Friday, August 5, 2016

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 9: Hartford Bushnell's 2016-2017 Broadway Season

By James V. Ruocco

New Haven's Shubert Theater is quickly veering toward "an instant death" (their new season confirms this), but the Bushnell, in glorious Hartford, CT, right next to the Palace (oops, I mean the State Capitol)  of drippy Gov. Dan Malloy, is alive and well, with, no pun intended, "the sound of millions....(oops, here we go again), "the sound of music."
"I'm thrilled the staff at the Bushnell has put together an exciting and well-rounded season of high-quality entertainment," boasts David Fay, Hartford Bushnell President and CEO. "There is so much to appeal to families, Broadway traditionalists and those who enjoy contemporary theatrical offerings.
"I think our season ticket holders and single ticket buyers will be very happy with these award-winning selections."
Fay speaks the truth.
Year after year, the Bushnell and its staff  has given their loyal subscribers, audiences and first-time theatergoers "the best of the best." The 2016-2017 Broadway season is no different. It puts, or shall I say, keeps, this prestigious theater in the number one spot (did you expect otherwise?), far ahead of its musical theatre competitors, many of whom should be embarrassed by their upcoming shoddy theatrical fare including Waterbury's Palace Theater and the Shubert in New Haven.
My advice: Put your money where it counts and head directly to Hartford, CT.
I know I am.

If/Then (Aug. 3-7)

For newly divorced Elizabeth (12 years of marriage down the drain), a move to New York City means, a fresh start. That is, a fresh start on life. a fresh start on romance, a fresh start in the workplace. I mean, when you think about it, who wouldn't want to begin again? I know I would.
"If/Then," the musical brainchild of "Next to Normal" writers Tom Kitt and Brian Yonkey, takes it cue from the parallel worlds of 1998's "Sliding Doors." Therefore, the "what if? concept of Elizabeth's journey takes two different paths as the character assumes a double identity.
The production, which originally starred Idina Menzel ("Rent," "Wicked") on Broadway and the first leg of the national tour (sorry folks, Idina has left the building), includes a snappy, serviceable score, great climactic laments, a leading lady you can't take your eyes off of plus an assorted bunch of straight, gay, lesbian and bisexual characters. Remember, this is New York City...not Topeka, Kansas.

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder (Oct. 25-30)

Winner of the 2014 Tony Award for Best Musical, "A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder," originally premiered at Hartford Stage, then moved to San Diego's Old Globe Theatre before traveling on to Broadway and a national tour.
The production, set in Edwardian England, circa 1907, hilariously parodies "the gentlemanly art of murder and bloodshed," which, strange as this sounds, is played out in acerbic gory detail against the backdrop of a British musical hall.
A music hall?
Yes, really.
The game of murder, so to speak, unfolds through the eyes of one man (ie, a distant heir to the family fortune), who decides to "inherit it all" by eliminating the eight pesky relatives who stand in his way.
But wait, there's more.
All eight characters (very noble and very, very English) are played by the same actor.  Bruce Jenner....I mean Caitlin the understudy.....Just kidding, but you have to admit, Jenner would look absolutely stunning in all those stylish Edwardian gowns.

An American in Paris (Nov. 15-20)

 Inspired by the Oscar-winning 1951 film starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, "An American in Paris," is set in the city of love at the end of World War II. Here, an American soldier finds himself smitten by a beautiful but mysterious French ballerina, who, for giggly plot purposes, is promised to another.
Oh, well, you get the picture. Love, hate, deception, sacrifice, art, ballet, etc. But two hours later, the couple (and the audience) get their "happy ending " as boy and girl meet by the river Seine and walk off into the dreamy Paris moonlight.
The George & Ira Gershwin score ( "il est magnifique pourrait-on dire") features one great song after the other: "But Not for Me," "I Got Rhythm," "S Wonderful," "I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise," "They Can't Take That Away from Me," "Liza," "An American in Paris," "The Man I Love," "I've Got Beginner's Luck," "Who Cares?" and "For You, For Me, Forever More." What's not to love!

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Dec. 27-Jan. 1, 2017)

This Olivier/Tony-Award winning play tells the compelling, hypnotic story of 15-year-old Christopher Boone, an autistic young man determined to find out who killed his neighbor's dog. But there is more to playwright Simon Stephens' murder mystery than just a boy with behavioral issues casting himself as a Scotland yard-like sleuth.
Though Boone's eyes, this whodunit explores man's perception of the world, its fears, its truths, its horrors, its idiosyncrasies, its mysteries, its magic and its wonders. This curiosity also allows the playwright and production team to thrust the audience inside Christopher's mind, using various special effects, lighting, colors, geometrics,  props, codes, sounds and jolts to experience events exactly as he does. Bloody brilliant, if you ask me.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical (Jan. 17-22, 2017)

The early life and career of songwriter Carole King is lovingly retraced in this "jukebox musical, which uses songs she wrote with husband Gerry Goffin, among others, to tell her story.
"Beautiful" is set in 1959 when King was 17 and pregnant and married to Goffin. In the 10 years that follow, we get to hear lots of song classics, including "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," "Natural Woman," "Up on the Roof," "You Got a Friend," "Take Care of my Baby," "Walking in the Rain" and One Fine Day."
We also get a very real, emotional story, which moved, the real King to tears when she saw the musical about her life for the very first time. And yes, she loved it because, in her words, it "was told so compellingly."

The Book of Mormon (Feb. 14-19, 2017)

Uganda.....not Salt Lake City is the setting for "The Book of Mormon," an offbeat, off-the-wall musical that gets high marks for its absurdity, vulgarity, obscenities, religious malice and celebrated uniqueness.
Created by "South Park's" Trey Baker and Matt Stone, the actual story, so to speak, charts the valiant efforts to two goody-goody Mormon missionaries as they desperately try to convert the citizens of Uganda to the Mormon religion.
Winner of the 2011 Tony Award for Best Musical, "The Book of Mormon" is not for the faint of heart as it deviously pokes fun at smiling door-to-door Mormons, their 190-year-old Mormon religion, Jesus Christ, Darth Vader, Yoda, sexual liaisons, sacrilege, AIDS, dysentery, "The Lion King," "The King and I," "The Sound of Music" and just about everything else. Its use of four-letter words is absolutely hilarious.

Jersey Boys (March 22-26, 2017)

Looking back, they were just four guys from New Jersey anxious to form a band and hook up with the ladies. But when they sang their very first note, Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons had a sound nobody had ever heard before.
The fans went wild. The radio stations went wild. The entire music industry went wild. And the rest, as they say, is history. Well, not quite.
This Tony award-winning musical also retraces the group's bad marriages, the rivalries, the backstage egos, the drugs, the mob connections, the break ups, the encores, etc.
At the center, of course, is the music:  "Sherry," “Big Girls Don’t Cry," “Walk Like A Man," "Can’t Take My Eyes Off You," "Working My Way Back to You," "Rag Doll," "Dawn (Go Away)," "Fallen Angel," "C'mon Marianne" and "My Eyes Adored You."

The King and I (May 30-June 4, 2017)

The musical plot is simple enough: Anna Leonowens, a smart, often outspoken British schoolteacher is hired by the King of Siam to teach his wives and children "the western ways of the world " to help modernize his country. But as the story continues, a love develops between King and teacher that neither can admit.
Today, of course, all of this sounds especially hokey and saccharine, but this reimagined version of the 1951 Broadway classic, is anything but gooey. As seen through the eyes of the very-brilliant Bartlett Sher (yes, he is the same guy who directed plays at Hartford Stage), this revival unfolds with the just the right amount of epic sweep, color, magic and underlying wit to thrust it into the 21st century. In short, it is a theatrical masterpiece.
It runs three hours and contains all those much-loved Rodgers and Hammerstein songs “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Getting to Know You,” "Hello, Young Lovers," Something Wonderful," “Shall We Dance," "I Have Dreamed" and "We Kiss in a Shadow." Bartlett also restores the often-cut, but wonderfully acerbic "Western People Funny."

Fun Home (June 20-25)

Alison Bechdel's 2006 best-selling memoir "Fun Home" is the basis for this spirited, innovative musical about her troubled relationship with her homosexual father, a man whose gay affairs were with young men below the age of consent; her coming out as a lesbian; and her evolution into a very prominent lesbian cartoonist.
Winner of five Tony Awards, including Best Musical 2015, "Fun Home" is not told in not chronological order. Instead,  Alison's story, or should I say stories, is staged in the round (a visually effective directorial choice ) as interwoven memories, events and revelations. Ms. Bechdel's character is played by not just one, but three very talented actresses of varying ages.
“I do understand that there’s a difference between the play and my life," Bechdel explains, "but it is a very strange and permeable boundary. It’s some kind of hall-of-mirrors thing. There’s been this strange feedback effect.”

Tickets prices for the Bushnell's Broadway series are $25.50 to $96.50 depending on the production.
Performances are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays.
For tickets or more information, call (860) 987-5900.

(Jim Ruocco welcomes your comments. You can contact him at


From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 8: Watertown's Chris McKenna Guests Stars on CBS Hit Comedy "Mom"

By James V. Ruocco

Believe it or not, I have never seen the CBS sitcom "Mom" starring Emmy-nominated Allison Janney and Anna Faris.
It's not that I don't like sit-com's. I do.
I like them every much.
But given my work schedule, my allegiance to British television (or, telly, as they say) and a very active social life, I too, must draw the line.
This fall, however, all that's about to change, CBS.
For one night, anyway.
When "Mom" kicks off its fourth season on Oct. 27th, I'll be watching "LIVE" or set my DVR to record the long-running sit-com.
I have a very good season.
Chris McKenna (formally of Watertown, CT, now living and working in L.A.) is going to be featured is the very first episode of the new season.
Rehearsals for McKenna began earlier this week on the Warner Brothers lot in L.A.

"Jill brings Christy to an upscale AA meeting to try and help her meet guys," explains McKenna during a rehearsal break. "It seems to be working as my character, Derek, approaches Christy and they begin to flirt. Then Jill cuts in and they start to bicker over me until it gets too awkward and I beg my leave."
Working on the sit-com has been an absolute blast for McKenna, who thoroughly enjoys the entire rehearsal/filming process.
"It's so much fun doing multicam shows in general. It's the only medium in tv where there is an element of theater. I have a constant longing for the stage so I enjoy it immensely. There couldn't be a nicer, happier, more talented bunch of actors in a cast and director Jamie Widdoes is such a sweetheart.

"So is Chuck Lorre. Great, supportive people on top clearly trickles down to the cast and crew. It's s great set. We'll be rehearsing and they'll be rewriting and making small adjustments to the script all week leading up to tape night, which I'm looking forward to."

When filming wraps, it's off to Portland, Oregon for McKenna, who has just "inked" a recurring role on NBC's "Grimm," which returns to the Peacock network this fall.

The actor will play Lt. Grossante, a military-type cop who interacts with some of the other characters on "Grimm." 

"Very excited to be joining the cast of 'Grimm,' " says McKenna. “More details as I get em!”

"Grimm" returns for its sixth season on NBC this October 28.


Shopping for Fall and Winter...Let Me Be Your Guide)
Let's strategize.
First, plan a budget: $5,000-$10,000.
Next, check your American Express card balance and credit limit.
Or simply, go to the bank and make a withdrawal.

Then, take a day off from work.
And finally, indulge yourself with a day-long shopping spree, pausing every now and then for a drink, a lunch break, another round of drinks and finally, when your done, a fine dinner at one of your favorite restaurants.
I learned this "shopping trick" from my parents, grandmother, sister and aunts and uncles. Trust me: It works splendidly and you'll have a great time. Just don't over do the cocktails. You don't want to trip or fall...head first on the floor of your favorite store or boutique.

That said, let's move on to business.
To get you started, I've comprised a few "fashion tips" to help make your experience even more exciting and more profitable.
Simply follow my advice, ignore your best friends, your family, your wives, husbands, partners and your gay, lesbian and transgender confidantes. They just get in the way.
Shop alone. Trust your instincts. And indulge.

The key to dressing right is... not how much you spend on clothing, but how you wear it, how you feel when you wear it  and knowing exactly what looks right on you. First and foremost, fashion is an extension of yourself, your personality, your lifestyle and the statement you choose to make. That's it, in a nutshell.  Trust me, I speak the truth.


Therefore, when buying clothes, one must be aware that what looks good in the adverts, in magazines or in store windows, may not work for you, depending on your body type. So take notice...Just look in the mirror....and go from there. It's all fairly easy when you put your mind to it.
To start, find the right color and the ideal color combination that fits the entire picture, from top to bottom. Experiment. Try clothes on. Never buy from a catalogue. And don't go overboard. You don't want to look like a clown, a caricature from a Fellini film or something out of a freak show. Think smart, not trendy. Trends almost always, never last.

Essential to your look is the right tailoring. If you buy something off the rack, make sure it fits properly. Adjustments are often necessary, even the subtle ones. For the best look, however, pick a store like Brooks Brothers, Gieves & Hawkes or Ralph Lauren that has an in-house tailor. It makes all the difference in the world.

Lastly, make sure the salesperson you're working with knows exactly what he or she is talking about.
In the long run, it's all about you....not the price or the sales commission.

Recommended stores: Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, Burberry, Nordstrom, J. Crew, Abercrombie & Fitch, Giorgio Armani,  Ermengildo Zenga, Bergdorf Goodman, Gieves & Hawkes, Paul Stuart, Ascot Chang and Valentino.

(My New Restaurant Column is Coming This Fall)

I was hoping to launch my new Connecticut-based restaurant review column before the close of summer, but I'm still undecided about which restaurant to pick for the premiere edition, the cuisine of choice, the actual location and lastly, the pricing and ambiance.

Believe me, I like to dine out as much as possible, picking and choosing favorite places to eat or revisit, in much the same way as my parents did.
And since this is Connecticut, there are hundreds of places to choose from.
Do I kick off the column in Greenwich, then, venture on to Westport and Darien? Do I revisit some of my favorite places in Litchfield, Woodbury and Southbury? Do I take suggestions from friends and co-workers and travel to Mystic, Noank, Bristol, Cheshire and Middlebury?  Or do I just jump in the car, hit the highway and "Go."

Until a decision is made, I've comprised a "special list" of restaurants I hope to review, some of which, I've been to "many times" and "others" I plan on visiting for the very first time.

The list: (in no particular order)

l’escale, Greenwich
Union League Café, New Haven
121 Restaurant at Oxford Airport, Oxford
Max's Oyster Bar, West Hartford
Crab Shell, Stamford
The Village Restaurant, Litchfield
The White Horse Country Pub, Washington

The Wharf Restaurant at the Madison Beach Hotel, Madison
The Whelk, Westport
Arethusa al tavalo, Bantam
Barcelona Restaurant, Fairfield
The Restaurant at Rowayton Seafood, Rowayton
The L Restaurant, Middlebury
Oscar's Delicatessen, Westport
Carol Peck's Good News Cafe, Woodbury

Canoe Club, Middletown
South End, New Canaan
Sign of the Whale, Stamford
Abis Japanese Traditional Restaurant, Greenwich
Antonio's on the Green, Southbury
The Goose, Darien
Centro at the Mill, Greenwich
Library Wine Bar & Bistro, Wallingford
Blue Oar, Haddam

Rive Bistro, Westport
John's Café, Woodbury
Sucre Sale, Ridgefield
West Street Grill, Litchfield
O'Connor's Public House, Torrington
Stonehenge, Ridgefield
Arugula, West Hartford
Fresh Salt at the Saybrook Point Inn, Saybrook
Apricots Restaurant & Pub, Farmington

Blue Lemon, Westport
L’Orcio, New Haven
Market Place Kitchen and Bar, Woodbury
Darien Social, Darien
Ceviche Latin Kitchen, Middlebury
Ichiro Hibachi & Sushi, West Hartford
RSVP, , West Cornwall, CT
Village Bistro, Milford
Crave, Ansonia
Fin Japanese Restaurant, Fairfield
Watch Factory Restaurant, Cheshire
Abbott’s Lobster in the Rough, Noank

By now, you're probably saying, "that's some list". Or "Good God, that's a lot of food for Jim to eat."
Not to worry.
I've done restaurant reviews before. And I didn't gain a single pound. I actually lost weight.
It's true. I did.
The trick, of course, is not to over indulge. And simply, take things in moderation.   
"Queens for a Year" Debuts at Hartford Stage This September)

Hartford Stage kicks off its 2016-2017 season on Sept. 8th with the world premiere presentation of  "Queens for a Year," directed Lucie Tiberghien. Written by T.D. Mitchell, the production traces the unexpected homecoming of a young Marine Corps Officer who returns to Virginia, accompanied by an even younger female Lance Corporal.

Set in 2007, the actual story unfolds through the eyes of four generations of women, all of whom served in the Marine Corps. Eventually, a clash ensues (we expected this) over what really happened. Vacation? Sexual awakening? Hmmmmm. Surprisingly, "Queens for a Year" is about so much more.

"The female experience in the Marine Corps was especially interesting to me dramatically," says the playwright, "because it has the smallest percentage of enlisted females and is considered the most “male” of the military branches."
"Queens for a Year" runs Sept. 8 through Oct. 2.
Performances are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Matinees are 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays.
Tickets are $16-$81
For more information, call 860-527-5151.

(Jim Ruocco welcomes your comments. You can contact him at