By William Wolf

BROADWAY'S RISING STARS 2015  Send This Review to a Friend

The theater community in New York need not worry about running out of talent. That was dramatically evident in the 2015 edition of Broadway’s Rising Stars concert presented last night (July 13) by The Town Hall and created, written and hosted by Scott Siegel. Seeing at the outset the talent line stretched across the stage with the stars for the night joining in singing “Bless Our Show” from “Sister Act” was impressive in itself. All looked so fresh and enthusiastic, and afterward each person chosen from a talent hunt and described in detailed introductions by Scott received his or her own moment in the spotlight to deliver a number chosen from a show or film to reflect individual strength.

It is rare when one can say that every performer dazzled in some way. Despite their beginner status, they seemed very professional. I’m sure director Scott Coulter had a hand in getting them to give such pro impressions, with timing, body movement and knowing how to put across a song. Other input came from Vibecke Dahl as choregrapher, and Rick Hinkson was assistant director.

The individual start was strong. DJ Plunkett wowed the crowd with “Go the Distance” from “Hercules,” his impassioned voice symbolically expressing the career hopes of the night. There followed a succession of stalwarts, each in excellent voice—Christine Baird with “Once Upon a Dream” from “Sleeping Beauty” and “Someday My Prince Will Come” from “Snow White;” Anne Bragg with “Almost There” from “The Princess and the Frog;” Sarah Bishop stirring with “The Life I Never Led” from “Sister Act” and Adam Huel Potter demonstrating a strong voice with “Be Prepared” from “The Lion King.”

Malik Eccleston, backed by Rising Star company members, delivered a potent “A Dream Is a Wish” from “Cinderella.” Then came a jazzy number that was a highlight-- Paola Hernandez sang and danced to “I Wanna Be a Rockette” from the unproduced “Kicks: The Showgirl Musical.” Unstoppable determination and enthusiasm, as well as talent, were packed into the number.

Jacob Pressley revealed a leading man voice with “If I Can’t Love Her” from “Beauty and the Beast.” Ben Chavez’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from “”The Lion King” and Josh Greenblatt, backed by the company, singing “Endless Night,” also from “The Lion King,” impressively concluded the first act.

There was much audience buzz during intermission expressing amazement as how good the performers all were. ‘Better than stars,” pontificated one audience member whom I overheard. Nothing in the second act would take away from such enthusiasm.

CoCo Smith started it by tearing up the place with her explosive “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from “The Little Mermaid.” From that same source, “Her Voice” was beautifully sung by Austin Thomas. Renee Gagner meaningfully conveyed the I-still-love-him sentiment in “He’s a Tramp” from “Lady and the Tramp.” I then enjoyed Francesca Capetta’s dynamic “God Help the Outcasts” from “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

The audience was strikingly won over—I was too-- by Charlie Meredith with his song-and-tap-dance rendition of “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” from “Song of the South.” The crowd cheered practically every movement.

Ally Kupferberg looked attractive in her suggestion of Native American garb for her movingly interpreting “Colors of the Wind” from “Pocahontas.” Pepe Nufrio gave a good rendition of “One Song” from “Snow White.” Once again the theme of the evening echoed in Harriet Taylor’s fine performance of “Where Do I Go From Here” from “Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World.”

Then came what was the emotional highlight of the evening. Having overcome a potential obstacle to his ambitions, Sommer Carbuccia sang a heartfelt “Proud of Your Boy” from “Aladdin," after telling the crowd that his mother was in the audience. There was special resonance to the situation, The Town Hall being populated by many parents, family members and friends of those performing. Carbuccia’s turn undoubtedly touched the hearts of many, as reflected by the ovation he received.

For a finale, the entire company, the individuals having shown their stuff, united to sing “Circle of Life” from “the Lion king,” and for good measure followed with “When You Wish Upon A Star” from “Pinocchio.”

During the evening Scott Siegel made a special point of acknowledging the excellent accompaniment the band was doing, citing music director and pianist John Fischer, Jerry DeVore on bass and Dan Gross on drums. At The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Reviewed July 14, 2015.

PENN & TELLER ON BROADWAY  Send This Review to a Friend

The key strength of Penn Jilette and Teller (born Raymond Joseph Teller) is their ability to be immensely entertaining in dispensing their magic. It isn’t just a matter of performing tricks, at which they excel, but their instilling a great sense of fun for an audience, partly by debunking the idea of magic even while making viewers look with awe at some of what they do. That’s showmanship.

Such skills are delightfully on display in their new production, “Penn & Teller on Broadway,” elegantly directed by John Rando. They also graciously give credit to all the backstage people who are involved in the technical aspects of the show, as well as to excellent pianist Mike Jones, who at the upright adds musical flair, including before the actual show begins. Penn & Teller make a big point of involving the audience. As people enter the theater they are invited to come on stage and examine a special box as well as sign their names to a poster.

In choosing members of the audience to participate in the magic—and there is a lot of that—they don’t always choose so-called beautiful people. Appealing youngsters or an attractive woman, sure, but they also may just as likely invite a man or woman who is overweight. In one trick, humorously making a visibly phony elephant disappear, Penn asks a whole entourage of folk to come on stage to watch.

About that elephant. It is hilarious to see what is supposed to pass for an elephant looking like a doctored up cow. But there is still a how-did-they-do that wonder in watching the thing vanish.

At the start of the show, Penn—he’s the one who does all of the rapid-fire talking, while Teller looks mischievously angelical—does something counter to the usual announcement. He asks everyone to turn on their cellphones and call one another, the start of a bit in which he gets a wife to phone her husband, which we all hear.

Penn also mocks the idea of psychics, yet he does a trick that involves passing out joke books to volunteers, choosing two individuals, asking them to select a joke, and then presto, indentifying the jokes they have chosen. Neat. Penn assures the audience that there are no planted shills as he says are in some magic shows because he doesn’t want to spend money hiring them.

Teller, for all of his Harpo-like silence, contributes masterfully to the program, including apparently swallowing of needles galore, and then pulling them out of his mouth in a long strung thread. In one gambit called “He’s a Little Teapot,” Teller appears to pour water from his hands, first the right, then the left. He also charmingly cooperates with Penn on an egg trick and other "magic."

There is the customary pulling of a rabbit out of a top hat, fire-eating and the traditional sawing of a woman in half. The woman in question is attractive, statuesque Georgie Bernasek, who climbs into a long coffin-like box. There is no ordinary saw, but a giant saw wheel used for the slicing. What makes the reprise of this staple freshly and ghoulishly amusing is the mass of supposed blood splattering all over.

One part of the act audience members might recall next time they fly, is the use on stage of the type metal screener one has to pass through these days. It turns out to be a ploy for selling a souvenir in the lobby.

“Penn & Teller on Broadway” is a sure-fire entertainment hit for family theatergoing, New Yorkers and tourists alike. At the Marquis Theatre, 46th Street (between Broadway and 8th Avenue). Phone: 877-280-2929. Reviewed July 13, 2015.

SHOWS FOR DAYS  Send This Review to a Friend

Last night when I saw Douglas Carter Beane’s “Shows for Days,” a Lincoln Center Theater presentation, Patti LuPone earned her first ovation before the show. Word was out about how on the night before she had seized the cellphone of an audience member who was texting. When LuPone came on stage in the wake of her stand against rude audience behavior, the crowd was with her, as many of us are fed up with such annoyances. She made an impassioned request to turn off such distractions in respect to her and the others who put on a play and don’t deserve rude behavior by a few who spoil it for the rest. Once at a show I attended the cellphone of a man in front of me rang--and he answered it. Brava Patti.

LuPone then proceeded in “Shows for Days” to earn another ovation for her acting, surely due her in light of her colorful performance as a local theater diva who had missed the possibility of a greater achievements, got married and was piling her thwarted hopes into the limited opportunity with struggling theater group in Reading, PA.

The show, directed by Jerry Zaks with a balance between humor and content, is framed around the reflections of the present-day Car, who recalls how as a teenager he was incorporated into the troupe and wrote his first play. (“Shows for Days” is said to spring from Douglas Carter Beane’s own experiences.) Michael Urie is charming in the role, soon winning us over as suddenly he deftly changes demeanor to make us believe he is 14. The adult Car intersperses comments at various point to winningly tie the play together.

When we go back in time it is 1973 and John Lee Beatty’s rehearsal set, located in a wreck of a building slated to be torn down, provides the right look, as do William Ivey Long’s period costumes. When Car wanders in, he first meets the bulldozing company member Sid, uproariously played by Dale Soules, given a good share of wisecracks. Next encountered is the ditzy, sometimes hysterical actress Maria (Zoë Winters.) We get to meet Clive, the gay African-American actor with the need to feed a giant ego masking insecurities, a larger-than-life character played by Lane Coadie Williams.

But the real fun starts when Patti LuPone sweeps in as Irene, who rules her roost with a firm hand, is forever acting whether on stage or off and is ingenious at coming up with ideas on how to save the theater. She also can be ruthless, even resorting to blackmail that can have painful consequences. LuPone is not just enjoyable to watch as she makes the most of the playwright’s comic zingers. She also demonstrates her extraordinary acting skills by creating a full-bodied characterization of a woman with regrets who desperately wants to be in the spotlight. Irene dallies with the younger Damien, played by Jordan Dean, who, as we learn, wants sex with Car.

The play oozes nostalgia as a memoir that might especially appeal to those who have a background in such theater groups and it takes its place alongside similar memoirs.

After a strong first act, the second act is less successful as the need to resolve plot elements sets in. Dialogue is not as funny and the drama gets a bit heavy-going as it grows more serious. Fortunately, in latter moments the spell of the piece takes hold again and, weaknesses in the work aside, we are left with affection for the play, the cast and especially for the remarkable LuPone. At the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, Lincoln Center. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed July 10, 2015.

THE WEIR (2015)  Send This Review to a Friend

Some shows are even better another time around. As much as I liked the 2013 production by the Irish Repertory Theatre of Conor McPherson’s “The Weir” (See Search for my review), this new revival seems an improvement that has left me further in awe. Two of the five cast members are excellently the same, and the three newcomers perform with distinction. Once again the direction is by Ciarán O’Reilly and his staging is impressively smooth and effective.

Visible from the outset is Charlie Corcoran’s set—a country pub in Ireland in 1997. It is so realistic that someone in the audience might feel like climbing onto stage and ordering a pint or two. There is the sound of a steady wind outside. What occurs in that pub in 95 minutes without intermission becomes a revelation about the lives under inspection. There is much overt humor but also underlying sadness that becomes clear late in the drama.

On this occasion the most striking role of the aging Jack is played by Paul O’Brien, and his performance is a marvel. Jack is a larger than life character full of good cheer, a gift for colorful conversation and a man who can hold his beer. It is all the more poignant when after pontificating about the freedom of being unmarried, he tells a story of the woman he once loved without seizing the opportunity for a permanent relationship and the regret is painful. O’Brien’s entire performance is an impeccably stunning acting turn to be enthusiastically admired.

Another new casting is Tim Ruddy as Brendan, the proprietor and barman, who keeps the drinks flowing and is a low-key observer of what occurs. He is a bachelor without apparent interest in changing his life, even though he seems like a nice eligible fellow.

Back from the former staging is Sean Gormley, again excellent as the financially successful Finbar, who owns much of the area and is married. Before he arrives at the pub, there is much gossip about his showing around a woman who recently moved to the locale from Dublin and expected to bring her to the pub. The chat is funny, with one of the pub regulars, Jim, once again played by John Keating, arriving and adding his persona to the mix.

After the build-up, Finbar makes his entrance and he is fast-talking and exudes bravado stemming from his success. He adds spark to the scene, and the woman he escorts to the pub, Valerie, newly played by Amanda Quaid, is initially reserved as she listens to the patter after she shockingly asks for a glass of white wine, much to the amusement of the beer drinkers.

What ensues is the spinning of tales about former strange happenings in the area, ghostlike stories that cast their spell from the telling and keep one another enthralled. Valerie listens attentively, and then says she has a story that she’d like to tell because of the effect the experience has had on her life. The past episode that she recounts is a shock to those in the pub as well as to the audience, and it dramatically changes the tone of the play.

By the time the lights are turned off, and all have wandered on their way, we are left with indelible portraits, thanks to the masterly writing and the superb acting and directing to match. At the temporary location for the Irish Repertory Theatre (its West 22nd Street home is undergoing renovations), 103 East 15th Street. Reviewed July 10, 2015.

OF GOOD STOCK  Send This Review to a Friend

There is a poignant element in Melissa Ross’s play “Of Good Stock,” presented by Manhattan Theatre Club and directed by Lynne Meadow, that stands in contrast to its ditsy aspects. It is a poignant husband and wife relationship that is well-written and well-acted.

Jess, performed with intelligence and sensitivity by Jennifer Mudge, has been stricken with breast cancer and has been undergoing chemotherapy. Her mother died of cancer and she is trying her best to cope with her fear of death. Her husband Fred, a writer specializing in food, played conviningly by Kelly AuCoin, loves her, is devoted to her and struggling not to face the possibility of losing her. In a dramatic moment when their fears and emotions burst to the surface, we see a portrait of love and potential loss that seems totally genuine and the play at that point is very moving.

One cannot say the same with respect to the portraits of Jess’s two sisters, who visit in July to celebrate her 41st birthday at the fancy Cape Cod beach house left to Jess by her late father, Mick Stockton, a famous Pulitzer Prize-winning author, but also a philandering husband and careless father. Her having inherited the house is a cause of jealousy. The house, by the way, is impressively designed by Santo Loquasto, and when rooms revolve, we can also see the beachfront.

At the core, of course, is the relationship between the three sisters, often spelled out with comedy and gag lines but also showing family dysfunction and long-simmering tensions. Celia, played with twitching nervousness by Heather Lind, struggles to control her feelings and sometimes is quite funny whether or not we are meant to laugh at her. She has brought to the messy family gathering her boyfriend Hunter, played by Nate Miller, who seems to be a very nice guy and has a speech in which he describes Celia as being such a beautiful loving and sensitive person. Unfortunately, nothing we see confirms his take on her.

The other sister is Amy, played by Alicia Silverstone as a real pain who weeps most of the time and has been planning an elaborate wedding to which Jess and Celia resent having to attend. They apparently needn’t worry. Celia’s intended Josh (Gregg Keller), unable to take her constant hysteria, is out of there in a dramatic but perversely comic moment of abandonment when he leaves abruptly, causing more endless tears.

The playwright obviously has feeling for these privileged women and the baggage in their lives, but the only one I cared about was Jess. There is the obligatory scene in which the three sit together at the beach and release their frustrations and anger with a supposedly funny bursts of profanity—repeatedly shouting “f—k you” to the entire world. It’s not exactly gifted dialogue.

Apart from the interesting Jess, it is Fred and Hunter who come off best. They reflect substantial personas and maturity in contrast to the vacuous Celia and Amy.

The playwright’s take on her characters, their confrontations and the described backgrounds of their lives, especially when the knives are out, would indicate her affection for them, flaws and all. The humor she finds in the relationships and the flare-ups hold our attention. But the only depth to be found is in the relationship between Fred and Jess. They would be entitled to a play all their own. At City Center Stage I. Phone: 212-581-1212. Reviewed July 2, 2015.

SIGNIFICANT OTHER  Send This Review to a Friend

The world is full of people trying to find a mate with whom to share life and achieve happiness. In “Significant Other,” presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company, playwright Joshua Harmon focuses on four such people in New York, three women and a gay young man. Harmon digs deeply into their longings, emotions and friendships, mixing humor with sadness. The result is an involving and entertaining play enlivened by an excellent cast and kept on target by Trip Cullman’s superb direction.

I was less impressed with Harmon’s previous “Bad Jews,” which while bristling with clever dialogue, was strident and built around a thoroughly obnoxious woman character who was hard to endure, even though her self-righteousness was part of the point. With “Significant Other” Harmon’s characters are easier to care about, although I do find lacking an absence of more than their self-involvement without talking about the world beyond or even shedding light on their working life. But I suppose that tight focus is also part of the point.

In any event the cast elevates interest in those they are portraying. Although all three women are extremely well depicted, the most flamboyant and play-stealing performance comes from Gideon Glick as Jordan Berman, whose unfulfilled longings and frustrations can break your heart. He is a jumble of nerves, hungering after a hunk of a man he desires, but who is out of reach. He struggles over how to behave, whether to send a candid email or not. But in truth Jordon is so frenetic and hysterical that a romantic candidate would be hard-pressed to deal with his emotions and neediness.

Glick has some powerful lines as Jordan. At a movie date watching a film about the Franco-Prussian war and seeing soldiers die, he wonders, “How many people in the history of the world died without getting what they want in life?” Also, after seeing all three women friends, one by one, getting married, Jordan gives a passionate, accusatory speech in which he attempts to express how he feels, declaring to the woman who has been his closest friend, “Your wedding is my funeral.” At the end of the play we are left with a portrait of Jordan in all his frustrated loneliness.

The women observed are very different from one another. Exuberant Kiki, brashly enacted by Sas Goldberg, is the first to get her man. At Kiki’s wedding, for which her friends go to Kentucky, the more sophisticated Vanessa, impressively played by Carra Patterson, meets a man to whom she is attracted, and she is next to the altar. The last to wed is warmhearted Lindsay Mendez as Laura, who has been very buddy-buddy with Jordan, and his still being without Mr. Right makes her wedding extra difficult for him to take. His tirade is really unfair to her, but he cannot help but explode into an outpouring of his anxieties and disappointments.

Luke Smith and John Behlmann show admirable versatility portraying the different men in the mélange, sometimes adding amusement to scenes.

The play is given an extra dimension with the character of Jordan’s grandmother, Helen, wonderfully played by veteran actress Barbara Barrie. Jordan visits her and they chat and go over family photographs together. A widow, she wistfully copes with her own lonely life and attempts to encourage Jordan, for whom she remains an anchor. It is a tender portrait of a character sensitively interpreted by Barrie in a life-affirming manner, even though she talks contrastingly of suicide but makes clear it is just idle talk, not anything she would do. The scenes of youth and age coalescing are heartwarming.

The imaginative staging is due much credit. Mark Wendland has designed a multi-area set that enables the cast to move freely. Director Cullman makes the most of the characters weaving in and out of time and place. For example, when Jordan is on his movie date, as he sits there he is making comments about his experience to his friends elsewhere on stage. This breaking of time frames gives the play creative fluidity.

By addressing hopes and desires of characters trying to break through single status playwright Harmon touches on the struggles that go on daily in the lives of so many. He does so with respectful concern, a grab bag of effective lines, many humorous, and a wise overview. Through it all Gideon Glick is an extra special standout. At the Laura Pels Theatre, 111 West 46th Street. Phone: 212-719-1300. Reviewed June 28. 2015.

THE BROADWAY MUSICALS OF 1991-2015  Send This Review to a Friend

The usual embarrassment of talent riches sparked “The Broadway Musicals of 1991-2015,” the conclusion of the salute to a century of musical theater as part of the Broadway by The Year series, presented by The Town Hall and created, written and hosted by Scott Siegel, who was on hand to wittily introduce the array of numbers and comment on the shows that spawned them. In the concert staged last night, June 22, 2015, some of the songs were performed by those who appeared in the original shows or are currently performing in represented productions.

Naturally, I had my favorites. Tony Danza in a bonus number dynamically reprised a song from his role in this past season’s “Honeymoon in Vegas,” in which he laments the death of his wife from skin cancer as he sings “Out of the Sun,” comically portraying her over-the-top broiling in the sun and wondering wistfully if he should have kept her out of it. It’s a very clever song and Danza wowed the audience as he made the most of it.

Lots of the numbers thrived on belting, so it was my particular pleasure to hear the different, elegant operatic voice of exquisite Sarah Jane McMahon thrillingly singing the title song from “The Light in the Piazza.” In a justifiably outsized turn without amplification, Klea Blackhurst aroused the audience with a Merman-like voice in “I Got Rhythm” from the 1992 “Crazy for You.” Another voice I always appreciate was that of Maxine Linehan, who is expert at interpreting a lyric, singing the poignant “Tell Me It’s Not True” from the 1993 “Blood Brothers.” The evening began with Larry Gatlin effectively singing “Look Around,” which he performed in the title role of the 1991 “The Will Rogers Follies.”

Christina Bianco was delightfully sneaky as she came on showing how effectively she could sing in her own style, tenderly performing ‘Feed the Birds” from the 2006 “Mary Poppins.” Then she took off magnificently into a “Mary Poppins” medley with the uproarious impressions for which she has become noted, including the perfect but hard-to-do Julie Andrews and other stars as they might sing chosen numbers, including an absolutely dead-on skewering of Liza Minnelli. Bianco is in a class by herself. Check her out on YouTube as millions of others have done.

The Broadway by the Year shows often feature dancing, and this one scored in that category on two occasions. Jeffry Denman started by singing “Pennies from Heaven,” included in the 1995 “Swinging on a Star,” and then moved into an exhilarating and mesmerizing tap routine. Toward the end of the concert, Jimmy Sutherland dazzled with a plethora of intricate tap steps to “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing),” included in the 2013 “After Midnight.”

Backing both Denman and Sutherland to underscore their performances, as was done for other performers during the evening, were musical director, arranger and pianist Ross Patterson and his Little Big Band, with Tom Hubbard on bass and Eric Halvorson on drums. Patterson and his musicians faced a demanding, complicated job adjusting to so many different musical requirements. We were also treated to a number all their own at the start of the second act, the interesting and challenging “The Journey Home” from the 2004 “Bombay Dreams.”

Scott Coulter, director of the concert (Rick Hinkson was assistant director), applied his exquisite voice to “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” from “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” (2014 and still running ). Sahr Ngaujah, accompanied by Ricardo Quinones on guitar, performed “Sorrow, Tears of Blood” from the 2009 “Fela!” with the same creative intensity that he exhibited when he starred in the show.

Also especially memorable were Quentin Earl Darrington singing “Make Them Hear You” from “Ragtime” (1998); Josh Grisetti, currently in “It Shoulda Been You,” performing “You Walk With Me” from “The Full Monty” (2000); bonus guest Jeannette Bayardelle with her soaring interpretation of “I Am Here” from “The Color Purple” (2005); Kyle Scatliffe stirring and heartbreaking with “Go Back Home” from “The Scottsboro Boys”(2010) and ever-impressive Randy Graff with “The Next Best Thing to Love” from “A Class Act” (2001).

Others noteworthy in the talented entourage included Natalie Toro; Jenn Gambatese; Brian Charles Rooney; Cheryl Freeman; Kenita Miller; Gay Marshall; Kristin Dausch; Lucia Spina; Denise Spann Morgan and the “Marvelous” Marvelettes, and the large Broadway by the Year chorus, including Dausch; Ally Bonino; Elijah Caldwell; Madeline Hamlet; Mary Lane Haskell; Emily Iaquinta; Rick Alan Saunders; Ryan Scoble; Hannah Solow; Justin Talkington and Matt Weinstein.

The closer was ultra dynamic, with the fabulous Lisa Howard’s powerful assertion as Jenny that it was now going to be her time to come into her own in “Jennny’s Blues,” the show-stopping number she is currently signing in “It Shoulda Been You.” It would have stopped this show too had she appeared earlier and not at the end, when she still earned an enormous ovation. At the Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Reviewed June 23, 2015.

DOCTOR FAUSTUS  Send This Review to a Friend

The fate of Doctor Faustus may be tragic, but you may have a cheery good time at the Classic Stage Company’s presentation of a loose version adapted from Christopher Marlowe’s classic by David Bridel and Andrei Belgrader, with Belgrader directing. The adventures contained in the original are bizarre enough to lend themselves to comic treatment despite the seriousness at the heart of Marlowe’s play.

Doctor Faustus, who sells his soul to the devil via emissary Mephistopheles in exchange for years of power and prestige in a limited time before he must descend to hell, is played by Chris Noth, primarily of television fame. In the beginning at the performance I saw his voice was overly quiet, but it gathered strength as the play proceeded, as did his acting. However, I can’t say there was much feeling for Noth’s Faustus, either with sympathy or disdain, when it was time to meet his fate no matter how desperate his pleading.

The cast is effective within the concept of the adaptation. Zach Grenier plays Mephistopheles, and Jeffrey Binder portrays Lucifer and other roles. There is audience interplay, real and feigned. On the night I saw the production, in a portion about the seven deadly sins, a woman was plucked from the first row to illustrate pride, and much sport was made with her as she was asked to undress. She gamely got into the spirit, but the gag was that the buffoons who led her center stage were the ones dropping their pants. On another occasion, the woman who was pulled from the audience turned out to be Marina Lazzaretto, a cast member who gyrated in ways that no audience member would or could.

Lazzaretto has her major moment as the conjured up Helen of Troy, appearing nude in the arms of Faustus in a momentary scene of nuanced sensuality.

Various cast members in multiple roles include Ken Cheesman, Carmen M. Herlihy, Walter Jones, Geoffrey Owens and Lucas Caleb Rooney. The play is enlivened by slapstick, especially by Rooney as Robin and Cheesman as Dick, two daffy misfits.

There are excellent special effects near the end when Faustus disappears in a haze of smoke and what looks like the fires of hell.

The emphasis on comedy may not be to everyone’s liking or true to the original. But if accepted, it makes for an entertaining evening, despite its undercutting the seriousness of the message that temporary rewards don’t look as great after one has enjoyed them but is faced with the pre-arranged consequences. However, laughter has rewards of its own. At the Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street. Phone: 212-352-3101. Reviewed June 19, 2015.

THE TEMPEST (2015)  Send This Review to a Friend

Thunder and lightning broke out dramatically as an audience gathered at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park on June 13, 2015. The good news was that it did not indicate a real storm of the kind that might threaten a performance. More good news was that it was part of the powerful effects provided for the Public Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” a free Shakespeare in the Park presentation. It was a lovely summer night at the performance I attended, part of a run through July 5.

Compliments are due Riccardo Hernandez for scenic design, David Langer for lighting design and Acme Sound Partners and Jason Crystal for sound design, as well as others contributing to the spectacular ambience of the imaginative production.

The effects simulating a shipwreck at sea set the stage for an involving rendering of this difficult play, and with director Michael Greif creatively at the helm, the audience was being treated to one of the superior offerings under the auspices of the Public Theater, founded by the late Joseph Papp, who fought and won the battle for the right to stage Shakespeare in Central Park, a tradition followed ever since.

“The Tempest” in its present incarnation has the distinction of Sam Waterston playing the role of Prospero, outcast from his position as Duke of Milan and confined to the island where he exercises magical powers as we await resolution of the plot involving intrigue and eventual triumph. Waterston has long been a Public Theater favorite, and here he brings authority and impressive delivery of Shakespeare’s potent lines as he establishes the person and authority of Prospero, straightforwardly if not nuanced. It is a respectable performance and interpretation of the role that has challenged many an actor.

The other major casting is also successful. Chris Perfetti as Ariel, “an airy spirit,” magically speeds about the stage with the grace of a ballet dancer. Louis Cancelmi puts his own individual stamp on Caliban, “a savage and deformed slave.” He uses body distortions to help define the character and a guttural voice to further shape our vision of the creature who assumes special importance and communicates the play’s inherent message against anyone being enslaved or dominated.

Francesca Carpanini makes a delightful Miranda, Prospero’s naïve daughter, whom we must come to like. Carpanini and Rodney Richardson as Ferdinand, son of the King of Naples, strike just the right tone of attraction as they unite romantically, a relationship which we can enjoy as a warmer aspect of the play.

Other casting also works well, including Cotter Smith as Antonio, Prospero’s brother, who took over the Milan dukedom, and the assortment of characters filling roles ranging from villainous to comic relief.

Once again Shakespeare in the Park is providing the opportunity for an enjoyable occasion out. At the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, entrance at 81st Street and Central Park West. Phone: 212-539-8500. Reviewed June 17, 2015.

2 BY WOLF  Send This Review to a Friend

A double bill of plays by Wolf Mankowitz (1924-1998) is presented by the New Yiddish Rep, the company that gave us a Yiddish version of “Waiting for Godot” and is planning a Yiddish version of “Death of Salesman” to open in October. The Yiddish translation of the Mankowitz works is by Shane Baker, who appeared in the Yiddish “Godot,” which he also translated, and Moshe Yassur, who directed “Godot,” has also directed “2 by Wolf.”

One of the Mankowitz works, “The Bespoke Overcoat,” is based on the well-known story “The Overcoat” by Russian author Nikolai Gogol. Mankowitz shifted the action to the East End of London, where he was born, with other changes as well.

The play is about Fender (Baker), a poor clerk in a clothing factory who takes his threadbare overcoat to a tailor to get it repaired. But the tailor, Maury (Michael “Menachem” Fox), says it cannot be repaired and an arrangement is worked out for him to make Fender a new coat. But Fender dies of the cold before he can get the coat. However, he returns as a ghost, and Maury has another chance to make him the coat he covets.

The play is a poignant exploration of the pathetic life of an exploited worker and the irony of the fate that befalls him. It is a very folksy tale, enlivened by the performances. English supertitles translating the Yiddish are projected on a screen.

“The Irish Hebrew Lesson” is a human drama involving a pious Jew (Fox), who in the early 1920s provides shelter to an Irish revolutionary gunman (Fergal O’Hanlon) running for his life from the Black and Tans hunting him. In the process, there is a gradual, enlightened bonding that occurs between the two very disparate characters. It is a play filled with warmth and human understanding and it is performed in English, Irish and Yiddish.

It is intriguing to have Mankowitz’s plays revived in this fashion. “The Bespoke Overcoat” first appeared as a play in 1953, and then was made into a movie in 1956. “The Irish Hebrew Lesson” became a 1972 movie that starred Milo O’Shea and was directed by Mankowitz. It subsequently premiered as a play in London in 1978.

This unusual double bill is at the Cell, 338 West 23rd Street. Phone: 800-838-3006. Reviewed June 16, 2015.


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