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  1. TWO GENTS at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival
  2. Censored on Final Approach
  3. Things I Left on Long Island at FringeNYC
  4. And now for something just a little different: Renée Fleming is in a play...A PLAY.
  5. Phantom of the Opera goes Color Blind
  6. More Recent Articles
  7. Search Adventures in the Endless Pursuit of Entertainment
  8. Prior Mailing Archive

TWO GENTS at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival

On Saturday, I finally made good on my promise to return to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. Gratefully, I accepted Amy and Dan's invitation to visit and accompany them in seeing Two Gentlemen of Verona.   It was a fabulous weekend in the country!  

 
This Two Gents was wonderful.  The production is tightly, cleverly, smartly, hilariously directed by Eric Tucker.  It was sort of a combination of Roman Holiday, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Pret a Porter and Boeing-Boeing (the 2008 Broadway production) - crazy, brightly colored and so very stylish. 

Costume design is by Rebecca Lustig.  Choreography is by Alexandra Beller.  Sound design is by William Neal.  Props Design is by Sue Rees.  Lighting Design is by David Upton.  All of this stage production leads to a swanky, magical cocktail of modern and vintage.  
 
The cast is nothing less than fabulous: Ethan Saks as Valentine, Andy Rindlisbach as Proteus, Jennifer Johnson as Speed, Magan Wiles as Julia, Nance Williamson as Lucetta/Second Outlaw/Host, Kurt Rhoads as Antonio/Launce, Aryana Sedarati as Silvia/Third Outlaw, Rex O'Reilly as Launce's dog Crab, Cameron Jamarr Davis as Thurio, Leopold Lowe as the Duke of Milan, Oliver Lehne as First Outlaw/Silvia's accomplice. 

I could not have been more blown away by this cast.  Even though Rex O'Reilly threatened to steal all of his scenes with his canine wiles, my favorites were Nance Williamson and Kurt Rhoads.  While Rex is making his company debut, Kurt and Nance have worked on 60 shows together.  They are a RIOT!  Every moment from this entire cast, seasoned and those making their debut alike, delivered hilarity and they danced together like they've been dancing forever.    All sorts of shenanigans that actually had nothing to do with the play were happening on the vast lawn that serves as upstage and I loved every minute of it. 

I will seriously not wait so long to return again to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.  It couldn't be easier to get there via the Hudson Valley Line on the Metro North (and it's such a gorgeous ride Billy Joel didn't include a lyric about it for nothin').  The breathtaking landscape that is the stage is as beautiful as any lauded theatre.  The price is pretty right as well.   The remains of their rep season  includes Othello, The Liar by David Ives, and Two Gents until August 31st:   http://hvshakespeare.org/.

 
 
 
    


Censored on Final Approach

My nieces had just been to the National WASP WWII Museum in Sweetwater, Texas, when I received an invitation from Petol Weekes, a producer at Infinite Variety Productions, to see their new production of Censored on Final Approach.
 

Censored on Final Approach, by Phylis Ravel, tells the true story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, known as the WASP.

 
In 1942, American female flyer Jacqueline Cochran organized a group of twenty-five American women pilots to fly for Great Britain, upon the request of General Hap Arnold and Britain‘s Chief/Air Mission. Cochran accompanied them to England and remained to assist with plans for the newly arrived American 8th Air Force.

General Hap Arnold asked Cochran to return to the United States in spring 1942 to train women pilots to fly America’s military aircraft into operation due to the shortage of male pilots. On September 11, 1942 she was appointed Director of Woman‘s Flying Training for the United States. The first class of women pilots reported for training at the Houston Municipal Airport on November 11, 1942. Three months later, the program was moved to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas.

The experimental flying training program was successful, and in July, 1943 Cochran was appointed to the General Staff of the U.S. Army Air Forces to direct all phases of the WASP program at 120 air bases all over America. Ultimately, 1,102 women served in the WASP.   38 women died in this service due to various factors: terrible condition of the planes, which were rejects of the overseas war, accidents, some pilot error and the sheer danger of their missions, including serving as tow targets for ground fire training.   Notably, women tested the B-29 bombers (the Enola Gay was a B-29).  These planes were difficult to fly, but it only took three days to teach the female pilots to handle them.  

On 20 December 1944 the WASP program was discontinued and the WASP disbanded.   Because the WASP were civilians, their contribution to the war effort was largely unknown by Americans and worse, unrecognized by the United States government.  Women were then not allowed to fly either military or commercial flights until the mid-1970s.  Finally, in 1977, Congress voted to give the WASP veteran status and President Carter signed the bill into law “Officially declaring the Women Airforce Service Pilots as having served on active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States for purposes of laws administered by the Veterans Administration.”

On July 1, 2009, President Obama signed the bill awarding the WASP the Congressional Gold Medal .

In Censored on Final Approach, the excitement and danger of this service is examined through the story of four of the best of these women.   The production presents the weaves reality with fiction with innovation and implicity.   I found the story emotionally chilling and thrilling as well as inspirational.   Cochran is presented as tough as nails and unbending as she is determined to keep the program alive despite its detractors and what some of the female pilots believed to be sabotage.  Cochran is played by Elizabeth McNeils.  The main pilots are played Ashley Adelman, Olivia Rose Barresi, Kaitlyn Huczko and Jessica G. Smith.  The cast is rounded out by men who had the misfortune of acting out the discrimination the WASP faced - Ross Alden, Greg McGovern and Will Sturek.  The whole company was impressive and the drama was tight.  

We were treated to an after talk with Amy Nathan, author of Yankee Doodle Gals. Ms. Nathan shared some of the backstories and history of the WASP.

Censored on Final Approach continues playing at the Gym at Judson on August 23rd, 24th and 26th.  Tickets are available via Brown Paper Tickets

After each performance, a special talk back will be presented:  On the 23rd it's Bernice "Bee" Falk Haydu, who served as a WASP at the age of 23 in 1944.  Ms. Haydu is the author of Letters Home 1944-1945, based on letters her mother had saved.  Her website is www.wasplettershome.com.  On the 24th, Lynn Yonally, daughter of WASP Lillian Lorraine Yonally, will discuss her mom's service and their contribution to Ms. Nathan's book Yankee Doodle Gals.  On the 26th, Carla Horowitz will share her experience as a WASP who was stationed at Blacklands Airforce Base in Waco, Texas.

The impressive Infinite Variety Productions was formed as a vehicle to share the lost stories of women in our history through drama.   They passionately aim to equally entertain and teach.   I am thrilled to learn about their company and look forward to more of their productions.

Censored On Final Approach will continue its run in Arlington, VA at the Women in Military Service for America at Arlington Cemetery for Veteran's Day.  All shows will be free to Veterans.  The company is raising funds for this event at indie go go .  


The Company with Amy Nathan





    

Things I Left on Long Island at FringeNYC

Things I Left On Long Island is funny, sweet, sad, and revelatory. Playwright Sara Cooper weaves the story beautifully and it's directed by Noah Himmelstein, a frequent collaborator of Cooper's, with thoughtfulness and subtlety.  It's the quintessential story of Jewish mothers who also happen to be single mothers, but it doesn't free-fall into cliche. 

 
This is Marny's story, or her play as she refers to it.  After finding a lump in her breast, she quits her life and heads home to Long Island to live with her mother again.  The story centers around their family, the way they are and dealing with cancer as a fact of life. 

It's hilariously and very well acted by a great cast:  Lindsay Goranson mother Dolores, Susanna Hari as Grandma, Jenn Mello as Aunt Velma, Michael Rehse as Cousin Stephen, and Elysia Segal as Marny.  They had a lively and appreciative audience delighting at their delivery.

I had been to an early reading last year and was so happy to hear some of the lines again. I like the funny bits but the best part was the soliloquy about the "lump" - just to summarize because I couldn't adequately restate the beauty of the tapestry of this soliloquy: Marny muses about lumps - there are a 1000 lumps....taking your lumps...lump it or leave it...a lump of coal...a lump in your breast.

I don't know how this very young playwright Sara Cooper crafts the words with such wisdom and insight. She's able to see the humor and the pain simultaneously and present it in a provacative way that makes me laugh and keeps it in my mind. It's always the minute, still, quietest moments that I love most in a theatre piece and this soliloquy about the lump goes right to the top of that list of favorites of mine.

It's a bonus that Noah Himmelstein is a genius at directing the smallest details as well - he's all about looking at something thru a magnifying lense without putting flashing lights around it; subtlety, stillness, color and light, and thoughtfulness are his forte.

These collaborators are so young yet they have such wisdom and eyes for seeing the means!

This is one of the very best and what FringeNYC is all about - entertaining, thought-provoking, simple.   There are four more opportunities to catch "Things I Left On Long Island":  Thursday, August 14th at 4:30pm, Sunday, August 17th at 1:45pm, Thursday, August 21st at 9:00pm and Sunday, August 24th at 1:45pm.   It plays at Fringe Venue # 18, in the Players Theatre Building at 115 MacDougal (one of the best and most convenient locations for Fringe).  Tickets are available online via Eventbrite.






    


And now for something just a little different: Renée Fleming is in a play...A PLAY.


For two weeks this summer, opera diva Renée Fleming is in a PLAY.   When Renée told me that she would be doing a play this summer, my reaction was to screech, "A PLAY!?!" No need to panic though, it's a play with music about a famous opera diva.   On Saturday, Karigee and I drove up to Williamstown, Massachusetts to see this very play at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. 

In LIVING ON LOVE, Renée plays Raquel, an aging, egotistical, yet insecure but famous opera singer who is married to an aging, egotistical, yet insecure Italian maestro Vito, played by Douglas Sills.  The maestro is sort of working on his memoir with a ghost writer played by Justin Long.  The writing isn't going well and a brave, ambitious and comely assistant, played by Anna Chlumsky, is sent by the publisher in to threaten the maestro into finishing his work or else return the sizeable advance.  Further antagonizing the action are two well healed and talented butlers played  by played by Blake Hammong and Scott Robertson.  

Joe DiPietro's LIVING ON LOVE is adapted from Garson Kanin's 1985 play Peccadillo.  Admittedly I have not read Peccadillo and it has only been produced regionally, however Garson Kanin was one of the best when it came to madcap rom com writing: My Favorite Wife, Pat and Mike, Born Yesterday, Adam's Rib, among dozens of others both for film and stage.   Incidentally, Garson's uniquely brilliant wife Ruth Gordon passed away in 1985.  He married Marian Seldes in 1990.   He passed away in 1999 at the ripe old age of 87. 

Lest you think it's type casting, the only real similarity between Renée and her character Raquel is that they are both famous sopranos.  Raquel is every stereotype in the book when it comes to her ego and operatic personality.  Renée plays up all of that and then some.  I was so nervous for her "acting" but I shouldn't have feared.  She's absolutely charming and is very funny.  She didn't miss a beat. 

It's more accurate to confess that I did see a few other similarities between Renée and Raquel - they are both beautiful, stylish and have beautiful voices that make people melt (she does this to Justin Long more than once.)  "Knowing" her as I have for these past years, I do know that she's very quick and humorous - brilliant people usually are.  

Fortunately, Renée does sing in many of the scenes - mostly it's snippets of arias and her recording of Vissi d' Arte is played on a record player (a scratchy quality is added to make it sound "period").   Renée also sings some of her lines - it's silly, sing songy - fun, but of course, it's the beautiful voice so always satisfying.  In one of her singing entrances, she stops to ponder if it's the birds singing, "Why no, it's just me!"  Adorable. 

There are so many funny moments so well executed that it's impossible to relay them all - everybody was hilarious and my sides are still splitting from laughing so much.   I nearly fell off my chair when "Raquel" was conveying her dismay that she might be losing her power as a soprano and headed toward being a mezzo.   Douglas Sills was the Captain of Laughs with his ridiculous Italian accent, antics, tantrums, jealousy of Leonard Bernstein....he pomaded his hair with maple syrup in a quick attempt to impress his visit from Anna Chlumsky in one of the funniest gags ever on a stage.  I loved Anna Chlumsky (My Girl! Veep!)  and Justin Long (Ed, New Girl, King of the Hill).  

I think my favorite scene was Raquel's reenactment of her famous Mimi in the La Scala Boheme for Justin Long.   Renée never performed in La Boheme so to me it seemed even funnier when she went way, way off from the story by having Justin Long strip off his shirt and rub olive oil all over his chest.  He's a well built young man so it was easy to admire, but also hysterically nerdy as he kept on his tie.   When they are interrupted by the maestro, his reaction was "Why he shiny?"   In the awkward moment, Justin Long covered his nipples with his tie.   The cast did their very best not to break character, but it was a very long pause as the audience roared with laughter.

It is a romantic comedy so there's the inevitable-jealousy making and love-making.  It's all predictable, but very charming in its old fashioned sensibility and style.  On Saturday night, the pacing was crisp and it all went by too quickly.  Kathleen Marshall's direction is smart and takes advantage of all of the madcap skills of her cast.  The set and costumes are gorgeous.  The whole show is as sparkling as a glass of champagne.

The play ends with Renée and Doug waltzing and singing the Irving Berlin tune "I'll be Loving You Always."   It's perhaps one of the sweetest endings I've seen....and I keep thinking that I'd really like Renée to record it on some hoped-for future standards album.   As we were waiting to say hello to Renée after, Justin Long passed us whistling the tune.  That was just about the sweetest ending too. 







    

Phantom of the Opera goes Color Blind

Finally the longest running show in Broadway history has modernized with color blind casting and it's brilliantly done.  Starring as the latest Phantom of the Opera is the dashing African American Norm Lewis.  It's extra auspicious that Norm is realizing his dream to play this role.
 


 

Having seen POTO only once before - May 24, 2003 - I decided to give it another go when I was invited to a Buzzmaker Evening for bloggers.   It was fun to see some familiar blogging colleagues at a pre-show cocktail party and then enjoy lovely orchestra seats.  

I saw POTO the first time with a pal visiting from Texas on a very cold and wet Memorial Day weekend.   It was before I started seeing opera and the show was lost on me.  It was very expensive and my companion was not an easy going visitor.  I only remember feeling very annoyed with the entire weekend.

What a difference almost exactly 11 years makes!  Being an opera veteran may have enhanced my enjoyment this time around.  I was thoroughly entertained by the charming production and I found the cast to be quiet effective.  Norm Lewis and his leading lady, Sierra Boggus as Christine Daae, were fabulous.   It's richly sung and performed.  The story is ridiculously over the top, but opera generally is so it worked for me.   The costumes and sets are eye-popping and the production is larger than life, just like the opera.  It's easy to appreciate why this is such a long running old-fashioned theatrical favorite.

As for the color blind casting, I found myself wondering if most of the audience really was blind to the fact that Norm is African American.  The stage lighting is effectively dim and most of his skin is covered in costume.   He sang it like nobody's business with a gorgeous satisfying baritone.   Either way, the audience was spectacularly satisfied and didn't hold back with their appreciation. 

Any theatrical production should be color blind - theatre is all about suspension of disbelief after all.  It's what actors do regardless of age, creed or color.   The actual opera has been doing it for decades - casting for voice rather than skin or looks so it's only fitting that a show about an opera finally joins its muse.  



    


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