Stage Notes Connecticut Theater News & Reviews

Tony Nominees With CT Credits; Arts & Ideas Continuing Pop-Up Fests

Stage Notes: Connecticut Critics Circle to honor Anne Keefe at Hartford Stage

The "Now That's What I Call Music!" series has been around since 1998. (The original British series it's based on began on 1983).

"Music!," which collects current pop hits as CD compilations, occasionally does special editions such as "Now That's What I Call Power Ballads!" and "Now That's What I Call Faith!" There have been 58 regular "Music!" disks, 35 special edition, seven Christmas entries, 17 country ones and four Latinos. Finally last week, "Now That's What I Call Broadway!"— the series' first venture into showtunes — was released.

There's clearly a need for the series to act as modern and contemporary as possible — the oldest musicals represented on the disk are "The Wiz," "A Chorus Line" and "Annie." And you could have a long philosophical debate about the inclusion of three jukebox shows ("Jersey Boys," "Mamma Mia" and "Beautiful" among the 18 musicals herein). Three Andrew Lloyd Webber shows are represented: "Cats" and "Evita" by their Broadway soundtracks, "Phantom" by its original London one. The one Sondheim track? The "Children Will Listen" finale from "Into the Woods."

Tony Award NomineesWith Connecticut Cred

Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of "Hamilton,'' the most-nominated-ever Broadway show, graduated from Wesleyan University.

Danai Gurira's "Eclipsed" (nominated for best play) was produced at the Yale Repertory Theatre in 2009, with the same (nominated!) director Liesl Tommy. The star of the Broadway production of "Eclipsed," Lupita Nyong'o ("12 Years a Slave" Oscar winner) is a graduate of the Yale School of Drama.

"The Crucible" (nominated for best revival) is by the late Arthur Miller, a longtime Roxbury resident. Last year marked the centennial of Miller's birth. Steve Martin, who got several nominations for the musical "Bright Star" he co-wrote with Edie Brickell, will premiere his next theater project, a play titled "Meteor Shower," next season at the Long Wharf Theater.

Bill Camp, nominated as best actor for "The Crucible," has done shows at Hartford Stage and Yale Rep. Scenic designer Beowulf Boritt has done sets for the Yale Rep, Long Wharf, Goodspeed and the "Annie" tour that recently played the Shubert. That's just a taste of all the Connecticut connections — a full list could run for pages.

The Circle Of Keefe

I have never been a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle — I have issues with arts awards that are fashioned to look like horse races, with nominees and vague categories. But I do applaud the CCC's choice of Anne Keefe as the recipient of its annual Tom Killen Award for "extraordinary achievement and service to Connecticut theater."

Keefe worked at two different Connecticut theaters, at times when those theaters were undergoing enormous growth and change. As the resident stage manager and production supervisor at the Long Wharf Theatre from the early 1970s through the late '90s, she was directly involved as the theater began regularly sending productions to New York and elsewhere. Then she shifted to the Westport Country Playhouse, helping transform the old summer stock house into a year-round theater.

Keefe served as associate artistic director at Westport from 2000-06, working closely with the theater's savior Joanne Woodward, then served as co-artistic director with Woodward in 2008 (after the abrupt departure of Tazewell Thompson and before Mark Lamos came on board in 2009). I fondly remember the Westport production of Giles Havergal's "David Copperfield" that Keefe and Woodward co-directed in December 2005, a welcome blow against the ubiquity of "A Christmas Carol."

Keefe continues to show her programming prowess at the Playhouse through the ongoing "Script in Hand" playreading series, where she's overseen readings of works by Somerset Maugham, Sidney Howard and Agatha Christie as well as more contemporary works.

Keefe will be honored at the Connecticut Critics Circle Awards ceremony 7:30 p.m. June 13 at Hartford Stage.

Pop-Up Mash-Ups

New Haven's International Festival of Arts & Ideas announced Monday that it will once again offer "pop-up festivals" in three city neighborhoods a few weeks before the main event, which runs June 11 to 25.

"Celebrate the Hill" is happening May 28, "Celebrate Our Fair Haven" is May 30 and "Celebrate Our Dixwell" is June 4.

Executive Director Mary Lou Aleskie noted that the pop-up festivals have grown to the point where they are creating fresh collaborative performances among local artists. The Dixwell fest, for example, features a "mash-up" between the Music Haven classical music program and the Nation Drill Team. The Fair Haven edition will have a recitation by the winner of the Long Wharf Theatre "Sing Your Story" competition held during the theater's run of "The Lion." The dozens of events at the pop-ups are detailed at artidea.org.

Classical Show Tunes

As part of its just-announced 2016-17 season, the New Haven Symphony Orchestra will perform "'My Fair Lady' in Concert," a full-length full-orchestra rendition of the Lerner and Loewe classic, on March 18. "My Fair Lady" had its world premiere at New Haven's Shubert Theatre in 1956. The Yale Musical Theater of the Air did a concert version of "My Fair Lady" at the Shubert in 2013. The 2016-17 NHSO Pops series opens Nov. 5 with a night of Broadway standards crooned by tenor Connor O'Brien.

New Haven's isn't the only symphony with a theatrical bent. The Hartford Symphony Orchestra's main 2016-17 season includes Liszt's "A Faust Symphony, " based on the Goethe drama, March 10, while the HSO Pops series brings back the circus-act-studded "Holiday Cirque Spectacular" Dec. 17.

Master Class Acts

New York theater veterans Veanne Cox and Laurel Harris will each teach a Musical Theater master class this July during the Young Actor Musical Theater Preparatory Program at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford. Cox is currently on Broadway in "An American in Paris" and has been with the Broadway productions of "Caroline of Change," "La Cage Aux Folles" and "Company." You might recall her from "The Imaginary Invalid" at Yale Rep in 1999. Harris toured for three years as Elphaba in Wicked, including a stop at the Bushnell in 2014. The special master classes are for students ages 16 and older, though the main Young Actor program (which meets weekdays between July 11 and 22, for a $700 tuition) is for grades 3 through 8.

Showboat Sails Across the Pond

When he staged the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic "Showboat" at the Goodspeed Opera House in 2011, director Rob Ruggiero (also known hereabouts as the head of TheaterWorks) did a clever revision of the show's book. That adaptation is now being used for a major "Showboat" revival, directed by Daniel Evans, which opened in London's West End last week. A review in Exeunt Magazine noted that Ruggiero's "Showboat" book "retains its sprawl whilst gaining a more streamlined quality."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the date for the Connecticut Critics Circle Awards ceremony, which is scheduled  7:30 p.m. June 13 at Hartford Stage.

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