Monday, August 17, 2015

The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey

A heartwarming, brilliantly-executed one-man show about a real topic and a not-so-real set of characters - although we've all probably known one or more of them in each of our lifetimes.

James Lecesne has written and stars in this one-man dynamo at the Westside Theatre.  At first it seems as if his character, Chuck, a tough-as-nails, seen-it-all, been-there, done-that kind of cop, will relay a rather simple disappearance turned murder case.  What we quickly finds out is that Mr. Lecesne portrays with supreme aplomb, the "interesting" characters of the small New Jersey town that Leonard Pelkey, the boy who vanished, lived in.  His ability to make you believe you are observing a 50+ old, wrinkled smoker in the basement morgue of the town is uncanny. He turns from young girl to old German clock-maker on a dime.  He splices and cuts between characters seamlessly and with aplomb.  Drawing on those hard core 'New Yaawker', young kid, and foreign accents and mannerisms alike and the all too typical small-town value systems, Mr. Lecesne draws the audience right into that very town during his 70 minute tale.

The characters in this tale are only half the story.  The other half is the sadness they exude as they talk about the flamboyant boy who probably lived way too far "out there" being himself for this small town to cope with.  What we learn through this tale, too late, as it were, is that Leonard, as different as he probably was, affected this town in the most positive and brilliant way of any of its storied inhabitants.

Too often we criticize in the short run without realizing the extreme joy and beauty a person really brings to our lives.  Stop. Think.  Reflect. Accept.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

King Liz

King Liz is definitely serves a niche market in the theater - basketball or more generally sports fans.  Usually these two don't mix very much at all.  However, thanks to the fine writing by Fernanda Coppel, this play sweeps through the sports industry,  more specifically, the sports agent / player relationship with fervor.

 As you would expect in today's high stakes drafts and team rosters - recruiting young players with raw talent is key.  What happens when that talent is so raw it's actually a danger to itself?  How young is too young?  To what ends will agents and teams to to exploit talent?   These and many other questions are explored in this 2 hour tour-de-force presented at the McGinn/Cazale Theater of 2ST.

Karen Pittman (Liz Rico) dominates the stage with raw power, steadfast determination and a pure strength of will to succeed as a woman in a man's world.  She manipulates and attempts to mold young (very fine looking) and talented high school basketball player from Red Hook Brooklyn, Jeremie Harris (Freddie Luna).  The supporting cast - most notably Irene Sofia Lucio (Gabby Fuentes) and Russell G. Jones (Coach Jones) - fill in the drama and back story quite nicely.

With a quick pace and high volume the characters engage in what can only be described as a war of wills.  Who wins in the end and at what cost?  I leave that up to you to determine.   The oddest moment of the entire play was the bizarre opening lip sync which led me to think this was a drag queen show for about 2 minutes.  Thankfully nothing else in the show was as bizarre and I quickly forgot about it once the real plot began to furiously unfold.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Significant Other

Joshua Harmon has penned yet another "summer play" for all to enjoy.  It is being presented off-Broadway at the Laura Pels Theater at Roundabout and the venue and timing couldn't be more perfect.  It's like those summer beach books - not to complex, not too long, and a touch of serious but not too much that you're talking about the issues for days.  It's the perfect summer indulgence.

Trip Cullman has finally made his rounds complete at all the non-for-profit theaters in NYC and Roundabout is now finally the recipient of his fine directorial skills.  The show centers on the millennial, Jordan Berman, who is played with pitch perfect looks and tone by the adorable Gideon Glick.  He's cute, shy, and gay.  In this case it seems to mean he doesn't have any male gay friends.  This is a bit annoyingly unrealistic for the setting of NYC, but we'll go with it.  His BFF girlfriends are all growing up and one by one getting married.  Poor Jordan is being left in the proverbial dust because he just can't find anyone (again, in NYC I find this and odd premise).

Exposition reveals that each girl is herself quite a different character and Jordan gets something different from each of them.  Laura (Lindsay Mendez) is perhaps his closest and most sincere soul-mate from his youth.  Kiki (Sas Goldberg) and Vanessa (Carra Patterson) both play slightly more wild BFFs.  Together all 4 make up quite a bunch of fun loving friends.  As a foil to his youth, Jordan also has a close relationship with his grandmother (Barbara Barrie) who we are lead to believe is old, spry, perceptive, OK with him being gay, and slowly losing her memory but holding on to life itself. (i thought it odd that his parents are never really mentioned from what i recall).

Act I was long and contained perhaps a bit too much exposition than needed to get the basic point across.  Act II was much more confrontational and emotional which culminated in a scene in which Jordan basically unleashes a lifetime of pent up anger, frustration, and angst (about being gay, being a gay BFF and a lot of other baggage) on Laura in a very long and emotionally played rant that in itself deserved a round of applause when he was done.  

The play, like life itself, just moves forward and ends.  It's up to you to decide if it is hopeful, sad, inspiring, or depressing.  I suppose everyone can see a lot of character traits of both themselves and various friends in many of the characters - so everyone will take bits and pieces that suit their experiences away and it will be up to them to decide how they feel about the whole thing in the end.  I happen to see it with a bunch of single folks and I am left wondering if some of my married straight friends might take something different away from it than me.  I bet they do.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Of Good Stock

Melissa Ross seems to be under the delusion that messed up and messy people who were born to cheating and unhappy parents are considered to be born "of good stock" or are "good stock" themselves.  The funny, poignant, and slice of life production by Manhattan Theater Club on the City Center Stage I by its title seems to suggest so.  Hardly the case, although the production itself is quite good and for too many probably cuts quite close to the bone.

Although the headline name seems to be Alicia Silverstone who aptly plays the Legally Blond type sister (Amy), in fact the entire cast is quite delicious.  There's a flavor of some affectation for slight control freak with cancer (Jennifer Mudge), lost and young (Heather Lind),  cute, cuddly, and genuine boy from Montana (Nate Miller), Northeast "good guy" (Kelly AuCoin) and uptight trapped groom to be (Greg Keller).

I'm not sure if we are supposed to like any of these people or just see some reflection of ourselves in any one of them but the story unfolded mostly as expected and maybe took about 15 minutes too long.

Families are mostly complicated and according to this version, messed up.  It's mostly true but do we need a play to remind us of this fact?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Airline Highway

Talk about the down and out - this play delves into the lives of the residents of The Hummingbird Motel in New Orleans - for the good, the bad, and the ugly - and it's mostly ugly.

Julie White (Tanya) is the deficit lady-in-charge at the motel.  Despite the fact that she's a prostitute, she's loved, listened to and respected.  Her friends care so much about her and each other.  One of the other residents even tries to keep her off the pills.  With a great ensemble cast, this show socks you with a 1-2 punch.  It ain't a happy time, but at their core these down and out people have a whole lotta heart and soul.  K. Todd Freeman (Sissy Na Na) takes second position as the transvestite resident with a whole lotta sass.  Hunky Joe Trippett (Baid Boy) strolls into town after he has "escaped" to marry a wealthy woman but as they say - You can take the boy out of the ghetto but you can't take the ghetto out of the boy.

An interesting choice for a late spring show, Lisa D'Amour's work is a frank and honest look at what makes good people - and in this case, it just ain't money.  Joe Mantello's direction is a healthy dose of fun, frivolity, and honesty.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Qualms

From a master of dialogue and interesting, quirky, provocative topics, Bruce Norris has shared a slightly uncomfortable, marvelously funny, and touching story that delves into the lives of swingers!  Yes, you read that correctly - Swingers!

The cast of couples is superbly unique, extremely diverse, and wonderfully talented.  The story centers around newcomers to the swingers group - upscale couple Jeremy Shamos (Chris) and Sarah Goldberg (Kristy).  The group starts out with the host couple - the mature John Procaccino (Gary) and younger and ditzy Kate Arrington (Teri) and grows more eclectic with each completely different couple that arrives - heavyset firecracker Donna Lynne Champlin (Deb) and hunky handsome, likely gay Andy Lucien (Ken) and exotic Chinasa Ogbuagu (Regine) and white bread American-as-can-be Noah Emmerrich (Roger).   What a wild mix and what a wild ride they are in for.

Ruminating on faith, love, commitment, religion, and everything related to the meaning of life itself, this group of swingers go on one wild ride this evening.  The audience is along for the ride the entire time - but I must say that the play slowed to an unbearable crawl about 2/3rd of the way through as if Mr. Norris just couldn't wrap it up cleanly enough.  The penultimate scene pertaining to statistics in a large metropolitan city should really have ended the play so cleverly but he needed a comforting reconciliation scene around the gun they brought out in Act I - the banana pudding.

And finally, I love a play that features what is likely to be a new actor - in this case he doesn't even have any lines - but the expression on his face was worth 1000!  Kudos to Julian Leong (Delivery Boy). And Kudos to writing such roles into plays to let everyone get their start!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

What I Did Last Summer

A.R. Gurney's new work over at the Pershing Square Signature Center is a hidden gem amongst the pile of off-Broadway plays out there. From it's construction to its unique music and rhythm to its cast - this show shines as bright as the north star in the evening sky.  Jim Simpson's fine direction appears delicate and purposeful without being overly obvious and heavy.

First off, it's not "I know what you did last summer".  That is whole other genre and ball of wax.  This show is a family drama and is touching, tender, and uplifting.  It rings true and honestly portrays a family struggle at the tail end of WWII.  No punches pulled.  No fancy stage tricks, but plenty of innovative and unique theatrical presentation techniques - most prominently - the typewriter projection on the back wall and the percussion rhythms and sounds quietly but effectively matching the rhythm of speech and motion.

Most certainly the divine Kristine Nielsen takes the show instantly to a higher level.  She is a consummate character actress and fits the bill perfectly for Anna Trumbull (a.k.a. The Pig Lady).  Carolyn McCormick (known for her recurring role of Dr. Olivet in Law & Order) was the perfectly flawed and loving mother, Grace.  Despite his tender age, the lead character, Charlie, the confused, energetic, every-day kid, was played with wild abandon and tremendous heart by the young and talented Noah Galvin (last seen in The Burnt Part Boys).

The entire play is enjoyable but when it wraps up - actually the very last line - you will leave the theater with a heart slightly warmer and full than when you entered.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Way We Get By

Neil LaBute certainly has an ear for contemporary, young characters in real situations.  Mr. LaBute is no stranger to the off-Broadway stage and his late incarnation at Second Stage Theater is about to be a late-season off-Broadway hit.

Cast with two highly sought after young actors, Thomas Sadowski (Doug) and Amanda Seyfried (Beth), the story portrays two young individuals awkwardly and cautiously navigating the "morning after" throwing in a whopper of a twist.   The twist, at first seems dark, but is quickly explained away as what might be perceived as a rather typical problem for 2nd (or 3rd) marriages with kids.

Mr. Sadowski is about as handsome as they come. (swoon).  It seems that he is, as of late, is a pro at playing awkward, nervous, and smart  - and Doug in this story is no different.  Ms. Seyfried is young, bubbly, and equally awkward - all in a good way.  She seems to have mastered the tortured, beautiful, and lost young woman out in the world today.  Together these two ultimately rip up the stage and humorously dance around the issue at hand - a relationship.

I'll let you see for yourself how these two resolve their issues.  For now, just know that your attendance at this 80 minute-no intermission play will leave you smiling long after you leave the theater.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Another self-absorbed, publicly financed purportedly cathartic psychotherapy session - live - and on stage for a limited run at the New York Theater Workshop where you can waste 80 minutes of your life suffering through someone else's perceived problems and maybe even tick off the last box of your theater subscription thinking about how this is not even close to theater so why did I even join this season?

Yes, you too can have the joy of listening to Dael Orlandersmith's abusive childhood and her generally unhappy adulthood mostly because of her mother.  What a shocker - someone's mother treated them badly and died they way she lived - bitter, mean, and un-loved.  Never heard that one before.  And of course, the production is written and performed by Ms. Orlandersmith.  Of course it was.  Who else would want to?

Do yourself a favor.  Don't encourage this type of performance art in paid theatrical subscriptions and stay away from this performance at NYTW.  Go watch paint dry.  It will be more fulfilling.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Visit

Another opening.... another show.... and this one is another chosen investment.  No matter what they say, I could not be prouder of this production.  Here's what all the real critics are saying...
























Wednesday, April 22, 2015


They're either really good or... well, they aren't.  In this case it really, really isn't.  little i.  @ sign instead of a.  I should have known it was a dud just from the dumb symbolic title.

Poor constructionJenny Schwartz. Poor direction Ken Rus Schmoll.  A play with more music than some musicals (Todd Almond). Frankly just a stupid idea all around.  The talented actors actually seemed uncomfortable at times at the sheer stupidity they were employed to spew.

The stupid idea?  A play that screams endlessly at you and has not a single cohesive idea (yes, we get it too - life today is filled with meaningless connections and a general lack of communication and genuine understanding).  This play is filled with such crap and meaningless, unconnected, and disingenuous jokes that it was frankly insulting, trite, annoying and might just be a complete unmitigated disaster on stage.

I will purposely laud the actors on stage - all of whom smiled through the pain and genuinely churned out top notch performances despite the material.  Cindy Cheung, April Matthis, Annie McNamara, Karyn Quackenbush, Carolina Sanchez, Lee Sellars, Jill Shackner, and Colette Tetlow all deserve polite applause and recognition.

I bet they didn't even know what they were getting into when it started.  After all, nobody communicates anymore, right?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

An American in Paris

Quite possibly this is the most beautifully staged ballet mounted on a Broadway stage.  The perfect blend of theater, dance, and storytelling is something you cannot miss.  The dancing is breathtaking.  The music  (George  and Ira Gershwin) is classic and instantly recognizable.  I have not seen the movie (it's rare that I have) and I was swept up in this luxurious, eye-popping spectacular on stage at the Palace Theater directed and choreographed by the incomparable master of dance, Christopher Wheeldon.

Robert Fairchild (Jerry Mulligan). already a well respected and award-winning dancer has kept secret from us - he can sing and act too.  A more perfect triple-threat I cannot imagine - so much so that I found it hard to take my eyes of him.  He's handsome, svelte, funny, and flexible.  His dance is mesmerizingly effortless - like a feather in the wind.   Equally talented and beautiful is the central love interest in the story, Leanne Cope (Lise Dassin).  She floats across the stage like a cloud of pure joy. She exudes Parisian charm and good looks with every step, note, and line she executes.

And while many could play the part, none other than the incomparable Veanne Cox portrays Madame Barurel - the uncompromising mother with some secrets who just wants her son to get married already.  And guess what?  I adore her comedic genius but now I find out she can dance like a pro too!   The American determined to make it big in the Paris art world (and score a handsome man) is played by none other than the divine Jill Paice (Milo Davenport).  Her singing, sultry and exquisite dresses, and dancing skills brought her character to life as she attempted to woo Mr. Fairchild.

This show is truly ballet extraordinaire and hence brings a full suite of skills and talent in the company to the stage - and they multiply it 10-fold with the play (ballet)-within-a-play (ballet) concept.  The three handsome leading men (Mr. Fairchild along with Max von Essen (Henri Baurel) and Brandon Uranowitz (Adam Hochberg) succeed wildly in falling in love with the same woman in entirely different ways.  Their chemistry is palpable and you really think these three might end up being friends in such a setting.  Each has a different personality but they blend remarkably well.

From the breathtaking opening scene (it's magical) to the titular ballet scene in Act II, you won't want to miss a single moment of this rapturous and fluid performance.  Although we recently experienced another show with Mr. Gershwin's music (You Can't Take it with You), this story is entirely different and evokes completely different emotions.  

As was said about Rob McClure in Chaplin, the same can be said for Mr. Fairchild - "Welcome to the show that's going to make you a Broadway star".

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The King and I

When Lincoln Center Theater takes on a project, they never fail to dazzle and impress.  With the largest and best thrust stage in NYC, the scenic effects and  the overall theatricality appear boundless and always delight.  The orchestra - exposed, vibrant, and lush - never fails to fill the theater to the brim with complex melodies.  This production of The King and I, a Rogers and Hammerstein classic, is no exception from a production standpoint.  On any other stage it would be less.  With such a large cast as this show supports (virtually all Broadway  debuts), I'm not sure they would even fit!

What this production suffers from is a mis-matched leading pair.  The divine and regal Kelli O'Hara in her gowns and frocks is nothing short of sublime.  Her Portrayal of Anna Leonowens is both tender and bold, both strong and sympathetic.  Her voice is near pitch perfect and just about every note she uttered was near pitch-perfect.   However, she is not matched in her leading man, Ken Wantanabe (King of Siam).  He may look the part, but there was something about his dialogue and delivery of the lines that suggested he had trouble with the English language which seems a bit odd to me.  What possessed them to cast someone who was not easily understood?  I did not conduct extensive background research here so I'm just reporting on what I saw and how it came across to me.  It is what it is and it was a mark in the negatives column.

The show itself is an odd pastiche of scenes and a play-within-a-play.   I enjoyed the spectacle put on by director, Bartlett Sher, and the creative and technical teams (Small House of Uncle Tom), but it always feels like a distraction and runs longer than needed and tends to distract from the cohesiveness and main story.  There are always the children who bring smiles to many faces, but again, there seem to be a few too many and the endless procession of little bodies with nothing more than obligatory bows and scurrying gets old fairly fast.

We will see if this is indeed Kelli's year to win a (well deserved) Tony.  She's got some stiff competition from Ms. Chenoweth in her show and that show, unlike this one, is hammering on all cylinders from start to finish.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Something Rotten!

Ladies and gentlemen - we have a smash hit simmering on the back burner here.  No out of town tryout - straight to Broadway  - and after a mere 2 weeks of previews, this show has  already proven itself to to be a knock-out, smash (pardon the pun) hit!

Dream cast.  Brilliant writing.  A tap-dancing full company including the stars.  Raucous and rousing Broadway company numbers and top that all off with a story that's got heart.  What more could you ask for on stage - except maybe electricity and running water?

Vocal powerhouse Brian d'Arcy James (Nick Bottom) and adorably nebbish John Cariani (Nigel Bottom) helm the cast along with the "rock star" Christian Borle (Shakespeare).  This trio is nothing short of pure hysteria.  Mr. Borle showcases his trademark ham-it-up acting style with wild abandon and draws Mr's. d'Arcy James and Bartlett into his lair of comedy.

Speaking of comedy, the creators of this delightful gem, Karey Kirkpatrick and Wayne Kirkpatrick (Book, Music, Lyrics) and John O'Farrell (Book) have discovered the secret to an unflappable smash Broadway hit.  Inside jokes (Broadway), subject matter jokes (Shakespeare) and a whole lotta singing, tapping, and dancing in full company numbers.   The full company stopped the show no less than 3 times - in both Act I (after A Musical) and in Act II (after Something Rotten! and Make an Omelette).  I actually think it even came as a surprise to the company on at least one of the occasions.

The supporting cast is also nothing short of brilliant.  Heidi Blickenstaff (Bea) belts out a delightful ballad in Act I.  Brad Oscar (Nostradamus) is nothing short of mesmerizing as the Soothsayer who guides us through the journey "just a little bit off".  Gerry Vichi (Shylock) plays the old Jew to the hilt and Brooks Ashmanskas (Brother Jeremiah) quite literally steals the show right out from under its stars just about every time he is on stage.  And I mean every time.

This show is an homage to Broadway with its references and inside jokes (they come so subtly and quickly you'll miss many, but don't worry another one is on the way).  At the same time it is a parody about Shakespeare's work (down to the names of the characters in this show) and in yet another layer, a story about following your heart and sticking to your dreams.

I understand from exiting the theater that the ushers even have a little competition going on to identify all the musical and theater references within the show.  Now these people see the show every night and they're still finding hidden gems.

Seriously, the only thing you could ask for is a fresh Omelette on the way out of the theatre!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Doctor Zhivago

Dr. Yurii Zhivago is on an epic quest.  This first Broadway production directed by Des McAnuff is nothing short of one descriptive word.  Urgent.  This tale of a Russian doctor and poet who falls in love and is caught up in the Russian revolution in the first few decades of the twentieth century is a massive, urgent, prolific, and passionate tale told by a cast of dozens.  Scenery flies in and out frantically.  Musical numbers all contain giant crescendos.  Time is fleeting.  Lives will be lost.  Will Doctor Zhivago and his true love triumph?  You will only find out if you visit the Broadway Theatre and witness this audacious undertaking unfold in just under 3 hours.

Newcomer to Broadway, Tam Mutu (Yurii Zhivago), brings passion and conviction to Yurii.  His voice is as powerful as his looks are good.  Equally as good if not more so is his nemesis, Pasha Antipov / Strelinikov (Paul Alexander Nolan).  With a set of pipes on him that quite literally made the house rumble and the roof shake, he is nothing short of vocal perfection and a significant foil to Mr. Mutu.  There are also darling little children who portray various characters in their youth (Jonah Halperen, Sophia Gennusa, and Ava-Riley Miles). The ensemble is just as frenetic as the leading characters and the story - dancing classic Russian dances, twirling flags, firing guns, and battling a revolution.  One might compare this to its French equivalent, Les Miserables, and at several points it uses similar theatrical tactics (a floating rotating disk, battle scenes, and revolutionary flags).

Did I mention this is an epic journey?  Even the stage is purposefully pitched at an angle to give the allusion of depth, cavernousness, and struggle (upstage is really up).  This musical could only have been more grand if we saw a 35 piece orchestra in black tie plucking and tooting away with wild abandon.  The massive and numerous sets and fly space in the Broadway theatre allow for an incredible number of moving and flying parts from both the sides and the top.  This only serves to enhance the urgency Mr. McAnuff attempts to convey along this journey of love, war, and conflict.

 Costumes are certain to get a Tony nom (Paul Tazewell) and Scenic Design if for nothing other than the quantity will certainly be recognized (Michael Scott-Mitchell). Lighting was a massive undertaking that succeeds greatly (Howell Binkley).  Not to be left out of an epic production are the  projections (rain, background, portraits on the curtains) and most certainly will be recognized (Sean Nieuwenhuis).  Now, why it was always raining and not snowing is a bit of a disconnect to the marketing materials the show put out, but that's a small point out of 100's of perfectly hit notes in this production.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

On the Twentieth Century

And the Tony goes to.....  yes, this one is a shoe-in for a nom... or six... and we'll just see who they are up against for the wins.  Warren Carlyle (Choreography) has got to be on the nominee list for his craft.  And let's not leave out Scott Ellis (Director) for his craft.  And don't think for a minute that Kristin Chenoweth is not a shoe-in her category.  Peter Gallagher just might be on the list too.

With an introduction like that - what's left but just the entire ensemble.  I have been saying since intermission of the show that this is perhaps the hardest working, singing, dancing, and entertaining ensemble that is currently running on Broadway.  It's seriously THAT good.
On the Twentieth Century is actually a musical by Comden & Green with music by Cy Coleman which is an adaptation of a play, Twentieth Century by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur based on the unproduced play Napoleon of Broadway by Charles B. Millholland, inspired by his experience working for the eccentric Broadway impresario David Belasco. Well that's a mouthful!
It's a good old-fashioned Broadway musical.  That alone doesn't guarantee success.  This production, however, goes every extra mile to ensure the delivery is crisp, bold, smart, and rhythmic. From the invisible orchestra to the tap dancing Porters (Rick Faugno, Richard Riaz Yoder, Drew King, and Phillip Attmore), to the show-within-a-show type story, this show has razzle, dazzle, sequins, slapstick comedy, Mary Louise Wilson (Letitia Peabody Primrose) and the audaciously sexy Andy Karl (Bruce Granit).

I never doubted for a moment that Roundabout's sets (David Rockwell) and lighting (David Holder) would be magnificent.  They were.  Costumes were simply lavish perfection (William Ivy Long).

From the moment the perfectly costumed and supremely gorgeous porters tap danced onto the stage until the very end when, all in white, the cast returns to the stage not a minute was ill-spent.  Every single minute was filled with a laugh, a song, or a dance.  Every single minute.

Get your ticket to board On the Twentieth Century today.  It leaves from Chicago to New York 8 shows each week.