Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book Note: Show Stopping Recipes: From Your Palace to Your Plate

Just in time for holiday shopping comes a special cookbook from the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

Comprised of more than 250 recipes submitted by the theater's staff and volunteers, the hardcover volume (published through Morris Press Cookbooks, 2014) is creatively laid out with step-by-step instructions on how to make every meal a showstopper, from the "Opening Number" (soups, salads and appetizers) to the final "Curtain Call" (desserts). 

Other sections are "Supporting Cast"(vegetables and side dishes), "Featured Presentation" (main dishes), "Intermission" (breads and rolls) and "Encore" (cookies and candies). Clever!

I just received a copy of the book to review an already have book marked a number of savory sounding recipes to try out:
  • Greek chicken, spinach and rice soup by Karen Streeter
  • Coleslaw vinaigrette by Judith Campbell
  • Bacon and double cheese quiche by Joan Montesi
  • Sour cream almond coffee cake by Maureen Piccochi
Actually, there are a lot of them --  more than I usually bookmark in these community group type cookbooks.

The front of the book offers a short history of the theater and a message from its CEO Frank Tavera (would have loved to see more photos of the beautiful theater, but they probably aren't an option for this publishing format). Also would have loved a listing of the contributors and their relationship to the theater. The book instead includes some generic "helpful hints" sections.

The idea for the cookbook was generated by the Palace Theater’s Volunteer Fundraising Committee, which is spearheaded by members Genevieve Delkescamp, Carol Marchand, Karen Streeter and George Theroux.

Each cookbook is $20, or $20 for the first book and $15 for each additional copy, and can be purchased at the Box Office, 100 E. Main St. in Waterbury, or in the theater’s gift shop during all upcoming performances. Proceeds from sales benefit the Palace Theater Annual Campaign.
-- Lauren Yarger

Monday, December 15, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: The River starring Hugh Jackman

Plot Waters Too Murky to Figure Out What Hugh Jackman is Doing By the River
By Lauren Yarger
Let me start out by saying that I although I was somewhat alone in the critics circles a couple of seasons ago, I really liked Jez Butterworth’s puzzling, deep and humorous play Jerusalem (also directed by Ian Dickson).

Critics weren’t sure what the heck it was about, but enjoyed the fabulous performance of Mark Rylance. I appreciated the mythical saga of a man’s journey through pain and felt, yes, somewhat superior to my colleagues who didn’t get it. No longer.

After seeing The River, Butterworth’s newest play, getting a limited run at Circle in the Square Theater with Box-Office-Golden Hugh Jackman as its star, I have to admit I’m in the “didn’t-get-it” category for this one. A colleague texted me after seeing it: “What the heck was that about?” “No idea,” I replied.

Jackman plays a man (listed in the Playbill only as “The Man,” so you know you’re in trouble….) who likes fishing a lot at a “cabin on the cliffs, above the river” – the nonspecifics continue. We know he likes fishing because he talks about it a lot to two women (Cush Jumbo and Laura Donnelly), identified as The Woman and The Other Woman who appear at the cabin separate from each other, but who tend to have the same conversation with The Man….

Is he really just trying to get them to do a little night fishing or is there more sinister bait at the end of his hook? Who are they and why are they at the cabin, and whose drawing with the face missing is hidden under the bed and why is her dress still in the cabin? No clue.

“I promised myself I would only bring one woman here,” Jackman’s character tells one of the women. “The woman I wanted to spend my life with. The woman I wanted to be with forever. She would come here, and it would be sacred. It would be something I had only shared with her and her alone.”

OK, so is the woman with her face scratched out that “sacred” choice and none of these others can fill her shoes? Is this a line which he uses to gain the confidence of a long stream of woman he captures in his net? Is one of them the ideal woman before her face is scratched out of the photo? Do they all only exist in his imagination? Did he kill one or more of them and now he’s is reeling in his next catch? Did his uncle do the killing? Is this some sort of purgatory? 

No clue, but it certainly was 80 minutes of confusion for my brain, despite Jackman’s solid performance and fish-gutting skills. The able design team is Scenic Design by Ultz, Costume Design by EsosaLighting Design by Charles Balfour; Sound Design by Ian Dickinson for Autograph, music by Stephen Warbeck.

In an attempt to offer you some insight to the play and its meaning, I offer you the description from the show’s page:

“On a moonless evening, a man brings his new girlfriend to a remote cabin for a night of trout-fishing. But before the night is over, it becomes clear that nothing is as it seems… and as memory collides with desire, the truth becomes the most elusive catch of all.”

In addition, here the few notes I scribbled on my reporter’s pad: 
  • What the heck did that mean?” (The Woman had just read a poem by Yeats.)
  • · “Isn’t that a different woman?”
  • · “He just said he loved her while gutting a fish.”
  • · “Who the heck is buried out at the abandoned house?”
  • · “Isn’t that a different woman again?”
  • · “Isn’t that the same water spigot they used for The Miracle Worker and Godspell at this theater?
  • · “Isn’t that a different woman again?”
OK, now you write the review…. Press agents asked us not to reveal the ending. No problem since I didn’t get that either.

The best part of the night came after the curtain when Jackman enticed members of the audience to bid on the T-shirt he was wearing to raise funds for Broadway Cares, Equity Fights AIDs. The quite personable actor ended up with two parties paying $7,000 each for the privilege of having their pictures taken with him backstage. He also brought in the most money – almost $500,000 – of all the Broadway, Off-Broadway and touring shows competing in this year’s Gypsy competition for the cause.

That’s the kind of star power that is keeping The River packing the house with premium tickets selling as high as $275 each. It sure isn’t the plot.

The River runs (nice pun) through Feb. 8 at Circle in the Square Theatre, 235 W. 50th St., NYC. Perfromances: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets $35-$175;

Christians might also like to know:
-- The show posts a MATURE warning
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain

Drama Desk Holiday Party

Sandi Durell, Rex Reed, Lillian Wolf and Lauren Yarger
Drama Desk members and guests gathered at the Coffee House Club Friday for the annual holiday party. Lots of fun. Some celebrities joined the fun. All photos by the fabulous Barry Gordin. More available at

David Sheward, Drama Desk President Charles Wright, Nominating Committe Chair Barbabar Siegel, Scott Siegel

Board members John Istel and David Kauffman

Jeffry Denman, Mary Testa and Charles Wright

Reed Birney and Patrick Christiano

Jeffry Denham and Lauren Yarger

Pat Addiss, Linda Langton and Lauren Yarger
Board members Leslie Hoban Blake and Arlene Epstein

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Kathie Lee Gifford Shares How Faith Helps Shape Generosity

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Kathie Lee Gifford supported the Salvation Army last week in Harlem.
Photo courtesy of the Salvation Army.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Broadway Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Bestselling Novel Comes to Stage in Full Sensory Experience
By Lauren Yarger
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time proves once again why Britain’s National Theatre is one of Broadway’s hottest tickets.

The production of Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel into a stage production was no easy feat. Any adaptation of a work that has such a loyal following is difficult in itself. Will the show live up to expectations? Will it include all of the parts enjoyed by fans? This book’s concept offered even greater challenges since most of it takes place in the mind of an autistic boy.

For this production of Curious, Director Marianne Elliott (who won the Tony for the excellent War Horse) and Scenic and Costume Designer Bunny Christie (who has three Oliviers) don’t disappoint. They depict every sensation, every thought honed with mathematical precision, every emotion that takes flight to produce an immersive experience quite unlike anything we have seen on a Broadway stage.

Recent Julliard graduate Alexander Sharp makes a smashing Broadway debut as Christopher, a 15-year –old who is exceptional at math, but ill-equipped to interpret everyday life.  When the police suspect him of killing a dog belonging to his neighbor, Mrs. Shears (Mercedes Herrero), he initiates his own investigation into the incident and records his observations in a book he is writing to solve the murder. His special-ed teacher Siobhan  (Francesca Faridany) reads to us from it and later convinces Christopher to turn it into a play. By using this technique, script writer Simon Stephens keeps the idea of the first-person narrative from the novel.

The boy’s father, Ed (Ian Barford), who has been raising Christopher alone, is very much opposed to the investigation, however, especially when helpful neighbor Mrs. Alexander (Helen Carey) provides some disturbing information about Christopher’s mother, Judy (Enid Graham).

Christopher continues, however, making a map (projected onto screens and the stage) and setting out on a voyage that has him walking down walls, flying through space and ending up at the truth.
The story is engaging (if a bit drawn-out at two and a half hours) thanks to Elliot’s excellent direction. Actors not involved in the action take seats around the stage, leaning in when the story gets interesting. The real triumph here is Christie’s visual communication of Christopher’s thought process.

“I see everything,” he says, and we see everything he sees. Concepts become projected mathematical equations (designed by Finn Ross with lighting by Paule Constable); heightened emotions and thoughts jumbling at too-fast a rate manifest in a crash of music and sound (designed by Adrian Sutton and  Ian Dickinson for Autograph, respectively).

This full sensory experience becomes one giant piece of breath-taking choreography (movement by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly) that involves the audience in emotional ways and takes Broadway stage production to a new level. At the end of the performance, the audience gave a collective “hmmmm” then burst into applause. Now that’s theater that makes you think.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time transferred to London’s West End (where it still runs), following a sold-out run at the National’s Cottesloe Theatre in 2012. The production received seven Olivier including Best New Play. Look for it at the 2015 Tonys….

Curious? Catch it at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre,  243 West 47th St., NYC, Performances: Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm; Tickets $27 - $129

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

Monday, December 1, 2014

Off-Broadway Theater Review: The Oldest Boy

This Story Idea Proves a Bit of a Leap of Faith
By Lauren Yarger
You’re a mother and of course that means you want the best for your son. But what if the “best” means that when he is just 3, you have to give him over to the care of strangers in a foreign land and never see him again?

Such is the question playwright Sarah Ruhl wants us to ponder in her new work, The Oldest Boy, getting an Off-Broadway run at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre. It seems Tenzin (portrayed by a puppet created and directed by Matt Acheson of War Horse fame), the toddler son of an American woman (Celia Keenan-Bolger) and a Tibetan man (James Yaegashi), has been recognized as the reincarnation of a recently deceased Lama, a high Buddhist teacher. A visiting lama (James Saito) and a monk (Jon Norman Schneider) want the parents to allow them to take Tenzin to their temple in India for training.

To make the idea a bit more plausible, Ruhl (Stage Kiss, In the Other Room, Dead Man’s Cell Phone; faculty at Yale School of Drama) pens the mother as someone who embraces and who eventually converts to the Buddhist faith.

Even still…..

Apparently the reincarnated lama/boy (who seems really creepy in his wooden puppet form -- manipulated by some chorus members -- and voiced in a whiny manner by full-grown Ernest Abuba) needs to go back, but his parents can’t come with him. Oh, they go check out the place (vividly created with projections, costumes, lighting and choreography designed by Mimi Lien, Anita Yavich, Japhy Weideman, and Barney O’Hanlon respectively), but once a special ceremony takes place the toddler transforms into his former, older self – at least in the eyes of his mother. Emotionally struggling with giving up her boy, she is thrilled that her new baby is a girl and can’t be taken away for training in a monastery.

Really? Would any mother willingly drop off her son in another country, say goodbye and return home convinced that the sacrifice would be worth it in the long run? Maybe, but not me, so I struggled with the plausibility of the plot throughout the play. Even if you became convinced that your son was the reincarnation of a wise teacher who wanted to return to his roots, wouldn’t you want to stay with him and see him while he was growing up? Could you really stand their while your son cried and miserably and begged you not to allow the monks to cut his hair and let them? I couldn’t.

Let’s put it into context to which I can relate. Say my son were discovered to be in line to the throne of England and he needed to grow up at Buckingham Palace to be trained in his royal heritage. Would I want to stand in the way of his being able to claim his inheritance? No. I would want him to be able to ride to the hounds, attend state dinners and wear the crown jewels with the best of them. But you’d better believe the queen would have to provide a suite at the castle for me too, because I can’t imagine packing him up at the age of 3, dropping him off at William and Kate’s and never seeing him again. And if they insisted on giving him a haircut to make him look like Prince Charles, you better believe I would object.

There is no loss of affection between the mother and son in the play, even when the older man’s soul seems to take over the boy, so the whole question about giving him up totally and making a sacrifice seems to be more about creating a plot device to give emotional fodder rather than grounding a story in plausible circumstance (Keenan-Bolger does justice to the flighty, conflicted American woman). The father even suggests at one point that they can move to India and visit the boy on weekends. Good idea.

That said, there isn’t too much tension about the religious choices of the mother either. Raised Catholic, the woman embraced the “scientific” and “rational” qualities of Buddhism in a search for God that also took her through a time of atheism (ironically, she hates the story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son). She met her Tibetan husband when she fell in love with the food he cooked at his restaurant (this and other elements of the story are told in flashbacks, directed by Rebecca Taichman in a manner that doesn’t confuse) and now, it appears their meeting was ordained when their son, as his former Lama self, chose her to be her mother in his rebirth.

She doesn’t really answer, I noticed, however, when her young son starts asking questions and making philosophical ponderings about God. She later decides she is ready to convert and asks for guidance from the visiting lama who says he used to be her son’s student.

The highlights in this otherwise non-engaging two-hour production are some comedic moments with the monk and the beautiful backdropping which incorporates live action, sound and images to transport us to spiritual Asia.

The Oldest Boy is Reincarnated Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 3 pm at the Mitzi E. Newhouse, Lincoln Center, 150 West 65th St., NYC. Tickets $87.; (800) 432-7250.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Buddhist meditation, chanting and prayer
-- God's name taken in vain

Monday, November 24, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: Side Show

David St. Louis (center), Emily Padgett and Erin Davie. Photo:  Joan Marcus
Side Show Asks Whether a Couple of ‘Freaks’ Can Find a Normal Life
By Lauren Yarger
Inspired by the true-life story of conjoined twins who became the highest-paid performers on the Vaudeville circuit, Broadway’s revival of Side Show offers some solid voices singing a pleasing Henry Krieger score, but let’s face it. Life as sisters joined at the hip – literally – has its drawbacks and, well, is still kind of a bummer despite songs and material added to broaden the scope of this revival.

Erin Davie and Emily Padgett are the Hilton twins, Violet  and Daisy. Abused by their guardian, whom they call Sir (Robert Joy), they are forced to work in the freak show he runs and to strip and reveal their connection to anyone willing to pay a few extra bucks. Sir draws the line at anyone touching the girls, however, and employs Jake (David St. Louis in a break-out role) to protect them. He does more than that. He falls in love with Violet.

Violent loves Jake, but as a friend. Despite wanting a home and family, and a life “Like Everyone Else,” she doesn’t think the society who drools over her and her "Freak" friends would be tolerant of her relationship with an African-American any way. Meanwhile, Daisy, the opposite of her sister in personality, is flirty and dreams of adventure and fame in Hollywood.

Along comes a man who might be able to make that happen. Terry Connor (Ryan Silverman) catches the girls’ act and convinces friend Buddy Foster (Matthew Hydzik), a scout for the Orpheum Circuit, that they have potential. He creates an act for them with song-and-dance man Buddy (Anthony Van Laast choreographs) and helps them win their freedom from Sir. 

Meanwhile, he orchestrates publicity frenzy over Buddy’s marriage to Violet, all while avoiding his own feelings for Daisy. He might be willing to explore them, he tells her, if the twins would agree to undergo risky surgery to separate them.

The story plays out against a set designed by David Rockwell and lighted by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer to bring out the dark mood and humor: “I’m well connected, a character claims…” 

Assorted “Freaks” are frighteningly costumed by Paul Tazewell with Hair and Wig Design by Charles LaPointe, Makeup Design by Cookie Jordan and Special Makeup Effects by Dave Elsy and Lou Elsy. Illusions are by Paul Kieve, Tazewell also has a chance to create some stunning evening dresses for the twins.

The cast of Side Show's characters includes a Three-Legged Man (Brandon Bieber), a Dog Boy (Javier Ignacio), a Half Man Half Woman (Kelvin Moon Loh), a Reptile Man (Don Richard) and a Bearded Lady (Blair Ross) among many others. 

Violet and Daisy's friend Houdini (Ignacio) teaches the girls how to disappear into themselves, but what they really want is to find someone “Who Will Love Me As I Am.” Davie and Padgett nail that showstopper ending to Act One, with its moving lyrics by Bill Russell. The audience included obvious fans of the show who were waiting for that number and others like “I Will Never Leave You.”

Standing out is dreamy-voiced St. Louis, who brings down the house with “The Devil You Know” and makes us feel Jake’s pain. All of the vocals are good here, actually, so maybe these leads will find their way to stardom the way original stars Emily Skinner, Alice Ripley and Norm Lewis did following the original Broadway production.

Reimagining the show with some new material and bringing in film Director Bill Condon (“Chicago,” “Dreamgirls,” “Twilight: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 and 2”) for his stage debut doesn’t change the underlying sad tone to this show, however.

View Side Show at the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th St., NYC. Performances are Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets: $49 - $155. A limited number of $30 student rush tickets for student’s under 30 years old are available at the Box Office for purchase on day of performance.

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

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for 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.


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



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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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