Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Music? Music? Music?

It seems to me that I have written this same review several times in the past. A new musical with a weird plot, unmusical writing, and incredibly loud singing.

Last night David and I saw the World Première of Broadway Bounty Hunter at Barrington Stage 2. Music and Lyrics are by Joe Iconis with a book by him, Lance Rubin and SweetTooth Williams.

I am much too old to appreciate this kind of theatre. Sitting in the front row of the theatre being bombarded by people basically hollering at me from six feet away while also being amplified, unable to understand many of the words that were being sung, and feeling I would rather be somewhere else. This work again came from the Musical Theatre Lab of William Finn and was directed by Julianne Boyd.

Image result for annie golden   Annie Golden

The unbelievable story concerns a middle aged actress trying to get a part in a play.Her husband drowned ten years ago and she still pines for him. She is kidnapped by a strange Asian man and several henchmen and begins her study in a Bounty Hunter School where everyone does their best to kill each other. She is sent to Venezuela to bring back a man who has been a crooked Broadway producer and has killed several people with a product he discovered that energizes them so they can perform fifteen shows a week rather than a mere eight. He turns out to be her supposedly dead husband.

Image result for alan h green Alan H. Green

Well, you get the idea.

Image result for jeff mccarthy Jeff McCarthy
The leading roles were played by Annie Golden, Alan H. Green, and Jeff McCarthy. They all sang as loud as possible. Ms. Golden is an excellent actress and the entire cast hollered and danced with great energy.

Julie suggested that the show may be Broadway bound. I doubt it.

Sunday, August 28, 2016


Last evening David and I saw the production of Madama Butterfly that was staged by the Berkshire Opera Festival. This is a new group that is attempting to fill the void left when Berkshire Opera closed its doors some years back.

This was opening night for their first  season and played to a full house. I have seen Madama Butterfly a number of times and this was the oddest set and stage direction yet. The very large stage at the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield was back by a scrim with a platform in front of it and a large circular object from behind which singers made exits and entrances. Otherwise the stage didn't have much on it. This arrangement meant that a lot of the singing had be from the rear of the stage.

Often when singing major arias the singers stood at the front of the stage and faced the audience, sort of like a concert version of the opera.

Image result for inna los  Inna Los

 The cast had many splendid singers. Inna Los was Cio-Cio-San. She has a sizable voice with a good top and is a very good actress. For some reason in Act I everyone was dressed in Japanese attire appropriate to the period of the composition of the opera (Early 20th century). Then in Acts II and III, Cio-Cio-San appeared in a modern gray suit. This was to emphasize her attempt to seem more 'American' but shook up the time frame. I doubt that this story, which may be based on fact, works in a contemporary setting.

Image result for jason slayden  Jason Slayden

Jason Slaydon was B.F. Pinkerton. He has a resounding tenor voice with the requisite range for the role but his voice needs a bit more polish to gain international repute.

Image result for sarah larsen mezzo  Sarah Larsen

Sarah Larson sang the part of Suzuki. Again a large voice but she needs to find the bottom of her range which was weak. She was at the best in Act III.

Image result for weston hurt baritone  Weston Hurt

Two of the best voices last night belonged to Weston Hurt as Sharpless and Eduardo Valdes as Goro. Both had rich strong voices and sang and acted wonderfully. Bravi!

  Image result for eduardo valdes    Eduardo Valdes

The rest of the cast included John Cheek (formerly at the Met and a resident of Great Barrington) as the Bonze, Benjamin Taylor, a very good baritone as Prince Yamadori, and Katherine Maysek in the ungrateful role of Kate Pinkerton.

The conductor was Brian Garman and the stage director was Jonathon Loy. A good orchestra was in the pit.

Some of the stage direction was lacking in sensible movement in that the singers had to cope with this odd set. Acts II and III were done without pause. Since there was nothing to indicate the walls of Butterfly's house, Shoji screens were wheeled on and off stage from time to time. At the end of Act II Suzuki wheeled one to the front of the stage for Butterfly, herself, and Sorrow to peer through to look for the arrival of Pinkerton. Usually Butterfly pokes holes in the material to look out. In this case the material was apparently un-pokeable so they were standing, with their backs to the audience looking at beige material of some un-pokeable kind, all through the humming chorus and the prelude to Act III. It looked odd. David said 'What are they supposed to be doing?' They were actually looking back into what had just been the living room of the house.

At the end Butterfly kills herself while standing on the platform at the rear of the stage with her back to the audience. When Pinkerton rushes in from behind the large circular set piece, He merely stood in place, unable to get across the religious statue that was in the middle of the platform to reach her. Not very dramatic.

The strangest production of this opera I ever saw was in Paris at the Salle Garnier. Lorraine made her Paris début in this room with Les Arts Florissants and I attended that performance as well.

In that production life-sized puppets doubled the actions of some of the singers and Butterfly arrived on stage in what appeared to be an enormous pie dish with the material forming what would have been the crust coming up to her neck. Oh well!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dysfunction Junction

Dysfunctional families seem to be the theme of this summer's fare at Barrington Stage. In Kimberly Akimbo a family must cope with a daughter who has the Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome which causes a young person to age rapidly, often ending in their death during their teens. In Presto Change-O  family of jugglers has strong feelings of jealousy, and in American Son an inter-racial divorced couple must try to come to terms with their son who is torn between his up-bringing in the white world and his desire to fit into the black world, finally being shot by the police.

Well, you get the idea.

Last night David and I saw Tribes, an award winning play by Nina Raine. This family is being torn apart by a father and mother who have raised one son who is deaf but is not taught to sign because the father thinks that will make him a weak person,a second son who hears voices and stutters, and a daughter, whose only problem seems to be that she can't find a man.

Image result for joshua castille   Joshua Castille
The deaf son is, however, an expert lip-reader. He meets a young woman whose parents are both deaf. She is going deaf and can sign fluently but does not lip read. They have trouble communicating at first but fall in love.

Miles G. Jackson - _LFP6033 copy notext   Miles G. Jackson
When she is introduced to his family his father makes an argument about the uselessness of signing and gets things off to a bad start. Things begin to fall apart including the relationship of the young couple.

Image result for c david johnson actor   C. David Johnson
At the end, the second brother, who is the only one in the family to try to learn to sign, signs that he loves his brother. They embrace as the curtain falls. Or actually as the lights go off.

Image result for deirdre madigan   Deirdre Madigan
Other than that.

Image result for eli pauley  Eli Pauley
The cast featured Joshua Castille, Miles G. Jackson, C. David Johnson, Deirdre Madigan, Eli Pauley, and Justine Salata. There were three people signing the drama in last night's performance which was an ASL performance. One section of the theatre was reserved for hard of hearing people and the three interpreters, Candace Broecker Penn, Chris Matthews, and Joan Wattman signed the entire play for them.

Image result for justine salata    Justine Salata
A most unusual evening.

I felt the first act was much stronger than the second act which turned into a series of short vignettes bringing the play to its dramatic conclusion. Perhaps this should have been a three act play to give more time to develop these brief, emotional moments. 

This was certainly an most unusual night in the theatre.