Friday, December 23, 2011

Theater Review: Lysistrata Jones

The cast of Lysistrata Jones. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Modern Take on a Classic, but View of Women as Sex Objects (and Dumb) Hasn't Changed Much Apparently
By Lauren Yarger
The basketball team at Athens University hasn't won in 33 years, but if they don't start learning how to spell V-I-C-T-O-R-Y, the guys might soon be unable to score in a way that is more important to them.

This is Lysistrata Jones, Douglas Carter Beane's modern Broadway version of Aristophanes' comedic play, Lysistrata, about women in ancient Greece withholding sexual favors until their men until they agree to end the Peloponnesian War.

Here, transfer student Lysisrata Jones (an engaging and vivacious Patti Murin), inspired by goddess Hetaira (vocal power house Liz Mikel) organizes a cheerleader squad to motivate the boys, led in their non-winning efforts by her love interest and team captain, Mick (Josh Segarra). The team and the squad are made up of a bunch of stereotypical characters -- the Latino couple, a Jewish guy who tries to be "gansta," the Asian girl with an attitude, a secret homosexual couple, and a smart girl who you of course think must be a lesbian. (Alexander Aguilar, Ato Blacken-Wood, Katie Boren, Lindsay Nicole Chambers, Kat Kejat, Jason Tam, Teddy Toye and Alex Wyse comprise the ensemble.)

The jocks are only interested in the after-game benefits that being on the team brings, like sex and partying, so Lystistrata decides that if the boys give up trying to win, the girls just won't give it up. This starts a competition of the wills with the boys deciding to go get what they want from whores at the Eros Motor Lodge where Hetaira plays the madame. To counter this, the girls visit the Motor Lodge to get some tips from the expert on how to torture their men sexually. Madame Hetaira advises the girls to "be teases" -- to wear skimpy clothes and touch the boys "accidentally" to arouse them, then refuse to have sex. The girls also sext photos of themselves to the boys and flash them in the locker room.

Will the strategy work? Yes and no, sort of like whether this musical does.

What works:
Dan Knechtges' direction and choreography is superb. Expect award nominations at the end of the season for the man who also helmed Xanadu and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. He teams cheerleading and basketball moves in some really clever dance numbers to Lewis Flinn's pleasant, if not memorable music, featuring a beat-driven and hip hop sound. Flinn also writes the more-syllables-than-beats-of-music lyrics.

David C. Woolard and Thomas Charles LaGalley team for some fun costumes and an orange-blue-and-white trimmed basketball court set that brings back memories of the show's Off-Broadway incarnation last season at the Judson Memorial gym.

Beane incorporates a lot of humor (and of course an obligatory foul shot at a Republican political candidate, though it's kind of boring that most playwrights today seem to feel they all have to do this -- note: not everyone in the audience is a fellow liberal). Standing out are Chambers as slam-poetry intellectual Robin and Tam as Xander, the liberal blogger who becomes the Spartans' mascot. Also fun is the use of stadium air horns to warn people to return to their seats at intermission.

What doesn't work:
Beane's use of a bunch of unpleasant stereotypes, whether it be the guys as dumb, sex-driven jocks or the girls as dumb bimbos who don't read (Lysistrata only agrees to take at the classic play bearing her name if it is in Spark Notes form), have sex casually and manipulatively and who are OK with prostitutes. 

Capitalizing on people's sexist thoughts about women is not something to cheer about. Modern women who have some self worth won't find this a story in which to invest their entertainment dollars, I'm afraid (and probably evidenced by very poor sales reported -- just an average of $25.14 ticket price according to grosses through last week). It's like Spring Awakening and Hair -- great scores and quality productions, but the stories just aren't anything we are able to embrace from a Christian point of view.
Lysistrata takes the court at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th St., NYC. Tickets are available by clicking here.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Show posts a Mature Advisory
--God's name taken in vain
--Lyric says that God invented porn
--Sexually suggestive moves
--Sexually graphic images and costumes
--Guys in their underwear
--Same sex activity
--Sexual dialogue

Theater Review: Maple & Vine

Just How Far Will People Go to Be Happy? Maybe Back to the Past
By Lauren Yarger
Not happy with your life? Get rid of it and start an ideal one back in 1955 where things are simpler and everyone knows his or her place.

That's the solution for which one couple opts following the loss of their baby and a growing dissatisfaction with life in general in Jordan Harrison's new play, Maple and Vine, getting an Off-Broadway run at Playwrights Horizons.

Katha (Marin Ireland) isn't able to sleep following the loss or plug back into her management job at a publishing company or life in general. Her husband, Ryu (Peter Kim), doesn't seem to be able to help her through her depression -- he's struggling himself with a lack of satisfaction in his career as a plastic surgeon.

Enter Dean and Ellen (Trent Dawson and Jeanine Serralles), spokespersons for the Society of Dynamic Obsolescence, a sort of alter-reality housing development where it's always 1955. Housewives tend to their homes, husbands and children and husbands bring home the bacon. Boundaries are set and provide a vacation from reality and freedom the modern world doesn't offer.

Katha becomes increasingly intrigued and finally convinces Ryu to try living in the SDO for six months. This might be a way for the couple to resume sexual relations and produces a baby -- both things considered wifely duties and which Katha has avoided for the last six months. Transitioning to the Eisenhower era isn't as simple as it might seem, however. Katha needs to become Kathy and learn how to cook. Ryu, a Japanese-American, is given a menial job in a box-making plant. The couple's mixed-race marriage is tolerated because 1955 Americans felt guilty about the forced interment of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II, but it certainly isn't embraced. Even Kathy, sewing her own '50s frocks (IIlona Somogyl, design) and becoming increasingly involved in the life of the community, asks her neighbors to stop being so tolerant and make their experience of 1955 more realistic by directing some prejudice at them.

Will the couple adapt to the picture-perfect world of the past (depicted nicely by designer Alexander Dodge on movable metallic-framed sets and original music by Bray Poor), especially when reality keeps exposing the negative? Not is all as it seems, especially when Ryu spies Dean in a homosexual relationship with his prejudiced box-plant boss Roger (Redro Pascal).

The play poses some interesting questions, most looming perhaps, are how we choose to cope with unhappiness and why people choose to stay in a situation where they aren't happy, especially when leaving is an option. Folks in 1955, after all, didn't have a lot of freedom to choose whether or not they wanted to be a housewife or to live an openly gay lifestyle.

Director Anne Kauffman smoothly sets up some strong performances, especially from a nicely layered Ireland and from Pascal who does a very different second role as Katha's publishing colleague Omar, but there are a couple of flaws. It's not clear for a while who Dean and Ellen are -- are they Katha's fantasy? Are they a dream induced by sleeping pills? These answers seem more likely than the bizarre reality that they represent a community locked in the 1950s.

In addition, Kauffman takes a sexual encounter between Dean and Roger too far (a mistake made in 95 percent of scenes involving nudity and sex on stage these days). We really just need to know from the dialogue and perhaps a quick fastening of a belt that the characters have just had sex. We don't need to be there during the act itself. Frankly, if we need some sex on stage  here (and we don't), a better choice would have been to let us see how Kathy and Ryu relate in their new circumstances or how gay Dean manages to get intimate with his wife and whether she finds it as satisfying as 1955 housewives are supposed to.

Maple and Vine runs through Dec. 23 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St., NYC. For information and tickets to tonight's performance, call  212) 279-4200 or visit

Christians might also like to know:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language
-- Homosexuality
-- Sexual activity
-- Nudity
-- Sexual dialogue

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Theater Review: On a Clear Day

Harry Connick, Jr. Photo: Palma Kolansky
On a Clear Day, It's Still Hard to See
By Lauren Yarger
Take one musical with a decent score by Burton Lane that made Broadway stars out of John Cullum and Barbara Harris, shake up the original weak book by lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, add hearthrob crooner Harry Connick, Jr. in the lead and you have a recipe for: well, a good score by Burton Lane.

The attempt to mix things up and "re-imagine" On a Clear Day You Can See Forever pretty much fails to make itself a contender for a long Broadway run because the odd story, involving psychiatrist Mark Bruckner's romance with Melinda Wells (Jessie Mueller), a reincarnated World War II chanteuse brought out through the hypnosis of a patient, still is very weak. The only change is that the patient this time around, David Gamble (David Turner), is a gay guy instead of a woman (Daisy, in the previous version, a role played in the movie by Barbra Stresiand).

So what does this mean? That a doctor having a romance with a woman who lives in the body of a guy is more interesting, hip and modern than a doctor having a romance with a woman living in the body of another woman? The question itself is so bizarre that it gives away the answer -- none of this is an interesting enough plot around which to make a musical. It does pose the question, however, why it is OK for female roles to be played by men? There are plenty of male roles in musicals and plenty of gay guy characters on the stage already. If a black character were "reimagined" as a white one, there probably would be flack. After all, it isn't seen as appropriate to have characters written as black or any particular race played by a white person. Just take a look at the recent flap over Hartford, CT's staging of The Motherf***ker with the Hat at TheaterWorks with white, rather than as-written Latino leads. It didn't go over very well with the playwright and a lot of other folks.

But because Daisy is a woman, like Brian Bedford's turn as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Ernest last season, or the role of Edna Turnblad always being played by a male in Hairspray for some unexplained reason, no one seems to be offended when a role written for a woman is suddenly re-imagined as a man. Voila! Daisy the flower shop girl becomes David, the flower shop boy. Well, let's say that the men making these decisions (we have few women directors or book writers for musicals) don't apparently see anything offensive about this. The many women actors, who outnumber males looking for acting jobs by quite a bit, probably are quite offended especially since Turner has an adequate, but not super singing voice (and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that any ethical psychiatrist probably has some issues with Bruckner's behavior here too, but I digress).

I'd be willing to go along with the change if it greatly improved the story. It doesn't. Director/reconceiver Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, American Idiot, Next to Normal, Hair et al) and Peter Parnell, who penned the new book (enhancing the original the musical with tunes from Barton/Lerner movie scores) are the decision makers here. Lawrence Yurman music directs and orchestrations are by Doug Besterman. Here's what they came up with:

Bruckner (Connick) hypnotizes Gamble to help him quit his five-pack-a-day smoking habit, because his boyfriend, Warren (Drew Gehling) doesn't like it. As the patient regresses, however, he slips into another personality -- that of Melinda in the year 1943. It's been three years since Bruckner lost his wife, Claire, and none of the women her best friend and Bruckner's colleague Sharone Stein (Kerry O'Malley) has set him up with have compared, but the psychaitrist suddenly finds himself very attracted to Melinda. He increases the number of therapy sessions with Gamble to continue getting to know Melinda. Gamble doesn't have any knowledge of his other personality, but does have vague memories of the dates/sessions and passionate embraces and comes to believe the doctor has romantic feelings for him. He might also return them (although why, when he doesn't really know the doctor isn't clear).

Bruckner begins to believe in reincarnation and to teach it at the university, which stirs some controversy. Sarah Stiles stands out as one of the students and Gamble's good friend, Muriel Bunson; Hannah (Alex Ellis) is a the class slut -- oh, I get it. Stereotypical women roles are OK....

When Bruckner discovers that Melinda really did exist, he has to decide whether to try to alter her fate or suffer the pain of losing another woman he loves.

If you can see past the really weak plot (and some pretty lame lyrics and dialogue -- why didn't they change them while they were giving Daisy a sex-change operation?), the unexciting choreography (Joann M. Hunter) (with the exception of a clever number where Bruckner dances simultaneously with Gamble and Melinda), maybe it will become clear why Mayer and Parnell set in the '70's (big upgrade from the 1965 original) for some reason other than to give costume designer Catherine Zuber license to use a bunch of loud colors in styles of the period that clash with Christine Jones' annoying checkerboard/psychedelic set design (and those 1940s microphones look like painted Country Curtains rods). We kind of doubt the same-sex relationships would play so easily in 1974 so why not really re-imagine the story for 2011, where there are a lot of great female singers?

Case in point is Meueller, making her Broadway debut here, with a lovely voice singing songs like "You're All the World to Me," "On the S.S Bernard Cohn," the haunting "Melinda,"Go to Sleep," and "Too Late Now." She's a pleasure to listen to and a good actress. I would have loved to see her tackle the full part of Daisy/Melinda. OK, enough said. Connick is awfully pleasant on the ears as well, singing the title song, among others, though he seemed to lose steam vocally as the show progressed.

On a Clear Day plays at the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th St., NYC. Tickets are available by clicking here.

Christians might also like to know:
--Song about being born again refers to reincarnation
--Comment made that there are 100 realities and some fall on Mecca
--God's name taken in vain
--homosexual activity

Theater Review: Stick Fly

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Family Relationships on Display Like a Bug on a Stick
By Lauren Yarger
A woman comes to the Martha's Vineyard home of her new fiance to meet his family, and she feels on display -- much like the bugs she likes to study like a fly glued to a stick. She's not the only one, though, as the family's relationships and secrets soon show themselves under observation as well in Lydia R. Diamond's engaging Broadway play Stick Fly.

Taylor (Tracie Thoms) already has some self esteem issues. She is the daughter of a prominent Pulitzer-prize winning author about the plight of African-Americans in a white-dominated nation, but her father rejected her and her mother in favor of his new wife and children. Her fiance, Kent (Dulé Hill), whom she affectionately calls Spoon, tries to reassure her, but events work against her fitting in easily with the family.

First, Taylor isn't sure how to deal with Cheryl (Condola Rashad), the daughter of the family's housekeeper, Miss Ellie, who is on hand to lend a hand in her sick mother's absence. Every time Taylor offers to help with a chore, or asks the girl to do something, she manages to insult her. Then Spoon's brother, Flip (Mekhi Phiffer) shows up with his girlfriend, Kimber (Rosie Benton), who Flip forgot to mention, is white. "She's Italian," he evades.

Kimber, who has written a thesis about inequality in education tangles with Taylor about understanding racial tension. Racial issues might not be the biggest problem at the gathering, however -- Flip and Taylor knew each other before romantically -- a fact they quickly cover up.
Complicating matters is the patriarch of the family, Joe LeVay (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), whose constant put downs of Spoon (especially his newest career choice as an author) and back slaps for Flip who followed in his father's footsteps as a doctor and philanderer, mask a more serious problem he is keeping something from the family: why their mother hasn't shown up yet and why he won't take her phone calls.

Amidst competitive board games like Parcheesi and Trivial Pursuit and discussions about racial issues from all points of view, the truth comes out about relationships and the strength of family ties is tested.

Kenny Leon draws out excellent performances all around. It's fun to see the talented Hill play someone different from Gus on "Psych" or Charlie on "West Wing." Same kudos to Thoms for creating a character different from the one TV fans know from "Cold Case."

Leon does create some awkward moments, however, by whipping too quickly bewteen scenes (with the aid of original music by Alicia Keyes, who is a producer of the show). The audience wants to applaud, or just digest something that took place, but isn't given the chance. Also problematic is the fact that Rashad can't be heard for a lot of her dialogue. Audience members kept turning to each other to learn what they had missed.
The set proves to be somewhat annoying too. The beautifully detailed wood and arched design stage left deteriorates into a partially torn away wall leading to the outdoors and a patio that looks like it's in the middle of the living room, almost giving the impression that designer David Gallo ran out of room.

Overall, it's an interesting play with lots of depth to all the characters.

Stick Fly runs at the Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St., NYC through Feb. 26. Tickets are available by clicking here.

Christians might also like to know:
--Lord's name taken in vain
--Sexual dialogue

Friday, December 9, 2011

Theater Review: Bonnie & Clyde

Laura Osnes and Jeremy Jordan. Photo: Nathan Johnson
They've Got the Lore Down, but Not the Lure
By Lauren Yarger
A musical about Depression-era outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow might not be on everyone's most wanted list, but the Broadway show starring super vocal talents Laura Osnes  and Jeremy Jordan singing one of the best scores to date from Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Civil War, Wonderland) is worth a quick getaway to the box office.

Ivan Menchell's book sticks close to the facts about the couple who left a trail of bank robberies and murders across the south central US before being gunned down by the law in 1934. He offers a lot of details about who they were and how they ended up choosing an outlaw lifestyle and removes some of the glamour associated with them and enhanced in the popular film about them in the 1960s starring sexy Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. What he can't capture, perhaps because there is no real explanation for it, is why the couple are regarded as heroes of any kind. They weren't very nice or likable people -- and they're not really here either, so it's hard to get on board with them as the leads of a musical. Menchell at least gives us enough insight to make them interesting, though. And it's all worth it, just to hear the music.

The couple (he was 20, she was 19) meet in poverty in West Dallas, TX and fall almost immediately in love (despite the fact that Bonnie has an absentee husband). Clyde has always gotten into trouble with his brother, Buck (Claybourne Elder), but Buck's devoutly religious wife, Blanche (Melissa Van der Shyff) convinces him to make a fresh start and to turn himself in to authorities after he and Clyde break out of jail. The preacher (Michael Lanning) baptizes him (with a terrific ballad/gospel number called "God's Arms Are Always Open") and for years, tries to live a straight life with Blanche.

Clyde resolves to have money, clothes and Bonnie and supports himself by committing small robberies while dreaming of becoming famous like his boyhood hero, Billy the Kid (Talon Ackerman plays a young Clyde, already convinced he can solve any problem with a gun). Bonnie's mother, Emma (Mimi Bessette), urges her daughter to forget about no-good Clyde and encourages the courtship of lawman Ted Hinton (Louis Hobson). Fame and attention also attract Bonnie, however, who once dreamed of being a movie star (dynamic singer Kelsey Fowler plays young Bonnie). She wants out of nowhere Texas.

Abused during his latest time in jail, Clyde turns to murder. Bonnie breaks him out and the two begin a life of crime together.

"We are the heroes that people look up to and that feels great," they sing.

Life on the lam isn't all it's cracked up to be, however, and Bonnie thinks about leaving. Their overwhelming need for each other -- and periodic trips back to visit their families -- help push doubt aside. Eventually Buck and Blanche join them on their robbing and killing rampage.

The harsh story is offset by a paneled, changing set by Tobin Ost (who also does the period costumes) lighted by Michael Gilliam and home for projections of photos and other images by Aaron Rhyne. Jeff Calhoun directs (and also is credited with choreography, though there are no real dance numbers as we expect in a musical) and wisely starts with the couple's ambush in their Ford V8. We know how it all ended -- this is a story of why.

The real star here, however, is Wildhorn's terrific score (with smart lyrics by Don Black). Sounding different from any of his other musicals, it's right up there with Jekyll & Hyde for having some really lovely ballads, belt-challenging climbs for several of the singers and there's a beautiful duet for Blanche and Bonnie  "You Love Who You Love" (think "In His Eyes"). The beauty of the blues-driven music and the excellent vocal quality of the cast make this enjoyable, even if the lure of Bonnie and Clyde proves less so.

Bonnie & Clyde are in the line up at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th St., NYC. Discounted tickets are available by clicking here.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Minor language
--God's name taken in vain
--Blood, violence

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Theater Review: Seminar

Constructive Criticism without the Constructive Part
By Lauren Yarger
You know all those bad guys Alan Rickman plays so well in  movies like Hans Gruber in "Die Hard," Professor Snape in "Harry Potter," the evil Sheriff of Nottinham in "Robin Hood Prince of Thieves" or Judge Turpin in Tim Burton's dark "Sweeney Todd"? They all look pretty tame compared to Leonard, Rickman's literary teacher/critic who tears apart four wannabe writers enrolled in a Seminar, Theresa Rebeck's play directed on Broadway by Sam Gold.

Leonard redefines the term "thick skinned" for Douglas (Jerry O'Connell), Martin (Hamish Linklater), Kate (Lily Rabe) and Izzy (Hettienne Park) when his barbed tongue whips over their short stories and novels during private seminar sessions at Kate's posh New York apartment (David Zinn provides the scenic and costume design). Kate never quite recovers from Leonard's blistering criticism of just the first sentence of her story, never mind that he was able to discern so much about her from it. She considers quitting and recouping some of the $5,000 she paid for her place in the group.

Douglas, whose story has sparked some interest over at New Yorker magazine gets off a little easier -- or does he? Leonard seems to be able to spew scathing criticism even while complimenting the "whorish perfection" of Douglas' piece. Izzy decides to improve her chances for success by sleeping with the professor, much to the chagrin of Martin who also has the hots for Izzy. He steadfastly refuses to share his work with the class. Kate's rejection at the hands of Leonard is made worse by Martin's -- she has had feelings for him since they were pals in high school.

Rebeck addresses every writer's fear -- that what you have put on paper is a "sucking waste of words." And Rickman is there in delicious wickedness to tell us that they are indeed. Call me a sadist, but I wish Rickman had even more opportunities to stab with his rapier tongue. Those cuts are more fun than some of the sexual relationship drama that unfolds.

Seminar plays at the Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th St., NYC. For tickets, call 800-432-7250.
Christians might also like to know:
-- Show posts a Mature Advisory
--Lord's name taken in vain
--Sexual dialogue

Theater Review: Other Desert Cities

Rachel Griffiths, Stockard Channing and Stacy Keach. Photo: Joan Marcus
Family Looks for an Oasis in Their Barren Desert
By Lauren Yarger
Cracks in the hard desert ground of the emotions of die-hard Republicans Lyman and Polly Wyeth (Stacy Keach, Stockard Channing) might not be able to weather the heat of controversy a tell-all book about them and their terrorist son will bring in Jon Robin Baitz' Other Desert Cities getting a Broadway incarnation after last-season's off-Broadway success for Lincoln Center Theater.

Director Joe Mantello returns, along with Channing and Keach, but some of the intimacy and subtle meaning in Baitz text is lost in the transition from the Mitzi E. Newhouse to the Booth Theatre.

The Wyeths' happiness about a visit from their long-absent, ultra-liberal daughter, Brooke (Rachel Griffiths), fades when she announces that despite her parents' support during her breakdown following her brother's death, she has written a soon-to-be-released memoir about the bombing incident and what it was like growing up as the child of a former Hollywood actor/ambassador and his wife who enjoyed lunches at the club with Ronnie and Nancy.

Playing peacemaker is Brooke's brother, Trip (Thomas Sadoski), who finds it hard to get very serious about anything. He is, after all, the producer of the show "Jury of Your Peers" in which celebrity jurors decide real cases. Finding a way to get his parents to support their daughter's writing gift while convincing his sister to take her parents' feelings into account might just prove to be a mirage, however. The task is made even more difficult by Polly's sister and former writing partner, alcoholic Silda Grauman (Judith Light), who has been feeding Brooke inside dirt for the book while trying to dry out while living with her sister and brother-in-law at their Palm Springs home. There might not be enough sand in the dessert to cover their public lives. (John Lee Beatty designs sets that create the feeling of being in a desert).

Baitz creates interesting characters (regardless of where your political affiliations lie) who care about each other and masterfully uses dialogue to reveal matters going on beneath the surface (David Zinn's costumes also tell us a lot about the characters). There's a good sprinkling of humor (some of it political) throughout to keep the tone from becoming too serious. This is a family which understands the sentiment Trip finally expresses: that in the end, all that will mattered is how you have loved.

Other Desert Cities runs at the Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th St., NYC. For tickets call 800-432-7250. Note: Sadoski continues in the role through Sunday, Jan.  8 (with the exception of a three-week period from Tuesday, Dec. 8 through Sunday, Dec. 25 when the role of Trip Wyeth will be played by Matthew Risch). After Jan. 8, Justin Kirk steps into the role.

Christians might also like to know:
--Lord's name taken in vain

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

James Barbour Announces 4th Annual Holiday Concert Tour, CD Release

Broadway star James Barbour has announced his 4th annual Holiday Concert Tour and the release of his "Bring Me the Giants" CD.

The tour will play:
  • The Spanish Hills Country Club (999 Crestview Avenue, Camarillo, CA) on Sunday, Dec. 4. 805-388-5000
  • Sardi's (234 West 44 St., NYC) on Thursday, Dec, 8 through Sunday, Dec. 11. 212-838-4444
  • The Coterie (1775 North Highland Ave., CA) on Friday, Dec. 16 and Saturday, Dec. 17. 530-426-8374
Each concert will feature special surprise guest stars and a program of the most exhilarating Christmas and Holiday songs in the American Song Book.

This year Barbour’s tour will precede his return to Broadway where he will be featured as Jack Favel in the highly anticipated production of  Rebecca which begins performances on March 27 at the Broadhurst Theatre.
Barbour most recently starred in the world premiere of Nightmare Alley at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles.  He has also starred on Broadway in A Tale Of Two Cities.

Theater Professionals to Advise Samuel French Publishing

Samuel French has announced the formation of an Advisory Committee for the 181 year old publishing company.

Beth Blickers –Agent at Abrams Artists Agency where she represents artists working in
theatre, opera, television and film. Before joining Abrams, she was an agent at Helen Merrill
Ltd. and the William Morris Agency, where she began work after graduating from New York
University.

Adam Bock –Obie-winning Canadian playwright currently living in the US, earlier this
year, Bock’s play A Small Fire premiered at Playwrights Horizons and is now published and
licensed by Samuel French along with The Receptionist, The Thugs, and The Drunken City.

Steven David – Director of Theatre Business Affairs, ICM. Prior to joining ICM in 2005,
he had a 25 year career in theatrical management as a company manager, associate general
manager and general manager at firms including Gatchell & Neufeld, Ltd., Joseph Harris
Associates, Marvin Krauss Associates and Dodger Theatricals, and served as an Executive
Director of the Lark Play Development Center.

Kathy Evans – Founder of the Rhinebeck Writers Retreat. The 2011 inaugural summer
of the Rhinebeck Writers Retreat included Michael Friedman, Itamar Moses, and Alex
Timbers. Previously, Kathy was the Executive Director of the National Alliance for Musical
Theatre, working with 150 theatres and producers as well as more than 400 writers; and she now
serves on their Board of Directors.

Todd London - Artistic director of New Dramatists, where he has worked closely with
more than a hundred of America's leading playwrights and advocated nationally and
internationally for hundreds more. He is author of the book, Outrageous Fortune, among
many others, and a highly sought conference keynote speaker throughout the theatrical
industry.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Theater Review: Private Lives

A Marriage on Display Still Can Be Private
By Lauren Yarger
The honeymoon is over even before it begins when Elyot (Paul Gross) and his new bride, Sybil (Anna Madeley) arrive for their wedding night at a hotel room next to the one shared by his ex, Amanda (Kim Cattrall, ), and her new husband, Victor (Simon Paisley Day), also on their honeymoon in a Broadway production of Noel Coward’s Private Lives.

Elyot and Amanda discover each other across the terrace, and try to hide the unfortunate coincidence from their rather uptight respective spouses who just wouldn’t understand. The loathing they have felt for each other during the five years they have been divorced suddenly turns to longing as the couple realize they still have feelings and decide to abandon their new spouses and run off to Amanda’s apartment in Paris.

They soon are drowning (literally, as Rob Howell’s Riviera terrace set is dismantled to reveal an aquarium-and-chrome themed pad complete with a humongous three-tiered fish tank) in the wave of their lust. When they come up for air, some of the issues that drove them apart –like a tendency toward arguments and violence-- surface with them. They decide the only thing that will serve as a lifeline for the relationship is a “stop” word that each can use when they feel an argument is getting out of hand. Once uttered, the couple falls into two minutes of silence.

Meanwhile, Sybil and Victor track the couple down and show up in the middle of a knock-down-drag-out fight between Elyot and Amanda that makes us really fear, at the very least, for the safety of the fish in that tank. The next morning, the maid, Louise (Caroline Lena Olsson) hardly is nonplussed to find the apartment wrecked and Sybil and Victor asleep in the living room. Could this be normal?

The new spouses try to find out where they stand given that the relationship between Amanda and Elyot seems over. Not all might be what it seems, however, since what keeps two people together might not be obvious, even when the couple’s relationship is swimming around in a fishbowl for all to see. After all, they ask, what is “normal” in our private lives?
While some of the play defers to plot needs rather than reality, there is much humor, subtly executed by Day who brings guffaws with simple lines like “hush now.” He is brilliant as the calm, steady, stodgy guy who suddenly finds himself neither calm nor steady. Director Richard Eyre highlights the sexiness of Cattrall’s character, but makes sure she portrays someone different from Samantha Jones, the “Sex and the City” role for which she is known. Gross also is known to fans of TV’s “Due South” and “Slings and Arrows.”

Not amusing, however, is the physical abuse and casual acceptance by everyone that Elyot hits Amanda, or the spanking of Sybil by Victor. That unfortunately might have been considered appropriate in 1930 when the play was written, but it’s hard to understand why audiences today will think it funny to see women treated this way. Perhaps producers were willing to overlook this in the hopes that this Coward play would run similar to the recent success of his others on the Great White Way, like Present Laughter and Blithe Spirit

Howell also doubles as costume designer creating beautiful period gowns and dresses for the women and dapper suits for the men. The three acts are presented with one intermission between the first two and a brief pause between the second and third. Running time is two hours and 50 minutes.

Private Lives is on view at The Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th St., NYC. For tickets, call 212-239-6200.

Christians might also like to know:
--Show lists a Mature Advisory
--God’s name taken in vain

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Quick Hit Theater Review: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

Mike Daisey in The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, created and performed by Mike Daisey and directed by Jean-Michele Gregory, running at The Public Theater. Photo credit: Stan Barouh
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs
Created and Performed by Mike Daisey
Directed by Jean-Michelle Gregory
Scenery and Lighting Design by Seth Reiser
The Public Theater
Storyteller Mike Daisey (The Last Cargo Cult; How Theater Failed America; 21 Dog Years among others) shares his obsession with all things Apple and Steve Jobs along with his growing repugnance toward the labor conditions in China created by consumers’ obsession with having corporation's products.

Against a metal backdrop with LCD lighting (also a product of China), Daisey entertains with a monologue about technology and his trip to China to talk to workers who produce I-Phones and other technology. Technology itself becomes a metaphor for religion as users worship the products and believe they need ever latest upgrade. If we control the metaphor through which we see the world, then we control the world, he preaches. He combines humor, history and his own research to tell a sweeping story of genius, technological breakthroughs and heartbreaking disregard for the thousands of workers, many children, exploited by the industry.

It’s a tight two-hour presentation (no intermission) that will make you want to laugh and cry at the same time.

Entertaining, well written, thought provoking piece. Contemporary given the recent news cycle following the death of Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

A little confusing at the beginning for those not familiar with Daisey’s presentations. It appears to some that Daisey might be trying to portray Jobs himself.

Information:A flyer is distributed following the performance with information on how to communicate with Apple, how to resist upgrading every device, educating yourself and others on labor conditions in China and how to speak out.

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, Off-Broadway at the third-floor Martinson Hall at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., NYC, has been extended through Dec. 4. The show runs Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 pm with matinees at 2 on the weekend. Call 212-539-8642 or visit for tickets.

Christians might also like to know:
--Lord’s name taken in vain
--Language throughout

--Lauren Yarger

Quick Hit Theater Review: Horsedreams

Michael Laurence, Roxanna Hope, and Matthew Schechter  Photo: Sandra Coudert.
By Dael Orlandersmith
Directed by Gordon Edelstein
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater

Against a metaphoric cracked backdrop (Takeshi Kata, set design), drug use takes its toll on one family in an intensely gripping, unrelentingly engaging world premiere of Horsedreams, a play by Dael Orlandersmith, who also plays the role of Mira, a housekeeper who tries to help young Luka (Matthew Schechter), caught in the middle of his parents' addictions.

Loman (Michael Laurence) and Desiree (Roxanna Hope) seem like any other young couple. They're successful, enjoy the club/party scene and are physically attracted. They get married and have a baby and move out of the city to Westchester, but Desiree soon finds playing housewife and mother unfulfilling. She also starts to doubt whether she loves Loman and turns to drugs to feel more in control. Sensing his wife's unhappiness, Loman starts taking her back to the clubs, but the once-a-week stimulation and snorting of coke lines isn't enough and Desiree starts injecting a mix of cocaine and heroin with devestating results.

In the wake of his wife's overdose, Loman swears off coke and hires Mira to look after Luka who craves some attention from his father who consoles himself with alcohol. When Loman succumbs to the temptation of escape "just this once" and "one last time" through the same cooked narcotic combination that took his wife, Mira wonders whether she should intervene and have Luka removed from the home, especially when Loman starts taking the boy with him to drug-buying trips to 125th and Lexington Avenue.

An uncompromising look at the downward spiral drugs bring and their effects on addicts and those who love them. Orlandersmith has a gift for storytelling and for realistic characters. I particularly liked the development of Loman's thoughts that he is somehow above having a drug problem because he is rich and white. The play answers a lot of questions about why people turn to drugs and has a great message about how our kids are more influenced by what we do than by what we say. Should be required curriculum for middle schoolers (and their parents).

Edelstein's direction is excellent, as are lighting and sound ((Marcus Doshi; Ryan Rumery).

The theater was unbearably warm the night I attended and the use of a strong herbal cigarette made it more uncomfortable for the intermissionless, 85-minute presentation.

Hosrsedreams runs through Dec. 11 at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place, NYC– off 7th Avenue South – between West 11th & Perry streets. Performances are Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $55 and are available at 212-279-4200 or at

Christians might also like to know:
--God's name taken in vain
--Drug usage
--Sexual activity

Theater Review: Chinglish

Stephen Pucci and Jennifer Lim. Photo: Michael McCabe
Humorous Look at Communication Glitches Uncovers Human Frailties Too
By Lauren Yarger
Miscommunications in language and love highlight Chinglish, a humorous offering from playwright David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly).

Ohio sign maker Daniel Cavanaugh (Gary Wilmes) heads to China to try to win a contract for making signs that will be needed at a newly constructed arts center. He thinks convincing officials to spend a little money now to avoid embarrassment later like that suffered by other cities who post incorrectly translated signs will take about a week, but that's not the first misunderstanding that he encounters.

He enlists the help of Peter Timms (Stephen Pucci), a Brit who teaches English and who passes himself off as a sort of consultant for the Chinese government. In a land where there is no justice, just predictable outcomes, it will take Cavanaugh at least eight weeks just to build relationships, Timms explains. He doesn't realize, however, that Cavanaugh will start a romantic relationship with Xi Yan (Jennifer Lim), vice minister of cultural affairs, which complicates negotiations as well as the couple's personal lives as they ponder their own unhappy marriages and experience a gap in communication with each other, even in bed.

"OK, I think what you said to me is really important," Cavanaugh says, but has to admit that he has no idea what it was. He also doesn't catch that the words Xi Yan speaks during their lovemaking are all about the frustration she feels with her husband. He finds himself falling in love, however, and plans to leave his wife.

Xi Yan's boss, Culture Minister Cai Guoliang (Larry Lei Zhang) opposes awarding the contract to Cavanaugh, though he indicates through a grossly inept (and riotously funny) translator Miss Qian (Angela Lin) that he s considering it. Communications between the players get even more muddied as it becomes obvious that Guilang may want to hide some nepotism, Timms might not have been clear about his standing with the government, Cavanugh's company might not be quite what he said and Xi Yan's ulterior motives might be to gain a promotion for her husband (Johnny Wu).

Hwang's nice character development and humorous dialogue create an interesting study of the clash of cultures as well as human frailty. Chinese dialogue is translated with the words projected on David Korins' fabulous modular set pieces that revolve and float together to construct various settings (Brian McDevitt, lighting design; Jeff Sugg and Shawn Duan, projection design). American-sounding music with Chinese lyrics (Darron I. West, sound design) is used between scene changes.

Some of the funniest moments come from a slide show where Cavanaugh displays examples of grossly mistranslated signs."To take notice of safe. The slippery are very crafty," is one way of warning about "slippery slopes ahead." One other thing that's not clear is why Wilmes delivers mist of his lines in full yell. It's almost like that joke where someone yells at someone speaking a foreign language in the hopes that volume will somehow supersede the inability to understand.

Overall, it's an enjoyable time at the theater, and the very sparse audience the day I attended was a surprise. Might be a good choice for easy tickets if you are wondering what to see over the holidays.

Catch Chinglish at the Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th St., NYC. Discounted tickets are available by clicking here.

Christians might also like to know:
--Show posts a Mature advisory
--Sexual dialogue
--Sexual activity

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Quick Hit Theater Review: Richard II -- The Pearl

From L to R: Sean McNall (Richard II), Jolly Abraham (Harry Percy), and Grant Goodman (Henry Bolingbroke). Photo: Gregory Costanzo
Richard II
By William Shakespeare
Directed by J.R. Sullivan
The Pearl Theatre Company

Shakepeare's verse-laden play about 14th-century King Richard II (Sean McNall) who starts by making a poor decision while deciding a charge of treason brought by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, the Duke of Hereford (Grant Goodman), against the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Mobray (Chris Mixon) and ends up by losing his crown. A series of plots and rebellions undermine his power and that of Bolingbroke, who usurps him, as men vie for control of " this earth, this realm, this England."

Jolly Abraham shines as Richard's queen and in a second role of Harry Percy. (a number of the ensemble, six of whom are members of the Pearl's resident acting company, play dual roles across genders in the production). Sullivan's tight direction creates some vivid visuals. Carol Schultz as the Duchess of York shows comedic skill in a scene where she pleads for the life of her son, the Duke of Aumerle (Wayne T. Carr) who has plotted against the king, a crime for which his father, the Duke of York (Bill Christ) wants him punished. Harry Feiner's simple set quickly conveys time and place as well as providing a second platform level for action in the tiny stage. Lighting designer Stephen Petrilli contributes some nifty stained glass and other (and stairs tuck neatly underneath the platform). Martha Hally's minimal costumes convey period and character well and the mood is enhanced by music and sound effects (Jane Shaw, sound design).

Not one of Shakespeare's more interesting plays, it feels like a very long history lesson at two hours and 50 minutes (with one intermission). This Richard seems a little too weak and eager to shed tears. Folks at intermission were asking who the characters were and how they were related to each other. A helpful synopsis of the plot is included in the program, but the large number of characters (more than 30) and the doubling of roles apparently is confusing for many.

Richard II runs through Dec. 24 at New York City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th St. (between 6th and 7th avenues). Tickets can be purchased by calling 212-581-1212 or online at

Christians might also like to know:
No notes. Enjoy!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Theater Review: Venus in Fur

Audition Turns into Another Kind of Role Playing
By Lauren Yarger
Nina Arianda recreates the role which brought her acclaim in her Off-Broadway debut last season in David Ives Venus in Fur, now in a Broadway run produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club.

She plays Vanda, an actress going all out to win a part in a play written by Thomas (Hugh Dancy) based on an erotic novel about a man in bondage to the goddess Venus. She comes equipped with all of the costumes she'll need (Anita Yavich, design) and a knowledge of how to work the rehearsal studio's lighting (although a couple of real lighting cues were missed. Peter Kaczorowski, design. The minimal set is designed by John Lee Beatty).

As lines and scenes from the script are read for the audition, reality and fantasy blur as emotions and desires of Vanda and Thomas mimic those of the characters. Arianda and Darcy give charged performances and under the direction of Walter Bobbie, slip seamlessly, sometimes in mid sentence, between the characters in the play and the characters portraying them. It's really good acting.

While the performances are excellent and Ives incorporates a lot of humor in the script, there isn't much purpose to the play beyond being a study of desires around domination, submission and sadomasochistic sexual practices. A sexual tension builds with the actors reversing roles to see who will be dominant and in control. The "surprise" ending isn't, really, and personally, I can think of more worthy subjects then S&M on which to spend an hour and 45 minutes.

Venus in Fur runs through Dec 18 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th St., NYC. Discounted tickets are available by clicking here.

Christians might also like to know:
--God's name taken in vain
--Sexual activity and dialogue
--Dialogue about sadomasochism

Quick Hit Theater Review: Iron Curtain

Jenn Gambatese with Top L to R: Sara Brophy, Robby Sharpe, James Patterson;
Bottom L to R: Clint Carter, Ronn Burton. Photo by Gerry Goodstein
Iron Curtain
Book by Susan DiLallo
Music by Stephen Weiner
Lyrics by Peter Mills
Directed by Cara Reichel
Choreography by Christine O'Grady
Music Supervision & Orchestrations by Remy Kure

The musical writing team of Howard Katz (Todd Alan Johnson) and Murray Finkel (David Perlman) strikes out on Broadway when Damn Yankees steals the basis of their show about a baseball player who sells his soul to the devil. They attract the attention of Yevgenyi Onanov (Gordon Stanley), in charge of the Soviet Union's Ministry of Musical Persuasion, charged with staging a propaganda musical about the evils of America. His Soviet version of Oklahoma directed by whip-cracking (literally) East German Hildret Heinz (Bobbi Kotula) hasn't impressed Nikita Khruschchev (John Fico), so he kidnaps Katz and Finkell, with the help of KGB agent Sergei Schmearnov (Aaron Ramey), brings them to Moscow and forces them to create a musical. Desperate, the team retools their failed musical "Faust Ball" as "Damnable Yankees" and they hit one out of the park.

Finkel is morose, trying to fend off Hildret's romantic (and sadistic) advances, and is just beginning to realize how much he cares about Shirley Dooley (Maria Couch), the actress/girlfriend he never quite committed to at home. Murray isn't minding Russian hospitality, even at the rundown Lapov Luxury hotel, though, especially if it means getting to spend time with the show's star, Masha (Jenn Gambatese).

Will clueless Shirley be able to track Howard down behind the Iron Curtain with the help of a border guard (Ronn Burton)? Will a Frau divided between her duty and love let Howard go? Will Masha defect to join Murray? Will Onanov get to fully express his love for musicals? The answer to the last question is yes, in the fabulous send up of the song "If Not for Musicals." The rest I will leave to your imagination.
I love this show. DiLallo's book is tongue-in-cheek, hysterically funny. Weiner's score is varied, full and fun. "Half a World Away" is right up there with the loveliest ballads to grace a stage. Mill' lyrics are tight, clever and poetic. Why this show hasn't gotten a larger New York production is a mystery. I'd love to see what John Rando would do with it.

Stanley, who has portrayed Onanov in prior productions of Iron Curtain (once in 2008 when the musical was in development at the O'Neill Theatre Center where I first fell in love with it) sort of IS this character to me now and lends a lovely voice to the musical numbers. Gambatese sings up a storm and Burton steals the scene as different characters Shirley encounters in her search for Howard.

This presentation, helmed by Reichel, who also directed prior versions which won it the Innovative Theatre Award for Outstanding Production of a Musical., just doesn't achieve Détente, however.
This production by Prospect Theater Company takes itself too seriously. Half of the fun of the corny book and lyrics is a subtle double entendre that you don't always catch on the first pass. It's much funnier to let the audience "get it," or have it come back to bite them a few seconds later. Here they make sure we get it, and it seems like the actors almost slow down to the point where they might check and ask "Did you get the pun there? Did you catch those snappy lyrics?" Part of the reason my critic Fellows and I at the O'Neill begged to see this show a second time was to see what we had missed in the fast-paced, laugh-filled first time.

Also too pronounced as the strange accent and S&M tendencies of Hildret (though Kotula originated the role at Village Theatre). And there isn't enough chemistry between Katz and Finkel.

Catch the humor before the Iron Curtain comes down on Nov. 27. The performance schedule is as follows: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30 pm; Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 3 pm.  There are added performances on Nov. 19 at 3 pm, Nov. 21 at 7:30 pm and Nov. 26 at 3 pm.  No performances on Nov. 23 and 24. The Baruch Performing Arts Center, Baruch College is located at East 25th Street between Lexington and Third Avenue.  Tickets are $50, with premium seating availablefor $65.To purchase tickets visit www.ProspectTheater.orgor call 212-352-3101.

Prospect Theater Company is a non-profitorganization founded in 1998 by five graduates of Princeton University in orderto allow a diverse group of emerging theater professionals to work together inpursuit of artistic excellence and innovation.  Known both for itsdevelopment of new musicals and its engaging interpretations of classic plays,Prospect strives to build bridges between artists and audiences, and to connecttheater's present to its past—in order to build its future.

Christians might also like to know:
--God's name taken in vain.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Quick Hit Theater Review: A Christmas Story, The Musical

Photo from Kansas City Production. Credit: Don Ipock and Kansas City Rep
A Christmas Story, the Musical
Book by Joseph Robinette
Music & Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Directed by John Rando
Choreography by Warren Carlyle

All I want for Christmas if for this show to come to New York.

Jean Shepherd's classic film "A Christmas Story" comes to life in a bigger-than-life production that is fun, heartwarming and of a better production quality than any of the recent holiday musicals we have seen in the Great White Way. A tour of the show opened last night in Hershey, PA before heading to Detroit, Raleigh, NS, Tampa and Chicago.

Heading a really great cast is the beautifully voiced Clarke Hallum as Ralphie, who wants only one thing for Christmas: a Red Ryder carbine action BB gun. He schemes to let his parents (Rachel Bay Jones and John Bolton) know and even writes an essay about it for his teacher, Miss Shields (Karen Mason). But even Santa (Adam Pelty) doesn't think it's a good idea. He might shoot his eye out!

The humor of the movie is translated seemlessly into the musical format. All of your favorite scenes are there: the ugly leg lamp, bullies Farkus and Dill (Charlie Plummer, John Francies Barbo) and the flagpole, Randy (Matthew Lewis) stuck in his snowsuit and even the neighbor's dogs, thanks to Foley Artist (Nick Gaswirth) who provides sound effects for the radio chat narrated by Shepherd (Gene Weygandt).

Pasek's score is jazzy and fun, if a little on the long side. Orchestrations are by Larry Blank; musical supervision by Ian Eisendrath. Scenes unfold with huge sets (Walt Spangler) enhanced by colorful costumes ranging from every day clothes to bunny suits (Elizabeth Hope Clancy, design) and Carlyle's choreography. Lighting is by Howell Binkley.

Hallum is outstanding. Rarely have I seen a kid this age with such a good singing voice who is a master actor as well. All of the kids are triple threats. It's one of the strongest kid ensembles I have seen. All of the performances are top notch. Bolton brings a lot of humor to "The Old Man" and has the audience in stitches with his prolonged mumbled profanities. Weygandt virtually channels Shepherd and his recollections of that 1940 Indiana Christmas.

Rando's skillful direction brings out in-depth performances. He keeps the action intimate and the story's message in focus in the midst of colossal sets and full production numbers with a large cast. I particularly liked a scene where Shepherd and Ralphie, dressed similarly, stand next to each other as the one acts out the other's memory of himself. There are a few other subtle encounters between the two as well, which is a nice touch.
"Ralphie to the Rescue," a fantasy sequence in which Ralph imagines saving everyone with his BB gun is tight, imaginative, fun and well executed. Dance arrangements by Glen Kelly.

Not every event needs to be told musically, and a few of the 23 songs could be cut to trim the two-and-a-half-hour run time (the first act is 1:45). Prime candidates to go would be "Up on Santa's Lap," "He's Blind" and  "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out." a fantasy number for Miss Shields which did little to advance the story and failed to showcase Mason's substantial vocal talents.

The father's mumbled-grumbled swearing is very funny and doesn't grow old. The bit should be used throughout the show instead of inserting a few of the real McCoys from time to time. This should be a family-friendly show, after all.

One of the show's producers is the film’s original Ralphie, Peter Billingsley. For more information about the show and the tour, visit The tour schedule is:

November 8 – 13
Hershey, PA
Hershey Theatre

November 15 – 27
Detroit, MI
Fisher Theatre

November 29 – December 4
Raleigh, NC
Memorial Auditorium

December 6 –11
Tampa, FL
Straz Center

December 14 – 30
Chicago Theatre

Christians might also like to know:
--Lord's name taken in vain

-- Lauren Yarger, at the opening Nov. 8 in Hershey.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Theater Review: Godspell

The Youthful Flesh is Willing, but the Spirit is Weak
By Lauren Yarger
Since feel-good messages, relevance to contemporary culture and an urgency to reach out to the younger generation have become commonplace in modern churches, it should be no surprise that a retelling of the gospels in theatrical form via the first Broadway revival of Godspell would strive to do the same.

A young, forever smiling, blond-haired Jesus (Hunter Parrish of TV's "Weeds") forsakes costumes like a cleric's robe (traditional religion) and a Superman T-shirt (he's not a super power...) to select a "Co-Pilots" (we're all the same) baseball shirt with a #1 on the back to be a sort of team captain to a bouncing, energetic group of ethnically diverse disciples.There are jokes with references to today's headlines and a rock beat with lots of good singers performing hip choreography (Christopher Gattelli) amidst special effects (Chic Silber, design). It's not unlike a lot of worship services at today's mega churches, but while the flesh is willing to entertain audiences with a glitzy performance, the spiritual message as interpreted by Director Daniel Goldstein is weak.

The vision starts off well as the regular routine of frenzied cell phone users is interrupted by John the Baptist's (Wallace Smith, who also plays Judas) call to "Prepare Ye" for the coming of the Lord (yes, for you die-hard Godspell fans, the Prologue is in). They abandon their everyday garb for some rather odd green, orange and blue-hued costumes (Miranda Hoffman, design) and get baptised in a nifty pool with dripping water right on stage.

The set is designed by David Korins, who does a nice job with some minimal props in the theater-in-the-round confines at Circle in the Square Theater. Stations for the musicians (Charlie Alterman provides music direction) are placed throughout the house, with a piano on stage as part of the set.

The Jesus whose coming is trumpeted is a little disappointing, however. Parrish, unfortunately, is miscast and appears to struggle for some of the notes in Stephen Schwartz' score ("Alas for You" is particularly weak). He portrays a character who ranges from an excited, mischievous little boy to a rock star (using a hand-held microphone for a couple of numbers) to Groucho Marx to Bozo the Clown on speed (for you Godspell fans, the clown motif begun with the original production in 1971 actually is gone).

He never embodies Jesus, though and when one of the disciples calls him "Master," we wonder why. In addition, there are a few times when Jesus seems to be a little slow -- like when Anna Maria Perez de Tagle and he have to count out on their fingers the three things she prays "Day By Day." 

If you take your eyes off Jesus and focus on the glitz you'll feel better (hmmm... that sounds like some churches too). The cast is very strong vocally and Lindsay Mendez, who genuinely appears to be enjoying herself, gives a rousing send up of "Bless the Lord" while Telly Leung delivers a nicely belted "All Good Gifts."

Standing out is a fabulous Uzo Aduba, who brings humor and depth to the various parts she plays in the retelling of the parables. She plays a funny nasty bird in the "sowing of the seeds" story, then sings a beautiful, emotion-filled "By My Side" in what is the productions most spiritual moment -- a life changed by an encounter with Christ.  This number sounds the most like its original version, whereas most of the other numbers have been updated with reverb, rock, hiphop and other youth-friendly sounds and new arrangements by Michael Holland. Some of them, like the modern jokes inserted, work better than others. "Turn Back, O Man" (sung by Julia Mattison, understudying Morgan James the day I attended) is a particularly disappointing arrangement. Schwartz also has updated some of the lyrics. Overall, bringing the show out of the hippie movement into the 21st century works well.

The staging of the parables is fun, clever and engaging (though the eternal damnation of the goats separated from the sheep is delivered like a punchline). The good Samaritan is told to the beat of an African drum (apparently written by cast member Celisse Henderson as her audition for the show)with the clever use of a newspaper and a ladder; the unmerciful servant is recounted with beat box; audience members, some seated on rush-priced cushions around the edge of the stage, are brought up to participate in among other things, a game of Pictionary; one story is told in different languages. At intermission, a tray of wine in communion-like cups is brought onto stage where the audience hangs out with cast members while the band rocks.
Some of the staging and choreography is visually stimulating, but not easily explained. Confetti is shot at the audience, trap doors reveal mini trampolines on which the cast members bounce, the last supper table is a pit of fog.  Cleaning up the stage during scenes is a bit distracting.

The Crucifixion scene is nicely done and well staged with moving effect for the audience in the round (David Weiner, lighting design). Jesus is lowered and carried dead from the stage while his disciples sing about building a "Beautiful City" on their own without his returning to join them. Yes, fans, the Resurrection is out (and as a result,  thousands will skip this production and attend community or church productions of the musical where a resurrected Jesus returns to join the cast for the last choruses of "long live God.")

The cast is rounded out by Nick Blaemire and George Salazar.

Godspell plays at The Circle in the Square Theatre, 235 W. 50th St., NYC. Tickets: 212-239-6200.
Christians might also like to know:
--The good seed is equated to a stimulous package
--Rich man Lazarus in hell cries out to Father Abraham that he wants to see his birth certificate
--Judas tells Jesus his father wants him to friend him on Facebook
--The language from scripture isn't exact. For example, Jesus tells the disciples that they all will betray him before the crock crows three times, not just Peter.
--While telling a joke, Jesus says that while some people read palms or tea leaves, he reads feet.

Douglas Carter Beane, Lewis Flinn, David Henry Hwang, David Ives on Drama Desk Panel to Discuss 'Anatomy of a Breakout'

The Drama Desk and the Fordham University Theatre Program will present a special panel discussion at 6:30 pm Sunday, Nov. 13 titled “Anatomy of a Breakout,” reflecting the remarkable trend of breakthrough productions and breakout performances on the New York stage.

The panelists include (in alphabetical order): Douglas Carter Beane (book writer, LYSISTRATA JONES), Lewis Flinn (composer/lyricist, LYSISTRATA JONES), David Henry Hwang (playwright, CHINGLISH), David Ives (playwright, VENUS IN FUR), Samuel L. Jackson (actor, THE MOUNTAINTOP), Dan Knechtges (director/choreographer, LYSISTRATA JONES), Kenny Leon (director, THE MOUNTAINTOP and STICK FLY), Jennifer Lim (actor, CHINGLISH), and Leigh Silverman (director, CHINGLISH).

This special panel discussion will be moderated by Randy Gener, the George Jean Nathan Award winning editor/critic, and Leslie (Hoban) Blake, the Drama Desk’s Vice President.
It will be held at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus (Pope Auditorium, 113 W. 60th Street, corner of Columbus Avenue). The backdrop will be Matthew Maguire’s production of “The Marriage of Figaro” by Pierre Beaumarchais, which performs Nov 9-11 and Nov 17-19 at 8:00 PM.
A surprising bulk of the Fall 2011 New York theater season consists of new plays and new musicals that have received great critical acclaim, major awards and successful productions at major venues across the country prior to their emergence on Broadway:
  • CHINGLISH, the new comedy by Tony Award winner and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist David Henry Hwang, is making its Broadway premiere, starring Jennifer Lim and directed by Leigh Silverman, following its run at the Goodman Theatre of Chicago
  • David Ives’s comedy VENUS IN FUR had a critically acclaimed life Off-Broadway at Classic Stage Company prior to its Broadway premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club
  • THE MOUNTAINTOP, directed by Kenny Leon, written by Katori Hall and starring Samuel L. Jackson, was awarded the coveted 2010 Olivier Award for Best Play after it received critical acclaim in a three-week premiere at Theatre 503 in June 2009, followed by a West End transfer in London.
  • Lydia R. Diamond’s STICK FLY, staged by Leon, was developed in a co-production last year between Huntington Theatre Company in Boston and Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. The play had its world premiere at Chicago’s Congo Square Theatre Company in 2006 and was performed at theatres including McCarter Theatre in 2007 and Matrix Theatre Company in L.A. in 2009.
  • LYSISTRATA JONES opened to rave reviews in a Transport Group production at the Gym at Judson in Greenwich Village; this critically acclaimed musical comedy show will transfer to Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre in December.
Ticket prices:
General Admission: $20 Drama Desk members and their Guests: $15; Fordham Faculty, Alumni, Staff: $10; Students* & Senior Citizens: $5 (*from any school with valid ID)
Reservations are requested. Send RSVPs with first and last names plus number of guests to

Quick Hit Theater Review: Milk Like Sugar

Tonya Pinkins and Angela Lewis. Photo: Ari Mintz
Milk Like Sugar
By Kirsten Greenidge
Directed by Rebecca Taichman
A co-production of Playwrights Horizons, The Women's Project and La Jolla Playhouse

Three inner-city teenagers cope with their bleak lives by making a pack to get pregnant. They think babies are all cute and cuddly, won't be any trouble, and will provide a source of love. Cell phone-obsessed Margie (Nikiya Mathis) already is pregnant, so Talisha (Cherise Boothe) and Annie (Angela Lewis) need to be quick about joining her so the three will be able to have a baby shower together.

Talisha is dating an older abusive man, but 16-year-old Annie still is a virgin. Margie sets her up with astronomy-loving Malik (J. Mallory-McCree) who hopes college will provide a ticket to a better life and he inspires Annie to wonder whether she might want something more too. Maybe she should start worrying more about school tests than pregnancy tests.

Her mother, Myrna (Tonya Pinkins), is no help. She has her own dreams of being a writer (despite the fact that she's almost illiterate) and is frustrated as she scrapes to provide for her children by cleaning offices at night. Myrna can't even remember to call her daughter on her birthday or provide the family dinner she has requested as the gift to mark her sweet 16.

Annie's burning desires take the shape of a tattoo by artist Antwoine (LeRoy McCain) and are fueled by stories of a normal family life enjoyed by an unpopular classmate, Keera (Adrienne C. Moore), who shares wisdom from her father and her pastor about valuing one's self. Annie begins to wonder whether Keera's mantra to look for 'a more excellent way" might mean she can find an alternative to a cycle of children having children that landed her where she finds herself.

The performances are strong. Greenidge pens realistic, compelling, contemporary characters and gives insight into why the girls would make undesirable choices. Pinkins is particularly gripping as the insensitive, vindictive mother.

Some of the dialogue, particularly with reference to the play's title, seems contrived. Another title, like "Something from Nothing" might have been more natural.

Milk Like Sugar runs at Playwrights, Horizons, 416 West 42nd St., NYC through Nov. 27. Tickets:  212-279-4200.

Christians might also like to know:
--Lord's name taken in vain
--Sexual dialogue
--Sexual activity

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Theater Review: Celebrity Autobiography

Mario Cantone. Photo: Joan Marcus
They Couldn't Make This Stuff Up if They Tried
By Lauren Yarger
Thoughts on having little guidos and guidettes by "Jersey Shore's" Snooki, Geraldo Rivera's reflections about a romantic encounter with Liza Minelli, Cher's obsession with M&Ms, the two sides of Ricky Martin and the eating habits of Neil Sedaka are just a few of the topics given a very comedic reading during Celebrity Autobiography: The Next Chapter playing at the Triad Theatre.

This second rendition of the show (the 2009 version took the Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience) created by Eugene Pack features all new readings from autobiographies penned by the stars. A rotating cast of celebrity readers offers excerpts from the books -- sometimes solo, sometimes ensemble -- with a little added dramatic interpretation for the lounge-style crowd tightly packed at small tables in the house. Some impersonations add to the fun, but this material is funny enough to stand on its own. The words are exactly what the celebrities have written in their books. A comedy writer couldn't make this stuff up if he tried and it was lots of fun watching comedy writing legend Alan Zweibel's incredulous expressions as he read out loud.

The company of performers for the Monday night shows has included Carol Kane, Dick Cavett, Sharon Gless, John Goodman, Debi Mazar, Rosie Perez, Harry Shearer, Jerry Springer, Jennifer Tilley, Fred Willard, Vanessa Williams, Rhea Perlman and a long list of others. The night I attended, the cast included producer Pack, Craig Bierko (Broadway's The Music Man; TV's "Necessary Roughness"), Mario Cantone ("Comedy Central," "Sex in the City"), Susie Essman ("Curb Your Enthusiasm"), Florence Henderson ("The Brady Bunch"), Dayle Reyfel (also a producer of the show) and three-time Emmy-Award winner Zweibel, who was one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live (most recently "Curb Your Enthusiasm").

Every reading earns guffaws, and you haven't really laughed, until you have heard Diana Ross describing her rained-out concert in Central Park. Also reducing the audience to tears were David Hasselhoff's recollections of the "difficulties" involved in his "Bay Watch" and Jekyl & Hyde roles. Henderson kept cracking up her castmates with a chest-hefting, southern-drawling Dolly Parton and Martone's channeling of Barbra Steisand's thoughts about baked kale brought down the house. (Martone also impersonated Minelli and others).

One highlight is a return of the "mashup" combining excerpts from the autobiographies of Elizabeth Taylor, Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. He said, she said has never been funnier.

The rambling thoughts, boring details and self-absorbed reflections might not make the best literary offerings, but they sure do make great comedy material.
The next show is scheduled for Nov. 21 at the Triad, 158 West 72nd St., NYC. Tickets range from $35 to $60 and are available by clicking here. There is a two-drink minimum, cash only. For more information, visit
Christians also might like to know:
--Lord's name taken in vain

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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