Sunday, February 15, 2015

Broadway Review: Constellations with Jake Gyllenhaal

The Laws of Physics, Relationships May Not Be What They Seem
By Lauren Yarger
The Broadway sensation sparking some of biggest conversation this season is a tiny little play by Nick  Payne called Constellations.

Clocking in at just over an hour, the production presented by Manhattan Theatre Club and the Royal Court Theatre, where the play first appeared,  features riveting performances by film star Jake Gyllenhaal (“Nightcrawler,” “Brokeback Mountain”) in his Broadway debut and  two-time Olivier Award winner Ruth Wilson (TV’s “The Affair,”  “Luther”).

Set on a black stage, dressed by white balloons (designed by Tom Scutt and sharply lighted by Lee Curran), Constellations tells the story, sometimes in real time, sometimes in the past and sometimes in alternative realities, of a beekeeper  named Roland (Gyllenhaal) and Marianne (Wilson), a quantum physicist.

Under the direction of Michael Longhurst,  another science – chemistry – takes stage as well as the actors work in sync to bring the characters’ relationship and a unique parallel universe to life. In fact, we probably are seeing stars in the form of Tony Awards nominations here.  The performances are stellar, with atmosphere and body language turned into a sort of choreography helmed by Movement Director Lucy Cullingford (enhanced by original music composed by Simon Slater).

We are enraptured from their first date at a barbecue. They start a conversation that leads to a relationship – or doesn’t -- depending on what is said and how much they are willing to risk. It’s “what if” and “what could have been” mixed with “what is”  and “what has to be” in a delectable symphony of unending possibilities – or predetermined destiny -- in short scenes representing the split-second decisions that make up our lives.

Different scenarios contain the same dialogue, but are delivered with different intonation altering the outcome.  Shifts between scenes and realities are sharp and easy to follow (even if the meaning some times isn’t).

Will Marianne survive an illness? Is there some way it could have been avoided? Just how much do free will and faith factor into anything we do or is it all written in the stars? To give many more details would be to take away from the experience. These and other interesting questions keep us riveted, even if we don’t follow all of the scientific theories explored.

In the end it’s hard to believe that so much thought-provoking drama could be crammed into just 70 minutes. That satisfied feeling is important, of course, since ticket prices top out at $145. At the final curtain, or should I say balloon fall, you can’t help but feel like you have just witnessed a unique and important piece of theater.

Constellations plays through March 15 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets $67-$145; 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Broadway Gives Back to Charities

Broadway Gives Back presents the third annual “Broadway Charity Songs”  7 pm March 22 at 54 Below.

“Broadway Charity Songs” pairs a group of award-winning songwriters with a group of charities and tasks each songwriter with composing an original song inspired by the mission of the charity. The result is an evening of songs gifted to the charities -- increasing awareness for these outstanding organizations.

The concert will feature songs by Sting and Brian Yorkey, Henry Krieger, Andrew Lippa, Benj Pasek Justin Paul, Jeff Blumenkrantz, Adam Gwon, David Friedman, Lewis Flinn, Andy Monroe, Timothy Huang, Nadav Wiesel, Andre Catrini, Nolan Livesay and Nathan Brisby, and Jonathan Breit.

The concert will honor the following charity organizations: Donors Choose, Bring Change 2 Mind, The Ronald McDonald House, The Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, The Ryan Waldheger Research Memorial Foundation, Helping Hands Monkey Helpers, Duke Children’s, Landfill Harmonic, GLAAD, Dogs on Deployment, Heartbeat, Springwire (An Initiative of Feeding America), Chia Lifeline, and Project Linus.

Casting, which will feature some of Broadway’s greatest talents, will be announced at a later date. Doors will open at 5:15 with the concert beginning at 7 pm. Tickets are available on the 54 Below website at

Monday, February 2, 2015

Broadway Theater Review: Honeymoon in Vegas

Tony Danza, Rob McClure and the Company of Honeymoon in Vegas. Photo: Joan Marcus

Will Tony Danza’s Honeymoon on Broadway Last?
By Lauren Yarger
It’s got a score by Jason Robert Brown (The Bridges of Madison County; The Last five Years), a great cast (including Tony Danza, star of  TV’s “Who’s the Boss”) and is based on a popular movie of the same title, so why is Broadway’s Honeymoon in Vegas struggling to win a following?

The show received rave reviews in its pretrial run at Papermill Playhouse in New Jersey, and buzz in the industry circles then had the show --  and Danza -- walking off with Tony Awards in 2015. The move to Broadway, however, had producers wringing their hands as box office numbers were low – so low that news stories following Danza’s publicity appearances in Time Square made it sound as though the actor were begging for people to buy seats.

Positive reviews from New York critics following the show’s official opening on Broadway have boosted ticket sales a bit (grosses for that week show capacity at about 71 percent), but the buzz still seems to be that the show is struggling to find its footing (it apparently is switching press representatives in a quest to boost box office).  So is the honeymoon over?

Well, that buzz is important and can close a show, so we’ll see. Meanwhile, I found Honeymoon in Vegas to be entertaining and a chance to sit back and revel in the feel of an old-fashioned musical, right from the opening notes of an overture played by a small orchestra on the stage (musical direction by Tom Murray; orchestrations by Don Sebesky, Larry Blank and Charlie Rosen)  to parachuting Elvis impersonators (Flying by Foy) to a tap-dancing Danza.

The plot is a bit sketchy, but it is based on the 1992 film. Book writer Andrew Bergman, who is adapting his screenplay, is no stranger to reality-stretched plots (he co-wrote “Blazing Saddles,” for heaven’s sake) and quickly establishes that we aren’t to take things too seriously. There are the scantily clad showgirls (costume design by Brian Hemesath, hair and wig design by Charles G. Lapointe) to clue us in.

Stealing most of the scenes here are Rob McClure (who dazzled in Chaplin) as Jack Singer, a nice guy who wants to ask his girlfriend, Betsy Nolan (Brynn O'Malley), to marry him, and Nancy Opel as his controlling mother, Bea, who, on her deathbed, prohibits him from marrying. Jack tries to work up the courage to defy his mother (who amusingly haunts him thanks to set and prop design by Anna Louizos and Kathy Fabian of Propstar) and takes Betsy to Vegas to do the deed. While there, however, Betsy catches the eye of conman gambler Tommy Korman (Danza). Betsy, it seems, is the spitting image of his dearly beloved and departed wife.

With the help of his henchman, Johnny Sandwich (Matthew Saldivar), Tommy manages to “win” a weekend with Betsy from Jack in a hand of poker and flies her off to his Hawaiian estate with Jack in hot pursuit. (Louizos’ sets are enhanced by projections and make for easy transitions). Kudos to Bergman for adding a couple of lines for Betsy to question how she ended up being a piece of property to be wagered between the two men. So often we are just asked to assume that women are OK with being used.

Will Jack and Betsy ever get together? Will Tommy win her over with his charm? Will Bea ever rest in peace?

The answers to these, and other fairly easy-to-answer questions, are wedded in between more than 20 musical numbers with varying styles and some really funny lyrics by Brown. The score is an unusual one for him, though, in that it takes a back seat to the antics on stage and isn’t full of long, sweeping and soaring melodies.

Truth be told, I don’t remember any of the music; and maybe that’s why the show is struggling. The story on its own isn’t the stuff of which Broadway musicals are made and Danza, though he was popular as Judith Light’s single-father maid on “Who’s the Boss,” may not be a big enough star to get away with not having a Broadway singing voice, even if he is charming. McClure, with impeccable comedic timing and the multi-talented Opel are the ones to watch here. If you want to catch them, I recommend a quick trip to the box office, though. If the buzz doesn’t get better, this one might struggle to stay open through the Tony season.

Honeymoon in Vegas plays at the Nederlander Theatre, 208 West 41st 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. Tickets: $77.75 - $161.75;

Christians might also like to know:
-- Sexual situations and lyrics
-- Lord's name taken in vain
-- Scantily clad women
-- The Lord is thanked for a straight flush in a poker game
-- Language

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- 2024 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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