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

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 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- 2024 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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