Sunday, August 1, 2021

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 264, A Review: "Into the Woods" (Playhouse on Park)


 By James V. Ruocco

The classic fairy tale promised a life of happily ever after.
As did the big, old-fashioned Broadway musical with its typical flights of whimsy, giddy hopes and dreams and dazzling coats of many colors.

Stephen Sondheim's dark, deliciously wicked two-act musical "Into the Woods" turns all that good cheer and happiness upside down, inside out, left and right and on its head.
Ah, what fun! Ah, what joy!
Ah, what drama!
Ah, what hell!

At Playhouse on Park, a cozy, intimate, inviting space where a little night music can (and will) produce many, many smiles on a hot summer night or sunny summer afternoon, director Sean Harris' dark, inventive, vigorous and absolutely thrilling revival of Sondheim's 1987 Broadway musical wryly exposes the fun, the fantasy, the brashness, the tangled catastrophes, the sexiness, the homosexuality and the gender-bending theatrics of several fairy-tale characters who, much to our delight, don't get that happy ending they so longed for. Then again, that's the point of James Lapine's wildly insane plot, its grisly outcomes and its accidental demises, all of which are set to the pungent, eloquent and potent music and lyrics of the master himself - Mr. Stephen Sondheim.

Brilliant.
Playful.
Mysterious.
Outrageous.
Exhilarating.
Hypnotic.

As presented by Harris, this is "Into the Woods" as you've never seen it before. It not only harkens memories of the dark and gleeful original London production and the recent Broadway revival, but it thrusts this ravishing tale of fantasia and agony into a very new light. And therein, lies its enjoyment.

Here, the interwoven, marvelously textured fairy tales of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, the Wicked Witch, the Big Bad Wolf and the Baker and His Wife, among others, dance to a decidedly different beat.
Little Red Riding Hood, for example, is greedy, obnoxious and psychologically damaged. She also carries a knife. The Prince, charming as he is, dazzles and marries the beautiful Cinderella, but he can't resist the urge to have sex with several other lovelies including the Baker's Wife or have lusty thoughts about Rapunzel's Prince despite his supposed heterosexuality. 
Elsewhere, the beguiling Rapunzel accidentally runs into the path of the Giant and gets trampled to death, much to the horror of her handsome, narcissistic Prince and the Witch. She also gives birth to two adorable twin babies much earlier. And the Big Bad but very sexy Wolf is not only hungry for Little Red Riding Hood's Granny, but he too longs for a bit of you-know-what and this-and-that in the darkened corners of the magical woods.
And what about the famous glass slipper, you ask?
Lucinda and Florinda, the egotistical but thoroughly obnoxious stepsisters of the lovely but misunderstood Cinderella, are willing to do anything to make the shoe fit (hilariously staged by Harris) including having their toe or heel cut off to fit into the now-bloodied glass shoe. Regardless, Cinderella still gets her handsome Price.

How all of this and more is played out, scene by scene and song by song, gives this wildly inventive revival of "Into the Woods" its heartbeat, its pulse and its emotional center. You laugh. You cry. You cheer. You grimace. You shake your head in wonderment. You have sexual thoughts about the characters. You embrace the musical's dark, involving, beguiling moments. You revel in its many twists, turns and surprises. And you sit there spellbound by the beguiling and sinister magic that unfolds right before your very eyes.

This is musical theater. Real musical theater.
You never doubt it for a moment.

At Playhouse in Park, Sean Harris' directorial credits include "Passing Strange," "In the Heights," "Angels in America," "Cabaret," "Hair" and "Of Mice and Men." His theatrical savvy, creativity and knowledge of theater - in this case, musical theatre - make him the ideal candidate to stage "Into the Woods." Though his eyes, this production dances to its own decidedly different beat as Harris beguiles, cajoles, excites and seduces his audience by using bold, twisty and very dark strokes to rock the Sondheim boat and add more mystery to Lapine's cleverly constructed conceit. It's a journey like no other and one that gives the story additional weight, spark, lust, intuition and surprise. Just when you think you have it all figured out, Harris purposely knocks you on your ass by moving the musical in a very different direction. What's exactly up his sleeve during this 2 hr. and 45 minute entertainment keeps you on the edge of your seat wanting more and more which Harris naturally supplies cloaked in the wonderment of it all. Cinderella's birds, for example, are used more effectively in this staging in all their wicked glory. The decision to add  "Our Little World," a cleverly sung character piece between the Witch and Rapunzel that Sondheim debuted for the original London production, is wisely included in this version by Harris. It not only adds shading and color and thought to the twisty and convoluted mother-and-daughter relationship of the Witch and Rapunzel, but works beautifully in telling how the actual story of these two characters plays out over each act.  

Staging "Into the Woods," Harris, auteur that he is, delves deeply into the intricacies of Lapine's book, its rhythmic wordplay, its quirks, its beats, its pauses and pulses, its sexual innuendo and its gender-bending underbelly. As the musical unfolds, he embellishes the gloom and doom of the author's vision, its not-so-terribly sweet concept, its atypical language, it's dicey predicaments, its playful paradoxes, its doomed couplings, its obsessions, its cowardice and its unhappy twists of fate.

Yes, there is a lot to digest. There's a lot going on. There's a lot of surprises. And sometimes, you're not too sure what's going to happen next. Then again, that's the point. Nonetheless, Harris knows exactly what buttons to push, when and how to take chances, how to build and develop each scene, how to keep every one of his characters in the spotlight, how to introduce each song without ever once bringing the onstage action to a halt and finally, have the audience eating right out of his hands. It's a process that works especially well here and one that deserves a standing ovation its own right. The inclusion of lots and lots of darkness, all used to full advantage by Harris, is another plus that makes one easily forget all those syrupy fairy tales served up in ice cream colors by that studio of once-upon-a-time fantasy known as Disney.


Choreography is key to the success of "Into the Woods" and nobody does it better than Darlene Zoller, a dance enthusiast whose creativity and individuality is wonderfully showcased in this exhilarating production. Here, as in "In the Heights" and "Mamma D's," Zoller is once again, at the top of her game. Not one to opt for simple choreography or replayed dance routines and rhythms, she puts her own personal stamp on everything she touches and thus, offers something that is very original, creative and timely.
With "Into the Woods," there isn't a lot of dancing. But when asked to create something that defines the musical's blueprint, Zoller knows what she wants and she runs with it. When people move, they just don't move to the beat of the music or engage in simplistic couplings. Instead, Zoller choreographs them using very beautiful poses, marching, beats and pairings that are decidedly different from other stagings of "Into the Woods." She creates something special. She creates something bold and daring. She creates something that is exhilarating. There is style. There is passion. There is sensuality. There is Fosse. There is fluidity. And that, is what Zoller is all about.

Musically, "Into the Woods" showcases Sondheim at his very best. That said, the actual complexity, richness and eloquence of his music and lyrics require the talents of a musical director who can not only due justice to the complicated musical score, but make its urgent musicality the centerpiece of the story without any form of hesitation. You get that - and so much more - with Melanie Guerin, the creative talent enlisted as musical director for this particular Playhouse on Park production.

Guerin whose musical credits at the West Hartford venue include "The Scottsboro Boys," "In the Heights," "Peter and the Starcatcher" and "Murder for Two" gives "Into the Woods" a certain individuality and expressiveness that adds a certain "jour de vivre" to the proceedings. Completely in sync with the Sondheim mindset, she allows his musical score to breathe, beguile, astonish, entice, cajole and echo lucidically the pulsating notes, the haunting sounds, the merry skips, the delicious beats, the frenzied panting, the twisty malevolence and wonderfully timed festering and gentleness the composer/lyricist has created. Moreover, not a piece of the Sondheim puzzle is missing under Guerin's exceptional showmanship.

To keep "Into the Woods" moving merrily along (no pun intended), Guerin has assembled an exceptionally fine, first-glass group of musicians to bring the pungent Sondheim score to life - Hillary Ekwall (cello), Elliot Wallace (percussion), David Uhl (bass), Cassie Cardarelli (horn), Olivia Moaddel (violin), Eugenio Figueroa (viola), Harry Kliewe (reed) and Andrew Studenski (reed). Working alongside Guerin, the orchestral details of their ensemble are lively, classic and accurately pronounced. There's plenty of payoffs and satisfying thwack. Every ripe and juicy Sondheim lyric rings loud and clear. The songs themselves are cleverly and meticulously crafted. Vocally, the entire cast is up to the challenge of the material under Guerin's (and company's) guidance, holding their own individually, in pairs or in groups, meeting the demands of Sondheim's intricate score as originally intended.

The performances of the entire "Into the Woods" cast are splendid.
As the scary, imperfect and strangely sinister Wicked Witch, the magnetic Tania Kass - a dead ringer for k.d. lang and just as talented - who gets to shed her frightening image for a very glamorous one at the end of Act I, the actress delivers an electrifying performance that nearly blows the roof off the Playhouse on Park venue. She has great fun casting spells, working magic, commenting on the doom and gloom of the story and wrapping her vocal chops around the wild and wicked Sondheim songs that were originally created for Bernadette Peters on Broadway and Julia McKenzie in the original West End edition. What's great about Kass is that she's no copycat. Here, she gives the musical performance of the season and puts her own individual stamp on both the music and the performance much to the delight of every one on stage and in the audience. She also naturally brings the right amount of emotional substance, wit, warmth, mystery and resonance to the piece. So much so, we eagerly await her every entrance.

The delightful, well-matched Robert Denzel Edwards and Laurel Andersen are completely engaging in their respective roles of the Baker and the Baker's Wife. Given the many levels, emotions, beats and twists they are required to make as the musical's childless couple, these are not easy roles to play. But they get it right every time. Vocally, they sing the Sondheim songs with snap, vigor, passion, and precision. And their reenactment of a childless couple anxious to lift the Witch's curse of infertility (the Witch caught the Baker's thieving father in her garden one night stealing vegetables and six magic beans) is effectively played out from start to finish until a cruel twist of fate changes everything forever. Regardless, we are with them every step of the way.


In the role of the shifty and naughty Little Red Riding Hood, Jackie Garmone brings authentic voice, wit, whimsy, danger, greed and well-timed cheekiness to the part. She never once steps out of bounds or turn things into caricature or cartoon. She is the real deal as dictated by her savvy acting, double takes and acerbic line delivery. They don't come any more magical than Jaquez Linder-Long who acts and sings as if he stepped out of an enchanted book of fairy tales and landed smack, dab in the middle of the Playhouse on Park Stage. He's perfect for the part of Jack and adapts beautifully to the story at hand, its comedy, its drama, its pain, its uncertainty and its trauma. He delivers the melodious "Giants in the Sky" and the tearful "I Guess This is Goodbye" with the full, rich, voice and moist-eyed innocence that Sondheim intended for the both material and the character.

Cast in the pivotal role of Jack's caring, overprotective and sometimes misunderstood mother, Zoe Goslin offers a beautifully rounded performance that embraces both Lapine and Sondheim's version of the character. Throughout "Into the Woods," her characterization is real, compassionate and rife with humor and motherly concern. There is never any doubt that she and Long are mother and son and their individual scenes together are joyfully rendered. Jack Dillon (Cinderella's Prince/Wolf) and Isaac Kurber (Rapunzel's Prince) are charming, handsome, wicked,  flirtatious, egotistical, narcissistic and winningly affected. They are fun to watch as they play their parts to the hilt, capitalizing upon their handsomeness, kingdom worship and possible gayness,  You never once doubt their moves or motives for a moment as they sing not once, but twice about the "Agony" of their newfound and unobtainable loves, reveling in the misery, angst and heated desires of their troubled plights. Much earlier, we also find Dillon singing the pungent, sexually charged "Hello, Little Girl" to Little Red Riding Hood as the crazy and dangerous Wolf. It's a performance that comes replete with some very suggestive dancing (Zoller's dance moves are absolutely perfect) and comic exaggerations, which the actor handles playfully and effortlessly.
Vocally, he and Kueber hit all the right notes with plenty of versatility and drive as they revel and cajole Sondheim's demanding, tricky music. Their signature, slightly over-the-top poses as the handsome princes of the kingdom are a source of genuine merriment throughout they production. And yes, they have as much fun as we do watching them.

As Cinderella, Kara Arena finds real meaning and depth in her character's troubled world of "happily ever after" and "not so happily ever after." Yes, she snags the handsome prince, but she still enjoys cleaning and yearns for something much more than the "hi, ho glamorous life" of the palace. Her vocals "A Very Nice Prince" and "On the Steps of the Palace" are smartly and convincingly portrayed. There's also also a certain charm, beauty, and bewilderment to her characterization which keeps things very natural and authentic in both Act I and Act II. Hallie Friedman's Rapunzel is lovely and alluring. She screams magnificently and possesses a gorgeous soprano voice that is used quite advantageously throughout the "Into the Woods" story. Her pivotal "Our Little World" duet with Kass is a genuine showstopper that sheds insight on their not-so-perfect familial ties. 
 
In both the original Broadway and London production, the part of the Mysterious Man/ Narrator was nothing more than a rather obvious plot device designed to bring the entire fairy tale story to life. But in this version under the direction of Sean Harris, the wonderfully animated and charismatic Chris Bellinger crafts a rich, emotionally satisfying performance that is magical, earnest and very full of life.
Cinderella's black-of-heart stepsisters Lucinda and Florinda are played with devious glee and wickedness by Sandra Mhlongo and Bianca Day Feiner. Olivia Rose Barresi completes the nasty trio as Cinderella's Stepmother. All three are appropriately vile spitting out insults, glaring at Cinderella and flouncing about in their Festival ball gowns. They have great fun getting these points across and others  without losing the intended wickedness of their exaggerated characterizations. Danny Kelly's Steward also makes a fine impression as does the ensemble work by Katie Brough and Trishawn Paul. 

Bright, dark, energetic, thrilling and eerily hypnotic, this revival "Into the Woods" is well worth the journey and demands to be seen. So follow the path. Embrace the characters. Experience the music. Listen to the lyrics. And remember, not all fairy tales have happy endings in this exhilarating  reenactment of Sondheim's celebrated musical given new light by director Sean Harris and his very talented "Into the Woods" cast and production team.


Production photos of "Into the Woods" by Meredith Longo.

"Into the Woods" is being staged at Playhouse on Park (244 Park Rd., West Hartford, CT), now through August 22.
For tickets or more information, call (860) 523-5900.
website: playhouseonpark.org.


Saturday, July 31, 2021

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 263, A Review: "Oedipus Rex" (Legacy Theatre)

By James V. Ruocco

Written by Sophocles and first performed around 430 B.C., "Oedipus Rex" has a hero with a complicated past, an ending that isn't very happy and plenty of riddles, prophecies, secrets, conflicts and revelations that eventually lead to the title character's catastrophic downfall.
Its telling also touches upon topics of lust, incest, suffering and doom as Oedipus himself realizes he has killed his birthright father and married and bedded his mother who, when he was first born, cast him out to be killed and buried in the mountains.
But wait, there's more.
This being a Greek tragedy hellbent on plague and destruction, Oedipus, we learn, was adopted and saved as an infant and now, grown up as a leader-in-life, hopes to avoid a prophecy of pain and constituent destruction from which there is no escape.
With the groundwork laid, Sophocles constructs an urgent tale of moving credibility and decay that today, resonates with the epic sweep, dimension and tragedy he fought so hard to preserve.

The twisted part of the Oedipus tale and all that comes before it and after is the driving force of Legacy Theatre's brilliant, inventive staging of this ancient drama, its language, its characters, it suspense, its extreme irony and its informational perspective.

Unique.
Edgy.
Dark.
Intriguing.
Scandalous.
Mysterious.

This interpretation, translated by Ian Johnston, magnificently reinforces the classic definition of Greek tragedy, its mocking lilt, its cries of suffering and horror, its grave circularity, its prophetic amplification, its condemned truths and its overt heartlessness.

As director, Keely Baisden Knudsen makes this "Oedipus Rex" breathe and resonate. In an effort to appeal to today's audience, she wisely abandons the play's original Greek tragedy requirements - a bare stage; full specifically-crafted period masks worn by both actors and chorus; elaborate, stylized staging and movements; synchronized choral groupings - in favor of a more grounded, modernistic piece that cries 21st century despite its lush, creative period surroundings, lighting, visual effects and costuming smartly designed by Jamie Burnett (sets and lighting), Katya Vetrov (costumes) and Lauren Salatto-Rosenay (projection designer). It's a concept that works surprisingly well while at the same time, adheres to the logistics and format of the original work.

Staging the play, Knudsen dances to her own imaginative heartbeat. She has a story to tell and tell it she does. As "Oedipus Rex" evolves, she brings a natural theatricality to the piece offset by creative elements that accurately reflect the complicated layers of the Sophoclean plot, its cultural landscape, its weighty tension, its curious imprisonment, its surprising depth and its jolting foreboding and fears. She knows what she wants, how to take a breath or pause, how to seize the moment, how to play or underplay a scene or situation, how to challenge both her cast and audience and finally, how to dive in for the kill, shock and entice, run wild and when its all over, leave you begging for more.
As tradition dictates, she accurately portrays the play's abuse of power, its obsession with the conflicts between genders, its tremendous sense of helplessness caused by plague and how the unpredictability of life itself can threaten one's status in a single moment. An auteur of sorts, she also adheres to the Greek tragedy blueprint of having no violence on stage and if a character is to die, the actual death happens off stage or is heard behind closed doors. At the same time, she allows her staging of "Oedipus Rex" to retain its Sophoclean origins and speak directly and authoritatively to the modern audience. 

"Oedipus Rex" stars Mitchel Kawash as Oedipus, Mariah Sage as Jocasta, Michael Sayers as Teiresias, Tom Schwans as Creon, Tyrell Latouche as Priest/Chorus, Jessica Breda as Second Messenger/Chorus, Emmett Cassidy as Servant/Chorus Leader, F. Liam Devlin as Chorus, Barbara Hentschel as Chorus and Michael Steinman as Chorus/ Jr. Apprentice.

As Oedipus, Kawash uncovers his character's story with truth, insight, drive and accomplishment, bringing the right style, tone and scope to the actual story, the dialogue and its metaphorical blindness. Looking very much like a youngish Anthony Rapp from Broadway's 1996 production of "Rent," the actor executes his characterization with a modernistic command and pride that naturally darkens once he gauges his eyes out (there is no blood, but the staging itself involving long red cloths that drape the stairs of the outside court is a stroke of genius on Knudsen's part) after the terrible truths of his life - past and present - are explicitly exposed near the play's end. In the role of Jocasta, Sage is a terrific choice to play the part of a mother who unknowingly marries her son, then commits suicide as the only way to escape this terrible tragedy. It's a part she invests with clarity, dignity and dutiful coherence. Her recitation of the play's glorious language is also rife with imagination and beauty. It's the performance of the season and one that often leaves you breathless.  

The supporting cast which includes fine performances by Sayers, Breda and Schwans, heightens the play's excitement, curiosity, terror, myth and untimely doom. Everyone is perfectly in sync with the storytelling set forth before them, its style, its language and its prophetic urgency and madness. 

A shrewd piece of theatre combining both heroic and brutal commentary, "Oedipus Rex" is an absorbing Greek tragedy staged with eloquence and sharpness befitting its shrewd Sophoclean scope. It is an impressive feat for the newly opened Legacy Theatre and one that should be seen not missed. The cast, under Keely Baisden Knudsen's swift, insightful direction, domesticates the blood-splattered motivation and mindset of the play and keeps it moving deftly toward its justified, horrific conclusion. For over 90 minutes, one sits there completely riveted by dialogue, situations and performances that are not only unique, but cannot be ignored.


Photos courtesy of Jamie Burnett

"Oedipus Rex" is being staged at the Legacy Theatre (128 Thimble Island Rd., Stony Creek, CT.), now through August 22.
For tickets or more information, call (203) 315-1901.
website: legacytheatrect.org

Thursday, July 1, 2021

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 262, A Review: "Tiny House" (Westport Country Playhouse)

By James V. Ruocco

Ten minutes into Michael Gotch's crafty "Tiny House," it's easy to understand why Mark Lamos, Artistic Director of Westport Country Playhouse, wanted to stage it as part of the theater's virtual 90th season.

It's funny.
It's quirky.
It's maddening.
It's entertaining.
It's fiendishly clever.

It's also decidedly different from the usual overplayed outdoor/indoor summer fare that's continually stuffed down our throats including one too many productions of "Barefoot in the Park," "Godspell," "Mamma Mia!" "The Sound of Music" and "Run For Your Wife."

Not the case in Westport.
And therein, lies its enjoyment.

You don't have to bring your own lawn chairs. You don't have to pay for parking. You don't have to bring your own toilet paper. Instead, you can watch it from your own home. You can pop your own popcorn. Grill your own hot dogs and hamburgers. Or simply break out a platter of sushi, chicken wings, sandwiches, cheeses and nachos paired with your favorite bottle of wine. It's that simple.

That said, "Tiny House" is a wild and wacky roller-coaster ride orchestrated to pure frothy perfection and hysteria by Lamos as it grapples with personal, social and environmental issues that are bold, disturbing, confrontational and surprising. It's a fun ride that merges effortlessly into a sea of comic quirkiness that's impossible to resist. Moreover, it respects the rhythm and heartbeat of Gotch's playscript and his choice of warped and playful theatrics that muse and delight with giggly quality and ripe conviction.

The play, set on the Fourth of July in a minimalistic designed house deep in the woods, delves quickly into a family celebration chockful of mindful exposition, dynamics and conversation. This so-called gathering of sorts is populated by seven colorful and intriguing characters reminiscent of those quirky individuals found in plays by Christopher Durang. They are an outdoorsy architect and his wife; her overly opinioned mother; two hippie neighbors obsessed with medieval costuming and all things Renaissance; a modern-day survivalist who hunts and kills marmots; and a high school biology teacher whose life is fully enriched by nature and its woodsy environment.

Gotch, as playwright, displays a certain kind of uniqueness that keeps "Tiny House" fresh and exciting. He has plenty of ideas, thoughts and narrative routes that give the play both its power and exhilaration. He also delights in catching his audience off guard or simply surprising them with facts, secrets and revelations they never saw coming. As the play evolves over its fast-paced 105-minute running time, he creates an unabashed environment of collective curiosity, wit and identification that never falters for a moment. That, coupled with particular detail, context and language done right gives the piece its additional weight, humor and creative chutzpah.

Staging "Tiny House," Lamos clearly has the right mindset to bring Gotch's Fourth of July comedy to life. From scene to scene and act to act, he is focused, creative and conscious of the play's quirkiness and off-angle intellect. Pacing is everything here and Lamos keeps things continually in motion without missing a beat. He knows how to get a laugh by using just the right amount of comic build-up. He knows each character upside down, left, right and center. He knows when and how to shake you up, catch you off guard or kick you in the ass. And finally, he gives the production a force and pulse that keeps it on track, driven by the performances, dialogue and an emotional amplitude that conveys the humor and deftness of the playwright himself.


Rounding out the cast are Elizabeth Heflin as Billie, Sara Bues as Sam, Denver Milord as Nick, Lee E. Ernst as Larry, Stephen Pelinski as Win, Kathleen Pirkl-Tague as Carol and Hassan El-Amin as Bernard. All seven are exactly right for the characters they are asked to portray, each communicating the ticks, quirks and polemics that become the emotional center of their individual characterizations. They are crafty. They are funny. They are eccentric. They are unique. They are different. They are full of surprise. Their connection to "Tiny House" is immediate and significant, infused with endlessly funny and upbeat accomplishment that makes us laugh in all the right places.

"Tiny House" is a wickedly funny piece of theatre that finds humor in the unlikeliest of situations. It is rife with color, passion and craziness that is both hilarious and soul-soaring. Goth's inspiration and well-crafted dialogue captures the chaos of it all. The cast of seven communicates the play's wit and piping-hot nuttiness with great style and coherence. And Lamos, back in the director's chair, crafts yet another memorable theatre piece that unfolds with just the right amount of clarity, effort and opportunity.

"Tiny House," presented by Westport Country Playhouse (25 Powers Court, Westport, CT) is being streamed online, now through July 18, 2021. Tickets are $25. For more information, call (203) 227- 4177.


 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 261: "The 48th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards, June 25th On CBS



By James V. Ruocco

Who will win?
Who's been nominated?
Who will walk the red carpet?
Who's hosting?

It's official.

"The Talk's" Sheryl Underwood will host the "48th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards" Friday, June 25
from 8 to 11 p.m. on the CBS Television Network and Paramount Plus. This will be the fifth time Underwood has hosted the popular daytime event, but the first flying solo. 

"I'm very excited about doing the show by myself," she explained during a live broadcast of "The Talk." "I grew up watching Daytime TV. I love Daytime TV. I'm really excited for all the nominees. And, I can't wait for the big night."

As predicted, ABC's "General Hospital" received the most nominations with 21, followed by NBC's "Days of Our Lives" and CBS's "The Young and the Restless" with 11 nominations each. CBS's "The Bold and the Beautiful" nabbed nine nominations.

"Daytime television provides a source of comfort and continuity made possible by these nominees' dedicated efforts and sense of community," said Adam Sharp,  President & CEO of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. "Their commitment to excellence and demonstrated love for their audience never cease to brighten our days. And we are delighted to join with CBS in celebrating their talents."

The June 25 telecast marks the 15th time CBS has broadcast the Daytime Television Emmy Awards, more than any other network.

"As a leader in daytime, we are thrilled to welcome back the Daytime Emmy Awards," said Jack Sussman, Executive Vice President, Specials, Music and Live Events for CBS. "Daytime television has been keeping viewers engaged and entertained for many years. So it is with great pride that we look forward to celebrating the best of the genre here on CBS."

The nominees for the "48th Daytime Emmy Awards" in the soap categories are:

OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES

"The Bold and the Beautiful"

"Days of Our Lives"

"General Hospital"

"The Young and the Restless"

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR

Maurice Bernard (Sonny Corinthos, "General Hospital")

Steve Burton (Jason Morgan, "General Hospital")

Thorsten Kaye (Ridge Forrester, "The Bold and the Beautiful")

Wally Kurth (Justin Kiriakis, "Days of Our Lives")

Domenic Zamprogna (Dante Falconeri, "General Hospital")


OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR

Darin Brooks (Wyatt Spencer, "The Bold and the Beautiful")

Max Gail (Mike Corbin, "General Hospital")

Bryton James (Devon Hamilton, "The Young and the Restless")

Jeff Kober (Cyrus Renault, "General Hospital")

James Patrick Stuart (Valentin Cassadine, "General Hospital")

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS

Melissa Claire Egan (Chelsea Lawson, "The Young and the Restless")

Genie Francis (Laura Collins, "General Hospital")

Nancy Lee Grahn (Alexis Davis, "General Hospital")

Finola Hughes (Anna Devane, "General Hospital")

Jacqueline MacInnes Wood (Steffy Forrester, "The Bold and the Beautiful")


OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Marla Adams (Dina Mergeron, "The Young and the Restless")

Tamara Braun (Ava Vitali, "Days of Our Lives")

Carolyn Hennesy (Diane Miller, "General Hospital")

Briana Henry (Jordan Ashford, "General Hospital")

Courtney Hope (Sally Spectra, "The Bold and the Beautiful")


OUTSTANDING YOUNGER PERFORMER

Tajh Bellow (TJ Ashford, "General Hospital")

Victoria Konefal (Ciara Brady, "Days of Our Lives")

Alyvia Alyn Lind (Faith Newman, "The Young and the Restless")

Katelyn MacMullen (Willow Tait, "General Hospital")

Sydney Mikayla (Trina Robinson, "General Hospital")


OUTSTANDING GUEST PERFORMER

Kim Delaney (Jackie Templeton, "General Hospital")

George DelHoyo (Orpheus, "Days of Our Lives")

Briana Lane (Brook Lynn Ashton, "General Hospital)

Cady McClain (Jennifer Horton-Devereaux, "Days of Our Lives")

Victoria Platt (Dr. Amanda Raynor, "Days of Our Lives")

OUTSTANDING WRITING TEAM

"The Bold and the Beautiful"

"General Hospital"

"The Young and the Restless"


OUTSTANDING DIRECTING TEAM

"The Bold and the Beautiful"

"Days of Our Lives"

"General Hospital"

"The Young and the Restless"



Thursday, June 10, 2021

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 260, Connecticut Theatre News: Goodspeed Musicals



By James V. Ruocco

When Goodspeed Musicals officially kicks off its 2021 season this fall, you won't be seeing the oft-postponed revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein's classic 1949 Broadway musical "South Pacific" at the popular East Haddam venue. Not, to worry though.

You'll still get your Rodgers & Hammerstein's "fix" or "kick" when the curtain rises on "A Grand Night For Singing," a musical celebration of the music of Richard Rodgers and the lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II featuring songs from "The Sound of Music," "South Pacific," "Allegro," "The King and I" and other R & H musicals.
First performed on Broadway in 1993 at the now-defunct Criterion Center Stage Right, the two-act musical, directed by Walter Bobbie and choreographed by Pamela Sousa, was nominated for two Tony Awards - Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical. It starred Martin Vidnovic, Victoria Clark, Alyson Reed, Jason Graae and Lynne Wintersteller.

(A Long Awaited Welcome)

After 21 months of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Donna Lynn Hilton (Artistic Director of Goodspeed Musicals) is thrilled to be back in business after a very long absence. "We've experienced a rollercoaster of fear, disappointment and gratitude since March of 2020," she recalled. "First and foremost, we are grateful to the first responders, the front-line workers and the medical personnel whose work has brought us to this moment.

"We are thankful to finally share the good news that Goodspeed Musicals will reopen fully on September 24. We cannot wait to welcome audiences to once again enjoy one-of-a-kind theatre in our iconic home."

Per Hilton, the decision to drop "South Pacific" from the 2021 season and replace it with "A Grand Night For Singing" was fully justified for a number of reasons. "We must restart thoughtfully and ramp up slowly to ensure that Goodspeed remains secure for the long-term," she explained. " ' South Pacific' is one of the largest musicals that a theatre can undertake and it had become overwhelmingly clear that is was simply too big of a show for us to produce at this particular moment."

"Goodspeed is thrilled to welcome audiences back to the theater to enjoy 'A Grand Night for Singing' " added David B. Byrd (Managing Director for Goodspeed Musicals). "It's the perfect choice for Goodspeed at this moment. "It's a stylish, thoughtful reimagining of tunes from all of the Rodgers & Hammerstein shows we know by heart.

"Plus it's more modest size will enable us to continue to practice generally-accepted safety protocols developed with our union partners and outside experts."

(In the Director's Chair)

The two-act musical will be staged by audience and critic's favorite Rob Ruggiero (Artistic Director for TheaterWorks/Hartford) whose directorial credits include "Oliver!" "Next to Normal," "Showboat," "Fiddler on the Roof," "Rags," "American Son," "Evita," "Christmas on the Rocks" and "The Most Happy Fella."

It contains 35 songs from the Rodgers & Hammerstein songbook.

Act 1:
"Carousel Waltz" ("Carousel")
"So Far" ("Allegro")
"It's a Grand Night for Singing" ("State Fair")
"The Surrey with the Fringe on Top" ("Oklahoma!")
"Stepsisters' Lament" ("Cinderella")
"We Kiss in a Shadow" ("The King and I")
"Hello, Young Lovers" ("The King and I")
"A Wonderful Guy" ("South Pacific")
"I Cain't Say No" ("Oklahoma!")
"Maria" ("The Sound of Music")

"Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful" ("Cinderella")
"Honey Bun" ("South Pacific")
"The Gentleman Is a Dope" ("Allegro")
"Don't Marry Me" ("Flower Drum Song")
"I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" ("South Pacific")
"If I Loved You" ("Carousel")
"Shall We Dance?" ("The King and I")
"That's the Way It Happens" ("Me and Juliet")
"All At Once You Love Her" ("Pipe Dream")
"Some Enchanted Evening" ("South Pacific")

Act 2:
"Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin' " ("Oklahoma!")
"Wish Them Well" ("Allegro")
"The Man I Used to Be" ("Pipe Dream")
"It Might as Well Be Spring" ("State Fair")
"When the Children Are Asleep" ("Carousel")
"I Know It Can Happen" ("Allegro")
"My Little Girl" (Carousel")
"It's Me" ("Me and Juliet")


"Love, Look Away" ("Flower Drum Song")
"When You're Driving Through the Moonlight" ("Cinderella")
"A Lovely Night" ("Cinderella")
"Something Wonderful" ("The King and I")
"This Nearly Was Mine" ("South Pacific")
"Impossible" ("Cinderella")
"I Have Dreamed" ("The King and I")

"A Grand Night For Singing" will be staged at Goodspeed Musicals ( 6 Main St., East Haddam, CT) beginning September 24. Ticket prices start at $29 and will go on sale to the general public beginning June 24. For more information, call the Goodspeed box office at (860) 873-8668. The box office is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays, 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.


Monday, May 17, 2021

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 259: In the Spotlight: Tiffiney Spinks-Henry

By James V. Ruoccco

The name - Tiffiney Spinks-Henry - says it all.

Glamorous.
Welcoming.
Soulful.
Funky.
Charismatic.

The sound - hers, that is - is inspired, focused, confident, real and full of surprise. And that is exactly what puts Henry at the top of her game.

She loves to sing.
She loves to perform.
She loves being in front of an audience.
She loves to take chances.
She loves to be inspired.

In short, Tiffiney Spinks-Henry is a woman who wants to be heard.

She has great range.
She has great vocal power.
She knows how to sell a song.
She knows how to embrace a lyric and make it her own.
On stage or in the recording studio, her vocal musicality is natural, identifiable, incredible, unique and very, very special.

"I am a whole vibe!" she confesses. "I don't box myself into one specific genre. I am a multi-genre artist who offers my listeners a feeling and a vibe, not just a sound."

Case in point: Her sensational recording of Stevie Wonder's 1976 chart busting meg-a-hit "As."

When first released back in the '70s by Wonder, the song originally placed at #36 on Billboard's "Hot 100" and Black Singles Charts. A love song with a three-fold message, it celebrates a person's love for humanity and his or her beloved. It also pinpoints a special love for anyone who succumbs to the revelatory enchantment and spirit of  "As" and its marvelously detailed lyrics and orchestrations.

"I view Stevie Wonder as an icon and a legendary musical genius," Henry muses. "So to have permission to remake one of his songs (Henry's take on "As" has been recorded under the catchy title name of PhoenixFire Experience) was truly an honor and a blessing for me. His music is phenomenal and touches the soul of people."

Henry's new recording of "As" has pulse, drive, power and individuality.

"My song is on the radio," she happily reports. "You can hear it on 94.3 FM WYBC.

And that's not all.
"In the very near future, I will be going on a mini-US tour," she explains. "All details will be posted on my 'Facebook' page (Facebook.com/PhoenixFireDiva). I will also be putting out my EP this year so I will busy."

What thrills Henry most, of course, is her exciting, intimate connection between singer and audience.
It's a musical gift of high, natural energy and she plays it well with beauty, intimacy and sensuality. "A live audience gives real time energy back to me as I perform. I love to see the smiles, the head nodding and the body groovin' as I am performing.
"I perform two sets of music - up close and personal with a live band - which will include jazz, R&B and my new single. It's a guaranteed great night of soulful music."

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/phoenixfirediva.


Tuesday, May 11, 2021

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 258, A Concert Review: Christiane Noll: Coming Alive Again" (TheaterWorks/Hartford) (Goodspeed Musicals on Demand)


By James V. Ruocco

"Jekyll & Hyde."

"Next to Normal."  

"Ragtime."

"Dear Evan Hansen."

"Chaplin."

"The Sound of Music Live!"

"Urinetown."

"It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues."

"Elf."


The voice, the songs, the shows, the sound and the thrills belong to Christiane Noll, an actress and singer whose range, dramatic intensity and level of interpretation turn "Christiane Noll: Coming Alive Again" into a triumph of musical concert theatre that is savvy, assertive, edgy, jazzy and disarmingly frank.

Theatrically, it evokes intimate memories and up-to-date info about the singer's long career, her charismatic stage presence, her head-on quest for survival as wife, mother and entertainer during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, her adoration for Broadway show music and finally, her love of being in front of an audience - live, or in this case, the people who are watching her at home on their televisions, computers, mobile apps or lap tops.

"Quarantine has done wonders for me," she confesses. "Age is a state of being and I am younger than I have been for years. I have slept a lot. I have drank a lot of water. And I have spent every waking moment with my family and our new dog.
"Yes, we have officially become a Covid cliche."


Regardless, work matters to Noll and here, in a concert, co-produced by TheaterWorks/Hartford and Goodspeed Musicals, she maintains that vocal magnificence and style that has categorized her work in show after show - "Jekyll & Hyde," "Next to Normal," "Dear Evan Hansen," to name a few - performance after performance, concert after concert.

She's sincere.
She's humble.
She's alternatively mischievous.
She's instinctive.
She's sentimental.
She's thankful.
She's in a class by her herself.

And "Christiane Noll: Coming Alive Again" is living proof that the singer is here to stay - now, forever, always.

The marvelous musicality that belongs to Noll is calibrated with vigor and consumptive welcoming by Rob Ruggiero who has also directed the actress in TheaterWorks' award-winning 2017 staging of the Broadway musical "Next to Normal." Here, Ruggiero, once again, is in his element, offering completely intimate staging that is fast, fluid and personable. Like Noll, he too adores show music and adopts a refreshingly open virtuosity and smoothness that gives this 65-minute concert its snap, bite and sweetly casual style and lyricism. He allows Noll to do her thing, using close ups, long shots and choice, often candid techniques that heighten the concert's momentum without ever missing a beat.  It all makes perfect sense even when Noll numbs her feelings with reactions, words and heartfelt pieces of information that are both revelatory and confessional. 

Musical direction for "Christiane Noll: Coming Alive Again" is provided by pianist/conductor William Waldrop whose credits include "The Phantom of the Opera," "Cats," "Evita," "Fiddler on the Roof," "Cinderella" and "Grey Gardens." For this go-round, there is a depth of feeling and gratitude to his work - sensuous, free, observant, nostalgic - matched by a fully formed sensitivity, beauty and technique that serves the material well. Nothing is taken for granted or underplayed here. Everything that Noll sings is driven and accurately executed with fully weighted worthiness, energy, pulse and balance.

With able assist from band members Sean Rubin (bass), Billy Bivona (guitar/French horn), Celeste Cumming (cello) and Jonathan Barber (drums), Waldrop addresses Noll's song choices from "Hello, Dolly!" "Follies," "Next to Normal," "Fun Home" and "Grey Gardens," among others, with apt, confident imagination that captures her complete range of feelings, mood swings, thoughts and emotions.  It's all played with unhurried charm, focus, passion, fury and life-changing fiesta that makes you sit up and listen, smile and applaud every musical moment and turn. And yes, you'll want to hit "Replay" time and time again.

The song list Noll has chosen for her concert of Broadway show music is eclectic, driven, personable, dynamic and memorable.

"Before the Parade Passes By" from "Hello, Dolly!"
"Don't Look at Me," "In Buddy's Eyes," "Losing My Mind" from "Follies."
"Anybody Have a Map" from "Dear Evan Hansen."
"To Build a Home" from "The Bridges of Madison County."
"Getting Married Today" from "Company."
"I Miss the Mountains" from "Next to Normal."
"The Revolutionary Costume for Today" from "Grey Gardens."
"Welcome to Our House on Maple Avenue" from "Fun Home."
"Smiling" from "Jagged Little Pill."
"For Good" from "Wicked."
"Everybody Says Don't" from "Anyone Can Whistle."
"We Can Never Go Back to Before" from "Ragtime."
"Move On" from "Sunday in the Park With George."
"Once Upon a Dream" from "Jekyll & Hyde."

No matter what she sings, Noll's vocal versatility, aching abandonment and rich soprano phrasing and intensity always leaves you wanting more. Her command of different musical styles - Sondheim, Herman, Wildhorn - is both wildly impressive and engaging. She knows how to sell a song and make it her own. She takes chances and runs with them. She is full of surprise. She completely understands what the composer and lyricist is communicating through song. She instinctively knows how to position her concert line-up of material by picking songs that follow each other well and flow seamlessly. She can do pop torch, belt, sentiment or sensuous-tinged rhythm at the drop of a hat. Her self-assurance and confidence impresses as does her in-the-moment rawness and truthfulness. She is also a magnificent storyteller and conversationalist, framed here mostly through scenes filmed inside the turn-of-the-century theater environs at Goodspeed Musicals.

"Christiane Noll: Coming Alive Again" is an alluring, tuneful mix of wonderful showtunes and performance that celebrates musical theatre with satisfying sounds, intelligent navigation, a well-rounded menu of Broadway classics and standards and an emotionally honest sincerity that's impossible to resist. With Christiane Noll center stage, you get a singer and entertainer whose voice is as smooth and exhilarating as any melodic line of music. As musical theatre, this event is not only an opportunity to get up close and personal with the singer, but one that effectively masterminds her musical brilliance, her ability to connect with an audience and finally, one that allows her to fill the soundstage with genuine emotion, spirit and healing in these very troubled pandemic times.


"Christiane Noll: Coming Alive Again" is being streamed online, now through May 30, 2021. Tickets are $25 plus a $3 service charge. To book the event, visit TheaterWorks/Hartford at twhartford.org or Goodspeed Musicals at goodspeed.org (proceeds for the event will be shared between both theaters) and click "Buy Tickets." A "Virtual Watch" link will be sent to the email you provided during checkout. You have 72 hours to watch the production.