Photo by Don Kellogg

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Way We Get By

Neil LaBute certainly has an ear for contemporary, young characters in real situations.  Mr. LaBute is no stranger to the off-Broadway stage and his late incarnation at Second Stage Theater is about to be a late-season off-Broadway hit.

Cast with two highly sought after young actors, Thomas Sadowski (Doug) and Amanda Seyfried (Beth), the story portrays two young individuals awkwardly and cautiously navigating the "morning after" throwing in a whopper of a twist.   The twist, at first seems dark, but is quickly explained away as what might be perceived as a rather typical problem for 2nd (or 3rd) marriages with kids.

Mr. Sadowski is about as handsome as they come. (swoon).  It seems that he is, as of late, is a pro at playing awkward, nervous, and smart  - and Doug in this story is no different.  Ms. Seyfried is young, bubbly, and equally awkward - all in a good way.  She seems to have mastered the tortured, beautiful, and lost young woman out in the world today.  Together these two ultimately rip up the stage and humorously dance around the issue at hand - a relationship.

I'll let you see for yourself how these two resolve their issues.  For now, just know that your attendance at this 80 minute-no intermission play will leave you smiling long after you leave the theater.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Another self-absorbed, publicly financed purportedly cathartic psychotherapy session - live - and on stage for a limited run at the New York Theater Workshop where you can waste 80 minutes of your life suffering through someone else's perceived problems and maybe even tick off the last box of your theater subscription thinking about how this is not even close to theater so why did I even join this season?

Yes, you too can have the joy of listening to Dael Orlandersmith's abusive childhood and her generally unhappy adulthood mostly because of her mother.  What a shocker - someone's mother treated them badly and died they way she lived - bitter, mean, and un-loved.  Never heard that one before.  And of course, the production is written and performed by Ms. Orlandersmith.  Of course it was.  Who else would want to?

Do yourself a favor.  Don't encourage this type of performance art in paid theatrical subscriptions and stay away from this performance at NYTW.  Go watch paint dry.  It will be more fulfilling.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Visit

Another opening.... another show.... and this one is another chosen investment.  No matter what they say, I could not be prouder of this production.  Here's what all the real critics are saying...
























Wednesday, April 22, 2015


They're either really good or... well, they aren't.  In this case it really, really isn't.  little i.  @ sign instead of a.  I should have known it was a dud just from the dumb symbolic title.

Poor constructionJenny Schwartz. Poor direction Ken Rus Schmoll.  A play with more music than some musicals (Todd Almond). Frankly just a stupid idea all around.  The talented actors actually seemed uncomfortable at times at the sheer stupidity they were employed to spew.

The stupid idea?  A play that screams endlessly at you and has not a single cohesive idea (yes, we get it too - life today is filled with meaningless connections and a general lack of communication and genuine understanding).  This play is filled with such crap and meaningless, unconnected, and disingenuous jokes that it was frankly insulting, trite, annoying and might just be a complete unmitigated disaster on stage.

I will purposely laud the actors on stage - all of whom smiled through the pain and genuinely churned out top notch performances despite the material.  Cindy Cheung, April Matthis, Annie McNamara, Karyn Quackenbush, Carolina Sanchez, Lee Sellars, Jill Shackner, and Colette Tetlow all deserve polite applause and recognition.

I bet they didn't even know what they were getting into when it started.  After all, nobody communicates anymore, right?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

An American in Paris

Quite possibly this is the most beautifully staged ballet mounted on a Broadway stage.  The perfect blend of theater, dance, and storytelling is something you cannot miss.  The dancing is breathtaking.  The music  (George  and Ira Gershwin) is classic and instantly recognizable.  I have not seen the movie (it's rare that I have) and I was swept up in this luxurious, eye-popping spectacular on stage at the Palace Theater directed and choreographed by the incomparable master of dance, Christopher Wheeldon.

Robert Fairchild (Jerry Mulligan). already a well respected and award-winning dancer has kept secret from us - he can sing and act too.  A more perfect triple-threat I cannot imagine - so much so that I found it hard to take my eyes of him.  He's handsome, svelte, funny, and flexible.  His dance is mesmerizingly effortless - like a feather in the wind.   Equally talented and beautiful is the central love interest in the story, Leanne Cope (Lise Dassin).  She floats across the stage like a cloud of pure joy. She exudes Parisian charm and good looks with every step, note, and line she executes.

And while many could play the part, none other than the incomparable Veanne Cox portrays Madame Barurel - the uncompromising mother with some secrets who just wants her son to get married already.  And guess what?  I adore her comedic genius but now I find out she can dance like a pro too!   The American determined to make it big in the Paris art world (and score a handsome man) is played by none other than the divine Jill Paice (Milo Davenport).  Her singing, sultry and exquisite dresses, and dancing skills brought her character to life as she attempted to woo Mr. Fairchild.

This show is truly ballet extraordinaire and hence brings a full suite of skills and talent in the company to the stage - and they multiply it 10-fold with the play (ballet)-within-a-play (ballet) concept.  The three handsome leading men (Mr. Fairchild along with Max von Essen (Henri Baurel) and Brandon Uranowitz (Adam Hochberg) succeed wildly in falling in love with the same woman in entirely different ways.  Their chemistry is palpable and you really think these three might end up being friends in such a setting.  Each has a different personality but they blend remarkably well.

From the breathtaking opening scene (it's magical) to the titular ballet scene in Act II, you won't want to miss a single moment of this rapturous and fluid performance.  Although we recently experienced another show with Mr. Gershwin's music (You Can't Take it with You), this story is entirely different and evokes completely different emotions.  

As was said about Rob McClure in Chaplin, the same can be said for Mr. Fairchild - "Welcome to the show that's going to make you a Broadway star".

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The King and I

When Lincoln Center Theater takes on a project, they never fail to dazzle and impress.  With the largest and best thrust stage in NYC, the scenic effects and  the overall theatricality appear boundless and always delight.  The orchestra - exposed, vibrant, and lush - never fails to fill the theater to the brim with complex melodies.  This production of The King and I, a Rogers and Hammerstein classic, is no exception from a production standpoint.  On any other stage it would be less.  With such a large cast as this show supports (virtually all Broadway  debuts), I'm not sure they would even fit!

What this production suffers from is a mis-matched leading pair.  The divine and regal Kelli O'Hara in her gowns and frocks is nothing short of sublime.  Her Portrayal of Anna Leonowens is both tender and bold, both strong and sympathetic.  Her voice is near pitch perfect and just about every note she uttered was near pitch-perfect.   However, she is not matched in her leading man, Ken Wantanabe (King of Siam).  He may look the part, but there was something about his dialogue and delivery of the lines that suggested he had trouble with the English language which seems a bit odd to me.  What possessed them to cast someone who was not easily understood?  I did not conduct extensive background research here so I'm just reporting on what I saw and how it came across to me.  It is what it is and it was a mark in the negatives column.

The show itself is an odd pastiche of scenes and a play-within-a-play.   I enjoyed the spectacle put on by director, Bartlett Sher, and the creative and technical teams (Small House of Uncle Tom), but it always feels like a distraction and runs longer than needed and tends to distract from the cohesiveness and main story.  There are always the children who bring smiles to many faces, but again, there seem to be a few too many and the endless procession of little bodies with nothing more than obligatory bows and scurrying gets old fairly fast.

We will see if this is indeed Kelli's year to win a (well deserved) Tony.  She's got some stiff competition from Ms. Chenoweth in her show and that show, unlike this one, is hammering on all cylinders from start to finish.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Something Rotten!

Ladies and gentlemen - we have a smash hit simmering on the back burner here.  No out of town tryout - straight to Broadway  - and after a mere 2 weeks of previews, this show has  already proven itself to to be a knock-out, smash (pardon the pun) hit!

Dream cast.  Brilliant writing.  A tap-dancing full company including the stars.  Raucous and rousing Broadway company numbers and top that all off with a story that's got heart.  What more could you ask for on stage - except maybe electricity and running water?

Vocal powerhouse Brian d'Arcy James (Nick Bottom) and adorably nebbish John Cariani (Nigel Bottom) helm the cast along with the "rock star" Christian Borle (Shakespeare).  This trio is nothing short of pure hysteria.  Mr. Borle showcases his trademark ham-it-up acting style with wild abandon and draws Mr's. d'Arcy James and Bartlett into his lair of comedy.

Speaking of comedy, the creators of this delightful gem, Karey Kirkpatrick and Wayne Kirkpatrick (Book, Music, Lyrics) and John O'Farrell (Book) have discovered the secret to an unflappable smash Broadway hit.  Inside jokes (Broadway), subject matter jokes (Shakespeare) and a whole lotta singing, tapping, and dancing in full company numbers.   The full company stopped the show no less than 3 times - in both Act I (after A Musical) and in Act II (after Something Rotten! and Make an Omelette).  I actually think it even came as a surprise to the company on at least one of the occasions.

The supporting cast is also nothing short of brilliant.  Heidi Blickenstaff (Bea) belts out a delightful ballad in Act I.  Brad Oscar (Nostradamus) is nothing short of mesmerizing as the Soothsayer who guides us through the journey "just a little bit off".  Gerry Vichi (Shylock) plays the old Jew to the hilt and Brooks Ashmanskas (Brother Jeremiah) quite literally steals the show right out from under its stars just about every time he is on stage.  And I mean every time.

This show is an homage to Broadway with its references and inside jokes (they come so subtly and quickly you'll miss many, but don't worry another one is on the way).  At the same time it is a parody about Shakespeare's work (down to the names of the characters in this show) and in yet another layer, a story about following your heart and sticking to your dreams.

I understand from exiting the theater that the ushers even have a little competition going on to identify all the musical and theater references within the show.  Now these people see the show every night and they're still finding hidden gems.

Seriously, the only thing you could ask for is a fresh Omelette on the way out of the theatre!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Doctor Zhivago

Dr. Yurii Zhivago is on an epic quest.  This first Broadway production directed by Des McAnuff is nothing short of one descriptive word.  Urgent.  This tale of a Russian doctor and poet who falls in love and is caught up in the Russian revolution in the first few decades of the twentieth century is a massive, urgent, prolific, and passionate tale told by a cast of dozens.  Scenery flies in and out frantically.  Musical numbers all contain giant crescendos.  Time is fleeting.  Lives will be lost.  Will Doctor Zhivago and his true love triumph?  You will only find out if you visit the Broadway Theatre and witness this audacious undertaking unfold in just under 3 hours.

Newcomer to Broadway, Tam Mutu (Yurii Zhivago), brings passion and conviction to Yurii.  His voice is as powerful as his looks are good.  Equally as good if not more so is his nemesis, Pasha Antipov / Strelinikov (Paul Alexander Nolan).  With a set of pipes on him that quite literally made the house rumble and the roof shake, he is nothing short of vocal perfection and a significant foil to Mr. Mutu.  There are also darling little children who portray various characters in their youth (Jonah Halperen, Sophia Gennusa, and Ava-Riley Miles). The ensemble is just as frenetic as the leading characters and the story - dancing classic Russian dances, twirling flags, firing guns, and battling a revolution.  One might compare this to its French equivalent, Les Miserables, and at several points it uses similar theatrical tactics (a floating rotating disk, battle scenes, and revolutionary flags).

Did I mention this is an epic journey?  Even the stage is purposefully pitched at an angle to give the allusion of depth, cavernousness, and struggle (upstage is really up).  This musical could only have been more grand if we saw a 35 piece orchestra in black tie plucking and tooting away with wild abandon.  The massive and numerous sets and fly space in the Broadway theatre allow for an incredible number of moving and flying parts from both the sides and the top.  This only serves to enhance the urgency Mr. McAnuff attempts to convey along this journey of love, war, and conflict.

 Costumes are certain to get a Tony nom (Paul Tazewell) and Scenic Design if for nothing other than the quantity will certainly be recognized (Michael Scott-Mitchell). Lighting was a massive undertaking that succeeds greatly (Howell Binkley).  Not to be left out of an epic production are the  projections (rain, background, portraits on the curtains) and most certainly will be recognized (Sean Nieuwenhuis).  Now, why it was always raining and not snowing is a bit of a disconnect to the marketing materials the show put out, but that's a small point out of 100's of perfectly hit notes in this production.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

On the Twentieth Century

And the Tony goes to.....  yes, this one is a shoe-in for a nom... or six... and we'll just see who they are up against for the wins.  Warren Carlyle (Choreography) has got to be on the nominee list for his craft.  And let's not leave out Scott Ellis (Director) for his craft.  And don't think for a minute that Kristin Chenoweth is not a shoe-in her category.  Peter Gallagher just might be on the list too.

With an introduction like that - what's left but just the entire ensemble.  I have been saying since intermission of the show that this is perhaps the hardest working, singing, dancing, and entertaining ensemble that is currently running on Broadway.  It's seriously THAT good.
On the Twentieth Century is actually a musical by Comden & Green with music by Cy Coleman which is an adaptation of a play, Twentieth Century by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur based on the unproduced play Napoleon of Broadway by Charles B. Millholland, inspired by his experience working for the eccentric Broadway impresario David Belasco. Well that's a mouthful!
It's a good old-fashioned Broadway musical.  That alone doesn't guarantee success.  This production, however, goes every extra mile to ensure the delivery is crisp, bold, smart, and rhythmic. From the invisible orchestra to the tap dancing Porters (Rick Faugno, Richard Riaz Yoder, Drew King, and Phillip Attmore), to the show-within-a-show type story, this show has razzle, dazzle, sequins, slapstick comedy, Mary Louise Wilson (Letitia Peabody Primrose) and the audaciously sexy Andy Karl (Bruce Granit).

I never doubted for a moment that Roundabout's sets (David Rockwell) and lighting (David Holder) would be magnificent.  They were.  Costumes were simply lavish perfection (William Ivy Long).

From the moment the perfectly costumed and supremely gorgeous porters tap danced onto the stage until the very end when, all in white, the cast returns to the stage not a minute was ill-spent.  Every single minute was filled with a laugh, a song, or a dance.  Every single minute.

Get your ticket to board On the Twentieth Century today.  It leaves from Chicago to New York 8 shows each week.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


Let me just say up front here - Shakespeare is not my cup of tea.  Maybe I'm stupid or thick-headed but the language is far to complicated for my simple mind to follow.  I need the 7 year old's cliff's notes version to follow it.   If I did not know someone in this play I would likely never have gone in the first place.  But there is always a silver-lining in every evening at the theatre.   My silver lining this evening was the incomparable perfectionist, Peter Sarsgaard.

By way of background, I work with someone who used to be an actor. He got a call to come audition for this show and he jumped at the opportunity to get back on stage after 15 years. Fast forward to the evening of my attendance.  Mr. Sarsgaard was completely transformational.  His interpretation and portrayal of Hamlet was simply immersive and complete.  Although I wanted to poke my eyes out at the language, Mr. Sarsgaard managed to captivate my attention and keep me engaged.  My friend from work, Jim Broaddus (Voltemand and others) , the reason I attended in the first place, was that much better in my eyes because of Hamlet (and he was already good).

The directorial choices and the entire setting - I guess a combination of director (Austin Pendleton) and scenic design (Walt Spangler) was lush, sophisticated, and smart.  I won't even begin to analyze it as I have absolutely no idea what anyone else has ever done.  I just know I liked it.

So if you're a Shakespeare fan, grab your ticket to Classic Stage's Hamlet and I can almost guarantee you will be transfixed for the entire 3 hours (including one intermission).  You may even, like me,  get to sit near Jake Gyllenhaal (who's sister Maggie is married to Mr. Sarsgaard)!