Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: You Can't Take It With You

Kristine Nielsen and James Earl Jones. Photo: Joan Marcus
You Can’t Take it with You, but You Can Enjoy it a Lot While You Are in the Theater
By Lauren Yarger
They don’t get much better than this. A wonderful play with a dream cast, lovingly directed by Scott Ellis.

Moss Hart and George S. Kauffman’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play You Can’t Take It With You is the star-studded revival on Broadway that has me smiling this fall. The antics of the zany Sycamore family play out in a rambling old house crammed full of eclectic knickknacks and collections as unique as its inhabitants (designed by David Rockwell).

There is a hodgepodge of people living in the house, headed by Penelope Sycamore (comedic genius Kristine Nielsen), who decided to become a novelist one day when a typewriter was delivered by mistake, and her husband, Paul (Mark Linn-Baker), who spends his time developing fireworks in the basement with Mr. DePinna (Patrick Kerr), who delivered ice one year and who just never left….

Daughter Essie (Annaleigh Ashford)contantly practices the ballet she learns from Boris Kolenkhov (Reg Rogers), who escaped Russia before the revolution and makes candies for shy husband, Ed (a delightful Will Brill who evokes Mr. Bean) to sell when he isn’t busy composing something for her to dance to on the xylophone (Ashford’s attempted dancing is a hoot).

Meanwhile, Grandpa Vanderhof (James Earl Jones) collects snakes, drunken actress, Gay Wellington (Julie Halston), falls asleep in one of the rooms, Grand Duchess Olga Katrina (Elizabeth Ashley) grants an audience and IRS agent Wilbur C. Henderson (Karl Kenzer) wants to know why Grandpa never has paid any income tax. (Vanderhof walked away from his stressful business and the money it brought a long time ago. He prefers not to think about money….)

Now, throw into that mix a love story. Daughter Alice Sycamore (Rose Byrne “Bridemaids,” “Damages”) has fallen in love with Tony Kirby (Fran Kanz), son of wealthy Anthony P. (Byron Jennings) and  Miriam Kirby (Johanna Day) who shows up gown-draped and wearing a tiara (thanks to brilliant costume design by Jane Greenwood) on the wrong night.

Alice is mortified at the thought of the proper and “normal” Kirbys meeting her family and sparks do fly (the most entertaining of which are watching Day’s face at the sight of Ashford fluttering about). Chaos ensues when government agents show up to investigate explosives in the house and throw everyone in jail.

You Can’t Take It With You, first presented in 1936, was adapted for film and went on to win the Academy Award. Much of the humor, particularly about taxes and the government’s uses of them, still are relevant. So are the themes about family and unconditional love.

·         “Life is kind of beautiful if you just let it come at you.”

·         “The only thing that matters is that we love each other.”

It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Nielsen is brilliant as the mother writing lusty romances and Ellis skillfully keeps the stars from competing with each other, or from walking over Byrne, who is making her Broadway debut. He miscasts the role of servant Rheba (Crystal Dickinson), however, and Halston is just a bit too over-the-top.

It’s a lighthearted romp (which probably could use a bit of trimming) into simpler -- and probably better -- times in two hours and 15 minutes (there are three acts and two intermissions).

You Can't Take It With You runs through Jan. 4, 2015 at the Longacre Theatre,  220 West 48th 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.  http://allthewaybroadway.com/

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


Monday, October 6, 2014

Broadway Review: The Country House


A Tip of the Hat to Chekhov While Creating a Family Drama All Its Own
By Lauren Yarger
All the world’s a stage and by the number of productions of his works or productions owing their inspiration to his works one would think drama could not take place without Anton Chekhov. Donald Margulies’ newest play, The Country House getting a Broadway run by Manhattan Theatre Club, tips its hat to The Seagull and Uncle Vanya, but happily focuses on the roles people play in the drama unfolding on life’s stage rather than on trying to pay homage to the Russian classics.

Scenic Designer John Lee Beatty sets the stage with a comfortable-looking, gable-roofed family cottage in the Berkshires. Its location has been convenient for the family of actors and theater types who stay there while working at the Williamstown festival. But that is the end of convenient and comfortable for this family.

The gathering this season is bittersweet as it marks the one-year anniversary of the passing of popular Kathy, who in many ways held the family together.

Matriarch and Queen of the Theater Anna Patterson (Blythe Danner) agrees to let her director/ son-in-law, Walter (David Rasche), bring his new and much-younger actress fiancee Nell (Kate Jennings Grant) to the house, a decision that is not popular with granddaughter, Susie (Sarah Steele) who still misses her mom or unemployed actor/son, Elliot (Eric Lange) who hasn’t gotten over the loss of his sister and best friend. Not only is Nell seen as a too-soon replacement for the beloved Kathy, but the family can’t figure out why such a beauty would want to be saddled with an aging guy facing knee-replacement surgery, unless of course, she is just after his money or a starring role in one of his films…
Also causing angst is Anna’s decision to invite old friend Michael Astor (Daniel Sunjata) to stay at the house during his Williamstown engagement since his own house is being fumigated. Astor and Kathy had been lovers and Susie, who has been following the very successful career of the dashingly good-looking, old family friend, lets him know that she is interested in pursuing some of the other action the actor is famous for  -- in bed.  Meanwhile, Anna lets Michael know that he is welcome in her bed if he gets tired of sleeping on the couch in the living room. . . To the sexual frustration of Grandmother and Granddaughter, however, Michael’s eye roams toward Nell.
When pathetic loser Elliot announces that he has written a play and wants the family to do a reading of it, the tension really ratchets up a few notches leading to revelations about Elliot’s feelings of playing understudy to Kathy in his mother’s affections all his life. In fact, all of the family members explore the roles they play with each other. Could any of them even be nominated for an “Unconditional Love” Tony?
Standing out on the performance side in this production are Steele (“Spanglish”), who plays the self-confident, blunt-speaking Susie with a fierceness that rips off the drama masks being worn by her family members and Lange (“The Bridge,” “Weeds,” “Lost”), who delivers sarcastic lines of rapier wit with a fine-edged sword. The humor is a defense for a very depressed guy behind the tragedy mask and Lange expertly shows us the complexities of a character who just wants to be loved.
Danner, much like the grand dame she portrays, delivers a layered performance with a touch of elegance, and Daniel Sullivan aptly directs solid performances from the rest of the ensemble: We understand Walter, feel for Nell and discover shallowness under Michael’s “Hollywood-star-but-I’m-a-Humanitarian” charity work to build schools in the Congo.

While the plot developments are fairly predictable (though there is one surprise, delightfully revealed by Lighting Director Peter Kaczorowski ), Pulitzer-prize winner Margulies (Dinner With Friends) delivers a family drama all its own in this homage to Chekhov.

The Country House plays through Dec. 9 at  Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th St., NYC.  http://www.manhattantheatreclub.org/

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: Love Letters with Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow

After Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow, catch these casting combinations:

Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy. Photo: Carol Rosegg
Carol Burnett and Brian Dennehy
Oct. 11-Nov. 7

Alan Alda and Candice Bergen 
Nov. 8- Dec. 5

Stacy Keach and Diana Rigg
Dec. 6 – Jan. 9

Anjelica Huston and Martin Sheen 
Jan. 10, 2015 – Feb. 1, 2015


Letters Full of Love, Frienship Span 50-Year Relationship
By Lauren Yarger
Spanning 50 years of a relationship played out mostly in written letters, cards and notes, A. R. Gurney’s Love Letters comes to Broadway in style with a cast of big-name actors starting with Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow.

Seated side-by-side at a table (John Lee Beatty was brought in for the almost unnecessary set), the actors read the pen-pal conversation between Melissa Gardner and Andy Makepeace Ladd III in a 90-minute, no-intermission performance.

“Dear Andy, thank you for the birthday present. . . .”

And so begins, in second grade, a lifelong friendship between the two.  They write to each other when separated at summer camp, family vacations, prep school, college and into adulthood.  Melissa’s first stepfather may be abusing her. Andy thinks he might enjoy going to law school.

The two see each other from time to time in person over the years too, when their schedules permit, but it is their letters – a joy for Andy who loves to write long-winded, eloquent accounts of his experiences but a labor for free-spirited Melissa, who prefers brevity and drawing pictures – that really forge the foundation of their relationship. Even when they aren’t speaking to each other over some disagreement, the letters bridge the gap of silence.

The two become confidants, sharing all of their experiences – and giving each other honest feedback – about sex, marriage, raising children and forging careers. Melissa’s great promise as a painter fades and she sinks into depression and alcoholism when she loses her children in a custody battle. Andy, a married senator with the perfect wife and kids, must be careful of appearances. He sends a wholesome family form letter for Christmas.

At one point, the friends wonder whether there is more to their relationship than meets the eye. Could all of the notes back and forth really be defined as love letters? Could it be that all they really have been looking for in a romantic relationship has been telegraphed all these years on the pages of their written communications? Or is it too hard to recreate the closeness of letters when they get up close and personal?

Gregory Mosher directs the fast-paced dialogue that ranges from humor to heart-breaking drama (and Farrow, in particular, rises to the emotion of the occasion).  A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Love Letters could get boring since the two actors simply sit and read – it is oft-produced for fundraisers with stars since no extended rehearsal is needed -- but Dennehy and Farrow manage to hold the audience’s interest throughout, despite some flaws in their characters.

Love Letters plays at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, : 256 West 47th St. NYC, through Feb. 1, 2015.

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

Monday, September 15, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: Bootycandy


A Sampler Candy Box of What it is Like Growing Up Black and Gay
By Lauren Yarger
Vignettes drawing on playwright Robert O’Hara’s experiences growing up gay and black fuse together in Bootycandy, a sometimes humorous, sometimes raw production getting an Off-Broadway run at Playwrights Horizons in New York.

Sutter (Phillip James Brannon) is on an outrageous odyssey through his childhood home, his church, dive bars, motel rooms and a nursing home (all getting a spin on the revolving set designed by Clint Ramos, who also designs the costumes) The journey results in laughter, pain and a fresh script that holds our attention despite its difficult content.

O’Hara, who won the NAACP Best Director Award for his work on Eclipsed by Danai Gurira, directs a strongly talented ensemble cast -- Jessica Frances Dukes, Jesse Pennington, Benja Kay Thomas and Lance Coadie Williams – who portray numerous characters in Sutter’s life.
Dukes and Thomas shine as Sutter’s mother at different stages of his live. Time doesn’t change their inability to understand his interest in performing in musicals, dressing oddly to honor his idol Michael Jackson, or attracting the attention of men. His mom really isn’t at ease fielding questions about his private parts, which she calls his bootycandy. His stepfather (Williams) seems oblivious, hiding behind his newspaper, barely giving the young man a glance while suggesting that he take up sports.

His church experience also is odd, with a charismatic preacher (Williams in an energy-filled monologue) coming out in the middle of a sermon – literally in a silver, sequined gown and heels. Neighborhood women aren’t exactly great models either (Thomas and Dukes are a hoot in a Jekyl-and-Hyde, stereotypical phone call conversation among four women).

Sutter’s quest for love and belonging leads him to a seedy bar where he and a companion decide to inflict some pain and humiliation on a white guy (Pennington) looking for love in all the wrong places. The detour into rather disturbing, serious drama is quickly offset – and quite dramatically – by a break in the script, complete with voice over from the stage manager (sound design by Lindsay Jones) to forget about playing that scene out to its end.

Don’t consider that a spoiler. There is more to it. I include the information as proof of the playwright’s ability to keep us interested, despite providing moments where we’re at the end of what we feel we can tolerate or when we are growing tired with a theme. He consistently pulls a switch and prevents us from heading to the exit. The language and situations are very explicit, sometimes politically incorrect and often uncomfortable, but the truth of one human spirit, being vulnerable with us, appeals through it all. A scene between Sutter and his nursing-home-bound Granny (the versatile Williams) is especially touching.

Humor helps, like a scene that pairs Dukes and Thomas again, this time as Intifada and Genitalia, two women having a sort of wedding ceremony to un-commit themselves from their long-term union with the help of a "New Agey," “everything-is-cool” Officiant (Pennington). Also very clever is a break-the-fourth-wall moment where a team of playwrights attends a talk back moderated by a very amusing Pennington, to discuss some of what has taken place so far. It breaks things up at just the right time.

Bootycandy is raw, harsh and cutting edge, but delivers an intelligent message with a sharp script and excellent performances – just the type of production I have come to expect at Playwrights, which isn’t afraid to tackle nontraditional plays. Coming up this season: the word premieres of Grand Concourse by Heidi Schreck, Pocatello by Samuel D. Hunter, Placebo by Melissa James Gibson, Iowa, a new musical play by Jenny Schwartz, music and lyrics by Todd Almond, and The New York premiere of The Qualms by Pulitzer-Prize and Tony Award winner Bruce Norris.

Performances through Oct. 12 Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7 pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 and 8 pm and Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30 pm.  Special Sept. 18 performance for  those age 30 and under  has an early 7 pm curtain. Tickets $75-$95: (212) 279-4200; www.TicketCentral.com, box office, 416 West 42nd St. (between Ninth and Tenth avenues).

A special open captioned performance for theatergoers who are deaf and hard of hearing will be held on the Saturday, Sept. 13 matinee at 2:30.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Sexualy explicit scenes and dialogue
-- Suicide
-- Language
-- Use of the "N" word
-- Scripture is used in one scene and altered
-- Sexual actions
-- Nudity
-- Cross Dressing


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Off Broadway Shows Just $20at20

Cast of WAYRA. Photo credit: Jacob Cohl.
The Off Broadway Alliance will again sponsor 20at20, the bi-annual celebration of Off Broadway.  The popular promotion, which runs Sept. 9-28, makes $20 tickets available for 45 Off Broadway plays and musicals 20 minutes prior to curtain.  Now in its eighth year, 20at20 has become one of New York’s most eagerly anticipated promotions for people who want to see exciting shows at amazing price
Show up 20 minutes before curtain to purchase $20 tickets at the box office for participating shows. 
Since Off Broadway has every kind and style of show imaginable and since the tickets are only $20, you can check out any number of shows of every genre: long-running hit musicals like Avenue Q and The Fantasticks, amazing and unique events like Fuerza Bruta WAYRA,STOMP, and iLuminate, new musicals like the outrageously satirical Red Eye of Love, and new historical dramas like Olympics Uber Alles, which uncovers an untold story of the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Berlin. And there is a wide variety of family-friendly shows this year, including The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Gazillion Bubble Show, Sleepy Hollow the Musical, The Butterfly Girl, and The Berenstain Bears LIVE! With 20at20, you can see six or seven shows for about the average price of one Broadway ticket. 
All 20at20 ticket sales are cash only.  For a complete list of participating shows and venues see below or visit www.20at20.com.  
20at20 is presented by The Off Broadway Alliance (OBA), a non-profit corporation organized by theater professionals dedicated to supporting, promoting and encouraging the production of Off Broadway theater and to making live theater increasingly accessible to new and diverse audiences.  The Alliance holds monthly meetings and membership is open to everyone in the Off Broadway theater community.   with additional support from Playbill, BroadwayInsider.com, and TheMenEvent.com. 
Some of the Off Broadway shows participating (for a full list visit www.20at20.com):
A Walk In the Woods www.keencompany.org 
Avenue Q www.AvenueQ.com 
Bedbugs!!! www.bedbugsmusical.com 
Black Angels Over Tuskegee www.blackangelsovertuskegee.com 
Boys and Girls www.59e59.org
Drunk Shakespeare www.drunkshakespeare.com 
Fabulous! The Queen of New Musical Comedies www.fabulousthemusicalcomedy.com 
Fuerza Bruta WAYRA www.Fuerzabrutanyc.com
Gazillion Bubble Show www.gazillionbubbleshow.com
iLuminate www.iluminate.com
NEWSical The Musical www.NEWSicalTheMusical.com 
Perfect Crime www.perfect-crime.com
Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story pieceofmyheartmusical.com 
Port Authority www.irishrep.org
Red Eye of Love www.amasmusical.org
Sleepy Hollow the Musical www.hollowthemusical.com 
The Awesome 80s Prom www.awesome80sprom.com
The Berenstain Bears LIVE! www.BerenstainBearsLIVE.com
The Fantasticks www.fantasticksonbroadway.com   
The Fatal Weakness www.minttheater.org
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe www.narniaoffbroadway.com
20at20 Terms and Conditions: All tickets subject to availability. Restrictions may apply. Offer valid only at the box office on the day of the performance twenty minutes prior to curtain. Offer may be revoked at any time. Not valid on prior sale. Cannot be combined with other offers. Valid September 9 to September 28, 2014. Cash only at all venues.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

On Vacation

Taking advantage of the slower theater schedule to get some much needed rest. Hope you are enjoying the summer!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Broadway Dims Lights Tonight for Robin Williams


Robin Williams, Brad Fleischer and Glenn Davis. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
The Broadway community mourns the loss of beloved actor and comedy legend Robin Williams, who passed away on Monday at age 63. The marquees of Broadway theatres in New York will be dimmed in his memory tonight, Wednesday, Aug.13 at exactly 7:45 pm for one minute.

After studying theatre at Julliard, Williams rose to fame with his role as the alien Mork in the TV series “Mork and Mindy.” Williams went on to establish a successful career in both stand-up comedy and feature film acting, winning an Oscar for his supporting role in Good Will Hunting. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor three times, received two Emmy Awards, four Golden Globe Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards and five Grammy Awards.

His film career included The World According to Garp; Good Morning, Vietnam; Dead Poets Society; Awakenings; The Fisher King; Good Will Hunting; Popeye; Hook; Aladdin; Mrs. Doubtfire; Jumanji; The Birdcage; Night at the Museum; and Happy Feet.

Williams starred in a number of theatrical productions, including Mike Nichols’s 1988 off-Broadway version of Waiting for Godot, co-starring with Steve Martin; and his own one-man show, Robin Williams: Live on Broadway. In 2011, he made his acting debut on Broadway in the title role of Rajiv Joseph’s drama Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, pictured above.

"Robin Williams was a comedic genius with limitless talent and stunning versatility who left this world far too early. He made an impact on everyone he met or entertained,” said Charlotte St. Martin, Executive Director of The Broadway League. “Whether on screen or live on stage, his multi-faceted talent always created memorable performances. Robin Williams will be greatly missed and our thoughts are with his family, friends and fans.”

Williams leaves his third wife, Susan Schneider, and three children: a son, Zachary Pym, whom he had with his first wife Valeri Velardi, and two children, Zelda Rae and Cody Alan, whom he had with his second wife Marsha Garces.

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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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