Friday, October 14, 2016

an opera about medieval lovers 
for modern lovers of opera 

Tristan und Isolde,  probably had more viewers then ever in a single performance on Met Simulcast on Oct 8 than in composer Richard Wagner’s life time. I have no concrete numbers to support that statement—but it is a likely possibility  as this is the way opera is viewed by the most people today.

Wagner took a medieval legend, turned it into a story for 19th century sensibilities.  The Met has gone further with a production with modern technological touches.  

I thought as I listened, how modern is this music, and perhaps it was because I was seeing the scenes now set in a three level ship and then  in a warehouse and finally in  a hospital room. Perhaps it was because Wagner’s music has had such influence on what was written  after him.  But there was no doubt in my mind, that if Wagner had indeed just composed this giant work, he would steamroll any modern composer writing today. 

And then I had a reverse thought— What might Wagner think of this production, he who was so precise about every word — to now see that the translations were flashed on the screen in English.   Would he be pleased with this outstanding Wagnerian opera stars of today, Nina Stemme as Isolde, Stuart Skelton as Tristan, Ekaterina Gubanova as Brangäne, René Pape as King Marke, and Sir Simon Rattle conducting 

Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Met, said this was the 11th year of Simulcast, the 100th opera performed, and the opening production of the 50th anniversary of the Met at Lincoln Center.  The choice of Tristan und Isolde was to have something big, with the greatest stars today, and then broadcast it live from the giant stage to the giant screen. 

This is as big as it gets.  Mega genius that he was,  bets are that Wagner would have loved it!  



Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Urinetown The Musical 
at Constellation Theatre Company.

Pay toilets are no joke in many parts of the world.  Neither is corporate mismanagement run amok with crooked lawmakers and corrupt  policemen.  But no need to read dry political theorists on such a subject,  when you can see  Urinetown at Constellation!

Urinetown’s  premise is that not only do all human have a right to be free, but everyone has a right to pee for free.  

It makes it case by exploiting every form of humor  possible from word puns to super metaphors. It incorporates satirical take offs of moments from decades of musicals (to name a few: The Threepenny Opera. The Cradle will Rock,  Le Miserables, Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story, Chicago, Annie.)  And it takes self-deprecating asides, on what a musical is expected to do (star crossed lovers yes,  but no happy ending in this one.)  

The Tony award winning show is clever  for sure, but  one that requires a company  with high energy and super talents to bring it all together.  Constellation has done it again!

Here are the facts:

Music and lyrics by Mark Hollmann
Book and lyrics by Greg Kotis 
Director: Allison Arkell Stockman 
Choreographer: Ilona Kessell 
Music Director: Jake Null

Ensemble: Nicklas Aliff* (Caldwell B. Cladwell), Jenna Berk (Little Sally), Matt Dewberry* (Officer Lockstock), Patrick Murphy Doneghy (Old Man Strong/Hot Blades Harry), Christine Nolan Essig* (Penelope Pennywise), Vaughn Ryan Midder (Bobby Strong), Katie Keyser (Hope Cladwell), David Landstrom (Tiny Tom/Dr. Billeaux), Matthew McGee (Senator Fipp), Amy McWilliams* (Josephine Strong/UGC Staff), Christian Montgomery (Officer Barrel), Valerie Adams Rigsbee (Soupy Sue/UGC Secretary), Harrison Smith (Mr. McQueen), Emily Madden (Little Becky Two-Shoes/Mrs. Millenium), Rick Westerkamp (Robbie the Stockfish/UGC Staff).           *Member, Actors’ Equity Association

Design and Production: A.J. Guban (Scenic & Lighting Designer), Robert Croghan (Costume Designer), Ilona Kessell (Choreographer), Palmer Hefferan (Sound Designer), Kevin Laughon (Props Designer), Nick Martin (Assistant Director), Robert Mintz (Assistant Choreographer).

Understudies: Christopher Gillespie, Bobby Libby, Maggie Roos, Sarah Anne Sillers, Carl Williams.

For tickets : or Call 202-204-7741

Thursday, July 14, 2016


No one goes away empty handed from Hand to God.

Studio Theatre’s production of the five time Tony nominated Broadway show is set in its natural habit—a small Southern town’s church basement.   It is an unexpected surprise to step in to the theater and see it re-fashioned with  pale yellow cinderblock wall  lined with religious posters.   Mount Logan Lutheran Church of Cypress, Texas, looked so familiar.  

The plot is simple  enough—Margery (Susan Rome) is a recent widow trying to stage a puppet show, with her son Jason and his puppet Tyrone (Liam Fore, both roles).   Pastor Greg (Tim Getman) and  a delinquent teenager Timothy  (Ryan McBride) both have the hots for her.  Jason wants to go out with Jessica (Caitlin Collins)  who is in a verbal war with Timothy.  

Like a three ring circus— the main action is in the center of the church hall, complete with its own stage.  The side rings are the refreshment stand and a back stage which is used for alternate scenes in Margery’s car, Jason’s bedroom or Pastor Greg’s study.

The audience sits in the middle of all this, at blue plastic checkered clothed tables  (maybe a little too clean and tidy for a much used facility for church plays and suppers!)    Each table has a supply of white socks and puppet making material along with instructions.

As the practice for the church sponsored puppet show starts, so the story unfolds.  

Tyrone appears to be possessed by demonic forces.  

But maybe not.  

Maybe what spews from his mouth are Jason’s inner thoughts wanting to bust out from the grief at his father’s death and his estrangement from his doting mother, his frustrations with growing up and his hots for Jessica  

 Teenage angst or a search for the authentic?   


A reversal from theater in the round with the physical and psychic actions  going on around the audience —who mercifully is not asked to participate in this fast moving, foul mouthed,  somewhat sexually explicit but most definitely violently blood and gore— comedy.

The theological conondrum posed is over man’s need for both a god savior and a rampant destructive devil.  

Tyrone offers the introduction and the summary to the play in what might be a voice of reasonable philosophers.  

Add some modern psychology for a  framework for compassion and understanding for the fragile angels of our inner selves.  

Hand to God —an experience to remember! And you get to take home the sock puppet you make to make sure you do!

At The Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW, Washington DC until Aug. 7, 2016

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


NOTHING BUT THE HITS  Part 2  was nothing but the BEST! 

The Heights Players, Brooklyn’s oldest self-sustaining community theater, has done it again! 

For their Gala ending their 59th year, they selected some three dozen of American musical theater’s greatest hits for performances on June 10-12. 

The singing was pitch perfect and the tap dancing  tiptop as  two dozen Heights Players danced and sang through decades of songs. 

Under the direction of Thomas Tyler and Ed Healy,  the show moved  quickly  from one production number to the next.  Cast members shined in a fabulous progression through the show with Musumi Iwai adding some  delightful surprise acrobatics to her ballet number.

Stand outs  include the choreography of Aurora Dreger,  the song stylings of newcomer Jonathan Merechant,  and the superb vocals of Rachel Coffin and Ivis Fundichely

David Fletcher’s  musical arrangements —from “There’s No Business like Show Business’ to the finale of “Yesterday,”  “Today” and “Tomorrow” — sewed together seamlessly the ageless spirit of love and hope that these songs shared.

 What a treat it was later that night of June 12 to see the Tony awards—it’s only 30 minutes away from Brooklyn to Broadway— to remember that I had heard many of these songs just that afternoon on Willow Street.

While The Heights Players might not be winning Tony Awards,  they win the hearts of musical lovers in spirited, highly professional and LIVE performance.  

WHAT: 2015-16 SEASON
WHERE:  26 Willow Place, Brooklyn Heights, NY 11201  - phone 718-237-2752

Ed Healy, Michael Blake, James Martinelli, Mykel Frank, Jonathan Merechant, Sean Dearing, Maureen Vidal, Faith Elliott, Dana DiAngelo, Michelle Maccarone, Masumi Iwai, Aurora Dreger, Cait Farrell, Maria Elisa Costa, and Isabella Prince. Veterans: Bill Wood, Jim McNulty. Ivis Fundichely, Cathy Lemmon, and Lacey Friedman.  First timers: Rantea Thompson and Rachel Coffin.

The production coordinated, written and directed by Thomas N. Tyler. 
 Musical director: David Fletcher, with percussionist Daryl Cozzi.  
 Direction: Ed Healy 
Choreography: Sean Dearing, Aurora Dreger and Cait Farrell. 
Production Stage Manager: Marialana Ardolino 
Lighting designer:  Leo J. Contrino 
Event coordinator: Corrine Contrino, with  Jill Lewis-Kelly and Jan VanderPutten.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


The statue of Ganesha enshrined on the stage at Mosaic’s latest production is no ordinary prop. The Hindu deity is the remover of obstacles.  

And do the five characters in When January Feels Like Summer have obstacles!

Nirmala (Lynette Rathnam) is a walking widow of an arranged and unconsummated marriage in India that has brought her to New York City.  She runs a grocery while her husband who was shot three years ago is on life support.

Ishan/Indira (Shravan Amin) is her brother who wants her to pull the plug on her brain dead husband to use  the insurance money to complete gender reassignment surgery.  

Enter Joe (Jason B. Mcintosh), a sanitation worker, to clear out the porno trash that Nirmala’s husband has left— just as his trashy spouse has left him. 

Devaun (Jeremy Keith Hunter) and Jeron (Vaughan Ryan Midder) are best friends.  Jeron has the brains but Devaun has the know how with women.  How they get involved with the other characters might seem improbable coincidence  but is never less than utterly delightful. 

There is constant referencing to climate changes but there is more than the weather that is changing rapidly.

As each amiable character transforms,  the suspense builds— how can it be that all will not converge in another “ripped from the headlines” tragedy that springs from such racial, ethnic or sexual divisiveness?

Ganesha’s starring role emerges at the end of the play. The removal of obstacles requires a measure of awareness that what one strives for as one’s personal destiny is not impossible.  (The elephant -headed god is also noted for adding a bit of comic unexpected twists to get there.)

Ganesha is also most fitting to be on stage at Mosaic in the show that ends its Inaugural season 2015/16— one overwhelmingly successful at overcome obstacles!

UNTIL JUNE 12, 2016.

Monday, April 25, 2016


You don’t need to go to a travel agent and book THE TRIP OF YOUR LIFETIME—Let Constellation Theatre Company take you places you cannot imagine! 

In  Journey to the West,  the artistry of director Allison Arkell Stockman  and playwright Mary Zimmerman converge for a multi-layered experience. 

A  Buddhist monk (according to ancient Chinese legend) is in search of sacred scriptures in India.  Along the way, he meets a rambunctious monkey (the mind which flips and turns), an insatiable pig (the body and base appetites), and a fiery river monster (heart and muscle). 

What started as the re-telling of a historic pilgrimage of a 7th century monk, and became the legend that was recorded as one of China’s four classical novels in the 16th century, has in turn spawned hundreds of films, operas and books on into the 21st century. 

Over the centuries,  the miles and years of this journey expanded until the trip became 108,000 miles to go over 1,000 mountains and cross 1,000 rivers!

Clever, colorful and comical, this cartoon like adventure story is one that entertains even as it edifies.  Rather than exploit the differences between several systems of ancient Eastern philosophies —let alone the dichotomy with modern Western beliefs—this faith fable is a universal experience.     

Add music by Tom Teaseley, the first class  ensemble, the fantasy costumes  and the risky balancing acts— The Journey into the West is one trip to totally enjoy as we move along on our own  life’s journey.

Check out for information and for more events in conjunction with this show.


Sunday, April 17, 2016

…or BOTH?
Robert Devereux and Electra

While Robert Devereux takes liberties with historical facts, the opera is based on a real person, the English nobleman who was a favorite of Elizabeth I and an ancestor of Queen Elizabeth II.  

The opera so named after Devereux, based on his downfall and death, is really about  Elizabeth I, sung by no less than soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, who has sung all three Donizetti Tudor Queen operas in the same season  (Mary Stuart,  Anne Boleyn and now Elizabeth I).

Electra is a mythological Greek character, the daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra, and thus princess of Argos.  Nina Stemme is Electra — last seen in Turandot, this October to be Isolde.  (an equally formidable trio of roles to compare to the Tudor Queens!)

Besides their royalty, both women  have the opportunity on stage to enact their rages. Elizabeth  cringes and pounds the floor at the news of the Lord of Essex’s death.  Electra  dances away in a frantic mania to her end in her grief over the death of her brother.

 Ah yes! Life is so unfair in opera!

Both Elizabeth and Electra  have had many plays, movies, operas written in attempts to figure  them out:  Electra with Greek playwrights from Sophocles, Euripedes and  Aeschylus to the American Eugene O’Neill while  Elizabeth had plays by no less then Shakespeare written in her honor.

Elizabeth has lands named after her (Viriginia comes to mind first, for her, the Virgin Queen). Electra has a psychological complex in her name. 

Historians report that Elizabeth  really only  paused for a moment  at the word that Lord Essex had been executed, and then continued playing the virginal. Thankfully historians don’t write  operas or we would never have had that wonderful final scene of glorious bel canto singing.

Historical or hysterical— and as different as these two themes might sound—in the last two operas of the Met Simulcast season, both ring true.  

At least to my ears!

See you next season.
Details already available at