Steel Magnolias: a funny and touching play now on stage at Music Theatre of Connecticut

 

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The play Steel Magnolias is now on stage at the Music Theatre of Connecticut (MTC).  This touching comedy/drama is based on the real life experience of Robert Harling whose sister Susan died from complications of Type 1 diabetes.  Hoping to cope with his loss he wrote a short story about the event which later he transformed into a play in 1987.  The play was adapted into a successful film in 1989 with an all star cast.    MTC has now brought this warm play to its stage in Norwalk, Ct.

Steel Magnolias is set in a small town in Louisiana in the  late 1980s.  The play takes place entirely in the beauty salon owned by Truvy (Raissa Katona Bennett).   As in many small towns the salon is the center of life and gossip in town.  It is also where a small group of good friends gather each week to talk and to support each other.   Here we find this group of strong women on the eve of Shelby’s( Andrea Lynn Green ) wedding.  We are introduced to Annelle (Rachel Rival) the newcomer to town with a unknown past who is hired to work in the salon.  We see her morph from quiet stranger, to born again Christian.  M’Lynn (Kaia Monroe) is Shelby’s mother who is preparing for the wedding, Cynthia Hannah is Clariee who is the widow of the former town mayor, and she trades good natured barbs with Ouiser  (Kristi Carnahan).

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As Act One leads up to the wedding, we learn about these strong characters and their relationship with each other.  The dialogue is fast and funny as the women exchange sarcastic one liners with each other and keep the pace of the play moving along briskly.

These six women are the “steel magnolias”.   Southern women  who seemingly pretty and petty on the outside but strong enough inside to survive the challenges they face.  Although a comedy for most of the play, the sadness of Shelby’s illness as a result of her diabetes and pregnancy brings these strong characters even closer despite their differences.  Act Two deals more with Shelby’s illness and her decline and how these women deal with the situation.   Humor still prevails in Act Two despite the sadness.

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Raissa Katona Bennett and Andrea Lynn Green

It is the powerful bonds of friendship and family that the audience takes away from this play.  It is funny and entertaining, but touching and heart warming as well.   Director Pamela Hill has done a wonderful job in bringing these characters to  life.  She has done  great work with the actors in this ensemble.

Steel Magnolias runs November 8th -24th 2019.  Show times are Friday evenings at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm , Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets are $35-65 .

As with all the productions at MTC, the acting and directing is first rate, and this is yet another performance you should not miss.

Music Theater of Connecticut

509 Westport Avenue   Norwalk Ct     

https://www.musictheatreofct.com/steelmagnolias

 

 

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Ragtime the Musical: a powerful story and great performances take the stage at the Music Theatre of Connecticut

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A moving and very relevant production of  Ragtime the Musical is now on stage at the Music Theatre of Connecticut (MTC).  Ragtime relates the story of three different groups of people in the United States at the turn of the 20th Century.    The three groups are  African Americans, an  upper class white family from  New Rochelle in Westchester County and Eastern European immigrants. These groups aver very different but their lives will become intertwined.

The story adapted for the stage by Terrence McNally also weaves actual historical figures of the period along with the fictional characters.  We see appearances from Henry Ford, Booker T. Washington, Admiral Peary (polar explorer), Harry Houdini,  Emma Goldman (writer and anarchist), Stanford White (famous architect- Penn Station NYC) and Evelyn Nesbit (actress, model and lover of Stanford White).   The historical figures bring a dose or reality into this otherwise fictional story.    The tale explores the world of early 20th Century America where African Americans represented by Coalhouse Walker Jr. a musician, (Ezekiel Andrew), a white upper class family represented by Mother (Juliet Lambert Pratt) and Father(Dennis Holland) , and the immigrants represented by Tateh (Frank Mastrone) all tell their stories of life in America.   Their worlds are very different, but their world start to collide in unexpected ways as the new century transforms the nation.

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Ari Frimmer and Juliet Lambert Pratt

When Father leaves on a polar expedition he is quite surprised by meeting Matthew Henson, an African American explorer who ventured to the arctic many times. At home Mother discovers an African American baby left in her yard and decides to care for him and his mother Sarah (Soara-Joye Ross) who moves into Mother’s home.   We soon find out that the father is the famous Harlem musician Coalhouse Walker Jr. who comes to Mother’s home in New Rochelle to reunite with his family.  His fine clothes and new Model T are met with resentment and racism by whites in the area.   When Father returns and finds that Mother has taken in the baby and his mother, he realizes that the safe world he knew is changing just as America was changing.  He laments that nothing would ever be the same, but his wife welcomes the changes.image00001

Meanwhile  Teteh and his daughter cannot scratch out a living on the streets of the lower East Side selling drawings, so they move to a factory town in New England where Teteh finds long hours and exploitation.  Still believing in the dream of a better life he moves again to Philadelphia.  Later he crosses paths with Mother in Atlantic City where his artistic abilities have landed him a job as a director of silent films.    The three worlds of very different people cross, and are all transformed as was the nation during this period.

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Jessica Molly Schwartz as Evelyn Nesbit

The music written  by Stephen Flaherty with Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens is woven with period correct ragtime piano pieces that are performed by two pianists on stage. The score is moving and dramatic with lighter songs woven in to break the dramatic tension.  This is a big production for MTC to undertake with 20 songs alone in Act One and 12 in Act Two.  In the end the performance was brilliant. The cast of 16 actors is large for the small size of the theater but credit goes to director Kevin Connors for guiding these wonderful actors so well through a complex production.  This musical does not have the usual dance routines seen in musicals but rather leans on the story, the music and the actors to tell the story.  If you have not been to this theater then you are missing a special experience.  It is a small intimate space with seating for the small audience on three sides.  The effect is that the guests feel as if they are being drawn into the play itself.

The play includes actors with Broadway, Off-Broadway, National Tours and Regional experience.  Standout performances abound and we loved Juliet Lambert Pratt as Mother.  We last saw her at MTC in Bridges of Madison County. A wonderful acting and vocal performance.   Soara-Joye Ross as Sarah, Brian Demar Jones as Booker T. Washington, Mia Scarpa as Emma Goldman (previously at MTC in Always…..Patsy Cline), Ezekiel Andrew as Coalhouse Walker, Jr. Dennis Holland as Father, and Jessica Molly Schwartz  as Evelyn Nesbit and the rest of the cast  all gave wonderful performances and brought the opening night audience to their feet.

With a moving musical score, relevant story and tremendous performances, you should add Ragtime the Musical on your must see list.   But hurry the show runs through October 13th 2019.

For tickets and information:  https://www.musictheatreofct.com/

Music Theatre Of Connecticut

509 Westport Ave, Norwalk, CT, 06851

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End of the Rainbow: The final come back of Judy Garland comes to the Music Theater Of CT

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End of the Rainbow has come to the Music Theater of Connecticut in Norwalk.  The play chronicles the final comeback of screen and singing icon Judy Garland.   The play written by Peter Quilter opened in the West End of London in 2010 and was the winner of several Olivier Awards.  It opened on Broadway in 2012 and also was the recipient of several Tony nominations as well as Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards.  MTC is now proud to stage the first New England production of this play.

The setting of the play is in London in 1968 as Judy Garland  and her fiance and soon to be fifth husband Mickey Deans, arrive for  a five week run of shows that they hope will pull Judy’s career out of its spiral of bad press and her  battles with addiction.  The play is staged in her suite at the Ritz Hotel in London and onstage at the Talk of the Town where the audience is entertained by a number of standards including,  “For Me and My Gal”, “You Made Me Love You (I didn’t want to do it)” and “Over the Rainbow”.   Joining Judy for her tour is her adoring pianist and arranger, Anthony who despite his sexuality is in love with Judy and wants to take her away from her young fiance whom he perceives to be an opportunist.

The two act play which moves back and forth between the theater and the hotel room reveals to the audience Judy Garland’s struggles with alcohol, pills, and the reality that her shining star is not as bright as it had been.  As Judy spirals out of control during the 5 week run  of her stage comeback, she manages to upright herself and finish her performance.  The play is an emotional roller coaster for the audience as we see the struggles and successes  of such a famous star.

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The production features Colleen Sexton as Judy Garland and she delivers an emotional performance which captures the spirited and spunky character of Judy Garland.  Her vocal performances were outstanding and did not attempt to mimic Judy, but instead capture the raw energy and vitality of her style.  The audience was thrilled and rose to a standing ovation.

Luke Darnell portrays Mickey Deans her fiance, and delivers a fine performance as the character tries desperately to keep Judy on track and away from her addictions.   Thomas Conroy who plays Anthony her pianist is impressive as he has dual roles as her pianist and as her friend and adoring fan. A complex role which he handles well.   He brought heartfelt emotion to the role.   Matt Densky  has the task of three roles including Hotel Porter, BBC Radio Interviewer, and Stage manager and he shines especially in the role of interviewer.

The director (and co-founder) is Kevin Connors, who has brought to the area a memorable production that stays with the audience long after the curtain call.   The set design (Jordan Janota) is effective in using the small intimate stage to effectively convey the feeling that you are in two separate locations.

Please don’t miss this show.   End of the Rainbow runs  April 7-23, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm & 8pm, Sundays at 2pm.

Note: Adult content and language.   Running time is approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Tickets are $30-$55. Reservations suggested.

http://www.musictheatreofct.com      tel.  203.454.3883

Music Theater of Connecticut

509 Westport Avenue  Norwalk Ct.

photo credits:  Music Theater of Connecticut

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