By William Wolf

MICHAEL MOORE: THE TERMS OF MY SURRENDER  Send This Review to a Friend

The new Broadway show written by Michael Moore and directed by Michael Mayer is a political pep rally spiced with Moore’s entertaining persona. It is surprising what an excellent comedian he can be in the process of reviewing his life and promoting his political commitments, all the while attuned to his current role of trying to build resistance to Donald Trump and his administration. Moore exhorts his audience to follow through by aiding the fight-back movement, which makes this an unusual—and enjoyable—Broadway theater outing.

I had kind of expected an indulgent show, and when I was informed on entering that it would be two hours long without an intermission, I wondered how Moore could hold even en enthusiastic crowd for that long. But lo and behold, the time breezed by (with only a slight lull here and there) as Moore held firm command, veering from immensely entertaining and often hilarious segments, to his very serious effort to change the political landscape.

The show begins with huge projections of a mammoth Trump campaign rally, then cuts to the lone figure of Michael Moore, emerging as if a one-man army against the Trump onslaught. His assembled audience is clearly supportive, and ready to be regaled by the host.

Moore can be a laugh riot, as when he reads from a brochure of what he cannot bring along on an airplane flight. He has on a desk a travel case, which clearly has a false bottom, and he withdraws a series of assorted power tools that could never fit in one case. I won’t spoil the ultimate joke.

At one point he asks a volunteer from the audience, whom he describes as an ultra smart American who got high grades in school. Then he asks for a Canadian in the audience who just about got by. With both volunteers taking the stage, Moore proceeds to conduct a quiz show to prove that the dumbest Canadian is smarter than the smartest American. Obviously, the result can vary from night to night; at the performance I attended the American upended Moore’s thesis.

Especially interesting, and, as usual, entertaining in his manner of presentation, is Moore’s account of how he was elected to the school board at an early age in Davison, Michigan, thereby, in revenge for being whacked on the butt, managed to get the principal and assistant principal of his school fired. He also tells the story of how he and a Jewish friend traveled to Bitburg, Germany, to get, by various manipulations, to the cemetery site in question and unfurl a sign blasting Ronald Reagan’s visit that would honor Nazis buried among to German soldiers. A photo that records the protest is projected.

Moore turns most serious and angry when he describes how children have been made ill by a poisoned water supply in Flint, Michigan. He is outraged that there has been no proper punishment for those knowingly responsible.

As for the show’s terms of surrender in the title, Moore affirms that he is not ready to surrender to Trump, and there is a planned sequence, emblazoned with lots of flashing lights, when he playfully pledges to run for the presidency. It’s a very funny gambit. In addition to ticking off major campaign pledges, he promises there will be only one electrical cord for the variety of smart phone devices in circulation.

Moore comes up with a hilarious surprise grand finale that I will avoid spoiling for you. All through the show Moore exhibits an informal manner. There are two monitors hanging from the mezzanine, but all they do is provide subject cues, not text.

Unless you happen to be a Trump supporter (poor you), Michael Moore’s Broadway stand is a show you can welcome and thoroughly enjoy. At the Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed August 17, 2017.

VAN GOGH'S EAR  Send This Review to a Friend

Ear or no ear, the blend of music and Van Gogh’s life and art as presented by the Ensemble for the Romantic Century is a highly unusual venture. Writer Eve Wolf’s vision is a very different take on the renowned artist. The result is more of an elegy than a drama, with expert musicians and vocalists blending with Carter Hudson’s performance as Vincent van Gogh to make an exotic conception of art as something to be listened to as well as visualized.

As the painter, Hudson’s interpretation of the dialogue, based on the artist’s letters, is rather emotionless. He talks of his demons, but his demeanor doesn’t reflect the inner turmoil that he is describing, even when he is confined to a mental hospital for treatment. When he emerges with a bandage covering blood from the mutilated ear, which he carries, the appearance doesn’t have the dramatic impact that it should have.

What makes a more profound impression is the playing of compositions by Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré, Ernest Chausson and César Franck. The musicians are excellent—Henry Wang and Yuval Herz, violins; Chieh-Fan Yiu, viola; Timotheos Petrin, cello, and Max Barros and Renana Gutman, pianists. Renée Tatum and Chad Johnson are in superb voice in the roles they assume.

Under the direction of Donald T. Sanders, the production has a haunting quality, but its lack of intense drama can make the effect at times soporific. Apart from the music, the most striking aspect is the projection of van Gogh’s art, whether on differently positioned panels or on the artist’s easel. Projection designer David Bengali has done a superb job in integrating the art with the music and acting.

The pathos of the artists life and the support of his brother Theo (Johnson) do come through in this low-key approach. But it would help if there were more sparks to the enterprise. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Reviewed August 18, 2017.

GERSHWIN SA;UTE A SONGBOOK SUMMIT HIGHLIGHT  Send This Review to a Friend

Having thoroughly enjoyed the Cole Porter program that is part of Songbook Summit presented by ultra-talented musician twins Peter and Will Anderson, I went back for their George Gershwin session (August 15-20) and it was an evening of pure heaven. Listing to selections of Gershwin played by the Andersons and three other talented musicians, plus the vocals by Molly Ryan, is totally joyful.

For one thing the music by George Gershwin, at times abetted by the lryics of his brother Ira, occupies a very special place in American musical history. Will Anderson deals interestingly at length with background information. For example, he speaks of how in only a few weeks, to keep a concert obligation with conductor Paul Whiteman, George Gershwin wrote his phenomenal “Rhapsody in Blue.”

The group proceeds to play it, with Will soaring on clarinet at the outset and pianist Jeb Patton soloing fantastically. (Among the many film clips projected is one showing what a whiz George Gershwin was as at the piano). As pointed out, Gershwin elevated his music to a combination of jazz, classic, folk and contemporary to create his very special legacy, including the groundbreaking “Porgy and Bess.” Tragically, George Gershwin died of a brain tumor in 1937 at the age of only 38. But what music he left for the world in his short time of intense productivity!

Among the sampling given us by the Andersons is their opener, “Fascinating Rhythm,” followed by such gems as “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” marked with a superb match of Peter on sax and Will on clarinet. “Embraceable You,” is sung with great feeling by Molly Ryan, who also scores effectively with, among other numbers, “Our Love Is Here to Stay“ and “But Not for Me.”

There are numerous clips from “Hollywood Movies” for which Gershwin composed musical numbers, especially those starring Fred Astaire. There is even a funny clip of the Muppets singing Gershwin. Highlights include recorded comments by Ira about his brother. And to further delight, drawings by Al Hirschfeld are liberally projected.

Musicians accompanying the Andersons, in addition to pianist Patton, are Neal Miner on bass and Phil Stewart on drums. Peter Anderson’s instruments include tenor sax, soprano sax and clarinet, and Will excels with alto sax, clarinet and flute. Their arrangements and riffs dazzle. (The concluding program in the series dedicated to Richard Rodgers is August 22-27.) At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Phone: 212-753-5959. Reviewed August 16, 2017.

A PARALLELOGRAM  Send This Review to a Friend

Step into the dark-comedy, satirical, existential world of playwright Bruce Norris (“Clybourne Park”), who now gives us “A Parallelogram” a wildly philosophical meditation involving time, space, what-ifs and our inability to control the future.

That’s a tall order, but a super cast and Michael Greif’s sharp staging of Norris’s snappy dialogue, characterizations and provocative insights, make for an entertaining if sometimes overextended journey.

Lording over the proceedings is wonderful Anita Gillette as future versions of contemporary Bee, a woman in her thirties played with brittle bewilderment mixed with anguished outbursts by the excellent Celia Keenan-Bolger. Gillette appears as Bee 2, 3 and 4, and the conversations the Bees have thrust the playwright’s ideas at us.

Gillette is terrific as she uses a remote-type device to go back and forth in time to make her points with the present Bee, and cynically talks about the dim future that awaits Bee (and we). Gillette also make the most of direct speeches to the audience, with some daringly acerbic observations, including how the future eventually will dim concerns and memories about such seminal events as the Holocaust and 9/11, and foretelling a plague that could destroy the world. Throughout she shows excellent timing and acting ability, as when she conjures a situation in which people descend upon the White House only to have the president drop dead when they get there. At the performance I attended there was a big laugh at the subsequent line that nobody liked him anyway.

The action that the older Bee oversees and sometimes manipulates involves the relationship between the Bee 1 and her live-in, irritable, hyper, neurotic boyfriend Jay (Stephen Kunken), who has left hs wife for Bee and tries to keep up a relationship with his children separate from Bee. (One may wonder how Jay and Bee ever became attracted to each other in the first place.) The sparring between them is enacted excellently as the sparks fly. At one point Bee1 is delighted to hear future Bee call Jay “an asshole,” which, of course, he can’t hear.

Jay becomes totally befuddled by what occurs when Bee has her invisible relationship with Bee 2. Although Bee doesn’t smoke, we see that she will when she becomes Bee 2. Jay smells the smoke, although Bee denies she is smoking and doesn’t yet in her present state. It’s all very funny and Kunken and Keenan-Bolger milk the situation to its fullest.

To complicate matters, there is the sexually attractive, Spanish-speaking handyman JJ (Juan Castano), hired to mow the lawn at the suburban house, and (spoiler here), he will soon do a different kind of mowing when Bee takes up with him.

The play gets increasingly complex, with swift dazzling scene changes (set design by Rachel Hauck, lighting design by Kenneth Posner). Bee finds herself depressed in a hospital room as she faces a suspicion that she may have a brain tumor, and she is also confronted with Jay and JJ competing for her attention and affection.

Lurking throughout are questions for Bee and people in general. What if you could go back in time—would your actions be any different? What if you could know what your future holds? Would you want to go on living if it were grim? How much of a difference would any of that make if, say, the world were engulfed by a plague, or, one might add beyond Norris’s speculations, nuclear oblivion?

Some of the in and out of time gambits might be shortened, and some of the ideas become repetitive. But the concepts with which the playwright deals are intriguing, and with his perspective and expertise, he succeeds in laying them out in often hilarious situations and conversation. The right cast has been chosen to deliver it all. And hovering over everything is the superb, memorable and enjoyable performance by the very theatrically experienced Gillette in the multiple Bee roles that she entertainingly commands while being the messenger expertly delivering the playwright's theoretical ideas. At the Second Stage Theater, 305 West 43rd Street. Phone: 212-246-4422. Reviewed August 6, 2017.

JERRY'S GIRLS  Send This Review to a Friend

You don’t always need a big production to evoke the joy of memorable composing for Broadway shows. There is absolute delight in the concert revival of “Jerry’s Girls” in the Musicals in Mufti series of the York Theatre Company. Three splendid singers—Stephanie D’Abruzzo, Christine Pedi and Stephanie Umoh—and Eric Svejcar, musical director and one-man orchestra at the piano, do the job amazingly in presenting the work of Jerry Herman.

Director Pamela Hunt has built in a steady supply of movement that keeps the show zipping along. The women smoothly shift positions on stage, rolling their music stands along for song references, needed after only a week of rehearsals. That’s the routine of such low-budget shows at the York, and there is generally a congenial feeling of spontaneity. The expertise of D’Abruzzo, Pedi, Umoh and pianist Svejcar provide sparkling entertainment and do justice to Herman.

“Jerry’s Girls” was performed on Broadway in 1985. This reprise packs much nostalgia with respect to Herman’s career as the singers perform one hit after another. D’Abruzzo, Pedi and Umoh have individual strengths, and the song selections provide opportunity to display them.

Pedi, for example, has a flair for comedy, illustrated by her hilarious rendition of “Gooch’s Song” from “Mame,” dealing with an unwanted pregnancy. But she also can turn on the passion, exemplified by her singing “If He Walked Into My Life,” also from “Mame.”

D’Abruzzo has a special twinkle and sauciness, as when she and Umoh team to amusingly sing “Busom Buddies” (“Mame”), but she can also soar with the “Before the Parade Passes By” from “Hello, Dolly!”

Umoh has what it takes to become a major star. She has terrific stage presence, power and acting ability, and she pulls it all together when she sings “I am What I Am,” an exciting rendition of the coming-out anthem from “La Cage Aux Folles.” She demonstrates that the impassioned musical statement can be as strong and meaningful coming from a woman as from a man. Umoh is also a knockout with “It Only Takes a Moment” (“Hello, Dolly!”) and “I Won’t Send Roses” and “Movies Were Movies” (both from “Mack and Mabel”).

Apart from the striking solos, the three work beautifully together in creating a charming ambiance, as when they do “Tap Your Troubles Away,” “Mame,” “Shalom” and “Milk and Honey,” “La Cage Aux Folles” and “The Best of Times.” They do a hilarious burlesque-style “Take It All Off,” with Pedi topping it with the very funny “Put it Back On.”

There are projections (design by Justin West) on a screen at the back of the stage to note what shows the songs come from, or to picture a scene to suggest a theme, as with a movie theater for “A Movies Medley.” It is also nice to see a portrait of Jerry Herman. At the York Theater at St. Peter’s Church, 619 Lexington Avenue (at 54th Street). Phone: 323-935-5820. Reviewed August 7, 2017.

CURVY WIDOW  Send This Review to a Friend

Nancy Opel deserves to be up for this new season’s awards for her dynamic, captivating performance in the musical “Curvy Widow,” with a clever book by Bobby Goldman and lively music and lyrics by Drew Brody.

The book springs from Goldman’s life, as she is the widow of noted screenwriter and playwright James Goldman. Opel plays Bobby, a woman in her fifties suddenly thrust into widowhood and having to get a fresh start in life, which includes taking a stab at the modern dating scene. Therein is the fun, as well as the serious meaning in this sassy tale wittily spun and given a colorful, appealing performance by Opel, who flashes a strong voice and winsome personality.

The solidity of Bobby’s life at the outset is depicted via Bobby and company singing “Under Control,” until suddenly it isn’t, and Bobby finds herself at sea. Fortunately, she has the encouragement of close friends Caroline (Andrea Bianchi), Heidi (Elizabeth Ward Land) and Joan (Aisha de Haas), who sing their support. There is also forward-looking advice from Alan Muraoka as her psychiatrist, who urges her to get laid. The cast members play a variety of roles as director Peter Flynn and choreographer Marcos Santana keep them zipping in and out of the situations that Bobby confronts.

Reluctantly, Bobby takes to internet dating sites and adopts the correspondence handle of Curvy Widow. She meets an array of men, married and single. She bemoans that she goes from widow to being “a piece of ass.” The various encounters are hilarious, whether in dialogue or songs expressing her dismay.

Eventually she lands a guy with whom she develops excellent rapport. But a question is raised: does she really want to give up her new independence for a fully committed relationship? One ploy annoys me. In the midst of her adventures her dead husband Jim (Ken Land) materializes a few times to express jealousy at her new encounters. It’s an old idea, and it becomes gimmicky, interfering with the smooth flow of the rest. Yes, it is a way of trying to show conflict in Bobby, but there is nothing in her behavior to suggest that emotional attachment to the man she loved is preventing her from realistically moving on with her life.

The high spirits of the production and the energetic delivery of the songs combine to be entertaining. One number, for example, is “Gynecologist Tango” and it is a hoot. Nancy Opel, who has had a busy and varied theater career, seizes the opportunity to really standout in this performance. At the Westside Theater/Upstairs, 407 West 43rd Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed August 4, 2017.

IN & OF ITSELF  Send This Review to a Friend

Derek DelGaudio, writer and performer of his magic show “In & Of Itself, slyly directed by Frank Oz, does more than dispense trickery. He is a superb actor as he affably spins his web of storytelling and quickly has an audience mesmerized. His pacing, timing and ability to connect is extremely seductive, which leads audience members to follow his every word, pause and gesture.

Yes, this technique can be used as a magician’s way of distraction from what he may have up his sleeve. But DelGaudio is not that kind of an artist. He incorporates the odd setting he has in the background into the story he tells about his personal life and a key encounter that he experienced.

In the process he demonstrates his wizardry with playing cards, projected on screen for all to see and marvel at, when with nimble dexterity he can make cards turn up in remarkable fashion and combinations.

One can admire how DelGaudio incorporates part of an audience into his act, such as choosing someone to come to the stage and be amazed to find what is in a letter, or someone to come back the next day to attest to what he or she has experienced but initially missing the ultimate display of bafflement.

I don’t want to give too much away but it involves audience participation on the way into the seating area by choosing a card from the wall, a card that designates a character trait--for example, perfectionist or hedonist. Then one turns in the card to the ticket-taker.

What DelGaudio does spectacularly as a follow-up leads to people trying to figure out how it can be achieved. I have figured out one possible way, but that doesn’t mean I’m right. DelGaudio is a master at what he does, and he makes his show much different than anything others perform, sometimes far more lavishly. DelGaudio hooks you with the spell he weaves as the framework within which he dispenses his magic. That partly explains why his show has achieved popularity. At the Daryl Roth Theatre, 20 Union Square East (facing the Square) at 15th Street. Tickets: 1-800-982-2787. Reviewed August 9,2017.

SONGBOOK SUMMIT  Send This Review to a Friend

A delightful summer treat, “Songbook Summit” features those likable, super-talented musician twin brothers, Peter and Will Anderson, abetted by singer Molly Ryan, in a series of programs celebrating the Great American Songbook. I chose to attend the Cole Porter show (August 2-6), and it turned out to be a scintillating performance.

Other composers saluted in the series are Harold Arlen (August 8-13), George Gershwin (August 15-20) and Richard Rodgers (August 22-27).

The work of Cole Porter is extremely rich, as evidenced not only in the selection of his numbers played and sung, but in entertaining films clips showing how his songs were used in movies, and surprisingly, how they were also used in advertising. Anecdotes about him and his life were told as part of the show’s narration, stories that provided added perspective rooted to the high society life he lived the world-over, his bisexuality and the pain he had to endure after an injury.

But the main event was the captivating Porter music, for which he wrote his extremely witty lyrics. The Andersons are skillfully versatile with various instruments. Peter plays tenor sax, soprano sax and clarinet. Will plays alto sax, clarinet and flute. They are supported with piano, bass and percussion.

Molly Ryan, who is expert at interpretation and clarity and has an appealing voice, appeared at points in the program singing “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “I Get a Kick Out of You,” “It’s De-lovely, “Every Time We Say Goodbye” and ”From This Moment On.”

The show was created and produced by the Andersons, who demonstrated their extremely creative arrangements and riffs in also playing such Porter numbers as “Begin the Beguine,” “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” “In the Still of the Night” and “Night and Day.” Their musicianship is remarkable, abetted by their chatty style, and one can thoroughly enjoy being in their company. At 59E59 Theaters, 59East 59th Street. Phone: 212-279-4200. Reviewed August 4, 2017.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM (2017)  Send This Review to a Friend

The forecasted thunderstorms didn’t materialize. It was a perfect summer night (July 28), and on stage was a perfectly enjoyable Free Shakespeare in the Park production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream” offered by the Public Theater and delightfully directed by Lear deBessonet. The treat runs through August 13.

The staging and acting are broad, which works fine for the comedy that lends itself to such a romp, especially in an outdoor setting. David Rockwell has provided a glorious design of trees suggesting a forest, Clint Ranmos has created a colorful panorama of costumes, Tyler Micoleau’s lighting is superb, along with Cookie Jordan’s creative hair, wig and makeup design. Chase Brock’s sprightly choreography blends neatly with the pop score approach under music director Jon Spurney.

In this overall context the performances by an appealing cast light up the show. Annaleigh Ashford as Helena, Shalita Grant as Hermia, Alex Herandez as Demetrius and Kyle Beltran as Lysander make enchanting lovers. Ashford especially gives a striking performance, cutting up in broad fashion in showing off her unqiue talent. She is often hilarious.

Another standout is the ever-reliable Danny Burstein as weaver Nick Bottom, who is wonderfully funny whether as the egotistic actor in the play travesty or when topped with the head of an ass as part of the fairy mischief. Richard Poe makes a stately Oberon, King of the Fairies, and Phylicia Rashad is impressive as Titania, his queen.

Plaudits are also due Bhavesh Patel as Theseus, Duke of Athens; De’Adre Aziza as his betrothed Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons; David Manis as Egeus, Hermia’s father; Justin Cunningham as Philostrate, Master of the Revels to Theseus, and the exuberant, very funny Kristine Nielson as Robin Goodfellow (Puck). Whether playing parts large or small in the huge ensemble, the collection of cast members makes for a vital company that delivers convincingly.

The portion of the Bard’s plot that would condemn Helena to death if she does not follow her father’s marital order leaps across the centuries to remind one of recent news of honor killings abroad of daughters who try to escape arranged marriages. (The Bard’s plays speak eloquently for themselves; In the recent “Julius Caesar” there was no need for a Trump look-alike with a red tie to make the point of corrupt power. It is all there in the durable text.)

Free Shakespeare in the Park continues to be one of New York’s great institutions. Whenever I attend I think of the visionary Joseph Papp and the battle he fought against then Parks Commissioner Robert Moses to establish the right to gain a place in the park to bring free Shakespeare to the public. I would recommend that in pre-show announcements tribute always be paid to Papp so that he is never forgotten. At the Delacorte Theater, entrance at 81st Street and Central Park West. Reviewed August 1, 2017.

DEAR JANE,  Send This Review to a Friend

Since “Dear Jane,” means so much personally to its author, Joan Beber, it is sad to report that the play is such a shambles.

In a program note, Beber explains: “'Dear Jane,’ is my most meaningful play. It is about me and my identical twin, she died ten years ago. We adored and hated and adored each other. She was first born and first to die.

“She teaches me how to live and how to die.

“I always think: what would Jane do or say?”

Perhaps Jane would have had some advice on how to better approach the tribute. What we see is what appears to be a troupe of actors gradually assembling on a stage and structuring what seems to be a play within a play. There is the early introduction of a rolled in coffin, from which Amanda Rose playing Jane cheerfully pops up.

Actually, the largest role is that of Julie, emphatically played by Jenny Piersol, a character presumably a stand-in for the playwright. Developments include characters meant to be offspring in the fluctuating drama that flips back and forth in time. The program specifies from 1952 to the present, but there is also reference to the late forties. The competent cast includes Santina Umbach, Holly Cinnamon, Michael Romeo Ruocco, Jon Kovach and Brandon Timmons.

There is some humor in portrayal of different generations. But under the direction of Katrin Hilbe, most remains a jumble committed to the playwright’s impressionistic, performance art style of interweaving imagination and reality in an apparent effort to be creatively entertaining and meaningful.

But the writing and staging combine to deprive the play of convincing emotion. How can one feel for any of the characters or Jane when the form of the concoction can leave an audience head-scratching in an effort to assemble the ingredients and figure out what it all means? At the Clurman Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street. Reviewed July 27, 2017.

  

[Film] [Theater] [Cabaret] [About Town] [Wolf]
[Coming Soon] [Quick Takes] [Special Reports] [Travel] [HOME]