Archived Theatre Reviews (page 3)

a review by Mark Snyder

Boston Duck Tours in a play review section? Has Snyder gone nuts? No, in a way, Boston Duck Tours is theatre. From the show-biz ConDUCKtors to the hilarious monologues from these drivers, this is theatre on the street. In fact, the people on the tour Duck, and the folks in the street interact with frequent well-practiced "quacks". The Boston Ducks are amphibious vehicles from World War II. When you first go on them (at the Prudential Center in Boston), you get to meet your ConDUCKtor (driver). Ours, Penny Wise of Savannah, Georgia ("My mom had quite a sense of humor", she told us regarding her name) was hilarious! The kids loved her schtick ("I learned that in Boston, traffic signs and signals aren't law, just suggestions") and her warmth. She let the little kids on board drive the Duck when we were floating on the Charles River ("love that dirty water"). The dry run included historic places like the State House, Freedom Trail, North End, Newbury Street, and Quincy Market. Her historical facts and trivia made all onboard (including yours truly) truly appreciate our great history in Boston. And when the Duck splashed into the Charles River, the excitement grows exponentially. Driving by M.I.T., famous bridges and dams, the Hatch Shell, and so much more, it is a relaxing educational ride. They bill the Boston Duck Tours as "the ride of your life" and I couldn't agree more! If you are coming to Boston and can only do one "tourist" event, do the Boston Duck Tours! It's like taking a trolley, a boatride and a history lesson for one low price. The total time spent in the Duck is 80 minutes- -and it FLIES by. Tours depart seven days a week every half hour. Tickets are $21 for adults; Seniors and students $18; Children 12 & under are $11. Call 1-617-723-DUCK for tickets. Also, check out Ride The Ducks in Branson, Missouri! For more information, go to their website at Boston Duck Tours

Swan Lake
Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wang Theatre, the Boston Ballet concludes its 40th season with "Swan Lake," choreographed and staged by the Company's Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen, based on the original 1895 classical concepts by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, all gloriously enveloped by Tchaikovsky's sublime music. As the beloved story unfolds, melancholy Prince Siegried falls deeply in love with the lovely Odette, who has been transformed, with her attendant hand maidens, into a group of beautiful Swans by Von Rothbart, an evil sorcerer. Later, when Siegfried tries to break the nefarious Wizard's spell over her through the power of his love, Von Rothbart deceives him into believing that Odile, his acquiescent daughter, is actually the Queen Swan. When the wicked deceiver's trickery is revealed, Siegfried returns to the real Odette, destroys Von Rothbart, and dispels the enchantment by choosing to join her, by dying with her, in the embrace of their eternal love! Exquisitely danced by the elegantly graceful Corps of "Swans," with a dazzling performance by Larissa Ponomarenko as both the bewitched Odette and the counterfeit Odile, highlighted by her technically superb execution of the role's demanding 32 Fouette turns, which was totally deserving of the capacity audience's thunderous approval. Solid commendations also for Pavel Gurevich as the malevolent Von Rothbart and Yuri Yanowsky as the distraught Prince Siegfried, with high praise also for the grand vaults by Romi Beppu, Rie Ichikawa, Heather Myers, Mindaugas Bauzys, and Miao Zong in their spectacular accomplishment of the "Pas De Cinq." John Conklin's impressive woodland lake and court room settings together with his resplendent costumes and the splendid full orchestral accompaniment conducted by Jonathan McPhee, also contributed greatly to this production's overall impressiveness. This memorable concluding presentation is now playing through May 23. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Tremont Theatre, Club 9-Ball, LLC in association with the International Society presents "9 - Ball, " a new play by Art Devine. A recent success at the Cape Cod Repertory Theatre in Brewster, Mass., this is now its Boston-area premiere. Based on an actual situation that took place in Lynn, Mass., the drama is set at the height of the Vietnam War era and concerns Larry Doucette, a young draft-aged adult, desperately seeking some way to escape military service by avoiding induction into the Army. When he meets former high school classmate Richie Feinberg, a young, homeless, streetwise tough, with a police record, he proposes the incredible idea of switching birth certificates and swapping their identities. Richie would then be drafted as Larry and Larry would then continue on in civilian life as Richie. Unfortunately, after Richie leaves for his Army duty, Larry is imprisoned for one of Richie's criminal activities. While Richie finishes his Basic Training and prepares to serve as a Paratrooper, Larry discovers that his strong capabilities, with numbers and math, will quickly gain him many extra special benefits while he's in prison. In the process, his sense of self-worth begins to expand. Meanwhile, Richie's dependence on his fellow recruits, and the demands of their wartime situation necessitating all-encompassing cooperation, also causes him to begin to moderate his arrogance and to forego his belligerance. As their vastly different activities unfold, going back and forth from prison cell, army barracks, civilian bar, and combat zone, both men undergo major changes in demeanor, behavior, and attitude. The fine multi-faceted setting designed by Dan Joy, a varied complex including a neighborhood bar, complete with Juke Box, Pool Table, and 60s styled wall postings on one side of the stage, is flanked on the other by a wire fenced-off Barracks-type sector, with elevated bunk-beds and a stall shower including an exposed toilet bowl. Years later, when their incredible scams have run their course, and Larry and Richie finally return to their original lifestyles, this compelling drama concludes with its sharp, although somewhat expected, somber denouement. Very well acted by the fine young all-male cast, under the author's knowing direction, with passionately intense performances by Justyn Eldredge as Richie, Matthew Keefe as Larry, and John "Sib" Hashian, Daniel Kelley and David Wallace, amongst others, equally gripping in a wide ranging variety of differing roles. Now playing through May 22. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass. is their new production of "Kiss Me Kate," with Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter and Book by Samuel and Bella Spewack. A major success on Broadway when it first premiered back in 1948, it was released as an equally popular Hollywood motion picture in 1953, and has become firmly established as one of our most revered Musical Comedy treasures ever since. Set at a Baltimore Theatre in the late 40's on the opening night of a production of Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew," it centers on Fred and Lilli, the show's antagonistic Leading Man and Lady, who--although divorced-- are still very much in love. Their highstrung offstage quarrels strikingly resemble the onstage battles of the classic masterpiece's "Kate and Petruchio." Into this brimming stew, Fred has added Lois, a perky coquette, and Bill, her gambling-prone boy friend, as supporting performers in the play. Unfortunately, Bill has garnered some heavy gaming debts and, in desperation, has signed Fred's name to his IOU. As a result two "hoods," representing their gambling Boss, come to Fred's dressing room to persuasively collect his payment! The plot then skirts back and forth from Shakespeare's merry onstage high jinks to the contentiously offstage squabbling of both Fred and Lilli, with the two comically menacing hoodlums always nearby and, as expected, with the eventual happy ending fully in place by the final curtain. Featuring one of Cole Porter's finest musical scores, highlighted by such memorable numbers as: "Too Darn Hot!," "Why Can't You Behave?," "So In Love," "We Open in Venice," "Were Thine That Special Face," "From This Moment On," and "Where is the Life That Late I Led?," amongst many others, and of course including both thugs' riotously amusing salute to the Bard, "Brush Up Your Shakespeare," as the evening's crowning showstopper! Vigorously directed by Alan Coats, with a large fine young enthusiastic and spirited cast starring full-voiced and handsome George Dvorsky as Fred, and lovely blonde and grandly sonorous Rachel deBenedet as Lilli, with solid support from Deb Leamy as Lois, and Sean Palmer as Bill, with the most amusing David Coffee and David Dollase as the singing gangland twosome! Commendations also are due for the fine period sets, designed in-the-round by Tal Sanders, with additional praise for Martin Pakledinaz's colorful costumes, Lee Wilkin's bright choreography, and the splendid full orchestral accompaniment under Alan Coats' firm direction. Now playing through May 16. (My Grade:5)



Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Playwrights' Theatre is Boston Theatre Works production of "Kimberly Akimbo," a new dark comedy by David Lindsay-Abaire. A substantial Off-Broadway success this past year, this production represents its New England premiere. Set in New Jersey, this raucously amusing piece centers on young female Kimberly Lavacco, a 16 year old, suffering from a rare disease which causes her body to age 4 1/2 times faster than it should. Her life expectancy is also age sixteen. She's living at home with yet another wildly dysfunctional family: Buddy, her boozing dad, who works at a local Gas Station; Pattie, her pregnant, hypochondriac diabetic mom, who has both hands fully bandaged, due to carpal tunnel syndrome and is convinced that she has terminal cancer; Aunt Debra, a homeless roustabout, who suddenly shows up, hoping to "crash " at the family's home for awhile; and Jeff, Kimberly's nerdy High School classmate, who shows some genuine romantic interest in her. Aunt Debra's unexpected arrival sparks her revelations about the family's never disclosed reasons for moving, several years past, from Secaucus to the more remote town of Pagoda, in the play's surprising and bizarrely whimsical second act. This eventually triggers an outlandish and craftily devilish check-laundering scam, devised by Aunt Debra, to supply her with lots of easy cash, for which Kimberly's unfortunate disease will play a central part. This causes the distressed teenager to make a fateful and momentous decision about herself and her family. Extremely well acted by adult Judy McIntyre, in the play's title role, who totally captures the essence, behavior, and believable attitudes of this highly troubled adolescent. Marc Carver as Buddy, Amy Barrie as Pattie, Elizabeth Anne Quincy as Aunt Debra, and especially Jacob Liberman as Jeff, the awkward boyfriend, all do very well in the supporting roles, under Jason Southerland's strongly focused direction. High marks also must go to Caleb Wertenbaker's highly inventive box-like scenic constructions, which quickly and very creatively, adapt into a wide variety of differing set pieces. Although the play's unexpected final resolution ultimately seemed somewhat contrived, the author's grand sense of comic dialogue and situation, coupled with the cast's fine performances, and the provocative notions, farcically suggested about life's complications and fragility, remain compelling throughout. (My Grade:4)

Curse of the Starving Class
Review by Norm Gross

At Chelsea Theatre Works in Chelsea, Mass. is Theatre Zone's new production of "Curse of the Starving Class" by Sam Shepard. This dark vision of a hopelessly dysfunctional American family made its successful New York debut in 1978, and later also enjoyed similar approval in London, with many subsequent revivals (professional and otherwise) thereafter. Set in the rural Southwest, the plot's unrelenting focus is on a severely impoverished rustic household composed of Weston, the overly abusive, alcoholic father; Ella, his frustrated and scheming wife; Wesley, their young angry and troubled adult son; and Emma, their fanciful and rebellious teenaged daughter. Things begin to erupt when the Matriarch, unbeknownst to her husband, conspires to sell their barren and unworkable farm, in concert with a disreputable Real Estate agent! She plans to use the cash for a travel fling in Paris, France. Meanwhile, without her knowledge, her drunken husband, in order to pay a multitude of longstanding debts, has already given their home's Deed to an opportunistic local Saloon owner, for an absurdly miniscule purchase price. Meanwhile, Emma, on the day of her first menstruation, dreams of someday working as an auto-mechanic, while her brother Wesley, in a fit of malicious spite, has urinated all over her school science project (a report on cooking chicken.) Angered, she runs amok riding astride a wild horse, and is arrested for shooting-up a local Bar, using the family's firearms! Still later, driven by hunger, Wesley slaughters the clan's last remaining lamb (although quite infested with maggots) for food. When the dissolute Patriarch finally sobers up and begins to comprehend their bizarre and extreme situation, he makes several drastic desperate and fateful decisions, which do not bode well for the other family members. Very well acted by the strong nine member cast, under Paul Melone's certain direction, with potently intense performances by Floyd Richardson as the shameless father, Danielle Fauteux Jaques as his plotting wife, Michael McKeogh as their distressed and willful son, and especially young, eighth grader Eliza Rose Fichter as their confused and perplexed younger daughter. Notwithstanding occasional brief touches of grim humor, the drama's unyieldingly dire nucleus predominates. Nevertheless, this bitter and provocative exploration of the last gasps of a completely burnt-out American family remains compelling drama throughout. Now playing through May 8. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wang Theatre is a new touring production of "Starlight Express," with Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics by Richard Stilgoe and additional Lyrics by David Yazbek. Originally produced on the London stage in 1984 (where it remained for a triumphant 18 years), with similarly lengthy engagements in Germany (14 years) and even Las Vegas (4 years), this Tony award-winning spectacle also enjoyed an extensive run after opening on Broadway in 1987. At bedtime, a young boy (heard, but never seen on stage) imagines a series of racing competitions for his collection of toy trains. Although most of them represent other countries (England, Japan, Germany and Russia), his main focus is on the four Americans: a weary Steam Engine named "Rusty," a pretentious Diesel called "Greaseball," a state-of-the-arts technical whiz known as "Electra," and Rusty's tired old Steam Engine Dad "Poppa," all decked out in eye-catching metallic costumes, and all wearing rollerskates! The competitions are staged mostly for the affectionate approval of a group of sweet, similarly-attired, female side cars, but mainly for the favor of "Pearl," a lovely young observation car. The original London version had the large cast of skaters competing on a series of race tracks, ramps and bridges which encircled the audience, while the New York production involved the rivals speeding around a huge, hydraulic, twirling suspension bridge, that was raised and lowered to match the action below. Unfortunately, no such spectacular, high-tech elements are utilized in this substantially pared down and much less showy presentation. Instead, appropriate plastic eyeglasses are provided for each member of the audience, and then each of the competitive races are shown, as short 3-D movies on a large motion picture screen. Understandably, the contests are now a genuine disappointment. Happily, the show's musical score still resonates with such songs as "Starlight Sequence" (only "He" has the Power!), the evening's lively salute to "Rap" ("What time is it? It's Race time!"), the soulful " Poppa's Blues," the poignant " Next time you fall in love," the highly-animated ' break-dancing ' " Right Place, Right Time," and of course, Rusty's victorious finish celebrated as "the LIght at the end of the tunnel." Vigorously sung, acted and skated by the large, youthful, energetic and enthusiastic cast, performing their rolling stunts on a series of elevated scaffolds, with each side of the stage also paired by steeply curved erect ramps for them to vividly perform their many, grand, whirling somersaults! Lastly, extra notice is also due for Franklyn Warfield as Rusty, Drue Williams as Greaseball, Dustin Dubreuil as Electra, and Clarissa Grace as Pearl, (all in fine voice), and most especially for Dennis Legree as the highly resonant and spiritually compelling Poppa. Now playing through May 2. (My Grade:3)


Review by Norm Gross

Up You Mighty Race Performing Arts Company in collaboration with New African Company presents "Black Power!" at the Boston Center for the Arts, the all inclusive title for six short plays from the 60s, part of the period's drama-oriented "Black Arts" movement, which was to serve as the literary adjunct to the drive then for "Black Power." The best of these playlets are three by Ben Cadwell. "Top Secret," in which the President's Cabinet urgently meets to confront the threat posed to the Nation by the excessively high Black birthrate, with Government-supported Birth-Control (by which Blacks can become more like Whites) finally being agreed upon as the "Solution." Also quite noteworthy are his "All White Caste," in which a post W.W.III Black-Free U.S.A. condemns a compassionate White writer to live amongst the poor in Harlem, and "Mission Accomplished," wherein a Bible-toting White Christian Missionary's attempts to convert an African Village is knowingly rejected by the proud native Queen. Of the three remaining works, the most provocative is Amiri Baraka's "Baptism," about Gay Identity as defined, controlled, and eventually overpowered by the hypocritical Religious establishment, with its final focus on a youthful, suffering, Christ-like figure; Ed Bullins' "Gentleman Caller," a spoof of a neurotic and conflicted, cross-dressing "blonde" sexpot; and Douglas Turner Ward's somewhat overly obvious "Brotherhood," which finds a very officious White married couple "enthusiastically" welcoming their Black neighbors to their home, while secretly harboring strongly racist artifacts, completes the evening's stimulating program. Forcefully directed by Vincent Ernest Siders, who also offers sensitive, poetical introductions and insights between each play, while also vividly acting as the President in "Top Secret!" Additional praise is also due the fine, expressive ensemble,with intense portrayals of many varied roles by Akiba Abaka, Keith Mascoll (especially effective as the highstrung "Blonde"), Karima Saida Moreland ( powerful as the Christ-like youth ), Born Bi-Kim and Paulo Branco, amongst others. This compelling sextet of rarely performed short plays from the early years of African American militancy is now playing through May 8. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

In Boston at Emerson College's Cutler Majestic Theatre is their Stage and Musical Theatre Society's new production of "Pippin." With Music by Stephen Schwartz and Book by Roger O. Hirson (and uncredited co-librettist Bob Fosse), this multiple Tony award-winning musical play made its Broadway debut in 1972 and became a resounding success, logging in at an extraordinary 1,944 performances! It spawned many national touring companies along with equally successful engagements in Europe as well. Several more recent revivals were also staged during the 90's. Set around 780 AD, the high spirited plot centers on Pippin, the adolescent son of Charlemagne, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and his quest for self-identity, fulfilment, and maturity. Spurred on by a Devilish spirit known as "the Leading Player," Pippin, like Candide filled with doubt, sets out to discover his true mission in life. Beginning and failing as a wartime Commander of his father's legions, he turns to the opposite sex. Once again disappointed as a "Lover," he ventures into the high-powered world of Government. Emerging as the Radical Champion for Revolutionary Change, the consequences, as expected, are disastrous. The tranquility of Family Life is then offered to him by a young, lovely widow with her small son, but to no avail. As a grand final gesture, he rejects the Leading Player's suggestion that he achieve lasting immortality by fiery martyrdom (?), choosing a surprising alternative instead. Extremely well sung and acted by the very large vibrant youthful, and generally excellent cast, with much praise for Rob Morrison in the title role, and Michael Joosten as the Leading Player. Strong, full-voiced support is also solidly provided by Jason Garvett as Charlemagne, Ariel Heller as Pippin's macho and quite dense stepbrother, BethAnn Bonner as his scheming stepmother, Darcie Champagne as the tempting and lovely widow, and most especially Marlena Yanetti as the confused hero's whimsically helpful old grandmother. Her joyfully triumphant salute to Old Age, "No Time At All" quite literally "stops-the-show" with similar pleasures from the show's many other sprightly songs such as "Corner of the Sky," "Glory," and "Spread a Little Sunshine," amongst others. Vigorously directed by Stephen Terrell, who together with Sabrina Jacob, developed the show's vividly animated choreography. Lastly, praise also for Harry Morgan's simple, but quickly and efficiently moveable scenic units, as well as the full orchestral accompaniment conducted by Scott Wheeler. This splendid, and genuinely entertaining presentation is now playing, an all too brief engagement, through April 24. (My Grade:5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the Sugan Theatre Company's production of "Mojo Mickybo," a new drama by Irish playwright Owen McCafferty. Set in Belfast in the summer of 1970, as the troubles between Catholics and Protestants begins to simmer and eventually boil over, this stirring and compelling play follows the rise and fall of the friendship between two young boys, whose nicknames serve as the play's title. With only two actors on stage for eighty minutes (with no intermission), Billy Meleady as Mojo and Colin Hamell as Mickybo, not only fully realize the two title characters, but also deftly portray a succession of subsidiary roles ranging from confrontational childhood bullies, a cinema's cashier, their parents, and a bus driver, to spirited local floozies and assorted other colorful city types, without costume or makeup changes! Tess James' impressive set design of a simulated child's playground, complete with sandbox, and a hill-like ramp, before a large rear proscenium styled framed platform, flanked by massive columns (on either side) comprised of elevated, ladder-like handbars, for climbing, effectively act not only as the boys' recreational retreat, but also efficiently suggest many other sites such as their homes, a nearby movie theater, and even a favorite pub. The boys' childishly fanciful world of Cowboys and Comicbook SuperHeroes, and such welcoming, faraway destinations, as America and Australia, are brought into sharp focus for them after they go to see the popular Hollywood movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sunshine Kid!" But the bitter realities of the civil war that rages all around them, ultimately takes its toll on their friendship, as they grow into adolescence. Although most of the play's strong dialogue is spoken in highly animated and quite unfamiliar Belfast argot, a printed Glossary, provided in the PlayBill, along with Carmel O'Reilly's vigorous direction and the commanding performances, by both accomplished actors, served to adequately overcome any of the drama's unusual language. Now playing through April 24. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Center for the Arts is the Theatre Offensive world premiere production, in association with Wildheart Press, of "Last Rites" by Letta Neely. Set in Boston's Mission Hill neighborhood, the drama's first act centers on Patrice (a former postal employee) dying from terminal breast cancer. Attended by Dutch, her understanding and helpful best friend, she wryly prepares for her own demise, sorting out her few belongings, and making decisions about the final disposition of these articles after she dies. She ruefully remembers happier times, in her youth, when she and Dutch were Basketball playing High School buddies, but is mainly consumed by feelings of anger, resentment and rejection towards Asha, her former streetwise, and drug savvy, lesbian sweetheart. Act two, the play's strongest segment, unfolds with Asha's abrasive and ultimatey poignant reconcilation with Patrice, but achieves its most emotionally potent apex with the appearance of Patrice's long estranged mother. A devoutly religious Jamaican emigree, she has sternly disapproved of her daughter's lifestyle, with its drugs, petty thievery, and sinful ways, and now prays with Patrice's soon approaching death, that her needed reforms will soon take hold. Vividly performed by Renita Martin as Patrice, with an intense and compelling portrayal by Michelle Dowd as her sad, troubled and hopeful mother. Fine support is also provided by Abria Smith as the flashy and quick-tempered Asha, and Naeemah A. White-Peppers as the supportive and accomodating Dutch. Well directed by Brian Freeman, with a fine atmospheric apartment setting by Mirta Tocci, mounted before a substantial, three-panel backdrop made up of enlarged, candid, basketball-centered photos of Patrice and Dutch. Laced with occasional touches of grim humor, this hard-edged graphically-expressive and strikingly unsentimental and unsparing drama continues to resonate, long after its conclusion. Now playing through April 24. (My Grade:5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wheelock Family Theatre is their new production of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," an adaptation for the stage by Jessie Braham White, based on the classic fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. With most of the story's legendary features again on view, there is of course: the malevolent Queen, hatefully jealous of her lovely, young, stepdaughter Princess Snow White and the enchanted mirror that readily identifies her, by name, as "the fairest in the land." Disguised as an old beggar woman, with the help of a wicked Witch, the nefarious Queen plans to kill Snow White by tricking her into eating a poisoned apple. As expected, Snow White escapes into the forest to safety in the hidden home of the seven dwarfs, and eventually to the final happy ending. The evil Step-Mother Queen is punished with permanent ugliness, and Snow White is united with her handsome Prince. Of course, comparisons with the popular Disney motion picture, by which this story is best known, do come to mind, especially so in the case of the dwarfs' significantly different names: Nudge, Blabber, Scratch, Squeaky, Quee, Shy, and Toot, and most definitely in the absence of a musical score. As with the lively songs associated with the Disney version, this type of presentation has always been greatly enhanced by the inclusion of joyful melodies..."The Wizard of Oz," "Peter Pan," and even the Wheelock Theatre's engagingly tuneful production of "Ann of Green Gables," some seasons ago, offer vivid comparisons! Nevertheless, this production still does have its strong points.Two spiritedly animated performances by Robin V. Allison as the villainous StepMother Queen and Robert Saoud as the outrageously devilish, assisting Witch, are especially noteworthy, along with much more restrained portrayals by Yahanna Faith as Snow White and Shelley Bolman as the Prince. Rich Archer's open and expansive woodland setting, easily adapting into a wide variety of different places, ranging from the Queen's throne room to the Dwarfs' forest home, and also the sprightly involvement of many young children as colorfully costumed forest animals, Pages, and Maids, effectively came together to good advantage. Naturally, the large audience composed mainly of parents with small children, all seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. Now playing through May 2. (My Grade:4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Lyric Stage is their production of "The Mercy Seat," a a recent Off-Broadway success written by Neil LaBute. Set in New York the day after the horrific attack on that great city, it focuses on Ben and Abby, who have been clandestine lovers for three years. He's married with two small children, and she's not only his senior by 12 years of age, but is also the C.E.O. at his workplace (in the World Trade Center). Obviously, neither was where they ordinarily should have been on that terrible past morning. As he sits, in numbed silence, with his cellphone repeatedly ringing, while watching scenes on TV of the nearby devastation, his mind is fixed, not on the unfolding national tragedy, but instead on the sudden opportunity that this calamity now makes possible! With eveyone now believing that he's one of the many thousands incinerated in the disaster, he realizes that he and his Mistress could leave undetected, assume new identities, in a new and far off location, and begin a whole new life there, together. As his cellphone continues ringing constantly, with him still refusing to answer it, he ardently tries to sway Abby about his genuinely wonderful plan. However, his bold scheme goads her into recalling the long bothersome issues that she holds, regarding their lengthy relationship. For their entire affair, he's never been able to face her directly, during their lovemaking, preferring oral sex and/or other non-frontal positions, instead. She wonders if their "love" is real, or is it just the kind of sexual activity that might be vigorously disapproved of at home? Why must she also turn away from the career she's worked so long and hard to foster, leaving behind the prominence and status that she now enjoys? His plan would also mean never seeing his loving children, ever again, with both he and Abby living together, forever thereafter, under a cloud. Will Ben now concur in altering his course and agree, by answering his cellphone to explaining everything to his wife, and finally asking her for a divorce? Staged to simulate an arena-styled setting, with some of the audience seated behind the actors, it's being vividly acted by Robert Pemberton as Ben and Paula Plum as Abby, under Eric C. Engel's highly focused direction. Although some aspects of Ben's final decision seemed a bit awkward and/or strained, nevertheless this fine two-person drama remains for the most part compelling and quite provocative! Now playing through April 17. (My Grade:4)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston, the New England Conservatory Opera Theater recently presented, in a weekend only production, "The Magic Flute," Mozart's classic opera which blends a fairytale story with concepts based in FreeMasonry. Prince Tamino with the help of a magical flute, and the assistance of Papageno, the local Birdcatcher, is sent by the duplicitous Queen of the Night to rescue Pamina, her "kidnapped" daughter, from the "evil" official Sarastro. However, they soon realize that Sarastro is in actuality the High Priest of the Temple of "Nature - Wisdom - and Reason." A succession of comic escapades eventually reveal the Queen's sinister plot against him, helping them to thwart her evil efforts to force her daughter to kill Sarastro. Prince Tamino is finally united with Pamina, and Papageno, discovers that a seemingly helpful "Hag," was really Papagena, his beautiful and sexy true love, in disguise! As expected, the Queen's dastardly plans are completely reversed by the forces of Good.! Delightfully sung and acted by the large, young, student cast, with solid commendations for Tenor Gregory Zavracky as the heroic Tamino; most definitely for Baritone Jamie Kotmair as the highly comic Papageno, and spirited Soprano Donna Baraket as the harridan turned beauty - Papagena. Much praise also for Soprano Maria Alu as the lovely and sonorous Pamina; Bass Steve Pence as the imposing and stately Sarastro; and most certainly for Soprano Zoie Lamb as the devilish Queen of the Night, her commanding rendition of the Queen's celebrated aria, demanding Sarastro's assassination, was genuinely impresssive! The full orchestra, conducted by John Greer, provided strong and spirited accompaniment, and additional praise is also due for Caleb Wertenbaker's simple, yet quite expansive and brightly colorful sets, as well as Andrew Poleszak's radiant and contemporary costumes. Lastly, this splendid presentation was most certainly deserving of the capacity audience's standing and demonstrative approval at the final curtain! (My Grade:5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston, Mass. is the Minneapolis/St.Paul-based Guthrie Theatre touring production of William Shakespeare's "Othello." Set in Venice and Cyprus, this legendary tragedy centers on Othello, a Moor, the General in command of the Venetian army. Iago, his trusted subordinate, expecting a major promotion, is enraged when Othello selects Cassio, a fellow soldier, instead. Spurred on by his passionate resentment, he decides upon a course of vengeance. When Desdemona, the Moor's lovely young wife, accidently drops a special handkerchief given to her by him, Emilia, Iago's wife, finds it. Her disgruntled husband decides to use it to ensnare Othello in a web of lies about Desdemona's fidelity. Convincing Othello into believing that Cassio and Desdemona are adulterous lovers, Iago sets in motion the ruinous sequence of events that will tragically overwhelm them all! Compellingly portrayed by Lester Purry as the doomed Moor, with an ardently malevolent performance (snarling, agitated, gloating, and brimming with venom) by Bill McCallum as Iago, with vivid support by Cheyenne Casebier as the ill-fated Desdemona, and Virginia S. Burke as the unwitting Emilia. Vigorously directed by Joe Dowling with a fine, atmospheric Mediteranean-type set, complete with massive stone columns and large ceiling-to-floor moveable slatted doorways, together with striking Victorian-styled costumes, all designed by Patrick Clark. This robust, very involving, quite physical, and highly intense, traveling presentation is now playing through April 10. (My Grade:5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass. is the area premiere of "The Sweepers," a new play by John C. Picardi. Commissioned by the National Italian American Foundation to foster positive representations of Italian-American life, it has had recent extended runs Off-Broadway, as well as in Albany, N.Y. Set in July and August 1945 in Boston's North End neighborhood, the plot revolves around three longtime community residents, and friends (the "sweepers" of the play's title). Dotty, who worries about her hospitalized, shell-shocked husband, as well as her distant son still serving in the war zone; Mary, who collects surplus scrap tin and discarded newspapers to aid the U.S. War Effort, while also anxiously awaiting news about her husband and son, who are both overseas fighting in the Pacific combat area; Bella, long ago deserted by her wastrel drunkard Irish husband, prepares for the wedding of Sonny (her live-at-home son). She's concerned about his forthcoming marriage to Karen, an affluent, Wellesley College educated, Italian-American whose assimilated family now lives in the suburbs; Sonny, a lawyer deferred from military service because of a heart murmur, who works for Karen's father's law firm, is conflicted by his mother's obsession that the newlyweds must establish their home near her, as contrasted by his fiancee's opposition to them living in Boston's North End neighborhood. With the dawning of the day after their wedding, their clashing expectations collide disasterously, cemented by a startling disclosure by Bella. Well directed by Robert Jay Cronin, with a very strong performance by Marina Re as Bella, with solid supporting portrayals by M. Lynda Robinson as Dotty, Sarah Newhouse as Mary, Brad Bass as Sonny, and Robyn Lee as Karen. Much praise is also due for Richard Chambers' highly effective red brick, multi-level, backyard tenement setting, complete with elevated wrought-iron fire-escape and outer courtyard. Unfortunately, although much of Act One plays like the highly fictionalized and stereotypical immigrant-focused "kitchen-sink" photoplays that Hollywood studios ground out regularly throughout World War II, and while Act Two is certainly much more dramatically engaging, nevertheless, Bella's dark secret confession still doesn't ring true, resonating more as the author's contrivance than it should. Now playing through April 18. (My Grade:3)


Review by Norm Gross

"Lost City " is an innovative collaborative production, developed by the Company One Ensemble together with Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller (the guiding powers behind National Public Radio's popular Network series "Hitchhiking Off the Map"). It was recently presented by them at the Boston Center for the Arts. Eight Airline passengers, enroute to Boston (the play's "Lost City") find themselves stranded overnight in Rochester, N.Y.,due to a disrupted connecting flight. A cross-section of Americana, the travelers, thanks to boredom and their burgeoning exhaustion and frustration, begin to relate to one another. Angie, the discontented daughter of a Russian Ballet centered mother; Livia, a 31 year old unmarried African-American female, boldly planning for single-motherhood utilizing specialized invitro fertilization; Ezra, a young San Francisco Bank employee, (not yet completely "out of the closet") returning to New England in hopes of reconnecting with a former "associate," while trying to steer clear of William, an obvious and vocal homophobic; Viola, a mid 20's Chinese-American violinist, striving for a career in music; Henry, a furtive, reticent, oddball hoping to find buyers for his miniature and quite lacklustre paper sculptures; and Wilma, a proud Black matron from Chicago, anxious to help her imprisoned son, in whatever way possible, represent the variously distressed travelers. Kareem, a youthful and unsuccessfull playwright, also from Chicago, acts throughout as an over-all observer commenting on his fellow voyagers, palpably intending to use their stories for possible future inspiration. The fine cast, headed by Keith Mascoll as Kareem, with Summer L. Williams as Livia, Shawn LaCount as Ezra, Mark Abby VanDerzee as William, Naya Chang as Viola, Mason Sand as Henry, Michelle Baxter as Wilma, and Hilary Fabre as Angie serve this joint experimental presentation quite well, all under Victoria Marsh's well focused direction. Although not all of the participants' reflections, concerns or intentions resonate with equal intensity, interest, conviction or import, they're nevertheless still generally stimulating and compelling. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At the New Repertory Theatre in Newton, Mass. is the Boston area premiere of "Yellow Man" by Dael Orlandersmith. A major Off-Broadway success in 2002, and one of three finalists that year for the Pultzer Prize in Drama, it has since been favorably-produced throughout this country, most notably in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Its focus is on the rarely-examined color-discrimination (dark-skinned Blacks vs. light-skinned "High Yellow" Blacks ) within the African-American community, a long-festering internal racism which began to take root at the close of the Civil War, and persists to this very day, with issues of class, status, racial legitimacy, and a suspected more favorable acceptance of the "Yellows" by Whites, being amongst the greatest areas of contention! Marshalled by the well-concentrated direction of Lois Roach, on a bare stage, with only two simple chairs as props. In a succession of compelling and interlocking monologues, two extraordinary, highly-accomplished actors, Adrienne D. Williams as Alma (fatherless, poor, and raised by her mother, instilled with feelings of her homeliness and unworthiness due to her being so big and so black), and Dorian Christian Baucum as Eugene, (the disapproved "yellow" son of an affluent Black father and a light-skinned mother) who has never been able to overcome his father's disappointment in him. Set in a small rural South Carolina town, Eugene and Alma's love blossoms, from early childhood and adolescence to young adulthood, with Eugene hoping to marry Alma, and maintain their simple country lifestyle. However, when Alma wins a scholarship to Hunter College and moves to New York City, her sense of self approval greatly expands, forcing Eugene to re-evaluate his own view of himself. Eventually, this propels him to finally confront his father's rejection, with devastating consequences! This engrossing, well written, highly involving, and vividly performed exploration of the many bristling and seldom considered aspects and ramifications of "Black vs. Black" intolerance is now playing through April 4. (My Grade:5)


Our Lady of 121st Street
Review by Norm Gross

The New England premiere of "Our Lady of 121st Street," ( a major success Off-Broadway last year ) by Stephen Adly Guirgis, was presented recently by the SpeakEasy Stage Company at the Boston Center for the Arts. Set in a Harlem Funeral Home, a vividly assorted cross-section of neighborhood residents (former school mates) have come to pay their last respects to their favorite teacher, Sister Rose. Unfortunately, when they assemble they discover to their great dismay, that the corpse of the beloved Nun has disappeared! When Detective Balthazar (deftly played by Ricardo Engermann) arrives to investigate, their hopes, fears, disappointments, and regrets begin to surface in warmly sensitive, picturesquely-graphic, vibrantly expressive, and most often grandly amusing fashion. Bristlng with strong, explosive, four-letter streetwise epithets, their triumphs and defeats always resonate frankly and honestly. And what a decidedly varied assembly they are: the well-dressed lawyer (Jim Spencer) and his reticent companion (Rodney Raftery), who arrange that their secret life-style not be revealed; the divorced ne'er-do-well (brilliantly played by Vincent E. Siders) returning from Los Angeles, unexpectedly confronted by his disapproving and bitter ex-wife (compellingly handled by Jacqui Parker); the loud, foul-mouthed slattern, (Elaine Theodore) ready to bed-down with anybody; the cynical, wheelchair-bound Priest (Ray McDavitt); Sister Rose's pretty, asthmatic niece (Jennifer Young), who remembers their abusive childhoods; the middle-aged drudge (Luis Negron), who has devoted his life to caring for his dimwitted younger brother (Paulo Branco); and most decidedly, the young, prim and highly awkward outsider (Stacy Fischer) attending purely out of curiosity. Very well acted by this genuinely effective ensemble, under Paul Melone's well-focused direction, this winning and highly engaging character-study consistently continues to ring true, even after the startling revelation about the missing cadaver. (My Grade:5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Playwrights' Theatre, the Nora Theatre Company presents the world premiere of "Van Gogh in Japan" by R.L.Lane. Presented in ten scenes (each listed as the title of one of the legendary artist's major paintings, together with designations of time and place) all performed in two acts with a brief intermission. Covering his most productive period, the last five tumultuous years in the great painter's life, beginning with his arrival in Paris from Holland in February 1886, and concentrating on his longtime personal and financial dependency on his devoted brother Theo, coupled wih his feelings of overiding futility. The first act also plumbs Vincent's tenuous involvement with Lisette (a local prostitute and occasional model for some of his paintings) who rejects his marriage proposal...(the wish of that "failure with wooden teeth!" ) and his volatile encounters with other notable artists such as Emile Bernard and Edgar Degas. It culminates with his departure in 1888 for his idealized "Japan," based on notions derived from previous copies he had fashioned from Japanese woodcuts. He had come to see, in his mind's eye, the remote, rural, colorful and picturesque landscapes of Southern France, as a new beginning, as his own special, exotic, and faraway "paradise." Act two begins ten months later in Arles, with his bloody self mutilation, obviously driven by his rampant despair and disillusionment. His turbulent association with fellow artist Paul Gaugin, the creation of such masterworks as his "Starry Night" and "Cypresses." and his death (after painting his famed "Wheatfield with Crows") by self-inflicted gunshot, brings his vivid life to its distressingly well-known conclusion. It ends with a hopeful epilogue featuring Gaugin thoughtfully reminiscing about Van Gogh as he ponders his forthcoming departure to his own Far-Eastern "paradise." Although little that was not already known about this great artist's life and times is offered here, nevertheless the author's assured direction, the passionate nine member cast, headed by the intelligent performances of Seth Kanor as Van Gogh (appearing physically very much like him), Joe Pacheco as his concerned brother Theo, the fine subdued portrait by Mara Sidmore as Lisette, and the spirited (although often unnecessarily shrill) portrayals by Robert Bonotto as Degas and Scott Severance as Gaugin, continually maintain the audience's involvement and interest throughout! Now playing through March 28. (My Grade:4)


The Gigolo Confessions of Baile Breag
Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Center for the Arts, the Sugan Theatre Company presents the world premiere of "The Gigolo Confessions of Baile Breag" by Ronan Noone, the final work in his "Baile" trilogy. Just as in this instance, all three plays " The Lepers of Baile Baste," (the town of rain), "The Blowin of Baile Gall," (the town of foreigners), and now "The Gigolo Confessions of Baile Breag," (the town of lies), made their debuts in Boston. We meet long time, off-and-on lovers, Paddy and Rosie, once again bitterly quarreling about their relationship. Their rancor has been sparked by the death of William, who was the main attraction of Paddy's thriving "gigilo" trade! Having coralled a large dependable list of the town's neglected and most anxious wives, ready for William's romantic services, it seemed certain that fast-talking Paddy's profits would always be assured! Unfortunately, things began to wind down, initially due to William's developing attraction to one of their "customers," and then later, even more tragically, because of William's unexpected demise. However, while Paddy and William were still fully consumed by and prospering from their "gigolo" business, Paddy and Rosie broke up. Heavily involved in caring for her elderly and highly delusional father, and entangled in a brief romantic dalliance with a local physician, Rosie has decided to return to, and reassert her love for Paddy. As their virulent reunion progresses, all of her anger, resentment, and disappointment with Paddy wells up, and are vocally hurled at him, interspersed with mixed moments of touching Irish song and poetry. Throughout their ongoing discord, the ghost of William appears, not only in his own form, but also as his representing others, such as her now deceased father, to also participate in the couple's acrimonious reconciliation. Vividly portrayed by Billy Meleady as Paddy, Judith McIntyre as Rosie, and Miguel Cervantes as William, under Carmel O'Reilly's firm direction, although many of the motivations driving their tumultuous relationship are neither clear nor fully explored, nevertheless this final, compelling piece, is still a very worthy addition to the author's notable Celtic trilogy. Now playing through February 28. (My Grade:4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Jimmy Tingle's "Off Broadway," in Somerville, Mass., Charles Productions presents the area premiere of "Flanagan's Wake," the long running, interactive fun-fest which began in Chicago in 1994, and has since been warmly received in Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Rochester and Philadelphia, amongst other major cities...and now makes its Greater Boston debut. Well stuctured, and partly improvised with lots of audience participation, the evening revolves boisterously around a wake held in the Town Hall of the fictional village of Grapplin, County Sligo, Ireland. Featuring a cast of seven actors and a pianist, who have come to the wake to "mourn" the departed, but primarily really just to hear the reading of his will. Often eliciting suggestions from the overflowing, enthusiastic audience, the young highly- spirited cast repeatedly expands their well prepared and proven framework by introducing, on-the-spot, improvised anecdotes and stories interspersed with impromptu ribald songs, which continually test their extemporaneous skills! From Father Fitzgerald's discussions about the little known "Book of Kevin" (the long missing and secret fifth Gospel? ), Fiona Finn, the decades-long fiancee of the deceased, who continuously and tearfully flings herself atop Flanagan's crate-like coffin (emblazoned with the notification of "this side up"), and Flanagan's crotchety, addled old mother, who regularly offers snarls, grunts and similar comments about those assembled, that are all totally unintelligible, the evening cascades on with a myriad of often riotous, verbal and musical moments. As expected, not all of their pranks do succeed, as in a rather contrived minglng of Snoop-Dog and the American Grammy Awards with Irish Banshees (?), that definitely falls short...but, informing us that "the road to Mary Kelly's house is really a ditch!" or finding a way to use turkey-calling ( as prompted by the audience) as the focus of an Irish ballad, more often than not, really do connect! Steve Turner as Father Fitzgerald, Kathleen Brophy as Fiona Finn, Chuck Karvelas (the show's Executive Producer) as the loquacious Town Mayor, and Bob Karish as the incomprehensible Mother Flanagan, are especially notable, amongst the talented cast, under Mark Czoske's strong direction. Although not all of the cast's Irish brogues ring true, most of the comic inspirations do. Now playing an ongoing, open-ended engagement. (My Grade:4)


Review by Norm Gross

The Lyric Stage Company of Boston presents the New England premiere of "The Spitfire Grill", with Music and Book by James Valcq and Lyrics and Book by Fred Alley. Based on the award-winning, similarly-titled 1996 motion picture, it has enjoyed much approval with regional theatres since its success Off-Broadway, after being adapted as a musical play. Set in 1999, in Gilead, Wisconsin (a small, isolated, rural town), the plot centers on young, female Percy, who comes to this tiny hamlet after being paroled from prison. There, she is warily hired by elderly Hannah, the testy and moderately handicapped owner of the community's only diner, where she helps preparing meals with Shelby (a middle-aged,brow-beaten, housewife ). As these three eventually begin to interact with each other, they learn of Hannah's longstanding and unsuccessful efforts to sell her restaurant and to retire. They then decide to help her to achieve her goal, by offering the diner, using a $100 application fee as the prize to the best judged written entry in a nationwide letter-writing contest. As the mail pours in by the thousands, many changes have also taken place, to the inhabitants of Gilead, thanks mainly to Percy. Sheriff Sutter, Percy's young handsome parole officer, begins to show some romantic interest in her, Shelby begins to assert herself in response to the demands of Caleb, her overly, autocratic husband, and Hannah's life is decidedly altered, for the better, by a new and significantly changed awareness. However, when the reasons for Percy's imprisonment come to light, some uncertainty begins to cloud her future. Tenderly sung and vividly acted by the accomplished seven member cast, with solid approval for pretty and positive Elisabeth Hayes as Percy, Bobbie Steinbach as the irascible Hannah, and especially Maryann Zchau (an actress of wide-ranging versatility) as the much transformed Shelby, with nicely sensitive support from Christopher Chew as Sheriff Sutter, Derek Stearns as Shelby's domineering mate, and Cheryl McMahon as the town's grandly amusing gossip, amongst others. Assuredly directed by Spiro Veloudos, with a fine interior diner-styled setting, flanked by a deftly suggested background of bleak woods and barren trees, designed by Brynna Bloomfield. Lastly, much commendation is also due for the show's tender and expert blend of Folk, Pop, and Country-Western influences in the production's touching and expressive musical score! Now playing through March 13. (My Grade:5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Actors' Workshop is a new production of "Dirty Day " by Brian McGrail. Staged in Pasadena, California in 1996, and more recently Off-Broadway in New York City, this presentation represents the play's New England premiere. Set in South Boston, the play was inspired by the Gangland aura and events culminating in the crime-laced murder of the author's father in 1985. As in the playwright's own background, "McGrath's Tavern " had been owned and operated by the McGrath family for many years, and now after the recent mob killing of the owner, his son, college trained Bobby,Jr. has decided to continue managing this well-known neighborhood Bar, primarily to uncover the reasons for his dad's violent death, thereby achieving some measure of closure, for himself. Kevin, a longtime childhood friend, who is employed as a "Bouncer" in a nearby Bar, has accidently killed Jacky, the youngest son of Tommy Shea,Sr., the local Crime Boss, and now seeks Bobby's help in disposing of the corpse. As young Bobby gets more involved in assisting his pal, he soon becomes entangled in a web of illicit money schemes, widening deceits, and burgeoning betrayals. These elaborate money deals not only bind him to his buddy Kevin, but also begin to tie him to Tommy,Jr., the Crime Lord's eldest son, who has devised a myriad of double-dealing lures, intended to entice Bobby into joining his father's criminal activities. As the young Barkeep then gradually begins to discover the nature of the Sheas' linkage to his father's death, and the real reasons behind Tommy,Jr's. "friendly " overtures, he devises his own plan for vengeance, with devastating consequences! Tightly directed by the playwright, with fine, visceral and intense performances by Joseph McEachern as Bobby, Chris Fencer as Kevin, and Tom Kazmouski as Tommy,Jr. with somewhat, obviously expected revelations provided by Rick Winterson, as the loose-tongued Barfly, who sparks the play's dire and inexorable conclusion. This taut exploration of the author's own tragic background, as unfortunately defined by Boston's criminal fringe, highlighted by many of its most despicable aspects, is now playing through March 12. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Tremont Theater, The International Society presents " Fresh Fruit's Greatest Pits," a pointedly gay musical comedy revue written, choreographed, produced and creatively and colorfully costumed by the Show's five member cast: Peter Gaioni, Walter Hildner, Glen Klein, Eric Martellini, and Rodney VanDerwarker. Featuring 17 grandly outrageous and generally hilarious parodies of well-known tunes drawn from Broadway, Hollywood and the Pop World, interspersed with several very amusing spoofs of typical TV-style, Late Night type, "Not Sold in Stores," Hard-Sell, commercials, projected onto a large, centrally-hung motion picture screen. Initially, the festivities begin with the quintet dressed in full, colorful, evening gowns, sporting (a la Carmen Miranda) elevated headwear composed of assorted fresh produce (bananas, grapes, oranges, pears, etc.). "Goin' to the Chapel" is sung here as "Goin' to the Catskills" (to get our daughters married), "Be Our Guest" from Disney's "Beauty and the Beast " is re-fashioned as "Wear a Dress" ( you'll feel like a Princess), "Osama" (the Afghana Psycho, who killed his Mama), Gilbert & Sullivan reworked as " 3 Little Gays at School" (dancing just like Britney Spears), their jovial salute to the Dali Lama, "Hello Dali" ("start the chant fellas, but don't step on that ant, fellas"),and even their parody of Mel Brooks' "Springtime for Hitler" , featuring the cast fully costumed as flower pots (!), singing "Spring for the Right Washington" (winter for women and gays, but now school children will be able to pray). An obvious, small, double-branched, garden twig, being promoted as the All-Purpose "Super Stick" (available by mail order only from Gyppo), a new improved undergarment, better than "Depends," ("cuz Life ain't so hot, when you're missing the pot"), and commonplace drinking water, now bottled and offered to everyone as "Aqua-G!" are just a few examples of the Company's highly amusing video-styled take-offs! Performed on the theater's stage, radiantly draped (in vivid crimson), this rollicking, non-stop, occasionally inspired, sometimes contrived, but more often than not, frequently very amusing revue, is now playing through February 21. (My Grade: 4.5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston Playwrights' Theatre, Boston Theatre Works presents the world premiere of "Conspirancy of Memory " by Steven Bogart. Dr. Ivan Jacob, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, relocated to America since the end of World War II, looks forward with his family to the approaching Bar Mitzvah of his young grandson. Unfortunately, Ivan nearing age 80, is also suffering the early onset of Alzheimer's disease. His disorder is also beginning to stir long repressed memories of his horrific past. He has become convinced that Franz Haus, the head of the firm that employs his daughter,(the mother of his grandson) was in fact a sadistic Nazi Doctor. This idea impels him to relentlessly stalk and survey this accused war criminal. Alarmed and questioning the reliability of her father's senses, Ivan's daughter seeks help from a Holocaust investigative agency. Avram Levy, the group's aggressive Jewish representative, once heavily immersed in Ivan's case, and spurred on by the advancing nature of the elder's Azheimer memory-related problems, forces him to confront some disquieting and startling aspects about himself during the Holocaust. As Avram succeeds in making Ivan face these disturbing conditions in his own past, the drama begins to suggest answers to questions that Ivan's family must resolve, not only about Alzheimer's disease, but also regarding conflicted attitudes and judgements they hold towards him as a Holocaust survivor. Regretably, after posing this compelling dilemma, and giving us an inkling of his family's ability to cope with Ivan's troubled past and present, the author then neither confirms nor denies Ivan's accusations against Franz Haus! Although intensely acted by Leonard Auclair as Ivan, and Ken Baltin as Avram, with a somewhat unvarying performance by Sharon Mason as the concerned daughter, and highlighted by overpowering projections, and striking lighting on all four sides of the auditorium, depicting graphic scenes of the Concentration Camps and their victims, as designed by Caleb Wertenbaker, ....nevertheless, the play, while raising many provocative issues about Alzheimer's disease and the Holocaust, ultimately leaves too much of genuine relevance and importance unexplored and unresolved! Now playing through February 22. (My Grade:3)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Center for the Arts is the SpeakEasy Stage Company's premiere production of "The Last 5 Years," a musical play written and composed by Jason Robert Brown. Originally staged in Chicago in 2001, and still later in New York, it went on to win Off-Broadway's "Drama Desk" awards for Music and Lyrics in 2002. Closely based initially on the author's own failed marriage, its Manhattan debut was delayed by legal action, initiated by his ex-wife, necessitating some major changes making the plot much less autobiographical. The story is told musically, in its entirety, (90 minutes, without an intermission) sung alternately by its two characters, Jamie and Catherine, in 14 songs. He sings about their relationship, from its beginning to its end, while she responds by singing about her participation, starting with their break-up, completely in reverse! Jamie, an aspiring Jewish writer, falls in love with, and marries Christian Catherine, a fledgling actress. As his career flourishes, her efforts flounder. To complicate matters, his success leads him into extramarital involvements, a troublesome combination, that ultimately dissolves their marriage. As stated above, the Author-Composer's songs tell their whole story. Commencing with her plaint about their separation, "Still Hurting," and continuing with his initial attraction to his beautiful "Shiksa Goddess," to their romance's crest, "The Next Ten Minutes," (when they exchanged rings), leading subsequently to the touching "If I Didn't Believe In You," and the vexing "I Can Do Better Than That!" and finally culminating with the painful "Goodbye Until Tomorrow." Vividly sung by Tally Sessions as Jamie and Becca Ayers as Catherine, both with strong full voices, as marshalled by Eric Engel's sure and focused direction, with tender musical accompaniment by a fine small piano, violin and cello ensemble conducted by Paul Katz. Also quite noteworthy is the play's striking circular setting, with its compelling revolving central platform designed by Susan Zeeman Rogers. Although there's no one particular melody that really stands apart from the rest of the score, the music's overall impact is still quite commanding, nevertheless! Now playing through February 29. (My Grade:4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wheelock Family Theatre is their new production of "Inherit the Wind" by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. First staged on Broadway to much approval in 1955, it was later successfully produced as a major Hollywood motion picture in 1960, and again in 1999 as a premiere made-for-television movie. Based on the celebrated 1925 "Monkey Trial" in Dayton,Tennessee, the play closely follows the major events of this legendary case, while making a few significant modifications, alterations and changes, for dramatic purposes, without compromising the basic facts of this historic event. John Scopes (here called Bert Cates), a public school teacher, challenged his State's law, prohibiting the teaching of "Evolution," by instructing his students in Darwin's Theory. He was arrested and then tried, with William Jennings Bryan, three-time Presidential candidate, (here known as Matthew Harrison Brady ), speaking for the Prosecution, and the great trial lawyer Clarence Darrow (now identified as Henry Drummond) representing the Defense. The trial came to National prominence, at that time, mainly because of the newspaper accounts by famed journalist H.L.Mencken (here called E.K.Hornbeck). While Act One unfolds in a slow and rather overly folksy fashion, centering primarily on Jury selection, and some of the preliminary legal maneuvers and contentions between Brady and Drummond, the drama's best and most potent moments arise in Act Two. With Brady relentlessy trumpeting the inviolable facts of the Bible, Drummond using irony, cunning, and carefully developed and measured logic, is able not only to disarm his rival, but also to deflate his pompous sense of self righteousness, with compelling yet somber and mixed consequences. As expected, although the townspeople, stirred by the fiery sermons of their Fundamentalist Clergymen, insured that Cates would be found Guilty, Drummond's brilliant interweaving of Reason and Humor to illuminate the Allegorical aspects inherent in the Bible, do achieve the moral highground for himand Cates. Neil Gustafson as Drummond, and Dan Dowling as Brady, give fine, intense performances in the play's central roles, heading the large, nearly 40 member cast, with solid support from Shelley Bolman as the defendant, with equally praiseworthy acting by Karen Q. Clark as his conflicted sweetheart, torn by her love for Cates, and her loyalty to her Bible-thumping Father Reverend Brown (well played by Ed Peed ),with commendation also for Mark S. Cartier as Hornbeck. Susan Kosoff's strong direction and Janie E. Howland's impressive courtroom setting, complete with gently rotating ceiling fans, add just the right touch to this strongly presented re-examination of the never ending strugglebetween those championing Intellectual Freedom and the limiting demands of those favoring Thought Control. Now playing through February 22. (My Grade:4)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass. is the area premiere of their new production of "The Dazzle " by Richard Greenberg. Suggested by the lives of the Collyer brothers, the author admits (in the program notes) to "knowing almost nothing" about them, and just using their notoriety "to jumpstart his imagination." These famous siblings, Homer and Langley, became front page news back in 1947 when an anonymous phone call alerted the authorities to come to their bizarre boarded-up, Harlem mansion in New York City, where amidst massive mountains of collected junk, they discovered the long dead, decaying corpses of the two famed, reclusive brothers. As stated, Greenberg has used these basic facts to fashion this award-winning, two act, fictional study of their descent into alienation and withdrawal. Act One, set at the beginning of the 20th Century, finds the Collyers still active in wordly pursuits. Dressed in fine tuxedos, they play host to wealthy heiress Milly Ashmore, who has taken a romantic fancy to Langley, a man she feels is a talented and promising pianist. Homer, trained in Admiralty Law, now devotes himself to protecting his fragile brother, and hopes that Langley's marriage to Milly will serve to restore them financially. Unfortunately, however, their wedding will never be, as Langley is gradually becoming distanced from reality. Act Two, 30 years later, finds them living as hermits in their once ornate and now squalid estate, barricaded in piles of trash from their now deteriorating and crime-ridden neighborhood. Langley's fixation on minutiae (an ordinary, plain thread, or a singular pine needle) defines his complete withdrawal from actuality, while Homer's obsessive guardianship of his frail kin, has also been equally devastating. The unexpected return of Milly, now homeless and fallen on hard times, into their abode, adds a surprising twist to their outlandish lifestyle, leading still later to a somber and disquieting revelation. Bill Mootos as Homer, Neil Casey as Langley, and Anne Gottlieb as Milly, all give intense and compelling performances under Weylin Symes' confident direction, with special mention for Gianni Downs' impressively cluttered Victorian setting. Although the Collyers' fixation on surrounding themselves within towering walls of refuse, is never fully clarified. Nevertheless, there is still much to commend in this otherwise provocative examination of despair, withdrawal and isolation. Now playing through February 8. (My Grade:4)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Cutler Majestic Theatre in Boston, the New England Conservatory Opera Theatre has presented, for an all too brief weekend-only engagement, its new production of "La Calisto," by Franceso Cavalli. Long after its original premiere in 1651, this charming, much neglected, 17th century work was rediscovered, newly adapted, and reintroduced to the contemporary musical world, at the Glyndbourne Festival in 1970, by Baroque Specialist Raymond Leppard. Since then it has generated much ongoing interest, and has enjoyed substantial subsequent approval. Set in the celestial Arcadian domain, Calisto, a chaste nymphet, is torn between her love for the Huntress Diana and Jove, the supreme imperial ruler. Jove, disguised as Diana, unbeknownst to her, attempts to decieve Calisto into falling in love with him, but to further complicate everything, the real Diana appears. Still greater entanglements and confusions develop when it's revealed that Diana actually loves Endymion, a simple shepherd, and Linfea, a crafty nymph, together with Pan, the God of the shepherds, intend to create more disruptions. Disorder continues to build when Jove's wife Juno decides that Calisto represents a threat to her marriage, and casts a magic spell over her rival. Later, finally realizing that doing whatever she will, Jove will still always be fickle, Juno lifts her enchantment from Calisto, with Diana then able also to achieve her true love. Vividly acted, and (with only a few, occasional, minor exceptions) grandly sung by the large, young, enthusiastic student cast, high praise is due for Sopranos Maria Alu in the title role, Jamie Van Eyck as Diana, and Katherine Blumenthal as Juno, with special mention for Baritone Jermaine Hill as Jove, and most especially for the superb Counter Tenor Jason Abrams as Endimione. Strongly and assuredly directed by Marc Astafan. Caleb Wertenbaker's simple, effective, and sublimely ethereal setting, Andrew Poleszak's handsome celestial costumes, and most definitely Guest Conductor: Christopher Larkin's confident and commanding guidance of the full orchestra, add the final full measure to this delightful, well mounted, presentation! (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge. Mass. is the American Repertory Theatre's new production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream." A quartet of ill-fated sweethearts have fled to a magical forest governed by the Fairies' King and Queen. Although Hermia is in love with Lysander and their friend Demetrius loves Helena, they've all had to run away because Theseus, the Governor of Athens, has ordered Hermia to wed Demetrius instead. There in this enchanted woodland, Puck, the Fairy King's messenger-boy, jinxes them all by confusing and realigning their romantic attachments, with calamitous results. Nearby, in this same bewitched place, Bottom, a foolish laborer, and a group of his equally dimwitted worker-friends, have gathered to rehearse a play to pay homage to Theseus. However, as a grandly mischievious prank, Puck decides to transform Bottom by changing his human head into that of a donkey, with wildly comic consequences! As expected, by the play's conclusion, all of the magical conversions have been repaired, the four sweethearts are properly reacquainted, and Bottom now posturing again with his original head, is able to perform the play as intended, with his fellow bumpkins. However, in this most unusual and decidedly dissimilar interpretation of Shakespeare's usually comic-fantasy, Director Martha Clarke has placed a fascinatingly different and somber spin on it all. Here, the Bard's verdant forest is now a dark and treeless landscape, reminiscent of Samuel Becket's analogous terraine, where his two hapless vagabonds await their mysterious appointment. The four befuddled sweethearts are now also quite visibly annoyed with and contrary to each other, as Puck slips in and out of several forbidding large onstage trench-like burrows, to further stir up additional mayhem. As the confusion continues to build, thanks to a very elaborate complex of ropes, cables and pulleys, four highly animated and inventive female fairies glide, somersault, soar, (frontwards, backwards, up and down) high above the play's action, delightfully suggesting obviously whimsical, unspoken physical attitudes towards the variously perplexed players below. These represent the production's most memorable moments. Vividly portrayed, although occasionally much too shrilly, by Michi Barall as Hermia, Tug Coker as Lysander, Katherine Powell as Helena, and Daniel Talbott as Demetrius, with fine compelling support by John Campion and Karen MacDonald as both the commanding Theseus and his indignant wife, as well as also effectively portraying the lively King and Queen of the Fairies! Lastly, I must add some well deserved praise for the triumphantly comic performance by Thomas Derrah, one of the region's finest and most versatile actors, as the uproariously bewitched, donkey-like Bottom, with a grandly farcical portrayal by Remo Airaldi as one of his most absurd cohorts. This strange, imaginative, extraordinary, and occasionally bewildering and/or disquieting, yet still continually provocative, presentation is now playing through February 28. (My Grade:4)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Playwrights' Theatre is the Nora Theatre Company's production of "Full Gallop," by Mark Hampton and Mary Louise Wilson. A one-woman play about Diana Vreeland, set in her Park Avenue apartment in August 1971, where after serving nine years as the legendary Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Magazine, she finds herself out of a job. However, her reputation as the Fashion World's "High Priestess" guarantees that she won't be unemployed for very long. In fact, soon thereafter, she would be hired by New York's Metropolitan Museum, as head of their prestigious Costume Institute. Nevertheless, the play's action covers only the day of her dismissal from Vogue. Known for her fascination with the color red, her famous apartment is resplendently decorated-- ablaze in all things Scarlet...tables, chairs, lounges, drapes, and whatever else, all brightly gleaming in varying shades of red! Equally well known, for her own stark appearance, she is strikingly dressed in black turtleneck sweater and slacks, topped by straight jet-black hair and facial makeup accented by cheekbones streaked with roug.! As she prepares for a dinner party in her home that same evening, she chats enthusiastically with the audience about her life and experiences, reminiscing about Berlin, before World War II, her early happy years in Paris, and her arrival in America at the outbreak of the War. Laced with bubbling commentary about the many celebrities, both famous and infamous, such as Audrey Hepburn, Coco Channel, and Helena Rubenstein, to Valenciaga and even Adolph Hitler, that she's come in contact with during her fabulous lifetime. Ever ready with a deft quip about each of them, she is quick to remember her observation, from a distance, at a pre-war Opera,about the Dictator's absurdly foolish moustache. Vividly portrayed by Annette Miller, who is once again being assuredly directed by Daniel Gidron (repeating their triumphant collaboration, in last year's highly acclaimed production of "Golda's Balcony "), all grandly enhanced by Brynna Bloomfield's vibrantly colorful setting (as described above), and Gail Astrid Buckley's similarly noted Costume Design. This finely crafted, well staged, and vigorously acted, character study of one of Fashion's most revered and celebrated Icons, is now playing through February 1. (My Grade:5)


Review by Norm Gross

"CIRQUE ELOIZE presents NOMADE" is now at Boston's Wilbur Theatre, a combination of a wide variety of extraordinary Circus feats accented by singing, dancing, lively orchestral accompaniment and an overall unifying theme that ties it all together. This vibrant Canadian Company, founded 10 years ago, has enjoyed much success during this past decade, with acclaimed presentations throughout the U.S. and triumphant touring productions going from France, England, Greece, and Austria to Japan and the Far East. Performed on stage in two acts, divided by a brief intermission, for two hours, this 15 member group of commanding athletically gifted young men and women, enthralled the capacity audience with a succession of remarkable and awe-inspiring examples of their spectacular physical skills and daring! Framed by a bride (in white wedding gown) and her groom preparing for their rural-style nuptials, the Company executed a striking series of acrobatic stunts ranging from vaulting, tumbling, balancing, juggling, and clowning, utilizing everything from a high, swinging trapeze, ropes and straps, a teetering seesaw board, grandly elevated poles, large rapidly circling hoops, wooden chairs piled high, one upon another, and a huge rolling globe, to handstands, headstands, and even nimble, multi-directional unicycling (up, down, frontwards, backwards, and around and around )! Besides these noteworthy acrobatics, the evening was also spiced with grand compelling and comic moments, such as two inventive jesters artfully struggling to don the same short coat as they concluded by playing each others accordian and guitar, as strapped in reverse, onto each others back, and a memorable contortionist who kept bending her torso and manipulating her arms, legs, and feet, into every imaginable pretzel-like position! With captivating music provided by a spirited, onstage, Gypsy-styled band (clarinet, violin, and accordion), enhanced by the Company's members joining them throughout, in many varied French, Italian, and other such songs! Under Daniele Finzi Pasca's well focused direction, the evening comes to a genuinely noteworthy finale with the countryside Wedding Party capped by two acrobats, male and female, performing exceedingly arduous moves on a highrise pole, amidst a substantial downpouring of onstage rain, all to the roaring, standing approval, of the enthusiastically applauding, spellbound audience! Now playing through January 25. (My Grade:5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Wellesley College's Alumnae Hall in the Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre in Wellesley, Mass. is the Wellesley Summer Theatre's new production of "After Mrs. Rochester," by Polly Teale. A recent success in London, this absorbing, multi-dimensional drama is based on the life of Jean Rhys, the celebrated author of "Wide Sargasso Sea," the acclaimed 1966 prequel to Charlotte Bronte's classic 19th century novel, "Jane Eyre." Like the unhinged and sequestered wife of Mr. Rochester, the host of Bronte's brooding tale, Rhys was also a Creole, born and raised in the West Indies, who was likewise sent to England as a young woman. There, she gradually began to founder as a despairing and rootless immigrant. In the legendary novel, Rochester responds to his wife's madness by locking her up in the attic of his large, remote mansion. Upon reading Bronte's masterful work, Jean Rhys' interest was greatly spurred by her empathy for this kindred, misunderstood and abused, imaginary fellow Creole. The play's vividly overlapping and compelling story-line, laced as it is with many flashbacks and shifts in time and place, centers on three actresses. The main performer represents Rhys from pubescence to mid-maturity, while the second portrays her as elderly, observing and commenting on her younger self's tumultuous past. The last player is presented as Bronte's fractured and mistreated fictional character. After being sent, as a youngster, to England by her harsh and domineering mother, Jean Rhys progresses from employment as a floundering and inadequate chorus girl to marriage to a suave and deceptive felon. Their union dissolved, she eventually travels to Paris where she then becomes romantically involved with Ford Madox Ford, a prominent, middle-aged British novelist. Once again ultimately confonted with rejection, she suffers many succeeding trials with instability and depression, as mirrored by the terse observations of her elder self and the attendant and unbridled despair of her fabricated alter-ego. Intensely portrayed by Alicia Kahn as the younger and Lisa Foley as the elder Jean Rhys, with a striking performance by Melina McGrew as Rochester's tortured wife. Plaudits also for the large, effective supporting cast headed by Stephen Cooper as Ford Madox Ford and Charlotte Peed as Jean's tyrannical mother, all potently directed by Nora Hussey. Ken Loewit's sparse and creative set, efficiently utilizing an otherwise nearly bare stage, with an interesting assemblage of wooden crates and trunks to effectively suggest the play's many different locations, as well as Andrew Poleszak's fine period costumes, also deserve much commendation! This engrossing, stimulating and passionately acted drama is now playing through January 24. (My Grade:5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the New Repertory Theatre in Newton, Mass. is their new production of "The Three Penny Opera." A dramatic play with music, featuring Book and Lyrics (in German) by Bertolt Brecht and Music by Kurt Weill, which was originally staged in Berlin in 1928. Like "The Beggar's Opera," the 18th century English play by John Gay upon which this version is based, it offers us a dark and bitter perspective on Bourgeois values. Originally set in Victorian England, it chronicles the escapades of MacHeath, a notorious outlaw and charismatic Champion of London's Underworld, who has married, without Parental consent, Polly, the daughter of Mr. Peachum, the leader (with his wife) of the community's Criminals, Prostitutes and Beggars! Through a series of betrayals, initially by his in-laws and later by others, especially by Pirate Jenny, a maltreated whore, MacHeath finds himself jailed and sentenced to be hung. A last minute reprieve by the King, offers him his final vindication. Originally staged unsuccessfully on Broadway in 1933, it was triumphantly revived Off-Broadway in 1954, thanks to a new and vibrant English translation (Book and Lyrics) by Marc Blitzstein, and it is this later version, that has been the primary reason for the play's ongoing popularity, ever since. Here now, we are presented with a disconcerting new and harsher translation, featuring Dialogue by Robert MacDonald and Lyrics by Jeremy Sams. "Mack the Knife," the show's main song, is now retitled and sung as "The Flick Knife Song," revealing MacHeath as a viscous scoundrel, who garotes and slashes his prey, (as if to somehow infer that describing him as a ruthless shark was really somewhat much nicer), with similarly jarring changes to the song about "Pirate Jenny," "the Army Song," (here renamed "the Cannon Song ") and "Solomon's Song " changed, for whatever reason, to "Socrates' Song," all decidedly less engaging and certainly less memorable than Blitzstein's efforts! Similarly, according to the Company's advance notices, the show's original setting has also been changed to "London of the near future," and notwithstanding occasional sounds of overhead, flying helicopters, and incidental references to computer chips and other such contemporary miscellany, Frances Nelson McSherry's vividly striking costumes, still do suggest Victorian England. Although well played by Todd Alan Johnson as MacHeath, with strong acting and singing by Susan Molloy as Polly, Paul D. Farwell and Nancy E. Carroll as Mr. and Mrs. Peachum, and Leigh Barrett as Pirate Jenny, marshalled by Rick Lombardo's intense direction, the theatre's small stage seemed overly crowded, with the large cast presented as too stationary throughout most of the First Act, while much greater verve and mobility were evident in the more active and fluid Second Act, framed by Peter Colao's fine atmospheric and seedy warehouse setting. Now playing through February 8. (My Grade: 3)


Review by Norm Gross

Boston's Huntington Theatre Company is now presenting "Bad Dates," a new one-person play by Theresa Rebeck. A major Off-Broadway success last year, this production represents its Boston premiere. Set in Manhattan, the play's action centers on Haley, a divorcee, living together with her 13 year old daughter in their New York apartment. Chatting effortlessly, directly with the audience for 90 minutes, Haley talks freely and animatedly about her life, her expectations, her successes and disappointments. Beginning as a waitress in a local restaurant, she has progressed to become its manager, and is now planning to restart her social life. Humorously choosing from the many, many fashionable shoes she owns and loves, while deciding what clothing she'll wear, she gradually begins to describe her return to the dating "Merry-go-round!" The play's title tells us much about the results. In a vivid series of delightful descriptions, she tells us about her various meetings. Starting with the date who complained endlessly about his colon and his cholesterol, (aggravated by the breakup with the girl he really loved), as well as the Columbia University Professor of Law (arranged for her by her mom) who turned out to be gay, and even the Buddhist transcendentalist who connects with everything in life, including the insect world, (whom she jokingly refers to as "the Bug Guy"). Julie White, the star for whom the play was actually written, and its sole performer, is absolutely superb! She is grand, compelling and completely genuine throughout, under John Benjamin Hickey's assured direction. Regrettably, Haley's lighthearted escapades at the finale, take a decidedly somber and dark turn, in sharp contrast to everything that's gone on up to that point, bringing this otherwise captivating and joyful character study to a distressingly weak and obviously highly contrived conclusion. Now playing through February 1. (My Grade:3.8)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Lyric Stage is their new production of "Private Lives," Noel Coward's classsic 1930 comedy of marital mayhem. Winner of the 2002 Tony Award as the year's best revival, this legendary seventy+ year old romp has been a perennial audience pleaser since its original London and New York stagings with, at that time, the author and Gertrude Lawrence as its stars, together with a very young Laurence Olivier as a supporting player. It has been repeatedly performed both professionally and otherwise throughout the succeeding decades, until the much anticipated 1983 Broadway production starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and the more recent prizewinning New York renewal featuring Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan. Set in three acts, the play focuses on Elyot and Amanda, formerly wed Mayfair-styled sophisticates, who after 5 years of divorce have remarried and--as the plot unfolds-- initially in contiguous suites in a posh hotel in Southern France, find themselves honeymooning, each with his or her new spouse, in adjoining hotel rooms. After discovering, to their total annoyance, their "new," all too familiar neighbors, comic sparks fly! Their old rejected love suddenly reasserts itself, to the complete dismay of their new mates, and surprising complications humorously develop for them all. Grandly performed with much comic flair by Paula Plum as Amanda and Michael Hammond as Elyot, deft support is provided for them by wimpering Amy B. Corral and stuffy Barlow Adamson as their appalled and abandoned newlyweds. With high marks for Scott Edmiston's spirited direction, lively and highly colorful Art-Deco styled sets designed by Janie E, Howland, and the bright period costumes fashioned by Gail Astrid Buckley, this splendidly engaging frolic scores on all levels! Now playing through January 31. (My Grade:5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Center for the Arts, the Zeitgeist Stage Company presents its production of "Far Away," a new play by Caryl Churchill. Originally staged in London in 2000 and in New York in 2002, this production marks the play's New England premiere. A compact, one act drama ( 55 minutes, with no intermission), it presents us with an apocalyptic view of a World that ironically may not be too far away. We first see Joan (the drama's main character) as a juvenile, visiting her Aunt's home unable to sleep at night, because of screaming in the backyard. Although her Aunt insists that the noise is simply an owl hooting, Joan knows that it is actually her Uncle violently assaulting others. Next we see Joan as a young adult, working in a bizarre millinery factory, with Todd her co-worker, quietly discussing the establishment's job opportunities, as the horrific purpose for their work is brutally revealed. Later, at her Aunt's home once again, we see all three: Joan, Todd, and her Aunt, as fully involved combatants in total world wide war, where everyone and everything is considered suspect and potentially hostile! Not only menacing foreign countries that are able to manipulate air currents, weather patterns, and the course of waterways to serve their adverse goals, but also, women,boys, girls and even small children, who may really be collaborating with the "enemy." Equally ominous likewise, is the imminent threat posed by animals, domesticated or not,...cats, mallards, deers,elephants and especially crocodiles who have now gone rampantly amuck! Although Paul Rorie seemed a bit too dispassionate as Todd, the other cast members, Nicole Brathwaite and Naeemah A. White-Peppers as the juvenile and the adult Joan were quite strong, with fine support from Renee Miller as the Aunt, under David J. Miller's well focused direction. Although written some time before the terrible events of 9/11, our world has undergone so many disquieting, if not indeed alarming, changes since then, that this short, succinct, play's forbidding warnings now resonate still more potently than ever! Now playing through January 24. (My Grade:4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Colonial Theatre is the national touring production of "Urinetown - the Musical," with Music and Lyrics by Mark Hollman and Book and Lyrics by Greg Kotis. Last year's surprise hit on Broadway, this highly unconventional show went on to big popular and critical approval earning the 2002 Tony Awards for Best Music, Lyrics, Book and Direction. Obviously influenced by the legendary pre-Hitler, anti-establishment Germanic epic plays (with music) of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, such as "the ThreePenny Opera," this show likewise centers on a controversial and socially conscious theme. The show's extraordinary title tells us much. Caldwell B. Cladwell, a tyranical money-hungry Corporate FatCat, who because of a crushing longtime drought, now completely controls all of the region's urban water supply, and with the help of dishonest politicians, has banned the ownership and/or use of any and all private toilets, thereby is now able to force the entire victimized citizenry to pay as much as he decides, to use his public restrooms. Furthermore,with the assistance of the area's corrupt Police Force, anyone resorting to the "bushes" to relieve themselves is sent to Urinetown, a forbidding destination from which there is no return. With Police Officer Lockstock as the show's omnipresent Narrator, this same constable continuously explains the story's progress to "Little Sally," a juvenile street urchin who comes to represent the often querulous audience.To their general amusement, Lockstock goes on to analyze, amplify and justify the play's many twists and turns. The plot then finds Cladwell's lovely, young and ethical daughter Hope, meeting and fallng in love with Bobby, Leader of the People's Popular Rebellion against Cladwell's despotic rule. The plot then begins to boil over when Hope becomes a hostage to the Rebels, and Bobby goes to Cladwell's "Urine Good Company's" Corporate headquarters to meet with and challenge her Dad's authority. Not simply an amusing polemic on Business Greed, the show is also a brilliantly witty spoof on many of Broadway's most celebrated Musical successes! "Annie," "Fiddler on the Roof," "West Side Story," "Big River," and "Les Miserables," are just a few of the evening's most engagingly staged parodies. Vividly performed by the highly energetic cast, with striking performances by Tom Hewitt as Lockstock, Meghan Strange as "Little Sally," Charlie Pollock as Bobby, and Christiane Noll as Hope, with additional praise for Ron Holgate as the comically nefarious Cladwell and especially for Beth McVey as a conflicted Security Cashier, all vividly singing in grand, full voices. John Rando's vigorous direction and Scott Pask's stark and somber metallic elevated balcony and stairway set add greatly to this multi-dimensional, highly captivating and quite memorable diversion! Now playing through January 18. (My Grade:5)


Review by Norm Gross

In Sanders Theatre at Harvard University's Memorial Hall in Cambridge,Mass. is the 33rd annual presentation of "The Christmas Revels." This year's program is focused on Scotland's lusty celebration of the Winter Solstice, wih all of the large cast's males properly garbed in fine traditional Scottish tams and kilts, with their Ladies dressed in customary rural style caps, and long dresses. Beginning with "Auld Lang Syne," vividly played by the 6 member Cambridge Symphonic Brass Ensemble, the evening continues on with lively renditions by "The Laird's Consort," (fiddles, pipes, harpsichord, recorder and accordion), the 33 strong, full-voiced, male and female "Auld Reekie Singers," the vigorous four piece "Great Highland Pipes and Drums," the 14 animatedly cavorting "Pinewoods Morris Men," the large "Revels Bairns" group of 16 frisky, playful, singing children, and of course, the agile, high stepping, 11 men and women of "Highland Dance Boston!" Traditional children's songs and games (odes to rhymes, nonsense and candy), sprightly Highland reels, tender recitations of verse by Robert Burns, charming melodies chanted in quaint old Gaelic, robust Scottish step dancing,(much like its Irish counterpart), and as expected, several effervescent Yuletide "Audience Sing-Alongs." Especially noteworthy was the grand festive singing by soloists Jayne Tankersley and Ruth Canonico; Judy Erickson's energetic solo dancing, and particularly David Coffin's witty and musically defined directions and explanations, readying the audience for their participation. Not the least of the evening's ongoing pleasures was the spry, heavily clanking "Papa Stour Sword Dance," with the Pinewoods Morris Men finally locking their sabres together to form a Star; the enactment of "Galoshins," the Scottish version of a Mummers' Play, in which the legendary hero vanquishes the invading Roman Knight; and later, the joyful finale with everyone singing the Company's longstanding concluding Carol, "God bless the Master of this house with happiness..." This grand yearly Holiday Gala (now being performed by similar companies nationwide, from California and Texas to Washington, D.C. and New York City) is a truly jubilant seasonal treat for young and old alike, and is one of the year's most eagerly anticipated pleasures, most deservedly so! Now playing through December 30. (My Grade: 5)


My Life With the Kringle Kult
Review by Norm Gross

Boston Theatre Works presents the world premiere of "My Life With the Kringle Kult," at the Boston Center for the Arts, a Holiday fantasy-farce, written by and starring John Kuntz, and directed by Dani Snyder. Set in Kringletown, Santa Clause, the community's leader, is never seen, forever remaining concealed behind his closed office door. He's helped by Twinkle Kringle, a perky female elf, whose first assignment is to explain everything to us about Kringletown, in a rather lengthy and verbose introduction. Santa's requirements are relayed to his elfin subordinates by Karl Kringle, his primary assistant. Hard work, dedication and strict adherence to Kringletown's wholesome code of conduct will eventually bring his helpers to their ultimate reward, a transcendent "infinite embrace with Santa." All is well until the arrival of Baroness Tinsel Von Shatzdoodle, in reality the masquerading undercover investigating newspaper reporter Page Turner, who's there to write a sensational expose laying bare all of Santa's mysterious secrets! By convincing Karl to turn against his jolly rotund Boss, the Baroness, in reality seeks to overthrow Santa, and then to assume complete control of Kringletown! Twinkle, upset by this dire change of events, turns for help to "Linty," her supreme source of comfort, a jumbo, silent,suspended ball, composed of a multitude of strands of collected belly-lint. Unfortunately, the big fluffy orb isn't of much help! For the next ninety non-stop minutes, this farce then spins frenziedly in a myriad of conflicted directions (most of which are more contrived and labored than genuinely amusing). It careens from a series of frenetic chases and tumbles, to some daffy dream episodes and then to a series of slapstick-inspired, cream-pies, pushed-in-their-faces, which finally-- thanks to so much repetition-- undermine their comedic purpose. It all finally ends with a spoof of Hollywood-styled, Aliens-from-Outer Space, Sci-Fi movies. While the first 30 minutes of this production seemed to promise an imaginative, Holiday-focused fantasy, thereafter everything became so hastily considered, and in such need of a firm, but missing, unifying plot motif to tie everything together, that the overall result was more disconcerting and exhausting, than entertaining. However, much commendation is still due for the small, totally committed and hard working cast: Author-John Kuntz as Karl, Rick Park, generally effective as the towering (costumed in Drag, complete with Blonde female wig,dressed in gaudy evening gown) Baroness and scheming, power hungry news reporter, and most especially for Laura Napoli as the cheerful and earnest Twinkle. This frantic, overlong, and meandering Holiday farce might yet succeed if reworked into a substantially shorter version framed by a much more coherent and disciplined comedic story-line. Now playing through December 28. (My Grade: 1.8)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Lyric Stage is their production (an area premiere) of "Meshuggah -Nuns!" once again featuring Book, Music and Lyrics by Dan Goggin. This fifth outing of the singing and dancing Sisters of the Mount St. Helen's Convent are now ocean-bound onboard a "Faiths of All Nations" cruise, together with a touring company performing "Fiddler on the Roof." Unfortunately, the latter's cast have all become seasick except for Howard, their leading actor, who's playing "Tevye." Naturally, to save the day, the ship's Captain recommends that the two unlikely competitors merge to perform an original, ecumenical revue. With little in common except their similar absorpton with "Guilt," the result is two plotless acts with a mixed bag of new songs that, except for their titles, only occasionally mirror the legendary Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick musical score. Buttressed by an overly extensive parade of corn-fed "humor", such as Klezmer melodies misconstrued as 'Cleanser Music!' or the kid playing "The Jewish Husband," in the Holiday play, requesting 'a speaking role' or the Dairy Sponsor of the Faith-Friendly Talent Show being known as "Cheeses of Nazareth," and the Ma-Jong Club meeting at "Temple Beth Myerson", representing a few examples of the show's abundant reliance on overly-ripe comedy! "Contrition," "Say It In Yiddish" (where a Habit becomes a "Shmattah" [a tattered rag]), " If I Were a Catholic " ( where the convert finally experiences the pleasures of Ham for dinner!), "Three Shayna Maidels " (just like the Andrews Sisters), and "Matzoh Man," with the Nuns outfitted and singing in the style of "The Village People," doing their hit song, "Macho Man!", are some of the more successful numbers with the rest often being more labored than genuinely amusing. The fine, spirited cast Frank Gayton as Howard, Delina Christie as Reverend Mother, Maureen Keiller as Sister Hubert, Maryann Zschau as Sister Robert Anne, and especially the captivating Sarah Corey as the jovial puppeteering Sister Amnesia, do their best with the tired jokes and the heavy-handed and uneven score, under Carolyn Droscoski's knowing direction. Whatever novelty or originality these cavorting Nuns may have initially exhibited when "Nunsense" first premiered years ago, has long since been exhausted by over-exposure and repetition! I think it's time for Composer and Playwright Dan Goggin to try something completely fresh. Now playing through December 27. (My Grade: 2)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston Playwrights' Theatre is their production of "Monticel'" a new play by Russell Lees set in 1800 at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's stately mansion in Virginia, soon after that year's crisis-ridden Presidential election. The voters' decision has left Jefferson and Aaron Burr deadlocked, and the House of Representatives, which must select the winner, seemingly also at a standstill. Francis Williams, an assertive member of the opposing poltical party, has come hoping to convince Jefferson to withdraw from the contest, while James Callender, an opportunistic journalist, has also arrived expecting some recompense for his many efforts supporting Jefferson. Against this turbulent political millieu, an intense personal struggle begins to develop between Jefferson, Sally Hemings, his preferred slave, (with whom he has fathered a child), and her brother, James. The latter, educated and freed by Jefferson five years earlier, has returned to insist on emancipation for his sister. Although he's found life as a free man in Philadelphia difficult and disappointing, he's nevertheless surprised at his sister's reluctance towards his overtures. She seems content with her elevated status, and her assurance that Jefferson will free their son, when the boy reaches manhood. Decisively rebuffed by Jefferson, James turns for assistance to Patsy Randolph, the Master's married daughter, who zealously resents her father's emotional attachment to Sally. Their ardent and combined efforts result only in betrayal and a harsh and bitter resolution, defined by a rarely explored and disquieting perspective of one of our nation's most revered icons! Charles Weinstein as Francis Williams and Steven Barkhimer as James Callender are equally vivid in the play's straight-forward, backroom political epsodes, with a solid and measured portrayal by Sharifa Johnson Atkins as the gentle and reserved Sally Hemings. Although, unfortunately, Nigel Gore seemed much too restrained as Jefferson, Birgit Huppuch was quite appropriately vixenish as Jefferson's bristling daughter, with an extremely commanding and compelling central performance by Vincent Siders as the passionately conflicted James Hemings, under Wesley Savick's very strong direction. Finally, Richard Chambers' striking set, a massive American flag, serving as a wide backdrop extending onto the floor of the stage, flanked to the right by three tall, stone-like columns, (one of which is broken), with an extra-large, framed and semi-transparent architectural rendering of Monticello, behind which the main characters often voiced their deepest interior thoughts, impressively established the story's grandly historical time-period! This well written, passionately performed, and provocatively involving drama is now playing through December 21. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wang Theatre is the Boston Ballet's annual presentation of Tchaikovsky's "the Nutcracker," based on E.T.A. Hoffman's 1816 fairy tale. Set in the mid-19th century, a Magician at an elegant Family Christmas party gives sweet young Clara, an enchanted Nutcracker-toy as her yuletide present. Later, while the entire household is fast asleep, she returns to the party room to play with her gift and is witness to a battle between her Holiday plaything and an army of Mice. Upon vanquishing the legion of rodents, her Christmas trinket is transformed into a handsome young Prince, who then takes her in an airborne balloon to the magical "Palace of Sweets." There, they are both delightfully entertained by a succession of unusual and exotic dancers, from many far-away places. Lorna Feijoo and Yury Yanowsky, majestically turning and pirouetting, as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier; Romi Beppu and Nelson Madrigal as highly animated, dancing Arabians, and Alexandra Kochis and Raul Salamanca as similarly cavorting Chinese, with Joel Prouty very compelling as the vigorous leader of a group of wildly athletic Russians, were all quite eye-filling! Larissa Ponomarenko and Nelson Madrigal, again as the sublime Snow Queen and King and especially Sarah Lamb as the beautifully sensual Dew Drop Fairy, were equally compelling! The sprightly choreography, for the story-establishing Act I, is by Daniel Pelzig, while the more fanciful dance segments in Act II, were devised by Mikko Nissinen. High praise also for Christopher Budzynski as the handsome Nutcracker, Allisyn Hsieh as the enthralled, young Clara, Robert Moore as the mysterious Wizard, and Luke Luzicka as the King of the Mice, were all also very striking. Last, and certainly especially noteworthy, is Helen Pond and Herbert Senn's multiple, ever changing and exquisite settings, and David Walker and Charles Heightchew's resplendent costumes. Once more, this grand Holiday treat is now playing again, for the complete pleasure of young and old, 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 "Snow in June," (a world premiere) adapted and directed by Chen Shi-Zheng, wth text by Charles L. Mee and music by Paul Dresher, based on a legendary 13th century Chinese drama. As the audience enters the theatre, with artificial snow falling gently on the stage, covered with six or more inches of "snow," the play's fascinating story begins to unfold. A lovely young girl, living with an elderly widow, is befriended by an unscrupulous old man and his wicked son. When she rejects the malevolent son's marriage proposal, he seeks revenge by hatching a murderous, toxin-spiked plot against the maiden's elderly companion. When his scheme goes wrong, and results instead in the death of his own old father, the young girl is then unjustly accused of the homicide, and found guilty. After her despicable execution, she returns as a Ghost, cursing them with summer snow, and fervently pursuing vengeance. In a dazzling intermingling of Eastern and Western, ancient and modern motifs, the commanding cast Qian Yi as the avenging spectre, Thomas Derrah as the evil son, Rob Campbell as his ruthless father, and David Patrick Kelly as the aged widow, exuberantly perform their roles, as they seemingly glide (via a series of short, quick, forward-moving steps) across the "snow-covered" stage! They're amusingly assisted by a lively 12 member group of young, male and female performers, armed initially with illuminated "snow-sweeping" brooms, that later turn into an intense barrage of martial arts weaponry, all realized before a large tilted, and glistening painting of framed,colorful, floral patterns, blended with many types of exotic fish, as designed by Yi Li Ming.The diverting musical score, a succession of songs patterned after American "Roots" Music (Blues, Zydeco, and Country-Western styles, amongst other similar forms) vividly propels the play's action forward. The story is further heightened by many sprightly contemporary features, such as the girl's prosecuting magistrate zipping around the stage, in a motorized go-cart, or a grandly absurd, modern Pharmacist tunefully boasting about the many poisons he's able to prescribe, all resoundingly sung and acted by the principle players accompanied by the fine five piece "Andromeda" Band (piano, accordian, violin, banjo, etc.) Lastly, Qian Yi singing a lengthy and exhilarating Operatic Aria in Chinese, as the show's ultimate defining moment, brings this memorable production to a stunning close! This extraordinary presentation is now playing through December 28. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Colonial Theatre is "Def Poetry Jam," an evening of intense, passionate and urban accented verse, bristling with rage, attitude, and street-wise insight and humor. A surprising success when recently staged on Broadway, it went on to win the 2003 Tony Award as "Best Special Theatrical Event." Conceived by Stan Lathan (the show's well-focused Director) and Impressario and Entrepreneur Russell Simmons, eight ardent young adults, (most with his or her own distinctive nickname), representing a wide diversity of ethnic and racial backgrounds and mindsets, take commanding charge of the stage to enthrall, captivate, and ultimately uplift the audience with the sheer power, scope and penetration of their poetry! Atlanta's full-figured "Georgia Me" reflects on "the Fat Girl Blues " highlighted by her inability to forego a jellyroll, and her pained response when men call her "Big Drawers," ever reassured by God, who says, "Love who you are"; Asian-American Beau Sia, who viscerally fashions himself as "the Chinese Hulk Hogan," and fervently prompts us to consider the multi-dimensional contributions that Asian-Americans have always made and continue to make to American life, while their fellow Americans too often disparage the very real sexual potency of the Chinese male; Bassey Ikpi, who was born in Nigeria and raised in Oklahoma, and is saddened that she can only love her grandma in English, having abandoned the native language that America wants her to forget; L.A.'s "Poetri," whose witty denunciation of "Krispy Kreme" doughnuts reminds us that these devilishly tasty treats were created to keep the Black Man "down and round" and just like Michael Jackson always "moonwalkin' through life's pain and tragedy"; Chicago's "Maya Del Valle" then adds her voice by saluting Hispanic Rhythm King Tito Puente as "the Don Corleone of Latin Jazz"; while Suheir Hammad poignantly declares that although she was born in Brooklyn, after September 11's horrific disaster, she now looks much too Arabic! Finally, Philadelphia's "Black Ice" along with Ghetto-savvy "Lemon," on stage with all the other Poets, brings the curtain down and the audience up out of their seats, by resoundingly announcing, "We write America! These poems are Us!...Speak only the Truth, so that even the Blind will see!" This commanding, searing and provocative 90 minute excercise in Urban discontent, as defined by "Hip Hop Culture," and explosive four-letter language, overflowing with outrage, yet still tinged with the sense of possible fulfillment, is now playing through December 14. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

In association with Boston's Huntington Theatre Company, the Boston University Professional Theatre Initiative presents "Holiday Memories," based on "The Thanksgiving Visitor " and "A Christmas Memory," two short stories by Truman Capote, as adapted for the stage by Russell Vandenbroucke. Set in the 1930's in a small, isolated, rural hamlet in Alabama, both memoirs explore the author's early, emotionally-deprived childhood, at which time he was sent by his divorced parents, to live with his "Aunt" Sook, actually Truman's lonely, sensitive, and slightly addle-pated, middle-aged spinster cousin. Virtually plotless, Act I concerns the author, known here as "Buddy," and his interactions with his young, small town friends and older neighbors. Both touching and amusing, awaiting Thanksgiving Day, this tender vignette is framed by Buddy's ongoing curiosity and "Aunt" Sook's childlike enthusiasm. Act II, the stronger of the playlets, revolves wistfully around her enthusiastic annual Christmas preparations, culminating in her energetically and animatedly baking her traditional fruit cakes, assisted this time by Buddy. The author is portrayed by two actors, an adult observer and narrator, and his younger, and more highly involved counterpart. Their remote neighbors are cleverly represented as shadow projections on a large rear neutral backdrop. Sensitively acted by William Gardiner as the adult author, Chris Conner as his younger self, and Bob Braswell and Emily Strange in a variety of roles as Buddy's young acquaintances as well as some older community residents, with a strong, touching portrayal by Helen-Jean Arthur as the warm, simple, and very caring "Aunt" Sook. Affectionately directed by Jim Petosa, with high marks for Kenichi Takahashi's splendid, Depression-era set, which adroitly suggests both "Aunt" Sook's rustic front yard and her plain, homespun kitchen. These gentle nostalgic remembrances are now affectingly on view through December 21. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass. is their new production of "A Christmas Carol," a longstanding traditional holiday favorite since Charles Dickens first wrote it more than 150 years ago. Set in London, its well known and beloved story, knowingly adapted and directed by Troy Siebels, centers on Ebenezer Scrooge, a hardbitten, penny-pinching misanthrope, who changes his ways and comes to appreciate the holiday's true meaning, thanks to a succession of spectral visitations at his bedside on Christmas Eve. The Ghost of Christmas Past, personified by sweet young Katherine Lucas, accompanied by several other white-robed joyfully singing and dancing juveniles; Thomas M. Reiff as the Ghost of Christmas Present, effectively bedecked with a "Boar's Head " topping, also assisted by six spirited Carolers; and Tony Rossi as an eight foot high, bright green Future Christmas, were all quite memorable! Although Diego Arciniegas was often too harsh, and overly exaggerated as the apparition of Marley, Scrooge's deceased and eternally suffering former business partner, fortunately Christopher Chew as Bob Cratchit, the old skinflint's hardpressed and much abused employee, and Shawn Sturnick as Fred, his merrily celebrating nephew, were all equally commendable! Deftly tied together by Peter Edmund Haydu's narration of a series of informative and interlocking passages from Dickens' original text, the entire presentation is warmly enhanced by the large ensemble's fine spirited singing of many well known holiday favorites. High praise is also due for Janie E. Howland's splendidly atmospheric set, consisting of snow-covered Old-English houses that quickly open up to reveal theirquaint, period-styled interiors, and Allison Szklarz's nicely appropriate 19th century costumes. Last, but certainly not least, high regard for Dale Place's commandingly austere and ultimately high spirited portrayal as Scrooge! This special Seasonal treat, recommended for the entire family, is now playing through December 23. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At the New Repertory Theatre in Newton, Mass. is "Blanche & Her Joy Boys," a new one-person play written by Mark St. Germain, based on an earlier concept by Sheryl Bailey Heath and Chris Calloway (the show's star). A co-production with Barrington Stage Company of Western Mass. (where it was performed earlier this year), this presentation represents its Boston area premiere. Ms. Calloway, daughter of Cab Calloway, the legendary Jazz vocalist and Bandleader, salutes the life and times of his sister, her famous Aunt Blanche. Beginning in Baltimore in the years just before World War I, the story follows Blanche Calloway from her earliest childhood days living with her Bible-centered mother to her youthful departure in pursuit of a career as a Jazz artist (very much in opposition to the Matriarch's wishes)! Becoming a Chorus Girl after arriving in New York City, she then moved to Chicago where she rose to leading roles in several popular Musical Revues. Around this same period, she was joined by Cab, her younger brother, briefly performing together as a duo. However, anxious to establish his own stellar solo career, Cab soon quit their partnership. Once again independent, Blanche joined the popular Andy Kirk (and his "Clouds of Joy ") Jazz Orchestra, where she soon moved up to the top ranks. Thereafter she was, and still is, best known for becoming one of the first women of any race, to assume leadership of a major all male Big Band. Act II explores her years of touring and leading her Orchestra, focusing on the many tribulations they endured throughout the Jim Crow South, with her finally turning away from the strenuous and heavy demands of constant traveling. Afterwards a succession of failed marriages, followed by her retirement, with her eventually emerging as the first African-American female Disc Jockey on Miami radio. The final curtain descended for her in the late 1950's, after a 12 year-long losing battle with Breast Cancer. Strikingly performed by Chris Calloway as Blanche, with fine on-stage accompaniment by Pianist David Alan Bunn and Bassist Frank Abraham, under Julianne Boyd's strongly centered direction. Although laced with a number of fine period songs, such as "You Ain't Livin' Right," "You Can't Stop Me From Lovin' You!" and especially "Lonesome, Lovesick Blues," (a recollection of her famed 1924 recorded duet with Louis Armstrong), the first Act is far too talkative, and would benefit greatly from the inclusion of many more musical moments. While Act II does move along tunefully, with greater verve and bounce, vibrantly enhanced throughout by the solo star's vivid and highly animated rhythmic acting and singing, ultimately this play is still not quite as compelling as previous similar Jazz-oriented shows. Now playing through December 14. (My Grade: 3.8)


The Creation of the World and Other Business
Review by Norm Gross

At the Theatre Cooperative in Somerville, Mass. is their new production of "The Creation of the World and Other Business." Written by Arthur Miller, it was originally greeted with only a mixed response when first produced in New York in 1972. Divided into two acts, it follows a rather straightforward course in the retelling of the Book of Genesis. Act One finds Adam alone in the Garden of Eden, amusingly costumed in his "nakedness," and blissfully unaware of the world's travails. After God creates Eve to become Adam's partner, Lucifer, the Lord's assisting Angel, defies the Creator's authority, insisting that man's purpose on Earth necessitates that he multiply. Scorning God's will, Lucifer incites Eve to eat from the Apple of Knowledge, and she then entices Adam to do the same. Suddenly ashamed of their nudity, they are cast out by God. Act Two centers on their two sons, Cain and Abel. Embroiled in ongoing quarrels, initiated by resentments, Cain kills his brother in a dispute over the "unfair" assignment of chores on their family farm. Dismayed by what he sees as Cain's violent use of power as his pathway to equity and recognition, God deigns that as his punishment, Cain must then forever wander the Earth. Throughout, with occasional touches of humor, Lucifer acts as a perpetual provocateur who finds purpose in goading Man to question, challenge and/or rethink God's authority. In so doing, Playwright Miller confronts us with the age-old contentions of Reason vs. Faith. Well acted by Forrest Walter as God, Marc Harpin as Adam, Chinasa Ogbuagu as Eve, Michael Avellar as Abel and Samuel Young as Cain, with a very compelling performance by Naeemah A. White-Peppers as Lucifer. Knowingly directed by Fred Robbins, the production is well centered by a fine, simple setting, (before large, neutral drapes, two elevated, concrete-styled platforms, both with ascending staircases, face each other, the Lord seated on one, and his opposites across from him, separated by the auditorium's bare and expansive stage area), as deftly designed by Thomas M. J. Callahan. Although offering us more questions than answers, adding little that is really new or unusual to our understanding, nevertheless the Author's own vivid and compelling stamp still engages us throughout. Now playing through December 13. (My Grade:4)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Abbott Memorial Theater in Waltham, Mass., the Hovey Players present their new production of "G.R.Point" by David Berry. The author, a veteran of the Vietnam War, has written a grim and incisive drama set in 1969 at the height of that war. It premiered successfully Off-Broadway in 1977. The G.R. in the play's title refers to "Graves Registration," and centers on a specialized detachment of G,I.'s whose job is to enter battle areas (after combat has ended) to retrieve the corpses of their fellow soldiers so that the bodies may then be identified, and placed into black plastic bags for shipment home to the U.S. If war is indeed Hell, their assignment must certainly rank amongst its most Hellish! Their unit is comprised of six seasoned NonComs, plus one lackluster Lieutenant, and Micah, a highly idealistic newcomer. Of the outfit's three African Americans, the most prominent is "Deacon," a Sergeant who takes pleasure in selling his candid snapshots, of dead VietCong to his buddies! Also noteworthy are "Tito," an amiable Hispanic; "Straw," a gentle Pfc., who tries his best to handle the war-dead compassionately; "Zan," a sympathetic Greek-American, who earnestly tries to help Micah; and "Mama-San," a timid, middle-aged Vietnamese widow, working for the group as a menial laborer. Micah's struggle to compromise his altruistic attitudes in the face of the horrific demands of the war, is at the heart of this compelling drama. The accidental death by friendly fire of two of his most trusted comrades, brings his dilemma into full focus. Intensely acted by the excellent nine member cast, with strong performances by Garrett Blair as Micah, and Claude Delas as "Deacon," Ben Bartolone as "Straw," Tyler Raynolds as "Tito," and Patrick Flanagan as "Zan," with a touching portrait by Jenna Lee Scott as "Mama-San," all strikingly directed by Michelle Aguillon. With American soldiers now again in harm's way, this unsparing drama forcefully brings to mind the frightful trials they must endure! Now playing through November 29. (My Grade:5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Cutler Majestic Theatre, the Emerson College School of the Arts, and Emerson Stage presents "The Fabulous Invalid," by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. This little known 1938 fantasy by the authors' of such legendary comedies as "You Can't Take It With You," and " The Man Who Came To Dinner," is presented in a new, updated adaptation by Jeffrey Hatcher, directed by Melia Bensussen, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Boston's classic Majestic Theatre. As initially conceived by Kaufman and Hart, it is 1903 and Paula Kingsley and Laurence Brooks, a married and celebrated acting couple, (teetering on the brink of divorce) are appearing in "Au Revoir, Maude," the premiere production of this splendid new theatre. Unfortunately, as they conclude their performances that evening, they are both suddenly killed by a falling catwalk. A ghostly heaven-sent Stage Manager then appears to assign them each the task of haunting this new Playhouse for eternity. The 20th Century unfolds around them, in two acts. Since the original play ended in 1938, obviously Kaufman and Hart's imprint is most evident in the play's first part. Act I is highlighted by the Great 1930's Depression, the demise of Vaudeville, the rise of Network Radio,Talking Movies, and the popularity of Burlesque Shows. Regretably, most of this is rather plodding, and is not especially amusing, giving much credence to the reasons for the play's obscurity! Act II opens after W.W.II, as a movie house is refashioned as a Television Studio, then is vacated and becomes a hangout for "Flower Children," then turns into a Porno Showcase, and finally becomes a Shelter for the homeless. The dawn of the 21st Century brings with it a surprise that completely restores "the Majestic " to all of its premiere glory! Understandably Hatcher's authority shines throughout this substantially improved second half. Alice Ripley and Steve Hendrickson are both quite compelling as the ghostly couple, with he being particularly memorable near the finale, defending the theatre's past, in a lengthy hilarious monologue laced with a whirlwind of references to a century of theatrical milestones. Rob Morrison as the Heavenly Stage Manager, Ryan Garbayo in a variety of comic roles, and Omar Robinson as an old-style, African American vaudevillian, were standouts, in the otherwise generally uneven student supporting cast. Although the history of Boston's beautifully restored Majestic doesn't really coincide with the play's chronicle of ups-and-downs, (the authors' original '38 setting was in Manhattan's Alexandria Theatre), nevertheless, it still mirrors the past century's cultural changes (much of it, not for the better) with some positive hope here, as well as nationwide, for the future. Now playing through November 23. (My Grade: 3.8)


Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris
Review by Norm Gross

In the Stuart Street Playhouse/2nd Stage Cabaret at Boston's Radisson Hotel is their new production of "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well & Living in Paris." Based on the acclaimed Gloucester (Mass.) Stage Company's production of this past summer, as originally directed by Scott Edmiston (and now restaged by Music-Director Todd Gordon and Assistant Director Nicole Jesson), it originally premiered Off-Broadway in 1968, playing to enthusiastic audiences for 1,847 performances. It was staged later in London and also released as an American Film Theater motion picture in 1975. A Manhattan revival on stage was mounted in 1988, and once again, as a 25th anniversary celebration Off-Broadway in 1993, with an attendant return to London in 1995. This cult-favorite, honoring the songs of Jacques Brel, the well regarded, Paris-based Belgian composer, author and performer (who subsequently died in 1978), was re-conceived for American audiences with English lyrics and additional material, by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman. For nearly two hours, including a brief intermission, four talented, charismatic and resonant performers enthralled those assembled, with two dozen provocative, compellng, and highly involving odes to the human condition, in all of its happy and sad, contradictory modes. Enlivening such playful dittys as "Girls and Dogs" (Man's best friend: the ever trustworthy canine vs. the perenially unpredictable female) or recounting the unrealized goals of "The Sons of..." (the great and the not-so-great), and lustily chanting about the passions aroused by a sweetheart named "Madeleine," whilst trumpeting Life as an endurance test, careening from decade to decade, and crisis to crisis, as an unending "Marathon," or as a whirling, playful, Carnival-like "Carousel," then sonorously extolling such great citys as "Amsterdam" (with its world-weary Nautical visitors ), or "Brussels" (mindful of when it was the Continent's best) and culminating with the composer's hopeful anthem "If We Only Have Love," offering mankind an optimistic prospect. Centered by Janie Howland's highly atmospheric, Parisian Bistro-styled setting, which made creatively effective use of the area's intimate, cabaret ambience. Geoffrey P. Burns, Merle Perkins, Kent French and Kristen Sergeant brought their grand voices, solid stage presences, and commanding intensitys to every moment, each one fully deserving of the audience's appreciative and enthusiastic response. Finally, this presentation's former, original cast-ensemble, from last summer's Gloucester Stage Company's offering, (being unable, at this time to appear due to conflicting commitments) will return later to alternate with the current, above-listed players. This thought provoking wonderfully insightful, and genuinely entertaining musical revue is now playing through December 21. (My Grade: 5)


FOLLIES-In Concert
Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's John Hancock Hall, Overture Productions presents "Follies" in Concert, featuring Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and Book by James Goldman. Although it went on to win both Tony and N.Y. Critics Awards after opening on Broadway in 1971, it ran for only a limited 522 performances at that time. However, in the years since, it has gained a steady and very appreciative legion of admirers, especially after its highly successful London revival production in1987.Set on the stage of the legendary Follies' Theatre, on the eve before said Music Hall is to be demolished (to make way for a parking lot), a reunion party is held there for the Showplace's former Stars and Showgirls, from 30 years past. The highly involved and lengthy storyline centers on two middle-aged couples Phyllis and Ben, and Sally and Buddy. After a brief fling with Sally, Ben married Phyllis, while Sally, regretfully, eventually weds Buddy. In the years since, both couples have felt increasingly unfulfilled and bitterly unhappy. This get-together now seems to offer them all a chance to perhaps regain their former lost hopes (or does it?) As they reminisce (with another set of younger actors, appearing as their junior selves) and try to sort out the reasons for their failed unions, other former show people step forth to recreate some of their best performances. One of Sondheim's finest scores, comprised of more than 20 memorable songs, they mirror a wide variety of musical types, such as, "Broadway Baby," (the average Chorus Girl's raucous plaint), "I'm Still Here!" (a defiant ode to Show-Biz survival), "Losing My Mind," (a trenchant Torch-Song), "Could I Leave You?" (a sardonic consideration of Divorce), and "You're Gonna Love Tomorrow" ( which points to a hopeful resolution). Vividly performed by many of the area's finest Singers, Dancers, Actors and Actresses, (with only an occasional misstep by a secondary player) before a large imposing on-stage Orchestra conducted by Michael Joseph, it's being strongly directed by Spiro Veloudas! Len Cariou as Ben, Maryann Zschau as Phyllis, Frank Gayton as Buddy, and Leigh Barrett as Sally, were especially striking, with grand, showstopping specialty numbers performed by Mary Callanan, Bobbie Steinbach, and Kathy St.George, amongst others. This solid, well acted, and overall vibrantly sung formal concert-styled presentation, is now playing through November 22. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

In Ellsworth Theater at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Mass. is the Shakespeare Now! Theatre Company's new production of "Julius Caesar" by William Shakespeare. In one of his most compelling character studies, Brutus, Rome's principal and most beloved Statesmen, impelled by deceptively contrived and very misleading information, agrees to join a cabal, organized by Cassius, a Nobleman violently opposed to Rome's leader, to overthrow Caesar. Ignoring a Soothsayer's warning about "the Ides of March" (the 15th day of the month), and even his wife's ominous dream, Caesar still insists on presiding over Rome's Senate that same morning. The conspirators, led by Brutus, then ruthlessly succeed in stabbing him to death. Later, Rome's citizens are initially swayed by Brutus into agreeing that the assassination was justly deserved, however Mark Antony, Caesar's dearest friend, then majestically, (in one of the Bard's most memorable orations) decisively turns them all against the coup-d'etat! A divisive war then follows, between armies led by Mark Antony, and those marshalled by the plotters, with grave consequences for both the vehemently unrepentant Cassius and the conscience-stricken Brutus! Vigorously acted by Jason Asprey as Cassius, Christopher Brophy as Brutus, Lewis Wheeler as Mark Antony, and Kim H. Carrell in the title role, under Daniel Gidron's confident direction, with solid support from the excellent cast. Plaudits also for Brynna Bloomfield's simple, yet quite effective setting.. three draped doorways elevated on platforms, before a wide and full black curtain, with the central portal housing a large, imposing portrait of Caesar. Amanda Mujica's fine period toga costumes are also quite noteworthy, as are Edward Eaton's vividly executed hand-to-hand encounters, by the highly combative cast members. Lastly, this professional Company's mission of bringing the works of Shakespeare under the aegis of Founding Artistic Director Linda Lowy, to the area's school children, (condensed versions in the Spring throughout Massachusetts, with a full-length performance, such as the above, each Fall) merits our highest praise. Now playing, weekday mornings, including a weekend evening performance, as well, through November 24. (My Grade: 5)


Sunrise, Sunset-the Songs of Sheldon Harnick
Review by Norm Gross

At the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center in Newton, Mass., the Jewish Theatre of New England presents "Sunrise, Sunset - the Songs of Sheldon Harnick." This tune-filled evening follows the career of Lyricist Harnick from his earliest Off-Broadway days, as wordsmith for "The Littlelest Revue" with his song "The Ballad of the Shape of Things," to his later triumphs on Broadway with "Fiorella" in 1959, " Tenderloin," in 1960, "She Loves Me," in 1963, and his all-time masterpiece, "Fiddler on the Roof," in 1964. Other high points (with songs for each) in his illustrious portfolio, both before and after, the aforementioned hallmarks, include "New Faces of 1952," featuring "The Boston Beguine," a wickedly amusing spoof of 50s-styled Beantown provincialism and censorship; " Vintage 60's" jaunty parody of McCarthy-era political paranoia with "..Ism!"; 1970's tender "In My Own Lifetime," from "The Rothschilds"; and the equally touching "Take Care of One Another," from his more recent show, "Dragons" in 1996. Throughout his 50 year professional life he's collaborated with many of Broadway's most prestigious composers, from Cy Coleman and Joe Raposo to Richard Rodgers, but his greatest successes, especially throughout the 50's, have been with Jerry Bock. Starring lovely animated and vibrant Soprano Maureen Brennan; with grandly resonant and spirited support by Tim Douglas and Matt Ramsey. Featuring sonorously clever arrangements by Barry Rocklin with lively, on-stage accompaniment by a fine musical trio conducted by pianist Tim Evans, all under Michael Allosso's well-focused direction. Harnick's memorable songs, such as "Politics and Poker," "Tonight at Eight," "She Loves Me," "Tradition," "Do You Love Me?," "To Life," and, of course, " Sunrise, Sunset" amongst all the others, were all delightfully served in this splendid cabaret-styled presentation. Now playing, an all too brief, weekend-only engagement through November 16. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wheelock Family Theatre is their production of "The Phantom Tollbooth," a musical fantasy with Book adapted by Norton Juster ( from his original 1961 novel ) in collaboration with Sheldon Harnick, who also composed the show's Lyrics, together with Music by Arnold Black. Originally developed as a full-length Opera in 1995, this newer, shorter version is now having its professional world premiere. An allegorical fantasy, the play's title refers to the brightly iluminated gateway that Milo, the story's bored and disinterested juvenile hero must pass though to achieve his full measure of worldly awareness. With the help of "Tock," a large dog emblazoned with a jumbo clock on his chest, Milo must first surmount a host of obstacles. Initially, he and Tock encounter "The Whether Man," who expands their expectations, thereby facilitating their journey past the "Doldrums," (inhabited by the always drowsy "Lethargarians"). Then, with his canine sidekick, Milo purchases the Nouns, Pronouns, and Adjectives that he'll need, at the marketplace in "Dictionopolis," to help them rescue "Rhyme and Reason." However, to liberate these lovely two Princesses, imprisoned in "The Castle in the Air," they must first overthrow the Army of Demons who live in "The Mountains of Ignorance," and afterwards persuade their defender "The Mathemagician," to allow them to bring back the beautiful, Royal twosome! As expected, by the time Milo overcomes all of his many challenges, he ends up as a different and much better person than he was before. Featuring more than a dozen witty, melodious songs with "Gotcha," "The Lethargarian Shuffle," "Do I Dare?," "Subtraction Stew," and "The Giant/Midget Song" (celebrating the World's Shortest Giant, Tallest Midget, and Thinnest Fat Man.), being especially memorable. The large, talented and youthful cast, enhanced by an ensemble of more than 30 youngsters, fancifully outfitted as everything from Demons to Underground Miners, were a genuine delight! Tristan Viner-Brown as Milo, Ricardo Engermann as Tock, Brian Robinson as the Mathemagician, and Karen Q. Clark and Lisa Korak as Rhyme and Reason, amongst the many others, all effectively and joyfully sang and acted their roles with resoundingly high spirits! Vividly directed by James P. Byrne, who also designed the colorful, multi-level, stone-like setting, composed of many numbers and letters-of-the-alphabet of varying sizes, shapes and hues. Kudos also for the many highly-creative costumes fashioned by Marian Piro and Matthew Lazure, and the sprightly orchestral accompaniment directed by Jonathan Goldberg. This very engaging parable, which offers much to both children and adults about the enabling and enriching powers of knowledge, is highly recommended for the entire family, and is now playing through November 30. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

In Pickman Concert Hall at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Mass. is "American Classics " concert-styled presentation of "Peggy-Ann," featuring Music by Richard Rodgers, Lyrics by Lorenz Hart, and Book by Herbert Fields. This little-known 1926 Broadway show, presented here for only a very brief and limited weekend engagement, is the latest of this Company's ongoing presentations of early American Musical Theatre. Not revived, or produced again, since its original appearance on "the Great White Way," it's now being restaged here, 77 years later, with a prominent 18 member cast of highly seasoned talented professionals. The lengthy, cumbersome, and quite dated plot-line centers on the young, pretty, and bored Peggy-Ann, and her efforts to escape the routine of her uneventful small-town life by way of a series of fanciful dreams. Transported to a swanky, Manhattan Department Store, she's surprised to find Guy, her hometown beau, in charge. "Howdy to Broadway," "A Little Birdie Told Me So," and "Where's That Rainbow?" are several of the delightful tunes that help to define Act I. Plot complications then propel both sweethearts into a possible Act II wedding aboard a fancy yacht, which unfortunately is then seized by a band of jolly Buccaneers, boisterously singing "We Pirates, From Weekhawken!" From there Peggy and Guy land in Cuba, where the show's last big event is at Havana's race-track. As expected, "Havana," "Maybe It's Me." and "The Race," are the frolicsome songs which help Peggy-Ann to reawaken. After all of these adventures, she is finally pleased to be back in her comforting hometown with her caring boyfriend. Mary Ann Lanier (one of the Company's Producing Directors ),is excellent and in grand voice, with solid stage presence, starring in the title role, with spirited assistance from Brent Reno as Guy; Ida Zecco, Joei Perry, and La'Tarsha Long, amongst others, in various lively acting and singing supporting roles, vividly accompanied on piano by Margaret Ulmer. Jennifer Farrel-Engebretson's incidental, yet quite striking, choreogaphy, as danced by her, Bill McLaughlin and Peter Carey, provide some of the evening's best moments. Obviously, the show's melodious score, pointing the way to Rodgers and Hart's many legendary musical hits to come throughout the 1930's, is this revival's strongest feature! Now beginning their fourth season, Bradford Connor and Benjamin Sears, the driving forces behind "American Classics," deserve many plaudits for their continuing efforts to research, locate, resurrect and produce, for the benefit and approbation of contemporary audiences, little known early musical plays by many of America's greatest composer's and lyricists. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Lyric Stage is their production of "Book of Days" by Lanford Wilson. Commissioned by the State of Missouri, in 1998, this is the play's Boston premiere. Set in Dublin, Mo., a pastoral town in middle America, the drama begins as a seemingly present-day return to the bucolic charms of a hamlet such as Thornton Wilders' classic, turn-of-the-century drama "Our Town," with a quick and sharp turn to the contemporary machinations and deceits festering, just under the surface, of a burgh like moviedom's "Peyton Place!" The local Cheese Factory is at the center of Dublin's economy. The questionable sudden death of Walt, the brusque head of the local Cheese Company, soon begins to undermine the community's tranquility. Ruth, the plant's bookkeeper, while rehearsing as the main performer in a regional theatrical production of George Bernard Shaw's "Saint Joan," becomes nettled by some of the more curious aspects of Business-owner Walt's demise. He was apparently, accidently killed by his own shotgun while duckhunting near a local pond, as an unexpected Tornado suddenly blew in. Ruth is then spurred on by the heroic conditions in Shaw's play, with its courageous leading female character, standing firm with her beliefs while being unjustly perscuted by the Church leadership. As she shifts through the various conflicting events surrounding Walt's dying, the motives of James, Walt's inheriting, scheming and politically- ambitious, lawyer-son, and Earl, a bumbling Inspector at the Dairy Works, become increasingly apparent! Earl is also quite envious of Ruth's husband Len's job, he being a much better paid, and in contrast, a much more innovative manager of the Cheese Plant. While young Reverend Bobby, the community's Baptist Minister, proves to be eagerly ready to use any deception to support the advance of his good friend James. Added to this tempestuous stew is Sharon, Walt's stubbornly gullible wife; Martha, Len's witty and free-spirited Mom, a Junior College Dean, and former 60s styled Hippie (!), and Boyd, a famous out-of-town stage director, in Dublin because of lingering problems with the Law. While the overt linkage between the play's central character Ruth, and Shaw's staunch heroine, don't always really mesh, Stacy Fischer is nevertheless very stirring as the intense, investigating, bookkeeper and budding actress, with solid performances by Sam Hurlbut as her thoughtful, managerial husband; Michael Kaye as Walt's duplicitous, attorney-son; Kevin Steinberg as Len's bungling rival Earl; and Steven Barkhimer as the region's troubled, visiting Dramatics-Advisor. Lastly, Beth Gotha gives a highly noteworthy and genuinely amusing performance as the free-wheeling Martha, resolutely withstanding the Community's Bible-Belt styled strictures! Vividly directed by Spiro Veloudas, with a fine, atmospheric, and adaptable raised Balcony setting, supported by wooden columns, designed by Janie E. Howland, this generally arresting, but occasionally rather obvious exploration of small town intrigues, is now playing through November 22. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, Mass. is their production of "Boy Gets Girl " by Rebecca Gilman. Originally staged at Chicago's Goodman Theatre in 2000, this presentation represents its New England premiere. Set in New York City, the suspenseful plot centers on Theresa Bedell, a high-powered unmarried over-thirty staff writer for " the World," a magazine devoted to art, politics, and culture. Career driven, it's been many years since she's had any romantic relationship. A good and concerned friend arranges a "blind date" for Theresa with Tony Ross, a seemingly-cleancut young computer programer. Meeting him later, at a local cocktail lounge, she finds him to be attractive and affable, but somewhat overly-anxious to expand their friendship. Theresa, being very knowledgeable about literature, is quite surprised when he becomes upset, annoyed and embarassed, when the name of celebrated writer Edith Wharton is mentioned, and he has no idea who she is! Finding little in common with him, she then tries to firmly but nicely close off any hopes he has for future dating. Unwilling to accept her rejection, Tony repeatedly sends flowers to her office, followed still later by pleading, then assertive and finally demanding round-the-clock voice mail! Infuriated by her steadfast disapproval, he then resorts to guarded, yet constant, surveillance of her apartment and her comings and goings, culminating in stridently overt threats of sexual violence! As Howard,her Editor, and Mercer, a co-writer, at her workplace, become increasingly aware of Theresa's burgeoning nightmare, they try fervently to advise and help her. Unfortunately, Tony's facile ability at eluding the police, forces Theresa to make some hard and difficult decisions about her ultimate response to his sadistic harassment! However, to reinforce Playwright Gilman's underlying thesis that sexual-stalking, and the brutalization of women is the result of Female Objectification, the author introduces an obviously pedantic subplot. It involves Theresa's journalistic assignment requiring her to interview, at length, Les Kennkat, a soft-porn movie director, manifestly patterned after "Super-Bosoms," girly filmmaker Russ Meyer. He jocularly fences, verbally, with Theresa about the"pros and cons" of exploitation "adult" cinema, to only limited dramatic purpose. This otherwise quite provocative and suspensful drama is being keenly directed by Charles Tower with compelling performances by Gloria Biegler, stirringly effective, as Theresa; Kyle Fabel as the ominous Tony; Richard Snee as Howard; and Derek Stone Nelson as Mercer, with a boisterously amusing portrait by Jim Mohr as the flamboyant Kennkat! Lastly, Susan Zeeman Rogers' highly imaginative set, a large rear wall, composed of many framed glass segments, flanked by elevated side panels, which were quickly and easily adapted to suggest many different surroundings, (from a bar, office, and bedroom to a hospital space), is also most certainly deserving of much praise! Now playing through November 16. (My Grade: 3.8)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Huntington Theatre is the Company's new production of "Butley," by Simon Gray. A major award-winning success in London when originally staged there in 1971, and then later equally triumphant on Broadway in 1972, it was also produced as a similarly praised motion picture in 1974. It was hailed at that time as a milestone in the career of its star Alan Bates (both on stage and screen). Set in a College of London University, the play's focus is on middle-aged Ben Butley, a burnt-out Professor of English. An authority on T.S.Eliot, and well versed in the works of Beatrix Potter, he is definitely having a very bad day. His estranged wife Anne is leaving him for another man, and his young gay protege and roommate Joseph is also leaving him for another man. Worn out by the tedium of his professorial duties (grading student papers, and counseling his pupils,etc.) he uses his corrosive wit to lash out at everyone he comes in contact with. In all respects, he is his own worst enemy. A lengthy and talky character study, Butley is then even more bemused and resentful at the prospect of an annoying female associate's efforts to publish some of her writing. He's obviously torn by his own sense of failure and futility. His crushing day finally comes to a close with the appearance, in his office, of Reg, the well-dressed, smooth talking, new center of Joe's, his former roommate and lover's, affection. With his sleek good looks, natty grooming, and air of super self-confidence, he stands in sharp contrast to the slovenly,dissipated and depressed Butley! Having never seen the original acclaimed production (neither theatrical or on film), I can't compare Nathan Lane's performance of the title role to Alan Bates' legendary portrayal. That said, Butley, as realized here, is so resolutely unsympathetic, so self absorbed, so self pitying, and so callous to everyone and everything he comes in contact with, that even the definitive confrontation with Reg doesn't really generate the compassion for him, which we should absolutely feel. To put it simply, must we really be concluding that Butley's getting exactly what he deserves? Well played by the fine supporting cast, with credible performances by Benedick Bates (the previous star's son) as Joseph, Pamela J. Gray as Anne, and most especially Jake Weber as Reg, all under Nicholas Martin's assured direction. Now playing through November 30. (My Grade: 3.5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass. is their new production of "The Girl in the Frame," a musical play by Jeremy Desmon, having its world premiere. This show is that long absent rarity (once upon a time,quite common to the Boston-area theatrical world), a pre-New York "try-out." A genuinely evolving play-in-progress, with new songs, situations, and dialogue added, expanded or deleted, as each day's performances take place. Set in a Manhattan apartment, affianced Yuppie Alex is quite taken by a gift given to him by a friend...a framed picture of a beautiful,young girl in a cornfield. Much to the surprise of both he and his fiancee Laney, this lovely photographic image suddenly comes to life. Reclining seductively on their livingroom sofa, she's not only beautiful, uninhibited, and willing to be named "Evelyn" (by Alex), but is also eagerly reponsive to any of his desires. As expected, a rivalry quickly ensues between Laney and her beau's living fantasy, until her own fascination with a handsome, young Firefighter named Tomas, appearing in her favorite Beefcake Calendar, also mysteriously comes to life! Act two opens much later, with Alex and Laney now married, and their dual imaginary and unrestrained visitors jousting with each other in full and raucous competition. Featuring 10 fine songs (maybe more, since) with "That's What Fantasies Are For,""Your Point is Made, and I'm Not Buying It," "Pinch Me!" and "Would You Rather Have the Man of Your Dreams or the Man You Love?" being amongst the show's best. Deftly directed by Weylin Symes with sprightly cavorting, and comic sparring between Josef Hansen as Alex and Ceit McCaleb as Laney, and most especially Julie Jirousek and Christopher Chew as Evelyn and Tomas, each with sonorously vibrant voices. They're well supported by the fine, small orchestral accompaniment directed by Timothy Evans. Although lessened by an occasional underdeveloped moment and certainly in need of a shorter second act, with a less predictable and/or more fully credible resolution, nevertheless, this show did win my and the audience's overall approval! Now playing through November 15. (My Grade: 3. 8)


Review by Norm Gross

At Beatrice Herford's Vokes Theatre in Wayland, Mass. is their new production of "On the 20th Century," a musical comedy with Book and Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and Music by Cy Coleman. Based on Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's classic 1932 Show Business farce ("20th Century" ), and the similarly titled 1934 Hollywood movie, starring John Barrymore, this Tony Award-winning musical version premiered on Broadway in 1978 and was later staged in London in 1980. Set in the 1930's on the well-known Passenger Train (from which the show derives its title) as it makes its regular fabled express-trip from Chicago to New York. Aboard is the flamboyant Broadway Impresario Oscar Jaffe, a formerly grandiose Producer-Director, now fallen on hardtimes. Also on this same train, is Oscar's protege (Mildred Plotka), the glamorous and highly tempestuos Hollywood Superstar, since renamed by Oscar, and now known as Lily Garland. He's certain that his wild and no-holds-barred schemes to contract her for his new proposed Broadway show will absolutely reinvigorate his career and abundantly replenish his finances. Unfortunately, Oscar (originally Lily's mentor and lover) must first contend wth her handsome Hollywood film-star beau Bruce Granit, and rival Movie Producer Max Jacobs, for Lily's attention. To even further complicate Oscar's efforts, he feels, as additional security, that he must also woo Letitia Peabody Primrose, a very rich, fervently kooky, religious revivalist. Featuring grand over-the-top performances by David Berti as the highly rambunctious Oscar, lovely and splendidly sonorous Nikki Boxer as the mercurial Lily, and Kimberly McClure as Letitia, the wild and wacky, singing and somersaulting Evangelist, with fine comic support by Brian Turner as Bruce Granit. The large, enthusiastic thirty plus member cast is vividly directed by Donnie Baillargeon and Doug Sanders, with fine orchestral accompaniment directed by Markus Hauck. Amongst the score's best songs were the vibrant title tune, plus many other droll dittys, such as "I Rise Again!," "Veronique," "Repent!", "She's a Nut!", "Life is Like a Train," and the touching duet, "Our Private World." Lastly, special commendation is also due for the handsome set: two picturesque,train-like passenger compartments, that quickly separate to reveal a spacious, well-appointed main lounge, as expertly designed by Stephen McGonagle. This highly amusing, deftly played, spiritedly-sung--although a bit overlong-- diversion is now playing through November 22. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly,Mass. is their new production of "West Side Story," featuring Book by Arthur Laurents, Music by Leonard Bernstein, and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. This legendary, multi-award winning musical drama was first presented on Broadway in 1957 to thunderous approval, and was later released as a major motion picture in 1961, winning 10 Academy Awards, including "Best Picture." Based on Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," this classic story of the tragic sweethearts is now transposed to the teeming violence-riddled streets of New York City's West Side neighborhood in the late 1950s. Remarkably, it has lost none of its relevance or soaring power during these many intervening decades. The antagonistic, aristocratic, warring families are now rival confrontational street gangs: the "Jets," (the so-called "Americans") versus the "Sharks," (the unwelcome obtrusive Puerto Rican "Foreigners"). The dire and calamitous love between Polish-American Tony, and newly arrived Hispanic beauty Maria, is beautifully sung and passionately acted by Ryan Silverman and Elena Shaddow, performing one of Broadway's most memorable and majestic scores. One needs only to mention, just a few of the song titles, for the words and music to come vividly to mind: "Tonight," "Something's Coming,""Maria," "I Feel Pretty," and "Somewhere." Much praise should also go to Roxane Carrasco as Maria's best friend Anita. She quite literally brings the audience to its feet with her rousing rendition of "Only in America." Likewise, additional mention should go to David Larsen as "Riff," the cocksure leader of the "Jets," and Enrique Acevedo as "Bernardo," the equally resolute Latin head of the "Sharks." Their potently staged in-the-round, murderous, face-to-face encounter sparks the plot's deadly and inexorable core. The large, youthful, and highly energetic cast, vibrantly performs director Barry Ivans' intense and fluid choreography, (obviously influenced by Jerome Robbins' original conceptions). This solid, first rate production is now playing through November 23. (My Grade:5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Tremont Theater is Acting Place Productions staging of "White Goods," a new play by John J. Tumulty. Presented initially in 2002 at the New Works Festival at the Firehouse Center for the Performing Arts in Newburyport, Mass. (where it was chosen as Best Play), this represents its Boston-area premiere. Set in Lynn, Mass. (a north of Boston suburb), the play's title alludes to the longtime nickname for large household appliances and specifically refers to "Driscoll's White Goods Store." This family venue, (owned and operated by them for 50+ years) has been managed for many seasons by the family's unmarried eldest son Jim. Because he was compelled to assume control of the business due to the sudden, unexpected death of their father, and by so doing to relinquish a College Scholarship Grant to study journalism in Paris, he is now middle-aged, still single and very bitter. Thereafter, while directing the family's commerce, he has also lived with and cared for his elderly mother. Now, as the matriarch lies offstage in bed, stricken and near death, the remaining family members gather at the Driscoll homestead. They are: Jim's older, assertive, married, and meddlesome sister Agnes; her quiet, reticent husband Harold; and Jim's younger brother Michael, an understanding Catholic Priest. Also present is Madeleine, a youthful and pretty family friend, who's come to help. After their mother's expected demise, Jim's overindugence at the wake, leads him to drunkenly vent his long repressed anguish and resentments revealing, at last to his siblings, his festering disillusionment over his long lost travel study and career yearnings. Still later, with the family members assembled for the reading of their mother's will, surprising revelations leading to unexpected consequences develop which dramatically reshape the family's relationships! Although well played by Bob DeLibero as Jim, and John Budzyna as Michael, several of the other supporting players, especially Maureen Daly as Agnes, David Houlden as her inefectual husband, and Bethany Cassidy as Madeleine weren't very convincing during the first act, but became much stronger and more persuasive in the vivid second act. Playwright Tumulty, acting on stage in a minor supporting role and strongly present, otherwise, as the play's highly focused author and director, certainly did quite well, on all remaining counts. Now playing through November 2. (My Grade: 4.0)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Loeb Drama Center in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass. is Harvard-Racliffe Dramatics' production of "Temptation" by Vaclav Havel. It was originally produced Off-Broadway at New York City's Public Theatre in 1989, at a time when Havel's plays were systematically banned in his native Czechoslovakia, and the author was being repeatedly imprisoned there for his ongoing Human Rights activities. However, after the fall of the Communist regime, Havel was elected as President of the now-free Czech Republic, in as surprising a twist of fate, as might be found, in even the most improbable conclusions to one of his many plays! Loosely patterned after the story of Faust, and set in a rigidly autocratic Scientific Research Institute, Dr. Foustka, a prominent non-conformist, actively challenges the Establishment by entering into a secret pact with a Demonic emissary. Intent on revealing the Occult by infiltrating and exposing its dark and hidden secrets, Foustka actually derives little, if any at all, real knowledge about the "Black Arts," alienates his trusting Mistress, denounces dependable associates, disavows his basic principles, and ultimately pledges subservience to the Institute's all-powerful Director, leading to an unexpected and somewhat surprising denouement. The play's overly lengthy, fantasy-styled exposition, (adding to its total performance time of nearly 3 hours) was nicely complemented by many comical office-type "power-games," all curiously accented by a witty melange of Pop, Soft Rock, Ballroom, and Classical Music excerpts, highlighted by the young cast performing a variety of Disco-styled dance moves, to much general audience amusement! Well directed by Geordie Broadwater, with solid performances by the large youthful cast, headed by Mike Hoagland as the Institute's very dictatorial Director, and Julia Morton as Foustka's compromised sweetheart, with commendations for John Dewis as Mephistopheles' highly odorous and slithering agent, and most especially Greg Gagnon as the perpetually inconsistent Dr. Foustka. This much too protracted, all too obvious, but often quite amusing, "Theatre of the Absurd " refashioning of the Faust legend, in terms of the modern Police State, is now playing through November 1. (My Grade: 3. 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wilbur Theatre is "Goodnight Gracie," by Rupert Holmes. This one man play, based on the similarly-titled memoirs of George Burns, after a successful Broadway run in October 2002, was nominated for a 2003 Tony award as Best Play. Beginning as Nathan Birnbaum, at the onset of the 20th century, in New York City's teeming Lower East Side, it traces the popular comedian's life, initially as one of eleven children of a poor immigant Jewish family, to his earliest, pre-World War I days in Vaudeville, as a juvenile singer in a neighborhood group known as "The PeeWee Quartet." After changing his name, he floundered as the second partner of a succession of unsuccessful duos for nearly 16 years, until his big break came in 1922, when he teamed up with young talented, pretty, prim and proper Irish Catholic, Gracie Allen. After soon discovering that she garnered bigger laughs as the secondary deadpan "straight player " than he did as the prime comic, he quickly reversed roles. Their rise to fame and fortune was virtually immediate thanks to her "illogical-logic," such as putting salt in the pepper shaker and pepper in the salt shaker, to always be correct whenever she made a mistake, or in her not needing to ever prepare egg salad because mayonnaise was already made from eggs! After becoming husband and wife in 1925, their renown continued on stronger than ever. With the demise of Vaudeville, their celebrity continued on as comic stars on national network radio, and as Hollywood movie-contract players throughout the 30's and 40's, making for an easy transition for them to national TV in the 50's. However, serious heart problems forced her retirement in 1958, followed by her death in 1964. When George's longtime best friend Jack Benny died in 1974, it paved the way for Burns to assume a prominent role in the 1975 movie version of "The Sunshine Boys," for which Benny had originally been signed. Burns' Oscar-winning performance, followed by his popular "Oh God" film series, and a host of many other very well received motion pictures, together with innumerable TV and nightclub appearances, finally established him as a bonafide solo-star, in his own right. All the while, notwithstanding his ultimate ascendancy, forever demonstrating his perpetual gratitude and fidelity to his beloved Gracie! Assuredly directed by John Tillinger, Frank Gorshin as George Burns is absolutely superb, performing a flawless recreation of the legendary comedian, from shuffling gait, supreme cigar, round hornrimmed specs, to hoarse, rasping voice, aided by a succession of nostalgia laden, rear screen projections, to illustrate his reminiscences. Remarkably, an unfortunate sudden ten minute power loss, at the show's midpoint, was deftly handled by Gorshin, as he cleverly and comically described the unseen photos, to the audience's delighted approval! Now playing through November 2. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wang Theatre is the Boston Ballet's presentation of "Stars and Stripes," the all inclusive title of an evening of three distinctly contrasting dance productions, performed in celebration of the Company's 40th anniversary, developed primarily to honor the late George Balanchine, one of the 20th century's greatest choreographers. "Mozartiana," with Balanchine's exhilerating choreography and Tchaikovsky's music (his majestic tribute to his legendary forebear) features grandly graceful turns by Larissa Ponomarenko, impressively coupled with guest artist Ethan Stiefel (principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre ) and strikingly spirited spins and pivots by Jared Redick, as enhanced by the ensemble's splendid dancing! "Stars and Stripes," Balanchine's homage to the marching music of John Philip Sousa (a frolicsome blending of brass and stringed motifs, as adapted and arranged by Hershey Kay), all costumed in resplendent red, white, and blue, and featuring memorable solos by Sarah Lamb, Melanie Atkins, and Christopher Budzynski; with a captivating pas de deux by Pollyana Ribeiro and Nelson Madrigal, with delightful company dancing suggesting military drills, formations and regimentation. "The Grey Area," the evening's middle piece, with choreography by David Dawson and sound design by Neil Lanz (a dull, rumbling, string-accented, and somewhat dissonant reworking of themes from J.S.Bach) has Lorna Feijoo, Sarah Lamb, Adriana Suarez, Sabi Varga and Yury Yanowsky dancing together and apart, on a grizzled and nearly bare and empty stage, a series of moody, expressive, sometimes awkward and more often extraordinary movements, gestures, swivels, bends, grinds, and even walks, suggesting time, birth, life's passage and eventual terminality, to stimulating and persuasive effect. This extraordinary and quite memorable program is now playing through October 26. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass. is their new production of "Stones In His Pockets," by Marie Jones. This multi-dimensional comedy was a substantial success when it premiered in London in 1999, winning both the Olivier and London "Eastern Standard" Awards, and still later, during its Broadway engagement was chosen for a Tony nominaton. Set in a small, rural village in County Kerry, Ireland, where a high-powered Hollywood production team has come to make a major motion picture. Jake and Charlie, two unemployed young adult working-class locals, are hired as extras, as deftly portrayed by Ciaran Crawford as Jake and Derry Woodhouse as Charlie. Each of these two native Irishmen is very well known to Greater Boston audiences, having performed for many past seasons with such eminent local companys as The Sugan Theatre, Boston Playwrights, Publick Theater, and Wheelock Family Theatre, amongst others. Here they are called upon to vividly portray all of the story's 15 characters, ranging from the movie's sexy,alluring, and self-centered female star; its assertive and demanding production director; and various other crew members--to an 80 year old villager (famed as the last remaining extra on the legendary 1952 "Quiet Man" movie set), young neighborhood lads, a middle-aged dad, and even a potent security guard. This they do with astonishing speed, and great inventiveness, utilizing a host of different vocal dialects and exaggerated body movements, with no costumes, wigs, or facial make-up of any sort. The play's title derives from the sudden, unexpected, suicidal drowning of a local drug-ridden 17 year old, which creates substantial problems and time changes in the movie company's production schedule. Well directed by Zoya Kachadurian, the play is invested with much solid humor, tinged with some grave and serious moments, as well. A warm and incisive exploration of the differences in attitude, behavior, and goals, between a small time regressive Irish country "dot-on-the-map," and the frenetic, fast moving, " time-is-money " focus of a big, contemporary Hollywood studio, given substance by the extraordinarily facile and adaptable performances of its two formidable stars! Now playing through October 26. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Theatre Cooperative in Somerville, Mass. is their new production of "Tongue of a Bird," by Ellen McLaughlin. Initially staged in Seattle in 1997, it has since been presented at the Oregon Shakesperean Festival, and New York's Public Theater, as well as in London, England. This production represents its Boston-area premiere. Dessa, a young adult mother has come to Maxine, a search-and-rescue pilot. Charlotte, her pre-pubescent daughter, has been kidnapped, forcefully abducted by a mysterious trucker, into rugged, snowy, mountainous terraine. After a week-long, airborne search, so far Maxine hasn't been able to find any trace of the missing child. As her fruitless pursuit continues, with its anguish and persistent alarm, long dormant, yet still smoldering concerns, begin to, once again bother Maxine. When still a girl, Maxine's distressed mother committed suicide, and now the spectre of her dead, tormented parent, returns regularly to ruminate with her about the reasons which drove her to self-destruction! She's also beset by hallucinations, of young Charlotte, still missing. Maxine also regularly visits with Zofia, her elderly immigrant grandmother, in hopes of finding some solace and understanding, about her tortured mother, with only little effect. She does finally achieve some measure of deeper discernment, after discovering Charlotte's fate. Much commendation is due to the strong, five member cast, (all female), featuring Kim Anton as Dessa, Alexandra Lewis as Charlotte, Maureen Adduci as Zofia, and Eve Passeltiner as Maxine's deceased mother; with a compelling performance by Korrine Hertz as Maxine, all assuredly directed by Lesley Chapman, (the Company's Producing Artistic Director). Although unrelenting in its somber focus on troubled child-parent relationships, with little, if any hint, of an uplifting prospect, still there's much to applaud in this well-written, and thought-provoking drama. Now playing through October 25. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wang Theatre is the Boston Ballet's production of "Don Quixote," its initial presentation celebrating the Company's 40th anniversary. Based on Cervantes' classic tale of the elderly, delusional Quixote, impressed by gallant accounts of long past chivalry, accompanied by his squire, Sancho Panza, who set out to find and save the imaginary and imperilled Lady Dulcinea. His adventurous quest is framed by the plight of lovely Kitri and stalwart Basilio, two young sweethearts, who plan to wed in defiance of her father Lorenzo, who demands that she marry the aristocrat Gamache, instead. The lovers are aided by festive, local villagers, as Quixote, and his attendant, are first hindered by a band of Gypsies, and then are fooled by Basilio into thwarting Lorenzo's plans, which results in Quixote finally helping the twosome to marry (with parent Lorenzo's blessing)! Featuring splendidly spirited ensemble dancing by the townsfolk and the Gypsies with striking solo turns and grand pas de deux by Lorna Feijoo (formerly National Ballet of Cuba's principal ballerina) as Kitri (and later also as Lady Dulcinea ), together with Yuri Yanowsky as Basilio, as well as Robert Moore and Samantha Mednick as King and Queen of the Gypsies, and Sarah Lamb as a vivacious Street Dancer! In yet another memorable sequence, Quixote (sensitively realized by Viktor Plotnikov) dreams of meeting his lovely Lady Dulcinea, vibrantly enlivened with the aid of a Fairy Queen as nicely danced by Barbora Kohoutkova. Graced with vivid choreography by the late Rudolf Nureyev, Ludwig Minkus' romantic music, vigorously conducted, with full orchestra by Jonathan McPhee, as well as the splendid period costumes and highly elaborate and atmospheric settings designed by Nicholas Georgiadis, all contributing to make this exhilarating and eye-filling production a genuine treat for all! Now playing through October 19 and then again from October 30 to November 2. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is Zeitgeist Stage Company's production of "The Credeaux Canvas," by Keith Bunin (a New England premiere). Set in an attic apartment, in New York City's East Greenwich Village, that's shared by three roomates. Jamie, the disinherited son of a prominent, now deceased art dealer, compelled into drudgery, working as a real estate agent; his sweetheart, Amelia, whom he plans to marry, employed as a waitress, while hoping for her big break as a Jazz vocalist; and Winston, an affable and accomodating student of Fine Arts, working towards his Master's Degree. As his Graduate project, Winston, whose forte is duplicating the styles of major artists, has chosen to copy a painting by Jean Paul Credeaux, a little-known, early 20th century painter, whom he's confident will soon be discovered and elevated to immediate prominence in the art world. Jamie then concocts a scheme, whereby he will not only retaliate against his unreasonable father, but also garner big financial gains for all three companions, as well. He'll have Winston paint Amelia, as a nude prostitute (the master's favorite subject matter), and then convince Tess, a wealthy,former arts' patroness, (of his disagreeable parent), to buy the picture, offered as a recently discovered masterwork, painted by Credeaux! However, while beginning his portait of Amelia, sensing her obvious embarrassment, at being naked, Winston also decides to disrobe to ease her discomfort. This unexpected exposure soon unleashes dormant passions for each other! Their new burgeoning affair then begins to seriously compromise her relationship to Jamie. When Tess finally comes to view their "classic" acquisition, her canny and perceptive observations quickly reveal the hoax, leaving the three roommates to face some dark and somber truths about themselves, their principles, and their actual feelings for each other! Extremely well acted, especially by Naeemah A. White-Peppers as Amelia, with compelling performances by Joshua Rollins as Winston, Chris Loftus as Jamie, and Renee Miller as Tess, all strongly directed by David J. Miller. At the play's conclusion, the "Credeaux " painting is prominently displayed, on stage, for the audience's inspection. Although certainly an accomplished portrayal, in no discernable way does it exhibit any semblance of "Fauvism," nor of the early paintings of Henri Matisse, (so alleged,during the course of the play), and as this fine production's only real misstep, leaving this newly rediscovered "masterpiece" to the audience's imagination would have been infinitely better! Now playing through October 25. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the New England premiere of "A Man of No Importance," a co-production of SpeakEasy Stage Company together with the Sugan Theatre Company, featuring Book by Terrence McNally, Music by Stephen Flaherty and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, (the same team that gave us "Ragtime," amongst many other fine musical plays.) Based on the 1994 British movie of the same title, it was succesfully presented in a limited engagement, Off-Broadway in New York, in the Fall of 2002. As in the motion picture, it's set in Dublin in 1964, and the plot is centered on Alfie, an unassuming middle-aged bus conductor, unmarried and living with Lilly, his older spinster sister. His greatest delight is in producing and directing amateur theatrical shows with local "actors," drawn from all walks of community life. A fervent devotee of Oscar Wilde, and having just staged a popular production of "The Importance of Being Earnest" in the hall of the local Catholic Church, Alfie now plans to also stage Wilde's "Salome," including its controversial "Dance of the Seven Veils sequence. As complications mount for him, from the limited capabilities of his cast, and the fact that Adele, the show's leading lady, is pregnant and unwed, to the objections of the Church authorities, to what they view as an "obscene" play, Alfie must also confront some soul-searching aspects about himself, as well. A long-closeted gay person, Alfie has not only withheld admission of his sexual orientation from his sister, but has also strenuously attempted to repress any such expression to himself, too! As his attraction for Robbie, his young bus-driving co-worker, begins to assert itself, Alfie must likewise finally face up to his own fears, failings and longings. Ardently acted and sung by the excellent 14 member cast, solid praise is due for Sean McGuirk as Alfie, Nancy E. Carroll as Lilly, Sara Chase as Adele, and Miguel Cervantes as Robbie, under Paul Daigneault's firm direction. Highlights of the tenderly expressive score include: the vibrant title tune, the lusty ode to "The Streets of Dublin;" Lilly's very amusing notions about Alfie's love of "Books;" and the compelling " Man in the Mirror," whereby Alfie asks himself "Why should someone care for you, when you care so little for yourself?" Cast-member Billy Meleady is also especially noteworthy in his heartfelt reverie to his deceased, loving wife,"The Cuddles Mary Gave!" Eric Levenson's fine simple set, an elevated, proscenium-style stage, above several heavy wooden benches, which are deftly made to assume a variety of different functions, ranging from a bus interior, to Church pews, and the spirited musical accompaniment directed by Jeanne Munroe, are also quite praiseworthy! Now playing through November 9. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, Mass. is their production of "Three Songs," by William Mesnik. First staged successfully in California in the mid-90's, this presentation represents its East Coast premiere. This one act, 90 minute drama with music, is set in a rehearsal studio in New York City in the Fall of 1962, and centers on a proposed reunion of a popular folksinging trio known as "the Calendars." The group, composed of husband and wife Fred and Kathy and her brother Curly, disbanded in the mid-1950's, when leader Fred was cited for contempt and jailed for refusing to cooperate with a McCarthy-styled Congressional Investigating Committee. An intractable, self-righteous Leftist, who finally won a reversal, after a lengthy seven year long appeals battle, he and his wife see a possible appearance together again, as a threesome on nationaltTelevision, as just what they need to lift them from their extended fall into obscurity. This opportunity for renewal was afforded to them by Curly who, during this same time-perod, became a major country-western star. As they bicker over the numbers they will sing on TV, they stirringly perform a succession of lively and spirited folk songs, including "If You Miss Me at the Back of the Bus," "There Is Power," "Shenandoah," "Peat Bog Soldiers," and the trenchant and memorable "Dark As a Dungeon," (a potent ode by Curly, who was rescued by Fred, from his early life as a coal miner.) He sees their national get-together as a way of not only thanking Fred, for launching his career, but also by improving his sister's life, as well. However, he knows that the many striking differences in their ideals, thinking and over-all aims, must still be resolved.! That final contention is at the play's core. Well acted and vividly sung, with guitars in hand, by Robert Yanko as Fred, Kaitlin Hopkins (the daughter of Shirley Knight) as Kathy, and especially Jim Price as Curly, all under Michael Canavan's assured direction. Although unmistakably, and somewhat loosely, suggested by the careers of Pete Seeger and, to a lesser extent, by the Weavers (of which he was a member), and its very early and highly obvious resolution, this small and touchingly written drama still recalls for us the personal anguish and still smoldering wreckage, attendant on those caught in the throes of the cataclysmic political witch-hunting of the 50s. Now playing through October 12. (My Grade: 3.5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Huntington Theatre is a new production of "Ain't Misbehavin'," a musical revue celebrating Thomas "Fats" Waller, the great Jazz musician, Composer and Entertainer. According to the program notes, set at a Harlem Rent Party, when Swing was King, actually during World War II, in a neighborhood bar, complete with an elevated bandstand, a few chairs and tables, and a bar, manned by a bartender, with it all flanked to left and right by the facades of two nearby tenement buildings. Originally conceived and directed by Richard Maltby,Jr., it opened (after a brief stint off-Broadway) on New York's Big White Way in 1978, and quickly became a major success. Featuring thirty songs, many that Waller composed, and others that he only sang or recorded, but which have since become fixed to his name. After a lengthy Broadway run, the show travelled nationwide, with much approval, and enjoyed great popularity, even in London. In the 80's, it was also presented on national television, starring the original New York cast. Recreating Fats Waller's infectious singing, vivid Stride-Piano playing, and frothy sense of humor, were really the prime reasons for much of the show's great success. The late Nell Carter, along with co-star Ken Page and Pianist Luther Henderson (with a nod to the other original cast members) did much to duplicate Waller's legendary exhuberance and warm, comic mannerisms. However, this new version's focus is now more attuned to the period's colorful clothing, (Zoot-Suits, Flashy Womenswear, resplendent Derbys, and gaudy wide-brimmed Fedoras) with fluid dance movement and full-voiced singing of those great, rhythmic songs, just as its main intention. Those wonderful tunes, such as the grand title number, plus "Honeysuckle Rose," "I've Got A Feeling I'm Falling," "Squeeze Me," "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now," and "The Joint Is Jumpin'," all composed by Fats, together primarily wth Lyricist Andy Razaf (amongst others), while his many instrumental hits, such as "Handful of Keys," (a spirited display of StridePiano pyrotechnics), "The Jitterbug Waltz," ( a smooth mixture of dissimilar styles), and "Lounging at the Waldorf," (a humorous peek at the ' Upper Crust ') are now all dressed up with new, clever lyrics added by Richard Maltby, Jr. This full-voiced, fast moving, toe-tapping cast Terita Redd, James Alexander, Todd E. Pettiford, Soara-Joye Ross and Dana Dawson all shine, belting out their exhilarating songs, dances and occasionally somber mood pieces! Especially noteworthy, in the latter respect, is the full cast's powerful rendition of "Black and Blue," a trenchant ode to the devastating aspects of racial bigotry, and Todd Pettiford's vivid singing and languid moves to "The Viper's Drag " (the Reefer Song)...both absolute showstoppers! Strikingly directed and choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge, with fine support from the small, swinging, onstage band directed by Pianist Ronald Metcalf. Although little of Fats Waller's inimitable jocular ways are ever in evidence, nevertheless, this highly talented group still serves him very well, indeed. Now playing through October 19. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass. is their production (a world premiere ) of "Memphis," a new musical with Book and Lyrics by Joe Dipietro and Music, additional Lyrics and Vocal and Dance Arrangements by David Bryan (founding member and keyboard player for Bon Jovi). Set in the titled city in 1949, its story is loosely based on the life and career of a long neglected, if not completely obscured,disc-jockey named Dewey Phillips, who's called Huey Calhoun in this show. Spanning the years beginning with his quick rise as the city's most popular radio personality, and his later ascendency on Memphis TV as the champion (amongst his many white fans) of African-American music (initially known as "Race Music," then "Rhythm 'n Blues," and finally as "Rock & Roll"), to his last days in 1961, forgotten and dying at the untimely age of 42. Told in two acts, including a brief intermission, his story includes more than two dozen new songs, as it progresses from his first visits to the city's black neighborhoods, their churches and dance halls, to his fame, fortune, and ultimate comedown, due to his overbearing and undisciplined "on-the-air" attitude and behavior. Along the way up, he falls in love with a beautiful, grandly resonant, African-American vocalist. As expected, as her star rises and his descends, their love falters, amidst the city's violent rascist millieu, and finally breaks up. She goes on to national fame as he submerges into loneliness and heavy drinking. Unfortunately, most of the story is told in a rather overly lengthy and overstuffed first act, followed by a somewhat rambling and diffused second act, which ends abruptly with a highly bizarre nightmare sequence ( an obviously alcohol-induced, multi-peopled, retrospective hallucination) which doesn't really add up to much,with only the slightest oblique hint of his impending early death. Although many of the songs seemed to me to be a bit too derivative, " Everybody Wants to be Black on Saturday Night," "Colored Woman," "Love Will Stand When All Else Falls," and "Someday," were especially noteworthy, as was the highly amusing musical spoof of "the uptight and oh-so-white" deejay Dick Clark. Well played, in-the-round, by the large 18 member cast, with high praise for full-voiced Chad Kimball as Huey and Montego Glover as his grandly singing lost sweetheart, under Gabriel Barre's very energetic direction! With some judicious editing, and a better defined second act, this show may yet be the Broadway success it strives to become! Now playing through October 12. (My Grade: 3.5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the New Repertory Theatre in Newton, Mass. is their production of "A Girl's War," a new play by Joyce Van Dyke. It was performed as a staged reading and later in a workshop version at Boston Playwrights' Theatre in 2001, and has since won awards at several prestigious playwriting competitions.This presentation marks its world premiere. Set, primarily, in a small Amenian village in the Southern Caucasus Mountans, an area torn by years of territorial war between the Armenians and their Azerbaijani neighbors. After 15 years in New York, working as a highly successful fashion model, Anahid returns to her old home, upon receiving news that her younger brother has been killed. However, once there, even after learning that her mother spends her nights in the mountains as an attack-sniper for the Armenian Cause, Anahid refuses to be drawn into the conflict. However, with the unexpected appearance of Ilyas, a former childhood friend, claiming to be a deserter from the Azerbaijani Army, she quicky becomes passionately involved with him. When Anahid's guerilla-mother discovers Ilyas, and becomes aware of their attachment, compounded by the sudden arrival of Stephen, (Anahid's former New York fashion-photographer and occasional lover), along with his young male assistant, dangerous and compelling dilemmas soon develop, with provocative and drastic consequences, for them all. Stirringly played by Katarina Morhacova as Anahid and Dan Domingues as Ilyas, with strong support from Benjamin Evett as Stephen, and Mason Sand as both his assistant and also as the ghost of Anahid's brother. Extra praise also goes to Bobbie Steinbach as Anahid's vivid, militant, and caring mother. Powerfully directed by Rick Lombardo, with a fine atmospheric setting by Richard Chambers, (the central residential space of a sparce, furrowed, country hut, which early on,also successfully doubles with a few simple draped additions, as a Manhattan Photographers' Studio!) Although little is ever reported about this ongoing Armenian - Azebaijani conflict, nevertheless as with so many similar ethnic and religious wars, raging endlessly worldwide, this drama speaks to us eloquently of their unending and ever-present human complications, suffering and despair. Lastly, to those who might be concerned, this play also exhibits on stage, full frontal male and female nudity. Now playing through October 19. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Lyric Stage is their production of "When Pigs Fly," conceived by Howard Crabtree and Mark Waldrop, with Music by Dick Gallagher, Sketches and Lyrics by Waldrop, and Costumes by Crabtree. A solid success Off-Broadway in 1996, it proved to be equally popular in Boston, when first presented here in 1999. Indeed, it was so well received that the Lyric Stage, now beginning its 30th anniversary, is now restaging it as part of its celebration, with four of the show's primary cast members, and a complete recreation of Crabtree's original costumes, and Rob Ruggiero's choreography and direction. A musical comedy revue, with Gay culture as its focus, it's divided into two acts, separated by a brief intermission. The fun begins when Crabtree, the show's lead character, is cautioned years before by his High school Guidance Counselor, who warns against his choosing a life in Show Business. She admonishes that such a career for him would only succeed, if and when pigs fly. Of course, an earlier Off-Broadway hit "Whoop-Dee-Do," and this winner, proved her to be totally mistaken! Unfortunately, Crabtree died at age 41, shortly before this award-winning show's debut. He's deftly portrayed here by Dan Bolton. Amongst the nearly 20 hilarious skits, songs and vignettes, most notable were a succession of very amusing send-ups of V.P.Dick Cheney ("...and do for you, what you're doing to the Nation"); Evangalist Pat Robertson; and Hollywood (via The N.R.A.'s Charlton "Chuck" Heston), deliciously performed with sly brio, by Peter Carey. All five cast members in a rousing Patriotic-Uniformed-Marching-Parade Spoof (a la "The Music Man ), in which each of the 50 States are comically saluted and humorously categorized; Britton White farcically representing a gay couple deciding whether to come out of "the closet;" a hefty and buxom African-American chanteuse belting out "Bigger is Better " resoundingly sung by newcomer Brian Robinson; and most especially, Neil A. Casey's singing I wanna go "Over-the-Top," dressed in swinish pink, replete with large snout and Angel's wings, were all joyfully greeted with loud roars of laughter. However, the most memorable aspects, of this genuinely amusing show, were Howard Crabtree''s wildly outrageous and unusually creative costumes: a chorus line dressed as a huge, colorful, deck of cards; others draped with a variety of large and small clocks representing a career in Watch Repair or yet another clothed with hanging faucets and water piping personifying life as a Plumber, and even an outfit with a small Farmhouse, complete with miniature, surrounding fence and tiny, toy chickens, acting as a profession in Agriculture! Lastly, the cast's resplendent 16th century, Royal and Courtly attire, with the dandy Aristocrats sporting seemingly mile-high, paste-board, multi-colored pompadours, was an absolute delight. Now playing through October 18. (My Grade: 5)

Antony and Cleopatra
Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Tremont Theatre is Boston Theatre Works' new production of "Antony and Cleopatra," the first professional staging here, of this rarely done Shakespearean tragedy, in 30 years. Set in Egypt and Rome, Mark Antony, the celebrated Military General, and Octavius Caesar, Ruler of the Roman Empire, become locked in a wide-ranging power struggle for world domination, with Cleopatra, the legendary, beautiful, and seductive Queen of Egypt, caught in the middle, as their poltical machinations steadily multiply. Although much in love with Cleopatra for partisan advantage, Antony marries Octavius' sister, yet is still compelled to battle his powerful rival, repeatedly at sea. Still passionately in love with Cleopatra, and expecting full support from her naval fleet, he feels totally betrayed when, early and unexpectedly, she withdraws her armada. Defeated and feeling victimized by her treachery, his raging need for revenge is dispelled by false news of her death. Overcome by his love, and filled with grief, he attempts suicide, albeit ineptly, and as his life fitfully ebbs away, he dies comforted in Cleopatra's arms! Later trapped, by the victorious Octavius, in a deceitful intrigue, engineered by him, Cleopatra also decides to join Antony in death, by a serpent's sting. Strikingly performed by Robert Pemberton as Antony, and most especially Anne Gottlieb as the intense, scheming and beautiful Cleopatra, with solid support from Ted Hewlett as Octavius Caesar, and the fine, although occasionally uneven, large 12-member supporting cast. Vividly directed and creatively staged by Jason Slavick, utilizing this small theatre's limited central arena-styled performance area, to full advantage, using only a great, centered, oriental carpet and several large, moveable, solid white blocks, to act as a multiple variety of stage props. Also quite commendable, was the highly inventive use of big, hand-held, white sheets versus much smaller and colorful hoisted kerchiefs, to effectively simulate the ongoing maritime combat! On the other hand, Rachel Padula Shufelt's unusual mixture of contemporary male business-suits and army uniforms with classical Egyptian costumes, for the females, seemed to be rather ill-considered. Lastly, much praise is also due for CellistPeter Walden's stirring, sensitive and appropriate musical accents and undertones, throughout the performance. Now playing through October 12. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston Playwrights' Theatre is the Nora Theatre Company's production of "Dublin Carol," a new one- act play by Conor McPherson. Set in a Dublin Undertaker's office on the day before Christmas, the drama's focus is on John Plunkett, a mortician and long-time alcoholic, beset by overwhelming feelings of loneliness, shame, guilt, cowardice and self-revulsion. Early on, he's joined by Mark, his young, occasional assistant, and eagerly prods the youth about his girlfriend, while offering him shallow and poorly considered advice, in return. Later, as the day lumbers on, John once again alone, is also visited by his adult and disaffected daughter Mary, who's come with news about her mother, (his long estranged wife),now mortally ill. With his spouse's death from neck cancer imminent, Mary pleads with her father to come later to the hospital with her, while beseeching him to do so soberly. After she leaves,John is briefly rejoined by Mark, and still later alone and overcome with regret and despair, he muses about his early years with his abusive father and battered mother, and his own irresponsible behavior as a husband and parent, while continuing to drink and wonder what he should do next. The play is based on the author's lengthy battle with alcoholism, (although, he's now enjoying sobriety, bolstered by irregular visits to A.A.) As expected, extremely well played by Richard McElvain as John, adding yet another superlative to his long celebrated connection with McPherson's other memorable dramas" The Weir," and most especially, "St. Nicholas." Strongly supported by Devon Jencks as Mary, and Bryce Pinkham as Mark, under Janet Morrison's firmly-centered direction, mounted with a fine, atmospheric office setting designed by Eric Levenson. Although with a much narrower focus and more constraint than the other above listed plays, this remarkable coupling of actor and playwright continues to bear ever reliable, compelling and rewarding results! Now playing through October 5. (My Grade: 4. 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Orpheum Regional Performing Arts Center in Foxborough, Mass. is Bay Colony Productions' presentation of "A Chorus Line". With Book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante and Music by Marvin Hamlisch and Lyrics by Edward Kleban, it was originally conceived, choreoraphed and directed by Michael Bennett. This multiple Tony and Pulitzer Award-winning show opened on Broadway in 1975 to ecstatic reviews, and until displaced by "Cats" in 1997, was Broadway's longest running show. An imposing national and international success, it was later also released as a major Hollywood motion picture in 1985. Set in a Manhattan rehearsal studio, 23 hopeful male and female show-dancers assemble for their possible casting in a proposed Broadway Musical. After being pared down to 17, they're eventually even further reduced to eight (4 men and 4 women), who are finally hired. Prompted by a highly assertive and well focused, but mainly unseen director and his assistant, each candidate is called out from the line-up to talk about themselves. They do so, over a period of two hours (with no intermission) detailing sad, compelling, funny, and heartbreaking confidences about themselves, describing their hopes, fears, successes and failures. The optimistic but unfulfilled ballerina-to-be; the young boy, revealed as a confused, conflicted, and closeted gay person, who ultimately "comes out" undaunted; the still resilient young girl, who failed at method acting; the young Latino, who emotionally talks about his show-biz debut as a "Drag Queen," in a sleezy "Jewel Box Revue;" and even the director's confrontation with his former mistress, who's back because she plans to begin again, as part of a chorus line...these are just a few of this great show's highly involving vignettes! Featuring 15 commanding song-and-dance musical numbers, including such appealing songs as: "At the Ballet," (where everything was beautiful), the explosive "Dance 10, Looks 3," (where what really counts is T... and A...!), the trenchant "What I Did for Love," (recounting the theatrical life's demands, disappointments and expectations), the showstopping "Music and the Mirror " number, featuring the director's ex-sweetheart in an exhilerating song-and-dance solo, and of course, the spectacular "One Singular Sensation," fully costumed and mirrored finale! Special notice for David DaCosta as the director, Kirsten McKinney as his former lover, Charley Borden as his assistant and Aimee Doherty, Pam Shapiro and Joey Cullinane as exceptional in their specialities! Lastly, high praise for the fine, full Orchestral accompaniment conducted by Robert J. Goldman, and especially for Director Leslie Woodies (0ne of the Broadway show's original stars) for vividly restaging this production, in full accordance, with Bennett's conception. While a few members of this young, talented, intense, and vibrant, non-Equity cast, do try a bit too hard for audience reaction, the overall results are still quite extraordinary! Now playing through September 27. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. is the American Repertory Theatre's presentation of "Lady With a Lapdog," as adapted and directed by the renowned Russian Director Kama Ginkas from Anton Chekhov's classic short story. Set at the turn of the 20th Century at Yalta, Russia's fashionable summer Crimean Sea resort, the play focuses on Dmitry, unhappily married, nearing age 40, the father of two young sons engages in an adulterous affair with Anna, a young, attractive, married woman, also vacationing by herself, away from a loveless marriage, to a much older husband. When their carefree holiday ends, they return to their respective homes, for Dmitry, Moscow and his family, and for Anna, a small rural town, many miles away, with her elderly spouse. However, Dmitry, who intended his secret liaisons with Anna, as only a casual summertime frolic, finds as the heavy winter sets in, that he's becoming increasingly obsessed by ongoing thoughts of his lost love! Unable to contain his desires, he journeys to her distant community, in hopes of rekindling their ardor, with troubling, compelling and provocative consequences! While Chekhov's legendary short story encompasses less than two dozen pages, this new reinterpretation has a performance time of nearly two hours (with no intermission)! Director Ginkas introduces two comic gentlemen sunbathers in his initial holiday phase. They then quickly assume a frenetic, Marx Brothers'-styled surfside presence, acting both as exceedingly over-animated fellow vacationers, and highly intrusive facilitators. As the clandestine lovers part and return to their unhappy lifestyles, the two attending clowns, now much less jocund, continue on by assuming a variety of more somber poses, such as acting as Dmitry's young children. Powerfully acted by Stephen Pelinski as Dmitry, and Elisabeth Waterston as Anna (especially in the play's darker and more momentous second half), surprisingly performing their roles as recitations (rather than as dialogue ) from Chekhov's original text (as translated by Ryan McKittrick & Julia Smeliansky). Robert Olinger and Trey Burvant do well as the farcical, and later more restrained bystanders, although ultimately seriously compromising Chekhov's much more repressed and constrained basic focus! Although Sergey Barkhin's set design (several blue-striped Beach Cabanas, which were later quickly and quite deftly adapted into the cold, snowy Russian winter ) was quite effective, Michael Chybowski's overly flamboyant off-and-on lighting, and Leonid Desyatnikov's screechingly overamplified and absolutely deafening incidental music, both proved to be more annoying than affecting!! Lastly, I should also add, that curiously, at no time, does the Lady's Lapdog ever appear! Now playing through October 11. (My Grade:3.5)


Review by Norm Gross

On the Waltham High School Campus in Waltham, Mass., in the Robinson Theatre, the Reagle Players' Celebrity Series presents "Tommy Tune and the Manhattan Rhythm Kings - Tune-ing Up!", a new musical revue. Complete with a full fifteen-member orchestra on stage, conducted by Michael Biagi, Tune and his multi-talented colleagues, enthralled the capacity audience for an hour and 25 minutes with a rousing evening of music and dance, focused on the Great American Popular Song Book, featuring the classic melodies of the Gershwins, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin, amongst others. "Let's Fall In Love," " Dancing in the Dark," " Puttin' on the Ritz," " Blue Skies," " They Can't Take That Away from Me," " Shall We Dance?," and " I Got Rhythm," are interspersed with new interpretations of such other classic pieces as Busby Berkeley's celebrated "Shanghai Lil " number from 1930's Hollywood, Fred Astaire's rarely heard or seen, "After Beat " routine, and even a bit of " S'Wonderful " danced to, while being sung by them in German. Tommy Tune, a grand, full-voiced singer and skillfully facile dancer, has been a showbiz legend for more than 40 years, and is the only performer to have won Tony Awards as both a Leading and Supporting Actor in Musicals, as well as winning as Choreographer and Director. Vividly assisted by the singing and dancing of Marc Kessler, together with Hal Shane on guitar, and Brian Nalepka on bass, as the gifted "Manhattan Rhythm Kings," this engaging, pulsating, and melodious evening of memorable song and dance, is totally recommended for the entire family! Now playing through September 14. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Center for the Arts is Basement On The Hill Stage's production of "The Language of Kisses," a new one-act drama by Edmund De Santis. Originally performed as a staged reading at New York's Harbor Theatre in May 2000, this marks its first full-scale presentation.Middle-aged Zan's young, lovely, adult, and estranged daughter Mara, returns unexpectedly to her mother's rural home, after several years away in Manhattan, attempting an unsuccessful acting career. Zan, a writer, single, aged 40+, and living alone for some time (with no explanation ever given about the husband or father ), has hired Blue, a young, handsome, retarded worker, (part of a Community Work Program ) as a live-in handyman. As expected, they've quickly become intensely involved sexually. Naturally, Mara's unanticipated reappearance creates substantial complications for them all, especially when she also becomes physically attracted to her mother's well proportioned paramour! Yet another dilemma later surfaces, with intimations that Zan may really be using the situation as the basis for a novel that she's writing! It's being passionately acted by Maria Monakhova as Zan, Julie McNiven as Mara, and very convincingly by Shawn LaCount as the handicapped Blue, all under Lilia Levitina's commanding and highly centered direction. The miniscule Theate-space, (the Center's smallest performance room) has similarly been effectively utilized by Valentina Komolova's effcient rural, inside and outside, setting--a simple grey painted rear wall, with an open doorway exposing a flourishing floral exterior, behind a combination sittingroom and front-yard, complete with free-ranging swing! Heavily influenced dramatically by John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," and Eugene O'Neil's "Desire Under the Elms," replete with strong Freudian and Stanislavsky overtones, the drama's central conflict is unnecessarily overstated by Felix Ivanov's excessively overwrought choreographic episodes, at the play's onset and conclusion, albeit stirringly underscored by Emily Romm's striking, recorded music. Now playing through September 21. (My Grade: 3. 5)


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 " Twelfth Night." Viola and Sebastian, twin sister and brother, shipwrecked and separated during a violent seastorm, and each thinking the other deceased, find themselves cast far apart in Illyria, a land new to them. Viola, posing as a man, accepts service as a page in Duke Orsino's court, and quickly finds her (him) self romantically involved with Orsino's lovely, young neighbor Olivia! A raucous sub-plot simultaneously develops with Olivia's boisterously tipsy old Uncle Sir Toby Belch, and his foolish drinking partner Sir Andrew Aguecheek! Assisted by her maid Maria, all three successfully conspire to play a huge practical joke, on Olivia's stuffy and quite pretentious Steward Malvolio, a self-apponted disciplinarian, who had always annoyed them, by regularly attempting to restrain or end their noisy revelries! The resulting comic humiliations, at Malvolio's expense, are all grandly amusing! As expected, the mixups and confusions rapidly spread, compromising nearly everybody, until both Viola, and her brother Sebastian unexpectedly find each other again, and all their various misapprehensions are finally revealed, leading to the necessary happy ending. From beginning to end, Feste, Olivia's Jester, acts as the play's witty, and very musical Narrator and Observor, strikingly playing harmonica, spoons, recorder, and assorted other melodious instruments. Deftly acted by Susanne Nitter as Viola, Ben Lambert as Sebastian, and Stacy Fischer as Olivia, with very amusing gambols by Steven Barkhimer as Sir Toby, Richard LaFrance as Aguecheek, Devon Jencks as Maria, Director and Artistic Producer Diego Arciniegas as Malvolio, and most especially, Bill Gardiner as the highly sonorous Jester. Susan Zeeman, Rogers' unusual set, a series of large, vertical, hangng, elaborate and colorful, Oriental-style carpets (one with a large, doorway type opening, cut out of its center ) act as strange backdrops for the Bard'sm, frolic, although using one, on a separate line, as a movable unit, does work well, for the many scene changes. Now playing, in Repertory,through September 14. (My Grade: 4)

Review by Norm Gross

Kaplan/Bullins Productions LLC ( the new-formed company of notable Director Mort Kaplan and Playwright Ed Bullins ) presents "Circles of Time " by octogenarian playwright, teacher and painter Shirley Timmreck, at Boston's Lyric Stage. Set in the early 80s, in a Louisiana Retirement Home, the plot centers on a quartet of very elderly ladies, now approaching the end of their days, some of whom undergo a major life-altering metamorphasis! Former milliner Mabelle prides herself on wearing a new extravagant hat, that she's made and Amy, an English war-widow (of varying British accent) pines for her young, beloved husband, who died much too early, and never-married andretired English teacher Martha, haughtily dismisses and scoffs at the mystical transitions, that new arrival Louisa claims to regularly experience! By the sheer force of her own will, wheelchair-bound Louisa asserts that she's able to joyfully return, wheelchair-free, to various happy moments, with relatives and friends in her youth, and as the play unfolds, she does seem to do so! Intrigued, Mabelle and Amy also learn, from Louisa, how to revisit their own bright pasts! Clarice and Carter, a warm and loving married couple, who attend to the various needs of these senior residents, act as involved narrators and/or interested observers. Although well acted by June Lewin as Louisa, Patricia Pellows as Mabelle, Sydelle Pittas as Amy, and Alice Duffy as Martha, with fine, sensitive support from Robbie McCauley and George Pendleton III as Clarice and Carter, unfortunately there's very little dramatic evolution or tension, beyond this, as their story unfolds. Regrettably, not much else, of any type of a challenging nature occurs, with little ever being made of Martha's heavily obvious disbelief and disdain. Fortunately, the production's strengths are on view in the splendidly atmospheric set, designed by Brynna Bloomfield, (screened and elevated, blonde, wooden constructions, suggesting outer walls, arched doorways, and framed garden pathways, abetted by appropriate white, meshed lawn furniture ), all significantly enhanced by Scott Pinkney's highly effective lighting and Daniel Gidron's efficient direction! Now playing through August 23. (My Grade: 2)


Review by Norm Gross

On the campus of the Waltham High School in Waltham, Mass. is the Reagle Players' production of "Fiddler on the Roof." Based on Sholem Aleichem's legendary stories of the lives of the ill-fated turn-of-the-century Jewish villagers of Eastern Europe, this classic Tony Award-winning musical, premiered to solid approval in 1964, and was later released as an equally successful motion picture in 1971. It has been a frequently staged favorite, here and abroad, with professional and amateur theatrical companies, ever since! Set in a small Ukranian village in 1905, the play features Tevye, a hardworking poor dairy farmer, his strongly assertive wife, and his five unmarried daughters. They mirror the great changes in attitude and behavior, that the new century has begun to usher in. Although governed by his devout religious beliefs, and shaped by the strict guidelines of the community's age-old traditions, he finally yields to the free-association notions of his three eldest daughters, turning away from the arranged marriages prescribed by the Village Matchmaker. He agrees to their appeals to wed a poor tailor, a young radical itinerant teacher, and (quite grudgingly) a sensitive and compassionate Gentile. In stirring fashion, Joseph Stein's touching Book unfolds, vividly framed by the memorable Music and Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock. "Tradition," " Matchmaker,Matchmaker," " Do You Love Me?"," If I Were a Rich Man," and the majestic "Sunrise, Sunset," are just a few of the show's abundantly grand melodies. The large, youthful cast, are uniformly splendid, with especially sturdy performances by local TV Newscaster Scott Wahle as Tevye, Darcy Pulliam as his strongwilled wife, Sarah Corey (a fine soprano ) as their second eldest daughter, Carol Antico as the Village Matchmaker, and Larry Labagnara as the tailor and bridegroom-to-be. Well directed by Robert J. Eagle, with fine atmospheric sets based on Boris Aronson's original conceptions, all brightly supported by the excellent, full orchestra conducted by Jeffrey P. Leonard, this imposing, family-recommended, presentation is now playing through August 16. (My Grade: 5)

(Editors Note:'s CEO Mark Snyder starred in a production of this play at Curry College in the 70's, so he's very fond of it!)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass., the American Repertory Theatre and Eighty-Eight Entertainment present the world premiere of "Romantique," ( an imagination with music ) written by and starring Hershey Felder. Set in 1846, the great era of French Romanticism, the story centers on the tortured love affair between the great composer Frederic Chopin and the controversial female writer George Sand, who challenged the sensibilities of her contemporarys by dressing as a man! The action takes place at Sand's French country estate, where their good friend Eugene Delacroix, the celebrated artist, has come to visit.With the legendary painter acting as both bystander and narrator, the 8 year-long relationship between Chopin and Sand is revealed through a series of brief vignettes which flash back and forth to explore the ups and downs of their stormy romance. Later, as an evening's diversion, Sand enlists them all in a drawing-room reading of her latest novel "Lucrezia Floriani," which, although obviously disguised, exposes some of the strains and disappointments, which are beginning to divide them. Still later, it's left to Delacroix to describe, at length, their eventual break-up. Unfortunately, very little, if any, of this is either compelling or emotionally involving. Although reasonably well acted by Stephanie Zimbalist as Sand and Anthony Crivello as Delacroix, regretably Felder is rather wooden as Chopin. His script, for the most part,is stilted and uninspired, and the only real passion he's able to elicit, is when he sits down at the ornate on-stage piano, to stirringly perform some of the composer's sublime music. These are, in fact, the evening's best moments! Yael Pardess's lush and atmospheric setting, dominated by Delacroix's painting of the central characters, grandly enhanced by Michael T. Gilliam's dramatic lighting, is also quite noteworthy. Felder's strength seems to be in the format used in his earlier plays, such as "George Gershwin Alone," and "Back from Broadway." They proved to be successful as anecdotal and musically defined reminiscences of contemporary theatrical life, however, this time around, in writing a historical drama requiring substantial character development and dramatic conflict, he seems to have lost his way! Now playing through August 17. (My Grade: 1.5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Tremont Theatre is the Neverland Theatre and the International Society's production of "Blue Hair Troupe," which is being promoted as "The Musical Revue that proves it's hip to be old." Since our culture repeatedly celebrates everything pertaining to youth, naturally what could be funnier than the aging process? Ten vigorous and sprightly Senior Citizens, all obviously 60+ years of age, sing, dance, tumble, and cavort on stage, in front of an array of seven tall, colorfully illustrated, placards representing " Bingo," "Roulette," "Dramatic Arts," "Music," "Parcheesi," "Travel," and "Playing Card Games." Supposedly, they're the Senior Staff at the Rula Lenska Old-Age Center, performing that institution's "Graduation Follies." Their ceremonial show consists of nearly three dozen spoofs of Songs of the 60s and 70s, sung by people in their 60s and 70s. For more information about their presentation, Diane Mahoney and Bill Allsbrook, singing and acting as the show's animated M.C.'s, ruefully tell the audience to go to the Internet and select "Senior Center.Morgue". "My Social Security check will come out Tomorrow" is now the big song from the hit show "Granny." " The Candyman" is reinvented as "The Cafeteria Lady," "Camelot " is renamed "Family Plot," " There's a Place for Gus," is transferred from "West Side Story," "Oklahoma's" " Prunes are Bustin' Out all Over" and a spirited spoof of " Riverdance,where the oldsters tap their assembled walking canes to do their new, energetic version of Irish Stepdancing, are just a few of the many parodies, burlesques and musical jests ( some quite funny, and many rather labored and/or much too sophomoric ) that go to make up this show. Besides the aforementioned M.C.'s, Mary O'Donnell, Jack Agnew, Gloria Stanton and Mariana de Ezcurra - Diskes, are also quite noteworthy and frequently amusing, marshalled by Creator, Manager, and Director Andrew Diskes. Fine musical accompaniment is provided by a splendid small on-stage orchestra, conducted by Penny MacCallum. Although, I do have some reservations about this uneven presentation, I must also admit that the large audience (composed mainly of senior citizens ) seemed to thoroughly enjoy every moment of it! Now playing through August 24. (My Grade: 3)


Hats Off! Much Ado About Broadway
Review by Norm Gross

At the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass. is "Hats Off! Much Ado About Broadway," a tuneful pot-pourri of favorite melodies starring Kathy St. George, Bobbie Steinbach, and Robert Saoud. This musical revue...(as defined by Webster's Dictionary: " A theatrical entertainment, partly musical comedy, with little continuity of structure or connected plot ") quite literally runs the gamut of the Great American 20th Century Songbook, as sung, danced and anecdotally bantered by this fine gifted trio of Boston-area based performers. For nearly two hours, including a brief intermission, the legendary songs, written by America's greatest composers, spanning Tin Pan Alley, the Broadway stage, and the Golden Age of Hollywood, were vividly presented to the great delight of the capacity audience. Naturally, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Rogers and Hart, Rogers and Hammerstein, Frank Loesser, Jerry Herman, Marvin Hamlisch, and Stephen Sondheim, amongst many others, were deftly represented! The evening's most compelling highpoint was a 15 minute, swiftly paced, decade-by-decade, medley of melodious snippets (more than 70) exemplifying this entire past century. Ranging from "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life," and " A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody," to " Blue Skies," " Shall We Dance," and "Hello Dolly," to "the Age of Aquarius," and "Seasons of Time," which, as expected, elicited a well deserved roar of audience approval. Well directed by Bill Castellino, with spirited, on-stage musical accompaniment by a fine piano, bass, and drum trio directed by Timothy Evans. My only qualm centers on the rather odd melange of stage props; a clothes rack, a tired looking sofa, a small desk and tall cabinet, flanked by a rather worn rear wall movie-screen, (upon which were projected many interesting photos and illustrations,) all in rather striking contrast to the show's otherwise sleek and polished flair! Now playing through August 10. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At the open-air Parkman Bandstand, on the green of Boston Common in Boston, is the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's new production of "Macbeth," now refocused, in contemporary 1950's- type military dress, to suggest former Argentine Dictator Juan Peron's recent rise and fall. Echoing Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Evita," Lady Macbeth appears here as a modern, glamorous schemer, relentless in spurring her husband on, in his ruthless quest for political power. Macbeth is emboldened by the prophesies of a trio of Carribean-like Witches, assuring him that he's destined to become the new King. But first, he must murder all who stand in his way! His bloody ascension to the throne, however, leads not only to his own violent end, but also to the suicide of his calculating spouse, as well. Jay O. Sanders, a physically imposing performer, brings strength and confidence to the title role, ably abetted by the large supporting cast, with special notice for Benjamin Evett as Banquo, his trusted and ultimately assassinated friend, and Robert Walsh as Macduff,a resolute rival, stirringly anguished over the slaughter of his family. Jennie Israel is striking as the beautiful, conspiratorial and finally self-destructive Lady Macbeth, all well guided by Steve Maler's strong direction. Scott Bradley's highly atmospheric set, a rear wall composed of fragmented shutters, augmented to one side, by a small, ramshackled stage and balcony, establishes just the properly seedy, tropical ambience, effectively enhanced by Linda O'Brien's dramatic lighting, and J. Hagenbuckle's sound design, which was occasionally much too strident. This fine, eighth annual free (open to all) summertime presentation, is now playing through August 10. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is Company One's production of " Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train " by Stephen Adly Guirgis. A major success Off-Broadway, and also in Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Minneapolis, it likewise proved to be an award-winner at the Edinburgh (Scotland) Festival, and was a success in London and Finland, as well. Set in New York, the play has Angel Cruz, a young Hispanic teen, who has been jailed for shooting Reverend Kim (a Rev. Moon-like cult-styled, Spiritual leader) in the buttocks. Angel's gunfire was in response to Kim's recruitment of his best friend Joey, into his "religious" movement. Unfortunately, after suffering some complications, Rev. Kim has died, and now Angel faces murder charges. While awaiting processing, Angel is paired in adjacent exercise cells, with Lucius Jenkins, a charismatic, psychopathic serial killer. A recently saved Born-Again Christian, who had killed eight people, Jenkins is determinedly resisting extradition to Florida, where he'll face execution. Now having found God, he spends his recreational time expounding to Angel, about the uplifting rewards of Salvation. Valdez, a " by-the-book " Prison Guard, shows little empathy with either, and instead repeatedly flaunts his authority, being especially brutal to Jenkins. Some hope is offered to Angel, on the other hand, by Mary Jane Hanrahan, his court-appointed lawyer. She, intrigued by his plight, works energetically to extricate him. However, provocative and troubling consequences develop, not only for Angel and Lawyer Hanrahan, but for Jenkins, also. Strongly performed by Michael Premo as Angel, Mason Sand as Valdez, and Sarah Shampnois as Hanrahan, with special praise for Vincent Sider's vivid portrayal as Jenkins, all under Summer L. Williams' well focused direction. Much commendation also for Mark VanDerzee's dramatic lighting and atmospheric, 3-way, divided, wire cage-like, setting. Although occasionally somewhat obvious, this compelling play, nevertheless scores on all other counts! Now playing through August 9. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the I Sebastiani Company's production of "The Twin Captains." Declaring themselves to be "The Greatest Commedia dell' Arte Troupe in the Entire World," they were founded more than a decade ago, and specialize in performing the mainly improvisational, Italian Renaissance, rough=and-tumble farces in English, based on the 16th centuy's most rudimentary and simple plot lines. Dressed in traditional costumes, complete with bizarrely comic face masks, their freewheeling and highly exaggerated clowning is abetted and spurred on by the audience's shouted encouragement. Generally recognized as the classic comedic forebear of everyone from Shakespeare and Moliere to Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers and Michael Richards, this production is a good example of the form. Naturally, all the heroes and heroines as well as villains and assorted minor and secondary characters are represented. Lovely young Isabella, betrothed to the dastardly Captain Spavento, was deserted by him six years before, when he left in search of his much nicer brother. While Isabella's bawdy handmaid Olivetta tries to link her romantically to the handsome young unattached Oratio, grandiose confusions erupt when Spavento and his twin Brother return. Well played by the fine young, highly dexterous ten member cast, with high marks for Director Producer, Scenarist, and Actor Alex Newman as the Twin Brothers, with grand comic support from Cat Crow as Isabella, Abigail Weiner as Olivetta, Aaron Santos as Oratio, and Jay Cross as Isabella's foolish, elderly father, and epecially Carl West as his animated Jester: Arlecchino! Innovatively staged, in the Arts' complex's smallest playhouse, the winning and energetic cast begins the evening by drawing a large charcoal outline of a classical Italian Piazza street scene on a series of blank white elevated rear backdrops (albeit, separated by some dark curtains) to much, great effect! On the down side, however, thanks to the close and quite cramped performance space, which often tended to overly magnify much of the cast's frantic and humorously shouted dialogue, their comic effectiveness was too often challenged by the room's deficiency. Notwithstanding, this otherwise entertaining and compelling romp, is now playing through July 26. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Mark Snyder

Someone finally made it safe for children from all over the world to "runaway to the circus". Rob Mermin's Circus Smirkus teaches children the best facets of circus life--acrobatics, comedy, clowing, high wire, tight rope, stunts, and laughter--and succeeds on a grand scale. I took in the Circus at its recent incarnation at Heritage Museum & Gardens in Sandwich, MA, on lovely Cape Cod. I brought my nine year old gymnast daughter. Her take: "Daddy, it was AWESOME!." My take was just as enthusiastic. This group of youngers (as young as 11), tour for seven weeks all around the U.S.A. It was an intimate show, with lots of talented kids from all over the map.Trainers work individually with the children. Parents worked as volunteer ushers. The show starts off with a rousing dance and acrobatic performance from the entire troup, the introduction of the "bad guys who wish to bring sadness to the people of Smirkopolis", along with the music of the Rt. 7 Ramblers. The first perfomers were the "Sparkle Twins", Alex Friedlander-Moore, a sixteen year old from Florence, MA and Kerren McKeeman, 18 of Hollis, N.H. Working in very close proximity to each other, the girls had no room for error high above the crowd. Their closeness, and total trust in one another, was like a set of twins. It was a foreshadowing of the talent that would be seen! Friedlander-Moore later appeared as a "human pretzel" in the show, taking on any number of shapes in an amazing display of flexability! David Graham, a nineteen year old from Wilton, N.H. and his sister Flora Graham (a trouper alum) performed the high wire. Though only about six feet off the ground, Thora showed amazing balance and grace. She did a split on the wire, and even some juggling, while keeping perfect balance. Dave juggled and rode a unicycle, while maintaining his balance. In a group superhero scene, Elin Andersson was the standout. An absolutely stunning beauty from Norrkoping, Sweden, she is an amazing gymnast whose smile lit up the tent. She appeared to be a teen, but later backstage, she told me that she turns 12 in August. She appears earmarked for stardom in the States. (Dean Whitlock, the Circus' PR maven, says that twenty of the kids have gone on to careers in The Circus. Some have gone on to college (one M.I.T.) and successful careers in all endeavors. Talents off all kinds was on ample display throughout.) Two folks dazzled on some type of suspension device. Jacob Bloom, a sixteen year old from Belmont, MA and Olivia Oller, 15 of Bennington, VT., did a cute act. Both did a high wire, high flight act. Oller is a strong young lady; Bloom, a born performer and an excellent climber. Another performer who grabbed the audience's eye (and especially my daughter's) was John Stork, a 17 year old from Plainfield, VT. The muscular dancer and acrobat is a black belt in martial arts. He played a hero to the people of Smirkopolis, and had the crowd eating out of his hand. Every teen girl in the crowd was "oohing and ahhing" at his physique. Bret Pfister, a 15 year old from Moretown, VT, showed amazing flexability, climbing, balance between two curtain-like suspensions high above the crowd. The Route 7 Ramblers band (Ben Campbell, Caleb Elder, Erwin Konesni, Alex Reiser, Abe Streep and Nick Stine) did a great job rocking the place out, with a sound that was reminiscent of the late 50's, early sixties brand of rock. All songs were original and a CD will be available shortly though the circus website ( About 650 people attended the show (80%) capacity. This is a show that deserves the full attention of surrounding families. Their website lists all the upcoming shows and with low ticket prices ($15 adult, $12 child at one we attended) it is a family bargain. My daughter insisted we "shout out" to Rachel Schiffer, a beautiful and talented Middlebury College student from Vermont, who was a troup alumni and has been an artist-in-residence for the group. She was intelligent, warm, and graceful, whether she was dancing, doing the high wire, acrobatics, or speaking to the crowd.. Every performer did an incredible job (even Lola, the canine member of the troup). I wish we had room here to mention all their names. Please go to Circus Smirkus and check them out. And do go to see them! You won't regret it! (My Grade: 5)


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 " A Midsummer Night's Dream." A quartet of young sweethearts Hermia and Lysander; Helena and Demetrius, challenging their parents' decisions to keep them apart, escape to a magical forest governed by the Fairies' King and Queen. There, under the spell of Puck (the King's mischievous valet) they become enmeshed in a series of confused and preposterous couplings. Similarly, Bottom, a boisterously foolish craftsman, together with his many inept friends, have assembled in this same woodland, to prepare for a play honoring the parents of these aforementioned young lovers. Puck again turns everything askew by casting a spell on Bottom, transforming him with an outlandish donkey's head! As expected, after many other amusing ramifications, all enchantments are dispelled, and all misunderstandings are redressed to everyone's delight! Stacy Fischer as Hermia, Ben Lambert as Lysander, Devon Jencks as Helena, and Nathan Blew as Demetrius are all compelling. Director Diego Arciniegas and Susanne Nitter as both the disapproving parents, as well as the bewitched Forest's Royalty also deserve recognition. Bill Gardiner (complete with Mohawk haircut and huge furry tail ) is a robust and spirited Puck, with special mention for Steven Barkhimer as the grandly bewildered Bottom! (Barkhimer, along with Haddon Kime, also renders some amusing songs during several scene changes ). Susan Zeeman Rogers' fine and simple atmospheric set, featuring raised, colorful, billowing, canvas-type sheets behind a central totem-like pole, accented by a host of hanging, crimson, plant-style strips, and several in-and-out trapdoors throughout the stage, is equally impressive! Jane Hillier Walkawiak's period costumes, especially those for the highly unusual Forest Fairies outfitted as rubberized and decidedly grotesque and somewhat intimidating "monsters," registers as this otherwise splendid production's most curious and debatable aspect. Now playing, in Repertory, through September 7. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass. is their production of "Cats." Based on T.S.Eliot's compendium of poems entitled "Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats," (first published in 1939), it was developed as a play, with music, in 1980 by Andrew Lloyd Webber. After its triumphant debut in London in 1981, it was launched in New York, with even greater approval in 1982, where it went on to become (after finally closing this past year) the longest running musical play in Broadway history! Set late at night in a gigantic junkyard, strewn with jumbo, oversized, discarded trash, the area's cats assemble to frolic in the moonlight. With no spoken dialogue, its limited storyline unfolds though a series of 20 songs, embellished by dramatic lighting, vibrant choreography, and vivid special stage effects! Gathered by "Old Deuteronomy," their wise, longstanding elder, these bewhiskered pranksters ( known here as "Jellicles ") have come together for their annual Ball, where their Patriarch will later select one of them to rise and be reborn in Cat Heaven (here called "the HeavySide Layer"). With more than two dozen of them convened (all with elaborate furry and/or slinky costumes, replete with grand tails...and extravagant cat-like facial makeup) and all with whimsical names like "Bombalurina," " Jennyanydots," " Corpricat," " Munkustrap," " Rum Tum Tugger," " Skimbleshanks," and "Tumblebrutus." However, most notable amongst them, is the formerly glamorous, now disillusioned, weary, and very dispirited "Grizabella," who has come to plead for a new beginning! Her heartwrenching rendition of "Memory," is the show's most compelling segment. Amongst the other fine musical numbers are "Growltiger's Last Stand," " Macavity" (an extraordinary feline ), " Mr. Mistoffellees " ( a most mysterious cat ), the group's salute to " Old Deuteronomy," and of course, the stirringly choreographed " Jellicle Ball." Linda Balgord is quite memorable as "Grizabella," as is Ken Prymus as " Old Deuteronomy," with splendid performances by Jacob Brent as " Mistoffellees," and Brian Noonan, who's noteworthy as " Gus: The Theatre Cat," amongst a host of others! Extra praise is also due for the fine atmospheric set by Howard C. Jones, Jay Woods' eye-popping cat-like costumes, the fine musical accompaniment conducted by Mark McLaren,(although,occasionally overpowered by the theatre's strong ampliciation system), and the highly expressive choreography and assured direction by Richard Stafford. Now playing through August 3. (My Grade: 4.5)


Review by Norm Gross

On the Waltham High School Campus in Waltham, Mass. is the Reagle Players production of "My Fair Lady," with Book and Lyrics by Alan J. Lerner and Music by Frederick Loewe. Based on George Bernard Shaw's play " Pygmalion," this musical version premiered on Broadway in 1956, and went on to become one of the greatest successes in American Musical Theatre history, winning a host of Tony Awards, spawning innumerable Road Companies, countless revival productions, and many, many worldwide presentations. It was also released as a major, multiple Oscar-winning Hollywood motion picture in 1964. Lerner's Book and Lyrics remain totally faIthful to Shaw's original conception and dialogue, admirably enhanced by Loewe's sublime Music, although now, in this adaptation, it's been refocused with the happy ending that Shaw's play had so resolutely rejected. Set in pre-World War I London, phonetician Henry Higgins bets his friend Colonel Pickering that he can pass off Eliza Doolittle, a lowly Cockney flower girl, as a "Lady" in High Society, by teaching her to speak "Properly." He then succeeds so triumphantly after many months of dogged effort she rebels and sets about to change her autocratic and misogynous teacher into a more appreciative and caring person, who might even grow to love her! Featuring splendid acting and singing by John Hillner as Professor Higgins and Sarah Pfisterer as Eliza, (a striking beauty and an even grander soprano ) with vivid support from the large youthful cast, with extra commendation for Peter West as Colonel Pickering, Darcy Pulliam as Higgins' understanding mother, and especially Harold "Jerry" Walker as Alfred P. Doolittle, Eliza's highly spirited working-class father. "I Could Have Danced All Night," " With A Little Bit Of Luck," " Wouldn't It Be Loverly," " The Rain In Spain," and " On The Street Where You Live," are just a few of the show's many memorable songs, ably accompanied by the full orchestra conducted by Jeffrey P. Leonard. The many eye-catching sets by Richard Schreiber, the lavish and highly colorful gowns by Kansas City Costume, all under Frank Foster's assured direction, together go to make this fine production a solid treat for the entire family! Now playing through July 19. (My Grade: 5)


Review By Norm Gross

At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass., under the auspices of the American Repertory Theatre, is "George Gershwin Alone," written by and starring Hershey Felder. A concert pianist, with credits which include not only writing music, but also his professional status as an actor and a playwright, this marks the return of his popular solo performance piece (subtitled "An imagination with Music" ) centering on the life and times of the legendary composer. Seated at a Grand Piano, Felder tenderly traces Gershwin's early years as a songsmith in Manhattan's "Tin Pan Alley," his meteoric rise as a successful Broadway Theatre songwriter, (together with his older Brother Ira, as his lyricist), his opportune years writing hit songs for Hollywood movies, and most especially his memorable, major moncert works and classic opera. In discussing these matters, Felder doesn't hesitate to inform us of the poor critical reception that greeted "Porgy and Bess," upon its Broadway debut (it closed after only a very brief engagement, in 1935), with similarly mixed and/or unfavorable reviews for "Rhapsody in Blue," as well as "An American in Paris." Naturally, Felder also plays and sings many of Gershwin's most memorable songs, including "Swanee," "I Got Rhythm," "Someone to Watch Over Me," "Embraceable You," and "The Man I Love,' to name just a few, sprinkled with affectionate anecdotes about Gershwin's encounters with such luminaries as Al Jolson, Ethel Merman, Sam Goldwyn, and even Maurice Ravel! He also offers a few sombre reflections on the circumstances leading to this great man's tragic and untimely death at age 38 (in 1937) from a brain tumor. The evening concludes with Felder's commanding rendition of the aforementioned " Rhapsody in Blue," followed by some pleasantly spirited musical moments, when he's joined by the enthusiastic capacity audience, in singing a few of Gershwin's best loved melodies. Now playing through July 26. (My Grade: 5)


The Fantasticks
Review by Norm Gross

At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. is the Harvard-Radcliffe Summer Theatre's production of "The Fantasticks," a musical play with Book and Lyrics by Tom Jones and Music by Harvey Schmitt. Based on Edmund Rostand's classic "Les Romanesques," it premiered Off-Broadway in 1960, and went on to become the world's longest running musical, concluding its NYC engagement, (all at the same originating Playhouse ) in 2002, after presenting 17,162 performances! It has also been a great worldwide favorite, with countless professional and community stagings throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia, as well. Likewise, in 1995, it was released as a major motion picture, too. Its simple story follows the love between two young sweethearts, Luisa and Matt, whose parents--realizing that their young offspring would otherwise definitely object to an arranged romance--have pretended disapproval, by erecting a wall between their adjoining properties, to ensure that their children would then mate! To further complicate matters, and really arouse Matt's concern, both parents have hired "El Gallo," a notorious Highwayman, to arrange a "make believe" kidnapping of Luisa. When the parents' deception is discovered, the disillusioned young couple have to make some difficult decisions, about their relationship, with many surprising results. The young, enthusiastic eight member cast does quite well, with their various roles, with fine acting and singing by Julia Davis as Luisa, Ryan McAuliffe as Matt, Martin Dinn as "El Gallo," and Michael Moss and D J Averell as the conspiring parents. The notable and melodious musical score features such tender ballads as " Soon It's Gonna Rain", " Try To Remember," and "They Were You," amongst many others, with sprightly, on-stage accompaniment, by Brian Fairley and John Drake on Piano and Drums. This is all nicely accented by Alison Cherry's atmospheric and dramatic lighting! Unfortunately, Thomas Odell and Neil Ellingson, as two hired bumbling "kidnappers", were often much too heavy-handed, trying for quick and easy laughter! Now playing through July 5. (My Grade: 4)


Ionesco, Not Ionesco
Review by Norm Gross

At the Charlestown Working Theater in Boston's Charlestown section is the Molasses Tank Production's staging of "Ionesco, Not Ionesco," three short plays by Eugene Ionesco, the celebrated Romanian-French playwright, considered to be the Grand Master of "Absurdist Theater." Written in the 1950's, the three pieces vividly demonstrate the author's views on the inadequacies of language, life's ever-defining contradictions, and the often outrageous conflicts, between creativity and conformity. "Improvisation" finds the author visited by three prominent Drama Critics named Bartholomeus I, II, & III. Since their mission is first to blame, and then to educate Ionesco, (as he writes his newest play) and being Cavilers, they've come to help him to avoid foreign influences, to demonstrate his sincerity, and to assist him in achieving great applause. To begin, he must first take one step forward, followed by two steps back. Afterwards, with everyone wearing Dunce's caps, the housemaid will come to clean up, after they've all left. "Salutations" has three gentlemen describe their well being in a spirited, non-stop succession of preposterous one word answers: "Ecstatically," " Ficticiously," " Euphorically," etc., illustrating his querulous view, to the ticking of a metronome, of the insufficiencies of everyday communication. Finally, in "The Picture," an unscrupulous businessman, desperate to add an aesthetic dimension to his life, tricks an artist into giving him an important painting, while the entrepreneur's crotchety and shrewish, elderly sister asserts her carping authority over him! All three plays are being intensely performed by Jason Beals, Lara B. Krepps, John Morton, Jane Martin and Michael F. Walker, in a wide variety of different roles, under the firm direction of Steve Rotolo, who also designed the fine minimalist circular, and off-kilter setting, with Duncan McCulloch. This amusing, involving, contradictory, and quite provocative evening of multi-meaning playlets, is now on view through July 5. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is "Saigon Water Puppets." Founded in 1977, this centuries-old art form, praised in their homeland as a national treasure, and seasoned by many awards in Vietnam, and by tours across Asia and Europe, is now here, for young and old, to enjoy in our country, too. Based on Vietnamese life, myth, and folklore, this fascinating series of delightful vignettes is being presented in the Theatre complex's spacious Cyclorama, utilizing a large, on-stage, water-filled pool, framed by an equally expansive and colorful Pagoda, behind which ten hidden Puppeteers manipulate a succession of captivating, handcrafted, small and moveable wooden figurines. They are accompanied by an excellent five member orchestra, chanting in Vietnamese, while playing exotic musical instuments, such as a 2-string violin; bamboo flutes; a 16-string zither; a stone xylophone, and various types of unusual percussion. In a 50 minute intermissionless program, a dozen brief and fanciful segments are performed to the complete delight of the capacity audience, composed mainly of exhuberant parents and children. Cavorting Dragons breathing real sparks, and spouting long shafts of water: aggressively pirouetting and splashing, combative Lions; multi-colored, dancing Phoenixes, adorned with bright tailfeathers; an elderly peasant and his wife challenging a vivid yellow, cat-like fox, to thereby defend a flock of tiny ducks; and a gold-crowned Fairy Queen, escorted by a cotillion of gracefully moving handmaidens, are just a few of the many charming episodes in this highly engaging program! This splendid family extravaganza, which I am fully recommending, is now playing through June 29. (My Grade: 5


Review by Norm Gross

At Snowden Auditorium on the Boston Campus of the University of Massachusetts, is the "Up You Mighty Race" Performing Arts Company's production of " Fences." This Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning drama by August Wilson made its Broadway debut in 1987, and has been a favorite of professional and community theatre companies nationwide ever since. Set in Pittsburgh during the late 50s and early 60s, the plot centers on Troy, a powerful, hardworking, 54 year old Sanitation worker, his steady, reliable and understanding wife Rose, and his two sons, Lyons a married, 34 year old, often unemployed, but hopeful Jazz musician; and Cory, a promising 17 year old high school football player, who's being wooed for college recruitment. Troy, who spends much of his spare time building a fence around his clapboard-tenement house, is bitterly disillusioned by his time as a baseball player many years before in the all-Black Leagues. A discouraging experience for him, he insists that Cory settle instead for a safe and reliable job at the local supermarket, Cory refuses to abandon his lofty aspirations, for what he feels would be a dead end job. Act One's methodical exposition leads to the stirring confrontations of Act Two, with an inevitable showdown between Troy and Cory at its center, and an unexpected betrayal of Rose's devotion and attachment, by Troy, leading to a somber, compelling and ultimately uplifting denouement. Intensely performed by Cliff Odle as Troy, Tonie Nobles as his dedicated wife Rose, and Louis Jacques as the conflcted Cory, with fine support from Brother Ra as Troy's long-time best friend, and Frank A. Shefton as Troy's befuddled, Korean War-veteran brother, all well focused by Akiba Abaka's strong direction. Abaka also contributed to Peter Calao and Richard Wood's fine, atmospheric urban, front yard setting. Now playing through June 29. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Huntington Theatre is " Cookin' at the Cookery," a musical play written and directed by Marion J.Caffey. Since its premiere in Florida in 1997, this tribute to the music and times of legendary Blues singer Alberta Hunter, has played to enthusiastic response throughout the South, and recently successfully Off-Broadway, as well. It was also well staged, here in the Greater Boston area, in Lowell, Mass., two years ago at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre, (albeit with a totally different cast and orchestra.) Beginning at the turn of the 20th century, in Memphis, Tennessee, through a series of fast paced vignettes, laced with a host of rhythmically infectious songs, continuing on through the 70s and 80s, Alberta's steady rise in Show Business, from neophyte Cabaret singer to acclaim in the Jazz clubs of Chicago and New York ( including performances on the Broadway Stage) and wide ranging tours throughout Europe. At all times during her career, her devoted mother remained as a pillar of strength and support. News of her mother's death, while she was entertaining the American GI's overseas during the Korean War, caused grief stricken Alberta to make a momentous change in her life. She decided to assist the ill and the infirm as a Practical Nurse! After nearly 20 years tending the sick, she was forced to retire, her employer thinking she had reached the mandatory age of 70 (she was actually 82.) In 1977 she returned triumphantly to the Jazz world, performing thereafter at "the Cookery," a popular N.Y. night club, until her death in 1984 at age 89. Vividly performed and sung by Ernestine Jackson as the mature Alberta and lovely, youthful and multi-talented Montego Glover as the aspiring star-to-be, with fine, spirited musical support from the excellent on-stage quartet directed by Darryl Ivey. Featuring nearly 20 great classic Jazz numbers, including Alberta's great signature tune: " My Castle's Rockin'," plus " Sweet Georgia Brown," and " St. Louis Blues," amongst many others. Although all songs, sung by this dynamic twosome, were fully accredited, in the show's program booklet, strangely their showstopping duet of " When the Saints Go Marching In " ( with bright new lyrics composed by Sylvia Fine for a movie starring her husband Danny Kaye and Louis Armstrong ) went surprisingly uncredited! Now playing through June 29. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

In Studio 210 at Boston's Huntington Theatre is Next Stage's world premiere production of "Rapist James," by Christopher Denham. Set in Chicago, two 20 year olds prepare for their wedding, a week away. Sam, a successful computer programmer, is conflicted by his decision not to pursue a career in professional baseball. He had performed well in college on the varsity team. He's now been together with Katie, his fiancee, a budding professional photographer, for three years. They're both anxious to marry, but her troubled past is a continuing source of anguish for them. Katie, who had been involved, for five years previously, with her former boyfriend James (who's never seen), has admitted to Sam that she had been brutally raped by him! Naturally very upset, Sam demands that Katie bring charges against the culprit, which she has repeately refused to do! However, after much intense discord, she finally does agree to have James imprisoned. As their wedding day approaches, they are joined by Ellen, Katie's supposedly comforting sister (a PhD Microbiologist and Born-Again Christian ) who harbors surprising, ulterior, and duplicitous motives. As Sam begins to wonder, increasingly, about Katie's relationship to James, and to even question the true nature of James' sexual assault, disturbing issues concerning their impending marriage, also arise! Well played by Amy French as Katie, Nathaniel McIntyre as Sam, and Julie Jirousek as Ellen. Under Daniel Goldstein's strong direction, this rambling, often uneven and unfocused, and occasionally compelling drama, centered on the wavering uncertainties besetting these hopeful, but very troubled young adults, is now playing through June 28. (My Grade: 3)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre on the campus of Wellesley College in Welleley, Mass. is their Summer Theatre's production of "Little Moon of Alban," by James Costigan. First offered as an Emmy Award-winning drama on television's "Hallmark Hall of Fame" series in 1958, it was later expanded by the author, and was favorably presented on Broadway in 1960. Set in the environs of Dublin during "the Troubles," (1919-1922) its compelling story follows the evolution of sweet and youthful Brigid Mary Mangan from her blissful and overflowing love for Dennis, her young fiance who is killed by the British Military, to the cloistered and dutiful life of service as a Nursing Nun. When she learns that her severely wounded, primary patient, whom she has fallen in love with, is the same English Lieutenant who, years before, had led the attack that resulted in her fiance's death, she's torn between her sanctified vows of healing and care and her need for retribution. Brigid is being passionately and touchingly portrayed by Alicia Kahn, with an equally sensitive and intense performance by Derek Stone Nelson, as her mortally wounded, conflicted patient and lover. Vividly supported by the large 15 member cast, with special notice for Ken Flott as a dedicated Irish revolutionary, Elys Cronin as Brigid's war weary mother, and Ed Peed as both an attentive British soldier and a careworn and somewhat dispirited Hospital Doctor. Strongly directed by Nora Hussey, who also developed the fine, simple, atmospheric stone columned set, together with Kelsey Peterson and Kat V. Scoggin, with additioal mention for Ken Loewit's dramatic and telling lighting. This stirring and provocative exploration of War as the ever present cumulative cause of human pain, sorrow, suffering and soul wracking tribulation, is now playing through June 28. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass. is the new touring production of "The Odd Couple," by Neil Simon. This deftly written comedy about outrageously mismatched middle-aged roommates, opened on Broadway in 1965 to great acclaim, and was later made as an equally successful motion picture in 1968. It was later developed for Television, as a weekly thirty minute sitcom by Garry Marshall for ABC-TV, where it thrived from 1970 to 1975. During the 90's, two much less successful movie sequels (one for TV and yet another for the big screen) were also released. Set in New York City, the story centers on two divorced and highly dissimilar friends living together in the same Manhattan apartment. Oscar, a divorced sportswriter, perpetually bedecked in baseball cap and sweatshirt, (now paying alimony to his California-based ex-wife, and their child) maintains his messy living quarters, with the barest of concern. Having learned, that his best friend Felix is now in the throes of a divorce proceeding, and fearing for the wellbeing of his despondent buddy, Oscar has invited him to move in. Unfortunately, whereas Oscar, when at home, is given to Poker games, heavy smoking, and little, if any, domesticity, Felix is obsessive about a neat, orderly home, a well-cooked dinner, and proper behavior! Oscar's all male weekly card game, (with friends) initially marshalled by him, as a sweaty, smokey, beer-swilling, white-and-brown sandwich gathering...under Felix's, new watchful eye, now includes, specially prepared, tidy snacks, napkins and even coasters! When Oscar arranges a "double-date " for both his roomate and himself, with two perky neighboring English sisters, the overly shy and nervous Felix turns their get-together into a topsy-turvy "Mothering" situation. Amusingly played by TV's Sherman Hemsley ("George Jefferson") as Oscar, with much praise for the fine comic support from Michael Allosso as Felix, who at this engagement's outset, on extremely short notice,assumed the role from, the physically ailing Pat Morita. Extra mention is also due for Dayle Ballentine and Rachel Harker as the very airy and sprightly British sisters. Although the defining card games should have been performed with much greater comic flair, Maynard Sloate's apt direction, the fine comic performances by the principal players and the author's non-stop witty dialogue, otherwise steadily maintains the play's winning momentum! Now playing through June 29. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

Appearing at Boston's Copley Theatre is the well-known comedy ensemble "Capitol Steps." Beginning in 1981 as entertainers at a Christmas party for former Senator Charles Percy, they've continued on for the ensuing 22 years as a professional group specializing in topical, political humor. They not only appear on many public stages, but also on innumerable Network radio and television programs including "the Today Show," " Good Morning America," " 20/20," and most especially, National Public Radio's " All Things Considered." They've also produced more than two dozen full-length comedy recordings over the years, as well. Much of their fun derives from well known popular songs, reworked by them, with totally new satirical lyrics. Although their program notes list 25 personalities as representative members of the company, only a few appear on stage. Most memorable, during nearly two hours ( including a short intermission ) of non-stop, often uproarious segments, were witty parodies of "Maria," (from "West Side Story ") re-fashioned here as Nuke-rattling "K-O-R-E-A"; Broadway's "Annie " singing "Sadam will come out Tomorrow"; Attorney General John Ashcroft unmasked as "the Phantom of the Opera"; the Kingston Trio's hit folk tune now sung as "Hang Down Your Head, Tom Daschle"; Nat King Cole's "Mona Lisa," redone as a plaint for "Condoleeza"; Trent Lott chanting " It's Not Easy Being White" and Tom Ridge listing the States of Alert (to the melody of ' the Battle Hymn of the Republic') as "Glory, Glory, Paranoia." Of the many additional non-musical moments, amongst the best were: the upper echelon of the French military revealed as "General Malaise and Colonel Ennui;" a Private-Eye, hired by the Democrats, to try to find a viable Presidential candidate; Martha Stewart advising us that "...prison stripes can be very slimming" and George W. Bush replying to accusations of faulty National Security Intelligence, by responding that "he had no intelligence, at all!" Also hilarious was Mike Loomis riotously describing the War in Iraq and the Catholic Church's sex scandal (amongst other matters) at length, in highly scrambled English in which, for example, phrases such as " map of the world " or "right winger " are spoken as " wap of the murld," and/or a "white ringer!" High praise is also due for Elaina Newport, Andy Clemence, Ann Johnson, Richard Paul and Morgan Duncan, in a wide variety of songs and skits. This grandly amusing show, fortified by all those new and hilarious lyrics by Mark Eaton, Elaina Newport, and Bill Strauss (who also directed ) most certainly deserves the overflowing audience's warm and thunderous approval! Now playing through June 22. My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

On the Waltham High School campus in Waltham, Mass. is the return engagement of the Reagle Players' 35th Anniversary production of "Singin' In The Rain." One of last summer's most popular attractions, the capacity audience repeatedly greeted the performance with thunderous approval. This staged adaptation by Betty Comden and Adolph Green of their witty screenplay for the classic 1952 MGM film musical, amusingly lampoons Hollywood's troublesome transition from silent to "talking" movies. As the future of Don and Lina, the silver screen's best loved romantic duo, is put in jeopardy, because of Lina's laugh-provoking, high-pitched, nasal voice, with the help of Cosmo, his friend and musical accompanist Don persuades Kathy, his sweetheart, and a budding starlet, to "dub" her sweet-sounding voice onto the movie soundtrack, in place of Lina's "sour" notes, erupting into a surprising and humorous series of complications! As before, the fine songs by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown (derived from a number of previous MGM movie musicals ) plus several new tunes by either Al Goodman and Al Hoffman or Comden and Green and Roger Edens, together with Peggy Hickey's lively choreography (recreated from the film's original dance numbers by Michael Scott Taylor ) are all quite grand, as are John MacInnis and Heidi Karol Johnson, both returning in their roles as Don and Lina, with Christopher Sutton and Beverly Ward, now as Cosmo and Kathy. Once more MacInnis's memorable dancing, to the title song, with feet splashing in ankle-deep water (in a lengthy filled trench) against a lamp-post, amidst an actual onstage rainstorm, and Cosmo's vividly dexterous "Make 'Em Laugh " number, were both absolute showstoppers! Regretably, too much of Lina's squeaky vocal difficulties, were still being too over-exagerated, for much too easy laughter, as were the on-stage filmed segments, overdoing the difficulties of the early motion-picture soundtrack systems! However, strong commendation is again due for the splendid, large supporting cast, and the fine full-orchestral accompaniment, conducted by Brent S. Ferguson. Now playing through June 21.
(My Grade: 4 )


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the SpeakEasy Stage Company's new production of "Ruthless," a comic musical parody with Book and Lyrics by Joel Paley and Music by Marvin Laird. Winner of the Outer Critics' Circle Award as 1993's Best Off-Broadway Musical, it's now being offered here, in a newly revised version, preparatory for presentations later in New York and London. Divided into two acts, including a brief intermisssion, Act One is an over-the-top lampoon of "The Bad Seed," Maxwell Anderson's classic 1950's dramatic success, centering on a homicidal pre-adolescent. Young Tina, a budding actress, (a star waiting to be discovered ) will stop at nothing, including murder, to play the leading role in her elementary school's third grade production of "Pippi Longstocking!" Spurred on by Sylvia, an aggressive talent agent, and Lita, her sprightly theatre critic grandma, (although, vigorously opposed by her domestically focused housewife mother Judy,) Tina does eliminate her school rival, and achieves stardom, in the primary school play only to be punished by an amusing Court-imposed penalty. Act Two finds her mother Judy, now suddenly made aware of her own substantial theatrical heritage, immediately and drastically revising her lifestyle to quickly become an overnight SuperStar, with grandly bizarre, ludicrous, and often uproarious consequences! Laced with a multitude of ribald tunes, with special mention for "Born to Entertain," "I Hate Musicals!" and "Angel Mom" being especially prominent. Vividly directed by Larry Coen. Kathy St. George is supremely amusing as the transformed mom turned MegaStar, with memorable comic support from gifted 14 year old Kristen Parker as Tina, Will McGarrahan (outrageously outfitted in "drag" ) as Sylvia, Margaret Ann Brady as the singing and dancing Grandmother, and Michelle Damigella as Mom Judy's scheming and underhanded close assistant. Although this riotously comic spectacle, replete with many nonstop and hilarious allusions to Broadway and Hollywood's most legendary shows, including "Gypsy," "West Side Story," Judy Garland's "A Star Is Born," and especially "All About Eve," (amongst a host of others), is unnecessarilly overlong, and would definitely benefit from some carefully judicious editing. It is, nevertheless, a winner in all other respects. Now playing through June 28. (My Grade: 4.50)


Review by Norm Gross

At the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass. is their new production of "Smokey Joe's Cafe," a dazzling and rhythmically dynamic revue of the legendary songs of lyricist Jerry Leiber and composer Mike Stoller. Beginning around the Korean War period, they practically defined the American musical era of "Rhythm 'n Blues," and its subsequent transformations into "Doo-Wop," "Rock 'n Roll," and "Soul Music." Their innumerable hit tunes read like a Post World War II history of American Popular Music:"Searchin'," "Poison Ivy," "Hound Dog," "Kansas City," "Love Potion # 9," "Jail House Rock," "There Goes My Baby," and "On Broadway," just to name only a few. Naturally, their music opened the path to stardom for many, such as The Drifters, The Coasters, Ben E. King, Wilbert Harrison and even Elvis Presley! For a bit more than two hours, including a brief intermission, the production's ensemble of nine young, energetic, and highly talented men and women: Brad Anderson, Michael Demby Cain, Dwayne Clark, Colleen Hawks, Catrice Joseph, Deb Lyons, Clifton Oliver, Devin Richards and Debra Walton, sing and dance their way through nearly 40 vibrant, electrifying, instantly recognized songs...with extra special notice for Colleen's vividly animated rendition of "Teach Me How to Shimmy"; Debra's memorably sultry performance of "Trouble"; and Dwayne, Devin and Clifton's ingratiating version of "Shopping For Clothes," featuring the non-stop, quick change array of Jay Woods' resplendent costumes, Martin E. Vreeland's dramatic lighting, the vibrant Orchestra conducted by Lynne Shankel and of course, the strongly focused direction of Stafford Arima, all merge into making this the grandly entertaining and memorable show that it is! Now playing through June 22. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wheelock Family Theatre, in collaboration with The Theater Offensive, is their world premiere production of "Bel Canto" by Daniel Alexander Jones. Developed by Jones at the 2002 Sundance Institute Theatre in Utah, this coming-of-age story is set in 1978 and centers on Biracial and Gay 16 year old Benjamin, who's just moved with his African-Amercan mother from Berkeley, California to Springfield, Massachusetts. His white father had deserted them by fleeing to Canada to avoid being drafted during the Vietnam War, leaving his mother intent on beginning anew, as a Nurse-to-be, in New England. There, he meets and becomes attracted to Terence, a gay lonely harassed and artistically-gifted black teenager. He also becomes involved with Barbara Scarlatti, an intensely passionate, dedicated and highly-flamboyant music and voice teacher, who recognizes great potential in him as a singer of Grand Opera. As his story evolves, Benjamin steadily gains confidence in his Operatic abilities (being repeatedly inspired by the spirit of Marian Anderson, the celebrated African-American Diva, as his role model.) Some doubts are raised for Benjamin, by an unintentional meeting with his friend Terence's father (a dedicated Jimi Hendrix fan) resulting in unexpected and disquieting consequences! Very well directed by Robbie McCauley and vigorously acted by the small excellent cast, with fine performances by Burl Moseley as Benjamin, Jimonn Cole as Terence, Renita Martin as both Benjamin's mother and Terence's dad, Merle Perkins as the spirit of Marian Anderson and, most especially, Lynda Gravatt as Barbara Scarlatti! Mirta Tocci's noteworthy set, ( a series of elevated, adaptable, neutral-white platforms of varying heights ) together with John Malinowski's highly effective lighting, also deserve much commendation. Although the occasional singing, throughout is hardly of Operatic quality, and the play's final moments seem, in retrospect, too contrived, the drama's ardent performances, fine production values, and hopeful outlook are certainly praiseworthy! Now playing through June 22. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. is the American Repertory Theatre's production of "The Sound of a Voice," two short one-act Operas with Music by Phillip Glass and Text by David Henry Hwang. Based on Japanese Ghost Tales, the first-- whose title also acts as the evening's overall name-- centers on a strange woman living alone deep in the forest in her secluded hut. She's visited by a mysterious wayfarer, who stops there to tarry and rest. Maybe, however, he has come instead for a more sinister purpose? Does he love her, or does he intend to kill her? Is she a Ghost, a Witch, or simply an alluring temptress, determined to tantalize him or is she, perhaps, just content on tending her secluded woodland home and garden? Compellingly acted and beautifully sung by Suzan Hanson as the enigmatic Woman and Herbert Perry as her unusual Guest, they offer us many puzzling notions, with only the answers which we, ourselves, are able to provide. The second piece, "Hotel of Dreams," involves an elderly novelist, who's come to a brothel in hopes of reviving his weary spirit. As in the earlier Opera, once again many questions are posed, with no clear solutions given! As rapport tentatively develops between him and the establishment's elderly Madam, she begins to wonder whether he's come in search of love or for some other reason, such as writing an expose? As their relationship deepens, they gradually begin to bond on a transcendant level. Here again, Janice Felty and Eugene Perry (Herbert's Brother ) majestically sing and perform their exacting roles, all under Robert Woodruff's highly perceptive direction. High praise is also due for Robert Israel's delicate, minimalist settings, (each work featuring large, tilted, rectangular hut-like structures, utilizing transparent scrim walls, set before neutral elevated parapets), and the haunting Far-Eastern sounding accompanying music, provided by the fine quartet directed by Alan Johnson (performing on Cello, Flute, assortedand unusual percussion instruments), and Pipa (a plaintive sounding Chinese Lute). Although a distinctly different departure for Phillip Glass, both presentations are quite intriguing and provocative! Now playing, in repertory, through June 29. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Playwrights' Theatre is the Bridge Theatre Company's presentation of "Personal Demons," a program of six new short plays (ranging in performance time from 10 to 35 minutes )all written by Boston-area playwrights. Separated by a brief intermission, the evening's first half centers on personal attitudes and behavior patterns that serve to bedevil and impede, while the second half concerns confrontations with Devilishly real other-worldly figures. Part two features the night's best writing, most especially, "A Bullet A Day " by Ronan Noone, where a conflicted Priest (intensely portrayed by Peter Brown) struggles, gun to his head, with his conscience (Jennifer Young) to find meaning and solace. Equally compelling and intriguing is Adam Dressler's " A Wreath of Holly " with young seventh grader Eliza Rose Fichter, who one evening accidentally wanders into the dark forest there to meet, and eventually outsmart, the Netherworld's Demon King (Andrew Riel). Of the others, Jake Strautmann's " Roseby's Rock" wryly intrigues, as two young Pub patrons (Seth Compton and Jayk Gallagher ) try to resurrect the Ghosts of two of the town's most ill-fated lovers, with surprising consequences! William Donnelly's "7 & 7" where a bright disillusioned young woman(Erin Bell) tries to solve her overwhelming unhappiness through drunkeness; Maria Brandt' s "Santa's Baby," in which a couple's unhappy and unfulfilled marriage is exposed, as the husband considers his printed accounts as a Scandal Sheet reporter; and Jeffery Jones' "The Swan Song of G. Alfred Ruprecht" (written in verse ) where an older, seasoned actor tries to unstisfactorily overshadow a younger rival, each piece achieving only mixed results. Notwithstanding the evening's general uneveness, these new writers, accompished actors and innovative producers certainly do merit our interest, encouragement and patronage! Now playing through June 14. (My Grade: 3.75)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Huntington Theatre Company is their new production of "Springtime for Henry " by Benn Levy. Written in 1931, it proved to be a great success on Broadway, and was later adapted as a motion picture in 1934. It gained even greater popularity when Edward Everett Horton (the well known 30's and 40's Hollywood character actor ) starred, and then toured in it, throughout America, Canada, and Britain, for the next 25 years. It soon became one of New England's best loved summertime attractions, especially in Boston, Cape Cod and the Berkshires, where Horton, over the years appeared in it more than three dozen times. A spirited Comedy-of-Manners set in 30's London, the overly-obvious plot centers on Henry, a rakish, young and wealthy bachelor, who hires the highly moralistic, young Miss Smith as his new personal secretary. Everything then quickly bubbles over, when she decides to reform him.! Henry, a licentious playboy, who's dedicated to boozing, womanizing and gambling, is also heavily involved in an extra-marital affair with Julia, the wife of his best friend Johnny! As expected, Miss Smith and Julia become dedicated adversaries. Julia and Johnny, being the upper crust British sophisticates that they are, enjoy a capricious off-and-on marriage, in which Johnny is fully aware of Henry and Julia's indiscretions. Everything seems to be going right, and amusingly, according to the supremely virtuous Miss Smith's plans with Henry, now fully tamed, and set by her, on the proper path, when a somewhat surprising and unexpected revelation about her seemingly exemplary past, turns everything topsy-turvy. Extremely well played by the animated and physically adept Christopher Fitzgerald as Henry, with fine farcical assistance from Jeremy Shamos as Johnny, Mia Barron as Julia, and especially Jessica Stone as the wide-eyed, prim and determined Miss Smith! Featuring eye-catching period costumes by Michael Krass, and a well appointed living-room set by James Noone, under Nicholas Martin's highly focused and strong direction. Although never quite as deft or scintillating as the writing of Noel Coward, his contemporary, Playwright Levy's rather dated drawing room comedy still offers enough zesty dialogue buttressed by comic, albeit obvious, plot twists to please the large and highly appreciative audience. Now playing through June 15. (My Grade: 3.75)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. is the American Repertory Theatre's new production of "Pericles." Although accepted as a tragi-comedy by Shakespeare, this rarely-executed play is widely believed to have been revised and later completed by the Bard, from an earlier version, by another dramatist, most likely Thomas Heywood. The elaborate plot centers on Pericles, Prince of Tyre, who encounters a bizarre series of unusual escapades, replete with many unexpected twists and turns. Pursued by assassins, having discovered the malevolent King Antiochus' dreadful, incestuous secret, he escapes, suffers and survives a shipwreck at sea, and later weds Thaisa, the lovely young daughter of King Simonides. After the birth of their daughter Marina, yet another sea-storm overturns their hopes. With wife Thaisa, now seemingly dead, Pericles must return to Tyre and places his child in the care of a supposedly-friendly but ultimately unscrupulous, Provincial Governor and his wife. There, once grown up, young Marina escapes death, at the command of her "guardians," only to be sold later to a brothel. As expected, this convoluted saga is finally resolved, by a succession of similarly outlandish misunderstandings, revelations, and events! The unprincipled surrogates are finally punished, Pericles is reunited with Thaisa, and Marina is happily married to the benificent Magistrate,who was able to rescue her from the bordello. It's been brilliantly devised and directed by Andrei Serban, using a large central video screen, designed by Dan Nutu, as an interactive resource, to weld the story's many quick and extravagant shifts in focus, time and place, together into a vivid and fluid unity. In striking fashion, not only are the turbulent seas on view, but we're also witness to the lively interactions between the larger-than-life actors on video-screen, and those on stage. Likewise, Gabriel Berry's colorfully lavish, fantastic, whimsical and eye-popping costumes, are a continuous delight throughout. Much praise for the large 25 member cast, featuring strong performances by Robert Sella, in the title role; with equally intense portrayals by Yolanda Bavan, as the play's animated ongoing narrator; Thomas Derrah as, amongst others, both King Antiochus and King Simonides; Mia Yoo as Thaisa, Will LeBow and Karen MacDonald as Marina's ruthless custodians, and most certainly, Pascale Armand as Marina! Although, this lengthy play (nearly three hours of performance time) evolves briskly during Act One, Act Two often seems to stall and occasionally to even bog down, from the story's many highly involved complications. But, the Director's genuinely innovative approach, together with the many compelling performances, combine to make this a substantially rewarding experience! Now playing, in repertory, through June 28. (My Grade: 4)

Sweeney Todd-the Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Review by Norm Gross

At the New Repertory Theatre in Newton, Mass. is their new production of "Sweeney Todd-the Demon Barber of Fleet Street," with Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and Book by Hugh Wheeler, based on Christopher Bond's similarly-titled dramatic play. This musical adaptation opened on Broadway to much approval in 1979, later winning many Tony Awards, and has been produced nationally and internationally innumerable times ever since. Set in19th century London, the macabre story centers on Todd, a barber, now returning after 15 years of court imposed exile, seeking vindication against the evil judge who sentenced him. This malevolent Magistrate has made Todd's lovely, young daughter a ward of the court, (with plans to eventually marry her) and by so doing has driven her mother (Todd's wife) to an untimely death. Consumed by the need for revenge, he establishes his barber shop up above "the worst pie-shop" in London, run by the notorious widow Mrs. Lovett. While awaiting an opportunity to dispatch his wicked condemner, he agrees to a bizarre business partnership with Mrs. Lovett! To improve her sales,he'll slit his unsuspecting customers' throats, after which, she'll use her meat grinder and huge oven, to bake his victims into tasty pies! As expected, Todd eventually does away with his judicial nemesis, but his plans go wrong, when his daughter falls in love, with a young sailor whom Todd had befriended, earlier. Further complications, likewise develop, when he also learns the actual facts about his wife's fate during his banishment. Well played and sung by the large cast headed by Todd Alan Johnson as Sweeney, with grand support by Nancy E. Carroll as Mrs. Lovett, Paul D. Farwell as the devilish Judge, Liane Grasso as Todd's fair daughter, and Brent Reno as her youthful sweetheart. Solidly directed by Rick Lombardo, with a fine, atmospheric "Old London" street setting (making deft use of the theatre's comparatively small stage ) by Peter Colao. Although, the fine orchestral accompaniment, under the direction of Janet Roma, served the performers well, together providing vivid renditions of such memorable songs as the witty "A Little Priest," the plaintive "Not While I'm Around," and the tender "Pretty Woman," amongst others, unfortunately, the large ensemble-cast's singing, frequently resonated as being much too strident and loud, often coming across as unnecessarily shrill! Now playing through June 1. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At the StonehamTheatre in Stoneham, Mass. is their production of "Man of La Mancha." Launched Off-Broadway in New York in 1965, with Music by Mitch Leigh and Lyrics by Joe Darien, the Book was adapted by Dale Wasserman, from an acclaimed dramatic play he had written for television, which was telecast in 1959. Achieving even greater approbation as a musical, it was transferred to Broadway in 1968, winning a host of Tony Awards in the process. It has since been produced many times here and abroad, and was also made unsuccessfully into a major motion picture in 1972. Presented as a play-within-a-play, the plot, based on Miguel de Cervantes' classic novel "Don Quixote," follows the author, and his man-servant, as prisoners awaiting trial during the Spanish Inquisition. As they bide their time, the author acts out, for the benefit of his fellow prisoners, the main elements of his legendary tale of the elderly nobleman, and his attendant, (fleeing the grasp of his greedy relatives), who sets out to relive the adventures of a Knight, during the bygone Age of Chivalry. Through music and dance, the aged Cavalier combats a Dragon (in the form of a shadowy windmill), suffers robbings and beatings, and becomes the source of hope to Aldonza, a world-weary trollop, whom he renames as the Lady Dulcinea! Naturally, he must finally face the truth about himself, as he really is. The grand score, featuring the stirring "Impossible Dream"," Dulcinea," and "I'm Only Thinking of Him," amongst many others, is very well sung and acted by the large,accomplished cast. High praise must go to Bryan Scott Johnson as both Cervantes and Quixote; Anthony Santelmo, Jr. as his servant Sancho; Michael Kreutz, as both an innkeeper and a Magistrate; and especially Mary Jayne Raleigh, for her vivid performance as Aldonza/Dulcinea,(notwithstanding, her somewhat tentative and concluding transition from slattern to idealist. ). Commendation, also, for Susan Streater's strong direction and choreography and the splendid eight member orchestra, directed by Deb Lewis. Lastly, special mention for Ted Simpson's dank, dungeon-styled set, centered by a massively heavy staircase, being impressively raised and lowered, on strong cables. Now playing through May 18. (My Grade: 4.5)


Veronika Vavoom Volcanologist
Review by Norm Gross

At Boston Playwrights' Theatre is the Boston Theatre Works production of "Veronika Vavoom Volcanologist," a new comedy by Olga Humphrey (presented here in its world premiere ). Starting at the summit of an active volcano in Colombia, South America, its bizarre plot centers on Veronika Vavimetzu, an attractive busty researcher, specializing in geological exploration. Her story begins with her descending, by rope supports, into a volatile crater to rescue a troubled teenager who's apparently trying to "end it all." George, a juvenile suffering from schizophrenia, has been set on his delusional and suicidal course, by Bronwyn, his bullying domineering-socialite-matron mother, with many compulsive concerns about her feet and the proper shoes to fit them. After saving George, Veronika tries to help him to resolve his problems with his overbearing mom. Complications arise, however, thanks to Veronika's romantic involvement with Fredric, a mousy fellow scientist, (whom she really loves) and Dominguez, a sex-hungry associate, (who appears only as a shadow, or is heard as an unseen voice). Veronika is steadly bolstered in her efforts by an ever-ready pocket radio, constantly serving up regular doses of soft rock 'n roll music. However, things change, with a decidedly dramatic and surprisingly different focus in act two, but to not much more overall effect! Generally well played by the six member cast, with energetic performances by Jennie Israel as Veronika, Jonathan Silver as the conflicted teenager, Jesus Manuel Santiago as the never seen Dominguez, and Amy Barry as an imaginary Go-Go Dancer, who gyrates in costume, on stage, whenever each fantasy musical moment erupts! Unfortunately, Maureen Keiller's overblown portrayal of George's obsessive mother, as well as most of the play's other outlandish situations fall flat, without generating much in the way of real humor or insight! Likewise, J. Michael Griggs' uninspired, two-level set, composed mainly of bright red-orange drapes, adds little to the show's impact. Now playing through May 18. (My Grade: 2)


Review by Norm Gross

At the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass. is their production of "Mame," based on the novel by Patrick Dennis, with Book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, (adapted from their play) with music and lyrics by Jerry Herman. A major success on Broadway in 1966, it has since enjoyed much worldwide acclaim, and was even produced as a Hollywood film in 1974. Set mainly in New York City (and briefly at a southern mansion), the plot covers the time period from the late 20s to the mid 40s, and centers on the glamorous, middle-aged, eccentric free-thinking, and ultra-liberated, Mame Dennis, who suddenly finds herself in charge of Patrick, her young, orphaned, 10 year old nephew. Thus begins her guardianship, in which she propels her juvenile ward to young manhood through a series of madcap ups and downs, involving wild cocktail parties, emancipated and unstructured schools, and many, many evenings hobnobbing with a host of Manhattan's ultra-chic sophisticates! As the years pass, although the 1929 Wall Street Stock Market Crash leaves her penniless,miraculously Mame rebounds by marrying a super rich southern playboy, only to soon become his wealthy widow (due to his demise from a freak, mountain-climbing, mishap). When Patrick finally reaches adulthood, and picks a narrow-minded snob as his fiancee, his dismayed Auntie Mame must do whatever is necessary to reverse this perplexing situation. Dexterously directed and vividly choreographed by Barry Ivan, with lovely, colorful costumes by Susan Picinich, the production's enhanced by the many striking scenic elements, designed by Dex Edwards, enlivened by the arena stage's many highly creative, elevated and revolving features. Well played and grandly sung by Beth McVey in the main role, with splendid support by Daniel Plimpton, as the younger, and Adam Monley, as the older Patrick, with notable performances by Cindy Benson as Agnes Gooch, young Patrick's straight-laced and supremely amusing Nanny, Lisa McMillan as Vera, Mame's boozing and uninhibited best friend, and Chuck Wagner as Beauregard, her rich, southern spouse! Naturally, Jerry Herman's notewothy score, including: "If He Walked Into My LIfe," "Open A New Window," "We Need A Little Christmas," "Bosom Buddies," and the splendid title tune, are at the vibrant core of this genuinely memorable show! Now playing through May 18. (My Grade: 5)


Romeo & Juliet
Dance Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wang Theatre is the Boston Ballet's production of "Romeo and Juliet."  This presentation marks the close of the company's 39th season and features Rudi Van Dantzig's innovative choreography and Sergei Prokofiev's majestic music.  Based on Shakespeare's classic tale set in 15th century Verona about the strife ridden Montague and Capulet families. Their tragic story is fixed on its dire course by the ill-fated romance between young Romeo, son of the Montagues and sweet, young maiden Juliet, daughter of the Capulets. Rapturously danced by Simon Ball as Romeo and Pollyana Ribeiro as Juliet, it's grandly defined by their exquisitely passionate series of dance-encounters, highlighted by their supremely tender and captivating Pas de Deux, evoking the story's legendary "Balcony Scene!" Ably abetted by the extra large supporting cast, (including many vibrant townspeople, children, party-goers, and family members) with vivid dancing and compelling swordplay, most especially by Paul Thrusell as Romeo's slain friend Mercutio and Viktor Plotnikov, replaced in acts two and three, because of an injury, by Yury Yanowsky, as his assailant Tybalt. Handsomely costumed, and impressively mounted (with a grandly monumental castle-like set) by Toer Van Schayk, with sumptuous full orchestral accompaniment conducted by Jonathan McPhee, this genuinely memorable production is now playing through May 18th. (My Grade: 5)


"Fever! A Tribute to Miss Peggy Lee"
Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Copley Theatre is "Fever! A Tribute to Miss Peggy Lee," starring vocalist Lezlie Anders, backed by her husband singer-pianist Buddy Greco leading the 16 piece Benny Goodman Tribute Orchestra. For 90 uninterrupted minutes, beautiful, blonde statuesque Ms. Anders sings more than 20 of Peggy's legendary repertoire, while occasionally relating a few anecdotal observations about this renowed diva's life and career. She's also abetted by a few moments of some ineffectual "choreography" by the two Judy Bayley Dancers! Besides being a prolific songwriter, collaborating with such eminent tunesmiths as Cy Coleman and Duke Ellngton,(amongst many others) Peggy Lee also shone as a painter, motion picture actress, sculptor, researcher and poetess! Ranging from "It's a Good Day," " Manana," " Golden Earrings," and "Mr. Wonderful," to "The Folks Who Live on the Hilll," "I'm a Woman!", "Is That All There Is?" and the title song, Ms. Anders captures much of the passion, tenderness, and vitality of Peggy's greatest hits,while undergoing a breathtaking series of quick costume changes, (some no more than 5 minutes )! She presents herself, to the audience's great delight, in a succession of lavish, golden, ebony, silverized, scarlet, lavender, multi-colored, and finally dazzling white evening gowns. I should also note, that it's rather surprising, that considering the splendid Benny Goodman Tribute Band at hand on stage (except for the early 1940's Goodman-Lee hit " Why Don't You Do Right?") nothing else was ever made of the equally imposing list of Goodman's Swing Classics! No swinging, outstanding, clarinet-soloist, ever appears to recall Goodman's virtuosity, and even more, unexpectedly, the only other notice, by Lezlie and Buddy, to the great Swing era, was in their duet, saluting Count Basie and his great vocalist Joe Williams! Nevertheless, the evening still glows, thanks to Lezlie Anders fine renditions of Peggy Lee's greatest successes, buttressed with much sustained and enthusiastic audience approval! Now playing through May 11. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wilbur Theatre is the return of "Defending the Caveman," the highly successful one-man play written and performed by Rob Becker. A professional stand-up comedian, Becker first introduced this show in San Francisco back in 1991, and has been performing it nationwide (and even overseas) ever since. At the time of its run on Broadway in 1995, it was recognized as the longest-running solo play in Broadway history! This engagement now marks its "Farewell Tour." Flanked on both sides by a television set and an easy chair (crafted in the style of TV's "Flintstones") and backed by two large reproductions of early cave drawings, Becker proceeds for ninety uninterrupted minutes, to analyze, with much humor and insight, the ways in which husbands and wives interact. As a pre-historic cave dweller, man began of necessity, as a "hunter," and woman as a "gatherer." To stalk and capture his prey, so that he might feed his family, all of his energy was narrowly focused...whereas, it was the woman's task to tend the field and domesticate their cave. Becker, making a series of delightfully comic observations, shows how these basic differences persist to this very day. Because of their fundamental dissimilarities, man's work and play are goal oriented. Relying on himself, he concentrates on performing successfully at his job, while he relaxes by watching his favorite sports event on TV, whereas she accepts her world in much wider terms, the more information from relatives and friends, and all the browsing and shopping necessary to provide a comfortable home, the better. Naturally, making herself and her family look their best, is her greatest pleasure. As a consequence, they speak the same words, but their meanings diverge as if they're talking in different languages! Women bond through conversation...whereas men often connect with a buddy via a shared activity, many times with little, if any, talk. Accordingly, in order for the male-female partnership to succeed, they must really strive to truly understand each other's language, doing whatever they must, to actually comprehend their basic differences. Although the show is a bit overlong, and occasionally repetitive, the audience repeatedly saluted Becker with whoops of approving laughter, culminating in a standing ovation! Now playing through May 18. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art's Theatre is " The Momologues," a wide ranging and decidedly humorous exploration of the vicissitudes of Pregnancy and Motherhod. Written by Lisa Rafferty, Sheila Eppolito and Stefanie Cloutier, this nonstop series of comic soliloquys and vignettes, starts with the mom-to-be, assisted by the dad-to-be, deciding to become parents. This is eventually followed by pregnancy, morning sickness, the joys of ultrasonic inspection of the fetus, Le Maze classes, the ups and downs (funny and not-so-funny) of labor and assorted other aspects before, during and after giving birth. Act two continues on with droll observations about choosing the new baby's name, breast feeding, potty training, the do's and don'ts of day care centers, playgrounds, and neophyte babysitters, amongst a host of similar jocular concerns. It's also noteworthy that, except for a rare moment or two, little notice is ever made of the daddy's role during all of this! Winningly performed by Ms. Cloutier, along with Charlotte Dietz, Cinda Donovan, Jane Eyler, Johanna Perri, Ellen Stone and Maria Wardwell, under Lisa Rafferty's strong and highly focused direction, it's being deftly performed on a bare stage, using only a stark and simple black background, with only a few plain props...some chairs and tables, together with a telephone and a park-style bench, all ably enhanced by Heidi Hinkel's keen lighting and dramatic blackouts. Enthusiastically appreciated, with lusty outbursts of laughter and applause, by the capacity audience (nearly 80% female) who most certainly found much to identify with throughout, this witty and genuinely perceptive look at the many different sides of parenting is now playing through May 17. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Colonial Theatre is the touring production of "The Music Man." Featuring book, music and lyrics by Meredith Wilson, it became one of Broadway's major Tony Award winners during its original 1957 premiere, and achieved similar acclaim as a motion picture in 1962. Set in 1912 in River City, Iowa, kingpin salesman-swindler Professor Harold Hill arrives in town, prepared to convince the community to buy musical instruments from him for the area's school children. He promises, not only to supply them with the brass horns they'll need, but to also provide the instructions and the uniforms for them, that will make them River City's first marching band. Naturally, he plans instead, to abscond with the cash, leaving them with neither lessons, colorful military-style outfits, or hope. Surprisingly, however, his scheme begins to unravel, when he meets Marian, the neighborhood's lovely young librarian and then proves to be a positive role model for Winthrop, her troubled, pre-adolescent brother. Deftly adapted and well directed by Ray Roderick, based on Susan Stroman's highly praised 2000 Broadway revival production, and enhanced by J. Branson's highly evocative and moveable smalltown settings, and Tom Reiter's lovely and sumptuous period costumes, the show's strength still remain solidly with Wilson's grandly melodic musical score, including such memorable tunes as "Seventy Six Trombones," "Till There Was You," and "Trouble!", as well as Susan Stroman's original choreography, as vividly recreated here by Liam Burke. Unfortunately, Gerritt Vandermeer as the all important mountebank Professor Hill, (although, reasonably well-voiced) comes across as much too nice and rather bland, instead of the assertively slick, fast-talking charlatan, that the story demands! Carolann M. Sanita, a beautiful and exquisitively voiced soprano, on the other hand, shines as Marian, as does Joshua Siegel, as her lisping little brother, with additional praise for the production's stirring Barber Shop Quartet, (Joaquin Stevens, Bert Rodriguez, Joseph Torello and Steven Wilde). Also, it 's being, unnecessarily somewhat overplayed (a bit too broadly for easy laughs ) by several 0f the supporting performers, as townspeople. Now playing through May 11. (My Grade: 3.75)


Review by Norm Gross

On the campus of Northeastern University in Boston, at its Blackman Auditorium, is the New England Conservatory Opera Theater's production of "Candide," with music by Leonard Bernstein and book, adapted from Voltaire, by Hugh Wheeler; and lyrics by Richard Wilbur, with additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and John Latouche. Originally staged unsuccessfully on Broadway in 1956, with a substantially different book by Lillian Hellman, it was later redeveloped, with Wheeler's new current adaptation, in 1974 and then went on to achieve its present proper and rightful status. The satirical story revolves around Cunegonde, the lovely young daughter of an aristocratic Westphalian family, and her undying love for her illegitmate cousin Candide. Unfortunately, they are both captivated by the teachings of the family philosopher, Dr. Pangloss. Their mentor has convinced them of the rectitude of his singularly optimistic creed: "that all is for the best, in this best of all possible worlds." Thus begins a series of breakneck adventures that takes them around the world, from Westphalia, to such exotic locales as Lisbon, Cadiz, Cartgena, Montivideo, Eldorado,Constantinople, and even a desert island. Their escapades lead them to a Mediterranean brothel, the harsh chambers of the Grand Inquisition, and across Europe to another beginning in the New World. There, they must contend with the perils of a Slave Market, marauding Pirates and other unlikely wonders such as a country where the streets are paved with Gold. Naturally, all ends well for them, when they finally come to meet the " Wisest Man in the World." Grandly sung and vividly acted by Jason McAdams as Candide, Annie Burridge (a fine soprano) as Cunegonde, and Nikolas Nackley as Dr. Pangloss, with splendid support from the large enthusiastic young cast, headed by Leah Florence as a helpful, strange and mysterious old woman, and Laura Stuart as the family's jaunty and sexy maidservant! High praise also, for the highly effective, cartoon-framed set, (a large rear central and rectangular map of the world, which later opens to reveal a succession of imaginative projections, of various brightly tinted and lavish locations) and the grandly colorful period costumes by Fay Conway (of Florida State Opera). Although the lengthy and often overflowing spoken narrative, occasionally serves more to delay rather than to advance the storyline, nevertheless, the lush and sublimely comic musical score, including, "The Best of All Possible Worlds," "Oh, Happy We," "Glitter and Be Gay," and "Ballad of Eldorado," amongst many others, continually and delightfully reasserts itself! Now playing through April 27. (My Grade:4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Massachusetts Bay Community College in Wellesley, Mass. is the Lyric West Theatre Company's production, in collaboration with Our Place Theater Project, of "The Meeting" by Jeff Stetson. Written in 1984, this multi-award winning one act play has been staged many times, both professionally and non, throughout this country during the past two decades, and was also produced as a feature TV movie for PBS. It will also soon be presented, once again, off-Broadway in New York. The play's title refers to a supposed and casual conference between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., in Malcolm's Harlem Hotel suite, shortly before his assassination, in 1965. As expected, Dr. King speaks earnestly and with great conviction about the potency of his non-violent approach as the prime reason for our nation's steady advances in Civil Rights; whereas Malcolm champions his case for African-American nationalsm and separatism. As their debate becomes more strained, they agree on a friendly series of arm-wrestling matches, to deflate the increasing tension growing between them. As Malcolm triumphs in round one, he scoffs at Dr. King's " sit-ins," and jeers at his long, hand-holding, song-filled, marches. Dr. King, however, bests Malcolm, in their scond match, while enumerating the many victories,his followers have won, in dismantling segregation, and gaining voter's rights! Round three, ends in a draw, as they come to realize that although their philosophies are markedly different, they each share the same goals: Freedom and Respect. We also come to see Malcolm as a devoted husband and father (conflicted by his many absences from his home), while Dr. King, upset by news of the recent firebombing of Malcolm's family's residence, has brought his own small daughter's favorite toy doll, as a measure of his family's concern for Malcolm's children. Although this play has little plot development, or dramatic tension, it does expand our notions about the two, and does present their differing tactics very succinctly. It's very well acted by Michael Green as Dr. King and Patrick Fryday Mitchell as Malcolm X, with additional, marginal support by Akida Nau, as Malcolm's ardent bodyguard; all under Jacqui Parker's strong direction. Now playing through April 27. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Theater Machine is the Gold Dust Orphans' production of "The Bad Seed. " Based on the classic melodrama by Maxwell Anderson, it's been loosely adapted and redefined by Ryan Landry. A major success on Broadway in 1954, it subsequently was released as an equally popular motion picture in 1956. More recently, it again reappeared, as a completely new movie on TV in 1985. As originally conceived by Anderson, the plot concerns ten year old Rhoda, a psychopathic murderess, who commits a series of homicides. It then explores the ways in which her alarmed mother confronts the horrific truth about her child. Now, as refashioned by Landry, it's been updated, and is here played for laughs, mostly as a high camp parody. Little psychotic Rhoda is now the daughter of Colin (here referred to as "Colon " ) Powell, who quickly departs for North Korea, leaving her anguished mother to deal with their offspring's " problem." Rhoda has drowned a young classmate to retrieve his penmanship medal (which she feels should have been awarded to her, instead!) and she soon feels she must also dispose of the school's janitor (who also knows what she's done.) Her own mother, school teacher, landlady, and the mother of Rhoda's young drowning victim are all played by men in drag! Although, most of the basic dramatic outline of the original story remains somewhat intact, Anderson's main focus on whether the inclination for murderous behavior is genetic, is ignored to little comic effect. However, it's being well played by pre-adolescent Haylee Shrimpton (replete with colorful schoolgirl dress, bright blonde hair, and twin hairbraids) as Rhoda, with broad, whacky support by Ryan Landry as her family's grotesque, oversized landlady, and Rick Park as her befuddled school teacher. Also, in spite of the show's heavily bawdy and over-the-top intent, there are some surprisingly effective dramatic moments, offered by Afrodite as Rhoda's conflicted parent, and Scott Martino as her murdered schoolmate's distraught mother, as well. Energetically directed by James P. Byrne with a solid-looking living room set (making effective use of the theater's small, cabaret-style stage,) by Windsor Newton, with notice also for Scott Martino and Lisa Simpson's outlandish and wildly, oversized costumes! Be advised, this fitfull, freewheeling, only occasionally amusing Burlesque, brimming with scatalogical references, and four-letter words (which the predominantly young and enthusiastic audience howled at, repeatedly ) is definitely not for everyone! Now playing through May 17. (My Grade: 2)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wheelock Family Theatre is their new production of "Pippi Longstocking " by Astrid Lindgren, as adapted into English by Thomas W. Olson and Truda Stockenstrom. For more than half a century, Ms. Lindgren's stories about Pippi, the loveable supremely-assertive, boisterous, pre-adolescent tomboy, with her two stiff outstretched, carrot-like hairbraids, drooping mismatched kneesocks, and grandiose outsized shoes, has captivated both young and old alike. Set in the presumably Scandinavian town of Villa Villekula, young Pippi has come to live by herself, in her pirate father's house, along with her dependable horse, and her frolicsome pet monkey (known as "Mr. Nilsson" ). Comforted by her deceased mother (watching down on her from Heaven) and fortified by the hope of reuniting, someday with her buccaneer parent (long lost at sea), she's warmly befriended by Annika and Tommy, her new young amiable juvenile neighbors. With her recurrent tendency of telling wildly bizarre and fanciful tales,(which she quickly repents ) she soon comes to be eagerly sought after and admired by them. Unfortunately, however, not so by the staid townfolk especially the stodgy Mrs. Prysselius, from the Town's Child Welfare Society, who's alarmed at Pippi's lack of propriety! Some amusing complications soon develop. For example, when this young, free-spirit finally does attend school, her disruptive high spirits and lack of decorum not only create pandemonium amongst her classmates, but also seriously vex her teacher, as well! Notwithstanding, things begin to change when Pippi's long missing dad quite unexpectedly returns, and she has to make a fateful decision. Well played by the large, youthful and ardent cast, with commendations for Caitlin Wheeler in the title role, with strong support from W. Yvonne Murphy and Shelley Bolman as Annika and Tommy, Calliope Pina Parker as Mr. Nilsson and Maureen Keiller as Mrs. Prysselius. Susan Kosoff's solid direction and Danila Korogodsky's nicely creative set, a lively, elevated, pastel-tinted,child's Play-structure, replete with ladders, platforms, doorways, and assorted angular and/or circular shapes, are equally noteworthy. This lively family entertainment is now playing through May 4. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Tremont Theatre is the world premiere of Israel Horovitz's new adaptation of "Marathon," by Italian playwright Edoardo Erba. Staged by the Stoneham ( Mass.) Theatre in a substantially different British translation several months ago, it's now being presented by them in Boston using this new American version. Set, as night falls, on a lonely country lane, 20 miles outside of Milan, Steve and Mark, two young adult runners, prepare for the New York City Marathon. Mark, of slight frame and just about recovered from a recent bout with the flu, but still coughing, often winded, and filled with doubt about his physical fitness, steadily needs to be reassured by his robust partner. Steve, a longstanding friend since childhood, is quite focused on his preparations for the great race. For 70 pounding minutes, they both run, in place, on stage, as they chat about their friendship and past experiences. Unlike the earlier British interpretation, Horovitz centers their conversation much less on their childhood, religion and family, now concentrating instead, primarily on their health, physical fitness, and especially Steve's brimming self-confidence and sense of superiority, which, much later undergoes a surprising and quite dramatic change, as their pace grows steadily more intense! Vigorousy played by Eric Laurits as Steve and Adam Paltrowitz as Mark (who regularly ran seven miles daily in preparation for their highly demanding on stage performances ), their running now (thanks to the Tremont Theatre's wider stage) is able to effectively shift their movements, first from straight ahead, later to the left, and still later to the right, with great effectivness! Under Weylin Symes' strong and confident direction and Jenna McFarland's simple, open and stark, black setting, augmented by Marc Plevinsky's commanding sound effects, and a much better and more fully reasoned conclusion, this stirring character study scores solidly, with even greater impact, than before! (My Grade:5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the Sugan Theatre Company's production of "On Raftery's Hill " by Marina Carr. Initially staged in Ireland in 2000, and later at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., this presentation marks its New England premiere. Set in Ireland's rural midlands, the plot centers on the Rafterys, a corrosively-dysfunctional farming family, driven by many years of lies, guilt and sexual violence; dominated as they are by Red, the clan's furiously ungovernable and aggressively abusive Patriarch. Eldest daughter Dinah (fortyish and unmarried) was made to replace her deceased mother in daddy's bed since age 12, while Ded, her young adult brother, seriously deranged by many years of parental maltreatment, now resides in their farm's fetid cowshed, where he sleeps and takes his meals! Sorrel, the youngest daughter in her mid-to-late 20's, long sheltered, from their turbulent father by her older sister, looks forward to marrying Dara, a young, hardworking and earnest, neighboring farmer, as Granny, Red's elderly and very muddled mother, continually and foolishly attempts to leave their farmhouse to visit her own, long deceased parent. Building intensely from Act One's unforgettable, shocking and very disquieting conclusion, Act Two trenchantly sums up much of this sorry family's long festering past, with a sombre and troubled view to their future. Passionately acted by the fine and highly focused cast, John Haag as Red, Melinda Lopez as Dinah, Emily Knapp as Sorrel, Shawn Sturnick as Ded, and Carmel O'Reilly as Granny, amongst others, are all first rate. This keenly and impressively written compelling drama,layered with its many overtones of Greek Tragedy, and even intimations of "King Lear," has been solidly and sensitively directed by Eric Engel with a fine, simple, rustic kitchen (flanked by two heavy hay-imbedded columns) setting, by Susan Zeeman Rogers. Now playing through April 19. (My Grade:5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Jimmy Tingle's Off Broadway in Somerville, Mass. is the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre's production of "A New War." The latest comedy written and directed by Gip Hoppe (who's best known for "Jackie: An American Life," the grandly successful, satiric exploration of Jacqueline Onassis and the Kennedy clan, which became a major hit locally as well as on Broadway). This newest lampoon takes aim at the media, specifically the Cable News Channel, emanating from their studios in Atlanta, Georgia (a not so subtle twist on CNN ). Written long before the current conflict in Iraq, this 80 minute, one act parody, (now with its new compelling overtones), centers on a glib and shallow pair of television anchors (male and female) who emptily comment on-the-air about the "fast breaking news " concerning the emerging hostilities, being fought against so many unknowns, specifically: " Who, Where and For What?" Featuring, among other matters, explanations of the latest technology responsible for missiles that not only knock on the front door of the enemy's house, but once inside, go on to disembowel him, while occasionally going astray and accidentally invade an American home, instead! With brief, video-style appearances by a malaprop-prone President, a submissive Secretary of State, a highly authoritarian Attorney General (who exhorts neighbors to watch their neighbors, while he suspends the U.S.Constitution ), and a fatuous Secretary of Fatherland Security explaining a simplistic list of curiously tinted warnings about potential threats. Added to this are TV-like segments such as: "CrossHairs " where a spokesman of the Far Right verbally challenges a spokesman of the Moderate Right; a pompous William F. Buckley-type, monotonousy pontificates about previous wars; a TV Chef shows us "how to prepare wartime snacks;" oafish AntiWar Activists bray and cackle like farm animals; retired Army Generals drone on about military strategies; and an Average Citizen sews an American Flag to his own forehead, to prove his patriotism! With many hits, and some misses, it is all extremely well played by Nathaniel McIntyre and Caitlin Gibbon as the arch TV Anchors, and most especially Stephen Russell and Michael Dorval (using a plenitude of varying wigs, costumes and hats ) to personify the, above mentioned, myriad of commentators. This wild and wacky, and decidedly, counter-establishment, sendup of America's media Circus is now playing through April 13. (My Grade:5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is Company One's production of "Truth & Beauty" by Ping Chong. The New York based author, a celebrated, multi-award-winning playwright, with nearly 50 plays to his credit,specializes in multi-media examinations of contemporary issues, and this current piece (a Boston premiere) most certainly fits that standard. A non-stop series of swift, radical, wide ranging, and very brief vignettes offering a kaleidoscopic and scathing view of American life and culture , it features actors Shawn LaCount and Mark VanDerzee vigorously and passionately portraying a multitude of vividly different characters, ably assisted by Mason Sand and Joshua McCarey as their two adept, non-speaking helpers. From assertive U.S.Army college recruiters, violent and sadistic rapists, gun-toting spokesmen for the N.R.A., and home-grown, bomb-making terrorists, to Advertising Executives championing the wondrous benefits of TV commercials, Federal Agencies aggressively advancing Corporate power and domination, and U.S.Manufacturers using cheap foreign labor to make "American" products, playwright Chong relentlessly drives his message home, exposing the distressing excesses rampant in contemporary life! Forcefully directed by Michelle A. Baxter, it is being performed, without an intermission, at an intense pace, for 75 breakneck minutes, against Karim Badwan's sleek setting and dramatic lighting: a bare stage, highlighted by two brightly illuminated horizontal floor grids, bordered by three television monitors ( displaying striking, and graphically edited snippets of TV ads, newspaper headlines, simplistic "feel good" slogans, and assorted other aggressively visual effects.) This gripping, unsettling and provocative polemic on the negative directions presently defiining American life is now playing through April 12. (My Grade:5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Emerson College's Brimmer Studio Theatre in Boston, Mass. is their new production "Of Thee I Sing," the legendary musical comedy about Presidential politics. It features Book by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, Music by George Gershwin, and Lyrics by Ira Gershwin. It was originally produced on Broadway in 1931, and went on to become the first musical to be awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. It has been revived many times since, both on and off Broadway, as well as regionally, and over the decades has even been adapted several times on television. John P. Wintergreen has been nominated for President,campaigning on a platform espousing "LOVE." Since the Vice Presidency is primarily ceremonial and rather inconsequential, the Party Bosses have also chosen Alexander Throttlebottom, an unknown neophyte simpleton to be his running mate. To launch their drive for the highest office, the Party has also sponsored a Beauty Contest, with the winner ultimately marrying the Chief Executive in a White House wedding. However, Wintergreen falls in love, instead with and marries Mary Turner, a sweet young attractive Committee assistant. By rejecting Diana Deveraux, the Pageant's winner, a Southern Belle with heavy ties to France, the French Ambassador announces that his country has been officially slighted by the newly elected President, with delightfully daffy complications! Very well played and sung by Scott Johnson as Wintergreen and Kelley Dorney as Mary Turner, with fine amusing assistance by Matthew Sherbach as the totally dimwitted Throttlebottom, Mary Dunnett as Diana Deveraux, Drew Schufman as the insulted French Ambassador, and Darcie Champagne as the Supreme Court's singing Chief Justice! High marks, likewise for the large young enthusiastic cast, and the lively choreography and direction by Thomas DeFranz, with additional notice for April Bartlett's effective arena-style political setting, as well as the spirited musical accompaniment by the small,on-stage, orchestra directed by Scott Wheeler. This grand musical comedy funfest, with such classic songs as " Who Cares," " Love is Sweeping the Country," and the splendid title tune, is now playing through April 12. (My Grade:5)


Review by Norm Gross

The Lyric Stage Company of Boston in association with Boston's Huntington Theatre Company presents the world premiere of "Two Lives" by Arthur Laurents. Matt, a successful playwright, (obviously patterned after the author) now at age 80, looks forward to a Broadway production of his latest play, as well as a new staging, nearby, of one of his older dramas. He's gained comfort, strength, and inspiration from his long association with and love for his live-in companion, Howard. As they sit in their garden discussing Matt's latest writing, they are joined by Howard's Alzheimer-afflicted, 90 year old Mother (who lives with them), and a young married couple, who work for them as caretaker and caterer. As Howard's 65th birthday approaches, they are joined by two visiting actresses, Willi, a famous lesbian star who's enthralled by her accompanying friend, Narissa. They've come to Matt and Howard's home, in hopes of interesting their house-guest Leo, a visiting Hollywood mogul, (who plans to produce Matt's new drama ) in yet, another play. All seems to be proceeding nicely, when Howard's sudden death changes everything! Unfortunately, the dramatic potental in Act One, falters and fades in Act Two. As Matt pines over the loss of his lover, he is consoled and comforted by his visitors, and gradually acquires the confidence and resolution he needs to go on. Although the various characters are deftly established from the tender relationship between Matt and Howard, to the meeting between the visiting actresses and the scheming and opportunistic Hollywood impresario, there's little more offered, in the way of tension, conflict or unexpected change or disclosure! It's all very sensitively and tenderly acted by Tom Aldredge as Matt, James Sutorious as Howard, Susan Kellerman and Cigdem Onat as Willi and Narissa, and Jeremiah Kissel as Leo, with a fine, touching portrayal by Elisabeth Wilson as Howard's elderly and addled mother, under Nicholas Martin's assured direction. The sumptuous garden setting, designed by James Noone, also adds just the proper background for this well staged character study. Now playing through April 12. (My Grade: 3)


Review by Norm Gross

At French's Opera House in Boston's Hyde Park section is the Riverside Theatre Works' new production of "The Wild Party," with Book, Music & Lyrics by Andrew Lippa. Originally produced "Off-Broadway" in February 2000, but by a strange coincidence, another musical play with the same title-- based on the same source material--(an epic 1928 poem by Joseph Moncure March) also opened on Broadway later in April that same year. The latter with totally different Music & Lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa, was also successfully produced in Boston by the SpeakEasy Stage Company in February 2002. (Surprisingly, it's noteworthy that distribution of the original poem, back in 1928, was banned in Boston. ) Now this competing Off-Broadway show is being staged in its own distinctly separate Boston premiere. As expected, both plays are set in the 1920's, and both center on Queenie, a lusty, attractive, blonde, vaudeville dancer, and Burrs, her domineering and abusive live-in boyfriend, (a professional costumed clown ). Bored, they decide to have a party in their shabby Manhattan apartment for a large group of friends. Once underway, the ill-fated event quickly becomes excessive. Their guests, an outrageous conglomerate of "Roaring Twenties" types, gay and straight, "raise the roof " by boozing, snorting cocaine and continuously exchanging partners! While LaChiusa's version focused on the various partygoers and their unbridled behavior, framed by desperation, loneliness and unhappiness, this present version fixes primarily on the troubled relationship between Queenie and Burrs, aggravated by her fascination with her coke-addicted girlfriend's new male companion. Stirringly acted and very well sung by Rebekah Turner as Queenie, Dan Moore as Burrs, Matt DeAngelis as Queenie's new manly attraction and Jill Giacchi as his drug-sniffing partner, the large, youthful, and enthusiastic 24 member cast sing and dance exhuberantly under Rick Delancy's effective direction, highlighted by his vivid choreography! Special notice also for Jess Mutty's bright and colorful 20's style costumes, and the fine seven piece orchestra conducted by pianist Joel Chase. Notwithstanding the uneven accoustics in the antique and cafe-like "Opera House," this is a striking and very engaging presentation, in all other respects! Now playing through April 6. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass. is "Of Mice and Men," their new production of John Steinbeck's legendary drama about Depression-era migrant workers. Originally written as a best-selling novella in the mid-1930's, it later was developed into a multi-award winning play. It debuted on Broadway in 1937, and thereafter has been performed on stage (here and abroad) and later was produced as a major theatrical and/or television movie, inumerable times, to much acclaim ever since. Set on an agricultural ranch in Northern California, the compelling plot centers on two young, adult drifters, George and Lennie, trudging their way across the fertile Californian fields, in search of temporary employment as farm hands. George is short, assertive and focused, while Lennie, his constant companion, is towering, awkward, and mentally limited. George took Lennie under his protective wing, years before, after the death of his sidekick's only relative, and they now hope to eventually earn and save enough money to someday buy their own farm. Fleeing their previous job because of false accusations of rape leveled at Lennie, they've found new work at a distant ranch. Well received there by the other ranch hands, their fortunes take a troubling turn when Curley, the confrontational and combative son of the Ranch's owner, challenges the lumbering and reticent Lennie to a fight, and becomes even more calamitous when Curley's attractive young, lonely and unhappy wife shows an interest in Lennie's love for small animals. Intensely performed by the well chosen ten member cast, with strong and touching portrayals, especially by Thomas Kee as George, Peter Robinson as Lennie, Laura Latreille as Curley's forlorn wife and Jasper McGruder as the Ranch's anguished and ostracized African-American flunky (who also provides stirring and recurrent, incidental blues-accented music on his harmonica, throughout). Sensitively directed by Robert Walsh with additional praise for Charles F. Morgan's rustic and highly atmospheric wooden bunkhouse setting...this well staged, gripping and poignant classic is now playing through April 6. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Playwrights' Theatre is the Nora Theatre Company's new 25th anniversary production of "Betrayal." Written by Harold Pinter and originally staged in London and later in New York in 1978, this is a compelling presentation in every respect. An extramarital affair, told strikingly in a starkly unconventional format, commencing long after the illicit lovers have parted, and concluding at the time when their transgressions first began. Emma meets with Jerry, her former lover,(and her husband's best friend) to casually inform him that she and her spouse Robert have decided to separate. As their story then continues on (regressing, methodically and covertly, scene-by-scene ) to its inception,each carefully crafted and understated incident is cut short by a dramatic blackout (as if suddenly frozen in time by a popping flashbulb), likewise the costumes, initially casual and smart, move from black and grey finally to a sleek and stylish evening gown in bright scarlet, with great effect! Each scene is also highlighted at stage right, by information projected onto a large screen, as to its time plus a fragmented bit of dialogue from the  episode...adding again to the play's increasing impact. Similarly, the white sharply oblique and angular set, suggesting a variety of rooms and passageways, emphasized by a succession of framed, black and white photographs, hinting at different aspects of the various characters, adds yet another vivid dimension to this powerful presentation. Intensely portrayed by Anne Gottlieb and Joe Pacheco as the clandestine lovers, Emma and Jerry, and Jason Asprey as the deceived husband Robert; much additional praise should also go to Scott Edmiston for his highly focused direction. Lastly, the aforementioned grandly successful setting by Janie Howland, costuming by Gail Astrid Buckley and lighting by Karen Perlow, together with the meaningful musical and sound accents provided by Dewey Dellay, add just the right ambience to this brilliantly conceived, insightfully acted and genuinely memorable production!  Now playing through March 30.  (My grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the New Repertory Theatre in Newton, Mass. is their production (a New England premiere ) of "No Niggers, No Jews, No Dogs " by John Henry Redwood. Set in rural North Carolina, in the Summer and Fall of 1949, the plot centers on the Cheeks household, a hardworking, barely sufficient, African-American family, struggling to cope with the day-to-day rigors, humiliations and dangers enveloping them as blacks living in the "Jim Crow" South. Mother Mattie does white-folks' laundry to help-out, in addition to some simple farming, while father Rawl yearns for a better life for his family, by relocating to Cleveland (although Mattie resists him, remaining adamantly attached to her North Carolina "roots"). The center of their lives are their two young daughters...the assertive teenager Joyce and the blossoming 11 year-old Matoka. The cement that binds them is the all-encompassing sense of love and caring that they share. Mattie also harbors a longstanding concern for the well being of Aunt Cora, an elderly, mysterious and non-speaking neighbor (always draped from head-to-toe in deep black ), who wanders aimlessly, through the neighborhood, seemingly more dead than alive! Yaveni Aaronsohn, a Jewish northener and sociologist, has been visiting the Cheeks regularly, for several months, observing them as the research focus for a book he plans to write. A crisis erupts, while Rawl is away, for several weeks, laboring in a distant state, when Mattie is brutally raped by a local redneck! Fearing that by identifying her assailant to Rawl, the result will not only be his confronting her attacker, but also in his later being "lynched " by the vengeful, racist, white townspeople. Her dilemma deepens when Yaveni, aware of her predicament, advises her to fight back, with unforeseen complications. Exremely well played by Jacqueline Gregg as Mattie, Baron Kelly as Rawl, Ted Kazanoff as Yaveni, Giselle Jones as Joyce, Natanjah Driscoll as Matoka and CelliLaShell Pitt as Aunt Cora, under Adam Zahler's sensitive direction. Unfotunately, although the warm, loving exposition in Act One is well written and, most certainly well acted, Act Two suffers from a surprisingly melodramatic and decidedly lengthy and overwritten denouement, undercutting the impact of this otherwise compelling exploration of a shameful period in our Country's past. Now playing through March 30. (My Grade: 3.75)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the SpeakEasy Stage Company's presentation of the New England premiere of " A Class Act," a musical tribute to the life and songs of Edward Kleban, the Tony-Award-winning lyricist of the great Broadway success, "A Chorus Line." Over the course of his brief life (Kleban died of Cancer in 1987 at age 48 ) he had composed (both lyrics and music) for more than 100 songs, intended for professional performance, but never produced. With Book by Linda Kline (whom he lived with during the last years of his life) together with Lonny Price (who also starred in this production, on Broadway), this endeavor represents their combined response to Kleban's final wish "for the songs to be performed". It debuted Off-Broadway in November 2000 and later relocated on Broadway, earning five Tony nominations, including "Best Musical." Commencing with a memorial service for the deceased composer (with the ghostly Kleban's spirit in attendance), his friends and work-associates then begin to recount and re-enact highlights from his life. A neurotic, compulsive and frequently obstreperous workaholic, Kleban was very often his own worst enemy. Progressing from his employment as a Producer for Columbia Records, to his evolution as a professional composer, as a member of a prestigious New York Musical Theatre workshop, his story is told in a series of entertaining, music-laced flashbacks, recalling his affairs primarily with Sophie, his longtime bosom friend and advocate, (a romance which continually falters and ultimately fails) and Lucy, his true and steadfast girlfriend. Featuring more than 20 of Kleban's previously- unknown songs, including the rhythmically engaging "Broadway Boogie Woogie," the poignant "Next Best Thing to Love " and "Better" ( a humorous and thoughtful depiction of the various affirmations of what serves us " best! " ). It's all vigorously acted and strongly sung by the fine eight member cast with many plaudits for Jon Blackstone as Kleban, Kerry Dowling as Sophie and Leigh Barrett as Lucy; with additional praise for Paul Daigneault's sure direction, as well as the highly-spirited orchestral accompaniment conducted by Paul Katz. This amusing, passionate, often touching, involving and pleasureably tuneful homage to a demanding, determined and worthy but tragically unrequited creative now playing through March 22. (My Grade: 5)


Letters to a Student Revolutionary
Review by Norm Gross

At the Theatre Cooperative in Somerville, Mass. is their new production of "Letters to a Student Revolutionary" by Elizabeth Wong. First staged Off-Broadway in 1991, it has since been mounted in many other cities, both here and abroad. A casual meeting in 1979, in China between Bibi, a 20 year old Chinese-American tourist, and Karen, a Mainland-China citizen, also her age, soon develops into a lengthy and ongoing correspondence (cut short by the bloody 1989 rebellion in Tiananmen Square.) As their exchange of letters progresses, they each become symbols of the striking differences between their two cultures. Amongst many other tumultuous instances, self-centered and hedonistic Bibi experiences many ups-and-downs at a variety of jobs, ultimately quitting her last post as a newspaper reporter, over issues of censorship, while her overseas friend (using "Karen," her secret Americanized name, in her mailings) sees her brother denounce their mother for "incorrect thinking," and finds herself reprimanded, at her factory workplace for suspicious letter-writing. Bibi eventually moves from her Los Angeles home to the East Coast, for greater opportunities,while Karen is wed, in an arranged and uneasy marriage, and still later participates in the 1989 Student Uprising! Stirringly performed by Linda Tsang as Bibi and LoAnn West as Karen with fine expresssive support from Samuel Young, Tuan Phan, Yindy Vatanavan and Stephen Ng, in a multiplicity of roles, (with the latter, especially amusing, even as Karen's pet cat)! It's all being played on a bare stage, bounded by two sturdy vertical bamboo risers, framing a large rear centered screen, upon which vivid and turbulent scenes of China are projected! Solidly directed by Lesley Chapman, this compelling and provocative one-act play, exploring our two distinctly opposite societies, is most certainly recommended! Now playing through March 29. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Tremont Theatre is the Boston Theatre Works' production of "Coyote on a Fence," a new play by Bruce Graham. Commissioned and recently presented by Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park (where it became the winner of the Rosenthal Award as "Best New American Play" ), this marks its Boston premiere. Set in a prison's death row,apparently in rural Texas, this drama's compelling examination of the death penalty revolves around two markedly differing inmates, confined in adjoining cells. John, a former social worker who kicked a drug dealer to death, during a furious past encounter, has spent the last decade writing and distributing the prison's newspaper "The Death Row Advocate." A literate and sensitive supporter of prisoner's rights, he's initially repelled by his new, hate-obsessed neighbor. Bobby is a barely literate "skin-head" and dedicated member of the fascistic Aryan Nation, who frequently and stridently denounces the contamination of American Life by African-Americans, Jews and other, so-called "Mud People." The play's title derives from an early incident in his life when Bobby discovered a dead coyote, impaled on his uncle's fence, which the elder later explained as exemplary "that animal predators deserve to be killed!" As their interaction evolves a cautionary relationship develops between John and Bobby. John begins to understand that, as an abandoned child, the Aryan Nation probably came to serve as virtually the only actual " family " Bobby never really knew. He also comes to believe that Bobby must have been "legally insane," when he torched a rural church, killing 37 African-Americans. At the same time, John's recurrent prison newspaper printings have come to the attention of Sam, a N.Y.Times reporter, who then regularly comes to interview John in prison, with disquieting results. Shawna, a gruff-talking, ever-present, female prison-guard (speaking to an unseen press corps) acts as an imperturbable, ongoing commentator on prison life. Well played by the small, highly effective cast: Fred Robbins as John, Bobbie Steinbach as Shawna and Peter Papadopoulos as Sam, deliver uniformly strong performances, with much commendation for Barlow Adamson as Bobby, under Nancy Curran Willis' well focused direction. This intense and provocative exploration of the many conflicting aspects surrounding the death penalty is now playing through March 23. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Lyric Stage is their production of "It's All True " by Jason Sherman. Set in New York City in 1937, this drama explores all the circumstances surrounding one of the most legendary events in the history of the American Theatre. With the Great Depression in full sway, young maverick-impressario Orson Welles has agreed to direct a new musical play by Marc Blitzstein, a young, unknown, politically-radical composer. Since the country, at that time, was beset by a myriad of Union-based strikes in its many steel factories, Blitzstein saw his play " The Cradle Will Rock," as the spearhead to champion the steelworkers' cause! However, since this production drew its main financial support from a Depression-era Federal Arts project, major complications arose when the involved govenmental agency became aware of the show's purpose! After first attempting to cut off all of the production's funding, they finally decided to padlock the theatre, on opening night (leavng the many customers stranded, outside) hoping,thereby, to end the "problem." Notwithstanding this turn of events, by then the controversy had generated such public interest, that Welles responded to this attempt at censorship, by marching the cast and the "locked-out" overflowing audience, to another theatre, 20 blocks away! There, without sets or an orchestra, and only with the composer, on stage, at a piano, the actors performed their parts while seated in the audience, to great public approval. With strong portrayals by Geoffrey P. Burns as the assertive Welles, Christopher Chew as the dedicated Blitzstein, and Robert Saoud as John Housman, (Welles' worried business-partner ) the production was very well focused by the smallaccomplished cast! Neil A. Casey as the play's leading star and union-activist, Julie Jirousek as his emotionally conflicted and distraught co-star, and Jennifer Valentine as both the group's hopeful stage manager, and Welles' ignored and unhappy wife, also merit special praise! From its tumultuous, round-the-clock rehearsals, and its monumental dilemmas and setbacks, to its ultimate vindication and triumph, this re-examination of this highly troubled production, says much to us about Art, compromise, determination, ingenuity and survival! Now playing through March 8. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. is the American Repertory Theatre's production, in association with the Siti Company, of " La Dispute" by Marivaux. First produced by the Comedie-Francaise in 1744, it is here updated with a contemporary translation by Gideon Lester, and has been radically adapted and directed by Anne Bogart, based on the Siti group's purpose of reaching a balance between Theatre and physical movement! An elderly Prince, and his Lady companion, have devised a daring way to settle the age-old dispute over whether men or women are the most unfaithful in matters of love. To accomplish this end, two girls and two boys have been raised, over a 20 year period, without any knowledge of the opposite sex. Now, as adults, they meet each other for the first time in a garden, (much like Eden) with surprising and comic results. Egle, one of the females, quickly falls in love with Azor, her handsome male counterpart, as do Adine (the other young lady ) and Mesrin, her male cohort. However, when circumstances bring Egle and Mesrin together, they reject their former lovers, in favor of their new sweethearts, with tumultuous consequences! Marivaux's brief exploration of male-female infidelity, and the larger consequences this brings to society, is now greatly expanded and readjusted in this new intepretation, and is now introduced by a lengthy unspoken physical prologue, in which the silent 20 member male and female cast parades on stage, and faces the audience, as if readying for a " date," before a 2-way mirror, eventually connecting as a group of ballroom dancing partners! The actual play is then performed, as a broad farce, by the main quartet of speaking players: Stephen Webber as Azor, Kelly Maurer as Adine, and Will Bond as Mesrin, with the evening's major, comic high points belonging to Ellen Lauren as Egle. Combined with James Schuette's lavish costumes: the ladies wearing grandly stylish, contemporary evening dresses, and the men similarly attired in fine, black, formal wear,...together with Darron L. West's wide-ranging assortment of modern, background, music styles, ( French and Spanish to American Pop! ) Marivaux's classic and provocative 18th century philosophical treatise, for all of the newly implanted glitz and swirl, is ultmately revealed as just an absurd, and often heavy-handed, present-day, comedy of misunderstandings, with little, if any, real depth! Now playing through February 22. (My Grade: 3)


The Shape of Things
Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the Speakeasy Stage Company's production of "The Shape of Things" by Neil LaBute. A recent success off-Broadway in New York and also in London, it is scheduled to soon be released as a motion picture. This production marks its New England premiere. Performed without an intermission, this two hour play examines the nature of male-female relationships, while raising chilling and disturbing conclusions. Evelyn, a university art student, is heavily involved developing her graduation thesis. A rebel and provocateur, she has come to the college's art museum with a paint-filled spray can, to be used by her to deface a male statue, whose exposed penis has been masked by a local "morality committee". There Adam, a shy, socially-inept misfit museum guard tries to stop her. In the process, attraction quickly blossoms between them, and they soon become ardent lovers. Before long, Evelyn sets her sights on remaking Adam. Physical workouts, new clothing, health focused strategies, significant weight loss, and even facial plastic surgery, are a few of the changes that he undergoes just to please her! Unfortunately, Phillip, an oldtime friend of Adam's, and Jenny, his fiancee, join them and forthwith cause some serious complications. Phillip and Evelyn take an immediate and powerful dislike to each other, while Adam becomes attracted to Jenny. As their ploys evolve, the play reaches its startling, unsettling and controversal conclusion! Well played by Tommy Day Carey as Adam, Walter Belenky as Phillip, and Stacy Fischer as Jenny, with an especially strong and intense portrayal by Laura LaTreille, as the highly assertive Evelyn. Under Paul Melone's confident direction and Paul Theriault's fine, open and easily adaptable set, this perplexing and compelling drama raises many thorny, stimulating and genuinely provocative issues about male-female dependency! Now playing through February 22. (My Grade:5)


Mummenschanz Next
Review by Norm Gross

"Mummenschanz Next," is the latest production of the celebrated Swiss Mime Ensemble, which in an exhilarating 90 minutes (including intermission) of deftly performed, highly-visual comic vignettes, captivated the capacity audience at Boston's Wilbur Theatre. Dressed from head to toe in black body suits, a quartet of gifted performers, two women and two men, Floriana Frassetto, Raffaella Mattioli, Bernie Schurch and John Charles Murphy (the sole American) enthralled everyone with a winning combination of creative gesture and imaginative puppetry, complemented by the expressive use of unusual masks and modulated movement. All of this is played out by them on a bare, completely darkened stage, (rendering the four players, nearly invisible), in silence, except for occasional vocal, whistling, whirring or ratcheting sounds! Act one features two vertical window-lke panels, complete with shutters, drolly cavorting, with flower-filled pots, acting as feet; a duo, adorned with bright, dayglo wiring on their heads, rapidly bends their luminous thin cable headwear into a rapid succession of grandly eccentric human-like faces; and a towering, gargantuan "pillow" lumbers across the stage nearly falling into the audience, to everyone's startled amusement! Act two offers some change, with each member, of the troupe, now wearing an uusual progression of bizarre and witty masks, which display them in a wide variety of farcical ways. To note only a few, one now has a colorful toy, plastic wheelbarrow, sitting on his shoulders, acting as his " head," while another wears a big, black, bulbous covering, adorned with huge, white circular "eyes," "nose," and "mouth," topped by a band of pliable spikes, which quickly manipulates into a Mohawk hairdo, or a moustache, or a beard, or Indian styled feathers! Large dancing cardboard boxes, with their panels flapping, like arms and legs; a frisky, capering " shower curtain," and a mammoth triangle, and rectangle, combine with two jumbo circles, to form a collossal " face!" These are just a few of the ongoing marvels, to be seen, in this non-stop parade of brlliant creativity! This thoroughly entertaining presentation, a genuine treat for the entire family, is now playing through February 9. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Colonial Theatre is the return engagement of "Mamma Mia!, " the highly successful international musical play, featuring a storyline devised by Catherine Johnson, utilizing nearly two dozen hit tunes by Abba, the well known 70's Swedish pop-singing group. With music and lyrics (in English) by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, Ms. Johnson has fashioned a simple, smart plot-line, which cleverly accomodates all of Abba's songs, and deftly makes it seem as if they were actually intended to tell this story. Donna, a fortyish unmarried mom, and manager of a country inn on a lovely Greek Island, is preparing for the wedding the next day of her 20 year old daughter, Sophie. However, always wanting to meet the father she never knew, Sophie has secretly and unexpectedly dscovered the names of 3 likely male possibilities, in her mother's diary! Without her Mother's knowledge, she has invited them: Harry, a British banker; Bill, a fun-loving Australian; and Sam, a divorced American architect, to her wedding hoping that the 'real' dad will step forward in time to walk her down the marital aisle. Complications arise when Donna learns about Sophie's scheme and is further entangled by the arrival of Donna's two best friends: Tanya, a wealthy and thrice married divorcee, and Rosie, a single career woman on the lookout for a husband. "Dancing Queen," "I Do, I Do, I Do," "Money, Money, Money," " Winner Takes It All," and of course, the title tune, are just a few of the breezy, toe-tapping melodies sung and danced by the large, young, enthusiastic cast, which absolutely lifts the audience right out of their seats! Dee Hoty is in grand voice and form as Donna, with lively and winning comic support from Mary Ellen Mahoney as Tanya, and Gabrielle Jones as Rosie. The splendid keyboard and synthesizer dominated orchestra, directed by Boko Suzuki, starts out with a booming earful, and never lets up on its rhythmic power! Extra tribute is also due for Mark Thompson's bright set: revolving, pastel tinted, high, curved walled-sections,which open and turn into demure interiors and beaming exteriors, along with Anthony Van Laast's buoyant choreography. This light, joyful, colorful, and delightfully- entertaining audience pleaser is now playing an extended engagement through April 26. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the Sugan Theatre Company's production of "Howie the Rookie" by Mark O'Rowe. This multi-award winning Irish play, first produced in 1999 in London and more recently Off-Broadway, in New York, is here now making its New England premiere. Set in the seamy, gang-ridden underside of Dublin, the drama's malevolent tale of gruff male bonding, raging accusations and violent and bloody retribution unfolds in two acts, each told as separate, but interconnected, monologues. Act one concerns Howie Lee, a young, hulking, brutal thug, who's happiest when his pals ask him for "a bit of skullduggery" when they want him to aggressively rough someone up! He delights in telling how he worked over a young, self-styled "ladies' man" named "the Rookie Lee" ( no relation ), for his having infested a friend's mattress with scabies. He also peppers his sadistic bravado by boasting about his sexual prowess with a friend' s sister, which he later comes to ruefully regret. Act two has the Rookie Lee, the aforementioned young lothario, plagued by incessant, scabious itching, scuffling desperately to "borrow" a large amount of cash, in order to make good on an outlandish accident. He must quickly repay a huge sum to "Lady Boy", the area's reigning cutthroat, for having unintentionally killed his tropical, fighting fish! The resulting and surprising, savage confrontation is not only merciless and chilling but also quite perplexing and unsettling! Although occasionally, somewhat underplayed by Kevin Steinberg as Howie, Billy Meleady gives a vivid, bristling and thoroughly compelling performance as the Rookie Lee, all well focused by Carmel O'Reilly's strong direction, while J. Michael Grigg's disheveled and squalid setting, highlighted by a tall, metallic, wire fence adds just the right mucky ambience to the production. Lastly, as a bit of cautionary advice, it would be very helpful, if the play's printed program notes, also included a glossary of the intense and graphic slang, spoken throughout most of the evening, which is both unfamiliar and/or unintelligible. Now playing through February 15. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wheelock Family Theatre is their new production of "The Will Rogers Follies." First presented on Broadway in 1991, this multi-award winning show (including the "Tony" as Best Musical ) is staged in the fashion of the Ziegfeld Follies (the World War I vaudeville styled extravaganzas, highlighting elaborately costumed chorus girls, together with the nation's most notable comics, dancers and specialty acts). Within this format, this legendary humorist's life-story is adroitly encapsulated. His early years on the family ranch in Oklahoma, his initial barnstorming, lasso-twirling, show-biz act, (both here and abroad ) which eventally brought him to impressario Florenz Ziegfeld's attention, and his emergence as a superstar, not only on Broadway, but also on network radio and in motion pictures, as well. With little in the way of plot or dramatic conflict, the show deftly chronicles his public and private life. His courtshi p, marriage and mild discords with his wife and children over his lengthy and unending work-related absences from home; and his triumphant rise as comedic political commentator, newspaper columnist, and presidential "wanna-be." Scott Evan Davis exudes Rogers' warmth and pointed wit, in th title role, with kudos for Eileen Nugent as his supportive wife and high praise for Merle Perkins as Ziegfeld's bright, bubbly and premiere showgirl and on-cue spokesperson! The large, high-stepping line of lively and lovely chorus girls, spiritedly and precisely dancing to Laurel Stachowicz's animated choreography, and of course, the splendid music and lyrics by Cy Coleman, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, (including " Will-a-Mania " and " I Never Met a Man I Didn't Like") provide many of this fine show's best moments! Special notice also for Stephen Barnas' highly adaptable set, a wide ascending and moveable staircase, that once separated, turns into many skillfully conforming scenic and elevated platforms. One helpful suggestion: I would add the use of some mobile amplification by the performers, especially when they leave the stage, to venture amongst the audience, would be a definite plus! This grand, wholesome, family-oriented entertainment is now playing through February 23. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the New Repertory Theatre in Newton, Mass. is their new production of "Waiting for Godot." First produced in Paris in 1953 and in London in 1955, it premiered in 1956 on Broadway and establshed author Samuel Beckett as a major playwright. This current production is presented as a 50th anniversary tribute. Set on a desolate country road, two despairing vagabonds, Vladimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo), for some unkown reason, have been summoned to meet Mr. Godot, an important, mysterious person. Their meeting place is marked by a lonely, barren, tall, twig-like "tree." As they wait patiently, they muse about the pain, struggle and unimportance of their existence, and even after considering suicide, they discover that the "tree " is unable to support their weight. As time passes, they are joined by two new travelers. Pozo, a self-centered, arrogant entrepreneur-ringmaster comes along, with Lucky, a huge, lumbering, oafish slave in t ow held on a roped leash. As Pozo brags and bristles with confidence, Lucky, heretofore mute, unexpectedly breaks his silence, making a lengthy declaration of hopelessness. Act two begins with the anemic "tree," now having sprouted a few lonely new leaves and ends, as does Act one, with a young, pre-pubescent boy arriving to inform the two tramps that Mr. Godot is unable to keep his appointment, but unlike yesterday or today, will surely come tomorrow! Brilliantly acted by Austin Pendleton as Didi, John Kunz as Gogo, Ken Baltin as Pozo, and Bates Wilder as Lucky, under Rick Lombardo's assured direction, this enigmatic, compelling and provocative puzzle, raises many questions, suggesting a host of wide ranging ideas, and offers a myriad of conflicting, possible answers. Come and find your own meanings! Now playing an extended engagement through February 15. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wilbur Theatre is the touring production of "The Exonerated," a new staged documentary relating the true stories of six death row prisoners, wrongly convicted,and ultimately found guiltless of murders they did not commit. Adapted by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen from interviews they held with the real inmates and related court documents, every bit of commentary from start to finish of this intense and deeply moving play, represents the actual words of the accused! Ten actors, seated formally on stage facing the audience with reading stands in front of each, relate their wrenching stories of their lengthy and unjust punishments by a flawed and, too often, corrupted legal system. The gentle farmer accused of killing his two elderly parents; the young hippy female and her husband (who was ultimately executed ) both mistakenly found guilty of shooting two policemen; the teenager, falsely incarcerated for the death of the town's "sex -pot" who spent 22 years waiting on death row-- only there to be brutally and physically mutilated by the other inmates; and the African-American seminarian accused of rape and murder, whose poetic musings serve to illuminate, all of the other testimony. These represent only a few of the evening's heatbreaking accounts. The actual, latter-maimed young man, also came up on stage at the play's conclusion to thank the writers, actors and audience. Fervently performed by the fine, dedicated 10 member cast, with touching portrayals by Brian Dennehy as the peaceable farmer, Marlo Thomas as the widowed hippy, Bruce Macvittie as the molested youth, and William Jay Marshall as the soulful and philosophical speculator. This compelling, provocative and genuinely haunting presentation is now playing through February 2. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Lyric West Theatre Company, on the campus of Mass Bay Community College in Wellesley, Mass. is their new production of "Scenes from American Life" by A.R.Gurney, Jr. Originally staged in New York City in 1971 to moderate success, it was instrumental in launching Gurney's reputation as a major playwright. Set in Buffalo, N.Y.,(the author's hometown ) as the play's title suggests, the evening consists of 36 comically satiric vignettes, (each no more than 5 or 10 minutes long) representing various aspects of American life, portrayed by eight actors (4 men and 4 women) representing a wide cross-section of different characters. Eschewing any chronological order, the play skips back and forth, from the early 30's to start of the Vietnam War, with the author's focus centered on white, upper to middle class hypocrisy, frustration, prejudice, shallowness, and ignorance. Beginning with a Depression-era baby christening, this same c hild nicknamed " Snoozer," grows to manhood, while also acting as the major thread which links each brief episode. A housewife, involved in a clandestine extra-marital affair, demands moral rectitude from her child's au pair (!); a W.A.S.P. brags to his associates about secretly rejecting his Jewish friend from their Country Club; while a parent lectures an offspring not to use the "N" word when referring to "pick-a-ninnys," a group of choirboys pray to God for sexual encounters with easy neighborhood girls; a Matron tries to shift her teenage daughter's interest from a college education to preparations for a lavish "coming-out" party; and anti-war unrest develops resulting in the beginning of an authoritarian Governmental backlash. Well acted by Dan Fitzpatrick, Karen Lundh, Bob Karish, Carol Turkoc, Randy Marquis, Alex Zielke, Erik Rodenhiser and Jennifer Young, under Joseph Stiliano's strong direction, each segment's transition is spiritedly introduced by pianist Paul Hube rdeau's rendition of a short pop-tune excerpt, representing each particular, time-frame. Unfortunately, the drab, lacklustre "set," a series of dull, uninteresting, white-cloth draped platforms in front of a central, elevated, non-descript brown screen, is the show's only serious misstep! Now playing through February 2. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass. is their production of "Marathon" by Edoardo Erba. First performed as an award-winning presentation in Italy in 1993, it has since been successfully staged in London, Edinburgh, Paris, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Tel Aviv and Wellington, N.Z. This production marks its American premiere. Set on a lonely Italian country road at dusk, this one-act play centers on Steve and Mark, two young male friends, preparing for the New York City Marathon. As the two jog in place, on stage, for nearly 65 minutes to pass the time they reflect on their friendship, childhood, family-life, religion, health, and physical preparedness, in often amusing, occasionally nonsensical, and frequently hostile ways, sprinkled heavily with many lusty 4-letter word descriptions! Steve is obviously quite "macho" physically fit and dedicated to rigorously preparing for their New York challenge. Mark, on the other hand, just now rall ying from the flu, is frail, coughing, panting, recurrently uncertain and steadily besieged by fatigue. As the play nears its hour-long "run," a surprising development adds an unexpected aspect to their strained relationship. Eric Laurits as Steve and Adam Paltrowitz as Mark are quite effective, both in defining their respective characters and also in fulfilling the show's demanding athletic requirements! Well staged, employing a spare black setting, by Jenna McFarland, enhanced by Nicole Hachey's dramatically focused lighting, and Weylin Symes' highly concentrated direction, this compelling character study is a definite winner by the final stretch! Now playing through January 26. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Ruth Nagel Jones Theatre on the campus of Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass. is the Wellesley Summer Theatre's (off-season) production of "Anna Karenina," as adapted by Helen Edmundson from the classic novel by Leo Tolstoy. Set in 19th century Czarist Russia, the story has Anna, wife of a prominent Government official, enmeshed in a fervid and tragic adulterous affair with a young handsome military officer Count Vronsky. Her story unfolds along with two other similar accounts, that of Anna's philandering brother Stiva, who repeatedly compromises his marriage, and Levin, a wise and counseling land-owner who loves Anna's sister Kitty. As Anna's tempestuous romance with Vronsky burgeons, and her world crumbles around her, Stiva is able to calm his wife's concern while Levin finally marries Kitty. As her husband turns Anna away, defiantly refusing to divorce her and disallowing any visitation rights to see their young son, she leaves Russia with Vronsky, to live with him throughout Europe, in exile. Eventually returning to Russia, with their new young daughter, their doomed love relentlessly leads Anna to a tragic fate. Passionately acted by Alicia Kahn in the title role, and very well supported by Bern Budd as Levin, Derek Stone Nelson as Vronsky, John Boller as Stiva and Stephen Cooper as Anna's aggrieved husband, they also receive fine ensemble structure from the large twenty-member cast. Although the virtually bare arena-style staging might have seemed somewhat limiting, the splendid period costumes, designed by Katherine Hall, together with Ken Loewitt's expressive and finely measured lighting, combine to further and augment Nora Hussey's intelligent and sensitive direction. Now playing through January 25. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. is the American Repertory Theatre's production of " The Children of Herakles " by Euripides. Written 2400 years ago, this rarely done epic, produced here in its American professional premiere, features a contemporary translation by Ralph Gladstone, and is staged in a strikingly vivid manner by Peter Sellars. Set in Ancient Greece, the aforementioned children of the deceased hero Herakles (represented on stage by a group of young local refugees) have taken sanctuary in the Temple at Athens, guided by Iolaus, the elderly, wheelchair-bound, family guardian. They have escaped from their native land, now ruled by the despotic Eurystheus, arch enemy of Herakles. The tyrant has sent his emissary Copreus to Athens, demanding their return for execution! As Iolaus pleads for the children's safety, Demophon, the President of Athens, agrees to provide them with haven, at the cost of war with Eurystheus. However, for the Gods to decree victory for Athens, they must first offer a virgin (Macaria, a daughter of Herakles ) as a sacrifice! The drama ends with the defeated Eurystheus, brought to trial, in chains, as Alcmene, the children's Grandmother demands his death, as revenge. Performed in modern dress, with many stationary and hand-held microphones, before a blank mammoth white screen, in the fashion of a televised contemporary courtroom hearing, their plight is touchingly enhanced by the singing of Ulzhan Baibussynova, an eloquent Kazakhstan folk singer, dressed in her native costume, and stationed on an elevated platform behind the seated refugee-children. English translations of her plaintive songs, (serving as transitions between dramatic segments ) are projected on the expansive rear screen. Stirringly performed by the large cast, featuring strong and intense portrayals by Elaine Tse as Copreus, Brenda Wehle as Demophon, Jan Triska as Iolaus and most espec ially Julyana Soelistyo as both daughter; Macaria and Grandmother Alcmene. This impassioned highly-innovative lengthy presentation, separated by two intermissions, (one as a coffee break and the last for food and conversation ) is also preceded on stage by a 45 minute panel-type discussion regarding current refugee policy, moderated by the noted radio and TV commentator Christopher Lydon. Together with Heather Benton, he later also comments as the play's Chorus. The evening is then concluded with a full-length, refugee focused, motion picture documentary! This compelling, powerfully acted and resoundingly provocative production is now playing through January 25. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

The Huntington Theatre Company at Boston University presents the professional premiere of "The Blue Demon," written and directed by Darko Tresnjak. Staged in an earlier version in 1998 at the Williamstown (MA) Theatre Festival, this larger grand-scale ninety minute uninterrupted production now includes masks, puppetry, special effects and a quartet of fine musicians playing music composed by Michael Friedman. Loosely based on the classic "Tales of the Arabian Nights," the author tells a trio of rollicking comic stories. Three men: a Jew, a Christian and a Moslem are accused of killing the Sultan's favorite storytelling Jester. They will be executed unless they are able to enthrall the sovereign with their own new and fanciful stories. The Jew then tells a ribald tale of a scheming Wizard who casts a magic spell upon a dress which, whenever it is worn, compels its wearer (a lovely young housewife ) to have sex with him, to the boiste rous displeasure of her husband! The Christian tells of an ill-fated love beween a lonely young Prince and a bewitched (quite miniature) Princess, who grows to grandiose height as the Prince's love for her grows! Here, delighful employment of masks and puppets is made. In the final segment, the Moslem relates a tale about a town threatened by a large voracious Dragon, whose appetite is satisfied only by a daily supply of Virgins. When the community's stock of Maidens becomes seriously depleted, grandly comic mayhem results. Again, the stage is enlivened by a large, fully manned, colorful, menacing and snorting "Dragon." Anna Belknap shines as the sexy, beguiled, housewife; magically expanded Princess; and fearsomely threatened final Virgin, with splendid assistance from Tom Titone as the Jew, Matt Ramsey as the Christian and Darius de Haas as the Moslem, all grandly supported by the large, first rate, youthful, 21 member cast! Special praise is also due for Puppeteer Paul Cor tez, Linda Cho's exquisite and resplendent costumes and David P. Gordon's multi-level, lavish, Arabian set. This zesty, sultry, not-really-for-children, romp is now playing through February 2. (My Grade:5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Tremont Theatre is the Shakespeare & Company production of "Golda's Balcony" by William Gibson. Staged to great acclaim last summer in Lenox, Massachusetts, this presentation is a reworking by the author of his earlier 1977 play "Golda," now re-fashioned as a ninety-five minute, one-act, solo-performance. Set in Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the plot centers on Prime Minister Golda Meir, as her country faces catastrophe from the combined dramatically attacking forces of Egypt and Syria. With Israel's back to-the-wall, Golda turns desperately to the United States for aid, in the form of aircraft. As Israel's peril mounts, this strong lady is forced to make an extreme power gamble to sway the reluctant U. S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. As the crisis continues to expand, Golda ruminates about her early, pre-World War I years in Milwaukee, as a street corner champion of Zionism, followed by her joyful co urtship and marriage and still later, by the couple's perilous journey to Palestine in 1921. The zest of work on a " Kibbutz" (pioneering communal farm) and then the strains and hardships on her husband and children, caused by her political ascendancy, unfolds as the play skirts back and forth in non-chronological manner. Superbly acted by Annette Miller, in a fully demanding and stunning tour de force portrayal, under Daniel Gidron's strong direction, this compelling and insightful exploration of one of Israel's greatest leaders says much to us, not only about Israel's turbulent past, but implicitly about the confident future! Now playing through February 22. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Playwrights Theatre is the world premiere of "New Curtains for MacBeth " by Larry Weinstein. Presented in conjunction with the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, and directed by Spiro Veloudos, its artistic chief, this 90 minute intermission-less one-person drama stars the author, (a professor of writing at Bentley College ). Mack, a fledgling actor, has been engaged as a standby in a major production of Shakespeare's "MacBeth." He was chosen as the understudy for Frank Deeds, a celebrated actor, portraying the role of the assassinated King Duncan, and sees this as his grand opportunity. As the play opens, Mack comes before the audience to announce that the play has been cancelled, due to the sudden murder of Deeds! Speaking to his wife (who also acts as his agent) on his cell phone, Mack sums up the late thespian's great theatrical accomplishments using rear-screen, slide projections, and even performs excerpts f rom the classic play. While so doing, he also discusses his efforts as a teacher at an inner city middle school, trying to educate his unruly students, whom he casually refers to as "thugs and whores." He even recollects a time when the late Frank Deeds came to his disorderly classroom, and was able to speak effectively to his obstreperous students! Unfortunately, it becomes quite obvious, when we learn that Deeds' own son will eventually take over the role of King Duncan, that Mack and his unseen wife, and the deceased Frank Deeds are beginning to mirror the behavior and motivations of MacBeth, Lady MacBeth and Duncan, with Mack even going so far as to fashion a make-believe miniature Birnham Forest, out of a torn newspaper, rolled up to form cylinder-like "trees." Thus, for this presentation to rise above its all too apparent format, it should explore unexpected twists and provocative complications. Regrettably, it does neither! Although Weinstein's solo performance is adeq uate, his acting is at best limited, providing little in the way of effective latent or subtle meaning, leaving his play without the necessary substance and/or surprise! Now playing through January 19. (My Grade: 2)


Beyond Belief (or Catholics are People, too)
Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Lyric Stage is the world premiere of "Beyond Belief (or Catholics are People too! ") By Jack Neary. Comprised of six playlets humorously exploring Catholic attitudes, primarily toward contemporary sexual behavior. The first vignette was originally staged at the initial Boston Theatre Marathon (of new ten minute plays) at Boston Playwrights Theatre in 1999, and its success at that time, prompted the author to develop his premise into a full evening. That introductory piece centers on three Catholic matrons: Gert, Alma and Marjorie, sitting and chatting on Alma's front porch, presumably (judging from the highly flat and exaggerated nasal accents ) set somewhere in the Greater Boston area. The principal bit concerns Alma's total and bewildered ignorance about oral sex, (established within their discussion about the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal ). While " worldly " Gert is only too eager to " disc reetly " explain it all to Alma, Marjorie demurely and comically feigns only limited knowledge. This format is likewise reprised with Gert ready to enlighten her friend about homosexuals and lesbians, which Alma had always thought only referred to "homeless sexuals" and "actors!" Later, the author returns to this framework similarly, with yet another convoluted description by Gert, about "menages a trois." Unfortunately, by this third time around, the repetition has drastically blunted its comic impact! Other skits concern Paul, an anxious teenager, who strenuously resists the amorous advances of his passionate, young girl friend, hoping thereby, to achieve the sublime celibacy of his favorite Superhero, "CatholicMan" and a mildly interesting reworking of the lyrics to the song "Love and Marriage," here retitled "Sex and Catholics." Both segments are only slightly amusing. Fortunately, with Santa Claus going to Confession regarding a Christmas Eve indiscretion of his and then being confronted by the involved young housewife, with the attending Priest acting as their referee, followed by a surprisingly trenchant piece exploring the current state of Catholic clerical child abuse, does the evening finally achieve its best moments! It's all very well acted by the fine six member cast headed by Bobbie Steinbach as Gert, Cheryl McMahon as Marjorie and especially Ellen Colton as Alma, under the playwright's lively direction. Now playing through February 1.
(My Grade: 2.75)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wilbur Theatre is "tick, tick,.. BOOM!" a new musical play by Jonathan Larson, who initially performed it in 1990, as a solo play. The composer was the award winning creator of "Rent," who died at age 35 in 1996, of an aortic aneurysm only a few days before the Broadway debut of his widely celebrated Rock musical. It was later edited by playwright David Auburn ( listed in the program notes as "Script Consultant" ) who then adapted and re-orchestrated it as a three character show. This version was then staged, and was critically well received, when it was given its official World Premiere Off-Broadway in June 2001. Set in New York's Soho district, in 1990, the play's action covers one week in the life of the budding composer as he anxiously approaches his 30th birthday. Although he's decidedly talented, but overcome by self-doubt and uncertainty, he prepares apprehensively for a workshop presentation of his latest musical play. He's encouraged by his best friend Michael, ( a former roommate, who's turned from acting to becoming an afluent Market Research executive) and Susan, his patient girl friend, who yearns for marriage and a quieter life with him on Cape Cod. The author is conflicted by thoughts of "settling down"and joining the business world, as contrasted to dreams of composing a landmark rock musical play, that will rejuvenate what he considers to be, Broadway's moribund musical future. Enlivened by Larson's compelling 14 song musical score, especially by the plaintive "Real Life," the amusing ode to assembly-line pastry "Sugar," and the passionate call for Actions that speak "Louder than Words." It's being stirringly performed by Boston's own Joey McIntyre (of the famed "New Kids On the Block " ) as the central character, with strong support from Nicole Ruth Snelson as Susan and Wilson Cruz as Michael. The latter both excel in a wide variety of other quite dissimiiar cameo roles, well centered by Scott Schwartz's firm direction. Vividly accompanied by a fine on-stage Rock quartet directed by keyboardist Randy Cohen, seated on top of Anna Louizos' colorful, grid-like, illuminated set. The play's one serious misstep comes when the concluding hopeful outlook is defined by an unnecessary and obviously contrived surprise twist, at the play's finale. Now playing through June 8. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Lyric Stage Company is the area's professional premiere of "Side Show," with Music by Henry Krieger and Book and Lyrics by Bill Russell. After opening on Broadway in 1997, and receiving generally lauditory reviews, its offbeat subject matter elicited only a cautious public response, resulting in a very limited engagement at that time. It has enjoyed some regional success since, including a fine University production at Boston's Emerson Majestic Theatre, several seasons ago. Based on the careers of Daisy and Violet Hilton, ( two celebrated British Siamese twins, joined at the hip since birth) the show is set in America during the 20s and 30s, and follows them as they advance from a tawdry Carnival Side Show to major star status, culminating in their appearance in the legendary 1932 Hollywood film "Freaks!" Discovered by Terry, a small time Talent Promoter, and Buddy, his musician associate, they are both able to turn the twins into major celebrities in bigtime Vaudeville. As romance begins to blossom between Terry and the professionally oriented Daisy, and Buddy and the family inclined Violet, as expected, the overly obvious ensuing complications soon develop, due to their extraordinary physical conditions. Maryann Zschau and Susan Molloy are both stirring, and in grand voice, as the co-joined Daisy and Violet, with fine support from Christopher Chew as Terry and Peter A. Carey as Buddy. The splendid musical score resounds with many appealing songs, such as "I Will Never Leave You," "The Devil You Know!", "Who Will Love Me As I Am?" and "When I'm By Your Side." The large accomplished 17 member cast, likewise serve this production solidly, with extra notice for Brian R. Robinson who's quite compelling as the twins' early and conscientious Side Show friend and protector. Spiro Veloudas' strong and well focused direction and Janie E. Howland's colorful,multi-faceted and easily adaptable Carnival set, are also quite noteworthy. Now playing through May 31. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At The Theatre Cooperative in Somerville, Mass. is their new production of "Romulus" by Gore Vidal. Adapted from Swiss playwright Friedrich Duerrenmatt's similarly-titled 1949 farcical play, Vidal's Americanized version was well received when it made its debut on Broadway in 1962. Set in Ancient Rome at the Imperial Villa in 476 A.D., where Emperor Romulus, (last of the legendary Roman rulers) now fritters away his final days, having turned the Royal Estate into a squalid farmhouse, with chickens he's raised for breeding running amok, as he awaits imminent conquest by the advancing Gothic Army! A former history teacher, fully aware of Rome's unsavory and destructive past, he became Rome's sovereign by marrying the Empress Julia, and is now intent on its termination! However, he must first contend with the objections of his highly nationalistic wife, and their patriotic and conflicted young adult daughter, and her brave warrior-boyfriend. His plans are further complicated by assorted other members of his entourage, including an unlikely and pompous Capitalistic Entrepreneur, eager to convert everyone's attire from togas to his newly invented trousers. A very surprising turn of events suddenly resolves Romulus's problems, highlighted by the unexpected disposition of the conquering Gothic Commander! Well directed by Nathaniel McIntyre, with strong performances by Jason Myatt as Romulus, Eve Passeltiner as his wife, Mare Bayard as their daughter, Forrest Walter as her heroic sweetheart, Gerard Slattery as the zealous Businessman, and Rodney Raftery as the Gothic Chieftain. This generally amusing and frequently insightful exploration of false values, war preparations, imperialism, opportunism, and idealism often scores potently, notwithstanding some, much too obvious and heavily contrived plot twists, introduced to neatly facilitate the play's hopeful conclusion. Now playing through May 31. (My Grade: 3.75)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wilbur Theatre is "The Tale of the Allergist's Wife," premiering in the "Hub" after nearly two years as a major success on Broadway. This mainstream comedy, written by Charles Busch, marks a significant departure for him. Heretofore, he was best known for his many popular high "camp" Off-Broadway spoofs, such as "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom," "Psycho Beach Party," and "Red Scare on Sunset." This time, however, everything is quite different! The plot concerns Marjorie, spouse of an eminent New York doctor, now long withdrawn from the outside world, in their classy Manhattan apartment, who is heavily mired in deep feelings of malaise. This prominent, highly educated, upper middle class, Jewish matron, hemmed-in by her bemused husband and her complaining, elderly mother, now thinks her life has been meaningless. She feels that she is just "a cultural poseur" who has influenced nobody and accomplished nothing. Then by chance, Lee, a long forgotten childhood friend, suddenly reenters her life. Apparently, she's lived the life that Marjorie has always dreamed of--living and working in the world's most exotic locations--and hobnobbing and swaying with many of the world's best known personalities, ranging from Princess Di to Andy Warhol! As their relationship blossoms, and she begins to emerge from her feelings of ennui, she also becomes increasingly puzzled and troubled by Lee's surprisingly compromising and seductive behavior to both she and her husband! She begins to wonder whether Lee has actually been truthful and is not in fact, really just an affected fraud, with tantalizing and grandly amusing consequences! Bristling with witty, sharp and often hilarious dialogue, it is being extremely well acted by TV's Valerie Harper in the title role with excellent assistance from Jana Robbins as Lee, Mike Burstyn as the bewildered husband, Anil Kumar as their apartment complex's officious doorman, and most especially Sondra James as Marjorie's, ever grumbling mother (spouting countless bathroom-style comments about her health). Briskly directed by Lynne Meadow with a stylishly opulent upper middle class apartment setting designed by Santo Loquasto, this engaging lark is now playing through January 12. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Turtle Lane Playhouse in Newton, Mass. is their new production of "Oliver." After making its highly-acclaimed premiere in London in 1960, it went on to Broadway as a multi-award winning megahit in 1963. Later, once again, as a major motion picture in 1968, it also garnered a host of Oscars, including "Best Picture of the Year." With Book, Music and Lyrics by Lionel Bart, the story, freely adapted from Dickens' classic novel, concerns youthful Oliver (an abandoned juvenile, thought to be bereft of parents) in mid-19th century England, and follows his progress from a grim orphanage, to his recruitment by a cocksure young thief, known as "the Artful Dodger," into a gang of underage pickpockets controlled by Fagin, an elderly, notorious criminal! There, as a member of this outlaw "Family," Oliver is befriended by Nancy (a warm and sensitive acquaintance of "the Dodger's " ), and Bill Sykes, her malevolent and brutish sweetheart. Therea fter, as expected, in spite of his dire predicaments, Oliver is ultimately rescued and reunited with his true and upstanding family. Reasonably well mounted, on the company's rather small stage, young Triston Viner-Brown does quite well, acting and singing, the demanding title role, with fine assistance from Michael Kreutz as a ribald Cockney-styled, singing Fagin; Whitney Cohen as lovely, full-voiced Nancy; Michael Levin as the fearsome Bill Sykes; and Devon Stone (although occasionally wavering in his vocal projection ) as the brash "Artful Dodger! " Although the show's pacing is often too sluggish, the production would be greatly enhanced by much more choreography. Nevertheless, the splendid musical score, featuring such fine songs as " Where is Love?", " As Long As He Needs Me," and " Food, Glorious Food," and the cast's strong performances do, indeed, still definitely resonate! Now playing through December 29. (My Grade: 3.75)


Review by Norm Gross

At Harvard University's Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. is the 32nd annual presentation of "Christmas Revels." Produced by Revels Inc., a nationwide organization with many similar producing companies from coast-to-coast, their main intent since their founding in 1971, has been their ongoing annual Chrstmas and Springtime panoramic, on-stage celebrations (each year with different ethnic, folk, music and dance focus). This time they feature the rich cultural treasures of Ancient Armenia and neighboring, contemporary Georgia, with the gifted area actress Paula Plum as narrator, and starring Haig Faniants as Sayat Nova (the legendary 18th century Armenian singer ). Splendid additional musical, dancing and folk-oriented moments are provided by the 32 member Ararat Chorus, the 16 strong Pomegranate Children, the 10 fold Nor Serund Dancers, the 13 Pinewoods Morris Men, and the impressive Arev Armenian Instrumental and Cambridge Sympho nic Brass Ensembles, with special notice for Song-Leader David Coffin. Amongst the evening's many memorable segments, particularly noteworthy are Sally Moore and Daniel Fram's intriguing Puppet Theatre-New Year's " Shadow-Play " and Sam Johnson's rousing, Holiday tight-rope walking, juggling and unicycling, celebrating the balance between the old and the new year! Together with spirited audience participation, including festive group sing-alongs and dancing (by all those assembled in the aisles), this merry rollicking family-worthy Yuletime treat is back again, to the joyous delight of all! Now playing through December 29. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wang Theatre is the Boston Ballet's annual Holiday production of Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker." Now in its 39th season, it has been deftly choreographed by Mikko Nissinen, the Company's new Artistic Director, along with Daniel Pelzig, Sydney Leonard, Bruce Marks, Anna-Marie Holmes, and Gianni DiMarco. Based on E.T.A.Hoffmann's classic story, it's set in 1830 in old Russia on Christmas eve. Once again, Dr. Drosselmeyer (a wizard) casts his magic spell over the children at a holiday party and gives young Clara a strange Nutcracker toy soldier. Later, that same evening, with Clara watching, the Nutcracker leads his toy soldiers against an army of house mice, and once victorious, turns into a handsome, young Prince! Together with Clara, they then journey (via a multi-colored balloon) to the Enchanted Palace of Sweets (!) where they are greeted by an array of wonderous Fairies and a variety of dazzling, exotic dancers from m any foreign lands ( Russian. Chinese, Arabian and Spanish ). Beautifully performed by Sarah Adams as Clara, Viktor Plotnikov as Drosselmeyer, and Sabi Varga as the Nutcracker, amongst the evening's grand points were Christopher Budzynski's commanding high sprints as leader of the Russian group; Pollyana Ribeiro and Paul Thrussell's elegant dips and turns as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier; and Larissa Ponomarenko's graceful pirouettes highlighted against Helen Pond and Herbert Senns' exquisite 19th century Russian sets, with extra commendation also for David Walker's beautiful period costumes. This delightful seasonal treat has returned again, to be lavishly staged and majestically danced, and thereby continues to enthrall young and old alike. Now playing through December 30. (My Grade: 5)


Spiked Eggnog...the Xmas Files II, A Holiday Boogaloo
Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Center for the Arts is "Spiked Eggnog...the Xmas Files II, A Holiday Boogaloo," the Centastage Company's second annual evening of locally scripted holiday fun, featuring a quartet of talented actors/writers: Jan Davidson, John Kuntz, Rick Park and Julie Perkins, performing a dozen of their own comic, seasonal and highly irreverent monologues, playlets and songs, (often in drag) for ninety intermissionless minutes. Among the evening's best moments are Kuntz's hilarious, lounge singer's musical put-down,"I Don't Remember Christmas and I Don't Remember You!"; Park's "Letters to ( a Scrooge-like ) Santa," in which a not-so-nice St. Nick responds, in highly caustic fashion, to a bunch of annoying kids, who keep requesting stuff from him; Perkins' "I Saw Mommy Killing Santa " with a solid and heavy ashtray, 'cause she thought he was a burglar; and Davidson and Perkins' "Mary and Joseph Sitting in a Tree," where an unknowing school m'am explains how the Holy Couple first met, using wacky allusions to "the Sound of Music," "West Side Story," and "Titanic," amongst others! The evening's summit is reached with Kuntz's daffy parody of the legendary 1950's Bette Davis movie, here retitled, " All About Xmas Eve," in which a scheming second grader manipulates her way into the starring role in her Parochial School's Christmas Pageant.This entertaining mix, of Yuletide buffoonery, is being briskly directed by Curt Miller, with fine lighting-design by Darren Evans and frolicsome music selected and/or composed by Rick Brenner. With many hits and only a few misses. Park's spoof of "My Three Angels" as "Santa's Angels," for example, starts out well, but eventually becomes repetitive and overlong. Nevertheless, there's still enough warm, solid laughs, overall, to melt even the coldest holiday grouch! Now playing through December 21. (My Grade: 4)


The Blowin of Baile Gall
Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Playwrights' Theatre is the premiere of "The Blowin of Baile Gall." The second play by Ronan Noone in his rural Irish trilogy to be presented here in Boston (the first was "The Lepers of Baile Baiste") made its professional debut this past November, and the final drama in this cycle will be staged here next June. Set in a small countryside Irish town, the "Blowin" in the play's title refers to the local slang for an "outsider." The drama's focus is on a fine house, which is undergoing a total renovation. The project's construction crew consists of Eamon, a hard-drinking plasterer; Stephen (an orphaned recuperating alcoholic, and now Born Again Christian ) who is Eamon's helper and, although a 15 year long resident of Baile Gall, is still considered a Blowin; and Molly, a house-painter and Eamon's former sweetheart. They're all being supervised by Sam (the general contractor ), who has recently returned to Ire land with his American wife after living 20 years in the U.S. Sam has hired Laurence, (an illegal African immigrant ) at significantly underpaid wages, to the angry dismay of Eamon, who expected his own brother to be so employed. As violent enmity erupts between Eamon and Laurence, Stephen competes with Eamon for Molly's approbation, as she valiantly tries to mollify their festering grievances. Compounding her efforts is, the long past (during their childhood) petty quarrels between the parents of Eamon and Sam, further complicated by the notion that this same house was originally owned by Eamon's mother. Powerfully acted by the highly accmplished small cast, Bill Meleady is dominant as the racist, conflicted Eamon, with intense performances by Ciaran Crawford as Stephen, Derry Woodhouse as Sam, Aaron Pitre as Laurence and most especially by Susan B. McConnell as Molly. Forcefully directed by Wesley Savick, this striking and provocative exploration of small-town Irish corrosi ve complaints and animosities is now playing through December 22. (My Grade: 5)


Blues for an Alabama Sky
Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Center for the Arts is Our Place Theatre Project's new production of "Blues for an Alabama Sky" by Pearl Cleage. Set in New York City's Harlem district in the summer of 1930, at a time and place representing the last days of the grand Harlem Cultural Renaissance and the beginnings of the great economic depression, the compelling plot centers on several characters whose lives intertwine dramatically. Angel, an attractive cabaret singer, who has just lost her position as nightclub vocalist and performer, now faces a bleak and uncertain future. Her best friend Guy, a gay costume designer, hopes to connect with the legendary American and French Diva Josephine Baker, and to emigrate to Paris, France, taking Angel along with him. Delia, Angel's young, social worker friend and neighbor, and Sam, the local activist-Doctor, together plan to open a Family Planning Clinic in Harlem. Leland, a simple widower and countr y-man from rural Alabama, has come to New York to assuage his grief over his recently deceased wife. After meeting Angel, he's fallen deeply in love with her, and now fervently hopes to marry her and take her back to the small, quiet, Southern life he had just come from. However, for Angel the allure of the glamourous entertainment world (here and abroad) conflicts with the simple existence promised her by Leland. Their relationship is further compounded by his strict, no exceptions, fundamentalist Biblical views of family and morality, resulting in a dilemma and a profound crisis for all, with calamitous consquences! Very well acted by the fine, small cast with high approval for Jaqui Parker's convincing performance as Angel, and for the fine support by Ricardo Engermann as Leland, Dorian Christian-Baucum as Guy, Stephanie Marson-Lee as Delia, and MIchael Green as Dr. Sam. Extra special notice for the splendidly effective incidental, recorded 1930's Jazz (mostly by Louis Ar mstrong and Duke Ellington ) provided by Sound Designer Andy Aldous. Now playing through December 21. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass. is the American Repertory Theatre's new production of Anton Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya." Initially presented in1897, and originally set on an aristocratic Russian country estate, it is here a very up-to-date translation by the late Paul Schmidt, given a dramatically contemporary focus. Reset in the manor's expansive, bleakly open-spaced, fluorescently-illuminated,drab and rundown bar (complete with peeling and leaking ceiling and water-soaked rustic wooden floor), with the disheveled residents now resembling the likes of the despairing barflies in Eugene O'Neil's "The Iceman Cometh". Middle-aged Uncle Vanya bitterly regrets the many years he has wasted as manager of his professorial brother-in-law Alexander's agrarian property. He views his kinsman as a pompous intellectual fraud and secretly yearns for Yelena, the elderly pedant's beautiful new young wife. As the rain falls thunderously outside, the room fills with the home's inhabitants, servants and neighbors. Most prominent among them is Astrov, a cynical and unkempt country Doctor and Sonya, the youthful and plain-looking daughter (by his first wife) of Alexander. Yelena, quietly anguished by her joyless marriage, is conflicted by Astrov's open and unbridled lust for her, while Sonya pines for this same petulant physician, knowing that he will never love her. As gloom, ambivalence and hopelessness envelopes them, their disquiet is challenged by Vanya's startling solution! Brilliantly acted by Thomas Derrah, in the title role, with superb support from Arliss Howard as Astrov, Linda Powell as Yelena, Phoebe Jonas as Sonya and Will LeBow as Alexander, this well staged production is the auspicious first to be helmed by the A.R.T.'s new producing team of Robert Woodruff, Robert J. Orchard and Gideon Lester. Under Janos Szasz' intense direction and Riccardo Hernandez' (as above stated) atmospheric, seedy and compelling set, this presenta tion is a solid triumph! Now playing through December 28. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Lyric Stage Company of Boston is their production of "Epic Proportions " by Larry Coen and David Crane. First produced Off-Broadway to limited success in 1986, it was revived on Broadway to much lesser effect in 1999, and this presentation now marks its New England premiere. Set in the 1930's in the Arizona desert, the highly farcical plot revolves around brothers Benny and Phil, hired as two of the 34,000 "Extras" needed for a multi-million dollar Hollywood Biblical movie epic, a la DeMille's "Ten Commandments" ( actually made in 1956 ) and Mankiewicz' "Cleopatra" (made in 1963). There, they come to the attention, not of the film's actual over-the-top, addled big-time Director D.W.DeWitt (who acts, dresses and talks like an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh ), but instead, to his pert, pretty and young Assistant Director Louise. As affection blossoms between Phil and Louise, a series of outlandish plot twists cascade ridiculously i nto place, and Phil suddenly finds himself as the mammoth production's new reigning mastermind! DeWitt, somehow has become strangely sidetracked. Then, as success changes Phil into a demanding megalomaniac, the movie's cast of thousands mutiny and Louise discovers that it's really Benny that she loves, with all the expected consquences. The fine seven member cast handle their multiple roles and many farcical spins (a mixture of some gags that work and some others that don't ) with comic aplomb. Terrence O'Malley as Phil, Christopher Robin Cook as Benny, Laura Given Napoli as Louise, Richard Snee as DeWitt and Maureen Keiller, as a very kooky Cleopatra-type, are all rambunctiously-effective under David Robinson's broad direction.This somewhat uneven, up-and-down, stretch of comic complication is now playing through December 21. (My Grade: 3.75)


Review by Norm Gross

At Theatre Cooperative in Somerville, Mass. is their production of "Morning Star" by Sylvia Regan. Originally staged to only limited success on Broadway in 1940, it served to introduce Molly Picon, the legendary star of Yiddish Musical Theatre to mainstream, English-speaking audiences. During the succeeding 60+ years, however, this play has gone on to become a popular, ongoing favorite with countless amateur and professional stock drama companies, not only in this country, but in Europe, as well. It was recently commissioned by Chicago's Lyric Opera Company to be developed as a new opera. Set in New York City's teeming Lower East Side neighborhood, the play's action covers the period from 1910 to 1931, and centers on the Feldermans, a poor working class Jewish family. Becky, the strong, widowed middle-aged mother, is the potent force that anchors the household. Sadie, Esther and Fannie are her three young unmarried daughters (all emp loyed at the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Factory). She also has a 13 year-old son Hymie, who will soon celebrate his Bar Mitzvah (religious confirmation ), and Aaron, a conscientious middle-aged millennary worker (secretly in love with Becky) is their long-time live-in boarder. The overly-predictable plot follows the Feldermans' triumphs and tragedies, as the horrific garment workshop fire and later World War I takes the lives of employee Esther and young army enlistee Hymie! Eventually, daughter Fanny marries Irving, a hopeful, fledgeling pop song writer, now working as a movie theatre usher, and Sadie, the eldest, marries Harry, an optimistic school teacher (originally betrothed to Esther ). As the years unfold, Aaron launches his own millennary factory, with complications from Sadie, (to the detriment of her marriage ) who's evolved into a strong and ruthless businesswoman, and Irving begins to prosper as a songsmith! Throughout, the family's ups-and-downs is Becky's solid and constant faith in the goodness of America as the golden land of freedom and opportunity! Well played by the fine 12 member cast, with many substantial and praiseworthy performances, especially by Maureen Adduci as Becky, Nanette Savides as Sadie, Fred Robbins as Aaron, and Paulo Branco as Irving. George Spelvin's cluttered and highly atmospheric tenement setting establishes just the right ambience, under Suzanne Bixby's focused direction, for this albeit familiar, but nevertheless, still heartwarming and tender drama of early immigrant struggle and fulfillment. Now playing through December 14. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the New Repertory Theatre in Newton, Mass. is their production of "A Skull in Connemara." Written by Martin McDonagh, it's the last play in the author's Irish folk trilogy to be staged in the Greater Boston area. The other two plays are "The Beauty Queen of Leenane" and "Lonesome West." All three are set in contemporary rural Ireland. This play concerns Mick Dowd, a moody enigmatic villager. As he sulks in his rustic cottage, he's visited first by Maryjohnny, a garralous, elderly, gaddabout, whose specialty is sponging drinks at the local Bingo game; and Mairtin, a youthful, muddle-headed, ne'er-do-well. The latter has come to help Mick with his annual task of clearing graves in the local Church cemetery, to make way for new corpses. Their bizarre and grotesque duty is then further complicated by implications that Mick may have murdered his wife several years before, and that her remains are also to be disintered! Couched with outlandishly macabre humor, their efforts reveal an expansive melange of ghoulishly amusing behavior and curious incongruities. After some early wavering with his Irish accent, Robert O'Gorman steadily gained authority and assurance as Mick, with fine, grimly comic support from Scott Drummond as Mairtin, Mary Klug as Maryjohnny, and in a brief appearance, Thomas Rhett Kee as Mairtin's older (policeman) brother. Well directed by Jeff Zinn, this spare, capricious exploration of the dark underside of Irish country life, is further enhanced by Richard Chambers' fine, revolving, atmospheric set, which alternately reveals Mick's humble living quarters, as well as the cheerless and forbidding graveyard! Now playing through December 15. (My Grade: 4 )


Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Center for the Arts is the Pariahaus Theatre Company's production of "The Maids" by Jean Genet. First produced in Paris in 1947, this legendary and rarely-performed work explores the various vagaries of love and hate, reality and illusion. Ostensibly set in a splendid Parisian habitat, the bizarre plot's focus is on two sisters, Solange and Claire, domestic servants employed by a wealthy, stately and abusive matron, whom they alternately despise and envy! When their exacting employer is away, these two engage in macabre make-believe games, in which one sister pretends to be the "Madame," with all of her failings, shortcomings and extravagant demands on them, prominently revealed, while the other sibling imagines various ways to get even by finally murdering her! However, when the Grand Dame unexpectedly returns, her unforeseen generosity and concern effectively disarms the two handservants with disquieting consequences. As originally conceived, both the maids and the Madame, as expected, were played by a trio of women. In this production, however, while their employer is still portrayed by a female, the two sisters are here now played by men. Dressed in women's clothing, and adorned with feminine makeup, but coiffed in manly hairstyles, this unusual casting further heightens this provocative play's outlandish and puzzling focus. Are the maids ongoing charades the "real " definition of them? Is the Madame actually what they perceive her to be? Bill Powers, as Solange, stumbled on a few words occasionally, but was otherwise generally effective, with strong assistance from Michael Makowski as Claire. Jennifer Subrin did well as Madame, even if sometimes a bit too shrill, and in definite need of some heavy padding, and better defined makeup, to accentuate aging and thereby to disguise her youthful appearance. Kristian Marks' solid direction and Dennis Witnauer's rectangular pastel-tinted, artificial setting, with box-like furnishings, accented the play's over-all tilt between actuality and fantasy. Now playing through November 30. (My Grade: 3.75)


Review by Norm Gross

"Make Someone Happy--The Songs of Comden and Green," is the title of a memorable cabaret-style solo performance at the Blacksmith House in Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass., featuring captivating vocalist Sophia Bilides. Vividly accompanied by pianist Doug Hammer, for more than ninety delightful minutes, she enchanted the capacity audience with a wide ranging evening of witty, tender and thoroughly-entertaining compositions by this fabled song-writing team. Their 60+ years as lyricists, writing for the Broadway Stage and the Hollywood Movie Screen provided sparkling words for the music of such illustrious composers as Jule Stein, Cy Coleman, Leonard Bernstein, Roger Edens, Saul Chaplin and Andre Previn. As expected, Ms. Bilides served up a well chosen selection of their best work. Highlights from her engaging program included such notable pieces as the highly amusing "I Can Cook,Too! " and the plaintive "Lonely Town ", both from " On the Town"; the touching "Never, Never Land " from "Peter Pan" ;the unforgetable "The Party's Over" from "Bells Are Ringing"; the clever salute to the animal world "What's New at the Zoo? " and the spirited title tune "Make Someone Happy," both from " Do Re Mi." Sprinkled with bright, comic observations by this gifted performer ( as lovely to look at as she is to listen to ), her solid-gold presentation also included two very charming duets with her accompanist Doug Hammer: "Why-O-Why-O-Did I Leave Ohio? " from "Wonderful Town" and "Moses Supposes" from the legendary "Singin' in the Rain." Sophia Bilides is a warm, vibrant and full-voiced performer who pays as much attention to the clarity of the lyrics she sings as she does to their underlying meaning. She plans to take this show on the road...don't miss it!! (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Ellsworth Theater on the campus of Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Mass. is the Shakespeare Now Theatre Company's production of "Romeo and Juliet." The Bard's classic drama about the feuding Montague and Capulet families, given tragic dimension by the doomed love-affair between youthful Romeo, son of the Montagues, and beautiful, young, Juliet, daughter of the Capulets. Originally set in fifteenth century Verona, Italy, it's now here, according to Director Dev Luthra, "set in the (present day) Middle East and (we) chose a more realistic, as opposed to naturalistic, staging of the play." Performed by a fine company of youthful, vigorous players, the drama's new and contemporary focus, (the bloody, unending struggle between Israelis and Palestinians ) is not as fully realized here as it might have been. It's being acted on a virtually bare stage, with only two raised platforms, up front at stage right and left, with just a s uccession of nondescript standing erect opaque screens to the rear. An unusual series of full-stage vertical, suspended, string-like cables, obliquely suggesting the fenced barrier that may soon soon physically separate the two groups, is this set's only genuinely interesting feature! The cast is dressed in jeans and casual common clothing, with little being made of the two competing cultures. Some of the Montagues wear yamulkahs (religious skullcaps ), while some of the Capulets wear simulated desert head-scarfs, with realistic banners, Israeli or Palestinian symbols, ensigns or markings not to be seen anywhere. Only the helpful Friar, who tries unsuccessfully to aid the two ill-fated sweethearts, is dressed in Middle-Eastern costume. Very well acted by Joshua Olkowski as Romeo, Kortney Adams as Juliet and Vincent Siders as the Friar, Nadia Mahdi as Romeo's slain friend Mercutio and Doug Chilson as his slayer Tybalt, also merit much notice! Likewise, Choreographer Kirsten Mc Kinney's robust, dance-like handling of the intensely physical battles and duels between the conflicted families is certainly praiseworthy. Finally, commendation should also be given to solo violinist Stanley Silverman's tender, incidental musical interpolations. Now playing through November 24. (My Grade: 3.75)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Center of the Arts is Company One's new production of "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992." Soon after the exoneration of the quartet of policemen accused in the 1991 beating of Rodney King, playwright and actress Anna Deavere Smith began her investigation into the explosive riots in L.A. that erupted in their aftermath. It was one of the most disastrous urban upheavals in memory, with 58 deaths, mainly African-Americans and Hispanics, with neighborhood damage totalling nearly $1 Billion, and just about every Korean-owned store was destroyed. After interviewing 300 people, everyone from all walks of life--blacks, Latinos and Asians, to blue collar, white collar, political and police officials, she singled out thirty personalities and. after organizing their actual comments into an integrated unity, performed their remarks as a striking solo performance. Initially acted by her in New York and then on tour, nation wide, later she concluded with an acclaimed television version of this same docu-drama. Now, a decade later Boston's "Company One" has revived this compelling presentation, but with some substantial changes. It is now being acted by six young, highly-capable players: Monica Gomi, Kevin Jones, Karimah Moreland, Tuan Phan, Raymond Ramirez, and Mason Sand. The various segments, are now being alternately guided by five assured directors: Victoria March, Juanita Rodriguez and Summer Williams, plus the aforementioned Gomi and Moreland. They perform their differing roles, irrespective of race, gender,occupation or status, in everyday work clothes, on a bare stage, with only a video monitor (exhibiting actual tumultuous events) together with 2 suspended damaged windows. All of the anger, violence, intensity, regret, confusion, dismay, and contradiction, bursts forth from these vivid players, with passionate and all-encompassing energy, giving us a well-rounded, multi-dimensional loo k-back at this devastating occurence! Now, again pressing us to consider the many, still festering issues and unresolved problems. Now playing through November 23. (My Grade: 5)


The Lepers of Baile Baiste (Town of Rain)
Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Center for the Arts is the Sugan Theatre Company's production (the world professional premiere) of "The Lepers of Baile Baiste (Town of Rain)" by Irish native (but now Boston based) playwright Ronan Noone. Set in a neghborhood pub and Catholic Church in a small Irish town, the play's title is derived from the sermon given at the play's outset by the local priest, as he warns his congregants, "Sin is like leprosy!" Four young adult friends, who've known each other since early childhood, come together on a very rainy evening to banter and jest at a popular Bar. Ladeen, self-centered and an eager busybody, is ever ready to spread mischievous hearsay. Clown, timid introspective and frail, is easily upset by others. Yowsa is quick to anger and stridently "macho, " and plans to migrate very soon to the U. S. Daithi, who's just returned from England, is bent on upsetting the community's equ ilibrium. Kellogg, the tavern's youthful bartender, and Seaneen, a middle-aged barfly (quickly becoming ' stewed ' ), round out the assembly. Daithi causes an uproar, having stolen a major Church statue, and then bringing it in with him. The resulting commotion precipitates a night of anxious rumination centered on the sexual abuses they all have suffered as schoolboys at the hands of a particular cleric-teacher. Their distress is compounded by the ongoing exposure of the Church's lies and deceits, coupled with the townspeople's duplicity and hypocrisy! High praise for Chris Burke as Daithi, Colin Hamell as Ladeen, Derry Woodhouse as Yowsa, and Joseph Hansen as Clown, with additional notice for John Morgan as their anguished and sermonizing Priest, Ed Peed as a troubled and distraught Policeman, and especially Billy Meleady as the Bar's obstreperous steady drunkard! Carmel O'Reilly's firm direction certainly heightens the moral dilemma at the center of this provocative, com pelling and powerfully acted drama! Now playing through November 23. (My grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wheelock Family Theatre is their production of "The Witch of Blackbird Pond " by Y. York, based on Elizabeth George Speare's same titled prize-winning novel. Set in 1687 in a Puritan village in Connecticut, the plot's focus is on teenager Kit Tyler, who's journeyed by sailing boat from her native Barbados, to avoid an unwanted marriage. She's come to live in New England with her aunt and uncle and their family. Independent and free-spirited, her sense of individualism runs counter to the Puritan's religiously-dominated laws. Defying the Colony's edicts, she befriends Hannah an elderly Quaker outcast who's been forced to live by herself (with only her pet cat), a substantial distance from the village, near Blackbird Pond. There, Kit also entices Prudence, the young underage daughter of the community's primary clergyman to join her. At this secluded encampment, Kit begins to teach the young child how to read-- knowledge that for females is forbidden by the Puritan ethic. After a widespread outbreak of smallpox, buttressed by a series of vivid misconceptions, based on hastily-acquired observations, Kit is accused of witchcraft and is put on trial for sorcery, blamed for causing the frightful disease.Very well acted by the splendid 14 member cast, with strong performances by Katrina Toshiko as Kit, Jane Staab as Hannah, Neil Gustafson as the village's major cleric, and young Jenna Spencer as the conflicted Prudence. Extra notice is also due for Shelley Bolman, as the youthful boatsman who initially ferries Kit to New England, and Erik Dickinson as the austere trial Magistrate. Strongly directed by James P. Byrne, who also designed the highly creative and atmospheric set--a raised wooden platform, which opens up to suggest a variety of rustic interiors and exteriors, in front of a full-stage, colorful and pictorial backdrop, emblazoned with the names, drawings and painted portraits of a multitude of famous, present-time and centuries past, dissidents, martyrs, and political victims! This compelling and provocative drama, which pits the rights of the individual against the limits of the state, poses issues, that continue to confront society, to this very day. Now playing through November 24. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston University Theatre is the Huntington Theatre Company's World Premiere production of "Marty," a play with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Lee Adams and book by Rupert Holmes. Based on the original, Oscar-winning 1955 screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky, which in turn was adapted from his earlier (1953 ) hour-long television play, the original TV show also helped launch Rod Steiger's career, while the movie version went on to win an Oscar for Ernest Borgnine. The simple and gentle story, set in the mid 1950's in the Bronx, concerns a shy unmarried 34 year old "everyman, " a Butcher by trade, living at home with his elderly widowed mother. Lonely and certain that he lacks any charisma, he's convinced that he'll remain a bachelor forever and will never meet a girl who will love him as he is. At a local dancehall, however, he does relate to Clara, a plain, average-looking, school teacher, and as their romance begins to blossom it is t hreatened by the negative attitudes of his male buddies and the fears of his dependent mother. Reasonably well sung and sensitively portrayed by Hollywood film star John C. Reilly in the title role, he has fine support from Soprano Anne Torsiglieri as the unappreciated Clara; Barbara Andres as Marty's apprehensive mother; and the large accomplished 23 member supporting cast. Confidently directed by Mark Brokaw with bright, fluid choreography by Rob Ashford. The "Saturday Night Girl," number, during which Marty's male pals lustily sing and dance with a variety of imaginary "femmes fatales" is one of the show's striking high points, along with such other songs as, "My Star " and "Why Not You and Me?" This heartfelt and tender musical ( obviously on its way to New York) remains sensitively and consistently true to Chayefsky's original vision. Now playing through November 24. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass. is their production of "Chicago," the multi-Tony award-winning musical with music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb, based on Maureen Dallas Watkins' same titled 1927 play, now with book by Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse. Only a modest success when it was first staged in New York in 1975, it became Broadway's longest running revival, when it was restaged there in 1996. Set in the titled city during "the Roaring 20's," Roxie Hart, a married chorus girl, shoots and kills her extra-marital lover and ends up in the County Jail, where she meets Velma Kelly (another voluptuous assassin ) and a bevy of sexy, high kicking murderesses. Roxie and Velma eventually become convinced that all the big-time daily publicity their crimes have generated can really be to their advantage. Thanks to the cleverness of Billy Flynn, a slick, high-priced, well-known, wheeler-dealer lawyer, they are proven to be correct! With Billy in charge, even wi th a few surprising ups and downs, they are not only exonerated, but go on to success in show business! Vividly directed and choreographed, in the style of Bob Fosse's original conceptions, by Barry Ivan, he is also extremely well served by the large, excellent, sleek 21 member, male and female cast. Kim Morgan Green and 1980's Pop Singing Star Deborah Gibson are both vibrant and compelling, singing, dancing and expressively emoting as Roxie and Velma, with first rate bravado, flourish and brash strutting by full-voiced William Michals as audacious Billy Flynn! " All That Jazz," " Me and My Baby," "Mister Cellophane," and " Razzle Dazzle," represent just a few of the great numbers in this show's superior and witty musical score. This vigorous, glossy, and strikingly staged and performed presentation is now playing through November 24. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Center for the Arts is Basement on the Hill Stage's production of " A Life in the Theatre." Written by David Mamet, it was initially staged successfully in Chicago and later in New York in 1977. This one act ninety minute opus, revolves around the interaction between two actors, Master and Apprentice, and the rivalry that ultimately defines them. The elder is eloquent and dedicated, while the younger is earnest, eager and appreciative. As they progress, rehearsing and then performing in a wide variety of plays, ranging from wartime accounts and drawing room comedies to medical melodramas, the senior player evolves, from protective father figure and mentor, to threatened and finally eclipsed competitor. Originally performed by only two players, this production has taken some extraordinary liberties with Mamet's story. First, they've interjected a young, non-speaking pretty mime-like female "stage manager," who eff ectively assists both actors, in establishing the play's various vignettes and, curiously enough, they also have the two players manipulating puppets for each of these short dramatic episodes! Instead of the actors, acting their assignments as intended by the playwright, here with only their hands, showing through their immobole dolls' sleeves, both teacher and student recite their parts, with barely limited effect! Although, well acted by Will Cabell as the elder and Zachary Falconer as the younger man, with spirited assistance from Chiara Durazzini, as their stage manager. This drama's overall impact has been substantially compromised, by this group's unusual, if not indeed bizarre, approach. Now playing through November 16. (My Grade:2)


Review by Norm Gross

Now at Boston's Stuart Street Playhouse is "Back From Broadway," an evening of theatrical reminiscences, coupled with striking musical performances, written and acted by two extraordinary stars, Hershey Felder and James Barbour. Felder, an imposing concert pianist, and composer/playwright, is best known for his triumphant, record-breaking, solo portrayal as "George Gershwin, Alone," this past summer at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. Barbour, likewise, is an impressively full voiced baritone, with a telling background in musical theatre (Beauty and the Beast, Carousel, Milk and Honey, and Jane Eyre, amongst many others). After meeting some years ago while performing in two different, but nearby, Broadway shows, they recognized a musical affinity and this current production (a solid success in New York, Los Angeles and Palm Beach ) was the result. As expected, this present collaboration is brimming with memorabl e melodies and affecting anecdotes about their childhood dreams, their passion for the musical theatre and their ultimate success. From Barbour's touching remembrance about his first audition, where after repeating the same audition-song as the previous neophyte, he then belts out a magnificent interpretation of 1776's " Mollases T'Rum," and then isn't hired, to Felder's regaling us with recollections about his chainsmoking drunken piano teacher, and his first amusing teenaged foray into a Broadway show, the remaining 90 minutes bubble over with both offering us entertaining observations and compellng musical moments! "Climb Every Mountain," "Jellicle Cats," " On the Street Where You Live," " I Got Rhythm," and " The Impossible Dream," to name only a few, with Barbour's singing of "Soliloquy " from "Carousel," and Felder's playing Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," being absolutely exhultant! Fully deserving of the many, rousing, standing ovations which greeted them at the fi nale, this winning presentation is now playing through December 15. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Lyric Stage is their production of "The Gig" by Douglas J. Cohen, based on Frank D. Gilroy's similarly-titled 1985 motion picture. Six average middle-aged male friends--a used car salesman, a deli owner, a real estate agent, a financial advisor, a dentist, and a music teacher have met together every Wednesday evening for the past 12 years to play Jazz. They wonder,as musicians, if they're really good enough to play a professional "gig." Marty, the auto salesman, surprises them all by arranging a two week engagement at a Catskill Mountain resort. This booking necessitates a major change in plans for each of them. The shy unmarried dentist must leave his elderly controlling mother (who depends on him , while the consultant must somehow convince his wife to forego an expected Cape Cod vacation. Unfortunately, the delicatessen proprietor must bow out due to impending cancer surgery. After agreeing to go, they must hire a professi onal replacement for the aforementioned drop-out. Their gig's pleasures are then progressively compromised by guilt, low pay, an insect-laced dormitary, poor food, home sickness, unfulfilled romantic liasons and finally by a well known and aggressively-demanding female vocalist. Assuredly directed and choreographed by three-time, Tony award-winning Broadway producer Stewart F. Lane, with solid commendation for the fine ten member cast. Chip Phillips as the assertive car dealer, Benjamin DiScipio as the bashful dentist, Brian Robinson as the professional substitute-musician, and most especially, Kathy St. George, in dual roles, as an amorous waitress and also as the insistent celebrity chanteuse, are all praiseworthy! Robert M. Russo's creative set, a facade comprised of six elevated compartments, each representing a different character's work-space, set upon a revolving stage, is a definite strong point and the author's engaging acapella-style music, particularly a stirring salute to "Benny Goodman," and a rousing, Jazz-focused number entitled "Biff-Bam-Bang!" all contribute positively to this choice, perceptive and involving presentation. Now playing through November 16. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Playwrights' Theatre is the Nora Theatre Company's production (a New England premiere) of "Smelling a Rat " by Mike Leigh (well known for such movies as "Secrets and Lies," "Topsy Turvy," and "All or Nothing" ). Favorably staged in London in 1988, it achieved only a modest success Off-Broadway in 2001. As the play begins, all the elements for low-comedy are in place. A gaudy bedroom, replete with comfortable twin-sized bed, covered with a mountain of stuffed toy animals, in front of a line of six closets, and to one side a hallway door, and to the other a bathroom door. Rex Weasel, the owner of a pest-extermination firm, returns unanticipated (without his wife ) from their Christmas vacation. Apparently expecting some sort of wrongdoing, he unpacks his handgun, and hides in a closet! Vic Maggot, Weasel's employee, and his wife Charmaine, then arrive, ostensibly to see if all is well. Surprised then, by still another pa ir of intruders, they also conceal themselves! These last two interlopers are Rock Weasel, Rex's stone-faced and closed-mouth son, and his highly talkative girl friend Melanie-Jane Beetles, manifestly there for clandestine sex! Such a set-up, in the hands of Feydeau or the Marx Brothers, would automatically evolve into an explosively hilarous merry-go-round of slammng closet doors and visitors scrambling under the big bed! Alas, not so this time! Described as an "anti-farce," playwright Leigh delivers only commonplace and endlessly trivial talk, initially by Vic and Charmaine, before retreating into a closet, and later by Melanie-Jane, before circumstances force her to lock herself in the bathroom. Instead of manic, frenzied activity, with a minimum of conversation and a corresponding outbreak of laughter, here we have quite the opposite! The closet doors remain firmly closed, throughout, with much idle chatter instead, and very little reaction, even after disapproving fat her confronts taciturn and underhanded son. What humor this situation offers is slight and only occasional. This might be acceptable as a one-act offering, but becomes somewhat tiresome, when spread out over two. Well acted by the small cast, especially Paul Kerry as Vic, Stephanie Dorian as Charmaine and Mara Sidmore as Melanie-Jane. Now playing through November 10. (My Grade: 2)


Review by Norm Gross

At the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass. is their production of "The Woman in Black" by Stephen Mallatratt. Adapted from a novel by Susan Hill, this two person play has been a long-standing hit (12+ years) in London, and was a modest Off-Broadway success in New York in 2001. Kripps, a mddle-aged lawyer meets, with an actor-director, to help him reenact troubling supernatural events from his past. To get on with his life, he must have some reasonable explanation and/or understanding of these perplexing, unearthly experiences. Accordingly, the actor-director poses as a younger version of Kripps while the solicitor himself plays all the many various individuals he had encountered while journeying to an out-of-the-way secluded manor, to discharge the effects of a newly deceased widow. As expected, her home is haunted and without revealing too much about the spectre who wanders throughout the theatre (thanks to the highly creative a nd impressively coordinated employment of a myriad of "special-effects"", the play begins to bubble over (like a witch's cauldron ) with strange apparitions, mysterious voices, and eerie sounds! Neil A. Casey, as Kripps, and Robert Pemberton as the actor-director are both excellent, with supremely effective support from Mark O'Maley's other-worldly lighting, Geoff Burns' ghostly projections, and J. Hagenbuckle's frightening blaring,booming and rustling noises! Naturally, the actor-director is able to help Kripps comprehend the ethereal enigmas, that have plagued him, for so long.... or has he? The play's surprise ending does make us wonder! Although, the initial transition from the present-time to the past, might have been a bit smoother, once fully underway, the combination of both actors, aided by the fine production values, carrys the play's shadowy themes forward, quite well! For some reason, however, curiously neither the ebony shrouded actor, roaming about the auditori um, as the embodyment of the play's title, nor any of the other actors, heard on the theatre's sound-system, thoughout the evening, is ever identified. as anticipated! Now playing through Novmber 3. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wang Theatre is the Boston Ballet's production of "Onegin," based on Pushkin's legendary poem, with choreography by John Cranko and Tchaikovsky's majestic music. Tatiana, a simple, young country maiden is captivated by Eugene Onegin, the bored and worldly-wise friend of Lensky, her sister Olga's fiance, and writes him a passionate love letter. Irked by what he views as childish behavior, Onegin rejects Tatiana, and tears up her "impetuous" note! Later, by indiscreetly toying with Olga, Onegin is rebuked by Lensky and challenged to a duel for her honor, by him. Lensky's death by his marksmanship, fills Onegin with regret. However, years of world travel don't alleviate his troubled feelings. Returning, many years later to the now-married and quite mature Tatiana, Onegin sees her in a completely new light, and writes her an ardent love letter expressing his fervor and contrition. Ripping his note to pieces, she sends him back to his purposeless existence! Brilliantly danced by Larissa Ponomarenko as Tatiana and Gael Lambiotte as Onegin, they are sublimely supported by Pollyana Ribeiro as Olga, Alexander Ritter as Lensky, and the superb and imposing full male and female company. Cranko's masterful choreography, totally and richly illuminates this classic tale of lost love and remorse. Heightened by exquisite pas de deux, initially defining Tatiana's youthful rapture for Onegin, and later by their grandly expressive dancing, her final renunciation of him, this memorable presentation triumphantly succeeds in every other respect, as well! Now playing through November 3. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wilbur Theatre is Ireland's prestigious Abbey Theatre's award-winning production of "Medea," Euripides' legendary 2,400- year-old Greek Tragedy, here restaged in modern dress. Impressively set in an unfinished and unkempt present-day courtyard, centered by a small wading pool, replete with unused cinder blocks and scattered children's toys, it's all bordered to the rear by an imposing glass wall and door. Medea, her famed war-hero husband Jason, and their two young chidren, are living as exiles in Corinth. Seeking to improve his hazardous plight, Jason plans to marry the daughter of Kreon, (Corinth's King ) if Medea will agree to go elsewhere, leaving their two sons with him, to enjoy the benefits of his newly acquired status. Medea propels her unbridled rejection of his proposal with her own horrific counter plan! She successfully kills (by poison) Kreon and his daughter, and then carrying out infanticide, also dooms Jason and he rself! Vividly and brilliantly performed by Fiona Shaw in the title role, she receives passionately focused support from the superb twelve member cast. Strong praise for Jonathan Cake's smug and later crushingly anguished Jason and the gravely alarmed and distressed, modern-day working-girl chorus, that envelopes this shocking situation. Newly translated, with a provocative contemporary edge, by Kenneth McLeish and Frederic Raphael, and compellingly directed by Deborah Warner, this extraordinary and gripping presentation seizes the viewer, much like so many recent analagous newspaper headlines, with strikingly similar effect! Now playing through November 3. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the Coyote Theatre's production of "Uncle Tom's Cabin," as newly devised and adapted, from the classic novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, by Floraine Kay and Randolph Curtis Rand. An major Off-Broadway success in New York City in 1997, this presentation marks its New England premiere. With only the most minimal stage props...four standard house chairs, set behind full proscenium-style crimson, drawstring curtains, with a side-to-side, hanging white sheet, as a neutral backdrop...five highly accomplished young actors assume a dazzling variety, of this story's many characters, with total disregard and with no restraints as to performing individuals of any gender, race or age! Ramona Alexander, Eddie Mejia, Penny Frank, Brian Abascal and David Scott,( a skillful last minute replacement ) enact not only the major figures and highlights of Stowe's legendary tale, but also give life and credence to a fas cinating parade of famed celebrities, expressing their views, reflecting the many controversies sparked by this historic book, throughout its 150 year history. They confront the audience not just with the narrative's gentle, abused and trancendent namesake. Together with Little Eva, the young doomed white child; Topsy, the capricious young black slave; Eliza, the desperate Quadroon; and Simon Legree, the vicious Slavemaster, but also through the words and presences of George Sand, Frederick Douglas, Gustav Flaubert, Oscar Wilde, James Baldwin and Woodrow Wilson (amongst others). All of this forming a brilliant tapestry of ideas mirroring an array of stirring, disquieting and conflicting arttitudes, stereotypes, hopes and fears! Centered by Jeffrey Mousseau's strong direction, this provocative and highly innovative production bristles with stimulating concepts and involving dramatic originality! Now playing though November 2. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

On the campus of MassBay Community College in Wellesley, Mass. is the Lyric West Theatre Company's production of " Wit," the highly acclaimed, Pulitzer Prize-winning play (her first ) by Margaret Edson. A major success on Broadway in 1998, it was later produced as an award-winning movie-for-television on Cable TV. Vivian Bearing, a well respected Professor of 17th century poetry, afflicted by advanced metastatic ovarian cancer, is undergoing a massive succession of heavily debilitating experimental chemotherapy treatments. Set primarily in her hospital room, wearing a baseball cap to mask her completely shaven bald head, and dressed in only a flimsy, institutional hospital gown, she ruminates about her life, her impending death, and her passion for "the Holy Sonnets" of poet John Donne. His cleverly witty and metaphysical verses exploring God, Life, Death and Salvation, have been the foundation of her career. Now as she faces this heavily defining and determining trial she turns, once again, to this legendary master for understanding, comfort and solace. Fifty years old, alone, unmarried, and with no living family members, she finds some satisfaction in musings about her childhood and early years as an educator. By an unusual coincidence, her most frequent attending physician is Jason Posner, a former student of hers, and now a clynical fellow on her Medical Instruction Council. "Once I did the teaching," she says, "now I am taught!" as her bygone pupil scrupulously explains the full meaning of her dire case to her. Impressively acted by Paula Plum as Vivian with strong support from the excellent eleven member cast, headed by Bill Mootos as Dr. Posner. Under Adam Zahler's well-centered and assured direction, this stark, searing, compelling and ultimately uplifting examination of the great enigmas of life and death is now playing through November 3. (My Grade: 5)


A Chamber Musical Reviee by Norm Gross

At the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, their production, an American premiere, of " Dracula...a Chamber Musical," with Book and Lyrics by Richard Ouzounian and Music by Marek Norman. A major success at the 1999 Stratford ( Canada ) Festival, as in the classic novel by Bram Stoker, the play is set in Transylvania and England, and revolves around the legendary East European Vampire, who travels from his castle in the Carpathian Mountains to England. There, as the houseguest of Jonathan Harker, and his lovely fiancee Mina Murray, he seeks to ensnare, as his " undead " paramour, Mina's best friend Lucy! Emboldened by his thwarted attempt at draining the lifeblood from the young and beautiful Lucy, he sets his blood-lust next on Mina! Harker and Jack Seward ( Lucy's sweetheart ) then seek to save her from Count Dracula's clutches with the aid of Dr. Van Helsing, a professional expert in combatting Vampires! This highly atmospheric presentation is well directed and staged, in-the-round, by Barry Ivan, with vividly effective use of the Theatre's fine revolving stage, complete with its multiple rising and descending platforms, and its six suspended screens, featuring strikingly projected imagery, surrounding the auditorium. Intensely acted and solidly sung by Ron Bohmer as Dracula, James Moye as Harker, Glory Crampton as Mina and Robert Jensen as Van Helsing, extra notice should also go to the rest of the eight member cast, especially Eddie Korbich as a disaffected victim of the Count, and Dracula's three, scantily clad, erotic dancing " Demon-Brides!" Splendidly supported by the excellent five member string quartet, conducted by pianist Dale Rieling, unfortunately, the highly derivative score, defined by heavy similarities to the melodies of " Phantom of the Opera " and " Les Miserables," stands as this presentation's only genuinely disappointing aspect! Now playing through October 2 0. (My Grade: 3. 8)

the musical
Review by Dede Tanzer

Were you under the impression that there was nothing new or creative out there? This is an ORIGINAL idea, with a super talented, fresh cast and lyrics worthy of mulling over. The play was the brain child of two friends Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, whose love of this tabloid story first led them to write some songs about Bat Boy and now they've got themselves a play that is as creative as anything I've seen. Bat Boy is discovered in a cave in a small West Virginia mining town. He is adopted by the local veterinarian, his wife and beautiful daughter. He is nurtured and loved by the vet's wife, played brilliantly by Meredith Parker. He is home schooled and passes his GED with flying colors. Alas, he finds that all the love can't change the fact that he's different, which leads to his be hunted by the townspeople. It is played out in such a brilliant way that this reviewer would never tell more than what she thinks will get you there. Okay, there is a song instructing the citizens, who have tried to move from coal mining to farming, that grazing cows on the side of a mountain doesn't work. If that doesn't get you there, the fact that the cost is $31 Friday and Saturday and $28 the rest of the performances should. There is also a student/senior discount. The brilliant music and lyrics of Laurence O'keefe give fresh face to the art of composing. Watch out world. This guy is not only talented he's also one rung up creatively from anything I've seen in a while. We will be hearing more of him and maybe even see him recieve a Tony. The choreography, by David Connolly, formed a wonderful, tabloid-esque feel to the whole piece. He has a very new, fresh feel to his movements that will make you say things like "Geez, I can't remember the last time I saw The Hully Gully used in a dance number!". I would be remiss if I didn't m ention the other cast members. I don't think I've seen as talented and versatile actors anywhere. From the belting voice of Mary Callahan to the quick change brilliance of Austin Lesch and Lisa Korak, to the Dudley Doright charm of David Krinitt as the Sheriff, this cast doesn't miss a beat. Miguel Cervantes (Bat Boy) is a graduate of Emerson College. He's talented, endearing, clever and makes some great bat noises. We will be seeing more of him and Sara Chase who plays Shelly, the sweet pretty daughter who becomes more than a sister to... Okay! That's all you're getting out of me. Bat Boy: The musical is playing at Boston Center for the Arts on Tremont St. between Clarendon and Berkley. Call 617-426-ARTS right NOW. It's only here through Oct. 26. (My Grade: 5)


Review by Norm Gross

At Harvard University's Leverett Old Library Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. is the Industrial Theatre's world premiere production of "Remuda," by William Donnelly. Facetiously subtitled, "An East Coast Western," (the play's title is a Mexican reference to horses ) it's set in a small Southeastern, Massachusetts town, and concerns two young brothers Craig and Keith, who live in the basement apartment of their widower father. Unemployed and secondary Lottery winners, they spend their days, (and nights) sequestered in their living room mostly bickering with each other, while reading old magazines and playing darts and video-games! Their unseen father lives in the rooms above them, and sends them frequent hand-written notes, and a steady variety of pastries. Mystified by the ongoing stream of sweets, they soon discover the person, responsible for the "goodies," is Fay, their dad's new friend, (a waitress in a nearby diner ). Despite her relationship with their father, a rivalry for her attention quickly develops between the two brothers. Their competition deepens, when they hear of her admiration for cowboys! Keith even dons a Western hat and boots, and tries his hand at a lasso, while Craig describes living and working on his uncle's western farm years before. Vying with each other, the two siblings are then compelled to face the real truth, about themselves. Well directed by Heather McNamara. Performances by James Henderson as Craig, Zac Springer as Keith, and Ava Haddon as Fay, are all very strong, while Ron De Marco's unkempt bachelor's setting establishes just the right atmosphere for this stimulating character study. Now playing through October 19. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the New Repertory Theatre in Newton, Mass. is their production of "Jerusalem," a new play by Seth Greenland. Successfully staged by the Cleveland (Ohio) Playhouse in 2001, this marks its east coast premiere. Set in late 1999 and early 2000, in New York City, Wisconsin, and Israel, the plot revolves around Will, a N.Y. psychotherapist (who's become alienated from his Jewish faith ) and his young wife Meg (also disaffected with her Christian beliefs ). Troubled by their inabiity to conceive a child, Will is also greatly dismayed by his main patient's suicide in his office. Returning to Wisconsin to visit Meg's family for the Christmas holidays, they are both somewhat surprised and apalled by Meg's quite dysfunctional family! Mary, Meg's Mom is a fretful longtime overly-protective hypochondriac, and Glory, Meg's older sister, a stereotypical midwestern shrew, who perpetually browbeats Bing, her depressed henpecked husband, and her four unseen children, while she lavishes expensive Christmas gifts on them, that they can't afford. Fisher, their younger drug-addicted brother, a rebellious drop-out, also returns unexpectedly and passing from his random wanderings throughout Asia. Act one is a strikingly clever and incisive exploration of Christian and Jewish beliefs, values and attitudes, brimming with witty observations and conclusions. Act two finds Will and Meg journeying briefly to Israel, for a much needed, contemplative vacation. Unfortunately, however, Glory, Bing and Mom have also aggressively schemed to join them! While in Jerusalem, all five find spirituality that alters them for the better. Without revealing too much, other than the0 obviously anticipated, improvement in Meg's ability to become pregnant, the others each change, dramatically, finding a much too pat religious purpose and a decidedly contrived new meaning in each of their lives. Well played, under Rick Lombardo's strong direction, the fine six member cast, are all excellent, with Benjamin Evett as Will, Allison Dunbar as Meg and Laurie Dawn as Glory, as especially effective! Regretably, the disappointing and overly concocted Second Act, playing like a standardized and sentimental TV episode, ultimately undermines the comic and insightful promise of Act One. Now playing through October 20. (My Grade: 2. 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Colonial Theatre is the return of "A Night With Dame Edna," Australian actor Barry Humphries' solo, over-the-top, comic characterization of a (if you don't already know) zany, flambouyant bombastically ostentatious contemporary dowager. From the imposing head of mauve-to-platinum hair that nestles atop her head, the grandly ornate bejewelled, super-winged eye-glasses that sit upon her proboscis, the flashy gem-studded adornments that encircle her neck, wrists, ankles, (and whatever else ) to the various multicolored, spangled evening gowns, that "she" wears during the performance, this grandly audacious, singing dancing and quite outrageously-wisecracking "lady" is in full command of the Theatre's wall-to-wall audience, from start to finish! Not one to shrink from a steady barrage of caustically amusing assaults on randomly chosen spectators, she then proceeds to refer to the occupants of the less-costly second Balcony seats as "paupers," and the somewhat-reserved and relatively-staid observers, seated in the smaller, raised, and confined Box-Seats, as "mutants". Nor is she hesitant to choose a young, tattooed "chick" with body pierceings, a middle-aged suburban mom, or a gracefully-aging matron, and/or an out-of-town pot-bellied grandpa for some good-natured, farcical, nonstop heckling, even to having some of them join her on-stage, as supporting players. Vividly assisted by "the Ednaettes," a duo of young attractive, strutting, high-stepping Chorines, and the fluid, musical accompaniment of pianist Wayne Barker, "Dame Edna" offers up an overflowing evening of riotously entertaining hilarity! Now playing through October 13. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Lyric Stage is their production of "Dirty Blonde" by Claudia Shear. A recent major Tony-nominated Broadway success, the plot is a clever and often poignantly amusing mixture of two quite different storylines. Jo and Charlie, avid fans of the legendary Mae West, meet by chance at her California mausoleum, and the fabulous Mae herself, from her earliest days as a small-time Vaudevillian, to her glory days in the 30's and 40's as Hollywood's quintessential sex pot! Single and lonely, Jo a floundering neophyte actress, and Charlie, an employee of the N.Y. Public Library's Film Department, are soon attracted to each other, enticed and enthused by their mutual fascination with the deceased and still well-known movie queen. Charlie had years before met the then-retired star at her residence. Their romance develops gradually and tenderly (in spite of some confusing and then acceptably explained misconceptions about Charlie's sexual identity ). All of this, amidst an absorbing series of deftly interwoven flashback-vignettes,
chronicling Mae West's censor-besieged rise to SuperStardom! From her grandly performed bawdy one-liners such as "It ain't the Man in your Life, it's the Life in your Man!" to her many lovers, admirers and famed co-stars like Cary Grant and W.C.Fields, to her final lonely and secluded days in retirement. Extremely well performed (replete with sultry carriage, and over-the-top leer and inuendo) by the splendid, Maryann Zschau,
as both Mae West and Jo; Larry Coen, quite moving as Charlie and assorted others, including W.C.Fields; and Will McGarrahan as a multitude of characters, and most especially, as a singing honkytonk piano player! Keenly directed by Spiro Veloudos, with Janie Howland's highly adaptive, unpretentious setting (a simple, recessed brick wall, complete with accesible doorway and moveable platform), nicely abetted by Gail Astrid Buckley's fine costumes (loud and lavish for Mae, plain and simple for Jo and Charlie ), make this genuinely entertaining show, a real treat! Now playing through October 12. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Quannapowitt Playhouse in Reading, Mass. is their new production of "Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)" by Canadian playwright and actress Ann Marie MacDonald. First produced in Canada in 1992, it was the winner of many awards there and later was succesfully performed in this country, Off-Broadway. The whimsical plot centers on Constance, an unmarried middle-aged Assistant Professor, who for the past ten years, has been the "ghost-writer" of the essays and speeches of her Senior Professor (and hidden passion) Knight. Having won a prestigious new teaching assignment, he is now on his way to Oxford, with a lovely young graduate student as his new assistant! Constance, feeling abandoned, now fully concentrates on her longtime Shakesperian project. She has labored for many years trying to decode an ancient manuscript, which she feels will definitively prove that "Othello" and "Romeo and Juliet" were originally conceived as comedies. She believes that by eliminating an all-knowing, revelatory Jester from both plays, the Bard shifted his original intentions from having fun to tragedy, instead. To prove her theory, she uncovers enchanted powers in the archaic document that allow her to travel back in time, but also to become a participant in both legendary plays, as well. Once there, with grandly amusing consequences, on Othello's turf, Constance is able to expose Iago's deceit, with Desdemona becoming an assertive warrior-type! Then, in Juliet's orbit, Romeo and his juvenile sweetheart,become a foolishly bickering couple! Not only do Desdemona and Juliet reverse their doomed fates, but each continues living on in surprisingly gender-bending and highly amusing fashion, while Constance acquires an unexpected fuller understanding of herself. Very effectively acted by Nina Faragher as Constance, Margaret McCarty as Desdemona and Amy Strack as Juliet, under Andrea Butler's clear-sighted direction, this provocative comedy poses many stimulating contradictions with a host of diverting results! Now playing through October 5. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston University is the Huntington Theatre Company's production of Ivan Turgenev's "A Month in the Country," in a new adaptation by the celebrated Irish playwright Brian Friel. Set in 19th century Russia, at the splendid rural estate of wealthy landowner Arkady Islayev, the play's action traces five days in the lives of the Islayevs and their various house guests. As Arkady's beautiful wife Natalya becomes weary of her long standing extramarital affair wth family friend Rakitin, her amorous attention shifts to Aleksey, her young child's 21-year old tutor. Unfortunately, however, Aleksey's romantic interest centers on Natalya's lovely 17 year old ward Vera. Using her craftiest wiles, Natalya tries to lure Aleksey away, with a surprising response from the supposedly naive Vera! As their amatory complications run their course, other romances begin to blossom, as well. Shpigelsky, the family's humorously flippant local Doctor, shows an unexpected marital interest in house-guest Lizaveta, a longtime spinster, while the family's servant Matvey sets his lusty focus on their maid Katya! Surely directed by Nicholas Martin, the accomplished 12 member cast are all first rate with Jennifer Van Dyck especially effective as Natalya, well supported by Jessica Dickey as Vera, Ben Fox as Aleksey and most definitely by Jeremiah Kissel, who is quite telling as the ever-jesting Physician Shpigelsky. Alexander Dodge's strikingly luxuriant revolving set, which vividly establishes the estate's lavish inner sitting room and verdant exterior veranda, and Michael Krass' elegant period costumes contribute potently to this memorable exploration of mid-19th century Russian manners and morals, a precursor to the great works soon to come from Anton Chekhov. Now playing through October 6. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Playwrights' Theatre is the world premiere of "Infestation," a new play by Payne Ratner. A black, American-Gothic comedy, the outlandish plot revolves around young, adult Elwin, unemployed and living at home with his widowed mother, in some unstated urban setting. Elwin is fixated with the notion that he's been held and later released by cheerful smiling "aliens" from another world! His mother, insisting that their home has been overrun with mysterious, unnamed bugs has hired Leon, an enigmatic, professional exterminator, to relieve their problem. Long without a husband, she envisions him, as a definite, marriageable prospect, and tries to entice him. However, an intense rivalry developes between Elwin and Leon, resulting in a bizarre and tumultuous sequence of events! Ranging from Leon's need to set fire to Elwin's bed, furniture and rugs, to also nailing and locking him up in a closet and still later to having Leon reveal his simmering sexual attraction to his rival, this eccentric comedy careens on to its strange and ultimately obvious conclusion. Strongly directed by Wesley Savick, it is very well acted by the fine cast, with much approval for Karen MasDonald as the mother, John Kuntz as Elwin and Michael Walker as Leon. This wildly, over-the-top comedy, is now playing through September 29. (My Grade: 4)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the Zeitgeist Stage Company's production (a New England premiere) of "Bee-Luther-Hatchee," a new play by Thomas Gibbons. The play's unusual title is African-American slang for the next train-stop after Hell, and is also used for an absurd or ironic situation. Set in contemporary New York and North Carolina, the storyline concerns Shelita, a young ascendant African-American book editor, who has unearthed and has subsequently had published an extraordinary, prize-winning biography, written by a reclusive, 72 year old African-American woman named Libby Price. The old lady's memoir has become a source of inspiration not only for Shelita, but also for the general public, as well. Eager to meet this still unseen and remarkable woman, Shelita journeys to the North Carolina nursing home where Libby is supposedly living. Once there, she is shocked to discover what she perceives to be a monumenal hoax!! The ramifications, generated by this revelation, provide the spark for a wide ranging and powerful discussion centered upon the actual meaning of truth, falsehood, right and wrong, human experience and universal values, focused within the prism of race relations in America! All being very well acted, under David J. Miller's strong direction, by the accomplished five member cast. Solid praise is due for Naeemah A. White-Peppers as Shelita, Michelle Dowd as Libby, and Peter Brown as a concerned spokesperson. This commanding, unsparing and quite provocative exploration of the many differing views, in our country, of racial identity, reality, and purpose, richly deserve my and the audience's enthusiastic and reponsive approval!! Now playing through October 5. (My Grade: 5)


Always, Patsy Cline
Review by Norm Gross

At the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Mass. is the Nationally Touring
production of " Always...Patsy Cline," a new two-woman play, written
and directed by Ted Swindley. Since there is no plot, nor
any dramatic tension or conflict, this is not really a "play," but
rather a series of anecdotal reminiscences about the true-life
friendship of Patsy and her devoted, long-time fan, and recent friend,
Louise Seger. This more than 2 hour presentation, (which also includes
a 15 minute intermission ) serves mainly as a framework for Becky Barta,
as the legendary country music superstar, to belt out 27 of her most
memorable songs, such as "Walkin' After Midnight," "Anytime,"
" I Fall to Pieces," " Sweet Dreams," " Crazy," and "Seven
Lonely Days," to name just a few! Arriving at a local Houston, Texas
dancehall two hours early, Louise by chance, gets to talk to Patsy
alone and quickly bonds with the travel-weary,and somewhat dispirited an
d lonely star. Because of her troubled marriage, many weeks "on the
road," and lengthy separation from her children, Patsy welcomes Louise's
warm hospitality, and even agrees to spend the night at her home. The
next morning, she also allows Louse to arrange a radio interview with
her favorite local D.J., before departing by plane that afternoon to
her next professional engagement. Their brief meeting then evolves into
a two year correspondence, involving many letters and telegrams,
culminating in Patsy's untimely death, at age 30, in a plane
crash in 1963. Leslie Alexander does well as Louise, stirring the
audience to occasionally join in a "sing-along," and
also enlists an onlooker to dance with her! Unfortunately, the evening's
slight and quite limited sequence of events, soon bogs down whenever
Ms. Barta (appearing frequently in a myriad of
different costumes ) is not onstage recreating the great star.
Happily, she is very well accompanied by the lively, onstage, six member
country music bBand, directed by Jim Rice. Now playing through September
29. (My Grade: 3.5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wang Theatre, the Boston Ballet initiates its 39th Season
with a program of three contemporary and innovative works, under the
all-inclusive title: " Morris, Forsythe, and a World Premiere." The
first piece, " Maelstrom," with choreography by Mark Morris, features
seven couples wearing flowing wine-red robes and tights dancing before
a fairweather blue sky panorama, to the "Ghost Trio" by Beethoven.
Effortlessly gliding, spinning, and lifting, they embody Morris'
movements at their most effervescent and expressive. "In the Middle,
Somewhat Elevated," a challenging work with choreography by William
Forsythe, nine dancers hurriedly ambling, tilting to one side,
filing, and/or defying their sense of balance to the deafening, atonal,
pounding, crashing, scraping, and whirring electronic music composed by
Thom Willems. "Sharp Side of Dark," the evening's world premiere, once
again stars nine dancers, performing choreography by Jorma Elo. Against
a darkened stage, first pierced by diagonal shafts of light, and later
illuminated by metallic, suspended circular horizontal, and vertical
banks of lights, the group, beginning with feet apart, lumbers, vaults,
arches, and jostles to Bach's " Goldberg Variations," ( with many
moments danced in total silence) to great effect. An impressive
evening of contemporary dance, it marks the auspicious, first season
debut of the Company's new Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen. Now
playing through Sept. 29. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Loeb Drama Center in Cambridge, Mass., the American Repertory Theatre
presents the Hartford Stage production of "Tea at Five," a new play by
Matthew Lombardo, starring television's Kate Mulgrew as Katharine Hepburn.
This two act, one person presentation explores the life and times of this
legendary star of stage and screen. Set in her parents' seacoast home in Connecticut in Act One,
September 1938, at age 29, as " the Great Hurricane of '38 " looms, she chats
zestfully and unreservedly with the audience about her family, her career,
and the many celebrities she has known. Vexed by her austere father, a well
respected Urologist; proud of her concerned mother, a prominent suffragette;
and appreciative of her protective older brother, she shares amusing
anecdotes about John Barrymore, George Cukor, Dorothy Parker and David O.
Selznick, (amongst others), as she considers her
failing movie career, (a succession of critically approved appearances,
yet box office losers ) and hopes for a new Hollywood beginning, as the
most likely star of the soon-to-be-made epic, " Gone With the Wind!"
Act Two, once again set at her late parents' beach house in February,
1983 at age 76, she wistfully ruminates about her success on stage and
screen, with mixed feelings about her 27 year long love-affair with the
married, hard-drinking and abusive Spencer Tracy. Later, she
reminisces again about her triumphs on Broadway and such luminaries as
Stephen Sondheim, while filled with sadness by memories of her younger
brother's suicide at age 15...and is then, still later, re-encouraged by
Warren Beatty's repeated attempts (on the telephone) to lure her out of
retirement and back to moviemaking! Brilliantly acted by Kate Mulgrew, who
is flawless in all respects, with an uncanny duplication of the great star's
youthful and elderly voices, appearances, and mannerisms! High marks are also
due for John Tillinger's strong direction, Tony Straiges' comfortable country-home settings, and Jess
Goldstein's highly accurate costumes.
This commanding "tour de force" is now playing through Sept. 22 (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, Mass. is their world premiere
production of "Fallen," a new play by Craig Warner. Set in a
seedy urban bar in an undisclosed city, the plot concerns Jim, the
establishment's owner, who for the past 12 years, has been the "bag
man" (money-collector) for the local mob boss. He's done this as
payment to the Syndicate for a long-standing debt, and feels today
that his obligation has been met. Unfortunately for him, the ever
unseen crime boss thinks otherwise! He feels Jim's negligence, 12 years
earlier, was the cause of his 16 year old son's accidental death. Today,
being Jim's daughter Hannah's 16th birthday, the Mafioso using his
henchman as his messenger, demands a shocking penalty from Jim, with
startling, agonizing and unexpected consequences! Assuredly directed by
Charles Towers and well acted by the fine six member cast, with particular
notice for Christopher McHale as Jim, Bernie Sheredy as the Mob's
courier and most especially for Erika Thomas as young Hannah. Bill
Clarke's decidedly atmospheric, run-down bar setting, establishes this
compelling drama's proper ambience, enhanced by Dan Kotlowitz's
effectively dramatic lighting. This absorbing play, drawing heavily on
motifs inspired by Classic Greek Tragedy, poses a grave dilemma, with a
provocatively creative resolution! Now playing through September 29.
(My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Tremont Theatre is the Ablaze Theatre Initiative's new
production of " Under Milk Wood." Written as a radio play for the
B.B.C. by Dylan Thomas, shortly before his death in 1953, it's been
performed on stage many times since its initial broadcast. Set in the
Welsh fishing village of Llaruggub, the author's rich poetic lyricism
fully establishes a typical day, from dawn to dusk, mirroring the people
and events, as they unfold in this tiny seaside community. The highly
accomplished, vigorous, and enthusiastic young cast of nine, effectively
give life to nearly 75 characters, while providing all the public and
private noises and assorted other necessary and related sound-effects,
to create the hamlet's proper ambience. Jeff Gill is quite compelling as
the evening's primary narrator, with Elizabeth Wightman, equally
stirring, providing additional narration. Enacting a wide asssortment
of roles,and allied voices (enriched by Rafael Jaen's befitting
costumes) ranging from Blind Sea Captain, Town-Liar, Butcher, Milkman,
Mailman, "Medium." and quarrelsome married couple to the area's
counseling Preacher and garralous Gossip are Robert Astyk, Michael
O'Connor, Jenny Gutbezahl, Jayk Gallagher, Lindsay Joy, David Gross,
(no relation), and Jessica Burke. They vividly meet the full measure of
Thomas's lyrically earthy text and the author's barbed and bawdy
observations! Jill MacFarlane's simple setting, a tiny wooden-planked
wharf and assorted bells, ropes aand barrels, augmented by small patches
of grass, cobblestones and sand, effectively utilizes the theatre's
arena-like performance-space, with high praise for Brian Ratliff's
strikingly dramatic lighting and Mitchell Sellers' solid direction.
Passionately performed, without an intermission, for two hours, this
engrossing and compelling production is now playing through September
29. (My Grade : 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Mass. is the New England
premiere of " I Sent a Letter to My Love," a new musical with Book and
Lyrics by Jeffrey Sweet and Music by the well-known singer and
songwriter Melissa Manchester. Based on the similarly titled novel,
which was also the source for the popular 1980 French movie, "Chere
Inconnue" (Dear, Unknown), it's set in 1954, in small-town,
middle-America. The plot concerns wheelchair-bound Stan, disabled
since childhood by polio, and Amy, his unmarried sister who like him,
is also middle-aged, and is his sole caretaker. Amy, hoping for a
romantic pen-pal, takes out an anonymous "personal ad", in the local
newspaper. To her surprise, she discovers that her only response is from
her own brother. On a strange whim, she begins an ongoing correspondence
with Stan using an exotic pseudonym. The surprising, touching and
bittersweet consequences, in response to Stan's arde
nt desire to
actually meet his secret friend, involve not only Amy and Stan, but also
Gwen( their middle-aged spinster tenant ), and Miss Morgan, a local
school teacher, recruited by Amy to pose in an ill-prepared,
face-to-face meeting , as the heretofore unseen correspondent. Very well
played by Cass Morgan as Amy, and David Garrison as Stan, with special
notice for Beth B. Austin, (reprising her role as Gwen, in the show's
original 1995 "Off-Broadway" production ), they all do quite
nicely, singing Manchester's tender musical score, particularly such
songs as: " The Day I Meet My Friend," " The Chance of You," and " I
Never Knew." Although the storyline is initially established rather
lethargically, and the plot's conclusion is somewhat contrived
(blunting the story's decidedly incestuous overtones ) nevertheless, the
show's many other fine, sensitive and compelling moments, do still
resonate! Now playing through September 22. (My Grade: 3.75)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the Bridge Theater Company's
production of "Doctor Faustus," Christopher Marlowe's 1604
interpretation of the classic legend, as adapted and directed by Michael
Walker. Faustus, a highly-learned doctor, frustrated in his quest to
understand life's "ultimate" meaning, uses the proscribed arts of
necromancy to summon Mephistopheles! He agrees to trade his soul,
(signed in his own blood ) with the Devil, in exchange for which this
same messenger from Hell, will afford him unlimited knowledge and
omnipotence, responding to all his commands, for the next 24 years.
Faustus visits and challenges the Great Courts of Europe, confronts the
Seven Deadly Sins, ( Pride, Avarice, Wrath, Envy, Gluttony, Sloth and
Lechery ) and even conjures up the specter of Helen of Troy, amongst
many other bizarre events! Nevertheless, in the end, when his
time has expired, he begs (unsuccessfully ) for the
Divine Mercy that he has
regularly rejected. Well acted by
the fine 13 member cast, with high marks for Todd Hearon in the central
role, strongly joined by Jeffery Jones as Mephistopheles, and Wendy
Lippe, Steve Rotolo, Sheilagh Cruickshank and Jeffrey Peterson, in a
wide variety of expressively performed supporting roles. Commendation is
also merited for Michael Walker's simple, yet highly efficient set
design, (a series of hanging, verticle, and moveable black draperies )
and his unusual and perceptive choice of incidental background music,
ranging from Free-form and Modern Jazz to French and Middle Eastern
styles. Now playing through September 6. (My Grade: 5)

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 " Hamlet," Shakespeare's
monumental tragedy, which many consider to be his greatest masterpiece.
Set in Elsinore, Denmark, all the classic personae and plot elements
are very much intact. The young, melancholy and troubled Prince is
visited by the ghost of his deceased father, who has returned to
denounce his widow and his own brother (her new husband) for murdering
him! Hamlet through a series of stratagems including the
presentation of a "playlet," re-enacting his father's demise, seeks to
avenge his death. In pursuing justice for his dead parent, not only do
his mother, the Queen, and his uncle, the new King, meet untimely ends,
but also Hamlet and his young sweetheart Ophelia, as well. Solidly
directed by Diego Arciniegas (who also gives a strong and intense
performance in the title role), spendid support is also provided
by the
fine 15 member cast headed by Steven Barkhimer and Nancy E. Carroll as
the culpable King and Queen. Special praise is also due to Val Sullivan
as Ophelia, who gives a very sensitive and quite moving performance, as
Hamlet's distraught young lady-love. Well staged, as described above,
in an open wooded area, by Cathie Regan, creative and engaging use has
been made of the surrounding greenery, (especially with the
cast's entrances and departures, and during the ghostly visitations).
Now playing through September 15. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Playwrights' Theatre is the Next Stage's production (a
premiere ) of "Jump Rope," a new play by John Kuntz. Set in Boston, the
story's focus is on Alex, an average "yuppie" type, and Martin, a
pent-up, frustrated "Wasp," undergoing a major mid-life crisis.
Longtime roomates, they've been gay lovers from the start. Now in the
13th year of their relationship, their union together is quickly
beginning to unravel. As they continuously bicker about their lack of
communication, sexual inactivity and pervasive boredom, their wide
differences become increasingly evident. All the while, either their
radio and/or TV sounds the alert, regarding a local "serial-killer"
specializing in murdering young white gay males. Kurt, an unassuming
and unhappy delivery man, also gay, unbeknownst to either Alex or
Martin, has secretly become sexually involved wth both of them. He
meets regularly with Martin, daytimes and with Alex, evenings; each
with his own fabricated alibi. As expected, this all leads to
startling consequences! Albeit, very well acted by Bill Mootos as
Alex, Benjamn Evett as Martin and Brooks Ashmanskas as Kurt, Act One is
much too rambling and repetitive and overly lengthy, in establishing the
developing break-up between Alex and Martin. Act Two, although much
better defined and more briskly paced, leaves several unsubstantiated
and/or unexplained loose-ends, thereby, seriously undermining the play's
surprise ending. Well directed by Matt August, with a fine, simple set
esigned by Cristina Todesco, dominated by a centrally positioned,
plastic-covered, modern sofa; the play, while occasionally sparkling
ith some very witty dialogue, needs some serious editing and some major
re-writing! Now playing through August 18. (My Grade: 2)

Psycho Beach Party
Review by Norm Gross

At the Loeb Drama Center's Experimental Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. is
the Harvard Radcliffe Summer Theatre's production of "Psycho
Beach Party", Charles Busch's well-received spoof of the popular
"Gidget" teenager beach movies of the 60's and 70's, which premiered
Off-Broadway back in 1987 and was then made into a feature Hollywood
motion picture in 2000. Set at Malibu Beach in Southern
California, the plot revolves around perky, pint-sized teenager:
"Chicklet" and her bookish (Kant, Buber, Sartre-spouting ) best
friend, Berdine. They both yearn to connect with the young surfers and
beach studs that dominate their popular local shoreline. Curiously,
however, Chicklet is revealed as also having split personalities.
To all, she seems to be only the sweet young juvenile longing to
ride the big breaking waves, while secretly we also learn that, when in
a trance, her alter-egos play tricks, turning her into the world's
biggest Dominatrix and/or various other aggressively assertive older
women! Into this broad comic mix, the author also adds "Kanaka", the
machismo leader of the local surfers, and his beach-bum buddies:
Starcat, Yo-Yo, Dee-Dee, and Provoloney, (with a hint of gay awareness
for two of them ). Also prominent is Chicklet's domineering and
intrusive mother, "Marvel-Ann" the cute and resolute local sexpot,
and Bettina, a runaway Marilyn Monroe-type movie star, (on her way to
New York to study acting with Lee Strasberg). Although there are a few
good laughs during the course of the evening, most of the bubbly
teenager-driven storyline is much too labored and overly contrived
to be really successful. Mimi Asnes does quite well as "Chicklet," with
fine support from Maggie Lehrman as Berdine, Cary McClelland as
"Kanaka," and JoJo Karlin as Bettina; while the lively young
supporting cast more than made up for their variable acting skills, by
dint of their overly abundant enthusiasm. (My Grade: 2 1/2 )

Review by Norm Gross

At the open-air Anne Chamberlin Park at Monument Square in Concord,
Mass. is the Town Cow Theater Company's production of Shakespeare's
"The Life of Timon of Athens." One of the Bard's last and least performed
plays, it's thought by many scholars to have been performed only after
his death. Unlike his other better known works, this bleak tragedy is
unrelentingly dire and acrimonious, without the usual "happy" ending.
Timon, a wealthy Athenian nobleman, falls into bankruptcy due to his
free-wheeling generosity. During his days of affluence and overflowing
magnanimity he's hailed and admired by all, but when his fortune
bottoms out and he topples into abject poverty, his "friends" turn their
backs on him, and he's stridently denounced by his creditors. Even when
he invites his "supporters" to his home to apologize for his penury,
he's enraged when he discovers them to be motivated only by their all
consuming greed, coupled with their overwhelming callous disregard for
him! Now a confirmed misanthrope, he withdraws from the city to live as
a cave-dweller in the forest-- where he eventually dies--still bitterly
denouncing everything about the world and all of its inhabitants. It's
been vigorously produced and directed by Thomas Caron, who also gives a
strong and commanding performance in the title role, with fine
assistance from Lida McGirr as his unwavering and faithful servant and
David Dickinson and Kerrie Miller as false "friends." Regrettably,
several of the remaining minor roles were often performed either
unevenly or awkwardly!.Reset in mid-19th century New England, with fine
period costumes designed by Tracy Wall, the severely modest set, a
simple rustic wooden table with two benches, in front of an
unadorned ebony drapery, is effectively utilized throughout.
Unfortunately, Caron's overly stark facial make-up as a recluse, (his
features bizarrely divided, half natural, half painted black, with
white accents ) proved to be substantially distracting! This free (open
to all ) production is now playing through August 18. (My Grade: 3 1/2)

Singin' In The Rain
Review by Norm Gross

At the Waltham High School campus in Waltham, Mass. is the Reagle
Players' production of " Singin' In The Rain." Based on the legendary
1952 MGM movie musical, this version was adapted for the stage by
Betty Comden and Adolph Green from their original screenplay (with all
the wonderful music and lyrics by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed,
intact). The familiar storyline's focus is on Hollywood in the late
1920's, when " Talkies " came along and replaced " Silent " movies, making
a player's fine speaking voice of major importance. Don and Lina are
Monumental Studio's biggest box-office romantic duo. With the advent of
"Sound," however, while Don's splendid speaking and singing voice
affords him an easy transition to the new technology, Lina's squeaky
high-pitched Brooklyn-eese accent proves to be a major problem!
Luckily, Kathy, a young aspiring ingenue, is convinced to " dub " her
voice on the soundtrack in place of Lina's,
by Don and Cosmo (his
ex-vaudeville partner and current musical accompanist ). When love
blossoms between Don and Kathy, unexpected comical and eventually
troublesome, but later happy consequences result. As expected, the
musical numbers and Peggy Hickey's stirringly recreated choreography
proved to be the high points of the evening. Especially memorable were
Don's performance of the title-song (with a vivid on-stage rainstorm,
complete with him foot-splashing against a street lamp post );
Cosmo's vigorously athletic and quite spirited, " Make 'Em Laugh "
routine; " What's Wrong With Me?" a new musical number, added here
especially for the harried Lina; and the elaborate "Broadway Melody
Ballet " sequence, featuring Ms. Hickey dancing exotically with Don!!
While much of the plot now seems more labored and cumbersome, than it
did so long ago on the silver-screen--with much too much of Lina's
vocal problems being overworked here for easy laughter--there are
several on-stage, fi
lmed episodes (first "silent" and later with
"sound" featuring Lina's cackling voice ) that are grandly amusing! The
large 18 member cast was excellent with commendations for John MacInnis
as Don, Joshua Finkel as Cosmo, Christina Saffran Ashford as Kathy and
Heidi Johnson as Lina, all nicely supported by the fine, full orchestra
accompaniment conducted by Brent Ferguson. Now playing through August 10.
(My Grade: 4)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Underground Magic Theatre in Boston's Allston district is the
premiere of "The Great Gorgonzola and His New Assistant." A two-man
play, written designed and produced by Donato Colucci, who also stars
as Gorgonzola, with Mike Della Penna as his young and newly recruited
helper. Set in New York City on July 4, 1927, it's about an elderly, well-seasoned,
easily-vexed stage magician who hopes to train his inept new helper in
the "do's and dont's" of his long established magic act. During the course
of two hours, (plus a 15 minute intermission) the older
master illusionist performs an ongoing succession of captivating magic
tricks (which he modestly refers to as " miracles!" ). Almost all
of his capers are related to eggs(either raw or cooked).
Together with his apprentice, Gorgonzola changes a folded wad of paper
into an egg, coaxes a real raw egg through a narrow bottle neck
(without any breakage ), then turns a white egg red and
then to green. He even has a bag of eggs erupt into two actual,
flying white doves!! These, plus a host of similar illusions, framed by
a procession of comic pratfalls and self-absorbed monologues, all
underscored by an impresssive soundtrack of recorded Italian Grand
Opera, make up the main focus of this show. Throughout, the younger and
oldster continuously squabble. As the novice undergoes a rapid series of
costume changes, he's repeatedly berated by his mentor, which prompts
him to make a dire prediction about the old man, with surprising
results! Unfortunately, these unexpected consequences seemed somewhat
contrived and without my revealing too much, were quite unconvincing
and disappointing. This dubious resolution stands out, as the show's
only real misstep. This small, but entertaining presentation, is now
being enacted in a very confined performance space, with very limited
seating. Advance reservations (617-787 2991) are absolutely necessary!
Now playing through August 12. (My Grade: 4)

Review by Norm Gross

At the open-air Parkman Bandstand on Boston Common is the
Commonwealth Shakespeare Company's new production of " Henry V,"
Shakespeare's monumental drama about the ascendancy of Henry V, as
England's King, and his trial by fire, when war erupts between England
and France. Perceived as unqualified by the French, due to his wayward
behavior as a youth, Henry's authority and resolve are ultimately
proven at the Great Battle of Agincourt. There, the English outnumbered five
to one by the French, under Henry's confident command, go on to win
the war's final, decisive battle! Henry's terms for peace also
include his demand for the hand in marriage of the lovely young
French Princess Katherine. Strongly directed by Steven Maler, this
imposing production is enhanced by a fine atmospheric setting designed
by Susan Zeeman Rogers: a war-wracked tiled wall (alternately
suggesting various long-past regal and even contemporary World War II locations )
augmented by brightly colored scrims, banners, and assorted
props, such as ladders, hanging chandeliers, mounted barricades and
ornate draperies. The large 45 member cast was uniformly excellent with
high praise for Anthony Rapp in the demanding title role. His assured
and passionate portrayal of the young, and soon to be proven King...was
central to the play's over-all impact. Splendid support by Marya Lowry
as an alternatingly Elizabethan era and present-day " Chorus"; Jeremiah
Kissell as a grandly obstreperous and amusing English commoner; Jonno
Roberts as the crafty French Dauphin; and most especially Georgia Hatzis
as the beautiful, non-English-speaking French Princess. Her charming,
first meeting with the young, overly-anxious, victorious English King,
was a complete delight! High commendation also, for the memorably
effective battle scenes, directed by Robert Walsh. This superb, seventh
annual, free (open to all) summertime classic production, is now
playing through August 4. (My Grade:5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Turtle Lane Playhouse in Newton, Mass. is their new production,
"George M!, " a musical play recounting the life and times of Broadway's
grand old (singer, dancer, composer, author, and director) George M.
Cohan. A major success on Broadway in 1968, act one chronicles his early
days in Vaudeville, as a member with his father, mother and sister, of
his family's variety-act, "the Four Cohans," replete with all the
expected ups and downs! Act two continues on with his great triumphs on
Broadway as master playwright, songwriter, and performer, incuding all
of the legendary flag-waving songs associated with him, such as
"Yankee Doodle Dandy," " You're A Grand Old Flag!," and " Over There!,"
as well as such popular favorites as " Mary's A Grand Old Name," "
H-A-R-R-I-G-A-N," " Nellie Kelly," and " Give My Regards To Broadway,"
amongst many others, all adding up to the show's best moments! For
the most part, the large youthful and highly exhuberant 21 member cast
handled their vigorously coordinated tap-dancing and singing quite
satisfactorily, while Chris Mack, (although occasionally, a bit overly
strident) did quite well in the highly demanding title role. James
Tallach as the star's elderly father, and Whitney Cohen as George's
sensitive second wife, also afforded fine support. Unfortunately, however, the cast's
acting, overall, ranged from just adequate to stilted and awkward
rendering much of the story-line painfully slow-moving, and for the most
part, seemingly laborious and often listless! Regretably, the
generally limited lighting and scenic motifs designed by Joanne and
Paul Farwell (a series of simple, rear projection, blue-and-white,
linear drawings) did little to adequately suggest turn-of-the-century
New York. Fortunately, the small eight member orchestra, under Danny
Sullivan's able direction, provided very strong musical accompaniment,
throughout the evening. Now playing through August 11.
(My Grade: 2.5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is Company One's production of "Pan,"
their newly-fashioned contemporary and (as stated in their advanced,
promotional, printed announcements) "reimagined multi-media
adaptation of J.M. Barrie's timeless tale, where children can fly."
Unfortunately, if ever there was a land-locked presentation of
turn-of-the-century "Peter Pan," that never quite takes off, this is
it! This legendary story of the always young, male, pre-teen flying
leader of a band of motherless "Lost Boys," who soars to earth
seeking to recruit young Wendy, and her two juvenile brothers so that
they may all fly off with him, and his pixie assistant Tinker
Bell to his fantasy " Never-Never Land," high up in the sky. There he
hopes Wendy will act as "the Lost Boys" surrogate mother, while Peter,
with the help of lovely native Tiger Lilly and her fearless band of
American Indian Braves, fights off the nefarious Captain Hook and his
crew of marauding pirates! Regrettably, much of Barrie's classic story
has in this production been completely eliminated! Here, there's
no Tiger Lilly, no loudly whooping band of Indian Braves to assist
Peter, and most surprising of all, no flying by anyone! Even the
strangely costumed "Tinker Bell," (ineffectually portrayed by Chiara
Durrazzini) remains grounded throughout. Instead, there's only very
brief, fleeting and only occasional references to such contemporary
aspects as computerized children's games, lap-tops and cell-phones--
none to very much effect. Captain Hook (costumed as a pirate) and his
cohorts (all dressed in modern business suits ) are seen, almost
entirely, in a hapless awkwardly-staged, clumsy sounding, and poorly
lit succession of rear-screen video projections--jarringly
inconsistent with the rest of the play's action. Notwithstanding that
Ozzie Carnan is reasonably effective as a highly-energetic Peter Pan,
with spirited assistance from Medina Mahfuz as Wendy, the
large cast of "Lost Boys" spends much too much time aimlessly shouting
and cavorting without any perceived purpose. David LaCount's fine,
atmospheric set-a bright, wooded enclave, complete with a dominant,
running, water-filled, cental stream--remains as this show's strongest
component. Now playing through August 17. (My Grade: 1)

Review by Norm Gross

On the Waltham High School Campus in Waltham, Mass. is the Reagle
Players' production of " Annie Get Your Gun," the highly successful
musical, with book by Herbert and Dorothy Fields and music and
lyrics by Irving Berlin, which premiered on Broadway back in 1946. It
was later (in 1950) released as a major Hollywood motion picture,
again to great popular acclaim! Featuring one of Berlin's greatest
musical scores, including such universal favorites (many were megahits
in the early 50's ) such as, " Doin' What Comes Naturally," " The Girl
That I Marry," " Anything You Can Do," " They Say It's Wonderful," and
the entertainment industry's legendary anthem," There's No Business Like
Show Business!" (Ethel Merman, can you hear me?). Set in the late 19th
century, the slight, pre-feminist plot-line concerns the rivalry between
Annie Oakley and Frank Butler, both sharp-shooters performing in "Buffalo
Bill's Touring Wild West Show." Romantically attracted, " Macho-Man " Butler's inflated ego
cannot withstand the superior marksmanship of his female competitor
Annie. Their resulting break-up is finally resolved, in act two, when
Annie deliberately loses a shooting-match to Frank, thereby assuring his
masculine "superiority." Well directed by Robert J. Eagle and
sumptuously staged with a grandly resplendant variety of sets supervised
by Peter Doucette, with equally colorful costumes by Marilynn A. Wick,
the production is very well served by the large, youthful and highly
enthusiastic 27 member cast! Andrea McArdle (of "Annie" fame) is first rate
in the title role (with a grand singing voice, commanding stage presence, and is quite
lovely to look at). She's ably complemented by Michael Gerhart as
Butler and R. Glen Michell as Buffalo Bill, with splendidly assured
musical accompaniment provided by the large orchestra conducted by
Jeffrey P, Leonard. Although the show (as originally conceived) by
today's standards, is somewhat overlong--nearly three hours performing
time--(some judicious editing, using many less reprised moments, would be beneficial)
overall, it still remains quite tuneful and engaging! Now playing through July 20. (My Grade: 4)


Review by Norm Gross

On the banks of Boston's Charles River, in Christian Herter Park, is
open-air Publick Theatre's production of Shakespeare's " As You Like
It." Set primarily in the Forest of Arden, this legendary comedy of
disguised and mismatched romantics, revolves around Rosalind, daughter
of the true and unjustly deposed ruler of a French province. Under
threat of death by her uncle (the despot who overthrew her father),
and masquerading as a man, she hides out in the nearby woods, with her
best friend and cousin Celia. Through a series of highly convoluted
confrontations and misunderstandings, love blossoms between Rosalind and
Orlando (also banished by her father's wicked brother ) with grandly
amusing and ultimately happy consequences! The large sixteen member cast
is uniformly excellent with compelling performances by Susanne Nitter as
Rosalind, Sarah Newhouse as Celia, and Derek Stone Nelson as Orlando,
with fine support from Steven Barkhimer as both the despotic kinsman and
especially as a loftily loquacious, deposed courtier, and William Church
as a sublimely witty jester! Assuredly directed by Diego Arciniegas,
with a striking, angular, multi- levelled set, designed by Janie E.
Howland: a series of wide, dark, tilted, and sloping wooden planks,
placed in an extensive variety of opposing positions, flanked by a
metallic staircase ascending to a sucession of elevated platforms, all
nicely accomodating the play's many location changes. Special praise is
also due to Charles Parker and Steven Barkhimer for their many
appropriate and delightful, composed and performed, musical interludes!
I might also add, however, that seeing one of the cast ( costumed as a
Medieval Shepherd ), briefly and unfortunately, smoking a cigarette,
( in full view of the audience ) was genuinely disconcerting! Now
playing through July 28. (My Grade: 4.5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Colonial Theatre is the National Touring production of
Michael Frayn's multi-award winning drama "Copenhagen." Based on a
major historical event--shrouded in mystery-- the 1941 visit in then
occupied Denmark, between two renowned physicists Werner Heisenberg (
head of the Nazi's Atomic Energy Research Division ) and his mentor:
Niels Bohr ( Danish, half-Jewish, and living under Nazi surveillance ).
Beginning as their ghosts, together with Bohr's wife Margrethe, they
try to understand the full meaning of their lives, and the decisions
they made, by re-examining their meeting from a myriad of highly
different perspectives, and re-enacting many of the subsequent events
and their aftermaths. Their wide-ranging observations go well beyond
nuclear theory into explosively emotional areas such as the death of a
child, the fragility of their long friendship, and the ways "the
Uncertainty Principle " can refer not only to Physics, but also to the
entire spectrum of human behavior! Such questions as, "Was Heisenberg's
inability to realize the atomic bomb for the Nazis ultimately more
beneficial than Bohr's efforts at Los Alamos ( he had later escaped to
America ), which did lead, finally, to Hiroshima and Nagasaki?" Staged
on a bare, wood-like, circular arena, flanked by several raised rows,
inhabited by 37 members of the audience, who sit as witnesses to the
play's progress, just like medical observers at a surgical operation!
The total effect is not only stirring and involving but also stunningly
provocative! Extremely well acted by Len Cariou as Bohr, Hank Stratton
as Heisenberg, and Mariette Hartley as Margrethe; all are surely guided
by Michael Blakemore's solidly focused direction! Whether well-educated
in Physics, or not, the rewards generated from the questions and ideas
( with no real answers ), raised by this powerful drama, should place this
masterful play on your " must-see " list! Now playing through May 19.
(My Grade : 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the New Repertory Theatre in Newton, Mass. is their new production of
"The Real Thing," Tom Stoppard's comic view of marriage, adultery and
the various tests by which each partner must prove their fidelity. A
major success in London and New York in 1984, it's set in London in the
early 80's, and begins with the interaction of two married couples.
Henry, a well-known playwright and his actress wife Charlotte, and Max,
also an actor, and his actress wife Annie. Initially, we see Max and
Charlotte heavily involved in an adulterous affair, which we quickly
discover to be a scene from Henry's latest play. We then learn, as real
life mirrors art, that a long-standing clandestine relationship really
does exist between the playwright and Max's wife, Annie! As the truth is
eventually revealed to everyone, divorce frees Henry and Annie, who then
unite as man and wife. All then, seems okay, until sometime later,
Annie becomes the champion of a new, young, radical, fledgeling
playwright! Henry's past indiscretion then soon begins to raise doubts,
in his mind, about his wife's involvement with her youthful protege!
Notwithstanding Annie's repeated declarations of her faithfulness, it's
not until Henry begins to vigorously search within himself for the real
measure of his own inadequacies and frailties, that he comes to
appreciate the true meaning of love and loyalty! Naturally, all of this
is explored with Stoppard's fine flair for stimulating dialogue and
grandly stylish intellectual reflection. Well played by the fine,
seven-member cast, with strong portrayals by Neil Stewart as Henry,
Debra Wise as Annie, and Jake Suffian ( in his brief apparance ) as the
novice and rebellious young writer, under Rick Lombardo's assured
direction. Special notice also for Janie E. Howland's highly effective
revolving, turntable-like set, which quickly accomodated the play's
various time and place changes. Now playing through June 2.
(My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the SpeakEasy Stage Company's
production of "Passion," a musical drama with Book by James
Lapine and Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. This Tony and Grammy
award-winning presentation was first staged on Broadway in 1994, and is
based on the 1981 Italian motion picture "Passione d'Amore." Set in
the late 19th century in a remote Italian village, it concerns Giorgio,
a handsome young army officer, stationed at a nearby military
outpost. Although romantically involved with a married woman in Milan,
he is directed by his superior to regularly visit Fosca,
the ailing, female cousin of his commanding officer, who lives nearby.
Unattractive,wretched, ill, bitter about her former deceitful spouse,
and now desperately lonely, her need for Giorgio (who, initially, can
barely stand the sight of her) quickly develops into an insatiable
obsession! As their bizarre relationship steadily grows, each day she
progrssively becomes more insistent, demanding and obdurate, with
startling consequences for Giorgo! Strongly directed by Paul Daigneault,
the large, first rate, fourteen-member cast is ardently centered by
David Foley as Giorgio, Leigh Barrett as Fosca, and Julie Jirousek as
Giorgio's married sweetheart, all solid, in both acting and singing
their demanding roles! Commendaton also for Susan Zeeman Rogers'
effective set (moveable, rural-style, ochre-like, concrete-type walls
and stairway), and the fine, spirited , ensemble musical accompaniment
conducted by Paul S. Katz. Performed for two hours, wihout an
intermission, and nearly operatic in its scope, featuring a virtually
seamless musical score, this compelling production resonates long after
the final bows have been taken! Now playing through May 18.
(My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wang Theatre, the Boston Ballet presents the
Northeastern-U.S. premiere of "Madame Butterfly." Based on
Puccini's celebrated opera (with music adapted by John Lanchbery ) and
choreography and direction by the Australian Ballet's Stanton Welch.
Set in turn-of-the-century Japan, this legendary tale centers on Cio-Cio
San (Madame Butterfly), a beautiful young Geisha and her ill-fated
marriage to Lieutenant Pinkerton, a visiting American Naval Officer.
Separated for several years, remaining in Japan, with their small son,
she devotedly believes in Pinkerton's fidelity and in his ultimate
return to her. When he finally does come back, it's with Kate (his
American wife), planning to adopt his and Butterfly's child, with
tragic consequences. Exquisitely danced by Adriana Suarez and Simon Ball
as Butterfly and Pinkerton with admirable support from Viktor Plotnikov
as their much concerned U.S. Consul and Jennifer Gelfand as Butterfly's
ever-dedicated servant. Featuring a captivating mingling of delicate
Geisha movement and modern choreography, with a passionate and
intricately dazzling pas-de-deux by the tragic intercultural lovers, as
a most memorable wedding night finale to act one! Much praise also for
Peter Farmer's delicate and lovely settings and quite elegant Japanese
and American costumes. A genuinely memorable production, on all counts!
Now playing through May 19. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Playwrights' Theatre is the Nora Theatre Company's
production of " The Unexpected Man," by Yasmina Reza. Best known for her
1998 Olivier and Tony Award-winning play, "Art," this new work has also
been well received in its recent London and New York engagements.
Travelling by train, from Paris to Frankfurt, two middle-aged strangers
share the same compartment. He is a well-known, self-absorbed writer,
and she, unbeknownst to him, is reading his latest novel ("The Unexpected
Man" ), and is quite aware of who he is! As their train
speeds towards its destination, their silent thoughts are spoken directly
to the audience, as a succession of evolving monologues. The novelist,
cynical, neurotic and self-centered, ruminates about his health (he's
quite concerned about laxatives ); his daughter, who's about to marry
an older man; and his future as a writer, amongst other topics. The woman, a
well-dressed widow, and the mother of two grown children,
admires her co-rider's writing and wonders if she dares to reveal her
awareness to him. As their journey proceeds (performed for seventy
minutes without an intermission ) their self-centered musings slowly
begin to focus on each other, as she finally identifies herself to him,
by displaying and reading his novel, with touching and surprising
consequences. Well directed by Daniel Gidron with a fine, simple
setting, composed of two solid, industial-type stuffed chairs, facing
each other, stationed against a metal, railway-style, window, designed
by Brynna Bloomfield. It's very well acted by Steve McConnell as the
novelist and Nancy E. Carroll as his fellow passenger. This is an
insightfully written character study exploring various aspects of
isolation and loneliness, and the need for and rewards from,
person-to-person communication. Now playing through May 19.
(My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

In the Leverett Old Library Theatre at Harvard University in Cambridge,
Mass. is the Industrial Theatre's production (a world premiere) of
" Painted Alice," by William Donnelly. Loosely patterned after Lewis
Carroll, Donnelly's contemporary adult American " Alice," is an artist,
who's been commissioned and pre-paid, by an overbearing, wealthy
patroness, to complete a full-scale painting for her ("with lots of
yellow in it".) Unfortunately, this new Alice is suffering from a major
creative block, and even the encouragement of her girlfriend/roommate,
and the syrupy voice of a constantly playing motivational audio-tape
recording, don't seem to be of any help. As Alice's musings are revealed
to us by a series of black-and white, rear screen motion-picture
projections onto the large framed canvas that dominates her artist's
studio, her atelier is suddenly transformed into a mysterious
fantasy-world, much like Carroll's legendary " Wonderland!" In this
magical realm, Alice encounters a succession of bizarre characters. They
range from a support-group, composed of absurdly perplexed artists,
huddled together in a cocktail-lounge, suggesting a modern-take on the
original " Mad Hatter's Tea Party," to a pompous, caterpillar-like
art critic, saddled in a large easy chair, steadily puffing-away at a
super-long cigarette holder, and a contentious duo of
"Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum-like " artists offering the play's heroine a
spate of nonsensical advice, amongst many other similarly-based types.
All of this culminating with a court-room trial, presided over by a
foolish judge and a jury made up of cardboard figurines representing
everything from "The Mona Lisa " to " The Scream". Naturally, when
Alice finally returns to her " real " world, she's able to adequately
make positive decisions about her goals and her artwork. Well played by Betsy
Roe as Alice with fine support from Heather McNamara ( who's also the play's
director ). James Henderson and Irene Daly are also effective as a wide
variety of comically
preposterous characters! Although somewhat weak and meandering in
initially establishing the full-measure of Alice's malaise, once she
finally enters the play's fanciful sphere, the author's amusing dialogue
and chacterizations, coupled with Ron DeMarco's many simple but often
quite clever stage-props whimsically and positvely enliven the rest of
the performance! Now playing through May 11. (My Grade: 4)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Market Theater in Cambridge, Mass. is the North American premiere
of " Family Stories " by Serbian playwright Biljana Srbljanovic. Set during
the recent civil war, the play is set
in Belgrade, in a bombed-out, trash-strewn byway, where a group of
"children" (all portrayed by adults) play out a succession of
vignettes depicting everyday Serbian family-life amidst the ravages of
the ongoing war. These childish " games," progressively demonstrate
scene-by-scene, the conflict's devastating, demoralizing and
dehumanizing impact on the average citizen, and most especially, on the
children! In one episode, a war-torn young girl, shell-shocked and
unable to speak, is promptly tied to a leash and treated like a "dog"
by the rest of the" family." In another, the " father "
assaults his " wife," over the little money the "family" has and
then scuffles with their "dog," stealing its bone, and
later choking to death! Yet another centers on the destruction of the
family's only radio, (their only link to the outer world ) as a
defensive response to news of civil disorder in the main city square.
Each desperate situation ends in death, most often to the "parents," at
the hands of the "children," by gunfire, incineration, strangling,
and/or various other forms of mayhem! Strongly directed by Annie Dorsen,
and extremely well acted by Brandon Miller as the "father," Danielle
Skraastad as the "mother," Corey Behnke as their "son," and Emma
Bowers, who is especially effective, as the mute child, leashed as a
"dog." This powerful, gripping and totally compelling exploration of the
horror and despair of war, is now playing through May 19. (My Grade: 5)

Hansel and Gretel
Opera Review by Norm Gross

At Blackman Auditorium on the campus of Northeastern University in
Boston is the New England Conservatory Opera Theater's new production
of Humperdinck's masterful " Hansel and Gretel." Based on Grimm's
legendary fairytale and first produced in Germany in 1893, it is here sung in
contemporary English. Of course, all of the charming
classic elements are also there on stage. Two young children( the
Opera's titled brother and sister ) lost in the forest, are soothed to
sleep by " the Sandman," and are protected throughout the dark night by
a group of kindly guardian angels! Awakened at dawn by "the Dew Man,"
they soon come upon a peppermint candy cottage, surrounded by a fence
constructed of boy and girl shaped gingerbread cookies. They also
quickly discover, to their dismay, that it's the home of a malevolent
witch, whose specialty is baking captured children and then turning them
magically into sweet cookies to eat! Naturally, Hansel and Gretel are
able to foil the evil enchantress' plans and restore all of the
bewitched gingerbread cookie-children back to their human forms!
Delightfully performed by a fine cast of splendid singers, with solid
praise for Mezzo-Soprano Millinee McCurdy as Hansel; Soprano Laura
Stuart as Gretel; Sopranos Carrie Cheron and Ann Carolyn Bird as "the
Sandman," and "the Dew Man"; Tenor Mark Craig as "the Witch," and
most definitely, the 26 member N.E.C. Children's Chorus, representing
the joyfully restored Gingerbread cihildren! Commendations also for
Katherine Lovell's many bright and effective sets, especially her
colorful and super-sweet candy cottage design and most certainly the
large, full and quite competent student orchestra, authoritatively and
deftly conducted by Beatrice Affron. This is a genuinely exhilarating
treat for the entire family, now playing through April 21. (My Grade: 5)

FAUST 2002
Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Center for the Arts is the Pilgrim Theatre's new production
0f " Faust 2002," a collective presentation by the company's five-member
cast, inspired by Goethe, Marlowe, Stein, Byron and assorted other
historical, literary, and/or theatrical luminaries, with primary
emphasis derived from Goethe and Marlowe. Performed in the B.C.A.'s vast
Cyclorama's Rotunda, this legendary story of how Dr. Faust's quest for
knowledge and power leads him to sell his soul to Mephistopheles
(the Devil ) with despair and frustration as the ultimate consequence,
is here given a fascinating and highly-imaginative focus. His story is
played out on two sets of high-rise rolling scaffoldings, bathed in a
blanket of colorfully eerie changing lights, facing two huge and tall
hanging canvas sheets (to the actor's right and left) against which
shadow designs depicting animals or other assorted confrontational
types are projected. The actors also employ a wide-ranging mixture of
live vocal and recorded musical styles, encompassing everything from
traditional European folk music, requiems and symphonic excerpts to
American blues, gospel, bluegrass and modern jazz. Faust is initially
and intensely played by Susan Thompson and later by Kermit Dunkelberg,
when the troubled physician begins to lust after an innocent young
maiden. Court Dorsey is quite impressive both as a strikingly visceral,
piano-playing singer or as the ever malevolently scheming Satan.
Although strongly directed by Kim Mancuso, with absorbing and highly
creative graphic design by Nic Ularu and (as already mentioned )
grandly effective lighting by Kathy Couch, the production's title,
emphasizing, as it does, the 21st century, suggests that much more
should have been considered by the company to update this classic tale,
other than just the introduction of such standard elements as mobile
telephones and skaters on roller-blades! Now playing through April 27.
(My Grade: 3.75)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Colonial Theatre is the National Touring Production of " The
Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." This Tony award-winning show, which
made its Broadway debut in 1978, was also released as a major motion
picture in 1982. Featuring book (based on actual events) by Larry L.
King and Peter Masterson with music and lyrics by Carol Hall, it stars
Hollywood's ever extraordinary Ann-Margret, as Miss Mona, the sultry
and warm-hearted " Madame," who manages her legendary brothel, in rural
Texas, ( founded in 1844, and known as " The Chicken Ranch " ), as a
kind of benevolent community center! Operated with the full cooperation
of the local Sheriff ( her former lover ), humorously portrayed by Gary
Sandy--all is well, until Rob Donohoe as Melvin Thorpe, a
self-centered, Houston TV-talk show crusader, decides to focus
State-wide attention, to close down this notorious den of iniquity! The
Sheriff's vain attempts to help Mona, and the quite anxious politicians:
Ed Dixon as their fatuous Governor and Matt Landers as their sleezy
Senator, who rush to quell this "crisis," all add up to an evening of
tuneful, simplistic, sometimes sentimental and mostly well-intentioned,
but raunchy good fun! Thommie Walsh shines as Director and
Choreographer, especially with a show-stopping dance number
(co-created, for the show's original debut, with Tommy Tune ) centered on
the local football team's high-stepping preparations for " a night out "
at The Chicken Ranch! The lively, Country-Western tinged score includes
"Texas has a Whorehouse in it," and " Hard Candy Christmas " as two of
this entertaining show's best songs. Now playing through April 28. (My Grade:

Review by Norm Gross

At Wheelock Family Theatre on the campus of Wheelock College in Boston
is their production of " The Trumpet of the Swan," by Joseph Robinette,
based on the celebrated book by E.B.White. Set in a marshy pond in
Canada, the plot centers on Louis, a mute swan, and his adventures, far
and wide, to try to offset (in the larger, outer world ) his inability
to communicate. Because he was unable to trumpet, his family tried to
help by supplying him, first with some chalk and a slate-board, and
later by getting him a brass trumpet! Learning of the sacrifices his
father has made to provide him with the musical instrument, Louis
actually " flies " off ( with the help of a high-suspended, attached,
mechanized cable ) , soaring up above the stage, to the gleeful
appreciation of the many adults and children in attendance! As he
journeys, he finds many jobs and is able to earn enough money to repay
his father and, at the same time, even meet and fall in love with a
speechless and (like himself) a high-flying female swan! Louis is
nicely played by young, teenage Elbert Joseph, a deaf actor and his
silent, swan-sweetheart ( also, actually deaf ) tenderly
portrayed by Baranda Johnson. Their on-stage communication is related in
American sign language, and is spoken by the play's narrators, Douglas
Carter and Haylee Shrimpton. Much praise also for the large and
enthusiastic juvenile cast and for James P. Byrne's spirited direction
and lush and colorful wilderness setting, and most definitely for this
production's highly engaging, challenging and provocative intentions!
Now playing through May 5. (My Grade: 5 )

Review by Norm Gross

At the Lyric West Theate on the campus of MassBay Community College in
Wellesley, Massv is their new production of " Frankie and Johnny in the
Clair de Lune," by Terrence McNally. A solid success in 1987 on
Broadway, it was equally successful as a major motion picture when
released in 1991. Set in a small one-room Manhattan apartment, this
affecting two person play centers on two middle-aged acquaintances:
Frankie, a world-weary waitress, and Johnny, a short-order cook, who
both work together at the same restaurant, as they spend one intimate
night together in Frankie's apartment. She feels battered both
emotionally and physically by stormy and abusive past relationships,
while he, a divorced ex-con with only a limited and tenuous
connection with his children, yearns for a really, long-lasting
attachment! As they spend the evening recounting their past experiences,
their differences become increasingly evident. Frankie, hurt so often by
other men, now fears rejection and is overly defensive, while Johnny,
convinced that he's in love with Frankie, ardently persists in believing
that their one-night stand is truly the beginning of a genuine,
full-fledged romance! As their evening togeher wears on, soft classical
music (DeBussy's " Clair de Lune ") emanating from the small
radio next to their bed, underscores Johhny's fervor and gradually
begins to gently ease Frankie's apprehensions. Strongly performed by
Maureen Keiller as Frankie and Doug Marsden as Johnny, under Fran
Weinberg's sensitive direction, this is a tender, well written and
effectively portrayed exploration of loneliness and doubt and the
restoring power of hope. Now playing through April 21. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Center for the Arts is the Sugan Theatre Company's
production (a world premiere) of " Molly Maguire" by Jon Lipsky. Set
in Pennsylvania's coal mining region in the late 1870's, the plot centers
on the Kellys: Jimmy, a hard-pressed miner, anxious to improve his
brutal working conditions; and Maura, his understanding and dedicated
wife. Poorly paid and suffering under horrendous working conditions,
Jimmy, like the many other illiterate Irish immigrant workers, is
supposedly a member of a secret radical society called "the
Molly Maguires" Although, historically never fully authenticated, this
clandestine organization sought to thwart the mine owners and thereby
to improve the miners' plight, by violent means! The result, of the
owners' response, was the defeat of the Maguires and the largest mass
execution in U.S. history-- 20 miners hung on circumstantial evidence.
Deceived by a friend ( actually a Company spy ),
Jimmy is accused and imprisoned as a conspirator, and awaits his
execution, as his wife struggles to find some way to save him! She's
then torn between the exhortations of Jack Kehoe, a Maguire chieftain,
and the nefarious machinations of the Company's President Franklin
Gowen-- with chilling consequences! Well acted by Derry Woodhouse as
Jimmy, and most especially by Jennie Israel as Maura, they received
solid assistance from the fine supporting cast, headed by Billy Meleady
as Kehoe and Paul Patrick Murphy as Gowen.Unfortunately, the slow moving
and mainly historical and expository first act, takes much too long
before the high drama of act two finally erupts. Intensely directed by
Carmel O'Reilly, with a fine, atmospheric and rustic mining set devised
by J. Michael Griggs, this production is also greatly enhanced by the
deeply soulful Irish folk melodies sung ( a capella ), throughout the
drama, by members of the cast. Now playing through April 20.
(My Grade: 3. 3/4)

Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme
Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wilbur Theatre is the Huntington Company's production of "
Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme " by Frank
McGuinness. A fictional examination of the hopelessly devastated 36th
Ulster Division in World War I, as mirrored by eight Northern Irish
volunteer soldiers preparing for, and dying, in the Battle of the Somme
(a river in France acting as a front separating the British and French
forces from the German military ). This legendary encounter was one of
the bloodiest and most unsuccessful Allied offensives during 1916, with
nearly 60,000 injured and 20,000 dead. The futility of war is
exemplified by the interaction of this cross-section of doomed young
Irishmen; first as they meet at an Army training camp in 1915, and later
as they prepare to go off to their deaths in this horrific
confrontation! The play's focus is on Kenneth Pyper, the group's only
survivor. Seen, initially, in a brief prologue at the age of 80
(haunted by the memories of his long dead comrades ), we then see him at
age 20, as a member of this same Ulster Division. Upperclass, wealthy,
and disillusioned he seeks meaning and purpose through death on the
battlefield!.His fellow volunteers: a baker, a preacher, a blacksmith
and a weaver, amongst others, are motivated by a variety of beliefs
ranging from religion, patriotism and loyalty to the Monarchy to
declarations of honor, courage and duty, which all melt away as the
prospects of their deaths in combat approaches. Extremely well acted by
Justin Theroux as the younger and Geddeth Smith as the elder Pyper, with
solid support from the fine all male cast, under Nicholas Martin's
assured direction. Commendation also for the splendidly adaptable curved
ramp setting by Alexander Dodge, which served well as barracks, church
and even battlefield! This is a well-written, provocative and highly
absorbing exploration of a host of dissimilar personalities, facing the
despair of war, and the great issues of life and death! Now playing
through May 5. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Colonial Theatre is the National Touring Company's
production of " Guys and Dolls." This quintessential "fifties" musical
comedy made its Broadway debut November 24, 1950 and has been performed
( professionally and non-professionally ) practically ever since. Set in
Manhattan's " Times Square," it's based on Damon Runyon's
legendary tales about New York City's high rolling gamblers and their
cronies. The play centers on Nathan Detroit, the "Big Apple's"
number-one ' hot-shot,' his long expecting, endlessly-patient, forever
fiancee Adelaid; and suave and handsome, gambling king-pin Sky
Masterson. When he accepts a bet from Nathan daring him into luring the
young, lovely and highly religious female leader of "The Save a Soul"
Mission to run off to ( pre-Castro ) Cuba wih him for one decadent
free-wheeling evening, the plot bubbles over with a succession of
engaging twists and turns! Featuring Jo Swerling's and Abe Burrows'
thoroughly entertaining book and most especially Frank Loesser's
wonderful music and clever lyrics. The show really sparkles with such
memorable songs as "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," and "Luck, Be
a Lady!" The role of Nathan has also been significantly expanded
choreographichly here, for Maurice Hines, with quite a bit of vivid and
striking dancing by him! Brian and Diane Sutherland ( husband and wife,
in reality ) do well, both with fine strong voices as Sky and his
Missionary sweetheart. Although lovely to look at, and in fine voice,
too, unfortunately Alexandra Foucard was much too labored and
excessively affected as Adelaid...seriously interfering with the role's
effectiveness! While the large cast of Broadway " sharpies " and
night club chorinnes were also mostly, in fine form, and Norbert Kolb's
neon-style settings were reasonably valid, regrettably, the production's
heavily amplified sound system resulted in a persistent and overly
shrill and annoying resonance throughout!! Now playing through April 14.
My Grade ( 0-5 ): 3 1/2

Review by Norm Gross

At the Hasty Pudding Theatre in Cambridge, Mass. is the American
Repertory Theatre's production of " Absolution," a new play by Robert
William Sherwood. Performed for ninety minutes without an intermission, the
drama is set in Toronto and Vancouver, Canada, and concerns three former
friends, David, Gordon and Peter. They haven't seen each other since their
high school days. At that time, while this threesome
was engaged in a drunken sexual melee, the young female, who was the
lustful focus of their frenzy, was killed and her murder, never
revealed! Now, 15 years later, these three reconvene under a threat of
disclosure. David, a loner and former teacher of the classics, now a
disillusioned newpaper proofreader, has been summoned to Toronto by
Gordon, a married and highly successful businessman. Their former buddy
Peter, also married, a farmer, and now devoutly religious, is overcome
with guilt and seeks absolution by revealing their hidden crime. As
Gordon, with the assumed help of David, tries feverishly to dissuade
Peter from his mission, he discovers that David, skeptical, ever
questioning, and consumed by far ranging doubts, may now prove to be an
even greater obstacle to his plan! Extremely well acted by the small five
member cast: Jordan Lage as Gordon; Benjamin Evett as Peter; and most
especially Brennan Brown as David, are totally compelling. Under Scott
Zigler's intense direction, this stirring existentialist exploration of
a dark and malignant past, its long-standing and festering aftermath and
its disquieting and uncertain outcome resonates long after the final
bow! Now playing through April 14. (My Grade: 5)

Opera Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Shubert Theatre is the Boston Lyric Opera's production of
Donizetti's classic Opera Buffa, " Don Pasquale." This particular
production, under the aegis of Leon Major (the company's Artistic
Director) was first presented in 1996 at the Gimmerglass Opera in
Cooperstown, N.Y., and then later by the N.Y. City Opera in Manhattan.
The comic plot centers on Don Pasquale (a foolish, wealthy and quite
elderly bachelor) and his efforts to derail the marriage plans of his
young nephew and heir Ernesto, to the beautiful Norina. With the help
of the youthful lovers' friend Dr. Malatesta, Norina (posing as
Malatesta's imaginary and shrewishly demanding sister Sofronia ) tricks
Pasquale into " marrying " her, (actually, a complete hoax ) with
highly amusing consequences. Her laughable charade causes a series of
diverting twists and turns whereby the old gentleman realizes that he's
been deceived and finally consents to the wedding of the young
sweethearts! Delightfully enacted and grandly sung by the fine cast;
high praise must go to basso Kevin Glavin in the title role, baritone
Jeff Mattsey as Malatesta; tenor Charles Castronovo as Ernesto, and
most definitely to soprano Sari Gruber as Norina/ Sofronia. All are in
fine voice and style, either in their vivid duets or their sonorous and
captivating solos! Allen Moyers' fine period settings adapt readily from
the drawing room and outer chamber to exterior garden and the production is
majestically supported by the splendid orchestral accompaniment
conducted by Stephen Lord ( now celebrating his 10th anniversary with
this company ). This frothy, well sung and well staged presentation is
now playing through April 9. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Center for the Arts is the Zeitgeist Stage Company's
production of "In the Blood," a new play by Suzan-Lori Parks, inspired
by Hawthorne's classic " The Scarlet Letter." Critically hailed when
first staged in New York City in 1999, it subsequently was nominated for
the Pulitzer Prize at that time, and this presentation marks its local
premiere. Like "Hester Prynne," ( Hawthorne's original heroine)
the contemporary " Hester, La Negrita," African-American, unmarried,
urban and homeless, living under a bridge, her illiteracy and lack of
skills (she is able to only write the letter "A" ) act as ongoing
impediments to her adequately feeding, clothing and sheltering her
family. Ardently devoted to her children, she is perpetually deluded,
mislead and/or victimized by society. Her doctor, social worker,
minister and the best of her many ex-boyfriends (supposedly honorable pillars
of strength ) ultimately reveal themselves
as weak and self-centered, ready to decry, exploit and/or abandon her!
Passionately performed by Ramona Alexander as Hester, with solid backing
from the small, five member cast who vividly portray a wide diversity
of roles, ranging from her children to a variety of hypocritical
do-gooders! Special notice must also go to Naeemah White-Peppers' strong
performance as both Hester's young daughter and as her lustful
hooker-friend. Played without an intermission, at a bit more than two
hours, the play is somewhat overlong, and might benefit from some
judicious editing. Well directed by David J. Miller, this is a
disturbing, probing and totally compelling examination of our neediest
members and society's moralistically callous and hollow response to them!
Now playing through April 6. (My Grade: 4)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wang Theatre is the new National Touring Company
presentation of "Aida." Based on the classic opera, with new music by
Elton John, lyrics by Tim Rice and book by Linda Woolverton, Robert
Falls and David Henry Hwang, it represents a total departure both
musically and dramatically from Verdi's legendary masterpiece! As in the
original, the plot remains focused as war rages between Egypt and
Nubia, on Aida, the captive ( but unsuspected ) Nubian Princess;
Amneris, the Egyptian Pharaoh's daughter and Radames, Egypt's main
military Commander. Notwithstanding that he's betrothed to Amneris,
Radames falls deeply in love with Aida, ( commited as
Amneris' slave handmaiden ), and their covert romance creates a dilemma
in which Aida must choose between her love for Radames or her duty to
her country, with a highly tragic outcome. Although the show's soft-rock
musical score is quite serviceable, overall it certainly is not this
celebrated duo's most memorable...however, several numbers do really
resonate, thanks either to their spectacular staging or their stirring
delivery! Paulette Ivory brings a striking presence to the title role,
with her grand and commanding singing voice and passionate and regal
bearing, with fine vocal support from Jeremy Kushnier as Radames. Their
many duets, especially " Written in the Stars," are certainly
compelling. Kelli Fournier, as the vain and vogue-obsessed Amneris,
stops the show with her grandly amusing rendition of ' My Strongest
Suit," resplendantly staged as a highly colorful, over-the-top fashion
show complete with outlandish costumes and comically bizarre hats!
Deftly directed by Robert Falls, the most noteworthy contributions to
this eye-popping extravaganza are Bob Crowley's brilliantly colorful
and most innovative sets and costumes. Coupled with Natasha Katz's
highly imaginative lighting, all of this certainly deserving of the
capacity audience's resounding response! Now playing through April 14.
(My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the New Repertory Theatre in Newton, Mass. is their production, a New
England premiere, (in cooperation with the Orpheum in Foxborough, MA) of " A
Lesson Before Dying," by Romulus Linney. Based on the similarly
titled, award-winning novel by Ernest J. Gaines, it was a major
theatrical success Off-Broadway and was also subsequently adapted as a
well-received television motion picture for HBO. Set in 1948 in rural
Louisiana, the plot centers on Grant (an African-American fourth-grade
public school teacher ) and Jefferson, a former student of his, now
nearing maturity. Innocent, but found guilty of murder, ( based on
hasty and ill-considered circumstantial evidence by an all-white jury
), Jefferson, incarcerated, resignedly now awaits his execution.
Described at his trial by his defense attorney as an animal, and
denounced as inferior, he's come to submissively await and accept his
death! Emma, his elderly and loving Godmother, has implored Grant to
counsel Jefferson, on " standing tall," and dying with dignity. How
Grant, himself frustrated and disillusioned, is then able, via a series
of one-on-one meetings with Jefferson, to not only help Jefferson rise
from his angry and beaten fatalism to a higher sense of his own
self-worth, but also how, by so doing, Grant, in his own right, is
similarly able to rekindle his own sense of purpose and responsibility
to his at this stirring drama's core! Strongly and
sensitively directed by Lois Roach, the fine small seven member cast is
uniformly excellent with well etched and highly compelling performances
by Malcolm Foster Smith as Grant, Malik B. El-Amin as Jefferson and
Barbara Meek as Emma. Richard Chambers' simple, wooden, framed setting,
backed by several large and impressive ebony African sculptures, acts
as a provocative surrounding for this trenchant and poignant study of
courage and redemption! Now playing through April 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 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," better known as "Marat/Sade."
Written by Peter Weiss, it caused a sensation in Europe and this
country, when first staged in 1964, and later when it was
produced as a major motion picture in 1967. A compelling union of the
Brechtian approach of interweaving dialogue and verse with song, played
against elements of " Grand Guignol," it's set in the afore-mentioned insane
asylum in 1808, where the notorious Marquis de Sade was imprisoned for
his writings championing cruelty and perversity as the primary sources
of pleasure! Enlisting the institution's patients as actors, de Sade
staged his own interpretation of the death in 1793 of Marat, a
prominent radical exponent of the French Revolution, who was murdered by
Charlotte Corday, a member of a more moderate rival faction. As Marat,
suffering from a formidable skin disease, languishes on stage in a
bathtub throughout the play; de Sade, while supervising his
inmate-actors , engages him in an on-going, wide ranging and ultimately
inconclusive evaluation of the individual and the state, as mirrored by
personal freedom versus collective authority. Brilliantly directed by
Janos Szasz, with a grim, cage-like set by Ricardo Hernandez, and
provocative music by Richard Peaslee. The large cast is superb on all
counts, with gripping performances by Thomas Derrah as de Sade, Will
LeBow as Marat, Alvin Epstein as a heraldic, M.C., Stephanie
Roth-Haberle as Corday, Karen MacDonald as Marat's aide, and Benjamin
Evett as a violent inmate! A memorably visceral, totally challenging,
and (for the actors) physically demanding production, charged by
a startling and disputatious finale! Now playing through March 17.
(My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Boston Playwrights' Theatre is the Bridge Theatre Company's
production (a premiere) of " Wives of the Dead," by Todd Hearon.
Winner of the Paul Green Playwrights' Prize, this compelling two-person
drama (performed without an intermission) is loosely based on Nathaniel
Hawthorne's similarly titled story, although the play's time frame has
been updated from the original's pre-revolutionary era, to the present.
Set in a major New England seaport (most likely, Gloucester, MA) the
play centers on two sisters, wives of husbands serving in the U.S.Navy
aboard the same ship, during the Gulf War. Word of an explosion on
their craft, two days earlier, has been received by them, with little
hope for survivors. Elizabeth, the elder, like their refined mother, is
the more austere and dutiful sibling, whereas her younger sister
Sylvia, earthy and flamboyant, carries on in the same fashion as their
vigorous, Irish fisherman father! After a group of sympathetic Church
visitors have paid their respects and left, the two wives remain alone,
to reminisce about their lives, their husbands and their pent-up
rivalries. As the evening wears on, they vent their feelings about a
wide ranging succession of topics, amongst them: the hypocrisy of their
religious guests; their mother's pride and ongoing Alzheimer's
affliction; their father's early death at sea; their husband's
infidelity; their underlying competitiveness coupled with their latent
acrimony towards each other, all imbued with their unflagging belief,
that somehow, their husbands have survived and will return to them! Very
well acted by Kara Crowe as Sylvia and Phyllis Rittner as Elizabeth,
under Rosemarie Ellis' strong direction. This stirring, well written and
well performed character study is now playing through February 23.
(My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At Boston's Wang Theatre is the Boston Ballet's new production of
"Giselle," the classic 19th century romance with its legendary story of
innocence, lost love and its ultimate triumph--even after death. The
beautiful young Giselle falls in love with Prince Albrecht, unaware of
his royal status. Hilarion, the village woodsman, also in love with
Giselle and brimming with jealousy, reveals the true station of his
rival causing Giselle's despair and death. In act two, Hilarion,
grieving at Giselle's woodland grave, is led ( through endless dance )
to his death by Myrtha, Queen of the Ghostly fairies ( known as Wilis ),
that protect the forest. However, the spectre of Giselle protects Prince
Albrecht from a similar fate by exerting her undying love to save him!
Beautifully staged by Maina Gielgud with chorography after Coralli,
Perrot and Petipa. Adolphe Adam's sublime music is exquisitely danced
to by Larissa Ponomarenko in the title role, (her act one
despondency and demise are performed with a notable combination of
fragility, compassion and intensity ), with splendidly authoritative
turns by April Ball as Myrtha, and grandly executed leaps by Gael
Lambiotte as the Prince with fine dance support by Paul Thrussell as
Hilarion. Special notice must also be given to the Company's first rate
Corps De Ballet! A consummately staged, touchingly enacted, and
memorably danced presentation of one of Ballet's most beloved and
enduring masterworks. Now playing through February 24. (My Grade: 5)

Review by Norm Gross

At the Lyric Stage Company of Boston is their production of Terrence
McNally's "The Lisbon Traviata," a major success Off-Broadway in
1989. Set in Manhattan, it is a compelling exploration of contrasts. Act one
finds Stephen visiting his best friend Mendy. Although they're both gay,
their greater affinity
rests on their all-pervasive interest in Opera. Mendy, a flamboyant queen
brimming with musical knowledge and an overflowing record collection, is
obsessed with the musical legacy of the deceased diva Maria Callas. He's
particularly focused on a bootleg recording of her 1958 performance of " La
Traviata," in Lisbon, Portugal. The evening is spent in a succession of
hilariously futile attempts by Mendy (via a series of highly animated and
explosively comic phone calls) to locate a recorded copy of the legendary
event. Stephen, however, remains steadily unsettled by his lover Mike, and
his burgeoning interest in Paul, a young boyfriend, he's just met.
In Act two, Stephen returns home, unexpectedly, and discovers Mike,
intimately involved with his new companion! After Paul finally leaves, with
the majestic voice of Callas resonating throughout the living room from their
sound-system, there's a desperate and highly operatic-like confrontation
between Stephen (in the thralls of an apparent nervous breakdown) and Mike--
with calamitous consequences. The acting by the small cast, under Eric
Engel's strong direction, is uniformly excellent. Much praise for Peter
Carey's intensely shattering performance as Stephen and Neil Casey's
wonderfully hilarious turn as Mendy. A gripping examination of a bizarrely
preposterous obsession framed by concomitant delusion and madness, played out
in the shadow of great playing through March 9. (My Grade:5)