Thursday, April 26, 2012

Secrets and Evasions

Repressive regimes-- like the communism that the journalist and "Cold Warrior" Joseph Alsop detested or the equally unsavory home-grown witch-hunting of Joseph McCarthy-- breed secrecy and fear.

In David Auburn's "The Columnist," at MTC's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre extended to June 24th again through July 1st, Joe Alsop (John Lithgow) hides the open secret of his homosexuality in a marriage to his best friend's widow, Susan Mary Alsop (Margaret Colin.)

John Lithgow as Joseph Alsop with Margaret Colin as Susan Mary Alsop Photo © Joan Marcus.

Alsop is as guarded about his personal life as he is aggressive in his professional activities. Joseph Alsop's was a liberal's conservative, anti McCarthy, and as excited by the Kennedy presidency as he was hostile to LBJ's good ole boy politics. He called both the Cold and Vietnam Wars all wrong but stayed the course even as his patrician accent and bespoke wardrobe went out of fashion. His gleeful quest for power and influence made him a much less reliable witness to history than his brother and one-time writing partner, Stewart (Boyd Gaines.)

John Lithgow as Joseph Alsop with Boyd Gaines as Stewart Alsop Photo © Joan Marcus.

Everyone in the cast of "The Columnist" is excellent, with John Lithgow in the lead giving an affecting portrayal of the work-aholic newspaperman. Grace Gummer, as Susan Mary's daughter Abigail, makes the most of her role as a foil to her stodgy stepfather.

Stephen Kunken-as David Halberstam with Boyd Gaines as Stewart Alsop Photo © Joan Marcus.
While "The Columnist" has a steady foothold in the machinations of Washington politicking, Matt Charman's "Regrets." at MTC's NY City Center Stage I through April 29th, takes a regrettable detour into McCarthy-era politics.

TONY NEWS: or is it? John Lithgow is a nominee for 2012 Best Actor in a Drama!

In "Regrets," a group of men camp out in a Reno bungalow colony to establish residency. They are each bruised by their broken marriages. Mrs. Duke's (Adriane Lenox) cabins are a way-station for their lost souls.

Adriane Lenox as Mrs. Duke and Ansel Elgort as Caleb Farley in “Regrets.” Photo © Carol Rosegg. "Regrets" delves into a different kettle of secrets than those of "The Columnist." The twist that turns "Regrets" onto a political pathway is either inspired or unnecessary-- depending on your point of view. The horrors of hiding from McCarthy are real enough, but in this reviewer's opionion, they lend an air of unreality to this pleasant and interesting drama about the relationships of unmoored men. Ben Clancy (Brian Hutchison), Gerald Driscoll (Lucas Caleb Rooney), and Alvin Novotny (Richard Topol) welcome the newcomer, Caleb Farley (Ansel Elgort) with the wariness of those trapped far from home.

Brian Hutchison as Ben Clancy, Ansel Elgort as Caleb Farley, Richard Topol as Alvin Novotny and Lucas Caleb Rooney as Gerald Driscoll in “Regrets.” Photo © Carol Rosegg. The cast all give sterling performances, but the rookie, Ansel Elgort, making his professional debut, is definitely a stand-out. For more information on "The Columnist" , please visit where you will also find videos from the production. To get tickets for "Regrets" before it closes on Sunday, go to

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A New Gershwin Musical Is "Nice Work" Indeed

Ira and George Gershwin are the rare pair of musicians who can posthumously launch a Broadway hit.

"Nice Work If You Can Get It," at the Imperial Theatre in an open run, is a brand-new old musical, reworked by Joe DiPietro (2010 Tony for "Memphis".) DiPietro's script was inspired by material from Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse who collaborated on the book for the Gershwin's 1926 "Oh, Kay!"

In "Nice Work If You Can Get It," Matthew Broderick plays the endearingly inept Jimmy Winter, a playboy on the verge of his fourth marriage. Kelli O'Hara is the tom-boyish bootlegger Billie Bendix.
(To see videos from the musical, click here.) With the police, in the person of Stanley Wayne Mathis as Chief Berry, and Senator Max Evergreen (Terry Beaver) with his prohibitionist sister, Duchess Estonia Dulworth (Judy Kaye) on their trail, Billie and her crew, Cookie McGee (Michael McGrath) and Duke Mahoney (Chris Sullivan) need a place to stash 400 cases of contraband booze. Jimmy's seldom used Long Island mansion has a cellar that looks to be the perfect spot.

Joe DiPietro toys with the romantic comedy formula so that the expected happy endings offer some neat surprises. And even when you see it coming, the plot is bolstered by a tune aptly plucked from the rich Gershwin canon. "Nice Work...' is completely adorable. Matthew Broderick's guileless charm makes you feel at home in Jimmy's "Ritzy Beach House."

Kelli O'Hara, last seen as Nellie Forbush in
South Pacific
, is a big talent with a lovely voice and a natural ease on stage. Broderick's pleasant voice is buoyed by his castmates, many of whom give superb performances. The gypsies, dancing and singing in support of the main characters, under the direction and with choreography by Kathleen Marshall, are all excellent. The jazz era costumes by Martin Pakledinaz are resplendent and colorful.

Estelle Parsons is very funny in a near-cameo as Jimmy's mother Millicent Winter. Robyn Hurder is delightful as Jeannie Muldoon, the chorus girl who longs to be the queen of England. Other outstanding members of the large ensemble cast are Michael McGrath whose gangster character goes undercover as the butler. Judy Kaye exercises her full range of voice and comedic skills, and some acrobatics, as the teetotalling Duchess Estonia.
"Nice Work If You Can Get It" ..."and you can get it, if you try."
For more information on "Nice Work If You Can Get It," please visit their website. /More shortly.....

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"Ghost..." Haunts A Broadway Stage

Who knew blockbuster was spelled G_h_o_s_t?

Caissie Levy as Molly Jensen and cast in “Ghost the Musical.” Photo © Joan Marcus.

Bruce Joel Rubin (book & lyrics) has adapted his Academy Award winning film into "Ghost the Musical," in the Lunt-Fontaine Theatre for what may prove to be a very long run. (See videos from the show at
Caissie Levy as Molly Jensen, Richard Fleeshman as Sam Wheat and Bryce Pinkham as Carl Bruner in “Ghost the Musical.” Photo © Joan Marcus.
"Ghost the Musical" merges the cinematic with the dramatic into a spectacular spindrift of song, dance and romance. Matthew Warchus helms a musical play with many moving parts all of which contribute to the atmosphere of other-worldly excitement. The visual tricks (Illusions by Paul Kieve and Video & Projections by Jon Driscoll in a prodcution designed by Rob Howell) will convince the greatest cynic that there are ghosts among us. Ashley Wallen's dynamic choreography, with additional movement sequences by Liam Steel keep up the pace and tension in "Ghost the Musical" even for those of us who have seen the iconic movie.
Da”Vine Joy Randolph as Oda Mae Brown, Richard Fleeshman as Sam Wheat and Jeremy Davis as a Bank Officer in “Ghost the Musical.” Photo © Joan Marcus.

Like the movie's plot, "Ghost the Musical" is a simple romantic fantasy. After he is murdered in what looks like a street robbery gone bad, Sam Wheat (Richard Fleeshman) can find no peace until he makes an honest psychic out of the con woman Oda Mae Brown (Da'Vine Joy Randolph). In "Ghost the Musical," Sam comes to rely on Oda Mae to keep his girlfriend, Molly Jensen (Caissie Levy) out of harm's way and to avenge his untimely death. Whoopi Goldberg's fans won't be disappointed in Randolph's sassy Oda Mae, who turns out to have a gift for leading souls to their rest. Randolph is a triple threat star, acting, singing and dancing; her Oda Mae has swagger and vulnerability as she reluctantly befriends Sam's ghost.
Da”Vine Joy Randolph as Oda Mae Brown and cast in “Ghost the Musical.” Photo © Joan Marcus.

Fleeshman develops his character well showing first Sam's bewilderment at what has happened to him, and then his tenacity at making things right. Carl Bruner (Bryce Pinkham), Sam's colleague who hits on Molly a little too soon, is swarmy and appropriately a little creepy. Levy and Fleeshman are pretty to watch adding the heat to this love story.
Caissie Levy as Molly Jensen and Richard Fleeshman as Sam Wheat at the pottery wheel in “Ghost the Musical.” Photo © Joan Marcus.

Even the technical glitch that held up the conclusion in act two at the preview performance this reviewer attended kept everyone in their seats. It was taken as a time to talk amongst ourselves and wait patiently. Please visit for tickets and to learn more about the show.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

An Endless Variety of Entertainments

Canal Park Playhouse offers theater off the beaten path. Yes, it is geographically all the way on the far end of Canal over by the Hudson River.

Canal Park Playhouse is also an unusual venue because of its quaint landmarked setting in an 1828 canal house.

Most importantly for theater lovers, though, is the mix of surprising programming to be found at this lovely little theater.

For instance, weekends from April 21st to May 13th, "Drew the Dramatic Fool" (Drew Richardson)

brings his comedic sadsack "bumbling" to the Matinee/Brunch series. On Friday evenings from April 20th to May 11th, Drew gives slapstick a distinct edge in a show called "Help! Help! I Know This Title Is Too Long, But Somebody's Trying To Kill Me."

The recently launched "Play readings in the back room" are hosted by playwrights Joe Roland and Emily Devoti. Beginning on June 20th and running through July 15th from Wednesday through Saturday, come hear Frank McGuiness's "Someone Who'll Watch Over Me."

Visit for more information on these programs.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Year of Creative Scotland 2012: A Festival

Gerda Stevenson, playwright, director, actor (as Flo) and-Dave Anderson (as Jimmy) in “Murray Versus Federer.” Photo courtesy Communicado Theatre Company

Who doesn't like a festival? Embedded int he word is the possibilty of a happy-- okay, festive-- occasion. Everybody enjoys a celebration. What we are celebrating at 59E59 Theaters' "Scotland Week" are a couple of Scotland's fine playwrights and their supporting casts. The plays, "A Slow Air" by David Harrower, running through April 29th, and Gerda Stevenson's "Murray Versus Federer," on stage through April 22nd, are serious, even grim affairs. The latter about a couple, grieving over the loss of a son in war, and at war with each other. The former about a pair of siblings that have been estranged for the past fourteen years.

That is not to say that there is not plenty to celebrate here.

While "Murray Versus Federer" is written in short-hand, like the radio plays Stevenson scripts for the BBC, it is an intelligent and moving tale. It needs more time to pursue its subject in depth and allow its characters their full development, but what it gives us is subtle and well-written.

Gerda Stevenson, (as Flo) and Dave Anderson (as Jimmy) in “Murray vs Federer.” Photo © Jessica Brettle.

Grief is personal even when it's shared. In "Murray Versus Federer," Flo (Gerda Stevenson, also the writer and director), and Jimmy (Dave Anderson) are rent asunder in their bereavement. Their differences in temperament are underscored by their loss. Resentments lead them to blame each other.

"Well, tell me this, Mr. Expert," Flo says, "how come you kept yer mooth shut when Joe joined up? How come ye didnae dae yer schoolboy homework then, eh?" Jimmy explodes back at her "I'll no keep ma mooth shut just to keep a phoney fuckin peace in this hoose, a phoney fuckin peace that's packed wi lies. My son died fur lies, lies!" In "Murray Versus Federer," Flo and Jimmy share the stage with the memory of Joe, a Saxophonist (Ben Bryden), who alternately plays sad, soulful and jazzy tunes between the five short scenes.

"Murray Versus Federer," despite its brevity and because of the excellent acting, is affecting and intimate. The set by Jessica Brettle turns the small space into an elaborate living room with the catty-corner walls providing both background and a scrim behind which the Saxophonist is introduced.

Dave Anderson (as Jimmy) in “Murray vs Federer.” Photo © Jessica Brettle.

In "A Slow Air," the siblings long estrangement is temperamental as much as circumstantial. Athol (Lewis Howden)is a steady hard-working bloke whose built a business in construction and lives in the suburbs. His sister, Morna (Susan Vidler) is a free-spirited and rebellious single mother who cleans rich folks' houses. Like the dimly lit stage it occupies, "A Slow Air" fails to illuminate any of the many themes on which it touches.

Susan Vidler as Morna and Lewis Howden as Athol, across a divide created by Jessica Brettle's set design in “A Slow Air,” written and directed by David Harrower. Photo © John Johston.

"A Slow Air" is structured as a double monologue. On the darkened stage (lighting by Dave Shea), in "A Slow Air" Jessica Brettle has designed a simple set on a roughly tiled floor that divides the two monologists. There is a high window on the back wall, and two wooden armchairs to which Athol and Morna withdraw like boxers into their corners.

For more information about the nearly month-long Scotland Week at 59E59 Theaters, please visit their website at

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Music of Violins

Sometimes the truth can seem so fantastic that it makes for a great story.

Mary Beth Peil as Erica in a photo by James Leynse

After a slightly slow start, "The Morini Strad," in a New York premiere at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters through April 22nd, just begins to hum beautifully. Willy Holtzman's play is based on truth but it is fantastic in all the best senses--odd and imaginative; the characters "The Morini Strad," get a grip and hold on tight.

Michael Laurence as Brian with Mary Beth Peil as Erica in a photo by James Leynse

Erica (Mary Beth Peil), once a child prodigy, has only memories of her great performances (enacted by violinist Hanah Stuart) and her Davidoff violin. Age has diminished her capacities. No longer able to play, she is difficult, even unpleasant to everyone-- especially to the students she takes on. She invites Brian (Michael Laurence), a luthier, to come to repair the violin.

Hanah Stuart, Mary Beth Peil and Michael Laurence in a photo by James Leynse

Exacting and embittered, Erica asks Brian to sell the Strad. Beguiled by the promise of a huge payday, Brian invests his hopes and time in what may prove to be a futile endeavor.

Mary Beth Peil and Michael Laurence (with Hanah Stuart top) in a photo by James Leynse

Peil and Laurence beautifully play out the improbably affectionate relationship that develops between Erica and Brian. They give utterly believable and very moving performances.

Michael Laurence as Brian in his workshop. Photo by James Leynse

For tickets and a schedule of performances, please visit

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Feast Awaits

So much of our lives play out around dining tables, often even at non-descript restaurants.

Phoebe Strole, Cameron Scoggins, Jennifer Mudge, Anita Gillette, Tom Bloom. Photo by Joan Marcus
Dan LeFranc's "The Big Meal," at Playwrights Horizons in an extended run through April 22nd, has an unusual structure, without being in any way avant-garde or revolutionary. It simply stretches an extraordinary timeline, covering some eighty years in a family's life. In "The Big Meal," LeFranc chronicles a family over many seatings at a generically favorite restaurant.

David Wilson Barnes, Jennifer Mudge, Anita Gilette, Tom Bloom, Rachel Resheff. Photo byJoan Marcus.

The writing, the acting, the pace of the direction, all tell this engaging story that begins with Nicky (Phoebe Strole in this incarnation) and Sam (Cameron Scoggins) on their first dates. They meet, flirt, fight, and eventually reconnect, older (Jennifer Mudge is now Nicky with David Wilson Barnes playing Sam) and ready to commit. Sam and Nicky hang in over many more drinks and dinners, bringing their kids, Maddy and Robbie (Rachel Resheff and Griffin Birney) out to eat with Sam's parents, Alice (Anita Gillette) and Robert (Tom Bloom.)

Carmeron Scoggins, Phoebe Strole. Photo by Joan Marcus

The actors rotate into the characters as they age, picking up the nuances from generation to generation. "We really started something," Anita Gillette says late in "The Big Meal."

Anita Gilette,Molly Ward, Tom Bloom. Photo by Joan Marcus

"The Big Meal" is delightful in its simplicity and authenticity. For tickets and information about "The Big Meal," go to