Monday, April 27, 2015

Broadway Theater Review: Hand to God

Steven Boyer in a scene from Robert Askins' HAND TO GOD on Broadway. (Photo by Joan Marcus)
Hand to God
By Robert Askins
Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel
The Booth Theatre

What's It All About?
The Broadway transfer of Robert Askins' very dark (and I do mean very) play about a church puppet ministry in Texas and a demon-possessed puppet named Tyrone that takes over his handler, Jason (Steven Boyer, who reprises the role for which he has been honored with Obie, Lucille Lortel and the Clarence Derwent Awards.) Jason is forced to take part in the ministry by his mother, Margery (Geneva Carr, in her Broadway debut), who directs it to keep herself busy after the death of her husband. 

The sleazy pastor, Greg (a miscast Marc Kudish) tries to hit on her, but when she gives into temptation, it's for a repulsive S&M relationship with puppet ministry teen Timothy (Michael Oberholtzer, also making his Broadway debut). All this wreaks havoc with sensitive Jason, who is influenced more and more by Tyrone, who gives him tips for how to win the affections of the other member of the puppet team, Jessica (Sarah Stiles).

Tyrone leads Jason to horrible violence -- and to a lengthy session of puppet porn as he and Jessica's puppet engage in every possible type of sexual activity while the teens talk.

What are the highlights?
Boyer's performance is very good. His puppetry skills and body language are amazing. He is a nominee for the 2015 Drama League Distinguished Performance and will host those awards, along with Tyrone, on May 15.

What Are the Lowlights?
Really repulsive show. It doesn't find the uncontested humor of something like Book of Mormon, that crosses some lines of reverence, but overwhelmingly uses the religion's own questionable points for laughs (we all need to poke fun at ourselves). This just portrays Christians as idiots. It's message, spoken directly to us by Tyrone, that evil and the devil are  man-made things, that Jesus dying on the cross is just something made up  and that we should all just let ourselves off the hook for having natural desires that should just be allowed to thrive. 

When I saw this Off-Broadway, I thought it was not very funny and misguided, but not particularly hostile in its intent, despite the fact that it's just another play by a playwright who obviously has walked away from faith and wants to vent. This Broadway version, however, focuses on the dark and evil -- the scene after Tyrone possesses Jason designed by Beowulf Boritt includes pentagrams, upside-down crosses, "Hail Satan," the number 666 and a picture of Jesus with his private parts (looking uncircumcised) exposed -- all greeted by wild laughter from the audience. I felt uncomfortable and it takes a lot to do that with me. That puppet sex scene is like watching porn.

Kudish is as uncomfortable trying to figure out what to do with his stereotypical role as the character is trying to figure out how to ask Margery out. Carr shouts all her lines in one tone.

If you really want to see a show that bashes God and Christians, wait until I have a chance to review An Act of God starring Jim Parsons, which opens May 28. Somehow, I am guessing it will be funnier.

More information:
The design team for Hand to God includes costumes by Sydney Maresca, lighting by Jason Lyons, sound by Jill BC Du Boff, puppet design by Marte Johanne Ekhougen, and fight direction by Robert Westley.

It plays at the Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th St., NYC;

Christians might like to know:
In addition to the concerns listed above..
-- Sexual dialogue
-- Bondage
-- Ripping of bible
-- Cursing against God
-- Lord's name taken in vain
-- Language
-- Graphic violence with blood

Broadway Theater Review: The Heidi Chronicles

Elisabeth Moss. Photo: Joan Marcus
The Heidi Chronicles
By Wendy Wasserstein
Directed by Pam MacKinnon
The Music Box Theatre
Through May 3, 2015

What's It All About?
A journey with Heidi Holland ("Mad Men's" Elisabeth Moss) and the women's rights movement from the 1960s through the 1980s She enters a career as an art historian and shares the ups and downs of her life with gay best friend, dentist Peter Patrone (Bryce Pinkham), and Scoop Rosenbaum (Jason Biggs), a magazine editor who manipulates her through a sexual relationship and longtime, tense friendship, though he marries another woman Lisa (Leighton Bryan). The journey through the years also is shared with a number of friends and acquaintances (played by Bryan, Tracee Chimo, Elise Kibler,  Ali Ahn and Andy Truschinski ) and is marked by a sense of betrayal that the women's movement didn't deliver on its promises.

"On a scale from one to 10, if you aim for six and get six, everything will work out nicely," scoop tells Heidi prophetically. "But if you aim for 10 in all things, and get six, you're going to be very disappointed. And unfortunately that's why you quality time girls are going to be one generation of disappointed women. Interesting, exemplary, even sexy, but basically unhappy."

Heidi finally decides she can be a mother on her own and adopts.

What are the Highlights?
Many women are excited to see this play again. When it first was produced in the late 1980s, it touched a chord with many of them as they recognized themselves in Heidi, It won the 1989 Pulitzer Prize.

Moss is a good actress and gives Heidi a range of emotion and growth. She will be honored with a caricature at Sardi's tomorrow at an unveiling ceremony.

What are the Lowlights?
I was surprised at how much I didn't relate, even though I had enjoyed reading the play years ago. I came a bit behind Heidi in in the time period, but experienced many of the same moments with regards to the women's movement (while some progress has been made, there are still some things that haven't improved in my lifetime and the women's movement seems almost dead to me).  I found most of the characters unlikable. The action seemed to drag at two hours and 35 minutes.

More information:
The design team includes scenic design by John Lee Beatty, costume design by Jessica Pabst, lighting design by Japhy Weideman, sound design by Jill BC Du Boff, projection design by Peter Nigrini, and hair and make-up design by Leah J. Loukas. 

Performances are Tuesday - Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $59 - $139:

The Heidi Chronicles ends its run at the Music Box Theatre, 239 west 45th St., NYC on May 3.

Christians might also like to know:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Homosexuality
-- Language
-- Nudity in a projection
-- Sexual dialogue

Things to Do While You Are in New York City -- South Street Seaport Museum

Photo courtesy of Michelle Tabnick Communications
Tons of activities await at South Street Seaport Museum, home to a fleet of six ships including the 1907 lightship AMBROSE, a “floating lighthouse” to guide ships safely from the Atlantic Ocean into the broad mouth of lower New York Bay, the 1885 ship WAVERTREE, one of the last large sailing ships built of wrought iron, and the 1885 schooner PIONEER, an authentic 19th Century Schooner, with public sails daily from May thru October.

The museum is located at 12 Fulton St.,  NYC.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

2015 Drama Desk Nominations


Awards will be presented Sunday, May 31st at The Town Hall

(Thursday, April 23, 2015) - Nominations for the 2015 Annual Drama Desk Awards were announced this afternoon at 54 Below by previous Drama Desk winners Judith Light (The Assembled Parties, Other Desert Cities) and Jessie Mueller (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical).

The nominations announcement was streamed live on The full list of nominees is available on the website, and below.

In keeping with Drama Desk's mission, nominators considered shows that opened on Broadway, Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway during the 2014-2015 New York theater season.

The 2014-2015 Drama Desk nominating committee is composed of: Barbara Siegel, chairperson, (author and freelance critic); Benjamin Coleman (literary associate, Samuel French Inc.); Adrian Dimanlig ("Interludes,"; Steve Garrin (broadcast producer; sound designer); Mahayana Landowne (theater director; interactive artist); and Steve Marsh (Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Theatre Arts, Stony Brook University).

Eligibility and award category designations for the productions under consideration this season were determined by the Drama Desk board of directors with recommendations from the nominating committee. Because of the abundance of great work throughout the season, the Board also authorized the increase in the number of nominees allowed in select categories.

The Drama Desk nominees will receive their official nomination certificates at the nominees' reception on May 6th from 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. at New World Stages.

The 60th Annual Drama Desk Awards, hosted by Laura Benanti, will take place on Sunday, May 31, 2015, at 8:00 PM at The Town Hall in Manhattan. will present the awards ceremony. Gretchen Shugart is Managing Executive Producer of the Drama Desk Awards. Joey Parnes Productions will produce and manage the show. The President of Drama Desk is Charles Wright.

About Drama Desk
Drama Desk was founded in 1949 to explore key issues in the theater and to bring together critics and writers in an organization to support the ongoing development of theater in New York. The organization began presenting its awards in 1955, and it is the only critics' organization to honor achievement in the theater with competition among Broadway, Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway productions in the same categories.

The 2014-2015 Board of Directors of the Drama Desk consists of: David Barbour (Lighting&Sound America), Leslie (Hoban) Blake (Two On The Aisle), Arlene Epstein (South Shore Record and Herald Community Newspapers), Elysa Gardner (USA Today), Isa Goldberg (, John Istel (Freelance), Edward Karam (, David Kaufman (Author & Freelance), Richard Ridge (, William Wolf (adjunct professor, NYU and, Charles Wright (A+E Networks), Lauren Yarger (Manchester Journal-Inquirer &

Founded in 1999, TheaterMania connects the theater industry to a mass consumer audience, with comprehensive listings, news, reviews, features, interviews, and video content covering theater across the United States. TheaterMania's widely distributed email newsletters provide special ticket offers to over one million subscribers.  In addition to providing theaters with online marketing programs to drive ticket sales, TheaterMania's proprietary ticketing system OvationTix™ is used throughout America by hundreds of performing arts organizations, museums, concerts, festivals, and events to process tickets sales, and manage fundraising and patron information.  TheaterMania also owns London-based, a source for information and tickets to UK theatre, and the producer of the annual WhatsOnStage Awards.

About Joey Parnes Productions
Led by Joey Parnes, a Broadway producer and general manager with over 35 years' experience, Joey Parnes Productions produces, executive produces, and general manages theatrical productions from the commercial and non-profit worlds, both on and off Broadway, internationally and on the road. Currently represented on Broadway by The Tony Award winning A Gentleman's Guide To Love and Murder, Fish in the Dark, and Skylight; recent credits include A Delicate Balance, This Is Our Youth, A Raisin In The Sun (2014; Tony Award), Betrayal (2013), Vanya and Sonya and Masha and Spike (Tony Award), and the revival of HAIR (Tony Award). Joey served as the Coordinating Producer of the Tony Awards from 2001 to 2008 and with his colleagues Sue Wagner and John Johnson has produced the Drama Desk Awards since 2012.

For more information, please visit:


Outstanding Play
Clare Barron, You Got Older
Lisa D'Amour, Airline Highway
Anthony Giardina, The City of Conversation
Stephen Adly Guirgis, Between Riverside and Crazy
Elizabeth Irwin, My Manãna Comes
Simon Stephens, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Jack Thorne, Let the Right One In

Outstanding Musical
An American in Paris
Fly By Night
Pretty Filthy
Something Rotten
The Visit

Outstanding Revival of a Play
The Elephant Man
Fashions for Men
The Iceman Cometh
Tamburlaine the Great
The Wayside Motor Inn

Outstanding Revival of a Musical
Into the Woods
The King and I
On the Town
On the Twentieth Century
Side Show

Outstanding Actor in a Play
Reed Birney, I'm Gonna Pray For You So Hard
Bradley Cooper, The Elephant Man
Stephen McKinley Henderson, Between Riverside and Crazy
Ben Miles, Wolf Hall, Parts 1 & 2
Bill Pullman, Sticks and Bones
Alexander Sharp, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Outstanding Actress in a Play
Brooke Bloom, You Got Older
Kathleen Chalfant, A Walk in the Woods
Kristin Griffith, The Fatal Weakness
Jan Maxwell, The City of Conversation
Helen Mirren, The Audience
Carey Mulligan, Skylight
Tonya Pinkins, Rasheeda Speaking

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Brian d'Arcy James, Something Rotten!
Robert Fairchild, An American in Paris
Jeremy Kushnier, Atomic
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
Matthew Morrison, Finding Neverland
Ryan Silverman, Side Show

Outstanding Actress in a Musical
Kate Baldwin, John & Jen
Kristin Chenoweth, On the Twentieth Century
Leanne Cope, An American in Paris
Erin Davie, Side Show
Lisa Howard, It Shoulda Been You
Chita Rivera, The Visit

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
F. Murray Abraham, It's Only a Play
Reed Birney, You Got Older
K. Todd Freeman, Airline Highway
Jonathan Hadary, Rocket to the Moon
Jason Butler Harner, The Village Bike
Jonathan Hogan, Pocatello
José Joaquin Perez, My Mañana Comes

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
Annaleigh Ashford, You Can't Take It with You
Beth Dixon, The City of Conversation
Julie Halston, You Can't Take It with You
Paola Lázaro-Muñoz, To the Bone
Lydia Leonard, Wolf Hall, Parts 1 & 2
Julie White, Airline Highway

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
Christian Borle, Something Rotten!
Peter Friedman, Fly By Night
Josh Grisetti, It Shoulda Been You
Andy Karl, On the Twentieth Century
Leslie Odom Jr., Hamilton
Brad Oscar, Something Rotten!
Max von Essen, An American in Paris

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
Carolee Carmello, Finding Neverland
Tyne Daly, It Shoulda Been You
Elizabeth A. Davis, Allegro
Renee Elise Goldsberry, Hamilton
Luba Mason, Pretty Filthy
Nancy Opel, Honeymoon in Vegas
Elizabeth Stanley, On the Town

Outstanding Director of a Play
Marianne Elliott, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Jeremy Herrin, Wolf Hall, Parts 1 & 2
Anne Kauffman, You Got Older
Lila Neugebauer, The Wayside Motor Inn
Austin Pendleton, Between Riverside and Crazy
Joe Tantalo, Deliverance
John Tiffany, Let the Right One In

Outstanding Director of a Musical
Carolyn Cantor, Fly By Night
Bill Condon, Side Show
John Doyle, The Visit
Thomas Kail, Hamilton
Casey Nicholaw, Something Rotten!
Christopher Wheeldon, An American in Paris

Outstanding Choreography
Joshua Bergasse, On the Town
Warren Carlyle, On the Twentieth Century
Steven Hoggett, The Last Ship
Austin McCormick, Rococo Rouge
Casey Nicholaw, Something Rotten
Christopher Wheeldon, An American in Paris

Outstanding Music
Jason Robert Brown, Honeymoon in Vegas
Michael Friedman, The Fortress of Solitude
John Kander, The Visit
Dave Malloy, Ghost Quartet
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
Sting, The Last Ship

Outstanding Lyrics
Jason Robert Brown, Honeymoon in Vegas
Fred Ebb, The Visit
Michael Friedman, The Fortress of Solitude
Karey Kirkpatrick & Wayne Kirkpatrick, Something Rotten!
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
Benjamin Scheuer, The Lion

Outstanding Book of a Musical
Hunter Bell & Lee Overtree, Found
Karey Kirkpatrick & John O'Farrell, Something Rotten!
Craig Lucas, An American in Paris
Terence McNally, The Visit
Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
Kim Rosenstock, Will Connolly, & Michael Mitnick, Fly By Night

Outstanding Orchestrations
Christopher Austin, An American in Paris
Mary-Mitchell Campbell, Allegro
Larry Hochman, Something Rotten!
Alex Lacamoire, Hamilton
Rob Mathes, The Last Ship
Don Sebesky, Larry Blank, Jason Robert Brown, & Charlie Rosen, Honeymoon in Vegas

Outstanding Music in a Play
Cesar Alvarez, An Octoroon
Danny Blackburn & Bryce Hodgson, Deliverance
Sean Cronin, Kill Me Like You Mean It
Bongi Duma, Generations
Freddi Price, The Pigeoning
Arthur Solari & Jane Shaw, Tamburlaine the Great

Outstanding Revue
Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging!
Just Jim Dale
Lennon: Through a Glass Onion
Lonesome Traveler

Outstanding Set Design
Bob Crowley, An American in Paris
Christine Jones, Let The Right One In
David Korins, Hamilton
Mimi Lien, An Octoroon
Scott Pask, The Visit
Daniel Zimmerman, Fashions for Men

Outstanding Costume Design
Bob Crowley, An American in Paris
Bob Crowley, The Audience
Christopher Oram, Wolf Hall, Parts 1 & 2
Paul Tazewell, Hamilton
Andrea Varga, The Fatal Weakness
Catherine Zuber, Gigi

Outstanding Lighting Design
Howell Binkley, Hamilton
Paule Constable, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Paule Constable & David Plater, Wolf Hall, Parts 1 & 2
Maruti Evans, Deliverance
Natasha Katz, The Iceman Cometh
Ben Stanton, Our Lady of Kibeho

Outstanding Projection Design
59 Productions, An American in Paris
Roger Hanna & Price Johnston, Donogoo
Darrel Maloney, Found
Peter Nigrini, Our Lady of Kibeho
Finn Ross, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Austin Switser, Big Love

Outstanding Sound Design in a Musical
Peter Hylenski, Side Show
Scott Lehrer, The King & I
Scott Lehrer & Drew Levy, Honeymoon in Vegas
Brian Ronan, The Last Ship
Nevin Steinberg, Hamilton
Jon Weston, An American in Paris

Outstanding Sound Design in a Play
Nathan Davis, The Other Mozart
Ien Denio, Deliverance
Ian Dickinson (for Autograph), The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Gareth Fry, Let the Right One In
John Gromada, Lives of the Saints
Matt Tierney, Our Lady of Kibeho

Outstanding Solo Performance
Christina Bianco, Application Pending
Jonny Donahoe, Every Brilliant Thing
Tom Dugan, Wiesenthal
Mona Golabek, The Pianist of Willesden Lane
Joely Richardson, The Belle of Amherst
Benjamin Scheuer, The Lion

Unique Theatrical Experience
Catch Me!
Everybody Gets Cake
The Human Symphony
Queen of the Night
A Rap Guide to Religion

Special Awards: Each year, the Drama Desk votes special awards to recognize excellence and significant contributions to the theatre.

For 2014-15, these awards are:
This year the nominators chose to bestow a special award for outstanding ensemble to the actors who so brilliantly shared a room in the world of A. R. Gurney's The Wayside Motor Inn: Kelly AuCoin, Jon DeVries, Quincy Dunn-Baker, Rebecca Henderson, Marc Kudisch, Jenn Lyon, Lizbeth Mackay, David McElwee, Ismenia Mendes, and Will Pullen.

To Bess Wohl, the Sam Norkin Off-Broadway Award: For establishing herself as an important voice in New York theater, and having a breakthrough year with the eclectic American Hero, Pretty Filthy, and Small Mouth Sounds. Her writing expresses sensitivity, compassion, and humor with a sure hand.

To John Douglas Thompson: For invigorating theater in New York through his commanding presence, classical expertise, and vocal prowess.  This season he demonstrated exceptional versatility in Tamburlaine the Great, and The Iceman Cometh.

To Ensemble Studio Theatre: For its unwavering commitment to producing new works by American playwrights since 1968, and enriching this season with productions of When January Feels Like Summer, Winners, and Five Times in One Night. EST's Youngblood program fostered and nurtured Hand to God, setting Tyrone off on his devilish path to Broadway.          

To Andy Blankenbuehler: For his inspired and heart-stopping choreography in Hamilton, which is indispensible to the musical's storytelling. His body of work is versatile, yet a dynamic and fluid style is consistently evident. When it's time to "take his shot," Blankenbuehler hits the bull's-eye.

Note: Eligibility and award category designations for the productions under consideration this season were determined by the Drama Desk Board of Directors. Because of the abundance of work throughout the season, the Board also authorized increasing the number of nominees allowed in select categories.

Hand to God was considered in the 2011/2012 season in its first production at Ensemble Studio Theatre. New elements were considered in the MCC production in the 2013/2014 season. There were no new elements in the Broadway transfer.

Fun Home was considered in its run at the Public Theatre in the 2013/2014 season. It received nominations for Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical, Outstanding Director of a Musical, Outstanding Music, Outstanding Lyrics and Outstanding Book of a Musical.

Disgraced was considered in its Off-Broadway premiere at Lincoln Center in the 2012/2013 season, and only new actors and technical staff were eligible in the Broadway transfer.

The 39 Steps was considered in its initial Broadway production in the 2007/2008 season and won for Unique Theatrical Experience.

Broadway Review: The King and I

Disappointing, but Still Satisfying Revival of a Favorite
By Lauren Yarger

When it comes to Broadway musicals, it doesn't get much better than The King and I for me. There's a longer story about the part this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic has played in my life (you can read it here), but suffice it to say I was really looking forward to Lincoln Center's revival of the musical starring the golden-voiced Kelli O'Hara.

It was disappointing, but still satisfying. The score still brings goosebumps and hearing O'Hara sing "Hello Young Lovers." I Whistle a Happy Tune" and "Shall We Dance" with a 29-piece orchestra behind her was an experience I am glad I didn't miss. Other highlights are a well staged reproduction of the ballet "Small House of Uncle Thomas" and a terrific performance by Ruthie Ann Miles as Lady Thiang. 

The production, directed by Bartlett Sher (who did an amazing job with Lincoln Center's revival of South Pacific), seems as well intentioned as its opening number which features a massive boat sailing up onto the stage and out into the audience as Anna Leonowens (O'Hara) and her young son, Louie (a delightful Jake Lucas) expectantly arrive in mid-19th century Siam. The excitement of the opening number quickly dissipates as the rest of the sets (designed by Michael Yeargen) become rather minimal. And things really get complicated when the King (Ken Watanabe) arrives on the scene.

The Japanese actor, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his gripping performance in "The Last Samurai," doesn't speak English very well, and despite reports that he sought to improve his skills when people were complaining during rehearsals that he couldn't be understood, I'm afraid it was too little too late.

I know the script by heart (again, read here why I am obsessed with this musical) and I couldn't understand what he was saying most of the time. The main conversation almost everyone was having at intermission: "Can you understand anything the king is saying?" An after-show chat by a group of people who had never seen it before: "The music was beautiful!" "Oh, that dress -- all the costumes were beautiful!" "I couldn't understand anything the king said, though."

Clearly, Sher should have replaced Watanabe in rehearsals (though a critic colleague of mine who attended the same performance said he had absolutely no problem understanding Watanabe, so go figure.) The effect of leaving him in, besides missing a good part of the story, if you aren't familiar with it, also is that there is little chemistry between him and Anna. I felt as though O'Hara were sleepwalking through the part. I guess it's hard to engage in sizzling banter if you can't react to what is being said.....

The character interpretations for Anna and the King seemed off to me as well, communications aside. The King seemed weak -- his angry son, Prince Chulalongkorn (Jon Viktor Corpuz), seems better able to convey a scorn-to-admiration transformation in his relationship with the teacher sharing Western thought with the court of Siam. And Anna seems so laid back, that we don't feel her contempt for the king's treatment of women, her anger in the song "Shall I Tell You What I Think of You," or even any justification for the king's telling her that she has "been very difficult woman." (OK, I still teared up when Anna read that final letter from the King.)

So you get the picture. It wasn't what I have dreamed..... It's still The King  and I, though, so there is a lot to like.

That score! Still wonderful, and movement director Christopher Gatelli recreates a lot of the original choreography by Jerome Robbins. Sets pieces in Small House of Uncle Thomas even look like the originals.

Designer Catherine Zuber comes through with costumes we expect. There is pinstripe in the dress for the classroom scene of "Getting to Know You" the "Shall We Dance" dress dazzles and moves with perfection as the King (also clad in expected red and gold) and Anna polka around the stage.

Miles, who wowed us as Imelda Marcos in Here Lies Love, bring nuance to the King's head wife, Lady Thiang. She serves as a link between Anna, the King, his concubine and slave, Tuptim (Ashley Park), and the king's chief advisor, the Kralahome (a convincingly frightening Paul Nakauchi). 

She also advises her son, Chulalongkorn, who is heir to the throne, and is key in another plotline involving Tuptim's plans to escape with her secret love, Lun Tha (Conrad Ricamora), the man who was ordered to bring her to Siam as a present from the King of Burma. 

Lady Thiang's character seems stronger than Anna, despite the King's reliance on the English woman to teach his children and wives and to assist him in matters of state, like when an English delegation led by Edward Ramsey (Edward Baker-Duly) arrives in Siam, which they consider taking as a protectorate because they hear the king is a barbarian.

The King and I plays at Lincon Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre,  150 West 65th St., NYC. Tickets are $87-$142; 212- 239-6200;

Christians might also like to know:
-- There is some praying to Buddha

Monday, April 20, 2015

Outer Critics Award Nominations Announced

Outer Critics Circle, the organization of writers and commentators covering New York theater for out-of-town newspapers, national publications and other media beyond Broadway, announced today (April 20, 2015) its nominees for the 2014-15 season in 24 categories. Broadway stars Raúl Esparza and Katie Finneran presided over the (11AM) announcement ceremony at Manhattan’s Friars Club. 

Celebrating its 65th season of bestowing awards of excellence in the field of theater, the Outer Critics Circle is an association with members affiliated with more than ninety newspapers, magazines, websites, radio and television stations, and theatre publications in America and abroad. The winners will be announced on Monday, May 11th. The annual Gala Awards Dinner and presentation of awards to the winners will be held on Thursday, May 21st (4PM) at the legendary Sardi's Restaurant.

Outer Critics Circle
2014-2015 Award Nominations

The Audience
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Wolf Hall

An American in Paris
It Shoulda Been You
The Last Ship
Something Rotten!
The Visit

Between Riverside and Crazy
The City of Conversation
The Nether
Rasheeda Speaking
The Village Bike

A Christmas Memory
The Fortress of Solitude
Lonesome Traveler

(Broadway or Off-Broadway)
It Shoulda Been You
The Last Ship
Something Rotten!
The Visit

(Broadway or Off-Broadway)
It Shoulda Been You
The Last Ship
Something Rotten!
The Visit

(Broadway or Off-Broadway)
The Elephant Man
Fashions for Men
The Heidi Chronicles
You Can’t Take It With You

(Broadway or Off-Broadway)
Into the Woods
The King and I
On the Town
On the Twentieth Century
Side Show

Stephen Daldry    The Audience
Marianne Elliott    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Scott Ellis   The Elephant Man
Scott Ellis    You Can’t Take It With You
Jeremy Herrin    Wolf Hall

Scott Ellis    On the Twentieth Century
Thomas Kail    Hamilton
Casey Nicholaw    Something Rotten!
David Hyde Pierce    It Shoulda Been You
Christopher Wheeldon    An American in Paris

Joshua Bergasse   On the Town
Andy Blankenbuehler    Hamilton
Warren Carlyle    On the Twentieth Century
Casey Nicholaw    Something Rotten!
Christopher Wheeldon    An American in Paris

(Play or Musical)
Bunny Christie    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Bob Crowley    An American in Paris
Scott Pask    Something Rotten!
David Rockwell    On the Twentieth Century
Michael Yeargan    The King and I

(Play or Musical)
Gregg Barnes    Something Rotten!
Bob Crowley    The Audience
William Ivey Long    On the Twentieth Century
Christopher Orem    Wolf Hall
Catherine Zuber    The King and I

(Play or Musical)Paule Constable    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Jeff Croiter     Something Rotten!
Rick Fisher     The Audience
Natasha Katz     An American in Paris
Japhy Weideman    The Visit

Reed Birney    I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard
Bradley Cooper    The Elephant Man
Stephen McKinley Henderson    Between Riverside and Crazy
Ben Miles    Wolf Hall
Alex Sharp    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Greta Gerwig     The Village Bike
Jan Maxwell    The City of Conversation
Helen Mirren    The Audience
Elisabeth Moss    The Heidi Chronicles
Tonya Pinkins    Rasheeda Speaking

Christian Borle    Something Rotten!
Brian d’Arcy James    Something Rotten!
Robert Fairchild    An American in Paris
Peter Gallagher    On the Twentieth Century
Tony Yazbeck    On the Town

Kristin Chenoweth    On the Twentieth Century
Leanne Cope    An American in Paris
Tyne Daly    It Shoulda Been You
Kelli O’Hara    The King and I
Chita Rivera    The Visit

Paul Jesson     Wolf Hall
Richard McCabe   The Audience
Alessandro Nivola   The Elephant Man
Nathaniel Parker    Wolf Hall
Bryce Pinkham     The Heidi Chronicles   

Annaleigh Ashford   You Can’t Take It With You
Patricia Clarkson   The Elephant Man
Francesca Faridany   The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Julie Halston   You Can’t Take It With You
Lydia Leonard   Wolf Hall

John Cariani   Something Rotten!
Josh Grisetti   It Shoulda Been You
Andy Karl   On the Twentieth Century
Paul Alexander Nolan   Doctor Zhivago
Max von Essen   An American in Paris

Heidi Blickenstaff   Something Rotten!
Victoria Clark   Gigi
Megan Fairchild   On the Town
Ruthie Ann Miles    The King and I  
Mary Louise Wilson   On the Twentieth Century

Joe Assadourian     The Bullpen
Jim Dale    Just Jim Dale
Tom Dugan    Wiesenthal
Cush Jumbo    Josephine and I
Benjamin Scheuer    The Lion

(Presented for an American play, preferably by a new playwright)
Ayad Akhtar     The Invisible Hand
Halley Feiffer     I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard
Elizabeth Irwin     My Mañana Comes
Markus Potter     Stalking the Bogeyman
Benjamin Scheuer     The Lion

2014-15 Outer Critics Circle Executive / Nominating Committee
Simon Saltzman (President)
Mario Fratti (Vice-President) Patrick Hoffman (Corresponding Secretary)
  Stanley L. Cohen (Treasurer) Glenn Loney (Historian & Member-at-Large)
 And Aubrey Reuben & Harry Haun (Members-at-Large)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The King and I and I

Why I am Looking Forward to Seeing (and a Little Bit Afraid of) a Broadway Revival of 
one of My Favorite Musicals 
By Lauren Yarger
I have been in love with the King and I for years -- almost 50 to be exact -- ever since my teacher gathered us together to explain that we, along with another second-grade class, would play the Siamese children in our elementary school's spring presentation of the musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.

A musical? This was the first I had ever heard of such a thing. It sounded like fun. We were given copies of "Getting to Know You" and told to memorize it prior to weekly rehearsals that would start the next day.

The news that her very white, curly blonde-haired daughter would play a daughter of King Mongkut of Siam thrilled my mother, a former actress and dancer, who loved this musical in particular. She whipped out the film's 33RPM album recording to prove it.

There, on its cover (you can view the image here, was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen: Deborah Kerr, with her flaming red hair, wearing a gorgeous copper satin gown (designed by Irene Sharaff, who won an Oscar) with off-the-shoulder puffed sleeves. Her skin was flawless and her hands looked like they had been sculpted for a delicate porcelain figurine. She took my breath away.

Then I saw him. Yul Brynner, clad in regal red and gold, striking a pose with his foot on Anna's chair and pointing at the heavens with an authoritative manner. I wanted to know all about them and my mother told me the story as we listened to the recording. As luck would have it, that year the film made its debut on national television and my mother relented to my constant begging to be allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch it. To this day, the 20th Century Fox musical theme fills me with inexplicable joy.

At rehearsal, we discovered that I was the only child who had memorized the song. My teacher, Mrs. Rogers (I thought it was very exciting that she had the same last name as the composer, though later discovered a different spelling) asked if I would sing it for the class.  I stood in front of my classmates, belted from the heart and was greeted by thunderous applause (well, at least that's the way my mind remembers the thrilling experience).

"That was wonderful," my teacher enthused. "Do you want to be a Broadway singer when you grow up?

"Yes!" I shouted thinking, "People actually get paid to do this?!"

We rehearsed our "March of the Siamese Children" for weeks, then practiced moving to our assigned places on stage where we were to sit cross-legged observing the action at court. We adorned ourselves with little crepe hats and colorful sashes that somehow were supposed to transition us into Siamese children. There were to be performances during the day for the rest of the school and at night for parents and the community.

There were only a few speaking parts available to us. One little boy, who was considered in this pre-politically correct era to be somewhat Asian in appearance (I honestly can't pick him out in the photo above), was given a number of lines as the King's Crown Prince Chulalongkorn.  I (second from right, second row from front) was given the line, "Please do not go away," which I was supposed to say to the 8th grader,  Linda Hull, playing Anna who was thinking about heading back to England.  I practiced my line day and night, determined to deliver it even better than the little girl in the movie did when she got to say it to Deborah Kerr.

The big day came! On my cue, I walked over to my mark and delivered the line with all the actor's chops my 7-year-old actress self could muster. The audience roared.

"Wow, maybe I really could do this for a living," I thought, retaking my seat. "That line wasn't even funny, but they still are rolling in the aisles."

Later, of course, I discovered that the laughter had not been promoted by from my thespian skill, but buy the fact that I had delivered my line with my undies in full view to all of Siam. Apparently my crinoline dress had failed to lower itself when I rose from that cross-legged position.

TIME JUMP forward a few years and you would find me  producing drama in a new elementary school after we moved to a new town and recruiting neighborhood children for an annual Mother's Day Play directed by yours truly. I had quickly discerned that my talent on the stage was limited (regardless of whether anyone could see my underwear) , but I seemed pretty skilled at producing, writing and directing... Years later I would direct a PTA sponsored Broadway program to offer music and art when they were cut from my kids' elementary school budget. Ironically, my son's class presented "Getting to Know You."

TIME JUMP to 1977, my senior year of high school, when Yul Brynner starred in a revival of The King and I on Broadway. I had seats about fourth row center. Imagine the happiest images of your life, the sounds of the music you love most on earth and a person you have loved playing the role just a few feet away from you. It truly was one of the most amazing theater experiences of my life -- until the king died.

I had seen him die often (I have no idea how many times I have watched the film), but there was something very real about his dying right in front of me. I started to sob and couldn't stop. I was so moved, I couldn't get out of my seat until an usher threw me out.

TIME JUMP  just short of a decade later when I saw Brynner in a disappointing tour of the musical. The tempo of the music sped up to shorten the run time of the show as Brynner was battling cancer at that point. At some shows, he didn't sing "A Puzzlement." He did at mine and I was grateful, but I spent most of the time wanting to strangle the conductor because I don't like people messing with The King and I -- even by a quarter note. Shall I tell you what I think of you?

TIME JUMP to 1996 when another revival starring Lou Diamond Phillips and Donna Murphy (who won the Tony) made its way to Broadway. Friends assumed I would be first in line at the box office, but I am kind of scared to see versions that might be different from the norm because it really does drive me crazy. The posters featured a modern elephant that made me uncomfortable. Where was Anna in her dress on the seat with the king pointing skyward?

They performed "Shall We Dance" at the Tony Awards and I thought, "Well, maybe...." Just then a curtain opened behind them and a bunch of Siamese children sat bopping along to the music.

"No! No! That's not right!" I heard myself shout as my husband rushed to grab a brown paper bag to aid my hyperventilation.....

TIME JUMP to tomorrow night when the latest Broadway revival opens at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre, this one starring Kelli O'Hara (love her voice) and  Ken Watanabe (good actor -- "The last Samurai" -- but can he sing? And speak English? I hear not so well, so will "A Puzzlement" be puzzling? I am whistling a happy tune.....)

Bringing some calm is the fact that Bartlett Sher is directing. His genius behind Lincoln Center's revival of South Pacific (which also starred O'Hara) brought that show alive for me. I trust he will take good care of The King and I for me. Catherine Zuber, whose designs I often wish were in my closet, already has come through with the dress (see clip above).

Choreography had me a bit concerned. Talented Christopher Gatelli is in charge of musical staging. In Newsies, he had 25-year-old news "boys" flipping incessantly across the stage and in Godspell, the disciples jumped on trampolines. If the Siamese children start doing flips, I am going to flip out. Promotional materials say the choreography is based on the original by Jerome Robbins, so here's hoping!

Isn't it amazing how one musical can have such a long run in one person's life? Theater is a wonderful, life-changing force. I am thankful for a mom who took time to sit and listen to a whole soundtrack with me while filling in the story. I am grateful for a dad who took me to numerous Broadway shows when I was growing up. I am grateful to Mrs. Rogers for allowing our class to participate in that program and for Berkeley Terrace Elementary School in Irvington, NJ for offering an elementary school spring musical -- something practically unheard of today,  etc., etc. etc.

And  I am grateful to Lincoln Center for giving me another chance to see magic on stage this Sunday when I will be there to review. I am surprised to find how much I am looking forward to

hearing the score again (for perhaps the 4,000th time?). A 29-piece orchestra will play the original orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett. Good call Musical Director Ted Sperling!

Something wonderful!
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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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