By William Wolf

ALL MY SONS (2019)  Send This Review to a Friend

Arthur Miller sure could write. In a presentation by the Roundabout Theatre Company, director Jack O’Brien has staged a new production of “All My Sons” that grasps the impact of Miller’s 1947 drama with fidelity to its tragic themes. One might wish that Miller’s take were obsolete by now. But the current Boeing crash story makes the play still relevant, and terrific performances realize anew Miller’s skills and the depth of his perceptions.

Coming shortly after the end of World War II, “All My Sons” unmasks the family secret of a businessman who knowingly sent out flawed aircraft during the war with resulting deaths of 21 American pilots. (Miller was inspired to write the play by a real-life wartime scandal.) The businessman put the blame on his partner, who has been jailed, with successive ramifications that make for a series of complexities and truths that must be revealed.

Douglas W. Schmidt has designed an impressive and functional set of neighboring houses on the outskirts of a midwestern town, with action taking place in the backyard of the Keller family dwelling. All hell will eventually break loose in that yard.

The businessman, Joe Keller, is played by Tracy Letts, who is giving one of the finest, most intense performances of his illustrious career. Keller’s life has been motivated by profit and his desire to build a future for his sons. One, Larry. an airman, has been missing in action and should logically be presumed dead. But Joe’s wife, Kate, refuses to believe it, and Annette Bening in portraying Kate is giving a powerful performance unlike any we have seen her do before.

The situation is complicated by the Kellers’ surviving son Chris being in love with Ann, who was the girlfriend of his missing brother. Benjamin Walker and Francesca Carpanini give poignancy to Chris and Ann so that one can care about what happens to them, all the more so since Kate is dead set against their possible marriage because it would thwart her obsession that her missing son is still alive and will come home.

Kate also knows the truth about what her husband did and that has been a simmering barrier tainting their marriage. Miller has stacked enough drama for more than one play. It is Ann’s father who has been imprisoned to take the fall for Joe, and she is not aware of the deception. Her angry brother, George is given a particularly sensitive performance by Hampton Fluker. George, who had been very close to the Kellers, has visited his father in prison and learned the truth and thus wants to spirit Ann away from Chris.

Meanwhile, there is the father-son battle between Joe and Chris, Joe being the pragmatic businessman who worships profits that he sees bringing stability and guaranteeing a future for his family, and Chris, the idealist, who wants to escape to pursue a different life, although he has always looked up to his father.

Among the other characters are neighbors Dr. Jim Bayliss (Michael Hayden), who would have preferred research to medical practice, and his resentful wife, Sue (Chinasa Ogbuagu), who worked to put him through med school. Here again, money is an important aspect of life, and she resents Chris for feeding her husband’s idealistic impulses.

Miller’s skill lies in the way the way in which he builds the drama, from its cozy beginning in pleasant surroundings, to the step by step conflicts and revelations, gradually escalating situations and emotions until the play resembles a Greek tragedy in full force. The parts Miller wrote are a goldmine for actors, and here, with colorblind casting, actors superbly get extensive dramatic mileage out of their roles. They earn the standing ovation given them, and it is only too bad that Arthur Miller isn’t alive today to stand alongside them for the ovation he deserves.

Director O’Brien merits one too for beautifully serving the play, and not doing what ego-feeding directors may do in trying to put a stamp on a play at the expense of what the author has created, as has sometimes happened to Miller. O’Brien succeeds brilliantly in giving us “All My Sons” as it should be done. At the American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-719-1300. Reviewed April 25, 2019.

HADESTOWN  Send This Review to a Friend

After a long history of development, “Hadestown” emerges as the hottest, most rhythmic, eye-popping musical on Broadway at the moment. Inspired by the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, the show explodes with entertaining performances and catchy music and lyrics by Anaïs Mitchell, who also wrote the very workable book that takes extensive liberties in adapting the myth for this staging. An army of producers have brought the finished product to Broadway, including the British National Theatre and the New York Theatre Workshop, both having staged previous versions. Now nearly everything works splendidly.

The show, developed and directed by Rachel Chavkin, comes alive the minute veteran André De Shields saunters on stage as Hermes to serve as narrator. He is super cool as he flashes his silvery vest, indulges in slick moves and delivers lines with winking smoothness, as if he were about to lead us on an excursion into blues territory.

Musicians are ensconced on both sides of the stage, with a drummer in a raised box in the middle, and wow, how they play the almost non-stop score that can ignite audience feet tapping. The set, resembling a vast, multi-level music hall stage, has been cleverly designed by Rachel Hauck. There is fabulous, versatile lighting designed by Bradley King, and excellent sound design by Nevin Steinberg and Jessica Paz.

Getting to the heart of the tale, we have Eva Noblezada as the waif-like, impoverished Eurydice, who reminded me of the early Leslie Caron and who sings impressively. Reeve Carney, whose voice hits high registers, plays Orpehus as a poor working lad who is trying to write a song but is frustrated at not being able to complete it. He and Eurydice fall for each other, but Eurydice descends into hell and Orpheus must meet the challenge of rescuing her.

Patrick Page as the mighty Hades has a booming bass voice that adds to his menacing control. Persephone as his wife is played by Amber Gray, and she is terrific in her sexy, frenetic dancing, as in her “Our Lady of the Underground” number. A singing and dancing chorus depict Hades as a factory-like place of forced labor. There are also the commenting Fates, played with pizzazz by Jewelle Blackman, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer and Kay Trinidad. The choreography by David Neumann is a highlight of this production, which is nearly always in motion.

Although written before the Trump presidency, the intense song “Why We Build the Wall,” in this context to keep out the poor, registers topically. The numbers are very varied. There is the defining “All I’ve Ever Known” sung by Eurydice and Orpheus. Hades, along with the company, sings “Papers,” pertaining to Eurydice signing an agreement to belong to him.

After Orpheus trudges to Hades to rescue his love, ultimately they can both depart under the dire condition that if Orpheus looks back to see if Eurydice is following him, she is doomed to return to Hades. “Hadestown” has it both ways, sadly ending after Orpheus cannot resist succumbing to his need to see Eurydice. But then Hermes slyly leads a return to the beginning, when Eurydice first appears, to suggest that maybe if it happened all over again the outcome could be different.

As you can see, I was captivated by the superbly integrated show, with its appealing performances, avalanche of effective songs as part of its jazzy score, great choreography and staging, and the seven-piece expert band that continued to play even after the curtain call. Sorry, but I can’t resist resorting to the easy play on words: “Hadestown” is a hell of a show. At the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street, Phone: 877-250-2929. Reviewed April 21, 2019.

KING LEAR (2019)  Send This Review to a Friend

Two words make the only reason to see the current production of Shakespeare’s “King Lear”—Glenda Jackson. It isn’t just that a woman is playing the role—that’s been done before. It is this particular woman, a renowned pro with a long list of film and stage credits, as well as a long-time past member of the British Parliament. Jackson, nearly 83, lives up to expectations, with a powerful, remarkable performance. I saw her at a matinee and to think that she would repeat that utterly demanding role a few hours later in the evening was astonishing.

As for the staging itself, under the direction of Sam Gold, one can forget about most of it. Some of the cast members are good, to be sure, but the production lacks distinction and can even be annoying at times. Does one really need killing with the use of a handgun?

No matter. Don’t go worrying about the production. This is Jackson’s show, and she certainly delivers. Although slight in build, she exudes enormous strength where needed. In the early stage of this modern dress offering—we see Lear in a suit—Jackson is impressively nasty as Lear refuses to give Cordelia (Ruth Wilson) part of the kingdom because she will not grovel with words of love as her two sisters, Goneril (Elizabeth Marvel) and Regan (Aisling O’Sullivan), have done.

Jackson carefully builds the portrait of Lear collapsing into senility and madness, so that at the key moments the character progressively explodes with rage, sinks into a mental fog, and ultimately is to be pitied as he wanders about—the portrait of a ruler tragically gone to ruin. In this production, we see Cordelia descend hanging from the ceiling, with Lear tearfully mourning her death. The bit of stagecraft may be questionable, but the emotional effect is there.

Jackson’s diction in rendering the Bard’s penetrating lines is impeccable. Her acting experience coalesces here into a deep understanding of the role and the ability to communicate the essence of what has made playing Lear a mighty, demanding goal for performers through the years. (See Search for five other “King Lear” productions reviewed on this site.)

As for the staging itself, the cast members in modern dress perform within a broad, glittering gold-tinted box-like set designed by Miriam Buether, with various lighting changes designed by Jane Cox. The accents are a jarring mix, and director Gold, as with the handgun use, tries to make the past look modern. A string quartet, sometimes visible on stage, plays a score by Philip Glass, interesting in itself, but on occasion intrusive.

As for the quality of the performances besides that of Lear, always excellent Jayne Houdyshell is the major standout and deeply moving as the Earl of Gloucester, whose eyes are gouged out. Marvel is impressive as Goneril. Pedro Pascal is strong as Edmund, the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester. Wilson does double duty, playing the Fool as well as Cordelia.

But there is no need to extensively analyze this production, which will most likely be forgotten except as the occasion of Glenda Jackson demonstrating her prowess with her memorable, award-caliber performance. At the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 18, 2019.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR AMERICAN SERVICEMEN IN BRITAIN  Send This Review to a Friend

This year’s Brits Off Broadway series has been launched with “Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain,” an intended comic romp by three men in a play directed and co-written by John Walton and presented as if the audience were World War II GIs at a base in England being informed about their surroundings and duties. Some of it is funny, but the humor eventually becomes too bloody silly. The show has been adapted from the Bodleian Library’s publication, Instructions for American Servicemen, 1942.

All three actors are listed as co-writers. Before the show begins uniformed James Millard as Lieutenant Schultz affably approaches audience members to converse. He and I chatted a bit. I told him how my airman cousin based in England during the war was astonished when a gal he met invited him to “Knock me up sometime,” an expression that in England simply means give me a call or visit, much different than our American definition. Millard laughed and said he might use that.

When the show itself begins, Dan March as imperious Colonel Atwood starts to harangue us (we troops) and presumes to educate us. The comedy stems from an avalanche of misinformation, bumbling and wordplay, and the show assumes the nature of a satire. Eventually we get the presence of Matt Sheahan as the British Major Gibbons and there is generous horseplay with the interaction of all three. They are very funny guys as performers, but the material begins to wear than and then sucks in the second act.

There is use of a bit of puppetry in a satirical portrayal of German officers addressing their troops, but soon the action moves into “Apple Day” dancing and things get nuttier and nuttier. Corny audience participation is solicited. Handkerchiefs are passed out for waving as directed. I have to say that many in the audience at the performance I attended seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely in taking part.

If this sort of crazy comedy is your cup of tea, you may have a good time. But by early into the second act I had had enough. A59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, Phone: 646-892-7999. Reviewed April 22, 2019.

BURN THIS  Send This Review to a Friend

I saw Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This” some thirty years ago with John Malkovich making a strong impression in the role being played by Adam Driver in this revival. The difference between the two is stark. Malkovich made his mark by being a taut, wound-up and intrinsically sexy type. Driver is a super dynamic actor who piles on his peculiar charm with the force of fierce winds of a hurricane.

(One can get a screen version of Driver in his potent mode in director Terry Gilliam’s just released film, “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.”)

The plot of “Burn This,” directed by Michael Mayer, is a set-up for the clever exploration of individual relationships. Driver plays Pale, whose brother Robbie has been killed in a sailing accident. Keri Russell is Anna, a dancer-choreographer professionally partnered with Robbie, who shared living space with her and a mutual friend, Brandon Uranowitz as the outwardly gay Larry, who has some of the play’s funniest lines. Anna has since moved from dancer to following her art as a choreographer. David Furr plays screenwriter Burton, who enjoys family wealth and is Anna’s boyfriend.

The physical setting is a lower Manhattan loft, designed by Derek McLane with wide windows offering a background of a modest skyline view. Anna is all wound up, having just returned from a trip to Robbie’s funeral, where she felt like a stranger to his family and found obliviousness to the fact that Robbie was gay. She also deeply misses him and is deeply shaken by what happened.

The beginning of dramatic hell breaking loose occurs when one night Driver as Pale bursts in to retrieve Robbie’s belongings. He acts boorishly, yet intriguingly, and while on the one hand Anna is put off, the sexual vibes between them take hold, and not unexpectedly, they have sex. This sets up competition between Pale and Burt, with Larry as an ever-present onlooker and one who ultimately tries to solve the conflict.

In the course of all of this Pale is immensely entertaining, and playwright Wilson provides plenty of incidents and dialogue to move forward the personal introspections about where life for his characters should be heading. There is one confrontation after another, all adding to audience enjoyment. Russell does a very effective job portraying the various frustrations and emotions of Anna in relation to Pale and her work. Burton is convincing fighting against being the odd man out.

“Burn This” holds up as an important work in Lanford Wilson’s writing, and it is delightful to get such an excellent all-around production with this formidable cast. At the Hudson Theatre, 141 West 44th Street. Phone: 855-801-5876. Reviewed April 20, 2019.

SOCRATES  Send This Review to a Friend

The conversation is intense but never boring in Tim Blake Nelson’s drama, “Socrates,” which is getting a splendid staging under the direction of Doug Hughes at the Public Theater. Michael Stuhlbarg’s portrayal of the ancient philosopher Socrates (470-399 BC) is a highlight of the season as he makes the influential figure of ancient Greece come vividly alive.

But after Stuhlbarg gives us a convincing, living portrait, there is the climactic death scene, in which Socrates is convicted, condemned, and is compelled to drink hemlock, a poison which sends him into a painful death. Stuhbarge makes the most of dying, convincingly drawing out the philosopher’s demise in a scene that many an actor might envy.

What Nelson achieves in his play is a depiction of both the personality and the wit of Socrates, which includes making him a pain to many Athenians who resent his persistent questioning of various aspects of life and always seeking elusive truth. He is very stubborn in his beliefs and refuses an opportunity to draw a sentence other than death by knuckling under or even by seizing the opportunity to escape. As depicted in this drama, he is making himself a martyr in a fight for freedom to explore the questions posed in life.

The story is broadly presented as a flashback with Plato, a student of Socrates, impressively played by Teagle F. Bougere, telling a boy (Niall Cunningham) assigned to his care about his mentor. The drama unfolds through that perspective. We see Socrates among his companions joshing around, including lots of talk about sex with young boys. But more importantly, there is much conversation about life in Athens in the wake of the loss in war with Sparta.

The constant questioning by Socrates becomes irksome to many in Athens, but the playwright dotes on the philosophical dialogues so that we can both appreciate the wit of Socrates, as well as how he becomes a thorn to those with differ with his perceptions, ideas and incessant intellectual needling.

As the life of Socrates is increasingly at risk, he orders Plato not to take his ideas and interpret them to others after he is gone. Plato does promise, but then acknowledges before the audience that he broke the rule. (There are no writings by Socrates, only reports about his thoughts, particularly by Plato.)

In a dramatic scene after Socrates has been condemned, there is an emotional confrontation between Socrates and his wife, Xanthippe, who pleads with him to avoid dying and leaving her and their sons alone by taking one of the outs available to him. Miriam A. Hyman is movingly passionate in the her role, but an angry Socrates orders her taken away.

The pleasure offered an audience is to be privy to an avalanche of discussion about ideas not often found in the theater these days. Add to that the dynamic acting by Stuhlbarge and others, plus the price we see Socrates paying, and you have powerful theater.

All of this is played out within a remarkable set design by Scott Pask . Walls feature in ancient Greek the funeral oration for Socrates given by Pericles. The set looms as a major contribution to the atmosphere of the drama and its aura of authenticity. At the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. Phone: 212-967-7555. Reviewed April 17, 2019.

OKLAHOMA! (2019)  Send This Review to a Friend

Last night I went to see “Oklahoma!” I got inside the theater, but didn’t see anything resembling the real Rodgers and Hammerstein achievement that in 1943 captivated audiences and set a new standard for musical theater. I saw only a crass hint offered in director Daniel Fish’s down-home reduction. Yes, the familiar songs are there, sometimes well sung, but not with the glorious staging with a full orchestra and the excitement of various productions seen in the past. (See Search for one example.) Fish just gives us a seven-member country-style band (no reflection on the talent of the musicians). Worse, he has darkened the musical with a bloody misconceived, gunshot climax that turns what was an accidental death into a supposedly mercy murder. To be sure, some of the performers excel.

Rodgers and Hammerstein provided a treasure trove of songs, including “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” “The Surrey with the Fringe On Top,” “Kansas City,” “I Cain’t Say No,” “Many a New Day,” ‘Pore Jud Is Daid,” “People Will Say We’re in Love,” “Al Er Nuthin’,” and, of course the title song. Fish gets them in, but the overall magic is absent. Curiously, the Playbill doesn’t even list the songs, as is generally done for musicals.

Let’s start at the outset. One walks into a brightly lit, gaily decorated theater, but along the walls are many batches of rifles. That in itself is a tasteless design that flies in the face of current widespread desire for gun-control and de-emphasis on weaponry in our country. And it hardly has any relevance to what we see, except for the ultimate shooting.

Fish and scenic designer Laura Jellinek have lines of tables in front of first row audience members. Atop the tables are pots containing chili (chili and cornbread are served to the audience during intermission). The idea is to create a homey, community atmosphere. The story mostly unfolds along the basic corny plotline of the original, with the music by Richard Rodgers and the book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, based on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs.

Damon Daunno tries to look sexy as the leading man, cowboy Curly McClain, here strumming a guitar, but his acting lacks charm, although he sings well. (Think of the charismatic actors who have played the role—Alfred Drake, Howard Keel and Hugh Jackman). Rebecca Naomi Jones as Laurey Williams sings better than she acts in the role of the woman over whom Curley and Patrick Vaill as farmhand Jud Fry compete. (Dynamic performers who have played Laurey include Joan Roberts, Christine Andreas and Shirley Jones.)

The most sensational person in the cast is Ali Stroker, who as Ado Annie is a sexy knockout singing “I Cain’t Say No” and does a fine job of making the character come alive. Scooting impressively about in her wheelchair, immensely appealing Stroker steals the show.

James Davis is amusing as Will Parker, who is nuts over Ado Annie. As for roving peddler Ali Hakim, who is supposed to be Persian, Will Brill with his country twang is like one of the local entourage with nothing more Persian about him than the rest. Mary Testa, always the pro, does a nice job as Aunt Eller, consistently talking common sense.

One of the most memorable aspects of the original “Oklahoma!” was the choreography by Agnes de Mille, including her fabled dream ballet in which a dancer elegantly evokes the imagination of Laurey’s conflicted feelings about Curly and Jud.

The ballet, if one could dignify it by using the word, in the second act opening of Fish’s production is an absolute atrocity (choreography by John Heginbotham). Gabrielle Hamilton, wearing a shiny white mini emblazoned on the front with the words “Dream Baby Dream,” gallops along like a horse. She does all sorts of ugly moves and body contortions, including crawling along the floor, and the assault on the audience seems to go on forever. Gone is Agnes de Mille’s beautiful vision.

Fish uses various gimmicks, such as a suddenly darkened stage, dialogue in the dark and projections on the back wall, including a face-to-face confrontation between Curly and Jud. The biggest descent into a dark conception is the final confrontation between Curly and Jud on the occasion of Curly's and Laurey's wedding. (I don’t care about a spoiler—this must be described.) In the original show Jud comes after Curly with a knife and in the struggle accidentally falls on it. In Fish’s ugly switch there is a tense standoff between Jud and Curly. Jud, feeling totally forlorn, gives Curly a gun and wants to be shot. Curly aims the gun, stares for a while and then fires. Much blood is spattered all over Curly and Laurey, who stand there while Jud falls to the ground mortally wounded.

Directors are often tempted to do their own interpretations of classics. Fish succeeds in giving us “Oklahoma!” the way he wants to. But what’s going on here loses what made the music and dance-filled original so captivating. Instead we have a smart-alecky contemporary misfire that, giving us the musical’s famous songs in a minimal, distorted context that hardly looks like 1906 Oklahoma, insults the work of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Their musical exalted the optimism of Oklahoma as it was about to become a state. This production ultimately exalts the gun violence of 2019. At the Circle in the Square, 50th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 12, 2019.

DO YOU FEEL ANGER?  Send This Review to a Friend

Considering the title question, the answer is yes, mostly for what’s going on in our country today, but also a little less important anger toward this show. Well, anger is too strong a word. Maybe annoyance is better.

In this play by Mara Nelson-Greenberg and directed by Margot Bordelon a woman is assigned to work with employees of a company with a view toward getting a few key ones to feel better about themselves and those with whom they work. Call it anger management. The advisor, Sofia is played with cheery determination by Tiffany Villarin. The employees are Jon (Greg Keller), Jordan (Ugo Chukwu), Howie (Justin Long) and Eva (Megan Hill).

The portraits at first are funny and for a brief while the play looks as if it is satirizing both the employees and the questioning process of Sofia’s method. But such a notion soon collapses when the action becomes so crazy and the people involved so patently stupid that their ditsy antics become tiresome.

The so-called comedy descends into a complete mess, with dumb outbursts and dumber talk. Every once in a while at the side of the stage there is telephone call by Sofia’s mother (Jeanne Sakata), distraught over not getting Sofia on the phone or her calling back.

Of course, we know that all of the anger management efforts will fail, and Sofia herself will erupt. When male employees rebel and corner Sofia with the indication that they want to rape her, she wields a bat and becomes horrendously angry to the point of violence. There follows a mystifying coda that takes place in a women’s bathroom and defies sensible interpretation.

Apparently the playwright is getting at the role of women and how they are treated as well as the suggestion that anger is raging within all of us. But the play is so confoundedly idiotic that sitting through it becomes increasingly difficult. At the Vinyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street. Phone: 212-353-0303. Reviewed April 19, 2019.

THE CRADLE WILL ROCK  Send This Review to a Friend

The musical play by Marc Blitzstein has lived in memory as a legendary icon of the Great Depression era, but one might never see what all the fuss was about from this mostly lethargic production by the Classic Stage Company (CSC). It is admirable that John Doyle has reached into theater history and tried to recall the original Brecht-style work, but in directing and designing his pared down version (90 minutes without an intermission) he has not infused the musical drama with the energy needed to see why Blitztein’s achievement had power as well as guts.

Of course, a main reason why ‘The Cradle Will Rock” is part of theater lore is that the sponsoring Federal Theater Project banned it before its scheduled 1937 opening in a naked move of censorship for the work’s outspoken pro-labor stance and depiction of bribery and corruption. The unions of actors and musicians followed by forbidding its members to perform in the show and the sets were in effect imprisoned. Defiantly, resourceful director Orson Welles, abetted by producer John Houseman, found another location and, after ticket holders streamed to the new site at the last moment, the cast members did their roles rising from seats in the audience, with only accompaniment by Blitzstein at the piano instead of with the full orchestra he had envisioned, along with the planned scenery. The gambit made the show famous. I saw a staging done exactly that way that captured the original spirit of the revolt. There have been various other type offerings through the years.

Doyle opts for a lone piano too, but has arranged the performances in a central stage area that eschews the rising from the audience idea, but seeks to retrieve the musical’s original concept. The agit-prop is all there in the dramatization of an effort to form a union in Steeltown, and the vicious attempt to crush the movement in the midst of massive corruption, with a Mr. Mister practically owning the town and all the power points in it.

The characters have simplistic iconic names like Reverend Salvation and Editor Daily, and the show is enhanced by Blitzstein’s music and numbers giving various individuals a chance to shine. The trouble with Doyle’s staging, and in some instances casting, is that so much comes across as meandering and bland. The main strength erupts toward the end when Tony Yazbeck as the union organizer dynamically takes over with his strong acting and vocal force, reflecting what has been largely missing.

Earlier, Lara Pulver as Moll, a prostitute, has some touching moments, especially when she sings Blitztein’s excellent number “Nickel Under the Foot.” However, even then there is not the production oomph that should be derived. It is not a meant as a slight to Pulver, but if you go on YouTube you can find a performance of that role by Patti LuPone in which, Lupone’s special talent aside, the staging and interaction with the actor involved packs the kind of production energy so lacking in Doyle’s version.

Yes, the pro-union theme so vital in the unionization battles of the 1930s is clearly there, along with the domination by the powers that be in the fictional Steeltown. We could use some of the pro-labor spirit today, a fact not lost in Doyle’s choosing to do “The Cradle Will Rock” at this moment. However, the work deservs a larger-scale production that would try to recapture the original scope of what Blitzstein envisioned.

Other cast memners include Ken Barnett, Eddie Cooper, Benjamin Eakeley, David Garrison, Ian Lowe, Kara Mikula, Sally Ann Triplett and Rema Webb. At the Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street. Phone: 866-811-4111. Reviewed April 4, 2019.

SINCERELY, OSCAR  Send This Review to a Friend

Doreen Taylor, who conceived and wrote “Sincerely, Oscar” and also stars in it, and director Dugg McDonough, with the strong aid of projection designer Brittany Merenda, cast a spell in taking us into the world of renowned lyricist Oscar Hammerstein. Part of it is the seduction of listening to the array of well-known and beloved musical numbers, appealingly sung by Taylor and her co-star Azudi Onyejekwe as they wander about the stage on different platform levels. But there are also the incessant background projections, and importantly, the hologram image of Hammerstein reading aloud his thoughts connected to his lyric writing, and the magic of seeing him appear and disappear via the effectiveness of hologram technology.

The voice of Hammerstein (and image) is provided by Bob Meenan as the centerpiece around which the musical revolves. But the greatest audience pleasure is provided by the singing itself in a medley of hits from “Show Boat,” “Oklahoma!,” “Carousel,” “State Fair,” “Allegro,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I,” and “The Sound of Music.” Taylor sings with a mix of power and charm as she interprets the cleverly creative lyrics that Hammerstein collaboratively matched to the infectious music. Onyejekwe cuts a handsome figure as handles the male characters in the songs with style and conviction. He even makes a stab at “Ol' Man River” and nails the emotion in the “Show Boat” classic, although he can’t match the depth of vocal power that some can get, with the standard set by the booming voice of Paul Robeson.

While the background projections at first can be enticing and add movement to what could be static staging, after a while they become intrusive—enough already!—and detract from the business at hand—the singing. As for the recreation of Hammerstein’s presence, that adds weight to the lyricism of the overall production.

“Sincerely, Oscar” emerges predominantly as an often mesmerizing trip into the musical world in which Hammerstein made enormous, lasting contributions. We can immerse ourselves into the gentle exploration of those contributions presented with panache by two expert singers able to honor the lyricist’s genius and express his messages about love, the joy of living, and especially the importance of racial equality as emphasized in “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” from “South Pacific.” At the Acorn, Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 5, 2019.

  

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