Rebecca Teran

Painting the town ‘Scarlet’

We're not in the 1600s anymore: Michelle Horgen's marvelous updating of "The Scarlet Letter" adds a modern sensibility (and lots of songs)

Portland Playhouse’s new musical, Scarlet, is no dry historical retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter. While that popular 19th-century novel was the source material for playwright Michelle Horgen’s retelling, and it is set in the same puritanical time, this is not your father’s Scarlet Letter.

For starters, this is retold by a woman (Horgen is at least a triple threat, having written book, music, and lyrics) in 21st century America. And Hester Prynne has a lot to say — and, it turns out, sing — that rings as true today as it must have in 1850. Judgment and shaming, after all, have become public, prolific, and painful in the era of Twitter and Facebook, where most people can’t simply escape or go home to hide their embarrassment.

Rebecca Teran is Hester Prynne in “Scarlet” at Portland Playhouse. Photo: Brud Giles

In Horgen’s hands, the story also becomes much more about motherhood—how becoming a mother “shatters your existence” in a “blinding instant” — than it was in the words of Hawthorne. There is an especially heart-wrenching story involving Hester’s friend, Sarah Winthrop, a new character who was not part of Hawthorne’s story, which is set in 17th century Puritan Boston. Dana Green, who plays Sarah, wears her grief for the rest of the play — across a number of years — and will break your heart. It is also more about the sisterhood we share with other women — our friends, our community, even the crazy old lady everyone pretends not to understand.

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Broadway Rose takes flight

The off-Broadway musical "Fly by Night" glows in the company's smart and funny new production

Broadway Rose and director Isaac Lamb are bringing the fleeting magic of stardust to the stage with their new production of the 2014 musical Fly by Night.

A potent mix of youthful optimism and struggle marks this dark comedy. From the opening, Joe Theissen’s narrator (one among many parts he plays), decked out in brill-combed hair, thin tie and small-lapel suit, takes us back to the kind of dirty but creative streets of Greenwich Village in 1965. The musical has the feel, look, and smell of a dusty early Simon and Garfunkel album, if it were co-written by Rod Serling: plot twists around learning through loss, and how to channel it with some catchy riffs.

"Fly by Night": coffee, company, songs for the crowd. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer

“Fly by Night”: coffee, company, songs for the crowd. Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer

Fly by Night is an off-Broadway musical by Kim Rosenstock, Will Connolly and Michael Mitnick, and it has the layers, heavy crafting and emotional insight that Yale mafia graduates are known for. From the first number, Circles in the Sand, the audience is hooked. You want to buy the soundtrack. It’s updated folk music that came out of the coffee shops and underground taverns in the early Bob Dylan-worshipping days: simple, syrupy, good pop with clever lyrics. John Quesenberry leads the band’s performances over two and a half hours with energy, enthusiasm, and charm. Connolly and Mitnick’s music is like a good Indie record; it’s Vampire Weekend and the Shins pared down to groovy elements. There is a seamless transition into every song and it’s amazing to watch dialogue slide into song. The “now they’re going to sing” abrupt monologues are missing, and as the cream separates, the dearness of the story rises to the top.

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