Oh, heretic! Oh, fickle theatre-goer! Imagine the editor of Berkshire on Stage leaving the Berkshires – the center of all things theatrical during the summer – to revel in some off-season guilty pleasures found not far from us. It was worth the gas, time and expense.
(Lead photo above shows cast of Merrily We Roll Along at Hubbard Hall in a photo by Jonathan Barber)
In one week I was able to enjoy a musical by Sondheim, another by Gershwin plus preview the innovative new musical Cutman. It was almost like being back in Manhattan. Besides, these ramblings were made necessary by our long winter drought of such entertainment in these parts. Any feelings of guilt were soon displaced by misty eyes, sore hands and dropping jaw.
I look at it as my Spring training camp before the real thing begins here in the Berkshires with musicals like Guys and Dolls,on the Barrington Main Stage, Mormons, Mothers and Monsters on Stage 2, Tommy from the Berkshire Theatre Festival on the Colonial stage, plus Ten Cents a Dance at Williamstown. And more on the Berkshire 2011 summer calendar.
“Merrily We Roll Along” at Hubbard Hall
The misty eyes were brought about by the current production of Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along which opened last night at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge, New York. It was the regional premiere of the Laurence Olivier Award-winning revised production with its freshened book and reordered music. It was directed by Hubbard Hall’s artistic director Kevin McGuire who sat in the midst of a capacity audience which rose to its feet for a resounding ovation at the conclusion of the show.
Stephen Sondheim has said that the only autobiographical song he’s ever written is “Opening Doors” from Merrily We Roll Along — a song about three young friends trying to get their work produced in a town that’s not quite ready for them. “It’s about me and Hal Prince and Mary Rodgers and Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock — it’s about all of us in the ’50s knocking on doors of producers and trying to get heard,” explained Sondheim in the 2010 revue Sondheim on Sondheim.
The production itself is fairly simple, with live music from four musicians perched above the players, and set pieces that easily rolled into place as needed. Josh Grey played Franklin, who often found himself lounging at the feet of the audience to sing and relay his reactions. Meg Ward as Mary was sensational, never stepping out of her tortured character for even a second. As Charley, Frankie Kraft also excelled.
Based on the play by George Kauffman and Moss Hart, this musical (with book by George Furth) tells of the disintegration of the friendship of successful songwriter Franklin Shepard, his lyricist Charlie Kringas, and novelist Mary Flynn. The action moves backward through time, from 1980 to 1957.
The cast for this show started out tentatively, but by the second act had hit their stride. During the first half the actors were no match for the band. By the second, they seemed to be in tune with each other. The plot of this musical comedy is in reverse order, we start in the present and march back through the years to the beginnings of the characters’ lives with each other. Oddly, they are far more lovable as struggling composers and writers than as successful ones. Perhaps the innocence of youth is what brought on a few soggy eyes in the audience.
There’s a wonderfully thorough review by theatre critic Gail Burns over on her site, Gail Sez (link), which completely captures the flavor of this show. As she writes: “I am always amazed and eternally grateful that I live in a region where a 40-60 minute drive over majestic mountains or through scenic cornfields brings me to some place where I can see exciting theatre, up close and personal, for a very reasonable ticket price. …almost everything (is) right with this production. Go see it!”
The Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall’s Merrily We Roll Along runs May 12 – June 4. Located at 25 East Main Street in Cambridge, New York. (518) 677-2495. The show runs two and a half hours including one fifteen minute intermission. Performances take place on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM as well as Saturday June 4 at 3:00 PM and Sundays May 15, 22, 29 at 2:00 PM. $25 general admission, $22 members, and $15 for students and children. www.hubbardhall.org
“Crazy for You” at Cohoes Music Hall
The sore hands came about from all the clapping and finger snapping engendered by the George and Ira Gershwin celebration called Crazy for You. Loosely based on Girl Crazy, it incorporates the best songs from that show, and several others. “I Got Rhythm,” “Embraceable You,” and “Someone to Watch Over Me” are some of the classics that are sung and danced in this lively production. And while the music is great, it is the dance that gives this show its sparkle, from some delightful tap to wag your ass full body chorus line.
My colleague Gail Burns has just posted a complete review (here) , and I love this comment: “Director/choreographer Christopher George Patterson has assembled a half dozen of the most gorgeous and nimble chorus girls imaginable in Melissa Basolo, Maiza Ornelaz, Geraldine Rojas, Kelly Skidmore, Erin Skvarca, and Tomlinson. When, during the second number I Can’t Be Bothered Now, they appear like magic out of Bobby’s imagination (and a couple of trapdoors), clad in Halliday’s spiffy candy -floss pink ensembles with matching platinum blonde wigs, they are a sight to behold.” Indeed they are.
C-R Productions’ Crazy for You runs May 12-22 at the Cohoes Music Hall (58 Remsen Street, Cohoes, NY) with performances 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The show runs two hours and forty-five minutes with one intermission and is suitable for the whole family. Tickets are from $25-$35. For reservations or more information, call 518-237-5858 or visit the Web site www.cohoesmusichall.com
“Cutman” at Goodspeed Opera House
I can’t resist telling you about the new boxing musical Cutman because not only is it jaw-dropping, but it is also a theatrical knockout. If you have only seen the work this company does on its mainstage, you are missing the cutting edge future of music theatre done at their Norma Terris Theatre.
Cutman explores new avenues. It tells the unusual and dramatic story of a young Jewish boxer who dreams of being the Welterweight Champion of the World. Trained by his father in the basement of their synagogue, he turns pro and takes the boxing world by storm. But when his shot at the title fight is scheduled on the eve of Yom Kippur, he must choose between achieving his lifelong dream and defying his faith. From rock to pop to hip-hop to R&B, Cutman features Music and Lyrics by Drew Brody, Book by Jared Michael Coseglia, with a Story by Jared Michael Coseglia and Cory Grant.
The winning cast is led by Cory Grant who plays Ari Hoffman. He recently starred as Frankie Valli in Broadway’s Jersey Boys.
Cutman plays May 12 – June 5 and kicks off a three show season at Goodspeed’s Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, Connecticut. Curtain times are Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m.*, Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. (*Thurs. 8 pm only on May 13th). Tickets are available through the Box Office (860.873.8668), open seven days a week, or on-line at www.goodspeed.org.
Also playing on the Main Stage at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT is the musical My One and Only. The glamorous ‘20s come roaring back to life when a barnstorming aviator falls for a bathing beauty. Their romantic pursuit is sidetracked by a series of zany escapades but together they navigate their way to a happy ending. This tap dance spectacular with an incomparable Gershwin score – “’S Wonderful,” “Funny Face,” “Kickin’ The Clouds Away” offer yet another selection of the fabulous music of George and Ira Gershwin. Starring Tony Yazbeck as the love-struck aviator with Gabrielle Ruiz as Edythe, Khris Lewin as Prince Nicolai and Kirsten Wyatt as Mickey.
My One and Only plays through June 25. Curtain times are Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (with select performances at 2:00 p.m.), Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. (with select performances at 6:30 p.m.). For more information, visit their website www.goodspeed.org.