Photo by Don Kellogg

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Tick, Tick... Boom!

In what I believe is the first off-Broadway revival since its original 2001 incarnation, Keen Company has brought back Jonathan Larson's pre-rent work, Tick, Tick...Boom! in a magnificent, relevant, and energetic production over at the Acorn Theater on Theatre Row.

Only a 3-hander, this production has cast an amazing trio of actors with tremendous chemistry both vocally and as a true ensemble.  Nick Blaemire (Jonathan), George Salazar (Michael), and Ciara Renee (Susan) bring the auto-biographical work of the late Mr. Larson roaring to life.  Mr. Blaemire is nebbishy enthusiastic about his uber geeky and artistic and anxiety filled role as Jonathan.  Mr. Salazar is cast as the foil to Jonathan's artistic life - a former self-described "good but not good enough" actor and best friend.  Ms. Renee bring powerful vocals, beauty, and general-sexy to the role of Susan. All 3 run the stage for just under 2 hours with nothing but a few sips of water wandering through Mr. Larson's part Broadway, part ballad, part rock and roll lyrics and musical performances.  Of special note, Mr. Blaemire actually plays the piano very well - (i just hate it when the actors fake it).

This show was written pre-Rent but is generally auto-biographical in terms of where Mr. Larson was in his life.  I almost wished Jonathan would have tinkered on the keyboard with a tune from Rent just to really tie the two shows together.  Rent, as well, was somewhat auto-biographical in terms of Mr. Larson's life but it was conceived with other people and after this show was written.

The show if not nearly as famous as the aforementioned Rent - nor is it as theatrical or heavy a story. There are not, as in Rent, people parading through New York City or crashing weddings.  This story is a bit smaller in scope and perhaps more personal in nature.  Mr. Larson died suddenly before Rent could be brought to the stage and it is such a shame as we will never know how much more we could have heard from this very talented man.  For now, we will just have to enjoy the beauty of his works such as this through the very talented cast that puts him back on the stage 8 shows a week.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Now playing over at the Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage I at City Center is a remarkable tale - the other side of the proverbial coin - a story about the Vietnam War - told through the eyes of young South Vietnamese refugees.  Even during war - love blooms.

Qui Nguyen (playwright) has penned a journey through the crazy 70's and the Vietnam War.  America is the savior - taking in refugees even while racism abounds.  In Mr. Nguyen's eyes, America is far from perfect - and he actually nails the stereotypical types throughout the south and west.  Raymond Lee (Quang) and Jennifer Ikeda (Tong) are are young, spunky, sexy, refugee lovers searching for peace in their new homeland.  John Hoche, the adorable and sexy Paco Tolson, and Samantha Quan (a plethora of characters each) fill in the comedy, friendship, and family from many angles.

A bit too zany at times (it was the 70's after all) and a bit too long and drawn out in others - this play has a future if tightened and given a general tune up.  Several rap numbers fit well in the Asian genre and the lyrics are quite powerful.  Plenty of potty mouth language to go around.  Mr. Lee's sexy physique is a must for this leading man - both shirt on and shirt off.

The story of the actual South Vietnamese is one we Americans rarely consider. What were they fighting for?  Who were they?   Why did America help and why did it fail?   Not all of these questions get answered in the play but the last 10 minutes of the play will bring the entire piece to a crescendo close.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Nat Turner in Jerusalem

A well acted, heavy two hander (well really 3 but it's only two actors) is playing down at New York Theater Workshop.  Nat Turner in Jerusalem (Virginia, not Israel) is a fictional attempt at documenting the final days of the life of real life Nat Turner.

Mr. Turner is infamous for leading a slave/free black rebellion throughout the south where dozens of innocent women, children, and others were brutally killed.  Mr. Turner was ultimately captured and jailed and executed - as were many of the rebellion participants.

What makes his story unique and controversial is that Mr. Turner looked upon his rebellion as a "just war" against whites.  His murderous rampage was sanctioned, according to him, by God himself.  This play attempts to explore Thomas Gray's (Rowan Vickers) attempt to extract the story and background from Nat Turner (Phillip James Brannon) while in jail before his execution.   What plays out instead if Mr. Turner trying to convince Mr Gray to believe and to understand his point of view.  There is also a guard in the prison played equally well by Mr. Vickers and I think the point of casting the same actor for a totally different role was to demonstrate the "every-white-man" concept.

Ultimately Mr. Gray's notes were published (and copy protected) and many believe he embellished the story.  Regardless of the embellishment or not, the interaction between Mr. Turner and Mr. Gray was at times mesmerizing and at other times preachy.   What did stand out is that the conflicts that took place in the 1800's are not all that different from the conflicts and struggles today.  The circumstances may be different but the roots remain the same.

One begins to wonder if what Mr. Turner was able to execute might possibly be repeated at some point today.

Set simple, lighting a bit spotty, theatre configuration innovative, thoughts of a repeat - scary.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

A Life

A powerful, humbling new play, A Life,  by Adam Bock is now playing over at Playwrights Horizons.  Mr. Bock explores life through a lonely, gay, introverted, quirky, and obsessive character, Nate Martin (David Hyde Pierce).  Not only does he explore his literal life, he explores the fleeting nature of life through his death.

Nate Martin is a complicated man yet at the same time, he's every man.  Frustrations, disappointments, plans, hopes, loves, dreams fill his life.  In the blink of an eye, things could change - and do.  About half of the play is spent watching Nate's body prepared for a funeral.  Life goes on around him, we hear his thoughts, and realize that it is all fleeting.

Nate is into astrology - the stars and planets and what they say about you and how they might explain your life.  To be honest, I'm not sure if that theme was meant to represent religion and its role in the human experience or possibly something more specific to Nate's belief system.  I do know there were no planetary realignments when he died so perhaps it just represents something that in the end, like everything else, is meaningless.

A touching, honest, and sad first scene; A shocking next turn of events with a dash of today's culture of inappropriateness thrown in just to make you shrug your shoulders; and a touching and brutally honest eulogy seen at the funeral capped most specifically by the thoughts from his mostly estranged sister (he was gay and from Minnesota and her comments were dripping with mid-western values and a complete lack of understanding, disappointment, and ultimately and ironically the same loneliness).

There's a funeral joke told by his best friend Curtis (Brad Heberlee) that you can't help but laugh at and at the same time makes you cringe.  Perfectly placed and such great acting around the uncomfortable nature of the whole affair.

Thursday, September 29, 2016


It just goes to show you that not every work by great writers is a hit.  The writer of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Simon Stephens) wrote a shorter bit that deals with relationships and quirky people.  It belongs on an off-Broadway stage.  Unfortunately, the casting of a star has pushed the work, inappropriately, to Broadway.

Mary-Louise Parker's (Georgie Burns) star power is to blame. She and Denis Arndt (Alex Priest) do a fine job of acting for 80 minutes on a stage jammed with more stage seating to pump up the ticket revenues.  There really is no purpose to the on-stage seating.  But that is just the problem, once again.  Show me the star and I'll show you and over-priced, too short runtime show.

Now, the material - relationships, age, quirky people and lots of broken dreams, promises, and lives.  It's not a happy story for the most part.  However, in 80 minutes you barely get the chance to evaluate these characters, where they are going, and what their motivations are.  It's too brief and you're left guessing at the tidbits of facts they spill out in the dialogue.

Heisenberg (the one that I looked up) was some sort of physicist.  His uncertainty principle or maybe other aspects of his research are what the play is named after I believe.  He's never mentioned in the play - it's one of those "why did they name it this?" titles.  His principle is about not being able to tell where moving parts are going or how they are going to get there - - much like the 2 characters in this play.

Well in summary, I couldn't tell where the play was going or why it even started in the first place.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Front Page

The stellar cast in this what's old is new again production far outshines the material itself.  Director Jack O'Brien is forced to fill almost 3 hours (including 2 intermissions) with action.  The problem is, the characters are big, the acting is big, the set is big - the cast is big - but the material just doesn't measure up.

Just look at this cast:  Nathan Lane (Walter Burns), John Slattery (Hiddy Johnson), Jefferson Mays (Bensinger), John Goodman (Sherrif Hartman), Robert Morse (Mr. Pincus), Dann Florek (The Mayor), Holland Taylor (Mrs. Grant), Sherie Rene Scott (Mollie Malloy), Micah Stock (Woodenshoes Eichorn), Dylan Baker (McCue), David Pittu (Schwartz), Christopher McDonald (Murphy) plus about 9 other supporting minor characters!  Just take that cast in. Wowza.

Now as for the material - it's a 3 act play - unfortunately.  Act I should be scrapped.  It's useless and unentertaining and mostly unnecessary background material that could be established in about 15 minutes.  Act II gets off to a good start, bogs down in the middle and goes out with a "BANG".  Act III picks up the action but drags it out in the end to a very un-dramatic ending.  In a nutshell, the material stinks and should be re-writtin/adapted.

Theatrically speaking - the comedy was top notch - the assemblage of such fine actors above are able to pull off the physical and over the top comedy.  Nathan Lane is at the top of the bill.  Unfortunately, he doesn't appear on stage until the end of Act II.  Interestingly, twice when Jefferson Mays entered the stage, he got entrance applause which you could tell was because the audience mistook him for Mr. Lane (as did I).  Everyone recognized John Slattery and he gave a top notch performance - as he was really the lead despite sharing the bill with Mr. Lane.  Too much newsroom chatter and nonsense.  Not enough Holland Taylor and Dylan Baker (with a strange agent).  There was just enough time of the uber-dreamy Micah Stock - but someone has to decide what to do with that accent he puts on.  It's all over the map.

This huge cast must be a big expense - and it's a big theater with tiny seats so hopefully the star power will boost the ticket revenues.  But it's an uphill battle these days.   I saw it on a previews discount and was pleased at the value.  Full price ticket to even this show would be a disappointment unless you're just a star-stalker who just sees anything with someone.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Marie and Rosetta

The Atlantic Theater Company and Neil Pepe have created a near pitch perfect, smart, toe-tapping, bio-play about a less well known musician who is often coined the original soul sister.  She was among the first to merge gospel music and rock & roll.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Kecia Lewis) as a sassy, street-smart, music and fun loving gospel singer who saw an opportunity bring it out of the church into the mainstream.  As often happens, the church people were not happy about her worldly presentation.  And the world was not always happy with her churchy style.  She fought it all, morphed when she needed, and like many before and after her was taken advantage of, lived the high life, and died penniless.

Marie Knight (Rebecca Naomi Jones) was the young girl she picked out of an audition because she had "something" in her eye that just struck Rosetta as something she could work with.  Together the two bantered about religion, taking things too far, and style and created a sound the world embraced, sending them to stardom on stage and in the recording studio for a while.

The show takes place at the beginning, in the basement of a funeral home in 1946 Mississippi where the colored people stayed so not as to dare taunt the while people in the town they were passing thru on tour. Rosetta is donned in her favorite and fabulous while glittery dress which matches her vocal style - blow the roof off the house - is what what comes to mind.  Marie is much more demure and lady like but she's got the bug to perform and break out.   The two of them spend about 90 minutes taking you down the memory lane of how their relationship developed.

In might have given this show at 10 out of 10 if the actors actually played the guitar and piano.  The piano was more difficult to tell as it was cleverly turned around so we could not see the keys, but an actor air-strumming a guitar is quite noticeable.  However, the two actual musicians are credited in the playbill (Felicia Collins and Deah Harriott) were superb!

In an incredibly surprising and clever twist at the end - we fast forward.  Touching, tender, and a complete closure to the trajectory of the story which bring it all back to the beginning and suddenly every little detail in the beginning now makes sense.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Encounter

I'm glad I got just a TDF priced ticket to see this show.  And by show, I really mean performance art in a Broadway theater.  I feel sorry for people buying full price tickets (Over $100 if you believe the electronic board at the box office window).

Make no mistake, Simon McBurney (himself) is putting on a show.  And that show is quite different, quite unique, and mostly un-Broadway-like.  For the un-initiated, it is a aurally (that means sound) mesmerizing performance.  You have to wear headphones.  If you take them off you are basically sitting in a packed broadway theater watching a person whisper on the stage.  The headphones themselves are fairly advanced and deliver a sound experience like you have never before experienced with your cheap earbuds.  They involve a quite complex sound system.  My novice research suggests that his main tool is known as a binaural stereo microphone that when paired with high quality headphones (and likely a sound board the size of a billiards table) produces a life-like sound simulation all around your head as if you are immersed in the action and it is happening directly next to you.   This is the secret to the entire show.

The show itself is the tale of a photo-journalist dropped in the amazon searching for indigenous people.  While he does find them, the tale of them welcoming (or not) him into their world is harrowing, suspenseful, dangerous, and life-altering.  He conveys this all thru your headphones from a stage adorned with virtually nothing but a table, water bottles and a few microphones.   Props.  Just props.

The aural delight wears off in about 25 minutes and the rest of the 2 hours is filled with his bizarre story that is at times incoherent, other times rambling, other times mildly interesting when he is effectively teaching you about these very different people and providing insights into cultures and civilizations that are unlike anything we have seen.  Several lighting effect attempt to supplement the aural presentation to limited success.

There is a high ideal quality to the show - as evidenced by the appearance of the audience in attendance.  Mostly the save the planet, save the whales. stop wars, eat veggies, recycle everything kind of crowd.

At 2 hours and a few minutes including his heartfelt words after the curtain call, the show was not nearly worth the advertised ticket price.  It has the it's different quality going for it.  That's about it.

Thursday, September 8, 2016


In what can be described as a somber, quiet, and delicious entree, Julia Cho's new play, Aubergine, has made its debut over at Playwrights Horizons.  It's about food, memories, family, and death.  Yes, you read that correctly - death.

I hope this won't come as a spoiler given the somber mood of the play, but yes, there is a death.  It's ever-present during most of the play - an old man dying in a bed on stage.

Say what you will, but Ms. Cho's linkage of food and the memories it evokes gels nicely throughout the play and resonates a message that despite the discord and frustrations of families and daily life that we should cherish the "good stuff" always.  On Ms. Cho's stage that good stuff is food.

Ray (Tim Kang) is the young (allegedly only) son of his (unnamed character) father (Steven Park).  Father is dying.  Except for a few flashbacks and funny, touching memories, he is virtually dead in his dining room in a hospital bed the entire play.  His caregiver, Lucien, (Michael Potts) is a wise, calm, ethereal man who seems to know about death and dying as it is his life's profession as a hospice caregiver.  Ray's Uncle (his father's long absent brother), Lucien, (Joseph Steven Yang) arrives from Korea to mourn his brother and say his peace.  Cornelia (Sue Jean Kim) is Ray's on-again-off-again quirky girlfriend.  Perhaps one of the most interesting interlopers in this tale is the book-ended character, Diane (Jessica Love) who opens and then closes the play.  She weaves an overly self-indulgent tale in the beginning and appears in the end to tie it all together.

Ms. Cho's storytelling ability is fantastic.  The mood is both somber and recognizable.  Her characters are mostly real - although we would all like to think we are a bit more prepared for a parent to die than perhaps Ray was - but I suspect there is a bit of Ray in all of us.

You will leave the theatre with a sense of finality, a sense of mortality, and possibly a little bit of a renewed sense of life and purpose.  Bravo Ms. Cho.

Who knew the power of Pastrami?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Layover

In its summer installment (delayed no doubt due to Second Stage's introduction of Dear Evan Hansen) we are presented a delicious yet bizarre  "3-Act" play.   I say 3 acts as opposed to the 90 minute no-intermission presentation it actually was because Leslye Headland's drama was played in 3 parts - the 1st 30 minutes was engaging, absorbing, and mysterious, the 2nd 30 minutes were dull, directionless, and meandering.  The last 30 minutes were flat out bizarre - culminating in a most unexpected and incongruent ending.

For a summer installment it was the equivalent of reading a Mary Higgins Clark mystery on the beach.  Staring the always engaging Annie Parisse (Shellie) and the dashing Adam Rothenberg (Dex), this show started out with much promise but devolved into a bizarre ending.  In the middle we took a ride through two seemingly normal people's lives and find out that nothing is what we first believe. Kudos and a shout out to John Procaccino who played a cantankerous dying parent (Fred) with aplomb.  If the fantasy of meeting your prince or princess in an airport is something that interests you, perhaps this play if for you.   If you would be disappointed to find out that much of what transpires at the airport is a lie, then you may be sadly disappointed.

And finally, and fittingly, a bizarre note to the producers - when the play's script goes to the trouble of naming a hotel room # in the dialogue, why would you put a hotel room key with a different number on the playbill??  I'm baffled.  I'm really just glad this layover experience was a brief 90 minutes, and we were dumped out on West 43rd to find out way home on schedule.

Friday, July 29, 2016

War Paint

Look out New York - here comes two powerful women.  I say this about both the characters and the actresses portraying them.  In their latest installment, War Paint, Doug Wright (Book), Scott Frankel (Music), Michael Korie (Lyrics), and Michael Greif (Director), come together to tell us the yet untold story of two very powerful women who were pioneers in the cosmetics industry - Elizabeth Arden (Christine Ebersole) and Helena Rubinstein (Patti LuPone).

With these powerhouses, one would expect a slam-dunk hit.  What was delivered was substantially less than that.  The music was melodious and delightful.  The story was a tad bit long and not exactly the most interesting throughout.  What turned this possible star vehicle into a half baked show was fortunately or unfortunately mostly the fault of Ms. LuPone.  She portrays Ms. Rubinstein with a thick (presumably) Polish accent.  Although it really just sounded Russian.  There was nothing wrong with her vocal abilities - which often blew the roof off.  There was nothing wrong with her acting abilities either.  One hundred percent of the failure was her accent.  Mr. Wright's story is often told through Mr. Korie's lyrics - and when you can't understand a single word in entire song after entire song, it becomes a bit of a problem for the audience to understand what the hell is even going on. While there was some humor in the dialogue also - once again - the accent intercedes and causes confusion.   One of these effects is to turn Ms. Ebersole (Arden) into the dominant, understandable, and significantly more liked character.  An imbalance that does not correct itself throughout the entire show.  Ebersole's portrayal of Arden was pitch perfect, humorous, and sublime.

Note to the director and Mr. Wright - cut the prologue and open the show with Arden's number - it was fantastic, colorful, rousing, and set the mark very high.

At times there are two signatures hanging above the set (Arden and Rubinstein) and occasionally, the actors were under the wrong name.  When you do that in the beginning it's a fairly bad idea.

Costumes (Catherine Zuber) and sets (David Korins) were fantastic.

These two ladies were mavericks of their time and their story is somewhat interesting, but there were too many detours, side stories, and un-explored plot lines.  This script needs a doctor.  It brings new meaning to the phrase "Let's put some lipstick on this pig."

Tuesday, July 12, 2016


The all female dynamo creative team of Sara Bareilles (Music & Lyrics), Jessie Nelson (Book), and Diane Paulus (Director) have turned Adrenne Shelly's (Motion Picture) work into a divine Broadway chic-flick with something for everyone to enjoy.

Broadway darling Jessie Mueller (Jenna) tackles the downtrodden role with gusto and aplomb, bringing life to Ms. Bareilles' music.  But what may be more important is that the supporting cast brings life to the show itself.  Understudy Stephanie Torns (and presumably Kimko Glenn too) bring a quirky, funny, and lovable geekiness to life in Dawn.  Keala Settle brings a bold, sassy, brash waitress to live in Becky.  The adorable tall drink of doctor water, Drew Gehling, brings a hopeless romantic and lovable married lunk to life in Dr. Pomatter.  And perhaps the most underrated and hysterical - scene stealing Christopher Fitzgerald brings geek to life in the adorable Ogie.

A perfect blend of soulful music, funny dialogue and a quirky cast of characters forms the basis for quite an enjoyable evening in the theatre.  The term chic flick does come to mind to describe the overall show but once the first bar of the show is played I think there's a little something for everyone in this delightful summer story that continues to pull in box office receipts to keep it afloat.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Class Act

 In a new work by Norman Shabel over at the New World Stages, we are treated to a legal gem.  Well written such that the audience understands the way a class action lawsuit works and well acted such that we believed the actors in their respective corners of the fight.

Director Christopher Scott had much talent to work with but he didn't have much in the way of sets.  A boardroom table and some chairs were going to have to suffice.  Mr. Scott channeled the talent of the fine actors to make his impression last.

Stephen Bradbury (Phil Alessi) and the devilishly handsome Matthew DeCapua (Frank Warsaw) make a fine match of young and old, wise and risk taker, smart and smarter.  On the opposite side of the table is the shameful corporate defendant's team - Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte (Slick corporate attorney Ignacio Perez), Lou Liberatore (Ben Donaldson), David Marantz (Company founder and Board Member, Edward Duchamp), Nick Plakias, (Legal Council and employee, John Dubliner) and Jenny Strassburg (inside counsel and ultimate protagonist, Dorothy Pilsner).

These actors rattled off their legal lines with aplomb - a believable and realistic portrayal of the down and dirty tactics of both sides of a great legal fight.  This fight has to do with groundwater contamination by a chemical company - something not so far fetched given the history of chemical companies over the last 100 years.

A great legal drama with a redeeming ending for Ms. Strassburg.  When the stakes are high, people on all sides will go farther than you might believe.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Now Playing over at the Cherry Lane Theater hidden down on a charming Greenwich Village street is a gem of a situation comedy written by Israel Horovitz.  

The story revolves around a dead man (the star of the show who we never see) and his many ex-wives and girlfriends who are congregating in his Paris apartment one by one for his funeral and learning, at times, more than they cared to know about each other and the life they all shared throughout the decades with this man.  

Stage and screen veteran the indomitable Estelle Parsons (Evelyn) is the oldest of the wives and the first one to the apartment (well, the oldest alive, actually).  She's sharp tongued, sassy, and brassy - just like Ms. Parsons herself.   Judith Ivey plays the next in line - Evvie - slightly more hip but still sassy and bold.  Then there was Janice (Angelina Fiordellisi) who is quite the psychologically challenged woman who may or may not repeat jumping out a window - something she did when she was married to our invisible host character.  Fast forward through some other now dead women to a young 20 something young woman who appears and announces she was his latest wife.  

Hilarity ensues with the introduction of each woman to the equation.  Generational differences are discussed, analyzed, bitched about and thrown against the walls to see what will stick.  We slowly learn he was a womanizer who aged to 100 but always liked his wives between the age of 20 and 25ish.  These ladies all loved their husband, all are curious about the other women but deep down hate each other except for the last young chippy (Francesca Choy-Kee) - she loves everyone and wants to make a home in Paris for them all.  

Hilarious and entertaining!  These women will make you laugh about being loved, jilted, and replaced.  If only we could meet the dead guy - who remains unnamed in the script!  In an interesting twist -i do not know who's idea this was - there are 26 pieces of artwork on the set (as a proper Paris apartment would have) that are done by celebs themselves including Eve Plumb, Rosie O'Donnell, Joel Grey, Tina Louise, and others.  A secret art gallery right there on stage alongside the show!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Imbible

Now running in its second year, this little-known show, Imbible, A Spirited History of Drinkingset in the speakeasy downstairs at the Soho Playhouse on Vandam Street is an appealing and entertaining history lesson in the theatre.

Written by and starting in this gem is bartender, Anthony Caporale. One can sense his love of the craft from the very beginning.  And from the very beginning does he start - Cavemen!  His history and chemistry lesson spans the centuries highlighting the ups and downs and origins of our favorite libation.

Performed in a bar, (an actual speakeasy) by a bartender - you certainly won't feel cheated out of the truth and some deep history on the subject.  Infused with barbershop quartet melodies and zippy little ditties about the subject matter - this show can't fail to entertain.  The fourth wall is broken and the performer is really an M.C. to the delight of the audience. He demonstrates a real live distillation machine and has many PowerPoint slides to illustrate his walk through history.  And talk about delight - my favorite backwaiter - Mark Edwards - was a truly an adorable, talented hambone who never failed to entertain in every scene.

This quartet of talented actors actually do realize their show is a low budget delight - and even point that out at several spots during the show ("Ladies and Gentlemen, I remind you there are no special effects here tonite").

If you're interested in booze and like to be served drinks (there are 3!) during a show - head down to SoHo and take in an evening with the delightful cast of Imbible.  Be warned, you have to be 21 or over to partake.  And fear not - the bar is open before and after the show!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Total Bent

 In their latest installment for the stage, Stew along with Heidi Rodewald will fill your soul with music.  This show is starting much like their last - at The Public Theatre.  You may remember their last show, Passing Strange.  In the lean years (after the financial troubles) it moved to Broadway for a decent but brief run. It was different.  Remarkably so.

In this latest show, The Total Bent, Stew seems to loosely tie his first show's characters lives in.  It's not a perfect match at all but there are similarities.  This show focuses on a preacher-entertainer and his young son-singer (and if i read it right, a radio and televangelist out to make a buck).  His son is gay and trying to make it by joining the black protest movement. Two very different viewpoints about how black people should live and be.  Most everything about these two is about opposites - music, lifestyle, political views, beliefs. Family struggles.  Religious struggles.  Race struggles.  You can see the powder-keg a mile away.

Much of this show is about the music and the band - it seems the plot is secondary - with Stew leaving much up to your imagination to connect dots that may or may not be there.  It seems that it is really about ideas and themes rather than linear story.  You simply get the highlights and it's up to you and your life experience to process.  This can be frustrating for those who crave linear storylines.  Just know that this is the case going in, enjoy the music, entertainment, and theme.

The concert-stage ready actors never fail to dazzle and blow the roof off the joint including the Marty ( the indomnible Ato Blankson-Wood) and Joe Roy (the powerhouse Vondie Curtis Hall) and the lone white-guy English music producer Byron Blackwell (the remarkable David Cale).

I don't think this one is destined for Broadway given the holes in the storyline.  But an enjoyable evening at the Public Theatre is nothing to rattle your tambourine at.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016


There's something playing over at the Vineyard Theatre that is nothing short of spectacular.  Paula Vogel has penned a superb play-within-a -play based on a true story of a Yiddish theatre troupe in the early 20th century.

Well written and crisply acted, this theatre troupe acting as a theatre troupe packs a powerful punch.  Not overly Yiddish (as most of us would not understand), but the show employs a clever theatrical device to indicate when they are speaking in English and when they are supposed to be speaking in English.  When they are supposed to be speaking Yiddish, they speak in clear, fluid English (and there are Hebrew sub-titles).  When they are supposed to be speaking English they put on a thick accent.  Director Rebecca Taichman has cleverly and seamlessly nested this play-within-a-play.  To denote the passage of time (to speed things along) a subtitle occasionally pops up and the actors freeze momentarily ("In A Blink of Time" the subtitle reads).  The lighting and most costumes are dark and grey - similar to the time and the feeling.  Except for an occasional white nightgown, of course.

The play-within-a-play focuses on a European Jew who wrote a play that shocked and entertained the high culture all around Europe.  When the play came to the USA, it played well downtown (read Avant Garde) theatre scene but when it came to Broadway, the American sensibilities (even in the Jewish community) were outraged.  They play was shut down and the cast and creatives arrested for indecency.  The play focuses alternatively on the struggle of the playwright and the struggle of the actors.

What on earth could be so scandalous?  Two girls kissing.  Two Jewish girls kissing.  Written by a Jew.  Acted by Jews.  Outraged and already sensitive to being perceived as not fitting in around the world at this time - many love it - many shunned the idea of it.

These circumstances are all wrapped up in Ms. Vogel's play which keeps you riveted and holds your attention throughout the entire production.  As you would expect, it doesn't end well for this theatre troupe - ending up in the wrong city at the wrong time.  The playwright who subsequently moved to America has his own demons and you'll just have to run down to the Vineyard to see how this is all plays out.  It's worth the trip.

Monday, June 13, 2016

An Act of God

As far as one man shows goes - this one is a romp.  Spoiler alert - it appears that God might be gay.  Don't go expecting an outer body experience.  This one rakes religion over the coals in probably the nicest and funniest of ways.

Sean Hayes (God) brings this show back to Broadway after Jim Parsons' first stint in David Javerbaum's new comedy.  Mr. Hayes is a natural ham who knows his lines and knows how to improvise, entertain, and satiate your comedy soul.  Latecomers beware!

There are two other people in this ostensibly one-man show.  They are sidekick angels . David Jofsenberg is a crowd-roving angel taking questions from the audience - although all he really does is take your name and then asks his question (i.e. his lines).  James Gleason is Gabriel reading from the good book and running down the 10 commandments with God.

Gays, slavery, Noah and the arc, Adam and Steve, violence, prayer... as you can see the list of topics is predictable yet uproarious and enjoyable nonetheless.  Much like Book of Mormon to the Mormons, I doubt a stoic church-going Catholic nun would enjoy this show - but then again - I doubt she's the target audience in the first place and frankly should't go within a block of the theatre.

For a lite, funny, entertaining evening with Mr. Hayes - run over to the Booth Theatre for a good laugh.  Just don't be late.