Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Gerald Schoenfeld, Head of the Shuberts, Dies

The Broadway community mourns the loss of Gerald Schoenfeld, longtime chairman of the Shubert Organization, who died at home today at the age of 84. Condolences are extended to his wife and family and to the many he befriended and mentored during his career.

Broadway theaters will dim their lights tonight at 7 in his honor.

Read more at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/26/theater/26schoenfeld.html?_r=1&hp

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Review: Billy Elliot

Worlds Clash in a Coal Miner Ballet

By Lauren Yarger
Just as divergent thoughts, goals and worlds clash in the Sir Elton John-charged musical Billy Elliot, various elements of the production itself sometimes are at odds with each other and cause a pile up of thoughts on the dance floor instead of allowing the viewer to sit back and enjoy the performance.

The show which opened at the Imperial Theater after playing to rave reviews in London and preceded by months of pre-Broadway hype, is a musical interpretation of the 2000 hit movie by the same name (with book and lyrics from Lee Hall, who wrote the screenplay). Overall, it’s entertaining theater with fantastic choreography, great dancing, a bunch of cute kids, some good music and a heartwarming story. A heavy dose of not-so-great language, some music that’s less than inspiring, overused smoke effects and wince-inducing behavior from little kids detract from the good points, however.

Trent Kowalik had the title role the night I was in attendance (the role is rotated among three actors) and was most engaging as the coal miner’s son who finds his passion in ballet. Billy’s penchant for pirouettes doesn’t sit well with his father (a strong performance by Gregory Jbara), however, so Billy lets him think he’s studying boxing instead of taking dance lessons from Mrs. Wilkinson (Hadyn Gwynne). She sees the potential in Billy and wants to help him find his way out of the squalor of the British mining community with an audition for the Royal Ballet. A beautiful dance number has Billy partnered with his future self (Stephen Hanna) where he soars to the heights of his dreams, but the first few rows of the audience are overcome by the thick wall of smoke that rolls off the stage.
Thought collision: This is beautiful. If I could just see it.

Along the way, he gets advice from the spirit of his dead mother (Leah Hocking), helps his crazy grandmother (Carole Shelley) find her missing pasties and tries to avoid the growing tension between his dad and brother (Santino Fontana) during the1984 British National Union of Mineworkers strike. He pals around with his friend Michael, (a talented Frank Dolce who rotates with another actor), who enjoys wearing his sister’s dresses. He urges Billy to join him and they perform a sort of nightclub number “Express Yourself,” which is age inappropriate and which offers large dancing frocks which seem out of place with the feel of the rest of the show. Billy also rebuffs the sexual advances of Mrs. Wilkinson’s little daughter Debbie (Erin Whyland) who offers to show him her private parts (in more graphic language than I just used).
Thought collision: love the kids; don’t like what they’re saying and doing.

Amidst the clash of striking miners and scabs, the community rallies around Billy and his father softens and supports his going to the ballet audition.

John’s score is a mix of signature sounding rock, melodic soul-felt ballads and a rather boring opening number that doesn’t sound like him at all.
Thought collision: don’t like it; like it; where’s some great sounding Aida type stuff?

The best musical number is “Angry Dance,” where John’s beat, Peter Darling’s outstanding choreography, Kowalik’s dancing and director Stephen Daldry’s excellent overlapping of the working and dancing worlds all come together in a terrific end-of-act-one closer where the conflicting elements collide as Billy literally smashes against the wall he’s hit in his life. Darling shows his flexibility with an earlier almost slow-motion number as Billy’s grandmother remembers dancing and drinking with her late husband. He uses movements to make seamless changes between scenes. His genius is showcased in “Solidarity” where the opposing forces come together, interact and switch identities through movement.
No collision here: Darling should start writing a Tony acceptance speech for best choreography.

Ian MacNeil’s set is innovative, with a three-story twisting house frame that rises from below the stage and full-room compartments that are pulled and pushed out of the sides by the actors. Nicky Gillibrand’s costumes tell the characters’ stories and those for Mrs. Wilkinson are particularly outlandish.
Thought collision: while the costumes and dialogue suggest that Mrs. Wilkinson is free spirited and outgoing, Gwynne’s depiction is of a reserved woman never quite able to warm up to Billy and we’re not sure why.

The young children in the ensemble are talented singers and dancers who energize the show. And you can’t help but say, “Awww,” when the small boy, (played at my performance by an adorable Mitchell Michaliszyn), gets hoisted on a burly shoulder à la Tiny Tim.

But the thought collisions had me rolling up and down on the coal ramp saying “I love this” and “I really don’t like this” too many times to tell how I really felt about the whole thing and feeling just a little shafted.

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• Sexual terms
• Mom is a ghost
• An added personal note: I was distressed by 10 and 11 year olds (and younger) using explicit sexual terms, foul language and cross dressing. My friend Retta reminded me that the language and exposure of the kids to these situations is accurate in the setting of the show, and she’s right. Still, what bothered me most, I think, is the uproarious laugher from the audience. Kids involved with these things at such young ages, even if explained, should be sad, not funny.
• Disclaimer: I admit possible bias in saying that Mitchell Michaliszyn is adorable. His family are long time close, personal friends, but I’m certain I would have written that even if his aunt weren’t one of my most favorite people on the planet.

Review: Amerissiah

Selene Beretta, William Apps IV, Adam Fujita, Dierdre Brennan and Nancy Clarkson in Amerissiah.

Dysfunction with a Ray of Sunshine

By Lauren Yarger
Yet another dysfunctional family has hit the boards of a New York theater, but with this play, amidst the yelling and backbiting, there’s hope that people can change and that an “I’m sorry” might actually mean something.

The show is Derek Ahonen’s Amerissiah, presented by The Amoralists theater company at the Gene Frankel Theatre in New York through Dec, 7.

Barry Ricewater (Adam Fujita) is dying of cancer and has become convinced that he is God who must die to save America. Creepy in his disease-ravaged appearance (think Edward Scissorhands) and screaming nonsensically at an invisible “Joey,” he gets around with help of a padded mop, his free spirited older wife Margi (Dierdre Brennan) and his family.

The clan meets at the Bronx boyhood home of the Ricewaters, where Barry was born on the living room floor, and where he wants to die (set design by Matthew Pilieci and Alfred Schatz). There’s his brother, Ricky (William Apps IV), who’s stopped using drugs and is trying to help his socially awkward and nervous girlfriend Lonnie (Selene Beretta in a nice turn) do the same. His sister Holly is angry at the world, especially at Margi for planting the “messiah” garbage in her brother’s head and at her ex Bernie (Matthew Pilieci) who won’t let her see her daughter. Their father, Johnny (George Walsh), is in denial about his son’s illness as well the fact that he and Holly might lose the family used-car empire and serve jail time for embezzlement and fraud.

“In my eyes, you’re forgiven,” the Amerissiah tells an unrepentant Holly, who never seems to stop yelling at everyone and who drinks to take off the edge.

Fighting ensues about whether Margi, whose other husbands died mysteriously, convinced Barry not to seek treatment for the cancer because she’s after his money. Past and present hurts caused by the family members and disagreement about whether to allow Barry to continue to think he’s God complete the dysfunction fest. In an attempt to force the truth, Holly challenges Barry’s claims and tells him that if he is God, he should have stopped the holocaust to which the Amerissiah replies that he did.

“Is it still going on?” he asks.
“No,” Holly replies.

It’s this kind of humor and direction from Ahonen which allow each of the characters to be individuals while functioning as a strong ensemble (costumes by Ricky Lang also accomplish this). And there just might be something to Barry’s claims after all, when Terry and Carrie Murphy (James Kautz and Jennifer Fouche) arrive, led to the Amerissiah by a voice in Carrie’s head. Terry (in a very funny performance from Kautz) wants to channel his wife’s gift to get her a spread in People magazine, or even better, to give him six numbers to win the lottery.

Where Amerissiah differs from most of the family dysfunctional plots out there is that some healing takes place. Johnny finally comes to terms with Barry’s imminent death and the fact that he beat his son Ricky as a boy. His “I’m sorry,” seems to be the catalyst for a rebuilding of that relationship. Bernie and Holly have a heart-to-heart. She explains that she has sabotaged herself and their relationship because she craves anything that brings pleasure to her senses. Bernie, who appears to have a strong Christian faith, tells her that when you can’t see, smell or touch, the only thing left is the people who love you and we sense that the couple will reconcile if lawyer Bernie can keep Holly out of jail.

There’s even a strange miracle with a lot of evening sunlight (thanks to lighting director Jeremy Pape) that just might save them all.
For tickets, go to theatermania.com.

Christians might also want to know:
• Language
• God’s name taken in vain
• Use of drugs/alcohol depicted
• The AMORALISTS are a theatre company that produces work of no moral judgment, collaborating exclusively with American playwrights whose works are not concerned with the principals of right or wrong, good or bad, but rather full or empty.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Clive Barnes

The marquees of Broadway theatres will dim tonight at 8pm to honor Clive Barnes, theater and dance critic, who died yesterday. I grew up reading his reviews in the New York Times.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Review: Cirque du Soleil’s Wintuk

Photo courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

A Wintery Wonderland of Wow!

By Lauren Yarger
Mystifying, bending, talking lamp posts, snow monsters, aerial feats, skate boarding and tumbling acts combine with other circus delights and a terrific snowfall to create a wintery wonderland of “wow!” for young and old alike in Cirque de Soleil’s Wintuk running at Madison Square Garden through Jan. 4.

The hero, Jamie, (Darin Good, who seems a great deal older than the boy you see in the posters), sets out on a quest to the imaginary North called Wintuk to rescue his girlfriend and to find snow to bring to his city where it's cold and bleak, but not white. Along the way he encounters the characters mentioned above, guided by a shaman (Laure Fugere who sings Simon Carpentier’s music and Jim Corcoran’s lyrics in English) and a shy friend named Wimpy (Gaspar Gimenez Facundo). The colder it gets, the more the characters come together for comfort and warmth (confession: without program notes, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you all of that. Like most Cirque du Soleils, there’s a story, but I usually am unaware of it, sidetracked by all of the special acts and awe-inspiring effects.) A couple of green-striped robbers are pursued throughout by a cop on a bicycle for some comic effect. Choreography is by Catherine Archambault.

Wintuk, created exclusively for MSG’s WaMu Theater and directed by Fernand Rainville, is Cirque de Soleil’s first show geared toward family audiences. It doesn’t play like their other productions, geared toward more mature audiences, and instead is great entertainment for kids of elementary through middle school age. It is written by Richard Blackburn.

There’s an awesome backdrop from set designer Patricia Ruel with projected buildings and snowflake mountains that’s practically a character itself with its winking moons, wind-tossed buildings and floating stars. Puppet dogs and cranes from Tony and Emmy award-winning puppet designer Michael Curry (The Lion King and Cirque du Soleil’s KÀ and LOVE) and the lampposts and ice giants from René Charbonneau (cofounder of Théâtre de la Dame de Coeur, Quebec), are exciting – and very large. “Power Track,” is a tumbling number featuring multiple performers in a fast paced precision routine on a huge trampoline revealed when the stage floor opens.

Additional elements, costumes by Francois Barbeau, lighting by Yves Aucoin and Matthieu Larivee and sound by Jonathan Deans, all expertly complete the circus wonderland.

Wintuk is an hour and a half of non-stop action and fun for the whole family.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Review: Saturn Returns

Memories and Grief Caught in Orbit

By Lauren Yarger
There is no end to grief and tears, but in Saturn Returns, Noah Haidle’s look at three stages of a man’s life, we discover that they are most bearable when shared with a ring of loved ones around us.

The concept behind the story that follows three particular days in the life of Gustin, a retried radiologist played at different ages by Robert Eli (28), James Rebhorn (58) and the excellent John McMartin (88), is that the planet Saturn returns three times during a person’s life to the position it occupied at his or her birth, representing crucial turning points (this information is thanks to program notes; you wouldn’t get this from the play itself).

We meet octogenarian Gustin when he hires visiting nurse Suzanne (Rosie Benton, who convincingly plays all of the female roles), not because he needs care, but because he’s lonely. She succumbs to his charm and reminding him of his deceased daughter, agrees to return the next day to give him something to look forward to. We travel into the past and meet his bright daughter, Zephyr, as she encourages the emotionally dependent 58-year-old Gustin to go out on a date and dreams about going off somewhere on her own, away from her father.

The third phase, another look into the past, introduces his young wife, Loretta, who is consumed with boredom and loneliness and passes the time by instructing her husband on how to kiss her (like we just met; like you’re going to war and we’re saying goodbye) and hopes to conceive a child.

Transitions between the three time periods are nicely staged by director Nicholas Martin, aided by lighting from Peter Kaczorowski and original music and sound by Mark Bennett that enable the characters to orbit in and out of each other’s time periods like visible memories. Finally, with new friend Suzanne, it seems Gustin might be able to defy the gravity which has held him prisoner to his memories and the house which holds them.

Saturn Returns is a study in what it feels like to be alone in the universe, but with a run time of just over an hour, we don’t get to know any of the characters well enough to understand why they cope in the way they do. A feeling that Loretta might be headed for suicide is eclipsed when we find out she died in child birth. So why does 88-year-old Gustin react with hostility when she’s mentioned and say he won’t speak of her? After his daughter dies, how does Gustin ever cope? Why is Loretta so lonely if she enjoys multiple daily phone calls with her mother? Why does Suzanne have no one else to turn to when she needs help? Their stories, in this fine production at Lincoln Center, are compelling enough that I want to know, but clouds obscure visibility.

Christians might also want to know:

• Language
• Lord’s name taken in vain.

Review: Speed the Plow

Raul Esparza and Jeremy Bliven. Photo by Brigitte Lacomb
Rolling Dialogue Flattens the Plot
By Lauren Yarger
Does it really take 90 minutes to figure out that people will take advantage of you and will stop at nothing to succeed? Not for most of us, but since playwright David Mamet needs some sort of basic plot around which to drive his signature rapid-fire, humor-filled, ping pong dialogue, getting to the top in the dog-eat-dog world of the Hollywood film industry serves the purpose in Speed the Plow at the Ethel Barrymore Theater. Add to this strong performances from the TV star power of Jeremy Piven (Entourage), Raul Esparza (Pushing Daisies) and Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men) and you have a popular, if not very deep play.

Piven plays Bobby Gould who somehow is unaware that his temporary secretary, Karen (Moss), sleeps with him just so he’ll green light her depressing and unlikely movie project about radiation ending the world. Gould’s longtime friend and producing colleague Charlie Fox (Esparza) sees through her and fights feelings of betrayal (his career-making project gets dumped in favor of Karen’s) to remain loyal and help his friend wake up to what’s happening. He easily gets Karen to reveal her motivation (why someone devious enough to use sex to get ahead would admit this is a mystery) and somehow that admission opens Gould’s eyes to the fact that everyone wants power and no one is immune. The two friends go back to making movies together leaving a bewildered Karen wondering how she blew it. Translation: we’re out of snappy dialogue; time to end the play.

Neil Pepe directs strong performances, however, with many of the funniest moments coming from movement – a dramatic throwing away of a script – or the intonation in a voice, as much as from the witty dialogue itself. Esparza shines as the caffeine-hyper, nicotine driven Fox who’s afraid to believe he might finally be on the brink of success. His rapport with Piven is easy and the dialogue bounces, although Piven does appear to get lost from time to time in the long and quick-paced banter. Moss is effective as the seemingly naïve, but manipulative Karen. Her presence, evoking memories of her role as Zoey, daughter of the underdog, come-from-behind Democratic president on The West Wing, along with lines about “mavericks” give the show a present-day feel despite having been written 20 years before the recent presidential election.

Scott Pask’s set turns (literally) from an office into Gould’s apartment, aided by a nice flickering movie projector effect (Brian MacDevitt).

“Speed the plow” comes from a phrase in a 15th century song wishing success and prosperity on hardworking farmers. It fits the play well, as the theme is about working hard, then plowing everything under and starting again. And that’s about as much plot as you’ll find while enjoying the banter.

Christians might also want to know:
• Language throughout
• Sexual gestures

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities Will Close

NOTE 11/10/08: The show closed early on Nov. 9.

Citing the economy and diminished ticket sales, A Tale of Two Cities will end performances on Broadway Nov. 16. A national tour is being planned.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Which Shows Will You Be Seeing?

Check out our listing of touring Broadway shows by scrolling down on the left side of this blog under the "Coming Your Way" heading. We're continuing to update the list.

Gracewell Prodiuctions

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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 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 concept, "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. Shifting from reviewing to producing, Yarger owns Gracewell Productions, which produced the Table Reading Series at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT. She trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Intensive and other 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 wrote 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 was a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com 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. She is a former vice president and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (producer of the annual awards ceremony) and a member of The League of Professional Theatre Women, serving as Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter. Yarger was a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly 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- 2022 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


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 or people of a certain race 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. 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 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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