Friday, April 13, 2018

Broadway Theater Review: Frozen

Patti Murin, Caissie Levy, Jacob Smith. Photo: Deen vanMeer
Music and Lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
Book by Jennifer Lee, based on her screenplay with Chris Buck
Choreography by Rob Ashford
Directed by Michael Grandage
St. James Theatre

By Lauren Yarger
The special effects, costumes and sets of Frozen are so enchanting, I was able to let it go, when it comes to the weak book transferring the latest Disney film to a Broadway stage.

When Elsa touched a wall at the St. James and triggered its transformation into a glittering ice palace, I think I was as delighted as some of little girls in the audience dressed as their favorite princesses and screaming (and there are LOTS of them, accompanied by parents carting bags full of stuffed snowmen and the like from merchandise booths in the theater.)

For those of you unfamiliar with the story by Jennifer Lee, loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," Elsa (Cassie Levy) is a princess in an icelandic country called Arendelle. She and her spunky sister, Anna (a delightful Patti Murin), are best friends, until one night when Elsa's ability to command snow and ice almost kills the younger girl. Queen  Iduna (Ann Sanders) and King Agnarr (James Brown III) call upon some woodsy (and scary looking) trolls  who use magic to heal Anna and leave her without memory of the incident. Elsa's powers must be hidden, however, to keep everyone safe. The palace is closed to outsiders and Elsa retreats to a lonely existence in her room leaving Anna to wonder what she has done to alienate the sister with whom she was once close. (Before the princesses grow up, they are portrayed by young actresses who share the roles.)

When Elsa becomes queen, the kingdom's subjects are allowed into the palace for the coronation. Anna instantly falls in love with and agrees to marry Hans of the Southern Isles (John Riddle), and caught off guard, Elsa unleashes an unending winter on the kingdom and vanishes. Anna goes off to search for her sister with the help of iceman/snow-hiking expert Kristoff (Jalani Alladin) and Sven,  his large reindeer (a puppet housed by Andrew Pirozzi and designed by Micahel Curry.)

It's sheer theater magic when the ice palace, which Elsa creates for herself, emerges. Special Effects Designer Jeremy Chernick, Video Designer Finn Ross, Scenic and Costume Designer Christopher Oram and always excellent Lighting Designer Natasha Katz merge geniuses to create some of the most satisfying effects on a Broadway stage yet. Snow falls, icicles jut, crystals sparkle and we are mesmerized. So let's not worry too much about the weaker elements of the show -- especially when Levy belts out a wonderful rendition of  "Let it Go,"  the tune every parent of a small child has heard played in excess of one million times since Idina Menzel first sang it for the animated film. It won the Academy Award for the songwriting team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez,  who added more than twice the number of songs for the Broadway adaptation of the film.

Standing out in the cast are Greg Hildreth as Olaf the snowman, who merges puppetry and acting skills to create the most successful Disney sidekick character to make the transition from film to stage "for the first time in forever," and Robert Creighton as the creepy and humorous Weselton.

The opening numbers of both acts, with choreography by Rob Ashford,  would be included in that "weaker" element section we're not going to worry about. I also won't comment on Director Michael Grandage's casting choices that don't work -- and there are many. At the end of the day, these little audience kids are enjoying themselves and that is important. I wouldn't want you to think I have ice in my heart. I am a nice princess critic, not an evil queen.

Frozen makes snow look good -- even after the long winter of 2018 -- at the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th St., NYC. Tickets are $82-$199:

Additional casting:
Kevin Del Aguila (Oaken), Timothy Hughes (Pabbie), Audrey Bennett (Young Anna), Mattea Conforti (Young Anna), Brooklyn Nelson (Young Elsa), Ayla Schwartz (Young Elsa)

Ensemble: Alicia Albright, Tracee Beazer, Wendi Bergamini, Ashley Blanchet, Claire Camp, Lauren Nicole Chapman,Spencer Clark, Jeremy Davis, Kali Grinder, Ashley Elizabeth Hale, Zach Hess, Donald Jones, Jr., Nina Lafarga, Ross Lekites, Austin Lesch, Synthia Link, TravisPatton, Adam Perry, Jeff Pew, Olivia Phillip, Noah J. Ricketts, Jacob Smith and Nicholas Ward.

Additional credits:
Sound Design by Peter Hylenski, Hair Design by David Brian Brown, Makeup Design by Anne Ford-Coates.

Stephen Oremus is music supervisor and creates vocal, incidental and dance arrangements. He is joined on the music team by Tony nominee Dave Metzger (orchestrations), Chris Montan (executive music producer), David Chase (additional dance arrangements) and Brian Usifer (music director).

-- The stage version is a bit darker than the movie. I would give it a PG rating.
-- Magic (with incantation)

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Harry Clarke

Billy Crudup. Photo: Carol Rosegg

Harry Clarke
By David Cale
Directed by Leigh Silverman
Minetta Lane Theatre
Through May 13

By Lauren Yarger
Have you ever told a lie, then had to tell another and another to keep up with the first? Meet Harry Clarke (Billy Crudup) a whole person created by a run of falsehoods that changes the lives of his creator and all of those around him.

The return engagement of the world premiere of David Cale's play, which extended twice at the Vineyard, last year, is a tour de force for Crudup (The Coast of Utopia). Even at the age of 8, Phil Brugglestein doesn't feel comfortable with himself and to his rough, Midwestern father's dismay, starts speaking  with a British accent.  As an adult, he moves to New York where the alter ego's cool persona comes in handy when timid Philip meets wealthy Mark and his family.  Passing himself off as hip music business manager Harry Clarke, Philip develops relationships with Mark, his sister, Stephanie, and their mother, Ruth with surprising consequences.

With a set by Alexander Dodge that doesn't change, except for hues of color added by Lighting Designer Alan C. Edwards to mark changes of scene, the focus is on Crudup, who takes us through the emotional rollercoaster ride of a man stuck in a world of deception that threatens his own sanity. It's a riveting 75 minutes directed by Leigh Silverman. Look for some theater award wins in the solo category here.

Harry Clarke lives a double life at the Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, NYC. through May 13. Perfromances are Tuesday-Saturday at 7 pm; Saturday a t 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $57-$87:

Additional credits:
Costume Design by Kaye Voyce; Sound Design by Bart Fasbender; Original Music by David Cale.

-- God's name taken in vain
-- Sexual dialogue
-- Homosexuality
-- Language

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Broadway Theater Review: Children of a Lesser God TOP PICK

 Joshua Jackson, Anthony Edwards and Lauren Ridloff. Photo: Matthew Murphy
Children of a Lesser God
By Mark Medoff
Directed by Kenny Leon
Roundabout Theatre Company

By Lauren Yarger
The 2017-2018 season is shaping up to be remembered for its great play revivals, including the first of the 1980 Tony Award winner, Children of a Lesser God. Sharply directed by Kenny Leon, this play about the clash of hearing and non-hearing worlds is almost three hours of theater bliss at Studio 54.

Former Deaf Miss America Lauren Ridloff, who received a best-actress nomination last year in the Berkshires for her turn as Sarah Norman, reprises the role here opposite Joshua Jackson, star of TV's "The Affair," as James Leeds, whose recollection of events form the action of Children's story of how he met and fell in love with his speech therapy student.

At first, communication is difficult between the hearing teacher with "lazy" sign-language skills and the rebellious girl who doesn't like the idea that people think she isn't "normal" if she doesn't hear. She's sensitive about the subject -- her father abandoned her when he discovered she was deaf and she is estranged from her mother, (Kecia Lewis), who struggles with trying to be accepting while wanting what's best for her daughter-- which is not to be deaf, or at least to be able to function as best as she can in the hearing world.

When romance blooms for the couple, the two worlds are forced together. Sarah finds some contentment in marriage with James, but difficulties arise, especially when her husband reveals that he wouldn't be excited if their children were born deaf. Meanwhile, she can't share his profound love for music, for example. . .  so just how close can they be beyond sex? That connection was the basis for every relationship Sarah has had with hearing men.  It is one area where she can excel without needing to hear. . . But the physical can only provide temporary comfort to block out the emotional issues. For Sarah to effectively maneuver in James's world, she depends on his constant interpretation.

Orin Dennos (John McGinty), Sarah's long-time friend,  wants her to join him in his fight for deaf rights. Even their school, run by nerdy Mr. Franklin (Anthony Edwards in an impressive Broadway debut), discriminates and doesn't hire non-hearing teachers. A lawyer, Edna Klein (Julie Cerda), is brought in, but even that proves problematic as Klein feels she must speak for the deaf students rather than letting them speak for themselves. Treshelle Edmond rounds out the super cast as Lydia, another deaf student who would like to be romantically involved with James.

McGinty and Edmond speak as well as sign their dialogue, bringing into focus how isolated Sarah is. All of the spoken lines are projected via super titles incorporated into the minimal set design by Derek McLane, but when Sarah signs, there is no translation and we don't know what she is saying until James tells us.

Leon seamlessly fuses conversations taking place at different places to create an exquisite storytelling tableau (in my opinion, the best work to date from the Tony-Award-winning director. Look for another nomination here and for a Best-actress nomination for Ridloff as well.)

The story still is timely decades after the play's debut.

Children of a Lesser God makes us sit up and listen at Roundabout's Studio 54, 254 West 54th St., NYC.
Tickets:; 212-239-6200

Additional credits:
 Dede Ayite (costume design), Mike Baldassari (lighting design), Jill BC Du Boff (sound design), Branford Marsalis (original music), Alexandria Wailes (director of artistic sign language).

Closed captioning is available through the GalaPro app and American Sign Language interpreters will be present as select performances. For dates and to buy tickets to these select performances, visit

--God's name taken in vain
--Brief nudity

Monday, April 9, 2018

Broadway Theater Review: Lobby Hero

Lobby Hero
By Kenneth Lonergan
Directed by Trip Cullman
Second Stage

By Lauren Yarger
Tensions of race and sexual harassment surface in Lobby Hero, Second Stage's inaugural production at its Broadway Hayes Theatre.

The play,  by Kenneth Lonergan, (This is Our Youth; 2017 Academy Award for  "Manchester by the Sea," follows the interactions of folks in the lobby of a New York apartment building. Naive and awkward security guard Jeff (Michael Cera) always manages to say just the wrong thing under the guise of humor. His no-nonsense boss, William (Brian Tyree Henry), gives him a chance despite his past financial issues and eventually confide in him about what has him stressed: his brother may have been involved in the rape and murder of a woman and has has given the police a false alibi -- that he was at the movies with William.

Jeff betrays some of that trust trying to impress Dawn (Bel Powley), a rookie cop with whom he is smitten. Meanwhile, Dawn might just be able to use the information to solve some of her own problems with her arrogant, senior partner, Bill (Chris Evans). She slept with the attractive cop and now he has a hold over her. Does she want him to back her up in an incident where she might have used excessive force in subduing a suspect? Then she had better continue putting out on demand. And if he wants to spend time on a shift having sex with another women who lives in the apartment building, then she had better wait patiently for him in the lobby and keep her mouth shut.

Dawn feels like it is her fault that she finds herself in an impossible situation. After all, she shouldn't have slept with the married cop in the first place, she knows, and now he can manipulate her and end the career she has worked so hard to begin. Can Jeff father in his father's steps during the war and become an unlikely lobby hero who saves the day?

The play, though predictable throughout its two and a half hours, explores current topics while raising questions of choices and principles, especially when emotions and pressure is involved. Henry creates a layered character, as we discover a man who is conflicted about lying to the police, but who wants to protect his brother -- who might well be innocent --  from the realities awaiting an African-American man who gets lost in the prison system. Cera is a charming mix of naive and annoying and Evans is, unfortunately, a realistic portrayal of sleazy, confident testosterone. Powley, unfortunately, shouts most of her lines, leaving the character at one level. We're never really sure why she make the choices she does.

Lobby Hero's lobby is in the Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm, Wednesday at 2 and 8 pm, Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 and 8 pm, Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets:

Additonal credits:
Scenic design by David Rockwell, Costume Design by Paloma Young, Lighting Design by Japhy Weideman, Sound Design by Darron L West

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

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Broadway Theater Review: Three Tall Women TOP PICK

Glenda Jackson, Alison Pill and Laurie Metcalf. Photo: Brigitte Lacombe.
Three Tall Women
By Edward Albee
Directed by Joe Mantello
Golden Theatre

By Lauren Yarger
Three women give towering performances in an excellent Broadway revival of Edward Albee's Three Tall Women directed by Joe Mantello.

Glenda Jackson, after an absence of decades to attend to politics (she was a member of Parliament) makes a triumphant return to the stage as A -- the older of three women talking about the ups and downs of life. B and C (Laurie Metcalf and Alison Pill) are a middle-aged woman caring for older A and a young up-and-coming woman sent by A's attorney to get her affairs in order.

Sarcastic B joins forces with rude C as she shows no tolerance for the aging A, especially when the physically deteriorating, crotchety old woman has to be helped to the bathroom.

"There's nothing the matter with me," C says smugly.

"Well, you just wait," B replies.

B swings over to taking A's side in the sometimes nasty banter, however, especially when A shows she hasn't lost her sense of humor.

The scene suddenly changes when A suffers a stroke and the relationship between the three women becomes clearer as they reflect on life  (the elegant bedroom set is designed by Mirian Buether). Money doesn't buy happiness and things that might be unforgivable at one stage of life suddenly don't seem so important when death looms.

"Silly, silly girl; silly baby," B chides C. "The happiest time? Now; now . . . always. This must be the happiest time: half of being adult done, the rest ahead of me. Old enough to be a little wise, past being really dumb . . . "

Three Tall Women won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1994 and it stands the test of time. It doesn't hurt that three dynamic actresses dive into the parts. Jackson is fascinating to watch. At 82, she is a formidable presence on the stage. I would bet that if Albee, who died in 2016, had a chance to experience a day back on the planet, he would choose to come see these actresses performing his play.

Metcalf, always excellent, seems particularly at home with B's dry humor. She puts it over well and gives the play its well needed relief. Pill brings complexity to her character. Not only is she the fresh-faced youth unconcerned about old-age issues she doesn't believe she'll ever have to deal with, she is vulnerable and concerned that life won't turn out the way she has envisioned. Mantello let's them find the characters and deliver powerhouse performances. Some of his blocking makes it difficult to see reactions form the other actresses while onc is speaking, however. Some of this could be interpreted to have one phase of life obscure another, but I think it would have given even more depth to be able to see reactions.

In an hour and 45 minutes that ends all too quickly, Three Tall Women show us what excellent theater looks like at the Golden, 252 West 45th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday at 2 and 8 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 pm and 8 pm;  Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $47-$159:

Additional credits:
Ann Roth, costume design; Paul Gallo, lighting design; Fitz Patton, sound design; Campbell Young Associates, hair and makeup design.

--Sexual dialogue
-- Ethnic slurs
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Updates on Angels in America, Frozen Reviews

Amanda Lawrence in Angels in America. Photo: Helen Maybanks
Reviewing updates:
To all readers who have been asking. Still waiting to see whether Angels in America can get me in to review (some colleagues were able to reschedule when they opted out of dates they had booked when it snowed, so I am hopeful they will be able to get me in before voting deadlines.) Meanwhile, contact me via email for recommendations on other shows to see while you are vacationing in New York or review the "Top Picks" listings on Reflections in the Light (to the right.)

And for those of you who had checked to see when the Frozen review would be available, the press tickets were cancelled last night because star Patti Murin was out. This will be rescheduled soon -- not in time for a review to read if you are in for Easter weekend, but soon enough to make Spring break and summer vacation plans. Stay tuned....

PS Thank you to those of you who have been telling me you won't buy tickets before reading my review. It is encouraging to know the reviews are valued. And it makes me feel very Ben Brantley-like for people of faith who love theater ( and there are many, many of you all over the country!)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: Babette's Feast TOP PICK

Juliana Francis Kelly, Steven Skybell, Abigail Killeen and Michelle Hurst. Photo: Carol Rosegg
Babette's Feast
Conceived and Developed by Abigail Killeen
Written by Rose Courtney,  adapted from the short story by Isak Dinesen
Directed by Karin Coonrod
Theater at St. Clement's

By Lauren Yarger
An exquisite and tasteful staging of the New York premiere of Babette's Feast serves up this week's Easter message of love and grace.

The production at St. Clements stars Michelle Hurst (“Orange is the New Black”) as Babette, a French refugee who finds asylum in a pious Protestant community in 19th-Century Norway. Life in the community is fairly sequestered, especially for the daughters of its religious leader. Sisters Philippa and Martine (Juliana Francis Kelly and Abigail Kileen, who conceived and developed the play) each have a chance at love -- Philippa with a famous French opera star and Martine with a Swedish officer. Their father disapproves, however, and when the men leave,  the women continue with their uneventful lives

Until Babette arrives, that is. The woman, about whom rumors fly, arrives with a letter of introduction from Philippa's former suitor, asking her family to provide some of the same hospitality and kindness they bestowed on him during his stay.  The women offer Babette a position in their home as a cook and she stays for the next 14 years.

Babette is accepted into the community, but doesn't reveal much about her former, tragic life. Her only connection to her past is a nephew and a national lottery ticket which he faithfully purchases for her. When it hits, Babette prepares a feast, the likes of which the community has never seen. It brings back memories for Martine's former beau who stops by for a visit. Could he have sat at Babette's table once before?

Her gift to the town is one of the most selfless acts of gratitude you might ever witness. It transforms the villagers and gives them moments of joy where they experience God's grace and forgiveness. The message, based on a short story by Isak Dinesen, is moving and poignant without getting preachy. It's one of the best sermons you can experience for Easter this week. And this story, originally published in 1950, seems relevant in the midst of current cultural wars about immigration.

The tale, written for the stage by Rose Courtney, unfolds on a stage minimally dressed by Christopher Akerlind, who also designs the lighting which, along with black and white Puritan costuming (designed by Oana Botez),  keeps the visual dark and dim, like the lives of the villagers. When Babette's feast touches the diners, lights brighten and we get a sense of joy.

Director Karin Coonrod expertly moves actors a few steps to create changes of scene. (Members rounding out the tight ensemble are Jo Mei, Elliot Nye, Steven Skybell, Sorab Wadia, Sturgis Warner, and Jeorge Bennett Watson.)

Coonrod also employs a minimalist technique, having the actors pantomime most of the props depicted, and resorts to the real things only for the feast, where candles and crystal beautify the table. I do have to admit, I was hoping for a David Cromer moment like the one from Our Town where the scene comes to life in visual and sensory ways. The feast is a bit disappointing and doesn't seem all that different from the bland and subdued life that proceeded it.

This 90-minute production premiered in January at Portland Stage Company in Portland, ME. In a related note, Stéphane Audran, who starred as Babette in the 1987 Oscar winning movie, died yesterday.

Babette serves up some spiritual delights at the Theatre at Saint Clement’s, 423 West 46th St., NYC. Performances are Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 pm; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets are $39.50 - $99:; 212-239-6200.

Additional credits:
Sound Design by Kate Marvin, Original Music by Gina Leishman

-- God's name taken in vain
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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. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

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 She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

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 Episcopal Actors' Guild.

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- 2018 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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