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Photo by Don Kellogg

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

Waitress

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

Indecent

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.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Effect

So... Lucy Prebble has a knack for details.  You might remember her for the musical, Enron.  It was a hit in London, but not so much here. (Those Brits love their American flop stories!).  In her latest installment playing down at the Barrow Street Theatre, Ms. Prebble dives not into Wall Street and finance but the the world of clinical trials, pharmacology, and medicine.  And by dive in - I mean she goes in deep.  Clearly she studied the details, the issues, and the minutia of the topic.  What she has written is what one might expect from a doctor turned playwright.

Helming this production is the lovely (in an anxious kind of way) Susannah Flood (Connie Hall) and scruffily-hipster handsome Carter Hudson (Tristan Frey).  As individuals who have joined a clinical trial of a drug that may or may not have a certain side effect - we find them entangled in a relationship of sorts.  Steve Key ((Dr. Toby Sealey) and Kati Brazda (Dr Laura James) are the medical professionals behind the study who themselves have a bit of history themselves.

The details of the clinical trial and the drug's side effect are entangled between both the patients and the doctors.  The mystery is revealed about the mid-point of Act 1 - who is on the drug and who is not - and how does that affect the patients.  By the end of the the study (and Act II) we get yet another curve-ball - and the patients are affected.

Ms. Prebble kept us on our toes the entire performance through her twists and turns.  Ms. Flood and Mr. Hudson kept us entertained with their flirtations and connection.  The show educates, informs, and entertains all at the same time.  The relationship between the doctors is a bit less fleshed out and could use some more refinement  - or more accurately clarity.

Perhaps Ms. Prebble will get an opportunity to have another clinical trial on a larger stage.  One might speculate the results would be positive.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Purple Lights of Joppa Illinois

The first 20 minutes of Adam Rapp's play are the creepiest.  Although the creepy factor never dissipates, given the subject matter it never quite goes away.  A bi-polar man with psychosis and two teenage girls is a volatile mix no matter what twist the plot may take.

Some will applaud Mr. Rapp for tackling the topic of mental illness in this manner.  Some, like me, will simply not enjoy the idea of being entertained by it.  It felt to me more like a require summer reading project that was meant to be discussed and dissected afterward.  Forced.  Purposeful.  It was fine theatre in the sense that the actors told a story but it was the story that I simply did not want to hear no matter the quality of the actors.

William Apps (Ellis) gave a profound and moving performance as the bi-polar man living in a very simple and obviously poor setting.  Katherine Reis (Catherine) turned in a solid, at times emotional, at times stoic performance.  Susan Hayward (Monique) was at times perhaps too bold, came on too strong, and tended toward the dramatic.  Ms. Haward's performance was likely a directorial mistake rather than Ms. Hayward's but since Mr. Rapp both wrote and directed this play one can more easily place blame.  Connor Barrett (Barrett) seemed mis-cast and poorly developed at the same time.  His hovering in the kitchen seemed odd and his dialogue seemed oddly spotty ill developed for a nurse and patient supervisor.  I'm not sure Mr. Rapp captured the essence of this type of medical/psychiatric person in Barrett.

I left the Atlantic Stage II pondering the title of the play.  It is explained in the dialogue just fine, but I'm not sure it really captures the essence of the performance.  It's a 'where' but not a 'what'.   After you get past the first 20 minutes of really creepy, it's just mostly uncomfortable and sad.  With only a few moving performances, Purple Lights left me feeling empty, worn-out, and ready for a drink.  Perhaps Mr. Rapp should focus on wither writing OR directing.  Doing both removes a creative mind from the theatrical process and the work suffers.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Indian Summer

Gregory S. Moss is indeed a talented playwright.  In his latest installment at Playwrights Horizons we are treated to a summer romance between two innocent high school kids.  Of course that couldn't be all there is to it - so he threw in a jealous not-so-smart 27 year old boyfriend and a sad widowed grandfather who ultimately offs himself.  The romance was fine.  The 27year old boyfriend was entertaining.  The grandfather was a disturbing and incongruous character with a creepy effect.   Maybe this was what Mr. Moss was going for.  I'm not sure.

What I do know is that the play is slow.  Very slow.  Aside from creepy grandpa, there isn't much you can't see coming.  The set is simple and appropriate.  A pile of sand on the stage.  How could it get easier.  No nails.  No screws.  (sets, Dane Lafferty).  And well lit was this stage and sky behind.  Colorful sunsets and sunrises abound (lighting, Eric Southern).  The extremely talented young actor, Owen Campbell (Daniel), is an adorable, scrawny, smart young man seemingly dumped at a Rhode Island beach for the summer at his grandfather's by his mother.  Elise Kibler (Izzy) is a sassy, pretty, local kid who falls for Daniel all the while being a big-girl with a bullying, dopey, 27 year old boyfriend Jeremy (the sexy, hunky Joe Tippett).  Things amusingly unfold as you might imagine.  Grandpa (Jonathan Hadary) is the anomaly to the trio and the overall play in general.  His unsettling character brought to mind Paula Vogel's uncomfortable How I Learned to Drive.

As a season ending show, it wasn't a zinger, wasn't a thriller, and wasn't memorable.  It was, perhaps, like a summer read of the latest by Mary Higgins Clark on the beach.  Mindless. Easy. Forgettable.

Monday, May 16, 2016

White Rabbit Red Rabbit

Quite possibly one of the most mysterious, unique, and highly secretive show running today, White Rabbit Red Rabbit, for the un-initiated, is a play performed sight-unseen by an actor only once.  The script is handed to the actor on the stage and off-we-go.  Now there's no preventing anyone from googling the show and figuring out the premise and general plot.  Heck, I'm sure there is a full transcript out on the Internet somewhere.

No spoilers here.  But my advice to you is to go see someone you like.  Someone who is a fairly good story teller and can handle the spontaneity of interacting with the audience and reading at the same time.  I would imagine the producers (Tom Kirdahy and Devlin Elliott) pre-select for these qualities - but it is up to you to choose someone you really want to see read you a story.  

My chosen actor was the adorable and lovable David Hyde Pierce and I regret nothing.  Mr. Pierce was genuinely interested in the on-the-fly evening, did not appear overly prepared and gave us an enjoyable, engaging, and seemingly authentic read of the extremely unique play.

The play is written by Nassim Soleimanpour, an Iranian playwright who refused to do his national service so he could not get a passport.  Instead he wrote a play that could travel the world without him.  He requested a different actor do the show each night and that people email him about their experience (during the play).  His message in the play is one told through the use of a sort of science or experiment using white and red rabbits and after you clear through the messy script has a message.

The message is confusing, but potent.  The story is choppy and a bit messy and unfocused.  But if you listen carefully you can really hear a young Iranian playwright vigorously trying to convey an important message through an unsuspecting, un rehearsed actor on the stage with a little help from the audience.

Friday, May 13, 2016

A Better Place

Despite several decent aspects of this show, I could not shake the feeling that I was mis-sold on what I was going to see and it was not overcome by what I actually saw.

The show is sold as a comedy about New York Real Estate - Love, Lust, and the crazy, life-is-always greener across the street aspect of the crazy real estate market in NYC.   I thought it might be a bit like Playwrights Horizons' Assistants or perhaps Michael Urie in Buyer & Cellar.  What I got instead was a rather repetitive, snooze of a show that simply plotted poor rent-controlled brownstone renters in Brooklyn situated across from a modern, all glass and steel high-rise across the street.  They watch the supposedly rich family across the street and envision their life.  The rich family across the street is anything but.  They are poor, loud, and common.  The husband gambles, the wife is a maid with high class dreams and the daughter is dumb as a box of rocks who gets excited when real estate brokers talk "dirty amenities" to her.

Casting seemed a hodge-podge of mix and match talents.  Judith Hawking (Mary Roberts) was a fairly decent over-bearing (and over-acting) mother.  Edward James Hyland (John Roberts) didn't seem like a carpenter but could have been a a gambler.  Rob Mitner (Les Coven) was a convincing over-the-top gay cater-waiter with a dash of drama queen but was paired with a much too old John Fitzbibbon (Sel Trevoe) as a professor in purportedly his rent-controlled shoe-box.  Jessica Digiovanni (Carol Roberts) had little to work with in the material except that she was dumb and a sexpot.  Michael Satow aptly worked the various broker boys, doorman, and waiter.  He was perhaps the best looking and most versatile actor (and by far the cutest) of all despite, again, his lack of any decent material to work with.

I might have been mildly amused if this show was 60 minutes but it was 30 minutes more of the repetitive "I wish we were them" and "I'm going to the track" and "Talk dirty to me" dialogue.  There were several scenes that were absolutely out of left field - Why did poor guy's father leave? and The restaurant scene and the hospital scene.  Waaaay too long, waaaay to repetitive.  Add in a lost briefcase of cash, a much too old professor for his young cater-waiter boyfriend, and horse racing and all you've got is a hot mess of a show with little entertainment value.

One bight spot in this production was the set - an innovative split-set depicting actors on both sides of the street.  The audience was also situated on two opposite sides of the theatre thus creating the peeping Tom effect for both the actors and the audience. Kudos David L. Arsenault.

Stick to the Sunday Times for your real estate fantasies.  This show won't fulfill any of them.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Hadestown

Like many of the productions at New York Theatre Workshop, Hadestown is a superbly interpretive and entertaining work of story told through music.  With a musical score by Anais Mitchel and directed and co-developed by Rachel Chavkin, the show is a remarkable story re-telling with fantastic music, song, and dance.  I purposely say re-telling because this is effectively the Greek myth of Eurydice and Orpheus and Persephone and Hades. With folky tunes, upbeat rhythms and even an Andrews sisters trio (representing the Greek chorus of Fate) the entire production was absorbing and astounding.

Performed in a de-constructed theater reconstructed to be a bleacher theater in the round, the show effectively uses lighting, smoke, and the round stage with it's platforms and entrances/exits as an entire canvas to weave the story.

Damon Daunno (Orpheus) and Nablyah Be (Eurydice) are the young lovers with the voices of angels.  Amber Gray (Persephone) and Patrick Page (Hades) are strong willed, bold, and vocal powerhouses.  Ms. Gray has perhaps "the number" of the show and Mr. Page's booming low bass personifies Hades himself.  Chris Sullivan (Hermes) infuses the show with his sharp and potent persona as the narrator of the tale.

One need not know much about Greek mythology to enjoy or understand the show.  It's an ageless tale of love, innocence, lust, and wonder.  It's good vs. evil.  Seasons represent life.  Hades is tempting. Can love triumph?   You'll have to stick around till the very end to find out.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Incognito

Nick Payne certainly has a niche genre that has been playing out on the stage at Manhattan Theatre Club.  Neuro-cognative science and memory are the unique and intriguing substance for his plots.  Not exactly a light and fluffy topic.  His plays explore the mind.  Incognito, similar to Constellations, which previously played a Broadway stage, is a play that makes you think, decode, and analyze.  It's certainly not an evening for those looking for fluff.

Charlie Cox, Geneva Carr, Heather Lind, and Morgan Spector aptly play a cadre of characters in couple pairs as they rotate, move, and act out the play's 3 main acts.  The stories vary in depth and complexity - from a scientist who stole Einstein's brain to a boy with a seizure disorder who can't remember 5 seconds ago but remembers his wife and their plans for the last day they were together to a lesbian couple trying to figure each other out.  What do all these people have in common you ask?  Well, from what I can tell, it's the quest for what gives them identity and context in life.  What they think today might not be what they think tomorrow.  An does it really all matter?  Are our brains all in control in their own way and we are just passers by in the equation?  

These thoughts and others are brought to life through the stories on stage and they keep you thinking well after the play ends.  Mr. Payne's plays may grow tiresome if he doesn't broaden his horizons a bit but for now, off-Broadway seems to be the most appropriate place for his fine works.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Dear Evan Hansen


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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Fully Committed

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

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

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

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

Call me.

Death for Five Voices

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

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

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

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

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

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