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Broadway Review: “M. Butterfly” at the Cort Theatre (Through Sunday December 17, 2017

Photo: Clive Owen and Jin Ha in “M. Butterfly.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
Broadway Review: “M. Butterfly” at the Cort Theatre (Through Sunday December 17, 2017)
By David Henry Hwang
Directed by Julie Taymor
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“M. Butterfly,” the stunning albeit straightforward play about fantasy, deception, espionage, and betrayal seems to have lost its way at the Cort Theatre. Whether this results from David Henry Hwang’s revisions and updates or from something inherent in the production itself is uncertain. This latest iteration focuses on Song Liling’s (Jin Ha) sexual status rather than on French diplomat Rene Galimand’s (Clive Owen) obsessive fantasy driven by his insatiable xenophobia. Notice was given this week that the play would close prematurely on December 17, 2017. What happened to Julie Taymor’s staging of the endearing drama?

First, what did work for this production is the casting of Jin Ha as Song Liling and Clive Owen as Rene Gallimand. Both actors explored the many levels of their complex characters which resulted in powerful, endearing, authentic, and believable performances. Mr. Owen portrays the obsessive Rene with panache and precision and manages to counterpoint the character’s naivete with a passionate need to be in control. Seemingly unaware of Song Liling’s sexual status and political connections, Rene still believes he is secure in his employment and able to dismiss his commitment to his wife.

Jin Ha portrays the elusive Chinese opera star Song Liling with a compelling gravitas that transcends all conversations about the conventions of human sexuality. Mr. Ha’s character is firmly entrenched in the realm of fantasy and the actor skillfully and subtly entraps Rene into that fantasy – so pervasively that Rene cannot follow through on his demands for Song Liling to undress to confirm his growing suspicions about her true status. Rene’s delusion obfuscates rather than clarifies his understanding of the precarious position he is in politically and professionally.

“M. Butterfly” is a fantasia that rattles the gates of reality and questions all preconceived ideas about fidelity, fealty, and the fragility of the human psyche. Questioned also is the understanding of human sexuality. The critical questions about, for example, whether Jin Ha successfully plays a woman belies an underbelly of stereotypes and assumptions that raises rich and enduring questions. What does a man look like? What does a woman look like? What does it mean to even raise these questions? What defines ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine?’ What does it mean to dress like a man or to dress like a woman?

Jin Ha’s performance is not only compelling, as noted earlier, it is also profoundly convincing. Mr. Ha manages to blur the boundaries between what is perceived to be real and what is perceived to be fiction. His portrayal of the complex opera star is the hallucination Rene needs to survive in a world too encumbered by reality. Together with Mr. Owen, the actors elucidate the Yin and the Yang of universal truths.

Working against the performances, unfortunately, is Paul Steinberg’s cumbersome and oddly unimaginative set. The constant movement of stage hands (and actors) pushing, pulling, and spinning panels around the stage distracts from the needed grounding of the plots and subplots driven by the conflicts of the characters so clearly defined by playwright David Henry Hwang. It is lamentable that “M. Butterfly” is closing early; however, choices made by the creative team are crucial to the success of any production. Some choices in this instance were less than commendable.

M. BUTTERFLY

The cast of “M. Butterfly” includes Clea Alsip, Murray Bartlett, Michael Countryman, Celeste Den, Jess Fry, Enid Graham, Jin Ha, Thomas Michael Hammond, Cole Horibe, Jason Ignacio, Kristen Faith Oei, Clive Owen, Erica Sweany, John Leonard Thompson, and Erica Wong.

The creative team for “M. Butterfly” includes Original Music by Winner Elliot Goldenthal, Choreography by Ma Cong, Scenic Design by Paul Steinberg, Costume Design by Constance Hoffman, Lighting Design by Donald Holder, Sound Design by Will Pickens. Wig and Hair Design by Dave Bova, and Makeup Design by Judy Chin. Production photos by Matthew Murphy.

Tickets are available at www.MButterflyBroadway.com or www.Telecharge.com (212.239.6200).
Tickets for “M. Butterfly” range from $39.00 - $149.00. Premium tickets range from $199.00 - $227.00. For group tickets and more information, including performance schedule, please visit www.MButterflyBroadway.com. Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Photo: Clive Owen and Jin Ha in “M. Butterfly.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, December 15, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Twelfth Night, Or What You Will” as Classic Stage Company (Through Saturday January 6, 2018)

Photo: David Samuel and Paco Tolson. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Twelfth Night, Or What You Will” as Classic Stage Company (Through Saturday January 6, 2018)
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

A visit to Classic Stage Company for the current production of “Twelfth Night” is almost like a case of Déjà vu: one could be watching the Company’s previous production of “As You Like it” which closed on October 22nd. The formula for both new productions of the Shakespeare classics involve adding music and singing, the same configuration of the theater and basically the same somewhat barren set. The two mistaken-identity, gender bending, all ends well romantic antic farces are too alike to run consecutively as CSC’s 50th season openers, unless they are performed in repertory with primarily the same actors. Even then, some sort of different sets and staging would be essential. It is mentioned in the program by Artistic Director John Doyle that this was done purposefully since it would be interesting to see the companion pieces, written within a short time span, alongside each other. This endeavor only managed to sabotage this current production by Fiasco Theater, not by any fault of their own.

The plot, which is too intricate to explain, deals with shipwrecked fraternal twins, Olivia and Sabastian, who each think the other has perished in the disaster. Viola (the convincing Emily Young) dresses as a man Cesario, to become servant to Orsino (an aristocratic and benevolent Noah Brady) who is in love with Olivia (a fraught and decisive Jessie Austrian). When Orsino sends Cesario with a missive to Olivia stating his affection for her, she falls in love with young Cesario who is really Viola. Sebastian (a demure and virtuous Javier Ignacio) shows up on the scene, who Olivia thinks is Cesario, and quickly marries him as to avoid the grips of Orsino. All is revealed in the end and Orsino marries Viola, along with Olivia’s drunken cousin Sir Toby Belch (an amiable Andy Grotelueschen) marrying her waiting gentle woman, Maria (played with wonderful energetic, devilish charm by Tina Chilip). Rounding out the competent cast are Paul L. Coffey as Malvolio, Daniel Samuel as Antonio and Paco Tolson as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. It is filled with mishaps, subplots, twists and turns as the farcical scenario unfolds.

Co-directed Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, the action moves at a quick pace but is at times burdened by the musical interludes which breaks the pace of the farce. If you have not seen the previous production by the Classic Stage Company, indeed include this incarnation of “Twelfth Night” in your theater schedule. But if you have, there is no need to venture out for the 2-hour and 45-minute rather lackluster production.

TWELFTH NIGHT, OR WHAT YOU WILL

The cast of “Twelfth Night” features Jessie Austrian, Noah Brody, Tina Chilip, Paul L. Coffey, Andy Grotelueschen, Javier Ignacio, David Samuel, Ben Strinfeld, Paco Tolson, and Emily Young.

The creative team includes John Doyle (scenic design), Emily Rebholz (costume design), Ben Stanton (lighting design), Andrew Wade (voice consultant), And Noah Brody (fight choreography). Casting is by Stewart/Whitley. Kristin M. Herrick serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

Twelfth Night” runs at Classic Stage Company (136 East 13th Street) through Saturday January 6, 2018. For the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit https://classicstage.org/. Run time is 2 hours and 45 minutes, including one intermission.

Photo: David Samuel and Paco Tolson. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, December 14, 2017

Broadway Review: “SpongeBob SquarePants” at the Palace Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Sunday September 2, 2018)

Photo: Ethan Slater and the Cast of “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “SpongeBob SquarePants” at the Palace Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Sunday September 2, 2018)
Book by Kyle Jarrow
Music Supervision, Orchestrations and Arrangements by Tom Kitt
Conceived and Directed by Tina Landau
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Walking into the Palace Theater to view the new musical extravaganza “SpongeBob SquarePants,” your senses are attacked by a barrage of Crayola colors, shimmering tinsel, happy music and an array of ornamental objects that appear as though Pee Wee Herman went overboard at Party City, shopping for a big beach bash. As you scrutinize the multifarious audience, there is a continuous inspection or marveling at the décor, the obligatory taking of selfies and the murmur of anticipation of what awaits when the performance begins. This group of theatergoers seem to be in familiar territory and has expectations that in part have already been satisfied. The show begins and as the lead character (a limber and enthusiastic Ethan Slater) appears crossing the stage with a sprightly, fluid strut, in a yellow shirt, checkered pants, suspenders and a red tie, a tiny voice from the child behind me exclaims, “that’s not SpongeBob.” Now what?

Not to worry since there are enough neon colors, abstract shapes, flamboyant costumes and elaborate sets by David Zinn, with frantic movements and pedestrian choreography by Christopher Gattelli, to induce a distraction, so elements of plot and depth of characters become paltry. The collection of songwriters assembled, not limited to but including such names as John Legend, Cyndi Lauper, Sara Bareilles and Lady Antebellum assures a diverse conglomeration of styles from rap to gospel to pop to Broadway. The “save the world” plot that is chock full of morals and optimism is simple and easy to follow, with musical numbers that attempt to move the action forward with little success, but provide actors the opportunity to showcase their vocal ability in big Broadway belt style. Venturing away from the typical Broadway musical formula (sans love interest) it is difficult to describe what this production is trying to accomplish, (albeit entertaining), besides selling an enormous amount of marketing merchandise at the large concession area in the lobby.

The cast is fully competent in execution and seems to be enjoying themselves without being bogged down with character development, or a complicated book accredited to Kyle Jarrow. It is light and fluffy entertainment seen through a psychedelic kaleidoscope of ever-changing shapes and colors that may visually satisfy but lacks that mystical, magical artistic aura that suspends you in disbelief. Ethan Slater produces a limber, buoyant, animated, sanguine SpongeBob, with a fine voice (sometimes in cartoon character) to compliment his character. Gavin Lee is delicious and delirious as Squidward Q. Tentacles, complete with four legs and a lavish, show stopping tap number in the second act. Danny Skinner is admirable as BFF, Patrick Star (a wannabe STARfish). The squirrel Sandy Cheeks is inhabited by the delightful Lilli Cooper with a sense of intelligence. Wesley Taylor portrays a villainous Sheldon Plankton with a slimy complexion. Eugene Krabs is depicted with sharp wit and harmless authority (complete with big red boxing gloves) by Brian Ray Norris.

Tina Landau has created an inventive production that provides enough amusement and razzle dazzle to satisfy audiences that are familiar with this famed Nickelodeon character and his cohorts but will not in any fashion keep the interest of serious theatergoers. It is a vibrant spectacle that sparkles but does not shine.

SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS

The “SpongeBob SquarePants” cast includes Ethan Slater as SpongeBob SquarePants, Gavin Lee as Squidward Q. Tentacles, Lilli Cooper as Sandy Cheeks, Brian Ray Norris as Eugene Krabs, Danny Skinner as Patrick Star and Wesley Taylor as Sheldon Plankton. The ensemble includes Alex Gibson, Gaelen Gilliland, Juliane Godfrey, Kyle Matthew Hamilton, Curtis Holbrook, Stephanie Hsu, Jesse JP Johnson, L’ogan J’ones, Jai’len Christine Li Josey, Kelvin Moon Loh, Lauralyn McClelland, Vasthy Mompoint, Oneika Phillips, Jon Rua, JC Schuster, Abby C. Smith, Robert Taylor Jr., Allan Washington, Brynn Williams, Matt Wood and Tom Kenny as the French Narrator.

The design team includes scenic and costume design by David Zinn, lighting design by Kevin Adams, projection design by Peter Nigrini, sound design by Walter Trarbach, hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe and casting by Telsey + Company/Patrick Goodwin, CSA. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

For more information on “SpongeBob SquarePants,” visit www.SpongeBobBroadway.com. Tickets are available online via Ticketmaster.com, by calling 877-250-2929 or at The Palace Theatre box office (1564 Broadway - Broadway at 47th Street). Ticket prices range from $49.00 to $159.00. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes

Photo: Ethan Slater and the Cast of “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, December 9, 2017

Broadway Review: “The Parisian Woman” at the Hudson Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Saturday March 11, 2018)

Photo (L-R): Uma Thurman as “Chloe,” Josh Lucas as “Tom,” and Marton Csokas as “Peter.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
Broadway Review: “The Parisian Woman” at the Hudson Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Saturday March 11, 2018)
By Beau Willimon
Directed by Pam MacKinnon
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Beau Willimon is perhaps best known for creating the successful Netflix original series “House of Cards” which is completing its final season. Much of what made the series so savvy was the way the writers exposed the chicanery and dishonesty of politics without “naming names.” The episodes wisely left making connections to current events to the viewers. Inspired by Henry François Becque’s 1885 play “La Parisienne,” Mr. Willimon’s “The Parisian Woman,” currently running at the Hudson Theatre, overshadows its important themes of love, trust, and the dynamics of relationships with clichés about Number 45 and the shenanigans in the current West Wing.

Successful tax attorney Tom (Josh Lucas), wanting “to make a difference,” is in the running for nomination to a Federal judgeship and his wife Chloe (Uma Thurman) wants to help him get the job despite her affairs with the uber-jealous Peter (Marton Csokas) and a recent female graduate of Harvard Law (the play’s only “surprise”). Chloe’s future with Tom is uncertain. He knows of Chloe’s flirtations and accepts them as part of their “agreement.” But his wife’s penchant for other lovers has grown tiresome and has affected their marriage. After all, Chloe affirms, “You can pretend to love anything for fifteen minutes.” This is a reference to Tom pretending to like port at Jeanette’s (Blair Brown) bash, but proves to be a foreshadowing of things to come. As is Chloe’s interest in Jeanette’s daughter Rebecca (Phillipa Soo) who also attends the party. This is the flimsy plot driven by uninteresting characters with mostly mundane conflicts.

It seems no one knows what do with Beau Willimon’s script: Pam MacKinnon directs it like a daytime television drama and the actors decide to follow her lead and deliver stilted performances that rarely rise above the mediocre. Only Josh Lucas and Blair Brown seem to want to explore the deeper levels of their characters Tom and Jeanette respectively, but Ms. MacKinnon’s lugubrious pacing often gets in the way of the farcical tone that is at the heart of the script. What ought to be light and terribly funny becomes ponderous and overwrought leaving all attempts at exploring the comedy beneath the high drama falling flat.

Derek McLane’s set is exquisite with stunning detail. Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting is delicate and appropriate. Jane Greenwood’s costumes are serviceable but too often oddly ill-fitting which is quite unusual for the iconic designer. The massive drop-down “screen” with Darrel Maloney’s projections seems out of place and simply provides a needless opportunity for the set changes. Actors appearing in “doorways” glancing at one another and the audience then strutting off is odd indeed.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Willimon’s important rich and enduring questions get lost in his muddled script. What is truth? Is truth important? Is telling the truth important? Is there a difference between truth and reality? What is that difference? Grappling with questions like these can be redemptive, especially at times when multiple distractions attempt to cloud verity and validity. “The Parisian” Woman” avoids addressing the questions it raises instead opting for rehashing the political news of the day with disappointing results.

THE PARISIAN WOMAN

“The Parisian Woman” stars Josh Lucas, Blair Brown, Marton Csokas, Phillipa Soo, and Uma Thurman.

The creative team for “The Parisian Woman” Derek McLane (scenic design), Jane Greenwood (costume design), Peter Kaczorowski (lighting design), Darrel Maloney (projections), and Broken Chord (sound design and original composition). Hair Design is by Tom Watson and Make-up Design is by Tommy Kurzman. Casting is by Telsey + Company, Will Cantler CSA. Production photos by Matthew Murphy.

“The Parisian Woman” runs for a limited engagement at the Hudson Theatre (141 West 44th Street). Tickets are now available through www.thehudsonbroadway.com or (855) 801-5876. For further information, including the performance schedule, visit http://parisianwomanbroadway.com/. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo (L-R): Uma Thurman as “Chloe,” Josh Lucas as “Tom,” and Marton Csokas as “Peter.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, December 7, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Pride and Prejudice” at Primary Stages at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Saturday January 6, 2018)

Photo: The Cast of “Pride and Prejudice.” Credit: James Leynse.
Off-Broadway Review: “Pride and Prejudice” at Primary Stages at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Saturday January 6, 2018)
By Kate Hamill (Based on the Novel by Jane Austen)
Directed by Amanda Dehnert
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Kate Hamill has done it again. The ‘it’ in question, is her remarkable ability to adapt Jane Austen’s iconic novels for the stage. Her adaptation of “Sense and Sensibility” had a successful Off-Broadway run of over two-hundred and sixty-five performances. Her current adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” which is playing at Primary Stages at Cherry Lane Theatre should enjoy the same acclimation and longevity. “Pride and Prejudice,” like “Sense and Sensibility,” is more than a mere adaptation: Ms. Hamill’s iteration of the timeless classic is more a retelling of Austen’s story of “how you know when you’ve met the right person.”

Kate Hamill’s retelling also explores the seriousness with which people treat love – romantic and otherwise. Hence, this “Pride and Prejudice” is, in Hamill’s words, “a screwball comedy.” Staged as a delightfully comedic farce, this adaptation rehearses all the novel’s important characters, conflicts, and plots with both a sense of the zany and an awareness of the rich and enduring questions raised by Austen. Director Amanda Dehnert keeps this delightful play moving with a beyond-brisk pace that manages to clearly delineate the novel’s action from beginning to end. If, perchance, an audience member had never read nor heard of “Pride and Prejudice, she or he would easily understand the story and identify every character without confusion or difficulty.

Except for Kate Hamill (Lizzy), Jason O’Connell (Mr. Darcy), and Nance Williamson (Mrs. Bennet), the actors play multiple roles. John Tufts, for example, plays both Bingley (with syrupy bravado) and Mary (with dispassionate jealousy): Mr. Tufts dons a dress and rearranges his hair for Mary. The dress comes off and he rearranges his hair again for Bingley. There are times when Mary becomes Bingley with just the hair adjustment. This might happen because of the rapid costume changes or, perhaps, betimes there is a bit of Bingley in Mary and bit of Mary in Bingley. Anything is possible in this refreshing and engaging retelling.

Mayhem abounds on the Cherry Lane stage as Primary Stages’ “Pride and Prejudice” unfolds its treasure trove of gender-bending antics, near impossible situations, buffoonery, and raucous horseplay. The assumed seriousness of the novel is replaced with the unexpected playfulness of Ms. Hamill’s script, the precision of Ms. Dehnert’s direction, and the brilliant cast assembled for this production. Kate Hamill’s Lizzie bristles with defiance and vulnerability. Jason O’Connell’s Darcy collapses under the weight of reality to understand the importance of true love. Mark Bedard’s Mr. Collins brings comedy to the concept of pedantic.

Chris Thorn’s Mr. Bennet crinkles with austerity and disdain for all things not him and counterpoints Nance Williamson’s Mrs. Bennett’s disdain for Mr. Bennett and all things not her. Rounding out the cast are Kimberly Chatterjee (Lydia and Lady Catherine) and Amelia Pedlow (Jane, Miss DeBourgh) both delivering convincing performances in their multiple roles.

John McDermott’s efficient set design, Tracy Christensen’s durable and character-specific costumes, and Eric Southern’s lighting provide the perfect “space” for Ms. Hamill’s insightful and innovative adaptation. This is a “Pride and Prejudice” for this time and every time and, in its forward-looking approach, invites at least one visit before its proposed closing on Epiphany 2018.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

“Pride and Prejudice” is presented by Primary Stages in association with Jamie deRoy in a co-production with Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival.

The cast of “Pride and Prejudice” includes Mark Bedard, Kimberly Chatterjee, Kate Hamill, Jason O'Connell, Amelia Pedlow, Chris Thorn, John Tufts, and Nance Williamson.

The creative team for “Pride and Prejudice” includes John McDermott (scenic design), Tracy Christensen (costume design), Eric Southern (lighting design), Palmer Hefferan (sound design), and Ellenore Scott (choreography). Roxana Khan serves as production stage manager. Production photos by James Leynse.

“Pride and Prejudice” runs at Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street) through Saturday January 6, 2018. For the schedule of performances, please visit www.PrimaryStages.org.

Single tickets for “Pride and Prejudice “are priced starting at $80.00 with additional premium seating options offered. All tickets are available at www.PrimaryStages.org or by calling OvationTix at 212-352-3101. Running time is 2 hours and 25 minutes with an intermission.

Photo: The Cast of “Pride and Prejudice.” Credit: James Leynse.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, December 7, 2017

Broadway Review: “Once On this Island” at Circle in the Square Theatre (Open Run)

Photo: (L – R): Mia Mei Williamson, Alex Newell, Hailey Kilgore, and the cast of “Once On This Island.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “Once On this Island” at Circle in the Square Theatre (Open Run)
Book and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Directed by Michael Arden
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Once On this Island” was certainly an enchanting and memorable visit twenty-seven years ago and that may in fact cloud the opinions expressed when recently returning to this island and commenting on what had changed. Some audience members may have experienced finding an unknown out of the way place that had a simple and charming ambience, with friendly locals that quickly felt like family, as they shared their history and stories. Then you return to that place many years later finding glitzy hotels, hundreds of tourists, silly souvenir shops and inhabitants that spout the history and stories but never really lived them. That is what came to mind while viewing the current incarnation of this wonderful musical by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. The captivating aura that cast a magical spell fueling the imagination of a little girl as she listens to the folklore of the island is replaced by a big Broadway spectacle that is plagued with excess and self-indulgence.

The play opens with the inhabitants of the island cleaning up after a major storm has devastated the area. Then the folkloric story begins to be told to a little girl (the natural and innocent Emerson Davis). A very long time ago a catastrophic storm destroyed the island and in the aftermath, as two older islanders, (portrayed by the remarkable Phillip Boykin and Kenita R. Miller), were wandering through the debris, they discovered a little girl, Ti Moune, sitting high up in a tree. They became her adoptive parents. As Ti Moune grows, (an enthusiastic Hailey Kilgore) she falls in love with the boy Daniel (infused with energy by Isaac Powell) from a wealthy family on the French side of the island after she sees his car crash. She heals him after making a deal with Papa Ge, the god of death (a menacing and sultry Merle Dandrige) to spare him in exchange for her life. After a short time together, she is rejected by the wealthy family as Daniel has an arranged marriage. She cannot live without her love and Death takes her as she walks into the sea.

It is a beautiful story of young love that is laced with all the right elements for teaching, touching on topics of social rejection, racism, caste, ethics, survival and rebirth. One drawback of this production is that at times the story is lost. Obscured by overwrought staging and a superfluous set that includes a sand filled playing area, the sea (yes, water that extends offstage), the back half of a semi-truck, colorful laundry hanging everywhere, a live goat (complete with diaper) and chickens. The tree that flourishes in the final scene representing a rebirth, the inner beauty of Ti Moune and the resounding spirit of the island is a telephone pole that is raised up, I imagine representing restored power.

Vocally the cast is a powerhouse but over amplified and at times disconnected. A highlight of the evening is the song “Ti Moune” delivered with sensitivity and tenderness by Mr. Boykin and Ms. Miller who provide stable characters, honestly connected throughout the story. It is worth the wait to hear Mr. Powell sensitively sing “Some Girls” with a pure tonal quality expressing a sensible vulnerability. It would be remiss not to mention the crowd pleasers, Hailey Kilgore’s “Waiting for Life” and Alex Newell’s big belt “Mama Will Provide.”

Even with all its distraction and pitfalls, for those who have never visited this island before, it will be a marvelous vacation. There would be no reason to revive a musical unless it is seen in a different perspective with new and inventive ideas and visions. This current production under the direction of Michael Arden delivers a big, lavish Broadway musical with show stopping numbers, which are sure to please the current stream of theatergoers.

ONCE ON THIS ISLAND

“Once On This Island” features Lea Salonga, Alex Newell, Merle Dandridge, Quentin Earl Darrington, and Hailey Kilgore. The cast also includes Phillip Boykin, Darlesia Cearcy, Rodrick Covington, Emerson Davis, Alysha Deslorieux, Tyler Hardwick, Cassondra James, David Jennings, Grasan Kingsberry, Loren Lott, Kenita R. Miller, Isaac Powell, T. Oliver Reid, Aurelia Williams, and.

The creative team for “Once On This Island” includes director Michel Arden, Lynn Ahrens (bookwriter and lyricist), Stephen Flaherty (music), Camille A. Brown (choreographer), Michael Starobin and AnnMarie Milazzo (orchestrators), Dane Laffrey (Scenic Design), Clint Ramos (Costume Design), Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer (Lighting Designers), Peter Hylenski (Sound Designer), John Bertles/Bash The Trash (Unusual Instruments), Cookie Jordan (Hair/Wig & Makeup Designer), Chris Fenwick (Music Supervisor), and Telsey + Co / Craig Burns, CSA (Casting). Alvin Hough, Jr. is the music director. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

For tickets for “Once On This Island” at The Circle in the Square Theatre (235 West 50th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue) and the performance schedule, visit http://www.onceonthisisland.com/. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: (L – R): Mia Mei Williamson, Alex Newell, Hailey Kilgore, and the cast of “Once On This Island.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Broadway Review: “JUNK” at the Vivian Beaumont in Lincoln Center Theater (Through Sunday January 7, 2018)

Photo: Steven Pasquale as Robert Merkin in “JUNK.” Credit: T. Charles Erikson.
Broadway Review: “JUNK” at the Vivian Beaumont in Lincoln Center Theater (Through Sunday January 7, 2018)
By Ayad Akhtar
Directed by Doug Hughes
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The highly anticipated new play by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Ayad Akhtar entitled “JUNK” – referring to the bonds sold in the 1980s by Machiavellian inside traders – does tend to sacrifice intrigue for the sake of entertainment. The plot centers around the fictional junk bond king Robert Merkin (played with unscrupulous charisma by Steven Pasquale), as he manipulates his followers, in the same vein as a religious cult leader, to invest in companies prior to a radical takeover, resulting in high profits from insider trading. The script offers no new insight into a subject matter that has already been played out in books, movies and on major broadcast news. The driving action focuses on the capture of the big whale, Moby Dick (Mr. Merkin’s code name), but this device has been around since the game of Chess, manipulating a pawn to get to the king. This is where the predictability diminishes the suspense. Many of the subplots that adorn the central theme seem more acute, offering inquisitive characters and igniting sparks of sexism, racism, and bigotry in a rather lackluster storyline.

With a cast numbering twenty-three it is problematic that there is not one persona that the audience can love or for that matter abhor, which hints at the lack of depth afforded the characters by Mr. Akhtar. Teresa Avia Lim is a breath of fresh air as the reporter Judy Chen (driven with ambition and confidence) who has a sexual tryst with Leo Tresler (infused with crusty bravura of a good old boy by Michael Siberry). Rick Holmes gives an adequate portrayal of Thomas Everson, Jr. but lacks a sincere emotional investment needed to produce an ounce of empathy from the audience. The remaining cast are all competent and do their best to transcend the material.

Director Doug Hughes moves the action along at rapid pace to match the nature of the activities of radical takeovers, inside trading and federal investigation. The sleek abstract two-story set by John Lee Beatty, complimented by the precise and severe corporate lighting of Ben Stanton, outshines the product as it morphs from scene to scene to frame the players and create an underlying atmosphere to compliment the activity at hand. Although the themes of greed, power, deception, and chicanery are relevant to the present socio-economic and political landscape the content seems safe and tame compared to a nightly news broadcast. To those who lived through the financial debacle of the eighties the production may seem somewhat nostalgic. To others it will translate as an interesting and fast paced chronicle that is presented in a very impressive package.

JUNK

The cast of “JUNK” features Ito Aghayere, Phillip James Brannon, Tony Carlin, Demosthenes Chrysan, Jenelle Chu, Caroline Hewitt, Rick Holmes, Ted Koch, Ian Lassiter, Teresa Avia Lim, Adam Ludwig, Sean McIntyre, Nate Miller, Steven Pasquale, Ethan Phillips, Matthew Rauch, Matthew Saldivar, Charlie Semine, Michael Siberry, Miriam Silverman, Joey Slotnick, Henry Stram, and Stephanie Umoh.

“JUNK” has sets by John Lee Beatty, costumes by Catherine Zuber, lighting by Ben Stanton, original music and sound by Mark Bennett, and projections by 59 Productions. Production photos by T. Charles Erikson.

“JUNK” runs at the Vivian Beaumont in Lincoln Center Theater (150 West 65th Street) through Sunday January 17, 2018 on the following schedule: Tuesday (7:00 p.m.), Wednesday (2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.), Thursday (7:00 p.m.), Friday (8:00 p.m.), Saturday (2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.,), and Sunday (3:00 p.m.). For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.lct.org/shows/junk/. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission.

Photo: Steven Pasquale as Robert Merkin in “JUNK.” Credit: T. Charles Erikson.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Hundred Days” Transforms Love’s Limits at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday December 31, 2017)

Photo: The cast of “Hundred Days” at New York Theatre Workshop. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Hundred Days” Transforms Love’s Limits at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday December 31, 2017)
Music and Lyrics by Abigail and Shaun Bengson
Book by Sarah Gancher
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Movement Direction by Sonya Tayeh
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

With their recent collaboration with Sarah Gancher and Anne Kauffman, Abigail and Shaun Bengson (“The Bengsons”) have redefined the meaning of the theatrical convention of the musical. Without elaborate sets, costumes, large ensembles of singers and dancers, and multi-million-dollar budgets, The Bengsons have successfully mounted a stunning musical with a believable story and a brilliantly executed score. “Hundred Days,” currently running at New York Theatre Workshop, is a musical with heart, hope, and a hundred days of pure love that often brings the audience to a shattering stillness.

After a traumatic event in Abigail’s life when she was fifteen, she finds it hard to trust in the future or to trust in the longevity of significant relationships. This “character trait” is affirmed in recurring dreams about the premature death of a loved one that interferes with Abigail’s full commitment to Shaun. How their relationship develops over the contracted period of a hundred days, and how they managed to stay together for ten years is the compelling story behind “Hundred Days.” By making the decision to develop the “theatrical imagining” about a fictional couple (Will and Sarah) by placing their own love story at the piece’s core, Abigail and Shaun have created a compelling musical treatise about the power of love.

The musical begins with the affirmation of The Bengsons’s status as a married couple (not brother and sister) with the song “Vows” – their wedding vows: “All my life I’ve been looking for you Been looking for you/Take my pride and lay it at your feet/A woven mat to keep you.” The balance of the musical is retrospective of their relationship from their first meeting “at the first rehearsal of a massive anti-folk folk-punk old-timey neo soul band” the year after Shaun moved to New York City to their marriage. Each song in that “history” is the perfect balance of pathos, ethos, and logos easily persuading the listener of the depth of the authenticity of their unconditional and non-judgmental love.

After finding Abigail, Shaun follows her suggestion – “Let’s eat” – and they end up in a diner where Shaun “suddenly feels like he knows her. Like time is bending back on itself” and where Abigail recalls, “It was like every door of my body opened and he just wandered in.” Abigail breaks up with her boyfriend and Shaun “breaks up” with his friend Max (“God Can Be a City Boy”) and their journey begins. The Bengsons’s music is eclectic, unique in tone and its rich thematic synchronicity pervades every song and every space between the songs – songs that celebrate sadness, joy, separation, reconciliation, and redemption with a deep and rich spirituality. “Hundred Days” transcends musical theatre where actors play instruments on stage. “Hundred Days” is a musical featuring a band on stage with its members performing a fully developed musical with a beginning, middle, and end.

The show’s songs continue to explore the growth of the relationship between Abigail and Shaun with a mix of rock, blues, and jazz. Sometimes Abigail and Shaun sing solos, sometimes duets, sometimes with the other performers. And sometimes Jo and Reggie sing solos that provide exposition. The styling and staging here are unique and deeply persuasive.

It is difficult to categorize Abigail’s performance of the standout number “Three Legged Dog” except to affirm that Janis Joplin was “somewhere in the house.” Abigail rehearses the haunting possibility of losing Shaun and how she will “survive” his loss: “When you go my shards will scatter/Half of me is dying too.” In what might be the climax of the musical, she decides to leave. Shaun immediately begins to search for her, singing: “I thought god was a friend/Who would help make things easier/I thought time was/On my side/I thought love was supposed/To make things easier/Now love is/A long goodbye.”

The conversation (“Transcription”) that follows is a prolonged dialogue between Alison and Shaun during which they share their fears and hopes about aging and the vicissitudes of life and look forward to becoming “other stuff together” and overcome Abigail’s concern “That everyone [she loves] gets sick or dies or goes mad” by embracing the inevitability of aging and death. After the sharing, they decide to get married “in real life.”

The show’s final number “Bells” is the first song Abigail and Shaun wrote together: it was written for Abigail to sing after Shaun “is gone.” The lyrics and music are both haunting and life-affirming: “I can sing Gloria/the lights over Astoria/I know you are alone/I know you can’t come home. The musical ends with the couple affirming to “say yes to sickness; to say yes to health; to say yes to riches and to brokenness.” They say yes to the future, to futility, to trying, and yes to death doing us part” affirming “What else can we do?”

The “Family Band” is without comparison: the members not only excel in performance on keyboard, guitar, drums and percussion, cello, and accordion; they also act, sing, and move with “triple threat” persuasiveness. Colette Alexander, Jo Lampert, Dani Markham, and Reggie D. White join Abigail and Shaun in this marathon of a new musical. The creative team of Kris Stone, Sydney Gallas, Andrew Hungerford, Nicholas Pope, and Lindsey Turteltaub create a space where The Bengsons create magic and transcend all expectations set by traditional musical theatre. Sonya Tayeh’s movement direction creates exquisite images throughout the performance.

“Hundred Days” celebrates Saying ‘yes’ to life and all its uncertainties: celebrates facing the fear of loneliness, rejection, and being able to take each other’s troubles “into” each other. It is an event not to be missed and will certainly have a life beyond this iteration at the iconic New York Theatre Workshop.

HUNDRED DAYS

For more information about “Hundred Days” visit https://www.nytw.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: The cast of “Hundred Days” at New York Theatre Workshop. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Torch Song” Wobbles at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (Extended through Saturday December 9, 2017)

Photo: Michael Rosen and Michael Urie star in the revival of Harvey Fierstein's “Torch Song,” directed by Moisés Kaufman, at Second Stage Theatre. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Torch Song” Wobbles at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (Extended through Saturday December 9, 2017)
By Harvey Fierstein
Directed by Moisés Kaufman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Loneliness, the quest for authentic and meaningful love, the fear of rejection, the need for respect, and the excruciating separation from situations of abuse are not unique to members of the LGBTQ community of any decade or location and perhaps that is why audiences have responded positively to Harvey Fierstein’s “Torch Song Trilogy” since its Broadway production in 1982 at New York’s Little Theatre (the Helen Hayes). Harvey Fierstein’s adaptation at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater is titled “Torch Song:” it is staged in two acts with Arnold’s (Michael Urie) soliloquy and the original act names intact. Four hours have been trimmed down to two hours and forty minutes.

The characters and their conflicts are familiar – even more familiar than they were in the 1970s and 1980s. And the plots and subplots driven by their conflicts are even more recognizable. Scenes in The International Stud (Act I), Fugue in a Nursery (Act II), and Widows and Children First (Act III) chronicle Arnold’s yearning for love (and family), his falling in love with Ed (Ward Horton), the “straight” man who is dating Arnold and Laurel (Roxanna Hope Radja) concurrently, his significant relationship with Alan (Michael Rosen), his adopted son David (Jack DiFalco), and his confrontation with his possessive mother Ma (Mercedes Ruehl). Michael Urie tenderly and authentically portrays these stages in Arnold’s quest for acceptance and meaningful relationships.

The action of the truncated trilogy is, unfortunately, uneven. In Act I, the extended phone conversation between Arnold and Ed is awkward: the dialogue seems worn and overwrought. Conversely, Mr. Horton delivers a compelling account of his suicide dream. Act II, Fugue in a Nursery, is energetic and well-directed by Moisés Kaufman. Although reminiscent of a scene in Sondheim’s “Company,” the act moves briskly and allows the actors to explore their formidable comedic skills. Sadly, the act also highlights all sorts of infidelity and chicanery too often associated with the LGBTQ community and raises an enduring and rich questions: Why do members of the LGBTQ family respond so positively (standing ovations) to theatre that portrays its members in less than affirmative qualities? Are we simply grateful to have plays that deal with LGBTQ themes?

Act III, Widows and Children First is the least satisfying. Ms. Ruehl delivers a robust Ma; unfortunately, Ma is a despicable and selfish character that Arnold should not need to include in his new understanding of elective family. The ending of the play provides less than a satisfying catharsis.

Under Mr. Kaufman’s careful direction, the members of cast deliver believable performances despite the stereotypical traits of each character. David Zinn’s sparse, elevated, and movable set is functional and appropriate. Clint Ramos’s costumes are period perfect. David Lander’s lighting adds significantly to the mood of the piece and does Fitz Patton’s sound design.

There are times when the characters border on becoming cartoons. This occurs predominantly in Act III after Ma arrives on the scene. The conversations – mostly the arguments – between Ma and Arnold reek of situation comedy. This is unfortunate, because it is in these encounters that Mr. Fierstein’s argument for Arnold’s independence and separation and individuation from his abusive mother are meant to be resolved. It is difficult to discern whether this misfortune is the result of Mr. Kaufman’s direction or Mr. Fierstein’s writing although the latter would be the better choice. The tone here is transparently Fierstein and perhaps the autobiographical nature of the piece unburdens here.

The journey to achieving Arnold’s commendable goals is a universal one as are the characters in “Torch Song.” One wishes for more relevant themes for the LGBTQ community in the first half of the twenty-first century.

TORCH SONG

“Torch Song” features Michael Urie as Arnold Beckoff and Mercedes Ruehl as Ma, as well as Jack DiFalco as David, Ward Horton as Ed, Roxanna Hope Radja as Laurel, and Michael Rosen as Alan.

“Torch Song” features scenic design by David Zinn; costume design by Clint Ramos; lighting design by David Lander; sound design by Fitz Patton; hair design by Charles G. LaPointe; make-up design by Joe Dulude II; and casting by Telsey + Company. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Torch Song” plays through Saturday December 9, 2017 at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (305 West 43rd Street New York, NY 10036) on the following schedule: Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. For further information and to purchase tickets, please visit https://2st.com/ or call 212-239-6200. Running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Michael Rosen and Michael Urie star in the revival of Harvey Fierstein's “Torch Song,” directed by Moisés Kaufman, at Second Stage Theatre. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, December 1, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Mad Ones” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday December 17, 2017)

Photo: Jay Armstrong Johnson (as Adam) and Krystina Alabado (as Samantha Brown) in Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk’s “The Mad Ones” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Richard Termine.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Mad Ones” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday December 17, 2017)
Book, Music and Lyrics by Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk
Directed by Stephen Brackett
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The New York premiere of the not-so-new musical “The Mad Ones” is making its New York premiere and being presented by Prospect Theater Company at 59E59 theaters. It is a coming of age story that is propelled by the Jack Kerouac’s iconic 1957 novel “On the Road” but laden with clichés, superfluous situations and a skimpy script that tries to invent reasons to perform fourteen musical numbers. The title is taken from a line in the novel “The only people for me are the Mad Ones”. It is hard to determine exactly what creators Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk are attempting to convey when the issues of grief, angst, separation, identity and expectation are merely skirted with no effort to produce a dramatic arc or for that matter any reason to continue to the next scene.

The entire show consists of a series of flashbacks, except for the first and last scenes, where valedictorian Samantha Brown sits in a car deciding on her future. What goes through her mind as she contemplates going to an Ivy League college, staying with her boyfriend or hitting the open road for freedom and adventure, is conveyed by several vignettes, with each containing a song. Any dialogue within or connecting these scenes seems redundant since many of the lyrics usually provide the necessary information and conflicts needed to move the action forward. The musical numbers are written in the Broadway belt fashion and after a while acquire a sameness that diminishes the crisis or turmoil at hand.

The cast is nothing less than remarkable. Krystina Alabado creates an intelligent yet vulnerable Sam with all the angst of a teenager trying to make sense of the world while stepping over the threshold into adulthood. Her vocal stamina is amazing, always delivered with a pure tonal quality. The free-spirited Kelly is infused with undeniable energy by Emma Hunton. Her presence electrifies the stage as she is fierce but fragile, loud but lonely, frivolous but wise with a vocal that erupts to shake the rafters. Leah Hocking brings her endless experience to bring depth and honesty to Beverly, as a single mother and over achiever with a solid vocal that matches her stable character. Jay Armstrong Johnson portrays Adam as oddly simple, content with himself and infused with sensitivity. This a perfectly cast show that manages to overcome the shortcomings of the material.

Direction by Stephen Brackett is conventional and pedestrian which does not match or compliment the complexity of the script’s convention and structure. Orchestrations by Mr. Lowdermilk are heavy on the strings but serve the dramatic content well. Since the project has been around for several years and this is the latest incarnation it should not bow to the problems that still exist. It is not an unpleasant experience but nothing exceptional or groundbreaking.

THE MAD ONES

Produced by Prospect Theater Company, “The Mad Ones” runs through Sunday December 17, 2017 at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues).

The cast of “The Mad Ones” features Krystina Alabado as Samantha Brown; Emma Hunton as her best friend Kelly; and Ben Fankhauser as Adam, her boyfriend. Leah Hocking rounds out the cast as Beverly Brown (Samantha’s mom).

“The Mad Ones” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, December 17. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Single tickets are $25 - $70 ($25 - $49 for 59E59 Members). Tickets are available by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or online at www.59e59.org. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Jay Armstrong Johnson (as Adam) and Krystina Alabado (as Samantha Brown) in Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk’s “The Mad Ones” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Richard Termine.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, November 30, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Harry Clarke” Wrangles with Reality at the Vineyard Theatre (Through Sunday December 3, 2017)

Photo: Billy Crudup in “Harry Clarke.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Harry Clarke” Wrangles with Reality at the Vineyard Theatre (Through Sunday December 3, 2017)
By David Cale
Directed by Leigh Silverman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Harry Clarke (the persona and the person) was born out of the dysfunctional matrix of paternal abuse and maternal collusion that plagued Philip Brugglestein from his childhood through his adulthood. David Cale’s play “Harry Clarke,” currently playing at the Vineyard Theatre, is a complex and engaging psychological study of dissociative identity disorder (DID) and explores the provenance of that condition from the point of view of a man (Billy Crudup) who fled one identity and was pursued by a second that alternately brought him both pleasure and pain.

Mr. Cale’s script is carefully developed: it has a well-defined dramatic arc and it features interesting and well-developed characters with engaging and believable conflicts that drive a plot rich in twists and turns that holds the audience’s interest for the entire eighty minutes when performed. Under Leigh Silverman’s astute and unobtrusive direction, Billy Crudup engages in a dramatic battle with the script and comes up the clear victor, unearthing Mr. Cale’s treasures and bringing Harry Clarke to life with inexorable energy and irrepressible wit. Alexander Dodge’s sparse set and Alan C. Edwards’s judicious lighting contribute to the success of the performance.

Billy Crudup plays twelve characters (or more) in addition to Philip Brugglestein and his cockney Doppelganger Harry Clarke, including his abusive parents and the police officer who awakened Philip to tell him of his father’s death. After Philip’s father’s death, he moves to New York City where he and Harry impose themselves upon Mark Schmidt. Mr. Crudup portrays – rather creates – Mark, Mark’s father and his Mother Ruth, Mark’s sister Stephanie, Luke (whom he meets in a bar) from Camden, and attorneys Brad Gould and Ryan.

Mr. Crudup gives each of these dynamic characters unique personalities, facial gestures, and body movements. He accomplishes this remarkable, near impossible, task with the ease of turning a page in a script and the skill of one of the stage’s most accomplished actors. One can see Crudup’s characters not only in the traditional ways outlined earlier; one can also see the actor imagining these characters “in his head.” He even sings Stephanie’s song “Wide Back Boy” with seductive charm.

Philip and Harry (one needs to mention both personas) make it to England. How and why are the resolution of the play and it would require a spoiler’s alert to provide more details. The journey from Indiana to England provides ample opportunity for Harry to regain control over Philip and place him in challenging – albeit fascinating – situations. Each requires Philip to grapple with his personality, his superego, and his tolerance of taking risks that might result in Philip losing complete control to Harry.

David Cale’s expansive character study of the young Philip Brugglestein from South Bend, Indiana and his “alter ego” Harry Clarke raises the rich and enduring question, “Are there limits to what one does to escape verbal, psychological, and – perhaps – sexual abuse to preserve one’s life?” Additionally, is one always in control of the circumstances surrounding the techniques of survival? Finally, “Harry Clarke” successfully questions all assumptions about individual identity, ego strength, and personality that leave the audience members wondering just how much they know about themselves and their choices.

HARRY CLARKE

“Harry Clark” starring Billy Crudup runs at the Vineyard Theatre through Sunday December 3, 2017.

The design team includes scenic design by Alexander Dodge, costume design by Kaye Voyce, lighting design by Alan Edwards, and sound design by Bart Fasbender. Original songs by David Cale. Casting by Henry Russell Bergstein, CSA. Shelly Miles serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

Tickets to “Harry Clarke” can be purchased online at www.vineyardtheatre.org or by calling the box office at 212-353-0303. The Vineyard Theatre link also includes performance dates and times and further information on the production. Running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes with no intermission.

Photo: Billy Crudup in “Harry Clarke.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, November 27, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Stuffed” at the Westside Theatre Downstairs (Through Sunday February 18, 2018

Photo: Marsha Stephanie Blake and Lisa Lampanelli. Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
Off-Broadway Review: “Stuffed” at the Westside Theatre Downstairs (Through Sunday February 18, 2018)
By Lisa Lampanelli
Directed by Jackson Gay
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

If you are in the mood for insult comedy that claims to take the important topic of women and weight seriously – but does not – then Lisa Lampanelli’s “Stuffed,” currently enjoying a revival at the Westside Theatre Downstairs, might be a show to put on your “must-see” list. However, if you think making jokes about the color of Michael Jackson’s skin and other ethnic humor is distasteful (which this critic believes it is), then you would be better off staying home and having a piece of cake and not worrying about your weight. True, Ms. Lampanelli’s trademark ethnic humor is downplayed here; however, when it does take center stage it comes across as completely inappropriate and fails to make any connection to any valuable rhetorical argument about food and its discontents.

“Stuffed” addresses the gamut of issues surrounding weight and its gain or loss (intentional or otherwise), including: body-image; clothing; shaming; anorexia-bulimia; dieting; therapy; favorite foods; binging; purging; peer support; and protein shakes. The playwright alternates between her own style of stand-up comedy with a variety of sketches about the weight issues. She then stuffs the script with monologues from each of the fictional characters meant apparently to seduce the audience into caring and possibly experiencing a needed catharsis.

Lisa Lampanelli plays herself here and, in her stand-up routines, delivers some funny material – mostly when it is self-deprecating or political. Her bit stalking her opponent in a debate on who wins, skinny or fat people, Lampanelli successfully riffs the Trump-Clinton Presidential debate. Joining her are Marsha Stephanie Blake who plays Katey the “skinny” African-American woman who cannot gain weight; Lauren Ann Brickman who plays Marty the “size 18-or-over woman with true inner confidence;” and Eden Malyn who plays Britney the recovering bulimic/anorexic. Ms. Blake fares best here and brings to the lackluster script a sense of authenticity and pathos in her monologue about her mother taking her to buy her first bra.

In one of her monologues, Ms. Lampanelli shares a part of the session she had with her “shrink” after the death of her friend Frank. When the therapist innocently asks how Big Frank died, Lampanelli goes into a comedic rant about Frank’s weight and his diabetes and how her “half-a-clam of a shrink hits her with, you don’t have to be funny.” Her therapist’s suggestion was appropriate, and that diagnosis applies to “Stuffed” as a whole: the playwright tries too hard to be funny about a subject that ultimately is not funny, and which has been covered by comedians for decades. Had the playwright written the story of Big Frank with more sensitivity it could have been persuasive, empowering, and cathartic. Jackson Gay’s direction is tangential at best and might have contributed to some of the questionable choices made in the staging.

Perhaps Lisa Lampanelli might consider performing a shorter stand-up routine and play all the characters in “Stuffed.” If the play remains in its present format, the three characters need to be re-written with clearer and unique conflicts and developed with the depth that would endear the audience to them, caring about them and their significant struggles. “Stuffed” provides some laughs but too often at the expense of the characters it wishes to lift up and champion. In short, “Stuffed” is pleasant stand-up comedy; however, it is not theatre.

STUFFED

The cast of “Stuffed” features Marsha Stephanie Blake, Nikki Blonsky, Lisa Lampanelli, and Eden Malyn.

The creative team for “Stuffed” includes set design by Antje Ellerman, costume design by Jessica Ford, lighting design by Amith Chandrashaker, sound design by Elisheba Ittoop, and casting by Stewart/Whitley. Production photos by Jeremy Daniel.

“Stuffed” performs at the Westside Theatre (Downstairs, 407 West 43rd Street) on the following schedule: Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets are available by visiting http://stuffedplay.com/. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.

Photo: Marsha Stephanie Blake and Lisa Lampanelli. Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage (Through Sunday November 26, 2017)

Photo: Edi Gathegi and Ricardo Chavira. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage (Through Sunday November 26, 2017)
By Stephen Adly Guirgis
Directed by Mark Brokaw
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The value of enduring questions is that they are not specific to a time or place or event. Theatre should be raising enduring questions and conflicts that playwrights (and their cultures) grappled with hundreds of years ago and remain relevant today? Stephen Adly Guirgis raises several such questions in the revival of his play “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train,” currently running at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage. The conflicts occur between: prisoners Lucius Jenkins (Edi Gathegi) and Angel Cruz (played with a passivity that masquerades a deep-seated wrath by Sean Carvajal); the prisoners and their guards Valdez (Ricardo Chavira) and Charlie D’Amico (played with a compassion that does not match his environment by Erick Betancourt; and Angel and his public defender Mary Jane Hanrahan (played with a steely determinism by Stephanie DiMaggio).

Both Lucius and Angel are imprisoned on Rikers Island and – for reasons of their safety – are housed in a special 23-hour lock-down wing. Lucius spends as much time in the wing’s yard where he enjoys the warmth of the sun: Angel spends the same amount of time with no apparent reward except his gradual exposure to Lucius’s peculiar Weltanschauung and dogged proselytization. Lucius in “inside” for murdering eight people. Angel is incarcerated for shooting the Rev. Kim “in the rear” at the pastor’s church from which he hoped to “kidnap” his friend Joey. Joey has been “brainwashed” by Kim’s cult-like congregation. Playwright Guirgis once attempted a similar rescue of a friend from the Unification Church.

Charlie, Lucius’s “benevolent” guard is replaced by Valdez after the “system” discovers Charlie shares too many cigarettes and home-made cookies with Lucius. Charlie knows Lucius will be extradited to Florida where he will be executed by lethal injection and treats Lucius with respect and an unexpected humanity. Valdez – the only character with one name – replaces cigarettes and cookies with body slams, threats, and racist invectives. He is pure evil and is cruelty incarnate, and Mr. Chavira successfully brings to his character the epitome of despicable behavior. “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” carefully strips away the façade of “right and wrong,” “innocence and guilt,” and “good and bad” to expose the horror of “discarding” human being – a discarding that is “irreparable” and will “last forever.” The play also resounds with the horrific wonder of the cycle of redemption.

Lucius is successful at “doing theology,” developing a complex and workable theology that allows him to understand his own situation and share his faith with Angel. This is a remarkable survival technique that theologians have for years attempted to teach “the faithful.” Lucius processes his situation from the POV of the New Testament, specifically the crucifixion of Jesus. He also echoes John’s warning to the Church in Laodicea not to be “lukewarm, neither hot nor cold.” Lucius urges Angel to “speak out” and admit to his wrongdoing, to be either “freezing or blazing” but “never cool.”

Angel, unlike Lucius, fails to “do theology.” He reflects on being “saved” by Jesus who hopped the ‘A’ train to allow him and his friend Joey to release their grip on one another and get off the subways tracks before the arrival of the train. He understands “salvation” in the subway tunnel but not in the special 23-hour lock-down wing of protective custody on Rikers Island where Lucius models salvation in every breath he takes, in every word he speaks. However, just moments before Lucius is extradited to Florida, he “gets through” to Angel and, on the stand, Angel refuses Mary Jane’s stern warnings and admits to shooting and attempting to kill the Rev. Kim.

The play raises rich and enduring questions regarding justice and morality; moral ambiguity; and guilt and innocence. When is it all right to lie to save one’s life? How does systemic racism affect prison populations? Is the justice system just? The playwright uses a variety of rhetorical strategies to address these questions including parallel structures, comparison and contrast, and cause and effect. Other carefully developed tropes used are rich imagery and figurative language.

Contrast the moral integrity of the man who killed 8 people with the man who, with his attorney, tried to get cleared of charges for intending to kill a religious leader (Unification Church Kim) and shot him in the rear. Mary Jane needs a victory and is convinced Angel will be acquitted if only he lies on the stand – to avoid being accused of suborning her client. She “finds honor” in Angel’s attempts to bring his friend Joey back from Rev. Kim’s cult.

Lucius is correct. Those in systems do far worse than he has done with no remorse. Lucius was molested, raped, victimized, and abused as a child. The system never intervened, never attempted to save him. In his final act of defiance and empowerment, Lucius is executed by the same system that failed to protect him – “high as a kite.” Edi Gathegi’s performance is haunting and exhilarating and he portrays Lucius with a depth of authenticity that scatters chards of catharsis across the stage and throughout the theatre.

JESUS HOPPED THE ‘A’ TRAIN

The cast of “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” includes Erick Betancourt, Sean Carvajal, Ricardo Chavira, Stephanie DiMaggio, and Edi Gathegi.

The creative team includes Riccardo Hernandez (Scenic Design), Dede M. Ayite (Costume Design), Scott Zielinski (Lighting Design), M.L. Dogg (Sound Design), Deborah Hecht (Dialect Coach), Cookie Jordan (Wig and Makeup Design). Linda Marvel is the Production Stage Manager. Casting by Caparelliotis Casting. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

To purchase tickets for all Signature productions, call Ticket Services at 212-244-7529 (Tuesday – Sunday, 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.) or visit www.SignatureTheatre.org. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Edi Gathegi and Ricardo Chavira. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, October 29, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Occupied Territories” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday November 5, 2017)

Photo: Donte Bonner and Scott Thomas. Credit: Colin Hovde.
Off-Broadway Review: “Occupied Territories” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday November 5, 2017)
Written by Nancy Bannon and Mollye Maxner
Directed by Mollye Maxner
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

One of the territories occupied in Nancy Bannon and Mollye Maxner’s “Occupied Territories,” currently running at 59E59 Theaters, is the Jungle of Vietnam in 1967 during what seemed at the time to be an interminable and unpopular war. In the revival of the Theater Alliance’s 2015 play, that war appears as a haunting memory for Jude (Nancy Bannon) and her sister Helena (Kelley Rae O’Donnell) as, forty-five years later, they begin to sort out the contents of the family home basement following the funeral of their father Collins (Cody Robinson) and begin to grapple – in profoundly different ways – with the beginnings of the stages of grief.

Jude is “on leave” from rehab to attend her father’s funeral and recalls her father as a distant and abusive man who once looked her in the eye at the dinner table when she was nine years old and told her, “Jude, this family stuff is not real love. Real love is between soldiers fighting for each other’s lives. That’s love. Not this.” Jude’s memories of her father include screaming at his wife and family “for hours over nothing” and “duct taping mom’s mouth and hands.” Her father was in Vietnam for eleven months; however, he never shared much about his experiences there with his family.

Helena is more forgiving, relegating her father’s shortcomings to PTSD and “doing the best he could.” She is not as forgiving of Jude and her inability to break the cycle of addiction to drugs and care for her daughter Alex (Ciela Elliott) – despite Jude’s addiction perhaps related to her father’s dependence on prescription pain medication including Oxycontin, Valium, and Percoset which Helena claims Jude “loves.” “Occupied Territories” explores the intricies of Jude’s memory: those times when her memories of her father are reliable and the other times when the crevices of her sometimes-fallible memories need to be caressed with facts. As Jude reads journals and views slides, her “restored” memory is played out in a series of flashbacks.

Under Mollye Maxner’s thoughtful direction, the flashback scenes generated by memory and the basement’s detritus are both realistic and chilling. Spread beyond Andrew R. Cohen’s well-crafted basement set is the expansive Vietnam Jungle where the action of the war is played out just inches from the audience. The flashbacks include an electrifying dance sequence choreographed by Kelly Maxner that serves as an extended metaphor for Collins’s (and others’) experiences in the Vietnam Jungle and in war in general. The powerful pas de duex includes Hawk (Nile Harris) and Hardcore (Nate Yaffe) and covers the entire set with leaps and tosses that seem to defy possibility.

The remaining cast of soldiers are archetypes of what war demands of its participants and the actors portray their characters with a depth of sensitivity and metacognition: Diego Aguirre (Lucky); Donte Bonner (Ace); Thony Mena (Alvarez); and Scott Thomas (Ski) join Mr. Robinson, Mr. Harris, and Mr. Yaffe in rehearsing the intimacy of those who fight in wars together along with their fears, their dreams, and their deep sense of remorse.

One might wish the two worlds of basement and jungle – separated by time and space – were more directly connected; however, these at best are parallel worlds or worlds occupying different dimensions. Realism counterpoints fantasy and memory in “Occupied Territories” in sometimes complex and, perhaps, confusing ways. The overall effect, though challenging, is satisfactory and addresses more than Jude’s “reconciliation” with her father’s life in Vietnam. In addition to the Vietnam Jungle, the play addresses the occupied territories of the childhood home and its basement full of memories; of time and space; between characters; between characters and significant life events; and of addiction and collusion. These are territories not only worthy of exploration but territories necessary for survival, and healing, and redefining the meaning of love.

OCCUPIED TERRITORIES

The cast features Diego Aguirre, Nancy Bannon, Donte Bonner, Ciela Elliott, Nile Harris, Thony Mena, Kelley Rae O'Donnell, Cody Robinson, Scott Thomas, and Nathan Jan Yaffe.

The design team includes Brian MacDevitt (production design); Andrew R. Cohen (set design); Rob Siler (lighting design); Mathew M. Nielsen (sound design and original music); and Kelsey Hunt (costume design). “Occupied Territories” is choreographed by Kelly Maxner. The Production Stage Manager is Kaelyn Kreicbergs. Production photos by Colin Hovde.

“Occupied Territories” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, November 5. The performance schedule is Wednesday - Thursday at 7:15 PM, Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM and 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Single tickets are $35 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). $20 discounted tickets are available to Veterans, Retired, and Active Military. To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 90 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Donte Bonner and Scott Thomas. Credit: Colin Hovde.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, October 26, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Oedipus El Rey” Creates Mythos at The Public’s Shiva Theater (Through Sunday December 3, 2017)

Photo: Joel Perez, Juan Castano, Brian Quijada, and Reza Salazar. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Oedipus El Rey” Creates Mythos at The Public’s Shiva Theater (Through Sunday December 3, 2017)
By Luis Alfaro
Directed by Chay Yew
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“No one should be considered fortunate until dead.” – Greek Maxim

The fifth century B.C.E. is not the present-day Los Angeles borderlands: although the bones of Sophocles’ tragedy “Oedipus Rex” engaged the citizenry of Athens, urban America needs a Phoenix-like rebirth and retelling of the ancient tale to affect an authentic catharsis. Luis Alfaro’s “Oedipus El Rey,” currently running at The Public’s Shiva Theater, deconstructs the classic distilling it to its essence and reconstructs the tragedy with a painful and sometimes disquieting relevance to metamodernism.

Oedipus (Juan Castano) is serving time in a California State Prison and is about to be released. His father Tiresias (Julio Monge) remains in prison but has prepared his son for this new phase in his life. Oedipus wants to “be something more,” “a man of principle,” “a man with a plan,” “a man with no limits.” He is the playwright’s Everyman who seeks to break free of all systems that oppress, and discriminate, and incarcerate. The Coro (Chorus) provides much of the exposition needed to ready the audience for Oedipus’s journeys to Highway 99, Calle Broadway in Los Angeles, and ultimately to La Casa at 1324 Toberman Street in Pico-Union, Los Angeles, the barrio where, after inadvertently killing his real father Laius (Juan Francisco Villa), and battling his jealous uncle Creon (Joel Perez), he tragically weds his birth mother Jocasta (Sandra Delgado).

Although “Oedipus El Rey” contains scenes highly reminiscent of “Oedipus Rex,” it is important to remember that Mr. Alfaro’s play is something new and transcendent. His Oedipus struggles with Fate and the Parliament of Owls, challenges the Tribunal of Los Healers, and confounds the Sphinx. The focus on the love between Oedipus and Jocasta (before he knows she is his birth mother) is refreshing and transformative. Oedipus challenges her to expose her loneliness and her need for “protection” and “love.” Under Chay Yew’s sensitive direction, Mr. Castano and Ms. Delgado bring the depth of ethos and pathos to their “falling in love” scene between Oedipus and Jocasta (intimacy direction by UnkleDave’s Fight House).

In his initial conversations with Jocasta, it is touching to hear Oedipus rehearse all that he learned while in prison: he completed his G. E. D. “I didn’t cheat. It took me a while, but I got through it. I also got some training in things,” he tells Jocasta. “Serving food. Fixing cars. Cooking. Cleaning.” This is an Oedipus, brilliantly and beautifully portrayed by Juan Castano, who does not want to be defined by his past and who refuses to be controlled by deities or fates. Jocasta, portrayed with a hopefulness rooted in tradition, warns Oedipus, “You might think you have the power to make the world you want to make, but there’s someone upstairs pulling your strings. You think you got here on your own? We all got destiny. We all got a story that was written for us a long time ago. We’re just characters in a book. We’re already history and we just started living. Our story has already been told. Were fated.”

Riccardo Hernandez’s sliding prison doors set counterpoints the themes of imprisonment to institutions and ideas and Lap Chi Chu’s lighting splashes the stage with pools of sensuality, reconciliation, redemption, and release. Director Chay Yew’s exhilarating staging is supported by Fabian Obispo’s haunting original music and sound design.

Luis Alfaro’s “Oedipus El Rey” raises rich and enduring questions, some timeless, some relevant to the current socio-economic environment. Do all choices involve consequences? Is it possible to choose to do something without experiencing consequences? Is there a difference between ‘destiny’ and ‘fate?” What is that difference? Has our story, as Jocasta believes, been already told or can we, as Oedipus hoped, begin a new story? Or the even richer question raised by the Chorus (Reza Salazar, Brian Quijada, and Joel Perez), “Can we live the story not yet told, and the possibility not yet imagined? Or are we fated?” And, for all of these questions, do the “answers” necessitate “either-or” responses?

Also compelling is one of Oedipus’s final questions, “Do we have to believe everything they tell us?” Equally compelling is the question of the Coro, “Do we lay down and take what the world has given us? Or do we break down the cycle, the system, and tell new stories?” The answers to those questions filter out of the theatre with the audience as members grapple with this new and transformative myth that invites new stories brimming with resistance.

OEDIPUS EL REY

The cast of “Oedipus El Rey” features Juan Castano (Oedipus, Coro); Sandra Delgado (Jocasta); Julio Monge (Tiresias, Coro); Joel Perez (Creon, Coro); Brian Quijada (Coro); Reza Salazar (Coro); and Juan Francisco Villa (Laius, Coro).

“Oedipus El Rey” features scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez, costume design by Anita Yavich, lighting design by Lap Chi Chu, original music and sound design by Fabian Obispo, and fight and intimacy direction by UnkleDave’s Fight House. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Oedipus El Rey” plays at The Public’s Shiva Theater on the following schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. There is an added 2:00 p.m. performance on Wednesday, November 22. There is no performance on Thursday, November 23 at 8:00 p.m. Public Theater Partner and Member tickets, as well as single tickets starting at $60, can be accessed now by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. Running time is 100 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Joel Perez, Juan Castano, Brian Quijada, and Reza Salazar. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Desperate Measures” at the York Theatre Company (Through Sunday October 29, 2017)

Pictured (left to right): Peter Saide, Emma Degerstedt, and Conor Ryan. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Desperate Measures” at the York Theatre Company (Through Sunday October 29, 2017)
Book and Lyrics by Peter Kellogg
Music by David Friedman
Directed and Choreographed by Bill Castellino
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Although billed as being “loosely based” on the classic Shakespearian comedy, “Desperate Measures,” currently playing at the York Theatre Company, has the “guts” of “Measure for Measure” with the charm and appeal of a traditional Broadway musical. Peter Kellogg and David Friedman are to be commended for achieving this feat and bringing this clever retelling to the stage.

Somewhere out West in the late 1800s, Johnny Blood (Conor Ryan) has been jailed for shooting and killing a man in a fight over Bella Rose (Lauren Molina) the chanteuse at the local saloon. Johnny is scheduled to hang and reaches out to his cell mate Father Morse (Gary MaraCcek) who has been jailed for intoxication and gives more credence to Friedrich Nietzsche than to the Deity. His only hope is his sister Susanna (Emma Degerstedt) who is just days away from becoming a nun – Sister Mary Jo. Hopefully the good Sister sister can convince Governor von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber (Nick Wyman) to pardon her brother and allow Sheriff Martin Green (Pater Saide) to set Johnny free.

The parallels to Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” genuinely please the audience in this rollicking romantic retelling. Susanna and the Sheriff have a crush on one another. The Governor has a crush on Susanna (or is it Bella?). Johnny and Bella want to marry and start a family. And Father Morse just wants to get drunk and correspond with the now dead Nietzsche.

The discerning Shakespeare aficionado will recognize (in addition to the bare bones of the plot): Vincentio the Duke (Governor von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber); a morally unambiguous Angelo the Deputy (Sheriff Green); a Claudio (Johnny Blood); his sister Isabella – with a bit of the Nun (Susanna); Claudio’s Beloved Juliet – with a bit of Mistress Overdone (Bella Rose); and the Duke’s alter ego Friar Peter (Father Morse).

Also present are the engaging themes of “Measure for Measure.” This retelling manages to address law and order, justice, hypocrisy, and moral ambiguity in comedic ways without dismissing their importance in the Wild West and in the current socio-political environment. There’s even a not-so-veiled jab at the current occupants of the White House as well as mistaken identity and Peter Kellogg’s rhyming iambic pentameter. There is enough here for many of the audience members to have seen the musical more than once.

This is a pleasant musical that celebrates the enduring themes of love, commitment, and “being alive.” The cast is uniformly engaging – all triple threats with vocal, acting, and movement skills. They stay true to their characters and deliver authentic and believable performances. The eighteen musical numbers range from the comedic to the sublime. Mr. Friedman’s music is varied in style and inspiration and complements Mr. Kellogg’s lively book and lyrics perfectly. Favorites are Susanna’s “Look in Your Heart,” Johnny’s “Good to Be Alive,” and “The Way You Feel Inside” the trio by Susanna, Bella, and the Sheriff. Peter Saide, Emma Degerstedt, Lauren Molina, and Conor Ryan have exceptionally fine voices with extensive ranges and can interpret and deliver lyrics with sensitivity and nuance.

Will Sheriff Green and Susanna unite and marry? Will Bella and Johnny get hitched? Will Father Morse discover the truth about the letter he received from Friedrich Nietzsche? Will the Governor show any remorse for his despicable behavior? Perhaps Bella and Susanna’s duet “It’s a Beautiful Day for a Lifelong Commitment” provides a hint. See “Desperate Measures” before it pulls up stakes and leaves town.

DESPERATE MEASURES

Directed and choreographed by Bill Castellino and with music direction by David Hancock Turner, the six-member cast of “Desperate Measures” features Emma Degerstedt as Susanna/Sister Mary Jo, Gary Marachek as Father Morse, Lauren Molina as Bella Rose, Conor Ryan as Johnny Blood, Peter Saide as Sheriff Green, and Nick Wyman as Governor von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber.

The creative team includes James Morgan (set), Nicole Wee (costumes), Paul Miller (lights), Julian Evans (sound), Deb Gaouette (props), Carol Hanzel (casting), Joseph Hayward (associate director), and Kevin Maloof (production manager). The Production Stage Manager is Christine Lemme with Assistant Stage Manager Laura C. Nelson. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Desperate Measures” plays the following performance schedule: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays at 2:30 p.m.*, Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 p.m.* and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. (*Audience discussion follows the matinee performance.) Tickets for “Desperate Measures” are priced at $67.50 - $72.50 and may be purchased by calling (212) 935-5820, online at http://www.yorktheatre.org/, or in person at the box office at the York Theatre at Saint Peter's (Citicorp Building, entrance on East 54th Street, just east of Lexington Avenue), Monday through Friday (12:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.). Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Pictured (left to right): Peter Saide, Emma Degerstedt, and Conor Ryan. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, October 23, 2017



Photo: Arnie Burton and Matt McGrath. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Lonely Planet” at the Keen Company at the Clurman at Theatre Row (Through Saturday November 18, 2017)
By Steven Dietz
Directed by Jonathan Silverstein
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“And this is the thing: they will train you, they will teach you to hit, they will teach you to move - but they never tell you about the fear. Nothing the people in your Corner can tell you will prepare you for the fear.” – Jody to Carl

Despite the outstanding performances of Arnie Burton and Matt McGrath, the revival of Steven Dietz’s “Lonely Planet,” currently running at the Keen Company at the Clurman at Theatre Row, fails to deliver on the promise inherent in its title to address the overwhelmingly important issue of loneliness and the devastation it leaves in its wake. That failure appears to be in the script itself and in choices made by the director Jonathan Silverstein.

“Lonely Planet” takes place in the 1990s in “a small map store on the oldest street in an American city.” Jody (played with the inextinguishable angst of an entire generation by Arnie Burton) owns the shop and, because of his fear of testing HIV-positive, has remained holed up in his shop for weeks – or perhaps longer visited only by his friend Carl (played with a quirky nonchalance that overlays a deep level of loneliness by Matt McGrath) who visits quite often and sometimes brings soup or coffee or other forms of sustenance. It becomes Carl’s mission to get Jody out of the shop, back on the streets, and to get tested. This complements his mission to convince Jody to attend the funerals and memorial services of their mutual friends who – daily it seems – have died from the complications of the AIDS virus.

Although the characters are mostly well developed and their significant conflicts easily identifiable, the plot is too predictable to support a two-act play – and that is unfortunate. The overall themes of finding one’s way in a time of divisiveness, oppression, and loneliness are relevant in the current socio-political environment and require thoughtful discourse and action. Conventions that worked twenty-five years ago do not always work in the present. What once seemed avant-garde in theatre appears conventional currently. One too easily identifies the reason Carl clutters Jody’s shop with chairs and the provenance of the stories from all the “jobs” Carl purports to have.

There are too many tropes in the script for any one of them to have the impact it should and to allow the bones of the play an opportunity to be properly enfleshed by the competent cast. Mr. Dietz overlays the important discussion about the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis (only referred to as “this disease in the script) with images of maps and chairs (think Ionesco) and repetitive dream-sharing and endless games. In his attempt to navigate through the maze of extended metaphors, director Silverstein never allows the characters to fully gel or to achieve a level of believability and authenticity. Jody and Carl talk “at” one another or “over” one another without being able to convince the audience they care about one another amidst their irrepressible pain of loss and loneliness.

It is good to see Mr. Burton and Mr. McGrath on the stage battling their characters’ formidable demons and the demons lurking outwith the shop. One wishes they had a more compelling play to exercise their craft.

LONELY PLANET

The cast of “Lonely Planet” features Arnie Burton and Matt McGrath.

The creative team includes Anshuman Bhatia (set design), Jennifer Paar (costume design), Paul Hudson (lighting design), Bart Fasbender (sound design), and Emilie Grossman (prop design). Casting by Calleri Casting. Kacey Gritters serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

Performances of “Lonely Planet” run at The Keen Company at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street) through Saturday November 18, 2017. For further information including the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.keencompany.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes with a 10-minute intermission.

Photo: Arnie Burton and Matt McGrath. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, October 20, 2017

Broadway Review: “Time and the Conways” at the American Airlines Theatre (Through Sunday November 26, 2017)

Photo: Anna Baryshnikov, Charlotte Parry, Matthew James Thomas, and Anna Camp. Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
Broadway Review: “Time and the Conways” at the American Airlines Theatre (Through Sunday November 26, 2017)
By J. B. Priestley
Directed by Rebecca Taichman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“No, Time's only a kind of dream, Kay. If it wasn't, it would have to destroy everything—the whole universe—and then remake it again every tenth of a second. But Time doesn't destroy anything. It merely moves us on—in this life—from one peephole to the next.” – Alan to Kay

Rebecca Taichman’s staging of “Time and the Conways,” currently running at the American Airlines Theatre, is a retelling of the important 1937 play that transforms Priestley’s important discussions about the relevance and the parameters of time, the permanence of war, and the vicissitudes of the nuclear and extended family from an intellectual exercise to a deeply spiritual quest that raises several deep, rich, and enduring questions.

What happens to a nation and its citizens during the time following the War to End All Wars and now on the brink of the war they never expected? What happens to the members of a dysfunctional family over time? Does the pain borne of collusion dissipate or cumulate? Why does time not somehow eradicate the abuse of women and permanently disarm the abuse of women by men? Is time beneficent or inherently maleficent?

These questions – and several others – arise at the twenty-first birthday celebration for Kay Conway (played with a fragility often masked by a delicate bravado by Charlotte Parry) held at the Conway residence in Newlingham, England in 1919 amidst the “rebuilding a shattered world” post-World War I. Though she professes not to be “used to happiness,” Mrs. Conway urges the family, “Let's all be cosy together and happy again, shall we?” Cosiness and happiness seem to elude the Conways despite the end of the war and the return of Robin Conway (played with a tender mixture of brokenness and irascibility by Matthew James Thomas) from the battlefield. Mrs. Conway’s feeling that “we all can be happy again, now that the horrible war's all over and people are sensible again” is crushed under the weight of dysfunction and collusion and bruised by disillusionment and disappointment.

The Conway matriarch (played with an admixture of coyness and a deplorable supremacy by Elizabeth McGovern) is an oddly static character: she remains possessive, delusional, and remorseless throughout the play. Time is not kind to Mrs. Conway: her husband and a daughter die and she loses most of her husband’s estate through sheer mismanagement. “Time and the Conways” carefully unmasks how Mrs. Conway’s character dismantles the health and resilience of her family and her own fragility.

When, at her bidding, the family reconvenes in 1937, Robin has abandoned his wife Joan (played with a hopefulness dashed by deep sorrow by Cara Ricketts) and his children; Madge (played with a steely resolve borne through disaffection by Brooke Bloom) disowns her mother; Hazel (played with a spirit broken by abuse by Anna Camp) is married to the “vulgar little bully” Ernest Beevers (played with a deeply deplorable psyche by Steven Boyer) and her friend and lawyer Gerald Thornton (played throughout by a charming tenderness by Alfredo Narcisco) discloses that Mrs. Conway is all but bankrupt. Kay fears there is “a great devil in the universe, and we call it Time.”

Neil Patel’s set supports Rebecca Taichman’s inventive staging of “Time and the Conways” by creating two separate sets for the changes in time (1919 to 1937 and back to 1919) instead of the original convention of changing the furniture and adding a wireless to the 1919 set. With one translucent set in front of the other, the audience “sees” into the past and Alan’s construct of time transcends time. This adds a welcomed magical realism to J. B. Priestley’s already metaphysical themes. Carol Conway (played with the ebullience of adolescence and the wisdom of old age by Anna Baryshnikov) bridges time and space with her presence on stage throughout the two acts. Her performance is chilling.

“Time and the Conways” is a sensitive and courageous exploration of how time (the fourth dimension) teases the fifth dimension and the possibility of alternate universes where, as Alan (played with a remarkable humility and grace by Gabriel Ebert) convinces Kay, “Time's only a kind of dream, Kay. If it wasn't, it would have to destroy everything—the whole universe—and then remake it again every tenth of a second. But Time doesn't destroy anything. It merely moves us on—in this life—from one peephole to the next.”

TIME AND THE CONWAYS

“Time and the Conways” stars Elizabeth McGovern as “Mrs. Conway,” Steven Boyer as “Ernest,” Anna Camp as “Hazel,” Gabriel Ebert as “Alan,” Charlotte Parry as “Kay,” and Matthew James Thomas as “Robin,” with Anna Baryshnikov as “Carol,” Brooke Bloom as “Madge,” Alfredo Narciso as “Gerald,” and Cara Ricketts as “Joan.”

The creative team includes Neil Patel (Set Design), Paloma Young (Costume Design), Christopher Akerlind (Lighting Design) and Matt Hubbs (Sound Design). Production photos by Jeremy Daniel.

“Time and the Conways” plays Tuesday through Saturday evening at 8:00 p.m. with Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m. Tickets for are available by calling 212.719.1300, online at www.roundabouttheatre.org, and in person at any Roundabout box office: American Airlines Theatre Box office (227 West 42nd Street); The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (111 W 46th Street) and Studio 54 (254 West 54th Street). Ticket prices range from $39.00-$149.00. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.

Photo: Anna Baryshnikov, Charlotte Parry, Matthew James Thomas, and Anna Camp. Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, October 20, 2017



Photo: Richard Hoehler in RJ Bartholomew’s “I of the Storm.” Credit: Hunter Canning.
Off-Broadway Review: “I of the Storm” at The Gym at Judson (Through Sunday October 29, 2017)
Written by RJ Bartholomew
Performed by Richard Hoehler
Directed by Janice L. Goldberg
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

What is a successful money manager to do after serving time in prison for the misappropriation of funds and finding he is bereft of family, friends, and home? The Speaker in Def Poet RJ Bartholomew’s “I of the Storm” faces that precise circumstance and chooses to come to terms with his homelessness by embracing it and “letting go.” This Speaker now lives in the same New York City Park he used to pass through on his way to work when he missed the shuttle or could not get onto the subway. He spends his days sharing his experiences with passersby (in this case, the audience) and encouraging them to focus on not being “programmed” by the world – as he was - but rather seeking opportunities to be thankful and to overcome the world’s negativity.

The Speaker’s “savior” was a thirty-something free spirit Mars who, after hearing his story, befriended him and became part muse, part daughter, part platonic lover, part co-conspirator in a variety of life-affirming escapades. Mars, too, has been “damaged” by society but strives to be “deprogrammed.” She plays an important part in the Speaker’s recovery and redemption and empowers him to not only “let go” but you literally and figuratively “clean up” the clutter of negativity and guilt that prevents him from moving forward. On the day of her funeral, the Speaker honors Mars with the eloquence of a poet, the centeredness of a monk, and the unconditional love of a therapist.

Richard Hoehler is the perfect match for RJ Bartholomew’s expansive spoken word text. Mr. Hoehler mines the depths of this extended “urban poem” and delivers the richness of the text with absolute perfection, giving the words precisely the power needed to convey the poet’s meanings. The text is punctuated with a myriad of cultural and religious imagery which makes it accessible to a broad audience. Listeners might not recognize every reference or allusion; however, there is something everyone can relate to and “tune into” the important themes of the work. Perhaps not many recognized the Shaolin Kung Fu basic movement – perfectly executed by Mr. Hoehler – but those who did instantly connected with the poet’s messages.

Those messages are multifaceted and counterpoint with the complexities and vicissitudes of the human experience and raise a series of deep, rich, and enduring questions. How can the individual be “in the world” without being “of the world?” In a competitive and often abusive work environment, how can the individual keep the “me” from overshadowing the need for justice and equality? How can the “I” (the ego) regain enough strength after almost disintegrating to “clean up” the detritus of emotional meltdown? Is the road to recovery from loss possible without a “helpmate?” The Speaker addresses these important questions in a remarkable riff.

The Speaker’s riff is divided into rants about all those things that have the potential of preventing the individual from “letting go” and preventing the individual from experiencing the “I” as her or his “I” is buffeted about by life’s storms. There are rants about social media, television, religion, family systems, and the workplace. At least one of these rants spirals out of control and lands the Speaker in a seventy-two hour “psych watch” in a mental hospital, an institution “far worse than prison.” The audience sits in near stupefaction at Richard Hoehler’s acumen at “spitting” the spoken word text. It is not possible to escape the intensity, the importance, the veracity of Mr. Hoehler’s character and that Everyman’s struggle for a life driven by integrity and compassion.

Director Janice L. Goldberg keeps the performance as visually interesting as it is emotionally and spiritually significant. Mr. Hoehler’s movements are precise, perfectly timed, and never extraneous. Mark Symczak’s sparse set punctuated by Michael Abrams’ lighting and Craig Lenti’s sound design are the perfect complement to RJ Bartholomew’s challenging and engaging text.

“I of the Storm” is a well-structured performance piece with a powerful dramatic arc. Its message is redemptive and salvific. This stunning performance piece should be on every serious theatre-goers must see list.

I OF THE STORM

“I of the Storm” is presented by India Blake and little victor productions.

The creative team includes: Mark Symczak (Original Scenic Design), Brian Dudkiewicz (Additional Scenic Design), Michael Abrams (Lighting Design), Craig Lenti (Sound Design), David Withrow (Costume Design), Jenifer Shenker (PSM), and Brierpatch Productions (General Management).

Performances are at The Gym at Judson (243 Thompson Street, NYC) and run on the following schedule: Monday through Thursday at 7:00 p.m. and Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. There are matinee performances on Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. For more information including tickets and performance exceptions, please visit https://www.iofthestormoffbroadway.com/. All tickets are $49.00 - $69.00 and can also be purchased at http://www.ticketcentral.com. Running time is 80 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Richard Hoehler in RJ Bartholomew’s “I of the Storm.” Credit: Hunter Canning.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, October 12, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Measure for Measure” at the Public’s LuEsther Theater (Through Sunday November 12, 2017)

Photo: Scott Shepherd in Elevator Repair Service’s “Measure for Measure.” Credit: Richard Termine.
Off-Broadway Review: “Measure for Measure” at the Public’s LuEsther Theater (Through Sunday November 12, 2017)
Written by William Shakespeare
Created by Elevator Repair Service
Directed by John Collins
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” – Luke 6:38

William Shakespeare’s plays have been abridged, modernized, and retold in every conceivable fashion. As the time for curtain approaches for “Measure for Measure,” currently running at the Public’s LuEsther Theater, the dramatis personae gather around the tables and chairs carefully placed on Jim Findlay’s sparse set and the audience begins to wonder what kind of retelling this Elevator Repair Service (ERS) creation will be. When the Duke (Scott Shepherd) communicates with Escalus (Vin Knight) using an early 1900s candlestick phone then reaches across the table to hand him a paper, the audience shifts from a sense of ‘wonder’ to a healthy grappling with ‘why.’

For two hours and ten minutes (without intermission), the cast of ERS’s “Measure for Measure” shares in the audience’s grappling by performing the iconic “comedy” through a deconstructionist lens. The play is less “the thing” here than the thing it is not. The ERS strips the play to its bare bones, not by abridgement, but by sorting through what they consider to be the essence of the bard’s comedic masterpiece, an essence that transcends the text itself and longs for reconstruction. Therefore, the members of the cast deliver their lines (often reading them from a “teleprompter”) is a variety of styles – from the familiar iambic petameter to the barely discernable.

Medium is the message here (Marshall McLuhan) and that message is pure Shakespeare and pure and unrefined “Measure for Measure.” Under John Collins’s inventive and meticulous direction, the play “gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil crushed” (Gerard Manly Hopkins) to a grandeur that defines itself for a new era of theatre-goers. Perhaps gone is the timeless need to honor iambic pentameter or Shakespeare himself and competing for attention is the message itself and the compelling query as to whether or not it remains relevant beyond its cultural entrenchment.

ERS’s “Measure for Measure” is itself an exercise in rhythm. The rhythm is not just inherent in the lines of the text and that rhythm vibrates with moral ambiguity and metacognition. Rich and enduring questions challenge Angelo (Pete Simpson), Lucio (Mike Iveson), Claudio (Greg Sargeant), and Isabella (Rinne Groff). Does imprisonment result in any benefit to the imprisoned or to society? ERA’s “Measure for Measure” successfully questions the nature and purpose of law and order and the role of the state in maintaining moral clarity. Does one receive “justice for justice?” The same enduring and rich questions challenge the members of the audience who seem to yearn for the familiarity of Shakespeare’s rhymes while remaining open to the vicissitudes of humankind across time and how those are presented on the stage.

Shakespeare’s words scroll across the set in ERS’s “Measure for Measure” and demand to be reckoned with in new and sometimes uncomfortable ways.

MEASURE FOR MEASURE

The cast of Elevator Repair Service’s “Measure for Measure” includes Rinne Groff (Isabella); Lindsay Hockaday (Pompey, Juliet); Maggie Hoffman (Provost); Mike Iveson (Lucio); Vin Knight (Escalus); April Matthis (Francisca, Mariana); Gavin Price (Froth, Friar, Boy, Barnardine, Messenger); Greig Sargeant (Claudio); Scott Shepherd (the Duke); Pete Simpson (Angelo) and Susie Sokol (Mistress Overdone, Elbow, Varrius, Abhorson).

“Measure for Measure” features scenic design by Jim Findlay; lighting design by Mark Barton and Ryan Seelig; sound design by Gavin Price; production designer by Eva von Schweinitz; specialty and prop designer by Amanda Villabos; and costume design by Kaye Voyce. Production photos by Richard Termine.

The performance schedule is Tuesday through Saturday at 7:00 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 p.m. For the schedule of added performances, please visit https://www.publictheater.org/. Public Theater Partner and Member tickets, as well as single tickets starting at $75.00, can be accessed now by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Scott Shepherd in Elevator Repair Service’s “Measure for Measure.” Credit: Richard Termine.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, October 11, 2017



Off-Broadway Review: “Charm” at MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Through Sunday October 15, 2017)
By Philip Dawkins
Directed by Will Davis
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“A compliment brings the charm to the surface. When we say that a certain color compliments your eyes, we mean it brings them out. You want to bring the other person out, make them feel special.” – Mama

At first glance, Philip Dawkins’s “Charm,” currently playing at MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, is a heartfelt play about Mama Darleena Andrews (played with a spirited transcendence tempered with humility by Sandra Caldwell) a sixty-seven-year-old retired transwoman who decides to volunteer at a Chicago Center – a shelter and community safe space for the queer Community. Her specific goal is to sponsor a Charm School for the young trans clients. D (played with just the right amount of activist rigor by Kelli Simkins), the Center’s youth coordinator, thinks “the youth will get a lot out of just knowing [Mama Darlin]. They don’t have a lot of older trans role models.” But what kind of role model will Mama be?

Darleena firmly believes the dictates of Emily Post will give her “Babies” the tools they need to succeed in life. Charm is everything to Mama and, by persistently complimenting her charges, she firmly believes they will understand that they are special and better prepared to survive the negativity and hatred they experience – and threatens their lives – in their Chicago neighborhoods. Whether it be learning “proper” table manners or practicing applying make-up, her trans and heterosexual cisgender Babies and those still experimenting with their gender expression need to be charming as well as beautiful. Some members of the Center push back. Donnie (played with a bravado that masks brokenness by Michael David Baldwin), a “mostly” heterosexual, homeless, African American cisgender male responds, “I ain’t got no table! The hell I spose to do with table manners?”

Under Will Davis’s direction, Sandra Caldwell and the rest of the talented cast deliver strong performances and reflect the sincerity of the script and its redemptive message; however, what is missing in this production is a sense of vulnerability or a recognition of the importance of atonement. The character of Mama, despite her good intentions, seems not to honor the youth she claims to love. True, she holds them to a higher standard, but whose standard is that? She calls their peers “thugs” and “troupes of tramps.” D further challenges Mama, “You’re telling these black, Latinx, trans, homeless youths how to behave like white cotillion girls. And, frankly, it’s offensive.” The moral ambiguity in Mr. Dawkins’s play is appropriately palpable.

It isn’t until Darlenna becomes vulnerable with Beta (played with an exquisite range and depth of emotion by Marquise Vilson), a male-identified African American transman, that the audience sees authenticity and honesty and a path to catharsis. Beta takes a huge risk when he shares, “Stop callin’ me beautiful!!! I ain’t beautiful. I ain’t smart! I ain’t Nothin’! Not everybody gotta be special, right?! Not everybody got a family like you do. Not everybody got no bunch of friends like you. Not everybody got people. Some of us got no one, a’ight?!!!!! I got no one! I am no one!” Mama replies, “My family disowned me” and that confession establishes the possibility for forgiveness and true redemption.

Darleena’s Babies do not need her to be something she isn’t. They need her to take risks and be totally honest with them about her real struggles – in the past and in the present. What happens between Mama and Beta should happen throughout the play to achieve a consistent level of honest discourse and a greater opportunity to address the rich and enduring questions raised by the trans community. Salvation comes from the most unexpected places – even from troupes of tramps.

CHARM

The cast of “Charm” features Michael David Baldwin, Jojo Brown, Sandra Caldwell, Marky Irene Diven, Michael Lorz, Hailie Sahar, Kelli Simpkins, Marquise Vilson, and Lauren F. Walker.

The creative team for MCC’s Charm includes playwright Philip Dawkins, director Will Davis, scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado, costume design by Oana Botez, lighting design by Ben Stanton, and sound design by Palmer Hefferan. Casting is by Telsey + Company/Adam Caldwell, CSA, William Cantler, CSA, Karyn Casl, CSA. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

The NYC premiere of “Charm” plays through October 15 at the Lucille Lortel Theater (121 Christopher Street). For tickets and info, visit www.mcctheater.org. Running time is 2 hours including a 10-minute intermission.

Photo (L to R): Kelli-Simpkins, Hailie-Sahar, Marquise Vilson, Jojo Brown, Sandra Caldwell, Lauren F. Walker, Marky Irene Diven, and Michael David Baldwin. Credit Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Mary Jane” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday October 29, 2017)

Photo: Liza Colón-Zayas and Carrie Coon. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Mary Jane” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday October 29, 2017)
By Amy Herzog
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

In Part One of Amy Herzog’s “Mary Jane,” currently playing at the New York Theatre Workshop, Mary Jane (Carrie Coon) is at home caring for her two-and-a-half-year-old son Alex. She shares that responsibility with several professional caregivers, including Sherry (played with compassionate expediency by Liza Colón-Zayas) and Donna, the incompetent nurse the audience never sees. Alex, born at twenty-five weeks and four days, suffered a severe brain bleed and almost did not survive. He is now gravely disabled. Mary Jane juggles his care with a job that provides the health insurance needed to pay for Alex’s constant care.

Laura Jellinek’s set design here is closed in, cramped, claustrophobic – much like Mary Jane’s psyche. She seems to be coping with all that she is responsible for; however, others like her building superintendent Ruthie (Brenda Wehle) see a different Mary Jane. While fixing the kitchen sink, Ruthie shares, “You seem to be someone who’s carrying a lot of tension in her body.” Carrie Coon balances Mary Jane’s inner and outer struggles and mechanisms of grappling with the vicissitudes of her life. Ms. Coon portrays a mother who bathes, suctions, lifts, walks, and medicates her disabled boy while fending off depression and exhaustion and abandonment. Ms. Coon’s multilayered performance counterpoints the rich layers of Amy Herzog’s script which, under Anne Kauffman’s razor-sharp direction, are peeled back with sensitivity and grace.

Just prior to Part Two, the set morphs before the audience in ways that must be experienced – to say more would be to take that “miracle” away. Gone is the Queens apartment and, its place, the gleaming sanitized expansiveness of Alex’s hospital room and the common room outside. After being unable to intervene successfully in Alex’s grand mal seizure, Mary Jane and Sherry call 911 and Alex is rushed off to this hospital where he seems suspended between the living and the dead and Mary Jane comes to terms with her “truth,” her mortality, and her fragile finitude.

No longer fully responsible for Alex’s care, Mary Jane has time to interact with Alex’s pediatric intensivist Dr. Toros (Liza Colón-Zayas), the music therapist Kat (played with compassion buried beneath the inability to cope by Danaya Esperanza), Chaya a Hasidic woman (played with a comedic flair tempered by years of sacrifice by Susan Pourfar), and the hospital’s Buddhist chaplain Tenkei (played with a wisdom garnered through challenge by Brenda Wehle). In her conversations with Dr. Toros and Kat, Mary Jane experiences the arbitrary nature of the medical establishment. Chaya, a mother with seven children – her daughter Adina in the hospital – reveals to Mary Jane the sense of reality that comes with the illness of a loved one. Finally, her time with Tenkei opens the possibility of a future without Alex as they both explore the cervices of repentance and reconciliation.

In these conversations, Mary Jane begins to face the arbitrariness of life and the precious gift of acceptance and thanksgiving. She tells Tenkei, “I don’t know whether he’s going to make it out of this surgery. I don’t know what to hope for anymore.” Mary Jane also experiences the breadth and depth of transcendence and catharsis at the play’s end in a scene rich in magical realism immersed in blessed redemptive release.

MARY JANE

The cast of “Mary Jane” features Liza Colón-Zayas as “Sherrie/Dr. Toros,” Carrie Coon as “Mary Jane,” Danaya Esperanza as “Amelia/Kat,” Susan Pourfar as “Brianne/Chaya” and Brenda Wehle as “Ruthie/Tenkei.”

“Mary Jane” features scenic design by Laura Jellinek, costume design by Emily Rebholz, lighting design by Japhy Weideman, sound design by Leah Gelpe, properties by Kathy Fabian, and wig, hair and makeup design by Dave Bova and J. Jared Janas. Lisa Chernoff serves as the Stage Manager. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

The performance schedule for “Mary Jane” at New York Theatre Workshop (79 E. 4th Street New York, NY 10003) is as follows: Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Exceptions: There will be no 7:00pm performance on Sunday, October 15. For further information visit https://www.nytw.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Liza Colón-Zayas and Carrie Coon. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, October 6, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “A Clockwork Orange” at New World Stages (Through Saturday January 6, 2018)

Photo: Jonno Davies (center) and the Cast of “A Clockwork Orange.” Credit: Caitlin McNaney.
Off-Broadway Review: “A Clockwork Orange” at New World Stages (Through Saturday January 6, 2018)
By Anthony Burgess
Created by and Directed by Alexandra Spencer-Jones
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“A Clockwork Orange” – a fair gloopy title. Who ever heard of A Clockwork Orange? ‘The attempt to impose upon man the laws and conditions appropriate only to a mechanical creation – against this I raise my Sword-Pen?’” – Alex

Alexandra Spencer-Jones’s staging of Anthony Burgess’s “A Clockwork Orange” at New World Stages slices deeply into the human psyche where the unbridled libidinous “id” battles the “superego” for supremacy as the “ego” struggles to regain strength and restore “normalcy” to the personalities of Alex deLarge (Jonno Davies) and his irrepressible droogs Dim (Sean Patrick Higgins), Georgie (Matt Doyle), and Pete (Misha Osherovich).

Alex and his boys were real enough to Mr. Burgess and remain real enough to Ms. Jones: they are also powerful tropes for all that society currently faces as it finds itself worldwide in the grip of what might be described as “psychopathy” but might also have a completely different provenance other than degrees of moral rigor. The droogs terrorize seemingly without intention and randomly. The state’s “milk bars” have dehumanized them and replaced free will with psychotropic drugs and the “gangs” protest by their disregard for the “common law.”

Alex is betrayed by his buddies and ends up in prison where the violence is as common as in the “outside” world. Inmates are murdered without intervention by the guards. In an effort to shorten his sentence and return to the streets, Alex – prisoner number 6655321 – volunteers to undergo the Ludovico Technique after which he “will be able to leave this prison in a little over two weeks, never again [having] the desire to commit acts of violence or offend in any way whatsoever.” Alex’s “recovery” and his return to “civilization” is chilling to watch and the moral ambiguity underpinning the transformation is palpable.

Ms. Spencer-Jones’s creation is an accurate telling of the novel energized by the athletic dance movement and athleticism of the ensemble cast. Her decision to “reinstate” the final chapter of “A Clockwork Orange” is the perfect choice. Alex’s hopes for redemption and release are realistic at the end of this decade when the global yearning for meaning in life and reconciliation with all that appears good is so intense and when the global community yearns to reclaim the right to choose and decide the quality of its future.

Under Ms. Spencer-Jones’s precise and inventive direction, the ensemble cast of “misfits” and “miscreants” deliver uniformly authentic performances that challenge the status-quo understanding of “right and wrong” and “good and evil.” The “reading” through the psychological lens is telling and allows the audience member to experience projection and transference in shocking new ways. James Baggaley’s somber lighting, Emma Wilk’s magniloquent sound design, and the original music by Glenn Gregory and Berenice Scott counterpoint Alexandra Spencer-Jones’s direction to create a theatre piece that scrapes away at the stolid underbelly of American morality with surgical precision and a merciless zeal to heal.

In addition to the original music for the Rape and Dream Sequences, “A Clockwork Orange” is infused with extant pop music written by or covered by such luminaries as David Bowie (“We Are the Dead”), Placebo, Gossip, Muse, The Flamingos and Alexandra Spencer-Jones. The German neoclassical/power metal band At Vance’s “5th Sinfone” (Ludwig van Beethoven) plays a pivotal role in the protagonist’s “salvific” journey.

The Chaplain (Timothy Sekk) introduces a moral dilemma to Alex when he chooses to undergo the Technique and introduces to the audience a morally ambiguous choice and an ethical system based more on situation than dictum: “It may not be nice to be good, 6655321. Is a man who chooses to be bad in some ways better than a man who is forced to be good? You know, what does God want? God help us all, 6655321.” This rich and enduring question rattles the audience to experience catharsis in unimaginable ways.

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE

The cast of “A Clockwork Orange” features Jonno Davies as Alex DeLarge, Matt Doyle as Georgie, Sean Patrick Higgins as Dim, Brian Lee Huynh as Frank/Dr. Brodsky, Timothy Sekk as Chaplain/Deltoid, Aleksander Varadian as Marty/Warder, Ashley Robinson as Minister/Old Woman, Jimmy Brooks as F-Me Pumps/Governor, Misha Osherovich as Pete, and Jordan Bondurant as a swing.

“A Clockwork Orange” is produced Off-Broadway by Glynis Henderson Productions, Martian Entertainment and Matthew Gregory for ABA UK. The production features Lighting Design by James Baggaley, Sound Design by Emma Wilk, Costume Coordination by Jennifer A. Jacob, and Casting by Stewart/Whitley. Production photos by Caitlin McNaney.

Tickets are $27.00 - $97.00 and can be purchased at www.Telecharge.com or by calling 1-800-447-7400. The performance schedule for “A Clockwork Orange” at New World Stages (340 West 50th Street) is as follows: Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sundays at 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. For further information visit http://www.aclockworkorangeplay.com/. Running time is 90 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Jonno Davies (center) and the Cast of “A Clockwork Orange.” Credit: Caitlin McNaney.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord” at Primary Stages (Through Sunday October 22, 2017)

Michael Laurence, Thom Sesma and Duane Boutte in the Primary Stages production of “Discord.” Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord” at Primary Stages (Through Sunday October 22, 2017)
By Scott Carter
Directed by Kimberly Senior
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Members of the Primary Stages staff, prior to curtain, passed through the audience asking members to “select a button” based on who we thought would “win” the discordant discourse: Jefferson, Dickens, or Tolstoy – the three characters appearing in Scott Carters “Discord” currently running at Primary Stages. Further instructions included the option to change one’s mind after the play and select a different button, or return the button originally chosen leaving the theatre button-empty-handed. Audience members either stared back puzzled, made a conscious decision about the “winner” and selected the corresponding button, or grabbed all three to add to their growing button collection.

Those with the puzzled stare – with or without buttons – were the winners here since “Discord” itself is a puzzling entity with little to offer other than three fine performers grasping at lines of script as they too easily slipped through their fingers onto the theater floor. Duane Boutté, as “Charles Dickens,” Michael Laurence as “Thomas Jefferson,” and Thom Sesma as “Leo Tolstoy find themselves locked in what they soon discover is a “room” in Heaven – not even a “room of one’s own quips Dickens with nary a nod to Virginia Woolf. But who’s afraid of her anyway (with a nod to Edward Albee).

Playwright Scott Carter has these three giants of men (could there not have been a Virginia Woolf) settle their differences by writing their own gospel and the defending its contents. The bulk of the script – particularly in the beginning – is massive sections of the King James Bible quoted, retold, reimagined, and regurgitated ultimately to the mirrored wall of the room where the characters’ “defenses” result in walls of self-examination, self-recrimination, and heavy doses of guilt. The audience learns nothing about these men they did not know before they entered the theatre. Guess what Thomas Jefferson’s greatest sin was? Right!

If biblical commentary and exegesis by old dead white men sounds interesting, then “Discord” might be your ticket. Otherwise, make that perhaps overdue visit to church, temple, or mosque and revisit the origins of humankind’s journeys of faith. And talk to a friend about what you discovered. And then – write a play.

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THOMAS JEFFERSON, CHARLES DICKENS, COUNT LEO TOLSTOY: DISCORD

The cast of “Discord” features Duane Boutté, as “Charles Dickens,” Michael Laurence as “Thomas Jefferson,” and Thom Sesma as “Leo Tolstoy.”

The production features set design by Wilson Chin; costume design by David Hyman; lighting design by Jen Schriever; sound design by Lindsay Jones; projection design by Caite Hevner; and casting by Stephanie Klapper Casting. Production photos by Jeremy Daniel.

Performances of “Discord” take place at the Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce St, New York, NY 10014) for a limited engagement through Sunday, October 22, 2017. For the complete performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit http://primarystages.org/. Running time is 85 minutes without intermission.

Michael Laurence, Thom Sesma and Duane Boutte in the Primary Stages production of “Discord.” Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Tiny Beautiful Things” at The Public Theater’s Newman Theater (Through Sunday December 10, 2017)

Photo: Teddy Cañez, Nia Vardalos, Natalie Woolams-Torres, and Hubert Point-Du Jour. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Tiny Beautiful Things” at The Public Theater’s Newman Theater (Through Sunday December 10, 2017)
Based on the Book by Cheryl Strayed and Adapted for the Stage by Nia Vardalos
Directed by Thomas Kail
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Watching “Tiny Beautiful Things” at The Public’s Newman Theater can be described as experiencing the vicissitudes of the human experience through the kaleidoscopic lens of sheer redemptive grace. The broken hearted, the beaten down, the bereft, and the “just broken” send their questions on coping, overcoming, and raging against all forms of the “dying of the light” to “Sugar” (Nia Vardalos) the online newspaper columnist who is the purveyor of this unconditional prevenient grace. Sugar confesses to not being particularly qualified to dispense her advice; however, through sheer ethos and pathos, she says just the right thing at the right time to the right penitent resulting in boundless redemption and release.

Sugar not only identifies with her readers, she also shares from the depth of her experience. She has known rejection, abuse, and lost love. And she knows those who have miscarried, or are overweight, or struggle with sexual orientation or gender identity, or continue to crumble under the weight of guilt and remorse. This character’s ability to empathize and love without condition or judgement eventuates in the audience’s ability to understand more fully the overwhelming need for compassion and catharsis. Ms. Vardalos, who also adapted Cheryl Strayed’s book for the stage, delivers a powerful performance as Sugar, sharing her character’s counsel in the manner of an extended Sermon on the Mount.

Teddy Cañez, Hubert Point-Du Jour, and Natalie Woolams-Torres portray the readers of Sugar’s column, who reach out to her for advice. Their realistic queries bombard Sugar from all sides of the stage. Sometimes Ms. Vardalos responds across the expansive set (designed by Rachel Hauck and exquisitely lighted by Jeff Croiter); at other times she draws near to those asking the questions, sitting close to deliver her answers. The set is Sugar’s home from which she writes and into which (figuratively) she invites her “followers” to receive her “sanctifications.” Under Thomas Kail’s fluid direction, the actors offer authentic performances, giving each character a believable personality and a conflict that is identifiable and genuine. Each member of the audience has either experienced what these characters share with Sugar or they know intimately someone else who has.

Attending a performance of “Tiny Beautiful Things” is like seeing dozens of plays whose characters, conflicts, settings, and themes change with every twist of the kaleidoscope revealing the tiny beautiful things that make us human, and vulnerable, finite, and resourceful – full of grace and truth.

TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS

The complete cast of “Tiny Beautiful Things” features Teddy Cañez, Ceci Fernandez, DeLance Minefee, Hubert Point-Du Jour, Nia Vardalos, and Natalie Woolams-Torres.

“Tiny Beautiful Things” features scenic design by Rachel Hauck, costume design by Jennifer Moeller, lighting design by Jeff Croiter, and sound design by Jill BC Du Boff. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Tiny Beautiful Things” runs through Sunday, December 10 in The Public’s Newman Theater (425 Lafayette Street). The performance schedule is Tuesday through Saturday at 7:00 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 p.m. There is an added 1:00 p.m. performance on Wednesday, October 11; 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 18; and 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 25; and an added performance on Sunday, November 5 at 7:00 p.m. There is no performance on Saturday, September 30 at 1:00 p.m. For more information, visit www.publictheater.org. Running time is 85 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Teddy Cañez, Nia Vardalos, Natalie Woolams-Torres, and Hubert Point-Du Jour. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, October 2, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Violin” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday October 14, 2017)

Photo: (L-R) Kevin Isola, Robert LuPone, Peter Bradbury in “The Violin” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Violin” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday October 14, 2017)
Written by Dan McCormick
Directed by Joseph Discher
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Okay. Some day we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re gonna have a little house, and a couple of acres and a cow and some pigs and . . . And live off the fat of the land! And have rabbits. Well, we’ll have a big vegetable patch and a rabbit hutch and chickens.” – George in “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck (1937)

John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” and the novel’s protagonists George and Lenny quickly come to mind when seeing Dan McCormick’s new play “The Violin” currently running at 59E59 Theaters. Indeed, the play also has the nuanced feeling of plays by Sam Shepard and William Inge. The characters here – Bobby and Terry – are lonely, frightened, broken, and seemingly bereft of moral strength – a condition of either their own making or of the society that has unwittingly (or not) left them behind.

Bobby (played with the perfect balance of moral depravity and salvific rigor by Peter Bradbury) and Terry (played with an unwavering naivete and scarred innocence by Kevin Isola) want to “be somebody” other than who they are and live somewhere other than the Lower East Side of Manhattan: Bobby longs for “beaches with palm trees.” Terry knows he is “not the sharpest tool in the wagon” and wants to make “life a heck of a lot easier” for Bobby. Terry fell out of the upper bunk of their bed and ended up “a scrambled egg like Humpty Dumpty.” Their father was “neck high” in the Irish mob and was killed in a mob hit along with the boys’ mother. After their parents’ death, Bobby inherits “a half-retarded brother to raise all on my own.” Their dreams have never been realized and they scrape by with the proceeds from Bobby’s petty thefts and Terry’s short-lived jobs. Both often seek surcease in the tailor shop of their surrogate father Gio (played with a high moralism masking an underlying guilt by Robert LuPone) who has his own share of moral ambiguity.

Things seem to change when Terry brings to the tailor shop a violin left in the cab he drives and forgets to return to the cab depot and the second act of the play focuses on the disposition of the found violin which turns out to be a 1710 Stradivarius worth “a minimum of four million bucks.” Bobby decides to ask for a reward of twenty-percent and manages to convince Gio to join the money-making scheme who claims the skills needed to manage the operation. Under Joseph Discher’s competent direction, the three actors navigate the treacherous terrain of contacting the owner and arranging the exchange of violin for reward. In the process, years of deception (including self-deception) are exposed, deep secrets revealed, and a surprise ending results.

Steinbeck and McCormack wrote on two “eves of destruction” (P. F. Sloan) – the eve of World War II and the eve of our own dystopian future – and have created believable characters whose conflicts are easily identifiable as significant and raising rich and enduring questions about the compass of morality in human behavior. As the action falls in “The Violin,” each character is forced to come to terms with his choices in the past and in the present. Whether that results in repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation is not clearly answered and the edge of moral ambiguity remains sharp and uncompromising.

If a violin is the main character in a play – and afforded that play’s title – one might expect that “actor” to have more to say in the two-hour running time of Dan McCormick’s “The Violin.” Gio could have showed Terry how to play the instrument, for example, which would have made the ending even more effective and cathartic.

THE VIOLIN

The cast of “The Violin” features Peter Bradbury, Kevin Isola, and Roberts LuPone. The creative team includes Harry Feiner (scenic design), Michael McDonald (costume design), Matthew E. Adelson (lighting design), and Hao Bai (sound design). Rose Riccardi serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

Produced by The Directors Company in association with ShadowCatcher Entertainment, “The Violin” plays at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues) through Saturday, October 14. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7 PM; Friday at 8 PM; Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM; and Sunday at 3 PM & 7 PM. Single tickets are $25 - $70 ($25 - $49.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 2 hours including one 10-minute intermission.

Photo: (L-R) Kevin Isola, Robert LuPone, Peter Bradbury in “The Violin” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, October 1, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “As You Like It” at Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday October 22, 2017)

Photo: André De Shields and Hannah Cabell. Credit: Richard Termine.
Off-Broadway Review: “As You Like It” at Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday October 22, 2017)
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by John Doyle
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

William Shakespeare’s romantic “Christian” comedy “As You Like It,” currently running at Classic Stage Company, is on the surface a play that has offered appreciative audiences over the centuries more than a sufficient supply of gender-bending antics, mistaken identity, banishment from court, trysts in forests, and unlikely pairs “tying the knot” at play’s end. It’s comedic flair, roster of songs, and enduring soliloquies make “As You Like It” a popular choice for Shakespeare lovers. One cannot resist, for example, Celia’s (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) and Rosalind’s (Hannah Cabell) arrival in The Forest of Arden after Rosalind’s banishment from Duke Frederick’s (Bob Stillman) Court or Touchstone’s (André De Shields) and Audrey’s (Cass Morgan) “foolish” romps in that same Forest.

Phoebe’s (Leenya Rideout) infatuation with the disguised Rosalind and her rejection of Silvius’s (David Samuel) advances are beautifully acted scenes that skillfully set up the play’s resolution. Noah Brody’s Corin delivers the shepherd’s “philosophy” with the conviction of innocence.

“As You Like It” is ultimately best described as a psychological thriller of sorts that explores in depth the more profound issues of relationships, equanimity, the true nature of love, the experience of a human life birth through death, melancholy, confession, reconciliation, and redemption. Rosalind’s (in disguise) scenes with Orlando (Kyle Scatliffe) in the Forest are mesmerizing and transformative. One will not easily forget the magical entwining of the two “men” as Orlando woos “Rosalind” as the shepherd. Nor will the audience forget Ellen Burstyn’s (Jacques) delivery of the iconic “All the world’s a stage” and “A fool, a fool! I met a fool i’th’ forest” soliloquies.

The songs in “As You Like It” are beautifully given a jazz-like feel by Stephen Schwartz’s original music. Bob Stillman leads the cast in performing these songs with a palpable depth of feeling. Ann Hould-Ward’s costume design and Mike Baldassari’s lighting design (those multi-colored acorns!) surround the cast with supportive charm. John Doyle’s overall design is effective and thought-provoking.

Under John Doyle’s exacting direction, the ensemble cast is uniformly excellent. Their performances – believable and authentic – carefully explore their characters’ levels of complexity and the engaging conflicts that drive the comedy’s fluid plot. The production is marred, however, by the inability of the audience to hear the dialogue. Much of the opening scene is completely inaudible and too many of the conversations in the Forest are lost. Whether this has to do with the reconfiguration of the theater or with direction is an unanswered question that needs to be addressed.

Overall, the Classic Stage Company’s “As You Like It” is a fitting addition to the Company’s fifty years of excellence in theatre.

AS YOU LIKE IT

The company of “As You Like It” features Quincy Tyler Bernstine (Celia), Ellen Burstyn (Jacques), Noah Brody (Oliver/Corin), Hannah Cabell (Rosalind), André De Shields (Touchstone), Cass Morgan (Old Anna/Audrey), Leenya Rideout (Phoebe), David Samuel (Charles/Silvius), Kyle Scatliffe (Orlando) and Bob Stillman (Duke Frederick/Duke Senior).

“As You Like It” features scenic design by John Doyle, costume design by Ann Hould-Ward and lighting design by Mike Baldassari. David Arsenault is Associate Scenic Designer and Amy Sutton is Associate Costume Designer. Production Photos by Richard Termine.

“As You Like It” performs Tuesday through Thursday evenings at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. For tickets, visit classicstage.org, call (212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111, or in person at the box office (136 East 13th Street). For further information on Classic Stage Company, call 212-677-4210, visit the theatre in person at 136 East 13th Street, or go to www.classicstage.org. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.

Photo: André De Shields and Hannah Cabell. Credit: Richard Termine.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, September 28, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Treasurer” at Playwrights Horizons’ Peter Jay Sharp Theatre (Through Sunday October 22, 2017)

Photo: Peter Freidman and Marinda Anderson. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Treasurer” at Playwrights Horizons’ Peter Jay Sharp Theatre (Through Sunday October 22, 2017)
Written by Max Posner
Directed by David Cromer
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Max Posner’s “The Treasurer,” currently running at Playwrights Horizons’ Peter Jay Sharp Theatre, is a play about Ida Armstrong’s (played with a fragile irascibility by Deanna Dunagan) youngest son (played with an equally fragile ego strength by Peter Friedman) whose siblings have placed him in charge of their mother’s bank account, her spending, her assets and her liabilities. This role of treasurer proves difficult for a son who has allowed himself to be strong-armed by an uncaring mother who abandoned her children in their youth.

The Son’s collusion with his mother’s addiction to spending is not unlike that of any child who chooses to enable an addicted family member. Indeed, the entire family system has become completely dysfunctional through enabling Ida over the years because of unnecessary and clearly unreasonable layers of guilt. The Son is so racked with guilt he assumes – despite his disbelief in the construct – he will “go to hell” for his “mistreatment” of his selfish, horrible mother.

“The Treasurer” is a memory play narrated by The Son who attempts to “confront” his difficult mother in a long-distance relationship by phone and only succeeds in confronting his own deep-seated guilt about not being a good son. His older brothers Allen and Jeremy are played with authenticity by the same actors (Marinda Anderson and Pun Bandhu respectively) who play other roles. Playwright Max Posner seems to like repetition and, despite using one convention after another over and over, the first act manages to establish character, conflict, setting, and theme. The second act, unfortunately repeats this construct and makes the endeavor seem overlong and overwrought.

Mr. Posner’s play has much to offer and “The Treasurer” would have perhaps worked better if the fluidity and capriciousness of the mind matched more closely the workings of the script and if David Cromer’s unusual staging were less awkward and had better sight lines. This is an instance where a more realistic staging might have been more successful. There is no reason, for example, for stagehands to hang pictures after the actors are seated on stage – or if there is a reason, that needs to be made clearer.

There is much to mine in the underbelly of the dysfunctional family – especially when the encrustation is narrowly autobiographical. Mr. Posner might consider developing his characters more fully and delve into their motivations. How exactly did Ida’s leaving damage her children? Why have they allowed her to dominate their lives and their development? Why was there not an intervention at some point? Some of the play’s “scenes” are engaging and provide needed exposition about the protagonist. When, for example, The Son meets Woman (played with charming believability by Marinda Anderson) “on a Boeing 737 headed straight to Albany,” the audience begins to get a glimpse of how guilt can fester over time.

The Son’s monologues – delivered with the right amount of guilt-ridden anxiety by Peter Friedman – overshadow the “action” of the play. The “scenes” do not move the action forward with sufficient depth to provide the much-needed catharsis at the end of the play. The audience is left caring less than it should about a theme that deserves more development by the skilled cast exploring the script’s nooks and crannies for memories that matter.

THE TREASURER

The cast of “The Treasurer” features Marinda Anderson, Pun Bandhu, Deanna Dunagan, and Peter Friedman.

The production features scenic design by Laura Jellinek, costume design by David Hyman, lighting design by Bradley King, sound design by Mikhail Fiksel, projection design by Lucy Mackinnon and wig design by Leah J. Loukas. Production Stage Manager is Brett Anders. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

The performance schedule for “The Treasurer” is Tuesdays through Fridays at 8:00 PM, Saturdays at 2:30 and 8:00 PM and Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30 PM. Single tickets, $49.00 – 89.00, may be purchased online via http://www.phnyc.org, by phone at (212) 279-4200 (Noon – 8:00 PM daily) and in person at the Ticket Central Box Office, 416 West 42nd Street (between Ninth and Tenth Avenues). Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Peter Freidman and Marinda Anderson. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Small World” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday October 7, 2017)

Photo: (L-R) Stephen D'Ambrose and Mark Shanahan in “Small World” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Small World” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Saturday October 7, 2017)
By Frederick Stroppel
Directed by Joe Brancato
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“See, this is the crux of the matter. We have different aesthetic touchstones. I am drawn to characters like Apollo, Persephone, Oedipus Rex. You prefer Jiminy Cricket – Bambi – Goofy. My Pluto lives in Hades, yours lives in a doghouse. You are living in some silly parallel universe, of which I want no part.” – Igor

If the theme of Frederick Stroppel’s “Small World” is that “it’s a small world after all” where “different aesthetic touchstones” can coexist in perfect harmony like “the one moon and the one golden sun,” then the play fails. Despite the commendable efforts of Stephen D'Ambrose as Igor Stravinsky and Mark Shanahan as Walt Disney, Mr. Stroppel’s play lacks the necessary character development and focus to convince the audience of any consistent thematic strand.

In a series of imagined conversations about Disney’s “Fantasia” and whether Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” is the proper score for the movie-in-progress, the actors reiterate and defend their theories of musicology, animation, moral responsibility, artistic integrity, commercial success (or failure), and World War II era politics. These debates soon grow tiresome and reach no significant resolution.

The conversation in the second act about the retelling of “Faust” is perhaps the highlight of the play: Stravinsky’s and Disney’s disparate thoughts on how to reimagine the classic are engaging and thought-provoking. One wishes for more of this level of discourse. The argument over whether Micky Mouse is “effeminate” seems dauntingly inappropriate. Even the “heavenly” conversation between the two artists at the end of the play lacks the needed spark of conviction and is somewhat pretentious.

Mr. Brancato’s direction is serviceable but lacks subtlety. James J. Fenton’s scenic design places the actors center stage too often and Christina Watanabe’s lighting often lacks obvious purpose. The play ends with both characters celebrating “Magic” – something missing in “Small World.”

Listening to “The Rite of Spring” with the right glass of wine, followed by viewing “Fantasia” would have been far more satisfying than a playwright’s deconstruction of both. If only Mr. D’Ambrose and Mr. Shanahan had been given material that would have given them the opportunity to exercise their collective formidable crafts.

SMALL WORLD

“Small World” is produced by Penguin Rep at 59E59 Theaters. The cast features Stephen D'Ambrose as Igor Stravinsky and Mark Shanahan Walt Disney.

The creative team includes James Fenton (set design), Patricia Doherty (costume design), Christine Watanabe (lighting design), and William Neal (sound design). Michael Palmer serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Small World” runs for a limited engagement through Saturday, October 7. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:15 PM; Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM & 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM & 7:15 PM. Tickets are $25 - $35 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: (L-R) Stephen D'Ambrose and Mark Shanahan in “Small World” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Broadway Review: “1984” at the Hudson Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Saturday October 8, 2017)

Photo: Tom Sturridge and Reed Birney in Broadway’s “1984.” Credit: Julieta Cervantes.
Broadway Review: “1984” at the Hudson Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Saturday October 8, 2017)
By George Orwell
Adapted and Directed by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist/Before they're allowed to be free/Yes, 'n' how many times can a man turn his head/And pretend that he just doesn't see/The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind/The answer is blowin' in the wind.” – Bob Dylan, “Blowin’ in the Wind” (1962)

Did the 1947 Paris Peace Treaties at the end of World War II resolve all the conflicts between the Allied and the Axis powers or would Allied countries like the United States and the United Kingdom be perpetually at war with someone else? Once allies – the United States and Russia – are now enemies with Cold War rhetoric between them escalating. And if perpetually at war, how would the new superpowers maintain their control both abroad and at home? Writing in 1948, George Orwell contemplated these and other “post-war” enduring questions and proffered dire warnings about his dystopian vision of the future.

These warnings are reissued in Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’ adaptation of Orwell’s 1949 novel “1984” currently running at the Hudson Theatre. The “super state” Oceania is a province of Airstrip One (the former Great Britain) where the thoughts and actions of its citizens are monitored constantly through a macabre system of surveillance and mind control overseen by “Thought Police” and enforced by an equally grisly “Ministries” all accountable to and designed by “Big Brother” who is always watching. “English Socialism” is the name of the regime and unshakable tyranny is its method of durability.

Winston Smith (played with an intense conviction tempered with the pain of reality by Tom Sturridge) works for the Ministry of Truth and is responsible for maintaining the “party line” by rewriting history to match the regime’s propaganda, including Oceania’s perpetual War with Eurasia (or Eastasia depending on the state’s whim). Winston’s work creates an interest in “real history” and the facts about the past. This interest results in doubt and eventual mistrust of the government and Winston’s desire to overthrow Big Brother. “1984” is Winston’s story of opposition, arrest, punishment, and reclamation. Winston teams up with Julia (played with a charming deceptiveness and a disarming inscrutability by Olivia Wilde). Both trust and are eventually betrayed by O’Brien (played with an eerie psychotic detachment by Reed Birney) and are coerced into betraying each other.

The members of the cast of “1984” deliver soul-splitting performances that appear to defy the limitations of their craft. They deftly maintain the fragile suspension of disbelief while escorting the audience through a cavern of metacognition and catharsis. They keep the audience in a heightened level of awareness and involvement that culminates in the scene in the Ministry of Love’s Room 101 that nearly shatters not only the resolve of the protagonist but also the emotional tolerance of the viewers.

Replacing Orwell’s rich diction and syntax is Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s staging of the adaptation. The time frame of the novel has also been compressed – everything seems to happen within a day as opposed to weeks and months. This compression of time heightens the urgency of Orwell’s warning and exacerbates the need for action. Chloe Lamford’s diatonic scenic and costume design and Natasha Chivers’s stark lighting design counterpoint perfectly this urgency.

What happens when current events have surpassed dystopian constructs? What happens when the imagined has become reality? What happens when fictional totalitarianism begins to mirror non-fictional 2017 politics? “1984” continues to raise these and other rich and enduring questions.

1984

The cast of “1984” includes Reed Birney (O’Brien), Wayne Duvall (Parsons), Carl Hendrick Louis (Martin), Nick Mills (Syme), Michael Potts (Charrington), Cara Seymour (Mrs. Parsons), Tom Sturridge Winston), and Olivia Wilde (Julia).

The design team for “1984” includes Chloe Lamford (Scenic and Costume Design), Natasha Chivers (Lighting Design), Tom Gibbons (Sound Design), and Tim Reid (Video Design). Production photos by Julieta Cervantes.

“1984” is playing at the Hudson Theatre (141 West 44th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues). For complete information on schedule of performances and ticketing, please visit http://www.revisedtruth.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 41 minutes without intermission. Please be advised there is no readmission to the theatre if audience members leave at any time during the performance.

Photo: Tom Sturridge and Reed Birney in Broadway’s “1984.” Credit: Julieta Cervantes.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, September 9, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Charolais” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday September 24, 2017)

Photo: Noni Stapleton in “Charolais” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Hunter Canning.
Off-Broadway Review: “Charolais” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday September 24, 2017)
Written and Performed by Noni Stapleton
Directed and Developed by Bairbre Ní Chaoimh
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I hate that . . . cow. I hate her soft face and her solid head and her dirty yellow tag against your sweaty neck like cheap gold earrings.” – Siobhan

There has been a fracas in farmer Jimmy’s shed that brings together three females in an unexpected display of power, principle, and panache. A battle ensues that leaves Siobhan’s apron spattered in blood and her toting a large blood-stained kitchen knife crusted with bits of hay. This is the image the audience sees at the beginning of “Charolais.” Siobhan carefully discloses the series of startling events and personal beefs that led up to the blood-letting, peeling layer after layer from the core of the matrix of memories marked by the shadows created by Tara Doolan’s subtle lighting.

Noni Stapleton’s “Charolais,” currently running at 59E59 Theaters, is the tale of these three mothers (two human, one bovine) and how far they are willing to go to protect and save the ones they love – either someone they know they love or someone they have recently come to love. Siobhan, who narrates the tale, is pregnant with Jimmy’s baby (more about Jimmy later) and will do anything to protect her unborn child; Breda, Jimmy’s “bitch” of a mother, is overprotective of her son; and the French heifer Charolais, also expecting, is ready to protect her calf come what may. All three are portrayed by playwright Noni Stapleton with just the right blend of pathos and ethos.

Siobhan needs to feel special and she strives to please Jimmy to garner that kind of support from him. Blocking Jimmy’s ability to deliver what Siobhan needs is overbearing Breda and the heifer Charolais who seems to get more attention from Jimmy than does his soon to be partner in parenting. How to remove the culprits who stand in the way of Siobhan’s happiness with Jimmy? Homicide or slaughter cross Siobhan’s mind and Ms. Stapleton’s engaging narrative establishes means, motive, and opportunity for the crime. The question is, whose blood is drying on Siobhan’s apron and coagulating on her kitchen knife? Charolais’s? Breda’s? Jimmy’s perhaps?

Tucked away somewhere between house and shed and field are pockets of loneliness, anger, resentment, jealously, rage – all uncovered by Siobhan as she traverses the landscape of her emotional terrain. Ms. Stapleton’s script has meat on its bones and serves up enough twists and turns, hints, and surprises to sate the appetite of the sophisticated theatre-goer. There are prurient interests that delicately counterpoint the human and the bovine condition. Under director Bairbre Ní Chaoimh’s steady hand, “Charolais” is a welcomed battle of wisdom and wits tempered by whimsy delivered with empathic grace throughout Noni Stapleton’s authentic and believable performance.

CHAROLAIS

The design team for “Charolais” includes Miriam Duffy (costume design), Tara Doolan (lighting design), and Jack Cawley (sound design). The dramaturg is Gavin Kostick. The production stage manager is Becca Pickett. Production photos by

Produced by Fishable: The New Play Company, “Charolais” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, September 24. The performance schedule is Tuesday - Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday at 8:30 PM; Saturday at 2:30 PM and 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 PM and 7:30 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Single tickets are $25.00 ($20.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 65 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Noni Stapleton in “Charolais” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Hunter Canning.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, September 4, 2017

News: Under the Artistic Leadership of John Ortiz LAByrinth Theater Company Announces Plans for 25th Season and Jimmy Smits Joins Board of Directors & LAB Named Company in Residence for NYC’s Cherry Lane Theater

News: Under the Artistic Leadership of John Ortiz LAByrinth Theater Company Announces Plans for 25th Season and Jimmy Smits Joins Board of Directors & LAB Named Company in Residence for NYC’s Cherry Lane Theater
By David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

In the wake of a recent leadership change, LAByrinth Theater Company, now under the direction of Company Founder and Former Artistic Director John Ortiz, makes exciting plans for LAB’s upcoming 25th Anniversary Season in 2017-2018.

In celebration of 25 years of creating vital new works of American Theater, LAByrinth kicks off the season with LAB25: FULL CIRCLE, a collection of FREE readings of plays from LAByrinth’s repertoire, as well as new works written by both emerging and professional playwrights.

Founded in 1992 as the Latino Actors Base, LAByrinth Theater Company was created to deliberately interrupt the racial status quo by giving voice to artists of color and reflecting a world where color is the norm and not the exception. In this spirit, LAB25: FULL CIRCLE will span of six evenings, featuring excerpts of thirty past plays, including a full-length presentation of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ In Arabia, We’d All Be Kings, twenty-five original Ten Minute Plays, and daily symposiums that highlight specific themes and artists tied to the work represented in that particular evening.

“LAB25: FULL CIRCLE promises to be a highly energetic, jam-packed exploration of what we did, who we are, and what lies ahead,” said Artisitc Director John Ortiz. While LAB Member and actress Portia added “After 25 years we are still here, we are still relevant and our voices are as fresh as they have always been. This is a celebration of LAByrinth’s past, present and future – with a twist!”

LAB25: FULL CIRCLE will take place Tuesday, September 19 through Sunday, September 24 at the historic Cherry Lane Theater (38 Commerce Street), where LAByrinth has accepted a generous invitation to be the Company in Residence for the next two years (through Summer 2019). LAByrinth is grateful to Cherry Lane Founder Angelina Fiordelisi and her associates Seri Lawrence and Janio Marrero for this invitation, which provides LAB with the time and space to continue creating new plays by way of the company’s unique play development process, including 1) a Summer Intensive ensemble-style retreat during which new works written and/or directed by LAByrinth Company members are workshopped; 2) The Barn Series – a public reading series, which allows for further development of promising new works; and 3) Fully-staged production/s of new works.

Lastly, LAByrinth is privileged to announce that actor/producer Jimmy Smits (Broadway: Anna in the Tropics, Film: Rogue One, Star Wars, Television: “24,” “The West Wing,” “The Get Down,” “NYPD Blue”) will join LAB’s Board of Directors, in support of the company’s ongoing mission to produce vital new American plays. Smits has supported the company for many years, both off and on stage (often participating as a featured player in the company’s famed Celebrity Charades events), and has long-time professional ties with many ensemble members, including John Ortiz, with whom he starred in Steppenwolf Theater Company’s production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ award-winning play Motherf**Cker with the Hat and Daphne Rubin Vega in the Broadway production of Anna in the Tropics by Nilo Cruz.

“I’m beyond thrilled that Jimmy Smits will be joining LAByrinth’s Board of Directors,” said Artistic Director John Ortiz. “In addition to being an accomplished actor and producer, he represents so much of what LAB has been about: his New York City roots, his longevity as an artist, and his risk-taking in a variety of roles in many different mediums. Through the years, I’ve admired and deeply respected how Jimmy has successfully maintained a balance of high profile, mainstream projects and personal community-driven projects without sacrificing an ounce of artistic integrity. We all feel fortunate and grateful to have Jimmy’s wisdom and experience on board.”

To learn more about LAByrinth Theater Company and for detailed schedule of LAB25: FULL CIRCLE performances, please visit http://www.labtheater.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Broadway Review: Manhattan Theatre Club’s “Prince of Broadway” at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Limited Run through Sunday October 22, 2017)

Photo (L to R): Karen Ziemba, Emily Skinner, Chuck Cooper, and Tony Yazbeck. Credit: Matthew Murphy.
Broadway Review: Manhattan Theatre Club’s “Prince of Broadway” at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Limited Run through Sunday October 22, 2017)
Book by David Thompson
New Songs, Arrangements, Orchestration, and Music Supervision by Jason Robert Brown
Co-Direction and Choreography by Susan
Directed by Hal Prince
Reviewed by David Roberts, Theatre Reviews Limited

Some audience members attending the engaging “Prince of Broadway,” currently running at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, might find themselves caught between the devil and the deep blue sea: either they are unforgiving musical theatre aficionados and find themselves constantly comparing the iconic musical numbers with the original Broadway production of the shows from which they come, or they have little knowledge of musical theatre and scratch their heads wondering what the context of the musical numbers might be? For the rest of the audience – the majority of those attending the performance I attended – this dilemma is diminished but not irrelevant and raises the question, “Is Hal Prince anywhere backstage where his majestic career began?”

Not unlike the Kennedy Center Honors, “Prince of Broadway” is a tribute to a worthy honoree with a history of “life achievements” presented live and on video. Here the life achievements are songs from sixteen Broadway musicals directed by Prince, each performed by one or more of nine veteran Broadway entertainers and each song delivered on an impressive set. The song or songs from one show move rapidly to the next with Beowulf Boritt’s sets changing seamlessly. William Ivey Long’s costumes create the perfect mnemonic palette that transports the viewer to the richness of the shows’ histories. Howell Binkley’s lighting conspires with sets and costumes to successfully counterpoint with the performances. This effort, though Herculean, leaves the audience wanting more.

The ‘more’ is the honoree himself. Mr. Prince has a rich past (and present) and the “Transition” monologues by the actors portraying Prince and sharing what amount to mere snippets about the director’s life and work are simply not enough exposition to sate the palate of the audience member. It might have been more beneficial, for example, if each actor shared her or his memories about the musical or how the musical might have influenced their career.

That said, what “Prince of Broadway” does provide is two and a half hours of blissful entertainment, showcasing Hal Prince’s iconic directorial career and the music of at least thirty-six of Broadway’s best composers, lyricists, and book writers. There are notable highlights in the tribute. “Tonight” from “West Side Story” with Tony Yazbeck as Tony and Kaley Ann Voorhees as Maria are among those. Ms. Voorhees is one of the best Marias ever to play that role. The entire cast is together for “Beautiful Girls,” Waiting for the Girls Upstairs,” and The Right Girl” from “Follies.” The two “older couples” are engaging and the actors – Emily Skinner (Phyllis), Karen Ziemba (Sally), Tony Yazbeck (Buddy), and Chuck Cooper (Ben) – deliver authentic performances that capture the unique traits of each character with sheer grace. Tony Yazbeck’s extended tap routine is a masterful and energetic performance – he could have danced all night and the audience would still have wanted more. Kudos to Mr. Yazbeck and choreographer Susan Stroman.

Additional highlights are Emily Skinner’s transcendent “Send in the Clowns” (“A Little Night Music”) and “Ladies Who Lunch” (“Company”) and Michael Xavier and Kaley Ann Voorhees’s “The Phantom of the Opera,” Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” and “The Music of the Night.” Brandon Uranowitz (George) and Bryonha Marie Parham (Amalia) bring pathos and ethos to “Tonight at Eight” and “Will He Love Me” from “She Loves Me.” Janet Dacal (Sydney) and Michael Xavier (Clark Kent) breeze through “You’ve Got Possibilities” with convincing charm and wit from the lesser known “It’s a Bird … It’s a Plane … It’s Superman.”

“Prince of Broadway” is a rich recounting of the works of director Hal Prince. Perhaps you will not know more about him after the musical or garner more knowledge about the shows represented; however, the performances will surely pique your interest and introduce or re-introduce you to some of the best music to have played on the Great White Way.

PRINCE OF BROADWAY

The cast of “Prince of Broadway” features Chuck Cooper, Janet Dacal, Bryonha Marie Parham, Emily Skinner, Brandon Uranowitz, Kaley Ann Voorhees, Michael Xavier, Tony Yazbeck, and Karen Ziemba.

The creative team for “Prince of Broadway” features Beowulf Boritt (scenic and projection design), William Ivey Long (costume design), Howell Binkley (lighting design), Jon Weston (sound design), Paul Huntley (wig design), Angelina Avallone (makeup design), Fred Lassen (music direction), Tara Rubin (casting), and Jeffrey Seller (creative consultant). Production photos by Michael Murphy.

For the performance schedule, please visit http://princeofbway.com/. Tickets are available at Telecharge.com, by calling 212-239-6200, or by visiting The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Box Office at 261 West 47th Street. Ticket prices are $89-$179. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes including an intermission.

Photo (L to R): Karen Ziemba, Emily Skinner, Chuck Cooper, and Tony Yazbeck. Credit: Matthew Murphy.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Broadway Review: “The Terms of My Surrender” at the Belacso Theatre (Through Sunday October 22, 2017)

Photo: Michael Moore in “The Terms of My Surrender.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “The Terms of My Surrender” at the Belacso Theatre (Through Sunday October 22, 2017)
Written and Performed by Michael Moore
Directed by Michael Mayer
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Michael Moore is without doubt an iconic figure. Mr. Moore’s “The Terms of My Surrender,” currently playing a limited engagement at the Belacso Theatre, dispels any doubt about his archetypal status. Near the end of the lengthy two-hour and twenty-five-minute monologue (with a guest and some needless dancing and questionable – though pleasurable – stripping male “police officers”), Michael Moore delivers what amounts to his “topic sentence.” “My terms of surrender are I cannot live in America while Donald Trump is President.”

Listening to Michael Moore suggest “How We Got Here” and eleven other survival or recovery steps is gratifying and energizing. It would be better to hear more of Mr. Moore’s engaging stories with less interruption. There is no need for hearing the story about Harper-Collins refusing (initially) to publish his 2001 “Stupid White Men” and then listening to the same story told by his guest who was unwittingly responsible for getting the publisher to back down. A retired Englewood, NJ librarian, the guest spent an extended period telling the audience about the importance of libraries and the danger of defunding under the Trump budget. The defunding is important and part of Moore’s anti-Trump rant. However, it does not take almost a half-hour to make that important point. Perhaps director Michael Mayer can work with Moore to contain the monologue and guest to the announced two-hour run time.

In that time, more stories like the following could have been shared: at 17, after his father refused to fill out an application for membership in the local Elks Lodge because the Lodge was for “whites only,” Moore managed to force the Elks to change their membership policy; a year later, he won a seat on his local school board and spearheaded the firing of the tyrannical principle and vice-principal at his high school; and in November 1984, he and a friend managed to confront Ronald Reagan at the Bitburg Military Cemetery where Nazi-SS soldiers were buried. The emotional story of the contaminated water in Flint, Michigan came at the end of the “overlong” performance and did not have the desired effect for change.

In short, the effect of Michael Moore’s monologue is a significant contribution to the discussion about what Americans can and should do to in the current political upheaval since Donald Trump’s “win.” It is important, for example to know that “Donald Trump has outsmarted us all” and “We need to sober up” if any meaningful resistance is to occur. If anything could strengthen Michael Moore’s persuasive monologue, it would be more rhetorical logos and ethos. How do his important stories relate directly to the “outsmarting” of America by the current president? And how do his compelling stories connect to the culture of America and the audience?

Michael Moore’s “The Terms of My Surrender” is a call to action, a call to cease all somnambulant behavior, a call to action while there is still time. Is there a way for Mr. Moore and for America to sustain its terms of surrender?

THE TERMS OF MY SURRENDER

The cast of “The Terms of My Surrender” incudes Michael Moore, Kylie Shea Lewallen, Vince Oddo, and Nicholas Cunningham.

The design team for The Terms of My Surrender includes a set by David Rockwell, lighting design by Kevin Adams, sound design by Brian Ronan, costumes by Jeff Mahshie, video and projection designs by Andrew Lazarow and movement direction by Noah Racey. 101 Productions serves as Executive Producer. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

Tickets for “The Terms of My Surrender” at the Belasco Theatre (111 West 44th Street) are $29.00 - $149.00 and are available at Telecharge.com or by calling (212) 239-6200. Regular performances are Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday - Friday - Saturday at 8:00 p.m., with 2:00 p.m. matinees on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Running time is 2 hours without intermission.

Photo: Michael Moore in “The Terms of My Surrender.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Image” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Saturday, August 19, 2017)

Off-Broadway Review: “Image” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Saturday, August 19, 2017)
By Jack Rushen
Directed by Gregory Fletcher
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Image,” the new play by Jack Rushen currently playing at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre, examines the behind the scenes activities of the unscrupulous publicist/manager Corbett as he deals with the drug overdose of one of his top clients. Gianna, his teenage singing sensation, lies near death in the ICU of Cedars-Sinai hospital. He recruits one of his surreptitious and devious employees Andrea, who can “sell ice to an Eskimo,” to convince Nicole, Gianna’s kooky, troubled, new age mother who is sequestered in the hospital chapel, to sign a contract for a book deal and other various lucrative options that would include her daughter. The script is well crafted and sustains curiosity and tension, but is flawed by some implausible events that surround the plot. Although the constructive criticism of elaborating on these events may be of benefit, they would also reveal too much information necessitating a spoiler alert. The themes of moral ethics, greed, fame, and deception are all powerful tools used in constructing believable characters. There are enough twists and turns to keep the suspense at a comfortable level.

Director Gregory Fletcher keeps a good pace and keeps his cast appearing somewhat spontaneous which facilitates the lengthy periods of two-character dialogue. Some type of internal interruption could certainly aid those protracted conversations without sacrificing any anticipation. The cast presents authentic characters that ring true to the Hollywood debauchery. Jack Garrity turns in a sleazy Corbett and does what he can to emphasize his repugnant practices and callous behavior but needs more support from the script to provide better depth even though his character appears shallow. Anne-Marie Cusson blends intelligence and ingenuity into the survival tactics of Andrea, always willing to employ high risk to achieve success. Lisa Bosnar is solid yet flippant as Nicole the unstable mother, still healing from wounds of the past and fervently battling to save herself and her daughter.

Mr. Rushen just needs to pay a bit more attention to detail in order to produce a more convincing script that deals with ageless issues involved with the entertainment industry. He has an interesting concept that examines who people really are versus their “Image.” What must be sacrificed for fame and fortune?

IMAGE

The cast of “Image” includes Lisa Bostnar, Anne-Marie Cusson, and Jack Garrity.

The creative team for “Image” includes stage manager Priscilla Villanueva.

All performances of the Broadway Bound Festival run at the 14th Street Y Theatre (344 East 14th Street). For further information about the BWB Festival, the schedule of performances, and to purchase tickets at $25.00 - $50.00 (VIP), please visit https://www.broadwayboundfestival.com/. Running time for “Image” is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Lisa Bostnar and Anne-Marie Cusson.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, August 17, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Convicted” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Monday, August 14, 2017)

Photo: Jennifer Knox, Dylan Boyd, David M. Farrington, and Steven Maier. Credit: Ambe Williams.
Off-Broadway Review: “Convicted” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Monday, August 14, 2017)
Written and Directed by Riley Thomas
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

In Riley Thomas’s “Convicted,” currently playing at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre, a dedicated group of convicted – some damaged – individuals gather to equitably resolve a situation that has spun out of control. The situation was precipitated by a phone call from Toper (played with an innocence marred by deep pain by Dylan Boyd) a twelve-year-old boy from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico who is struggling with his sexual status and decides to call an LGBTQA Help Line in New York City for help. Recently released convicted felon Ryan (Steven Maier), a new volunteer at Equality Now Coalition (ENC), takes the call at 2:30 a.m. and, after listening to Topher’s story, pays for the child’s bus trip from New Mexico to New York. Ryan deems it to be unsafe for Topher to stay with his conservative Christian mother who cut deeply into her son’s arms to “cleanse” him from being gay.

When Topher walks into the ENC office, manager Michael (played with steely corporate mores by David M. Farrington) goes corporate ballistic and the games begin. Or perhaps they begin when, at the beginning of the play, Ryan shoots Topher’s mother Judith (played with appropriate despicable conviction by Sabina Petra) in the head. This is a complicated and complex play that moves in and out of the present and occurs in a variety of settings over a very short period of time. Ryan’s arrest and interrogation counterpoint his past actions in the office and his motivations for shooting Judith. Amy (played with a tenderness born of tragedy by Jennifer Knox), Ryan’s supervisor and responsible for his internship at ENC, serves as the play’s “narrator” and “center.”

Playwright Riley Thomas also directs and keeps the action moving forward. There are times the actors upstage one another and times when they cannot be heard – both easily addressed. The actors seem to capably portray their characters honestly exposing their assets and their flaws. Nandita Chandra and Rachel Kara Perez portray ADA Shannon and Detective Clemenza (respectively) with appropriate dispassion. Cast member Lacretta delivers a powerful and authentic performance as ENC’s counsel Blair and commands the stage bringing out the best in her fellow actors who are lucky enough to interact with her. Steven Maier brings an appropriate brooding moral constancy to his morally ambiguous character Ryan.

Mr. Thomas’s script is an interesting exploration of moral ambiguity and motivation that navigates rich and enduring questions. Is murder ever justifiable? Are conservative Christian parents justified when they physically abuse their children? Is the justice system truly just? How far should one go for what one believes? And, perhaps most relevant at this time, are there really two sides in every moral argument?

CONVICTED

The cast of “Convicted” features Dylan Boyd, Nandita Chandra, David M. Farrington, Jennifer Knox, Lacretta, Steven Maier, Rachel Kara Perez, and Sabina Petra.

The creative team includes Kryssy Wright (lighting design), Will Gallacher (fight director), and Lexi Langs (stage manager).

All performances of the Broadway Bound Festival run at the 14th Street Y Theatre (344 East 14th Street). For further information about the BWB Festival, the schedule of performances, and to purchase tickets at $25.00 - $50.00 (VIP), please visit https://www.broadwayboundfestival.com/. Running time for “Convicted” is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Jennifer Knox, Dylan Boyd, David M. Farrington, and Steven Maier. Credit: Ambe Williams.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Sympathy in C” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Wednesday, August 16, 2017)

Off-Broadway Review: “Sympathy in C” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Wednesday, August 16, 2017)
Written by Suzanne Mernyk
Directed by Terry Hanson
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Suzanne Mernyk’s “Sympathy in C,” currently running at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre, is an engaging symphony for six actors and two musicians about the need for sympathy – sympathy in the diagnosis of cancer and sympathy in the world of politics. The cast is arranged in a semi-circle each seated behind a music stand. Audrey (Denise Collins) raises her arms and the symphony of vocal instruments, cello, and viola begins. “Sympathy in C” seems to be written in sonata-allegro form (introduction, exposition, development, recapitulation, and coda) with theme and variations.

Each character introduces himself or herself and begins to provide exposition about how they got to their present condition. Throughout the extended “readers’ theatre,” this exposition is carefully developed, and the stories recapitulated with new information. The interesting piece resolves with a satisfying catharsis and the hint that these stories – or stories like them – will continue to be told.

Josh (Russel E. Kohlmann) is on his third date with Julia (Tygar Hicks) who has been diagnosed with breast cancer – despite her perfect diet, exercise routine, and life style – and does not know how to break the news to Josh. Nancy (Rachel Marcus) has more advanced breast cancer and is growing weary of round after round of chemotherapy cocktails. Audrey (Denise Collins) is the physician who – like a conductor – interacts with all the characters either directly or indirectly. Ronald (Peter Levine) her husband has advanced prostate cancer and is a globetrotting diplomat whose mission is to put an end to terrorism. Abdul (Charles J. Ouda) is a displaced refugee who had to flee his country because of Ronald’s “collateral damage” and lack of sympathy. Abdul, whose mother is also a cancer victim, faces constant discrimination based on his race, religion, clothing, and national origin. Mr. Ouda delivers a powerful bravura performance and effectively remains engaged with every voice and every story being told.

Under Terry Hanson’s astute direction, the actors and musicians (Madeline Docimo and Sylvie Mae Baldwin) successfully counterpoint cancer and terrorism and their insidious destructive metastasis in the human body and the body politic. It would be good to see more interaction between the instruments/voices, the use of a fugue that runs throughout the play, and more modulation in volume and tempo. Ms. Mernyk is in a good position to augment her metaphor and the rich and enduring questions the trope raises.

The symphony metaphor is effective and explored successfully by playwright Suzanne Mernyk. There is room to expand the trope with more interactions – and interactions of differing kinds – between the instruments/voices. Although the playwright makes the connections between cancer and terrorism clear, it is not readily evident that the encounters between Abdul and Ronald are about terrorism or the global events that precipitated the perceived terrorism. Perhaps “terrorism” indigenous to the homeland (white nationalism, white supremacy) might more easily counterpoint with the diagnosis of cancer?

SYMPATHY IN C

The cast of “Sympathy in C” features actors Tygar Hicks, Russell Erik Kohlmann, Peter Levine, Denise Collins, Rachel Marcus, Charles Ouda and musicians Sylvie Mae Baldwin and Madeline Docimo.

The creative team includes Marialana Ardolino (stage manager, lighting and sound operator).

All performances of the Broadway Bound Festival run at the 14th Street Y Theatre (344 East 14th Street). For further information about the BWB Festival, the schedule of performances, and to purchase tickets at $25.00 - $50.00 (VIP), please visit https://www.broadwayboundfestival.com/. Running time for “Sympathy in C” is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, August 12, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Small Town Confessions” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Monday, August 14, 2017)

Off-Broadway Review: “Small Town Confessions” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Monday, August 14, 2017)
By Phil Geoffrey Bond
Directed by Stephen Nachamie
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Hearing the undisclosed “confessions” of nine peculiar residents from a small southern town, one may presume that the whole is the sum of its parts, and these offbeat characters provide a good representation of the core of the abstract community at hand in Anitola Parish. It is anchored on one end by gossip monger, quasi tour guide, JoBeth Maybelline, who owns the local nail salon. Her pastime may be described as extracting everyone’s secret business first hand or from a reliable liaison, and is completely happy remaining there among these “special people.” The other extremity, is held down or up, depending on how you look at it, by the reigning queen Doris Kitteridge. She was expelled from town to hide her unexpected pregnancy, then married Dr. Kitteridge and returned to Anitola to rule her unsophisticated subjects and drown her fear and loneliness with coffee cups of alcohol. The kooky characters that provide the link between these two motley matriarchs, each appear alone, to share their broken dreams and cynical stories.

The attempted southern gothic humor that lurks within each character’s story sporadically succeeds but more so then not, seems forced and unsettled, with no particular purpose in exposition or emotional investment. It merely floats on the surface never sinking deep enough to produce empathy. The only connective tissue is their failure to make their dreams come true, so they stay and survive by wallowing in despair. The low brow humor is not dark but bleak and gloomy, rather feigned and not balanced with enough irony. The monologues seem to carry a monotonous theme of delusions of grandeur, conquered by bitter reality which wears thin all too soon.

The cast assembled for “Small Town Confessions” penned by Phil Geoffrey Bond is stellar and all use their skilled craft to carve genuine characters and provide a glimpse of the ubiquitous population. Sharon McNight provides a staunch and controlled Doris Kitteridge, tastefully dressed in equal parts revenge and remorse. Her posture, expressions and delivery conceal her underlying vulnerability. Alice Ripley is afforded the arduous task of creating Juliet Monsignor, teetering on the brink of reality, as she prepares to marry the devil. She does this successfully with a dose of dire desperation, sultry submission always making honest and sincere choices. The debacle of Shelley Cooper may be the preeminent monologue, well written and self-contained. It is elevated to another level by the keen and conscientious execution of Daisy Eagan. The balanced blend of gleeful enthusiasm and honest naivety undeniably captures the hearts of the audience.

SMALL TOWN CONFESSIONS

The cast “Small Town Confessions” includes Phil Geoffrey Bond, Daisy Eagan, George Kimmel, Sally Mayes, Sharon McNight, Kelli Rabke, Alice Ripley, Jeff Tuohy, and Tyler Whitaker. Stephen Nachamie directs, with stage management by Jason Richard.

The creative team for “Small Town Confessions” includes Matt Berman (sound design), Jason Courson (projection design), and Sam Gordon (lighting design). Jason Richard is the AEA stage manager.

All performances of the Broadway Bound Festival run at the 14th Street Y Theatre (344 East 14th Street). For further information about the BWB Festival, the schedule of performances, and to purchase tickets at $25.00 - $50.00 (VIP), please visit https://www.broadwayboundfestival.com/. Running time for “Small Town Confessions” is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 11, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Curvy Widow” at the Westside Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Sunday October 15, 2017)

Photo: Alan Muraoka and Nancy Opel. Credit: Matthew Murphy.
Off-Broadway Review: “Curvy Widow” at the Westside Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Sunday October 15, 2017)
Book by Bobby Goldman
Music and Lyrics by Drew Brody
Directed by Peter Flynn
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

After Bobby’s (Nancy Opel) writer husband Jim (Ken Land) collapses dead on top of his typewriter, she begins to deal with her loss facing “half a life” and realizing Jim has been “all [she’s] ever known.” No longer “in control,” Bobby begins to ask important questions: “Is it time to make choices yet? Start again at my age?” Or is this the end of a chapter and time to “turn the page?” After a move from the upper eastside to downtown, Bobby makes a follow-up visit to her husband’s “shrink” (Alan Muraoka) who makes “getting laid a medical directive” and creating a profile on a dating site a requirement. “Curvy Widow,” currently running at the Westside Theatre, is the autobiographical story of the musical’s writer Bobby Goldman who gives her name to the protagonist and her Match-Dot-Com handle ‘curvy widow’ to the fictional grieving dowager.

Bobby’s gaggle of friends Caroline (Andrea Bianchi), Heidi (Elizabeth Ward Land), and Joan (Aisha De Haas) offer their support and reinforce their mutual friend with encouragement and champagne, especially – after Match-Dot-Com and internet sex-sites – Bobby meets Per Se (Christopher Shyer) who respects her entrepreneurship and might be “the one.” The three friends deliver “The One” with a convincing bravura. And Nancy Opel (Bobby) and Christopher Shyer (Per Se) deliver their duet “What More Do You Need” with a convincing pathos.

Depicting the stages of bereavement with conversations with the “ghost” of one’s spouse is not a new convention and Ms. Goldman uses Bobby’s conversations with the departed Jim effectively. However, these rendezvous could be used by the playwright to provide more information about Bobby and her relationship with her late husband and answer intriguing questions about her likes and dislikes, her motivations, her successes in her lucrative construction business. Was Bobby happy in her thirty-year marriage? What kind of sacrifices did she make? There are hints that Jim might have been overbearing. How did Bobby manage to keep everything under control – or did she?

Nancy Opel’s Bobby is everything the character should be. Bobby identifies herself as “a writer’s wife” who grows into the realization that she needs to separate and individuate from Jim and their marriage – much like the adolescent separates from parents and childhood. Ms. Opel successfully navigates that emotional journey with honesty and authenticity. Her vocals are delivered with passion and exhibit an impressive range and interpretive craft. She is a joy to watch and listen to. Her solos “Turn the Page” and “Lying on the Bathroom Floor” are remarkable insights into the inner life of a spouse enmeshed in the turmoil that is bereavement.

The men in the cast portray several roles, none requiring a great deal of differentiation in character – except for the roles of Jim and Per Se. Ken Land’s ghost of Jim hints at some discord in his marriage leaving the audience wondering what other skeletons might be in the fictional Goldman closet. It would have been interesting for Jim redivivus to have a musical number. And Christopher Shyer’s Per Se is as seductive as he is the perfect caring mate for Bobby. Mr. Shyer’s duet with Ms. Opel is perhaps the climax of the musical and the opportunity for catharsis.

Bobby Goldman’s book could easily be fortified with deeper levels of exposition. Because this is at heart an autobiographical musical, more about the fictional Bobby and what moves her from grieving to living would be welcomed. Drew Brody’s music and lyrics are pleasing and successfully complement Ms. Goldman’s book. Peter Flynn keeps the musical moving at the proper pace and his staging is visually delightful. Rob Bissinger’s scenic design is more interesting downtown that uptown. Brian Hemeseth’s costumes and Matthew Richards’s lighting are visually pleasurable.

“Curvy Widow” is a charming and engaging exploration of the balancing act performed when navigating bereavement and discovering one’s “groove” and choosing the health of “new beginnings” and continuing life’s journey without fear.

CURVY WIDOW

The Cast of “Curvy Widow” features Andrea Bianchi, Aisha de Haas, Elizabeth Ward Land, Ken Land, Alan Muraoka, Nancy Opel, and Christopher Shyer.

“Curvy Widow” features choreography by Marcos Santana, scenic design by Rob Bissinger, costume design by Brian Hemesath, lighting design by Matthew Richards, and sound design by Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab. Andrew Sotomayor serves as musical director with orchestrations, arrangements and Music Supervision by Wayne Barker. Casting is by Stewart/Whitley. Production photos by Matthew Murphy.

“Curvy Widow” plays at The Westside Theatre, Upstairs (407 West 43rd Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues). Performances are Monday at 8:00 p.m., Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $79.00 - $99.00 (including a $1.50 facility fee). Premium seats are available. Call Telecharge.com at 212-239-6200. For more information, please visit www.CurvyWidow.com. Running time is 1 hour and 25 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Alan Muraoka and Nancy Opel. Credit: Matthew Murphy.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, August 10, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Bone on Bone” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Saturday, August 12, 2017)

Off-Broadway Review: “Bone on Bone” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Saturday, August 12, 2017)
Written by Marylou DiPietro
Directed by Misti B. Wills
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

When the audience first meets Jonathan (Mark Coffin) and Linda (Geraldine Leer) in their New York residence, they are a couple together for thirty-five years whose marriage seems to be suffering from osteoarthritis: the “stuff” between them that would allow them to smoothly glide over one another has eroded over time through the wear and tear of the normal “ups and downs” of a long-term relationship. Without the cartilage, their individual lives – their “bones” – rub uncomfortably against one another and impede movement, particularly movement forward as individuals and as a couple. When the audience last sees Linda and Jonathan, their discontent is less osteopathic and more artistic: they are more like a painting whose frame has been damaged but by no means beyond repair.

The interesting transition from bone on bone to frame on painting is the engaging storyline of Marylou DiPietro’s “Bone on Bone,” currently running at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre. After debriefing Jonathan about her lunch with colleague Ernesto (not “Ernie”) on the day before, Linda launches into the revelation that Ernesto has offered her a job at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) which would necessitate her moving to Providence. Linda assumes Jonathan will leave his successful law practice and make the move with her, working as an attorney in Provincetown, or perhaps in a hardware store. Johnathan, not unexpectedly, pushes back and the “games” begin.

The game is one of cat-and-mouse: Linda accuses Jonathan of “holding her back” and Jonathan defends the claim with the counterclaim of having supported Linda in all her artistic endeavors; Linda accuses Jonathan of “never listening and Jonathan counters with challenging Linda’s “obsession” with Ernesto over the past twenty years. This intriguing blame game eventually strips bare the underbelly of the discontents that have existed within the marriage for thirty-five years including the mundane decision about owning a dog, to the more esoteric decision not to have children.

In three distinct settings – New York to Providence to Pawtucket – the playwright discloses some of the motivations for the choices each character makes and reveals that perhaps it is less about making choices and more about “just moving forward.” This discovery occurs during the couple’s exposition of Roberts Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” and is both the climax of the play and the engine that drives the plot forward to resolution.

The conflicts that drive this plot are easily identified by the members of the audience who can make essential connections between Linda and Jonathan and their own discoveries about self and other. The struggle seems less than balanced and the characters’ levels of likeability are sometimes problematic. This might be a function of Misti B. Wills’s direction rather than something specific to the script. Ms. DiPietro has created two interesting characters. Both might need some further development, particularly regarding the motivations of each character as they “move forward,” surprising one another with their intentions and their newly discovered skill sets.

Paul McCartney’s “Blackbird” seems to be an integral part of the staging of “Bone on Bone.” Although the song was written to address the crisis in race relations in 1960s America, the lyrics “Take these broken wings and learn to fly/All your life You were only waiting for this moment to arise” seem here to relate to Linda’s need to “find herself outside marriage.” Clearly, both Jonathan and Linda have experienced brokenness as they have navigated the vicissitudes of life and Marylou DiPietro is to be commended for addressing the struggles to find identity and meaning in a committed relationship without sacrificing the integrity of the “tie that binds.”

BONE ON BONE

The cast of “Bone on Bone” features Mark Coffin and Geraldine Leer.

The creative team includes April Bartlett (scenic design, Dan Henry (lighting design), and Gina Solebello (stage manager).

All performances of the Broadway Bound Festival run at the 14th Street Y Theatre (344 East 14th Street). For further information about the BWB Festival, the schedule of performances, and to purchase tickets at $25.00 - $50.00 (VIP), please visit https://www.broadwayboundfestival.com/. Running time for “Bone on Bone” is 75 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Adam and Brian” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Sunday, August 13, 2017)

Photo: Dan Yaiullo and Sal England. Credit: Craig Donnelly.
Off-Broadway Review: “Adam and Brian” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Sunday, August 13, 2017)
By Craig Donnelly
Directed by Paul Edwards
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

One of many offerings at the inaugural Broadway Bound Festival is a slice of life drama about a couple engaged to be married who are physically injured in a violent anti-gay attack and broken by the emotional torment that contaminates their relationship. It is refreshing to see an LGBTQ play that is not sugar coated, melodramatic, or steeped in sorrow. Playwright Craig Donnelly uses a simple intelligent formula by beginning with an event, which soon after creates a situation, which in turn causes conflict because of the repercussions from the event, and then ends with a resolution. The dialogue is candid and natural, not forced and almost makes the audience feel as if they are eavesdropping.

Director Paul Edwards guides his cast with a calm and steady hand, never conceding to the pitfalls of stereotype or exaggeration. Daniel Yaiullo turns in a sensitive, convincing Brian who enlists his gay activist persona to assist him in the heated debates. It is in his therapy sessions where he lets all guards down, as honesty ever so slowly surrenders to emotion. Sal England provides a sturdy and intelligent Adam, more frightened of himself than his attackers. Even with heartfelt intentions, as he continues to protect himself he injures his partner. He is real but constantly in need of a reality check. Their relationship is uncompromising but their chemistry compelling.

Mr. Donnelly’s script is not perfect and certainly needs a bit of tightening if he wants to be as convincing and real as his characters. There are too many loopholes that are like dangling chads. It is clear that the violent attack is the catalyst for revelations but if these two men are getting married shouldn’t they know each other’s idiosyncrasies already? If Brian has attended all of Adam’s social events at his workplace wouldn’t Adam’s co-workers and boss know he was gay and has a partner? Arguments abound and outweigh any indication of a positive loving relationship. Also, the scales are tipped in Brian’s direction since he gets to reveal his feelings during therapy sessions. Perhaps Adam also needs an outlet of some sort that exposes his emotional intelligence.

What this young playwright has accomplished is revealing how complicated and difficult gay marriage may be, or any marriage for that matter. It is not to be taken lightly or as the thing to do just because a long-fought battle has been won. It is a serious commitment not to be controlled by social pressure and a legal bond that should be respected. Hopefully the gay community will not emulate the current divorce rate of hetero marriages in this country. Kudos to Mr. Connelly for a fresh and honest perspective on the battle for LGBTQ equal rights that does not try to conceal the bumps and bruises that may occur. It is an onerous slice of life.

ADAM AND BRIAN

The cast of “Adam and Brian” features Sal England and Daniel Yaiullo.

The creative team for “Adam and Brian” includes Danielle Dube (Stage Manager).

All performances of the Broadway Bound Festival run at the 14th Street Y Theatre (344 East 14th Street). For further information about the BWB Festival, the schedule of performances, and to purchase tickets at $25.00 - $50.00 (VIP), please visit https://www.broadwayboundfestival.com/. Running time for “Adam and Brian” is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Dan Yaiullo and Sal England. Credit: Craig Donnelly.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, August 7, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Ben, Virginia and Me: The Liberace Musical” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday August 6, 2017)

Photo: The Cast of “Ben, Virginia and Me.” Credit: Russ Rowland.
Off-Broadway Review: “Ben, Virginia and Me: The Liberace Musical” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday August 6, 2017)
Book by Roger O. Hirson
Music and Lyrics by Barbara Carole Sickmen
Directed and Choreographed by Paul A. Stancato
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

There have been several media depicting the life of the famed piano virtuoso Liberace; including, novels, documentaries, film, television, interviews and now, following the attempted effort of the stage musical “All That Glitters,” comes “Ben, Virginia and Me: The Liberace Musical” currently running as part of the NYMF Festival. This endeavor concentrates mainly on the relationship between the celebrated showman, Ben Siegel (Eric Briarley) a gangster better known as “Bugsy Malone” who is part of the Jewish Mafia and his moll Virginia Hill (Haley Hannah). Those fans of the musical prodigy, turned flamboyant entertainer, might find a portion of this production interesting but the book does tend to divert its attention to his acquaintances rather than focus on his obscure personal life. The audience is guided through the storyline by the narrator Cassandra (William Connor), a columnist for the British newspaper “The Mirror,” who defamed and practically outed Liberace after his command performance for Queen Elizabeth II.

The narrative starts at childhood in West Allis, Wisconsin, follows him to New York, Las Vegas, London, Palm Springs, and finally back to New York. The time travel takes some liberties and adds an element of confusion to the book. Considering his forte, there is not much piano playing here but a bow to his extravagance and outrageous costumes which coined the phrase “Too Much Is Never Enough” the title of a musical number that ends the first act and is reprised for the finale. One distraction that takes center stage once in Las Vegas is the legendary ostentatious Sophie Tucker (Janet Aldrich) who shines in “The Yellow Canary Diamond,” complete with showgirls in sequins and feathers. There is an outstanding ballad “Beautiful Man” passionately delivered by Liberace (Samuel Floyd) after he is informed that presumed lover, Rock Hudson has died.

This is an old fashioned musical that theatergoers never seem to tire of given the constant rash of classic revivals each season. There is nothing wrong with that formula but this production is lacking some of the key elements usually found in that successful format, mainly a love interest, a dramatic climax, and a victim of circumstance which elevate an emotional investment. The book by Roger O. Hirson needs a better focus and more detail. Barbara Carole Sickmen’s music is pleasurable but a bit derivative and lyrics have sporadic success at moving the plot forward. Director Paul Stancato provides some generic choreography and moves the action along at a steady pace.

This is an entertaining two hours of lighthearted entertainment performed by a talented cast with remarkable vocals. It needs to find the right path to complete its journey. Liberace, Sophie Tucker, Ben Siegel and Cassandra are all eminent figures that have fascinating life stories of their own and to only scratch the surface of each is a disservice to their notable careers.

BEN, VIRGINIA AND ME: THE LIBERACE MUSICAL

The cast includes Oliver Thornton, Eddie Korbich, Felicia Finley with Joel Blum, Julia Burrows, Neal Mayer, Alan M-L Wagner, and Kristine Zbornik.

The band and creative team includes: Jesse Warkentin (Musical Director/Piano), Daniel Dorrance (Reeds), Jerry DeVore (Bass), Aaron Russell (Drums), Jordon Ross Weinhold (Orchestrations), Dana Iannuzzi (Associate Director), Kurt Alger (Costume Design), Keith A. Traux (Lighting Design), Kevan Loney (Projection Design), Kurt Alger (Costume and Wig Designer), Hai Alvarez Millard (Stage Manager), Stephanie Klapper Casting (Casting), and Lisa Dozier King (General Management). Production photos by Russ Rowland.

The production will run through Sunday, August 6, 2017 at 5:00 p.m. at The Acorn Theater at Theatre Row, located at 410 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/ben-virginia-and-me-liberace-musical or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 2 hours with an intermission.

Photo: The Cast of “Ben, Virginia and Me.” Credit: Russ Rowland.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, August 6, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “MotherFreakingHood! (Maternal Discretion Advised)” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Sunday August 6, 2017)

Photo (L to R): Annie Dow, Veronica Reyes-How, Harriett D. Foy, Erin Leigh Peck, Jimmy Brewer. Credit: Jeremy Daniel Photography.
Off-Broadway Review: “MotherFreakingHood! (Maternal Discretion Advised)” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Sunday August 6, 2017)
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Julie Dunlap and Sara Stotts
Directed by Terry Berliner
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“MotherFreakingHood! (Maternal Discretion Advised),” currently finishing its run at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, celebrates “the mother you never thought you should be.” Apparently a riff on the sacred status of motherhood, the musical joins the ranks of movies that try to extol the virtues of the role by suggesting what it ought not to be. Whatever it was meant to be, the musical, which has been in the works since 2015, is a bawdy bunch of songs laced with an abundance of four-letter words, a dose or two of scatological language, and a curious interest in bodily fluids. If you find that sort of fare funny – as did most of the friends and family in the audience before, during, and after the performance I experienced – then this might be the musical for you. If not, stream “Bad Moms” once or twice.

The three mothers finding their way through the maze of mothering are all entitled, competitive, elitist, and straight. Squeaky beds got these three on their way (or back on their way) to parenting. A lesbian mother might have been interesting. Breast feeding is, of course, best: “babies who drink formula have to go to public school.” That is a real lyric. Honest.

There is nothing new in the musical. The scenes ramble through the ups and downs (mostly downs here) of motherhood – from the “Baby Phase” to “Graduation” and the “Last Freaking Song.” The music is engaging though unremarkable and sometimes derivative. Listening to “Friends to the End,” I thought I had somehow found myself in a performance of “Mame.” The book and lyrics are the stuff of television sitcom – cable, of course. The moms carp about post-partum depression (Ballad of the Post-Partum”), childhood conditions – ADD and allergies – and their own need for sedation (“Pharmacology”), tween and adolescent blues (“Prayer for a Late Bloomer” and “Hormones on Parade), midlife crises (Mama’s Midlife Crisis”), and – after prom and graduation – enjoying the empty nest.

The best part of the musical is the cast. Veronica Reyes-How (Rachael Nixon), Erin Leigh Peck (Angie Miller), and Harriet D. Foy (Marcia Burger) work extremely hard and manage to dig into their characters and make them as believable as possible. Their ability to interpret the lyrics and deliver their songs – from ballad to Broadway belt – is enjoyable and rescues the rest of the musical from the mundane and deplorable. Two of the mothers arrive at their child’s graduation drunk. It is difficult for this critic to find that – and other discretions – funny or enlightening. The wonderful Jimmy Brewer is assigned all the male roles and wrestles with them commendably despite the creators’ desire to portray men as buffoons. Antje Ellermann’s set is functional and Terry Berliner’s direction and choreography are adequate.

MOTHERFREAKINGHOOD! (MATERNAL DISCRETION ADVISED)

The cast of “MotherFreakingHood!” features Jimmy Brewer, Annie Dow, Harriett D. Foy, Erin Leigh Peck, and Veronica Reyes.

The creative team includes Antje Ellermann (Scenic Design), Theresa Snider-Stein (Costume Design), Kirk Fitzgerlad (Lighting Design), Scott Stauffer (Sound Design), Bernita Robinson (Production Stage Manager), and Sharon Fallon Productions (General Manager). Production photos by Jeremy Daniel Photography.

The production will run through Sunday, August 6, 2017 at 2:00 p.m. at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater, located at 416 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/georama-american-panorama-told-3-miles-canvas or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes without intermission.

Photo (L to R): Annie Dow, Veronica Reyes-How, Harriett D. Foy, Erin Leigh Peck, Jimmy Brewer. Credit: Jeremy Daniel Photography.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, August 6, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Freedom Riders: The Civil Rights Musical” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Saturday August 5, 2017)

Photo: Michael Nigro, Meagan Flint, Deon’te L. Goodman, and Nygel D. Robinson. Credit: Mia Winston.
Off-Broadway Review: “Freedom Riders: The Civil Rights Musical” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Saturday August 5, 2017)
Book by Richard Allen
Music and Lyrics by Richard Allen and Taran Gray
Directed by Whitney White
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Freedom Riders were civil rights activists who rode interstate buses into the segregated southern United States in 1961 and subsequent years to challenge the non-enforcement of the United States Supreme Court decisions which ruled that segregated public buses were unconstitutional. The Southern states had ignored the rulings and the federal government did nothing to enforce them. The first Freedom Ride left Washington D.C., on May 4, 1961 and was scheduled to arrive in New Orleans on May 17. Theses pioneers in the non-violent civils rights movement suffered brutal attacks and several incarcerations, but their cry for equality was heard throughout the country and echoed through the halls of the Kennedy administration.

Richard Allen and Taran Gray tackle the complicated feat of retelling this monumental slice of American History for the stage, in the medium of musical theater. The stellar cast that was assembled to assist them on this journey is remarkable and faces the challenge with honest and authentic passion along with unsurpassed vocal ability. Anthony Chatmon II (John Lewis) gives a solid, intelligent and calculated performance. Brynn Williams (Diane Nash) fills the stage with enormous passion, tremendous vocals and an understanding of the significance of the message. Ciaran McCarthy (John Seigenthaler) packs his character with compassion as he navigates politics and protests with an impressive vocal range and powerful baritone. The power and strength of their voices, whether alone or with the entire company is the driving force of the production.

The main purpose of the book by Mr. Allen right now appears to exist merely as a bridge for the moving musical numbers which overshadow the facts. There is a need to flesh out the characters and the events of this monumental movement. Collaborating with Mr. Gray the music tends to be derivative with very little diversity and the lyrics are continually repetitious. For the most part, they integrate into the storyline but at times deflect from the principal objective. Direction by Whitney White is steady but too lighthearted, lacking the distress and jeopardy of the situations. “Freedom Riders: The Civil Rights Musical” has a story that should to be told and it accomplishes that, but with some insightful comprehension, it will rise to a new level, with stronger emotional power.

FREEDOM RIDERS: THE CIVIL RIGHTS MUSICAL

The cast includes Barry Anderson, Anthony Chatmon II, Meagan Flint, Deon’te L. Goodman, Guy Lockard, Ciarán McCarthy, Brandon Michael Nase, Michael Nigro, Scot Redmond, Don Rey, Nygel D. Robinson, Brynn Williams, Joy Yandell, and Toni Elizabeth White.

The creative team includes Steven Cuevas (Music Director), Raja Kelly (Choreographer), Niko Rabbitt (Set Design), Kate McGee (Lighting Design), Ken Goodwin (Sound Design), Kelly Hardy (Production Stage Manager), and Dailey-Monda Management (General Management). Production photos by .

The production will run through Saturday, August 5, 2017 at 9:00 p.m. at The Acorn Theater at Theatre Row, located at 410 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/freedom-riders-civil-rights-musical or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Photo: Michael Nigro, Meagan Flint, Deon’te L. Goodman, and Nygel D. Robinson. Credit: Mia Winston.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, August 6, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Georama: An American Panorama on 3 Miles of Canvas” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Sunday August 6, 2017)

Photo: Jacob Yates and Ana Marcu. Credit: Jagged Edge Arts.
Off-Broadway Review: “Georama: An American Panorama on 3 Miles of Canvas” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Sunday August 6, 2017)
Book by West Hyler and Matt Schatz
Music and Lyrics by Matt Schatz
Arrangements, Additional Music and Lyrics by Jack Herrick
Directed by West Hyler
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The Authors’ Note in the program for “Georama: An American Panorama on 3 Miles of Canvas,” currently running at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, claims that John Banvard the subject of their musical “[has] been entirely obliterated by history.” Although that premise is not entirely accurate – articles about Banvard exist in numerous scholarly articles – the musical itself has merit. The musical itself is not new, having been produced at the St. Louis Repertory Theatre in 2016 and workshopped during a residence at The Drama League. Its revival at NYMF indicates the creative team continues to consider the musical to be in development and this review will assume that to be the case.

John Banvard (played with a charming naivete by P.J. Griffith) is a young (and, of course, starving) artist whose mantra might be “Who Needs People” one of the musical numbers. A gifted loner who enjoys making sketches of the land and seascape of the Mississippi River, he thrives on being “Our Across the Mississippi.” After collaborating with showboat owner Chapman (played with entrepreneurial bravado by Nick Sullivan) and “impresario” Taylor (played with an appropriate deplorable grandiosity by Randy Blair), Banvard envisions the panorama, a moving display of scenes along the Mississippi. Envisioned as a ‘georama’ by Taylor, Banvard enlists the help of musician Elizabeth Goodnow (played with an endearing sincerity and vulnerability by Jillian Louis), daughter of Pastor Goodnow (Nick Sullivan) who suggests Banvard “Make Things People Need” and not “abduct” his daughter from his conservative praxis.

“Georama” strives to give substance to John Banvard, to “fill in the blanks” about this elusive artist; however, the scenes provide little of essence about his life. The audience learns more about his love interest and wife Elizabeth than about the inner and outer struggles of the artist. The story jumps quickly from Banvard’s initial employment by Chapman and his collaboration with Taylor to his success, to his betrayal by Taylor (P.T. Barnum), to his travels to London and Egypt, to his ultimate realization that “Art Is a Lie” and his return home to Elizabeth.

Under West Hyler’s direction, the talented cast grapples with their characters with care and considerable authenticity. P.J. Griffith’s and Jillian Louis’s duets are engaging: “Something so Great;” “Who Needs People/Try and Catch Me;” and the reprise of “Across the Mississippi” display their considerable vocal talents. Some of Matt Schatz’s music is derivative and his lyrics (with Jack Herrick) contain an abundance of repetitive rhyming. The musical numbers are, however, pleasing and heartfelt. Scott Neale’s scenic design, Ann Wrightson’s lighting design, and Whitney Locher’s costume design are satisfying and Jason Thompson’s projection design is remarkable.

Three of the musical numbers could easily be eliminated and replaced by solid numbers that reveal more about the “forgotten” artist and serve to move the plot forward. “Something I’d Like to See,” sung by the musicians contributes nothing to the story line. “Perhaps,” sung by Polly (one of the musicians portraying a sex worker who attempts to lure John into a tryst) is puzzling and – even more puzzling – is “Just A Little,” the musical number sung by Nick Sullivan in drag as a Queen Victoria claiming to need sex. How this develops the mystery of Banvard’s obscurity is itself a mystery. The number is at best tasteless.

As a work in progress, “Georama” needs some attention by its creators; however, at its core, it is a fascinating story of the life of an artist whose vision and drive reflected a life that was “Something So Great.” The musical raises rich and enduring questions about creativity, truth and falsehood, and the quest for meaning and acceptance.

GEORAMA: AN AMERICAN PANORAMA TOLD ON 3 MILES OF CANVAS

The cast of “Georama: An American Panorama on 3 Miles of Canvas” includes Randy Blair, PJ Griffith, Jillian Louis, Ana Marcu, and Nick Sullivan. Musicians: Jacob Yates (piano, cello) and Ana Marcu (piano, violin, guitar).

The creative team includes Scott Neale (Scenic Designer), Whitney Locher (Costume Designer), Ann G. Wrightson (Lighting Designer), Jason H. Thompson (Projection Designer), Merrick Williams (Stage Manager), and Mark McDaniels (General Manager). Production photos by Jagged Edge Arts.

The production will run through Sunday, August 6, 2017 at 5:30 p.m. at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater, located at 416 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/georama-american-panorama-told-3-miles-canvas or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Jacob Yates and Ana Marcu. Credit: Jagged Edge Arts.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, August 6, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Saving Stan” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Monday, August 7, 2017)

Off-Broadway Review: “Saving Stan” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Monday, August 7, 2017)
By Gary Morgenstein
Directed by Simcha Borenstein
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The sixty-minute one-act play “Saving Stan” is being presented as part of the inaugural season of the Broadway Bound Theater Festival at 14th Street Y Theater. Playwright Gary Morgenstein has penned a story with an interesting premise; however, at present the script is slightly scattered and confusing. Stan (Carlo Fiorletta) has suffered a severe stroke which leaves him incapacitated, unable to speak, and assisted by health care worker Patrice (Olivia Baseman). His almost bankrupt best friend Jack (Jordan Auslander) comes to visit and for some unknown reason he is the only one who can hear Stan speak. Stan asks Jack to help him commit suicide in exchange for inheriting a sizable amount of money from the estate. Patrice has her own intentions of marrying Stan, this would be his fourth wife, and woos him by singing, dancing with him in his wheelchair and trying to take him to her brother’s house for lunch. All this unfolds before the botched execution of the fatal act.

The numerous short encounters are punctuated by blackouts to indicate a time lapse or a different visit but consequently they interrupt the action, any emotional drive and dramatic arc. There are too many unanswered questions that undermine the plausibility of the plot. When did Stan write his will leaving Jack all his money in exchange for his aberrant help since he is incapacitated? Why is Jack the only one that hears Stan speak? Why does Patrice come back to Stan’s place after she has left and will no longer work there? How did Patrice get access to read Stan’s will?

The characters spend quite a bit of time arguing but there is very little exposition and occasional forced humor. They merely appear as pawns in a very bewildering game of intrigue. As with any mystery drama dealing with a death, the script must be fervid and tight with no loose ends causing doubt.
Perhaps if the device of short vignettes followed by a blackout needs to be incorporated, when the lights come up the audience should be faced with a shocking scene followed by the explanation. This way the audience will engage in anticipation of the next scene. For instance, the scene where Patrice is wooing Stan by singing and dancing ending with a kiss. If the lights came up and Patrice was kissing Stan the audience becomes immediately interested in what is happening and wants the explanation. It is a reverse strategy, shock then explain. It may help the pace of the piece. The end is a bit confusing mostly because of staging (and possibly a technical difficulty). Avoiding a spoiler alert, possibly it needs to be opened up so we can see Stan and his propped-up arm accidently falls which causes the following escapade.

Mr. Morgenstein has an absorbing one-act in the incubator that needs more attention to detail along with an infusion of desperation, motivation and exposition to the characters. It relies on unconventional devices within the plot and therefore requires unorthodox direction and staging.

SAVING STAN

The cast of “Saving Stan” features Jordan Auslander, Olivia Baseman, and Carlo Fiorletta.

Taylor Mankowski serves as lighting designer and stage manager for “Saving Stan.”

All performances of the Broadway Bound Festival run at the 14th Street Y Theatre (344 East 14th Street). For further information about the BWB Festival, the schedule of performances, and to purchase tickets at $25.00 - $50.00 (VIP), please visit https://www.broadwayboundfestival.com/. Running time for “Saving Stan” is 60 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 4, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The American Dream” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Thursday, August 10, 2017)

Off-Broadway Review: “The American Dream” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Thursday, August 10, 2017)
Written and Directed by Juan Ramirez, Jr.
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Corina’s (Cristy Reynoso) dream is to reach New York City and start a new life. This American Dream begins in Guatemala and reaches a climax in Tucson, Arizona where the twenty-two-year-old illegal immigrant is being held in a “safe house” by her “coyotaje” Efren (Juan Ramirez, Jr.), the human smuggler who has illegally transported Corina from her crossing point into the United States. Corina’s husband is late with the final payment for Efren’s “work” and, unless he makes the Western Union transfer in a relatively short period of time, Efren threatens to kill his captive.

“The American Dream,” currently playing at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre, taps deeply into the realms of moral ambiguity to examine the encounter between Corina and her captor Efren as they play what appears to be a life-or-death cat and mouse game culminating in an ending skirting the outer edges of Magical Realism. Every time Efren raises the threat level for Corina, the illegal immigrant “plays” Efren by reminding him of his own journey from Guatemala, claiming she is two-weeks pregnant by proffering an ultrasound image from a woman who is in her second trimester, offering to move in with Efren and do his every bidding, and – finally – revealing that she knows his mother back in Central America.

Mr. Ramirez uses the conflicts of his two characters to address the nature of the American Dream, its promises and its disappointments. The promise of freedom and the new life with her husband appeals to Corina: the reality of his experience as an immigrant in America disappoints Efren. In their exchange, the audience can revisit the rich and enduring questions surrounding the quest for the American Dream: how is life in America better or worse than life in Central America or Mexico; what is an illegal immigrant; why do brave individuals continue to make the dangerous journey across borders to reach America?

Juan Ramirez, Jr.’s script is strong and, with feedback from the experience at the Broadway Bound Festival, the playwright will be able to continue to develop “The American Dream” successfully. He tackles important issues facing not only America but the entire global community. It would help the progression of the play if the audience felt more compassion for Corina, cared about her more. This would reinforce the tension between the characters and accentuate the difference in their world views. Both Mr. Ramirez and Ms. Reynoso address the conflicts of their characters with authenticity.

It is difficult to write, direct, and star in one’s own play. If any one of the roles suffers, it is usually the role of director. Mr. Ramirez’s direction is adequate but needs tightening up in the second act where the pace seems to slow a bit more than it should. Also, in the first act, Ms. Reynoso’s Corina is left for long periods of time standing, wringing her hands, and rocking back and forth from one leg to the other. Again, it is sometimes difficult to direct one’s own play. More physical interaction – including raw violence – between the characters might augment the staging. Efren needs to be far more ruthless and exhibit his ability to terrorize his captive.

“The American Dream” continues the fortuitous conversation about immigration, so-called immigration reform (“Merit-Based Immigration System), human trafficking, legal immigration, illegal immigration, discrimination, the role of ICE officials, and nationalism. There are two more opportunities to see Mr. Ramirez’s important new play: Sunday August 6 at 6:30 p.m. and Thursday August 10 at 4:00 p.m.

THE AMERICAN DREAM

The cast of “The American Dream” features Juan Ramirez, Jr. and Cristy Reynoso.

The creative team includes Amira Mustapha (lighting design) and Angela Reynono (stage manager).

All performances of the Broadway Bound Festival run at the 14th Street Y Theatre (344 East 14th Street). For further information about the BWB Festival, the schedule of performances, and to purchase tickets at $25.00 - $50.00 (VIP), please visit https://www.broadwayboundfestival.com/. Running time for “The American Dream” is 70 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, August 3, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “In the Room, Waiting” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Sunday, August 6, 2017)

Off-Broadway Review: “In the Room, Waiting” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Sunday, August 6, 2017)
By Thaddeus McCants
Directed by Tyler Gardella
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Several characters appear in “In A Room, Waiting,” particularly because the room in question is a hospital waiting room. These “visitors” have little else to occupy their time other than browsing outdated magazines or entering a conversation that might either ease their apprehension or perhaps escalate their level of anxiety. Malcolm (Thaddeus McCants) and Aisha (Jarielle Whitney), a young unmarried couple, happen to be at the center of this societal microcosm as they grapple with the issue of an unexpected pregnancy. They disagree on many topics including whether to bring a child into the world given their present dismal situation and precarious relationship. Among the vivid refugees that that infiltrate this isolated encampment from the socio-economic war raging outside its doors, is a mother with a sagacious child, a drug addict looking to steal prescription drugs, a man with a head wound injured by an exploding soup can and a college frat boy ailing from an STD. Then there is the astounding Octavious, (Justin Jorrell) a somewhat prophet that sees people’s lives when high on the drug of the present decade. Beaten, bedraggled and ostracized, a sort of evangelist there to announce the coming of a special child. They are all colorful and persons of color.

Playwright Thaddeus McCants has penned an interesting narrative and created a mélange of characters to support his clever script. As ingenious as it is, it lacks the dramatic arc needed to sustain the important messages that reflect the current social turmoil erupting in our country today. The choice of music in-between scenes, as relevant as it may be, weakens the power and drive of the dialogue by changing the mood. Also, there is a need to clarify the reality versus magical realism that exists. At present, it tempts the audience to think too much, which creates doubt and uncertainty about the characters and the situations presented. The two protagonists need to be fleshed out in order to attain more empathy from the audience. The last scenes after the passing of seven years seem rushed and feigned, prompted mostly by lack of information of what has transpired over that time period that changes the attitude and demeanor of the characters.

The cast is remarkable, tackling the script with honesty and authenticity. Mr. McCants is a welcomed new voice that needs to be nurtured so he does not become a stranger to the much-needed infusion of young playwrights into the network of American theater.

IN THE ROOM WAITING

The cast of “In the Room, Waiting” features Zahaira Curiel, Barry Gibbs, Justin Jorrell, Thaddeus McCants, Jarielle Whitney, and Tangela Wilson.

The creative team includes Jon Degaetano (lighting design) and Thaddeus McCants (sound design). Parker Pogue serves as assistant director.

All performances of the Broadway Bound Festival run at the 14th Street Y Theatre (344 East 14th Street). For further information about the BWB Festival, the schedule of performances, and to purchase tickets at $25.00 - $50.00 (VIP), please visit https://www.broadwayboundfestival.com/. Running time for “In the Room, Waiting” is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “I Am, I Will, I Do” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Closed Saturday July 29, 2017)

Off-Broadway Review: “I Am, I Will, I Do” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Closed Saturday July 29, 2017)
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Dan Manjovi
Directed by Christopher Scott
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I Am, I Will, I Do” is a new musical being presented as part of NYMF by Dan Manjovi Music. It is classified as a Beta musical which means it is further along than a staged reading but not yet ready for a full production. In other words, it is a platform for the creative team to work out the kinks and hopefully learn enough from audience response and constructive criticism to advance the project to the next level. They have assembled a talented cast to help them achieve this goal and at the same time provide ninety minutes of light, fluffy musical entertainment.

The storyline follows the quest for love and a fulfilling relationship by three different couples who are old college friends. One couple is two gay men, Dave a song writer and Harris a lawyer, searching for a loving partner. Another is frugal Tony and his fiancé Valerie, who is planning her extravagant special day, both looking to solve the conflicts before the big day. The last is already married Nancie and Richard who run a failing business and are now pregnant. They are somewhat linked together by cartoon character Dr. Lara a life coach and therapist who also whines about being single and does not fit into the reality of the situations but provides comic relief.

The book and lyrics by Dan Manjovi do not employ any new outlook on these tired, generic relationships. There is too much whining, arguing and speculation, not enough character development and plagued with predictable happy ever after endings. It provides no resolution or solution and does not reflect the current socio-economic turmoil with little or no dramatic arc. The music provides some pleasant melodies but is repetitious and not diverse enough to provide interest. The lyrics fair better usually moving the plot on to the next scene or commenting on the previous.

At this point the creative team needs to evaluate the content and decide what it wants to be. If it is a modern musical it needs to be real and realize that some relationships don’t work out, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If it is an old fashioned romantic musical the characters need to be fleshed out so the audience cares about them. If it is a satire on the current state of marriage and relationships it needs to be more animated and absurd. The foundation is fine but now there needs to be a better blueprint that clearly defines what is being built.

I AM, I WILL, I DO

The cast of “I Am, I Will, I Do” features Nic Cory, Claire Neumann, Peyton Crim, Grace Leszynski, Devon Goffman, Kyle Robert Carter, Stephnaie D’Abruzzo, and Grace Hightower De Niro.

“I Am, I Will, I Do” features costume design by Deepsikha Chatterjee, and sound design by Patrick LaChance. is AEA stage manager. Matthew Croft is music director.

The production ran through Saturday, July 29, 2017 at 5:00 p.m. at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater, located at 416 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/i-am-i-will-i-do or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, July 31, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “A Wall Apart” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday July 30, 2017)

Photo: Graham Russell and the Company of “A Wall Apart.” Credit: Courtesy of “A Wall Apart.”
Off-Broadway Review: “A Wall Apart” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday July 30, 2017)
Book by Sam Goldstein and Craig Clyde
Music and Lyrics by Graham Russell
Directed and Choreographed by Keith Andrews
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“A Wall Apart” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row is a stunning and powerful new rock musical about the three Ostermann brothers living in the German Democratic Republic during the Cold War and their struggles to overcome “the wall” that separates them from those whom they love, their paths to freedom, and their quest for meaning and purpose.

Mickey (Josh Tolle) and his girlfriend Suzanne Adler (Emily Behny) and Mikey’s middle brother Kurt (Jordan Bondurant) and his love interest Esther Wilson (Maddie Shea Baldwin) juggle their commitments to one another, their careers, and their families as the “The Antifaschistischer Schutzwall” is constructed separating them from achieving their hopes and dreams and blocking their attempts to find safety for themselves and those whom they love.

Overall, the characters are well developed and their conflicts are realistic and believable and drive an engaging plot with a satisfying dramatic arc. After marrying Suzanne, Mickey is determined to escape with her to the West. Kurt also wants to join Esther on the other side of the Wall. Older brother Hans (played with a stern exterior that veils a vulnerable spirit by Darren Ritchie) seems content to remain in East Berlin and commit himself to the political uncertainties in the GDR. The brother’s aunt Tante Ostermann (Leslie Becker) is the glue that holds the family together joining past and present in as seamless a fabric as she can weave with memories. It is difficult to disclose what happens to Mickey without a spoiler alert; however, his story and that of his son Mickey Jr. (Matt Rosell) are remarkable tales of courage and commitment that reverberate to the very present.

Josh Tolle brings a rugged and pleasing bravado to Mickey and skillfully exposes the character’s layers of unresolved anger, his fear, and his passion for his music. Mr. Tolle’s well-controlled tenor instrument is perfect for Graham Russell’s rock music and easily navigates the ranges needed for both the explosive rock numbers and the tender ballads he shares with Emily Behny. Ms. Behny’s Suzanne is authentic in her quest for both love and learning and her voice is controlled and her interpretation of the lyrics is impressive. The actors excel in their numbers together, including “Do You Mind If I Adore You,” and “We’re Having a Baby.” Ms. Behny’s vocals in “Angel” are pleasing throughout the important musical number.

Likewise, Jordan Bondurant and Maddie Shea Baldwin bring authenticity to their performances as Kurt and Esther and their numbers together and with the ensemble are passionate and engaging. “Meet Me in the Middle,” “I Want to Be in Love with You,” and “A Wall Apart” convince the audience of the commitments of these two endearing characters who push and pull at one another as they search for some middle ground in their developing relationship. It is important to mention the strong performances of Leslie Becker as Tante and Matt Rosell as Mickey Jr. Both have beautiful voices and they shine in their numbers “How Can I Help This Man” (Ms. Becker with Ms. Baldwin) and the soulful “Son of the Father” delivered with depth of meaning and an expansive vocal range by Mr. Rosell.

Graham Russell has composed a strong, driving rock score and written powerful lyrics for that music. Additionally, he has composed beautiful rock ballads that counterpoint the high energy of numbers like “Our City,” “Shake It,” and “A Wall Apart.” The Ballads – “Do You Mind If I Adore You,” “I Want to Be in Love with You,” and “Son of the Father” – exemplify Lord Graham Russell’s ability to capture the vicissitudes of the human condition with exemplary grace and consummate skill. Sam Goldstein’s and Craig Clyde’s book, though adequate, does not measure up to the music and lyrics. Jonathan Ivie conducts the five-member band and plays keyboards.

The Berliners, Guards, and Ensemble (Mili Diaz, Jamal Christopher Douglas, Amanda Downey, Lindsay Estelle Dunn, Sean Green, Jr., Emily Kristen Morris, and Vincent Ortega) sing and dance with evident commitment to the musical. Their vocals and movement add considerably to the success of this new musical.

David Goldstein’s scenic design is remarkably versatile allowing for quick and seamless scene changes and his lighting design provides both the electricity of the rock stage at the Bunker and the moody pools of light for the romantic trysts at the border wall. Dustin Cross’s costumes are period perfect and with Shannon Epstein’s sound design, complement the overall success of Keith Andrews’s staging and exemplary choreography.

“A Wall Apart” is a rich metaphor for all that is currently dividing people in America, Europe, and around the globe. Given the musical’s auspicious run at the New York Musical Festival, it is certain the creative teams will continue to rework the musical and bring it back to the New York Stage hopefully soon.

A WALL APART

The cast of “A Wall Apart” features Maddie Shea Baldwin, Leslie Becker, Emily Behny, Jordan Bondurant, Darren Ritchie, Matt Rosell, Josh Tolle, with Mili Diaz, Jamal Christopher Douglas, Amanda Downey, Lindsay Estelle Dunn, Sean Green, Jr., Emily Kristen Morris, and Vincent Ortega.

The production features Musical Direction and Arrangements by Jonathan Ivie; Scenic and Lighting Design by David Goldstein; Costume Design by Dustin Cross; Sound Design by Shannon Epstein; and Casting by McCorkle Casting LTD. Production photos courtesy of “A Wall Apart.”

The production will run through Sunday, July 30, 2017 at 9:00 p.m. at The Acorn Theater at Theatre Row, located at 410 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/wall-apart or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Photo: Graham Russell and the Company of “A Wall Apart.” Credit: Courtesy of “A Wall Apart.”
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, July 30, 2017

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