Saturday, December 09, 2017

"A Christmas Carol" - North Shore Music Theatre Continues Its Beloved Yuletide Tradition - Through December 23rd


Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" must be the most enchanting, beguiling, and beloved ghost story of all time. And the annual musical version of that tale produced by the NSMT has become a perennial MUST SEE for families throughout New England. This year marks the 27th anniversary of this production. The  people who call the shots at NSMT - Owner and Producer Bill Haney and Producing Artistic Director Kevin P. Hill - keep it fresh and excellent with a dynamic mixture of actors who have been with the production for many years, as well as a constant supply of fresh talent. The formula works to perfection.

As Ebenezer Scrooge, David Coffee is the twig of holly that stirs this steaming bowl of Bishop. Appearing in his 24th production of this play, he keeps getting better. His stature garners entrance applause from the appreciative audience. His dramatic changes from frowning miser to beaming born-again child eager for Christmas morning are mesmerizing. Other veterans who anchor this production are Leigh Barrett (17th year) as The Ghost of Christmas Past and Mrs. Cratchit, Cheryl McMahon (24th year) as Mrs. Dilber and Mrs. Fezziwig, and J.T. Turner (8th year) as Mr. Fezziwig.

David Coffee as Ebenezer Scrooge
"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens
North Shore Music Theatre
Through December 23rd
Photo by Paul Lyden
The rest of this gifted and enthusiastic cast include:
  • Peter S. Adams - The Ghost of Christmas Present
  • Ryan Mardesich - The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come and Young Scrooge
  • Freddie Kimmel - Jacob Marley
  • Tommy Labanaris - Narrator
  • Russell Garrett - Bob Cratchit
  • Will Geary and Brad Trump - Pearlie
  • Joy Clark - Belle
  • Andy Tighe - Fred
  • Matthew Chappell - Old Joe
  • Lianne Gennaco - Meg
  • Meliisa Mitchell- Ensemble
  • Cam Perrin - Peter Cratchit
  • Ian Shain - Dick Wilkins
  • Lorin Zackular - Ensemble
  • Jack Bolitho - London Boy
  • Scarlett Keene-Connole - Martha Cratchit
  • Anabel Moda - Belinda Cratchit
  • Asher Navisky- Boy Scrooge
  • Dylan Prime - London Boy
  • AJ Scott - TinyTim
  • Emilia Tagliani - Fan
This production was originally adapted by Jon Kimbell, who was recognized as being in the audience on Opening Night. Original music is by Alby Potts and James Woodland. Also recognized with a 25 year plaque was Jay Daly, who has been on trumpet and served a music contractor for a quarter of a century.

Jay Daly - 25 Years on Trumpet
"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens
North Shore Music Theatre
Through December 23rd
Photo by Paul Lyden
Scenic Design is by Howard C. Jones, Costumes by Paula Peasley-Ninestein, Lighting by Jack Mehler, Sound by Leon Rothenberg.

There are very limited tickets available for remaining performances, so if you do not want to find your family and friends proclaiming "Humbug" when you tell them you can't get tickets, go on line right now!


Tommy Labanaris as Narrator
AJ Scott as Tiny Tim
"A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens
North Shore Music Theatre
Through December 23rd
Photo by Paul Lyden

God bless us, everyone!

Enjoy! And Merry Christmas!

Al

Monday, December 04, 2017

Actors'Shakespeare Project Presents "Julius Caesar" - An All Female Production - Through December 17th


Most of us are aware that for several generations, all roles in Shakespeare's plays were portrayed by men and boys - no girls allowed! So turn about is indeed fair play. Actors' Shakespeare Project, under the direction of Bryn Boice, are presenting their all female version of "Julius Caesar" at Huntington Theatre's Studio 210 through December 17th. Director Boice has made the choice, not only to cast all women in the roles, but also to transform character names into female equivalents. The audience is asked to imagine a science fiction motif, with the action taking place in some unspecified time in what feels like a very dark subterranean post-apocalyptic world. The result is an intriguing new look at the familiar action of ambition thwarted and political intrigue run amok.

Marya Lowry as Brutus
Liz Adams as Julius Caesar
Jade Guerra as Cimber
Julius Caesar"
Actors' Shakespeare Project
Directed by Bryn Boice
Huntington Theatre Studio 210
Through December 17th 


The cast is made up of some of the best of Boston actors.  The always impressive Liz Adams as Caesar sports punked-out blonde hair that made me think of Billy Idol in "White Wedding." After the assassination, Ms. Adams returns as Octavius Caesar, leading the charge to avenge the death of Julius. Marianna Bassham is impressive as Anthony, especially in delivering the iconic funeral oration. Marya Lowry is a powerful presence as Brutus, a reluctant participant in the plot to assassinate Caesar. The estimable Bobbie Steinbach forces us to look at the character of Cassius in new ways. MaConnia Chesser gives a refreshing down home patina to the character of Casca. Rounding out the universally strong cast as Julee Antonellis as Cicero, Erin Eva Butcher as Calpurnia, Jade Guerra as Metellus Cimber, and Charlotte Kinder as Portia.

Jade Guerra as Cimber
Liz Adams as Julius Caesar

Marya Lowry as Brutus
Julius Caesar"
Actors' Shakespeare Project
Directed by Bryn Boice
Huntington Theatre Studio 210
Through December 17th 


Set Design is by Cristina Todesco, Lighting by Jen Rock, Costumes by Rebecca Jewett, Sound by Amy Altadonna.

If you are familiar with this play, I invite you to make your way to Huntington Avenue and be prepared to see the familiar through different lenses and to hear the familiar lines spoken by different voices.

Through December 17th.

Actors' Shakespeare Project Website

Enjoy!

Al

Lyric Stage Breaks New Ground With "Hold These Truths" by Jeanne Sakata - A MUST SEE!!!


A very rich and satisfying season of theater in our town continues with the latest offering from the Lyric Stage Company of Boston. "Hold These Truths" by Jeanne Sakata examines the dark and shameful history of our nation locking up thousands of Japanese Americans during WWII. The story is told through the eyes and voice of one man who courageously stood up to the egregious abrogation of constitutional protections. Gordon Hirabayashi was that man, who survived to age 93 and served as a professor of Sociology.

The playwright, and the brilliant Director of this production, Benny Sato Ambush, have chosen to use traditional Japanese storytelling forms familiar to Kabuki theatre, especially the use of mute "Kurogo" - stagehands who double as silent representations of some of the characters with whom Gordon interacts during the 90 minutes of this one act play. The result is a beautiful, evocative, and very moving work of art that must be seen.

The burden of telling the story of a young college student who stood up to the machinery of the entire U.S. government falls on the shoulders of gifted actor Michael Hisamoto. Each time I have seen him perform, he has shown me more facets of his breadth and depth as an actor. He brings Gordon Hirabayashi to life on the stage in a performance that is one of the best of this season. He is mesmerizing as he walks us through the trek that Mr. Hirabayashi took in refusing to present himself for internment in a concentration camp. Along the way, he portrays a wide variety of other characters, using remarkable versatility of voice, accent, and physicality, to suggest the voices of parents,teachers, government officials, prison administrators, friends, and girlfriend. He seamlessly weaves in phrases in the Japanese language to add a layer of linguistic texturing to the monologue.

Michael Hisamoto
"Hold These Truths" by Jeanne Sakata
Directed by Benny Sato Ambush
Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Through December 31st
Photo by Mark S. Howard
Mr. Hisamoto's memorable performance is supported by the silent Kurogo, played by Khloe Alice Lin, Gary Thomas Ng, and Samantha Richert. The simple Scenic Design by Shelley Barish consists of sliding screens and rice paper backdrop that suggest a delicate Japanese home, but also transforms to suggest a prison, an office, a college setting. Aiding in these transformations is brilliant Lighting Design by Karen Perlow. Costume Design is by Tobi Rinaldi, and Sound Design and Original Music is by Arshan Gailus. Projection Design is by Jonathan Carr. Choreography is by Jubilith Moore. The work of Dialect Coach Bryn Austin is very much in evidence.

Michael Hisamoto
"Hold These Truths" by Jeanne Sakata
Directed by Benny Sato Ambush
Lyric Stage Company of Boston
Through December 31st
Photo by Mark S. Howard

The constitutional struggles that were embodied in Mr. Hirabayashi's campaign to seek the protection of the law for himself and fellow Japanese Americans in no mere historical footnote. This production is being staged very intentionally at a time when we face similar assaults upon the bedrock of our nation's values and the rule of law. Do we indeed "hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal"? Several branches of our current government belie these foundational values by their actions, words, and tweets. This brilliantly conceived and executed play serves as a cautionary tale to call us to action and to greater diligence in protecting the fragile freedoms that are in jeopardy for so many today.

A technique that is used to indicate Mr. Hirabayashi aging is to have him wear different eyeglasses during some scenes. This play functions for the audience as a way of offering us new sets of lenses through which to look at the past, to view the troubled present, and to envision more clearly a future free from the abuses highlighted here.

The play runs through December 31st.  Do not miss this remarkable work of art.

Lyric Stage Website

Enjoy!

Al

Friday, December 01, 2017

Greater Boston Stage Company Presents "She Loves Me" - The Sweet Smell of Success in Stoneham Square


The setting of "She Loves Me" is an upscale parfumerie in pre-war Budapest, Maraczek's shop. The story line is a familiar one. Think of the film "You've Got Mail" or "The Shop Around The Corner." Two lonely singles reach out through anonymous correspondence and fall in love with the idea of the person they are imagining. Then they meet, and complications ensue. Before the days of eHarmony and Tinder, there were organizations called Lonely Hearts Clubs (even before Sargeant Pepper!). Individuals would be matched blindly with someone of the opposite sex with whom they would begin a correspondence. Amalia Balash (Jennifer Ellis) and Georg Nowack (Sam Simahk) have been matched, and have become smitten with the literary personas of one another.

I think I have figured out the recipe that Director Ilyse Robbins used in assembling this amazing cast to tell this simple and intimate story. Here it is:
  • Crash the closing night cast party of the recent Huntington Theatre smash hit "Merrily We Roll Along."
  • Throw a lassoo around some of Boston's best talent, including Jen Ellis, Aimee Doherty, Robert Saoud, Bransen Gates, and Music Director Matt Stern.
  • Toss them in a van, and drive north on I-93, exiting at Montvale Avenue.
  • Drop them off at the stage door of The Boston Stage Company.
  • Induce Sam Simahk to return home to Boston after completing a year on the road in the National Tour of "The King and I."
  • Cast as Arpad Brendan Callahan, one of the most talented high school actors working in Boston who has trained with Greater Boston Stage Company.
  • Hold auditions to fill in the rest of the roles with great triple threat singers, dancers,and actors.
  • Start rehearsals.
  • Set them free to tell this delightful story.
"She Loves Me" appeared briefly on Broadway in 1963 starring the late Barbara Cooke. It had a short run, partly because this is a delicate little music box of a musical, and audiences were buying tickets to bigger productions like "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," and "Oliver." Ilyse Robbins has always loved this show, ever since being cast in it as her first Actors' Equity gig. She has done us the favor of reviving the show, and opening up the little music box for us to listen to the delicate notes, and take in the fragrence of a story well told.

The book for this show is by Joe Masteroff, adapted from a play by Miklos Laszio. Music is by Jerry Bock, and Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. For this production, the wonderful foldout Scenic Design is by Brynna Bloomfield, effective and elegant period Costume Design is by Gail Astrid Buckley, mood-setting Lighting Design is by Jeff Adelberg, and appropriate ambient Sound Design is by John Stone.  As written, this story is strong in that it allows each character to reveal who they are through action, dialogue, and song or dance.

What makes this production one that you will not want to miss is the skillfully directed cast. Here are some of the things that stood out for me:

  • Jen Ellis, Jen Ellis, Jen Ellis. Her interpretation of Amalia shows us a woman who is desperate for a job, opportunistic, linguistically sophisticated, vulnerable, saucy, lonely, fearful, sometimes petty, alluring, demure, and always adorable. Her sparks of conflict, and then of love, with George are incandescent. We see her revealed in the wonderful songs "Will He Like Me?" "Dear Friend," and "Vanilla Ice Cream."
Jennifer Ellis as Amalia
"She Loves Me"
Directed by Ilyse Robbins
The Greater Boston Stage Company
Stoneham Theater
Through December 23rd
  • Sam Simahk, welcome home! His Georg is complex, having to navigate some unexpected obstacles - in his work at Maraczek's, and in his correspondence and romance with Dear Friend. When he sings "She Loves Me," his gorgeous tenor voice fills the theater with his sense of joy and urgency. His exuberance reminded me of the infectious joi de vivre of Gene Kelly in "Singin' In The Rain." The chemistry that reigns between Ms. Ellis and Mr. Simahk is just as evocative as the authors envisioned.
Sam Simahk as George
"She Loves Me"
Directed by Ilyse Robbins
The Greater Boston Stage Company
Stoneham Theater
Through December 23rd
  • Aimee Doherty is often at her best when she and Ms. Ellis are cast in complementary roles. Her Ilona Ritter is struggling with her own romantic complications and loneliness. She befriends newly hired clerk, Amalia. They get to exchange some "girl talk" in the shop's upstairs work room as they sing "I Don't Know His Name." Her time to shine comes when she describes having her eyes opened when she meets her new optometrist beau in "A Trip To The Library."
Aimee Doherty as Ritter
"She Loves Me"
Directed by Ilyse Robbins
The Greater Boston Stage Company
Stoneham Theater
Through December 23rd

  • Robert Saoud is gently wondrous as senior clerk Ladislav Sipos, a humble man trying not to get fired from his position as the pre-war Hungarian economy stumbles. He poignantly proclaims his philosophy of life in the moving "Perspective." He uses Russian nesting dolls as props to demonstrate his view of the world and his place in it - Matrioshki at Maraczek's! Whether intentional or not, those nesting dolls serve for me as a metaphor for each of the characters in this play. "If you take the time to pry me open, you just might find that there is more inside than initially meets the eye."
  • Jared Troilo skillfully manipulates us into hating his smarmy Lothario, Steven Kodaly. He gets to show of his impressive vocal range as he dramatically departs Maraczek's with his swan song "Grand Knowing You."
Jared Troilo as Kodaly
"She Loves Me"
Directed by Ilyse Robbins
The Greater Boston Stage Company
Stoneham Theater
Through December 23rd
  • As the owner of the shop, Tom Gleadow is perfectly cast. He is at times officious, at other times avuncular, and then fragile and vulnerable when he learns about his wife's infidelities. His reminiscences of his lively youth in "Days Gone By" is a delight. It is like watching Ebeneezer Scrooge gleefully returning to Mr. Fezziwig's Christmas party.
  • As the young messenger and clerk-in-training, Arpad, Brendan Callahan is a revelation. This student from St. John's Prep fully inhabits the role, and rules the stage when he pleads for a chance to be promoted to clerk as he sings "Try Me." This young actor has a bright future, and an already impressive past and present.
  • Ensemble members Sarah Coombs and Bransen Gates are dressed to the nines as they tango while Amalia and George spar at the cafe. The birthday boy was in fine form last evening.
  • Nick Sulfaro as Headwaiter sets the right tone for the lovers' hideaway as he croons "A Romantic Atmosphere."
  • Additional ensemble members are Sean Mitchell Crosley, Angelo McDonough, Jennifer Mischley, and Sara Jane Morse Mullins.
As he always does, Matt Stern adds a deft touch as Music Director and conductor of the 9-piece band.

Here is one final observation that may convince you to come see this show, and to bring others with you to share the joy. The plot is a familiar one, and I could see the denouement coming from a mile away. I was prepared not to be moved when the big reveal happened, but the skill of Jennifer Ellis and Sam Simahk is at such a level, that the look of recognition and sheer joy that erupted on the faces of Amalia and Georg at the key moment caused me to experience chills and tears over which I had no control. That is the sweet smell of theater at its best!

Through December 23rd.

Greater Boston Stage Website

Enjoy!

Al


Thursday, November 30, 2017

Review of "In Extremis Leadership" by Brigadier General Thomas A. Kolditz - Leading As If Your Life Depended On It


Brigadier General Thomas A. Kolditz is in a unique position to write about leadership in extreme situations. His "In Extremis Leadership" draws from his experiences teaching at West Point and the Yale School of Management, leading in combat in the Middle East, and mentoring members of the award winning Black Knights Parachuting Team from West Point. To supplement his own personal observations about leading in extreme conditions - when life and limb are at risk - he and his team of researchers interviewed a number of other extreme leaders. Those interviewed included mountain climbing instructors, parachutists, combat veterans, firefighters, and police SWAT team members.

The author's purpose in writing this book was first of all to examine the unique attributes of leadership that must be present and exercised in extreme situations when lives are on the line. Secondly, he and his team extrapolated those lessons that could be applied to any other leadership challenges - in the business world, academia, the athletic field, and elsewhere. In evaluating the common threads that emerged, General Kolditz identifies these common traits among extreme leaders:
  • They are inherently motivated
  • They embrace continuous learning
  • They share risk with their followers
  • They have a common lifestyle with their followerds - no elitism
  • They have high competence, trust, and loyalty - and inspire these things in others

The book is filled with fascinating vignettes and interviews that highlight how these extreme leadership attributes are played out in a variety of life and death scenarios.

This book would be extremely helpful to anyone who is a leader, or who aspires to be a leader, in any field of endeavor. It is a major addition to the growing corpus of leadership books, and is offered as part of a series by The Frances Hesselbein Leadership Institute.

Enjoy!

Al

Review of "Call An Audible" by Daron K. Roberts - A MUST READ That Inspires and Challenges


Daron K. Roberts has written a compelling book that should inspire every reader to dream big. There is a good reason that Sports Illustrated named "Call An Audible" one of the best sports books of 2017. It transcends sports, and adresses issues of vision, discipline, work ethic, humility, work-life balance, and overcoming obstacles.

I was particularly moved in reading this book because I was behind the scenes for some of the chapters of the author's life, and I can attest to the veracity of the stories that he tells of making the unusual decision to pursue a career as an NFL coach in lieu of accepting offers to practice law upon graduating from Harvard Law School. Robert Frost would have definiely called Daron's choices "the road less traveled." I do not know of any other Ivy League law graduates who would be willing to humble themselves and start at the bottom of the barrel as an unpaid volunteer to break into coaching at the NFL level. Beside his love for football, the author was also motivated to establish a career in coaching to give himself a platform from which he could influence the next generation of young African American males, teaching life skills along with coaching football skills. His journey is one that had many peaks and valleys, and his account of the journey provides plenty of food for thought and lessons in values and principals.

While working himself up the ladder within the NFL coaching fraternity, there were stops along the way with the Kansas City Chiefs, Detroit Lions, and Cleveland Browns. Mr. Roberts also coached at West Virginia University. At every stop along the way, he had to prove his worth by being willing to do the toughest jobs that no one else wanted to do, beginning with the humble task of running - and keeping running - the Chief's antiquated copier.

One of the most moving sections of this book is the author's account of his decision to leave the fast track of NFL coaching. Between seasons, he was home in Texas, and his son brought him to his knees in remarking that he had never seen his father eating breakfast before. It hit him like a sledgehammer that he has been so busy proving himself as a coach, that he was failing as a father. So he made the painful choice to leave coaching. He accepted an invitation from the President of the University of Texas, his alma mater, to create a Center For Sports Leadership & Innovation on the Austin campus. It is from this platform that he now carries out his vision for influencing the next generation of student athletes.

Center for Sports Leadership Website

In addition, he oversees a non-profit called "4th and 1," They run a summer camp for high school athletes from underrepresented groups, and uniquely combine sports training with ACT preparation and diagnostics, professional development, and life skills classes.

4th and 1 Website

This book is a MUST READ for anyone looking to influence young people, as well as for motivated young athletes and scholars who could use a boost in hearing from a role model whose hard work has placed him in a position to multiply his talents, and to use them to influence others on a global scale.

Enjoy!

Al

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

"The Color Purple" Is Vibrant At The Boch Center Shubert Theatre - Through Sunday


Based on Alice Walker's novel, "The Color Purple" has moved audiences in movie theaters and on Broadway. The current national tour brings this moving story back to Boston at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre. It is a show you do not want to miss. It never fails to move me to tears and to deep reflection about how men treat women. In the current social and political climate, this story of female empowerment is as relevant as it ever was.The cast of this production is powerful, passionate, and talented.

This production is based on the recent Broadway revival, which used a simple set and pared down story line. It allows the characters to tell their story straight to the heart. I was caught up in the saga of Celie (Adriananna Hicks) learning from Shug Avery (Carla R.Stewart) how to stand up for herself and see herself as beautiful. Their love for life and for each other comes across most powerfully in the gorgeous number "What About Love?" Ms. Stewart also shines in "Too Beautiful For Words" and "Push The Button." Ms. Hicks had members of the audience leaping to their feet after her bravura performance of "I'm Here."

Adrianna Hicks as Celie
Cast
"The Color Purple"
Boch Center Shubert Theatre
Through December3rd

J. Daughtry as Harpo and Carrie Compere as Sophia had us laughing with their outrageous duet "Any Little Thing." The three church ladies serve as a gossiping Greek chorus in this show, and they were wonderfully portrayed by Brit West, Bianca Horn, and Angela Birchett. Gavin Gregory brought the character of Mister through a redemptive arc and shined in singing the haunting "Celie's Curse." Boston audiences saw a familiar face in Jared Dixon as Grady. Erica Durham as Squeak lived up to her character's name and offered some comic relief when she squared off against Sophia. N'Jameh Camara was strong as Nettie, Celie's sister. C.E. Smith's booming voice as the Preacher was on display in the rousing anthem "Mysterious Ways." Other cast members playing multiple roles include Darnell Abraham, Amar Atkins,Kyle E. Baird, Gabrielle Reid, J.D. Webster, Clyde Voce, Nyla Watson, Nikisha Williams, and Michael Wordly.

Book is by Marsha Norman and Music and Lyrics are by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray. This production is Directed by John Doyle. Set Design is by John Doyle, Costumes by Ann Hould-Ward, Lighting by Jane Cox, and Sound by Dan Moses Schreier.

This company must leave town after Sunday's performance, so you have only a few days left to get your tickets to be transported back into Celie's world and to "see what God has done."

Boch Center Website

Enjoy!

Al


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Moonbox Productions Presents The Delightful British Comedy "The 39 Steps" - Through December 9th


There is nothing quite like physical British humor to tickle the funny bone. Such is the case with Moonbox Productions current offering of "The 39 Steps" by Evan George Patrick Barlow based on the Hitchock film, which in turn was based on a novel by Scottish novelist John Buchan. Director Allison Olivia Choat has wisely chosen to invite the audience into the creative process, encouraging us to suspend disbelief, and to go along with the four actors playing multiple roles, as well as very obviously serving as stage hands to make set changes in the middle of a scene. There is much physical humor and many sight gags, and the cast has been well chosen to carry out the hilarity with cheekiness and aplomb.

Kevin Cirone plays the straight man, Richard Hannay, a 30-something British man in the midst of a midlife crisis, who muses about how dull and meaningless his life is - until a femme fatale by the name of Annabella Schmidt (a sultry Sarah Gazdowicz) shows up and we are off to the races. Mr. Cirone and his dashing pencil mustache are the thread that ties together a picaresque series of adventures in a London music hall, along the rails, dangling from a bridge, and trekking across the heather-covered and fog be-shrouded hills of the Scottish highlands. Matthew Zahnzinger plays more roles than I can count - male and female - and each character is given a distinctive accent. Mr. Zahnzinger's mastery of arcane dialects is worth the price of admission. His counterpart is the equally adept Bob Mussett, whose mousy turn as Mr. Memory is a highlight, as is the scene in which Zahnzinger and Mussett portray two superannuated Scottish men acting as hosts for a political rally.

Bob Mussett and MatthewZahnzinger
as a pair of Scottish innkeepers
"The 39 Steps"
Moonbox Productions
BCA - Plaza Theatre
Through December 9th
This is a play that is not really plot driven, but which delivers its value by drawing the audience into the sheer silliness of the presentation. The actors are clearly having a ball telling this outlandish tale, and we cannot help but be swept up in the spirit of the piece. After the play, a friend of mine remarked: "Wasn't it fun just to be able to laugh in light of all of the heaviness we have been dealing with lately?" How true!

Set Designer is John Paul Devlin. Lighting Design is by Jeffrey E. Salzberg, Costume Design by Erica DeSautels, and Sound Design by Dan Costello, who must be singled out for the haunting bagpipe cues. Daniel Blackwell is the Dialect Coach.

One of the things I love about Moonbox Productions is their commitment to partner with local charities for each show that they produce. The current partnership is with Y2Y - Young Adults Uniting To End Homelessness. Located in Harvard Square, Harvard students operate a homeless shelter for youth who would otherwise be living on the street.  They also offer a suite of educational and social services, empowering the residents to become part of the solution to homelessness among young people. A portion of each ticket sold goes to supporting Y2Y. On line donations are also encouraged. Admission for the performance on the 22nd will be nonperishable food items or a donation to Y2Y.

Y2Y website

Sarah Gazdowicz as Annabella
Kevin Cironeas Richard Hannay
Bob Mussett as Mr. Memory
"The 39 Steps"
Moonbox Productions
BCA - Plaza Theatre
Through December 9th

It is no mystery why this play was such a hit with last night's audience. It is well written, cleverly directed, and flawlessly acted by a quartet of gifted performers. It is worth making the trip to Tremont Street - even if you have to walk more than 39 steps to get to the Plaza Theatre.

For tickets to other performances, follow this link:

Moonbox Productions Website

Enjoy!

Al





Friday, November 17, 2017

Huntington Theatre Company Presents A Delightful "Tartuffe" - To Thine Own Selfie Be True!


I have loved Molière since I saw my first production of "Tartuffe" back in college. So, I have been looking forward to this Huntington Theatre Company production of the French playwright's hilarious comedy exposing hypocrisy and the Parisian "religious right" of his day. I was not disappointed. Director Peter DuBois has made some brilliant choices in setting the action in modern day Paris, with an emphasis on the tools of 21st century technology to enhance the telling of the story, He gives us selfie sticks, noisy rotary aircraft, fragile cell phones, and one memorable taser. The result was that I felt that someone had taken a taser to my funny bone, for I frequently erupted in spasmodic laughter at the antics on stage.

DuBois builds a bridge between the 17th century and the modern day setting of this production by opening the piece with a series of quick tableaux showing characters in period costume and wig, establishing their basic characteristics and foibles. It felt like we were seeing a progression of 5 second gifs come to life.

One of the many things I love about the Huntington is their commitment to blend well known actors from New York, Hollywood, or London, with gifted talent based in Boston. This ensemble is a wonderful example of this casting philosophy. The truth that "there are no small parts" has never been more true than in this current production. Every member of the cast takes their moment in the spotlight and uses it to advance the story.

Frank Wood as Orgon
Brett Gelman as Tartuffe
"Tartuffe"
Directed by Peter DuBois
Huntington Theatre Company
Through December 10th
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Tartuffe is diabolically portrayed by the gifted Brett Gelman, looking every bit like Rasputin trying to win Senate approval for a slot in the Trump cabinet. Tony award winner Frank Wood is Orgon, who has fallen under Tartuffe's spell to such a degree that he adamantly refuses to believe his family when they bring him evidence of Tartuffe's perfidy and hypocrisy. His comely trophy wife is Elmire, played to the seductive hilt by Melissa Miller. She is the object of Tartuffe's less than holy zeal. Sarah Oakes Muirhead is Mariane, Orgon's daughter whose hand has been promised to Valère, played well by Gabriel Brown. But Orgon has decided to break his promise and give Mariane to Tartuffe. She would rather betake herself to a nunnery. Ms. Muirhead gets to display some wonderful physical comedy in demonstrating Mariane's woeful state. Her brother, Damis, played magnificently by Matthew Bretschneider, is the prototypical disaffected Millenial wedded to his selfie stick. He sees through Tartuffe, but Orgon disowns him instead of listening to him. Jane Pfitsch as the outspoken maid, Dorine, almost steals the show. Her saucy zingers and rejoinders to each member of the family and hangers on are priceless. Matthew J. Harris is strong as Cleante, Orgon's brother-in-law. He attempts to be another voice of reason warning against the excesses of Tartuffe, but he too is rebuffed. Paula Plum, arguably the doyenne of the Boston stage scene, makes a formidable impression as Madame Pernelle, Orgon's mother and patroness of Tartuffe. Her rant in the opening scene shows the grandmother in high dudgeon, excoriating everyone in sight. Her up-swept lacquered wig establishes her character as unassailable. The performance earned exit applause as she flounced from the stage - exiting stage right, brandishing her cane as a weapon. Omar Robinson as An Officer of the Court enters the action late in the game, but his vertical entrance and his turning the tables and taser on Tartuffe are highlights. Steve Barkhimer's flexibility is on full display as he handles the disparate roles of Laurent, Tartuffe's self-effacing acolyte, and Monsieur Loyal, the bailiff who comes to dispossess Orgon of his home. Finally, Katie Elinoff, Madame Pernelle's mousy maid, is usually seen, but not heard. But when she is heard, we are jarred out of our seats.

Paula Plum as Madame Pernelle
Frank Wood as Orgon
"Tartuffe"
Directed by Peter DuBois
Huntington Theatre Company
Through December 10th
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson


This wonderful cast are very comfortable with the English translation in verse by Ranjit Bolt. They are well supported by the visually arresting Scenic Design by Alexander Dodge, which includes an occasional table made from a gilded tree stump! Eye-catching costumes are by Anita Yavich, Lighting Design by Christopher Akerline, Sound Design by Ben Emerson, Choreography by Daniel Pelzig, Original Music by Peter Golub, Flying by Foy.


Cast
"Tartuffe"
Directed by Peter DuBois
Huntington Theatre Company
Through December 10th
© Photo: T. Charles Erickson
This production is a total delight, and will run through December 10th. Treat yourself to some laughs and book your tickets now.

Huntington Theatre Website

Enjoy!

Al


Monday, November 06, 2017

Boston Ballet Presents A Stunning Finnish Fantasia - "Obsidian Tear" - Through November 12th

The spirit of Finland was in the air at the Boston Opera House from the opening strokes from Guest Conductor, Daniel Stewart's baton, through the final cadences of Sibelius' "Fifth Symphony." Boston Ballet kicked off its 2017-2018 season with two contemporary pieces.

After warming up the audience with an orchestral rendition of Jean Sibelius' beloved "Finlandia," the curtain rose on the Boston Ballet Premiere of "Obsidian Tear," a co-production with the Royal Ballet, whose Resident Choreographer, Wayne McGregor, conceived the piece set to a symphonic poem by Esa-Pekka Salonen. The title of the piece is enigmatic, using the English word, "tear," in two senses. First, as a verb - to tear, to rend. Second, as a noun - the fluid that flows from the eye. Salonen had been inspired by the myth of the Goddess Nyx. The other section of this new ballet uses intimate solo violin music, "Lachen verlernt," also by Salonen, and is in sharp contrast to the fierceness and grand sweep of "Nyx." Nine male dancers perform in ever-changing combinations of athleticism and grace that that are like a living impressionist painting. The meaning is in the eye of the beholder. Are they depicting community, intimacy, breaking up, supporting one another? You decide. The effect is visually and aurally stunning. Eight of the dancers are costumed in black, the ninth in red. Does he represent the fire that forms the crystals of obsidian? You decide. The nine dancers chosen to interpret this work were: Paulo Arrais, Paul Craig, Roddy Doble, Lasha Khozashvili, Patric Palkens, Lawrence Rines, Irlan Silva, Matthew Slattery, Patrick Yocum. The audience was wildly enthusiastic in response to the innovative program.

"Obsidian Tear" by Wayne McGregor
Music by Esa-Pekka Salonen
Boston Ballet
Boston Opera House
Through November 12th
Photo by Rosalie O'Connor


The second half of the evening was devoted to the World Premiere of "Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius" by Boston Ballet Resident Choreographer Jorma Elo. Costume Designer Yumiko Takeshima and Lighting Designer Mark Stanley used colors that suggested earth tones from the changing seasons in Finland. The full corps de ballet was used in this gorgeous new work that used traditional classical dance vocabulary. Pairs of dancers interspersed themselves throughout the piece among the larger groupings of male and female dancers.The pairs included some of Boston Ballet's most familiar figures: Misa Kuranga and John Lam, Lia Cirio and Paul Craig, Kathleen Breen Combes and Junxiong Zhao. Again, the appreciative audience was enraptured by the music, the choreography and the flawless execution of the dancers.

Cast
Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius
Boston Ballet
Boston Opera House
Through November 12th
Photo by Rosalie O'Connor

This program can only be seen through November 12th, so get your tickets for this week's remaining performances.

Boston Ballet Website

The annual Boston tradition of "The Nutcracker" will run from November 24th through New Years' Eve.

Enjoy!

Al

Boston Playwrights' Theatre Presents "Elemeno Pea" by Molly Smith Metzler - Through November 19th


Boston Playwrights' Theatre champions new works, and the latest play in their current season is the entertaining "Elemeno Pea," written by Molly Smith Metzler and Directed by Shana Gozansky. Scenic Design is by Jeffrey Petersen, Lighting and Sound Design by David Wilson, Costume Design by Rachel Padula-Shufelt.

The action takes place on Martha's Vineyard, where Simone (Lydia Barnett-Mulligan) has been hired by the very wealthy Michaela (Samantha Richert) to be her personal assistant and companion - at an outrageously high salary. But she is on call 24/7, and has not seen her sister, Devon (Amanda Collins) for months. Simone takes the weekend off and invites Devon to travel to The Vineyard for a few days of sisterly bonding. Things do not go as planned. Michaela is in crisis. Her status as trophy wife #2 is very much in jeopardy, and she needs Simone to help her to handle her meltdown. Michaela tries to bribe Devon to leave the island, but Devon is not having it, and a hilarious power struggle ensues. Further complications arise when Devon meets Simone's boyfriend, Ethan (Barlow Adamson), an uber-entitled rich boy whose life cannot be sullied by such a thing as "gainful employment." Rounding out this fine cast is Jaime Carrillo, who plays the passive-aggressive gardener/handyman, Jos-B.

The playwright lampoons many things in this comedy, while also plumbing the depths of some poignant issues such as abortion, family dysfunction, and classism. There are power struggles galore - some overt and some more subtle. Devon works at an Olive Garden restaurant in Buffalo, so one might think that Michaela holds a power position over her, but Devon is feisty and holds her own. Michael is in a struggle with her off-stage husband, who threatens to end the marriage before the five year prenuptial agreement vests.  Jos-B uses his native Spanish language as a tool to humiliate Michaela when he learns that she has lost her leverage over him.

Lydia Barnett-Mulligan and Samantha Richert (foreground)
Amanda Collins (background)
"Elemeno Pea"by Molly Smith Metzler
Boston Playwrights' Theatre
Through November 19th
Photo by Zalman Zabarsky

Cast members are uniformly excellent. The versatile Mr. Adamson plays the playboy in Vinelyard salmon trousers to a tee. Mr. Carillo raises passive-aggression to an art form. Ms. Richert takes Michaela through an arc that includes her finally showing some humanity and vulnerability when Devon finds a way to soften her up. Ms.Collins is at her best in these final scenes. And Ms. Barnett-Mulligan is convincing as Simone who has gone off the rails and been seduced by money and power. This ensemble is directed with a deft touch by Shana Gozansky.

The play runs through November 19th.

Boston Playwrights' Theatre Website

Enjoy!

Al

Saturday, November 04, 2017

SpeakEasy Stage Company Sparkles with "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" - A MUST SEE - Through November 25th


"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," written by Simon Stephens, is based on the novel of the same name by Mark Haddon. The play took London by storm in 2013, and was a smash hit on Broadway the following year, when it won the Tony for Best Play. Now, under the skilled direction of Paul Daigneault, it is creating great buzz here in Boston on the SpeakEasy stage. The play is a brilliantly conceived story of a 15 year-old autistic boy who is determined to solve the mystery of the death of his neighbor's dog. As written and as executed in this masterfully conceived production, the audience is given a glimpse of how young Christopher Boone's mind works and how the world appears through his eyes and other senses. The success of this play is placed firmly in the hands of the actor who portrays Christopher. Eliott Purcell is magnificent in this role, taking the character through a complex journey of discovery and revelation. Despite Christopher's strong aversion to being touched physically, Mr. Purcell touches us in profound ways by inviting us into Christopher's world. It is a memorable and indelible performance that is award worthy.

Mr. Purcell is well supported in the telling of this story. Director Daigneault has wisely chosen not to mimic the elaborate electronics that the Broadway production utilized. He has pared down the production and thereby made it more human and accessible. Ensemble members double as ticket machines, ATMs, and other devices. The ensemble cast is uniformly excellent. They are:
  • Jackie Davis as Siobhan, Christopher's teacher
  • Tim Hackney as Roger Shears and Duty Sergeant
  • Laura Latreille as Judy Boone, Christopher's mother
  • Craig Mathers as Ed Boone, Christopher's father
  • Cheryl McMahon as Mrs. Alexander, the Boone's neighbor
  • Christine Power as Mrs. Shears, the neighbor whose dog was killed
  • Alejandro Simoes as Policeman and Mr. Thompson
  • Damon Singletary as Reverend Peters and Uncle Terry
  • Gigi Watson as Lady in Street
The work of this cast is greatly enhanced by the clever Set Design by Christopher and Justin Swader, Lighting Design by Jeff Adelberg, Sound Design by David Remedios, Costume Design by Gail Astrid Buckley, and Movement by Yo-El Cassell.

The production represents the very best of the art form of drama - it entertains and provokes. It causes one to think about familiar things in new ways, as well as inviting us to consider topics that are outside most people's frame of reference.

Damon Singletary, Eliott Purcell, Laura Latreille
"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time"
by Simon Stephens
SpeakEasy Stage Company
Calderwood Pavilion
Through November 25th
Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots
You will not want to miss this MUST SEE production of an outstanding play executed to perfection. At the Calderwood Pavilion through November 25th. I will be curious to hear what you have to say about it after you have had a chance to experience it.

SpeakEasy Stage Website

Enjoy!

Al

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Wheelock Family Theatre Soars To New Heights - "In The Heights" by Lin-Manuel Miranda


I was so inspired by the Opening Night performance of Wheelock Family Theatre's "In The Heights" that I decided to make a pilgrimage to Uznavi's neighborhood. I am writing this review sitting next door to a bodega very much like the one at the center of the action of the musical. I am at the intersection of 181st and Broadway in Washington Heights - in the shadow of the GW Bridge. Lin-Manuel Miranda captured the ethos of this neighborhood in the show that won the Tony for Best Musical - several years before he immortalized the life of Alexander Hamilton.

Director/Choreographer Rachel Bertone has assembled a diverse cast and creative crew to bring the Heights to Boston's Fenway neighborhood. Dan Rodriguez leads a wonderful 9 piece orchestra.  Jenna McFarland Lord's set is a perfect evocation of this block of Washington Heights in the height and the heat of the NYC summer and of 4th of July. Lighting is by Franklin Meissner, Costumes by Marian Bertone, Sound by Andrew Duncan Will.

In contradistinction to a recent controversial production north of Boston, Wheelock has been faithful to the roots of this show and its conception by casting a multitude of ethnicities, as well as first generation college students and recent grads - mirroring the neighborhood that sits high above the banks of the Hudson River. The result is a rich tapestry of voices and accents and dancing styles - all pulled together with zest by Ms. Bertone.
  • Diego Klock-Perez is terrific as Usnavi, struggling bodega owner who longs to return to his roots in Cuba. He shines in the opening production number as well as in "Alabanza."
  • Laura Lebron Rojas is radiant as Nina, the great hope of the neighborhood. She has returned in disgrace after losing her scholarship to Stanford. Her rendition of ""Everything I Know" is a highlight.
  • Nina is in love with her father's young assistant, Benny, played to perfection by Darren Bunch. He and Ms. Rojas pair together for two memorable duets, "Sunrise," and "When The Sun Goes Down."
  • The emotional heart of the neighborhood is Abuela Claudia. She provides many forms of support to Nina, Uznavi and others. She has a large heart that is wearing out. Johanna Carlisle Zepeda brings Abuela to life in "Paciencia Y Fe."
  • Luis Negron is Kevin Rosario, who is willing to do anything for his daughter, Nina. Life is not easy for him, having come to the U.S. to flee an abusinve father. His rendition of "Inutil (Useless)" is heart rending.
  • Rosi Amador is strong as Nina's mother, Camila Rosario. "Siempre (Always)" is her moment to shine.
  • As Sonny, Uznavi's cousin and put-upon assistant, Diego Guevara almost steals the show. He provides much needed comic relief, as well as making sure that Uznavi and Vanessa meet over more than morning coffee.
  • Iliana Garcia is sultry as Vanessa, intent of getting out of the Heights to move downtown to the West Village. She combines with her beauty parlor sisters and Nina for a rousing "No Me Diga." They are Yewande O. Odetoyinbo as Daniela, the shop owner, and Kira Troilo as Carla, the Bible spouting assistant.
  • Tony Castellanos is a strong presence as the ubiquitous Piragua Guy, hawking his refreshing shaved ice treats.
  • David Alea is Graffiti Pete, who ends up crafting a fitting tribute to Abuela Claudia.
  • The strong ensemble consists of Ceci Cipullo, Marshall Joun, AJ Manuel Lucero, Zachary D. McConnell, Selena Mercado, Malik Mitchell, Katrina Z. Pavao, Ryoko Seta, Lance-Patrick Strickland, Alexa Wang, Kelton Washington, Caroline Workman.
Diego Klock-Perez as Uznavi
Cast
"In The Heights"
Wheelock Family Theatre
Through November 19th

"In The Heights" will run through November 19th at Wheelock Family Theatre.

Enjoy!

Al



Wednesday, October 25, 2017

"Commanding Excellence" by Gary Morton - Studies In Leadership That Matters In The Military and In The Business World


"Commanding Excellence" by Gary Morton is a brilliant parallel analysis of excellence in leadership in the military and in the business world. Over the course of his career as a tank officer in the Army, and as a medical device executive with Stryker, Morton had the privilege of serving under two extraordinary leaders. In the case of Task Force 4-68, the leader was Lt. Colonel Alfred L. Dibella. At Stryker, it was CEO John W. Brown. Mr. Morton, a distinguished graduate of West Point, does a very effective job of painting a clear picture of the leadership traits and techniques that allowed both Dibella and Brown to extract extraordinary levels of performance and achievement from the troops that they led.

In the case of Task Force 4-68, Dibella took a group that had been rated as one of the poorest tank units in the U.S. Army, and transformed them into a fighting machine that set records in defeating Opposition Forces 9 out of 9 times in the grueling National Training Center battle simulations in the Mojave Desert. The achievement of that unprecedented perfect record was no accident. The commander had set 9/9 as a goal from the beginning of his time in leadership with the 4-68. Over the course of several months, he worked with each member of the unit to achieve this extraordinary level of perfection. Elements of his leadership style included Absolute Clarity of Purpose, Empowered Obsession, and Unleashing Creativity. He understood that in order to achieve the unit's goal of 9/9 against the OpFor, they would have to break some tried and true rules of how tanks prepare for battle and engage in battle. He and his team developed a playbook that essentially boiled complex tactics and maneuvers down into six basic plays, and they drilled every possible permutation of those plays until each man understood his role under every circumstance. Lt. Colonel Dibella gave explicit permission to his soldiers to be creative, and to risk making mistakes. He backed them up when it came time to write the evaluations, giving the highest marks to those who innovated, and taught those innovations to others.

In like manner, Stryker CEO John W. Brown set a goal for the company to achieve at least 20% growth each year. Every employee was taught that mantra upon being hired, and it was drilled into them every day in a multitude of ways. The result was a stunning track record of 28 straight years of growth for each quarter. Although Brown's leadership style and personality were distinctly different from Dibella, in his pwn way, he used the same building blocks to set his team and his company up for unusual levels of success. He made it abundantly clear that failure to achieve 20% growth was not an option, he and his teams obsessed over how to overcome obstacles, and he freed individuals up to be creative in solving problems in R&D, manufacturing and sales.

In both cases, the pressure to succeed was relentless, as was the commitment to assess all weakness and find ways to overcome them. The book's subtitle is an excellent summary of the ethos of both Task Force 4-68 and of Stryker: "Inspiring Purpose, Passion, and Ingenuity through Leadership That Matters."

The author shares a very personal vignette that highlights the brilliance of Brown's leadership at Stryker. Morton was being asked to consider taking on an assignment that he was reluctant to accept.. There was an urgent need to solve a critical problem within the Patient Care Division, and Morton was asked by his direct boss, and by Mr. Brown, to undertake the daunting assignment. Here is how Morton recalls the pivotal exchange with Brown:

"Brown met with me in his corner office at the building by the airport. The conversation was short, cordial, and focused. Wrapping it up, Brown said something along the lines of 'I would like you to go into that office next door and think about it, then call Harry and let him know whether you will be joining Patient Care.'

. . . As I sat down in the adjoining office, next to the phone was one of those multi photo wooden frames. At the bottom was an engraving that read 'Stryker's Champions of Innovation.' In the frame were pictures of Dr. Stryker, William Chang (VP of R&D for Endoscopy), Jim Evans (VP of R&D for Instruments), and two of the ingenious R&D and science leaders from Osteonics.

In the last frame was my picture.

Being grouped with these incredible engineers and scientists was both humbling and inspiring. I was hooked and made the call to Carmitchel immediately. John Brown knew that truly engaging people is not about commanding them to do something; it is about getting them to command themselves to do it." (pp. 160-1)

The book is full of examples like this of how both Brown and Dibella engaged individuals and teams to command themselves to achieve unimagined levels of excellence and perfection. I look forward to sharing this powerful book with leaders in business and the military. The lessons that Morton has shared are equally applicable in both worlds.

Enjoy!

Al

"Creating Great Choices" by Jennifer Riel and Roger L. Martin - A Leader's Guide To Integrative Thinking


"Creating Great Choices" is one of the most impactful books I have read this year. In offering numerous examples of how diverse leaders have utilized the techniques of "Integrative Thinking," authors Jennifer Riel and Roger L. Martin make it easy for the reader to apply the insights to their own leadership challenges. This book stands on the shoulders of "The Opposable Mind," that Martin penned ten years ago. In the intervening decade, Martin and Riel and other members of their team have taught the principles to a broad variety of students - from corporate executives to grad students to high schoolers. The lessons learned from these teaching and learning interactions have been used to craft the structure of this present book.

One of the book's first case studies of how Integrative Thinking works in the real world is the story of how the CEO of Lego solved what appeared to be a binary problem. In setting out to have a feature film made about Legos, should the company hire Hollywood A players to craft the film, thereby relinquishing creative control and protection of the Lego brand? Or should they settle for lesser film makers who would allow Lego to retain final script and editing approval.

The CEO realized this this was a false dichotomy, and led his team through a series of four steps to come up with a creative and integrative solution that would mine the best of both binary choices. The four steps of Integrative Thinking are:

1) Articulate Opposing Models
2) Examine the Models
3) Generate Possibilities
4) Assess the Prototypes

Utilizing this four stage approach, the LEGO CEO came up with a fascinating and ingenious solution. He invited a team of top Hollywood filmmakers to meet with his staff. They made the following proposal: "If we were to grant you complete creative control over a Lego film, would you first agree to spend time with the most passionate Lego customers - at conventions and elsewhere?" The CEO was willing to bet that by hanging around passionate Lego users, the filmmakers would be infected with the enthusiasm and love for the brand of its most loyal customers. He was right, and the result was a film that entertained audiences and enhanced the LEGO brand.

This type of Integrative Thinking is a form of metacognition. "The notion of metacognition - the process of thinking about thinking - is very old. Philosophers like Aristotle, Spinoza, and Locke helped lay the groundwork for metacognition as they attempted to explain the nature of the mind. Saint Augustine, more than fifteen hundred years ago, wrote of the mind's search for its own nature, arguing that the mind that seeks to know itself must already know itself in some sense. At the very least, it knows itself as seeking." (p. 43)

This book is not just an examination of the philosophical aspects of how the mind of the leader works, but provides practical tools so that a self-aware leader can learn to think in an integrative manner. It is important for the leader to involve other members of his/her team in the process of finding integrative solutions to complex problems. Insights from the realm of design inform much of the thought processes behind integrative thinking.

I have already begun to recommend this book to clients, friends, and proteges.It is impactful and potentially game changing if one is willing to be stretched in new directions. Reading this book will represent a Great Choice!

Enjoy!

Al