Love Never Dies Utica, NY

From left, Mary Michael Patterson (“Meg Giry”), Meghan Picerno (“Christine Daaé”), Karen Mason (“Madame Giry”), and Sean Thompson (“Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny”) star in Love Never Dies.

Mary Michael Patterson was just born when The Phantom of the Opera opened on Broadway 30 years ago. Now the actress is touring in the show’s sequel, Love Never Dies, which plays Hartford’s Bushnell May 29 to June 3.

“It’s a standalone piece,” says Patterson, who has played Christine in previous Phantom productions and the new character of Meg in this one. “If you haven’t seen Phantom you can still enjoy yourself and enjoy the story — though I don’t know many people who haven’t seen it at this point.”

“The first Phantom is the romantic, new, youthful love,” says Patterson, who says she saw the original touring production in Fort Worth, Texas, when she was a 9-year-old girl. “This version looks at the other end of love, which is more mature, and even tragic and heartbreaking. I think it’s a more sophisticated and nuanced look at love and audiences respond to it.”

And how are the chandeliers holding up?

This Coney Island-set show has elements that are a little bit frightening “but the world we set up is a little bit creepy rather than scary.” But, she says, the ending still gets an audible gasp — though in an entirely different way, she says. (Spoiler alert: Someone dies. Ah, but who?)

Motown the Musical

Kenneth Mosley as Berry Gordy and Trenyce as Diana Ross in Motown the Musical.

A Motown Moment

Talk about theater vérité.

The single-monikered Trenyce was auditioning last year in front of Berry Gordy for the role of Diana Ross for the touring production of Motown the Musical, which plays Waterbury’s Palace Theater May 11-13.

“And Mr. Gordy stepped into the scene — as the character based on himself,” says the native of Memphis, Tennessee, and a finalist on American Idol’s second season. “He told me he wanted me [as Diana] to really fight him in the scene, adding, ‘And this is when I found out I was in love with her. It was her telling me “no” and the way she told it.’ We did that scene several different ways until he felt it was that magnetic moment that he could go back in his mind and say, ‘Yes, that’s the way it happened.’ It’s so beautiful to have him be a part of the production because it makes everything more honest.”

Trenyce says she and Ross are alike in that they are both inspired by their audiences. “One of the most famous moments was when she did her concert in Central Park, and as it rained and rained she continued to sing. From that moment she had a fan base that was not going to go anywhere because she didn’t go anywhere.”

But Where Am I?

Brian Hill was just “barely” old enough to remember the 1969 moon landing. That “giant leap” moment motivates the late-middle-aged housewife in the new musical You Are Here to reassess her life in dramatic ways. The show, based on Hill’s book, is receiving a “developmental production” (meaning not a premiere and still not ready for critics) at Goodspeed Musicals’ Norma Terris Theatre in Chester May 18 to June 10.

“When we were looking to give her a reason to walk out on her life, we wanted to put her in a world where change was happening all around her,” Hill says. “In 1969, music was different. The feminist movement was on the rise. And on top of that, men left the stability of the Earth and flew out into space and to the moon. If any trigger would push this woman out the door, that would be it.”

Also in development for Hill and his partner, composer-lyricist Neil Bartram, who collaborated on the Broadway musical The Story of Our Life (which began at the Chester theater): new musicals based on the film and novel Bedknobs and Broomsticks (slated for 2019 in Chicago), the sci-fi book Something Wicked This Way Comes and the film October Sky.

Randy Rainbow 2018 high res image.jpg

The Rainbow Coalition

For Randy Rainbow (yes, that’s his real name), it was perhaps the ultimate gay-theater-fan moment. His new BFF, composer Stephen Sondheim, asked Rainbow to join him to see a performance by Bernadette Peters in Hello, Dolly! And when they went backstage after the recent show, she burst out in song with one of Rainbow’s musical parodies.

“It’s beyond my wildest dreams,” the actor-singer-writer and internet sensation says of the episode. “If my 16-year-old self could see this, he would just die.”

Rainbow’s quick-witted parodies have entertained thousands over the past few years. But his popularity went through the roof when he turned political with such DIY-pieces directed at President Trump and his cohorts. They include the twist on the Book of Mormon song, now re-titled “You’re Making Things Up Again, Donald,”his Wicked re-think “Unpopular” and his clever spin on a Fiddler tune, “Fact Checker, Fact Checker.”

His video-making is “an isolating creative process because it’s really just you in your studio apartment in Queens,” says Rainbow, 36, who will be bringing his live show to the Ridgefield Playhouse May 19. “So to be in a room filled with people who know who I am and know the lyrics to my songs now is so great — and so bizarre.”

Things also look less lonely, too, with new pals Steve, Bernadette and Rosie (O’Donnell), whom Rainbow is working with on a new project.

“I am interacting with these idols of mine that I grew up with, and now get to call them friends,” he says. “That to me is the most exciting thing.”

Returning to Intensity

Westport Country Playhouse’s The Invisible Hand, about an investment banker being held for ransom in Pakistan,in 2016 received the Connecticut Critics Circle award for outstanding production. Now Hartford’s TheaterWorks is doing the play by Ayad Akhtar (Pulitzer Prize winner for Disgraced) with the same director (David Kennedy, another CCC winner) and same cast for its run May 17 to June 17.

That includes Eric Bryant, who received top acting honors from the state’s theater scribes.

And revisiting the intense role of an American hostage?

“It’s a taxing experience because I’m a hostage for two hours on stage during the run — but also for the weeks of rehearsal. One part of you knows that it’s fiction but at the same time there are certain physiological responses. When someone is yelling in your face at full volume, it may be a character but they’re still yelling in your face at full volume. It’s not often you get to play a literal life-and-death, heightened, adrenalized experience in the theater for two hours.

“I learned from Westport that I couldn’t ‘go there’ every single time in rehearsal because I would be spent by the time we have an audience, so a lot of it is being engaged — but at the same time protecting myself so I’m there for when an audience comes in.”

Have You Heard …?

… There will be two chances to hear Tony Award-winner Leslie Odom Jr. (Aaron Burr in Hamilton). The first is June 4 at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre. Then he sings for the Hartford Symphony Orchestra’s Pops! concert at Hartford’s Bushnell Dec. 8.

Derek Klena, the male lead in Anastasia at Hartford Stage and on Broadway, left that production to join the premiere of the musical Jagged Little Pill at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 5 to July 15. The show has music by Alanis Morissette and Glen Ballard, lyrics by Morissette and book by Diablo Cody (Juno).


This article appeared in the May 2018 issue of Connecticut Magazine. Did you like what you read? You can subscribe here.

Frank Rizzo has covered the arts-entertainment scene in Connecticut since disco reigned in the ’70s, including nearly 34 years writing for the Hartford Courant. Email him at FrRiz@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @ShowRiz.