Friday, June 25, 2010

What to See When You’re in New York? My Top Broadway and Off-Broadway Picks

So Many Shows; But We’re in the Know
By Lauren Yarger
So many of you ask me what you should see when you’re in the city, that I thought it probably was time, just before the summer vacation rush starts, to let you know!

I know you’re looking for quality programs that are appropriate for you and your family. Knowing that a show has won awards or has a Hollywood star in it might not be enough information for you to decide whether that’s the one you want to see, and with ticket prices what they are, you don’t want to leave it to chance. For the shows mentioned in this article, I’ve included the content issues to help you make an informed decision. Not every show is right for every person. For a full review of the show, click on the show’s underlined title (note: some of these longer-running shows opened before we started reviewing, so there isn’t additional information for those).

Thanks to all of you who subscribe to our reviews here at, the only source for a review with added information from a Christian perspective. You can see reviews for Broadway and Off-Broadway shows as well as a list of all shows playing on Broadway and a schedule for touring shows by scrolling down at left or below, so take a look at all the site has to offer and tell your friends about it! Discounted tickets to friends of Masterwork Productions for many of the shows are available at

Now for my top picks:

There are some great newer shows that I highly recommend.

1. Memphis at the Sam S. Shubert Theatre, 225 West 44th St.

I really loved this musical (winner of the 2010 Tony award for Best Musical) and the performances of its two stars, Montego Glover and Chad Kimball. It’s the story of an interracial romance in 1950s Memphis at the start of rock & roll. The catchy score is by Bon Jovi’s David Bryan. The story (book by Joe DiPietro) is full of heart, humor and heat (both the score and the book won Tonys too).
Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• Sex outside of marriage

2. Million Dollar Quartet at the Nederlander Theatre, 208 West 41st St.

This jam session is more like a revue than a typical Broadway musical and features the music of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins in the recreation of a real-life recording session with the four legends. Highlighting the show is Levi Kreis (2010 Tony award for featured actor in a musical) as Lewis who does some amazing gymnastics on the piano.
Christians might also like to know:
• No content notes

3. American Idiot at the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th St.

It’s Green Day’s multi-platinum album come to life. It’s cutting edge, full of punk music, great dancing, and all manner of objectionable stuff – and it’s really good. Emerging from a “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is a terrific redeeming message. If “Jesus of Suburbia” is someone your kids know or can relate to, this show might be a great conversation starter.
Christians might also like to know:
• Language throughout
• Drug use depicted throughout
• US flag displayed upside down
• Sexually suggestive move
• Sexual activity
• Scantily clad actors
• Show posts a mature theme

4. Next to Normal at the Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th St.

A musical about mental illness? The idea didn’t excite me, but all that changed with the first chord of Tom Kitt’s electrifying score (which won the 2009 Tony). He and lyricist Brian Yorkey won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for this stand-out musical about a family coping with the mother’s bi-polar depression. It really makes you think and feel while entertaining you.
Christians might also like to know:
• Show posts a Mature Advisory
• Language
• Suicide (act not show; blood after seen)
• Sex outside of marriage
• Show posts a Mature Advisory

5. Fences at the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th St.
This Pulitzer-Prize-winning segment of August Wilson’s 10-play cycle about the lives of African Americans in Pittsburgh is a winner (literally -- it won the 2010 Tony for best revival of a play and best acting trophies for its stars Denzel Washington and Viola Davis). Tickets are hard to find for this sold-out show which end its run July 11, but if you can get them, go!
Christians might also like to know:
• Sexual dialogue
• God’s name taken in vain

I also get weekly (even daily) inquiries about shows that have been running a while. Here’s what I think of them:


Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre, 222 West 51st St.

I really loved this prequel to the story of "The Wizard of Oz." I hadn't read the book on which it is based, "The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West," by Gregory Maguire, so I found this tale of the early friendship between Glenda and Elphaba, the young witches of the East and West. to be a fresh and clever twist on the traditional story. The music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Pippin, Godspell) are great and there are some terrific themes of forgiveness and revenge, of reaching out in kindness, friendship, loyalty and about the danger of jumping to Christians might also like to know:
•There is magic- the girls meet at a magic school, there is chanting of spells and the use of magic to transform people into other things.
•There's some intimacy between two characters outside of marriage-- you know it happens, but it's not played out in any detail.

Phantom of the Opera at the Majestic Theatre, 247 West 44th St.

Andrew Llyod-Weber’s beautiful score tells the tale of a young ingénue and her mysterious music teacher who lives in the labyrinth below the Paris Opera House. The special effects, sets, costumes and beautiful songs like “All I Ask of You,” “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” and “The Music of the Night” still delight even after 20 years on Broadway. A sequel to the story is set for Broadway next season.
Christians might also like to know:
• No content notes.

West Side Story at the Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway

Catch the revival on Broadway (or the upcoming tour) directed by Arthur Laurents, who wrote the original book. The choreography is terrific, as is the score by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.
Christians might also like to know:
• Lord’s name taken in vain
• Attempted rape
• Sex outside of marriage (although they perform their own ceremony…)
• One of the characters cross dresses
• Suggestive dancing

Jersey Boys at the August Wilson Theatre, 245 West 52nd St.

This is the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons featuring many of their most popular tunes. This Tony-Award-winning musical has been packing them in on Broadway, as well as tours across the country on tour. It’s better than the average “jukebox musical” because of the really good book written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, direction by Des McAnuff and choreography by Sergio Trujillo.
Christians might also like to know:
• Language – LOTS and LOTS of it
• Scantily clad actresses
• Sexually suggestive situations

Billy Elliot at the Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street

The story of striking coal miners and the son of one who struggles to fit in while pursuing his love of ballet taken from the movie of the same name. The dancing in this 2009 Tony award Winner is terrific, but the story contains some elements that would make me hesitate about taking kids younger than high school age (and maybe not under 16) even though it doesn't post a Mature Advisory.
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.


Don’t forget that some of the best theater New York has to offer takes place Off-Broadway (and the tickets are a lot cheaper).

Here are my top recommendations:

1. Our Town at the Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow St. (Off 7th Avenue South)

If you have to pick just one show to see, make this it one. Never have I been so transported (thanks to the masterful direction by David Cromer) by a theatrical experience. I’m not in love with this classic three-act by Thornton Wilder – maybe because it’s produced so often and so badly – so I waited a while before venturing down to the Village to see it. I was blown away. This is the production by which all others should be measured. Unbelievably moving and satisfying with a terrific message about not taking any minute of your life for granted.
Christians might also like to know:
•No notes

2. Zero Hour at the Actors Temple Theatre, 339 West 47th St., between 8th and 9th avenues

Jim Brochu’s stunning portrayal of actor Zero Mostel. I'm not a fan of most one-man shows, but this one is different. A fabulous performance and fascinating information about the life of the actor who brought Fiddler on the Roof to Life.
Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• Sexual dialogue

3. The 39 Steps at New World Stages, Stage 1, 340 West 50th St. between 8th and 9th avenues
A recreation of the classic 1935 Alfred Hitchcock movie by the same name. While the film was all espionage thriller, this show is mostly parody and slapstick comedy. All of the famous elements of the film, including the chase on top of a speeding train are in there, as well as references to Hitchcock’s other famous movies and a trademark cameo appearance by the director. I saw this show on Broadway before its transfer Off-Broadway and before I was reviewing, so I don’t have notes about specific content issues, but I don’t remember any. I just remember thinking it was one of the most delightful things I’d seen on stage in a long time.

4. The Screwtape Letters at the Westside Theatre (Upstairs), 407 West 43rd St.

Max McLean stars as Screwtape, a demon who gives instructions in spiritual warfare to his nephew, Wormwood, through a series of letters he dictates to a helper demon, Toadpipe. This adaptation (by McLean and director Jeffrey Fiske) captures the heart and wit of author C.S. Lewis in an entertaining, yet thought-provoking performance. McLean is a recipient of the 2010 Masterwork productions, Inc. “The Lights Are Bright on Broadway” award given to individuals and organizations making a difference in the Broadway community through their faith for this performance.
Christians might also like to know:
• No content notes

5. The Fantasticks at the Snapple Theater Center/ The Jerry Orbach Theater, 210 West 50th St. at Broadway

This revival, directed by Tom Jones, who wrote the original book and lyrics (score is by Harvey Schmidt), is another “how-it-should-be-done” production. Its simplicity is endearing, as are the classic tunes “Try to Remember” and “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” and “They Were You,” among others accompanied only on piano and harp. A sweet tale of a girl and a boy in love.
Christians might also like to know:
• God’s name taken in vain.

6. Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater, Central Park at 80th Street

Don’t miss a chance to see some great FREE theater through Aug. 1. The Public Theatre presents two works in repertory this year: The Winter’s Tale and The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino (possibly headed to Broadway). For information on the schedule and tickets, visit

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tour: New York's Little Italy

DiPalo's, a gourmet cheese and Italian gourmet shop,
in the heart of New York's Little Italy.
The Best Way to Visit a Neighborhood -- With Family
By Lauren Yarger
Wish you grew up in Little Italy? You might just feel like you did after taking one of the new “local tours given by locals” hosted by Raffaele (Ralph) Tramontana, Ernest Magliato and Bill Bray.

All are born and bred in the vibrant community known as Little Italy, a neighborhood located in lower Manhattan roughly between Bayard , Bleecker, Lafayette and the Bowery, once home to many Italian immigrants coming to New York City in search of a new life. The tour guides welcome you like a long-lost relative visiting from the old country and point out places of interest (as well as their own childhood haunts) along the three-hour walking tour.

I attended a press preview and recommend it to all of you readers who contact me about shows and other interesting things to do while you are in the city. Ernest does most of the talking in conversational form, rather than memorizing a long, pat tour-guide shpeel. Ralph and Bill were sort of the “color commentators” adding information and personal stories about growing up in the neighborhood.

“Hi, Ralph,” called one woman from across the street as the tour walked by. This greeting of neighborhood friends continued throughout.

Ernest and Bill getting ready to start the tour at Most Precious Blood Church.

Beginning at Sambuca’s Café, which Ralph owns, the tour stopped next door at The Most Precious Blood Church, home of the national Shrine of San Gennaro, patron saint of Naples. (Ernest is a vendor at the saint’s annual feast, one of the largest street fairs in the country).

The tour heads down famous Mulberry Street to the Italian American Museum housed in the former Banca Stabile, which was the cultural center of Little Italy between 1890 and 1920. There immigrants could purchase steamship tickets, send telegrams back to the old country and exchange currency. The museum’s president Dr. Joseph V. Scelsa showed a short video about the museum and the area’s history (including a time during WWII when Italians were classified as “enemy aliens”) and noted interesting exhibits including a display honoring Luigi DelBianco, chief carver of Mount Rushmore, a sculpture titled “Resurrection” by Arturo DiModicau and memorabilia donated by Frank Serpico, the New York City cop famous for exposing corruption in the force in the early 1970s.

Next came a stop at DiPalo’s, one of New York’s premiere cheese and Italian gourmet shops, complete with samples of meat, cheese and wine enjoyed in the hanging-cheese trimmed store. Fourth-generation Tony DiPalo spoke about how some of the foods are made and Ralph shared a story about how his nephew put himself through college working for Tony.

The first American pizzeria, Lombardi's, above, and the oldest Italian bakery in Little Italy are points of interest along the way, as are other neighborhood buildings, like a school.

Bill and Ralph at Prince and Mulberry.

Before it was a school, Ralph, chimes in, it was an empty lot where the neighborhood kids played baseball. Also nearby is the corner of Prince and Mulberry streets, where “stickball” was born. And over there is where director Martin Scorsese , also a product of Little Italy, filmed the scene in one of his movies. Over there is a location from the TV series The Sopranos… and so it continues.

On to the original St. Patrick’s Cathedral, above, (before the newer namesake was constructed on Fifth Avenue and 50th Street), now designated a basilica. Msgr. Donald Sakano met us for a tour of the church, which boasts a duplicate of the ceiling in the Fifth avenue cathedral and a massive organ.

The church also is the home of New York’s only underground catacombs, now closed to the public. Renovations are underway to construct a stairway and glass panels in the church court yard allowing a peek into the tunnels and the guides hope to include them on the tour in the future. If they do, I can report that it will be an interesting experience because Msgr. Sakano found the key and took our press group on visit as a special treat.

Most of the tombs are sealed, but the crypt where Gen. Christopher Carleton Rice, above, was interred in 1848, is open and still boasts its original Edison light bulbs (below right).

The tour concludes with a meal at Grotta Azzurra Ristorante, a Little Italy landmark since 1908 and a frequent gathering place for the Rat Pack (the food is included in the tour price of $59.95).

The three hours sped by, and rain showers didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the guides or those enjoying the tour.

For more information or to book a tour, visit, call 646=720-9410, or email Tickets also are available at E. Rossi & Co., 193 Grand St., at the Italian American Museum, 155 Mulberry St. or at Sambuca’s Café, 105 Mulberry St.

Tours leave seven days a week from Sambuca’s at 11 am and 3 pm sharp.

Drama Desk Hosts Panel on Musical Message

I enjoyed an informative Drama Desk panel discussion on "The Music is the Message: Musicals on Topical Subjects" Friday at Sardi's.

The panel was moderated by Scott Siegel, Drama Desk member and critic for and, as well as the creator/writer/host of the acclaimed Broadway by the Year series at The Town Hall. Participating panelists (pictured above) were(in alphabetical order): Christine Andreas, featured in the Drama Desk Award winning revival of La Cage aux Folles; Drama Desk nominee Jeffry Denman, the choreographer of Yank!, who also played Artie in the production; Montego Glover, whose performance as Felicia in Memphis won the 2010 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Leading Actress in a Musical (an award she shared with Catherine Zeta Jones); Chad Kimball, the Drama Desk Award and Tony Award nominee for his portrayal of Huey in Memphis; Tom Kitt, Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning composer of Next To Normal; David Thompson, book writer of The Scottsboro Boys musical; and David Zellnik, the Drama Desk nominated author and lyricist of Yank!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Kia Corthron, Max McLean to Receive 'Lights Are Bright on Broadway' Awards

Photo left: Kia Corthron by Aaron Epstein; Photo right: Max McLean as Screwtape. Courtesy of Fellowship for the Performing Arts
Playwright Kia Corthron and actor Max McLean have been named recipients of 2010 “The Lights are Bright on Broadway” awards presented annually by Masterwork Productions, Inc. to individuals and organizations making a difference in the Broadway community through faith.

Corthron (Breath, Boom; Force Continuum), is being honored for her play A Cool Dip in the Barren Saharan Crick, which ran last spring at Playwrights Horizons (presented as a co-production with The Play Company and Culture Project) for its positive representation of an African preacher-in-training as he interacts with his host family and a troubled orphan in a drought-stricken rural American community where he studies religion and water conservation.

“I'm so honored A Cool Dip was chosen for the Masterwork award - but when I initially found out, I must admit I was startled, Corthron said. “Just as I was when 10-year-old Josh King, who played Tay in my play, walked into his audition and the first thing he said was, ‘I prayed for a play like this - a Christian play!’ Before that, I had never thought of A Cool Dip as a Christian play - or a non-Christian play. I had just written the character of Abebe as honestly as I could, and he seemed to be someone who would be wholly committed to his faith. At least one voice (among the many providing input along a play's path from germination to opening) suggested that the dramatic arc lead to Abebe's questioning his faith. That never felt right to me, and frankly is a bit of a cliché in plays wherein Christianity plays a role. (Abebe does question himself but never his faith.)
"There is widespread intolerance - a sense of threat - in fundamentalist Christianity regarding people exercising individual freedoms, just as there is widespread intolerance - a sense of threat - in left-progressive and artistic circles regarding Christianity in any form. I have people close to me who are members of both flanks (as well as many in between), and while it was not my conscious intention, I would be truly gratified to know that A Cool Dip may have fostered some new understanding and compassion,” she said.

McLean is being honored for his portrayal of C.S. Lewis’ famous demon extraordinaire Screwtape, who coaches his nephew demon in training about the art of spiritual warfare. McLean co-wrote the adaptation of The Screwtape Letters with director Jeffrey Fiske.

“This comes as quite a surprise, McLean said of the award. “As a Christian who tries to work daily to live an integrated life of faith and work, I am delighted to receive this recognition from Masterwork for our work on C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.”

McLean’s award will be presented following the Monday, June 28 performance of the show which is running Off-Broadway at the Westside Theatre. Corthron will receive her award June 30 at Playwrights Horizons.

“We’re excited to be able to honor examples of people making a difference through faith in the Broadway community,” said Lauren Yarger, executive director of Masterwork Productions. “Kia’s play helped promote an understanding of faith while Max’s helps people understand why they have such trouble with it!”

Last year's recipients were playwright Dan Gordon for Irena's Vow on Broadway, and Radio City Rockette Cheryl Cutlip, founder of Project Dance.
Masterwork Productions, Inc. is a faith based, non-profit organization which helps Christians and churches reach out through the performing arts by producing shows and events, booking artists, providing Broadway and theater reviews ( and training at workshops and conferences. For more information, visit

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Theater Review: Wonder of the World

From Left: Bryn Boice, Kate Benson, Michael Poignand,
Katharine McLeod, Aaron Blakely (photo credit: Dustin Drankoski)

Zany Lindsay-Abaire Comedy Marks Theater Company's Off-Broadway Debut
By Lauren Yarger
An effervescent leading lady, a couple of good comedic turns and attention to detail from director Brian Gillespie, not to mention a revival of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s delightful play Wonder of the World, combine to make an entertaining night at the theater and a solid debut for Pull Together Productions’ first Off-Broadway show.

Katharine McLeod is the effervescent one, starring as Cass (the role created by Sarah Jessica Parker when the play premiered at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2001), who heads to Niagara Falls on a journey of self discovery following a betrayal by her husband, Kip (Aaron Blakely). As she checks off a list of more than 200 things she always wanted to do before saying “I do” to Kip, she meets Lois, an alcoholic bent on getting revenge on the husband who abandoned her by throwing herself over the falls in a barrel -- a pickle barrel that she carries around with her -- which makes the revenge more sweet because her husband loves pickles. An unexpected friendship springs up between the two women.

Along the way, Cass has an affair with Captain Mike (Michael Poignand), who pilots one of the Maid of the Mist tour boats on the river, and meets up with two inept, bumbling private detectives, Karla and Glen (Evangeline Johns and Tom Logon), who need some marriage counseling themselves. Turns out Kip hired them to find Cass, because he wants another chance. Blakely is a master of comedy as the phobia-driven husband afraid of clowns, among other things, who pines away for his missing wife while watching videos of their wedding and hearing “their song” on the radio.

The whole crowd eventually ends up in Cass and Lois’ motel room. Enter Janie (Bryn Boice), Karla and Glen’s marriage therapist, who comes over in a clown costume (much to Kip’s horror) to conduct a session of the “The Newlywed Game” to help this bunch of looneys figure out what they really need and want. Boice also shines comedically as a helicopter pilot, a woman Cass and Lois meet at the falls and as waitresses in three different tourist-trap restaurants.

Gillespie keeps the pace quick and uses fun gimmicks like toy boats and helicopters to lend to the zany mood of the play. As a song appropriate to the action plays in between scenes, cracker-jack stage crew members quickly change a platform, a railing and a few pieces of furniture into designer Emily Lippolis’ clever renditions of various settings (loved the triple-threat wooden hoop that serves as a dressing-table mirror, a ship’s wheel and a car steering wheel).

Gillespie needs to rein in Benson, however, who expresses most of her emotions by shouting them. It’s catching, as other actors in the scenes begin shouting their lines too. In fact, the scene where everyone is shouting over the noise of the falls (nicely created by sound designer Andy Leviss) doesn’t seem all that different from some of the others. Lindsay-Abaire’s terrific dialogue doesn’t need amplification; his intertwining of events in the lives of these over-the-top characters is skilled playwriting with precision. When Benson did deliver a couple of lines in a softer tone, they were very funny and far more effective.

Wonder of the World runs through June 26 at the Shell Theater on the fourth floor of the Times Square Arts Center, 300 West 43rd St., NYC. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm with a Wednesday, June 16 performance at 8 and a Sunday evening performance on June 20 at 7. Tickets can be purchased through SmartTix at or by calling 212-868-4444. For more information about the company, visit

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• Sex outside of marriage
• God’s name taken in vain
• Sexual dialogue. I don’t want to give anything away, but Kip’s betrayal of Cass involves a rather nasty sexual practice.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Memphis, Red Dominate Tony Awards

The musical Memphis and the play Red dominated the 2010 Tony Awards June 13. A complete list of all the nominees and winners follows. Winners are indicated by bold face and a **. For a review of the show, click on it.

Best Play
In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play by Sarah Ruhl
Next Fall by Geoffrey Nauffts
**Red by John Logan
Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies

Best Musical
American Idiot
Best Book of a Musical
Dick Scanlan and Sherie Rene Scott, Everyday Rapture
Jim Lewis & Bill T. Jones, Fela!
**Joe DiPietro, Memphis
Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, Million Dollar Quartet

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
The Addams Family, Music & Lyrics: Andrew Lippa
Enron, Music: Adam Cork, Lyrics: Lucy Prebble

Fences, Music: Branford Marsalis

**Memphis, Music: David Bryan, Lyrics: Joe DiPietro, David Bryan

Best Revival of a Play
Lend Me a Tenor
The Royal Family

A View from the Bridge

Best Revival of a Musical
Finian's Rainbow
**La Cage aux Folles
A Little Night Music

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play
Jude Law, Hamlet
Alfred Molina, Red
Liev Schreiber, A View from the Bridge
Christopher Walken, A Behanding in Spokane
**Denzel Washington, Fences

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
**Viola Davis, Fences
Valerie Harper, Looped
Linda Lavin, Collected Stories
Laura Linney, Time Stands Still
Jan Maxwell, The Royal Family

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical
Kelsey Grammer, La Cage aux Folles
Sean Hayes, Promises, Promises
**Douglas Hodge, La Cage aux Folles
Chad Kimball, Memphis
Sahr Ngaujah, Fela!

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical
Kate Baldwin, Finian's Rainbow
Montego Glover, Memphis
Christiane Noll, Ragtime
Sherie Rene Scott, Everyday Rapture
**Catherine Zeta-Jones, A Little Night Music

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play
David Alan Grier, Race
Stephen McKinley Henderson, Fences
Jon Michael Hill, Superior Donuts
Stephen Kunken, Enron
**Eddie Redmayne, Red

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play
Maria Dizzia, In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play
Rosemary Harris, The Royal Family
Jessica Hecht, A View from the Bridge
**Scarlett Johansson, A View from the Bridge
Jan Maxwell, Lend Me a Tenor

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical
Kevin Chamberlin, The Addams Family
Robin De Jesús, La Cage aux Folles
Christopher Fitzgerald, Finian's Rainbow
**Levi Kreis, Million Dollar Quartet
Bobby Steggert, Ragtime

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical
Barbara Cook, Sondheim on Sondheim
**Katie Finneran, Promises, Promises
Angela Lansbury, A Little Night Music
Karine Plantadit, Come Fly Away
Lillias White, Fela!

Best Scenic Design of a Play
John Lee Beatty, The Royal Family
Alexander Dodge, Present Laughter
Santo Loquasto, Fences
**Christopher Oram, Red

Best Scenic Design of a Musical
Marina Draghici, Fela!
**Christine Jones, American Idiot
Derek McLane, Ragtime
Tim Shortall, La Cage aux Folles

Best Costume Design of a Play
Martin Pakledinaz, Lend Me a Tenor
Constanza Romero, Fences
David Zinn, In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play
**Catherine Zuber, The Royal Family

Best Costume Design of a Musical
**Marina Draghici, Fela!
Santo Loquasto, Ragtime
Paul Tazewell, Memphis
Matthew Wright, La Cage aux Folles

Best Lighting Design of a Play
Neil Austin, Hamlet
**Neil Austin, Red
Mark Henderson, Enron
Brian MacDevitt, Fences

Best Lighting Design of a Musical
**Kevin Adams, American Idiot
Donald Holder, Ragtime
Nick Richings, La Cage aux Folles
Robert Wierzel, Fela!

Best Sound Design of a Play
Acme Sound Partners, Fences
Adam Cork, Enron
**Adam Cork, Red
Scott Lehrer, A View from the Bridge

Best Sound Design of a Musical
Jonathan Deans, La Cage aux Folles
**Robert Kaplowitz, Fela!
Dan Moses Schreier and Gareth Owen, A Little Night Music
Dan Moses Schreier, Sondheim on Sondheim

Best Direction of a Play
**Michael Grandage, Red
Sheryl Kaller, Next Fall
Kenny Leon, Fences
Gregory Mosher, A View from the Bridge

Best Direction of a Musical
Christopher Ashley, Memphis
Marcia Milgrom Dodge, Ragtime
**Terry Johnson, La Cage aux Folles
Bill T. Jones, Fela!

Best Choreography
Rob Ashford, Promises, Promises
**Bill T. Jones, Fela!
Lynne Page, La Cage aux Folles
Twyla Tharp, Come Fly Away

Best Orchestrations
Jason Carr, La Cage aux Folles
Aaron Johnson, Fela!
Jonathan Tunick, Promises, Promises
**Daryl Waters & David Bryan, Memphis

Awards announced previously:
Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre
Alan Ayckbourn
Marian Seldes

Regional Theatre Tony Award
The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, Waterford, Connecticut

Isabelle Stevenson Award
David Hyde Pierce

Tony Honor for Excellence in the Theatre
Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York
B.H. Barry
Tom Viola

Friday, June 11, 2010

Theater Review: Cirque du Soleil's 'Banana Shpeel'

The Banana Shpeel ensemble. Photos: Jean-François Gratton
This Cirque Show Peels a Bit Differently
By Lauren Yarger
If you’re a fan of the old TV show “Taxi,” you’ll probably get a kick out of a couple of the characters in Cirque du Soleil’s newest show, Banana Shpeel, playing Off-Broadway at the newly refurbished Beacon Theater. If you’re a fan of the Canada-based presentations that are usually a dream-like blend of music, costumes and circus feats, this journey off the beaten path into the world of Vaudeville (well, Vaudeville-like would be a better description) might not be what you’re expecting.

Danny Rutigliano (above), looking like a sparkly green leprechaun in Dominique Lumieux’ costume and sounding like Danny DeVito, channels the character of Louie from Taxi into Marty Shmelky, who runs a sort of Vaudeville show with the help of some clowns (Claude Carneiro, Patrick de Valette, Shereen Hickman, Daniel Passer, Gordon white and Wayne Wilson) and introduces each of the acts. (One of the clowns sounds and looks a lot like Rev. Jim from Taxi too.)

The acts aren’t really vaudeville numbers, but traditional cirque offerings with some non-traditional tap dancing numbers featuring Joseph and Josette C. Wiggans with choreography by Jared Grimes. There also are contortionists (Tsybenova Ayagma, Tsydendambaeva Imin and Zhambalova Lilia), a foot juggler (Vanessa Alvarez) and a hand-balancing act (Dimitri Bulkin) that’s truly artistic and gravity-defying. You also can expect the traditional interaction with audience members.

What’s rather unexpected and unfortunate is the frequent use of sexually charged dialogue, language and the use of God’s name in vain, all of which give pause about the appropriateness of the show for little ones (say age 10 and under). It’s all unnecessary in what otherwise would be a fun and entertaining program from Director of Creation Serge Roy and writer David Shiner, who also directs.

Banana Shpeel runs through June 27 (closing earlier than had been announced) at the Beacon, 2124 Broadway
(between 74th & 75th streets). For tickets call 212-465-6500.

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• God’s name taken in vain
• Male clown dresses in woman’s costume
• Teachings of Buddha are referred to

Additional note: The overzealous staff at the Beacon will require a photo ID for you to pick up your tickets at the box office and will search your bags and require you to throw out any food or drink you might have with you when entering the theater.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

TADA! Presents Chinese Tale 'The Magic Pot'

Some Kid-Friendly Theater in Manhantan
TADA! Youth Theater concludes its 25th anniversary celebration with the New York premiere of The Magic Pot: Three Tales from China, book, music, and lyrics by Dane Stauffer, co-commissioned with the SteppingStone Theatre in St. Paul, MN.

The show runs July 9- Aug. 4.

The Magic Pot: Three Tales from China is an original musical for kids, performed by kids, about a young girl who finds herself in the middle of ancient tales, and her own extraordinary adventure, that teach her about life, honesty, and true happiness.

Premium tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for children; regular tickets are $20 for adults, $8 for children and can be purchased at or by calling (212) 252-1619 x5. Group sales are also available for parties of 20 or more starting at $6 each for kids and can be purchased by phone. Performances are Tuesdays – Fridays at noon and 2 pm and Saturdays at 2 and 4 pm. TADA! Theater is located at 15 West 28th St., NYC.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Theater Review: That Face

90 Minutes of Dysfunctional Dysfunction
By Lauren Yarger
The most disturbing thing about Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of That Face playing Off-Broadway at New York City Center isn’t actually anything that happens in the play, though there’s more than plenty of worrying things to go around in this dysfunction fest.

What’s truly disturbing is that such a trip into abnormal family interaction should come from the tender mind of 19-year-old Polly Stenham (winner of britain's 2008 Critics Circle Award for Most Promising New Playwright.) Then again, no mind, young or old, should have to delve into the psyches of families such as this.

First we have the mother from hell -- and no dysfunction fest would be complete without one-- whose children for some reason constantly have to remember to call her Martha instead of Mommy when she’s sober enough to realize they are talking to her. Martha, I mean Mommy -- or do I mean Martha/Mommy (a really good Laila Robins who gives a full emotional arc) -- is disturbingly attached to/attracted to her son, Henry (Christopher Abbott), whose face she loves to gaze on and which is the only thing in the world that means anything to her.
Henry quits school to stay with her in their shabby, but once-noble flat (David Zinn, scenic and costume design) decorated with pinned up drawings he's learning from Martha' art lessons. He sleeps in her bed, dresses in her nighties (which comes in handy after she cuts up all his clothes in a jealous rage) and even drinks with her in the hopes that giving in to her bizarre demands might just coax some “normal” behavior out of her.

Meanwhile, daughter, Mia (Cristin Milioti), may be expelled from school for drugging, torturing and beating underclassman Alice (Maite Alina) in a hazing incident led by whacko friend Izzy (Betty Gilpin) who enjoys Mia’s discomfort when she shares her sexual escapades with Henry. It’s up to the family’s dad, Hugh (Victor Slezak), to leave his new wife and child in Asia and fly back to London to try to fix the problems of family number one.

The characters seem interesting at first, and we’re intrigued to find out why they all have ended up as messed up as they are, which is an indication of the playwright’s potential. Stenham never clues us in, however, and except for a lot of awkward situations with fingers pointing blame and a lot of yelling, we’re not sure why any of them do what they do (but we do understand Hugh's decision to get out of there). Not much happens in terms of a plot or development of the characters beyond the rough outline notes the author must have scribbled like “Streetcar/August Osage/Medea/Mommie Dearest cross type for the mother. The working title might have been “If I Write a Shocking Play About a Horribly Dysfunctional Family, I Might Have a Shot at the Pulitzer!” (Unfortunately, there’s a lot of truth to that. It might not have taken the Pulitzer, but this 2007 play has won a variety of dramatic awards in England.)

There is some dysfunction in the flat dialogue, as well. When they aren’t using the “F” word, the characters ask each other lots of series of boring questions, one of which goes like this:

“Is that it? Is that all?
“Sort of.”
“What do you mean, sort of?”

Henry spends a lot of time talking about who called on the phone, that his mother answered the phone, that his mother hung up the phone, that he should have answered the phone, wondering why someone didn’t call him on his cell phone, wondering why his father didn’t call on the phone. In the end, Mia also questions her father about whether he called her mother on the phone.

We never hear an actual phone conversation, or any other dialogue that might take the plot somewhere, however, so the characters don’t grow much. By the end of the play all we’re sure about is that “normal” Henry is just a sick as Mommy -- I mean Martha -- I mean Martha/Mommy -- and there‘s a pretty disturbing scene involving urination to prove it.

The performances, directed by Sarah Benson, actually are very well executed all around. They are emotional characters and the actors reach down deep to portray them -- we just don’t care much about them or understand why they are so whacked.

That Face plays through June 27 at Stage 1, NY City Center, 131 West 55th St., NYC. For tickets call 212-581-1212

Christians might also like to know:
 Language
 Lord’s name taken in vain
 Sex outside of marriage

Scenes from the Outer Critics Circle Awards at Sardi's

Denzel Washington, best Actor in a play for Fences.

Viola Davis, best actress in a play for Fences

Jan Maxwell, nominated in both the best actress and supporting actress in a play categories this year, for The Royal Family and Lend Me Tenor, for which she won the OCC

David Bryan and Joe DiPietro (music and book), for Best Musical, Memphis

Best Choreographer Sergio Trujillo (ties with Bill, Y Jones of Fela!) for Memphis

Catherine Zeta-Jones (A Little Night Music) and Montego Glover (Memphis) tied for best actress in a musical.

OCC President Simon Saltzman (right) presents a scroll to special honoree Louis A. Rachow, retiring after 15 years as treasurer of the Outer Critics Circle.

Gracewell Prodiuctions

Gracewell Prodiuctions
Producing Inspiring Works in the Arts
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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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