Danny takes Manhattan!

Playing Stephen in the 50th Anniversary cast of LINE as a New York debut is NOT TOO SHABBY for Danny Berger. Across the river, however, in New Jersey, he’s a prominent figure with credits that include Samuel Beckett’s The Lost Ones. Before he is too famous in NYC for us, we grabbed him for a few thoughts.

11267729_10204294502790568_8937049511329772114_nWe hear a lot about inspiration – or Muse – that drives an artist. What inspires you?

What inspires me is the opportunity to do something that a lot of people dream of doing, but only a select few actually follow through with. Inspiration comes in many shapes and forms but it’s this intangible supply of something that only becomes an entity once you put in the work to make it become real. I was inspired all throughout my high school and college career to become an actor, but it wasn’t until I decided to just go out and start auditioning that anything really happened. Inspiration, to me, is a formula made up of 10% wanting something and the other 90% is the action you will take to make that something happen.

What is your vision and process for the play/part

My vision for the part is just to embody somebody who wears a variety of masks to somehow fit in. Stephen is a snake in the grass, which I love to play, but he also is an intelligent human who feels the need to change himself to fit in, or to understand others. He knows analytically how and why people do things, and wants to enlighten others to show them their true nature. As far as the play goes, my vision is to show the audience just how easy it is to take the constructs society has created for us and flip them on end. Because as Stephen says, “First. It’s just a word. Strip the letters around you get strif.” To have the kind of premonition that nothing in this world is set in stone can be a scary one, especially when you’re the only one who seems to know it.

What do you want most in your chosen profession? It’s OK to say “fame” or “wealth.”

To be completely honest, I just want people to know my name. I want audiences to come and see this kid who was born into an average family in South Jersey who somehow beat the odds of “becoming famous” without just “knowing the right people”. I want a kid in middle school to watch me in a movie or play and think that if I can do it so can she. This profession, for a lot of people, is great when it comes to exposure and money, but I believe that it can be used to encourage people everywhere to pursue their own dreams, no matter how impossible they seem. And of course, I want to make a steady enough living to get my own house in this crazy economy we’ve created

Sally Field and Paul Newman both said of their profession… “it’s all I can do.” Is this all you can do?

In a way this is all I need to know how to do. Acting has opened so many doors for me. I can communicate with people in multiple ways. I am able to learn about a variety of fields in order to really understand the minds of people in any industry. I have even used my skills in acting to start my own video production business because I was able to teach myself how a business is run (it’s almost like studying lines) and how to reach out and connect to people that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise if I had never learned how to interact with people through acting. I can trace all of my strengths back to the art of acting really. So in a way, yes, this is all I can do. But within that sentence the possibilities are endless, just like in acting.

Along those lines, if you couldn’t so this, what would you do?

If I couldn’t do this I would probably just suck it up and get back into college to get my computer science degree. At the very least I could afford a small town house and make enough money to feed my family. But who needs a plan B when plan A is working so far?

How do you want [legit] history to remember you?

I want history to remember me as the guy who did exactly what he wanted to in life. I want them to trace my journey from my small roots in a tiny town delivering pizzas all the way to moment he decided to quit his full time job to pursue acting and his own career. Ultimately, I want to be the person people put on their vision boards as an example of what you can achieve with a whole lot of dedication and persistence. It would also be nice to have a Wiki page about me and for it to include all of my roles in A list movies. Everybody’s got a dream!

Last words? 

Considering I’m not dying yet, no last words. This guys is still kicking so I’ll still have words for many years to come. (That was just a really bad joke).

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Figaro’s Fun in the Bronx

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The Review of the Bronx Opera Company’s The Marriage of Figaro
reviewed by Inola M. McGuire

The production of the Bronx Opera Company of The Marriage of Figaro was a performance fit for venues in Manhattan in terms of its quality. The sets and costumes were outstanding; and the actors’ performances were exceptional. In retrospect, Lehman College’s Lovinger Theatre is as good as any other location to showcase such a production. The hard work and the dedication of the actors are realized on stage with their singing all Arias in English.

The basic theme of this opera entails aristocracy, Count Almaviva, who thinks he is worthy or entitled to have the first picking of Susanna on her wedding night. Figaro finds out about the Count’s intention and he wants to have his revenge on his master. In the first act, the actors, including Figaro and Susanna maneuver on stage along with other actors to force the Count to abandon his licentious objective by any means necessary. Marcellina with the help of Bartolo tries to convince Figaro that he has to marry her. She presents a contract to him. The hired servants find resourceful ways to defuse

In act two, even the Countess unearths creative ways to restore the love she needs in her marriage from the Count. The countess obtains Susanna’s help in an attempt to repair her loveless marriage. This plan warrants a few schemes within the act by the characters on stage. The actors express their intentions in songs, arias, mostly in English. In the end, Figaro and Susanna’s wedding is In act three, Susanna maintains her deception against the Count’s unsolicited advances. In this act, Figaro finds out that Marcellina and Bartolo are his parents, and Susanna’s fears of losing Figaro is put to rest. Susanna and the Countess compose a letter to continue their trap of deceit to confirm a rendezvous with Susanna and the Count in the garden. The Count is manipulated and he is forced to agree to the demands of the servants of his household. Now, Figaro and Susanna are much closer to their wedding celebration; and Susanna gives the Count a letter that is sealed with a pin.

In act four, the stakes are much higher for all of the characters; Figaro thinks Susanna is unfaithful to him when she is not. His mother, Marcellina tells the men off about the ways in which they treat women. Figaro and the Count both experience their encounter with rage because of their love for their wives when they think they are unfaithful. All of the misunderstandings are settled between the men; and Figaro is no lesser a man than the Count who is a part of the nobility. Susanna is not subjected to the wild yearning of the count because he reunites with the Countess.

The audience was in high spirits of this production, and I know they enjoyed their time in the Lovinger Theatre at Lehman College. It is a quality production.

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VIOLETTA MAY BE WAYWARD — BUT THIS PRODUCTION SURE ISN’T

Reviewed by Robert Gulack

I know some folks who have just been to one hell of a party. They’re drunken carousers with their clothing in serious disarray, guests of a woman named Violetta who definitely gets around. They fill the stage with naughty horseplay in the Bronx Opera’s current production of Verdi’s LA TRAVIATA. I should also mention they are an integral part of a youthful, direct, and heartfelt revival — all qualities that couldn’t be more on point for Verdi’s youthful, direct, and heartfelt masterpiece. Finally, you should know that the audience for this production also feels as if they have been to one hell of a party.

The Bronx Opera starts with one simple and glaring advantage over their glittering competition (I won’t name the bunch — but they have a big building at Lincoln Center where they do quite a lot of opera). The Bronx Opera, you see, does their work in the language that is actually spoken by the people in the audience: English. They don’t ask you to read supertitles, subtitles, or any other kind of titles. They just sing to you in words you can understand. It’s as simple as that. (By that way, the French hear Russian, Italian, and Czech opera in French — the Russians hear everything in Russian — and the Italians hear everything in Italian. It’s only the English-speaking countries that make a fetish out of not singing in a language the audience knows, a practice that can only be likened to showing a movie solely in frequencies of light that are not visible to human eyes.)

How wonderfully revelatory it is to hear Violetta musing before us as to what it might be like if she could finally arrange “to love and be loved.” How dramatic to see her lover explode in rage, hurling money at her in contempt, and announcing in simple English that, yes, he owes her a lot, but he is calling us all to witness that he has “paid her in full.” How moving when Violetta, who is, in fact, in the final, mortal stages of illness, tells us that she can feel her weakness leaving her body.

Taking It Straight

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As it was presented May 9 and 10 at the Lehman College’s intimate and charming Lovinger Theatre, TRAVIATA’s moving story, of an experienced woman (“traviata” means a wayward, or fallen, woman) who finally learns the meaning of love only to lose her love, felt very real and immediate. (This production will also be presented May 17 and 18 at Hofstra University’s John Cranford Adams Playhouse in Hempstead, Long Island.) It was great to see worldly Violetta actually pour herself something to drink at Act I’s wine fest, and then go on to swig her fill straight from the bottle.

It must be admitted, however, as performed here, the idea of singing in English had two significant drawbacks. First, it was often impossible actually to make out the words the performers were singing. When you, in fact, speak the language of a production, and find the words you do make sense of to be entertaining and moving, it is especially frustrating when you can’t hear them all. The second drawback has to do with the nature of the translation being used. (The program fails to make clear who translated Piave’s Italian-language libretto — a very significant oversight. Italian lyrics do not spontaneously translate themselves into English ones.) While I applaud the idea of singing in English, and the many moments when the simple and direct English translation used here proved effective, the lyrics in this adaptation often fail to match the melodies, forcing the singers to perform melismas on single syllables (“dau-au-au-aughter”). Then, too, there were many moments when it would have been more satisfying to hear simple, natural, and pointed rhyming being employed.

A Wonderful Cast

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Halley Gilbert sang the leading role of Violetta May 9 and will be singing it again at Hofstra May 18. She has won the first prize in both the Opera Idol and Jenny Lind Competitions, has a lovely voice, and was better at communicating English diction than many in the cast. Early in the May 9 presentation, her voice sounded forced and uncertain on a few of the highest notes, but, as the evening went on, that imperfection vanished. Her performance became more and more moving, her voice ringing out without strain. As she lost her love and then her life, she achieved that most difficult of combinations where, simultaneously, you realize you are hearing impossibly beautiful music, while at the same time it seems that something heartbreaking is actually happening in front of you.

Steven Wallace sang Violetta’s lover, Alfredo, May 9 and will also be singing it again May 18. He is a winning and powerful tenor, and his acting, good throughout, was exceptionally striking in the third act, where he must play an immature man who loses his temper in an arrogant and prideful manner, only to realize a moment later that he has made an awful mistake. (It is Alfredo who actually turns out to be “the wayward one”.)

One of the high points of the evening was when Violetta and Alfredo are briefly reunited in the final act. Gilbert and Wallace sounded wonderful together.

Joseph Flaxman sang Germont, Alfredo’s father, May 9 and will sing it May 18. He has a big, warm baritone, and earned a strong and continuing response from the audience.

Among the supporting characters, Erik Bagger deserves special mention for his playful and charming portrayal of Alfredo’s friend Gaston, and John Tyndall was also a standout as an intense and insecure Baron Douphol. Both will be reprising their roles May 18.

An Essential Organization

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All of the Bronx Opera’s productions are presented with full chorus and orchestra, and both the chorus and orchestra sounded great; though, as mentioned above, you couldn’t alway hear the words the chorus was singing, and there were minor and infrequent issues with intonation in the woodwind and brass, and with ensemble with regard to the strings. Together, Rod Gomez’s playful staging, and Eric Kramer’s sprightly conducting made for an effective evening. The sets (by Meganne George) and costumes (by Victoria Depew) were simple, yet handsomely conveyed the opera’s varying moods.

The Bronx Opera is especially to be commended not only for showing how effective English-speaking opera can be, but for its adventuresome repertoire. Their practice in most seasons is to combine a well-known opera with a new or little-performed one. They have been following this tradition for close to half a century. This season, LA TRAVIATA is clearly the warhorse. Kirke Mechem’s jaunty operatic adaptation of Sheridan’s THE RIVALS (2011) was heard back in January. Previous rarities have included American or New York premieres of operas by Smetana, Rossini, and Vaughan Williams.

You can follow the Bronx Opera online at http://www.bronxopera.org. You buy purchase tickets for the May 17 and 18 performances at Hofstra by cutting and pasting this URL http://purchase.tickets.com/buy/TicketPurchase?orgid=416&schedule=list.

ROBERT GULACK is the author of numerous plays seen in NYC, including CHURCHILL IN ATHENS, SIX HUSBANDS OF ELIZABETH THE QUEEN, and the award-winning ONE THOUSAND AND ONE.

Photo Credit: A.G. Liebowitz/WrightGroupNY

Rivals Revel in Fun

A review by Christopher Sirota

I had an extremely fungible time last Saturday night, January 18th, at the Hunter College Kaye Playhouse where The Bronx Opera Company perfumed Kirke Mechem’s The Rivals… a comic opera full of malapropisms as it is based on Sheridan’s 1775 comedy of the same title from which the term “malapropism” was coined, thanks to one of the lead characters named Mrs. Malaprop. Malaprop enjoys showing off her gasp of the English language by sprinkling her sentences with a supposedly erudite choice of constabulary. Hopefully the humongous point is taken, and you get what I mean…now consider the joy and skill that would be required to make this effective in an opera.

Kirke Mechem’s version of The Rivals tackles this challenge with a plunger – ok I’ll stop here – with aplomb and then some. Not only does Mechem add this twisty language effortlessly, but his score and libretto completely captures the zaniness of this story of mistaken identity, jealousy, and mockery of the rich. Furthermore, the other characters, who do not use malapropisms, have plenty of funny lines balanced just so with the frolicking music. This balance pushes the pace of the show but never forces, or rushes it…an amendable feat to be sure – sorry I could not resist.

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As for the performance, I have been an avid follower of The Bronx Opera Company for several years, and continue to enjoy their energy and enthusiasm in bringing to life both known and lesser-known operas. Last Saturday was no exception, there was tremendous clarity of voice and character creation from all of the leads. Lindsay Ohse as Lydia Larkspur began with and never dropped her energetic singing and her spirited physical comedy, which was truly a joy to watch. Equally as fun to watch were Patrick McNally, as Jack Absolute (imagine a thoroughly hilarious Jim Carrey singing mellifluous opera), and the over-the-top-in-a-fun-way Blake Friedman as his friend Nicholas Astor. Adding to the fun, although we expect beautiful singing from an opera company, we do not typically count on comic routines throughout that continue to work, but director Benjamin Spierman and his group were successful as evidenced by the constant laughs elicited from the audience.

Overall, the word that pops into my mind, and on this page is “fun.” The show was light, and truly skipped along a fine line between musical and comic opera. I enjoyed the rich score that Michael Spierman conducted, as always, with fervor, and his musicians matched his thrust. I would mention that a few times the orchestra overpowered the singers, and, sadly, this happened at moments we needed to hear funny lines and malapropisms. Also, since I am a fan of the natural, unmic’d theater, several times I found myself wishing, not for mikes, but for the performers to come downstage more often so I could hear them…a mutual benefit…and much more fun for all.

Christopher Sirota writes for OuterStage and DramaQueens on a regular basis. He is also a cinematographer with one film receiving international distribution, another in post-production, and a third readying for pre-production.
Photo by A.G. Liebowitz/WrightGroupNY

2012: A Magical Year for The Bronx Opera

A season round-up by Christopher Sirota
Photo provided by Andrew Liebowitz/WrightGroupNY

Hansel & Gretel

Often in both film and theater intended for children, directors lose track of this goal in the hope for a wider audience.  Such was my experience last Saturday night during the Bronx Opera’s performance of Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel.  This 19th century German light opera, was performed in English with a solid cast of singers, recounting the famed story that warns kids who are tempted by strangers and their “candied houses.”

Of particular note was Gretel played by soprano Allison Pohl, whose sparkling voice was coupled by an equally sparkling face of various emotions.  Hansel, female-casted, played by Jennifer Caruana also held her own.  Also holding it’s own was the set by Meganne George, and lighting by Joshua Rose which included flying witch silhouettes, and colorful forests.
Outstanding, as always with the Bronx Opera was the full orchestra, enthusiastically conducted by Michael Spierman.  Unfortunately, the Engelbert Humperdinck score did not enthrall me much, not being dynamic in progression nor affording much excitement for the singers, which is not the fault of any of the performers. Lastly, although the audience was full of children, I don’t think they were given instruction on proper behavior during an opera…for kids!  No cheering or applause when (spoiler alert?) Hansel and Gretel triumph over the witch in the end?!

 

Next time, I would recommend that the directors also direct their young unfamiliar modern audience so that they feel comfortable engaging with the show, and possibly have a Q&A with the performers afterwards.  Overall, though the singing was enjoyable, and the volume of the orchestra better than other performances in allowing us to hear the singers, I would need to add that the acting did not amuse as intended, nor was it scary when needed.  In other words, nothing was over the top nor serious enough…just ambiguous.  Thus, going for a wider audience results often, in my opinion, in missing an audience.

 

—————————PREVIOUSLY THIS SEASON FROM THE BRONX OPERA

Ralph Vaughn Williams’ rarely seen

The Poisoned Kiss

I wasn’t fully prepared for what I was about to see and hear, in both a good way and sometimes  not so good.  Last night I attended Ralph Vaughn Williams’ rarely seen “The Poisoned Kiss” by The Bronx Opera at the Kaye Playhouse.   I knew ahead of time that the plot of the “The Poisoned Kiss” was fairy-tale-ish, and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, which is fine.  And as I had hoped, the director and stage director, Michael and Benjamin Spierman and the cast also completely agreed…or so I thought….
“The Poisoned Kiss” is a light opera, first performed in 1936 when competition for entertainment included that mild distraction in human cultural history called the motion picture.  To give you an idea, Astaire/Rogers films were already tapping into people’s hearts.  So, it makes sense that this operetta should be airy, and fun in order to entertain the crowds.  The story includes a  prince and princess, an empress and magician and lots of magical folk; everything needed for lots of perky love stories to go awry.  So it began with a soaring overture performed by an awesome orchestra, electrically conducted by Michael Spierman.  The score was film-like, being both dynamic and multi-colored…not sounding dusty at all, in fact, quite “movie modern” for 1936.

Next came Jeremy J. Moore delighting the audience with his “stiff upper lip” British delivery of his lines, and rich voice as the Prince’s attendant.  Yes, this operetta is sung in English, and has loads of silly-on-purpose, rhyming dialogue in between songs.   Here was lots to play with, and often it was successful at making the audience laughing frequently.  I laughed sometimes unexpectedly.

It is difficult to discuss the voices in depth as acoustics were difficult.

 

However, piercing through the difficulty were Richard Bozic and Leslie Swanson’s emphatic performances as the magician and empress.
Hannah Rosenbaum as the princess had a sweet voice, and Kirk Dougherty was a fine prince as well. The supporting cast of hobgoblins, mediums and the rest were lively, and were successful at competing with the volume of the music, so it was refreshing to hear them when they appeared.

From all the cast members, and I guess I mean from the directors first and foremost, I wanted more fun, over-the-top performances.  Already the music was lively, and the singers were funny, but I constantly felt it was 3/4 when it should have be 4/4.  A double-take needs full fun, not a mild one…however, of unexpected shining distinction, was the maid.  Yes, the maid did it…and funny she was, the mezzo-soprano Cabiria Jacobsen.  Her comic timing, delivery, and edgy voice truly proved the antidote.