Photo by Don Kellogg

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Last Two People on Earth: An Apocalyptic Vaudville

This is a workshop run so I can't be too critical.  That said, the rather long name of this show could be shortened and clarified.  It really could be titled "The Mandy and Mac Show". 

I saw the immense talent on stage in both Mandy Patinkin and Taylor Mac. (There are no names to the characters they play).  Yes, it's a vaudville-esque show for sure.  I believe the theme is generally that they're the last two men alive on the planet after a flood (queue thunder and lightening for a tad too long in the beginning).  They find each other through the music and dance for the next 95 minutes (this is where they lost me).  Immense talent aside, the two engaged in quite a wide genre of musical numbers - from Sondheim to R.E.M. and The Ragtime Theme to Row, Row, Row your Boat!  Often times clown like and always in the vaudeville style, the two sang their heads off. 

Kudos to director and choreographer Susan Stroman, lighting director Ken Billington, costume designer William Ivey Long, and set designer Beowulf Boritt - an all star assembly of creative talent!

I'm still not quite so clear that anyone would want to see this show for any other reason than to just see Mandy and Taylor perform.  Heck, some people would go see them read the phone book ...But in this case, they don't really need one because they're the last two left!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What's It All About? Bacharach Reimagined

At the helm of this new work, Canadian crooner and successful young actor and artist, Kyle Riabko, takes a bunch of classic tunes from an old master, Mr. Burt Bacharach, and re imagines them fin-a concert-like setting for a new generation of hipsters.

There's not really a show here in the true sense of the word if you want a plot.  Mr. Riabko opens the show like a concert by speaking off-the-cuff to the audience welcoming them and giving them a bit of background on how the show came about.  After he launches into the music, not another word is spoken.  It's pure entertainment for sure.  The mind is put to work with each tune trying in the early notes and words to figure out just what the old version was and then left to admire the face lift that it has been given.
You may not love the redo or you may think it's the best new take on an old tune.  Regardless, the magnificent musicians on stage provide quite a show.

I had the on-stage seating experience.  While there was a lot of butt-watching (they played downstage from us a lot), the one magical thing to be a part of was the sound.  I imagine the audience  heard the fully mixed and amplified sound out in the classic seats.  We, on stage, however, were treated to actual natural, un-amplified vocals and harmonies and sounds directly from the instruments.  It was refreshing to hear and I found it remarkable to learn just how talented these young artists actually are.

NYTW seems to be a veritable petrie dish for new artists and unique shows for the past few years (Once and Peter and the Starcatcher both originated here prior to their Broadway transfers). I just wish the play list was published in the Playbill - I left remembering most of the tunes but would have enjoyed looking back on them and remembering the performance even more days afterward too.

And  poor Hal David.  Nobody gives him as much credit for those lyrics as Mr. Bacharach gets for the music!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812

It's a grand party in a glamorous pop-up cabaret tent right here on Broadway, freshly moved uptown from the Meatpacking district.  One would think the edgy, avant-garde performance style fits best downtown, but clearly the producers are bucking the entrenched Broadway traditions!

The Kazino (the casino) as it's called, is a supper club draped in velvet and adorned with glamorous chandelier lights.   The show takes place throughout the performance space which is dotted with the tables of patrons.  The orchestra is a band located throughout the theatre and the action takes place all around and amongst the patrons who are enjoying wine, cheese and other Russian delights which can be supplemented (read $$$$) with other menu items.

The story comes from an audacious book - War and Peace.  But in reality it's really nothing more than a tele-novella or a lifetime movie,  Girl is left alone by her boyfriend who is off to war.  Girl meets new boy and new boy romances her.  Girl realizes her delicate situation and tries to kill herself but does not succeed.  Boy returns from war.  Longtime friend of girl professes his love for her.  And so goes the evening as a comet descends on the planet.

A+ for performance space and immersive approach to telling the story - no spoken word rather all sung! Not quite as high a grade for the story itself however.  It seems unnecessarily drawn out (perhaps like the book from whence it came).

Overall, the show was magnificent and the evening was an entertainment success but I was left wondering why the story was not as dazzling as the cast, costumes, vocals, band, and venue itself.

Maybe I'll write a letter.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Nothing to Hide

Neil Patrick Harris directs this brief wonder now running at the Signature Theatre on W42nd Street.  (Did you know that in addition to being an uber-handsome actor and award show host he's the president of the Academy of Magical Arts at Magic Castle?!)

Noting to Hide is a magic show with an even bigger dash of comedy.  As a matter of fact, the card tricks -some elaborate- manage to delight, but the chemistry and personality that Derek Delgaudio and Helder Guimaraes bring to the stage are the real stars of this show.  A show of just card tricks would be a yawn, after all.

It's warm and funny and involves the audience in the slight-of-hand tricks which always adds to their material of amusing ad-libs in reaction to what they ask the audience to contribute.  My only complaint is that it seemed too short.  If these two ever give up magic, they'll always have comedy.

In fact, it might actually work the other way too.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bad Jews

Joshua Harmon's new play just got promoted upstairs! Roundabout moved the bitingly funny play from the black-box theater downstairs to the Laura Pels stage for a run during their 2013-2014 subscription.

The play centers around 3 cousins gathering in NYC on Riverside  Drive the during the funeral and Shiva period after their grandfather's (Papi's) death.  Central to the evening's controversy is uber-Jew, Daphna (aka Diana) Feygenbaum, (Tracee Chimo) who seemingly thrives on divisiveness and contentiousness ("We're not arguing, we're talking" she explains at one point).  She clearly dominates her introverted cousin, Jonah Haber (Phillip Ettinger), and clashes head-on with her nemesis and other cousin (and brother of Jonah), Liam (aka Shlomo) Haber (Michael Zegen).  Molly Ranson plays the mousy girlfriend, (Melody) of Liam who unwittingly ends up being the reason for much of the angst-ridden family debate and vitriol.

It's a cauldron of Jewish issues of cultural assimilation, religious beliefs (and the ones chosen to be ignored), and most of all, family.  Everyone, Jewish or not, can find a nugget of family in this play despite the specifics of this plot.  By the end of the 1:35 minute run you'll be exhausted yet relieved at the same time.  You can only take so much family time at once, after all.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

On the Record

It's like a walk down musical memory lane.  Four crooners peddling delicious melodies, tight harmonies, and a songbook packed with hits.  The affable Bill Daugherty, the incredibly adorable Paul Kropfl, the relaxed and smooth Amanda Savan and the indomitable and animated Deborah Tranelli amaze and delight in this pitch-perfect musical history lesson.

They start roughly in the 30's and walk us through the many great duos, trios, foursomes... and more - all the way up to the 70's covering a wide variety of styles and genres.   Not only do they remind you of some of the popular tunes and who sang them but they also sneak in a bit of history of music and the evolution of music technology and record labels in the process.

They sing them all - and you just want more.  They're animated, entertaining, personable, and delightful.  It's one of these toe-tapping, head bobbing kind of shows.  Don't miss this one - appearing periodically at The Triad (Stage 72).

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Glass Menagerie

Stunning.  Enchanting.  Emotional.  Potent.  Transformative.

All these words resonate when it comes to John Tiffany's direction of this new production of Tennessee Williams' classic play.

Casting is the essential ingredient in the success of this production.  Cherry Jones (Amanda), Zachary Quinto (Tom), Celian Keegan-Bolger (Laura), and Brian J. Smith (Gentleman Caller) comprise the perfectly balanced and remarkably talented cast.  Each of these pros brings power and tenderness, anger and awkwardness, and emotion and silence to the incredibly poignant material.

Ms. Jones smothers her children with an incredible southern belle persona.  Mr. Quinto brings an anger and sympathy to the role of the dutiful son trapped in his home.  Ms. Keegan-Bolger brings a remarkable loneliness to Laura.  Mr. Smith brings an innocence and likability to the role I've not quite seen before.  Take  all together, they are simply enchanting.

As Mr. Williams writes, this is a memory play.  So Mr. Tiffany and Bob Crowley (sets) have adorned his version of it with a stage floating apart from the theater among water and the apartment set is, as memory might itself be, both complete in parts and incomplete in others, hence the fire escape rises to the rafters while nothing else quite does.

Mr. Williams writes that memory itself is dim and vague so therefore Natasha Katz (lighting) offers the most focused and purposeful lighting effects.  Mr. Tiffany's gentle and specific movement effects throughout the play remind you of how you slide into and out of a memory.

This production is brilliantly understated and powerfully impactful.  Sometimes less is more.  And more is definitely what you get with this production.  Rise and Shine!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Murder for Two

Hysterical.  Absolutely delicious.  Non-stop, zany, top-notch talent and entertainment.  These and other similar tags have been associated with Joe Kinosian and Kellen Blair's new off-Broadway smash hit, Murder for Two, now holding a new run at New World Stages after a transfer from Second Stage Uptown.  It's non-stop action, non-stop laughter, and these fellas pull out all the stops in their attempts to solve the crime of the hour before it's too late.

Jeff Blumenkrantz and deliciously adorable Brett Ryback hold court for over 90 minutes as detective Marcus (Ryback) and The Suspects (Blumenkrantz).  Yes, you read that correctly - Mr. Blumenkrantz plays all the suspects - and he does it with mad-cap, crazy energy to the hilt!  He establishes each character with a voice or gestures or, in one case, a pair of big black eyeglasses.  These fellas really looked like they were having fun on stage too.  I caught a few ad-libs during which each tries to crack the other up!

It's part Clue, part musical, part homage to musical theatre, and part whodunit, with both actors adeptly playing the piano on stage with zeal throughout.  They even acknowledge the piano at the end (like an orchestra!). For the price of an off-Broadway ticket you'll be entertained hours after the show end, regaling your friends and family with the "remember when he did the..." kind of stories.

True talent.  Absolute entertainment. Pure Joy.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

Brilliantly crafted, cleverly executed, delightful from beginning to end! Finally, an old fashioned original musical has come to Broadway.

The indomitable duo of Jefferson Mays and Bryce Pinkham are pure delight.  Mr. Mays takes on the dating challenge of portraying all 8 members of the aristocratic D'Ysquith family - both male and female - to hilarious delight. (Think Tim Conway on The Carol Burnett Show)   Mr. Pinkham, handsome beyond necessity, charms us with his tall tale and beautifully operatic vocals not to forget his boyish charm and comic talents.

It's a dastardly tale of love and murder  - with each family member's demise a delicious tale of song and dance.  Characters abound.

Music and songs were clever and brilliantly broadway-esque.  Costumes were amazing.  At times I was dizzy and dumbfounded at the sped at which Mr. Mays changed costumes and reappeared on stage as another D'Ysquith.

A small supporting cast hit every mark crisply, cleverly, and with great aplomb.  The set is cleverly designed as a full stage with a curtain within the actual stage - allowing one scene to unfold while the next one was prepared. Part Noises-Off, part The 39 Steps, part Edwin Drood, this new musical hits all the right notes with the perfect cast.  Speed, coordination and queues are of utmost importance.

If I can say this at the first public preview, you have to imagine it will only get better!  Run... Don't Walk over to the Walter Kerr Theatre on W 48th for an evening of sheer delight!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Little Miss Sunshine

Living its second life, reincarnated and redesigned since its debut at La Jolla, the curtain now rises on Little Miss Sunshine at Second Stage Theater.  If you've seen the movie (like so many shows these days) you may go in with high hopes and leave with them dashed.   If you arrive having forgotten or never even seen the movie - well, it's cute and funny, but I'm guessing the battle to compare to and overtake the movie will be an uphill battle for many.

Since I subscribe to 2ST, I want to see the shows and look forward to them.  This show was entertaining, but not a blockbuster.  I giggled, I laughed, and even shed a tear.  But the movies (as it always is) can do so much more, visually and cinematically speaking.

The key element of cleverness was how they were going to portray the bus - and their choice was skeleton - chairs and a steering wheel - pushing the bus (a key element in the movie too) was cleverly done indeed but it didn't quite cut it.  In order to establish the key elements of the plot - I was delighted to find out much material was cut and the show was run without an intermission to be brief and poignant.

Stephanie J. Block (Sheryl) was as always pitch perfect but somewhat waste in the role.  She hit all the right notes but she's so much more.  The uber-handsome Rory O'Mally (Frank), her brother, had a depth and warmth and sarcastic bite that was delicious - and what a set of pipes he's got.  Logan Rowland (Dwayne) was cute but,  as expected, didn't speak 3/4ths of the show.  Will Swenson (Richard) was a great last minute swap as Will Chase recently backed out.  But the real star of the show (as was the movie) was Hanna Nordberg (Olive).  She was pure delight - sweet innocence - a child struggling to love her family and fit in.  Grandpa , David Rasche, was funny, but failed to meet the singing requirement.  As a matter of fact - many of the songs were part said, part sung which doesn't quite make for an evening of total delight.  One or two songs hit the mark, most did not.

Entertaining yes.  Overtaking the movie's enjoyment factor, i think not.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Commons of Pensacola

I kind of expected more once I got the gist that this was a Bernie Madoff kind of story.  Wife who may or may not have known what her convicted criminal (we're to assume financial fraud that wiped out other families) husband did, daughters who are struggling with moral choices around coming to grips with their new-found family situation, media always at the gates of your life angling for a story... and the list goes on.

Sarah Jessica Parker (Becca), Blythe Danner (Judith), and the incredibly handsome Michael Stahl-David (Gabe) respectfully run through the choppy storyline yet I felt very little emotion and even a few holes in their logical story.

Did she know?  One will never really quite know but the assumption you are gently pushed toward is that of course she must have suspected, but never fully let that suspicion develop for fear of what she might lose.  One daughter takes the moral high ground.  The other tries harder to gain insight, twisted further by her position of being dirt broke and homeless and suddenly having access to something she just found out about.

Penned by the actress turned playwright, Amanda Peet, it was a quick drive through the issues, but very little more.  Like even the best Chinese food, it was delicious, but left me hungry and wanting something more an hour later.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Time To Kill

Rupert Holmes has adapted a classic best seller and movie for the stage.  John Grisham's first book and now his first play for the stage is a remarkable work that needs just a bit more work before its ready for prime-time.

Leading the pack is the very handsome Sebastia Arcelus (Jake Brigaance).  Hi charm and good looks held my attention but there was something perhaps a bit detached or formulaic in the courtroom drama.  When staging a scene, or in this case an entire play, around a courtroom you need to have crisp, quick dialogue.  It was almost there, but some of his colleagues on stage - primarily former senator and presidential candidate Fred Dalton Thompson (Judge Omar Noose) need a bit more time in rehearsal.

Tom Skerritt (Lecien Wilbanks) exemplified the second problem with this play - I couldn't hear him.  He's not a stage actor by trade.  And when a play takes a tact to not mic the actors (i liked the idea too) you had better cast actors who can speak up!  Sadly this was not the case.  Lastly, Tonya Pinkins (Gwen Hailey) is brilliant but wasted in the small role.

These problems aside, I think there is merit in the production and there's hope for some improvement.  The stage design by James Noone is remarkably engaging with its rotating platform constantly changing perspectives in the courtroom.   I hope the rest of the play brings itself up to the brilliance of the rotating courtroom.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up With George

An entrant in the All for One Theater Festival, which specializes in developing and showcasing one-person shows, Kelly Carlin shows us a behind-the-curtain look at her life growing up with her famous comedian-father, George.

Touching, poignant, and captivating, this multimedia look at her family life hit all the right notes. Part therapy for her and part saying goodbye to George for us, this cathartic 90 minutes on stage for Kelly just made you feel plain old fashioned good about the dysfunctional family.

Kelly's plan to take the show on the road to each zip code her father performed in seems like a great gesture and will allow everyone to have a proper goodbye to a rather funny man and allow her to let go a little bit more with each performance.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Winslow Boy

Terence Rattigan's new play, The Winslow Boy, took it's second spin at Roundabout's MainStage this season after its production at the Old Vic in London.   It's a play for playgoers.  Four acts.  A real story from start to finish.  Yes, it's a bit stodgy.  It's set in England after all.

The cast, however, was outstanding.  Lead superbly by Roger Rees (Arthur Winslow) and supported stupendously by Mary Elizabeth Mastrntonio (Grace Winslow), Zachary Booth (Dickie Winslow), Michael Cumpsty (Desmond Curry), Alessandro Nivola ( Sir Robert Winslow) and making his Broadway debut, Spencer Davis Milford (Ronnie Winslow).

Acting was crisp, superb and often funny.  The set was the usual high brow, top notch visual of a Kensington living room that Roundabout is known for.  Perhaps a scoach long for my liking but the quality of the acting and the storytelling far exceeded my expectations and neatly wrapped up in about 2h:30m.

Go see what all the fuss over Ronnie Winslow is all about at the American Airlines Theater on 42nd Street.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


They are indeed the Kings of New York.  Given their tender ages one might instead use the term Prince to describe them.   Whatever you choose, there's no doubt they power through the show from start to finish with plenty of pluck and lots of heart.

I'm a bit late to the party with Newsies, but now I see what all the original fuss over Jeremy Jordan and his Tony-award winning band of newsies was all about.  At the helm today, making his Broadway debut, is the effortless talent of Corey Cott (Jack Kelly).

As a matter of fact, I was surprised to see just how many Broadway debuts there were in the cast.  Young is the understatement here.  But unbelievably talented may be the runner up for that award.  The boys gave it their all and the results were clear - a technically challenging dance-show (Christopher Gattelli) with powerful tunes and toe-tapping melodies (Alan Menkin) and an unbelievably masterful and crisp delivery of the book (Harvey Firestein).

It didn't appear that Disney's money is the real secret to the success either.  The sets were surprisingly basic.  Lighting appeared masterfully focused and sound was decent.  What put this show over the top was the energy, heart, and all-in dance effort by each and every talented member of the cast.

Broadway veteran John Dossett (Joseph Pulitzer), a master in his own right, even takes a back seat to the boys and  LaVon Fisher-Wilson (Medda Larkin) and Kara Lindsay (Katherine) both get to belt out a tune or two alongside the boys.  Nothing can match the adorable Joshua Colley (Les) - a mere 10 years-old and on stage almost as much as the elder boys.  Mild-mannered Andy Richardson (Crutchie) and charming Ben Frankhauser (Davey) aptly hold up their leading roles with aplomb.

I'm sure the Disney brand kept me away this long, but I'm sure glad I finally gave into the hype and plunked down some cash for this one.  It's worth every penny to see these Kings of New York grace every square inch of the stage at the Nederlander Theatre.  

Saturday, October 5, 2013

First Date

This the tale of two reviews.  First Date was amusing.  First Date was cute.  First Date was everything a delightful, off-Broadway show for $40 a ticket should be.   Trouble is, it's on Broadway.  Tickets are up there at $100/ticket for a mere 90 minutes if you're not savvy enough to find a discount.  While it's cute, it's not all-that.  

Don't get me wrong, I giggled and even laughed out loud a few times, but the material seemed amateurish.  The music was upbeat, but not very memorable.  Tourist-formulaic come to mind.  Funny; Short enough to hold their attention; Hip enough to be cool.  The acting was OK, but it just seemed like a good off-Broadway show.  
Zachary Levy was adorable and dreamy.  Krista Rodriguez was her cold-hearted SMASH self.  These are the characters they played.  This is who they always seem to play.  Kristoffer Cusick (Reggie) stole the show with his Bailout Song - repeatedly.

I left with a smile wondering if it will last and if the tourists will keep rolling in.  Probably so.  That Zachary Levy is adorable.  No way he's really single.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Snow Geese

Headliner, Mary Louise-Parker, may be listed first in the cast due to her star-power, but this one's got a true ensemble cast - every single one of them superb actors from start to finish - including MLP.

I didn't even recognize the fantastic Danny Burstein as Max, the older German Uncle or the lovely Victoria Clark as a tightly wound religious Aunt.  But even more impressive were the two sons - newly enlisted soldier and eldest, favored son, Evan Jonigkeit (Duncan) and younger, less favored and quietly smarter son, Brian Cross (Arnold).

The chemistry between Duncan and Arnold was remarkable.  Despite their mother's lifetime of overt differing treatment, we see just how the family will survive after the death of their father, Teddy (Christopher Innvar).

Striking sets, interesting and often funny dialogue pepper the evening and at 2 hours 20 minutes (including the intermission) was timed just right.

Bravo on your Broadway debut Brian Cross! We definitely need to see more of you.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Big Fish

Norbert Leo Butz (Edward Bloom) is the very definition of a leading man in Big Fish.  His voice, his stage presence, and chemistry with the rest of his cast has a depth beyond imagination.  Bobby Steggert (Will Bloom) delights the eye and the ear with his pitch perfect voice and handsome good looks.  Kate Baldwin displays the dynamic range of her acting from teenager to wife and never failed to delight with her tunes and her "auburn" hair.  This ensemble was perfectly cast and the proof is in the proverbial pudding.

The plot follows the movie I'm told.  (I didn't see it).  It flows smoothly like the video river cleverly placed on the front skirt of the stage - back and forth from Will's childhood to present day.  There are plenty of rousing Broadway numbers (Book and Music by Andrew Lippa)- including a Rockette style kick-line!   You can really can tell these actors enjoy performing this show.  Who wouldn't?  It's fantasy and bigger than life.

For all these reasons, Big Fish, a movie-cum-musical, is bound to be a resounding success this season on Broadway.  Add in the video technology to complement the sets and smart directing choices  by Susan Stroman and an upbeat, tightly constructed score and you've got a smash hit.  The out-of-town tryout in Chicago clearly served the show well.  Mere days after its first preview, the show is hitting all the marks and running cleanly and crisply - a feat not often achieved by a show this big and technologically packed.

Big Fish is already a big hit and it's only going to get bigger!  Run.  Don't walk -  to get your ticket to see this delightfully entertaining new show on Broadway at the Neal Simon Theatre now!

Sunday, September 22, 2013


This is the first of many more evenings to come.  Musical composer and performer extraordinaire - Bobby Cronin who is cute as a button - is hosting a bi-monthly (that's every two months folks) benefit concert with a handful of his fabulously diverse peers dubbed "Inspired".

Musical theatre composers and lyricists and the like get together for the evening and perform tunes that inspired them - and share one of their own creations too.

If all of that weren't good enough - it's a benefit concert - likely revolving around animals and animal rescue.

You may or may not have heard the names but you're sure to recognize their fine works.  It's not too often you get to hear the composers show you how they intended it to be heard and  the evening is sure to delight and amaze.

Check out Inspired at the Triad on W 72nd Street!  This inaugural evening featured such great talent as:

Brad Alexander
David Are
Carner & Gregor
Drew Fornarola
Michael Holland
Rob Rokicki
Georgia Stitt
Katie Thompson
Michael Patrick Walker