Monday, October 20, 2014

Precision, young talent, pictures make electricity at Shubert for NHSO

After its splendid first concert of the season doing a spirited Beethoven's Fifth, two pops concerts with new conductor Chelsea Tipton and Thursday's "American Rhapsody" concert gem at the Shubert Theatre, the New Haven Symphony Orchestra is on a roll, aided last week by the brilliant talent of a 13-year-old girl.
Piano soloist Emily Bear (center above) and guest conductor Christopher Jahnke had a packed house, in the reopened Shubert Theatre in New Haven, spellbound with George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and a few other treats, including Bumble Bear Boogie.
Bear was mostly spectacular, playing difficult pieces hand over hand without seeming to miss a note. Even the talented orchestra members were fighting the urge to just watch her work.
After an intermission that saw fans crowd around a table in the renovated lobby to meet Bear and buy her CD, maestro William Boughton acknowledged the difficult task of following that standing-ovation first half, but then rolled out a sublime second half with Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man (just horns and percussion on stage); Letter from Home and Appalachian Spring.
Not that symphonies need gimmicks, costumes, flamboyant soloists or audio-visual pyrotechnics in this era of social media, texting and 300-channel cable TV packages, but  WQXR DJ Elliott Forrest's projected images on a screen/wall behind the symphony added to the entertaining Copland portion.
Forrest produced a montage of photographs from the Appalachian Mountain Photography Competition, which he choreographed live to accompany the music. And during "Letter From Home," local photos of servicemen were included, signaling NHSO's overdue effort to engage and groom more classical music fans through social media.
Classical symphonies need to try anything and everything these days to make converts and keep their aging fan base at the same time. This one, aided by move away from spartan Woolsey Hall, worked on several levels.
NHSO should keep pulling out all the stops, and it should book the stellar young Bear any chance it gets. (The concert was repeated Sunday in Clinton.)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

'Holiday Inn' hits all the right notes at Goodspeed

EAST HADDAM -- "Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn" isn't a lot of things that are popular today. It's not modern or ironic, it's not profane, it's not intellectually deep, it's not dark and it's not a zombie show.
But the music-filled production about an entertainer who buys a Connecticut farmhouse does so much well that it's a three-hour smile (and a chuckle and a big laugh or two).
With considerable skill in cast and crew, producer Michael Price's "Holiday Inn" is great entertainment.
Who goes to the theater for joy anymore? Well, possibly Goodspeed's well-aged crowd (packed to its scenic rafters on press night after weeks of previews). But an older audience is too simple an answer.
And it's also too simple to say that the musical is in this reviewer's wheelhouse since I'm in my late 50s. After all, my generation was more interested in "Hair," The Rolling Stones and Neil Young than old-school musicals with Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby.
I don't even like some of that era's classic musicals, such as "South Pacific." ("Happy Talk" makes me want to hurl.) But Goodspeed's tuneful version of "Holiday Inn"can really make you appreciate this art form, this 1930s-1950s song-and-dance spectacular about a romance, show biz and some mid-century American characters and values.
With earnest effort and skill, the musical (extended through Dec. 21) makes us appreciate Goodspeed's role in preserving, celebrating and presenting this genre of musical theater.
The casting is nearly perfect: Noah Racey (from left above) plays smooth hoofer Ted Hanover, Hayley Podschun plays his blonde dance partner, Patti Murin plays the ex-dancer whose family owned the farm and Tally Sessions works up a sweat and earns his big applause as Jim Hardy, who buys the farm (a lesser joke in the show) and is convinced to put on shows there during holidays. Danny Rutigliano, Noah Marlowe and (especially) Susan Mosher are scene-stealers who keep the audience laughing -- Mosher as the theatrical mashup version (with a hilarious twist) of Carol on "The Bob Newhart Show," Alice on "The Brady Bunch" and Andrea Martin on "SCTV."

Holiday Inn features music by Irving Berlin and a new book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge, with some well-landing references to Connecticut. Greenberg directs the Goodspeed production with Michael O'Flaherty as musical director of a the roughly eight-piece band. Choreography, also good, is by Denis Jones. 
 Curtain times for the show are Wednesday at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (with select performances at 2:00 p.m.), Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. (with select performances at 6:30 p.m.). The Thanksgiving week schedule will be 11/24 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., 11/28 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., 11/29 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., and 11/30 at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.                              
Tickets (starting at $27) are available through the Box Office (860.873.8668), open seven days a week, or on-line at goodspeed.org.


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Last week at the CT casinos: Chazz and the mixed martial arts shows

Last week at the casinos in CT:
Chazz Palminteri put on a great show of "A Bronx Tale," which he originally wrote for the theater based on his own life. I wrote about it in the Register last week, including the emotional part about his co-star in the film, Lillo Brancato.
The show was probably a little more than half-full, which is surprising for such a big star in a state with so many Italian-Americans. The ticket price ($75) might have been too high in a continuing tight economy for many. But Chazz earned yet another standing ovation as he acted out the entire movie.
Last week was notable at the casinos because both had MMA fighting events that were televised on cable and Mohegan's Bellator MMA show drew 7,100 people, a strong show considering the more established UFC at Foxwoods on the same night.
A Mohegan spokesman said TV ratings were close, too, with Mohegan's on Spike and Foxwoods' event on Fox Sports 1.
Here's a couple of photos from the Mohegan event. Photo 2 is former heavyweight champ Larry Holmes and MMA fighter and former NFL pro RB Herschel Walker.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Valley Shakespeare Fest scores 30 percent jump in attendance


Here's a look at Valley Shakespeare Festival's Free Shakespeare in the Park performances of the Bard’s comedy “Much Ado About Nothing” on the evenings of July 10, 11 and 12 at Shelton’s Riverwalk-Veterans Memorial Park.
According to official Cheryl O'Brien, "The three performances attracted over six hundred audience members, a 30% increase over last year’s totals.  They came early, from all over Connecticut and as far away as New York City, Syracuse, Long Island and New Jersey, bringing picnic dinners from home or purchased from local eateries.  Children played in the park by the Housatonic River while families relaxed until the lights came on and the players took the stage to perform the play some have described as an Elizabethan Rom-Com.  They laughed, sighed, shuddered and applauded as Beatrice, Benedick, Hero and Claudio stumbled through their journeys to a very happy ending."




Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Yale's superb quartet-in-residence, Brentano Quartet, busy in Norfolk

From the folks at the Norfolk (Ct.) Music Shed, 20 Litchfield Road, Norfolk, CT, where
the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, presented by the Yale School of Music, is in its 73rd  season

On Friday, July 18 the Festival presents a program of Russian music featuring Festival artists Boris Berman (piano), Clive Greensmith (cello) and the Brentano String Quartet performing Igor Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne for cello and piano; Sergei Prokofiev’s Cello Sonata in C Major and his Overture on Hebrew Themes, and the concert closes with Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in g minor- with pianist Boris Berman and the Brentano String Quartet in their first appearance as the Norfolk Festival’s new Quartet-In-Residence.

On Saturday the Brentano Quartet takes the Music Shed stage on their own with a program of Mozart’s “The Hunt” String Quartet (K458), Bartok’s String Quartet No. 3, and closing the program, Beethoven’s String Quartet in c-sharp minor, Op 131. The Brentano Quartet’s recorded performance was prominently featured in the critically acclaimed Yaron Zilberman film 2013 film A Late Quartet, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Christopher Walken. In 2013 the Brentano Quartet was named Quartet-In-Residence at both the Yale School of Music and at the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, succeeding the Tokyo String Quartet which had held the positions for nearly 40 years before retiring in 2013. 

For information, call 860-542-3000

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

'RiffTrax Live: Sharknado' looms in theaters Thursday; biting satire


For pop-culture quipsters who like to smirk at bad movies (and who doesn't?), Thursday's inventive redux of campy TV flick "Sharknado" looms as a major, open-jawed epic event.
The crew behind former cable franchise "Mystery Science Theater 3000" -- which was a chuckleheaded delight as it riffed on bad old movies while it screened them -- will apply their witty touch to the ridiculous 2013 Syfy channel film that became an amusing rage on social media.
"RiffTrax Live: Sharknado" will be shown in 650 cinemas at 8 p.m. Thursday, live from the
State Theater in Minneapolis; a second taped showing will be July 15 at 7:30 p.m.
Local theaters include Branford 12 on East Main Street, Waterbury's Brass Mill 12 on Union Street, North Haven 12 on Universal Drive and Connecticut Post 14 in Milford. Tickets run $10.50-$12.50.
Now, if you haven't seen "MST3K," it may seem bizarre and unappealing to listen to quipsters filling in the pauses in a movie theater; after all, the chatter of local pinheads will ruin a movie for anyone nearby (and has led to violence).
But the patter of Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett is like sitting next to a few of your funniest buddies, who punctuate each absurd moment in a stupid movie with an amusing aside (or, even funnier, a running gag).
The actual Syfy channel movie franchise is meant to be B-movie schlock, of course, often with two incongruous words crammed together ("Dinocroc," "Piranhaconda" or "Sharktopus," if not "Mansquito"). But in any movie, there are actors taking themselves seriously, so there's always room for an "Airplane"-like punch line.
The plot of "Sharknado," which caused such a stir that it has led to a Syfyy sequel premiering July 30, is this: Huge water spouts scoop up vicious sharks from the ocean and hurl them onto land (Los Angeles, thankfully, where so many bad movies are conceived). It's scientifically impossible, of course, in so many ways, that you can laugh it as you wince at its abundant gore. 
Beach owner Fin (Ian Ziering, "Beverly Hills 90210," who has family from New Haven), bartender Nova (Casie Scerbo, "Make It Or Break It") and local drunk George (John Heard, "Home Alone") team up with Fin’s ex-wife (Tara Reid, "Scrubs") to investigate "the ecological nightmare that has sharks swimming through the streets of Los Angeles and falling from the skies."
The silhouetted characters of RiffTrax should add mightily to those laughs.

Tickets for "RiffTrax Live: Sharknado" are available at participating theater box offices and online at www.FathomEvents.com.