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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cabaret

After the initial smile the news of Cabaret's revival brought to my face, it soon turned slightly sour.  Don't get me wrong, I love the show.  What brought a little disdain to the whole affair was to learn that this is not a fresh revival -  it is actually just a resurrection.  It's literally a repeat engagement of the exact same production that graced the stage at Studio 54 over 10 years ago.   It's possible they took the liberty of changing a few things, but certainly nothing major.  It's a re-run - and one that you have to pay for all over again.

What further depressed me is that Roundabout artistic director, Todd Haimes, boldly proclaims this re-run fact right in the Playbill.  This run is a limited engagement for a subscription-based not-for-profit theatre company.  So what provocative theatre are they actually producing? Mr. Haimes, don't you think most of your subscriber base has seen the show already?  You mention in your introduction in the playbill that "a new generation will have the chance to see this incredible piece live on Broadway".  

Well Mr. Haimes, this grand, dark albeit very enjoyable "revival" will mostly be seen by the same subscriber who already saw it before and had first dibs this time around at the tickets before the "new generation" even had the chance to buy in.  It's also a cheap trick.  You aren't investing in a new production or provocative, fresh, adventurous theatre.  No, you simply hire the same choreographer (Rob Marshall) and the same director (Sam Mendez) and even the same leading man (Alan Cumming)!  You are not fooling this subscriber one bit.

If you really wanted people to see this show then you should have gathered up investors (I'm sure there would have been many willing ones) and brought this production of a revival direct to Broadway in a commercial run where everyone who wanted to see it could have.  What we have here is a lazy excuse for a slot in the season - reviving a very successful show on the backs of your paying subscribers who expect more than re-runs in their season.

All my complaints aside, the show itself is a remarkable and potent theatrical journey back in time.  It's message, penned by the duo of John Kander and the late Fred Ebb is as sharp and pointed as it was in 1966 when it first debuted.

Alan Cumming (Emcee) is as dark and playful as anyone ever was in the role.  The Kit Kat Klub boys and girls are a sexy and bawdy ensemble.   I saw Michelle Williams' (Sally Bowles) understudy the night I saw it so I cannot opine on Ms Williams' abilities.  Aside from the dark Mr. Cummings, who never fails to entertain, I found Herr Schultz (Danny Burstein) and Fraulein Schneider (Linda Eamon) to be the show's stand-outs both vocally and dramatically.   Bll Heck (Clifford Bradshaw) turned in an admirable yet run-of-the-mill performance.  The Orchestra, or the Kat Kat Band as it is known (all fit and buff themselves onstage and in-your-face), was an outstanding component of the show.

So I'm annoyed as a subscriber to Roundabout, yet pleased, once again, with a fine production and an evening spent enjoying an important and provocative work in the theatre.  There's even doubt the show will be Tony worthy again as it actually won a Tony the first time around and simply took a 10 year break before resurfacing virtually unchanged.  I guess in the end though, Life is Beautiful... Everything is Beautiful.... Life is a Cabaret.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Casa Valentina

When I was recovering from a recent surgery, I suggested to my friends that I would soon be ready to 'get back out there and see some provocative and exciting theatre'.  Little did I know that my very first play out of the gate would be Harvey Firestein's new play, Casa Valentina.   Wow.

It's expected that when you go to the theatre that you are entertained.  When you come away from a performance feeling you have learned something about history and life itself - in addition to some superb entertainment - that's exciting!  As for the provocative part - well just take a listen to the actors
themselves describe a play that depicts a group of 1960's men who escape into the Catskills to are part of a secret sorority who dress up as women:

Casa Valentina Video

Provocative - you bet.  Interesting and educational - absolutely (who knew?).  Storytelling - at its best.  Directed by Joe Mantello, written by Harvey Firestein, and produced by Lynne Meadow and Barry Grove at the Manhattan Theatre Club - this one is going to sizzle.  Don't wait for this tale told by a top-notch cast of characters to open on April 23rd.  Run over to the Samuel J Friedman (Biltmore) Theatre and catch a story told like none other today.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Mothers and Sons

Investing in Broadway has one downside - I can't objectively review the shows. (After all, I want to make a profit!).  From the moment I heard about the text and substance of this play I was on board.  I do not regret it for a single moment and last night's opening performance was simply mesmerizing and a story whose time on Broadway has finally arrived.

Don't just take my word for it - see what the folks who get paid to do this sorta stuff have to say:

Reviews - Click Here


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Dinner with Friends

The simplicity of this play is blinding.  The message is complex and thought provoking.  Donald Margulies is a master of dialogue and rich language and context hidden in plain sight.

Jeremy Shamos (Gabe) and Marin Hinkle (Karen) pair up with Heather Burns (Beth) and Darren Pettie (Tom) in a match of personalities, desires, and commitment.  It's not until Act 2 that we see just how much our characters have changed and only then realize how complex the situation among and between the couples is going to be.   Funny, touching, thought-provoking for sure.

Mr. Margulies brilliantly crafted and unassuming plot quietly exposes the complexities and intricacies of relationships - both between man and wife and among couples and best friends too.  Mr. Shamos and Mr. Pettie are friends who end up being polar opposites.  Ms Burns and Ms Hinkle are friends who are polar opposites who have more in common than they might actually think.

Directed by Pam McKinnon, a true 4 character charmer is unfolding at Laura Pels Theatre on West 46th.

Make sure you have time afterwards to discuss Dinner with Friends at a dinner with friends nearby.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Bridges of Madison County

Well, I'm an investor so I can't really review the show objectively.  But my decision to invest was made based mainly on the brilliant casting (Kelli O'Hara and Steven Pasquale) and direction (Bartlett Sher) potential on top of a lush and lovely score by the indomitable Jason Robert Brown.  Instead,  I'll share with you what other people have said.



NEW YORK TIMES

NY1
Review

NEW YORK POST
Review

ASSOCIATED PRESS
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER

TIME OUT NEW YORK
Review

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY
Review

WASHINGTON POST
Review

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Review

NORTHJERSEY.COM
Review

NEWSDAY


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Stop Hitting Yourself

Well this is not your typical play.  Commissioned by LCT, this quirky theater collective named Rude Mechs has taken the farce to new heights on the stage.  Seven talented actors grace the gilded stage but after a rousing opening number filled with tap dance and foot stomping - the show quickly degrades into a rather entertaining, if not strange, farce.

Beneath all the glitz, glamor, faux-gold-painted everything (including a piano!), and fountain spewing queso there is a message struggling to escape.  Do good.  Renounce your wealth and riches to care for the poor, the sick, the less fortunate.  Can goodness survive in a world of such maddening selfishness and desire?  Through tongue-and-cheek dialogue the entire plot reminded me of a Saturday Night Live skit, to be honest.  There's music, tap dancing, singing and those few serious ethical issues all wrapped up in one big hot mess.  The actors even mysteriously break character at lease 3 times to come forward on the steps of the stage to just tell the audience something about themselves - personally - not their characters.  This fuels even more the concept of farcical theatre being presented.  Strange, yes.  Funny, yep.

The show opened with the adorable Paul Soileau (the characters just all went by their regular names) in a tux, but we never saw him dressed as a man again - he became the slightly drunk, ostentatious, and cranky queen in a zippy electric wheelchair.  Joey Hood's antics and tap dancing and big gold necklace made me chuckle with glee.  Lana Lesley (The socialite) knocked it out of the park with her wickedly oblivious mean streak.  The Wildman (Thomas Graves) seemed to be the leader of the troupe if by nothing else, his omnipresence on the stage.

I'm intrigued at Lincoln Center Theatre's choice at such a traditionally stodgy institution.  Maybe that's the point - shake things up on the new roof (the Claire Tow Theatre is literally on the roof of the stuffy Vivian Beaumont Theatre) .  Whatever the case - it's a welcome, refreshing bit of theatre of the absurd (or otherwise).  I just hope that cheese tastes good after several performances.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Happiest Song Plays Last

The 3rd in a trilogy of plays by Quiara Alegria Hudes, this one just might need a bit more work.  There's nothing wrong with the story - unless you think the disjointed, unconnected characters and plot lines are too much to handle and too long and painful to endure.

Armando Riesco has been Elliott in all of the trilogies and once again does a remarkable job at showing the pain and anguish buried deep in his soul.  This time around,  we meet him back in the middle east (he is a war veteran of the middle east).  We also meet his cousin Yaz (Lauren Velez) her May to December romantic interest Augusin (Tony Plana, of Ugly Betty), a homeless man Lefty (Anthony Chisholm), his Jordanian/Iraqi guide (Duriush Kashani), his movie co-star Shar (Annapurna Sriram).  Follow all that?

Although this is being presented at Second Stage, one would assume this show had a first showing somewhere else.  With that, I would assume that the editor was sound asleep at the switch.  This play was so disorganized and so rambling that it just kept going and going and going... What exactly is then happiest song and why does it play last?  I have no idea.   The on-stage Puerto Rican 3-man band was unnecessary and often played for no reason.  It wasn't a musical at all and there were so many stories going on it was distracting.

This is one that should have gone straight to DVD without a stop in the theaters!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Love and Information

This play is very unique and another thoroughly enjoyable installment of the New York Theatre Workshop.  Actually, less of a play more a series of thematic vignettes - long and short.  Broken down into 8 chapters, Caryl Churchill imbues each chapter with a theme that is then explored in several usually quick slices of life she presents.  Funny, sad, poignant, smart, coy, cunning, deceptive - you name it - she's got it.

The cast of 15 is usually, but not exclusively, paired in twos and is always introduced by a sound effect that relates to the scene.  Part of the formula for success is the bare white stage box and lighting effect at the scene changes that completely blacks out the view.  Very binary, very data-oriented, very sparse.  It focuses you on the topic of the scene.  There's a fair amount of thinking or processing that has to go on - that is - if you are trying to decode each scene and chapter.

By the time chapter 4 came along I started to figure out a pattern.  I just wish they would have displayed that theme when they flashed the chapter number up on the scrim.  It really would have made a quicker and stronger association to the content as it unfolded.  They could have at least printed it in the Playbill so we could have all reflected upon it afterwards.  And believe me, this one generated a lot of conversation afterwards.

With 57 individual vignettes over 2 hours, there was quite a bit to recall fondly.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Little Me

It's been a while for me, but eventually the delight of a fresh production at Encores! has caught my attention.  Little Me - Book by Neil Simon - Music by Cy Coleman-  is an evening of pure fluff and fun at The City Center!  Nothing serious going on here - that's for sure. Just pure joy!

Christian Borle dazzles and entertains as multiple characters passing through the life of Miss Poitrine (Judy Kaye).   The all-star cast that supports is full of fun and fabulous characters too - Rachel York as the young Miss Poitrine, Tony Yazbeck as the dashing and debonair George Musgrove, Harriet Harris as the wealthy and evil mother and a fantastic dancing chorus of boys and girls and extras including so many names, faces and talents they are too numerous to list!

Mr. Borle masters the many characters with hilarity, quick costume changes, and lots of hamming it up.  Ms. Kaye's humor is delicious and the music, songs, singing, and dancing are all well above average - especially considering this is a semi-staged production running for a very short time.  Of course the Encores! Orchestra - lead by Rob Berman pulled off an outstanding performance on-stage as usual in all their glory.

This one is quick - so get your last minute tickets while they last!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

I am the Wind

A theatre critic is sometimes biased, and this is one of those times.  Well, it is not too often that I get to see a play staring someone who I acted with in High School.  So when a press release crossed my desk and I saw that Louis Butelli (and Christopher Tierney) were stepping into the lead roles in an upcoming play, my heart skipped a beat!  Louis was always a talented kid, and as I grow older I have realized he is a superb talent to be reckoned with.

Jon Fosse is a European playwright, virtually unknown in the USA. His work, I am the Wind, is a thinking man's play.  The search for answers, the struggle with why, and the questions of life.  Louis and Mr. Tierney (it seems odd to refer to him as Mr. Butelli) were magnificently sad, thoughtful, inquisitive and powerful.  The play runs a mere 60 minutes and they both captivated me every single minute.

If you need an inexpensive and engrossing evening of off-Broadway theatre - run over to 59E59 Theatre and catch a performance of I am the Wind staring two very talented gents.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Bronx Bombers

Major League Baseball and The New York Yankees are actually a part of ("in association with") the new Eric Simonson written and directed two act play, Bronx Bombers.  Yes, it's baseball on Broadway.   And what an iconic team to highlight right here in New York.  Interestingly enough, the last sports show in the round at Circle in the Square was Lombardi.  This one, a recent transfer from The Duke on 42nd also plays well in the round.

The show, as you would imagine, is a baseball lovers delight.  Likely geared to engage the male persuasion, the show takes a look at the greats of the team - combining them all in a quaint dream-like plot.  Act I is a scene from 1977 setting up the conflicts and personalities of Billy Martin (Keith Nobbs), Reggie Jackson (Francois Battiste), Thurman Munson (Bill Dawes), and the ever-caring and genuine star of the show, Yogi Berra (Peter Scolari).

What unfolds is conflict - and what follows in Act II is a dream like sequence of Yogi's that brings all the Yankee greats to a dinner party in his home with his wife Carmen (Tracy Shayne) - Joe DiMaggio, (Chris Henry Coffey), Lou Gehrig (John Wernke), Babe Ruth (C.J. Wilson), Derek Jeter (Christopher Jackson),  Elston Howard (Francois Battiste), and Micky Mantle (Bill Dawes).

What we learn in Act II is that the conflict in Act I was not new at all.  Baseball has always been full of characters, conflicts, and personalities.  And we also gather that fans may wax and wane, but they always come back- especially to this iconic New York team.

I'm not a baseball fan.  I admit it.  The baseball angle didn't jazz me up at all. (I thought it was boring, actually).  But what the show was able to do, even to me, is to tell a story and teach a lesson.  Through all the characters, all the conflicts, and all the noise - there really is one thing that draws men of all ages to the Yankees - and that is tradition above all else.

Will this play hit the mark - being on Broadway now?  I'm not sure, but the tiny audience that watched the show with me seemed to enjoy it.  Especially all those Yogi-isms!  Let's see if wives drag their die-hard husband fans or if they even come on their own!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

She is King

A creation by its star, Larissa Husiak (Billie Jean King), She is King is a verbatim reenactment of the words of Billie Jean King through various interviews for TV.  It's an intensive retrospective hour of the tennis star of the 70's who made history by admitting to a lesbian affair in 1981.

The staging is unique as cameras focus on the subject of the interviews and is broadcast to 9 televisions lined up across the back of the stage, representing the broadcast media aspect of the show.  Several children are involved in the production also.   I believe after reading the show fact sheet that the Incubator Arts Project is partly responsible for the rather distracting kids holding and moving scenery during the show - as their approach is to produce multi-generational works.  (Maybe?).  In the contact of the show, they were supposed to represent ball boys and girls the same age that Billie Jean King was when she decided she was going to be a tennis star and change the sport.  And as we know, indeed she did.

As far as the show goes, it was heartwarming, touching and the script does a fantastic job of highlighting  the attitudes of those times - both the interviewer questions and some of the answers too!   Ms Husiak indeed looked, sounded and felt like Ms King live on stage.  Those trademark 80's glasses clinched the deal.

As for the singing at the end, maybe we didn't need that.   A viable and engaging show.  Well,  maybe if a few changes are made.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Machinal

Who would have thought a lyrical play about a crazy woman who kills her husband and gets the electric chair would be so engrossing?  Sophie Treadwell's 1928 play about this very subject matter is currently running at Roundabout's American Airlines Theater - and what an experience it is!

Sets by Es Devlin,  Lighting by Michael Krass and most importantly Sound by Matt Tierney are to be applauded for complementing the tumultuous and often times rhythmical, other times stream of consciousness dialogues superbly.

Rebecca Hall (Young Woman) dominates the stage in her confused and often tortured and emotionally challenged character.  Supported by a large cast of fine, well choreographed actors around her (including Arnie Burton, Morgan Spector, and Michael Cumpsty), the tale of her life unfolds in 9 dramatic and thoroughly captivating vignettes in the ever rotating and changing set.

The play was written not like today's Law and Order formulaic crime drama, but rather as a loose compilation of thoughts, ramblings, and exclamations of a disturbed woman and her desire for emotional freedom who ends up killing her husband.  After all, a play ending in an electric chair scene can't possibly be uplifting, but the exploration of character, dreams, sanity, and life that unfolds along the way add up to a remarkable theatrical experience.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Outside Mullingar

In a charming single act, playwright, John Patrick Shanley, doesn't cease to entertain in this quirky Irish romantic comedy.  As with all thing Irish, there's always alcohol and death - but those aspects aside, Mr. Shanley rises above the expected dirge to present a lighthearted evening of theatre.

The delightful cast of a foursome consisting of a single parent from each of Debra Messing (Rosemary Muldoon), Brian F O'Byrne (Anthony Reiley) - the incomparable Dearbhla Molloy (Aoife Muldoon) and the lovable yet cantankerous Peter Maloney (Tony Reiley) do not disappoint.  Except for Ms. Messing, it seems the other 3 speak or at least were raised with a true Irish brogue and while Ms. Messing does a capable job, you can tell it's not her natural voice.

The follies of the family unfold in about 100 minutes and it's just the perfect timing for this tale.  Despite a curve ball being thrown by Mr. O'Byrne just before the end - you still suspect it's likely to turn out happy in the end.  But you'll have to wait to see just how it all plays out at the Friedman Theatre (i still call it the Biltmore myself) on West 47th.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Last Two People on Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudville

 
This is a workshop run so I can't be too critical.  That said, the rather long name of this show could be shortened and clarified.  It really could be titled "The Mandy and Mac Show". 

I saw the immense talent on stage in both Mandy Patinkin and Taylor Mac. (There are no names to the characters they play).  Yes, it's a vaudville-esque show for sure.  I believe the theme is generally that they're the last two men alive on the planet after a flood (queue thunder and lightening for a tad too long in the beginning).  They find each other through the music and dance for the next 95 minutes (this is where they lost me).  Immense talent aside, the two engaged in quite a wide genre of musical numbers - from Sondheim to R.E.M. and The Ragtime Theme to Row, Row, Row your Boat!  Often times clown like and always in the vaudeville style, the two sang their heads off. 

Kudos to director and choreographer Susan Stroman, lighting director Ken Billington, costume designer William Ivey Long, and set designer Beowulf Boritt - an all star assembly of creative talent!

I'm still not quite so clear that anyone would want to see this show for any other reason than to just see Mandy and Taylor perform.  Heck, some people would go see them read the phone book ...But in this case, they don't really need one because they're the last two left!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What's It All About? Bacharach Reimagined

At the helm of this new work, Canadian crooner and successful young actor and artist, Kyle Riabko, takes a bunch of classic tunes from an old master, Mr. Burt Bacharach, and re imagines them fin-a concert-like setting for a new generation of hipsters.

There's not really a show here in the true sense of the word if you want a plot.  Mr. Riabko opens the show like a concert by speaking off-the-cuff to the audience welcoming them and giving them a bit of background on how the show came about.  After he launches into the music, not another word is spoken.  It's pure entertainment for sure.  The mind is put to work with each tune trying in the early notes and words to figure out just what the old version was and then left to admire the face lift that it has been given.
You may not love the redo or you may think it's the best new take on an old tune.  Regardless, the magnificent musicians on stage provide quite a show.

I had the on-stage seating experience.  While there was a lot of butt-watching (they played downstage from us a lot), the one magical thing to be a part of was the sound.  I imagine the audience  heard the fully mixed and amplified sound out in the classic seats.  We, on stage, however, were treated to actual natural, un-amplified vocals and harmonies and sounds directly from the instruments.  It was refreshing to hear and I found it remarkable to learn just how talented these young artists actually are.

NYTW seems to be a veritable petrie dish for new artists and unique shows for the past few years (Once and Peter and the Starcatcher both originated here prior to their Broadway transfers). I just wish the play list was published in the Playbill - I left remembering most of the tunes but would have enjoyed looking back on them and remembering the performance even more days afterward too.

And  poor Hal David.  Nobody gives him as much credit for those lyrics as Mr. Bacharach gets for the music!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812

It's a grand party in a glamorous pop-up cabaret tent right here on Broadway, freshly moved uptown from the Meatpacking district.  One would think the edgy, avant-garde performance style fits best downtown, but clearly the producers are bucking the entrenched Broadway traditions!

The Kazino (the casino) as it's called, is a supper club draped in velvet and adorned with glamorous chandelier lights.   The show takes place throughout the performance space which is dotted with the tables of patrons.  The orchestra is a band located throughout the theatre and the action takes place all around and amongst the patrons who are enjoying wine, cheese and other Russian delights which can be supplemented (read $$$$) with other menu items.

The story comes from an audacious book - War and Peace.  But in reality it's really nothing more than a tele-novella or a lifetime movie,  Girl is left alone by her boyfriend who is off to war.  Girl meets new boy and new boy romances her.  Girl realizes her delicate situation and tries to kill herself but does not succeed.  Boy returns from war.  Longtime friend of girl professes his love for her.  And so goes the evening as a comet descends on the planet.

A+ for performance space and immersive approach to telling the story - no spoken word rather all sung! Not quite as high a grade for the story itself however.  It seems unnecessarily drawn out (perhaps like the book from whence it came).

Overall, the show was magnificent and the evening was an entertainment success but I was left wondering why the story was not as dazzling as the cast, costumes, vocals, band, and venue itself.

Maybe I'll write a letter.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Nothing to Hide

Neil Patrick Harris directs this brief wonder now running at the Signature Theatre on W42nd Street.  (Did you know that in addition to being an uber-handsome actor and award show host he's the president of the Academy of Magical Arts at Magic Castle?!)

Noting to Hide is a magic show with an even bigger dash of comedy.  As a matter of fact, the card tricks -some elaborate- manage to delight, but the chemistry and personality that Derek Delgaudio and Helder Guimaraes bring to the stage are the real stars of this show.  A show of just card tricks would be a yawn, after all.

It's warm and funny and involves the audience in the slight-of-hand tricks which always adds to their material of amusing ad-libs in reaction to what they ask the audience to contribute.  My only complaint is that it seemed too short.  If these two ever give up magic, they'll always have comedy.

In fact, it might actually work the other way too.






Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bad Jews

Joshua Harmon's new play just got promoted upstairs! Roundabout moved the bitingly funny play from the black-box theater downstairs to the Laura Pels stage for a run during their 2013-2014 subscription.

The play centers around 3 cousins gathering in NYC on Riverside  Drive the during the funeral and Shiva period after their grandfather's (Papi's) death.  Central to the evening's controversy is uber-Jew, Daphna (aka Diana) Feygenbaum, (Tracee Chimo) who seemingly thrives on divisiveness and contentiousness ("We're not arguing, we're talking" she explains at one point).  She clearly dominates her introverted cousin, Jonah Haber (Phillip Ettinger), and clashes head-on with her nemesis and other cousin (and brother of Jonah), Liam (aka Shlomo) Haber (Michael Zegen).  Molly Ranson plays the mousy girlfriend, (Melody) of Liam who unwittingly ends up being the reason for much of the angst-ridden family debate and vitriol.

It's a cauldron of Jewish issues of cultural assimilation, religious beliefs (and the ones chosen to be ignored), and most of all, family.  Everyone, Jewish or not, can find a nugget of family in this play despite the specifics of this plot.  By the end of the 1:35 minute run you'll be exhausted yet relieved at the same time.  You can only take so much family time at once, after all.