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…

THEATER REVIEW: Barn brings new life to antique by Christie

“Spider’s Web”/ Theater Barn

ONCE AGAIN IT’S AGATHA CHRISTIE time at the Theater Barn! You already expect the period Brits and the trips down plotty garden paths (with their multiple dead ends). And the houses. Ah yes, the houses.

At the Barn, the set for this large country house is a spacious room with imposing hunter-green walls. The walls are so richly painted that you could pet them, or perhaps wade in them. Those, plus French doors, secret and regular doors, a lovely Empire sofa, and a small desk are the main set-tools of the action.

Because this house is supposed to have been the home of an antiques dealer, one may have hoped for more impressive antiques, especially the desk that looms so large in the story. (People keep rifling in it searching for ?) Read more…

THEATER REVIEW: ‘Anything goes’ delightfully delivered at Mac-Haydn

“Anything Goes” / Mac-Haydn Theatre

“ANYTHING GOES.” Really? Anything? The main things that go and come in productions of this musical are Cole Porter songs. It is amazing how the composer’s tunes and lyrics can be axed or added without materially disturbing the flow of the piece. I guess the vaudeville-era tradition of low jokes and loosely connected, lively songs was still around when “Anything Goes” was created. In this version, the song choices are mostly traditional and happy-making. “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “You’re the Top,” “It’s De-lovely,” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow,” are almost indestructible.

In the Mac-Haydn production, lots of them get the super-good singing of Angela Travino as Reno Sweeney. Her ability to give a phrase meaning, shape and nuance, especially in the verses that precede choruses, is a very good thing. The singing of that role can easily slip into unpleasant, raw belting, but Travino would never.

Singers who can act are to be treasured, and the easy personhood of her work is typical of the actors’ approach in this production. Director Robin Levine apparently has made the choice: avoid most of the schticky stuff that the material seems to beg for; and the actors know how to execute. Read more…