By William Wolf

JOHN & JEN  Send This Review to a Friend

It is easy to see why Kate Baldwin would want to star in this off-Broadway revival of the Andrew Lippa and Tom Greenwald musical “John & Jen” on the occasion of the show’s 20th anniversary, presented anew by Keen Company. The dual roles she plays are exceptionally demanding and provide her the opportunity to show what a great musical theater actress she is. The theater may be small, but the achievement is large.

Baldwin is also felicitously accompanied by Conor Ryan as her extremely personable co-star, who also plays two roles. They act and sing so superbly together in a production that I find among the most pleasurable this season. Jonathan Silverstein, Keen Company’s Artistic Director, deserves special credit for the intelligence and taste with which he has directed “John & Jen.”

The musical drama has much to say about family relationships between brother and sister and mother and son and how events affect them. It says it mostly through song, with a lovely score by Lippa and perceptive lyrics by Greenwald. The two collaborated on the very clever book.

I have to warn you against spoilers coming, but it is difficult to discuss the musical without telling you the basic trajectory. At the outset Baldwin plays Jen and Ryan is John, who are child brother and sister. Older actors playing kids can be excruciatingly unbelievable. But in this instance, thanks to the skill of Baldwin and Ryan, the characters are utterly charming as we see the beginning of their bonding together.

Gradually we watch them grow up and see the relationship as it evolves. The first act ends on a highly emotional note, and one who does not know the show may wonder, and perhaps correctly guess, what can come next.

In the second act, Baldwin is now a mother, and Ryan is her son. The dynamic has changed and once again, we see evolvement, under fresh circumstances, but with the built-in baggage of all that has gone before and new challenges.

The staging is always simple, abetted by Steven C. Kemp’s compact scenic design and Sydney Maresca’s costumes. I can’t stress sufficiently what satisfaction is to be derived from the work itself and from watching Baldwin, extremely attractive and with her gorgeous voice and acting ability, and good-looking Ryan, with his singing and acting ability and likability, bring the characters to pulsating life. At the Clurman Theatre, Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed February 27, 2015.

HAMILTON  Send This Review to a Friend

The praise you may have been hearing for “Hamilton,” the new historical musical, is absolutely justified. This rap and hip-hop treasure, with book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also stars in the title role, is exhilarating and immensely inventive. It takes over the Public Theater stage with unbounded energy and cleverness and daringly succeeds in surveying America’s revolutionary era with its ultra-modern music and rap lyrics that illuminate our history through a unique perspective. The Public Theater is to be congratulated for staging “Hamilton,” and plaudits are due the entire company, from the leading players to the song and dance ensemble consistently igniting the fire of raging creativity.

I came to the show somewhat skeptical, as rap has not been one of my favorite forms of expression. American history told that way? But right at the outset the show captivated me, partly for the wit of the lyrics, and also for the sheer exuberance of the music, enhanced by the choreography of Andy Blankenbuehler and the zestful direction by Thomas Kail. The production is so dense with ideas and talent that one might want to see it again. Good luck—this is a very hot ticket. Miranda was inspired by the book “Alexander Hamilton” by Ron Chernow, and what that inspiration has wrought reflects Miranda’s acute insight into what can make for outstanding, unusual entertainment.

Miranda has been appreciated in the past for his work in “In the Heights,” but “Hamilton” surpasses that show in its range and impact. As for his playing Alexander Hamilton, he stands out superbly as a musical star. Ethnicity knows no boundaries in this splash of history. Anybody can play anybody in this hip-hop world. (Hamilton emerged from the Caribbean island Nevis.) In the entourage of assorted characters figuring in the story Leslie Odom, Jr. plays Aaron Burr, Daveed Diggs is both Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette. Okieriet Onaodowan portrays both James Madison and Hercules Mulligan, Anthony Ramos is Philip Hamilton, and Jasmine Cephas Jones doubles as Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds, with Renée Elise Goldsberry as Angelica Schuyler. Christopher Jackson plays George Washington, and Phillipa Soo is extremely touching as Hamilton’s wife, Eliza.

The funniest turn is by Brian D’Arcy James as King George III, a laugh riot with his reactions to the American revolution and its consequences. His lyric delivery is funny in itself, and he uses his voice in a rolling, nonsensical manner that goes with his repertoire of facial expressions and body language. It’s a performance that is charmingly crazed.

The numbers become a framework for the examination of key events and relationships, and reflect the excitement of all that was happening, including the various conflicts and tactics. Of course, the end result is tragic--the duel between Burr and Hamilton that left Hamilton fatally shot. Given all of his talents and achievements as a financial wizard, it seems like a terrible waste apart from the loss on purely human terms.

The action takes place on a stage with mobile platforms with staircases and a rotating center section (scenic design by David Korins), deft lighting (design by Howell Binkley), stunning costumes that are a mix of period and contemporary (costume design by Paul Tazewell), hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe and sound by Nevin Steinberg. Orchestrations and music direction are by Alex Lacamoire, with arrangements by Lacamoire and Miranda. A host of others in the production realm also merit credit.

So does the Ensemble, the hard-working members of which deserve individual recognition: Carleigh Bettiol, Ariana Debose, Sydney James Harcourt, Sasha Hutchings, Thayne Jasperson, Jon Rua, Seth Stewart, Betsy Struxness and Ephraim Sykes.

A long-life can safely be predicted for this show, now scheduled at the Public through May 3, but which ultimately should turn up on Broadway. It is that special. At the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. Phone: 212-967-7555.

ROCKET TO THE MOON  Send This Review to a Friend

Seeing a work by Clifford Odets is always occasion, and the revival of his 1938 “Rocket to the Moon” invites a fresh evaluation. The staging, presented by The Peccadillo Theater Company, in association with La Femme Theatre Productions, is directed by Dan Wackerman, who has assembled a cast that tries hard to dig into what Odets was getting at, primarily a portrait of people trying to find a path to happiness in their lives.

The setting is the waiting room of a suite of dental offices in mid-town Manhattan during 1938, when America was still struggling with the Great Depression. The central character is dentist Ben Stark, perceptively played by Ned Eisenberg, who has been plodding along in a marriage that may have been fulfilling once, but is clearly, like his life in general, at a dead end. His wife, Belle, played with passion and outbursts of venom by Marilyn Matarrese, is clearly a ball-buster, who bosses him around, but also is a desperate woman who feels being cast aside, especially when she senses that an attractive young woman named Cleo Singer (Kate McClellan), her husband’s secretary, is an imminent threat.

As Cleo, McClellan cuts an intriguing figure, full of life and very perky, conveying an independent spirit and wanting something more in her future. Cleo has her pretenses, as we learn, but she doesn’t want to be taken for granted. Ben falls hard for her, and she represents a breath of fresh air in his stagnant life, but he isn’t the type who can easily break with the status quo and establish a new life with this younger vibrant woman. A problem in the writing is that it is difficult to imagine that things can happen that fast. Also Cleo comes across as a bit too flakey to mesmerize Ben so totally. It is a very colorful and enjoyable performance, perhaps too colorful rather than more in depth.

Jonathan Hadary has a flamboyantl role as Mr. Prince, Ben’s father-in-law, who hates his daughter and isn’t on speaking terms with her. Prince complicates matters by also falling in love with Cleo, setting up a conflict with Ben. Cleo considers Prince much too old for her. Odets has given Prince some elaborate speeches about life and the need to enjoy it, the sort of dialogue he also provides Ben at a climactic moment.

Supporting characters include Lou Liberatore as slimy Willy Wax, who wants to seduce Cleo with promises of helping her desire to perhaps go into show business. Larry Bull plays Phil Cooper, another dentist, and he has a major speech about the struggle to survive in the depression. It would seem that Bull is meant to convey the playwright’s intense feeling that comes closest to his political views. However, Cooper’s demeanor is so quirky that it undercuts the ability to feel deeply for him, as I believe we should when he pours out his soul. The other character is Walter “Frenchy” Jensen (Michael Keyloun), a dental manager who keeps popping in.

The play’s title symbolizes the idea of taking a risk in life and breaking free to travel a path to happiness. The characters devised by Odets provide actors with the opportunity to grab our attention. However, so much is jammed into the plot that we are asked to accept all that happens without worrying about credibility. The points are made, but this is is not the best work of Odets. Still, it is fascinating to see what he conceived in this period of his life, and the cast members certainly give it their all. At Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 West 46th Street. Reviewed February 24, 2015.

LIVES OF THE SAINTS  Send This Review to a Friend

David Ives can write very funny dialogue and conjure up daffy situations, as we can see in “Lives of the Saints,” a collection of six plays, really sketches, presented by Primary Stages in association with Jamie deRoy and Barry Feirstein. As often is the case with comedy material, the result is uneven. Some plays are funnier than others.

My favorite of the lot is “Life Signs,” in which a mother, declared dead by her doctor, suddenly starts to speak, startling her son and daughter-in-law. What emerges from her is a torrent of revelations about her life, often in vulgar terms that are shockers. The situation is hilarious.

I also enjoyed "The Goodness of Your Heart,” a silly but funny set-up with old friends conversing. When one asks his friend to buy him a new television set just out of friendship, tension erupts in amusing ways. The banter goes on too long, a frequent flaw in sketch material (think of “Saturday Night Live”) but you’ll find plenty of laughs in this one.

One sketch is extremely silly and overlong, with a repair man who falls in love with his washing machine. I liked another in which a visit to a psychiatrist involves double versions of the patent and the doctor.

Hats off to the five super-talented cast members who seem greater than their number and make the most of what Ives gives them to work with as they switch characters. The very funny team consists of Arnie Burton, Carson Elrod, Rick Holmes, Kelly Hutchinson and Liv Rooth. John Rando‘s skillful direction also maximizes what Ives has written. At the Duke on 42nd Street. Phone: 646-223-3010. Reviewed February 25, 2014.

THE WINTER'S TALE  Send This Review to a Friend

There is a tendency in staging Shakespeare to attempt something different. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The Pearl Theatre Company goes whole hog and sets the scene in a contemporary apartment and then juggles the furniture around as Shakespeare’s play unfolds, taking us everywhere, indoors and out, which calls upon us to use maximum imagination. Frankly, the whole concept is a diversion that distracts from the play. Also, the language of Shakespeare that cast members strive to get right contrasts sharply with the setting.

Director Michael Sexton is bound by the concept choice (set design by Brett J. Banakis), and works hard accordingly in trying for the production to keep making sense and adhere to the Bard’s play, however transposed and gimmick-laden. But despite all of the hard work, the comic shtick and staging ideas strewn about, the result, occasionally relieved by humor, is quite a mess.

One of the better moments occurs toward the end, when the events are resolved and the requisite reunions take place. There is credible emotion exhibited. But it takes a long time to get there, nearly three hours, and by that time you may have been glancing at your watch.

The cast members give it their all, to be sure. Peter Francis James excels as the King, Leontes, who is consumed with jealousy and believes his wife Hermione, well played by Jolly Abraham, and the king of Bohemia, Polixenes (Bradford Cover), are lovers. Leontes is overcome by rage and a hunger for revenge, which sets off the complicated plot that ensues.

Other cast members include Rachel Botchan, Steve Cuiffo, Dominic Cuskern, Adam Green, Tom Nelis, Imani Jade Powers and James Udom. They all work very hard in the labyrinth of the busy production.

Call me retrograde. But I would have much preferred to see a more standard setting enabling an audience to concentrate on the play itself rather than on all of the distractions. At the Pearl Theatre, 555 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-563-9261. Reviewed February 25, 2015.

THE BROADWAY MUSICALS OF 1916-1940  Send This Review to a Friend

It is striking how many good songs emerged in Broadway shows between 1916 and 1940, the quarter of a century examined in the Broadway by the Year survey at The Town Hall on February 23, 2015. And it is always striking how much talent creator/writer/host Scott Siegel packs into every performance of his ongoing series, now celebrating its 15th anniversary. I can’t think of anywhere else where one can enjoy so many top flight entertainers in a single show, as definitely was the case in this latest staging.

Take the back to back numbers of opera star John Easterlin brilliantly singing “Someday” from “The Vagabond King” (1925), followed by the powerful, leading-man voice of star William Michals performing “One Alone” from “The Desert Song” (1926). And both without mikes, which they don’t need. They have their own built-in amplification--their natural voices.

Or take actor/dancer/choreographer Danny Gardner, whom I recently enjoyed in the City Center Encores! revival of “Lady, Be Good.” What a joy it was to watch him dance with his real-life fiancée, the talented Aleka Emerson, to “The Varsity Drag” from “Good News” (1927). Replacing a scheduled performer who took ill, Gardner also improvised a sizzling tap number, accompanied by The Ross Patterson Little Big Band, to "Pack Up Your Sins and Go to the Devil” from “Music Box Revue of 1922.” And as if that were not enough he sang and danced to Irving Berlin’s “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” from “Yip Yip Yaphank” (1918), along with the Broadway by the Year Chorus.

While I’m at it, let’s name the members of that talented chorus, also excellent elsewhere in the show, including early on with “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag” from “Her Soldier Boy” (1916): Jenna Dallacco, Kristin Dausch, Madeline Hamlet, Mary Lane Haskell, Meredith Lesley, Bridget Ori, Samantha Owens, Michael Romeo Ruocco and Housso Semon.

The minute I knew that Oakley Boycott had a spot in the show, I was certain there would be something special, and there sure was. Boycott, a show business original if ever there were one, sang “You’d Be Surprised” from “Ziegfeld Follies of 1919.” She made that number totally her own, with voice and body twists and turns that oozed sex appeal, coyness, brassiness and humor in an immensely appealing mix of showmanship.

Another unique performer, of course, is Sidney Myer, and here he was, again in his inimitable style, singing “They Go Wild, Simply Wild” from “Irene” (1917) and charming the audience as he always can be depended upon to do.

The fabulous lineup continued throughout. There were Steve Ross piano playing and singing “Say It With Music” from “Music Box Revue of 1921;” Jillian Louis singing “When the Right One Comes Along” from “Ziegfeld Follies of 1920;” Karen Ziemba tearing up the stage with “The Charleston” from “Runnin’ Wild” (1923); Liz Larson touchingly performing “Somebody Loves You” from “George White’s Scandals of 1924;” ever-lovely-voiced Nancy Anderson singing “More Than You Know” from “Great Day” (1929); the fabulous Carole J. Bufford moving us with her haunting “Body and Soul” (1930); the sensational Tonya Pinkins rousingly interpreting “The Thrill Is Gone” from “George White’s Scandals of 1931” and Lumiri Tubo with a knockout “St. Louis Blues” from “Blackbirds of 1928.”

You think that’s all? How about Steven Bogardus singing “Night and Day” from “The Gay Divorce” (1932); superb Maxine Linehan putting her stamp on “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” from “Roberta” (1933) as if one had never heard it before; accomplished Karen Mason putting fresh sparkle into “Anything Goes” from the show of that name (1934); always-sophisticated Karen Akers setting just the right mood with “Where or When” from “Babes in Arms” (1937); Emily Skinner, still admired for her work in the original “Side Show,” captivatingly singing “No, You Can’t Have My Heart” from “You Never Know” (1938) and fetchingly teaming with William Michals in a bonus number, “It Never Was You” from “Knickerbocker Holiday” (1938).

We were also regaled with additional impressive male voices. The show opened with Sal Viviano effectively singing “A Hundred Years from Today” from “Blackbirds of 1933.” Chuck Cooper, his robust voice and gift for interpretation evident as always, sang “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from the classic “Porgy and Bess” (1935).” John Bolton put pizzazz into “It’s De-Lovely from “Red Hot and Blue” (1936), and a special impression was made by Josh Young singing “All the Things You Are” from “Very Warm for May” (1939). A wise ending was bringing the Broadway by the Year Chorus back to sing “It’s a lovely Day Tomorrow” from the 1940 “Louisiana Purchase.”

Credit Mindy Cooper for direction and choreography (apart from Gardner’s choreography for his numbers). Music direction was by Ross Patterson, arranger, pianist and leader of his Little Big Band, with Randy Landau on bass and Jamie Eblen on drums. Scott Siegel provided his informative and entertaining introductions, and even was brought into the action on occasion. If you missed this show, you missed an especially outstanding one. Too bad. But take heart. The next one is March 30, with The Broadway Musicals of 1941-1965, followed on May 11 by The Broadway Musicals of 1966-1990, and then on June 22 The Broadway Musicals of 1991-1015. At The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Reviewed February 24, 2015.

THE ICEMAN COMETH (BAM)  Send This Review to a Friend

Chicago’s Goodman Theatre production of Eugene O’Neill’s classic “The Iceman Cometh” has arrived full force in Brooklyn in a presentation by BAM and Scott Rudin, with direction by Robert Falls. The power and despair inherent in this extraordinary work are realized in a four and three-quarter- hour staging, including three intermissions. The major draws for the occasion are the performances of Nathan Lane and Brian Dennehy, although the rest of the cast is also impressive.

The BAM Harvey Theater has its acoustical problems with dialogue-packed plays, in that actors must project with particular vigor. Some intimate speeches can be difficult to hear fully, unless strategically aimed at the audience, while the more impassioned ones resound effectively. Nathan Lane as Hickey mostly solves the problem, especially when he tears loose in the final act with his impassioned, almost crazed self-deluding revelation of the secret he is harboring.

The drama takes place in 1912 New York in a saloon and rooming house owed by ironically named Harry Hope (excellent Stephen Ouimette). At the outset the place is very dark before the break of day, and gradually the scene becomes clearer and we observe the lost liquor-soused souls who hang out there and mope about their lives or daydream about one day crawling out of their stupor. One who has given up completely is Larry Slade, who once was a Syndicalist-anarchist but now speaks of just wanting to be left alone to await death. Dennehy inhabits the character with his entire body, which looks old and defeated, with nothing left of the man he once was.

The assortment of characters whom we meet have in common an inability to shake loose, even to leave the premises, as we see later when a few try, but inevitably return. However, one thing those who aren’t totally oblivious look forward to is the periodic arrival of the salesman Hickey (Lane), who gets them excited with his dynamic personality and talk of hope. I have seen other stars as Hickey, including Jason Robards and Kevin Spacey, both of whom projected more seductive charm than Lane manages to do early on. But when Lane erupts in his cataclysmic, climactic mesmerizing confession, he gives an especially memorable performance that demonstrates his acting ability, although his acting power was also visible in touching work in “The Nance,” which also showed off his well-appreciated comic side.

There are various sub-plots, with the role of Don Parritt, effectively portrayed by Patrick Andrews, a key one. He was part of the anarchist movement, as was his mother, with whom Larry once had a relationship. Parritt is wracked with guilt for having betrayed his comrades, as well as his mother, to the authorities, partly for gain and partly for the hate that he bore his mother. He pleads with Larry to help him ease his conscience, but Larry doesn’t have a lot of compassion in him. At one point Parritt even wonders whether Larry might be his father, but Larry scoffs at the idea, explaining why this couldn’t possibly be the case.

Salvatore Inzerillo is a colorful lug as Rocky Pioggi, the night bartender, who has a stable of prostitutes who hand over their earnings. Three streetwalkers are Cora (Kate Arrington), who has a pipedream of getting married to day bartender Chuck (Marc Grapey), Pearl (Tara Sissom) and Margie (Lee Stark). All do a swell acting job, but I have the same caveat as I pointed out about the prostitutes in a review of the production with Spacey. The women in the current production use similar high-pitched clichéd chirpy voices. For a change I would like to hear a hooker with a rich, throaty voice.

Falls must contend with a directorial challenge, apart from the major one of interweaving all of the characters into a coherent and moving whole. Given that so many of the saloon inhabitants must be silent while various others expound, there is a tendency for the entourage to look static. Apart from such stiff staging times, Falls finds ways of enlivening the action with the confrontations and with much life instilled in a birthday party given for Harry and an outburst of raucous merriment near the play’s end, thoroughly in counterpoint to what we learn about Hickey.

The play deals with race via the character of Joe Mott, heartbreakingly portrayed by John Douglas Thompson, who once owned a gambling house, now is reduced to alcoholism and rants against the whites who, he is convinced, look down on him. In one strong scene he trumpets his desire to rise to ownership of another gambling house again, just one more example of the pipe dreams in the sad play about hopelessness.

Those who have seen other versions may want to see this one for comparisons, and those who have never experienced this masterwork would surely do well to get to it. At the BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn. Phone: 718-636-4100. Reviewed February 18, 2015.

CHURCHILL  Send This Review to a Friend

Actor Ronald Keaton doesn’t look much like the renowned late British wartime Prime Minister in the SoloChicago Theatre’s production “Churchill.” That’s less of a problem than his voice. We know what Churchill sounds like, and Keaton doesn’t hit the mark. In fact, although I respected Keaton’s yeoman effort to bring the man, his towering reputation, and his wit to the fore, the actor kept reminding me more of Edmund Gwenn in “Miracle on 34th Street” than of the great man.

On the upside, what Keaton, who based his adaptation on the life and works of Churchill and the teleplay “Winston Churchill” by Dr. James C. Humes, does succeed in accomplishing is recalling much of what the well-spoken leader had to say and the time in which he lived. That’s a worthy achievement.

Whether pontificating on the problems with which Churchill grappled, or delivering a well-known funny jab at Lady Astor, Keaton celebrates the man and his life. The occasion is well-timed to the 50th year since Churchill’s death.

Keaton struts upon the stage attempting to convey Churchill’s mannerisms and aura. Background illustrations by projection designer Paul Deziel help provide period authenticity, and director Kurt Johns never loses sight of the need to focus sharply on the actor in his office habitat, or when he ventures elsewhere, with no distractions.

This may not be a perfect emulation of Churchill, but at least there is the recollection of what the man stood for and his time upon the world stage, especially his wartime leadership in Britain’s heroic fight for survival against the Nazi menace. One can argue with Churchill’s Tory politics, but not with the powerful role that he played rallying Britain in its hour of need. And in this recounting, his words are gallantly there for us to savor anew. At New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed February 19, 2015.

RASHEEDA SPEAKING  Send This Review to a Friend

Joel Drake Johnson’s play “Rasheeda Speaking,” presented by The New Group, is a twisted effort to say something profound about white hostility toward African-Americans. Although it has superb acting by an excellent cast and taut direction by Cynthia Nixon, the woman who carries the message is such a royal pain and manipulator that in terms of human relations, she deserves little sympathy, although Tonya Pinkins’s bravura performance has its own appeal.

The setting is the Chicago office of a surgeon, Dr. Williams, well portrayed with a smarmy edge by Darren Goldstein. Dianne Wiest plays Ileen, a loyal, kindly office assistant. Jaclyn (Pinkins) is a more recent office hire. Dr. Williams is fed up with her constantly hostile attitude. He would like to get rid of her, but firing a person of color is difficult and he shows his own racist attitude in noting that one must not even refer to her being black in his desire for termination. He appoints Ileen office manager and deviously enlists her to keep tabs on Jaclyn to find cause for letting her go.

This unfairly puts Ilene, a shy, decent person who tries at first to defend Jaclyn, in the middle of his scheme. But she is no match for Jaclyn, who, realizing trouble, begins a manipulative assault that makes Ileen’s life miserable to the point where she fears Jaclyn and wants to quit her job no matter how much she needs it. Wiest is terrific at step-by-step registering her upset. Her demeanor, use of body language and facial expressions go from her kind looks at the outset to those of utter despair. There’s also a bit of racial prejudice on her part, but exposed only when she is pushed to a breaking point.

Jaclyn, who has some of the sharpest lines, storms around the office and complains of toxins in the air, presumably a metaphor for the racism she sniffs. Her manner is consistently hostile and obnoxious, and one might feel that if she were working in an office where you worked, you might want to see her fired on the spot. She is very nasty toward Rose, an elderly patient, played with quiet bewilderment by Patricia Conolly.

As the plot develops, Jaclyn succeeds in turning the tables and gains the upper hand, much at the expense of Ileen, who doesn’t deserve such treatment.

Pinkins is such a powerful performer that even though one may frown upon the character she portrays, one can enjoy her and admire her acting, especially when she makes the most of the razor-sharp lines the playwright has provided her. The author knows how to use comedy to advantage in the midst of nastiness. But the character’s endless bitching and the way in which she treats the basically decent Ileen rob her of the sympathy needed to effectively carry the play’s effort at showing the white-black gap that needs to be bridged.

The "Rasheeda" in the title is ultimately explained by Jaclyn, as she resentfully describes it as the substitute for the N word that privileged white men use on the bus to mock women of color. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Reviewed February 12, 2015

APPLICATION PENDING  Send This Review to a Friend

The frantic efforts to get early-age kids into pre-primary schools is hilariously skewered in “Application Pending,” a play written by Greg Edwards and Andy Sandberg (direction is by Sandberg), with Christina Bianco starring as Christine, the administrator fielding applications, as well as the army of parents and others whose voices turn up in this one-woman compendium of showmanship.

I have for some time admired Bianco for her uncanny ability to do singing impressions of a variety of stars, and she is all over the internet with these sharply defined satirical jabs. I have also seen her on stage, and she is a great bundle of comic and acting talent with mastery of timing and the ability to reflect her own extremely likable personality.

She is amazing in this play for the variety of people she becomes as she sits at her school office desk and deals with those who think their little darlings are entitled to a place in the coveted, elite Manhattan private school. She also is the voice of her arrogant boss, as well as that of the woman who held the job before her. The swiftness with which she changes tones, expressions and personalities is stunning.

In the process, Bianco, as well as turning in a tour de force performance, serves the smartly written play, with its witty take on the frenzy of the application process, the depiction of which is heightened by making the situation the deadline day.

The piece is 90 minutes without an intermission, and my one caveat is that I think it should be trimmed some, as a certain amount of repetition sets in with the multitude of characterizations all geared around the same subject. However, the play also builds to a very funny climax in which Bianco as the admissions chief learns how to assert one-upmanship over her boss. At the Westside Theatre (Downstairs) , 407 West 43rd Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed February 11, 2015.

  

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