Photo by Don Kellogg

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Dear Evan Hansen

I've never felt so torn about the review of a show as I have after attending an evening at Second Stage to watch Dear Evan Hansen.  The title represents a key document in the teen-angst musical's plot - an alleged suicide note to be specific.  The trouble here - it wasn't s suicide note and just about everything that Evan Hansen (Ben Platt) told Colton's (Mike Faist) family after they mistook it for their son's suicide note is a complete lie.  The lie explodes beyond friends, family, school and ultimately and predictably overtakes social media into the entire community and larger social network.  The social commentary here has something to do with "fitting in".  It is complicated by the fact that the chief liar is a messed up kid himself - so one might ask "Is it OK to lie and promote those lies about a dead kid as long as it actually helps heal and help the messed up one who is still alive?"  I really think that the fact that this show made it this far means that people just look at the premise and say "That's just how it is."

I understand that one of the writers of this musical (Benj Pasek or Justin Paul I am not sure which) wrote it as a response to a suicide they experienced in their own young school life.  The trouble I found here is that although there is a mild "you get what you deserve" ending, it basically promotes this behavior or if you can't take that  strong a position, you must admit it does virtually nothing to reject the premise.   To make my life harder - the music and songs were astonishingly beautiful.  It really is possible to pair superb music with sub-standard material.

As for the acting - overall despite the youth and inexperience of the cast - it was indeed superlative, and in Ben Platt's (Evan Hansen's) case - (once this show makes it to Broadway) Tony Award Winning stuff.  Seriously, it was that good.  Mr. Platt takes the mannerisms, verbal ticks, quirks, and eye movements of a shy, anxious, socially awkward boy and makes you believe he really is.  His staccato verbal style, pregnant pauses, and nervous laughter is real.  His emotion and actual tears on the stage are quite literally present and true.  His vocals are angelic and the songs/lyrics by Messers Pasek and Paul are quite literally haunting.  Although I will make note that way too many songs had wild swings in octave which forced Mr. Platt into and out of his falsetto voice way too many times.  His cast mates Mike Faist (Connor Murphy) and Will Roland (Jared Kleinman) support Mr. Platt well.  It's a  fine young ensemble cast, the look of the stage, digital and the sound, electronic.

Indeed, I cried at multiple points at the show.  I was upset, I was disturbed, I was sad for Evan Hansen.  But those tears were often tears for the sad and tragic situation he created.  I was crying for his predicament.  Some would argue that is the achievement of theatrical empathy.  I would agree with that theatrical analysis, except I was more upset at what he did rather than for him.

At over 2h:35m (at my performance) the show, which is known to be heading to Broadway after this run, is also way too long.  There is much to be cut and if asked I could readily suggest at least 3 different scenes that could be scrapped.  This show should probably come in at 2 solid hours including the intermission.

Much like Evan, I too am tortured and torn.  This show was so good, yet so disappointing all at the same time to me.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Fully Committed

I thought I'd be rolling in the aisle.  I thought my sides would hurt from laughing too much. How could it not be good?  A cute, funny, gay-boy playing the part of a haggered high-end restaurant reservation desk clerk playing his own part and the parts of ever crazy person who calls into the restaurant.  This really seemed like a guaranteed recipe for hysteria for the masses.  Unfortunately, as cute, and gay, and adorably cuddly as Jesse Tyler Ferguson is, he's just not an over-the-top character actor - and that is what 110% of this role requires.  (Think, for example, Mario Cantone!).

At Broadway prices ($$) and a stage about 8x larger than what the show should be presented on, I found little to enjoy and many-a-glance at my watch to check when 90 minutes would finally be up.  Not to mention, the seats in the dumpiest Broadway theater around, The Lyceum, were busted and uncomfortable.  Not a great match for the purported restaurant in the show.

And for the record, I've never heard an American use the titular expression to say "We're full tonite".

Sorry Jesse.  I really wanted to fill your reservation book up!

Call me.

Death for Five Voices

Peter Mills, a multi award-winning composer, is responsible for this magnificent, sweeping, and lush musical along with the artistic director of Prospect Theater Company herself, Cara Reichel who worked with Mr. Mills on the book.

The subject matter of the musical is perhaps an awkward choice, but one, when properly imagined on the stage, as Ms. Reichel and her more than capable company has done, is a majestic and breathtaking journey into the past.

Set back hundreds of years in Italy during the tumultuous years when Popes and the Church were in power struggles all across Europe, the play examines the early life of Carlo Gesualdo, himself a groundbreaking composer of the late Renaissance.  The score incorporates the musical style of the period with a contemporary Broadway feel and the result is nothing short of musical delight with a murderous twist.

The production is set in what I understand to be a new space, the Black Box Theatre at the Sheen Center.  The quality and comfort of this space rivals some of it's distant uptown higher end venues. Heck it was even more comfortable than the dump of the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway where I had the displeasure of spending the remainder of my evening.  The lighting, sound, and seating were all top notch. I hope to see many more productions in this space.

The entire superlative cast could not have been more pitch-perfect from start to finish.  Vocal prowess was no issue for these masterful young artists - who I hope to see on another stage soon. Nathan Gardner, who I cannot believe is only making his off-Broadway debut, sounded like a well rehearsed Broadway veteran and his youthful demeanor tells me we will see him again on a larger stage very soon. Manna Nichols (Maria D'Avalos) was an angelic soprano and a force to be reckoned with.  The insanely gorgeous AND vocally talented Nicholas Rodriguez (Fabrizio Carafa) did not fail to impress on either front - shirt on AND off. Rounding out the impressive cast were Jeff Wiliams (Alfonso Gesualdo), Ryan Bauer-Walsh (Pietro), and L.R. Davidson (Sylvia) - all of whom despite their secondary character status turned in outstanding, first-rate performances.

Death for Five Voices is currently running through April 17th at The Black Box Theater at the Sheen Center on 18 Bleecker Street.  Show Website

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Tuck Everlasting

The producers (and there are many) of this show have assembled perhaps the finest creatives available on Broadway and have made the best casting decisions possible.  Book writers Claudia Shear and Tim Federle brought their "A" game on this effort after many years of work on the story.  The music and lyrics by Chris Miller and Nathan Tysen are a perfect blend of Broadway and Folk with rousing ensemble production numbers, tender ballads, and entertaining character solos.  Although he is the last one mentioned on the marquis page, Casey Nicholaw is at the top of his game with the show's inventive and dynamic choreography with hints of ballet and not a single kick line.  His directorial choices aren't obvious, and that's what makes the show sail along as smoothly and easily as it did.

The story is adapted from the novel of the same name by Natalie Babbitt - and for the record I've neither seen the movie nor read the book.  The charming and heart-warming story goes something like this - young girl whose father died last year wanders into the forest, meets young boy from a family that has discovered a fountain of youth in the wood and has lived forever for generations without aging.  They take her home overnight and eventually return her home the next day where she has to make a decision  - drink some of the water (in 6 years when she's old enough) or live her life in the here and now as intended.

The young girl, Winnie, is played by newcomer Sarah Charles Lewis.  In what will for sure be considered her star-making debut on Broadway, this young girl will most assuredly be on the short list for a Tony nom.  Surrounding her is a cast like no other and might be the most perfect casting for this show.  Of the Tucks, Broadway veteran and vocal powerhouse Carolee Carmello (Mae Tuck) plays the Mother, Broadway veteran and great stage actor Michael Park (Angus Tuck) plays the father, Handsome and talented Robert Lenzi (Miles Tuck) plays the older brother, and last, but not least, the undeniably adorable and supremely talented singing, dancing, and acting star Andrew Keenan-Bolger plays the title character Jesse Tuck.  But the casting bulls-eyes don't end here.  Broadway stalwart Terrence Mann plays with aplomb the Man in the Yellow Suit.  He's got a devilishly devious part and perhaps leads one of the best numbers (there are many) of the show - Everything's Golden.  And in case you didn't think that was enough - the Indomitable Fred Applegate perfectly plays older Constable Joe along with his young sidekick (and son) Michael Wartella (Hugo) to the delight of the entire audience - especially since the creatives smartly gave them a number at the end of the show that almost got a standing ovation -Story of the Man in the Yellow Suit.  The reprise of Join the Parade in Act I brought the entire company on stage with Mr. Keenan-Bolger joining the male dance ensemble to bring the crowd to its feet in a rousing company number.  It deserved an encore (as cheesy as those are).

To be critical, Act II was better than Act I in terms of story and pace but I suppose a bit more exposition (the drag) is needed in Act I.  What I think the creative team did brilliantly was to engage the audience throughout.  All those Broadway numbers for the secondary characters, the talented Tuck family casting, ensemble dance routines, the introduction of young star and finally the epilogue - which for some will evoke potent emotional memories of the ending of Six Feet Under - it was perfectly choreographed with ballet inspired dance and staged and without a single word the audience understood exactly what was transpiring.

Tuck Everlasting will tug at your heartstrings and bring you to your feet at the end.  Live for now and run over to the Broadhurst Theatre and catch a performance of a show that aims to live forever!

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Battle of Central Park

Playwright Andrew Massey stumbled onto Robert Moses in a car ride in the Bronx.  He stumbled on Joseph Papp in his college drama class.  I bet he never thought he would write a play about these two powerful men, each in their own worlds - which collided in a grand battle for the Arts smack in the middle of Central Park.

This bio-play is really a story told and re-told through letters, newspaper articles, and memories.  The very clever point which could have been made even more dramatic in the play is that these two gentleman, despite their massive battles never actually met.  Mr. Massey opens the play with a scene that once repeated at the finale, hits that point home.  Through the use of projections, slides, and historical photos, the ensemble, who are part narrators and part choreographed movement, weave a tale of two powerful men - often at odds with each other.  Kudos Jamie Watkins and Michael Monacan (Projections) and Annalisa Ledson (Choreographer).

Jon Huggins (Robert Moses) has an impressive stage presence and is a commanding actor.  (He's also incredibly tall).  His booming voice and larger than life attitude brought the needed arrogance and power to life in Mr. Moses.  

Nick Trotta (Joseph Papp) made you feel the conviction of his beliefs, the frustration with the government inquiries to his private life, as well as his life long commitment to and love of the arts.  Both actors held court in this 60+ minute historically relevant and culturally interesting piece.

Both deserved their own bow after the initial company at the curtain call.  That's just how good they were.

I could really see this play being expanded slightly (maybe 90 minutes) and brought onto an off-Broadway stage for a slightly more robust performance with more projections/slides and a moderately expanded story filling in some of the gaps.  Not having given much thought until this moment, I could even imagine two stars teaming up to bring the show to a Broadway stage.  Danny DeVito as Papp?  Tony Goldwyn or Jeff Daniels or Kevin Spacey as Moses?   Stranger things have happened.

Monday, March 28, 2016

American Psycho

In the rehearsal room this show must come off like a a giant snooze fest with little entertainment value.  The fact that is is even on Broadway is a testament to the people who sold this show to the producers.  They must have had an incredible story-board presentation.  However, on the stage, with amplified contemporary music (Duncan Sheik), booming sound effects (Dan Moses Schreier), colorful rock concert-like lighting (Justin Townsend), dazzling video projections (Finn Ross), and sleek sets and special effects (Es Devlin), the actors with these tools on their side bring the awkward subject matter to life.

Dripping with pure sexual energy and a hefty amount of talent, to back up their good looks, the cast of handsome and upper-crust 80's characters manages to salvage what is otherwise an awkward horror movie on the stage.   At the helm and top of the bill is the incredibly chiseled and flat out gorgeous Benjamin Walker (Patrick Bateman).  His vocal prowess is second to none and his sultry cut body is simply perfect.  I can say this because he is on stage in just his underwear more than he is on it clothed.  And yes, it didn't bother me one bit.... not one.   His Wall Street firm-mates are also oft shirtless too.  It's the 80's in NYC at the height of hedonism, after all.  Jennifer Damiano (Jean), a powerhouse in her own right, had to dumb it down for her mousy, shy, and good-girl secretary role, but she nonetheless impressed.   Patrick's mother, Mrs. Bateman, played by the indomitable Alice Ripley, proved there are really no small roles.  I frankly didn't know it was her until well into act one when she finally took off her big sunglasses (the 80's, remember?).

What haunted me throughout this very innovative and ironically enjoyable if not awkward production was the feeling that the least impressive element was the adapted book itself (Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa).  The show felt like it was built around the special effects and Mr. Bateman himself.  It seemed like the book was merely a vehicle to deliver the movie's Cliff notes.  It felt like Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa simply strung 12+ scenes together with homage to the movie but without the ability to do it justice due to the limitations of the stage.  In the end, there was not enough to scare you, not enough to keep you guessing, and not enough to explain the abrupt and confusing ending even if you are listening to the lyrics.  The show's packaging and bold performance style (it was more like a rock concert story) keeps you in your seat and the regular insertion of popular 80's music sung by the pitch-perfect cast kept your toes tapping and eyes rolling throughout.  Between those toes tapping and the drool on your shoes continually flowing due to the uber-sexy cast, you just might enjoy the journey this show takes you on even if it seems out of place on Broadway.

Note:  Cast Photos resemble the Broadway production, but are from the London Production

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Robber Bridegroom

The pure joy and toe-tappin' excitement over at the Laura Pels Theatre at Roundabout Theater Company is absolutely not to be missed.  Brilliant director, Alex Timbers, brings the the entire kitchen sink of musical theater joy to the stage in a revival of Alfred Uhry and Robert Walodman's  The Robber Bridegroom.

And tap your toes you certainly will.  Helmed by the incredibly hunky and easy-on-the-eyes Steven Pasquale (Jamie Lockhart, The Robber Bridegroom) who himself is a powerhouse of the theatre, this production is triumphantly successful at having fun and entertaining its audience.

Supporting Mr. Pasquale are darkly funny Leslie Kritzer (Salome), the devilishly handsome and talented Andrew Durand (Little Harp), and the beautiful and beguiling Ahna O'Reilly (Rosamund).

When the actors themselves all appear to be having fun, you know the show is going to be a delight.  At one point Mr. Pasquale seemed to be "gotten" by a line from another character and a Carol Burnett moment of trying to conceal the hilarity ensued.  It's a Mississippi tale brought to life 8 glorious times a week.

Theatricality at its highest of heights (kudos Mr. Timbers); Lighting dynamic and creative (Jeff Croiter, Jake DeGroot); and authentic sets (Donyale Werle).  The on-stage Band could not have been a more tightly integrated and absolutely adorable component to the show (Cody Owen Stine, Mike Rosengarden, Ben Lively, Douglas Waterbury-Tieman, Matt Cusack).

For a brief break from the political primary rat-race,  join this cast for a 90 minute ROMP!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Father

I never doubted for one second that Langella would shine.  In its American debut at Manhattan Theatre Club, The Father, by Florian Zeller is a master class in acting and story telling.  Frank Langella (Andre) is aging and it's not pretty.  He's losing his mind - or has he already lost it?  His daughter, Anne (Katheryn Erbe) stands by his side watching his decline, painfully enduring what it brings.

There is brilliance in Mr. Langella's performance, but perhaps more importantly there is brilliance in Doug Hughes' direction of Mr. Zeller's work.  The vignette blackouts, the shocking strobe light, the stark lights up on the next, often conflicting scene - all effects that heighten the impact of the material.

What Mr. Zeller does so brilliantly is bring the audience into the world of confusion and uncertainty of Andre by repeatedly swapping actors for the same character - to which the audience in addition to Mr. Langella must react and process.  He juxtaposes dialogue that is similar but with entirely different outcomes.  He repeats segments of dialogue between the same characters but offers different emotion and conclusion.  The jolting effect to the audience is what a man in Mr. Langella's condition must experience in his condition.

Mr. Langella does most of the heavy lifting here, and his performance is transcendent. This is one play you won't soon forget - even tho the play itself is all about forgetting.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Antlia Pneumatica

Anne Washburn is at it again.  I did not see her last play, Mr. Burns, which has been described as leaving you "dizzy with the scope and dazzle of its ideas".  Antlia Pneumatica seems to be a repeat of that theme as it relates to memory, dreams, and the universe.   Ms. Washburn seems to be a non-linear writer.  Concept is king.  Ethereal is the theme.  Wonder and mystery loom large.

Nina (Annie Parisse) has a family house in the middle of nowhere Texas.  Friends from eons ago (i.e. college 25+ years ago) gather to bury one of their crew.  She has a sister, Liz (April Matthis) although color blind casting makes that fact less than obvious unless you are paying attention. Amusingly quirky friends - cute, cuddly, and gay Len (Nat Dewolf) and neurotic contrarian Ula (Maria Striar) seem to be devoted to her although it is unclear when the last time they actually saw each other.  Nina's drop dead gorgeous ex-boyfriend Adrian (drop-dead gorgeous Rob Campbell) may or may not have visited the compound of friends after a 14 year estrangement.

Nothing is truly explained.  We watch in linear time but the story is non-linear.  Time is flexible. The mind plays tricks on these friends as dreams and memories abound as they gather to bury their friend Sean.  Pies are made but not baked, Breakfast is discussed but not eaten, Children are heard, but unseen (Recorded voices of Casey and Wally are played offstage).  The ethereal tale comes to a climax of confusion and wonder when Bama (Crystal Finn) shows up (one assumes her name is an homage to her accent) and proclaims her own tale about Adrian who couldn't possibly have been there if it were true. This goes along with a separate mystery of a friend of Adrian who may or may not be alive and a successful real estate guy in Nevada.

At one point, Nina and Adrian have an extended hushed and dream-like conversation in the darkness of the family's Pecan orchard, the stage lit only by a multitude of tiny stars in the Texas sky.  (Kudos Tyler Micoleau - lighting, Rachel Hauck, Sets) and it is only then you begin to realize that Ms. Washburn's play isn't what it seemed all along.  It's mind-bendingly better - in a heavenly and dizzying sort of way.  Don't wait for the 3 pecans to drop to head over to Playwrights Horizons.

Sunday, March 13, 2016


Sometimes you have to venture out of milquetoast midtown to get a re-grounding in what it means to educate in the theatre.  Having ventured up to the Harlem School for the Arts this Sunday, I got a glimpse of this concept in action.  Artistic Director, Alfred Preisser has adapted, directed, and produced a compact and powerful Medea mixing both students and theatre professionals (HSA Faculty) and the result packs quite a punch.

First performed in approximately 431 B.C (that's a long time ago folks), this tale is just as relevant 2400+ years later.  A lot has changed in the world, but Mr. Preisser's production reminds us - a few things have not.

Women's rights, immigrants, misogyny, murder, and betrayal.  These thorny subjects were around then - and they are still around today.  I would agree with Mr. Preisser that Medea is just as culturally relevant today as it was then. Our news feeds are filled with reminders of this on a daily basis.

Medea (Tracy Johnson) is a strong woman.  Medea killed for what she believed in.  She is a warrior.  Despite these strengths, she is the oppressed by her powerful husband Jason (Khalil Kain).   Ms. Johnson exuded the very aura of confidence and conviction the tale requires.  In classic form, the Greek Chorus of mostly student echos the thoughts and themes of the tale.  The tale we see unfold could have unfolded on West 96th  Street today ostensibly the same as it did 2400 years ago.  Swap the poison crown for a gun, and the castle for a coop and -  voila - Medea today.

While nobody would advocate killing your own children, one can admire the strength, conviction, and power a woman can wield.  The education of our youth in the theater is an important task and HSA has taken this to heart by mixing life lessons with acting lessons - all in a black box theater in Harlem.  An easy trip uptown well worth making.

HSA is located at 645 Saint Nicholas Avenue and the production runs February 26 - March 20 - Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 7 PM.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Red Speedo

After a tremendously impactful showing at Playwrights Horizons this fall with Christians, Lucas Hnath bring another of his works to the New York Theatre Workshop stage with less than impressive results, Red Speedo.  

Mr. Hnath used a different writing style in this show.  In Christians, it was long preacher-like paragraphs.  Here, he has imbued this play from cover to cover with staccato, interrupted dialogue between two characters - as if each of them is talking a mile a minute but getting only one or two words out before being interrupted by the other - over and over and over.  The result is unfortunately that the actors would have had to rehearse for weeks and weeks to get this style to feel like it was naturally occurring.  On paper it likely looks like a frantic, energetic, heightened dialogue.  On stage, it merely appeared like a machine gun mis-firing.

In terms of casting, whomever was responsible for this NYTW production cast a beautifully tall and lean muscle boy as Ray (Alex Breaux) - not so much a swimmer tho.  It was distracting.  He wasn't beefy and V shaped enough (believe-you-me he was drop-dead gorgeous nonetheless).  In another interesting casting decision, his brother Peter (Lucas Caleb Rooney) looked nothing like him.  I know we all don't look alike but it just seemed odd and lacked authenticity.  Coach (Peter Jay Fernandez) was a bit too serious and stoic.  I didn't sense a reason for him to be so rigid, except that the machine-gun dialogue almost required it.  Ray's complicated girlfriend, Lydia (Zoe Winters), turned in a fine performance but Mr. Hnath might want to stop referring to her as a sports therapist, as I initially thought she was a shrink (she was a physical therapist).

The moral question of the play was unexpectedly complicated.  I expected the performance enhancing drug topic. What I didn't expect, and very much appreciated, was that Ray, the gorgeous Olympic-qualifying swimmer, was dumber than a box of rocks.  It added the dimension of a lack of a choice - that he needed to do this and it was much more instinct than calculated, intelligent decision.  It really made me think about education and emotional development.  Ray was clearly a hunk of meat who could swim but do absolutely nothing else.  Peter was clearly the sleaze bag from beginning to end and it was artful to watch how the coach transformed right before our eyes.  Three very different personalities and how they all interact is a fascinating study.

Now, the white elephant in the room - Hello?  Drug Testing??  Olympic athletes are tested to the moon and back.  Mr. Hnath should have done a better job at explaining this away rather than just hinting at how the testing focuses on levels from test to test rather than a substance itself.

Overall, Mr. Hnath's work presents an universally present problem in all sports and culturally relevant decision making process.  Like everything that is a bad idea, things don't usually end well going down this path.  And Mr. Hnath clearly agrees.

Sunday, March 6, 2016


A true very raw and tender story penned by Anna Ziegler is being presented on stage by Keen Company at The Clurman Theater on Theater Row.  At just over 90 minutes, this show packs a powerful and real punch.

Walking into the theatre, the first thing you notice is the mirror image set hanging above the real set on the floor (Sandra Goldmark).  The mirror image, only upside down.  This is much like the life of Adam Turner (Bobby Steggert).  Mr. Steggert plays the titular boy of the play - actually born a boy but after an accident during circumcision, surgically altered to a girl and raised as such by his deeply caring (if ignorant) parents.  Nobody really talked about or acted on these things and it was a time where a doctor with a theory had some sway in the public discourse.  In his teenage years, he rejected the identity and after surgery re-emerged as a boy... (mighty easy on the eyes, i might add).

Mr. Steggert plays the dual role of Samantha (growing up age 6 thru 13) and Adam (age 23) in the current time.  Through alternating flashbacks and current scenes, we see Adam today and learn of his struggle and anguish growing up.  We learn of his parents who cared dearly for him and through this play are portrayed as nothing more than caring parents who tried to do "the right thing".

Mr. Steggert alternates between a wounded man of 23 struggling to love a girl and a tortured little girl who somehow knew she didn't fit in even though she didn't know what was wrong. Tough, tender, raw are the words that come to mind repeatedly when observing Mr. Steggert in his fine portrayal of the little boy trapped inside this little girl.  Confronting the doctor later in life is an eye opening and tough scene and one could sense his trepidation in the meeting.

Supporting Mr. Steggert  aptly are his mother and father (Heidi Armbruster, Ted Koch) and the love of his life, (Jenny) Rebecca Rittenhouse.  His doctor for these many years, (Dr. Wendel Barnes) was played earnestly by Paul Niebanck.

I cannot imagine the anguish and torture this young boy must have endured growing up.  You can't blame his parents.  You can only partially blame the doctor. Although he never admits it in the play, the accusation is made that he put experiment over patient, but that is never proved or admitted, at least not in this play.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

She Loves Me

Roundabout Theatre Company has taken a musical theater gem, polished it up in a new, delightful production, and is presently dazzling audiences nightly over at Studio 54 with a star-studded cast.

Scott Ellis helms this Broadway gem for the second time, actually.  In Roundabout's first musical undertaking in 1993 was his one of his first shows too.  In a fresh, new production staring the indomitable Laura Bennati (Amalia Balash), the dashingly handsome Zachary Levi (Georg Nowack) and the bombshell Jane Krakowski (Ilona Ritter) and the delightfully debonaire Gavin Creel (Steven Kodaly) we are witness to pure musical comedy genius.

In typical Roundabout style, the sets, a 1934 Budapest Parfumerie and ancillary apartment rooms, are simply divine - dripping with color and panache (David Rockwell).  Costumes were period perfect (Jeff Mashie).

Ms. Benanti is perfectly cast as a brash young women who bursts into the store seeking a job.  Mr. Levi surprised all with his pitch-perfect deep, baratone voice as Ms. Benanti's shy young (and secret) love interest.  Ms. Krakowski plays the musical comedy bird-brain and Mr. Creel plays the greasy and slick both to the hilt.  Being surrounded by a supporting cast of old-timers only adds to the enjoyment of the evening - Michael McGrath (Ladislav Sipos), Byron Jennings (Mr. Maraczek), and a one-scene wonder, Peter Bartlett (Headwaiter). As a special note, I saw the delightfully adorable and talented understudy for Arpad Lazlo (Justin Bowen) and I couldn't have enjoyed him more.

Opposites attract is the theme.  We watch our young lovers meet, argue to exasperation, and eventually fall deep in love once their secret letter writing relationship is confirmed.  At 2 hours and 30 minutes, it's a full evening - Act I being a tad bit longer than Act II.  It's old fashioned, silly, frivolous, and delightful and I could not think of a better way to pass an evening in the theatre than with these talented actors.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Hold On To Me Darling

In its latest installment, The Atlantic Theatre Company is presenting a modern day tale of celebrities, their decisions, the bubble they live in, the people who surround them, and those that take advantage of them.  In once sense a dark comedy, and in the end, a bit of a tragedy.   Hold On To Me Darling, seems to have all of this in more.  In just under 3 hours, if nothing else, it is certainly packed full with these themes plus a bit of country music and a whole bunch of southern accents.

Playwright Kenneth Lonergan is verbose.  Scenes are long, wordy, and themes are repeated over and over - to likely emphasize the point that celebrities in real life often make the same mistakes over and over.

Timothy Olyphant (Strings McCrane) aptly (and easy on the eyes) helms the cast of 6 as a hot country music star who's mother has just died and he is trying to come to grips with his past decisions and how he can go forward without her voice. Quite cleverly, you never see her or hear from her but she is undoubtedly the 7th character in this play. His ensemble cast includes the handsome and terrifically entertaining Keith Nobbs (Jimmy) as Strings McCrane's ambiguously gay and fiercely loyal personal assistant, Jenn Lyons as Nancy, the seemingly innocent yet stealth scheming girlfriend/wife, Adelaide Clemens as the shy, country bumpkin 2nd cousin who connects with Strings, C.J. Wilson as String's obtuse, simple-minded yet grounded hometown brother and Jonathan Hogan, as Mitch, String's estranged father, a character who only appears in the final scene of the play.

Did I mention that the play was long?  3 Hours long.  My theatre going friends and I all commented afterwards that the actors seemed to be having such a good time with their parts, that they often seemed to ad-lib certain jokes or extend certain jokes with additional comments - which of course led to additional laughter in addition to the general amusement of most of the other actors on the stage.

In addition to this seemingly harmless frivolity which probably added maybe 10 minutes to the play - you still have to deal with the other 2 hours 50 minutes.  I think Mr. Lonergan's long and successful career has been in both the theatre and film - but I believe his talents are best suited to film - a place where character development and story can be told at greater length in different scenes.  This is especially important when telling a story which requires memories from what has happened in the past - on a live stage, that becomes problematic and tilts toward more dialogue - your only option to convey the information to the audience.

Overall an entertaining and poignant evening in the theatre. A fine cast.  A great playwright.  A great rotating set (Walt Spangler) Just a little too heavy on the dialogue and exposition.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Bright Star

It's always a bright day on Broadway when brave souls pen a new musical.  These brave souls are famous in their own right - none other than Steve Martin and Edie Brickell.    This would seem to be a match made in heaven.  Mr. Martin and Ms. Brickell both lay claim to the music and the story - while Mr. Martin penned the actual book, Ms. Brickell penned the lyrics.  It all makes sense so far.  What, perhaps, this duo lacks is experience in writing for a Broadway stage.

The music has Ms. Brickell's stamp all over it. No doubt she influenced the overall sound and tones.  The music was fantastically written and there were the requisite show tune type songs and love songs/ballads spread throughout the entire show.  While there were way too many banjos for my taste on the Broadway stage, (it's not a country music festival after all), the overall theme supported them.

Whether this was director Walter Bobbie's idea or simply embedded in the core book by the creators, the idea of placing the orchestra (more a band) on stage in a floating house-like structure that spun around and traversed back and forth across the stage was a brilliant tie-in to the plot and served the actors well allowing them to treat it like a house with doors at times. This major centerpiece aside, sets (Eugene Lee) seemed to get a low budget allocation which was disappointing.  I hope that building a model train and track at the top of the proscenium didn't take too much of the funds.  Cute idea for a toy store, but not for a Broadway show that only ran the train 3 times by my count.

The leads of this show - all 4 of them - Carmen Cusack (Alice), Paul Alexander Nolan (Jimmy) and A.J. Shively (Billy),  Hannah Elless (Margo) were strong, talented each in their own way, and tremendously entertaining.  Michael Mulheren (Mayor) turned in yet another remarkable performance as a strong yet tragic figure with a booming voice. And lastly, I suspect Mr. Martin had a strong hand in character Daryl Ames played to perfection by Jeff Blumenkrantz who just about stole the show!

Despite the solid casting, this show is one that has two branches that collide further down the line.  Act I is incredibly important to set this up and Mr. Martin and Ms. Brickell need to do something to better establish both story lines.  I was caught off-guard trying to figure out where the second story line came from.  After some mental calisthenics, I sorted out what I thought was going on - and as soon as I did, I figured out where it was ultimately all going to end up.  Trouble is, I think I missed a chuck of the exposition in Act I trying to figure this confusing point out.

Act II was significantly better than Act I - higher energy, musically, and story-wise.  What started out as a confusing story with two branches became crystal clear and the proverbial (and literal) train began to barrel down the tracks.  Bringing the band out of the floating house for the entre-act was a brilliant and well received move - as the music is certainly one of the bright stars of Bright Star.

Overall, the confusion generated in Act I couldn't be forgotten, but Bright Star is a solid, heartwarming story that has to be told in about 2 hours.  I'm sure the musical has been ripped apart from head to toe since it's birth, but a bit more work is needed to turn this into a Broadway hit.  Make no mistake, the cast and crew were absolutely ready for their first Broadway performance and none of the criticism here is reflective of their top notch performances. The names of the creatives will propel an audience to buy tickets and perhaps enjoy.  Ironing out the confusion will spur the Tony nominators into action turning this show into a big hit.

Thursday, February 18, 2016


Playwright, Danai Gurira, can have it any way she likes, but she will get some friendly advice here.  She's penned a terrific story, Familiar, about the emotional struggles of an African family who moved to America.  How far does assimilation go?  Does it include religion? What about traditions?  And by the tenor of the dialogue one suspects that much of the assimilation may just be superficial to some - a pathway to a better life but the strong ties to tribalism and roots may never go away - especially for those left behind who may simply scoff at the Western way of life.

The story revolves around a typical family (read dysfunctional):  A baby sister (Ito Aghayere) who is idealistic, nomadic, lost, and stumbling through an artistic life (read as - in America you need to work, sister); an older stronger sister (Roslyn Ruff) who has placed Jesus and her skinny liberal white fiancee (Joby Earle) at the center of her world; a pro-western mom (Tamara Tunie); and her quiet, hen-pecked husband (Harold Surratt).  Enter stage right, an older sister (Myra Lucretia Taylor) here from Zimbabwe for the wedding to preside over an African marriage tradition and you have a powder-keg on your hands.

Ms Tunie plays her role with impeccable skill, demeanor, and poise.  Ms. Taylor is a powerful foil to the entire family.  Mr. Joby and his brother (Joe Tippett) play a polar opposite brother-bother team that lays bare stereotypical American archetypes. Quite frankly, Mr. Tippett and Ms. Tunie take the top slots in this play among an already great cast of actors.

Ms Gurira needs to tighten this leaky ship, however.  Too long.  Far too many un-explored paths dropped on us and never quite explained.  Sons of the youngest sister (Melanie Nicholls-King)?  A dress brought in and tossed aside?  Struggles of Chris's brother never fully explored (although his pitch-perfect portrayal of the classic fuck-up son was brilliant!)?  Why did mom has such a visceral reaction to her sister arriving from Africa without fully knowing the reason?  There is certainly a twist in this plot - but it comes far too late in the action.  Remove a lot of useless chatter and exposition and bring the twist up forward.  Shorten Act I and get this ship at just under 2 hours.  Exquisite sets by Clint Ramos and superb lighting by Tyler Micoleau.

A very entertaining look at a not-so-familiar problem within the context of family, which is an all-too-familiar problem.