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  • AmericanTheaterWeb Original News & Reviews

  • Use the calendar above to find ATW News & Reviews for a specific day, or use the list to the right to go to a specific review or article. The site's updated 3-4 times a day generally. For you convenience, links below will take you to ATWTopNews (a quick listing of links to some of the day's top stories) and to ATWClips (the complete digest of the day's news from ATW).


ATW News Miscellany - Chess in Concert Video; Designer Panel @ Morgan Library

I'm using today to clean, go through email and prep things for changes that will be happening in my world over the next month or so As I've done the inbox, I've come across two things I'd like to share:

* Chess in Concert - the recording (a two-disc set, single highlights one, or DVD) hits stores next week. If you can't wait, here's a link to a video of Josh Groban singing "Anthem" ...

'Anthem' by Josh Groban
'Anthem' by Josh Groban

* Designer Spotlight: Creating the Modern Stage - the Morgan Library and Museum, in conjunction with its exhibit of historic scenic designs will be hosting this special panel on June 23 @ 6:30pm. Moderated by New York City Opera dramaturg Cori Ellison, the panel discussion will feature scenic design Ming Cho Lee (co-chair of the design department at Yale School of Drama, designer original production Hair), lighting designer Jennifer Tipton (NYCB and Paul Taylor Dance Company), and scenic designer Michael Yeargan (South Pacific, Light in the Piazza), who are set to discuss the creative process as well as the challenges they face when transforming sketches into fully realized productions. For further information, visit: www.themorgan.org, or call 212-685-0008, ext. 560.

---- Andy Propst

Excerpts of Musical 'Paradise' Heard in Ovation TV Documentary Mr. Prince

Finally got to watch Ovation TV's Mr. Prince documentary which debuted on the cable channel last weekend just before the Tony Awards were handed out.

The documentary, which has been produced and directed by Sara Feldmann Sheehan and Bobby Sheehan, covers Prince's career from its beginnings to the present day. The first two segments of the show concentrate The Phantom of the Opera (it's fascinating watching him give notes to the Broadway company earlier this year) and Sweeney Todd (some great footage of productions other than the original Broadway cast). "Prince" then looks backward to his early work and forward – to the new "Paradise" musical that he producing. This latter segment really is the jewel in the documentary. There are clips of his meetings with the show's designers and clips of Kate Baldwin and Shuler Hensley rehearsing a number from the show.

If you've not caught Mr. Prince it will be shown on Ovation a number of times on Saturday, June 13 alongside other Broadway-related fare, such as a documentary about the making of "Phantom" and the movie versions of Cabaret and A Chorus Line.

For more information, visit: www.ovationtv.com.

ATW Review - Dividing the Estate - Families, Fortunes Don’t Always Mix

If the antics of this family weren’t so funny, they’d make you cry, but that’s the genius of playwright Horton Foote, whose Tony-nominated Dividing the Estate has transferred from Broadway to Hartford Stage with most of the outstanding original cast directed by Michael Wilson, including Foote’s daughter Hallie.

This Foote (who was nominated for a featured actress Tony for her portrayal) plays Mary Jo, who descends on the family manse with husband Bob (James DeMarse) and her two teen daughters Emily and Sissie (Jenny Dare Paulin and Nicole Lowrance) to convince her mother, Stella (Lois Smith, replacing Broadway’s Elizabeth Ashley) to divide the estate among the siblings while hiding her motivation: her family is on the brink of financial disaster following the 1987 real-estate downturn in Houston.

Brother Lewis (an understated Gerald McRaney) spends a lot of his time drunk and running for his life from the father of the young girl with whom he is involved, and who's demanding $10,000 from Lewis. Already $200,000 in debt to the estate, Lewis sides with Mary Jo, who has borrowed $300,000. They both feel that the estate should be divided so they no longer need to explain why they need money to their nephew Son (Devon Abner) who's managed the estate since his father's death. His mother and the third sibling, Lucille (Penny Fuller), argues against dividing the estate because doing so would put Son out of job and discontinue the rent-free situation she and Son enjoy in the house. Caught in the middle of all the bickering, much of it containing guffaw-inducing dialogue is Son’s new love interest, Pauline (Maggie Lacey).

Stella may be divided in loyalties among her children, but there is one thing that won’t be divided, she vows: the estate. She won’t sell the land, even though other farms in the area have gone the way of development. She reluctantly allows Son to contract for gas drilling in the hopes of striking oil.

A secondary concern for Stella is the welfare of the house's servants, Mildred (Pat Bowie), Cathleen (Keanu Richard) and ancient Doug (a particularly comic Arthur French), who insists on serving the family at table (a centerpiece in Jeff Cowie opulently rendered scenic design of the home's interior). despite the fact that he has a palsy so severe that he’s barely able to carry the smallest of items let alone a serving tray.

When Doug and Stella die within hours of each other, the children’s conflict comes to a head. Their greed and arguments might prove depressing, if not for Foote’s ability to create well-developed and very likable characters who throw some rather brilliant dialogue at each other. There's real affection amid the dysfunction in "Estate" as well as a tangible family bond. It's these qualities that make they play an enjoyable character study, which is made even more compelling by the strong performances from the ensemble.

---- Lauren Yarger

Dividing the Estate plays at Hartford Stage (50 Church Street, Hartford) through July 5. Performance times are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7:30 pm and Friday and Saturday at 8 pm with matinee performances Sundays and selected Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 pm. Tickets are $23 - $66 with student and other discounted tickets available they may be purchased by calling 860-527-5151 or by visiting www.hartfordstage.org.

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ATW Review - The Color Purple - Poignant Story Performed By Seasoned Cast

A vocally strong cast, many with Broadway experience in their roles, brings the poignant tale of a young black woman’s struggle-filled journey to self acceptance and love to The Bushnell in The Color Purple.

Kenita R Miller comes to the tour from the Broadway show as Celie, a young girl raped by her father, forced to give up two babies, then forced into marriage with Mister (Rufus Bonds, Jr.) who, along with his unruly children, treat her as little more than a slave. When Mister’s attempts to seduce Celie’s sister Nettie (Latrisa A. Harper performed for LaToya London of American Idol fame the night I attended) are rebuffed, he sends Nettie away. When Celie doesn’t hear from her over the years (Mister has hidden her letters), Celie fears the only person who ever loved her is dead.

Celie does find friendship with two women: Sophia (a dynamic Felicia P. Fields who originated the role on Broadway), the wife of Mister’s bullied son Harpo (Brandon Victor Dixon also of the Broadway original), and Mister’s lover Sug Avery (Angela Robinson, a third Broadway veteran of the show), an entertainer and Mister’s first love, whom he was prevented from marrying by his overbearing father (Mike Hodge).

Over the years, in front of a plain wooden planked set with colorful changing backdrops (set design John Lee Beatty), the characters encounter various hardships and find ways to forgive and begin fresh while Celie and Sug form their own attachment. Gary Griffin directs the able cast through the saga, helped along by music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray that ranges from spirituals to rhythm to African beats with choreography (Donald Byrd.) and colorful costumes (Paul Tazewell) to match.

Fields practically steals the show with the number “Hell, No!” and an attitude that says the same as Sophia threatens anyone, including Harpo, who messes with her.

This, and other, strong performance work, however, doesn't mask some of the other problems with the show. The first half of "Purple" feels like a fast-forward version of the Alice Walker novel on which the musical is based as bookwriter Marsha Norman tries to cram the 30-year span into one act. Truthfully, if you aren’t familiar with the book or its film incarnation before seeing the musical, it might be difficult to follow what’s happening because of the hit-and-run plot and very poor sound mixing (designer Jon Weston) which makes it difficult to hear some of the dialogue and singers with crucial lyrics over the orchestra.

Still, the poignant story of love and forgiveness, like the show's heroine, seems unstoppable, and it's welcome to revisit Walker's tale as performed by some top-notch actors seasoned in their roles.

---- Lauren Yarger

The Color Purple plays at The Bushnell (166 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, CT) through June 14. Performance times are 7:30 Thursday; 8pm Friday; 2 and 8 pm Saturday and 2pm and 7:30 pm Sunday. Tickets are $25-$75 and can be purchased by calling 860-087-5900 or by visiting www.bushnell.org.

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ATW Review - Children - When Adult Kids Behave Badly, Who’s in Charge?

The children are out of control screaming at each other, refusing to share and disagreeing about everything, which seems normal enough in many families, except that in A.R. Gurney’s Children, playing at the Westport Country Playhouse, the kids are all adults and they are fighting over their mother’s home.

Gathering to celebrate the Fourth of July at their New England summer home (rendered as a lovely house exterior and terrace area by designer James Noone) are the matriarch, known only as Mother (Judith Light), her divorced daughter Barbara (Katie Finneran), her school teacher/coach son Randy (James Waterston) and his wife, Jane (Mary Bacon). Their actual children are also in attendance.

A letter from mother’s to her other son, Pokey, telling him of her intention to marry “Uncle Billy,” an old family friend, has prompted him to also join his well-to-do family for the holiday - the first time he's done so since his father’s swimming accident (or perhaps suicide) five years ago.

Because of the terms of the father’s will, ownership of the summer house will transfer from Mother to children upon her marriage and this revelation unravels family secrets and disparate needs as the siblings disagree over what should be done with the house.

Barbara wants to winterize the place so she can live there year-round with her longtime boyfriend, a married construction company owner who used to work on the estate grounds and whom Mother considers beneath her socially. Randy, whose main goals in life are being right all the time, chasing his pretty wife around and beating Pokey in tennis, believes resurfacing the court is top priority. Pokey insists they need an expensive seawall instead.

Despite not being seen on stage except in a brief silhouette near the end of the play (a conceit that works thanks to John Tillinger's direction), Pokey is a menacing and controlling force as he manipulates his family. He opposes the marriage, accusing his mother and Uncle Billy of cheating while she still was married and demands his third of the property in cash.

Mother first tells Barbara, Randy and Jane to kowtow to Pokey, his controlling wife and his uncivil children in the hopes that he’ll change his mind about forcing a sale of the property and accept Uncle Billy. The strategy fails, however, and finally she is forced to take on the role of adult, proffer some discipline make some difficult choices and fix the situation.

The play, based on a John Cheever story, gives us a glimpse through a window (albeit an expertly lighted one complete with coastal effects by designer Rui Rita) into the characters’ lives rather than a door of a fully developed story through to follow them. It needs some editing and parts seem unrealistic, but Gurney creates nicely developed characters given depth by the actors, particularly Light whose comedic timing gives the otherwise rigid and distant Mother some legs. Also causing a chuckle are songs evoking happy family times and memories in between scenes (Scott Killian, original music/sound design) and some ’70s-era platform shoes (Jane Greenwood, costumes).

---- Lauren Yarger

Children plays at the Westport Country Playhouse (25 Powers Court, Westport, CT) through June 14. Performance times are Tuesdays at 8pm, Wednesdays at 2pm and 8pm, Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturdays at 4pm and 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $30-$55 and can be purchased by calling 203-227-4177 (toll free 1-888-927-7529) or by visiting www.westportplayhouse.org. Student and educator discounts are available.

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