Saturday, August 30, 2014

Finn---igan's Wake

In sixty-some years of theatre-going on and off Broadway, and even WAY off Broadway, I have seldom left a play or a piece of musical theatre in the middle of the show.
Les Misérables (2012) Poster
Years ago John and I walked out in the middle of Les Miz  in Boston, which was driving us crazy, and tonight David and I left Celebrating the Music of William Finn at the intermission at Barrington Stage. In both cases we were tired of being assaulted by endless noise and pathetic lyrics. Had I seen Mr. Finn's Romance in Hard Times, which I reviewed last week, before buying the tickets for tonight's show, I would have skipped it. Too late. I bought the tickets before we saw Romance.

Tonight's excerpts from his various shows, two of which earned Tony Awards, was simply more of the same. Mr. Finn seems to like loud, shrill voices, who then are amplified to the point of pain, singing his autobiographical lyrics, which are not that interesting to begin with, or that well set to music.

I'm sorry to have to carp about these points, but suffice it to say this is the last musical of his I plan to suffer through.

To make matters worse, our dinner tonight at Spice Dragon, which is usually quite good, was a mess. It turns out that they are closing tomorrow night while the upstairs of the building is being reconstructed and they were out of various menu items as well as our favorite cocktail ingredients.

This was David's farewell outing before heading to Chicago next week.

Oh well....

I hope Victor Hugo gets royalties from Les Miz. If he stops rolling over in his grave, that is.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Hard times a'comin'

My late, dear friend, mentor, and boss at St.Paul's Chapel, Columbia years ago, Searle Wright, used to say: "Sing good! If you can't sing good, sing loud!!"

Well, tonight the cast of Romance in Hard Times at Barrington Stage 2 certainly sang loud!

The musical by William Finn with a book by Rachel Sheinkin was originally written and performed in 1989 at the Public Theatre in New York. It was one of Joseph Papp's Theatre Laboratory presentations and ran for three weeks.

The current production seems to be in the progress of being re-written by Mr. Finn. In fact, one of the characters is 'The Composer', who is re-writing the play as it goes along. We were told that the cast had learned 32 pages of new material today.

I'm afraid it needs more than thirty-two new pages to be a success. The almost non-existant plot concerns a woman who refuses to deliver the child she is pregnant with until there is a better future. Since this takes place in the depression of the thirties, it looks like it will be an elephantine pregnancy. 

A number of out of work people gather in a soup  kitchen and lament their fate. The father of the baby is mute and will not speak until he gets work. He finally gets sent to jail. He escapes. Eleanor Roosevelt appears in a tasteless parody of that fine lady to try to save the day.

Need I say more?

Well, I guess I have to. Mr. Finn seems to devise text that is un-settable and then attempts to set it to music. There is a lot of repetition of phrases. At several dramatic high points the musical monolog goes on for too long with no advancement of the already stalled plot. The end is just as gloomy as the beginning.

In case you haven't noticed by now, I didn't like the show.

The cast, David Benoit, Lance Fletke, Alan H. Green, Desmond Green, Matthew Gregory, Gabriel Kadian, Anne Kanengeiser, Theresa Kloos, Alix Korey (who we saw several weeks ago in a poor imitation of  Ethel Merman), Andrea Leach, Michael Mandell, Jordana McMahon, Christina Acosta Robinson, Aaron Serotsky, and Ross Yoder all seem like talented actors with what could be good 'theatre' voices. But either the director or the composer must have told them to 'Give it all you've got!' Which they did.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Auld lang syne

Last night David and I attended a very fine concert by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra of San Francisco at the Yale Norfolk Chamber Music Festival in Norfolk, CT. It turned out to be a trip down memory lane for me.

The orchestra, conducted with great joy and enthusiasm by Sir Nicholas McGegan, presented works by Handel, Corelli, and Rameau, played with flare and a great knowledge of the Baroque style. 

Celine Ricci, soprano, and Robin Blaze, countertenor, were the singers in excerpts from Handel's Teseo. Both demonstrated great flexibility and a good sense of style.

The 'Memory Lane' part came at the beautiful post-concert party hosted at the incredible home of David Low and his wife in Norfolk. First of all, David had sung in John Ferris's Harvard Choir some years ago and kindly included us in the festivities following the concert.

Secondly I had a long talk with a woman who had been a friend of Lorraine's from the San Francisco Bay area. We recalled hearing Lorraine sing the title role in Handel's Xerxes at the Los Angeles Opera years ago and I told her that, in addition to Lorraine's marvelous singing, I was blown away by the singing of Brian Azawa, the countertenor. This was unusual for me since the first thing that comes to my mind when I hear most countertenors is 'Why are you doing that?' Brian sounded like Helen Trauble.

In my salad days in New York City, I often performed with Russell Oberlin, probably the first great American countertenor. Russell sang 98% of the time in true voice, unlike most of that ilk, who spend most of the time singing falsetto. He could sing to tenor F above high C in true voice. Leonard Bernstein often had him sing the alto solo parts in Messiah, among other works. He and I, with Frances Blaisdell, the marvelous flutist, did a number of concerts together featuring a cycle written for us by Louie White.

Later, when I was teaching at Harvard, I had a tenor-countertenor study with me who could do the same thing. Most of his very high range was sung in true voice. We also performed the alto arias from Messiah as well as the Louie White pieces. Louie was also a very dear friend of mine to compound the 'Memory' thing.

To top it all, I had a conversation with Sir Nicholas at the party and we spoke about the many times Lorraine had sung with him and of works they had recorded together.

All of this is to say I had a wonderful evening!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Yevgeny in Lenox

Tonight David and I heard Yevgeny Kutik, Edwin Barker, and Deborah DeWolf Emery perform in the Curtisville Consortium at Trinity Church in Lenox.

We spoke with Yevgeny's mother on the way into the church, who said he had returned from concerts in California just yesterday and was ill with a fever.

Yevgeny plays better sick than most violinists do when in perfect health.
Yvgeny Kutik 2013_6643fin
His half of the program featured Russian works from his latest CD, Music from the Suitcase, a collection of music his mother saved when the family fled Russia in 1990. Represented were works by Prokofiev, Anton Rubinstein, Andrea Eshpai, and Johan Halvorsen. 

Yevgeny played with his usual brilliance and impeccable intonation. No matter how many times I have heard him perform, he takes my breath away. The Ferris Burtis Music Foundation is proud to have had him under our aegis for the past twelve years.

Ms. Emery played the piano parts for both artists very well.

The first half of the program featured Mr. Barker on the double bass.Here is a recording of the great Gary Carr playing the Koussivitzky Concerto for String Bass. This was Mr. Barker's opening work.

Mr. Barker is no Gary Carr.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Shall we Dance?

Tonight Alice, David and I saw an absolutely delicious play at Barrington Stage, Main Stage: Dancing Lessons by Mark St. Germain. Barrington Stage has premiered eight of his plays, many of which I have seen. This was by far the best.

The plot deals with a young man with Asperger's Disorder who calls on his downstairs neighbor, a dancer, for dancing lessons. He has to attend a large party where he will be presented with an award, during which he will be expected to dance.

The dancer has been in a serious car accident and is in a full leg cast. After various negotiations, they begin to know each other. He is very shy and afraid of being touched, she is afraid that she will never dance again.

After numerous meetings they go to bed with each other, his first sexual experience.

The play is funny, sad, deep- all at once. It was especially poignant for David whose son has Asperger's Syndrome.

The two actors were marvelous in their very difficult roles: John Cariani as Evers and Paige Davis as Senga. It was brilliantly directed by Julie Boyd, the artistic director of Barrington Stage.

I think this one is bound for Broadway!

Monday, August 4, 2014

There's no business....

This has been a heady theatrical week for David and me. Tuesday was Barrington Stage 2, Friday was Barrington Main Stage, Saturday was Berkshire Choral Festival and tonight was Mr. Finn's Cabaret at Barrington Stage. Whew! That's more shows than I saw in any week when I lived in New York!

Tonight Alix Korey did her 'Ethel Merman' show, Doin' What Comes Naturally', proving that there was really only one Ethel Merman.

Ms. Korey has a very loud voice and sang a lot of Ethel's songs, but I heard Merman many times on Broadway, and Ms. Korey is no Ethel Merman.

Actually, no one is or was Ethel Merman, except Ethel.

Ethel certainly had a big voice that could be heard in the back row of any second balcony in any theatre in the country, without amplification, but it was never pushed. It was just there!

Ms. Korey put on an interesting show combining tales from Ethel's career interspersed with songs from many of her Broadway shows.

Christopher Marlowe ( no, not that one) was the able pianist.

Anyone who tries to do Ethel is almost bound to fail; she was unique.

Ms. Korey's voice always had a rough edge to it and, seeing the veins stand out in her neck, it is obvious where the voice was coming from. She has been singing like this for a number of years, apparently, so she must have an iron neck.

We get a few days off before our next theatrical venture. We'll try to be ready.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

And the winner is.....

Tonight the Berkshire Choral Festival finally presented a program that works for a 230 voice choir. It was Sir Edward Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius.

This is an ultra romantic piece based on an ultra Catholic poem by Cardinal John Henry Newman. It details the spiritual progress of a soul as it passes through Purgatory en route to Heaven. For a number of years Anglican churches in England either left out the overtly Catholic parts or refused to allow the work to be performed.
Kent Tritle, conductor
It was conducted with great energy and passion by Kent Tritle. The soloists were Sara Murphy, mezzo-soprano, John Bellemer, tenor, and Sidney Outlaw, baritone.

Ms. Murphy has a glorious voice that easily encompassed the wide-ranging role from below the passaggio to  above the staff. She is a truly fine singer.

Mr. Bellemer has a splendid tenor voice, more in the British style than the Italian, but perfect for this role.

Mr. Outlaw has a fine baritone voice and sang his part very well.

The 230 voice chorus found the perfect work for itself, adding swaths of sound and orgastic climaxes where needed. After hearing similar groups last week and the week before in the Brahms Requiem, which was vastly under-sung, and Bach's St. John Passion, which wallowed around in an overly-romantic presentation, it was a pleasure to hear the right choir singing the right work under the right conductor.

Next season will open with Jane Glover conducting Britten's War Requiem. David has already signed up for that one.

Might I suggest a work like Walton's Belshazzar's Feast as a possible future concert? 

(I apologize for the differing sizes of pictures but I have to take what I find on the net.)

Breaking which code?

Until we saw Breaking the Code at Barrington Stage last night, I assumed the play was about Alan Turing, the mathematical genius who broke the "Enigma Code" of the Nazis in World War II.

Which it was.

But it was also much more about the fact of his homosexuality, which until fairly recently was considered a felony in Great Britain. And it was that, and the fact that he was convicted of "gross mis-conduct', plus his chemical castration as a result, that led to his suicide at the age of 42.

Growing up gay in those days, on either side of the Atlantic, was not a picnic. Having been involved as a plaintiff in the first lawsuit against DOMA, I have some knowledge of this fact.

Mark H. Dold gave a tour de force  performance as Turing in last night's performance. He was on stage for most of the time often reciting difficult mathematical formulas, which must have been hard to memorize, if nothing else.

The play itself is a strange, loose-limbed arrangement of scenes from his life and his involvement with others, sexually and professionally. Considering the harsh laws in Britain concerning homosexuality in those days, it is no wonder that between having mathematical theorems constantly rushing through his head, while feeling guilt at his very sexual being, he finally took his own life.

The rest of the cast included Mike Donovan as Christopher Morcom/Nikos, Kyle Fabel as Mick Ross, Jefferson Farber as Ron Miller, Deborah Hedwall as Sarah Turing (his mother), Philip Kerr as Dillwyn Knox, Annie Meisels as Pat Green, and John Leonard Thompson as John Smith. They were all excellent. The play was directed by Joe Calarco.

I got a little tired of various people pounding on the table (practically the only bit of scenery) to make a point. After a while this became annoying. But otherwise the action was good.

To me, the most poignant scene came toward the end of the play, when Turing, in bed with a beautiful young man in Greece, who spoke no English, tries to explain how he broke the "Enigma Code'. This pathetic moment accurately depicts the trauma between mathematics and sex that dominated his short life.