Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sound woes slow otherwise strong 'Ragtime'

DORCHESTER -- Quite simply, “Ragtime” is one of the best and important musicals of the past quarter-century.
Adam Shapiro as Tateh and Shona Cirone as Mother in the Fiddlehead
Theatre's production of "Ragtime" at the Strand Theatre.

Composer Stephen Flaherty, lyricist Lynn Ahrens and book writer Terrence McNally put their entire hearts and souls into the project based on E.L. Doctorow‘s masterpiece book, and the result was a sweeping, powerful look at an era in the early 20th Century that helped the United States define itself.
The lives of three distinct groups -- a privileged white family in New Rochelle, N.Y. , a recently-arrived immigrant family struggling to survive, and a group of African-Americans in Harlem -- intersect in many ways against the backdrop of cultural icons such at Henry Ford, Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit and J.P Morgan.
The issues of that era -- economic inequality, immigration, tolerance -- remain significant to this day, and perhaps that’s why the American Civil Liberties Union -- heretofore never known as a theatrical producer -- decided to team up with the Fiddlehead Theatre for the current run of “Ragtime” at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester through Oct. 7.
The production also has the support of Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino; the city owns the Strand Theatre.
Unfortunately, Friday night’s opening performance was marred by near-catastrophic sound problems for about the first half of the first act, and intermittently through the rest of the show, due to a blown speaker. The sound was apparently corrected for Saturday night's performance.
Any production of “Ragtime” is going nowhere without a strong actor and voice in the pivotal role of Coalhouse Walker III, who is radicalized by bigotry and the deaf ears after his calls for justice. Damian Norfleet has the requisite power, passion and vocal powers for the role, along with a magnetic stage presence.
Right alongside him is Adam Shapiro as Tateh, the penniless Jewish immigrant with a young daughter who comes to this country in search of the American dream. Shapiro, a bear of a man, brings great warmth and humor to his role.
Michael S. Dunavant, shines as the idealistic Younger Brother, full of righteous indignation at the indignities heaped on Coalhouse and Sarah, who abandons his privileged life.
If you have seen previous productions of “Ragtime,” say with Audra McDonald in her Tony Award-winning performance as Sarah, or Stephanie Umoh , who went from the 2006 production at New Repertory Theatre in Watertown to the 2009 Broadway revival, it sets the bar pretty high for those who come afterwards.

Coalhouse Walker III (Damian Norfleet) celebrates his purchase of a Model
T in a scene from the Fiddlehead Theatre's produtcion of "Ragtime."

Tia DeShazor as Sarah struggled mightily early in Friday night’s show. She seemed distracted by the sound problems -- who wouldn’t be -- and she was more screaming than singing early on. When the sound improved, she finally relaxed and started singing like she was capable of all along. As Father and Mother, Shonna Cirone and Greg Balla seem a bit younger than most actors and actresses -- it shouldn’t matter, that’s why they call it acting -- but both seemed to lack the gravitas for their roles.
Cirone does well in her second-act showstopper “Back to Before” while some of Balla’s best moments best come with interactions with Alec Shiman, who is excellent as the Young Boy, in the baseball number “What a Game.”. He may be young, but Shiman -- who was an excellent Dill in Boston Children’s Theatre’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” -- may have a future in this business if he wants it.
June Baboian does a nice job reprising the role of the fiery revolutionary Emma Goldman, a role she played in New Rep’s 2006 production.
McCaela Donovan can usually be counted on to deliver a strong performance but as Evelyn Nesbit, severe problems with her sound levels in her vocals seemed to throw her off Friday night.
Fiddlehead Theatre Director Meg Fofonoff directed this production, and gets huge credit for undertaking the project, complete with a cast of 42 actors, allowing the play to be presented in its full power and glory.
With the bugs ironed out, this “Ragtime” -- featuring a 16-piece orchestra that realizes the majesty and power of Flaherty’s music -- deserves to be seen and appreciated.
An aside: If you’re driving to the Strand, the Uphams Corner area is a busy urban neighborhood. There is municipal parking on Ramsey Street. Take a right onto Dudley Street from Columbia Road, then your first right onto Ramsey Street.
The Fiddlehead Theatre production of “Ragtime,” through Oct. 7 at the Strand Theatre, 543 Columbia Road, Dorchester. Music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, book by Terrence McNally. Based on the book by E.L. Doctorow. Directed by Meg Fofonoff.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Strong cast, choreography boost NSMT's '9 to 5'

BEVERLY -- North Shore Music Theatre‘s “9 to 5: The Musical” is based on the very successful 1980 movie “9 to 5” that grossed $103 million and starred Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda.
The musical, with music and lyrics by Parton and book by Patricia Resnick, was less successful; it had a modest run on Broadway in 2009, garnering four Tony nominations and 15 Drama Desk nominations, followed by a national tour.

         George Dvorsky and Shayla Orborn in a scene from   
"9 to 5:  The Musical" Photo: Paul Lyden
Parton’s fingerprints and even her narrative voice are all over the show. Musical Theater 101 says that when you’re putting together a show, go with what works, and Parton, with a fortune estimated at $450 million, has a lot of experience in knowing what works. Her score in “9 to 5” is surprisingly spunky, featuring bouncy country and pop tunes, liberal doses of the title tune and even a few nicely-crafted ballads.
Here NSMT has shown the musical in its most favorable light, thanks to a strong emsemble cast led by Dee Hoty, who starred in the first national tour of the show as Violet Newstead, and has stepped in for the injured Lucie Arnaz to reprise the role on short notice.
It is 1980, and Violet is a widow with a teenage son who has been continually passed over for promotions at Consolidated Industries. She is justifiably angry, but she needs the job.
Judy Bernly (Holly Davis) is going through a rough divorce after her husband left her for a 19-year-old, and has found it rough re-entering the working world.
Shayla Orborn is Doralee Rhodes, playing the Parton role as a Southern belle and secretary to Hart whose Barbie doll exterior has everyone thinking she’s sleeping with the boss. Her “Backwoods Barbie” is an obvious autobiographical tune by Parton, whose bustiness and big hair invited the kind of leering directed at Rhodes.
NMST had the good sense to employ as the director the nonpareil choreographer Richard Stafford, who has shown his chops on adapting choreography from the proscenium stage to the in-the-round configuration in past NSMT productions such as “Swing,” “The King and I” and “Singin’ in the Rain.” His high-octane production numbers such as “Shine like the Sun” keep the energy level high throughout.
Longtime NSMT favorite George Dvorsky, who showed he was a really good sport by going all the way in “The Full Monty,” is over-the-top as the villainous Franklin Hart Jr, the misogynist, adulterous, lying, cheating boss at Consolidated. He’s so nasty, he could be his own country song.
Who doesn’t dream of getting rid of a bad boss? Here he takes turns being humiliated by Hoty and Co. in three fantasy sequences in which the women indulge their own murderous fantasies in how they’d off Hart if they had a chance; at one point he’s even branded on the backside in the “Cowgirl’s Revenge” number.
The show at times skirts the edges of good taste, but with a wink and a nod; I didn’t see any children in the audience at Wednesday night’s show.

Kathy St. George as Roz Keith in NSMT's '9 to 5.' Photo: Paul Lyden
Kathy St. George is Roz Keith, who doubles as Hart’s assistant and a spy on her co-workers. You are dead and buried if you’re not howling with laughter as St. George exhibits her unrequited love for Hart in the torch song number “Heart to Hart.” Dee Hoty is a fine actress, but she had to keep asking herself “Who is this little pixie of an actress who keeps stealing the scenes?”
Medford’s Kevin B. McGlynn has some nice moments as a member of the ensemble and as Mr. Tinsworthy, the chairman of the board of Consolidated Industries.
The musical follows the plotline of the movie fairly closely, so if you know the movie, you know what’s coming in the second act.
The production values are up to NSMT’s usual high standards, with special mention to Musical Director Mart Hartman and his orchestra and set designer Philip Witcomb, with his pop-up desks and beds making good use of every advantage the in-the-round configuration allows.
At its best, “9 to 5” is very entertaining. A strong cast and Stafford’s sure hand at the helm for the production numbers lift it well above the shortcomings of Resnick’s book.
North Shore Music Theatre‘s production of “9 to 5: The Musical.” Music and lyrics by Dolly Parton, book by Patricia Resnick, based on the movie “9 to 5.” Directed and choreographed by Richard Stafford. Through Oct. 7. For tickets, Call (978) 232-7200 or go to

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

They’re lumberjacks, and they’re OK

STONEHAM -- Sometimes, just being entertained is enough.
James Kaplan and Fred Alley aren’t trying to cure cancer or reinvent the wheel with the lighter-than-air musical “Lumberjacks in Love,” now at the Stoneham Theatre through Sept. 30.
Kaplan and Alley teamed up on the ice-fishing musical -- yes, that’s right, ice-fishing musical -- “Guys on Ice,” which was also produced by Stoneham, so both the theater and the subscribers probably knew what they were getting here: pleasant ditties with some clever lyrics, and some outrageous characters.

From the left: Harry McEnerney, William Gardiner. Steven Barkimer and
Mark Linehan in Stoneham Thatre's "Lumberjacks in Love."
 When watching I couldn’t help thinking of the “Lumberback Song” and the cross-dressing lumberjack, made famous by Monty Python’s Flying Circus -- you can still find it on You Tube -- which, it turns out, is referenced in this show by Kaplan and Alley.
There is a story in here somewhere, but mostly it’s a series of sketches which allow the cast to sing and play up a storm, tongues firmly planted in cheeks all the while.
The action takes place in the Haywire Lumber Camp in Wisconsin in the 1870s. The boys are getting a little lonely -- it’s 200 miles to the nearest woman -- so much so that the one drawing the short straw has to be the woman when they dance.
“Lumberjacks” benefits greatly from the presence of Steven Barkhimer, one of the Boston area’s most talented and versatile actors, who here plays a logger named Muskrat and also doubles as music director.
Barkimer was part of an all-star ensemble cast in the final part of Alan Ayckbourn’s “The Norman Conquests” trilogy at Gloucester Stage this summer and his comic timing is impeccable.
Here he is Muskrat, who is celebrating his 40th birthday, and despite the best efforts of his comrades, he’s very much alone and despondent -- very, very despondent,
Dirty Bob (William Gardiner) hasn’t had a bath in many a year -- it has to do with an issue concerning soap years ago -- and Gardiner, who was very good in last year’s “Nutcracker,” is a hoot throughout.
Minnesota Slim (Mark Linehan) is awaiting the arrival of his mail-order bride, a he was tricked into doing. Linehan is another up-and-coming talent in the area with a strong stage presence and a sterling voice.
Moonlight (Harry McEnerny) has struck up a close friendship with The Kid (Darcie Champagne), who may not actually be a kid at all.
And then there’s Rose, the mail-order bride (Vanessa J. Schukis) whose entrance sends the camp topsy-turvy.
Actors accompany themselves -- everyone plays at least two instruments -- and Barkimer leads the way, playing cello, ukelele, guitar, and piano and playing them all well.
The rest of the cast chips in with recorder, guitar, spoons, washboard, etc.
The best musical numbers are the title song, “Stupid, Stupid Love” and “It Would be Enough for Me.”
Director Caitlan Lowans and the cast get the absolute most of the material and choreographer Kelli Edwards has the energetic cast moving briskly about the stage.
Designer Erik Diaz’s handy-dandy lodge can be swiftly reversed to set the action inside or outside and Meredith Magoun’s costumes set the proper tone.
Even with the padding of an intermission, “Lumberjacks” comes in at about 100 minutes. Great art it ain’t, but on a recent Saturday night the cast seemed to be having a good time, and it seems the audience was, too. Sometimes a little silliness and entertainment is all you’re looking for.
“Lumberjacks in Love,” Music by James Kaplan, Book and Lyrics by Fred Alley, Story by Kaplan and Alley. Directed by Caitin Lowans. Choreography by Kelli Edwards. At the Stoneham Theatre through Sept. 30.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

At Speakeasy, a mother of a morality play

BOSTON -- We all have codes we live by. Some of those codes might seem, as the characters in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ funny, funky “The Motherf**ker with the Hat” might say, a little f’d up.
It’s hard to judge Guigas’ characters by traditional standards of morality. Not with the alcohol abuse, drug abuse, promiscuity, language laced with seemingly endless string of profanities -- this is their world, welcome to it.   
And there is a lot of streetwise humor in that world in the Speakeasy Stage production of “Mother,” now at the Roberts Studio Theatre at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts.
Guirgis’ characters talk a good game when it comes to relationships, but the reality is that they are paragons of promiscuity, which hardly lends itself to a healthy relationship.
They know they are apt to make bad choices, so they struggle to identify the right ones But things do get complicated.
As the play opens, things are looking bright for the first time for Jackie (Jaime Carrillo) in a long time. He is free after a long stretch in upstate New York for drug dealing, has a new job, and at least for the time being, is straight and sober.

Jaime Carrillo and Evelyn Howe in "The Motherf**ker With the Hat."
Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

He surprises girlfriend Veronica (Evelyn Howe) -- who is still using, snorting coke and surrounded by liquor bottles -- with flowers and a stuffed animal.
While he is reveling in what he expects to be a torrid sexual encounter , he notices a very unfamiliar hat in the corner, a hat that he connects in his mind with a downstairs resident. He accuses Veronica of cheating, and a stormy argument ensues that ends with Jackie storming out of the hotel room, looking for a gun and a confrontation with the man with the hat. Uh-oh. Impulse control is not exactly Jackie’s strong point.

He gets a gun and calls on Ralph D., his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, to talk about the situation. Ralph (Maurice Emmanuel Parent) exudes self-confidence; he has conquered his demons and isn’t shy about talking about it. He is into vitamins, healthy juices,. yoga, archery, surfing. He’s even flossing, for Chrissakes.
He convinces Jackie to get rid of the gun and it ends up with Jackie’s cousin Julio (Alejandro Simoes), who appears to be a Latino Richard Simmons but is ever-ready to unleash his inner “Van Damme.”
 Later, however, Jackie gets the gun back and confronts the owner of the hat, blasting the hat with the gun and creating yet another legal mess.
 Ralph D’s wife Victoria (Melinda Lopez) knows Ralph D. is a serial cheater and she takes her pleasures where she can find them., and she targets Jackie, seeing him as a chance to get back at a double-dealing Ralph D and even helping him by letting him know what Veronica and Ralph D. have been up to behind his bank; Veronica and Ralph became an item while Jackie was stewing in a cell in upstate New York.
Set designer Eric Levenson’s eclectic drywall set shape-shifts several time during the 110 minutes of the play, starting as a hotel in Times Square and becoming apartments in Hell’s Kitchen and Washington Heights.

Jaime Carrillo, Maurice Emmanuel Parent and Alejandro Simoes in "The
Motherf**ker With the Hat." Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo
Director David R. Gammons, who helmed last winter’s superb Speakeasy production of “Red,” keeps the action percolating and building; we know Jackie and Ralph D are going to have to have it out and that Jackie and Veronica, together since high school, are going to have to make a decision.
The ending is surprisingly sentimental. Guirgis’ characters will make you laugh and might disgust you at times, but they are never less than fascinating and engrossing. And at the end of the day they are still trying to do the right thing, even if that “right thing” is often hard for them to pin down.

The Speakeasy Stage Company’s production of “The Motherf**ker with the Hat,” by Stephen Adly Guirgis. Directed by David R. Gammons. At The Roberts Studio Theatre at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, Tremont Street, Boston, through Oct. 13. For tickets, call 617 933 8600 or go to 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Couple disrupts the quiet of 'Homestead Crossing'

LOWELL -- Homestead Crossing is a quiet, comfortable place, the kind of place where not much ever happens and the residents like it that way.
In a world premiere by Massachusetts playwright William Donnelly, “Homestead Crossing” now at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in a co-production with the Berkshire Theatre Festival and Portland Stage, explores relationships that can become too comfortable, people whose isolation becomes a prison of some sort and what can happen when events disrupt such a static existence.
It is another in a seemingly endless string of rainy days in the lovely home of Noel (David Adkins) and Anne (Corinna May) at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac.
They have been married for quite some time, and it seems they have run out of things to say to one another.

Claudia (Lesley Shires) and Noel (David Adkins) share some
vodka and some secrets in "Homestead Crossing."
Photo: Meghan Moore
 There is awkward small talk about the weather and the history book that Noel seems to be reluctantly plowing through in the lovely, cozy living room designed by Anita Stewart. Behind the small talk and awkward silences are issues that have been simmering for some time -- a sex life gone stale, perhaps, hinted at by Anne, who remembers when she was “modest,” then got “a little wild,” and then became “modest” again.
Then a young woman appears sopping wet just outside their house, begging to be let in to use the phone.
Anne does so over the strong objections of David, and Claudia (Lesley Shires) enters the scene. She is a foster child with a with a long tale of woe and a history of making bad choices, but her boyfriend Tobin -- himself no stranger to bad choices -- is about to arrive and pick her up, whisking her up to Toronto, where the couple will enjoy a fresh start.
Then Tobin (Ross Cowan) also shows up sopping wet outside the picture window in the living room. When he is allowed to enter -- again over Noel’s objections -- he has a harrowing tale of the his car floating away down a flooded road, taking his and Claudia’s dreams with it.
Noel’s fear of a second intruder who could also be an ax murderer gradually lessens. Revelations are made -- very personal ones, to be sure -- and eventually the couples pair off, with Anne going off to smoke some pot with Tobin and Noel sharing vodka with Claudia.
With the ever-increasing number of revelations, the couples start to enter dangerous territory, especially as they compare notes.
“It’s so true when two people’s wants line up,” says Noel to Claudia. “I can’t remember the last time it happened,” he adds wistfully.
Claudia is sure she will avoid the pitfalls that await a couple grown too comfortable. “That won’t happen to Tobin and me.”
Donnelly drops hints along the way of the twists and turns he has in store for the couples on the way to a satisfying ending.
Director Kyle Fabel skillfully balances the relationships and the shifting sands of the piece.
“Homestead Crossing” is the first production at the newly-renovated Donahue Theatre at Liberty Hall, adjacent to the Lowell Auditorium in downtown Lowell. The renovation includes new seating, a new lobby and box office, among other improvements.
“Homestead Crossing,” by William Donnelly, co-produced by Merrimack Repertory Theatre, Portland Stage, and Berkshire Theatre Group, through Sept. 30 at the Nancy L. Donahue Theatre, Liberty Hall, Lowell. Directed by Kyle Fabel. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

‘Good People': A Southie you’ll want to visit

BOSTON -- You don’t have to have born down on A Street or raised down on B Street to enjoy the Huntington Theatre’s production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s “Good People.”
The native of South Boston has crafted an enormously entertaining, funny and, at times provocative look at the denizens of his old neighborhoods, their foibles and their failed dreams.
Single mother Margie (with a hard “g”), played by Johanna Day, has lost the latest in a series of dead-end jobs, despite invoking the memory of his mother in her desperate pleas to her boss Stevie (Nick Westrate).

 Nancy E. Carroll, Karen MacDonald, and Johanna Day in the Huntington
    Theatre Company's production of David Lindsay-Abaire's GOOD PEOPLE.
Sept. 14 - Oct. 14, 2012. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
 That’s not good news for her landlord and neighbor, Dottie, (Nancy E. Carroll) who has side jobs baby-sitting Margie’s handicapped daughter and creating bizarre arts and crafts.
Margie commiserates with Dottie and their long-time friend, sharp-tongued Jean (Karen McDonald) about their situation. Trickle-down economics have not quite trickled down to the trio, their family and friends; almost everyone else they know is struggling, either having no job or having just lost a job.
The scenes with the three women at the bingo hall or in Margie’s apartment are pure gold. With razor-sharp dialogue and stinging one-liners expertly delivered by two excellent actresses, Margie becomes like a ping pong ball being batted back and forth between Carroll and McDonald.
Day, excellent in Huntington’s “God of Carnage” last season, is a complicated, fascinating mess as Margie. She has been scarred by, first, her father having walked out on his family and then her husband Gobi doing the same, leaving her and her daughter to fend for themselves in a continuous fight for survival.
When Jean tells Margie she has run into Margie’s old boyfriend at a Boys Club function, Margie’s interest is piqued, especially so when she learns that Mike (Michael Laurence) is a doctor with a thriving suburban practice.
Margie assumes that despite the 30 years away from the neighborhood, he is still what Southie would call “good people,” the kind of person who would never turn his back on a struggling single mother with a handicapped daughter.
She goes to visit him at his upscale suburban practice and pleads for a job, even one cleaning his office.
Margie eventually taunts him for becoming “lace-curtain” Irish -- aka “two-toilet Irish” --- and accuses him of abandoning his South Boston roots. Sensing his guilt, she baits him into inviting her to his birthday party at his Chestnut Hill home, where she hopes to find someone who will offer her work.
When Margie receives a call form Mike telling her the party is cancelled, Margie suspects Mike or his wife has rejected her, and decides she will show up for the party, anyway.

Michael Laurence, Rachael Holmes and Johanna Day in the Huntington
Theatre Company's GOOD PEOPLE. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
 Oops. The party is off and Mike’s wife Kate (Rachael Holmes) mistakes Margie for an employee of the caterer who has come to retrieve his things after the canecellation. She apologizes, but the carnage is about to begin amid fine wine, gourmet cheeses, and Margie’s accusations that when Mike left the projects, he left his soul behind.
When Mike refuses to consider Margie as even a baby-sitter for his daughter, she wreaks vengeance on the couple, in a way both humorous and horrifying at the same time.
Lindsay-Abaire leaves us to ponder a thought: Is it hard work and responsible parenting, or perhaps blind luck and someone’s else’s kind act, that can mean the difference between fighting your way out of the projects or becoming just another Margie.
Director Kate Whoriskey neatly balances the humor and the angst of the piece and coaxes uniformly strong performances from the cast.
Gifted set designer Alexander Dodge has crafted two remarkable sets, the first a warehouse/type background with slide-in sets and, in the second act, the magnificently-appointed living room of a posh Chestnut Hill home.
While Lindsay-Abaire is the first to admit that the South Boston that he knew growing up may not exist anymore, some of the old Southie themes he embraces in “Good People" -- such as “Southie takes care of its own” -- are still alive and well.
Even if you’ve never tasted the clam rolls at Sully’s or run the Sugar Bowl, Lindsay-Abaire’s Southie is a place you’ll want to visit.
The Huntington Theatre Company‘s production of “Good People,” by David Lindsay-Abaire. Directed by Kate Whoriskey. At the BU Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue, Boston through Oct. 14.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Woodstock to Waltham: Sha Na Na at Reagle Sat.

WALTHAM – Yes, like everyone else in the Northeast who was in their late teens at the time, I almost went to Woodstock in 1969.
And like everyone else, I might have been scratching my head when the good-time Doo Wop group Sha Na Na took the stage.
But the former a capella singing group from Columbia University were a surprise hit, perhaps because they were so different from the 31 other mostly grittier acts that filled the stage at the famed Woodstock Music & Art Fair in 1969.
Sha Na Na performed a 35-minute set just before guitarist Jimi Hendrix closed the three-day festival with his electrifying reinterpretation of “The Star Spangled Banner.”
Unlike more grittier acts that appeared at Woodstock, Sha Na Na was a throwback to more innocent times. Yet their unique combination of talent and flair got them noticed at Woodstock and earned them their first recording contract.
Saturday, Sept. 22, the Woodstock veterans return to the area to kick off the Reagle Music Theatre’s fall concert series 2 p.m. in the Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington Street, Waltham.

Quincy native John "Jocko" Marcellino leads
Sha Na Nan into Waltam Saturday/
 Original band members Jocko Marcellino, a Quincy native who also has Milton connections, Donny York, and Screamin’ Scott Simon lead the seven-member band in a performance that is part concert, part song and dance party and that according to the release “should have audience members of all ages twisting, strolling, and hand jiving in the aisles.”
Trust me, folks, You don’t want to see this Baby Boomer hand-jiving’. Audience members also get involved during a sing-along, a dance contest, and the hilarious “Greaser Olympics.”
“Sha Na Na has become synonymous with vintage rock ’n’ roll,” says Robert Eagle, producing artistic director of Reagle Music Theatre. “Their outstanding musicianship, extraordinary harmonies, and free-wheeling theatrical style simultaneously celebrate and spoof the great era of the 1950s.”
Original members Marcellino, York and Simon have been leading the group since Woodstock and still going strong.
Sha Na Na rode the Woodstock wave through the film documentary “Woodstock” and the movie musical “Grease,” and then the group had its own syndicated show, also called Sha Na Na, from 1977 to 1981.
Other current band members are Tim Butler, vocals, bass and guitar; Paulie Kimbarow, vocals, drums; Randy Hill, vocals, guitar; and “Downtown” Michael Brown, saxophone.
The parade of classic hits Saturday will include “At the Hop,” “Peppermint Twist,” “Tequila,” “Love Potion No. 9,” “Come Go with Me,” “Sandy,” “Hand Jive,” “Get a Job,” “Lucille,” and “In the Still of the Night.”
If you go, beware the Boomers dancing in the aisles.
Sha Na Na, tickets $35, $38, $43 and $50 for adults. Seniors (60+) receive $3 off adult prices. Youth tickets (ages 5-18) are $20 for any seat. Student rush seats at 50 percent off are available at the Box Office one hour before curtain; a valid college ID is required. For groups of 10 or more, call 781-894-2330 or 781-891-5600. Tickets may be purchased by phone at 781-891-5600 or in person at the Box Office during regular business hours, Mondays through Fridays 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and performance days 9 a.m. to curtain. Tickets may also be purchased online anytime at 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Lyric's 'Mikado': Some very inspired silliness

BOSTON -- There is something to be said for two and a half hours of inspired silliness.
“The Mikado,” now playing at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, in the most beloved of the comic operettas of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. The duo satirized the values and attitudes of 1880s England in a most entertaining and witty way, often drawing upon exotic locales, as they did in “The Mikado.”
Lyric’s successful production here starts with Janie Howland’s lovely design of a Japanese courtyard, which draws the audience into the show from the outset in the intimate setting, and Rafael Jaen’s colorful costumes.

Bob Jolly as Ko-Ko, Erica Spyres as Yum-Yum and Davron S. Monroe
as Nanki-Poo in Lyric Stage's "The Mikado."
 Director Spiro Veloudos is at the top of his game in his handling of the material, showing respect for the music and characters while considering the text to be much more malleable. Where some of what was then contemporary satire of English mores in the 1880s doesn’t exactly ring true today, Veloudos and Company have taken the liberty of adding plenty of references to today’s politics and culture in the additional lyrics generated by Deb Poppel, Bob Jolly, who plays the Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko,. and music director Jonathan Goldberg.
Thus there are references to reality TV, Starbucks, disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner, the Tea Party, Paul Ryan, Homeland Security, political hacks, texters, etc, etc.
Many of the references come courtesy of Jolly, delightfully dead-pan as Ko-Ko, and his hilarious rendition of “I’ve Got a Little List” as he rattles off a whole list of people he’d like to rid society of in his role as executioner. “They’ll none of ‘em be missed,” he sneers.
Veloudos has also assembled a cast full of glorious voices. Erica Spyres and Davron S. Monroe were two of the best thing about last spring’s Lyric Stage smash-hit production of “Avenue Q,” and they’re back as the delicious maiden Yum-Yum (pun intended) and the scheming Nanki-Poo, the wandering minstrel who really isn’t a wandering minstrel.
They shine as they discuss all the things they could do if flirting weren’t outlawed and Yum-Yum wasn’t betrothed to Ko-Ko in “Were I not to Ko-Ko Plighted.”
David Kravitz as Pooh-Bah, the Lord High Everything Else, is the very essence of a pompous government “hack.” The scene where he switches hats from moment to moment to give Ko-Ko advice from all different angles is hilarious.
In keeping with the political theme, after he reads a missive from the Mikado, he adds “I am the Mikado and I approved this message.”
The production’s real scene-stealer is Leigh Barrett as the older woman Katisha, jilted by Nanki-Poo and extracting her own glorious revenge with her magnificent voice.
There are the requisite dizzying number of comic twists and turns in the second-act plot, when Nanki-Poo is revealed not to be a wandering minstrel at all, but the son of The Mikado, played with comic imperiousness by Timothy John Smith as The Mikado, as slippery and oily a despot as you could imagine.
It all adds up to a delightful evening of theater and some very inspired silliness.
“The Mikado,” by Gilbert and Sullivan, through Oct. 13 at the Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon St., Boston. Directed and staged by Spiro Veloudos. Music direction by Jonathan Goldberg. At the Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon St., Boston..

Sunday, September 16, 2012

‘No Room for Wishing’: Going inside the tents

BOSTON -- From October to December 2011, they were a daily feature on the news: the community of tents and tarps on parkland in the Financial District of Boston, better known as Dewey Square, that became known as Occupy Boston.
The protesters were both celebrated and reviled, their motives or message questioned, and they and their brother and sister movements worldwide became the subject of intense scrutiny and speculation.
But what really happened and what were the protesters trying to say?

Danny Bryck in the documentary play "No Room for Wishing."
Photo: Company One
 Actor/writer Danny Bryck gives us the answer in their own words in the new one-man documentary play “No Room for Wishing,” now being performed through Sept. 22 at the Black Box Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts. From Sept. 30 through Oct. 6, the piece will be performed in the Studio Theatre at the Central Square Theatre in Cambridge.
The new play is a co-production of Company One and the Central Square Theatre, made possible in part by a Boston Playwrights’ Theatre Blackbox Fellowship.
Bryck, under the direction of Megan Sandberg-Zakian, has sifted through many hours of recorded conversations and the words of those speaking publicly and come up 90 engrossing, important minutes.
At some point he realized he had crossed over from becoming an observer of the movement to a participant, something that undoubtedly fueled his passion and commitment to the project.
Here, he uses the unfiltered voices of the actual participants to give the piece the ring of authenticity that was missing from the daily media reports. He takes pains to say that while text from the interviews has been cut, rearranged or taken out of its original context, no words have been added or subtracted.
As the show begins, Bryck festoons the stage with simple white paper posters -- the kind you might find an Occupy Boston protester hoisting -- explaining the beginnings of the Occupy movement, a timeline of the Boston events, and finally the first names of the voices he is bringing to life.
His voices capture and bring to life the disparate elements inside the encampment: the anarchists who didn’t want a change in leadership, but a completely new form of government; the students whose sympathies lay with the protesters, but whom themselves might be part of the 1 percent and loathe to fully commit themselves to the cause; the homeless and the mentally ill, who gravitated to the encampment for many different reasons; the activists for whom Dewey Square became a natural extension of everything they had been doing their whole lives; and even the drug dealers and the thieves, and the community’s efforts to deal with them.
He leads us through the politics of the event, including the tensions created when the encampment spilled onto the Rose Kennedy Greenway.
As a gifted actor, Bryck infuses the words with the feelings and emotions he observed while transcribing them, and shifts effortlessly from character to character.
There is Kwame, the 77-year-old “scientific socialist,” who doesn’t have a problem with the pot but can’t believe people are still willing to kill themselves by smoking.
Or “Detuned,” who describes himself as a “recovering lawyer” who has been unemployed for a year. Once one of the 1 percent, he is now on food stamps and Social Security disability.
There is Doc, the paramedic who finds himself called to the scene: “This is medicine for me.”
Angela, 58, is a self-described lifelong activist from Roxbury. “I’ve been cheering myself on the whole time we’ve been down here.”
And, finally, the last, chaotic moments of Occupy Boston and its eventual eviction.
The play’s title comes from a lyric (“There’s no room for wishing”) in the song “Dewey Square,” written by Ruby Rose Fox and played by Bryck near the end of the show.
Using several voices, Bryck makes it clear that what happened last fall was not just an anomaly, but the beginnings of something that will rise again in another time and place, that Occupy Boston was simply “the end of Chapter 1.”
“No Room for Wishing,” written and performed by Danny Bryck. Directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian. At the Black Box Theater at the Boston Center for the Arts through Sept. 22. For tickets, call 617 933-8600 or go to

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Another star falls, but NSMT lands on its feet

BEVERLY -- North Shore Music Theatre owner Bill Hanney is not taking any more calls from doctors or chiropractors. Not after he recently lost a second leading lady to a back injury.
Lorna Luft had to pull out of the title role of NSMT’s season-opening production of “Hello, Dolly” due to a back injury. Jacquelyn Piro Donovan, already set to play Miss Hannigan in “Annie,” was a more-than-capable replacement.
Then came the news that a severe back injury -- an annular tear of the L5 disc, to be exact -- would prevent Lucie Arnaz from starring in the run of “9 to 5: The Musical” set to begin Sept. 25.
It doesn’t always happen, but this time the theater again landed on its feet. Dee Hoty, a three-time Tony nominee who had already played the leading role of Violet Newstead in the show’s first national tour, has agreed to step in.
“I was afraid anyone who’d ever had any kind of bad back would never want to work here again,” said Hanney.
He was auditioning actors in New York for the upcoming production of “Guys and Dolls” when he received word of Arnaz’s injury and the likelihood she would have to pull out.
“I am so disappointed that, due to a very recent back injury, I will now not be able to perform in North Shore Music Theatre's production of '9 to 5: The Musical,’” said Arnaz. “It’s disappointing to me for so many reasons, especially after meeting with the creative team involved and knowing what a first rate production this is going to be.
“But, the good news is, that Dee Hoty, a good friend and a marvelously versatile actress who shepherded the same part of ‘Violet Newstead’ so brilliantly in the show's First National Tour, has graciously offered to step in and play that part once again. And believe me, North Shore audiences are in for a real treat.“
Arnaz said she looked forward look to the opportunity to perform in a future production at North Shore Music Theatre.

Dee Hoty stars in "9 to 5: The Musical"
 Hanney said it’s not like you can go to and get your pick when a star drops out. The theater compiled a list of actresses the theater considered for the role before Arnaz, another list of actresses who have played the role in the recent past, and then finally a list of those who might be interested and available.
“Someone suggested Dee Hoty, but I thought it might be a million to one she was even available,” said Hanney.
Hanney said the public is very understanding when a star has to pull out, but the marketing
campaign is usually already under way, and the theater has to get the word about the changes.
“There are posters, ads, promos that all have to be changed,” he said.
He noted that subscriber renewal drives are done based on the show announcements, and not on who will be starring in the shows.
Hoty, a Broadway veteran got rave reviews as Donna Sheridan in the first national tour of “Mamma Mia!” that came through town in 2001 after she had played the part on Broadway.
“I loved Boston, I loved the Colonial, I loved the smiles on the faces,” she said. “It was fun to be a rock star.”
Hoty, who has family in New Hampshire and north of Boston, had always wanted to revisit the role of Violet and perform at NSMT. But she still loves Lucie, and feels bad about how the opportunity came about when she got the call asking first, if she was interested, and second, if she was available.
“I know Lucie (Arnaz) socially and I felt so bad for her,” said Hoty. “It’s such a great part. I hope she gets the chance to perform it again.”
Hoty had to move a couple of other assignments around. There was also the change from a proscenium stage to NSMT’s in-the-round configuration, but she’s fortunate enough to have Richard Stafford, the veteran of many NSMT shows, directing, making that transition much less difficult.
There will also be fewer costume changes in this production.
Recently, Hoty was seen in “Stormy Weather: the Life of Lena Horne,” at the Pasadena Playhouse playing opposite the great Leslie Uggams
Hoty will be joined in the cast by longtime NSMT favorite George Dvorsky, playing Franklin Hart, Jr., the boss you love to hate, and local star Kathy St. George playing Mr. Hart’s “administrative eyes, ears, nose, and throat,” Roz Keith.
Stafford directs and choreographs with musical direction  by Mark Hartman. The creative team also includes Phillip Witcomb (Scenic Designer), Paula Peasley-Ninestein (Costume Designer), Phillip Watson (Lighting Designer), Jessica Paz (Sound Designer), Natalie A. Lynch (Production Stage Manager), Jonathan Stahl (Associate Director Choreographer), Brad Gardner (Assistant Musical Director), and Michael T. Clarkston (Assistant Stage Manager)..
“9 to 5: The Musical,” Sept. 25 to Oct. 7 at the North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly. Call 978 232-7200 or go to

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

GSC's comic 'Crimes' will win your heart

GLOUCESTER -- Dysfunction, thy name is Magrath.
And dysfunction can be a lot of fun in Beth Henley’s 1981 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy, “Crimes of the Heart,” which has a warm, winning production at the Gloucester Stage Company through Sunday.
“Crimes” is set in the small town of Hazlehurst, Miss. in 1974, five years after Hurricane Camille ravaged the area. Babe Botrelle (Melody Madarasz) , at 24 the youngest of the three Magrath sisters, has just been bailed out of jail after shooting her husband, allegedly because she “didn’t like his looks,” but there’s a lot more to it than that. Babe’s case is complicated, since she sat down and made a lemonade and drained it before deciding her husband needed help.
Lenny (Liz Hayes) is “celebrating” her 30th birthday alone, as is usually the case, since her “missing ovary” has made her an unfit companion for any man, and she is also mourning the loss of her beloved horse, Billy Boy, struck down by lightning.
Meg (McCaela Donovan), 27, who fled Mississippi for the West Coast and a singing career of uncertain status, seeing how she isn’t singing anywhere and is actually working for a pet food company, has returned home to aid babe in her crisis and see her grandfather.
In other words, situation normal in the Magrath household.
Each sister battles her own personal demons, weighted down by the baggage left from the suicide of their mother years ago, who hanged herself -- and their cat -- with the sisters being brought up their grandparents. Now Grandpa is wheezing towards the finish line as the play opens.

McCaela Donovan as Meg and Liam O'Neill as Doc in  the
Gloucester Stage Company's production of "Crimes of the Heart."
 Hayes’ Lenny is the mother hen of the household, aware she is squandering any chance for her own happiness by being nursemaid to her dying grandfather, and desperate for any male attention, even it it comes from Doc Porter (Liam McNeill), Meg’s former boyfriend with whom Meg shares both a past, and an incident that cast a pall over Doc’s life.
McCaela Donovan, one of the rising stars on the Boston theater scene, is a vulnerable, wandering mess as Meg, drawn back to her past life with Doc, but afraid of the shackles of small-town life and the clucking tongues.
Melody Madarasz is a revelation as Babe, who finds her pleasures where she finds them, including a local teen or, in a pinch, her lawyer (Will Keary as Barnette Lloyd) who is more smitten with her than her case.
Lenni Kmiec is fine as the Magrath sisters’ cousin, Chick Boyle, who flaunts her membership in the Junior League and looks down on the sisters.
At times, the comedy is as black and dark as it comes, especially as Babe contemplates what she should do when incriminating photos are introduced into her already tenuous situation
Director Carmel O’Reilly, formerly of the late, lamented Sugan Theatre Company, finds not only the comedy of the piece, but its adjoining themes about loyalty and the ties that bind families together in both the best -- and worst -- of times.
“Crimes of the Heart” is a worthy finish to Gloucester Stage’s best season in years.
“Crimes of the Heart,” by Beth Henley. Directed by Carmel O’Reilly. At the Gloucester Stage Company through Sept. 16.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

'Marie': The regrets of a reviled royal

CAMBRIDGE — Playwright David Adjmi’s “Marie Antoinette” is an entertaining and incisive look at history’s most reviled royal.
“Marie” is having its world premiere at the Loeb Drama Center in a co-production by the American Repertory Theatre and Yale Repertory Theatre.
Adjmi has fun building the case for Marie’s ultimate demise in the first act, and then tacks 180 degrees later to show a woman who may have had no choice but to be what she was.
The final moments are reminiscent of a scene in “West Side Story” when the Jets tell Officer Krupke they aren’t to be blamed for what they’ve come -- they’re a product of their environment. (“We’re depraved on account of we’re deprived.”)
Brooke Bloom’s Marie is a bad-mannered, ill-tempered and foul-mouthed queen, married at 14 in an effort to fuse the Hapsburg Empire of Austria with the court of Louis XV of France.
There are echoes of “Clueless” in her demeanor and her dismissal of all those around her, and costume designer Gabriel Berry gilds the lilly a bit by outfitting her and two other members of her court with three-foot-high wig (supported by guide wires) just in case we were wondering just how over-the-top was her conspicuous consumption while her subjects starved.

 David Greenspan as an all-knowing sheep visits Marie Antoinette (Brooke
Bloom)  in prison in a scene from "Marie Antoinette." Photo: ART
Stephen Rattazzi is a foppish King Louis XVI, who owes much to Mel Brooks’ Louis in “History of the World, Part I.” Marie scolds him for both his failures in the bedroom and what she perceives to be his failures as a monarch. “Has it ever occurred to you to run France?”
Adjmi takes steps to humanize Marie in her scenes with her lover, Axel Fersen (Jake Silbermann), who does his best to show the woman underneath the wigs and dresses, the little girl disguised as a queen.
“Marie” is also about isolation, and the consequences of isolating yourself from all that’s going on around you -- in this case, the events leading to the French Revolution. The queen is well aware of the geopolitical overtones of her marriage , and  that many in her court -- and many of her subjects -- do not trust her.
And even when a very well-informed sheep -- played by David Greenspan -- does his best to post red flags about the upcoming storm, she is unable to heed his call.
When the royal family attempts to escape to Varennes , they are so ill-informed about the circumstances of their subjects -- including how they act, talk and dress and that they are overtaxed and starving -- they are easily captured.
In her final moments before the guillotine, stripped of her jewelry, her extravagant clothing, her hair, and finally her humanity, there are poignant moments and plenty of regret in Marie's exchanges with Brian Wiles as a brutal guard.
Adjmi has points to make concerning social justice income inequality, but he manages to convey them without beating theater-goers over the head.
“Marie Antoinette,” by David Adjmi, directed by Rebecca Taichman, through Sept. 29 at the Loeb Drama Center, Brattle Street, Cambridge. A co-production of the American Repertory Theatre and Yale Repertory Theatre.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The rise of the mid-sized lifts all boats (revised)

Theirs is a friendly rivalry, but at events such as the Nortons and the IRNE Awards, teeth are bared and fraternizing with the enemy is frowned upon.
Boston’s theater scene includes a number of mid-sized resident professional companies that have grown and prospered through the years. What once were small or fringe, hand-to-mouth operations have become decidedly middle-class, with larger budgets, full-time staff, extensive fund-raising and development and the resources to withstand the economic bumps in the road that have marked the theater scene the past five years.
Over the past decade, the Speakeasy Stage Company, the New Repertory Theatre (based in Watertown) and the Lyric Stage Company have upped the ante when it comes to such things as production values and attracting top-tier talent to their stages, be it directors, designers or actors.
The rivalry became even more intense after Speakeasy took up residence in the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA in 2004 and the New Rep moved into the Mosesian Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in 2005.
With the resulting increase in resources, subscribers, etc.,it was a given the theaters would find themselves competing against each other for awards and critical praise.
In the past few years, after seeing Lyric’s “Avenue Q” or Speakeasy‘s “The Light in the Piazza” and “The Drowsy Chaperone,” you realize that the local take was better than that of that higher-priced national tour that preceded it into town.
On some occasions, the work being produced by the mid-sized theaters rivals that being done at the American Repertory Theatre and the Huntington Theatre, the heavyweight champions of the local theater scene, and the musicals being done at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly.
For the sake of this essay, we will include four other theaters in the midsize category in the area -- the Stoneham Theatre, about 20 minutes north of Boston; the Gloucester Stage Company, about an hour north of Boston, which runs in the summer while the others are resting; and the Nora Theatre and the Underground Railway Theatre, both in residence at the Central Square Theatre.

Critics and theater-goers alike marveled at the magic produced by the New Repertory Theatre’s artistic director, Rick Lombardo, in a Newton church before the company found permanent refuge in 2005 in the Mosesian Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts.
Then Lombardo found the way to San Jose and under former artistic director Kate Warner, the company seemed to lose its way. It was hard to discern exactly what the company stood for or what its mission statement was during her time at the helm.
It wasn’t that the theater was doing bad work, but why was it doing what it was doing when it was doing it? “Mister Roberts?” There were some head-scratching choices.
The theater appeared to be getting back on track in the 2011-12 season under new artistic director Jim Petosa. Last April‘s “Long Day’s Journey into Night” was a major theatrical event, Stephen Sachs‘ “Bakersfield Mist” copped a Norton for best new script and “Three Viewings” was another compelling evening of theater during the 2011-12 season.
The Lyric Stage Company was founded in 1974 in a theater on Charles Street, and in 1990 moved into its present home in the YWCA Building on Clarendon Street., but it was the dynamic leadership of artistic director Spiro Veloudos, previously of the Publick Theatre, that brought it to another level. Veloudos, who came on board in 1997, staged large-scale musicals and dramas in the intimate second-floor theater on Clarendon Street, his imagination rarely limited by the size of the house.

Miguel Cervantes (center) with (clockwise from left); Kerry A. Dowling, Michael Mendiola, and Sara Chase in the 2002 SpeakEasy Stage production of " Bat Boy:  The Musical." The show was a turning point for the company.
              Photo:  Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo.

 The difficulties of staging Sondheim’s sprawling “Sunday in the Park with George” (2001)? Bring it on. 2010’s “Nicholas Nickleby,” with 24 characters portraying 150 characters over six hours and 1,600 costume changes? No problem.
Veloudos specializes in challenging himself, his staff and even his physical facility. He has yet to overreach. Perhaps he never will.
It can be said that one show -- the critically-acclaimed and financially successful 2002 production of “Bat Boy: The Musical,” and its encore runs -- did as much as anything else to lift the 20-year-old Speakeasy Stage Company from the small/fringe category solidly into the middle class.
Then Speakeasy moved from the black box Plaza Theatres at Boston Center for the Arts to the more spacious confines of the Calderwood Pavilion next door, usually the Roberts Studio Theatre but also the more spacious Virginia Wimberly Theatre, where it staged its award-winning production of John Logan’s “Red” this winter.
Artistic Director Paul Daigneault and guest directors have shown a deft touch with musicals such as “Caroline, or Change,” “The Light in the Piazza,” “The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Title of Show” and “Xanadu,” the manic comedy of Charles Busch’s “The Divine Sister,” or more serious stuff such as “Some Men” and the aforementioned “Red.”
If there is one think that both Lyric and Speakeasy have shown us, know your audiences. Thus you can find Veloudos front and center before most performances, his booming “Good Evening!” setting the tone for the evening of theater, getting immediate feedback from his customers
Speakeasy’s longtime marketing director, Jim Torres, is also there in the lobby to provide a warm welcome at the Calderwood Pavilion and perform his own version of Veloudos’ welcoming address; he’s also getting feedback and audience reaction.
The Stoneham Theatre’s audience is a little more suburban and perhaps less likely to venture downtown , but artistic director Weylin Symes has taken more chances in recent years with productions such as “The Sparrow.” The theater has also prospered with quirky little musicals such as “Guys on Ice,” or the upcoming “Lumberjacks in Love,” and retooled holiday productions such as the revamped dramatic presentation of “The Nutcracker.”
It is outside the realm -- it’s about an hour from downtown Boston to Main Street in East Gloucester -- but the Gloucester Stage Company, founded by the prolific playwright Israel Horovitz in 1979, is finishing up one of its best seasons in years, and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath with its Boston-area brethren..

From the left, McCaela Donovan as Meg, Melody Madarasz as Babe and
Liz Hayes as Lenny in Gloucester Stage's "Crimes of the Heart."
Photo: Gloucester Stage Company.

 Artistic director Eric Engel has lured some of the best talent in the area up to Cape Ann, mixing recurring guest artists such as Lindsay Crouse with the cream of the local crop.
This season began with a razor-sharp ensemble concluding Alan Ayckbourn’s “Norman Conquests” trilogy with “Round and Round the Garden.” Then came a heartfelt retelling of the forgotten musical jewel “Carnival,” a searing production of Athol Fugard‘s “Master Harold … and the Boys,” a reprise of the critically-acclaimed Boston production of “9 Circles,” which I saw in Boston but wasn’t fortunate enough to see in Gloucester. One of the rising stars of the Boston theater, McCaela Donovan, led a strong ensemble cast in the final production of the season, Beth Henley’s “Crimes of the Heart.”
The opening of the Central Square Theatre in Cambridge in August 2008 gave its two resident theater companies -- the Nora Theatre and the Underground Railway Theatre -- a permanent home and the opportunity to grown in both size and stature. The versatile space lends itself to multiple configurations.
Two of the best shows by mid-sized companies in 2011 could be found in Cambridge: an excellent ensemble cast in “Arabian Nights,” a re-telling of “1,001 Arabian Nights,“ a co-production of Nora and the URT, and Allyn Burrows’ standout performance as Alan Turing in the Nora Theatre’s enthralling “Breaking the Code.”
Wesley Savick and Michael Wartofsky’s musical “Car Talk” was a breakaway hit this summer.
The theater’s partnership with next-door MIT has been both a financial and artistic success, leading to a spate of new and existing works with scientific themes.
If there is a major beneficiary of the American Repertory Theatre’s move away from the concept of a resident company of actors , it’s the other theaters in the Boston area. Major talents such as Tom Derrah and Karen MacDonald can -- and do-- spread their talents around town, notably recently in MacDonald’s searing performance as Mary Tyrone in “Long Day’s Journey into Night” at the New Rep and Derrah as Mark Rothko in Speakeasy’s “Red.”
Years ago, the companies mentioned here might followed up a strong production with one at a lower level. The rising tide has lifted the boats to a certain level that they don’t often dip below.
There’s always room at the top. But the middle is getting pretty crowded.