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:

-- 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:

-- 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

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 with Daniel Gerroll'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 a long correspondence 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 between Joy and Lewis 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 that 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. 

Joy's faith is inspirational. She tells her husband that the pain to come is part of the joy they are experiencing in the present. Lewis's faith following her death is an example to his colleagues. It’s  this is kind of a sad story, though, so be prepared, even if Joy's physical 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, Stephanie 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 DivorceThe 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.

-- 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 Owens) ask, "How could he not know?"

The question at hand is how Gallimard, an attaché 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. Thus, 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: and also is 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, to put him in danger 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 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. Here, the 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.

Additional 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:

-- Nudity
-- Homosexual activity
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Language
-- Sexually explicit dialogue
-- 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 must 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 to Ben (Jim Parrack of TV's "True Blood"), a co-worker at the architectural firm. New-hire Eliza (Krysta Rodriguez) has 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 for projects 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 Janice doesn’t see the harassment in the office as a problem and is willing to present Eliza’s ideas as her own 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:; 212-765-1706.

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

-- 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:

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

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

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York. Shifting from reviewing to producing, Yarger owns Gracewell Productions, which produced the Table Reading Series at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT. She trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run. She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She wrote reviews of Broadway and Off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She was a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice president and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (producer of the annual awards ceremony) and a member of The League of Professional Theatre Women, serving as Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter. Yarger was a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2024 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women or people of a certain race are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide, or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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