Broadway Across America


Cats! the Musical is a pop culture staple that we have grown to love, to love to hate and to love to download snippets of on YouTube. Broadway Across America performs Cats! the Musical at the Colonial Theater until April 18, where the Tony Award-winning production by Andrew Lloyd Webber continues its 30-somethingth life. Especially after a couple of the special cocktails offered at intermission (the Cat’s Meow, a radioactively-red combination of champagne, peach schnapps and cranberry juice), Cats! is realized to be more than eye candy when looked at through an avant-garde perspective.

Cats! denies the Aristotelian model of the narrative: that there should be a beginning, a middle and an end, equipped with conflict, climax and resolution. The musical instead associates itself more with an avant-garde format by utilizing random character development, non-linear action and a quick resolution for an invisible problem only during the second act.

One of the biggest proponents of avant-garde theater was Antonin Artaud, a French playwright who founded the idea of the “Theater of Cruelty,” a complicated, sometimes contradictory philosophy that acts as a sort of a manifesto for playwrights dabbling in the surreal. Some qualities of Artaudian thought are that the audience must be actively part of what’s happening on-stage, using lights and sound and that characters focus more on physical action than on spoken words.Cats! depends on flashing lights, loud, explosive rumbles of noise and crescendos from the orchestra to awaken and enliven the audience.

Artaud, much like avant-garde playwright Bertolt Brecht, believed that the experience of the audience should not be passive – that the production needs to completely arrest the audience in their emotions, their actions and their self-awareness.

The play takes place under the gleam of the full moon of the Jellicle Ball, when one Jellicle Cat is chosen by Old Deuteronomy, the wise sage, to venture to the Heaviside Layer, a euphemism for death and reincarnation. The Jellicle Ball is a dystopian atmosphere, with the animals, some wearing neon-green illuminated goggles as eyes, slinking around the orchestra-level aisles pawing and glaring at the theater-goers. There is constant tension as Macavity, the villainous ginger cat, makes spontaneous appearances throughout the two acts but is never caught.

Broadway Across America

Max Reinhardt, an Austrian avant-garde playwright most active during wartime, applauded the idea of the “total art-work,” using different means of dancing and singing, as well as prop and scenic possibilities to create the stage into something more than a set. Cats!The Musical was intended to be a spectacle, using carefully detailed costuming and make-up, grandiose set design and complex dance choreography. The characters Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer, the renegade felines of the cast, perform a highly stylized dance number, equipped with acrobatics and gymnastics. Mr. Mistoffelees, the “Magic Cat,” hypnotizes the audience with his countless forte turns and hardly mysterious sleight-of-hand tricks.

There are elements of the production, which debuted on Broadway in 1982, that completely defy Artaudian philosophy. Cats! relies on the dialogue (all of which is sung to the audience, not between characters) more than Artaud would prefer. The turn-of-the-century playwright believed that dialogue was too heavily relied on in Western theater and that the gestures, of the characters should speak volumes more than what was leaving their mouths. Although the songs, which act as dialogue throughout the play, are based on poems from T.S. Eliot’s 1939 Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the movements of those on stage reveal more about the characters and conflicts among the Jellicles than the lyrics. Rum Tum Tugger, the sex-driven rock star, is better understood when he gyrates his hips and props his leather-fringed collar than when he sings about preferring grouse to pheasant.

Broadway Across America


The performance by Broadway Across America is a downsized version of the gargantuan award-winning production that put cat ladies on the map. Those dressed up as life-sized tabby cats and Siamese kittens do not try to capture the audience under the illusion of reality, that what is being viewed is anything but a pure theatrical creation. Cats! the Musical can be seen as not just a novel orgy of eye shadow, faux fur and hitch-kicks, but an overlooked element of avant-garde theater.

From 4/15: http://www.dailyfreepress.com/the-muse/when-cats-are-maddened-by-the-midnight-dance-1.2224324

The warm weather ushers in springtime for all, but for Boston University students that frequent Amory Park, it also brings warnings from Brookline officials.

The Parks and Open Space Division of Brookline placed new signs at the entrance of Amory Park, stating that anyone looking to play an organized sport needs to obtain a permit through the Recreation Department for the use of any athletic facilities.

Brookline Parks and Open Spaces Director Erin Gallentine said this policy has been in effect for over 10 years, but BU students have not been cooperating with the town-wide rule.

“I hate to say this, but the problems have been primarily BU students, and I’m sure it’s because of [the school’s] location,” she said.

Photo Credit: John Schwartz, DFP


Rangers take down names and information of groups and found that nearly all of the sports user groups have been BU students, Gallentine said.

“I understand BU doesn’t have much open space, but organized sports could damage the park and the field,” she said.

There have also been instances where BU students were using Amory Park, even when the fields were closed, she said.

“We keep our fields closed when they’re wet and can cause long-term damage,” she said.

“On April 2, 21 people were playing on the closed field, which was still wet from the two storms. Nineteen out of the 21 students were from BU. The park was closed to everybody and they disregarded it.”

The Town of Brookline has invested over half a million dollars in Amory field, renovating the park over the last year and a half, Gallentine said.

Gallentine’s records show that this year rangers reported students from BU-associated club teams, including the Ultimate Frisbee, lacrosse, baseball and soccer teams, have been found playing sports without permits.

Eight to 10 BU students were playing football at Amory without a permit after being kicked off of BU’s Nickerson Field, Gallentine said.

“We have had repeated problems with organized activities happening at Amory Park, getting complaints at town meetings, complaints from dog walkers in the morning,” she said. “We have had our park ranger patrolling the area trying to inform that there is a process that [people] need to adhere to.”

A permit, obtained by calling the Recreation Dept. directly, costs $40 for a two-hour block, but fees are being reevaluated, said Gallentine.

Jordan Lavy, a College of General Studies sophomore and member of the Women’s Rugby Team, said she feels there are too few options for BU team sports players.

“Varsity teams get authority over campus fields, which makes complete sense, but it’s hard playing a full-contact, outdoor sport and having to practice in the gym,” she said. “We have a lot of rookies who didn’t know how to tackle and luckily we got Nickerson for the time being, but it’s a park, you should be able to go there.”

Lavy says there is a lapse in communication among the varsity and club sports divisions, which contributes to the lack of field space on-campus.

However, Lavy said she understands Gallentine’s sentiment toward protecting the park.

“You can’t have sports teams tear up the field, especially when it’s wet, and you need people to enjoy it for their own pleasure,” she said.

CAS senior Cameron Weil said that the money Brookline requires for people to play sports on the field is nothing compared to what some college students spend on their other weekend activities.

“I think a team of six kids can afford a $40 permit – that’s like paying for a beer per person from Sunset Cantina,” he said. “If that’s all it takes for the park to be kept in good enough shape for all to enjoy it, it’s worth it to me.”

Weil also said that students should think about the damage that their activities can have on something that doesn’t belong to them.

“I think you should have a permit to play a lot of games,” he said. “Kids are idiots and have little respect for things that aren’t theirs to pay for, especially if someone else has to clean it up and fix what mess was made.”

From 4/6/10: http://www.dailyfreepress.com/amory-park-off-limits-to-unofficial-sports-1.2213458

 In a time when the ailing American Dream is paralyzed, with optimism as its life support, artists capitalize on our anxieties by featuring theater, film and visual art pieces that reflect the current standard of living, sometimes as a comedy with a cloyingly hopeful outcome. This approach, although demanded, desensitizes people, especially young adults who are flying their college coops to independently nest elsewhere. The showcase of “Paradise Lost” by Clifford Odets is a timely performance by the American Repertory Theater, exposing the impotency and weakness of Uncle Sam in a time when American citizens are scrambling for an outreached hand. The play acts as a mirror for the audience to place themselves in the characters of this Depression-era drama, but does so without the saccharine-laced optimism.

      The director, Daniel Fish, takes a daringly expressionistic approach to the Odets masterpiece, his style complementing the controversial new A.R.T. Artistic Director Diane Paulus’s philosophy of turning the traditional theatre on its head.

      Fish’s symbolism in expressing his descent of man is most obviously depicted with the death of Ben Gordon (Hale Appleman), the former Olympian-turned-social-recalcitrant to maintain his marriage and status. Gordon, who epitomized success, achievement and happiness, was not easy to tag antagonist or protagonist, as the desperation caused by the social and economic climate blurs lines of favoritism by the audience toward one character or the other.

      The set design is centered on a projector screen that is used throughout the production, to cast the internal, hidden problems of American life onto all of us. Instead of trying to achieve a voyeuristic angle, the enlarged images facing the audience act more like an enormous mirror of contemporary life than a window into the past, also a nod to Odets’ idea of the “living newspaper.”

      Fish’s expressionist vision is best portrayed with the casting of T. Ryder Smith as both Mr. May, the arsonist that offers his get-rich-quick services to Leo Gordon, and as Julie Gordon, the ailing son of the destitute family. With two pivotal characters being played by the same actor, Fish subtlety reminds the audience of the forces looming behind desperate decisions. Mr. May is projected on the giant backdrop in a haunting film negative, playing with our ideas of identifying what is positive and what isn’t, and the black-and-white direness of a family man’s desperation.

      “Paradise Lost” is not meant to be a feel-good play that one skips away from clicking their heels singing the praises of the Sweet Land of Liberty. Instead, the artful and thoughtful combination of set deign, characterization and dialogue created by Odets but tweaked by Fish leaves the audience in a somber state of self-consciousness.  

“Paradise Lost” is ongoing until March 20th. Ticket information may be found at Americanrepertorytheater.org

From 3/15: http://www.dailyfreepress.com/paradise-lost-finds-modern-meaning-1.2191284

Based in New York City and Monterrey, Mexico is sleep.shy, a group composed of Gabriel Lit, Brian Ferrell, Joseph Isho Levinson, Saeryenne and Ariel Weissberger, produced by Oscar Zambrano (the latter two Berklee grads) and also featuring the Girly Girl Choir. Galapagos Inn, the band’s first album, boasts 11 eclectic tracks, each defined by sleep.shy’s reluctance to pigeonhole itself into one stifling genre.

When writing a CD review, a simple technique that eases deadlines and quells readers’ uncertainties is to compare the band in question to other artists; especially useful if the featured band employs infinite subtle technical nuances and progressive electronic techniques, which can be hard to define. Only slightly reminiscent of the Sea and Cake, Tori Amos, Minus the Bear and Sufjan Stevens, sleep.shy formulates its own signature sound by injecting each track with a unique personality but without losing the collective cohesiveness of Galapagos Inn.

The first track, “I Nowhere I Am,” opens with textured electronic sequences and soon introduces the listener to Saeryenne’s lead birdsong vocals. Over a minute in, and choral chants transition to a different melody, begun by a harpsichord solo, then soon reunited with Saeryenne’s aria.

“Buzz” proves sleep.shy’s range of talent and the band’s ability to harness a serious level of skill by showcasing its experimental side. The track features a percussive counterpoint to the choral harmonies, reminiscent of those avant-garde improv performances at Piano Factory. The next track, “On Why No. 2 Pencils Have Erasers,” returns to a joie de vivre expressionism. On this electrified anthem, Saeryenne sings about “the lingering static dancing on our graves”, and the choral harmonies already defined as the band’s signature are present throughout. The song shifts –– a tendency noticeable throughout Galapagos Inn –– to a military cadence-turned-a cappella ending.

“Orange Day” is the centerpiece of Galapagos Inn, with an unfinished haiku as its only lyrics. However, the song’s two minutes and forty seconds (making it shortest track on the record) are the closest the album comes to epitomizing sleep.shy; they feature both obvious and subtle shifts in tempo and mood, the singer’s dreamy cooing and the climactic crescendo which tapers off at the last few seconds of the piece.

“Jungle on the Ceiling” features Weissberger’s rumbling vocals, heavily laced with the singer’s native Mexican accent. Jazz piano segments meet pulsating percussion in a vague reminder of a latin-tinged Serge Gainsbourg piece.

Although sleep.shy’s sound evokes comparison to some favorite, more familiar musicians, the band quickly shakes off any true similarities with its trademark transitions, paramount choral harmonies and instrumental aptitude.

From 2/17/10: http://www.dailyfreepress.com/personality-shines-in-latest-from-sleep-shy-1.2158516

The fundraiser/fashion show brought to Boston University by the organization Boston Stands with Haiti Sunday at Metcalf Hall brought together students and community members active in the relief for Haiti after the devastating earthquake that shook the nation January 12. The event, initiated by a team of student volunteers headed by Sam Minkoff, featured Haitian cuisine, local and international fashion, a pop-up museum with Haitian art, dancing and over 25 musical performances.

Restaurants in the greater Boston area catered the event. Sunrise Caribbean Cuisine, a family-owned Haitian restaurant in Somerville, donated barbeque chicken, fried pork, baked macaroni and pasta salads, asking for a $5 donation for a heaping plate of authentic Haitian cuisine. The owner, Rubin Pierre, smiled fondly when asked what makes Haitian cuisine stand out from its Caribbean cousins.

“The spices and ingredients are unlike anything else,” Pierre explained. “For instance, the black mushroom comes straight from Haiti and we use it in our rice.”

The Dear Abbeys, BU’s all-male a cappella group, sang a medley at the event. Nate Martin, a College of Fine Arts junior, said that although they didn’t sing anything in French, the group was enthusiastic about participating in the fundraiser.

“This was a good thing to do, and I think more stuff like this should be happening on campus,” Martin said after the performance. However, the singer and bassist felt that the participation by the student community was lacking.

“As college students are supposed to be activists and the lack of people here shows how apathetic people are,” Martin added. “The university isn’t organized enough to push itself out there, people need to find a way to communicate this stuff without confronting people’s emotions. People don’t want to confront this kind of problem.”

Although the turnout of BU students was less than satisfactory, there was an abundance of cultural sharing, heightened awareness and a feeling of unity among those at the event with the myriad performances. The BU dance group Bulletproof Funk performed a freestyle dance routine, the dancers popping, locking and interpretive-dancing on a stage flooded with blood-red lights to electronic music laced with snippets of haunting news audio.

DJ’d by College of Communication senior Nooka Jones, Haute for Haiti was the event’s crowd favorite, a fashion show channeling the spirit of Carnival, a celebration that occurs twelve days before Mardi Gras. International design house Betsey Johnson contributed corseted dresses and eccentric floral prints, and BU students modeled Tom’s Shoes with a masquerade theme.  

One of the designers, Kat Schamens, flew from North Carolina to attend the event and showcase her Carnival couture, helping out close friend and event assistant director, Amanda James. Schamens’ models brought vibrant fluorescent pinks and greens to the catwalk, highlighted with bright rosettes and funky patterns lightened up the event’s somber undertones.

The event was a cultural success; the exhaustive efforts of BU students and volunteers, community members and local businesses contributed to a well-done, tactful fundraiser and homage to Haiti. Haiti will be recovering from the earthquake that cost over 200,000 lives for an undetermined period, but the majority of the apathetic student community at BU seem to have not felt even a slight reverberation. Hopefully with continued efforts for Haiti aid on-campus, the BU bubble of desensitized indifference will be ruptured.

From the Daily Free Press, March 1


Freshening up Fenway

The Farmer’s Market is usually a great way to stay loyal to local purveyors, small businesses and better produce, but in Boston, the dilemma comes with schizophrenic weather patterns. Marshall’s Fenway Farm Stand, which opened in late November, is housed in an old Goodyear Tire Retread store, safe from both the elements and any (still) bitter Sox fans.
Bob Marshall, owner of the original Marshall’s farm stand in Gloucester, was thrilled when approached by the realtors who own the high-rises in the area to secure a three-year contract.

“This is a great, small community and I’m really ecstatic to be a part of it,” said Marshall, whose family owned a milk farm before transitioning to the farm stand business. “Eventually, we’re going to have fresh flowers for holidays, taste-testing on the every first of the month and even student and senior specials.”

Marshall’s Fenway is a one-stop shopping destination, with scallops, peeled shrimp and fillets from Gloucester (“The lobster meat was shucked this morning,” said John, the counter clerk). And for $24, split the cost with your roommate and you’ve got a $12 lobster night. Or, opt for the Cape Cod Clam Pie, ready to bake for only $6.50, or the enormous “Real Deal” stuffed clams from Danvers, about 30 minutes away from Boston.

The defining part of a farmer’s market – the produce – will be over 90 percent local in the spring and summer, according to Marshall. Native apples are available now, in the Cortland, Empire, Fuji, Honeycrisp and Red Delicious varieties. Fresh ginger, red peppers and heads of lettuce are also featured.

Mike’s Maine Pickles from Euston rival any Claussen spear you’ve ever had. Aside from traditional pickles, Marshall’s stocks pickled eggs, beets, mustard pickles and pickled sausage, all for $5.99.

For ready-made dinners, try the Shoe City Tavern Frozen Pizza in cheese or pepper and onion for $7.99. Thin and hand-made, these “New England-Style Pub Pizzas” are far better, tastier options than your typical Domino’s cheeseburger-bacon go-to. Serino’s Foods, located in Jamaica Plain, produces ravioli ($4), homemade sauce ($3.39), stuffed shells and lasagna, ready to tote home. If you’d like to go more family-style, try the colossal Turkey Pot Pie from Duxbury, a bit pricey at $22, but with the potential to feed at least four, with leftovers for that guy who nobody knows but sits in the common room with the lights off playing World of Warcraft.

Old-Fashioned apple cider from Carlson Orchards in Harvard is only $3.50 per half-gallon. Thatcher Farms Chocolate Milk comes in a glass bottle and Marshall’s will desposit the returned, empty vessel for $1.30.

The baked goods section is all from places within a short drive, like French baguettes from Piantesdosi’s in Malden and “Monkey Bread” from Karen’s Bakery in Lynnefield. Add a scoop of Richardson’s Ice Cream from Middleton, available in peppermint, chocolate yogurt or French vanilla, among others.

Only a short walk from BU’s campus, Marshall’s is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m., and offers local, affordable goods that you won’t find at Star Market or even Whole Foods. Slap on your balaclava and brave the cold –– you won’t be disappointed.

Marshall’s Fenway Farm Stand, 1345 Boylston St., Boston

The Daily Free Press, Feb. 5


The New York Dental Convention was the only exposition I had ever been to. Featuring breakthrough alternatives to porcelain fillings, wireless braces and patterned scrubs, it was hardly the sexy, spectacular event I imagined other conventions to be with futuristic Lamborghinis, Japanese animatronics and flowing rivers of alcohol. So, when I had the opportunity to visit the Boston Wine Expo, a two-day long event, I was shaken with elation and immediately brushed off my copy of “Wine Bible.”

I entered the Seaport World Trade Center to hordes of over-dressed security, some in tuxedoes, doling out directions and handing out the free souvenir glass that would be used to sample the different wines. A little wary of having to sip red after white in the same vessel, I was told by a (clothed) exhibitionist that each table provides rinse water and a spit bucket to prep your glass. 

I have always been partial to Loire Valley French whites, especially Sauvignon Blanc because of its citrus-infused dryness and Sancerre, more likely a blend of the former and Pinot Noir, giving it more depth. These wines tend to be pricier, regardless of whether you look in a neon-light decorated half-price liquor warehouse or a classy boutique on Beacon Hill.

At the Expo, I made a beeline for the flag promising “Loire Valley Wines,” and found the crisp, slightly smoky Domaine Margalleau Sec Vouvray, a chenin blanc, for only $13.99. Available at Brookline Liquor Mart, the Domaine des Baumard Savennieres 2005 is a close Sancerre, and although pricier than the beloved jug of Carlo Rossi, is worth the splurge at $26.50.

Searching beyond my comfort zone I found Flamingo Tempranillo, from a Spanish vineyard. A relatively new line to the U.S., Flamingo offers Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon, all available for less than $9. The label is hard to miss – a glowing flamingo with the catchphrase “nice legs,” promising their wine to be just as good as the more expensive imported stuff.

The wine Natura, from Banfi Vintners in Chile, is a 100 percent organic product. Without sulfites, the butter-yellow Sauvignon Blanc loses the tinny flavor of some of its domestically produced counterparts. The organic legislation in the U.S. doesn’t require products to be 100 percent organic, while in Chile it does. For fewer than $10, this import is worth finding.

What would a wine party be without food? Yancey’s Fancy artisan cheese had a booth and plenty of samples. Produced in the Finger Lake region of upstate New York, Yancey’s offers an array of different types, including Gouda and “XXX-Sharp Cheddar,” as well as more creative offerings such as Wasabi Horseradish Cheddar, Champagne Cheddar and Jalapeno and Cayenne Cheddar. Although some of the flavors sound like Guy Fieri conjured them, the cheeses are creamy, full-bodied and are an easy nosh. Available online at yanceysfancy.com.

The Wine Expo is a place with a trampled cerulean carpet and Infiniti Lounge where drunken singles can dance to David Guetta. I found that the convention was a fantastical place, where the obsessed go to be completely immersed in their element. Cheers!

From The Muse, Feb. 1.