THEATER REVIEW: Thump thing limits ABBA’s ‘Mamma’s’ minor merits

“Mamma Mia!” / Mac-Haydn Theatre, Chatham

THE MUSIC OF ABBA seemed innovative in its day. It was, in a way.

But, of an evening, can a listener get tired of Abba music in minor modes? (Yup. And I love minor modes.) It’s when the whole first act of a theater piece such as “Mamma Mia!” offers song after song after song in minor. And if the songs all have similar meters, tempos, and harmonic progressions, with lots of percussional um-thump, um-thump, um-thump, um-thump, the sequence may be enough to make you long for a waltz, or a dirge, or even a snobby piece in seven-eight. How about a small helping of C-major?

You probably already know that it’s about a feisty mom and a young girl who is trying to find out which of three men is her father. Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: Game cast wrings a few giggles from Barn’s ‘Nerd’

IF PLAYWRIGHT LARRY SHUE were still alive, he might have decided that he no longer wants to confess to having created “The Nerd.” But beyond that, one may wonder why his name appears nowhere on the title page of Theater Barn’s program. Hmmm.

The plot of his play involves an extremely peculiar person who 1) moves into an architect’s home, 2) ruins his life, and 3) will probably never leave—unless whacky, desperate measures from the architect’s friends ensue. They ensue. And those desperate measures take the term “whacky” to new depths and high decibels.

In this production, the extremely peculiar person is played by Brett Epstein. Epstein has one of those wonderful faces that leaps off the stage and could, if asked, zoom to the last row of an amphitheater. The actor makes full use of it to make a nice/irritating, reality-based cartoon out of his character. For the role, he has also adopted the body language of a seven-year-old girl. If this were a solo gig, it could really work. But Epstein has six other actors on stage with him—actors who are obviously striving for more naturalistic characterizations, and the conflict of styles can be difficult to watch. The play does in fact strain that theater axiom: to have fun, audiences must be able to suspend disbelief. This watcher had difficulty suspending. Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: This ‘Funny Girl’ Fanny leads cast of strong voices

“Funny Girl” / Mac-Haydn Theatre

“NICE” IS NICE. But probably real-life comedienne Fanny Brice, subject of the musical “Funny Girl,” was both something more and something less.

In any case, this woman’s story inspired some of the classiest musical theater songs of the sixties and beyond: “Who Are You Now?” “Music That Makes Me Dance,” and the amazing “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” (Of course, there was also “People,” which became ubiquitous and mildly nauseating in endless radio and cabaret repetitions.)

At the Mac-Haydn Theatre, Lauren Palmeri is Fanny. The woman can sing. The eyes in that face are stunning, belying the show’s complaints about “If a Girl Isn’t Pretty….” Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: ‘Tenor’ evokes a grange and hilariously wacky world

“Lend Me a Tenor” / Copake Grange

THE TWO OF THEM, Constance Lopez and Steve Sanborn, who produce theater as “The Two of Us Productions,” are intrepid. They gather community actors, musicians, techies and costumers together to do big musicals (with full, live orchestras), and small murder mysteries. Now, they have taken on… what shall we call it? Maybe “Grange Entertainment” (Bands, karaoke, and yes, smaller-cast plays.)

More and more, producers are touting their wares in terms of the “total experience,” and The Two of Us now gets to tout Copake Grange. The Grange building is a major player in the experience of their production of Kenneth Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor.” The environmental connection is not logical. It’s just a decidedly unstuffy, mood-maker in which to toss a play.

The wonder of the building called Copake Grange in southern Columbia County is that no interior decorator has come near it. The unimposing wood structure sits close to the road. Inside, theater-goers witness two big rooms, one of which features worn wood floors and interesting old photographs, and the other (the theater), mixes radiators with dark wainscoting, 95 comfy old movie seats, an elderly, sound-quenching ceiling, and a small stage. The place smells great—of dust and old wood, and the lived-life of small-town history. Read more…

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…