Archived Reviews (Continued)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. is the American Repertory
Theatre's production of " Stone Cold Dead, Serious," a world premiere,
by Adam Rapp. Set in present day Chicago, its focus is on the
Ledbetters, yet another devastated American family mired in dysfunction
and despair. Cliff, the father, sits sedated and incontinent on the
parlor couch ever watching TV because of an on-the-job injury. Linda,
the mother, works overtime as a waitress and pins her hopes for
something better on help from the "Saints". Shaylee and Wynne are
their teenaged daughter and son. Shaylee, a suicidal high school drop-out,
supports her drug habit by prostitution, while Wynne, a
computer game-playing whiz, and a finalist in a big-time TV computer
game contest, plans to go to New York to compete in a nationally
televised $ 1,000,000 real life-and-death sword battle for the prize!
Wynne's mute E-Mail girlfriend Sharice, another contest finalist, will
join him in New York to try to help him win the big money. Wynne is
confident that his triumph will solve all of his family's problems.
Surprisingly, the bloody TV confrontation is only overheard (as a Howard
Cosell-type play-by-play description ) as Wynne's family watches it on
TV. The outcome is quite astonishing and equally unsettling! Strongly
directed by Marcus Stern. The acting, by the small cast, is uniformly
excellent, with extra plaudits for Matthew Stadelmann as Wynne, Guy Boyd
as the Father, and Elizabeth Reaser as both blonde sister Shaylee and
brunette girlfriend Sharice. Although the drama relentlessly suggests
a bleak finale, the denouement is decidedly not and seems curiously
out-of-step with everything that has preceded it! Now playing through
March 12. (My Grade: 3 1/2)

Review by Norm Gross

In the Leverett Old Library Theatre at Harvard University in Cambridge,
Mass. is the Industrial Theatre's production of " Fefu and Her Friends,"
playwright Maria Irene Fornes' 1977 exploration of feminist behavior,
attitudes and reaction to each other, their male counterparts and
society, in general. Set in the New England country home of Fefu, a well
educated, worldly and elegant matron, who has invited seven female
friends to her residence to reminisce with her about their long-past college
days together. Paula and Cecilia, former gay lovers, are still
friends. Emma jokes about genitalia and the awkwardness most females
feel about such a topic, Sue and Christina engage Fefu in a discussion
of the " manly " subject of plumbing, resulting in a playful watery
melee (dousing each other with their drinks ), forcing all to
retire, to dry themselves off!! Julia, the play's main character, has
been handicapped by a mysterious spinal nerve injury, and is confined to
a wheelchair. Later, when she's seen walking, unassisted, her illness is
suspected to be psychosomatic, culminating in a highly perplexing and
unexpected turn of events! Well acted by the all female cast, headed by
Ava Geffen as Fefu, Kristin Baker as Emma, and Irene Daly as Julia, with
commendation for Christopher Scully's assured direction. Not only a
provocative examination of feminist ideas and conduct, but also a
stikingly unusual presentation, in terms of its staging.
Following the playwright's instructions, midway, as the play's
action unfolds, the small audience is divided into quarters, taken out
of the main theatre's space, and rotated in this same building, through
four minor performance areas, representing Fefu's lounge, kitchen,
bedroom and cellar, where the actresses simultaneously enact four
distinct scenes,separately, four times, for each separate group...making
for a highly unusual and occasionally awkward dramatic interlude, which
might prove to be quite unwieldy, if confronted by a really large
audience! Now playing through February 16. (My Grade: 3 1/2)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Center for the Arts is the Sugan Theatre Company's
production of "Bailegangaire", ( the town
without laughter ) by Tom Murphy. Written in 1985, it was a great success
in the author's native Ireland, and this presentation marks its New
England premiere. Set in rural Ireland, the plot concerns Mommo, an
elderly and addled grandmother, living with Mary, her middle-aged
unmarried grandaughter. Mommo, bedridden and fixated on her bygone days,
recurrently begins to recount the major details of the community's
legendary and long-ago laughing competition, without ever relating the
contest's results! Mary, suspecting the old lady's story has an unhappy
ending, continually tries to coax the old matriarch into revealing the
outcome of her ongoing tale, without success. When Dolly, Mary's
younger married sister drops in for a visit, the muddled Granny's
ongoing and endlessly inconclusive colloquy acts as a catalyst to the
smoldering rivalries between the two siblings. Mary, the more educated
sister had, some time before, left their country home to become a
professional nurse, and feeling strangely unfulfilled, has returned to
care for her aged and infirm grandparent. Dolly, with children and
mired in a loveless marriage, has long been bitterly resentful of her
older sister's escape to a much better life. In a surprising turn, the
old woman's rambling commentary begins to change, leading them to a more
hopeful and greater understanding of each other. The small cast,
especially Nancy E. Carroll as Mommo, Natalie Rose Liberace as Mary, and
Judith McIntyre as Dolly, are all superb and equally intense under
Carmel O'Reilly's strong and controlled direction. A striking, very well
written, passionately enacted and genuinely memorable drama, now playing
through February 23. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Center for the Arts is the SpeakEasy Stage Company's
production of "The Wild Party", a new musical play with music
and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa, based on the epic 1928 poem by
Joseph Moncure March. Set in Manhattan in the summer of 1928, the play opens
as Queenie, a brash, blonde chorus girl and Burrs, her rough and domineering
vaudevillian boyfriend, throw an evening party for their friends. A
wide ranging assortment of New York-types, their guests include Jackie,
an indolent and outrageously indulgent playboy; Eddie, an
African-American prize fighter with Mae, his white wife; Nadine, her
14 year old sister; Madelein, a Burlesque stripper; and Sally, her gay
drugged and stupefied girlfriend; Gold and Goldberg, two small-time
Jewish producers, hoping for a chance on Broadway; the D'Armanos, a gay
black singing and piano-playing duo, specializing in sophisticated
songs; Dolores, an over-the-hill Broadway prima donna; Kate, Queenie's best
girlfriend and a popular, highly stylish and elegant African-American
entertainer with her white boyfriend. As the evening swirls on with its
excess of bathtub booze,
and gay and straight sex ( with multiple changing partners), the
pervading disillusionment, emptiness, isolation, and desperation of the
partygoers becomes increasingly evident. Surprising, as it is,
considering the evening's bi-racial preponderance, the party is also
frequently accented by graphic episodes of blatantly overt and offensive
racism ( played out, either in blackface or by a manipulated
"mammy-type " hand puppet )! The large and accomplished cast features
stand-out performances by Bridget Beirne as Queenie, James Jackson, Jr.
and Brian Robinson as the D'Armanos, and especially Maureen Keillier as
Dolores and Merle Perkins as Kate. Vigorously directed by Andrew
Volkoff, with spirited 20's style choreography by Laurel Stachowicz and
excellent orchestral accompaniment, conducted by Paul S. Katz, this
compelling and provocative musical exploration of the licentious and
troubled underside of the " Roaring Twenties," is fully deserving of the
audience's standing ovation at its conclusion! Now playing through
February 23. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wilbur Theatre is the National Touring Production of
"Proof," by David Auburn, a multi-award winning drama ( 2001 Pulitzer,
Tony, N.Y. Drama Critics, and many others ).Set in Chicago, the play
concerns Catherine, a young single woman just turning 25, whose
renowned Father ( a celebrated mathematician, long afflicted with mental
illness ) has just died. Chronically depressed, due to the many years
she has spent caring for him, she must now cope with Claire, her
alienated older married sister, who's come from New York to help with
the funeral arrangements. Hal, a former student of their Father,
discovers a monumental mathematical " proof " among his late mentor's
papers. His finding further strains the sisters' tenuous affinity, and
casts a potential shadow over the romantic attraction developing between
he and Catherine. Catherine, conflicted by notions of her own
instability, ( possibly inherited? ) is then compelled to make some
major decisions between Hal's growing ardor and Claire's suggestions
that she move (so that she might be close by) to New York. Stirringly
acted by the superb four member cast, with many plaudits for Chelsea Altman
as Catherine, Tasha Lawrence as Claire, Stephen Kunken as Hal, and
Robert Foxworth as the Father. Assuredly directed by Daniel Sullivan.
Much praise must also be given for John Lee Beatty's wonderfully
atmospheric back porch setting. This very well written, powerfully
enacted, provocative and strikingly staged presentation, is fully
deserving of all of the awards bestowed on it. Now playing through
February 17. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Wheelock Family Theatre on the campus of Wheelock College in Boston
is their production of "Tuck Everlasting," a musical play based on the
popular children's novel by Natalie Babbit. Featuring book, music and
lyrics by Harold Bakken, it premiered at this same theatre a decade
ago, and proved to be one of their most popular and successful
presentations. Set in typical small town America in 1880, the plot
centers on the Tuck family and their juvenile acquaintance, ten year old
Winnie Foster. After wandering from her home into a nearby wooded
area, young Winnie stumbles onto a magical, bubbling spring, and the
Tucks ( Mother, Father and their two teen-aged sons ).
After drinking from its enchanted waters a century before, the Tucks
have remained at their same ages ever since, never aging. After disclosing
their special condition to Winnie, they're
hopeful that she might also join them in eternal youth, by
likewise sipping from their charmed well. To complicate matters,
however, a mysterious stranger discovers their secret and schemes to
profit financially by taking control of their mystical fountain, with
tumultuous consequences. His accidental demise, and some all important
choices by Winnie and the Tucks, lead to a hopeful and life affirming
conclusion! The large, young and accomplished cast is first rate, with
solid commendation for youthful Andrea C. Ross as Winnie. Thanks to her
assured stage presence, excellent singng voice and highly effective
acting, she shines in the important central role. Fine support is found
from Robin V. Allison as Mother Tuck, Brian Nash as her "younger" son
and Robert Saoud as the mysterious outsider. High praise also for the
splendid eight piece musical ensemble conducted by Jonathan Goldberg; Tim
Jozwick's effectively simple, small-town settings; and Jane Staab's
confident direction. The composer's many songs adequately move the
play's action forward, but most are much too wordy and sometimes even
unwieldy, with " All Mine," sung by Winnie, upon discovering the Tucks'
beguiling secret, being the show's only genuinely memorable tune. Now
playing through February 24. (My Grade:4)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Huntington Theatre's Rehearsal Hall in Boston is Next Stage's
production of " Over It," a new play by Marc Ardito. Set in present-day
Manhattan, the plot revolves around a quintet of young, adult New
Yorkers. Tuck and Matt are heavily into Stock Market transactions and
share the same office. The former is glib and full of bravado, masking a
dark and malevolent underside; while his associate is more reflective,
still saddened in the aftermath of a failed romance. Billy, a petty
Stock Exchange messenger,is deeply in debt to his drug connection, and
has a tenuous live-in relationship with Annie. They are in the process
of splitting up! Helen, the play's central character, an unsuccessful
playwright, is financially uncertain and is being strongly encouraged
by Tuck to engage in Stock Market trading, with turbulent results! As
her luck rises and falls, she is forced to make some major decisions
about her future, with provocatively surprising consequences. Well acted
by the excellent five member cast, with special commendation for Helen
McElwain as Helen, Trey Burvant as Tuck and Eric Anderson as Billy.
Although some of the plot development occasonally seems a bit awkward,
nevertheless the author's sense of dialogue is constantly sharp, and
continually crackles and resounds with a fine contemporary edge! Under
Justin Waldman's sure direction, this microcosm of young and uncertain
urbanites, steadily involves us and maintains our concern and interest.
Now playing through February 10. (My Grade: 4)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the Basement on the Hill Stage's
production of " The Shawl." An early one act play by David Mamet, the
plot concerns John, a charlatan, posing as a psychic,engaged in an
elaborate scheme to cheat a wealthy young woman out of her inheritance.
At a later time, he tries to impress Charles, his young gay lover, with
highly detailed and intricate explanations of the ways by which he is
able to deceive his patroness into believing in his " supernatural "
powers ( a mixture of well designed questions, keen observations and
carefully phrased replies). John knows that their success hinges on an
extended period of time, necessary to fully gain his prey's complete
trust, but his young inexperienced and highly impatient accomplice
demands otherwise! To placate Charles, and gain quicker access to the
young victim's fortune, John arranges a hasty " seance " to contact her
deceased mother with unexpected and startling consequences. Although
strongly acted by Will Cabell as John and Dassia Posner as the duped
young woman; Paul Barrett was somewhat weak and
unconvincing as John's precipitate and demanding young accomplice! Ably
directed by Lilia Levitina ( the company's founder and guiding artistic
force) with effective and stirring incidental recorded music ( to
heighten the play's dramatic turns ) arranged by Emily Romm, this well
crafted, intriguing and compelling presentation is now playing through
February 2. (My Grade: 4

Review by Norm Gross

At the New Repertory Theatre in Newton Highlands, Mass. is their new
production of " Tartuffe," Moliere's provocatively witty assault
on 17th century religious hypocrisy. By draping himself in a mantle of
super piety, Tartuffe, a penniless mountebank, has wormed his way into
the confidence of the aristocrat Orgon. Through a series of devious
schemes, he has hoodwinked his gullible patron. Not only has Orgon forced
his daughter to become betrothed to this sanctimonious fraud, but he has
also, willingly, agreed to sign over all of his property, to this same
artful deceiver! Ultimately, the tables are quite literally overturned
( with Orgon hiding under one, while eavesdropping ) and Tartuffe's
cunning and chicanery are exposed by the entrapment arranged by Orgon's
wife Elmire. The large cast is uniformly and uproariously excellent
under Rick Lombardo's confident direction. High praise for Michael
Poisson as Orgon, Rachel Harker as Elmire, Marianna Bassham as their
comically, beleagured daughter, and most definitely, Richard McElvain in
the title role...all grand farceurs!! Special notice also for Richard
Wllbur's supremely clever translation from the original French ( into
comic rhyming, English couplets ), and most especially for scenic
designer Kristin Loeffler's skilfull transformation of this
contemporary auditorium into an artful recreation of a 17th century
period-theatre, complete with simulated ( and electrified ) candle-like
footlights, overhead, hanging chandeliers, and even with fully costumed
King Louis XIV and his Queen, sitting to one side, as observers! A
memorable, well staged, and delightfully entertaining presentation of a
great comic masterpiece! Now playing through February 10. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston University Theatre is the Huntington Theatre Company's new
production of George Bernard Shaw's " Heartbreak House. " Set on the eve
of World War I, at the stately English country residence of a retired
and eccentric elderly British sea Captan, the plot centers on young
Miss Ellie Dunn, invited as a weekend guest by the aforesaid Captain's
elder daughter Hesione. Also present, amongst others, as weekend
visitors are Hesione's husband, Hector; her younger sister Lady
Underwood; Ellie's impoverished Father Mazzini Dunn; and his employer
Boss Mangan, a wealthy, ruthless and middle-aged business magnate.
Ostensibly, an Edwardian comedy of manners, Shaw intended it also as an
allegorical commentary on the war which would herald fundamental
changes to come in Europe. Learning of Ellie's decision to marry Boss
Mangan, as the means for lifting herself (and her father) from
poverty, Hesione intervenes, and turns Ellie, instead, towards a
completely different and quite surprising alternative! Well acted by Mia
Barron as Ellie, Amy Van Nostrand as Hesione, Edward James Hyland as
Boss Mangan, and most certainly, J. P. Linton as the presiding and
aberrant sea Captain. High marks must also go to Darko Tresnjak's solid
direction and Alexander Dodge's elegantly elaborate ( interior and
exterior ) mansion settings! Shaw's brilliantly witty commentary on war,
business ethics, marriage, and English Society, sparkle throughout,
climaxing with the guests bemused indifference to the approaching great
armed conflict! Now playing through February 3. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Lyric Stage is their new production of "The Miracle Worker"
by William Gibson. A major Broadway success in 1959, it was later made
into a multi-award winning motion picture in 1962. Set in rural Alabama
in the 1880's, it tells the story of 12 year old Helen Keller.
Deaf, blind and mute due to an infantile illness, she was considered
unteachable (even retarded) by her anguished family. As a last
resort, her parents send for Annie Sullivan, a teacher from the Boston
area's Perkins School for the Blind. Annie, initially considered too
young and much too outspoken, finally wins their confidence, but then
objects to the Keller's overly indulgent and completely unrestrained
attitude towards Helen's household behavior. Allowed to run wild,
Helen's demeanor is more like that of an uncontrollable house pet, than
that of a normal young child! By separating Helen from her family, and
removing her to a small nearby little-used storage facility,
(equipped for liveabilty) Annie begins the laborious and highly
physical and extremely demanding process of teaching and disciplining
Helen. Gradually Helen's personal hygiene and table manners improve but
Annie's supreme struggle and ultimate success centers on her dogged
efforts to make Helen relate the sign language, which Annie traces out
in her hand, to actual objects and concepts! Julie Jirousek as Annie and
especially sixth grader Eliza Rose Fichter as Helen, are
superb--physically, emotionally and dramatically, with strong
assistance from the large supporting cast headed by Bill Humphreys and
Sarah Newhouse as Helen's father and mother. Under Courtney O'Conner's
well focused direction, this intensely moving and highly inspirational
drama moves steadily forward to Helen's climactic and triumphant
connecting of Annie's finger movements to language and ideas! Now
playing through February 2. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Playwrights' Theatre is the world premiere of
"Miss Price," a new one-person play by John Kuntz. Set in a small New England
town's library, the play evolves as a series of brief early morning
episodes preliminary to the institution's official daily opening to
the public. The sole performer is middle-aged librarian Eleanor
Shields, as she interacts with a number of others (none of whom is
seen or heard, except by her). The play's primary focus is on her
relationship to her new assistant: Miss Price (a Californian, who's come
East, leaving behind a soured Lesbian affair ). Ms. Shields, a pent-up
amalgam of stiff day-to-day routine and latent anxiety, begins each day
by unlocking a mighty, invisible door, triple-dipping a new morning tea
bag ( into a cup of hot water ), sharpening her pencils, stamping all of
the overnight returned books, and then starting the day ( while still,
quite alone ) with a full throated scream! At first resentful of her new
subordinate, she gradually becomes much more open and somewhat less
repressed, thanks to her involvement with the younger woman. We learn
about the elder's only boyfriend ( who, long ago, committed suicide ),
and her aged, handicapped and demanding Mother, whom Ms. Shields lives
with ( and with whom, she repeatedly speaks to, on the telephone ). Her
Mother's demise (later in the play ) leaves Ms. Shields both
relieved and shaken! When Miss Price ultimately decides to return to
California, the elder librarian is genuinely sorry! Strikingly performed
by Paula Plum, one of this area's most gifted and versatile actresses,
this affectionate, (albeit, rather slim and predictable ) character
study is steadily infused with much authority, tenderness, humor and
vitality, all underscored by Eric Engel's firm direction! Now
playing through January 26. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Wellesley College campus in Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre in Wellesley, Mass.
is the Wellesley Summer Theatre's production of " The Clearing " by
Helen Edmundson. Set in 17th century Ireland, at a time when the British
governing authorities initiated a series of draconian laws aimed at the
Irish population. These measures involved seizure of Irish land and
property and the deportation and resettlement of the Irish to distant,
foreign shores. The plot concerns Robert Preston, an Englishman, and owner of
an Irish manor who has lived there with his Irish wife, Madeleine, for
many years. When their Irish servant girl is taken away for deportation,
he must choose between his wife's efforts to rescue her or to
collaborate with the British--against his wife--in a last-ditch and
agonizing attempt to save his estate from confiscation and himself from
banishment! Derek Stone Nelson and Alicia Kahn are impressively
stirring and impassioned as Preston and his wife, Madeleine, with strong
assistance from the first-rate supporting cast. Special notice also for
Stephen Cooper as a harsh and unrelenting British official and Bern Budd
as Preston's understanding and helpful Irish neighbor.High praise is
likewise deserving for the simple yet highly effective set designed by
Ken Loewit and Wiz White (an assemblage of raised, stone-like slabs,
enhanced by a series of changing and extremely meaningful, rear-screen,
shadow-like projections ) which quickly and deftly establish a
multiplicity of varied locations, from garden and mansion to courtroom
and seaside harbor. Commendation also for Nora Hussey's assured
direction ( including her fine choice of tenderly soulful
Irish music to underscore each plot development ). A well written,
fervently enacted, provocative, and effectively staged drama, focusing
on the sorrow, pain and anguish during a dark and infamous period in
Anglo-Irish history. Now playing through January 26.(My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Center for the Arts is the Coyote Theatre's production of
"American Notes" by Len Jenkin. Played without intermission, this 95
minute, one-act crossection of America's lonely and disaffected
nightpeople is set in the late, late evening, in an average,
Middle-American Motel, a neighborhood restaurant, and a small-time,
roadside travelling sideshow. Pauline, a pretty young female night
clerk, spends the wee hours at the motel's " check-in " counter chatting
with Mr. Faber, a forlorn and dejected businessman. Karen, a former
model, waits alone in her motel bedroom, for her exploitative boyfriend
and ponders her empty existence. A middle-aged lady-academic
(referred to as "the Professor" ), expostulates on her ongoing
encounters with the many extraterrestrials she calls "the Shadow
People." Pitchman, an itinerant carnival " barker," entices
prospective customers to pay for a peek at his " Egyptian Crocodile,"
(which is really an American alligator that may actually be more dead
than alive ), with the help of " Chuckles," a mute and homeless
simpleton, who's eager to be of assistance. Well acted by the fine ten
member cast, Tanya Anderson as Pauline, Barlow Adamson as Faber, Siobhan
Brown as Karen and Forrest Walter as " Chuckles," are
especially compelling under Jeffrey Mousseau's assured direction.
Although no really new or unexpected insights into the lives and minds
of America's aiienated and rootless are to be found here, this well-
mounted episodic slice-of-life, still succeeds in arousing us to the
many dimensions of society's unfulfilled and disquieted underside. Now
playing through January 26. (My Grade: 4)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Market Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. is " Shel Shocked," the
second evening of short plays by Shel Silverstein, performed in
repertory. Presented under the overall title of "Shel's Shorts,"
this second group of seven playlets (once again without intermission) is as
entertaining and provocative as the earlier edition (which was
titled " Signs of Trouble "). Although all are again both highly comic
and quite insightful, for me the most rewarding were, " Dreamers," where
two plumbers wrangle ( as they repair a bathroom sink ) about the real
meaning of their dreams, which have both a gay and an incestuous focus;
"Hangnail," in which a young woman is self-absorbed with her own minor
discomfort, to the complete disregard of all else. Whether she's
trapped in a stalled elevator, going somewhere by subway or taxi, or in a
theatre watching a movie, attending a funeral, or even having
sex, her petty malaise towers above everything else; and, " A
Bloomingdale's Shopping Bag," wherein a husband upbraids his wife, with
amusing overtones, about her penchant for searching for discarded
" valuables ' in trash containers, with surprising results. The splendid
cast of Laura Latreille, John Kuntz, Stephanie Clayman, Neil A. Casey,
Marin Ireland and Robert Pemberton, once again enact a multiplicity of
varied roles with intensity and enthusiasm, under Larry Coen's strong
direction, with special notice also for Caleb Wertenbaker's highly
creative, multi-dimensional, brick-like setting, with its many fold-out
compartments, which quickly and quite effectively suggest the many
different surroundings of each succeding skit. Now playing through
January 26. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Market Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. is their production of
"Signs of Trouble," the first of two groups of short plays by Shel Silverstein
to be performed in repertory, under the general title of "Shel's
Shorts". A series of nine comic playlets (presented without an
intermission), " Signs of Trouble" does indeed involve its harried
and frustrated characters' reactions to the world as defined by a wide
variety of printed, inscribed, or pictorially determined postings. The
counter-top sign reads: " No Skronking," but the Coffee Shop's busy
waitress won't explain what that strange word means to the increasingly
perplexed and steadily annoyed customer. " Do Not Feed
the Animals," the next skit, tempts a querulous female park visitor to poke
her finger into a small, prohibited opening with startling consequences! Although
all of the remaining shorts are certainly tantalizing, the best are
" Click," which involves a macabrely provocative game of pistol-toting
"Russian Roulette," between a highly combative husband and wife; " Gone
to Take a Sh*t", which shows what can happen, when a young uninhibited
non-conformist female patron forces a prim and proper lady store-clerk
to utter a vulgar and overly suppressed four letter word; and
"Garbage Bags", which amusingly goes to great lengths, describing
everyday household garbage in delightfully comic and poetically rhyming
terms! Laura Latreille, John Kuntz, Stephanie Clayman, Neil A. Casey,
Marin Ireland, and Robert Pemberton are all first rate in this
stimulating and quite entertaining assemblage by the very perceptive
author. Well directed by Wesley Savick, it's now playing, in repertory,
through January 27. (My Grade: 5)

Late Nite Catechism
Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Shubert Theatre is the return engagement of " Late Nite
Catechism," the highly popular one-woman comic play starring Maripat
Donovan, who ( together with Vicki Quade ) is the show's creator and
co-author. The evening's merriment focuses on a nostalgic return to
those long-past childhood days spent in Catholic elementary and
secondary schools, with warm memories of the strict no-nonsense Nuns,
who taught their students with the authority of a Marine Sergeant
initiating recruits in Boot-Camp! Replete from head to toe in her long
black habit, topped by hood and white starched collar, Donovan, known
only as " Sister," to the audience ( which has now been
transformed into her adult class ) begins to teach, regailing them with
explanations of the Saints, how Joseph first came to meet the Virgin
Mary, and how Jesus behaved as a pre-adolescent. As her ongoing banter
with the audience (interrupted only by a 15 minute intermission )
progresses, " Sister " even steps off the stage to enforce the
"school's regulations against munching chewing-gum, whispering while
Sister is talking , leaving the classroom without her permission and
even applauding"!! Enlisting youngsters from the assembly to distribute
prizes ( for correct answers ) even to those,unfortunately, seated up in
the balcony. The fortunate recipients receive laminated holy cards
and/or 2 inch erect Saintly figurines. When, near the final curtain,
members of the audience are encouraged to ask " Sister " some serious
questions concerning the Catholic Church's views on such matters as
birth control or women Priests, her responses continue
to be delightfully amusing and well reasoned. This show has, deservedly,
enjoyed great success not only here in Boston and New York, but also
nationally and in Australia, as well! It is a genuinely warm and
engaging entertainment for all ( no matter what their religious
preferences might be). Now playing through January 6. (My Grade: 5)

The Christmas Revels

by Norm Gross

At Sanders Theatre on the campus of Harvard University in Cambridge,
Mass. is the 31st annual edition of " The Christmas Revels." Based on
the yuletide festivities initiated in Tudor England, this current
presentation is once again set ( Act I ) in the court of Henry VIII,
followed ( in Act II ) by merriment in the royal retinue of his
daughter, Elizabeth I, with Will Kemp, comic actor in Shakespeare's
legendary theatrical company, and famed cavorting Morris dancer, acting
as Master of Ceremonies. Offering a host of spirited madrigals, beautiful
hymns, and classic rounds, backed by the first rate 27-member Hampton
Court Chorus, the 6 member Nonesuch Consort, ( lute, viola, recorder, &
percussion ), all led by the multi-talented David Coffin, abetted by the
splendid 6 member Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble ( trumpet,
trombone, tuba, timpani, etc. ). Featuring several differing early
variations of " Greensleeves," early changing
versions of " The 12 Days of Christmas," and a number of lively
audience " sing-alongs!" A spirited series of young children's songs and
games, highlighted by an animated sword dance and a joyously sung
Wassail Song, culminating in a buoyant performance of " St. George and
the Dragon," ( enacted as a Medieval Mummers Play ). Briskly directed by
Patrick Swanson, with special notice for Heidi Anne Hermiller's
excellent period costumes and the large and admirable cast with much
commendation, especially for Ken Baltin as Will Kemp, Walter Locke as
Henry VIII, and most definitely Jennifer Bliss as Elizabeth I. A
genuinely creative and hugely entertaining Holiday treat for the entire
family, it is highly recommended! Now playing through December 30.
My Grade ( 0-5 ): 5

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is CentaStage's production of "The Xmas Files," an evening of six short comic plays with a Holiday focus, written by six different authors. "Ho-Ho-Ho," by Josh White is set at a local bar on Christmas eve, and humorously centers on a young bartender (dressed in a Santa suit ), squabbling with a former buddy, about girlfriends they've both shared and lost. " Interview With a Virgin," written by and starring Jan Davidson (performed in two segments) is a highly amusing decidely, irreverent take, with the Virgin Mary, first in the Manger,surveying a potential babysitter, offering a bevy of offbeat observations on the Last Supper and Good Friday! "Oh, Henry," by Dean O'Donnell, framed as a wacky TV commercial for a married couple, who, even though their house has burned down, will still enjoy a Merry Christmas thanks to their having purchased some highly unusual insurance. "Fruitcakes are Coming to Town," by George Sauer, explores a very amusing telephone call between a customer and the Company's representative, concerning sending a mail-order Holiday Fruitcake to a distant relative, complete with multiple complications, and a humorous surprise ending. "Christmas Breaks," by Patrick Gabridge, gives us a topsy-turvy view of lovers breaking up and then coming together in unexpectedly laughable ways! And, finally,"The Shepherds Play," by Russell Lees, although much, much too long, is about the lengendary herdsmen, on that starry night, as they farcically wrangle ( in comical, rhyming, poetic couplets ), about the nature of their prize baby sheep, once again, with unexpected and venerating conclusions. Very well performed by Brian Abascal, Jan Davidson, Helen McElwain, Richard LaFrance, Nathaniel McIntyre and Dennis Paton in a wide variety of diverse roles, all surely directed by Curt Miller. Now playing through December 22. (My Grade: 4)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the ACT Roxbury Consortium's production of " City Preacher," a new play by Ed Bullins. Although first staged in 1984 in San Francisco, this presentation marks the East Coast premiere of the play in its newly revised version. Set in the early '30s, primarily in New York's Harlem. it's loosely based on the formative years of Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. ,the highly controversial, charasmatic and very outspoken N.Y. minister, who served in the U.S.Congress for nearly 25 years. Known here as Aaron Jackson Price, Jr., he's the only son of a prominent N.Y. Baptist minister. Born into great affluence and high status in the African-American community, the drama examines his early free-wheeling life-style. Beginning abroad on the Spanish Riviera and later in Harlem, he revels in " Wine, Women and Song," and is determined not to follow in his father's footsteps! How a later period of great familial distress causes him to accept his calling as a major spiritual leader, working in the forefront for social justice for his people, is at the play's center. Unfortunately, the play's first act is much too obvious, diffuse and repetitive in exploring Price's licentious behavior as a callous womanizer, with only minimal attention to the many social problems in the community arising from " the Great Depression". Act Two, however, is much more dramatically focused, with young Price finally embracing his role as Minister and Political Leader! Jim Spencer as Price, Jacqui Parker as Beth ( his older and more conscientious sister ), and Kami Leigh Agard as his primary and more socially aware girlfriend, all give strong performances. with adequate backing from the large supporting cast. Also, considering the play's time frame, more careful attention should be paid to the drama's incidental music, which consists of fine recorded Duke Ellington music of the early '30s, but occasionally--regretably-- suddenly shifts into a much too contemporary mode! Now playing through December 15. (My Grade: 3)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Colonial Theatre (now celebrating its 100th anniversary as Boston's longest continually operating playhouse) is the new National Touring Company's production of " South Pacific." This multi-award winning classic ( including the Pulitzer Prize ) with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, is based on James Michener's like-titled novel. It triumphed on Broadway back in 1949 and was later produced as a major theatrical movie in 1958. The story, set at the height of World War II, on a U.S. military-occupied Pacific island, concerns two similarly troubled love affairs--primarily between Nellie Forbush ( a young, spirited, southern American nurse ) and Emile de Becque ( a mysterious and mature, French born, plantation owner ); and Marine Lt. Joseph Cable and Liat, a young female Tonkinese native. Each relationship becomes clouded and unsure because of both the nurse's and the Marine's upbringings and prejudicial attitudes. Nellie's uncertain feelings for Emile (a widower, who was married to an Islander, and is now left as the sole parent of two racially-mixed, small children ) and Lt. Cable, who, likewise is unable to marry the dark-skinned sweetheart, whom he so deeply loves! Strongly portrayed and well sung by Erin Dilly as Nellie, Michael Nouri as Emile and Lewis Cleale as Lt. Cable with an exquisite native-like dance turn by Kisha Howard as Liat. High praise is also due Armelia McQueen as Liat's mother, " Bloody Mary"( the Island's soulfully expressive blackmarket Chieftainess ). Featuring one of Rodgers and Hammerstein's greatest scores, including, " Some Enchanted Evening," " Bali Hai"," This Nearly was Mine," "Happy Talk," and the early and landmark piece on racial discrimination," You've Got to be Carefully Taught!" Briskly directed by Scott Faris, this fine production is also very well served by Derek McLane's highly picturesque and colorful scenic Island backdrops and settings. Now playing through December 16. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wang Theatre is the Boston Ballet's current production of "The Nutcracker," by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. First presented in 1965, it has since become their grandly anticipated holiday presentation--a genuine yuletide tradition! All of the classic fairy-tale elements are once again on view. Young Clara sleeps in her parents' living room, as the family's brightly decorated Christmas tree grows to stupendous heights. Drosselmeyer ( the visiting wizard ) casts a spell and changes Clara's miniature toy nutcracker into a tall, young, handsome Prince, who leads a battalion of toy soldiers to victory against an army of household mice, and then takes her, airborne in a colorful balloon, to the wonderful Palace of Sweets. Young Olivia Hartzell and Reagan Messer are both splendid as Clara and the magically transformed Nutcracker. At the enchanted Palace they are enthralled by a dazzling procession of wondrous performers, most especially a vigorously whirling troupe of Russian folk-dancers, strikingly led by Joel Prouty; the delightful Dew Drop Fairy exquisitely danced by Karla Kovatch; culminating with the regally impressive duo of Adriana Suarez and Paul Thrussell as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier. Helen Pond and Herbert Senn's exquisitely lavish sets establish just the right ambience, from warm homey living room, and snow-filled forest, to colorfully elaborate magic Palace. Extra praise for the choreographic team led by Daniel Pelzig ( which, this year, begins with many of the performers entering the stage from amongst the audience ). All of this is memorably enhanced by David Walker's elegant period costumes. This is a splendid holiday treat for the entire family, and it's now playing through December 30. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. is the American Repertory Theatre's production of Shakespeare's " Othello." Set in Venice and Cyprus, the play's dire sequence of events centers on Othello, the Moorish commander of the Venetian military forces and his tragic entrapment by the evil schemes of Iago, his trusted assistant.Passed over for promotion, Iago, incensed, seeks vengeance by causing the Moor to believe that Desdemona, his new and beautiful young wife, has been unfaithful. By also implicating Casio ( chosen over him, by Othello, for promotion ) as Desdemona's adulterous lover, Iago seeks total retribution against all, whom he thinks have wronged him! Othello and his young bride are then both doomed, by his aroused and raging sense of betrayal. Forcefully enacted by John Douglas Thompson, in the title role, with strong dramatic assistance from Thomas Derrah as the despicable Iago, and Benjamin Evett as the maliciously accused Cassio. Unfortunately, Mirjana Jokovic, as Desdemona, was often much too restrained, and occasionally, somewhat indistinct. Effectively staged by Riccardo Hernandez, using a striking backdrop of lengthy, panelled mirrors which dramatically exposed the actors from a wide variety of divergent perspectives, under Yuri Yeremin's assured direction...Samrat Chakrabarti's fine, original, incidental music, also did much to underscore this impressive production's distinctive, Mediterranean setting. Now playing, in repertory, through January 17. (My Grade: 4)

Review by Norm Gross

At their playhouse in Reading, Mass. is the Quannapowitt Players' production of " Fighting Over Beverley," a recent drama with comic undertones by Israel Horovitz. Set in Gloucester, Mass., mid-winter in the 1980's, the play's central character is Beverley, a middle-aged housewife who came as a war-bride to New England at the end of World War II ( from her native Great Britain ). At that time, she had broken-off her engagement to a British R.A.F. pilot to marry an American G.I., decorated war-hero, instead. The play opens 45 years later and concerns Archie, this same cast-off British former beau, who has never been married, and still carries a romantic "torch," with smoldering memories, of his war-time sweetheart. Hoping to rekindle their long-lost relationship, Archie has come to America, with the intention of winning her back! Beverley's long-time husband, Zelly, after realizing the real reason for their guest's visit, is faced with the actual possibility that after all of these passing years his wife may leave him to return to her homeland with her former lover. Also, added to this predicament, is the unexpected arrival of Cecily, Beverley and Zelly's adult daughter, a much divorced, high-powered, Hollywood talent-broker visiting her folks from California. As this strained dilemma unfolds, Cecily decides to assist in her mother's final determination. In the process, they are all compelled to face the many loveless, unfulfilled, and unsatisfactory aspects of their lives, with unforseen, surprising, and ultimately hopeful consequences! Extremely well acted by Kathryn Holland as Beverley, Glen Doyle as Archie, Robert Siegel as Zelly, and Sharon Mason as Cecily...under Ron Wackowski's assured direction, this is a well staged ( in-the-round ), well acted and decidely, thought-provoking human playing through December 8. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the New Repertory Theatre in Newton, Mass. is their production of "Rose," a new one-woman play by Martin Sherman. A major success in London in 1999, and later in New York, this marks its New England premiere. Broadway veteran actress Lucille Patton is the play's title character. As she sits, unadorned at center stage on a simple wooden bench, this 80 year old Jewish grandmother, observing " shivah," (Judaism's ritual mourning of the deceased ) she reminisces about her long and tumultuous life. A life, that in reality is essentially a microcosm of the 20th century and the persecution, survival and resilience of the Jewish people! Beginning in the years just after World War I, and moving from a small Ukranian community to the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto, ( the deaths of her first husband and young daughter ), and eventual liberation, she journeys from post-war displacement camps to renewed hope aboard the defiantly, unauthorized refugee transport-ship " Exodus," ( bound for the then British-controlled country of Palestine ), culminating in her marriage to a Jewish-American sailor, followed by a new and better life, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, U.S.A.! There, with her new husband, they work together renting beach chairs to tourists, while raising their baby son Abner. Years later, after the death of second husband, and the migration of her adult son to Israel, Rose--thanks to a series of unexpected circumstances ( including another husband )-- becomes the manager and ultimately the owner of a small hotel in Miami. Well acted by Ms. Patton in a reasonable Central European accent, with a tender and dramatically modulated mix of humor, sadness, and quiet strength...all well focused by Adam Zahler's confident direction...this is an absorbing and stimulating review of a Grand Matriarch's stormy, varied and noteworthy history, now playing in Newton through December 16, and then at the Orpheum Theatre in Foxborough, Mass. from January 18 through 27, 2002. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wilbur Theatre is the return engagement of " Stomp," the multi-award winning and highly innovative exploration of percussion and rhythm. Beginning in England as street performance in the late '80s, through the collaborations of the show's creators/directors Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas, their dynamic brain-child evolved during the '90s into a much-travelled, much-awarded international phenomenon. Featuring eight extraordinary performers ( three women and five men ) using a highly coordinated combination of comedy, movement and most especially drumming, for ninety intermission-less minutes, they enthrall the audience with a breathtaking succession of extremely varied and continuously creative and involving syncopated segments, each different and each noteworthy! Employing a remarkable assemblage of common, everyday items ranging from floor brooms, dust pans, plastic tubes, small match boxes, and even basketballs; to plumber's rubber plungers, Zippo cigarette lighters, daily newspapers, garbage can covers, portable stainless steel sinks and massive, five-foot high, empty, metal oil drums, strapped to their feet...their performance is a non-stop wonder! Fluidly and expressively choreographed throughout, the vibrant and talented performers also use an especially effective combination of finger-snapping and hand-clapping to directly involve the audience ( from time to time ) in the show's spirited and rhythmic progress, with thunderous delight and loud and joyous capacity approval! Now playing through December 16. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Shubert Theatre is the Boston Lyric Opera's production of "Resurrection," a new opera with music by Tod Machover and libretto by Laura Harrington, with additional material by Braham Murray. Based on Tolstoy's last novel, it was commissioned by, and premiered, in 1999 at the Houston Grand Opera, and this presentation marks its Northeast premiere. Set in Czarist Russia, at the turn of the 20th century, the plot centers on Prince Nekhlyudov, a disquieted young Nobleman, who's called to serve as a juror at a trial involving several lower-class defendants charged with robbery and murder. The Prince recognizes one of the accused, as a lovely, young and innocent girl Katusha ( an orphan who, long ago, had lived on his Aunt's estate ), who ten years earlier, he had seduced and abandoned! Unbeknownst to him, the child, he had then fathered, died soon thereafter...and Katusha subsequently turned to prostitution! Although Katusha is actually innocent of the charges, she's sentenced to 8 years in Siberia, due entirely to a procedural error. Guilt stricken and obsessed with righting the wrong he had committed against her, Nekhlyudov divests himself of all his property and follows her to the barren and frozen penal colony. There, he hopes, via legal appeals, to free her, marry her, and thus to achieve spiritual redemption! Ardently sung by the large and splendidly voiced 27 member cast. Baritone Carleton Chambers was strong and impressive as the anguished Prince and Mezzo-Soprano Christine Abraham was touching and passionately resonant as the beleaguered Katusha. Tod Machover's music, an intriguing blend of traditional and contemporary electronically enhanced strains, was strikingly compelling throughout. Much praise should also go to the brilliantly colorful and dramatically fluid sets ( a series of diagonally sliding panels combined with a high wall-like, portalled, semi - transparent screen ), designed by Erhard Rom, which deftly, promptly and flawlessly effected the production's many and varied shifts in time and place. A memorably sung, vividly staged and affectingly composed presentation, now playing through November 20. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Playwright's Theatre is their production of " Walker," a new play by Derek Walcott. He is a Nobel Prize winning poet and playwright, and this same theatre's founder. Originally conceived in 1993 as an opera with original music by T.J.Anderson, " Walker " is now here re-envisioned as a dramatic play ( with interludes of poetical fantasy ), with completely new music by Galt MacDermot ( best known as composer of the great Broadway and Hollywood success, " Hair " ). Set in 1830 in David Walker's Boston home, on the day before his death, the plot is based on the true story of this legendary freed and well-educated former slave, who in 1829 personally printed and distributed ( in large quantities ) his 76 page pamphlet, exhorting America's slaves to rise up and overthrow and kill their oppressive White slavemasters! Clandestinely circulated amongst America's slaves, throughout the South, it resulted in a price being placed upon his head, and his subsequent mysterious death. As depicted here, living at his home with his stately wife Eliza ( also, a freed, former slave ), he's poisoned and killed by yet another freed slave, a visiting Carribean seaman ( emboldened by offers of a large reward). Well directed by Wesley Savick and passionately enacted by Jonathan Earl Peck in the title role, with strong assistance from golden-voiced Merle Perkins as his anxious wife, and J.Bernard Calloway as the assassin, this finely crafted drama also includes a stirring 4-member female chorus who, throughout the play's action, fancifully sing and dance MacDermot's plaintive music. This well written and well staged,dramatic and imaginative play, is both gripping and provocative. Walker's revolutionary tract, published 30 years before the Civil War, and more than a century before the emergence of Martin Luther King,Jr. and Malcolm X, marks an essential piece of American history and represents a life and story fully deserving of this strong, splendid and inspirational retelling! Now playing through November 18. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Center for the Arts is the Sugan Company's production of "The Lonesome West," by Martin McDonagh. The final part of the author's celebrated " Leenane Trilogy," ( which includes the preceding,multi-award winning: " Beauty Queen of Leenane," and " A Skull in Connemara " ), this play, likewise, was a major success in Galway, London and New York, ( where it was nominated for 4 Tony awards, including " Best Play," in 1999 ). Set in a remote Irish village, the plot concerns two young minimally-educated adult unmarried brothers, Coleman and Valene, living together, in their family's long-time homestead. We soon discover that in a fit of rage Coleman had shot and killed their elderly Father. With his brother's complicity, on the guarantee that all of their parent's property would be transferred to him, Valene declared his brother's innocence to the community, announcing that their dad's death was completely accidental. Thereafter, Coleman, living now as a tenant, spends his days bickering and physically challenging his willful and highly penurious brother. Father Welsh, the village's young and ineffectual priest, depressed and decidely alcoholic due to his inability to provide any real moral or spiritual guidance to his parishioners, and aware of the brothers' crime and grim pact, tries to act as a mediator, between the continually combative siblings. Father Welsh then forces their warring relationship to undergo a surprising change in the wake of an unexpected and shocking turn of events! Extremely well acted by Colin Hamell as Coleman, Billy Meleady as Valene, and Barlow Adamson as Father Welsh, this stirring production, under Carmel O'Reilly's assured direction, provides us, with yet, another highly impressive, dramatic gem from Ireland! Now playing through November 24. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Wheelock Family Theatre in Boston, Mass. is their production of "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm," as adapted by Marisha Chamberlain in 1993 from Kate Douglas Wiggin's popular turn-of-the-century novel and play. It was made into a major motion picture in 1917, starring Mary Pickford and two decades later, with Shirley Temple, in 1938 (the latter involving a totally new and different plot ). However, the story, as here presented, adheres closely to its original source. Set at the turn of the 20th century, in rural Maine, the narrative concerns young, Rebecca, a pre-adolescent girl, who has left her large and impoverished family at Sunnybrook Farm, to come to the small town of Riverboro, to live wth her two old-maid aunts, Jane and Miranda. A highly imaginative and creative child, Rebecca plans to get an education and eventually help her family, to pay off their mortgage. The play's slight and highly predictable plot explores Rebecca's initial difficulties and ultimate success at school, with her teacher and fellow students. The play's major focus is on her strained and troubled relationship, with her stern and disapproving elder Aunt Miranda. Bolstered by her kinder and more sympathetic, younger Aunt Jane, Rebecca, as expected, succeeds, by the final curtain, in all respects. Unfortunately, although very well acted by young Polly Furth as Rebecca, with excellent assistance from Jane Staab as Aunt Miranda and Jacqui Parker as Aunt Jane, their story has little, if any, dramatic conflict or tension. The young heroine's troubles, at home and at school, are much too understated and sluggishly set forth...and then, too easily, quickly and neatly resolved! Besides the fine acting, as already noted, the excellent set, designed by Kitty impressive , Colonial-style country home, with a nicely, represented outer facade, opening up to reveal a completely furnished living room, and elevated second story one of the show's main strong points! In the recent past, this same company staged " Anne of Green Gables," a similar play, with a noticeably similar young heroine, beset with very similar problems, sparked by many more story-line twists and turns, and enlivened by a succession of delightful songs and spirited dances (!)...this former production demonstrates what is sorely lacking in this, current endeavor! Now playing through November 25. (My Grade: 1.5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston University's Huntington Theatre is their production of "Betty's Summer Vacation" by Christopher Durang. This New England premiere is once again being directed by Nicholas Martin, who won an Obie award for his direction of this same play Off-Broadway, back in 1999. Set at a seaside resort ( apparently, somewhere near New York ), the plot revolves around Betty ( a single, young, adult, white-collar, working girl ), who with her friend Trudy, has rented a summer cottage. There, they must share their vacation residence with a bizarre assortment of dissimilar occupants. Mrs. Siezmagraff, the house's scatterbrained and totally daffy landlady, ( who turns out to be Trudy's estranged [!] Mother ); Keith, a whimpering recluse, who's suspected of being a serial-killer, with a collection in his room of many human body-parts ( including something, very special, in a hat-box); Buck, a six foot tall, sophomoric, sexually obsessed jock; Mr. Vanislaw, a raincoat wearing " flasher"; and a trio of mysterious voices trapped in the ceiling! Added to this outlandish entourage is a severed penis, stashed and frozen, in the freezer section of the house's refrigerator, replete with regular references to Lorena Bobbit and the Menendez brothers! Author Durang spreads a non-stop flow of rather, heavy-handed barbs at America's obsession with scandals and sensationalist TV, culminating in a mock, courtroom trial, conducted by Landlady Siezmagraff, acting simultaneously, as Judge, prosecutor and defendant! " SCTV's" Andrea Martin is superb as Mrs. Siezmagraff, with fine, comic assistance, from the small cast, especially Jessica Stone as Betty, and Nat DeWolf as Keith. However,this over-the-top farce is somewhat overlong, and becomes rather repetitive towards its outrageous conclusion, thanks to the playwright's overblown and, much too obvious, and zealous, view of American pop-culture! Now playing through November 25. (My Grade: 3)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Market Theatre in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass. is the Northeast premiere of " Ricky Jay and his 52 Assistants," a one-man show, starring the aforementioned personality. Ricky Jay, a renowned sleight-of-hand artist, is the star of the evening, and his 52 accomplices are actually the various components of the playing cards he uses throughout the show to baffle and dazzle his audience. Standing at a standard sized, green felt covered card table, in a small cozy library-like setting, replete with books, small figurines, and assorted other memorabilia, Ricky regales his audience with non-stop stories, anecdotes and historical observations about legendary card-sharks, pool hall hustlers, Riverboat gamblers, notorious cheats, conjurers, magicians, sideshow barkers, and a host of sly and crafty conmen. At the same time, he's flawlessly performing a succession of astounding card tricks! These stunts and games range from card control (manipulation followed by first dealing from the top of the deck and then, without anticipation, dealing from the bottom ), to demonstrations on how to stack picture cards and/or a quartet of aces. Later in the evening, he astounds the audience with jocular displays of the 3 ball shell game followed by an exhibtion of how to propel the cards, as if they were darts, to pierce the center and even the tough exterior, of a half-cut, open watermelon! Knowingly directed by the noteworthy David Mamet, this fascinating, riveting and crowd-pleasing exposition of superb dexterity, illusion and artifice is now on view through November 24. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the North Shore Music Theatrre in Beverly, Mass. is their new production of " Miss Saigon," featuring music by Claude-Michel Schonberg with lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and Alain Boublil. This loosely-based adaptation of Puccini's " Madame Butterfly," reset in 1975-78 war-torn Vietnam, was a major award-winning success in London in 1989 and later in New York in 1991. The plot concerns Chris, a young American G.I., and his love-affair with Kim, a sweet, young bar-girl in Saigon. Chris must then return to America, without Kim, due to the stormy and hurried American troop withdrawal, (dramatically represented by an actual, on-stage, helicopter lift-up)! Years later, when he comes back, ( having been married in America ) and learns that Kim gave birth to and is raising their son, she realizes that their love cannot be. She must then choose her tragic course. Intertwined within their troubled story, are the activities of the sleazy and cynical manager of the bar, where Chris first met Kim. Known as " the Engineer," he's a ruthless schemer, who repeatedly tries to manipulate Kim, to serve his own agenda. Brian Noonan and Rona Figueroa are first-rate, singing and enacting Chris and Kim's tumultuous romance, with extra plaudits for Kevin Gray as the Engineer.His dazzling rendition of " The American Dream," a brilliantly ferocious, musical description of American materialism laced with unbridled excess, is the evening's major show-stopper! High marks,also, for the show's mournfully beautiful score which includes such moving songs as " The Last Night of the World," and " I'd Give My Life for You." Strongly directed ( in-the-round ) and stirringly choreographed by Barry Ivan, this is a memorably striking presentation , on all counts! Now playing through November 18. (My Grade: 5)

The Band Wagon
Review by Norm Gross

At Pickman Concert Hall, Longy School of Music, in Cambridge, Mass. is the Theatre in Process production of " The Band Wagon." This legendary musical-comedy revue, by George S. Kaufman and Howard Dietz with music by Arthur Schwartz, premiered on Broadway in June, 1931 and proved to be the last performance of Fred and Adele Astaire as a duo. A major success in its time, this staged concert-styled production, marks this classic show's first revival in 70 years! Artistic Directors Benjamin Sears and Bradford Conner, ( the show's stars ), spent many months searching nationwide, collecting and piecing together the revue's various parts, to finally formulate this full-fledged production. Assisted by a first-rate cast of 13, highly-accomplished acting and singing professionals, this presentation, comprised of 8 comic skits, 13 songs, and 2 dance pieces, ( performed musically, sans choreography ), offers us an extraordinary and provocative look- back at Broadway's formative days. The comedic sketches, ranging from the new and overriding influence of sports in academia, to the inanity of the " Old South's" life-style, and the era's popular drawing-room murder mysteries, resound, today, as mostly dated curios, illustrating how much comedy has changed, during these many, many decades. The show's musical interludes, however, have weathered the years very well, especially so with the genuinely memorable " Dancing in the Dark," " New Sun in the Sky," and " I Love Louis. Besides the aforementioned Conner and Sears, many plaudits should also go to Soprano Valerie Anastasio, Tenor Brent Reno, Mezzo Soprano Merle Perkins and most definitely for the splendid piano accompaniment provided by Margaret Ulmer. This highly praiseworthy presentation deserves our full support, and will be performed, once again, on Sunday, November 4. (My Grade: 4)

Ballet Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wang Theatre is the Boston Ballet's production of "From Distant Shores," the umbrella title of a trio of dissimilar European inspired works. The first, " Ginastera," choreographed and staged by Holland's Rudi van Dantzig to Alberto Ginastera's contemporary and atonal, " String Quartet No. 2, Op. 26," comprised of 5 distinct movements, pulses with impressively vibrant and complex solo leaps. It features fine, expressive ensemble dancing by the large and accomplished company. Added notice for the splendidly silken 3rd movement pas de deux by Karla Kovatch and Nick Mishoe...their quality, supremely complemented by the melodious string musicianship of Michael Rosenbloom, Christine Vitale, Jean Haig and Ronald Lowry. "Jardi Tancat",(" Ringed Garden" ), the second work, ( a Boston premiere ), choreographed by Spain's Nacho Duato to soulful recorded Catalonian folk songs, memorably sung by Maria del Mar Bonet, features six, peasant-garbed, barefooted dancers moving expressively and poignantly against a nearly bare set, centered by a curving, rustic, sprig-like fence. It was enthusiastically greeted by standing audience approval at its conclusion! " Celts," the evening's final work, choreographed by Lila York, to the joyously infectious recorded Irish music of " The Chieftains," and "Celtic Thunder," ( amongst others ), again involves 5 separate movements. Fervently danced by a sextet of fluid males and females, ( moving from classically inspired forms to more spirited jigs and reels ) with standout performances by Paul Thrussell and Jennifer Gelfand. It was, likewise, hailed by thunderous audience approval. Now playing through November 4. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Tremont Theatre is the Boston Theatre Works production of "The Laramie Project, a New England premiere . Created by Moises Kaufman, together with his N.Y.-based "Tectonics Theater" company, it is a staged docudrama, which examines (from every possible vantage point), a small Wyoming community's reactions to the brutal 1998 murder in their midst of Matthew Shepard, a young, gay, college student. Driven to the outskirts of town, (late one evening ) by two, young acquaintances, Matthew was lashed to a rustic fence, savagely beaten, and left to die there. Discovered by a bicyclist 18 hours later, he languished in a nearby hospital before he finally died. This horrific murder shocked and aroused the nation. Kaufman's company, during the following year, visited Laramie and conducted over 200 interviews, with the town's residents ( gay, straight, educated, uneducated, young, old, those who knew the victim, and those who didn't). The play culled from these voluminous commentaries, (nearly three hours, including two brief intermissions), is a razor-sharp and provocative exploration of the townspeople's reactions to this barbaric hate crime and its ensuing backlash, ranging from intolerance and rejection, to understanding and hope. The small eight member cast, brilliantly ( and with striking fluidity ) personify more than sixty different people, ( in their own words ), using only a change of headress or jacket, to effect each superbly crafted change! Forrest Walter, Laura Napoli and Tom Lawlor, ( amongst the others ) were especially noteworthy! Forcefully co-directed by Nancy Curran Willis and Jason Southerland, this powerfully involving presentation, also scores with Scenic Designer: Ruth Neeman's sweeping and extremely effective, multi rear-screen, color-slide, photo projections, illustrating a multitude of Laramie sites. Now playing through November 11. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

On the campus of Massachusetts Bay Community College in Wellesley, Mass. is the Lyric West Theatre Company's production of "Another Part of the Forest," by Lillian Hellman, written as a precursor to her great earlier (1939) dramatic success," The Little Foxes." This retrospective examination of a newly wealthy and highly avaricious Southern family, during the post Civil War era, explores their corrupt rise, via sordid and dishonest business machinations, is laced with familial schemes and deceptions! A great success on Broadway in 1946, and later produced as a major motion picture in 1948, it's set in a small Alabama town in the summer of 1880, and concerns the unprincipled ambition and immorality of the Hubbards. Marcus, the patriarch, who gained his wealth during the Civl War as a blockade runner and a price-gouger ( on desperately needed salt ), is pitted against the counter plots of Benjamin, his divisive eldest son; Regina, his young, beautiful and cunning daughter; Oscar, his wastrel youngest son, and Lavinia, his addled and suppressed wife. Benjamin's efforts at wresting control of the family's wealth away from his all powerful father is at the core of this searing study of a family grounded in unbridled greed and treachery. Compellingly performed by Ed Peed as Marcus, Robert Bonotto as Benjamin, and Adriana Gnap as Regina, with strong assistance from the large and excellent supporting cast, under Ron Ritchell's sure direction. This is a well mounted and incisive indictment of a monumentally villainous family! Now playing through October 28. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Harvard University's Leverett Old Library Theatre in Cambridge, Mass.
is the Industrial Theatre's production of " Macbeth," by William
Shakespeare. Originally set in Ancient Scotland, and here played in
modern dress, Macbeth, an ambitious Thane, is spurred on by the
pronouncements of three unearthly witches. With the help of his
Machiavelian wife, he carries out a series of assassinations, designed
to fulfill the prophecies of this evil trio, ( that he's destined to
become the new King )! His murderous course, however, leads not only to
his assuming the throne, but eventually, also to the demise of his
scheming spouse, and still later, to his own destruction. Well played by
the small, professional cast, forcefully focused by Kevin LaVelle, in
the title role, he's ably assisted by Stephanie Steinbach, as his
tormented wife. Although, initially she's a bit too shrill, as their
expanding tragedy unfolds, her performance evolves dramatically, and
becomes especially compelling, during the famed, concluding sleepwalking
episode, which leads finally to her death! Firmly directed by Shelley
Hager, against Michael Bonomi's interesting set, ( a raised, stone-like,
multi-levelled platform, stationed before four large, erect, imposing,
grey, rectangular pillars ).Of necessity, however, I must also add some
of my misgivings. Costumer Heather McNamara's choice of present-day
American military, Army uniforms, is supremely perplexing ( especially,
since Scotland and their class system is continually referred to,
throughout)! Likewise, having the three witches, properly garbed,
initially in their long black hooded shrouds, and then having them
double again,in these same, ebony cloaks as handmaids, court
messengers, and later as hired assassins, ( without any attempt at a
costume change ) is both ill-conceived and ultimately confusing, in this
otherwise fine production! Now playing through October 20. (My Grade: 3)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the SpeakEasy Stage Company's
production of " End of the World Party," a new play by Chuck
Ranberg. Set on Fire Island, New York's well-known vacation resort, the
plot revolves around a half-dozen gay men, who share a summer house
together on the weekends. As in similar plays, these
assembled friends represent a cross-section or microcosm of life:
Roger, an aging and uneasy model; Will, a promiscuous hypochondriac;
Nick, a heavy user of drugs, who's playing with the feelngs of " Chip,"
( his young and handsome new acquaintance ); Travis, an intense teacher,
grieving over the death of his former lover, to AIDS; Phil, a young and
naive newcomer from the Midwest; and Hunter, the group's droll and
highly focused guru. Pondering their lifestyles, and sharing their hopes
and disappointments ( often, about finding permanent mates ),binds them
all together. The play takes its title from the group's final and
troubled summer celebration. Extremely well acted by the fine cast,
with special notice for Christopher Hagberg as Hunter, Juan Luis Acevedo
as Travis, and Will McGarrahan as Will. Although this play does bear
some heavy similarity to Terrence McNally's " Love! Valour!
Compassion!," it is nevertheless, quite involving, very well written,
( brimming with witty and incisive dialogue ) and is very solidly
performed under Eric Engel's firm direction. Now playing through October
27. (My Grade: 4)

Review by Norm Gross

At the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass. is their production of " Zorba," a musical play with book by Joseph Stein, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, which made its Broadway debut back in 1968. Based on the similarly titled novel by Nikos Kazantzakis and the critically acclaimed 1964 motion picture, it is set in Piraeus, Greece and on the island of Crete. Nikos, an American teacher, having inherited a mine in Crete, has come to Greece to accept his legacy. While waiting to board a vessel bound for Crete, he encounters Zorba, a village elder, who while quite knowledgeable about mining, is best known for his brimming zest for life! While on Crete, after hiring Zorba to assist him, Nikos also becomes romantically involved with a beautiful, young widow, who has been ostracized by the villagers. Zorba, full of earthy wisdom, always ready to sing and dance, soon also finds romance with a lonely and elderly French courtesan, living on the island. As Nikos is then tested by the community's violence against his sweetheart and Zorba learns that his faded inamorata is dying, his life-affirming attitude becomes a pillar of strength for them both! Strongly acted and sung by Ron Holgate in the title role with fine support from Anita Gillette's tender and touching performance, as his languishing sweetheart, they are well enhanced by Franc D'Ambrosio's sensitive portrayal as Nikos. Solidly directed, in-the-round, by Richard Sabellico. Danny Buraczeski's vibrant, folk-tinged choreography, serves this engaging, ethnic-inspired presentation's uplifting message, quite well indeed! Now playing through October 21. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wang Center is the return engagement of " Burn the Floor." Featuring 32 extraordinary ballroom dancers (male and female), representing a virtual United Nations of electrifying talent (Australia, Ireland, Japan, England, Italy and Denmark ), to name just a few, these young and vibrant performers steadily build upon a succession of highly dverse and memorable rhythmic sequences, each defined by the music, costumes and dances of a particular style and era. Backed by solid recreations of such rousing musical numbers as Richard Rogers' "Carousel Waltz," Glen Miller's " In the Mood," the Andrews Sisters' "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," Lovland's " Papillon," Louis Prima's " Jump, Jive 'n Wail," and Benny Goodman's pulsating " Sing, Sing, Sing!" amongst many others, these spectacular couples practically ignite the stage with their boundless energy and brilliant precision and virtuosity! Amongst the evening's many highpoints, is an impressive salute to the music of Irving Berlin ( " Top Hat," " Cheek to Cheek," " the Continental," etc. ) as represented in the many movies of Astaire and Rogers, here sublimely revived by the style and grace of more than a dozen tuxedoed and gowned dancing couples. Likewise, their passionate Latin-inspired steps to the rhythms of Duke Ellington's " Caravan," and Lecuona's " Malaguena," is another of the evening's many grand highlights! Substantial praise is also due for fine vocalist Genevieve Davis, Jason Gilkison's striking choreography, and John Van Gastel's varied, colorful and dazzling costumes! This splendid panorama is fully deserving of the audience's lengthy and explosive standing ovation at the final curtain. Now playing through October 7. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the Zeitgeist Stage Company's production of " Three Tall Women," by Edward Albee. This award-winning play ( N.Y. Drama Critics Circle and Pulitzer Prize ) is essentially an autobiographical re-examination of Albee's own adoptive mother, and how her long and unsatisfactory life resulted in their stormy relationship and his enforced and lengthy estrangement! Set in 1994, in a courtly bedroom, a wealthy elderly matron is attended by her womanly middle-aged aide, as she is being questioned about her finances by a young female lawyer. A tall, bigoted and very domineering woman, the old lady reminisces about her long and unhappy life. All the details of her cold marriage, for wealth, to a man, much shorter than her; her sister's troubling alcoholism; her unending suspicions about her many " thieving" servants, and her bitter alienation from her adopted,wastrel son, are all extensively recounted by her! Act two begins as the aged dowager ( represented by a life-like mannequin ) lies comatose in bed, dying from a stroke. The three women seen in act one, now appear as three visions, of herself, as she was at ages: 26, 52, and 92! At 26, her life was only coquetry and innocent sexuality; at 52, her short, philandering husband, finally died, leaving her independent and wealthy; and then, still later, she was forced to denounce her good-for-nothing son! At age 92, she finally ends up living embittered and alone. Her prodigal son, then unexpectedly returns, at her bedside! Jan Peterson is superb as the elderly matron with excellent support from Jones Miller as her lawyer and Miki Joseph as her aide, under David J. Miller's strong direction. This is a well written, forcefully performed, provocative and involving exploration of a tumultuous and disquieting playing through October 13. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the New Repertory Theatre in Newton, Mass. is their production of "The Waverly Gallery," by Kenneth Lonergan. A recent, major success in New York, this heartfelt and autobiographical drama, ( with comic undertones ), is set in New York City, and takes place between 1989 and 1991. Based on the author's own 80 year old grandmother Gladys, and her ongoing mental and physical decline from Alzheimer's Disease, the play's focus is on the ramifications of her illness on her family. A lawyer, who had long ago turned to operating her own small, neighborhood art gallery in Greenwich Village--garrulous and concerned in her prime--Gladys was a political beacon in the community. Now, the play shows her continuing diminishment, as it involves Daniel, her grandson, (who lives next door ), his mother Ellen (her daughter ), and Howard (his Father and Gladys' son-in-law ). The family tries valiantly to cope with the old lady's increasing helplessness, with a mixture of brash humor and compassionate resignation. Their dilemma is then compounded, when Gladys' long-time landlord decides to make her vacate her beloved art gallery, several months hence! Surely directed by Rick Lombardo, Joan Kendall is extremely convincing as the increasingly addled Gladys, with especially fine dramatic support from Bobbie Steinbach as Ellen, Ken Baltin as Howard, and Joe Smith as Daniel, ( who's also the play's narrator ). Joseph Pew's spare and colorless gallery setting, with its subdued suggestions of paintings on view, also contributes much! A touching, simply staged, and strongly enacted exploration of a family's emotional struggle and commitment in providing aid and comfort to a loved one, in the throes of a devastating illness, now playing through October 21. My Grade ( 0-5 ): 5

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Lyric Stage Company is their production of " Sunday in the Park With George." Featuring music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine, this engagement marks this award-winning ( 1985 Pulitzer Prize and N.Y. Drama Circle ) musical play's professional area premiere. It is based on the creation of the 1886 painted masterpiece " A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" by Georges Seurat, the legendary French Pointillist Artist. Act one explores the painter's exclusionary compulsion, as he focuses on his ongoing weekly painted draughts at the above mentioned island setting. " Dot," his neglected mistress, is the model for the central ( umbrella-toting ) figure, in his celebrated masterpiece.Pregnant, with his baby, and continuously disregarded by him, as he becomes increasingly fixated on his work, she finally marries another and eventually migrates to America. Act two takes place in 1984, at an American Art Museum, and centers on Seurat's supposed artist-grandson and 90+ year old daughter. The contemporary artist, involved in the design of illuminated, electronic and mobile constructions, is perplexed and restricted by the overwhelming demands of modern life. Seeking an answer, he returns to the famed island setting of his Grandfather's " chef-d'oeuvre," and is reassured by the spirit of " Dot," his long deceased forebearer! Christopher Chew as Seurat and his grandson, and Maryann Zschau as " Dot," and her elderly daughter, are superb in acting and, most definitely, in singing Sondheim's brilliant and demanding music and lyrics. High marks also for the large, well voiced, supporting cast, ( who personify the many people represented in the renowned 19th century scene ). Janie Howland's impressive and exact set recreation of the famed painting, also merits the highest praise! An excellent production, on all counts, it should not be missed, now playing through October 20. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wang Center For The Performing Arts is the Boston Ballet's production of " A Midsummer Night's Dream." Based on Shakespeare's comic fantasy and spiritedly-choreographed and staged by Bruce Wells to Mendelssohn's sublime music, it offers us a consummate evening of melodious and breathtaking fluid movement. Dressed in Edward Baker's resplendant period costumes and performed amidst Lewis Folden's exquisite woodland setting, Paul Thrussell is marvelous as the impish Puck, messenger to Oberon ( the fairies' King ). He grandly soars and spins while administering his enchanted love-inducing juices to the quartet of mismatched lovers who have escaped to this magic forest. This foursome are majestically danced by Pollyana Ribeiro as Helena, April Ball as Hermia, Viktor Plotnikov as Lysander, and Jose Martin as Dimitrius. Extra mention also, for Zack Grubbs as the cavorting tradesman ( and actor-to-be ) Bottom, who Puck has also magically transformed into a foolish donkey! All of this is charmingly enhanced by the many sprightly children ( students of the Ballet's school ) on stage, as a bevy of wee fairies, buttressed by the glorious singing of the New England Conservatory Children's Chorus. " Suite Saint - Saens," ( comprised of four delightful segments: " Caprice Valse," " Serenade," " Minuet," and " Redouble "), choreographed by Gerald Arpino ( of Chicago's Joffrey Ballet ) for 20 dancers, and set to the music of Camille Saint-Saens, begins the evening with a fine display of tender couplings, lifts, vaults and splendid ensemble precision... with special mention for the graceful exactitude of Jennifer Gelfand, amongst the many others. Two very different presentations, but both eyefilling, imposing and memorable! Now playing through September 30. (My Grade: 5)

Reviews by Norm Gross

At Boston's Bates Art Center is the Stanley B Theatre's production of "Laundry & Bourbon " and " Lone Star," two short, one act dramas by James McLure. Set in the mid '70s in a small, rural Texas town, at the desert's edge, on an extremely hot summer day, the first playlet " Laundry, etc." takes place on the backporch of the home of Elizabeth, a young housewife, and centers on her, as she sits and folds some just laundered clothing. Pregnant with her first child, she's visited by Hattie, an earthy, married girlfriend and later by yet another, Amy Lee, a young, vain and pretentious housewife-friend. Their talk is mostly about Elizabeth's unemployed, confused and troubled husband Roy ( whom she hasn't seen for two days ). A returned Vietnam veteran, his ongoing malaise, and Elizbeth's attempts to help and support him, are the main focus of their attention. A touching exploration of everyday life's problems and frustrations, it's extremely well acted by Tori Davis as Elizabeth, with fine support from Rebecca Mobley as Hattie and Katherine Ball Bassick as Amy Lee. " Lone Star " is set in an alley behind a similarly named local bar, in this same Texas town, and concerns Roy, the previously described, perplexed and conflicted husband. Forcefully portrayed by Bruce Robert Serafin, he voices his highs and lows and ultimate lack of purpose to Ray, his younger, dimwitted brother, (strikingly enacted by Tom Lawlor ) as he repeatedly downs successive bottles of beer. He rails at the disappointments and restlessness that have continually plagued him since his return to civilian life. These are two compelling and very well written and mounted views of a husband and wife's troubled marriage and their ongoing disquiet. Now playing through September 30. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Huntington Theatre is the National touring production of "The Dead." A recent Broadway and Tony award-winning musical play based on James Joyce's renowned short story. Adapted and directed by Richard Nelson, it features music by Shaun Davey, ( who also collaborated with Nelson on the lyrics ). Set in Dubln, Ireland, near the turn of the 20th century, the simple, yet compelling plot revolves around the annual Christmas party at the home of the elderly Morkan sisters, ( Julia and Kate ). Assisted by their niece Mary Jane, ( all being music teachers ), the festivities naturally evolve into a tender evening of conversation, song and dance. Attended by family members and friends, their middle-aged nephew Gabriel Conroy, ( sensitively played by Sean Cullen), accompanied by his lovely wife Gretta ( well played by Kate Kearney-Patch ), acts as the play's narrator and central figure. After the dozen or so assembled guests have enjoyed their Holiday dinner, they chat and warmly toast each other, begin to bicker and eventually start to sing and dance. First individually and later, as a group. They intone touching ballads such as " Killarney's Lakes," stirringly patriotic anthems like " Parnell's Plight," a spirited Music Hall ditty as " Naughty Girls," and even " D'Arcy's Aria," an operatic piece...which form the core of their celebration. The gathering turns from Nationalistic pronouncements and petty banter to compassionate moments at the bedside of the elderly and gravely ill Aunt Julia (nicely portrayed by Alice Cannon ). The play concludes later, as the narrator Gabriel learns of his wife's unrequited love for a long-deceased, young boyfriend, necessitating him to face his own inadequacies and closes with his hauntingly poignant singing of " The Living and the Dead." An earnest, warmly affectionate and extremely well mounted presentation, which remains consistently true to its original source. Now playing through October 14. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, Mass. is their production of " Cookin' at the Cookery," a new musical play written and directed by Marion J. Caffey. After being well received throughout the South, this marks the show's Northeastern premiere. Subtitled " The Music and Times of Alberta Hunter," it tells the story of this legendary Blues singer from her early childhood in Memphis and her tenuous teenage beginning there as a cabaret singer, to her eventual triumphs performing in Chicago and New York during the 1920's, '30s and '40s, including success on the Broadway stage, as well as major appearances in Europe. During the '50s, while away entertaining American combat G.I.s in Korea, she was grief stricken upon receiving news of her mother's death back home. Soon, thereafter, she decided to leave the Jazz world, to begin a new career as a Nurse! Mandatory retirement was demanded of her at age 70, after more than two decades of service, ( although, unbeknownst to her supervisors, she was actually 82 )! Still wanting to work,in 1977 she was enticed to return to singing as the headliner at "The Cookery," a prominent New York Jazz club. She sang there regularly, to great audience approval, until her death at age 89. Her story unfolds, through a series of well paced vignettes, performed,entirely, by the play's two ( and only ) extraordinary stars. Tony Award-winning Ann Duquesnay, as the fully mature and much acclaimed luminary, receives dazzling support from her grandly versatile and multi-talented co-star; Debra Walton as the vivid personification of the great singer during childhood, adolescence and early womanhood. Accompanied on stage by a fine Jazz quartet, singing nearly two dozen of the star's legendary songs from " St. Louis Blues " to her popular signature tune " My Castle's Rockin'," while also enacting a multitude of varied roles representing nearly everyone who helped her to reach stardom. From Bert Williams, Night Club promoters and Eubie Blake to even Louis Armstrong, both performers are absolutely wonderful! This is a winning entertainment that should not be missed! Now playing through October 6. (My Grade: 5)

Johan Padan & the Discovery of the Americas
Review by Norm Gross

At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. is the American Repertory Theatre's production of " Johan Padan & the Discovery of the Americas." A lengthy one-man play ( two hours with intermission ) written by Dario Fo and translated and well directed by Ron Jenkins, it stars the always remarkable and consistently brilliant Thomas Derrah, in a tour de force solo performance! Sparsely clothed in T-shirt and jeans, Derrah, as an average seaman on Columbus's legendary voyage of discovery, takes the audience ( in highly animated, conversational style ) from the shipwrecked hero's initial success on reaching land ( using pigs as buoys ), and then being rescued by Native Indians, to later being enslaved by others, and then, still later, miraculously being freed and hailed by them, as a holy-man, and maker of miracles. All the while, he's also discovering the pleasures of cooking and eating turkeys and iguanas, learning how to train wild horses and finally teaching himself and his native followers, how to make and ignite fireworks! Altough generally interesting, entertaining and mildly amusing, it resonates, mostly as just a contemporary retread of " Robinson Crusoe " ( with little really new or provocative to add to our knowledge of Europe's history of exploitation and brutality). Not until the play's last half-hour, when the hero attempts to teach his tribesmen how to become Christians, to save them from enslavement by the Spaniards, does the evening finally take on a sharp edge, with its comical exploration of religious hypocrisy. Played on a bare stage, Derrah's extraordinary performance is nicely enhanced, by a series of colorfully painted, pictorial and sequential, rear-screen projections ( created especially for his play ) by the author. Now playing through September 16. (My Grade: 3.5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass. is the world premiere of a new musical play, " Letters from 'Nam." Featuring music, book, and lyrics by Paris Barclay, it was adapted from the best-selling book ,"Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam," and is based on the actual correspondence from combat GI's to their mothers, wives and girlfriends. Exploring the day-to-day activities, frustrations and longings of six battle-weary soldiers, it offers us a compelling view into their hearts and minds. Although much of the music has an insistent and sometimes overly repetitive '60s and early '70s stamp to it, several of the major songs, including " Mud & Blood & Water", " ( Mother's ) Lament", ' I'm a Daddy!" ( celebrating that day's good news in the mail ), " There will still be Christmas", (even without gifts or Santa,) and the provocative " I Don't Understand This War," are genuinely memorable and involving. The small seven member cast is uniformly excellent, (both acting and singing ) with high praise for David Burnham as a dedicated helicopter pilot, Rodney Hicks as a troubled and questioning medic, and Levi Kreis as a fully committed career soldier. Maureen McGovern is superb, grandly singing and enacting the show's multiple and varied female roles. Well directed by Ben Levit, it's been strikingly staged by Heesoo Kim, (including actual on-stage rain, jungle-trenches and a harrowingly suspended and convincing caged American prisoner-of-war ). Special notice also for the first-rate musical accompaniment provided by the fine, small, orchestra conducted by Keith Thompson. Although, somewhat overlong, at nearly 3 hours, (including intermission), nevertheless, this heroic and stimulating musical play is fully deserving of the audience's rousing and sustained standing ovation at the show's finale! Now playing through September 23. (My Grade: 4)

The Winter's Tale
Review by Norm Gross

On the banks of Boston's Charles River in Christian Herter Park, is the open-air Publick Theatre's production of Shakespeare's " The Winter's Tale." King Leontes, seething with suspicion, accuses his wife Queen Hermione, of having a romantic involvement with his visiting guest King Polixenes. Denouncing her for adultery, she is imprisoned! Pregnant, she soon gives birth to a baby girl. Although, the Oracle of Delphi proclaims Hermione innocent and faithful to Leontes, he refuses to accept the Deity's judgement and orders the baby to be killed. Act Two, (sixteen years later ), finds the baby still alive, and now, (having been secretly taken to a neighboring country and raised there by a kindly shepherd ), is revealed as the lovely young maiden, Perdita. The passing years have also taken a heavy toll on Leontes lonely and grieving he has begun to reconsider his past decisions. As romance blossoms between Perdita and her newly found sweetheart Florizel, (whom, we discover to be the son of Polixenes ), Leontes soon comes to realize that he was wrong and unjust! Diego Arciniegas, as Leontes, (who's also this fine production's effective director ), is initially, formidible, commanding and unrelenting, and later sensitive and remorseful regarding the calamitous chain of events that he has caused. With fine support from the large 18 member cast. Extra commendation, is also due to Susanne Nitter as Hermione, Stacy Fischer as Perdita, and Nathaniel McIntyre as Florizel. A compelling production of one of the Bard's lesser performed plays, it is nevertheless, one of his most provocative, commencing as it does, from harsh and misguided jealousy, laced with tragic consequences, to concluding with regeneration and forgiveness, framed by romantic fulfillment and optimism! Now playing through September 16. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the Bridge Theatre Company's new production of " Marat-Sade." This legendary play by Peter Weiss caused a sensation at its Berlin premiere in 1964, as it did later in London, Stockholm and New York. The play's actual title, " The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade," virtually spells out this fabled drama's plot. An epic mixture of theatrical styles ranging from " Commedia dell' Arte " to Bertolt Brecht's pre-World War II union of verse, music and speech (directed at the audience ), the drama's action evolves as a play enacted within a play. The murder in 1793 of Marat, a major figure in the French Revolution, by Charlotte Corday, a denizen of Charenton, is re-enacted in 1808 by the patients of this same insane asylum. Both acts, under the supervision of de Sade, ( imprisoned because of his notorious novels celebrating pleasure derived from cruelty and pain ) take place in the institution's bath and massage areas, where Marat, plagued by a skin disease, is housed, day and night, in a bathtub. de Sade directs his inmate-actors while conducting a rambling and impressively philosophical debate with Marat about Society's great social and political issues: radicalism and revolution versus individualism, skepticism and personal freedom. The large cast, well directed by Todd Hearon, features strong performances by Bill Doscher as de Sade, Jeffery Jones as Marat, Anastasia Barnes as Corday, and Melissa Allen as a clown-like narrator. Adam Roberts' striking, original musical score is very well served by actor-musicians Ozzie Carnan, Jr., Ann Carpenter, Erin Bell, and Jacob Strautmann. This is a provocative, compelling and well staged presentation of this extraordinary, complex and memorable masterwork! Now playing through September 1. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the Center Stage Theatre's producton of " Corpus Christi," a new play by Terrence McNally. This contemporary retelling of the life of Jesus, from a totally gay perspective, (denounced as
blasphemous ), caused a firestorm of controversy when it made its New York debut in 1998, with similar reactions when produced, later, in Great Britain.
Set in modern day Corpus Christi, Texas...and following most of the events in his life, Jesus (here named Joshua), as a teenager, attends Pontius Pilate High School, falls short at sports, shows no interest in dating females, and eventually becomes romantically involved with
a classmate named: Judas! Presented as a metaphor for society's historically abusive mistreatment of homosexuals, the play's recurrent theme is that mankind pays only selective lip service to Christ's message. When put to the test, just those, who are officially " approved," are judged worthy of Jesus' love and respect!
Strongly directed by Ron Godfrey and extremely well acted by an all male cast, high commendation is due to Reid Morgan as Joshua, Adam Rosencrance as Judas, and Mitchell George as John, amongst the many others. Surrounded by his gay apostles, ( who portray a wide variety of dissimilar characters ), Joshua's officiation at a same-sex marriage, between two of his disciples, ultimately leads to his betrayal, by his former lover:
Judas, and his crucifixion by homophobic zealots...a victim of bigotry masquerading as religious dedication. Now playing through August 12. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

The Reagle Players Production of " Anything Goes," with book by Guy Bolton, P. G. Wodehouse, Howard Lindsay, and Russel Crouse, and music and lyrics by Cole Porter is well directed by Robert Eagle and Eileen Grace ( who is also the choreographer ). This show was originally presented on Broadway in 1934, became one of Porter's greatest successes, and launched the career of Ethel Merman! Set on a luxurious ocean-liner bound from New
York to London, the dated and silly plot revolves around Reno Sweeny, a notorious N.Y. nightclub performer and her handsome friend Billy Crocker (a stowaway). Billy is hiding on board, scheming to end the forthcoming marriage between the beautiful young debutante Hope Harcourrt and a rich, stuffy British aristocrat! By so doing, with the help of Moonface Martin, a daffy mobster, ( Public Enemy # 13 ), disguised as a clergyman, and Bonnie, Moonface's fast talking, hip-swinging girlfriend, Billy expects to win Hope, for himself. Triumphantly revived on Broadway in 1962 and again in 1989, the show's continuing success is due mainly to Cole Porter's superb score and the production's grand, spirited and captivating tap-dancing ensembles. High praise, most definitely for Karen Murphy as Reno, Chris Warren Murry as Billy, Martina Vidmar as Bonnie, John O'Creagh as the
comic Moonface and the show's many, lovely high-stepping chorines! " You're the Top," " It's Delovely," " Blow, Gabriel, Blow!," " I Get a Kick Out of You!," and the title song , are just a few of the worthy reasons to see this legendary show! Now playing through August 11at Waltham High School in Waltham, MA. (My Grade : 4)

Review by Norm Gross

On the banks of Boston's Charles River, in Christian Herter Park, is the open-air Publick Theatre's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance." This classic comic operetta, first presented in London in 1879, has continued to captivate audiences world wide ever since. Young Frederick has been apprenticed to a band of pirates, and now, as he is about to reach aduilthood, at age 21, plans to leave them. Reassured by his newly found sweetheart Mabel, (daughter of the region's Major-General ), Frederick decides to enlist the local police to take the pirates into custody! However, his plans are comically reversed, when he discovers that he was born on February 29, a leap year. Since now, he won't accurately reach the age of 21, for many years to come, he must still, as a matter of honor, remain apprenticed to the pirates! The many, resulting, topsy-turvy situations threaten, not only to disrupt his romance with Mabel, but also embolden the pirates to challenge the police, with grandly humorous consequences! The large 21 member cast is first rate ( acting and singing ) all, in fine comic form. Special notice for Brent Reno as Frederick, Khori Dastoor as Mabel and most especially Bob Jolly as her Father, the Major-General. Jolly's supremely rapid and fluid vocalization of " I am the very model of a modern Major-General!!" ( one of Gilbert and Sullivan's most beloved " patter " songs ) is one of the show's many delightful highlights. Other grand musical moments should include Mabel sweetly singing: " Poor Wandering One," and the humorous rendering by the bumbling police of " When a Felon's not Engaged". Featuring a fine and amusing word-emblazoned set by Janie E. Howland. Jessica Kubzansky provides strong direction, with splendid, small orchestral accompaniment, conducted by Jonathon Goldberg. This is a delightful summertime treat, recommended for the entire family. Now playing through August 12. (My Grade : 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the open-air Parkman Bandstand on the Boston Common is the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's new production of "Twelfth Night." Shipwrecked twin brother ( Sebastian ) and sister ( Viola ), each thinking the other lost at sea, find themselves ashore and apart in a strange tropical land. Viola, masquerading as a man, seeks service as an attendant in the local Duke's court, and soon discovers him(her)self amusingly and romantically involved with the Duke's beautiful neighbor Olivia, and her raucous cronies Sir Toby Belch and his dipsy friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek, ( good-time, drinking buddies )! As a sub-plot, assisted by Olivia's maid, Sir Toby and Aguecheek decide to play a wild hoax on Olivia's pompous and puritanical steward Malvolio, who has steadfastly attempted to thwart their revelries. The resulting consequences are wonderfully uproarius! Throughout, Olivia's jester Feste acts as a captivating and comic singing narrator. As the play progresses, the mistaken identities and deceptions continue to multiply until, finally, both twin brother and sister are reunited and all the misunderstandings are revealed and set right. Played with grand comic flair, in modern dress, high praise is due for the large, superb cast. Many plaudits for Cheryl Gaysunas as Viola; Richard McElvain as the beer-swilling, Biker-clad Sir Toby; John Kuntz as his foolish cohort Aguecheek; Will Lebow as the hip, Jazz-oriented singing jester; and most definitely Thomas Derrah as the absurdly ludicrous Malvolio! Special notice for Steven Maler's sure direction and Alexander Dodge's delightfully colorful tropical beach-like setting. This splendid sixth annual free, ( open to all ), summertime Shakespearean production, is now playing through August 5. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is Company One's production of "Love's Fire," a series of six short playlets, each written by a well-known playwright and each inspired by one of Shakespeare's sonnets. "Terminating " by Tony Kushner takes its spin from Sonnet # 75, which among other ideas, equates one's lover "as food to life." Here a gay man's weight gain prompts him to return to his former Lesbian psychoanalyst, with only limited comical consequences. Ntozake Shange's "Hydraulics, etc.,etc.," based on Sonnet # 128's "thou (as) my music," is a languid melange of soulful Jazz as the musical backdrop for two young lovers, who are never really able to connect. " 140 " by Marsha Norman ( based on the similarly numbered Sonnet ) sets its focus on a Masquerade Ball in which the masked participants are perpetually and confusedly entangled in a web of deceptions. The bland portrayals of an Artist and his Model in " Painting You," by William Finn (inspired by Sonnet # 102's " wild music burthens" ), fails disappointedly, to genuinely ignite the author's rhymes. John Guare's "The General of Hot Desire," humorously explores two Sonnets, #153 and # 154. First, a group of students try to amusingly fathom the essences of the Bard's poetry and then, later attempt to meaningfully re-enact the Old and New Testaments from the Garden of Eden to the Crucifixion, with telling results!

The evening's Eric Bogosian's " Bitter Sauce," his antic twist on Sonnet # 118, "Love...maladies unseen...faults assured" where, on the night before her wedding to another, a drunken bride-to-be seeks one final fling with a former lover ( a "Hell's Angel " type Biker), with grandly amusing results! Happily, the large cast does reasonably well over-all, with this uneven material. Unfortunately, however, although the general concept is quite promising, the results range from good to just fair. Now playing through August 12. (My Grade: 3)

Review by Norm Gross

At the New Repertory Theatre in Newton Highlands, Mass. is the Shakespeare Now! Theatre Company's new production of " A Midsummer Night's Dream." This is a classic comic fantasy about misdirected lovers on a spree in an enchanted forest ruled by the King and Queen of the Fairies. Hermia loves Lysander, as do their friends Helena and Demetrius. Their Governing Overseer decides otherwise! Hermia must marry Demetrius instead, and to elude this decree, the foursome escape to a nearby woodland where they come under a series of prankish magic spells. Wherein, these confused lovers become amusingly entangled in a maze of mistaken identities, all at the whim of Puck, the Fairy King's mischievous elf! As a mirthful subplot, " Bottom," a loud and bumbling tradesman, and a group of his laborer friends, are also in the forest, rehearsing a play to honor the aforementioned Overseer! However, as his supreme joke, Puck tops Bottom off by changing his human head into that of a donkey, with hilarious consequences! Naturally, all magic spells are lifted and corrected just in time for the play's " happy ending." The large 16 member cast are all excellent, with much praise for Kevin Groppe ( supremely farcical ) as Bottom, Sayra Player as a passionately enamored Helena and Gwen Larsen as the vivid and wildly, energetic and cavorting Puck! Special mention also, for Dan Kelly's strong direction and for his splendid choice of rhythmically contagious Bossa-Nova music to underscore the play's uproarious momentum! Now playing through July 29. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

In the Tower Auditorium at the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston is the Ubiquity Stage Company's production of " Tomfoolery," a musical revue of the songs ( words and music ) of satirist Tom Lehrer. Beginning as an academic at Harvard University in the early 1950's, he quickly became a local favorite because of the many witty songs, which he wrote and performed in and around Harvard. These clever dittys poked fun at everything from the academic world and politics to most aspects of pop culture and American life. As his popularity spread, his songs ( commented on and then sung by him ) were soon readily available as major, big-time recordings and he appeared on National television, as a performer and writer on such TV programs as " That Was the Week That Was " ( better known as TW3 ) and " The Electric Company." However, in the mid 1960's, he retired from the hectic world of show-business, and returned to teaching again, full-time. This splendid retrospective presentation, spotlighting nearly 30 of his satiric gems, offers us an excellent look back at this genuinely gifted and creative humorist. Krista Ernewein, Rachel Peters, Stephen Russo, and Katie Pickett ( all with fine voices, solid stage presence and fine comic flair ) sing, dance and provide droll commentary about Lehrer and his songs. They're all deftly supported by pianist Holly Cameron Ross. A sampling of some of the evening's rollicking tunes should include: " Poisening Pigeons in the Park," " Pollution," ( which advises us, amongst other things: " Don't Drink the Water and Don't Breathe the Air" ), " The Old Dope Peddler " ( remembering the kindly neighborhood pusher who gives the kids free samples ), and the official ballad of World War III..." So Long, Mom!" ( I'm Off to Drop the Bomb!) ..Now playing through July 28. (My Grade : 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass. is their new production of " Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," featuring music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. The plot is based on the Old Testament's tale of betrayal and redemption, wherein Joseph, the favorite son of the Patriarch Jacob, and bedecked in a dazzling robe of many colors, is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers! As a captive in Egypt, Joseph eventually overcomes his misfortunes to miraculously become a powerful minister to the Egyptian Pharaoh, and to later forgive the grievious wrong inflicted upon him! Strikingly staged " in-the round," this is a highly-imaginative and brilliantly-mounted presentation in which music, story and performance are winningly combined! The costumes by Clare Henkel are lavishly varied, colorful and splendid ...and Greg Ganakas' fluid direction keeps everything moving right along! But, paramount to all else, the large cast is uniformly excellent! Josh Tower, in the title role, sings and acts with an abundance of authority and stage presence. Special notice to Michael Berry, who rocks the audience out of their seats, with his explosively comic performance as an Elvis-like Pharaoh, and also to Liz Larsen as the evening's beautiful narrator! Also noteworthy is the delightful NSMT 18 member ( pre - adolescent ) Children's Choir whose combined presence and voices are used throughout to solidly advance the story. This is a well acted, elaborately staged, joyously comic, and musically engaging family entertainment! Now playing through August 12.
(My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Actors Workshop is Theatre Zone's production of " The Real Inspector Hound," by Tom Stoppard. First presented " Off Broadway " in New York in 1972, this short ( one act - 70 minutes ) early comedy, helped to establish Stoppard as one of England's major playwrights. A spoof of the Agatha Christie style thriller, (including all of the usual suspects ), it's set, as expected, in a musty, old English mansion ( as the fog rolls in )...and then takes the unusual form of a" play " being performed within the context of the larger, main play! Two drama critics are attending a performance of a murder mystery, one is a philanderer, the other a second-string substitute, fearful of his job's permanence. As they watch and comment on the play's mayhem, the author ingeniously and amusingly reverses their roles, and the critics suddenly find themselves as comic participants in the mystery they've come to report on! Similarly, cast members, of the " whodunnit," likewise find themselves as befuddled critical observers! Although all the ingredients for a genuinely rollicking entertainment are then in place, unfortunately, several members of the small cast try much too hard for quick and easy laughter, using heavily overblown British accents and overly exaggerated mannerisms, with only very limited results. Here, less would have been much better! Fortunately, the play's denouement is then, surprisingly, well handled by the main players, resulting in an effective and happily comic finale! Mark W. Soucy and Thomas Benton are both fine as the two drama critics and Rachael Rosner as the mansion's haughtily amorous " Grand-Dame," is also consistently amusing, throughout. Now playing through July 28. (My Grade: 2 1/2_At Boston's Actors Workshop is Theatre Zone's production of " The Real Inspector Hound," by Tom Stoppard.First presented " Off Broadway " in New York in 1972, this short ( one act - 70 minutes ) early comedy, helped to establish Stoppard as one of England's major playwrights. A spoof of the Agatha Christie style thriller, ( including all of the usual suspects ), it's set, as expected, in a musty, old English mansion ( as the fog rolls in )...and then takes the unusual form of a" play " being performed within the context of the larger, main play! Two drama critics are attending a performance of a murder mystery, one is a philanderer, the other a second-string substitute, fearful of his job's permanence. As they watch and comment on the play's mayhem, the author ingeniously and amusingly reverses their roles, and the critics suddenly find themselves as comic participants in the mystery they've come to report on! Similarly, cast members, of the " whodunnit," likewise find themselves as befuddled critical observers! Although all the ingredients for a genuinely rollicking entertainment are then in place, unfortunately, several members of the small cast try much too hard for quick and easy laughter, using heavily overblown British accents and overly exaggerated mannerisms, with only very limited results. Here, less would have been much better! Fortunately, the play's denouement is then, surprisingly, well handled by the main players, resulting in an effective and happily comic finale! Mark W. Soucy and Thomas Benton are both fine as the two drama critics and Rachael Rosner as the mansion's haughtily amorous " Grand-Dame," is also consistently amusing, throughout. Now playing through July 28. (My Grade : 2 1/2)

Review by Norm Gross

On the Waltham High School Campus in Waltham. Mass. is the Reagle Players' production of "Evita," the multi-award winning musical play with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice. It made its highly successful debut in London and New York in 1979 and more recently was made into an acclaimed major motion picture. Based on the short and stormy life of Eva Peron, it is the extraordinary (and true ) story of the scandalous young beauty who rose meteorically from a rural childhood, steeped in poverty, to become a supreme political force in Argentina, as the wife of Dictator Juan Peron! A legendary figure ( hailed equally as a Saint by some and as a greedy and power-hungry opportunist by others ), not only in Latin America but internationally, as well, her brief reign was terminated ( quite untimely ) by cancer at age 33 in 1952. Extremely well-staged with strong direction and fluid choregraphy by Kenneth Urmston. ,High praise is due to the first-rate acting and singing by Kerri Jill Garbis in the title role, with equal plaudits for Ronald L. Brown as Dictator Peron and Vincent D'Elia as the radical revolutionary, Che Guevara. Although he was not factually connected with Peron's era in any way, and is more realistically linked to the much more recent Cuban dictator FIdel Castro, Che appears throughout the play, as the evening's primary, singing narrator. Extra mention should also be given for the production's splendid score, including the memorable " Don't Cry For Me, Argentina," " High Flying, Adored," and " On This Night of a Thousand Stars." Now playing through July 21. (My Grade: 5)


At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. is the Harvard-Radcliffe Summer Theatre's production of " A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum."
This classic award-winning musical-farce ( based on the plays of Plautus ), originally made its Broadway debut to much acclaim in 1962, and recently enjoyed a highly successful revival there. With book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, and music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, the madcap plot revolves around Pseudolus, a slave who devises a wild -'n-wooly scheme to
gain his own freedom. Learning that Hero, his Master's young adult son, is smitten by Philia, a beautiful, young, novice courtesan (just arrived and living in a nearby Brothel ), Pseudolus begs for and wins Hero's consent and promise. In exchange for bringing these two sweethearts together, against the
wishes of, not only the Brothel's Master, but also Hero's parents, his henpecked Father and shrewish Mother, Pseudolus will be set free!! To achieve this goal, Pseudolus,then engages in a whirlwind series of topsy-turvy
escapades, most of which backfire, but which ultimately and hilariously succeed! Matt Johnson is consistently amusing and riotously triumphant as the wily and cunning Pseudolus, with splendidly ribald assistance from Scott Rowen as an over-the top, helpful fellow slave. Extra notice also for Kevin
Angle as Hero, Sarah Kerman as his beautiful, but dimwitted sweetheart Philia, and most especially Andy Pasquesi as a pompous and ludicrously vain military Captain. They're all comically and deftly effective...with high praise for Stephen Sondheim's droll and witty music. This is a modest, yet striking and consistently entertaining student production, which delightfully
succeeds, on all counts! Now playing through July 14. (My Grade: 5)

Much Ado About Nothing
Review by Norm Gross

On the banks of Boston's Charles River, in Christian Herter Park, is the
open-air Publick Theatre's production of Shakespeare's " Much Ado About
Nothing." Claudio, a young Italian nobleman, is in love with Hero (the
lovely, young daughter of the Governor of Messina ). He's come to Messina
with his friend Benedick, a confirmed bachelor. Both are in the
entourage of Prince Don Pedro, and soon become embroiled in the
nefarious schemes initiated by Don Pedro's illegitimate brother, Don
John. This same scoundrel then plots to embarass his kinsmen, by making his
follower Claudio believe that his betrothed Hero, has been wanton
and unfaithful! Meanwhile, other complications arise when Benedick
becomes increasingly enamored with Hero's man-hating cousin Beatrice.
Naturally, Don John's wickedness and falsehoods are finally exposed and
all the young lovers are united by the final curtain. The large cast
handle their roles quite well...Rollin Carlson and Robert Pemberton are adept as Claudio and Benedick, as are
Stacy Fischer and Sarah Newhouse
as Hero and Beatrice...and William Church is fine as the despicable Don
John. Likewise, Nancy E. Carroll brings a delightful comic touch to her
role as an amusingly, befuddled constable. Diego Arciniegas' strong
direction and Janie Howland's warm, atmospheric court-like setting,
provides just the right tone for this lively, summertime entertainment.
Now playing through July 8. (My Grade: 5)



Review by Norm Gross

Presented under the auspices of the American Repertory Theatre at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, the Hartford Stage production of
" The Glass Menagerie " by Tennessee Williams. First produced on Broadway in 1945, this classic drama established Williams as a major American playwright. It's now being presented with a renewed depth and challenging insight, in this provocative new production. Set in 1945, in St. Louis, the largely autobiographical plot focuses on Amanda, a middle-aged mother, and former southern belle, ( long since, abandonedby her irresponsible husband ). She now lives modestly, with her two
adult children: Tom, a factory worker, torn by his ambition to become a writer (and strike out on his own ) and Laura, his lame and painfully shy, younger sister, who findssolace in her collection of small, delicate, glass animals. Desperately trying to enhance her handicapped daughter's fulfillment, Amanda is overjoyed when she learns that Tom has invited a male co-worker to their home for dinner. Seen as Laura's " Gentleman Caller," Amanda is filled with hope for Laura's future, emboldened by memories of her own girlhood, when she was the constant choice of many other such " Gentlemen Callers!" The small fourmember cast is uniformly excellent. Elizabeth Ashley is superb as the domineering matron, alternately brimming with memories, false hope and disillusionment, with much praise for Anne Dudek as her fragile and
frightened daughter, Willis Sparks as the superficially confident " Gentleman Caller," and most certainly Andrew McCarthy as the anguished and emerging Tom. Well staged by Tony Straiges under Michael Wilson's assured direction, this is a tender and supremely compelling revival of a legendary masterwork! Now playing through July 11. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass. is their premiere production of " Just So," a new musical play with book and lyrics by Anthony Drewe and music by George Stiles ( the same creative team responsible for last summer's popular NSMT presentation: "Honk!") Their current opus is based on Rudyard Kipling's " Just So Stories. " Set in the jungle, under the guidance of a benevolent Eldest Magican, the Elephant's Child, who's befriended by a helpful Kolokolo Bird, treks through the bush in hopes of confronting the gigantic Crab, who has mismanaged the ocean's ebb and flow. During the course of their search for the great crustacean, in a series of delightfully charming songs and comic interludes, they learn much about the evolution of the animals living there. Dressed in costumes, which obliquely suggest the creatures they represent, we discover how the leopard got his spots, why the rhinoceros developed a thick skin and the elephant grew a trumpet, amongst many others. Tom Demenkoff as the Eldest Magician, Barrett Foa as the Elephant's Child and Garrett Long as the Kolokolo Bird shine perfoming their comic songs and whimsical antics, but the heaviest applause ( a solid audience standing ovation at the final curtain ) goes to Tim Cain as a portly singing and dancing Rhino and Francis Jue and Christian Borle as a hilariously cavorting Asian Chef assisted by his dancing stove! Similar kudos should also go to Michelle Potterf as a humorously trotting giraffe, and also to Stephen Mears for his spirited and amusing choreography which makes such excellent use of the NSMT's arena-style stage. This is a wonderfully diverting and thoroughly entertaining show--recommended for the entire family! Now playing through July 1. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Colonial Theatre is a revival of the legendary award-winning musical " Fiddler on the Roof, " with book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Set in pre-revolutionary Russia, in 1905, and based on the stories of Sholem Aleichem, the plot revolves around Tevye, an impoverished dairy farmer, his wife and five young, unmarried daughters, living together in the small village of Anatevka. Choosing to marry for" love," rather than by the customary parental pre-arrangement, his three older daughters challenge his fundamental values and also the community's sense of tradition. Theodore Bikel returns as Tevye, and having played this role now, more than 1700 times, one marvels at the passion and sensitivity that he continues to bring to the part! High praise also for Susan Cella as his shrewish wife, Golde, and Eileen Tepper as his elder daughter Tzeitel, amongst many others. Special notice also for Jerome Robbins' spectacular original 1965 choreography, now reproduced here by the show's Director Sammy Dallas Bayes, as well as the splendidly atmospheric sets designed by Steven Gilliam based on the original mid-1960's conceptions devised by Boris Aronson. And, of course, let's not forget this show's magnificent music, including " If I Were a Rich Man!," " Tradition," and the poignant, " Sunrise. Sunset." Now playing through June 24. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Lyric Stage is the SpeakEasy Stage company's production of "Saturday Night," a musical play with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Julius Epstein. Written in 1955, while still in his 20's, it was Sondheim's first attempt at writing both, a play's music and lyrics. However, because of the sudden death of the show's original producer, the show went unproduced until last year in New York. This production marks its Boston premiere. Set in Brooklyn, in 1929 ( prior to the great financial crash ), the plot concerns Gene, a Wall Street employee, who dreams of a big stockmarket win. The play's title refers to Gene's weekly gatherings, on his front porch, with a group of his pals. Every Saturday night, they sing and banter about their unlikely opportunities for meeting and dating some young, attractive, neighborhood girls. Later, when Gene eventually does meet a girlfriend, Helen and their romance begins to blossom, he decides to try his big stockmarket gamble. Engaging in a series of crafty and self-serving tactics, using his buddies' money, together with a cousin's ( without the latter's knowledge ) he becomes entangled in a host of disastrous consequnces! Naturally, by the final curtain, a happy ending is assured for the two sweethearts. Although the play's focus takes a bit too long to unfold during act one, once underway, the show's basic charms and engaging music take hold throughout the second act. Jon Mette and Bridget Beirne are splendid as the highly sonorous lovers, with first rate assistance from the young and highly spirited supporting cast, all nicely enhanced by the fine, small accompanying orchestra directed by Jose Delgado. Now playing through June 30. (My grade: 4)

Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.
Review by Norm Gross

At Eliot Hall in Boston's Jamaica Plain district is the Footlight Club's production of " Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean." by Ed Graczyk. Set in the late summer of 1975 in a small, rural Texas town, the plot's focus is on the 20th anniversary reunion ( in a local department store ) of the members of a former James Dean fan club. The play's action quirkily alternates ( featuring several younger actresses ) between their group's original hey-day, back in 1955, when the motion picture " Giant " ( starring their idol: James Dean ) was being filmed nearby, to their current re-assembly in 1975, ( featuring, yet another coterie of more mature players ) when they are all faced with impending middle-age and disillusionment. Naturally, as they begin to reconvene and reminisce, each member of the former club, from " good-time girl " to sweet, young maiden, eventually feels compelled to reveal some dark. hidden secret or come to terms with a major deception! Unfortunately, from the start, much of these revelations are quite predictabe and the play's final resolution ( considering all the preceding shame and remorse ) seemed to be much too pat and unlikely! However, in spite of the play's shortcomings, the small, dedicated cast performed their roles quite well, with special notice for Victoria Taylor, as the club's major deceiver, Kami Crary as the group's "party-girl," and Laurie Fisher as a contented Mother and housewife. Now playing through June 16. (My Grade: 2 1/2)

Review by Dede Tanzer

Ragtime, the four-time Tony Award-winning musical based on the best-selling classic by E.L. Doctorow is in town at The Wang Theatre this week. I enjoyed every minute of it. From the choreography, which starts out as a mechanism to keep the three groups of people seperate in the beginning and ends with a rousing dance number which blends The upper class Protestant family, the Jewish immigrants, and the African-Americans in a spine tingling finally set against a black backdrop. Making this book into a play was the genius of playwrite, Terrence McNally. The music, written by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Aherns moves the viewer on a journey, both real and fictional through the turn of the century. Combined with the fictional characters played by Lawrence Hamilton, Lovena Fox, Jim Corti, Victoria Strong and Joseph Delliger the audience learns about such historical characters as: Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, Harry Houdinin, J.P. Morgan, Evelyn Nesbit, and Booker T. Washington. I would reccommend this musical to, well musical lovers (of course) but also to any of you historians out there. The Wang Theater is history in itself. I thought it was a fabulous setting to view this larger than life spectacle. It's only here for a week, so if you haven't seen it call today! For tickets call Telecharge 800-447-7400 or The Wang Box Office, 270 Tremont St., Boston. Go enjoy and "God Bless America".

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Actors Workshop is TheatreZone's production of " Killer Joe," a new play by Tracy Letts. First produced successfully in Chicago in 1993 and later favorably staged in London, Edinburgh and New York, this production marks its New England premiere. Set in a trailer-home in contemporary Texas, the plot concerns Chris a young, male, drug-runner, in his early 20's; Ansel, his middle-aged, unemployed father; and Ansel's attractive, young, new wife Sharla. Chris, fearing for his life, is in desperate need of a large amount of cash for an overdue drug payment, and devises a devilish money-making scheme, with his father to save himself. Learning that Chris' mother ( Ansel's divorced first-wife ) has a hefty life insurance policy, they decide to engage a professional assasin to murder her! Killer Joe Cooper, a local policeman (and regular assassin-for-hire ) agrees to carry out their plan. However, when Chris is unable to provide him with a large initial cash down-payment, Killer Joe suggests a startling alternative! He'll accept Dottie, Chris' young, virginal 20 year old sister, as a " retainer"-- with surprisingly comic and devastating consequences! Extremely well acted by Ken Flott in the title role, with fine assistance from Joshua Wolkomir as Chris, Rick Carpenter as Ansel, Sarah Isenberg as Sharla, and most especially, Marianna Bassham as "the pure " Dottie. This provocative black-comedy scores memorably under Danielle Fauteux Jacques' assured direction. Please be forewarned: this play's action does involve brief full-frontal nudity ( male and female ), and a brutally graphic, simulated sexual encounter! Now playing through June 17. (My grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston University Theatre is the Huntington Theatre Company's production of " The Amen Corner" by James Baldwin. Presented in association with Chicago's Goodman Theatre, it's once again being directed by Chuck Smith, their resident director. Written in 1955 and first produced on Broadway in 1965, the plot concerns Sister Margaret, Pastor of a small community church, situated in a large room above the Harlem apartment, in which she lives with her adolescent son. Her life is upset when her estranged husband, a Jazz musician, whom she hasn't seen for ten years, unexpectedly returns. Dying from tuberculosis, he begs for this last heartfelt reconciliation with his family. Further complications develop when her son asserts his independence--plannig to leave his Mother's church and embark on a career in Jazz music( like his Father ), while members of her congregation also begin to challenge her role as Pastor. Unfortunately, much of the play's point doesn't come into definite focus until Act two, and as written, is then much too predictable. Happily, very well acted by Pat Bowie as Sister Margaret with strong assistance from Phillip Edward VanLear as her wayward husband. I found Nikkieli DeMone, although certainly a very accomplished actor, as their troubled adolescent son, a bit too mature for the part. The evening's most enthusiastic moments come repeatedly, when the many members ( both male and female ) of Sister Margaret's congregation erupt into more than a dozen joyful, soul-stirring Gospel songs--each time generating a well deserved and impassioned hand-clapping audience response! Now playing through June 17. (My Grade: 3)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. is the American Repertory Theatre's new production of Shakespeare's " Richard II." Set in 14th century England, the plot revolves around the power struggles which define the reign of Richard II, an extravagant and essentially ineffective King. He has banished two Dukes, both contentious members of his court: his cousin: Bolingbroke and rival Mowbray (accused of treachery by Bolingbroke). Richard, always motivated by excess, then embarks on a disastrous war in Ireland and while away Bolingbroke comes back to England, forcibly assumes command and then later imprisons Richard upon his return. As presented here by the A.R.T., the play is now reset in a gay bath-house, replete with a long line of tanned, lean, lithe, be-thonged young men. Richard then makes his official entrance dressed in a gaudy, golden evening gown, his chalk-white, shaven head bearing a miniscule, highly elevated "crown," making him appear more as a " Drag-Queen," than as the Imperial head of state! Under Robert Woodruff's all pervasive direction, the sexual trappings are then relentlessly developed culminating in Richard's imprisonment and death in the bath-house's subterranean pool, followed by Bolingbroke's extended, highly anguished and sexually defined torment! Very well enacted by the large 15 member cast, with much commendation for the strong performances by Thomas Derrah as Richard and Bill Camp as Bolingbroke. Unfortunately, however, the production's heavy, psycho-sexual overtones and embellishments are so complete and overwhelming, that much of Shakespeare's language becomes secondary to this presentation's unusual and highly contemprary focus. Now playing through June 10. (My Grade: 2 1/2)

Review by Norm Gross

On the Waltham High School campus in Waltham, Mass. is the Reagle Players' production of " 1776," the multi-award winning patriotic musical with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and book by Peter Stone. A great success on Broadway in 1969, it was later produced, in 1972, as a major motion-picture (starring much of the original Broadway cast ). Set in Philadelphia, the action revolves around the trials and tribulations of the Second Continental Congress from May to July, 1776. Incessantly goaded by Massachusetts' delegate John Adams, the members disagree, argue, compromise, draft, and finally sign " the Declaration of Independence." Local Boston television personality Scott Wahle gives a strong, vigorous and impassioned performance as Adams. A fine singer, he is equally adept as an actor. The large 27 member supporting cast is likewise robust, all with fine singing voices! Special commendation is due also for John O'Creagh as the paternalistic Benjamin Franklin, Brian West as the youthful, newly-wed Thomas Jefferson ( author of the " Declaration"), Aimee Pilgermayer as his wife, and Elizabeth Walsh as Mrs. John Adams. High praise must also go to Geoffrey Sullivan as a fervent Southern advocate of slavery. Well staged, with opulent interior and exterior Colonial sets supervised by Kevin Rupnik and excellent full orchestral accompaniment conducted by Robert Rucinski. This is a grand and melodious celebration of our country's independence! Now playing through June 23. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Turtle Lane Playhouse in Newton, Mass. is their production of "1776," a musical play about the birth of our nation. Set in May, June and July, 1776, primarily in the Chamber of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, the play's focus is on the contentious issues and ongoing debates which finally concluded with the drafting and signing of " the Declaration of Independence." Central to this struggle, throughout the entire play, is Massachusetts' delegate John Adams. Feisty, belligerent and passionate about his belief in American independence, Adams becomes a persistent thorn in the backside of the other representatives, most of whom are riddled with hesitation, confusion or doubt about autonomy from Great Britain. He's aided and abetted by the amusingly robust and grandfatherly Benjamin Franklin, together with the initially uncertain Thomas Jefferson. The latter did, eventually, proceed to compose the legendary " Declaration." Paul Farwell is superb as John Adams with fine support from Bob Mackie as Ben Franklin, James Tallach as Tom Jefferson, with extra notice for Donna DeWitt as the ever patient and supportive Mrs. Adams, and Diana Doyle as Jefferson's new and accomodating young wife. All are strong in both acting and singing! Much praise also for the historically spirited book by Peter Stone along with the splendid music and lyrics composed by Sherman Edwards. Well directed by Chris Cardone with a genuine and imposing Colonial setting designed by Ronald Dion. This excellent presentation is a solidly enlightening, diverting and engagingly patriotic entertainment for the entire family! Now playing through June 3. (My Grade: 5)

Moby Dick, An American Opera
Review by Norm Gross

At the New Repertory Theatre in Newton, Mass. is their production of " Moby Dick, An American Opera." Based on the classic novel by Herman Melville, this play's title is really a misnomer,as it's much more in keeping with dramatic musical theatre works such as Stephen Sondheim's " Sweeney Todd," than it is with the more complexly elaborate harmonic forms to be found in such operatic enterprises as Benjamin Britten's " Billy Budd," ( which is also based on a Melville masterwork ). Nevertheless, this wholly sung presentation's focus on Captain Ahab's stark and obsessive search on the high seas for the great white sperm whale, which was responsible for the loss of his left leg, is a compelling achievement. Utilizing much of Melville's original text as the foundation of Mark St. Germain's stirring libretto,and abetted by Doug Katsaros' striking music, combined with a first rate ensemble of 13 excellent actor-singers, the power of the play's original source holds consistently true, throughout! Mark Peters is commanding and convincing as the driven Ahab, with solid support from Robin Lister, Michael Kreutz and Dan B. Block as vigorously challenging members of his ship's company. Much praise also for 13 year old Cyrus Akeem Brooks as the " Cabin-Boy," the youngest singing member of the crew! Brilliantly staged ( arena style ) and sensitively directed by Rick Lombardo, with fine orchestral accompaniment conducted by Janet Roma. This is an intense, absorbing and memorable musical drama--well written, well acted, well sung and well staged. It poses provocative questions about life and death and mankind's ultimate purpose! Now playing through June 3. (My Grade: 5)

Ballet Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wang Theatre is the Boston Ballet's presentation of " The Sleeping Beauty," staged by Anna-Marie Holmes (as her final production as the company's artistic director), featuring choreography based on Marius Petipa's original conceptions, and enveloped by Tchaikovsky's glorius music! An evil fairy casts a deadly curse on the lovely young Princess Aurora, and many years later when the wicked hex comes to pass, a good fairy comes forth to shield her with a protective slumber. A century later, the handsome young Prince De'sire', now in love with Aurora, vanquishes the horrific witch, and awakens his beloved with a kiss. At their wedding, they are then joined, in celebration, by a host of well known fairy tale characters. The dancing by Larissa Ponomarenko as Princess Aurora, and Simon Ball as Prince De'sire' is sublime, especially in their exquisitely performed " pas de deux," with high marks also to Sergei Berejnoi as the demonic sorceress and April Ball as Aurora's benevolent protector. All are supremely in top form! Grandly supported by the company's first rate, full orchestral accompaniment, conducted with Jonathan McPhee's assured direction. Plaudits also for David Walker's sumptuous scenery and costrumes, and Mary Jo Dondlinger's highly effective lighting. This is a genuinely memorable performance of this legendary and majestic masterpiece! Now playing through May 20. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Playwrights' Theatre is the area premiere of the Nora Theatre Company's production of " Crave," a new play by Sarah Kane. A major success in England and Europe, and still later in New York, it's here being given its first professional New England presentation. In an intense, intermissionless, hour-long performance, four accomplished players, listed as: A, B, C, and M engage in a dazzling, plot-less cascade of language describing the trials, pain and complexities of contemporary living. As they reach out to one another in a desperate quest for compassion and rapport, they verbally scale the heights and descend into the depths of rejection, anxiety, terror, guilt, misunderstanding and repression...with a fulfilling love as the ever elusive goal! Several quotes from Ms. Kane's text sharply define her compelling message: " Guilt lingers like the smell of death." "Grow up and stop blaming Mother!" "The games we play, the lies we tell...Why can I not be loved, the way I want to be loved?" and " Now that I've found you, I can stop looking for myself!" The ensemble acting by Anne Gottlieb, Eric Radford Weiss, Laura Lanfranchi and Steven Barkhimer is consistently strong and etched in passion under Elaine Vaan Hogue's forceful direction. Played on a bare stage using the full-color detail of "the Hand of God, touching the Hand of Man" from Michelangelo's "Creation," as the background... this superb production effectively introduces us to a new and masterful literary voice from Great Britain (sadly, recently stilled by her own hand! ). Now playing through May 13. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Lyric Stage is the world premiere of a new musical play," The Curse of the Bambino ", with book and lyrics by David Kruh and music ( and additional lyrics ) by Steven Bergman. Beginning in 1986, with an avid Boston Red Sox fan watching ( on T V ) the last inning of the 6th game ( Boston vs. the New York Mets ) of the World Series, then as so often in the past, the Bo-Sox would once again lose! At this point, he's visited by a quartet of ghostly Red Sox " Rooters" (visitors from the past) who throughout most of the 20th century have never seen the Red Sox win a World Series Championship (since 1918)! From the post World War 1 era, when Red Sox owner Harry Frazee, sold the legendary "Bambino" Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees, in each World Series the Red Sox have played, through the late 40's, into the 60's, 70's and 80's, they have recurrently been the "cursed" loser of that final Championship game! Unfortunately, the main plot surrounding the troubling transfer of the fabled "Babe," a tenuous romance between the Red Sox 1920's General Manager and a duplicitous female employee, who's really a "spy"for the scheming New York Yankees, is plodding, cumbersome and very awkwardly resolved! The evening is enlivened, only by a series of stylishly performed tunes sung in the "Boogie-Woogie," "Rhythm 'n Blues," "Disco," and early "Rock 'n Roll" modes, by the aforementioned quartet of ghostly Red Sox rooters, ( all bedecked in hilariously outrageous wigs and period costumes )! Well played and sung by Derk Stearns as the betrayed Red Sox General Manager and R. C. Jacobs and John Davin as the confrontational Red Sox and Yankees owners Harry Frazee and Colonel Jacob Ruppert. Heavy applause should also be given to the grandly, amusing quartet of singing Red Sox "rooters!" With major plot revisions...a less predictable love story and a less cumbersome and tedious " past and present" accounting of facts and statistics about Red Sox history...this show might finally become a winner! Now playing through May 19. (My Grade : 2)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Center for the Arts is the Coyote Theatre's production of "Bash - The Latterday Plays" by Neil Labute. A trio of playlets which explore a variety of horrific crimes which demonstrate the violence the average, upstanding, middle-class citizen, ( given some modicum of justification ) is capable of committing! Each segment ( related to an Ancient Classic Greek Dramatic source ) is performed as a spoken confession to an offstage, unseen listener. In " A Gaggle of Saints," two young Boston College students ( a male and a female ), while visiting New York City for a gala event at a posh Hotel, become involved in a " gay-bashing " incident which results in the gay victim's death. In the second piece," Iphigenia in Orem," a young married businessman, while away from home attending a sales convention, chats with another visitor in the hotel's lobby. As their conversation develops, he eventually describes his fears of a pending job-layoff, the anticipated economic stresses, and his resulting decision not to intervene as his infant child smothers to death, entangled in the crib's blankets. In the final segment, " Medea Redux," a young single mother recounts the events whereby she was seduced and impregnated (at age 13) by her adult teacher. Years later, long after he had abandoned her and their child, they meet again, and as he begins to bond with their son, she sacrifices the child to exact a deadly act of vengeance! Extremely well acted by Scott Barrow, Laura Latreille and Bill Mootos, under Jeffrey Mousseau's vigorous direction, this is a provocative, compelling and troubling exploration of the often thin, ( sometimes non-existent ) line between good and evil. Now playing through May 5. (My Grade: 5}

Opera Review by Norm Gross

At Blackman Auditorium on the campus of Northeastern University in Boston is the New England Conservatory's production of Mozart's classic comic opera, " The Marriage of Figaro." Written in 1784, and here sung in English, the action takes place on a Nobleman's country estate near Seville. The delightful plot revolves around Figaro, valet to the assertive Count Almaviva, who has an amorous interest in the chambermaid Susanna ( Figaro's affianced sweetheart ). Added to this farcical mix are the Countess Almaviva, her former governess Marcellina, and Cherubino, the Count's sexually rambunctious pageboy, amongst others. In the ensuing whirlwind of amusingly amorous complications and confusions, Figaro learns that Marcellina is really his long-lost Mother (!) and does marry Susanna, while the libidinous male page Cherubino ( always portrayed by a female ) is riotously compelled to impersonate a woman, as the demanding Count eventually must accept a measure of humility. The large and excellent cast are all in fine voice with special commendation for Baritone Daniel Cilli, in the title role; Soprano Susanna Uher as his betrothed Susanna; Baritone Eugene Summers as the challenging Count Almaviva; Soprano Caprice Corona as his perplexed wife, the Countess; Mezzo-Soprano Adriane Shelton as the surprising Marcellina and most definitely Soprano Kristina Cook as the supremely comic Cherubino. All of these fine performers are as grand in soaring vocal timbre as they are as accomplished farceurs! Much praise also for the splendid interior and exterior settings designed by Peter Dean Beck and most especially for the fine full orchestral accompaniment conducted by John Moriarty, the legendary, long-time Director of the New England Conservatory's Opera Department, in this, his memorable farewell production. Now playing through April 22. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wilbur Theatre is the London-based Royal National Theatre's production of "Hamlet", Shakespeare's monumental exploration of honor, duty and betrayal. Upon the death of his father, the King young Prince Hamlet's uncle Claudius has assumed the throne and married Hamlet's widowed mother Gertrude, the queen. Claudius has done so to consolidate his authority. Visited by the ghost of his father, Hamlet accuses his mother and uncle of his father's murder and seeks justice. Heretofore, all the major performers of this legendary role have been statuesque, often heroic in gait and appearance. One thinks of Olivier, Burton, Williamson and/or Branagh, as examples. In this production, at first glance, Simon Russell Beale, in the title role, seems an unlikely choice. Short and heavy-set, initially seeming more suited to portray Falstaff than Hamlet. However, we quickly see, in his portrayal, a powerful sense of this troubled young Prince's humanity. He plays him as an "Everyman": hurt, angered, confused and betrayed by those he most loved and trusted. Beale's multi-layered performance is at once etched in sadness and brimming with inner emotional conflict. Much commendation also, for the large, superb, supporting cast headed by Sara Kestleman as Gertrude and Peter McEnery as Claudius. Praise, likewise, for John Caird's strong direction and Tim Hatley's dark, ebony setting which strikingly establishes the drama's properly cheerless and claustrophobic environment. This is a triumphant production in all playing through April 29. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Emerson Majestic Theatre is the new Emerson College production of " Children of Eden, " an uplifting musical play based on the first few chapters of Genesis, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by John Caird. Divided into two acts with an intermission, act one is set in the Garden of Eden, and in song and dance retells the Creation, Adam and Eve, her encounter with the snake and that forbidden fruit and concludes with the banishment of their son Cain after he has killed his brother Abel! Act two continues on with the story of Noah, the Ark, the Flood, the birds and beasts (delightfully represented by a varied assortment of children and young adults wearing creative masks, head gears and costumes), sparked by a crisis which develops when Noah's son smuggles his outcast sweetheart aboard the Ark. Featuring a cast of nearly 50 ( including many children ), this is a very well staged, solidly sung and acted, and colorfully presented, student production. Commendation for Neil Davin as God, Clare Sobotta as the young Eve, Mathew Rocheleau as the troubled Cain, Jonathan Earls as Noah and Lauren Gruet as his son's unfortunate sweetheart. The show's stirring music skillfully moves the story along from its strong beginning, "Let there be," to "The Expulsion," and "The Mark of Cain, " to the second act's rousing Gospel-like conclusion, " Ain't It Good!. Special mention also for Nathanael Chura as the amusing head of the five member slithering snake-body, the fine musical accompaniment conducted by Todd Gordon and Leonidas Nickole's strong staging and direction. Highly's now playing through April 14. (My Grade: 5)

LES MISERABLES Review by Dede Tanzer and Mark Snyder

Okay, have you ever heard an angel sing? Take dozen's of those voices and put them on the stage at The Colonial Theatre and that's about as close to Heaven as you're going to come in this lifetime. This always magnificant piece was done brilliantly. To see this story about the French revolution, and to listen to the exquisite music in the oldest theatre in Boston, is an experience that is hard to describe. The emotions evoked from the sheer joy of this talented cast are beyond expression. The story itself is heart-wrenching. In the words of Victor Hugo, who wrote the novel it is based on: "The ideal is terrifying to behold, lost as it is in the depths,small, isolated, a pin-point, brilliant but threatened on all sides by the dark forces that surround it; nevertheless, no more in danger than a star in the jaws of a cloud". Randal Keith as Jean Valjean had the voice and stage presence to bring the crowd deep into his world. Stephen Bishop as Javert, Thursday Farrar as Fantine, Diana Kaarina ( an absolute beauty with a voice to match) as Eponine, and Stephanie Waters as Cosette deserve rave notice. The rest of the cast- -each and every one- -deserves a hearty applause. There were no weak links in the bunch! The revolving set; the dark and dank lighting, and the music of Claude-Michel Schonberg, were all first rate. Les Miserables will be here for two months. Please click your mouse to and order yours today. Don't miss out on one of the best shows to ever land in Boston!

Review by Norm Gross

At the Hasty Pudding Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. is the American Repertory Theatre's world premiere production of "Animals and Plants," a new play by Adam Rapp. As a snow storm rages outside of a seedy motel room decorated with large, wall-size, pictorial scenes depicting the exploits of Daniel Boone, two drug runners are waiting to exchange a large cache of money for drugs, with an unseen dealer. Although, dissimilar types, they've been partners in such activities now for ten years. Walt, lethargic and moody, lies stretched out on his bed, throughout the play, ruminating on the meaninglessness of his life. He's beginning to see himself as less than human..." almost like a fern or a desert plant! " His buddy, Dan. however is much the opposite. Bursting with energy, he shadow boxes with the wild-life pictures on the wall, exercises with a stretching apparatus and even wanders out, into the storm, in search of some female companionship for Walt. Casandra, a local and garrulous young woman, in the process of ending an unsatisfactory marriage, tries unsuccessfully to seduce Walt. She, like Walt and Dan, also feels isolated and adrift. Their interaction finally results in a sense of purpose for Walt, culminating in a momentous decision by him. Extremely well acted by Will LeBow as Walt, Benjamin Evett as Dan, and Frances Chewning as Cassandra, under Scott Zigler's strong direction. This is yet another powerful, compelling and provocative drama by this young and very promising new playwright. Now playing through April 15. (My Grade: 5)

Opera Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Shubert Theatre is the Boston Lyric Opera's production of Donizetti's "The Daughter of the Regiment." Written in 1840, ( here sung in contemporary English, instead of the original French ), the comic plot is set in the Tyrolean Alps and centers on lovely, young, adult Marie, the adopted orphan of a French Army Regiment ( who was taken under their wing, as a child, after her soldier-father's death ). Complications arise when Marie's plans to marry local villager Tonio ( first thought, by the regiment, to be an enemy spy and later accepted by them as a loyal recruit ) are finally consented to, only to be reversed by the sudden appearance of Marie's newly discovered kin! A heretofore unknown Aunt now plans to remove Marie from her gruff military environment. She'll then be taught the necessary refinements and gain social-status via a class-conscious, arranged marriage--with surprising and highly amusing consequences. Nicely acted and splendidly sung by pert and soaring Soprano Tracy Dahl as Marie; full-voiced Tenor Theodore Green as Tonio; and fine Mezzo-Soprano Dorothy Byrne, as the meddlesome Aunt. Extra notice for Bass Baritone Donald Sherrill's strikingly comic performance as the regiment's leader.The elegant and uncredited settings ( act one: a fine Alpine exterior and act two: an exquisite, interior drawing room ) are both definitely praiseworthy as is the strong, full orchestra, conducted by Stephen Lord. A thoroughly delightful presentation, fully deserving of the audience's thunderous final approval. Now playing through April 8. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the SpeakEasy Stage Company's production of "Snakebit," a new play by David Marshall Grant. A recent Off-Broadway success, it is set in Los Angeles and concerns three young adult friends. Michael, a gay social-worker, upset by a recent break-up with a former lover, is in the process of moving to a much less expensive apartment. Jonathan, an actor and his best friend ( dating back to early childhood ) and his wife Jenifer ( a former actress ) have arrived from New York and plan to stay a few days with him. Jonathan, audacious and self-centered, is in Los Angeles to audition for a starring role in a new action movie that he hopes will become a major career opportunity. He has cajoled his wife into accompanying him for emotional support. She is very upset and agitated because she had to leave their six year old daughter ( with friends in New York ). The child is ill with an unknown malady ( which might be H.I.V.-related ), and unbeknownst to Jonathan, Jenifer and Michael had become sexually involved, shortly before she married Jonathan. How this trio is then able to lay bare their past secrets and confront their current difficulties is revealed in rousing, well crafted and provocative terms! Well acted by Jeffrey Mello as Michael and Adrianne Krstansky as Jenifer; their drama is strongly centered by a riveting and stand-out performance by Robert Pemberton as Jonathan, with additional commendation for Lois Roach's strong direction and Eric Levenson's finely atmospheric set. Now playing through April 14. (My Grade: 5)

Opera Review by Norm Gross

At the Buckley Performing Arts Center on the campus of the Massasoit Community College in Brockton, Mass. is "Opera Allegra's" production of Aaron Copland's folk-opera, "The Tender Land." Set during the 30's in the Midwest, the story's coming-of-age focus is on lovely young Laurie at the time of her high school graduation. Living on the family farm with her Mother, younger sister and Grandpa, an ill-fated love affair develops between Laurie and Martin (a depression-era drifter ). He and his buddy, "Top" are Grandpa's new hired-hands, and as a cloud of misguided criminal suspicion hovers over them, Martin must make a fateful decision about his love for Laurie with momentous consequences! Featuring Copland's stirring folk-inspired score and Horace Everett's compelling libretto, soprano Nicole Coelho and tenor John McGuire shine as the splendidly sensitive and grandly sonorous torn sweethearts. Additional praise for the large, 25 member, supporting cast, vigorously headed by baritone Don Bravo as Grandpa and baritone Jim Jordan as "Top." Commendation also for the fine accompaniment by the 13 member orchestra conducted by Jonathan Cohler, as well as Dori Bryan's sure stage-direction and spirited, folksy choreography! A strong, well sung, well staged performance of this great American composer's only opera. Now playing through March 25. (My Grade:5)

Stage Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Lyric Stage is the New England premiere of "Over the River and Through the Woods," a new comedy by Joe DiPietro. Set in Hoboken, New Jersey, the play features Nick, a 29 year old marketing executive, who has always had dinner at his Grandparents' home ( both maternal and paternal ) every Sunday. When he announces that he's been given a major job promotion that necessitates his relocation to Seattle, it's greeted by them with much surprise and dismay. Since Nick's parents had moved to Florida, long ago, his weekly visits represent the last vestiges of real family life to his Grandparents. Accordingly, they immediately begin to devise various schemes to convince him not to move away! Their highly amusing attempts at some overly obvious matchmaking, almost succeeds and culminates in a surprisingly warm, witty and tender outcome. Naturally, good and grandly abundant Italian cuisine is central to the life of this Italian family, and it too, plays a big role in this highly comic inter-generational clash! The six member cast, headed by Bill Mootos as Nick, are uniformly excellent, with solid praise for Bobbie Steinbach and Ellen Colton as both Grandmothers and Bob Colonna and Dick Santos as their male counterparts. Well directed by Paula Ramsdell, with an effectively cozy setting by Sarah Sullivan, this finely crafted and well acted presentation bubbles, non-stop, with bright, clever and highly amusing dialogue. Now playing through April 14. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Dede Tanzer

What do a guy named Bob and your gynecologist have in common? They both enjoy looking at your vagina. This orgasmic, original, riveting play is the genius of Eve Ensler. She is both writer and star of this one woman show playing for two weeks at the Wilbur Theatre. If you miss "The Vagina Monologues" than you are one. The audience first hears a voice from a darkened stage say "I bet you're worried." From that point on, Ensler takes the audience on a raucous, sometimes scary ride all around and about the vagina. From a typical gynecological exam, to what your vagina would say if it could talk or what would it wear if you were to dress it up, the creativity is more creative and ingenious than anything this reviewer has seen in decades. Ensler is a Pulitzer Prize waiting to happen! Please don't miss it. It would be like having sex and missing the clitoris! "The Vagina Monologues" is playing at The Wilbur Theater from now through April Fools' Day.

Visiting Mr. Green
Review by Norm Gross

At the Leventhal - Sidman Jewish Community Center in Newton, Mass. is the Jewish Theatre of New England's premiere production of "Visiting Mr. Green," by Jeff Baron. A recent success Off-Broadway, the plot revolves around Mr. Green, a headstrong and obdurate 86 year old widower ( whose wife has only recently passed away ). Ross, a young male corporate executive, the motorist, central to a disputed auto-and-pedestrian accident (involving himself and Mr. Green) has been sentenced, in traffic-court, to visit the old man, once-a-week, to help him with his basic needs for an extended period. Although both are Jewish, they have little in common otherwise. Green, a New Yorker, has been embittered and estranged, for many years, from his only child, a married daughter, living with her family in California. Devout and steadfastly fundamentalist, the old man has totally rejected her because against his wishes, she married outside her faith. Ross, ( not yet 30 ) although a successful executive, still lives with his family and likewise, suffers similar rejection from them because he's gay. By openly airing their pain and anguish, a slowly unfolding and touching bond soon develops between them with surprising consequences. Sam Gray and Barry Abramowitz are both compelling as the old man and his youthful visitor under Daniel Gidron's strong and well-paced direction. This is a well staged, tender and affecting character study of two seemingly disparate personalities, drawn together by their common humanity. Now playing in Newton, Mass. through April 1. This same production will then be staged April 6 to May 6 at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, Mass. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Mark Snyder

This comedy, written by Ray Cooney, mixes sex and politics in a very successful way. The action takes place in Suite 648 of the Westminster Hotel in London. Richard Wiley, an aide to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, is meeting in the room with his Mistress, Jane Worthington, the secretary to the opposition party leader Neil Kinnock. The slapstick starts with the discovery of a "body" and continues through musical women, stacked in different suites. The bemused hotel manager, played by Brian Delaney and an enriched waiter, played by Andy Price, get most of the laughs here. Price, especially, does an incredible job at being annoying and parasitic. Delaney is successful at portraying the stern, if victimized, manager. Charles Hughes, as Wiley, has a lot of lines- -some which he tripped on. But in the end, his performance was effective. Lorina Lipscomb, a drama teacher at Solomon Schecter Day School, is attractive and playful in her role as the Mistress, whose husband is hot on her trail. Gary McKnight, billed as "a body" in the credits, comes to life to successfully shine as the pasty-faced detective in the play. But the most impressive cast member was Ben Bacon, as Wiley's assistant George Pigden. Pigden, a man who lives with his mother and doesn't have too many dates, is sought after by three women at once trying to cover for Wiley. The play is fun, well-acted, well-written and wildly entertaining. Don't Miss It!! Playing through March 25th at the Quincy Dinner Theatre, 1170 Hancock Street, in Quincy. Dinner is available with the play, catered by Fasano's of Braintree. It's the best dinner theatre combo south of Boston. Call 781-843-5862 for tickets.

Dame Edna: The Royal Tour
Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wilbur Theatre is "Dame Edna: The Royal Tour," a one-person comedy show, in two acts, devised written and starring Barry Humphries as his wildly hilarious creation, Dame Edna. Australian actor Humphries originally invented this grand, comic, female character, back in 1956, portraying her as an average housewife. He was at that time a member of a Melbourne comic troupe. Over the years, however, as his creation became more and more popular, it has blossomed into a full scale solo performance and has become an international favorite. Now he's bedecked with a huge, silver-to-lavender wig, adorned with glittering, rhinestoned, wing-shaped eyeglasses, complete with strong eye-shadow and mouth painted with hot red lipstick. He's dressed from head-to-toe in a lavish, bright, crimson, sequined gown, finished off by glistening, fashionable, high-heeled shoes. Edna struts on stage and takes complete comic command! Singing ribald songs about her own grandiose importance, while dancing with two, lovely young chorines, and then chatting with members of the audience--all the while, aiming a continuous and devastating barrage of comic insults and put-downs at them. She has the audience roaring with laughter and demanding more! She responds by offering a hilarious commentary about her gay son Kenny, and her deceased husband Norman ( and his incredible prostate-transplant )!! Suffice it, to say, that it all adds up to a grand and total evening of non-stop hilarity! Now playing through March 18. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. is the American Repertory Theatre's new production of "Mother Courage and Her Children." Written by Bertolt Brecht in 1939 ( on the eve of World War II ) it is a searing examination of the devastation, demoralization and dehumanization that warfare demands, not only from its major combatants, but also from all of humankind, on every social level as well! Set in Europe, during the 17th century, as the Thirty Years' War rages, the plot centers on Anna Fierling ( known to all as: "Mother Courage"). She is a petty, travelling vendor, who makes her living by selling victuals and supplies ( while also scavenging from the dead ) on the battlefield. Her customers are the Protestant military, and when conditions later change she easily transfers for profit, to the Catholics. Dependent on the war, for her livelihood, and fearful of the outbreak of "peace," she's assisted by her two adult sons ( who will both die in the war ), and also by her young and sensitive, mute daughter. As the years pass, she meets, and is aided by a disguised Catholic chaplain, a war-weary prostitute and a resourceful army cook. Resolute, even after facing the devastation of her family, she's able, nevertheless, to successfully defend and maintain her itinerant business. Karen MacDonald is superb in the title role, as is the large supporting cast, with much praise for Mirjana Jokovic as her daughter, Paula Plum as the prostitute and Thomas Derrah as the chapain. Commendation, also, for Janos Szasz's forceful direction, and Csaba Antal's striking set ( a massive, movable, steel - ridged wall,with huge, gaping, battle - scarred cavities...flanked by railroad tracks extending out into the audience ). A riveting, memorable and provocative playing in repertory, through March 18. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the Sugan Theatre Company's New England premiere of "This Lime Tree Bower," a new play by Conor McPherson. As in his other plays ( "the Weir," and "St. Nicholas" ) also performed recently in Boston, this play explores a series of interelated monologues, leading to new insights and a fuller awareness. Set in a small Irish seaside town, the drama centers on Joe, a teen-age schoolboy, his older brother: Frank and their friend Ray ( a college professor ) who's dating their sister. Joe stands in awe of Damien, an assertive, fellow-student, who seems to be a social success. Damien appears to do well, not only with his wine-drinking, but also by his apparent triumphs, seducing young ladies. Joe, however, discovers an unexpected and dark side to Damien, that causes him to rethink and question his admiration. Frank, his young-adult brother, decides on a daring plan to help their debt-ridden father by staging a bold daytime robbery. His description of his successful exploit, and its aftermath, is both perceptive and amusing. Best of all, however, is Ray's account of a guest lecturer at his university, and the uproarious complications, caused by Ray's drunkeness, which disrupt their visitor's talk! Extremely well acted by Nathaniel Gundy as Joe, and Ciaran Crawford as Frank, with special notice for Aidan Parkinson's striking performance as Ray, and Carmel O'Reilly's strong direction! This is yet another provocative and entertaining treat from this highly talented Irish playwright. Now playing through March 10. (My Grade:5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Lyric Stage is their production of "No Way To Treat A Lady," a charming new musical with book, music and lyrics by Douglas Cohen, based on William Goldman's novel and the similarly titled motion picture. An "Off - Broadway" success, this presentation marks its Boston premiere. Set in Manhattan in the summer of 1970, the plot revolves around "Plain-Clothes" Detective "Mo" Brummel and "Kit" Gill, an unemployed actor, turned psychopathic serial-killer. Both are very much tied to their Mama's apron strings! "Mo" still lives at home with his nagging Jewish mother, while "Kit" regularly dresses in a variety of clever disguises, to commit his many murders. By steadfastly telephoning "Mo" with advance notices about each of his intended preys, "Kit" hopes to generate big headlines in the N. Y. Times, thereby impressing the ghost of his disappointed mother, ( a former actress ). To further complicate matters. "Mo" also becomes romantically involved with a neighbor of one of "Kit's" victims, Sarah, a "Blue-Blood" heiress! How "Mo" finally solves the case, confronts the killer, leaves his mama's home to establish his independence and ends happily mated to Sarah all goes to make this genuinely delightful show the winner that it is! Very well performed and nicely sung by the small, expert cast headed by Derek Stearns as "Mo," J. H. Williston as "Kit," Robin Allison as Sarah, and most especially Maryann Zschau, who sparkles triumphantly, as both mothers, and all of the murder victims! Now playing through March 10. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Turtle Lane Playhouse in Newton, Mass. is their new production of " Follies,'" the legendary extravaganza with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Goldman. First presented on Broadway in 1971 (with limited success ), it went on to become a " cult " favorite, over the years, finally achieving full success in 1987 with its celebrated London staging. Set at a gathering of "Ziegfield Follies" type performers ( of the 1930's and 40's )on the eve before their famous theatre is to be torn down. The overly lengthy and somewhat sluggish plot centers on two middle-aged couples: Sally and Buddy and Phyllis and Ben. As young performers they saw their youthful love affairs and optimism go wrong with their lives evolving into bitterly unfulfilled marriages. Their reunion now spurs them to, not only re-evaluate their past, but to also face the future with some renewed hope. Featuring many of Sondheim's best songs, which are very well performed and sung by Richard Santos as Ben, Bill Allsbrook as Buddy, Dawn Tucker as Sally, and most definitely Sheila Rehrig as Phyllis. Unfortunately, however, the singing voices of several of the supporting cast members are of distressingly limited and uneven quality. On the plus side, high praise is due for Ronald Dion's opulent sets (particularly, the show's impressive final "Loveland" sequence) and the lovely and elaborate costumes by Richard Itczak, Val Verge and Sloan Perry-Thorne. Now playing through March 16. (My Grade: 3-1/2)

Stage Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the SpeakEasy Stage Company's production of "Floyd Collins," a new musical play with music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, with book and additional lyrics by Tina Landau.First staged in Philadelphia in 1994 and later as an award-winning Off-Broadway production, this marks its New England premiere. It's all based on actual incidents in rural Kentucky, which quickly became one of this country's first major media events. During the winter of 1925, Floyd Collins, a young unmarried backwoods farmer, became entrapped by a cave-in while searching ( 200 feet below ) for an underground cavern that he planned to develop as a money makng tourist site. As his relatives, aided by teams of rescuers, struggled unsuccessfully, to rescue him, his dire predicament aroused a multitude of reporters and thrill-seekers from all over this country. His horrific situation quickly became a carnival-like attraction and the ongoing source of daily nationwide newspaper headlines! Guettel's music, a fascinating blend of Country-Western, Folk and Broadway style motifs, consistently moves Collins' desperate story forward to its tragic conclusion.Much praise for the excellent 13 member cast, ( all with fine singing voices ), and especially for Michael Mendiola, who is quite stirring in the title role with additional notice for Jose Delgado and Bridget Beirne as his despairing brother and sister.Special commendation must also be given to Eric Levenson's highly effective, wooden scaffolding setting.This is a strongly performed, well-conceived and thoroughly compelling musical drama. Now playing through February 24. (My Grade: 5)


Stage Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Shubert Theatre is "The Belle of Amherst", a one-woman play by William Luce, based on the life of Emily Dickinson. Once again starring Julie Harris, it was first pereformed by her on Broadway in 1976 to great acclaim and was hailed then as one of her most memorable performances, for which she received a Tony award. Charles Nelson Reilly, the play's original director, is also now reunited with Ms. Harris for this current revival. (Nelson Reilly's interview with Mark Snyder regarding the play is playing on Live Channel 2 at Emily Dickinson was a reclusive eccentric, never married, and lived together with her unmarried sister in their family's home, in Amherst, Massachusetts, during most of the 19th century. ( She died in 1886. ) A serious and dedicated writer, she wrote nearly 2,000 poems, but only ten were published during her lifetime, the remainder were discovered and printed after her death! Her poetry is liberally intermingled throughout the performance, as Ms. Harris chats with the audience about her father, her mentors, her sister and acquaintances, her life-style, and the town of Amherst. Bubbling with anecdotes and impassioned observations about the natural world, she enthralls the audience with her remembrances of her happy and sad times, interwoven with her innermost yearnings, doubts and fears. This is a genuinely insightful, well defined and thoroughly absorbing solo performance, by one of our most gifted actresses! Now playing through February 11. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wilbur Theatre is a new entertainment entitled, "L'Universe" conceived, written and composed by "The Flying Karamazov Brothers" ( Paul Magid, Howard Jay Patterson, Mark Ettinger and Roderick Kimball ), a well-known troupe of comic jugglers. They began as street-performers in San Francisco nearly thirty years ago. Partnering with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's "Media Lab" in Cambridge, their show is a melange of wildly disparate elements: comedy, music, scientific theory and computerized technology bumping against each other ( sometimes succeeding and sometimes not )! "L'Universe" ( or "Looneyverse" as the troupe prefers to call it ), features them dressed up as Aristotle, Galileo, Newton and Einstein, as they engage in a series of high sounding comic lectures somehow related to Einstein's various theories. This is sprinkled with observations about physics or cosmology, centered on them juggling clubs that change colors in mid-air, swinging musically resonating pendulums, or by bouncing balls from floor to table for unusual rhythmic effects. A large, circular rear-screen acts as a major video backdrop to their antics, featuring a host of multi-media generated capers ranging from the foursome interacting with their own visual images to them playing volleyball with a televised and computerized spinning "global world." Unfortunately, much of their "comic" lectures run on an on--long on words and often short on humor--and several of their audience-involving games ( such as having them all rise and swap seats with each other ) are more labored than comical, adding up to a generally uneven final result. Now playing through February 11. (My Grade: 3)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the Coyote Theatre's production of "Sin," a new play by Wendy MacLeod. First staged in Chicago in 1994 and later successfully presented Off-Broadway, this presentation marks its New England premiere. Set in San Francisco, the plot revolves around Avery, a radio traffic reporter, as she interacts with a variety of friends and strangers before, during and after the earthquake of 1989, trying to find some meaning and purpose in their lives as well as her own. These encounters take on the aspects of "the Seven Deadly Sins," as each is seen by her as a reflection of a particular capital fault. Separated from her slothful husband, ( a Doctor and unrepentant alcoholic ), treated condescendingly by a lustful blind-date, saddened by her proud brother's death from AIDS ( while visiting him in the hospital ), badgered by her co-worker's envy sparked by another employee's promotion, upset by her roommate's on-going gluttony for "junk-food," disheartened by the greedy opportunism of a self-serving businessman and bullied and finally fired by her wrathful Boss, she comes to understand much about her harsh judgements of others as well as her own frailties and failings! It's all extremely well acted by Laura Latreille as Avery, and the fine, small supporting cast who vigorously perform a variety of multiple roles. This is a well-crafted, well-staged, and insightful comedy ( with serious overtones, ) brimming with bright and witty dialogue! Now playing through Feb. 10. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. is the American Repertory Theatre's production of "The Doctor's Dilemma," George Bernard Shaw's 1906 satire about the medical profession and the life and death decisions its practicioners often encounter. Sir Colenso Ridgeon, an eminent physician, has developed a cure for tuberculosis, and because his life-saving remedy is in very short supply, he faces a crucial decision. He's able to save only one of two doomed victims: Dr. Blenkinsop, an elderly well regarded, but impoverished Doctor-friend; or Louis Dubedat, a poor, very talented, arrogant, self-serving and deceitful artist! Dr. Ridgeon's choice is further complicated by his burgeoning romantic attraction to Dubedat's lovely, young wife Jennifer, and his professional colleagues-- a bevy of fatuous quacks endlessly proclaiming their pompous and absurd medical theories! Unfortunately, little of the sparkling wit or incisive social commentary found in most of Shaw's masterworks, such as "Pygmalion" and "Major Barbara" is available here. This is decidely one of his lesser efforts! Ridgeon's ridiculous associates, in this setting, seem overdrawn and very much beyond the medical mainstream. Although it's well acted by the 14 member cast, headed by John Feltch as Ridgeon and Sean Dugan as the conniving Dubedat, this slow-moving presentation ultimately remains uninvolving and somewhat dated. Now playing, in repertory, through March 14. (My Grade: 2)

Opera Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Shubert Theatre is the Boston Lyric Opera production of"Salome," Richard Strauss' controversial masterpiece. Denounced as scandalous at its debut in 1905, it still continues to stir heated debate. Based on Oscar Wilde's play, the plot centers on Herod, the Roman sovereign of Palestine and his stepdaughter, Salome. Obsessively enamored by the imprisoned Prophet Jokanaan ( John the Baptist ), who has rejected her advances, her lust for him turns to a diabolical plan for vengeance. Using her wiles as enticement ( a sensuously seductive "Dance of the Seven Veils" ), she finally convinces Herod, with the help of his wife Herodias ( Salome's mother ) to bring her Jokanaan's severed head, on a silver platter, with horrific consequences. Soprano Marquita Lister is superb ( as beautiful to look at as she is to listen to ) singing, dancing and acting the title role, with strong performances by Tenor Dennis Petersen as Herod; and Mezzo-Soprano Delores Ziegler as Herodia. An additional commendation for the excellent large supporting cast. Extra praise should also go to Andrew Jackness' memorably provocative set ( a looming coffered ceiling over a barren desert ), and the fine orchestra, vigorously conducted by Stephen Lord. All worthy of the thunderous standing ovation given at the final curtain! Now playing through February 4. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Mark Snyder

Quincy Dinner Theatre has been bringing great-value entertainment to the South Shore for many years. I met director George Stevens in the early 80's and have sporadically attended their shows. Some have been outstanding, some average- -but all are well worth the price. Their dinner-show combinations really can't be beat! Through the first weekend of February, they are presenting Nelson Production's "The Legends Come to Life", featuring some excellent shows by performers doing Celene Dion, Neil Diamond, and Elvis- -among others- -very effectively. Some of their acts need a little fine-tuning, their "Mariah Carey" comes to mind. For those expecting a hot babe in micro-mini, they got a middle-aged very talented singer, who could belt out Streisand with the best, but bore NO resemblence facially, in body or voice to Carey. Their "Garth Brook's" impressionist entertained the crowd effectively, but the impression stopped at the hat. But, for a local dinner-theatre, the energy and talent were abundant. Steve Savio, the opener, had a booming voice in the tradition of Englebert Humperdinck and Tom Jones. But his stage presence, and choreography was lacking. Still, overall, the talent is more than substantial throughout the evening to sustain an entertaining evening out. The dinner, which is included in the $40 per ticket cost, included choice of roast beef, fish or chicken. Excellent soup, salad and dessert were also included. The caterers, Fasano's of Braintree, may have been the most impressive thing all evening. Their dinner rated an Oscar from start to finish. Servers were pleasant; dinner was delicious! Upcoming shows (priced at only $35 each including dinner) include the adult comedy "Whose Wife Is It Anyway?" (March 3,4,9,10,11,17,23,24,25-2001) and "You're A Good Man Charlie Brown" on April 28 & 29th, May 5,6,11-13,19&20th, 2001. All shows are at 1170 Hancock Street in Quincy, MA with plenty of free parking. A Great Night is Guaranteed for All! Call 781-843-5862 for reservations.

Forever Plaid
Review by Norm Gross

At the Robinson Theatre on the Waltham (Mass.) High School Campus is the Reagle Players' production of the musical production of "Forever Plaid." First presented,with much success, off-Broadway in 1990, this is a delightful, cabaret-style recreation of the many highly popular male quartet singing groups of the early (pre-rock) Fifties. Like their favorites "The Four Lads," "The Four Aces," "The Crew Cuts," and the Ames Brothers ( to mention just a few ), "The Four Plaids," were on their way, on Feb. 9, 1964, to their first major engagement: ( a Hilton Hotel cocktail lounge ), when they were all tragically killed in a traffic accident! Magically, thanks to a hole in the ozone and assistance from a time-warp, their spirits return now, ( 36 years later ) to perform that unfulfilled show for us! For ninety intermission-less minutes, this winning foursome: Robert Baldwin, Chan Harris, Michael Justis, and Garris Wimmer, employing a wide range of humorously choreographed body movements, take the audience on a nostalgic journey to the past, with such early pop-hits as "Watch What Happens," "Undecided," "Perfidia,"and "Heart and Soul." These tunes are then expanded with playfully amusing salutes to Perry Como, Harry Belafonte, (and others), followed by a hilarious 3 minute encapsulated version of TV's "Ed Sullivan Show," complete with "The Plaids" doubling as tumblers, fire-eaters, plate-spinners, ventriloquists, dog trainers and acrobats!! Under Guy Stroman's spirited direction, this thoroughly engaging presentation scores as a splendid treat for the entire family! Now playing through Jan. 28. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Mass. College of Art in Boston is the Ubiquity Stage Company's production of "I Hate Hamlet," a comedy by Paul Rudnick which premiered on Broadway with some success in 1991. Set in Manhattan, the action takes place in an apartment ( overlooking Central Park ), once inhabited by "the Great" John Barrymore! The plot revolves around Andrew, a television star who's been coaxed by his agent into performing "Hamlet," in New York City's annual Summer "Shakespeare in the Park Festival." Unhappily, Andrew has many misgivings about such an auspicious acting assignment, as does Gary, his television producer. The latter actively wants Andrew's speedy return to the much easier and more lucrative world of TV. To further comedically complicate matters, the ghost of the "Great" Shakesperean star ( visible only to Andrew ), still haunts these premises, and actively cajoles and finally pressures him into accepting and playing this most challenging role. Unfortunately, this production suffers from much uneveness. Although Louis See and Richard Girardi do reasonably well as Andrew and Barrymore, the supporting cast, lead by Chris Cook as Gary (embarrassingly sophomoric ), Deirdre McDavey as Andrew's virginal girlfriend, and Rita Parisi as a bubbly rental-agent are both quite unconvincing! Also, the set, a conglomeration of odd pieces--a staircase, two doorways, and several pieces of furniture placed against a black, back-dropped, stage-curtain--is equally disconcerting, drab and humdrum! A major injection of creative flair is definitely needed here! Now playing through January 27.
(My Grade: 2)

Review by Norm Gross

Now at the New Repertory Theatre in Newton, Mass. is their production of 'The Weir," ( a New England premiere ). This award-winning play by Conor McPherson, premiered in London in 1997 and has since also enjoyed much recent success on Broadway. In a ramshackle pub in the backwoods of Ireland, a group of stereotypical patrons gather on a stormy evening. Jack, a headstrong bachelor; Jim, an officious handy-man; and Brendan, the bar's owner, await the arrival of their friend Finbar, a local entrepreneur who has done well financially. When he does finally appear, he's accompanied by Valerie, an attractive visitor from Dublin. Eager to impress her, their small-talk quickly shifts from gambling and the weather to fanciful stories about spectres, spirits and the supernatural! As each of them tries to relate their tales of ghosts and fairies with the sombre realities of their lives in this desolate region, they come to a deeper awareness of each other. Under Rick Lombardo's strong direction, the small cast is uniformly excellent, with high praise for Richard McElvain as Jack, Billy Meleady as Jim, and Dee Nelson as Valerie, with additional notice also for Richard Chambers' highly atmospheric pub setting. Although, it does take some appreciable time to adjust to the overly thick Irish brogues at the play's outset, once we finally do become attuned to the dialects the insights provided are substantial and quite rewarding! This production will be playing in Newton, Mass.through Feb.11 and then, again, at the Orpheum Theatre, in Foxboro, Mass. Feb. 16 - 25. (My Grade: 4)


The Phantom of the Opera
Review by Dede Tanzer

"Be still my heart," are the words that swirled around my brain and kept me up half the night after seeing the magnificent, heart wrenching performance of "The Phantom" last night at the Wang Center. The voices are haunting, the sets electrifying, the costumes colorful and the story intensely romantic and engrossing. This is a MUST SEE production with Rebecca Pitcher reprising her Broadway role as Christine Daae. Her voice blends perfectly with Ted Keegan who also comes to us from the Broadway production to play The Phantom. Just when you think you can no longer take the incredible beauty of their voices in comes John Cudia who plays Christine's childhood love, Raoul. The three join voice for the first time in the song "Angel of Music" and yes G-d, I do believe that the angels had something to do with this production. It was as heavenly an evening as I've ever spent in the theater or anywhere else for that matter. Phantom is playing at the Wang Center for a six week engagement through Saturday, February 24. The schedule is Tues. through Sat. evenings at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday evenings at 7:30 p.m. with matinees Sat. and Sun. at 2:00p.m. There are also some additional performances. Ticket prices run from $16 to $71. They can be purchased at the box office Mon.-Sat from 10:00a.m-6:00pm, through TeleCharge at 800-447-7400 (24 hours a day) or at


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Lyric Stage is their new production of "The Complete History of America (abridged)"by Adam Long, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor. It is a free-wheeling,farcical survey of our country's evolution from Amerigo Vespucci and Columbus to Reagan, Clinton and even George Bush (Sr.and Jr.)! Continuing on in the same style as the earlier "Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)," act one quickly progresses from the Pilgrims, the Boston Tea Party, and Valley Forge to the Bill of Rights, Lewis and Clark (as a snappy Vaudeville duo), the Slave Trade, and the contest between the industial North versus the agrarian South culminating in the Civl War, the end of slavery and Lincoln's assassination. All of this performed at breakneck speed employing a multitude of amusing wigs and costumes donned by a trio of talented farceurs: Neil Casey, Christopher Thorn, and Phillip Patrone. Act two continues on in much the same manner, through World Wars One and Two, Prohibition, the Great Depression, the rise of "pop" entertainment (via Movies, and Network Radio and TV), and the Cold War from start to finish, (including McCarthyism, JFK, Viet Nam, Nixon, Watergate and even Jimmy Carter and the Iran hostage crisis) perfomed as a fast-paced series of comic skits parodying Cowboy movies, Radio and TV sitcoms and quiz shows, Private-Eye mysteries and Dr. Seuss' stories,...all adding up to a direct score on the audience's funnybone!! Now playing through February 3. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston University Theatre is the Huntington Theatre Company's production of Ibsen's "Hedda Gabler." Originally staged last summer at the Williamstown (Mass) Theatre Festival, it's once again being masterfully directed by Nicholas Martin, in a new adaptation by Jon Robin Baitz.

Set in Norway, near the turn of the 20th century, the plot centers on the titled character, a headstrong, assertive and controlling young woman. Bored by a loveless marriage, and contemptuous of George Tesman, her conventional and adoring husband, she takes pleasure tantalizing and deluding him. She is still fascinated by Eilert Lovborg, a former lover, a young, intellectual firebrand, on the brink of publishing a daring and custom-shattering testament! Envious of Lovborg's involvement with a young and attractive former schoolmate,whom she considers unworthy, Hedda schemes to reassert her dominance over Lovborg with tragic and disastrous consequences. The small cast is uniformly excellent with especially high praise for Michael Emerson as Tesman and David Lansbury as Lovborg. Kate Burton is compelling in the central role, giving a riveting and multi-layered performance, brimming alternately, with subtlety and power. Much commendation should also go to the spacious and elegant drawing-room set designed by Alexander Dodge. A splendidly insightful and brilliantly rethought presentation of a legendary playing through January 28. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

In a brief and now concluded engagement at the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. was the Harvard-Radcliffe Drama's production of "The Firebugs." Originally written by Swiss playwright Max Frisch as a radio-play in 1953, he later expanded it for the stage in 1958. An allegorical fantasy, suggesting the rise of Nazism, (here in translation by Michael Bullock),the fanciful plot revolves around Biedermann, a self-satisfied, average businessman, careful, conformist and content with the status-quo. Without warning, he begins to feel that he and his belongings are being endangered by an agressive band of street people, who are bent on changing society by torching it! He then tries to befriend this gang of "firebugs," in hopes of dissuading them from their destructive mission. Confident of success, he even willingly consorts with the Devil, having convinced himself that his new associate poses no threat! Unfortunately, however, all of his efforts result in, not only, his own destruction, but also that of his wife, and all of their possessions, as well. The play concludes with Biedermann in Hell, petitioning the Devil, for the redress of the damages he and his wife have suffered! The simple setting, involving a continuous series of photographic slide - projections (chronicling many of the past century's tumultuous events) acts as a highly effective backdrop for the play's action. Alexis Burgess as Biedermann, and Reihan Morshed Salam as his Devilish accomplice, although occasionally a bit too shrill and exaggerated, otherwise handle their roles well with fine assistance from the expressive student cast, headed by the small, animated,effective, "Greek Chorus" acting as "Firebugs" bent on setting the world aflame! (My Grade:4)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Shubert Theatre is the new touring production of "Godspell." This much acclaimed musical retelling of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, is now radically restructured and updated from its original Off-Broadway presentation of nearly thirty years ago. Gone is the simply defined urban,back-yard setting,centered by a harlequin-like Jesus, surrounded by a small band of faithful followers. Now reset against a towering mountain of abandoned television sets and computer screens...Act one is a joyful succession of the show's fine songs ( "Day by Day," "Save the People," etc. ), all newly arranged, together with the sparkling repartee...defining, not only Jesus and his message, but also his disciples and their mission. Act two then concludes with the drama of the Passion Story, focused on the interrogation of Jesus, the Last Supper, His Betrayal, Crucifixion,and Resurrection. Additional contemporary music and lyrics by Jay Hamburger and Peggy Gordon, now complement the original words and music of Stephen Schwartz. Much praise must go to the exhuberantly talented cast of ten youthful performers, headed by Joseph Carney as Jesus, ( with special mention for Natalie Joy Johnson and Michael Yuen as two of His vibrant helpers ). All shine against the spectacular myriad of colorfully electronic closed-circuit special-effects, including green- screen rear projections, and a multitude of contemporary show-biz references and jokes! This is an exhilarating modernization of a memorable classic, fully deserving of the audience's thunderous approval at the final curtain. Now playing through January 7. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Harvard University's Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. is the 30th annual production of "The Christmas Revels." The front porch of a humble, rustic, Appalachian cabin in the late 19th century is the simple setting for an evening of lively rural Christmas country song-and-dance featuring, amongst others, the 12 member "Smoky Mountain Dancers" ;the 36 male and female: "Roaring Gap Chorus"; and the 16 delightful singing and dancing "Rocky River Children's Ensemble." Sheila Kay Adams, a warm and folksy singer and story-teller from North Carolina; Janice Allen, a vibrant and full- voiced African-American singer and David Coffin, a lively, engaging and audience-pleasing interlocutor, set the evening's finger-snapping and toe-tapping tone! Amongst the show's many memorable moments are "The Silver Leaf Gospel Singers," ( a soulful septet of elderly, male African-Americans ) sadly reminding us of the despair of slavery and then stirringly uplifting the cheering audience with their solid renditions of "Shadrach," and "Swing Down, Sweet Chariot," followed by the brightly costumed "Sourdough Mummers," performing their raucous playlet, harkening back to ancient Anglo-Saxon harvest and fertility rites. Lively Christmas musical accompaniment is provided by a splendid small brass ensemble, together with a spirited seven-piece string band. This is a thoroughly joyful holiday family entertainment, featuring a large and enthusiastic company of captivating mature and youthful performers, singing and dancing traditional seasonal American folk-songs, old-time hymns and inspirational spirituals. Now playing through December 30. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. is the American Repertory Theatre's production of "Three Farces and a Funeral," Robert Brustein's adaptation of a trio of Chekhov's best known comedies, together with dramatizations of several somber episodes between Chekhov and his actress wife Olga, derived from the author's written letters. The one-act plays are performed as zany, over-the-top, hilarious, slapstick pieces! "The Proposal" finds a timid, middle-aged suitor visiting his elderly neighbor, to propose marriage to his ungainly daughter. Before he's able to do so, their preliminary conversation erupts into a riotous dispute over property rights ( focused on a small tract of land separating their two neighboring estates ). In "The Bear" a boorish extrovert demands immediate repayment from a widow of her deceased husband's debt. Unable to comply, the two face each other, preparing for an absurd duel! "The Wedding" centers on a marital reception, featuring a fully-pregnant bride, a grotesque groom, a host of foolish celebrants and a very important guest, who is later, discovered to be of minor repute. The juxtaposition of the three boisterous comedies against the poignant moments from Chekhov's actual life, culminating in his early and torturous death from tuberculosis, form a striking study in contrasts. The large cast, headed by Jeremiah Kissel, ( superb as both Chekhov and the embattled suitor ), Mirjana Jokovic ( as wife, Olga and the contentious bride-to-be ) and Remo Airaldi as the later, ludicrous bridegroom (amongst many, many others) are all memorable under Yuri Yeremin's rousing and highly creative direction. Now playing, in repertory, through January 14. (My Grade:5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wilbur Theatre is "Fully Committed," a new comedy by Becky Mode. A recent major success Off-Broadway, this one man show is set in the basement of one of New York's most sought after "four-star" restaurants. Sam, an unemployed, hopeful actor works there as the telephone receptionist. In an astonishingly versatile performance, Mark Setlock portrays more than three dozen potential customers, voicing each side of every bombastic telephone call. It is his responsibility to inform the multitude of callers...mobsters, Hollywood celebrities, demanding socialites, foreign notables and high-fashion models, amongst many others, who try to cajole him into giving them a reservation, that the restaurant is "fully committed" (booked in advance, for two months)! He must, also, contend with and/or challenge the dining room's dictatorial chef, unctuous maitre d' and conniving and double-dealing co-workers. Setlock is able to deftly change from Sam to each of the myriad of rambunctious callers, with amazing fluidity, using a wide variety of voices, body movements and assorted facial expressions...all totally worthy of the audience's thunderous standing ovation, at the final curtain. Well directed by Nicholas Martin, with dramatically effective lighting changes by Frances Aronson and an appropriately disorderly basement setting by James Noone...this is a provocative and grandly comic view of the many sides of Manhattan's restaurant-dining "upper crust!" Now playing through January 7. (My Grade:5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. is the American Repertory Theatre's new production of the classic Greek tragedy,"Antigone". Written by Sophocles, and first staged 25 centuries ago, this current presentation is now tanslated by Robert Fagles. In the aftermath of a bloody civil war, two princely brothers ( one loyal to the throne, the other opposed ) have slain each other in a battle to determine which of them should become King. After assuming the crown, their uncle Creon then decrees that the loyal brother be buried with full military honors, while his traitorous sibling be left unburied as dishonored carion! Antigone, the deceased conspirator's sister defies Creon and buries her disgraced brother. By challenging the State, she contends she's carrying out the will of the Gods. Creon then angrily sentences her to death and is vigorously challenged, first by Ismene ( Antigone's sister), and later, even by his son Haemon. The acting by the large cast is striking and quite energetic with strong performances by Ayson Celik as Antigone, John Douglas Thompson as Creon, with extra mention for Thomas Derrah as an assertive sentry and Alvin Epstein as a cautioning, blind seer. Provocatively directed by Francois Rochaix, this contest pitting the individual versus the State features superb ensemble acting, a diverse and engaging use of the chorus and simple yet starkly effective staging. Now playing, in repertory, through January 17. (My Grade:5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Copley Theatre is the Firefly Productions' revival of the highly popular "Santa Land Diaries." Adapted by Joe Mantello from a humorous monologue, it was written and first performed in 1966 by author David Sedaris on National Public Radio. Successfully staged in 1968 at the Boston Center for the Arts, it's once again being enacted by John Kuntz, now recreating his original solo performance. As an unemployed 33 year old, who has taken on a holiday job, at New York's "Macy's Department Store," as a costumed "elf" named "Crumpet" in "Santa Land," the evening progresses as a series of cynically hilarious observations by the star about the more absurd and hypocritical as- pects of the Christmas season, as they exist within a highly commercial setting. From the initial 8 hour training day ( with 50 other elves), and the hordes of frantic parents vying for photo opportunities for their bratty kids, with the store's "Santa Clause," to the startling notion of "Santa" as an anagram for "Satan," and the surprisingly poignant moment (near the final curtain), in which Santa's real purpose is briefly revealed, this is a thoroughly engaging presentation! Well directed by Steven Maler, with fine, expressive lighting by John Malinowski, and an appropriately colorful, toy- strewn and festive set by Kristie Thompson... the evening riotously sparkles and soars with each comic step that its solitary and gifted star takes! Now playing through December 31. (My Grade: 5)

Ballet Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wang Theatre is the Boston Ballet's 36th annual production of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker." Based on Hoffman's classic fairy tale, set in the late 19th century, the story follows sweet, young Clara and her Christmas-toy Nutcracker ( transformed into a dashing young prince ) as he vanqiishes an army of mice and then escorts her to the enchanted "Palace of Sweets," where she is dazzled by an array of unusual and fanciful dancers. Lyn Tally and Alex Lapshin shine as the graceful "Snow Queen and King," followed by Jennifer Gelfand and Yury Yanowsky performing a spirited, sweet "Chocolate" duet. Reagan Messerleading a vigorous ensemble of "Russian" dancers, and Pollyana Ribeiro beautifully pirouetting as " the Dew Drop Fairy,"are most memorable, amongst many others! All of this finally culminating in a luminous " pas de deux" by April Ball and Simon Ball as "the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier." High praise for Helen Pond and Herbert Senn for their varied and opulent sets, David Walker's splendid costumes, and most especially for Daniel Pelzig's newly revised and creative choreography. This is a noteworthy, quite elegant and genuinely captivating Holiday treat for the entire family! Now playing through December 31. (My Grade: 5)

Christmas Time
Review by Norm Gross

On the Waltham High School campus in Waltham, Mass. is the 18th edition of the Reagle Players' annual "Christmas Time" presentation. A series of songs, dances and elaborate production numbers, featuring a mammoth assemblage of talented performers, both very young, youthful and adult. This huge cast consists of 36 tiny tots, 75 pre-adolescent elves, 19 juveniles, 42 teen-agers and 29 adult dancers, all singing and dancing in grand style. Guest soloist Elizabeth Walsh leads the group. Her extensive credits include the New York City Opera, appearances at New York's City Center and national television. Most memorable of the evening's 15 holiday sequences are: Ms. Walsh's beautiful renditions of "The Most Won- derful Birthday of All," and "Gesu Bambino" , plus "The Teddy Bears' Nutcracker" ( in which an abbreviated version of the seasonal favorite is reset in a contemporary toyland ). There is also a delightful recreation of puppet Kermit the frog, by Buddy Bergeron singing some Christmas favorites. The evening's high points also include an extensive corps of spirited, young women, handily performing "The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers," ( after the fashion of the Radio City Rockettes ). Followed, in conclusion, by a sublime series of re-enactments in period costume, complete with full scale stagings of the Biblical settings, all beautifully re-telling the events of the Nativity. All of this complemented by a large and fine orchestra conducted by Brent Ferguson. This grand holiday entertainment is now playing through December 10. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the New Repertory Theatre in Newton, Mass. is their production of "Stonewall Jackson's House," a new play by Jonathan Reynolds. A recent "Off-Broadway"success, it caused some controversy during its initial engagement and still continues to do so. The first scene is set in the Confederate General's home where a dispirited African-American tour guide is escorting several average tourists through the historic site. While discussing the pre-Civil War era, "when (as she says) at least, they all had jobs" she concludes, after a while, that maybe a life, without responsibilities, might not be such a bad idea.She then asks one of the tourists (an Ohio farmer) to engage her as his slave! Scene two reveals that the preceding was, in actuality, just a new play being considered by a non-profit theatre group. After the liberal production-staff denounces it as racist, they challenge the author in verbal skirmishes in which his work is upbraided as noxious and destructive. The second act extends the verbal battles, with the original African-American actress (now disclosed as a conservative) re-examining the rationale of the victim's mind-set, by questioning the reasoning against, not only racism, but also all other ethnic, religious and sexist prejudices! Unfortunately, act two continues on, at great length, in this manner, with a series of very verbose and exhausting anti-climactic scenes, culminating in a re-written and much tamer begiinning play. All of this very well performed by the effective five member cast, with much praise for Laiona Michelle as the major provocateur. Now playing through December 17. (My Grade: 3)

Play Review by Norm Gross

At the Quannapowitt Players' Theatre in Reading, Mass. is their production of "Don't Dress For Dinner," a French farce by Marc Camoletti, adapted into English by Robin Hawdon. A great success in London, in the early 90's, it fared equally here in America. During a weekend at Bernard and Jacqueline's country home (just outside of Paris), Jacqueline plans to visit her Mother, while Bernard hopes to use this opportunity to have his mistress spend the weekend there, with him, while his wife is away. He recruits Robert, his oldest friend, to also join them, just in case an alibi is needed. Bernard has also hired Suzette, a specialty cook, to cater the weekend's dinner. Everything seems to be going just fine, until Jacqueline, unexpectedly, changes her mind, and decides to stay! Her surprising shift causes an hilarious swirl of misunderstandings and confusions. To avoid Jacqueline's discovery of Bernard's infidelity, he introduces his mistress as the cook and later identifies the cook as his best friend's niece! All the while, Bernard doesn't realize that Jacqueline is best friend Robert's mistress! With each elaborate falsehood, the misconceptions steadily grow wilder and wilder, until complete pandemonium results with riotously amusing consequences. The small six-member cast, all perform their roles with high comic gusto, under Ronald Wackowskli's spirited direction. Special notice for Mark Cafazzo and Carissa Burkhart as Bernard and Jacqueline with extra mention for Candy Goff as Suzette, the cook.This is a frothy, sparkling farce, well staged and vividly performed! Now playing through December 9. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Brandeis University's Spingold Theatre in Waltham, Mass. is their production of "Major Barbara." Written by George Bernard Shaw in 1905, it is widely considered to be one of his greatest plays. As with most of his dramas, we again have the airing of attitudes and/or philosophies that still reverberate,even today, a century later. By becoming an officer in the Salvation Army, Barbara, the daughter of Andrew Undershaft (one of the world's wealthiest and most influential munition makers)has tried to remove herself from the world of money and power that her father represents. Thus begins a clash between those, like her, who, by their own self-sacrificing example, seek to help society's less-fortunate and those who, instead, dominate society by the sheer force of their wealth and authority. In a brilliant verbal whirlwind of discussion and contention, she's finally disillusioned and swayed, feeling compelled to return to the social values and materialism of her father's world. Throughout, we are beguiled by Shaw's dazzling ability to express a multitude of seemingly contradictory positions, not only with clarity but also with supreme wit! Under Jacques Cartier's solid direction, the capable fourteen member cast does quite well, ably led by Marianna Bassham in the title role, with Malik El-Amin,excellent, as Undershaft. Much audience applause for Joe Pew's fine set designs, and most definitely for his striking and supremely effective finale in Undershaft's munitions factory dominated by a chilling display of heavy weaponry! Now playing through November 19. (My Grade :5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wheelock Family Theatre is their production of "Hello, Dolly!" featuring book by Michael Stewart with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. It opened triumphantly on Broadway in 1964 and was made into an equally successful movie in 1969. Based on Thornton Wilder's, "The Matchmaker," the plot, set in 1890's Yonkers, N.Y.and New York City, revolves around Dolly, the town's prime marriage broker and leading, middle-aged widow. She has set her sights on Vandergelder, the community's general store owner and wealthiest bachelor.Their story becomes complicated when Dolly arranges a match-making trip for Vandergelder to New York City, while his two young, underpaid store clerks, unbeknownst to him, also decide to sneak off to the big city, with amusing confusions and consequences. Naturally, in the end, all the mix-ups are resolved, when Vandergelder finally proposes marriage to Dolly! Well directed by Jane Staab, with highly economical, yet efficient sets by Rick Mauran, commendation should also go to Marian Piro's fine period costumes.Robin Allison and Robert Saoud are both excellent as Dolly and Vandergelder with extra notice also for Bill Monnen and Byron Darden as the two frollicking clerks. Also, solid appreciation for the show's deligtful songs, such as "So Long Dearie," "It Takes A Woman" and the ever-popular title tune! Now playing through November 26. (My Grade: 4)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wang Theatre is the new national touring company's splendid production of "Annie". This multi-award winning musical , which opened triumphantly on Broadway in 1977, features a book by Thomas Meehan and music by Charles Strouse with lyrics by Martin Charnin (who also directed). Based on the legendary newspaper comic strip, the plot owes more to Charles Dickens than it does to Harold Gray ("Annie's" cartoonist-creator). Set in 1933, in a Depression-era orphanage managed by Miss Hannigan, a despicable, often drunk, tyrant. It features eleven year old Annie, recaptured after trying to escape who hopes someday to be reunited with her long-lost parents. Billionaire Oliver "Daddy" Warbucks wants an orphan to spend Christmas with him and his lovely secretary chooses Annie. All is well, until Miss Hannigan (aided by her villainous brother and his girlfriend ) try to pose as Annie's missing parents, scheming for some big reward money, with surprising results! Much praise for Annie's accomplished, singing and dancing orphanage-mates led by captivating seven year old Tracy Brancifort. Victoria Oscar as Miss Hannigan and David Reynolds as Warbucks shine with grand voices and much style, performing many of the show's fine songs such as: "Easy Street," "Mayvbe," and the hope-filled, "Tomorrow." Surprisingly, Dana Benedict's singing, in the title role, initially seemed strained and occasionally off-key, but improved as the evening progressed! Now playing though November 12. (My Grade:4)

Review by Norm Gross

Now playing through November 26 At Boston's Huntington Theatre is their new production of Jon Robin Baitz's " A Fair Country." A major New York success in 1996, it's set in the 70's and 80's, with the plot focused on the family of an American diplomat: The Burgesses. Patrice is the sharp tongued, self-sacrificing matriarch, Harry, her husband, a mid - level career diplomat, who feels trapped in minor "third world" assignments and their two sons: Alec, a radical journalist, visiting them, from New York City and his younger brother: Gil, who's divided between remaining at home with his parents or leaving. Act 1, set primarily in Durban, South Africa is mainly expository and a bit too tenuous! The drama's focus doesn't really take hold until Act 2. It is not until then, now set in the Hague, Holland, that the plot begins to come together. The family discovers that the prospect, of a prime diplomatic transfer, had spurred the father to provide confidential information to the South African aithorities. His betrayal of the anti-apartheid movement, exposes their fragile relationship and ignites the crisis which will ultimately devastate them. Well acted by the fine 8 member cast, Pamela Payton-Wright is especially strong and compelling as the confused and assertive mother with additional praise for Frank Converse as the anguished, self-serving father. Much commendation also for Mark Wendland's spare and contemporary settins. . (My grade :4)




Review by Norm Gross

Now at the Balch Arena Theatre at Tufts University in Medford, MA. is their production of "Hayavadana", an allegorical drama with comic undertones, by Girish Karnad, a prominent Indian playwright. Based on an Indian fable, the story unfolds as a philosophical riddle in which a young woman's anxious husband, after consulting the goddess Kali, beheads himself because of his suspicions concerning his beautiful wife's attraction to his handsome best friend! Upon discovering the headless body the friend also beheads himself! The wife is then dissuaded from beheading herself by this same goddess..By rejoining the heads to the bodies, the deity will restore them to life. Unfortunately, in her haste, she confuses the heads with the wrong bodies! The play then poses the dilemma: which of the two is the real husband? The twelve member student cast does very well in enacting this exotic puzzle in a lively series of vivid declarations, songs and dances. Special commendation for Sejal Parekh as the uncertain wife, with much approval for Aron Epstein as the husband and most definitely for Charlie Semine as his comical and highly energetic friend! High marks also for Carson Eddy's attractive Indian-style costumes, the colorful masks and hand-puppets created by Wanda Strukus, and especially for Samrat Chakrabarti's fascinating Indian musical accompaniment. However, at more than three hours' performing time, some editing would be greatly appreciated!...Now playing through April 15. (My Grade: 4)

Camino Real
Review by Norm Gross

Tennessee Williams "Camino Real" is now playing at Brandeis University's Spingold Theatre in Waltham Mass. First produced on Broadway in 1953, this early dramatic fantasy stands quite separate from Williams' previous and subsequent plays. Set in an existence beyond time,somewhere between land and sea,it is (to quote the program notes) en route from Tangiers, Havana, Shanghai, Piraeus and Shangri-la to many other such exotic destinations. Its residents, all mired in hopelessness and despair, are seeking to escape but are unable to do so. Comprising an extraordinary historical and literary assemblage including Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Lord Byron, Casanova and Dumas' heroine Camille - and chief amongst them Kilroy, World War II's quintessential G.I. "Everyman"! Clinging to the glories of their legendary pasts, they are now dismissed and defeated at every turn, confronted only with their own mortality...Much praise for the large 30-member student cast, with special commendation for Jeffrey Calloway as Kilroy, Julie Jirousek as Camille and Juan Luis Acevedo as Casanova - and also for Kenneth Goldstein's warm, decaying multi-level mediterranean-style setting and Zanko Tomic's sure direction. However, a performance time of three hours plus (including a brief intermission) undercuts the play's over-all impact! Some well-placed and judicious editing would be of great benefit, Now playing through April 16th. (My Grade: 3-1/2)

The Judas Kiss
Stage Review by Norm Gross

Now at Boston's Lyric Stage is their new production (an area premiere) of "The Judas Kiss," a new drama by David Hare, which explores the two major periods that define playwright Oscar Wilde's disastrous and self-destructive relationship with the youthful Lord Alfred Douglas (know as: "Bosie"). Act one centers on the great writer, who having lost his libel suit against Bosie's father (the Marquess of Queensberry) now faces imminent imprisonment for homosexuality (a crime in Victorian England, at that time). Given the opportunity to escape by fleeing to France, he decides to stay and challenge his arrest and prosecution. Act two takes place in southern Italy after Wilde has served two years in jail. Destitute, he is heartened by Bosie's return, only to discover that his young lover plans to accept the wealth and comfort of his aristocratic family on his mother's condition that he never see Wilde again. In act one Wilde is motivated by his sense of pride and honor, resolute in maintaining his dignity and supremely confident of Bosie's continuing love. Act two finds him facing his final years betrayed, impoverished and alone. High praise for both Steve McConnell as Wilde and Britton White as Bosie, as well as for Spiro Veloudos' strong direction. My only reservation, about this otherwise absorbing and provocative drama, concerns the gratuitous and excessive frontal nudity (by very marginal characters), which frames both acts! Now playing through April 16. (My grade: 3 ½)

Mary Stuart
Stage Review by Norm Gross

Now at the Boston University Theatre is the Huntington Theatre Company's production (in association with San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre) of "Mary Stuart." Written in 1800 by Friedrich Schiller, this classic drama explores the passionate power struggle between two great Queens, with England as the prize. Elizabeth I has imprisoned her cousin, Mary Queen-of-Scots for alleged conspiracy. She stands accused of attempting to overthrow the Virgin-Queen, and thereby assume the throne and to then reinstate Catholicism. Surrounded by cunning and deceptive counselors, Elizabeth agonizes over whether Mary should or should not be executed! Brilliantly acted by Caroline Lagerfelt as Elizabeth…regal, authoritarian and shrewd…and Rene Augesen as Mary…proud, courageous, and unapologetic…their clash of wills is played out in grand style. They're enhanced by uniformly fine assistance from the large, excellent supporting cast, headed by Marco Barricelli as a duplicitous and self-serving courtier and Firdous Bamji as a youthful, fanatical revolutionary. Newly translated by Michael Feingold in contemporary language, their drama unfolds with overwhelmingly current relevance! From Ralph Funicello's impressive setting (a series of movable, massive, floor-to-ceiling columns) and David Lang's memorable incidental music, to Deborah Dryden's sumptuous costumes and Carey Perloyf's strong direction, this is a provocative, engrossing and compelling presentation on all counts. Now playing through April 9. (My grade: 5)

The Turn of the Screw
Stage Review by Norm Gross

Now at the New Repertory Theatre in Newton, Mass. is their new production of "The Turn of The Screw," a new play adapted from the novel by Henry James. Set in an isolated English manor, a young woman has been hired as a governess, for two young children, by their uncle (while he is away). The children seem to be bound by mysterious forces…the young boy is willful and his younger sister is unable to speak. Are they being stalked by the spirits of malevolent former male servant and a previous, anguished governess, (both now deceased)…or is this supernatural intrigue merely the wild imaginings of the children's current stewardess? This puzzling situation unfolds in ninety, intense, intermission-less minutes on a starkly bare stage, with only one chair, a few, carefully placed, tree branches, and several semi-transparent rear doorways and windows, all designed by Richard Chambers. Ayson Celik, excellent as the frightened governess and Philip Patrone as a myriad of supporting players (ranging from Uncle, child and housemaid to marauding specters) enact their varying roles with stunning virtuosity! High praise also for Steven Maler's strong direction. A well-staged and chillingly enacted ghost story! Now playing through April 9. (My grade: 5)

Stage Review by Norm Gross

Now completing a limited engagement at the Boston Conservatory's Theatre is their new production of "Brigadoon." Presented on Broadway to much acclaim in 1947, and released as a major motion picture a few year's later, it proved to be Lerner and Loewe's first great success. Set in the Scottish Highlands, the plot concerns two American tourists who stumble upon an enchanted 18th century hamlet. The village of "Brigadoon" has been cast with a magic spell…for one day only, each century, this settlement reappears, completely intact, with all of its residents revived exactly as they were in the early 1700's. An ill-fated love-affair blossoms between one of the Americans and a beautiful country-maiden. But can their romance withstand the gulf (in time) that separates them? Featuring a grand musical score centered by such memorable songs as: "The Heather On The Hill," "There But For You, Go I," and "Almost Like Being In Love," this show is a charmer on nearly every count! Mark Lawson and Erin Davie, a handsome couple, as the sweethearts separated in the present from the long-distant past, enact their roles with sensitivity and sing with strong and splendid voices, as does the large and vigorous student supporting cast. High praise also for the splendid full orchestra conducted by Peter Mansfield. However, I found the recreated original DeMille choreography to be less fluid and more restrained than I had expected. (My grade: 4

Stage Review by Norm Gross

Now at Boston's Colonial Theatre is the area-premiere of "Art," a prize-winning comic success in Paris, London and New York by Yasmina Reza, translated from the original French by Christopher Hampton. Set in Paris, the plot revolves around three affluent, long-time middle aged male friends, and the nature of their relationship: Serge, a successful dermatologist; Marc, an engineer; and Yvan, a sales-agent. Their friendship is tested when Serge purchases a monochromatic painting…white stripes on a white canvas…for the large sum of 200,000 francs (approximately $40,000). To Marc, the painting is nothing more than a ridiculous "blank," and he is stunned that someone, whom he had thought he had understood so well, could pay so extravagant a price for such absurdity! Marc's outbursts cause Serge to question their friendship and turns to, the soon to be married, Yvan for approval. But he finds Yvan's obvious accommodation to be just as disaffecting. As their interactions become more volatile, they question the reasons for their friendship. This sharp re-examination culminates in a surprising twist in which Serge vividly demonstrates that he appreciates their fellowship much more than his expensive artwork! The acting by Judd Hirsch as Marc, Cotter Smith as Serge and most definitely Jack Willis as Yvan is first rate under Matthew Warchus' strong direction. An intense, provocative and insightful exploration, laced with comedic overtones, of contemporary values. Now playing through March 26. (My grade: 5

Stage Review by Norm Gross

Now at the Boston Playwright's Theatre is the Nora Theatre Company's production of "Stop-Kiss," a new play by Diana Son. A recent Off-Broadway success, it's set in New York's Greenwich Village, with a horrendous gay-bashing incident as its focus. The plot concerns the inter-relationship between two young women. Callie, a bemused radio radio-traffic reporter and long-time New Yorker, who is now not only bored with her lifestyle but also indifferent to the casual sex she often has with her old friend: George and, Sara, newly arrived from St. Louis, who is enthusiastic and supremely confident about teaching third-grade Bronx public school students! Soon they become emotionally and physically attracted, but don't fully acknowledge their love until their first kiss, much later. Their gentle embrace, late one evening in a city park, is witnessed by a vicious hoodlum. Enraged, he assaults them and nearly beats Sara to death…and then runs off! Nada Despotovich and Carolyn Roberts bring insight, ardor and tenderness to their roles as Callie and Sara. Under Janet Morrison's sure direction, the events leading up to this tragic event, the subsequent police investigation and the play's hopeful denouement, are touchingly explored in a series of well-written, well-acted and well staged scenes which move back and forth, in time, from past to present. Now playing through March 26. (Grade: 5)

The Last Night of Ballyhoo
Stage Review by Norm Gross

Now at the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center in Newton, Mass. is the Jewish Theatre of New England's new production of Alfred Uhry's prize-winning: "The Last Night of Ballyhoo." It's set in Atlanta in 1939 as the world premiere of "Gone With The Wind" takes place nearby. The play's title refers to the Jewish Community's major winter social event, a formal dance limited to only "high-born" (those of German origin) rather than "low-born" East-European Jews. The plot centers on the rivalries between middle-aged and homespun: Reba and her well-educated and confident 25 year-old daughter, Sunny ;and her testy sister-in-law: Boo, whose college-uncertain, 20 year-old daughter Lala anxiously seeks an ethnically proper escort to the ball. When a proud and socially-conscious young Jewish New Yorker (of inadequate heritage) invites Sunny to the big dance, the interfamilial resentments and hostilities surface causing all to finally confront their prejudices and self-hate! The seven-member cast is excellent with special notice for Deena Mazer as Boo, Nicole Kempskie as Sunny, and Ilyse Robbins as Lala. High marks also for Daniel Gidron's sure direction. A touching and insightful exploration of intra-religious, ethnic and familial biases and intolerance, as World War II approaches! Now playing through April 9. (My grade: 5

The Mysteries
Stage Review by Norm Gross

Now at the Cyclorama at Boston's Center for the Arts is the Revels and Shakespeare & Company's new production of "The Mysteries" by Tony Harrison. Based on the medieval English street theatre (dating back to the 13th century) which featured craftsmen and guildsmen performing plays derived from the old and new testaments, this current presentation was developed in 1985 as a three-part recreation for Britain's Royal National Theatre, retelling mankind's story from creation to final judgement. This new edition, entitled: "The Nativity," represents just part one, and only relates the major Biblical events from the Garden of Eden to the birth of Jesus. Featuring a cast of 18, the evening erupts as a series of riotously amusing and contemporary slapstick-skits about everyone from Adam & Eve, Lucifer, Noah and Abraham to the Shepherds, Mary, Joseph and King Herod. Much praise for Lisa Wolpe, especially as Lucifer and the "original" snake, as well as for Nick Plakias as God, and Bates Wilder as a rocking, Elvis-like: Herod. Fine musical support featuring early English as well as American folk and gospel songs was provided by a large excellent chorus and a fine seven-piece orchestra conducted by George Emlen. My only reservations concern the large open "Cyclorama's" uneven acoustics and the very uncomfortable bleacher-like benches provided for the audience, for this otherwise grandly raucous entertainment! Now playing through March 12. (My grade: 4)

The British Are Coming
Ballet Review by Norm Gross

Now at Boston's Shubert Theatre is the Boston Ballet's "The British Are Coming," two works by two of England's most celebrated choreographers. The first, the Boston premiere of "Danses Concertantes," with choreography by Michael Corder, to Stravinsky's similarly named music, was danced with agile and elegant flair by Larissa Ponomarenko and Paul Thrussell. Complimented by a large cast of eighteen, the result is a beautifully performed complex of fascinatingly intertwined movements amidst innovatively danced combinations. The second piece: "Winter Dreams," with choreography by Sir Kenneth MacMillan and music primarily by Tchaikovsky is based on Chekhov's "Three Sisters," and represents its first performance by a company other than London's Royal Ballet! Passionately danced by Pollyana Ribeiro as the younger, Larissa Ponomarenko as the senior and Aleksandra Koltunas the median of the siblings, this work effectively suggests their stifling provincial entrapment and the brief respite afforded to them by the presence of some army officers. Highlighted by many dazzling "pas de deux" interludes and featuring much provocative rolling on the floor and exuberant couplings derived from spirited Russian folk-dances. Strongly performed before Peter Farmer's somberly curtained backing, high commendation for these two splendid presentations, creatively choreographed, well-staged and memorably danced. Now playing through March 12. (My grade: 5)

Stage Review by Norm Gross

Now completing an abbreviated engagement at Tufts University's Balch Arena Theatre in Medford, Mass. is their new production of "The Skin of Our Teeth," Thornton Wilder's prize-winning comic allegory about mankind's age-long struggle for survival. Since the beginning of time, in the wake of an unending succession of natural and man-made crises and calamities, the Antrobus family has endured. Set in a New Jersey suburb and Atlantic City, the plot centers on the father (an American everyman) who has helped to develop the alphabet and has also invented the wheel; his wife, who is the typical homemaker and selfless mother; and their two young children, Gladys, their dutiful daughter and Henry (originally named: Cain) who shows signs of potential malevolence. Also present is their flirtatious maid, Sabina, who's also history's ever-present "femme-fatale". As their story unfolds, this resilient family is battered not only by the "ice-age," the Bible's "Great Flood" and the last great war, but like mankind, it too will continue to endure and face the future with resolve and hope. The set composed of drab block-like furniture is the only drawback in this otherwise strong presentation. Commendations for the large spirited student cast, headed by Geoffrey Young and Rahnee Kelly as "Mr. and Mrs.," Xan Franklin as "Sabina," and Sarah Marcus as a forbidding "Soothsayer." (My grade: 4)


Stage Review by Norm Gross

Boston's Center for the Arts is featuring the Sugan Theatre's American premiere-production of "Perfect Days," a new comedy (imported from Scotland) by playwright: Liz Lochhead. Set in Glasgow, the plot centers on Barbs, a well-known and successful hair-stylist, as she nears her 40th birthday. Childless and awaiting a final divorce-decree, she has decided to remain unattached and feels that having a baby will fulfill her life. Her goal is to accomplish this and still retain her independence. Will her good friend Brendan help?( even though he's gay ) and will Brendan's boyfriend cooperate? To complicate matters, the young adult son of Barb's best friend has also offered his support! Naturally, Barb's elderly mother disapproves of her daughter's plans. Although the ingredients for a rollicking comedy are here, unfortunately act one was much too slowly paced. It lessened much of the amusement. Not until act two, did the tempo quicken enough to allow these various comedic circumstances to ignite. Also, much of the dialogue was spoken with thick Scottish accents, sprinkled with many references and unusual slang, resulting in some occasional confusion. However, the acting by the six-member cast was uniformly excellent with much praise for Linda Carmichael as Barbs and Billy Meleady as Brendan. Now playing through March 18. (My grade:

Stage Review by Norm Gross

Now at Cambridge's Loeb Drama Center is the American Repertory Theatre's production of "Full Circle," a new play by Charles Mee. Set in Berlin in 1989, as the infamous wall comes tumbling down, the abandoned infant child of the fleeing communist dictator is thrust, by its mother, into the arms of an American socialite while she is attending a play at the Berliner ensemble theatre! Thus begins a wildly amusing chase through East Germany by the prominent matron and a young female revolutionary who she has enlisted as the baby's au pair. Tracked by two buffoonish military policemen, their pursuit reaches a comic crescendo on an elevated, rickety, drawbridge. Based on a medieval Chinese play and Bertolt Brecht's earlier "Caucasian Chalk Circle," this contemporary reworking also culminates in a surprising judgement, in which a fateful decision is rendered between the baby's natural (and abandoning) mother and its two rescuers. It is strongly acted by Mary Shultz as the socialite, Mirjana Jokovic as the young nanny and Will LeBow as a radical playwright turned magistrate. With Robert Woodruff's sure direction and Riccardo Hernandez' strikingly creative sets, many of the post-cold war era's most challenging contradictions are effervescently explored in this grandly provocative presentation! Now playing through March 19. (My score: 5)

Stage Review by Norm Gross

"Communicating Doors" by Alan Ayckbourn is currently at Boston's Lyric Stage. Set in a single suite in London's Regal Hotel, the grandly amusing fantasy plot begins in the year 2014. An elderly, frail and dying business magnate has hired an expensive call girl to witness his written confession, admitting the murder of his two former wives, by himself and his business associate. Upon learning about this incriminating document, this same partner decides to retrieve it and kill the prostitute. To save herself, she hide

s in a closet, which incredibly transports her into a time-warp in which she travels back and forth in time (always in the same suite) to the years 1994, 1974 and back to 2014. In this dizzying whirl she encounters both former wives and after much amusing incredulity, they begin to accept her dire warnings and start to work together to alter their deadly fates. How they achieve these miraculous changes unfolds in a series of unexpected and mirth-provoking twists and turns. Marie Larkin as the hooker and Stephanie Clayman and Andrea Lynn Walker, as the two former wives, shine in grand comic style. Unfortunately, as the murderous business partner, Scott Severance was not quite menacing enough. High marks, however, for Daniel Gidron's fluid direction. A delightfully entertaining interplay of past, present and future with many clever, comic and surprising spins! Now playing through March 12. (My score: 4)

Stage Review by Norm Gross

Now at Boston's Wheelock Family Theatre is their new production of "Anne of Green Gables," a lively musical adaptation developed more than thirty years ago, of the classic turn-of-the-century novel, set on Canada's Prince Edward Island. It's the story of the coming-of-age of a plucky and disarming young female orphan who is mistakenly sent to live on a farm with an elderly unmarried brother and sister (who had specifically requested a male). Her combination of self-confidence and spunkiness endears her to them and also changes the lives of everyone else around her. Based on a book by Donald Harron and winning music by Norman Campbell, with clever lyrics by Harron, Campbell and also Mavor Moore and Elaine Campbell. A thoroughly charming production with Danielle Perry splendid in the title role, as are Cheryl McMahon and Chip Phillips as the elderly couple she comes to live with. Well directed by Jane Staab, with a colorful rural setting by Tim Sozwick and spirited musical accompaniment conducted by Jonathan Goldberg. My only misgiving concerns several moments when the show's cast perform dramatic or choreographed episodes either in the theatre's aisles or in the back of the auditorium with very uneven results, otherwise, a grand family entertainment. Now playing through February 27. (My grade: 4 ½)

Without Words
Performed by the Boston Ballet
Ballet Review by Norm Gross

    Now at Boston's Shubert Theatre is the Boston Ballet's presentation of three dance pieces entitled "Without Words," which is also the name of the first offering. Featuring choreography by Nacho Duato, it's a stark and sensuous performance by four men and four women, in flesh colored leotards, dancing to the lyrical music of Franz Schubert, as transcribed from six short songs by the composer for piano and cello. Expressively danced before an expansive curtain with constantly changing, enlarged, projected black & white photos of them, it is a stirring and passionate series of intertwining solos, duets and trios. The second piece, a world premiere entitled - "Another Year," with choreography by Mark Godden is a bleak, chilling and beautifully danced exploration of the promise and failure of a marriage. Heavy praise for the compromised bride Adriana Suarez, and her bridegroom, played by Paul Thrussell. Kudos also to their betrayer, played by Yury Yanowsky. Although strongly performed, polish composer Henryk Gorecki's music was unfortunately much too repetitive and distressingly drone-like! Their final work "Company B" is an amusing salute to the thirties and forties, nicely utilizing the popular vintage recordings of the Andrews Sisters, with exuberant choreography by Paul Taylor. High commendation for the wonderfully comic dancing of Pollyana Ribeiro and Kyra Stassberg, amongst many others. A mixed trio of unusual presentations, now playing through February 20th. (My score: 4

Stage Review by Norm Gross

Now at Massachusetts Bay Community College in Wellesley is the Lyric West Theatre's production of "Getting Married," an early and rarely done comedy by George Bernard Shaw. With virtually no story-line, it is primarily a series of witty observations about marriage. The little plot-premise that is offered centers on a young couple preparing to take their vows on their wedding day. With their invited guests assembled in their garden, awaiting the ceremony, the Bride-to-be temporarily objects and withdraws causing some confusion. Adding to this unexpected development, is a divorcee who juggles both the ex-husband and young lover…while he in turn, also tries to win the favor of yet another older woman! The remaining visitors gather and discuss marriage (its various forms, both good and bad) fidelity, infidelity, as well as the positive aspects of remaining unmarried. The large cast handles their comic assignments nicely. Alex MacDonald and Aimee Bright do reasonably well as the young betrothed twosome (although her British accent was somewhat strained), while Robert Isaacson was a bit too overdone as the bachelor caught between the two girlfriends! Certainly entertaining, but not one of Shaw's best. Now playing through February 13. (My grade: 3)

Stage Review by Norm Gross

Now at The Boston Center for the Arts is the Coyote Theatre's production of August Strindberg's classic drama, "Miss Julie." Written in 1888, it is a powerful exploration of class distinctions and suppressed sexual longings, at the dawning of the 20th century. During a midsummer night's eve, the beautiful, young adult daughter of a Swedish Count seduces her father's manservant. As the child of a tyrannical and strongly independent mother, she has always needed to assert her authority. Her father's handsome, young valet- -resenting his lowly position- - has long harbored his repressed desires for his master's daughter. As she needs to humiliate him, so, to does he, in turn, hope to exploit her for both elevated class status and financial gain. They, then aggressively consummate, in the servant's quarters, their lust…with tragic consequences. Under Jeffrey Mousseau's strong direction, the small three-member cast is excellent, with much praise for Stephanie Dorian in the title role and for Diego Arciniegas as the repressed and entrapped attendant. Susan Zeeman Rogers drab servants' kitchen setting established just the right underclass surroundings for their explosively dangerous and disastrous tryst. Now playing through February 19. (My grade : 5)

Stage Review by Norm Gross

Now at the Turtle Lane Playhouse in Newton, Mass is their new production of "Phantom," a play with music and lyrics by Maury Yeston and book by Arthur Kopit. Like the similar British play by Andrew Lloyd Weber, this American version is also based on Gaston Leroux's famous novel. An always masked, disfigured and embittered musician lives, in hiding, in the labyrinth beneath the Paris Opera House. He entices a beautiful, young soprano to be his protégé, and by acting as her mentor comes to a tragic end because of his possessive love. Also, unlike the British interpretation, this American version provides us with a more fully developed exploration of the Phantom's history, motivations and demise. Nicely performed by a large 25-member cast, the production features many lovely songs and some splendid stage-craft using many interesting and creative rear-screen productions. Craig Spanner does well in the title role, as does Diana Doyle as the beautiful and talented soprano. Unfortunately, however, Margaret McCormick as a vindictive operatic rival and Gregory Angelo as a potential suitor for the soprano's affection, were much too exaggerated and overblown. Otherwise this is a well- sung, strongly acted and impressively staged production. Now playing through March 12th. (My grade: 5)

Stage Review by Norm Gross

Now at Boston's Center for the Arts is the Speakeasy Stage Company's Production of "Violet," a new musical with Book and lyrics by Brian Crawley and music by Jeanine Tesori. The plot's focus is on Violet, a young woman, who as a small child has suffered an accidental and major facial disfigurement. Set in the South in 1964, much of the play's action occurs on a bus travelling from North Carolina to Oklahoma where she hopes to be healed by a popular TV Evangelist. En route she bonds with two soldiers returning to their base…Monty, an earthy, smooth-talking white and Flick, a somber, compassionate Black. After an unsuccessful encounter with the vain and superficial TV Evangelist, Violet achieves healing and restoration in a hopeful and unexpected denouement. The large eleven-member cast sings with strong voices and enact their roles well. Bridget Beirne as Violet, Kristina Bjornstad as her youthful self, with David Krinitt as Monty, and David Jackson as Flick are all first-rate! The fine and spirited gospel, blues and country Western accented musical-score resonates with verve and passion, although not one of its many songs stands out in retrospect apart from the rest. Now playing through February 19. (My grade: 4)

Stage Review by Norm Gross

Now at Cambridge's Loeb Drama Center is the American Repertory Theatre's new production of Joe Orton's "Loot," an uproarious assault on British mores and middle-class values. The farcical plot revolves around the newly deceased Mrs. McLeavy and her adult son, and his gay friend, who have just robbed a bank. Desperate for a place to conceal the stolen money, they move the mother's corpse to a nearby cupboard and hide the cash in her coffin. To add spice to this absurd stew, the author adds her properly middle-class, law-abiding and incorruptible husband and her attending nurse, who soon agrees to the two young thieves' scheme after being promised a large financial incentive, plus a Scotland-Yard detective (posing as a water inspector) who, like the others, is quick to join them for a substantial piece of the cash. The ensuing merry-go-round overturns every bourgeois attitude from family loyalty and trust to religion and honor, in riotous fashion! High praise for the superb cast, especially "detective:" Jeremy Geidt, "Nurse:" Laurie Williams; "bank-robbers:" Thomas Derrah and Sean Dugan and "husband/father:" Alvin Epstein. Although not the shocker today as it was when first performed back in 1966, it's still hugely entertaining! Now playing through March 15. (My grade: 5)

Review by Dede Tanzer

I'm a Jewish girl from Scarsdale, New York. That said, you can imagine that it takes an awful lot to shut me up (just ask my husband). "WIT" at the Wilbur Theater did just that. I came home and could not find the words to express the emotional roller coaster I had just gotten off.
Judith Light gives an uncanny portrayal of Dr. Vivan Bearing, a poetry professor specializing in 16th Century poetry. She is particularly focused on the the "Holy Sonnets of John Donne". One would most likely visualize a 40ish unmarried poetry professor to be somewhat cold, off-putting and humorless. Judith Light, digs deep inside herself to show us the humanity and humor that are the real Vivian Bearing.
This play, written by Margaret Edson, fresh out of Yale Drama School, sat in her home for years while she taught Kindergarten (which she still does). The tale of how it finally got produced reads like great fiction. But, through several small miracles, fortunately for us, It was finally produced and directed by Derek Anson Jones. Mr. Jones, who was the true champion of this piece about Vivan's passage from this life due to ovarian cancer, sadly passed away from AIDs just two weeks ago. Although, when first hearing of this play, one would feel as though they were in for a tear fest. Quite the opposite is true. The humor in "WIT" is both witty and biting. This is one of the best written pieces it has been my privilege to see. I recommend that you not miss this Pulitzer Prize winning, eye-opening masterpiece. It's at the Wilbur Theater through February 27, 2000.

Review by Dede Tanzer

The only ones at the Colonial Theater last night who were clearly having as much fun as I was, were the incredibly talented cast of singers and dancers who are "FOSSE".
The first treat in this "must see" performance is the beautiful voice of Reva Rice singing "Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries". What a voice! Reva was in the original cast of "Fosse" on Broadway. If it just stopped at that moment I would have gone home happy. What came next was number after number of wonderful Bob Fosse style dances which have been recreated for this show by the talented team of Richard Maltby, Jr., Chet Walker and Ann Reinking. With the one of the queens of Broadway musicals, Gwen Verdon, as Artistic Advisor. Right there, how can you lose? The evening was so entertaining that at one point I accidentally said out loud "Wow! What a move!". My apologies to the gay couple in front of me who were not amused! This review would not be complete without mentioning the beauty and grace with which Darren Gibson and Terace Jones performed "Mr. Bojangles". The simplicity of the lighting of this caused the viewer to really see Bojangles "Spirit" as he danced a lick. The singing voice of Julio Monge brought a tear to my eye. There are so many great moments in this show, I could go on forever. The alternative to me doing so would be you going to see it. But hurry, it's a limited two week engagement, from January 27 to February 13. If you're in need of a vacation, but can't get a week off, take a couple hours and go see "FOSSE"! You'll feel warm all over.

Stage Review by Norm Gross

Now, at Newton's "New Repertory Theatre" is the professional Boston-area premier of Diane Samuels' "Kindertransport." A stirring new drama from Great Britain concerning Eva, a young nine-year old girl sent from Germany, in 1938, by her mother, to live with a British family in England. Part of a massive evacuation of many thousands of Jewish children undertaken on the eve of World War II, to rescue them from the oncoming Holocaust but with most never to be reunited their real families after the war's end. As the play skillfully shifts repeatedly back and forth from the past to the present, we see Eva not only as a youngster anguished by her traumatic family separation, but, simultaneously, also as an adult, with a grown daughter of her own, still haunted and tormented by these painful memories. Strongly acted by the six member cast, with high praise for Emily Dubner as the juvenile and Nancy E. Carroll as the senior: "Eva.". The play's provocative story line is moved steadily forward to its poignant conclusion under Adam Zahler's sure direction. A well-staged, finely acted and touching exploration of this little known and nearly forgotten life-saving and heart-breaking war time experience. Now playing through February 13. (My score: 5)