Friday, August 28, 2009

Olympia Dukakis On Stage at Shakespeare & Company

Shakespeare & Company welcomes back Academy Award-winning actress Olympia Dukakis for a special benefit performance of William Coe Bigelow’s moving drama Leap Year. You can read the story behind this reunion in my revealing interview in Berkshire Fine Arts. This one-time event lights up the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre on Monday, August 31 at 7:00pm, followed by a reception with the cast. Artistic Director Tony Simotes directs. Leap Year kicks off S&Co.'s 15th annual Studio Festival of Plays, which hits full stride with seven staged readings of new works at the Bernstein Theatre on Monday, September 7.

Leap Year tells the story of a thirtysomething couple, Rob and Lisa Montgomery, whose second child is born with Down’s Syndrome. The first act takes place in a duplex apartment in Los Angeles, starting the day their son is born, on February 29th, 1988—as the couple, their friends, and family struggle to come to terms with the painful event and the difficult choices they suddenly face. The second act transpires five leap years later, on February 29th, 2008, in the same duplex apartment, when the decisions the Montgomerys have made with regard to their son’s upbringing play out in stark terms. This captivating drama goes straight to the gut; at its center are questions about personal responsibility, parenting, a personal sense of God, and finally, the redemptive quality of love and forgiveness.

The cast also features Berkshire Theatre Festival favorite David Adkins and S&Co. artists Elizabeth Aspenlieder (appearing in Les Liaisons Dangereuses at S&Co. this winter), Jules Findlay, Corinna May (currently appearing in Twelfth Night), Tom O’Keefe (currently appearing in Measure For Measure), Miriam Hyman (currently appearing in The Dreamer Examines His Pillow), Josh Aaron McCabe (appearing in The Hound of the Baskervilles this fall), Diana Prusha, Ryan Winkles (currently appearing in Twelfth Night), Rose Zoltick-Jick, and Simotes.

Olympia Dukakis, to appear at Shakespeare & Company

Reflecting on her return to Lenox, Dukakus said:
"I'm delighted to be working again at Shakespeare & Company, especially under the direction of the extraordinary Tony Simotes, my old friend and one-time student. This is a place where we can explore the deep resonances of Shakespeare's work, as well as the most thought-provoking voices of our own day. There is no better place to bring William Bigelow's exciting new play—and to be helping Shakespeare & Company achieve a Kresge Foundation incentive grant makes it all the more special."

Tony Simotes, Artistic Director of Shakespeare & Comapany

Dukakis’ roots with the S&Co. family reach back to the 1970’s, when she was an acting teacher for founding Company members Simotes, Dennis Krausnick and Kevin G. Coleman at New York University. In 1998, her groundbreaking The Lear Project (later expanded into Queen Lear), directed by Krausnick and featuring Dukakis as Lear and Founding Artistic Director Tina Packer as the Fool, sold out its run at S&Co. She has since co-adapted The Other Side of The Island, based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Ticket prices for Leap Year range from $30 to $50, and are available at or from the Box Office, which can be reached at (413) 637-3353. Proceeds will benefit Shakespeare & Company’s ongoing $10 million Capital Campaign and its push to receive an $800,000 incentive grant from The Kresge Foundation. S&Co. has already raised over $8 million toward its total, funds which have gone to the construction of the new Production and Performing Arts Center and Elayne P. Bernstein Theater, plus other much-needed infrastructure improvements and the creation of a small reserve fund. Earlier this year, S&Co. announced receipt of a highly competitive incentive grant from The Kresge Foundation, based on one key condition: once the Company raises an additional $1.2 million in its broad, community-wide appeal, The Kresge Foundation will contribute a stunning $800,000 to successfully complete the Capital Campaign.

The Kresge campaign has gained momentum all summer as patrons, friends and neighbors have come together to support S&Co. and its programming, which has become so interwoven into the community over the Company’s 32 years of groundbreaking performance, transformative education programs, and world class actor training.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Gabe Askew's Two Weeks Video

Once in a while a very talented artist takes an idea and runs with it. Gabe Askew is such a person. When you view his delightful video, you will see an inventive and loving mind at work. The combination of music by Grizzly Bear and visuals by the artist are spellbinding. Thanks Gabe.

Two Weeks - Grizzly Bear from Gabe Askew on Vimeo.

What I would commission Gabe to do: site specific installations. Bring life to display vitrines at local museums. Make my music visible. Help wake up my imagination. Pick my music. Design personal trips.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Magical Camelot at the Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, CT

The cast of Camelot celebrates the lusty month of May. Diane Sobolewski photos.

Lerner and Loewe's glorious musical Camelot is more than one brief shining moment on stage, it is an evening of magical musical theatre, a total delight for the senses. At the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut the musical has many charms, from the moment of Guenevere's arrival, to the final message of King Arthur about his Knights of the Round Table. Here is a summary of my full review and slide show which appear in Berkshire Fine Arts.

Marissa McGowan and Mollie Vogt-Welch in Goodspeed Musicals CAMELOT. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

Directed with a sure hand and clear vision by Rob Ruggiero, the musical's book has a reputation as being a bit unwieldy, but someone has done some judicious editing, pruning and possibly even a little rewriting. It's an improvement. The actor-singers are all first rate, and in a last minute substitution, I was fortunate to have been able to see the incredible Marissa McGowan in the role of Guenevere, rather than Erin Davie. McGowan blew me away, and was very faithful to the role as I remember it from the first production which I saw in 1960 at the Colonial Theatre In Boston. That starred Julie Andrews, Richard Burton, Robert Goulet and Roddy McDowell.

Loyalties are tested between Lancelot (Maxime de Toledo) and King Arthur (Bradley Dean) in Camelot at the Goodspeed. Photo by Diane Sobolewski

Of course, comparisons are inevitable, even almost half a century later. So here goes. McGowan was every bit as good as Julie Andrews. Their voices are similar. When I closed my eyes, Bradley Dean seemed to be channeling Richard Burton and made an equally impressive King Arthur. However, Maxime de Toledo as Lancelot didn't remind me of Robert Goulet at all. He is much taller, louder and, well, cavalier. He exudes self assurance while Goulet was more vulnerable. Adam Shonkwiler as Mordrid made his character downright sinister, while Roddy McDowell only played himself. He never did have much range.

As Mordred, Adam Shonkwiler's Seven Deadly Virtues tickles wickedly in Goodspeed's CAMELOT. Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

In you take in a performance, you will likely notice the incredible sound the small pit band of just eight pieces creates using new arrangements by Dan DeLange. His choice of instrumentation is as much a work of genius as the music of Lerner and Loewe.

King Arthur (Bradlley Dean) and Merlyn (Herman Peters) begin the quest for right in Camelot at the Goodspeed. Photo by Diane Sobolewski

A short rant: Watching and listening to the video below will help you understand why I felt disappointed this summer at Barrington Stage's otherwise delightful Carousel and Berkshire Theatre Festival's well done Candide. Both companies substituted twin pianos for the usual pit bands in their productions. Even with twenty fingers, the sound is thin. But even that disappointment pales in comparison to those oozy second-rate, phony synthesizers gumming up things at the Mac Hayden Theater in nearby New York State. They are an insult to the composers whose creations are the heart and soul of the form. Musicals should be, must be, musical, not some bargain basement knockoff.

With Tanglewood so near, and music lovers flocking to the area, serving up second rate music in these productions will eventually backfire. Local theater companies cut budgets this year in response to economic realities, but don't be surprised if we see reputations and audiences decline as a result. I am not the only one who has felt cheated of the full experience one is supposed to get at a musical. Thank goodness for the new arrangements the Colonial Theatre has made with C-R Productions and the Cohoes Music Hall. Their production of The Producers last June provided a pit band, the only one in the long Summer Theater Season in the Berkshires.

The video was produced by the Goodspeed prior to opening night.

The trip to East Hadam took 2.5 hours from North Adams, and can be cut to 1.5 hours from south county. It is well worth the trip. If the weather is pleasant, you might want to take a picnic supper. The Goodspeed has set up picnic tables along the banks of the Connecticut River where they are located, and it makes for a nice break after the drive, and before the theatre.

The Goodspeed Opera House is on the Connecticut River with adjacent picnic grounds.

For more information and tickets, visit Goodspeed Musicals for details. You can also call the Box Office at 860.873.8668. Be sure to plan ahead. The wonderful old Victorian theater on the third floor of the landmarked building only has 398 seats which often sell out to the locals. There is an elevator. Don't miss the mini patio for drinks and a splendid view of the river.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Three Minutes of Jaw Dropping Imagination: "Civilization"

Marco Brambilla should do a past life regression. He might discover he was once Hieronymus Bosch (1453-1516), known to the Spanish as El Bosco. To prove my point, I submit for your edification, this unbelievable video, "Civilization," which reminds me of the triptych, The Garden of Earthly Delights at the Prado in Madrid.

Watch this video full screen if at all possible!

Civilization, a video mural created for the new Standard hotel in New York City, depicts a journey from hell to heaven interpreted through modern film language using computer-enhanced found footage. This epic video mural contains over 300 individual channels of looped video blended into a multi-layered seamless tableau of interconnecting images that illustrate a contemporary, satirical take on the concepts of Heaven and Hell.

Of course, picking The Rite of Spring: Ritual of the Ancients by Stravinsky puts it over the top. Look for the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man and Michael Jackson entering Heaven.