Friday, May 22, 2009

Fun at the Outer Critics Circle Awards

I enjoyed a very well planned and written Outer Critics Circle awards program at Sardi's last week. The winners already had been announced (for the list of winners, click here), so this was a chance to mingle with them as they received their scrolls.

First, I owe a large hug to whomever did the seating arrangements. I had a front-row seat next to the delightful Elyse Sommer of Curtain Up and at the same table as Best Actress in a Musical co-winner Josefina Scaglione. (Angela Lansbury was supposed to be at our table, but another commitment forced her to change her arrival time to just before she was presented with the award for best featured actress in a play for Blithe Spirit. )

I loved the more intimate setting, and most of the winners seemed to sense it as they shared more personal thoughts when they accepted their awards. One them came through: that we all are involved in the theater because we love it and we have lots of fun doing what we do.

Presenter Tyne Daly adopted a mock British accent, feigning intimidation form the cast of The Norman Conquests who also presented. The three young boys who star as Billy Elliot received a special award for their performance. All were darling, every bit young men whose egos appeared unaffected by their catapult into the limelight this year, as they thanked their director Stephen Daltry, who also took home an award for Best Direction of a Musical. He most graciously thanked the boys for their part in the project and then walked over to their table where he embraced each in heartfelt appreciation. Very touching.

Pulitzer-prize-winning playwright Lynn Nottage accepted her award for Best Play, Ruined, saying it was a blessing to be part of this theater season and to have been able to touch so many people with her moving tale set in war-torn Africa.

Scaglione, who is just as lively in person as when she's causing Tony to fall in love with her in West Side Story, dedicated her award to her country (Argentina) and to her family.

Perhaps the highlights was hearing Lansbury joke about "an old ham like me" needing to play a character like Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit. She joked about people coming to the theater to see Jessica Fletcher, the character she is famous for playing for years on television's "Murder She Wrote." She also made some gracious and heart-felt remarks thanking us critics for writing about theater so people will come.

Overall, it was a very pleasing get together and reaffirmed my feeling that it's a blessing to be part of this group of talented critics, with whom I also enjoyed getting to visit.

For photos from the event, click here.

Review: Next to Normal

This Musical is Anything but Normal. It's a Standout
By Lauren Yarger
From the first jolting chord of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s Next to Normal playing at the Booth Theatre, it’s obvious that this musical is anything but normal. It quickly defines itself as a standout on the Great White Way, with a marvelous cast, a terrific score, insightful lyrics and an unlikely, but wonderfully engaging story about a family dealing with depression and bi-polar disorder.

Mark Wendlend’s imposing three-story set provides a framework for the family’s residence and other locations while housing the band on two of the levels. The framework for a happy home might be there, and the family tries to be “normal”, but the foundation shifts on quicksand as Diana (Alice Ripley) battles depression. The opening number entitled “It’s Just Another Day” has double meaning as we see Diana shift from “normal” mom packing the family’s lunches to what’s really “normal” for her: a mom coping with mental illness.

She tries to go through the motions, but her husband, Dan (J. Robert Spencer), whom she finds boring, tunes out the wife he doesn’t understand. Daughter Natalie (a fantastic Jennifer Damiano) copes by tuning out socially and focusing on good grades and getting into Yale. Soon the question becomes who is crazier: the person who can’t hope or the one who keeps hoping?

There’s a terrifically funny song in which Diana fantasizes about her psychiatrist as a rock star (Louis Hobson) as he discusses possibilities for medications. Her diagnosis of “bipolar disorder” doesn’t seem to cover it. Diana goes on and constantly adjusts medications, but there are side effects and she misses the “highs and lows” she trades for feeling “nothing at all.” The lethargy renders her incapable of helping Natalie when she begins a new relationship with friend Henry (Adam Chanler-Berat) and experiments with drugs, so she goes off the meds.

Michael Greif expertly directs, using space between the characters to enhance emotions. Lighting designer Kevin Adam’s individual light bulbs and contrasting hues create the feeling of being inside a brain as he makes the emotions palpable.

As Diana succumbs to a desire to be free, the family must cope with her suicide attempt and the electric shock therapy that follows. The scenes where Dan cleans up the blood and when he reaches out to her in the song “A Light in the Dark” are gripping. Can the family survive? The well-developed characters (Ripley's portrayal is deep and honest) in this well-written story make you hope so.

It’s compelling stuff, told mostly through the songs (Yorkey, responsible for the witty, clever and tightly penned lyrics also wrote the book) which are unusual, catchy and give both Ripley and Damiano a chance to put their Broadway belts to good use. Aaron Tveit also gives great vocals to Diana’s son Gabe.

The musical wasn't eligible for Outer Critics Circle or Drama Desk awards this season because of its previous off-Broadway run. It is up for a Tony, however, and it might just give Billy Elliot a little competition.

Next to Normal Plays at the Booth Theatre, 222 w. 45th St., NYC. For tickets call (212) 239-6200/ (800) 432-7250. For special group rates, click here.

Christians might also like to know:
• Drug use depicted
• Language
• Suicide (act not show; blood after seen)
• Sex outside of marriage

Review: Desire Under the Elms

Carla Gugino and Pablo Schreiber

Rock Solid Performances and Stone Hearts
By Lauren Yarger
The rocks forming walls and suspended by ropes that threaten to crush the life out of characters are literal and metaphors for the hearts of stone at which lust and greed chip away in a revamped Broadway revival of Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms.

Scenic designer Walt Spangler sets the rocky stage with a stark and dark images of the 1850 New England farm and house (itself also suspended over the characters at times) of the Cabots, a deeply dysfunctional clan headed toward disaster. The always excellent Brian Dennehy stars as patriarch Ephraim who brings his new, much younger bride, Abbie (Carla Gugino), to the homestead to meet his sons: simpleminded and disgusting Peter and Simeon (Boris McGiver and Daniel Stewart Sherman) who are the products of his first marriage, and the sensitive Eben (Pablo Schreiber) by his second wife who had claims to the farm.

The object of everyone’s affection, however, is the farm itself. Peter and Simeon feel their hard labor has earned them equal shares, but Eben believes the property is his because his father stole it from his mother, then drove her to her death. Abbie makes her own claims and intimates that she only married Ephraim to have a home of her own. The harsh and selfish Ephraim isn’t buying any of it. The farm is his, he tells them, and he promises to outlive them all so they’ll never inherit any of it.

Eben purchases any claims his brothers might make by giving them each $300 to go west where they hope to make a gold strike. Abbie solidifies her claims by telling Ephraim she wants to give him a son to inherit the place. Meanwhile, what begins as hatred becomes a growing attraction between Abbie and Eben. It smolders (lighting designer Philippi excels at making this appear literal) and in some nice staging from director Robert Falls which has Abbie and Eben mirroring moves and reaching out to each other from different scenes, the attraction ignites and when the fire can be extinguished no longer, the two become lovers.

It’s a rocky path indeed as Abbie becomes pregnant and presents the child to Ephraim as his heir. Eben objects and suspects that Abbie has used him as a means to get the farm. When Abbie makes a decision to prove her love for Eben, tragedy ensues.

All of the performances are strong, though the play, presented in a shortened version of O’Neill’s work staged at Chicago Goodman’s theater before coming to Broadway (it’s approximately 100 minutes, no intermission ), is less rock solid, however, as it offers some unrealistic plot and dialogue from time to time. It feels like a practice piece for some of the playwright’s later masterpieces. Original music from Richard Woodbury sets the mood (you can almost hear animals screaming in there) and a too-long recorded song is sung while a dialogue-free scene is acted out.

Desire Under the Elms is depressing, but this is to be expected when characters driven by lust, greed and selfishness develop hearts as heart as the stones surrounding them. The performances make it worthwhile.

Hurry if you want to see it. Desire Under the Elms closes Sunday at the St. James Theatre, 246 W.44th St., NYC. For tickets, click here.

Christians might also like to know:
• Mature Advisory
• Nudity
• Sexual Acts
• Sex outside of Marriage

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Review: 9 to 5

Dolly Parton Music Transitions Popular Movie to Broadway
By Lauren Yarger
To create yet another movie-turned-Broadway-musical, country music star Dolly Parton pens songs and lyrics to repackage the 1980 big-screen hit 9 to 5 (in which she starred with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) into a staged musical running at the Marquis Theatre.

Fans of the movie should enjoy. Most of the plot involving three secretaries who kidnap their sexist boss and take over during his absence to improve working conditions at their corporation is there, as well as 16 songs added to the 9 to 5 theme song Parton had written for the movie.

The tunes unfortunately don’t stand out (though they benefit from some terrific orchestrations by Bruce Coughlin and Musical Director Stephen Oremus) and the lyrics are simple by Broadway standards, but the show’s stars, directed by Joe Mantello, pack enough punch to carry the engaging story (book by Patricia Resnick, who wrote the movie screenplay). There are a few changes from movie to stage, some for no apparent reason, but the overall package is there.

Megan Hilty plays Doralee, the buxom secretary whom everyone thinks is having an affair with the boss, Franklin Hart, Jr. (Marc Kudish). She looks and sounds so much like a younger Parton, it’s scary. Stephanie J. Block lends her lovely singing voice (and gets a really great belting number) in the role of Judy, the newly divorced woman with no work experience. She is taken under the wing of seasoned secretary Violet (Allison Janney, who doesn’t have a Broadway belt, but who holds her own and recently won the Drama Desk award for best actress in a musical) who keeps getting passed over for promotions by the men she trains.

During a pot party, the women fantasize about getting even with the unfair, demeaning Hart and in a bizarre set of circumstances that follow, their fantasies become reality when Violet accidently poisons his coffee. Hart discovers the attempt and threatens to have them arrested. The women react by kidnapping him and keeping him tied up in his house until they can find incriminating evidence of his illegal business transactions with which to bargain for their freedom.

Meanwhile, with Violet’s business know-how, Judy’s availability to babysit the kidnap victim at night and Doralee’s talent for forging Hart’s signature, the three transform their workplace into a productive environment and manage to keep Hart devotee Roz (Kathy Fitzgerald) at bay. Violet even has time to develop a romantic attachment with one of the corporation’s junior accountants, Joe (Andy Karl).

Scott Pask’s set pieces neatly swing and glide into place and a smoking, spitting copier is quite amusing. Andy Blankenbuehler adds some snappy choreography and William Ivey Long designs the costumes.

9 to 5 isn’t up there with the best musicals ever to grace a Broadway stage, but it’s not one of the worst to make the jump from screen either. It’s a fun, entertaining piece of theater.

9 to 5 plays at the Marquis, 1535 Broadway, NYC through Sept. 6. For tickets, call (212) 307-4100/(800) 755-4000. For special group rates, click here.

Christians might also like to know:
• Drug use depicted
• God’s name taken in vain
• Sexually suggestive dialogue and lyrics

Review: Rock of Ages

80’s Rock Songs and a Plot for Good Measure
By Lauren Yarger
The scene: long-haired, leather-studded, tongue-flicking rock stars; special lighting and fog effects; lots of drinks in the house; lighters waving in salute to the music. Oh, did I mention that this is in a Broadway theater, not a rock concert?

It’s Rock of Ages, playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theater where 80’s rock hits by Queen, Poison, Journey and other bands are showcased around a silly plot (book by Chris D’Arienzo) involving the romance of a small-town girl and a boy who dreams of becoming a rock star while working at the Bourbon Room, a club owned by friend Dennis (Adam Dannheisser).

Amy Spangler is Sherrie, the girl form Kansas, who misses true love with the boy, Drew (Constantine Maroulis, though I saw understudy Jeremy Jordan, who did well), when she takes up with hard-core rocker Stacee Jaxx (James Carpinello), whom “women love and who men want to be” (although an invitation to have sex in the men’s room at a club wouldn’t cause me to swoon).

Meanwhile, father-son developers Hertz and Franz (Paul Schoeffler and Wesley Taylor), with the help of the mayor (Andre Ward), try to close down the club, which they believe is a bad influence on youth, so they can proceed with development. Planner Regina (Lauren Molina) leads protests against the development and finds romance with the effeminate Franz.

Sherrie, used and dropped by Stacee, finds herself working on the shady side of town at the Venus Club, run by “Mama” who tells her that many small-town girls end up stripping at her “gentlemen’s club.” Lenny, the technical guy at Bourbon, is a sort of narrator for the musical and provides a great deal of its humor.

All of the look of ‘80s rock is recreated by costume designer Gregory Gale and makeup designer Angelina Avallone. The ever-talented Beowulf Boritt designed the set which extends into the house where Director Kristin Hanggi makes good use of space having actors interact with audience members on both orchestra and mezzanine levels. The bumping and grinding choreography is by Kelly Devine.

I’m not a fan of ’80s rock (OK, I’m not a fan of any kind of rock, or the 1980s, for that matter), but surprisingly, I knew a lot of the songs. Still, I didn’t feel qualified to comment on the music experience, except that I can tell you the band rocks the place out (Music Direction by Henry Aronson). So I chatted with a few audience members during intermission to get their reactions and they thought the songs sounded authentic, but that Spangler has a Broadway, rather than a rock voice.

The musical certainly feels more like a rock concert (yes, I have been to one, so I can compare) than a Broadway show, and it probably felt more at home off-Broadway (it ran there last season). The younger-than usual audience seemed to be enjoying it, however, especially the “drinks-in-the-house policy.”

Rock of Ages plays at the Brooks Atkinson, 256 W. 47th St., NYC. For tickets, call (212) 307-4100/ (800) 755-4000. For special group rates, click here.

Christians also might like to know:

• Suggestive dialogue and movements
• Scantily clad women and men
• Language
• God’s name taken in vain
• Sex Outside of Marriage
• Cross Gender/bondage
• Dennis returns from the dead as some sort of winged angel

Review: Accent on Youth

David Hyde Pierce and Mary Catherine Garrison.

Dated, but Pleasant – and the Costumes are to Die For
By Lauren Yarger
Manhattan Theatre Club’s revival of Accent on Youth starring David Hyde Pierce is a sleepy sort of play. It has been around for years (since 1934 to be exact) and playwright Samson Raphaelson’s work has a rather dated feel to it, but for some reason, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to put my finger on why exactly, I really enjoyed it.

There isn’t a lot of plot, making the play a surprise choice for a revival, not to mention films over the years starring Bing Crosby and Clark Gable. But Pierce fits the bill nicely as witty Steven Gaye, a successful Broadway playwright who has written an uneven play that just doesn’t seem to work about a romance between an older guy and a younger woman. The cast of characters Gaye has asked to play his characters on stage are Miss Darling (Lisa Banes), Dickie Reynolds (David Furr) and Frank Galloway (Byron Jennings).

Former flame Genevieve Lang (Rosie Benton) invites Gaye to chuck it all and run away with her to Finland. Gaye tells his butler Flogdell (Charles Kimbrough) to pack his bags, but a sudden declaration of love from his younger secretary, Linda Brown (Mary Catherine Garrison), changes everything. Life suddenly imitates art and Gaye is inspired about how to make the play’s romance work.

Brown goes on to star in the play as she and Gaye become and item. When Dickie falls in love with his leading lady, however, the real-life plot takes an unscripted Cyrano twist. Flogdell enjoys his own May-December romance as well.

It’s a light, uncomplicated, and fun evening at the theater, thanks in part to tight direction by Daniel Sullivan on John Lee Beatty’s book-lined, gentleman’s quarters set.

The other part, and the real highlight in this production, is the fabulous 1930s-era costumes by Jane Greenwood worn by Benton and Garrison. From business skirt suits to evening gowns, each is stunning. Every time one of the actresses appeared, I would want to run out and buy what she was wearing, right down to the shoes. Pierce sports an attractive smoking jacket and robe in addition to his suits as well.

Accent on Youth plays through June 28 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St., NYC. For tickets, click here. For special group rates, click here.

Review: Waiting for Godot

Pleasing Performances, Puzzling Play
By Lauren Yarger
Sharp performances from all four actors make Roundabout Theatre Company’s Broadway revival of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot a pleasing theatrical experience even though the play itself is still as puzzling as ever.

The performances come from Nathan Lane (Estragon) and Bill Irwin (Vladimir), who play off each other so well that they bring to mind great partners of comedic timing like Abbot and Costello. Also terrific are John Goodman (Pozzo) and his slave John Glover (Lucky). What exactly they’re so good in, however, is puzzling. If you think I’m just not theater savvy enough to figure it out, a post-show discussion followed the play, featuring Annette Saddick, associate professor of 20th-century drama and performance at New York City College of Technology, who spoke on “making meaning out of Godot.” People even are puzzled about how to pronounce Godot (is it God-oh or gud- oh? In this play, it’s the former).

Godot is the mysterious person for whom Estragon and Vladimir wait. Why, we’re not sure. While they pass the time, one day seems just like the next. Estragon looks at his boot a lot while Vladimir peers into his hat a lot and they agree there’s “nothing to be done” in their purgatory-like existence where they ponder bigger questions about God and repentance from time to time.

Their friendship and dependence on each other deepens and they fluctuate between outrage and intrigue at Pozzo’s subhuman treatment of Lucky which provides a diversion while they wait. Directed by Anthony Page, Glover is excellent as the wheezing, slobbering “beast of burden.”

A young boy (a role shared by Cameron Clifford and Matthew Schechter) comes to announce that Godot won’t be there until tomorrow and a sun sets on Santo Loquasto’s impressively stark rock scape. The only thing different the next day is the appearance of some leaves on a stark, grey tree as they begin waiting for Godot again.

The philosophical nature of the play (especially since there aren't any real answers) might not be for everyone, but the performances shouldn’t be missed.

Waiting for Godot plays through July 12 at Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street, NYC. For tickets, call 212) 719-1300 or visit. For discounts on group tickets, click here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Highlights, Lowlights from the Drama Desk Awards; List of Winners

Just back from my first Drama Desk Awards party/show. Billy Elliot led the way with 10 awards.

Some highlights for me:
• Catching up with old friends and making new ones at the pre-show reception at Rouge Tomate.
• Getting to see my FAVORITE actor, John Cullum, present the awards for best actor and actress in a musical.
• Seeing Liza Minelli receive a special award for her accomplishments in theater from critic Rex Reed.
• Seeing Angela Lansbury do her kooky shuffle from Blithe Spirit when receiving her best featured actress award.
• Walking the red carpet (OK, it was after the awards and no one cared, but now I can always say truthfully that I walked the red carpet at the Drama Desk Awards ceremony...)

Some lowlights:
• Having the producer tell us that using cell phones during the program was OK, even encouraged, as long as the ringer was off.
• A fairly large number of no-shows among the winners.

Here's the full press release and list of winners (Outer Critics Circle Awards are Thursday!):

New York, NY, May 17, 2009 – Billy Elliot The Musical, based on the critically acclaimed feature film, won 10 awards, including Outstanding Musical, to head the list of 2008/2009 Drama Desk Award winners at the 54th Annual Drama Desk Awards, which took place tonight at the F.H. LaGuardia Concert Hall at Lincoln Center.

Shrek The Musical, based on the Oscar®-winning DreamWorks feature film, won three Drama Desk Awards as did The Norman Conquests, which won two competitive awards -- Outstanding Revival of a Play and Outstanding Director of a Play (Matthew Warchus) – and one special ensemble award for its cast. Ruined captured two Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Play (Lynn Nottage, author) and Outstanding Music in a Play (Dominic Kanza).

Janet McTeer (Mary Stuart) won the award as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama, and Allison Janney (9 to 5) won the Drama Desk as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical. Geoffrey Rush (Exit the King) was voted Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play and Brian d’Arcy James (Shrek the Musical) was presented with the Drama Desk Award as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical.

Angela Lansbury (Blithe Spirit) won the award as Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play and Gregory Jbara (Billy Elliot The Musical) won the Drama Desk Award as Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical. Pablo Schreiber was voted Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play for his performance in off Broadway’s reasons to be pretty and the Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical award went to Haydn Gwynne (Billy Elliot The Musical).

Three of the Billy Elliot The Musical creative team won Drama Desk Awards – Stephen Daldry (Outstanding Director of a Musical), Peter Darling (Outstanding Choreography) and Elton John (Outstanding Music). Stephen Sondheim (Road Show) won for Outstanding Lyrics, Lee Hall (Billy Elliot The Musical) won for Outstanding Book of a Musical, and Martin Koch (Billy Elliot The Musical) won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Orchestrations.

Tim Hatley (Shrek The Musical) won two design awards for Outstanding Costume Design and Outstanding Set Design of a Musical. David Korins (Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them) won for Outstanding Set Design of a Play. David Hersey (Equus) won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lighting Design in a Play and Rick Fisher (Billy Elliot The Musical) was voted the award for Outstanding Lighting Design in a Musical. The Outstanding Sound Design Award was won by Paul Arditti (Billy Elliot The Musical).

The Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience went to Celebrity Autobiography: In Their Own Words and the Outstanding Solo Performance Award was voted to Lorenzo Pisoni (Humor Abuse).

The following awards were voted by the nominating committee and were presented at the awards ceremony this evening:

Outstanding Ensemble Awards for acting were presented to the cast members of two shows -- The Norman Conquests and The Cripple of Inishmaan. Therefore, individual cast members for these shows were not eligible for acting awards in the competitive categories.

Each year the Drama Desk votes special awards to recognize excellence and significant contributions to the theater. These awards were presented this evening to:
Liza Minelli, a beloved American musical theater icon, for her enduring career of sustained excellence, and her glorious performance in Liza’s at the Palace.

Forbidden Broadway at the end of its nearly three-decade run and the creators casts and designers who made it an unparalleled New York institution cherished for its satire and celebration of Broadway.

Atlantic Theater Company and artistic director Neil Pepe for exceptional craftsmanship and, dedication to excellence and productions that engage, inspire and enlighten.

TADA! Youth Theater for providing an invaluable contribution to the future of the theater. The company makes outstanding training experience accessible and affordable to young people and mounts productions remarkable for their quality and professionalism.

The 54th Annual Drama Desk Awards ceremony was hosted by Harvey Fierstein. Presenters included (in alphabetical order): Lauren Ambrose, Stockard Channing, John Cullum, André De Shields, Jim Dale, Jason Danieley, Raúl Esparza, Jane Fonda, Victor Garber, Cheyenne Jackson, Carson Kressley, John Lithgow, Marin Mazzie, Audra McDonald, Rex Reed, Michael Rupert and Tom Wopat.

The 54th Annual Drama Desk Awards was webcast with live streaming video from 9:00 PM to its conclusion by The 54th Annual Drama Desk Awards is presented by Executive Producer Robert R. Blume in association with Lauren Class Schneider is producer, and Jeff Kalpak, director. Peter Flynn is the writer. Associate Producers are Les Schecter, Joseph Callari, Corine Dana Cohen, Ellis Nassour, Jacki Barlia Florin and Margot Astrachan. Felicia M. Lopes is General Manager. Stuart F. Margulies (SFM Management Ltd.) is the Drama Desk Awards accountant

For the Drama Desk organization, Randie Levine-Miller is Special Events Director and Producer of the Drama Desk nominations at the NY Friars Club. Ellis Nassour is Media Liaison.

For Brian Scott Lipton is the Editor in Chief and Edward Highfield and Jordan Neuren were video technicians for the live webcast.
The Drama Desk Awards enlisted personal sketches from this year’s nominated performers and creative talent for its Art*Kive program created nine years ago by Sarah Galvin. Many of this year’s sketches were displayed in the concert hall lobby at the awards ceremony.

The Drama Desk was founded in 1949 to explore key issues in the theater and to bring together critics and writers in an organization to support the ongoing development of theater in New York. The organization began presenting its awards in 1955, and it is the only critics organization to honor achievement in the theater with competition between Broadway, Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway productions in the same categories.

David S. Stone and The Smart Family Foundation, Richard I. Kandel, Ted Snowdon,, Jacki Barlia Florin and Jamie deRoy & friends have provided major financial assistance to the Drama Desk Awards show. In-kind sponsors include The New York Times, Variety, Manhattan Bride Magazine, Gray Line/NY Sightseeing, VideoActive Productions, Production Resource Group, Sound Associates, Abrams Gentile Entertainment, Hit Show Club, and Federico Hair Salon. Food and beverage sponsors include The Hawaiian Tropic Zone, John’s Pizzeria of Times Square, Arté Cafe, NY Friars Club, Tony’s Di Napoli, Legend of Kremlin Vodka, Wine Cellar Sorbet and Wines by Lubov Galleries. Additional financial contributors to the Drama Desk Awards are: The Nat R. and Martha M. Knaster Charitable Trust/Shapiro Lobell LLP; Dorothy Loudon Foundation/Lionel Larner; Randall Stempler; The Dorothy Strelsin Foundation/Enid Nemy and Wendy Federman.

The Drama Desk presented scholarships to Billy Rayne and Emily Schuman, graduating seniors in the Theater Department of the FH LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. These scholarships, as well as donations to the school, are made possible by The Smart Family Foundation,, Ted Snowdon, Jamie deRoy & friends and Robert R. Blume.

The 2008/2009 Nominating Committee for the Drama Desk Awards is composed of: Barbara Siegel ( and, Chairperson; Dan Bacalzo (; Christopher Byrne (Gay City News); Patrick Christiano ( and Dan’s Papers); Jason Clark (Entertainment Weekly and; Gerard Raymond (Back Stage and The Advocate), and Richard Ridge (

The Board of Directors of the Drama Desk is composed of: William Wolf (, President; Leslie (Hoban) Blake ( and, Vice President; Charles Wright (A&E TV Networks), Treasurer and 2nd Vice President; Richard Ridge (Broadway Beat TV), Secretary; Robert Cashill, (New York Theater News and Live Design); Isa Goldberg, (Greater Philadelphia Newspaper and Middletown (NY) Times Herald Record); David Kaufman (Free Lance; ) Ellis Nassour ( and Playbill); Sam Norkin Theater Artist and Past President); and Barbara Siegel ( and

The full list of 2008/2009 DRAMA DESK AWARD WINNERS
Outstanding Play: Ruined by Lynn Nottage
Outstanding Musical: Billy Elliot The Musical
Outstanding Revival of a Play: The Norman Conquests
Outstanding Revival of a Musical: Hair
Outstanding Music in a Play: Dominic Kanza (Ruined)
Outstanding Actor in a Play: Geoffrey Rush (Exit the King)
Outstanding Actress in a Play: Janet McTeer (Mary Stuart)
Outstanding Actor in a Musical: Brian d’Arcy James (Shrek The Musical)
Outstanding Actress in a Musical: Allison Janney (9 to 5)
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play: Pablo Schreiber (reasons to be pretty)off-Broadway
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play: Angela Lansbury (Blithe Spirit)
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical:Gregory Jbara (Billy Elliot The Musical)
Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical:Haydn Gwynne (Billy Elliot The Musical)
Outstanding Director of a Play: Matthew Warchus (The Norman Conquests)
Outstanding Director of a Musical: Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot The Musical)
Outstanding Choreography: Peter Darling (Billy Elliot The Musical)
Outstanding Music: Elton John (Billy Elliot The Musical)
Outstanding Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim (Road Show)
Outstanding Book of a Musical Lee Hall (Billy Elliot The Musical)
Outstanding Orchestrations: Martin Koch (Billy Elliot The Musical)
Outstanding Set Design of a Play: David Korins (Why Torture Is Wrong and the People Who Love Them)
Outstanding Set Design of a Musical: Tim Hatley (Shrek The Musical)
Outstanding Costume Design: Tim Hatley (Shrek The Musical))
Outstanding Lighting Design in a Play: David Hersey (Equus)
Outstanding Sound Design: Paul Arditti (Billy Elliot The Musical)
Outstanding Solo Performance: Lorenzo Pisoni (Humor Abuse)
Outstanding Lighting Design in a Musical:Rick Fisher (Billy Elliot The Musical)
Unique Theatrical Experience:Celebrity Autobiography: In Their Own Words
In addition, the following non-competitive awards were presented:

•Outstanding Ensemble Performances:The cast of The Norman Conquests
and The cast of The Cripple of Inishmaan
•To Liza Minelli, a beloved American musical theater icon, for her enduring career of sustained excellence, and her glorious performance in
Liza’s at the Palace.
•To Forbidden Broadway at the end of its nearly three decade run and the creators, casts and designers who made it an unparalleled New York institution cherished for its satire and celebration of Broadway.
•To Atlantic Theater Company and artistic director Neil Pepe for exceptional craftsmanship, dedication to excellence and productions that engage, inspire and enlighten.
•To TADA! Youth Theater for providing an invaluable contribution to the future of the theater. The company makes outstanding training and experience accessible and affordable to young people and mounts productions remarkable for their quality and professionalism.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Top Ten 'Worst Audience Members' Awards

By Lauren Yarger
It's awards time in theater. The Outer Critics Circle Awards were announced yesterday. Drama Desk is this Sunday followed by the Tonys on June 7. In the midst of honoring the best of the best on Broadway and Off-Broadway, I thought this would be an appropriate time to mention the "worst of the worst" I have experienced dealing with audience members this season.

We seemed to have heard more stories this year than ever about actors stopping in the middle of shows until rude audience members could be ejected from the theater. It seems as manners and general courtesy decline in society, evidence of it appears in theater seats. Those announcements at the beginning of the show about turning off phones, not taking pictures and unwrapping candies — they are for you. Yes, you. You are not exempt because you want to make a comment, snap a photo of your favorite star or eat something.

Here are my Top Ten Worst audience members from the 2008-2009 season with prayers for all of us to be kinder and more considerate of each other and thanks for the thousands of people with whom I attended theater this year who DO know how to behave.

Top Ten Worst Audience Members

1. The guy who squeezed and released his plastic water bottle, creating a clicking sound throughout a show.

2. The guy who arrived late, causing his row to get up during the show, (which blocks the view of those behind them), only to get up five minutes later and cause the same disruption so he could go to the rest room. Then you guessed it, he returned and we were interrupted again.

3. The guy who sat down front and spoke on his phone throughout the first act – while we heard the person with whom he was speaking on speaker phone. An irate audience member (no, not me) accosted him at intermission explaining that most of the first act had been ruined for her because of his rude behavior. He reported her to the House Manager, complaining that she was harassing him. The House Manager reprimanded the woman (we won’t go into lessons in House Management 101 here…) until another audience member backed up her story. The man and his speaker phone were ejected.

4. This one technically wasn’t in a theater, but was in a seminar where about 25 of us were seated in lecture style for a talk from a speaker. In the middle of the session, a woman’s cell phone rang. She answered it, then proceeded to continue the conversation (it was not urgent in any way) talking as though none of us was there or as though the speaker weren’t still speaking. Finally someone asked her to leave and continue her call outside. Can people really be so self centered? It boggles the mind.

5. The woman behind me at West Side Story who talked all the way through and sang with all the songs.

6. The very large man seated next to me who continually encroached on my seat space while making loud “snoring noises” because, I assume, his weight made it difficult to breathe. I ended sitting sideways to try to avoid the pressing flesh until I couldn’t stand it any more and would muster all my strength to administer a full body check at which he moved over a little, only to begin the process of encroachment again. Every so often he had even more breathing difficulty and would make some really alarming noises, at which I asked once if he needed medical assistance. He seemed surprised. I guess if you sound like that all the time, you get used to it. I finally gave up, extricated myself and stood in the aisle for the second half. (PS: This is not a statement about people of size. I have several friends who are as large or larger than this man but who always manage to sit in their own seat space because they are considerate people.)

7. The woman who snored very loudly through a really terrific play. She started about five minutes in and continued with what sounded like several elephants during allergy season for the entire first act. Annoyed glances from all of us in the area apparently failed to clue in those with her to give her a nice shove and wake her up. Someone finally had to say, “Wake her up.” The pattern was repeated multiple times. She mercifully left at intermission. Note to all attending theater with me: If you start snoring, rest assured you will be walking around with rib pain the next day, a result of my elbow firmly nudging you awake.

8. The couple who ate chips throughout the first act of a play, happily crunching and crackling their bags to the frustration of all around them (I was a section and a half away and it was aggravating – why those nearby didn’t complain is beyond me. I don’t think food and drink were allowed in the house for that show.) At intermission, they went out and purchased two more bags of chips, held them politely until the second act, then opened them and began crunching again when the curtain went up.

9. The woman next to me who text messaged during the first act of a show. I finally asked her to turn it off. “It’s not even on,” she complained. What part of text scrolling and a lighted display that kept distracting me indicates the device is off? I explained the distraction and asked her to at least cover it up if she couldn’t turn “off.” She did, and then switched seats at intermission with her companion. I assumed at first this was so she could text without further objection from me, but to her credit, she did not. I guess she just didn’t want to sit next to someone so offensive and rude as to suggest that she be considerate.

10. And last, but not least, to the kid who kicked my seat continually through Slava’s Snow Show. Despite repeated requests (and I do assure you I was polite and kind) the child, about 8 years of age, kicked with such force that there probably is a permanent dent in the back of the seat. When I asked again, explaining that it was very annoying, the child’s father told me that I shouldn’t attend a kid’s show if I didn’t want my seat kicked. Ah, and there’s the rub. It wasn’t this kid’s fault. In fact, I have attended several “kid-specific” shows this year, all with lots of squealing, giggling children delighted by the shows, all of whom were able to enjoy themselves without being rude or annoying to anyone. The difference is that they have parents who know how to be considerate and who value teaching some manners to their children, whereas "kicker boy" apparently did not have that advantage.
Copyright 2009 Lauren Yarger, all rights reserved.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Review: Everyday Rapture

A Rapturous Treatment of a Walk Away from Religious Roots

By Lauren Yarger
Faced with choosing to believe that either she is a speck of dust or that the world was created especially for her, actress Sherie Rene Scott chose the latter and pens her journey away from her “half” Mennonite roots to Broadway fame in Everyday Rapture, playing Off-Broadway at Second Stage Theatre.

Scott shares her experiences with the audience in a script co-written with Dick Scanlan and offers a number of songs (music direction by Carmel Dean). She’s backed up by singers Lindsay Mendez and Betsy Wolf on a set designed by Christine Jones that evokes thoughts of a cosmic connect-the-dots (lighting by Kevin Adams).

A rabbi (or was it a Muslim or a Buddhist, she wonders) tells her to carry the two opposing approaches to life written out on sheets of paper carried in both hip pockets. She embraces the idea, seeing it as a way to avoid having to choose between them as she searches for a way to “be one with God while a lot of people clapped.”

Torn between her desire from a very early age to be a star and an upbringing that frowns on prideful pursuits (the only cool thing about being Mennonite, she tells us, is that you’re supposed to be non-judgmental), Scott gets her first chance to perform for patients at a hospital. “No matter what God said, I was going to modulate,” she says. A series of photos and depictions of Jesus are projected on a screen while Scott sings “You Made Me Love You, I Didn’t want to Do it…”

Her friend, Jerome, tells her he thinks she has what it takes to make it big. Fueled by his encouragement and disillusioned by hateful anti-gay protests by people from her church at his funeral, Scott heads off to New York when it’s time for her Rumpsringa (a Mennonite tradition where those coming of age are allowed to experience life outside of the sheltered community). There she meets a street magician named Ray who gets her pregnant, but sends her money for an abortion when she returns to Kansas. She comes to a realization that keeping the two slips of paper in her pockets doesn’t allow her to avoid making a choice. “You do have to choose,” she says. “It’s either or. I chose life. My own.”

She goes on to achieve success on Broadway and reaches out to an awkward boy who posts a video on YouTube of him lip syncing to her rendition of “My Strongest Suit” from Aida (her turn as Amneris in the original Broadway recording is one of my favorite listens). She becomes increasingly frustrated, however, when her plans to reach out to the boy result in his refusing to believe that the person contacting him really is the Broadway star. This sequence, where we get to hear the song, while a talented Eamon Foley acts out the boy’s outrageous moves behind the frame of a video screen is one of the most engaging in the production. It’s weakened by a refocus of attention on Scott, however.

Through the course of her journey, Scott shifts from worship of Jesus to Judy Garland to Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood) and finally to her young son. She tells him not to search for a four-leaf clover because she doesn’t believe in luck. She believes people make their own luck – until he finds one on his first attempt. She takes this as a sign that her son is lucky and when the family cat eats the treasure, she curses and tries to strangle the animal, because she wants her son to be lucky, not a speck of dust.

She concludes with thoughts about how the Mennonites always taught she should be prepared for the Rapture (the return of Christ), but she has found, instead, that by embracing a world created for her, she experiences a rapture every day.

“May your Rumspringa last forever,” she says.

Everyday Rapture plays at Second Stage Theatre, 307 West 43rd St. at 8th Avenue, NYC, through June 14. For tickets, visit

Christians might also like to know:
• Language

Review: The Philanthropist

Philanthropist Fails to Invest in Plot, Dialogue

By Lauren Yarger
Christopher Hampton’s The Philanthropist starts off with a bang – a literal one – as one of the characters blows his brains out in full graphic detail. Who he is and why he’s there and why the two professors to whom he was pitching his new play seem to think it’s funny to make “empty headed” jokes about him later isn’t really known.

As the production running at American Airlines Theatre continues, we discover that lots of things aren’t known, like why the Roundabout Theatre Company thought such a boring piece of drivel, written as an opposing view to Moliere's The Misanthrope, should be financed as a Broadway show or why talented stars like Matthew Broderick and Steven Weber would want to be in it. The play is not often produced. We understand why.

Broderick stars as Philip, a boring professor of words, who has a lot of trouble communicating. He is engaged to graduate student Celia (Anna Madeley), though how such a boring milquetoast could have attracted or won Celia, or anyone for that matter, is left unanswered. His friend and colleague Donald (Weber) suggests that he really is in love with shy Elizabeth (Samantha Soule), who is so shy, she never utters word (unless I missed it when my mind was wandering during the pointless dialogue to more interesting things like what I needed from the grocery store that week). Meanwhile, Araminta (Jennifer Mudge) has her eye on Philip (why, we don’t know) and manages to seduce him, though the encounter is less than satisfactory and we’re supposed to find this to be an interesting plot point, despite the fact that Philip is the most boring person on the planet and his lack of enthusiasm is hardly a surprise.

Meanwhile, obnoxious acquaintance Braham (Jonathan Cake, though the night I attended, I saw understudy Matthieu Cornillon) has a thing for Celia. Cornillon brought some humor to the character and for a few moments, gave the play, directed by David Grindley, its only signs of life. He was gone too soon.

Milk, bread, peanut butter, eggs… Oh, sorry, my mind wandered back to the shopping list there for a moment. Some more attempts at plot and dialogue pass and Philip and Araminta decide to part. Then a really bizarre thing happened. Broderick poured himself a bowl of cereal and the audience laughed. He poured sugar on it: more laughter. He poured milk on top: even more laughs. At this point, I think the audience just wanted something – anything – about which to laugh or care about at all. Broderick’s nerdy Philip eating a spoonful of the cereal brought more jovial response from the audience. His ensuing dialogue with Araminta did not.

At one point, Weber dropped a line. At least I and my audience neighbors discussing this at intermission, think he did. The round of apparent prompts from his cast mates to get him back on track might very well have been part of the intended dialogue since the whole play sounds like one big dropped line. It really was hard to tell.

All of the characters attempt to do English accents (the play is set in 1970s England) and have varying degrees of success. I started to regret not counting how many times Broderick's character responded with a highly accented, “What?” At least it would have kept my mind occupied.

In the midst of the ennui, Tobin Ost’s outlandish and garishly colored costumes for the women stand out against the plain and imposing walls of Philip’s quarters as designed by Tim Shortall. Those walls offer one of the most exciting parts of the production: a border of lighted letters that scramble, then spell out the seven deadly sins in between scenes. Overall, The Philanthropist fails to give us an interesting theater experience, but I did come away with one valuable thing: a completed grocery list for the week.

The Philanthropist plays at American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street, NYC through June 28. For tickets, visit

Christians might also like to know:
• The suicide is very bloody
• Lord’s name taken in vain
• Sexual dialogue
• Language
• Sex Outside of Marriage

Review: Krapp, 39

A Twist on Looking Back Over Life
By Lauren Yarger
If you have looked your 39th birthday in the face, you’ll identify with Krapp, 39, Michael Laurence’s twist on Samuel Becket’s Krapp’s Last Tape, in which a character looks back over his life.

Whereas Beckett’s Krapp is 69, listening to a tape he made on his 39th birthday, Laurence, directed by George Demas, is turning 39 and recording the video which he hopes to review on stage when he’s 69. It’s a clever twist filled with biographical dialogue which Laurence speaks directly to the audience or into a video camera with his image, or significant props projected on screen. It’s a well presented 80-minute window into one man’s life as he stands on the edge of the end of his youth.

Laurence shares memory highlights from his first 38 years: there was the time he went to confession, even though he’s not Catholic; the girlfriend who through him out; a visit to a peep show; the death of a close friend; a list of the things he’s not able to do. The eclectic collection is entertaining and the idea that it might have future theater life is intriguing. The production already saw resurrection after playing the NY Fringe Festival last summer to the Off-Broadway Soho Playhouse where it plays through May 31. Laurence has been nominated for a Drama Desk award for Outstanding Solo Performance.

For tickets, visit

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• Sexual dialogue

Billy Elliot, God of Carnage Take Top Outer Critics Circle Musical, Play Awards; Toxic Avenger, Ruined Head Off-Broadway Winners

Billy Elliot won Best Musical and God of Carnage won Best Play on Broadway in the 2009 Outer Critics Circle Awards announced this morning. Billy Elliot received a total of seven awards, followed by Shrek with four.

The Toxic Avenger and Ruined took the top awards for Off-Broadway.

Sutton Foster and Lisa Scaglione tied for Outstanding Actress in a Musical honors. The awards celebration will be held at Sardi's on May 21. To see revews of the shows, scroll down at left and click on the show title under "Theater Reviews."

The complete list (winners are in bold):

* God of Carnage *
Irena’s Vow
Reasons To Be Pretty
33 Variations

* Billy Elliot the Musical *
Rock of Ages
Shrek the Musical
A Tale of Two Cities

Becky Shaw
Farragut North
* Ruined *
Shipwrecked! The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont (As Told By Himself)
Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them

Rooms A Rock Romance
* The Toxic Avenger *
What’s That Smell? The Music of Jacob Sterling

(Broadway or Off-Broadway)
* Billy Elliot the Musical *
Rooms A Rock Romance
Shrek the Musical

(Broadway or Off-Broadway)
Blithe Spirit
The Cripple of Inishmaan
Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
* The Norman Conquests *
Waiting for Godot

(Broadway or Off-Broadway)
Enter Laughing
* Hair *
Pal Joey
West Side Story

Garry Hynes The Cripple of Inishmaan
Anthony Page Waiting for Godot
Bartlett Sher Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
* Matthew Warchus The Norman Conquests *
Moisés Kaufman 33 Variations

* Stephen Daldry Billy Elliot the Musical *
Arthur Laurents West Side Story
Jason Moore Shrek the Musical
Diane Paulus Hair
Susan Stroman Happiness

Karole Armitage Hair
Andy Blankenbuehler 9 to 5
* Peter Darling Billy Elliot the Musical *
Josh Prince Shrek the Musical
Susan Stroman Happiness

(Play or Musical)
* Tim Hatley Shrek the Musical *
Santo Loquasto Waiting for Godot
Derek McLane 33 Variations
Ian MacNeil Billy Elliot the Musical
Walt Spangler Desire Under the Elms

(Play or Musical)
Nicky Gillibrand Billy Elliot the Musical
* Tim Hatley Shrek the Musical *
John Napier Equus
Martin Pakledinaz Blithe Spirit
Catherine Zuber Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

(Play or Musical) Kevin Adams Hair
* Rick Fisher Billy Elliot the Musical *
David Hersey Equus
Peter Kaczorowski Ruined
David Lander 33 Variations

Raúl Esparza Speed-the-Plow
Bill Irwin Waiting for Godot
Nathan Lane Waiting for Godot
* Geoffrey Rush Exit the King *
Thomas Sadoski Reasons To Be Pretty

Saidah Arrika Ekulona Ruined
Carla Gugino Desire Under the Elms
* Marcia Gay Harden God of Carnage *
Janet McTeer Mary Stuart
Harriet Walter Mary Stuart

James Barbour A Tale of Two Cities
Matt Cavenaugh West Side Story
* Brian d’Arcy James Shrek the Musical *
Josh Grisetti Enter Laughing
David Pittu What’s That Smell? The Music of Jacob Sterling

* Sutton Foster Shrek the Musical *
Megan Hilty 9 to 5
Leslie Kritzer Rooms A Rock Romance
Nancy Opel The Toxic Avenger
* Josefina Scaglione West Side Story *

Zach Grenier 33 Variations
John Benjamin Hickey Mary Stuart
Russell G. Jones Ruined
Patrick Page A Man For All Seasons
* David Pearse The Cripple of Inishmaan *

* Angela Lansbury Blithe Spirit *
Andrea Martin Exit the King
Kristine Nielsen Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them
Susan Louise O’Connor Blithe Spirit
Condola Rashad Ruined

Daniel Breaker Shrek the Musical
Aaron Simon Gross 13
* Gregory Jbara Billy Elliot the Musical *
Christopher Sieber Shrek the Musical
Wesley Taylor Rock of Ages

Kathy Fitzgerald 9 to 5
* Haydn Gwynne Billy Elliot the Musical *
Karen Olivo West Side Story
Martha Plimpton Pal Joey
Carole Shelley Billy Elliot the Musical

Mike Birbiglia Sleepwalk With Me
Mike Burstyn Lansky
Mike Daisey If You See Something Say Something
* Lorenzo Pisoni Humor Abuse *
Matt Sax Clay

* Amelia Bullmore Jessica Hynes Stephen Mangan
Ben Miles Paul Ritter Amanda Root
Cast of The Norman Conquests *

(Presented for an American play, preferably by a new playwright)
Annie Baker Body Awareness
* Gina Gionfriddo Becky Shaw *
Beau Willimon Farragut North

* David Alvarez Trent Kowalik Kiril Kulish
for their performances in Billy Elliot the Musical *

2008-2009 Outer Critics Circle Executive / Nominating Committee
Simon Saltzman (President), Marjorie Gunner (President Emerita), Mario Fratti (Vice-President), Patrick Hoffman (Corresponding Secretary), Louis A. Rachow (Treasurer), Glenn Loney (Historian & Member-at-Large), Rosalind Friedman (Recording Secretary) and Aubrey Reuben & Thomas Gentile (Members-at-Large)

The play Dividing the Estate was considered last season and won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play. The musical Next to Normal was also considered last year (nominated in three categories including Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical, Outstanding Score & Outstanding Actress) and won the OCC Award for Outstanding Score.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Review: Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them

Well-crafted Play Fails to Convince
By Lauren Yarger
Christopher Durang’s Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them playing Off-Broadway at the Public Theater, is a clever play. It contains witty dialogue, zany characters and interesting structure. It just isn’t clever enough to find a way to convince us to enter a world where we can take lightly and laugh at torture, abuse of women and threats against our nation.

Following a night of drunkenness, Felicity (Laura Benanti) awakes in a hotel to find herself in bed with and married to a complete stranger named Zamir (Amir Arison). He isn’t forthcoming with much information about himself, but he tells her he makes a living in dangerous and illegal ways. Reverend Mike (John Pankow), who makes pornographic films on the side, married them, he tells her, and he has a certificate written on a menu from Hooters to prove it.

When Felicity, who suspects she might have been given a date-rape drug, suggests that they get an annulment, Zamir reacts angrily and threatens her with violence. He suggests instead, that she introduce him to her parents, whom Zamir expects to buy them a house and set him up in business. She agrees, and it’s right here, that resistance into Durang’s world which requires us to abandon reason and reality begins.

When she can get a word in edgewise during the unending talk of theater by her mother, Luella (played to the height of loony glory by Kristine Nielsen), Felicity confesses she thinks Zamir drugged her and that he might be a terrorist, despite his constant assurances that his name is Irish. When her father, Leonard (Richard Poe), is introduced to his new son-in-law, he pulls out a gun on Zamir who threatens to blow up the house by pushing a button on his cell phone. The situation is diffused by Luella’s suggestion that they have French toast instead. They agree and later, when Felicity takes Zamir back to her apartment despite his continued threats of phyical violence against her, she downs another drug-laced drink he prepares for her (is she really this stupid?) and Zamir gropes her as she falls unconscious.

Leonard, it turns out, isn’t the mild, meek butterfly collector he has shown his family. He’s really a spy in a shadow government of the United States and he enlists the help of operative Hildegarde (Audrie Neenan), who has more than a patriotic interest in working with Leonard and who for some reason keeps losing her underwear (they visually drop repeatedly) and walks around with them between her ankles throughout the show. Also assisting Leonard is Looney Tunes (David Aaron Baker), an agent with a form of Tourette’s Syndrome that causes him to impersonate cartoon characters.

When he isn’t slamming Jane Fonda for her pro-North Vietnam stand during the war, bashing gays and liberals, or demeaning his wife, Leonard is plotting for a way to get information that will allow him to use “enhanced” interrogation methods on Zamir. Felicity, for some unknown reason, finds she cares about Zamir and sides with him when she suspects her father might be hurting him. Meanwhile, Luella continues to escape in her chatter about the theater, and the sarcastic and witty slams about Broadway shows and playwrights, all expertly enhanced by Nielsen’s fluttering, twitching, and stupid-looking smile, give the play its funniest moments. The highlight is David Korins’ set which revolves to reveal unending locations

Hildegard overhears Zamir and Reverend Mike discussing plans to film a porno flick called “The Big Bang,” and she mistakes them and the orgasmic “explosions” they anticipate in numerous US cities for a terrorist attack. This is the justification Leonard needs to employ torture methods to extract details of the plan.

Suddenly the characters step out of the play and discuss their displeasure with how things are going. Most of the second act is a rewind of the previous scenes as the characters try to find a “nicer” conclusion that will eliminate the need for torture.

Nicholas Martin directs an able cast. Benanti is very talented at delivering long passages of dialogue at break-neck speed and Nielsen certainly deserves her Outer Critics Circle nomination for featured actress in a play. Durang gets a nod for craft, but requiring us to abandon all reality and decency robs the sarcasm of its humor. I got it. I just couldn’t join him in such an unrealistic and unpleasant world.

Why Torture is Wrong, and the People Who Love Them plays through May 10. For information, visit

Christians might also like to know:
• Strong language
• Sexual activity
• God’s name taken in vain
• When Felicity tells her father Zamir has given her a date-rape drug, his first reaction is, “at least he has spunk.”
• A joke is made about pro-life Leonard being able to feel empathy for an unborn fetus, but not for a terrorist.
• A bizarre scene at Hooters includes props to enhance the busts of two of the actresses.
• Reverend Mike says he’s a “porn-again” Christian, that God created porn and that porn is OK because God created sex. “God watches it, why shouldn’t we?” he asks. He tells us he identified with the show The Vagina Monologues and that “different strokes for different folks” is one of the beatitudes. When asked how he could be a minister, Reverend Mike tells us he can because he’s a good person and counsels people and that Jesus wants us to forgive.

Review: Oh Virgil! A Theatrical Portrait

Troy Valjean Rucker performs. Below, Victor Truro as
Virgil Thomson. Photos by Antonio Minino

The Portrait is Interesting, but Not Complete

By Lauren Yarger
Oh Virgil! A Theatrical Portrait, Wallace Norman’s new play about the life and music of Virgil Thomson playing Off-Broadway at Judson Memorial Church, gives us a glimpse into the life of the award winning composer and music critic, but doesn’t give us a full picture.

Norman uses five vignettes to paint a portrait of Thomson (Victor Truro) and links them with musical works performed on a piano offstage by musical director Michael Conley and sung by soprano Watson Heinz and baritone Troy Valjean Rucker. Rucker also plays Ogden Reid, editor of the NY Herald Tribune for which Thomson was chief music critic from 1937-1951 and Heinz doubles as Gertrude Stein, with whom Thomson collaborated on two of his most famous works, the operas Four Saints in Three Acts and The Mother of Us All. Rounding out the cast are Victoria Devany and Dan Via who play other roles.

Most of the action takes place in Thomson’s room at the Chelsea hotel (Craig Napoliello, scene design), where he works primarily from his bed, fighting with Stein, yelling at his secretary, writing scathingly critical letters, giving interviews and making a male visitor uncomfortable with veiled advances. Director Nicola Sheara offers a nice picture of the judgment his homosexual tendencies received as the rest of the cast gathers around Thomson for a “decency trial” in which they collectively “shush” him.

“I don’t want to be queer,” the conflicted Thomson, who tells us he has tried to keep these tendencies under control cries. “I don’t want this in my life.”

Though the format of combining biographical information with Thomson’s works is intriguing, the snippets aren’t really enough to give us a full picture of who this man was. There is a vague reference to someone named Maurice, but we're not sure who he is, what importance he had in Thomson's life, or whether he might have been the visitor we just saw in the bedroom, for example.
Norman, in program notes, explains that the abundance of information made it almost impossible to offer a biographical portrait in the
time constraints of a theater piece. Instead, he decided to write a “theatrical portrait,” similar to
the “musical portraits” Thomson personalized
compositions completed after he had spent some time studying a person. It works theatrically, but leaves us wanting more substance.

If you want to see the show, hurry. The limited run closes this Sunday. The show is a collaboration of Woodstock Fringe and Judson Arts. The church is located at 55 Washington Square South, at the corner of 4th and Thompson streets. Tickets are available at

Christians might also like to know:

• Language
• Judson Arts is a ministry of Judson Memorial Church, one of the first “off-off” Broadway venues in NY back in the 1960s. The church is affiliated with the American Baptist Church and the United Church of Christ and describes itself as “a gathering place for people who seek spiritual nurture to build public capacity for social change” and supports immigrant rights, arts, peace action, women’s reproductive rights and Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender events.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Billy Elliot Leads Tony Award Nominations with 15

Billy Elliot leads the 2009 Tony Award nominations with 15 nominations. The awards will be presented June 7 at Radio Cty Music Hall. Check under "Theater Reviews" at left to read the review for a specific show. More reviews will be posting this week.

Nominations for the 2009 American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards®":

Best Play

Dividing the Estate by Horton Foote
God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza
Reasons to Be Pretty by Neil LaBute
33 Variations by Moisés Kaufman

Best Musical

Billy Elliot, The Musical
Next to Normal
Rock of Ages
Shrek The Musical

Best Book of a Musical

Billy Elliot, The Musical by Lee Hall
Next to Normal by Brian Yorkey
Shrek The Musical by David Lindsay-Abaire
[Title of Show]by Hunter Bell

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre

Billy Elliot, The Musical, Music Elton John; Lyrics Lee Hall

Next to Normal, Music Tom Kitt; Lyrics Brian Yorkey

9 to 5: The Musical, Music & Lyrics: Dolly Parton

Shrek The Musical, Music: Jeanine Tesori; Lyrics: David Lindsay-Abaire

Best Revival of a Play

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Mary Stuart
The Norman Conquests
Waiting for Godot

Best Revival of a Musical

Guys and Dolls
Pal Joey
West Side Story

Best Special Theatrical Event

Liza’s at The Palace
Slava’s Snowshow
Soul of Shaolin
You’re Welcome America, A Final Night with George W. Bush

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play

Jeff Daniels, God of Carnage
Raúl Esparza, Speed-the-Plow
James Gandolfini, God of Carnage
Geoffrey Rush, Exit the King
Thomas Sadoski, Reasons to Be Pretty

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play

Hope Davis, God of Carnage
Jane Fonda, 33 Variations
Marcia Gay Harden, God of Carnage
Janet McTeer, Mary Stuart
Harriet Walter, Mary Stuart

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical

David Alvarez, Trent Kowalik, and Kiril Kulish – Billy Elliot, The Musical
Gavin Creel, Hair
Brian d’Arcy James, Shrek The Musical
Constantine Maroulis, Rock of Ages
J. Robert Spencer, Next to Normal

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical

Stockard Channing, Pal Joey
Sutton Foster, Shrek The Musical
Allison Janney, 9 to 5: The Musical
Alice Ripley, Next to Normal
Josefina Scaglione, West Side Story

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play

John Glover, Waiting for Godot
Zach Grenier, 33 Variations
Stephen Mangan, The Norman Conquests
Paul Ritter, The Norman Conquests
Roger Robinson, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play

Hallie Foote, Dividing the Estate
Jessica Hynes, The Norman Conquests
Marin Ireland, Reasons to Be Pretty
Angela Lansbury, Blithe Spirit
Amanda Root, The Norman Conquests

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical

David Bologna, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Gregory Jbara, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Marc Kudisch, 9 to 5: The Musical
Christopher Sieber, Shrek The Musical
Will Swenson, Hair

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical

Jennifer Damiano, Next to Normal
Haydn Gwynne, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Karen Olivo, West Side Story
Martha Plimpton, Pal Joey
Carole Shelley, Billy Elliot, The Musical

Best Scenic Design of a Play

Dale Ferguson, Exit the King
Rob Howell, The Norman Conquests
Derek McLane, 33 Variations
Michael Yeargan, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

Robert Brill, Guys and Dolls
Ian MacNeil, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Scott Pask, Pal Joey
Mark Wendland, Next to Normal

Best Costume Design of a Play

Dale Ferguson, Exit the King
Jane Greenwood, Waiting for Godot
Martin Pakledinaz, Blithe Spirit
Anthony Ward, Mary Stuart

Best Costume Design of a Musical
Gregory Gale, Rock of Ages
Nicky Gillibrand, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Tim Hatley, Shrek The Musical
Michael McDonald, Hair

Best Lighting Design of a Play
David Hersey, Equus
David Lander, 33 Variations
Brian MacDevitt, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Hugh Vanstone, Mary Stuart

Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Kevin Adams, Hair
Kevin Adams, Next to Normal
Howell Binkley, West Side Story
Rick Fisher, Billy Elliot, The Musical

Best Sound Design of a Play

Paul Arditti, Mary Stuart
Gregory Clarke, Equus
Russell Goldsmith, Exit the King
Scott Lehrer and Leon Rothenberg, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone

Best Sound Design of a Musical

Acme Sound Partners, Hair
Paul Arditti, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Peter Hylenski, Rock of Ages
Brian Ronan, Next to Normal

Best Direction of a Play
Phyllida Lloyd, Mary Stuart
Bartlett Sher, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Matthew Warchus, God of Carnage
Matthew Warchus, The Norman Conquests

Best Direction of a Musical

Stephen Daldry, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Michael Greif, Next to Normal
Kristin Hanggi, Rock of Ages
Diane Paulus, Hair

Best Choreography

Karole Armitage, Hair
Andy Blankenbuehler, 9 to 5: The Musical
Peter Darling, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Randy Skinner, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas

Best Orchestrations

Larry Blank, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
Martin Koch, Billy Elliot, The Musical
Michael Starobin and Tom Kitt, Next to Normal
Danny Troob and John Clancy, Shrek The Musical

Non-competative awards have been annouced:

Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre
Jerry Herman

Regional Theatre Tony Award
Signature Theatre, Arlington, Va.

Isabelle Stevenson Award
Phyllis Newman

Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre
Shirley Herz

CT Reviews: Phantom, Magical Thinking; Noises Off; Around the World in 80 Days

L-R, Andrew Grusetskie, Jeff Biehl, Evan Zes (above),
and Mark Shanahan in “Around the World in 80 Days”
at Westport Country Playhouse. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Check out my latest reviews of Connecticut Theater for American Theater Web:

Gracewell Prodiuctions

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

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She was 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. 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


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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