REVIEW: Hudson Hall opera nurture’s new life for ‘Mother…’

“The Mother of Us All” / Hudson Hall

WOMEN GET TO VOTE. Yay! Susan B. Anthony didn’t live to see it, but we couldn’t have done it without her. She deserves an opera, and Gertrude Stein (words) and Virgil Thomson (music) gave her one. It’s alive at Hudson Hall.

The 1947 piece is also about varieties of coupledom, marriage and pervasive male power. It is also about words and sentences and about the author herself.

During Stein’s lifetime, among the artsy intelligentsia, innovation was a huge motivator. Visual arts were busy smashing up realism, serious music dived into folk idioms and dissonances, and writers deliberately mucked around with meaning and messed with its building supplies (words, sentences, story and linear logic). The opera is a lot about Gertrude and Virgil reaching to be more-innovative-than-thou. Lots of people think they succeeded. Still, since 1947, playwrights and composers have not rushed to explore the Stein-Thomson mode. Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: This ‘Peter Pan’ gives fantasy a good name

“Peter Pan the Musical” / Performing Arts Center at Taconic Hills

KURT ANDERSEN’S NEW BOOK “Fantasyland” traces our American love affair with fantastical untruths from the Pilgrims to the Trump. The author is thorough, clever, timely and scathing about the moribund condition of “truth” and “fact,” then and now.

However, the flip side of our very human gullibility is our marvelous talent for living temporarily in a novel or theater piece, swallowing it like a gulp of fresh air for a few hours or a few days before breathing back to “reality,” somehow the better for it.

“Peter Pan the Musical” lets us do that—almost. It invites us to be simultaneously gullible child and sophisticated, rational adult. (The authors have put the “never” in Peter’s “Neverland,” and Kurt Andersen would approve.) Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: Talent, not luck, coaxes best from this ‘Lucky Me’

“Lucky Me” / Theater Barn

“LUCKY ME” BY ROBERT CAISLEY is about unlucky Sara and her bumpy ride to love. Sara (played here by Colleen Lovett) lost her cat, her pet fish, her electricity, her husband (he fell off the roof); and, since the roof thing, all her boyfriends are inexplicably accident-prone. When we first meet her she is on crutches.

Enter a savior-type airport security guy, Tom (played by Richard Lounello). Right away he replaces her light bulbs. (Heavy metaphor, no?)

Sara’s worst luck is that Leo, her Daddy (John W. Noble), lives with her. It appears that Daddy has employed his wit, his wiliness, his blindness and his dementia (real and not so real) to keep her life- and husband-deprived. Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: For ‘Guys and Dolls,’ bet on Act II

Among the members of the cast in Guys and Dolls at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon through September 3 are (l to r) Olivia Bullock, Conner Milam, Liane Zielinski and Megan Koumis. Photo contributed

“Guys and Dolls” / Theater Barn

Act I:

NOT EVEN THE WONDERFUL Andrew Pace (as Nathan Detroit) can rescue the first act of Theater Barn’s “Guys and Dolls.” The opening cityscape is accompanied by a sickly piano riddled with wrong notes and wrong chords. The wrongs pop up throughout the show, and the piano, bass, and drums combo that performed so confidently in the company’s “Godspell” seems to have had a nervous breakdown. In the lobby after the opening performance, “Kill the piano player!” could be heard. Twice.

Act 1 of this musical is heavy on the characters of Sky and Sarah, played here by Nick Abbott and Katherine McLellan. It includes some beautiful Frank Loesser songs: “I’ll know (When My Love Comes Along),” “If I Were a Bell,” “My Time of Day.” Those songs need voice. For Sky, it should be a rich, robust baritone rather than a light-ish, almost tenor. As for Sarah, McLellan’s thin soprano, unsteady on the top, does not quite suffice. Abbott’s Sky is surfacey and unconvincing, and he and McLellan share very little heat. Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: Updated ‘Godspell reveals Barn’s talents

Theater Barn / ‘Godspell’

“DAY BY DAY BY Day By Day By Day By…,” “O Bless the Lord O Bless the Lord, O Bless the…”. Sometimes it may seem as if the musical “Godspell” is lyrically deprived or, like much pop music of today, afflicted with some sort of repetition disease. But composer Stephen Schwartz is also an award-winning lyricist, so I guess repetition is simply okay, okay, okay.

Schwartz is probably known by younger folk via community theater and school productions of “Godspell,” “Pippin,” and perhaps from a trip to NYC to see the long-running “Wicked.”

Having witnessed the original production of “Godspell” in the early ’70s, plus a few iterations since, I was unprepared for the musical sophistication of this 2012-revised version. It is as if Stephen Schwartz grew up to be a composer! The original tunes (pleasant, but not inspiring) have acquired a subtler underlining of their modal natures, an added intertwining, and lots of new harmonic underpinnings with stinging harmonic surprises. Read more…