Saturday, May 04, 2013
"Amadeus": On the Burdens of Genius
New Rep’s rather magnificent production of “Amadeus”— a show about the burdens of genius on both the individual and those around him -- begins with Antonio Salieri muttering to himself as the audience takes their seats. As Salieri, Benjamin Evett carries the show, which is no easy feat given its heft, depth, and length! Evett’s characterization of the jealous, duplicitous composer is mesmerizing, and his transformations from old to young, and back, sublime.
The show invites us into the mind and world of Salieri, who knows his own gifts to be dwarfed by those of the foolish young boy whose work, Salieri says, channels God. Upon first reading a Mozart piece, Salieri laments that he will never be as good as Mozart, no matter how long or hard he works -- a sentiment made particularly painful by the contrast in their characters. As we are meant to, the audience constantly compares the substantive, serious Salieri with the fatuous but enormously gifted Mozart, played by Tim Spears (who, it must be said, comes off more like a caricature than a character until he finally becomes a real person at the end of his life).
On the whole, there is something good to be said for each individual actor, but the production as a whole does not entirely gel the cast into an ensemble. One of the largest disconnects is between the stylized portrayal of the men of the court and the serious construction of the role of Mozart’s wife (played with great feeling by McCaela Donovan). The show could also have benefited from some judicious cutting, perhaps in the first act (which moved too slowly), allowing the intermission to come later, so that the second act did not go so long without a break.
Our favorite part of the production was probably the “venticelli” (little winds), two gossiping, whispering spies (played by the expert Paula Langton and Michael Kaye), who bring Salieri the news of the town, gallivanting around the stage and using their masks and wigs to great effect. They, more than the other characters, use the full stage, including the enormous wooden slide/set piece with a fabulous geometric design, which becomes a church window, a podium, and other set pieces in turn (kudos to Cristina Todesco and Mary Ellen Stebbins, respectively the scenic designer and the lighting designer, for their terrific collaboration). A big “nice job” to director Jim Petosa also on the brilliant stage pictures created by the intersection of the various production elements and the actors’ bodies in the geometric space of the stage and set.
~ Shauna Shames & Johanna Ettin, New Rep Reviewers
by Frank Furnari, New Rep Reviewer
New Rep concludes their season with a wonderful production of the TONY winning play Amadeus by Peter Shaffer, which inspired the film of the same name. The play presents a fictionalized account of composer Antonio Salieri’s last day where he recounts his relationship with fellow composer Wolfgang Amadeus (some scholars argue he preferred to use Amadè) Mozart. Salieri, though a series of flashbacks takes the audience on a three hour journey through both men’s lives attempting to prove to the audience how he is the one responsible for Mozart’s death. We see the pious Salieri makes a pledge to devote himself to God in exchange for a musical gift and fame. He does indeed get a gift and some success; however he is ever aware of his mediocrity, especially in comparison with Mozart who lives the life of a libertine.
Jim Petosa assembles an amazing cast for this large production. Benjamin Evett is wonderful in the role of Salieri, transforming from an old man to a man in his prime for us on stage. This is a large role, but Evett is up for it and shows that even if the composer were mediocre, the actor portraying him certainly is not. Salieri’s Venticelli (little winds, aka spies) played by Michael Kaye and Paula Langton are also great in this production, they remind me of Commedia dell’arte characters with their costumes and mannerisms and they add a bit of humor to the production. Also adding humor without saying many words is Paul D. Farwell as Von Strack – normally mumbling on stage is not something to be desired, but it is perfect for the character and Farwell makes it almost into an art form. Tim Spears performance as Amadeus was generally good, although at times it reminded me a little too much of the portrayal in the movie rather than his own portrayal.
The technical pieces of the production all came together well including Cristina Todesco’s scenic design whose centerpiece help transform the space through slight changes. Frances Nelson McSherry’s costume design was very fitting of the period. Mary Ellen Stebbins took an interesting concept with the lighting design by having Salieri followed by a spotlight throughout most of the production, allowing the rest of the stage to be more dimly lit; this at times helped add to the sense that what we’re seeing isn’t necessarily reality, but what was seen through his memory.
I’ve seen the movie several times and it was a delight to finally be able to see this piece in person. The two are similar but vary slightly, in the play it feels that a lot more is simply narrated by Salieri, whereas in the movie even if he is narrating the action, it is a voiceover while you see the action take place. On might say (to paraphrase a line in the play), it has too many words – at times it does go on and one wonders if the script could have been cut a little while maintaining the story, but overall it was a very enjoyable night of theatre. If you like Mozart or if you’ve seen the movie, you should certainly make time to see this production of Amadeus.
Thursday, April 04, 2013
In New Rep’s production of Terrence McNally’s Master Class, Amelia Broome accomplishes something that, quite frankly, I would have said was impossible. She becomes Maria Callas, one of the most compelling theatrical artists and greatest singers of the twentieth century. It’s not just an impersonation – no one could impersonate Callas for two and a half hours. It’s far deeper than that. I never had the privilege of seeing Callas in person. I’ve only heard the recordings and the tales and seen the faces of those who did hear her sing when they talk about the experience.
Even if one knew nothing about Callas, watching Amelia Broome be Callas would be an unforgettable experience. She takes command of the stage from the first moment, gripping the audience by the throat, demanding our absolute attention and then winning it. She holds the audience under her control so completely that we are unable to applaud when the young students sing beautifully, powerfully. Madame says, “No applause” so there is no applause, no matter how much the students deserve it. (I felt I wanted to find them after the show and tell them how much I enjoyed their singing.) Callas is in every movement of her hands, every facial expression, her striding across the stage, her snarl, her courtesy.
McNally plays against the stereotype of the narcissistic diva. The audience giggles and sometimes laughs out loud at the excesses, the disingenuous false modesty, the flirtatiousness. But then Broome makes us understand why we put up with it, relish it even, from an artist of Callas’s power and mastery. We believe her when she shows us that despite the self-centeredness and the drama queen antics, it is, in fact, all about the art, about music.
The simple setting is entirely appropriate and opens up to represent the opera state as Callas experienced it. Brendan Shapiro who plays Manny, the accompanist, is perfect in his professionalism and nervousness. The students, Lindsay Conrad, Erica Spyres and Darren T. Anderson sing well, though one wishes that the two women had been less feckless – though singing for Callas could understandably cause one to lose one’s cool.
At the time the master class takes place, Callas was no longer performing. The play is artfully arranged so that the actress need not sing – though Broome lets loose a powerful note or two. On a least two occasions where the present fades and Callas reminisces about her past we hear Callas recordings faintly in the background. Perhaps the most remarkable moment of Broome’s performance is when she speaks the lyrics of an aria from La Somnambula, on her knees, with piano accompaniment behind her. I had the illusion that I had heard Callas sing and that I understood the essence of her legend. (Yet another moment when applause was called for but the cowed audience remained silent).
I came to the theatre with considerable skepticism, thinking mostly of the chutzpah required for an actress to pretend to be Callas. I came away knowing that I had been in the presence of a great artist, perhaps even Callas herself.
~ Johanna Ettin, with Shauna Shames, New Rep Reviewers
- Frank Furnari, New Rep Reviewer
Maria Callas says to student in her masterclass "Anyone can stand there and sing. An artist enters and is." By this mark it is certain that Amelia Broome is an artist. Broome has embodied the poise and authority of the diva artist in Terrence McNally's Master Class. From the moment she steps on stage she commands attention from her presence, posture, and mannerisms. At one point Callas says "this is not about me" but we know that's far from the truth – one can't take one's eyes off of her the entire time she's on stage. The premise of the TONY winning play with music is that the diva Maria Callas, after she stopped performing, would conduct master classes where aspiring opera singers came to learn from one of the best. As we see in the play, while the focus should be on the up and coming singers, it rarely isn't – one can't expect a diva not to steal focus. Three performers (or victims as Callas jokingly refers to them) come out to sing an aria and be critiqued. While the performers occasionally get notes on actual vocal technique ("Sing on the breath"), many of the interruptions serve as a reason for Callas to talk about herself or to badmouth one of her fellow opera stars. The writing is very witty and makes for an enjoyable 2.5hrs of theatre.
While there are a lot of references that the opera aficionado will get, anyone can appreciate the humor of the piece as well as the larger than life character of Callas. This is my favorite show thus far in New Rep's season with solid performances as a very engaging and funny script.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
“Lungs” is Smoking!
New Rep’s newest production, “Lungs,” by Duncan Macmillan, rocks the black box with laughter and emotion. Hilarious and heartfelt, the show took the opening night crowd from confusion (what does the title mean?) to glee to sighs of pain, empathy, and understanding. The show is, above all else, wickedly smart and painfully honest. It gives voice to the weird things that might pass through so many of our minds, but that we rarely speak aloud. “Lungs” will especially resonate with anyone over-educated who harbors a guilty liberal conscience regarding the environment – which makes the Boston area a good town for its production!
Macmillan’s witty dialogue – or, often, contrasting (and sometimes overlapping) monologues – is accompanied by some terrific acting. It seems as if the parts were written for these two actors, especially Liz Hayes as W. Both are New Rep veterans, having appeared (and distinguished themselves) in recent shows, including “The Kite Runner” (for Nael Nacer) and “Collected Stories” (for Hayes). I had seen and liked them in both of these previously, but thought that this new production showcases their talents in surprising and unique ways.
“Lungs” is directed with aplomb by Bridget O’Leary, who keeps the pace at a near-dizzying level, and whose sense of humor is evident throughout. Kudos also to the set designer, whose hands were mostly tied by the playwright’s directive that there be no set! You’ll just have to see the show to see how the clever Jen Rock got around this proscription. And I wholeheartedly recommend that you do!
~ Shauna Shames, New Rep Reviewer
Sunday, January 13, 2013
"Marry Me a Little" Brightens the Season
We’re in that dreary, flavorless period between the 12th day of Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Sigh. But if you need a truffle, a trifle, a delightful hour, see New Rep’s production of “Marry Me A Little.” The evening’s entertainment (more of a musical revue than a play) is a pastiche of Stephen Sondheim “discards,” songs written for various musicals and cut out for a variety of reasons having nothing to do with their quality.
The four characters live in separate compartments on the ingeniously designed set, décor reflecting their various stages of life. The experienced older woman makes dinner in her well-equipped kitchen. The established architect in his chilly minimalist dining room fiddles on his laptop, spreads out a set of plans, drinks. The young violinist practices and dreams in her small room which still carries the flavor of her childhood – bear on pillow, polka-dotted sheets. A young man of indeterminate profession gazes at his reflection in the mirror, preens and paces around the room that will remind you of your younger brother’s first apartment, making occasional half-hearted attempts to at least confine the clothes (dirty? clean?) carpeting the floor to a single pile.
Their characters are designated simply Woman 1 and 2 and Man 1 and 2. Though the externals of their lives are defined by the spaces they inhabit, the inner identity shifts and is redefined as they transition from song to song, sometimes a solo, sometimes in duet, dreaming of relationships, some gay, and some straight. What they have in common is the tentative, fumbling longing and uncertainty, so typical of Sondheim. We see ourselves in their oh-so-human frailty and isolation and we smile at them and at ourselves. They dream of love and companionship without surrender or risk. Marry me – a little. Love me – but not too much. Only at the end do they venture out into the world and risk a real encounter.
All four singer/actors had voices well-suited to musical comedy. Erica Spyres, Woman 1, sings with a bright, clear soprano, perfect for our ingénue. In the role of Woman 2 Aimee Doherty reveals a voice which is more powerful and well-suited to her more mature role. Brad Daniel Peloquin, Man 2, reveals his classical training in the exceptional sweetness of his tenor as the sophisticated architect, while Phil Taylor, Man 1, convincingly sings the confusion, vanity and ambition of the younger man.
Todd C. Gordon and David McGrory, who provide accompaniment from pianos on opposite sides of the stage, play with spirit and provide secure grounding for the whole production. And we loved the way Spyres’s violin practice was integrated into the accompaniment for other singers. (Talented girl!)
A bonbon of an evening, yes, but reflective and sweet-natured and thoughtful. Well worth a midwinter drive to Watertown.
~ Johanna Ettin & Shauna Shames, New Rep Reviewers
Thursday, January 10, 2013
--Victoria Petrosino, New Rep Reviewer
New Rep’s production of “Marry Me a Little” provides an intimate glance into the private lives and elaborate dreams of a series of NYC apartment-dwellers. The show features songs cut from other Stephen Sondheim productions woven into a charming musical. Traditionally staged to tell the story of two NYC individuals at home on a Saturday night, New Rep widens the appeal to illustrate four individuals for all combinations of passions and disappointments. The effort is particularly successful in adding some weight to the diminutive 75 minute production.
Scenic designer Erik Diaz envisions an ambitious set with four separate apartments, a fire escape with city views, and two smaller brick-walled rooms for the pianists. Each apartment is elaborately decorated and helps to provide a few much-needed clues about the occupant, since the dialogue-free play yields little actual story. For the most part, each character remains in the separate apartment (even while singing duets), highlighting that although several share the same longings, they are separated by timidity or circumstance. Small moments of intimacy come from knocking on the walls or stomping on the floor to quiet the neighbors.
The live music (Erica Spyres also plays the violin) and apartment scenes create a cozy environment for the audience. We watch the characters arrive home, unpack groceries, drink wine, get ready for bed, and leave again the next day. The coziness partially offsets the lack of a story, but for me, the production overall lacked substance. The music was excellent, the singers were all talented, but the impression left by each song was too fleeting. Maybe that is the beauty of the production. Each character leaves an ephemeral impression in the life of another.