The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings

Capitol Steps at Cranwell






Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
Writing for Us
CurtainUp Reviews
Barrington Stage Summer 2008 Season

August 15th update.
See Rock City and Other Destinations
Private Lives
Show Schedule. A click on show title will take you to production details and, if there's an asterisk * before the title, a review.

Main Stage Shows: *The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee--reviews of original, off-Broadway and Broadway versions |*The Violet Hour | *Private Lives

Second Stage: I Am My Own Wife|*The Mysteries of Harris Burdick | My Scary Girl | *Sleepless Variations|*See Rock City and Other Destinations |

About this All-In-One Format: Since summer theater productions run such a short time, instead of retiring each show after it makes way for the next production, we're putting details and reviews of shows at a particular theater on one page so that everything remains at your fingertips. No need to click to the archives unless you are looking for something from a past season.

The list is organized in order scheduled. A click on a show will jump you down to that show's details-- an * asterisk before a title indicates that a review is posted.

Barrington Stage
Union Street, Pittsfield
413 236-8888
Second stage and Musical Theater Lab events will this season be held at the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Linden Street in Pittsfield, near the company's main venue on Union Street. Click show title for basic details * added when review is posted

Main Stage
The Cast of Barrington Stage's "second coming" of the little engine that could musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County spelling Bee.
(Photo: Kevin Sprague)
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee by William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin
This is, of course the musical that was a major hit for Barrington Stage in 2004 and the only disappointment was that the company's small second stage couldn't accommodate anywhere near the people clamoring to see it. It moved from the Berkshires to the Second Stage in New York and from there quickly transferred to the Circle in the Square on Broadway. The success of the Broadway show helped to finance Barrington Stage's handsome theater in Pittsfield and now, with the long Broadway run ended, it's only fitting that the show should begin what will undoubtedly be a long and happy life in other locations, by returning to Barrington Stage. This revival will be directed by Jeremy Dobrish, with choreography by Dan Knechtges and music direction by Brian Usifer. Cast: s Emy Baysic, Miguel Cervantes, Hannah Del Monte, Molly Ephraim, Demond Green , Clifton Guterman, Michael Mastro , Eric Peterson, and Sally Wilfert.
June 11 through July 12 -- after which it will move to North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, MA where it will run from August 12-31. I saw and reviewed the show before this celebratory production so, since I was in New York at the time of the press opening, here is a link to those reviews: Putnam County. . .the original, Off-Broadway and Broadway reviews, plus song list, trivial notes

The Violet Hour
It's that time— that wonderful New York hour when the evening's about to reward you for that day—- Denis (Denny) McCleary explaining the title for his colossus of a novel to his friend and budding publisher John Pace Seavering — and by extension, the title for Richard Greenberg's play about a fateful day in their lives

Why are you wrecked young men all so darned happy?. . .Jessie.

I think it's because the century's still so young. . . and all the worst things have already happened. . .—John.
Violet Hour
Austin Lysy as John Pace Seavering (Photo: Kevin Sprague)
Richard Greenberg is one of the contemporary theater's most original talents. His plays are intriguingly constructed and populated with interesting characters. Best of all, Greenberg is a master wordssmith and his dialogue glistens and glows with wit and humor. The Violet Hour, even though flawed, is no exception.

Since this play had a somewhat rocky Broadway premiere five years ago due to casting difficulties, I was pleased to have another opportunity to see it at Barrington Stage. This second time viewing meant that I knew from the get-go why the futuristic machine mysteriously delivered to fledgling publisher John Pace Seavering's office was such a time bomb and how the fateful April 1st day in 1919 during which the action takes place ends. But no matter.

This funny yet poignant play, while unlikely to ever attain the wide popularity of Greenberg's love affair with baseball, Take Me Out, has enough going for it even without the surprise element. In fact, knowing what's going to happen gave me a new appreciation for the clever way Greenberg approaches the question of how much of our lives and the record of those lives is within our control and how time has a way of giving new meaning to seemingly fixed nomenclature and events ( a Great War can turn into a prelude to a an even greater disaster and gay can turn into a way of life rather than a mood).

Unlike another and better Greenberg play, Three Days of Rain, which sends its characters travelling back in time to become and really understand their parents, The Violet Hour reverses the time travel and adds a sci-fi touch which is quite fitting for that post war era with its intense interest in all things technological. As the paper spewing machine Greenberg has invented could have dropped out of an H. G. Wells story, so his characters are inspired by cultural icons: The young publisher is a stand-in for the legendary editor Maxwell Perkins. Denis (Denny) McCleary, the Princeton classmate who's convinced that since Seavering can afford to launch his publishing venture with just one book, that it should be his, is modeled on F. Scott Fitzgerald (though his unwieldy script is reminiscent of famous Perkins author Thomas Wolfe). To underscore the link to Fitzgerald, there's Rosamund Plinth, the midwestern heiress Denny loves, who's beautiful and talented but, with the same neurotic tendencies of Zelda Fitzgerald. The other contender for that single spot on John's first list is a Josephine Baker-like Jessie Brewster.

Except for the director, cast and creative team, the Barrington Stage production presents the script as it was written. Director Barry Edelstein has staged it with its too talky first act uncut and with the look and feel of the original Broadway production. That look, courtesy of Wilson Chin, has transformed the spacious Barrington Main Stage into a period perfect high-ceilinged office, furnished mostly with stacks of manuscripts and with a view of a tall building in the the flatiron district that was once a mecca of the Manhattan book publishing world.

The opening scene finds Seavering (Austin Lysy) and his assistant Gidger (Nat DeWolf) "searching for a proverbial needle in a real haystack." What they're looking for is a pair of theater tickets that have gone missing among the piles of manuscripts. The tickets are for the season's hit play. Faintly the Heart, which gives Greenberg, via John's friend Denny (Brian Avers) a chance to dismiss it as a waste of time because, like all Broadway plays "you always know what's going to happen. quot; Of course, this is a sly introduction to the situation that eerily extends the predictability of Faintly the Heart's plot to a much broader canvas. Gidger is the only character not linked to a cultural legend. But, while he's unlikely to even find himself in the index of a book about or by the others, he is a vital comic relief character.

All five of these characters call for actors capable of capturing their various shadings and Director Edelstein has helped this cast to play their parts with considerable flair and passion. Austin Lysy's John captures the essence of a young man who, like so many of the "wrecked young men" of his age lost his youth in the recently ended war but has regained his zest and ambition. He's also aflame with passion for the much older Jessie and not immune to a certain sexual tension between himself and Denny.

The two women (Opal Alladin as Jessie and Heidi Ambruster as Rosamond) are solidly portrayed. Brian Avers, overdoes Denny's intensity and overwhelming ego in the first act. However, he proves himself impressively capable of great delicacy in a scene in the play's better second act when he more or less rises from the page of a letter written to John.

While Nat DeWolf isn't as annoyingly over the top a Gidger as Mario Cantone was on Broadway, his performance can hardly be called understated. The role does demand flamboyance it will inevitably suffer from being a somewhat second-best version of Mason Marzac, the uptight accountant in Take Me Out.

Chin's already praised set is most effectively lit by Chris Lee, especially when the action moves to " that wonderful New York hour when the evening's about to reward you for that day" which seeded the title for Denny's colossus of a book and in turn the title for this play. Except for Heidi Ambruster's rather unappealing blue dress with its hankerchief skirt (fortunately Ambruster looks good in anything), Jessica Ford has smartly outfitted the cast and Matthew M. Nielson's incidental music adds to the period flavor.

Interestingly, seeing The Violet Hour just a day after taking in a revival of Chekhov's Three Sisters at Williamstown heightened the relevance of the serious underpinnings beneath all of Greenberg's witticisms. Chekhov's play ends at a point in the Prozorov sisters lives when it didn't take any visionary device to accept and foresee a very different future than the one to which they'd aspired. But dark as that future looks, like John Pace Seavering, they don't flinch from living a life far different from the one they once foresaw.

The Violet Hour by Richard Greenberg
Directed by Barry Edelstein.
Cast: Austin Lysy (John Pace Seavering), Brian Avers (Denny), Opal Alladin (Jessie), Heidi Armbruster (Rosamund), Nat DeWolf (Gidger)
Sets: Wilson Chin
Costumes: Jessica Ford
Lighting: Chris Lee
Sound & Original Music: Matthew M. Nielson
Stage Manager: C. Renee Alexander.
Running Time: 2 1/2 hours, including one intermission
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at July 20th press opening
July 16 to 27.
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of The Violet Hour
  • I disagree with the review of The Violet Hour
  • The review made me eager to see The Violet Hour
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V) Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email.

Private Lives
Let's be superficial and pity the poor philosophers. Let's blow trumpets and squeakers and enjoy the party as much as we can, like very small, quite idiotic school children. — Elyot blowing the trumpet for free-spirited hedonism, and his creator's belief that theater must always entertain.
Private Lives
Gretchen Egolf and Christopher Innvar in Private Lives
(Photo: Kevin Sprague)
Nowadays being rich doesn't mean life must be one long pleasure seeking party without purpose. The once idle rich are no longer idle. They establish and run foundations. They serve on the boards of organizations devoted to good causes. They support nonprofit theaters —like Barrington Stage.

And yet dated as Private Lives is, it's hardly on life support. The madly in and out of love sophisticates Noel Coward invented for himself and Gertrude Lawrence continue to make audiences delight in their bon mot stuffed dialogue, squirm yet smile at leading man Elyot's blatant sexism ("Some women should be struck regularly, like gongs"), and buy into the comedic foundation of unlikely coincidence (after being divorced and incommunicado for five years, both Elyot and Amanda are in new marriage and on their honeymoon s in the same hotel, in rooms with adjoining balconies). And if you need proof of its enduring appeal, especially during the summer when audiences are especially in tune with Coward's belief that theater should be entertaining, two different production opened within a day of each other, one (reviewed by Simon Saltzman--see link below) at the Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, and the one at Barrington Stage's handsome Union Street Theater that I'm writing about here.

While a long ago Broadway production with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton almost made me swear off this comedy (really, the famous couple didn't do very well by Coward), Lindsay Duncan and Alan Rickman restored my affection. Apparently the current simultaneously running productions again make it easy to understand this comedy's appeal even eighty years after its debut. Paul Mullins has done as good a job of teasing the maximum wit from Coward's script and guiding the cast to land every mot and deliver strong physical performances in New Jersey as Julianne Boyd has in Pittsfield. And so, so both New Jersey and Berkshire theater goers have a chance to see this screwball comedy revived with its silly but sophisticated fun in expert hands.

Boyd has wisely persuaded Christopher Innvar, a favorite Barrington Stage leading man (Ring Around the Moon, The Importance of Being Earnest, Cyrano, The Game) to play Elyot. Innvar is as debonair a leading man as you could wish for as well as a terrific physical comedian. Being an experienced musical theater performer, he is also sublime in that wonderful few minutes when he stops bickering with Amanda long enough to sits down at the piano to sing "Someday I'll Find You," one of Coward's hit songs.

Unlike the New Jersey Amanda who reminded Simon Saltzman of Norma Shearer, the movie version's Amanda, Gretchen Egolf doesn't look like anyone except her own lovely self or, as Coward puts it, she looks "wonderful. . .like a beautiful advertisement for something." She and Innvar make a terrific pair of besotted with love sparring partners and in another highlight moment, trip the light fantastic with panache.

The spouses Amanda and Elyot desert before their respective marriages can be consummated are fine and dandy too. Mark H. Dold, another Barrington Stage veteran, is a drolly uptight Victor and Rebecca Brooksher handily nails the gushy bride turned screechy wronged wife with the name that prompt's Elyot famously funny admonition to not "quibble Sibyl." Sibyl and Victor's arrival at Amanda's flat makes for a hilariously pungent pause in between Acts two and three. Though she does as much as she can with it, the role of the maid Louise seems wasted on Tandy Cronyn.

Elizabeth Flauto has dressed (and redressed-- each gets several outfits) everyone to look absolutely smashing. Karl Eigsti has created a nice romantic hotel balcony for the first act and furnished Amanda's art deco Paris flat with just enough furniture and pillows for fight director Michael Burnet to stage a major throw and smash anything handy battle in the second act.

If these people seem too crazy to be believable or normal, I leave you with this from Amanda: "I think very few people are completely normal, really, deep down in their private lives." So, whatever your name, don't quibble, and enjoy the show.

Links to other Coward works reviewed at Curtainup
Private Lives (the current NJ production
Suite In 2 Keys-this is Barrington Stage neighbor Berkshire Theatre Festival's final Main Stage production so watch for our review at our BTF page
Blithe Spirit
Easy Virtue
Present Laughter
Tonight at 8:30 Part A
Tonight at 8:30 Part B
Waiting In The Wings

Private Lives by Noel Coward
Directed by Julianne Boyd
Cast: Christopher Innvar (Elyot Chase), Mark H. Dold (Victor Prynne), Gretchen Egolf (Amanda Prynne), Rebecca Brooksher (Sibyl Chase), Tandy Cronyn (Louise).
Sets: Karl Eigsti (Assoc. designer-Brian Prather
Costumes: Elizabeth Flauto
Lighting: Scott Pinkney
Sound: Matt O'Hara
Music Director: Brian Usifer
Fight Choreographer: Michael Burnet
Choreographer: Darrell Pucciarello
Stage Manager: Renee Lutz
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer August 10th
Running Time: 2 hours plus intermission From Aug. 10 - 26.

Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Private Lives
  • I disagree with the review of Private Lives
  • The review made me eager to see Private Lives
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V) Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email.

There's also a Fall show schedules from October 8, 2008 - October 26, 2008 To Kill A Mockingbird, adapted by Christopher Sergel from the novel by Harper Lee and directed by Julianne Boyd
Vince Gatton
Vince Gatton in I Am My Own Wife (Photo: Kevin Sprague )
Second Stage I Am My Own Wife
by Doug Wright
Directed by Andrew Volkoff
Starring Vince Gatton
Set Design: Brian Prather
Lighting Design: Scott Pinkney
Costumes: Jacob A. Climer
Sound Design: Matt Kraus
May 21 to June 8
I am not the solo play's greatest fan, so the ones that work really stand out. I loved I Am My Own Wife, before it nabbed every prize, including a Pulitzer. Since I reviewed it during it's off-Broadway premiere and again when it moved to Broadway, it's had many productions. Jefferson Mays, who originated the role of Charlotte, was terrific. But actors who've followed him have proved that this is a part to bring out the best in other thespians. Vince Gatton is a case in point. I still remember his award winning performance in Candy and Dorothy, an Off-Broadway surprise hit. Berkshire audiences will probably remember his previous Barrington Stage performance in Fully Committed, another in my list of memorable solo plays.

For more details about I Am My Own Wife, here are links to various Curtainup reviews, including one attempt to do it with two actors:
I Am My Own Wife-off-Broadway, Broadway, London
I Am My Own Wife-New Jersey
I Am My Own Wife-Los Angeles
I Am My Own Wife-the 2-actor version in Philadelphia

Musical Theatre Lab

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick
This was the night things started taking off
Someone went missing
The end of the world
And yet the behinning
— from "Strange Day in July" the musical number that sums up the events that tie all the pictures together.
The Mysteries of Harris Burdick
Nicole Van Giesen (Photo: Kevin Sprague)
Chris Van Allsburg's children's books aren't your typical ages 9 to 12 fare. The Mysteries Of Harris Burdick, strays from the more common story telling methods of children's literature in that its only text consists of a brief prologue plus one or two sentences to accompany the photograph-like black and white pictures.

By letting those few words and the images that are alike only in style and mood speak for themselves, Van Allsburg hoped to stir his young readers' curiosity and imagination so that they themselves would use those pictures as a springboard for their own stories. Since the book's publication in 1984, children have been doing just that and The Mysteries. . . has become a teaching tool for teachers eager to encourage creativity.

Since it's inspired by a children's book, you might well expect the musical Chris Miller, Nathan Tysen and Joe Calarco have created to be geared to the whole family—shades of Barrington Stage's super hit The Twenty-Fifth Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee which is currently enjoying a homecoming at the Union Street Theater (Spelling Bee's success helped to transform into the company's 500-seat main stage). But you'd be wrong. This musical is not for young kids, nor is it a crowd pleaser.

Like the music presented at Tanglewood's Contemporary Music Festival, this show is for audiences willing to give themselves over to musical story telling that doesnt readily lend itself to foot tapping and hit tune hummability. Think of works by Adam Guettel and Michael John Lachiusa— and Miller and Tysen's own first Musical Lab show, Burnt Part Boys. Still musicals like this, whether chamber sized or big productions are definitely finding an audience. Berkshirites loved Burnt Part Boys and its scheduled Off-Broadway production comes in the wake of two well received similarly serious-minded, off-beat chamber musicals — The Adding Machine, a terrific adaptation of Elmer Rice's surreal play and Next to Normal, an original musical in which the death of a son, throws a family into emotionsl turmoil. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, which was workshopped last summer's Musical Theater Lab and is now being given its official premiere at Barrington Stage's lovely and comfortable Second Stage, is in a similar vein. Though more surreal and with a somewhat less memorable score and a more flawed book than Burnt Part Boys, it too has a realistic story line that's easy to identify with emotionally.

The many children who have over the years responded to Van Allsburg's invitation to use his images and captions as a launchpad for their own stories have mostly written about a single picture at a time. Director Joe Calarco has let his imagination roam even further to encompass all the pictures into his own libretto with a theme that also uses the pictures to demonstrate art as a means for healing even unhealable grief.

The plot Calarco has spun and that is advanced largely through Miller's lyrics (the show feels sung through even though it does have dialogue), revolves around the mysterious Harris Burdick himself. It's the story of a couple (Romain Fruge and Catherine Porter) whose marriage moves through various stages with an Our Town flavor. It begins with his proposal and moves on to the birth of their always adventure-hungry Peter Pan-like child Archie (Ben Roseberry excellent as the twelve-year-old, and even better as a neighbor who's a bug chasing loner) who lives with his martini swilling sister (Lucia Spina). When Archie disappears, his parents' tragedy turns the once fun loving neighbor (Mitchell Jarvis) into a neurotically overprotective husband and father (both the wife and the over-protected daughter played by the lovely Nicole Van Giesen).

The addition of the book's prologue to bookend the story does much to clarify last summer's workshop, and the production values are significantly more sophisticated. While the new venue is much more attractive than the former basement space, it's not a great deal bigger so Brian Prather's use of projections (beautifully lit by Chris Lee) works quite well to connect the images on the page to the stories in Calarco's book.

Miller's music is still presented by a single piano and might seem less repetitive if a small combo had been added (Burnt Part Boys and Miller and Tysen's song cycle, Fugitive Songs, were enhanced by having a guitar and harmonica accompany the pianist in the first, and a small band in the latter). While the cast is vocally strong, too many of their songs are presented as audience facing ensemble anthems. One can only hope that the show is not considered frozen so that Tysen and Miller can focus on including more show-biz type numbers like the catchy "Under the Rug" (smartly delivered by Ben Roseberry) and "Just Dessert" in which Lucia Spina's Sister is transformed into a Mary Poppins from hell.

Though much closer to a finished production than last year's showcase, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick still needs another more work before contemplating other production. Yet, it's an intriguing concept and well worth seeing by anyone who cares about innovative theater.

Links to reviews of other shows by this creative team
Burnt Part Boys, the creative team's previous Musical Lab hit, slated for a production at the Vineyard Theatre in New York

Fugitive Songs a well received song cylce that featured Harris Burdick cast members Ben Roseberry, Lucia Spina.

The Mysteries Of Harris Burdick
Book by Joe Calarco
Lyrics by Nathan Tysen
Music by Chris Miller
Inspired by the book of the same name by, Chris Van Allsburg
Directed by Joe Calarco
Musical Director:Vadim Feichtner
Cast: Romain Frugé (The Father), Mitchell Jarvis (The Husband), Catherine Porter (The Mother), Ben Roseberry (The Brother), Lucia Spina (The Sister), Nicole Van Giesen (/The Wife)
/Scenic and Projection Design: Brian Prather
Costume Design: Elizabeth Flauto
Lighting Design: Chris Lee
Sound Design: Jillian Marie Walker
Stage Manager: Jamie Thoma
Running Time: 85 minutes without intermission
June 18 through July 5.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at June 26th press opening
Musical Numbers
Prologue: Meant for a Mystery
The House on Maple Street
Strange Day in July 1
Another Time, Another Place
The House on Maple Street reprise
Open Window
The Harp Chapter 1
Oscar and Alphonse
Under the Rug
Missing in Venice
The Harp Chapter 2
Just Dessert
Strange Day in July 2
The Harp Chapter 3
Feet on the Ground
The Harp Chapter 1
Finale: Meant for a Mystery

Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of The Mysteries Of Harris Burdick
  • I disagree with the review of The Mysteries Of Harris Burdick
  • The review made me eager to see The Mysteries Of Harris Burdick
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email and state if you'd like your comments published in our letters section.

My Scary Girl Book by Kyoung-ae Kang and Mark St. Germain
Lyrics by Kyoung-ae Kang
Music by Will Aronson with additional lyrics by William Finn.
Directed by Andrew Volkoff
Cast: Terence Archie, Heath Calvert, Nathaniel P. Claridad, Deborah S. Craig, Greta Lee and J.P. Moraga.
Sets: Brian Prather
Costumes: Renee Bell
Lighting: Scott Pinkney
Sound: Jillian Walker
Stage Manager: Alma Owen
What it's about: A new musical based on the Korean film of the same name. Think Little Shop of Horrors meets So I Married an Axe Murderer meets (a Korean) Gertrude Stein. The romance/comedy/horror story is set in Seoul, Korea and a non-reviewable workshop production.
July 10 to 26

Sleepless Variations

We've all become accustomed to the one person play, in which a single performer is on stage telling a biographical or autobiographical story, often inhabiting numerous characters. These solo plays can be told with just a chair as scenery or a more elaborate set. Costume changes can be equally basic.

Sleepless Variations is Mary Testa's musical version of this genre, made ever more popular with rising costs for putting on a show. Testa, who's taken a leave from the roller-skating Broadway hit Xanadu (Curtainup review), to give Barrington Stage audience an opportunity to see this musical theater piece that she's devised together with another Broadway veteran, orchestrator Michael Starobin (Assassins,The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Falsettos, etc).

The concept is this: It's the middle of the night and Testa, as a nameless woman, trying to catch some zees, appears on stage wearing tailored pajamas— not exactly the cabaret outfit she'd be likely to wear if she were lending her powerful vocals to a concert presentation of nineteen songs by a cornucopia of composers and lyricists (including two very amusing ones of her own).

The set — yes, there is a set— is nothing fancy: a bed, a few tables, and a piano for the orchestra consisting of Starobin. Sleepless Variations thus fits the rubrik of staged concert, musical theater piece or a themed song cycle. Whatever. Testa is fun to watch and a superb singer and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Sleepless Variation's brief run at Barrington Stage Company's Musical Theatre Lab/Stage 2 had another life Off-Broadway or to light up the otherwise dark Monday nights at one of the smaller Broadway houses (like the one where Xanadu is playing).

Testa's battle with sleeplessness relies on her ability as a physical comedienne as well as her vocal talents. Director Michael Schiralli exploits both to their fullest potential so that, except for some messages from her answering machine and a few recorded tidbits from the worries and worrisome memories that keep that rem sleep at bay, everything is sung through. And it works.

It's not easy to give the music from diverse sources the continuity you find in a musical by a single composer. As you can see from the song list at the end of the production notes below the songs chosen are largely by the new music composers of whose work Testa has long been a stellar interpreter. Musical LAB director William Finn's songs and lyrics fit that category (Testa made her debut in his first hit, In Trousers). However, Rodgers and Hammerstein's " If I Loved You" represent a quite different type of music. But, that's where Starobin's skills as an orchestrator come in. He also adds to the fun, especially when at one point, he leaves his piano to play a French Horn.

While I was pleased to see some songs by the late Rusty Magee included, there were quite a few missing names like Adam Guetel and Jason Robert Brown —but then selection depended not just on style but something that worked with the angst driven sleepless theme. And while I'm not a major fan of solo shows per se, I do love small, intimate musicals. Sleepless Variations is about as intimate as you can get. PRODUCTION NOTES
Sleepless Variations
Starring Mary Testa
Created by Testa and Michael Starobin
Directed by Michael Schiralli
Musical direction by Michael Starobin
Design Coordination: Kelly Syring
Lighting Coordination: Ashley W. Mills
Sound Coordination: Jillian Marie Walker
Production stage manager: Kate J. Cudworth
Song List: Ghosts In My Machine by Annie Lennox; Now Is The Hour by Mary Testa; What If by Michael-John LaChiusa; Susan's Dream by Alan Jay Lerner & Kurt Weill; I Want Someone by Polly Pen; Somewhere In New Mexico by Jill Sobule; Heroes by Jill Sobule; Song Because I'm Leaving by Rusty Magee; Tall Trees In Georgia by Buffy Saint Marie; Song of the Full Refrigerator by William Finn & Will Aronson; As Planned by Frank O'Hara & Ricky Ian Gordon; Pink by Steven Tyler and Richie Supa; Nightmare by Mary Testa; Fraud by Michael-John LaChiusa; Sister Clarissa by Michael W. Smith; Unravel by Bjork; If I Loved You by Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II; The Green Heart by Rusty Magee; Heaven by Michael-John LaChiusa
$15 on Thursday, $25 Friday and Sunday, and $30 on Saturday
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at Thursday performance
(July 31-August 3)
See Rock City and Other Destinations
Mile after mile
Endless sky, endless variation. . .

—from the first vignette in which a waitress joins a moody young customer on a trip to Rock City that will change her go-nowhere existence and his sense of not belonging.
Gwen Hollander and Benjamin Schrader (Photo: Kwvin Sprague)
The Musical Theater Lab has now presented its three ways of putting on the musicals it helps its creators to develop: The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, the Lab's first of the season production, took last year's workshop to the next level-— a fully staged production, declaring itself ready for review. (my own review above). The Scary Girl, a workshop production so its coverage on this page is limited to listing the production notes. And now, another fully produced, ready for review — and with hopes of taking the next step to further stagings elsewhere. That next step is already in the works for one of the Lab's first shows, The Burnt Part Boys (review) which is scheduled for another life at the Vineyard Theater in New York.

This new pop-rock flavored show has some nice things going for it, but I don't think it's on a par with Burnt Part Boys or the pre-Lab hit, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee that made the big leap to Broadway, helped finance Barrington Stage's growth, and returned to the company this season on the first lap of a tour. Still, it's an interesting concept for musical story telling — in this case half a dozen vignettes set in various legendary tourist attractions, all different and yet thematically the same in that each contrasts a risk taking character with someone who finds it more difficult to break free from emotional boundaries.

One of the vignettes has a commitment phobic schoolteacher nudged into opening her eyes and heart to love by her grandfather, who still believes in taking a chance on love even though he's a stroke victim. Another revolves around a young bride, running scared just before taking the plunge. A different kind of letting go in order to move forward, is about three sisters ( who are about to toss their father's ashes into the sea but still haven't come to grips with letting go of their beloved dad.

Clearly, the show delivers on the musical travelogue concept with its round robin approach of hopping from episode to episode, from Rock City, to the Alamo, to Glacier Park and to Coney Island. The episodic structure begins and ends with the first two characters' decision about whether to move forward (and together) from their Rock City adventure. It's a structure that allows economical double casting (a major consideration for putting on any show these days), so that seven actors can play fourteen parts.

While the connecting thematic link ties everything together neatly, it's just a bit too neat. After a while the pairing of the characters feels a bit too symmetrical and obvious. To give an example, you know from the get go of "Remember the Alamo" that not long after unmarried schoolteacher Lauren (Cassie Wooley) wheels her beloved stroke incapacitated Grampy (John Jellison) on stage, he'll rise from that wheelchair and, with hands no longer trembling, deliver a song (Yes, it's called "Grampy's Song"). You also know that his mumbling insistence for the man having his lunch on a nearby bench (David Rossmer) and Lauren to get together will end up being a successful matchmaking effort. Hokey as that romantic & vignette is, it actually is the one that helps the show gain considerable altitude, thanks largely to Ms. Wooley's powerful voice.

Perhaps if See Rock City and Other Destinations were scored for and with a small band instead of a piano and the voices of all the performers were as strong as Wooley's, the pop-flavored songs would have made a stronger impression. Wooley also lends her strong vocal chops to the amusing "Crossing Glacier Bay " segment, as one of the three sisters who are reliving a childhood ocean voyage with the urn holding their father's ashes part of their actual and symbolic baggage. She's well supported in this piece by Jill Abramovitz and Gwen Hollander.

As befits this small venue and the Lab's showcase mission the production values are simple but could easily be spiffied up if the show were sufficiently fine tuned to be mounted elsewhere. If that happens, how about adding a playlet set in one of the Berkshire's many legendary attractions like Monument Mountain and Mount Greylock?

See Rock City and Other Destinations
Book and lyrics by Adam Mathias
Music by Brad Alexander
Directed by Kevin Del Aguila
Cast: Jill Abramovitz (Claire, Kate), Gwen Hollander (Dodi, Lily), John Jellison (Grampy, Carney), David Rossmer (Dempsey, Ticket Seller), Benjamin Schrader (Jess, Waiter, Cutter), Wesley Taylor (Evan, Rick), Cassie Wooley (Lauren, Judy)
, Pianist/Music Director: Vadim Feichtner
Sets: Brian Prather
Costumes: Mark Mariani
Lighting Design: David F. Segl
Sound: Jillian Walker
Stage Manager: Wesley Apfel
Running Time: 1 hour and 35 minutes, no intermission
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer 8/13/08 August 7 to 23
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of See Rock City and Other Destinations<
  • I disagree with the review of See Rock City and Other Destinations
  • The review made me eager to see See Rock City and Other Destinations
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V) Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email.

BSC Youth Theatre Production
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Book by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens
Co-conceived by Stephen Flaherty, Lynn Ahrens and Eric Idle
Based on the works of Dr. Seuss
Directed and choreographed by Christine O'Grady
First Congregational Church, 27 East Street, Pittsfield
July 16 through August 17.

Visit CurtainUp's Friends
Ticket Solutions—Theatre Tickets!
Cranwell Resort
Jacob'sPillow Dance Festival
E-Mail us about how to add a text link about YOU
Tanglewood, Summer Home of the Boston Symphony
The Internet Movie Data Base
Internet Broadway Data Base
Williamstown Theatre Festival
Tanglewood Web Site
Try for great seats to
Jersey Boys
The Little Mermaid
Lion King
Shrek The Musical

Visit CurtainUp's Friends

Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
Our Review

Berkshire Hikes Book Cover
©Copyright 2008, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from