We had an incredibly difficult time picking our Boston Must See: October 2014, and for good reason. We always want the problem of too many outstanding theatre productions to feature, and we are excited for the breadth and depth of theatre in the fall. October may be our busiest month in recent memory; we can’t wait to dive into a pile of good theatre.
This month, we attempted to highlight the range of theatre available for all audiences in the Greater Boston area, particularly, the diverse theatre companies. Most, if not all, of the theatre companies on this list are award-winning (or at least award-worthy) theatre companies that have become Boston staples for patrons wishing to escape for a good night at the theatre. However, they all serve a slightly different treat without the tricks. This month, we include hyperlinks to assist in locating a particular production within our (lengthy) Must See; just click on the name of the production from the list below to be taken to the featured write-up. Click on the name of the theatre company to see our explanation for why the company makes our October Must See list, too.
To be considered for November’s entry, please email us at email@example.com by October 24, 2014 with information on your production, including company name, production title, director, location, production dates, and a brief reason why your production should be considered. November’s entry will be posted at the very beginning of the month.
This month, we feature:
- ASSASSINS by New Repertory Theatre
- KING LEAR by ArtsEmerson
- ON THE TOWN by The Boston Conservatory
- AIDA by Fiddlehead Theatre Company
- ALICE by Wheelock Family Theatre
- DISPLACED HINDU GODS TRIOLOGY by Company One
- BAD JEWS by SpeakEasy Theatre Company
- LANGUAGE OF ANGELS by Happy Medium Theatre Company
THE THEATRE COMPANIES
New Repertory Theatre celebrates their 30th anniversary, delivering professional productions in the intimate Charles Mosesian Black Box Theatre in the Arsenal Center for the Arts. Moreover, they are committed to producing outstanding theatre that “expands and challenges the human spirit of both artists and audience.” For their 2014-2015 Season, they focus on the “Paradox: Heroes & Antiheroes; Virtues & Vices.” Assassins perfectly fits their season’s focus, highlighting some of American history’s greatest antiheroes: the men and women who sought to kill the president.
ArtsEmerson also celebrates their 5th anniversary, and what an impact they have had in that short amount of time. Boasting some impressive theatre credits, and even more impressive collaborations, they bring Shakespeare’s Globe’s production of King Lear to the Boston stage this month. The world is on stage at ArtsEmerson, as they seek to create an immersive program of theatre and art. Their two foci include: 1) To expand Boston’s cultural landscape by giving audiences the opportunity to experience work from across the country and around the world that adds to the cultural choices for the community, and 2) to support the development of new work through selected multi-year commitments to artists, ensembles, and world-renowned institutions. While many other theatre companies have followed in this example, few companies do it as thoroughly as ArtsEmerson; King Lear promises to redefine how we interpret Shakespeare’s iconic tragedy.
The Boston Conservatory is known throughout Boston, and around the country and across the world as one of the premiere training and degree programs for theatre performers and artists. You will rarely open a Playbill across the country and not see a strong triple threat proudly featuring his or her alumnus status from The Boston Conservatory (affectionately called BoCo). I have been continually impressed with the caliber of performer and artist to leave this school, and they were one of our chief motivators for adding university productions to our regularly attended performances—On the Town should be no exception. With so much budding talent in Boston, it’s a shame that more reviewers don’t find time to feature and acknowledge the emerging talent before the students escape to New York, New York.
Fiddlehead Theatre Company makes a triumphant return with Sir Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida this month. As a Boston transplant, I did not know much of the history about this talented theatre company before their hiatus; however, I am always delighted and fascinated when I see some favorite performers list their old Fiddlehead credits with affection (for instance, I just found a photo of Kerry Dowling as Reno Sweeney in their production of Anything Goes with Aimee Doherty as one of her Angels; how swell!). I am excited about a theatre company performing some rarely done musical theatre, but even more ecstatic to see them performing in The Stand Theatre in Dorchester. We all know that where the theatre goes, the money follows (you’re welcome, South End).
We continue to emphasize family-friendly theatre options. Wheelock Family Theatre continues to offer professional works for the whole family with a wide range of educational opportunities to support their emerging young stars, both on- and off-stage. While they have the lofty goal of “improv[ing] lives of children and family,” who’s to say that a little theatrical magic can’t help children and families in the Greater Boston area? Moreover, they strive to create multicultural and diverse family experiences that break boundaries imposed by race and class. Let’s see if Alice lives up to these missions and tasks, or if she’s stuck down a rabbit hole.
Company One tops the list as one of the most innovative and consistently entertaining Boston theatre companies. They defy explanation, bridging the gap between the socially provocative performance and professional standards. If you missed last season’s The Flick, you missed a play that packed a star-studded punch. Not only does the company win awards, but they create live theatre that brings poignant discussion to our Boston community. This month, they push audience members out of their comfort zone again with The Displaced Hindu Gods Trilogy. Three plays you say? We’re there.
SpeakEasy Stage Company delivers some of the best plays in Boston; do you need reminding about the fiery Red or the heartbreaking Next Fall, or, especially, the hefty The Whale? Yes, SpeakEasy’s language is fresh, introducing Boston audiences to new plays each season, sometimes mere months after their Broadway premieres. Organized in the early 1990s, SpeakEasy is still a young, hip company, and I can’t wait to see how they continue to surprise and delight. Next up, Bad Jews.
Happy Medium Theatre Company (“HMT”) is a fringe theatre company with a mission: Bridging the gap between professionalism and fun. And they have stepped up their game in the past few years. With three 2013 My Theatre (Boston) Award Nominees for their Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead, Happy Medium Theatre proved that their fun looks awfully good onstage. They were recently displaced from the Factory Theatre (along with a host of other fringe theatre companies), after producing an increasingly outstanding body of theatre (shame on you for missing their Baby with the Bathwater). Without a home, a lesser theatre company would be saying some prayers; drawing on their past accolades, Happy Medium Theatre rallied solid support through an Indiegogo campaign to ensure their success for the 2014-2015 Season. Let’s hope their prayers are answered with Language of Angels.
THE “MUST SEE” PRODUCTIONS
Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Book by John Weidman
Directed by Jim Petosa
Musical Direction by Matthew Stern
Choreographed by Judith Chaffee
New Repertory Theatre
Charles Mosesian Theater Black Box Theater
321 Arsenal Street, Watertown, MA 02472
About the Production
Oct. 4 – 26, 2014
Assassins might be my second favorite Sondheim musical (following closely behind Into the Woods—I’ve seen over a dozen productions of ITW and close to 10 productions of Assassins). It’s hard to describe the appeal to this macabre topic. My first exposure to it was listening to a radio talk-show where the hosts mentioned its delay following 9/11. In fact, it took until Spring 2004 for a Broadway revival, following its 1991 production. And many of the Broadway patrons had changed their ideologies and impressions because of political affairs, both domestically and abroad. For me, there’s a chilling moment late in the show that still breaks me down into tears and into a reverie of reflection. I look forward to how New Rep will further define and challenge my perception of this important musical theatre piece.
New Rep has assembled a top-notch cast of local actors to take on these iconic (and not so familiar) historical characters. Paula Langton, Head of Acting at the Boston University’s School of Theatre, performs as Sarah Jane Moore, along with McCaela Donovan as Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme; these two will bring the house down in laughter. Many of the other actors are Must Sees because I have missed their performances in the past, including Mark Linehan (playing John Wilkes Booth) and Benjamin Everett (as Proprietor). However, I am perhaps most anticipating the return of Evan Gambardella as the Balladeer/Lee Harvey Oswald. Haven’t heard of him? Oh, you will. This is one of those times when I am thankful to have enjoyed reviewing university theatre productions because I saw Gambardella play the same roles in May 2012 (also directed by Jim Petosa), and also saw how much he grew as an actor and performer in Spring 2014 in Boston University’s columbinus. You lucky patrons are in for the best kind of treat.
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Bill Buckhurst
Created by Shakespeare’s Globe
Paramount Center Mainstage
559 Washington Street, Boston, MA 02111
About the Production
Oct. 15 – 23, 2014
Eight actors tackle one of Shakespeare’s most dynamic tragedies, featuring some of his most richly-drawn characters. Led by Joseph Marcell (popularly known for his role as Geoffrey in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), the production features actors who play multiple characters and instruments in a gorgeous Elizabethan booth-style stage. King Lear needs no introduction; while I haven’t identified with its themes and concepts, it’s a play that grows on me the older that I get and with repeated exposure. Marcell performed this production at the Folger Theatre in Washington, DC, in September. His interview gives us some insight into his interpretation of this great role. I admire his choice to play the old man for strength; it’ll make the tribulations all the more heartbreaking and interesting to watch.
The Globe brought the big Broadway smash hits Twelfth Night and Richard III last season. Will they strike gold again with their touring King Lear? I am resisting reading reviews of their DC productions, but I am not resisting the chance to see these talented British performers light up the brilliant ArtsEmerson stage at the gorgeous Paramount Center Mainstage. Seriously, while other people like to stand outdoors for their Shakespeare, I’ll take mine in the lush theatre house fit for a King Lear.
ON THE TOWN
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Lyrics & Book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Directed & Choreographed by Michelle Chassé
Musical Direction by Bill Casey
Conducted by Reuben M. Reynolds, III
The Boston Conservatory
31 Hemenway Street, Boston, MA 02115
About the Production
Oct. 16 – 19, 2014
I adore On the Town. I am already planning my New York City trip to see the recent Broadway revival. With many accolades for The Lyric’s production in 2013, why would I need to see another production, let alone a university production? The Boston Conservatory has continued to impress with its talent and professionalism, consistently training and educating young talent as triple threats. Few musicals are written like On the Town anymore. Some people may say for good reason; the jokes are corny, the dances are long, the score is legit (without much room to belt or hide with a pop-music-friendly voice), and the subject matter is dated. Still, there is Americana and idealism, simplicity and love behind Bernstein’s score and Comden and Green’s book. The dances feature men and women who can move in a variety of styles and ways. I doubt that you will ever see Carly Rae Jepsen—or the like—featured in this musical; it’s just that technically demanding, if done correctly.
And I expect The Boston Conservatory’s production to be done correctly this month. Chassé is an accomplished choreographer, which is exactly what you need in this hefty dance musical. Casey will ensure that these singers soar and surprise with famous numbers like “New York, New York” (bet you didn’t know that’s where that ditty came from), the hilarious “I Can Cook Too,” and the magical “Lonely Town.” Just for a night, can’t you turn off your cellphone, ignore the CNN alerts of trouble abroad, and open your heart to the beauty of finding love and adventure for just 24 hours? Now, if we could only get that kind of optimism and joy for Boston, Massachusetts as a city of hope and promise.
Elton John and Tim Rice’s AIDA
Music by Sir Elton John
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Book by Linda Woolverton, Robert Falls, & David Henry Hwang
Co-Directed by Meg Fofonoff & James Tallach
Musical Direction by Balint Varga
Choreographed by Kira Cowan
Fiddlehead Theatre Company
543 Columbia Road, Dorchester, MA 02125
About the Production
Oct. 17 – 26, 2014
Aida is one of those musicals that every musical theatre kid loved to belt in the car in the early 2000s. Musical geniuses Elton John and Tim Rice score another hit with this musical based on the Italian opera. Despite its Disney roots, Aida is a surprisingly good treat, though it soars from one song to the next, with limited help from the book by David Henry Hwang, et al. Following the star-crossed lovers, Aida of Nubia and Radames of Egypt, the musical embraces the struggle between love and heritage and family, as the lovers are caught between the bitter fighting of their people. Fiddlehead chooses to bill the story as a “modern-day Romeo and Juliet.” I have been waiting months to publicly comment on this odd (and misleading phrasing). While there are some parallels with Shakespeare’s play (ill-fated love story, factions of people fighting), a story about Egypt can hardly be described as “modern-day,” and the musical is based on Verdi’s opera of the same name. Go see the show for yourself, and let me know if you agree with their advertising.
Fiddlehead is an emerging presence in the Greater Boston musical theatre world. They had a strong production of Ragtime in Fall 2012, and, this season, they’re set to produce both The Wiz and Jesus Christ Superstar. Ambitious doesn’t begin to describe them. Luckily, they attract the talent to meet their musicals’ demands. Ta’Nika Gibson stars as the striking Aida with Gene Dante as her paramour, Radames. I can’t wait to see (and hear!) these talented singers in the gorgeous Strand Theatre in Dorchester. With soaring melodies and rich harmonies, like in “My Strongest Suit,” “Elaborate Lives,” and “Written in the Stars,” Aida promises to be a love story for the ages.
ALICE: A New Musical
Based on the books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
Written & Directed by Andrew Barbato
Music by Lesley DeSantis and Andrew Barbato
Musical Direction by Robert L. Rucinski
Choreographed by Carla Martinez
Wheelock Family Theatre
Wheelock College, Boston Campus
180 The Riverway, Boston 02215
About the Production
Oct. 17 – Nov. 16, 2014
I have a fascination with Lewis Carroll and his strange books. The man was a bit brilliant, though perhaps ahead of his time. His classic children books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, And What Alice Found There are treats that you can return to reading at any age. I was ecstatic to learn that Wheelock Family Theatre offers an original adaptation of these books. Thankfully, composer and writer Andrew Barbato creates a play with sections from both books; I have never seen a good stage adaptation that is faithful to only one of the books to the exclusion of the other.
The details are slim on what Barbato decided to include from the sources in his new musical. Wheelock Family Theatre bills the production as a “fantastical coming of age adventure.” Barbato seems to emphasize the pressures placed on Alice (and all children) to conform at a certain age. When do we stop asking “Why?” and how do we return to Wonderland? I have also not heard much casting, but I did learn that Boston favorite Leigh Barrett will play the Red Queen. I assume that the character will be the Looking Glass character, not the Wonderland character, for those familiar with the stories. Let’s hope that Barrett brings the same flair as her Joanne from Moonbox Production’s Company. Also, Maritza Bostic will star as Alice, a wonderful use of the spunky new talent that stole our hearts in The Lyric’s Into the Woods. Frankly, that’s all that I need to bring my tickets; I’ll see you on the other side of the looking glass.
THE DISPLACED HINDU GODS TRIOLOGY, a New England Premiere
Written by Aditi Brennan Kapil
Directed by M. Bevin O’Gara (BRAHMAN/I and THE CHRONICLES OF KALKI) and Summer L. Williams (SHIV)
The Boston Center for the Arts, Plaza Theatre
539 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02116
About the Production
Oct. 24 – Nov. 22, 2014
I plead ignorance on these plays. An eclectic selection of culture and style heats up the stage at Company One, and we had to include this collection in our Must See list. The playwright describes the experience as such: “Each play can stand alone, but they co-exist in a common universe where displacement, identity, post-colonialism, [and] puberty are explored through the lenses of creation, survival, and destruction.” Just some light fare for a Friday evening. Company One does not do a production halfway. M. Bevin O’Gara directs two of the pieces, a hilarious stand-up comedy routine/play and a comic book infused girl-gang thriller, and Summer L. Williams directs the third play, a fantastical journey of post-colonialism.
Multiculturalism and diversity never look so good as when Company One produces them. Their plays are sharp, interesting, and compelling; the Displaced Hindu Gods Trilogy promises to be no different. What do you know about the Hindu gods? What can you learn about their culture that you can translate and transform into your own? With three 80- to 90-minute plays, totaling up to five hours of live theatre, Company One pushes the boundaries on Boston theatre once again, and we can’t wait to explore their vivid world with them.
BAD JEWS, New England Premiere
Written by Joshua Harmon
Directed by Rebecca Bradshaw
SpeakEasy Stage Company
The Boston Center for the Arts, Calderwood Pavilion
Roberts Studio Theatre
539 Tremont Street
About the Production
Oct. 24 – Nov. 22, 2014
I feel like a production featuring My Theatre Favorites Victor Shopov and Gillian Mariner Gordon needs no explanation. Both performers were nominated for 2013 My Theatre (Boston) Awards (with Shopov winning his), and for good reason. They are emerging stars, earning the due accolades for their consistently professional work. Thankfully, Boston has given them opportunities to shine, lest we lose them to the calling of New York.
And the play proves a wonderful vehicle for their talents. For an explanation of the show, I refer you to the Roundabout Theatre Company review by Head of the My Theatre (New York), Theresa Perkins. Even The New York Times called it “the best comedy of the season.” I haven’t seen Shopov in a comedy in recent memory, but I know under the expressive and keen direction of Rebecca Bradshaw, he’s in good company to make this savage play come alive. After a heavy month of September theatre, I am welcoming this New England Premiere to Boston’s stage. As a non-Jew, I have a sincere appreciation for the importance of faith for the Jewish religion and culture. I am curious, however, whether these concepts and ideals transcend their roots and apply to the collective whole. In other words, are there only Bad Jews, or can we have Bad Blacks, Bad Gays, or Bad Men? Underneath the savage humor, what lessons can we learn from the hilarious battle between siblings? Theresa suggested this as THE play to see among SpeakEasy Stage Company’s strong season. I hope they prove her right, and make a believer out of me.
LANGUAGE OF ANGELS
Written by Naomi Iizuka
Directed by Lizette M. Morris
Happy Medium Theatre Company
791 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02118
About the Production
Oct. 23 – Nov. 1, 2014
Happy Medium Theatre Company is moving on. Like an adolescent, they are being pushed out of their nest (though under unfortunate circumstances). Thankfully, they have the strength to persevere, and they have only one last chance to show Boston why this small fringe company is a fierce addition to the Greater Boston theatre scene, as they grew up in the Factory Theatre.
Led by consistently articulate and thoughtful Lizette M. Morris (Dog Sees God and Baby with the Bathwater), Happy Medium assembles a top-notch cast to bring Naomi Iizuka’s Language of Angels to life. You might remember the playwright from a few seasons ago; Iizuka impressed as a playwright with her Polaroid Stories, produced by Happy Medium Theatre Company, Heart & Dagger Productions, and The Boston Actors Theater in July 2012. The play is at once a haunting ghost story, but also a tale of grief, loss, guilt, and karma. The production is perfectly timed for a Halloween treat. As the last production in the Factory Theatre, Language of Angels deserves a strong send-off to acknowledge the many ways that the Factory Theatre has helped strong fringe companies like Happy Medium mature into enjoyable and vibrant theatre companies. Let’s enjoy transforming the make-shift theatre once again by listening to Language of Angels.