Sunday, February 27, 2011

Randy Harrison sings The Who's "Tommy" in new Berkshire Theatre Festival production

As the season announcement of the newly merged Colonial Theatre-Berkshire Theatre Festival began, the schedule of events was handed out to reporters, most of whom were seeing it for the first time. When Kate Maguire opened the floor to questions, the first show to draw questions was the complex and wildly popular rock opera Tommy by Peter Townshend and The Who. Undertaking a rock opera in the Berkshires is rare, especially this one. The Who’s Tommy was first released as a concept album in 1969, and then given the full Broadway treatment in 1993. It toured the country for a decade afterwards.

In 2011 the Berkshires will be one of the few places in the world where it can be seen in a fully staged production from the Berkshire Theatre Festival on the stage of the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, MA. Previews begin July 7, with the opening set for July 9 and the final performance on July 16.

There is more about the Berkshire Theatre Festival 2011 season, plus news, previews and interviews at our main site, Berkshire on Stage. You can also find Berkshire on Stage at Facebook, or our Twitter name is BerkshireStages.

Actor James Barry seen here in "Bloody, Bloody, Andrew Jackson."

Tommy is a powerful totem from an earlier age, its music and message still able to reduce an audience to tears, or make them cringe during its unfolding, and then raise the crowd to their feet with cheers as it ends.But the cheers and tears do not come automatically. Eric Hill who will direct the Berkshire Theatre Festival production has signed on for what could be his greatest challenge ever. Even with a long history of complex undertakings behind him, Hill has his work cut out for him. Tommy is as much about the music as it is the story. And it never stops moving. This is one musical that has to be done “right” to work, with split second timing, relentless energy…so difficult in fact that few theatre companies have undertaken it in recent years. It’s real risky.

Tommy not only requires perfection in its musical elements (to gloss over them is to risk disaster), but the acting can not take a back seat for even one moment. For that, much of the weight falls on the person who plays the title role, and the actors who play his younger self. Finally the production itself is Dickensonian in its scope, for this is one sweeping, epic tale. Those who were born after its earlier incarnations have quite a theatrical tsunami to look forward to.

The casting is exciting. It includes both Randy Harrison who will play Tommy, and James Barry as Captain Walker. James Barry is fresh from the cast of Bloody, Bloody, Andrew Jackson, and has been seen in The Caretaker and The Einstein Project at the Berkshire Theatre Festival.

About Randy Harrison

When the casting was announced,, perhaps the most excited person was the irrepressible Randy Harrison, who said: “I’m very excited to finally sing on a Berkshire stage, and thrilled and honored to be a part of the first Berkshire Theatre Festival production in the gorgeous Colonial Theater.” And being the consummate professional he is, we have no doubt that he is already committing the music and book to memory.

Randy Harrison

While Berkshire audiences know Harrison for his acting abilities in BTF shows like Equus, Waiting for Godot and One Flew Over the Cukoos Nest, he has earned his stripes in musicals as well. He played in Wicked on Broadway, and has extensive musical theatre experience in regional theatre, most notably playing Andy Warhol in Pop! at Yale Rep in 2009.

“Since I’ve started working in the Berkshires and in western Massachusetts, I feel re-connected to the New England area. It’s always felt like home to me. I still have some family there. My aunt is there. But now I think of it like a summer home, which is kind of nice.” – Randy Harrison

Harrison played the youngest member of the cast in the Showtime series Queer as Folk which is still in syndication worldwide. It brought him to the attention of millions of television viewers and could have typecast him as a heartthrob, but after the series finished, he returned to his first love, the stage, and continued to perfect his craft. On the sunny side of 30, Harrison still can play young, and that combined with his deep experience means that we could be in for a Tommy that will sear its music and characters on our memories. You have to see and feel his character for the show to work.

At the moment, Harrison is preparing to open in a new play off Broadway. The Red Bull Theater’s “In the Raw” workshop of Margaret, A Tyger’s Heart, which explores the role of the French Queen throughout Shakespeare’s history plays, begins tomorrow, Feb. 25. Michael Sexton directs the work, which is adapted from Shakespeare’s Richard III and Henry VI. Performances are just this weekend at the Theatre at St. Clement’s.

Jenn Harris (l) and Randy Harrison in Jack Ferver's "Swan".

From March 10-12, the actor and his friends will have a little fun at PS 122 as they undertake their spoof of the film Black Swan, complete with unhinged ballerinas, lurid hallucinations, tons of makeup and stage blood with Harrison playing the mad mother, with Jack Ferver as Lily, the hot new bad ballet girl in town. The cast will also include Christian Coulson and Matthew Wilkas. It promises to be catnip for lovers of camp and spoofery. It is a production of the infamous dancer Jack Ferver and his QWAN (Quality Without a Name) Company. “It is going to be insane,” Ferver said modestly.

Harrison maintains a busy schedule in his home base of New York, but uses the Berkshires as his summer retreat, thanks to the Berkshire Theatre Festival.

”I want to do Shakespeare. I want to do Chekov. I want to do Beckett. I did Waiting for Godot in the Berkshires. I think it was just a really, really good production. It was a wonderful director, and a wonderful company and people really responded to what we did. I love the play. I love Beckett. I like what I do now.

But I’ll also do a musical every three or four years. I miss singing after a while, so I’m always happy when the time comes and I’m like, ”I think I want to do a musical.” And also, there are more jobs in musicals and they pay better. [Laughs.] So it’s good when you want to do one.” – Randy Harrison

About Tommy’s Creation

Tommy becomes a Pinball Wizard.

In 1968, Pete Townshend told Rolling Stone he was working on a rock opera about a deaf, dumb, and blind boy. Townshend had rejected psychedelic drugs and discovered mysticism, and wanted to represent different states of consciousness through the story and music. It was only after rock journalist Nic Cohn gave an early version a cool reception that Townshend, knowing Cohn to be a pinball fan, made Tommy a Pinball Wizard. But the plot is much darker than anything you can experience at the local arcade, and varies among the many incarnations of The Who’s eponymous 1969 album. It was played live at Woodstock, and appeared as a ballet, a symphonic recording, a movie, an all-star stage performance, and, in 1993, a Broadway musical.

The original rock opera, The Who’s Tommy is at once a show-stopping rock concert and a cautionary tale of the power and perils of celebrity. We witness Tommy Walker from his birth, through the shocking episodes of his childhood that render him deaf, mute and blind, as he conquers the world with his stardom, and finally after the crowds have turned on him. Featuring legendary songs by the Who, including “Pinball Wizard,” “See Me, Feel Me” and “Tommy, Can You Hear Me?” this promises to be the event of the summer in the Berkshires.

Schedule and Ticketing

Previews are July 7 and 8 with opening night July 9. It plays until July 16 with tickets priced at $49, 40 and 20. Performances are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday-Saturday at 8pm, Wednesday at 7pm, Thursday and Saturday at 2pm. Subscriptions now, otherwise single tickets for all events go on sale March 14 to the general public. For BTF productions (including Tommy) contact the BTF Box Office at (413) 298-5576 or visit to purchase.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Arts America has moved to Berkshire on Stage

As Berkshire on Stage has grown in size and scope, it is also claiming more of my available time. Please visit me there, and if you wish to see articles, interviews and stories with a LGBT focus, just select that category. We also continue to cover selected regional theatres.

Thanks for your readership and support.


Monday, October 18, 2010

"Nicholas Nickleby" finally gets its N.E. Premiere at Lyric Stage

(l to r) Jason Powers as Smike, Jack Cutmore-Scott as Nicholas Nickleby and Nigel Gore as Mr. Squeers. Photo by Mark Howard.

It's only taken thirty years and one of Boston's bravest theatres to undertake a full scale production - running over two nights - of the legendary Nicholas Nickleby. It premiered in London in 1980, created a sensation in New York where it opened in 1981 and then mostly sunk from sight. This is a play that requires huge resources.

So we take our hat off to the Lyric Stage Company of Boston as they debut the New England premiere of the Olivier and Tony Award winning theatrical epic, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby Parts I & II October 21 through December 19, 2010 Called “the theatrical event of a lifetime,” by American Theatre Magazine, "love, sex and money, poverty and exploitation, hope and despair: Dickens' world is vividly brought to life in David Edgar's adaptation of his 1838 novel." The Times, London.

According to Producing Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos, “this extraordinary piece has never been produced in New England and we are pulling out all the stops for this remarkable two-part play with music featuring over 150 characters.” He adds, “the new, shorter adaptation streamlines the narrative, and captures Dickens' genius for combining exuberant characters, theatrical spectacle, and genuine emotion.”

The Lyric’s production of …Nicholas Nickleby includes 25 of the Boston area’s best actors, most of them playing multiple roles. Featuring: Will Lyman (Ralph Nickleby), Jack Cutmore-Scott (Nicholas Nickleby), Peter A. Carey (Newman Noggs), Maureen Keiller (Mrs. Nickleby), Larry Coen (Vincent Crummles), Nigel Gore (Wackford Squeers), Leigh Barrett (Miss LaCreevy) Kerry Dowling (Mrs. Squeers/Mrs. Crummles), and Jason Powers (Smike), John Davin (Arthur Gride), and Neil A. Casey (Mr. Mantalini) .

The …Nicholas Nickleby creative team, led by director Spiro Veloudos and Associate Director Courtney O’Connor, includes Janie E. Howland (scenic designer), Rafael Jaen (costume designer), Scott Clyve (lighting designer), and local composer Kevin O’Shaughnessy (original music). The production manager is Nerys Powell and the assistant stage manager is Katie Ailinger.

(Shown here is the wonderful actor Jack Cutmore-Scott who plays the title role. Photo by Sara Joe Wolansky, Harvard Crimson.)

Left penniless by the death of his father and young Nicholas Nickleby assumes responsibility for his mother and sister and seeks help from his Scrooge-like Uncle Ralph. Instantly disliking Nicholas, Ralph sends him to teach in a school run by the sadistic Wackford Squeers. Nicholas decides to escape, taking with him the orphan Smike, one of Squeers’s most abused young charges, and the two embark on a series of adventurous encounters with an array of humanity’s worst and best—greedy fools, corrupt lechers, cheery innocents, and selfless benefactors.

Lyric Stage Company of Boston is located at 140 Clarendon Street, Boston. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings at 7:30 pm, select Wednesday matinees, 2 pm (Part I: November 3, December 1; Part II: November 10, December 8), Saturdays at 3pm and 8 pm and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3:00 pm. Performances of both parts will be in rotating repertory, with five “marathon days” (November 13, 28, December 1, 4 and 18) where Part I and Part II will be performed with a 2 hour dinner break. Tickets range from $29 to $56 and are available by calling the box office at 617.585.5678 and online at

Friday, July 9, 2010

Waiting for Godot - An Opera by Pierre Boulez? It might happen.

The Berkshire Theatre Festival's 2008 production of Waiting for Godot had an almost-operatic set. Kevin Sprague photo.

Normally you don't find insider gossip here, but this rumor has a fine provenance, and is being printed by some mainstream UK sites, so it is worth passing along.

It is being reported that Pierre Boulez, the French composer and conductor, is planning to make an opera from Samuel Beckett's most famous play, Waiting for Godot. According to Charles T. Downey at Ion Arts, Beckett is not only planning to write a Godot opera, it is going to be presented by La Scala in Milan in 2015. Peter Gelb (General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera), where are you in this? It's going to be the hottest opera of the 21st Century!

"… the sound thus obtained had a 'spatialised' richness, which, without requiring any electronic aid, could be of interest to Pierre Boulez for the opera that, according to our sources, he will adapt from Beckett's Waiting for Godot, planned for La Scala in Milan in 2015. - Ion Arts"

His source is, in turn a review in the June 15 Le Monde.

Pierre Boulez, composer and conductor.

It's certainly true that Boulez has wanted to write an opera for a while. Talking to the U.K.'s Telegraph in 1996, he confirmed that he corresponded with the playwright Jean Genet about working together in the 1960s, as well as the German writer Heiner Müller in 1995, and that a year later he was thinking about adapting Edward Bond's plays for the opera house. None of these plans ever came to fruition.

Whether the legendary composer and historic opera house have bothered to check in with the notoriously sniffy Godot estate, I have no idea. Based on the rigid and dust-preserving tendencies of the estate, (read this tale of Endgame in the current Berkshire On Stage) I seriously doubt it. It would be news if they allowed an adaptation. They fight fiercely to preserve every word, every pause and gesture of Beckett's infamous and inscrutable play.

Yet if the composer used the play's script as its libretto, word for word, and followed the prescribed action to the letter, I don't see how they could object. And it might be easier in French than English, since Beckett wrote it first in French before doing his own translation back into English. Odd man that Beckett.

This one is worth watching.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

MOMIX does insects, too

After seeing the incredible OvO from Cirque du Soleil (reviewed in previous post) I went in search of other dancers that celebrate the world of insects and found a Momix video excerpt from their Joyce appearance in May 2009. It is apparent that the world of Entomology still offers plenty of ideas for choreographers and dancers. The one thing missing from the Cirque show was a flying act on bungees with silk wings fluttering which judging from this video would not be that difficult to stage.