Of course, there will be a crashing chandelier when the new tour of The Phantom of the Opera plays (for the first time) at Waterbury’s Palace Theater. But this time it won’t be a lumbering, slo-mo effect, but one that drops faster and is filled with sound effects, sparks, smoke and sizzle.
The new tour — overseen by Matthew Bourne and Cameron Mackintosh — now offers 21st-century, high-def projections, immersive sound and other spectacular touches to the musical, which is approaching its 30th anniversary on Broadway in January.
Frank Tavera, executive director of the Palace, says it will be an even more dynamic production than previous tours — and that his theater is the only venue in Connecticut which can accommodate the new version. It runs Nov. 15-26.
The show, performed by a cast and orchestra of 52, features new scenic designs and choreography by Scott Ambler, and staging by Laurence Connor. Maria Björnson’s spectacular costumes will be true to the original. The production will also feature the tour’s first black Phantom: Derrick Davis.
Tavera says the Palace, with its “European-classic feel,” is perfect for the show’s sense of grandeur.
For those fans who have seen the original, Tavera, who can’t mask — or even half-mask — his excitement, says, “you’ll now get to see the show in a different, more engaged way and from a different perspective because now the production envelops you.”
Romeo and Juliet Redux
It will be Mark Lamos’ fourth go-round in directing Romeo and Juliet when it plays Westport Country Playhouse Oct. 31-Nov. 19. (Lamos fans may remember a stellar production starring a young Calista Flockhart as Juliet and Robert Petkoff as Romeo in the 1995 Hartford Stage production.)
How is he envisioning the show this time?
“I thought about doing a semi-modern dress version with hip-hop music for a while,” Lamos told me as he began rehearsals. But in the end he opted for a more traditional — and opulent (with a cast of 20) — approach for the theater, which hasn’t done many works of the Bard in its 87-year history. “Shakespeare never had a happy bed here,” he says. “He never became a [Westport] playwright.”
Though James Cusati-Moyer, who plays Romeo opposite Nicole Rodenburg as Juliet, is of Syrian heritage, that sense of ethnicity isn’t a factor in Lamos’ vision for the production — though he briefly toyed with that possibility. “It’s best to leave that approach to a director of that cultural heritage,” he says.
What continues to inspire him to direct it once again is the language of the play.
“Somebody once said, ‘Nobody talks quite the way they talk,’ and that’s right,” Lamos says. “This is how we wish we could speak.”
New, Old Christmas Packages
Is it Christmas yet?
It sure feels that way — even before Thanksgiving — with several productions with holiday themes opening at venues around the state.
Matt Lenz, now in his fourth time as director of the tour of the delightful family musical A Christmas Story, says his challenge is always with casting of the show’s leading character, Ralphie, who is 9 and is the central character of the show.
“One of the great challenges is finding a boy who isn’t too contemporary in attitude, irony or sarcasm. I’m looking for someone to represent that late-Depression, Midwestern kid and sort of allow his innocence to lead the charge. Some kids come in to audition and they can sing circles around pop scores, but to just stand and sing and get enthusiastic about a Red Ryder BB gun is something else,” Lenz says.
The show will be at The Bushnell in Hartford Nov. 24-26 and the alternating Ralphies will be played by Edward Turne and Tristan Klaphake.
But will the upcoming, three-hour live broadcast of the musical on Fox on Dec. 17 — and with Maya Rudolph as the mom — affect the tour? (Of local note: the Oscar- and Tony-winning composing team of Benj Pasek and Westport’s Justin Paul, who composed the original score, have written several new songs for the television event. And Fairfield’s Jonathan Tolins and Robert Cary have written the teleplay and are co-executive producers.)
“I have to think it’s going to be very positive,” Lenz says. “It’s such a good show. And the musical takes the original 1983 film to another level.”
And over at Goodspeed Musicals’ Norma Terris Theatre, the Charles Dickens holiday perennial will get a twist of nutmeg with the world premiere of the musical A Connecticut Christmas Carol. Set in Connecticut in 1925, it features local legends William Gillette playing Scrooge, J.P. Morgan as Jacob Marley, Harriet Beecher Stowe as the Ghost of Christmas Past, P.T. Barnum as the Ghost of Christmas Present and, of course, Mark Twain as the Ghost of Christmas Future. (No, Tom Thumb is not Tiny Tim.)
“It’s a neat twist of a wonderful classic tale,” says L.J. Fecho, who created the book for the show with music and lyrics by Goodspeed’s longtime music director Michael O’Flaherty. Hunter Foster directs and Lenny Wolpe heads the cast of 11 as Scrooge.
“We made it as historically accurate as we could, though we took some liberties,” Fecho says. “But it’s very close to Dickens. But because of the Connecticut connections I think people will find it funny, delightful and different.”
Acting Through the Ages
In Cloud 9, Mia Dillon played a young boy and an elderly woman, winning a Connecticut Critics Circle award for her performance. In the world premiere of Seder at Hartford Stage, now playing through Nov. 12, Dillon plays a 60-year-old woman who survived war’s ravages, as well as her 18-year-old self. Originally, the two characters were to be played by two separate actresses, but Dillon did a reading of the new play and playwright Sarah Gancher embraced the idea when director Elizabeth Williamson pitched it to her.
“It’s actually kind of thrilling and fun to play,” Dillon says of switching instantaneously into a teenager. “I start with a different energy and then it’s the voice and the light in the eyes and the movement of youth.”
In describing her own age-shifting experience, Dillon tells of a scientific experiment in 1979 that had the elderly act many decades younger. A week later, the scientists measured their blood pressure, heart rate and other vitals, finding a boost in metabolism.
“And now I get to go back in time every night, too,” she says.
Have you heard…
… that I’ll be doing a 60-minute version of my illustrated talk on Hamilton The Musical: The Making of a Legend at Hartford’s Town and County Club on Nov. 29 and for Show-Score at New York’s Primary Stages on Nov. 11?
… that University of Hartford’s Hartt School grad Phillip Boykin returns to Broadway in the revival of the musical Once on This Island, with previews starting Nov. 9 and opening Dec. 3?
… that Westport Country Playhouse will be returning with another musical revival next year: Man of La Mancha staged by Mark Lamos? Also, look for a new musical for Hartford Stage for the 2018-19 season, following in the Broadway-bound tradition of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder and Anastasia.