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.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cirque du Soleil brings Ovo to New England: Hartford now, Boston next

Ovo immerses you in a colorful ecosystem teeming with life.

First a little background before the OvO review. Hartford is the seventh city on the worldwide tour of OvO, which began in Montreal in April 2009. It's arrival in Hartford follows the successful runs of Dralion there in 2003, Varekai in 2005 and Kooza in 2008. It plays until July 11 and then packs up and heads to Boston where it plays from July 22 to August 15. So now, the question is, how does OvO measure up compared to the earlier shows?

OvO is simply the best show Cirque du Soleil has ever sent on the road. Written and directed by Deborah Colker, it has moments of sheer spectacle, held together with dance, movement and pure theatrical wizardry. During a performance you may notice subtle references to artists such as Gaudi, Dali and Piazzolla while enjoying performers dressed as butterflies, spiders and even a Ladybug looking for a mate.

OvO (which means egg in Portuguese) is the 25th quirky show from Cirque, created for the company's 25th Anniversary. Currently playing in Hartford, next month it moves on to Boston, then to Washington, DC in September.

Spiders are more artistic than scary.

Even for those who have seen Cirque du Soleil, it is difficult to describe the experience. Those flat two-dimensional televised snippets of their performances don't do it justice, and even in print, how can words describe a basically wordless show?

You don't just see a Cirque show, you experience it. On the way in you may hear some first time ticket buyers complain about the ticket prices (they're not cheap) but you never hear that on the way out. You get a lot for your money. There's more imagination and entertainment compressed into 2.5 glorious hours than you will get in a month on commercial television.

The fun begins the moment you spot their blue and gold Grand Chapiteau (big top) at the Intersection of I-84 and I-91 In Hartford. It seats 2200.

As you push the canvas flaps aside to enter, you notice the subtle smell of grass and hear a cacophony of insects all around you. Scientists in beekeeper-style helmets with nets and specimen boxes patrol the audience, on the trail of insects. A few unfortunate latecomers are examined, magnifying glasses are employed, and Grotowski-esque mutterings and grunts fill the air. The show has no script, but uses a wide variety of the Polish theatre director Jerzy Grotowski's techniques to communicate their surprise, happiness etc. Once in a while you can even make out the word "ovo" or "no" but Cirque's shows are created for multi-lingual audiences. They travel the world.

The scarabs operate at the top of the tent.

As this is happening, insects are slowly hopping, crawling, slithering and otherwise finding their way on stage. Someone is lugging a human sized egg through the audience. On stage is a gigantic egg, perhaps 60 feet wide, dominating everything. In the background is an organic structure reaching from floor to ceiling. Two pods of four musicians each begin playing a samba with tango overtones. All this, and then the show actually begins.

The audience becomes aware that they have shrunk in size and importance and entered a different world. OvO offers a headlong rush into the insects colorful ecosystem. On stage we watch as the creepy-crawlies work, eat, flutter, play, fight and look for love in a non-stop dance of endless energy. Giant flowers open and their scent fills the air. The insects’ home is a world of biodiversity and beauty alternately filled with noisy action and moments of quiet emotion.

The contortionist made the audience gasp at her impossible combinations.

But all this is simply the lavish frosting to introduce the circus acts, albeit using every dance and theatre trick imaginable. Just as Julie Taymor created a special world for the animals of The Lion King so do Deborah Colker and Chantel Tremblay create an imaginary world for the insects. OvO's costumes are not precise depictions of what a cricket or ant looks like, but an interpretation. None of the proceedings will upset someone who might get squeamish at the site of a spider, ant or cockroach. Instead it's like being twelve years old again, looking to see what's hiding under the rocks in the back yard.

With 54 performers from 16 countries, there are a lot of insects. For example, five yellow and-red fleas fling themselves through the air and come together in graceful, perfectly balanced sculptural formations. A Dragonfly performs a graceful balancing act. A spider defies gravity and physics on the slack wire earning gasps and applause from the onlookers.

Perhaps the most stunning performance was that of the "scarabs" who operate from perches high above the audience . It is an act that combines several traditional circus skills like banquine, Russian swing and swinging chair. These fly boys leap from the edges of two platforms in the rafters to the catchers positioned on a third. Their physical setup is the largest ever created under a big tent, and requires some 16 people just to set up. They do it in minutes as other action was taking place on the stage.

The fleas cling to each other as they jump about.

The penultimate act was the 25' high Cricket Wall, which has 20 artists running, jumping and walking across its jagged face. Using trampolines and power tracks - plus pure physical strength and teamwork - they leap, jump and spring to the top. The effect is so stunning that the audience can not believe what it is seeing. But there are no hidden wires, nothing but the artists and the setup. A similar effect is used at the close of La Nouba, a permanent Cirque show in Orlando. It is an acrobatic achievement like no other.

Cirque's productions have become so elaborate and intricate that they are becoming more grandiose than Grand Opera. Like that art form, they combine spectacle, theatre and music into a whole new experience. The gold and crystal of the venerable Metropolitan Opera House is even challenged by the KA theatre Cirque created at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Instead of monied gilt, that theatre's interior resembles the heart of a giant space ship with a hydraulic stage that arises from the deep.

Everything about this show is amazing, scenery, costumes and makeup included. The costumes for OvO are not only intricate, they are sufficiently detailed to allow close-up scrutiny. (They offered, I accepted.) But what makes them special is they are also truly durable. They are able to take the punishment these circus acts inflict on them. Liz Vandal, who created them, is known for her futuristic superhero costumes, and for recreating suits of armor from all eras. There is little doubt that is why they have such beauty and durability.

In OvO, it is the lighting and sound people who create the magical environment that surrounds the audience. There are four enormous lighting toweres and the same number of giant subwoofers strategically placed under the seating. 100 surround speakers are placed around the arena to immerse the audience in a wall of sound. The effect is stunning. You can feel the action at several points in the evening. And subtle. The chirping and chattering never stops, yet becomes a soundstage on which everything else is overlaid.

OvO, like most Cirque shows, is designed to please all ages and all levels of sophistication. As someone who has seen ten of their 25 shows, the question is when they will begin repeating themselves. Yes,, there are certain elements that appear in all their shows, which might be dismissed as just a bunch of dressed up circus acts.
But like a good meal, where we use the same ingredients over and over, Cirque always creates totally new and different menus to excite our taste buds. This is a company that totally reinvents themselves again and again. Any Cirque du Soleil show makes for a great way to spend an evening. But this is one you should see early. And often.

This is only two-thirds of Ovo's huge cast!

Dates, Performance and Ticket Information

Cirque du Soleil's OvO opens in Hartford June 17 and runs through July 11. It then moves on to Boston from July 22 to August 15 and Washington, DC from September 9 to October 3.

The performances are Tuesdays thru Thursdays at 8:00 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. No performances on Mondays. Tickets are available via or at 1-800-450-1480. A VIP Tapis Rouge™ package is also available.

A slightly different version of this review appeared earlier in Berkshire Fine Arts.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Karen Zacarias saved by Arena Stage Playwriting Program

There was a moment not long ago when Karen Zacarias became sure that her blossoming playwriting career would be lost among sippy cups, baby dolls and field trip forms. Arena Stage made the difference.

Can you have it all? Playwright Karen Zacarias certainly seems to have found the secret. With three young children at home and a blinking computer awaiting, the 2009 Playwright in Residence for Washington, D.C.'s Arena stage is a prolific writer. She finished five plays the year her youngest was born, and the ideas just keep on coming. She has had four of her plays staged in the past year or so. Legacy of Light is one that Arena Stage produced. But the double duties of mother and writer takes its toll. "I haven't slept in years," she says. Thanks to Arena's program, she has found a way to live two lives.

Today news came that the path that Zacarias has blazed will soon be joined by two additional women playwrights Lisa Kron and Amy Freed, who will each start their three-year residencies in July 2010, and then Katori Hall and Charles Randolph-Wright, who will begin in January 2011. It's all part of The American Voices New Play Institute. The Institute—integral to Arena’s mission as a leading center for the production, presentation, development and study of American theater—isdesigned as a center for research and development of effective practices, programs and processes for new play development in the American Theater.

In addition to the first round of Resident Playwrights, the Institute will also host Project Residents Lynn Nottage and David Henry Hwang, who will be commissioned through the Institute to write a play that Arena Stage will produce.

In addition to the residencies, the American Voices New Play Institute operates with a suite of interrelated programs, including the New Play Producing Fellowships, Theater 101 Audience Enrichment Seminar, administration of Round One of the NEA New Play Development Program and major convenings of American artists and arts administrators around issues facing the new play sector.

Under the leadership of Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith, the Institute is guided by Arena Stage Associate Artistic Director David Dower and works in partnership with Georgetown University’s Theater Department, led by Dr. Derek Goldman. The American Voices New Play Institute is made possible through the keystone gift of $1.1 million in support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

"With the launching of the residencies for the American Voices New Play Institute under the visionary funding of the Mellon Foundation, we at Arena Stage are eager to support and help transform play development around the country,“ said Smith. “These writers are so different; my mouth is literally watering at the thought of what each may write. From major dramas to musicals, comedies, one-person plays and interview-based stories, the range is exhilarating. Now the writers will have the time, support and finances to be able to do their best work. Each writer is splendid and has the talent and insight to surprise us all.”

The primary purpose of the residency is to write plays and to advance professional outcomes for the participating writers, as well as to help Arena Stage test and develop best practices for such residencies in theaters around the country. The playwrights will determine their individual involvement in the life of the theater company. Ultimately, Arena Stage hopes the Institute will make the case for the power, practicality and impact of resident playwrights in regional theaters nationwide.

"This first cohort of playwrights is going to really advance the inquiry here at Arena Stage,” shared Dower. “They come at it from so many different perspectives on form, process and story, and they have all grabbed hold of the opportunity to help develop the role of the playwright in the institutions of the regional theater. So I expect we'll not only see work they write popping up on stages around the country, but I hope through their leadership we'll see increased opportunities for playwrights' residencies around the field."

This is one of the most exciting initiatives by any American theatre company. The nurturing of playwrights is essential for the theatre's future.

For more information regarding all of the American Voices New Play Institute programs please visit

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"Carnival" at Goodspeed Musicals has Acrobats, Jugglers, Puppets and Magicians

The original cast album design for Carnival.

Carnival is one of those classic book musicals that tells a heartbreaking love story surrounded by the color and vibrancy of a traveling troupe of artists. With a gorgeous score by the almost forgotten Bob Merrill, it is a musical I actually saw on Broadway with Anna Maria Alberghetti in the lead role of Lili, a young innocent.

Scheduled to run from July 9 – Sept 18 at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Conn. This production will officially open on August 4, 2010. The last time I saw this musical was at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in 1979 or so. It's been a long time waiting for a top notch production, which the Goodspeed name always promises.

Lauren Worsham
The magical and heart-warming tale of a naïve young woman who eagerly joins a traveling circus. Surrounded by a riot of acrobats and jugglers, music makers and clowns, she is dazzled at first by the troupe’s manipulative magician. In the end she finds happiness with a disillusioned puppeteer who can only express himself through his delightful puppets. Based on the film Lili and with songs like “Love Makes the World Go Round” and "Her Face," Carnival! casts a romantic spell over the entire audience.

In addition to the Music and Lyrics by Bob Merrill Carnival's book is by Michael Stewart, based on Material by Helen Deutsch with Revisions by Francine Pascal.

Now to the cast. Lili will be played by Lauren Worsham whose gorgeous voice I heard up at the Weston, VT Playhouse two summers ago in Adam Guettel's Light in the Piazza. She broke my heart with her acting.

Adam Monley
Paul will be played by Adam Monley who appeared on Broadway in Mamma Mia! . Mr. Monley played Dominque in The Norma Terris production of The Baker’s Wife.

Marco will be played by Mike McGowan whose Broadway credits include Ragtime, Grease, The Apple Tree and The Producers. Mr. McGowan previously performed in Goodspeed’s 2001 production of They All Laughed.

Rosalie will be played by Michelle Blakely who performed the Broadway revivals of Annie Get Your Gun and Grease. Jacquot will be played by Nathan Klau. Schlegel will be played by Laurent Giroux whose Broadway credits include The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Dancin’ and Pippin. Mr. Giroux returns to Goodspeed where previously he played M. le Marquis in The Baker’s Wife.

Joshua Dean
The ensemble will include Joshua Dean and Ben Franklin, co-founders for New York based aerial theatre company Suspended Cirque. Mr. Dean has performed around the world as a ballet, modern, and musical theater dancer. Mr. Franklin has performed all over the world as an actor/singer/dancer. He has worked in numerous regional theatres, national tours, world cruises, Off-Broadway, and Lincoln Center.

Price Waldman from Broadway’s The Little Mermaid and Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! joins the ensemble. Mr. Waldman returns to Goodspeed where he previously performed in Sweeney Todd and Amour.

Other members of the ensemble include Timothy Hughes, Kara Kimmer (Goodspeed’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), Robin Masella, Clifton Samuels, Amy Shure, Justin Urso and Dana Winkle (Goodspeed’s Pippin and Mack & Mabel). The swings will be Miguel Edson and Melissa Steadman.

Carnival! will be directed by Darko Tresnjak, who directed Goodspeed Musicals’ Amour and A Little Night Music. Carnival! will be choreographed by Peggy Hickey, whose previous Goodspeed Musicals credits include Brigadoon, King of Hearts, Amour, On The Twentieth Century, and A Little Night Music.

Scenic designs will be by David P. Gordon whose New York Credits include String Fever, Cheat, and Princess Turandot. Mr. Gordon also designed the Goodspeed production of A Little Night Music.

Costume Design will be by Fabio Toblini. Mr. Toblini has served as Assistant Costume Designer for Broadway’s Triumph of Love and assisted Costume Designer Ann Hould-Ward with her Broadway sensation Beauty and the Beast . Mr. Toblini served as Assistant Costume designer for Goodspeed’s revival of Man of LaMancha in 2000.

Lighting design will be by John Lasiter whose designs for Goodspeed Musicals include Annie Get Your Gun, Camelot, Big River and 1776. His off-Broadway credits include The Seagull, Common Vision, and Make Me A Song.

Puppet designer for Carnival! will be Robert Smythe. Mr. Smythe is considered one of the foremost puppet artists in the United States. As the founder and Artistic Director of Mum Puppettheatre, the only regional theater in the United States devoted to puppetry, he wrote, directed and performed over 20 original productions using puppets, masks and human actors.

The Music Director for Carnival! will be Michael O’Flaherty. He is in his 19th season as Goodspeed’s Resident Music Director. F. Wade Russo will be Assistant Music Director. Orchestrations will be provided by Dan DeLange, who provided the orchestrations for Goodspeed Musicals’ Annie Get Your Gun, Camelot, 42nd Street, Half a Sixpence, High Button Shoes, Singin’ in the Rain, The Boy Friend, Red Hot and Blue, Call Me Madam, and Babes in Arms. Carnival! is produced for Goodspeed Musicals by Michael P. Price.

Performances and Tickets

Carnival! will run July 9 through September 18, 2010. Curtain times are Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (with select performances at 2:00 p.m.), Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. (with select performances at 6:30 p.m.). Tickets are available through the Box Office (860.873.8668), open seven days a week, or on-line at

Monday, May 31, 2010

Dennis Hopper. actor and art collector

"I started acting at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego, from the time I was thirteen years old to when I was seventeen. I was doing Shakespeare and plays at the Old Globe in Balboa Park." Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper (1946-2010) and some of his beloved paintings.

If you read the celebrity columns and blogs, Dennis Hopper is often treated as an oddball, an eccentric actor. Much of it is true. Once spurned by Hollywood and nearly destroyed by drugs, he bounced back as so many of us do. And over a long career he worked hard to redeem his reputation.

In later years, his feet were solidly planted on the ground. For one thing he collected art. Not as an investment (though he seems to have quite an eye for emerging artists) but as a tool, perhaps even an obsession that enriched his acting. For another, he voted Republican, something most people are surprised to learn. He was a wonderfully complex person, a living contradiction.
"My whole written history is one big lie! [laughs] I mean, I can't even believe my history. But I did have the first Campbell's Soup painting. It was in the office at Virginia Dwan's, and I bought it for $75. This is '62 or '63. "Dennis Hopper

We will miss him, Perhaps the best memory we could take away of him is that of someone who was as curious about the visual arts as about life.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Broadway has another Billion Dollar Year

Actually, only a couple of theatres are on Broadway itself.

The Broadway League released end-of-season statistics for the 2009 – 2010 season, which began May 25, 2009 and ended May 23, 2010. For the 2009 – 2010 season, Broadway shows yielded $1.02 billion in grosses, and total attendances reached 11.89 million.

Grosses are up 1.5% from last season's absolute numbers (which do not include Young Frankenstein*). Attendance is down 3.0% from the 2008 – 2009 season, also using absolute numbers.

Charlotte St. Martin, Executive Director of The Broadway League, said, “Using the numbers we know, grosses were up 1.5% over last season. However, if we factor in estimated figures for Young Frankenstein which ran 32 weeks in 2008 – 2009, it could be down slightly this season – perhaps as much as 1.0% in grosses. In any case, it seems that even in this current economic climate, the numbers are strong thanks to the vibrancy of this season's offerings.“

The League recently studied the demographics of theatre-goers and found that, for Broadway, international visitors accounted for one in five admissions. Tourists in general accounted for a whopping 63% of Broadway admissions, though that could be a misleading statistic since under their parameters I would be considered a tourist, not the Broadway regular I consider myself.

The report also shows that the use of the Internet for the purchase of tickets has grown by 471% since the 1999-2000 season (from 7% to 40%). Online purchase was the most popular method of ticket buying for a fifth year in row.

During the 2009-2010 season, 39 shows opened (11 new musicals, 14 new plays, 6 musical revivals, and 8 play revivals).

The total for 2009-10 was $1.02 billion vs. $1.00 billion in 2008-9.

The more important figure was the gross attendance and that was 11.89 million in the last year, vs. 12.25 million the year before, representing a decline.

Broadway audience is aging

The average age of the Broadway theatregoer was 42.2 years old, slightly older than last season, while those aged from 25-34accounted for 16% of all tickets sold, higher than it has been since the 1999-2000 season. But younger audiences generally seem to prefer the more edgy (and cheaper) offerings of off-Broadway and off-off Broadway houses.
Broadway theatregoers were a very well educated and affluent group. In addition to an annual reported income of $195,700, 73% of theatregoers over the age of 25 had completed college and 36% had earned a graduate degree. 

“Broadway is a national pastime! As there is more of a choice for the theatregoer than ever before, it is exciting to report that we are seeing a wider audience for Broadway. Our shows, and our audience, are more diverse than ever,” continued Charlotte St. Martin. “With our goal to make Broadway a stronger international brand, we do believe that the increased attendance from foreign visitors to New York City reflects that these efforts are working. A stronger international brand will not only be an asset for Broadway’s business, but for the New York City economy as well.”

*Estimates for Young Frankenstein, which played 32 weeks during the 2008-09 season are not included here (previews began 10/11/07, closed 1/4/09 ) The producers refused to cooperate with the Broadway League and insisted on keeping their numbers to themselves.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Goodspeed Musicals "Annie Get Your Gun" Hits a Bullseye

The Company of Annie Get Your Gun at Goodspeed Opera House until July 3. Photos by Diane Sobolewski.

Theatre companies do Broadway musicals all the time, but few productions ever seem to measure up to the originals. The one reliable exception is the little Goodspeed Opera House, hidden away in East Haddam, Connecticut, just southeast of Hartford. This is one company that almost always hits a bullseye.

Jenn Gambatese as Annie Oakley

Since Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun opened this past weekend, we had to revisit this musical tale about Annie Oakley (1860-1926), who was a sharpshooter from Ohio, and her husband, Frank Butler.

The verdict? The audience rewarded it with wildly enthusiastic applause, and so did I. It's fresh, funny and fabulous. The love they lavished on this musical is right up there on stage to hear and see. There's an energetic cast of two dozen singers and dancers who put their hearts into the show. The choreography by Noah Racey was dazzling. The work of the hard working performers was enhanced by the sparkling sound, with eight top notch musicians in the orchestra pit.

This edition of Annie Get Your Gun is not the same as the original, however. Cuts - most significantly of "I'm An Indian Too" - and updates were made to both book and song to bring it into the 21st Century, and to avoid some of the earlier racist cliches that were common in the mid 1940's.

From the opening notes of "There's No Business Like Show Business" to the rip roaring final duet of "Anything You Can Do" the two lead actors, Jenn Gambatese as Annie Oakley and Kevin Earley as Frank Butler filled the hall with glorious singing and acting that made the old fashioned book almost believable. Despite all its puns the audience loved every line, got every joke. I had a grin that went from ear to ear for most of the show. So much so that my jaw is sore today.

Kevin Earley as Frank Butler and the company of Annie Get Your Gun at Goodspeed Opera House.

Success of course has many mothers. Nevertheless, a big portion of the credit has to go the incredibly clever director, Rob Ruggiero who used every inch of stage space available. His cast swarmed and swirled under the big top, through the crowned heads of Europe and into a high society gathering. One dance took place on the top of a railroad car which rolled on and off stage with ease.

David McDonald made Buffalo Bill Cody a gentleman ringmaster in this role. Equally impressive were Bill Nabel as Pawnee Bill and Rebecca Watson as Dolly Tate. Impeccable timing in delivering his lines was Chief Sitting Bull played by the delightful Michael Nichols.

Orville Mendoza - who I first heard at Barrington Stage Company - carried the roles of Running Deer and several others over the course of the evening.

Rounding out the major figures are the two lovers Winnie Tate (Chelsea Morgan Stock and Tommy Keeler (Andrew Cao). Their voices were sweet, if not terribly loud.

As usual, the Goodspeed's production was world class, even with the limited playing space this jewel box of a theatre has to work with. Michael Schweikardt's set was highly creative, billowing posters and curtains doing the work of dividing the locations and scenes with speed and decisiveness. The costumes by Alejo Vietti were just amazing to see, detailed right down to the dirt and grime on Annie's leather and rough hewn clothes.

Anyone who is looking for a top notch musical - of the old fashioned variety - should find their way to East Haddam and see this superb company for themselves. You will quickly discover why Goodspeed is the home of Broadway hits - they have sent more musicals to Broadway than any other regional theatre company.

Annie Get Your Gun. Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. Original Book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields. Revised by Peter Stone. First performance April 16, 2010. Recently extended to play to July 3. Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, Connecticut. About 2 hours, 15 minutes with one intermission.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Roger Rees and Sir Ian McKellan mistaken for bums in Sydney

Sir Ian McKellan mistaken for a bum by a passerby who dropped a dollar in his hat.

If there is anything more dangerous than a "method" actor, it's a "method" costume designer. Put the two together and the public can be easily fooled.

Ian McKellen was taking a break during rehearsals for Waiting for Godot which he and Roger Rees (former Williamstown Theatre Festival Artistic Dirextor) first did in London and are now performing in Australia.

Roger Rees (top) and Ian McKellan take their routine on the road.

As fate would have it, Sir Ian is sitting a short distance from the stage door, Estragon's bowler in hand when a passerby takes one look at the aging, threadbare actor and drops a dollar in the hat.

Of course, that prompted the publicist to set up some photographs which we most happily reprint here.

McKelan hopes the Melbourne critics will be as kind.

After Waiting For Godot finishes its run in Melbourne, it will continue on to Sydney, Adelaide and Perth.
The Samuel Beckett play was a huge success in London's West End, with Sir Ian starring as Estragon opposite Patrick Stewart's and then Roger Rees's Vladimir.

Sir Ian McKellan attracts stares as he continues to wait for Godot in full public view.

You can ead more at: The Daily Mail.

Sir Ian has a wicked sense or irony:

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Concert Hall Decorum Loses to PaGAGnini Players

The Pagagnini Quartet.

They begin as any chamber concert does, with a pensive pianissimo passage of a Bach Brandenburg or the Pachebel Canon in d. Their playing is superb. The audience is rapt. Then...cleverly choreographed chaos erupts. The Pagagnini Quartet is off and running and the evening erupts in hilarity. It's about as entertaining as classical music ever gets.

Descended from a squiggly line of classical clowns, from Spike Jones (Carmen Ghia) to Anna Russell to PDQ Bach, the Pagagnini foursome is clearly out to have a good time. Their audiences respond with endless cheering and laughter. The group, from Spain, is about to appear in New York City and we want to be sure you know about them.

Their high voltage show makes quite a racket, and the choreography requires their playing to be almost acrobatic as they pluck, bow and abuse their instruments in the name of art. This video will give you a good idea of what they are up to.

They play the New Victory Theatre in Manhattan from May 7 - 23. Performances are Fridays at 7pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 7pm, and Sundays at 12pm and 5pm.

Regular ticket prices are $35, $25, $12.50. With our code your discount price is only $29.75, $21.25, $10.50.

When you call for tickets, (646-223-3010) be sure to mention code GAG1915.

You can also order on line directly from the New Victory Theatre. Again, when prompted, enter the code GAG1915 for your special pricing. Or bring a copy of this advance story to the box office at 209 West 42nd Street.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Cirque du Soleil's "OvO" Arrives in Hartford June 17

"Families will literally BUG OUT and HAVE A BLAST"
- Time Out Kids

Cirque du Soleil's Grand Chapiteau (Big Top) returns to Market Street in Hartford June 17 for OvO, a show teeming with insects.

OvO is the most jaw dropping spectacle yet from the Cirque du Soleil, and it is creating significant buzz as the best touring show this company has ever put on the road. Currently playing in New York City (Randall's Island Park) to June 6, the company will pack up its tent and move to Hartford June 17 to July 4 and then Boston from July 22 to August 15.

In Hartford it is conveniently located at the intersection of I-84 and I-91 (Northwest corner). In Boston the blue and yellow tent will be found at Fan Pier and Pier 4 instead of Suffolk Downs.

All About OvO

OvO is a headlong rush into a colorful ecosystem teeming with life, where insects work, eat, crawl, flutter, play, fight and look for love in a non-stop riot of energy and movement. The insects’ home is a world of biodiversity and beauty filled with noisy action and moments of quiet emotion.

When a mysterious egg appears in their midst, the insects are awestruck and intensely curious about this iconic object that represents the enigma and cycles of their lives. It’s love at first sight when a gawky, quirky insect arrives in this bustling community and a fabulous ladybug catches his eye – and the feeling is mutual.

Cirque du Soleil's OvO is visually stunning.

As anyone who has seen a Cirque show knows, their sows are overflowing with contrasts. The hidden, secret world at our feet is revealed as tender and torrid, noisy and quiet, peaceful and chaotic. And as the sun rises on a bright new day the vibrant cycle of insect life begins anew.

The cast of OvO comprises 54 performing artists from 16 countries and director Deborah Colker, a renowned choreographer, has integrated dance movements into many of the acts in the show. Colker is the first female Director at Cirque du Soleil.

OvO features many acrobatic acts including a stunning flying trapeze act: Six flyers soar 40 feet in the air, making this act the biggest of its kind ever presented under a big top by Cirque du Soleil. It combines many circus disciplines: banquine, Russian swing and swinging chair. The finale features 20 artists running, jumping and leaping up a 24-foot vertical wall.

The playing space envelops and involves the audience.

The Creative Team behind the world of OvO is: Artistic Guides Guy Laliberté and Gilles Ste-Croix; Writer, Director and Choreographer Deborah Colker; Director of Creation Chantal Tremblay; Set and props Designer Gringo Cardia; Costume Designer Liz Vandal; Composer and Musical Director Berna Ceppas; Lighting Designer Éric Champoux; Sound Designer Jonathan Deans; Acrobatic Equipment and Rigging Designer Fred Gérard; Acrobatic Performance Designer Philippe Aubertin; and Makeup Designer Julie Bégin.

iShares is the presenting sponsor of the 2010 U.S. tour of OvO. Sun Life Financial, CGI, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts and American Express are the official sponsors.

Everything about OvO is extravagant: huge cast, live music, incredible costumes, clowns, acrobats, what's not to like?

"WHAT A SHOW! To say audiences are wowed is an understatement."
"It's not just great family fun; it's breathtaking."
- The Huffington

Ticket Information

The performances are Tuesdays thru Thursdays at 8:00 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. No performances on Mondays. Tickets will be available as of this Sunday, April 11 at 9 a.m. via or at 1-800-450-1480. Tickets for adults are from $45 to $125 and tickets for children are from $31.50 to $87.50. A VIP Tapis Rouge™ package is also available. It includes one of the best seats in the house, as well as access to the VIP suite one hour before the show and during intermission. The adult package is available for $250 and the child package for $175 (aged 2 to 12 years old). Prices include taxes.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Fewer Jukebox Musicals and More Plays About Sports, Please

George Merrick and Shannon Lewis
in a publicity photo for Damn Yankees at Boston's North Shore Music Theatre in 2006.

Thank goodness for Damn Yankees. It's probably the best sports musical ever written, and for those of us in the Northeast, we will be able to enjoy it again August 5-21 at the Weston, VT Playhouse.

(For a rundown on the Berkshire's Summer of 2010 Schedules, visit Berkshire on Stage which lists all the major companies.)

I first saw it in its original Broadway outing back in the late fifties, and have never stopped loving it. "You've Gotta Have Heart" and "Whatever Lola Wants" are so eminently hummable while "Steam Heat" can be a great dance number.

Instead, lately it seems the jukebox musicals are becoming the new form for musicals, from Mamma Mia! and Jersey Boys to Rock of Ages and American Idiot, that last one recycling a Green Day 2004 album. Now, there is no question that the music in question is good, even great, but the underpinnings, the book, the plot, the depth is pretty shallow. In Damn Yankees we have the issue of selling one's soul to the Devil while in Mamma Mia! we have a pastiche.

Here in the Berkshires we have the additional curse of the "tribute" shows, including one which I attended that supposedly saluted ABBA. In the middle of the show they scrapped ABBA and started playing anti-Disco music which clearly showed they hated playing ABBA in the first place. It was insulting to those who paid to enjoy the songs of the Swedish pop group. The venues who book these scandalous second rate shows are shortchanging their audiences and endangering their "brand" by diluting it with pap.

Audiences love these pop music revues, and there is no shortage of ticket buyers, so what is a commercial producer to do?

The lack of substance in musicals has always been a problem. But would you swap Sweet Charity for say, Footloose?

Sucker Punch at London's Royal Court Theatre

Sports musicals are rare, and plays about the subject are few and far between. Here we can count our blessings that Kate Maguire (Artistic Director of the Berkshire Theatre Festival) is a fan, a BIG fan of baseball. WIthout her, we would never have gotten to see the nostalgic and impressive Red Remembers last fall.

But isn't it about time someone did a credible job on Take Me Out, also about baseball players? Roy Williams new play about boxing, Sucker Punch is also intriguing. In the UK there are lots of plays about rugby, cricket and their version of football, but where is the American basketball or football tale to keep audiences riveted to the stage.

Dave Garrison as Red Barber in the Berkshire Theatre Festival play, Red Remembers.

Don't think there aren't sports fans in the audience, and theatre lovers at the stadium cheering on the local team. Audiences cross over all the time. Indeed I contend that a someone at the baseball stadium is more likely to buy a ticket to a stage show than some television viewer watching Survivor.

The world is divided into those who sit at home and those that go out. People who are always out and about will eventually discover local theatre and music. The couch potatoes only leave the nest to scoop up more junk at WalMart.

To expand audiences for the arts, it is possible that sports could be a better magnet to draw new people in than the jukebox.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Annie, Get Your Earplugs! Dueling Musicals in May

Jenn Gambatese is Annie Oakley in Goodspeed Musicals' ANNIE GET YOUR GUN Photo by Diane Sobolewski.

When Irving Berlin wrote Annie Get Your Gun, he wrote a classic. It's the show that introduced "There's No Business Like Show Business" to the world which has become an anthem. In just a matter of weeks we will have two versions of this great musical within striking distance of the Berkshires.

But like the other famous song in the show, "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better," it will be easy to pick which show you want to see. You see there is the scaled down MacHaydn version in Chatham, NY which runs from May 27 to June 6 or the Goodspeed Opera House full bore production in East Haddam, CT which runs from April 16 to June 27. If you are a WalMart shopper you will love the MacHaydn version where tickets are only $26-28. It's done in the round, with some pretty fine singers, but there are problems. Certainly having to look at the back of an actor's head is no fun, and doing musicals on a stage that is barely larger than a pizza platter doesn't leave room for much for scenery or choreography.

Then there is the matter of the sound. At the Mac it seems limited to a piano and synthesizer to emulate what a band or orchestra should rightly be playing.

The MacHaydn has scores of loyal fans who will no doubt throw their walkers and canes at me for writing such harsh words, but bad music clearly does not seem to bother the geriatric set which predominates, especially at matinees. I apoloigize in advance for the snark attack, but don't you think that when you can't hear very well anyway, it likely doesn't matter much?

I have friends who don't mind. But it is their achilles heel. You can certainly see for yourself and come back and comment here. Tickets and information is available at

The Alternative

Jenn Gambatese as Annie Oakley with Jessie, Nellie & Little Jake (Joy Rachel Del Valle, Griffin Birney, Marissa Smoker) Photo by Diane Sobolewski
On the other hand there is the Annie Get Your Gun being staged at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT. This is the upscale version with prices to match. Tickets are $27.50 to $71.00 though what you get is a decent sized group of live musicians, great sets and costumes and a cast that is drawn from Broadway. The Goodspeed has sent more musicals to Broadway than any other theatre company.

Kevin Earley (above) will play marksman Frank Butler opposite the sharp-shooting Annie Oakley played by Jenn Gabatese (below).

This Annie Get Your Gun will be directed by Rob Ruggiero whose work has been seen frequently in the Berkshires, as well as in award-winning regional theatres around the country. Mr. Ruggiero returns to Goodspeed where he directed 1776, Big River and last year’s sensation Camelot. His off-Broadway and tour credits include All Under Heaven and the world premieres of Ella and Make Me A Song, all of which he both conceived and directed. His newest production, Looped starring Valerie Harper, is currently running on Broadway.

Annie Get Your Gun was first staged on Broadway at the Imperial Theater on May 16, 1946 and ran for 1,147 performances. It was directed by Joshua Logan; Ethel Merman starred as Annie Oakley, and Ray Middleton played Frank Butler. Mary Martin starred as Annie Oakley in a U.S. national tour that started on October 3, 1947 in Dallas, Texas. Martin also did the television version back in the 1950's about the same time Merman was doing Happy Hunting on Broadway.

The Revival Changed a Lot of Songs.

I saw the most recent Broadway revival in 1999 that starred Tom Wopat and Bernadette Peters, an unlikely combination if ever there was one. It was not a success, and having seen it, I think both leads were miscast.

There is a good reason to see both versions: in the past some of the songs have been cut or revised due to the changing political climate and increasing respect for Native Americans. Musicals, often show their age, and this one does, though for those of us who lived through the period in which the original was written (1946) don't seem to notice the disconnect nearly as much as young people who are surprised by the subtle and overt racism. Still, it is a show that has all the classic ingredients including a wonderful score. Don't miss it.

Performances: April 16- June 27, Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m., (with select performances at 2:00 p.m.), Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. (with select performances at 6:30 p.m.).

Tickets:$27.50 - $71.00, Goodspeed Box Office (860.873.8668) or on-line at

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Pharmaceutical Marketing Explored in Orgasm, Inc. at MASS MoCA

To go to film website, click here.

Pharmaceutical Marketing Explored in Orgasm, Inc.
Film at Mass MoCA

The final film in MASS MoCA's Lie, Cheat, Steal and Fake It documentary series is Orgasm, Inc., a feature-length documentary exploring the depths of female pleasure and the distances pharmaceutical companies will go just to make a buck. Orgasm Inc. will be screened on Thursday, April 29, at 7:30 PM in MASS MoCA's Club B-10. A full bar and snacks and Herrell's ice cream from Lickety Split will be available.

Filmmaker Liz Canner had been making documentaries on human rights issues such as genocide, police brutality, and world poverty for years when she decided to take a break and pursue something more pleasurable, no pun intended. When offered a job editing erotic videos for a pharmaceutical company that was developing an orgasm cream for women, she accepted. Excited about the opportunity to explore the mixture of science and female pleasure, she gained permission to document the work of her employers. She did not intend to create an exposé of the pharmaceutical world but, as she uncovered more about the process and goals of her employers, she felt compelled to dig deeper. She says, "[my] insider perspective allows the film to scrutinize the everyday patterns of pharmaceutical company work in order to explore a culture that has been perverted to place the drive for profit above our health."

The search for a female orgasm drug.

In the film, Canner uncovers a company, Vivus, who lost the race for a drug to aid erectile dysfunction when Pfizer beat it to the market with a much larger advertising budget. Vivus executives believe that their product will work just as well on wome, and the company forges ahead with development of a drug that has no particular "disease" that it is intended to cure. In an expert sleight of hand Vivus creates a new syndrome which its drug will treat: Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD). The reason why thousands of women fail to enjoy intimacy is because they suffer from FSD, and Vivus becomes the largest advertiser and advocate for a cure.

Aside from meeting and interviewing drug company CEOs, field-testers, and number-crunchers, Canner films doctors, scientists, and psychiatrists who are resisting the pharmaceutical industry's notion that sexual dissatisfaction is a "disease" that needs to be treated with a drug. Additionally, she profiles a sex shop owner who crashes pharmaceutical conferences to educate the doctors in attendance, a vintage vibrator collector who provides insight into the history of female sexuality, and a professor whose monkeys have taught him to pay more attention to women. They all profess that the key to sexual satisfaction is to change not just our sex lives but also our society. Canner has stated that her disagreement is not about the idea of a drug to help women achieve satisfaction but rather the assumptions these drug-mongers make about who and what women are.

The film (and all the films in the Lie, Cheat, Steal and Fake It series) will be introduced by Williams College professor Shawn Rosenheim who will also lead a post-screening discussion with other scholars and activists.

Canner shooting the film Orgasm, Inc.

Canner earned a BA with honors in both Visual Arts and Anthropology from Brown University. Her subsequent work has received more than 40 awards, honors, and grants. Her projects have been supported by foundations such as The National Endowment for the Arts and the Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media. A number of her films have been broadcast on PBS and on public television around the world. She has screened films at the New York Film Festival and the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival, among others. Her film, Deadly Embrace: Nicaragua, The World Bank and the IMF, on the effects of IMF and World Bank policy, was one of the first documentaries to look critically at globalization. Canner was also recently named one of the "top 10 independent filmmakers to watch" by The Independent Magazine.

Tickets for the screening of Orgasm, Inc. are $8 for adults and $5 for students. MASS MoCA members receive a 10% discount. Tickets are available through the MASS MoCA Box Office located off Marshall Street in North Tickets can also be charged by phone by calling 413.662.2111 during Box Office hours or purchased on line at Snacks and Herrell's ice cream from Lickety Split and full bar are available before and during the film.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Commonwealth Opera's Fully Staged "Lucia" May 7-9 in Northampton

Lucia is loosely based upon Sir Walter Scott's historical novel The Bride of Lammermoor. It is a role that makes stars.

Opera in the Berkshires and Western Massachusetts has become a rare treat, and fully staged operas are to be cherished.

So it comes as great news that Commonwealth Opera, a professional opera company in residence in Northampton, Massachusetts, will be presenting two performances of Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor on Friday May 7 at 7:00 PM and Sunday May 9 at 2:00 PM at The Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton. Best of all, it is happening at a time that there is in the "shoulder" season, before the hectic summer.

November's Cosi fan Tutte marked Commonwealth Opera's debut as a fully professional company. The company itself was founded more than three decades ago.

For those who might not be familiar with Donizetti's masterpiece, the opera Lucia follows a tragic heroine caught between family obligations, a forceful brother’s will, and her true love - her family’s sworn enemy! This star-crossed love affair takes place in 17 century Scotland.

Enrico has promised his sister, Lucia, to Arturo, but Lucia loves Edgardo. Fearing her brother's rage, Lucia and Edgardo agree to keep their love a secret. Edgardo leaves on a diplomatic mission, but Enrico learns of his sister's relationship. In Edgardo's absence, Enrico gives Lucia a letter he forged to make her think that Edgardo has been unfaithful.

Devastated, Lucia consents to marry Arturo. Edgardo bursts into the wedding celebration to claim her, but seeing her infidelity he curses Lucia and leaves. Enrico follows Edgardo and challenges him to a duel, meanwhile Lucia and Arturo retire to their bridal chamber where Lucia stabs him to death and goes mad.

In the most famous scene of the opera, she wanders into the ongoing wedding festivities, crazed and covered in blood, imagining she is married to Edgardo, and then falls down dead. Awaiting Enrico's arrival for their duel, Edgardo learns of Lucia's death and, distraught, he stabs himself and dies, hoping to join his beloved in heaven.

This "Mad Scene, "Il dolce suono...Spargi d'amaro pianto," has historically been a vehicle for several coloratura sopranos (providing a breakthrough for Dame Joan Sutherland) and is a technically and expressively demanding piece as the video clip below demonstrates. It features Sumi Jo in a concert version of the aria. I can hardly wait to see it fully staged in Northampton.

Some sopranos, most notably Maria Callas, have performed the scene in a come scritto ("as written") fashion, adding minimal ornamentation to their interpretations. Most sopranos, however, add ornamentation to demonstrate their technical ability, as was the tradition in the bel canto period. This involves the addition and interpolation of trills, mordents, turns, runs and cadenzas. Almost all sopranos append cadenzas to the end of the "Mad Scene", sometimes ending them on a high E-flat.

Donizetti’s lush dramatic masterpiece comes to beautiful life in this new, fully staged period production directed by Eve Summer under the baton of Commonwealth Opera music director Ian Watson. This three act opera boasts stunning bel canto arias, magnificent choruses, and a passionate love story for the ages. The opera will be sung in its original Italian with a simultaneous projected English translation.

The scenic design is by Julia Noulin-Merat, costume design by Toni Elliott, and lighting design by Ben Pilat.

Ian Watson will conduct.

Lucia...Andrea Chenoweth
Edgardo...Jin Ho Hwang
Enrico...Anton Belov
Raimondo...Paul Soper
Arturo...Giovanni Formisano
Alisa...Glorivy Arroyo
Normanno...Joseph Holmes

Tickets are priced from $10 - $50, and may be purchased directly through Commonwealth Opera (all box office fees will be waived) by calling 508-847-0517. The Academy of Music Theatre's box office begins sales April 16th at or at 413-584-9032 x105. Box office fees may apply. Some tickets will be available for students the day of performance at $8.00.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam - Soldier's Stories Resonate

The Things They Carried at Barrington Stage April 15-17.

Tim O'Brien and David Rabe both served in Vietnam and lived to write about what they saw and felt. Rabe wrote for the stage and his Vietnam plays - "The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel," "Sticks and Bones," "The Orphan," and "Streamers," are still popular, perhaps because of the parallels they offer with Iraq and Afghanistan today.

Tim O'Brien wrote a book - a masterpiece, really - "The Things They Carried," and it will receive a staged reading April 15-17 at Barrington Stage Company. It is part of The Big Read currently being celebrated throughout the City of Pittsfield.

And it's the performances planned by Artistic Director Julianne Boyd and Producing Director Richard M. Parison, Jr that will likely be the most memorable and moving. The book has long been known to have the power to change the way people think about that war (or any war for that matter) and to understand how the first hand experience is nothing like the media drawn images we substitute for the real thing.

Actors participating in “The Things They Carried: A Staged Reading” include Tim Rush as Tim O’Brien, Alex Cendese and MacCleod Andrews as two soldiers in the Vietnam War, and Hannah Koczela (BSC’s “Carousel”) in the role of Tim O’Brien’s 11-year-old daughter.

Tim O'Brien's book about the men who live through endless war will come to life through a staged reading.

Three readings will be presented on Friday, April 16 and Saturday, April 17 at 7p.m. at the BSC Mainstage, 30 Union Street , Pittsfield. In addition to the Friday and Saturday readings, a matinee reading will be presented on Thursday, April 15 at 12:30p.m. for invited local schools and Vietnam veterans. Tickets are available for a suggested donation of $10 for adults, $5 for Vietnam veterans and youth ages 18 and under. Tickets may be reserved by calling the Box Office at 413-236-8888 or online at

Today, Tim O'Brien teaches writing at Texas State University. His book, based on the events he experienced in 1969, is a series of short stories, slices of life as lived by the guys on the ground. When you talk with veterans of wars, you often get well-rehearsed war stories, or stoney silence and one word answers. The experiences are harrowing, but often uplifting too. It takes writers like o'Brien to give them substance and form. And an ensemble of gifted actors and directors to bring them to life on stage. This is one of those rare moments.

Far from home and love. Maya Alleruzzo Photo.

What Did They Carry?
They Carried Each Other.

"They carried P-38 can openers and heat tabs, watches and dog tags, insect repellent, gum, cigarettes, Zippo lighters, salt tablets, compress bandages, ponchos, Kool-Aid, two or three canteens of water, iodine tablets, sterno, LRRP- rations, and C-rations stuffed in socks. The carried standard fatigues, jungle boots, bush hats, flak jackets and steel pots.

They carried the M-16 assault rifle. They carried trip flares and Claymore mines, M-60 machine guns, the M-70 grenade launcher, M-14's, CAR-15's, Stoners, Swedish K's, 66mm Laws, shotguns, .45 caliber pistols, silencers, the sound of bullets, rockets, and choppers, and sometimes the sound of silence. They carried C-4 plastic explosives, an assortment of hand grenades, PRC-25 radios, knives and machetes.

Some carried napalm, CBU's and large bombs; some risked their lives to rescue others. Some escaped the fear, but dealt with the death and damage. Some made very hard decisions, and some just tried to survive.

They carried malaria, dysentery, ringworms and leaches. They carried the land itself as it hardened on their boots. They carried stationery, pencils, and pictures of their loved ones - real and imagined. They carried love for people in the real world and love for one another. And sometimes they disguised that love: "Don't mean nothin'!"

They carried memories

For the most part, they carried themselves with poise and a kind of dignity. Now and then, there were times when panic set in, and people squealed - or wanted to, but couldn't; when they twitched and made moaning sounds and covered their heads and said "Dear God" and hugged the earth and fired their weapons blindly and cringed and begged for the noise to stop and went wild and made stupid promises to themselves and God and their parents, hoping not to die.

They carried the traditions of the United States military, and memories and images of those who served before them. They carried grief, terror, longing and their reputations. They carried the soldier's greatest fear: the embarrassment of dishonor. They crawled into tunnels, walked point, and advanced under fire, so as not to die of embarrassment. They were afraid of dying, but too afraid to show it. They carried the emotional baggage of men and women who might die at any moment. They carried the weight of the world. "

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Wilco Solid Sound Festival at Mass MoCA from August 13-15

Wilco, arguably the greatest rock band working today.

I think Wilco is a brilliant and innovative programming choice for Mass MoCA. It is also the best thing to happen in North Adams in years. It is the sort of popular attraction that will make North Adams the center of the universe for fans of rock and roll. Ready or not, this is no cookie cutter event, it's our own mini-Woodstock. Let's hope the city of Spaghetti Suppers and 50/50 raffles has the class to pull off such an important and highly visible event.

One of the unusual amenities being promised is a bicycle valet. Now that is out of the box thinking!

Using the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail? You can take it from Lanesboro to Adams, but then it's Route 8 until the final leg is built. Waiting on the other end there will be a bicycle valet for the Festival, a first for Mass MoCA.

If you are wondering just how they are predicting 10,000 when the Hunter Center at max can hold 900 people standing, 650-700 sitting, there will be three stages set up at MMoCA. The main one will be in the huge field behind MMoCA that is partially owned by National Grid. It's an immense undertaking. Mass MoCA's tech staff is top notch, and handling three stages at once will require an awful lot of good people to pull off successfully.

From what I gather Wilco will not only perform as a band, but also individually.

Wilco will headline the festival with two performances, with additional individual performances by all the Wilco members’ side projects, including Glenn Kotche’s On Fillmore, The Nels Cline Singers, The Autumn Defense featuring John Stirratt and Pat Sansone and Mikael Jorgensen’s Pronto.

They are only selling weekend tickets not one day at a time, which admit purchasers to every event. It is a logistical challenge. If they follow their usual pattern of residencies, they will do half a dozen shows - or more - over the period, each one featuring different combinations of musicians and repertoire. They like to review their recordings without ever repeating a song on any of the set lists.

Fender bender Nils Cline.

There are incredible possibilities with this event, and I hope it succeeds. The Berkshires could develop a popular-rock-mainstream live performance series to equal Tanglewood, and this is the leading edge of a move towards that. That it will happen in the Northern Berkshires is something to cheer about.

Wilco last appeared at Tanglewood and garnered rave reviews even as the ushers tried to keep people plastered to their seats. I love Tanglewood (spent a summer there in the press office once) but the BSO management and trustees have dithered long enough and clearly does not want to dilute its image as a classical music venue by going populist.

Update and mea culpa: Since I wrote those harsh words, the BSO has announced the appearance of folk-rock group Crosby, Stills and Nash at Tanglewood, scheduled for September 1 in the Shed. In addition, jazz legend Herbie Hancock slated for August 9. The summer is shaping up to be a great one.

Though I continue to be concerned about the future of classical music, and the greying of its audiences. In recent times we have seen theatre, dance and contemporary art reinvent themselves over and over. But classical music has hardly changed in 150 years. There's a lot that can be done to bring in more young people, but change is incredibly difficult to sell to the benefactors who make mammoth operations like the BSO and other orchestras possible. It can't be done on ticket revenues alone, and those with the checkbooks call the shots.

Anyway, Stockbridge is in for some fun. And so too is North Adams. The Berkshries are in for something different, very populist, yet tinged with contemporary music, art and old fashioned money. The question is, will it draw a younger demographic, and will their needs be met as smoothly as the older crowds.

Let's hope there is a sensible balance between making sure it is a great experience for concert-goers and residents alike.

With the tickets now on sale I suggest you act soon since I sincerely doubt there will be any left by the time we get to the event itself. Of course the scalpers will try to get their pound of flesh. Word.

Below is the official announcement for the event.

The Hunter Center at Mass MoCA.

The SOLID SOUND FESTIVAL is a new festival curated by the Chicago band Wilco. It debuts August 13 - 15 at MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) in North Adams, MA. The SOLID SOUND FESTIVAL is an independently promoted and ticketed three-day event of music, art, comedy, interactivity and more. Wilco headlines the weekend, in the bandʼs only East Coast performance of the summer. This new festival also presents individual performances by all the Wilco membersʼ side projects including Glenn Kotcheʼs On Fillmore, The Nels Cline Singers, The Autumn Defense featuring John Stirratt and Pat Sansone and Mikael Jorgensenʼs Pronto.

SOLID SOUND FESTIVAL at MASS MoCA also plays host to additional musical performances, a fully programmed comedy stage, interactive installations and exhibits (including the Solid Sound Stompbox Station, an interactive guitar pedal exhibit created and demonstrated by Wilco guitarist Nels Cline, a concert-poster screening demonstration, planned workshops by luthiers and more), plus film, video installations and djʼs. Festival attendees will have full access to the entire MASS MoCA campus, which incorporates 150,000 square feet of galleries. MASS MoCA, a renovated 19th century textile mill, is the largest center for contemporary visual and performing arts in the U.S.

Tickets for SOLID SOUND FESTIVAL are on sale this Friday, April 9 through the bandʼs official website and through From April 9 to May 31 tickets for the three-day event will be available for $86.50 (including all fees and parking) and after June 1 for $99.50 (including all fees and parking).

Art on display during the festival includes the Sol LeWitt wall Drawing Retrospective (chosen #1 exhibition of the year by Time magazine); Inigo Manglano-Ovalle's Gravity is a Force to be Reckoned With; a major exhibition of work by Petah Coyne; Material World: Sculpture to Environment, a group exhibition; Leonard Nimoy's Secret Selves; and a new installation by Michael Oatman.

Tickets for Wilco's Solid Sound Festival will go on sale on-line on Friday, April 9, at 10 AM through or at 11 AM in person at the MASS MoCA Box Office. More information is available at From April 9 to May 31 tickets for the three-day event are $78, after June 1 tickets are $91. Children under 6 are free. The event is rain or shine. Tickets are general admission and are available through the MASS MoCA Box Office located on Marshall Street in North Adams from 11 AM until 5 PM daily.