Photo by Don Kellogg

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Sphinx Winx

When I first googled this show to see what the heck it was all about, I came across a few articles that listed the cast and creatives - nothing unusual.   Then I noticed the name Philip Capice.  I thought to myself, isn't that odd?  That's the name of the guy who's name used to get splashed on the screen as Executive Producer at the end of every Dallas episode - you know - when something juicy was going to happen in the last 5 minutes and they left you hanging until next week.  Well... turns out it's the same guy!  Who'd a thunk?

After a bit more digging - it turns out he passed away in late 2009 but that he had actually co-written the book and lyrics and directed the original show while a senior at Dickenson College in 1952!  Amazing!  He, in fact, was the one who had the idea to shoot JR in the infamous season finale.  Leave it to a campy musical theatre guy to come up with the best idea on television in March of 1980!   And now... back to our show...

The show is pure musical theatre camp.  And I mean that in the best way possible.  It draws on the entire genre to both make fun of itself and to make light of a version of a story that we all know - that of Cleopatra, Caesar, and Mark Antony.   In many ways, similar to the Drowsy Chaperone of today penned by Bob Martin.  It is not, of course, intended to be a history lesson (gosh, maybe we'd be in a better place if it were!).  It's a celebration of burlesque, variety show, farce, comedy, and musical theatre all rolled up in one big ball of fun!  Don't go expecting to be impressed by the techniques of the actors, depth of the story, or purpose of the book - just go and enjoy exactly what the director intended - you having a good laugh at some entertaining actors telling a classic story with a little (ok, a lot of) embellishment having what appears to be a whole lot fun in the process.

Erika Amato takes the helm as the divine, demanding, and ever-dramatic Cleopatra.   Bruce Sabath hams it up as the tax revenue bungling emperor, Caesar... and a German doctor (German... in ancient Egypt - funny, no?).  Rebecca Riker assumes the role of a beautiful slave that Mark Antony falls for (over Cleopatra, mind you) - but her best moments were as Enobarbus,  Caesar's Sarah Palin-looking and speaking lawyer. (You Betcha!)  Bret Shuford takes a dual role as an English message courier and the handsome (um, very handsome) Mark Antony.  And I must say that Mark Antony must have had the sexiest legs on the planet if the dashing Bret is any indication... but I digress.   Ryan Williams opens, runs, and closes the show with some of the most hysterical character acting I have seen on stage in a long time.  Summoning his inner Paul Lynn, he aptly played Cleopatra's over-the-top Soothsayer.

Kudos to the director, Matthew Hamel who seems to have pulled off a delightful, updated rendition of an old book and to the actors who made it all look so easy!  Now, if only we got to see more of those Bret Shuford, um... i mean Mark Antony... legs...

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World

Let's get one thing perfectly clear - the music of the real-life group, The Shaggs, is confoundedly awful.  Yes, awful.  If you don't believe me, take a listen.

The other thing that needs to be made clearer is that this new musical is based on a very true story.  Yes, true.  I make the point of saying this because nowhere in the playbill (nor the script) is this emphasized except for the standard place below the title of the show on the official credits page (I don't know what else to call that page where it displays the names of producers who are presenting the show, staring the actors, supported by the production and creative staff).  At intermission, I encountered many a patron who were wondering where this story came from.  "It's based on a true story" I told them.  They all looked puzzled.  (Note to self:  mention this in my blog).

There's a lot of good going on in this production.  First, let's give a hearty round of applause for Playwrights Horizons and New York Theatre Workshop for investing time and money in two fine creatives - Joy Gregory and Gunnar Madsen (Book, Lyrics and Music).  It is obvious that a great deal of personal care, research and pain-staking effort has gone into presenting this not-so-kind story to the world.  Second, you can't leave the theatre without acknowledging the fine performances  - both acting and vocals - that the entire cast delivers.  But... (you knew there was one of these coming, right?)

But... unless I missed something, (and over the 2 hours and 30 minutes it was entirely possible) the show is really a one-trick pony - how The Shaggs came to be and the incredible (some would say disturbing) story behind them.  Did we really need to explore this topic for over 2 1/2 hours?  Time may heal all wounds, but did we really need to heal so much on this single topic?  Time is the enemy of this show.  Time should be used more wisely.   While I'm not saying every show on the planet has to be cut to 90 minutes with no intermission, this show would certainly be a good candidate to try it out on.  Over and over we revisited the same topics - defining family, loyalty, personal identity, and freedom.  Make no mistake, the show is not filled with joy or happiness.   The superb story telling, fine acting, and (when applicable) great music would be served well by shortening the pain-cycle just a bit.

The parents, Austin and Annie Wiggin, are played by two tremendously talented actors - Peter Friedman and Annie Golden.  Mr. Freidman's life-long angst, eternal hope, and haunting fears were palpable from start to finish and Ms. Hood's loneliness, longing, and sadness were nothing short of award winning.  The 3 daughters, The Shaggs, are played by strikingly similar faces to the the real life girls, Sarah Sokolovic (Betty), Emily Walton (Helen), and Jamey Hood (Dot).  Each of them transforms into the individual character that each girl inhabited and brought it to a vivid, often disturbing, life on stage.  A fine supporting cast includes an off-Broadway and New York stage debut by a fresh-faced Cory Michael Smith along side Broadway veterans Kevin Cahoon and the ever-versatile Steve Routman.

If there's any up-side to the painfully long run-time, it's that it provided the opportunity for many moments of glory on stage.  Annie's Ordinary Day brought on goose-bumps, Dot's Don't Say Nothing Bad About My Dad cut like a razor and the Act I closer by the company, Destiny, was a powerhouse.

So, should you go see this show?  Although still in previews and time factor aside, this show's story telling capacity is supreme and it's designed for anyone who loves storytelling and theatre all wrapped up in one.  You'll not only get entertained, but you may learn a few things along the way too.   Kudos to the producers, bravo to the performers, and a polite nudge to the obviously talented creatives to tighten things up a bit.  Despite the mildly disturbing nature of the material, it's certainly well worth the price of admission.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Best Is Yet To Come: The Music of Cy Coleman

OK, so we won't call this theatre, exactly.  It's one of those delicious treats that visits a stage every now and again - a musical review, an homage to a great one, a thoroughly entertaining evening that involves a little toe tapping, finger snapping, head bobbing, and a whole lotta feelin' good.  Ironically, the last show I saw at Theatre A at 59E59 was also a great musical pastiche of another genre - In Transit.  I think everyone would recognize at least one, if not two or more musical numbers that Cy Coleman penned.  They've been performed by the best - Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand, Shirley Bassey, Steve & Eddie, Perry Como, Dione Warwick, Lena Horne, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Liza, just to name a few!  Maybe these few will ring some bells - The Best is Yet to Come, Witchraft, Big Spender, and If My Friends Could See Me Now.

Director, David Zippel, along with musical director, conductor, pianist, and performer extraordinaire, Billy Stritch, has compiled an intelligent, thoughtful, and melodious arc through Cy Coleman's best works.  Of course, all that would be an academic exercise were it not for the classy, elegant band led by Stritch along with the other 5 uber-enthusiastic and talented performers of all ages that all held court on the supper-club styled stage.

Lillias White blew the roof off the joint with her stylized and sultry vocals in The Oldest Profession and Don't Ask a Lady.  Sally Mayes convinced us all that Nobody Does it Like Me. Rachel York ushered out Spring with a little Come Summer and The Doodling Song.  Billy Stritch, himself, captured our attention with It amazes Me and Some Kind of Music while Howard McGillin charmed us with You Fascinate Me So and With Every Breath I Take.  Of course, I was completely charmed and mesmerized by just about every move David Burnham made - but I figure that everyone else at least enjoyed his rendition of Witchcraft and I've Got Your Number.  I could say more but that would just be shameless flirting (who me?).

So get your fingers, toes and head all synchronized and pop over to 59E59 Theaters and put your tochas in a seat and enjoy an evening or afternoon of sheer musical entertainment.  There is no way you could leave this theater without a smile on your face. Cy Coleman was one of the greats and this production showcases the best-of-the-best performing his best.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The 2011 ITBA Theater Awards!

The 2011 Patrick Lee ITBA Award Winners:


Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson




Anything Goes


The Normal Heart


The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity


The Kid


Angels in America, Part 1: Millennium Approaches


Michael Shannon, Mistakes Were Made


Feeder: A Love Story
The Caucasian Chalk Circle
Belarus Free Theater's Discover Love
Black Watch


Sleep No More


The Scottsboro Boys


Nina Arianda, Born Yesterday
Laura Benanti, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown
Reed Birney, A Small Fire
Christian Borle, Peter and the Starcatcher
Norbert Leo Butz, Catch Me If You Can
Bobby Cannavale, The Motherfucker with the Hat
Colman Domingo, The Scottsboro Boys
Sutton Foster, Anything Goes
Josh Gad, The Book of Mormon
Hamish Linklater, School for Lies
Joe Mantello, The Normal Heart
Arian Moayed, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
Lily Rabe, The Merchant of Venice
Mark Rylance, Jerusalem
Michael Shannon, Mistakes Were Made
Benjamin Walker, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson


La Mama

The ITBA, is comprised of bloggers who regularly see live performances in all its forms in New York City and beyond. Members are in New York, Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, and London. For further information and a list of our members, visit our
 website. If you are interested in learning more about the ITBA, email info@theaterbloggers.com. To invite the members of the ITBA to your show or event, please send an email to invite@theaterbloggers.com.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mock Your World - The Songs of Andrew Byrne

An evening of sheer musical hilarity and pure naughty fun!  Andrew Byrne has penned a new and fresh (and I'd say better) version of a prior musical parody, Forbidden Broadway.  Unlike Mr. Alessandrini's prior show which mocks Broadway shows directly - Mr. Byrne's little gem pokes fun at the ups and downs and general lifestyle of a Broadway stage actor/dancer using the same musical parody technique.  Sure it's naughty, but I wouldn't call it a Burlesque show at all.  You might turn a few shades of light pink during any number of the riotously entertaining numbers but that's part of what makes the show great.

The four songsters who alternatively run the stage, Lisa Rothauser, Robby Sharpe (um, adorable beyond belief), Marya Grandy and Bart Shatto, hit all the highs and lows (notes and otherwise) that an actor with a Broadway career just might encounter with charisma, energy and conviction.  (Did I mention that Robby is uber-adorable?).

I promise you will leave with a great big smile on your face.  Don't miss these creative animals at the Rockwood Music Hall or wherever they land next.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


Although a fully staged production, it appeared to me to be nothing more than an enhanced concert version of Stephen Sondheim's luxurious score at the Eisenhower Theater at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC.  The construction of the show is quite cumbersome to begin with - old people enter, begin to reminisce, younger versions of their characters appear in the dialogue, one by one they all have "moments" in the spotlight.  The story struggles to keep moving forward because we are constantly having to look back at how it all started to understand why we are where we are.  Then come 4 fantasy follies numbers that chop up the 2nd act and finally back to a quick wrap-up in reality.

All the stars on stage seemed as if they rehearsed alone in a room and for the first time stepped foot on stage together.  No chemistry.   No palpable feeling they were coming back to revisit memories.  Just actors singing songs and saying lines.  Perhaps you were one of the early and loud-clappers that sat next to me?  By this I mean the throngs of freaks who were there to burst out into applause 8 seconds before everyone else and before the songs were over just because Bernadette Peters was somewhere near the stage and may have hit a note that sounded marginally good.   With that said, most of the performances were pretty good.  But we still have the first problem - no chemistry.  Without that, the show is just a pastiche of concertized Broadway numbers under a rose colored spotlight.

Bernadette Peters (Sally) and Jan Maxwell (Phyllis) were OK.  Not great, but OK.  Linda Lavin, however, knocked Hattie out of the park - Broadway Baby was her number to deliver and was honestly the best number of the entire show.  Elaine Paige, on the other hand, was terrible.  I'm Still Here should be a rousing, crowd stirring number by the time it's finished.  She's got the right first name for the song - but a Stritch, she is not.  Ron Raines (Benjamin) and Danny Burstein (Buddy) seemed oddly miscast although Ron's vocals were in fine form.  Mr. Burstein only seemed to hit it out the park when he was in his sweet spot - character acting - performing his follies number - Buddy's Blues.

Overall, the show was disappointing, although to see any of these actors perform is a treat.  This production just didn't seem to pull it all together.  Regret.  It was both the theme of the show and my evening as well.