Thursday, December 31, 2009

Theater Closings Updated-- Add Finian to the List


The latest round of Broadway closings hits this Sunday, most of them scheduled, but two, Finian's Rainbow and Ragtime, have been added recently. At this rate, it will be interesting to see whether any of the 2009-2010 Tony Award winners next June are still open when the awards are announced....

Closing after the Sunday, Jan. 3 performance are Superior Donuts, and Shrek, the musical .

Exiting on Jan. 10 are:
Burn the Floor
Ragtime
(an extra week has been added. Originally, the show's closing was announced for Jan. 3.)
Bye Bye Birdie
In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)
The 39 Steps
(word is this may re-open Off-Broadway)

Jan. 17 is the closing date for Wishful Drinking and the really wonderful revival of Finian's Rainbow.

Meanwhile, a few long-running Off-Broadway productions are playing their final curtains as well:
The seasonal offering at Madison Square Garden, Wintuk, closes Sunday.

Altar Boyz finishes its run Jan. 10 (for discounted tickets that benefit Masterwork Productions, click here). The Marvelous Wonderettes and The Toxic Avenger close Sunday.

The Understudy closes Jan. 17

Check for discounted tickets to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows that benefit Masterwork Productions at http://www.givenik.com/?code=Masterworks.
A list of shows still running or coming to Broadway this season is at left. You also can check a list at left to see which shows are touring to a theater near you.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Season of Theater Closings

The latest round of Broadway closings hits this Sunday, most of them scheduled, but at least one, Ragtime, added recently.

Closing after the Sunday, Jan. 3 performance are Ragtime, Superior Donuts, and Shrek, the musical .

Exiting on Jan. 10 are:
Burn the Floor
Bye Bye Birdie
In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)
The 39 Steps
(word is this may re-open Off-Broadway)
Wishful Drinking closes Jan. 17

Meanwhile, a few long-running Off-Broadway productions are playing their final curtains as well:
The seasonal offering at Madison Square Garden, Wintuk, closes Sunday.

Altar Boyz finishes its run Jan. 10 (for discounted tickets that benefit Masterwork Productions, click here). The Marvelous Wonderettes and The Toxic Avenger close Sunday.

The Understudy closes Jan. 17

Check for discounted tickets to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows that benefit Masterwork Productions at http://www.givenik.com/?code=Masterworks.
A list of shows still coming to Broadway this season is at left. You also can check a list at left to see which shows are touring to a theater near you.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Theater Review: A Little Night Music

Angela Lansbury, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and
Kearon Whittaker in A Little Night Music
Photo © Joan Marcus

Perpetual Anticipation is Good for Sales, But Bad for the Heart
By Lauren Yarger
I’d been looking forward to a revival of Stephen Sondheim’s marvelous A Little Night Music perpetually, ever since the last time I saw it on April 10, 1974.

It was magic. The lavish set whisked people and entire rooms on and off the stage. The beautiful score was meticulously performed by a full orchestra and some of Broadway’s most skilled voices (sans Glynis Johns, who as Desiree acted, rather than sang her songs). The staging (directed by Hal Prince) seemed to be in constant movement, and brought all of the elements, and Sondheim’s lyrics together in one fantastic story waltz. It changed the way I looked at musicals and changed the face of musicals on Broadway for all time.

It received 12 Tony Award nominations in 1973 and won best musical, score, book (Hugh Wheeler), costumes (Florence Klotz), best actress (Johns) and best supporting actress (Patricia Elliott) and until I had seen Wicked’s “Defying Gravity” number, I hadn’t seen an act-one closer that could hold a candle to Night Music’s “A Weekend in the Country.” So you can imagine with what great anticipation I was looking forward to the first Broadway revival of this show which opened this week at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

About two minutes into the show, it was apparent that this isn’t a recreation of the original’s magic, and under the direction of Trevor Nunn, it isn’t even trying to be. It’s a pared-down version of the show, in keeping with other recent scaled-back Sondheim revivals. I’m sort of surprised Nunn didn’t have Catherine Zeta-Jones, making her Broadway debut as Desiree, carting around a French horn à la Patti LuPone in the revival of Sweeney Todd, where the actors also played all the instruments to cut costs. Instead, there is an orchestra, albeit a small one conducted by Tom Murray, housed behind the set.

So in an effort to be fair, and not compare this show with the original which it isn’t trying to be, I quickly swallowed my disappointment and tried to evaluate it on its own merits. To start with, there are some good things. Zeta-Jones is beautiful and playful as the actress hoping she’s finally found love with Frederick Egerman (an excellent Alexander Hanson, who should receive a Tony nomination). She has a pleasant, if not strong Broadway voice, and delivers a moving version of the show’s signature song, “Send in the Clowns.”

Playing her mother, Madame Armfeldt, a woman with a colorful past, is the incomparable Angela Lansbury who is a hoot and delivers with perfection the matriarch's humorous observations on life and love. Madame Armfeldt cares for Desiree’s daughter, Fredrika (the role is shared by Katherine Leigh Doherty and Keaton Whittaker). I saw Doherty, who stood out among the cast with her delightful stage presence and excellent singing voice. Also standing out, perhaps, unexpectedly, was Marissa McGowan, who plays one of the waltzing/singing quintet members who link the scenes (Lynne Page, choreogrpahy).

I had seen McGowan recently in her turn as Guenevere in Camelot at Connecticut’s Goodspeed Opera House and was blown away by her beautiful voice and command of the stage. The two elements are clearly on view here as well.

Aaron Lazar gives a fine comedic performance as pompous Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm, who is jealous of lover Desiree’s liaison with Frederik, but who expects fidelity from wife Charlotte (Erin Davie). His fine baritone is strong and particularly lovely when paired with Hanson’s for “It Would Have Been Wonderful.”

Disappointing, however, is Ramona Mallory, terribly miscast in her Broadway debut as Anne, Frederik’s flirtatious, but virginal (after 11 months of marriage) child bride. I’m sure the decision to cast her may have come from the fact that she is the daughter of Victoria Mallory, who created the role of Anne in the magical original version. Victoria has one of the most pitch-perfect voices I ever have heard, and while daughter Ramona’s voice is up to the task of the high Sondheim soprano role, her portrayal of Anne comes off as mean spirited, selfish and stupid instead of delightfully naïve. I would have cast McGowan.

Also appearing dense, rather than amusingly geeky, is the character of Henrik (Hunter Ryan Herdlicka), Frederik’s son who is studying to enter the ministry, but who secretly is in love with his stepmother, Anne. I didn’t get humor from him, just a rote saying of his lines, and again I tried hard not to compare him with the original Henrik, Mark Lambert, who blew me away in the role (and who, ironically, is Ramona’s father – apparently life imitated art as Lambert and Victoria Mallory got together just as Henrik and Anne do in the show). He performs the song “Later," but the morphing of man to cello and cello to man that makes this a genius number just doesn’t happen.

Lee Ann Larkin as Petra, sings “The Miller’s Son” well, but looks too refined to be a country girl romping around in the hay. She looks more like she’s lost her way from the elegant quintet.

And then there are the rather non exciting sets and costumes designed by David Farley. Everyone pretty much sports turn-of-the-century black in the first act and white in the second act in front of a semi circle of mirrored panels that occasionally switch out mirrors for wall pictures or trees. Some birch trunks are added in the second act to complete the country setting.
So if you’re looking to relive the past, this show isn’t for you (the famous logo with the naked couples camouflaged in the leaves of the tree is as missing as the sweeping trees themselves are from the sets). If you want to see some stars and some good performances and hear the lovely score, this revival will satisfy, even if the music lacks the oomph of a full orchestra.

It runs at the Walter Kerr, 219 West 48th Street, NYC. For tickets, call (212) 239-6200.

Christians might also like to know:
• Sexual situations
• Suicide attempts
• Sexual activity
• God’s name taken in vain

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Theater Review: Fela!

Sahr Ngaujah as Fela Kuti and the Broadway cast of FELA! Photo: Monique Carboni

Lots of Passion, Hip Action and a Club Atmosphere
By Lauren Yarger
Part news reel, part dance club, Broadway’s Fela! is a burst of energy and visual stimulation, but beyond providing two hours and 40 minutes of almost non-stop music, choreography and special effects, the show fails to move beyond that and bring home the main character as one who deserves such a celebration.

It’s one of those shows that’s entertaining while you are watching it, but which quickly fades once you leave the theater.

Part of my sense of detachment from the story of the Nigerian singer, sax player, band leader, club star-turned-politician, probably comes from the fact that I had never heard of him before this show. I don’t know whether this is from being too young to be aware of him at the time, a lack of news coverage about African music and Africa in general or the failure of high school and college history teachers to include Kuti’s influence on music and his establishment of the independent nation/commune of the Kalakuta Republic in the lesson plans (probably all three). The result, however, is the feeling that you’re attending a party where everyone is celebrating, but you’re not sure why.

It’s one exciting party, though, that much is clear. Bill T. Jones (conceiver/director/choreographer/book writer) tells Kuti’s story (Jim Lewis also co-conceived and co-wrote the book and additional lyrics) to the musician’s own African/Latin/Jazz beat (Aaron Johnson, musical direction) and lyrics in a stunning setting (Marina Draghici, set and amazing costume design) that explodes from the stage up the walls to the ceiling of the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, where I suggest you sit in the balcony so you can appreciate all the colors, lyrics, posters and projected images.

Jones also puts his dancers through an amazing workout. The moves evoke African tribal, tap and ballet dances and never stop. Two dancers move in the wings while the audience files in prior to the show so the action really starts before the action. At one point Fela, performed superbly and passionately by Sahr Ngaujah, gets the audience up on their feet and thrusting their hips to coordinates on an individual “clock” at his commands. This hip movement shows up in most of the choreography, and while I have nothing but respect for the dancers who make it look so easy (I would need hip replacement surgery after each show), I soon grew tired of having the cast flip their “six o’clocks” at me. (By the way, because the role of Fela is so strenuous, Kevin Mambo regularly takes over for some performances).

The monotonous few-note beat and few-word lyrics of Kuti’s music soon grew tedious for me despite the constant motion. I found my mind wandering, thankfully brought back to the stage by excellent visual and lighting effects. A poster turns into the image of Fela’s political activist mother Funmilayo (a belting Lillas White); a starburst follows her as she walks; rain falls across a scrim and all are exceptionally executed (Peter Nigrini; projection; Robert Wierzel, lighting).

In the middle of all the sensory stimulation, I couldn’t find enough to like about the character of Fela to engage and join in the celebration, however. He is inspired at one point by a woman he meets in a club, Sandra Isadore (Saycon Sengbloh). He goes to London to study. He’s influenced by African-American leaders of the 1960s and finally understands his mother’s political activism. He joins the cause against the corruption in Nigeria’s government which eventually results in his imprisonment and torture and his mother’s violent death.

He’s portrayed as a hero, and apparently he did help shape a form of music and give Nigerian people hope, but my introduction to a musician with a hit album called “Zombie’ proclaiming himself king of a commune nation made me scoff and think of him more as self-serving than as a great hero. Some of his actions, like using drugs and asking all the women in his life to marry him at once (apparently he married 27 wives in 1978 and then rotated them so as not to have more than 12 at a time until he finally divorced them all and died of complications from AIDS) are not exactly awe-inspiring.

So I’m sure other critics will love this show, and you’ll certainly see some well-deserved Tony nominations for Fela! come May, but for me, this musical felt more like being at a loud, flashy club with a bunch of people very excited about something I wasn’t relating to than sitting in theater enjoying a Broadway show.

Fela! runs at the O’Neill, 230 West 49th Street. For discounted tickets that benefit Masterwork Productions, click here (make sure you indicate the religious charity you wish to support is Masterworks).

Christians might also like to know:
• Show posts a Mature Advisory
• Language
• Violence/torture depicted
• Depiction of a man on a toilet relieving himself
• Consulting of other gods and speaking to the dead
• Song praises Allah

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Curtain Comes Down on Star-Studded Broadway Shows

Editor's Note: Burn the Floor just announced it will close in January as well, on Jan. 10 instead of in February which was originally was announced.

Today will see the final curtain calls for three Broadway shows, most of them the ones with the big Hollywood names that have been selling seats this season on the Great White Way.

Taking their final bows today are Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig in A Steady Rain, Julia Stiles and Bill Pullman in Oleanna and Sienna Miller and Jonny Lee Miller in After Miss Julie. Meanwhile, The Royal Family shutters next week on Dec. 13.

The scene changes don't end there. More closings are scheduled after the holidays: Shrek, the Musical (Jan. 3), Irving Berlin's White Christmas, Superior Donuts (Jan. 3), Burn the Floor (Jan. 6), The 39 Steps (Jan. 10), Bye Bye Birdie (Jan. 10), In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) (Jan. 10) and Wishful Drinking (Jan. 17) .

Stay tuned for openings, however. Fela! and Race are recent additions (look for reviews on this site shortly) and A Little Night Music with Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones opens next week. Coming in January: A View from the Bridge, Present Laughter and Time Stands Still.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays – Are People Really Offended?

By Lauren Yarger
When I made a purchase at a local store yesterday, the clerk wished me happy holidays. I thanked him and wished him the same, but according to news articles and to opponents of political correctness, I suppose I should have been offended.

Store clerks are being instructed to wish "happy holidays" instead of “Merry Christmas” to avoid offending those who might not celebrate that holiday. Some stores have eliminated Christmas music and banned bell-ringing representatives of the Salvation Army from entrances because these reminders that most of us celebrate Christmas apparently can’t be tolerated by those who don’t.

I’m really curious to know how many of these highly offended people really exist. Most Jewish folks I know respond with an unoffended “and Happy Chanukah” when greeted with a “Merry Christmas.” I doubt the numbers of offended atheists are very high, because I used to be a pretty committed and vocal atheist and I can tell you, someone wishing me a merry Christmas wasn’t a threat to my beliefs, nor an infringement upon them.

My atheist family celebrated Christmas, though the religious part about the birth of a savoir didn’t enter in to our festivities. When we were little, we decorated a tree, waited for Santa and –horror of horrors—sang Christmas songs in the school concert. My mother, one of the most committed atheists I ever knew and who would have closed the school down over something like mandatory prayer, came to the concerts and proudly watched as I sang “Winds Through the Olive Trees” and other songs mentioning Jesus and never felt the need to insist the school ban them, because singing them didn’t mean I had to believe them. They simply were tradition. Now schools refuse to include them, and in a way, force Christian children to participate in a celebration of secular holidays. Is this really so different?

When we were older, the holiday was an opportunity to give and receive gifts, enjoy good food and spend time with people we loved. We got the holiday off from school and work (and in one of my school districts with a large Jewish population, we got those holidays off too). I didn’t feel the need to protest and insist that everyone go to school or work on those days just because I didn’t believe in their religious significance.

Sometimes on Christmas, I even attended midnight mass services with friends because it was something they traditionally did (and I suspect attending had more to do with tradition and obligation than with any real desire to worship the Savior). Going to church didn’t threaten my belief system. I didn’t participate in what I considered “brainwashed” rituals of kneeling, crossing one’s self or taking of the bread and cup and actually used the experiences to fuel ammunition for the religious debates I often found myself winning with people who considered themselves Christians.

So if someone wished me a “merry Christmas” back in those days, I would have said “thank you; same to you.” My reaction would not have been one of offense, or one which assumed that by wishing me a merry Christmas what you actually were saying was, “I am wishing you a merry Christmas instead of a happy holiday because I am a jerk and want to try to force my religion on you.”

It’s the “forced” part that would have and did result in protest from this devout atheist. When saying “The Pledge of Allegiance” in school, I always stopped and refused to recite “one nation under God,” because I didn’t believe it was. If I had been called to give testimony in a court of law, I would have refused to place my hand on a bible and to swear to tell the truth “so help me God.” My high school offered a bible course as an English class and I did an independent study rather than take it. Later, a labor union agreement required me to attest to a belief in God. Having these religious things thrust upon me as a matter of normal course offended me as they infringed on my right not to follow Christianity and I took action to avoid them and spoke in favor of changing them.

Someone’s wishing me the happiness of a holiday that I didn’t celebrate for the same reasons they did, however just didn’t get the activist in me riled. Singing Christmas songs or hearing them played in stores during the shopping season didn’t offend me. If the town government decided to play Christmas carols at government meetings, I would have protested, but stores, where the majority of people are Christmas shopping? No. The stores are privately owned and they should be able to decorate and play music as they wish. If some aspect of the shopping experience really offends, you always have the option of not shopping at that store and letting the store owner know why.

So again, I have to wonder just how many people, even if they are die-hard atheists, are so offended by a merry Christmas wish. I can tell you I feel the same amount of offense now, as a Christian, being wished a happy holiday as I did as an atheist being wished a merry Christmas -- none. I assume the person is wishing me the happiness of the season, not that they are actually saying, “I am wishing you a happy holiday instead of a merry Christmas because I don’t believe in Christ and feel my rights will be violated if I say or hear the word Christmas.”

I’ll give the benefit of the doubt, but if that’s really what you mean by “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” then I feel sorry for you. The most important thing to you is not promoting the separation of church and state or your atheist or other-God beliefs. You obviously think our constitution protects you and your beliefs while keeping others from expressing theirs. This attitude of thinking you are right and that you need to protect yourself and others from exposure to contrary beliefs probably is the same argument you use to describe Christians and why you don’t like them. The same tolerance you demand from us is something you should offer yourself when we express our beliefs, and a little Christmas spirit might be just what you need to help you do this.

So to those of you who celebrate Dec. 25 as the birth of our Lord and Savior, Merry Christmas. To My Jewish friends, I wish you happy Chanukah and to those who follow atheism or other religions, I wish you love, happiness and peace this holiday season. And I promise not to be offended when you wish me the same.

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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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