Thursday, May 26, 2022

Broadway in Tucson Review: "Come From Away"

 It's a tough prospect to turn a story based on 9/11 into a feel-good extravaganza, but that's exactly what "Come From Away" succeeds at pulling off.

Set in Gander, Newfoundland, where several planes were grounded immediately following the attacks, the vivacious, incessantly positive musical captures joy and delight in the interactions of people from varied walks of life and parts of the world who were thrust together for the better part of the week.

The core ensemble of Sharone Sayegh, Harter Clingman, Marika Aubrey, Julia Knitel and James Earl Jones II oozes with enthusiasm, chemistry and polish. They make up a troupe of true believers who are locked into their cause of replicating the magic of the original Broadway production, which took home a Best Director Tony in 2017.

From the outset, with the show-starter "Welcome to the Rock" revving up the audience in the manner of Lin-Manuel Miranda's "In the Heights" and "Hamilton" openings, the show soars with irreversible energy. 

The 105-minute production, which has no intermission to trip it up, delivers a stream of related anecdotest that coalesce into poignant moments of truth and understanding. A particularly resonant moment has characters of varied faiths praying in harmonic unison.

While the show courageously tackles racism and homophobia, it embraces a neighborly glee that one would like to think is at the center of all facets of humanity. The magical tendency to make a little more space, rustle up a little more food or lend a bit more of understanding to your fellow man is certainly present in the residents of Gander.

The choreography is adorably hokey, as though derived from a square dance, and the rhythm dares the audience not to clap along. The orchestra matches the cast in high-energy enthusiasm throughout, note for note and beat for beat.

With ample good-natured humor and romance, "Come From Away" guides the shared hearts of the auidence and lifts them airborn to stratospheric heights. Would that we all could be as giving appreciative as the Newfoundlanders on 9/11.

"Come From Away" plays at Centennial Hall through May 29. To buy tickets, click here.

Wednesday, May 04, 2022

Book Report: "The Bell Jar"

The Bell JarThe Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sylvia Plath's autobiographical novel is chilly, incredibly smart and observant.

A breakthrough in feminist literature, the book feels vital and relevant despite the passage of more than half a century. Maybe its significance continues to grow as society evolves to match the work, which was considerably ahead of its time.

Plath's sardonic mentality reveals how much of an influence she was on Lisa Simpson, who carries on Plath's satirical perspective today.

The protagonist struggles with turmoil brought on by harsh social expectations pressed on her by the patriarchy, as well as inner struggles with her optimism and ability to find a reason to keep pressing forward.

On the downside, the book does read a bit Liver Journal-y, but its navel-gazing tendencies also help demonstrate the askew perspective of life trapped in the bell jar.

In all, the novel is a glorious and vital accomplishment that makes me want to read the rest of Plath's work.

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Saturday, April 23, 2022

Book Report: "Walden"

WaldenWalden by Henry David Thoreau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thoreau is proudly the oddest duck on the pond, hurling himself into a self-imposed monkishly minimalist lifestyle by building a cabin and living off the land for two years.

Understandably, the time spent lost in the woods made him even loopier than he presumably started.

The author makes impassioned pleas to live the life without comforts or extravagance, or even the company of others. His seeming lack of sex or social drives is robotic in the way that predates Sheldon Cooper.

The peek inside the mind of such a man is fascinating, even if he indulges his compulsions to a dull degree at times. On several occasions he runs off meaningless statistics about pond depth, his day labor wages and his product costs. This is a man happily lost inside the depths of his own mental interiors. "Walden" is such a sassy and ludicrously pompous read that it is impossible not to be absorbed in some degree.

My favorite passage was his intricately detailed play-by-play of red and black ants doing battle. Without sarcasm or pretense, he praises the valor of the soldiers as they dismember one another.

In a sense, Thoreau is one of the ants and collective social constructs are the other. He rears his pincers with instictive ferocity.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Broadway in Tucson Review: "Hadestown"

Pulsing with entrancing rhythms, tireless choreography and heartbreakingly subtle performances, "Hadestown" seizes control of the audience and never loosens its grip throughout its 150-minute running time.

The musical, which opened on Broadway in 2019, took home eight Tony awards. The national tour was planned in short order, dazzling fans across the nation with its ragtime blues-infused take on "Orpheus and Eurydice."

Carried by Anais Mitchell's inspired book and lyrics, "Hadestown" thrives on its brilliant cast. In the lead roles are golden-voiced Nicholas Barasch as Orpheus and vulnerable yet fierce Morgan Siobhan Green as Eurydice. Their star-crossed romance is the focal point of the drama, with Orpheus vowing to change the seasons with his voice and retrieve his fleeting love from damnation.

Levi Kreis is an affable emcee as the quick-witted, game show-style narrator Hermes, and looming ever large in the background is the booming voice of Kevyn Morrow, who inhabits Hades with a blistering fire. His weakness is his pompous, overbearing bride, Persephone, played with sass and flair by Kimberly Marable.

Even though the show may be padded out with two or three more songs per act than it truly needs to tell its story, it manages to crank out a succession of toe-tapping bangers. Highlights include "Way Down Hadestown," "Road to Hell" and "When the Chips Are Down."

The latter comes courtesy of the diva trio of Fates (Belen Moyano, Bex Odorisio and Shea Renne), whose sprightly lyrics taunt and mock the lead characters. The playful interaction between the actors seems genuine and vibrant. These performers truly feel each others' vibes and channel their characters with inspired empathy.

A remarkable feat of passion and ecstacy, "Hadestown" drives home its themes with a relentless momentum of a fever dream. Its descent into hell unearths heavenly epiphanies.

"Hadestown" plays through April 17 at Centennial Hall. Purchase tickets here.