Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Off-Broadway Theater Review: The Band's Visit TOP PICK

We Can All Just Get Along After All
By Lauren Yarger
What happens when you mix some lost Egyptian musicians with some Israeli residents bored with life in the dessert? With Director David Cromer as the chef, you get a recipe for a satisfying slice of life in the world premiere of David Yazbek's The Band’s Visit Off-Broadway at Atlantic Theater Company.

With a book by Itamar Moses, based on Erin Kolirin's screenplay for the film by the same name, and music and lyrics by Yazbek, The Band's Visit transports us to another world, yet tells a warm, refreshingly human story that feel close to home.

Tony Shalhoub stars as conductor Tewfiq, who in 1996 has traveled with Egypt's police band to play at a dedication ceremony for the new Arab Cultural Affairs Center. A mix up in the name of their destination lands the band in the middle of nowhere -- Bet Hatikva -- instead of the city of Petah Tikva.

Residents of the town welcome the travelers -- after all, this is the most exciting thing that has happened around there in a while. They share food at the local cafe owned by made-hard-by-life Dina (Katrina Lenk) and offer the men places to sleep in their homes until they can catch the right bus to their destination the next morning.

It's amazing what can happen in one night. Tewfiq and Haled (Ari'el Stachel), who is responsible for the mix-up, stay with Dina. Others stay with new father Itzak (John Cariani), whose wife is about to leave him, and in the restaurant itself. Dina decides to be spontaneous and takes Tewfiq out to show him the sites – if anything in this place can really be called a site -- and others head out on a roller-skating date. The evening is magical with regrets and confidences being shared and unexpected friendships taking root. And could Dina be feeling something more than friendship with her shy, widowed companion?

The action, expertly directed by Cromer, who works his usual magic, takes place on Scott Pask's bleak set -- as colorless as the lives of the people living there. A revolving stage moves the story from place to place partnered with subtle lighting shifts designed by Tyler Micoleau.  Choreography is by Patrick McCollum and movement is by Lee Sher.

The plot unfolds in songs full of emotion, yearning and heartfelt desires. One character, identified only as Telephone Guy, waits expectantly by a pay phone, frozen in time as he awaits a call from his girlfriend. The longing and need in his soul is visible. We don't know why he thinks she is going to call, or whether there is any chance she might, be we sure hope she will.

A nice touch is that, despite our expectations, politics really isn't a factor. How refreshing to think that people can come together and find kindness and generosity despite differences in politics.

The band members are just in name only. The actors actually play instruments -- sometimes as accompaniment, sometimes as part of the visit -- and later, a small concert delights the audience. Music Director Andrea Grody goes for raw feeling rather than perfect pitch and the effect sharpens the songs as part of storytelling rather than performance. The cast also features George Abud,  Bill Army, Erik Liberman, Andrew Polk, Rachel Prather. Jonathan Raviv, Sharone Sayegh, Kristen Sieh, Daniel David Stewart and Alok Tewari.

I didn't want the visit to end. "Monk" fans, this character won't remind you of your favorite TV detective, but you will want to see Shalhoub shine in this heartwarming, magical musical.

The Band's Visit plays through Jan. 1 at Atlantic Theater Company's Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20 St., NYC. Performance times vary. Tickets are $90: atlantictheater.org/playevents/thebandsvisit; 866-811-4111.

Additional credits: 
Sound Design, Clive Goodwin; Projections content design, Maya Cirrocchi; Projections system design, Five OHM; Hair and Wig Design, Charles La Pointe; Language and Dialect Coach, Mouna R'miki.

-- No content notes.

Broadway Theater Review: A Bronx Tale

A Bronx Tale
Music by Alan Menken
Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Book by Chaz Palminteri
Choreography by Sergio Trujillo
Directed by Robert DeNiro and Jerry Zaks

By Lauren Yarger
It's another movie made into a musical, and one that I wasn't sure would make the transition, but there's something about the new Broadway version of A Bronx Tale that just won't let you give it a Bronx cheer.

Maybe it's the weight of some of the names behind this film-to-stage endeavor. Alan Menken (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and many others) composes the score with lyrics by Glenn Slater (The Little Mermaid, School of Rock, Sister Act). The book is by Chazz Palminteri, (who has a slew of film writing and TV acting credits under his belt), based on his one-man show A Bronx Tale which inspired his Academy-Award-nominated film of the same name. And that's before I mention that Robert DeNiro (who starred in the film) co-directs here with legendary director Jerry Zaks.  

If those names aren't enough to make us take notice, there is a 30-member cast on stage and that is before I tell you that the excellent Sergio Trujillo choreographs. 

So what's it all about? An older Calogero (Bobb Conte Thornton) reminisces about growing up in the Bronx in the 1960s. The young "C" as he is known, idolizes both his hardworking, bus-driver father, Lorenzo (a beautifully voiced Richard H. Blake), and Sonny (Nick Cordero), the local mobster who takes a liking to the boy (played by Hudson Loverro and at certain performances by Athan Sporer).  Lorenzo doesn't like the influence Sonny has on his son, or the fact that he can't compete when it comes to throwing around money and influence.

The lyrics and book seem a bit weak and unnecessarily telegraph action. The women characters -- C's mother, Lucia Giannetta, and Ariana Debose as Jane, Calogero's African-American girlfriend, who causes his some angst in an era that has the races separated outside of school and on opposite sides of the battle lines outside, for example,  -- are mostly window dressing. 

Getting more development are a slew of gangster types gathered around Sonny: Rudy the Voice (Joey Sorge), Eddie Mush (Jonathan Brody), JoJo the Whale (Michael Harra), Frankie Coffeecake (Ted Brunetti), Tony Ten-To-Two (Paul Salvatoriello), Handsom Nick (Rory Max Kaplan) and Crzio Mario (Dominic Nolfi).

Still, there's something moving about the relationship between Calogero and his father and that, plus a pleasing score by Menken and a run time of just over two hours keep us interested.

A Bronx Tale plays at the Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm;  Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $50-$187: abronxtalethemusical.com; 212-239-6200.

More information:
The design team: Beowulf Boritt, Scenic Design; William Ivey Long, Costume Design; Howell Binkley, Lighting Design; Gareth Owen, Sound Design; Paul Huntley, Hair and Wig Design; Anne Ford-Coates, Makeup Design; Robert Westley, Fight Coordinator; Ron Melrose Music Supervision and Arrangements; Doug Besterman, Orchestrations; Jonathan Smith,  Musical Direction.

A Bronx Tale evolved from the one-man Off Broadway play written and performed by Chazz Palminteri in 1989. During the original Off Broadway and subsequent Los Angeles engagements, Robert De Niro saw the show, and brought the story and star Palminteri to the screen in 1993, making his film directorial debut in the process. Following the success of the film, Palminteri performed the one-man show A Bronx Tale on Broadway in the 2007-2008 Season.

-- The theater suggests this show is best for children 12 and up.
-- Language
-- Derogatory terms used for persons of color
-- Derogatory terms used for persons of Italian heritage
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Gun violence

Monday, December 12, 2016

Apollo Theatre Offers New Holiday Tradition

Photo: Shahar Azran 
The Apollo Theater presents The Classical Theatre of Harlem’s production of The First Noel through Dec. 18. 

The Harlem-based holiday musical moves to the Apollo’s mainstage this year, as part of the institution’s “Holidays at the Apollo” programming. The musical features original music and re-imagined classic carols ranging from pop to jazz to gospel  and follows three generations of a Harlem family affected by tragedy to tell a universal story of love and belonging.  

Book, music and lyrics are by Lelund Durond Thompson (founder, YellaFella Entertainment) and Jason Michael Webb (Motown: The MusicalViolet and The Color Purple), Steve H. Broadnax III (Dominique Morisseau’s Blood at the Rootdirects and Brian Harlan Brooks (Motown: The Musical) is choreographer.

The company of The First Noel includes Brian D. Coats (as Skeeter; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom), Tina Fabrique (as Grandmother Ethel; Ragtime; Bring In Da Noise, Bring In Da Funk), Ashley Ware Jenkins (as Noel; The Color Purple national tour), Donald King Jr (as Benny Raindrop), Lizan Mitchell (as Lou; So Long on Lonely Street), Ken Robinson (as Henry; 2015 revival, The Color Purple), Soara-Joye Ross (as Deloris; Les Misérables), with Nia Caesar and Zariah Singletary as Young Noel. The ensemble features James AlexanderAngela BirchettJesse CorbinDarius Crenshaw, Tamara Jade Fingal, Ayana George, LaTrisa A. HarperAdam HyndmanSarita Amani Nash, Drew ShadeChawntá Marie Van, Tiffany Webb and Helen White.

The design team includes Dan Robinson (scenic design), Rachel Dozier-Ezell (costume design), Alan C. Edwards (lighting design), and Curtis Craig (sound and projection design).Andrew Lederman returns as musical director. 


Tuesday, Dec. 13 at 7:30 pm (OPENING NIGHT)
Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 2 pm 
Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 7:30 pm
Thursday, Dec. 15 at 7:30 pm
Friday, Dec. 16 at 7:30 pm
Saturday, Dec.17 at 2 pm 
Saturday, Dec.17 at 7:30 pm
Sunday, Dec. 18 at 2 pm 

Performances of THE FIRST NOEL take place at the Apollo Theater Mainstage (253 West 125th Street, Harlem, NYC).  The production is part of the “Holidays at the Apollo” family-friendly programming series. Recommended for ages 5+.

Tickets are available at The Apollo Theater Box Office: 212-531-5305 (253 West 125th Street) and via Ticketmaster.com: 1-800-745-3000. Group Sales: 212-531-5355. Tickets are $30-$65. Apollo Advantage member pricing: $30 - $40. To learn more, visit: apollotheater.org/firstnoel

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Terms of Endearment

Molly Ringwald and Hannah Dunne. Photo: Carol Rosegg
Terms of Endearment
By Dan Gordon
Directed by Michael Parva
The Directors Company
Through Dec. 11

An Excellent Film-to-Stage Adaption So Good It Will Make You Cry
By Lauren Yarger
The final lines of dialogue were spoken, the stage went black and the entire audience was crying. Normally, this would be a director's worst nightmare, but when the play is Terms of Endearment, an audience full of sobs means a job well done.

The American Premiere, written by Dan Gordon, based on the book by Pulitzer Prize-winner Larry McMurtry ("Lonesome Dove") and the Oscar-winning screenplay by James L. Brooks, is getting a limited run by the Directors Company at 59E59 and there's definitely a shortage of tissues at the end of this tearjerker.

Gordon is a master of touching the emotions -- he brought us the terrific Irena's Vow on Broadway a gripping true tale of a woman who successfully hid Jews under the nose of the Nazis during World War II. Starring here is Molly Ringwald (OK, I was ready to shed tears already when I realized the teen who first came to our attention in the films  "Sixteen Candles" and "The Breakfast Club" is old enough to play the mother part -- where does the time go?). She gives a powerful performance directed by Michael Parva, who manages to assemble a cast that puts us in mind of the film's iconic stars without trying to imitate them.

Ringwald is a feisty and quirky an Aurora Greenway (think Shirley MacLaine), an overbearing mother who disapproves when her daughter, Emma (Hannah Dunne, and excellent actress who reminds us of Debra Winger), marries deadbeat philanderer Flap Horton (Denver Milord). The mother-daughter relationship is filled with many disagreements tempered by love through daily visits over the years until Emma and her family move to Iowa where Fla finds a teaching job.

Visits continue by phone and Aurora shares some of what is happening in her life in Texas, The longtime widow has found happiness with her astronaut neighbor Jeb Brown (Garrett Breedlove from TV's “Blacklist”), but it's complicated. Neither one expected to find a lasting relationship, especially Brown, who has made a career of having sex with a lot of younger women to feed his aging ego. (And gosh, Breedlove looks a lot like Jack Nicholson  -- wig and makeup design by Amanda Miller).

When Emma returns home, it's not for a happy reason: she has cancer and Aurora and Flap must somehow work out terms to get along so they can support Emma and make decisions about what will be best for the children. And Brown needs to step up to support Aurora. Jessica DiGiovanni rounds out the cast as Emma's best friend, Patsy.

This production really is a perfect representation of the popular film, played out on a multi-roomed stage with one set (designed by David L. Arsenault) with time passages projected above. Gordon's script captures all of the humor of the characters and the emotion of their relationships. I don't think I ever have heard such sobbing in the theater.

You can go have a cleansing cry while Terms of Endearment plays through Dec. 11 at 59E59, 59 East 59th St., NYC (but bring a packet of tissues-- I had to lend some of mine to the teens in my row who were sobbing their guts out). Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm, and Sunday at 3 pm. (No performance on Thanksgiving). Tickets are $25 - $70: www.59e59.org; 212- 279-4200.

-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language

Monday, November 21, 2016

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Dead Poets Society TOP PICK

The cast of Dead Poets Society, Jason Sudeikis, right. Photo: Joan Marcus
Dead Poets Society
By Tom Schulman
Directed by John Doyle
Classic Stage Company
Extended through Dec. 18

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
A terrific stage adaptation of the film of the same name which starred Robin Williams (written by Tom Schulman adapted from his Oscar-winning screenplay) directed by the excellent John Doyle (Sweeney Todd, The Color Purple). Starring as inspiring teacher John Keating is Jason Sudeikis (a writer and cast member for TV's "Saturday Night Live"). It's 1959 and Keating arrives at Welton Academy, a traditional all-boys school in New England, where he quickly tells his English students to tear out the pompous introductions in their poetry books and start thinking for themselves. Carpe Diem (seize the day), he tells the boys who decide to revive the secret society to which Keating belonged when he was a student at the school: The Dead Poets Society. 

The boys sneak off to a nearby cave (expertly created by Lighting and Sound Designers Japhy Weideman and Matt Stine, respectively) to read poems, but also find a a safe place to explore their hopes and passions. The society includes:
  • Neil Perry (Thomas Mann), a star student who can't find a way to communicate his desire to pursue a career in the theater with his overbearing father (Stephen Barker Turner)
  • Geeky Steven Meeks (Bubba Weiler)
  • Knox Overstreet (William Hochman), who pines in unrequited love for Chris (Francesca Carpanini)
  • Rebellious Charlie Dalton (Cody Kostro) who pens an unauthorized article in the school paper (and then takes the punishment without giving up the names of his society members)
  • Newcomer Todd Anderson (Zane Pais) who stutters, but who finds the ability to express himself through poetry
  • Richard Cameron, Steven Meeks, Gerard Pitts, 
Keating's untraditional methods soon bring trouble with Headmaster Nolan (David Garrison) for both him and the boys. 

What Are the Highlights?
Doyle's staging is perfection. Set Designer Scott Pask provides a backdrop of looming book cases and a large back board, but has the actors use books to create setting. A pile of books on the floor becomes the desk on which students stand for the famous "Captain My Captain) scenes. The action plays to the audiences on all sides of the thrust-style stage on the floor, pulling us into the classroom. Suddenly dialogue is underscored by humming; songs shift mood. "Words and ideas change the world," and "Try never to think about something the same way twice," Keating tells us. Doyle obviously took both pieces of advice to heart and creates a brilliant work of art.

What Are the Lowlights?
A couple of performances weren't as sure, but I saw a preview, so I am willing to bet that rough edges will be smooth post opening.

More Information:
Dead Poets Society has been extended through Dec. 18 at CSC, 136 East 13th St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets: classicstage.org; 212- 352-3101.

Additional Credit: Costume Design by Ann Hould-WardYou might recognizae Sudeikis from his SNL impersoniations of Joe Biden and Mitt Romney. 

-- God's name taken in vain
-- Minor language
-- Suicide

Broadway Theater Review: Falsettos

Betsy Wolfe, Christian Borle, Anthony Rosenthal, Andrew Rannells, Tracie Thoms, Brandon Uranowitz and Stephanie J. Block. Photo: Joan Marcus

By Music and Lyrics by William Finn
Book by William Finn and James Lapine
Directed by James Lapine
Walter Kerr Theatre
Through Jan. 8

A Musical That Was Way Ahead of Its Time
By Lauren Yarger
A musical about a gay guy trying to find his place in the world. The initial reaction might be, "ho hum," because how many times do we need to see this story retold on a New York stage?

If the musical is the revival of William Finn and James Lapine's Falsettos, getting a run backed by Lincoln Center, the answer is, "One more time."

Lapine returns to helm the production starring Chrisian Borle, Stephanie Block and Andrew Rannells and it really inspires awe when we realize just how far ahead of its time this musical was when it premiered on Broadway in 1992 (it was the combination of  shorter Off-Broadway pieces that appeared in 1981 and 1990). That was a long time ago when it came to things like understanding AIDS or accepting gay couples as part of the family. This was an age when people still were afraid they could catch the disease through casual contact and when men coming out about their sexuality were cut off from contact with families.

This musical, which focuses on Marvin (Borle), who leaves his wife, Trina (Block) and son, Jason (Anthony Rosenthal) for lover Whizzer (Rannells), takes a different tact. Trina and Marvin remain friends and even when Marvin and Whizzer break up, Whizzer remains a part of the family because Jason loves him. Trina's new husband, Mendel (Brandon Uranowitz who excels as the caring husband), who met her when he was serving as Marvin's therapist, often is the one making sure all the chaos works out so that every body is happy in "Falsettoland." 

The family's ties are made even stronger when one of the members succumbs to AIDS -- again, an astounding plot twist for the 1990s. The musical makes an unintended statement about what attitudes should have been back then, in what they seem to be today.

Finn's music ranges from fun to moving (there were a lot of tears shed at the end of act one) and the lyrics are touching:

Whizzer: Lets get on with living while we can 
And not play dumb. Death's gonna come
Trina: I'm on the brink of breaking down.
I'm breaking down.Down. Down.I only want to love a man who can love meOr like meOr help me.
Marvin: Kid, be my son.
What I've done to you is rotten.
Say I was scared.
I kept marching in one place,
Marching in time
To a tune I'd forgotten.
I loved you, I love you.
I meant no disgrace.
This here is love,
When we're talking
Face to face.
The characters are all flawed, but honest. And in the end, love wins. The strong performances are lovingly directed by Lapine (who wrote the book with Finn), though casting Borle (Peter and the Starcatcher, Something Rotten) and Rannells (Book of Mormon) in non-comedic roles is a bit of a stretch for our imagination. (Sorry, their great comedic roles which have helped define their talent on stage kept slipping into my mind and I found myself wanting to laugh at rather sad parts of the show).

Block (in fine voice) excited with her number, "I'm Breaking Down," a frenzied, emotional mirror of a woman struggling to hold on when her world has been turned upside down. Uranowitz offers a comedic, gentle balance. Tracie Thoms and Betsy Wolfe round out the cast as lesbians Dr. Charlotte and Cordelia who extend the family dynamic.

Choreography by Spence Liff augments without taking over the action set on an ingenious minimal set designed by David Rockwell that uses a number of cushioned shapes to create various settings in front of a color-changing New York skyline cut into the backdrop. 

Falsettos runs at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th St., NYC through Jan. 8. Performances are Tuesday at 7 pm; Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $42 to $155: lct.org/shows/falsettos.

Additional credits:
Costumes by Jennifer Caprio, lighting by Jeff Croiter, sound by Dan Moses Schreier; musical direction by Vadim Feichtner, conducting Michael Starobin’s original orchestrations.

-- Homosexuality
-- Homosexual activity
-- God's name taken in vain

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Broadway Review: The Front Page

Nathan Lane and John-Goodman. Photo: Julieta-Cervantes
The Front Page
By Ben Hect and Charles MacArthur
Directed by Jack O’Brien
The Broadhurst Theatre

Waiting for Nathan Lane...
By Lauren Yarger
Twice  Jefferson Mays makes an entrance during Broadway's The Front Page to applause and comments from audience members saying, "That's him!" Eventually, they realize, that's no, even though he kind of looks like a slimmer, bespectacled version of Lane, Mays is someone else and Lane still hasn't made an appearance on stage.

It's a shame the applause isn't genuine, because the talented Mays (A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder; I Am My Own Wife), as Bensinger, a germophobe newspaper reporter,  is one of the highlights of this revival of a play where women -- and just about anyone who isn't a white male -- gets called by some derogatory slur. OK, that's how things were in 1928 when the play is set (and it is a wistful pleasure to see the wooden trimmed Criminal Courts Building press room with its old upright typewriters, two-piece standing phones and old wooden desks designed by Douglas W. Schmidt), but unfortunately, male-heavy plays where women don't get big parts are still way too common on Broadway, so forgive me if I balk at seeing pin-up girls on the bathroom door and hearing women spoken of rudely, not to mention a Playbill listing 22 male characters and four females, one of whom is a maid (Patricia Connolly) who doesn't figure in the plot....

A better choice might have been a 2016 staging of His Girl Friday, another stage adaptation by John Guare that combines elements from the film of the same name starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, and this play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur (which was made into a film in 1931). Th Guare version casts Herald- Examiner reporter Hildy Johnson (the part played here -- very well -- by John Slattery) as a female and might have been a better vehicle for the talented Sherry Rene Scott, who seems miscast here as Mollie Malloy, a woman who insists the guy Chicago is about to hang for murder is innocent.

All of the reporters are gathered to cover that execution story and Hildy can't resist the printer's ink in his veins to chase the story when the prisoner escapes, even though he has promised to quit his newspaper job to join fiance Peggy Grant (Halley Feiffer) and her mother (Holland Taylor) in New York and a new career as an advertising man. Taylor's talent is horribly underused here, but she manages to get laughs with the few lines she has, including a knowing chuckle from the New York audience when she complains about a $2 taxi fare.

Examiner Managing Editor Walter Burns (Nathan Lane) wants his best reporter on the story and when Hildy stumbles on the escaped prisoner, Earl Wiliams (John Magaro), they try to get the scoop without tipping off Besninger of the Tribune and the other reporters: McCue, City News Bureau (Dylan Baker, who stands out), Murphy, the Journal (Christopher McDonald), Schwartz, the Daily News (a solid David Pittu) Wilson, the American (Joey Slotnick) Endicott, the Post (Lewis J. Stadlen) and Kruger, Journal of Commerce (Clarke Thorell). 

The whole news room seems oblivious to corruption taking place around the case bungled by Sheriff Hartman (John Goodman from TV's "Roseanne") and the Mayor (Dann Florek TV's "Law and Order" franchise), who try to payoff Mr. Pincus (Robert Morse) to keep quiet when he arrives with a stay of execution frm the governor. And no one will listen to cop Woodenshoes Eichhorn (Micah Stock, who is doing some kind of unintelligible German accent which interferes with the timing of comedic lines, but who still managed to please the crowd). 

Slattery ("Mad Men") lights up the stage and is charismatic as the hard-working reporter. Mays is quite funny as the poetry-writing reporter who has a germ fumigator -- and a few other questionable things -- in his desk. When Lane finally does make his appearance, he commands all attention and has the audience laughing at his rude, manipulative character. He makes me laugh every time he is on stage.

The play, with three acts and two intermissions, is just too cumbersome for Jack O'Brien to rein in. Most of the first act could be cut without much effect except to shorten the two-hour-45-minute run time.

The Front Page features costume design by Ann Roth, lighting design by Brian MacDevitt, and sound design by Scott Lehrer. It runs at the Broadhurst Theatre (235 West 44th St., NYC). Performances are Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $67 - $167: thefrontpagebroadway.com; 212-239-6200.

Broadway Theater Review: Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Les Liaisons Dangereuses
By Christopher Hampton
Directed by Josie Rourke
Donmar Warehouse production
Booth Theatre
Through Jan. 22

By Lauren Yarger
The Donmar Warehouse production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses takes the quote "revenge is a dish best served cold" quite literally, as any spark of heat or passion in this Broadway transfer seems to be missing.

Based on an 18th-century novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, it's a tale of seduction and revenge (in a book by Christopher Hampton, who wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay adaptation). The Marquise de Merteuil (Janet McTeer) plots revenge on a former lover who jilted her by targeting his pure and convent-educated intended, Cecile de Volanges (Elena Kampouris). She enlists another former lover, Vicomte de Valmont (Liev Schreiber), to use some of his well-known seduction power on the girl and ruin her before the wedding night. Valmont has his own conquest in mind, however, the virtuous and happily married Madame de Tourvel (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen).

The couple pretends to help Cecile and her shy beau and music instructor Le Chevalier Danceny (Raffi Barsoumian), but it's really a game of betrayal that ensnares everyone in their circle, including Valmont's aunt, Madame de Rosemonde (Mary Beth Peil) and Cecile's mother, Madame de Volanges (Ora Jones). 

"Love is something you use," the marquise says. "Not something you fall into." 
McTeer holds our interest as the deceitful woman who is her own worst enemy and Kampouris is convincing as the virginal, yet sexually curious Cecile. Not much else compels us to remain engaged with the action, however.

This production from London's Donmar Warehouse is directed by its Artistic Director Josie Rourke, who fails to ignite chemistry between any of the characters, particularly McTeer and Schreiber. While I am not advocating for pornography on the stage, most of the sexual encounters seem stiff and passionless. Schreiber spends a lot of time putting his hand up the pretty, voluminous skirts (designed by Tom Scutt), but doesn't convince us that the women would overly welcome the act. 

Meanwhile, the sets, also designed by Scutt, are puzzling. There is a drawing room with high ceilings, numerous crystal chandeliers (lighting design by Mark Henderson) and large family portraits -- but the pictures are askew, strewn about the room, or missing from their frames. The plaster of the walls is cracked and the edges of the room seem frayed. Is this to depict the decaying souls of the persons who live within the walls? Perhaps, but it mostly makes us wonder how people so wealthy could let the house go to pot like that, especially since they have servants. Rounding out the cast are Katrina Cunningham as Émilie, Josh Salt as Azolan, Joy Franz as Victoire, David Patterson as Major-domo, Laura Sudduth as Julie.

Scene changes are made with some classical music with vocals (Michael Bruce composes and supervises the music and sound design is by Carolyn Downing), but everything has a mechanical feel -- even a duel with swords (Lorin Latarro, directs movement) -- and the two hours and 45 minutes feel very long and unsatisfying for a play that's supposed to be all about passion and fulfillment....
Les Liaisons Dangereuses plays a limited engagement through Jan. 22 at the Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th St., NYC. Performances are Monday and Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $42- $159: liaisonsbroadway.com/212-239-6200.

-- Language
-- Sexual Activity
-- Nudity

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Broadway Theater Review: Holiday Inn -- TOP PICK

Holiday Inn
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge
Directed by Gordon Greenberg
Choreographed by Denis Jones
Roundabout Theatre Company
through Jan. 1

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
It's a feel-good holiday musical inspired by the Academy Award-winning film "Holiday Inn" and features more than 20 Irving Berlin songs including “Blue Skies,” “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” “Shaking the Blues Away,” “Easter Parade,” “Happy Holiday” and “Heatwave.”  

Bryce Pinkham stars as Jim Hardy who wants to give up a life in the theater to settle down on a farm in Midville, CT. He casts showbiz partner Lila Dixon (Megan Sikora) as his wife, but she asks him to wait until she finishes the next performance tour with Ted Hanover (Corbin Bleu). 

As you might expect, Lila doesn't return, so Jim finds himself alone on the farm. Well, not exactly alone. Showing up on his doorstep is Linda Mason (Lora Lee Gayer), former owner of the farm before it went into foreclosure, and its former caretaker, Louise (Megan Lawrence -- I saw excellent understudy Jennifer Foote) who soon convince him to turn the farm into an inn which specializes in shows on the holidays when Jim's entertainment friends are off and can help out. Romantic chaos ensues when Lila and Ted end up back in the scene and Ted thinks Linda is the perfect dance partner and wants to give her a shot at her dream of being a star in the new movie he is shooting out in California.

What Are the Highlights?
A good old-fashioned musical with great songs, a wholesome plot, sparkling costumes  (Alejo Vietti, design) and showstopping choreography by Denis Jones who has folks tapping and jumping rope -- and yeah, the firecracker dance made famous by Fred Astaire is in there, though Bleu seems a bit miscast in the role. Understudy Jennifer Foote was a pleasant surprise as the feisty and funny Louise and if I were keeping score, she might have come away with the best performance of the day.

Set Designer Anna Louizos takes us on a fantasy trip that starts with Victorian housing around the proscenium and provides delightful settings and holiday-themed backdrops.

What Are the Lowlights?
The chorus,  (under the Musical Direction of Andy Einhorn), isn't together at times and there are some flat notes.

There's nowhere to get up and dance to the great Berlin tunes. The grey-haired crowd at the matinee's could be part of the action at the inn reliving memories of dancing to the music played by an orchestra in boxes at either side of the house.

More Information:
Holiday Inn brightens the season at Studio 54, 254 West 54th St., NYC, through Jan. 1. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday evening at 8 pm with Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Tickets are $47-$157 roundabouttheatre.org;  212-719-1300.

This show originally was developed at The Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut.

The cast also includes Malik Akil, Will Burton, Barry Busby, Darien Crago, Caley Crawford, Jenifer Foote, Morgan Gao, Matt Meigs, Shina Ann Morris, Catherine Ricafort, Drew Redington, Amanda Rose, Jonalyn Saxer, Parker Slaybaugh, Samantha Sturm, Amy Van Norstrand, Travis Ward-Osborne, Paige Williams, Victor Wisehart, Kevin Worley, Borris York. 

Additional credits:
Jeff Croiter (Lights), Keith Caggiano (Sound), Charles G. La Pointe (Wigs), Joe Dulude II (Make-up), Larry Blank (Orchestrations), Sam Davis (Vocal and Dance Arrangements), Bruce Pomahac (Additional Dance and Vocal Arrangements), John Miller (Music Coordinator).

-- No content notes. This is the one to see with the entire family while you are in for holiday fun in the city this Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Off-Broadway Review: Love, Love, Love

Love, Love, Love
By Mike Bartlett
Directed by Michael Mayer
Roundabout Theatre Company
through Dec. 18

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
Three looks at a family, beginning in 1967 during the height of Beatle mania when Kenneth (Richard Armitage "The Hobbit") and Sandra (Amy Ryan, who has multiple stage credits, but who is probably best know for TV's "The Office") meet. Sandra actually is with Kenneth's more conservative brother, Henry (Alex Hurt), but when Kenneth arrives, the chemistry can't be denied and the couple refuses to deny their need for each other -- which might actually bring a bigger high than the booze and drugs they like in the free-living culture they have embraced. Henry isn't happy, but is wise enough to realize that losing Sandra might be the best thing that ever happened to him.

In a second scene, we see the couple as unhappy parents of problematic teenagers Jamie (Ben Rosenfield) and Rose (Zoe Kazan).  Sandra and Kenneth can't seem to get their minds off of themselves and their own needs long enough to pay attention to their kids, even though they supposedly are celebrating Rose's 16th birthday. It seems that a new weed -- infidelity -- has has crept into the marriage as well, and has choked out the notion that  "love is all you need."

In the third vignette, the family is reunited for Henry's funeral. Poor Rose is blaming her unhappy life and her inability to make something of it on her parents. Jamie, meanwhile, has given up trying to make anything of himself and his father enables his pointless existence. It's an unhappy indictment on the values of the baby-boom generation and might have been more accurately titles "Selfish, Selfish, Selfish."

What Are the Highlights?
Strong performances, particularly from Ryan who manages to make a pretty unlikable person likable,

What Are the Lowlights?
It's kind of a bummer, even if there is truth in playwright Mike Bartlett's storytelling (it clocks in at just over two hours). The dark humor misfires because, unlike Bartlett's King Charles III, which poked fun at Britain's royal family, dysfunction in the typical American family strikes us as more tragic.

More information:
Love, Love, Love plays at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, 111 West 46th St., NYC through Dec. 18. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 pm; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets $99: roundabouttheatre.org; 212-719-1300.

Set Design Derek McLane; Costume Design Susan Hilferty; Lighting Design David Lander; Sound Design Karl Harada; Hair and Wig Design Campbell Young Associates; Dialect Coach Stephen Gabis.
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain

Dickens' Original Christmas Carol on Display at Morgan Library

Charles Dickens (1812-1970), A Christmas Carol, London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. Illustration by John Leech depicting Mr. Fezziwig’s Ball. The Morgan Library & Museum.
Every holiday season, the Morgan Library displays Charles Dickens's original manuscript of "A Christmas Carol" in Pierpont Morgan's historic library -- so this might be the answer to questions from so many readers of what other things there are to do while in the city to see shows.

Dickens wrote his iconic tale in six-weeks in 1843 ending in time for Christmas publication. He had the manuscript bound in red morocco as a gift for his solicitor, Thomas Mitton. The manuscript then passed through several owners before Pierpont Morgan acquired it in the 1890s. It is on display through Jan. 8.

More information is online here: online; related highlights.

Also on display among other exhibitions that might be of interest:

Word and Image: Martin Luther's Reformation including more than 90 objects, highlighted by one of the six existing printed copies of the Ninety-Five Theses, and nearly 40 paintings, prints, and drawings by the celebrated German Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach the Elder. Also on view are Luther’s manuscript draft of his famous Old Testament translation, sculptor Conrad Meit’s statues of Adam and Eve, and more than 30 of Luther’s most important publications. The majority of the works in the show are loans from German museums and have never before been exhibited in the United States. More information here: Explore the English translation of Luther's Ninety-Five Theses »;
See an introduction to the themes and major highlights of the exhibition »

The Morgan Library and Museum is located at 225 Madison Ave. (at 36th Street) NYC.  Hours are Tuesday through Thursday: 10:30 am to 5 pm; Friday: 10:30 am. to 9 pm; Saturday: 10 am to 6 pm; Sunday: 11 am to 6 pm.

The Morgan closes at 4 pm. on Christmas Eve and at 5 pm. on New Year's Eve. Closed Monday, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

$20 Adults
$13 Seniors (65 and over)
$13 Students (with current ID)
Free to members and children 12 and under (must be accompanied by an adult)
Admission is free on Fridays from 7 to 9 pm.
Admission to the McKim rooms only (Mr. Morgan's Library, Study, Rotunda, and Librarian's Office) is free during the following times: Tuesday, 3 to 5 pm.; Friday, 7 to 9 pm.; Sunday, 4 to 6 pm.
Admission is not required to visit the Morgan Shop, Morgan Dining Room, and Morgan Café. 
More info: themorgan.org; 212-685-0008.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: A Life

David Hyde Pierce. Photo: Joan Marcus

A Life
By Adam Bock
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Playwrights Horizons
through Nov. 27

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
A new play from gifted playwright Adam Bock (A Small Fire) starring David Hyde Pierce. Nate Martin (Peirce) has been trying to find meaning in his life, especially after a crisis of faith and being dumped by his boyfriend. He has turned to astrology, and while he finds it fascinating, it hasn't provided all the answers to his questions. Truth is hard to find, he tells us, and even more difficult to hold on to. He's tried group therapy to find a balance between passion, intimacy and companionship, but his fears of commitment and vulnerability make it difficult for him to find answers there either. Best friend Curtis (Brad Heberlee) offers some friendship and advice, but it might be too late.

What Are the Highlights?
Under Anne Kauffman's taut direction, we get a real look into the mind of Nate (one scene is mostly through our hearing his thoughts as he moves around his apartment) and then by witnessing how his life touches those around him, including Curtis, his sister, Lori (Lynne McCollough) and those who care for him at the end (Nedra McClyde and Marina Anderson round out the ensemble).

This is not a typical theater experience. Laura Jellinek's set makes unexpected changes to tell this extraordinarily sad, humorous and deeply personal story of the importance of one person's seemingly ordinary life. Mikhail Fiksel's sound design incorporates sound effects, such as neighbors yelling outside the apartment, which at first seem unimportant. We ignore them as minor annoyances with the same nonchalance that an emergency-services worker in one scene appears to be unaffected by having to transport another body. Later, however, they remind us that all of those lives count too and that we should never take anyone for granted.

What Are the Lowlights?
None. It's an engaging and touching 80 minutes without intermission. Pierce find the humanity in his character and pulls us in so we feel we have experiences some significant moments in the life of a friend.

More information:
A Life has been extended through Dec. 5 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd St., NYC. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 and 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:30 7 pm. For Thanksgiving week (November 21-27), the performance schedule will be Monday and Tuesday at 7:30 pm, Wednesday at 2:30 pm, Friday at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 2:30 and 7:30 pm and Sunday at 2:30 and 7 pm. Tickets are $59-$99: www.phnyc.org; 212-279-4200.

Additional credits:
Costume Design by Jessica Pabst, lighting design by Matt Frey.

Adam Bock will moderate a symposium Saturday, Nov. 5 4 pm at the Peter Sharp Theatrer at Playwrights Horizons. Visit phnyc.org/symposium for tickets.

-- God's name taken in vain
-- Astrological information
-- 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 http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She was a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com 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 reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


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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