By William Wolf

OTHELLO (SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARK)  Send This Review to a Friend

The inherent power of Shakespeare’s enduring “Othello” has been proven over and over again through the ages, and the Public Theater’s new Free Shakespeare in the Park production powerfully proves the point once more. The gripping staging by director Ruben Santiago-Hudson gives fresh life to the tragedy, and the cast is first-rate in this summer open-air offering at the Delacorte Theater (May 29-June 24).

There are always two main tests of any “Othello” production—the performances of Othello and Iago. When we first meet Chukwudi Iwuji as Othello he appears too slightly built for the mean-spirited, racist description of him as the physically overbearing Moor, but his acting immediately gives him genuine stature and a charismatic persona, and that builds forcefully into a tremendous, memorable performance.

Corey Stoll’s Iago doesn’t attempt shadings. He is brashly manipulative throughout, a performance with deviousness, malicious cunning and determination to bring down Othello in retaliation for his not achieving the status he believes he deserves. The performance achieves nastiness on all counts and adds to this presentation's success.

There are other standouts as well, especially by Heather Lind as a very credible, lovely Desdemona, who exhibits a streak of spirit as well as victimhood, and by Alison Wright as Iago’s doomed wife Emilia, who comes through with vibrant, deeply moving rage in exposing her husband’s evil deed of sowing jealousy in Othello that leads to his murder of Desdemona.

To director Santiago-Hudson’s special credit, the murder scene is staged differently from the ways that I have seen it done before, and the result is so visually effective that it can hold an audience spellbound and utterly silent, as was the case on the night I attended.

Various cast members are also excellent, including Babak Tafti as Cassio, Motell Foster as Roderigo and Flor De Liz Perez as Bianca. The set design by Rachel Hauck is simple but effective, and she has the bed rising from below for the fatal crime scene. Toni-Leslie James’s costumes fit the 17th Century period depicted. And fight director Thomas Schall makes the swordplay realistic and chilling. Other staging elements, including lighting, sound and music, are expertly blended for maximum effect in the pleasant outdoor setting, marred only occasionally by the inevitable airplane passing overhead. At the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. Entrance at 81st Street and Central Park West and 79th Street and Fifth Avenue. Phone: 212-539-8500. Reviewed June 19th, 2018.

BROADWAY BY THE YEAR--1988 & 2017  Send This Review to a Friend

It wasn’t much of an excavation to dig back into last year as part of the double-barreled salute in the latest in the Broadway by the Year series, but the opportunity resulted in a rousing closing number, “Best Day Ever” from the still-running “SpongeBob SquarePants,” fueled by dancer-choreographer Danny Gardner and the Broadway by the Year Dance Ensemble tapping away en mass and having fun toying with an array of sponges and earning a rousing audience response to the dynamic finish.

Such was the parting spirit in the salute to shows from 1988 and 2017 in the presentation by The Town Hall last night (June 18, 2018), created, directed, written and hosted by Scott Siegel, with back up accompaniment by musical director Ross Patterson, also on piano, Tom Hubbard on bass and Eric Halvorson on drums. The musicians got a hefty workout with the wide range of numbers and styles plucked from both years.

Excellent singers interpreted the chosen songs. The first act, devoted to 1988, was kicked off (literally) by Gardner and the Dance Ensemble to “When I Get My Name in Lights” from the musical “Legs Diamond.” Another number from that show, “All I Wanted Was the Dream,” was also performed by Gardner.

The flop “Carrie” nevertheless yielded a strong song, “I’m Not Alone,” passionately performed by Farah Alvin. The other shows generously represented were “Phantom of the Opera” and the more esoteric “Chess.”

Brian Charles Rooney and Marina Jurica effectively teamed for the title number from “Phantom.” Jurica returned to sing that show’s moving “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” and Rooney showed his range performing “The Music of the Night” from “Phantom.” Siegel made the amusing point that the 1988 show couldn’t be billed a revival, as it never left and is still in its record-breaking run.

“Chess” has become something of a cult favorite. Alvin and Rebecca Faulkenberry helped demonstrate why with “I Know Him So Well,” Rooney contributed “Pity the Child,” and Alvin and the Broadway By the Year Chorus delved dramatically into “Nobody’s Side.” The topper from “Chess” was favorite William Michals singing “Anthem” without a mike, exhibiting his all-powerful voice and interpretive skill.

The evening morphed into a more contemporary second act devoted to shows from last year. “Prince of Broadway,” a show saluting producer-director Hal Prince and featuring songs from productions with which he was involved, yielded two numbers—“Tonight,” culled from “West Side Story” and sung romantically by Jurica and Rooney, and “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” sung brilliantly by Michals.

Faulkenberry sang “Love Will Come and Find Me Again” from “Bandstand;” Jurica and the Chorus performed “Journey to the Past” from “Anastasia;” Rooney provided an impish “It Must Be Believed to Be Seen” from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory;” Faulkenberry interpreted “Playing Nancy” from “Groundhog Day,” and Alvin sang the rousing “Me and the Sky” from “Come from Away.” There was special tenderness by Matt Weinstein, backed by the Chorus, performing the lovely “Answer Me” from the award-winning “The Band’s Visit.”

The members of the Chorus and Dance Ensemble merit individual recognition. The Chorus included Emma Camp, Lauren Kolas, Philippa Lynas, Ryan McConville, Sophie Rapiejko and Matt Weinstein.

The Dance Ensemble included, Danielle Aliotta, Emily Blake Anderson, Mandie Black, Matthew Borchers, Jake Corcoran, Tessa Grady, Bryan Hunt, Lily Lewis, Sarah Lichty, Claire Logan, Andrew Metzgar, Corrine Munsch, Daniel Plimpton, Kristyn Pope, Emilie Renier, Joseph Sammour, Michael Santora, Britte Steele, Peter Surace and Michael J. Verre.

Other credits for the show: Holly Cruz, staging consultant; Carl Acampora, stage manager; Rick Hinkson, assistant director and assistant stage manager, and Joe Burke, production assistant.

At The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Reviewed June 19, 2018.

DESPERATE MEASURES (UPDATE)  Send This Review to a Friend

The popularity of “Desperate Measures” when it was at the York Theatre has resulted in a move to the New World Stages, and it is just as witty and immensely entertaining as before and continues to be one of the most creative shows in town. There is one cast change, with Sarah Parnicky making her off-Broadway debut as Susanna (Sister Mary Jo), who is soon to take her vows as a nun but is asked to sacrifice her chastity by a wicked governor as a price for pardoning her brother, who is doomed to hang.

Parnicky is a real find. She is lovely to look act, doing a very convincing acting job, has a thrilling voice and is extremely adept at providing the necessary nuances of the clever lyrics. She very successfully provides the romantic center to the show.

Scenic designer James Morgan was able to expand his amusing concept, as the satirical set is now larger given the increased stage size in the New World Stages venue, and that enhances the fun.

Since I expressed my self fully in reviewing the musical the first time, I will quote that review, with necessary adjustment notes in the text. However, first there are a few observations to make.

There is an important gap on the title page in the current Playbill for the production. Missing is the acknowledgment that the musical is loosely based on Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” as was properly noted in the Playbill at the York. There is that information in an amusing prologue that begins the tale, but it is a serious gaff that needs correction for the title page in the Playbill.

Also missing is credit on the title page to the York Theatre Company for its staging that gave the work a much-deserving sendoff into the new venue.

Perhaps my memory plays tricks, but this production seems to have increased mugging. Granted, the work calls for very broad performing, but it seems to me that as the play has progressed some of the cast members are given to hamming it up more on occasion. But this is a quibble. The players continue to be hilarious and repeatedly earn audience applause.

All of that said, the following is the original review that still expresses my reaction to the show, but noting the changes:

If you are looking for a good time at an off-Broadway show, I guarantee that you’ll find it in “Desperate Measures,” a musical high presented at the York Theater Company in association with Cecilia Lin and Hu Guo. [The presenters at the New World Stages offering, in addition to Lin, are Pat Addiss, Mary Cossette and Willette Klausner.] With book and lyrics by Peter Kellogg and music by David Friedman [both have won 2018 Drama Desk awards], razor-sharp direction and choreography by Bill Castellino and six wonderfully entertaining cast members, the show is inspired by William Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure.”

The term “inspired by” is key here. Fortunately, this isn’t a case of some egotistical director trying to present the Bard’s actual text in a misguided way that’s different. “Desperate Measures” stands firmly on its own, triggered by Shakespeare, but emerging as an original, joyful romp. In a nod to the Bard, Kellogg has cleverly written the book in verse, and the talented cast members dispense the lines trippingly on the tongue with such ease that the dialogue comes across as totally natural conversation.

The setting is somewhere out West in the late 1800s, and James Morgan, the York’s Producing Artistic Director, has designed a simple but amusing set that encompasses a jail, a governor’s office, his bedroom and a general playing area. There is a hanging rope to remind us that Johnny Blood, played with delightful vapidity by Conor Ryan, is due to be hanged for killing a man (allegedly in self-defense), unless he gets a reprieve from the governor. Sheriff Martin Green, the show’s male romantic lead played by Peter Saide, is on Johnny’s side. He is also in love with Johnny’s sister, Susanna, who is becoming a nun and is portrayed winsomely by female lead Emma Degerstedt. [Now the part is played by Sarah Pernicky, as described above.]

Susanna, in nun’s habit, visits to governor to appeal that he spare her brother. Her plea is met with a condition—that she give her body to him in bed, something as a virgin she cannot do. She and the sheriff concoct a plot that involves the local lady of ill-repute, Bella Rose, hilariously played by Lauren Molina with award-level flare and body movements to match, to dress like a nun and, with the lights out, sneak into the governor’s bed as a substitute while Susanna sneaks away.

As for the governor, colorfully named Governor von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber (try and pronounce it), Nick Wyman plays him enjoyably in an appropriately over-the-top performance, whether via his acting or his singing “Some Day They Will Thank Me” and “What a Night.” As we see as the plot expands, von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber’s word is not his bond. Another character providing laughs is the booze-soaked priest, Father Morse, played in a perpetual stupor by Gary Marachek.

There is a scene that captures the show’s zaniness when the sheriff cooperatively leaves the key to Johnny’s cell just out of hand-reach, but within reach of being pulled close enough by Johnny using his boot. The look on none-too-bright Johnny when the penny drops that he is meant to escape is priceless.

All of the scheming and romantic attractions are advanced by the charming score and the excellent voices of the cast members. Degerstedt [cast at the York and now replaced by Sarah Parnicky] has a golden soprano that re-enforces her appealing acting, as when she sings “Look into Your Heart.” Saide as Sheriff Green is a natural leading man with a strong voice, exemplified in “That’s Just How It Is” and signing with Susanna and Bella, “The Way You Feel on the Inside.” Ryan as Johnny also hits a strong vocal mark with “Good to be Alive.”

The musical zips along merrily with fine integration of action and song, and by the end, when all has been colorfully worked out, one can applaud gratefully for all of the fun packed into this compact all-around display of talent. Credit is especially due the musical direction and orchestrations by David Hancock Turner.

Now at New World Stages—Stage 4, 340 West 50th Street. Reviewed June 14, 2018.

DAN CODY'S YACHT  Send This Review to a Friend

There have been real-life battles recently about the merging of schools in an effort to bring about more education equality. “Dan Cody’s Yacht,” written by Anthony Giardina and presented by the Manhattan Theatre Club, reflects such concerns, specifically in the conflict he devises for the fictional towns of Stillwell and Patchett, Massachusetts, outer suburbs of Boston. Giardina makes the drama sizzle with characters on opposite sides and with personal agendas.

Cara Russo (Kristen Bush) is a principled teacher who is for the proposed merger involving her elite high school and one with a lower-class enrollment. At the outset she encounters Kevin O’Neill (Rick Holmes), whose son, Conor (John Kroft), a student lacking in motivation and getting poor grades despite his father’s aspirations for him, is in Russo’s class. The play’s title is a reference to “The Great Gatsby” and symbolizes O’Neill’s hunger for seizing opportunities. Russo is a single mom raising a daughter, overweight Angela (Casey Wyland), who writes poetry, but is enrolled in the lesser school and doesn’t see much chance for going to a high-profile university. She could be helped by the merger.

O’Neill is a brash, loud-mouthed know-it-all who is against the merger and tries to bribe Russo, who bluntly refuses. (They are both on the committee scheduled to vote on the issue.) But she is intrigued by O’Neill, who runs an investment club that meets monthly and greatly enjoys proving his financial savvy. Russo is wary but could be helped by his promise to improve her financial situation via stock market investments. O’Neill puts any romantic issue out of the way by telling her he is gay. (We also meet Geoff (Jordan Lage) and two women, Pamela (Meredith Forlenza) and Alice (Laura Katchen, at one of O’Neill’s investment gatherings).

The class issues are paramount throughout, including Russo’s friendship with less-privileged Cathy (Roxanna Hope Radja), to whom Russo feels superior. The plot becomes very involved as self-interest clashes burst out, especially between O’Neill and his son, Russo and her daughter, Russo and O’Neill, and with O’Neill trying to manipulate Russo’s daughter into being more ambitious and strive to fulfill her repressed dream of getting into Vassar. As one might expect, the initial profits Russo realizes take a downturn and she panics.

All of this is an awful lot of goings-on, and the play gets overly talky and stuffed at points. But the issues raised are serious ones reflecting major problems in society, and the cast is excellent. John Lee Beatty has created a a very serviceable set design, which, thanks to a circular portion of the stage, moves easily between assorted locations. Director Doug Hughes keeps the various dramatic elements and often-impassioned dialogue humming. At City Center Stage 1, 131 West 55th Street. Phone: 212-581-1212. Reviewed June 8, 2018.

SECRET LIFE OF HUMANS  Send This Review to a Friend

David Byrne has written an ambitious play, “Secret Life of Humans,” which is part of the 2018 Brits Off Broadway series and is a presentation of New Diodrama Theatre in co-production with Greenwich Theatre. Co-directed by Byrne and Kate Stanley, the drama attempts to examine human behavior in light of where we originated, where we are today and where we may be bound for in the future.

This is heady stuff, and as one might expect, it is a tall order to find clarity in delivering the analysis in dramatic terms. In some ways the result is successful, but it is also at times bogged down in its complexity and mixed time sequences in the staging.

The takeoff point is a lecture by a professor, Ava, played by Stella Taylor, who asks audience members to examine their hands to illustrate her point that we once walked on hands and feet before evolving to emerge upright. She jokes that this is the most audience participation there will be in the play, but she has established awareness of the span of human history.

That segues into her meeting Jamie (Andrew Strafford-Baker), who turns out to be the grandson of Jacob Bronowski, the renowned British mathematician, writer and historian especially famous for his book “The Ascent of Man” and the 1973 BBC television series by that name. Bronowski (1908-1974) also was involved in work for the British government in World War II. Later, he visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki to observe the results of the nuclear bombings, and he also visited Auschwitz in tracing results of the Holocaust.

Ava sleeps with Jamie in the family home where Bronowski lived, and it turns out that she has a special motivation, getting close enough to Jamie to look into his grandfather’s private papers and learn what they may reveal. In flashbacks, we get to hear from Bronowski, played earnestly by Richard Delaney, who also addresses the audience directly. We also meet his wife, Rita, played by Olivia Hirst. The other character is George (Andy McLeod), a work associate of Bronowski for the British government in the war.

With the territory covered we see humankind at its worst, and the perspective for the future, based on the past, doesn’t afford much hope. The overall thrust of “Secret Life of Humans” comes across as somewhat muddled, as well as a lot to swallow in the course of the 80-minute intermission-less work, and it can leave viewers baffled as well as intrigued by its attempt to assess so-called civilization. At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Phone: 212-279-4200. Reviewed June 8, 2018.

TCHAIKOVSKY--NONE BUT THE LONELY HEART  Send This Review to a Friend

The Ensemble for the Romantic Century is providing a very enjoyable evening that combines the music of Tchaikovsky with an autobiographical story centered on the strange, lengthy relationship he had with a woman patron. This is the kind of blend the Ensemble does, sometimes with more success than with other efforts. This offering clicks pleasurably.

The music in itself provides delight, thanks to the selections from the Tchaikovsky repertoire and excellent performances by a trio consisting of Stephanie Zyzak on violin, Ari Evan on cello, and Ji at the piano. They perform with skill, zest and an appearance of having a wonderful time playing.

The direction in the intimate Ford Foundation Studio Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Center is by Donald T. Sanders, and the show has been written by Eve Wolf (no relation), with the main focus on letters and comments by Joey Slotnick as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsly and the woman fan who becomes his patron, although they never meet. The relationship depicted is based on fact and it is shown here as important to the composer in the face of his self-doubts and depression.

The patron, Nadezhda von Meck is played by Shorey Walker, who looks absolutely orgasmic as she revels in listening to the composer’s music. She sends him money to help him survive, but their acquaintance is bizarre. She prefers to keep her distance, and the closest they get is being in Florence, Italy at the same time, her suggestion, so she can feel his presence. She passes by where he is staying, and he sees her from his window.

Tchaikovsky’s reported homosexuality is indicated by a confession he makes in a letter to another. What is particularly good about the program is that the story is just enough on which to base the music and provide a sketchy but intimate portrait.

In addition, the show is highlighted with the magnetic singing by tenor Adrian Kramer and the seductive ballet dancing by Daniel Mantei, who has contributed his own choreography. All of the ingredients are blended so smoothly that one can readily give oneself over to the mood established and maintained during the two acts and experience the joy of listening to a compelling concert.

Among the many musical selections included are “Nocturne” for cello and piano, “Scherzo, op.42. no. 2” for violin and piano, and “Intermezzo” from “The Nutcracker,” arranged for a piano solo (with dance). At the Studio Theatre, Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-270-4200. Reviewed June 1, 2018.

THE BEAST IN THE JUNGLE  Send This Review to a Friend

The key description for “The Beast in the Jungle,” subtitled “a Dance Play,” is "inspired by,” not adapted from, the novella by Henry James. With a glittering combination of John Kander’s music, book by David Thompson and direction and choreography by Susan Stroman, the result is a striking and original production that stands solidly on its own terms in this Vineyard Theatre presentation.

The two principal dancers, Tony Yazbeck and Irina Dvorovenko, are exquisite individually and together, and their work alone provides enough visual satisfaction for one show. But Stroman has also assembled a lovely female chorus —six tall, gorgeous dancers who move gracefully and elegantly through imaginative sequences. They are Maira Barriga, Elizabeth Dugas, Leah Hoffmann, Naomi Kakuk, Brittany Marcin Maschmeyer and Erin N. Moore.

Kander’s score is deeply impressive, varyingly romantic, playful, passionate, menacing and melodious—played by a nine member orchestra that includes a harp, with music direction by Greg Jarrett, also at piano and celeste. It is a score that in itself provides great pleasure.

Michael Curry has designed scenery that includes swiftly moving panels, shimmering sheets that stand in for an ocean, and contributions by a shadowy chorus waving ghost-like effects. Curry has also contributed eye-catching costumes, and Ben Stanton’s lighting design is spectacular.

At the core is the story on which the visual excursion rests. Peter Friedman gives a strong performance as John Marcher, a troubled art dealer who recounts his being mentally plagued by a demon beast and the sad story of his life and love to his nephew, played by Yazbeck, who in the flashbacks enacts the young Marcher.

Broadway star Yazbeck has been awarded powerful and emotional choreography by Stroman, and for May Bertram, the tragic love of Marcher’s life, he has a superb partner in Dvorovenko, who began her career with the National Opera Ballet of Kiev and then danced major roles with the American Ballet Theater from 2000-2014.

Yazbeck and Dvorovenko project charm when they first meet in Italy and later, when they meet again after May is married (her husband is played by Teagle F. Bougere), there is a very sexy dance interlude communicating sneaky copulation movement with the husband nearby. It is a further example of Stroman’s inventiveness, carried out deftly by her principal dancers.

The production, its visual splendor notwithstanding, is not without problems. The need to flesh out the story of love found, lost, found again, and lost again, as well as the influence the tale has on the nephew and his personal problems, is at times burdensome. The excellent acting gets across the emotional drama when required, but the portions not expressed through dance drag at times. “The Beast in the Jungle” is best when the music, dance and overall production values combine to be the most prominent. At the Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street, Phone: 212-353-0303. Reviewed May 31, 2018.

PEACE FOR MARY FRANCES  Send This Review to a Friend

Ever reliable, Lois Smith is giving a searing performance in the title role of Lily Thorne’s play, “Peace for Mary Frances,” a presentation by The New Group. But peace is extremely elusive as 90-year-old Mary Frances, born of parents who fled the slaughter of Armenians, proceeds toward death attached to oxygen to ease her terminal breathing difficulties. Even worse is her need to referee the bitter dispute between her two daughters, who hate each other passionately as they compete for their mother’s approval.

The play, set in West Hartford, Conn., provides an especially nasty family portrait, with endless, mean-spirited bickering. Some of it is about money. Mary Frances’s late husband worked his way up from being an immigrant to leaving his wife a million dollars. It has been set up in a trust fund, and the son in the family, Eddie, as played by Paul Lazar, lethargically handles his mother’s taxes and finances while trying to steer clear of his sisters’ hassles.

The warring sisters are Fanny (Johanna Day), who has had to overcome a drug problem, which once landed her in the clink, and Alice (J. Smith-Cameron), who has been caring for her mother, is unable to work and relies on being given expenses, which her mother resentfully interprets as having to pay her own daughter for taking care of her. Alice has two daughters, one with a new baby and apparently not too happy in her marriage, the other an actress who complains of always living other people’s lives. Both women become involved in the nasty family battling.

The action takes place on a functional two-level set designed by Dane Laffrey, on the lower level the living room, and on the upper level the bedroom to which Mary Frances is increasingly confined.

Through it all Smith gives an admirable, dominating performance. She flashes anger, desperation, mordant humor and her desire to control finances and what will happen after her impending death. She longs to go peacefully, relies on a home-hospice aide to provide enough morphine to ease the outbursts of pain. She yearns to die with grace, but constantly is faced with the ugly problems, which the author details in her bitter family-from-hell portrait. How will the situation ultimately be resolved?

Despite the excellent cast and the memorable acting by Smith, Thorne’s drama runs too long, a difficulty director Lila Neugebauer can’t solve even with her often piercing staging. One can tire of the infighting and feel that all that needs to be said could be done in a shorter time than the play’s two hours and 35 minutes, including one intermission. There’s only so much of this family that one can or should have to take. At the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre, the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-270-4200. Reviewed May 24, 2018.

OUR LADY OF 121ST STREET (2018)  Send This Review to a Friend

Having reviewed the 2002 LAByrinth Theater production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’s often hilarious play, “Our Lady of 121st Street,” I was curious to see what the new Signature Theatre revival was like. Fortunately, it preserves the author’s quirky look at quirky characters and is just as entertaining and relentlessly profane. The new cast delivers impressively, and Phylicia Rashad’s direction nails the play’s unusual qualities and the diverse people under inspection.

The set-up itself remains totally bizarre. The scenic design by Walt Spangler is divided, with the centerpiece the Oritz Funeral Home in Harlem, marked by a huge brightly lit vertical sign. At one corner is a bar, and at the other what is alternately a church confessional booth, and, when flipped around, a restaurant corner. Center stage also becomes an outdoor area when needed.

The premise itself is nutty, the corpse of Sister Rose, which should be residing in the large visible coffin, has been stolen. Joey Auzenne as tough-talking detective Balthazar is trying to discover who stole the corpse and what happened to it.

Sister Rose, we learn, was a an influential Harlem nun and teacher in the lives of various characters who have come to pay tribute to her in recognition of what she meant to them as students for her mix of tough discipline and inspiration. The theft is merely the device the author uses for the series of portraits and confrontations, with mordant humor raging throughout.

One of the most enjoyable sequences occurs in the confessional booth, with the verbose, very funny Rooftop (Hill Harper), now a radio host, trying to confess a lifetime of sin to Father Lux, played with exasperation by John Doman. Rooftop goes on endlessly without getting to the nitty-gritty of why he is there, fueled by a lifetime of not previously confessing. Father Lux reminds him that his is a confessional, not a conversational.

Subsequently, when we meet Father Lux in a wheelchair outside the confessional booth, we see that he has no legs. “Korea,” he explains matter-of-factly. The priest is also the conduit for some of the playwright’s philosophical ideas.

Among others whom we meet are Erik Betancourt as Edwin, who is filled with resentment at having to look after his mentally underdeveloped brother Pinky (Maki Borden). But the condition is really Edwin’s fault, as he casually explains that he “accidentally” threw a brick out the window and it landed on Pinky’s head.

There is Jimonn Cole playing Flip, a Wisconsin lawyer who tries to hide that he is gay, and his lover, Kevin Isola as aspiring actor Gail, whose homosexuality is embarrassingly obvious to Flip, who at one point berates him with inexcusable cruelty. There are Norca (Paola Lázaro), who has been on drugs and is an angry bundle of hostility; Dierdre Friel as the phlegmatic Sonia from Connecticut, whom Norca assaults; Inez (Quincy Tyler Bernstein), Rooftop’s sex-flaunting ex-wife, who accuses Norca of having slept with her husband, and Marcia (Stephanie Kurtzuba), the late Sister Rose’s asthmatic niece. Let’s not forget Victor (John Procaccino), whom we see at the outset in his shorts, because those who stole the corpse also stole his pants.

The motley black and white characters in Guirgis’s play spew collective vocabulary not for those who wince at profanity—they’ll have to engage in lots of wincing in listening to these folks delivering the author’s salty and amusing dialogue. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-244-7529. Reviewed May 23, 2018.

BROADWAY BY THE YEAR--THE MUSICALS OF 1956 & 1975  Send This Review to a Friend

In 1956 there was “My Fair Lady” and in 1975 there was “A Chorus Line,” just two of the shows covered in the latest of the “Broadway By the Year “ series created, written, directed and hosted by Scott Siegel and presented by The Town Hall last night (May 21, 2018). As one has come to expect, a superb array of performers assembled to interpret various Broadway songs of those chosen years.

There were robust male voices and strong female voices, with emphasis on individuality that made for freshness. As customary, Siegel provided amusing and informative background notes about what else was going on in the world and about the up-or-down fates of the various productions.

Maxine Linehan bounded on stage with so much energy to sing “I Could Have Danced All Night” from “My Fair Lady” that she made one believe she really could have. A renowned interpreter with a wide range, she also distinguished herself with excellent renditions of “It’s All Right With Me” from “Mr. Wonderful”(1956) and “The Only Home I Know” from “Shenandoah” (1975).

“The Wiz” (1975, a show that gave birth to Sidney Lumet’s movie version, was thrillingly represented by Cheryl Freeman singing “Home.”

Good looking and affable Kyle Selig opened the show with charm, singing “On the Street Where You Live” from “My Fair Lady,” and he also contributed the more difficult and complex “It Must Be So” from “Candide” (1956). Douglas Ladnier, who has an impressive leading man voice, wowed the audience with “Just in Time” from the 1956 “Bells Are Ringing,” “Joey, Joey, Joey” from “The Most Happy Fella,” also 1956, and “Cat’s in the Cradle” from “The Night That Made America Famous” (1975).

If there were a prize for the most unusual solo of the night, it would have to go to Oakley Boycott, who for starters is unusual herself—tall, slim and beautiful and cutting a stage presence like no other. She took the number “Is It a Crime?” from “Bells Are Ringing” and turned it into a mix of drama, comedy, high style and a range of body movements that added up to a show-stopper.

Carolee Carmello, an accomplished Broadway veteran, put her own zing into the “I’m Going Back” highlight from “Bells Are Ringing,” heralding liberation from being an answer service operator and returning to the “Bonjour Tristesse Brassiere Company” –“and a little modeling on the side”--accenting it by pushing up her bust in a final gesture. Carmello gave an intriguing interpretation of “Nothing” from “A Chorus Line” and “What I Did for Love” from the same show as the night’s closing number, with backing from the entire company.

Another “A Chorus Line” choice, “I Can Do That,” was sung and tap-danced with footwork wizardry by Joshua Israel, who also sang and tapped his way through “All I Care About” from “Chicago” (1975), doing his own choreography for both. Try tap-dancing on your toes.

Also in the specialty department, the robust, full-of-style and pizzazz Lance Roberts earned applause with his “Too Close for Comfort” from “Mr. Wonderful” and the rousing and especially entertaining “Gimme Me a Pigfoot (and a Bottle of Beer)” from “Me and Bessie” (1975). His outfits were undeniably the flashiest of the night.

Usually in these concerts there is a number sung as it used to be on Broadway without a mike. That accomplishment was fulfilled by Luke Grooms, who has the voice penetrating enough to pull it off, exemplified by his “My Heart is So Full of You” from “The Most Happy Fella.” He also effectively sang the “Rodgers & Hart” (1975) number “Johnny One Note,” this one with a mike.

The wide range of songs and styles required the ingenuity of musical director Ross Patterson, also on the piano, with Tom Hubbard on bass and Dave Silliman on drums, all deservingly acknowledged by Siegel. Other contributors were Holly Cruz, staging consultant; Carl Acampora, stage manager; Rick Hinkson, assistant director and assistant stage manager, and Joe Burke, production assistant. At the Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Reviewed May 22, 2018.

  

[Film] [Theater] [Cabaret] [About Town] [Wolf]
[Special Reports] [Travel] [HOME]