By William Wolf
BROADWAY AND THE BARD Send This Review to a Friend
Distinguished actor Len Cariou says he has nursed the idea for “Broadway and The Bard” ever since he did Shakespeare early in his long career. Finally it has come to fruition in a production that he conceived along with Barry Kleinbort, who directs the show, and Mark Janas, musical director and pianist. Cariou is very likeable, which makes him and his performance extremely congenial. The idea is a novel one. First he performs a passage from Shakespeare, and then he sings a Broadway musical song meant to carry forth the theme of the Bard’s words.
It might have been better if Cariou had achieved his dream when he was younger and his singing voice was in better shape. However, fine actor that he is, he nails the emotions and the fun of the numbers right, and his voice rises to power in the climaxes. As for his handling Shakespeare, his intelligence and experience show in the interpretations of the excerpts he chooses.
Examples of the combinations: A recitation from “Henry V” followed by the song “Applause” by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams. And an excerpt from “Richard II,” followed by Cariou signing “If I Ruled the World” by Cyril Ornadel and Leslie Bricusse.
There are many such combinations in the intermission-less program that Cariou presents seamlessly, some working better than others. My favorite is his teaming a passage by Prospero from “The Tempest,” with the ever-delightful, ultra clever “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” by Cole Porter. Cariou clearly relishes his opportunity and that spices the performance with personality. At the Lion Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street. Reviewed February 5, 2016.
THE BURIAL AT THEBES Send This Review to a Friend
The noted Irish poet Seamus Heaney, seeing modern parallels involving power and misbegotten decisions, adapted the Sophocles tragedy “The Burial at Thebes,” and director Charlotte Moore has staged an Irish Repertory Theatre production of the interpretation. The good news is that the writing and staging adhere to the original period with reliance on the audience to get the meaning of the work without any misguided attempt to transfer Sophocles into a modern setting.
The set design by Tony Walton is wisely simple, a row of ropes from ceiling to stage, and two of what passes for rocks. There is a reddish lighting glow that is quite a coup at the beginning (lighting design by Brian Nason). And apart from some strategically placed drum beats (sound design by Zach Williamson), the rest is left to the excellent actors, who speak with great clarity whether talking to each other or addressing the audience in classic style and are costumed (design by Linda Fisher) according to what we expect in a Greek tragedy.
Moore’s direction is excellent, avoiding unnecessary movement and keeping tight focus on the impressive dialogue and the passion unleashed in the conflict that erupts. The result is command of audience attention during the mesmerizing 70 minutes of the intermission-less drama.
The plot is touched off by the mean-spirited and irrational decree of Creon, the ruler of Thebes, that Polyneices, whom he calls a traitor, not be given the proper burial according to tradition but that his body be left to be torn apart by wild animals.
Antigone, the sister of Polyneices, is infuriated, and she is played with fierce anger and determination by Rebekah Brockman. It is a stirring performance. Even though Antigone knows she will be given a death sentence by Creon for defying his order, Antigone carries through with her determination to honor her brother by burying him, as she believes the gods would have it. Her sister Ismene at first takes an opposite stance, believing that it is foolhardy to go against Creon. Katie Fabel plays Ismene with conviction in another admirable performance.
Paul O’Brien, strong in voice and manner, makes a powerful Creon, sure in the correctness of what he has proclaimed and ordered, and then frantic when he sees the destructiveness of his misguided decision, although it is too late to undo the damage he has wrought.
There is a touching scene between the condemned Antigone and Creon’s son Haemon, who loves her and is played convincingly by Ciarán Bowling. Haemon has argued with his father and urged him to retract his order for Antigone’s death. Moore provides a sensitive directorial touch when Haemon and Antigone meet in a farewell moment. They greet each other in silence, while other cast members turn their backs to provide them privacy.
The directorial success lies in Moore’s confidence in Heaney’s interpretation and expressive writing and the ability of her cast to extract the most out of their speeches with the inherent passion that steadily comes across. Everyone in the ensmble deserves praise, and that includes Rod Brogan as the Messenger, Winsome Brown as Eurydice, Colin Lane as Guard, and Robert Langdon Lloyd as Tiresias. Score the production as another distinguished contribution by the Irish Repertory Theatre. At its temporary home during renovations, DR 2 Theatre, 103 East 15th Street. Phone: 212-727-2737. Reviewed January 29, 2016.
OUR MOTHER'S BRIEF AFFAIR Send This Review to a Friend
As much as I enjoy watching Linda Lavin, whose performances bring a glow to whomever she portrays, she cannot rescue the dopey play that Richard Greenberg has written. The Manhattan Theatre Club presentation, “Our Mother’s Brief Affair,” is a memory drama, with twins, son and daughter, looking back to try to understand their inscrutable mother. The action, directed with a reasonably smooth flow by Lynne Meadow, moves back and forth between time periods, including after their mother has died and also with the siblings addressing the audience directly.
Lavin, with customary expertise, plays Anna, a Jewish mother who has had a miserable marriage and, as she ultimately makes clear, wants to be known as her own woman, not just a as a mother. She came from the lower East Side of New York, graduated to Long Island, and while the sometimes clever Greenberg gives her a way with one-liners, her life has been very undistinguished and she yearns for it to be more significant. But the story that the playwright ultimately has her describe makes her so utterly out of character that the gambit utterly wrecks the play, which isn’t so impressive to begin with.
This is a story with revealed secrets, but I find it impossible to discuss it meaningfully without spilling much of the specifics. So if you plan to see it, I suggest that you stop reading now.
The twins are both gay. The son, Seth, is played by Greg Keller, and his sister, Abby, is portrayed by Kate Arrington. They give competent performances as they banter with each other and their mother in the array of interwoven scenes in simple settings. There comes the moment when they are appalled at their mom’s confession that not only did she have an affair in the 1970s, but that her lover who at first used a false name confessed that his real name was—are you ready?—David Greenglass. Yes, that David Greenglass, who ultimately admitted that in order to save himself and his wife in the famous 1950s conspiracy to commit espionage trial, he gave false testimony about his sister, Ethel Rosenberg, that helped send her to the electric chair, along with her husband, Julius.
Astonished, Seth and Abby face the audience and give a brief informational on the Rosenberg case. They make clear their belief that the execution was a gross injustice apart from any espionage that was committed, and in any event all Ethel is supposed to have done was type notes, about which Greenglass later admitted he lied. As explained to the audience, Ethel was really used by the government as a pawn to get Julius to break down and confess. The playwright may be trying to make a statement about injustice in the case, but having Anna describe the beauty of her affair with Greenglass is as appalling as it is unconvincing.
We may wonder along the way whether she is telling the truth or making up a story so she can be “close to history.” But her describing Greenglass as an appealing, ardent lover is off the wall. In scenes on a park bench John Procaccino, who plays Greenglass with absolute charm, is a far cry from the portrait of him as a self-righteous shlub with face and voice disguised in a 60 Minutes II television interview, and the character depicted in the book, “The Brother: The Untold Story of Atomic Spy David Greenglass and How He Sent His Sister, Ethel Rosenberg, to the Electric Chair,” by New York Times writer Sam Roberts, a book which, it turns out, Anna has read.
In the play Anna describes Greenglass as “an urban gentleman” and “a man who had class.” (In real life documents from Greenglass’s lawyer’s files has his wife, Ruth, describing her husband as having had a “tendency to hysteria” who once ran naked though the hallway shouting about “elephants” and “lead pants,” in addition to saying things were so even if they were not and talking of suicide as if he were a character in the movies.) In the play, Greenglass excuses himself as “really a humble guy” and talks of his espionage and his testimony against his sister in pleasant, matter-of fact- tones, and Anna takes pity on him and hugs him with loving forgiveness.
The account also makes Anna seem so absurd, despite the skill lavished on her by Lavin, in her desire to come across as someone with more importance than her role in life. She has considered herself to be a liberal, as have her children, so how could she relate this way to Greenglass when she knows who he is? There is also a confession of her own--a minor slight to her dying younger sister that has haunted her with feelings of guilt, and she speaks of the ultimate revelation of her own secret in the context of Greenglass’s revelation of his secret. At this point Seth has one of the play’s best lines when tells his mother that there is such a thing as scale.
It’s one thing for Anna to want to be close to history, but it is quite another to be on the wrong side of history. And it is yet another for a playwright, however well-intentioned, to come up with such a muddled piece of work. At the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed January 24, 2016.
NOISES OFF Send This Review to a Friend
Farce requires exceptional expertise, which is certainly there in full steam in the wonderfully-cast revival of “Noises Off.” The show is a sure-fire prescription for all who are seeking the kind of belly laughs to be heard at Roundabout Theater Company’s production under the blissful direction of Jeremy Herrin.
I first saw the play staged in London, and then productions in New York, and I can say that this one is at the top of its game. Michael Frayn’s play is a very clever farce spoofing run-down theater companies, in this case British. The major news this time is the utterly hilarious performance by the always-superb Andrea Martin as a befuddled actress playing the increasingly befuddled housekeeper in the hapless company’s production of a farce called “Nothing On.”
You get two programs on entering the theater, the Playbill giving details about the show, and another program for the “Nothing On” farce within the farce, detailing which actors are playing which parts in the uproarious mess that we see.
“Noises Off” is cleverly written, with both a front view of what the “Nothing On” audience will see and the backstage view of the actors as they rush on and off to perform, intermittently engaging in their relationships that underscore the incompetence and messy lives of virtually everyone.
You have to be there. It is a tall order to attempt to describe the onslaught of missteps that befall the players. Some of it is delightfully physical slapstick, some the humor that comes from line and entrance screw-ups. Laughs are also mined from the odd character assortment. There are seven doors that can be slammed, one open door and a window for breaching, and rest assured, the set designed by Derek McLane gets a thorough workout.
The ensemble is absolutely terrific, including Campbell Scott, Tracee Chimo, Daniel Davis, David Furr, Kate Jennings Grant, Megan Hilty, Rob Mclure and Jeremy Shamos. All are called upon to excel as farceurs and all do.
Of course, Andrea Martin is a show-stealer, with a range of body language, expressions and physical comedy that can induce helpless laughter. And show-stealing from this talented bunch is a special achievement.
I also particularly enjoyed Ms. Hilty, playing a busty blonde lacking intelligence both as the no-talent actress she depicts in “real Life” and in “Nothing On.” Hilty generates laugh after laugh with her chirpy voice and clumsy movements, and sometimes just by standing there.
Naturally, there are some theatergoers who don’t appreciate farce and will sit stone-faced while all around them people are consistently laughing aloud. If this top-notch production of “Noises Off” doesn’t ignite them, what will? At the American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-719-1300. Reviewed January 21, 2016.
MAURICE HINES--TAPPIN' THRU LIFE Send This Review to a Friend
From the moment the excellent all-women Diva Jazz Orchestra sets an opening swinging tone there is the feeling that this is going to be a rousing show. The mood is fulfilled with the suave entrance of the charismatic star, Maurice Hines, tap dancer and entertainer par excellence to lead us through his life story, tappin’ away at intervals and aided by a younger tap contingent.
Hines at 72 has personality plus, with vaudevillian flair and the ability to easily connect with and turn on an audience, as he has been doing for all his professional life. He has written this stage bio, and it is smartly and colorfully presented under the sharp direction of Jeff Calhoun, all wrapped in the know-how of Tobin Ost, scenic design; T. Tyler Stumpf, costume design; Michael Gilliam, lighting design; Darrel Maloney, projection design and Michael Hahn, sound design.
I’ve had the past pleasure of seeing the young Maurice in the night club act Hines, Hines and Dad. The second Hines was brother Gregory, the Dad was Maurice Hines, Sr. They were great tap dancers. Gregory went on to become an important actor before his death in 2003. I’ve long been an admirer, and on separate occasions both Maurice and Gregory were guests for Q and A’s at the Movie Preview Class that I teach. (Without revealing the cause, Hines discloses in the show that he and his brother had a long falling out during which they did not speak, but eventually reconciled.)
Hines delights in recounting stories, tied to songs. While he doesn’t have a great singing voice, he injects feeling and meaningful interpretation into numbers that he puts across felicitously, and he keeps the energy at high level but with admirable smoothness. Pictures of his childhood are projected, as well as those of his brother, dad and mother. Through story tidbits and singing, he expresses special fondness for his mother.
The entertainer name drops the greats in the music world whom he has met along the way (Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald) with anecdotes about them. He also makes a point of the discrimination he faced. One shocking incident was how after finally being admitted as a young man to take a swim in a Las Vegas hotel pool because a star threatened not to perform if he were barred, when he left, the pool was drained. He punctuates the tale by singing “Smile.”
Hines can still deliver a battery of appealing tap steps, but for the really heavy stuff, he has the dazzling Manzeri Brothers (John and Leo), plus a younger set consisting of sisters Devin and Julia Ruth, Dario Natarelli and Luke Spring, all of whom can ignite and audience.
Not enough can be said about the nine-member Diva Jazz Orchestra, led by Sherrie Maricle on drums, who plays a terrific solo. Others in the group also get their chance to provide exiting solos, including Sara Jacovino on trombone, Liesl Whitaker as lead trumpet and Amy Shook on bass. Expertise is also provided by Jackie Warren on piano, Jami Dauber on trumpet, Alexa Tarantino on alto Sax, Roxy Cross on tenor sax and Lauren Sevian on baritone sax. The mighty band is well-meshed into the show, and although only a contingent of nine, the women give off vibes reminiscent of the big band era. Their rendition of Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” says it all.
At the close on the night I attended, many in the process of departing up the aisles stopped in their tracks as the band played on, regaling the audience with a new barrage of solos and ensemble work. Those who had left don’t know what they missed. Take the hint.
As for Hines, around whom the exuberant show is built, he leaves an impression of being a gracious song and dance man, both recalling a bygone era, including singing aimed at an empty place on stage that would have been occupied by his brother Gregory, and also making his showmanship appealingly contemporary. At New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed January 12, 2016.
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (2015) Send This Review to a Friend
That “Fiddler on the Roof” is one of the greatest musicals is gloriously reconfirmed by the entertaining and shatteringly moving new revival. Directing with silky smoothness and poignancy, Bartlett Sher brings out anew Joseph Stein’s deeply human book, Jerry Bock’s infectious music and Sheldon Harnick’s clever, insightful and affecting lyrics. Danny Burstein’s performance as Tevya is one for the ages, and Hofesh Schechter’s choreography freshly builds upon Jerome Robbins’ original, giving the staging an energetic new lift.
When done properly, “Fiddler on the Roof” has a spectrum of ingredients that make one laugh, cry and appreciate the struggles of Jews in villages in Russia as immortalized by the Sholem Aleichem stories. In this production, the added wrap-around intro and closing are superfluous. Sheldon Harnick, at 91 the survivor of the creative team and fortunately able to experience and enjoy this remarkable revival, was right in reportedly fighting against the change, but also right to finally acquiesce, as a protracted hassle would only detract from the wonderful whole and the alterations amount to only a blip.
The addition involves Burstein first appearing in a modern red coat, with a sign above saying Anatevka, which he may be meant to be visiting. He then slips into the role of dairyman Tevye to ignite the show. At the conclusion, as the Jews are forced to trek out of Anatevka as refugees, he has donned the coat again and taken a place among the trudging refugees, thereby reminding us of the current tragedy of new refugees. But surely the power of the show speaks for itself, as art should, and an aware audience can make the connection without the need for a contrived exclamation point.
Although unnecessary, the gimmick is minor and not in need of protracted discussion. Burstein and the rest of the splendid cast do their part in showing us once more what a major accomplishment the musical continues to be. So do the contributions by set designer Michael Yeargan, who keeps the effect simple and impressionistic rather than elaborate and realistic; costume designer Catherine Zuber, who hits the mark on period and place; hair and wig designer Tom Watson; lighting designer Donald Holder; sound designer Scott Lehrer; music director Ted Sperling, who has provided new orchestrations, and all others who had an important hand in the production.
Burstein gives us a very complex Tevye. His prodding conversations with God reveal him to be religious, but are tempered with humor. He is rigid in his Jewish beliefs and practices, as reflected in his wanting to dictate whom his daughters marry. Although he relents sometimes, he is unyielding in not wanting a daughter to marry a gentile, especially in the face of the persecution inflicted upon the Jews by Russian gentiles. Tevye can be clever in trying to handle his authoritative wife Golde and preserve the traditional role of a man being the master of the house. He weighs situations carefully with his “on the one hand” and “on the other hand” reflections. Burstein communicates all such elements, and he also steadily manages to reveal a strong, likable and caring personality. He makes us believe in him as he tries to hold his family together in the face of rebellion and change heightened by outside pressures of anti-Semitism.
Jessica Hecht makes an excellent Golde, Tevye’s wife, often brittle, but clearly trying to make the best of a difficult life, The “Do You Love Me?” number, one of the show’s finest, that she and Tevye sing can bring tears to one’s eyes. On the other hand, “Tevye’s Dream,” elaborately and smartly staged, by which Tevye convinces Golde of relatives coming back from the dead in order to manipulate her into agreeing to the marriage of daughter Tzeitel to the lad of her choice, is uproariously funny.
Alexandra Silber, Samantha Massell and Melanie Moore are excellent as lead daughters Tzeitel, Hodel and Chava. (The younger ones, Shprintze and Bielke, are nicely played by Jenny Rose Baker and Hayley Feinstein.) Alix Korey as Yente the matchmaker succeeds in rendering the character amusingly typical without descending into caricature. Adam Kantor is sympathetically timid as the tailor Motel, Ben Rappaport is passionate as Perchik, the radical, idealistic student, and Adam Dannheisser makes a colorful Lazar Wolf, the local butcher who is thwarted in his deal to marry Tzeitel. Karl Kenzler does a good job as the Russian Constable balancing his efforts to be friendly toward Jews but carrying out his role in following Czarist orders for persecution.
The show gets off to a rousing start with “Tradition” and there are so many wonderful and by now familiar songs done justice. including “Matchmaker, Matchmaker;” “If I Were a Rich Man;” “To Life;” “Miracle of Miracles;” “Sunrise, Sunset;” “Now I Have Everything” and “Anatevka. ” One is constantly transported by the music and the brilliance of the lyrics. All blends seamlessly under Sher’s direction. At the Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway( at 53rd Street). Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed December 20, 2015.
THE COLOR PURPLE (2015) Send This Review to a Friend
John Doyle is a smart director. When he re-imagines a show, he tries to illuminate it, not to egotistically flaunt how ultra clever and different he can be. The evidence is there in his stripped down but faithful, deeply moving and entertaining revival of the musical “The Color Purple,” based on Alice Walker’s gritty novel and Steven Spielberg’s movie version. Athough Walker’s novel is tightly written, it provides much to cover in its wide-ranging story with interesting characters rooted in Georgia between 1909 and 1949.
Further big news is the Broadway debut of Cynthia Erivo in a definitive, knockout performance as Celie, the much-abused African-American girl who matures into a feisty woman who stands on her own. Erivo can bring any audience to its feet in response to her stirring performance, especially when she sings “I’m Here,” the show’s climactic anthem.
The book, written by Marsha Norman, and the music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray, have a lot to cover and integrate into a rousing whole. The saga takes Celie from giving birth to a second child immediately also taken from her, through the abuse by Mister (Isaiah Johnson), who treats her as his slave, the pain of her sister Nettie (Joaquina Kalukango) being sent away, the wonder whether Nettie, now a missionary in Africa, is still alive because Mister has hidden letters from her, and Celie’s longing to know what happened to her daughter and son. Add the sexual and romantic feelings she develops and are expressed for Shug Avery (the vibrant Jennifer Hudson). Additional characters also prominent include the dynamic Sophia (Danielle Brooks), beaten to a pulp when she clashes with white cops. Other Walker characters brought to life on stage include the amusing Harpo (Kyle Scatliffe), who has a lot to handle in his marriage to Sophia, from whom he strays.
Much of what the show has to say is quite rightly through its musical numbers, which sparkle. There is a chorus of women who add comment musically, as when Celie emerges into a designer of pants, with Celie and the women singing the rousing and funny “Miss Celie’s Pants.” The song of defiance “Hell, No!” is sung by Sofia and the women. Celie and Shug team for the expressive “What About Love?”
Director Doyle has done the minimal set design with a huge background made up of many suspended chairs, with chairs also used as props. Thus the show doesn’t rely on elaborate sets to enhance it, but on the array of highlighted performances. We get the essence of the story undiluted by frills and moved forward by song. And what singing! Erivo has a voice that is a marvel with spectacular delivery. So has Hudson, who adds further gusto. Yet, when required, Erivo can soften tenderly and movingly. Award nominators take note.
This revival of “The Color Purple” deserves to become a hit, with all the ingredients to please an audience, including leaving one with feelings about the characters and what life could be like for African-Americans in the deep South during the era spanned and what it took to overcome. At the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed December 16, 2015.
DANCE TREAT FOR FANS OF BROADWAY MUSICALS. Send This Review to a Friend
Nine men and ten women at the Joyce Theater (Dec 21-Jan. 3, 2015)) are probably the hardest working dancers in New York at the moment. They are on the stage almost non-stop recreating steps from outstanding past shows that had been choreographed by some of the top talents of musical theater, and in between rushing to change into the colorful costumes designed by David C. Woolard. The result is scintillating.
Now other talented directors have restaged the works in a production by The American Dance Machine for the 21st Century, founded in 2012 by Artistic Director Nikki Feirt Atkins to help preserve important choreography. The show, directed by the noted Wayne Cilento, dazzles with high-energy and super-talent by the well chosen dancers who have particular skills to offer as well as making the ensemble work sparkle. The orchestra is swell, too, in its rendition of the scores. The show should be a major treat for those who recall the musicals from which the dances are excerpted and those who want to know more about choreography history.
The astonishing final numbers celebrated “A Chorus Line.” Based on the choreography of the revered Michael Bennett, “The Music and the Mirror” is now staged by the renowned Donna McKechnie, and featuring dancer Lori Ann Ferreri. “A Chorus Line Medley,” also based on the original choreography of Bennett, presents “Opening Audition” and offers “One,” also staged by McKechnie. It all leads to a rousing, snappy curtain call line-up of performers, guaranteed to produce audience ovations.
Highlights are plentiful. One can marvel at the early vision of choreographer Agnes de Mille in opening new ground in musical theater with her “Dream Ballet” and other gems from “Rogers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!” Exquisite dancing is contributed by Amy Ruggiero, Marty Lawson, Nicholas Palmquist and the company in the staging by Gemze de Lappe, assisted by Elena Zahlmann.
It takes nerve to try to replicate a Gene Kelly-choreographed number, but performers Rick Faugno and Paloma Garcia-Lee, with Skye Mattox and Tyler Hanes, rise to the occasion in interpreting “Gotta Dance” from “Singin’ in the Rain,” now appealingly staged by Lars Rosager. Attractive Garcia-Lee as the femme fatale-temptress expertly dances with provocative body movements that snap in perfect time to the suggestive music.
Shonica Gooden is a dynamic knockout singing “Sweet Georgia Brown” from “Bubbling Brown Sugar,” originally choreographed and musically staged by Billy Wilson, and now staged by Carla “Twirl” Earle.”
You’ll see some fancy tap dancing by Justin Prescott and Tommy Scrivens in the “Happy as the Day Is Long” number from “After Midnight,” the choreographer of which was Warren Carlyle. It is now staged by Jason Sparks.
Extra ambitious, eye-popping staging is also among the highlights, as in the fight scene from “Golden Boy,” choreographed by Donald McKayle with vigorous, pounding boxing and athletic movements. The cast includes Jess LeProtto, Rich Faugno, Justin Prescott and Tyler Hanes.
Other catchy staging includes “Cool” from “West Side Story,” originally choreographed by Jerome Robbins, now staged by Robert La Fosse; the elaborate “Coffee Break” from “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” originally choreographed by Wayne Cilento and now staged by Adam Murray and “Our Favorite Son” from “The Will Rogers Follies,” this time staged by Patti D’Beck.
Another favorite of mine is the tribute paid “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway” via the appealingly performed selection of the cool “Mr. Monotony.” Other shows well represented are “Grand Hotel,” “Crazy for You,” “The Who’s Tommy,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Promises, Promises,” “Pippin” and "Cats"
The production opens with a Jack Cole medley, honoring the famous and successful choreographer and venturing to the television media with his “Beale Street Blues” dancing from “The Sid Caesar Show,” and “Carnival in Flanders” from “The Ed Sullivan Show.” It’s back to the theater with “Rehadlakum” from “Kismet.” The Cole medley is staged by Ed Kresley, assisted by Kory Geller. At The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue. Phone: 212-242-0800. Reviewed December 23, 2015
THESE PAPER BULLETS! Send This Review to a Friend
Brush up your Shakespeare and re-read “Much Ado About Nothing” and you’ll be better able appreciate the wild riff on that play performed with boundless energy in the current musical “These Paper Bullets!,” written by Rolin Jones, with songs by Billie Joe Armstrong and direction by Jackson Gay. The setting has been set forward to swinging London in 1964, and the hyper-acted characters are paralleling the Bard’s entourage in an update that invites the audience to make who’s who comparisons. The show is the Yale Repertory Theatre production presented by the Atlantic Theater Company in association with Geffen Playhouse.
For starters there is a band called Quartos, obviously summoning memories of the Beatles, and the music dispensed mimics enthusiastically what the Beatles were up to as their fame soared. The fellows skillfully providing the beat here are Bryan Fenkart, James Barry, Justin Kirk and Lucas Papaelias.
The setup proceeds to involve smitten lovers, an evil attempt to falsely charge infidelity with a doctored photograph, a sleazy tabloid journalist, secret recordings, a disrupted wedding and even an appearance by England’s queen. All of it is piled on with dashes of cleverness, abetted by a cast giving its all, but the result is often way too much. Yet the effect is so zany that one can have a good time a good deal of the way and not care a hoot about what is being irreverently done to Shakespeare. After all, this isn’t “King Lear.”
The lovers at the core are Quartos’ Bryan Fenkart as Claude, who falls for Ariana Venturiy as the ditsy model Higgy. The conniver is Adam O’Byrne as Don Best, who is bitter for having been kicked out of the band and replaced (shades of what happened with the Beatles). The doctored photo purports to show Higgy having sex. I’m never much for audience participation, but I was amused when being one of those handed an envelope with instructions not to open until told to do so. Inside, at the appointed moment, there was a gross 8 x 10 picture of supposedly Higgy being taken from the rear. (It’s a better souvenir of the show than Playbill.)
The aborted wedding scene is one of the best, and of course, the denouement when all is worked out adds to the fun. But know in advance that you’ll be in for some way over the top high-jinx that could use trimming. Yet the recalling of those swinging London days has its charm, especially when given a touch of contemporary-looking tabloid corruption. At the Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street. Reviewed December 19, 2015.
THE COUNT MEETS THE DUKE Send This Review to a Friend
One of the most enjoyable evenings spent recently was listening to renowned twin brothers Peter and Will Anderson play the music of Count Basie and Duke Ellington in their appropriately titled show “The Count Meets the Duke.” The setting is delightfully intimate in a small theater in the 59E59 complex, and the array of selections expertly performed is dazzling.
The show, created and directed by Peter and Will Anderson, gained on the night I attended from the expertise of Jeb Patton on piano, Neal Miner on bass and Phil Stewart on drums. Will Anderson excels on alto sax, clarinet and flute, and Peter pleases with tenor sax and clarinet. They make beautiful music whether together or soloing.
The program is enlivened with film clips of Basie and Ellington, and anecdotes about their careers, told mostly by Will in an informative style with an injection of humor wherever possible. Basie gets the early treatment with “Blues in Hoss’s Flat,” “Cute,” “Li’l Darlin,” “Tickle Toe,” “Corner Pocket” and “Midgets.”
The Duke is represented, in addition to some of his famous works, by numbers that include “Johnny Come Lately,” “Star Crossed Lovers,” and most interestingly, a riff on the “Nutcracker Suite” with “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies.” Tribute is paid especially to the contributions of the renowned Billy Strayhorn to the Ellington treasure trove.
One historical moment is evoked when 17 Basie musicians and 17 Ellington musicians played together in a rare mighty alliance for a number called “Battle Royal.”
Each brother gets chances to solo, as do their musical colleagues, and the overall effect of the show that runs intermission-less for 90 minutes is intoxicating. It’s a wonderful way to relax and submit to the beauty that comes from Basie and Ellington triumphs of old as smoothly interpreted by such gifted present-day exponents. At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Phone: 212-279-4200. Reviewed December 12, 2015.