Monday, December 29, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: The Elephant Man with Bradley Cooper (Top Pick)

Bradley Cooper Transforms into Both Elephant Man and Stage Star Before Our Eyes
By Lauren Yarger
There is a reason Broadway’s The Elephant Man is doing gangbusters at the box office and has already recouped for its investors: it’s terrific.

Two-time Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper (“Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle”) turns in what will surely be a Tony-award nominated performance in Bernard Pomerance’s play about Joseph Merrick, a horribly deformed man who became the toast of Victorian society in London.
Merrick (named John here and played by Cooper), suffers from a bone disease that causes elephant-like skin development, an oversized head and other deformities that make him an outcast. He finds himself living a horrible life in a workhouse, then as a sideshow freak under the cruel, exploitive management of a man called Ross (Anthony Heald).

He eventually finds his way to a kind doctor, Frederick Treves (Alessandro Nivola) who wants to study Merrick “in the interest of science.” He launches a public drive for funds and brings Merrick to London Hospital – at first against the wishes of its head, Carr Gomm (Henry Stram) -- where he is sheltered and finds the first “home” he ever has known.

While Treves lectures students about his subject, with the help of slides showing Merrick’s grotesquely tortured body, we see Cooper transform into the Elephant Man as each deformity is addressed. The performance, under the direction of Scott Ellis, who helmed this production in Williamstown in 2012, renders makeup, prosthetics or additional costuming unnecessary for Cooper to make the transition. It’s attractive Cooper (named People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2011) up there on stage, but we see the Elephant Man. Clint Ramos designs the Victorian garb to remind us of the uptight, layered society in which Merrick lives.

The slides used in the performance, with the help of projection and expert lighting design (Timothy R. Mackabee, who also is scenic designer, and Philip S. Rosenberg, respectively), are actual photographs of Merrick taken by Dr. Treves in 1880. Additional mood is set by John Gromada’s original music and sound design as hospital curtains are drawn across the stage to change scenes. They are a constant reminder that Merrick, though in much better conditions, still is a subject of study and that society has a hard time accepting what it doesn’t understand.

As Merrick settles in, enjoying baths to lessen the odors of his flesh, and building a model of St. Phillip’s Church (still on display at the hospital), a strong friendship develops between patient and doctor. Treves works to bring in other people, especially women, to interact with Merrick. Mrs. Sandwich (Kathryn Meisle) thinks she is up to the task after having nursed unfortunates on missions trips, but finds she can’t deal with Merrick’s deformities. Treves finds success when he introduces a renowned actress and queen of London’s society, Mrs. Kendal (a delightful Patricia Clarkson who manages to steal some scenes). She throws herself into playing a role, but finds herself genuinely drawn to Merrick as a friend and as a man.

Merrick has an unshakable faith in God and in his salvation. He has some intelligent conversations with Bishop Walsham How (also played by Heald) and becomes the toast of society with royalty begging for an audience with him. While Merrick blossoms into his own person and enjoys as “normal” a life as he ever has known, the disease continues its progression, however. Pomerance’s play tells the moving story of Merrick, his courage and incredible outlook while making intelligent comment on society, both Victorian and modern.

Cooper’s astonishing performance is strenuous as he contorts his body into the misshapen man, walks with a limp and speaks with a slur. Clarkson is absolutely charming. They make a dynamic stage duo. My only complaint is that it sometimes was difficult to hear. Some dialogue should not be missed:
“Sometimes I think my head is so big because it is so full of dreams. . . do you know what happens when dreams cannot get out?”

Otherwise, The Elephant Man is one of the most enjoyable two hours of the season. It runs through Feb. 22 at the Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm, Sunday at 3 pm with some scheduling changes planned. Tickets $99 - $169:

Christians might also like to know:
-- Nudity

Monday, December 22, 2014

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Pocatello

Restaurant Serves Up Desires for Family, Belonging in a Hungry America
By Lauren Yarger
No matter how bad times get, we always have family. But what happens if that’s not true? Where do we find our sense of roots, belonging and support then?

These are the questions raised in Pocatello, the premiere of a new play by award-winning playwright Samuel D. Hunter at Playwrights Horizons Off-Broadway in New York.

Pocatello is a small town in Idaho, where Eddie (T.R. Knight of TV’s “Grey’s Anatomy” fame) runs an Italian chain restaurant franchise that he is pouring his own savings into to postpone the closing that corporate is telling him must occur. The restaurant is everything to Eddie: his claim of a place in his hometown and a source of existence for his extended family of employees.

That group consists of Max (Cameron Scoggins), a drug user who is grateful to Eddie for giving him a job when no one else would; Isabelle (Elvy Yost), a waitress who utters profanity while trying to keep service running smoothly; and Troy (Danny Wolohan), who took a waiting job to avoid a move that would make his daughter, Becky (Leah Karpel), have to switch schools when he lost his job at the local paper mill. They all appreciate Eddie. He’s the best boss, after all, since he puts up with their trysts in the back room, pot smoking and hasn’t had the heart to tell them that the restaurant needs to close.

His idea to sponsor an employee “Famiglia Week” doesn’t go over so well, though, since dysfunctional is a mild term for the family members who come for dinner.

Troy’s alcoholic wife, Tammy (Jessica Dickey), wonders whether she would have been better off with old beau Eddie while coping with Tory's father, Cole (Jonathan Hogan), who suffers from Alzheimer's, bulimic daughter Becky who can’t eat anything -- especially meat -- because of the processes used in preparing it. She rattles on excessively about cows getting caught in slaughter machinery and promptly sours the evening.

Eddie’s mother, Doris (Brenda Wehle) can’t seem to find anything on the menu she likes either and brother, Nick (Brian Hutchinson) can’t wait to get out of the place. Is it his loathing of being back in the town that holds bad memories of his father, or is it that he is uncomfortable around his homosexual brother? The only one who seems genuinely pleased to be there and to make an effort at reuniting family is Nick’s wife, Kelly (Crystal Finn), who urged her husband to make the trip home.

Davis McCallum, who directed Hunter’s sensitive and moving play The Whale at Playwrights in 2012, returns here and creates an atmosphere (with the restaurant set designed by Lauren Helpern and music/sound ambiance designed by Matt Tierney) that keeps us interested. Knight, in particular, delivers a solid portrayal of a man losing control, but unable to figure out what to do to make things better.

The play itself is flawed. Too many people thrown at us in the opening scene with run-on conversations makes it difficult to figure out who’s who and what is going on. In addition, Wehle doesn’t look old enough to be Eddie’s mother, so at first I thought she was Nick’s wife and the young-looking Finn was their daughter making it even more confusing.

The action evens out, but Hunter, who is a 2014 MacArthur Foundation “Genius,” fails to take us as deeply into the characters as we need to go. What exactly happened with Eddie and Nick’s father? Why did Eddie and Doris become estranged and what motivates her to make a renewed effort to reach out to her son?

We leave with a feeling of despair in an atmosphere where family relationships appear to be going the same way as small-town life --  replaced by chains and strip malls rather – rather than with hope in the staple of family relationships, which I think is on Hunter’s take-out menu.

Pocatello runs through Jan. 4 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St., NYC. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7 pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 and 8 pm and Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30 PM.  Special Monday evening performances Dec. 22 and Dec. 29. Tickets $75-$95 with discounts available:; (212) 279-4200.

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

Friday, December 19, 2014

Quick Hit Off-Broadway Review: Lost Lake

Lost Lake
By David Auburn
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Manhattan Theatre Club
NY City Center Stage I

What's It All About?
The newest from playwright David Auburn (Pulitzer Prize-winning Proof and The Columnist) and director Daniel Sullivan, starring Oscar nominee John Hawkes ("The Sessions, "Winter’s Bone") and Tracie Thoms (Rent, TV's “Cold Case.”). Veronica (Thomas) rents a shabby lake cabin (scenic design by J. Michael Griggs, who gets kudos for a slick scenery change trick) for a vacation with her kids, but property owner Hogan (Hawkes) doesn't follow through on work he promised to complete around the house. In fact, he sort of doesn't really vacate the place since he has no place to go except for his truck. Things get even more uncomfortable when it appears that Hogan may have let the property without his brother and sister-in-law's blessing and Veronica might not be willing to pay the balance of her rental fee, especially since she just lost her job under difficult circumstances. An unusual friendship grows between the two adults who both are lost in their own ways and trying to find acceptance.

What are the Highlights?
Good performances and tight direction.

What Are the Lowlights?
Much of the premise is unlikely. Given the less-than-cozy state of the cabin, what's the likelihood that a mom, who goes out of her way to check the place out in person, would book the place, especially when she has looked at other rentals that are nicer? What's the likelihood that she would stay when repairs haven't been made and the heat doesn't work? What is the likelihood that she would allow Hogan to keep showing up, particularly when she discovers he ha been sleeping in his truck on the property and at one point when he shows up drunk. What's the likelihood that these two would end up being friends? Perhaps that last question is the one that fuels the play -- an interesting study of how to people from different backgrounds and lifestyles can both feel lost and find something in common despite circumstances. The rest of the questions are answered by "if not, there would be no play."

More Information:
Design team includes: Jess Goldstein (costume design), Robert Perry (lighting design), and Fitz Patton (original music & sound design).

Christians might also like to know:
-- Language
-- God's name use din vain

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book Note: Show Stopping Recipes: From Your Palace to Your Plate

Just in time for holiday shopping comes a special cookbook from the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

Comprised of more than 250 recipes submitted by the theater's staff and volunteers, the hardcover volume (published through Morris Press Cookbooks, 2014) is creatively laid out with step-by-step instructions on how to make every meal a showstopper, from the "Opening Number" (soups, salads and appetizers) to the final "Curtain Call" (desserts). 

Other sections are "Supporting Cast"(vegetables and side dishes), "Featured Presentation" (main dishes), "Intermission" (breads and rolls) and "Encore" (cookies and candies). Clever!

I just received a copy of the book to review an already have book marked a number of savory sounding recipes to try out:
  • Greek chicken, spinach and rice soup by Karen Streeter
  • Coleslaw vinaigrette by Judith Campbell
  • Bacon and double cheese quiche by Joan Montesi
  • Sour cream almond coffee cake by Maureen Piccochi
Actually, there are a lot of them --  more than I usually bookmark in these community group type cookbooks.

The front of the book offers a short history of the theater and a message from its CEO Frank Tavera (would have loved to see more photos of the beautiful theater, but they probably aren't an option for this publishing format). Also would have loved a listing of the contributors and their relationship to the theater. The book instead includes some generic "helpful hints" sections.

The idea for the cookbook was generated by the Palace Theater’s Volunteer Fundraising Committee, which is spearheaded by members Genevieve Delkescamp, Carol Marchand, Karen Streeter and George Theroux.

Each cookbook is $20, or $20 for the first book and $15 for each additional copy, and can be purchased at the Box Office, 100 E. Main St. in Waterbury, or in the theater’s gift shop during all upcoming performances. Proceeds from sales benefit the Palace Theater Annual Campaign.
-- Lauren Yarger

Monday, December 15, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: The River starring Hugh Jackman

Plot Waters Too Murky to Figure Out What Hugh Jackman is Doing By the River
By Lauren Yarger
Let me start out by saying that I although I was somewhat alone in the critics circles a couple of seasons ago, I really liked Jez Butterworth’s puzzling, deep and humorous play Jerusalem (also directed by Ian Dickson).

Critics weren’t sure what the heck it was about, but enjoyed the fabulous performance of Mark Rylance. I appreciated the mythical saga of a man’s journey through pain and felt, yes, somewhat superior to my colleagues who didn’t get it. No longer.

After seeing The River, Butterworth’s newest play, getting a limited run at Circle in the Square Theater with Box-Office-Golden Hugh Jackman as its star, I have to admit I’m in the “didn’t-get-it” category for this one. A colleague texted me after seeing it: “What the heck was that about?” “No idea,” I replied.

Jackman plays a man (listed in the Playbill only as “The Man,” so you know you’re in trouble….) who likes fishing a lot at a “cabin on the cliffs, above the river” – the nonspecifics continue. We know he likes fishing because he talks about it a lot to two women (Cush Jumbo and Laura Donnelly), identified as The Woman and The Other Woman who appear at the cabin separate from each other, but who tend to have the same conversation with The Man….

Is he really just trying to get them to do a little night fishing or is there more sinister bait at the end of his hook? Who are they and why are they at the cabin, and whose drawing with the face missing is hidden under the bed and why is her dress still in the cabin? No clue.

“I promised myself I would only bring one woman here,” Jackman’s character tells one of the women. “The woman I wanted to spend my life with. The woman I wanted to be with forever. She would come here, and it would be sacred. It would be something I had only shared with her and her alone.”

OK, so is the woman with her face scratched out that “sacred” choice and none of these others can fill her shoes? Is this a line which he uses to gain the confidence of a long stream of woman he captures in his net? Is one of them the ideal woman before her face is scratched out of the photo? Do they all only exist in his imagination? Did he kill one or more of them and now he’s is reeling in his next catch? Did his uncle do the killing? Is this some sort of purgatory? 

No clue, but it certainly was 80 minutes of confusion for my brain, despite Jackman’s solid performance and fish-gutting skills. The able design team is Scenic Design by Ultz, Costume Design by EsosaLighting Design by Charles Balfour; Sound Design by Ian Dickinson for Autograph, music by Stephen Warbeck.

In an attempt to offer you some insight to the play and its meaning, I offer you the description from the show’s page:

“On a moonless evening, a man brings his new girlfriend to a remote cabin for a night of trout-fishing. But before the night is over, it becomes clear that nothing is as it seems… and as memory collides with desire, the truth becomes the most elusive catch of all.”

In addition, here the few notes I scribbled on my reporter’s pad: 
  • What the heck did that mean?” (The Woman had just read a poem by Yeats.)
  • · “Isn’t that a different woman?”
  • · “He just said he loved her while gutting a fish.”
  • · “Who the heck is buried out at the abandoned house?”
  • · “Isn’t that a different woman again?”
  • · “Isn’t that the same water spigot they used for The Miracle Worker and Godspell at this theater?
  • · “Isn’t that a different woman again?”
OK, now you write the review…. Press agents asked us not to reveal the ending. No problem since I didn’t get that either.

The best part of the night came after the curtain when Jackman enticed members of the audience to bid on the T-shirt he was wearing to raise funds for Broadway Cares, Equity Fights AIDs. The quite personable actor ended up with two parties paying $7,000 each for the privilege of having their pictures taken with him backstage. He also brought in the most money – almost $500,000 – of all the Broadway, Off-Broadway and touring shows competing in this year’s Gypsy competition for the cause.

That’s the kind of star power that is keeping The River packing the house with premium tickets selling as high as $275 each. It sure isn’t the plot.

The River runs (nice pun) through Feb. 8 at Circle in the Square Theatre, 235 W. 50th St., NYC. Perfromances: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets $35-$175;

Christians might also like to know:
-- The show posts a MATURE warning
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain

Drama Desk Holiday Party

Sandi Durell, Rex Reed, Lillian Wolf and Lauren Yarger
Drama Desk members and guests gathered at the Coffee House Club Friday for the annual holiday party. Lots of fun. Some celebrities joined the fun. All photos by the fabulous Barry Gordin. More available at

David Sheward, Drama Desk President Charles Wright, Nominating Committe Chair Barbabar Siegel, Scott Siegel

Board members John Istel and David Kauffman

Jeffry Denman, Mary Testa and Charles Wright

Reed Birney and Patrick Christiano

Jeffry Denham and Lauren Yarger

Pat Addiss, Linda Langton and Lauren Yarger
Board members Leslie Hoban Blake and Arlene Epstein

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Kathie Lee Gifford Shares How Faith Helps Shape Generosity

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Kathie Lee Gifford supported the Salvation Army last week in Harlem.
Photo courtesy of the Salvation Army.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Broadway Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Bestselling Novel Comes to Stage in Full Sensory Experience
By Lauren Yarger
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time proves once again why Britain’s National Theatre is one of Broadway’s hottest tickets.

The production of Mark Haddon’s best-selling novel into a stage production was no easy feat. Any adaptation of a work that has such a loyal following is difficult in itself. Will the show live up to expectations? Will it include all of the parts enjoyed by fans? This book’s concept offered even greater challenges since most of it takes place in the mind of an autistic boy.

For this production of Curious, Director Marianne Elliott (who won the Tony for the excellent War Horse) and Scenic and Costume Designer Bunny Christie (who has three Oliviers) don’t disappoint. They depict every sensation, every thought honed with mathematical precision, every emotion that takes flight to produce an immersive experience quite unlike anything we have seen on a Broadway stage.

Recent Julliard graduate Alexander Sharp makes a smashing Broadway debut as Christopher, a 15-year –old who is exceptional at math, but ill-equipped to interpret everyday life. When the police suspect him of killing a dog belonging to his neighbor, Mrs. Shears (Mercedes Herrero), he initiates his own investigation into the incident and records his observations in a book he is writing to solve the murder. His special-ed teacher Siobhan (Francesca Faridany) reads to us from it and later convinces Christopher to turn it into a play. By using this technique, script writer Simon Stephens keeps the idea of the first-person narrative from the novel.

The boy’s father, Ed (Ian Barford), who has been raising Christopher alone, is very much opposed to the investigation, however, especially when helpful neighbor Mrs. Alexander (Helen Carey) provides some disturbing information about Christopher’s mother, Judy (Enid Graham).

Christopher continues, however, making a map (projected onto screens and the stage) and setting out on a voyage that has him walking down walls, flying through space and ending up at the truth.

The story is engaging (if a bit drawn-out at two and a half hours) thanks to Elliot’s excellent direction. Actors not involved in the action take seats around the stage, leaning in when the story gets interesting. The real triumph here is Christie’s visual communication of Christopher’s thought process.

“I see everything,” he says, and we see everything he sees. Concepts become projected mathematical equations (designed by Finn Ross with lighting by Paule Constable); heightened emotions and thoughts jumbling at too-fast a rate manifest in a crash of music and sound (designed by Adrian Sutton and Ian Dickinson for Autograph, respectively).

This full sensory experience becomes one giant piece of breath-taking choreography (movement by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett for Frantic Assembly) that involves the audience in emotional ways and takes Broadway stage production to a new level. At the end of the performance, the audience gave a collective “hmmmm” then burst into applause. Now that’s theater that makes you think.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time transferred to London’s West End (where it still runs), following a sold-out run at the National’s Cottesloe Theatre in 2012. The production received seven Olivier including Best New Play. Look for it at the 2015 Tonys….

Curious? Catch it at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th St., NYC, Performances: Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm; Tickets $27 - $129

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

Monday, December 1, 2014

Off-Broadway Theater Review: The Oldest Boy

This Story Idea Proves a Bit of a Leap of Faith
By Lauren Yarger
You’re a mother and of course that means you want the best for your son. But what if the “best” means that when he is just 3, you have to give him over to the care of strangers in a foreign land and never see him again?

Such is the question playwright Sarah Ruhl wants us to ponder in her new work, The Oldest Boy, getting an Off-Broadway run at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre. It seems Tenzin (portrayed by a puppet created and directed by Matt Acheson of War Horse fame), the toddler son of an American woman (Celia Keenan-Bolger) and a Tibetan man (James Yaegashi), has been recognized as the reincarnation of a recently deceased Lama, a high Buddhist teacher. A visiting lama (James Saito) and a monk (Jon Norman Schneider) want the parents to allow them to take Tenzin to their temple in India for training.

To make the idea a bit more plausible, Ruhl (Stage Kiss, In the Other Room, Dead Man’s Cell Phone; faculty at Yale School of Drama) pens the mother as someone who embraces and who eventually converts to the Buddhist faith.

Even still…..

Apparently the reincarnated lama/boy (who seems really creepy in his wooden puppet form -- manipulated by some chorus members -- and voiced in a whiny manner by full-grown Ernest Abuba) needs to go back, but his parents can’t come with him. Oh, they go check out the place (vividly created with projections, costumes, lighting and choreography designed by Mimi Lien, Anita Yavich, Japhy Weideman, and Barney O’Hanlon respectively), but once a special ceremony takes place the toddler transforms into his former, older self – at least in the eyes of his mother. Emotionally struggling with giving up her boy, she is thrilled that her new baby is a girl and can’t be taken away for training in a monastery.

Really? Would any mother willingly drop off her son in another country, say goodbye and return home convinced that the sacrifice would be worth it in the long run? Maybe, but not me, so I struggled with the plausibility of the plot throughout the play. Even if you became convinced that your son was the reincarnation of a wise teacher who wanted to return to his roots, wouldn’t you want to stay with him and see him while he was growing up? Could you really stand their while your son cried and miserably and begged you not to allow the monks to cut his hair and let them? I couldn’t.

Let’s put it into context to which I can relate. Say my son were discovered to be in line to the throne of England and he needed to grow up at Buckingham Palace to be trained in his royal heritage. Would I want to stand in the way of his being able to claim his inheritance? No. I would want him to be able to ride to the hounds, attend state dinners and wear the crown jewels with the best of them. But you’d better believe the queen would have to provide a suite at the castle for me too, because I can’t imagine packing him up at the age of 3, dropping him off at William and Kate’s and never seeing him again. And if they insisted on giving him a haircut to make him look like Prince Charles, you better believe I would object.

There is no loss of affection between the mother and son in the play, even when the older man’s soul seems to take over the boy, so the whole question about giving him up totally and making a sacrifice seems to be more about creating a plot device to give emotional fodder rather than grounding a story in plausible circumstance (Keenan-Bolger does justice to the flighty, conflicted American woman). The father even suggests at one point that they can move to India and visit the boy on weekends. Good idea.

That said, there isn’t too much tension about the religious choices of the mother either. Raised Catholic, the woman embraced the “scientific” and “rational” qualities of Buddhism in a search for God that also took her through a time of atheism (ironically, she hates the story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son). She met her Tibetan husband when she fell in love with the food he cooked at his restaurant (this and other elements of the story are told in flashbacks, directed by Rebecca Taichman in a manner that doesn’t confuse) and now, it appears their meeting was ordained when their son, as his former Lama self, chose her to be her mother in his rebirth.

She doesn’t really answer, I noticed, however, when her young son starts asking questions and making philosophical ponderings about God. She later decides she is ready to convert and asks for guidance from the visiting lama who says he used to be her son’s student.

The highlights in this otherwise non-engaging two-hour production are some comedic moments with the monk and the beautiful backdropping which incorporates live action, sound and images to transport us to spiritual Asia.

The Oldest Boy is Reincarnated Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 3 pm at the Mitzi E. Newhouse, Lincoln Center, 150 West 65th St., NYC. Tickets $87.; (800) 432-7250.

Christians might also like to know:
-- Buddhist meditation, chanting and prayer
-- God's name taken in vain

Monday, November 24, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: Side Show

David St. Louis (center), Emily Padgett and Erin Davie. Photo:  Joan Marcus
Side Show Asks Whether a Couple of ‘Freaks’ Can Find a Normal Life
By Lauren Yarger
Inspired by the true-life story of conjoined twins who became the highest-paid performers on the Vaudeville circuit, Broadway’s revival of Side Show offers some solid voices singing a pleasing Henry Krieger score, but let’s face it. Life as sisters joined at the hip – literally – has its drawbacks and, well, is still kind of a bummer despite songs and material added to broaden the scope of this revival.

Erin Davie and Emily Padgett are the Hilton twins, Violet  and Daisy. Abused by their guardian, whom they call Sir (Robert Joy), they are forced to work in the freak show he runs and to strip and reveal their connection to anyone willing to pay a few extra bucks. Sir draws the line at anyone touching the girls, however, and employs Jake (David St. Louis in a break-out role) to protect them. He does more than that. He falls in love with Violet.

Violent loves Jake, but as a friend. Despite wanting a home and family, and a life “Like Everyone Else,” she doesn’t think the society who drools over her and her "Freak" friends would be tolerant of her relationship with an African-American any way. Meanwhile, Daisy, the opposite of her sister in personality, is flirty and dreams of adventure and fame in Hollywood.

Along comes a man who might be able to make that happen. Terry Connor (Ryan Silverman) catches the girls’ act and convinces friend Buddy Foster (Matthew Hydzik), a scout for the Orpheum Circuit, that they have potential. He creates an act for them with song-and-dance man Buddy (Anthony Van Laast choreographs) and helps them win their freedom from Sir. 

Meanwhile, he orchestrates publicity frenzy over Buddy’s marriage to Violet, all while avoiding his own feelings for Daisy. He might be willing to explore them, he tells her, if the twins would agree to undergo risky surgery to separate them.

The story plays out against a set designed by David Rockwell and lighted by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer to bring out the dark mood and humor: “I’m well connected, a character claims…” 

Assorted “Freaks” are frighteningly costumed by Paul Tazewell with Hair and Wig Design by Charles LaPointe, Makeup Design by Cookie Jordan and Special Makeup Effects by Dave Elsy and Lou Elsy. Illusions are by Paul Kieve, Tazewell also has a chance to create some stunning evening dresses for the twins.

The cast of Side Show's characters includes a Three-Legged Man (Brandon Bieber), a Dog Boy (Javier Ignacio), a Half Man Half Woman (Kelvin Moon Loh), a Reptile Man (Don Richard) and a Bearded Lady (Blair Ross) among many others. 

Violet and Daisy's friend Houdini (Ignacio) teaches the girls how to disappear into themselves, but what they really want is to find someone “Who Will Love Me As I Am.” Davie and Padgett nail that showstopper ending to Act One, with its moving lyrics by Bill Russell. The audience included obvious fans of the show who were waiting for that number and others like “I Will Never Leave You.”

Standing out is dreamy-voiced St. Louis, who brings down the house with “The Devil You Know” and makes us feel Jake’s pain. All of the vocals are good here, actually, so maybe these leads will find their way to stardom the way original stars Emily Skinner, Alice Ripley and Norm Lewis did following the original Broadway production.

Reimagining the show with some new material and bringing in film Director Bill Condon (“Chicago,” “Dreamgirls,” “Twilight: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 and 2”) for his stage debut doesn’t change the underlying sad tone to this show, however.

View Side Show at the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th St., NYC. Performances are Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets: $49 - $155. A limited number of $30 student rush tickets for student’s under 30 years old are available at the Box Office for purchase on day of performance.

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

Monday, November 10, 2014

Broadway Theater Review: Disgraced

Thought-Provoking Play Probes Religious, Ethnic Ties We Think We Understand
By Lauren Yarger
“I’m not prejudiced.”
“All Muslims are….”

If either of those two statements sounds intriguing, Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning play Disgraced might just be the next Broadway ticket for you.

In the course of an evening, a Muslim, a Jew, an African-American and a WASP start talking religion. It gets messy.

Amir (Hari Dhillon) is a former Muslim – if there can be such a thing is one of the themes explored here – who has decided to worship his career as a mergers and acquisitions attorney in New York instead of the religion into which he was born. Besides, he just can’t embrace the archaic Quran and the religion it promotes. Accused of just “going through a phase” by his nephew, Abe (Danny Ashok), who has Americanized his name from Hussein, Amir replies that the phase is called “intelligence.”

If Amir feels a pull toward his Pakistani roots, it is because his WASPy American artist wife, Emily (Gretchen Mol Boardwalk Empire”) defends the religion and continually praises the beauty and wisdom she finds in her studies of Islamic art. Her latest works have been influenced by it and earn her a place in a show produced by Isaac (Josh Radnor How I Met Your Mother”). Emily influences her husband so much that he gives in when Abe and she beg him to help an imprisoned imam accused of having terrorist ties. Appearing to support the mosque leader has unpleasant professional consequences for Amir, however.

When Isaac and his African-American wife, Jory (Karen Pittman), who is an attorney vying for the same partnership at Amir’s mostly Jewish law firm, come to dinner at Amir and Emily’s swank Upper East Side apartment (nicely appointed by Designer John Lee Beatty), Amir has a few too many and all hell breaks loose as the conversation goes from “all religions have idiosyncrasies” to a hate-filled round of “your religion is bad.”

Turns out Amir isn’t as removed from his religious upbringing as he thinks. He certainly has some opinions that offend his Jewish and African-American guests (and us) like thinking that blowing Israel off the map is a good idea and feeling “tribal” pride over the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Later, Emily and Jory both tragically find that their husbands’ views about how to treat their wives aren’t what they thought they were either.

It’s a disturbing play on many levels, made so by unspoken truths which eventually are voiced. It is intelligent and witty (Radnor in particular delivers many of the play’s humorous lines with expert timing). We don’t want to have to talk about these things, let alone discuss them over dinner with friends, but the characters (all excellently portrayed) don’t give us any choice. 

There is no escape (there’s no intermission) and we are forced to explore some of the deep-rooted thoughts we have about religion. We also have to face the fact that the ugliness on stage could show up at our next dinner party too if we and our guests were to serve up honest opinions about religion and its place in today’s world.

Akhtar gets points for being able to bring so much out into the open in just 85 minutes. It’s well written and it makes you think. The awarding of the Pulitzer, however, seems a bit overdone for the first stage play by the actor and author of the novel “American Dervish.” Using liquor as a plot device to unleash the rage within Amir, for example, and the convenience of an affair between two of the characters all seems a bit trite.

The Pulitzer isn’t the only award Disgraced has received, however, so what do I know? Previous productions in Chicago and Off-Broadway, both also helmed by Director Kimberly Senior, received Jefferson and Obie awards.

Disgraced plays at the Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm.

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

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Exciting Theater Programs You Should Know About!

First Program to Provide Health Care for Writers at Playwrights Horizons

Playwrights Horizons has announced several major initiatives that will expand the ways in which theater writers are compensated.  

One of two new precedents that Playwrights Horizons is launching is providing health care support for writers.  The theater company will contribute financially to health insurance costs for all writers in their 2014/2015 Season by offsetting a portion of each writer’s monthly premiums.  Playwrights Horizons believes that it is the first theater company in the country to provide this support for all their writers – in addition to those who receive health care through residency programs – for the entire season in which they are produced.

The theater company also is establishing a second national precedent by paying writers for their rehearsal and pre-production time.   In addition to the industry-wide practice of paying writers through fees and royalties, Playwrights Horizons becomes the first theater to compensate its playwrights for their multi-week pre-production efforts, during which the writers are heavily engaged in such activities as auditions, casting, readings and creative meetings.

 These bold steps grew out of a Strategic Planning Process undertaken by the Staff and the Playwrights Horizons Board of Trustees to enhance and expand artistic opportunities and develop a host of ways to better serve the American writer.  Other programs that will be instituted in the future include substantially increasing commissioning fee levels and creating more teaching and mentoring opportunities for the company’s writers each season at the Playwrights Horizons Theater School (affiliated with NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts).

Playwrights Horizons is a writer’s theater dedicated to the support and development of contemporary American playwrights, composers and lyricists and to the production of their new work. Under the leadership of artistic director Tim Sanford and managing director Leslie Marcus, the theater company continues to encourage the new work of veteran writers while nurturing an emerging generation of theater artists. In its 44 years, Playwrights Horizons has presented the work of more than 400 writers and has received numerous awards and honors, including a special 2008 Drama Desk Award for “ongoing support to generations of theater artists and undiminished commitment to producing new work.”  

Notable productions include six Pulitzer Prize winners – Annie Baker’s The Flick(2013 Obie Award, 2013 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize), Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park (2012 Tony Award, Best Play), Doug Wright’sI Am My Own Wife (2004 Tony Award, Best Play), Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles (1989 Tony Award, Best Play), Alfred Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy and Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Sunday in the Park with George – as well as Ms. Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation (three 2010 Obie Awards including Best New American Play)

Tickets on Sale for Kids Night on Broadway
Tickets for the 2015 KIDS’ NIGHT ON BROADWAY® are on sale.

The event is Friday, Jan. 9 to Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015, when kids ages 6 to 18 can see participating Broadway shows for free when accompanied by a full-paying adult. A KIDS’ NIGHT ON BROADWAY ticket includes pre-theatre activities, restaurant discounts, parking discounts, educational programs, and more.

This year, KIDS’ NIGHT ON BROADWAY continues its collaboration with KidzVuz, a safe video review sharing site, with a KidzVuz Broadway video contest. Kids ages 6-18 can submit original videos on three Broadway topics, and be entered for a chance to win cool Broadway prizes, including tickets to a participating KIDS’ NIGHT ON BROADWAY show. Additionally, kids can participate in a KIDS’ NIGHT ON BROADWAY Q&A by submitting questions to the KIDS’ NIGHT ON BROADWAY Facebook page that will later be answered by Broadway stars.

Judith Light, a two-time Tony Award® winner, is the National Ambassador for the 19th KIDS’ NIGHT ON BROADWAY. 

Participating shows to date include:*

Aladdin, Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, Chicago, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Disgraced, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, Honeymoon in Vegas, If/Then, Jersey Boys, Kinky Boots, Les Misérables, The Lion King, Mamma Mia!, Matilda The Musical, The Phantom of the Opera, On the Town, Rock of Ages, Side Show, Wicked and You Can’t Take It With You.

(*subject to change, and some shows not available for all performances)

KIDS’ NIGHT ON BROADWAY will also take place in multiple cities around the country, with different shows and venues putting their own spin on the event, on numerous dates throughout the year. Check for specific dates and locations.

Christians might also like to know:
Check reviews on this site, or email me for information on which shows are appropriate for which ages.

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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