Tuesday, May 17, 2022

2022 Outer Critics Circle Awards Announced


SIX: Abby Mueller (Jane Seymour), Samantha Pauly (Katherine Howard), Adrianna Hicks (Catherine of Aragon), Andrea Macasaet (Anne Boleyn), Brittney Mack (Anna of Cleves) and Anna Uzele (Catherine Parr). Photo: Joan Marcus

The Lehman Trilogy: Adrian Lester, Simon Russell Beale, Adam Godley; photo by Julieta Cervantes

Victoria Clark as Kimberly Akimbo. Photo: Ahron R. Foster

Lehman Trilogy, Six, Kimberly Akimbo Lead Awards

The Outer Critics Circle (OCC), the official organization of writers on New York theatre for out-of-town newspapers and national publications, is pleased to announce the winners of the 71st Annual Outer Critics Circle Awards, honoring the 2021-2022 Broadway and Off-Broadway season. 

The Broadway play The Lehman Trilogy leads the pack with six wins, including Outstanding New Broadway Play, followed by Kimberly Akimbo which earned four awards including Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical. The Marjorie Gunner Award for Outstanding New Broadway Musical is one of three honors awarded to Six, and taking home the prizes for Outstanding Revival of a Musical and Outstanding Revival of a Play are Company and Take Me Out, respectively. The annual John Gassner Award — for a new American play, preferably by a new playwright — is awarded to Sanaz Toossi for English.

Returning to an in-person ceremony this spring after the 2020 virtual honors, the 2022 Outer Critics Circle Award winners will be honored on Thursday, May 26, 2022 at the Bruno Walter Auditorium of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.

 

Special Achievement Awards will be presented to How I Learned to Drive stars Johanna Day, David Morse, and Mary-Louise Parker, as well as Lackawanna Blues star Ruben Santiago-Hudson, to mark their outstanding returns to roles they originated two decades ago. Additionally, the Outer Critics Circle presents commendations to two groups whose contributions to the 2021-22 season were immeasurable: the Standbys, Understudies, and Swings, as well as the Covid-19 Safety Officers.

 

The 2021-2022 Outer Critics Circle Award Winners

 

The Marjorie Gunner Award for Outstanding New Broadway Musical

MJ the Musical

Mr. Saturday Night

Mrs. Doubtfire

Paradise Square

Six ***WINNER***

 

Outstanding New Broadway Play

Birthday Candles

Clyde's

Skeleton Crew

The Lehman Trilogy ***WINNER***

The Minutes

 

Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical

Black No More

Harmony

Intimate Apparel

Kimberly Akimbo ***WINNER***

Little Girl Blue

 

Outstanding New Off-Broadway Play

Morning Sun

On Sugarland

Prayer for the French Republic ***WINNER***

Sanctuary City

The Chinese Lady

 

John Gassner Award
(presented to a new American play, preferably by a new playwright)

Cullud Wattah by Erika Dickerson-Despenza

English by Sanaz Toossi ***WINNER***

Selling Kabul by Sylvia Khoury

Tambo and Bones by Dave Harris

Thoughts of a Colored Man by Keenan Scott II

 

Outstanding Revival of a Musical (Broadway or Off-Broadway)

Assassins

Caroline, or Change

Company ***WINNER***

The Music Man

The Streets of New York

 

Outstanding Revival of a Play (Broadway or Off-Broadway)

for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf

How I Learned to Drive

Take Me Out ***WINNER***

A Touch of the Poet

Trouble in Mind

 

Outstanding Actor in a Musical

Justin Cooley, Kimberly Akimbo

Myles Frost, MJ the Musical

Rob McClure, Mrs. Doubtfire

Jaquel Spivey, A Strange Loop ***WINNER***

Chip Zien, Harmony

 

Outstanding Actress in a Musical

Kearstin Piper Brown, Intimate Apparel

Victoria Clark, Kimberly Akimbo ***WINNER***

Sharon D Clarke, Caroline, or Change

Carmen Cusack, Flying Over Sunset

Joaquina Kalukango, Paradise Square

 

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical

Quentin Earl Darrington, MJ the Musical

Matt Doyle, Company ***WINNER***

Steven Pasquale, Assassins

A.J. Shively, Paradise Square

Will Swenson, Assassins

 

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical

Shoshana Bean, Mr. Saturday Night

Jenn Colella, Suffs
Judy Kuhn, Assassins

Patti LuPone, Company ***WINNER***
Bonnie Milligan, Kimberly Akimbo

 

Outstanding Actor in a Play

Patrick J. Adams, Take Me Out

Simon Russell Beale, The Lehman Trilogy ***WINNER***

Adam Godley, The Lehman Trilogy

Adrian Lester, The Lehman Trilogy

Sam Rockwell, American Buffalo

 

Outstanding Actress in a Play

Betsy Aidem, Prayer for the French Republic

Stephanie Berry, On Sugarland

Edie Falco, Morning Sun

LaChanze, Trouble in Mind ***WINNER***
Debra Messing, Birthday Candles

 

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play

Chuck Cooper, Trouble in Mind

Brandon J. Dirden, Skeleton Crew

Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Take Me Out ***WINNER***

Michael Oberholzer, Take Me Out

Austin Pendleton, The Minutes

 

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play

Chanté Adams, Skeleton Crew

Uzo Aduba, Clyde's ***WINNER***

Francis Benhamou, Prayer for the French Republic

Phylicia Rashad, Skeleton Crew

Nancy Robinette, Prayer for the French Republic

 

Outstanding Solo Performance

Alex Edelman, Just For Us

Jenn Murray, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing

Arturo Luís Soria, Ni Mi Madre

Kristina Wong, Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord ***WINNER***

 

Outstanding Director of a Play

Camille A. Brown, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf

Scott Ellis, Take Me Out

Sam Mendes, The Lehman Trilogy ***WINNER***

Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Skeleton Crew

Anna D. Shapiro, The Minutes

 

Outstanding Director of a Musical

Warren Carlyle, Harmony

Moisés Kaufman, Paradise Square

Jessica Stone, Kimberly Akimbo ***WINNER***

Christopher Wheeldon, MJ the Musical

Jerry Zaks, Mrs. Doubtfire

 

Outstanding Choreography

Camille A. Brown, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf
Warren Carlyle, Harmony

Warren Carlyle, The Music Man

Bill T. Jones, Alex Sanchez, Garrett Coleman, and Jason Oremus, Paradise Square
Christopher Wheeldon and Rich + Tone Talauega, MJ the Musical ***WINNER***

 

Outstanding Book of a Musical

Billy Crystal, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandel, Mr. Saturday Night

Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell, Mrs. Doubtfire

David Lindsay-Abaire, Kimberly Akimbo ***WINNER***

Lynn Nottage, Intimate Apparel

Bruce Sussman, Harmony

 

Outstanding Score

Jason Howland, Nathan Tysen, and Masi Asare, Paradise Square

Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, Mrs. Doubtfire

Barry Manilow and Bruce Sussman, Harmony

Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, Six ***WINNER***

Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire, Kimberly Akimbo

 

Outstanding Orchestrations

John Clancy, Kimberly Akimbo

David Holcenberg and Jason Michael Webb, MJ the Musical

Greg Jarrett, Assassins

Jason Howland, Paradise Square ***WINNER***

Doug Walter, Harmony

 

Outstanding Scenic Design (Play or Musical)

Beowulf Boritt, Flying Over Sunset

Es Devlin, The Lehman Trilogy

Scott Pask, American Buffalo

Adam Rigg, The Skin of Our Teeth ***WINNER***

David Zinn, The Minutes

 

Outstanding Costume Design (Play or Musical)

Jane Greenwood, Plaza Suite

Santo Loquasto, The Music Man

Gabriella Slade, Six ***WINNER***

Emilio Sosa, Trouble in Mind

Catherine Zuber, Mrs. Doubtfire

 

Outstanding Lighting Design (Play or Musical)

Jon Clark, The Lehman Trilogy ***WINNER***

Natasha Katz, MJ the Musical

Bradley King, Flying Over Sunset

Brian MacDevitt, The Minutes

Jen Schreiver, Lackawanna Blues

 

Outstanding Sound Design (Play or Musical)

Nick Powell and Dominic Bilkey, The Lehman Trilogy ***WINNER***

André Pluess, The Minutes

Ben and Max Ringham, Blindness
Dan Moses Schreier, Harmony

Matt Stine and Sam Kusnetz, Assassins

 

Outstanding Video/Projection Design (Play or Musical)

59 Productions and Benjamin Pearcy, Flying Over Sunset

Stefania Bulbarella and Alex Basco Koch, Space Dogs

Shawn Duan, Letters of Suresh

Luke Halls, The Lehman Trilogy ***WINNER***

Jeff Sugg, Mr. Saturday Night

 

Special Achievement Awards are presented to:

  • Johanna Day, David Morse, Mary-Louise Parker, and Ruben Santiago-Hudson for reprising their outstanding performances in How I Learned to Drive and Lackawanna Blues two decades later. All had been eligible in previous seasons.

 

Outer Critics Circle Commendations are presented to:

  • The Standbys, Understudies, and Swings of the theatrical community who step up to perform, often on hours' notice, to keep their shows running.
  • To the Covid Safety Supervisors, Managers, and Compliance Officers who put themselves in harm's way eight times a week to keep the curtains up.

 A limited number of tickets may be available to the public. If you are interested in attending the May 26 ceremony, contact OuterCriticsCircleTKTS@gmail.com.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Broadway Theatre Review: Macbeth with Daniel Craig

Asia Kate Dillon, Che Ayende, Danny Wolohan, Amber Gray, Daniel Craig, Emeka Guindo,Paul Lazar, Maria Dizzia, Grantham Coleman, Bobbi MacKenzie, Ruth Negga, Phillip James Brannon


Macbeth
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Sam Gold
Longacre Theatre
Through July 10

Fair is foul, and foul is fair, Hover through the fog and filthy air...

By Lauren Yarger
Something's foul, all right: it's the latest rendition of Macbeth featuring retiring James Bond film star Daniel Craig. Maybe it's the imagined stench from the disgusting cauldron in which the witches brew blood, human flesh and heaven only knows what else. More likely, it is just the smell of money and the staging of a royalty-free Broadway show with a star in it just to cause traffic at the box office. Because there can be few other reasons for mounting this production full of poor choices directed by Sam Gold.

Costume Designer Suttirat Larlarb throws some dressing gowns and large coats on the actors (making sure we get a chance to admire Craig's chiseled physique) as they walk around a bare stage with no sets, sans a few oversized comfy chairs, a very long table and some other props -- a real waste of Scenic Designer Christine Jones's talent. Macbeth (Craig) and his wife (a solid Ruth Negga in her Broadway debut) plot murder to gain power, then can't live with the guilt. I will leave you to Cliff notes if you aren't familiar with the Shakespeare classic tale of ambition and power that gives us the quote:

"Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."

This quote is appropriate for this production as almost none of the choices made mean anything, including:

  • witches on stage shopping vegetables while the audience enters
  • people on the other side of the stage doing something no one could discern
  • having Michael Patrick Thornton, who plays Lennox and a murderer, wheel out in his chair on stage at the top of the show to encourage the audience to say "Macbeth" out loud in the theater (this is a theater superstition --NO ONE does this. You say The Scottish Play instead.)
  • handing an actor by his feet and having his throat slit
  • having the same actor appear later with a severed limb. We assume it was thrown in the pot from which characters are given bowls to consume. I half expected Macbeth to say he wanted his shaken, not stirred....
  • having the finale be a group sit-in while munching the brew and listening to a song composed by Gaelynn Lea. There is something evil being celebrated.
  • Staging some of the action in the wings where it was completely out of the line of site for a large portion of the audience house left.
  • Having Macbeth toss back a cold beer after a kill, causing the audience to laugh during the Sleep No More speech. AT LEAST MAKE IT A JAMES BOND MARTINI SO THE LAUGHTER WOULD BE JUSTIFIED.
  • Fog. More fog. So much fog. But dispensed by actors walking around the stage with fog machines. Some more fog came out of costumes. Why couldn't it just be a regular foggy Scotland setting? 
Even seeing Birnam Wood arrive at Dunsinanen (the site of Macbeth's castle) was a let down, despite blinding lighting effects by Jane Cox and special effects design by Jeremy Chernick.

Highlights were Negga and Amber Gray as Banquo. Everything else was a big question mark signifying nothing.

Additional credits:
Sound Design by Mikaal Sulaiman, Fight Direction by David Leong, Movement by Sam Pinkleton. Michael Sexton and Ayanna Thompson serve as dramaturgy and text consultants and Dawn-Elin Fraser serves as vocal coach.

Additional cast:
Tina Benko, Phillip James Brannon, Lizzy Brooks, Jared Canfield, Grantham Coleman, Asia Kate Dillon, Maria Dizzia, Ronald Emile, Emeka Guindo, Paul Lazar, Bobbi MacKenzie, Michal Patrick Thornton, Danny Wolohan, Che Ayende, Eboni Flowers, Stevie Ray Dallimore, and Peter Smith.

Mercifully, Macbeth is scheduled for a limited run through July 10. macbethbroadway.com

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:

-- Blood. Lots of it and gory injuries
-- Lord's name taken in vain
-- Language
-- Witches
-- Satanic ritual

COVID PROTOCOLS
All guests must wear a properly fitting mask over the nose and mouth in the theatre except when eating or drinking in designated areas. Guests who do not comply with these policies will be denied entry or asked to leave the theatre.

Broadway Theater Review: Birthday Candles with Debra Messing

 

From left, Susannah Flood (Alice/Madeline/Ernie),Enrico Colantoni(Kenneth),Debra Messing(ErnestineAshworth),Christopher Livingston(Billy/John),John Earl Jelks(Matt/William),Crystal Finn (Joan/Alex/Beth). Photo: Joan Marcus

Birthday Candles

By Noah Haidle
Directed by Vivienne Benesch
Roundabout Theatre Company
American Airlines Theatre
Through May 29, 2022 

By Lauren Yarger
A full-of-angst, self-esteem-needy teen excited to embrace the rest of her life and make her mark on the world bursts into her mother’s kitchen where the traditional birthday cake is being baked to mark her 17th. What emerges at Roundabout Theatre Company is years and years of Birthday Candles as Ernestine Ashworth (Deborah Messing) remembers her life and wonders whether she has done with it all that she could.
 

The play, by newcomer Noah Haidle, is told through flashbacks and flash forwards – 90 years in 90 minutes -- all anchored by Ernestine’s birthdays from 17 to 107. She experiences being a daughter, a girlfriend, a wife, a mother, a friend, an aunt, a mother-in-law, a widow, a second wife, a grandmother, a great grandmother, and a great-great-grandmother and all the joy and sorrow that go with each role a woman can play. 

At 17, she is on the cusp of womanhood, excited about the possibility of romance with Matt (John Earl Jelks) and rebuffing the undying devotion of geeky Kenneth (Enrico Colantoni) who brings her a goldfish for her birthday. Caught up in her own thoughts, she misses signs that her mother, Alice (Susannah Flood), isn’t in the best of health, but they do the cake-baking ritual that has been handed down through the generations:

“Eggs, butter, sugar, salt. The humblest ingredients. But when you turn back and look far enough, you see atoms left over from creation.” Sort of like life…. 

Flash forward to other birthdays. Marriage to Matt. The birth of a daughter, Madeline, (also played by Flood) and a son, Billy (Christopher Livingston) and his marriage to whacky Joan (a very funny Crystal Flynn). Grandchildren and great-grandchildren along with numerous replacement goldfish over the years play out in the kitchen. Besides the cake-baking tradition, many phrases as passed form generation to generation. Love, betrayal, forgiveness, grief – all the parts of life are mixed together in a moving, thought-provoking tale skillfully put in motion by Director Vivienne Benesch. 

Messing, know mostly to TV fans from Will & Grace doesn’t appear to change all that much, really,  for the younger characters, but later transforms nicely into elderly Ernestine and back to a younger version of herself. The ensemble is strong and you just can’t help but root for Kenneth. 

The 90 minutes are presented without intermission. 

This limited edition won’t get to blow out candles  -- it runs only through May 29 at American Airlines Theatre on Broadway, 227 West 42nd St., NYC. 

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS

-- Adultery
-- Mature themes. Thing PG 13
-- God's name taken in vain 

COVID PROTOCOLS

Roundabout is requiring proof of full COVID-19 vaccination with an FDA- or WHO-authorized vaccine for our audiences—as well as artists and staff. We will require proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test for those who are unvaccinated due to a disability or religious belief. https://www.roundabouttheatre.org/site/tickets-and-policies/terms-and-conditions/covid-19/

Broadway Theater Review: Mrs. Doubtfire

 

Austin Elle Fisher(Natalie Hillard),Tyler Wladis(Christopher Hillard),Analise Scarpaci(Lydia Hillard),Jenn Gambatese(Miranda Hillard) and Rob McClure(Daniel Hillard as Euphegenia Doubtfire)

Mrs. Doubtfire
Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell
Music and Lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick
Directed by Jerry Zaks
Roundabout Theatre Company
Stephen Sondheim Theatre 

By Lauren Yarger

Hey, poppets! Get on over the Sondheim Theatre for one of the most fun, family-friendly musicals on Broadway. It’s Roundabout Theatre Company’s Mrs. Doubtfire inspired by the 1993 movie starring Robin Williams with book, music and lyrics from the team who brought us the fun, zany comedy musical Something Rotten!.

Here Rob McClure (who delighted in Something Rotten! and Chaplin)  stars as Daniel Hillard, a down-on-his luck father who loses custody of his children when his wife, Miranda (Jenn Gambatese),finally gives up and divorces him. Her career is just taking off with a fashion line for working/active women, so she needs a nanny to help with the kids, Lydia (a really terrific, full voiced Analise Scarpace), Christopher (Titus Landegger and Tyler Wladis) and Natalie (Austin Elle Fisher and Ava Gail Prince).

With the help of his brother, Frank (Brad Oscar, another Something’s Rotten alum), and his husband, Andre Mayem (J. Harrison Ghee), Daniel transforms himself into a grandmotherly woman from Scotland, Euphegenia Doubtfire, and applies for the job. The normally chaotic Hillard home is transformed into well-run, love-filled haven under the no-nonsense, loving housekeeper. Miranda discovers a new friend and confidant in Mrs. Doubtfire and Daniel is forced to hear the truth about his marriage and his ex wife’s growing affection for the handsome and rich Stuart Dunmire (Mark EVans) who is boosting Miranda’s career.

Desperate to take control of his life and have one more shot at being in his kids’ lives, Daniel takes a janitor’s job at a local TV station where Mr. Jolly (a side-splittingly funny Peter Bartlett) does his best to entertain children. Free-spirited Daniel gets a crack at his own show if he can just figure out how to make that work while juggling being Mrs. Doubtfire and Daniel Hillard while keeping suspicious social worker Wanda Sellner (a fantastic Charity Angél Dawson thrilling with a heavenly voice) at bay.

As you might imagine, chaos ensues and there is a drive-by fruiting (Book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell). It’s really a lot of laughs with the king of fun, big musicals, Jerry Zaks, at the helm. Some of the most iconic parts of the movie are in there if not as excellently executed and some musical numbers seem superfluous (Music and Lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick). Choreography is by Lorin Latarro. I remember thinking the music was pleasant, but I honestly couldn’t remember a tune after leaving the theater. 

A few politically-correct changes to the script have Daniel’s child frightened discovering Dad's face comes off instead of male parts (instead of female parts) in the rest room, and Frank and his husband are touted as the epitome of a happily married couple looking to adopt a child (instead of the brother being a rather zany drag queen). The big theme and the ending number is all about forgiving, accepting yourself and being happy “As Long as There is Love.” 

McClure is terrific in the role and no comparison with Williams in necessary. He makes the role his own through a lot of hard work in a high-action role where he rarely is off stage (I saw him vamp through a tech glitch on top of everything else) and a lot of very fast costume changes. His morph from Daniel to Mrs. Doubtfire and back again is made possible by some costuming from designer Catherine Zuber and Make-up and Prosthetics Designer Tommy Kurzman. All of the attention and effort must have gone into the iconic look of Mrs. Doubtfire, however, as the rest of the costumes are surprisingly sub-par and unflattering. 

It's a fun time at the theater and I saw lot of kids the day I attended, though I might suggest a PG-13 rating. Mrs. Doubtfire entertains for two hours and 30 minutes at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 124 W 43rd St., NYC. mrsdoubtfirebroadway.com 

Additional casting:
Cameron Adams, Calvin L. Cooper, Kaleigh Cronin, Maria Dalanno, Casey Garvin, David Hibbard, KJ Hippensteel, Aaron Kaburick, Jodi Kimura, Erica Mansfield, Brian Martin, Alexandra Matteo, Sam Middleton, LaQuet Sharnell Pringle, Akilah Sailers, Jaquez André Sims, Addison Takefman, Travis Waldschmidt and Aléna Watters.

Additional Credits:
Lighting Designer Philip S. Rosenberg; Sound Designer Brian Ronan; Hair and Wig Designer David Brian Brown.


FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS

-- Men dress as women
-- Revealing costumes

-- Homosexual partners

COVID PROTOCOLS
Masks Required: Everyone in the theatre must wear acceptable face coverings at all times, including during the show, except while eating or drinking in designated locations. All face coverings must cover the nose and mouth and comply with the CDC guidelines for acceptable face coverings.

For more information, visit shubert.nyc/about-us/covid-19/

Broadway Theater Review: MJ, the Michael Jackson Musical

Myles Frost and Cast. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

MJ
Book By Lynn Nottage
Featuring the music of Michael Jackson
Directed and Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon

By Lauren Yarger
If you like the music of Michael Jackson and non-stop, amazing choreography by Christopher Wheeldon (An American in Paris), who also directs, you probably will like MJ, a musical detailing the staging of the pop legend’s Dangerous Tour.

If you are looking for a balanced telling of the troubled boy/man who was accused of sexually abusing young boys, the book from Pulitzer-Prize winner Lynn Nottage acquiesces to the sentiment spoken by Michael early in the production of his tour: “I want to keep it about my music.”  So the story tips in favor of creating sympathy for him and barley touches on the events which make us question whether this is really a person who should be glorified with a Broadway musical in the first place (presented by Lia Vollack and the Estate of Michael Jackson).

It is present day 1992 in the Los Angeles rehearsal studio (Scenic Design by Derek McLane; Lighting Design is by the always-excellent Natasha Katz) where Michael (played by Miles Frost in his Broadway debut) and his hardworking cast and crew are trying to put together dance routines and video footage that seems almost impossible for the time. He is switching up beats, leaving old standards behind and wanting to perform stunts like popping from a toaster (he does this in the production) and flying in a jet pack (disappointingly, he does not pull off this feat in the Neil Simon Theatre after talking about it often during the two hours and 40 minutes of the script….). The soaring expenses have his creative and financial managers urging him to use caution. But Michael wants to give his fans a show beyond their expectations, and he want to make sure Dangerous and the new songs will put him at the tops of the charts. He decides to mortgage his beloved sanctuary home, Neverland, to make it happen.

Sorry, but it is hard to feel too sorry for a man torn by the possible loss of the place where he is accused of abusing little boys. A scene at the beginning of the show where he beckons to a young boy (who turns out to be his younger self) and takes his hand also is kind of creepy. Leaving this out of the show doesn’t mean images have been erased from our minds. In another attempt to gain sympathy Michael explains that his change in skin pigmentation is due to a medical condition, not his desire to be whiter. Does it really matter since we’re not really doing a full biography here?

Interspersed (through dialogue, dance and songs – excellently directed, orchestrated and arranged by Jason Michael Webb along with David Holcenberg) are Michael’s memories growing up with a driven, abusive father, Joe (Quentin Earl Darrington plays both Joe -- very hard to understand him-- and Michael’s manager Rob -- no problems with elocution --, an enabling mother (Ayana George) and the rest of the jealous Jackson Five. (His sisters, by the way, don’t get a mention). Two younger versions of Michael are played by extremely well byTavon Olds-Sample and Walter Russell III and Christian Wilson.

The rehearsals are being filmed by MTV reporter Rachel (Whitney Bashor) and bumbling cameraman Alejandro (Gabriel Ruiz). She soon begins to wonder how dependent Jackson is on pills and picks up a very stressed vibe among all the people around Jackson in the room.

Frost is great. Looks, moves and sounds like Jackson (though that little boy, shy whisper is as annoying as it was in real life.) The show is packed with more than 40 of the singer’s tunes and some of his best dance moves. Costume Designer Paul Tazwell recreates the look, down to the sequined glove (which was auctioned after the show to benefit Equity Cares, Equity Fights Aids).

MJ plays at the Neil Simon Theatre (250 W 52nd St. NYC.

Additional credits:

Sound design by Gareth Owen, projection design by Peter Nigrini, hair and wig design by Charles Lapointe.

Additional casting:

Devin Trey Campbell as Little Marlon, Antoine L. Smith as Berry Gordy / Nick, Joey Sorge as Dave, Raymond Baynard as Randy Jackson / Ensemble, John Edwards as Jackie Jackson, Apollo Levine as Quincy Jones / Tito Jackson, Lamont Walker II as Jermaine Jackson / Ensemble, Zelig Williams as Marlon Jackson / Ensemble, with Kali May Grinder, Wonza Johnson, Oyoyo Joi, Carina-Kay Louchiey, Michelle Mercedes, Renni Anthony Magee, Ramone Nelson, Kyle R. Robinson, Aramie Payton, Kamille Upshaw, Ryan VanDenBoom, and Darius Wright rounding out the ensemble.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS
-- suggestive moves
-- underworld theme of Thriller 

COVID PROTOCOLS
Proof of vaccination and masks are required.
 https://broadwaydirect.com/theatre-policies

Broadway Theater Review: How I Learned to Drive with Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse

David Morse and Mary-Louise Parker. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

How I Learned to Drive
By Paula Vogel
Directed by Mike Brokaw
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
Through May 29 

By Lauren Yarger

25 years ago Mary-Louise Parker and David Morse created characters of a young woman coping with sexual abuse and the uncle who abuses her in Paula Vogels Pulitzer-Prize winning play, How I Learned to Drive. They reprise their roles in Manhattan Theatre Club’s Broadway presentation which yields several truths:

  • the play is masterful and stands up over the years
  • good actors of any age are exciting on stage
  • nothing much in society has changed when it comes to issues of women being swept aside.

The play focuses on Li’l Bit (Parker) who is groomed over many years sexual abuse by her uncle Peck (Morse) to participate in the abuse and to wonder whether she has imagined most of it, or whether anything really was wrong with whatever really happened. Vogel Greek Choruses, Female (Johanna Day, who also was in the original cast a quarter of a century ago) Teenage (Alyssa May Gold) and Male (Chris Myers) with these actors playing multiple characters like young Li’l Bit, her mother, another abused child, etc. to tell the story through non-linear memories and present occurrences. 

The audience, hopefully more savvy nowadays about abuse and grooming (a term not even used when the play premiered at the Vineyard Off Broadway), doesn’t have much doubt that Li’l Bit indeed has been abused. The question to be answered is for how long. 

Family nicknames have been assigned in reference to body parts and gatherings around the kitchen table  -- titled “On Men, Sex, and Women”-- are peppered with sexually charged innuendos. Li’l Bit’s mother refuses to hear her little girl’s fears about being sent on a road trip alone with Uncle Peck. The family laughs off his disdain for his wife. His wife shrugs off her growing concerns that something is going on between her husband and his niece downstairs in his dark room. Her solution is to wait for Li’l Bit to go off to school so she can have her husband back. 

Many of Li’l Bit’s memories are of the driving lessons her uncle gave her. He’s always clear that when the lessons start shifting from cars to sexual activity he won’t do anything he doesn’t want her to do. He’ll stop drinking if she just spends time with him, too. Each promise puts the responsibility on his under-age niece, who begins to question if what they are doing is right. 

“Have I forced you to do anything?” Peck asks?

 “I guess not,” Li’l Bit answers.

 Peck, operating in his own reality, convinces himself that he has a future with his niece once she turns 18. Li’l turns to alcohol and flunks out of school, but starts to recognize her uncle’s obsession with her as unhealthy. 

Original Director Sam Gold ably directs the performances and transitions in time, crucial to the storytelling. Vogel’s genius decision to tell the story in fractured memories keeps an element of doubt creeping throughout the story – much like Li’l Bit has herself. The story plays out on Rachel Hauk’s wisely sparce set (chairs double as the car seats) with other design elements contributing to the mood Mark McCullough (lighting design), David Van Tieghem (original music and sound design).

The fact that this play is as fresh and topical today as it was 25 years ago is upsetting. The “boys will be boys” and “women really want it” mentality is a close as your morning newspaper. And why did Broadway wait 25 years to produce the work of a Pulitzer-Prize winning author? That answer is easy. Because she is a woman and women, especially those over 40, are pretty much ignored. Just call us Li’l Bit. 

How I Learned to Drive cruises along at 1:40 with no intermission. It is parked through May 29 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th S., NYC. 

Additional credit:

Deborah Hecht (dialect coach)


FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:

-- This is a mature-theme play, Think PG 13

-- God's name taken in vain

-- Suggestive dialogue

-- Pedophilia

-- Sexual abuse

COVID PROTOCOLS:

Proof of vaccination and a valid ID will be required to enter the theatre. Masks must be worn at all times. For more specific information go to: manhattantheatreclub.com/protocols


TheWritePros.com

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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 in February 2018.

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

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint 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 (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

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

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

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- 2018 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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