Sunday, March 29, 2015

Off-Broadway Review: Application Pending

Christina Bianco. Photo: Joan Marcus
Application Pending
By Greg Edwards and Andy Sandberg
Starring Christina Bianco
Directed by Andy Sandberg
Westside Theatre (downstairs)

What's It All About?
Christine Evans (Christina Bianco) Edgely Prep, an elite Manhattan private school. Applications are due that day, and oh, bu the way, her boss seems to think she has organized an important donor fundraiser that evening. Christine tries to get acclimated, juggle the phone calls from parents wanting to know whether their child (who is so very gifted) has been accepted and do battle with a cut-throat admissions officer from another school who is threatening to have their event boycotted by PETA because of the alleged mistreatment of their school mascot.. Evans (of Forbidden Broadway and YouTube Diva impersonation fame). Puts the competitive nature of kindergarten enrollment procedures center stage for humorous scrutiny.

What Are the Highlights?

Bianco plays more than 40 characters, creating distinct voices and mannerisms for each and switching between them with lightning speed. It's fun to watch her in action. The light plot is fun and surprises with more depth than we first are expecting. 


Jeff Croiter's excellent lighting design enhances changes between characters.

What Are the Lowlights?

The plot can only be stretched so far by one person on stage, forced to use a phone for most of the conversation. A tad too long, even at 75 minutes.

More Information:

Application Pending plays downstairs at the Westside Theatre, 407 W 43rd St, NYC through April 19. http://applicationpendingplay.comPerformances are Monday and Tuesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday,  at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 3 and 7 pm.

Scenic design by Colin McGurk, costume design by Michael McDonald (Hair), lighting design by Jeff Croiter (Peter and the Starcatcher), sound design by Bart Fasbender (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson).


Christians might also like to know:

-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language
-- Sexual dialogue

Off-Broadway Review: Fashions for Men


Joe Delafield and Rachel Napoleon. Photo: Richard Termine
Fashions for Men
By Ferenc Molnár
Directed by Davis McCallum
The Mint Theater
Through April 12


What's It All About?
In a high-class haberdashery in Budapest, owner Peter Juhasz (Joe Delafield), believes everyone is good at heart.

"Love and trust are always repaid in kind in this world," he says.

Let's just say that makes him vulnerable to those who would take advantage of his trust. Like his wife, Adele (Annie Purcell) who misappropriates some funds and runs off with the shop's top salesman, Oscar (John Tufts). Facing bankruptcy, Peter accepts a job offer from the main patron of the shop, a Count (Kurt Rhoads), who has had his eye on bookkeeper Paula (Rachel Napoleon). Peter is to manage the count's cheese business at his country estate (Daniel Zimmerman's set satisfyingly switches between the well-stocked, elegant clothing shop to a barn-like stone and beam office where cows make their presence known in  wall paintings and in moos when the door to the pastoral setting is opened (Original Music and Sound Design by Jane Shaw; Props by Joshua Yocom).

Calculating Paula tags along to the country in the hopes that the count will act upon his attraction, marry her and make her a rich woman. Peter made a promise to protect her, though, so the count's pursuit of her is made difficult. Later, Peter returns to the shop and his kindheartedness is tested to the limit when a down-on-his-luck Oscar begs him for a job.

Rounding out the fine cast are Mark Bedard, Jeremy Lawrence, Michael Schantz, Maren Searle, John Seidman, Jill Tanner, and Gabra Zackman.


What Are the Highlights:
This is a sit-back and enjoy the feel of a simpler time with simpler problems and hope that people can work out their differences. Davis McCallum (2012 Pulitzer-Prize winning play Water by the Spoonful and Samuel D Hunter’s The Whale at Playwrights Horizons, directs with skill. Performances are solid across the boards.

What Are the Lowlights?

At two hours and 40 minutes (three acts/two intermissions) it's is too long.

More Information:
Molnár is best known today for the mystical folk play Liliom (1922; the basis of the classic musical Carousel).

Fashions for Men plays through April 12 at the Mint Theatre, third floor, 311 West 43rd St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets are $55 with some half-price tickets (CheapTix) and Premium Seats ($65) available for most performances: 866-811-4111; www.minttheater.org.

Christians might also like to know:
--God's name taken in vain

Review: New York Spring Spectacular with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall

The Rockettes. Photo:  Courtesy of Madison Square Garden Entertainment


New York Spring Spectacular

Starring Laura Benanti and Derek Hough
and The Rockettes
Radio City Music Hall
Through May 3

What's It All About?

It's the next evolution of “Spectaculars” at Radio City Music Hall which began in the 1930, featuring the Rockettes, those high-kicking, precision dancers. Their Christmas Spectacular is a New York tradition, but this show, co-created by Diane Paulis (Pippin, Hair) and producer/playwright Randy Weiner has a script by  Joshuah Harmon (Bad Jews) and is directed and choreographed by Warren Carlyle (A Christmas Story; After Midnight). This show gives the Easter Bunny some equal time.

The show stars  Broadway's talented Laura Benanti (Women on the Verge) and Derek Hough (the only five-time champion on TV's "Dancing With the Stars" as well as Lenny Wolpe, Jared Grimes, the Rockettes and features the voices of Whoopi Goldberg, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Bella Thorne. Making cameos (via video) are 50 Cent, Carmelo Anthony, Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz, Walt Frazier, John Leguizamo, Henrik Lundqvist, Al Michaels, Kelly Ripa, Mariano Rivera, Sam Rosen and Donald Trump.

The story follows an old-time tour guide, Bernie (Wolpe) who is being replaced by virtual tours created by a company run by Jenna (Benanti). Meanwhile, a sort of angel named Jack (Hough) drops in to see whether he can help bernie keep his job -- while earning his own wings if he succeeds. Grimes is Jenna's sidekick, Marshall.

The folks take a tour of some of New York's greatest landmarks, like Grand Central Station, the Statue of Liberty, the New York Public Library, Central Park, Times Square, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Fashion District and sporting venues which come to life -- some quite literally at times -- thanks to video projections (designed by Batwin and Robin Productions) and puppetry (Matt Acheson and Eric Novak). Audience members are given 3-D glasses for viewing one of the videos and wrist bands which light up at certain parts of the performance.

Costumes are designed by Esosa, Diane von Furstenberg, Isaac Mizrahi and Zac Posen.Yorkers who change each other's lives in unexpectedly wonderful ways. Mia Michaels (TV's "So You Think You Can Dance") is the choreographer of the opening number.

The soundtrack includes classics and pop hits, including Taylor
Swift's "Welcome to New York," as well as original songs by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy. Here's how the press materials bill it:
"New York Spring Spectacular is as rejuvenating, energetic and uplifting as spring itself - and a reminder that while things may change, nothing can take away the timeless magic
and romance of the one and only New York City!"

The theme given is that this group of people will be forever changed and will never look at the city the same way again.

What Are the Highlights?
The Rockettes always are a treat. The "Singing in the Rain" number is particularly pleasing with a light shower increasing to a thunderstorm with more than 500 gallons of water gushing from 26 nozzles hung above the stage. Loved the paintings at the Met coming to life.

I also chuckled at what easily was the most enjoyable part of the script -- banter between Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as they provided the voices of Patience and Fortitude, the two New York Public Library lions, (with two puppeteers located inside the platform under each lion to bring it to life.)  Benanti brings her usual droll delivery to the dialogue and sings a lovely rendition of "I Could Have Danced All Night." Veteran Wolpe brings some grounding to the crazy story and we get to see some of Grimes' fancy foot work.

This is a great show for tourists. If you never have been to the Big Apple, or you are hosting folks who will be wide-eyed at the grandness of Radio City, and Patrick Fahey's super large sets, get your tickets now. You can beat the crowds, avoid inclement weather, forget overstuffed subways and just give them a tour of the city without ever leaving your seats.

What Are the Lowlights?
The sappy story left me wanting a bit more. Overall, the show was entertaining, but didn't strike me as super interesting for younger kids, even with the Easter Bunny making an appearance. The Statue of Liberty puppet (voiced by Goldberg) looks a little creepy (it features 20 motors to mimic human face movements. Maybe it's just too life-like?) The 3-D glasses and flashing wrist bands seemed rather unnecessary.

More information:
90 minutes no intermission. Ladies, DO NOT attempt to use the rest room. By the time you make it through the TSA-like inspection of your bags at the door, find your way to your seat and get in line, it already will be all the way up the stairs and across the upper level. The line does move faster than you would think, but just be prepared. Start on the second level and don't listen to the ushers giving directions......

Check out exclusive New York Spring Spectacular behind-the-scenes photos, videos and interviews at www.rockettes.com/spring. Tickets range from $50 - $150, depending on show date and time: www.rockettes.com/spring; 866-858-0007; Box Office (50th Street and Avenue of the Americas). Group tickets of 9+ contact 212-465-6080 or group.sales@msg.com. Box Office hours are daily, 10 am  to 8 pm. Tickets purchased via Ticketmaster are subject to service charges.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Just the whole angel earning his wings thing. No content notes.
Laura Benanti and Derek Hough. Photo: Courtesy of Madison Square Garden Entertainment

Friday, March 27, 2015

Off-Broadway Review: Placebo



Placebo
By Melissa James Gibson
Directed by Daniel Aukin
Playwrights Horizons
Through April 5

What's It all About?
Louise (Carrie Coon  -- Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, "Gone Girl," TV's “The Leftovers”) is working on a randomized double-blind Placebo-controlled test for a new drug for female arousal. Subjects in the sturdy, like Mary (a charming Florencia Lozano), sign up in the hopes that they will get the real pill, and not a placebo. It seems like Louise herself might benefit form the drug she helped create. Things aren't all that exciting at home with her husband, Jonathan (William Jackson Harper, who delighted in A Cool Dip in the Barren Saharan Crick at Playwrights), though she doesn't seem to be aware of it. When she connects with another PHd candidate at work named Tom (Alex Hurt), sparks fly.

Things deteriorate at home for Louise and Jonathan, who asks her to move out so he can work on his own thesis without interruption. Mary, who experienced awakened sexual interest after starting the study, suspects that it might have been all in her head because she's lost interest in her husband again. She's pretty sure she is receiving the placebo. At least she hopes she is, because if she isn't interested while receiving the real drug, what hope does she have?

What Are the Highlights?
Lozano makes us root for her, even though her part is minor. Hurt is amusing as the socially awkward Tom who wins us over with some vending machine antics.

What Are the Lowlights?
Maybe it's self fulfilling -- the play is a placebo for the real thing. It doesn't have the desired effect of creating characters we care about and a plot that' keeps our interest. The setting of office and home together on the stage (David Zinn designs) doesn't work. Maybe the point is that career and personal life overlap, but seeing elements of the other location in scenes was confusing. Some long moments when Louise sings Louise sings “Placebo Domino in regione vivorum,” Vespers for the Dead when her mother dies. That what placebos -- professional mourners in the Middle Ages sang, you see. Sorry, just not feeling this forced moment.

More Information:
Aukin collaborated with Gibson on her play This at at Playwrights in 2009.  Lighting design by Matt Freysound design by Ryan Rumery

Placebo plays through April 5 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St, NYC. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7 pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 and 8 pm and Sundays at 2:30 pm and 7:30. Tickets: www.PHnyc.org.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Language
-- Sexual Dialogue

Monday, March 23, 2015

Broadway Theater Review: Fish in the Dark with Larry David

Larry David and Rita Wilson/ Photo: Joan Marcus
Missing Seinfeld? Just Pull Up at Seat at Broadway's Cort Theatre
By Lauren Yarger
Every word that comes out of Larry David’s mouth in Broadway’s Fish in the Dark sounds just like something Jerry Seinfeld would say. Maybe that’s because everything Jerry said in the TV sitcom “Seinfeld” was kind of what its co-creators David or Seinfeld would say.

Fish in the Dark, also written by David, who makes his Broadway debut as its star alongside a bunch of other star power, feels like an episode from the TV show, so if it you have been missing “Seinfeld” since Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer faded into reruns when the show ended its highly popular run back in 1998, and you are a fan of David’s persona, further portrayed by himself in “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” you are in for a treat.

If you are a theater fan looking for something with a little more plot, character development and a cast of characters small enough for regional theaters to have a shot at producing this play, you might want more from Fish in the Dark ( the cast includes 18 actors who seem never to stop coming out form the wings). But then this show isn’t about producing a play that is going to win a Pulitzer. It is about bringing a popular writer to a new medium and making lots of money. In this, the show’s bigwig producers have succeeded, as tickets (selling as high as $155 a seat) have been flying out of the box office for the limited run, which plays through June 7.

Joining David on stage are some big star names: Rita Wilson (the film actress/producer and wife of Tom Hanks who made her Broadway debut in 2006 in Chicago); Rosie Perez, the always-delightful Jayne Houdyshell, stage veterans Ben Shenkman and Jerry Adler and more. Many, many, many more. The plot revolves around a family coming together around the funeral of its patriarch, Sidney Drexel (Adler).

Norman (David) and his brother, Arthur (Shenkman) fight over who their father has asked to care for their mother, Gloria (Houdyshell). There is no love lost between Gloria and Norman’s wife, Brenda (Wilson), so home sweet home is anything but when the mother-in-law moves in and the wife moves out.

Meanwhile, Norman’s maid, Fabiana (Perez) enters into a plot with Norman to convince Brenda that Fabiana’s son, Diego (Jake Cannavale) is a younger version of Sydney come to visit and requesting his widow provide funds to take care of Fabiana.

There’s more involving Arthur’s bombshell of a girlfriend, Michelle (Jenn Lyon) whom he brings on a date to the hospital where she gets groped by his dying father, projected death certificates ( Set Design by Todd Rosenthal), family promises, lots of arguing and a 1960’s feel enhanced by Ann Roth’s costumes and David Yazbek’s original  music.


Sound is a problem (design by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen) with some of the dialogue very difficult to hear (maybe film stars David and Wilson are used to foley masters enhancing their miked dialogue and don’t realize they need to project more on stage. Director Anna D. Shapiro should have clued them in). But again, with box office records being set, David offers an entertaining, pretty, pretty, pretty nice Broadway debut. (and if you don’t get that three-part “pretty” reference, you might want to spend your $155 on a deeper show).

Fish in the Dark plays through June 7 at the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday at 2 and 8 pm; , Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 pm, Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets $$49 - $155: (800) 432-7250; http://fishinthedark.com.

Note-- Ladies, don't count on being able to use this small bathroom.

Christians might also like to know:
 -- Language
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Sexual dialogue
-- Sexual situations

Friday, March 20, 2015

Casting Announced for Tempest, Cymbeline in Park

The cast of The Public Theater’s free Shakespeare in the Park production of Much Ado About Nothing. Photo: Joan Marcus
This summer's free Shakespeare in the Park sponsored by the Public Theater will feature Shakespeare’s late romances with The Tempest, directed by Tony Award nominee Michael Greif, and Cymbeline, directed by Tony Award winner Daniel Sullivan. 

Jesse Tyler Ferguson will return to the Park this summer as Trinculo in The Tempest. Hamish Linklater and Lily Rabe team up again with Sullivan on Cymbeline to play Posthumus Leonatus/Cloten and Imogen, respectively.

The Tempest will kick off the summer with Academy Award nominee Sam Waterston (“The Newsroom”) playing Prospero, his 13th Shakespearean production at The Public. He first premiered on the Delacorte stage in As You Like It in 1963. 

In addition to Waterston, The Tempest cast will include Whitney Bashor (Juno); Louis Cancelmi (Caliban); Francesca Carpanini(Miranda); Nicholas Christopher (Boatswain, Spirit); Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Trinculo); Olga Karmansky (Iris); Tamika Lawrence(Ceres); Danny Mastrogiorgio (Stephano); Charles Parnell (Alonso); Chris Perfetti (Ariel); Rodney Richardson (Ferdinand); Cotter Smith (Antonio); and Bernard White (Gonzalo). The non-equity ensemble includes Jordan Barrow, Chloe Fox, Thomas Gibbons, Sunny Hitt, Brandon Kalm, Rico Lebron, Suki Lopez, and Matthew Oaks.

The Tempest will run for five weeks from Wednesday, May 27 through Sunday, July 5, with an official press opening on Tuesday, June 16. Cymbeline, beginning Thursday, July 23, has added an additional three performances to the four-week run that will close on Sunday, Aug. 23 and have an official press opening on Monday, Aug. 10.


Since 1962, more than 5 million people have enjoyed more than 150 free productions of Shakespeare and other classical works and musicals at the Delacorte Theater.  Free tickets to The Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park are distributed, two per person, at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park on the day of the show. The Public Theater will again offer free tickets through our Virtual Ticketing lottery on the day of the show atwww.publictheater.org. The Delacorte Theater in Central Park is accessible by entering at 81st Street and Central Park West or at 79th Street and Fifth Avenue.

From the League of Professional Theatre Women's Big Mingle and Awards

With the fabulous Kristine Nielsen who hosted the event.


Dick Scanlon presents the Lee Reynolds Award to Mary-Mitchell Campbell.

Dael Orlandersmith presents the Josephine Abady Award to Sandra A. Dailey-Sharif.
With Pat Addiss, producer of Gigi and Dinner With the Boys

Ellen McLaughlin honors Rachel Dickstein with the Lucille Lortel.
Sybille Pearson presents the Lifetime Achievement Award to Kathleen Chalfant.


Anna Louizos presents the Ruth Morley Design Award to Donyale Werle.
Kristine doing her thing.

It's wonderful when there are so many talented theater women in one room!

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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