Thursday, December 29, 2022

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 360, A Review: "Hamlet" (Brookfield Theatre for the Arts)

By James V. Ruocco

"To be or not to be; that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;"

("Hamlet" William Shakespeare)

One of Shakespeare's most famous tragedies, "Hamlet" is a play about uncertainty, revenge, corruption, murder and betrayal. As the play begins, the title character is visited by the ghost of his father who tells his son that he was murdered by his brother Claudius who now sits on the throne of Denmark beside Queen Gertrude, Hamet's mother.
Is this the truth? Is it a lie? Or are the ghost's accusations about Hamlet's father riddled with uncertainty and doubt?

The apparent madness of this situation - fueled by the on-stage deaths of several characters - bring moments of intense power and strength to Brookfield Theatre for the Arts triumphant staging of this Shakespearean classic and its inbred hysteria, irony, investigation and entrapment.

It is easily one of the best dramatic productions of the 2022 local theatre season.

This tale of the doomed Danish price flourishes with lofty rhetoric and aggressive spirit.
It is paced with righteous rage and dark humor.
It is intelligent and emotional.
It is both clever and hypnotic.
It digs deep with the craftiness of an edgy, gothic thriller.
It swirls and pivots with tabloid sensationalism.
It is a penetrating work full of ideas, excitement and underlying depth.

As with "Macbeth," also staged at Brookfield Theatre for the Arts, this "Hamlet" suits the thrilling take of director Jane Farnol's retooled and edited adaptation. Accessorized and hand-scrubbed to remain a top priority in its edited framework, this production not only retains its anticipated flashes of darkness, humor and conceptual horror, but smartly unfolds with easy-to-understand interplay, momentum, characterization and gloom and doom.
Here, the cool logic of Farnol's staging is voiced with mark, wickedness, surprise and dagger-precise inventiveness. As both storyteller and director, she gives this "Hamlet" is strong sense of fluidity and flow. Yes, passages are missing or condensed. Yes, some of the supporting characters have less to do. But the bulk of the story, its rage, its morality and its deception are front and center, diced and spliced with important moments of dominance, vengeance, honor and rationale.
As actress herself, Farnol utilizes actor-audience focalization to full advantage here, thus, bringing a one-on-one level of expression to the piece. Using various directorial lenses and perspectives to mold and shape the "Hamlet" story, she acknowledges the complexity of the individual characters, their interaction within the framework of the tragedy, their different points of view, their surprise or about-face motives and the trigger point that things not always appear as they seem.
This conceit brings wall-to-wall tension and extended thrust and seriousness to the production and its full-on exposition. Pacing is also important here. And, as with her previous staging of "Macbeth" Farnol makes the right choices in terms of effect, slide and glide, timespan, assimilation and summation. In turn, this "Hamlet" is abundant with life, struggle, conversation and numbing exactness.

In the title role of Hamlet, a strapping and commanding Thomas Samuels moves about the intimate Brookfield venue stage with charisma, distress, negotiation and force, completely and naturally engulfed in the language, the purpose, the corruption and the execution of this Shakespearean tragedy.
As an actor, he's likeable. He's electric. He's passionate. He's dominant. He's charismatic. He pushes boundaries. He's every inch the tortured prince.
He also turns Hamlet's famous soliloquy into a bone-chilling, timely account of reflection, pondering the great mysteries of life, death and the unknown. It's a speech or actor moment if you prefer, full of insight, opinion and deep conflict expressed by Samuels with fresh, inspired injection, raise, dare and theatricality.
Lou Okell, in the role of the Player King, invests her lightweight, comical characterization with the liberating delight of an Old Globe Theatre trained actress and performer. Jane Farnol, as Danish soldier Barnardo, comes to "Hamlet" well versed in the presentation, the performance and the language of the Bard. As Gertrude, Maureen Gallagher is in fine form. Miles Everett and Jennifer Wallace stand out in their respective roles of Claudius and Ophelia. As Horatio, Sean Latessa eases comfortably and attentively into the role of Hamlet's confidante and faithful friend.

One of the best plays of 2022, "Hamlet," at Brookfield Theatre for the Arts, solidifies the greatness of Shakespeare's legacy, its language, its storytelling, its searing effects and consequences and its sadness of hindsight. It is a fittingly welcomed production of richness and one that director Jane Farnol crafts with nuance, command and dedication.
It is also an important dramatic work framed by the well-rounded performances of a very dedicated Shakespearean cast who not only drive the action forward but haunt and taunt through moments of well-orchestrated madness and sanity, using a collective howl and controlled tone befitting the tragedy of "Hamlet" itself, its debate, its decision and indecision and its bloodied walk on the wild side.

"Hamlet" was staged at Brookfield Theatre for the Arts (184 Whisconier Rd., Brookfield, CT) from December 9-18, 2022.
For more information or tickets to upcoming productions, call (203) 775-0023.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 359, A Review: "Christmas in Connecticut" (Goodspeed Musicals)


By James V. Ruocco

In "Christmas in Connecticut," the musical version of the popular 1945 Barbara Stanwyck/Dennis Morgan movie - now enjoying a lengthy run at Goodspeed Musicals - the character of Liz Sandor, fresh from a small town in Idaho, arrives in New York City ready to conquer the world of journalism with her feminist views about life, women, independence, sexism, marriage and career choices that are very different from other females around her.
A modern, outspoken woman who refuses to stay at home, bake pies and play second fiddle to a working man or husband, Sandor is more concerned with writing columns about equality for women in marriage, in life and in the workplace. 
This being the 1940s, she is forced to create a fake identity - Liz Sandor is now Liz Lane - and pen a cherry homemaker's column for a trendy women's magazine by pretending to be a happily married Connecticut housewife with a handsome husband, a newborn baby, a successful working farm and an idyllic life straight out of pages of "Good Housekeeping" and "Ladies' Home Journal."
It's a ruse, of course - concocted with the aid of her trusty editor, friend and sidekick Dudley Beecham - that spins completely out of control once her publisher Alexander Yardley insists, she entertain decorated war hero Jefferson Jones (it's a publicity stunt aimed to increase the magazine's readership) at her country home in Connecticut for Christmas.
One sight problem: there's no husband, no baby, no farm, etc. 
And unlike Liz Lane, Liz Sandor doesn't know how to cook, milk a cow or much less, change a baby's diaper.

Back in the 1940s when "Christmas in Connecticut" first played movie theaters, this sort of screwball comedy nonsense was prime fodder for wartime audiences seeking frivolous, whole-hearted fluff designed solely for entertainment purposes.

It was fun.
It was silly.
It had lots of laughter.
It also came gift wrapped with a very happy ending.

The Goodspeed Musicals edition of "Christmas in Connecticut" treads merrily down the same pathway as the Warner Brothers production hoping to recreate the innocence, the nostalgia, the warmth and the silliness of the 1945 film on which it draws its inspiration. It also wisely chooses to update some of the material and add some additional characters and flourishes to shake things up plot wise and liven the proceedings with reinvented charisma, structure, arrangement and whirling cartwheel.

Penned by Patrick Pacheco and Erik Forrest Jackson, this homage to the holiday classics of yesteryear whirls and twirls with a poignant reflection and vivid remembrance that is expressed wholeheartedly for laughter's sake and amped up for today's audiences with freeform snap, ushered whimsey and finely calibrated animation. Both writers' also keep the dialogue, the characters and the various storylines firmly rooted in the 1940s, a conceit that works most advantageously here in much the same manner as the movie did without ever resorting to overkill or over exaggeration.
It all plays out in gumdrop gooey fashion - driven and fueled by a marvelous mix of mayhem, mischief, deception and conscience that adds energy and sweetness to this flavorful musical comedy.

Staging "Christmas in Connecticut" for Goodspeed Musicals, director Amy Anders Corcoran takes great delight in the silliness of the telling, its deliberate overshooting, its countryside/city life confusion, its wiggly gamboling and its attached message of yuletide fun, wartime romance and highlighted finesse. She also tries to make perfect sense out of Pacheco and Jackson's whimsical scenario by treating it with the kindness, sensibility and snowflake ping of other period Christmas musicals that find joy and a mad dash of warmth in the most improbable of situations and shenanigans.
Here, she wants you to laugh out loud, cheer the heroine, embrace the merriment and never once question the narrative's clearly projected bouts of hope and goodness or a very happy ending that chimes into view on December the 25th as the house lights fade to black and "Christmas in Connecticut" draws to a close.

Featuring music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Amanda Yesnowitz, "Christmas in Connecticut" unfolds with a holiday songbook of 18 different musical numbers. They are, in order of performance: "Tomorrow's Woman/No!" "No! (reprise), "The World of Liz Lane," "Recipe for Success," "A Capital Idea," "Christmas in Connecticut," "Home for the Holidays," "American Dream," "The World of Liz Lane (reprise), "Catch the Ornament," "Something's Fishy," "The Most Famous Jefferson," "Blame It on the Old Magoo," "Morning Chores," "Morning Chores (reprise)," "I'm Not Eleanor," "Tomorrow's Woman (reprise)" and "May You Inherit."
The score itself - a serviceable mix of period-friendly songs seamlessly placed throughout the two-act musical - comes packaged with sweet moments, velvety smoothness and comic values that swell and invigorate with remarkable ease and flourish. As envisioned by Howland and Yesnowitz, they make their decided impact. They carry the story along without hesitation. Each and every one of them are vocally right for the characters who sing them. They also fit nicely into the soundscape of the period, its setting and its musical structure.

Bringing the "Christmas in Connecticut" score to life, musical director Adam Souza ("Next to Normal," "Rags," "Kinky Boots," "Brigadoon") brings charm and vitality to the material, creating a musical arena of levity and fun that's arranged with comedic gait, expressive nuance, romantic lushness and lyrical illumination. It's all backed with affectionate tapering and lively sensibility from the orchestra and performed with well-coached bravura and sentimentalized verve by the entire cast, all of whom radiate and personify the oomph, sway and swing of a 1940s musical.
Highlights include "Tomorrow's Woman," "American Dream," "Morning Chores," "May You Inherit," "Catch the Ornament" and the title song "Christmas in Connecticut."

"Christmas in Connecticut" stars Audrey Cardwell as Liz Sandor, Raymond J. Lee as Dudley Beecham, Josh Breckenridge as Jefferson Jones, James Judy as Felix Bassenak, Tina Stafford as Norah O'Connor, Rashidra Scott as Gladys Higgenbottom, Matt Bogart as Victor Beecham and Melvin Tunstall III as Alexander Yardley.
Given the cloaked in silliness of the plot (remember, it's the 1940s), the entire cast - headed by the phenomenally talented Audrey Cardwell in a showstopping turn - tap into the material with charm, warmth and immediacy. From acting to singing to dancing, everything that they do is inspired and truthful and vital to telling of the "Christmas in Connecticut" narrative.
The intention is fun and fun they have escalating in speedy, irresistible, candy-coated performances with ever so much to enjoy.

Lively, nostalgia, sweet and sentimental, "Christmas in Connecticut" unfolds through big, bright holiday brushstrokes that add nuance and exhilaration to its inspiring message about independence, romance, feminism, homemaking and good cheer.
It's good for the soul. It tugs at the heart. It charms and cajoles. It glides and slides. It also lovingly recalls a time in America's past that no longer exists.
The cast takes charge of the lightweight material with enthusiasm and playful abandon. And director Amy Anders Corcoran fills the Goodspeed Musicals stage with enough sugary spice and red and green wrappings to last well until the New Year. 

"Christmas in Connecticut" is being staged at Goodspeed Musicals (6 Main St., East Haddam, CT), now through December 30, 2022.
For tickets or more information, call (860) 873-8668.

Friday, December 9, 2022

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 358, A Review: "Christmas on the Rocks" (TheaterWorks/Hartford)

By James V. Ruocco

And, so it begins.

"A Miserable Life" by Jacques Lamarre.

"All Grown Up" by John Cariani.

"My Name is KAREN!" by Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas.

"Say It Glows" by Jeffrey Hatcher.

"Snitch" by Jenn Harris.

"Drumsticks and Chill" by Judy Gold and Jacques Lamarre.

"Still Nuts About Him" by Edwin Sanchez.

"Merry Christmas, Blockhead" by Jacques Lamarre.

In "Christmas on the Rocks," a playful, addictive, outrageous holiday confection of eight different stories wrapped merrily in shiny red, green and gold yuletide gift paper, audiences finally learn what actually happened to several different characters from their favorite Christmas stories, who, for plot purposes, are now grown up with neuroses, hang ups, obsessions and fetishes that have completely messed up their lives and those around them.

Tweaked, synced and programmed for laughs by seven different playwrights, "Christmas on the Rocks" is borderline crazy - then again, that's the point - with rapid-fire vitality, zing and snap that builds and builds and surprises all the way.

Forget Scrooge control.
That 19th century miser is nowhere to be found in the wracked minds of these writers.
Here, Hermey the gay elf takes a ride on Rudolph's big, shiny red nose.
ZuZu Bailey completely freaks out every time she hears a bell ringing - Jingle bells, doorbells, sleighbells, Bell's palsy, Patti LaBelle.
Ralphie uses pink bunny suits for erotic, sexual pleasures.
Karen, the little girl who brought that famous icy wonder to life is homicidal as hell.
Clara, that beautiful young girl from the 1892 Tchaikovsky ballet has not only lost her looks, but recently found out that her nutcracker prince is having homosexual liaisons with her brother Fritz.
Disillusioned Charlie Brown tells everyone that Snoopy No. 4 has died.
The Elf on the Shelf also figures prominently in the mix along with a stoned hippie and his set of drumsticks.


This annual Christmas treat from TheaterWorks Hartford - replete with R-rated humor, refreshing, wackadoodle scenarios and cheeky one-liners celebrates the lives of these unfortunate victims - some traumatized for life - with a massive comic mindset and quick wit that is played, sprayed and splayed with a ripped-apart, takeaway abandon that never once falters for a second.

Rob Ruggiero, Artistic Director of TheaterWorks, helms yet another retelling of this zany, off-the-cuff Christmas storybook. As director, he works his magic with two new segments - "Snitch" and "Drumsticks and Chill" - a tweak, nip and tuck here and there and some new directorial strokes and strategies to get the juices flowing throughout this offbeat collection of twisted holiday tales.
Directorially, "Christmas on the Rocks" is staged with just the right amount of oomph, tilt and sway to keep the craziness front and center without ever once losing its sure-fire momentum, its acerbic center, its playful banter, its warped characterizations and yuletide push and pull.
Things are sparky. Things are fresh. Things are candy cane sticky. Things are very much in the moment. Things are giggly. Things are defined with nostalgic reverence.
With the accent on twisted fun, this riotously entertaining outing is afresh with surprises anew, charge forward rationalization, front-page roars and mirth and the kind of high-level slapstick pioneered in silent movies, 1930s screwball comedies, 1970's television variety shows and vaudevillian burlesque gigs from the 1920s. It's all diced and spliced with musical hall gaiety by Ruggiero who crafts a strong piece of theatre with that clearly relishes and exemplifies the fast-forward comic demands of a laugh-a-minute comedy using a distinct humorous voice to release the juvenile giggler within.

The casting of Ted Lange as the show's bartender gives "Christmas on the Rocks" a refreshing feel that pays homage to his popular shipboard character from "The Love Boat" with nods to the long-running Aaron Spelling ABC series that include recognizable Isaac character traits, references and shtick that comes full circle during the final moments of the production. The character, for plot purposes, is also named Isacc, who, get this - has a CV that names him head bartender on a cruise ship.
Here, as on "The Love Boat," Lange's Isacc is the real deal.
He's not just someone who pours drinks, smiles or listen casually to everyone who enters the bar and tells him their troubles.
As played by Lange, he's a compassionate, cynical and caring leader who steps out from behind-the-bar and offers the right kind of in-your-face honesty and emotion every bartender should have.
His line delivery is fresh and honest and perfectly in sync with the irreverent humor inherent in every one of "Christmas" stories. His comic timing is flawless. His interaction with both Jen Cody and Harry Bouvy is confident and well-orchestrated. He projects the warmth, vulnerability and persona at his character's core. He's also the play's driving force and guiding principle.

The wonderfully animated Harry Bouvy is completely at home with the type of off-the-wall humor and craziness prevalent in "Christmas on the Rocks" He knows how to play comedy inside out, backwards and forwards, upside down and front and center. He can get, build and shape a laugh unobtrusively. The fact that you never can tell what he is going to do next - he has lots of tricks and surprises up his sleeve - adds pleasurable depth, purpose and resonance to his performance. He also possesses his own sense of blatant naughtiness, which, when playing the very effeminate Hermey the Elf, prompts huge belly laughs from the audience at every comic turn. 

They don't come any better and crazier than Jen Cody, a great ball of fire and gifted comedienne whose line delivery, comic expressions, body language and reactions are so incredibly conceived and orchestrated, you're never quite sure what's she's going to do next. Like Jenn Harris before her, she too puts her own personal stamp on the proceedings and cuts loose with one crazy character after another that's timed and primed to perfection with no chance of slowing down for a single second.
It's a knockout turn, performed with wild abandon, tangle-and-tumble glee, virtuoso gumby-like action and seize-the-moment thrill. Amazing, yes and so much more.

Wacky, irreverent, eccentric and a helluva lot of fun, "Christmas on the Rocks" - now celebrating its 10th Anniversary at TheaterWorks - is the perfect holiday treat to chase away the blues, get you all lathered up for Christmas and keep you laughing hysterically till it's time to ring in the New Year.
This is madcap theatre to the fullest.
It is wild and wacky. It is deliciously obscene.
It is refreshing and gob smack silly. 
This year's cast - Ted Lange, Jen Cody, Harry Bouvy - a dream team of three - is a welcome shot of Christmas cheer laced with a few vodka shots, a sugar plum or two and a whole lot of tinsel and glitter.
Director Rob Ruggiero fuels the fire with flash-bang-wallop inspiration.
Never once does this eight-scene comedy miss a comic beat.
It's streamlined with giddyap and stamina in every sense of the world.
There isn't a Christmas show out there quite like it.
It's an absolute must on your "things to do list" this December.
It also transports you to a time and place like no other.

"Christmas on the Rocks" is being staged at TheaterWorks (233 Pearl St., Hartford, CT), now through December 24, 2022.
For tickets or more information, call (860) 527-7838.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 357, A Review: "Christmas Carol" (Pantochino Prodictions)

 By James V. Ruocco

A Christmas Panto is a musical comedy production that was developed in England for young adults using traditional children's stories, fairy tales and classic 19th century works as its primary form of entertainment.
The plot, of course, tended to get mixed up solely for amusement's sake, backed by silly dialogue, playful songs, over-the-top characters, musical hall slang, peppy innuendo, audience participation and merrily happy family endings featuring in-house jokes, actors in drag, shout out phrases and interpolated dances.

With "Christmas Carol," Pantochino's heartwarming, laugh-a-minute take on Charles Dickens famous 19th century novel "A Christmas Carol," Jacob Marley and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future haunt and taunt Ebenezer Scrooge in true wee-tear fashion, hoping to transform him from miser to kindly gentleman just in time for plum pudding, mince pies, gift giving and Christmas turkey on that day of days to end all - December the 25th.

It's a tall order of sorts that this award-winning theatre troupe addresses with festive cheer, push-and-pull wonderment, dizzying camp and a hefty springling of sugar-coated Christmas magic chock full of witty observation, inspired holiday traditions, atmospheric social commentary and flavorful conversation.

This is theatre.
Splash-bang-wallop, what-a-picture - doused with candy canes, gold ribbons, celebration and fairy dust.

Created by director Bert Bernardi, who, also wrote the book and lyrics (Justin Rugg has composed the music), this "Christmas Carol" gets it right at every single turn, skip, jump, leap, halt, pause and giddyap.
It's fun.
It's dazzling.
It's gorgeous.
It's inventive.
It's colorful.
If Charles Dickens himself were alive and well, he'd probably gush-and-cheer, hoot-and-holler and madly applaud Bernardi and Rugg's enthusiastic re-working and re-telling of his beloved Scrooge story.

Staging "Christmas Carol," Bernardi charms and dazzles with creative aplomb, remarkable showmanship, amazing openness and storytelling flair. He takes chances and runs with them. He excites, cajoles and entertains. He fills the Pantochino stage with Christmas joy and glee. He's spontaneous. He's funny. He's devious. He's inspired. He knows how to get a laugh. He knows how to frame and nurture a punchline. He digs deep. And he always comes up a winner.
Here, he crafts and delivers a five-star musical entertainment of beautifully arranged scenes and musical numbers that spring directly from the heart and imagination of an actor/director who loves theater, completely understands British Panto, characterization, dialogue, story arc progression, gothic gloom, misguided souls and redemption and rebirth.
He also fuels the fire with some ingenious onstage shenanigans that involve too many actors and actresses showing up as the same character in similar wardrobe anxious to hog the spotlight and make mincemeat of the other onstage actors. It's a brilliant, vaudevillian stoke of comic genius that lends itself nicely to the zany, over-the-top proceedings at hand.

Elsewhere, the plot-driven musical score for "Christmas Carol" - a catchy mix of melodic, humorous, playful, and inspired musical numbers - has been blueprinted with plenty of ruse, maneuver, bounce and vigor by Bernardi (lyrics) and Rugg (music), the talented duo responsible for several hit Pantochino musicals including "School Spirits," "Checking in on Charles," "The Littlest Christmas Tree" and "The Gingerbreads of Broadway."
The songs - eleven in all - are "Prologue," "Scrooge & Marley," "You Can Change," "The Spirit Song," "Celebratinatin,' " "Spooky Magical," "The Scratchit Christmas Song," "Nobody Likes You Mr. Scrooge," "Balls!" "Final Destination" and "A Dickens of a Christmas."
Well worth preservation by a studio recording or two, the songs themselves are distinct, jolly, expansive, delightful and expressive, accompanied by free-flowing, rhythmic programming, orchestrations and lyrics that are perfectly in sync with the Scrooge story, its traditions, its themes, its values, its humor, its melodrama and the musical's 19th century London setting. 

Doubling as musical director, Rugg's nourished vitality for mood and movement allows the "Christmas Carol" musical score to sparkle and rouse itself with roving aplomb, commitment and luster. He makes all the right choices as to who sings what and when. He has great fun with the material. He brings out the very best sound from his vocalists in terms of strength, tone, pitch, virtuosity and variety. He knows how to shape, build, climax and sell a musical number. Applied hard work and a personal connection to the material also allows Rugg to craft a musical entertainment with vocalists who share his love of music, its performance and how it is etched and sketched within the framework of the musical narrative. That said, it is fresh, invigorating and full-bodied.

"Christmas Carol" stars Justin Rugg as Ebenezer Scrooge, Jimmy Johansmeyer as Bob Scratchit, Bert Bernardi as Victoria Sautee and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, Davis Burke as Tiny Tim and Shelley Marsh Poggio, Maria Berte, Nora Simonelli, Mary Mannix, Sam Everett, Ryder Blanchard and Don Poggio as the Merry Singers.

Rugg, in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, brings the iconic Dickens character to life with great vigor, charm, range, style and personality. He's properly British. He's a product of the times. He's amusing. He's dashing. He also comes to "Christmas Carol" with a real sense of the man he is asked to portray and bring to life night and night. It's heartfelt. It's appealing. It's amazing.
As Bob Scratchit (lots of jokes spring from this obvious change of character's name), the hapless clerk who eventually wins Scrooge's heart at the musical's end, Johansmeyer taps into his character's psyche with melt away kindness, sweep and dignity that befits his thoughtful, nourished portrayal. He's the absolute right choice for the role, dressed in perfectly tailored 19th century costuming that he designed for his character using bespoke tailoring and materials that look as if they came directly out of a London fashion house from the 1840s.
Acting as costumer designer for the entire production, Johansmeyer delivers a post-card perfect style of life, a la Dickens, that uses colors, fabrics, design and combinations that pay homage to old crafting, customization and made-to-measure clothing from a very bygone era. Stunning on every level.
The Merry Singers, as played by the likes of Mannix, Berte, the Poggio duo and other Pantochino actors, double, triple and sidestep into a variety of roles that showcase their incredible vocal and acting talents. They too come to "Christmas Carol" with a knowledge and understanding of how to play Panto and immerse themselves wholeheartedly into the pages of this reworked musical edition of the Dickens classic.

One of the best Pantochino musicals of the year - and, believe me, there are many - "Christmas Carol" is pure holiday magic (it doesn't get any better than this) chock full of British musical hall heart, rollicking showmanship, a jamboree of spirited songs and dialogue, playful tomfoolery, Christmas card dazzle and a company of Dickensian actors whose unstoppable theatrics give this oft-told morality tale its wonderful sense of camaraderie and good cheer.

The added bonus of Victoria Sautee - the most glittering bauble on the Pantochino stage - dressed to the nines in Jimmy Johansmeyer's glamorous pre-Victorian costuming - is plum pudding delight in all her sugary confection glory, and well she should be. As played by Bernardi, she is stylish, campy, amusing and channeling, offering a masterclass in musical comedy, framed by an effervescent ebb and performance flow that makes every one of her ghostly visits sing and sting with movie star glam, glitter and I'm ready for my close-up Mr. DeMille.

As theatre, this "Christmas Carol" is the essence of sheer fun and rapt silliness, gift wrapped for holidays in bright, colorful packaging that provides the perfect backdrop for this reworked, effervescent telling of Charles Dickens immortal 1843 tale of ghosts, humbug, redemption and change.

"Christmas Carol" is being staged at Pantochino Productions (Milford Arts Council, 40 Railroad Avenue, Milford, CT), now through December 18, 2022.
For tickets or more information, call (860) 843-0959.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 356, A Review: "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play (Hartford Stage)

By James V. Ruocco

The time: Christmas Eve, December 24, 1946.
The place: Radio Station WBFR, Sound Stage A, Hartford Connecticut.
What's happening: A live broadcast of the radio play "It's a Wonderful Life."
The actors: Freddie Filmore, Jake Laurents, Sally Applewhite, Harry "Jazzbo" Heywood, Lana Sherwood.
The characters: George Bailey, Mary Hatch Bailey, Clarence, Mr. Potter, ZuZu Bailey, Uncle Billy, Violet Beck, Mrs. Bailey.
In the studio: Foley Sound Effects Artist.
Who's invited: You, the audience.
Who's listening: Radio fans from Hartford to Bridgeport to Boston.
Dialogue you'll want to write down:
"You've been given a great gift, George. A chance to see what the world would be like without you."
"Help me, Clarence! Get me back! I don't care what happens to me! Get me back to my wife and kids! Please! I wanna live again. I wanna live again. Please, God, let me live again."
(George Bailey)
"I'm glad I know you, George Bailey."
(Violet Bick)
"Remember, no man is a failure who has friends."
"Teacher says, 'Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.' "
(ZuZu Bailey)
The end result: A+

A loveable, inventive, nostalgic piece of theater "It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" turns back the clock to the 1940's as five actors (a Foley sound man provides able assist with seamlessly executed sound effects) assume the roles made famous by James Stewart, Donna Reed, Henry Travers, Lionel Barrymore and Gloria Grahame, among others, in the 1946 film adaptation directed by Frank Capra. 

The actual story finds Bedford Falls resident George Bailey contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve following the accidental loss of $8000, which, for plot purposes, finds guardian angel Clarence coming down to earth to show George what life would be like if he had never been born.
It's not an easy task, but if Clarence could pull George out of his depressive funk and begin anew, bells will ring, and Clarence will finally earn his wings.

At Hartford Stage, "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" delivers the goods, pulling out all the stops to recreate a live radio broadcast - scripts in hand; floor microphones strategically set in place; actors popping in and out of character; sponsored commercials ready to dazzle; a side table filled with props ready to be used for sound effects - in real time, backed by a cheery inventiveness and creative luster that heightens the actual storytelling, its menagerie of characters and its universal theme of reawakening.

Old Fashioned.

This is a feel-good classic with an important message that's played to the hilt in true immersive fashion offset by beguiling charm, vocal intensity and golden age sentiment.

Adapting "It's a Wonderful Life" to the stage in a play-within-a-play format, Joe Landry brings plenty of authenticity, atmosphere, insight and detail to his "live radio show" telling. The actual set up - a holiday classic told via a real-time live radio broadcast - lends itself nicely to fast-track storytelling laced with influence, drama, humor, commitment and story thread distinction.
As storyteller, Landry chooses his words wisely, carefully guiding the on-stage radio actors through the familiar story of George Bailey while thoroughly engaged in the actual stage mechanics of the WBFR sound stage setting, the stop-and-go framework of the piece, the commercial breaks that interrupt the action and finally, the luxury of having everything played out before a live studio audience whose laughter, tears and applause lend themselves nicely to the proceedings at hand.

Artistically, "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" benefits largely from Zoe Golub-Sass's direction. There's a lot going on here from buildup and performance to camaraderie and interplay, all of which has to be timed, primed and readied without any form of halt, hiccup or interruption.  Otherwise, things would grind to a halt and the in-the-studio "Applause" sign would never light up prompting loud applause from the in-house audience.
No worries, on that note.
Sass, as director, fuels Landry's work with surprise, invitation, warmth and individuality. From start to finish, there's life in the story. There's entertainment. There's tradition. There's drama. There's encounter. There's truth.
The production quickly pivots from one scene to the next, propelled by Sass's enthusiastic choices of mood, imagination, objective, interpretation, naivete and theatrical structure.

"It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" stars Price Waldman as Freddie Filmore, Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr. as Jake Laurents, Nicole Shalhoub as Sally Applewhite, Evan Zes as Harry "Jazzbo" Heywood and Jennifer Bareilles as Lana Sherwood.
With full-on verve, gallop and roar, this talented cast of five move through Landry's play-within-a-play with such commitment, style and range, you pretty much want to applaud their every move. Playing various characters from "It's a Wonderful Life" as well as WBFR radio station actors, they are an incredibly tight, likeable ensemble who not only transport audiences back to a time long gone by but provide this period piece with a charm and luster that is absolutely hard to resist.

A festive holiday story brimming with wit, cheer, joy and emotion, "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" is a jewel-box Christmas treat afresh with sentiment, sweetness, nostalgia and command. Adapting Frank Capra's classic 1946 film to the stage, playwright Joe Landry turns George Bailey's story into front-page news via a live radio show that wonderfully reflects the warmth and appeal of this beloved moralistic fable.
It's harmonic. It's charming. It's playful. It's significant. It's magical.
Director Zoe Golub-Sass creates an immersive, smartly arranged production that springs from the heart, cuts to the soul and provides lots of happy tears guaranteed to last through next Christmas. More to the point, "It's a Wonderful Life" is never out of date. It also celebrates the richness of live theatre.

Photos of "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" courtesy of T. Charles Erickson.

"It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" is being performed at Hartford Stage (50 Church St., Hartford, CT), now through December 24, 2022.
For tickets or more information, call (860) 527-5151.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 355, A Review: "The Brightest Thing in the World" (Yale Repertory Theatre)

By James V. Ruocco

With "The Brightest Thing in the World" - now enjoying its world premiere as Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven - playwright Lean Nanako Winkler wanted to bring a different lens and focus to her complicated, involving narrative about people struggling with drug addiction, substance abuse, free expression and emotional disorder.
As storyteller, she also wanted to create an in-the-moment theatrical piece about a modern-day romance - in this case, two women who refuse to be labeled as gay, straight, lesbian or whatever - that would not only speak volumes, both dramatically and comically, but give her fictional play a strong sense of realism, truth, argument and authenticity.

Set against the backdrop of Lexington, Kentucky, circa 2016-2019, the play begins with a chance meeting in a local bakery named Revival between Lane (a free spirit of sorts) and Steph (smart but somewhat reserved), two very different, very interesting thirtysomethings. Using a scene reset at the start of the play (think "Constellations") for about five or six minutes, a friendship quickly turns into a romance with lots of romcom silliness, playful verbiage, giddy miscommunication, goofy double takes, embarrassed longings and Hallmark Channel wholesomeness.
But alas, all of that is about to change.
As the story evolves, the play picks up steam with conflicts, revelations, truths, tragedy and anguish that Winkler paints with excited flourish, determination and compassion. She also introduces a third character named Della, who happens to be the older sister of Lane. She too comes to "The Brightest Thing in the World' with her own set of issues, problems, quirks and romantic entanglements.

As a new work - Yale Rep's first world premiere since 2019 - "The Brightest Thing in the World" is welcoming, sincere, tricky, romantic, upfront and melodramatic. It is also very talky - big with issues, big with same-sex intermingling, big with choices, big with feelings, big with arguments and big with stings, curves, twists and punches. It also finds a fair amount of absurdity in the darkness that Winkler creates halfway through the story. But luckily, Winkler keeps her play becoming too preachy and too judgmental. If it was, the time invested in her three pivotal characters wouldn't matter much and sadly, no one would care about the outcome to the piece, which, blueprint aside, brims with good faith.

The real question here: Does, the play work?
For the most part, it does.
There's surprise.
There's invention.
There's individuality.
There's awkwardness.
There's also a crazily orchestrated pop song and wild dance sequence that springs out of nowhere.
But it's so much fun, it's pretty much "a given" in terms of acceptance and carefree abandonment.

Margot Bordelon, a New York-based director whose specializes in mounting new works, comes to Yale Rep with an impressive list of directorial credits from regional theaters across America including Playwrights Horizons, Cherry Lane, Berkeley Rep, Primary Stages, the David Geffen School of Drama, The Public and the Roundabout Theatre Company. Here, she grabs hold of Winkler's play text and shakes it up using definitive beats, rhythms, pauses and skips that give "The Brightest Thing in the World" a strong sense of identity, definition, thrust and animation. 
She also paints an interesting, embodied picture of lesbian life that translates universally regardless of one's life choices, beliefs and sexuality. On that note, Bordelon creates a pleasurable buzz or hook up, if you prefer, that is paced and readied with connection, spark captivation and attraction.

Still, there are problems. And Bordelon, makes a couple of obvious mistakes.
A scene, tossed in for humorous effect, has Della moving quickly to the door of her home with an ax that reminds one of Jack Torrance, Jack Nicholson's character from the 1980 film version of "The Shining." But since the action that follows happens completely off stage, it produces unnecessary giggles that knock the play off balance for a moment or two. It's also out of context with the rest of the story and doesn't exactly quite work. PS: A rewrite is strongly suggested.
Another key scene, in which Lane is found lying on Della's floor, clinging to life after taking heroin, is effective to a degree. But, at times, it is slightly over the top to be taken seriously. It also gets everyone in the audience thinking that Lane will probably die, which, of course she does, during the final ten minutes of the play. No surprise, there.

"The Brightest Thing in the World" stars Katherine Romans as Lane, Michele Selene Ang as Steph and Megan Hill as Della. In true ensemble fashion, each actress shares her character's story, her character's history and her character's experience both dramatically and comically (depending on the scene at hand) with focus, spill, personality, instinctiveness and vulnerability. Acting wise, they smartly come together as one, in pairs or as a trio, giving voice to both the ongoing narrative and their particular role in Winkler's story.
Even when there are bumps and hiccups in the script, they work overtime to bring validation to the play's odd shifts in mood and tone, dialogue that misfires and pointed confrontations, outbursts and arguments that demand just a little more depth and command.

That said, "The Brightest Light in the World" endures, excites and radiates.
In spite of its flaws, it remains a touching, thoughtful and quirky serio-comic work about lesbianism, addiction, death and struggle.
It disturbs.
It excites.
It allows one to laugh, shed a tear, get angry, shake their head and feel a sense of pride and compassion for the play's three central characters.
It is arguably an important work for Yale Rep and one that should invite welcomed opinion, criticism and conversation - pro and con - after the final fadeout.

"The Brightest Thing in the World" is being staged at Yale Repertory Theatre (1120 Chapel St., New Haven, CT), now through December 17, 2022.
For tickets or more information, call (203) 432-1234.

Monday, December 5, 2022

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 354, A Review: "Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!)" (Castle Craig Players)

By James V. Ruocco

Every year, it's the same old story.
"A Christmas Carol."
"The Nutcracker."
"Miracle on 34th Street."
"It's a Wonderful Life."

And for the gazillionth time, Ebenezer Scrooge, George Bailey, Tiny Tim, Kris Kringle, Clarence the Angel and The Nutcracker Prince, among others, take center stage as their stories are replayed and replayed in traditional holiday fare all across the globe right before the first snowfall and the anticipated arrival of that jolly, old, bearded man in red.

But be, forewarned.
"Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!)," the comic brainchild of Michael Carleton, James Fitzgerald and John K. Alvarez, will have none of this gumdrop gooey humbug.

As the play opens, Charles Dickens' beloved holiday classic "A Christmas Carol" takes backseat to the trio's wild and giddy sleigh ride of holiday storytelling that twists and distorts one holiday favorite after another in favor of jokes, sketches, ballets, songs, traditions and yuletide giddyap orchestrated strictly for laughter's sake and rambunctious irreverence.

That silliness - mixed with clever, funny, eccentric and exaggerated satirization - is shaken and stirred with wicked abandon and gag-and-giggle merriment in Castle Craig Players hilariously staged mounting of "Every Christmas A Story Ever Told (And Then Some!)," a two-comedy that gives holiday staples a hyperactive glimmer, a super-charged caffeination and a wildly caricatured dash-and-dare artifice.

Some of it is scripted.
Some of it is improvised.
Some if it based on wrong cues and on-stage mishaps.
Some it involves the audience.
Some of it springs up out of nowhere.

No matter.
With the accent on laughter, the chaotic fun that ensues is amazing, well-choreographed and chock full of strength and personality.

As scripted by Carleton, Fitzgerald and Alvarez, nothing is sacred, and everything is up for grabs. In addition to playful, well-timed jibes about "A Christmas Carol," "The Nutcracker," "It's a Wonderful Life," "The Gift of the Magi," and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," the play includes playful bits about Sally Field, Donald Trump, fruitcake, Santa's elves, Florida, Iceland, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas in Sweden, Christmas in Germany, Natalie Wood, Bob Dylan, Wales, The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Charlie Brown, Dr. Seuss and Frosty the Snowman.
Act II includes a well-orchestrated parody of several traditional Christmas songs with different lyrics and mashups harmoniously delivered in unison by cast members Bobby Schultz, Rick Bennett and Chris Brooks. There's also a lengthy, ingenious story arc that reimagines both "A Christmas Carol" and "It's a Wonderful Life" as seen through the eyes of both Ebenezer Scrooge and George Bailey.
No spoilers, please.

For Castle Craig Players, "Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!)"  has been staged by the husband-and-wife team of Carleigh and Bobby Schultz, two very accomplished actors and directors with a boatload of credits from various state venues including Connecticut Cabaret Theatre. Here, they craft a festive, inspired holiday satire, suffused with just the right amount of dash and vigor to make the production fly, strum, invigorate, convince and never once run out of steam.

What's important here is the comedy itself. Timing, delivery, beat, rhythm, push, pull and pause are all essential to the piece, its concept, its evolution, its command and its connection to both the actor and the audience. It's in these moments that both Schultz's come into their own.
One-liners get the punch and snap they deserve. Moments of silliness abound with flair and triggered acumen. Improvised bits between actor and audience, which change from performance to performance, fit seamlessly into the fabric of the comedic storytelling at hand. Sketches unfold with point, squeeze, humor and hammy chaos. The goosey arsenal of the actual script also plays out with the decided relish, camp and gait envisioned by the show's creators.

"Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!)" stars Bobby Schultz as Bobby, Rick Bennett as Rick and Chris Brooks as Chris. Very much a team effort, this ensemble of performers come to the Castle Craig stage skilled in the stage mechanics of satire, punctuated with splendid dashes of flawless comic timing, ceaseless energy, wide-eyed pleasure and do-or-die, on the spot improvisational mindset. Acting alone, as a pair or as a trio, they are in complete control of the night's precision-drilled lunacy, its breakneck pacing, its shifts in character and tone, its over-extended origins, its full-on gallop, its verve, its evident joy and its wackadoodle mischief.
It's full force gun blazing - pulled off magnificently from start to finish.

A madcap mix of energy, slapstick, roar and holiday cheer, "Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!)" bounces up and down with wonderfully played shenanigans and gamboling that pops and hops with delightful, creative aplomb.
It is a funny immersive theatrical experience that glides into view with chuckles, excitement and belly laughs galore, all wrapped merrily around those familiar Christmas stories audiences know and love.
As translated to the stage by co-directors Carleigh and Bobby Schultz, it unspools with paraded enthusiasm and aesthetic, all clocked and readied with recognized achievement and improvisation using every opportunity imaginable to thrust its trio of players into the spotlight for one crazy situation after another, some of which involves actual members of the audience.

In turn, no two shows are alike.
Regardless, it's all in good fun.
It's goofy and spirited.
It's festive goodwill.
It's everything you expected it to be.
And it's exactly the kind of present - ticket, that is - you'd want to find under your Christmas tree this holiday season.

"Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!)" is being staged at Castle Craig Players (Almira F. Stephan Memorial Playhouse, 59 W. Main St, Meriden, CT), now through December 11,2022.
For tickets or more information, call (203) 634-6922.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 353, A Review: "Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical" (The Arts at Angeloria''s)

 By James V. Ruocco

"They need a Sugar Plum Fairy not a dancing ham!"
(Sister Mary Regina, the Rev. Mother)

"Sister Leo is appearing in 'The Ballbreaker.' "
(Sister Mary Amnesia)
"Sister, the name of the ballet is 'The Nutcracker.' "
(Sister Mary Regina, the Rev. Mother)

"What would the holidays be without Christmas candy. If you want a treat that'll really 'slay 'em' sweeten up your tree with a Candy Cain and Abel."
(Father Virgil)

"We were watching 'All My Children' and Erica Kane took that baby and I said, girlfriend, you better put that baby back!"
(Sister Mary Hubert)

The cheeky aplomb of that dialogue, among others, sets the stage for the comic underpinning, the vamping, the rivalry, the chaos and the madness that ensues when the Little Sisters of Hoboken find themselves back in the spotlight for "Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical," a light-hearted continuation of the original "Nunsense" story set against the backdrop of WCON-TV, a special cable access television station (built in the convent basement) that will broadcast the nun's first ever televised Christmas concert filmed and edited before a live television audience.
Four Catholic school children are also scheduled to appear in the program alongside Father Virgil, a Franciscan monk who also happens to be the real-life brother of the convent's Sister Mary Leo, a nun who has dedicated her life to the world of ballet.

At the Arts of Angeloria's, Goggin's hit musical springs to life in a deliciously witty production that is topped with fulltime giggles and holiday merriment just the way Goggin intended it to be. The material - timed, primed and decked with an invigorating, interactive book that thrusts the audience right into the ongoing action (this is true of all "Nunsense" musicals) - allows for additional megawatt nuttiness, sprinkled with jokes, songs, remembrances, skits, dances and inappropriateness that kicks "Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical" into orbit with surefire wit, savvy and whirling abandon.

There's Christmas gift giveaways.
There's a Catholic Home Shopping Network with questionable items thrown in for laughs.
There's a "Nutcracker" ballet with Father Virgil in drag.
There's a Julia Child Cooking Show. 
There are holiday songs that unfold with the wrong lyrics due largely on Sister Mary Amnesia's misinterpretations.
There's bickering, embarrassed moments, revelations and mistimed skits that go belly-up.
And if you've missed any of the "Nunsense" musicals (doubt anyone in the audience would admit to such a sin), "Nuncrackers" includes playful bits and pieces that recall how 52 nuns of the order died from food poisoning and how Sister Mary Paul was nicknamed Amnesia after a crucifix fell on her head causing frequent absent mindedness.

Wildly caricatured.
Divinely daft.

If it's laughter you want, you'll find plenty of that - and so much more - smartly woven into the utterly silly comic palette of Goggin's creation.

The heartfelt residency that is "Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical" is communicated with laugh-a-minute celebration and assertion by director Peter Weidt who gives the two-act musical comedy an open-faced appeal and zany badge of honor that paves the way for non-stop fun and theatrical clout of the highest order. It's a madcap foray of opportunity that's extended and played with vaudevillian brio, high spirit and showbiz hokey that brings down the house pretty much every five or six minutes.

Then again, that's the point. 
It's massive. It's in-the-moment. It's hoot and howl. It's deliberate. It's overshooting. It's goofy. It's hysterical. 
Weidt takes great delight in making people laugh, going with the flow, whisking the story foreward with a chuckle and filling the liminal space of the theater with immersive song and comedy that supports Goggin's concept, his humor, his story arcs, his characters, his tilts, his double takes, his one-liners and religious gamboling.

The musical score for "Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical" - sweet, rhythmic, charming and committed - unfolds with room-filling glee and giggle, offset by a self-confident carapace of tunes that recall the playful, invigorating cheer of "Nunsense" and its many continuations including "Nunsense 2: The Second Coming" and "Sister Amnesia's Country Western Nunsense Jamboree."
Featuring music and lyrics created by "Nunsense" maestro Dan Goggin, "Nuncrackers" contains 22 musical numbers, all of which are seamlessly integrated into the actual story, which is also penned by Goggin himself.
They are: "Christmas Time Is Nunsense Time," "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," "Joy to the World the Cat's Away," "Santa's Little Teapot," "Twelve Days Prior to Christmas," "The Christmas Box," "Santa Ain't Comin' to Our House," "The Wassail Song (A Waffling)," "A Carnival Christmas," "The Holly and the Ivy (Ivory)," "The Nutcracker Ballet," "Three Hundred Sixty-Four Days," "Jesus Was Born in Brooklyn," "In the Convent," "The Three Kings," "The First Noel (Leopards)," "All I Want For Christmas," "Christmas Sing-Along," "Gloria," "A Brand New School," "It's Better to Give" and "Christmas Time Is Nunsense Time (reprise)."

The idea behind any of the "Nunsense" musicals is Fun! Fun! Fun! And Goggin, musical guru that he is, is not one to disappoint. Here, the joie de vivre is a musical score that excites, entertains, commands and gets you howling with laughter.
Goggin, as musical storyteller, carries the "Nuncrackers" torch proudly with hilariously shaped melodies, ballads and production numbers that unfold with just the right amount of irony, instrument, investment, patter, color, wink and gum-drop gooey abandon. Then and now, his writing is freewheel and matter-of-fact with splendid gurgles of mischief, mayhem, range and humor - all individually tailor-made for the specific characters he's selected to bring them merrily to life.

All of this is energized full throttle by "Nuncrackers" musical director Ed Rosenblatt who fulfills the demands of Goggin's score with style, zing, snap and trademark "Nunsense" representation. There's ping and jest right from the start along with showpiece focus, backbone and highlight, all of which complements the musical's orchestral hijinks, its holiday cheer and evolving comical narrative. It's a labor of love - tuned and guided with lively acoustics and presentation by onstage accompanist Bill D'Andrea, a musician, who, under Rosenblatt's tutelage, brings an immersive, campy elan to the proceedings that dominates the show and its music with the entertaining kitsch and carry craftsmanship that adheres to Goggin's original conceit.

"Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical" stars Lori Holm as Sister Mary Paul (Amnesia), Leann Crosby as Sister Mary Hubert, Jen Passaretti as Sister Robert Anne, Tony Lamberto as Father Virgil Manly Trott, Heidi Bass-Lamberto as Sister Mary Regina (Rev. Mother), Eric Chubet as John Kelly, Aaj Desai as Billy Wilson/Nutcracker Prince, Lilly Wood as Louise Mayfield and Alexandria Joshi-Staples as Maria Montini.

In the role of Sister Mary Amnesia, the daffy nun who gets things continually mixed up and often can't remember her own name, Lori Holm - last seen in the venue's exhilarating 2021 summer production of "Mamma Mia!" - launches into high gear with a comic portrait etched with brilliantly timed verbal acumen, skittish twirl, comic harmony and priceless, baffled expressions and wonderment. 
Leann Crosby - a perfect fit for the part of Sister Hubert - crafts a wonderfully conceived comic performance - rich in daring physical energy and flawless comic timing - that hilariously mirrors the playfulness and spunky, flavorsome spirit of the character as originally conceived by Goggin in the "Nunsense" musicals.

As Sister Mary Regina, the Rev. Mother of the Little Sisters of Hoboken order, Heidi Bass-Lamberto blasts off with a refreshing, full-bodied performance that portrays the character's bossy mode, her love of the spotlight and bottled attempts to make light of situations that go wrong on stage and at the convent during the filming of the WCON-TV holiday special.
There's fun galore into the animated, charismatic character turn delivered by Jen Passaretti in the role of Sister Robert Anne from Brooklyn. It's a wry, teasing, knockabout portrayal, laced with wit, imagination, depth and spin that the actress orchestrates brilliantly throughout the production.
Father Virgil, as played by Tony Lamberto, smoothly shifts into comic gear with natural, vaudevillian ease, thus, bringing lots of well-timed flourishes to his many onstage "Nuncracker" skits and zany twists of fate that push his character into the center stage spotlight.

Making his acting debut in "Nuncrackers" as Billy Wilson and the Nutcracker Prince, Aaj Desai brings the right voice, charm and spirit to the proceedings, which makes his stage debut as relevant as ever. "Oliver Twist" lookalike Eric Chubet slides into his role of John Kelly with plenty of personality, opportunity, enthusiasm and energy. Like Desai, he's an onstage natural who adapts to the material at hand with polish, point and harmony.
Lily Wood (Louise Mayfield) and Alexandria Joshi-Staples (Maria Montini) also come to "Nuncrackers" with nicely played rhythm, interaction and holiday merriment.

A musical confection that bounds along with a ceaseless energy that appeals to audiences of all ages, "Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical" is sheer fun for anyone who succumbs to the rip-roaring silliness of its unapologetic giddyap and over-the-top lunacy.
It sways. It sings. It dances. It cajoles.
As directed by Peter Weidt, it's high-energy fun chock full of pizzazz and slapstick, performed by a confident, committed cast who sing and sway their way through yet another "Nunsense" musical of time capsule nostalgia, frivolity and make believe, all dressed up in the red and greens of the upcoming Christmas holidays.

Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical" is being staged at The Arts of Angeloria's (223 Meriden Waterbury Turnpike, Southington, CT), now through December 4, 2022.
For tickets or more information, call (860) 426-9690.