Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Between the Lines

Jake David Smith and Arielle Jacobs. Photo: Matt Murphy

Between the Lines
Book by Timothy Allen McDonald, based on the book by Jodi Picoult  and Samantha van Leer
Music and Lyrics by Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson
Directed by Jeff Calhoun
Choreographed by Paul McGill
Music direction by Daniel Green
Tony Kiser Theater
Through Sept. 11. 2022

By Lauren Yarger
Sometimes stories have happy endings. Sometimes they just make you feel happy. Between the Lines, a new musical based on the book by Judi Picoult and her daughter, Samantha van Leer, is an example of both and is a refreshing, engaging theater experience.

The story combines fantasy, fairytales and reality in a fun tale of awkward teen Deliliah (Arielle Jacobs) trying to find her place in the world after her parents split. She gets off on the wrong foot with her new high school's social queen, Allie McAndres (Hillary Fisher), -- or should I say knee? Deliliah accidently breaks her classmate's knee with a baseball bat. OK, I was laughing already before we met Allie's dumb jock boyfriend, Ryan (a very funny Will Burton). Delilah's mom, Grace (Julia Murney), who is coping with being dumped, paying the bills and trying to go back to school, has little time to notice how difficult things are for her daughter too.

Ms. Winx (Vicki Lewis) introduces Delilah to a special book. "Between the Lines," of which there is only one copy, self published. The school librarian has escaped into the pages of books herself and Composers and Lyricists Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson, making their New York debut, give Lewis a humorous number, "Mr. Darcy and Me" to let Delilah know it's OK that she is falling for one of the characters in the fairytale she carries around with her everywhere.

He is Prince Oliver (a perfectly cast and charmingly voiced Jake David Smith), but Delilah's secret is that he literally is stepping out of the pages of the book to chat with her. In a delightful switch to make believe, Director Jeff Calhoun, Lighting Designer Jason Lyons and Choreographer Paul McGill bring the book to life as Prince Oliver enters Delilah's world, then later again in act two, when she enters the pages of his story. Lyons does wonders with some action behind scrim and McGill shines with having Oliver's movements mimic Delilah's actions with the book. Scenic Designer Tobin Ost borders both worlds with shelves and shelves of books.

In the book, Allie is Oliver's princess, but there isn't any real love between them. Ryan is in love with her in this world too, but has been turned into a dog called Frump. A number of the other characters have dual roles and other storylines in the parallel world as well.  Will Delilah and Oliver find a way to be together? Will Delilah and her mom learn to communicate? Will Allie get her comeuppance and will Ryan ever stop making us laugh with his puzzled, vacant looks?

The answers are worth buying a ticket to discover. The story, adapted by Timothy Allen McDonald, and the music (orchestrations and arrangements by Gregory Rassen and music direction by Daniel Green) is engaging and appeals to young and old alike. At intermission, I was astonished at how much had happened in such a short time (the whole show runs about two hours and 20 minutes with 24 songs). It offers a wonderfully well developed female protagonist as well as a lot of other good female roles. 

One criticism is the heavy-handed lecturing we get from Delilah's friend, Jules (Wren Rivera), who identifies as non-binary. We get it and the bullying reaction of the classmates. We don't need it explained in a preachy manner. We are supposed to be able to read between the lines, right? Another knit pick is noise from backstage as actors change position or props are moved.

Between the Lines is clever, fun and engaging. The magic is ephemeral, however, as the run at the Tony Kiser Theater, 305 W. 43rd St., is limited through Sept. 11.

Additional casting:

Jerusha Cavazos, John Rapson, Sean Stack 

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:

  • God's name taken in vain.
  • Non-binary character
  • Homosexual references
Notes:
Though this plays at the Kiser, it is not a Second Stage production.

Off-Broadway Theater Review: HYPROV: Improv Under Hypnosis


(Asad Mecci and Colin Mochrie ©Aaron Cobb)

HYPROV

Created and Performed by Colin Mochrie and Asad Mecci
Directed by Stan Zimmerman
Original Music by Rufus Wainwright
Music Director John Hilsen
Daryl Roth Theatre
Through Oct. 30, 2022

By Lauren Yarger
What do you get when you mix the king of improv with some hypnotized volunteers? 

It is HYPROV, a new Off-Broadway show featuring Colin Mochrie (TV's “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”) and Hypnotist Asad Mecci.

If you ever have caught Mochrie on "Whose Line" with colleague improv master Ryan Styles, you know there isn't more entertaining to be found on TV. His name on the billing alone brought me to the downtown Daryl Roth Theatre, though I tend to be a sceptic where hypnosis is a character. I just have a hard time believing that people can be so open to suggestion that they are unaware of the zany things they do on stage....

In this show, created by the stars with Jeff Andrews, and with Creative Consultation from Bob Martin, 20 volunteers from the audience are invited up to the stage. Mecci, through a series of exercises, eventually eliminates all but four or five of those who are the most receptive to hypnosis to improv with Mochrie, who says working with blank-faced subjects is one of the most scary things he has done in his career.

A number of routines are used, not all of them every night. They include the ones I saw:
  • Can’t find your belly button: Hyprovisers search around the stage as they can’t find their belly button
  • Proposal: One Hyproviser falls madly in love with Colin and must propose.
  • Follow the ball: Asad and Colin play with an imaginary ball.
  • Hybrid Pet: Family members mourn the loss of their talented family pet. Gerald, the baseball-playing hybrid giraffe/hippopotamus who met his untimely end by means of a butter church was pretty funny.
  • Duet: Colin and a Hyproviser perform a musical duet, reuniting after 20 years apart. Note: Music Director John Hilsen ends up being an improv star himself
  • It’s Your Life: Colin interviews a celebrity from the audience and the Hyprovisers portray important people from their past.
Specifics elements to be used in the scenarios are shouted out prior by the audience members or include twists added by Mecci. Each night is unique and different scenarios are used. Most of the people in the audience the night I attended expressed an interest in coming again. That is a positive thing from a young, diverse group that enthusiastically enjoyed the show.

The 100-minute, no intermission show was entertaining, but I couldn't help think that the participants didn't need to be hypnotized. Mochrie is a master of his craft. Fully awake volunteers could have been just as fun (and you know, it's just hard to believe that after a few words from Mecci those folks were unaware of their surroundings....). But in an effort to be fair, I'll let Mecci give you his rationale:

“When a person is hypnotized, they no longer reflect on their behavior,” notes Mecci. “Hypnosis removes the filters and walls they’ve built up and allows them to be open to saying yes and being imaginative. That’s why they can do remarkable things on stage. You never know which hypnotized volunteer is going to become the next star of the show. It’s what makes the show so much fun - ordinary people doing extraordinary things!”

Additional credits:
Jo Winiarski (scenic design), Jeff Croiter (lighting design), Walter Trarbach (sound design).

When not performing on stage, Mecci works with major corporations as an expert consultant in the areas of motivation, advanced communication and stress management. He also coaches Olympic athletes in the area of mental strength and peak performance.

HYPROV mesmerizes and entertains at the Daryl Roth Theatre, 101 East 15th Street at Union Square East for a 12-week limited engagement. Shows are Wednesdays through Sundays at 7 pm with an additional show on Saturdays at 10 pm.  Tickets start at $55 and are available at www.hyprov.com or by calling (212) 239-6200.

FAMILY-FREINDLY FACTORS:
  • The show is recommended for ages 12+.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Broadway Theater Review: Into the Woods

Aymee Garcia, Cole Thompson, Kennedy Kanagawa
Photo: Matthew Murphy and Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade
Into the Woods
By James Lapine
Music by Stephen Sondheim
Directed by Lear deBessonet
Music Direction by Rob Berman
Choreography by Lorin Latarro
St. James Theatre

By Lauren Yarger
An all-star cast and a classic musical combine for a terrific time at the theater at Into the Woods, playing the Great White Way following an acclaimed Off-Broadway run at City Center's Encores.

This is the first Broadway stop for the Sonheim Musical, with a book by James Lapine, in more than 20 years. It was worth the wait. 

The magical story brings together beloved fairytale characters in a twisted story about being careful what you wish for and figuring out what you are willing to do to keep what you get when your wish is granted.

This delightful production, skillfully helmed by Lear deBessonet, is a treat for the ears and eyes.

Brian D'arcy James and Sara Bareilles are the baker and his wife who desperately wish for a child. Patina Miller is the scary witch who will help them if they will get her three things she wants. Along the way, they meet up with Cinderella (Phillipa Soo) and her family (Nancy Opel, Ta'nika Gibson, Albert Guerzon and Brooke Ishibashi), two princes (Gavin Creel and Joshua Henry), Jack of Beanstalk fame (Cole Thompson), his mother (Aymee Garcia) and their cow, Milky White (puppeteer Kennedy Kanagawa) as well as Little Red Riding Hood (Julia Lester making a standout Broadway debut) and a bunch of other characters (David Patrick Kelly, David Turner and Alysia Velez round out the featured cast).

Soon, everyone needs to put aside his own issues to unite against a terrible giant (voiced by Annie Golden, who also plays Granny and Cinderella's mother). 

Take a look again at that cast list and you will see some of the best voices on Broadway listed. Hearing "Agony," "It Takes Two," "No one is Alone." and "Children Will Listen" have never sounded better. Miller is the best witch I ever have seen -- the first that gives her some character and depth. Look for a Tony nomination here.

The sets, masterfully designed by David Rockwell, are simple and allow the focus to be on the rich lyrics, beautiful music and subtle choreography by Lorin Latarro. This, much like The Music Man packing them in for a feel-good musical on a Broadway stage, has an enthusiastic audience and has extended its run at the St. James Theatre, 246 W 44th St., NYC through Oct. 16. The cast embraces the silliness and Director deBessonet trusts that the audience is smart enough to follow the more serious messages contained in the tale. When Cinderella's stepmother asks when things will return to normal, current events some quickly to mind.

Cast changes are coming, so check the show's website for the most up-to-date information.

Notes: 
Sara Bareilles, Brian d’Arcy James, and Phillipa Soo continue through Sept. 4.
Stephanie J. Block, Sebastian Arcelus, real-life wife and husband, join as the Baker’s Wife and the Baker, respectively, on Sept. 6. Also joining the company on Sept. will be Krysta Rodriguez as Cinderella, Katy Geraghty as Little Red Ridinghood and Jim Stanek as the Steward.

Montego Glover will share the role of The Witch with Miller, who will continue playing The Witch for performances on Fridays through Sundays, with Glover taking over the role Tuesdays through Thursdays. 

Gavin Creel and Joshua Henry will continue as the Wolf/Cinderella’s Prince and Rapunzel’s Prince, respectively, though Andy Karl will step into the role of the Wolf/Cinderella’s Prince from Sept. 6- 15, due to a prior commitment for Creel. Creel will return to the production on Sept. 16. Beginning on Sept.27, Ann Harada will play the role of Jack’s Mother, which she originated in the City Center Encores! production.

Additional casting:
Delphi Borich, Felicia Curry, Jason Forbach, Alex Joseph Grayson, Paul Kreppel, Mary Kate Moore, Cameron Johnson, Diane Phelan, Lucia Spina -- ensemble.

Additional credits:
Andrea Hood (Costume Design), Tyler Micoleau (Lighting Design), Scott Lehrer and Alex Neumann (Co-Sound Designers), James Ortiz (Puppet Design) and Cookie Jordan (Hair, Wigs and Makeup Design).

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
  • Although this is a fairytale, the themes are dark and this show really would be for older kids. When schools license a production, they perform only the first act, which is lighter.














Broadway Theater Review: The Kite Runner

 

(Front row) Danish Farooqui, Amir Arison, Joe Joseph, (back row) Faran Tahir, Evan Zes,Houshang Touzie and Dariush Kashani. Photo: Joan Marcus

The Kite Runner

Adapted by Matthew Spangler from the novel by Khaled Hosseini’s
Directed by Giles Croft
Helen Hayes Theatre

By Lauren Yarger
The Kite Runner, a haunting tale of one man's self journey of redemption, flies onto to the New York stage  after a successful run in London's West End. 

Matthew Spangler adapts Khaled Hosseini’s international best-seller about two boys who become friends despite being from two different social classes in war-torn Afghanistan and the long-term effects on their lives when one fails to honor that friendship.

Hassan (Eric Sirakian) is the son of Ali (Evan Zes), a servant to well-born Baba (an excellent Farah Tahir). Hassan and Baba's son, Amir  (Amir Arison), both motherless, find they have some things in common despite their class differences and become fast friends. Hassan becomes a kite runner -- the person who finds where a kite being flown in competitions lands -- and Amir's eventual winning of the competition finally earns him some approval in the disapproving eyes of his harsh father. The victory comes with a great loss, however, as Amir fails to help Hassan when he falls into the hands of sadistic Assef (Amir Malaklou) who, with the help of his gang, rape the boy.

Amir's guilt over witnessing the crime without interfering causes him to withdraw from his friendship with the ever-loyal Hassan who doesn't understand what he has done to displease his friend. He even claims Hassan has stolen from him to have him and his father sent from the household. Eventually war forces Baba and Amir to flee and start a new life in California. 

There, Amir marries Soraya (Azita Ghanizada) and tries to pursue his career as a writer. Years later, he learns that Hassan is dead and that his former friend's son, Sohrab (also played by Sirakian), is in an Afghan orphanage, being used by sex traffickers. An old family friend, Rahim Khan (Dariush Kashani), and Soraya plead with the reluctant Amir to return to Kabul to save the boy.

Now, I know most of you reading this probably loved the book, as most people did. I tried, but couldn't stay interested enough to read very far. After watching this play, I think I realize why. The story should not be Amir's. He is a really not a nice, or sympathetic, person who makes selfish, bad choices all of his life. One moment of realization late in the game to me does not make this a story of redemption worth sitting through two and half hours -- or 400 pages. I would so much rather have Hassan tell the story. We feel for him. We want to understand how he feels about being a second-class citizen, the joy he must have felt at finding a brother/friend in Amir and how he copes with Amir's rejection and betrayal. Having Amir tell the story and giving this character more importance, adds insult to injury. 

The story is skillfully directed by Giles Croft and the mood is created by Barney George (Scenic and Costume Design), Charles Balfour (Lighting Design), Drew Baumohl (Sound Design), William Simpson (Projection Design), though the kite flying could have been more imaginative.

Music by Jonathan Girling opens the story (for a bit too long) and underscores dialogue with cultural instruments. 

I left the theater wondering why we still are seeing stories written by men, directed by men about men and how they feel on Broadway stages in an age when we are supposed to be making an effort to include underrepresented voices. There are many plays written by women about issues women deal with every day, including rape. 

Additional credits:

Kitty Winter (Movement Director), Humaira Ghilzai (Cultural Advisor and Script Consultant), Damian Sandys (Associate Director).

Additional casting:

Mazin Akar, Barzin Akhavan, Demosthenes Chrysan, Azita Ghanizada, Danish Farooqui, Joe Joseph, Déa Julien, Dariush Kashani, Beejan Land, Amir Malaklou, Christine Mirzayan, Haris Pervaiz, Alex Purcell, Eric Sirakian, Houshang Touzie, and Evan Zes. Salar Nader plays the tabla, a percussion instrument.

The Kite Runner plays at the Hayes Theater, 240 W. 44th St., NYC. https://thekiterunnerbroadway.com/


FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:

  • Language
  • Sexual dialogue
  • Rape (graphically described, but not shown)
  • God's name taken in vain
  • Muslim prayer and wedding ceremony
  • Masks are required for Wednesday matinee and Friday evening performances. At other performances, masks are optional inside the theater. For more specific information go to: https://2st.com/visit
  • the theater was freezing! Bring a sweater.

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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 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 was 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 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.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2022 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 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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