7/19/2018

Goodspeed's "Oliver!": Feud, Glorious Feud!

Gavin Swartz (The Artful Dodger) & Elijah Rayman (Oliver) in "Oliver!"
(photo: Diane Sobolewski)

The stage musical version of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist is infrequently produced these days, in large part because of the challenge of casting young actors. After all, the well-known story from Dickens' original novel features two different British social worlds engaged in feuding against one another for the life and soul of the titular orphan and involves a good number of workhouse young boys with two lead roles that are essential to the tale. When the London stage production debuted in 1960 in London, and two years later on Broadway, then in an Oscar-winning filmed version, the success of all these versions depended heavily on the charisma of the actors portraying the characters of Oliver and the Artful Dodger. Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Connecticut has miraculously managed to discover two gems, namely Elijah Rayman (Oliver) and Gavin Swartz (the Artful Dodger), who together provide the foundation for a production that can only be described as virtually flawless, it surely deserves the exclamatory title, Oliver!.


Gavin Swartz (The Artful Dodger) & EJ Zimmerman (Nancy) & Cast in "Oliver!"
(photo: Diane Sobolewski)

As crucial as these two actors are, any version of this musical further requires versatile singing, dancing and acting performers in the roles of the conniving yet captivating “receiver” Fagin (Donald Corren), the heartbreaking Nancy (EJ Zimmerman) who can belt the show's best rousing songs as well as a thrilling torch song or two, the inherently and unredeemably evil Bill Sikes (Brandon Andrus), and the hilariously hypocritical workhouse owners, the Bumbles (Richard R. Henry and Joy Hermalyn). They are, individually as well as collectively, about as professionally perfect as one could hope for, and that includes the entire ensemble. Rarely has one encountered such a capable Oliver as Rayman (often played by actors outside their range) or a more mesmerizing Artful Dodger as Swartz (arguably the show's best-written and here best-performed role). One can only marvel at how the company found all these pros. But wait, there's more.


Elijah Rayman (Oliver) & Richard Henry (Mr. Bumble) in "Oliver!"
(photo: Diane Sobolewski)

That professional level goes for the creative team as well, especially with regard to the work of Director Rob Ruggiero (in his eleventh season with Goodspeed), who so impressed in the past with such productions as Rags, Fiddler on the Roof, La Cage aux Folles and The Most Happy Fella; there simply is no one on the planet so imaginative and focused as a musical stage helmer. Along with the stupendous Scenic Design by Michael Schweikardt and wondrous Costume Design by Alejo Vietti, terrific Lighting Design by John Lasiter and effective Sound Design by Jay Hilton, there is the marvelous Musical Direction by Michael O'Flaherty, fluid Choreography by James Gray and, at the core of the work, the triple threat contribution by the musical's creator Lionel Bart, who wrote the Book, Music and Lyrics (a feat perhaps only Frank Loessor or Meredith Wilson could so perfectly match). Not only was Bart true to Dickensian themes, his work was respected by Ruggiero with this tight rendition, with a helpful mimed visual to start the show, and the sight of a determined Fagin to end it, as opposed to the medley of reprised songs usually provided.


Donald Corren as Fagin in "Oliver!'
(photo: Diane Sobolewski)

And oh, that score!  From the show's opener, Food, Glorious Food (with this production's sole flaw, the need for better ensemble diction) to Oliver's poignant plea Where Is Love? to Dodger's show-stopping Consider Yourself, to Nancy's As Long As He Needs Me and Oom-Pah-Pah, and Fagin's “eleven o'clock number”, Reviewing the Situation, it's chock full of unforgettable musical pieces. The score's sources range from the traditional British music hall to complex counterpoint sung a cappella, every song character-driven. Even Nancy's fate (with its abusive aspects) is here tempered by her strength and redeeming choices in the end.

As is equally true in Dickens' seminal source, everything about a successful Oliver! demonstrates precisely how character-driven this work is at every level. Storytelling in theater simply doesn't get any better than this. Period. Full stop. And do by all means make a full stop at Goodspeed Musicals (already extended through September 13th) for this quintessential example of musical theater at its best, and, in the tradition of past exclamation-pointed shows (think Oklahoma!, Hello, Dolly! and the like) it's totally Broadway-ready.
 
 
 

7/17/2018

Glimmerglass at Cooperstown: Home Runs

Alice Busch Opera House
(photo: Glimmerglass Festival)

The contrast between the comic opera The Barber of Seville and the sobering opera Silent Night, both presented this past weekend as part of this year's season of the Glimmerglass Opera Festival, could not have been more pronounced. Yet it was a stunning demonstration of how each of these profoundly disparate operas may serve as a reminder of how the medium of opera can inspire in so many different ways, especially in the hands of brilliant directors. Though Cooperstown may perhaps be more famous for its Baseball Hall of Fame one could argue that it is equally renowned, at least among music lovers, for its annual Opera festival, since its founding in 1975. This year is no exception.


The Cast of "The Barber of Seville"
(photo: Karli Cadel)

In the more familiar work, with its lively music by Gioachino Rossini and hysterical libretto by Cesare Sterbini, this version of Barber was imagination on speed, a virtually flawless romp with a plethora of truly funny comic touches, a non-stop cornucopia of visual treats. The direction, by the company's Artistic and General Director Francesca Zambello, was nothing less than astounding. If you think you've seen every possible production of this war horse, think again. It's rare that a much beloved work receives such a unified and original approach. This is reflected by the Costume Designer Lynly Saunders, Lighting Designer Robert Wierzel, Choreography by Olivia Barbieri, and perhaps especially Scenic Designer John Conklin (who gives a whole new depth to the term “two-dimension” (not to be revealed here). But the old saying correctly admonishes that you can't hum the scenery; it remained for the orchestra (under the magical touch of Conductor Joseph Colaneri) and cast to solidify all the stage business with musical and vocal precision. For all its apparent simplicity and ease, this is a challenging piece to perform, and the musicians both in the pit and on the stage didn't fail to deliver.
 


Joshua Hopkins as Figaro in "The Barber of Seville"
(photo: Glimmerglass Opera)
 
The story is well-known enough to dispense with a synopsis, other than to note that it all revolves around the character of Rosina (here superbly played and sung by Emily D'Angelo), the almost universal object of affection of virtually everyone on stage, who is the ward of Dr. Bartolo (a true gem both in his acting and singing, Dale Travis). Count Almaviva (the wonderful David Walton), aided by Figaro (the hysterically comic Joshua Hopkins), is another suitor. The rest of the cast include Rosina's music teacher Basilio (the able Timothy Bruno), the maid Berta (Alexandria Shiner, with a lovely voice even in this relatively minor role), and the characters of Fiorello (Ben Schaefer), an Officer (Maxwell Levy) and Figaro's Assistant (Rock Lasky). And there's not a clinker in the bunch. One almost-spoiler: keep a lookout for how one character (the maid Berta) gives a clever new meaning to the term “disappearing into the scenery”.


The Cast of "Silent Night"
(photo: Glimmerglass Opera)

There's no likelihood of anyone's disappearing into the scenery in the company's compelling production of Silent Night. The stark yet versatile style visually captures one's attention from the first moments of this startling contemporary work, complemented by yet another example of an ingenious director (Tomer Zvulun). Based on a film by the same name, the operatic version was first performed in 2011. Its Composer Kevin Puts won the Pulitzer Prize for this, his debut opera; the Libretto by Mark Campbell (who impressed last season in Boston Lyric Opera's production of his Mr. Burke and Mr. Hare) is his third Pulitzer. It's easy to hear why, especially as led by Conductor Nicole Paiement. The music is lovely, melodic, and complex, and the story is enthralling.

There are three stories, actually, taking place on a World War I Belgian battlefield on Christmas morning (in 1914): two famed German opera stars, also lovers (Arnold Livingston Geis as Sprink and Mary Evelyn Hangley as Anna), first separated, reunite for a command performance at a German officer's chalet nearby; the two Scottish Dale brothers, Jonathan (Christian Sanders) and William (Maxwell Levy), and their local parish priest (Wm. Clay Thompson), all enlist; and French Lieutenant Audebert (Michael Miller) also enlists though his wife is pregnant, and is given coffee by his aide-de-camp Ponchel (Conor McDonald). There ensues a brief truce, first as a respite for the holiday, then extended in order to bury the dead. Peace reigns ever so briefly, inevitably, as war must be resumed.


The Cast of "Silent Night"
(photo: Glimmerglass Opera)

Or must it? Consider Audebert's aria “j'ai perdu ta photo”:
Madeline.
I lost your photo...
I don't need a photo
To see you.
I close my eyes
And you are there...
I will finish this tomorrow.
Sleep.
Sleep.

Or, equally poignant, consider Anna's aria “Irgendwo, irgendwann”:
And then in your grave.
Our story will end
Like all the others.
Unless we do something about it.
We must do something about it.
I will find a way.

This version is blessed with a cast of astonishingly terrific singer/actors, especially those singled out by name above, and a creative team that has captured war in its most heartrending aspects, with lovers who are divided, brothers who are separated in the extreme sense, and an absurd death of a unfortunate soldier in the wrong place in the wrong time in the wrong uniform. A word about those uniforms: though they are historically accurate, Costume Designer Victoria Tzykun has noted that she designs not costumes but characters. The scenery by Erhard Rom is an inspired choice to illustrate the triple nature of the conflict, and the Lighting Design by Robert Wierzel echoes this approach.

In the end, with obvious resonance for the irrational times we live in, there are no winners, only losers, except one; war is the sole winner.
 
 

 

Tanglewood: Calm and Balm in the Berkshires

Conductor Moritz Gnann and Pianist Paul Lewis at Tanglewood
(photo: Hilary Scott)

If the current politically hot season (which seems endless of late) is getting you down, a trip to the Berkshires and the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood may be just what your therapist (who's probably on vacation anyway) might have ordered. When the headlines abound with disturbing news at home and abroad, one antidote sure to restore your flagging spirits is to resist via the arts, which have always managed to provide restoration as well as response to the turmoil. On a warm summer's night, that was indisputably provided by the BSO's triple play of Wagner, Mozart and Schumann.

Rest assured that even with these heavyweights on offer, the balm and calm quotient was well provided, in that the pieces chosen were (for these composers, anyway) atypically light and refreshing, beginning with Siegfried Idyll, with Wagner at his most approachable and beloved. One doesn't have to be a classical music scholar to discern that this work was first and foremost a labor of love, even if one isn't familiar with its history, which is undeniably charming. Its first performance was on Christmas morning in 1870 as a birthday present from Wagner to his wife after the birth of his only son. As a curtain raiser, it perfectly set the mood for what was to follow.

From a century earlier, the Mozart choice was his Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat, which was first performed in 1791, and was first performed by the BSO (at Tanglewood, no less) in 1963. Though often referred to as “autumnal” (including in this performance's program notes) it was a wise choice to continue the night's thematic purpose, as its melodious expression was again indicative of the power of music to move and inspire. It's Mozart at his most direct and simple, even sublime. Beautifully led by Moritz Gnann (now completing his third season as the BSO's assistant conductor), as was the whole program, this piece was enhanced by the remarkable playing of pianist Paul Lewis, who next month will be commencing a multi-year survey at Tanglewood in works for the piano by Haydn, Beethoven and Brahms. He managed to enhance the effect of the piece precisely by deemphasizing more virtuosic technical displays, proving that often less is more. If this performance was any indication, this should be a fascinating project indeed.

The third and last piece, Shumann's Symphony No. 3 in E-flat, Opus 97, a much more positive work than the composer is famous for, accounting for its common subtitle, the “Rhenish” Symphony, with its warmth and colorful imagery of the Rhine River. Though the composer never attributed the name, it's clearly appropriate with its easily applicable pictures of the flow of the mighty river, especially when juxtaposed with compositions created during his more melancholy and unstable periods. It's atypical even in its format, with a total of five movements rather than four.

As noted, it was a pluperfect presentation of music that fit the occasion and the season. But it is by no means the last. Coming weekend programs will include Glinka's overture to his opera Ruslan and Ludmila, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No.2 and the complete Stravinsky Firebird; a Bernstein Songfest that will feature Nadine Sierra, Isabel Leonard, Kelley O'Connor, Nicholas Phan, Elliot Madore and Eric Owens, and Wieniawski's Violin Concerto No.2 with Joshual Bell; and a spectacular Bernstein Centennial Celebration with a host of conductors and performers including Audra McDonald, Midori, Yo-Yo Ma, cellist Kian Soltani, Nadine Sierra, Susan Graham, Isabel Leonard, and Thomas Hampson. What greater tribute could one ask for in this Year of Lennie?

7/11/2018

7/08/2018

"Man of la Mancha": Idealism in the Error of Trump



As previously noted in a review of a recent regional production of Man of La Mancha , for theatergoers who were fortunate enough to attend productions of this 1959 “musical play” on Broadway, or one or more of its four New York revivals in 1972, 1977, 1992, or 2002, this show remains a beloved memory. Based on the 1965 novel Don Quixote (written between 1605 and 1615) as well as other works by Miguel de Cervantes, it was nominated for seven Tony Awards, winning five (including Best Musical). It had first seen the light of day as a non-musical teleplay by Dale Wasserman in 1959, later adapted by him for the musical stage (at Goodspeed Opera House, also the original home of Annie), with Music by Mitch Leigh and Lyrics by Joe Darion. It was Wasserman's ingenious move to portray the eccentric title character in a play-within-a-play-within a play, a tribute to the historical fact that Cervantes himself, a contemporary of Shakespeare, was not primarily a poet but first and foremost a playwright and actor on the road with his own little troupe. This “musical play” reflected the idealistic hopes of the time, becoming known primarily for its best song, The Quest , also known as The Impossible Dream (especially among Red Sox fans in 1967). It was also acknowledged as providing one of the rare Broadway musical male lead roles, along with the likes of Tevye and Harold Hill. It survived its being made into an almost completely forgettable film in 1972 starring Peter O'Toole and Sophia Loren, neither of whom could carry a tune in the proverbial bucket (only O'Toole was dubbed). The question for modern audiences is this: does it still speak to them as it celebrates idealism and hope, in a more cynical age? And what of the line (which obviously has quite a different connotation today): "facts are the enemy of truth"?
 
Alas, the question remains unanswered, at least with Americana Theatre's current production, featuring a trial by the Spanish Inquisition (1478). One who had never seen a production of this show could be forgiven for not grasping the logic of the plot (and at times it is intrinsically illogical), with a weirdly unsettling sound that preceded the performance, consisting of water dripping that suggested Chinese water torture. At least in this production (as opposed to those other regional versions) the cast consisted of excellent actors in singing roles that were within their comfort zones. It also followed the explicit instructions by the librettist that Cervantes appear to grow old and gaunt (applying makeup and beard as he assumes the title role). But then there is playwright Wasserman's note that “the play is performed without intermission”, which, as with most versions lately, was ignored, leading to the breaking of tension. Interrupting the natural flow of the original text fails to grasp and/or convey the fundamental message of the piece, a message we could all use in these uncertain times.

Once again these actors save the day, (as they did with last season's “Lucky Stiff”, a comparatively inferior work). Most notable was Bethany Lauren James as Aldonza, the whore who evolves into Dulcenea, the “noble lady” chosen by the knight-errant Don Quixote (Scott Wahle, who grew into the role despite technical sound issues). She becomes his sole convert, displaying the power the play should possess. Other standouts were Ruben Navarro as Sancho Panza and Derek G. Martin (also the show's choreographer) as the Padre. The creative team included Director Dr. Michael Kirkland, Music Director Nancy Sparklin, Scene Designer David Friday, Lighting Director Heather M. Crocker, Costume Designer Brian Kenerson and Sound Designer Gary Sjolin.

This was another demonstration of the breadth and depth of this company, as cast members contributed additional creative input. One would be wrong, however, to mistake this as an indication of a Mickey-and-Judy putting-on-a-show effort. It's a well coordinated ensemble effort that's worth seeing and a revelation of what this company is capable of producing.
 

6/28/2018

Cirque du Soleil's "Luzia": A Suffolk Downs Sure Bet

"Luzia"
(photo: Cirque du Soleil)

Luzia, the latest Cirque du Soleil extravaganza, now being presented at Suffolk Downs, is one of the best in this company's history. Premiered in Montreal in 2016, its name is a combination of luz or “light” and Iluvia or “rain”, the two elements at the core of the creation of this show, one of more than three dozen shows in the company's history. This employs some 44 artists from 15 countries under the artistic and creative guidance of Guy Laliberte and Jean-Francois Bouchard, with a core focus on Mexico. Even the colors of the Grand Chapiteau tent reflects these themes, based on the solar system, especially the moon, the sun and the paths of the planets. Briefly referenced are the historical Dia de los Muertos or “Day of the Dead” and papel picado cut-outs (as in Pixar's recent Oscar-winning Coco), utilizing some five thousand live marigolds, or cempasuchil, a mainstay of the altars erected on the Day of the Dead, and Mexican wrestling (luchadors, “free style” lucha libre), but most of the show's creations are less traditional. There are mixtures of imaginary Mexico as though waking from a dream, with images from old Mexican movie sets to the ocean to a dance hall to the desert, from urban to natural world , from past to present.


"Luzia"
(photo: Cirque du Soliel)

As is typical of many of the company's offerings, there are animals (imaginary) such as the Aztec hummingbirds (the dead returned to life) and Bahlam (the Olmec myth of the Jaguar) and other myths such as Chaak, the Mayan god of rain. The performances include the prologue with a Clown in the desert of Luzia, the Running Woman (Shelli Epstein) and the Butterfly, Hoop Diving, Adagio (another allusion to Mexican films), Cyr Wheel (a large hula hoop) and Dance Trapeze amongst peyote or agave, Clown at the beach, Hand Balancing (Hugo Laffolay), Football Freestyle, Clown with rain, Percussions Parade, Masts and Pole Dance, Swing 360, Jaguar, featuring solo singing by Majo Cornejo, Aerial Straps (Stephen Brine), an Oasis, Juggling (Cylios Pytlak), wondrous Contortionist (Alexsei Goloborodko), Scuba Diving, Swing to Swing, and the Finale Fiesta.


"Luzia"
(photo: Cirque du Soleil)

The score's composer is Simon Carpentier (with elements of salsa-like cumbia, bandas or brass band, flamenco-like huapango and Norteno from Northern Mexico). The entire production is under Director Daniele Finzi Pasca's elegant care, with Set and Prop Design by Eugenio Caballero, Costume Design (including a dress that turns from white to red flora) by Giovanna Buzzi, Puppet Design by Max Humphries, Lighting Design by Martin Labreque, Projection Design by Johnny Ranger, Sound Design by Jacques Boucher and Choreography by Barata, Debra Brown, and Sylvia Getrudix Gonzales. Along the way there are crocodile heads, an iguana shawl, a cockroach, a grasshopper, an armadillo, a snake, several swordfish, some tuna heads, and two giant treadmills. They portray the performance's main themes of the monumental, speed, rain and surreal menagerie (including the spirit of the animal in the human from birth, or nagual). This production includes the best lighting and projection design ever offered by the company, as well as the finest clown, a consummate mime by the appropriate name of Eric Fool Koller from the Netherlands. It also presented a cast of international athletes that undoubtedly have never let their gym memberships expire.

It was a sublime visual experience with frequent reminders of what our southern neighbors have contributed to our culture over the ages, and continue to do despite the unfounded hysterical rants by our country's current politicians in power. It was a different kind of power on display, the sort that transcends bigotry and ignorance. Viva Mexico!
 
So go ahead. It's a sure bet; until August 10th, as the cast says online, “lose ya'self”.





6/26/2018

Fathom Events' "Bandstand": Dancing Feat


The Cast of "Bandstand"
(photo: Jeremy Daniel)

Bandstand , the Broadway musical, was presented on June 25th by Fathom Events as the latest in an ongoing series of recorded-live performances of theatrical events. It was first seen on Broadway in 2017 (after a run at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey in 2015), but lasted for only 24 previews and 166 performances. It nonetheless managed to score two Tony Award nominations, for orchestrations and choreography, winning the latter for Andy Blankenbuehler, who also directed (and had won the Tony for choreography just the season before for Hamilton). It should be noted that it was a comparatively competitive year, what with Dear Evan Hansen, Natasha Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, Come From Away and Groundhog Day all in contention. In almost any other year, there would surely have been more recognition for Bandstand, especially for its performances and dancing.


Corey Cott in "Bandstand"
(photo: Jeremy Daniel)

The story centers on Donny Novitski (Corey Cott, who appeared previously in Newsies and Gigi on Broadway), a hunky veteran returning from World War II with other vets suffering from what would today be recognized as PTSD, OCD and survivor's guilt. The settings are various venues around Cleveland and New York City, as Novitski forms a veterans' band to perform in a national radio contest. The score, with a healthy emphasis on swing and bebop with original songs by Rob Taylor (who also wrote the Book) and Richard Oberacker, is enjoyable, though the lyrics are often predictable, as is the Book. There are a couple of surprises, not to be revealed here, but the main interest remains the incredible dancing and movement (even in the roles of stagehands), and those performances, chiefly those of the charismatic Cott and his love interest, Julia Trojan, wonderfully played by Laura Osnes (a Broadway veteran herself, including such shows as Grease, South Pacific, Bonnie & Clyde, Anything Goes, and Cinderella). She had been previously nominated twice for a Tony Award, for Bonnie & Clyde and Cinderella. The rest of the cast was uniformly (no pun intended) terrific, with some of the best one-liners delivered by Beth Leavel as Julia's mother and Brandon J. Ellis as Davy Zlatic on bass. The rest of the on-stage band included James Nathan Hopkins (sax and clarinet), Alex Bender (trumpet), Geoff Packard (trombone) and Joe Carroll (drums).


Corey Cott, Laura Osnes & the Cast of "Bandstand"
(photo: Jeremy Daniel)

The versatile Scenic Design was by David Korins, with mostly apt Costume Design by Paloma Young, fluid Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter and Sound Design by Kevin Steinberg, all contributing to the look and sound of the play with a cast of twenty seven, in a production lasting just over two hours.

As fine as these creative elements were, the show's impact was really all about the dancing, with Blankenbuehler's outstanding contribution. The script may disappoint in several scenes, but no matter. It's worth the trip for that unforgettable dancing feat.


An encore HD Broadcast will be offered on Thursday June 28 at a theater near you.

6/13/2018

Boston Pops: In the Room Where It Happened

Renee Elise Goldsberry of "Hamilton"
(photo: Boston Pops)

The focus of the Boston Pops schedule says it all: a season-long homage, Leonard Bernstein Centennial Tribute, celebrating not only the centennial of the birth of the prolific composer but also the 133rd season of the Boston Pops in Symphony Hall. As noted earlier this season, the program faced an embarrassment of riches. Any retrospective of the composer's life work would have to include some of the more obvious choices, such as the overture to Candide, his early evolution into On the Town, and the hugely successful groundbreaking West Side Story. In some respects, choosing from the depth and breadth of his works is easy; in some other respects, it's well nigh impossible, since he made his mark on the symphonic stage, opera, Broadway, art songs and one film score.

After a new Pops favorite, the selection To Lenny! To Lenny! by John Williams, and the Candide overture, the program segued to the more fully developed musical that was to be On the Town. With lyrics by Comden and Green (created by a trio who were all in their mid-twenties), the program included the stirring New York, New York and West Side Story, introduced by Conductor Keith Lockhart with his oft-told story about the latter work's creation. Arguably his most beloved work, West Side Story, it was correctly noted, was to have been East Side Story, about Jewish and Irish gangs; fortunately the composer went with West Side Story and its Latino conflicts that could entail jazz and other musical influences, as demonstrated by “Mambo”. The program continued with a selection from Bernstein's sole film score from On the Waterfront (the love scene and finale) and an explanation from Lockhart as to why the composer never wrote again for the silver screen. Bernstein felt that music should always be paramount, rather than relegated to the background and the necessary restrictions inherent in scoring for the movies. One couldn't help but think of frequent Pops conductor John Williams to appreciate fully the demands of such focus on a composer. The first half of the program also included the “Simple Song” from Bernstein's Mass, which isn't heard as often as one might wish.

After intermission, Lockhart introduced (though, as they say, needing no introduction) Renee Elise Goldsberry, an accomplished Broadway luminary known best for her Tony-winning role as Angelica Schuyler in the smash hit Hamilton, an American Musical. Greeted with truly thunderous applause, she gave rousing performances of songs from On A Clear Day You Can See Forever (the title number), Carmen Jones (the translated Habanera), The Lion King (her Broadway debut), and Hamilton itself. Goldsberry then introduced her stage sister (as Eliza Hamilton from Hamilton), Phillipa Soo, also to a huge audience response, who sang numbers from Into the Woods (“Children Will Listen”) and more of Hamilton. The two singers joined together for yet more from Hamilton. Goldsberry ended the evening with a medley of songs from Rent (in which she played Mimi in its final run on Broadway) and a heartfelt rendition of “You'll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel. The audience truly loved them both.

Anyone hoping for another dose or three of Bernstein need not fear. The Pops schedule will complete its homage to “Lenny” with a concert version of his West Side Story at the end of this week, concluding its current season. But wait, there's more. The BSO calendar for Tanglewood will include a semi-staged production of his On the Town, his opera Trouble in Tahiti, his Chichester Psalms, the entire score to his West Side Story (accompanied by a showing of the film version), a Bernstein Songfest, his A Quiet Place (a sequel to his opera Trouble in Tahiti), and fully-staged presentations of his Fancy Free and Candide. To which one can only respond: Lenny! Lenny!
 
 

6/07/2018

Boston Pops: Thoroughly Modern Foster

Sutton Foster at Boston Pops
(photo: Boston Pops)

A Broadway Celebration with Sutton Foster with the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall last night was proof that Foster has had a remarkable career over the past couple of decades or so. Here, in more or less chronological order, is an amazing list: Les Miserables, Grease, Annie, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Little Women, Drowsy Chaperone, Young Frankenstein, Shrek the Musical, Anything Goes and Violet. Along the way she has received countless nominations and awards including winning Tony Awards for Thoroughly Modern Millie (her “overnight” starring breakthrough role in 2002) as well as Anything Goes. She's also performed in concert versions of Chess and Funny Girl and is currently in the cast of television's hit show Younger, in which she plays a forty-year-old woman who passes as twenty-six to win a job. It could serve as a metaphor for Foster herself, in that she looks (and much more importantly, sings) younger than ever.

Her choices for songs to share with a very simpatico audience of fans fell into categories such as numbers she herself has made popular, others from lesser known composers whom she has championed, and even those that evoke memories of her own family. Beginning with a nod to Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific (“Cockeyed Optimist”) mixed with lesser known Sondheim in his famous flop Anyone Can Whistle (“Everybody Says Don't”), she went on to Cole Porter's somewhat obscure Paris (“Don't Look at Me That Way”) and his more familiar Can-Can (“C'est Magnifique”), to his even less known DuBarry Was a Lady (“Give Him the Ooh-la-la”). Then she alluded to a show her brother Hunter Foster had been in, the recent Bridges of Madison County (“It All Fades Away”) by composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown. Then it was back to Cole Porter territory with Anything Goes (the title song, in the show for which she earned one of her two Tony Awards), followed by a nod to her late mother and one of her favorites, John Denver's “Sunshine on My Shoulders”, a folk song that turned out to be her only regrettable choice, at least as over-orchestrated in this performance. After a second brief nod to “Cockeyed Optimist”, she segued to a really unknown (except to avid fans of Sondheim) “Take Me to the World” (from the televised Evening Primrose musical). She ended with the title song from the Maltby/Shire review, Starting Here, Starting Now, with an encore from her first big break, Thoroughly Modern Millie, “Gimme Gimme”.

And give she did. Interspersed with personal reflections (such as being a new mom and having a starring role in a television series in its fifth season), she demonstrated just how deeply she continues to invest herself in live performing. She acknowledged that Broadway is her first love, and went on to prove it. The Pops gave her great support in most of her chosen repertoire (a good deal of it from her brand new album, Take Me to the World). As always, they performed superbly under the baton of Conductor Keith Lockhart, with pianist Michael Rafter as Foster's accompanist.
 
An added bonus at this concert were the five winners of the 2018 Fidelity Young Artists Competition awards, starting with the amazingly controlled countertenor Sam Higgins, a fifteen-year-old freshman from Milton High School who sang Bereite dich, Zion from Bach's Christmas Oratorio. This was followed by Arlington High School's Giulia Haible on cello and Caroline Dressler on violin performing Cassel's The Glass Case of Emotion and Kohler's Hornpipe, in near perfect synch. Then soprano Sydney Penny from Needham High School delivered a smashing coloratura rendition of Dell'Acqua and van der Elst's Villanelle, truly reminiscent of the young Barbara Cook (making one wish to hear Penny deliver “Glitter and Be Gay” from Candide, especially in this year of Bernstein). The final performer in the group, Wellesley High School cellist Michael Arumainayagam, beautifully played Dvorak's finale from his Cello Concerto in B Minor, acknowledging his teacher Eugene Kim, Boston Pops cellist.

Much of this program continued the series of performances centering around Broadway hits, from the previous offerings this season of Disney's Broadway Hits and On the Town, with upcoming concerts by two stars of Broadway's hit musical Hamilton: An American Musical , Renee Elise Goldsberry (Angelica Schuyler) and Phillipa Soo (Eliza Hamilton) substituting for the originally programmed An Evening with Leslie Odom, Jr., due to a scheduling conflict for Odom), and the highly awaited concert version of West Side Story. It's a season of Broadway and Bernstein, and who could ask for anything more?

The program was given an encore performance at Symphony Hall on Thursday June 7th.

6/03/2018

Greater Boston's "Calendar Girls": Cheeky Britcom

Karen MacDonald, Kerry A. Dowling, Sarah deLima, Bobbie Steinbach,
 Maureen Brennan & Mary Potts Dennis in "Calendar Girls"
(photo: Nile Scott Shots)

One might as well grin and bare it, theatergoers, that cheeky 2003 British film comedy, Calendar Girls, has had a change of life, now being presented as a live theatrical production by Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham. Adapted in 2009 by Juliette Towhidi and Tim Firth (who also co-wrote the screenplay), the play version, as was the film, is based on a true story about eleven members (six, in this version) of the British ladies' club, the Women's Institute, in their small and peaceful village of Knapeley in the Yorkshire Dales. After Annie (Maureen Brennan) loses her husband John (Sean McGuirk), a “sunflower” of a gent, to leukemia, the other members set out to raise money for the Leukemia Research Fund (to provide a replacement for a “man-eating” settee for a hospital waiting room) by selling calendars featuring the ladies themselves nude (“not naked”, as they twice point out).

The unanticipated celebrity that the success of their endeavors creates threatens to cause a cleavage between Annie and Chris (Karen MacDonald), Annie's best friend, who welcomes the notoriety. The other ladies with varying reactions include: Marie (Cheryl McMahon), for whom the Women's Institute is a trophy; Ruth (Sarah deLima) Marie's right hand person, emotionally abused by her husband; Celia (Mary Potts Dennis) a rebellious sort who decries materialism; Cora (Kerry A. Dowling), an inveterate joker; Jessie (Bobbie Steinbach), a mature teacher; and Lady Cravensire, (Kathy St. George), an imperious representative of the British upper classes. Two remaining female characters are St. George again, in a brief appearance at the start of the show as a guest lecturer, whose next lecture threatens to be “the history of the tea towel”, and make-up artist Elaine (Jade Guerra). There are also a couple more males in the cast besides the ailing John, namely Rod (Michael Kaye), Chris' husband, another jokester, formerly John's best mate, and Lawrence (Nael Nacer), a shy hospital orderly (or “porter”) who conveniently also happens to be an amateur photographer.

Some of the intended humor of the piece got lost in translation to the colonies (references to plum jam and such), and in the disturbing noise during the first quarter hour (yes, one clocked it) of noisy late arrivals who often drowned out the actors on stage. One can surely blame the management for the very misguided decision not to delay the “curtain” but to continue to allow late seating of what seemed like busloads of attendees. One can also place blame on already-seated theatergoers who must have thought they were watching a televised Britcom, giving a quite audible running narration. In decades of theatrical attendance, this had to have been the rudest audience ever. Those who had never seen the film must have been struggling to comprehend the dialog on stage, which of course was an unforgivable distraction for the actors themselves. One had looked forward to seeing this particular group all together on a stage in the all-together, but a weak script and interruptions fought against it.

The basically one-joke first act text is a very long lead-up to the visual punch line of the ladies more or less nude; the entire second act was anticlimactic and could easily have been radically trimmed to a short coda after the scene everyone was waiting for (which went off without a stitch, to quote a bank's ad in the program). It's a shame that this production's cast outclassed the material, as Directed by Nancy E. Carroll. The creative team included Scenic Design by Jenna McFarland Lord (an intentionally cluttered parish hall), authentically dowdy Costume Design by Gail Astrid Buckley and appropriate Original Music Composition and Sound Design by Dewey Dellay.

You may take time to enjoy the view until June 17th, as this cast is certainly not a bust.


5/31/2018

Huntington's "Fall": The Price

Joanne Kelly, Josh Stamberg, Nolan James Tierce, Joanna Glushak & John Hikock in "Fall"
(photo: T. Charles Erickson)

"My name is Daniel Miller”; with those simple words of self-identification, the central character in a new play, Fall, by Bernard Weinraub, being given its world premiere in Boston by Huntington Theatre Company, begins this compelling depiction of a complicated father and son relationship. The father is famed playwright Arthur Miller (Josh Stamberg), best known for works that dealt with fathers and sons, and their mutual responsibility toward one another. Thus it came as quite an ironic revelation when a 2007 Vanity Fair article first made public one of Miller's deepest secrets, namely that for decades he and his third wife Inge Morath (Joanne Kelly) kept the fate of their son in the shadows, never sharing the stark reality that their son was born with Down Syndrome. That Daniel's birth was kept private should in no way be surprising, as it was generally considered in those days to be in a child's best interest to be brought up by specialists (in other words, institutionalized). It also reflected the profound shame that led to their decision about the 1996 birth of Daniel (Nolan James Tierce). Though identified a century prior by Dr. John Down, it was generally misunderstood. The Millers were advised, here in the person of their physician Dr. Wise (Joanna Glushak) to have the child placed in institutions and did precisely that, as did most parents at the time. What Arthur Miller did subsequently, however, is the crux of Weinraub's play: he not only never spoke publicly about their decision, but he essentially erased their son's very existence.


Josh Stamberg & Joanne Kelly in "Fall"
(photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Though based on real-life events, the play is a fictionalized vision of the challenge faced by these two well-meaning parents. It portrays a true American tragedy in its failure both as a community and as individuals to deal responsibly with the dilemma that well-meaning people encountered in a less informed era. It speaks to the inherent shame and guilt that drove parents virtually to deny reality, and caused the Millers to leave their story untold. Weinraub chooses to imagine the motivations behind the public facade. In so doing he takes on the daunting task of creating imagined dialog and incidents, which is always problematic when dealing with high profile characters. There exists an inherent challenge in filling in such illustrious blanks where the factual and the fictional are so intertwined.

Weinraub largely succeeds in his attempt to present the complexities faced by a celebrated couple. He does so by including in his storytelling the real-life role of Miller's frequent producer, Robert Whitehead (John Hickok), who serves to illustrate for an audience what life was like for a respected playwright whose career had the usual highs and lows. Weinraub mostly avoids the pitfalls of other such “and then I wrote” dramatizations, while succeeding in informing theatergoers of the historical markers of Miller's journey of denial. He also uses the professional life of renowned photographer Morath as analogous to their private issues, as when she reveals how she captures the moment when her subjects truly reveal themselves. At the same time, Weinraub utilizes the character of Dr. Wise to show the gradual growth in understanding in the medical world.


Josh Stamberg, Joanne Kelly & John Hikock in "Fall"
(photo: T. Charles Erickson)

For most of this play, Daniel is not merely marginalized but basically forgotten. The focus is on Arthur's career as a reluctant celebrity, which allows Weinraub to interject some memorable humor, much of it topical, as when, bemoaning her son's Republicanism including working for Bush 43, Dr. Wise declares “it can't get any worse than Bush”. This is balanced by references to Nazi Germany's gassing of “mongoloids” as undesirable and “disposable”, and Arthur's life-long political activism in the era of McCarthy. And there is an ever-present cloud hovering over the Millers, expressed by Inge in words with which Arthur could easily identify: “we're going to pay a price for this”.

And so they did, not least in denying to themselves the opportunity to appreciate just how remarkable their son was. As briefly and beautifully enacted by Tierce (an actor self-identified as having Down Syndrome), the loss seems unfathomable for both parents and child, and Kelly complements with her poised phlegmatic portrait of a conflicted spouse and mother with moments of utter despair at her own version of Sophie's Choice. In their significant supporting roles, both Glushak and Hickok provide the story with depth and context. But it's Stamberg's choice that drives the play, a difficult task in humanizing an introvert agonizing over his guilt as a father at letting someone down and consequent shame at its permanent baring of his soul, leading to the “revenge” of a son. In the end it's Daniel's revenge to live an undeniably remarkable life.


Nolan James Tierce in "Fall"
(photo: T. Charles Erickson)

This production also succeeds on the creative level, with taut direction by Peter DuBois, some ingeniously fluid Scenic Design by Brandon McNeel, apt Costume Design by Ilona Somogyi, effective Lighting Design by Philip Rosenberg, Original Music and Sound Design by John Gromada, and Projection Design by Zachary Borovay.

This is one of Huntington's finest original works. Weinraub owes the entire small cast and creative crew a huge vote of thanks, as they manage to engage us in these roles even when some scenes could use some trimming. For a play that is being shared with an audience for the first time, however, it too is remarkable.

You may catch this Fall from grace through June 16th at the South End's Calderwood Pavilion.

5/21/2018

Lyric's "Wiz": Everything's Up-to-Date in Emerald City

Martin, Borders, Green & Smith in "The Wiz"
(photo: Mark S. Howard)

Rumor hath it that a certain theater critic went kicking and screaming (well, at least reluctantly) to The Wiz, the final production of the season by Lyric Stage Company. Loosely based (very loosely) on the 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, this version, (as a Broadway show), won seven Tony Awards in 1972, including Best Musical and Best Score by Charlie Smalls (notably not for its Book by William F. Brown). The competition was weak that season, from the little-known-and-now-forgotten The Lieutenant (9 performances), a lovely flop Jerry Herman work about Mack Sennett, Mack and Mabel (66 performances), and the stage version of the popular film Shenandoah (1050 performances). The concept of an adaptation of “Wizard” with an all African-American cast was unusual enough to help it last for 1,672 performances, though a poorly executed 1984 revival lasted only 13 performances. A 1978 film version was a colossal flop though it became a cult film (preposterously starring Diana Ross as Dorothy, when Ross was thirty-three years of age, albeit starring not as a student but as a teacher). A 2015 version televised live received no bad news critically, but lost in the ratings to a football game. In all its incarnations, its score was considered merely serviceable (though with a few showstoppers), with a scant book. Yet it was acclaimed for its hopeful inspiration to “believe in yourself”. None of the various versions, however, came even close to that of the original film that took us over a much more melodic and colorful rainbow. All relied heavily on the quality of the performances.


Singletary, Odetoyinbo, Saxon, Smith, Green, Martin & Borders in "The Wiz"
(photo: Mark S. Howard)

And so it continues to depend on its cast (and creative crew). You all more or less already know the story about Dorothy (Salome B. Smith) who leaves behind her Aunt Em (Carolyn Saxon) and Uncle Henry (Damon Singletary) and along her way encounters three characters, Scarecrow (Elle Borders), Lion (Brandon G. Green) and Tin Man (Steven Martin) all of whom have requests to submit to The Wiz (Davron S. Monroe). This updated version includes several witches, namely: Addaperle (Yewande Odetoyinbo), the Good Witch of the North; Glinda (Saxon again), the Good Witch of the South; and Evilene (Odetoyinbo again), the Wicked Witch of the West. Surprisingly this production by Lyric Stage departs from the Lyric's usual nontraditional casting, in that the cast consists completely of performers of color. And as for “I'll get you...and your little dog, too!”.....there's also, sadly, no sign of the famous mutt, only an off-stage bark. What there is, however, is a stupendous cast, from the powerful voices of Smith, Saxon and Odetoyinbo to the versatility of Borders, Martin and the Ensemble that includes Singletary as well as Soneka Anderson, Juanita Pearl, Pier Lamia Porter and Lance-Patrick Strickland, all of whom sing and dance their hearts out. And there is a Wiz to wonder at in Monroe with his grace and operatic presence. As in most versions of the story, the best-written role goes to the mesmerizing Green whose Lion would be a standout in any cast, always in character and always a delight, as he and the other road trippers challenge the Wiz's goals of power, prestige and money.


Singletary & Monroe in "The Wiz"
(photo: Mark S. Howard)

Over its long history, from the Broadway stage to the silver screen to television to (regional) stage, there has always been one thing in common: a silly pseudo-hip script and a score you'll either love or endure. These issues remain, but under the inspired vision of Director Dawn M. Simmons, and Music Direction by Allyssa Jones, all excel with fabulous Choreography (and a lot of it) by Jean Appolon, effective Scenic Design by Baron E. Pugh, hilarious Costume Design by Amber Voner, complex Lighting Design by Jen Rock and Sound Design by Rachel Neubauer. The orchestration has elements of creole music, as this Oz is set in New Orleans. And what the show has in abundance is wit and whimsy, as well as a heart, a brain and the courage to deliver sometimes painful puns (Lion: “I was an only cub”; Addaperle: if she'd revealed the secret of the slippers earlier in the show, “think of all the people I'd have put out of work”). In the end, this is almost certainly the best Wiz you'll ever see, and way more fun than a barrelfull of funky monkeys.


Pearl, Anderson, Odetoyinbo & Strickland in "The Wiz"
(photo: Mark S. Howard)

You may ease on down the road until July 1st, so long as you don't mind a radically different and brilliantly creative Wizard of Oz that doesn't follow the original in Toto.



5/13/2018

Boston Pops "Bernstein Tribute": Glitter & Be Gay

Andrew Tighe, Keith Lockhart, Aimee Doherty, Matthew DiBattista & David McFerrin
(photo: Hilary Scott)

The title of the Boston Pops says it all: Leonard Bernstein Centennial Tribute, celebrating not only the centennial of the birth of the prolific composer but also the 133rd season of the Boston Pops. As such, the program faced an embarrassment of riches. Any retrospective of the composer's life work would have to include some of the more obvious choices, such as the overture to Candide, his early accomplishments such as Fancy Free and its later evolution into On the Town, and the hugely successful groundbreaking West Side Story. In some respects, choosing from the depth and breadth of his works is easy; in some other respects, it's well nigh impossible, since he made his mark on the symphonic stage, opera, Broadway, art songs and one film score. Under the direction of locally renowned actress Paula Plum, five expert vocalists presented several of Bernstein's signature pieces, under the energetic direction of its long-time conductor, Keith Lockhart. He also provided back stories to some of the chosen works, much of it from memory, and made sure his audience would be struck by the famed composer's unmatched versatility. As he said at one point, Bernstein would have excelled in so many genres save for the fact that his talent was so expansive that he chose not to restrict himself in any one direction. And it was sobering to be reminded that the composer's first conducting role with a professional orchestra was with the Pops, in 1941.


David McFerrin & The Boston Pops
(photo: Hilary Scott)

After a Pops favorite, the overture to Candide, (discuss amongst yourselves whether to consider this work an operetta or an opera), and an orchestral nod to the ballet Fancy Free with its distinct Galop, Waltz and Danzon, the program segued to the more fully developed musical that was to be On the Town. With lyrics by Comden and Green (created, as Lockhart noted, by a trio who were all in their mid-twenties), the program included the stirring New York, New York, the haunting Lonely Town, the hilarious I Can Cook, Too and the wistful Lucky to Be Me. The performers included local luminary Aimee Doherty (fresh off a smashing star turn in Moonbox Productions' recent Cabaret) the commanding baritone voice of David McFerrin, and the winning Andy Tighe, as well as another well-known local performer, Teresa Winner Blume. There was also a last-minute replacement, opera singer Matthew DiBattista, who stepped in for the ailing Matthew Anderson. All showed themselves to be well up to the task of conveying Bernstein's sultry slow moments as well as the jazzier fast tempi.


Matthew DiBattista & Teresa Winner Blume
(photo: Hilary Scott)

The program continued with a selection from Bernstein's sole film score from On the Waterfront (the love scene and finale) and an explanation from Lockhart as to why the composer never wrote again for the silver screen. Bernstein felt that music should always be paramount, rather than relegated to the background and the necessary restrictions inherent in scoring for the movies. One couldn't help but think of frequent Pops conductor John Williams to appreciate fully the demands of such focus on a composer. Happily, the mood changed abruptly with the next work heard, the crazy Wrong Note Rag from Wonderful Town, (best appreciated by true musicians who understand just how miraculous a composition this is), which introduced a medley of numbers from this show, again with lyrics by Comden and Green, including the witty What a Waste, the ironic A Little Bit in Love, and the concluding selection for the first half of the program, Conga, (with updated lyrics referencing border walls, Keith's band, and Brady's rings) with which the singers exited dancing through the audience.

 
Matthew DiBattista, Andrew Tighe, Aimee Doherty, David McFerrin & Teresa Winner Blume
(photo: Hilary Scott)

The second part of the performance began with selections from Bernstein's arguably most beloved work, West Side Story. Lockhart here correctly noted that the original title was to have been East Side Story, about Jewish and Irish gangs; fortunately the composer went with West Side Story and its Latino conflicts that could entail jazz and other musical influences, as demonstrated by Something's Coming, One Hand, One Heart, Tonight, and America! To end the program there was a segment devoted to the more “classical” songs, once again from Candide: The Best of All Possible Worlds, I Am Easily Assimilated, the rousing Make Our Garden Grow, and perhaps the composer's finest number, Glitter and Be Gay, hysterically delivered by Blume with her lyric coloratura. Standout renderings of the songs also included Doherty's wildly perfect I Can Cook, Too, McFerrin's heartbreaking Lonely Town, Tighe's irresistible Lucky To Be Me, and DiBattista's powerful Something's Coming.

And, just when we thought we'd heard everything Bernstein, the orchestra and soloists gave us an encore, perhaps as we had been secretly wishing, absolutely his finest song, at least in this critic's lexicon, the bittersweet Some Other Time from On The Town. It was the perfect ending to a well-thought-out and beautifully presented tribute.

And that some other time? The program will be repeated on May 17th, May 29th and May 30th.



5/12/2018

BLO "Trouble in Tahiti": Skid a Lit Day!

The Set Design for BLO's "Trouble in Tahiti"
(photo: Liza Voll)

They had us with the nightclub set, or rather Set Designer Paul Tate dePoo III did, with what can only be described as giving a whole new dimension to the word immersive. Not since the work of Scenic Designer Mimi Lien (who created the visual world of Broadway's Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 a few seasons ago) has a visual encounter been so breathtakingly fabulous. Boston Lyric Opera has done it again, placing one of its seasonal offerings in an unusual and original setting, namely Leonard Bernstein's 1952 one-act opera, Trouble in Tahiti, presented at the Mass Department of Conservation and Recreation's Steriti Memorial Skating Rink in the North End. The venue has been totally made over to provide a smashing environment including all the supper club accoutrements one could possibly have anticipated, right down to the cabaret-style tables. Fittingly for a space that normally features hockey games, BLO has pulled off, with the set, lighting and costumes, the ultimate hat trick. But, as they say, you can't hum the scenery.

Fortunately, things are just fine in the vocal department as well, for the five singers on stage are nothing short of spectacularly well prepared and easily up to the demands of Bernstein's intricate musicianship. This production is a far cry from its relatively modest beginnings at its 1952 premiere at Brandeis. The work was dedicated to Bernstein's close friend Marc Blitzstein (known for his anti-capitalist works) and was the only composition for which Bernstein wrote both music and lyrics. Performed in seven scenes (and two interludes), the forty-five minute work was described by the New York Times as “clever and appealing”. It was last seen locally in 2010 as part of a double bill produced by Boston Midsummer Opera with Judy Kuhn (with Lee Hoiby's Bon Appetit). Much has been made of the fact that Bernstein began composing it as his own honeymoon began. Whether this reflected his conflicted sexual orientation, or was a commentary on his parents' marriage, may never be resolved, but there's no denying its topicality given the lines about the sun's kissing everything, in Scarsdale, Beverly Hills, Wellesley and even Brookline.


The Cast of BLO's "Trouble in Tahiti"
(photo: Liza Voll)

The title Trouble in Tahiti comes from a romantic movie that a couple named Sam (baritone Marcus Deloach) and Dinah (mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson) attend, she for the second time (having gone by herself earlier that day to a matinee). After a day in the life of their miserable marriage, they find they can no longer communicate, or even where to start. The prelude, in the form of scat singing (Skid a Lit Day) by a jazz trio, (soprano Mara Bonde, tenor Neal Ferreira and baritone Vincent Turregano) represents according to Bernstein himself “a Greek chorus born of radio commercials”. The first scene finds the couple at breakfast in a” little white house”, deciding to discuss their marital woes later that same night. Then Sam is shown at work where he treats men applying for loans differently, sometimes because of personal hook-ups such as his handball tournament buddies. Next Dinah tells her analyst about a dream of her standing lost in a field of weeds (but hearing a voice promising to lead her to a “quiet place” in the work's loveliest aria, There Is a Garden), after which she and Sam accidentally run into one another on the street, both claiming prior lunch commitments (both non-existent). An interlude by the scat trio sings about possessions (including children) and “who could ask heaven for anything more?”. Later in the gym Sam sings of being a born winner, and that men are all unequal. Then there's the Island Magic dream. Finally, later that night, they decide to attend the same film, as Sam sings men will pay through the nose, neither having gone to Junior's play. And there is of course the unspoken irony of the title and melodramatic fable of the movie they go to see.


The Cast of BLO's "Trouble in Tahiti"
(photo: Liza Voll)

While not considered one of his masterworks, it was reasonably well received, so Bernstein composed a sequel, A Quiet Place, in 1983, taking place thirty years later, after Dinah dies in a car crash, and the kids (Junior and Dede, neither seen nor heard in the first work) come home. It wasn't generally well regarded, though it is sometimes still found on a double bill with Trouble in Tahiti , or both combined into one opera of two flashbacks. In this BLO version, the opera is combined with Bernstein's 1988 song cycle Arias and Baccaroles, with perhaps a more mature view of marriage and familial love, more informed, with deeper cynical wit. The title comes from a critique by none other than President Eisenhower: “It's got a theme, not just all them arias and baccaroles”. It was the composer's last completed work, consisting of nine pieces, solos and duets: a prelude, love duet, the brief story of little Smary and her lost Widdut (?), the love of their lives, some greetings, a song about a Jewish wedding (Oif mayn Khasneh), Mr. and Mrs. Webb Say Goodnight and Nachtspiel (in Memoriam). While this segment of the performance was less enthralling, it was a clever means of demonstrating the composer's growth over the years, with some atonal touches, cynical wit and whimsy. The pairing of the two pieces were actually redesignated as Sam and Dinah Say Goodnight, (Scenes from a Marriage).

Both principal singers impressed with their delivery of their roles, as did the jazz trio chorus. Superbly conducted by David Angus (also at the piano with Brett Hodgdon), with terrific Stage Direction by David Schweizer, pluperfect 50's Costume Design by Nancy Leary, fantastic Lighting Design by Jeff Adelberg, astoundingly effective Video Design by Johnny Rogers, and fluid Movement Direction by Melinda Sullivan, it just simply doesn't get any better than this.

In performances through May 20th, one can only add, in the spirit of a hockey venue: Goal!