Theatre Guild of Simsbury to Enchant Farmington Valley With ‘Beauty & The Beast’ on 25th Anniversary of Animated Film

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Patrick Spadaccino (Beast) and Kimberly Korfel (Belle) rehearse for Theatre Guild of Simsbury’s “Beauty & The Beast.” Photo Credit: Jessie Sawyer

Theatre Guild of Simsbury presents a tale as old as time to enchant the Farmington Valley this November with a unique interpretation of Disney’s “Beauty & The Beast,” 25 years since the Disney animated film.

Artistic Director Jane Cerosky, making her debut at TGS, has assembled a talented cast of about 40 adults and children to bring this classic Disney fairytale to life, staging it as a bedtime story-inspired dream.

“I am very honored for the trust TGS has put in me to direct this show. My vision is to be true to the story, in part by making the audience relate to the characters as real people, not just caricatures,” she said.

TGS jumped on the opportunity to be one of the first adult community theaters in Connecticut to perform the musical once the rights became available again at the close of the Broadway tour in July. The group read it back in 2010. It’s an “enchanting story for young and old,” TGS president Donna Sennott said.

Years after an enchantress turns a prince into a beast (Patrick Spadaccino), he takes bookish Belle (Kimberly Korfel) as prisoner in place of her inventor father Maurice (Rick Anderson, of Simsbury). Belle may be Beast’s last chance at true love to break the spell before the last rose petal falls.

“I’m thrilled to be playing the Beast because this play is a powerful story of love and transformation, with lots of wonderful music and humor sprinkled in – there’s a little something for every audience member to enjoy,” Spadaccino, of Middletown, said. “Since I wear heavy makeup through most of the show, I can’t depend as much upon facial expressions and similar physical subtleties. I need to convey a range of emotions – scorn, regret, anger, tenderness, sorrow, love – while most of my body and face are obscured.”

Meanwhile, manly, narcissistic hunter Gaston (Geoff Ruckdeschel) has his sights set on wooing and marrying Belle much to her distaste. When rejected and publicly humiliated, he orchestrates a dastardly scheme, amid his daily diet of five dozen eggs, to put Belle’s father in the loony bin with the help of his goofy sidekick, Lefou (Al Girard, of East Hartford), and Monsier D’Arque (Rick Rendiero), head of the asylum. When Gaston sees Beast as a threat to his future with Belle, he rallies a mob to kill him.

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Geoff Ruckdeschel flexes as Gaston in rehearsal for “Gaston” in Theatre Guild of Simsbury’s “Beauty & The Beast.” Photo Credit: Jessie Sawyer

Going beyond a fairytale about love and good versus evil, “Beauty & The Beast” teaches “how appearances can be deceiving, for beauty is found within.” The physical transformations of the Beast and his subjects symbolize personal transformation and character arcs.

“Transformation stories are very powerful, but in order for such tales to work, the audience must witness and become engaged in the transformation,” Spadaccino said. “Both Belle and the Beast change dramatically over the course of the show, and audiences need to care about these characters. They must want them to change and celebrate with them when they do. So, while this play is a fantasy, there needs to be enough realism to create that audience engagement.”

Deeply immersing himself in the character, he wrote a journal in Beast’s perspective about his backstory.

“That helped me to better understand why the Beast is the way he is. What made him so cruel and uncaring? Why was his generous, loving nature suppressed for so long? What is it about Belle that helps him finally change?” Spadaccino said. “Physical training was also part of my preparation for this role because the Beast has both dance and combat scenes. I experimented with different movement styles to help convey the discomfort and awkwardness of changing from a man into a beast, and I did weight and aerobic training to reduce the likelihood of injuries.”

Windsor Locks native and Torrington resident Ruckdeschel, who is playing a lead character and villain for the first time, also worked out a lot to build Gaston’s physique. He enjoys putting his own take on the character, also mindful of “certain expectations for the well-known villain of ‘Beauty & The Beast.’”

Korfel studied musical theater performance at Hartt, where she met choreographer Tracy Funke, of Manchester. In addition to singing a lot, she has been “studying the character as Disney created [Belle] and using what we know about the beloved princess to help complete unwritten pieces of her story.”

“I am so grateful to be joining this wonderful group of dedicated and talented performers! Playing the role of Belle is an absolute dream!” Korfel, of North Granby, said. “She has always been one of my favorite Disney characters and I am beyond honored to bring her to life in this production.”

It’s also a blessing to have the rare opportunity to act alongside her oldest daughter in the show, she said.

“I could not be more proud as I watch her learning how much hard work goes into a production of this scale and seeing her rise to the challenge,” Korfel said.

A 20-piece orchestra, led by music director Willard Minton, plays Alan Menken’s award-winning score.

“From boisterous full ensemble production numbers like ‘Gaston,’ ‘Human Again’ and, particularly, ‘Be Our Guest’ to sensitive and introspective solos and duets sung by Belle, the Beast, and Mrs. Potts (who gets to sing the title song!), the score is one of the most beautiful I have ever worked with,” Minton said. “The very first Disney animated musical to be fully adapted to the Broadway stage, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is a show that speaks to all ages, and should not be missed.”

Costumer Cindy Braunlich sews even more magic into the production with elaborate and stunning costumes, including rentals from three warehouses and others she is building with the help of volunteers.

“You have to strike the right balance between what the audience expects to see (i.e. Belle’s golden ball gown) and putting your own mark on the show so it is a visual exciting to watch,” said Braunlich.

Cerosky said she is proud of the work the leads have done to prepare and that she knows the musical “will be a blockbuster” with the talented cast and production team – including set designer Doreen Cohn, lighting and sound designer Michael Hunter, Dian Pomeranz on set dressing and props, stage manager Heidi Bengraff and Assistant Director Randy Ronco, who is overseeing stage combat.

“This is a big show that requires the best team in the area and we all are going to make TGS very proud with this production,” Cerosky said.

You can see the magic of “Beauty and the Beast” at Simsbury High School, 34 Farms Village Rd., on Nov. 12 and 19 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 13, 19 and 20 at 2 p.m. Tickets cost $19 for students/seniors and $22 for adults when purchased in advance online at www.theatreguildsimsbury.org, $21 for students/seniors and $24 for adults at the door and $18 for students/seniors and $20 for adults when purchased after Oct. 17 at the Simsbury Senior Center or Fitzgerald’s Foods in Simsbury.

Tale As Old As Time, ‘Beauty & The Beast’, Returns to the Warner on 25th Anniversary of Disney Animated Film

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Tyler Reid von Oy (left) as Beast and Caitlin Mandracchia (right) as Belle debut at the Warner in “Beauty & The Beast.” Credit: Luke Haughwout

Belle may come from a little town, a quiet village, every day like the one before, a little town full of little people. But in Torrington on Saturday night, hundreds flocked to Belle’s little town, which grew big, resonant, beautiful and magical. And the little people in it were a big hit and full of talent. Bon jour! Hello! Welcome back to the Warner, Beauty & the Beast!

The Disney spirit was alive in the main stage auditorium for young and old, including at least one little girl wearing her golden Belle dress and many people – including this reviewer – illuminating the theater with red glowing enchanted roses purchased in the lobby. The production is a wonderful version of the beloved Broadway fairytale musical that celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Disney animated film.

Producer Sharon Wilcox said the Warner has been waiting with excitement to do the show again after producing it years ago on the main stage. The rights became available again this year at the close of the Broadway tour in July, so it’s been a popular choice already for community theaters in Connecticut. Two others – Theatre Guild of Simsbury and West Hartford Community Theatre – will open their productions of the show next weekend as the Warner closes theirs.

Director Donald Birely is no stranger to Beauty & The Beast having toured professionally and nationally as a cast member in the musical. And now he has enchanted the Warner stage with his vision for the story.

Instead of a voiced over intro, he chose to have Jim Wood, playing Maurice, address the crowd, with the narrative. That approach made Maurice more invested in the story and highlighted his role as a father.

As we listened, actors aesthetically pantomimed the action. We see a young prince turn away a hooded beggar woman when she offers him a rose in exchange for shelter from the bitter cold, but she warns him not to be deceived by appearances, for beauty is found within. When he refuses to help again, the old woman transforms into a beautiful, glittery enchantress. The prince tries to apologize and seeing there is no love in his heart, she gracefully waves her arms, casting a spell that turns him into a beast and enchants the castle. He has to shows he can love and be loved in return before the last petal on the enchanted rose falls to break the spell or he will be doomed to be a beast forever. 

Then the dark, mystical opening transitions into a much brighter, simpler setting in a cheery small town for “Belle” – one of the most popular songs in the musical and Disney animated film. It introduces one of our culture’s most beloved Disney princesses, our grounded and bookish female protagonist.

The ensemble in this show really puts in a lot of energy and thought to their characters to flesh out the story and setting. Individual soloists were expressive and talented singers, however some were less audible, expectedly the ones who did not have microphones in “Belle.”

There were also some audio glitches in the beginning with some of the mics and delayed sound effects. Gaston’s gunshot blast was delayed on his entrance and many ensemble members noticeably reacted early in anticipation of the sound effect. Wilcox had made a reference to minor audio technical difficulties before the show started. However, the crew seemed to resolve those issues early in the production.

Beauty & The Beast is known for its beautiful and robust orchestral score by Alan Menken, who has written a lot of Disney songs. The dynamic instrumental opening is an imperative and powerful element to lead into the story, but there were were moments when the entire orchestra wasn’t together and lagging a little bit. When in tempo and in sync with the performers, the orchestra – stationed below the stage – produced quite beautiful instrumentals, led by music director Holly J. McCann. However, tempo issues sporadically arose at later points in the show when it seemed like the orchestra was behind tempo, meaning the singers on stage had to slow down to follow them as opposed to the other way around – particularly in the mirky “Maison de Lunes.”  That being said, the orchestra mostly enhanced the onstage vocals, adding musical layers to the songs. The horn section was triumphant when it had the melody.

Speaking of music. Wow! The vocals in this production are top notch, some performers on par with the professionals. Warner newcomers Caitlin Mandracchia (Belle) and Tyler Reid von Oy (Beast) had strong acting and musical chemistry, blending well and acting the songs in a way that made their characters easy to connect to and real.

When Beast’s lack of manners show through as he guzzles his soup down like he’s drinking from a cup, Mandracchia cleverly and adorably mimics his eating habits in a dainty Belle way. The awkwardness as Beast tries to be a gentleman around Belle, with the counsel of Cogsworth and Lumiere, create some preciously funny moments.

Mandracchia’s voice was clear, sweet, strong and hopeful like Belle’s persona. She did a good job at being politely defiant during Gaston’s proposal in “Me” and her expressions and sarcasm said it all about how repulsed her character was at the prospect.

Reid von Oy’s voice was harmoniously booming – sheer music royalty. Do The Three Tenors need another? He was foreboding as Beast toward the beginning of the story. He embellished his character’s wild, animalistic side in every hunched-over, skulking and bounding movements across stage and up stairs.

Mandracchia tugged at our hearts with the forlorn, beautifully sung “Home.” Beast captured our sympathy with his impassioned and emotionally introspective solo to close Act I, taking an impressive risk by singing his last note higher than written.

Every performer had stunning vocals -enhanced by an off-stage choir – particularly other lead characters like operatic, fluttering soprano Anne Kanter (Madame De La Grande Bouche, the wardrobe), Rebekah Derrick as the motherly and hospitable teapot with a British accent (Mrs. Potts), Eric Linblom as the tightly wound and often flabbergasted, by-the-books head of household (Cogsworth, the clock) and the bellowing, belting Michael King as Gaston. Wood was eccentric and lovable as Maurice and also sang very well.

You could say the Warner’s Gaston was the King of comedy in this production. King put an exaggerated self-absorbed, macho and Dudley Do-Right oblivious take on the character that uniquely made our villain a vehicle for comedy alongside town fool sidekick Lefou (Richard McKenna). The duo made for a strong comedy team, infusing some scenes with slapstick physical humor. They also took risks. King had McKenna practically dangling backward from the edge of the passoral stage extension above the orchestra. McKenna was frantic, manic and clownish as Gaston’s fanboy. His hair had an electrified look to it that brought out his eccentricities with the help of his expressions between stage beatings from Gaston.

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Gaston (Michael King) surrounded by his Silly Girls (Jean Marie McGrath and L Nagle on the left and Cassandra Whitehead and Ashley Billings on the right. Credit: Luke Haughwout

Jean Marie McGrath, Cassandra Whitehead, Ashley Billings and L Nagle also provided some comedy as the ditzy, swooning Gaston admirers. He can do no wrong by them. All of them were fabulous dancers, also featured as enchanted napkins in “Be Our Guest.” While not pertinent to the plot, their caricatures accentuated Gaston’s tunnel vision despite occasional distractions in his private dalliances with the ladies. They are his cheerleaders and he is like the most popular athlete in school.

“Gaston” and “Be Our Guest” are the highly anticipated numbers to see in this production with the most choreography and physical/musical energy. Matthew Farina choreographed the show. The mug clinking added extra percussion to the song and brought it uptempo. All actors had to clink at the same time for that to be effective and they were in time. 

Choreography aside, “Be Our Guest” was also fun to watch because of the costumes – including but not limited to Rockette-like napkins in flowing dresses to silverware servants, China plates, salt and pepper shakers, spatulas, a sugar bowl, a cheese grater and a dining room rug. Plus there was Lumiere (Rick Fountain), our comical host and ladies’ man, rather candelabra, with electric lights he could flicker to turn in his flames. Becky Sawicki was sexy, sassy and flirtatious as his lover, Babette. Her tall wig and feathery dress brought out the feather duster in her. Her tango with Lumiere brought out their constant lovers’ quarrel. Derrick looked refined and proper in her teapot costume as Mrs. Potts. Jake Kordas was adorable as the seemingly floating head of Chip when Derrick pushed him out on a cart. Cogsworth’s dignified clock attire was very time-appropriate.

Costume designers Renee C. Purdy and Aurora Montenero did a stunning job with wardrobe. You could hear audience members gasp in delight and amazement when Belle appeared at the top of the stairs in her signature sparkly, yellow ball gown cascading down the stairs for waltz number “Tale As Old As Time,” sung endearingly by Derrick as Mrs. Potts with much vibrato and delicacy.

Fur, fangs, tale and prosthetic facial features turned our prince into a hideous beast. Even Beast looked handsome in his blue fancy attire. 

Wigs, hair and makeup were also crucial to the costumes – also handled by Purdy and Montenero. The makeup – particularly for painted opera beauty Madame De La Grande Bouche (Kanter) – was stunning. Marrianne Parks assisted with makeup.

This was the most visually impressive production and set I’ve ever seen at the Warner. And that’s saying something because there have been many. The castle, complete with staircases and balconies, allowed more depth and levels to the staging of scenes like “Be Our Guest” – which also had a lot of lights and a drop down illuminated “Belle” sign. Certain pieces like the library changed the vantage point of the castle. The fountain was a nice centerpiece to the village and the barrel seats brought out the pub feel in “Gaston.” SceneWorks Custom Sets & Scenery is credited for stage design and Kevin Hales and Steve Houk served as House Carpenters. 

Maurice steered his electronically powered  invention vehicle around stage smoothly. It was a very intriguing and well designed contraption!

Howling sound effects and projected evil eyes represent the wolves Maurice, Belle and Beast encounter and Maurice’s offstage yells signify the attack on him. Chris LaPlante designed the sound and LBC Lighting designed the lighting.

One of the scenes I most looked forward to was the final Beast transformation scene. On Broadway you see the Beast flying and spinning through the air seemingly changing before your eyes back into the prince. Fight choreography between Beast and Gaston and an implied offstage fall by our villain that also takes Beast out of sight temporarily leads into the pivotal last chance for Belle to break the spell as Beast is dying. Every moment the Beast was back on stage for that scene, he had his back to the audience and his face obscured. His voice sounded different in this part so it looked like a double was used. However the transformation remains a mystery as a machine pumped fog to obscure our vision and magically reveals the prince.

See the magic for yourself on closing weekend Nov. 10-12. Visit warnertheatre.org for more information on the production and purchasing tickets.

Tony Award-Winning ‘A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder’ Returns to Its Home State of Connecticut

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National Touring Company. (L-R) Kristen Beth Williams as Sibella Hallward, Kevin Massey as Monty Navarro and Adrienne Eller as Phoebe D’Ysquith in a scene from “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

Why are all the D’Ysquiths dying?

Only the audience and Monty Navarro (Kevin Massey) are privy to that curious mystery in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” The Tony Award-winning musical that originated at Hartford Stage is playing now at The Bushnell Center for Performing Arts through Sunday.

Monty is one of the few characters with a hand in multiple deaths since serial killer Dexter who is a likable protagonist we are rooting for despite his nefarious actions. “Dexter” is a dark drama with occasional humor, whereas “Gentleman’s Guide” is very comical in the way it presents the deaths of the wealthy and elitist D’Ysquiths. Though you could argue that Monty didn’t directly kill anyone and rather orchestrated the circumstances that led to their demise. The audience was laughing hysterically at every murder.

In a way, Monty is like Ponty in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” both start off poor with low status and trying to fast-track their way to the top. Instead of being a window washer trying to rise in the ranks of a major corporation without experience, Monty is trying to rise in the ranks within his estranged family to gain status and wealth from his lower position to society and speed up the process by picking off the upper class D’Ysquiths in line to be earl one by one so that he can become earl himself. Monty has the added motivation of revenge for his mother, who was cast out of the family for marrying his Castilian father for love and not wealth, and love to win over the vain and money-conscious beauty, Sibella (Kristen Beth Williams).

Sibella claims she loves Monty, but won’t marry him because he’s not rich. She says she doesn’t know what she would do without him, but she marries a wealthy man she doesn’t love. It isn’t until Miss Shingle (Jennifer Smith), a friend of Monty’s mother, reveals he is an heir to the D’Ysquith family and he proves it to her and rises in wealth and status that she truly grows attracted to him. Monty asks her if it ever occurred to her to marry for love, yet he also is shallow in his quest for wealth to be the man Sibella wants and his obsession with Sibella despite how she doesn’t love him for him. He loses his grasp on morality as the play goes on, yet he doesn’t lose his charisma. Even when he becomes involved in a love triangle with Sibella and his D’Ysquith cousin, Phoebe (Kristen Hahn).

Everything comes to a head with the final murder that lands Monty in prison, where he confesses to his hand in the deaths in a diary titled “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” Irony plays a major role in the comedy of the musical, as that’s one of the few murders he didn’t commit. If not him, then who? And will his diary confession give him away?

This was my second time seeing the musical, the first being on Broadway when I missed the first 10 minutes, so I understood the intricacies of the plot much better. While the first song, “A Warning to the Audience,” was beautifully sung, I could have taken or left and didn’t feel like I missed much the first time because it was hard to hear what they were saying and it didn’t really add much to the plot. However, it did set the tone for a very light-hearted musical about murdering to inherit the family money.

The vocals were stunning with operatic flourish,  though the power of the notes sometimes compromised the diction and ability for the audience to understand the words. So, some of the jokes were lost. But the embellished action and expressions in the story told on a stage-like upstage set helped us grasp what was happening when the lyrics were lost. The effects for the murders from a priest falling down a spiral staircase projected on a screen to animated bees chasing a flamboyant bee keeper were also key in delivering humor.

Massey, Williams and Hahn were particularly impressive in the clear tone and power of their voices, as well as John Rapson who had the particular challenge of playing nine characters – most of the D’Ysquiths, women included.

Rapson, who was significantly younger than Connecticut actor who played the parts on Broadway, successfully tackled characters of different ages and genders that are snobby and kind, funny and serious and educated and fickle. His versatility and familiar face really drove the comedy and intrigue. He has a farcical, flamboyant and energetic way of playing all the characters.

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National Touring Company. The cast with John Rapson as Lord Adalbert D’Ysquith (red) in a scene from “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder.” Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

We saw a slightly meeker Monty in Massey that made him delicate and likable and more on the fringe as the puppet master designing the circumstances of the D’Ysquith’s deaths from the shadows. The urgency in his character’s desire for physicality and passion in his love for the dismissive Sibella was a vehicle for comedy as his hands and limbs emphatically trembled when he got to kiss her.

The musical doesn’t have many catchy songs that will get stuck in your head like a “Wicked” or “Rent,” besides “Why Are All the D’Ysquiths Dying?,”I’ve Decided to Marry You” and “Poison in My Pocket,” but the score is very powerful.

The staging of “I’ve Decided to Marry You,” when Phoebe makes that pronouncement to Monty as he hides the married Sibella in his bedroom during their affair, was very memorable, comical and dynamic as Massey dodges back and forth singing about his loves while trying to keep them a doorway apart.

The love triangle seems to work together in the end secretly to free Monty, so it seems that he will face no consequences for his actions.

Until another less-known D’Ysquith lurks on a roof above him singing about how he’s sitting there with poison in his pocket.

Could Monty face the same fate as his victims as the plot comes full circle post-story? We don’t find out.

But one thing’s for sure. Even after the D’Ysquiths dropped dead, the audience was very much alive with applause and a standing ovation.

More information about the production and purchasing tickets is available on www.bushnell.org.

Hartford Symphony Orchestra and CONCORA Perform Wonderland of Danny Elfman’s Tim Burton Film Scores

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Credit: Hartford Symphony Orchestra

There was magic in the air last Saturday night at The Bushnell.

This is Halloween! So, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, teaming up with the singers of CONCORA, took us on a big adventure through dark, spooky and whimsical worlds like Sleepy Hollow, Gotham, Wonderland, the planet overtaken by apes and nightmares before Christmas in a performance marrying Danny Elfman scores from Tim Burton films with projected movie clips and story sketches.

Some audience members went a step further and got festive with various Halloween costumes from Tim Burton characters like Sally in “Nightmare Before Christmas,” Beetlejuice and the Mad Hatter to one little girl dressed as Cinderella. They were entered for a chance to win HSO tickets.

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Filmmaker Tim Burton. Courtesy of HSO

What’s this? Did you know Danny Elfman scored all but a few of his good friend Tim Burton’s movies?

 

While Elfman wasn’t there – wow, what a joy that would have been – HSO and Concora brought his songs to life, connecting to Tim Burton movie fans through music. The program featured segments of the scores of “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,” “Beetlejuice,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “Mars Attacks,” “Big Fish,” “Batman” and “Batman Returns” in the first act and “Planet of the Apes,” “Corpse Bride,” “Dark Shadows,” “Frankenweenie,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Edward Scissorhands” in the second, closing with an encore of “Alice and Wonderland.”

Live before our eyes, we got a taste of what performing a movie score is like. Except, unlike in a film, we could actually see the orchestra and chorus. Although we were watching movie clips throughout most of the show, the music was more front and center as we watched the instrumentalists and singers produce sounds with vigor and enthusiasm. It really showed how important music is in films and in setting the mood.

Guest conductor Sarah Hicks thanked the audience for supporting live music and the program really made you appreciate it more.

“Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” was the main movie to really kick off the show. There were some issues with tempo consistency and the percussion sounded slightly out of sync from the orchestra. However it was enjoyable to see the quirky Pee-Wee and scary Large Marge live in the music and to hear the instruments portray a scene showing an obstacle course of inventions.

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Danny Elfman has scored all but a few Tim Burton movies. Courtesy of HSO

A lot of Danny Elfman’s scores include very ethereal, angelic and lyric-less vocals in films like “Sleepy Hollow”, so adding Concora to the musical blend boosted the already dynamic instrumentals. Hicks comically described “Beetlejuice” as the only sheet music asking the choir of children and adults to make “ghostly spectral sounds.”

The choir only sang words in “Alice and Wonderland” and I would have liked to see more of that in Elfman’s songs that have lyrics in the films like “Nightmare Before Christmas.” It would also have been interesting to hear the techno pop lyrics from “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory” from the songs about the characters and Oompa Loompas. Although the choir was slightly off in timing from the young soloist brought downstage next to Hicks to sing the notable “Alice” lyrics, I really enjoyed hearing those words song as a key element to punctuate the song and accentuate the rhythm. And the boy featured as a soloist was so brave to sing it miked front and center!

As Hicks conducted, she listened for tempo through an earpiece metronome and watched a monitor playing the images on the screen and flashing light cues for pacing.

“Please watch me at the end. I have to coordinate the downbeat with a martian’s head exploding,” she quipped she told the musicians during the score from motion stop animated “Mars Attack.”

“Nightmare Before Christmas” was an audience and reviewer favorite segment of the program. Any Tim Burton movie you loved or identified most with made the music highlighted more nostalgic. The visuals of the sketches for characters and scenes gave you a glimpse into Burton’s creative mind.

There were times in some of the songs where the violins sounded slightly grating on the lower notes as opposed to a clearer sound on the sweet higher notes. Occasionally it sounded like some of the violins weren’t completely in sync with the tempo of the rest of the orchestra, but that wasn’t the case for the majority of the show. The strings were impressive, particularly the cellos, and the flavor of reed and flute ornamented the score. The French horn section produced robust and triumphant sound at the parts they had the melody. The choir sung beautifully and was mostly layered yet uniform.

The more contemporary films scores brought increased interest in orchestral and choral music, attracting a broader audience instead of relying on classical music lovers to fill the theater. More programs like this from the Hartford Symphony Orchestra would be interesting to see, particularly other film scores.

I enjoyed traveling through Alice’s rabbit hole into Burton’s and Elfman’s various Wonderlands fusing film and music.

For more information about the Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s and CONCORA’s seasons, visit hartfordsymphony.org and www.concora.org, respectively.

 

 

Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood Bring ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ Improv Comedy to Warner Theatre

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Courtesy of Jonas Public Relations and Super Artists

The audience that filled most of Warner Theatre Friday night had no idea what they were getting themselves into when they showed up to see Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood. So much so that even Colin Mochrie and Brad Sherwood didn’t know what was going to happen.

But the “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” comedians certainly delivered, bringing a taste of the improv show to Torrington for a night. The duo concocted a pudding pot of comedy on the fly, made from scratch with humor-infused, unconventional ingredients like dead goats, a turtle-tickling criminal and a part-time zookeeper opera. And that pot definitely boiled over, spilling into the auditorium and leaving the audience volcanically erupting with non-stop laughter.

When you go to a comedy show you probably expect stand-up, but not so with a Mochrie/Sherwood act. Flipping the format, Mochrie and Sherwood didn’t stand on stage ranting a memorized and or prepared monologue that was supposed to make you laugh. It instead featured several improv games from “Whose Line” with comedy made up on the spot with the help of audience participation and suggestions.

It was raw, not polished. It was spontaneous, not pre-conceived. And it was by no means perfect or pretty. But that’s what made it genuinely hilarious. Mochrie and Sherwood truly live in the moment with their comedy.

In order for a routine like this to work, the audience has to be lively, have a sense of humor and be willing to engage instead of just watch. And the audience Friday was all of those things. That’s what made the show so fun. Mochrie and Sherwood broke the imaginary barrier between audience and performer, celebrity and fan, by asking for suggestions, coming into the crowd and inviting audience members on stage to participate in the games and interact with the crowd. We were a part of their act, not just watching it.

To open the show, the comedians selected two random audience members to go up on stage to be the puppet masters to the first game. They were tasked with moving Mochrie and Sherwood, with one assigned to each, as the comedians played a scene and made up dialogue. After calling for an audience suggestion, the men did the entire bit in Irish brogues. Playing wilderness nurses that had to climb a mountain and rescue a man — later deemed a three-foot leprechaun — with a broken leg and carry him down a mountain. They were moving at a snail’s pace as the volunteers had to move one limb at a time, but quickly got laughter. Particularly when they teasingly mocked the volunteers when the movements didn’t keep up with the pace of the sketch.

The next game, Q&A, drew both strange and simple questions from the audience – like what can you do without getting arrested to get rid of a girl you’re not interested in? What was it like working with Drew Carey? If you sat down to lunch with your 20-year-old self, what would you say? What kind of board game would you make? Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

They answered all of the audience queries either alternating one word at a time or speaking at once and trying to say the same thing.

“Working with Drew Carey was wonderful. He is a really nice guy with lots of money. Sweet,” they both answered to the question about their experience working with the former “Whose Line” host.

In response to the question about having lunch with their 20-year-old selves, they said, “Someday, you will be regretting that mullet.”

And perhaps be on the look out for a Mochrie/Sherwood board game that combines Monopoly and Operation. Wink.

“Song Cue” was a self-proclaimed tough game for the duo. Given the audience suggestion of a broken vacuum, the two set out in the sketch to clean up after a wild party before Mochrie’s wife got home. If a dead goat under the over-turned couch and the confession that the wife was having an affair with a mime weren’t enough turmoil, each comedian threw a monkey wrench into each other’s improv dialogue when they said “what do you mean?” That line was the trigger for a song, ranging from Queen’s “We Will Rock You” to the “Can-Can,” to play, meaning the comedian on the spot had to sing his explanation until the other cut them off. That led to a very long rap by Sherwood to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” As well as a very witty pun by him later warning Mochrie his imaginary wife was “two miming” him.

Then, Mochrie put on headphones and listened to music while Sherwood took audience suggestions to come up with a crime that he supposedly committed, the place where it happened and the evidence that was left behind. Mochrie then had to guess the exact words describing what he did, led warmer by more Sherwood puns hinting at the deed and audience applause. Somehow, Mochrie got it – that he ticked a turtle in a car wash and took a dump in the display toilet at Home Depot in Coginchaug and left behind a pudding cup as evidence. Surprisingly, it took him the longest to guess pudding cup – not Coginchaug – after Sherwood painstakingly dropped hints describing pudding like “Do I have to spoon-feed it to you?”, “You’ll get your just desserts” and that it was a delicious treat more liquid than Jello, custard or flan. Mochrie guessed pudding pot before he arrived at the right answer.

“The Sound Effects Game” was fun because of audience participation in providing the sound effects for the comedians in a skit but it also dragged because of the audience. Sherwood tried to include the back of the audience by having them pass the microphone around to each do one of his sound effects in contrast to Mochrie’s young female volunteer. It was an appealing concept, but the mic either wasn’t always passed or some audience members became too embarrassed because sometimes the areas where there should have been sound effects for Sherwood were silent. However, there were funny moments when the comedians commented on the lack of noise or poked fun at the sound effects that didn’t sound at all like what they were doing. As Sherwood and Mochrie saved the world in their sketch – stopping a Hawaiian volcano from erupting by shooting golf balls coated with Alka-Seltzer into it – so did the last audience member to do Sherwood’s sound effects, which included burping, yodeling and mimicking porcupines having sex.

But the intensity and the danger were heightened when the comedians and their crew set up 100 live mousetraps on the stage. Covering their eyes with vision-blocking goggles, Mochrie and Sherwood roamed about the stage barefoot singing an opera about a part-time zookeeper, per audience suggestions. We cringed as we anticipated them stepping on the mousetraps, yet laughed in delight when they stepped on them. Oh, you better believe they stepped on a lot of them, a couple even getting caught on Mochrie’s toes. He had to suck it up and remove them while still blindfolded. It looked painful for both of them, but they took it willingly for laughs. They even launched mousetraps at each other, Mochrie hitting Sherwood in his private parts a number of times and both occasionally cheating by taking off the goggles. Kids and adults, don’t try that at home.

Throughout the night they made references to jokes originated in earlier games in the performance, proving their wit and linguistic skills to weave chaos into something fluid.

They closed the evening with a parody of “My Way,” reviewing the evening of improv comedy in Torrington that they want to live on as a legend like Paul Bunyan and his dumb ox.

And legendary it was. Just ask the tickled turtle, not the mime.

 

Enchantingly ‘Disenchanted’ Princesses Tell Twisted Truth About Their Fairytales at The Belding

Credit: The Bushnell

They meet their princes, get married very quickly and live happily ever after. Or so we’re told about the Disney princesses. 

Not so, according to the princesses featured in ‘Disenchanted’ at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts’ Belding Theatre in Hartford.
Their sides of the stories are much more twisted and grim. 

Told in a musical revue style, the play features songs by Snow White (Merrit Crews), Cinderella (Madison Hayes-Crook), Sleeping Beauty (Daniella Richards), The Little Mermaid, Belle and Rapunzel (all played by Miriam Drysdale), Hua Mulan, Pocahontas and Princess Badroulbadour/Jasmine (Ann Paula Bautista) and The Princess Who Kissed the Frog (Cherise Thimas). 

Snow, Cinderella and Sleeping are your hosts for the evening, telling the audience all about the “Princess Complex.”

Sure, everything might look like a perfect fairytale when you marry a prince, live in a castle and are glamorously dressed and blinged-out royalty. But the princesses paint us a much darker picture. Your whole story is about getting the guy, except in the case of this Mulan, who doesn’t completely get the guy and says she might be a lesbian. Sometimes, as Pocohontas complains, your full and true history isn’t told. You’re expected to be thin-waisted and eat nothing to maintain that figure when all you want are candy bars, Twinkies, hot pockets or burritos. You are big-chested. 

But there are some triumphs like The Princess Who Kissed the Frog, who conveniently doesn’t appear until the tail end of the show and whose princess name isn’t given, who represents the princess who is “finally black.” It’s a historical commentary on how long it took for Disney to create a black princess. 
Crews is the ringleader of the gig, our main emcee, as Snow, initially coming off as a feisty and dominant feminist and later becoming ironically proper and dainty given the message of the show is showing who the princesses really are and want to be. She fights through the stress of things going wrong in the show and tries to keep everything together. She and Thomas as The Princess Who Kissed the Frog had very powerful vocals and the capability to do complicated riffs and impressed when they hit high notes or held them out long. Thomas’ gospel-style voice was very uplifting. 

Hayes-Crook may have been playing a princess, Cinderella, but she was a queen of comedy. Although she is tapped as the stereotypical dumb blonde, she is brilliant in her body language, movements, emotion, expressions and vocal inflection as vehicles of slapstick humor. She kind of seems to take over the show by the end. 

Richards was spunky and brassy as the improper Sleeping Beauty and added another layer of comedy. I enjoyed when she and Thomas introduced a more hip hop and modern style of dancing to the princess scene. Hayes-Crook was one of the strongest dancers in the show. There are many dance numbers with a lot of twerking princesses. 

Drysdale is hilarious as a drunken and white trash Little Mermaid who wants her fin back and despises her fishnetted legs. Her booming low voice is sultry very suited to the Vaudeville and burlesque tones the show takes at times. 

Her song as an insane Belle in a straight jacket got a lot of laughs and is one of the most emotionally expressive songs as she sings about bestiality, cleaning up her husband’s droppings and talking to inanimate objects. 

She is scary and dominating with her whip as Rapunzel and it was priceless when Cinderella jump ropes with her hair. 

Bautista hilariously plays the socially awkward and unconventional warrior lesbian princess as Mulan and her song defining her character as gay got a lot of laughs. 

She also wins the award for best costume, in my eyes, as Princess Badroulbadour,as she is known in Arabian Nights, or more commonly known to us through Disney as Jasmine. It was fun seeing her flit about with the Jasmine outfit on top, a black cloth covering her feet and a magic carpet at her waist with fake legs and feet filed aboard the carpet to give the illusion she is flying. 

All the costumes were beautiful, really, most with glitter and significantly shorter than your usual princess garb.
The set is simple, using curtains and themed decor here and there, but the princess characters make the show so it doesn’t matter. Mickey Mouse hands occasionally hand props to the actors and collect them.

This show is comedic and musical royalty. 
Seeing these princesses step out of their fairytale and ground their experiences with a dose of reality gives us the same stories we grew up with and love told from a different and more modern perspective. They are fairytales with a twist.

The show is traveling around the country, so catch the princesses while they are still in Hartford. You can take photos with them after the show and tag them on social media. “Disenchanted” runs through Sunday, Oct. 2. More information on tickets is available at http://www.bushnell.org.

Warner Theatre Urges You To ‘Join Us’ At Campy, Splatter-Filled ‘Evil Dead: The Musical’

Credit: Mandi Martini

Look who’s evil now. Nancy Marina Studio Theatre is transformed into a demon-ridden, blood-soaked horror realm in Warner Theatre Stage Company’s production of “Evil Dead – The Musical.”

The play satirizes the ’80s cult classic horror film by the same name, punching all the elements of your typical scary story with accented and exaggerated comedy. 

Before the audience was allowed to enter the theater, everyone had to sign a waiver warning people the fake blood would make the floor slippery and that it could stain their clothes. Oh, and that you might leave the theater possessed by a demon. So, from the get-go you could tell this wasn’t your ordinary show.

Patrons had the option to purchase tickets in the infamous “splatter zone.” Most of those audience members wore ponchos provided by the theater, but a select few wore white shirts and fully embraced being drenched and stained with stage blood. 

The first act follows happy-go-lucky college students – Linda, Ash, Scott, Shelly and Cheryl – on a fun, weekend adventure to a deserted cabin in the woods without telling anyone where they are. 

The mood starts out happy and bubbly. Cole Sutton plays the sex-crazed stud of the group as Scott, accompanied by the voluptuous, not-so-smart Shelly, who he picked up at a bar three days ago and invited along with the goal of getting laid. Caitlin Barra puts, let’s say, a bounce into the character of Shelly, a ditsy and simple girl oozing with sex. She is the dancer of the show and excels in movement and choreography in “Do the Necronomicon.” The way she carries herself says everything about her character on stage. 
Josh Newey presents us with a lovable, upstanding Ash, the leader and protagonist of our story. He’s dating sweet and adoring Linda (Shelby Raye), who he met at the grocery store they both work at. His nerdy and anxious sister, Cheryl, comes along for the ride, played by Jenna L. Morin.

Then they find some antique weapons – like a shot gun and axe – as well as a macabre book and professor’s tapes (voiced by Dick Terhune) revealing the discovery of evil, demonic forces that spook Ash’s sister, Cheryl, the only one not coupled up and who Scott taunts and continuously calls a “stupid bitch.” Yes, be prepared for the occasional profane and sexualized language in numbers like “What the F@#k Was That?” 

After Cheryl goes alone in the dark to check out an odd noise she hears and is essentially raped by some animated trees, everything changes. One by one, our main characters are picked off and possessed by demons as evil consumes the house and the woods around them. It won’t let them leave. 

They are faced with killing their demonic loved ones when they are turned. Mostly with a shot gun, but also with a chain saw to the audiences apparent excitement. Newey puts on a show of physical comedy when a demonically animated moose head, voiced by ensemble member Bryce Chamberlain, possesses his hand with evil. The fight scene between him and his hand is a ruckus riot. When Ash is forced to saw off his hand, it becomes its own being like the hand in “Addams Family.”

Most of the gunshots and limb-sawing, as expected, are followed by blood. Dozens of gallons of fake blood are used in every performance. At various times throughout the show, a blood-like substance is sprayed at the audience in the splatter zone from the catwalk above and the stage. Splattered audience members are invited to take a photo of their blood-soaked selves at the photo station in the lobby after the show to share on social media. 

Act One was surprisingly lacking in blood splatter, but audience members in the splatter zone won’t be disappointed by the end of Act Two when most of the blood is launched into the crowd. 

Our story shifts in Act 2, when Annie (Olivia Hoffman), the daughter of the cabin owner and professor studying the “Book of the Dead” who discovers evil forces at his cabin, arrives with her boyfriend, Ed (Daniel Willey) and a hillbilly they just met in the woods, Jake (Ruben Soto), who offers to guide them to the cabin on a secret trail when the bridge that is the only other path to the cabin breaks (even though Newey can hilariously pick it up to see what’s wrong with it). Hoffman stood out as the most dramatic and comical character of the show because of her overdrawn seriousness about supernatural studies and research. She is the eccentric demon-buster of our story, constantly talking and always cutting off her boyfriend before he can get in a word. 

Because of that, Willey had to rely on emotion and facial expressions for most of his part and we really can see his frustration when he barely gets in a word. 
Willey shines in “Bit Part Demon,” a similar number to “Mr. Cellophane” in “Chicago” in his sense of invisibility and being walked over. Ash, who was possessed and then returned to his human state when he sees the necklace he gave his now demon girlfriend, is identified as the lead character who can’t be formulaically be killed, especially not by a minor character like Ed. 

Then Hoffman delivers the funniest and most memorable song of the show – “All The Men In My Life Keep Getting Killed By Candarian Demons.” She is a vocal powerhouse and is also able to leverage her singing techniques for comedy in inflection and style. It will be stuck in your head for days. 

“The Necronomicon” is, of course, the big dance number of the show, reminiscent of the “Time Warp” in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in its quirkiness. The tune isn’t as memorable, but the dance, choreographed by Sharon A. Wilcox, is phenomenal. It requires a lot of physical exertion and body language on the part of the actors to appear like demons the entire dance. The actors were impressive with their movements as demonized characters the whole show and they generally stayed in character as they flocked on and off stage.

Song-wise, the actors favored character over musicality in the songs, with many of the females in particularly going out of tune occasionally in the upper range. It was less of an issue on the solos. Newey was the strongest male vocalist. Sutton and Soto maintained character and tone with strong voices that are pleasing to listen to in the show. 

Our band for the show, led by musical director Meric Martin, is visible through the window of the cabin, which makes it even funnier when Newey again uses physical comedy to portray Ash being attacked by the possessed trees right next to them. The score calls for keyboard (Diana Lawlor), guitar (Aaron Reid) and drums (Noel Roberge) and Martin improvises the bass guitar part which is not written into the music.

Jake Finch plays Fake Shemp in the ensemble. 

The play also utilizes video projections to set the narratorial background on “The Book of The Dead” and cleverly shows credits at the end in homage to the film. 

Ed Bassett designed the moose head.
Set designer Steve Houk was in charge of the Splatterzone design and execution. Lana Peck designed Linda’s severed head from her decapitation and worked on the set.

Keith Paul, the master of horror and satire, directs this gruesome production.

This show is popular and the studio theater is smaller so try to buy your tickets in advance, though they can be purchased at the box office if there are some left. The show closes this weekend, with remaining performances tonight at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 2 at 2 p.m. Visit www.warnertheatre.com for more information.