Tuesday, February 27, 2018

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 64, A Review: "Murder on the Orient Express" (Hartford Stage)

By James V. Ruocco

In the stage version of "Murder on the Orient Express," legendary detective Hercule Poirot must find a killer on the loose in a carriage of first-class passengers and train personnel, each, of course, having a possible motive or two, a cleverly constructed back story, a suitcase chock full of lies, deceit and false alibis and a passport that may or may not contain the traveler's real name. In short, no one can be trusted.

Anyone familiar with the whodunit genre knows that Poirot, genius that he is, will solve the crime and bring the murderer to justice. That said, the story, nonetheless, carries the intensity and scope the original Agatha Christie conceit allows, offset by enough campiness, drama and schematics to make you want to grab yourself a ticket at the OE station and join Poirot for the ride.

At Hartford Stage, the train ride itself, i.e., the actual stage production, is a joy to behold much like the Orient Express itself. It's opulent. It's grand. It's showy. It's fun. It's flavorful. It's exotic. It's also a decidedly perfect throwback to yesteryear, bathed in warm, tantalizing nostalgia that's impossible to resist.  I, for one, can't wait to see it again.

This edition of "Murder on the Orient Express" is being directed by Emily Mann who originally staged the production back in 2017 at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, New Jersey. Anxious to thrill, excite and titillate, she crafts a dazzling, swiftly paced murder mystery at Hartford Stage that never once derails or stops dead in its tracks. She has great fun with the story. She has great fun with the characters. She has great fun with Ken Ludwig's deliciously wicked and quirky script. And she has great fun with the audience if only because you never exactly know what's up her sleeve or what she's going to throw out at you to keep you merrily off balance.

Yes, this is a whodunit. And yes, the list of suspects are rife with clues, deceits, motives, rituals, explanations, pretenses, lies and surprise twists. Still, you are asked to play detective along with Poirot. And you and you alone are forced to play the game, solve the crime and  decide who's the murderer and decide whether or not he or she is guilty. And whether or not he or she was acting alone.

If you've seen the 1974 film with Albert Finny, Lauren Bacall, Jacqueline Bisset and Ingrid Berman or the sumptuous 2017 remake starring Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz and Johnny Depp, then, you already know the answers. Regardless, this "Murder on the Orient Express" is such exhilarating fun, you eagerly forget the actual whodunit ending, settle back in your seat and act as if you're seeing this Agatha Christie thriller for the very first time.

Working from Ludwig's cheeky script, Mann delivers a production that is fast, fluid and cinematic in its approach to theatrical storytelling. She handles the material with the care and calculation of a  bonified  murder mystery buff. But she doesn't go overboard or misstep the whodunit genre just for the sake of laughter, drama or characterization. From start to finish, this is a very focused, cleverly orchestrated production.

The genius of this "Murder on the Orient Express" comes from the fact that Mann's production is gift wrapped in charm, razzle-dazzle, sparkle, whimsy, pathos, virtuoso and wonderful splashes of color including a gleaming, shiny silver and very rich, seductive crimson. Everything falls into place nicely from the strategically placed black curtains that open, close and frame the impending action of the actual train that moves, stops, or shifts back and forth to reveal the next scene backed by some smart lighting, sound and music cues. And let's not forget the splendid period costumes which reflect a bygone era of lushness, glamour and sophistication.

"Murder on the Orient Express" stars David Pittu as Hercule Poirot,  Julie Halston as Helen Hubbard, Veanne Cox as Princess Dragomiroff, Susannah Hoffman as Mary Debenham, Leigh Ann Larkin as Countess Andrenyi, Charles Paul Mihaliak as Army Officer and Porter, Samantha Steinmetz as Greta Ohlsson, Ian Bedford as Col. Arbuthnot and Ratchett, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Michel and Head Waiter, Juha Sorola as Hector MacQueen and Evan Zes as Monsieur Bouc.

In a play such as this one, casting is everything. And Mann has assembled an impressive, dynamic line up of actors and actresses who have as much fun acting out this amazing whodunit as we do watching them. Everyone acts and emotes at the top of their considerable form. Nothing looks rehearsed or out of place. Everyone completely understands the murder mystery genre and their role in the actual telling of the story. They also know how to shift blame, look guilty and lead the audience astray with false hopes and possible clues. And with Mann as guide and instructor, they completely forget it's 2018 outside and remain totally in sync with the play's 1930's setting, language, melodrama, mannerisms, language, stylization and period whimsy.

"Murder on the Orient Express" is a thrilling, exciting production that abounds with beauty, class, wit, sarcasm, intelligence and imagination. The script by Ken Ludwig is chock full of splendid witticisms, characters, dialogue and surprises. Emily Mann's direction is wonderfully inspired. The entire cast is simply amazing. The design team has created a three-dimensional work that is gorgeous to look at. And the story itself, is enjoyable enough to make you call the box-office the next morning to book seats for a return engagement or two.

"Murder on the Orient Express" is being performed at Hartford Stage (50 Church St., Hartford, CT), now through March 25.
For tickets or more information, call (860) 527-5151
website: hartfordstage.org

Sunday, February 25, 2018

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 63, A Review: "Proof" (TheaterWorks/New Milford)

By James V. Ruocco

(What is the story of "Proof?")

"Proof," as written by David Aubrun, questions and ponders the actual authorship of an actual mathematical proof. In theory, a proof must demonstrate that the statement being made is always true rather than just a conjecture.
That said, the two-act play abounds with ripe, pungent dialogue that addresses theorems, axioms, rules of inference along with several examples of exhaustive deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning and cleverly constructed empirical arguments. The good news is that you don't have to be a mathematician to digest all of this. Aubrun uses language and situations that is very understandable.

Still, there is much, much  more to this intriguing character piece than mathematics. Here, the playwright addresses several issues: mental illness, depression, sibling rivalry, education, teaching, student/professor relationships, death, education, financial burdens, hate, love, sexual attraction, laziness, evolution, the story of life, etc.

It all comes together nicely because, first and foremost, the playwright is both storyteller and entertainer. He knows how to create a line of dialogue, situation or character exchange that will pique your interest. He knows how to create a punch line and cheeky bit of banter and how to use it effectively. He knows how to create characters and how to make them pop. He also knows how to thrust the action of a play forward naturally without any complication or theatrical tricks. Here, in "Proof " you get a story about real people with real emotions.

(Directing and Staging "Proof") 

"Proof " director Frank Arcaro, who made his TheatreWorks directorial debut in late 2016 with Noel Coward's decidedly cheeky hit comedy "Private Lives" is a creative talent who enjoys, understands and acknowledges the entire rehearsal to opening night stage process. He's a passionate auteur who loves to take hold of a script, supervise his actors, listen to their creative wishes and desires and whip everything into shape without any sort of rehearsed feel or calculation.
Here, we get a very passionate work that fascinates, surprises and often leaves us breathless. Yes, this is a very talky, imaginative play where you have to listen or want to listen for fear you might miss something important if you blink, turn away or lose focus. With Arcaro calling the directorial shots, luckily, that never happens. He is attuned to every nuance, beat and emotion that playwright David Aubrun jump starts and he seamlessly navigates the entire piece with the creativity, wit, sensation and pulse intended by the playwright. Well done, Mr. Arcaro.

(The Cast of "Proof')

"Proof" stars Anna Fagan as Catherine, Carey Van Hollen as Claire, Viv Berger as Robert and Daniel Basiletti as Hal. Because all four are so very right for the parts they have been asked to portray, the actual material allows them to take their place in the spotlight and act and emote at the top of their considerable form.  Nothing looks rehearsed. Nothing looks out of place. Nothing fall flat.
The brilliance of David Aubrun's dialogue rings loud and clear. The beats, pauses, exchanges and breaks unfold naturally. And when it comes time for a few heated jolts, surprises and jibes, this tremendously talented quartet of actors gives us 110 per cent...and then some.

(The Design Team)

The design team for "Proof" is comprised of Frank Arcaro (set design), Leif Smith (lighting design) and John Gromada (original music and sound design). All three are totally in sync with the feel, look, style and mood of the piece. The actual design work, both individual or collective, is flawless. And if this creative process is any indication of what lies ahead from production to production, then TheatreWorks is in very, very capable hands.

(In Conclusion...)

Proof" is the first play of TheatreWorks exciting 2018 season, which includes Arthur Miller's "All My Sons" and "Young Frankenstein" by Mel Brooks. It is a poignant, cheeky, intimate work that is charged with just the right feeling and compassion. The dialogue itself is deft, important and flavorful. The "Proof" design team keeps things in theatrical/performance perspective. The four-member cast is ovation worthy. And director Frank Arcaro brings a confident, effortless ease to the actual telling of the piece that lingers long after the play has ended.

"Proof" is being staged at TheatreWorks/New Milford (5 Brookside Ave., New Milford, CT), now through March 10.
For tickets or more information, call (860) 350-6863.
website: theatreworks.us

Friday, February 23, 2018

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 62, A Review: "Intimate Apparel" (Playhouse on Park)

By James V. Ruocco

Lynn Nottage's "Intimate Apparel" is one of those beautifully rendered, understated plays that benefits largely from its subtleties, silences, emotions, truths, openness  and accumulative tenderness. It is also a richly textured work filled with plenty of heart and soul, which is something the playwright gracefully acknowledges and explores in all of her works including "Crumbs from the Table of Joy," "Poof!" and the Pulitzer prize-winning drama "Ruined."

Set in New York City, circa 1905, the actual play is based, in part, on the real-life story of her great grandmother (she is called Esther here), a proud, fiercely determined black seamstress (mainly, corsets, undergarments and lingerie) who, while longing for love and marriage, begins letter correspondence with a Barbadian immigrant (in the play, he is named George) she eventually marries.
The fact that she can neither read and write doesn't stop her either. In the play, the actual letters are written by two of her loyal clients: a black, hardscrabble prostitute (Mayme) and a talky, unhappily married white society woman (Mrs. Van Buren), who want to help her fulfill her dreams, wishes and desires.

The beauty of Playhouse on Park's earnest and poignant production of "Intimate Apparel" comes from Dawn Loveland Navarro's steadied, deft direction. Up front, this is a long, well-thought out play with detailed passages of dialogue that have been masterfully weaved throughout the piece by Nottage. It is also one of those plays were every word, every pause, every character exchange is important to the advancement and telling of the story. Therefore, you have to listen for fear of missing something very important and integral to the piece. And secondly, you want to listen because there is a poetic beauty and rawness to the dialogue similar to that of "Fences," "A Raisin in the Sun" and "A Lesson From Aloes."

Staging the two-act drama, Navarro creates a moving, intimate character piece that unfolds naturally without any force or artificiality. The stage movement is simple and expressionistic. The scene changes are fast and fluid without ever once putting a dent in the progression of the storytelling. Everything that happens has a purpose and a reason. The small yet magical Playhouse on Park stage also allows its audience to experience a warm and tender closeness with the actors, which, in a play of this context, heightens its velocity, allure and pathos.

And finally, because the actual play is based upon the life of Nottage's actual great grandmother, Navarro has a vast trunk of material to work with and shape to the point where it actually resembles a life-like scrapbook memoir. It is all very beautiful, very relevant and remarkably universal.

In the role of Esther, a part that seems tailor-made for Darlene Hope, the actress renders a performance that feels so natural and lived in, it's almost as if this beautifully animated character is an extension of herself. It's uncanny, yes. But it's ever so beautiful, especially since we spend nearly three hours with the actress (she rarely leaves the stage) watching her make every line of dialogue and expression so fresh, so honest and so beautifully positioned, we never once get the feeling we are watching a play. With Hope front and center, it's all very, very real....and then some.

The casting of Beethovan Oden as Hope's leading man is a stroke of genius. As George, he is charming, sexy and vulnerable without any sort of overkill. He's a man's man straight out of the period, in which the play is firmly set and established. His command of character and its development is soft, edgy, vulnerable, troubled and fractured.  And there's an absolute freshness and gentility to his performance, which makes his work both commanding and ovation worthy.

In the role of Mr. Marks, an Orthodox Jewish fabric merchant Esther uses as her primary supplier, the enigmatic Ben MacLaughlin delivers a rich, focused portrayal of a man torn between his religion and an impossible romance, which he must deliberately deny, despite strong feelings for a woman he knows he will never have. A fine actor, he also imbues his character with a quite strength and dignity which heightens his role in Esther's story.

Other fine performances are given by Anna Laura Strider as Mrs. Van Buren, Zuri Eshun as Mayme and Xenia Gray as Mrs. Dickson.

"Intimate Apparel" is a production that is rife with beauty, intelligence and imagination. Its thoughts and characters are artfully rendered. The acting choices of the entire cast are amazingly astute and real. And the story itself, as envisioned by acclaimed playwright Lynn Nottage, is one that will lodge in your mind and heart long after the play has ended for many weeks to come.

"Intimate Apparel" is being staged at Playhouse on Park (244 Park Rd., West Hartford, CT), now through March 4.
For tickets ore more information, call (860) 523-5900.
website: playhouseonpark.org.

Friday, February 16, 2018

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 61: The Best of the Year: Theater 2017, Part 8 (The Sherman Playhouse)

By James V. Ruocco

The Sherman Playhouse is a diverse theater company where actors, directors and technical design teams teams come together to produce great work under the community theater banner,

No games. No tricks. No theatrics.

Just real theater by skilled individuals who love theater and love the thrill of live performance.

The Best of the Year, Theater 2017, Part 8

(The Sherman Playhouse, 5 Rt. 39 North, Sherman, CT)

"Dark of the Moon"

Best Play: "Dark of the Moon" (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Actor in a Play: John Squires ( John in "Dark of the Moon") (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Actress in a Play: Kate Morris (Barbara Allen in "Dark of the Moon")  (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Supporting Actor in a Play: Michael Wright (Preacher Haggler in "Dark of the Moon") (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Supporting Actor in a Play: John Fabiani (Conjure Man in "Dark of the Moon")  (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Supporting Actor in a Play: Patrick Kelly (Marvin Hudgens in "Dark of the Moon") (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Supporting Actress in a Play: Katherine Almquist (Conjure Woman on "Dark of the Moon") (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Supporting Actress in a Play: Phair Elizabeth Haldin (Fair Witch in "Dark of the Moon") (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Supporting Actress in a Play: Jessica Gleason (Dark Witch in "Dark of the Moon") (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Direction of a Play: Robin Frome ("Dark of the Moon") (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Set Design:  Robin Frome ("Dark of the Moon") (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Lighting Design: Al Chiappetta ("Dark of the Moon")  (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Sound Design: David White ("Dark of the Moon") (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Costume Design: Lisa Bonelli ("Dark of the Moon") (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Choreography: Marisa Caron ("Dark of the Moon") (The Sherman Playhouse)


Best Musical: "Hair" (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Actor in a Musical: Ray Cook (Berger in "Hair") (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Actor in a Musical: Joseph Devellis (Claude in "Hair") (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical: Austin Wayne (Woof in "Hair") (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical: Jerusha Wright (Jeannie in "Hair") (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical: Shea Coughlin (Crissy in "Hair") (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical: Alyssa Serrambana  (Sheila in "Hair") (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Direction of a Musical: Francis A. Daley ("Hair") (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Musical Direction: Morgan Kelsey ("Hair") (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Choreography: Marisa Caron ("Hair") (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Lighting Design: Peter Petrino/Petrino Designs ("Hair") (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Sound and Video Design: David White ("Hair") (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Costume Design: Terry Hawley ("Hair") (The Sherman Playhouse)

Best Hair and Make Up Design: Claudia Noel Nerreau ("Hair")

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 60, A Review: Broadway Method Academy presents "Evita" (Westport Country Playhouse)

By James V. Ruocco

In Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice's monumental "Evita," Actor's Equity performers Samantha Pauly, Yurel Echezarreta, Kyle Barisich and Julian Alvarez brew up an intoxicating, savory mix of musical theater alongside the students of the Broadway Method Academy and a group of well-chosen featured dancers, chock full of dizzying, bestowing benefits.

Romantic ambivalence.
Glory-chasing tirades.
Political debates.
Sexual ambiguity.
Bitter, ironic commentary.
Cult status and celebrity.

Hola, buena gente!
Estás listo?

"Evita" is back on the musical stage in Westport to show theatergoers once again that Argentina's favorite leading lady and political wife means business, lock, stock and, oh yes, rock style.
So sit up straight, succumb to her calculated passion and revel in this oft-told tale of fame and fortune bathed in cynicism, range, wistfulness and spectacle.

To the point, there hasn't been a musical opening more exciting and eagerly anticipated than this mounting of "Evita" by the Broadway Method Academy. And who better to bring it to life than actor/director Connor Deane, a refreshing, gifted, hard-working talent whose love of theater and love of live performance knows no boundaries.


His "Evita" makes for wonderful, utterly beguiling musical theater.

Deane's take on "Evita," in particular, its complex, effective material, its depiction of the rise and fall of Eva Peron (backed by Ryan Howell's colorful, moody, masterful set design), Che's stalking of the sainted, worshipped Eva and the rapidly accelerating momentum of the musical's "fortune's made and fortune's fade agenda," gives this production its allure, its electricity and its feverish pitch.

In short, this "Evita" explodes in glorious, three-dimensional Technicolor. But what's astonishing is the way it all comes together on the Westport stage. You sit there transfixed, afraid to move or blink your eye, for fear of missing a single second of Deane's visionary, virtuous storytelling.

This "Evita" is perfect. It unfolds with seamless urgency. Its artistic choices are revolutionary and spirited. The actual stage blocking is natural and straightforward. There's also a refreshing intimacy, as devised by Deane, that thrusts you right into the immediate action of the piece (as silent observer, that is) in a room full of people, where, it seems, the actors are playing to you...and only you.

Then and now, the musical score for "Evita," as written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice will always have its place in musical theater history, i.e., London's West End and Broadway. The "rock opera" score is ambitious, fluid, nervy, lilting, magical, exciting, vital, hummable and classic.

The Latin-inflicted music, coupled with the rags-to-riches story of a fiercely-driven, independent woman who becomes the wife of Argentine President Juan Peron and achieves sainted, celebratory status with the populace is also epic, revolutionary and challenging.

Music direction for the Broadway Method Academy production of "Evita" has fallen into the more than capable hands of J. Scott Handley who has music directed everything from "Carousel" and "Hair" to "Into the Woods," "Hairspray" and "Spring Awakening."

What's remarkable here is Handley's fresh perspective toward the "Evita" material. Yes, we know the music. Yes, we know the lyrics. Yes, we know the interplays. Yes, we know the transitions and the pungent beats and rhythms. But this "Evita" often takes us by surprise, as though we are hearing "Don't Cry For Me Argentina," "Oh, What a Circus," "High Flying Adored" and "A New Argentina" for the very first time. Just amazing!

Moreover, there is just the right amount of attitude, frankness and ambivalence in Handley's musical and orchestral depiction of Argentina's sanctified first lady. Nothing is taken for grated. Not the blunt, beautifully amplified words. Not the exemplary, cynical rock style music. Nothing. This "Evita" is a sight to behold, all dressed up with everywhere to go. Well done, Mr. Handley.

For "Evita," immensely talented choreographer Eric Santagata has devised dynamic movement, stylization, pulse, beats and rhythms that splendidly punctuate Eva's journey and upward rise to cult and celebrity status. Every one of the dances unfolds with intoxicating sweep and attentive detail that cleverly master's the musical's thematic ambitions, politics, propaganda, sarcasm and passion. The featured dancers (Ryan Cyr, Jared Smith, Alex Mandala, Jordan Eagle) and those pulled from the student population of the Broadway Method Academy, never once execute a misstep or false move. Instead, they offer a seamless dance performance that is fast, fluid, graceful, steamy, intoxicating, muscular and graceful, always reflecting the hallmark Argentine flavor and logistics of "Evita" as dictated in the original "Evita" musical score.


To portray Eva Peron, Deane has cast the luminous, alluring Samantha Pauly to take center stage as Juan Peron's grand, glamorous wife and lover. A wonderfully compelling actress and singer, she proudly steps into the role made famous by Elaine Paige in London and Patti LuPone on Broadway and without hesitation, makes you forget everything you know and love about Paige, LuPone and every other actress who played Eva Peron in London, on Broadway and on National Tour.

It's a fearless, dynamic performance that is moving, awe-inspiring and effortless. Make no mistake about it, this is Pauly's role from start to finish. She plays it. She owns it. She impresses. She soars. She sky rockets. She summons up every emotion imaginable to make us feel what the character of Eva is feeling. And she creates the necessary sparks, angst and manipulation to chart Eva's rise from whore to mistress to wife and first lady with sardonic believability, personality and attractiveness.

In terms of the "Evita" vocals, which include "Don't Cry For Me Argentina," "Buenos Aires," "You Must Love Me" and "A New Argentina," Pauley's quick transition from powerhouse belt to soft, melodic sweetness (or back again, depending on the musical score) is both incredible and seamless. She never once channels the show's female originators. Instead, she offers her own take on this fiery, iconic role and creates a thrilling musicality that reflects Eva's grasping ambitions, her impassioned climb to the top and finally, her fall and unexpected death decree.

Pivotal to the musical telling of "Evita," is the character of Che Guevara, the Argentine Marxist revolutionary, who serves as Greek chorus member, observer, commentator and storyteller, all rolled into one.

The casting of Yurel Echezarreta is a stroke of genius and one that thrusts the actor....full force, that is, into the limelight....to enlighten and entertain both the on-stage actors and the audience with the events of Eva's life (in reality, they never actually met) and what they mean, using the full operatic sweep of the subject matter.

Completely at ease with the robust, often acerbic Webber-Rice material, the actor is witty, calculating, feisty funny, manipulative and a three-ring Argentine circus showman. Vocally, his extraordinary, dynamic range ("Oh, What a Circus," "A New Argentina," High Flying Adored," "And the Money Keeps Rolling In (And Out") is ovation worthy...and then, some.

At 6', 3", Kyle Barisich, as Juan Peron, the founder and leader of the Peronist political movement, offers a suave, slick performance, very different from that of his predecessors. In this "Evita," we get a handsome, sexy, broody Peron that is well-grounded, groomed, athletic and politically powerful.
Vocally, his commanding, expressive voice ("A New Argentina," "Dice are Rolling," She Is A Diamond") finds a variety of tones to express Peron's upper-class persona, his political agenda, his worship of Eva and lastly, his acceptance of her idol worship by the Argentine populace.

Julian Alvarez, as Magaldi, the smoldering tango singer whom Eva seduces and beds as her transport ticket to the alluring Buenos Aires, offers a distinctive, wry characterization that is fraught with real emotion and humanity, punctuated by appropriate dash, sleaze, suave and egotism. Vocally, he creates a strong impression with singing that is rich and exciting, phrasing and enunciation that is superb and concentrated maneuvering that reflects the original intent and meaning of the material as indicated by the show's creators.

Broadway Method Academy student Julia Vitale is cast in the supporting role of Peron's Mistress, a young woman who is shown the door in assumptive fashion by Eva. But before she disappears into the Argentine moonlight, she pauses and delivers "Another Suitcase in Another Hall," a haunting, brokenhearted rendition of this quietly understated solo. Her vocal performance is not only sensational, but it is just as magical as the one set forth by Siobhan McCarthy in the original West End/London production of "Evita" and that of Jane Ohringer, who assumed the role on Broadway, a year later.

One of the key points of this presentation is to showcase the vocal, acting and dance talents of the dedicated, hard-working students of the Broadway Method Academy (ages 14 and up; ages 13 and under). And what better way to do that than with the frisson of vitality that is "Evita."

Under the direct tutelage of Deane, Handley and Santagata, each BMA cast member succumbs to the hypnotic, confident beat and allure of this production. They are assured, animated, excited and emotional young performers, completely in sync with the "Evita" story, its musicality and its theatrics. And finally, they reflect BMA's on-going commitment to nurturing and shaping the raw, real talent of tomorrow.

In the end, the power and gleam of BMA's "Evita" lies in its ability to reawaken the past and make it undeniably present. It's an intoxicating night of theater that is well earned. And one, that reaffirms the cadence, the ingenuity and the artistic sophistication that is Broadway Method Academy.

Note: The Broadway Method Academy production of "Evita" was staged at the Westport Country Playhouse (25 Powers Court, Wesport, CT),  Feb. 7 through Feb. 10, 2018.

For information about Broadway Method Academy, call (203) 675-3526
website: broadwaymethodacademy.org

For tickets or more information about Westport Country Playhouse, call (203) 227-4177.
website: westportplayhouse.org


Monday, February 12, 2018

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 59, The Best of the Year: Theater 2017, Part 7: TheaterWorks/Hartford

By James V. Ruocco

Choosing the best productions, performances, directors and technical achievements for 2017 is relatively easy, particularly when the theater itself is TheaterWorks/Hartford.

All of the productions I've seen and reviewed for this prestigious, long-running theater stood out, each displaying levels of aesthetic brilliance, diversity, narrative, passion and thematic ambition, well worthy of attention.

They are "Next to Normal," "The Wolves," Christmas on the Rocks" and "Raging Skillet."

With that in mind, let's look back.

The Best of the Year: Theater 2017, Part 7

TheaterWorks (233 Pearl St, Hartford, CT)

"Next to Normal"

Best Musical: "Next to Normal" (TheaterWorks/Hartford)
Best Actor in a Musical: David Harris ( Dan in "Next to Normal") (TheaterWorks/Hartford)
Best Actress in a Musical: Christiane Noll ( Diana in "Next to Normal") (TheaterWorks/Hartford)

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical: John Cardoza ( Gabe in "Next to Normal") (TheaterWorks/Hartford)

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical: Nick Sacks ( Henry in "Next to Normal") (TheaterWorks/Hartford)
Best Supporting Actor in a Musical: J.D. Law ( Dr. Fine/Madden in "Next to Normal") (TheaterWorks/Hartford)
Best Supporting Actress in a Musical: Maya Keleher ( Natalie in "Next to Normal")  (TheaterWorks/Hartford)

Best Direction of a Musical: Rob Ruggiero ("Next to Normal") (TheaterWorks/Hartford)
Best Musical Direction: Adam Souza ("Next to Normal") (TheaterWorks/Hartford)

Best Set Design: Wilson Chin ("Next to Normal") (TheaterWorks/Hartford)

Best Sound Design: Ed Chapman ("Next to Normal") (TheaterWorks/Hartford)

Best Costume Design: Tricia Barsamian ( "Next to Normal")  (TheaterWorks/Hartford)

Best Lighting Design: John Lasiter ("Next to Normal") (TheaterWorks/Hartford)

Best Casting: McCorkle Casting, LTD. ("Next to Normal") (TheaterWorks/Hartford)

"The Wolves"

Best Play: "The Wolves" (TheaterWorks/Hartford)

Best Actress in a Play: Emily Murphy ( #25 in "The Wolves")
Best Supporting Actress in a Play: Carolyn Cutillo ( #2 in "The Wolves")
Best Supporting Actress in a Play: Olivia Hoffman ( #7 in "The Wolves") 
Best Supporting Actress in a Play: Shannon Keegan ( #11 in "The Wolves")
Best Supporting Actress in a Play: Caitlin Zoz ( #46 in "The Wolves")
Best Supporting Actress in a Play: Rachel Caplan ( #14 in "The Wolves")

Best Supporting Actress in a Play: Claire Saunders ( #8 in "The Wolves")
Best Supporting Actress in a Play: Karla Gallegos ( #00 in "The Wolves")

Best Supporting Actress in a Play: Dea Julien ( #13 in "The Wolves") 

Best Direction of a Play: Eric Ort ("The Wolves")

Best Set Design: Mariana Sanchez ("The Wolves")

Best Lighting Design: Rob Denton ("The Wolves")

Best Sound Design: Karin Graybash ("The Wolves")
Best Casting: Erica Jensen (CSA)/ Calleri Casting ("The Wolves")

"Christmas on the Rocks"

Best Play: "Christmas on the Rocks" (TheaterWorks/Hartford)
Best Actor in a Play: Matthew Wilkas (The Man in "Christmas on the Rocks")

Best Actor in a Play: Tom Bloom  (The Bartender in "Christmas on the Rocks")

Best Actress in a Play: Jenn Harris (The Woman in "Christmas on the Rocks") 

Best Direction of a Play: Rob Ruggiero ("Christmas on the Rocks")

Best Set Design: Michael Schweikardt ("Christmas on the Rocks")

Best Lighting Design: John Lasiter ("Christmas on the Rocks")

Best Sound Design: Michael Miceli  ("Christmas on the Rocks")

Best Costume Design: Alejo Vietti ("Christmas on the Rocks")

Best Wig Design: Mark Adam Rampmeyer ("Christmas on the Rocks")
Best Casting: McCorkle Casting, LTD ("Christmas on the Rocks")

"Raging Skillet"

Best Actress in a Play: Dana Smith-Croll ( Chef Rossi in "Raging Skillet")  

Best Supporting Actress in a Play: Marilyn Sokol ( Mom in "Raging Skillet")
Best Supporting Actor in a Play: George Salazar ( DJ Skillit in "Raging Skillet")

Best Direction of a Play: John Simpkins ("Raging Skillet")  

Best Set Design: Michael Schweikardt  ("Raging Skillet")  

Best Lighting Design: John Lasiter  ("Raging Skillet")  

Best Sound Design: Julian Evans ("Raging Skillet")  
Best Casting: McCorkle Casting, LTD  ("Raging Skillet")