Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Linda Lavin (Anna) is the matriarch. Staunch, ignored, marginalized, Jewish, and mildly bitter. Greg Keller (Seth) is an obituary writer - lonely, preppy yet schleppy, nebbish, and gay. Kate Arrington (Abby) is the less than happy, hippie, gentle, and lesbian. Ms. Lavin is the perfect choice to play a Jewish mother lording over her children in a loving yet authoritative and sarcastic sort of way. Mr. Greenberg seems well skilled at constructing the damaged, delicate, off-balance, and less than perfect family. His language is rich and often the choice of words is argued over and debated in the dialogue. It's smart and swift. His ability to effortlessly sail through the story-telling is large. Sometimes it's too large and we get bogged down - such as the latter half of Act II.
It turns out that Anna has indeed had what the title suggests - a brief affair. Her children may or may not have been aware of it but they are grappling with it now. Her son is having the most difficulty coming to grips with the reality of the beans his mother is spilling. The affair is quite a shocker. Well, it's a shocker only after they employ a theatrical device to turn up the lights break the 4th wall and have the two children explain to the audience what their mother just admitted to. I doubt many people would simply recognize the name David Greenglass. The use of this abrupt device - is used to a lesser extent throughout the show - as this is really a memory play, a story told by the two children intermixed with flashback scenes from their life.
Tender, tough, heartbreaking, funny, and warm all at the same time. In the end, the message is summed up by Anna to her son by explaining all she ever wanted was to be remembered.
Monday, December 28, 2015
Sure, the movie was dumb. I can't really say the adapted book for this musical was superior in any way. I was pleasantly surprised that the music by Andrew Lloyd Webber himself was catchy, upbeat, toe-tappin', and appropriate for the raucous riot that occurs onstage 8 shows a week at the Winter Garden Theater. I wasn't surprised by talented kids on stage - I expected it. And my expectations were indeed surpassed. The talented kids were played like a well tuned Fender by none other than the abundantly talented and uber-energetic Alex Brightman (Dewey). He ran that stage from the first minute to the last with what seemed like endless enthusiasm and boundless charisma. The story is essentially him and the school kids.
Of course, this is a musical so we have to have other characters. If you want to sell tickets, these other characters must also have songs. It was a thrill to see Sierra Boggess (Rosalie) on stage, but what a waste she was at the same time. Of course she had to have a song. Of course it ran the show longer than it should have run. Of course this was repeated over the course of a few of the parents and teachers. In a movie we would not have wasted so much time just to balance out the tickets and justify the lead equity contracts. But again, I digress.
Parents and teachers were all fine, unmemorable, and frankly could give anyone their "big break" on Broadway and I hope it does. The show is a big ball of fun and everyone on the stage looks like this is afternoon playtime, not a stressful performance. Mr. Brightman and these kids are the stars and deserve all the credit to the fun of the evening under the swift direction of Laurence Connor. Sloppy and abrupt scene changes and a book like Swiss cheese will all be ignored. Class dismissed.
Thursday, December 10, 2015
Erik Burke (Reed Birney) and Deidre Blake (Jane Houdyshell) are the staunchly middle class parents who raised their kids and go to church. They seem to be finding the dream slipping away day by day. Aimee Blake (Cassie Beck) and Brigid Blake (Sara Steele) are their two daughters who seemingly have done better than their parents' generation - college for both and Aimee being a lawyer in Philadelphia. Brigid is, however, a struggling composer just out of school with a mountain of student loan debt. Brigid is hosting Thanksgiving in her newly obtained apartment in Chinatown - a byproduct of her and her boyfriend Richard Saad (Arian Moayed) deciding to move in together to save money on the way to seeing if they can make it as a couple. Mother Blake is, of course, not happy about this arrangement. You're supposed to get married first. Accompanying them is Erik's Mother (Lauren Klein) who is completely taken by Alzheimer's. She's in a wheelchair and is really much out of it. We learn they really can't afford to put her anywhere for care which makes the disease even more sad for all involved.
As Brigid over-compensates and leads the conversation and tour of her city and neighborhood, we learn more and more about each family member. Aimee has ulcerative colitis and may be losing her job as a lawyer. Mom and Dad have worked for the same places with little wage increases over the past few decades. Brigid is still learning how to "live" with her new boyfriend - what they share, what they say, and what they don't. It's really a slice-of-life type of a play with the family's dirty laundry being exposed here and there. Funny, poignant, and sad. Mr. Birney and Ms. Houdyshell might just be the finest actors on the stage today. Neither one seems to be able to utter an insincere or unintentional word. Ms. Steele is annoying and endearing all at the same time. It's a family, warts and all. It's a dumpy New York City apartment Chinatown, warts and all. It's Thanksgiving, warts and all.
We do learn that Dad has something to tell everyone. I assumed it was the big C. But it's a twist that you will not expect. Like many families who don't really talk to each other and ignore most of the not-so-nice things - the Burke's are no different. The play progresses with light bulbs burning out until we end is total darkness. A darkness I liken to the lost nature of the entire family and families in general - all bubbly and sparkly on the outside, not so much on the inside.
Thursday, December 3, 2015
Make no bones about it - this production, by its very nature, is bizarre. Very bizarre. It's like Clockwork Orange meets Next to Normal. The play itself has always been discordant, imaginative, and vague. It's the nature of dreams, insanity, and mental illness. Helmed by hot Belgian experimental "it" director, Ivo van Hove, this particular production adds potent, strong, and lavish music to the equation. The combination is magical. Throw in a dazzling special effects of a large media screen and magnificent projections and you find yourself immersed in an evening of pure fantasy.
Mr. Newton is the center of our attention - A Mad, deranged, dreamer played by the indomitable Michael C. Hall. With the rage and angst of a madman he owned the role from the first maddening minute to the last. His maid, Elly (Cristin Meloti), was the perfect malleable, innocent companion. Valentine, an incarnation of the devil perhaps, a madman at the very least was played to the hilt by the Michael Esper. A cast of other interlopers contributed to the mesmerizing, magical, and fantastic evening in the theater. Perhaps the most talented and poignant performers on the whole stage was Sophia Anne Caruso (Girl). She is perhaps vocal perfection.
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
What have we got going on here, you ask? It's Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing updated to London 1964 and involves a boy band that very closely (*wink wink*) resembles the Beatles. The Quartos - which in my opinion should be the name of the play - are cute, rebellious, young and horny. (what boy bands aren't?). Music by Billie Joe Armstrong and orchestrations by Tom Kitt are sure to please.
Don't get me wrong - it's super-smart - although I will admit I have never read Much Ado About Nothing - so much of it was lost on me. Meanwhile the music has an all-too-familiar sound to it and kept the toes-a-tapping'. The uber adorable and sexy boys of The Quartos - Ben (Justin Kirk), Claude (Bryan Fenkart), Balth (Lucas Papaelias), and Pedro (James Barry) - croon the night away and take you back a few decades to a more innocent time.
Sub plots develop around the love and revenge story - one might say a few too many however. Scotland Yard detectives investigating "What is wrong with the youth of our Country" provide some entertaining interludes following the boys - including the incredibly adorable multi-character actor Christopher Geary. The women who are the object of affection and scorn include Bea (Nicole Parker), Higgie (Arianna Venturi), and Ulcie (Keira Naughton).
Yes, I believe the characters have similar names to the play by the Bard and it's all wrapped in a hip backbeat that will make you smile despite the unnecessarily long tun time (please trim this up, Rolin Jones). A two hour runtime will likely be the sweetest spot you can find.
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Lois Smith (Marjorie), an aging mother losing her memories brings in a holographic tool (practically played by an actor, however) - her husband, Walter, dashingly handsome in his 30's (the dashingly handsome Noah Bean) - to be with her and trigger her memories and provide companionship. But it seems there is one major flaw - this prime (as it is referred to - Walter 'Prime') only knows what it has been told about the person it is becoming. Is this a true and complete history? Might be be whitewashing the past to paint the picture we want to see?
As the play progresses into the future and we see the deaths of other characters, each remaining person is presented with a "prime" of the departed individual. As the final character remains, Stephen Root (Jon) - we come to see that this technology may not solve all problems or provide complete comfort and satisfaction. In the final scene, quite brilliantly written, acted, and staged we end up seeing all the primes having a very stilted conversation going round and round on a small turntable around a kitchen table - after all - they only have things to talk about that they were told. Their existence, indeed, is as stilted and incomplete as the conversation they are having.
Thursday, November 19, 2015
Making quite a substantial Broadway debut is the delightful Keira Knightley (Therese Raquin). The ensemble generously supporting the titular character includes the stalwart Judith Light (Madame Raquin) and adorably obnoxious Gabriel Ebert (Camille Raquin) as the adopted family of Therese - her father died and her aunt and aunt's son became her family at an early age. Rounding out the ensemble is the hunky and handsome suitor, Laurant (Matt Ryan).
What we have here is a twisted and overbearing mother who raised a weak, obnoxious, nelly-boy son and married her off to his first cousin who was raised in the same household because her father died at an early age. Locked in a loveless (and sexless) marriage, the heat turns up when the obnoxious nelly-boy's best friend finds himself intensely drawn to Therese - - that's when the sparks (and sex) fly. Laurent, Therese, and Camille all go out on a boat (yes there is a real lake on the stage). Laurent knocks the weak Camille off the boat and he drowns. After a few months, the two can finally be together - but will Camille haunt them from the grave? Is the guilt of killing Madame Raquin's only son too much to bare? When Madame Raquin accidentally finds out (a note for the director here - i thought this part of the show was not as clear as it could have been as we do not actually see her overhear something) will she expose the two for the murderers they are?
On a different note, I suspect this play is based on a bit more detailed source material (novel 1867, play1873) . However when translating to this stage it seems the the character of Suzanne (Mary Wiseman) must have been more developed in the source material because her character on stage was incomplete. Did we need to know she had a suitor (happy) and then her father chased the man away (grumpy)? I saw no purpose to this story line. Perhaps the book elaborates.
Sets by Beowulf Boritt were magnificent - some flying in, a literal lake on stage, one hovering in mid air. The actors were not mic'd as far as I could tell and it seemed very appropriate. Sound (Josh Schmidt) , however was ingeniously integrated with tones and ambient sounds during and between scenes. To find out how all this resolves, head over to Studio 54 and catch these fine actors practicing their craft. Just don't expect time to pass quickly.
Sunday, November 15, 2015
Belgian experimental Director Ivo Van Hove's minimalist production is ominous and eerily powerful. The sparse and tiny stage (made tiny mostly by adding 70 stadium style seats on either side of the stage where the wings used to be is part of the reason). The innovative staging is reminiscent of a cage match where the actors, all barefoot by the way, engage in a brawl for two hours. Jan Verswayveld's set and mechanical box that raises and lowers around the set are a simple and brilliant idea. Tom Gibbons' sounds reverberate and persist throughout the show adding drama and mystery to the already potent situation.
The mostly-Brit cast does an upstanding job at putting on their Brooklyn-eese. Even when they slip on a word here or there, you never really mind that much because the tension they are all adept at creating and maintaining is masterful. Complain if you will about two brothers straight off the boat from Italy who don't have an Italian accent whatsoever. I don't think this production is much about authenticity, but rather a trimmed down version of the story with a singular focus of intensity, mystery, and drama. Mark Strong (Eddie), Phoebe Fox (Catherine), Nicoa Walker (Beatrice) form the core Red Hook, Brooklyn family, torn by traditions and a desire to grow and be successful in America. The extremely hunky and dashing Russell Tovey (Rudolpho) and svelte Michael Zegan (Marco) are the mysterious interloper illegal immigrants from Italy. Michael Gould (Alfieri) plays the "Greek Chorus" or narrator by lurking most of the show around the outside of the ring explaining what is going to happen. When he steps in the ring as a participant in the battle, he, too, removes his shoes.
This production is nothing short of pure brilliance. The 140 or so people in the stage seating, by far, saw an entirely different play than the people out in the standard theater seats. Those in the balcony quite possibly didn't even see portions of the play. Regardless, the bloodbath on W45th will leave you shaken.
Saturday, November 14, 2015
The playwright was careful not to vilify either side of the argument for or against but rather to tell a tender story that reveals how the grandeur of this building affected the lives of two very different people in this great big city of ours. Joseph Lanzarote (Clyde Baldo) is an older English teacher - a smart, staunch, art lover and lonely wordsmith who wants to save the grand space. Paul Abbot (Matthew Pilieci) plays a construction worker charged with taking the structure down. Two unlikely, yet fast friends - Joseph an observer and lover of the architecture, Paul, oddly, a photographer at the same time demolition team member. They share a common attraction despite being totally opposites in class, education, and life in general. We find through their meetings and banter over the year that both have a deep connection to the station through family members.
The show features grand projections that turn the stage into the grand station itself from various angles and times. We'll forever argue about the wisdom of tearing the station down, but one thing is true no matter what - millions passed through the edifice and the edifice affected so many people in countless ways. This was just one of the millions of stories out there. A link to the show's website which provides many more pictures and documentation on the show and its subject matter - http://theeternalspaceplay.com
Thursday, November 12, 2015
Let me be clear here - the actors were magnificent at the character acting contained throughout- not the least of which was the uber adorable and talented Carson Elrod (Sam Greedy) as an over the top fashion designer. The other actors all played multiple characters - including a single woman who played all the female parts.
The trouble here isn't the lighting (it was great), sound (it was great) or fairly good direction and blocking (very creative use of the stage) on a small stage with limited scenery (Moritz von Steulpnagel). It's that the play itself by Nick Jones is a poor rip off of Back to the Future. Its humor is immature, dare I say childish. And the story goes on and on like a Saturday cartoon and really ends up nowhere. It's a silly premise that contains a hairy gorilla and never really gets much resolution - what ever happened to the sweatshirts/track pants that got introduced before their time? Finally, both the show's marketing and hype about the play gets you to believe it is about actual HATS. While it is about ONE HAT (that's not really a hat in the way you would think), it's really more about fashion and still time travel in general than hats.
Don't waste your time on this silly play that never should have made it to a stage - unless of course you want to travel back in time to one of your high school productions. Better the glowing orbs that nobody seems to mind blow it up in the river.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
The adorably sexy Corey Mach (Ryan) plays opposite Mr. Matthews as his devoted and supportive boyfriend and partner in life. With an all-black cast the show's focus is the struggles of the kids they meet in Uganda, the Ugandan culture and community, and the struggle to continually support them. Music and lyrics by Mr. Matthew's real partner in life, Mr. Gould, feature gospel-like numbers, ballads, and rousing, energetic and theatrically staged African dance numbers. And the band, conducted by Mr. Gould - well - they are part of the reason for the aforementioned roof blow-off. Violin, Viola, Cello, Bass, Guitars, Keyboards, and more percussion than you thought possible - all elevated above the stage in the former wings of the stage - which, of course, were eliminated to enlarge the performance space. Kudos Jonathan Deans (Sound), Justin Townsend (Lighting), and ESosa (Costumes).
Get your tickets now as this one is going to be a hot seller into the holiday season.
Tuesday, October 27, 2015
The divine Kristine Nielsen (Paige) helms the cast - ironically the only one who appears as she is (unlike the advertising where she is all made up in a drag like makeup). Ms. Nielsen appears right at home with her bizarre behavior and crazy ideas - she is a true comedic character actress. Cameron Scoggins (Isaac) appearing quite svelte and handsome took full advantage of the power of his masculine character and dominated the stage. Tom Phelan, a remarkable transgender teen actor portraying a transgender teen character, held court as Max or Hir (the neutral pronoun as explained to us early on). Daniel Orestes (Arnold) didn't get many lines since he had a stroke and was basically two steps above a vegetable but was always a presence on stage with his mumblings.
Kudos to David Zinn for the sets - at first a complete disaster - and the amazing transformation that happens after the intermission.
Fasten your seat belts - this one pulls no punches (well actually it does) and feeds the bizarre to you spoonful after spoonful until either you or Isaac has to throw it all up.
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
The show is a pastiche of ideas, colors, words, costumes. What it is not is coherent. It's a piece of mental theater. I was, however, really impressed with the actors who had to learn these bizarro parts. They don't make sense and I can only assume that it is like telling an opera singer to intentionally sing off key. For a trained professional that's hard to do. These actors were superb given the extremely bizarre and colorful material they were given to work with. I made it only through Act I, but I have heard that Act II was even more of the same. Experimental performance art should not be 2 Hours and 40 Minutes long.
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Marilyn and Abby are going at it toe to toe, no holds barred at the Bristol Place Assisted Living Facility. And why not? What have they got to lose? Abby wants the room to herself. Marilyn, however, is determined to be Abby's sunny, chatty, and cheerful roommate. Skydiving (conveniently linked to the show's title). Lunch visits. Police Reports. Estranged family members. Even death. Will these cunning ladies duke it out till the last one is standing? The referee in the tete-a-tete is none other than the scruffy, sexy, and burly employee and aspiring actor, Scotty (Nate Miller). Marilyn's daughter, Colleen, (Rachel Dratch) and son-in-law, Derek, (Daoud Heidami) find themselves drawn into the battle. Abby's estranged son Benjamin (Glenn Fitzgerald) eventually becomes a pawn in the game as well.
Head on over to West 55th Street and see who wins this epic battle of wills. Fine acting all around.(especially by Scotty).
Friday, October 2, 2015
In the case of Cloud Nine, she casts a white man as a black slave, a man as a Victorian wife, an adult as a child, and young boy as a woman (and vice versa). Further add the fact that Act I occurs in Victorian times during British colonization of Africa and Act II occurs in 1979 London - with the catch that only 25 years have passed for the characters - who themselves have been "re-cast" as other characters. This may seem like quite a lot to keep track of, but the effect is subtle, the impact quite large as you begin to see the larger message Ms. Caryl is trying to convey. What she is effectively doing is showing how the male dominated society and dominant and oppressive nations in the Victorian era (The Brits dominated and conquered the natives in Africa) draw a parallel to the modern society where the gay culture is experiencing the very same treatment - it's a different cultural construct, but the same effective oppression. At the same time we see the importance and oppression of the female characters both literally and figuratively in Act I by the casting of a man as the Victorian wife.
The actors in this wildly fluid comedy execute Ms. Caryl's message with aplomb. First and foremost we have the adorable and ethereal Chris Perfetti is the face of the gender fluidity playing Betty the Victorian Wife in Act I and Edward a softer gay man in Act I. Sean Dugan takes on the racial fluidity in Act I as Joshua the slave/servant and the dominant gay predator Gerry in Act II like it was a role of a lifetime made just for this handsome and confident ginger. Izzie Steele takes on double duty in Act I (extra kudos here for all those costume changes) as a rag-tag shy and naive nanny and the powerful (which is unusual for the period) female Mrs. Saunders. In Act II she is a powerful and confident lesbian. Clarke Thorell is the ultimate patriarch and family leader Clive in Act I and the naughty, loud child Cathy in Act II. Brook Bloom has the other gender bending role playing young Edward in Act I and older Betty in Act II. Lucy Owen plays a staunch and comically dry Maud the mother of Betty in Act I and the young Victoria (who as a side note was played by a doll in act I) toying with her lesbian side in Act II. John Saunders is the suave single explorer Mr. Harry Begley who just might be gay before it was en-vogue to be gay and then plays the suave yet diminished husband Martin who's masculinity is on the decline in the era where women are on the rise.
If you're confused, don't be. When you watch the action unfold, the character changes start to resonate, the messages start to decode and you will begin to delve into the issues that Ms. Churchill was trying to convey. As billed, it is a play about power, politics, family, queen Victoria, and sex. If perhaps Act I was a tad bit too long with a bit of unnecessary exposition and story, Act II was perfectly timed, executed and impactful. Without a doubt, there was one element of this production that was universally panned by the audience - and that was the seating. While the idea of placing this show in the round in somewhat of a "boxing ring" where the actors "duke it out" is brilliant - the construction of the flimsy, uncomfortable, and frankly cheap looking wooden bleachers was only made more painful by the 2H:40M run time. #seatingepicfail
Despite the extremely uncomfortable and frankly unsafe seating arrangements that were constructed for this production, the outcome was nothing short of remarkable. A fine cast and a provocative message makes for an exhilarating evening in the theatre.
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
The incorporable Marlo Thomas headlines the cast as Alice, the matriarch of the family. Her son Billy (George Merrick) is having a bit of a marital/midlife crisis by having an affair with someone he thinks makes his whole life brighter and worth living again. This happens, of course, after he just had a newborn baby with his wife Jane (Kate Weatherhead). He reluctantly confides this little nugget to his father, Bill, Sr. (Greg Mullavey) who of course won't be able to keep it from his wife for more than 3 minutes. Alice decides to invite Billy and Jane over to sort the whole matter out and keep them together. She just can't bear to think about the alternative.
What ensures is anything but a clever little lie.
Sunday, September 27, 2015
I hope I am correct. Here are what others are saying on Opening Night: