Fiorello! at Berkshire Theatre Group, Unicorn Theatre
This show was terrific, beautifully staged, a speed which benefitted the repetitive material, no nonsense, and some really wonderful performances. There were two outstanding young artists. Austin Lombardi led the show with blistering directness. He filled the silences with heat. He was relentless in his pursuits, and did all of this without exaggeration. His energy was almost tactile. Rebecca Brudner as his first wife Thea, used her beautiful voice intelligently. In her big number “When Did I Fall in Love,” she carved a shape for the song that stays in my mind. From beginning to end she made it a journey. The sheer beauty of her voice was rare. She also sported an entirely believable Italian accent. This young actress made a relatively small part into a starring role. The two supporting roles, a policeman played by Dan Cassin and his girlfriend Dora, played by Chelsea Groen, were very well cast and made laughter a singing thing. The ensemble was sharp as a tack.
Here was a long show that kept you with it. It rambles, it repeats, but this production made it go. This is especially admirable with a company of actors who are barely out of college. There was fancy piano playing from music director Evan Zvada, and occasionally a sweet violin could be heard. Go see this show!
A summer isn’t complete without a visit to the MacHaydn Theatre in Chatham, New York. This outfit is a long-running purveyor of great musicals. Young singers, different each year, give it all they’ve got. There have been some remarkable performances. The West Side Story from 2014, particularly the ending, was the best performance of this show I’ve seen. The sincerity and skill of the young actors was something you could almost reach out and touch. A hallmark of this company is its lack of pretension. It’s not about fancy clothes, it’s not about famous actors, it’s not a place you go to be seen. The whole operation has a sincerity about it. Last weekend I saw South Pacific. Steve Hassmer was, for the first time in my experience of this musical, not a Pinza clone. He had sincerity. He was gentle. His singing went to the heart. He made me see the character differently. His partner, Emily Kron as Nellie Forbush, was wonderfully natural. You believed in these two—you could trust them. Supporting roles were skillfully taken, and best of all, was the heart-felt response of the audience, again without pretension.
Our miniature summer drama tour ended with a visit to the admirable Chester Theatre Company in Chester, Mass. for a performance of My Jane by Daniel Elihu Kramer, the Producing Artistic Director of the Company. The play, a dramatization of scenes from the famous novel, with contemporary context woven in, moved well The speed at times seemed a bit rapid, this inevitable, I’m sure, in adapting a novel to the stage. There were fine performances by Alex Hanna, Laura Ramadei and Claire Siebers. Alex was a perplexed and sympathetic Mr. Rochester, and Laura and Claire in multiple roles contributed mightily. There was a superb performance from Camilla Cano-Flavia as Jane Eyre. Every word this young artist spoke was arresting. One felt like the play awakened when she was speaking. Her silences were as elegant as her speech. Her face was a map of her mental journey. She made the role out of silence, just now and then pulling a word up to audibility; every word was crystal clear and every silence as well. Hers was by a considerable margin the best acting performance I have seen so far this year. Some actors make it impossible for you to look away, to stop hearing. Camilla did this. I am waiting for her next performance.