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August 14
5:08 PM 2014

Saum Eskandani and Marla Mindelle

This must have been one of the best summers for Shakespeare in Connecticut, but the 12.14 Foundation's production of A Rockin' Midsummer Night's Dream tops them all - and has set a new bar for presenting the works of the Bard.

The show, which ran from August 1 through August 10, combines Shakespeare's book and lyrics with music by Eric Svejcar and additional lyrics by Svejcar and Michael Unger. The music is not just the sweet and pleasant kind that would fit in Elizabethan England. There are some nice, soft numbers, and then there is some terrific pop-rock music that makes other Shakespeare productions, even those that are done in contemporary style, seem done a gazillion times and leaden in comparison. Svejcar's music, with a 33-piece orchestra, doesn't just enhance the show. It brings A Midsummer Night's Dream to a higher level (and goodness knows this critic has seen multiple versions of the play). Now I can't imagine seeing A Midsummer Night's Dream as anything but a musical.

First, some background: The 12.14 Foundation is establishing a performing arts center in Newtown. It is not an attempt to monetize the tragedy that happened there with a monument, but an intention of creating hope through the arts while commemorating those died. The venue for this show was Newtown High School's very first-rate auditorium. The foundation previously produced the musical, Seussical.

The cast is a combination of Broadway and Off-Broadway and amateur performers (no doubt some students), and they work very well together. There were two casts for most of the roles, charmingly called the Moon Cast and Stars Cast, and it had to do with the dates and times of the performances. The Actors Equity thespians were in all the performances and they were perfect. Saum Eskandani was hilarious as the energetic and excitable Nick Bottom, and very nearly stole the show in the songs, "I Can Play That Too!" and "Donkey/Angel." Clarke Thorell and Marla Mindelle were definitive as Oberon and Titania. They played the quarreling couple almost as real people, not just fairies. That may bother some theatre-goers, but their chemistry was so strong and they each have charisma to spare. They still had the lightness of fairies, but emotions that are credible. Mindelle was a natural with her tribe of fairies, and Oberon's interaction with Puck (played winningly by Nicole Kolitsas) made the tension in his marriage to Titania all the more plausible. (For this reason I have always preferred that Puck be played by a woman.) Kristen Liniger was heartbreaking and honest as Helena, and she has an amazing singing voice. Brianna Bauch was also outstanding as Hermia and Willem Sandercox (Lysander) proved himself to be a fine singer. Aidan Petershack made the transition from the uptight and sometimes cruel Demitrius into someone who finally appreciates love.

Kudos also Brian Prather for his astounding contemporary industrial chic set, Ben Hagen's stunning lighting design, Michael Unger's direction, Jeffrey Saver's music direction, Jennifer Paulson-Lee's, and Kristina Sneshkoff's glorious costumes, which went beyond the expected ethereal fairy attire. Joseph Dulude II did an extraordinary job with the makeup design. (If you have to know, all the makeup products were provided by MAC, and the colors were gorgeous.) Michele Lurie's program combined A Rockin' Midsummer Night's Dream and The 101 Dalmatians Musical, which was also playing during this time frame on the cover. The print was clear and the insert for the story breakdown of A Midsummer Night's Dream and flowchart of characters was a nice, eye-catching addition.

There is good news for anyone who has seen this show - or anyone who missed it. You can preorder the world premiere cast recording of A Rockin' Midsummer Night's Dream at The two-CD set will be available in the fall and will feature both casts. The album will also be available through iTunes, but CD set includes photos from the production. What a perfect gift for theatre lovers! In the meantime, let's pray to the fairies of the theatre that A Rockin' Midsummer Night's Dream will land on the Great White Way because it deserves a long run and bigger audiences.

For more information on the 12.14 Foundation, visit

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Sherry Shameer Cohen Sherry Shameer Cohen is an award winning parachute journalist and blogger who is always looking for more challenging work. Her articles and photos have appeared (read more...)

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