By Mark G. Auerbach
Hershey Felder stars as Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem in the world premiere of “Before Fiddler” in a live-streamed performance from Florence on Feb. 7. Featuring music performed by the Klezmerata Florentina, “Before Fiddler” profiles some of the characters created by the prolific storyteller, who was first published when he was 24 years old, and who, by 1890, had become a central figure in Yiddish literature. His most famous character, Tevye the Milkman, became the central figure of the 1964 Broadway musical “Fiddler on The Roof,” which is a classic today. Felder, who has played George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Tchaikovsky in concert, is presenting a series of live stream programs this season to benefit regional theatres. Hershey did a fantastic video interview with The Florentine about his move to Florence and his series. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IBY4J63YVQ A portion of the ticket sales goes to the following area theatres selling tickets. To support Berkshire Theatre Group, buy your tickets at: www.berkshiretheatregroup.org. To support Hartford Stage, buy your tickets at: www.hartfordstage.org.
The UMass Fine Arts Center Gala goes online this year, with a virtual celebration on ZOOM on Feb. 6. Registration is free. With the theme of “Relive-Renew-Reimagine,” the virtual version of this beloved and historically sold out event hosted since 1989 celebrates and supports the Arts/Access outreach programs of the Fine Arts Center. Over the last several months, these programs have been reimagined for remote access and have included virtual workshops and artist engagements for UMass students and some local schools. Gala guests will hear from some of these artists during the recorded portion of the event. The event includes a virtual dance party by FEVER, a silent auction including works by artists Tom Friedman and Laura Radwell, and more. For details: www.fineartscenter.com/gala
The Pioneer Valley Jewish Film Festival, presented by the Springfield Jewish Community Center, marks its 16th year with a virtual mini-festival, Feb. 6 -March 22. PVJFF will present seven online film screenings, as the festival continues its tradition of showcasing some of the best independent Jewish cinema from around the world. Thought-provoking Zoom discussions are planned for nearly all of the films, featuring directors, screenwriters, and experts on an array of topics of cultural and historical significance. Among the films being showcased are: “Dror Zahavi’s Crescendo” is about a world-famous conductor (played by Toni Erdmann’s Peter Simonischek) who accepts the job to create an Israeli-Palestinian youth orchestra and steps into a firestorm of conflict as he tries to bring the two factions of young musicians together in harmony. “Crescendo” screenwriter Stephen Glantz will lead a Q&A about the film. The inspiring biopic “The Keeper” tells the incredible true story of Bert Trautmann, a German POW who, amid much protest and prejudice, secures the position of goalkeeper at Manchester City and becomes a soccer icon. “It Must Schwing!: The Blue Note Story” follows two young e?migre?s from Berlin who founded the legendary jazz label Blue Note Records, which produced jazz stars Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, and more. For festival details: www.pvjff.org.
The Springfield Symphony Orchestra launches virtual winter weekend online music courses for students grades 6-12. The winter session begins Feb. 6. For details: https://www.springfieldsymphony.org/live-virtual-course-offerings/
The Metropolitan Opera celebrates Black History Month by showcasing some of the leading artists of color who have changed the world of opera. Their nightly streamings are free. On February 2, Leontyne Price heads the cast of “Verdi’s La Forza del Destino.” Jessye Norman stars in Poulenc’s “Dialogue of the Carmelites” on Feb. 3. On February 5, Kathleen Battle is among the cast in Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” Norman and Battle are in Strauss’ “Ariadne auf Naxos” on Feb. 6, and Shirley Verrett is the diva of Puccini’s “Tosca” on Feb. 7. For details: https://www.metopera.org/user-information/nightly-met-opera-streams/
“The Laramie Project,” a powerful play about a small college town’s reaction to a brutal murder, will be staged and performed by young adults from the Barrington Stage Youth Theatre, who are mounting a virtual production for streaming March 19-21. The drama by Moises Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project was the result of the theater’s going to Laramie, Wyoming, to interview the townspeople, after the murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay college student who was beaten, tortured, and left to die in October 1998. Members of the Tectonic interviewed over 200 townspeople, and “The Laramie Project” is their words. The play was turned into a film in 2002, and it’s frequently performed by professional, community, and student theatres, because of its powerful lessons about homophobias and hate. For details: www.barringtonstageco.org.
The UMass Fine Arts Center presents two free virtual events with award-winning author Alex Kerr, the award-winning author, will present two free virtual programs for the FAC’s Asian and Asian American Arts and Culture program on Feb. 10 and 16. Kerr, and expert on Japanese culture, discusses his best-seller, “Lost Japan,” on Feb. 10. On Feb. 16, Kerr presents his program “Japanese Arts and Popular Culture.” Advance registration is required. For details: www.fineartscenter.com.
William Baczek Fine Arts, in Northampton, is presenting its 25th Anniversary Group Exhibition, on display through March 13. Twenty-seven artists from the past, present, and future of the gallery will be featured, including Scott Prior, Robert Sweeney, Larry Preston, Mallory Lake, Nanette Vonnegut, Jana Brike, Sara Catapano, Jaq Chartier, El Gato Chimney, Matthew Cornell, Robin Freedenfeld, Jeff Gola, Andrew Haines, Charlie Hunter, Mallory Lake, Ryan Landry, Guy Laramée, Anne Lilly, Travis Louie, Jane Lund, Jeremy Miranda, Elliot Offner, Rick Pas, John Roy, Brad Woodfin, Yin Yong Chun, and Jamie Young. Theatregoers make note: Ryan Landry is the playwright and director of The Gold Dust Orphans, the outrageous theatre company whose spoofs are big hits in Provincetown and Off-Broadway. Among their recent plays: “Thoroughly Muslim Millie,” “Legally Blind: The Helen Keller Musical,” “Valet of The Dolls.” He turned to painting during the pandemic and created a beautiful portrait of Northampton’s Academy of Music Theater. For details: http://www.wbfinearts.com/
“Another Day’s Begun: Thornton Wilder’s Our Town in the 21st Century”
by Howard Sherman. Methuen Drama
It is said that Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” is one of the most produced plays in America and it has been that way since the play debuted in 1938. Why is Wilder’s play such a perennial, when so many plays from that era are rarely revived – or forgotten? Howard Sherman, best known in area theatre circles as an arts administrator at Hartford Stage, Goodspeed Musicals, The O’Neill Center and more, has written a new book, which profiles the success of Thornton Wilder’s play over time. His book includes recollections from many actors who have done a production of “Our Town” over the years, including Jane Curtin, Helen Hunt, Jane Kaczmarek, Moisés Kaufman, and Michael McKean. The book also offers a short history of the early years of “Our Town,” as well as a survey of how the play has permeated pop culture, with a recap of its many radio and television versions, as well as references and even scenes turning up on Cheers, Growing Pains, Riverdale, My So-Called Life, The Nanny, and 30 Rock. For details: https://hesherman.com/anotherdaysbegun/
Mark G. Auerbach studied theatre at American University and the Yale School of Drama. He’s worked for arts organizations and reported on theatre for newspapers and radio. Mark produces and hosts ArtsBeat TV/Radio for WCPC15 and 89.5fm/WSKB, and is a contributor to Pioneer Valley Radio.