Monday, July 31, 2023

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 412, A Review: "Into the Woods" (Castle Craig Players)


By James V. Ruocco 

Once upon a time...

In the classic fairy tales of "Cinderella," "Jack and the Beanstalk," "Red Riding Hood" and "Rapunzel," a life of "happily ever after" was pretty much guaranteed.
Idyllic summers.
Lavish costume balls.
Handsome princes.
Beautiful maidens.
Singing birds.
Typical flights of whimsy.
Not a care in the world.
Oh, really!
Think again!

And, oh yes, be careful what you wish for.

Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's celebrated, deliciously wicked two-act musical "Into the Woods," first produced on Broadway, back in 1987, turns all that good cheer and happiness completely upside down and back again, in favor of something more mysterious, disturbing, gruesome, wilted and spellbinding.

There's death.
There's bloodshed.
There's fantasy.
There are magic beans.
There are spells.
There are mashups.
There are transformations.
There are bizarre scavenger hunts.
There are consequences.
There's not one, but two giants.
There are romantic dalliances in the woods.
There's also an oversized puppet called Milky White.

Ah, what fun!
Ah, what joy!
Ah, what drama!
Ah, what merriment!
Ah, what hell!
That said, the tangled, twisted and hypnotic world of make-believe has never been more appealing, alluring and eye-catching.

Case in point: The Castle Craig Players exhilarating, fanciful, breezy production of "Into the Woods."

Brash.
Acerbic.
Malevolent.
Vigorous.
Potent.
Outrageous.

There's lots to enjoy about this colorful, peppy, angst-ridden revival from Erin Campbell, Nicole Zolad and Erin Aldrich's gleeful, contagious, richly cemented, hilariously orchestrated comedic turns as Stepmother, Florinda and Lucinda to Griffin Kulp's seriously wild dual portrayals of the flesh-eating Wolf and Cinderella's narcissistic Prince Charming to Desi Amato's mesmerizing, showstopping, beautifully textured portrayal of The Wicked Witch who, at the end of Act One is miraculously transformed from an ugly, hideous looking woman into a drop-dead, gorgeous, fashionista.
All five have the right look, the right mindset, the right attitude, the right voice, the right body language and the right sound necessary to reenact the craftiness, content and stylization of this ground-breaking, now iconic material, as created by both Sondheim and Lapine.

As musical theatre, this production of "Into the Woods" also 
wryly exposes the fun, the fantasy, the brashness, the catastrophes, the sexiness, the charm and the over-the-top theatrics of several fairy-tale characters who, much to the delight of its creators, don't get that happy ending they so longed for.
Then again, that's the point of this sprawling, ingenious musical that finds breathy bewilderment in the mix-ups and collisions of characters who accidentally find themselves misplaced in someone else's story. It's a cheeky concept that fuels the narrative with full-throttle commitment, command, leap and impact.
How it all plays out - and play out it does - scene by scene, song by song, twist by twist, turn by turn - gives this savvy and immersive revival of "Into the Woods" its heartbeat, its pulse, its personality, its soul and its emotional center.
You laugh. You cry. You cheer. You grimace. You shake your head in wonderment. You clap. You stir. You embrace the musical's dark, involving moments. You revel in its many mysteries and surprises. You sit there spellbound never quite knowing what's going to happen next.

Staging "Into the Woods," Ian Galligan ("Company," "Gypsy," "Cabaret," "Grey Gardens," "Oliver!") delves deeply into the intricacies of Lapine's book, its rhythmic wordplay, its quirks, its beats, its pauses, its pulses, its sexual innuendo and its acerbic underbelly.
He creates. He moves. He embellishes. He enlightens. He addresses. He advances.
As "Into the Woods" takes flight, he also accentuates the gloom and doom of the author's vision, its idiosyncratic heartbeat, its atypical language, its dicey predicaments, its playful paradoxes, its doomed couplings, its obsessions, its cowardice, its romanticism and its unfortunate, unhappy twists of fate.
Better yet, Galligan is also pretty much his own man.
Directorially, he takes chances. He tries things differently. He's a free spirit brimming with great ideas and concepts that place him at the top of his game.
Here, as in other productions he has staged for Castle Craig Players, he knows 
exactly how to cast a show, what buttons to push, how to build and shape a musical, how to keep every one of his characters in the limelight, how to introduce a scene, a song, a dance and more importantly, how to make an oft-staged musical - in this case, "Into the Woods" - seem fresh, timely and brand, spanking new.
More importantly, Galligan takes a big, lavish Broadway musical and adapts it smartly to the small, intimate and immersive confines of the Meriden-based venue without losing any of the power, fantasy, boldness and wickedness associated with the two-act musical. Individual scenes are fast and fluid. Songs unfold with once-upon-a-time allure, humor and drama. Twisty and very dark directional strokes also rock the Sondheim/Lapine boat with cleverly constructed conceit, originality and flourish.
The idea of opening the musical with every one of the character's strategically placed around the storyteller holding the "Into the Woods" book that's about to be read out loud once the music starts works particularly well as does the ending of Act I that brings everyone back center stage as pages from the book fly about abruptly but stop midair, thus signaling the "to be continued" element of the story following intermission. 

Musically, "Into the Woods" showcases Sondheim at his very best.
Winner of the 1988 Tony Award for Best Musical Score, the production unfolds through 32 carefully chosen, meticulously placed musical numbers that celebrate the genius of the composer, his now-iconic arrangements, his trademark syncopations, his intoxicating melodies, his catchy lyrics, his intricately dotted beats, rhythms, pauses, tilts and finally, his plummy, urgent verbiage.
In order of presentation, they are: "Prologue: Into the Woods," "Cinderella at the Grave," "Hello, Little Girl," "I Guess This Is Goodbye," "Maybe They're Magic," "Our Little World," "Maybe, They're Magic (reprise)," "I Know Things Now," "A Very Nice Prince," "First Midnight," "Giants in the Sky," "Agony," "A Very Nice Prince," "It Take Two," "Second Midnight," "Stay With Me," "On the Steps of the Palace," "Careful My Toe," "So Happy (Prelude)," "Ever After," "Prologue: So Happy," "Prologue: Into the Woods (reprise)," "Agony (reprise)," "Lament," "Any Moment," "Moments in the Woods," "Your Fault," "Last Midnight," "No More," "No One is Alone," and "Finale: "Children Will Listen."

To bring the "Into the Woods" score to life, Castle Craig Players has commissioned musical director Nick Ciasullo to recreate the lush complexity and eloquence of Sondheim's music. It's a task he greets with symphonic fascination, tilt, movement and deep, involved musical glow. Completely in sync with the thrill and punch of Sondheim's conceit, he allows the tangy musical score to breathe, beguile, astonish, entice, cajole and echo the pulsating notes, the haunting sounds, the merry skips, the delicious beats, the frenzied panting, the twisty malevolence and the wonderfully timed festering and gentleness the composer/lyricist has created. Not of a piece of the complex and complicated Sondheim puzzle is missing under Ciasullo's tutelage.
To keep the two-act musical both engaged and tuneful, Ciasullo (synthesizer 2) receives able assist from Jill Brunelle (keyboard), David Wilson (percussion) and Mya Chrzanowski (synthesizer 1). 
In turn, there's plenty of payoff and satisfying thwack. The orchestrations unfold with pleasant directness and specificity.  This being Sondheim, things are often intensely expressive and exceptionally intricate. Vocally, the cast understands Sondheim, gets Sondheim, appreciates Sondheim and wraps their vocal chops around the composer's clever, ironic and meticulously crafted music and lyrics. At times, however, the demands of the Sondheim score are so overwhelming, a flat note or loss of pitch or lyric interrupts the intended moment, but only fleetingly. 

"Into the Woods" stars Desi Amato as The Witch, Griffin Kulp as The Wolf/Cinderella's Prince, Henry Tobelman as The Baker, Angela Citrola as The Baker's Wife, Kaite Corda as Cinderella, Benjamin Race as Jack, Dian Erikian as Jack's Mother, Erin Campbell as Stepmother, Nicole Zolad as Florinda, Erin Aldrich as Lucinda, Anna Conforti as Rapunzel, Chris Corrales as Rapunzel's Prince, Brooke Owens as Little Red Riding Hood, Jonathan Cohen as The Narrator/Mysterious Man, Cristin Daly as Granny/Cinderella's Mother, Bret Olson as Cinderella's Father, Jeffrey Rizzo as The Steward and Olivia DeFilippo as Milky White. 

As the scary, twisted, vengeful and imperfect Wicked Witch, who, for fairy tale purposes, gets to shed her frightening image for a very glamorous one at the end of Act I, Desi Amato ignites "Into the Woods" with a totally invested, impactful performance chock full of refreshing intensity, command and energy that never once falters for a second. Throughout the musical, she has great fun casting spells, working magic, commenting on the doom and gloom of the story and wrapping her vocal cords around the wild and wicked Sondheim songs - "Stay with Me," "Last Midnight," "Our Little World," "Lament," "Children Will Listen" - that were originally created for Bernadette Peters on Broadway and Julia McKenzie in London's West End. 
What's remarkable about Amato is how she puts her own individual stamp on the material, making it her very own rather than offering a copycat portrayal similar to that of her predecessors. Vocally, she's seasoned, capturing the wit, warmth, irony and mystery of both the Sondheim score and Lapine's cynical enchantress. So much so, one eagerly awaits her every entrance.


Chemistry is everything in this sort of Sondheim/Lapine frivolity and the well-matched, tremendously talented team of Henry Tobelman and Angela Citrola are completely engaging as the troubled Baker and the Baker's Wife. Given the many different levels, emotions, beats, twists and wrong turns they are required to make as the musical's childless couple, they grab hold of their characters, dig deep, and have great fun with pretty much everything they have to do on stage. To the benefit of all involved, including the audience, they get it right every time.
Vocally, they sing Sondheim's songs - "It Takes Two," "Moment in the Woods," "Maybe They're Magic," "No More," among others - with snap, vigor, passion and lyrical expression and precision. And as the story evolves, their keen, committed reenactment of an emotionally barren couple anxious to lift the Witch's curse of infertility (in the musical, the Witch caught the Baker's thieving father in her garden one-night stealing vegetables and six magic beans; to lift the spell, they must find "a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, the slipper as pure as gold") is effectively played out from start to finish until a cruel twist of fate (no spoilers here) midway through Act II changes everything forever. 

They don't come any more magical than Benjamin Race who takes hold of the lead role of Jack as if he stepped right out of the pages of the 1734 English fairy tale "The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean" and the subsequent 1807 retelling "The History of Jack and the Bean-Stalk."
Emotional, caring, childlike and curious, Race splendidly reenacts the "Beanstalk" drama with a natural gleam and polish that is exactly right for this retelling. Vocally, he's pitch-perfect delivering the melodious "Giants in the Sky" and the tearful "I Guess This is Goodbye" with the full, rich, voice and moist-eyed innocence that Sondheim intended for character and both musical numbers.
Cast in the important role of Jack's caring, overprotective and sometimes misunderstood mother, Dian Erikian  - a performer who commands and holds your attention the moment she steps foot onto the Castle Craig Players stage - offers a sparkling, intuitive, inventive performance as captivating as that of Barbara Byrne who originated the part of Jack's mother in the original 1987 Broadway production.
As "Into the Woods" unfolds, her characterization is very real, very passionate and rife with humor, insight and motherly concern. There is never any doubt that she and Race are mother and son as their many scenes together are joyfully and sensitively rendered.

In the role of The Wolf, Griffin Kulp positively trumps confidence, coherence, charisma and a wicked sense of infectious glee while preening, slithering and affecting a "Cats"-like homage to the demon-like Mr. Mistoffelees (an added bonus under the directorial guidance of Ian Galligan) while sniffing out his luncheon and dinner prey in grand guignol fashion laced with playful dashes of wit, decadence and below-the-belt urges. It's a star turn by all accounts and one that comes front and center the moment Kulp starts to sing the seductive "Hello, Little Girl" to an unsuspecting Little Red Riding Hood.
Much later, Kulp reappears as Cinderella's Prince, a narcissistic charmer and ladies' man who capitalizes on his handsomeness, kingdom worship and overt, often impromptu sexual desires. He is joined by the equally talented Chris Corales, who plays the role of Rapunzel's dreamy Prince with the same sort of narcissism and preen that goes hand in hand with handsome fairy tale characters of royal lineage.
As "Into the Woods" casts its spell, you 
never once doubt the duo's over-the-top moves and motives which come full circle not once but twice when Sondheim's showstopping "Agony," - a song and Act II reprise - candidly recounts the duo's newfound and unobtainable lady loves and the ongoing misery and torture of their troubled romantic plights. Vocally, both Kulp and Corales drive the "Agony" duets forward hitting all the right notes with plenty of dash and comedic momentum, offset by over-the-top poses, rivalry and who can get to the center stage spotlight first. 

Erin Campbell, cast in the role of Cinderella's Stepmother invests her characterization with the snap, zeal, zest and exaggeration envisioned by James Lapine when he first introduced "Into the Woods" to Broadway audiences 36 years ago. She's funny. She's wicked. She's evil. She's devious. She'll devour you in a heartbeat.
The actress also comes to the production with a clear and confident mindset that reveals strong acting technique, sharp enunciation and a clear and full singing voice completely in sync with the intricate musicality of Stephen Sondheim.
Cinderella's vile, black-of-heart stepsisters Florinda and Lucinda are played magnificently by Nicole Zolad and Erin Alrdich, who, like Campbell, step into the spotlight offering topflight characterizations completely entrenched in the melodramatic storytelling at hand. All three are appropriately vile spitting out insults, glaring at Cinderella and flouncing about in their festival ball gowns, enjoying their "Into the Woods" experience to the fullest.

As Cinderella, the versatile Kaite Corda finds real meaning, depth and purpose in her   character's troubled fantasy world of "happily ever after" and "not so happily ever after." Yes, she snags the handsome prince. Yes, she reaps the benefits of a lush life in a grand and glorious palace. But underneath, she still enjoys cleaning and yearns for something much more than the "hi, ho glamorous life" of marrying into royalty.
Her vocals "A Very Nice Prince," "On the Steps of the Palace" and "No One Is Alone" reveal a unifying vocal prowess and enchantment that is heartfelt, intimate, pleasing and very much in the intrinsic realm of Sondheim.
Anna Conforti's Rapunzel is lovely, alluring and rife with delightful absurdity. She screams magnificently and possesses a gorgeous soprano voice that is used quite advantageously throughout "Into the Woods." Her pivotal "Our Little World" duet with Amato, first introduced by Sondheim in the original 1990 West End London production, is a genuine crowd pleaser that sheds immediate insight on the duo's not-so-perfect, mother-and-daughter relationship. It is moving, sad, roof-raising and delivered by both actresses with great melody and poignancy.
As Little Red Riding Hood, Brooke Owens is a wonderful comedienne who hilariously conveys both the deadpan menacing, greed and spoiled, childlike, self-centeredness of her popular red-caped, fairy tale character. She is completely at home with the musical's sight jokes and ever-so-witty debunking.

In the dual parts of Granny and Cinderella's Mother, Cristin Daly is an accomplished singer and actress who makes the most of her relatively small roles, both of which are portrayed in the manner and style envisioned by the show's creators when "Into the Woods" first played Broadway. If anyone out there is thinking of doing "A Little Night Music" in the coming months or sometime next year, Daly would be the perfect fit for the roles of Desiree Armfelt, Countess Charlotte Malcolm or Petra. She has the right look, the right manner, the right mindset and a superlative sense of musicality for all things Sondheim.
Bret Olson, in the role of Cinderella's Father, doesn't really get much to do, but whenever he's on stage, his funnyman expressions, movements and gestures - completely in sync with the show's narrative - are a genuine source of amusement. 
Often, the role of The Steward, sadly, gets lost in the background of the "Into the Woods" story. But not here. As portrayed by the charismatic Jeffrey Rizzo, this otherwise underwritten role springs magically to life with Rizzo (also doubling as puppeteer) taking the spotlight whenever he's on-stage using expressions, innate yearnings and hilarious double takes that prompt immediate laughter. His bits with the birds that chirp and communicate with Cinderella are top-hat vaudeville laced with front-row center slapstick churn and burn.
Monty Python Given the pleasurable task of bringing Jack's beloved cow Milky White to life, puppeteer Olivia DeFilippo goes the "Life of Pi" route, thus, developing the right kinship with the animal itself and its important role in the ongoing "Into the Woods" narrative. Like Rizzo, she too is an important player, always knowing when to hit the right marks in terms of characterization, movement, expression and interaction with the onstage characters. Her occasional asides to the audience are playfully executed as are her intuitive, naturally orchestrated puppeteering skills.
In both the original Broadway and London production, the part of the Mysterious Man/ Narrator was nothing more than a rather obvious plot device designed to jump start the entire fairy tale and bring closure to the musical's many twists, turns, spins and curves. Here, that is not the case. Jonathan Cohen pours plenty of storybook heart and soul into the proceedings, crafting an amusing, deft performance that is completely magical, earnest and brimming with life even when he accidentally calls one of the lead female characters by the wrong name while narrating Lapine's complex fairy tale story. 

A rollicking, playful, dark and quirky exploration of folkloric fairy tale mischief and mayhem, this revival of "Into the Woods," as staged by the Castle Craig Players, is well worth the journey into the lush and magical world of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine where "happily ever after" is often dampened by pain, loss, greed, revenge, infidelity and narcissism.
Energetic. Hypnotic. Twisted, Sophisticated. Thrilling.
"Into the Woods" is Sondheim at his best.
It's the perfect fit for Castle Craig Players and one that benefits largely from Ian Galligan's inventively expressive direction, his superior wit, his twinkly references to other well-known musicals of yesteryear and finally, his fresh, bold take on oft-played material that first found life on Broadway 36 years ago.
So, follow the path. Embrace the journey. Experience the music. Listen to the lyrics. Laugh at the wisecracks. Succumb to the composer's cleverest phrases. And oh yes, have a great time.

Photos of "Into the Woods" courtesy of Kevin McNair

"Into the Woods" is being staged at Castle Craig Players (Almira F. Stephan Memorial Playhouse, 597 W. Main St., Meriden, CT), now through August 12, 2023.
For more information, call (203) 634-6922.
website: castlecraigplayers.org 

Please note: All performances are sold out at this time.
To be placed on the "Standby List," go to the Castle Craig Players website and fill out the appropriate request form. If tickets become available, patrons will be contacted in the order in which requests have been received.
Submission, of this form, however, does not guarantee tickets.


Tuesday, July 25, 2023

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 411, A Review: "The Music Man" (Seven Angels Theatre)

By James V. Ruocco  

"Seventy-Six Trombones." 

"Ya Got Trouble."

"Till There Was You."

"The Wells Fargo Wagon."

"Marian the Librarian."

No amount of good cheer, virtuosic wit and timeless musicality has been left unturned in Seven Angels Theatre's thrilling, affectionate and effervescent revival of Meredith Willson's 1957 Tony Award-winning Broadway classic "The Music Man." It is yet another one of those big, glorious, old-fashioned musical productions of yesteryear that has gone full tilt - left, right, front, center and upside down - with an ambitious blueprint of characters, songs, dances, one liners and storytelling strategies that are drenched in soft, rainbow colors that explode, sparkle and dazzle like a vintage firework display on the Fourth of July during the summer of 1912 in River City, Iowa.

Colorful.
Intimate.
Rousing.
Magical.
Twinkly.
Period Appropriate.

It's everything you want in a Broadway musical and so much more.
It has the fizz and taste of homemade lemonade on a hot summer afternoon.
It has the snap and giddyap of a pop-up, vintage musical scrapbook that is magically brought to life.
It is welcoming and delightful with an impressive, laid-back style and range.
It dances to its own decided heartbeat.
It charms and cajoles.
It is refreshingly capped and delivered.
It also has the good sense to remain faithful to its original source material, its ice cream parlor values and traditions, its past remembered innocence, its hospitality and kinship, its strong sense of family and its Iowa stubborn mentality and release.

The story itself, is a humdinger in itself, glazed and baked with enchantment, top-hatted kitsch, narrative thrill and spill and merrily interspersed amusement.


With music, lyrics and book by Meredith Willson, "The Music Man" time travels back to River City, Iowa to retell the oft-told story of Harold Hill, a fast-talking traveling salesman, womanizer and con artist who sells band instruments and uniforms to young boys and teenagers with the promise of big band glory days and pageantry.
One small problem: He has no credentials. He has no educational roots. He can't read a note of music, much less conduct a full band concert before a very excited, live audience. 
And once the money is collected, he quickly hops the next train out of town faster than you can say John Philip Sousa or the Gary, Indiana Conservatory of Music (class of 1905) and never once looks back. 

A strong point of any classic Broadway musical - "My Fair Lady," "Kiss Me, Kate," "Oklahoma!" "West Side Story," "Carousel," to name a few - is its score. 
True to form, "The Music Man," never once fails to deliver.

Winner of five Tony Awards including Best Musical, "The Music Man" comes gift wrapped with 28 tuneful, invigorating musical numbers, all of which heighten Willson's spirited story and its engaging evolvement toward a very happy, classic, meaningful and well-intentioned conclusion.
The songs, in order of performance, are:  "Rock Island," "Iowa Stubborn," "Ya Got Trouble," "Piano Lesson & If You Don't Mind My Saying So," "Goodnight, My Someone," "Columbia, Gem of the Ocean," "Ya  Got Trouble (Reprise)," "Seventy-Six Trombones," "Sincere," "The Sadder But Wiser Girl," "Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little & Goodnight Ladies," "Marian the Librarian," "My White Knight," "The Wells Fargo Wagon," "It's You," "Shipoopi," "Pick-a-Little, Talk a-Little (reprise)," "Lida Rose & Will I Ever Tell You?" "Gary, Indiana," "Lida Rose (reprise)," "Till There Was You," "Goodnight, My Someone & Seventy-Six Trombones (reprise)," "Till There Was You (reprise)" and "Finale."
As devised by Willson (music and lyrics), the score itself is rich, ripe, round and booming. It unfolds with the breezy, broad, anticipated and playful tap and lyricism that befits the story, its glide and spin, its conceived placement, its romanticism, its mood swings and the characters chosen to sing each and every one of the score's iconic show tunes.
More importantly, its uniquely in its own element and just as magical, moving and powerful as it was when it was first performed and heard on Broadway 65 years ago. 


Serving as musical director for "The Music Man" at Seven Angels Theatre, Richard Carsey ("La Cage aux Folles," "The Phanton of the Opera," "Little House on the Prairie: The Musical") takes hold of the Willson score, digs deep and lets it explode in Broadway musical melodic fashion while carefully honing and individualizing its already proven sweetness, sentimentality, light heartedness and shrewd and focused craftiness.
No camp. No goo. No candy floss. No syrup. No sugar. No overkill.
Under his tutelage, every one of songs is recreated, realized and portrayed with a slap, bang, wallop musicality that allows it to flow more clearly, smoothly and easily, thus, resulting in a fruitful collaboration between artist, audience and orchestra in matters of rhythm, harmony and phrasing.
Working alongside an exceptional and tremendously talented orchestral team - Eric Pelletier (reed), Dan Kraszewski (bass), Mark Ryan/Dave Edricks (percussion), Leo Lavallee/Josh Meade (trumpet 1), Justin Schoeneck/Scott Minnerly (trombone) and Phaelon Koski (trumpet 2), Carsey (at the piano) shows off his gift for tender directness, attentive shimmer and expressive vigilance.
Here, everything that happens musically is uncorked with real feeling, promise and range. In turn, important musical numbers including "Seventy-Six Trombones," "Iowa Stubborn," "The Wells Fargo Wagon," "Till There Was You" and "Pick a-Little, Talk-a-Little" reach their intended peak allowing them to pop, stir and resonate in much the same manner and lift as Willson intended when "The Music Man" was first introduced to theatergoers on Broadway back in 1957.
As musical director, Carsey also has great fun with sound and fury of "Rock Island," which opens the two-act musical. Here, spoken word instead of sung melody finds a group of traveling salesman mimicking words and phrases synced to the sound, hiss and movement of a moving train. It's a tough number to pull off, but not here.
As the number evolves, everyone on stage brilliantly - that is, brilliantly - vocalizes, snaps and sizzles - carefully emphasizing consonants, chatter, fast talk and lingo with real and natural entitlement, enthusiasm and gusto. Elsewhere, the four-part harmony song style of the River City School Board finds Carsey in his element producing a barbershop quartet sound that elicits ovation worthy applause whenever these characters take center stage to show off their keen, magnificent musical showmanship.  

As with most musicals of this genre, choreography plays a major role in a show's success, its development, its presentation, its evolvement, its entertainment value, its underlying charm, its spirit, its style and finally, its reassuring rip, roar, roll, glide and dash. The implementation of Marissa Follo Perry as choreographer of "The Music Man" is not only an artistic coup for the production itself, but one that is fresh, instinctive, lively, intoxicating and full of detail.
Everywhere you look - crowd scenes, dance duets, solo spotlight turns - Perry's decisive dance strokes give each and every one of the musical numbers an individuality and wonderment that's amazingly colorful, artistic and impressive.
As "The Music Man" inches forward, there's also a wonderful fluidity about her choices - atmospheric, nostalgic, flavorful - that serves the material well. More importantly, her choreographed maneuvers, pairings, partnerships and dance steps are perfectly in sync with the vintage storybook ideology reflective in the sumptuous 1962 film adaptation, the 2000 Broadway staging and the 2022 revival that starred Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster.
The decision to use supporting characters in musical numbers that they are not normally a part of (a stroke of genius she shares with Carsey) gives this revival a more grounded, down-home sentiment and ownership that heightens its nostalgic, playful sense of whimsy, nuance and rhythmic flair and uniqueness.
With a strong emphasis on floorwork, synchronization, contrast, athleticism and artistic early 20th century rootedness, "Seventy-Six Trombones," "Shipoopi," "Marian the Librarian" and "Ya Got Trouble" each achieve their intended purpose, drawing everyone on stage and in the audience into the Iowa-honed mentality of the River City populace and Perry's personalized, elan, flutter, power and brilliantly realized artistic finesse.  

As traveling salesman Harold Hill, the con man who charms his way into the lives of unsuspecting town folk of River City, Iowa, Moses Jacob is the perfect song-and-dance showman to bring this iconic musical character to life on the Seven Angels Theatre stage.
He's exciting. He's charming. He's personable. He's magnetic. He's polished.
As both actor and singer, he plays the part of Hill with plenty of dash, poise and magnetism, but takes us down a very different path than the one created by Robert Preston, Craig Bierko and Hugh Jackman.
No copycatting here.
Instead, Jacob puts his own personal stamp on the character, which, in turn, works especially well in this revival. The character is still slippery, calculating and brazen. Not to mention risk taking and womanizing. But at the same time, Jacob's portrayal allows Hill to grow, mature and finally see the error of his ways. He also projects a strong sense of style, purpose and center stage showmanship that befits the story and his role in it. There's also great command in his vocal interpretations of the rousing and showstopping "Ya Got Trouble" and "Seventy-Six Trombones."
Marcia Maslo, in the role of Marian Paroo, the bewitching town librarian and at-home piano teacher who suspects Hill of being a genuine and complete fraud, brings a strongness and a refreshing feminine lilt to the part which heightens not only her presence in the story but makes her eventual romance with the town's newcomer - the fast-talking music man who calls himself Harold Hill - more interesting and palpable.
Vocally, her rich, lilting soprano voice is used to full effect in "Goodnight My Someone," "My White Knight" and the showstopping "Till There Was You." Like Shirley Jones and Sutton Foster who also played the part of Marian Paroo, she also she finds the intended meaning behind every lyric she sings and lets it carry her away most engagingly.

A consummate actress, singer, entertainer and performer with dozens and dozens of stage musicals to her credit including "Mame," "Hello, Dolly!" "Bye, Bye Birdie," "Into the Woods" and Gypsy," Joyce Follo Jeffrey offers yet another deeply moving star turn, laced with punch, reserve, humor, color, detail and beautifully layered thought and fragility, which, makes her the ideal choice to bring the role of Mrs. Paroo, Marian's mother, to life on the Seven Angels Theatre stage.
She's polished. She's professional. She's gifted. She's mesmerizing. She's driven. She's captivating.
It's a natural, admirable performance - expressive, determined, protective and all in good fun that blossoms beautifully right through to musical's final curtain calls and bows.
In the roles of Eulalie MacKechnie Shinn and Major Shinn, Sheree Marcucci and Joe Stofko fill the shoes of these iconic musical characters with the humor, laughter and string envisioned by Willson when he first created them for the original 1957 Broadway production. Both offer full-blown comic performances that make their every onstage moment count and shine, playfully mixed with unabashed nuttiness, decorum and giddy gaffe and caricature.

Jimmy Donahue who amuses as Marcellus Washburn, a longtime friend of Harold Hill, directs "The Music Man" with a proud, gosh-oh-gee sentiment and zest that keeps the two-act musical spinning and twirling through the songs, the conversations, the dances, the performances and the very happy ending.

Light, fluffy, colorful and heartfelt, "The Music Man" is everything you'd expect it to be and so music more. It tilts. It sways. It hops. It jumps. It sings. It swells. It excites. It intrigues.
This revival - one of the best productions of the 2023 theater season - is an uplifting musical entertainment of incredible energy, frivolity, sweetness, sentiment and living, breathing nostalgia. The songs are lively, spirited and character driven. The dancing is vintage, home spun spectacular. The performances are fresh, vibrant and full-bodied. The book, written by "Music Man" creator Meredith Willson is rich, flavorful, involving and fancy free. And the show itself not only conjures up fond memories of the 1962 film adaptation that starred Robert Preston and Shirley Jones but creates a tapestry of good cheer, merriment and foot-stomping euphoria, so memorable, when you leave the theater, it's almost as if you're walking on air.


Photos of "The Music Man" courtesy of Paul Roth.

"The Music Man" is being staged at Seven Angels Theatre (1 Plank Rd., Waterbury, CT), now through August 6, 2023.
For tickets more information, call (203) 757-4676.
website: sevenangelstheatre.org   


Thursday, July 20, 2023

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 410, Front Row Center: Westport Country Playhouse's "Save Your Playhouse" Campaign Continues Thru July 30, 2023

By James V. Ruocco 

It's no secret that Westport Country Playhouse has been struggling.
Tickets sales are down.
The subscription base is dwindling.
Newly announced productions have been scrapped.
Mark Lamos exits as Artistic Director in six months.
Staff cuts are eminent.

Nonetheless, there is hope.
This is Westport.
The theater, which opened its doors in 1931, recently celebrated its 92nd Anniversary.
It has history.
Real history.
Pick up a playbill.
Time travel back to the past.

Dorothy Gish in "Russet Mantle."
Alla Nazimova in "Ghosts."
Henry Fonda in "The Virginian."
Olivia de Havilland in "What Every Woman Knows."
Eva Marie Saint in "The Rainmaker."
Jane Fonda in "No Concern of Mine."
Gloria Swanson in "Between Seasons."
Mickey Rooney in "See How They Run."
Lynn Redgrave in "The Two of Us."
Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward in "Ancestral Voices."
James Earl Jones in "Thurgood."

The list goes on and on.
But will it grow and continue?
Let's hope so.

To keep Westport Country Playhouse from permanently closing its doors, the theater has officially launched a special fundraising campaign - "Save Your Playhouse" - with a specified goal of a very necessary and immediate $2,000,000 by July 30, 2023.

It's a challenge, yes.
But one that easily could be met by donations - large and small - from just about anyone out there who loves theatre, wants theatre, enjoys theatre and doesn't want to lose one of Connecticut's historical, much-loved venues.

Newly elected board chair Athena T. Adamson, who has served as a trustee since 2017, has found the perfect plan to insure Westport Country Playhouse's longevity.
“This summer we are working to bring to life a new vision – one that features both first-rate theater productions and a wide array of innovative programming to engage new and existing audiences.”


If goals are met, the Playhouse 
will present a series of live performances including curated "one-night-only shows" featuring celebrities and top talent from the world of theater, comedy, music, and dance.
The popular "Script in Hand" 
play reading series, which offers intimate storytelling by professional actors, will continue along with the equally important “In Conversation With" talkbacks that offer theatergoers direct access to creators, business leaders, artists, athletes, philanthropists, and influencers in the intimate Playhouse setting.
High-end theatre will also be showcased along with
next-generation children’s programming, which Adamson believes is "essential to the theater’s ongoing mission. "

But first, the theater must reach its intended goal of $2 million.
“Westport Country Playhouse has stood the test of time by staying true to its mission and continually evolving,” says Adamson. “More than 20 years ago, Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman inspired the Playhouse’s last, great, transformative campaign, chaired by Bob Wright, former head of NBC, and now there is another opportunity for our wonderful community to be part of shaping the Playhouse for future generations.” 

To address the Playhouse's serious financial deficit, "School 
Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play,” the third production of the 2023 season, has been dropped from the schedule in the interest of both fiscal responsibility and the survival of the theater.
"But 
we still need your immediate help,” explains Adamson. “Contributions to the ‘Save Your Playhouse’ campaign are fundamental to saving and evolving the legacy of Westport Country Playhouse.”

“Join us! Donate! Talk to us!” adds Adamson. “If you have suggestions about how we can deliver the best live performances right here in Westport, we want to hear from you.” The public is invited to email ideas to Gretchen Wright, Playhouse interim managing director, gwright@westportplayhouse.org. 

Attending Mark Lamos’s staging of the classic melodrama, “Dial M for Murder,” running now through July 30, 2023, is also greatly encouraged. The production stars Patrick Andrews, Kate Abbruzzese, Kate Burton, Krystel Lucas and Denver Milord.

For Westport Country Playhouse information, tickets and donations, visit westportplayhouse.org or call the box office at (203) 227-4177, toll-free at 1-888-927-7529.
You can also stay connected to the theater on Facebook (Westport Country Playhouse) and on YouTube (Westport Playhouse).


Tuesday, July 18, 2023

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 409, A Review: "Dial M For Murder" (Westport Country Playhouse)

 By James V. Ruocco  

"Everybody knows about me. I sometimes feel constricted by it. At the same time, I feel liberated because it gives me a chance to make the kind of theater I most like making and bring together the kinds of people I most like bringing together."
(Mark Lamos)

And right he is.

The genius of Mark Lamos is a directorial summation of great artistry and showmanship linked together by dozens and dozens of exceptional, critically-acclaimed stage achievements ranging from "The Rivals," "Romeo and Juliet," "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Tiny Alice" at Hartford Stage to acclaimed Broadway mountings of "Our Country's Good," "Cymbeline" and "Seascape" and equally memorable works at Westport Country Playhouse including "That Championship Season," "Milma's Tale," "Of Mice and Men," "Into the Woods," "Man of La Mancha" and "Twelfth Night."

Lamos' effortless direction - strong, truthful, honest, solid - combined with functional, fully committed creativity, exceptional casting techniques, imagination and theatrical vivacity fuel each production he mounts with a passion and a confidence like no other.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end as it is time to say goodbye.
Effective January 15, 2024, Lamos steps down from his role as artistic director, after 15 full seasons at Westport Country Playhouse.
"Dial M For Murder" is his final directorial effort at the 92-year-old Westport-based venue. It's a swan song of hype, curiosity and glide that showcases Lamos' intuitive directorial strategy, his wit, his savvy plumage and great love of American theatre.
At the same time, one wonders why he chose this stagy, eccentric 1950's melodrama as his exit production when there are hundreds of other more important works he could have commissioned as his fond farewell such as "Long Day's Journey into Night," "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Ghosts," "Sleuth," "Private Lives" and "Death of a Salesman," among others.
It's not that "Dial M For Murder" is not without its moments.
It is fun.
It is intriguing.
It is nostalgic.
It is enjoyable.
But like "The Mousetrap," it is somewhat dated, creaky and dull. 
It also suffers from a "you know what you're getting into" quality similar to that of "The Mousetrap," "Night Watch," "Witness for the Prosecution" and "And Then There Were None."
In spite of its shortcomings, it does, however, play better than Frederick Knott's over long and tedious narrative that was penned for the original 1952 Broadway production, which, in Westport, has been rightfully abandoned in favor of Jeffrey Hatcher's improved 2021 adaptation that found life at The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego two years ago.

As written by Hatcher, "Dial M For Murder" retains its original period setting - 1950s London - and premise - a jealous, money hungry husband recruits a hitman via blackmail to murder his wealthy socialite wife after discovering her affair with an American thriller novelist.
Reworked from 2 hrs. and 40 min. to a justified 110 minutes, the playwright has trimmed excessive, outdated dialogue, cut the play from three acts to two, changed the lover's gender to female for a lesbian twist of sorts and perked up the exchanges between the inspector and the suspects along with the addition of several new clues, a surprise twist or two and some pretty savvy killer-victim reenactments, associations and guesswork.
There are also some light and cheeky comic touches throughout this reworked edition punctuated by big reveals, mysterious shadings and an invigorating bag-of-trick freshness that keeps the action flowing in between the creaks, the crannies and oh yes, the obvious.
This mix of energy does keep everyone on stage and in the audience attentive and alert, but every so often the overall tension of "Dial M For Murder," despite Hatcher's extensive rewrites, comes and go, then picks right up again inching toward its nicely packaged conclusion.
Who's in? Who's out?
Who's jealous? Who wants revenge?
Who's the real victim or criminal?
Who ends up getting caught? Who ends up with nothing?
It's by-the-book plotting with answers galore before the final fadeout.

Staging "Dial M For Murder," Mark Lamos clearly relishes this form of period melodrama and its frequent flashes of flamboyance, anxiety, cool, calm and slightly over-the-top. There are undercurrents of danger. There are tilts and spins. There are laughs and dark-at-night shenanigans that are played to the hilt.
Everyone has a motive or look of guilt. Mind games are sufficiently anchored, thus, adding life to the mix. The victim and the perpetrator come packaged with infused boldness, color and determination. Predictability is mimicked, borrowed or purposely amped up. And how it all ends is neatly paced, positioned and justified.
Despite the script's shortcomings, this is Lamos' show from start to finish. Directorially, he's in his element always knowing what buttons to push, when to pause and take a breath, when to pick up the pace, when to point a finger, when to create doubt, when to cut loose or when to unravel the puzzle. 
What works especially well here is Lamos' attention to detail, characterization and more importantly, his homage to theatre of the past. Using a 1950s stylization to shape, mold and keep Hatcher's melodrama in sync with its period setting, "Dial M For Murder" adapts a nostalgic tone, beat and rhythm that works especially well under Lamos' watchful eye. Scene changes, for example, are cleverly implemented through the use of an interval curtain which lowers then rises to signal the passage of time. Period whodunit music heightens the play's sense of mystery as does impeccably timed light cues and sound cues. The actual staging, in turn, also mirrors blocking maneuvers and dramatic techniques, expressions and positioning prevalent in Broadway and West End dramas of that era. Eventual build ups of suspense also benefit from Lamos' directorial ingenuity and confident reserve.

"Dial M For Murder" stars Kate Abbruzzese as Margot Wendice, Kate Burton as Inspector Hubbard, Patrick Andrews as Tony Wendice, Krystel Lucas as Maxine Hadley and Denver Milord as Lesgate.
As Tony Wendice, Patrick Andrews smartly projects the character's wounded pride, his obvious jealousy and twisted satisfaction that he has crafted the perfect demise for his cheating wife. Yet while his performance is noteworthy, the fact that he is way shorter than everyone else on stage often works against him, particularly in his scenes with the characters of Lesgate and Margot Wendice.
Kate Abbruzzese settles into the role of Margot Wendice with a glamourous allure, richness and seductiveness that is exactly right for her characterization. As Maxine Hadley, the New York based mystery writer who is Margot's lesbian lover, the stunning Krystel Lucas offers a seemingly bright and affirmative performance, mixed wonderfully with well-orchestrated doses of wit, mystery and budding feminism. She also looks great in Fabian Fidel Aguilar's eye-catching, Balencia-inspired period costumes. Denver Milord slips into the role of hired killer Lesgate with sly, manipulative conviction.
In the role of Inspector Hubbard, Kate Burton, however, rules the roost from her very first entrance right through to the play's conclusion. As the dedicated, probing voice of Scotland Yard, the actress delivers a wonderfully expressive, truthful performance mixed with an open-hearted command and commitment that heightens the twist and fate of the piece and everything else that comes along with it.
As an actress, she's a delight to watch, making every gesture, expression and line of dialogue vibrate with real intelligence, meaning and investigative probe, grab and linger.
PS: If anyone is doing a revival of Edward Albee's 1962 three-hour masterpiece "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Burton would be the ideal choice to play the lead role of Martha.
Her portrayal of a broken woman engaged in a non-stop verbal slugfest of game-playing, built in destruction, humiliation and alcohol-fueled encounters would not only rock the stage but grab hold of you and never once let you go.
A not-to-be missed experience in the making. And one that could and should happen in the very near future.

"Dial M for Murder" is being staged at Westport Country Playhouse (25 Powers Court, Westport, CT), now through July 30, 2023.
For tickets or more information, call (203) 227-4177.
website: westportplayhouse.org


Tuesday, July 4, 2023

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 408, A Review: "The Sound of Music" (Ivoryton Playhouse)

By James V. Ruocco 

It's a story like no other.

A captain.
A governess.
A convent.
A love story.
Seven well-schooled children.
Singing nuns.
Two teenagers in love.
Austrian mountain slopes.
A daring escape.
A very happy ending.

And so, it begins.

Ivoryton Playhouse's exhilarating "The Sound of Music" - replete with the melodic, skillfully crafted music and lyrics of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II - lovingly transports theatergoers back to the Austrian mountains of yesterday backed by an engaging, hummable track of iconic showtunes including "Do-Re-Mi," "My Favorite Things," "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," "Edelweiss" and lastly, the sweet-sounding title song itself draped in abundant swatches of heart, emotion and genuine harmony.

Enjoyable, abundant and grinning from ear to ear, this production is not only sweet and tuneful, but affectionate, nostalgic and charming.
It is wholesome feel-good, candy-coated entertainment laced with homespun dazzle, wit, radiance and demand.
It warms the heat.
It lives up to its expectations.
It builds and sustains interest intuitively without missing a beat.
It enchants and delights.
It also doesn't tamper with history or the musical's original conceit as envisioned by Richard Rodgers (music), Oscar Hammerstein II (lyrics) and Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse, who wrote the book. 

Set in 1938, "The Sound of Music" takes its cue from Maria von Trapp's 1949 memoir "The Story of the Trapp Family Singers" and the popular 1956 German films "The Trapp Family" and its 1958 sequel "The Trapp Family in America" which starred Ruth Leuwerik as Maria von Trapp and Hans Holt as Baron Von Trapp.
Then and now, it musically portrays the familiar story of a young Austrian novitiate who becomes governess to seven children, falls in love their father, marries him and becomes stepmother to his two sons and five daughters. For story purposes, some of the real-life events of the von Trapp family have been altered for dramatic purposes including the dates of their first meeting and subsequent marriage, the names of the actual children and the family's escape from the Nazis over the Austrian mountains in Saltzberg to Switzerland on foot. 
First and foremost, this is musical theatre - not a documentary.

As composed by Rodgers and Hammerstein, "The Sound of Music" is rife with popular show tunes and musical numbers that pretty much everyone in the audience has heard before and wants to hear again and again.
A reminder of Broadway's golden age of musicals, the score itself is old-fashioned, sentimental, cheery and plot moving, all dusted off and performed with a recognizable lilt and brightness that takes hold of the theatergoer at every musical form.
The Ivoryton mounting features pretty much all the songs from the original 1959 stage musical that starred Mary Martin, Theordore Bikel and Marian Marlowe (the deliciously witty "How Can Love Survive?" has sadly been cut for time constraints) plus two songs that were written especially for the 1965 Julie Andrews/Christopher Plummer motion picture adaptation.
In order of performance, they are: 
"Preludium," "The Sound of Music," "My Favorite Things," "I Have Confidence in Me," "Do-Re-Mi," "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," "My Favorite Things," "The Sound of Music (reprise)," "So Long, Farewell," "Climb Every Mountain," "The Sound of Music/My Favorite Things (reprise)," "No Way to Stop It," "Something Good," "Gaudeamus Domino," "Maria (reprise)," "The Lonely Goatherd," "Sixteen Going on Seventeen (reprise)," "Do-Re-Mi (reprise), "Edelweiss," "So Long, Farewell (reprise)" and "Climb Every Mountain (reprise).

Acting as musical director for the Ivoryton Playhouse revival, music director Mark Ceppetelli ("Cabaret," "Catch Me If You Can," "Young Frankenstein") brings great energy, contrast, mood, tilt and tone to the Rodgers and Hammerstein score, carefully conveying the intended meaning of every musical number, its sense of line and purpose, its story progression and its signature theatricality.
As "The Sound of Music" evolves, there's also a remarkable, natural urgency and commitment to the actual music that beautifully cements its staying power, its nostalgia, its sweetness and its fluency.
Doubling as conductor and keyboardist one, Ceppetelli surrounds himself with a first-class orchestral team headed by Nick Stanford (keyboardist two), Elliot Wallace (percussion), Jordan Brint (bass), Lauren Holtshouser (trumpet), Renee Redman (horn), Phoebe Suzuki (violin), Harry Kliewe (reed one) and Mike Raposo (reed two).
Ceppetelli's sense of fun and inventiveness creates a lyrical, crisply balanced interplay within the orchestra that brings the right characteristics and clarity to the musical score and nicely conveys its traditional Broadway sound and spirit, its rhythm and beats, its playfulness and dash and its attractive, adorably sweet essentials.
"No Way to Stop It," sung here with melodic drive, spirit and panache by Beverley J. Ricci (Elsa Schraeder), David Pittisinger (Captain von Trapp) and R. Bruce Connelly (Max Detweiler) heightens the dramatic momentum of the story, its references to society and position, its politics, its compromises and the imminent arrival of the "Anschluss." "Edelweiss," sung magnificently by Pittisinger, reflects not only the Captain's loyalty to Austria, but his subliminal goodbye to his beloved homeland as well. "I Have Confidence in Me," performed with joyful exhuberance and chiming radiance by Adrianne Hick (Maria Rainer) melodically portrays the character's readiness to greet life's challenges in order to succeed.

Staging "The Sound of Music," director Jacqueline Hubbard ("Steel Magnolias," "Rent," "Calendar Girls," "Star of Freedom") brings an effortless virtuosity and expressive sincerity to this revival that makes its spin and tilt with vintage worthy strength, thrill and tumble. Yes, pretty much everyone in the audience has seen "The Sound of Music" before. Yes, they know the story. Yes, they know the ending. Yes, they know the songs. Yes, they know who sings what. Yes, they know what's real and what's been reimagined for the stage.
No matter.
With Hubbard at the helm, this "Sound of Music" is so much more than just another Rodgers and Hammerstein revival. The sheer fun of it is watching how smoothly things comes together despite its obvious familiarity. Regardless, this incarnation has been rethought and reconfigured by Hubbard. Songs have been rearranged or reshaped to recognize the vocal talents of certain performers or heighten the dramatic evolution of the story. There's more emphasis on characterization, line delivery and exchange. The teen romance between Liesel and Rolf is more age appropriate with just the right amount of flirtation, innocence and sexual attraction. There's also much more of a romantic involvement and coupling between Maria and Captain von Trapp that Hubbard conveys with admirable conviction, sway and spark. Elsewhere, her lightness of touch, straightforward confidence and invigorating pacing is yet another highlight of this production.


With a host of starring roles to her credit including Nellie Forbush in "South Pacific," Mother in "Ragtime," Allison in "Fun Home," Fantine in "Les Misérables" and Miss Adelaide in "Guys and Dolls," who better than Adrianne Hick to play Maria Rainer in "The Sound of Music." With a crisp, clear, endearing soprano voice, she brings a fresh excitement, stir and musicality to this revival, offset by a charismatic persona and charm that she projects with confidence, truth and believability.
Her Maria is one of determination, realness and spark that befits the material, makes it glide and slide, charm and cajole and makes you forget about all those other Maria's out there from Julie Andrews, Petula Clark and Sally Anne Howes to Laura Benanti, Carrie Underwood and Rebecca Luker.
Acting wise and vocally, Hick is full beam lustre mixed with anxious delight, glorious enthusiasm, lively spirit and genuine Broadway savvy. Every song she is asked to sing - "Do-Re-Me," "I Have Confidence in Me." "My Favorite Things," among others - is rich, expressive, full of heart, color and melodic interpretation. 

David Pittsinger, as Captain von Trapp has a rich, deep, powerful baritone voice reminiscent of opera stars at the MET. It's a voice so pleasing to one's ears, it's easy to see why Hubbard, as director, and Ceppetelli, as music director, chose to add Pittsinger, as vocalist, to musical numbers Captain von Trapp is not actually a part of including "The Lonely Goatherd." It's a magnificent turn and one that adds fuel to the proceedings and the material at hand.
As Mother Abbess, Patricia Schuman invests the role of the Nonnberg Abbey's mother superior with a surefire wisdom and humanity that adds a realness and centeredness to the character similar to that of Patricia Newey in the 1959 Broadway production. Schulman also gets to perform one of the show's most memorable musical numbers - the haunting, anthem-like solo "Climb Every Mountain" at the end of Act One. As expected, it's a five-star vocal showpiece. grandly voiced in true mezzo soprano fashion. Bryn Martin and Ian Christenson, in the roles of Liesel von Trapp and Rolf Gruber, are not only perfectly cast as the musical's teen romantics but offer so much more in terms of characterization, charisma, innocence and presence than what was written in the original play text.

An affectionate, sweet and confidant revival "The Sound of Music" comes to Ivoryton Playhouse with a fresh vitality and a home spun immediacy that is brilliantly enhanced by director Jacqueline Hubbard, music director Mark Ceppetelli and an astute, charismatic cast headed by Adrianne Hick, David Pittsinger and Patricia Schuman.
Though comparisons to the 1965 Academy Award-winning film and the original 1959 Broadway production are inevitable, this incarnation finds its own special way to entertain, mesmerize and enchant theatergoers all over again with its teaming good cheer, its heartwarming story, its rapturous musical score and its old-fashioned sentiment.
As theatre, it is music making at its finest with a unique look, a real sense of wisdom and a youthful exuberance that befits the oft-told story of a perky postulant who becomes governess to the von Trapp family, marries her handsome employer and discovers that there is so much more to life than "whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles, warm woolen mittens and brown paper packages tied up with strings."

"The Sound of Music" is being staged at Ivoryton Playhouse (103 Main St., Ivoryton, CT), now through July 30, 2023.
For tickets or more information, call (860) 767-7318.
website: ivorytonplayhouse.org