Friday, December 1, 2017

Broadway Theater Review: The Band's Visit TOP PICK


The Band's Visit
Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek
Book by Itamar Moses, based on the film by Eran Kolirin
Choreographed by Patrick McCollum
Directed by David Cromer
Ethel Barrymore Theatre 

By Lauren Yarger
Like streams in the dessert, The Band's Visit quenches a thirst for something satisfying on Broadway and it's different than any other drink being offered on the Great White Way.

First off, this musical doesn't feel like a musical. The score by David Yazbek (The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) seems a natural part of the story, which follows an Egyptian police orchestra on its way to perform in a dedication ceremony in Israel. So when the musicians pick up their instruments, or the characters express themselves by singing a song with beats that sound conversational, it is an extension of themselves thanks to expressive lyrics (also by Yazbek) and a well-written book by Itmar Moses, based on the 2007 movie by Eran Kolirin. This production is the Broadway transfer of the acclaimed Off-Broadway world premiere last year at the intimate Atlantic Theatre Company, where it was sold out for most of its run.

When the band members arrive in Israel, they discover they are in Bet Hatikva,  not Petah Tikvah, home of the Arab Cultural Center, whose opening they are to herald. Bet Hatikva not only doesn't have a cultural center, it doesn't have much of anything, really, according to Dina (Katrina Lenk, who undoubtedly will be nominated for a Tony award for her performance), owner of a cafe and one of the few non-apartment buildings in the area.

"Not Arab culture, not Israeli. Not culture at all," she tells Tewfiq (a wonderful Tony Shalhoub). "Welcome to nowhere."

Because there is no bus out until the next day and no hotel in the area, Dina provides dinner for the band and commandeers her neighbors into putting the members up along with her.

A welcome mat is rolled out for the Egyptians to join the Israeli's on a typical evening in Bat Haitikva. Simon (Alok Tewari), shares his unfinished a musical composition and brings peace to the home of Itzik (John Cariani) and Iris (Karen Sieh), who isn't sure she can deal with  the demands of a new baby and no sleep. Meanwhile, Haled (Ari'el Stachel), who was responsible for the mix up in their travel plans, tries to avoid Tewfiq's relentless disapproval and seeks out a good time at the local roller rink. He offers advice (rather humorous)  on picking up girls to Papi (Etai Benson), who is smitten with Julia (Rachel Prather), but is unable to work up the nerve to speak with her.  

Creating this world, with the help of a revolving stage designed by Scott Pask, is Director David Cromer, who works his magic to bring the audience into the intimate world of the characters. We feel for one character, known only as the Telephone Guy (Adam Kantor), who waits endlessly at a payphone for a call from his love. We're not sure exactly why he thinks she will call, or why it is so important that she does, but we really want that phone to ring.

Meanwhile, despite appearing to be dry form years of wandering in an emotional dessert, complete with failed relationships with men she probably shouldn't have been involved with in the first place, Dina finds herself drawn to the mild, polite Tewfiq. He touches a part of her she hasn't visited in a while -- a hope she felt when watching old romantic movies on TV. As she wonders whether Tewfiq might be the one she has been waiting for all these years, she sings a mesmerizing ballad, "Omar Sharif." Dina is sitting at the table talking with Tewfiq, but Lenk rises to present the song in an almost ballet movement that let's us see the thoughts crossing her mind (choreography is by Patrick McCollum). Tyler Micoleau's exceptional lighting design highlights Dina and in a less pronounced way, Tewfiq, but also lets us see the other characters in the shadows of the restaurant mimic her arm movements,. The effect is a stunning "time-stands-still" moment which no one does better than Cromer. And that ballad triggers a never-ending earworm once you hear it (sample a clip in the video below).

If the performances and music weren't enough to make this a top pick (probably of the season), there are some bonuses as well. The story is about people. Regular, decent people who open up and share with each other. In a plot that could have focused on politics since we have Jews and Arabs interacting, not always with the ability to express themselves clearly in a second language,  here there aren't any. What a welcome respite -- like a stream in the dessert.  Many playwrights and directors seem to think they have carte blanche to bash politicians they don't like, even if doing so doesn't add anything to the show. They should take a lesson from The Band's Visit, which in its silence about politics, says more about the good of humanity and the ability for people from different backgrounds to get along than any Trump bashing could, for example.

A second bonus is that the musicians who are on stage are really, really good. The Broadway production includes some more instrumental parts in the score (orchestrated by Jamshied Sharifi ) which allows the musicians to improvise. Don't leave at the curtain call, or you will miss a terrific encore.

The Band's Visit has hearts singing at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th St., NYC with tickets currently on sale through September, 2018. Performance times vary. Tickets are $59.00 - $189: thebandsvisitmusical.com.

Additional casting:
Andrew Polk, Bill Army, Rachel Prather, Jonathan Raviv, Sharone Sayegh,  Pomme Koch, Madison Madison Micucci and James Rana
Additional credits:
Sarah Laux (Costume Design), Kai Harada (Sound Design), Maya Ciarrocchi (Projection Design), Charles G. LaPointe (Hair Designer), Andrea Grody (Music Supervisor and Music Director) and Dean Sharenow (Music Supervisor and Music Coordinator)

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language 
-- Recommended for 12 and up
 

Broadway Theater Review: Junk TOP PICK

A scene from the Lincoln Center Theater production of JUNK by Ayad Akhtar.Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Junk
By Ayad Akhtar
Directed by Douglas Hughes
Lincoln Center Theater
Through Jan. 7

By Lauren Yarger
If the world of bond investment leaves you scratching your head, don't be intimidated by Junk, Ayad Akhtar's fascinating new Broadway play at Lincoln Center. You don't have to understand the intricacies of high finance to get the message: selling your soul for money doesn't bring happiness.

Set in 1985, the play focuses on the seemingly limitless ability to create wealth on Wall Street. Steven Pasquale stars as Robert Merkin, the king of Junk Bonds (high yield, higher risk investments), who is poised to make the deal of the decade: the takeover of an iconic American manufacturing company. The character is an homage to real-life Michael Milken, who is credited with inventing the junk bond and to an era when money because the root of everything.

Merkin has it all; a dream career, a successful analyst wife, Amy (Miriam Silverman), who is putting her career on a back burner following the birth of their son, and more money than most of us would know how to spend in a lifetime, but it's not enough. Motivated by the belief that "debt is an asset," he wants more, more, more. He participates in illegal insider trading and puts plans in motion for the takeover of Everson, whose owner, Thomas (Rick Holmes), leaves the company vulnerable by shifting funds around to save the steel manufacturing parts of the company and the jobs and livlihoods it has provided during the three generations his family has been the owner.

Everson vehemently opposes the takeover and thinks that will be enough to stop it. But times have changed and Merkin has re-invented the art of takeover, meaning that Everson needs to find away to buy his own company's stock to stay in control. In a battle that is evocative of power struggles in the best of Shakespeare's royal families, Merkin takes advantage of Boris Pronsky (Joey Slotnick),  an old client who reluctantly invests his wife's money against her will.

Merkin's dynasty, built on greed, topples as the feds close in and the junk bond king continues to put his love for money above freedom, friendship and love.

Douglas Hughes expertly directs the large cast of 23 with the vibrant action taking place on John Lee Beatty's compartmentalized set (which cleverly reminds us somewhat of a cash drawer), highlighted by Wall Street figures projected as a backdrop (59 Productions, design).

Pasquale (The Robber Bridegroom, The Bridges of Madison County) impressively steps out of the sympathetic romantic lead role to present a very troubled, almost creepy man obsessed with money. The two-and-a-half-hour script from the Pulitzer-Prize winner for Disgraced is tight and engrossing. If some of the financial dialogue is over the head of the average audience-goer (though perhaps, with the cost of tickets these days, you need profits from bond investments to finance a day at the theater and most people are savvy about high-risk bonds....), the plot can be followed without trouble, and the script, primarily through the character of Judy Chen (Teresa Avia Lim), provides some explanation.

Don't miss this one, playing a limited run through Jan. 7 at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre. Performance times vary. Tickets are $87-$147: lincolncenter.org.

Additional casting:
Ito Aghayere, Phillip James Brannon, Tony Carlin, Demosthenes Chrysan, Jenelle Chu, Caroline Hewitt, Rick Holmes, Ted Koch, Ian Lassiter, Teresa Avia Lim, Adam Ludwig, Sean McIntyre, Nate Miller, Ethan Phillips, Matthew Rauch, Matthew Saldivar, Charlie Semine, Michael Siberry, Henry Stram, and Stephanie Umoh.

Additional credits:
Catherine Zuber, costumes; Ben Stanton, lighting; Mark Bennett, original music and sound.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Language
-- Strong sexual dialogue
-- God's name taken in vain

Friday, November 24, 2017

Broadway Theater Review: Home for the Holidays

Photo: Carol Rosegg

Home for the Holidays
Creative and Music Direction by Jonathan Tessero
August Wilson Theatre
Through Dec. 30

By Lauren Yarger
The winners of TV's reality shows "American Idol," "The Voice," and "America's Got Talent" unite for Broadway's only Christmas-themed show this year, Home for the Holidays, at the August Wilson Theatre.

Candice Glover, winner of “American Idol” Season 12; Josh Kaufman, winner of “The Voice” Season 6; and Bianca Ryan, winner: “America’s Got Talent” Season 1, perform more than 25 songs, some which you will recognize and some which you won't. A song list does not appear in the show's Playbill, so good luck figuring out what they are.

The concert is hosted by Kaitlyn Brostowe from the"Bachelorette" TV show and also has appearances by Peter Hollen, billed as a YouTube sensation,  and his wife, Evynne. Academy-Award-nominated actor Danny Aiello also is featured. He reads a little, sings a little and appears very out of place in this hodgepodge of a production, presumably assembled by Creative and Musical Director Jonathan Tessero, who has among his entertainment credits and the Superbowl, the Essence Fest and other events (no other writing or directing credits are listed in the Playbill).I didn't care for the arrangements of some of the classic Christmas songs which leave the singers sounding out of sync with each other. Glover should have been given an :O, Holy Night" solo.

The nine-piece band is good, particularly the horn section of Enrique Sanchez, Luke Stafford and an uncredited woman who I spotted playing the day I saw the show.

Aiello is not alone in his discomfort. Ryan, whose talent apparently consists of singing part of words while making them sound very dramatic, if not recognizable,  kept waving her arm in a strange pattern telegraphing someone who isn't comfortable on stage.

Fashions provided by Sherri Hill, Stephen F. Nina Shoes and Noah Waxman are sparkly for the holiday theme, but in some cases, the cuts are not very flattering to the women in particular (James Brown III is the wardrobe stylist for the show). Jason Kantrowitz adds some lighting pizazz) to the mix

The standout in this production is Glover, who has a terrific voice and worshipful spirit while singing favorites like "The Little Drummer Boy." It is a treat any time we can hear the story of Christmas told on a Broadway stage and Glover's talent made it especially so. Our hopes for focused concert are disappointed, however.

This limited engagement plays at the August Wilson Theatre, 245 West 52nd St., NYC through Dec. 30. Performance times vary. Tickets are $59-$299: www.HolidaysOnBroadway.com


FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- no content notes


Broadway Theater Review: Latin History for Morons



Latin History for Morons
Written by and Starring John Leguizamo
Directed by Tony Taccone
Studio 54 (254 W 54th St).


By LaurenYarger
The teacher charts out lessons about civilization on a large blackboard center stage, but you probably never have been in a classroom quite like this one.

The "teacher" is John Luguizamo (Ghetto Klown and Freak) and the lesson is Latin History for Morons, and yes, we, the audience, are the morons (especially if you are White). The raw, bawdy monologue was born from the frustration Laguizamo encountered trying to help his son find a Latin hero to write about for a school project. A quick check of the boy's history book showed that no Latin Americans were included.

"If you don't see yourself outside of yourself, you feel invisible," he said.

The comedian shares his research on the subject and takes us through a different look at history and how the Latin People, who once enjoyed various empires and a population in the millions on several continents for 3,000 years, were systematically wiped out through disease and conquests by White western civilizations. He explains "ghetto rage" is what Latin-Americans experience when they feel they don't matter.

"Latin life is cheap in America."

He adds some political commentary against the Trump administration's anti-immigration policies.

The presentation is raw and filled with vulgar language, though many of the biggest laughs greeted dialogue in Spanish, so I missed those jokes. At one point there was a disruption in the balcony and the performer maintained character while alerting that police were really needed -- that he wasn't joking. This isn't your usual Broadway crowd at Studio 54 -- lots of people were talking and enjoying drinks throughout the performance. Think nightclub.

Leguizamo is an engaging performer and I enjoyed Ghetto Klown, but this show just didn't strike me as very funny. Perhaps the seriousness of the subject doesn't lend itself to many laughs. The dialogue also deals with his son's bullying at a private school where parents display prejudice.

Latin History for Morons is extended at Studio 54, 252 West 54th St., NYC through Feb. 25. 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 $55-$149: latinhistorybroadway.com.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Language
-- Sexual dialogue (explicit)
-- God's name taken in vain

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Shadowlands

Daniel Gerroll, Robin Abramson, and Jack McCarthy. Photo: Jeremy Daniel
Shadowlands
By William Nicholson
Directed by Christa Scott-Reed
Fellowship for Performing Arts
Through Jan. 7

By Lauren Yarger
Continuing its excellent productions of C.S. Lewis-themed works, Fellowship for Performing Arts brings the author to life, thanks to Daniel Gerrol's portrayal of the writer and Christian apologist in New York's first revival of  William Nicholson's play Shadowlands.

A film, with a screenplay by Nicholson, was released in 1993 starring Anthony Hopkins as Lewis and Debra Winger as his wife, Joy. It is based on Lewis's "A Grief Observed."

Lewis is an academic at Oxford, shooting the breeze with his colleagues, and living at home with his brother, Major Warnie Lewis (John C. Vennema). His quiet existence is turned upside down, however, with the arrival of married Joy Davidman, a Jewish-American writer, former Communist and Christian convert. Joy is an admirer of Lewis's writing and after corresponding with the author, shows up for a face-to-face with her young son, Douglas in tow (Jack McCarthy and Jacob Morrell share the role).

Warnie and Lewis's other friends are put off by Joy's blunt manner -- and the fact that she can hold her own, or even get the better of them in debate. What starts as a friendship, then morphs to a marriage of convenience and blossoms into true love, but happiness is cut short when Joy is diagnosed with cancer.

How does one cope with such pain after waiting so long for happiness? Among other insightful commentary, Lewis muses that perhaps God wants us loveable rather than happy.Suffering is how we release our hold on what is important in this world and realize our value lies in the spiritual realm.

The philosophical banter between Joy , Christopher Riley (Sean Gormley) and the others is amusing and tautly directed by  Christa Scott-Reed. The humor blends with deep thoughts to create empathy for the characters as well as to force us to contemplate our own emotions. 

While Joy's faith is inspirational, as she tells her husband that the pain to come is part of the joy they are experiencing in the present, and Lewis's faith following her death is an example to his colleagues, this is kind of a sad story, so be prepared, even if Joy's pain doesn't play out as totally believable (it seems acted, especially if you ever have been with someone dying the horribly painful death she did).

Additional cast: Dan Kremer, Daryll Heysham, Jacob H. Knoll, Robin Abramson, Stepahnie Cozart.
Additional credits: Scenic Design by Kelly James Tighe, Costume Design by Michael Bevins, Lighting Design by Aaron Spivey, Original Music and Sound design by John Gromada.
Shadowlands plays at the Acorn Theatre, 419 West 42nd St., NYC, through Jan. 7. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Note: no performances on Thursday, Nov. 23Sunday, Dec. 24; or Sunday, Dec. 31. There will be an additional 2 p.m. matinee on Friday, Dec. 29.Tickets are $75-$95:  FPAtheatre.com212-239-6200.

More About Fellowship for Performing Arts

Founded by Max McLean, New York City-based Fellowship for Performing Arts (FPA) produces theatre from a Christian worldview created to engage diverse audiences. In its first two seasons in New York it produced The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters,  Martin Luther on Trial and C.S. Lewis Onstage: The Most Reluctant Convert, Check the website for a list of productions in other locations around the US.


FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- no content notes

Broadway Theater Review: M. Butterfly with Clive Owen


M. Butterfly
By David Henry Hwang
Directed by Julie Taymor
Cort Theatre

By Lauren Yarger
In the opening scene of David Henry Hwang's updated M Butterfly, getting a Broadway revival directed by Julie Taymor, mocking contemporaries of Rene Gallimard (Clive Ownes) ask, "How could he not know?"

The question at hand is how Gallimard, an attache to the French embassy in China, did not know that the Peking Opera actress with whom he had been having an affair for 20 years was in fact a man.

Good question, and in spite of rather graphic details about how Gallimand mistook his sexual relations with Song Liling (Jin Ha) for regular intercourse (this would be one of the rewrites to the original script), we never quite believe it and as a result, it is hard to sympathize with the character.

Such a misunderstanding might have been possible for someone who never had had relations with a woman before (and who apparently never saw his Chinese lover nude because of "her" modesty), or maybe after only one brief encounter.  But after 20 years? Add to that the fact that Gallimard also is a married man who has had sex with a woman and who probably should have been able to figure out something wasn't quite right, and the basic premise for this play, which won the Tony Award in 1988, has always been lost on me.

Other critics rave about it as a love story (it is loosely based on Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly, in which a Japanese geisha is betrayed by the US Naval officer she loves -- catch the opera at the Met this spring: metopera.org and somewhat inspired by the espionage conviction of French diplomat Bernard Boursicot, who had been deceived by a man he thought was a woman.) They also will tell you this revival is timely because of political discourse currently taking place about gender. I disagree on both points.

Instead, there is no love story here. How can Gallimard love someone he clearly doesn't know? After 20 years? Though Ha is petit and masters graceful movements in his performances at the opera (opulently staged by Scenic Designer Paul Steinberg, Costume Designer Constance Hoffman  with Original Music and Soundscape from Designer Eliot Goldenthal), Ha never, ever looks like a woman. We don't get how Gallimard could have been so deceived.

Gallimard apparently receives comfort and some sexual gratification from the relationship, but doesn't offer much in return -- except to humiliate his lover from time to time, put him indanger with the authorities and then to turn over national secrets he about how many US troops are being sent to Viet Nam and the like. He marries his wife, Agnes (Enid Graham), mostly to get ahead in his career, then hardly gives her a thought. Like most women in plays that focus on men, she is just there to be cheated on without much character development. To Graham's credit, we do get a sense of this woman's betrayal and hurt, but that just adds to the lack of sympathy we have for Gallimard.

The idea of white man's fantasies about sexual conquest of Asian women is explored a bit, and in view of recent Harvey Weinstein, et. al,  scandals where women have been the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of powerful men, this idea isn't one that endears us to those who who indulge either. Song Liling is the "perfect woman" created by a man "because only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act," we are told. This doesn't move me. In fact, it makes me angry. So I never feel sorry for Gallimard or understand anything he does.

As for being a timely exploration of transgender issues, where gender "doesn't matter," M Butterfly really  isn't that either. Gender does matter here. Traditionally, women are banned from the Chinese stage, so men play their roles. This is discrimination against women. This particular male actor has homosexual urges, which are not allowed expression by the Communist government, so he offers to masquerade as a woman to seduce Gallimard and obtain classified secrets in exchange for not being arrested. He even goes so far as to convince Gallimard he has given birth to their son, but it's all deception, not someone in love getting in touch with their feminine urges.....

The production is visually pleasing, from the big-stage operas choreographed by Ma Cong to the starkly lighted prison cell (Lighting Design by Donald Holder). The two hours and 20 minutes with an intermission are surprisingly unmoving, however, except to welcome back Taymor to Broadway following the Spider-man saga. There aren't too many women directors on Broadway stages, so this moves me.

Additional casting:
Murray Bartlett, Michael Countryman, Clea Alsip, Celeste Den, Jess Fry, Jason Garcia Ignacio, Kristen Faith Oei, Scott Weber, Emmanuel Brown, Thomas Michael Hammond, Jake Manabat, Erica Sweany, John Leonard Thompson, and Erica Wong.

Additonal credits:
Sound Design by Will Pickens; Wig and Hair Design by Dave Bova; Makeup Design by Judy Chin

M Butterfly flutters at the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th St., NYC. Performance times vary. Tickets are $39-$139: mbutterflybroadway.com

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTOTRS:
-- Nudity
-- Homosexual activity
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language
-- Sexually explicit dialgue
-- Suicide

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Off-Broadway Theater Review: What We're Up Against

Marg Helgenberger and Krysta Rodriguez. Photo: Joan Marcus
What We're Up Against
By Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt
WP Theater
Through Nov. 26

By Lauren Yarger
In the workplace, employees have to watch out for sexual harassment. A simple phrase might be taken the wrong way. The twist here, is that the employee lamenting the state of things is a male -- and the boss -- who says men having to deal with women in the office is just part of What We're Up Against in this all-too-timely, darkly humorous play from Theresa Rebeck at WP Theater (formerly the Women's Project.)

It's 1992 and Stu (Damian Young) bemoans the situation at the architectural firm he runs to co-worker Ben (Jim Parrack of TV's "True Blood"). New-hire Eliza (Krysta Rodriguez) complained about never getting a chance to show her architectural skills. All of the guys in the office, especially Weber (Skylar Austin from the "Perfect Pitch" films), get tapped all the time while Eliza gets stuck in a "broom closet" office. She feels Stu just sees her as token woman, and not as the qualified worker the company's owner, David, did when he hired her.  The guys speculate about the relationship between Eliza and David and joke about whether she slept with him to get the job.

Eliza thinks she has a kindred spirit in Janice (Marg Helgenberger), the only other women in the firm, but finds that she's just like Weber, willing to take credit for her ideas to get ahead.

Scenic Designer Narelle Sissons and Costume Designer Tilly Grimes put us in the 1990s, but the office dynamics clearly could be 2017. Director Adrienne Campbell-Holt focuses attention to keep the hour and 45 minutes of dialogue (with an intermission) brisk.

Rodriguez gives Eliza some depth and sometimes we're not sure just how innocent she is in the scheme of things. Is she sleeping with David? Is she setting up others to fail?  The questions are typical of those asked by those defending themselves against charges of sexual bias and who point to women who stand up for themselves as having attitude problems, so the audience can understand the viewpoints of the coworkers as well as Eliza.  It would be interesting to have Rebeck pen a sequel in 2017 to see how much, if anything has changed for the characters.

What We're Up Against runs through Nov. 26 at WP Theater, 2162 Broadway at 76th Street, NYC. Performances are Tuesday – Thursday at 7pm; Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. There is no performance on Thursday, Nov. 23. A 7 pm performance has been added on Sunday, Nov. 26. Tickets are $39-$89: wptheater.org; 212-765-1706.

Additional credits:
Lighting Design: Grant Yeager; Sound Design: M.L. Dogg

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS
-- Lord's name taken in vain
-- Language

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Off-Broadway Theater Review: The Portuguese Kid


The Portuguese Kid
Written and Directed by John Patrick Shanley
Manhattan Theatre Club
Extended through Dec. 10

By Lauren Yarger

Can you say Doubt?

The Portuguese Kid is a very disappointing world premiere play from Pulitzer-Prize winner John Patrick Shanley's. It stars Jason Alexander ("Seinfeld"), Sherie Rene Scott (Everyday Rapture) and multi-talented Mary Testa (The Government Inspector, First Daughter Suite, Queen of the Mist), among others.

If that all sounds very impressive, the feeling wears off shortly into the first act and we start to doubt that this play is going to have any of the sparkle of Shanley's other excellent work like Doubt, Outside Mullinger, the really excellent Prodigal Son, or even his Academy -Award winning film "Moonstruck." It doesn't. The plot isn't very interesting and the star-studded cast isn't able to do much to develop the characters. Using the playwright as director probably isn't the best idea in such a situation, even if this is the 12th collaboration between Manhattan Theatre Club and Shanley.

Widow Atalanta  Lagana (Scott) visits her long-time friend and lawyer, Barry Dragonetti (Alexander) seeking help selling her Rhode Island estate. The two go way back, to the time when Atalanta saved Barry from a Portuguese mugger who still haunts him for no reason that makes sense. The two never got together -- we're not sure why, but a good reason not to would be Barry's mother (a funny Testa) who doesn't  like Atalanta much and makes Medea look like a walk in the park. Meanwhile, Atalanta, it seems, calls out Barry's name while having sex with others, so maybe they will figure out how to make things work now? 

Add to this lots of sexual dialogue, some anti-Trump jokes, Atalanta's current eye-candy boyfriend, Freddie Imbrossi (Pico Alexander), and Barry's wife, Patty (Aimee Carrero), and . . . well, things still don't get interesting in the one-hour, 40-minute play without an intermission (which somehow is a recipient of an Edgerton Foundation New Play Award.)

Getting most of the attention here would be John Lee Beatty's set, which pleasingly revolves and changes to take us from Barry's office to Atalanta's bedroom, to Barry's home and then to Atlanta's patio, and William Ivey Long's costumes.

The Portuguese Kid has been extended through Dec. 10 at New York City Center, Stage I, 131 West 55th St., NYC. Performance times vary. Tickets are $95-$112.50: manhattantheatreclub.com

Additional credits:
Peter Kaczorowski (lighting design), and Obadiah Eaves (original music and sound design).

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Language (lots of the "F" word)
-- God's name taken in vain (a lot)
-- Nudity
-- Sexual Dialogue (lots of it)

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Women in Theater Get the Spotlight at Upcoming Events

Several upcoming events highlight women in theater.

The Connecticut Chapter presents a design panel on Monday, Oct. 23 to kick off its second season. If you are in Connecticut, or can get to Norwalk (an easy commute on MetroNorth), you won't want to miss this panel/demonstration led by Dawn Chiang:



Find Your Light 
Broadway Lighting Designer and League of Professional Theatre Women member Dawn Chiang will lead an interactive discussion on how visual vocabulary and theatrical crafts contribute to the emotional life of the storytelling art Monday, Oct. 23 in Norwalk.

Joining Chiang for the "Find Your Light!" panel are Elizabeth Williamson, artistic director at Hartford Stage, Costume Designer Tilly Grimes and Scenic Designer Jessica Parks. The event, produced by Co-Founder Marie Reynolds, will kick of the 2017-2018 season for the CT Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women, now in its second year.

A networking time with light refreshments will be held from 5:30 to 6:30 pm followed by the panel discussion/demonstration from 6:30 to 8:30 pm in the multi-media gallery at Stepping Stones Museum, Mathews Park, 303 West Ave, Norwalk, CT.

Space is limited and reservations are required via this link:
https://tinyurl.com/FindYourLightPanel

Chapter members and one guest are free. Non-members are welcome and will be charged $5 (cash only) at the door. Questions: marie@theatrewomen.org.


Oral History
The League of Professional Theatre Women continues its acclaimed Oral History program with producer Daryl Roth (left) being interviewed by theater critic Linda Winer (right)

Monday, Nov. 6
6 pm
Bruno Walter Auditorium, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center
(Corner of 65th Street and Amsterdam Avenue)
Daryl Roth holds the singular distinction of producing seven Pulitzer Prize-Winning plays and currently serves as the Co-Chair of the LPTW's Advisory Council. Join us as she discusses her extensive life and work in the theatre.  She will be interviewed by Linda Winer, a prize-winning theater critic, who wrote for Newsday from 1987 to 2017.

Free admission. First come, first seated.

Betty Corwin Lifetime Achievement Award
Pulitzer-Prize winnining Playwright Paula Vogel will introduce the program honoring Betty Corwin; "The Woman Who Preserved the American Theater."

Betty Corwin, a long-time LPTW member, created and founded  the Theatre on Film and Tape Archives for the Library of Performing Arts at Lincoln Center (TOFT) in 1970, and thus preserved generations of the American theater. She turns 97 Nov. 18 and continues to be a powerful force, helming the LPTW's Oral History Program, now in it's 25th year.

She will be honored at luncheon
Wednesday, Nov. 8
Noon
Sardi's Restaurant, 234 West 44th St., 4th Floor

● LUNCHEON INCLUDES CHAMPAGNE TOAST ●
$95 Member Ticket - Click Here
$125 Non-Member Ticket - Click Here
$1,750 - VIP Table for 10 - Click Here (Includes half-page black and white ad in "BettyBill."
For tickets and more information: TheatreWomen.org/Event/Betty-Corwin

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Broadway Theater Review: Time and the Conways

Time and the Conways
By J. B. Priestley
Directed by Rebecca Taichman
Roundabout Theatre Company
Through Nov. 26

By Lauren Yarger
If you could go back 18 years in time, what would you tell yourself?

That's the gist of the evocative play Time and the Conways, which looks at what happens to the members of a family as they journey through two very distinct moments in time.

This play by J.B. Priestley (An Inspector Calls), has sort of been lost in time itself. This is its first revival since it premiered in 1938. Starring as Mrs. Conway is Elizabeth McGovern, a time tripper herself. She first came to attention in 1980 with a role in "Ordinary People" and since has received an Academy Award (for Ragtime) and gone on to cult fandom status as Cora Crawley, the matriarch of the popular British TV series “Downton Abbey.”  The time frame for this drama is similar -- we see the Conways first in 1919 and then again in 1937 -- but except for the period costumes (Paloma Young designs), this is no Downton and McGovern is not sweet Cora.

World War I has just ended and life is full of promise. The family gathers to celebrate the 21st birthday of wanna-be novelist Kay Conway (Charlotte Parry) and the safe homecoming of her soldier brother, Robin (Matthew James Thomas). Mrs. Conway, with her blunt and sometimes inappropriate comments, lets everyone know that she prefers reckless Robin over her other son, Alan (Gabriel Ebert), who has no real ambitions. She's not particularly fond of socialist daughter Madge (Brooke Bloom), either it seems. Daughter Hazel (Anna Camp) is the one with all the right ambition. She has her sights set on marrying a rich society fellow. Younger sister Carol (Anna Baryshnikov -- yes, daughter of the ballet dancer) appears oblivious to any family conflict. She is happy and full of life.

Joining the family are the Gerald Thornton (Alfredo Narciso), the family's solicitor, who has absolutely no influence over the indomitable Mrs. Conway when it comes to talk about managing her wealth or selling their house, Hazel's friend, Joan Helford (Cara Ricketts), who is in love with Robin, and Ernest Beevers (Steven Boyer), a creepy acquaintance of Gerald's from the lower class who has finagled an invitation to the festivities so he can be near Hazel, on whom he seems to have a crush.

The cross over from the 1919 celebration to the family's future in 1937 is the real star of this show. Neil Patel's set dramatically transforms and Lighting Design by Christopher Akerlind creates the illusion of being able to travel through time as Kay appears to have a vision of what is to come.

In 1937, the family is shattered following a tragic loss. Robin, an unsuccessful travelling salesman and Joan have married, but they're not happy. Madge is a nasty spinster school teacher and Mrs. Conway's fortunes have been lost. A little port loosens her sardonic tongue even more. Most surprisingly, Hazel is married to Beevers, who it turns out isn't mild mannered and eager to please, but quite sadistically opposite the image we first had of him. Even Mrs. Conway's threats seem to have no influence over him. (Boyer's  got creepy down -- he was the possessed puppet in Hand to God.)

For a brief time, Kay returns to the past and it's this transition that prompts the question "What wisdom would you share with your younger self if you had the chance?" As Alan says,

"But the point is, now, at this moment, or any moment, we're only a cross section of our real selves. What we really are is the whole stretch of ourselves, all our time, and when we come to the end of this life, all those selves, all our time, will be us—the real you, the real me. And then perhaps we'll find ourselves in another time, which is only another kind of dream."

The performances are fierce and the direction by Rebecca Taichman, who won a Tony Award for her Broadway debut last season with Indecent, is precise. The play itself could use a good edit, particularly in the first act, but overall, a very satisfying time at the theater.

The Conways glide through time at American Airlines Theatre on Broadway, 227 West 42nd St., NYC, through Nov. 26. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday evening at 8; Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2 pm; Sunday matinees at 3 pm. Tickets are $39-$149: roundabouttheatre.org; 212-719-1300

Additional credits:
Matt Hubbs, Sound Design; Leah J. Loukas, Hair and Wig Design; Deborah Hecht, Dialect Consultant; Thomas Schall, Fight Director; Frank Ventura, Etiquette and Period Movement; Kathy Fabian, Production Properties Supervisor

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- References to fortune telling

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Theater Review: The Honeymooners -- Paper Mill Playhouse

Michael Mastro, Laura Bell Bundy, Leslie Kritzer, and Michael McGrath Evan Zimmerman
The Honeymooners
Book by Dusty Kay and Bill Nuss, based on the CBS television series
Music by Stephen Weiner
Lyrics by Peter Mills
Choreography by Joshua Bergasse 
Musical Direction and Vocal Arrangements by Remy Kurs
Directed by John Rando
Paper Mill Playhouse, Millburn, NJ
Through Oct. 19

By Lauren Yarger
If you're a fan of the classic TV series "The Honeymooners," which featured Art Carney, Audrey Meadows and Joyce Randolph along with the biggest comedian of the era, Jackie Gleason, who uttered catch phrases like, "To the moon, Alice," "Har har, hardee har har" and "I've got a big mouth" among others, you will thoroughly enjoy the new musical version of the sitcom getting its world premiere in New Jersey at the Paper Mill Playhouse.

If you have never heard of the Kramdens and the Nortons (the two couples who are best friends and neighbors in CBS's 1950 series) you might be scratching your head and wondering what the heck is going on.

Though many Baby Boomers enjoyed this show and will list it among their favorites (even though it only ran for 39 episodes following its debut and subsequent revisiting in sketch form on Gleason's variety shows), I never cared for it and there is a good chance that anyone under the age of 45 probably has never seen it.  The series followed the pie-in-the sky antics of Ralph Kramden (Gleason), a bus driver in Brooklyn, who was always trying to find a quick-money scheme to achieve his dream of living on easy street. He usually dragged his best friend, Ed Norton (Carney), along with him, paying no heed to the unenthusiastic, practical advice to the contrary given by his wife, Alice (Meadows). 

When I saw that one of my favorite musical writing teams (Stephen Weiner and Peter Mills) were on the Honeymooners musical, I knew I would want to see it (even thought I don't normally get out to Paper Mill), but realized I was hesitant because I really, really didn't like that show. 

Why not, I thought? It admittedly contained some comedy bits that are quite funny (Ed's enthusiastic watching of the "Captain Video" kids' television show is a classic). As I thought about it, I realized that I had been offended, even as a kid, by a husband threatening to hit his wife. Ralph's recurring shout of "bang zoom" promising to send Alice to the moon and the secondary threat of  "one of these days, Alice, pow! right in the kisser" frightened me and I didn't think it was funny. Nor did I like Alice's silent, sad-faced acceptance of these threats, even though Ralph usually came around and apologized, and told her she was the greatest.

Enter book writers Dusty Kay and Bill Nuss who have softened these threats for the musical and have given Alice (played by the multi-talented comedic genius Leslie Kritzer) some backbone. She even gets a solo that lets her belt and scat about how "A Woman's Work" really gets done.  She stopped the show. Director John Rando makes sure there isn't a physical depiction of the violence Ralph threatens which helps tone down these unpleasant, if iconic elements, and Ralph is a bit easier to like here, thanks to a tour-de-force impersonation by Michael McGrath. 

One of the pure joys of this musical is watching McGrath and Michael Mastro channel Gleason and Carney. They look and sound like the recognizable actors into whose shoes they have stepped. They do such a good job bringing the originals to life, that a plot twist later in the musical, where Ralph and Ed meet the real Gleason and Carney, falls short because unfairly, the second set of actors don't stand a chance of appearing more like the original characters (this is one turn that should be eliminated as the story goes off on a tangent; cutting the three-hour run time will help too if this musical is eyeing Broadway).

Otherwise, the book is entertaining and advances what used to be virtually the same plot in every TV episode to a more fully developed story that can hold its own in a full musical production. Even Trixie (Laura Bell Bundy, who sounded like she might be fighting a cold the night I saw the show) gets some development as she resumes her career as a burlesque dancer (apparently this was mentioned in a lost episode, but that career was considered too risqué for 1950s television). This allows for a subplot for a jealous confrontation between Ed and her former club manager.

I savored, as always, Mills' clever lyrics (his and Weiner's collaboration on Iron Curtain, with a book by Susan Di Lallo, is one of my favorite musicals that hasn't made it to Broadway yet.) 

"He's a local who’s going express," the male chorus sings as Ralph thinks he has a future on Madison Avenue after writing a cheesy advertising jingle for the Faciamatta brand of dairy product.

Make-you-laugh lyrics by Mills pepper the score. Weiner writes some of the big-production type numbers he does so well (and Choreographer Joshua Bergasse has fun bringing to life a huge, fantasy tap sequence), but none of the songs stands out. The most moving is a duet between Ralph and Ed called "I'll Miss the Guy," but there aren't any tunes you come away humming.

Set Designer Beowulf Boritt remains true to the original set by recreating the Kramdens' shabby kitchen in which all of the television episodes were filmed. He adds a stunning backdrop of the city skyline with the trademark moon as well.  There is much here that satisfies and I found myself enjoying The Honeymooners for the first time. A heads up to producers, though: with Russia so prominently in the news these days, Iron Curtain might be the one to bring to Broadway first.


 

Additional casting:
Lewis Cleale as Bryce Bennett, Lewis J. Stadlen as Old Man Faciamatta and David Wohl as Allen Upshaw. 

Holly Ann Butler, Chris Dwan, Hannah Florence, Tessa Grady, Stacey Todd Holt, Ryan Kasprzak, Drew King, Eloise Kropp, Harris Milgrim, Justin Prescott, Lance Roberts, Jeffrey Schecter, Britton Smith, Alison Solomon, Michael Walters and Kevin Worley, Ensemble

The Honeymooners runs through Oct. 19 at the Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ. Performances are Wednesday at 7:30 pm, Thursday at 1:30 and 7:30 pm, Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 1:30 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1:30 and 7:30 pm. Tickets start at $34: PaperMill.org; 973-376-4343.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Some scantily-clad show girls

Off-Broadway Theater Review: The Treasurer

Peter Friedman. Photo: Joan Marcus


The Treasurer
By Max Posner
Directed by David Cromer
Playwrights Horizons
Through Nov. 5

By Lauren Yarger
It's every kid's nightmare: who is going to take care of the parents when they get elderly? But for the son (Peter Friedman) in the world premiere of Max Posner's new play The Treasurer at Playwrights Horizons, there is an even more chilling question: How do you keep up a good front for your siblings when you have been tasked with making sure your mother is taken care of within the means she has available when you don't really love her?

This sad, but realistic premise plays out under taut direction by David Cromer (The Band’s Visit, Our Town, Adding Machine), who wrings out the emotions of the story and particularly, those of the "son." the character's only identity, besides that of "the treasurer" caring for the bank accounts of his mother, Ida (Deanna Dunagan). He has to deal with her and absentee brothers, Allen and Jeremy (played by Marinda Anderson and Pun Bandhu, who also take on other roles) as Ida needs more and more interaction. She doesn't grasp the severity of her financial situation or her diminishing entail capability and places unrealistic demands on her children who must come up with the funds to place her n acceptable senior living, While we're moved as the son finds himself between a rock and hard place, we discover that he is more emotionally drained than anyone having come to the conclusion that he will go to hell for not loving his mother.

Most of the conversations between mother and son and siblings (and one other between Ida and a meaningful wrong number) take place via telephone (with quick scene changes designed by Laura Jellinek, but Cromer's genius has a chance to shine in a scene where mother and son get together for a meal. The pain of the relationship is palpable.

Posner packs a punch in 90 minutes in this play, which was commissioned by Playwrights, 416 West 42nd St., NYC, where it has been extended through Nov. 5.



Additional credits:
Costume design by David Hyman, Lighting Design by Bradley King, Sound Design byMikhail Fiksel, Projection Design by Lucy Mackinnon and Wig Design by Leah J. Loukas.

Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 2:30 and 8 pm; Sundays at 2:30 and 7:30 pm.  Tickets are $49-$89: phnyc.org; 212- 279-4200

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain

Monday, October 2, 2017

Off-BroadwayReview: As You Like It

Ellen Burstyn. Photo: Lenny Stucker
As You Like It
By William Shakespeare
Original Music by Stephen Schwartz
Directed by John Doyle
Classic Stage Company
Through Oct. 22

By Lauren Yarger

What's It All About?
Shakespeare's comedy with a twist. This one has music by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippin, Godspell) and in the style of director John Doyle, has actors playing multiple parts as well as instruments. Here, As You Like It takes only about an hour and half -- that is about half of what productions of this play usually take,

What are the Highlights?
Well, that abbreviated run time, for starters. This isn't one of my favorites when it comes to Shakespeare. I usually think it is way too long, so cutting it down and adding some different elements, like music by Sondheim, should improve it. Having Ellyn Burstyn play Jaques also is a selling point (loved hearing her rendition of the "all the world's a stage" speech), not to mention a cast that includes Andre De Shields and Cass Morgan among others.

Doyle's set incorporates acorn lights that represent trees -- very cool. There is some fun audience interaction.

What Are the Lowlights?
All of the new twists don't come together to make this as fun and engaging as we would have liked it to be.

More Information:
As You Like It continues through Oct. 22 at Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th St., NYC. classicstage.org

Cast: Ellen Burstyn (Jaques), Quincy Tyler Bernstine (Celia), Noah Brody (Oliver/Corin), Hannah Cabell (Rosalind), André De Shields (Touchstone), Cass Morgan (Old Anna/Audrey), Leenya Rideout (Phoebe), David Samuel (Charles/Silvius), Kyle Scatliffe (Orlando) and Bob Stillman (Duke Frederick/Duke Senior).

Scenic Design by John Doyle, Costume Design by Ann Hould-Ward and Lighting Design by Mike Baldassari.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
No content notes.

Off-Broadway Review: On the Shore of the Wide World


On the Shore of the Wide World
By Simon Stephens
Directed by Neil Pepe
Atlantic theater Company
Through Oct. 8

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?Well, a bunch of family interaction and mortality, but none that is particularly engaging. For most of the time I wondered why I was watching their lives. This is the 2006 Olivier Best Play winner from playwright Simon Stephens, who has enjoyed recent Broadway success with The Curious Incident of the dog in the Night Time, Birdland and Heisenberg.

What Are the Highlights?
Atlantic's productions are always well staged.

What Are the Lowlights?
Talented directed Neil Pepe and a strong cast featuring Blair Brown, Odiseas Georgiadis, Mary McCann, LeRoy McClain, Tedra Millan, Ben Rosenfield, Luke Slattery, C.J. Wilson and Amelia Workman aren't able to give these characters enough depth to be interesting. The play almost seems like a forced attempt to turn the last lines of a Keats poem, from which the title is taken, into a play.
A plot twist is not set up properly and brings confusion rather than surprise.

More Information:
On the Shore of the Wide World runs through Oct. 8 at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theate, (336 West 20th St., NYC. Tickets start at $65: atlantictheater.org

Scenic Design by Scott Pask, Costume Design by Sarah Laux, Lighting Design by Christopher Akerlind, Original Music and Sound Design by David Van Tieghem.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

ANGELS Cast Recording Features Robert Cuccioli, Laura Osnes


The Broadway-aimed new musical ANGELS, produced by Marcus Cheong and Mark Kang, will release an original studio cast recording. The inspirational songs from this original musical, featuring music by Ken Lai, and book and lyrics by Ken Lai and Marcus Cheong, are brought to life by a star-studded cast of Tony nominated and award-winning Broadway performers including two-time Tony Award-nominee Laura Osnes, Tony Award-nominee Robert Cuccioli, Tony Award-nominee Josh Young and Alan H. Green. The album will be released digitally on Wednesday, October 25, 2017. CDs will be available for purchase via CD Baby, Amazon, Alliance Entertainment, and Super D.

ANGELS tells the epic story of the ancient war between the Angels and Lucifer’s fallen minions.  This timeless tale of good versus evil, hope versus despair, angels versus demons, is told through the eyes of Sera, the Angel of Light. Though she is gifted with the power to control light, she aspires to a more heroic role. Lucifer opposes Sera, causing chaos for the Angels and the humans they protect. Sera must find the courage to rise in victory over Lucifer and fulfill her purpose.

The album was recorded at Downtown Music Studios & Smash Studios in New York; The Grove Studios in Somersby, Australia; and Ramrod Studios & 301 Studios in Sydney, Australia. This recording features new musical arrangements from David Holmes and album producer Rich Fowler.

The cast of ANGELS includes two-time Tony Award-nominee Laura Osnes as ‘Sera,’ Tony Award-nominee Robert Cuccioli as ‘Lucifer,’ Tony Award-nominee Josh Young as ‘Tyriel,’ Alan H. Green as ‘Gabriel,’ Alexandra Zorn as ‘Rebekah/Vixen,’ Stephen Cerf as ‘Michael/Dasher/Joab,’ Kevin T. Collins as ‘Stratus/Dasher/Titus/Reuben,’ Elizabeth Ann Berg as ‘Bethany,’ and Stefanie Clouse as ‘Sofiel.’ Additional vocalists on the album include Jane Leslie AndersonHugh Wilson, Nicky Kurta, Tim Moxey, Gabrielle Lee, Mark Friedlander, Hannah J. Peterson, James Tehero, Daniel Thornton, and Mikaela Thornton.

The band for ANGELS includes Mitch Farmer (drums / percussion), Ben Whincop (bass), Jeff Camilleri (bass) and Charmaine Ford (keys). David Holmes served as the music director, with Tauesa Tofa serving as music co-director and Jane Lesley Anderson serving as assistant music director. The assistant director was Breanna Hickson. Orchestral arrangements are by Daniel Thornton and the original vocal arrangements are by Linda Wood.

Live performances of Angels are coming soon at venues throughout the world. Visit seraangels.com for the latest news and information.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Curvy Widow

Nancy Opel. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
Curvy Widow
Music and Lyrics by Drew Brody
Book By Bobby Goldman
Choreography by Marcos Santana
Directed by Peter Flynn
West Side Theatre

By Lauren Yarger
Say the words Nancy Opel and I smile. The extraordinarily voiced and comedic genius actress has graced the stage in many shows including Beautiful, Honeymoon in Vegas, Memphis, Gypsy, Fiddler on the Roof, Urinetown, Triumph of Love, Anything Goes, Sunday in the Park with George and Evita among others and I never have not loved watching her work.

She is starring Off-Broadway in Curvy Widow, the true story of Bobby Goldman, a construction company owner who suddenly finds herself alone when her famous writer husband, Jim -- that's James Goldman, author of Follies, "The Lion in Winter," A Family Affair), played by Ken Land, dies. Mostly unmemorable Music (except for "It's Not a Match") with witty and Lyrics by Drew Brody drive Bobby's book about her experiences at trying to date again. Getting a special shout out for storytelling, here, however, is Scenic Designer Rob Bissinger, who expertly changes locations (two apartments) and moods with a few props. A pair of slippers next to the bed speaks volumes.Costume Designed Brian C. Hemesath is on board for quick change also, having Opel switch only tops to slip between situations in the fast-paced hour and 45 minutes.

The ensemble cast, which appears crowded on the small Westside Theatre stage as they play Bobby's friends, her psychiatrist and dates -- disastrous and otherwise -- are put through their paces by Director Peter Flynn and Choreographer Marcos Santana. Besides Land, they include Andrea Bianchi,  Aisha de Haas, Elizabeth Ward Land, Alan Muraoka (standing out) and Chris Shyer. 

We follow post 50-year-old Bobby as she navigates the new and strange world of online dating. Curvy Widow is her "handle" on the sites.. She is at once intrigued and repulsed by the fact that hundreds of men who have never seen her (she refuses to post a photo) and who know her only by her alias, might be willing to have sex with her. We experience her first date, her experimentation with a sex site and the discovery of one match that might be different from the others. All of this takes place while she is haunted by guilt over wondering whether Jim would be OK with what she is doing -- well, maybe she's really haunted more by his ghost.

Opel throws herself into the role and sings some lovely mote combinations that made me very happy. The show is somewhat uneven, however, despite previous out-of-town runs. And it's a little hard to relate to Bobby, especially when she decides to make married men a non-committal specialty. (You might have a chance to hear from the real Booby in person, however, as she occasionally does post-show talks and answers questions from the audience).

More Information:
Curvy Widow plays at The Westside Theatre, Upstairs, 407 West 43rd St., NYC Performances are Monday at 8 pm, Tuesday at 7 pm, Wednesday at 2 and 8 pm, Friday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 and 8 pm, Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $79-$99: 212-239-6200; www.CurvyWidow.com.

Additional credits:
Lighting Design by Matthew Richards; Sound Design by Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab; Musical Direction by Andrew Sotomayor; Orchestrations, Arrangements and Music Supervision by Wayne Barker

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language
-- Suggestive situations

Broadway Theater Review: Prince of Broadway


Prince of Broadway
New songs, Arrangements, Orchestration and Music Supervision by Jason Robert Brown
Book by David Thompson
Direction and Choreography by Susan Stroman with direction by Harold Prince
Manhattan Theatre Club

By Lauren Yarger
Hal Prince and I would have been great theater buddies. We apparently love the same musicals. 

In Prince of Broadway, theatergoers get to enjoy almost 40 tunes celebrating the career of 21-time Tony-winner Producer/Director Harold Prince as arranged and orchestrated by Jason Robert Brown (The Bridges of Madison County; The Last Five Years) and Choreographed and Directed by a legend in her own right, Susan Stroman (The Producers, The Scottsboro Boys) with some direction by Prince himself. With almost every number, I found myself saying, "Oh, I love this song," or " I love that show" and finally, I just thought, "Thank you, Hal Prince."

The problem is that if you aren't me, or at least an aficionado of musical theater from the past 60 years, you probably won't know a lot of the songs, or what show they are from, or why those particular songs have been selected. And even if you recognize the songs and shows (or are able to follow along in the Playbill in the dark) David Thompson's uneven book, still might still leave you scratching your head.

The very capable ensemble features Tony Award winner Chuck Cooper (Caroline, or Change; Choir Boy), Drama Desk Award winner Janet Dacal (In The Heights, Good Vibrations), Bryonha Marie Parham (After Midnight, Porgy and Bess), Emily Skinner (Side Show, The Full Monty), Brandon Uranowitz (Falsettos, An American in Paris), Kaley Ann Voorhees (The Phantom of the Opera, Candide), Michael Xavier (Sunset Boulevard, Into The Woods), Tony Yazbeck (On the Town, Gypsy), and Tony Award winner Karen Ziemba (Contact, Curtains). There just is no rhyme or reason to why they are performing the songs which recreate moments from the Prince theater repertoire (in many cases faithfully reproduced visually by Scenic and Projection Designer Beowulf Boritt.) 

All of them speak in the voice of Prince. Some of the shows are identified; some background is given and logos from some of the shows are depicted through projections. (A critic colleague seemed to think they all had been, and perhaps they weren't visible form my seat.) At any rate, I jotted notes about how I thought many audience members wouldn't be able to identify numbers like "Tonight at Eight" and "Will He Like Me?" from 1963's She Loves Me or "Dressing Them Up," from 1993's The Kiss of the Spiderwoman. There are some other selections from Follies, Parade and Merrily We Roll Along that might evade identification by the more casual theatergoer too.  "You've Got Possibilities" from the hardly known 1966 musical  "It's a Bird, It's a Plane. . . It's Superman" at least is properly identified and explained.

There's no reason why "Heart" from Damn Yankees or "If I Were a Rich Man" were singled out to represent those shows (the latter causing some negative comments from colleagues about the casting of Cooper, particularly from Jewish reviewers) when other shows got two or three songs. 

There are some wonderful moments: Parham is sensational as Queenie in "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" from Showboat and Ziemba is a saucy, meaty Mrs. Lovett in the medley of tunes from Sweeney Todd. I immediately wanted to see them both in revival of those shows. Skinner delivers the most moving "Send in the Clowns" from A Little Night Music -- and I saw Glynis Johns in the original production so that is saying something. Goosebumps and this number alone is probably worth the ticket price to this show.

I loved revisiting The Phantom of the Opera (with costumes by William Ivey Long that recreate the look of Maria Björnson's original designs) and Yazbeck taps up a perfect storm in "The Right Girl" from Follies.

It's entertaining and a lovely waltz down memory lane - with a new finale composed by Brown called "Do the Work" which nicely sums up Prince's theater contributions -- even if we seem to lose our way a bit on his journey.



More information:
Prince of Broadway entertains at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th St., NYC. For performances and tickets: manhattantheatreclub.com

Additional credits: Howell Binkley (lighting design), Jon Weston (sound design), Paul Huntley (wig design), Angelina Avallone (makeup design), Fred Lassen (music direction) and Jeffrey Seller (creative consultant).

Be sure to stop by the lower lobby of the Friedman Theatre to view a preview of the upcoming Hal Prince exhibition from the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- No content notes



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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 2000 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.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day 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 writes 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 is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

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.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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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 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 and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. 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 review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), 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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