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The Mom Review: Fairy Tales Come True at Jacob's Pillow

By Rebecca Dravis
iBerkshires Staff

The stepsisters, far right, stole the show at 'Cinderella.'

Editor's Note: This is the first installment of the 2015 edition of The Mom Review, a summer-long series of reviews of family-friendly theater, dance, art exhibits, etc., by iBerkshires Community Editor Rebecca Dravis and her 9 1/2-year-old daughter, Noelle, who hope to give you some ideas for summer family fun.

BECKET, Mass. — One of the most amazing things about the New York Theatre Ballet's production of "Cinderella" was revealed after the show during a post-show question-and-answer session at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival on Thursday evening.

In a response to an audience question about the company's outreach in New York City Schools, founder and artistic director Diana Byer explained that the company had expanded a program that took children living in homeless shelters and introduced them to dance for two weeks to a scholarship program for children with talent and passion for continuing beyond.

And one of those students, she revealed, was the young man, Stephen Melendez, who the audience had just seen dancing the role of The Prince in the lovely and magical performance of "Cinderella." It's a real-life fairy tale befitting the beloved story of an abused servant girl who finds love and happiness with her own Prince Charming.

Boyishly cute Melendez was adorable as the shy and humble prince that more resembled the Disney version of the story than the more recent live action version, in which the prince was a bit cocky. On Thursday, he danced with Elena Zahlmann's Cinderella, bringing the idea of a happy ending to the full house that consisted of a nice co-mingling of young children and older adults.

But as much as you would want the performance to be about Cinderella and her prince, the show was stolen by the two stepsisters, played by Mitchell Kilby and Michael Wells. Yes, you read that right: Two male dancers played the role of the stepsisters, which is a rather brilliant move to convey the awkwardness and homliness the sisters are supposed to portray. It was immediately apparent to the adults in the audience that the sisters were actually boys in dresses, but I had to whisper the "secret" to Noelle, and I did hear another child exclaim "those are boys!" about 10 minutes after the stepsisters appeared on stage.

Kilby and Wells were brilliant as the stepsisters, playing the roles for the laughs they deserved but not venturing too far into ridiculousness. Plus, very impressively, they danced - albeit not classical ballet - on high-heeled dance shoes, which Byer told the audience afterward they just had to get used to like women have to get used to wearing uncomfortable shoes sometimes. Amen to that.

The entire performance lasted one hour, making it the perfect length for children. The costumes were bright and colorful, and because the story is so familiar to both young and old there was no need for any speaking roles to move the story along. The company will perform four more shows at Jacob's Pillow - Friday, June 26, at 8:15 p.m.; Saturday, June 27, at 2:15 and 8:15 p.m.; and Sunday, June 28, at 2:15 p.m. Tickets for adults range from $25-$35 but tickets for kids are just $10 for all performances. Visit jacobspillow.org for all the details. It's worth a visit to see this ballet, which made its world premier at Jacob's Pillow back in 1982 and has been in repertoire ever since.

Now that's the definition of a timeless classic.

Now for Noelle: I liked the costumes because they were really pretty, especially the fairies who danced with the Fairy Godmother. I liked that Cinderella's dress wasn't the big blue gown but instead was a small white dress that sparkled. My favorite part was the ball scene where Cinderella and the Prince were dancing together and the other dancers were on stage, too. I laughed when the king waddled and the sisters were fighting, and the clock made me laugh, too. I was wondering how the sets moved during the show and I got to ask afterward, and she told me the sets were moved by people and it was a good question. It's fun to visit Jacob's Pillow, especially the gift shop!
 

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The Mom Review: Follow the Yellow Brick Road to Tanglewood

By Rebecca Dravis
iberkshires Staff

The witch might have been wicked, but the Boston Pops were nothing short of wicked awesome on Friday night when they accompanied a screening of 'The Wizard of Oz' at Tanglewood.

Editor's Note: This is the eighth installment of The Mom Review, a summer-long series of reviews of family-friendly theater, dance, art exhibits, etc., by iBerkshires Community Editor Rebecca Dravis and her 8-year-old daughter, Noelle, who hope to give you some ideas for summer family fun.

 

The first time I brought Noelle to Tanglewood, she was 18 months old. Needless to say, she doesn't remember the trip to see a family-friendly matinee orchestra concert with her cousins who were visiting from Oregon. 

Those cousins at the time were about the same age as Noelle is now, so it seemed appropriate to bring her back to Tanglewood this summer to experience a place I have loved since I was a kid growing up in Pittsfield.

Noelle plays the viola, so I knew she would enjoy an orchestra show, but I didn't think she had the patience to sit through a full-length "regular" concert. But when I saw that Tanglewood was hosting a screening of "The Wizard of Oz" with live accompaniment by the Boston Pops, I knew this was our best chance.

And it was amazing.

Last Friday was a lovely, if unseasonably cool, night in Lenox. The movie was scheduled to start at 8:30, which was a little late for a true family-friendly experience, but that didn't stop lots of children of all ages from attending. We arrived at 7:30 and I was surprised at how dark it already was; fall most certainly is approaching. Because of this, we didn't get a chance to explore the grounds as much as I would have liked, but we did walk around some before showtime. Noelle was the first to point out a particularly lovely view of the mountains from a corner of the grounds near the Tent Club.

We had seats in the Koussevitzky Music Shed. On our way to finding them, an older gentlemen usher stopped us and said he always stops the pretty young ladies. He proceeded to play a game with Noelle, prompting her to pick a fist for a treat, eventually giving her a butterscotch candy. It was silly and sweet and I loved how kind the ushers were.

As we waited for the movie to start, we tried to spot the orchestra's violas, which from a distance are tough to distinguish from violins. (OK, I'll be honest, violas are tough for me to distinguish from violins close up, too. They look like slightly bigger violins and since Noelle plays a tiny student viola, everything looks bigger than hers!) She delighted in seeing how many violists were in the production and vowed to bring the program to her viola teacher to show him, as they often lament together about the lack of violists in the world.

When the orchestra took the stage and the movie started, it was magical. I don't know about you, but "The Wizard of Oz" always brings out the sentimental sap in me. From Dorothy's love of Toto, to her concert for Auntie Em, to the poor flammable Scarecrow, the movie has the ability to make me tear up. (As an aside, I was afraid that having read the "Wicked" series would make me cherish the move less, but that didn't seem to happen on this night, which was my first viewing of the movie since finishing the books.)

And now, having seen it with live music, it will always have the ability to make me appreciate the score of a movie. Of course I knew all of the songs by heart, but until this performance I don't think I paid that much attention to how many other scenes in the movie were accompanied by music.

There is indeed no place like home, and I'm truly blessed to have Tanglewood so close to my home.

Now for Noelle: I really liked the live concert. It was cool watching everybody else play. Watching the movie was super cool. I liked the bathrooms and the gift shop. I hope to someday play my viola on stage at Tanglewood. I would love to play my viola to my new favorite movie, "West Side Story." I would definitely go there again.

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The Mom Review: Oh, The Places We'll Go

By Rebecca Dravis
iBerkshires Staff

The bathtub scene in Berkshire Theatre Group's production of 'Seussical' was a hit with reviewer Noelle.

Editor's Note: This is the seventh installment of The Mom Review, a summer-long series of reviews of family-friendly theater, dance, art exhibits, etc., by iBerkshires Community Editor Rebecca Dravis and her 8-year-old daughter, Noelle, who hope to give you some ideas for summer family fun.

 

Wikipedia describes "Seussical" as a "rather complex amalgamation" of Dr. Seuss stories. After having seen it for the first time on stage at The Colonial in Pittsfield, I think that may be an understatement.

The production, Berkshire Theatre Group's ninth annual Children Theatre Production, was lovely and colorful and musical and energetic. The 100-plus community members of all ages that participated in it were fabulous. The costumes and sets were wonderful, and the special effects - particularly the flying over the stage - are sure to delight people of all ages. I just can't say enough good things about the production itself.

I just really didn't like the story itself. I love Dr. Seuss, and Noelle and I have amassed a large collection of his books. I used to read "Fox in Socks" over and over to her when she was littler, delighting in her giggles as I tripped over the tongue-twisters. I just don't think "Seussical" does Dr. Seuss justice. I love the reinforcement of the message - "a person's a person no matter how small" - but I think the real voice of Dr. Seuss is missing.

But maybe that's just me, and it has nothing to do with this production, which is fun and worth the (kind of steep) ticket price of $25/$30 for adults and $15/$20 for kids.

The production at The Colonial continues Thursday, Aug. 14, at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.; Friday, Aug. 15, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Aug. 16, at 2 and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Aug. 17, at 2 p.m. It's recommended for kids above the age of 4. Note that it does require some patience on the part of a young audience, particularly with the overture at the beginning and a couple of the "slower" songs, so beware if you have young fidgety children. And please don't bring babies and toddlers; this show is really not for them.

Now for Noelle: I liked it. It starts late so I wouldn't recommend it for younger children. I really loved the bathtub scene because all of the colors were so pretty and the flying/swimming over the stage.

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The Mom Review: 'Hairspray Jr' Energetic, Thought-Provoking

By Rebecca Dravis
iBerkshires Staff

Editor's Note: This is the sixth installment of The Mom Review, a summer-long series of reviews of family-friendly theater, dance, art exhibits, etc., by iBerkshires Community Editor Rebecca Dravis and her 8-year-old daughter, Noelle, who hope to give you some ideas for summer family fun.


How did I get 39 years into life without knowing the story of "Hairspray"?

I'm glad Noelle only had to go eight and a half, and I'm glad her first experience with it was Barrington Stage Company's Youth Theatre production of "Hairspray Jr."

Based on the film and Tony Award-winning stage musical of the same name, "Hairspray Jr." features the popular songs “You Can’t Stop the Beat” and “Good Morning Baltimore.” Filled with energetic dance numbers and unique characters, "Hairspray Jr." follows spunky plus-sized teen Tracy Turnblad as she pursues her dream of dancing on national television and navigates the racial tensions and stereotypes of the 1960s. Shows continue through Sunday, Aug. 10 at the Berkshire Museum: Wednesday and Thursday at 2 and 7 p.m., Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 12:30 and 3:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $12 for youths and $16 for adults.

Because I've never seen the original, I don't know how much the "junior" makes it a more family-friendly experience.

Kids under 5 are not allowed into this production, which makes sense, as it is a serious topic underneath the amazing energy of these teenage performers. At 8, Noelle had a hard time grasping the underlying issue of racism, though she absolutely loved the music, costumes and set.

The evening we saw this performance, it was followed by a community talk-back on race. We stayed for a little bit of that, but it was late and, again, the subject matter was over Noelle's head. What was most interesting, though, was the 30-minute car ride home and finding out just how over her head it was.

I'm sure it's not the same for all 8-year-olds. I'm sure there are children who have felt the sting of discrimination. But the fact that my daughter was genuinely puzzled by (a) how mean the girls were to the plump Tracy and (b) why black and white kids couldn't dance together made me hopeful that every generation becomes a little more tolerant to differences in shape, size, skin color, disabilities and more.

Yes, we live in Berkshire County, not known for its rampant multiculturalism. And yes, we personally live in Williamstown, a small town of mostly white people. So maybe it's easy for me to feel optimistic. But I'm happy to be a positive influence on my daughter as she grows up and starts to face these issues more directly. I'm happy to be able to say, "Some people thought those kids couldn't dance together because some had light skin and some had dark skin. Isn't that silly?"

During the talkback, the teens seemed more optimistic about the current state of race relations than the older people on stage. That sounds about right. Change is slow and all we can do is work toward a better future, one generation at a time, one community at a time and one family at a time.

The whole idea of "Hairspray" was puzzling to my 8-year-old. I hope in 10 years, or 20 years, the premise will be even more puzzling to children who watch it. Thank you, Barrington Stage, for a wonderful evening and giving us food for thought. And to those amazing teenage actors ... bravo!

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The Mom Review: 'Servant' An Over-The-Top Farce

By Rebecca Dravis
iBerkshires Staff

Editor's Note: This is the fifth installment of The Mom Review, a summer-long series of reviews of family-friendly theater, dance, art exhibits, etc., by iBerkshires Community Editor Rebecca Dravis and her 8-year-old daughter, Noelle, who hope to give you some ideas for summer family fun.

LENOX, Mass. — A visit to the Rose Footprint Theatre at Shakespeare & Company is a highlight of our summer. The comedy staged annually in the tented theater is always entertaining, interactive and very kid-friendly.

This year's "The Servant of Two Masters" is all of those, but it wasn't as funny as previous Rose shows. It also has the misfortune of being up against "The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)," which is playing in the Tina Packer Playhouse and is the funniest thing I have seen a very long time. (Read the Mom Review here.)

So while I was entertained, I did not laugh as much as maybe I would have liked.

The play is an adaptation of this classic Commedia dell’arte farce by Carlo Goldoni and features an energetic cast of young local actors. It tells the story of an outrageous and crafty servant, Truffaldino, a threadbare clown in mad search of food, money and attention. In one implausible day, Truffaldino simultaneously ends up with two masters and two jobs – and what Truffaldino doesn’t know is that his masters are star-crossed lovers, and one of them is only disguised as a man. But they aren’t the only lovers in town as two impatient old parents attempt to plan a wedding between children that will bring the highest return on their investment. Truffaldino’s predicament stirs up a ridiculous chain of events as he sets out to keep his double service concealed, find romance himself - and get some dinner.

I think the main reason I did not find this play as funny as previous performances was that it just slightly TOO over the top, slightly TOO dramatic for my tastes. It was almost like watching a cariacture of a really good farce.

Kids, though, always seem to love it. Noelle was entertained, though she did not understand the story, which is common with fast-paced productions that have multiple plot twists. Kids will just enjoy it for what it is: colorful costumes, amusing songs, sword fighting, actors running through the audience and around the theater interacting with the audience, etc. There was a baby fussing in the back of the show we saw, so I would recommend caution with infants and toddlers, but preschoolers on up should find it an enjoyable 80 minutes.

Now for Noelle: It was really funny. I like how they come up and down the aisles. And I like the song at the beginning where they sing about the rules. I loved the sword fighting. My favorite part was the scene in the dining room where they sang about dinner. I would go see it again.

The show runs through Aug. 23 on Fridays, Saturdays and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are free for students and $15 for adults. For tickets and information, visit shakespeare.org.

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The Mom Review: Fairy Tales Come True at Jacob's Pillow
The Mom Review: Follow the Yellow Brick Road to Tanglewood
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The Mom Review: 'Hairspray Jr' Energetic, Thought-Provoking
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The Mom Review: Shakespeare With a Side of Raunch
Say 'Va Bene!' to 'Bleu!' at Jacob's Pillow
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