Thursday, October 19, 2017

Broadway Theater Review: Time and the Conways

Time and the Conways
By J. B. Priestley
Directed by Rebecca Taichman
Roundabout Theatre Company
Through Nov. 26

By Lauren Yarger
If you could go back 18 years in time, what would you tell yourself?

That's the gist of the evocative play Time and the Conways, which looks at what happens to the members of a family as they journey through two very distinct moments in time.

This play by J.B. Priestley (An Inspector Calls), has sort of been lost in time itself. This is its first revival since it premiered in 1938. Starring as Mrs. Conway is Elizabeth McGovern, a time tripper herself. She first came to attention in 1980 with a role in "Ordinary People" and since has received an Academy Award (for Ragtime) and gone on to cult fandom status as Cora Crawley, the matriarch of the popular British TV series “Downton Abbey.”  The time frame for this drama is similar -- we see the Conways first in 1919 and then again in 1937 -- but except for the period costumes (Paloma Young designs), this is no Downton and McGovern is not sweet Cora.

World War I has just ended and life is full of promise. The family gathers to celebrate the 21st birthday of wanna-be novelist Kay Conway (Charlotte Parry) and the safe homecoming of her soldier brother, Robin (Matthew James Thomas). Mrs. Conway, with her blunt and sometimes inappropriate comments, lets everyone know that she prefers reckless Robin over her other son, Alan (Gabriel Ebert), who has no real ambitions. She's not particularly fond of socialist daughter Madge (Brooke Bloom), either it seems. Daughter Hazel (Anna Camp) is the one with all the right ambition. She has her sights set on marrying a rich society fellow. Younger sister Carol (Anna Baryshnikov -- yes, daughter of the ballet dancer) appears oblivious to any family conflict. She is happy and full of life.

Joining the family are the Gerald Thornton (Alfredo Narciso), the family's solicitor, who has absolutely no influence over the indomitable Mrs. Conway when it comes to talk about managing her wealth or selling their house, Hazel's friend, Joan Helford (Cara Ricketts), who is in love with Robin, and Ernest Beevers (Steven Boyer), a creepy acquaintance of Gerald's from the lower class who has finagled an invitation to the festivities so he can be near Hazel, on whom he seems to have a crush.

The cross over from the 1919 celebration to the family's future in 1937 is the real star of this show. Neil Patel's set dramatically transforms and Lighting Design by Christopher Akerlind creates the illusion of being able to travel through time as Kay appears to have a vision of what is to come.

In 1937, the family is shattered following a tragic loss. Robin, an unsuccessful travelling salesman and Joan have married, but they're not happy. Madge is a nasty spinster school teacher and Mrs. Conway's fortunes have been lost. A little port loosens her sardonic tongue even more. Most surprisingly, Hazel is married to Beevers, who it turns out isn't mild mannered and eager to please, but quite sadistically opposite the image we first had of him. Even Mrs. Conway's threats seem to have no influence over him. (Boyer's  got creepy down -- he was the possessed puppet in Hand to God.)

For a brief time, Kay returns to the past and it's this transition that prompts the question "What wisdom would you share with your younger self if you had the chance?" As Alan says,

"But the point is, now, at this moment, or any moment, we're only a cross section of our real selves. What we really are is the whole stretch of ourselves, all our time, and when we come to the end of this life, all those selves, all our time, will be us—the real you, the real me. And then perhaps we'll find ourselves in another time, which is only another kind of dream."

The performances are fierce and the direction by Rebecca Taichman, who won a Tony Award for her Broadway debut last season with Indecent, is precise. The play itself could use a good edit, particularly in the first act, but overall, a very satisfying time at the theater.

The Conways glide through time at American Airlines Theatre on Broadway, 227 West 42nd St., NYC, through Nov. 26. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday evening at 8; Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2 pm; Sunday matinees at 3 pm. Tickets are $39-$149: roundabouttheatre.org; 212-719-1300

Additional credits:
Matt Hubbs, Sound Design; Leah J. Loukas, Hair and Wig Design; Deborah Hecht, Dialect Consultant; Thomas Schall, Fight Director; Frank Ventura, Etiquette and Period Movement; Kathy Fabian, Production Properties Supervisor

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- References to fortune telling

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Theater Review: The Honeymooners -- Paper Mill Playhouse

Michael Mastro, Laura Bell Bundy, Leslie Kritzer, and Michael McGrath Evan Zimmerman
The Honeymooners
Book by Dusty Kay and Bill Nuss, based on the CBS television series
Music by Stephen Weiner
Lyrics by Peter Mills
Choreography by Joshua Bergasse 
Musical Direction and Vocal Arrangements by Remy Kurs
Directed by John Rando
Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, NJ
Through Oct. 19

By Lauren Yarger
If you're a fan of the classic TV series "The Honeymooners," which featured Art Carney, Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph along with the biggest comedian of the era, Jackie Gleason, who uttered catch phrases like, "To the moon, Alice," "Har har, hardee har har" and "I've got a big mouth" among others, you will thoroughly enjoy the new musical version of the sitcom getting its world premiere in New Jersey at the Paper Mill Playhouse.

If you have never heard of the Kramdens and the Nortons (the two couples who are best friends and neighbors in CBS's 1950 series) you might be scratching your head and wondering what the heck is going on.

Though many Baby Boomers enjoyed this show and will list it among their favorites (even though it only ran for 39 episodes following its debut and subsequent revisiting in sketch form on Gleason's variety shows), I never cared for it and there is a good chance that anyone under the age of 45 probably has never seen it.  The series followed the pie-in-the sky antics of Ralph Kramden (Gleason), a bus driver in Brooklyn, who was always trying to find a quick-money scheme to achieve his dream of living on easy street. He usually dragged his best friend, Ed Norton (Carney), along with him, paying no heed to the unenthusiastic, practical advice to the contrary given by his wife, Alice (Meadows). 

When I saw that one of my favorite musical writing teams (Stephen Weiner and Peter Mills) were on the Honeymooners musical, I knew I would want to see it (even thought I don't normally get out to Paper Mill), but realized I was hesitant because I really, really didn't like that show. 

Why not, I thought? It admittedly contained some comedy bits that are quite funny (Ed's enthusiastic watching of the "Captain Video" kids' television show is a classic). As I thought about it, I realized that I had been offended, even as a kid, by a husband threatening to hit his wife. Ralph's recurring shout of "bang zoom" promising to send Alice to the moon and the secondary threat of  "one of these days, Alice, pow! right in the kisser" frightened me and I didn't think it was funny. Nor did I like Alice's silent, sad-faced acceptance of these threats, even though Ralph usually came around and apologized, and told her she was the greatest.

Enter book writers Dusty Kay and Bill Nuss who have softened these threats for the musical and have given Alice (played by the multi-talented comedic genius Leslie Kritzer) some backbone. She even gets a solo that lets her belt and scat about how "A Woman's Work" really gets done.  She stopped the show. Director John Rando makes sure there isn't a physical depiction of the violence Ralph threatens which helps tone down these unpleasant, if iconic elements, and Ralph is a bit easier to like here, thanks to a tour-de-force impersonation by Michael McGrath. 

One of the pure joys of this musical is watching McGrath and Michael Mastro channel Gleason and Carney. They look and sound like the recognizable actors into whose shoes they have stepped. They do such a good job bringing the originals to life, that a plot twist later in the musical, where Ralph and Ed meet the real Gleason and Carney, falls short because unfairly, the second set of actors don't stand a chance of appearing more like the original characters (this is one turn that should be eliminated as the story goes off on a tangent; cutting the three-hour run time will help too if this musical is eyeing Broadway).

Otherwise, the book is entertaining and advances what used to be virtually the same plot in every TV episode to a more fully developed story that can hold its own in a full musical production. Even Trixie (Laura Bell Bundy, who sounded like she might be fighting a cold the night I saw the show) gets some development as she resumes her career as a burlesque dancer (apparently this was mentioned in a lost episode, but that career was considered too risqué for 1950s television). This allows for a subplot for a jealous confrontation between Ed and her former club manager.

I savored, as always, Mills' clever lyrics (his and Weiner's collaboration on Iron Curtain, with a book by Susan Di Lallo, is one of my favorite musicals that hasn't made it to Broadway yet.) 

"He's a local who’s going express," the male chorus sings as Ralph thinks he has a future on Madison Avenue after writing a cheesy advertising jingle for the Faciamatta brand of dairy product.

Make-you-laugh lyrics by Mills pepper the score. Weiner writes some of the big-production type numbers he does so well (and Choreographer Joshua Bergasse has fun bringing to life a huge, fantasy tap sequence), but none of the songs stands out. The most moving is a duet between Ralph and Ed called "I'll Miss the Guy," but there aren't any tunes you come away humming.

Set Designer Beowulf Boritt remains true to the original set by recreating the Kramdens' shabby kitchen in which all of the television episodes were filmed. He adds a stunning backdrop of the city skyline with the trademark moon as well.  There is much here that satisfies and I found myself enjoying The Honeymooners for the first time. A heads up to producers, though: with Russia so prominently in the news these days, Iron Curtain might be the one to bring to Broadway first.


 

Additional casting:
Lewis Cleale as Bryce Bennett, Lewis J. Stadlen as Old Man Faciamatta and David Wohl as Allen Upshaw. 

Holly Ann Butler, Chris Dwan, Hannah Florence, Tessa Grady, Stacey Todd Holt, Ryan Kasprzak, Drew King, Eloise Kropp, Harris Milgrim, Justin Prescott, Lance Roberts, Jeffrey Schecter, Britton Smith, Alison Solomon, Michael Walters and Kevin Worley, Ensemble

The Honeymooners runs through Oct. 19 at the Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ. Performances are Wednesday at 7:30 pm, Thursday at 1:30 and 7:30 pm, Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 1:30 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1:30 and 7:30 pm. Tickets start at $34: PaperMill.org; 973-376-4343.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Some scantily-clad show girls

Off-Broadway Theater Review: The Treasurer

Peter Friedman. Photo: Joan Marcus


The Treasurer
By Max Posner
Directed by David Cromer
Playwrights Horizons
Through Nov. 5

By Lauren Yarger
It's every kid's nightmare: who is going to take care of the parents when they get elderly? But for the son (Peter Friedman) in the world premiere of Max Posner's new play The Treasurer at Playwrights Horizons, there is an even more chilling question: How do you keep up a good front for your siblings when you have been tasked with making sure your mother is taken care of within the means she has available when you don't really love her?

This sad, but realistic premise plays out under taut direction by David Cromer (The Band’s Visit, Our Town, Adding Machine), who wrings out the emotions of the story and particularly, those of the "son." the character's only identity, besides that of "the treasurer" caring for the bank accounts of his mother, Ida (Deanna Dunagan). He has to deal with her and absentee brothers, Allen and Jeremy (played by Marinda Anderson and Pun Bandhu, who also take on other roles) as Ida needs more and more interaction. She doesn't grasp the severity of her financial situation or her diminishing entail capability and places unrealistic demands on her children who must come up with the funds to place her n acceptable senior living, While we're moved as the son finds himself between a rock and hard place, we discover that he is more emotionally drained than anyone having come to the conclusion that he will go to hell for not loving his mother.

Most of the conversations between mother and son and siblings (and one other between Ida and a meaningful wrong number) take place via telephone (with quick scene changes designed by Laura Jellinek, but Cromer's genius has a chance to shine in a scene where mother and son get together for a meal. The pain of the relationship is palpable.

Posner packs a punch in 90 minutes in this play, which was commissioned by Playwrights, 416 West 42nd St., NYC, where it has been extended through Nov. 5.



Additional credits:
Costume design by David Hyman, Lighting Design by Bradley King, Sound Design byMikhail Fiksel, Projection Design by Lucy Mackinnon and Wig Design by Leah J. Loukas.

Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 2:30 and 8 pm; Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30 pm.  Tickets are $49-$89: phnyc.org; 212- 279-4200

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain

Monday, October 2, 2017

Off-BroadwayReview: As You Like It

Ellen Burstyn. Photo: Lenny Stucker
As You Like It
By William Shakespeare
Original Music by Stephen Schwartz
Directed by John Doyle
Classic Stage Company
Through Oct. 22

By Lauren Yarger

What's It All About?
Shakespeare's comedy with a twist. This one has music by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin, Godspell) and in the style of director John Doyle, has actors playing multiple parts as well as instruments. Here, As You Like It takes only about an hour and half -- that is about half of what productions of this play usually take,

What are the Highlights?
Well, that abbreviated run time, for starters. This isn't one of my favorites when it comes to Shakespeare. I usually think it is way too long, so cutting it down and adding some different elements, like music by Sondheim, should improve it. Having Ellyn Burstyn play Jaques also is a selling point (loved hearing her rendition of the "all the world's a stage" speech), not to mention a cast that includes Andre De Shields and Cass Morgan among others.

Doyle's set incorporates acorn lights that represent trees -- very cool. There is some fun audience interaction.

What Are the Lowlights?
All of the new twists don't come together to make this as fun and engaging as we would have liked it to be.

More Information:
As You Like It continues through Oct. 22 at Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th St., NYC. classicstage.org

Cast: Ellen Burstyn (Jaques), Quincy Tyler Bernstine (Celia), Noah Brody (Oliver/Corin), Hannah Cabell (Rosalind), André De Shields (Touchstone), Cass Morgan (Old Anna/Audrey), Leenya Rideout (Phoebe), David Samuel (Charles/Silvius), Kyle Scatliffe (Orlando) and Bob Stillman (Duke Frederick/Duke Senior).

Scenic Design by John Doyle, Costume Design by Ann Hould-Ward and Lighting Design by Mike Baldassari.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
No content notes.

Off-Broadway Review: On the Shore of the Wide World


On the Shore of the Wide World
By Simon Stephens
Directed by Neil Pepe
Atlantic theater Company
Through Oct. 8

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?Well, a bunch of family interaction and mortality, but none that is particularly engaging. For most of the time I wondered why I was watching their lives. This is the 2006 Olivier Best Play winner from playwright Simon Stephens, who has enjoyed recent Broadway success with The Curious Incident of the dog in the Night Time, Birdland and Heisenberg.

What Are the Highlights?
Atlantic's productions are always well staged.

What Are the Lowlights?
Talented directed Neil Pepe and a strong cast featuring Blair Brown, Odiseas Georgiadis, Mary McCann, LeRoy McClain, Tedra Millan, Ben Rosenfield, Luke Slattery, C.J. Wilson and Amelia Workman aren't able to give these characters enough depth to be interesting. The play almost seems like a forced attempt to turn the last lines of a Keats poem, from which the title is taken, into a play.
A plot twist is not set up properly and brings confusion rather than surprise.

More Information:
On the Shore of the Wide World runs through Oct. 8 at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theate, (336 West 20th St., NYC. Tickets start at $65: atlantictheater.org

Scenic Design by Scott Pask, Costume Design by Sarah Laux, Lighting Design by Christopher Akerlind, Original Music and Sound Design by David Van Tieghem.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

ANGELS Cast Recording Features Robert Cuccioli, Laura Osnes


The Broadway-aimed new musical ANGELS, produced by Marcus Cheong and Mark Kang, will release an original studio cast recording. The inspirational songs from this original musical, featuring music by Ken Lai, and book and lyrics by Ken Lai and Marcus Cheong, are brought to life by a star-studded cast of Tony nominated and award-winning Broadway performers including two-time Tony Award-nominee Laura Osnes, Tony Award-nominee Robert Cuccioli, Tony Award-nominee Josh Young and Alan H. Green. The album will be released digitally on Wednesday, October 25, 2017. CDs will be available for purchase via CD Baby, Amazon, Alliance Entertainment, and Super D.

ANGELS tells the epic story of the ancient war between the Angels and Lucifer’s fallen minions.  This timeless tale of good versus evil, hope versus despair, angels versus demons, is told through the eyes of Sera, the Angel of Light. Though she is gifted with the power to control light, she aspires to a more heroic role. Lucifer opposes Sera, causing chaos for the Angels and the humans they protect. Sera must find the courage to rise in victory over Lucifer and fulfill her purpose.

The album was recorded at Downtown Music Studios & Smash Studios in New York; The Grove Studios in Somersby, Australia; and Ramrod Studios & 301 Studios in Sydney, Australia. This recording features new musical arrangements from David Holmes and album producer Rich Fowler.

The cast of ANGELS includes two-time Tony Award-nominee Laura Osnes as ‘Sera,’ Tony Award-nominee Robert Cuccioli as ‘Lucifer,’ Tony Award-nominee Josh Young as ‘Tyriel,’ Alan H. Green as ‘Gabriel,’ Alexandra Zorn as ‘Rebekah/Vixen,’ Stephen Cerf as ‘Michael/Dasher/Joab,’ Kevin T. Collins as ‘Stratus/Dasher/Titus/Reuben,’ Elizabeth Ann Berg as ‘Bethany,’ and Stefanie Clouse as ‘Sofiel.’ Additional vocalists on the album include Jane Leslie AndersonHugh Wilson, Nicky Kurta, Tim Moxey, Gabrielle Lee, Mark Friedlander, Hannah J. Peterson, James Tehero, Daniel Thornton, and Mikaela Thornton.

The band for ANGELS includes Mitch Farmer (drums / percussion), Ben Whincop (bass), Jeff Camilleri (bass) and Charmaine Ford (keys). David Holmes served as the music director, with Tauesa Tofa serving as music co-director and Jane Lesley Anderson serving as assistant music director. The assistant director was Breanna Hickson. Orchestral arrangements are by Daniel Thornton and the original vocal arrangements are by Linda Wood.

Live performances of Angels are coming soon at venues throughout the world. Visit seraangels.com for the latest news and information.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Curvy Widow

Nancy Opel. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Curvy Widow
Music and Lyrics by Drew Brody
Book By Bobby Goldman
Choreography by Marcos Santana
Directed by Peter Flynn
West Side Theatre

By Lauren Yarger
Say the words Nancy Opel and I smile. The extraordinarily voiced and comedic genius actress has graced the stage in many shows including Beautiful, Honeymoon in Vegas, Memphis, Gypsy, Fiddler on the Roof, Urinetown, Triumph of Love, Anything Goes, Sunday in the Park with George and Evita among others and I never have not loved watching her work.

She is starring Off-Broadway in Curvy Widow, the true story of Bobby Goldman, a construction company owner who suddenly finds herself alone when her famous writer husband, Jim -- that's James Goldman, author of Follies, "The Lion in Winter," A Family Affair), played by Ken Land, dies. Mostly unmemorable Music (except for "It's Not a Match") with witty and Lyrics by Drew Brody drive Bobby's book about her experiences at trying to date again. Getting a special shout out for storytelling, here, however, is Scenic Designer Rob Bissinger, who expertly changes locations (two apartments) and moods with a few props. A pair of slippers next to the bed speaks volumes.Costume Designed Brian C. Hemesath is on board for quick change also, having Opel switch only tops to slip between situations in the fast-paced hour and 45 minutes.

The ensemble cast, which appears crowded on the small Westside Theatre stage as they play Bobby's friends, her psychiatrist and dates -- disastrous and otherwise -- are put through their paces by Director Peter Flynn and Choreographer Marcos Santana. Besides Land, they include Andrea Bianchi,  Aisha de Haas, Elizabeth Ward Land, Alan Muraoka (standing out) and Chris Shyer. 

We follow post 50-year-old Bobby as she navigates the new and strange world of online dating. Curvy Widow is her "handle" on the sites.. She is at once intrigued and repulsed by the fact that hundreds of men who have never seen her (she refuses to post a photo) and who know her only by her alias, might be willing to have sex with her. We experience her first date, her experimentation with a sex site and the discovery of one match that might be different from the others. All of this takes place while she is haunted by guilt over wondering whether Jim would be OK with what she is doing -- well, maybe she's really haunted more by his ghost.

Opel throws herself into the role and sings some lovely mote combinations that made me very happy. The show is somewhat uneven, however, despite previous out-of-town runs. And it's a little hard to relate to Bobby, especially when she decides to make married men a non-committal specialty. (You might have a chance to hear from the real Booby in person, however, as she occasionally does post-show talks and answers questions from the audience).

More Information:
Curvy Widow plays at The Westside Theatre, Upstairs, 407 West 43rd St., NYC Performances are Monday at 8 pm, Tuesday at 7 pm, Wednesday at 2 and 8 pm, Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 and 8 pm, Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $79-$99: 212-239-6200; www.CurvyWidow.com.

Additional credits:
Lighting Design by Matthew Richards; Sound Design by Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab; Musical Direction by Andrew Sotomayor; Orchestrations, Arrangements and Music Supervision by Wayne Barker

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language
-- Suggestive situations

Broadway Theater Review: Prince of Broadway


Prince of Broadway
New songs, Arrangements, Orchestration and Music Supervision by Jason Robert Brown
Book by David Thompson
Direction and Choreography by Susan Stroman with direction by Harold Prince
Manhattan Theatre Club

By Lauren Yarger
Hal Prince and I would have been great theater buddies. We apparently love the same musicals. 

In Prince of Broadway, theatergoers get to enjoy almost 40 tunes celebrating the career of 21-time Tony-winner Producer/Director Harold Prince as arranged and orchestrated by Jason Robert Brown (The Bridges of Madison County; The Last Five Years) and Choreographed and Directed by a legend in her own right, Susan Stroman (The Producers, The Scottsboro Boys) with some direction by Prince himself. With almost every number, I found myself saying, "Oh, I love this song," or " I love that show" and finally, I just thought, "Thank you, Hal Prince."

The problem is that if you aren't me, or at least an aficionado of musical theater from the past 60 years, you probably won't know a lot of the songs, or what show they are from, or why those particular songs have been selected. And even if you recognize the songs and shows (or are able to follow along in the Playbill in the dark) David Thompson's uneven book, still might still leave you scratching your head.

The very capable ensemble features Tony Award winner Chuck Cooper (Caroline, or Change; Choir Boy), Drama Desk Award winner Janet Dacal (In The Heights, Good Vibrations), Bryonha Marie Parham (After Midnight, Porgy and Bess), Emily Skinner (Side Show, The Full Monty), Brandon Uranowitz (Falsettos, An American in Paris), Kaley Ann Voorhees (The Phantom of the Opera, Candide), Michael Xavier (Sunset Boulevard, Into The Woods), Tony Yazbeck (On the Town, Gypsy), and Tony Award winner Karen Ziemba (Contact, Curtains). There just is no rhyme or reason to why they are performing the songs which recreate moments from the Prince theater repertoire (in many cases faithfully reproduced visually by Scenic and Projection Designer Beowulf Boritt.) 

All of them speak in the voice of Prince. Some of the shows are identified; some background is given and logos from some of the shows are depicted through projections. (A critic colleague seemed to think they all had been, and perhaps they weren't visible form my seat.) At any rate, I jotted notes about how I thought many audience members wouldn't be able to identify numbers like "Tonight at Eight" and "Will He Like Me?" from 1963's She Loves Me or "Dressing Them Up," from 1993's The Kiss of the Spiderwoman. There are some other selections from Follies, Parade and Merrily We Roll Along that might evade identification by the more casual theatergoer too.  "You've Got Possibilities" from the hardly known 1966 musical  "It's a Bird, It's a Plane. . . It's Superman" at least is properly identified and explained.

There's no reason why "Heart" from Damn Yankees or "If I Were a Rich Man" were singled out to represent those shows (the latter causing some negative comments from colleagues about the casting of Cooper, particularly from Jewish reviewers) when other shows got two or three songs. 

There are some wonderful moments: Parham is sensational as Queenie in "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" from Showboat and Ziemba is a saucy, meaty Mrs. Lovett in the medley of tunes from Sweeney Todd. I immediately wanted to see them both in revival of those shows. Skinner delivers the most moving "Send in the Clowns" from A Little Night Music -- and I saw Glynis Johns in the original production so that is saying something. Goosebumps and this number alone is probably worth the ticket price to this show.

I loved revisiting The Phantom of the Opera (with costumes by William Ivey Long that recreate the look of Maria Björnson's original designs) and Yazbeck taps up a perfect storm in "The Right Girl" from Follies.

It's entertaining and a lovely waltz down memory lane - with a new finale composed by Brown called "Do the Work" which nicely sums up Prince's theater contributions -- even if we seem to lose our way a bit on his journey.



More information:
Prince of Broadway entertains at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th St., NYC. For performances and tickets: manhattantheatreclub.com

Additional credits: Howell Binkley (lighting design), Jon Weston (sound design), Paul Huntley (wig design), Angelina Avallone (makeup design), Fred Lassen (music direction) and Jeffrey Seller (creative consultant).

Be sure to stop by the lower lobby of the Friedman Theatre to view a preview of the upcoming Hal Prince exhibition from the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- No content notes



Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Off-Broadway Theater Review: If Only -- TOP PICK

Melissa Gilbert and Mark Kenneth Smaltz. Photo: Carol Rosegg

By Lauren Yarger
If only all plays could be so lyrical, eloquent and timely. . . 

Thomas Klingenstein's poignant new play If Only, getting a limited Off-Broadway run at the Cherry Lane Theatre through Sept. 17, imagines what race relations in our country might have been like had President Abraham Lincoln not been assassinated.

Set 36 years after John Wilkes Booth fired the fatal shot at Ford's Theater, two people who called him friend, are reunited. Ann Astorcrt ("Little House on the Prairie"'s Melissa Gilbert), a stifled New York society housewife who recently took in a mute orphan named Sophie (Korinne Tetlow), once volunteered in a hospital serving wounded soldiers during the war. That's where she met Samuel Johnson (Mark Kenneth Smaltz). a runaway slave who went on to serve as Lincoln's valet.

Inattentive husband, Henry (Richmond Hoxie), agrees to allow Ann to have a visitor -- just another whim he gives in to as proof of his love for the wife he doesn't quite understand. He doesn't get her obsession with Lincoln, whom he accuses her of giving deity status thanks to a bust she keeps on her desk.

"Not a god," she replies, "But as perfect as God made a man."

He shrugs off the visit as unimportant and leaves to attend a meeting. What he doesn't realize is that Lincoln represented a hope of how things might have been not only for racial relations in America, but for possibilities of marriage between blacks and whites -- that is to say, between Samuel and Ann.

During their visit, it becomes clear that this couple shared great love and both still care deeply, though Ann is in denial and pretends not to remember some of their cherished moments together. Their conversation is engaging, intellectual and stimulating about everything from how to re-arrange the apartment (beautifully appointed in Victorian style by Scenic Designer William Boles) to the complexities of Lincoln's plan to make -- or not make, as the debate ensues -- blacks and whites equal. 

The discourse is a sharp contrast to the conversation between Ann and Henry, where they talk in distracted fashion without ever communicating. Ann's primary means of expression are a story-journal she keeps (which alludes to her experiences with Lincoln and Samuel) and reads aloud to Sophie. And in subtle direction, we see that Samuel, in offering a pillow to Ann, is much more attentive to her real needs than her husband, who is more obsessed with the inanimate portrait of his perfect image of her that hangs in the parlor.

Klingenstein's dialogue is eloquent and lyrical. Combined with subtle lighting (Design by Becca Jeffords) and muted colors and tones in the set and costumes (Design by Kimberly Manning), Director Christopher McElroen transports us back in time while spotlighting issues about race that, in many ways, don't seem all that different in 2017. It's a skillful journey. Klingenstein, a New York-based playwright whose work has been presented at The Lark, where If Only was developed, has another play form the era, Douglass which premiered last year in Chicago.

Gilbert delivers layers for Ann, taking her from the wife who doesn't want to upset Henry in the slightest to the intelligent woman hiding underneath the norm demanded by society. This woman isn't afraid to speak her mind and expound ideas that would upset a great many in the country. Smaltz portrays Samuel as elegant, caring, patient and tolerant, as he understands that change can't come all at once.

"Memory cannot reshape the soul," and "anger has no logic all its own," he observes in some of the thought-provoking statements that pepper the conversation. Samuel has a way of retelling history (he's a teacher of it) that makes it real -- much like the gift of this playwright has in bringing the past to the present in just 85 minutes without intermission..

If Only runs only through Sept. 17 at the Cherry Lane Theater, 38 Commerce St.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- No content notes

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Off-BroadwayTheater Review: Pipelne TOP PICK

Karen Pittman (foreground) and Namir Smallwood. Photo: Jeremy Daniel
Pipeline
By Dominique Morisseau
Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz
Lincoln Center
Through Aug. 27

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
Dominique Morriseau's touching study of a mother trying to give her son a better life in the midst of a system stacked against him. Nya Joseph (an intense Karen Pittman) teaches a a public, inner-city high school while sending her son, Omari (Namir Smallwood) to private boarding school. When African-American Omari is provoked during a discussion of Richard Wright's "Native Son", attacks his white teacher and is threatened with expulsion form the school, Nya's world begins to fall apart and she makes some sacrifices. She reaches out to Omari's less-than-polished girlfriend, Jasmine (Heather Velazquez) and the boy's estranged father, Xavier (Morocco Omari), for help. The one who really needs help, however, is Nya who can't take the stress of seeing her son's chances being taken away as the "pipeline" which steers underprivileged kids from inner-city schools to prison seems to be winning. Her friends, school security guard Dun (Jamie Lincoln Smith) and teacher colleague, Laurie (Tasha Lawrence) try to help, but there may not be a solution here.

What Are the Highlights?
Excellent direction by Lileana Blain-Cruz and a riveting performance by Pittman propel the taut storytelling and lyrical prose of Morriseau's work (which packs a punch in 90 minutes with no intermission).  Lawrence (If I Forget, The Whale, Good People) is a pistol -- no a machine gun -- as the fed-up educator who expresses scathing opinions about her charges that teachers everywhere probably wish they could say.

Morriseau (Skeleton Crew) distinguishes herself here as a playwright to watch. Her development of character is expert. We learn so much about Omari and Jasmine, for example, just in a metaphor where he compares her to a metamorphic rock.

The show attracted a younger, much more diverse audience for the matinee I attended and the young people, many of whom appeared to be on school trips, were engaged throughout without the usual clowning around or phone use during the show that can be typical of these kind of audiences.

Matt Saunders' set is so realistic, right down to the Linoleum, that it looks as though it were salvaged from an old school. A few props are pushed on to change locations.

What Are the Lowlights?
A lack of resolution -- but perhaps that is a statement about society's problems in general.

More Information:
Pipeline educates through Aug. 27 at Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, 150 West 65th St. lincolncenter.org

Additional credits:
Costumes by Montana Levi Blanco, Lighting by Yi Zhao, Sound by Justin Ellington, Projections by Hannah Wasileski

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Derogatory racial word used
-- Language

Off-Broadway Theater Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream

Richard Poe, Annaleigh Ashford, and Alex Hernandez. Photo: Joan Marcus.

A Midsummer Night's Dream
By William Shakespeare 
Directed by Lear deBessonet
Choreography by Chase Brock
Public Theater
Through Aug. 13

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About? 
Seriously, if you don't know the story, I refer you to a volume of classic works by William Shakespeare or Spark notes. After seeing this particular play countless times (some theater I cover presents it at least once a season), I will beg off describing the silly plots about Gods playing tricks on each other in Athens, unsuspecting mortals getting caught in the crossfire and of amateur thespians set on performing at a royal wedding. Note: in case you doubt that I have seen this play enough times to be tired of it, the first Helena I ever saw was Diana Rigg in 1968

What Are the Highlights?
This version, directed by Lear deBessonet, founder of The Public Theater’s Public Works program, offers a couple of pleasant treats: Annaleigh Ashford (as Helena) and Kristine Neilsen as Puck. These are two of the theaters finest comedic actresses and they don't disappoint here. Ashford runs away with the show, playing Helena with a physical and vocal humor that has us laughing out loud all the way through the three hour run time. She's razor sharp on all counts. Look for award nominations here.  Nielsen is a sophisticated, yet discombobulated Puck, sharing "private" moments and expressions of confusion with the audience. It's a comedy more subtle than Ashford's and they each have a place in deBessonaet's direction.

Also turning in notable performances, in a very strong ensemble cast, are Danny Burstein as Nick Bottom, Richard Poe as Oberon and Phylicia Rashad as Titania.

David Rockwell masterfully brings Central Park onto the stage:

Kyle Beltran, Kristine Nielsen, and Shalita Grant. Photo: Joan Marcus

What Are the Lowlights?
I didn't care for the heavy, jazzy original music by Justin Levine (who also supervises and orchestrates) sung by Fairy Singer Marcelle Davies-Lashley and played by a band up in a tree house. It doesn't blend with the light feel of the show.

The costumes also standout for not fitting -- with the whimsical, airy atmosphere of the play, that is. Perhaps Costume Designer Clint Ramos was trying to make a point of some kind, but I have to admit that the atrocious colors and styles were lost on me. They propel us into modern times, stealing away some of the enchantment of being transported to ancient Greece. Nielsen is outfitted in unattractive masculine pajamas and the fairies look more like ghosts than ethereal creatures (see below).

Phylicia Rashad and Benjamin Ye (center) Photo: Joan Marcus.

More Information:
A Midsummer Night's Dream plays at Central Park's Delacorte Theater (enter at 81st Street and Central Park West) through Aug. 13. Tickets are free (check out the webpage for details). publictheater.org

Additional casting:
De’Adre Aziza (Hippolyta); Kyle Beltran (Lysander); Min Borack (Fifth Fairy); Vinie Burrows (First Fairy, Peaseblossom); Danny Burstein (Nick Bottom); Justin Cunningham (Philostrate); Marcelle Davies-Lashley (Fairy Singer); Austin Durant (Snug); Shalita Grant (Hermia); Keith Hart (Third Fairy); Alex Hernandez (Demetrius); Jeff Hiller (Francis Flute); Robert Joy (Peter Quince); Patricia Lewis (Fourth Fairy); David Manis(Egeus, Cobweb); Pamela McPherson-Cornelius (Second Fairy); Patrena Murray (Snout); Bhavesh Patel(Theseus); Joe Tapper (Robin Starveling); Judith Wagner (Mote); Warren Wyss (Mustardseed); Benjamin Ye (Changeling Boy).

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Broadway Theater Review: Marvin's Room


Marvin's Room
By Scott McPherson
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Roundabout Theatre Company
Through Aug. 27

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
Family and choices are at the center of Scott McPherson's Marvin's room, getting a limited run by Roundabout Theatre Company. Anne Kauffman makes her directorial Broadway debut for the play, which stars Janeane Garofalo, Celia Weston and Lili Taylor. McPherson's play had been turned into a film starring Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton, among others, but this is the first time it has played the Great White Way.

Two siblings are reunited after a long separation when Bessie (Taylor) discovers she is ill and may need a bone marrow match from her sister, Lee (Garofalo), or one of her nephews: young and nerdy Charlie (Luca Padovan), or troubled teen Hank (Jack DiFalco, who reminds of Leonardo DiCaprio, who starred in the film). He burned down his family;s house and has to get permission from his therapist, Dr. Charlotte (Nedra McClyde), to join his mother and brother for the trip to Florida t see the aunt he never has met. He's not sure he even wants to be tested, however, even if Bessie might die without his help.

As it turns out, Bessie easily bonds with her nephews who rebel at Lee's parenting, which is a mix of over-protection and lack of interest. Meanwhile, the family must come to terms with some realities in the face of Bessie's illness, treated with ineptitude by Doctor Wally (Triney Sandoval). Who will care for their father, Marvin (Carman Lacivita), who is bed-ridden in the next room (shown only in shadows and silhouette in Laura Jellinek's set design which morphs into a number of different locations) if Bessie no longer can? Lee made a decision long ago to put her own needs ahead of caring for him and left it all to her sister deal with while she moved away, started a family and went back to school. Bessie's not bitter, however, and considers it a privilege to look after Marvin and her increasingly dependent and needy Aunt Ruth (Weston). The characters find how far the bonds of family can stretch.

What Are the Highlights?
Very good performances across the board and insightful direction by Anne Kauffman allows the characters to express their true feelings in looks, tone and body language, where the dialogue creates a false impression that everyone isn't as unhappy as you think they must be....

What Are the Lowlights?
I have always found this play very depressing. It's a play about lost dreams and facing the realities of life, so the material is serious and we don't expect a comedy (though the hapless doctor is intended as some comic relief, but for anyone who has actually dealt with doctors and hospitals on a regular basis, incompetent health professionals are nothing to joke about). The characters never ring true, however. Bessie doesn't have any resentment? Really? Lee can't get over her failed marriage enough to love her own kids? And can we really believe that someone who long ago abandoned her father, aunt and sister without so much as a word or a penny of financial help would suddenly feel compelled to drop everything to donate some marrow and offer up her sons as candidates for the grueling procedure too?

Most annoyingly, why is this play called Marvin's Room? None of the action takes place there. We don't see Marvin and only hear him moan occasionally. Elephant in the Room, maybe, because there is a whole lot of unspoken tension that never gets spoken or resolved.

More Information:
Marvin's Room plays through Aug. 27 at American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd St., NYC.

Tickets are $47–$147: roundabouttheatre.org

Additional credits:
Jessica Pabst, Costume Designer; Japhy Weideman, Lighting Designer; Daniel Kluger,
Sound Design and Original Music; Leah J. Loukas, Hair and Wig Design; Thomas Schall,
Movement Consultant; Matthew Elias Hodges, Production Properties Supervisor

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Broadway Theater Review: 1984

The cast of Broadway’s 1984 . Photo: Julieta Cervantes
1984
By George Orwell
Adapted and directed by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan
Hudson Theatre
Through Oct. 8

By Lauren Yarger
For the audience, it's an age of  fake news and alternative facts, so it seems an appropriate time to bring George Orwell's class, 1984 to the stage.

The book, which has sold 30 million copies worldwide since its publication in 1949, suddenly has found itself at the top of best-seller lists in 2017 when the idea of thought suppression by a totalitarian regime suddenly doesn't seem fantasy fiction any more. Making Orwell's dystopian tale particularly relevant is that no matter which "regime" you side with (the presidencies of Barack Obama or Donald Trump) you can relate. 

This production transfers to Broadway following four successful runs in the UK, as adapted and directed by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan. It is particularly harsh and dark (if you can imagine something more somber than the original) and the theater has placed an age restriction (audience members must be at least 13) due to graphic and bloody torture scenes which have upset younger children.

Set in a bleak future, Big Brother (the government) controls every aspect of a resident's life through the planting of spying cameras and microphones in homes and offices and the use of Thought Police who coerce those who don't conform to the party's  "NewSpeak" (accepted language to express thoughts). It wipes out all resistance and 1984 raises questions about truth and freedom.

Winston Smith (Tom Sturridge) works for the Ministry of Truth and has the job of making undesirable "comrades" disappear as though they never existed by eliminating all mention of them in news articles, internet postings and official documents. He hears about a resistance movement and wants to join. He starts recording his rebellious thoughts in a secret diary, which will mean his death if discovered.

He begins an illegal relationship with co-worker Julia (Olivia Wilde, making her Broadway debut) and they meet O'Brien (the always excellent Reed Birney), who gives Winston a copy of a book written by the opposition leader explaining the real meanings of the slogans "War is Peace," "Freedom is Slavery" and "Ignorance is Strength."

But not everything is as it seems (how can one know what the truth is when it keeps changing?) and Winston must discover whom he can trust and just how far he is willing to go to speak what he believes to be the truth in the face of torture and his own worst fears.

The story is riveting, not so much for Orwell's plot itself, but because it generates the unpleasant realization for us that this story is not far from reality in a modern culture where news headlines in a politically polarized America regularly report hatred and boycotts of individuals and businesses that don't conform with thoughts currently held as "politically correct." Newspapers and Broadcasters with political leanings simply don't report events they don't like, or report only the parts they want the public to know, or color the "facts" they report to malign politicians they don't favor. Then a few days later they say that what they reported wasn't so. 

Meanwhile, expression of thought --- particularly if you are a Christian, or a defender of the right of citizens to bear arms, for example, is attacked daily in society and officially through the court system. Everyone is so afraid of offending anyone and being the target of hatred that no one will stand up and speak the truth.  In addition, those who fear the current White House administration will erode laws put in place to protect the rights of same-sex marriage, for example, will relate to Big Brother's controlling whether Winston and Julia can be in love. 

These are scary times and it is no wonder that people who remember this Orwell classic are demanding it at their local bookstores for another look. One wonders if the modern Ministry of Truth  -- those who are selecting "truth" and rewriting the history that is taught to children in public schools -- even allow a copy of 1984 on the shelf (and Winston's diary, which is regarded as fiction in the play, will be eliminated in truth.)

Icke and Macmillan make good use of large screens for video projections (designed by Tim Reid), so in a way, the audience gets to be Big Brother.  In addition sound effects (design by Tom Gibbons) that have people jumping out of their seats and precision lighting (design by Natasha Chivers) combine to create the ability for well executed time jumps where people seem to appear and disappear on the bleak set designed by Chloe Lawford, who also designs the costumes.

This limited run plays at the newly restored Hudson Theatre, 139-141West 44th St., NYC. Performances (through Sept. 2 are Mondays through Thursdays at 7 pm; Fridays and Saturdays at 5 and 9 pm (times change for the rest of the run, so check the website). Tickets are $35-$324: revisedtruth.com; 855-801-5876.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Age Restriction Policy: No theatergoers born after 2004 will be admitted to 1984. Audience members must be age 13 years or older in order to enter the Hudson Theatre.
-- Graphic torture and blood.
 

Note: the theater was FREEZING the day I attended. Be sure to bring a sweater or jacket.

100 minutes with no intermission. There is no late seating.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: Bella, An American Tall Tale

Ashley D. Kelley (as Bella) & Brandon Gill. Photo: Joan Marcus
Bella: An American Tall Tale
Book, Music and Lyrcis by Kirsten Childs
Directed by Robert O'Hara
Choreographed by Camille A. Brown
Through July 2

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
It's a tall tale, all right, told by a woman with a very large tail....  Kirsten Childs (The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin)  brings to life this fanciful story of Bella (Ashley D. Kelley), a 1870's African-American woman who heads west to join her pen-pal soldier boyfriend, Aloicious. She isn't just leaving town to pursue love, however. Something has happened with Lothario Plantation owner Bonny Johnny (Kevin Massey) and her mother (Kenita R. Miller) and aunt (Marinda Anderson) convince her to leave town and assume a new identity.

Along the way (the beautiful buffalo and Native-American-motiffed set is designed by Clint Ramos), she meets a host of characters with the help of a rotating stage (played by a strong ensemble rounded out by Yurel Echezarreta, Olli Haaskivi, Jo’Nathan Michael, Paolo Montalban, Gabrielle Reyes, Britton Smith and NaTasha Yvette Williams) and train porter Nathaniel Bekwith, who might just be the man of her dreams. Or is he a man of her dreams? Along the way, doubt creeps in to just how much of the story we are seeing is real or in the imagination of a girl with a very large behind who is forced to make her living as an attraction in the circus.

What Are the Highlights?
If the premise sounds a bit bizarre, it is, but it is very absorbing, thanks to sharp direction by Robert O'Hara (who directed the also-different Booty Candy at Playwrights Horizons) who blends storytelling, choreography (by Camille A. Brown) and the music by Childs, who also provides the vocal arrangements and lyrics. (Music Direction and additional arrangements are by Rona Siddiqui; Orchestrations are by Daryl Waters).

Childs reaches into American history and comes up with a whole new cast of characters: African Americans living in working in the west -- chapters left out of most school history textbooks. The playwright has created such a fascinating world, that I was surprised not to find a dramaturg's note in the program saying that the story was based on real-life people. They are in general, of course, but this story feels like it is the re-telling of a legend like the Robber Bridgroom -- also set close-by on the Natchez Trace. Bella evokes humor in the same kind of dark-fairytale dreamworld which I particularly enjoy.

What Are the Lowlights:
At two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission, the musical starts to wander and drag toward the end. Some editing (an a trimming of the some 30 musical numbers included) can fix this.

More Information:
Bella spins her tall tales at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St., NYC through July 2.

Additional credits:
Costume Design by Dede M. Ayite, Lighting Design by Japhy Weideman, Sound Design by Lindsay Jones, Projection Design by Jeff Sugg, Hair, Wig and Makeup Design by Dave Bova and J. Jared Janas. 

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS
-- Suggestive moments

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Julius Caesar in Central Park

Tina Benko, Gregg Henry, Teagle F. Bougere, and Elizabeth Marvel. Photo: Joan Marcus
Julius Caesar
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Oscar Eustis
Delacorte Theatre (Central Park)
Through June 18

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?  
For this production, "What's All the Controversy About?" might be a better opener. Shakespeare in the park's  Julius Caesar (Gregg Henry) looks and sounds like President Donald Trump, whose glamorous wife, Calpurnia (Tina Benko), has a Yugoslavian-sounding accent, always walks a few steps behind him and looks wounded when he refuses to take her hand. While the trend in theater always seems to be to throw in references to current political culture, this production, directed by the Public Theater's Artistic Director Oscar Eustis, may have gone too far.

Do audiences really want to see the American president, for all intents and purposes, stabbed to death on the Senate floor? Well, thanks to Henry's impersonation with Costume Design by Paul Tazewell and Hair, Wig and Makeup Design by Leah J. Loukas, that's sure what it looks like. 

While hard-core liberals make up most of the decision makers in New York theater as well as those who present the works on stage, they often make the mistake of forgetting that not everyone in America (and therefore in the audience) shares the same political bent. In a recent conversation with a theater professional in New York who was full of anxiety about what a Trump presidency might mean for her young daughter and who was incredulous that anyone might support his policies, I reminded her that she only thinks everyone agrees with her because she lives in New York City (where most people do). Visit any other part of the country, particularly non-urban areas in the South, Midwest and West, however, and you will meet a lot of people (so many of them that they elected Trump over liberal icon Hillary Clinton) who see the world from a completely opposite perspective: they can't believe there is anyone who didn't vote for Trump and who wanted four more years of the policies championed by President Barack Obama.

What this Central Park production of Julius Caesar brings to light is that thousands of people filling theater seats on Broadway and off come from those other areas (as well as from other countries where seeing a Broadway play is part of taking in the American experience). Thousands of them are conservatives and Christians who love theater -- welcome to the many readers of Reflections in the Light -- and they all aren't on board with a Donald-Trump-bashing agenda.  So seeing the president, a.k.a. Julius Caesar,  violently murdered by Senators and former supporters who think he is out of control and grabbing too much power didn't exactly go over well with everyone (and personally, I didn't need to see him emerge naked from a bath tub either.) At the end of the murder scene, there wasn't applause or an outburst of enthusiasm which might have been expected -- this is New York, after all. 

What did happen, was that advertisers heard from unhappy audience members and outraged conservative media representatives and pulled their advertising for the production. Bank of America (an 11-year sponsor of Shakespeare in the Park who has made the experience free for one million people ) and Delta Airlines announced they were withdrawing support from the production. Liberals, in turn, have called for boycotts of the two companies to protest censorship. The National Endowment for the Arts, under threat of cuts or de-funding by the Trump administration, was quick to issue a statement saying it had not supported this production.

So with all of that out of the way, what did I think of the play? I thought the depiction of Caesar as Trump was unnecessary. Audiences are intelligent and might have drawn their own conclusions, but this forced comparison seems a bit of a stretch and solely for the purpose of enjoying that murder scene. Another creative choice up in Connecticut was much more savvy. Hartford Stage Artistic Director Dark Tresnjak put a blond wig on his lead actor in a just-closed production of George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House and suddenly an otherwise boring script that normally wouldn't be a good candidate for revival came to life. The portrayal of Captain Shotover (Miles Anderson) wasn't an impersonation of Trump, or even a parody. It was a thought suggestion that worked brilliantly. His lines of dialogue, written in 1920, sounded like something the president might say today. In fact there were times you could swear he did say something just like that about running for political office or about being ruthless in business. It gave the character and the play nuance whereas the Trump impersonation in Julius Caesar doesn't add depth. 


Read Eustis's program notes here.  Read the review of the Hartford production of Heartbreak house here.

Here is the official response from the Public Theater:
"The Public Theater stands completely behind our production of Julius Caesar. We understand and respect the right of our sponsors and supporters to allocate their funding in line with their own values. We recognize that our interpretation of the play has provoked heated discussion; audiences, sponsors and supporters have expressed varying viewpoints and opinions. Such discussion is exactly the goal of our civically-engaged theater; this discourse is the basis of a healthy democracy. Our production of Julius Caesar in no way advocates violence towards anyone. Shakespeare's play, and our production, make the opposite point: those who attempt to defend democracy by undemocratic means pay a terrible price and destroy the very thing they are fighting to save. For over 400 years, Shakespeare’s play has told this story and we are proud to be telling it again in Central Park."
Don't hate me, though. I didn't hate this production outright. Julius Caesar is not one of Shakespeare's most-produced plays, so I was excited to see it, especially in the park which offers a unique outdoor setting under the stars. The Trump depiction distracted me from what otherwise was theater worth watching. John Douglas Thompson (Caius Cassius) is particularly good and I would have like to be able to concentrate on all of the performances and the play itself.

Highlights of the park production are the inclusion of "audience members" in crowd scenes. They are very nicely choreographed in the house (we wonder at first if the audience members around us are getting out of control with all of their standing and chanting) as well as on the stage with a design (by David Rockwell) incorporating a backdrop of the US constitution. That in itself, along with several "Resist" banners, were all the reminder necessary for the audience to project modern times into the politics of ancient Rome. 

Marc Anthony (Elizabeth Marvel) gets a seamless gender change and allows a woman to take some prominence in a play that is testosterone-heavy (made more so by Melania -- I mean Calpurnia's -- submissive and hungry-to-be-noticed-by-her-husband portrayal). The play is fast-paced for a two-hour run, but suffers a loss of energy after the murder scene (which offers proof that the emphasis seems to have been on the Trump impersonation and this scene instead of the politics still playing out on stage).

More Information:
Julius Caesar runs in the park through June 18. Performances are Tuesday through Sunday at 8 pm at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park (outdoors). Tickets are free: publictheater.org.

Additional creditsLighting Design by Kenneth Posner; Sound Design by Jessica Paz, Original Music and Soundscapes by Bray Poor.

Additional casting:
Teagle F. Bougere (Casca); Yusef Bulos (Cinna the Poet); Eisa Davis (Decius Brutus); Robert Gilbert (Octavius); Edward James Hyland (Lepidus, Popilius); Nikki M. James (Portia); Christopher Livingston (Titinis, Cinna); Elizabeth Marvel (Antony); Chris Myers (Flavius, Messala, Ligarius); Marjan Neshat (Metullus Cimber); Corey Stoll (Marcus Brutus); and Natalie Woolams-Torres (Marullus). The non-equity company includes Isabel Arraiza (Publius Clitus); Erick Betancourt; Mayaa Boateng (Soothsayer); Motell Foster (Trebonius); Dash King; Tyler La Marr (Lucillius); Gideon McCarty; Nick Selting (Lucius, Strato); Alexander Shaw (Octavius’ Servant); Michael Thatcher (Cobbler); and Justin Walker White (Pindarus)

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Theater warns: violence, nudity, live gunshot sounds, strobe, herbal cigarettes, haze, and fog.

Next up for Shakespeare in the Park: A Midsummer Night's Dream in July directed by Lear deBessonet and starring: Phylicia Rashad, Annaleigh Ashford, De’Adre Aziza, Kyle Beltran, Danny Burstein, Shalita Grant, Austin Durant, Alex Hernandez, Jeff Hiller, Robert Joy, David Manis, Patrena Murray, Kristine Nielsen, and Joe Tapper.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Oslo, Come From Away Win Top Drama Desk Honors


2017 DRAMA DESK AWARDs (winners in bold)
 
Outstanding Play
If I Forget, by Steven Levenson, Roundabout Theatre Company
Indecent, by Paula Vogel, Vineyard Theatre
A Life, by Adam Bock, Playwrights Horizons
*Oslo, by J. T. Rogers, Lincoln Center Theater
Sweat, by Lynn Nottage, The Public Theater
 
Outstanding Musical
Anastasia
The Band's Visit, Atlantic Theater Company
*Come From Away
Hadestown, New York Theatre Workshop
The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical
 
Outstanding Revival of a Play
The Front Page
The Hairy Ape, Park Avenue Armory
*Jitney, Manhattan Theatre Club
The Little Foxes, Manhattan Theatre Club
 "Master Harold"... and the Boys, Signature Theatre Company
Picnic, Transport Group Theatre Company
 
Outstanding Revival of a Musical
Falsettos, Lincoln Center Theater
*Hello, Dolly!
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Sweet Charity, The New Group
Tick, Tick...BOOM!, Keen Company
 
Outstanding Actor in a Play
Bobby Cannavale, The Hairy Ape, Park Avenue Armory
Daniel Craig, Othello, New York Theatre Workshop
*Kevin Kline, Present Laughter
David Hyde Pierce, A Life, Playwrights Horizons
John Douglas Thompson, Jitney, Manhattan Theatre Club
 
Outstanding Actress in a Play
Cate Blanchett, The Present
*Laura Linney, The Little Foxes, Manhattan Theatre Club
Laurie Metcalf, A Doll's House, Part 2
Amy Ryan, Love, Love, Love, Roundabout Theatre Company
Harriet Walter, The Tempest, St. Ann's Warehouse
 
Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Nick Blaemire, Tick, Tick...BOOM!, Keen Company
Jon Jon Briones, Miss Saigon
Nick Cordero, A Bronx Tale
*Andy Karl, Groundhog Day
Jeremy Secomb, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
 
Outstanding Actress in a Musical
Christy Altomare, Anastasia
Christine Ebersole, War Paint
Sutton Foster, Sweet Charity, The New Group
Patti LuPone, War Paint
*Bette Midler, Hello, Dolly!
Laura Osnes, Bandstand
 
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
Michael Aronov, Oslo, Lincoln Center Theater
*Danny DeVito, The Price, Roundabout Theatre Company
Nathan Lane, The Front Page
Jeremy Shamos, If I Forget, Roundabout Theatre Company
Justice Smith, Yen, MCC Theater
 
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
Jayne Houdyshell, A Doll's House, Part 2
Randy Graff, The Babylon Line, Lincoln Center Theater
Marie Mullen, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, BAM
*Cynthia Nixon, The Little Foxes, Manhattan Theatre Club
Emily Skinner, Picnic
Kate Walsh, If I Forget, Roundabout Theatre Company
 
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
*Gavin Creel, Hello, Dolly!
Jeffry Denman, Kid Victory, Vineyard Theatre
George Salazar, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical
Ari'el Stachel, The Band's Visit, Atlantic Theater Company
Brandon Uranowitz, Falsettos, Lincoln Center Theater

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
Kate Baldwin. Hello, Dolly!
Stephanie J. Block, Falsettos, Lincoln Center Theater
*Jenn Colella, Come From Away
Mary Beth Peil, Anastasia
Nora Schell, Spamilton
 
Outstanding Director of a Play
Richard Jones, The Hairy Ape, Park Avenue Armory
Anne Kauffman, A Life, Playwrights Horizons
Richard Nelson, What Did You Expect?/Women  of a Certain Age, The Public Theater
*Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Jitney, Manhattan Theatre Club
Daniel Sullivan, The Little Foxes, Manhattan Theatre Club
Daniel Sullivan, If I Forget, Roundabout Theatre Company
 
Outstanding Director of a Musical
Christopher Ashley, Come From Away
Bill Buckhurst, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
*Rachel Chavkin, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
*David Cromer, The Band's Visit, Atlantic Theater Company
Jerry Zaks, Hello, Dolly!
 
Outstanding Choreography
*Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand
Warren Carlyle, Hello, Dolly!
Aletta Collins, The Hairy Ape, Park Avenue Armory
Kelly Devine, Come From Away
Denis Jones, Holiday Inn, Roundabout Theatre Company
 
Outstanding Music
Stephen Flaherty, Anastasia
Dave Malloy, Beardo, Pipeline Theatre Company
Richard Oberacker, Bandstand
Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away
*David Yazbek, The Band's Visit, Atlantic Theater Company
 
Outstanding Lyrics
Gerard Alessandrini, Spamilton
GQ and JQ, Othello: The Remix
Michael Korie, War Paint
Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away
*David Yazbek, The Band's Visit, Atlantic Theater Company

Outstanding Book of a Musical
Terrence McNally, Anastasia
Itamar Moses, The Band's Visit, Atlantic Theater Company
Richard Oberacker and Rob Taylor, Bandstand
*Irene Sankoff and David Hein, Come From Away
Joe Tracz, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical
 
Outstanding Orchestrations
Doug Besterman, Anastasia
Bruce Coughlin, War Paint
Benjamin Cox, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
*Bill Elliott and Greg Anthony Rassen, Bandstand
August Eriksmoen, Come From Away
Jamshied Sharifi, The Band's Visit, Atlantic Theater Company

Outstanding Music in a Play
Daniel Ocanto, Graham Ulicny, and Sean Smith, Alligator, New Georges in collaboration with the Sol Project
Marcus Shelby, Notes from the Field, Second Stage
*Bill Sims Jr., Jitney, Manhattan Theatre Club

Outstanding Revue
Hello Dillie!, 59E59
*Life is for Living: Conversations with Coward, 59E59
 
Outstanding Set Design for a Play
David Gallo, Jitney, Manhattan Theatre Club
*Nigel Hook, The Play That Goes Wrong
Laura Jellinek, A Life, Playwrights Horizons
Stewart Laing, The Hairy Ape, Park Avenue Armory
Douglas W. Schmidt, The Front Page
 
Outstanding Set Design for a Musical
Lez Brotherston, 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, St. Ann's Warehouse
Simon Kenny, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
*Mimi Lien, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!
Jason Sherwood, The View UpStairs
 
Outstanding Costume Design for a Play
*Jane Greenwood, The Little Foxes, Manhattan Theatre Club
Susan Hilferty, Present Laughter
Murell Horton, The Liar, CSC
Toni-Leslie James, Jitney, Manhattan Theatre Club
Stewart Laing, The Hairy Ape, Park Avenue Armory
Ann Roth, The Front Page
 
Outstanding Costume Design for a Musical
Linda Cho, Anastasia
Toni-Leslie James, Come From Away
Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!
Anita Yavich, The View UpStairs
Paloma Young, Bandstand
*Catherine Zuber, War Paint
 
Outstanding Lighting Design for a Play
*Christopher Akerlind, Indecent, Vineyard Theatre
James Farncombe, The Tempest, St. Ann's Warehouse
Rick Fisher, The Judas Kiss, Brooklyn Academy of Music
Mimi Jordan Sherin, The Hairy Ape, Park Avenue Armory
Stephen Strawbridge, "Master Harold"...and the Boys, Signature Theatre Company
Justin Townsend, The Little Foxes, Manhattan Theatre Club
 
Outstanding Lighting Design for a Musical
Jeff Croiter, Bandstand
Mark Henderson, Sunset Boulevard
Bradley King, Hadestown, New York Theatre Workshop
*Bradley King, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Amy Mae, Sweeney Todd: The Barber of Fleet Street
Malcolm Rippeth, 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, St. Ann's Warehouse

Outstanding Projection Design
Reid Farrington, CasablancaBox, HERE
Elaine McCarthy, Notes from the Field, Second Stage
Jared Mezzocchi, Vietgone, Manhattan Theatre Club
John Narun, Gorey: The Secret Lives of Edward Gorey, Life Jacket Theatre Company
*Aaron Rhyne, Anastasia
 
Outstanding Sound Design in a Play
Mikhail Fiksel, A Life, Playwrights Horizons
*Gareth Fry and Pete Malkin, The Encounter
Brian Quijada, Where Did We Sit on the Bus?, Ensemble Studio Theatre/Radio Drama Network
Leon Rothenberg, Notes from the Field, Second Stage
Jane Shaw, Men on Boats, Playwrights Horizons/Clubbed Thumb
 
Outstanding Sound Design in a Musical
Simon Baker, 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, St. Ann's Warehouse
Peter Hylenski, Anastasia
Scott Lehrer, Hello, Dolly!
*Nicholas Pope, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812
Mick Potter, Cats
Brian Ronan, War Paint
Matt Stine, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
 
Outstanding Wig and Hair
*David Brian Brown, War Paint
Campbell Young Associates, Hello, Dolly!
J. Jared Janas, Yours Unfaithfully, Mint Theatre Company
Jason Hayes, The View UpStairs
Josh Marquette, Present Laughter
Tom Watson, The Little Foxes, Manhattan Theatre Club
 
Outstanding Solo Performance
Nancy Anderson, The Pen (Inner Voices), Premieres
*Ed Dixon, Georgie: My Adventures with George Rose
Marin Ireland, On the Exhale, Roundabout Underground
Sarah Jones, Sell/Buy/Date, Manhattan Theatre Club
Brian Quijada, Where Did We Sit on the Bus?, Ensemble Studio Theatre/Radio Drama Network
Anna Deavere Smith, Notes from the Field, Second Stage
 
Unique Theatrical Experience
CasablancaBox, HERE
The Paper Hat Game, The Tank/3-Legged Dog
*The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, National Theatre of Scotland
The Ephemera Trilogy, The Tank
 
Outstanding Fight Choreography
J. David Brimmer, Yen, MCC Theatre
Donal O'Farrell, Quietly, Irish Repertory Theatre
Michael Rossmy and Rick Sordelet, Troilus and Cressida, New York Shakespeare Festival
Thomas Schall, Othello, New York Theatre Workshop
Thomas Schall, The Hairy Ape, Park Avenue Armory
*U. Jonathan Toppo, Sweat, The Public Theater

Outstanding Adaptation
*David Ives, The Liar, Classic Stage Company
Ellen McLaughlin, The Trojan Women, The Flea Theatre
 
Outstanding Puppet Design
*Basil Twist, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Lyndie Wright, Sarah Wright, 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, St. Ann's Warehouse


SPECIAL AWARDS:
 
Outstanding Ensemble
The Wolves, The Playwrights Realm: The superbly talented cast of Sarah DeLappe's debut play -Mia Barron, Brenna Coates, Jenna Dioguardi, Samia Finnerty, Midori Francis, Lizzy Jutila, Sarah Mezzanotte, Tedra Millan, Lauren Patten, and Susannah Perkins-jelled as one, proving that team spirit is just a alive on the stage as it is on the soccer field.
 
Special Award to Phil LaDuca: Proving that character comes from the ground up, the designer's innovative flexible dance shoe ensures that hoofers on any stage remain on point.
 
Sam Norkin Award: Lila Neugebauer:  During a season that saw her helm the original works The AntipodesEverybody, Miles For Maryand The Wolves, and resurrect the works of esteemed playwrights Edward Albee, Maria Irene Fornes, and Adrienne Kennedy in Signature Plays, director Lila Neugebauer has shown that her dauntless insight into the human condition knows no bounds.

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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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