Sylvia: a very funny and thought provoking play at the Music Theatre of Norwalk

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A very funny and poignant play is now on stage at Music Theatre of Connecticut in Norwalk. Sylvia by A. R. Gurney was first produced off Broadway in 1995 and starred Sarah Jessica Parker and Blythe Danner. That production received Drama Desk Award nominations for Outstanding Play, Outstanding Actress in a Play (Parker), and Outstanding Costume Design.   In 2015 the it opened on Broadway and featured Matthew Broderick, Annaleigh Ashford and Julie White as cast members.

The plot of the play involves an older couple Greg (Dennis Holland) and Kate                  ( Carole Dell’Aquila) who after raising their children in the suburbs have decided to move back to New York City.  Liberated from child rearing, school schedules, yard work and other suburban chores, the couple look forward to this new phase of their life.  Kate has returned to work as a teacher and is energized by her new role, new friends and new life.  Greg however feels quite the opposite.  He begins to lose interest in his job as well as his new life.  Leaving work early he wanders through the park only to discover a dog who like himself seems lost and alone in the big city.  The only clue to identity of the dog is her collar with her name, Sylvia.   Sylvia the dog is played by a human, Bethany Fitzgerald, whom he takes home.

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Kate, Greg and Sylvia the dog

Kate is not pleased with Greg bringing the dog home, but relents and allows the dog to stay a few days until they can find it a new home.   Kate sees Sylvia as a hindrance to her new found freedom in the city.   Over the next few days Greg and Sylvia bond and it seems to Kate that Greg is having a mid life crises and Sylvia is quickly replacing her in their marriage.   There are some very funny scenes as Sylvia bounds around the stage, gnaws on Kate’s shoe, climbs on furniture and cuddles with Greg.

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Sylvia and Kate at odds

Greg discusses his plight with his new found friend and fellow dog lover (Jim Schilling)  and Kate seeks out a therapist (also played by Jim Schilling) for help in saving her marriage and dealing with Greg and Sylvia.  But saving their marriage and new found life will come with compromises.

Though the play is a comedy and the physical comedy of Bethany Fitzgerald as Sylvia bring many laughs to the audience, the play too is filled with many thought provoking moments.  The subjects of love, mid life crises, and alienation in the modern world are all touched and leave a lasting impression on the audience.  Sylvia is just one of the many fine productions we have seen at this gem of a local theater.   The play is wonderfully directed by Kevin Connors who always brings out the best in his actors.

Sylvia will be at MTC through February 23, 2020

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

Music Theatre of Connecticut

509 Westport Ave, Norwalk, CT, 06851

 

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Godspell: A theatrical tour de force now on stage at ACT in Ridgefield

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A total modernized and powerful version of the 1970s classic musical Godspell is now on stage at ACT ( A Contemporary Theatre of Connecticut) in Ridgefield Ct.  It was our first time seeing a play  at this theater and we spellbound by this  incredible production.  If you see only one play this year, make it Godspell at ACT.

The original production of Godspell which opened in 1971 off-Broadway and the 1973 film of the same name was a lighter play with the characters dressed in colorful period clothing.   The story features Jesus in a modern setting with his disciples (though given different names), and the story follows parables from the New Testament which teach the lessons of forgiveness, charity, kindness to all,  and that man must worship God and not money.  These lessons can be appreciated by anyone of any faith or background, and seem even more relevant today.

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Artistic Director Daniel C. Levine was given permission by the show’s creator, Stephen Schwartz to revise Godspell and cast it in a new light.  Levine has brought Godspell from 1971 to 2020 and in the process created a powerful and moving production.   The play opens in an abandoned church in Manhattan that where some homeless have taken refuge.   Enter the developers and realtors who reveal that this old magnificent structure will be demolished to build high priced condos for the wealthy.  They care not for the church nor its purpose as they discuss the price of these condos to be built and brag about how the building is 90% sold.  Suddenly from the ruins of the church, Jesus appears to transform the greedy and to open their eyes to his lessons.   The stage design of the abandoned church is magnificent with its Gothic pillars, and stained glass windows  which creates the perfect mood for the play.   Levine was inspired to set the musical in an abandoned church after witnessing the fire at Notre-Dame in Paris.  Reid Thompson who is the scenic designer helped bring a Broadway quality set to our backyard and in doing do brought Levine’s vision to fruition.

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The score from Godspell is memorable and includes such favorites “Day By Day”,  “All the Best”. “Light of the World”, and from the film, “Beautiful City”.   The sound is professional and some of the best and clearest we have heard at any theater.  Credit goes to Sound Designer John Salutz and his talented team.  The vocals are outstanding with great performances from the entire cast.

The story is not all heavy, as lighter comedic moments are part of the show including satirical references to the President  as well to Harvey Weinstein.    The cast also interacts with the audience playfully, and even leaves the stage to move about the theater.  During the intermission the actors appear and begin to mingle with the audience while still in character.  This was effective in really allowing the attendees to feel immersed in the story and not a passive observer.

The cast was brilliant and even included an ensemble of children actors who make brief appearances as they represent the innocent and the future of us all.   The cast of actors have numerous Broadway, off Broadway, National Tour and regional credits.   It was an evening of wonderful performances with Trent Saunders (Jesus), Jaime Cepero (John the Baptist), Shalen Harger, Jacob Hoffman, Katie Ladner, Alex Lugo, Andrew Poston, Monica Ramirez, Phil Sloves, Morgan Billings Smith , Emma Tattenbaum-Fine, and Cameron Nies.

We were totally mesmerized by this stunning new interpretation of  Godspell.  It is a show for us all and so relevant today.  The show runs through March 8, 2020 and it has to be on your must see list.

ACT    A  Contemporary Theatre of Connecticut

36 Old Quarry Road

Ridgefield, CT 06877

Box Office: (475) 215 5433

web  >>>https://www.actofct.org/

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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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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,