With a blockbuster holiday movie on the horizon in just a few days, I am once again bewildered by Roundabout Theater Company's decisions to put plays on the stage. But despite the much hyped anticipation of the movie, I hope this parallel stage show is going to get its due praise. The Fiasco Theater Production of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's epic musical as interpreted by this artful company is triumphant, theatrical, and simply entertainment at its best.
Fairy tales woven into discordant, staccato music, intelligent and witty lyrics, and artful staging simply dazzles in this two part musical theater lesson on life. Subscribers and non-subscribers alike should head over to West 46th Street to the Laura Pels Theater to catch a performance by this supremely talented cast. Ben Seinfeld and Jessie Austrian (Baker and His Wife) anchor the story of their quest for items to be given to Jennifer Mudge (The Witch) in exchange for a child. They encounter a potpourri of fairy tale characters including Little Red Riding Hood (Emily Young), Cinderella (Clarire Karpen), and Jack -think bean-stalk- (Patrick Mulryan).
The cast mostly does double and triple duty with characters all the while a few of them play instruments on stage and create sound-effects too!
The show is really a two part tale - is every so slightly long - and wraps up one story in Act I and tells a very different tale in Act II. Overall - The show is clearly a deeply rich Sondheim work that has a lot to say - both musically and dramatically.
I wonder if anyone will mistake the stage musical for the movie. If they did, I guarantee they would walk out happily ever-after!
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Creator Alex Webb takes us on a tour of the talents and musicians who pass through the doors of this magical club at #1 Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village in the early 20th century when it wasn't fashionable for blacks and whites to mix, wasn't fashionable to be a liberal (read "red") but it was a time of incredible music and musicians to make their debuts and first grace the world's stage.
All that said, there are some adjustments I think need to be made here. The musicians and vocalists are magnificent - embodying every character they are there to showcase - such as Billie Holiday, Sara Vaughn and many more. Unfortunately, the show takes the form of a narrator walking you through the history (as a few different characters). The script is thin and the actor who portrays this narrator is even thinner. It certainly detracted from the speed, the energy, and potency of the show. Re-cast with a much more dynamic individual and punched up execution, I think this show as the potential to WOW audiences from beginning to end.
If you like Jazz and want to hear a little-known true story about an incredible club at an historic time in NYC - don't let the narrator issues sway your decision. Most certainly you'll enjoy the musical performances and learn a tad bit too!
Musicians Alex Webb (Piano/Creator), Mimi Jones (Bass), Shirazette Tinnin (Drums), Allan Harris (Guitar), Camille Thurman (Tenor Sax), Bill Todd (Alto Sax/Clarinet) Benny Benack III (Trumpet), and Brent White (Trombone) - will all knock your socks off.
Vocalists Cyrille Aimee, Allan Harris, and Charenee Wade will transport you back in time with their silky smooth voices.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Although a bit brief for the Broadway stage, the theatricality of the interactions and such well rehearsed and brilliantly executed vignettes captivate your imagination and keep the gears of your mind churning from the very first to the very last minute.
On a good day, theater is supposed to make you think and challenge your beliefs. This play by the brilliant Nick Payne, first presented in London in 2012, succeeds wildly on both fronts - and you may just leave the theater believing that there is still some wonder left out there in the universe. Blinking lights and white balloons included in the price of admission!
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Unfortunately, this is not one of Mr. Hunter's best thought out plays. Yes, the idea is laudable - a man is lost in his very own hometown and searching for himself, his place, and his sense of family in an ever evolving landscape of unemployment, strip malls, fast food, and ATMs. I get it. I actually like the idea. Mr. Hunter has appropriately captured the anger, character, and lost dreams of middle America in his dialogue. For this I applaud him.
However, Mr. Hunter seems to have peppered the cast with characters that are all too interesting to not have developed. Cameron Scoggins (Max) and Elvy Yost (Isabelle) both brilliantly acted, but their characters failed to advance the story. Jonathan Hogan (Cole) is an older actor who just hit it out of the park with his onset of Alzheimer's affliction, but was this just for sympathy? Leah Karpel nailed her performance of the angry young vegetarian-i hate my parents-nobody gets me routine, but do we really need one of these in every play? Danny Wolohan (Troy) and his unhappy wife, Jennifer Dickey (Tammy) had the requisite bad marriage involving alcoholism, depression and the aforementioned angry daughter. Cliche? And what specifically was so emotionally visceral about that cheese-wiz casserole that Brett Hutchison (Nick) almost threw up on stage? It just seemed to me that Mr. Hunter poured all the Lifetime movie characteristics into this play about middle America - the flyover states- middle of nowhere America. All these characters distracted from the main character and his sense of loneliness and isolation from family.
The deepest sadness of the plot was therefore under-represented - -why exactly was Eddie so hell bent on keeping these mis-fit toys together? We are not sufficiently introduced to his motivations, only his vague actions. This becomes frustrating as you are constantly trying to figure out "why". It is only at the very end that you learn a very tragic and sad fact about his mother, her motivations, and feelings about her gay son (yes, he threw this in for effect too).
You end up leaving the theatre with a deep sadness about family failings. Perhaps Mr. Hunter succeeded in making us sad, but how or why we got there is at times a mystery - much like the pasta of the week on the menu.
Monday, November 24, 2014
This time around he has infused cultural anger and religion in a new way - a kidnapping of an American banker in Pakistan who has to literally trade his way out of captivity. Potent, riveting, intelligent, and well explained, (I felt like i needed to short a stock after I left the theatre!) the show succinctly laid out our different religious and societal beliefs between the west and east and proved through plot twists and revelations throughout the show how money and power corrupts and just how absolutely it does so.
|Photo from Seattle Production|
Justin Kirk (Nick Bright) must have taken a crash course in the stock market and its various economic theories in order to master this role - and master it he did. He was quite literally like the play's namesake - an Invisible Hand - guiding us through the technicalities of the market. Part sheepish boy, part super-intelligent banker, his character seemed at ease with this tough role. Dariush Kashani (Imam Salem) walked a tough line between religion, beliefs, and corruption with his tragic character. Usman Ally (Bashir) portrayed his character with zeal, zest, and power. Young, eager, and possibly the most corrupt and most compassionate at the same time. His word, in the end, was his most honest trait.
The brutal honesty of this play told through the lens of a kidnapping and the captors lends new credence to the idea that we really don't know the power of our respective cultures and when they meet the consequences can be explosive.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
Last night's opening, however, of On a Stool at the end of The Bar left me feeling a bit empty and somewhat puzzled. Mr. Callely wants to convince us of something that simply seems preposterous (not only to the characters in the play). When the entire premise of the play is suspect, it's hard to really enjoy the general goings-on. Despite some fairly decent performances, there's not much to salvage from this show.
However, to be applauded are the three young actors who grace the stage - Luke Slattery (Joey), Zachary Brod (Mario), and Sara Kapner (Angie). Anyone who writes material for such young, eager, and energetic talent is to be applauded. All three turned in fine performances, with Mr. Slattery and his good college-boy looks taking the pole position. Robert Hogan (Father Connors) made a fairly impactful cameo appearance in his scene playing and old and old fashioned priest with limited experience in dealing with the issues presented to him. Possibly the most well written part of Mr. Callely's play. Timothy John Smith, a Boston native recently transplanted to NYC, has a bright future in front of him here whether in musicals (his bio suggests he has much experience in this area) or dramatic plays - which is what he demonstrates quite nicely in this awkwardly written conflict of this play.
That just leaves Antoinette Thornes, quite a quixotic choice for the leading lady. She turned in as best a performance she could for the very awkward and poorly written part for her. She never fought. She never stood up for herself. She found herself in quite a pickle and with such a past I would have expected an entirely different, potent, angry, repressed, and strong character. And since this is the central nerve of the entire play... well, I think u see the problem now. None of this is Ms. Thornes' fault, of course. She herself is a rock-band singer/songwriter - and this likely may have been her debut on stage. To that end, she is triumphant and I applaud her risk taking. Her character, on the other hand, was likely the most disappointingly written character I have ever encountered.
In the end, direction by Michael Parva was lackluster and lacked any sizzle given the explosive nature of the subject matter. Actors were angry but that anger was flat and muted. In such a small theater, sometimes miracles are possible and the show transports you in an intimate setting to an entirely other place. Unfortunately none of that happened this evening. We were left in the end with uncertainty, anger, unresolved conflict, and although I believe we are supposed to see a glimmer of hopefulness in the very last line of the script, it was not nearly enough to clear the black cloud of gloom that hung over the entire evening.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
So how on earth can this be good? Sounds like you slap it together and throw it out there. Sounds like a reading you're paying Broadway prices to watch - or rather - merely listen to. So is it worth it?
The answer to this question is a resounding YES provided the actors are ones you want to see - or rather hear. I suspect the secret to a production of this sort is to cast actors who generally embody the phrase "I could listen to them read the phone book".
The show itself is simply a recitation of various letters and thoughts exchanged between two friends over 40+ years who never quite caught up with each other as their lives slipped away in two vastly different directions all the while clinging to each other's letters for that single thread that bound together over time.
Of all the announced couple pairs there were a few individuals in each pair I wanted to see perform but the only pair I wanted to see BOTH was the current cast of Candice Bergen (Melissa) and Alan Alda (Andrew Makepeace Ladd III). Yes, I could listen to them read the phone book and what a joy it was to see them read the love letters over time to each other - according to the stage directions - never looking at each other. Direction in this case, by Gregory Mosher, is focused on vocal queues, pauses, pace, and rhythm.
This isn't much of a play. It's a sort-of-a-play. More like a long bedtime story read to you by two hopefully brilliant actors with irresistible voices. You'll either fall asleep happy in the theater (hopefully not) or leave the theater with a smile on your face after hearing such cherished actors tell you a story.
Thursday, November 6, 2014
While the plot is madcap (frankly, crazy), the mayhem level and star level on stage is quite substantial. The only problem is that it's frankly too stupid with a rather banal message of simply "be happy". There is a love story going on amongst all the hubbub and but the Carol Burnette and Saturday Night-like sketch and physical comedy simply overpowers the message and muscles its way through all 3 acts with laughter often the result but never much satisfaction past that.
The cast is huge and stars abound - James Earl Jones (Martin Vanderhof) could read the phone book and we'd all be happy and the role of the patriarch fit him age wise, but not quite stylistically. Kristine Nielsen (Penelope Sycamore) simply knocked it out of the park with her physical comedy and infectious personality. Annaleigh Ashford (Essie) was a bit too over the top for me as the incessant ballet dancing ditsy daughter, Mark-Linn Baker (Paul Sycamore) seemed lost in the overall mix for his talent level, Elizabeth Ashley (Olga) came in at the very end and it seemed her voice was straining to make sound. Plus by the time she entered, the endless cast of characters parading on stage simply got me tired. There were no less than 10 other cast members who all looked good and seemed to complement the ensemble but after a while too many characters are introduced. I applaud a producer who undertakes such an ambitious production and employs such a large cast, but this old firecracker is a dud. I could go on... as did the play for over 2 hours and 30 minutes over three acts... but I won't.
In traditional Roundabout style, the set was magnificent (kudos David Rockwell). I do not think the actors were mic'd and it was pleasing to hear real people speaking in non-electonicized tones on stage for a play.
You could skip this production, save a few bucks, and leave the audience-going to the Roundabout subscribers who paid good money into their subscription only to find out they were subsidizing a commercial run of a Broadway production.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
Scraps of paper floating in the wind, discarded in the gutter, and left for dead. Well, so we thought. Mr. Bell and Overtree have constructed a musical entirely from real scraps of paper with musings, jottings, notes, and thoughts. Literally thousands and thousands. A virtual potpourri of material and endless shots entertaining and audience. Indeed this is true. What struck me most during this entire magnificent production was the sheer enormity of choices the writers had. They built a basic love story for Generation X, Y, Z, millennials, or whatever we are calling the kids today and peppered it - strike that - iced it from tip to toe - with these little tid-bits. Entire songs were written around some of the longer more meaningful scribbles - and virtually every 10 seconds or so another one was projected both aurally and visually to the audience.
So that's what struck me most often - but dare I say - what struck me most deeply was the sheer modernity of the idea behind the musical itself. It struck a chord of reality in our throw-away society. In an age of digital our notes and musings often get relegated to post-its and scraps of paper. Nobody writes longhand and at length anymore.
The always adorably handsome Nick Blaemire (Davy) essentially helms the fun production and both he and his co-stars (a plethora of unique talent unto themselves) turn frowns from a busy day at the office into double-decker smiles by the time the evening is complete.
Featuring a a rocking on-stage band and racially and ethnically and culturally diverse Christina Anthony (Christina), the handsome and virtually dripping-with-sex Andrew Call, TV's funny man Danny Pudi (Danny), Betsy Morgan (Kate), and Cabaret diva Molly Pope (Molly), and Orville Mendiza (Orville), I found myself leaving the theater thinking that I have never seen a show where the actors had so much fun entertaining me!
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Shelly (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) is a soup kitchen manager struggling with God and religion. Emma (Ismenia Mendes) strolls into her life and turns it upside down - or perhaps you'll think right side up by the end). Ms. Bernstine is magnificent in her struggles and in her overall performance. Bobby Moreno, Oscar, a relatively young, talented, and often type-cast janitor, turns in yet another solid and loving performance. Lee Wilkof (Frog) brightens up the room with his infectious attitude, despite his deep troubles.
Performed without an intermission this 1h:40m production never ceases to entertain and keep your attention. The characters are provocative, interesting, and quite real. The title comes from that famous road up in the Bronx where a soup kitchen of no specific identify exists. The characters aren't made up and in fancy costumes. The set is a simple, slightly run-down kitchen and the action occurs in several vignettes always coming back to Shelley praying or rather trying to pray at the microwave.
This production has teamed up with City Harvest (soup kitchen in play - food rescue organization - a great pairing) to collect and I assume "rescue" some of the food and vegetables used on stage each night. Drama for both the soul and the stomach. Not bad for a Tuesday night at the theatre.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
This one is heady. Make no mistake. Mr. Stoppard is a linguist and writes very, very smart dialogue. In my brief reading before the show I discovered that this particular show may be a bit autobiographical too.
Henry (Ewan McGregor) an erudite playwright (some might call a snob although his wife uses another similar British slang word), as is Mr. Stoppard. This play is quite the intellectual study of love, marriage, commitment, and relationships. He's first married to Charlotte (Cynthia Nixon), but quickly changes gears and falls in love and marries Annie (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Josh Hamilton plays Max, an actor and first husband of Annie. A tangled web indeed.
We get tangled up in Henry's relationship, views on commitment and love and how those may differ from both Charlotte (his first wife) and Annie (his second wife). What is jealousy? Does one person's commitment equate to how the other person sees it? Can we really just love one person in life? These and dozens of other lofty questions are batted around during the play - which by the way features the "play within a play" format at the opening with quite a satisfying effect.
I'm pretty sure Mr. Stoppard didn't originally write in the music to the original script and likely (although I can''t really be sure) it was the creation of the brilliant director, Sam Gold. I understand there may be some additional gimmicks with the music, the cast, and a digital display in the theatre. There's always a gimmick these days.
Smart, heady, intelligent - this play aims high and delivers on it's promises with a remarkably competent and dazzling cast along with the choices of music both during the show and between the scene change breaks.
An interesting trivia note, Ms Nixon was featured in the original production when she was a mere teenager (as the daughter) and now returns triumphantly as her mother. The small world of theatre just got even more so.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
This two hander set in a cabin in the woods outside New York City penned by David Auburn and aptly directed by Daniel Sullivan stars John Hawkes (Hogan) and Tracie Thomas (Veronica) who are at the same time both liars and nice people. One of them may be a bit mentally ill and both of them have made certain mistakes in life they now come to regret - some of those mistakes are actually unearthed by the other. It has its charming moments and is performed (thankfully) without intermission over at Stage I of Manhattan Theatre Club at NY City Center.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
As a matter of fact, it has the triple-whammy of being slightly boring, all over the map in terms of storytelling, and slightly mis-cast. Boring? The story is what it is - two couples on Fire Island at one of the women's dead gay brother's house. Why are they here? What keeps these couples together? Why do we care? Those questions are barely answered although asked repeatedly on stage. All over the map? Yes they talk endlessly about lots of issues - many of which are tangential to the plot, some of which make you wonder why they are telling you this. We never see the gay neighbors to contrast the straight (and out of place) couple at the house. It's 1990 and AIDS is still an unknown but we really only learn why they are afraid to swim in the pool at the end of Act 3! Miscast? Trace Chimo (Chloe) ruled the stage with her overbearing and hysterically funny character. She hit it out of the park. America Ferrera (Sally) underwhelmed significantly. She seemed lost of the stage and generally flat. Austin Lysy (John) seemed too young and although quite handsome, not as cock-sure as the dialogue might suggest. Michael Chernus (Sam) just didn't seem to fit with Sally and left you wondering why they were even together in the first place.
Casting aside - A 3-Act play is unique. This play was way too long for it's own good and it felt like we just wasted time in between for both intermissions and ultimately didn't end up resolving much and left you wondering just what the point was after the 2H:30M is up.
I'm left wondering just what the first incarnation of this play would have been like a while back when Roundabout was going to do it but star Megan Mullally (Chloe, i presume) stormed off the set and quit. For Roundabout that just may have been a blessing in disguise.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Mr. Van Hove chose to divide this stage play version into 2 parts. The first act being 3 scenes in isolated mini-theaters built inside the theater. These mini-theaters allow sight and sounds from each concurrent scene to waft into the other. I believe this was meant to evoke the feeling of memory and remembering the past over and over. Sight-lines through a window into a central room where the actors all collected themselves evoked a similar feeling of a bit of visual snip-it of memories. All a bit off-putting when the action starts, but once you realize this is intended, you settle in for this bumpy ride.
As you can tell, since there are 3 scenes running concurrently, there must be 3 sets of actors playing the roles of Johan ad Marianne. Casting appears to me to be quite intentional too. The actors were the furthest thing from 3 sets of the same people. Super handsome and hunky Alex Hurt and Susannah Flood are the youngest and most eager of the 3 couples in approximately the first 5 years of their marriage. Dallas Roberts and Roslyn Ruff are the middle couple struggling with years of habits and rituals, boredom, and long standing issues in the marriage. Arliss Howard and Tina Benko round out the couples as the oldest and desperate for change. There's an affair, a one-sided discontent and issues buried deep and repressed over the years.
When you exit the theater for a 30 minute intermission and told to all re-enter through the main doors, you can only imagine that they must be transforming the theater into a single stage somehow. Of course they do - and it's a common performance space in the middle with the seats surrounding it - all the walls have been lifted above to reveal this massive space in the entire theater.
Act two is distinctly different with fascinating results. All 3 couples appear on stage but this time they all recite the dialogue and act out the scene in triplicate. Stereophonic dialogue and action. What further throws you off is that the actors all fluidly interchange with each other and speak male to female among the various couples - throwing off your regional thoughts about the couples and making you focus on the dialogue not the physical characters themselves. This part is sequentially later than the first act and the discord escalates into a fight. They are fiercely independent people with modern ideas about marriage and relationships. It's not your parents marriage. Speaking of parents, Mia Katigbak aptly portrays the mother of Marianne and reveals this stark approach to marriage that the older generation took.
The play concludes in the last scene with only the oldest of the 3 couples where the couple is divorced, moved on in life and both re-married, but still attracted to each other in a quite honest and creatively lit bedroom scene. We hear some of that memory-evoking music (still played on a turntable because of course they wold still have one) that the couple would have enjoyed in the 70's which brings us all back to the original time the couple must have met and fell in love.
You will certainly leave the theater with feelings about what you saw. One older woman in the audience asked me during the end of intermission if I was married. I, of course, answered "No" to which she responded "Well do you understand any of this?". I told her "I think I get it". To which she replied "I lived through this. I am hating it and loving it at the same time". Now that's good theater!
Thursday, October 2, 2014
It was a play about a movie. But much of the play was spent telling us the story rather than acting the story. It all added up to a disappointment. Larry Pine (Raymond Chandler) did an admirable job and had some good lines, but once again, he needs to learn his lines.
Drew Gehling (Joe Sistrom) and Sophie Von Haselberg (Helen Hernendez) rounded out the cast, however I found Helen Hernandez to be a rather pointless character (except for one notable scene where she comes up with an idea).
Overall a disappointment. But they certainly deserve credit for trying.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Hari Dhillon (Amir), Gretchen Mol (Emily), Josh Radnor (Isaac), Karen Pittman (Jory), and Danny Ashok (Abe) round out an excellently constructed cast of a wildly culturally and religiously diverse cast.
Needless to say, with such a diverse cast and plot, the boiling point is reached in less than 90 minutes. Part religious lesson, part history lesson, part culture and tolerance lesson, this show sizzles with issues.
You'll walk out of the theater thinking about this one. There's the obvious infraction and the less obvious issues which are simmering under the covers about tolerance, Islamic fundamentalism, the Muslim religion's roots, and "fitting in" and what the price is in America.
Don't miss your chance to meet quite possible the strings ushers in the theater on Broadway and the highest climb to the dumpiest balcony on Broadway to see this stinger of a show.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Although the cast is anchored by the most adored Rosemary Harris (Elinor Swan), this cast is littered with talent of all sorts and cultures - most notably Firdoug Bamji (Nirad Das) and Romola Garai (Flora Crewe). Mr. Stoppard is not known for brevity or simplicity and Mr Bamji, Ms Garai (and the entire cast) does not disappoint over the long haul of this magical tale effortlessly criss-crossing 2 time periods weaving its story.
The magic is both that of the Indian culture during the colonial days (1930's) and that of the mystery of memory and recollection in 1980's England. Mr. Stoppard waves a tale replete with love and intrigue as well as a bit of a history lesson about the British and colonial India.
The full 3 hours is consumed with flashbacks, explanations, exposition, culture and mystery. A challenge both intellectually as well as theatrically, Roundabout and this fine cast adeptly transverses the time periods with effortless aplomb.
While you may not catch all the Indian culture names and references, you will certainly follow the essence of the poem to two lovers and the trail of their memories years later.