Photo by Don Kellogg

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


What's going on over at the Lyceum is nothing short of theatrical excellence.  New, fresh, culturally relevant theatre is what Disgraced, a new Pulitzer prize winning drama by Ayad Akhtar, is all about.

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

Indian Ink

The indomitable and erudite Tom Stoppard is making a big splash both on and off Broadway this season.  The first installment of him is being presented at the Laura Pels Theater by Roundabout in his magical and mysterious 1995 work, Indian Ink.

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.  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

On The Town

It may be just what Broadway needs right now - a lavish, classic, good-'ol song and dance show on the great white way.  Betty Comden and Adolph Green's classic with music by the incomparable Leonard Bernstein has been made fresh again for a new generation of theater-goers.  And by all accounts, this revisal will delight audiences far and wide.  An orchestra of epic proportions plucks, strums, and toots with wild abandon to the gorgeous and lush musical score by Leonard Bernstein while the actors sing and dance - (do they ever) - to the highest of heights.

The über dreamy Tony Yazbeck helms the cast of over 40 characters as Gabey along with the deliciously sexy Jay Armstrong Johnson (Chip) and Clyde Alves (Ozzie) - 3 sailors let loose on New York City in 1944 on a 24 hour leave with the hopes of each finding a dame.  It's fun, fresh, wholesome, and naughty all at the same time.  The hilarious Jackie Hoffman takes on the role of Maude Dilly (and a little old lady, and several nightclub stars) with brilliant comedic genius.  I am pretty sure much of the revisal work was done in her sketch comedy-like scenes to wild success.  Megan Fairchild (Ivy, Miss Turnstiles), Alysha Umphress (Hildy, the taxi driver), and Elizabeth Stanley (Claire DeLoone) each portray one of the dames - each different, each perfectly cast.  This was Ms. Fairchild's Broadway debut as she is normally a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet.  Ms Umphress is a Broadway veteran but this just may be her break-out role as she knocks Hildy out of the park.

Brilliant scenic design (Beowulf Borritt) and lit (Jason Lyons)  - it is a near perfect picture of the boys in brilliant white sailor suits surrounded by a pastiche of technicolor city dwellers.  Projections are getting near indeterminable from actual scenery and the result is simply marvelous.   This show is significantly stilted toward a ballet and none better than Mr. Yazbeck and Ms Fairchild to execute each jump and lift with effortless aplomb.  I'm pretty sure Jerome Robbins (original idea and choreography) would be pleased with the outcome over 70 years later.  Most likely Comden and Green would also be pleased with Robert Cary's and Jonathan Tolins' book freshening updates.

The theater itself previously housed quite possibly the most different type of show (Spiderman) prior to this - so much so that one could speculate it required a name change back to its original - The Lyric.

Classic material in an old fashioned Broadway house with deliciously fresh talent - it certainly makes for one helluva show!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

A dazzling, innovate, and entirely engrossing production by Simon Stephens is making a splash on Broadway this fall while still running their award-winning production in London's West End.  It's that good.  It couldn't wait.

Alex Sharp (Christopher Boone), a 2014 graduate of Julliard, (that's about as fresh-meat as you can get!) helms the production with pure genius and what appeared to me to be a virtually flawless and powerful performance. That's quite an achievement given he's playing a 15 year old boy with the challenge of Asperger's Syndrome on the journey well beyond his wildest dreams.  In the approximate 2h:30m production he is never off the stage - holding court on his journey just about the entire time.  His way.

What's on stage, you ask?  Well, it's empty, black, and filled with all sorts of lighting and small props that get pulled out of tiny hidden compartments all over the floor and the walls.  The walls are mostly covered with a grid-like design of lights, providing what I thought was a map - like the fabric of Christopher's brain and his thought process.  Plenty of projections augmented an already complicated design and with a few moving parts, a few mind-blowing effects such as a full-stage sized escalator leaped to life. There was perhaps more choreography than in some musicals.  Ne'er a song was uttered in this fast-paced drama, however.   Lighter moments of comedy - plenty, but the focus was firmly on Christopher's journey, the inner voice in his head, his play (which is what he wrote and what we are hearing), and that of his family.  Pure Genius.

The multitude of other characters were played with equal aplomb by Francesca Fardany, Ian Barford, Enid Graham, Helen Carey, Mercedes Herredo, Richard Hollis, Ben Horner, Jocelyn Bioh, and David Manis.  

I was clearly not only the only one impressed. The true New York audience (it was only the second preview and that's when we go to catch the good ones early) leaped to their feet in unison before the cast even stepped out for their bows.  It was that good. I was that impressed.  Really impressed.  Dare I say at this early juncture, I'd gamble that Mr. Sharp will be a shoe-in for Tony nominee at his tender age.  It really was that good.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Country House

A new play just arrived on Broadway courtesy of Manhattan Theatre Club and award winning playwright Donald Margulies. It's a dash of classic play, a dash of naughty, and a dash of funny.  Add it all up and you have a fairly solid run at a family drama.

It didn't bowl me over.  Those dashes I mentioned, well, a few could have been tablespoons or half-cups.  It wasn't bad, it just wasn't compelling.   Perhaps it will grow tighter with time as I saw an early preview, but my gut tells me there just isn't enough to draw the audience much past the front door of the fantastic country house (Sets: John Lee Beatty) we see on stage.

Blythe Danner (Anna Patterson) is the matriarch of the family in question here.  The family is mostly actors.  Her daughter is dead and it's a year afterward and she's getting the clan together at the country house in Williamstown (they are actors, remember) for the the anniversary of her death including her son (Elliott Cooper) Eric Lange, her son-in-law (Walter Keegan) David Rasche and his new girlfriend (Neil McNally) Kate Jennings Grant, her granddaughter (Suzie Keegan) Sarah Steele, a hunky young Hollywood actor (Michael Astor) Daniel Sunjata.

There are a few twists and turns in the plot, an inside running joke about the theatre and actors, and of course a little naughty intrigue all surrounding that gorgeous and successful Hollywood actor.  Well cast, but it was a studio sized result when I was expecting a classic 6 or more given the level of talent on the stage.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

This Is Our Youth

I get it.  Cutting-edge theatre, young hot actors, minor (or not-so-minor) indiscretions, drugs and, of course, sex.  What more could you ask for in a smart-off Broadway production in a dumpy (read avant-garde) theater?  Not much I suppose.  But the problem here is that it's not off-Broadway (although the Cort Theater is a dump).

What we have here is Broadway prices to see some young hot actors tell a rather pedestrian story in 2 ½ hours in what could possible have been a 65 minute no-intermission short-play with a lot more impact.  More impact, that is, except in the producers' pocketbooks.  Who would pay $100+ a seat for that?  Nobody is my guess.  So it has to run on Broadway and the requisite unearned hype is made and we all buy tickets.

Don't get me wrong, the un-mic'd actors on the not-as-messy-as-it-should-have-been set are basically yelling at each other most of the play about their youthful irresponsibilitys, messed up lives, and those of their friends.  Kenneth Lonergan wrote this play in the '90's and it has had a few off-Broadway and regional runs with marginal success prior to this. In this incarnation, Michael Cera (Warren Straub), Kieren Culkin (Dennis Ziegler), and newcomer Tavi Gevinson (Jessica Goldman) grace the stage.

The problem wasn't the acting.  That was solid.  No complaints.  The story, on the other hand, was way too long, too repetitive, and contained a message in the last 5 minutes of the 2 ½ hours that could have been arrived at minute 55 of 65 without an intermission.  This material is perfectly suited to a short-play.  I'm not complaining about the material - drugs, sex, messed-up kids with first-world-problems.   I just wish the writing was more focused, brief, more impactful, and went somewhere.  Anywhere.  Mr. Lonegran's expansion of this material into a full-fledged 2-act stage play is a mistake.

For this we pay $100 and get very little in return from the fine performances on the stage.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

It's Only a Play

In full disclosure, I'm looking to recover my investment in this play.  I don't see why I can't sing the praises of this double-over-with-laughter, pee-in-my-pants production at the same time!

The best comedic actors around grace the stage in Terrance McNally's two-act romp over at the Schoenfeld Theater on West 45th.  Nathan Lane (James Wicker), Matthew Broderick (Peter Austin), Megan Mullally (Julia Budder), Stockard Channing (Virginia Noyes), F. Murray Abraham (Ira Drew), Rupert Grint (Frank Finger), and adorable and very lucky newcomer, Micah Stock (Gus P. Head), all grace the stage and hold court with uproarious results.

In my opinion this is a very strong argument for a Tony category for Best Ensemble Cast.  Hands down, they complement each other and each fuels the others in pursuit of the punchline.  That said, Mr. Lane is clearly the leader of the pack with his hysterical mugs, unexpected outbursts, one-liners, and generally effervescent stage presence.

Mr. McNally wrote this play in the late 70's and revised it in the 80's and has again undertaken a massive update to make the show culturally relevant to an audience today.  As it is opening night of a Broadway play (the play within the play), there are quite a few pop-culture entertainment oriented references (and jokes) to be had.

This is a limited engagement and I encourage you to RUN to the box office and get your tickets today. Despite the outcome of the reviews of the play-within-the play, you won't be disappointed in the least and may end up with a pain in your side --- from all the laughter.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Booty Candy

Fresh, provocative new American theater relevant to to the fabric of our society.  That's just what you'll get with Robert O'Hara's new work on the Main Stage at Playwrights Horizons.

Booty Candy is really a series of skits interwoven into a single production.   In what might be a departure from the norm, the playwright quite literally forces the audience to examine their views of the play about mid-way - - overtly asking the questions about what it means and where it's going.  One guest on stage during this "Conference" scene suggests, as the audience likely already feels, that we should "choke" on the material.  What he means is that it is should be uncomfortable, unrepentant, and provocative.  I think it's fairly true.

I have mixed feelings leaving the play.  It did make me think, it entertained, and I did "choke" on the material at times.  However, at the same time, it felt somewhat disjointed, unusually instructive, purposefully "in-your-face",  and perhaps overly gratuitous at times.

Featuring Phillip James Brannon, Jessica Frances Dukes, Jesse Pennington, Benja Kay Thomas, and Lance Coadie Williams - all playing multiple characters except for Mr. Brannon who played the single unifying character of Sutter.  He's the one growing up black and gay and surrounded directly or indirectly by all these other characters in all 10 or so scenes.

It's fair to say the scenes had a common theme but ran the gamut from an un-wedding ceremony on a beach to a family around a black family's dinner table, to a phone conversation between four characters, cleverly staged and costumed by two actors.

Check it out for yourself.  Most plays at Playwrights Horizons are worth the off-Broadway ticket price and this first play of their 2014-2015 season is no exception.