Tina through the times: Motif reviews Tina, the musical at PPAC

Okee dokee folks; I am from the generation that watched Ike & Tina Turner on TV and heard them on the radio back in the 60’s and 70’s. I also remember the comeback of Tina Turner in the early 80’s. I saw the What’s Love Got to Do With It biopic film in the early ’90s and recently watched the 2021 Tina documentary. Unfortunately I never saw her in concert. When I learned about the Tina musical I figured that this would be the next best thing, and it was!

Last night, Wednesday, September 14, I was in the audience for the fourth night of the Tina musical which made its tour debut in Providence at the Providence Performing Arts Center this past Sunday. So far the crowds have been large, energetic, welcoming and overwhelmingly appreciative.

The easy thing for me to say about the show is that it’s “Simply The Best,” but that would be an oversimplification. The show is very good and will have you run the gamut of emotions. For some it may be tough witnessing the domestic violence of Anna Mae’s (Tina) father, Floyd Richard Bullock, and her partner/husband Ike Turner or hearing a racial epithet such as when Tina is initially rejected by a record company with the utterance by the president, “no way in hell Capital is going to give this old nigger broad a deal!” Even though you may endure a couple of triggering moments, the ultimate reward is the performance and what a performance it was.

The show opens when a curtain adorned with the eyes of Tina Turner rises and Turner is standing in silhouette about to take the stairs to the stage. She then drops to the floor and begins a Buddhist chant. This scene transitions to her beginnings as the child Anna Mae Bullock, played by Ayvah Johnson, in Tennessee. This child will reappear many times throughout the show. We watch as she meets and first sings with Ike Turner, played by Garret Turner, and when she ultimately marries him. We see the evolution of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue and the downfall of their marriage and the group. Finally, we witness her resurrection as the solo artist, Tina Turner, that most are familiar with today. When posed with the issue of trying to make a record for her comeback she exclaims, “I may be jumping at the sun but I have long legs!”

This is a jukebox musical chock full of Turner hits cleverly inserted into appropriate situational portrayals of her life. Some of the songs may be placed in times before they were actually released, but that is ok, it works! Numbers from her early days right up to her mega-hits are all included— “Nutbush City Limits” all the way to “The Best” and even “We Don’t Need Another Hero,” from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome

This show rests squarely on the hit songs and the talent of the lead role. For this performance, Tina was played by Naomi Rodgers. Evidently she will be alternating performances with Zurin Villanueva who will also portray Tina. They are not understudies for each other, they have others who are. 

As I said, the success of the show rests on the music as well as the talent of the lead role, and Naomi Rodgers handled it with ease and comfort. She tackled teenage Tina all the way through Turner’s renaissance. Her voice was impeccable and she effortlessly emulated Turner’s growl-like vocal style.

The best parts of the show are the ensemble songs when it mimicked more of a concert feel than a musical. “I Want To Take You Higher,” “Proud Mary” and “Disco Inferno” are all good examples of this. Tina’s trademark dance style was channeled through all the dance routines. The one duet that worked particularly well was “Let’s Stay Together” between Tina and saxophonist Raymond Hill, a bandmate with whom she’d had an affair and become pregnant with her first child, Craig.

The scenery is mostly electronic. The rear wall screen was illuminated by flashing lights, miscellaneous background scenes, and good old 60’s psychedelic flashes. Physical scenery is sparse. Stage props came and went with the help of cast members and stage hands. The one piece that showed up many times was a simple door. This show focused on the music and talent.

The show ends as it began with Tina about to take the stage at a concert with the rousing closing number.

Tina clocks in with a performance time of about two hours and 30 minutes not counting the 15 minute intermission. A couple of times I felt a slight drag but it was immediately perked up by another rocking tune. Just when you think it is over they have just a little more for you, and this is the cherry on top of an already sweet cake! 

Though Tina may get slapped during this show there’s no touching this performance and Turner’s legacy of music. It’s a story of hope, escape, redemption, and success. 

Tina, the musical was at Providence Performing Arts Center through Sunday, September 18. See it next time it’s in town. At the end of this show my girlfriend’s first words were, “I loved it, I want to see it again!“

For more about this show, go to PPACRI.org

That’s it for now. Please check my other Motif offerings at: MotifRI.com/RootsReportPodcast I also have a new web link where you can find my concert photographs- MotifRI.com/FuzeksFotos. Thanks for reading. JohnFuzek.com

Photo courtesy of PPAC

Oh, those Russians: The Gamm’s “Describe the Night” walks us through 100 years of Russian history

Michael Liebhauser as Isaac, Donnla Hughes as Yevgenia. Photo by Cat Laine.

Deception has a way of weaving a complex, strangling web that changes lives and the course of history, a theme that basically defines life in Russia, historically and today.

That culture of suspicion and fear permeates Describe the Night, the Gamm Theatre season opener. Moving between three distinct times – 1920 during Russia’s invasion of Poland, 1989 as a KGB agent woos a woman he’s spying upon, and 2010 after a plane crash that killed most of the Polish government – the show is epic.

While epic translates into long – and this is just under three hours – the flow is smooth as liberties taken by playwright Rajiv Joseph interweave story lines tighter and tighter.

On a basic two-part stage consisting of a pair of stands at the front and, behind a curtain, a brick wall of compartments to portray homes, offices and the Berlin Wall, Describe the Night moves across 90 years with a flip of a screen, each of which details location and year.

It opens as Russian writer Isaac Babel struggles to capture life on the battlefield as a correspondent in the Polish-Russian War, then as he and a soldier pal assimilate back into civilian life, clashing over morality as the Cold War ensues. Babel’s diary passes down through the decades, drawing strangers together to honor its messages.

Joseph explores suppression under Stalin, the softer Glasnost introduced by Mikael Gorbachev and the brutality of newcomer Vladimir “Vova” Putin. His words are often chilling and prescient, given the current war Putin is waging against Ukraine. Words like “subversive” and statements that the black marker is the “most useful tool in Russian government” underscore the mystery.

“If you say it’s true, it becomes true. If you say it’s false, it becomes false,” one character says.

Director Tony Estrella’s interpretation of Describe the Night is as important as Joseph’s script. Through subtle touches like a faint fog permeating every scene, or the coaching of his cast, he crafts an almost immersive historic experience.

Moments such as when actor Jeff Church, as Vova, thrashes about under the influence of a truth serum, are riveting. The audience, despite the three-hour length of the show, is spellbound. Church visibly transforms from low-level thug to slick, still thuggish, world leader, with a palpable haughtiness.

The show’s other startling transformation comes from Donnla Hughes, who plays Yevgenia, the woman Babel loves, when she marries his friend Nikolai. While her character ages, and Hughes skillfully transitions from nubile to elderly, that isn’t her most startling work. She is sent to an asylum, where subversive ideas are grounds for death, where Hughes transforms her character to a shell of her former self. She seems emaciated and shrunken, physically and emotionally, a visible reminder of oppression’s toll.

Describe the Night is, indeed, epic. It leaves audiences wondering “what if” about points in history, it prompts deepened concern over the machinations of communism and it questions the strength of the human spirit in the face of evil. It moves viewers in ways great and small, which is the power of theater. The show continues at Gamm through October 9. For more information, go to www.gammtheatre.org.

‘Inheritance’ examines the gay man experience in America with sweeping insight, passion

Epic might seem a fitting word to describe the season opener at Trinity Repertory Company because it implies grandiosity, but while Inheritance, Part 1 is certainly grand, it is so much more.

An astonishing three and a half hours – and Part 2 opening later this month to run in rep – this is an immense undertaking for cast, crew and audience. From constructing the widest stage possible, using both wings, to relaying the lives, loves and losses of three generations of gay men, the show is painful enough to elicit sobs from the audience and joyous enough to generate belly laughs.

No, epic doesn’t even begin to describe this one.

Inheritance, by Matthew López, is a raw look at the marginalization of gays, the loss of life due to AIDS and the buoyancy of men who survive because they have their “families of choice.”

The production then introduces a character representing British author E.M. Foster, whose early 20th-century book Howard’s End is said to have inspired López. Foster joins a crew of gay friends struggling to write their story, becoming their coach, prompting plot twists and guiding story development, injecting his old-fashioned, completely British humor along the way.

The story to be told is Toby’s semi-autobiographical story about a young gay man. While he struggles to get the concept written and staged, he relies on his partner, Eric and his rent-controlled apartment. Toby is egotistical, while Eric is sweet if undermotivated. Their relationship is challenged by a chance meeting with a young wealthy man, Adam.

As Foster, played exquisitely by Stephen Thorne, moves the animated crew through the story, a third generation of gay men is introduced, bonding with Eric while Toby heads to Chicago to produce his play.

Through the tumult of the AIDS epidemic, the fight for gay marriage and what seems to be a somewhat lackluster aftermath, the emphasis is on what, if anything, people glean or inherit from human interactions. What can the older men teach the younger? How does it feel when a younger man realizes he is the older mentor? What does the sum of it all mean for them?

Directed by Joe Wilson Jr., Inheritance Part 1 is honest, provocative and memorable. He and the cast use humor and riveting monologues to impress the depth of these experiences on the audience in ways that leave them forever changed.

The cast meshes organically with simultaneous chatter and laughter feeling like invitations to their private party. Sex is handled in edgy ways, with body motions and props like long white sheets simulating stimulation, as Foster narrates with lines like, “Release the hounds!”

The friends represent all backgrounds and experiences. The older Walter, given a wonderfully awkward persona by Mauro Hantman, recalls his father calling him a “feathery, delicate boy.” Toby, played to fiery perfection by Taavon Gamble, is quiet about his childhood, hinting at trauma. One married couple is adopting. Another claims he will never marry.

The ensemble offers breath-taking moments and monologues with a passion that is unparalleled. Chingwe Padraig Sullivan makes his Trinity debut as Adam, infusing the character with sharp contrast that shifts with the company he keeps. Jack Dwyer embodies the uncertainty and insecurity of Eric beautifully.

Together, the men persevere, asking each other at one point how to preserve “gay markers” special to their community. It is at that point that the show, which stretches over three acts, could potentially be tightened. One segment feels slightly preachy and repetitive, perhaps better suited for post-show talk-back sessions. Some salient messages – the need, for example, to protect gays from vengeful fanatics – get overshadowed by the verbosity.

Even with this observation, Inheritance Part 1 proves a treasure to educate some, comfort others and deepen the larger sense of community we desire. The show runs through November 5, with Part 2 running from September 22 to November 6. *For more information, go to www.trinityrep.org.  

Kinda Kinky, Boots and All: KINKY BOOTS comes to Theatre by the Sea

Luke Hamilton (Charlie Price), Julian Malone (Lola/Simon) and Audrey Belle Adams (Lauren) in KINKY BOOTS playing at Theatre By The Sea thru September 11, 2022. Photo by Mark Turek

Happy 89th birthday to Theatre By The Sea! The 300-seat converted barn theater opened on August 7, 1933 with a production of Strictly Dynamite. The tradition of providing local audiences with exhilarating energy, joy and laughter continues with KINKY BOOTS!

“It’s hard to believe we are opening the final production of our 2022 season,” said TBTS owner and producer Bill Hanney, “and what better way to close out our first full season back after the shutdown than with an uplifting, positive musical that’s fresh, funny, and a great night at the theater. Though the title is a bit cheeky, the show has a huge heart and delivers the universal message about how opening your heart and mind can change your life and the lives of those around you.”

Entertaining AF, this fun, feel-good musical struts its stuff with nonstop laughter throughout the show. KINKY BOOTS has been called the “freshest, most fabulous, joyous musical” and has been the winner of every major award, including the 2013 Tony Award for Best Musical. With songs by Grammy- and Tony-winning pop icon Cyndi Lauper, and book by Broadway legend Harvey Fierstein, this dazzling, sassy and encouraging musical takes you from the assembly line of a men’s shoe factory to the glamorous catwalks of Milan. KINKY BOOTS is based on a true story about Steve Pateman and the attempt made to save his family-owned shoe factory (W.J. Brooks Ltd. in England). As they say, “sometimes the best way to fit in is to stand out!” 

Enter Lola. Don’t be confused by the Kinks’ lady of the evening here– there’s no connection. However, this Lola/Simon, portrayed by Julian Malone, goes above and beyond to entertain their audience! There has never been a more perfect marriage between character and actor. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry—and everything in between—but mostly you’ll be in awe when Malone opens his mouth and shows that winning smile! Malone says the message of this show is to “Just be,” and we are all allowed to do just that by the end of the performance. Lola quotes Oscar Wilde as saying, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken!” and even gives us her six steps to success and happiness! 

The chemistry among the entire cast is electric. There’s a symbiotic relationship you can feel as characters transition onstage that keeps a rhythmic flow. Sometimes the actors forget they’re portraying English folk, but you can easily excuse the accent faux pas when you hear the beautiful vocals lent by each and every performer. You’ll be impressed by everyone’s sheer talent, especially when Luke Hamilton’s Charlie vents his grief. Audrey Belle Adams (Lauren) will also surprise you with not only her vocal savvy, but her comedic timing as well!

Kyle Dixon creates intricate set designs to set the scene that hosts fabulous dancing (sweet surprises here!) choreographed and directed by Producing Artistic Director Kevin P. Hill. Kinky’s original costume designs by Gregg Barnes ‘light’ the stage with the help of  Lighting Designer Jose Santiago. Musical direction by Jacob Priddy completes the experience with euphoric sounds that’ll make you want to jump out of your seat. I swear, I saw a member of the light crew bopping in the rafters during a song belted out by Lola! You’ll walk away feeling touched with a sense of heart-warming happiness that this jubilant exulting show delivers.

TBTS will be showcasing KINKY BOOTS through September 11. For more info, visit www.theatrebythesea.com/kinkyboots.

Who Run The World?: In Headtrick Theatre’s The Assembly Women, girls

If you didn’t catch Headtrick Theatre’s production of The Assembly Women, my condolences that you missed this tremendously entertaining and thought-provoking piece. 

The Assembly Women is written by Aristophanes, but Headtrick’s adaptation was adapted and directed by Rebecca Maxfield, and wow does she do an incredible job! Greek theater is hard, and as an English teacher who has been tasked for more than half of her career to bring Greek theater to life, I can see now after watching this show I have failed miserably, and I just wish I was able to bring this production into the classroom. (Although here’s my teacher warning- there is some language in here which would prohibit me from bringing it into the classroom, so be warned this is not a show to bring your tween to.)

In a nutshell, the show’s premise is that everything in Athens would be better if women ran the government, something our narrator, Aristophanes, finds hilarious. Led by Praxoga, the women of Athens manage to wrestle power from the men, resulting in several reforms, including a sexual liberation. 

Is there more to this show? Absolutely. Am I going to ruin the show by detailing everything that happens? No not at all. The discussions brought forth in this piece will have you talking far longer than the hour it takes to see the production. 

In an ensemble piece it really is difficult to highlight only a few actors, and this talented ensemble makes that even more difficult. Ezra Jordan’s Aristophanes was so hilarious I could literally watch him take on this character as a one man show. Sarah Dunn commands your attention as Praxagora, and her leading man, Blepyrus, played by Ryk McIntyre had the audience in stitches. BYOI’s Audrey Dubois’ comedic chops were on full display throughout the evening. The ensemble also consisted of Tracy Coffey, Cherylee Dumas, JT Cunha, and Sammie Jackson. They were all tremendously talented, and a joy to watch.

I love love love outdoor, minimalist theater. Throw away the fourth wall as this production gleefully has, and I was in theater heaven for the evening. We saw the production at Riff Raff, mainly because I’ve been looking for a reason to visit the bookstore/bar/cafe. (Although now that I’ve been, the Lavender Lemonade should have been all the reason I needed to go!)

Bravo to Maxfield for adapting this piece of ancient theater, and making it relevant to today. An endeavor like this isn’t one that is done overnight, and producing this piece after Roe v. Wade was overturned makes this evening of theater a timeless one indeed. Let this be your reminder to RUN NOT WALK to see their next production, because of its halfway as timeless and entertaining as The Assembly Women was, you’ll be in for a real treat!

The Assembly Women performed at Riffraff Bookstore, the Providence Pedestrian Bridge, and the RISD Museum Gallery. Check out Headtrick’s Facebook page for upcoming productions. 

Freestyle with Family: Everett provides a nurturing environment to aspiring dancers

Everett performers. Photo provided by Laisha Crum.

When I first saw Everett- a venue situated 50 or 60 feet back from Duncan Ave, a residential street in the Mount Hope neighborhood of PVD, obscured by another building- I felt as though I had stumbled upon a hidden community treasure, and that perhaps I was the first to find it. 

As it turned out, I was half right. Everett- a nonprofit dance company, stage and school founded in ‘86- is certainly a community treasure, though I was far from the first to find it. When I approached the building I was immediately welcomed inside, invited to a hip-hop dance showcase the following weekend, attended that and came back later to talk with some of the inspiring performers. 

Laisha Crum, now a member of Everett’s board and a dance instructor, started coming to Everett when she was 13. “I was looking for dance classes with my cousin,” she shared. Over the 28 years since then, Crum became a student, got an opportunity as an assistant teacher, then teacher, company performer, then board member. 

“When I first started coming, I was shy. I was in a shell,” Crum recalls. “I was surprised to be into dancing. I’ve grown to express myself more.”

Another performer, Erickson Fernandez, gave a similar story. “It’s not whether you’re the best at it, it’s how you do it,” Fernandez said. “I’ve become more confident, and more comfortable being uncomfortable. This changed how I view myself as an artist.” 

This was a motif I would hear through all of the performers’ experiences- most started out shy, gave dance a try, then grew into a more confident version of themselves. This was certainly evident in the story of Joseph Henderson, whose first experience at Everett as a second grader inspired him to pursue dance. Unfortunately, an embarrassing performance in the eighth grade almost turned him away from the art completely; luckily, he had several role models and mentors that pushed him back to performing, including his mother. 

Henderson, now 29, is an instructor and mentor to others at Everett. When reflecting on his journey, he shared: “A lot of students leave with this feeling of family. I learned I am capable of creating family.” 

According to their mission, Everett’s “ensemble of artists create, perform, teach and mentor new generations of artists within a diverse community.” It goes on to say that “At the heart of the organization is the belief that the arts can transform lives across cultures, generations, and economic backgrounds, and create a more just, equitable and joyous future.” Everett’s dance school has a myriad of offerings for dancers of all skill levels. 

Istifaa Ahmed, an Everett performer and an American Studies PhD candidate at Brown University, finds the family-like environment of Everett a breath of fresh air from the cutthroat nature of academia. “To maintain my sanity, I had to surround myself with a community committed to growth and performance,” she said. 

Ahmed also leant her research to the discussion: “Marginalized communities use performance art to disrupt legacies of colonial violence,” she explained, and went on to say how fortunate she was “to be a beneficiary of the space.” 

Maddalena Ledezma found Everett during her “edgy era,” when she was in the eighth grade. “It was my escape from school,” she shared. While first daunted by participating in an activity that she wasn’t naturally good at, Ledezma grew to appreciate the challenge, going on to perform in and even co-direct Everett’s June showcase. 

If you know a student who might benefit from what is universally regarded by its participants as an opportunity to find grounding, build confidence and be part of a family of students and instructors, Everett could be the place for them. 

Footloose Flies Fancy-Free at Theatre By The Sea

Candace Haynes (Rusty) and the cast of FOOTLOOSE at Theatre By The Sea thru July 16. Photo by Mark Turek.

Footloose is loosely based on events that took place in the small, rural and fanatically religious farming town of Elmore City, OK in 1978. Dances had been banned by an ordinance from the late 1800s until a group of teens challenged it. In the 1984 movie, as well as in this musical stage adaptation by Dean Pitchford and Walter Bobbie (Artistic Director Kevin P. Hill), the town of Beaumont is hurting over the loss of four youths in a fatal car crash. It took a teen transplant from Chicago, also suffering the pain of loss from his father’s abandonment, to turn the town around and bring back the joy they so vehemently need.

The dancing starts right out the gate– as soon as the curtain rises— but it’s not until the second half that the momentum really picks up. It’s when we learn that one of the teens who’d perished was the son of the local clergyman, Rev. Shaw Moore, that we start to feel the hurt and loss suffered by all. Artfully portrayed by Matthew J. Taylor, the man of religion sets the sullen pace of the town due to his own grieving. His daughter Ariel, skillfully portrayed by Emma Wilcox, seeks attention in sultry ways, and wife Vi (Aimee Doherty) shows she misses him as well. Once Rev. Moore has a heart-to-heart with Ren McCormack, our pioneering and pirouetting lead character portrayed by JP Qualters, he puts his self-centered ego aside and free will is restored; the town once again laughs and dances in joy. Nothing heals the morose heart like a good boot-scootin’ boogie!

Standout performances by certain other veteran actors steal the show, including James Oblak as Chuck Cranston, the perfect bad boy. Melanie Souza provides comic relief as Betty Blast, the witty diner owner with a flair all her own (not to mention her country line dancing, as many actors played dual roles). Kristen Gehling portrays Ethel McCormack, Ren’s mother, in a performance that tugs on our heartstrings. Ren’s Geeky friend, Hewitt Willard, portrayed by Ethan James Lynch, is a total show-stealer, especially with his surprisingly awesome vocals. Equally impressive is the attractive scenic design by Kyle Dixon. Large, easily moved pieces without the use of smaller props make the settings as eye-catching as they are time-saving.

You’ll be tapping your feet to the ol’ familiar Oscar-winning (Best Original Score for Maurice Jarre) and Tony-nominated top 40 score from the early ‘80s. Take a twirl down memory lane as this production celebrates the wisdom of not only listening to our youth, but guiding them with a warm heart and open mind.

Footloose runs through July 16. For more info, visit www.theatrebythesea.com or call the box office at 782-TKTS (8587).

Hip Hop Shakespeare: Jay Are Adams breathes modern life into old prose

When Lin-Manuel Miranda initially suggested the founding fathers and hip hop go hand in hand, he was laughed at. Of course, several Tonys, a Pulitzer and a skyrocketing career later, we all know who got the last laugh. So if you feel inclined to laugh at the notion of marrying hip hop and Shakespeare, maybe think twice.

I’m At Your Window is the creation of absurdly multi-talented musician, educator and comedian Jay Are Adams. It is a hip hop/R&B/gospel adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

“This was brought on through a class that I had at Emerson College… and one of the final projects was, we had to [put on] a theoretical performance of a musical,” Adams recalls. “I didn’t grow up in the theater world, so I didn’t have any musicals that resonated with me… so I asked if I could just create my own musical. This was right after I had watched Hamilton on Disney+. I’m not saying that Hamilton gave me the inspiration, but it definitely let me know that it could be done.”

I’m At Your Window had its first workshop back in January, around Martin Luther King Day, presented at Alchemy in PVD as a staged reading with the performers at music stands. Along with a small ensemble of performers, Adams set his work in front of the audience for the first time with a selection of five songs performed non-sequentially. With the feedback from that initial workshop, a second one hit the stage of the Barker Playhouse June 12 with, save one performer (Jacob Scott), a new cast (Alessandra Grima, Jennifer Rodriguez, Micaela Chile and Marsha Czepyha, plus ASL interpreters Noemi Saafyr Paz and Victoria Pfanstiehl) and two never-before-seen songs. The cast rotated character assignments between songs, a decision Adams made to keep the interpretations of the songs fresh.

While the hip hop aspect of the project is certainly a novelty, it was not the starting point for Adams. Rather than linking Shakespeare and hip hop, the original aim was to link Shakespeare and social justice. Shakespeare, after all, was a writer for the people. It is easy to lose sight of it, especially judging by today’s standards, but writing for audiences of all social statuses was something revolutionary at the time.

Once fully staged, I’m At Your Window will be set in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, with the Montagues representing Black Lives Matter and the Capulets as their opposition. The duel (400-year-old spoiler alert) that set the bulk of the conflict and action into motion will be set at a riot.

“When George Floyd happened… I was sort of figuring out where my place was in the movement,” Adams said. “I’m not a marcher, but I can use my art.”

Adams is furthering his goal of putting Shakespeare in a social justice framework by founding What Fray Was Here?: Social Justice Shakespeare. The vision of the company is twofold: first, creating new works like I’m At Your Window; and second, bringing social justice Shakespeare into the classroom and encouraging students to engage with Shakespeare’s works in a way that makes them more accessible. As an educator himself, Adams will be holding a summer program for high school students and teaching an undergraduate class at Emerson College, his alma mater, in the fall.

In the existing songs, Adams and co-writer Dan Pomfret have seamlessly woven actual text, including much of the famous balcony scene in the title song “I’m At Your Window,” with some modern updates. Among these updates is a song from the perspective of Lady Capulet when she believes Juliet to be dead. In the original play, the Nurse serves as the primary maternal figure in Juliet’s life, while Lady Capulet was rather distanced from her, as was common of families in the upper echelons of society at the time. Here, however, she’s given a voice and a chance to expand upon her relationship with her daughter, whom she calls, “My Best Friend.”

As for the next steps, audiences can look forward to another workshop next January. In the meantime, Adams will continue writing, rewriting and further developing this promising project.

Teens and a Ouija board – what can go wrong?: Our Dear Dead Drug Lord is a wild look at teenage life 

In an intriguing mash of coming-of-age adventures and the supernatural – with a smattering of gore – Our Dear Dead Drug Lord proves one of the most provocative pieces on RI stages this season.

Making its premiere in the state at Burbage Theatre, the show runs an intense 80 minutes without intermission as a group of four Catholic school girls in 2008 Miami turn a history project into a quest to raise the spirit of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.

If there seems little comedic about the image of the girls clustered around a Ouija board, kissing a Ken doll and snorting cocaine, fear not. Playwright Alexis Scheer appeals to audiences who like to strap in for a careening ride, this time through adolescence as the girls prank each other, share stories of sexual exploration and offer glimpses into their private lives. Still sound serious? The ride is lightened by writing that is biting and funny despite the topics for a combination that truly mimics teenage life.

Co-directed by Catia and Madison Cook-Hines, this production grips the viewer from the first few moments and doesn’t let go until the smoke literally clears and Escobar maybe – or maybe not – saunters off.

One girl, Kit, explains the angst that caused her to cut long scars onto her abdomen. Pipe, who hosts the meetings in her treehouse, longs to reunite with the younger sister who drowned in the family pool on her watch. Zoom worries about a pregnancy while yearning to appear older. And Squeeze misses the father who killed himself after losing his job.

Casting such a small cast is key and the directors have succeeded in assembling a quartet with rich chemistry who believably squabble, talk over each other and provide sweet support when needed. In one scene, Ari Kassabian as Zoom tries to help Squeeze, played by Marina Tejada, prepare to break up with her boyfriend. The feisty back and forth exchange is passionate and genuine.

At another moment, Sofia DaSilva, who plays the Cuban Pipe, erupts at Squeeze for comparing the school’s ban of their Dead Leaders Club, which she calls freedom of speech infringement, with the dismantling of Confederate statues. They are angry with each other, but in a way friends squabble but always return to each other for comfort.

All the actresses are passionate and entertaining. Just one habit should be addressed – Ayrin Ramirez, who plays Kit, seems unable to control her smile at points when her character should be sad, mad or frightened. It proves somewhat distracting. 

Scheer’s writing gets wild at points. Animal – and maybe human – sacrifices?  Yup. Death day? Wear your black. Escobar delivering a diatribe in Spanish? Again, strap in. But, the undercurrent of this show is friendship and survival against familiar obstacles in adolescence. That is definitely worth any dizziness caused by plot twists.

Our Dear Dead Drug Lord runs through June 26 at Burbage, 59 Blackstone Ave, Pawtucket. Go to www.burbagetheatre.org for details.

Curtains Up: A RI summer theatre guide

This summer, between beating the heat with trips to the beach and Del’s lemonades, consider adding a play or two to your summer bucket list. Among the offerings from local theaters, there’s a little something for everyone, from our Shakespeare scholars to our musical theater aficionados.

First and foremost, nothing screams summer theater quite like Theatre by the Sea in Wakefield, and this season is particularly noteworthy, given it will be their first full season post-COVID-19 shutdowns. Kicking things off, Million Dollar Quartet, runs through June 18. Set on Dec 4, 1956, it portrays the true story of a pivotal moment in music history when fortuitous circumstances led Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley to join forces at Sun Records in Memphis for what would become known as one of the most legendary jam sessions of all time. Next up, get ready to kick off your Sunday shoes and cut loose with Footloose, a story of teenage rebellion and, of course, dancing, that runs (or dances) from June 22 to July 16. Speaking of losing shoes, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella takes the stage July 20 and runs through Aug 13. Last but not least, and still continuing on the shoe theme, Kinky Boots, the dazzling and uplifting story of acceptance and fabulous footwear, finishes off the summer beginning Aug 17.

Rest assured, the musical fun does not end there! The RISE playhouse in Woonsocket will be presenting Seussical the Musical June 3 – 12. A whimsical weaving of Dr. Seuss’s greatest hits, Seussical is sure to be fun for the whole family. On the subject of family-friendly, Shrek the Musical runs at Granite Theatre in Westerly July 7 – 24, the ever-memed story of an ogre to whom there is more than meets the eye. Not quite as family-friendly but also borrowing from beloved children’s stories, Swamp Meadow will be putting Into the Woods at the The Assembly Theater in Harrisville, a “careful what you wish for” tale that draws from popular fairy tales, and was composed by the late, great Stephen Sondheim, running June 3 – 5.

If Shrek and Seuss fail to hold appeal for the entire family, there are two particular crowd-pleasers for teens and young adults coming to the local theater scene. First up, Academy Players will be putting on the beloved RENT, Jonathan Larson’s iconic rock musical about a group of friends living in the midst of the AIDS epidemic, running June 9 – 19. Next is Freaky Friday, adapted from the movie starring Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis, about the shenanigans and empathizing that ensue when an angsty teenage girl and her overworked mother swap bodies. Catch it at the Stadium Theatre in Woonsocket July 15 – 17.

If you’re looking for something a little less toe-tapping and a little more brain-stimulating, summer is the perfect time for Shakespeare. CCRI Summer Rep has two of the bard’s plays in store this summer, with Taming of the Shrew, Jul 21 – 24 and Othello, Aug 25 – 28: one comedy and one tragedy, just to ensure a well-balanced Shakespeare diet. For some Shakespeare under the stars, check out What Cheer’s Something’s Rotten in the State of Denmark, a one-act farcical take on Hamlet (admittedly, more Shakespeare-adjacent than actually penned by the bard himself), at Sprague Mansions the last two weekends of July, and Contemporary Theater’s As You Like It, to be performed on their new patio. Contemporary Theater will also be presenting a stage adaptation of The Neverending Story, based on the novel by Michael Ende about an epic adventure with all kinds of creatures, characters and puppets, from June 24 to July 30, and Men on Boats, a true(ish) story of an 1869 expedition to chart the Colorado River, beginning its run Aug 12. 

If the classics are your jam but you’ve had enough of the bard, Head Trick Theatre will be presenting Aristophanes’s The Assemblywoman, a chaotic farce about a group of women who seize control of the government and turn the city on its head (which is sounding like a really good plan right about now), at various locations around PVD July 15 – 31 for their first in-person show post-COVID-19 shutdowns.

Among the many theatrical productions concentrated around the end of July, don’t miss out on FringePVD, PVD’s iteration of the world-renowned Fringe Festival, established in Edinburgh back in 1947. Sponsored by The Wilbury Group, Fringe features new and experimental works from local, national and international artists in various locations around the city. It’s the perfect opportunity to get out of your theatrical comfort zone and experience something a little different from your standard theatrical fare.