Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Theater Review: Bye Bye Birdie

Efforts to Revive Classic Go Bye, Bye
By Lauren Yarger
Bye Bye Birdie might have been written about young love and teenage worship of a rock-and-roll idol, but Roundabout Theatre Company’s Broadway revival of the Charles Strouse-Lee Adams musical is redeemed, if not entirely successfully, by the parents.

Giving the production its best moments are Bill Irwin, as an uptight, Ed-Sullivan-revering father with repressed dreams of being a star and Jayne Houdyshell as an overbearing, guilt-trip-laying mother who tries to squelch the romantic pursuits of her son.

The production, which boasts familiar tunes like “Put on a Happy Face,” “One Boy,” “Kids,” and even “Bye Bye Birdie,” which wasn’t part of the original score, but which was an add-on song for the 1963 movie starring Dick Van Dyke (reprising his stage role as Albert Peterson), is mediocre at best.

In this revival, woefully underdirected by Robert Longbottom, John Stamos (of TV’s “General Hospital” and “Full House” fame) takes on the role of Peterson, manager of a teen rock idol named Conrad Birdie (Noland Gerard Funk), who, à la Elvis Presley, has been drafted into military service. Stamos is likable -- after all, who doesn’t like Uncle Jessie (his persona on "Full House") – but he’s no Dick Van Dyke and his attempts at clowning are forced.

Before Birdie leaves for training, Peterson and his assistant Rose Alvarez (a horrifically miscast Gina Gershon) cook up a publicity stunt: one last kiss with Kim MacAfee (Allie Trimm), the president of Birdie’s fan club in Sweet Apple, Ohio.

Albert promises the matrimony-seeking Rose that after the stunt, he’ll quit the business, pursue his dream of being an English teacher and stand up to his intruding and manipulating mother, Mae (Houdyshell), who doesn’t approve of Rose because she’s “Spanish” and older than Albert. Gershon, first, does not seem to be Latina, though the character apparently is supposed to be according to other dialogue in the book by Michael Stewart. Second, thanks to wig and makeup (David Brian Brown; Angellina Avallone, designers), she looks much older than Stamos, so Mae’s age-related comments, though well delivered by the talented Houdyshell, fall flat and sound mean rather than facetious.

Kim’s parents (played by Irwin and Dee Hoty) and her new steady boyfriend Hugo Peabody (Matt Doyle) aren’t excited about the planned kiss, but Dad comes around when he learns that the whole family will join Birdie on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Indeed, the MacAfees’ costumed portrayal of historical families seeing their loved ones off to various wars throughout the ages while Birdie croons are some of the show’s funniest, thanks to some slapstick from Irwin as MacAfee embarrasses himself while trying to upstage his daughter.

The humor turns to unease, however, as Irwin goes too far, almost making it look like the father is suffering from some sort of mental illness. It’s a case of a talented actor trying too hard to save a flat-lining show. He just keeps pounding on the chest long after the heart has beat its last.

Will Kim and Hugo get back together? Will Albert and Rose overcome Mae’s opposition and find happiness? Is there really any mystery about the answers to these questions?

The dated and weak story plays out against psychedelic-colored backdrops (Andrew Jackness, set designer), with sliding panels in sickly pastels and shapes with video projections (Howard Werner) and are more reminiscent of the 1960s than the ‘50s in which the piece is set. The costumes (Gregg Barnes, design) pick up the color theme and even group families in their own hue groups. Longbottom, who also choreographs, moves the cast around a bit, but fails to ignite any action, especially since the tempo for most of the songs (David Holcenberg, music director) is slower than we’re used to hearing them played.

Trimm and Doyle have some nice moments and are in good voice (I had enjoyed Trimm’s performance in the musical 13 which was a much more interesting teen-focused musical). Brynn Williams, who plays Kim’s friend, Ursula, has a bubbly presence and nice singing voice too. In fact, Ursula appears as the product of an interracial couple during the number where the families appear color coded, which struck me as unlikely normal for 1958 Sweet Apple Ohio. The thought that this might be the product of Longbottom trying to update the piece with 2009 sensibilities disappeared, however, when Willliams proved to be the only African-American in the otherwise squeaky white cast (and I didn’t spot the actor who plays the African-American dad in the cast photos, so go figure. Maybe the nauseating color scheme played havoc with my eyes and they weren’t an interracial couple after all).

The other vocals, across the board, are adequate to weak, with songs being transposed for Gershon’s lower range. Funk is no Elvis impersonator and seems rather bored. So Birdie joins a growing list of Broadways revivals that just don’t have what it takes to recapture the magic that propelled them from the Great White Way to high school auditoriums around the nation.

Birdie runs through April 25 at the newly renovated Henry Miller Theater, 124 West 43rd St., NYC. For tickets, call (212) 239-6200. For discounted group tickets that benefit Masterwork Productions, click here.

Christians might also like to know:
• Scantily clad actors
• The Shriner’s Ballet, often portrayed as a rather racy number, is omitted in this production.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Theater Review: Oleanna

Julia Stiles and Bill Pullman
(Photo: Craig Schwartz)
A Battle of the Sexes and Reality vs. Fantasy
By Lauren Yarger
A young college student meets with her professor to ask for help understanding the course in which he’s flunking her. He agrees to give her extra tutoring. Beyond that, there is little room for agreement between the two on what really took place in what becomes a fierce power struggle in David Mamet’s Oleanna on Broadway.

Film star Julia Stiles (“The Bourne Identity,” “Mona Lisa Smile,” "Save the Last Dance,” among others) makes her Broadway debut as Carol, who appears unexpectedly at the office of her professor, John (Bill Pullman), to plead for her grade. She doesn’t understand anything, she tells him with a sad a vulnerable look, done so well by Stiles that you want to go up there an put an arm around her (though her rather chic outfits by Catherine Zuber aren’t accurate portrayals of the jeans and sweats most college women wear).

John is distracted and takes numerous calls from his wife and realtor about the impending purchase of his new house, but finally delays joining them at the closing to try to help Carol. He feels responsible for her not understanding what he has been teaching, so he offers her regular tutoring sessions, and even an A in the course, if she’ll give him a chance to explain the material. She feels vulnerable and offers to share something with him that she’s never told anyone, but just then the phone rings again and John goes to answer it.

What happens next is a he-said, she-said second meeting, as Carol files a complaint against John saying that he made inappropriate comments and advancements toward her during the meeting. She accuses him of being on a power trip and of mocking her and students like her who have struggled through economic and other hardships to get into college with his flip comments about the futility of education. And she asserts that he made inappropriate advances. He tries to reason with her to get her to retract the complaint, which will jeopardize his tenure and possibly result in the loss of his new house.

When the two meet again (although, why either would put themselves in such a vulnerable position is only answered by the playwright’s need for an ending scene), the empowered Carol, who has been bolstered in her suit by a supportive, but unidentified “group,” has successfully won her case before the tenure review board, who ruled in her favor and fired John. Now, she’s considering bringing additional charges. In a full circle, John, completely weak and powerless, admits that he hates Carol, and now it is he who tells her that he doesn’t understand anything.

It’s a disturbing play that raises lots of questions, and is noticeably devoid of the usual foul language in Mamet’s works. Some of the rapid fire, ping-pong type of dialogue for which he is famous appears, but in this production it falls flat, mostly because Stiles’ timing is off. It’s brief, though, and the rest of the dialogue is compelling, made even more intriguing by the fact that questions remain even though we were “in the room” with them and heard the entire conversation that started this whole mess.

Were Carol’s actions premeditated and did she manipulate John? Did she start out genuinely trying to get help, find a way to get even when he didn’t give her situation the attention it deserved? Is she psychotic? Is John guilty of the accusation or is he the unwitting victim? Or is it all just an inability of men and women to understand each other?

Doug Hughes directs the tense drama with violent scenes, though Pullman seems to do a lot of walking from place to place just to give him something to do. In addition, some automatic blinds on the office windows (set design by Neil Patel) laboriously open and close in between the scenes – an overstated and annoying metaphor to remind us that no one except the two characters knows what really is happening in the office. A masterful touch, though, is having the two actors remain distant during the curtain call. The spell of the play would have been broken with the holding of hands or smiling at each other during the bows.

The play, written at the height of the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings, still is relevant today and a "Take a Side" talk-back series has been held following the performance where panelists, many of them celebrities, and audience members discuss the various possibilities. This production comes to Broadway form Los Angeles where it had a run at the Mark Taper Forum. Oleanna, by the way, is the name of a 19th-century Norwegian Utopian society that failed.

See it through Jan. 3 at the Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street, NYC. For discounted tickets that support Masterwork Productions, click here.

Christians might also like to know:
• The show posts a Mature rating
• Lord’s name taken in vain
• Language

Theater Review: Superior Donuts

Kate Buddeke, Michael McKean and Jon Michael Hill Photo by Robert J Saferstein

Superior Comedy Dunked in Friendship
By Lauren Yarger
Two men used to living isolated lives find a way to reach out and extend friendship to each other in Tracy Letts’ delectable new play, Superior Donuts, playing on Broadway.

The multi-talented Michael McKean (of "This is Spinal Tap," "A Mighty Wind" and the like fame) plays Arthur Przybyszewski, the lonely owner of his family’s run-down donut shop in uptown Chicago (James Schuette, set design). He ex-wife recently died and he hasn’t been showing up to run Superior Donuts, lately.

His regular customers, cops James Hailey (James Vincent Meredith) and his partner Randy Osteen (Kate Buddeke), who has a thing for Arthur, Lady Boyle (Jane Alderman) who is a testy, impoverished older woman whom Arthur gives free donuts, and Max Tarasov, the racist Russian shop neighbor who wants to buy his store so he can expand his DVD business, all are worried, especially after the donut shop is vandalized.

Things start to look up, though, when Arthur hires a savvy, plain-speaking, street tough African-American kid named Franco Wicks (Jon Michael Hill). Franco, an eternal optimist, tries to convince the negative thinking Arthur to make some changes that could turn the business into something really superior. Francos’ engaging personality lights a spark in Arthur and he entertains the youth’s ideas about being nicer to customers, adding healthier selections and offering a poetry reading.

The two men develop a friendship, with Franco giving his boss tips on how to approve his appearance and win Officer Osteen. The boy, in an expression of friendship, asks Arthur to read his “great American novel,” written over years in a series of notebooks. He agrees, but balks at sharing anything back, like details of his life, or why his wife and daughter no longer are around. Franco, meanwhile, has a few secrets of his own that put him, his boss and the donut shop in danger.

The play is a real treat, both in its plot and character development. While Arthur is hesitant about sharing personal details with Franco, he does break from the action of the play every so often to talk to the audience directly about his family, his time as a draft dodger and how he deals with feelings about his father, who called him a coward. The effect, nicely directed by Tina Landau, doesn’t interrupt what we see, but gives us a way to understand this character better. This play is far superior (yes, pun intended), in my opinion, to Letts’ August Osage County, which won the Pulitzer and Tony awards, but which is far too depressing and contains way too much family dysfunction to engage me.

The cast is top-notch all around. Each character, even the smallest, a Russian thug, is fully developed and played by Michael Garvey. Lighting by Christopher Akerlind and sound by Robert Milburn and Michael Bodeen enhance the timeframes and mood of the dingy shop.

So treat yourself and indulge in this sweet production about the redemptive powers of friendship which hails from Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago and runs at the Music Box Theater. 239 W. 45th St., NYC. For tickets, visit http://www.telecharge.com/. For discounted tickets, that support Masterwork Productions, click here.

Christians might like to know:
• The show posts a Mature rating
• Drug use depicted
• God’s name taken in vain
• Language

Friday, October 16, 2009

Theater Review: The Royal Family

Life On and Off Stage Much the Same
for this Family of the Theater
By Lauren Yarger
The family portrayed in George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber’s The Royal Family on Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club is loosely based on the Barrymore theater dynasty, but this sweet little glimpse into the lives of the Cavendish clan does more than explore the oddities of being part of theatrical family; it’s a reminder that blood is thicker than water and that family ties anchor us to what is important.

In a dramatic fashion (after all, for this brood, is there any other?) Gwen (Kelli Barrett) announces that she is through with the theater and will marry and be a “regular person.” This is welcome news for her beau Perry Stewart (Freddy Arseneault), who doesn’t want to be a supporting player to Gwen’s star, but matriarch Fanny (Rosemary Harris), takes it in stride, believing that when half hour comes, her granddaughter won’t be able to resist the call to the stage. Gwen has more luck with linking with a "non theatrical" than does her mother, Julie (a very funny Jan Maxwell), who also takes a stab at giving up the theater for her boyfriend Gilbert Marshall (Larry Pine) in a terrifically funny soliloquy delivered in the family’s sumptuous two-story New York apartment (John Lee Beatty, scenic design).

Doug Hughes directs the antics and a fine ensemble cast (I saw Anthony Newfeld,an able understudy for Tony Roberts in the part of the family’s manager Oscar Wolfe. The play is charming, if a little dated and a little too long, clocking in at 2 hours and 40 minutes, but it is nice to see a zany family with flaws where the members actually care about each other.

Catherine Zuber’s elegant costumes, dressing the family members in various hues of royal purple, are exquisite.

The Royal Family was just extended at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th Street through Dec.13. For tickets, visit http://www.telecharge.com/ or call (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250.

Christians might also like to know:
• God’s name taken in vain
• Language

Theater Review: Wishful Drinking


Treating Dysfunction with Humor
By Lauren Yarger
Her parents were movie stars and she followed in their footsteps to become a Hollywood icon herself, but sometimes stars don’t shine as brightly as we’d like and the only way to find your way through the dark galaxy is to rely on the force—the force of humor, that is.

And that is just what Carrie Fisher, a.k.a. Princess Leia in the “Star Wars” saga, has done to cope as she relates her story, with a lot of laughs included in Wishful Drinking, her delightful one-woman show playing on Broadway at Studio 54.

Her parents’ marriage broke up when her father, crooner Eddie Fisher, left mom Debbie Reynolds of “Singin’ in the Rain” fame for Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor in what she calls the “Angelina and Brad” scandal of its time. Both parents married and remarried numerous times after that.

“Things were getting worse faster than we could lower our standards,” she quipped.

In a humorous segment called “Hollywood Inbreeding 101,” she uses video projections and photographs of all the players posted on a blackboard and linked by drawn lines (set, lighting and projection design by Alexander V. Nichols) to try to explain the family tree. It’s no easy task. The goal is to figure out whether her daughter and Taylor’s grandson, who have been dating, are in fact related.

Dressed in black silk pajamas and flowing decorative robe, Fisher, directed by Tony Taccone, interacts with audience members and is funny, yet vulnerable as she relates family stories, including some about her two failed marriages, one to musician Paul Simon. She also makes fun of her intermittent accent and side-winding braided hairdo in her performances as Leia.

She pokes fun at some of the folks in her life, but this isn’t a “bash the people who have hurt me” opportunity that some other one-person shows seem to be. Instead, Fisher shows obvious affection for her mother, who lives next door to her, and respect for a father from whom she has grown distant. She has admiration for her brother, Todd, a born again Christian, whom she offered as evidence that the circumstances you face don’t determine how you’ll turn out, but rather how you handle the circumstances does (her brother apparently has not been diagnosed with bipolar disorder or turned to drug addiction, as Fisher has).

She’s funny and wise, and you come away feeling like you’d like to hang out with this woman who has been able to come through so much while still being so pleasant. At times, she seems to be searching spiritually, too. Sometimes "we only find heaven," she tells us, "by backing away from hell."

Fisher entertains at Studio 54 through Jan. 3. For tickets call (212) 719-1300 or visit http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/. For discounted group tickets, and to support Masterwork Productions, click here.

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

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Broadway's Longoria, Ashford Join 'Banana Shpeel' Cast

Michael Longoria and Annaleigh Ashford

Stars from Broadway’s Jersey Boys and Wicked will join the cast of Banana Shpeel, presented by Cirque du Soleil and MSG Entertainment this winter in Ne York City.

Michael Longoria, who starred as Frankie Valli will portray Emmett, an innocent and romantic young actor, while Annaleigh Ashford, who starred as Glinda in Wicked, on Broadway and in Chicago, portrays his love interest Katie. They're joined by in international collection of comedic talent in a roller-coaster mix of styles that blends comedy with tap, hip hop, eccentric dance and slapstick, all linked by a narrative that ignites a succession of wacky adventures.

Propelled by crazy humor and intense choreography, Banana Shpeel plunges us into the world of Schmelky, who dangles fame and fortune in front of Emmett, who has come to audition for him. Emmett soon finds himself trapped in a flamboyant, anarchic world where Schmelky sows terror and reigns supreme. Emmett falls in love with the beautiful Katie and meets a bunch of absurd characters, including the strange Banana Man. But who is this mysterious Banana Man and how can Emmett escape the clutches of Schmelky and his henchmen? The show is written and directed by
David Shiner.

Banana Shpeel will perform at The Beacon Theatre, Broadway and 74th Street, NYC, for a limited engagement from Feb. 4 through April 30, 2010. Tickets are available now for all performances at http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/ or http://www.beacontheatre.com/. The schedule is Tuesdays, Wednesdays; Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 7 pm with matinees on Wednesdays at 2 pm, Saturdays at 4pm and Sundays at 3pm.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Theater Review: Hamlet with Jude Law

Jude Law as Hamlet
(Photo: Johann Persson)

Jude Law’s Hamlet is Intense and Exciting
By Lauren Yarger
There’s a new Dane in town and he’s taking Elsinore and Broadway by storm. He’s Jude Law, who plays the revenge-seeking prince of Denmark in Shakespeare’s Hamlet at the Broadhurst Theater.

Taking on the role of one of the Bard’s most oft-portrayed protagonists, especially one who has been played so well over the years by the likes of Richard Burton, Laurence Olivier as well as more recent film stars Kenneth Branagh and Mel Gibson, is no easy task, but Law proves he’s up to the challenge, creating an intensely brooding, angry, sarcastic and electrifying Hamlet who sets about avenging the death of his father who reappears in the form of ghost (Peter Eyre).

The slain king tells his son that he was poisoned by his brother Claudius (Kevin R. McNally) who, having wed Hamlet’s mother Gertrude (Geraldine James) now sits on the throne of Denmark. Hamlet sets on getting revenge, and in true Shakespeare fashion, there is some treachery, some madness, some sword fighting and a lot of dead people piling up on stage by the end.

Michael Grandage expertly guides a talented cast, dressed in oh-so-appropriate, but elegant funereal black through the tragedy that unfolds in the walls of a grand, but bleak castle set (Christopher Oram, set and costume design). In a clever costume choice, a troupe of dramatic players who act out the truth of the king’s death wear white. Neil Austin’s lighting design, along with fog effects completed by music and sound design by Adam Cork, expertly enhance the action, creating moods of ominous shadows, dark and light.

Standing out in the cast is a very funny Polonius (Ron Cook), joined by a most able Laertes (Gwilym Lee), Horatio (Matt Ryan) and a very strong supporting cast. Standing out, unfortunately, as the disappointment in the casting, is Ophelia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) who seems uncomfortable and unsure of herself throughout the performance. Shakespeare’s meter isn’t familiar on her tongue and she appears out of place throughout the production, ironically, often being positioned at the far reaches of the action as if standing.

Overall, though, the Donmar Warehouse’s production, which comes to Broadway following sold-out runs in London’s West End and at Elsinore in Denmark, is absolutely stunning and one of the most engaging I’ve ever seen. The play’s the thing through Dec. 6 at the Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th Street, NYC. For tickets, call (212) 239-6200/(800) 432-7250. For discounted group tickets and to support masterwork prodcutions, click here.

Theater Review: The Night Watcher

Charlayne Woodard

Another Opening, Another (one-person) Show
By Lauren Yarger
For those of us heading to the theater these days, there probably is a good chance what we’re going to see is a one-person show. Granted, the production costs are less (only one salary and a presumed break on fees for the rights if the performer also is the author…), but there are so many of them lately that after a while, they all start to seem like the same show: the performer thinks something about his or her life is so unique it deserves a full 90 minutes or more of our attention, while portraying various characters they have encountered along the way with various accents to help us differentiate.

The Night Watcher, written and performed by Charlayne Woodard Off-Broadway at Primary Stages, is one of the latest. The twist here is direction by respected Daniel Sullivan and a number of reflections about how Woodard has touched the lives of children in her circle.

There’s a baby of mixed race whom actress Alfre Woodard (apparently no relation) wants her and her white husband to adopt. They think about it, but pass. Woodard later becomes godmother to her friend’s daughter, taking seriously her promise to be there for the child. She supports the girl when she becomes pregnant at 14, but when she fails to pass the news along to the girl’s mother, the friendship suffers.

And there a lot of others, some in very difficult situations, with whom the effervescent and engaging Woodard has near-mom experiences. She stops short of suggesting that the parents of these kids are not doing a good job, but it does seem implied at times, as she becomes aunt and “night watcher." It also seems to be a vehicle to justify the actress’s decision not to have her own children or to adopt, but it doesn’t become wholly that either.

In short, it ends up being another one-person performance that seems to be more about the performer coming to terms with parts of his or her life than a performance that justifies a theatrical performance. That’s not to say it isn’t entertaining. It is. I wasn’t bored, but I wasn’t sure what she wanted from me: support, sympathy or just a therapists’ couch in the form of a stage.

It is a tad too long in the two-hour format broken by an intermission and enhanced by short bursts of song by Woodard and photos and graphics projected on a screen (Tal Yarden, design).

The Night Watcher runs at Primary Stages, 59 east 59th Street, NYC through Oct. 31. For tickets, call 212.279.4200.

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• Lord’s name taken in vain

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Mandy Patinkin Makes Yale Debut in 'Compulsion'

Mandy Patinkin photo by Newspix.

Tony Award winner Mandy Patinkin stars in Yale Rep's Compulsion this January. Read the story on Connecticut Arts Connection
http://ctarts.blogspot.com/2009/10/mandy-patinkin-makes-yale-debut-in.html

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Breath of Life at Westport

Click here to read my review of Westport Country' Playhouse's production of David Hare's The Breath of Life with Stockard Channing (left) and Jane Alexander. Will it transfer to New York?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Walkin' Broadway Audio Tour Available


CityListen® Audio Tours announces the release of Walkin’ Broadway, hosted by Elliott Forrest.

The 55-minute tour takes listeners on a journey through Broadway's past and present,
mixing a historic walk through New York’s theater district with fascinating anecdotes and recollections from more than a dozen exclusive interviews with a veritable who’s who of the theater, including James Naughton, Ossie Davis, Stephen Schwartz, John Raitt and Hal Prince.

Walkin' Broadway™ was created by arts veterans Don Frantz and Elliott Forrest. Frantz, theatrical producer and general manager, was instrumental
in the genesis of Disney's Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King on Broadway. Forrest is a Peabody award winning broadcaster and producer.

The tour features stories from the creative talents behind such shows as A Chorus Line, Avenue Q, Chicago, Hair, Fiddler on the Roof, Pippin, Sweeney Todd and many more.

Launched in 2007, CityListen® Audio Tours is a new kind of travel publishing company, creating and electronically publishing downloadable audio walking tours for iPods and MP3 players. In addition to Broadway, the CityListen® portfolio includes seven more tours in New York City: Central Park, Greenwich Village, Lower East Side, Lower Manhattan, Upper East Side, Brooklyn Heights and The Rock and Roll Tour of Manhattan. Coming are tours in Chicago, San Francisco and Paris.

For more information, visit http://www.citylisten.com/. A PDF map for the tour can also be downloaded from the site.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Theater Review: A Steady Rain

Emotional Play Bursts with Thundering Performances from Jackman, Craig
By Lauren Yarger
You might know Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig as their film personas, the Wolverine and James Bond respectively, but in A Steady Rain at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on Broadway, for 90 gripping minutes they are no one else but Denny and Joey, two Chicago cops and longtime buddies who recall a few traumatic days that changed their lives.

The absorption into character, complete with Chicago accents coached by Jess Platt, succeeds in part due to fine stage acting by the film stars, superbly directed by John Crowley, but it’s really Keith Huff’s play with its compelling characters and interestingly different structure that is the star. The action already has taken place and it unfolds in narrative, with the two men telling their parts of the story, sometimes in soliloquy, sometimes re-enacting it together. At times, their memories become so vivid that the tenement buildings or wooded areas they describe come to life behind them on the otherwise stark set (Scott Pask, who also designed the costumes) which offers only two chairs with single light fixtures hovering over them where the “interrogation” of what really happened takes place.

The two boyhood friends became cops together and support each other after being passed up three times for detective. Joey puts up with Danny’s constant physical bullying and racially charged, foul language and in return, Danny and his wife, Connie, and their kids adopt him, offering him a place to stay, some home cooked meals and even some unwanted blind dates. Huff quickly clouds initial thoughts that all is how it appears on the surface, however.

Danny makes extra money to provide for his family by taking bribes and shaking down prostitutes, including Rhonda, with whom he has an ongoing affair. Joey, meanwhile, is in love with Connie. The storm bursts one night when a drive-by shooting critically injures Danny’s son. He obsessively pursues Rhonda’s pimp, whom he believes is responsible. His judgment becomes clouded and he and Joey end up handing a victim over to his killer. Soon, it’s not clear who the biggest threat to this family is: the pimp who vows revenge, the out-of-control father trying to protect his child or the mild-mannered wife stealer who rats out his partner.

The dialogue is riveting and makes for as exciting a police drama you’ll see on stage. Crowley expertly places the men close together when their stories jibe, and further apart when they differ. They also act in synchronization many times, as partners, and as opposite sides of the dichotomy they become.

Steady seems to be doing steady business at the box office, which will be good news for the 007 film producers who are among the production’s Broadway backers. As good as the actors are, they can’t help but resume their movie star status after the show, however, when long lines of people, many of them women lamenting the fact that the play doesn’t offer a scene with either of the well-built actors removing a shirt, line up at the stage door in hopes of snapping a photo.

A Steady Rain plays at the Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th Street, NYC through Dec. 6. For tickets call (212) 239-6200 or (800) 432-7250.

Christians might also like to know:
• Very strong language throughout
• Sexual dialogue
• God’s name taken in vain

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Broadway Stars Participate in Great Children's Read

A host of Broadway celebrities will participate in the Great Children's Read this Sunday in New York. Stars scheduled include Bernadette Peters, Montego Glover, Matt Cavenaugh, Constantine Maroulis, Linda Eder, Gregory Jbara and Cheyenne Jackson.

The Broadway stars join other celebrities for a free day of fun and books, an on-site children’s bookstore, readings, book signings and giveaways. They will read from 20 favorite books live at the Great Children’s Read.

The event is sponsored by The New York Times and Target in partnership with Brooklyn Public Library, The New York Public Library and Queens Library. It will take place from 10 am to 5 pm, rain or shine, at Columbia University, Broadway & 116th Street.

For a schedule and more information, visit http://www.nytimes.whsites.net/greatread/index.html

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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.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

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- 2017 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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