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“Der Gelbe Stern” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Laurie Beechman Theatre (Closes on Monday July 21. 2014)

“Der Gelbe Stern” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at the Laurie Beechman Theatre (Closes on Monday July 21. 2014)
Created by Alexis Fishman
Written by James Millar and Alexis Fishman
Featuring Alexis Fishman and Heath Saunders
Directed by Sharone Halevy
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The longer humankind “treads the boards” of planet Earth, the more connected the general population of the fragile globe is to what Alexis Fishman calls the unfathomable trauma and tragedy of European Jewry during the Second World War. Alexis Fishman has created a cabaret within a play for the New York Musical Theatre Festival that in narration and song pays tribute to Erika Stern the fictional Jewish chanteuse who is living and performing in pre-war Berlin as the Nazis rise to power. Erika Stern’s bawdy cabaret show with her accompanist Otto (Heath Saunders) is shuttered by the Nazis 1n 1933 because she was a Jew who sang songs with questionable content.

Using those lyrics and the narration (the patter) between and during the songs, Ms. Fishman successfully manages to encapsulate the horrors of the Nazi rise to power during the Weimar Republic. The Nazi reimagining of Club Der Gelbe Stern as The White Elk parallels the Nazi reimagining of an inclusive Germany (and all of Europe) as a superior Aryan race that excludes Jews and members of the LGBT community (among others) and plans meticulously for their extinction and for the extinction or confiscation of their art.

Erika’s life story is counterpointed by songs of the era (with one exception) and the lyrics serve as much as a retelling of the chanteuse’s life as her life’s story seems the perfect provenance of the lyrics. The story of her first lover who decides to side with the Nazis, for example, counterpoints well “I’ve Been In Love Before (Friedrich Hollander/Frank Loesser). The heart wrenching story of her father in opposition to “The Jews Are To Blame” (Music by Georges Bizet) is haunting.

For many denizens of Planet Earth, “the marginalized, the profligates,” any one of their varied “performances” might be their last. “Der Gelbe Stern” is a powerful reminder “not to make arbitrary distinctions between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ The lives of European Jewry were so much like ours today … until they weren’t.”

The live portion of the character Erika Stern’s performance closes with her farewell song “If You Go Away, Little Boy” a brilliant conflation of “If You Go Away” (Jacques Brel and Rod McKuen) and “Go Away, Little Girl (Gerry Goffin and Carole King). Ms. Fishman’s rendition of these two songs – and her interpretations of all the play’s songs – is as mesmerizing as it is cathartic. This final song (Erika leaves the stage) segues into Otto listening to a recording of “I Don’t Know Who I Belong To” (Friedrich Hollander/Robert Liebmann and Friedrich Hollander) on the radio, believing it might be the recorded voice of Erika Stern whom he never sees after the Club was shuttered. The play closes with the song taking center stage.

“Der Gelbe Stern” needs to be seen before it closes on July 21st and hopefully in a production somewhere soon thereafter.

DER GELBE STERN

“Der Gelbe Stern” is presented by The New York Musical Theatre Festival and Three Fish Productions. Creator: Alexis Fishman; Writers: James Millar and Alexis Fishman; Director: Sharone Halevy; Original Musical Direction: Michael Lavine; Orchestrations: John Baxindine; Set and Lighting Designer: David Goldstein; General Manager/Line Producer: Paradox Productions/Kristen Luciani & Jason Vanderwoude; Publicist: Paul Siebold/Off Off PR. Production photos by Hunter Canning.

The Band: Giuseppe Fusco and Steve Millhouse.

“Der Gelbe Stern” continues performances on Monday July 21st at 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. at The Laurie Beechman Theatre, 407 West 42nd Street, NYC 10036. Tickets: $25. For tickets, visit nymf.org. Direct ticketing link: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/935994. Runtime: 1 hour and 15 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, July 21, 2014

“Fortune” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the June Havoc Theatre (Closes Saturday August 2, 2014)

“Fortune” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at the June Havoc Theatre (Closes Saturday August 2, 2014)
Written by George Cameron Grant
Directed by Joy Kelly
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

When someone escapes from a life-threatening event and makes it to safety, that individual might feel that fortune has smiled on him or her. When an entrepreneur starts up a small business with no capital and the business grows to be profitable, that individual might believe she or he has been visited by good fortune. Not so for Miss Rose Fortune (Elizabeth Flax) who traveling as a child from slavery in Pennsylvania and Virginia achieves both and knows exactly how she succeeded: she was blessed by the very hand of God. “Fortune,” currently running at the Midtown International Theatre Festival in NYC, chronicles Miss Rose’s life story with all the ethos and pathos needed.

Rose’s Daddy (Michael Andrews) sacrifices his life as a member of King George III’s “Ethiopian Regiment” in the American Revolutionary War. Wounded in the battle that ironically gives America its freedom from the British Throne, Rose’s Daddy realizes he served on the wrong side and despite his induction with other black loyalists into the “King George County Register of Free Negroes” he is now nothing more than a runaway slave. He leads his ten-year-old daughter Rose (Olivia Gordon) and her Mama (Shannon Harris) to safety in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, as part of the Black Loyalist migration.

Although the “heat” of his leg wound ends his life, Rose’s Daddy’s initiative and foresight lands his daughter Rose and his wife in a safe place to begin a new life. Playwright George Cameron Grant’s script is the heartwarming story of Rose’s new beginnings as a stranger in a strange land. Despite a shaky beginning with distracting lighting mis-cues, the occasional dark stage, and the stage work lights remaining on for the first fifteen minutes of the performance (this was the first performance of the five), the cast found its footing and as a skilled ensemble cast successfully recounted Rose Fortune’s story with passion and intensity.

This tale is narrated by the “present day” Rose Fortune and as she relates the details of her epic journey, members of the cast enter and exit in a series of flashbacks to dramatize the narration. Elizabeth Flax is a powerful presence whose storytelling craft drives the performance from beginning to end. She also has a strong singing voice and an arsenal of acting skills to make Rose’s story believable and ring with authenticity.

Despite having to struggle with the disruptive lighting issues, the cast is uniformly competent. Christopher Michael Bauer is extraordinary as the Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia resident who welcomes Rose (after considerable coaxing from the young Rose (Kali Turner) and gives her the opportunity to found her Rose Fortune Carting Company. Tomike Lee Ogugua is a commanding persona as Jonah who arrives later in the migration of slaves to Nova Scotia and delivers a believable performance as Rose’s love interest and husband.

“Fortune” is the powerful testament to the ability of the individual to overcome seemingly impossible odds to achieve success. The play is also a testament to the importance of family, faith, and the amazing resilience of the human spirit to overcome.

FORTUNE

“Fortune” is presented by The Rose Fortune Company (Robyn Watson, Executive Producer) in association with T Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, as part of the Black Loyalist migration he Midtown International Theatre Festival. Director: Joy Kelly. The creative team includes: Zach Pizza (Lighting and Sound Design); Ali Turns (Costume Design); and Rositsa Timm (Stage Manager). Publicist: Bao Nguyen.

The cast includes Michael Andrews, Christopher Michael Bauer, Dean Conroy, Elizabeth Flaz, Olivia Gordon, Shannon Harris, Kristoffer Infante, Tomke Lee Ogugua, and Kaili Turner.

The Midtown International Theatre Festival (MITF)'s fifeenth season will include a slate of full-length plays and musicals, as well as Cabaret MITF. The Festival will run from July 14th to August 10th 2014, at the June Havoc Theatre and the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre (1st floor), the Jewel Box Theater (4th floor), and the TBG Theatre (Main Stage) all located at 312 West 36th Street, NYC. Tickets are $18.00 to $20.00 and are available at www.midtownfestival.org or by phone at (866) 811-4111.

“Fortune” continues its run at The June Havoc Theatre (see above) on Wednesday July 23rd at 8:00 p.m.; Friday July 25th at 6:00 p.m.; Saturday July 26th at 1:00 p.m.; and Saturday August 2nd at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 (see above). The running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, July 21, 2014