This weekend, Bristol Riverside Theater in Bucks County offers four final performances (tonight at 8 PM, tomorrow at 2 PM and 8 PM, Sunday at 3 PM) of Little Women, a musical based on the Louisa May Alcott novel. While the show’s music is not quite at the level of Oliver! or Les Miserables, Little Women definitely appears to be one of the better productions based on a classic work of literature.
Jennie Eisenhower is excellent in the leading role of Jo March, one of four sisters growing up in Massachusetts during the Civil War Era. Eisenhower is able to balance seeming closely devoted to her family while possessing an independent streak throughout her portrayal of the tomboy and aspiring writer (based on Alcott herself). The acting and singing (the show does not contain much dancing) is about as good as one can expect in a regional theater in this area.
If there is one criticism worth offering, it is that Kim Carson is probably miscast as the kind-hearted and tragic sister Beth. Quite simply, Carson — who was recently outstanding (and perfectly cast) in her manipulative role in Peoples Light & Theatre’s The Master Builder — is blessed with a physical appearance in the Natalie Wood Zone. Her engaging and frequent toothpaste-commercial/Singapore Air smiles can make it hard for insufficiently “progressive” males in the audience to remember to pay attention to the other characters. (This critic just finished reading Herman Wouk’s novel Marjorie Morningstar and could definitely see Carson in the title role if a stage version of that 1950s novel ever were produced.)
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Philadelphia Jewish Culture Examiner was quite touched at times by Theatre Exile’s Saturn Returns, enjoying it much more than the company’s previous two productions, That Pretty Pretty; or the rape play and The Lieutenant of Inishmore.
In the play, which offers its final two productions tonight at 8 PM and tomorrow at 3 PM, one glimpses the reflections, reminiscences and regrets of a retired radiologist, who is seen in his 20s, 50s and 80s. Theatre Exile producing artistic director Joe Canuso is quite convincing and absorbing in his performance, as are the other three actors. Audience members are left in particular contemplating the loneliness of old age and the burden of wishing desperately to redo a decision from earlier in life (regardless of the fact that that decision was in the “accidental,” not “should have been rethought,” category).
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Tonight at 8 PM and tomorrow at 3 PM, the Philly Pops offers its remaining two “The POPS Plays Their Big Numbers” concerts. At an earlier performance, the first of the Philly Pops this critic had ever attended, it quickly became clear what a treasure this region has in Peter Nero, the Pops’ music director, conductor and pianist, who has a rather unique level of rapport with the audience.
The concert’s program was based on some sort of survey (it is not clear how scientific) of what audience members wanted to hear. Standing ovations occurred three times: for George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue” (with which Nero himself has a longstanding history), for Peter Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” (which substituted a recording of atomic tests for a cannon, which is at times used when the overture is performed outdoors) and for a tribute to the various branches of the U.S. military called “Servicemen on Parade.” A version of The Benny Goodman Orchestra’s “Sing Sing Sing (With A Swing)” featuring Joe Smith as solo clarinetist drew a very enthusiastic response just short of a standing ovation.
The concert also included versions of Count Basie’s “The Heat Is On”, a medley from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita, Harold Arlen’s “I’ve Got The World On A String” (introduced by Cab Calloway and Bing Crosby, later recorded by Frank Sinatra), Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana,” an arrangement of John Williams’ NBC Nightly News theme music, Bunny Berigan’s “I Can’t Get Started,” Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” John Williams’ “Liberty Fanfare,” Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” and (apparently a longstanding part of Pops concerts:) John Philip Sousa’s “Liberty Bell March.”
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Tomorrow at 8 PM and Sunday at 2 PM, the Philadelphia Orchestra will perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 (“Choral,” which includes “Ode To Joy” in its fourth and final movement). It is unlikely that this critic, even had he been at last night’s opening performance, would have had much to offer in terms of criticism regarding one of the world’s top orchestras performing one of the most beloved works in all of classical music. Nevertheless, Marion Taxin, the mother of Philadelphia Jewish Culture Examiner offers this explanation of what she loves so much about the symphony: “It’s exhilirating and soaring. It brings you in contact with that which is lofty, energizing, inspirational and beautiful. It lifts one’s spirits and makes you see the heights to which man can rise. It’s an ode to the joy and the possibilities of life.”
The concert opens with Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, with which this critic is not particularly familiar. The Philadelphia Orchestra’s website describes the 1930 “oratorio-like” symphony as having “the same celebratory spirit that made Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ an unprecedented expression of ecstasy in 1824.”
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Finally, as covered earlier today in a separate article, pianist-singer Andy Kahn offers his final three The Great American Songbook performances this weekend at the Hedgerow Theater in Rose Valley.