Sunday, August 6, 2017

Off-BroadwayTheater Review: Pipelne TOP PICK

Karen Pittman (foreground) and Namir Smallwood. Photo: Jeremy Daniel
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.

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

-- 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).

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:

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

-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Broadway Theater Review: 1984

The cast of Broadway’s 1984 . Photo: Julieta Cervantes
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:; 855-801-5876.

-- 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. 

-- 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:

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)

-- 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
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

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

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for 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.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


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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