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The Berkshire's unique summer season is in full swing by July. A sampling of what's on tap takes one through Sweeney Todd's barbershop, into the mind of conductor Willem Mengleberg and inside Picasso's studio.
The summer offerings begin in earnest July 4 weekend, when James Taylor and Carole King perform three sold-out shows at Tanglewood.
If you don't have tickets to that, you're hardly out of options. There are still available seats for the Boston Pops on Friday night and student concerts at Ozawa Hall, where the great Emerson String Quartet perform on Tuesday, playing Bach and Mozart.
The Boston Symphony Orchestra moves into Tanglewood next weekend, but once again without Music Director James Levine, out for the entire summer season with continued back problems. Levine was supposed to begin the season July 9 with the composer Gustav Mahler’s great Second Symphony.
Fortunately, if there’s one American conductor who’s got as sharp an ear for Mahler as Levine does, it’s former BSO conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, who will be stepping in for Levine. Thomas’s Mahler recordings with the San Francisco Symphony have played to great reviews, so don’t expect any drop in quality.
Mahler is also in the house down the road in Lenox. Shakespeare & Company sprinkles its servings of the Bard with other plays, which this year includes a new play by Daniel Klein called “Mengelberg & Mahler.”
Willem Mengelberg, the highly regarded Dutch conductor, was one of the first champions of Mahler, who was banned by the Germans because he was Jewish.
After the war, Mengelberg was exiled for kowtowing to the Nazis during the occupation. This one-man play features Bob Lohbauer as Mengelberg holding imaginary conversations with Mahler and others, railing at why he was so vilified when he saw himself as a champion of the Jews. It’s a great idea for a play with intriguing moral questions, but it doesn’t go very deep and the imaginary conversations grow pretty tiresome.
This year we’re better off with Shakespeare than company. The two big mainstage performances, “Richard III” and “The Winter’s Tale” are about to be unveiled.
At the same time, the founder of the company, Tina Packer, is staging a fascinating two-person program, “Women of Will.” She charts Shakespeare’s growth by talking about and acting out, with the fine Boston actor Nigel Gore, how the Bard depicted women.
Meanwhile, in Pittsfield, Barrington Stage Company Artistic Director Julianne Boyd always begins the season with a musical. It usually is something special, making us see works from “Cabaret” to “South Pacific” in totally new ways. But I can’t say that’s true of this year’s piece, Stephen Sondheim’s and Hugh Wheeler’s “Sweeney Todd.”
Let me add that I’ve seen four other versions of “Sweeney Todd” in recent years, including the soulful New Repertory Theatre chamber version, the exciting Broadway revival in which the singers played the instruments and the terrific Johnny Depp movie. I’m pretty Sweeneyed out.
But if you haven’t seen the dark musical of a barber-turned-killer in a while, this is a very solid, representative version. Jeff McCarthy and Harriet Harris have a, well, delicious time adding their special ingredient to those meat pies.
It can be eye-popping, just not eye-opening.
And while they’re looking at Mahler and Shakespeare in the southern Berkshires, Picasso is looking at Degas in Williamstown in an excellent summer show at the Clark Art Institute.
One of the great things that you find in the Berkshires is how small arts organizations like these put things in perspective. The Met in New York is hosting an enormous Picasso show, but the Clark's exhibition is breathtaking in its own way, putting paintings of the two artists side by side to not only show how Degas influenced Picasso, but how impressionism turned into modernism. It’s worth the trip.
“Sweeney Todd” is at Barrington Stage Company through July 17. The Shakespeare & Company plays run through the season in Lenox, as does the “Picasso Looks at Degas” exhibit in Williamstown.
This program aired on July 2, 2010.
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