Man of La Mancha: the classic Broadway musical now at Westport Country Playhouse

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Philip Hernandez as Don Quixote

The dramatic and stirring Broadway classic Man of La Mancha has returned to the stage at the Westport Country Playhouse in Westport Ct.   This beautifully staged production at the Playhouse is true Broadway quality in every way.  This is a brilliant show that cannot be missed.

Man of La Mancha is a musical inspired by the story of Miguel de Cervantes imprisonment during the Spanish Inquisition and is also inspired by his book Don Quixote written in 1615.  The musical adaptation places Cervantes in a dungeon prison awaiting his hearing for charges brought against him by the inquisition.   Cervantes is a self described poet and play write, as well as a tax collector.  His latter position and his act of taxing  a church has placed him in prison.  His fellow prisoners upon meeting Cervantes and his loyal sidekick decide to have their own “mock trial” and seize his manuscript.  The show is staged in the prison “commons” as the prisoners await trial.  The curtains open to steel bars separating the actors from the sold out audience.  The set is dramatic in both design and lighting and sets the mood for the evening.

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Cervantes demands the opportunity to defend himself before his fellow prisoners and using his skills as an actor and a trunk full of costumes and props, he launches into a virtual “play within the play”.  Along with his sidekick Sancho, the other prisoners become part of this story woven by Cervantes.  Cervantes spins the tale of a noble knight  on a noble quest, and he becomes Don Quixote, Man of La Mancha.   Despite living in an era of fear and despair, Quixote is a dreamer.  He dreams of a world where knights still roam spreading virtue and morals, performing noble quests and coming to the aid of their Lady.  He exclaims he has seen and experienced the misery and tragedy in life, but he rather instead find the beauty and the goodness in life.

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Gisela Adisa as Aldonza/Dulcinea

Quixote is a idealist and a dreamer and the audience (as it has been since its Broadway debut in the 1960s) becomes a fan of Quixote. His idealism for a simpler  and kinder world is in stark contrast to the reality of 16th Century Spain.  Indeed his spirit and  ideals are what attract so many current audience members .

His idealism is manifested brilliantly in the song “The Impossible Dream” which is the hallmark of the evening.  The song is instantly familiar to many, and yet it is so fresh and relevant today.

Philip Hernandez  is masterful in the role Cervantes/Don Quixote (only actor in Broadway history to play both Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert in “Les Misérables”; original Broadway casts of “Kiss of the Spider Woman” and Paul Simon’s “The Capeman”)  He has a wonderful  deep voice that filled the playhouse on opening night.  A brilliant and memorable performance.

Gisela Adisa as Aldonza/Dulcinea (Broadway’s “Beautiful,” First National Tour of “Sister Act,” regional theater’s “Lights Out:  Nat King Cole” – 2018 Barrymore Award nomination) is wonderful  in her dual role.    Tony Manna play Sancho Panza  the side kick and faithful companion to Don Quixote(Off-Broadway’s “These Paper Bullets,” “Timon of Athens,” “The Hasty Heart”; Netflix’ “Maniac”).   He brings to the role a sort of humor and warmth to which the audience enjoyed.

This production of Man of La Mancha  is directed by Mark Lamos who has directed  many plays at Westport Country Playhouse since 2008.  His extensive New York credits include “Our Country’s Good,” for which he received a Tony Award nomination. A former artistic director at Hartford Stage, he earned the 1989 Tony Award for the theater’s body of work.   His direction of this production is mostly faithful to the original, but injects  a modern vibe with the costumes of some of the cast as well as a reference in the dialogue to our current political climate that was recognized by the audience.

This is one of  the great Broadway musicals of all time.  Its story is timeless and quite relevant in the world we now live.  Make sure you see this wonderful show.

For tickets and information:  http://www.westportplayhouse.org

Westport Country Playhouse

25 Powers Ct Westport Ct.

Box office at (203) 227-4177, toll-free at 1-888-927-7529,

 

 

 

The Understudy: a behind the scenes stage comedy now at Westport Country Playhouse

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A very funny play set backstage at a Broadway theater has opened  at the Westport Country Playhouse in Westport Ct.  “The Understudy” written by award winning playwright Theresa Rebeck  is  a clever and very funny comedy that brought laughter and much applause from the opening night audience.  It recently ran off Broadway.

The play opens with a bang as Harry (Eric Bryant) runs down the aisle of the theater and leaps on stage and reminds the audience to silence their cell phones.  We learn quickly he is not a member of the theater but rather an actor and the show has abruptly started even though the stage curtain is still closed.  An effective way of getting the full attention of the audience.

This comedy takes place during practice on a Broadway stage for a serious play based on the works of German novelist Franz Kafka.  As the actors practice their lines, the audience is treated to a play within a play, with the seriousness of the Kafka story contrasting with the comedy of the main play itself.  The Understudy employs three actors, Harry who is the journeyman understudy looking for his big break, Jake (Brett Dalton) who is a movie actor and mid level action film star, and Roxanne (Andrea Sglowski) , a former actress now stage manager whose job during the play is to run this practice.  She has the task of  keeping Jake and Harry from fighting (as Harry dislikes a B  movie actor taking on serious Broadway roles).  Jake has no love for Harry as he sees him unfit to understudy for a “star” like himself.    Jake too is obsessed as to why he is not receiving big dollar contracts for movies and not the $2 million a film he currently  is paid.

We also find that Roxanne and Harry were once engaged and she has no idea he has been cast as the understudy as he has adopted a new name.  That tension and Harry’s constant absurd comments about changing the lines further send the practice into disarray.  Throw into the mix Laura, the stage board operator (unseen during the show) who is stoned and keeps screwing up the sound, lighting and the sets.  This only adds to the calamity on stage.   The play gives the audience a look into the world backstage at a Broadway production and all the issues that arrive that give angst to those in the production, but comedy for the viewer.

Interesting is the playwrights commentary on the current state of American theater.  Instead of staging plays and musicals of integrity, the public and the theater industry itself is obsessed with celebrity and profits , with many plum roles in the theater going to big name movie stars instead of seasoned actors.  This commentary is worthy and timely considering some of the shows making it to the stage today.  A very funny play with great acting, a thoughtful clever script and excellent direction by David Kennedy.

The play runs  one and a half hours and is fast paced and has no intermission.  The play runs through September 1, 2018.

for tickets and information

https://www.westportplayhouse.org

Westport Country Playhouse

25 Powers Court   Westport Ct.

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Sex with Strangers: a romantic drama in the digital era at Westport Country Playhouse

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Laura Eason writer/producer on the television series House Of Cards (Netflix) is the author of this interesting and thoughtful play now on stage at the Westport Country Playhouse.  Sex with Strangers is part drama, part comedy that focuses on the modern digital age of dating, relationships, and how we learn about the people we meet.

The play has only two characters, Ethan (Chris Ghaffari) and  Olivia (Jessica Love).   Olivia is a professor and talented but unsuccessful author in her late 30s.  She is staying in a woodsy bed and breakfast in the Michigan woods.  She is all alone and is there to clear her mind, disconnect from the world and perhaps finish a long overdue novel.

Her tranquility is soon broken by the unexpected arrival of  Ethan, another guest  during a snowstorm.  Ethan is a late 20s blogger and author who interrupts the quiet of the cabin with his demands for food, and general disgust when he discovers there is no wi-fi at the remote cabin.  The audience discovers that Ethan is also a writer and internet sensation and has produced two books based on his weekly sexual exploits with strangers he picks up in bars.  The titles of the books is where the name of the play is derived.   Olivia is not only a English professor but had published a book years earlier that was the subject of mixed and some harsh reviews.  The experience of rejection of her novel despite her talent has had such a lasting effect on her that she is unable to finish her second novel despite her talent and ambition.  The two are true opposites.

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The conversation in the first act between Ethan and Olivia is in short, rapid exchanges that reminded me more of text messages than true conversation.  However as  the characters learn more of each other, the conversation evolves and becomes more warm and complex .   We find that Ethan is not here by accident and knew about Olivia, her first book and that she would be at the cabin.  Indeed he has used the internet to read up about her and seek to out photos of her.  It as if he was reviewing an online dating profile and shows the stark differences between the two characters.  Olivia is absorbed by the written word, great authors, and dreams of joining her literary idols on the shelves.  Ethan is a scrappy internet blogger,  who we find dreams of leaving the shallow persona that has made him a success and become a real author.  The strangers do become romantically entangled despite their obvious differences.  However, Olivia uses the internet to find out more about Ethan and his books and finds she is repelled by his sexual exploits as well as the counter-blogging by women that he slighted.

Act Two shifts gears and is set in Olivia’s apartment.  The lives of the two very different strangers become entangled not only in their strange sexual attraction, but their shared ambition to be published.  In Act two we see a change in the characters and their relationship as they use each other to achieve their personal goals.    The play is a commentary on our digital world, the personas we create online, and how we interact with each other online and in person.   The play is sprinkled with humor which helps break the tension between the two characters.

Jessica Love who has Broadway and off Broadway credits in resume does a fine job as Olivia.  Chris Ghaffari who was on the Westport stage last year in the hilarious “What the Butler Saw” did an excellent job as Ethan.

The scenic design by Edward Morris were really well done and constructed and drew the audience into the play.  The woodsy bed and breakfast cabin was very realistic and effective.

An interesting and thoughtful play with direction by Katherine M. Carter.

The play runs through October 14th 2017

Westport Country Playhouse

25 Powers Court Westport Ct

tel. 203.227.4177

web for info and tickets     

http://www.westportplayhouse.org/sex-with-strangers

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Appropriate: a must see drama with a deep secret at Westport Country Playhouse

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As the house lights darken, the sound of cicadas fill the theater and set the mood for the drama that lies ahead.  The lights soften to reveal the inside of a dilapidated former plantation in Arkansas.  The  old once grand home is great disrepair and filled with years of a hoarders collection of  both artifacts and secrets.

Much like the mysterious cicada insect that lives underground only to return every 13 to 17 years and sing its mating song, the adult Lafayette family which has been distant from each other  decides to reunite at the plantation after the death of their father.  The purpose is to liquidate the estate and the decaying plantation house.  Of the three adult children, each has a  different reason for returning.  Toni, (Betsy Aidem) the oldest is the executor and is there with her son Rhys (Nick Selting) to oversee the sale of the contents of the home and the plantation itself.  However, she cannot seem to get a grasp on letting her father go, and the sale she charged with arranging is disorganized.  Her brother Bo (David Aaron Baker),  has come in from New York with his family so he can recoup his financial outlay of taking care of his father, and for his wife Rachel  (Diane Davis) and kids (Allison Winn and  Christian Camporin) to learn something about the reclusive father whom they have never known.

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Into the mix comes the long lost brother Franz (Shawn Fagan), the youngest sibling and  the misfit  of the family who has been out of touch from the family for 10 years.  With him is his earthy and soulful young girlfriend,  River (Anna Crivelli).  Franz (formerly Frank) was a burden to his family  for years and then dropped out of sight.  Franz  has returned not to seek money or his share of the estate, but to reunite with his siblings and make peace with his family,  His visit is to cleanse himself from the person he was  and to confront his troubled past growing up in the plantation.  With the assistance of River, he has reinvented himself and the misfit now morally rises above his siblings.

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Old houses as well as families have deep secrets that perhaps are best kept that way.  But by accident a horrible secret about their father emerges from the hoard of items found in the house.  Each sibling must grasp with this discovery.  There is denial, intrigue and accusations as we learn about each member and their relationship with their father.  The remaining family members struggle not only with the discovery of this secret, but must deal with the decay of their family ties which parallels the decay of the plantation itself.  I will not disclose the secret as that if for you to discover.

Appropriate is a brilliantly written play by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. It is complex, and thought provoking.  I found myself rewinding the scenes of the play in my mind long after I left the theater.   Direction by David Kennedy is wonderful as the audience is immediately drawn into the action and held there for the duration.  The set design is wonderful and captures the decay of the plantation.  Special note should go the effects, lighting and sound which are all instrumental to the performance.

Notable acting performances include Betsy Aidem as Toni who commands the stage as her character swings from sadness to remorse to rage during the play. Shawn Fagan as Franz gives an illuminating performance of a character who embodies redemption.   It is perhaps Anna Crivelli as River whose rational zen like character brings both levity and calm which is the most memorable performance.

This is a must see drama and one of the finest I have seen in some time.

The show runs through September 2 2017

 

Westport Country Playhouse

25 Powers Court  Westport Ct

tel.203-227-4177   

tickets: http://www.westportplayhouse.org/tickets/Calendar/Buy/id/3962

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Lettice and Lovage: a brilliant British comedy at the Westport Country Playhouse

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A hysterical comedy  is now in production at the Westport Country Playhouse in Westport Ct.  The play “Lettice and Lovage” is a witty British comedy that opened in Britain in 1987 and then on Broadway in 1990 where it was nominated for a Tony  and has been the recipient of much acclaim.

In the play we meet  Lettice Douffet who is a tour guide at a historic English manor run by the Historical Trust.   Lettice finds that the tourists who visit the site are bored as the home was never the scene of anything of real historic interest.  She embarks on embellishing the history of the manor with grand stories and details that are from her fertile imagination.      Her  boss at the trust Lotte Schoen gets wind of her historical inaccuracies and fires her.  After a change of heart Lotte visits Lettice at her flat where they enjoy an potent beverage called Lovage.  During this meeting the strict Lotte lets down her guard and reveals that under the dull trappings of a civil servant she is really a devoted lover of British culture and architecture that she feels is being destroyed by modern society.   An unusual friendship is formed  as they embrace Lettice’s creed of Enlarge, Enlighten, and Enliven!

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The play is clever, funny and a real delight.  The actors are wonderful and the direction is fantastic as the audience learns about the Lettice and Lotte and how their unusual relationship has enriched both their lives.  Set design is particularly good with three separate sets used during the performance.

There are excellent performances from the entire cast with Kandis Chappell as Lettice , Mia Dillon as Lotte , Sarah Manton  as Ms Framer (last seen in “What the Butler Saw at the WCP) and Paxton Whitehead the veteran actor who played the part of Mr. Bardoff on Broadway.  Mr. Whitehead has a long and distinguished career of stage and screen performances.

The play was written by Sir Peter Shaffer who has  written such classics as Equus and Amadeus.  Direction is by Mark Lamos who has directed many plays at the Playhouse and is himself a Tony award winner.

The play runs through June 17th

 

For Tickets and information:   http://www.westportplayhouse.org

Westport Country Playhouse

25 Powers Court  Westport Ct     tel.   (888) 927-7529

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Camelot: a fresh adaptation of the classic musical at Westport Country Playhouse

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The legendary musical “Camelot” featuring Tony Award winner Robert Sean Leonard is currently being staged at the Westport Country Playhouse in Westport Ct.  The musical is based on the novel “The Once and Future King”by  T.H. White, which retells the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.  The musical Camelot which opened on Broadway in 1960 and written by Lerner and Lowe starred Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet.   It was the recipient of four Tony Awards.

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The story involves King Arthur of England and his ascent to the throne.  There he wants to create a new society of men, where differences are not settled by battle and war, but by courts of law.  He wants to bring peace to the land and creates a brotherhood of Knights whose mission it is not to bring war but to spread out and do good and noble deeds. Camelot is born and with it is the idealism of a better world.  It is in this setting that King Arthur meets and weds Guinevere,  and later is joined by Sir Lancelot.  It is this relationship that becomes a love triangle and threatens the very foundation of Camelot.

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The current production is a fresh and innovative look at the classic musical.  The entire production has been streamlined from the original and the story moves along easily during the 2 hour performance.  I have seen other productions of Camelot which are heavier and slower paced.  This production seems lighter, fresh and breathes new life into this classic.  Almost all the Lerner and Lowe songs are present in the production.  As part of the thinning of  the story, some of the better known characters such as Merlin are absent.

The performances by the actors are superb!  Robert Sean Leonard as King Arthur is magnificent and it is no wonder he is the recipient of several Tony nominations  and a Tony Award.  He brings a bounty of emotion to the role which was felt by the audience especially at the end of Act 2.    Britney Coleman is delightful as Guinevere, as her acting and amazing vocal talents light up the stage.    Excellent performances were also given by the rest of the cast including Stephen Mark Lukas as Lancelot and Patrick Andrews as Mordred.   A wonderful job by David Lee who adapted the book, and Mark Lamos for his direction.  The cast was greeted by an enthusiastic standing ovation at the conclusion of the performance.

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Performances run through November 5th 2016.

for tickets and more information including videos:

http://www.westportplayhouse.org/

Westport Playhouse

25 Powers Court Westport Ct

 

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“What The Butler Saw”, a hysterical British comedy at Westport Playhouse

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“What the Butler Saw” is now playing at the Westport Country Playhouse in Westport Ct.  This historic theater which opened over 80 years ago has  hosted to a long list of amazing theatrical talent. Among the actors to grace the stage here over the years are Jane Fonda, Gene Wilder, Richard Dreyfuss, Jane Powell, Jerry Stiller and Paul Newman just to name a few.

The current production is a comedy written by Joe Orton back in the 1960s.  It is a classic British farce and the laughs are plentiful as the play(under 2 hours) really moves along.   It addresses such topics as marriage, infidelity, mental health, gender roles and gender definition, and of course the changing opinion of who in the cast is sane or insane.

The story is set in Britain in the office of a Doctor at a psychiatric clinic.  Dr. Prentice (Robert Stanton) interviews a young woman, Geraldine Barclay (Sarah Manton) who is seeking a job as his secretary.  His motives are quite clear wants to seduce the young woman and nearly does so when his nymphomaniac wife, Mrs. Prentice (Patricia Kalember) enters his office and the entire story goes quite mad from here. The audience has to hold on as we learn Mrs. Prentice is being blackmailed by a hotel bell hop (Chris Ghaffari) .The arrival of Dr Rance (brilliantly played by Paxton Whitehead) really shakes things up.  He is a psychiatrist sent by the British Government to inspect the clinic.  His arrival further turns the story on his head with his crazy misdiagnoses of everyone including Dr. Prentice.

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There is mistaken identity, false accusations and the local police (Julian Gamble) are involved try to resolve the whole mess.  The comedic timing of the actors is flawless. Direction by John Tillinger is fantastic and the cast really works together well.  Set design of the clinic office and its numerous doors (which are put to comedic use as the actors us them to great effect) is well done.

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The actors have a long list of impressive credentials.  Paxton Whitehead has made numerous appearances on Broadway  including, “My Fair Lady” , and many television and movie appearances including “Back to School” with Rodney Dangerfield.   Patricia Kalember has numerous Broadway and stage credits.  She has appeared in films and in television shows such as “Sisters” “Orange is the New Black” , “Law and Order” and many more. The whole cast is wonderful and the audience really enjoyed the performance.

“What the Butler Saw” has adult theme as is not suitable for children.

Don’t miss this hysterical comedy!

For tickets, show times and more information:

http://www.westportplayhouse.org/

Westport Country Playhouse

25 Powers Court  Westport Ct.

 

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Arezzo Ristorante: fine waterfront Italian dining in Westport

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If you want a Tuscany inspired dining experience then you must try Arezzo Ristorante in Westport Connecticut.  The restaurant is set alongside the Saugatuck River  with gorgeous waterfront views.  Diners can choose to eat inside in the covered sun deck, or on the open air patio complete with umbrellas and an outdoor bar.

There is a newly renovated interior with stone archways, stucco walls and charming dark wood beams.  The bar inside is also inviting with dark leather accents and rich wood details.

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Fun and innovative cocktails

 

The menu has quite a selection with dishes finished in the high heat of the wood burning oven.  There are delicious homemade pastas, unique pizza selections and fresh fish, chicken and meat dishes from which to choose.  For the salad lover there are many choices from seasonal produce and fun creations such as roasted beets, pistachios and shaved artichokes.

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Pasta Tasting:  Orecchettie with sausage, Gnocchi, and Seafood Risotto

 

 

Entree selections include dishes for all tastes such as Filet Mignon, Melanzane al forno (Eggplant), various chicken and veal dishes, as well as seafood delights such as Branzino, Fisherman’s Stew (scallops, shrimp, and calamari in a tomato broth with fennel) and more.

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Halibut aqua pazza with clams, mussels in a cherry tomato broth

There is also an delightful selection of desserts including fruit tarts, brulees , tiramisu and gelato.

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Tiramisu

The view from the outdoor patio is fantastic and the overall ambiance is perfect for dining al fresco on a warm summer evening.   For a real Italian restaurant experience,  check out Arezzo Ristorante in downtown Westport.  Delicioso!

Arezzo Ristorante/Bar

5 Riverside Ave  Westport Ct      203-557-9375

http://www.arezzowestport.com

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