Friday, June 19, 2020

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 240, Connecticut Critic's Circle Honors Artists of the 2019-20 Theater Season

By James V. Ruocco

In recognition of the 2019-20 Regional Theater season in Connecticut, the Connecticut Critic's Circle has named the recipients honored for excellence and dedication in work that was showcased throughout the year before it was eventually shortened in mid-March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Every year, members of the Connecticut Critic's Circle salute the outstanding work of artists from several professional regional theater venues including Hartford Stage, Long Wharf Theatre, Westport Country Playhouse, Music Theatre of Connecticut and Yale Rep.

"We wanted to recognize outstanding productions and performers during the abbreviated season," explains Stuart Brown, President of the Connecticut Critic's Circle. "Instead of our usual process of putting together a slate of nominations for various categories and selecting winners, the organization decided to come up with a list of superior performances and artistic contributions.

"The CCC wanted to differentiate this year's awards - our 30th anniversary year - since approximately one-third of the season was cancelled, and, therefore, not eligible for recognition."

The final voting process  - following previous nomination submissions by members of the Connecticut Critic's Circle - and the selection of honorees was implemented by a special five-member CCC committee.

Their choices are as follows:


"Quixote Nuevo" (Hartford Stage)

"Mlima's Tale"  (Westport Country Playhouse)


"Ragtime" (Music Theatre of Connecticut)

Direction of a Play

KJ Sanchez ("Quixote Nuevo") (Hartford Stage)

Mark Lamos ("Mlima's Tale") (Westport Country Playhouse)

Direction of a Musical

Kevin Connors ("Ragtime") (Music Theatre of Connecticut)

Actor in a Play

Emilio Delgado (Don Quixote and Jose Quijano in "Quixote Nuevo") (Hartford Stage)

Actor in a Musical

Ezekiel Andrew (Coalhouse Walker, Jr. in "Ragtime") (Music Theatre of Connecticut)

Actress in a Play

Ami Brabson (Kendra in "American Son") (TheaterWorks/Hartford)

Helen Sadler (Jane Eyre in "Jane Eyre") (Hartford Stage)

Featured Actor in a Play

Juan Manuel Amador (Sancho Panza and Manny Dias in "Quixote Nuevo") (Hartford Stage)

Featured Actor in a Musical

Ivory McKay (Mr. Bones in "The Scottsboro Boys") (Playhouse on Park)

Featured Actress in a Play

Margot White (Judy in "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") (Connecticut Repertory Theatre)

Featured Actress in a Musical

Dee Hoty (Fraulein Schneider in "Cabaret") (Connecticut Repertory Theatre)

Lesli Margherita (Phyllis in "The Flamingo Kid") (Hartford Stage)


Rufus Collins, Tasha Lawrence, Nick LaMedica
"The Lifespan of a Fact" (TheaterWorks/Hartford)

Theatre Debut

Tyler Nowakowski (Christopher in "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") (Connecticut Repertory Theatre)

Choreography of a Musical

Denis Jones ("The Flamingo Kid") (Hartford Stage)

Sound Design

Jason Peck ("Birds of America") (Thrown Stone) 

Costume Design

Rachel Healey ("Quixote Nuevo") (Hartford Stage)

Lighting Design

Isabella Byrd ("Mlima's Tale") (Westport Country Playhouse)

Scenic Design

Britton Mauk ("I Am My Own Wife") (Long Wharf Theatre)


Yana Birykova ("Mlima's Tale") (Westport Country Playhouse)

Special Award

Bowdie - The Dog ("Because of Winn Dixie") (Goodspeed Musicals)

Jermaine Rowe (Mlima in "Mlima's Tale") (Westport Country Playhouse)

The annual ceremony, originally scheduled for June 29th at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre, has been cancelled. In its place, an online presentation is being developed and planned for later this summer.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 239, Connecticut Theatre News: Hartford Stage, Thrown Stone, The Bushnell

By James V. Ruocco

In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Hartford Stage has decided to reschedule the run of Eugene O'Neill's celebrated 1933 comedy "Ah, Wilderness!" to October 22-November 15, 2020. The play, presented in four acts, tells the lighthearted, often sentimental story of the Miller family, a driven, colorful and outspoken group of individuals living in small town Connecticut. It takes place on the Fourth of July, 1906.

Written in a sweet, tender and nostalgic mood, the play itself was inspired, in part, by the playwright's mischievous desire to show theatergoers and the working press that he could write comedy as well as the tragic side of life.

"The Complete History of Comedy (Abridged)," a quirky, offbeat laugh fest that traces comedy through the ages, from Aristophanes and William Shakespeare to Moliere and Charlie Chaplin and  just about everything else, has been rescheduled for October 1-11, 2020. It features a cast of three who play and assume a variety of different roles, all at the drop of a hat.

"In the wake of the global health crisis, and such a lengthy period of uncertainty, we are pleased to put plans in place for these wonderful and highly anticipated productions for the fall," explains Cynthia Rider, Managing Director of Hartford Stage.

In November, the theater will present the return engagement of  "A Christmas Carol - A Ghost Story of Christmas," which will run November 27-December 27, 2020.

The start of the 2020-2021 season will begin in January, 2021.
The six-play season with include William Shakespeare's "As You Like It;" the world premiere of Martin Zimmerman's "Simona's Search;" Pearl Cleage's "Angry, Raucous and Shamelessly Gorgeous;" and David Catlin's adaptation of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein." Exact dates and the announcement of two additional productions will be forthcoming.

"It's a joy to look forward to our return to Hartford Stage, to our theatre, and to be experiencing these wonderful productions together," says Melia Bensussen, Artistic Director of Hartford Stage. "We continue to be present in the lives of our neighbors, patrons and colleagues through other means during the quarantine, but know there is no substitute for live theatre.
"I have no doubt we'll soon find ourselves together at the Stage charged with renewed purpose. We cannot wait to welcome everyone back."

For more tickets or more information, contact Hartford Stage (50 Church St., Hartford) at (860) 527- 5151.

Throne Stone of Ridgefield has opted to postpone its traditional two-play summer 2020 season into next year due to the current coronavirus  pandemic.

Per Jason Peck and Jonathan Winn, Co-Artistic Directors of Thrown Stone: "The health and well being of our audience and the community comes first. Our hearts are with the sick, the healthcare workers, and those who have lost loved ones.
"We hope the prospect of a 2021 season will be a light at the end of the tunnel. In the meantime, we urge our audience to observe the latest guidance from the CDC and the state of Connecticut."

Two plays about time and destiny - Reina Hardy's" "Annie Jump and the Library of Heaven" and Ella Road's "The Phlebotomist" will kick off Thrown Stone's fourth season when the theater reopens its doors during the summer of 2021.

"Annie Jump and the Library of Heaven" is a five-character play that charts the adventurous story of a 13-year-old science genius whose alien-obsessed father is the laughingstock of Strawberry, Kansas. However, once a meteor falls on a hot summer August night, things begin to change. Young Annie discovers Althea, an intergalactic computer that manifests itself in the form of a mean girl who offers to help the teenager push humanity up from the streets of Kansas and into the stars.

"The Phlebotomist" is a chilling dystopian thriller about a female phlebotomist who falls madly in love with a man, who, in a world, in the not too distant future, is governed by scientific advances where blood test ratings can predict whether or not a relationship can last or fail, whether or not you'll get a mortgage, whether or not you'll become the right fit for an important job or sadly, find yourself diagnosed with debilitating diseases.
In 2019, the play was staged at London's Hampstead Theatre following an acclaimed, sold-out engagement at the theatre's Downstairs venue the year before. It also received an Olivier nomination for Best Play.

Both productions will be staged in repertory at Thrown Stone (Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance, 440 Main St., Ridgefield, CT).
Tickets will go on sale April 29, 2021.
Preview performances are $19.
Opening night performances, which include food and wine are $79.
Regular performances are $59.
A limited number of specially subsidized tickets for $29 (made possible by the Daniel E. Offutt III Audience Accessibility Program) are available to anyone on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The full repertory season for 2021 is available at

The 2020-2021 "Broadway Series" at the Bushnell (166 Capitol Ave., Hartford, CT), is scheduled to kick off December 15, 2020 with the return engagement of 2015 Tony-award winner "Hamilton," the musical story of American founding father Alexander Hamilton. Featuring music, lyrics and book by Lin-Manuel Miranda, "Hamilton" received 11 Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Choreography, Best Direction, Best Costume Design and Best Actor in a Musical. It is scheduled to run through January 3, 2021.

"During these challenging and uncertain weeks, it's comforting to look to the future with the confidence that times will be better as we gather again in our magnificent Mortensen Hall for the unifying experiences that the performing arts create," says David Fay, Bushnell President and CEO.
"Hartford is blessed with an abundance of outstanding arts organizations, and we are looking forward to reconnecting with our patrons to share our creativity and our spirit. At the Bushnell, we feel so supported by our community, and we can't wait to welcome you back.
"In the meantime, stay safe and stay healthy."

Other plays and musicals scheduled for the 2020-2021 season are:

"The Band's Visit" (January 20-24, 2021)
"Pretty Woman: The Musical" (February 2-7, 2021)
"Escape to Margaritaville" (February 9-14, 2021)
"What the Constitution Means to Me" (March 9-14, 2021)
"My Fair Lady" (April 27-May 2, 2021)
"Mean Girls" (June 1-6, 2021)

New dates for "Hadestown," originally scheduled to play the Bushnell from October 20-25, 2020, are pending. "The Cher Show," slated to run November 3-8, 2020, has been pushed forward into the 2021-2022 season. Dates for "Dear Evan Hansen" are also still being determined.

For tickets or more information, call (860) 987-5900

Sunday, March 29, 2020

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 238, Enjoying Theatre At Home While Theaters Everywhere Are Dark

By James V. Ruocco

As Equity theaters everywhere - Broadway, London, Regional, National Tour - are completely shut down with no sign of reopening anytime soon, it's not all gloom and doom. You can still enjoy the arts by bringing "theatre" home to you while being stuck indoors during these very troubling times.

It can be fun.
It can be productive.
It can be interesting.
It can be exhilarating.
It can be wild and wacky.
It can be a helluva good time.

Simply work your magic.
Be creative.
Take a chance.
Go crazy.
And indulge!

To help you get started, here are 10 carefully-picked theatrical ideas to fuel your senses, get you excited and keep you happily entertained for hours on end.

Listen to Broadway show music

"Evita." "Company." "My Fair Lady." "Billy Elliot." "Carousel." "She Loves Me." "From Here to Eternity." "Les Miserables." "Aspects of Love," "South Pacific." "West Side Story." "Rent." "Come From Away."
The list goes on and on and on. So pick your favorite musical soundtrack and give it a spin.
When you're done, gives things a rethink.
Since show music is pretty much everywhere, jump in and take a chance. Try something new. Try something different. Explore. Pick something you've never heard before. Or journey back to the past for a much-ballyhooed classic.

Check out YouTube for highlights from Broadway's past or present

You won't believe what's out there. Past, present, rare or almost forgotten. There are clips. There are highlights. There are showstoppers. There are the Tony Awards. There are the Olivier Awards. There are treasured moments from Broadway's past on "The Ed Sullivan Show."
There are moments that will send shivers up and down your spine. There are also full shows from all over the world. And not just in English.
Just hit "search," make your selection, hit play and you're on your way.

Read a play or musical

"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" by Edward Albee. "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller. "A Streetcar Named Desire" by Tennessee Williams. "Angels in America" by Tony Kushner. "West Side Story" by Arthur Laurents. "Long Day's Journey into Night" by Eugene O'Neill. "Master Class" by Terrence McNally." "Company" by George Furth." "A Raisin in the Sun" by Lorraine Hansberry." "A Chorus Line" by James Kirkwood, Jr and Nicholas Dante. "Fifth of July" by Lanford Wilson." "Mrs. Warren's Profession" by George Bernard Shaw."
Your choice. Your call. Your time. Your taste.
Just sit back, relax, pour a glass of wine and let the play reading journey begin.

Do a staged reading

Pick a play that's fun and accessible. Cast it using members of your family. Give them pointers on what to do and what not to do. Head toward the living room and start acting out the play using simple basics and theatrical cues.
If it's just you at home, even better. You can play all the parts, both male and female, just by changing your voice, line delivery and body language. If acting out the entire play is far too much for you, pick a scene, pick a part and run with it. It's as simple as that. 

Explore the works of William Shakespeare

The Bard's 37 plays are divided into four categories: the comedies, the romances, the histories and the tragedies. Which category you choose first, however, is your call. Just delve into the Shakespearean archive, look around, read a plot summary or two and then make your selection.
The plays include: "Romeo and Juliet." "As You Like It." "Macbeth." "Much Ado About Nothing." "Richard III," "Hamlet," "Two Gentlemen of Verona,""Taming of the Shrew," "Twelfth Night," "The Comedy of Errors," "The Merchant of Venice," and so much more. 

Put together a flash drive of your favorite Broadway shows or showtunes

A flash drive containing your favorite shows and showtunes is an absolute must. You design it. You put it together. You are in complete control. It's all based on what you like and what you want to hear. "Les Miserables" and "Rent," perhaps. "Evita" and "The Phantom of the Opera." Or maybe, something along the lines of "Candide," "The Most Happy Fella," "Kiss Me, Kate" and "Next to Normal."
It's time consuming, yes. It takes a lot of patience. It can be tedious. You also need to make sure everything falls into place accordingly. But in the long run, it's well worth it.

Read a classic play

"A Doll's House," "Peer Gynt" and "Hedda Gabler" by Henrik Ibsen. "Miss Julie" and "A Dream Play" by August Strindberg. "The Seagull" and "Uncle Vanya" by Anton Chekhov. "Tartuffe," "The Miser" and "The Misanthrope" by Moliere. "The Rivals" by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. "The Importance of Being Earnest," "An Ideal Husband" and "A Woman of No Importance" by Oscar Wilde.
These and other plays stand the test of time and are well worth reading. Just give them a shot and succumb to their invigorating potential.

Sing out loud from the show or show(s) of your choice

Admit it.
This is something you've always wanted to do.
You're at home.
You're alone.
It's just you.
The urge to sing out loud is working you into a lathered frenzy.
So go for it.
Pick the song of your choice.
Grab the lyrics or sing out from memory.
Kick some ass. Go crazy. And have the time of your life.

Research the life and times of your favorite composer and lyricist

Stephen Sondheim, is the obvious choice here.
But if you're not a Sondheim fan, plenty of other names come to mind: Cole Porter, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice, George and Ira Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Irving Berlin, Leonard Bernstein, Jerry Herman, Cy Coleman, Alan Jay Lerner, Frederick Loewe, Jule Styne, Fred Ebb, John Kander and Jonathan Larson.
Again, it's all a matter of choice. And the choice is yours.

Grab a biography of one of your favorite performers and read it from cover to cover.

Intimate. Personal. Candid.
There's lots and lots of books and biographies about everyone out there from Julie Andrews and Anthony Rapp to Maggie Smith, Glenda Jackson, Uta Hagen, Aaron Tveit, Ian McKellen, Gwen Verdon, Laurence Olivier, Patti LuPone and Elaine Paige.
The list is endless. But it's chock full of names from A to Z.

It all depends on who you want to read about first and who interests you the most.