Sunday, January 28, 2018

Broadway Theatre Review: Farinelli and the King with Mark Rylance

Iestyn Davies, Mark Rylance, Huss Garbiya, and Melody Grove. Photo: Joan Marcus
Farinelli and the King
By Claire Van Kampen
Directed by John Dove
Belasco Theatre
Through  March 25

By Lauren Yarger
What do a mad king and a falsetto opera singer have in common? Quite a lot it turns out, in the Shakespeare’s Globe production of Farinelli and the King starring Mark Rylance.

The debut play by Claire Van Kampen is based on the true story of the relationship between King Philippe V of Spain (Rylance) and castrato Farinelli (portrayed by actor Sam Crane of TV's "The Crown" and countertenor Iestyn Davies). Queen Isabella (Melody Grove) thinks Farinelli's voice, which has captured the hearts of all who hear it, might just be the cure for the king's insomnia, brought on in part by the political pressures of his crown, but perhaps more so by his encroaching madness. The two might come from very different backgrounds, but being thrust into the pubic light and not being able to pursue the lives they might otherwise have desired uncovers a bond between the men that might just save the king. It might cost Farinelli everything, though.

The production is performed by candlelight on a set designed by Jonathan Fensom that extends the palace walls and decor out into the house of the Belasco. Actors in costume (but not in character) interact with theatergoers prior to the show. Audience members sit on stage during the production, where actors stroll while playing baroque instruments.The two-hour-30-minute run time seems long. It did, however, provide detailed information I did not have about the sexual abilities of men who have been castrated. My understanding of biblical eunuchs has been enhanced following post-show discussions.

Director John Dove's vision for having singer Davies step in for actor Crane is rather distracting to the action. Arias, arranged by Van Kampen, include "Ho Perso il Caro Ben" (Handel, from Parnasso in Festa), "Alto Giove" (Porpora, from Polifemo), "Fra Tempeste Funeste a Quest'alma" (Handel, from Rodelinda), "Venti, Turbini Prestate" (Handel, from Rinaldo), "Cara Sposa" (Handel, from Rinaldo) and "Lascia Ch'io Pianga" (Handel, from Rinaldo), among others. The Handel arias first were sung by the real-life Farinelli in the 1730s. Truth be told, I'd rather hear a soprano sing them.

Farinelli and the King originally premiered in London. The testosterone-heavy cast features Huss Garbiya as Doctor José Cervi, Lucas Hall as Jethro, Colin Hurley as John Rich and Edward Peel as De La Cuadra. Award-winning countertenors James Hall and Eric Jurenas perform at select performances.

Farinelli and the King wraps up its limited run at the Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th st., NYC, March 25. Performances are Tuesday and Thursday at 7 pm; Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $32 - $157:

Additional credits:
Lighting design, Paul Russell; Hair and Wig Design, Campbell Young Associates.

-- Language
-- Sexual dialogue

Broadway Review: Once On This Island

Alex Newell, Lea Salonga and Merle Dandridge. Photo: Joan Marcus
Once On This Island
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Book and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, based on the novel “My Love, My Love” by Rosa Guy
Directed by Michael Arden
Choreographed by Camille A. Brown
Circle in the Square Theatre

By Lauren Yarger
Following the success of Anastasia, creators Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty are enjoying the first Broadway revival of their previous collaboration,  Once On This Island.

This show, which had a short Broadway run beginning in 1990, has been a mainstay ever since as the season production for high schools and colleges, but I had never seen a profesional staging before this revival featuring stars Norm Lewis and Lea Solonga. The story, with a book by lyrics writer Ahrens, based on the novel “My Love, My Love” by Rosa Guy, is kind of a bummer and doesn't have the fairytale feel we think it will. (Don't worry, I won't give spoilers).

Circle in the Square Theatre is the perfect setting for this show, intimately directed by Michael Arden. Designer Dane Laffrey creates an island setting, complete with sand, water to splash through and a quick-change to an indoor setting. Costumes designed by Clint Ramos complete the picture of Ti Moune (Hailey Kilgore), a young peasant girl who falls in love with Daniel (Isaac Powell), a wealthy man from the other side of the island.

TiMoune leaves her loving, adoptive parents (Kenita R. Miller and Phillip Boykin) to find her love, Daniel, and nurse him back to health after he is injured in an accident. The two are happy together for a while, until Daniel reveals that he is promised to Andrea (Loren Lott).

Island gods figure in the storytelling and help or hinder the characters as they progress through life. The gods are:
  • Papa Ge - Papa Ge (Merle Dandridge -- I saw Tamra Gray), a demon of death
  • Erzulie (Salonga), a goddess of love
  • Agwe (Lewis), a god of water
  • Asaka (Alex Newell), mother of the earth
The 90-minute production is brisk and has new orchestrations by original orchestrator Michael Starobin who is joined by AnnMarie Milazzo.

Once on This Island gathers for storytelling at Circle in the Square THeatre,  235 West 50th St., NYC.  Performance times vary. Tickets are $89.50-$189.50:

Additional cast:
Darlesia Cearcy, Rodrick Covington, Emerson Davis, Alysha Deslorieux, Tyler Hardwick, Cassondra James, David Jennings, Grasan Kingsberry, Loren Lott, Isaac Powell, T. Oliver Reid, Aurelia Williams and Mia Mei Williamson.

Additional credits:
Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer (Lighting Designers), Peter Hylenski (Sound Designer), John Bertles/Bash The Trash (Unusual Instruments), Cookie Jordan (Hair/Wig and Makeup Designer), Chris Fenwick (Music Supervisor), Alvin Hough, Jr. is the music director.

-- Theater warms might not be suitable for children under 10 years of age.
-- Gods

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Broadway Theater Review: SpongeBob SquarePants

SpongeBob SquarePants
Conceived and Directed by Tina Landau
Book by Kyle Jarrow
Orchestrations and Arrangements by Tom Kitt
Choreography by Christopher Gattelli
Palace Theatre

By Lauren Yarger
He's a sponge who lives in a pineapple under the ocean. If you're laughing already and saying, "I can't wait to see that," then Broadway's SongeBob SquarePants, will be just the musical for you. If that doesn't make sense, you're probably of a certain age (like me) and you'll be scratching your head at the attraction of this show, conceived and Directed by Tina Landau and based on the popular Nickelodeon TV cartoon series.

Confusion doesn't mean the tale isn't entertaining, however. In fact, a woman seated near me was beside herself with laughter throughout. She reminded me of myself when I laugh hysterically at old "Get Smart" episodes. It's silly and predictable, but I roll on the floor no matter how many times I hear Maxwell Smart say, "Would you believe. . . " The laughing audience member actually was more entertaining to me than the plot of this musical, but the loud, colorful set and costume design (by Davd Zinn) with high-energy choreography by Christopher Gatelli didn't allow boredom to set in.

Ethan Slater makes his Broadway debut as the sea sponge (who in cartoon land looks more like the variety you have on your kitchen sink an who on stage wears a yellow shirt and yellow plaid pants) who has a variety of underwater sea friends who live with him in Bikini Bottom (if you are laughing at that name for a community, you would have been good company with the hysterical woman near me). They are:

  • Eugene Krab (Brian Ray Norris), owner of the Krusty Krab fried food joint where Bob works
  • Squidward Q. Tentacles (Gavin Lee), SpongeBob's unfriendly neighbor
  • Patrick Star (Danny Skinner), SpongeBob's friendly neighbor
  • Sheldon Plankton (Wesley Taylor), a business rival of Mr. Krab the story's villain
  • Sandy Cheeks (Lilli Cooper), SpongeBob's squirrel friend, who FOR SOME REASON CAN BREATHE UNDER WATER
But whereas I scratch my head and ask questions, others are laughing, so I won't go into details of the the plot, with a book by Kyle Jarrow that has SpongeBob and his friends protecting Bikini Bottom from annihilation. You'll either think it's wonderful or ask too many questions. . . Let's just say there were a LOT of children in the audience who were enjoying themselves and that is a good thing for Broadway.

Music supervision, orchestrations and arrangements are by the fabulous Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) who provides some additional music alongside original songs by Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alexander Ebert of Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros, The Flaming Lips, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T’s, They Might Be Giants and T.I., and a song by David Bowie and by Tom Kenny and Andy Paley. Additional lyrics are supplied by Jonathan Coulton.

SpongeBob squares off at the Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway, NYC. Tickets are $49-$145:

Additional cast:
Alex Gibson, Gaelen Gilliland, Juliane Godfrey, Kyle Matthew Hamilton, Curtis Holbrook, Stephanie Hsu, Jesse JP Johnson, L’ogan J’ones, Jai’len Christine Li Josey, Kelvin Moon Loh, Lauralyn McClelland, Vasthy Mompoint, Oneika Phillips, Jon Rua, JC Schuster, Abby C. Smith, Robert Taylor Jr., Allan Washington, Brynn Williams, Matt Wood and Tom Kenny as the French Narrator.

Additional credits:
The design team includes scenic and costume design by David Zinn, lighting design by Kevin Adams, projection design by Peter Nigrini, sound design by Walter Trarbach, hair and wig design byCharles G. LaPointe and casting by Telsey + Company/Patrick Goodwin, CSA.

No content notes

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Broadway Theater Review: The Parisian Woman with Uma Thurman

The Parisian Woman
By Beau Willimon
Directed by Pam MacKinnon
Hudson Theatre
Through March 11

By Lauren Yarger
Blackmail, political ambition, sexual scandals and Trump jokes combine to make more than today's headlines. They are the crux of a new play, The Parisian Woman, from "House of Cards" creator Beau Willimon, based on a play focusing on those  topics -- well sans the Trump jokes -- that stirred up some controversy in late 19th-Century Paris long before being anti-Trump was in vogue.

It stars Uma Thurman ("Kill Bill, "Pulp Fiction," “Imposters” in her Broadway debut as Chloe, a Washington DC socialite playing politics to guarantee an appeals-court appointment for her  husband, Tom (Josh Lucas, also of film fame: "Sweet Home Alabama" and "American Psycho"), whose career as a tax attorney hasn't exactly qualified him for the position. We're not ever quite sure how these two ended up together. Was there ever any love between them, or was it all a partnership to get ahead politically. In the end, we don't care that these answers never seem forthcoming.

Chloe's romantic liaison with big-time Trump donor Peter (Martin Csokas) doesn't seem to work in the couple's favor, so she uses her skills on well-connected Jeanette (a solid Blair Brown), who is awaiting her own appointment confirmation to a cushy post and who has offered an oasis of friendship in the harsh dessert of DC politics. Her daughter, Jeanette's daughter, Rebecca (an underused Phillipa Soo), eyeing her own political career, might just be the "trump" card Chloe needs.

Pam MacKinnon directs, but leave little mark on the play, which, except for a couple of "House of Card" twists, is a rather uneventful hour and a half. Willllimon's also wrote the play Farragut North and "Ides of March." the film based on it.

 "La Parisienne," Henri Becque's controversial play which debuted in Paris in 1885, and which inspired this work commissioned by The Flea Theater in New York City, also was the basis for a 1957 movie starring Brigitte Bardot. I guess sex, politics and intrigue will never go out of style. This production has a lot of the latter -- style, that is. Derek McLane's sets are classy and Jane Greenwood provides ample costume to keep things interesting (while Broken Chord supplies Original Music and Sound Design for the changes).

The Parisian Woman plays at the Hudson Theatre, 141 West 44th St., NYC, through March 11. Perfromance times vary. Tickets are $49.50-$260:

Additional credits:
Peter Kaczorowski (lighting design), Darrel Maloney (projections), Hair Design is by Tom Watson (hair design) Tommy Kurzman (makeup design).

-- The theater suggests the material is for 14 and up.
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Sexual activity
-- Language
-- Homosexuality
-- Homosexual activity

Broadway Theater Review: Meteor Shower with Amy Schumer

Keegan-Michael Key, Jeremy Shamos, Amy Schumer, Laura Benanti. Photo: Matthew Murphy
Meteor Shower
By Steve Martin
Directed by Jerry Zaks
Booth Theatre
Through Jan. 21

By Lauren Yarger
Just throw reality right out the window and straight into outer space and then you can sit back and enjoy Steve Martin's Meteor Shower, starring Emmy-Award winner Amy Schumer in her Broadway debut.

If you try to think too much about this plot, or the bizarre behavior of the characters -- two couples meeting for drinks to enjoy a 1993 meteor shower in Ojai, CA -- you'll give up early on. Trust me though, it's worth hanging on to the tail of Martin's dark comedy for the twist ending and some laughs along the way.

Schumer is, Corky,  half of the evening's host couple. She and husband Norm (Jeremy Shamos) have invited Gerald (Keegan-Michael Key) and Laura (Laura Benanti) over in the hopes they will connect them with mutual acquaintances -- one an important business connection --  with whom they have been trying to meet. Sexually forward Laura and over-the-top confident Gerald (Key is a hoot) aren't what Corky and Norm were expecting.

Through flashback scenes and alternative realities, we discover that Laura and Gerald might not be who they appear to be, but when a fiery meteor (Natasha Katz, lighting design) hits the patio (one of the scenes that Beowolf Borritt's revolving set reveals) it has devastating -- and comedic results (created by Ann Roth's costume design) -- and the visitors' motives might be the least of Corky and Norm's problems.

Director Jerry Zaks coaxes well-timed, strong comedic performances from all of the actors. They don't take anything too seriously -- which would be a mistake -- but are controlled in their delivery to keep the action tight and focused for the one hour and 20 minutes without intermission. Key, also making his Broadway debut, is a surprising standout here, given the star power assembled for this meteor show. He makes Gerald so bizarre and funny, that you can't help but laugh. He evokes the style of the playwright and we can't help but think the two of them together on stage would be a treat.

Meteor Shower lights up the stage at the Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th St., NYC, through Jan. 21. Perfroamnce times vary. Tickets are $59 - $169:

Additional credits:
Fitz Patton: Sound Design; Stephen Edlund, Associate Director

-- Launguage
-- Drug Use
-- Sexual Dialogue
-- Homosexuality
-- Homosexual Activity

Gracewell Prodiuctions

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

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

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

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

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

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

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


All material is copyright 2008- 2022 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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