Photo by Don Kellogg

Thursday, March 31, 2011


Moving Matthew Lombardo’s new play, High, to a Broadway stage is perhaps the worst thing that could have happened to his provocative new work. Even at the Booth Theatre, one of the smallest on Broadway today, it’s too vast. The space literally drowns the intimacy, dilutes the intensity, and mutes the intended effect.

This show had its world premiere in Hartford and traveled on to St. Louis along its journey to Broadway. I suspect, but am not entirely sure, that it played in those cities in smaller, more intimate houses. The story deserves an up-close and personal view where nobody is more than 2 or 3 rows away from the action, the anger, the emotion and intensity. A Broadway house, while perhaps enticing to the actors (fame, fortune, and recognition) and the producers (money, what else?) turns this play into a preachy, washed-out soap opera on a grand stage.

Nonetheless, Lombardo is to be lauded for his sharp sub-text on religion, politics, and salvation. Drugs are merely a vehicle for him to expose the characters – flaws and all. I was most disappointed in the star of the show, Ms. Turner, herself. She turned in what I deem the “expected” performance - a foul mouthed, yet reformed alcoholic turned to God, Sister Jamison Connelly. And that’s the problem in a nutshell - it’s too hard to forget she is Kathleen Turner playing this part. Although in real life she’s no nun, the rest is all too familiar. The weakest link by far was Stephen Kunken as Father Michael Delpapp. He lacked much conviction, seemed to be struggling to fit the words and dialogue into his performance and frankly was not a very convincing priest. While Lombardo has given him quite a stinging and pivotal role to play, his performance was nothing close.

The shinning star of the evening was newcomer Evan Jonikeit as Cody Randall. His portrayal as a mis-guided, abused, drug-addicted young man was superb. In this case, Lombardo and director, Rob Ruggiero imbued him very youthful character with a silent emotional depth, hurt, passion that shown with every moment he stood on stage.

Lombardo’s play is superb and deserves to be seen but it’s neither Ms. Turner nor the venue that should be the draw. The proximity of your to the actors and action will be in direct proportion to the emotional absorption and satisfaction with which you leave the theatre.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Promise

When someone penned the phrase “Tour de Force” they must have been watching Joanna Tope. Taking on Douglas Maxwell’s one character play, The Promise, Ms. Tope (Maggie Brodie), sweeps the audience out of the theatre and into her classroom as she weaves the tale of her her own life with the events that took place in a classroom she recently returned to as a substitute teacher.

In a brief 90 minutes she carefully and methodically lets us into her life, telling us choice bits and pieces of her youth, family life, teaching career and her staunch character. As the tale of her recent experience in the classroom unfolds, so do more and more facts about her. In the end, we’ve traversed politics, religion, gender rights, human rights, and race. Without saying anything explicitly, Maxwell brilliantly leaves the audience with just enough information on all fronts to form any number of opinions about Maggie – good, bad, and otherwise.

While not a psychological thriller – the performance transports you to another time and place as Ms. Tope grabs you tight and doesn’t let go until the very last word.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Dream of the Burning Boy

Roundabout Underground has done it again. Another outstanding production down in the black box theatre in the bowels of the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. This production is also #2 at the RU for one of the most in-demand off-Broadway actors this season, Reed Birney.

Set in a small high school in Suburban America, the play deals with the issue of the death of one of the students – from both the perspective of the young students as well as Larry (Birney) one of the teachers. Young playwright, David West Read, has composed razor sharp dialogue in a tinder box situation for the characters. Without revealing the twists and turns of the plot, I’ll just say that Read takes the audience on a wild ride, never leaving the audience with a dull moment and always turns the expected into the truly unexpected.

Alexandra Socha (Rachel) turns in an outstanding performance, constantly churning out the sarcasm, intelligence, and wit of a young sister stricken by grief and at the same time eagerly seeking answers to her questions. Birney (Larry) turns in an emotionally complex performance, proving once again that he is a top-notch stage actor.

Don’t worry, there won’t be any flames on stage, the there will certainly be plenty of heat.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

One Night with Fanny Brice

An educational and entertaining evening all rolled up into one.  I mean, who hasn't seen Funny Girl?  Fanny Brice was quite a gal in her time - funny, spirited, spoke her  mind, and entertained us all for many years.

Chip Deffaa has turned her life into a one-woman show now playing at St. Luke's Theatre on West 46th Street.  If I had to guess, he probably knows quite a bit more about her life than we saw on stage - and at that it was quite a long and detailed bio-piece.  Kimberly Faye Greenberg takes on the larger than life role and dominates the stage the entire evening.  Fanny certainly wasn't shy - and neither is Ms. Greenberg - hitting all the highs and lows of Fanny's life in this musical walk down memory lane.   All said, there are 25 musical numbers and even more anecdotes and tid-bits to keep everyone engaged.  Whether you know much about Fanny Brice or not, the show is well worth the price of admission.

And don't worry about the ghosts.  She's got some protection for that too.

Thursday, March 24, 2011


In less time than it has taken me to type this first sentence (including erasing and re-typing the two typos I have already made) the story of Wonderland (A New Alice.  A New Musical) is fully told.  Yes, in about 37 seconds, the entire plot of the show is thrown on the table and then you are stuck there for over 2 more hours waiting... praying... for something... anything to happen.  Were it not for the brilliantly hued lighting and video projection effects (Paul Gallo and Sven Ortel), the masterfully crafted and elaborate costumes (Susan Hilferty and Tom Watson) and some of the music (Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy), I think I just might have slit my wrists right there in the 6th row, Orchestra.

Don't get me wrong, the concept is intriguing - how will they modernize Alice?  What will she do?  Who will she meet when she falls down the rabbit hole?   The answer is, they don't, nothing, and nobody new. It's the same old story with exactly the characters you might expect to meet - except they have turned the show in to an American Idol-like scene by scene, pedestrian performance piece. Schlocky characters speak in fairy tale double-talk, make veiled theatre references, upstage each other on purpose, steal song-bites and references from other shows, and expect us to laugh at the result.

As for the talent - it's decent - if not unknown, virtually all around.  The caterpillar, E. Clayton Cornelious, is a smooth, sultry, soulful character.  El Gato, Jose Llana, turns up the Latin heat even if he does resemble Freddie Prince reincarnated on stage.  The Mad Hatter, Kate Shindle, a tall drink of water, acts mean, but lacks any real depth or reason for so being.  The Queen of Hearts, Karen Mason, (think Dame Edna) tries too hard to steal the scenes - overtly pointing at the orchestra conductor in her one number as if she's in charge, not him.  Last, and close to least, Alice, Janet Dacal, is merely dragged from scene to scene meeting these outlandish characters but simply goes nowhere and adds nothing of interest to the character.

This genre may appeal to the younger, teenage demographic, but it's certainly not for the 3 month old crying baby in the back of the theatre whose mother was ushered out and hopefully dumped down and open elevator stack head first for even thinking of entering a performance space with an infant).  Even the two goom-bas from Lawn-Guyland behind us who openly chatted throughout the entire performance as if they they were in their living room watching TV were more interesting than what was unfolding on stage.

If I had to sum it up - the evening was a technical hit yet a creative bomb.  The visually stunning sets, lighting and costumes, brilliantly staged scenes and expertly choreographed numbers stand in stark contrast to the thin and vaguely American Idol-like, pop-sounding score (the louder you turn up the volume, the better it gets, right?) and a book with little substance and even less originality.   

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Other Place

Laurie Metcalf has some experience playing a bitch and she continues to execute this persona quite well as Juliana in Sharr White's new work entitled The Other Place.  The work is intended to be presented in a rapid fire, intentionally disjointed pastiche of monologue and dialogue  - revealing a story of mental capacity juxtaposed with mental disease.  Juliana jumps from fluidly explaining the immediate hours and activities before her incident to sometimes confused and blurred dialogue and background scenes with her husband, daughter, and doctor - all of which lead to an ending you would never suspect when the lights first go down.  Sharr's work is compelling, purposeful and extremely clever.

In a psychological thriller of a play such as this, the impact is mainly felt through the rapid fire changes, the lighting, and sound, as well as the abilities of the actors to decisively jump between the various vignettes.   The Lortel Theatre is notoriously a dump of a theatre and I found myself wondering how it might come off in a more well equipped theatre.  The play is ostensibly Ms. Metcalf's to sell and while she does an admirable job, the supporting cast left me wanting more.  Most notably, her doctor (Aya Cash) is played by the same actor as her daughter (and also the resident of her prior home of Cape Cod).  I'm not exactly clear why someone would think an accomplished neurologist would be so young.  Her husband, Ian (Dennis Boustikaris) aptly covers the required ground, but the role, while at times emotional, lacks clear definition.

A compelling story, a fine acting job by Ms. Metcalf worth plenty more than the price of an off-Broadway ticket, nonetheless, The Other Place, left me wondering how much better it could be - and in another place.  Should there be chatter of a Broadway run next fall or spring, once again under Joe Mantello's direction, I'd be calling in my ticket order today.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Catch Me If You Can

Just when I thought I'd seen the best new musical of the year, along comes another!  Look out theater aficionados, another potential blockbuster has just landed on Broadway.  Terrance McNally's book transforms the already slick, fast-paced silver-screen story of Frank Abagnale, Jr. into an elegant, high-energy Broadway show with beautiful show-girls (and boys) and a fantastic musical score by the creative team of Shaiman and Whitman.

Piloting this juggernaut are the ever adorable and talented duo of Aaron Tveit (Frank Jr.) and Norbert Leo Butz (FBI Agent Hanratty).  Supporting cast and crew includes Kerry Butler (Brenda Strong) as his fiance and Tom Wopat (Frank Sr.) as his father.

This version takes a more personal route of storytelling, cleverly weaving the story of who Frank Abagnale, Jr., one of the largest con-men of our generation, was, what motivated him, and perhaps a hint at why he did it.   The story is told as a flash-back.  The story opens up with Frank being caught and he has the thought that the people around him just might be interested in why he's being shot at and pursued (the preverbal light bulb moment).  The show (within the show) then unfolds as he literally tell the story and introduces the characters from his rather surreal life.

For the entire 2:40 minutes - you'll be dazzled and treated to top notch performances  - most of which include Tveit who is rarely off-stage.  And speaking of the stage - the sets by David Rockwell are incredibly classy - an elegant, big-band feel, the orchestra on stage atop a dual grand staircase which provids for perfect showy entrances and exits.  The production did have an out-of-town try-out in Seattle, but changes are still being made.  Is it perfect yet?  Not quite - but I took a few notes for choreographer Jerry Mitchell and director Jack O'Brien.  I hope they can tighten up the dancers.  The choreography is brilliant but on more than one occasion the tires tended to come off the bus.  The Family Tree number presents physical challenges - one mis-step (as Mr Tveit had at my performance) and it could all fall apart.  Mr. O'Brien needs to cut the drawn out final scene and two numbers - and for God's sake - do an encore of "Don't Break The Rules".  It would bring the audience to its feet right in the middle of Act I.   These few notes aside, for only its 2nd week of previews this show is in terrific shape.

Dare I say - we have a battle Tony battle brewing on Broadway already?  Book vs Catch.  There's plenty to be smiling about leaving the theatre these days.   I just may go back for more of both!


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Book of Mormon

Previews just started on what I firmly believe is going to be the best new musical of the season!  Without a doubt, a clever, intelligent, and completely irreverent book written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame and Robert Lopez of the Tony Award winning Avenue Q fame.   Did I mention it's irreverent?  In 2 1/2 short hours they manage to skewer the entire Mormon religion, all the while your gut is busting from all the laugh out loud moments.  Behind it all there's a message about religion, humanity, faith and community. Now how awesome is that?!

As you would suspect, the story is about the required mission that all young Mormon boys must take when they turn 18 - in this story - Elder Cunningham (Josh Gad) and Elder Price (Andrew Rannells) and their wild trip to Uganda in Africa.  Did I mention the play is irreverent?  To take a quote from another show, "Fasten your seat belts, it's gonna be a bumpy night".  By the time they meet up with Elder McKinley (Rory O'Malley) and a village of Ugandans including Nabulung (Nikki M. James), Mafala Hatambi (Michael Potts) - your side is already throbbing from the infectious laughter.  The entire ensemble cast is divided into two - the local Mormon mission and the local African villagers.

The other adorably handsome boys at the mission never fail to entertain and delight - filling both acts with rousing, big-Broadway dance numbers - including some rousing tap with shiny pink sequin vests (yes, it's occasionally more than your basic black and white outfits for these boys).  The local Ugandan villagers start us off with a great African inspired number titled Fuck God - and the temperature in the theatre heats up from there.  When the two groups meet up it's double the singing, dancing, dream sequences and insults all around.  I mean, seriously, there's a lot to laugh about when it comes to Mormons!

No spoiler alert needed here - I won't give away Matt, Trey, Robert or the ever-brilliant choreographer, Casey Nicholaw's, big-Broadway secrets.  If you want to see a deliciously entertaining new Broadway musical chock full of blasphemous humor, adorably handsome Mormon boys and an African village filled with AIDS - get your tickets for this Book today.  Did I mention it's irreverent?


Thursday, March 3, 2011

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

Without question an evening of sheer entertainment all-around.  With much riding on his shoulders, Daniel Radcliffe once again proves himself to be right at home on a stage acting, singing, and dancing with the big-boys and girls of Broadway.

Now, with that said, I will say that the entire show is entertaining - a light, amusing, and occasionally cynical book (Burrows, Weinstock & Gilbert), and a fantastic score (Loesser), carry you from start to finish - always with a smile or a wink and a nod.  I will go further and say that this show and this star are a particularly successful marriage made in heaven.  The show carries Mr. Radcliffe and he in turn delivers and delights as we watch him climb the corporate ladder from the mailroom all the way up to the board of directors at the World Wide Wicket Company.

Joining Mr. Radcliffe (J. Pierrepont Finch) in his climb up said ladder are John Larroquette (Mr. Andrews, the president of the company), Tammy Blanchard (Hedy La Rue, his dizzy girlfriend), the uber-adorable and talented Christopher Hanke (Bud Frump, his arch nemesis at the company),  and Ellen Harvey (Miss Jones, secretary to Mr. Andrews) and a Broadway debut for Rose Hemmingway (Rosemary Pilkington, Fitch's girlfriend).  You also just might recognize a familiar yet invisible voice echoing throughout the theatre - Anderson Cooper (the narrator)!  A tremendously energetic and talented supporting cast, chorus, and dance team delightfully round out the entire troupe!  Colorful costumes, brilliant lighting effects, and superbly complex sets never disappoint.  Rob Ashford's brilliant directorial and choreographicial stamp is all over this one.

Merely two weeks into previews and this one is already blowing the roof off the house!  Get your tickets before the location of this secret treasure gets out!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Bathsheba Doran's new work, Kin, is an irresistibly poignant and modern snapshot of friends and family and what defines our close relationships.   As usual at Playwrights Horizons - well cast, well directed and well acted.

The story revolves around Sean (Patch Darragh) and Anna (Kristen Bush) and their ever-tightly-woven quilt of immediate family and friends - including Sean's mother, Linda (Suzanne Bertish), Anna's best friend, Helena (Laura Heisler) and her father, Adam (Cotter Smith).  The story unfolds over time in brief vignettes on an elegantly designed set that can best be described as a large white picture frame - capturing all the many and diverse moments of our lives.

The play is performed without intermission - an intelligent choice - as it allows the audience engross itself in the unfolding life story of the 9 characters.  Before you know it, the story rises to a crescendo on the cliffs in Ireland - (rain and mist included in the ticket price) - and ends with a touching Kodak moment in that big white picture frame.   Put this one on your must-see list.  But, no flash photos please.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Peter and the Starcatcher

It's exciting and magical to see a play off-Broadway in a developmental theatre on a tiny stage with great actors telling a story of wonder and hope that you can just feel in your bones will someday graduate to the Minskoff or the Walter Kerr. Peter and the Starcatcher is one such play and in the immortal words of Mr. Brooks Atkinson, "There is no joy so great as that of reporting that a good play has come to town". Based on a novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson this new play written by Rick Elice and directed by Roger Rees and Alex Timbers (of recent Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson fame) tells one endearing version of just how Peter Pan came to be Peter Pan.

Add to an extremely well crafted and witty script a bevy of incredibly talented actors and you have the makings of a lively and all-around entertaining evening. Just take a look at this cast: Teddy Bergman, Christian Borle, Arnie Burton, Adam Chanler-Berat, Matt D'Amico, Kevin Del Aguila, Brandon Dirden, Carson Elrod, Greg Hildreth, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Karl Kenzler, and David Rossmer. Each and every one of them accomplished young actors - each and every one of them add their own ray of sunshine to this delightful production. And indeed, how refreshing to see such an un-Disney Disney-story told in a slightly gritty, always witty, and adult, intelligent fashion.

You won't need any "star stuff" to fly down to this performance - just hop on the N/R or 6 train downtown to East 4th Street and 2nd Avenue and get a great seat to see this one at the New York Theatre Workshop before the venue moves North and the prices do too!