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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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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An Operatic Affair . . . Without the Sexiness

So, I’ve quickly become a neophyte opera fan. I’m seeking out such productions all over Boston, and, in my quest, I found the New England Conservatory. Easily one of the most talented training schools in Boston, the Conservatory boasts a rich reputation for outstanding faculty and performers. I was mostly not disappointed when I tasted a sample of the school’s talent with its recent production of L’Incoronazione di Poppea.

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MIT’s "Arcadia" Not the Pastoral Ideal

Tom Stoppard’s 1993 play Arcadia has been called one of the finest plays by a contemporary playwright; I would have to agree. The play offers a juxtaposition between a turn-of-the-nineteenth-century country house and the present day. The characters have delightful interplay through the props and general atmosphere in the English country house, Sidley Park. This blurring of past and present, as the present-day characters try earnestly to discover the truth behind this lost and forgotten past, offers increasing complexity for the audience. Personally, I think Stoppard is a genius, however, this genius presents much difficulty when translated from page to stage. It is with this difficulty that I turn to my review of MIT’s production of Arcadia.

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Brandeis' "Comedy of Errors"

As I mentioned in my last review, November was full of Shakespeare. My second show was at Brandeis University, featuring an original adaption of Comedy of Errors by Bill Barclay, a Resident Acting Company member of the Actor’s Shakespeare Project. Barclay also directed this unique production, which starred Brandeis University students with award-winning community actors.

Brandeis Comedy of Errors

The production dazzled at first glance because it was set with a Middle Eastern influence on a thrust stage. A stream of instrumentalists stealthily took the stage when the lights dimmed, and strummed, beat, and jingled the entrance of the foppish Duke of Ephesus, played by Ben Gold. I’d never seen a funny take on the stoic Duke, who condemns poor Aegeon (played with pathos by Chuck Schwager) to die at sundown. One of my favorite parts was the use of puppetry by the actors. The opening scene of Comedy of Errors typically struggles through a long stream of exposition by Aegeon, but Schwager’s empathetic portrayal and the shadow-puppet storytelling substantially helped the scene’s pacing.

The pacing as a whole was a huge success for Barclay’s production. The scenes transitioned seamlessly with the help of Barclay’s original music and no blackouts. I was impressed with the musicianship and theatricality of this troupe. The instruments were not traditional orchestra instruments, but the musicians carried the intricate melodies with gusto. I was especially impressed with the recurring motifs, which strengthened the production’s themes and storytelling. I was unsure what the changed location revealed about the story, but I don’t consider this Shakespeare play to be an amazing thematic work, and I appreciate the play for its rich storytelling.

To that end, the cast did an admirable job creating the play’s farcical moments. The best actors were Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse, master-servant team played by Aidan Horowitz and Jared Greenberg, respectively. This pairing had exceptional timing and delivery of the Shakespeare lines. I found their mastery of the language to be commendable for their young age, especially since both actors lack any formal Shakespeare training. Their facial expressions added scores to their performance. Their chemistry was palpable, and their friendship felt truly genuine. This production sparkled with extra energy because the play included two sets of twin actors, exactly what the story requires, but few companies can accommodate this need. Opposite Greenberg was his twin brother Zachary Greenberg, playing Dromio of Ephesus, and opposite Horowitz was his twin brother Dotan Horowitz, playing Antipholus of Ephesus. Whatever mastery of the language Zachary and Dotan lacked, they made up tenfold in energy. Their scenes raced and swerved and neither actor let the language impede their focus or goals.

I can’t say that energy always helped the performance, however. Nicole Carlson as Adriana, Antipholus of Ephesus’s wife, and Leah Carnow as Luciana, Adriana’s young sister, were some of the most dynamic actors in the production, but I don’t know if this spark was as productive as intended. Carlson acted like a raging squirrel who let nothing, or no one, stop her from getting what she wanted, namely her husband. Her vocal register agitated and annoyed within minutes. Carnow could barely save the scenes from splintering headaches as she would often match Carlson’s vocal patterns and storm. I respected their understanding of the language, but I wish they had channeled this knowledge into a more nuanced performance.

Brandeis Comedy of Errors 2

The ensemble was commendable in their ability to create fully fleshed-out characters from their minimal stage-time, and each crowd scene buzzed with an appropriate level of personality. Barclay deserves respect for his ability to draw this skill from his young actors without overdoing the activity onstage. Overall, the show buzzed with just the right amount of energy for a highly enjoyable interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s weaker plays. These actors, especially Jared Greenberg and Aidan Horowitz, did not make their performance weaker because of the texts’ limitations. Instead, they excelled by adding their own interpretation and nuances to the text. Together with Zachary Greenberg and Dotan Horowitz’s energy, these four actors were a delight to watch and to laugh at through the evening’s debacles and triumphs. There was just enough naïveté to make any mistakes into a comedy, creating a wonderful mix for Comedy of Errors to excel as a production.

As originally published on My Entertainment World.

BU’s "Bug" Shocks and Stuns for Less Gruesome Reasons

On a particularly stormy night, I ventured out to Boston University Stage Troupe’s production of Bug by Tracy Letts, directed by veteran Chris Hamilton, hoping for a night of horror and suspense.

Unfortunately, I was less than smitten with the results. Billed as “the play that gets under your skin,” I was not moved by the production or many of the performances in it. Thankfully, some secondary characters were compelling and spot-on, but too few, too late.

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The Secret Garden

The MIT Gilbert and Sullivan Players presented a captivating and surprisingly talented interpretation of Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon’s The Secret Garden. The musical tells the classic story of Mary Lennox, a sullen and obstinate child, whose parents are unexpectedly killed by cholera in India. She is sent away to live with her hunchbacked Uncle Archibald in England where Misselthwaite Manor houses more than simply the inhabitants, but also the ghosts and memories of loved ones past. Here, Lennox learns to love again with the help of a pair of brother-sister servants and a forbidden garden that houses its own secrets and magic.

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