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…

THEATER REVIEW: Mac-Haydn ‘Sweeney Todd’ deftly navigates dark tale

Sweeney Todd / Mac-Haydn Theatre

THOU SHALT NOT EAT thy fellow man. That’s in the Bible, isn’t it? No?

“Sweeney Todd” is a morality tale shaped by the musical theater genius of composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim. It makes the eating your fellow man entertaining, laughable–even palatable. (Oh dear.) That is, when it is not terrifying you or quietly or noisily inviting you to look at something darkly true.

But the important music-thing and theater-thing is Sondheim. Sondheim is beyond good. I predict that his late-20th century work will still be savored and revered by your great-, great-grandchildren. And you’re in luck! At Mac-Haydn Theater there is a wonderful production.

Before I describe the wonderfulness, let me go quickly through my few carps. 1) The actors portraying the young lovers (Johanna and Anthony) have no sexual chemistry. When they repeatedly sing “Kiss me,” it could easily be “please pass the oatmeal.” 2) And when the young Anthony sings, “I feel you, Johanna,” it seems as if his attention is glued to his own (very good) voice rather than to her charms. 3) The jiggly movement in the vocal technique of Kelly Gabrielle Murphy as Johanna is tremolo rather than vibrato, a defect that may be related to her occasional pitch problems. 4) The extended gyrations of the ensemble in the lunatic scene make the audience uncertain about whether to shrink in horror—or laugh. 5) In spite of their excellent singing, the actors playing Judge Turpin and Tobias may be age-miscast, the former being too young and the latter not young enough. Read more…