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Monday, July 21, 2014

Mr. Confidential

With music and lyrics by Samuel Bernstein, this fantastic entrant into the New York Musical Theater Festival (NTMF) seems to be seriously rallying for a future off-Broadway run.  I am in awe of the creatives and casts who literally throw these shows together in a remarkably short period of time.  Simply amazing.  So when you get to see a show that delights and entertains in a cogent and cohesive manner, its all the better.


Mr. Confidential is the story of a family magazine publisher who turns to the gossip rag trade (inventing or perfecting it?).  He runs scathing stories, slides right down the line of truth and honesty and quite literally captures the American public at a time they had nothing similar.

Kevin Spirtas is perhaps a bit lackluster yet still entertaining in his performance as Bob Harrison.  Erin Leigh Peck is possibly the show-stealing character as Marjorie with her powerful voice and tough acting chops!  Amy Bodnar is divine as the ditsy and lovable Jeannie.  Michael Marotta aptly portrays the journalist Walter Winchell with his deep and rich radio voice.

With an ensemble that includes James La Rosa, Willie Falk, Alina Watters, and Joshua Dixon, this show is poised for a next step toward a commercial run.  The music is peppy and memorable in that big-band/swing dance kind of way and while the story does need a little trimming (especially that courtroom scene) I could see a snappier version of this show running at New World Stages or on Theatre Row at the Acorn, Clurman, or Beckett.  The allure and mystery of that era could even propel this one to Broadway after some tweaks, improvements, adjustments - and the addition of a star or two.  Think After Midnight and you'll get the idea of what's possible.

TMZ and Gawker would not be what they are today without Mr. Confidential and his magazine.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Beautiful - The Carole King Musical

This might be referred to as a juke box musical and I will admit I usually don't go see these very often.  However, someone so embedded in the musical fabric of a generation deserved a shot.  The one thing I learned is that this is not just the Carole King story!  The title is a bit misleading as we are treated to the songs and lyrics from not only Carole King and Gerry Goffin but also Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann.  The format is essentially a back-and-forth with the dueling teams fighting for the next number-one hit that a popular group would sing.

Back in their day, the songwriters were not well known and didn't perform at all (today some songwriters are actually performance artists in their own right, others remain behind the scenes like these folks).  Right from the start we learn that Carole never wanted to be a performer -it was not her dream.  We learn that it is something that came about after being married, having two kids and divorcing and moving to California.  It evolved as she "grew up" and "found her own voice".

Jessie Mueller (Carole King) does a wonderful job at transforming from a young, enthusiastic Jesish kid from Brooklyn who skipped two grades and started writing music - to a mature, full-voiced, emotional singer making her debut record and debut concert at Carnegie Hall.  Jake Epstein (Gerry Goffin) plays her obviously talented, very good looking, and ultimately mentally unstable boyfriend come husband and writing partner (he wrote the lyrics and she wrote the music).  At my performance, the knock-out understudy, Sara King, played Cynthia Weil and she fit the part like a glove!  Jarrod Spector rounded out the competing songster couple as hypochondriac funny-man Barry Mann.

From a construction standpoint, the show presents itself by showing you the songs as envisioned by the writers as they are under development (you get a tease of the melody and lyrics to remind you they wrote it) - and then you get treated to groups of actors and singers such as The Drifters, The Shirelles, The Righteous Brothers and Little Eva actually performing the hits including Will You Love Me Tomorrow, The Locomotion, Up on the Roof, and Some Kind of Wonderful.   Very effective for a toe-tapping Broadway musical.  Of course you have to wait till the end to hear Carole in her own voice belt out You've Got a Friend, Will you Love me Tomorrow, Natural Woman, and, of course, the titular number, Beautiful.

The show portrays Carol as an ordinary Jewish woman who found herself thrown into a man's world of music, songwriting, and business and she really just wanted to be a stay-at-home mom to her kids and write her songs.  Little did she know life would throw her a curve ball and thrust her (to our benefit) into the limelight where she got the opportunity to use her own voice to sing her own songs.

Heartwarming, entertaining, and triumphant are words that line up nicely with this show.  I''m left wondering if Jessie Mueller will ride her Tony award winning performance out or we will see someone come in and take over the role on Broadway.  We shall see.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sex with Strangers

Playwright Laura Eason has penned a remarkably intelligent, thought-provoking, well-balanced, two-hander about writers and their plight in today's modern world.

The talented and beautiful Anna Gunn (Olivia) and incredibly hunky and devilishly handsome Billy Magnussen (Ethan) take the helm of the Tony Kiser Theatre at Second Stage this summer in this powerful, tight, and sexy production with David Schwimmer's keen directorial insight.

Billy plows into the Bed and Breakfast in the mountains and fireworks explode from that point forward.  She's a classic writer, strong, sexy, vulnerable and smart.   He's a bold, brash, impish interloper on a mission.  Who is he really?  Is your past part of who you really are?  Can you do bad things and still end up being a good person?  Who is he really?  Well, clothes fly off many times and sparks fly - this is no surprise -  but the depth of their relationship is tested and challenged in many ways.

Should she?  Shouldn't she?  Who is he really?  Go grab a seat at 2ST and find out.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Last Ship

In its pre-Broadway try-out at the Bank of America Theater in Chicago, Sting's new musical, The Last Ship, is working out the kinks and honing its message for the masses of New York City this fall.

Sting has penned a surprisingly remarkable score fit for Broadway.  It's lush.   It provides a rich backdrop to the entire production and lifts the actors to amazing heights on the stage.  I'm the first to admit, I was impressed (I mean my expectations were set low after that Bono-Spider debacle).

The spunky and powerful Rachel Tucker (Meg Dawson) and smooth, throaty, and devilishly handsome Michael Esper (Gideon  Fletcher) with a voice like Sting's aptly helm the cast with support from such greats as Fred Applegate (Father O'Brien) and the always amazing Aaron Lazar (Arthur Millburn).

Now, to be honest, the story is not the happiest.  It's not exactly the most riveting or interesting.  It's a love story as many are.  It's set in an English shipbuilding town in North East England and has, as you would expect, the requisite love, rejection, acceptance, and key character death, general conflict, and will certainly entertain some.

I suspect it will not have mass-appeal as is required by a Broadway show these days, but Sting and his music will likely sell enough tickets to warrant the large investment to mount a Broadway show these days before the story's downside will overtake the music's upside.

I love checking out shows out of town and this one was no exception.  If you love Sting and want to see him showcase his musical talents in an entirely new way - get your ticket to the New York production today!


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

It has a cult following.  It's a mix of glam-rock and drag queen.  It's got heart and is rather in-your-face about the whole affair.

Neil Patrick Harris takes the reigns of this monster and reels it in for a big Broadway pay-off.  Hedwig (Harris), by all accounts is a mess, yet she manages to fill your heart with warmth and your belly with laughter. With his unique mix of charm, good looks, (check out the body on this fine 40-something specimen!), and a true entertainer, Mr Harris' gamble on this show truly pays off in what some might consider a spectacle of lights, song, and love.

Unlike the movie, this version is told much like a one-night only concert at the Belasco Theatre - current day.  Hedwig regularly breaks the 4th wall to chat with the audience and banter with a man in the box seat where Mr. Belasco's ghost may often may be seen, thus indicating a successful run of a show, and even kiss a lucky boy in the front row!

Throughout the evening the stage show never ceases to impress.  Outrageous costumes and makeup, concert style lighting to whip the audience into a frenzy, and a cadre of tunes simply rock the house down.  The lovely Lena Hall also does double duty as a man (Yitzhak) who blossoms in the end.

I'm pretty sure there will never be a performance - tourists included - that doesn't end in a raucous standing ovation for Mr. Harris, Ms. Hall, and the entire band.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Just Jim Dale

The Roundabout Theatre Company strikes (out) again.  Jim Dale is an extraordinary song and dance man  He's likable, flexible, and talented - even at this ripe old age of 79 - he's a powerhouse of energy and enthusiasm on the stage!  He's a treasure to behold with talents beyond just the theatre - including music, television, film, and voice work.  One small problem.  Roundabout is not the Cafe Carlyle.

Jim is, perhaps, most well known for his portrayal of P.T. Barnum in the 1980 Broadway musical Barnum.  More recently, however, cult followers of J.K Rowling all over the world would know his voice as the narrator of all 7 of the audio books for the Harry Potter Series.

Notice that I have only great things to say about this talented gent.  However, in another epic fail of the Roundabout Theater Company, we subscribers have been subjected to yet another cheap excuse for a show.  While Jim Dale is a treasure of the American and British culture, this show is yet another example of Artistic Director Todd Haimes' fledgling budget.  This "show" is nothing more than a cabaret act.  Roundabout is stretched very thin and simply cannot afford to put on 6 quality shows any longer (even if 3 of them are off-Broadway).

Shame on you (again) Roundabout.  I hope you wake up ad shake things up.  If you hold onto the pipe dreams of somehow producing the next big hit to fund your coffers all the while financing the rest of your seasons cheaper and cheaper on the backs of your subscribers, you are doomed to extinction.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Bullets Over Broadway

I was moderately entertained.  Indeed, I was.  However, knowing what I know, I feel a bit cheated.  If I didn't know any better (as most of the out-of-towners who attend these sorts of big productions), I guess nothing would seem to of place.  In his new musical this season, Woody Allen chose to not create any original music for the stage adaptation of his film by the same name.  Seems odd to me.  Such a prolific and arguably successful director, actor, and writer - why would he omit such a core ingredient from a new "musical".  Oh yes, there was music, but it was all existing and just carefully selected, recycled, re-arranged, and plopped into the story.   It frankly hit a sour note in my book.  That aside, the music chosen seemed stylistically appropriate.  Nothing too bad.  Just not original.  Not fresh.

If music were the only problem with the show, I'd be inclined to overlook the issue mostly.  However, when you combine it with the problem of casting - Houston, we've got a problem.  Don't get me wrong, Zach Braff turned in a decent performance and I can honestly say that even for a Wednesday evening performance (after a matinee) it seemed he gave it his all.  But it just wasn't enough.  His character, playwright David Shayne, cries out for a performance by none other than the goof-ball Matthew Broderick.  The entire performance, from beginning to end, was delightful, but not excellent.  It was as if Zach himself invested in the show, so they felt obliged to give him the lead over much more appropriate choices (you'll get the reference once you see the show).  I don't really even know if the part was even offered to Mr. Broderick, but it certainly seemed to me that it should have been.

Nick Cordero turned in a tortured and hysterical performance as Cheech the gangster with a penchant for writing - including one steal-the-show number.  Vincent Pastore may have appeared as goomba Johnny on The Sopranos, but his stage presence is about as engaging and entertaining as a wet sponge.  Marin Mazzie's (Helen Sinclair) star power out-shinned just about everyone else in the production except, perhaps, for Karen Ziemba, whose talents seemed utterly wasted on Eden Brent, the adorable dog-carrying actress to whom that had to give a solo number in Act II just to make sure she didn't quit.   Helene Yorke (Olive) turned in a great performance, but once again, you felt the part was perhaps written for someone else - maybe, let's speculate, Katie Finneran.  Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't.  The show had a spectacular chorus of male dancers (think gangsters) and female dancers (think The Rockettes) both sets of whom dazzled throughout the entire show.

Uneven casting and poor choices by Woody with respect to music detract from what would otherwise have been another smash hit just like The Producers.  Maybe next time Ms. Stroman.  Given these challenges, this show is destined for mediocrity.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Violet

Originally produced for a brief run at Playwrights Horizons in 1997, Violet is seeing a new incarnation at Roundabout's American Airlines Theatre with a star as bright as the moon in a dark night sky, Sutton Foster.

The original production did not run very long, which is not surprising.  This incarnation seems to be doing a bit better despite the sparse sets and limited choreography.

Make no mistake, Sutton Foster, Broadway's darling, brings innocence with power to the production.  Her supporting cast is tremendously talented and also cannot be ignored either.  As a matter of fact, her co-star, Joshua Henry, has, what one might say, is "the num-bah" of the entire show, bringing the audience nearly to it's feet early on.

However, despite my high level of engagement and enjoyment, I was not moved to put this show any where near the winning slot for Best Musical.  Most noticeably, the show has what I would call the Encores! staging model (indeed, the show transferred from Encores! after it's summer 2013 run there).  While semi-staging and limited choreography work for a one-night- only run at NY City Center, it certainly has no place on a permanent Broadway stage where you are paying, literally, for a creative team to choreograph, build sets, and move the actors beyond a small rectangle in from of an orchestra/band taking up way to much space on the stage.

Significant financial considerations aside (clearly Roundabout is poor these days and can't afford to do what it used to do - or they've just become a sellout to cheap entertaining shows at the lowest cost), the show packs a powerful message about finding out who you are inside and seeing beyond the surface.   This applies aptly to both Mr. Henry (Flick) and Ms Foster (Violet).

Emmerson Steele (Young Violet) is a treasure to behold, blending perfectly with Ms Foster and the entire aesthetic.  I saw the understudy for Monty (Austin Lesch) and I'm happy to report his performance (and handsome looks) was magnificent.  Alexander Gemignani was also perfectly cast as the fuzzy bear-like mountain-man father of Violet.

Best Musical, I hope not.  But certainly a show worth seeing with a delightful score and performances as good as they get.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

When We Were Young and Unafraid

Sarah Treem has been busy these past few years and I didn't even realize it.   Aside from writing this mesmerizing and provocative new play, When We Were Young and Unafraid, she's been busy working as an executive producer on two very successful and poignant modern television dramas, HBO's In Treatment and Netflix's House of Cards.  Yeah, that's a big WOW.

In this stage play, Sarah brings a woman running a battered women's shelter together with a recent visitor to her secret shelter, an invading nomadic lesbian searching for meaning, a guest of the B&B she runs as the "front" and the girl she calls her daughter.  The year is 1972 and all the rules are different from today.  Packed like a stick of dynamite, this play is about ready to explode off the pages before you throw in the indomitable stage actress Cherry Jones (Agnes), the potent and explosive Cherise Boothe (Hannah), the mesmerizing Zoe Kazan (Mary Anne), the youthful powerhouse  Morgan Saylor (Penny), and the dashing Patch Darragh (Paul).  Light the fuse - and POW - it's burning the entire time.

The entire time is perhaps the only problem with this show - at 2h:20m, it's perhaps a bit too long for its own good.  Not a bad problem to have, however.  Find the least best thing (it's gonna be hard) and trim it down and I think you have the perfect run time for this powerhouse.  Check out the promo video which will help explain a bit further.  In the meantime - get your tickets now - Manhattan Theater Club's Stage I at City Center 

CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Red-Eye to Havre De Grace

New York Theater Workshop strikes again with a provocative, edgy, discordant, and artistic presentation of the last days of Edgar Allan Poe on several train rides between New York and Virginia in Red-Eye to Havre De Grace.  Not at all what you expect from the moment it starts to the moment it concludes.  Filled with Dance, operatic rifts, and poetry, the story woven is rich and lush.

Brothers David and Jeremy Wilhelm have teamed up with Thaddeus Phillips and several others to construct this 90 minute work of art.  While it ends up exactly where you know it will, the journey is a wild, tortured, and esoteric ride.  The music in the show was created by the talented brothers Wilhelm and the show exquisitely directed by Mr. Phillips.

Alessandra L. Larson (Virginia Poe) and Ean Sheehy (Edgar Allen Poe) navigate the poetic script with graceful acrobatics, magical dance, and tortured personas.  Jeremy breaks the 4th wall as a narrator of sorts (think explainer-in-chief) while the Poes are completely immersed in their characters and David adeptly tickles various ivories on a few different pianos on the stage.  Even the musical accompaniment is ingenious and artistic at times, the actors ingeniously playing instruments.

Red-Eye is a spectacularly creative - and yes strange - artistic expression of the particular story of a specific point in the life of a talented and tortured man.  Haunting and poetic, it will leave you feeling enriched, bewildered, and satiated all at the same time.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Too Much Sun

 Fresh off her last off-Broadway turned Broadway run, The Lyons, Linda Lavin joins up once again with playwright Nicky Silver once again at the Vineyard Theatre for Too Much Sun, a full length family drama filled with humor and wit.

Linda Lavin (Audry Langham), a once successful, aging actress who is fed up with her diminished roles walks off stage of her seemingly silly engagement as Medea in Chicago and retreats to her daughter's beach house to regroup.  What unfolds is a family drama tangled up with the neighbors in more ways than one.  Mr. Silver's pen is sharp and witty, but his plot is unnecessarily complicated for the story being told and feels a bit like he wrapped it all up in the last 5 minutes.  It's not only the sun that's too much in this production.

All these rabbit holes aside, the show was extremely well acted and directed.  Jennifer Westfeldt (Kitty) and Ken Barnett (Dennis) are Lavin's daughter and son-in-law who are dragged unwittingly into her lair.  Richard Bekins (Winston) and devilishly handsome Matt Dickson (Lucas) are their beach house neighbors also both separately drawn into the family drama and have a drama of their own going on.  Audry's agent's assistant, Matt Dellapina (Gil), was hysterically entertaining and neurotic but involvement overall seemed contrived - especially at the end.

As I write this, I wonder if the character of Lucas even needed to have a storyline with Dennis or if the neighbors storyline needed to be so developed.  I guess we needed parts of it.  The play may have been shorter and punchier if it focused solely on Ms. Lavin's unfortunate yet comical situation.  But alas, perhaps that may have seemed too much like a simple 30 minute sit-com if it were.

From a construction perspective, the play had a prologue which seemed to work, but then there was an Entr'acte after the intermission that seemed a bit awkward.  All told it was a bit choppy overall, but the purposes were served.  A little lighting glitch was dealt with professionally and expeditiously and frankly was a reminder that theatre is live and shit happens.

As with all she seems to do, Ms. Lavin shines and her comedic timing is impeccable, but alas, I doubt this one will transfer to Broadway like the last one did.  In any case, she's one of those people who could read me the phone book and I'm positive I'd be mesmerized.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Forbidden Broadway - Comes Out Swinging!

Gerard Alessandrini is at it once again.  His smash hit show, Forbidden Broadway, (subtitle on the Playkill Comes Out Swinging!) is back in the saddle at the comfortable and newly minted Davenport Theatre on West 45th Street.

In classic form, the show playfully skewers the most recent crop of shows on Broadway (and even TV too).  From Book of Mormon to Woody Allen for Bullets Over Broadway to Annie to Patina Miller in Pippin to Kelly O'Hara and Stephen Pasquale in The Bridges of Madison County and Rocky and even into TV - spoofing NBC's Carrie Underwood in The Sound Of Music -  the entertaining evening is innocent and fun-loving for all concerned.  Of course a show wouldn't be complete without a riff on the indomitable Liza - what a perfect opportunity than to throw in an Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams Cabaret spoof dragging in, of course, the grande Damme herself from the movie.

In the past 30 years there have been way too many talented actors to mention here.  This time around the incredible foursome, Carter Calvert, Scott Richard Foster, Mia Gentle, and Marcus Stevens brought smiles to everyone's faces.   Mr. Stevens was a stand-out with his characters including Harvey Fierstein and a near pitch-perfect Mandy Patinkin.

This is an example of a show you can actually revisit periodically as the shows always change but the fun-poking never does.

And if you happen to know someone -who knows someone- who knows Mandy Patinkin, please whisper in his ear that he needs to go see Mr. Stevens' loving performance.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Substance of Fire

Jon Robin Baitz' story is re-told at Second Stage this spring.  I didn't know at the time but it was previously a movie in 1996 with a great cast (Sarah Jessica Parker, Ron Rifkin, Timothy HuttonTony Goldwyn, Dick Latessa and Eric Bogosian) and an original play before that in 1991 at Playwrights Horizons - staring both Rifkin and Parker among originals too.

Knowing this now, I have to imagine it was a fairly decent original run for award winning director Daniel Sullivan.  This production, however, left me a bit dazed and confused.  Act I in which the guns are drawn and tensions mount is tight, crisp, and in this production, well acted and packed a punch.  I was hooked.

However, perhaps the downfall of the original production (I don't know) was also the meandering and lackluster, and frankly bizarre act II.  It certainly was here.  Act II introduces a new character and quite honestly a diversion and story line that came out of left field.   So different was act II from act I that I felt it was an entirely different play.  Two of the characters (siblings) from act I simply disappeared and we are only tacitly filled in on the remaining sibling's status.  The 3 siblings - Halley Feiffer (Sarah), Daniel Eric Gold (Martin), Carter Hudson (Aaron) all deserve kudos as does their father Isaac - John Noble.

In the end - it was tremendous disappointment and after such a great act I, it was that much more deflating.  The cast was magnificent and I enjoyed them all.  However, I did think that Charlayne Woodard (Marge Hackett) overplayed the part (or at least she may have been directed to).

A tough topic - Holocaust survivor coming to grips with the demise of his company as his family struggles to keep things going.  I'm still not sure if in the end he was crazy or not.

I presume Mr. Baitz leaves that up to us to judge.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Velocity of Autumn

The weather outside may be delightful, but folks, Autumn has no velocity.  It's a magnificent story with a perfectly cast leading lady that should be told in 35 minutes - tops.  The Velocity of Autumn tries hard but in essence is a one-trick-pony that belabors its point over and over.

Estelle Persons (Alexandra) is superb in her portrayal of an old and, some would say, crazy women who has barricaded herself in her apartment with a not so insignificant stock of Molotov cocktails (albeit film developing fluid for a darkroom filling the bottles instead).  She doesn't want to leave.  She wants to live out the rest of her (declining) life in the apartment - alone.  Her estranged son, Chris (Stephen Spinella) is called in by his siblings to talk some sense into his mother.  Zingers explode left and right.  Topics are covered, bombs are dropped between mother and son until the clock runs out at 90 minutes.  The trouble here is that this seems to me to be a 35 minute off-Broadway skit that was dragged out to 90 minutes as a Broadway ticket price would never tolerate less time in the seats at these prices.

Over and over the same topic is re-hashed.  "You get me", she says.  "I left because I didn't fit in", he says.  Antidotes are traded about life, growing old, weak bones, not fitting in, and so the laments go on and on... over and over.  The other two siblings (seemingly more intense, logical, and less witty) who are apparently pressuring their mother to leave only appear as a voice on the other side of the phone to Chris who has been sent in to defuse the situation.

After 90 minutes - I'll leave it up to you, but my guess is that this play likely at its best when it's limited to a punchy 35 minute short.  The impact would likely be greater - and the prices certainly more affordable off-Broadway.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Act One

Let me state right off the bat - I'm no theatrical historian.  I know very little about Mr. Moss Hart except what I've seen of some of his work.  (For more info on Mr. Hart, start here).  For knowing very little, my experience in the theatre this fine weekend afternoon was one of storytelling at its finest.  Two superb actors and a company of over 20 graced the thrust and rotating stage at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre to regale the audience with a heartwarming and thoroughly entertaining story.

Mr Hart's autobiography by the same name, Act One, is apparently very closely followed in the stage version which was written and directed by James Lapine.  If I had anything at all negative to say (and others have too) is that at almost 3 hours, it's a tad bit too long. For a story partially about Mr. Hart co-developing his first play, Once in a Lifetime, a play that ultimately toys with nixing a 3rd act, ironically this one runs practically as long as a 3 act play.  In my background reading both in the playbill itself and on-line - it seems that Mr. Hart himself may not have been entirely pleased with this fact too.  But I digress...

Tony Shalhoub and Santino Fontana both play Moss Hart - Santino, the younger; Tony, the older.  Both break the 4th wall regularly to narrate and explain the story or set the scene further.  The technique of storytelling from Mr. Hart's youth to the ultimate production of his first play makes for quite a lot of ground to cover. Mr. Shalhoub and Mr. Fontana work tirelessly - some of it literally on Mr. Shalhoub's part just to change characters as he also plays Mr. Hart's insufferable father and playwright George S. Kaufman too.  Andrea Martin does triple duty as Moss' Aunt Kate who first inspired him to pursue the theatre, Freida Fishbein a theatre professional, and Beatrice Kaufman, wife of George.  It's a treat that she was not wasted and we got to enjoy her comedic genius from start to finish.  The entire ensemble, including his family, his chums, theatre producers, actors, maids, audience members, and others turns in thoroughly synchronized and spot-on supporting ensemble roles.

The set was fantastically impressive - literally a carousel built on the Viv's turntable, constantly rotating to change scenes as the actors briskly navigated the pathways and staircases.

Messers Shalhoub and Fontana are the heart and soul (pardon the pun) of this entertaining show.  It's a tale of rags to riches told in the most tender and endearing way without being cliche or overbearing.  I sure hope they, if not Ms. Martin too, are recognized at the Tony Nominations this year.

It would be a coup for a show about a man who wrote and directed award winning shows to win an award itself.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tales From Red Vienna

Lynne Meadow and Barry Grove have once again produced a small-theatre ensemble gem at the Stage I at City Center of the Manhattan Theatre Club.

Assembled for this fine work are the "it" girl, Nina Arianda (Helena Altman),  the indomitable Grande Damme Kathleen Chalfant (Edda Schmidt), handsome and charming Michael Esper (Bela Hoyos) and perhaps the boldest character of them all, Tina Benko (Mutzi von Fessendorf).  Finally, making his delightful off-Broadway debut was the extremely affable Michael Goldsmith (Rudy Zuckermaier).  Truly a fine ensemble where the talent of one contrast the talents and characters of the others.

The play only really suffers from its facility.  Two intermissions are necessary in order to make the scene changes - but they are not entirely necessary and prolong the play.  The sets themselves are magnificent given the stage available - rain included!  The leading ladies all charmed the pants off the audience - and Mr. Esper, while a bit uneven in his accent (not sure what exactly he was going for but there were many), was entirely delightful in his persistence for Helena.

David Grimm's plot tries to bring up quite a few issues of historical significance, but I'm afraid
some may be lost on less than the avid history or theater buff.  World War I was quite a long time ago.  All said, the superb cast digs their teeth into a meaty subject and with three acts, proves that more than one gun can be pulled in act I when there are two more to follow.

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.