Photo by Don Kellogg

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Forbidden Broadway - Comes Out Swinging!

Gerard Alessandrini is at it once again.  His smash hit show, Forbidden Broadway, (subtitle on the Playkill Comes Out Swinging!) is back in the saddle at the comfortable and newly minted Davenport Theatre on West 45th Street.

In classic form, the show playfully skewers the most recent crop of shows on Broadway (and even TV too).  From Book of Mormon to Woody Allen for Bullets Over Broadway to Annie to Patina Miller in Pippin to Kelly O'Hara and Stephen Pasquale in The Bridges of Madison County and Rocky and even into TV - spoofing NBC's Carrie Underwood in The Sound Of Music -  the entertaining evening is innocent and fun-loving for all concerned.  Of course a show wouldn't be complete without a riff on the indomitable Liza - what a perfect opportunity than to throw in an Alan Cumming and Michelle Williams Cabaret spoof dragging in, of course, the grande Damme herself from the movie.

In the past 30 years there have been way too many talented actors to mention here.  This time around the incredible foursome, Carter Calvert, Scott Richard Foster, Mia Gentle, and Marcus Stevens brought smiles to everyone's faces.   Mr. Stevens was a stand-out with his characters including Harvey Fierstein and a near pitch-perfect Mandy Patinkin.

This is an example of a show you can actually revisit periodically as the shows always change but the fun-poking never does.

And if you happen to know someone -who knows someone- who knows Mandy Patinkin, please whisper in his ear that he needs to go see Mr. Stevens' loving performance.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Substance of Fire

Jon Robin Baitz' story is re-told at Second Stage this spring.  I didn't know at the time but it was previously a movie in 1996 with a great cast (Sarah Jessica Parker, Ron Rifkin, Timothy HuttonTony Goldwyn, Dick Latessa and Eric Bogosian) and an original play before that in 1991 at Playwrights Horizons - staring both Rifkin and Parker among originals too.

Knowing this now, I have to imagine it was a fairly decent original run for award winning director Daniel Sullivan.  This production, however, left me a bit dazed and confused.  Act I in which the guns are drawn and tensions mount is tight, crisp, and in this production, well acted and packed a punch.  I was hooked.

However, perhaps the downfall of the original production (I don't know) was also the meandering and lackluster, and frankly bizarre act II.  It certainly was here.  Act II introduces a new character and quite honestly a diversion and story line that came out of left field.   So different was act II from act I that I felt it was an entirely different play.  Two of the characters (siblings) from act I simply disappeared and we are only tacitly filled in on the remaining sibling's status.  The 3 siblings - Halley Feiffer (Sarah), Daniel Eric Gold (Martin), Carter Hudson (Aaron) all deserve kudos as does their father Isaac - John Noble.

In the end - it was tremendous disappointment and after such a great act I, it was that much more deflating.  The cast was magnificent and I enjoyed them all.  However, I did think that Charlayne Woodard (Marge Hackett) overplayed the part (or at least she may have been directed to).

A tough topic - Holocaust survivor coming to grips with the demise of his company as his family struggles to keep things going.  I'm still not sure if in the end he was crazy or not.

I presume Mr. Baitz leaves that up to us to judge.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Velocity of Autumn

The weather outside may be delightful, but folks, Autumn has no velocity.  It's a magnificent story with a perfectly cast leading lady that should be told in 35 minutes - tops.  The Velocity of Autumn tries hard but in essence is a one-trick-pony that belabors its point over and over.

Estelle Persons (Alexandra) is superb in her portrayal of an old and, some would say, crazy women who has barricaded herself in her apartment with a not so insignificant stock of Molotov cocktails (albeit film developing fluid for a darkroom filling the bottles instead).  She doesn't want to leave.  She wants to live out the rest of her (declining) life in the apartment - alone.  Her estranged son, Chris (Stephen Spinella) is called in by his siblings to talk some sense into his mother.  Zingers explode left and right.  Topics are covered, bombs are dropped between mother and son until the clock runs out at 90 minutes.  The trouble here is that this seems to me to be a 35 minute off-Broadway skit that was dragged out to 90 minutes as a Broadway ticket price would never tolerate less time in the seats at these prices.

Over and over the same topic is re-hashed.  "You get me", she says.  "I left because I didn't fit in", he says.  Antidotes are traded about life, growing old, weak bones, not fitting in, and so the laments go on and on... over and over.  The other two siblings (seemingly more intense, logical, and less witty) who are apparently pressuring their mother to leave only appear as a voice on the other side of the phone to Chris who has been sent in to defuse the situation.

After 90 minutes - I'll leave it up to you, but my guess is that this play likely at its best when it's limited to a punchy 35 minute short.  The impact would likely be greater - and the prices certainly more affordable off-Broadway.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Act One

Let me state right off the bat - I'm no theatrical historian.  I know very little about Mr. Moss Hart except what I've seen of some of his work.  (For more info on Mr. Hart, start here).  For knowing very little, my experience in the theatre this fine weekend afternoon was one of storytelling at its finest.  Two superb actors and a company of over 20 graced the thrust and rotating stage at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre to regale the audience with a heartwarming and thoroughly entertaining story.

Mr Hart's autobiography by the same name, Act One, is apparently very closely followed in the stage version which was written and directed by James Lapine.  If I had anything at all negative to say (and others have too) is that at almost 3 hours, it's a tad bit too long. For a story partially about Mr. Hart co-developing his first play, Once in a Lifetime, a play that ultimately toys with nixing a 3rd act, ironically this one runs practically as long as a 3 act play.  In my background reading both in the playbill itself and on-line - it seems that Mr. Hart himself may not have been entirely pleased with this fact too.  But I digress...

Tony Shalhoub and Santino Fontana both play Moss Hart - Santino, the younger; Tony, the older.  Both break the 4th wall regularly to narrate and explain the story or set the scene further.  The technique of storytelling from Mr. Hart's youth to the ultimate production of his first play makes for quite a lot of ground to cover. Mr. Shalhoub and Mr. Fontana work tirelessly - some of it literally on Mr. Shalhoub's part just to change characters as he also plays Mr. Hart's insufferable father and playwright George S. Kaufman too.  Andrea Martin does triple duty as Moss' Aunt Kate who first inspired him to pursue the theatre, Freida Fishbein a theatre professional, and Beatrice Kaufman, wife of George.  It's a treat that she was not wasted and we got to enjoy her comedic genius from start to finish.  The entire ensemble, including his family, his chums, theatre producers, actors, maids, audience members, and others turns in thoroughly synchronized and spot-on supporting ensemble roles.

The set was fantastically impressive - literally a carousel built on the Viv's turntable, constantly rotating to change scenes as the actors briskly navigated the pathways and staircases.

Messers Shalhoub and Fontana are the heart and soul (pardon the pun) of this entertaining show.  It's a tale of rags to riches told in the most tender and endearing way without being cliche or overbearing.  I sure hope they, if not Ms. Martin too, are recognized at the Tony Nominations this year.

It would be a coup for a show about a man who wrote and directed award winning shows to win an award itself.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tales From Red Vienna

Lynne Meadow and Barry Grove have once again produced a small-theatre ensemble gem at the Stage I at City Center of the Manhattan Theatre Club.

Assembled for this fine work are the "it" girl, Nina Arianda (Helena Altman),  the indomitable Grande Damme Kathleen Chalfant (Edda Schmidt), handsome and charming Michael Esper (Bela Hoyos) and perhaps the boldest character of them all, Tina Benko (Mutzi von Fessendorf).  Finally, making his delightful off-Broadway debut was the extremely affable Michael Goldsmith (Rudy Zuckermaier).  Truly a fine ensemble where the talent of one contrast the talents and characters of the others.

The play only really suffers from its facility.  Two intermissions are necessary in order to make the scene changes - but they are not entirely necessary and prolong the play.  The sets themselves are magnificent given the stage available - rain included!  The leading ladies all charmed the pants off the audience - and Mr. Esper, while a bit uneven in his accent (not sure what exactly he was going for but there were many), was entirely delightful in his persistence for Helena.

David Grimm's plot tries to bring up quite a few issues of historical significance, but I'm afraid
some may be lost on less than the avid history or theater buff.  World War I was quite a long time ago.  All said, the superb cast digs their teeth into a meaty subject and with three acts, proves that more than one gun can be pulled in act I when there are two more to follow.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


After the initial smile the news of Cabaret's revival brought to my face, it soon turned slightly sour.  Don't get me wrong, I love the show.  What brought a little disdain to the whole affair was to learn that this is not a fresh revival -  it is actually just a resurrection.  It's literally a repeat engagement of the exact same production that graced the stage at Studio 54 over 10 years ago.   It's possible they took the liberty of changing a few things, but certainly nothing major.  It's a re-run - and one that you have to pay for all over again.

What further depressed me is that Roundabout artistic director, Todd Haimes, boldly proclaims this re-run fact right in the Playbill.  This run is a limited engagement for a subscription-based not-for-profit theatre company.  So what provocative theatre are they actually producing? Mr. Haimes, don't you think most of your subscriber base has seen the show already?  You mention in your introduction in the playbill that "a new generation will have the chance to see this incredible piece live on Broadway".  

Well Mr. Haimes, this grand, dark albeit very enjoyable "revival" will mostly be seen by the same subscriber who already saw it before and had first dibs this time around at the tickets before the "new generation" even had the chance to buy in.  It's also a cheap trick.  You aren't investing in a new production or provocative, fresh, adventurous theatre.  No, you simply hire the same choreographer (Rob Marshall) and the same director (Sam Mendez) and even the same leading man (Alan Cumming)!  You are not fooling this subscriber one bit.

If you really wanted people to see this show then you should have gathered up investors (I'm sure there would have been many willing ones) and brought this production of a revival direct to Broadway in a commercial run where everyone who wanted to see it could have.  What we have here is a lazy excuse for a slot in the season - reviving a very successful show on the backs of your paying subscribers who expect more than re-runs in their season.

All my complaints aside, the show itself is a remarkable and potent theatrical journey back in time.  It's message, penned by the duo of John Kander and the late Fred Ebb is as sharp and pointed as it was in 1966 when it first debuted.

Alan Cumming (Emcee) is as dark and playful as anyone ever was in the role.  The Kit Kat Klub boys and girls are a sexy and bawdy ensemble.   I saw Michelle Williams' (Sally Bowles) understudy the night I saw it so I cannot opine on Ms Williams' abilities.  Aside from the dark Mr. Cummings, who never fails to entertain, I found Herr Schultz (Danny Burstein) and Fraulein Schneider (Linda Eamon) to be the show's stand-outs both vocally and dramatically.   Bll Heck (Clifford Bradshaw) turned in an admirable yet run-of-the-mill performance.  The Orchestra, or the Kat Kat Band as it is known (all fit and buff themselves onstage and in-your-face), was an outstanding component of the show.

So I'm annoyed as a subscriber to Roundabout, yet pleased, once again, with a fine production and an evening spent enjoying an important and provocative work in the theatre.  There's even doubt the show will be Tony worthy again as it actually won a Tony the first time around and simply took a 10 year break before resurfacing virtually unchanged.  I guess in the end though, Life is Beautiful... Everything is Beautiful.... Life is a Cabaret.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Casa Valentina

When I was recovering from a recent surgery, I suggested to my friends that I would soon be ready to 'get back out there and see some provocative and exciting theatre'.  Little did I know that my very first play out of the gate would be Harvey Firestein's new play, Casa Valentina.   Wow.

It's expected that when you go to the theatre that you are entertained.  When you come away from a performance feeling you have learned something about history and life itself - in addition to some superb entertainment - that's exciting!  As for the provocative part - well just take a listen to the actors
themselves describe a play that depicts a group of 1960's men who escape into the Catskills to are part of a secret sorority who dress up as women:

Casa Valentina Video

Provocative - you bet.  Interesting and educational - absolutely (who knew?).  Storytelling - at its best.  Directed by Joe Mantello, written by Harvey Firestein, and produced by Lynne Meadow and Barry Grove at the Manhattan Theatre Club - this one is going to sizzle.  Don't wait for this tale told by a top-notch cast of characters to open on April 23rd.  Run over to the Samuel J Friedman (Biltmore) Theatre and catch a story told like none other today.