Native Americans, I trudge on. The Umbrella (formerly the Emerson Umbrella) presentsBloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, written by Alex Timbers, music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, directed by James Tallach. As usual, Bloody Bloody provides laughs at the expense of any real story or innovative directing, the life of Andrew Jackson playing like a vaudeville act rather than a dissected biography.

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Bye, Felicia

Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston was a My Theatre favourite in 2013. With a strong introduction to the Boston scene with The Libertine, Bridge Rep has quickly made itself known as one of the more professional fringe theatres in Boston. Though I missed their Not Jenny, I had high expectations for this season. Their talent is outstanding, their season is diverse, and their executive board is unmatched. And then they produced Hello Again.

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Three Stars Roll Along

Characters in theatre almost always know more about themselves than audience members; the characters have lived in a fictional world before the play’s action. However, it’s a rare treat when an audience knows more about the play’s world and characters than the characters themselves. Such is Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, an innovative musical (for its time) which is told in reverse chronological order.

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