John Rando and Joshua Bergasse are ingenious at moving ensembles around a stage—be they orphan pirates, lovelorn young ladies or frivolous policemen. Pirates leap onto rope nets strung down from the top of the theater; they crawl down the aisles at our feet, swords in hand. Young ladies sidestep closely together as they pine in song for young men to be their husbands. Uniformed policemen hop onto each other’s backs or fall down onto the stage dominos style all the while delighting the audience into non-stop grins.
Just reading the program builds anticipation for the Barrington Stage Company production of Kiss Me Kate. The songs listed—“So In Love,” “I Hate Men,” “Wunderbar,” “Too Darn Hot”—are among the best from Broadway’s golden age. The first number, “Another Op’nin’, Another Show” adds more anticipation. Then the show builds and builds and builds until it is, unfortunately, way over the top. Barrington Stage Company, always so reliable for exceptional musical theatre, this year embellished a Cole Porter gem. They shouldn’t have. Kiss Me Kate gleams on its own.
Die to Live — says the Priest to the falsely accused Hero at a crucial moment in Much Ado About Nothing, and so ushers in a new perspective in Shakespeare’s comedy. We already hear intimations of it in those lines of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, called “Bottom’s Dream.” The buffoon recalls that he has had a vision “past the wit of man to say what his dream was.”
The “overture” to the Barrington Stage Company’s production of On the Town, the Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden-Adolph Green musical, wasn’t written by the composer. The honors belong to John Stafford Smith, who with later lyrics by Francis Scott Key, wrote “The Star Spangled Banner.”
It’s an unexpected way to begin this hilarious and horny show about three sailors on a one-day leave in New York City, but the anthem creates the context of the time. The show occurs during World War II and was premiered in December of 1944. The national anthem was played before every performance of On the Town’s initial Broadway run and is now a tradition with director John Rando’s productions.
It felt so good to return to the tiny village of Anatevka – to be uplifted by the heart-warming, brave inhabitants of this Russian, turn-of-the century shtetl, the hometown of Fiddler on the Roof. We get to spend a few hours listening to their songs and stories, and when they are exiled, we once again weep. We miss them and their way of life even before the curtain comes down.
Thanks to the Barrington Stage of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and its wonderful, if not quite perfect, revival of Fiddler, we can revel in the glorious Bock and Harnick score, see Jerome Robbins’ imaginative staging and dances and share the lives of Tevye, the dairyman; Golde, his wife; and their five daughters, three of whom are of marriageable age. Living with the imminent threat of Russian pogroms and the coming revolution, they hang tight to their Jewish traditions.
Diabolical. That’s how the Monthly Review labeled Choderlos de Laclos’s novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses when it was first published in England in 1784. Two years earlier, when it debuted in France, the novel in letter form sold out its first printing of 2,000 copies in two weeks. Nearly two hundred and thirty years later this story of sexual and emotional manipulation continues to fascinate audiences as much in performance as it does on the page.
In The Crucible, the Proctors sit at their plain table with John’s brief failing between them. He is a good man. He makes every situation better, more reasonable. He is a natural man. The land is his, and he is the land’s. Everything is in the quietness. She is the quietness. Christopher Innvar with a voice which lurches sadly, breaks the silence. Kim Stauffer, with a face barren and wide, makes cautious answer, and holds the distance between them in her hands.
One Christmas my magic daughter gave me a picture of a baboon. Above it she wrote Prospero’s valedictory line: “I’ll drown my book.” The animal had an expression of imponderable grief on its face. Words are exclusively human. But could it be said that animals sing? Music sets words free, back to their primal origin, leaping into the heart. Music is a language of knowing, of certainty. It has the raw truth of the baboon’s face. Maybe Prospero, whose name signifies hope, begins to sing when the book is drowned and the grief is past.