Thursday, March 29, 2018

Updates on Angels in America, Frozen Reviews

Amanda Lawrence in Angels in America. Photo: Helen Maybanks
Reviewing updates:
To all readers who have been asking. Still waiting to see whether Angels in America can get me in to review (some colleagues were able to reschedule when they opted out of dates they had booked when it snowed, so I am hopeful they will be able to get me in before voting deadlines.) Meanwhile, contact me via email for recommendations on other shows to see while you are vacationing in New York or review the "Top Picks" listings on Reflections in the Light (to the right.)

And for those of you who had checked to see when the Frozen review would be available, the press tickets were cancelled last night because star Patti Murin was out. This will be rescheduled soon -- not in time for a review to read if you are in for Easter weekend, but soon enough to make Spring break and summer vacation plans. Stay tuned....

PS Thank you to those of you who have been telling me you won't buy tickets before reading my review. It is encouraging to know the reviews are valued. And it makes me feel very Ben Brantley-like for people of faith who love theater ( and there are many, many of you all over the country!)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: Babette's Feast TOP PICK

Juliana Francis Kelly, Steven Skybell, Abigail Killeen and Michelle Hurst. Photo: Carol Rosegg

Babette's Feast
Conceived and Developed by Abigail Killeen
Written by Rose Courtney, adapted from the short story by Isak Dinesen
Directed by Karin Coonrod
Theater at St. Clement's

By Lauren Yarger
An exquisite and tasteful staging of the New York premiere of Babette's Feast serves up this week's Easter message of love and grace.

The production at St. Clements stars Michelle Hurst (“Orange is the New Black”) as Babette, a French refugee who finds asylum in a pious Protestant community in 19th-Century Norway. Life in the community is sequestered, especially for the daughters of its religious leader. Sisters Philippa and Martine (Juliana Francis Kelly and Abigail Kileen, who conceived and developed the play) each have a chance at love -- Philippa with a famous French opera star and Martine with a Swedish officer. Their father disapproves, however, and when the men leave, the women continue with their uneventful lives

Until Babette arrives, that is. The woman, about whom rumors fly, arrives with a letter of introduction from Philippa's former suitor, asking her family to provide some of the same hospitality and kindness they bestowed on him during his stay.  The women offer Babette a position in their home as a cook and she stays for the next 14 years.

Babette is accepted into the community, but doesn't reveal much about her former, tragic life. Her only connection to her past is a nephew and a national lottery ticket which he faithfully purchases for her. When it hits, Babette prepares a feast, the likes of which the community has never seen. It brings back memories for Martine's former beau who stops by for a visit. Could he have sat at Babette's table once before?

Her gift to the town is one of the most selfless acts of gratitude you might ever witness. It transforms the villagers and gives them moments of joy where they experience God's grace and forgiveness. The message, based on a short story by Isak Dinesen, is moving and poignant without getting preachy. It's one of the best sermons you can experience for Easter this week. And this story, originally published in 1950, seems relevant in the midst of current cultural wars about immigration.

The tale, written for the stage by Rose Courtney, unfolds on a stage minimally dressed by Christopher Akerlind, who also designs the lighting which, along with black and white Puritan costuming (designed by Oana Botez),  keeps the visual dark and dim, like the lives of the villagers. When Babette's feast touches the diners, lights brighten, and we get a sense of the joy they feel.

Director Karin Coonrod expertly moves actors a few steps to create changes of scene. (Members rounding out the tight ensemble are Jo Mei, Elliot Nye, Steven Skybell, Sorab Wadia, Sturgis Warner, and Jeorge Bennett Watson.)

Coonrod also employs a minimalist technique, having the actors pantomime most of the props depicted, and resorts to the real things only for the feast, where candles and crystal beautify the table. I do have to admit, I was hoping for a David Cromer moment like the one from Our Town where the scene comes to life in visual and sensory ways. The feast is a bit disappointing and doesn't seem all that different from the bland and subdued life that proceeded it.

This 90-minute production premiered in January at Portland Stage Company in Portland, ME. In a related note, Stéphane Audran, who starred as Babette in the 1987 Oscar winning movie, died yesterday.

Babette serves up some spiritual delights at the Theatre at Saint Clement’s, 423 West 46th St., NYC. Performances are Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 pm; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2 pm and Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets are $39.50 - $99:; 212-239-6200.
Additional credits:
Sound Design by Kate Marvin, Original Music by Gina Leishman

-- God's name taken in vain 

Broadway Theater Review: Rocktopia

Rob Evan. Photo: Matthew Murray
Co-Created by Rob Evan and Randall Craig Fleischer
Musical Direction by Tony Bruno
Broadway Theatre
Through April 29

By Lauren Yarger
Rock and classical music blend for a concert, in all places, on a Broadway stage in Rocktopia, a musical experience co-created by Broadway vet Rob Evan.

It seems like a mix of Trans Siberian Orchestra (with which Evan has performed) and "Hooked on the Classics" which topped the pop charts in the '70s by putting a rock beat on Beethoven's 5th.

Here a 20-piece symphony orchestra (conducted by Maestro Randall Craig Fleischer of the San Francisco Symphony), a five-person rock band (featuring music director and guitarist Tony Bruno), Celtic violinist Mairead Nesbitt) and a 40-member choir join with featured vocalists to put a new spin on works by Mozart, Queen, Handel, U2, Tchaikovsky, Led Zeppelin, Beethoven, Journey, Copland, The Who and more. 

Evans (Jekyll and Hyde) leads the almost three-hour concert (with intermission and two encores) and is joined by Tony Vincent (American Idiot; "The Voice"), Kimberly Nichole (the "Rock Ballerina" from "The Voice), Alyson Cambridge (opera), Chloe Lowery (vocalist with Trans Siberian Orchestra; Yanni) and special guest vocalist, Pat Monahan, lead singer of the band Train. (Monahan continues through April 8 and will be followed by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and Cheap Trick frontman Robin Zander April 23-29).

It's fun to hear some favorites, whether you're into rock or the classics, but it's the twist that raises some questions. Does everything really need an updated beat? I like the second movement from Beethoven's 7th just the way it is. Just because it can be played with a rock beat -- and very, very loudly, which seems to be the theme of most of this show's sound design by Nick Kourtides -- doesn't mean it should be. Less is more might be a good philosophy to follow here. Why not present some classics in traditional form too?  Lowery's rendition of  Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love is" is quite  moving until she is joined by many voices -- many loud voices -- and scream belts. 

The idea of a concert fusing different musical styles is good. It just needs a bit more orchestration, pun intended.

Knowing what we are seeing and hearing might boost appreciation too. There's no song list in the program (I offer one below to help you in your music-appreciating experience). If you don't know what the tune is, or anything about it, it's hard to appreciate the treatment it gets from the "New York Contemporary" orchestra and/or choir or the main singers, who for the most part, aren't introduced until the end of the program. Those in the know give a cheer at Monahan's entrance, but those unfamiliar with Train flip through their programs trying to figure out why everyone got so excited.

We also see images projected (Michael Stiller and Austin Switser, design), that remind of animated greeting cards, which simply provide background for tunes. Sequences using images of people are more confusing as names aren't included and themes aren't identified. There is a set that appears to be a tribute to legends no longer with us and another presenting those worthy of inclusion during "We Are the Champions" by Queen, but we're kind of guessing.

There is flashing, bright lighting (production design by Michael Stiller) to create a rock-concert atmosphere and ratty, unattractive negligee-type dresses for the women performers that make us think they must be stopping at a bordello on the way home from the concert. . . (Fashion Design by Mimi Prober; Costume Design by Cynthia Nordstrom).

Rocktopia began as “Rocktopia: Live from Budapest” and was recorded in front of a live audience in June 2016 at the 19th century Hungarian State Opera House for PBS. It was performed with the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra with six vocalists, a five-piece rock band, the Hungarian State Opera Chorus, and the Jazz and More Choir. The show since has toured to more than 20 cities in the United States, featuring local symphonies and choirs. It competes its Broadway run 

Rocktopia unites music styles at the Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway, NYC.

Additional credits;
Pianist Henry Aronson (MD/Conductor/keys for entire Broadway run of Rock of Ages, The Who’s Tommy); bass player Mat Fieldes (Joe Jackson’s Grammy winning album Symphony No. 1, the Gorillaz, Book of Mormon); and drummer Alex Alexander(David Bowie, Jimmy Cliff, Ritchie Blackmore)

 Song list:


“Also sprach Zarathustra” (STRAUSS)/ “Baba O’Riley” (THE WHO) Vocalists: Rob Evan, Tony Vincent “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” (MOZART)/ “Come Sail Away” (STYX) Vocalists: Rob Evan, Chloe Lowery, Kimberly Nichole, Tony Vincent “Lascia ch’io pianga” (HANDEL)/ “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” (ELTON JOHN) Vocalists: Alyson Cambridge, Tony Vincent “Piano concerto No. 2 in C minor” (RACHMANINOFF)/ “Alone” (HEART) Vocalist: Chloe Lowery “Symphony No. 7: Allegretto” (BEETHOVEN)/ “Stairway To Heaven” (LED ZEPPELIN) Vocalist: Pat Monahan “The Rite of Spring” (STRAVINSKY)/ “Purple Haze” (JIMI HENDRIX) Vocalist: Tony Vincent “Overture from Romeo & Juliet” (TCHAIKOVSKY)/ “Because The Night” (PATTI SMITH) Vocalist: Kimberly Nichole “Another Brick in the Wall” (PINK FLOYD)/“Uprising” (MUSE) Vocalists: Rob Evan, Chloe Lowery, Kimberly Nichole, Tony Vincent “Kashmir” (LED ZEPPELIN)/“Nessun Dorma” (PUCCINI) Vocalists: Pat Monahan; Alyson Cambridge, Rob Evan, Chloe Lowery, Kimberly Nichole, Tony Vincent


“Pictures at an Exhibition: Gate of Kiev” (MUSSORGSKY)/“Where The Streets Have No Name” (U2) Vocalist: Rob Evan “Symphonie fantastique” (BERLIOZ)/“Dream On” (AEROSMITH) Vocalists: Pat Monahan, Kimberly Nichole "Quando m'en vo (Musetta’s Waltz)” (PUCCINI)/“Something” (THE BEATLES) Vocalists: Alyson Cambridge, Rob Evan “Caruso” (DALLA) Vocalists: Alyson Cambridge, Rob Evan “I Want to Know What Love Is” (FOREIGNER) Vocalist: Chloe Lowery “Adagio for Strings” (BARBER)/“Who Wants to Live Forever”,“We Are The Champions” (QUEEN) Vocalists: Chloe Lowery, Tony Vincent “Symphony No. 9: Ode to Joy” (BEETHOVEN)/“Don’t Stop Believin’” (JOURNEY) Vocalists: Alyson Cambridge, Rob Evan, Chloe Lowery, Pat Monahan, Kimberly Nichole, Tony Vincent “The Planets” (HOLST)/“Drops of Jupiter” (TRAIN) Vocalist: Pat Monahan “Rhapsody In Blue” (GERSHWIN)/“Bohemian Rhapsody” (QUEEN) Vocalists: Alyson Cambridge, Rob Evan, Chloe Lowery, Kimberly Nichole, Tony Vincent

Getting Taken Advantage of by a Rodgers and Hart Revue at 54 Below

Christiane Noll
 By Lauren Yarger
Christiane Noll, Darius de Haas and Debby Boone took advantage of us at Feinstein's/ 54 Below and we're perfectly fine with that.

The singers joined creator/host Deborah Grace Winer in "You Took Advantage of Me: Rodgers and Hart on Love"," a celebration of the songs of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Lorenz Hart. The March 27 concert was the first of a Classic American Songbook Series created, written and hosted by Winer at 54 Below.

Directed by Mark Waldrop and backed up by Musical Director/pianist John Odo along with Jay Leonhart, bass and James Saporito, drums, the singers presented some Rodgers and Hart classics like "Where or When," The Lady is a Tramp," This Can't Be Love" and "You Are too Beautiful," among others, woven with some personal reflections and history about the song-writing team from Winer.

Debby Boone
Noll (Jekyl and Hyde; Ragtime) entertained with a more seductive version of "Bewitched" from Pal Joey and was the perfect cabaret image with beautiful voice and a stunning look in a blue dress set off by lighting the brings out the red hues of the walls downstairs at 54 below.

Everyone looked smashing, for that matter and appeared to be enjoying themselves in this entertaining, fast-moving hour and a half. Boone (Grammy Award) and de Haas (Shuffle Along; Kiss of the Spider Woman) joined forces for "Everything I've Got" and Noll topped off the fun with "Johnny One Note." Overall, a fun way to spend an evening celebrating the theater if you aren't actually in a theater seat.

Darius deHaas
Winer  continues the series with a Jerome Robbins Centennial Concert May 8 hosted and directed by three-time Tony winner Kathleen Marshall. She will explore how the legendary director/choreographer shaped some of Broadway's greatest musicals by Bernstein, Sondheim, Bock and Harnick, Jule Styne, Irving Berlin, Comden and Green and others.

On June 17 Winer hosts "Till There Was You: A Celebration of Barbara Cook."  Noll returns, joined by Christine Andreas, Kate Baldwin, Rebecca Luker, Linda Purl and Karen Ziemba and more to raise their voices in celebration of Barbara Cook, one of the greatest interpreters of the American Songbook.

Deborah Grace Winer
Prior to the series at 54 Below, Winer made her debut at the supper club in January with "Baby, Dream Your Dream: Great Women Writers of the American Songbook." The evening celebrated the often un-sung heroines of the Great American Songbook including Marilyn Bergman. Dorothy Fields. Mary Rodgers. Jeanine Tesori. Betty Comden. Carolyn Leigh and Lynn Ahrens.

"We’re purposely launching this brand new classic American songbook series with Rodgers and Hart’s take on love—because these songs are fresh, fun and relevant, and that’s what these shows will be,” Winer said. "It's truly exciting to be bringing a stellar family of artists and longtime collaborators to the series. We'll celebrate the greatest songwriters and their greatest songs with ultimate insider stories, the backstage world they were created in, and why these songs are cool today."

Winer is a leading expert on the American Songbook and musical theater. She recently completed a nine-season run as artistic director of the 92Y’s Lyrics and Lyricists concert series.

For information on the series at 54 Below and to purchase tickets, visit

Monday, March 26, 2018

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Admissions TOP PICK

Jessica Hecht, Andrew Garman, and Ben Edelman Photo: Jeremy Daniel

By Joshua Harmon
Directed by Daniel Aukin
Lincoln Center Theater
Through May 6

By Lauren Yarger
People of Color are good. White people are bad. So goes the liberal mantra that has been ruling the Admissions process at a private school in New Hampshire for years, but when the truth of that practice hits home in a personal way, a couple is forced to do some rethinking in Joshua Harmon's thought-provoking play getting an Off-Broadway run at Lincoln Center.

Sherri Rosen Mason (a mesmerizing Jessica Hecht) has been working for decades to change things at preppy Hillcrest School, where her husband, Bill (Andrew Garman) is the headmaster. The specific change she has been working toward is to make the school look less white and she is excited to announce that enrollment of students of color now is at 20 percent. She only needs to fund one more scholarship to make it happen. So, she's not happy to see a mockup of the school's catalogue with pictures showing mostly white students. She calls administrator Roberta (an engaging Ann McDonough) on the carpet and insists that she redo the booklet using pictures with more students of color.

Roberta is perplexed. She included some students of color, including the son of the mixed marriage of Sherri's best friend, Ginnie Peters (Sally Murphy). Apparently, he isn't easily identified as black, however, setting off a series of humorous questions from Roberta about just how dark-skinned the photo subjects need to be. Sherrie bristles when Roberta points out that she rarely thinks about a student's skin color -- that it is Sherrie who is obsessed with it. Sherrie pulls rank and shrugs off Roberta's observation.

"It must be nice to be sure you're right all the time," Roberta quips.

Doubt quickly fills Sherrie's mind, however, when her son, Charlie (Ben Edelman), is waitlisted at Yale, but Ginnie's son, whose test scores and grades aren't as good, gets in.  The two moms might be having a casual visit in Sherrie's warm kitchen (the comfortable home set is created by Riccardo Hernandez), but the atmosphere is chilly once that question comes up: Did he check the box (signifying his race)?

Meanwhile, a dejected Charlie realizes that as a white, privileged kid, he probably will be just as well off going to community school and rescinds his application at all of the top colleges where he had applied. And by the way -- that $60,000+ tuition at Yale? He'd like his parents to donate it and fund that last scholarship for a student of color at Hillcrest.  Just how much do the Masons believe in diversity? The whole reason Sherrie and her husband have been slaving away at Hillcrest is to make sure that their son could get into the right school... how far will they go now to make sure their white son gets a slot?

Admissions is a well-written script that brings into question equal opportunity beliefs and practices without becoming preachy. Director Daniel Aukin gets top-notch performances across the boards. We feel Sherrie's instinct to protect her son and the loss of the friendship with Ginnie. We understand Roberta's frustration with unrealistic desires to be politically correct and Charlie's perception of the irony that is determining his life's path. Meanwhile, Bill's irrational hatred of his own son for not getting on board with the liberal party line and for not hating himself for being white shows just how brainwashed some people allow themselves to be. It's an unsettling hour-and-45-minute play, perfectly timed in view of today's political and racial climate.

Admissions takes us to school at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, 150 West 65th St., NYC, extended through May 6.

Additional credits:
Costumes by Toni-Leslie James, Lighting by Mark Barton, and Sound by Ryan Rumery

More information:

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

Broadway Theater Review: Escape to Margaritaville

Lisa Howard, Alison Luff, Paul Alexander Nolan and Eric Petersen. Photo:Matthew Murphy
Escape to Margaritaville
Music and Lyrics By Jimmy Buffett 
Book By Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley 
Directed By Christopher Ashley 
Choreography By Kelly Devine

By Lauren Yarger

If you are a fan of Jimmy Buffet and find his songs entertaining, you'll enjoy the Broadway premiere of Escape to Margaritaville. If you aren't familiar with his songs and don't enjoy a few of the margaritas available at the theater bar before the curtain goes up, you probably will be thinking of ways to escape FROM Margaritaville.

The book by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley is a throwback to the early days of the jukebox musical, where a very weak plot is used to string together a bunch of songs. Here, lyrics from Buffet songs like "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere," "Son of a Son of a Sailor," "Cheeseburger in Paradise," "Why Don't We Get Drunk?" and the title tune, among others, are brought front and center in a ridiculous plot. 

A miscast Paul Alexander Nolan is Tully, a womanizing bar singer taking advantage of a string of women visiting Margaritaville, a resort somewhere in the Caribbean. The place is run by native Marley (Rema Webb) and frequented by an eye-patch-wearing, drunk pilot named J.D. (Don Sparks), who reportedly buried treasure somewhere on the island and who has an obsession with people moving his salt shaker (thus giving some meaning to the lyric "looking for my lost shaker of salt in "Margaritaville" -- if you actually want to go so far as to say there is meaning in anything in this musical).

Tully changes his tune, however, when he meets scientist Rachel (Alison Luff), visiting the island to collect soil to power her potato-powered invention which apparently will provide clean energy and save the planet. Yes, you read that correctly. Suddenly Tully is ready to commit, but Rachel's mind is focused on her work.

She is accompanied by Tammy (Lisa Howard), who wants to sow some wild oats before tying the knot with Chadd (Ian Michael Stuart). Chad has taken a few minutes to get up off the couch where he spends most of his time watching hockey matches to make a phone call and change the size of Tammy's wedding dress to a smaller fit to encourage his fiancée to lose some weight. He also puts her on a diet of carrot juice and seeds.

In this #metoo culture, we are expected to be OK with a woman going along with this and defending the guy because he deserves a chance (while Chadd is no super-fit model himself. Just saying...) Speaking of chances, Tammy confides, Chadd may be her only one at marriage, so she feels like she has to put up with a lot because, you know a girl has to settle rather than end up alone. . . but wait, she might just have a better chance with Tully's friend,  Brick (Eric Peterson), who we are supposed to feel good about because he doesn't seem to mind that Tammy is a bit chubby and likes her jokes, which aren't funny. Actually, jokes not delivered by Tammy -- some putting down women -- just aren't funny at all and we get a sense that the writers are trying to stick Tammy with the blame for the lame attempts at humor.

Good advice for the soon-to-be bride is not forthcoming from best friend Rachel, however, who before the show is over, comes to find that being uptight and focusing on her career isn't the way to go -- that happiness comes from loosening up, having sex and eventually marrying. 

OK, I don't drink, but will someone please pass me a margarita? Or a few?

Beyond giving my sense of morals a nervous breakdown (lying is good, cheating is good, false advertising is OK, getting drunk is great, anonymous sex is desirable -- remember lyrics like "Why Don't We Just Get Drunk and Screw" are part of the party atmosphere here-- ), the show gave me motion sickness as well. Every mode of travel seems to be depicted. Just because they can. Are the women flying from Ohio? Let's have a scene on a plane. Taking a boat? Hopping in a car? How about two more planes -- one with first class seating just to be different? All of them are in there. Walt Spangler is the overworked set designer who also creates an island motif that extends like volcano lava into the theater's house.

Because some random lyrics don't make a complete story -- or a full Broadway musical -- the writers and creatives are forced to pull some tricks out of a bag. Brick believes a story that a group of people once were buried underneath the lava ash from the island's last volcanic eruption.  They must give the ensemble (and Choreographer Kelly Devine) something to do, it seems, so the group becomes ghosts of the lost souls. Later, when the story is  proven to be myth, the dialogue could go something like this:
"We already have all of these dancers on stage, so we are now going to have them do a big show-stopping number with costumes that change into something more suited for 42nd Street than this musical because we don't want to waste the talents of Costume Designer Paul Tazewell). We're just going to do this and hope you don't notice that we have lost all hope of presenting a cohesive musical."

The same comments about wasting talent could be said of Director Christopher Ashley (Come From Away), who is unable to pull the insipid fragments together, and Flying by Foy, used to create people swimming above the action at one point, then to fly a  hungry Tammy over to a plate piled with cheeseburgers ("Cheeseburger in Paradise"). I found the only the only positive note I had scribbled during the show came at this point in the production: "At least we don't have dancing cheeseburgers now." I fully expected a chorus line of gold-lame-clad, high-kicking burgers to appear.

J.D. is looking for his lost shaker of salt and non Jimmy Buffet fans are looking for another drink during the very long-feeling two-hour-15 minute production at the Marquis Theatre, 210 West 46th St., NYC. Performances times vary.

Additional cast:
Andre Ward, Matt Allen, Tessa Alves, Sara Andreas, Tiffany Adeline Cole, Marjorie Failoni, Samantha Farrow, Steven Good, Angela Grovey, Albert Guerzon, Keely Hutton, Justin Keats, Mike Millan, Justin Mortelliti, Ryann Redmond, Jennifer Rias, Julius Anthony Rubio, Nick Sanchez, Ian Michael Stuart, and Brett Thiele.

Additional credits:
Howell Binkley (Lighting Designer), Brian Ronan (Sound Designer), Leah J. Loukas (Wigs, Hair, and Makeup Design), Michael Utley (Orchestrations), Christopher Jahnke (Music Supervisor), 

The Original Broadway Cast Recording of the new musical Escape to Margaritaville, featuring both original songs along with many of Buffett’s classics, is now available both digitally and on CD. 

-- Theater warns the production is suitable for ages 10 and up
-- God's name taken in vain
-- Sexual dialogue
-- A lucky native charm

Calling All Theater Lovers!

Centennial Memorial Temple

You are invited to an open house to see an art deco theater now available for rental in New York.

The Centennial Memorial Temple on 14th Street is a step back into the past. Built in 1929 at the Salvation Army's headquarters at 120 W. 14th St. between Sixth and Seventh avenues to honor the 100th anniversary of its founder, William Booth, this state-of-the-art performance hall was designated a New York City landmark in 2017.

The theater is available for all kinds of events including  film shoots, concerts, corporate meetings, movie screenings, fundraisers, graduations and town hall meetings. The theater seats 1,347 while Railton Hall, located under the auditorium, can host up to 100 guests and Mumford Hall, right below Railton, is available for groups of up to 220 for an intimate luncheon, corporate meeting or staff training.

CMT’s technical staff members have won Grammy Awards, worked on the Oscars, served on crews for top recording artists like Sting and the Foo Fighters, toured with Broadway shows and staffed production crews at major TV studios. All proceeds from the rental of our spaces are used to support The Salvation Army’s more than 100 programs and services in the Greater New York area, which serve more than a million at-risk adults, children, and families each year.

If you are unable to attend the open house April 10 from 10 am to noon, you may arrange a private tour. To RSVP for the open house, to arrange a tour or for more information, call 212-337-7339 or visit

All proceeds from the rental of our spaces are used to support The Salvation Army’s more than 100 programs and services in the Greater New York area, which serve more than a million at-risk adults, children, and families each year.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Jenn Colella, Katrina Lenk Will Announce Outer Critics Nominations

Katrina Lenk
Jenn Colella (Come From Away) and Katrina Lenk (The Band's Visit) will announce the nominees for the 2018 Outer Critics Circle Awards.
Jenn Colella

The announcement will be made 11 am Tuesday, April 24 in the Oak Room of New York’s Algonquin Hotel.

Outer Critics Circle nominations are the first major Broadway/Off-Broadway award nominees of the New York theater season and will post in 27 categories.

Colella received a 2017 Outer Critics Circle Award for Come From Away and Lenk was nominated for a pair of awards for her performances in The Band's Visit and Indecent.

Celebrating its 68th season of bestowing awards of excellence in the field of theatre, the Outer Critics Circle is an association with members affiliated with more than 90 newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, internet and theater publications in America and abroad.

The winners will be announced on Monday, May 7. The annual Gala Awards Dinner and presentation of awards to the winners will be held on Thursday, May 24 at Sardi's Restaurant. For more information:

Info on the presenters:
JENN COLELLA currently stars in the Tony Award-winning smash hit musical Come From Away as ‘Beverley/Annette and others,’ in a performance that garnered her 2017 Outer Critics Circle and Drama Desk Awards and a 2017 Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical as well as Craig Noel, Helen Hayes and Dora Awards for pre-Broadway productions of Come From Away. She has been previously seen on Broadway in If/Then, Chaplin, High Fidelity and Urban Cowboy (Outer Critics Circle Award nomination), Off-Broadway in Beebo Brinker Chronicles, Lucky Guy, Slut and Closer Than Ever. Jenn’s select regional credits include Come From Away (La Jolla Playhouse, Ford’s Theatre, Toronto), Peter Pan (Sacramento Music Circus) and Side Show (Kennedy Center). TV credits include “Feed the Beast,” “Elementary,” “All My Children,” “Rescue Me,” and “The Good Wife” and she has been seen on film in Uncertainty. Jenn Colella is an MFA Acting graduate of UC Irvine.

KATRINA LENK originated the role of “Dina” in Atlantic Theater Company's Off-Broadway production of The Band's Visit (Lucille Lortel Award for Best Actress in a Musical, Dorothy Loudon and Clarence Derwent Awards). Broadway: Indecent, Once, Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, The Miracle Worker. Off-Broadway/Regional includes: Indecent (Vineyard Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, Yale Rep), Touch (59E59), iWitness (Mark Taper Forum), Lost Land (Steppenwolf Theatre), Elemeno Pea, The Caucasian Chalk Circle (South Coast Rep), Camille (Bard SummerScape), and Lovelace: A Rock Opera (LA Weekly, LADCC and Garland Awards). TV/Film: “The Good Fight,” “The Get Down,” “Elementary,” “The Blacklist,” Look Away, Evol, FracKtured, Crime Fiction, among others. She is co-creator of the comedy web series “Miss Teri” and a member of several bands including her own, moxy phinx.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Boot Camp for Critics (but not everyone will be up for it!)

Calling all theater critics. If you haven't experiences the National Theater Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Connecticut, you should. In fact, I think it should be required for any professional critic. I was a fellow in 2008 and I have never learned more through a professional development experience.
-- Lauren Yarger

The institute, held on beautiful waterfront grounds in Waterford, CT, is the nation’s foremost program designed for early and mid-career arts writers and critics to strengthen their skills. Helmed by Chris Jones, chief theater critic and Sunday culture columnist at the Chicago Tribune, the 2018 session will take place July 1-15.  Applicants may submit their materials for consideration through April 23. There is no fee to apply.

“This is now the only such major program in America that focuses on arts criticism and reporting, and the faculty and fellows are a formidable group. The achievements of our passionate alumni speak for themselves," Jones said.

The institute convenes concurrently with the O’Neill’s National Playwrights and Music Theater conferences. NCI is a two-week residential workshop which includes: writing workshops in the crafts of reviewing across disciplines and writing more exciting profiles in the field of arts and entertainment; insights into the critical process with a world-class faculty; explorations of the relationship of critics with social media; study of blogging best practices; off-site trips; and many opportunities to network with other critics and creative professionals.

For the second year, NCI will join with American Theatre and Theatre Communications Group’s Rising Leaders of Color to address the lack of diversity in the critical talent pool, and to create new opportunities to nurture and grow arts journalists to reflect the increasingly diverse work on US stages.

Application & additional information:

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Party Face with Hayley Mills

Gina Costigan and Hayley Mills. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Party Face
By Isobel Mahon
Directed by Amanda Bearse
NY City Center
Through April 8

By Lauren Yarger
One of the thrills of live stage theater is getting to see actors you love on film in person. Party Face at NY City Center's intimate Stage II, gives us a chance to enjoy being up close and personal with Hayley Mills, who won an Academy Award for Disney's "Polyanna" in 1960. 

The young actress, who continued her family's acting legacy (she's the daughter of Sir John Mills and Mary Hayley Bell and the sister of Juliet Mills) went on to star in such iconic films as "The Parent Trap" (in which she plays twins), "The Chalk Garden" (a personal favorite) and "The Trouble with Angels" (another personal favorite) among others. Later, on stage, she played Anna Leonowens in The King and I (a personal favorite -- do you see a theme going here?) So I was like a giddy fan when Mills made her entrance, looking fabulous (she'll be 72 next month) and pencil thin in Lara de Brun's costuming of metallic pink ankle pants and a blouse and short jacket.

Mills plays Carmel, a controlling mother who wreaks havoc in the lives of her two daughters, Mollie May (Gina Costigan) and Maeve (Brenda Meaney). In denial about Mollie's recent hospitalization just days before for a nervous breakdown, Carmel shows up for a party to celebrate Mollie's new kitchen extension in her suburban Dublin apartment (Jeff Ridenour designs the bland, modern grey kitchen framed by rocks and plants that suggest some sort of terrace.) Betraying a disapproving tone that suggests her daughter can't get anything quite right, she brings some food to serve the party -- "better" than the chips, hummus and vegetables Mollie has set out. She also invites Chloe (Allison Jean White), who Carmel thinks might just be a good influence on Mollie. After all, look at how nicely she is dressed in a flowy, stunning blue dress -- a stark comparison to the frumpy sweater and slacks Mollie wears, which draws several disbelieving "Is that what you are wearing?" remarks from her mother as she preps for the gathering.

Meanwhile, Mollie has her own ideas about whom to invite to the party and extends an invitation to Bernie (the always wonderful Klea Blackhurst), a fellow patient she met at the psychiatric ward, whose germaphobia causes her to wrap her shoes (and just about anything else) in plastic wrap. Needless to say, things get tense, especially when Carmel no longer can pretend that Mollie's suicide attempt and her son-in-law's decision to leave their marriage is just "a bad patch." Perhaps the fact that Mollie took a sledge hammer to the new marble counter top in the kitchen might have been a clue? Chloe's attempts at amateur psychology don't help either, but some genuine affection from Maeve and Bernie just might if everyone can abandon their party faces and get real.

Director Amanda Bearse (TV's "Married with Children") doesn't make the mistake of trying to stage this play like a sitcom. She gives the actresses room to create characters with as much depth as possible. The play by Isobel Mahon (Glenroe, Fair City) doesn't give them a lot to work with, though. There are some very funny lines in there, but overall the piece feels like a draft. Some ideas aren't fully explored and focus and polish are needed The intermission also needs to go in favor of a 90-minute, no-interval format (the end of Act One is one of the biggest action killers leading into intermission I ever have seen.)

The women party at City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th St., NYC, through April 8. Performance times vary. Tickets are $38-$128:

Additional credits:
Lighting design by Joyce Liao; Sound design by Damien Figueras

-- Derogatory term for women
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Hamilton Releases Photos with New Cast Members

Mandy Gonzalez, Lexi Lawson and Joanna A. Jones. Photo: Joan Marcus
Michael Luwoye. Photo: Joan Marcus

James Monroe Iglehart and Thayne Jasperson.
Photo Joan Marcus
And before you ask (and many of you do quite regularly), no I have not reviewed these folks. I was invited to review the show Off-Broadway at the Public Theater with the original cast, but have not had the pleasure of seeing it on Broadway. Read that review, which put the show in our Top Picks category, here.  There still is a very long wait for tickets. Try the lottery here.

For more information about the show, visit For information about whether a tour is coming to your city, visit,673.

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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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