Thursday, December 20, 2012

Side B was the beautiful "Tennessee Waltz"

Publicity photo of singer Patti Page pre-1978 from General Artists Corporation (management)
Clara Ann Fowler's "flip side" is Patti Page, the singer (and woman) she became through a series of happenstances.

"Flipside: The Patti Page Story," at 59E59 Theaters in a Front Page Productions/Square 1 Theatrics, in association with The University of Central Oklahoma, through December 30th, is a biography with music.
www.59e59.org




Greg White's script (he also directs the play) features 28 of the 111 Billboard hits Patti Page sang over the years. The popular singer was born in a small Oklahoma town in modest circumstances, and discovered under the pseudonym of a jingle singer for the Page Milk Company at KTUL radio in Tulsa.

In "Flipside...," her story as narrated by Clara Ann Fowler (Haley Jane Pierce) on the occasion of a 1965 tribute at KTUL for Miss Patti Page "The Singing Rage" (Lindise vanWinkle) with a sweet modesty and reserve. Clara will realize that hers is the voice of  Patti Page, and, as her daddy, Ben Fowler (Willy Welch) had told her, "'Let 'em hear your voice, Clara Ann. 'Cause there's so much for them to hear."

The modesty and down-hominess shrouds Patti Page's accomplishments as an innovative musician. For instance, her recording of "Confess" has doubled up her voice for two parts -- a technique born of necessity now known as overdubbing.  "We can't afford two voices,"   her manager Jack Rael (Justin Larman) says. She was to sing echoing herself on a number of hits after that one was produced.

On one occasion, by way of illustration, "Flipside..." cheats in taking advantage of the technique-- there are four Patti's singing in "With My Eyes Wide Open, I'm Dreaming," when Haley Jane Pierce and Lindsie van Winkle are joined by Jenny Rothmayer and Kassie Carroll in a Patti Page Quartet.
  
"Flipside..." makes the most of the sumptious array of gowns costume-designer Corey Martin has styled for it. Patti Page models a different one for each number.

There is a coda, a device not uncommon in the genre of biographical playwrighting,  in "Flipside...," which helps us catch up with the singer today. At 85, Miss Patti Page is still performing. In 1998, she won a Grammy for her  Live at Carnegie Hall: The 50th Anniversary Concert.

For more information abut "Flipside: The Patti Page Story," visit www.59e59.org

It was sad to hear that Patti Page died at the age of 85 on New Year's day 2013.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

If Memory Serves... "The Good Mother" and "The Great God Pan"

If "the past is prologue," what follows for those who are stuck in the past?

In their latest work, playwrights Amy Herzog and Francine Volpe focus on protagonists who are diminished by their past.

In Volpe's "The Good Mother," at the New Group in the Acorn theater through December 22nd, personal history sets up a pattern of self-destruction and delusion.  Larissa (Gretchen Mol) is held back by an infantile crush on her teen counsellor, Joel (Mark Blum.) Larissa exerts her considerable allure to entangle the men in her life in webs of intrigue.

Mark Blum as Joel and Gretchen Mol as Larissa in "The Good Mother."  Photo by Monique Carboni.
Memory is a double-edged sword of nostalgia and dread in Herzog's "The Great God Pan," at Playwrights Horizons mainstage through  Januaray 6, 2013. It may be that Jamie (Jeremy Strong) is stymied by suppressed memories. Jamie has a middling career. He is not fully committed in his long-term relationship with Paige (Sarah Goldberg.) His mother, Cathy (Becky Ann Baker) worries that is not happy. Jamie is stumbling along with his life when he reunites with a boyhood friend, Frank (Keith Nobbs).Frank's unwelcome revelations make Jamie and his father, Doug (Peter Friedman) uneasy.

Jeremy Strong as Jamie with Sarah Goldberg as Paige in "The Great God Pan." Photo by Joan Marcus.
Keith Nobbs cuts a splendidly fierce goth-like figure. His Frank is straightforward and secure. Jeremy Strong's Jamie is appropriately listless and uncertain.

Keith Nobbs as Frank and Jeremy Strong as Jamie  in "The Great God Pan." Photo by Joan Marcus.


The pathologically self-absorbed Larissa in "The Good Mother," on the other hand, willfully provokes a series of incidents that unsettle her peace and comfort. She victimizes Angus (Eric Nelsen), Joel's troubled son, and leaves him bewildered. After a one-night stand, she calls upon the protective and equally befuddled Jonathan (Darren Goldstein) and then dismisses him.

Gretchen Mol as Larissa with Darren Goldstein as Jonathan in "The Good Mother." Photo by Monique Carboni.
Larissa is a temptress and a user. She doesn't seem to care that her schemes, like her troubled past, all seem to backfire. It's easy to see her triumphant smirk from ten rows back as she draws in the long-ago jilted Buddy (Alfredo Narciso.)

Fans of HBOs Boardwalk Empire will be happy to again see Gretchen Mol in person. She acquits herself brilliantly in this psychological thriller.

The many lingering questions Amy Herzog leaves unanswered in "The Great God Pan" are part of its dramatic power. Carolyn Cantor directs the superb cast in even and compelling performances. Volpe's "The Good Mother," under Scott Elliot's direction is satisfyingly complex. 
Larissa and Jamie are both hampered by their childhoods, and haunted by their pasts.

For more information about "The Good Mother," visit http://www.thenewgroup.org/. To learn more about "The Great God Pan," go to www.playwrightshorizons.org     



Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Odets "Golden Boy" Pulls No Punches

Certainly there were many precedents, like The Jazz Singer,  of disappointed fathers whose sons were determined to pervert their pure talent for commercial success. Clifford Odets, however, had a hand in turning the dilemma of choosing fame over art into a cliché.

Seth Numrich as Joe and Yvonne Strahovski as Lorna in "Golden Boy." Photo by Paul Kolnik 
In "Golden Boy," at the Belasco Theatre again for its 75th anniversary, staged by Lincoln Center Theaters, and running through January 20th, a boy forsakes music for the excitement of the boxing ring.

In the 1930s, and for many years thereafter, boxers exerted celebrity. The limelight, not fiddling under a street lamp for tips, is what Joe Bonaparte (Seth Numrich) seeks. The day when Joe decides to put on boxing gloves, his father (Tony Shalhoub) spends a small fortune on a violin for his 21st birthday.

If Joe needs convincing on the path to the fight game, he gets it from Lorna Moon (Yvonne Strahovski), the hard-boiled dame who falls for his sweetness while pushing him toward brutality.

Yvonne Strahovski as Lorna Moon and Danny Mastrogiorgio as Tom Moody. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Tom Moody (Danny Mastrogiorgio), perhaps sensing their rivalry for Lorna's affections, doesn't much like the kid he's managing. Tom dubs Joe "the cock-eyed wonder" to the press and fans.

Anthony Crivello as Eddie Fuseli with Seth Numrich as Joe Bonaparte. Danny Bustein as Tokio in background.
Photo by Paul Kolnik.

The gangster, Eddie Fuseli (Anthony Crivello), on the other hand, like Joe's trainer, Tokio (Danny Burstein), is captivated by Joe. Fuseli buys a piece of the rising star, and then showers him with gifts of clothing. After a while, Joe begins to dress like his mentor. He takes on the trappings of oppulence, flashy clothes and a fast car. The one woman Joe wants is engaged to Tom Moody. The hubbub of Joe's life is very different from the quiet and peace he felt when he was a champion violin-player as a boy.

Tony Shalhoub as Mr. Bonaparte, Seth Numrich as Joe and Danny Burstein as his trainer, Tokio. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Given Joe's outsized resentments and grandiosity, it's not hard to sympathize with his detractors, like Moody, or Roxy Gottlieb (Ned Eisenberg), the other member of the syndicate backing him. The press too don't like Joe. Even Joe says, "I don't like myself, past, present and future."    Joe is a discontented soul, out to "show 'em all."

Everything about the LCT production of "Golden Boy" is true to the period it represents, from the brilliant costumes by Catherine Zuber, to the dialect. In fact, as an example of the latter, Yvonne Strahovski, an Austrailian import making her LCT and Broadway debuts, is pitch-perfect as "the tramp from New Jersey."

Overseeing the harmonious presentation, director Bartlett Sher shows his sensitivity and appreciation for Odets's work in all facets of "Golden Boy."

Among the well-directed cast, Michael Aronov stands out as Siggie, Joe's brother-in-law, whose ambitions are homier and more down-to-earth that that of the "Golden Boy." Seth Numrich gives a nuanced performance that keeps him in balance between Joe's insecurity and his bravado. Danny Mastrogiorgio's Tom Moody is so completely natural it's as if he's living the part. Credit Tony Shalhoub for his restraint in underplaying Mr. Bonaparte whom he embues with a resolute strength and sadness.

In fact, there are very few missteps in this "Golden Boy." The only quibble brings us back to the beginning, that the story is by now so familiar that it mostly lacks dramatic surprise. And if it has become an mundane theme, we can lay some of that blame on Clifford Odets.

For more information about "Golden Boy," please visit www.lct.org

Monday, December 17, 2012

It's Ailey Season In The City

Dance is a sort of go-to during the holidays. For some of us New Yorkers, it's Ailey Season.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, at New York City Center through December 30th, is a sort of alt-Nutrcracker-- not that there is anything wrong with the profusion of Nutcrackers around town.
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater company in "Revelations." Photo by Manny Herhandez. 

The uplifting, "Revelations," an Ailey-choreographed piece that has stopped the show all over the world since its creation in 1960, continues to be the crown-jewel of the AAADT.

Artisitic Director Emerita Judith Jamison in "Revelations" from the company archives.
 Going to church with Ailey is always a special privilege. At the performance we attended, the music was live, conducted by Nedra Olds-Neal, and the AAADT company was joined by Ailey II and Students of the Ailey School to make up a cast of 50.


Cast of 50 for "Revelations." Photo by Christopher Duggan.
Ailey's dancers are among those who can be entrusted to do justice to the Paul Taylor cannon. Indeed, Taylor directed them when they introduced his "Arden Court" to the repertory last season. AAADT's style meshes well with the work.

AAADT in Paul Taylor's "Arden Court." Photo by Paul Kolnik.
The pomp and circumstance of the music by William Boyce has a processional grace. The dancing is at once majestic and down-to-earth. The muscularity of motion is fluid and easy. For Taylor, dance is play for adults.
AAADT's rendering of "Arden Court" is joyful and fun. 

Robert Battle, who took over as the third Artistic Director in AAADT's history in 2011 from Judith Jamison,
does not want his choreography to dominate the repertory. His "Takedeme" offered a brief (at just 5 minutes) but powerful and amusing addition to AAADT programming.
Yannick Lebrun makes a leap in Robert Battle's "Takedeme" seem so easy.  Photo by Andrew Eccles.
 The score, "Speaking in Tongues II" by Sheila Chandra, scolds in jibberish. The dance is complex, based on Indian Kathak, and the dancer, Yanick Lebrun moved muscles he could not possibly have had in isolation.

The afternoon's highlight, however, was Garth Fagan's "From Before," (1978) which enters AAADT repertory as a company premiere this season. Set to "Path" by Trinindadian composer, Ralph MacDonald, the dance starts out with African inflections, moves on to the Caribbean, and from there becomes jazzy. The Fagan-costumed cast in silken unitards, their bodies sleek in vivid colors. The steps are as lively as the vibrant melodies and rhythms that accompany the movement.

AAADT in Garth Fagan's "From Before." Photo by Paul Kolnik. 
For more information about Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and a schedule of programming, visit http://www.alvinailey.org/citycenter 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Penny Fuller Sings of "13 Things..."

Virginia (Penny Fuller) is a widow in distress. It seems her husband Ed mortgaged away their life's assets to some shady characters, including his brother Frank and the local banker, Bob O'Klock, before his sudden death.

Musical Director Paul Greenwood plays the piano and Penny Fuller as Virginia sings in 13 Things About Ed Carpolotti. Photo by Carol Rosegg
In "13 Things About Ed Carpolotti," at 59E59 Theaters through December 30th, Virginia under siege hums, sings and narrates her tale.

Penny Fuller as Virginia in "13 Things..." Directed by Barry Kleinbort (book, music and lyrics). Photo by Carol Rosegg

 
The tension in "13 Things About Ed Carpolotti" builds as new creditors approach Virginia. "We're Gonna Be Fine," the not-entirely-convinced Virginia says and sings. Penny Fuller, backed by pianist and musical director, Paul Greenwood, is a delight. She voices each of the townsfolk she encounters. Her emotions flutter then overflow. "We're gonna be great... we're gonna be swell."

Penny Fuller is Virginia in "13 Things..." Photo by Carol Rosegg

The cafe seating is the showcase for a cabaret styled musical piece directed by Barry Kleinbort (book, music and lyrics), based on a play by Jeffrey Hatcher.

The humor is of the gentle gallows kind, the mood sentimental and sweet. "13 Things About Ed Carpolotti" proves to be a delightful little show.

For more information on "13 Things About Ed Carpolotti," visit www.59e59.org.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pride in "Working"

Joe Cassidy in foreground with cast of "Working " at 59E59 Theaters in a Prospect Theater Company production.
Photo by Richard Termine.

For most people, work is more than a job. It's about more than collecting a paycheck. It's about making a contribution.

"Working A Musical," at 59E59 Theaters in a production by the Prospect Theater Company through December 30th, celebrates the dignity of the American workforce. The closing number,  Craig Carnelia's "Something To Point To," for instance, is a song of workers' pride in what they do.

Based on Studs Terkel's seminal series of interviews, "Working" was originally adapted by Stephen Schwartz and Nina Faso, for a Chicago run at the Goodman Theatre in 1977 and moved to Broadway where it closed after just 24 post preview performances. It has been revised and performed many times since in Chicago and LA, Florida, New Haven and San Diego. The current revival, which also commemorates Terkel's centenary, adds two new songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda and has additional contributions to the book by director Gordon Greenberg.

Marie-France Arcilla with the cast behind her working in a factory to the James Taylor tune "Millwork."Photo by Richard Termine.
  
Songs in "Working" range from laments like Micki Grant's "Cleanin' Woman" and "If I Could've Been" and James Taylor's "Millwork" to anthems like Taylor's "Brother Trucker" those by Stephen Schwartz "All The Livelong Day,"or "Nobody Tells Me How" from Susan Birkenhead (lyrics) and Mary Rodgers  
(music) or Craig Carnelia's "The Mason."

"It's An Art," according to Delores Dante (Donna Lynne Champlin with cast  in background). Photo by Richard Termine.
If "Working" teaches us anything it's that "Nobody is just a waitress!" Donna Lynne Champlin is a show of her own as the wonderful Delores Dante. "I get intoxicated with giving service," Delores says as she shuttles plates and cups. "It becomes theatrical and I feel like... I'm on stage." For Delores, being a waitress -- well, in Schwartz's words, "It's An Art."  

Variety is the spice of this musical tribute to "what we do all day," as Terkel put it. Everyone gets to work in several settings.  In "Working," six hard-working actors portay 36 of Terkel's  industrious subjects. For instance, Joe Cassidy is credibly and movingly by turns an ironworker, hedge fund manager, a publicist, and a retiree.

Among the workers interviewed in "Working," there is a factory worker (Marie-France Arcilla), a sex worker (Kenita R. Miller), a stone mason (Nahal Joshi), a fireman and a UPS driver (Jay Armstrong Johnson), a nanny and a flight attendant (Marie-France again),  a cleaning lady (Kenita), a fast food worker (Nahal), and a school teacher (Donna Lynne). Each has his own story and song  in the vignettes that make up the show.
Nehal Joshi, Jay Armstrong Johnson, and Joe Cassidy with Marie-France Arcilla, Kenita R. Miller and Donna Lynne Champlin behind them in Taylor's "Brother Trucker."  Photo by Richard Termine.

Along with Donna Lynne Champlin's show-stopping contributions as Delores and then again as the school teacher, Rose Hoffman, there is also Joe Cassidy's poignant portrayal of the retiree, Joe Zutty in Carnelia's "Joe,"  neatly followed by "A Very Good Day" by Miranda and performed by Nehal Joshi as a elder-care worker, Utkarsh Trajillo and Marie-France Arcilla as the nanny, Theresa Liu. Kenita R. Miller's Kate Rushton, "Just A Housewife" (Carnelia),  and Maggie Holmes, "A Cleanin' Lady" (Grant) contrast with her buttomed-up project manager, Amanda McKenny, and her all-out prostitute Roberta Victor.  

The pace is fast, and the subject interesting.  In this economy, it sometimes feels like just having a job is a gift, but "Working" is about all the people who do the jobs--menial and meaningful-- and how they feel about what they accomplish each day.

For more information about "Working," visit www.59e59.org, please.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Doomed to repeat past mistakes in "The Good Mother"


If "the past is prologue," what follows for those who are stuck in the past?

In their latest work, playwrights Amy Herzog and Francine Volpe focus on protagonists who are diminished by their past. [More on Herzog's play after opening on December 18th.]


In Volpe's "The Good Mother," at the New Group in the Acorn theater through December 22nd, personal history sets up a pattern of self-destruction and delusion.  Larissa (Gretchen Mol) is held back by an infantile crush on her teen counsellor, Joel (Mark Blum.) Larissa exerts her considerable allure to entangle the men in her life in webs of intrigue.

Mark Blum as Joel and Gretchen Mol as Larissa in "The Good Mother."  Photo by Monique Carboni.


The pathologically self-absorbed Larissa in "The Good Mother," willfully provokes a series of incidents that unsettle her peace and comfort. She victimizes Angus (Eric Nelsen), Joel's troubled son, and leaves him bewildered. After a one-night stand, she calls upon the protective and equally befuddled Jonathan (Darren Goldstein) and then dismisses him.

Gretchen Mol as Larissa with Darren Goldstein as Jonathan in "The Good Mother." Photo by Monique Carboni.
Larissa is a temptress and a user. She doesn't seem to care that her schemes, like her troubled past, all seem to backfire. It's easy to see her triumphant smirk from ten rows back as she draws in the long-ago jilted Buddy (Alfredo Narciso.)

Fans of HBOs Boardwalk Empire will be happy to again see Gretchen Mol in person. She acquits herself brilliantly in this psychological thriller.

Carolyn Cantor directs the superb cast in even and compelling performances. Volpe's "The Good Mother," under Scott Elliot's direction is satisfyingly complex. 


For more information about "The Good Mother," visit http://www.thenewgroup.org/

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Holiday At War In "A Civil War Christmas"

War makes a mockery of the holiday spirit.

This is exactly what comes to mind as "A Civil War Christmas," at the New York Theatre Workshop through December 30th, begins to tell its story of the last Christmas eve of the Civil War.


Playwright Paula Vogel may have intended it to be a history lesson, but "A Civil War Christmas," is  in fact a mixture of pageant-- in the tradition of the season,-- minstrel show and music hall folly.

A wartime Christmas is most often wistful and nostalgic. The Civil War with its outsized carnage was especially harrowing. The country divided as it was was ground down and in a very low place. Christmas 1864 was anything but festive.  Much of "A Civil War Christmas," seems to trivialize its subject.

Sean Allan Krill, Sumaya Bouhbal, Antwayn Hopper, Bob Stillman,  Rachel Spencer Hewitt, and Alice Ripley in Paula Vogel's "A Civil War Christmas." Photo by Carol Rosegg. 
President Abe Lincoln (Bob Stillman) is forgetful and neglectful of his own safety, cartoonishly evading his security detail (Sean Allan Krill as Mr. Lamon.) The conspirators, who history has shown eventually succeeded in their assassination-- John Wilkes Booth (Sean Allan Krill, again), John Surratt (Chris Henry), and Lewis Payne (Alice Ripley)-- are bumbling whiners.As the First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln (Alice Ripley-- everyone does multiple duty in this cast), comes across as a kind, erratic and silly woman.

Alice Ripley, Jonathan-David, Sean Allan Krill in in Paula Vogel's "A Civil War Christmas." Photo by Carol Rosegg.

There are notable exceptions to this paint-by-numbers approach to characterization in "A Civil War Christmas," of course.

The well-developed and astutely portrayed Decatur Bronson (K. Todd Freeman), fuelled by his fury at the Confederates who nabbed his wife, Rose (Amber Iman) off their porch, is valiant. Freeman's performance is strong and moving. His Sgt. Bronson, a Black soldier in the Union Army, has a fierce oft-sung mantra, "Take No Prisoners" in keeping with his nature.  Amber Iman lends credence to her roles as Rose, and as a mother, Hannah, searching for her little girl, Jessa (Sumaya Boulbah.)
K. Todd Freeman as Sgt Decatur Bronon with Amber Iman as his wife Rose  in  Paula Vogel's  "A Civil War Christmas." Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Songs,  (musical direction by Andrew Resnick, with supervision & arrangements by Daryl Waters, and incidental music also by Waters,) some traditional like the Negro hymn to freedom, "Follow The Drinking Gourd," some original and others originally built on Yuletide standards, and dance move the narrative along.

Working on a bare, wood-planked stage, the actors pluck props, instruments, and costumes out of the open "closet" that runs along the side. Despite the wealth of talent on display, -- most of the cast not only act, sing and dance, but also play a fiddle or guitar or drum-- all admirably -- and assisted by director Tina Landau, "A Civil War Christmas" feels amateurish. It is a sincere effort but unfortunately, "A Civil War Christmas" never delivers on its promising and heartfelt concept.

For more information about "A Civil War Christmas," please visit http://www.nytw.org/.





Tuesday, December 4, 2012

So so "...Jews"


Sometimes "bad" is a not so much a pejorative as a relative term.

Definitions of bad abound in "Bad Jews," Joshua Harmon's new play at the Roundabout's Underground Black Box Theatre at  the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre through December 30th.

Philip Ettinger as Jonah Haber, Tracee Chimo as his cousin Daphna Feygenbaum, and Molly Ranson as Melody
in "Bad Jews." Photo by Joan Marcus.

In "Bad Jews," the judge of who and what is bad is Daphna (Tracee Chimo), one of the cousins gathering in the family's Upper West Side studio after their grandfather's death.Daphna feels that her dedication to her Jewishness entitles her, of all the cousins, to inherit the Chai necklace he wore in commemoration of his survival during the  Holocaust.
Molly Ranson as Melody and Michael Zegen as Liam Haber in  "Bad Jews."  Photo by Joan Marcus.

Tracee Chimo- a weak link in Harvey, mordantly funny in Bachlorette-- is at the top of her game again in "Bad Jews." Daphna, as she plays her, finds all the soft spots and then pushes until the object of her probes is on the verge of strangling her. In   "Bad Jews," Daphna  browbeats not only her cousins, Jonah  (Philip Ettinger) and Liam Haber (Michael Zegen) but also Liam's non-Jewish girlfriend, Melody (Molly Ranson).

The weakness in "Bad Jews" is in the script, which relies too heavily on the knowing pause, and the obvious laugh-line. "Bad Jews" lacks  a substantial plot to carry it from "so so" to "ah-- very good!"

For more information on "Bad Jews," visit http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/.

The Vineyard Blossoms In Its 30th Year!

From the beginning, the Vineyard Theatre proved to be fertile ground for extended runs, Broadway transfers, and prize-winning productions.

Nicky Silver's "The Lyons," "The Scottsboro Boys," and "[title of show]" all went from their Vineyard runs to the Great White Way. "Avenue Q" moved to the John Golden Theatre where it won the 2004 Tony and now continues to enjoy success at New World Stages.

Ricky and Rod from "Avenue Q"
Paula Vogel's "How I Learned To Drive" premiered at the Vineyard, moved to the Century Theatre and then won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize. The Vineyard's dedication to new works has led to fruitful collaborations with writers like Becky Mode ("Fully Committed"), the team of John Kander and Fred Ebb (the above-mentioned "Scottsboro Boys," and "Flora The Red Menace"), and Nicky Silver (whose1993 "Pterodactyls" will enjoy a special member reading on December 10th).  
From the Broadway run of "The Scottsboro Boys"-- Joshua Henry and the cast. Photo by Paul Kolnik

This season's  opener, "Checkers" by Douglas McGrath, (just closed) featured top-notch work from a great cast under Terry Kinney's direction, led by Anthony LaPaglia as Richard Nixon and Kathryn Erbe as Pat Nixon.

The 30th anniversary will bring a New York premiere by Rajiv Joseph, "The North Pool"  followed by a world premiere of  "Somewhere Fun," by Jenny Schwartz. Members of The Vineyard Theatre will also witness special workshops and readings.

For more information on The Vineyard Theatre, please visit http://vineyardtheatre.org/ 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Shocking and "Scandalous"

There have always been determined women who've succeeded in a male-dominated world.

"It's not man's world, it's God's," Aimee Semple McPherson (Carolee Carmello) tells Louella Parsons (Elizabeth Ward Land) in "Scandalous," the new musical enjoying an open run at the Neil Simon Theatre.



Kenneth Ormiston (Andrew Samonsky) and Aimee Semple McPherson  (Carolee Carmello) in a photo by Jeremy Daniel.

The woman at the center of Kathie Lee Gifford's (book, lyrics) "Scandalous" was a controversial celebrity evangelist. In 1927, Aimee Semple McPherson became embroiled in a morals trial.

Was she targetted because her large house of worship dominated Los Angeles and competed with the established church of Brother Bob (George Hearn)? Was it that she broadcasted sermons coast to coast that drew fire? Was she signalled out because she was a driven woman? Did she shock convention? The answer in "Scandalous" is all of the above.

Aimee Semple McPherson  (Carolee Carmello) and Borther Bob (George Hearn) in a photo by Jeremy Daniel.
A Holy Roller's biography in music (by David Pomeranz and David Friedman  and additional music and lyrics by Kathie Lee Gifford) and song should have some exuberant singing. The music in "Scandalous" is muted as if intentionally tamping down the "joyful noises" of a Pentecostal service. Unexpectedly, the fiercest and most rousing number in "Scandalous" is one in which  Aimee challenges God, "How Could You?"
The company with Carolee Carmello. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

"Scandalous" is a lavish, if somewhat uninspired, musical play. The costumes by Gregory A. Paplyk are simply gorgeous. The Ensemble is hard working and well directed (David Armstorng directs, choreography by Lorin Latarro.)  Among the large cast, Edward Watts (in a dual role as Robert Semple and David Hutton, two of Aimee's husbands, George Hearn (also in two roles as Aimee's father and Brother Bob), and Roz Ryan as a madam, Emma Jo Schaeffer, who becomes Aimee's assistant in the church, all stand out..

Aimee Semple McPherson welcomed the attention of the press and the public. She sought it out. Her hubris brought on her downfall. Or, as it happens, more like a stumble. The scandal in "Scandalous" did not shut her or her Angelus Temple down.

For more information about "Scandalous," please visit http://scandalousonbroadway.com/ 


Monday, November 26, 2012

Dreamers and thinkers: Ideas that Threaten

Dreamers and thinkers are a threat to tyranny.




Nathan Englander's "The Twenty-Seventh Man," at The Public Theater extended through December 16th,  examines Stalin's extreme reaction to that threat.

Stalin had encouraged Yiddishists in every arena, supporting the Moscow State Jewish Theater, Yiddish newspapers and schools. In 1952, his paranoia seems to have gotten the better of him. He began rounding up Jewish intellectuals for execution.

In  "The Twenty-Seventh Man," Pinchas Pelovits (Noah Robbins), the titular final prisoner, is mystified at being brought in to share a cell with literary luminaries. His cellmates are all prominent writers. Pinchas is unsung and never published.

Vasily Korinsky (Chip Zien), Guard (Happy Anderson), Pinchas Pelovits (Noah Robbins), Moishe Bretzky (Daniel Oreskes) and Yevgeny Zunser (Ron Rifkin). Photo by Joan Marcus 

Yet, upon being dropped in the cell, the only thing Pinchas asks for is pen and paper. Vasily Korinsky (Chip Zien), one of the famous authors with whom he is incarcerated, suggests it would be more sensible to ask for his freedom. Pinchas points out that if your jailer were to free you, he would no longer be your jailer. As played by Robbins, Pinchas is an innocent savant.
Yevgeny Zunser (Ron Rifkin) and Pinchas Pelovits (Noah Robbins). Photo by Joan Marcus 
The mild-mannered  Yevgeny Zunser (Ron Rifkin) is amused by Pinchas's youth and Talmudic reasoning. Unlike Korinsky, who is convinced that his arrest is a mistake, Zunser is resigned to his plight.

The dream cast in "The Twenty-Seventh Man" includes the amazing Byron Jennings, as the Agent in Charge. When Korinsky tells him he is innocent, the Agent asks if that means the others are not, and asks him to confirm it in writing. "Sign it," he urges, "so I will believe it."
The Agent in Charge (Byron Jennings) with Vasily Korinsky (Chip Zien). Photo by Joan Marcus 

There is an intensity that is wrought by the carefully-placed language and the precision in the tone of "The Twenty-Seventh Man." As befits a drama about writers and thinkers, "The Twenty-Seventh Man,"
weaves a spell of words. The stylized text evokes a feeling that can only be described as Russian.

For more information about "The Twenty-Seventh Man," please visit www.publictheater.org.


Make a wish: A Christmas Story...

'Tis the season for wishing and presents. 

Here's a wish for you: gift yourself "A Christmas Story: The Musical" before it ends its season at  The Lunt-Fontaine Theatre on December 30th.

In  "A Christmas Story: The Musical," Jean Shepherd (Dan Lauria) narrates a memory from childhood in which Ralphie (Johnny Rabe) is so desperate to get a "Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun" that his 
pleas tie his tongue.

Photo by Carol Rosegg. Johnny Rabe as Ralphie, Zac Ballard as his brother Randy and Erin Dilly as their mother.

 
His Mother (Erin Dilly) laughs off his Christmas wish with a "You'll Shoot Your Eye Out," a sentiment that is reprised in the taunt his teacher Miss Shields (Caroline O'Connor) delivers in one of Ralphie's many reveries.

In that same Fantasy scene, the youngest little scene-stealer in tapshoes, Luke Spring (age 9) out taps  his elders, including the wonderful Caroline O'Connor. In fact, the prodigious talent on stage in "A Christmas Story: The Musical" comes in all sizes and ages. And Warren Carlyle's brilliant choreography adds sparkle at every turn to "A Christmas Story: The Musical."

Luke Spring and Caroline O'Connor in a scene called "Fantasy 1930s Speakeasy." Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Ralphie's father, The Old Man (John Bolton), cursing a gibberish-load, harbors a wish of his own. His "Major Award" from a crossword contest inspires one of the most memorable of many terrific dance sequences in "A Christmas Story: The Musical."

The Old Man (John Bolton) with his "Major Award." Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Newcomers  Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (music and lyrics) with Joseph Robinette (book) retooled the 1983 film "A Christmas Story" by Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown and Bob Clark and Shepherd's book "In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash" to give Broadway this generous holiday gift.


Dan Lauria as Jean Shepherd in a photo by Carol Rosegg.



The music in "A Christmas Story: The Musical" is varied and interesting with, just for example a lovely "What a Mother Does" (sung by the lovely Erin Dilly) balanced by the rousing ensemble piece "Ralphie To The Rescue."

Johnny Rabe as Ralphie. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

In a superb cast, each with their own moments in which to shine, John Bolton is the topper on the tree. He is a very funny and gifted man. 

Kristen, the kindergartner in the next seat, enjoyed "A Christmas Story: The Musical" as did her dad. "A Christmas Story: The Musical" has more grit and glory than the usual children's play. Adults and tykes alike will have a rollicking good time.

For more information about "A Christmas Story: The Musical," please visit http://achristmasstorythemusical.com/.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Singing R&B, with "Forever Dusty"

"Stay Forever," was an earlier iteration of the musical play, "Forever Dusty" by Kirsten Holly Smith and Jonathan Vankin

We seem to label the pop-stars of the past as icons. And, if a pop-singer still has name-recognition, and a memorable hit or two or three, maybe we're right to do so.

Dusty Springfield was a name to be reckoned with, had many a well-known chart-topping song in her day, and a forty-year career. All of which adds up to icon status, and "Forever Dusty," at New World Stages Stage 5 through January 6th, is a loving tribute to her. (Congratulations--EXTENDED to March 3, 2013!)

Kirsten Holly Smith and Jonathan Vankin have created a well-written and engrossing bio-musical from the inherent drama of Dusty Springfield's life story. The script takes liberties with the life, but is dedicated to its subject.

Dusty (Kirsten Holly Smith) emerged as the alter-ego of a shy Irish schoolgirl named Mary O'Brien. The drama of "Forever Dusty" is in Dusty's complex and closeted life.  
 Kirsten Holly Smith as Dusty Springfield. Photo by Thom Kaine.
Her ambition to make music with a Motown sound drove her to fame as a cross-over artist. The timid middle-class white girl from the England took on a flashy mod persona that resonated all over the world. She sang soul-inflected song after song, dressed in shiny high white boots and spangled dresses. The costumes, designed by Nancy A. Palmetier, by the way, are many and fabulous.

At the height of her career in the 1960s, there were potentially career-ending whispers that she was a lesbian, buried under tabloid rumors of involvement with Jagger or McCartney. Her private life was fuelled by alcohol and drugs. After several stints in rehab, her sobriety reignited her career and in the late 1980s. 
Kirsten Holly Smith as Dusty Springfield in "Forever Dusty." Photo by Joan Marcus.
Kirsten Holly Smith has strong support from her cast, including Sean Patrick Hopkins as Dusty's brother, Tom Springfield, Benim Foster as a record producer and a journalist, and Coleen Sexton in dual roles as Becky and Gini. Christina Sajous [recently as Arachne in "Spider-Man"and Shirley in "Baby It's You"
is lovely as a back-up singer and superb as the gentle Claire.

The excellent on-stage band add an intimate night club feel. In "Forever Dusty," the discography gets plenty of stagetime; it is reprised in concert  or studio-recording  reenactments. "You Don't Have to Stay Forever,"  a song that exemplifies Dusty Springfield's work, brought the house down!

For more information about "Forever Dusty," please visit www.foreverdusty.com

Monday, November 19, 2012

Empowering The Young: "Emotional Creature"

We're a long way from "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." 

Eve Ensler's "Emotional Creature," in an outside production imported from California's Berkeley Repertory Theatre to The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center, through January 13th, details the atrocities that so often rob girls of their childhood.

Molly Carden  in "Emotional Creature" by Eve Ensler. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

All over the globe, they are deprived of their girlhood by being abducted, beaten into prostitution, forced into factory labor, raped, denied an education. But it's not just crimes, like genital mutilation, that keep girls from enjoying their youth. There is also peer pressure to be skinny, to be straight, to be popular, to be pretty that add hardship to the confusion that is part of growing up.  

Ashley Bryant in "Emotional Creature" by Eve Ensler. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
This panoply of obstacles to self-actualization is rendered in monologue, and in song and dance, in "Emotional Creature" by an enthusiastic cast of young women.

Joaquina Kalukango in "Emotional Creature" by Eve Ensler. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

In her title, Ensler has co-opted the notion that conflates being female with having an excess of feeling, the diagnosis of which was once simply called hysteria. Unfortunately, even though Ensler's earnest feminism is never in doubt, the passion in "Emotional Creature" feels like politically correct lip-service. The world-wide success of her earlier play,"The Vagina Monologues," led to the creation of V-Girls, as a platform to empower the young  as Ensler's foundation, V-Day, a global activist movement to end violence against women had empowered a generation of adult women.
Olivia Oguma in "Emotional Creature" by Eve Ensler. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Subtitled "the secret life of girls around the world," "Emotional Creature" is just too ambitious in its scope. There is too much going on-- some of it funny, some of it heartwrenching, some of it inconsequential -- unless perhaps you are that teenage girl trying to fit in.  What we don't get is to feel fully engaged with "Emotional Creature." 

These girls stories are for the most part too dire to trivialize, but "Emotional Creature," in aiming alll over the world glosses over and simplifies a world of troubles. In fact, some of the lighter and funnier moments are the best part of "Emotional Creature."  Those include the cast in a chat room worrying over what not to eat. Ashley Bryant taking and critiquing pictures for her Facebook page and Sade Namei missing her pre-nose job face make for amusing insights into the secret lives of girls.

The cast also includes  Emily Grosland, Joaquina Kalukango, Molly Carden, and  Olivia Oguma. Running time is just under 90 minutes.

For more information please visit http://emotionalcreature.com

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"Figaro" Gets Married

Smart and funny always makes for a good time.

"Figaro," at the Pearl Theatre extended through December 2nd,   is the very smart and very funny marriage of Beaumarchais and playwright Charles Morey. Witty and well-paced, "Figaro" is full of all the complications created by Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais in his 1778 play, "Le mariage de Figaro" and some ultra-modern solutions offered by Morey.

Photo by Jack J. Goldberg. Figaro (Sean McNall) shaves Count Almaviva (Chris Mixon) in The Pearl's "Figaro" 

There are many obstacles in the way before Figaro (Sean McNall) and Suzanne (Jolly Abraham) can get married. Their employer and patron who must sign the marriage banns, Count Almaviva (Chris Mixon),  is a randy fellow who has made Suzanne a project of his affections.
Photo by Jack J. Goldberg. Marcelline (Robin Leslie Brown), Dr. Bartholo (Dan Daily), The Count (Chris Mixon), The Countess (Joey Parsons), and Figaro (Sean McNall) in The Pearl's "Figaro" 

Figaro is both hero and narrator, engaging the audience as he explains his backstory. He makes allusions to his stint as "The Barber of Seville" as well as to Mozart's version of "The Marriage of Figaro."   His political and social commentary has a very contemporary feel.

"Figaro" features stock characters that are not stick figures but beautifully fleshed out. Broad and charming comedy is the calling card of this entertaining production. Expertly directed by Hal Brooks, the actors do an excellent job. Sean McNall is so comfortable as Figaro that he makes us all feel at home. He has what can only be called an iridescent charm. Jolly Abraham is a fetching Suzanne, aided by the clever Countess (Joey Parsons) in making the little subplots unravel hilariously. Chris Mixon's comic timing is superb; he is at once cadgy and clueless.

For more informaton or tickets for "Figaro,"    visit www.pearltheatre.org