Monday, November 24, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: Side Show

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Monday, November 10, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: Disgraced


Thought-Provoking Play Probes Religious, Ethnic Ties We Think We Understand
By Lauren Yarger
“I’m not prejudiced.”
“All Muslims are….”

If either of those two statements sounds intriguing, Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning play Disgraced might just be the next Broadway ticket for you.

In the course of an evening, a Muslim, a Jew, an African-American and a WASP start talking religion. It gets messy.

Amir (Hari Dhillon) is a former Muslim – if there can be such a thing is one of the themes explored here – who has decided to worship his career as a mergers and acquisitions attorney in New York instead of the religion into which he was born. Besides, he just can’t embrace the archaic Quran and the religion it promotes. Accused of just “going through a phase” by his nephew, Abe (Danny Ashok), who has Americanized his name from Hussein, Amir replies that the phase is called “intelligence.”

If Amir feels a pull toward his Pakistani roots, it is because his WASPy American artist wife, Emily (Gretchen Mol Boardwalk Empire”) defends the religion and continually praises the beauty and wisdom she finds in her studies of Islamic art. Her latest works have been influenced by it and earn her a place in a show produced by Isaac (Josh Radnor How I Met Your Mother”). Emily influences her husband so much that he gives in when Abe and she beg him to help an imprisoned imam accused of having terrorist ties. Appearing to support the mosque leader has unpleasant professional consequences for Amir, however.

When Isaac and his African-American wife, Jory (Karen Pittman), who is an attorney vying for the same partnership at Amir’s mostly Jewish law firm, come to dinner at Amir and Emily’s swank Upper East Side apartment (nicely appointed by Designer John Lee Beatty), Amir has a few too many and all hell breaks loose as the conversation goes from “all religions have idiosyncrasies” to a hate-filled round of “your religion is bad.”

Turns out Amir isn’t as removed from his religious upbringing as he thinks. He certainly has some opinions that offend his Jewish and African-American guests (and us) like thinking that blowing Israel off the map is a good idea and feeling “tribal” pride over the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Later, Emily and Jory both tragically find that their husbands’ views about how to treat their wives aren’t what they thought they were either.

It’s a disturbing play on many levels, made so by unspoken truths which eventually are voiced. It is intelligent and witty (Radnor in particular delivers many of the play’s humorous lines with expert timing). We don’t want to have to talk about these things, let alone discuss them over dinner with friends, but the characters (all excellently portrayed) don’t give us any choice. 

There is no escape (there’s no intermission) and we are forced to explore some of the deep-rooted thoughts we have about religion. We also have to face the fact that the ugliness on stage could show up at our next dinner party too if we and our guests were to serve up honest opinions about religion and its place in today’s world.

Akhtar gets points for being able to bring so much out into the open in just 85 minutes. It’s well written and it makes you think. The awarding of the Pulitzer, however, seems a bit overdone for the first stage play by the actor and author of the novel “American Dervish.” Using liquor as a plot device to unleash the rage within Amir, for example, and the convenience of an affair between two of the characters all seems a bit trite.

The Pulitzer isn’t the only award Disgraced has received, however, so what do I know? Previous productions in Chicago and Off-Broadway, both also helmed by Director Kimberly Senior, received Jefferson and Obie awards.

Disgraced plays at the Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm.  http://www.disgracedonbroadway.com/.

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

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Exciting Theater Programs You Should Know About!





First Program to Provide Health Care for Writers at Playwrights Horizons

Playwrights Horizons has announced several major initiatives that will expand the ways in which theater writers are compensated.  

One of two new precedents that Playwrights Horizons is launching is providing health care support for writers.  The theater company will contribute financially to health insurance costs for all writers in their 2014/2015 Season by offsetting a portion of each writer’s monthly premiums.  Playwrights Horizons believes that it is the first theater company in the country to provide this support for all their writers – in addition to those who receive health care through residency programs – for the entire season in which they are produced.

The theater company also is establishing a second national precedent by paying writers for their rehearsal and pre-production time.   In addition to the industry-wide practice of paying writers through fees and royalties, Playwrights Horizons becomes the first theater to compensate its playwrights for their multi-week pre-production efforts, during which the writers are heavily engaged in such activities as auditions, casting, readings and creative meetings.

 These bold steps grew out of a Strategic Planning Process undertaken by the Staff and the Playwrights Horizons Board of Trustees to enhance and expand artistic opportunities and develop a host of ways to better serve the American writer.  Other programs that will be instituted in the future include substantially increasing commissioning fee levels and creating more teaching and mentoring opportunities for the company’s writers each season at the Playwrights Horizons Theater School (affiliated with NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts).

Playwrights Horizons is a writer’s theater dedicated to the support and development of contemporary American playwrights, composers and lyricists and to the production of their new work. Under the leadership of artistic director Tim Sanford and managing director Leslie Marcus, the theater company continues to encourage the new work of veteran writers while nurturing an emerging generation of theater artists. In its 44 years, Playwrights Horizons has presented the work of more than 400 writers and has received numerous awards and honors, including a special 2008 Drama Desk Award for “ongoing support to generations of theater artists and undiminished commitment to producing new work.”  

Notable productions include six Pulitzer Prize winners – Annie Baker’s The Flick(2013 Obie Award, 2013 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize), Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park (2012 Tony Award, Best Play), Doug Wright’sI Am My Own Wife (2004 Tony Award, Best Play), Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles (1989 Tony Award, Best Play), Alfred Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy and Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Sunday in the Park with George – as well as Ms. Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation (three 2010 Obie Awards including Best New American Play)




Tickets on Sale for Kids Night on Broadway
Tickets for the 2015 KIDS’ NIGHT ON BROADWAY® are on sale.

The event is Friday, Jan. 9 to Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015, when kids ages 6 to 18 can see participating Broadway shows for free when accompanied by a full-paying adult. A KIDS’ NIGHT ON BROADWAY ticket includes pre-theatre activities, restaurant discounts, parking discounts, educational programs, and more.

This year, KIDS’ NIGHT ON BROADWAY continues its collaboration with KidzVuz, a safe video review sharing site, with a KidzVuz Broadway video contest. Kids ages 6-18 can submit original videos on three Broadway topics, and be entered for a chance to win cool Broadway prizes, including tickets to a participating KIDS’ NIGHT ON BROADWAY show. Additionally, kids can participate in a KIDS’ NIGHT ON BROADWAY Q&A by submitting questions to the KIDS’ NIGHT ON BROADWAY Facebook page that will later be answered by Broadway stars.

Judith Light, a two-time Tony Award® winner, is the National Ambassador for the 19th KIDS’ NIGHT ON BROADWAY. 

Participating shows to date include:*

Aladdin, Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Chicago, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Disgraced, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, Honeymoon in Vegas, If/Then, Jersey Boys, Kinky Boots, Les Misérables, The Lion King, Mamma Mia!, Matilda The Musical, The Phantom of the Opera, On the Town, Rock of Ages, Side Show, Wicked and You Can’t Take It With You.

(*subject to change, and some shows not available for all performances)


KIDS’ NIGHT ON BROADWAY will also take place in multiple cities around the country, with different shows and venues putting their own spin on the event, on numerous dates throughout the year. Check kidsnightonbroadway.com for specific dates and locations.

Christians might also like to know:
Check reviews on this site, or email me for information on which shows are appropriate for which ages.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: The Last Ship

Fred Applegate Jimmy Nail and the cast of The JMLast Ship Photo: Joan Marcus
Great Music by Sting Fails to Turn the Tide for The Last Ship
By Lauren Yarger
Drawing on inspiration from the community where he was born and raised, Sting makes his Broadway debut as a composer of The Last Ship, a look at the lives of folks living in the shadow of the River Tyne and its massive shipyard.

Most of the residents of the close-knit community of Wallsend in northeast England have depended on the shipyard for their existence. All of the men end up there, but young Gideon Fletcher (Collin Kelly-Sordelet) dreams of becoming something different from his abusive father, Joe (Jamie Jackson), who was injured in a shipyard accident, but who now hands him his boots, expecting that his son will follow in his shoes – literally – by supporting them with a job at the yard. Gideon wants a different future so much, though, he is willing to leave behind his love, young Meg Dawson (Dawn Cantwell), to find it and sets sail.

Fast forward 15 years later when Joe dies. Gideon (Michael Esper) returns home to find Meg (Rachel Tucker) engaged to Arthur Milburn (Aaron Lazar) and mother to young Tom (Kelly-Sordelet). Complications ensue when Meg and Gideon find sparks of their romance rekindling.

Meanwhile, Arthur, a former welder, now management shirt, isn’t popular with the shipyard workers like foreman Jackie White (Jimmy Nail) or shop steward Billy Thompson (Craig Bennett) when the Newlands Corporation, the new owner of the shipyard, announces that it will cease shipbuilding, but offers the men jobs in its new salvage operation.

Korea and Japan can build ships far more cheaply, but the men refuse to accept their livelihood – and their existence -- is dead. Spurred on by the local priest, Father O’Brien (Fred Applegate), who can hold his own with the townsfolk when it comes to drinking, smoking or using profanity, the workers unite to build one last ship – and many plan to sail away on it to a new life.

Sting’s music is great. Many tunes are memorable (the refrain of the theme song has been repeating annoyingly in my head for days, which is a good thing when it comes to musicals) and the ballads are lovely. Lazar has a dreamy voice and had me wondering how Meg could resist his proposal in “What Say You, Meg?” I found out how when Tucker and Esper teamed up for the absolutely gorgeous duet “When We Dance.” Look for a Tony Award nomination for score here.

Beyond the music horizon (directed by Rob Mathes who does the orchestrations and arrangements), this musical may have rough seas, however. The book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey is sketchy. We never really believe that these men would build their own ship, despite the fact that the premise apparently reflects real-life incidents “including a recent project in Poland for which a priest commandeered supplies and financial support so a group of laymen could not only have work, but also reclaim their pride and dignity by assembling a ship meant to sail the world” according to press information. It’s also nicely staged by Director Joe Mantello on large, but non-scene-stealing sets designed by David Zinn (who also designs the costumes) and expertly lighted by Christopher Akerlind.

Shawna M. Hamic and Sally Ann Triplett stand out in minor roles that get minimal development.

While Sting creates a tidal wave with the music, his lyrics are simplistically weak and heavy on exposition:
  • “For my name is Jackie White and I'm foreman at the yard, and ya don’t mess with Jackie on this quayside”
  • “My name is Billy Thompson, I'm shop steward for the union and me dream is proletarian revolution”
  • “Well, me name is James O’Brien it’s from Ireland I was sent to be the pastor of this flock and your spiritual guide”

There are more, but I’ll spare you.

I also was disappointed by some flat notes, particularly from Nail and Esper. Granted, the score can be difficult, and I did see a matinee performance, but still, this is Broadway…

Meanwhile, word is that Sting fans haven’t been flooding the box office, so The Last Ship had better start to sail or it just might sink and the actors and crew might find the unemployment line a reality as well as part of the story they are telling. Go seen it soon.

The Last Ship sails at the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday at 2 and 8 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 3pm. Tickets: $55 to $147;  http://thelastship.com.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Language
-- Lord's name
-- Father O'Brien is a smoking, drinking, cursing kind of priest who offers much of the humor in this piece. He kind of skims over scripture during a service.

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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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