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Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

The Grammy and Tony Award-winning Best Musical is live on stage at PPAC now through Sunday, March 26!

Part of the Taco/The White Family Foundation Broadway Series

Welcome to HADESTOWN, where a song can change your fate. Winner of eight 2019 Tony
Awards ® including Best Musical and the 2020 Grammy ® Award for Best Musical Theater Album,
this acclaimed new show from celebrated singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell and innovative
director Rachel Chavkin (Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812) is a love story for today…
and always.

Intertwining two mythic tales — that of young dreamers Orpheus and Eurydice, and that of King
Hades and his wife Persephone — HADESTOWN is a haunting and hopeful theatrical
experience that grabs you and never lets go.

For more info go to ppacri.org/events/detail/hadestown.

Remaining Performance Schedule:

TONIGHT, Wednesday, March 22 at 7P
Thursday, March 23 at 7:30P
Friday, March 24 at 7:30P
Saturday, March 25 at 2P & 8P
Sunday, March 26 at 1P & 6:30P

Box Office Phone Number: 401.421.ARTS (2787)

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Or, Learning to Breathe Underwater; a ritual of lemons

Okay, it’s also known as, I Love You, I Hate You, Shut Up & Tell Me Everything! [A mostly-true entirely-honest tale of recovery]. This is billed as a solo punk rock epic poem, written and performed by Teddy Lytle and directed by Harmon dot aut. At first glance you might think this is a cute show with an older boy and his toys, parading around the stage in his pajamas like a madman. That’s before Wilbury veteran Lytle, a force to be reckoned with, literally opens his brain to expose his various addictions and vulnerability. It is raw to the core, and maybe cathartic. Says Lytle, “I’m not sharing my story to blame anyone, or educate people, or try to help anyone. It’s a selfish act. This is my story. And I survived it. This is my way of reclaiming my life.”

This is not the first time Lytle has run this show. Each time it’s resurrected, changes are made to reflect Lytle’s current state of being. This rendition evolved much like the others. “Redirected, trimmed, corrected, never perfect, always better,” says Lytle. He goes on to explain, “Performative inclusion, particularly in mental health, kills people. That is not hyperbole. It felt like a traditional career in the arts, or in entertainment was out of my reach. I felt excluded. My home was the theatre for my whole life and however misguided I was, it seemed to me I had lost that. When I had nothing, I really found my recovery, and in that, I found community.”

This one-hour monologue demonstrates some of Lytle’s musical talents and includes several of Lytle’s provocative songs, sung along to his guitar. We are often referred to a video backdrop of super heroes, his inspirational grandfather affected by Alzheimer’s, his mug shots and several applicable thought-provoking quotes. Lighting design by Max Ponticelli darkens along with the mood two-thirds of the way in, and addiction is explained so vividly you want Lytle to stop making sense. Sobs in the audience leave you wondering if these are affected family members or just your average compassionate viewers. Doesn’t matter, as we can all see someone we know in this sometimes funny, sometimes very poignant depiction of what happens when you mix a host of dependencies with ADHD and the ensuing lunacy of a self-medicated addictive OCD personality. Yeah. Bring tissues.

From her small desk, partner and guardian angel Bay McCulloch sports angelic wings, onesie PJs of her own plus blingy boots, serving as Lytle’s inspiration to keep him on track each time his ADHD takes him astray. She is his sensibility, his muse, his guiding and grounding force. Toward the end of the show, Lytle impressively adlibs answers to all questions posed to the audience right before the show: Ask a question you’ve always been too afraid to ask and/or confess a secret you swore you’d take to your grave. As McCulloch systematically hands him the pre-collected notes from a fishbowl, his in-stride impromptu answers are as funny as they are genuine.

Teddy Lytle comes clean with his addictions as guardian angel Bay McCulloch stands by him.

Therapist Vanessa Cubellis, LMHC, was on hand for a “talk back” opening night, answering questions on mental health and substance abuse. Thank you, Teddy Lytle, for totally exposing yourself (well, the tighty-whities stayed on), splitting the atom and leaving no sin unturned. We are happy to learn you are employing many techniques and practices to manage and work with your issues while sharing these extremely personal skeletons with us, and for offering the following helpful link for others with addiction issues: Link to help: https://mhari.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Bridging-the-Divide-Ebook.pdf

Wilbury Theatre Group presents /A.DICK.TED/ through March 4. For more information visit www.thewilburygroup.org.


Production photos by Erin X. Smithers

Singing Bad News Away: Come from Away comes to PVD

On the northeast tip of North America, on an island called Newfoundland, a community came together in the wake of tragedy, and the lives they touched were never the same. From their kindness, the world was blessed with one of the most beautifully touching and life-affirming little musicals. Come From Away tells a less often heard story of 9/11: about the 38 planes that were diverted to the small town of Gander, nearly doubling the town’s population with “come from aways,” the passengers of those planes from all over the world, for five days while the US airspace remained closed, and how the Newfoundlanders opened their doors and their hearts to these strangers. The show was created by husband and wife team Irene Sankoff and David Hein, who interviewed locals and returning passengers on the tenth anniversary in 2011.

In the spirit of a musical about community, Come From Away is very much an ensemble piece of interwoven vignettes based on the real experiences of passengers and locals: Stories like those of Nick and Diane (James Kall and Christine Toy Johnson), a couple who met in Gander; of Beverly Bass (Marika Aubrey), the first female captain of an American Airlines commercial plane; of the Kevins (Jeremy Woodward and Ali Momen), a couple on the brink of breaking up; of Bonnie (Kristen Peace), the spirited and stubborn president of Gander’s chapter of the SPCA who cared for the non-human plane passengers, including a pregnant bonobo; and of Hannah (Danielle K. Thomas), whose time in Gander was spent trying to find the whereabouts of her son, a New York firefighter, and her friendship with local no-nonsense schoolteacher Beulah (Julie Johnson). 

A small cast covers multiple roles apiece, switching in and out of accents, jackets and hats (in fact, they make a gag of this when introducing the mayors of various nearby communities, all played by Kevin Carolan in various different hats and fake mustaches).

There is no lead in the show, but there is a clear standout in Aubrey as Beverly Bass. One of the most memorable moments in the show is her big number, “Me and the Sky,” much of which is a verbatim recount of Sankoff’s and Hein’s interview with the real Beverly Bass on her career and the struggles she encountered in such a male-dominated profession. The number is made all the more powerful as the other women in the cast join in, each donning their own pilot hat as the women for whom she blazed a trail. Aubrey also earns laughs by doubling as Annette, a hopeless romantic teacher with a wild imagination.

Another standout in the cast includes Carolan as Claude, the mayor of Gander, who exudes a sort of folksy charm as he leads the town through crisis-, whether it’s converting the hockey rink to the world’s largest walk-in refrigerator or swearing in come-from-aways as honorary Newfounlanders in the Screech In, a ceremony that involves taking shots and kissing codfish.

The cast is rounded out by James Earl Jones II as Bob, a New Yorker skeptical of all this Canadian kindness who earns laughs in his recounting of being asked to round up the neighbors’ barbeques and being offered a cup of tea at every house, but also shines in his emotional return to New York, where the air is still filled with smoke; Harter Clingman as Oz, the local constable; and Julia Knitel as Janice, the local reporter on her first day at the station.

The set (designed by Beowulf Boritt) matches the slap-dash accommodations put together in mere hours to accommodate the 7,000 inbound passengers, with mismatched chairs and tables forming an airplane cabin or a Tim Hortons or the local legion hall – a simple enough set (along with simple enough costumes befitting ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, designed by Toni-Leslie James) that I have to think once the rights are made available, this could become a community or school theater staple. Christopher Ashley’s direction further highlights the theme of community by building into the staging support amongst the cast: everyone sets chairs or costume pieces for each other throughout to make those quick character changes possible.

If you’re looking for a spectacle, Come From Away is not that show. What it offers instead is a community that welcomes you in just like it did for the plane people. There are a few Newfie inside jokes, but you feel like you’re in on the joke. In just 90 minutes, from the opening bodhran to the final flourish of the band’s exit music (the band truly gets the final bow here), you start to feel like part of the community too, no cod-kissing required.

The natural concern for any show concerning 9/11 is that it will just be too sad. While Come From Away does, naturally, have its tear-jerking moments, it is, on the whole, a joyful show. It showcases kindness and hospitality in the wake of tragedy. It runs the gamut of human emotions; you laugh as much as you cry. It celebrates the human spirit in a way that can touch even the most cynical. At a time when the worst of humanity is so prevalent, when people are so divided, when things seem so hopeless, Come From Away is the musical embodiment of a warm hug and a whispered reminder that the world isn’t as bad as it seems and that people are fundamentally kind. We all need that reminder sometimes. 

The National Tour of Come From Away runs through February 26 at PPAC. For more information, go to ppacri.org

Enjoy the Medicine: Langston Hughes Poetry Reading carries on important legacy

Langston Hughes was one of the champions of the Harlem Renaissance, a prolific writer, poet, and thought leader. Although he passed away in 1967, his work lives on and has been celebrated by standard bearers at the Langston Hughes Community Poetry for the past 28 years.

This year saw a welcome return to in-person performances, with dozens of performers taking the mic at the Providence Public Library in their spacious theater. The readers represented some of the strongest voices in the local poetry community – all colors and genders shared in drawing strength and inspiration from a sampling of the work by this late master wordsmith. Some had the audience on the edge of their seats, while others had them up and singing, stomping or clapping.

“These words and ideas are like medicine for the soul,” said showrunners April Brown and Kai Cameron in their opening remarks. “So, enjoy the medicine!”

Ramona Bass Kolobe with the Langston Hughes Legacy award she received for her sustained efforts over decades to support and nourish the famous author’s writings.

2023 Inaugural Spoken Awards – Winners

Motif Spoken Word Awards

Spoken words have power – to spread ideas, create new thoughts, spin up ideas, or even just amuse or entertain. They are the OG medium of communication, artistic expression and journalism.

To recognize the practitioners of art forms such as spoken word, storytelling and stand-up comedy, Motif embarked on a new kind of awards show / community gathering, in partnership with FundaFest, the Langston Hughes Poetry Reading, R1 Indoor Karting, Mr. Orange Live and the SWAP Meet.

The first ever Spoken Awards took place at the end of Funda Fest, on Friday, Feb 3, 6:30pm. at R1 Indoor Karting, hosted by April Brown, Chip Douglas, Nirva Lafortune and Joe Wilson Jr.

Over 60 people came out despite it suddenly becoming the coldest day of the year (it was warm inside the venue), and the performances were an incredible show of talent throughout the night, with intimate exposure to artists who can hold entire stadiums in thrall. The love and powerful sense of community throughout the night was deeply inspiring, and Motif thanks all who came out and were a part of a magical night. Winning is fun, but the spirit of the night made it clear that this wasn’t about who won, it was about celebrating a community and a venerable art form.

Watch this space for upcoming interviews, videos and more from that night. Initial photos can be found on FB!

You can see all the nominees here. Here are the winners. Congratulations to all!

Spoken word

Free verse

Sarah Lopes

Social Justice

Chachi Carvalho


Halima Ibrahim


Liz Moniz

Comedy: new voices

Shyam Subramanian

Favorite event / night

Providence Poetry Slam

Narrative music / Hip-Hop / Rap

Chachi Cavalho

Favorite Producer

Juan Wilson Jr.



Funda Fest

Personal Story

Fallon Masterson


Ray Rickman


Len Cabral

Langston Hughes Poetry Award

Ramona Bass Kolobe


Miscellaneous Winner

Lynsea Montanari

Favorite Live Performer

Tyler Hittner

Honorable Mention Favorite Spoken Word

Mr. Orange Live

Overall Favorite Spoken Performer

Len Cabral

LIVE Audience Judging

Audience Award Storytelling

Valerie Tutson

Audience Award Spoken Word

Kleo Sincere

Audience Award Comedy

Duchess Southside

Read Meg Coss’s interviews with a selection of winners here!

Annie: Bet yer bottom dollar that Annie is awesome at PPAC

Annie (Pulsifer, center) is loved by Warbucks’ house staffers. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

When a book is first published, it’s anybody’s guess whether it will be liked, never mind becoming a long-running musical. Annie, based upon both the book by Thomas Meehan and Harold Gray’s comic strip Little Orphan Annie, includes music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin and has been enthralling audiences since 1977. Annie continued running for nearly six years during its first run and has won seven Tony Awards. The Broadway musical’s songs “Tomorrow” and “It’s the Hard Knock Life” are recognizably its most popular numbers.

Come a bit early and hear the fun Wurlitzer preshow music, which sets the tone for the 1933 NYC setting. Once the curtain rises, you’re treated to beautiful angelic voices from the talented young actors/dancers. Directed by Jenn Thompson, this gem will have you smiling, tapping your feet, and singing along! Ellie Pulsifer portrays Annie, the 11-year-old orphan who believes her parents are coming to get her as promised. Who knows how many youngsters got turned away at auditions as this little lady was clearly a shoo-in once heard. Lo and behold, she can act and dance to boot! You can’t help but grin as her orphan counterparts also sing and dance their way into your heart.

Annie (Pulsifer) and Daddy Warbucks (Swan) celebrate their bond. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

Stefanie Londino portrays Miss Hannigan, the tipsy orphanage matron who shows anything but love to the girls, providing much comic relief with her drunken antics. Christopher Swan as Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks charms us with his stern but caring ways (and rocks the chrome dome!). There’s also Julia Nicole Hunter, portraying Warbucks’ protective and beautiful personal assistant, Grace Farrell, who nicely ties together the fantasy of this handsome trio becoming a family.

Of course your heart goes out to Little Orphan Annie and her small troupe of hopefuls. It’s a feel-good show as Warbucks’ house staffers secretly cheer on the sweet underdog after he announces his decision to adopt Annie. Many performers portray different parts throughout and it’s fun when you spot the servants in different roles such as dancers, a beat cop, a dog catcher, a passerby, or even a Hooverville hobo. Perhaps the most memorable of these is Jataria Heyward, who portrays Mrs. Greer, Star to Be, Ronnie Boylan, and is part of the ensemble. She manages to portray each different character like a chameleon during four seasons, while equally impressing with her dancing and singing talents.

Sandy the orphaned dog (Addison) finds love with compadre Annie (Pulsifer). Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.

Show stealer Sandy the dog, as portrayed by Addison, got lots of “aawwws” on her first appearance. We would’ve liked to have seen more of her. Understandable though, as she’s maybe not one of the more reliable actors despite the awesome training by William Berloni. To his credit, Berloni insists on using rescue dogs who may have been euthanized otherwise – a life-saving win-win! Addison was rescued four years ago from a NC shelter just one day before she was to be euthanized. Training rescue dogs for the theater takes two to three years, according to Berloni. “First, they get healthy and housebroken,” he says. Then trainers use a basic obedience course with positive reinforcement. “Every behavior has a reward,” explains Berloni, “and for the most part, the reward is love.” From there the dogs learn cues for the show and bond with Pulsifer. Humans were already giving a standing O at the end of PPAC’s premiere performance, and Addison – once again stealing the spotlight – got the most resounding applause!

Settings by Wilson Chin primarily include striking NYC skylines on black and white backdrops, with the current scene in the foreground perpetually illuminating the cityscape. The lighting design by Philip Rosenberg accents this effect perfectly.

Costumes by Alejo Vietti include impressive period garb from the post-Depression era. Sound design by Ken Travis features musical direction from Elaine Davidson that makes you feel like you’re in the pit with an orchestra. Choreography by Patricia Wilcox is fun and expressive.

Amazing vocals and synchronized dancing are just part of the fun at this family show. You’ll want to sing along (but please don’t if you think it’ll get “Sandy” howling!). Gotta leave yer dog at home though.

PPAC presents Annie through February 5. For more info, visit ppacri.org/events.

We’re Gonna Die: Yes, just not today

Jose Docen, ChazzGiovanni*, Teddy Lytle and Helena Tafuri in We’re Gonna Die at Wilbury Theatre Group; photo by Erin X. Smithers.

Wilbury Theatre Group presents the RI premiere of We’re Gonna Die by Young Jean Lee, directed by Marcel A. Mascaro. In this Obie Award-winning piece featuring just four performers – Helena Tafuri, ChazzGiovanni*, Jose Docen, and Teddy Lytle – fearless playwright Lee treats us to live music and immersive storytelling during a one-hour journey through Emotionville. The ride ultimately arrives at a place of peace in the acceptance of the fact that, eventually, we’re all gonna die.

“We’re thrilled to have resident artist Marcel A. Mascaro making their directorial debut with us on this show,” says Artistic Director Josh Short, who is also excited to bring Lee’s work back to the Wilbury. In this moving cabaret-style production, Lee shows us yet again she is not afraid to push the imaginary fringes that lead us to adventure, consolation, and everything in between.

Tafuri is the singer/storyteller. She feels each section of the performance – be it song or the spoken word—touches on some real universally human experiences we don’t often discuss. She explains, “What struck me when we started performances was how much I forget it’s a one-woman show, not only because I feel so supported by my team, but because the audience provides so much feedback since they relate and identify with the text. Due to rarely feeling alone up there, which in a play that deals with loss and loneliness, it’s everything that I can look right at the audience and say, ‘Hey, you feel this too, right? You’re not alone.’” She goes on to explain, “The play has elements of a memento mori, but we’ve peppered so much playfulness and cheekiness that I find when we say, ‘We’re gonna die,’ we’re also saying, ‘We’re gonna live while we’re here.’”

(L-R) Teddy Lytle, ChazzGiovanni*, Jose Docen and Helena Tafuri in We’re Gonna Die at Wilbury Theatre Group. Photos by Alison O’Donnell.

Tafuri also appreciated the fun ensemble put together for her by Costume Designer Jaimy Escobedo, and has the utmost respect for all she worked with on this production. “We have a wonderful set designer, Al Forgione! We were asked to bring some mementos to rehearsal and they were incorporated!” She adds, “A lot of the set dressing is peppered with personal items from the band and I – family pictures, homecoming dress, childhood toys – which I think is really special.”

Light Design by Alexander Sprague sheds the right amount of illumination on band members ChazzGiovanni* (music direction, vocals, and Soundscape), Jose Docen (guitar), and the ever-agile and versatile Teddy Lytle (bass and percussion). Together, the four delight us with their talents and perspective.

While some of the story is heartbreaking, you’re sure to leave feeling uplifted. You’ll especially love the playful audience interaction at the end! 

Wilbury Theatre Group presents We’re Gonna Die through February 12. For more information visit www.thewilburygroup.org. 

Bliss Body: Struggle is a part of it

Guest Editor Anjel Newmann was recently a featured performer in Bliss Body, an experimental performance at Everett Theater and School in PVD, along with Christopher Johnson, Ari Brisbon and Grace Colonna. She talked about the piece and its impact with both makers and audience:

“Struggle is a part of it.” In some ways, this is the production. A single line that encapsulates the entirety. This line has become a sort of mantra for our cast. It comes from a longer Bliss Body poem where Christopher Johnson illustrates his journey through meditation, a practice that started 13 years ago. “Seeing Christopher finally being able to talk about his meditative practice instead of talking about his response to racism was such a beautiful growth space for me,” said April Brown, writer and co-director of the Langston Hughes Community Poetry Reading Committee. Brown was in the audience on the last Sunday of our 11-show run. As we reflected, she said that it’s evident that the cast discovered a Divine Practice. “That’s the genius of us having the arts. We actually get an opportunity to show our humanity by singing, dancing, writing, acting on a stage, and being vulnerable, and there’s something about a spiritual practice that involves those same components and pieces.”

April is right. This production is much more than a performance — it’s a journey back to who we were. The creative process is a shovel that helps us uncover and pull out pieces, limbs, fragments of ourselves that were buried deep beneath the sands of time. A cave of wonders. Every rehearsal, we practiced meditation and yoga as a way to teleport into our untapped truths; a place that resides within each of us, like an underwater garden hidden far beneath the surface. Bliss Body was created from that garden. For a year and a half, Creative Director Aaron Jungles and our cast worked to understand the meaning of Bliss.

Two years prior, Everett Company Stage and School, the creators of Bliss Body, dedicated an entire production to exploring trauma, even bringing in a therapist to work with the cast. As the newest edition, the most recent Bliss Body was meant to be a pilgrimage back, away from trauma, but as we danced, sang, meditated, remembered more — there was Christopher’s reminder, “Struggle is a part of it.”  April says that there is something about our piece that elevates the “dysfunctional aspects of who we are as people and with our bodies” and that our efforts model what it looks like to get that dysfunction out of our bodies, “like this illustration of body betrayal.”

I think the audience can relate to that summation. Night after night, they reflected back gratitude for the complex layering of not only our personal stories but the dips and pulls of emotion. The piece has a way of positioning dark melancholy memories against other bright, almost manic instances of pure elation. Some say that what we created is a microcosm of life itself – demonstrating the highs and lows of a universal human experience. Together we offer the ingredients of a storm — pressure, cold and hot air, clouds, water – all hovering, swirling above the heads of both performer and audience. 

April pointed out that the soundtrack of this production is so undeniably jazz, which she loves. And considering the juxtaposed themes of motherhood, racial disparity, celebration, spirituality, and even suicidality, who better than the likes of Coltrane and Simone to provide the backdrop for such a tumultuous ride through the past? April felt deeply connected to Ari’s pieces, many of which were crafted and performed with a jazzy, smooth-guy aesthetic. Even as he reflected on prior NA meetings, the creatively humorous nature of his presentation made his recollections relatable and digestible. 

Grace’s work carried a graceful feel. As she danced, whether with cloth, a box or a ladder, she unpacked her journey of self-love, which in some ways seems to have prepared her to be the loving mother, dance teacher, and community member she is today. 

My own pieces explored elements ranging from my hair, the origins of my name and what it means to have both love and smoke with your 16-year-old daughter, who is a living representation of all the pain in bliss in the world. My mother was also a muse for my dark and dramatic ending piece, “Night Goddess.” 

On the stage, our stories pour down and somewhere in the overlap between pain and promise, a rainbow emerges. A stand-in for Bliss. This moment can be experienced but never kept. Bliss is not ours to have, it is ours to behold and to let go. “Bliss is really about several things,” said April. “It’s about the breath but it’s also about centering my mind… it has a lot to do with being able to get my thoughts out of my head and into my body or into my mouth.” When I asked April what she thought people would take away from this show, she said, “It’s important for us to be humans that are well. What I saw were four individuals trying to be well, attempting to be well, working at being well, and having these moments where you discovered wellness and trying to keep that… and that is bliss.” 

Each cast member has evolved our understanding and relationship to “Bliss.” It’s no longer something we chase, it’s something we thank. Every time she shows herself, we inhale her, and then in one big exhale, we send her back to the universe from which she came.

By The Queen

If ever you wanted to hear the unapologetic roar of womanhood, playwright Whitney White is the maestro cueing up the estrogen.

White, a graduate of the Brown University/Trinity MFA program, returns to Trinity Repertory Company with the world premiere of her piece “By the Queen,” an energetic look at Shakespeare’s male-centric plays based on the lives of Kings Henry VI and Richard III from the vantage point of the fierce Queen Margaret. The tragedy and tenacity marking Margaret’s life, in the shadows of the men around her, bursts to life in a most unique and inspiring way at White’s hands.

Played in the round like a dinner theatre, “By the Queen” is rambunctious and riotous as Shakespeare’s tales, complete with authentic dialogue, unfurl before a trio of Margarets, young, middle-aged, and older. The women dissect the action in his plays, throw shade on the characters and add dimension to the stories.

The audience is taken through the years, from when Margaret was young, idealistic, and perhaps in love through her attempt to secure power. The eldest Margaret, played warmly by Paula Plum, is the guide, having the full breadth of experience and feeling the twinge of regret and lost opportunity.

The story is empowering – one Margaret asks, “What does it take to survive?” Another answers, “Every goddamn thing you have.”

The story is exciting. There are war scenes that play out across the stage and into the aisles, murder on one set of stairs amid the audience, and a gruesome beheading.

The story is telling. The women commiserate, noting, “It’s a gift to look back, (but) it’s torture.”

White takes jabs at the patriarchy of theatre but she avoids preaching with pithy delivery and moments of sheer frivolity like a rendition of Donna Summer’s anthem “I Will Survive.”

If “By the Queen” seems grandiose, it is. But it’s a wildly important piece of theatre that elevates the disenfranchised to highlight societal problems and envision a solution.

Directed by Brian McEleney, the cast showcases new talent. Plum is a veteran but new to Trinity and she guides action like a boss, with a graceful ferocity that inspires her younger selves, played by Fiona Marie Maguire, who pours great passion into the strident youthful Margaret, and Rachel Christopher offers a sassy, strutting mid-life version who suffers no fools.

While the women are the focus of “By the Queen,” the men offer tremendous context and the actors add depth and personality to the two-hour production. Of note, Jeff Church is the ideal Shakespearian purist who rights the direction when the women’s musings veer too far. Newcomer JaQuan Malik Jones, a current Brown/Trinity MFA student, proves a powerful presence after blooming late.

“By the Queen” is unique, provocative, and an essential dissection and re-quilting of the theatre’s cannon. It’s on stage at Trinity through February 12. For tickets, go to trinityrep.com.

Fiona Marie Maguire as Margaret 1, Rachel Christopher as Margaret 2, and Paula Plum as Margaret 3. By Whitney White; Adapted from William Shakespeare’s Henry VI plays and Richard III; Directed by Brian McEleney; Set Design by Michael McGarty; Costume Design by Toni Spadafora-Sadler; Lighting Design by Christina Watanabe; Sound Design by Larry D. Fowler, Jr.; Fight and Intimacy Choreography by Angie Jepson; Dramaturgy by Andrew Watring. Photo by Mark Turek.

Jagged Little Pill: A piercing glimpse of Americana

Heidi Blickenstaff, Allison Sheppard and Jena VanElslander in the North American Tour of Jagged Little Pill. Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2022.

Life has its ups and downs, and we ride the coaster feeling the gambit of emotions throughout the spin. The highs are great if you can get ’em, and nobody escapes the lows. Based on Alanis Morissette’s journey-changing music, this exhilarating and fearless musical enters ground-breaking territory and will have you, too, feeling the wave of emotions. You can’t go wrong with a production directed by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus, adapted from a Tony-winning book by Diablo Cody, plus a Grammy-winning score. While the word ‘family’ seems to get us rolling our eyes, this electrifying production about a perfectly imperfect family will have you laughing and crying out loud.

As the production pushes the envelope, we find it is as bold as it is funny. Especially thanks to the perfect comedic delivery of leading lady Heidi Blickenstaff, portraying Mary Jane Healy, we even laugh at her trying times as she keeps her sense of humor throughout her life’s ups and downs. Others also deliver the laughs sporadically but do keep a tissue handy as the wave of emotions sometimes dispenses some pretty tough pills to swallow.

Of course, this being a jukebox musical, all actors have strong vocal ability. Beautiful vocals from Allison Sheppard, who portrays survivor Bella, are surprisingly sweet. Alas, she solos in only one song. Jade McLeod, who portrays Jo, belts out a gut-wrenching rendition of You Oughtta Know, which gets resounding applause from the audience. Lighting by Justin Townsend is purposefully intense at times, particularly during this song. Choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui is everything you’d expect from a Broadway musical, expertly depicting even the darkest subject matter.

Jade McLeod and the North American Touring Company of Jagged Little Pill. Photo by Matthew Murphy for MurphyMade, 2022.

Don’t expect this to be an ode to Morissette’s music. The musical score is used to underscore the controversial themes presented in the play: joy, pain, healing, empowerment, fear, imperfection, addiction, LGBTQIA+, racism, social responsibility and awareness among them. This pairing seems to lack continuity in some places. While the score fits the mood set by Morissette, the words and feel are sometimes changed to force-fit the production’s agenda. Other times, you feel the monkey on the back, especially with Morissette’s song Uninvited. The ensemble actor/dancer portraying what could be described as Mary Jane’s troubled inner child, Jena Vanelslander, impeccably shows us what it’s like to slide into the abyss as she melts into the dance. This is a perfect example of when the score seamlessly complements the script, and the choreography leaves us floored.

You live, you learn, and you feel life at Jagged Little Pill. The production does feel longer than it needs to be, however, the undaunted and indomitable vocals will surely keep you roused. Also, the set design by Riccardo Hernandez is mesmerizing as the pieces are seamlessly repurposed from one scene to the next, making you deliberately conscious. Some surprisingly powerful protest signage throughout the production will have you nodding your head, or at least thinking in ways you might not have explored before, especially at the cathartic end. 

PPAC presents Jagged Little Pill through January 22. Contains adult themes and strong language. For more info, visit ppacri.org/events.

Lauren Chanel and the company of the North American Tour of Jagged Little Pill. Photo by Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade.