Wednesday, September 30, 2015

New Victory Theater Offers Family Shows and Autism-Friendly Performances


The New Victory Theater, New York City’s premier performing arts venue dedicated to bringing kids to the arts and the arts to kids, will host a series of autism-friendly performances throughout the 2015-16 season. By offering multiple shows at low ticket prices throughout the season, The New Victory hopes to encourage regular theatergoing for families who desire a relaxed environment for individuals with autism or sensory sensitivity.

In consultation with Autism Friendly Spaces, Inc., select performances of The Gruffalo, Pedal Punk, The Velveteen Rabbit and Caps for Sale the Musical will be modified to accommodate and support the sensory, social and emotional needs of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder:

Tall Stories’ The Gruffalo from London, England
Sunday, October 18, 2015 at 3:00pm
For Ages 4-7, Theater, 55 minutes with no intermission

Cirque Mechanics’ Pedal Punk from Las Vegas, Nevada
Sunday, December 20, 2015 at 5:00pm
For Everyone 5+, Circus, 50 minutes with no intermission

Unicorn Theatre’s The Velveteen Rabbit from London, England
Saturday, January 23, 2016 7:00pm
For Everyone 6+, Theater, 90 minutes including one intermission

Adventure Theatre MTC’s Caps for Sale the Musical from Glen Echo, Maryland
Sunday, February 28, 2016 11:00am
For Ages 4-7, Musical Theater, 60 minutes with no intermission

In order to make the show more accessible to individuals on the autism spectrum and their families, modifications for autism-friendly performances include adjustments to the technical aspects of the show, quiet areas in the lobbies and specialized training for the Front of House staff and ushers; more specifically, New Vic performances will be adapted in the following ways:

  • Sound in the production will be lowered and staff will warn of any upcoming loud noises during the show.
  • Lights in the seating area will be dimmed rather than fully dark during the performance.
  • A Relaxed Atmosphere allows patrons to talk and vocalize as they wish, as well as leave and re-enter the seating area as needed.
  • An Activity Area will be available with a live video feed of the show, coloring sheets and fidget toys if patrons need to take a break from the seating area.
  • A Calming Corner will be available with fidget toys and bean bag chairs if patrons need a quiet place to relax.
  • Autism Specialists will be available throughout the performance to provide assistance as requested or needed.
  • A Family Restroom (gender-neutral) will be designated.
  • Online Resources, such as social narrative and character guides, will be available to help prepare audiences in advance of attending the shows.
Additionally, families who have never been to The New Victory Theater are invited to “meet their seat” in advance of each performance and explore the lobbies and seating areas. Interested families should call 646.223.3023 to arrange for a time.

Through these services, The New Victory looks forward to welcoming families with kids on the autism spectrum to return to the theater again and again to enjoy world-class performing arts together. Visit the New Victory website to learn more about each autism-friendly performance along with all of the shows in the 2015-16 season.

General Ticket Information
For autism-friendly performances at The New Victory Theater, New Victory Member tickets are $17 and full price tickets are $25. Theatergoers who buy tickets for three or more New Victory shows qualify for free Membership, with benefits including 35% savings on tickets all season long and unlimited free ticket exchanges. Tickets are available online (NewVictory.org) and by telephone (646.223.3010). The New Victory Theater box office (209 West 42nd Street) will be open Sunday and Monday from 11am-5pm and Tuesday through Saturday from 12pm-7pm.

About Autism Friendly Spaces, Inc.
Autism Friendly Spaces, Inc. is a New York-based nonprofit whose mission is to transform spaces and open minds to welcome the full participation of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder in all aspects of life. Autism Friendly Spaces strives to create a world in which all individuals have full access to everything and anything they want or need to do. The organization works with institutions to make both their physical spaces and the services they provide accommodating and accepting to people with developmental disabilities. Whether it is training airport personnel, modifying a Broadway show or reconfiguring a local grocery store, Autism Friendly Spaces unlocks previously unimaginable opportunities.

About The New Victory Theater
The New Victory celebrates its 20th Anniversary season of bringing kids to the arts and the arts to kids as New York City’s premier theater devoted to the highest quality performing arts for kids and families. Serving the community in all its diversity, The New Victory Theater on 42nd Street presents theater, dance, circus, opera and music from around the world at affordable ticket prices. In addition to its public performances, the New Vic is also the largest provider of live performance to NYC school kids, serving 40,000 youth through more than 200 schools, after school programs and day camps each year. The New Victory has been recognized for its contributions to the cultural landscape of the city. Awards include a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award presented by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities for the NEW VICTORY Usher Corps, which provides paid employment to approximately 50 NYC teens each year, the national Arts Education Award from Americans for the Arts and a Special Award from The Drama Desk for “providing enchanting, sophisticated children’s theater that appeals to the child in all of us, and for nurturing a love of theater in young people.”

Monday, September 28, 2015

Broadway Theater Review: Spring Awakening


Expressing Teen Angst, Sexual Awakenings in a New Way
By Lauren Yarger
There’s nothing new about teens exploring their sexuality, or thinking that parents are too uptight to understand, but this story gets a whole new telling by Deaf West Theatre in a Broadway revival of Spring Awakening featuring performances in both spoken English and American Sign Language.

Composer Duncan Shiek’s rock score, paired with Steven Sater’s lyrics and book, based on Frank Wedekind’s controversial 1891 expressionist play of the same name, changed musical theater when it premiered on Broadway. The music, the action (with its shocking moves and explicit lyrics) and its very young cast (except for the few uptight adult characters) struck a chord with audiences and critics and in 2007 it won seven Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Many hailed it as the Rent or Hair for a new generation.

Personally, I love the music. The score is exciting and is almost a character in itself as it helps to express the emotions felt by those singing the tunes. The story and lyrics, however, have never been a favorite. I just can’t get excited about a bunch of sexual experimentation – some of it sadomasochistic in nature – glorified as something we should embrace or risk being labeled as uptight and out of touch. I’d rather embrace loving and safe relationships…. (and yes, if you are wondering, Hair isn’t a favorite of mine either. Great music – and in the case of the last Broadway revival, great staging – but a message of risky and immoral behavior I can’t embrace there either.)

Some lyrics from the song “The Word of Your Body”:
Oh, you’re gonna be wounded
Oh, you’re gonna be my wound
Oh, you’re gonna bruise too
Oh, I’m gonna be your bruise


Not exactly what I’d pen as a love song.

That said about the themes of this musical, I won’t dwell on them, but let me assure you that deaf end’s production is well worth seeing. The troupe’s last Broadway appearance was with the excellent production of Big River in 2003, which also incorporated sign language with the dialogue and lyrics. Michael Arden expertly directs the action, which has some characters like Wendla (Sandra Mae Frank) Moritz (Daniel N. Durant) and Frau Gabor (Marlee Matlin) portrayed by deaf actors using sign language, while other actors, most of whom also play a musical instrument, provide the speaking and singing voices for those characters.

The staging is such that both actors become the character. Additional supertitles are incorporated into projections (design by Lucy Mackinnon) onto the three-story set designed in shades of grey (how appropriate given the S&M themes….) by Dane Laffrey, enhanced by excellent Lighting Design by Ben Stanton to help keep focus amidst the large cast of 28. The set does double duty, housing the small band which often plays to tunes at a slightly slower pace than expected. I am not sure if this is to accommodate needs signing of the lyrics, but it does disappoint if you are a fan of the score. Also lacking something in comparison to the original soundtrack (which fans have been listening to for years) are the vocals, with the exception of Katie Boeck, who lends a beautiful singing voice for Wendla.

Maitlin (who won an Academy Award for her performance in Children of a Lesser God) gives effective portrayals as the mother of the protagonist, Melchior (Austin P. McKenzie). Providing her voice is a fabulous Camryn Manhein (TV’s “The Practice” and “The Ghost Whisperer”), who stands out with humor as school mistress Knuppledick. Every time she addressed Headmaster Knochenbruch (Russell Harvard), I rolled with laughter. Her comedic chops also made piano teacher Fraulein Grobebustenhalter, about whom Melchior’s friend Georg (Alex Wyse) fantasizes, very amusing.

Melchior’s carefree behavior and rebellion are a catalyst for much of the show’s action (and the character is ably portrayed by McKenzie). He wonders about the origin of shame and believes that it is a product of education. He encourages close friend Moritz to embrace his sensual dreams and introduces Wendla to sex at his “special thinking place” while indulging her need to be punished. Her fate involves an abortion and death.

A friend, driven to achieve success by uncaring parents dies “Left Behind” the scene is very moving and effectively staged.

To take in the excellent performances, however, you need to be prepared for potentially offensive content. The show posts a Mature rating and contains nudity and all kinds of sexual activity. Some of the titles of the songs are so explicit that I can’t list them here. You can go hear them in person, if you wish, through the end of this limited-run engagement which closes Jan. 24, 2016 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 West 47th St., NYC.

Performances are Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 3 and 7:30 pm; Check schedule changes for week of  Oct. 27. Tickets are $49 - $139: (877) 250-2929; springawakeningthemusical.com.

Full Cast:
Miles Barbee…. Otto

Katie Boeck…. Voice of Wendla/Guitar/Piano

Alex Boniello…. Voice of Moritz/Guitar

Joshua Castille…. Ernst

Daniel N. Durant…. Moritz

Treshelle Edmond…. Martha

Sandra Mae Frank…. Wendla

Kathryn Gallagher…. Voice of Martha/Guitar

Sean Grandillo…. Voice of Otto/bass

Russell Harvard…. Headmaster Knochenbruch, Herr Stiefel, Father Kaulbach

Amelia Hensley…. Thea

Lauren Luiz…. Melitta, Voice of Thea

Camryn Manheim…. Frau Bergmann, Fraulein Knuppeldick, Fraulein Grobebustenhalter

Marlee Matlin…. Frau Gabor, Frau Bessell, Frau Schmidt

Austin P. McKenzie…. Melchior

Andy Mientus…. Hanschen

Patrick Page…. Herr Sonnenstich, Herr Rilow, Father Kaulbach, Doctor Von Brausepulver, Herr Gabor

Krysta Rodriguez…. Ilse

Daniel David Stewart…. Voice of Ernst/piano

Ali Stroker…. Anna

Alexandra Winter…. Greta/Harp/Harmonium

Alex Wyse…. Georg

Robert Ariza, Lizzy Cuesta , Elizabeth Greene, Van Hughes, Daniel Marmion…. Ensemble


Christians might also like to know:
-- Mature rating
-- Nudity
-- Sexual activity
-- Homosexual activity
-- Language
-- Suicide
-- Derogatory language referring to women
-- Explicit dialogue and lyrics
-- God's name taken in vain

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Theater Review: The Illusionists: Witness the Impossible

(Note: This is a review of the show tour in Hartford. The Illusionists begins a Broadway run Nov. 19. Tour schedule below)

Witnessing the Impossible, and It’s Impossible to Believe that People Want to Witness it
By Lauren Yarger
The Illusionists: Witness the Impossible sold out last year in a limited run on Broadway and returns again this year for another highly anticipated run during the holiday season. Connecticut residents don’t have to wait to see the work of seven of the world’s most acclaimed illusionists, however, as the show’s tour makes a stop at the Bushnell this week. The real question for me is, "Do I really want to?"


This show, conceived by Simon Painter (with creative direction by Jim Millan and direction and choreography by Neil Dorward), is not your grandmother’s version of a magic show. Oh, yes, there are some of the elements you would expect like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, card tricks, sawing a person in half, escaping from a straitjacket, etc. All of this is done with colorful flashing lights (design by Paul Miller) and video projections (designed by Darrel Maloney).

There also are some unexpected bits, like a very, very creepy guy forcing a coin into his eye and cutting it out of his arm, and another lying on a sharp nail and placing a scorpion in his mouth while handcuffed and placed in further peril. These acts seem more fitting for TV’s “The Fear Factor” than a magic show. There also is a crossbow demonstration that is interesting, but not what I would call an illusion.

When it comes to “Fear Factor” and shows of that genre, there is always something else on I would prefer to watch, even if it is something as horrible and frightening as “The Brady Bunch.” I never have been able to figure out why people would want to watch others do potentially harmful or stupid things. I have to admit it, but I never have been wowed by Houdini’s water torture trick, so seeing it performed without curtains hiding it here didn’t do anything for me either.

TV ratings and the popularity of The Illusionists on Broadway prove me clueless, however, when it comes to what people sometimes find entertaining, so take everything I say here with a grain of salt (and then go rub it in wound for added fun ….)

The show features seven male illusionists. There a couple of women among the assistants who dance it up to blaring music composed by  Evan Jolly during the illusions designed by Don Wayne and directed by Mark Kalin, The illusionists are (as described in press materials, so I don’t ruin the magic with my cynicism…):

The Manipulator, Yu Ho-Jin.  Considered a rising superstar in the world of magic, he was named 2014 “Magician of the Year,” by Academy of Magical Arts and was the first Asian to win the Grand Prix at the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques, also known as the “Olympics of Magic.”  
The Anti-Conjuror, Dan Sperry. Described as Marilyn Manson meets David Copperfield, Sperry combines the art of magic with the macabre and is one of the top-10 most Googled people, thanks to a legendary “America’s Got Talent” appearance.

The Trickster, Jeff Hobson is the epitome of glamour and showmanship. Don’t be fooled by his innocent appearance; Hobson has audiences laughing long after the curtain goes down.

The Escapologist, Andrew Basso. Italy’s star escape artist, Basso considers Houdini his hero and is fast becoming one of the world’s most popular illusionists. He is the only person in the world to perform Houdini’s famous Water Torture Cell with absolutely no covers.

The Inventor, Kevin James, known for innovative illusions, is an inventor, comedian and collector of the strange and unusual. He is one of the most prolific inventors of magic in the world and has created some of the most celebrated illusions of the last century.

The Weapon Master, Ben Blaque, has established himself as America’s foremost master of the crossbow after appearing four times on “America’s Got Talent.” He performs incredibly dangerous acts of dexterity using highly powerful crossbows to shoot various objects supported by his assistant.

The Daredevil, Jonathan Goodwin, the British-born Goodwin is considered to be one of the most creative, skilled and craziest stunt performers in the world who has been hanged, buried alive, hung by his toes from helicopters, burned at the stake and attacked by sharks.

All righty then, I’ll let you determine whether any of that appeals. I’ll just tell you what my favorite parts were:
  • The Trickster. Hands down, the best part of the show. Hobson is delightfully snarky, causing belly laughs among magical tricks. He’s a cross between Liberace and Don Rickles and I would have enjoyed the show a lot more if it had been two hours of just this guy insulting audience members and killing balloon animals he made for little kids in the audience.
  • The Manipulator. Yu does some amazing card tricks. Cards change in front of your eyes and appear from nowhere.
  • Audience participation. A number of people are selected and brought up on stage to verify that props are real and not tricks or to participate in actual illusions. Their interaction with the illusionists and reactions are quite entertaining (one woman’s reluctance to check out a severed torso was a hoot).
The show will play at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd St., NYC from Nov. 19-Jan. 3. www.theillusionistslive.com/broadway.

U.S. TOUR
HARTFORD, CT SEPTEMBER 22 - 27, 2015
KNOXVILLE, TN SEPTEMBER 29 - OCTOBER 1, 2015
ROANOKE, VA FRIDAY - OCT 2
HERSHEY, PA OCTOBER 3 - 4, 2015
BLOOMINGTON, IN TUESDAY - OCT 6
KALAMAZOO, MI OCTOBER 7 - 8, 2015
FLINT, MI OCTOBER 9 - 10, 2015
FORT WAYNE, IN SUNDAY - OCT 11
DAVENPORT, IA MONDAY - OCT 12
SPRINGFIELD, IL TUESDAY - OCT 13
EVANSVILLE, IN WEDNESDAY - OCT 14
NORFOLK, VA OCTOBER 16 - 18, 2015
ROCKFORD, IL TUESDAY - OCT 20
PEORIA, IL OCTOBER 21 - 22, 2015
DES MOINES, IA OCTOBER 23 - 25, 2015
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC NOVEMBER 3 - 4, 2015
ATHENS, GA THURSDAY - NOV 5
CHATTANOOGA, TN FRIDAY - NOV 6
RICHMOND, KY SATURDAY - NOV 7
COLUMBIA, SC NOVEMBER 8 - 9, 2015
DURHAM, NC NOVEMBER 10 - 15, 2015
COSTA MESA, CA FEBRUARY 2 - 7, 2016
BOISE, ID FEBRUARY 9 - 11, 2016
KENNEWICK, WA FRIDAY - FEB 12
SPOKANE, WA FEBRUARY 13 - 14, 2016
LOS ANGELES, CA FEBRUARY 23 - MARCH 13, 2016
BALTIMORE, MD MARCH 29 - APRIL 3, 2016
COLUMBUS, GA TUESDAY - APR 5
PENSACOLA, FL WEDNESDAY - APR 6
TALLAHASSEE, FL THURSDAY - APR 7
FORT MYERS, FL APRIL 8 - 10, 2016
CHARLESTON, WV TUESDAY - APR 12
PORTLAND, ME APRIL 15 - 16, 2016
PITTSBURGH, PA APRIL 19 - 24, 2016
CEDAR FALLS, IA TUESDAY - APR 26
WEST LAFAYETTE, IN WEDNESDAY - APR 27
HUNTSVILLE, AL APRIL 29 - MAY 1, 2016
TAMPA, FL SEPTEMBER 23 - 25, 2016

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Broadway Blessing Will Be Asked Monday

18th Annual Broadway Blessing
Celebrating the New Theatre Season
Monday, September 28 - 7:00 pm - The Little Church
Free and Open to All. Donations Welcome.
 
Come toast the start of another wonderful theatre season with members of New York's performing arts community.

Featuring performances by Bistro Award Winner T. Oliver Reid (Sister ActAfter MidnightCotton Club Parade), Analisa Leaming (The King and IOn the Twentieth Century), Jennifer Fouché (Sistas: The MusicalB-Boy Blues), and the Broadway Blessing Choir.
 
Information: (212) 685-2927 or matt@actorsguild.org

Monday, September 21, 2015

Off-Broadway Review: The Christians TOP PICK


The Christians Will Seem Like a Page Out of the Sunday Service Program to Some
By Lauren Yarger
The choir/worship team sings multiple choruses of a song you never have heard. The pastor gives a mostly boring,  four-point sermon in which not very much is said around humorous anecdotes and references to finances to pay off a huge mega-church building mortgage.

The shocking difference between this scene and just about any Sunday service in a contemporary Protestant church  (megachurch or not) is that this one takes place on  New York theater stage – it opens the season at Off-Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons, to be exact – in The Christians, written by Lucas Hnath.

I have experienced a lot of plays that try to incorporate the Christian experience (or a Christian character), but have seen very few that show an understanding of faith beyond creating stereotypes of judgmental, dim-witted, usually closeted homosexual Republicans. A Cool Dip in the Barren Saharan Creek by Kia Corthron (which, interestingly, also had a run at Playwrights Horizons back in 2010) was one of the few to get the portrayal of a devout Christian right. And now there’s Hnath’s The Christians.

The realities explored here aren’t all positive, however. In fact, they are pretty negative, but not in a Christian-bashing way. The Christians provides a glaring reflection in the mirror for many churches, but more so, it’s an unflinching study of the personal crisis of faith many people in America are experiencing.

Flanked by his wife, Elizabeth (Linda Powell), Elder Jay (Philip Kerr), Associate Pastor Joshua (Larry Powell), and a robed choir in the loft behind them on stage, Senior Pastor Paul (Andrew Garman) nonchalantly moves through his sermon points, while giving praise for the recent payoff of the church’s mortgage on it huge building (faithfully designed by Dane Laffrey in modern, light wood trim with a carpeted platform that will make many churchgoers feel right at home):
·         Where Are We Today?
·         A Powerful Urge
·         The Fires of Hell

It’s when he hits point number four, “A Radical Change” that the congregation wakes up. There’s a crack in the foundation of their faith, Paul tells the congregation.  God told him (while the pastor was on the toilet, apparently), that they have had it all wrong and that from this moment on, their church no longer will believe in Satan or in hell, or that its beliefs are the only way to salvation.

Reluctantly, Joshua steps to the podium and admits he struggles with this new direction.  (Les Waters tightly directs the action, which has the characters using hand-held microphones to talk to each other, as well as to the congregation). Pastor Paul begins an interrogation of sorts, challenging each example of scripture Joshua offers as proof that the bible supports the existence of hell as a destination of torment for those who do not know Jesus Christ.

The twisting of words turns into a contest of wills and Joshua challenges Paul to let the congregation vote on which of them they choose to follow. To his surprise, only 50 congregants side with Joshua and he leaves the church to start a new congregation.

Later that week, Elder Jay pays Pastor Paul a visit in his office (effectively played out right on the same platform with the hand-held mics while the others, in subdued lighting, bow their heads in prayer). Jay shares concerns about losing Joshua, who had been popular with the youth, who enjoyed trips into the community with him to share their faith with unbelievers.

That very act -- telling people that they are sinners -- is what has Paul convinced he is right in letting Joshua go, however.

“How do you think it makes people feel to be pulled aside and told that they’re sinners? . . . To be told, ‘Hey — you're bad, you're a bad person and you should feel bad about yourself,”  he asks.

“I worry, yes, I do worry, a little, about what happens when you tell a congregation that they don't need to believe — then I have to wonder if that makes them feel like going to church isn't so important,”   Jay responds.

The next Sunday, Jenny (Emily Donahoe), a meek member of the choir, steps forward to share her testimony (for those of you not familiar, a testimony is a personal story of how a person came to faith, or of how God has been working in a person’s life), but segues into a bunch of burning questions for Pastor Paul.

·         What about those bible passages where Jesus does talk about hell?
·         If there is no punishment, why should we be good?
·         What about Hitler? Is he in heaven then too if everyone ends up there?
·         And did Pastor Paul wait to share his controversial new belief system until after the church debt was paid off because he knew he might lose some attenders putting money in the collection plate?

Soon, Jenny, Elder Jay and even Elizabeth withdraw support and the church is in trouble. Pastor Joshua comes back to visit with Paul and reveals some of his own struggles with being able to stand firm in one of the most realistic conversations about faith I ever have seen on stage.

Though the main theme of The Christians brings to mind the controversial “everybody-goes-to –heaven”, feel-good” ministry that Joel Osteen and other prosperity preachers have been accused of, The Christians, on a deeper level, asks some pretty hard (and fair) questions about what we believe and why we believe it – and how much are we willing to sacrifice for our faith.

Though playwright Hnath declines to comment on his personal beliefs, the reality he captures in this play is evidence of his intimate understanding of the controversies of church life and of the personal struggles involved in a deeper walk of faith.

“A church is a place where people go to see something that is very difficult to see. A place where the invisible is – at least for a moment – made visible,” he says, and for an hour and a half at Playwrights Horizons, Christian lives appear for our inspection, aided by spot-on performances.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the play, I had to wonder whether many of its subtle truths about church services and practices would be lost on those in the audience who haven’t experienced church like this. Would they be chuckling like me and appreciating the scathing commentary being made as the choir obliviously “leads the congregation in worship” by singing endless versus of a song while people stand looking back at them blankly, not singing, because they don’t know the song (which happens every Sunday at just about every contemporary Christian church in America when rock-star worship leaders croon melody-less tunes)?

Would they pick up on the “submissive wife” doctrine in Elizabeth’s silence on the church platform and in Paul’s neglecting to inform her of his new doctrinal direction before announcing it to the flock? Would they realize that the truths of Joshua’s struggles  -- with having to admit people he loved are in hell -- are almost never addressed in Christian churches, who are happy to preach that strangers who don’t know Jesus are hell-bound, but who happily use phrases like “being at rest” and “being in a better place” when discussing the unbelieving mom or dad who just passed?

I think some of the complexity of these questions and the real issues of faith will be lost.Where Christians or nonbelievers alike will be able to relate, however, is in the apologetics, because grappling with faith, or the lack of it, is the stuff of life.

To quote Pastor Paul:
“I believe what I believe because I know it is true—but why do I know it's true?—it's a feeling. And where did that feeling come from?—God. God put it there—but how do I know it's God that put it there?—I know it's God because I believe God is there—but how do I know God is there? because there's a feeling he put inside of me—but. . .”

More information:
The production features a rotating 20-person choir including individual singers from all five NY boroughs. The choir's makeup is different at each performance.

Costume Design by Connie Furr Soloman, Lighting Design by Ben Stanton; Sound Design by Jake Rodriguez. 


Following the New York run, this production will be presented in its Los Angeles premiere at The Mark Taper Forum from Dec. 2 through Jan. 10. Don’t miss it.

The Christians is extended through Oct. 25 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St., NYC. Performances are 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. Tickets $75: www.TicketCentral.com; 212-279-4200.

Christians might also like to know:
-- No content notes. Go see it and bring someone with whom you have been talking about faith...

Monday, September 14, 2015

Broadway Theater Review: Fun Home

The Broadway production of "Fun Home" staged in-the-round at The Circle in the Square Theatre (c)Joan Marcus
Growing Up in this Home Was Anything but Fun
By Lauren Yarger
Before we launch into the new season of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows just around the corner, let’s take a look at last year’s Tony award winner, Fun Home.

Based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel of the same name, the show upset An American in Paris last season at the Tony’s for Best Musical and also took home awards for best score (Jeanine Tesori) and lyrics (Lisa Kron, who also write the book) --  the first female writing team to win in this category. Tesori wrote the musicals Shrek, Thoroughly Modern Millie and Violet among others.

Director Sam Gold and lead Michael Cerveris also won Tonys, and Fun Home suddenly was the little musical that could. It has been selling out at Circle in the Square Theatre where people try to win limited numbers of lottery tickets or get in Standing Room Only lines daily.

Cerveris plays Bruce Bechdel, Alison’s father, a high school teacher who also runs a funeral home in his historic mansion, lovingly called the Fun Home by his children. But everything in the Fun Home isn’t fun, we discover, as Alison, played by Beth Malone as an adult, reflects on her relationship with her dad.  We see her memories come to life.

Her mother, Helen (Judy Kuhn) keeps all of the kids, Young Alison (Sydney Lucas), Christian (Oscar Williams) and John (an absolutely amazing Zell Steele Morrow) in perfect order, as demanded by Bruce who is hiding his own imperfections, like depression and the fact that he likes having sex with men like handyman Roy (Joel Perez) and even underage boys he teaches.

Alison, struggling with her sexuality, even at a very young age, tries everything to please her emotionally distant father including wearing frilly dresses and trying not to feel proud of the drawings her father puts down. She even tries to brush aside his cruelty in forcing her to look at a dead body. Later, we see college-age Alison (Emily Skeggs) when she has her first lesbian experience with Joan (Roberta Colindrez), who also opens her eyes to the fact that Bruce might be gay.

The walls of Fun Home start to collapse, however, when Bruce’s secrets are discovered and Helen no longer can be the foundation of their false, perfect-looking life. Alison struggles with never really having been able to talk with her dad before his untimely death.

The performances are excellent, across the board, with expert direction by Gold as the story is told in the round (audience sits on all sides of the action which takes place on the floor in the middle of the oval in the perfect intimate setting at Circle in the Square).  Cerveris is brilliant – one of the finest actors we have on Broadway – in his portrayal of the conflicted, controlling, obsessive man whose selfish desires and inability to relate to his family make him downright creepy. Master writing from Kron keeps him likable, as does the real Bechdel’s apparent forgiveness of and love for him, which come through (the musical was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize).

Kuhn is a study in amazing characterization. She nails a wide range of emotions from denial to shock to a mother protecting her daughter and you can help but feel her heart break, especially when Bruce tries to blame her for their problems.

“You’re the one with the problem,” Bruce says as Cerveris adds venom to the bite.

In “Days and Days” she expresses how you have felt if you have ever wondered “how did I get to this place in my life?”

"That's how it happens:
Days made of bargains I made because I thought as a wife I was meant to,
And now my life is shattered and made bare.
Days and days and days and days."

Gripping stuff. Kuhn and all of the Alisons were nominated for Tonys as well.

Tesori’s score is a marvel with haunting melodies and fun tunes that, combined with Kron’s lyrics, tell the story as much as narrator Alison does. Several songs will develop as earworms as you will be hearing them for weeks, even months after leaving the theater.  Two of my favorites:

  • “Ring of Keys” where young Alison is struck by a masculine delivery woman and is startled, then scared, then thrilled by the possibility that she understands. This is one of them most perfect songs I have ever heard on a Broadway stage for conveying the emotions of the character, not only in the lyrics, but in the mood and changing of the music as well. Lucas is amazing in bringing it to life with some of the finest acting skills I have ever seen.
“Your swagger and your bearing  
and the just right clothes you're wearing
Your short hair and your dungarees
And your lace up boots.
And your keys oh 
Your ring of keys.
I know you”


  • “Telephone Wire” where college-aged Alison tries to convince herself to talk with her father as they take a drive in the car.

“Say something!
Talk to him!
Say something!
Anything!
At the light, at the light, at the light, at the light,
At the light, at the light, at the light, at the light.”


We all have had this type of inner conversation when we are trying to talk ourselves into doing something we don’t want to do -- or are afraid of doing -- and we feel her pain when Bruce is oblivious to his daughter’s desperate need to communicate.

The small acoustic orchestra is set at one end of the oval and is directed by Chris Fenwick.
The standing ovation at the end of this musical is well deserved (though I still think An American In Paris should have won Best Musical). Don’t miss this one – just plan on getting your tickets well in advance.

Fun Home plays at Circle in the Sqaure, 235 W. 50th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets $75-$150:  http://funhomebroadway.com/800-432-7250.

Other information: 
  • Orchestrations by John Clancy, Choreography by Danny Mefford, Set and Costume Design by David Zinn, Costume Design by EsosaLighting Design by Ben Stanton; Sound Design by Kai Haradafor
  • Bechdel is known for deveoping Bechdel Test, which tests works of fiction, especially films and stage works, to see whether they contain two named women characters talk to each other about something other than a man. Not many shows pass the test.

Christians might want to know:
-- Obviously the show deals with Alison's sexual orientation, but it more is about her relationship with her father and how she comes to terms with that.
-- Homosexual activity
-- Explicit lyrics
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language

Monday, September 7, 2015

Sit Down with Chita Rivera

Screen Actors Guild Foundation 
Invite You and A Guest
to a Career Conversations Q&A with

CHITA RIVERA
Check-in at 12:15 PM
The New School – Auditorium on 12th Street
New York, NY 10003
Join us for a career retrospective with two-time Tony winner Chita Rivera,
moderated by Richard Ridge, BroadwayWorld.com!


Panelist Bio
An accomplished and versatile actress/singer/dancer, Chita Rivera has won two Tony Awards as Best Leading Actress in a Musical and received eight additional Tony nominations for an exceptional 10 Tony nominations. On Friday, November 6, 2015, WNET/THIRTEEN will air the Great Performances special Chita Rivera: A Lot of Livin’ To Do, a retrospective on her extraordinary life and career nationally on PBS. She recently starred in The Visit, the final John Kander/Fred Ebb/Terrence McNally musical directed by John Doyle and choreographed by Graciela Daniele on Broadway (2015), following the acclaimed production at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in the summer of 2014. She starred in the Broadway revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the Broadway and touring productions of The Dancer’s Life, a dazzling new musical celebrating her spectacular career, written by Terrence McNally and directed by Graciela Daniele and the revival of the Broadway musical Nine with Antonio Banderas. She trained as a ballerina (from age 11) before receiving a scholarship to the School of American Ballet from legendary George Balanchine. Chita’s first appearance (age 17) was as a principal dancer in Call Me Madam. Her electric performance as Anita in the original Broadway premiere of West Side Storybrought her stardom, which she repeated in London. Her career is highlighted by starring roles in Bye Bye Birdie, The Rink (Tony Award), Chicago, Jerry’s Girls, Kiss of the Spider Woman (Tony Award), and the original Broadway casts of Guys and Dolls, Can-Can, Seventh Heaven and Mr. Wonderful. On tour: Born Yesterday, The Rose Tattoo, Call Me Madam, Threepenny Opera, Sweet Charity, Kiss Me Kate, Zorba, Can-Can with The Rockettes. Chita was awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2009. She received the coveted Kennedy Center Honor in Washington, DC in 2002 and is the first Hispanic woman ever chosen to receive this award. In May, 2013, she was appointed to a special Kennedy Center Honors Advisory Committee. Chita’s current solo CD is entitledAnd Now I Swing. Her most treasured production is her daughter, singer/dancer/choreographer Lisa Mordente.


*If you are a non-member, simply choose the non-member login after clicking the RSVP button. 

TheWritePros.com

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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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