Fathom Events' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof": Mellow Drama?

National Theatre Live's "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" February 22nd
(photo: Johan Persson))

Continuing with its National Theatre Live HD Broadcast series, Fathom Events will be presenting the acclaimed Young Vic production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for a single evening this coming week. The 1955 work by playwright Tennessee Williams, which earned him a Pulitzer Prize for drama, was controversial at the time it was first produced, as it dealt with sexual issues including marital dysfunction and a possible repressed homoerotic relationship. In the wrong hands this might have been excruciatingly dated, but reviews of this production were virtually unanimous in praise of director Benedict Andrews (who was also acclaimed for his previous direction of another Williams work, A Streetcar Named Desire) as well as his cast.

Jack O'Connell & Sienna Miller in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"
(photo: Johan Persson)

Sienna Miller plays Maggie the Cat, married to the ex-jock Brick, played by Jack O'Connell, who is on crutches as a result of a sports-related injury. The first act is reportedly a real tour de force for Miller as she berates her husband for never standing up to his father, Big Daddy, (superbly played by Colm Meaney) as well as hinting that Brick's long friendship with his dead best buddy Skipper might have been more than what it first seemed. It's the sixty-fifth birthday of the small clan's patriarch, and they have all gathered to celebrate it, with eyes centered on his considerable fortune.

Colm Meaney & Jack O'Connell in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"
(photo: Johan Persson)

The second act is reportedly a wonderful diatribe between father and son as Big Daddy, described in the New York Times review as the “blunt philosopher in residence”, has a secret to share with his disappointing progeny. Their ontological discussion is the crux of the play, as Brick states that his only out is either liquor or death, and his father states that “the human animal is a beast that dies, but the fact that he's dying don't give him pity for others”. It remains today a melodrama with more than a grain of truth, and those involved in the family's dysfunction as a whole demonstrate the exaggerated truth of people's reactions when their survival is threatened.

This production, in addition to the acting and direction, boasts praised technical elements, including its dramatic copper and gold Lighting Design by Jon Clark and Set Design by Magda Willi, and is said to be a visually exciting version of a true masterpiece. As noted, it's a “one-off”, as they say in the mother country, and from all accounts is one performance not to be missed.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof will be HD Broadcasted this coming Thursday February 22nd at a theater near you.


Fathom Events' Met "Elixir": Happy Valentine's Day

The Cast of "Elixir of Love"
(photo: Met Opera)

Donizetti's beloved bel canto opera L'Elisir d'Amore or Elixir of Love would seem at first to be the perfectly logical choice for the Metropolitan Opera to present as its current HD Broadcast in anticipation of Valentine's Day. And so it was, in this finely tuned production.

In 1836 in an Italian village, the young Nemorino (tenor Matthew Polenzani), in love with the beautiful farm owner Adina (soprano Pretty Yende), is upset with the arrival of Sergeant Belcore (baritone Davide Luciano) who firt flirts with Adina and then proposes to her. The subsequent arrival of Dulcamara (bass Ildebrando D'Arcangelo), a wandering peddler of “medicines”, incites Nemorino into buying a “cure all” love potion (in truth, a cheap bottle of Bordeaux). Drinking it down, he becomes so certain of success with his wooing of Adina that he feigns indifference to her. Hurt and surprised, she agrees to marry Belcore at once.

Matthew Polenzani in "Elixir of Love"
(photo: Met Opera)

At the feast for the wedding, Adina demands that Nemorino be present for her signing of the marriage contract. Meanwhile Nemorino, feeling he needs another dose of the “love potion” (it was apparently a good year) but lacking the funds to buy one, enlists in Belcore's regiment in order to receive a volunteer's bonus. While this transpires, the girls of the village, including Adina's friend Giannetta (Ashley Emerson), learn that Nemorino's rich uncle has died, leaving him his entire fortune. Naturally, they all now seek his favor, which convinces him the potion is working. This helps Adina to realize her true feelings, so she buys Nemorino's contract from the army, confesses her love for him, and marries him on the spot. (Well, after all, we should've known, the tenor almost always gets the girl, almost never the baritone).

This performance was expertly led by Conductor Domingo Hindoyan. The Production, first revealed a few seasons ago, is by Bartlett Sher (a man with an incredibly busy opera and Broadway theater schedule) and Stage Direction by Gina Lapinski. The technical effects included the lovely Set Design by Michael Yeargan, pleasant peasant Costume Design by Catherine Zuber, and effective Lighting Design by Jennifer Tipton. The Live in HD Director was Matthew Diamond, with HD Host Susanna Phillips. As always, the Chorus shone under the direction of Chorus Master Donald Palumbo. On the other hand, the direction of the crowd scenes was a bit chaotic.
But Valentine's Day or not, this was a performance to treasure, mostly thanks to the ardent acting and singing on display, especially from the two leads. Yende is far more than just pretty (notably in her high florid roulades especially in the second act), and Polenzani brought the house down (as Nemorino should) in his justly famous aria, Una furtiva lagrima.
It was a production to share as well, with one's valentine or whomever, and there still remains an opportunity to do just that.
Encore HD Broadcast on Wednesday (Valentine's Day ) Feb.14th at a theater near you.


"Mala" & "Shakespeare in Love": Perils of Cast Typing

No, that's not a typo, but a reference to the fact that a certain theater critic has been out of commission for the past month due to injuries incurred while snow shoveling, leading to a painfully pinched nerve that affected one's typing of a cast list, whether as small a cast as that of Huntington Theater's Mala (a solo effort) or a piece affording employment for what seems like most of the remaining local acting community as in the case of SpeakEasy Stage's Shakespeare in Love. For the record, both were splendid in starkly different ways.  Both were presented on the stages of the Calderwood Pavilion.

George Olesky & Jennifer Ellis in "Shakespeare in Love"
(photo: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots)

Shakespeare in Love is based on the film of the same name, adapted for the stage by Lee Hall and superbly directed here by Scott Edmiston. It features local gems George Olesky and the ever-luminous Jennifer Ellis as well as a host of Boston's finest. The entire cast as well as the technical crew deserve mention, though it's just not possible at this point in time.

The cast of Mala, more easily typed, consists of one electrifying performer, Melinda Lopez, presenting her own partly autobiographical work, as directed by David Dower. Hers was a heartfelt tale that she delivered a couple of seasons ago, and remains as fresh as ever. Here the technical effects were also perfectly suited for the show, making for a fully engrossing theatrical experience.
Shakespeare in Love remains at SpeakEasy for a final week, and it's an exhilarating romp that manages to be literate, lusty and lovable. So get thee to the Calderwood. On the other hand, Mala has left us, but fear not if you missed it. PBS had the wisdom to record it for future broadcast.

Melinda Lopez in "Mala"
(photo: Paul Marotta)


Fathom Events' "Tosca": Dying Again for Art & Love

Vittorio Grigolo & Sonya Yoncheva in "Tosca"
(photo: Metropolitan Opera)

Tosca, the beloved opera created in 1900, composed by Giacomo Puccini with scenario by Luigi Illica and libretto by Giuseppe Giacoso (the same trio that created La Boheme and later Madama Butterfly) is the hit of the Metropolitan Opera season in its stunning new production. . Based on an 1889 play of the same name by Sardou, set against the historical backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars, it's a true potboiler in the best possible meaning of the term.
What can one say about the plot of such a familiar work? Most opera devotees will already know that the story takes place in three real Roman settings, in each of its three acts. In the Church of Sant'Andrea della Valle, sensitive painter Mario Cavaradossi (tenor Vittorio Grigolo) is interrupted as he paints a portrait of Mary Magdalene, first by a Sacristan (bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi), then by his friend the political prison escapee Cesare Angelotti (bass Christian Zaremba, whose sister posed for the painting), whom Cavaradossi helps to hide. Then arrives the painter's lover, famed opera singer Floria Tosca (soprano Sonya Yoncheva), who is aware of his political beliefs but is herself apolitical. Finally appears the Chief of Police Baron Scarpia (bass-baritone Zeljko Lucic) who is hunting Angelotti. Subsequently, in his suite in the Farnese Palace, Scarpia summons Tosca to interrogate her while he has Cavaradossi tortured within earshot, finally getting her to agree to his lusty demands if he will set up a mock execution of her lover. Scarpia arranges with his assistants Spoletta (tenor Brenton Ryan) and Sciarrone (bass-baritone Christopher Job) to pretend to carry out a mock firing squad, while actually using real bullets. Tosca then stabs Scarpia to death. Finally, atop the Castel Sant'Angelo, Tosca witnesses what she believes is a fake execution, but turns out to be real (not fake news?). She then makes her final statement of resistance.

From the first familiar chords, this was a production to cherish. Yoncheva, in her debut in this title role, immediately impresses with her soaring presence, as does Grigolo from his first entrance to his last act aria E lucevan le stelle, about how the stars shimmer but his life has come to nothing. Lucic also excels, notably in Scarpia's Hapiu forte sapore, as he foresees Tosca bending to his will. But it is Yoncheva who makes this production a true gem, with her magnificent vocalizing and acting chops, especially in the most famous aria, Vissi d'arte , about how she has lived for art (and love). She's a true find, a singing actress who even looks the part of a young opera star, rare indeed in a role that requires that a soprano deliver a polished sound and fury. She was the greatest source of pleasure even for opera buffs very familiar with the work, but by no means the only such reason to celebrate.

Emmanuel Villaume's conducting and the orchestra's playing were integral to the opera and enhanced the overall experience). The new production by David McVicar with sets and costumes by John MacFarlane worked very well without overwhelming the singers as some past productions of this work have been known to do. Very effective Lighting Design by David Finn was outstanding in its subtle use of follow spots. Even HD Host Isabel Leonard added charm and interest. As ever, the HD Director Gary Halvorson was impeccable. All in all, it's a wonderful treat to re-encounter an operatic war horse that displays such a respectful yet original approach.

Given the fatal outcomes for the three headliners, this is opera's ultimate triple header for pessimists and lovers of tragedy, as well as, not coincidentally, those members of an audience who aren't familiar with the work, a truly unforgettable experience.
Encore HD Broadcast will be shown on Wednesday January 31 at a theater near you.


Advance News: Tanglewood on Sale Sunday Jan.28

Tanglewood 2018 performance tickets will be available starting this Sunday January 28th.

Information on the schedule and seating for events may be found at www.tanglewood.org.

The roster of luminaries scheduled to perform is too long to be published here, but keep in mind that the availability for most tickets for non-subscribers begins this weekend.  Some, such as Roger Daltry performing The Who's Tommy, are already available as of this posting (1/26/18 @ 10am).

More information will follow soon, but be aware of the ticket availability for most events begins this Sunday.


Lyric's "Road Show": Putting It Together

Tony Castellanos & Neil A. Casey in "Road Show"
(photo: Maggie Hall)

Sooner or later, we're bound to get it right”; thus goes the final line in the musical Road Show
now being presented by Lyric Stage. The same might be said for the creators of the show. As Stephen Sondhiem, who wrote the score for the show, described in a very lengthy essay (no fewer than a hundred pages in four chapters or “acts” in his seminal work, Look I Made a Hat) this musical has had a complicated gestation. It evolved from its workshop reading to its first production (then entitled Wise Guys), then briefly as Gold, on to its revised form as Bounce, to the “final” version (if anything by composer/lyricist Sondheim has a real “final” form) as Road Show. Its Off-Broadway premiere by the Public Theater in 2008 lasted barely two months. A large part of its acceptance (or lack thereof) may be that Sondheim and his Book author John Weidman never quite managed to embrace the basic reality that their two lead characters, based on the real-life scheming Mizner Brothers, aren't very likable, to put it mildly. The form in which they first appeared in Wise Guys was transparently as two vaudevillian brothers: Wilson (here portrayed by Tony Castellanos) and Addison (here brought to life by Neil A. Casey).

Patrick Varner & Neil A. Casey in "Road Show"
(photo: Maggie Hall)

The problems with the Book have only partly been solved; what remains is lack of involvement in the lives of these two con men. The vaudeville elements are still discernible in the first half of this ninety minute production (wisely kept as an intermission-less piece) which, for those unfamiliar with the story, may be a true challenge. There are clues dropped in the opening songs, way too rapidly, so that one might miss the fact that the play opens in the afterlife with the death of one of the brothers and that each has had a lifetime of ups and downs. It doesn't help that Sondheim steals music (abetted by Orchestrator Jonathan Tunick) from some of their own past work, most notably from their collaboration on Assassins, in the song It's in Your Hands Now, sung to the brothers by their Papa (Sean McGuirk).

It isn't until their Mama (Vanessa J. Schukis) sings the plaintive number, Isn't He Something, about Wilson, that the story begins to move us (and seems borrowed from Children and Art from Sunday in the Park with George). The alterations to the plot, making it move perhaps too quickly in the second half of the story, are rather extraordinary even for a work in progress. Arguably the most striking example of plot revision is the sudden introduction of a love affair between Addison (a closeted gay man in real life) and a rich young man named Hollis Bessemer (Patrick Varner). This resulted in a change from a heterosexual love song between Wilson and his girlfriend Nellie, a character from Bounce who was dropped for Road Show, to a love song between the gay lovers, Addison and Hollis, by far the most beautiful song in the show,You Are the Best Thing That Ever Has Happened. Also dropped, incidentally, was an oft repeated refrain, “bullshit” (just as well, since the expletive might be rightly deemed too presidential these days). Though the lyrics soar, they don't add any heart to the show, which had just portrayed their first meeting as a promising business relationship in another lovely song, You. All of the characters, without exception, seem bent on (to use the current buzz word) being transactional. Sondheim refers to them as the “community of suckers”, from the Alaskan Gold Rush to the sales of Florida swamp land and lots of other destinations along the way.

The Cast of "Road Show"
(photo: Maggie Hall)

Thanks to Co-Directors Spiro Veloudos and Ilyse Robbins, (with Choreography by Robbins), to the Music Direction by Jonathan Goldberg, and to the technical crew: Scenic Design by Cristina Todesco, Costume Design by Amanda Mujica, Lighting Design by John R. Malinowski and Sound Design by Elizabeth Cahill, things are about as clear as they may ever be, and make for mandatory viewing and hearing for any Sondheim buff. It's certainly not his best work, but it has some of his loveliest music and stinging lyrics, delivered by a talented cast of eleven in some three dozen roles.

Mention is made in the program notes that this show is about the warping of the American Dream and the need people seem to have to leave their mark on the country's culture. That the show ends up with crooked real estate developers overstaying their welcome may feel too close to home right at the moment. This shouldn't dissuade one's attendance, however, but increase the motivation for seeing this latest work (a decade ago!) from theater's greatest living composer/lyricist.

Let there be one caveat, in the words of Addison (who briefly became a Broadway play producer): “a drama critic is a person who surprises the playwright by informing him of what he meant”.


"Opera House": Edifice Complex

The Metropolitan "Opera House" in progress
(photo: Fathom Events)

Opera House, a two-hour historical treatment of the home for the past fifty years for the Metropolitan Opera in New York by award-winning documentary filmmaker Susan Froemke, is not just about the building but also the people involved in its creation. As you may see from the photo of the mortar and metal that form the foreboding framework at the area to become known as Lincoln Center, it was quite an undertaking. Utilizing archival footage and current interviews, as well as still photos from the 50's and 60's, the film takes an objective view of the building and its barriers, along the way portraying the roles of opera impressario assoluto Rudolph Bing, city planner Robert Moses and architect Wallace Harrison.

Where once the Sharks and Jets pirouetted to the music of Leonard Bernstein and the lyrics of Steven Sondheim in the film version of West Side Story, would emerge a huge new complex. Moving from its downtown building erected in 1883, the construction of the Lincoln Center complex had its challenges, which Froemke wisely highlights with personal stories of the people involved, from high profile names such as Leontyne Price (who opened the new house for the Met in 1966 with Franco Zefferelli's production of Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra), to the head of the supernumeraries and other tech workers. It makes for a fascinating story of its own, with even some blemishes intact (though the eminent domain issues displacing poor tenement residents is pretty much glossed over). All in all, it's a thoroughly researched and coordinated tale of a building that we all thought we knew so well.
There will be an encore HD presentation next Weds. January 17th at a theater near you.