Photo by Don Kellogg

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Finding Neverland

I don't know about you, but it seems to me that there have been a whole spate of shows and movies about this Peter Pan character!  Peter and the Starcatcher, Peter Pan Live on NBC, Pan (a movie) and now this audacious project - an adaptation by none other than movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein, of the Johnny Depp movie by the same name and the play The Man who was Peter Pan by Allan Knee.

My, oh my.  We seem to be enthralled with Mr. Pan indeed. Audacious?  Indeed.  Successful?  You bet.  This particular flavor of the story is how the author, J.M. Barrie, actually came to write the story and what inspired hm.

Director, Diane Paulus, has her creative stamp all over this production.  Sophisticated, smart, powerful, and sublime are all words that apply here.  Ms. Paulus never fails to waive her magic want and turn what might just be an ordinary production into something magical.

The sublime and talented Matthew Morrison (J.M Barrie) and Kelsey Grammer (Charles Frohman) take on this production with gusto.  Mr. Morrison is endearingly adorable (as usual) and Mr. Grammar, while not a skilled singer, tackles the role with gusto and wild abandon.  The result is a potent production with several moments of sheer magic on stage.  Choreographer Mia Michaels also put her mark of modern dance throughout the evening.  The ever-talented Carolee Carmello (Mrs. du Maurier) delivers her usual outstanding performance as well.   Fill the stage with 4 adorable child actors, a dog, and an ensemble of hunky sometimes pirate dancers, and an orchestration that fills even the furthest nooks of the theater with high fidelity sound - and you've got he makings of a hit on your hands.

The aforementioned magic on stage hit its mark each and every time.  The conclusion of Act One is a crescendo of grand proportions and that's not where the action stops.  The magic continues up to the very last minute of the play with a lot of heart and great theatre in between.  I didn't even mind Mr. Grammar's mugging at a joke in Act Two (despite it's non-dramatic material person-specific reference).

Finding Neverland is a magical evening in a very big theater packed to the gills with lots of kids who are there to swoon over Mr. Morrison (who am i kidding, count me in that crowd too) but who just might learn they actually like the theater too!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

All Gone West

Jonathan Fluck does dual duty in this off-off Broadway work - both director and producer extraordinaire.   John Attanas' play is not quite a musical but is infused with great jazz vibes of the 4 piece band just off stage.  This is the story of dreams and dreamers, loves and lovers, and giving it all you got not matter what the outcome.

Sam (Joseph Robinson) a handsome young bachelor dreams of a nightclub of his own and a pretty dame on his arm.  Mary Elizabeth (Kristen French) a pretty young, and independent minded woman wants a husband to love in the soft suburban life out in California.  Once they find each other, they give it all a shot.  Not everything works out but in life, just as in love, compromises are always made.  And if you give it your all, the sky's really the limit.

There are a few side stories going on here aside from the two lovers.  Sam's best friend, Sonny Green (Jesse Maens), from the army is a great black jazz musician - and jazz (and apparently drugs) is his passion.  Sam's "business partner" Willie (Anthony Bosco) is a true gangster.  And Mary Elizabeth's "boyfriend" is a college professor quite her senior.  All these story lines merge when Sam and Mary meet, get married, and open a jazz joint.  Fireworks ensue and the tunes flow from the band.

The show is brilliantly lit especially for an off-off Broadway show (kudos Christina Wantanabe) and of course the band was delightful.

It's clear that a lot of love, care, and TLC went into cultivating this production.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Fun Home

 When you don't know anything about a show going into it,  this can make the theatrical experience simply magical.  Frankly everyone should go into this show with only the knowledge that it is both heartbreaking yet wonderfully powerful and uplifting story.  That's all I'm gonna say.  I'm not even going to tell you what the name of the show means.  You'll have to find out for yourself.

Michael Cerveris (Bruce) and Judy Kuhn (Helen) may have their names above the title, but the true heart and soul of this show are the endearing and captivating three Allisons - Beth Malone (current Allison), Emily Skeggs (middle Allison) and Sydney Lucas (little Allison).

Lisa Kron adapted a graphic novel by Allison Bechdel perhaps perfectly.  I wasn't so pleased with her last work but this one appears to be a home run.  This new musical with music by the remarkable Jeanine Tesori debuted at the Public Theatre in 2013 and has now transferred to the Broadway to play in the round - a brilliant choice by director Sam Gold and the Producers.  Theater -in-the-round provides an intimacy this play needs and deserves.

Unique and smart scenic design (David Zinn) and brilliant lighting (Ben Stanton) are the sublime icing on this already delicious cake.

This is a story about memory.  It's a story told through the eyes of an adult looking back at her childhood through the fresh filter of her now adult-eyes.  At times you laugh but as the story unfolds you can feel the tears begin to well-up inside.  It's a story of our generation and of old ideas and ways of living but most importantly a story of love and triumph for a new generation.

Thursday, March 26, 2015


I've only seen one other British playwright David Hare play, The Vertical Hour, and ironically it stared the same leading man.  This must mean something.  This play, Skylight, like the last one, is also basically a 2 hander.  Last time around it was Julianne Moore who graced the stage with Bill Nighy.  This time it is Carey Mulligan.

Mr. Nighy is certainly a consummate actor, a master of his craft, a blindingly brilliant leading man. This time around - no change to that description.  Ms. Mulligan was equally powerful and together they grab the audience (and each other) by the balls and do not let go for a good 2+ hours (including a real fresh cooked meal on stage!).

My only concern with this play is the interest factor.  It is great, high drama.  It's acting at its finest.  But is the story compelling enough to hold the American audience's attention?  Being a British playwright, Mr. Hare imbues the script with excessive language.  On and on he goes in classic British style.  Now, don't get me wrong, it certainly is high-brow and intelligent.  It's just that the American audience is different than the British audience.  I'm sure that Mr. Nighy's draw will pull in the American audiences, but I'm not so clear they will be walking out as happy as they were going in with their $100 ticket.  Mr. Nighy likely could read the phone book to many in the audience so my fears may just be overblown and I'm being too picky over British plays.

Interestingly enough, I was compelled after the show to discuss something about the show after all - the need to write in a part for the son, Tom Sergeant (Matthew Beard).  While he provided exposition at the beginning, the character really had limited meaning to the overall story.  This show really could have been a true 2 hander, but in the end I also admit that this part provides great exposure to a young talented actor - and Mr. Beard takes full advantage of the opportunity demonstrating his fine looks and skills.

If it's a compelling, exquisitely acted dramatic story you are looking for - look no further than Skylight now playing in a limited run over at the John Golden Theatre on West 45th.

(And Kudos to whoever is responsible for the throwback Playbill cover).

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Hand to God

By my calculations this is the 5th worst play I've ever seen... And I've seen a LOT of plays.  Trust me.  What makes this the 5th worst and not the 3rd worst is the fact that #1,  I stayed past intermission (i considered leaving, yes) and #2, the tremendous talent of one single cast member.

This was probably the most childish, immature, and infantile play I have seen that ever graced a Broadway stage.  It seems to appeal to the kids (the ones that have enough money to afford a ticket, that is) that like to laugh at mean jokes and cheap lines about bad situations.  Throw in plenty of "fucks" and I guess you have a Williamsburg hipster hit (until the 500 of them who can afford tickets are all cycled through anyway).

Why didn't I leave at intermission?  One simple answer - Steven Boyer.  His subtle and nuanced performance against his diametrically opposite sock puppet was outstanding.  He has not only mastered the art of puppetry, but he has mastered a 2 person dialogue all within himself!  His timing, facial expressions, puppet movement, and general skit-zo attitude on stage provided the much needed relief from the actual material of Robert Askins' awful new American play.

Were it not for Mr. Boyer, my evening would have ended after 60 minutes.  Because of him, I did get to see the other 60 and digest Mr. Askins' point of view about religion, society, good, and evil.  I get it, Mr. Atkins.  I actually don't disagree with the theory that evil and good were invented to "keep the masses in line" and that perhaps there is some truth to the idea that we were better off in some ways when we are all alone instead of bound together in society and groups. Food for thought yes.  But the material you chose to present on stage was a crude and crass way of getting your point across.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

It Shoulda Been You

Fasten your seat belts because David Hyde Pierce's directorial debut on Broadway is going to be a wild ride.  Prepare for hilarity, mix ups, and mayhem, in what just might be the funniest original musical on the boards right now.

Helmed by the incomparable Tyne Daly (Judy Steinberg) and the zany Harriet Harris (Georgette Howard), the show revolves around the marriage of their two children Rebecca Sternberg (Sierra Boggess) and Neil Patrick Harris' husband a.k.a David Burtka (Brian Howard).   Although below the title, the real workhorses of this show were Edward Hibbert (Albert, the wedding planner) and Lisa Howard (Jenny Steinberg) sister of the bride.

The show has a real heart and as it turns out, a real message too.  At the same time funny, and tender, Brian Hargrove's (husband of Mr. Pierce) book and lyrics bring this 105 minute, no-intermission show to a joyous celebration of life.  Barbara Anselmi's music is serviceable with a few high notes but we're not going to see any Tonys come out of this one.   But make no mistake, the comedic skills of the two leading ladies - Ms. Daly and Ms. Harris as well as those of Mr. Hibbert are most of what makes this show a smashing success.  The good looks of Ms. Boggess and Mr. Burtka are just icing on the cake.

One under-the-radar and certainly under-promoted stars on the bill is Josh Grisetti (Marty Kaufmann).  From his debut in the audience to his silky smooth voice and the emotional conclusion, Mr. Grisetti imbues a nebbish yet sexy and powerful persona in Marty.  His significance to the plot is paramount and by the end of the show you've changed your entire opinion of him.

This show has a lot of doors and a fair amount of physical comedy to which timing is the key.  It reminded me of Noises Off.  The entire cast works really hard and climbs and descends the two story set throughout the show.  I must assume they'll shave about 5-10 minutes off the show as they perfect the timing and tighten up the scene changes and the curtain call.  

Bravo Mr. Hargrove and Mr. Pierce.  You've got a top notch cast singing and acting their heart out every night to what I can only suspect will be to thunderous applause and a feel-good exit from the theatre.  Isn't that exactly how it shoulda be?  :-)

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Audience

In what might be heralded as the show of the season, Dame Helen Mirren graces the stage at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre bringing Queen Elizabeth II to life right here on West 45th Street here in the USA.  What is not as evident is that this play is not only about her, it is about her Prime Ministers and how history and their personalities shaped her life.

This production is written and presents her in a very soft light.  Her youth interrupted by the duties of Royalty;  Her upbringing influenced by wars, world events, and the British culture.  Her steadfast dedication to Britain even today is a testament to her perseverance  and steadfast dedication to her calling.

Peter Morgan's book which has changed ever so slightly for the US audiences presents her story as told through glimpses into the private meetings she holds with her Prime Ministers.  Lightly narrated by Geoffrey Beavers (Equerry) to give it an "insider feeling", it was funny, touching, heartfelt and endearing and this portrait of the queen does not dwell on any one event or family tragedy. On the contrary - it flows as effortlessly as her on-stage costume changes throughout the long span of her reign.

Equally diverse were her prime ministers over the years as portrayed by fine actors who all looked and sounded like their real-life role models.  From Winston Churchill (Dakin Matthews) and Margaret Thatcher (Judith Ivey) to John Major (Dylan Baker) to Gordon Brown (Rod McLachlan) and Tony Blair all the way up to the current David Cameron  (both Rufus Wright)- they all brought a political bent and a touching tale to the stage to help frame the life and experiences of the queen.

Life apparently isn't all tea and crumpets and Dame Helen Mirren brings the majesty as well as the normalcy of having lived a life in a castle straight to the stage.

A first class production all around which looked, sounded, and felt like they spent King's ransom on it behind the scenes.  There are even two of the queens guards in full regalia standing at attention guarding the stage at intermission.  Run.  Don't Walk.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Perhaps the only downside to writing and directing a play is that you don't get enough valuable feedback.  When Doug Wright penned this gem, he should have turned the direction over to someone else - to get that independent perspective - to achieve even greater greatness.  Instead what we ended up with is a play that is a bit too long and a bit over-played by the actors.  Indeed it has a great story - two artists engaged in a debate over  their legacy, what will they be remembered for.  In the case of one - art took precedence over family.  In the other, poverty, obscurity and principles seem to rule the day over actually doing work and getting paid.

Despite this - we find these two artists engaged in a battle of wills.  Who will succeed?  What will happen in the end?  I will give away nothing except to say that both actors give astonishingly brilliant performances.  It's a based on real people and real art so it's both educational and entertaining at the same time.

The ever-dashing Hamish Linklater (Gustav Vigeland) plays the young budding sculptor and the great John Noble (Henrik Ibsen) plays the world famous literary genius with aplomb.

The language in this play is smart.  Very smart.  Very intellectual.  Lofty, some might say.  The level of language was maintained throughout, but the effect was occasional drift and loss of content as you were trying to figure out what they were saying/meaning.  If nothing else, one could simply say this is a smart man's play.  If you're not, maybe think twice before going but at the prices at the Atlantic, think hard because seeing actors this fine for such a price is well worth it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Heidi Chronicles

Wendy Wasserstein certainly had something to say.  An now her bold play is back on Broadway to the delight of feminists everywhere.  There's a sense that it is just as timely as ever.  Others think it's a tired episode re-hashed on stage that needs to be made current.  Heidi is not a technology genius.  She's not a power-hungry executive of 2006.  What she is is a feminist and what Ms. Wasserstein does so brilliantly and powerfully is to showcase a proud and true woman in her journey through the years.  What someone needs to have done, however, is to shorten the play.  Heidi and her companions always grade things.  Here i find it an A+ for effort, C- for brevity and content.

Elisabeth Moss (Heidi Holland) was an interesting choice for Heidi.  Not quite as dynamic as I would have expected her to be.  Kind of a doormat.  Moments of brilliant acting interlaid with a lot of hum-drum. Jason Biggs (Scoop Rosenbaum) is the dashingly successful boy she never married.  He's dashing alright.  But more of the hum-drum thing going on.  The bright spots in this production are Bryce Pinkham (Peter Patrone) as her gay foil for life and Tracee Chimo (Fran, Molly, Betsy, and April) as a multitude of funny, biting, bold, and hysterical characters that pass through Heidi's life.

The design of the set  (John Lee Beatty) is clever - a rotating platform that transforms the stage over the decades - sort of an homage to as time spins on and on.  By the size of the audience at the performance I attended the show is off to a slow start - which is surprising with the high profile names attached to the show.  Despite being too long, this show achieves a passing grade, it's just felt it's not quite as powerful or succinct as it could be.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Honeymoon in Vegas

In what might be one of his smoothest moves yet - the always slick and sexy Tony Danza seems to have been a part of bringing a show to Broadway starring.... well, none other than himself!  Honeymoon is delicious fun and a delightful escape from a cold and snowy New York City night.

Modeled after the movie, Andrew Bergman and Jason Robert Brown have penned an entertaining evening in the theatre.  Colorful, Vegas-style costumes and lighting fill the theater, while the large cast fills the stage with dancing, frivolity, and a whole lot of heart.   Don't get me wrong - the show ain't gonna win a Pulitzer price for literature or drama in any stretch of the imagination.  It's simply pure, unadulterated entertainment for just about 2 ½ hours.  And why didn't anyone think of this sooner - Vegas show girls, gangsters, a mad-cap plot, and a couple you know - right from the start - have got to end up together.

If Mr. Danza is selling the tickets with his name (and still handsome looks), the secret weapon this show wields is Rob McClure.  When he graced the stage in Chaplin, I believe it was the wise Newsday journalist who penned "Welcome to the show that's going to make you a Broadway star". And a star he is indeed.   Mr. McClure is both nebbish and infectiously adorable.  He can sing to the rafters, dance, and of course act the pants off this rom-com that graces the Nederlander stage 8 shows a week.  While another Tony nod wouldn't be out of bounds, this show may not carry as much weight being a silly movie remake and all but if talent rules the day, he's a shoe-in.

I had a slightly difficult time thinking that Brynn O'Malley (Betsy Nolan) was actually the age they claim in the show, but that minor detail aside, she was a terrifically talented on-stage pawn in the game of Mr. Danza and Mr. McClure.

With a fine ensemble cast including Raymond J. Lee, George Merrick, Zachary Prince, and Nancy Opel (Bea Singer), if this show can sustain the winter blues, it just might make a splash this spring in the fun department in what is already lining up to be strong in the musical department.

 This is a show that will tour well even if it doesn't succeed on Broadway.  Des Moines - look out!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Events

In what might be the most bizarre, unique, immersive, and interesting performance I have ever seen, The Events, an event all unto itself - part play, part documentary, part musical interlude - is unfolding down at the New York Theatre Workshop.   With text by David Greig, music by John Browne, and direction by Ramin Gray, this rather unusual show is beyond categorization.  It is vague, it is enthralling, and it is maddening all at the same time.

Generally speaking, a show without a linear plot line is tough to follow.  No difference here.  While the story is moving and evokes a sympathetic and emotional response you are always on your toes trying to figure out who the next character is and what they are trying tell you.

The two characters not have names - they are Neve McIntosh, a female minister of undetermined faith who has had the unfortunate fate of being involved in a mass murder's rampage and Clifford Samuel who plays a multitude of characters, the most significant being the young man who committed an unspeakable mass murderer.

The play is best categorized as experimental.  My take on this experiment, which employs a choir on stage (a different choir each night!) to add to the feeling of mystery and bewilderment, is that is it can't get out of its own way and is more confusing and frustrating than entertaining.  There's a potpourri of music and songs which do relate to the story unfolding but due to the non-linear story line that you need a road map to discern, it doesn't take too long before you are bored, frustrated, and lost.

While the idea is audacious, I fear that the endlessly rotating choir routine will only yield marginal success and the overall production will be universally panned by even the most liberal and generous audiences.