The Best Theater of 2018

It was a year when classics were reincarnated in deceptively modest interpretations, conventional story forms were tossed aside and strong voices roared.
NYT > Arts

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Taking Your Child to Work, When Your Job Is Making Theater

Work-life balance is particularly difficult for women in the theater, but a number of experiments are attempting to make the juggling easier.
NYT > Arts

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Critic’s Notebook: How Chicago Is Changing Theater, One Storefront at a Time

Can tiny companies thrive in the shadow of major institutions? In this theater-mad city, the question may actually run the other way.
NYT > Arts

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U.K. Theater Review: ‘Dusty’

Ashes to ashes, Dusty to Dusty. Almost 20 years after her death, the loss of Dusty Springfield still stings on these shores. Sniffles ring out at the end of Jonathan Harvey’s jukebox musical “Dusty,” as footage of the iconic songstress’s funeral spills across the stage. So when actress Katherine Kingsley reappears for a final encore, […]

Variety

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Does It Matter if You See a Film in a Theater or at Home?

Cannes and Netflix clashed over this question, so we asked our critics to debate the pros and cons. Where do you stand?
NYT > Arts

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Nonfiction: How Rodgers and Hammerstein Created Modern Musical Theater

In “Something Wonderful,” Todd S. Purdum analyzes the extraordinary legacy of two brilliant songwriters.
NYT > Books

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Chicago Theater Review: ‘Lettie’ at Victory Gardens Theater

“Lettie,” a family drama about a woman emerging from prison and addiction with a desire to reclaim the teenage kids who have barely seen her in seven years, is that rare play that manages to be both pessimistic and hopeful, with a central character simultaneously deeply sympathetic and infuriating.  Playwright Boo Killebrew, currently a writer […]

Variety

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How Jeffrey Immelt’s ‘Success Theater’ Masked the Rot at GE

A culture that disdained bad news contributed to overoptimistic forecasts and botched strategies. GE stock has almost halved since Mr. Immelt resigned as CEO and the company is considering whether to break itself up.
WSJ.com: US Business

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An Upright Citizens Brigade Theater Closes With Filthy Fanfare

The Chelsea space gets an appropriate send-off — an improv marathon complete with dance party and Dumpster comedy — before the group moves to Hell’s Kitchen.
NYT > Arts

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Theater Faves Sing Live On Set to Bring ‘Hello Again’ Musical to Screen (Watch)

“Hello Again,” the 1994 Michael John LaChiusa musical that hits screens next week in a new film adaptation, is expanding its reach to more than 230 cinemas for the movie’s special-event screenings targeted to musical theater fans around the country. Audra McDonald, Martha Plimpton, Cheyenne Jackson, T.R. Knight, Jenna Ushkowitz and Rumer Willis are among […]

Variety

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‘Brilliant,’ 41 and Lost to AIDS: The Theater World Asks Why

The death of Michael Friedman, a much-admired composer and lyricist, has left friends and fellow artists asking if they could have done more to help him amid signs of trouble.
NYT > Arts

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Houston’s Alley Theater Picks Up the Pieces After Hurricane

Houston’s Alley Theater, drenched and damaged by the recent hurricane, is rising above the floodwaters with plans to salvage its productions.
NYT > Arts

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Theater Community Receives Death Threats Following ‘Julius Caesar’ Controversy

Public Theater director’s wife, as well as other Shakespeare companies around the country, have been targeted.
Arts
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This Very Serious Musical Theater Girl Has An Intense Song For You

“Is there anything more beautiful than songs about feeling torn?”
Comedy
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Theater Won’t Apologize For ‘Julius Caesar.’ Hypocrisy Of Ire Proves It Shouldn’t

The controversy over Trumped-up Shakespeare in the Park continues to be a bloody mess.
Arts
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Cedric The Entertainer Returns To The Apollo Theater To Honor His Hollywood Mentor

Performing at New York City’s Apollo Theater in any capacity is always an exhilarating experience for Cedric the Entertainer. 

For his latest act, “The Original King of Comedy” will host the world-renowned theater’s 12th annual Spring Gala on Monday. The benefit event, which is the Apollo’s biggest fundraiser for artistic and education programs, will feature musical performances from the likes of CeeLo Green, Sheila E., Charlie Wilson and Wé McDonald of NBC’s “The Voice.”

The celebration will also honor Verizon with the annual Corporate Award for its philanthropy, and Peabody Award-winning director and producer Stan Lathan with the Trailblazer Award for his groundbreaking work as one of the first African American directors and producers in Hollywood.

Cedric told HuffPost that his experiences working with his mentor Lathan on shows like “The Steve Harvey Show,” “The Soul Man” and “Def Comedy Jam” taught him how to transcend urban comedy boundaries and become a business-savvy comedian.

“With Stan being on the forefront on the whole ‘Def Comedy Jam’ movement with Russell [Simmons] and all the guys who created the show, it gave urban comedy an opportunity to be seen in its rarest forms,” the St. Louis native said. “Being a part of so many great comedians getting their shine, he had that comfortability with it. It goes back with Stan to legends like Redd Foxx and being a part of their careers.”

“Especially in a TV environment with him, he was one to really help you, motivate and encourage you to push for your money,” he continued, “[or] let you know when it’s not gonna work for you in this brand of television. Like, ‘That might be funny on HBO, but you can’t do that on The WB.’ That’s the kind of ways he would influence you.”

For Apollo Theater President and CEO Jonelle Procope, having the award-winning comedian participate in honoring Lathan’s career continues the Apollo’s legacy as a center that recognizes thought leaders in the creative field who have pushed the arts forward.

”We are honored to present Stan Lathan … with the first-ever Trailblazer Award, recognizing his groundbreaking work as one of the first African-American directors and producers in Hollywood,” Procope told HuffPost in a statement. “Stan not only paved the way for other African-American artists, but he also created a platform for emerging artists, particularly comedians.”

“So a comedy legend like Cedric The Entertainer is the perfect person to host this year’s Gala because he can truly appreciate Stan’s contributions to the arts and especially comedy,” she added.

All proceeds from the fundraising event will benefit the theater’s year-round performing arts programming, innovative education initiatives and community programs.

“These are rare circumstances where young people are being encouraged and motivated to not only be in front of the stage, but because they work hard can be behind the scenes as well,” Cedric the Entertainer said. Lighting engineers, set designers. And so, this is the kind of programming that is very important.”

To purchase Gala tickets or to make a donation to the Apollo Theater, please visit the theater’s website

— This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

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Giorgio Armani Offers Theater to Munsoo Kwon

SHOWTIME: In his ongoing support of young designers, Giorgio Armani will lend his Teatro space to Korean designer Munsoo Kwon.
Kwon’s spring-summer 2018 collection will be presented during Milan Men’s Fashion Week, on June 18. The week kicks off on June 16 with the Ermenegildo Zegna show and ends June 19. Armani’s own show is on the last day, followed by Fendi.
“This season, I continue to support some of the most promising fashion designers on the international scene, keeping a global view of creative talent,” said Armani. “I hope my encouragement and support will bode well for his career.”
Kwon, who trained at American design schools, is the ninth designer to show at Armani’s theater, following Andrea Pompilio, Vivetta and Au Jour le Jour, to name a few. The latest was Chinese designer Xuzhi Chen in February.
“I’m more than thankful to be granted with a chance to make [my] dream come true by Mr. Giorgio Armani,” said Kwon, who will show his 10th collection.
In line with this project, as reported, Armani is launching a design competition called New Bond. Ahead of his first Emporio Armani show in London in September, the Italian designer will work with the British Fashion Council and fashion students in

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Judith Light to Receive O’Neill Theater Center’s Monte Cristo Award

The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center has named actress Judith Light the recipient of its annual Monte Cristo Award, handed out each year to a theater creative whose work has had a major impact on American theater. “Hamilton” director Thomas Kail will present Light with the award at a May gala. Although Light is most widely… Read more »

Variety

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BroadwayCon Creates a Bubble for Theater Fans

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By Megan Wrappe, ZEALnyc Contributing Writer, February 13, 2017

When BroadwayCon, the theatre community’s version of Comic Con, began as an idea to bring theatre fans together for one weekend, no one could have imagined just how big it would become. While last year’s premiere BroadwayCon was a success, an unfortunate blizzard deterred some fans from the festivities. This year though, there was no keeping the fans away!

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The convention floor at BroadwayCon

The second edition of BroadwayCon kicked off bright and early at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, January 27 at New York City’s Javits Center and ran until 7:00 p.m. Sunday, January 29. In between the opening and closing ceremonies, thousands of theatre fans were treated to a plethora of workshops, panel discussions, sing-alongs, fan meetups, and autograph sessions with their favorite stars. And with so much activity, fans unknowingly created their own bubble where the events of the outside world couldn’t touch them.

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An ‘unidentified Ariel’ and Sierra Boggess, the original Ariel, together at BroadwayCon

The amazing thing about BroadwayCon is its ability to bring so many people together under the same roof. Fans certainly made up the majority of attendees, but for the number of well known actors, such as Anthony Rapp, Joel Grey, Chita Rivera, and the cast of Hamilton in the room, they were just as excited to be there as everyone else. Veteran actors and fans alike mingled together all weekend and happily shared their own theatre nerdiness with each other.

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Playbill’s booth at BroadwayCon

“I did BroadwayCon last year and I’ve also done a GleeCon in London which was my first taste of something like this, and it was super fun” said actor Telly Leung who is currently starring in Broadway’s In Transit. “I never hesitate to say that Rent is my favorite show that I’ve done. It made me love theatre and to do that show is a theatre nerd’s dream come true, It’s like if you’re dressed up as Elphaba and then you get to meet Elphaba, it’s amazing.”

In addition to fans having access to be up close and personal with their favorite stars, BroadwayCon is also a fantastic opportunity to discuss the ins and outs of theatre and where it’s heading in the future. There were panels on everything from stage management, to women playwrights, being ‘out’ on Brodway, marketing a show correctly, preserving theatre on film, and so many others. There wasn’t a single topic in the theatre world that wasn’t discussed, and many walked away from the weekend feeling they had found a home in the theatre community.

BroadwayCon is something that has needed to exist for a long time,” said J. Quinton Johnson, Jordan Fisher and Michael Luwoye from Hamilton. “Everyone here, including those of us in the Hamilton cast, are huge fans of this community so it’s awesome to be in a room full of that energy.”

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(l. to r.) Michael Cerveris and a StubHub host in a ‘Green Room’ discussion

During a weekend when there was so much political upheaval around the world, BroadwayCon became a safe space for expression, acceptance, and communication, no matter who you are. The majority of attendees didn’t want the weekend to end and were sad to leave their new friends they had made within the little bubble of theatre bliss they had created.

BroadwayCon‘s co-founder Melissa Anelli gave voice to the sentiments many of the participants had felt and experienced over the course of the weekend:

“We recognize that this weekend has been a welcomed escape from the all too harsh reality of the world outside it. We cannot restrict the empowerment we feel after a weekend like this to only those who are privileged enough to be a part of it. The theatre community is not one event, one moment, or one weekend–its spirit is ever-growing. We here onstage are asking you as one to take what you felt this weekend with you. If you leave here and are met with hatred, intolerance, oppression, and bigotry from people who want to build walls, take away rights and tear down spirits, please remember what it was like this weekend–the times that you felt impassioned, enlightened, welcomed, informed, safe, included, happy, encouraged, accepted, and loved.”

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BroadwayCon MainStage during a sound check

All photos courtesy of ZEALnyc.
____________________________

Megan Wrappe, a Contributing Writer for ZEALnyc, writes on theater and other cultural events.

Read more ZEALnyc features below:

‘Outside the Box’ Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day

The Public Theater and The New Yorker Team Up to Talk Trump

Welcome Back, William Inge

Pedrito Martinez–A Look Back on the Journey Thus Far

For all the news on New York City arts and culture, visit ZEALnyc Front Page.

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Razorgator – 5% Off Theater Tickets With Code FEBPLAYRG Until 2/28

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Review: Jealousy and Lies in a No-Exit Theater of War in ‘Othello’

Daniel Craig is the Iago to the Othello of David Oyelowo in this breathless interpretation of Shakespeare’s taut portrait of lives razed by jealousy.
NYT > Arts

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3 Valuable Lessons I Learned Attempting to Make a Mystery Science Theater Knockoff

2016-12-04-1480860987-9969080-Scared_to_Death13_410x310.jpgIf you’ve been tracking my feed, you know my friends — Andrea Lipinski, Orenthal Hawkins, and Kevin Lauderdale — and I put out a podcast called Temple of Bad, dedicated to the celebration and evisceration of bad film. That, perhaps naturally, wasn’t enough for us, so being across-the-board fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Rifftrax, and their ilk, we decided to try our hand at doing our own riffing show.

(For those of you new to the genre, to riff in this context is to take a film, good or bad, and lay in an additional audio commentary track cracking wise about the on-screen goings on. This is usually presented in the form of a video show, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done live as well. Try it at that screening of Loving you’re planning to attend this weekend — it’s fun! (We are not responsible for any repercussions you may experience if you try this at that screening of Loving you’re planning to attend this weekend).)

After some research, we settled on a suitably execrable (and public domain) candidate: the horror(?) thriller Scared to Death, which just so happens to be Bela Lugosi’s only color film, not that it did him much good. Because we’re not completely crazy, we decided to test the waters by doing only the first twenty minutes. You can see the results in the player at the bottom of this post.

Can’t be denied we had fun living la vida MSTie, but we also learned some valuable lessons:

  • CHOOSE YOUR FILM VERRRRY CAREFULLY

    Scared to Death is a gem of a stinker, with inane dialogue, awful acting, and beats that are not so much dramatic as they are incoherent. It also happens to be based on a stage play, and brings with it some distinctive aspects of the theater, to wit: The characters talk, a lot. This is not a problem when you’re just sitting there, laughing at the thing, but complicates matters when you’re trying to shoehorn a riff into the inanity without running the risk of losing whatever little narrative thread there is. Fortunately, most of the dialogue is as pointless as the film is overall, so we threw caution to the wind and stepped on dialogue where we had to. Next time, though, we’ll be looking carefully at the provenance of the script.

  • WRITING RIFFS BE DIFFICULT, YO

    Any fan of the riffing arts knows that you don’t go into a session cold. You can’t just sit down, fire up the recorder, and think you’re going to drop pearls of wit on a first viewing. It takes multiple viewings to land on just the right riff at the right time. It also takes a lot of thought — something silly happens on-screen, and your instinct tells you, This must be addressed, but you can’t just say, “Heh-heh, that’s stoopid,” and think your job is done. There are approximately 95 riffs in the twenty minute span of Scared to Death, and that’s on the low end of the scale for such efforts. Overall, we feel we nailed it, but languors exist at points, evidence that we were working hard, but not hard enough.

  • THE DIGITAL AGE IS YOUR BEST FRIEND AND YOUR WORST ENEMY

    We are four people living in four different cities. In theory, we could have recorded our riffs individually and I, as producer, would have used my editing magic to stitch it all together. We decided to go an extra step, and use a Skype conference session, so we could all interact during recording. This was a good call: It was fun session, and the good vibes translated to the audio track. Problem was that, having absolutely no budget to pull this project off, we were at the mercy of whatever technology each person had to hand. This ranged from professional recorders to smart phone recorders to desk mikes. The difference is obvious and, to a small extent, distracting. Bottom line: Find the money, and get everybody’s hardware on the same level.

I suspect we all came out of this with a heightened respect for the work of Joel Hodgson, Mike Nelson, et al, but also pretty jazzed by our own humble efforts. Check the show out and see if you agree.

— This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

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Organic Theater Production GULLIVER’S LAST TRAVELS 1993

Organic Theater Production GULLIVER’S LAST TRAVELS 1993


Original Archive Photo from the Chicago Tribune archive, originally filed under Amusements – Names “Gu-“. Approximate size is 8 x 10 inches. Photographer was not captured. Comes with a serialized Certificate of Authenticity.
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Yamaha RX-A1040BL 7.2-Channel AVENTAGE Receiver Plus A Polk Audio TL250 Home Theater Speaker System

Yamaha RX-A1040BL 7.2-Channel AVENTAGE Receiver Plus A Polk Audio TL250 Home Theater Speaker System


Feature-packed receivers are wonderful. But attention to build quality and design can elevate a receiver’s performance from good to great. That’s the strength of Yamaha’s AVENTAGE receivers like the RX-A1040. It offers sound quality that can coax refreshing levels of detail and punch out of your home theater speakers. Plus, there is no shortage of outstanding features: built-in Wi-Fi, online and digital music options, 4K video upscaling, app and web browser control, and multi-room audio and video capability all help you put this receiver’s thoughtful design to good use. If you’ve never connected a receiver to your wireless home network, you may not realize how much music you’re missing out on. Built-in Wi-Fi makes the RX-A1040 a snap to integrate with your network. Once you’re connected, you can listen to free Pandora Internet radio as well as free radio streams from hundreds of stations around the world. If you’re a subscriber to Spotify, SiriusXM, or Rhapsody, you can enjoy their seemingly endless music choices. Got a computer or networked hard drive loaded with music. DLNA compatibility allows this receiver to tap into your collection wirelessly, so you never have to touch another CD again. Finally, if you’re an Apple user, AirPlay lets you listen wirelessly from your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or a computer running iTunes. Big Speaker Sound Without The Big Speaker Whether you’re looking for your first home theater sub/sat system or want to upgrade to more performance, you’re in for a big surprise in a small, compact package from Polk Audio. Everything you need for explosive surround sound home theater thrills (except the subwoofer). The 5-piece system includes a center channel speaker, front speakers and surround speakers. Add the sub that’s right for you, like a PSW125 or PSW10, and get blown away by movie and gaming thrills.

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3 Reasons Tightening Movie Theater Security isn’t the Answer

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Visiting an actual movie theater for the first time in years was a strange, if not relatively unpleasant experience. The snack bar girl itched red welts on her arms that made me wary of seat cushion bedbugs. Movie previews advertised a phone app alerting older people with sensitive bladders when a boring scene came on so they could go pee.

The fact that hatchet wielding, gun toting maniacs have chosen movie theaters as locations for bloodbaths in Aurora Colorado (12 killed/ 70 injured/ Batman/ 2012), Lafayette, LA ( 2 killed/ 9 wounded/ Trainwreck/ July 2015) and Nashville, Tenessee (1 hatchet scraping/Fury Road/August 2015) feels slightly absurd. Mainstream movie theater audience members in the majority of theaters across the country are often the elderly, children and other individuals with an occasional old school fetish for real movie theaters. Movie theaters are no longer locations that seem ingrained in the American psyche. Few people can imagine themselves being bludgeoned in a movie theater, because fewer people go.

Tightening Big Brother style security in these locations will ensure even fewer people go, and movie theaters will deteriorate more. It is an ineffective, knee jerk, band aid reaction to what is hopefully a passing copycat lunatic fad. However, theaters across the country are setting new security measures in stone.

Regal Cinemas recently instituted mandatory bag checks in its 156 theaters nationwide. Showcase Cinemas (owned by National Amusements), in Connecticut completely banned backpacks and packages. Off the charts security measures ranging from metal detectors to TSA scans in movie theaters are being proposed by everyone from legislators to CEO’s.

Tighter security measures may border on civil rights violations, paves the way for 1984 brand mechanisms to be put in place in public spaces and deteriorates our chances of retaining our humanity. Turning public places into fortresses ultimately increases tension and escalates, rather than deters, violence.

The appropriate response to surreal madness is not to match it with more surreal madness. Here are some reasons why….

Three Reasons Tightening Movie Theater Security isn’t the Answer


1) Bag Searches are a Killjoy:
There is pleasure left in movie theaters—particularly in art theaters in larger cities that have retained old school style and charm. It’s still possible to sit in a theater and fantasize about being magically transformed into the lusty heroine on the screen, to become transfixed by an elegant landscape, enamored with the amplified echo of ice cubes clinking in crystalline glasses of scotch.

Security rifling through your bags can put a serious damper in the dreamscape of movie theaters. (They also make it impossible to bring bootleg store bought jolly ranchers and sour patch kids through the door.)

More importantly, bag searches just set precedence for more interference. Although airports may be appropriate places for metal detectors, TSA scans and the occasional body cavity search–movie theaters are not.

2) These Responses are Profoundly Ineffective. No axe wielding, gun toting, pepper spray sporting disgruntled American wanna be cartoon villain or psychopath is going to be deterred by a bag search. James Holmes walked out a back door in Aurora to get his weapons and reentered the theater through the same door with them before opening fire. Lafayette’s John “Rusty” Russel Houser had a gun on his person but left and returned through a side door. Vincente Montano, admittedly, did bring his pepper spray and hatchet in two backpacks—but if back checks were instituted, it’s likely he would have found another way.

Doing bag checks is a silly gesture, at best. Movie theater security staff peeking into bags will do nothing to keep weapons out. It will only make patrons more anxious.

3) There are bigger fish to fry here. Ramping up security anywhere a mentally impaired, deranged, racist or psychotic person has gone on a rampage and killed people in the US in recent years would require psycho security in elementary schools, churches, synagogues, as well as movie theaters. Creating more barriers as a reaction to large scale violence is fruitless. Maniacs can slip through the cracks anywhere, and there are no barriers without cracks. Turning ourselves into a well walled country, gives us even less of a chance to address deeper problems and retain our dignity as people. We should not be looking at how to fortify ourselves against gun violence, or mentally ill people running amok, after the fact—but addressing the underlying causes of those issues, first, before the chaos occurs. The fact that we aren’t is sad.

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Theater: “Hamilton’s” Miranda Is The New Biggie Smalls? No, He’s The New Sondheim!

HAMILTON *** 1/2 out of ****
RICHARD RODGERS THEATRE

Hamilton. You’ve heard of it, I think? Yep.

So I can skip the preliminaries, like the plot description or explaining what’s exactly going on here and cut to the chase. [Here’s my review of the Off Broadway run if you’re one of the four people who hasn’t heard about Hamilton already.]

Is every Broadway show going to include freestyling from now on? Of course not. And Lin-Manuel Miranda isn’t the next Biggie Smalls. He’s the next Sondheim (or to avoid such dizzying expectations, he has the talent to follow in Sondheim’s footsteps). Hamilton isn’t The Blueprint slapped onto Broadway. It’s a full blown Broadway musical, with elements of Brit-pop and girl group sounds and good old-fashioned show tunes and yes of course rapping in various styles.

Listen closely and what you’ll hear above all is a fresh new voice that is building on Sondheim’s legacy: the whip-smart lyrics, the marvelous word play, the intelligence, the building of melodies that are catchy but never banal, the deployment of lines and hooks like depth charges that repeat again and again throughout a song and throughout the show until they have a remarkable power and emotional intensity. In short, Hamilton has a lot more in common with Sunday In The Park With George than It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back.

This isn’t to downplay the central accomplishment of creating the first great musical that employs hip-hop. But he’s not just doing a hip-hop show that’s playing on the Great White Way. They did Tango Argentino on Broadway and people loved it, but it’s not like every show now includes a tango salon. One-off shows in a particular style don’t change Broadway. But a full-on Broadway musical that incorporates a style that’s fresh to its audience (albeit one long-established) can change it. Miranda has grafted a strand of hip-hop onto Broadway’s DNA and it’s going to stick. The same happened with Hair and Grease and others embracing rock and roll. That genre of music and style of singing became part of Broadway’s vocabulary, just as jazz and r&b and country and other genres have intertwined with old style belting over the years.

Some great Broadway talents simply can’t sing in a rock and roll style. They’d be useless on a show like Newsies. Others can’t do country or jazz or soul. Not everyone belongs on The Wiz revival. It has nothing to do with age or talent; some people just don’t have the voice or affinity for certain genres. (You hear it time and again when opera stars make the awful mistake of tackling pop tunes.) And operetta is beyond many — that’s clearly why the delightful musical On The Twentieth Century hasn’t been done in dog years. One needs a particular refined skill to assay it. And yes one needs a very refined skill set of swagger and excellent enunciation to tackle the complex lines and internal rhymes of Hamilton and hip-hop in general. Not every Broadway wanna-be has this in their quiver. But from now on, they’re going to have to try.

We all know why some say hip-hop makes sense for this particular show. The Founding Fathers were bad mother f***ers! They laid it on the line! They were scrappy and bold and risking it all with their backs against the wall and looked down upon as Johnny Come Latelys by their betters! In short, maybe it’s sort of a fluke that the style works so well for an era once enshrined by the very old-school musical 1776.

Wrong. Hip hop works for this show because Miranda wrote it and he’s good and because he used hip-hop as a vehicle for revealing character and pushing the story forward. Imagine a musical set in France, a show about the court of the Sun King where withering put-downs and dexterous word play were prized above all. Hip-hop? Freestyling? It would work like a charm. Imagine a show about scientists, maybe the Manhattan Project or a show about Isaac Newton or Galileo or maybe string theory. In science, scholars debate and claw at one another. Creating a vivid, convincing picture of your theory is important. And tearing down someone else’s idea is just as important a skill as building up your own. A rap battle? Makes perfect sense. A show about newspaper reporters today or during the tabloid era of the 1970s or back in the Roaring 20s when (I hear) reporting was glamorous and fun and actually paid well? Yes, I can imagine hip-hop working well there too because who savors language and slang and cutting retorts more than reporters? A hip-hop Taming Of The Shrew? It’s probably already being written. A hip-hop musical for the American Revolution is no more incongruous than rock n roll as a source for the music in Spring Awakening, a show based on a German play from 1891. So let’s put to rest the idea that hip-hop will only work once in a blue moon or when whomever took an option on the movie Straight Outta Compton brings it to Broadway.

In the same way, the diverse casting of almost everyone but white guys to play these iconic roles works not because of any particular political context it creates. It works because color blind casting (or here, color-centric casting, casting with purpose and in celebration of color, not mindlessly pretending it doesn’t exist) works for everything from Shakespeare to Arthur Miller because when the material is classic and the performers are good, new layers will always be revealed. Indeed, it only works when the performers are good because no show works unless the performers are good. And this cast is great.

NOTE: Here’s casual video of Lin-Manuel Miranda and the delightful Jonathan Groff entertaining the hundreds waiting in hope of winning a $ 10 front row seat to the show. Something like this happens every day outside the theater. Try as you might to hate a show with all this hype and with endless stories in media outlets that never talk about Broadway, but when you see something cool like this, darnit, you just can’t.

Okay, so on with the show. Hamilton is an orphaned immigrant, penniless but intellectually vibrant and desperate to contribute, desperate to take part in the American Experiment. His first friend when arriving in New York is the cautious Aaron Burr. Their lives are intertwined as each succeeds and plays a major role in the Revolution, with Hamilton somehow always one step ahead of Burr and so on and then in comes Lafayette and Washington and Jefferson and King George gets huffy and you know the rest.

Hamilton is sprawling and messy and deliriously ambitious and flawed — of course, it’s flawed! You can’t push boundaries without stumbling briefly here and there — and very exciting. I saw it at the Public and held back on raving. Sometimes the bolder a film or TV show or novel, the more you want to catch your breath and hold off. A second viewing of a movie, waiting five or ten episodes into a season, living with an album for a while, all of that can make a huge difference. Sometimes, flaws become more pronounced and the shock of the new becomes less shocking. Other times, a second viewing of a movie or repeated spins of an album deepen your appreciation and bolster your confidence that this is indeed the shit. Hamilton is indeed the shit.

When I saw it at the Public, I knew it would be among my favorite shows of the year. But I felt it could be better in varied ways. If nothing else, the cramped space of the original venue was not ideal for the heavy wooden set design of David Korins. It felt a little dark and oppressive. In this transfer, almost everything on Broadway is better. Miranda — who wrote the book, music, lyrics and stars as Alexander Hamilton — refined and tightened every element of the show. (I would dearly love to see a breakdown of all the changes lyrically and musically and book-wise.) The performances are sharper and more powerful. The set can breathe. The audience is ecstatic, electric. The Producers and The Book Of Mormon were super-charged smash hits that broke through to the popular culture that is now usually indifferent to musicals. Rent was an obvious precursor in the game-changing game of stamping rock and roll as music that belongs once and for all on Broadway. But I have to go back to Angels In America for a show that felt this charged and this important both culturally and politically and especially theatrically.

And what a cast! Anthony Rapp was in the audience the night I saw it. And just like Rent, I’m certain this show has launched the careers or boosted the fortunes of any number of performers on stage. Christopher Jackson as George Washington has gained in stature since the Public. Before, his Washington seemed to fade into the background. Now he looms like a fatherly presence, wise and a little intimidating.

In the dual roles of the brash Hercules Mulligan and the reserved James Madison, Okieriete Onaodowan remains a droll pleasure. Is it possible Leslie Odom Jr. is even better as the wily, put-upon Aaron Burr? His story feels more balanced and empathetic, more of a mirror to Hamilton instead of just a foil. Burr reflects the cynical modern politician and Hamilton the ideals of passion. Yet he’s not just a bitter Salieri. If Burr hadn’t fired that fateful, fatal shot, he’d be remembered more highly. And no one seeing his show-stopper “The Room Where It Happens” — it stops a lot, this show — will forget how Odom captured Burr’s ambition and insight and frustration over being bested yet again.

Certainly Renée Elise Goldsberry couldn’t have improved as Angelica Schuyler, the woman who sacrificed her attraction to Alexander Hamilton so her sister could be happy and her family’s fortune secure. She is incandescent, both enchanting at good ole Broadway belting and sensational at rapping. Goldsberry has verve and punch and diction so crystal clear (thank you, classical training in the fundamentals!) that her flow puts most everyone else to shame. Of course, Daveed Diggs steals the show as both the outrageously fun Marquis de Lafayette in Act One and the aristocratic, combative Thomas Jefferson in Act Two. He’s hilarious in the first act and then tops himself with the second-act opener “What’d I Miss.” Miranda naturally is the heart and soul throughout, singing with the shy awkward voice of a teenager and gaining in confidence throughout without ever calling attention to the slowly evolving growth of our protagonist.

And I’d like to make a personal apology to Jonathan Groff for the modest doubt that was in my heart. Brian D’arcy James was so…so delicious as King George at the Public that I was crushed when he left for Something Rotten and bummed that friends wouldn’t be able to see his indelible turn. How would they get someone with enough star power to put over such a fun, if secondary role? Well Groff has the star power and I’ve been a fan of his on every conceivable level since Spring Awakening. But still I thought, “Damn, I wish James were still in it. He was perfect.”

Then out comes Groff and he’s a sheer delight as well. He’s of course younger but this works perfectly, emphasizing the spoiled child aspect of King George. Groff delivers completely in the part, which emphasizes what a gem Miranda created and how good Groff is when given material this sterling. Plus the Brit-pop nature of his tunes are a savvy respite from the delightfully dense, but sit-up-and-pay-attention rap lyrics that dominate the show. Along with Goldsberry’s singing at key moments and some other islands of pure singing, Groff’s scenes allow the audience to catch its breath. I guess someone else down the road will make the most of it too, but now I want everyone to catch Groff in this role. Who’d want to miss a sexy, slightly mad King George? Not me.

If King George and his signature tune “You’ll Be Back” and the monarch’s other reprises were merely the comic pleasures they are, that would be enough. But typically for this show, they’re so much more. Along with tunefulness and full-on comic relief, like everything else in this rock solid creation, George’s tunes advance the plot, provide context and underline the high-wire nature of what the rebellious colonists are attempting.

Think about what they accomplish. The King’s petulance and expectation of unquestioning allegiance makes clear why they would rebel. His unnerving threats to crush them militarily make clear how fraught with danger the situation would prove. George’s malicious glee over the utter mess that faces them after “winning” — having to create a new nation and government from scratch, deal with foreign powers, appease the various factions that only found common ground when they had the common enemy of England and so on — illuminate how in fact the easy part was winning freedom and it could all so easily fall apart, especially with England ready to undermine it at every tunr. And his utter bemusement over Washington voluntarily stepping down from the reins of power (King George had no idea such a thing was even possible!) nudges us again to remember how unusual self-rule and elected leaders and a peaceful exchange of power was for both the US and the world. All of this is conveyed subtly and with élan in tunes that you would kill for and lyrics that are sparkling and which combine in the hands of an artist like Groff to create musical theater heaven.

Most every complaint or concern I had melts away in the flush of excitement in seeing the show a second time. I appreciated anew how a lesser talent might have used hip-hop so each Founding Father could boast endlessly about himself. In fact, most of the time, everyone is rapping about someone else. Burr is the narrator so he’s usually commenting on Hamilton. And Hamilton raps about Burr and Jefferson, Jefferson raps about Hamilton, the Schuyler sisters rap about the men in their life and so on.

And how smart the show is. Like Sondheim, Miranda revels in arcana that might seem an unlikely source for musicalizing (a song about the federal banking system? ) and yet consistently brings it to life with the same passion and attention to detail that Hamilton and the rest savored at the time. Miranda and director Thomas Kail have done an excellent job of modulating the flow. Whereas the first time I saw the show, the finale felt dragged out and simply wrong, this time it moved much more quickly and felt earned. (Maybe it was just a second viewing when I knew what to expect but I imagine a change in pacing and trims here and there are responsible.) Ditto the fate of Hamilton’s son in a duel that cruelly echoes his own fate and various other plot points. The first time, I found it unnecessary and drawn out. This time, thanks to improved work by actor Andrew Chappelle and perhaps some tightening and trimming of his big scene(s), it works better.

Mind you, I remain utterly indifferent to the choreography of Andy Blankenbuehler. It leaves me just as cold on Broadway as it did at the Public. It doesn’t hurt the show, simply because it feels like mere background, something one can simply ignore. I can’t think of a single scene where the endless popping and modern moves of the chorus added emotionally to the events taking place (though director Kail uses them well for crowd scenes and transitions).

Ditto the set, which is far less oppressive in the big space of the Richard Rodgers. Less oppressive but not less interesting. It’s a wooden walkway that encircles the back and sides of the stage and i mostly underutilized. People are often positioned up there to stand and observe the proceedings below but essentially they just fade into the background. Similarly, rolling wooden platforms very rarely come into play and the one visual flourish that made good use of them has been cut. I’d sooner see it all removed and no audience would be the wiser. The costumes of Paul Tazewell are excellent throughout, with the notable exception of the female dancers in the chorus. I still don’t understand the artistic choice that has some of them wearing pants and vest akin to the men while others are unnecessarily in what are essentially undergarments.

Certainly the musical direction and orchestrations of Alex Lacamoire work in ways large and small to get across the gorgeous score while supporting the actors and allowing the lyrics (surely among the wordiest in Broadway history) to breathe. Not to mention embodying a range of styles with nimble conviction! It’s extraordinary work I am ill equipped to parse but appreciate nonetheless as boundary pushing in its own right.

Less positively, Phillipa Soo as Eliza Schuyler and the future Mrs. Hamilton remains a weak link both dramatically and voice-wise. It’s clear why her big number “Burn” is one of the few in the show to receive tepid applause. To be fair, it is in part a combination of playing the less interesting role of dutiful wife and playing it opposite Goldsberry who becomes an undeniable star in front of our eyes. And only more careful listening will prove this, but I think the melodic lines of Eliza may also be the only awkward and weak ones in the otherwise excellent score. On the bright side, Soo holds the spotlight at the finale much more convincingly, thanks to the improvements made by Miranda and Kail.

And you know what? All those cavils are exciting! The choreography and the set and even one of the leads aren’t ideal? And the show is still terrific? As I said before, it’s a treat to see Miranda in this role and his innate likability shouldn’t be underestimated in putting the show forward. But I still think the prickly role he has created will draw even better performances from other actors down the road; he is great casting and I wouldn’t miss him in it for the world. But unlike say John Cameron Mitchell and Hedwig where it was hard to imagine others tackling that part (an idea that now seems silly, but still), it’s not only not silly to imagine other actors playing Hamilton, it’s fun. He’s created a great role in a great show and people will be playing that part for all its worth for many, many years to come. And that’s only counting the actors who will appear in this production.

THEATER OF 2015

Honeymoon In Vegas **
The Woodsman ***
Constellations ** 1/2
Taylor Mac’s A 24 Decade History Of Popular Music 1930s-1950s ** 1/2
Let The Right One In **
Da no rating
A Month In The Country ** 1/2
Parade in Concert at Lincoln Center ** 1/2
Hamilton at the Public ***
The World Of Extreme Happiness ** 1/2
Broadway By The Year 1915-1940 **
Verite * 1/2
Fabulous! *
The Mystery Of Love & Sex **
An Octoroon at Polonsky Shakespeare Center *** 1/2
Fish In The Dark *
The Audience ***
Josephine And I ***
Posterity * 1/2
The Hunchback Of Notre Dame **
Lonesome Traveler **
On The Twentieth Century ***
Radio City Music Hall’s New York Spring Spectacular ** 1/2
The Heidi Chronicles *
The Tallest Tree In The Forest * 1/2
Broadway By The Year: 1941-1965 ***
Twelfth Night by Bedlam ***
What You Will by Bedlam *** 1/2
Wolf Hall Parts I and II ** 1/2
Skylight ***
Nellie McKay at 54 Below ***
Ludic Proxy ** 1/2
It Shoulda Been You **
Finding Neverland ** 1/2
Hamlet w Peter Sarsgaard at CSC no stars
The King And I ***
Marilyn Maye — Her Way: A Tribute To Frank Sinatra at 54 Below ***
Gigi * 1/2
An American In Paris ** 1/2
Doctor Zhivago no stars
Fun Home **
Living On Love * 1/2
Early Shaker Spirituals: A Record Album Interpretation ***
Airline Highway * 1/2
The Two Gentlemen Of Verona (Fiasco Theatre) ***
The Visit (w Chita Rivera) ** 1/2
The Sound And The Fury (ERS) **
Broadway By The Year: 1966-1990 ***
The Spoils * 1/2
Ever After (at Papermill) **
Heisenberg *** 1/2
An Act Of God **
The National High School Musical Theatre Awards ***
Amazing Grace *
The Absolute Brightness Of Leonard Pelkey ** 1/2
Cymbeline (Shakespeare in the Park w Rabe and Linklater) ***

_____________

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the founder and CEO of the forthcoming website BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. Trying to decide what to read next? Head to BookFilter! Need a smart and easy gift? Head to BookFilter? Wondering what new titles came out this week in your favorite categories, like cookbooks and mystery and more? Head to BookFilter! It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. It’s like a fall book preview or holiday gift guide — but every week in every category. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day and features top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website and his daily blog. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

Note: Michael Giltz is provided with free tickets to shows with the understanding that he will be writing a review. All productions are in New York City unless otherwise indicated.

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Brooke Adams & Tony Shalhoub in Happy Days, at the Flea Theater

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I always like going to the Flea Theater, since they bring to fruition off beat, experimental and genius pieces such as Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, directed by Andrei Belgrader and playing now to packed audiences with Brooke Adams and Tony Shalhoub. An oddly timeless work written in 1960; to the naked eye it seems like it is an aged piece of cheese, but only if you have never read a book or are part of the generation that needs everything spelled out and explained in 60 seconds, as patience is short these days and Becket requires mature thinking, tempered with intellectual curiosity. It requires a willingness to see that whether the rituals in life move fast or slow, we all most likely, find ourselves in a routine for better or worse. And though the main character Winnie, is a throwback to Jean Stapleton (Edith Bunker) days of yore, is she really that far away in her symbolic matrix from contemporary life?

Even if society has changed drastically in 55 years, we are human and do get older and we do begin to bury ourselves in sand, piling up the emblematic experience of a lifetime around us, until we are gone and buried. The metaphor is still as fresh as ever, though the conditions have changed and even then, if one searches their mind they will have an “Aha” moment of truth, recognizing familiar faces in their lives, even if it’s at the next table while dining at the Starbucks.

Winnie is a woman somewhere in her 50s, trying very hard to stay sane, alive and happy, as she is buried in earth so packed, she cannot or will not move, while her husband Willie moves in and out of day-light from his hole somewhere below the mound, where she presides. She will often call out to him, asking for his love and to affirm her life. He is wordless and with his head turned mostly away from the audience and Winnie, he spends most of his time reading an old paper, looking at porn, and grunting out a few things here and there of little consequence.

Ms. Adams makes a compelling Winnie, with a look of an aged beauty who might have been in a pageant in her youth. She refuses to be unhappy, even though you know by the strain of her smile that she is staving off the inevitability of death and is quite lonely to the very bottom of her soul.

The monumental task of carrying a full two hours of monologue is herculean, but Ms. Adams did it in a smooth and meticulous way; capturing Winnie’s dilemma of impending death, loneliness, and the steady nothingness that her relationship with her husband, who seems to be disappearing at will and with him her romantic memories. Ms. Adams has a distinctive quality of being uncommonness, which sometimes gets in the way of Winnie’s ordinary life history. We cannot help but notice her sparkle, she is not a warn piece of jewelry that has been dulled by time or become eccentric from a ritualized life forced into a mound of earth, maybe Ms. Adams is too charming. That hint of frustration, of utter eccentricity brought about by monotony fails to shine through, which seems to me missing from the steadiness of her performance.

Scarcely existent Willie, Mr. Shalhoub used his brief words wisely and was no less charming than he is in everything he does. However, I have to say, to be Willie successfully, one must be slightly more than catatonic and slightly less than dead. His final moment with his wife requires something deeper than the surprise vertical entrance of Willie wearing fancy attire. It requires mercy, love and something as unseemly as maybe a little hatred.

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Apollo Theater Celebrates Its Rich Legacy With 10th Annual Spring Gala

Monday night marked the 10th anniversary of the Apollo Theater’s annual Spring Gala, which was met with much fanfare.

The event, which featured a celebratory benefit concert, was hosted by Extra TV correspondent AJ Calloway and featured star-studded performances from Nile Rodgers and his pioneering disco-funk group Chic, Ne-Yo, Luke James, Rosanne Cash, “The Voice” season 8 contestant Kimberly Nichole and South African a capella trio The Soil.

During his opening monologue, Calloway shared some of his personal experiences and memories of the Apollo.

“I used to sneak into the Apollo when I was in high school,” Calloway said. “I was in [New] Jersey, my parents didn’t know I was here, but I used to watch Amateur Night so I’m very happy to be on this stage. And I started my career here. The first time I was on this stage was ‘106 & Park’ and that was 15 years ago. So I’m really, really happy to be here.”

In addition to Calloway’s return to the Apollo stage, the event also served as a homecoming for Rodgers, who landed his second professional gig performing with the theater’s house band. Prior to taking to the stage to perform a medley of Chic’s biggest hits, Rodgers opened up to The Huffington Post about the significance of headlining this year’s annual gala.

“When I played here I was 19-years-old,” Rodgers said. “I had just finished a year with ‘Sesame Street,’ which was my first professional job. And I was just telling the band how it was the first time I walked out onto this stage. It’s amazing for me to be here now, all these years later playing my own music, which is crazy.”

For Apollo Theater President & CEO, Jonelle Procope the Gala has served as an important part in the theater’s growth for the past 10 years.

“Although the Apollo is now in its 81st year, we have only been a nonprofit since 1991 and I would say it has really been over the last 10 years that the institution has experienced tremendous growth as a nonprofit with expanded artistic, educational and community programs,” Procope said to the Huffington Post.

“The Gala, which is one of our largest fundraisers, has provided crucial support toward those initiatives. It also allows us to celebrate and honor the Apollo’s rich legacy as the musical home for so many legendary artists like Nile Rodgers and the opportunity to continue that legacy as an important springboard for the next generation of artists.”

The benefit, which raises funds for the theater’s education and community outreach programs, also honored James Dolan, President and CEO of Cablevision Systems Corporation and Executive Chairman of Madison Square Garden, who accepted the Corporate Award on behalf of The Madison Square Garden Company, and Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, who accepted the Percy C. Sutton Civic Leadership Award on behalf of The Ford Foundation.

Check out a collection of Apollo Gala performers through the years in the slideshow below.

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The New Sincerity at Bay Street Theater: The Revolution Will Not Be Sold

Alena Smith’s smart play, The New Sincerity, in its world premiere at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, is perhaps the first drama to deal with the idealism of the Occupy Movement. Championed for its revolutionary goals, Occupy opened a dialogue about the ills of capitalism and social injustice. Many came to Zuccotti Park to camp out in support, like Django, one of four characters in The New Sincerity, expertly directed by Bob Balaban, who keeps the flow of characters in and out of the offices of a literary journal brisk for its 85-minute duration. Keep your eye on the word “sincerity” of the title, a playful take on the currency of authenticity.

Arriving at the offices of Asymptote Magazine, mainly to brush his teeth after a three-week break from hygiene, Django (Peter Mark Kendall) wants to “pleasure” Rose (Justine Lupe), a featured writer, but then again everyone including her boss, Asymptote’s editor, Benjamin (Teddy Bergman) seems to want her, even though he’s engaged to someone else. Meantime, an artist who built a boat out of garbage, and in his red and black checked shirt, the J. Crew version of hipster, Django turns out to be a self invention, his call to action shallow, before the high-minded Asymptote trades in on the commodification of this revolution.

Clever and edgy, Smith’s satiric dialogue with references to our Internet-altered ethos, evokes movements of the past, making the ’60’s anti-war protests look antique, its ideals meeting just as hollow an end. Rose, a Gwyneth Paltrow look alike, retains our sympathies. “When it comes to love, I am not an anarchist,” she says drawing a line. Natasha (Elvy Yost), an intern, sees her as a role model but even she says, “No one wants to hear about the death of the left.” Rose echoes our ambivalence about real anarchy. But the play goes farther on the role of women: “The experience of being underappreciated has got to be worth something.” It’s a funny line that the poet Joan Larkin back in the day might have deemed, “only a fishbone in the throat of the revolution” if some change had really taken place. Or, in this play’s parlance, “The park is empty and cold like nothing ever happened.” With The New Sincerity, the Bay Street Theater season is off to a great start.

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.

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Actors Equity and the Future of American Theater

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This week, the membership of Actors Equity, the union of American stage actors, voted to oust an incumbent president – virtually unprecedented in the history of the organization. The ouster was the result of an organized revolt by actors in Los Angeles, who have been fighting Equity’s efforts to gut LA’s vibrant intimate theater scene. While the election is the first step in a long battle, it may significantly impact the future of American theater.

Actors Equity has a long and proud history of championing the rights of actors, beginning in 1913 when it was founded by a courageous group of a few hundred actors. The union has been in the forefront of the struggle for civil rights and freedom of expression, notably during the McCarthy era when it refused to ban blacklisted performers. However, as the LA battle illustrates, Equity has at least temporarily lost its way.

As far back as the 1950’s and ’60’s, when the burgeoning Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway movements were spawning a generation of playwrights, directors and actors who would dominate the next generation of American theater, as well as film and television, the seeds of the future have been planted in storefronts, basements and church halls where actors not only perform, but build sets, sew costumes and staff the box office. They devote their time – inevitably without pay – not only because they love the theater, but also because they want a chance to experiment, to test their creative wings and to dream beyond the boundaries of commercial theater.

While Equity has sometimes been resistant to these grassroots movements – as they were initially to Off and Off-Off-Broadway – it has also been instrumental in helping these movements to grow and blossom. In the case of New York, Equity came to recognize the importance of nurturing new theater companies and carved out a number of exceptions to its strict union rules to permit actors to work in non-commercial theater. This, in turn, led to a vital and prolific theater scene in New York that produced many of the most significant plays and theater companies of the twentieth century.

There is no doubt that Actors Equity has a vital role to play in American theater in the 21st century, much as it did throughout the 20th century. However, if it wants to preserve its vital role it must change its vision of the future, as well as the manner in which it pursues that vision. Its heavy-handed approach to the Los Angeles theater community reveals serious flaws both in Equity’s vision of the future and its ability to implement any vision at all. From the beginning, Equity misread the sentiment of its LA membership – perhaps out of a myopic view of LA theater – or simply out of ignorance. To compound the problem, Equity ham-handled the rollout of their proposal, turning what may have been intended as an opening gambit for discussion into a dictat from an uncaring union.

Hopefully, the union leadership has learned its lesson after the open revolt of LA membership and the ouster of an incumbent president. Ironically, the bungled rollout of Equity’s LA theater proposal may have strengthened the hand of other insurgent groups in New York, Chicago and other cities, who would like to see a more progressive approach to their small theater scene. New York’s Showcase Code is in many respects more restrictive than LA’s, and actors in Chicago small theaters are in an even worse situation. As actor Chris Agos wrote in his book about the Chicago acting scene “The overwhelming majority of live theater in Chicago is happening in storefront spaces and being done by actors who aren’t affiliated with AEA. Audiences will see innovative, powerful performances in these theaters, but they simply can’t afford to pay their actors a living wage.”

Far from killing off LA’s intimate theater scene, Equity may have spawned a national movement to follow LA’s lead. As in any adventurous endeavor, the quality of Los Angeles theater varies wildly from the groundbreaking and inspiring to the narcissistic and pedestrian. However, the same can be said of the early days of Off and Off-Off-Broadway. This is the nature of the theater, of creativity and of change. Whatever one’s view of the LA theater scene, it is indisputably one of the most vital theater communities in the country, if not the world, and could certainly serve as a model for the future. At this important turning point in its proud and storied history, Equity has the opportunity to provide leadership for the next century of American theater. Let us hope that it will step up and embrace that opportunity.

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From Musical Theater to Miranda Lambert’s Opening Act: Courtney Cole’s Country Music Journey with #NoFilter

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Courtney Cole’s first time singing in front of an audience was almost her last. The wide-eyed eleven-year-old spent weeks preparing to sing in front of her Louisiana church for the first time. She was so confident in her preparation and eager to make her debut that right before she went onstage, she asked her piano accompanist to forego the song’s introduction.

“It was a disaster,” Cole recalls. “I started singing in the wrong key. I knew it right away, but I couldn’t figure out how to switch when the piano came in. I barely finished, and then I immediately went to the bathroom and cried my eyes out. I told my mom I would never, ever sing again.”

Despite the traumatic experience, Cole’s fifth-grade resilience kicked in and she was singing in church again a couple of weeks later. Church performances soon turned into musical theater, which led Cole to attend the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts near her hometown of Mandeville, Louisiana, as a high schooler.

“I’ve always loved to perform and feel so at home on stage,” Cole says. “I know this sounds so generic, but I love Wicked. My family names all of our animals after Wicked; my mom had a fish named Glinda, and her dog’s name is Elphaba. There’s a spell that Elphaba says in the play, ‘Eleka nahmen nahmen ah tum ah tum eleka nahmen,’ and that’s my dog’s name. I call her Ellie for short. Now I just need a boy dog to name Fiyero!”

Musical theater came so naturally for Cole that she almost pursued the passion after high school until a conversation with her church’s worship pastor helped change her course. “I had a scholarship to go to school in Alabama for musical theater,” she says. “My worship pastor said, ‘You don’t need to go do that that. You need to do your ultimate dream, which is touring and being onstage and singing music that you’ve written.'”

Inspired by the conversation, Cole applied to Belmont University in Nashville. “I got in at the last audition they had for the year and moved to Nashville, and I’ve been here ever since.”

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“I majored in commercial voice,” Cole says. “Thank God that’s a major! What else would I have majored in? Accounting? I couldn’t!” she adds with a laugh. “Music is the only thing I’m good at. There’s nothing else I would want to do. I respect and appreciate the people who do the business side of [music] so much because it’s just so hard. I did it for a while, and I couldn’t even think. It just wasn’t me.”

Cole calls her journey “your typical Nashville story.” She explains, “I worked my way up. After I graduated, I got an internship at a publishing company…from a guy I met on MySpace, actually,” the singer adds. “I worked there doing a bunch of odd jobs. I would work from 9 – 5, then sing and write from 6 – 10, because that’s what I ultimately wanted to do. The company executives saw what I was doing and decided to give me a publishing deal! That’s where my journey as a professional songwriter and artist really began. I’ve been refining my writing and crafting my sound over the last couple of years, and here I am now. “

Here is a place Cole describes as “exactly where I’ve always dreamed I would be.” She has a new music video, “Drunk,” which is making waves on CMT and GAC. Her Spotify-exclusive acoustic EP, #NoFilter, has been received well by fans and critics alike, and she’ll join one of her country idols, Miranda Lambert, on an all-female country tour this fall.

“Making the video for ‘Drunk’ was one of the best experiences of my life,” Cole gushes. “When we were finished, I looked at my manager and said, ‘Can we do that again?’ It was just a really fun day. It brought in the music side and my theater side.”

The video was shot in Nashville, but Cole infused elements of New Orleans as a tribute to a town that she says has been a constant inspiration. “Personality-wise, music-wise, color-wise, it’s just so inspiring,” she says. “That’s all the stuff I want to bring out in my music. We couldn’t film in New Orleans because Mardi Gras was going on, so we decided to bring Mardi Gras to Nashville! If you look closely, you can see fleurs-de-lis in a few places in the video.”

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The song “Drunk” was the product of a writer’s retreat between Cole and co-writers Catt Gravitt, Gerald O’Brien, and Shirazi.”We wrote five songs that trip, but we knew right away there was something really special about ‘Drunk,'” Cole says. “What you hear on Spotify is actually the acoustic work tape that we did in the cabin that day. I knew it would make the perfect first single and be a great stepping stone for the album.” (Fans can find the fully-produced version of “Drunk” on iTunes.)

Cole’s Spotify-exclusive debut also includes the beautiful ballad “Fall Like Rain,” which provides a great balance to the fun, upbeat “Drunk” and “Can’t Buy Love.” The inspirational “Cool Girl” finishes out the four-song collection, making it a very strong showing for the Louisiana native, who is road-tested, to say the least.

She has played hundreds of shows supporting acts including Chris Young, Thompson Square, and Kip Moore. But she shows she’s most excited about are yet to come. This fall, she will join one of her country-music heroes, Miranda Lambert, on a resurrection of Lambert’s Roadside Bars and Pink Guitars Tour at venues across the country. The all-female lineup includes Lambert, Cole, “God Made Girls” singer RaeLynn, Lambert’s Pistol Annies partner-in-crime Ashley Monroe, and up-and-coming country artist Clare Dunn.

“I’m so excited for the tour. It feels so surreal,” Cole says. “Miranda’s music changed songwriting for me. She changed the way that I view music in general, and writing from a personal standpoint. Her writing helped me get down to the truth of who I am as a writer and find what I want to say to the world, and it just made me want to be better.”

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Although landing the tour with Miranda is a dream come true for the young artist, she’s quick to note that there are many dreams left to achieve. And the best way to make those dreams come true? Believe in them, she says.

“If I could sum up my story in one sentence, it would be that dreams really do come true, and with a little hard work and staying positive, you can make anything happen,” she says with conviction. “Your thoughts really do become your life. When I was a little girl, I would sit in my room and pretend like I was on tour. I would see the arena in my head. And the fact that I’m here now, and get to go out and play my music live on the road, it’s amazing! But I knew that was going to happen from the time I was a little girl, because I believed it.”

Country fans had better believe they’ll be hearing a LOT from Courtney Cole in the future. Between now and the kickoff of the Roadside Bars and Pink Guitars Tour in September, country fans can enjoy her acoustic EP, #NoFilter, exclusively on Spotify. For more information, visit CourtneyColeMusic.com.

Live photo courtesy of Courtney Cole. Professional photos by Ivan Clow.

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This Movie Theater PSA Is Inspiring Kids To Become Teachers

A public service announcement encouraging young people to become teachers has been playing in hundreds of movie theaters around the country in recognition of national teacher appreciation week May 4 to May 9.

The PSA, called #TEACHNow, has been playing in nearly 400 theaters as part of Participant Media’s TEACH Campaign, which aims to stimulate great teaching.

“My goal with #TEACHNow is to visually illustrate that teaching is so important that it deserves its own recruitment piece featuring teachers as the heroic, life-changing, amazing people they are,” Lesley Chilcott, director of the ad, said in a press release. “We need to show our most talented youth that teaching is an incredible career choice.”

“We’re really trying to create an awareness that innovative passionate students should consider teaching,” Lisa Zimble, director of the TEACH Campaign, told The Huffington Post.

Kids who went to the movies this week to see superhero shows like, “The Avengers: Age of Ultron,” may have left inspired to become a different kind of superhero.

Watch the PSA above.

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Theater: Radio City Springs New Tradition; The Elizabeth Moss Chronicles

NEW YORK SPRING SPECTACULAR ** 1/2 out of ****
THE HEIDI CHRONICLES * out of ****
THE TALLEST TREE IN THE FOREST * 1/2 out of ****

NEW YORK SPRING SPECTACULAR ** 1/2 out of ****
RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL

Radio City Music Hall’s New York Spring Spectacular has one goal and one goal alone: to create a new tradition in the spring to match their unparalleled success with the Christmas Spectacular. You’ll get lots of Rockettes and lots of NYC vignettes, less Santa and a whole lot more Easter Bunny. After a dramatic last minute cancellation in 2014 and an entirely revamped creative team, they have finally presented this long-gestating project…and they’ve succeeded in spades. This will pack ’em in for years to come.

It’s a spectacle of a very particular sort and — especially if you bring along a kid — it pretty much gets the job done, as hokey as it is. I did bring a kid and she had a blast (“I’ve never seen ceilings so tall!” she exclaimed after entering the lobby of Radio City for the very first time.) As we walked out at the end, she was gobsmacked to hear they do another, different show in the fall. “Really?” she said, wide-eyed. We’ll be coming back, apparently.

It’s a simple story, just like whatever plot they use each year to hang the various set pieces on the Christmas Spectacular. This time, it’s about a billionaire (Tony winner Laura Benanti) who wants to fire the lovable old coot named Bernie (Lenny Wolpe) who does her NYC tours and replace him with a virtual Bernie! Virtual Bernies rarely ask for overtime, of course. Meanwhile, an angel named Jack (Derek Hough of Dancing With The Stars) wants to earn his wings. His task? Convince billionaire Jenny to take Bernie’s tour, discover the magic of the real New York and real people and save Bernie’s job. If you’re wondering what happens…well, actually, no one wonders what happens in a show like this.

The show starts with an orchestra popping up and diving right into the classic “Rhapsody In Blue;” subtlety is not on tap here. Before you know it, we’ve got our set-up, some high kicking from the Rockettes, a Taylor Swift song and we’re off to the races. The show swings through landmarks like the Metropolitan Museum Of Art, the New York Public Library, a fashion show, every sports arena you can think of, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and more, all delivered with a dusting of magic thanks to the angel Jack and about a gazillion taped celebrity cameos.

It’s neatly done with a high-powered creative team including Mia Michaels of my preferred dance show So You Think You Can Dance doing the opener, Diane Paulus & Randy Weiner working as a creative team of overseers, a mild book by Joshua Harmon of the wildly acclaimed play Bad Jews, original songs by Gary Barlow & Eliot Kennedy and all of it helmed by choreographer and director Warren Carlyle. What’s remarkable is that despite all these disparate talents and what must have been heavy corporate oversight on a hugely important financial gamble, the show actually has a pulse and a little personality. A few laughs, lots of virtual highlights of the city, a moment of adult romance for the folks and then it’s over.

While they have a similar spirit, the difference between this and the Christmas Spectacular are many. One, that show is essentially an old fashioned revue; all the modern add-ons in recent years like 3-D and video feel like awkward fits meant to keep the show “current.” In contrast, the Spring Spectacular has been conceived from the start with all sorts of multi-media elements and they work together naturally and effectively. Two, it’s called the Christmas Spectacular so despite a generally secular air, the finale does bring out the Living Nativity and suddenly you get a quick blast of “Jesus is born!” This is not the Easter Spectacular, so while the Easter Bunny pops in and out, there’s absolutely no Easter message at the end. Yes, the story revolves around God (voiced by Whoopi Goldberg) giving an angel a task, but Easter it ain’t. Finally, this show has stars.

It must have been a much-debated idea to bring in a Tony-winning talent like Laura Benanti and give her top billing. Believe me, whatever they’re paying her, it’s not enough. The script is a smidge better than average but Benanti elevates the material tremendously. She strikes just the right note: wryly self-aware, but never undercutting the essential sincerity of the story. She makes bad jokes sort of work and makes the few good jokes funnier. She sings beautifully. She even manages to make the “surprise” of dancing with the Rockettes towards the end seem like it’s actually happening for the first time. They should beg her to come back next year. Derek Hough is an amiable presence as well, dancing nicely of course and handling his modest dramatic demands capably. He’s no singer but gets by easily enough, though I think he has one too many solos for a guy who is essentially a hoofer. Their presence pays off and is crucial to turning what could be an anonymous revue into something not bad.

While there’s a nominal storyline, the Spring Spectacular is really a string of set pieces, just like the fall edition. Many work, but some don’t.

The Rockettes — Golden. To my limited experience, they are used a lot more here than in the Christmas Spectacular and effectively so. The lone exception, oddly, is the big finale, a long, drawn-out and poorly choreographed affair that is underwhelming. Until Benanti comes out and they do those kicks, it’s surprisingly dull and should be reworked significantly for next season.

3-D and those glowing wristbands — Kids actually hate 3-D; just look at the dramatically falling numbers for 3-D movie attendance. (Studios make more and more of them and people go to them a lot less, primarily because kids hate the glasses.) Luckily, it’s a brief segment but since 3-D is not what a stage show is all about, this is one multi-media element that is worth dropping. No one would miss it. At least it’s brief. On the other hand, I thought the wristbands they handed out that glowed and changed colors whenever “magic” happened were a lot of bother for nothing. Yet the audience seemed to be continually amused by them. Still, surely they can do something more with them other than one brief, raise-your-hand segment.

Movie clips — A compilation of movie clips celebrating New York City was a savvy breather, proving entertaining and giving the stage a chance to reset for a new number. Hey, Radio City has a history of exhibiting movies so it makes sense. But The Godfather? Really?

Met Museum — The first stop on the tour set the tone. After a few mild jokes you realize a slightly more sophisticated air would prevail rather than just dancing elves (or in this case, bunnies).

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler — They voiced the lions in front of the Public Library. It’s a good example of the show’s use of sophisticated technology in service of a simple effect — talking with the lions. The show is filled with celebrity cameos, most of them harmless but some of them effective, like this. Their jokes were pretty good and it revealed that this Spring Spectacular would focus heavily on using the entire space of Radio City Music Hall. At times, the roof was illuminated to look like the ceiling in Grand Central Station, the walls featured pictures of immigrants who came to America, t-shirts were shot out of cannons into the crowd, ushers tossed around free boxes of popcorn and in this segment the two lions quizzed audience members (including one effective plant) on New York trivia. The sense of a big party, that the show was spilling out into the audience was a smart move.

Don’t buy your umbrellas on the street — A solid “Singin’ In The Rain” segment featured Derek Hough. In the performance I saw, he was suddenly saddled with an umbrella that fell apart. Hough handled the snafu like a pro but it’s a good lesson for tourists: don’t buy umbrellas on the street; they last about five minutes. This was the peak chance for Jared Grimes to shine (he plays Benanti’s numbers guy) and he tapped well. Maybe I’m too sensitive — it does mimic the film, after all — but I’d tweak their interactions with the cop.

The romance — One didn’t really expect a moving storyline from this, so it’s hardly a disappointment. But the entire purpose of the tour we’re taking is to have the Laura Benanti character open up to the fun of a real tour guide and the pleasures of New York City, while falling in love with the angel Jack. Instead, time and again, something magical takes place involving Jack or the grandkids of Bernie the tour guide while Benanti and her right hand man Grimes would be off to the side, oblivious while chatting on their cell phones. Huh? It’s a missed opportunity not to see her won over as each stop reveals something more magical than the one before. The sense of her opening up is utterly lost simply from the staging. She should be a part of the fun right away, first reluctantly and then more and more willingly.

The original songs — Forgettable. They should lean even more on instantly recognizable classics and current tunes like Taylor Swift’s “Welcome To New York,” not originals. Since she’s practically a cheerleader, the Swift tune works particularly well here as backdrop for the Rockettes.

More dogs! — It’s astonishing how thrilled audiences are to see live dogs on stage in a theatrical setting. Any show — play, drama, musical, “happening” — if you bring on a dog, audiences will melt. This show has an almost constant parade of doggies, putting the corgis in The Audience to shame.

The sports cavalcade — One section has Bernie the tour guide trying to accomplish a feat of sportsmanship like scoring a goal in hockey or hitting a home run. Unlike say the museum section, which went to just the Met, here they decide to go to every single sporting event in the city, complete with a banal celebrity cameo. It’s like a parent who tries to overstuff your trip by going to seventeen stops in a day when five stops enjoyed at leisure would be far more memorable. This is a dutiful “checking off” segment and it falls flat. Choose one sporting venue — Yankee Stadium of course — and make it fun. Sure, they wanted to give sports fans (ie. little boys, or so they imagine) their due. But it’s a real bore. Yet it’s not as bad as….

The fashion show — This is the show’s number one clunker, an almost absurdly dull and out of place attempt to give fashion a moment to shine. We see faux fashion shows complete with models and photographers while videos of top fashion designers like Isaac Mizrahi describe what inspires them. They let the educational aspect of the show overwhelm them here. If they must, they can keep the futuristic fashion display complete with Rockettes in LED costumes. But they must drop the rest of the segment as a very bad idea, very poorly done. Because this is so female-oriented, they follow this with the laborious sports segment I mentioned above. (It’s not exactly a thrill to see video of a sports star chanting “Go Bernie!”) This back-to-back misfire is by far the show’s weakest area. It’s also easily fixed; shorten or remove both immediately. Take the kids on a bathroom break right here.

All in all, despite some dull passages, it was a trim and mildly amusing event. Not theater as such, but a decent spectacle. Mind you, there’s an hilarious disconnect between a show extolling the virtues of a live tour guide and seeing the sights of New York…all while giving you a virtual tour of New York. But pointing that out seems pointless in this silly context.

Benanti bears pointing out, though. She’s worth her weight in gold and you should knock off half a star or more when imagining the show without her. Hough was also good, though here’s one more tweak for them: under no circumstance should he be taking the final bow. It makes no sense in terms of star power in New York City and hey, their characters just fell in love! It seems awfully ungallant. She should go last or at most they should bow together. But the show itself can take a bow or at least heave a sigh of relief. After a very stormy process, they’ve got themselves a crowd-pleasing hit.

THE HEIDI CHRONICLES * out of ****
MUSIC BOX THEATRE

Oh dear. I was warily looking forward to seeing this revival of The Heidi Chronicles, though I feared the beloved Wendy Wasserstein’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play had been wildly overpraised in 1988 and would not date well. To be fair, this is a weak production. But I doubt even an ideal one would do more than bring back misty memories of when a female playwright seemed bold just for being present and commanding attention. Luckily, we have a lot more substantial female playwrights around, thanks in part to Wasserstein (though not nearly enough). So we can treat this simply as a play and not the pathbreaker it was.

The story depicts the chronicles of Heidi, though when a secondary character makes that reference it seems odd and out of place. She’s far from the most storied member of her circle and often seems like a bystander in life, at least as seen here. Nonetheless, we meet the esteemed art historian Heidi Holland giving a lecture on important but overlooked female painters throughout history in 1989.

Then we flash back to Heidi meeting the two major men in her life: best pal and future out gay man Peter Patrone (Bryce Pinkham, very appealing) and brash, masculine, confident and smart Scoop Rosenbaum (a fine Jason Biggs). Scoop is untrustworthy in love and Heidi proves the touchstone of his life as Scoop marries and cheats and makes loads of money. What might his life had been if he’d proven worthy of her? She would have married him, Scoop declares. Yes, but I wouldn’t have stayed married to you, Heidi replies in one of the better retorts in this retort-heavy affair.

We dance through decades, charting the progress of women and gays, successful careers, the launch of Scoop’s magazine for Baby Boomers, a pal’s TV producing career, the spectre of AIDS and so on. It’s a quick, superficial trip so you better not blink.

This production has many faults such as an ugly set design that combines sort-of period furniture with slapped-on visuals from each era, as well as atrocious costumes that look like the sort of thing you’d don for a very broad SNL sketch. Indeed, the entire evening feels like a series of strung-together SNL sketches, from the feminist consciousness raising segment to a local TV segment where the otherwise thoughtful Peter is suddenly cutting off Heidi in mid-sentence to score his moment in the sun. (We expect that from Scoop, not Peter.) And again Heidi remains passive, though when she later describes not scoring better on this eight minute segment on a local TV show as one of the major regrets in her life, I can only hope she’s joking.

But the major flaw is the play itself, which begins superficially and gets worse. Take Heidi’s friendship with Peter. He is the best and most enduring relationship she has. And yet, they barely seem on the periphery of each other’s lives. We see them meeting, we see him coming out, we see them re-connecting, we see them at weddings and so on. But they always seem to be catching up. Towards the end, Heidi hasn’t been able to reach him for a while and interrupts Peter to say she’s taken a teaching job far away and leaving the city, a massive change in her life that Peter knows nothing about even though they live in the same city. He breaks down because it’s the late 1980s and friends are the only family a gay man has. Why is he sad and angry? Because all his friends are dying; all he does is go to funeral after funeral and memorial service after memorial service. Doesn’t she understand?

But what the hell? This is news to her? Isn’t she attending at least some of these funerals? Her best friend is gay, works in medicine, indeed shields HIV positive children from bigots, he’s losing friends and lovers left and right and Heidi has to be told what’s going on? That would make sense if they hadn’t spoken in years. But as far as I can tell, they’re best friends.

Her female friends seem even more distant. The consciousness raising segment doesn’t feel like a scene where Heidi makes friends for life. It’s just a series of jokes. When Scoop’s wife and a friend of Heidi’s seem to know each other, I’m confused. How did their paths cross? When all these women seem to know Scoop is cheating yet again, I’m even more confused. They barely seem to know each other; when do they trade gossip?

Heidi’s best female friend (or at least longest, since by and large Heidi seems alone) swoops in from LA and pitches Heidi on coming up with ideas for a sitcom set in the art world. Has she met Heidi? Heidi is the least pop savvy, least sitcom-friendly person around. She is (presumably) immersed in the art of past centuries. What could conceivably make Heidi seem like a good idea for a consultant on a sitcom? And are they really friends? They keep saying so but it’s hard to believe.

Indeed, the entire show feels disconnected. Elizabeth Moss is a marvelous actor on film. I’m not sure her style will transmit to the stage but she certainly doesn’t have her legs yet. Wonderfully subtle and compelling on Mad Men, here she seems to have wandered into most scenes and barely draws your eye. Moss and everyone else seem to be speaking in italics, which is my phrase for when scripted dialogue sounds exactly like scripted dialogue. You almost start to look for the cue cards. Pinkham does this from the start and almost to a fault. At first I thought it was an adolescent tick for his character; but he continues throughout the show. And yet his performance is the most effective one here, somehow. Biggs is fine but all the rest feel like stock characters given stock characterizations. I was just thinking how I hate plays and movies that echo a line of dialogue from early in the work to remind us of the connection that these characters have…and then this show does it. Twice. Both men and Heidi recite so much dialogue from the first time they met some 20 years earlier I wondered why they didn’t just do a flashback.

Heidi is a very passive character and frankly uninteresting character. The only time she really shows any personality is when she’s alone on stage, delivering a speech or lecture. But even here Wasserstein undercuts her heroine. It would be nice to know Heidi is a pro at her career if a bit lost in her private life (a cliche, but still). Instead, even her lectures are undercut by some goofy attempts at humor when surely Heidi should be razor sharp. And her big monologue is a speech about the future of women where she breaks down weeping. That’s the peak for our strong, independent female who is forging her own path in life? When Heidi adopts a baby towards the end, it feels like an accessory, no more meaningful a step for her than the acclaimed scholarly work she published feels like a real career peak.

This is thin stuff un-enlivened by the star power on display. Perhaps a powerhouse actress with stage chops could bring something more to the character of Heidi, make her not seem a bystander in her own play. But that wouldn’t change the fact that The Heidi Chronicles is a dated time capsule — one of those time capsules lodged in cornerstones in small towns all over the country. It contains the usual items — events of the day, “timely” issues, pop songs, hair styles, political and social references and so on. It’s not particularly unique or revealing and when you get right down to it, not very interesting.

THE TALLEST TREE IN THE FOREST ** out of ****
BROOKLYN ACADEMY OF MUSIC

Actor and activist Paul Robeson is a fascinating, even tragic character. Once the most influential and well known black man in America, he fell under the wheel of the McCarthy Era and died a shadow of his former self in the 1970s. We’re still waiting for a great movie or miniseries or stage play that tackles this titanic figure. This one-man show written and performed by Daniel Beaty is a potent reminder of Robeson’s remarkable trajectory. But Beaty simply isn’t up to the demands of creating multiple characters on stage and delineating them one from the other on a dime. It’s cleanly directed by Moisés Kaufman with all the tech elements nicely judged. I’d happily hear Beaty give a lecture on Robeson. Unfortunately, a stage play that feels more like a lecture is not so satisfying.

The Tallest Tree In The Forest begins with Robeson being commanded to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in the 1950s. Then it jumps back to his childhood and the tragic loss of his brother out of Robeson’s life, his academic achievements and how he almost stumbled into performance. Actually, even here the play drops the ball: Robeson is an excellent student and then out of nowhere we’re told he gives concerts to raise money to pay his tuition. Really? When did he discover his voice? How did it flourish? Were these concerts the first time he performed in public beyond say the church choir? The arts would prove his calling but we miss how it all began.

The show moves on, with Robeson becoming a lawyer but quitting out of disgust for the virulent prejudice he faced. He’s cast in the London production of Show Boat, becomes a star and yet still finds prejudice wherever he turns. A chance encounter with a coal miners’ march lights an activist fire, illuminating here what Beaty failed to do with Robeson’s musical passion. Soon he is constantly balancing his performances with calls for social justice. Robeson is treated with honor and respect in the Soviet Union, a country where officially all races are treated equally in its governing document. That sparked a passionate appreciation for communism, one that would ultimately doom our hero in the eyes of the public.

His life is so complex and rich, a show about it can’t help but be interesting. Still the play Beaty has written is of the very blunt variety. Robeson’s father might walk up and say, “Son, I’m so proud of you. You’re the third black man to attend this university.” Or Robeson might say to a woman he’s just met, “I’ve heard of you. You’re the first black woman to achieve such a high position at this institution….” I’m paraphrasing but you get the idea; information is ladled out in chunks.

Worse, Beaty is not a master of multiple characters. His attempts at a Welsh coal miner and a Jewish dissident are unfortunate in the extreme, but many people come and go via awkward, unconvincing attempts at characterization.

Even Robeson himself has an accent that wanders here and there. Yes, sometimes Robeson is speaking one way in public and another in private, but by and large it’s a failing on the actor’s part. I was often unsure who was talking; in a one-man show, that’s death. Keeping each character specific and clear so we always know who is speaking is essential. Beaty is successful at creating two vivid characters, both women. Robeson’s wife Essie was always a distinct person and I knew immediately whenever she was speaking. Similarly, a brief monologue from a professor on why Robeson and indeed anyone who speaks up about class and labor is erased from US history also came alive for me.

Those are the exceptions, unfortunately. Along with the play’s didactic nature, it also fails to give Robeson his complicated due. Like many on the left that embraced the Soviet Union, he found it hard if not impossible to accept the brutal reality of that totalitarian state. Fair enough, but here Robeson is almost noble in refusing to listen to the pleas of Jewish friends and denounce their treatment and indeed execution in the USSR. And why? Because he’s worried about enabling a third world war and nuclear annihilation. It’s a little more complicated than that in the show, but not much. Robeson led a remarkable life and it’s easy to see why Beaty or anyone would burn to tell this story. But doing it well is another matter entirely.

THEATER OF 2015

Honeymoon In Vegas **
The Woodsman ***
Constellations ** 1/2
Taylor Mac’s A 24 Decade History Of Popular Music 1930s-1950s ** 1/2
Let The Right One In **
Da no rating
A Month In The Country ** 1/2
Parade in Concert at Lincoln Center ** 1/2
Hamilton at the Public ***
The World Of Extreme Happiness ** 1/2
Broadway By The Year 1915-1940 **
Verite * 1/2
Fabulous! *
The Mystery Of Love & Sex **
An Octoroon at Polonsky Shakespeare Center *** 1/2
Fish In The Dark *
The Audience ***
Josephine And I ***
Posterity * 1/2
The Hunchback Of Notre Dame **
Lonesome Traveler **
On The Twentieth Century ***
New York Spring Spectacular ** 1/2
The Heidi Chronicles
The Tallest Tree In The Forest * 1/2

_____________

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the founder and CEO of the forthcoming website BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. It’s like a fall book preview or holiday gift guide — but every week in every category. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day and features top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website and his daily blog. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

Note: Michael Giltz is provided with free tickets to shows with the understanding that he will be writing a review. All productions are in New York City unless otherwise indicated.
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Theater: Jane Austen On Stage? Bedlam Ensues!

THE SEAGULL *** out of ****
SENSE & SENSIBILITY *** 1/2 out of ****
BEDLAM AT THE SHEEN CENTER

Others — led of course by the New York Times — have acclaimed Bedlam as a theatrical company of exceptional quality. See their latest productions of Chekhov’s The Seagull and a new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility done in repertory and you’ll immediately know why. They’re a strong ensemble with versatile actors and a keen intelligence devoted to the pure theater extolled by Cheek By Jowl and others right up the recent Peter and The Starcatcher. It’s theater that exults in the marriage of their talents and your imagination to create something special that needs no elaborate sets or frippery. The Chekhov is good (no small feat). The Austen is delightful and near masterful. And I will be certain to see whatever they do next.

You know the stories. In The Seagull, a famed actress heads to the country for a rest, only to have her petulant son Konstantin throw a fit when she giggles at his “play” and her lover — a writer who, she believes, should be thrilled to have her — grows besotted with a much younger ingenue. Meanwhile, the son is the object of affection for Masha, a woman he cannot see while she in turn is stalked by an obdurately dull school teacher named Medvedenko who makes less than $ 2000 a year and has no source of conversation other than the injustice of such a thing. It does not end well.

In Sense and Sensibility, the Dashwood women are thrown onto hard times by a weak-willed half-brother and his viperish wife. The willful younger sister Marianne is admired by the sober and deeply worthy Colonel Brandon but has her head turned by the dashing and feckless John Willoughby. The reserved and appealing older sister Elinor forms a deep attachment to the modest and equally reserved Edward Ferrars. But all seems to conspire against them and they are so careful of their emotions you despair of them even beginning a courtship much less consummating one. It ends very well because of course this is Austen. Her greatness lies in making the happy ending not inevitable but real and wholly earned.

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Both plays begin and end with a dance. Ending with a dance is an Elizabethan tradition carried on by the Globe in London and it’s a delightful one. In The Seagull, it feels a bit random and beside the point, though not a bother. In Sense & Sensibility, it is integrated more wholly into the show: the cast dances around in modern dress and then slowly disrobes their outer garments to reveal period dress as their dance reverts from modern free-for-all to the more formal style of Austen’s era.

Indeed, many of the directorial flourishes in Seagull feel a little unnecessary. The Russian play features a dramatic set change from act one to act two. In act one we are watching via stadium seating as the mostly outdoor scenes are performed. In act two, we move to a semi-circular seating around the action that is much more intimate and involving. While the staging would have been trickier, you only wish the whole show had been done that way because it’s so well-suited to the work. Jarringly, the young would-be playwright Konstantin (played by the director Ken Tucker) pops up in a silly red devil costume that feels more low-brow Will Ferrell than witty.

But these are minor concerns since most of the actors are spot-on and immediately involving. Vaishnavi Sharma is wonderful as the self-involved star, making her more human and less indifferent than I’ve seen before without ever underplaying her self-regard. Jason O’Connell is equally compelling as the writer Trigorin. The scene where she opens herself to him and we see the vain actress slip away and the insecure woman of a certain age remains is very moving. Up and down the cast holds our attention, from the doctor (Nigel Gore) right down to Masha, the daughter of the estate’s manager who is forlornly in love with Konstantin. She’s played by Andrus Nichols, who was so compelling that when my guest and I wondered who might play the lead in Sense we both hoped it would be her (and had our hopes confirmed). Even the often ponderous teacher Medvedenko is played by Samantha Steinmetz with wonderfully droll comic timing worthy of Ellen Degeneres at her best.

The weak links unfortunately are Tucker as Konstantin and Laura Baranik as the aspiring actress Nina who is wooed and destroyed by the writer Trigorin. Partially, it’s casting. We accept Steinmetz as a male teacher but somehow Tucker’s size and age make it hard to see him as the son of Sharma. And Baranik isn’t quite up to the devastation of Nina. This means the final scene where Tucker and Baranik survey their shattered lives falls somewhat flat. But a solid Seagull is no mean feat and the flat comic flourishes felt like minor missteps. Both of these actors fare much better in Sense & Sensibility.

Indeed, almost everyone fares much better in Sense and Sensibility. The set design is immediately promising: it includes elaborate floor to ceiling window panels on wheels that can be moved around to create a wall or separate areas or pulled back to frame a scene and allow outsiders to peer in on the action like the busybodies that pepper Austen’s novels. Another key feature are chairs on wheels. While Tucker clearly did very good work with the actors on Seagull, his every directorial intention is superbly successful in Sense & Sensibility. The audience lines the walls on two sides with the action taking place in the middle. He’s aided at every stage by the scenic design of John McDermott, the costumes of Angela Huff, the lighting of Les Dickert and especially the choreography of Alexandra Beller.

The show begins with the dance I described. Then the actors launch into a babble of conversation, each of them addressing audience members with the currency of the times: gossip. Those simple white chairs on wheels prove wonderfully versatile. During a dinner party, the actors are arrayed around the space a large table would occupy. But when one character begins to timidly offer a tidbit of social news, others swoop in like sharks smelling blood; they herd her off into a corner, forcing every vital drop of news from her lips. At other times, when say Elinor hears distressing news, her chair is wheeled around and around across the large rectangular stage in dizzying dismay. A carriage ride is handled deftly and amusingly without straining for laughs. A scene of two young women chatting with superficial politeness is staged like a duel, with each of them at opposite ends of the stage on their little white chairs, like gunfighters facing off on the main street of a town. A dozen other moments are handled with similar ingenuity and cleverness.

The boisterous and essentially harmless if overwhelming Mrs. Jennings is an ideal fit for Tucker, who here uses his imposing size to marvelous effect without ever stopping to caricature. If anything, she’s more delightfully menacing than a figure of fun. When the Dashwood women meet her and their other relations, Tucker simply has them bark out howls to indicate the pack of dogs that follow them everywhere, a neatly disorienting effect that is hilarious and slightly unnerving at the same time as you almost look here and there for the animals that seem to have invaded the stage.

And the cast rises to the occasion of Austen’s brilliant novel and this excellent adaptation by Kate Hamill (who plays the passionate Marianne). Gore is very good as the Doctor in Seagull but he’s even better as the moving Colonel Brandon. His monologue detailing the dastardly life of John Willoughby may be the show’s emotional high point. Similarly, John Russell is fine as the prickly estate manager in Seagull but really good as both the dashing Willoughby and the spineless half-brother of our heroines. (One scene where he enthusiastically greets his sisters sans wife is a bit split personality; perhaps he should seem a tad more apologetic in his enthusiastic greeting? Otherwise, his work is impeccable.)

I can go up and down the line. Thanks to Tucker’s inventive but always emotionally motivated direction and staging, the actors shine. Steinmetz scores again in two wonderfully opposite turns as Mrs. Dashwood and the silly Anne Steele. Baranik fares much better as the villains Fanny Dashwood and Lucy Steele than she did as Nina; nastiness suits her. Andrus Nichols fulfills my expectations as the intelligent and sensible — almost too sensible — Elinor. Jason O’Connell is sweetly tentative as Edward Ferrars and his scenes with Elinor are brimming with unspoken affection. Sharma — the best thing in Seagull — is strong as the littlest Dashwood, a role that might easily have been played too broadly and for laughs.

But here the playwright modestly lets herself down. The willful Marianne is not an easy role and while Hamill shines as adaptor, she is fine but not exceptional as that impetuous young woman who must maintain our sympathy while being an utter dolt, not to mention emotionally imploding at various key moments.

One can sense director Tucker’s leanings towards broad humor leading him astray in Seagull. That tendency is in check most of the time in Sense. When an intended betrothal enrages the Ferrars, the scene where they pile on in a fit of indignation worthy of a rugby scrum works well because it’s a bit of gossip being related to a third party. The exaggeration is amusing. If it were the actual scene unfolding, the staging would be ludicrous and out of sorts with the tone of the show.

Unfortunately, that pratfall instinct overwhelms the finale. Elinor and Edward are finally meeting, finally free to declare their love. She’s just had the supreme disappointment of misunderstanding that Edward has married another. He gently, diffidently, tentatively, sweetly clears up the confusion…and she runs screaming from the room. This moment of slapstick tragically robs us of one of the great passages of understated passion in any work of art.

So this Sense and Sensibility gets the humor and certainly the gossipy, unforgiving world of high society to a “t.” Its staging is — with that glaring exception — impeccable and truly inventive. It’s worthy of a much longer run on a bigger stage and it ranks as one of the best shows of the year. But it does not move you nearly as much as the novel does and a great adaptation should. Still, it’s only a few tweaks and — my apologies to the excellent adaptor — perhaps a switch in casting away.

Already, it ranks as perhaps the greatest stage adaptation of this novel in history. That’s not as high praise as it should be since I slowly realized how very rarely Jane Austen has actually been adapted to the stage at least on Broadway and as far as I can tell the West End. Even though her novels are marvels of dialogue and character and brimming with plot, they have almost never made it onto the boards, despite an endless stream of versions on TV and at the movies. It’s certainly the first time I’ve seen a stage production of any of her work. Here and there a musical version is attempted, but even that rarely. Austen’s sightings on Broadway are rare to the point of bemusement. A stage adaptation of Pride & Prejudice ran for six months beginning in 1935 (and was turned into the marvelous 1940 film starring Laurence Olivier). In 1959, a musical spin on Pride & Prejudice ran for just over two months. And that’s it. What can possibly explain it?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single novel in possession of a good plot must be in want of an adaptation. Finally, Sense & Sensibility has received a theatrical one worthy of it.

THEATER OF 2014

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical ***
Rodney King ***
Hard Times ** 1/2
Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead **
I Could Say More *
The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner **
Machinal ***
Outside Mullingar ***
A Man’s A Man * 1/2
The Tribute Artist ** 1/2
Transport **
Prince Igor at the Met **
The Bridges Of Madison County ** 1/2
Kung Fu (at Signature) **
Stage Kiss ***
Satchmo At The Waldorf ***
Antony and Cleopatra at the Public **
All The Way ** 1/2
The Open House (Will Eno at Signature) ** 1/2
Wozzeck (at Met w Deborah Voigt and Thomas Hampson and Simon O’Neill)
Hand To God ***
Tales From Red Vienna **
Appropriate (at Signature) *
Rocky * 1/2
Aladdin ***
Mothers And Sons **
Les Miserables *** 1/2
Breathing Time * 1/2
Cirque Du Soleil’s Amaluna * 1/2
Heathers The Musical * 1/2
Red Velvet, at St. Ann’s Warehouse ***
Broadway By The Year 1940-1964 *** 1/2
A Second Chance **
Guys And Dolls *** 1/2
If/Then * 1/2
The Threepenny Opera * 1/2
A Raisin In The Sun *** 1/2
The Heir Apparent *** 1/2
The Realistic Joneses ***
Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar & Grill ***
The Library **
South Pacific ** 1/2
Violet ***
Bullets Over Broadway **
Of Mice And Men **
The World Is Round ***
Your Mother’s Copy Of The Kama Sutra **
Hedwig and the Angry Inch ***
The Cripple Of Inishmaan ***
The Great Immensity * 1/2
Casa Valentina ** 1/2
Act One **
Inventing Mary Martin **
Cabaret ***
An Octoroon *** 1/2
Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging ***
Here Lies Love *** 1/2
6th Annual August Wilson Monologue Competition
Sea Marks * 1/2
A Time-Traveler’s Trip To Niagara * 1/2
Selected Shorts: Neil Gaiman ***
Too Much Sun * 1/2
Broadway By The Year 1965-1989 ***
In The Park **
The Essential Straight & Narrow ** 1/2
Much Ado About Nothing ***
When We Were Young And Unafraid
Savion Glover’s Om **
Broadway By The Year 1990-2014 ***
The Lion ***
Holler If Ya Hear Me * 1/2
The Ambassador Revue ** 1/2
Dubliners: A Quartet ***
The National High School Musical Theater Awards *** 1/2
Wayra — Fuerza Bruta * 1/2
Strictly Dishonorable *** 1/2 out of ****
Between Riverside And Crazy ***
The Wayside Motor Inn ***
Bootycandy ***
Mighty Real ***
This Is Our Youth ***
Rock Bottom * 1/2
Almost Home * 1/2
Rococo Rouge **
Love Letters ** 1/2
The Money Shot ** 1/2
The Old Man and the Old Moon *** 1/2
You Can’t Take It With You * 1/2 out of ****
Can-Can at Papermill ** 1/2
The Country House ** 1/2
Cinderella ** 1/2
Shakespeare’s Sonnets at BAM (Rufus Wainwright, Robert Wilson) ***
When January Feels Like Summer ** 1/2
It’s Only A Play ***
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time *** 1/2
Found **
Generations ** 1/2
On The Town **
The Belle Of Amherst **
The Fortress Of Solitude *** 1/2
When Father Comes Home From The Wars Parts 1, 2 & 3 *** 1/2
Disgraced **
The Real Thing ** 1/2
The Last Ship ***
Ghost Quartet *** 1/2
Show Boat ***
Sticks and Bones **
The Seagull by Bedlam ***
Sense and Sensibility by Bedlam *** 1/2
Saturday Night/Musicals In Mufti ***

_____________

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the founder and CEO of the forthcoming website BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. It’s like a fall book preview or holiday gift guide — but every week in every category. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day and features top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website and his daily blog. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

Note: Michael Giltz is provided with free tickets to shows with the understanding that he will be writing a review. All productions are in New York City unless otherwise indicated.
Entertainment – The Huffington Post
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Theater: ‘Fortress Of Solitude’ Soars At The Public

THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE *** 1/2 out of ****
THE PUBLIC THEATER

Musicals cover every topic under the sun: rebellion, forbidden love, politics, passion, war, peace, family, despair, death and of course love in all its forms. But friendship — that enduring aspect of our lives (especially in a world where marriages come and go) — friendship is not often at the heart of a show. It is the sweet center and driving force in The Fortress Of Solitude, a new musical at the Public based on the novel by Jonathan Lethem.

Friendship is the entire story of the first act, where Dylan (Adam Chanler-Berat), the rare white kid growing up in Brooklyn in the late 1970s, is rescued and befriended by Mingus (Kyle Beltran). This is a show with a lot going on, thanks to a rich and satisfying book by Itamar Moses. They cover race (of course) and the changing times and gentrification and music, always music, from the complex choral work that dominates many key moments to the convincing dives into pop, soul, rap and punk.

Yes, the story drifts into too familiar territory — with the more privileged white boy becoming a rock critic and the less privileged black kid slipping inexorably into dark times — and yes these good friends drift apart, which just isn’t fun. But ain’t that life? The show is shaggy and a little awkward as it crams in everything it wants from the joys of listening to music and breaking down one particular song to comic books to tagging to escaping bullies to girls. That’s part of the particular charm of this show. This is no polished, tourist-eyeing product. It’s an original, fresh and fascinating work and one of the best musicals of the year. It isn’t perfect and I’d love to see it again.

I can’t speak to the novel, which I haven’t read, but doubtless the show captures its spirit because there’s so much of that on tap here. The uniformly excellent cast brings characters large and small to life, from the girls on the block who skip rope and provide running commentary to record producers, back-up singers, and countless others. Eighteen actors are listed but they seem like many more.

It begins with Dylan moving into Brooklyn at the behest of his mom Rachel (Kristen Sieh). She wants to make a statement and be part of change, all those liberal Seventies aspirations, right down to her bell-bottoms. She also takes off, leaving her family behind for good. Sieh has a small role, but thanks to the excellent costumes of Jessica Pabst we immediately buy her as the sort of person who would take off and indulge herself at the expense of her son. Sieh is the sole weak voice in the show, but her character leaves a convincing void in Dylan’s life.

That lost boy gets by as well as he can, trying to avoid the local bully Robert (an excellent Brian Tyree Henry). When he’s not asking his somewhat hapless painter father Abraham (Ken Barnett) if when mom is coming home, Dylan is listening to the albums she left behind, especially a now obscure soul artist named Barrett Rude Junior (Kevin Mambo, impressively broken down).

Lo and behold, when Dylan is taken under the wing of another kid who doesn’t like to see him pushed around, it’s Mingus Rude (a haunting and winning Kyle Beltran). They become friends thanks to Dylan’s persistence and soon enough they’re talking comic books, hanging out all the time and becoming bolder and bolder about the graffiti tags Mingus is leaving on subway cars.

Okay, maybe I love the show because its central character is a freelance writer, a rock critic to be exact. But the first act truly soars as it captures the growing friendship of these two kids. Chanler-Berat was such a charmer in Peter And The Starcatcher. Here he captures the mildly geeky but endearing Dylan with quiet charisma to spare, proving himself a star, the best nerdy sex symbol since Anthony Rapp in Rent.

Barnett matches him moment to moment as the more complicated and conflicted Mingus. He’s got a dad sinking into despair and drugs, a granddad who gets out of prison and immediately starts hounding the local teenage girls when he’s not preaching hellfire (a commanding Andre De Shields with equally commanding hair) and not a lot to look forward to at school.

So many elements work beautifully in this first act, with every technical element doing their best as the show segues seamlessly from urban grit to a flashback of Barrett Rude Junior in his heyday (complete with a song that does indeed sound like a lost soul nugget) and always the sense of a community surrounding all of this. Scan the credits: every single artist involved is working in top form, right down to the orchestrations of John Clancy and additional orchestrations of Matt Beck that capture so many styles of music, often in the same elaborate sequence. (Kudos to the sound design of Robert Kaplowitz working overtime as well.)

But you don’t remember dazzle; you remember the characters, the way Dylan is quietly singing along to a song by Mingus’s dad and how it touches and amuses his friend, how Mingus is perplexed by Dylan putting all of his comic books into plastic sleeves, the passion when Dylan breaks down a soul classic during a lecture, the unself-conscious way they hold hands when “soaring” above the city as superheroes, tagging subway cars and wearing capes.

Of course, it ends, as childhood always does. Dylan and Mingus drift apart, starting with Dylan’s chance to switch to a better school. Act Two is less enjoyable as the link between these two vivid characters begins to fray and they are essentially apart. But the music is always there throughout the show, from Robert’s convincing rap to the spot-on mimicking of the Ramones on “High High High School” to shout-outs to almost every genre you can name that flourished in that era.

The signature style of the music and lyrics of Michael Friedman is not that effective and engaging display of chameleon-like ability. It’s the choral moments, the songs where one character is singing one song and another character is singing another and they overlap and come together, sometimes seamlessly, sometimes discordantly, but always with purpose and style.

This is a complex and rich show directed with style by Daniel Aukin and choreographed with grace by Camille A. Brown. Sometimes, one viewing of a movie or one reading of a book or certainly one listen to an album just isn’t enough to appreciate it fully. (Just ask Dylan!) I look forward to the recording of a cast album so I can take it in again and again.

In 2012, I saw the musical Giant at the Public and that big, bold, hugely appealing show should have jumped immediately to Broadway. It’s distressing to say the least that a work like that which “belonged” on Broadway hasn’t gone there yet. The Fortress Of Solitude is funkier, baggier, goofier, stranger and just as impressive. I don’t know its commercial fate and what life it’s going to have after this run. But I know its artistic fate: The Fortress Of Solitude will flourish.

THEATER OF 2014

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical ***
Rodney King ***
Hard Times ** 1/2
Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead **
I Could Say More *
The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner **
Machinal ***
Outside Mullingar ***
A Man’s A Man * 1/2
The Tribute Artist ** 1/2
Transport **
Prince Igor at the Met **
The Bridges Of Madison County ** 1/2
Kung Fu (at Signature) **
Stage Kiss ***
Satchmo At The Waldorf ***
Antony and Cleopatra at the Public **
All The Way ** 1/2
The Open House (Will Eno at Signature) ** 1/2
Wozzeck (at Met w Deborah Voigt and Thomas Hampson and Simon O’Neill)
Hand To God ***
Tales From Red Vienna **
Appropriate (at Signature) *
Rocky * 1/2
Aladdin ***
Mothers And Sons **
Les Miserables *** 1/2
Breathing Time * 1/2
Cirque Du Soleil’s Amaluna * 1/2
Heathers The Musical * 1/2
Red Velvet, at St. Ann’s Warehouse ***
Broadway By The Year 1940-1964 *** 1/2
A Second Chance **
Guys And Dolls *** 1/2
If/Then * 1/2
The Threepenny Opera * 1/2
A Raisin In The Sun *** 1/2
The Heir Apparent *** 1/2
The Realistic Joneses ***
Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar & Grill ***
The Library **
South Pacific ** 1/2
Violet ***
Bullets Over Broadway **
Of Mice And Men **
The World Is Round ***
Your Mother’s Copy Of The Kama Sutra **
Hedwig and the Angry Inch ***
The Cripple Of Inishmaan ***
The Great Immensity * 1/2
Casa Valentina ** 1/2
Act One **
Inventing Mary Martin **
Cabaret ***
An Octoroon *** 1/2
Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging ***
Here Lies Love *** 1/2
6th Annual August Wilson Monologue Competition
Sea Marks * 1/2
A Time-Traveler’s Trip To Niagara * 1/2
Selected Shorts: Neil Gaiman ***
Too Much Sun * 1/2
Broadway By The Year 1965-1989 ***
In The Park **
The Essential Straight & Narrow ** 1/2
Much Ado About Nothing ***
When We Were Young And Unafraid
Savion Glover’s Om **
Broadway By The Year 1990-2014 ***
The Lion ***
Holler If Ya Hear Me * 1/2
The Ambassador Revue ** 1/2
Dubliners: A Quartet ***
The National High School Musical Theater Awards *** 1/2
Wayra — Fuerza Bruta * 1/2
Strictly Dishonorable *** 1/2 out of ****
Between Riverside And Crazy ***
The Wayside Motor Inn ***
Bootycandy ***
Mighty Real ***
This Is Our Youth ***
Rock Bottom * 1/2
Almost Home * 1/2
Rococo Rouge **
Love Letters ** 1/2
The Money Shot ** 1/2
The Old Man and the Old Moon *** 1/2
You Can’t Take It With You * 1/2 out of ****
Can-Can at Papermill ** 1/2
The Country House ** 1/2
Cinderella ** 1/2
Shakespeare’s Sonnets at BAM (Rufus Wainwright, Robert Wilson) ***
When January Feels Like Summer ** 1/2
It’s Only A Play ***
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time *** 1/2
Found **
Generations ** 1/2
On The Town **
The Belle Of Amherst **
The Fortress Of Solitude *** 1/2

_____________

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the founder and CEO of the forthcoming website BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. It’s like a fall book preview or holiday gift guide — but every week in every category. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day and features top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website and his daily blog. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

Note: Michael Giltz is provided with free tickets to shows with the understanding that he will be writing a review. All productions are in New York City unless otherwise indicated.
Arts – The Huffington Post
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Theater: Rufus And Robert Tackle Will; “When January Feels Like Summer”

SHAKESPEARE’S SONNETS *** out of ****
WHEN JANUARY FEELS LIKE SUMMER ** 1/2 out of ****

SHAKESPEARE’S SONNETS *** out of ****
BAM

What to do when reviewing theater? Do you scribble notes throughout about this bit of scenic design, that line of dialogue, a lighting cue? Or, like me, do you simply watch and experience the piece, assuming that if you can’t remember some particular detail, so be it? That is fairest to the work, I think, but it makes it awfully hard to discuss in detail a show like Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Director Robert Wilson has collaborated with artist Rufus Wainwright and the Berliner Ensemble on presenting a selection of Shakespeare’s classic works of poetry. Wilson has developed visual settings, Wainwright the music and the troupe of actors performs them.

Each sonnet is typically given its own presentation: sometimes the poem is declaimed and then sung in snatches and then declaimed in part again, with the music framing or underscoring the mood. Other times the poem is sung in part (with the odd work squawked out by an actor) and then certain lines repeated as text at the end to emphasize an emotion or idea. Still others are turned into duets or voiced by three or more, interrupted by spoken passages and then taken up again. In short, without a video to rewind, I can’t for the life of me give a detailed description of the evening.

If you are a fan of Wilson, you will be in familiar territory. If you are a fan of Wainwright, understand his voice is heard briefly and sometimes excellent music in varied styles pulses throughout but you’ll get few easy pop moments here. If you are a fan of Berliner Ensemble, surely any rare chance to see them in the US is welcome.

Is there a story? No, but there is a mood of melancholy and regret and humor and the absurdity of it all. Again and again the helpless joy and misery of love is brought to life in Shakespeare’s lines, often lifted up in song. Wilson needs a big stage but perhaps a grungy cabaret is the ideal setting for this piece. The black humor would come to the forefront and the formal air more quickly dispersed. But not many clubs could accommodate the wreck of a car stabbed onto the trunk of a tree like a memo on a spindle. Not many cabarets would allow a rather large Cupid to fly across the stage while sending an arrow straight towards the heart of Queen Elizabeth, albeit in Wilsonian slow motion.

Here’s a glimpse.

At first, the show seemed a series of set pieces. One could perhaps string together the sonnets about the Dark Lady or those directed to a beautiful young man and tell an emotional story of sorts. This show takes 27 sonnets to encircle the idea of love. Inevitably, one began ticking them off: I liked what they did with this one, can’t be bothered with that one and so on. The revue-like nature was emphasized by Georgette Dee, who strode along the lip of the stage during scene changes to mutter and moan and rave about love. Somehow, though her text might easily have played as camp, Dee underplayed its over-the-top nature and won me over.

But as Act Two began, the momentum picked up and the show took on a cohesive whole. It helped that the work seemed to progress from more spoken passages and individual solos to more and more singing and more group efforts, culminating in a genuinely moving presentation of Sonnet 129 and the final coda of Sonnet 66, where the speaker is tired of life and would gladly accept death if it didn’t mean leaving their love alone.

The work never achieved the focus and greatness of Wilson’s best work but had hypnotic passages of beauty nonetheless. Wainwright’s music was thrillingly malleable and would surely benefit from repeated listens. The costumes by Jacques Reynaud were exquisite and the ensemble typically strong. Stand-outs unquestionably included Dee, Angela Schmid as Shakespeare, Angela Winkler as the Fool and an imperious Jürgen Holtz as both Elizabeth I and II. It was generally a playful evening (Wilson even did a spin before taking his bow) yet the ache of the sad moments of music and the strange power of Wilson’s most striking images that linger.

Here’s a sonnet from a mounting of this piece years ago that gives you an idea of the visual style of the work.

And here’s Ralph Fiennes reading Sonnet 129, the penultimate piece of the evening.

WHEN JANUARY FEELS LIKE SUMMER ** 1/2 out of ****
ENSEMBLE STUDIO THEATRE

The Ensemble Studio Theatre and Women’s Project Theater have come together to present When January Feels Like Summer, a new play by Cori Thomas and directed by Daniella Topol that was first seen here in the spring and received strong reviews. Thomas is indeed a promising talent and her work presented with care by Topol and an excellent cast. Though the play was also mounted in Pennsylvania, one hopes Topol isn’t done working on it.

It begins on a subway train, where we later realize most of the main characters cross paths. They return to the subway at the finale, where stepping into a car symbolizes a hopeful future. Typically, this idea isn’t developed enough: why do their paths cross? We get no glimpse of what these characters might mean to each other in the future. And if the subway is going to be so totemic at the finale, shouldn’t it appear throughout the play?

In any case, the action soon centers on two siblings, immigrants from India who manage a bodega. One is Nirmala (Mahira Kakkar), the wife of a man who has been in a coma for years, brain dead and kept alive only by machines though she’s unable to pull the plug. Perhaps she feels so guilty about doing so because that husband has meant so little to her over the years. Her brother Ishan (Debargo Sanyal) certainly doesn’t believe in just waiting for things to happen. He unveils his true nature to Nirmala by becoming Indira. Gender reassignment surgery is very expensive and years of hormone therapy away, but Ishan/Indira is ready to get the ball rolling by dressing as a woman and taking her first steps toward claiming her identity and presenting it to the world.

Circling them is the shy sanitation worker Joe (Dion Graham), who has a crush on Nirmala. And the comic relief comes from two young men Jeron (Carter Redwood) and Devaun (Maurice Williams). They goof around talking about women on the train, work at Burger King and dream of time and a half or at least making time. Devaun is the smooth talker but Jeron, at least at the start, is the brains. That’s certainly true when Devaun takes a shine to Indira, clueless as to her tentative claims on womanhood.

With Indira as matchmaker for Joe and Nirmala and then Devaun as matchmaker for his pal and the girl at Burger King who thinks Jeron is cute, that leaves Devaun and Indira on their own when it comes to romance. They’ll figure it out.

Thomas creates a sweet air of possibility in her show, aided by an effective scenic design under tight circumstances by Jason Simms and sharp lighting by Austin R. Smith to ease transitions. The costumes by Sydney Maresca include some intentionally godawful t-shirts and dresses that make Sanyal more feminine than one would have expected. And the cast is superior throughout, maintaining our sympathy from start to finish.

But Thomas makes numerous confusing detours that throw the play off and make us uncertain about where we’re headed. First, the two young guys are seen as genial if harmless goofs. Devaun seems slightly dim — he mispronounces numerous words — while Jeron is smarter. But their initial role as humorous counterpoint falls away as Devaun asks Indira out, giving her a first taste of romance. Yet as that happens, they seem to become stupider by the minute, with not one but both of them garbling simple words again and again. It’s both inconsistent and annoying.

Worse, they are involved in a confusing subplot wherein Devaun believes a local man who attends his church has hit on him. Devaun is 20 by the way. This man placed a hand on Devaun’s shoulder in another bodega and says he has something to show him. Devaun freaks out and tells the man to back off. Later, the two young guys decide the man is a threat and might harm little kids, so they decide to put up posters around town warning people about this predator (which Devaun misconstrues as “predictor”). Huh? This is initially played for laughs and we can’t help thinking this adult has wildly overreacted; but no harm since their poster is so vague it makes no sense.

Two problems. One, when discussing this incident in front of Indira, Devaun loses his cool and in violent language completely out of tone with the rest of the show he talks about viciously attacking that gay man for daring to make a pass at him. This occurs early in the show. So later when he and Indira begin to flirt, we remain deeply worried for her safety and wonder why she’d want to spend the evening with a guy who clearly would pose a threat if he never the physical realities of Indira’s body. It creates an unpleasant sense of danger that doesn’t mesh with the show, makes us question the common sense of the otherwise in charge and smart Indira and makes the climactic scene of the show actually hard to believe.

Cut out the virulent language and the finale is easier to believe, especially if refashioned. Devaun is supposed to be a mack daddy comfortable with sex, so if he isn’t seen as a simmering threat and homophobe, when Indira delicately explains the surprise under her dress, we could be happily surprised if Devaun said, “So, you want me to take you from behind? Okay!” rather than merely being relieved he doesn’t assault her.

The other problem is that the man Devaun was so obsessed over actually gets arrested by the police! Yet what is described doesn’t sound anything like a crime, more like something kinky done between consenting adults. It literally makes no sense and again muddies the gentle air of romance the show aspires to.

These are serious flaws in tone and plot, along with a running obsession about the weather and some mild, unconvincing touches of near magic realism. Edit all this out and you’d have a much shorter, tighter and more effective play. There’s no real need for an intermission except the show’s current length.

But this doesn’t detract from the generally delightful characters, aided immensely by the cast and direction of Topol. Williams and especially Redwood are very appealing and funny as the two friends, while making them specific enough so that they never descend into caricature. Graham doesn’t shine in his one big, rambling monologue and Joe declares his love too quickly. (I blame the script.) But he too is appealing and very watchable in his quiet moments. Sanyal goes to town with his part and a little dialing back by the director would be helpful, especially in his big scene where he trembles repeatedly while thanking Krishna, milking it for all it’s worth. But he’s funny and honest for the most part. And Kakkar is excellent as the unloved wife beginning to see her self-worth.

I wish Thomas had been confident enough to make their victories more modest and real rather than so monumental. It would have been truer to the modest but very real people she has created.

THEATER OF 2014

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical ***
Rodney King ***
Hard Times ** 1/2
Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead **
I Could Say More *
The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner **
Machinal ***
Outside Mullingar ***
A Man’s A Man * 1/2
The Tribute Artist ** 1/2
Transport **
Prince Igor at the Met **
The Bridges Of Madison County ** 1/2
Kung Fu (at Signature) **
Stage Kiss ***
Satchmo At The Waldorf ***
Antony and Cleopatra at the Public **
All The Way ** 1/2
The Open House (Will Eno at Signature) ** 1/2
Wozzeck (at Met w Deborah Voigt and Thomas Hampson and Simon O’Neill)
Hand To God ***
Tales From Red Vienna **
Appropriate (at Signature) *
Rocky * 1/2
Aladdin ***
Mothers And Sons **
Les Miserables *** 1/2
Breathing Time * 1/2
Cirque Du Soleil’s Amaluna * 1/2
Heathers The Musical * 1/2
Red Velvet, at St. Ann’s Warehouse ***
Broadway By The Year 1940-1964 *** 1/2
A Second Chance **
Guys And Dolls *** 1/2
If/Then * 1/2
The Threepenny Opera * 1/2
A Raisin In The Sun *** 1/2
The Heir Apparent *** 1/2
The Realistic Joneses ***
Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar & Grill ***
The Library **
South Pacific ** 1/2
Violet ***
Bullets Over Broadway **
Of Mice And Men **
The World Is Round ***
Your Mother’s Copy Of The Kama Sutra **
Hedwig and the Angry Inch ***
The Cripple Of Inishmaan ***
The Great Immensity * 1/2
Casa Valentina ** 1/2
Act One **
Inventing Mary Martin **
Cabaret ***
An Octoroon *** 1/2
Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging ***
Here Lies Love *** 1/2
6th Annual August Wilson Monologue Competition
Sea Marks * 1/2
A Time-Traveler’s Trip To Niagara * 1/2
Selected Shorts: Neil Gaiman ***
Too Much Sun * 1/2
Broadway By The Year 1965-1989 ***
In The Park **
The Essential Straight & Narrow ** 1/2
Much Ado About Nothing ***
When We Were Young And Unafraid
Savion Glover’s Om **
Broadway By The Year 1990-2014 ***
The Lion ***
Holler If Ya Hear Me * 1/2
The Ambassador Revue ** 1/2
Dubliners: A Quartet ***
The National High School Musical Theater Awards *** 1/2
Wayra — Fuerza Bruta * 1/2
Strictly Dishonorable *** 1/2 out of ****
Between Riverside And Crazy ***
The Wayside Motor Inn ***
Bootycandy ***
Mighty Real ***
This Is Our Youth ***
Rock Bottom * 1/2
Almost Home * 1/2
Rococo Rouge **
Love Letters ** 1/2
The Money Shot ** 1/2
The Old Man and the Old Moon *** 1/2
You Can’t Take It With You * 1/2 out of ****
Can-Can at Papermill ** 1/2
The Country House ** 1/2
Cinderella ** 1/2
Shakespeare’s Sonnets at BAM (Rufus Wainwright, Robert Wilson) ***
When January Feels Like Summer ** 1/2

_____________

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the founder and CEO of the forthcoming website BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. It’s like a fall book preview or holiday gift guide — but every week in every category. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day and features top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website and his daily blog. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

Note: Michael Giltz is provided with free tickets to shows with the understanding that he will be writing a review. All productions are in New York City unless otherwise indicated.
Arts – The Huffington Post
ENTERTAINMENT NEWS-Visit Adults Playland today for the hottest adult entertainment online!

Theater: Strictly Delightful “Strictly Dishonorable”

STRICTLY DISHONORABLE *** 1/2 out of ****
THE ATTIC THEATER COMPANY AT FLEA THEATER

One of the greatest talents in film history, Preston Sturges is best remembered for four stellar comedies: The Palm Beach Story, The Lady Eve, The Miracle At Morgan’s Creek and Hail The Conquering Hero. Others also treasure Sullivan’s Travels and Unfaithfully Yours, but however you order them, these are some classic films. And of course he won the Oscar with The Great McGinty. But before all that he was a playwright. In 1928, he starred on Broadway in one show and wrote another one called The Guinea Pig that opened to raves in Massachusetts and transferred to Broadway. But the real monster success came next when Sturges delivered the comedy Strictly Dishonorable. He wrote it in six days, it ran for sixteen months and he grossed a remarkable $ 300,000 just as the Great Depression was hitting its stride. Sturges then wrote three more shows (including a musical!) but Hollywood came calling and he was soon gone for good.

Now The Attic Theater Company has revived Strictly Dishonorable with panache and it sure makes me hungry to see his other theatrical works too. Honestly, I only showed up out of polite interest as a Sturges fanatic, wondering if glimmers of his genius would be visible. Indeed, his sparkling, distinctive gift for dialogue and whiplash changes in emotion from sincere to silly are on full display. And from what I can tell by clips online, this production looks markedly better than the creaky 1931 film version and much, much better than the godawful 1951 remake starring Ezio Pinza and Janet Leigh. You’d be foolish to miss it.

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Set in a speak-easy in 1929, it begins with the Italian staff squabbling amongst themselves until their regular customer the Judge (John Robert Tillotson) ambles in for just one drink. Almost by accident, a couple of squares arrive, the prickly Henry Greene (Thomas Christopher Matthews) and his sweet, Southern, slightly put-upon fiancee Isabelle ((Keilly McQuail). He wants to leave immediately but she’s eager to sample a speakeasy and surely none too eager to return to his mother-in-law in West Orange, New Jersey. (The play was written almost one hundred years ago and the jokes about Jersey are still getting laughs.)

Henry’s an unlikable fellow in the usual Sturges manner: he batters down his girl with fast talking, brusquely demands his drink and then wonders why the service is so poor, takes offense easily and is so clueless in his rude indifference to her and everyone around him that you can’t help feeling sorry for the guy just a little, even as you suspect most of us barrel through life just as blithely indifferent at times to others as poor Henry. In walks the good-looking professional opera singer and amateur (but very successful) lothario named Gus (Michael Labbadia) and, well, Henry hasn’t got a chance.

Director Laura Braza keeps this romantic comedy rolling with aplomb, striking the right note with the entire cast. Some judicious pruning might have made the first act fly by quicker. And it’s to be hoped the cast will tighten up and move things along even faster as they settle into the run of the show. But they are in sync with the material from the start and the actors are essentially faultless.

Gus might easily be a cheesy wooer of women, but Labbadia — in his New York debut — gives him heart and humor. And when he’s asked to sing, I imagined they might get a quick laugh by playing a record and having him lip sync (he’s supposed to be a world famous talent, after all) but instead he pulled off a nice little number well enough to maintain the illusion. Funny and winning, he also sports an Italian accent just this side of silly (like all the actors in the show) which is part of the evening’s charm.

As the speakeasy owner Tomas, Christopher Tocco is also excellent, anchoring much of the evening with his affable presence and mining subtle laughs throughout. William John Austin as an Irish cop who happily looks the other way when a glass of “ginger ale” is offered as an inducement, is similarly fun in a smaller role. As a waiter and lookout, Ryan Trout and Nick Ritacco are also spot-on. It’s a pleasure to see a show so well directed where everyone is on the same page.

The handsome Matthews for me was the most empathetic to the style of performing perfected by the actors who worked with Sturges in film after film. He steamrolled through his dialogue with verve, exploded in futile anger with just the right level of indignation and even took a nice pratfall. If Sturges were around, he’d make sure Matthews worked in his next project as well.

Tillotson is a pro as the Judge. I’m not sure if it’s the writing or his performance choices, but I wasn’t always clear as to where the Judge was coming from. And with Sturges, characters are often driven by an all-consuming quirk or passion. Is the Judge in love with Isabelle himself? Or perhaps fancies Gus? An old busy-body? A self-important fool? Mostly Tillotson plays him — rightly — as sweet and good-intentioned. To be clear, he delivers some of the play’s best lines with dead-pan accuracy.

The Judge is perhaps a gentle voice of conventional morality when Sturges will have none of that — we soon see Gus proving his love for Isabelle by not sleeping with her while she’s convinced his refusal to bed her is proof that he doesn’t. And when he begs her to marry him, why she’s convinced even more that he doesn’t! (It makes sense, somehow, while it’s happening.)

And that brings us to the show’s star Keilly McQuail. This is a very fun revival that would surely work with another actress in the part. But McQuail is a genuine find — convincingly Southern, sweetly sexy, timidly bold, believable in her relationship with Henry (hey, it gets her out of Yoakum, Mississippi!) and yet just as believable when she finds the courage to blaze her own path. McQuail brought out the best in everyone around her, handled physical comedy and emotions ranging from aroused to uncertain and looked great in her flapper outfit while doing it.

With modest means at their disposal, the scenic design by Liz Sherrier, the costumes by Travis Chinick and the lighting (David M. Upton) and sound (Beth Lake) all worked in harmony. I’ll be remembering this show fondly at the end of the year. Given the talent on display, I’m hopeful it will be even tighter and better at the finale of what should be an extended run as it was at the beginning. Now bring on The Guinea Pig!

THEATER OF 2014

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical ***
Rodney King ***
Hard Times ** 1/2
Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead **
I Could Say More *
The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner **
Machinal ***
Outside Mullingar ***
A Man’s A Man * 1/2
The Tribute Artist ** 1/2
Transport **
Prince Igor at the Met **
The Bridges Of Madison County ** 1/2
Kung Fu (at Signature) **
Stage Kiss ***
Satchmo At The Waldorf ***
Antony and Cleopatra at the Public **
All The Way ** 1/2
The Open House (Will Eno at Signature) ** 1/2
Wozzeck (at Met w Deborah Voigt and Thomas Hampson and Simon O’Neill)
Hand To God ***
Tales From Red Vienna **
Appropriate (at Signature) *
Rocky * 1/2
Aladdin ***
Mothers And Sons **
Les Miserables *** 1/2
Breathing Time * 1/2
Cirque Du Soleil’s Amaluna * 1/2
Heathers The Musical * 1/2
Red Velvet, at St. Ann’s Warehouse ***
Broadway By The Year 1940-1964 *** 1/2
A Second Chance **
Guys And Dolls *** 1/2
If/Then * 1/2
The Threepenny Opera * 1/2
A Raisin In The Sun *** 1/2
The Heir Apparent *** 1/2
The Realistic Joneses ***
Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar & Grill ***
The Library **
South Pacific ** 1/2
Violet ***
Bullets Over Broadway **
Of Mice And Men **
The World Is Round ***
Your Mother’s Copy Of The Kama Sutra **
Hedwig and the Angry Inch ***
The Cripple Of Inishmaan ***
The Great Immensity * 1/2
Casa Valentina ** 1/2
Act One **
Inventing Mary Martin **
Cabaret ***
An Octoroon *** 1/2
Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging ***
Here Lies Love *** 1/2
6th Annual August Wilson Monologue Competition
Sea Marks * 1/2
A Time-Traveler’s Trip To Niagara * 1/2
Selected Shorts: Neil Gaiman ***
Too Much Sun * 1/2
Broadway By The Year 1965-1989 ***
In The Park **
The Essential Straight & Narrow ** 1/2
Much Ado About Nothing ***
When We Were Young And Unafraid
Savion Glover’s Om **
Broadway By The Year 1990-2014 ***
The Lion ***
Holler If Ya Hear Me * 1/2
The Ambassador Revue ** 1/2
Dubliners: A Quartet ***
The National High School Musical Theater Awards *** 1/2
Wayra — Fuerza Bruta * 1/2
Strictly Dishonorable *** 1/2 out of ****

_____________

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the founder and CEO of the forthcoming website BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. It’s like a fall book preview or holiday gift guide — but every week in every category. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day and features top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website and his daily blog. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

Note: Michael Giltz is provided with free tickets to shows with the understanding that he will be writing a review. All productions are in New York City unless otherwise indicated.
Entertainment – The Huffington Post
Entertainment News-Visit Adults Playland today for the hottest adult entertainment online!

Neil LaBute Q&A: The Controversial Playwright Talks About His L.A. Theater Takeover

2014-07-24-NeilLaButebyAaronEckhart.jpg

Fans of safe and saccharine theater in Los Angeles better run and hide this summer because acclaimed and controversial playwright Neil LaBute doesn’t just have one production currently in town — he has two!

Vilified and labeled as a misanthrope and misogynist thanks to his unflinching brand of art, indeed his plays and films have shocked many, including films In the Company of Men, Your Friends & Neighbors, Nurse Betty and The Shape of Things to Come. It’s interesting to have LaBute’s unrelenting drama, often filled with self-absorbed characters and very poignant and disturbingly social themes, takeover Los Angeles theater.

Continuing with his beauty trilogy in Reasons to Be Pretty at the Geffen Playhouse, LaBute takes on society’s ongoing fixation with beauty and in particular one man’s inability to say the right thing — ever. When Greg makes an innocuous, off-handed remark about his girlfriend Steph, it triggers a battle by which their relationship will forever be defined. Tony nominated for Best Play, Reasons to Be Pretty continues a series that includes The Shape of Things, Fat Pig (a previous Geffen Playhouse hit) and Reasons to Be Happy.

Meanwhile, across town on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood, LaBute’s personal In a Dark Dark House focuses on the many effects of sexual abuse and the way society might be expected to react to abused victims.

While LaBute has recently directed episodes of AMC’s “Hell on Wheels” as well as the good natured ensemble comedy Death at a Funeral possibly giving way to a kinder and gentler LaBute, it’s his taut dramas that have caused critics and some audiences to label him as a pariah.

Who can forget Aaron Eckhart’s character Chad in In the Company of Men hatefully blather, “Women. Nice ones, the most frigid of the race, it doesn’t matter in the end. Inside they’re all the same meat and gristle and hatred just simmering.”

Or that other gem of his, “Never trust anything that can bleed for a week and not die.”

You can see why LaBute is a lightning rod, even if the man himself doesn’t.

Your name and work evoke a strong gut reaction. Do you consider no reaction the worst kind of reaction?
I probably do. I would think just about anybody would feel that way. We’re taught at some age to always want positive reaction but it makes sense when you’re out there asking questions, which is a big part of what playwrights are supposed to do, not always having answers but at least asking questions. I think, depending on the questions, it’s very important to take the temperature of people. If people think you have nothing to say or you’re of little interest that would probably be the worst.

If everybody were to love your work, is that not the reaction you would want either?
I’m not the kid in class who only wants negative attention, that’s certainly not me. I’ll take nothing but positive attention, that’s OK. I feel that I’ve had almost negative attention for some things. I know what it feels like on both ends. You’re always trying to connect and tell stories that are different than what everyone else has. I’m always looking to connect with an audience, and yet, sometimes it’s negative but through that negativity sometimes you’ve left them with something to think about. I think both sides of that can be useful.

In college, some of your plays where shut down immediately after their premieres. How do you define success–just opening?
Getting in front of an audience, in this world, is the requirement for the endgame, at least for theater. Once you’ve written something you’re part of the way there. You do need to get in front of an audience. To have a connection with an audience is ultimately the goal.

With everything you’ve accomplished, is there still room for you to grow as an artist?
Of course, that’s why I probably go back to teach as often as possible, just because you learn a ton from teaching people. There are so many parts of this world that I’m interested in. I get more interested in editing as I work in film; I haven’t done much television and that world is new to me. Broadway is still a creature that I’m weary of. Event at my age, there are a lot of aspects that I have to learn or try to fail at.

Your name sparks a reaction. What’s the biggest misconception about you?
The ones that I hear upon meeting people sometimes are, ‘You’re much nicer than I thought you’d be.’ I wonder what it was exactly they were thinking. They imagine you’re the worst. They never seem to think you’re the best at what you can imagine. You were able to think of something, therefore, that must be you. Also, for the last seventeen – eighteen years, there’s been this label of misogyny that started with In the Company of Men, that’s a hard one to kick because people label you and once they’ve done that, they make it very hard for you. If they see something else, they’ll say, that’s no as misogynistic. For a movie that so many people actually saw as being a critical essay of men, being labeled misogynistic I thought was strange.

Is it fair that 17 years later people so closely identify you with that film?
I don’t think it would hurt to reassess things every five years or so. That would be nice of people to check in on that sort of thing. I know how it happens but it’s a bummer when you don’t agree with it.

Can you talk about the power of the written word and what the various outlets mean to you?

Theater is still a place that allows you to say anything you want to say and take on anything that is of interest to you. There is no taboo, not for me at least. There’s nothing that shouldn’t be taken on.

Film, I think, is a medium that people still see as a more popular form of entertainment. Television, I think, is becoming a great place for writers and storytellers. I like this idea of telling multiple stories about a set of characters. I always turn the page and write about a new group of people. For a writer, that’s a really interesting task to take on.

You have two shows currently playing in Los Angeles. What’s that like?
They’re two very different ones as well. I’m really excited by the people who are in them and also the directors.

What originally inspired these two productions?

You never know. I ended up with this third play in this trilogy about beauty; and I knew I wanted to do something about beauty and the way that we’ll change ourselves or change for others. In a Dark Dark House was just a story that came to me, not thinking about my own past so much as filtering what I knew about the lives that these characters have and then wanting to tell a story about siblings.

You’ve called In a Dark Dark House very personal, yet this version was tweaked from its original form when it premiered in New York. Is it still as personal now?
I think so. The work that was done honed the structure and I moved things around and ultimately I think this version is the best structure of the play. It’s not autobiographical but it’s touching on things that were close to my life.

So plays are never finite?
Oh God no! I just wrote a new monologue for Amber Tamblyn in Reasons to Be Pretty. She had some questions and thoughts and it led me to write something. They’re finished for now until somebody opens the book again and you start working on it again.

Reasons to Be Pretty marks your fourth collaboration with the Geffen Playhouse. What do you like about that theater?
It’s nice to have a home somewhere. Because you can spread yourself so far around and with so many people, it’s always great to go back to a place or group of people who you know and work with. It’s great when the Geffen is interested in me doing something again. I love the space but I also love the people who run the place.

Are you happy playing in intimate theaters or do you want Broadway or the Pantages, which is the big theater in Los Angeles?
I tend to write things that are often pretty small cast and I love small theaters. That said, there are things you write that you think could be for Broadway but I tend not to think or write in those terms. Sadly, what usually drives people to think something would be good for Broadway is the fact that they have some star who might be interested. Rare is the play that I’ve written that I think it can only fit on a stage for a thousand people. They’re often very intimate character studies.

You always get great talent in your plays, from David Duchovny to Ed Harris. What attracts big name actors to your work or is it that they just have to work?
It’s probably a mix and that’s OK for me. I think actors do, at some point, get a sense of a person who like actors and writes for actors, and is interested in them. I certainly feel that I’ve always liked actors and they get a buzz off me that says that. I never tend to write for people, as many good actors as I’ve had, I always have written just for characters and then good actors will appear. But like you said, some actors just want to work.

What do you hope audiences take away from a production of yours?
I just hope that there’s something that they find there, whether it is characters or themes. I tend not to write about themes so much, but I love the idea that somebody in today’s world, because we’ve created this kind of speed that we devour information these days, that any time that somebody goes to see your work and thinks about if for any length of time is a total victory.

Both Neil LaBute productions play through August 31. In a Dark Dark House plays at the Matrix Theatre, and Reasons to Be Pretty plays at the Geffen Playhouse.

Photo courtesy of Aaron Eckhart
Entertainment – The Huffington Post
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Theater: Fuerza Bruta Loses Its “Wayra” With New Show

WAYRA — FUERZA BRUTA * 1/2 out of ****
DARYL ROTH THEATER

If you’ve never seen any non-traditional theater, no Cirque Du Soleil or the countless circus troupes that have come in its wake, if you’ve never been to a rave or a spectacle like Stomp and Blue Man Group, I suppose Wayra might have some modest appeal as novelty.

Actually, I’m a newbie, somehow never having been to a Fuerza Bruta event before. So even though this edition reportedly recycles quite a few stunts from previous FB shows of the past, it was all new to me. Nonetheless, the almost determined lack of imagination in each bit (calling them skits would be pushing it), the avoidance of almost anything resembling choreography or humor, the refusal to do anything other than the minimal makes the evening a joyless affair for all but the most un-jaded 17 year old.

It begins and ends with anonymous tribalistic, techno music followed by a group of performers who float over the crowd in a big clump, waving and yelling enthusiastically while swinging back and forth. Though there is nothing challenging in the stunts performed (this is not a display of gymnastic or acrobatic skills of any note), it does demand the cast be athletic and energetic and they certainly did their best to rouse the crowd into a fun atmosphere. Still, this bit set the tone. Like the worst Saturday Night Live skits of the past 20 years, it offers some sliver of an idea (in this case, the cast dressed in “regular” clothes swinging out over the crowd) but instead of developing the idea and coming up with twists or a way to up the ante, they just repeat it a few times and then stop.

Other bits occur. Two women doing wire work (arguably the most challenging of the evening) run across a curtained wall encircling the audience, screaming and yelling as if something momentous were about to occur. They do a few somersaults, each one running to one end and then the other. Like most everything else in the show and what you see in the trailer above, it looks vaguely cool for a moment until you realize…that’s it.

The Man On The Treadmill is apparently a perennial feature and it comes the closest to what Wayra might have been if it actually tried to be something. Nothing actually happens but it does feel as if the skit progresses toward something. A man with a really bad commute is walking determinedly on a treadmill. It speeds up and he keeps going with Buster Keaton-like determination. Attendants place chairs and tables on the treadmill which he dodges while moving forward, always forward. People jump on the platform and he bumps and dodges past them. Eventually, a “brick wall” of cardboard boxes appears but he bursts through that too. He’s shot in the chest, but even this doesn’t stop him. On he goes. As with so much of the show, once I got the idea, I found more pleasure in observing how the technical team kept things running smoothly than in the actual skit. Still, this was definitely as close to art as they got, though it served mostly to put the rest of the show in stark contrast.

A pool interlude was a happy oasis in an evening that at least pretended to create an aura of tension and mayhem. In this bit, a plastic sort of swimming pool descends from the ceiling. We look up through the bottom and see a woman lit up. Again, it looks sort of cool. A paradise ensues, with four or five women playing around in the water, giggling and laughing and sliding. Here especially the lack of any visual imagination was painful. Literally all they do is take turns splashing through a puddle in the middle, with one woman sliding in from one corner and then another sliding in from another corner. It’s the sort of thing kids would do automatically and about just as much fun to watch.

Also, there was a creepy disconnect in this piece: it’s both “innocent” and salacious. Either would be fine. But if you want it to be innocent, don’t ask the women to wear clothing that’s revealing and if you want them to be Playboy Playmate naughty, don’t ask them to giggle like schoolgirls. Unless of course you’re going for a vibe that would appeal to traveling businessmen. (And my female guest wondered if the show paid for all these women to get bikini waxed regularly.) Worst of all, while this skit was briefly interesting visually (most were), it went on a little too long with no change in the tedious staging. Then, remarkably, once it was over it essentially repeated itself all over again, far outstaying its welcome.

Another nadir was the dance-off that took place on an anonymous set wheeled out towards the audience. The unflagging cast was living it up, as if having the time of their lives, yelling and whooping and sort of dancing in unison. Still yelling, they tossed plastic chairs with abandon (but oh so carefully so the attendants could catch them or keep them from sliding towards the crowd and then feed the chairs back up to the cast). Then they went to town on cardboard boxes and flimsy squares that they smooshed over their heads as the tiles burst into confetti of sorts. All of this was clear after about 30 seconds, but it was the entire extent of the bit. They jump up and down, yell gleefully and toss cardboard boxes off the stage onto the floor and then dance around and do it again. A certain tension developed as you wondered if this could possibly be it for the stunt. It was.

It was topped when the show went to elaborate lengths to pull a plastic see-through ceiling of sorts over the audience with an opening or two so cast members could peek down at us (gleefully of course). A long tube was attached to one opening and the guy from the treadmill bit was lowered down into it while a fan created a sort of wind tunnel effect and bits of paper swirled around him. Despite the trappings, all this amounted to was a guy hanging motionless from the ceiling via a wire.

Yes, he was inserted into a sort of condom-like wind tunnel that blew his hair back, but really he was just hanging there for a few minutes, stationary and alone, doing nothing, accomplishing nothing, with only the illusion of something happening taking place around him, scraps of confetti twisting past our hero like the detritus from a parade that passed by long before we arrived.

THEATER OF 2014

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical ***
Rodney King ***
Hard Times ** 1/2
Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead **
I Could Say More *
The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner **
Machinal ***
Outside Mullingar ***
A Man’s A Man * 1/2
The Tribute Artist ** 1/2
Transport **
Prince Igor at the Met **
The Bridges Of Madison County ** 1/2
Kung Fu (at Signature) **
Stage Kiss ***
Satchmo At The Waldorf ***
Antony and Cleopatra at the Public **
All The Way ** 1/2
The Open House (Will Eno at Signature) ** 1/2
Wozzeck (at Met w Deborah Voigt and Thomas Hampson and Simon O’Neill)
Hand To God ***
Tales From Red Vienna **
Appropriate (at Signature) *
Rocky * 1/2
Aladdin ***
Mothers And Sons **
Les Miserables *** 1/2
Breathing Time * 1/2
Cirque Du Soleil’s Amaluna * 1/2
Heathers The Musical * 1/2
Red Velvet, at St. Ann’s Warehouse ***
Broadway By The Year 1940-1964 *** 1/2
A Second Chance **
Guys And Dolls *** 1/2
If/Then * 1/2
The Threepenny Opera * 1/2
A Raisin In The Sun *** 1/2
The Heir Apparent *** 1/2
The Realistic Joneses ***
Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar & Grill ***
The Library **
South Pacific ** 1/2
Violet ***
Bullets Over Broadway **
Of Mice And Men **
The World Is Round ***
Your Mother’s Copy Of The Kama Sutra **
Hedwig and the Angry Inch ***
The Cripple Of Inishmaan ***
The Great Immensity * 1/2
Casa Valentina ** 1/2
Act One **
Inventing Mary Martin **
Cabaret ***
An Octoroon *** 1/2
Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging ***
Here Lies Love *** 1/2
6th Annual August Wilson Monologue Competition
Sea Marks * 1/2
A Time-Traveler’s Trip To Niagara * 1/2
Selected Shorts: Neil Gaiman ***
Too Much Sun * 1/2
Broadway By The Year 1965-1989 ***
In The Park **
The Essential Straight & Narrow ** 1/2
Much Ado About Nothing ***
When We Were Young And Unafraid
Savion Glover’s Om **
Broadway By The Year 1990-2014 ***
The Lion ***
Holler If Ya Hear Me * 1/2
The Ambassador Revue ** 1/2
Dubliners: A Quartet ***
The National High School Musical Theater Awards *** 1/2
Wayra — Fuerza Bruta * 1/2

_____________

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the founder and CEO of the forthcoming website BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. It’s like a fall book preview or holiday gift guide — but every week in every category. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day and features top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website and his daily blog. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

Note: Michael Giltz is provided with free tickets to shows with the understanding that he will be writing a review. All productions are in New York City unless otherwise indicated.
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Theater: Savion Glover Prays; Broadway, Cabaret Stars Praise

SAVION GLOVER — OM ** out of ****
BROADWAY BY THE YEAR 1990-2014 *** out of ****

So much theater is here and then gone in the blink of an eye. Has it really been two and a half years since Newsies opened on Broadway? It closes in August and will rank as one of the few shows (just over 100) in history to run for more than 1000 performances. And yet it seemed to arrive yesterday. That’s even truer for one-time events, limited runs and those precious shows that simply don’t run nearly as long as they should. Before I review a limited run of Savion Glover’s latest and a one-time event that is already history, here are three events coming up.

DUBLINERS: A QUARTET — ONLINE

Most great theater occurs in a few major cities like London and New York as well as on tour. But no matter where you are in the world, this Saturday or Sunday you can watch a free live streaming performance of the radio play Dubliners: A Quartet. Held at the Greene Space — a downtown performance space and home for WNYC and WQXR — it’s an evening of music and song and adaptations of four short stories taken from James Joyce’s classic work Dubliners. This work has already inspired a lovely stage musical and director John Houston’s moving final film. And since the live performances of August Wilson’s Century Cycle at the Greene Space was one of last year’s theatrical highlights, you shouldn’t miss this. And you don’t have to. Anyone can go online and watch a live streaming of the event Saturday night or Sunday afternoon. If you miss that, they’ll be releasing it as a podcast and on-demand video in July. Go here for more info and to see how you can join in this event for free.

THE AMBASSADOR REVUE AT TOWN HALL

If you’re lucky enough to be in NYC this weekend, Friday night features a one-night only performance of The Ambassador Revue, the toast of Paris in 1928. Porter had a Broadway hit that same year appropriately called Paris, a show that featured “Let’s Misbehave” and “Let’s Do It.” That success overshadowed his revue and Porter never looked back…and The Ambassador Revue never played in America till now. Bringing it to life is Tom Wopat, Jason Graae and Amy Burton among others, led by the marvelous Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, specialists in the music of the 1920s and 1930s and the band I’d choose to perform at my wedding. Let’s hope someone is recording this one. Go here for ticket info.

THE NATIONAL HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL THEATER AWARDS

The Ambassador Revue is a rare chance to glimpse musical theater’s past. If you want to glimpse musical theater’s future, head to the National High School Musical Theater Awards on Monday June 30 at 7:30 pm on Broadway at the Minskoff. Winners of competitions held all across the country get to perform on a Broadway stage and compete for the big prize, nicknamed the Jimmy. I attended a recent event that was the culmination of nationwide contests where teens performed monologues by August Wilson and it was great fun. You can check out the nominees (or to be more positive, the winners of their region) right here or hear them strut their stuff on Monday night.

Now on to the reviews.

SAVION GLOVER — OM ** out of ****
JOYCE THEATER

If the guest I brought to this performance were writing the review, it would be far less pleasant. “Savion Glover’s a genius! Why should he be bothered to entertain the audience?” asked my friend scathingly. Indeed, several dozen people left during this spiritual journey called Om, which is the antithesis of the delightful, crowd-pleasing STePz, one of my favorite shows of 2013. Indeed, the show seemed intent on making this private meditation as difficult as possible for those attending.

It began late, even though the show starts with a darkened auditorium and a lowered curtain while a lengthy jazz recording (Kenny Garrett’s “Calling,” apparently) played for five or ten minutes. Eventually, the curtain rose to a beautiful setting: a stage filled with candles and yellow lights, scattered with photos of Glover’s spiritual fathers, be they dance legends or religious figures like Gandhi. Five rectangular platforms were grouped towards the front, two roughly near each other at the center, one on stage left and two at an angle on stage right. Glover was on one of the two roughly at center and never moved from it for the entire evening. The lighting stayed dim, he tapped with his usual fluidity and grace and precision and power, and the evening progressed.

At first, we were given a few changes: more dancers arrived and took their places on the other platforms, some songs and chants were played, ranging from a spoken-word piece quoting Psalm 23 to selections from other faiths, a quick cross-cultural survey that captured the world-wide yearning for spirituality and faith. Another tune — which I couldn’t identify — might have been a spiritual or blues (Odetta? Maybe?). For a brief passage early on, all the dancers performed in unison. But then the music focused slowly on a piece (from India, I assume) that lasted for 30 or 40 minutes. Glover’s long-time collaborator Marshall Davis Jr. had more extensive work to due, especially on one concise duet but he left the stage for lengthy periods. The other dancers had literally nothing to do, posing in place, assuming spiritual or meditative poses, hitting a chime, moving briefly and then posing for minutes at a time and so on. Especially unfortunate were the disciples who came out and sat at their feet like adoring acolytes.

As the one piece of music went on and on — Glover dancing with his usual inventive brilliance — the static nature of the evening wore on you. It was almost rude if not self-indulgent to see so many talented dancers allowed only the most cursory moments to perform but otherwise be simply decorative. It was like a jazz combo filled with talented artists but most of the concert included only a drum solo while the other artists simply stood there and watched.

And yet I feel inclined to take Glover at his word. Perhaps this was a meditation best left in the rehearsal room or his private dance space, but surely it was sincere if misguided. He has often spoken of his increasing fascination with the percussive, rhythmic, musical nature of tap. And this evening focused on it like never before. The subdued lighting and almost entire lack of movement left you little else to focus on but the sound of his tapping. And it did indeed achieve moments of engaged, focus brilliance. I’ve listened to recordings of Fred Astaire with a jazz combo, singing his songs and then soloing on tap, which sounds silly. (Just listening to someone dance?) But it makes sense when it’s so musical and well-thought out…and lasting for brief passages in a song that usually lasts three or four minutes at most.

Glover was surely preaching to the converted here. But the best ministers know how to vary their sermons and mix in humor and stories and wisdom with the strong stuff of salvation and sin. With Om, Glover ended up talking to himself, leaving those hoping for uplift with the awkward feeling that he’s already been saved and in the Rapture and we’ve been left behind.

BROADWAY BY THE YEAR 1990-2014 *** out of ****
TOWN HALL

Impresario Scott Siegel caps off his celebration of Broadway By The Year with this recap of key songs from the past 25 years of musical theater. If it wasn’t as great as the three earlier editions, well, surely that’s because the past 25 years haven’t been nearly as good as the 1930s and the 1950s and the 1970s. You can choose the best song from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects Of Love or Lysistrata Jones or Miss Saigon, but they’re still not going to be very good, are they? Time and again, as they worked their way from 1990 to 2014’s Beautiful, you saw Siegel wisely ask a Broadway or cabaret star to tackle a tune that may have appeared in a Broadway show in the past two and a half decades, but actually originated from a much more fertile time period in the past. Hence he cleverly padded the evening with “The Acid Queen”, “Fools Fall In Love,” “Sing Sing Sing,” “The Winner Takes It All,” “Stormy Weather” and “Fever.” Great songs that were born in the last 25 years? Nope. And thank goodness.

If you’re not familiar with Broadway By The Year, it’s an ongoing series. Traditionally, they tackle one year from Broadway and a rotating cast of Broadway greats, rising talent and cabaret stars perform some of the best gems of the year along with lesser-known fare that has unjustly slipped from view. This year, Siegel celebrated the series’ ongoing vitality by tackling 100 years with 100 stars over four nights. They’ll do it again next year, since of course the riches of Broadway make this an easy parlor game to play without having to scrape the barrel…at least until you hit the 1990s and noughts, apparently.

Like any evening of this sort, the evening was mixed bag, though Siegel’s venture always brings out the cockeyed optimist in me. Misfires like Lucas Steele’s misguided spin on ABBA’s “The Winner Takes If All” from Mamma Mia and Natalie Toro’s melodramatic spin on “With One Look” from Sunset Boulevard were easily outweighed by the pluses. Two dance pieces were lots of fun, though oddly they almost followed one another in the first act. Still, Mark Stuart and Mindy Wallace were fun in “Libertango” and Jimmy Sutherland was an excellent last minute replacement on “Sing Sing Sing.”

Siegel always helps you make some discoveries, thanks to showcasing the talent he finds in another of his many ventures, Broadway’s Rising Stars. (The next one presents the cream of the crops from the top arts programs and takes place July 14 at Town Hall.) For me, the ringer was the performer with the wonderfully absurd name of Oakley Boycott. She was a gangly, notably tall and eye-catching presence when the Broadway By The Year chorus took a spin through “Seasons Of Love” from Rent. But she really wowed when doing the comic number “He Vas My Boyfriend” from the ungainly Mel Brooks musical Young Frankenstein. Boycott nailed this number (easily the best in that show), milking every laugh like a seasoned pro.

When they turn Robert Altman’s movie Popeye into a Broadway musical, Boycott simply must play Olive Oyl. (Speaking of casting of future shows, Jeremy Morse tackled “Santa Fe” from Newsies but I spent his entire performance thinking, this guy has to play Mickey Rooney…or at least the lead in a revival of Babe In Arms. ) Another find — for me — was Jenn Gambatese, who sang “You Walk With Me” from The Full Monty with a lovely voice and a direct simplicity that was disarming. She’s starred in the Broadway musicals Tarzan and All Shook Up and clearly deserves better. And cabaret performer William Blake was a tonic, a truly unique voice that straddles the line between male and female. But this is no crooning, ambisexual Chet Baker; he’s a wickedly forceful personality who enlivened “Fever” by daring us to laugh with him as he sashayed and powered his way through that Peggy Lee standard.

Adam Jacobs of Aladdin proved he’s got the goods, giving his all to a so-so number from Miss Saigon, which remains as uninteresting to me as Les Miserables is strong. And Rory O’Malley was very funny with “I’m Not That Smart” from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. But the ladies were strongest: Jeannette Bayardelle did acrobatics through “Fools Fall In Love,” NaTasha Yvette Williams did indeed stop the show with the always pointed and hilarious “Stop The Show” from Martin Short: Fame Becomes Me, and Terri White was a no-nonsense, astringent delight with “Stormy Weather.”

But as so often happens, I’ll be thinking longest about Bobby Steggert and his effortlessly charming performance of “What More Can I Say?” from Falsettos. That William Finn musical is clearly ready to be revived — at least in concert — and who better to tackle the role of Marvin then Steggert? If they can’t get Giant to Broadway (and they should), hopefully Steggert will get a chance to shine in this show. For the lucky few who caught the latest edition of Siegel’s event, they got the chance to see Steggert perform a great number from Broadway’s past and perhaps, just perhaps, see a glimpse of what might be in the very near future.

THEATER OF 2014

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical ***
Rodney King ***
Hard Times ** 1/2
Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead **
I Could Say More *
The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner **
Machinal ***
Outside Mullingar ***
A Man’s A Man * 1/2
The Tribute Artist ** 1/2
Transport **
Prince Igor at the Met **
The Bridges Of Madison County ** 1/2
Kung Fu (at Signature) **
Stage Kiss ***
Satchmo At The Waldorf ***
Antony and Cleopatra at the Public **
All The Way ** 1/2
The Open House (Will Eno at Signature) ** 1/2
Wozzeck (at Met w Deborah Voigt and Thomas Hampson and Simon O’Neill)
Hand To God ***
Tales From Red Vienna **
Appropriate (at Signature) *
Rocky * 1/2
Aladdin ***
Mothers And Sons **
Les Miserables *** 1/2
Breathing Time * 1/2
Cirque Du Soleil’s Amaluna * 1/2
Heathers The Musical * 1/2
Red Velvet, at St. Ann’s Warehouse ***
Broadway By The Year 1940-1964 *** 1/2
A Second Chance **
Guys And Dolls *** 1/2
If/Then * 1/2
The Threepenny Opera * 1/2
A Raisin In The Sun *** 1/2
The Heir Apparent *** 1/2
The Realistic Joneses ***
Lady Day At Emerson’s Bar & Grill ***
The Library **
South Pacific ** 1/2
Violet ***
Bullets Over Broadway **
Of Mice And Men **
The World Is Round ***
Your Mother’s Copy Of The Kama Sutra **
Hedwig and the Angry Inch ***
The Cripple Of Inishmaan ***
The Great Immensity * 1/2
Casa Valentina ** 1/2
Act One **
Inventing Mary Martin **
Cabaret ***
An Octoroon *** 1/2
Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging ***
Here Lies Love *** 1/2
6th Annual August Wilson Monologue Competition
Sea Marks * 1/2
A Time-Traveler’s Trip To Niagara * 1/2
Selected Shorts: Neil Gaiman ***
Too Much Sun * 1/2
Broadway By The Year 1965-1989 ***
In The Park **
The Essential Straight & Narrow ** 1/2
Much Ado About Nothing ***
When We Were Young And Unafraid
Savion Glover’s Om **
Broadway By The Year 1990-2014 ***

_____________

Thanks for reading. Michael Giltz is the founder and CEO of the forthcoming website BookFilter, a book lover’s best friend. It’s a website that lets you browse for books online the way you do in a physical bookstore, provides comprehensive info on new releases every week in every category and offers passionate personal recommendations every step of the way. It’s like a fall book preview or holiday gift guide — but every week in every category. He’s also the cohost of Showbiz Sandbox, a weekly pop culture podcast that reveals the industry take on entertainment news of the day and features top journalists and opinion makers as guests. It’s available for free on iTunes. Visit Michael Giltz at his website and his daily blog. Download his podcast of celebrity interviews and his radio show, also called Popsurfing and also available for free on iTunes.

Note: Michael Giltz is provided with free tickets to shows with the understanding that he will be writing a review. All productions are in New York City unless otherwise indicated.
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Beware My Derriere: The Etiquette of Sitting Down at the Theater

Every time I go to the theater and I find myself having to enter a row where there are people already seated, I experience the same moment of indecision: “How do I navigate this? Which way do I go in — facing the stage or facing the people?” Most people I know go in with their backs to the others, but this always seems wrong to me. Especially if my row-mates remain seated as I am squeezing in, I am acutely aware of my butt having to travel by embarrassingly close to their faces. And if I should happen to step on someone’s toes or bump their knees in the process, it is difficult to apologize over my shoulder.

However, after researching various “official” opinions as well as conducting an informal canvass of all my theater-going friends, it is clear that although European custom requires the theater or movie-going patron to enter the row while facing the back of the theater, the accepted practice in the United States is to go in facing the stage. In fact, both Emily Post (in her Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home, 1922) and Amy Vanderbilt (in Amy Vanderbilt’s New Complete Book of Etiquette, 1963) declared this back-to-face sliding-by operation to be absolutely the proper etiquette.

But even among Americans there are varying opinions, many of them adamant. One etiquette expert I came across professed the proper form to be that men go in facing the back of the theater, while women go in the opposite way — a piece of etiquette-ology I find fairly bizarre. I mean, since gentlemen’s feet are generally bigger than ladies’, and ladies’ rears are generally bigger than gentlemen’s, if you were going to make a gender differentiation I would think it would be the gentleman going in facing front, and the lady facing the back of the theater. But either way it would look like some kind of weird line dance.

The argument for facing the stage is that it is more efficacious, because you can bend forward a little and slide in while pressing as far as possible into the seats in front of you. This way you are less likely to step on anyone’s feet, and also you can preserve the illusion that you are not inches away from people, as you can’t see them. Moreover, most people feel the close proximity makes it too embarrassing to pass by front-to-front. It’s like facing someone in an elevator. “It’s too intimate,” etiquette maven Letitia Baldridge once wrote. “It looks like they are going to kiss.”

I don’t know about kissing but I almost always vote for conversational contact. (They don’t call me “Miss Mingle” for nothing.) The rationale for facing people while making your way to your seat is just that–that you are able to interact with the people whom you are incommoding. It is considered good manners to thank people (or apologize, if you are coming in on the late side) as you inch by them, and it is much harder to thank people if you go by backwards; you cannot make eye contact easily. And of course there is the avoidance of the aforementioned butt-in-the-face issue (which I admittedly may be overly sensitive about, as I happen to have a particularly protrusive posterior.) Sometimes your course of action will depend on whether or not the row stands up for you (which if they are well-bred they will do). In that case, you can even go in slightly sideways.

Every decision regarding proper etiquette is made up of one part not discomforting others, and one part not looking like an idiot. What the theater seating question really comes down to is a choice between two variations of feeling awkward. I think for me, the point at which I started gravitating towards the face-to-face method happened a few years ago when, going in backwards along with the others in my party who were doing the same, I stumbled over someone’s umbrella lying on the floor and ended up sitting in the lap of a rather portly man.

This was bad enough; but unfortunately, in my surprise and embarrassment, instead of saying, “I’m so sorry,” I said “Thank you” — which were the words that were on the tip of my tongue, since I had been murmuring them to everyone else in the row I was passing.

“Oh, no, thank you,” the man laughed in response.
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Musical Theater Composer Joe Kinosian and Murder for Two at New World Stages in New York

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Having just turned 30 last fall and about the same time hit his 10th anniversary as New Yorker, the busy musical theater composer, writer and actor Joe Kinosian should feel a satisfying sense of arrival. All those years of hard work and bright dreams this past year culminated in his and his writing partner Kellen Blair’s show, Murder For Two (the CD of which is available on iTunes and in stores), arriving to great acclaim here in New York following its wildly successful premiere at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Murder For Two is a deeply silly and entertaining evening, with smart, fast, funny songs and a story that follows an ambitious young police officer as he attempts to unravel the Agatha Christie-style murder of a famous, if also famously reviled, New England mystery novelist. It seems like everyone at his birthday party on the night in question had reason to want him face down in the onion dip, including the nine member boys choir bizarrely brought in as the entertainment for the evening. But perhaps that turned out to be of a piece as six of the wee choristers themselves had earlier met a comically tragic end, eulogized by the three survivors in their number “A Lot Woise,” a delightfully specific “list song” explanation of why though of tender years, they don’t bat an eye at merely one fresh corpse, even though:


Stuff like this could be depraving us, it’s a little late for saving us,
Cause we’ve seen a lot woise.

We seen a chump who held his breath for longer than an hour once,
Saw my granny in the shower once, and we’ve seen a lot woise!

We seen a baby being born one day, we seen a fat guy eating corn one day,
We saw a boat while watching porn one day, we’ve seen a lot woise.

Did I mentioned that all the suspects are portrayed by just one actor? A role, or should I say a baker’s dozen of roles, that Joe created for the Chicago run, and whose many imaginary shoes he has recently stepped into again at New York City’s New World Stages replacing Jeff Blumenkrantz, himself an actor-pianist-composer, who embodied The Suspects starting when the show arrived for its Off-Broadway run presented by Second Stage uptown. Oh yeah, and both actors play all the piano accompaniment during the entire show, not infrequently seeming to leap into the air to replace their counterpart at the keyboard and seamlessly, jauntily play right on without missing a beat.

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COMPOSER JOE KINOSIAN, in front, at the piano with his castmate, BRETT RYBACK, in MURDER FOR TWO at NEW WORLD STAGES — Photo by Joan Marcus

Kinosian and Blair clearly must have sent each other into similarly balletic paroxysms as they developed the broad outlines of the show, including whodunit, one fateful day at a series of coffeehouse work sessions. When asked about his inspirations as he developed the musical tone and styles of Murder For Two — especially, notes Kinosian, the “four-handed” parts where both performers are playing the keyboard at the same — he doesn’t miss a beat: “Oh, the Marx Brothers, for sure.” He reverently recounts their musical madness, often of great sophistication or reference actually, in some of their classic films such as 1937’s A Day At The Races where Harpo sits down to give Rachmaninoff’s “C# Minor Prelude” and “plays it so hard that at the end the piano is reduced to rubble.”

It’s obvious that Kinosian’s theatrical and musical sensibilities owe much to a quirkily broad range of beloved influences. He mentions four blissfully creative and formative years at Milwaukee’s High School of the Arts, but also musicians like the Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla and the king of the “Novelty Rag,” Zez Confrey, who memorably composed the Scott-Joplin-on-laughing-gas favorite “Kitten on the Keys.”

But, he says, “You gotta talk about my grandma,” who was “an unbelievably brilliant pianist who could play by ear in an incredibly complex way, making things sound like a million bucks.” He describes himself at the tender age of 6 being besotted with the Howard Ashman and Alan Menken musical Little Shop of Horrors and playing the opening doo-wop/Supremes-type musical number for his grandmother on the record player. She immediately played it back at the piano, but in an impromptu Glenn Miller-esque arrangement of her own invention, “filtered through her 1940s sensibility.”

His admiration and love for this woman whose own creative opportunities might in some ways have been foreshortened by circumstance and the times she lived in, only deepens his appreciation for what was so lovingly inculcated in him by her example that “was inspiring and made me really want to do well.”

Kinosian, tall, lean, at ease even on an appallingly bright green sofa in the lobby outside Murder For Two’s theater one evening before his performance, has a quick, appreciative laugh and a devilish schoolboy twinkle in his eye. Murder For Two, for which he shares book-writing credit with Blair, who penned the lyrics, provides ample opportunity for naughty wit, particularly in that in his role as “The Suspects,” he actually plays more females than males.

But his sensibility is not merely all broad strokes and gag lines as each character is delineated with razor-sharp precision and idiosyncratic gusto. This makes keeping track transparently easy and fun for the audience as he switches roles often mid-sentence, if not mid-air on the way back for another turn at the keyboard. All the thousand tics and tacts of each of his characterizations also reveal some of the care and concern Blair and he have taken in the writing process to keep the kooky characters tethered to realities of human character and foible.

During our conversation, he mentioned offhand having just finished reading psychologist Alan Downs’ 2005 primer on internalized homophobia, The Velvet Rage, and wanting to speak with all due care about issues of gender and identity that, he said gently, we sometimes rush through. When asked what about gay culture he might like to change if he could, he says that we should all “go after the people we’re attracted to” in our pursuit of romance, “but try not to be so judgmental” toward each other as gay men.

With no needful contradiction, he embraces as well the special gay perspective of “hilarious honesty,” as he puts it. Those witty barbs so casually tossed off from barstools in tacky Midwestern gay bars, for example, can curdle into mere bitchiness in a flash. But in Kinosian’s understanding, such protective bristlings are at least partially outgrowths of the coping skills of awkward, klutzy boys who would grow up to become creative gay men, but who were reared in well-meaning communities of regretfully incomplete complete understanding of difference and the niceties of original cast recordings.

Kinosian sips his mug of tea and the production stage manager walks by giving him a subtle but unmistakable look which he knows means “it’s now half an hour before curtain, so please wind this interview up and get backstage and into costume.”

Given our conversation about art and identity, mentors and mannerisms, it occurs to me to ask Kinosian who one of his gay heroes is. I wonder will it be sophisticated Sondheim or sad Richard Rodgers, maybe someone of kaleidoscopic aspects like Leonard Bernstein.

“Well,” he says, holding back a smile, “I don’t know if I love all of Paul Lynde’s oeuvre, but I do love him in Bye, Bye, Birdie.” Kinosian is a particularly vocal and warm partisan of the genius of Charles Strouse, the composer of the musical and then film, in which Lynde, somewhat incredulously in retrospect, reprised his Broadway turn as a parent who tries mightily to insist that his children adhere to safely traditional values and customs. “I’m a peace-loving man, Doris!” Kinosian has Lynde’s strangled bark of a laugh, which he calls “lethal,” down pat.

Lucky for theatregoers this year with Murder For Two and hopefully for many years to come, Kinosian’s grandmother taught her talented offspring a more expansive and embracing tune.
Arts – The Huffington Post
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Theater: Loneliness Doesn’t Go Distance; Machinal Hums Along

THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER ** out of ****
MACHINAL *** out of ****

THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER ** out of ****
ATLANTIC THEATER COMPANY

This play is just 80 minutes in length but it’s a long 80 minutes because we learn everything we’re ever going to know about our hero in the first five minutes. The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner is based on the classic Angry Young Man British film that launched the career of actor Tom Courtenay. He’s a teen sentenced to a boys reformatory (essentially, prison) for a petty robbery. But his skill as a runner earns him privileges and the movie shows this young man Colin running while reflecting on his life and what brought him to this moment — wondering if winning the race will just make him a pawn to the Man, the System.

The play follows the same trajectory, but it’s been updated to take place just after recent riots in London and our hero is now black. He’s also noticeably less angry. In the film, Courtenay is literally bristling with unfocused anger at everything and everyone. Life, the government, his dying father, the mother who was cheating on his dying father and whom — wrongly — Colin believes killed him by withholding pain medication. Colin is furious over her new boyfriend and the spectacle of his mother wasting insurance money on a flurry of clothes and the like. In other words, Colin is very, very angry and in many ways has every confused reason to be so.

But this stage adaptation by Roy Williams confuses things. Perhaps because Colin is now black they were afraid to show him as furiously angry with the world, fearing cliche or that Colin might be dismissed as a thug. The very appealing Sheldon Best plays Colin and wins us over immediately with his rather reasonable, sensible approach to an aimless life.

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(photo by Ahron Foster)

He didn’t take part in the rioting and looting and seems to have a good head on his shoulder, at least for a kid with very few prospects. His mom didn’t cheat on his dying dad or add to the man’s pain. All of this makes Colin appealing but far less volatile. When he actually instigates a petty theft of a bakery, it makes no sense based on what we know of him.

Indeed, the play removes almost everything about Colin that made sense, especially his injured fury. The movie was part of the British New Wave, which is literally known as the Angry Young Man movement. Colin has plenty of reasons to be angry at a bankrupt economy and dim prospects for work (which, to be fair, doesn’t really appeal to him). But the very real and personal reasons for his anger have been tamped down or removed and all we have is a young man we get to know who does a foolish act we don’t understand.

The entire piece should lead up to his rebellion, the possibility that Colin will finally stand up to the System and refuse to play their game. He’ll literally throw away the possibility of winning. In the 1950s, this had a certain symbolic appeal. In the context of today, however, it comes across as a sadly self-destructive act, not the first step to claiming piece of mind the way it was in the film. Truly, anyone who has never seen the movie will simply be puzzled by the action taking place.

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(photo by Ahron Foster)

Though the script is lacking and various theatrical touches (like having cast members appear at times to the side or the back of the stage like a Greek chorus) simply fall flat, the show succeeds very well at its central conceit: showing Colin running a long distance race. Best is as mentioned a very likable presence, all the more remarkable since he delivers his dialogue often while running in place. The projection design by Pauline Lu & Paul Piekarz are top notch at evoking movement and various settings like some woods near the detention center Colin is held at. The tech elements overall are solid throughout. But kudos especially to Best’s acting chops and fitness.

He has very good chemistry with Jasmine Cephas Jones as the potential romantic interest Kenisha. Indeed, the entire cast is solid, with Zainab Jah turning the contradictory role of Colin’s Mum into a sensible, believable character and Raviv Ullman a handsome presence in dual roles as a scowling guard and later a friendly competitor in the race named Gunthorpe. Unfortunately, the key role of the would-be mentor Stevens is handled poorly by Todd Weeks. He never hints at the possible complexity of the character. Is Stevens using Colin for his own career, genuinely trying to help the lad or some complicated mix of the two? Instead, all we see is someone awkwardly emphasizing his dialogue and never letting us forget for a moment that he’s an actor playing a role.

Director Leah C. Gardiner handles the many technical demands and the strong cast with assurance. It’s a pity they didn’t realize that updating and weakening the impetus for our hero’s distress was cutting the legs out from under him.

Here’s the trailer to the original British film.

MACHINAL *** out of ****
ROUNDABOUT THEATRE COMPANY

Machinal means of or pertaining to machines. And life can certainly seem a grinding machine to one whose spirit is snuffed out — one imagines — even before it can begin. Coincidentally, “the Machine” was the nickname for the mammoth set design that dominated the recent production of Wagner’s The Ring at the Metropolitan Opera. It was huge, it was noisy, and it sometimes seemed a lot of bother for just a few brief moments of epic beauty.

The Roundabout has revived writer Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 play Machinal and it too has a flashy set design, a rotating box that is flashy and sometimes noisy and dominates the proceedings. But the Met might just sneak down to the Roundabout to see how perfectly this particular set design complements the play it was created for, how every turning of the set demonstrates how our heroine seems trapped on a treadmill leading right towards her fate: the electric chair. Sometimes it creaks and sometimes it groans but this is just right for a life that too rarely gives voice to its despair until a brutal and sad act of violence.

I’ve never seen Machinal before. It was apparently brought back to life by a revival at the Public in 1990, just before I arrived in New York and has become more of a fixture in the repertory ever since. My first impression is that the Roundabout has squeezed out about everything it can from a story that is sometimes avant-garde and often bloodless as it shows a woman who can barely breathe, much less control her own destiny. (The real-life murder that inspired it was much more Double Indemnity than the dehumanizing Metropolis on display here.)

Luckily, this high-minded work that might feel a bit dated has the wonderful, intelligent Rebecca Hall as the lead, a young woman who is so worn down by life she is referred to in the Playbill as simply Young Woman, which is to say Every Woman. She is late to work because the subway feels stifling and the Young Woman has a panic attack. Her dull as dishwater boss (Michael Cumpsty, excellent as always) asks her to marry him and this too sends her into a nervous tailspin. Her Mother (an effective Suzanne Bertish) is indifferent to her plight and confused when the Young Woman wonders if perhaps maybe she should actually love her potential husband, rather than shrink from his touch?

But the Machine is indifferent and life trudges on and she is married and on her honeymoon and crying and listening to her husband insist the blinds be drawn so no one can see in (and she can’t see out) and a child is born but she can’t bring herself to nurse it and the machine rotates and her life trudges on until out of nowhere she has a Lover (Morgan Spector, very good in a role first tackled by Clark Gable). For a moment, the Machine seems to pause and she is smiling and emotion is pouring through in a show that has heretofore seemed a bit dry, a bit didactic. It helps that Hall is in a slip and smiling and the strap of her clothing falls off her shoulder. Is happiness possible? We’ll never know.

As mentioned, the play is based on a famous murder trial of the time but the inevitability it held in 1928 seems a bit hard to swallow. Why did her Lover go away? Was he uninterested in a long-term affair? (That’s certainly hinted at.) But why didn’t the Young Woman just divorce her husband? Are her frantic inner monologues simply a stream of consciousness that reflects her inner turmoil a la Virginia Woolf? Or is the Young Woman perhaps mentally ill, struggling as she does to handle day to day life?

This Machinal does not provide the satisfying answers or even emotional complexity that might make a lack of answers feel more like real life than just a play that simply has a predetermined finish line. But director Lyndsey Turner makes one happy to go along for the ride. The set design by Es Devlin is a tour de force but needless to say it wouldn’t work without all the other technical elements being right in sync, from the costumes and lighting to the excellent sound design of Matt Tierney and the choreography of Sam Pinkleton.

Hall breathes life into what on paper seems more like a conceit and Cumpsty manages a wonderful balancing act. His role as the stultifying Husband might be played for buffoonish laughs or turned into a controlling monster. Cumpsty manages to get the laughs and some chilling moments (“Wait! WAIT!” he barks in one key scene) but he creates interesting tension and humor while letting the husband be exactly and essentially no more than what he is: dull. That is no easy task. Ashley Bell is vivid as a good-time Telephone Girl. And Ryan Dinning offers up every possible spin on “Hot dog!” known to man while using his body language to tell the story of a young man become rather willingly seduced in a bar.

Indeed, it’s a faultless cast doing its best with a work far more unconventional than is usual for the Roundabout. Here’s hoping their subscribers appreciate this nervy stretching of the definition of what a Roundabout production can be.

THEATER OF 2014

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical ***
Rodney King ***
Hard Times ** 1/2
Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead **
I Could Say More *
The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner **
Machinal ***
Arts – The Huffington Post
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