By William Wolf

BROADWAY BY THE YEAR--MUSICALS OF 1965 AND 1978  Send This Review to a Friend

Some shows flopped, but produced memorable songs, and some numbers emerged from hits. In the 19th year of the Broadway by the Year series, created, written, hosted and directed by Scott Siegel, the years 1965 and 1978 were mined for the latest program presented by The Town Hall (May 20, 2019). As expected based on solid past achievements, the show featured a strong team of talented singers, with much expert dancing also adding to audience appeal.

Two women were especially impressive. The show “Drat the Cat!” (1965) has long since been forgotten, but Lianne Marie Dobbs sexily delivered its number “He Touched Me.” The character she expressed in song thrilled to being touched and sang as if she certainly wouldn’t mind if Joe Biden grabbed her by the shoulders. With a great voice and stage presence to match, Dobbs also delivered royally in singing “Keepin’ Out of Mischief” from “Ain’t Misbehavin’” (1978) and also “It's All the Same” from “Man of La Mancha” (1965), abetted on that one by Jake Owen on guitar and snappy footwork by the Broadway by the Year Dance Troupe, choreographed by Danny Gardner.

I also can’t say enough about Nicole Henry, who can establish heightened intimacy with everything she sings, whether slow and dreamy or under-your-skin provocative. Her “Honeysuckle Rose” from “Ain’t Misbehavin’” was breathtakingly sexy, and she extracted great depth from “Mean to Me,” another from “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” She also gave a delightful rendition of “Feeling Good” from “The Roar of the Greasepaint--The Smell of the Crowd” (1965).

Among the men, Douglas Ladnier demonstrated once again the power he can bring to a song, as with his thrilling show-closer, “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of LaMancha,” and before that his strong interpretation of “Stranger in Paradise" from “Timbucktu!” (1978) and the melancholy “Hard Candy Christmas” from “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” (1978).

Siegel scored a casting coup in getting Ethan Slater, who appeared as SpungeBob in “SpungeBob Squarepants.” He demonstrated his special talent singing “A Wonderful Day Like Today” from “The Roar of the Greasepaint—The Smell of the Crowd,” “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” from the show of the same title (1965), and “If I Ruled the World” from “Pickwick” (1965).

This show had more than usual dancing. For example, Corbin Bleu and Rick Faugno wowed the audience with their fast-stepping to “Sing Sing Sing” from “Dancin’” (1978). Faugno choreographed the number. Danny Gardner did the choreography for two dynamic numbers, “Nothing Can stop Me Now” from “the Roar of the Greasepaint—The Smell of the Crowd” and also was lead singer and dancer in “I Wanna Be a Dancin’ Man” from “Dancin’.” Both numbers featured the superb Broadway by the Year Dance Troupe, including Lamont Brown, Bailey Callahan, Gardner, Bryan Hunt, Brooke Lacy, Lily Lewis, Danny McHugh, Kelly Sheehan and Michael J. Verre.

Recently I saw Betsy Wolfe perform as half of a New jersey couple being targeted by the con man in “High Button Shoes,” revived by New York City Center Encores! In that show Wolfe, teamed with Chester Gregory in “I Still Get Jealous,” with the original choreography of Jerome Robbins. Now here she was again with Broadway by the Year showing off her voice with the diverse numbers “A Quiet Thing” from “Flora, The Red Menace” (1965), “Someone Woke Up” from “Do I Hear a Waltz?” (1965) and “Doatsy Mae” from “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”

A highlight of the series is always Scott Siegel’s entertaining well-researched recounting of what was going on in the world in the years selected for surveying Broadway musicals. Also, I am always amazed at how musical director and pianist Ross Patterson excels with the great variety of musical styles and demands in providing the accompaniment by his Little Big Band, which included Don Falzone on bass and Eric Halvorson on drums. Patterson, who always looks as if he is enjoying the task, has been with the series for all of its 19 years.

Others making contributions included Holly Cruz as staging consultant, Rick Hinkson as assistant director and assistant stage manager and Joe Burke as production assistant. Siegel always makes a point of extending thanks for the participation of his wife, Barbara, and on this occasion, taking off from one of the songs, the way he put it was that “If I Ruled the World,” everyone would have a mate like Barbara. At The Town Hall. 123 West 43rd Street. Phone: 800-982-2787. Reviewed May 21, 2019.

HAPPY TALK  Send This Review to a Friend

Susan Sarandon has to summon her vaunted acting skills in an attempt to pull off a credibility-challenged plot surprise that author Jesse Eisenberg has handed her in his play “Happy Talk,” a New Group presentation directed by Scott Elliott. She does her best, but her acting prowess doesn’t make his gambit any more believable. However, until that moment Sarandon’s performance and fine acting by the rest of the cast make watching Eisenberg’s intriguing basic set-up and character creations rewarding.

Sarandon plays Lorraine, who finds enjoyment in acting and is rehearsing a production of “South Pacific” for a suburban Jewish Community Center. A laugh is earned with the revelation that she is cast against type as Bloody Mary. Despite her outward cheerfulness most of the time, Lorraine’s life is hardly a hoot. Her husband Bill (Daniel Oreskes) is seriously ill and very uncommunicative, indicating a marriage gone blah. Her mother, whom we never meet, lies ill in an bedroom offstage from the homey set designed by Derek McLane.

Lorraine’s primary communication is with her mother’s caretaker, Ljuba, an illegal immigrant from Serbia, who seems extremely competent and engenders laughter when she wonders whether people would notice her accent, which is extremely heavy. Marin Ireland plays Ljuba dynamically, and when she reveals that she has saved $15,000 that she could use to purchase a mock marriage that would earn her citizenship, Lorraine puts her together with a fellow thesbian, Ronny (Nico Santos). That gambit doesn’t stand the credibility test. Ronny is so clearly gay that immigration investigators would quickly suspect a scheme.

Barging suddenly into the household is Lorraine’s estranged daughter, Jenny (Tedra Millan), who absolutely loathes her mother, apparently for feeling neglected. But Jenny acts like such a bitch that when at the performance I attended Lorraine forcibly kicked her out of the house the audience applauded.

Sarandon succeeds step by step in portraying Lorraine’s basic loneliness and having a difficult personality, partly illustrated when she learns that actors in the company have been going out after rehearsals without her. Sarandon is especially effective in a private crying scene after the perceptive Ljuba urges her to let her inner feelings emerge. We get the impression that Lorraine is a complex person, self-absorbed and trying to hide, even from herself, the emptiness in her life, for which she tries to compensate with her love for acting.

What we don’t get is the expectation that Lorraine would do something that the playwright concocts for her in the play’s nasty windup. Sarandon plunges into it with conviction, but she cannot surmount the unlikelihood of the cruelty and sick selfishness Lorraine displays no matter how hard Sarandon skillfully tries. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-279-4200. Reviewed May 18, 2019.

ENTER LAUGHING (2019)  Send This Review to a Friend

The York Theatre Company, which successfully staged the musical “Enter Laughing” ten years ago, has done it again. The result ranks among the company’s best productions. With a book by Joseph Stein and music and lyrics by Stan Daniels, it is superbly cast and directed, filled with laughs and colorful renditions of the songs, whether comic or romantic. You can have a wonderful time.

First, a bit of a history refresher: “Enter Laughing,” written by Joseph Stein from Carl Reiner’s novel, was a hit as a play in 1963 and gave a boost to the career of Alan Arkin, who played a young man aspiring to be an actor. It then became a film. In its further 1976 reincarnation as a musical under the title “So Long, 174th Street, Robert Morse had the lead.

In this new version, directed and musically staged by Stuart Ross, who also contributed additional material, the role of wannabe actor, David Kolowitz is played by Chris Dwan , and he is terrific. For one thing, he is very believable. For another he has his comically awkward moves down pat, with hilarious expressions and sputtering dialogue. His antics trying to play a role in a miserable company production, with his vaudevillian slapstick and precise timing, can have you in stitches. He also delivers his singing numbers effectively, including in duets with his girlfriend Wanda, played and sung with charm by Allie Trimm.

There is also a winsome supporting cast. David Schramm plays blustering director Marlowe, who is beside himself with David’s ineptness. He also rattles off the great number “The Butler's Song,” which cements David’s imagining himself a big Hollywood star, and his butler (sung by Schramm) warding off Garbo and other callers who want to have sex with David, whose schedule is packed with bedding famous women stars. I had enjoyed this song masterfully sung by the late George S. Irving in the York’s previous staging and on special occasions. Schramm makes the bawdy number delightfully his own.

Farah Alvin is a gem as Marlowe’s actress daughter Angela, who is hot for David and makes the most of a ribald number “The Man I Can Love.” David’s parents, who want him to become a pharmacist, not an actor, are played by Robert Picardo and Alison Fraser, with the mother tremendously funny with her doubled-edged number, “If You Want to Break Your Mother’s Heart.” Picardo also has a funny number, “Hot Cha Cha,” sung with Ray DeMattis as Mr. Forman, for whom David works. Dana Costello flashes plenty of sex appeal as Miss B, whom David also wants to date. Raj Ahsan, Magnes Jarmo and Joe Veale make up the rest of the troupe.

Jennifer Paulson-Lee contributes snappy choreography, and the score is played by a trio consisting of Phil Reno, music director and pianist, Perry Cavari on drums and Michael Kuennen on bass.

A pleasant surprise is the cameo appearance of genial James Morgan, the York’s producing artistic director, as someone who is persuaded to remove the tuxedo he is wearing to supply it in an emergency situation to David for the part he has to play. Given Morgan’s larger size in comparison to the slim built David, one is laughing even before David dons the overly loose-fitting tux.

The new mounting of “Enter Laughing” in such entertaining fashion is an indication of why that work has longevity. The laughs, the clever songs and the colorful roles still hold up. At the York Theatre at Saint Peter’s, 54th Street just east of Lexington avenue. Phone: 212-935-5820. Reviewed May 17, 2019.

CURSE OF THE STARVING CLASS  Send This Review to a Friend

Sam Shepard’s 1977 play, “Curse of the Starving Class,” is a particularly nasty look at a disintegrating family, apparently symbolically meant to depict a disintegrating society. This new staging by director Terry Kinny features an excellent cast interpreting Shepard’s tortured characters.

At the outset one sees an elaborate stage-wide kitchen set (scenic design by Julian Crouch), and one admires the overall look. Then presto—the shocking surprise. The set explodes in a mighty blast, and we are left with shredded walls, hanging utensils and a totally desolate look of the wasteland within which a family lives.

The depiction of the characters that follows conforms to the rubble. The parents are David Warshofsky as Weston, who lives in a drunken stupor, and Maggie Siff as Ella, who desperately wants a change in her life and is scheming to sell the house and land without her spaced-out husband’s knowledge.

Their children are the troubled, angry son, Wesley, played by Gilles Geary, and his sassy, bitter younger sister, Emma, portrayed accordingly by Lizzy DeClement. She throws a tantrum when she finds the chicken she has raised missing from the fridge. Emma is headed for trouble with a violent outburst that lands her in the clink. (Speaking of animals, a lovely lamb is brought out and put into a cage on the kitchen floor. Given the tenor of the play, one is anxious about the lamb’s future.)

Ella has latched onto a lawyer for developers, Andre Rothenberg as Taylor, and they are in the process of negotiating the secret sale. Unknown to Ella, her husband in a drunken binge has sold the property for a pittance to Ellis (Esau Pritchett), owner of a local joint called the Alibi Club. When that situation is exposed, Taylor erupts in frustration and gives a diatribe that reveals his contempt for Ella and the way in which he has been using her to promote the sort of development that Shepard appears to be condemning as the usurping of people’s lives in the name of profits that result in spoiling local areas.

In the second act we see a sudden, not very believable revival of the father into a changed, sober human being who wants to make something of the property. When he is made to realize that he had sold it while drunk he is devastated. His situation is compounded by debts he has incurred and cannot pay and he needs to get out of town to avoid danger from enforcers.

The problem at that point is that the play sort of peters out. Yes, the characters disperse according to their needs of the moment, but the dramatic punch has been weakened and there is nowhere near the bang at the end that there was in the beginning. One may leave pondering what Shepard has wrought, yet still have been entertained by the performances and the author’s malevolent take on their lives in this mean-spirited play, his gift for peppering dialogue with some observantly funny lines and speeches that border on the poetic. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-244-7529. Reviewed May 16, 2019

HIGH BUTTON SHOES (ENCORES!)  Send This Review to a Friend

A wacky and corny Broadway musical from 1947, “High Button Shoes” has been given a revival (May 8-12) that offered many pleasures in the New York City Center Encores! tradition of trying to recap what that show must have been like in its time. The plot, set in 1913, is a stretch but enjoyable performances, colorful and amusing costumes, the Encores! Orchestra and a reprise of some original choreography by Jerome Robbins made it fun to watch as the final selection in City Center’s 75th anniversary season. The elaborate concert-style production made clear why the show would have had a long Broadway run of 727 performances.

“High Button Shoes” was a collaboration that included music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Sammy Cahn, book by Stephen Longstreet and choreography by Robbins. Two of Robbins’ numbers appeared as originally done in the Encores! presentation under the overall choreography of Sarah O’Gleby-- “Bathing Beauty Ballet” and “I Still Get Jealous.” Robbins’ ballet number was a rousing, spirited show-stopper set in Atlantic City including Keystone Kop horseplay, and Robbins’ jealousy number was a delicate romantic duo performed with panache by Chester Gregory and Betsy Wolfe as the New Brunswick, N.J. couple, Papa and Sarah Longstreet, targeted among others for fleecing by a con man.

In the Broadway show the con artist, Harrison Floy, was played by Phil Silvers. In the Encores! production, the part was done by Michael Urie. When Urie first appeared, with spectacles, a loud checkered suit and burlesque comedy mannerisms, he resembled Silvers. But as his frantic antics as the charlatan Floy escalated, Urie defined the portrayal as his own. He proved to be extremely funny in so many manic ways.

Having gone to Rutgers University, I was especially amused by some of the action revolving around the Rutgers football team and its annual game with Princeton. The romantic lead in the show is a Rutgers player, Oggle, who is in love with Fran, daughter of the Longstreets, played perkily by Carla Duren. She and Oggle (Marc Koeck) do some engaging singing together with “Can’t You Just See Yourself in Love with Me?” and “You’re My Girl.”

Comedy is added by the consistently funny performance of Kevin Chamberlin as Mr. Pontdue, Floy’s sidekick, who dons amusing costumes and helps with Floy’s schemes. The large ensemble is excellent and versatile, whether masquerading as dancing horses and cows, or when women show up in old-fashioned swim suits (costume design by Ann Hould Ward) and dance as Atlantic City bathing beauties.

Director John Rando captured the overall style effectively, keeping the show spinning at a lively pace. Rob Berman, veteran music director of Encores!, led the on-stage orchestra, a regular highlight of these Encores! performances. Twenty-seven musicians made the well-matched score come alive even though the musical didn’t yield durable hits.

At one pint Michael Urie as Floy led the male ensemble singing the Rutgers school song, “On the Banks of the Old Raritan.” I remember singing that anthem, which begins pretentiously, “My father sent me to dear old Rutgers and resolved that I should be a man.” I had a Professor George who would mock the song by jumping up on a desk, pointing to students around the room and shouting to each one “Did your father send you?”

I’m just citing a bit of personal nostalgia that helped me enjoy the “High Button Shoes” revival. I wish I could have seen the original, but this staging did the trick of reminding audiences what this slice of old-fashioned, zany fun of its era was all about. At New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street. Reviewed May 13, 2019.

GARY: A SEQUEL TO TITUS ANDRONICUS  Send This Review to a Friend

When the curtain rises to reveal what’s on stage in “Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus,” the sight is as hilarious as anything you are ever likely to see in a theater. Piled ceiling high are more corpses than you can count, dummy casualties of many walks of life from the bloody killings made memorable in Shakespeare’s most murderous play. They are piled in a huge mound and stuffed just about everywhere. It’s the combined work of scenic designer Santo Loquasto, costume designer Ann Roth and the vision of director George C. Wolfe. The total effect heralds the kind of sick humor one encounters in this go-for-broke play by Taylor Mac.

What a bloody mess to clean up! And who is around to do it? Nathan Lane as Gary and Kristine Neilsen as Janice, two who are devilishly expert at broad comedy and can keep an audience in stitches. Gary, given a throaty voice and expert timing by Lane, has been a clown but he longs to elevate his station by becoming a Fool. When Gary and Janice get down to the task of preparing the bodies for disposal, the play is a hoot.

Janice schools Gary in the methods. She sucks out blood through a hose. She digs for the inner organs. And there is the need to remove gas by pressing on the stomachs of the corpses. This gives rise to a mass of noisy farting, with Gary letting go one of own, much to his momentary embarrassment. At one point the penis of a corpse sprays liquid into Gary’s face.

That’s not the only liquid that squirts. We also meet Carol, a midwife gone bonkers, who had her throat slit and is wandering around bemoaning that she could have saved a baby. Julie White, another delightfully adept at comedy, makes the most of that absurd part, and when liquid squirts out of both sides of her neck, the image is devastatingly funny.

Playwright Mac isn’t only interested in low, slapstick comedy, but mixes philosophizing about the state of society and against war, mainly through Gary, who at times breaks into tears and often dispenses his worldly comments. Points are strikingly made, although in the context of such a madcap comedy, the serious moments tend to grow a bit wearing.

As for the comedy itself, it also can wear thin, as keeping up the broad, crazy stuff is tough to do. Yet every so often a scene erupts into show-saving hilarity. There is a multitude of flopping penises, severed heads, corpses being tossed about, detached limbs, climbing over the dummy bodies, all happening along with the ribald dialogue spewed with intensity. At one point there is even a chorus line of dancing male corpses with their bouncy penises.

Such slapstick is not for everyone but those who appreciate bawdy comedy will find plenty at which to laugh—and very often. Mac quite ingeniously has built upon the bloody mayhem of Shakespeare’s play, and used the gallows humor as a springboard for the more serious things he wants to say. One gets the message about the need for a better world, but still, the over-the-top humor is what one mostly comes away with, as well as admiration for the smashingly entertaining cast. At the Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed May 10, 2019.

THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS   Send This Review to a Friend

Charlotte Moore, artistic director of the Irish Repertory Theatre, has impressively directed many of the company’s productions, but she absolutely soars in her staging of “The Plough and the Stars” as part of presenting a season of Sean O’Casey’s plays. There is an element of nostalgia involved, as in the first year of the Irish Rep’s existence, 1988, it presented the same O’Casey play.

O’Casey (1880-1964) had the gift of being able to create believable characters and present them in the context of Irish battles for independence, and do so with colorful dialogue that defined both them and the issues. For this production Moore has assembled the right cast for making O’Casey’s 1926 play come dynamically alive with a high level of tension.

Scenic designer Charlie Corcoran has created one of the company’s most memorable sets in which to place the spirited and tragic action. In the limited space of the compact stage, with the use of a revolving set, Corcoran has created the living room of a tenement dwelling in Dublin, a bar (public house), and an exterior outside the building wall, and yet another living room. The right wall of the theater is lined with make-believe windows to add flavor and breadth.

The play starts in November of 1915, and then moves on to the Easter Uprising in 1916, when the famed rebellion materializes. The play’s title is derived from the flag of the Irish Citizen Army. There is a meeting we hear taking place outside the public house as background against which the lives of the characters unfold and the street battle escalates.

Nora Clitheroe, played by Clare O’Malley, and Jack Clitheroe, portrayed by Adam Petherbridge, are central as a newlywed couple. Jack, a former member of the Citizen Army, is committed to the Irish rebel cause and when summoned feels duty-bound to do battle along with his comrades. But Nora passionately doesn’t want him to fight. She burns a military letter that was sent Jack, informing him of a promotion, which infuriates Jack when he learns of what she has done.

After Jack goes off to take part in the impending battle, Nora is beside herself with anger and frustration. When Jack is killed, she refuses to face the truth. She loses it mentally, and becomes increasingly hysterical in her thinking that Jack is alive. O’Malley can break one’s heart in the way in which she portrays this bereft Nora as a woman going to pieces.

(The accuracy of such a possibility struck a personal note for me. While working as a journalist years ago, I rented a room in a house in which the son, a fireman, drowned trying to save the lives of boys. His father, refusing to acknowledge the truth, would leave the house every day and say he was going to visit his son).

Michael Mellamphy gives a striking performance as the boisterous Fluther Good, who is a carpenter and a proud union member. James Russell is provocative as The Young Covey, who is a communist forever needling others about his philosophy being the only just solution for society. He especially makes fun of Robert Langdon Lloyd as Nora’s uncle, the elderly former solider Peter Flynn, who dresses in an outdated uniform and has a sword that he likes to brandish threateningly to those who mock him.

Maryann Plunkett plays Bessie Burgess, a Protestant who gets very angry and hostile when drinking too much. Úna Clancy is the feisty tenant Mrs. Gogan, who resents the way Nora dresses in trying to look chic. Meg Hennessy is pitiable as the fatally ill young Mollser dying of consumption. Sarah Street colorfully plays Rosie Redmond, the local prostitute who hangs out in the public house. Harry Smith is the bartender.

Terry Donnelly, a familiar stalwart with the Irish Rep, turns up here as the befuddled Woman from Rathmines, who is terrified at the noise of fighting and feels totally at sea. John Keating, another Irish Rep regular, is Captain Brennan of the Citizen Army.

As the drama escalates, O’Casey weaves the web of involvement in what is happening outside of the individual relationships, thus placing his characters in the midst of Irish history. He introduces two British soldiers whose actions result in an unintended civilian death and the play’s ultimate imagery is of these men sitting matter-of-factly at what they have wrought in their line of duty and covering the dead body in their midst.

From an audience viewpoint, there is cause for great appreciation of the entire cast and the writing of O’Casey, as well as for this deeply felt staging under Moore’s direction and overall affection for the continuing work of the Irish Repertory Theatre, one of New York’s esteemed theater institutions. A the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street. Phone: 212-727-2737. Reviewed May 9, 2019.

HILLARY AND CLINTON  Send This Review to a Friend

Lucas Hnath’s play “Hillary and Clinton” is trickily entertaining. The lure is looking for similarities between the real Hillary and Bill. Yet the best approach is not to expect a biography, but to regard the portraits as a fictional parallel to the lives of the failed candidate and the ex-president. With that perspective, you can get maximum enjoyment from watching Laurie Metcalf as Hillary and John Lithgow as Bill go through their often hostile but underlying affectionate relationship as seen by the playwright.

Metcalf gives one of the season’s best performances as Hillary, here seen fighting to assert her independence and dealing with demands that she be more likable in the primary battles she faces. Zak Orth is excellent as Mark, her campaign manager, who wants to keep Bill away from the scene and is angry when Hillary defies his orders and calls Bill to join her to help raise funds. Bill would like Hillary to get rid of him.

Lithgow is entertainingly convincing as Bill, whom Hillary both needs and yet resents when seeing him as thinking everything is about him, not her. The one area that has a biographical ring of truth involves Bill’s dalliances. One has little trouble believing that there must have been hell to pay between the real Hillary and Bill when the escapades were made public and she had to appear as the loyal, believing wife.

The play contains a wide range of brittle conversations, and director Joe Mantello keeps the scenes dramatically sharp while also emphasizing the inherent humor in the writing and performances. The author gives Hillary some tough lines that are guaranteed to elicit audience applause, as the play is heavily bent in her favor. Metcalf consistently makes the most of the colorful role, and comes across as courageous even in the face of probable defeat.

There is a political ploy involving Barack (Obama, of course), who shows up for a talk about Hillary deciding to be his running mate, or her wanting him to be her running mate. Peter Francis James looks a lot like the real Barack, and delivers his part of the confrontation effectively.

I confess having gone to the play with skepticism and an attitude of who wants to see actors playing people who are so embedded in our minds. But I was quickly won over by the performances and enjoyed being whisked into the fictional world of a parallel Hillary and Bill on the terms set out by the playwright. The drama turns out to be exceedingly pleasurable, with enough truths contained to create its own political and personal reality. At the Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed May 9, 2019.

TOOTSIE  Send This Review to a Friend

When a Broadway musical clicks on virtually all counts, appreciating the professionalism is a pleasure. “Tootsie” has it all--slick staging, superb performances, plenty of hilarity, lively choreography, excellent sets, a catchy score, a large orchestra, a touch of sentiment and some contemporary takes on women. Although it generally follows the plot of the 1982 film on which it is based, this “Tootsie” stands comfortably on its own.

The highlight, as it should be, is the entertaining performance by Santino Fontana as Michael Dorsey, an actor who is such a pain that he finds trouble getting or holding a job, and then, posing as a woman named Dorothy Michaels, becomes a star in the role of a nurse in an absurd Broadway musical titled “Juliet’s Curse.” (In the movie it was a TV soap opera.) Fontana is terrific, both as Michael, and in his actress capacity, and he sings well too, adjusting his voice according to necessity. This is really his show.

But he has plenty of help. David Yazbek (“The Band’s Visit”) has provided the very workable music and lyrics, and Robert Horn has written the clever adaptation. Other aspects of the staging add sparkle --sets by David Rockwell, costumes by William Ivey Long, lighting by Donald Holder, sound design by Brian Ronan, choreography by Denis Jones and very smart overall direction by Scott Ellis.

Fontana is backed by an extraordinary cast. Lilli Cooper is a treasure as the charismatic Julie Nichols, Dorothy’s co-star in the corny musical within the musical. Michael falls in love with her, but how does he reconcile that with her knowing him as Dorothy? Sarah Stiles, as Sandy Lester, Michael’s hapless, often-depressed girlfriend, has a rapid-fire, show-stopping number, “What’s Gonna Happen.” Andy Grotelueschen is a major plus as Michael’s outspoken roommate Jeff Slater, who has his own show-stopping number, “Jeff Sums It Up,” ribbing Michael for all the ways in which he has f—ked everything up.

Reg Rogers is amusingly overbearing as the egotistical director Ron Carlisle. John Behlmann makes the most of his role as Max Von Horn, the oaf actor who comically mangles language and becomes hot for Dorothy. Michael McGrath has some prime moments as Michael’s fed-up agent, Stan Fields. Julie Halston as brash Rita Marshall, the moneyed producer of the shambles of a musical, flashes her customary comic expertise and walks off with the best gag line in “Tootsie.” There is also a first-rate, very busy Ensemble with plenty to contribute.

One immediately feels that “Tootsie” is on the right track with “Opening Number,” in which we get a quick musical sketch of how much trouble Michael makes for himself as an actor getting on everyone’s nerves in audition after audition. And at the end, after the curtain call, there is a topper of an image as Fontana returns one more time. At the Marquis Theatre, 210 West 46th Street. Phone: 877-250-2929. Reviewed May 1, 2019.

INK  Send This Review to a Friend

Rupert Murdoch was not the first publisher to engage in sensational journalism. After all, there was William Randolph Hearst setting the tone for ‘yellow journalism” near the arrival of the 20th century. But Murdoch lowered the practice to new depths of vulgarity with his Sun newspaper in London. “Ink,” a play by James Graham, entertainingly explores that chapter in Murdoch’s publishing history.

“Ink” was originally staged in London, and the Almeida Theatre and Sonia Friedman Productions have joined the Manhattan Theatre Club in presenting it on Broadway. Bertie Carvel of the original cast plays Murdoch in his rise to power, with the action set in Fleet Street in 1969.

Under the direction of Rupert Goold, the play is presented broadly in recalling the drama of building The Sun in its bid to pass the tabloid The Mirror in circulation. In addition to the private plotting between Murdoch and his editor Larry Lamb, played with whirlwind force by Jonny Lee Mller, there is somewhat of a vaudevillian approach at times. Whenever a new staff member is recruited, especially stolen from The Mirror, there is a dancing line of add-on celebration.

The second act begins hilariously, with a background of signs bearing ultra-sensational headlines, while at center stage cast members satirically enact the outrageous conduct reflected in the stories. The entire set signifies larger-than-life treatment. Designed by Bunny Christie, who also designed the costumes, the set consists of a mountainous pile-on of boxes, equipment and multi-level illustrations of newspaper production, including five huge letter W’s representing the who, what, when, where and why supposed to be covered in a story.

The saga is presented with intensity to capture the excitement and frustrations along the way to tabloid dominance. There are various crises, including the disaster when The Sun breaks a story about a kidnapping when it would be wiser to keep it under wraps as the police conduct a search. The episode ends in the death of the victim and embarrassment for The Sun. Lamb is responsible, and Murdoch is angry, but Lamb is always pointing out that he is following the overall dictates of his boss to go the limit.

Eventually the decision to run page 3 photos of nude women is addressed—or shall we say undressed---and the paper takes flack for that, but the policy boosts circulation as intended. Murdoch makes a point of insisting that he is giving readers what they want in accordance with the laws of supply and demand. Carvel’s portrayal of the tycoon is entertaining and vigorous, but not descending into caricature.

“Ink” is effective in showing the ways of print journalism and the era it has represented in bygone times before the advent of electronic publishing. It also speaks to the abandonment of ethics and morality in order to gain profits.

There is a particularly telling conversation near the play’s end when Murdoch speaks prophetically of expanding into television (think Fox News) and of going to New York (think New York Post and Wall Street Journal). At the performance I attended there was a knowing laugh from audience members. At the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 26, 2019.


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