Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Pal Joey

"Pal Joey" presented by Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54, December 2, 2008

In its first Broadway revival since 1976, the Roundabout has assembled a fairly impressive cast and creative team of the Rodgers and Hart classic. With a new book by Richard Greenberg (who either left much of Mr. Hart's original zingers, or significantly studied up on his Noel Coward) the story has been streamlined a bit (farewell Melba Snyder), maintaining the sophistication that is the hallmark of Rodgers and Hart. I did question the new subplot for Mike, the club manager (Robert Clohessy), though it works overall.

As Joey, Peggy Sawyer Matthew Risch has leapt from the chorus to land above the title, replacing Christian Hoff. (Mr. Hoff withdrew as the result of a "foot injury.") Mr. Risch, dark and handsome, is a talented dancer and acquits himself well in the book scenes. Stockard Channing returns to Broadway for the first time since 1999's revival of "Lion In Winter" (also courtesy of the Roundabout). Her Vera is classy, though a bit breathless in song (perhaps she's strapped in a bit too tightly in William Ivey Long's gorgeous gowns?).

For me, it's Martha Plimpton who steals the show as Gladys Bumps. Mr. Greenberg's rewrite has tossed "Zip" her way in Act II - who knew she could sing? She's well on her way to a Bea Arthur-baritone. I can't wait to see what she'll do next.

Ms. Plimpton and Ms. Channing both owe a debt to Graciela Danielle for choreography that swirls the company around each (a la Faith Prince in "Guys and Dolls"). The choreography is excellent overall, but the ballet ending Act I did feel a bit creaky from time to time. Paul Gemignani maintains his standard of excellence with the 16 piece orchestra, though there were times when singers suffered as a result, particularly Mr. Risch and Jenny Fellner as Linda English.

Scott Pask's creative set did feel either a bit over designed or underused. The El train scaffold begged for more attention than just to create extra shadows in Paul Gallo's excellent lighting.

Mr. Mantello should be proud of his work here, creatively staged with fine performances from all.

UPDATE: John Lahr offers a nice analysis with some valuable comparisons between the original book by John O'Hara and the new book by Richard Greenberg. Check it out here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


"Streamers" presented by Roundabout at Laura Pels Theatre, November 15, 2008

Set in an army barrack during 1965, three roommates, Richie (Hale Appleman), Billy (Brad Fleischer) and Carlyle (Ato Essandoh) navigate the politics of race and sex. Richie's crush on Billy is either his running joke, or one to disguise the truth of it. Carlyle, the African American with two white roommates is just trying to keep his head down and survive. Billy wants everyone to get along and act "normal."

Roger (JD Williams) shows up, fresh from basic training, looking for a fellow "brother" to connect with in the white man's army of the Vietnam era. He's a loose cannon, foretelling from where the trouble will arise.

Sgt. Rooney (John Sharian) and Sgt. Cokes (Larry Clarke) are tossed in as a tension source, but end up as little more than comic relief until the brutal events of Act II.

David Rabe's play falls victim at times to the period in which it was written, but there are some themes (though clumsily explored) that still ring true regarding class and sexual identity. Mr. Appleman gets the most to work with here and gives a fine performance. Messrs Fleischer and Essandoh are almost as good, pulling what they can from the script. Mr. Williams has flashes of brilliance, but remains inconsistent.

Scott Ellis does well to keep the pace moving and has elicited strong and moving performances from his company. Rick Sordelet should be commended for the fight choreography. It's better than much of what I've seen of late.

Neil Patel's set holds up well to the abuse of the action, complemented by Jeff Croiter's lights. Tom Broecker's costumes are appropriate, but someone should tell Sgt. Rooney that his belt is to be worn brass-on-brass, not flopping around like a curtain tassel. A true sergeant would know that, regardless of his flaws or shortcomings.

What's That Smell: The Music of Jacob Sterling

"What's That Smell: The Music of Jacob Sterling" at New World Stages, November 14, 20008

After a limited run at Atlantic Theatre's Stage 2, David Pittu's take on an off-Broadway composers has transferred to New World Stages for an open-ended run.

Mr. Pittu has managed to capture the painful essence of Jacob Sterling, an off-Broadway wannabe-but-doesn't-really-have-the-talent theatre composer who is still trying to make it to the bright lights of the Great White Way.

Set as an episode of a small-time cable show, "Composers and Lyricists Of the Theatre," (CLOT) is hosted by Leonard (Peter Bartlett effectively recreating his last role in Paul Rudnick's "The New Century" at Lincoln Center), who finds the inane and convoluted material to be one of America's undiscovered treasures.

Jacob Sterling studied at the San Palo Academy for the Study of Music (SPASM), and has been a featured artist at the Cedar Rapids Association for Musical Performance (CRAMP). The puns run rampant and the musical jokes are spot on.

A highlight of Jacob's college career was his musical stage adaptation of the film "Private Benjamin" as a vehicle for Loni Anderson. (Seems the two had a falling out when she learned he'd never inquired about getting the rights to adapt it from Goldie Hawn. He says fondly, "I can still remember my last conversation with Loni when she found out, Burt shouting in the background.")

Then there is his first New York song cycle, inspired by his mother's first visit to NYC. Everywhere they went, she kept asking, "What's that smell?" Inspiration indeed for such lyrics as "Is it cole slaw? Is it cheese? Is it just old meat?"

Directed by Mr. Pittu and Neil Pepe, the pace is fast and the jokes are rapid-fire. The result is hilarious.

Go see it!

Friday, November 07, 2008


"Mindgame" at the Soho Playhouse, November 7, 2008

I know it's still in previews, but it does officially open on Sunday, November 9.

I know it's billed as an acclaimed thriller transferring from London.

I know it has a named star (Keith Carradine) and director (Ken Russell), each with his own reputation for excellence.

The play, by Anthony Horowitz, felt like a warmed-over "Deathtrap." The pace was leaden. The British accents only visited England on occasion.

The set was excellent (Beowulf Boritt).

I left at intermission.

UPDATE: November 10, 2008

Seems Mr. Isherwood shares some of my concerns, here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Fifty Words

MCC Theatre at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, September 13, 2008

"War of the Roses" meets "Private Lives" (Act II), without the star power of the former, nor the wit and sophistication of the latter.

Michael Weller, now running two shows off-Broadway (the other is The Beast at NYTW), shows a bit of range in these diverse subjects, but still doesn't offer anything more than a "Lifetime" movie as if produced for HBO, complete with unnecessary expletives and a bit of gratuitous nudity.

Adam (Norbert Leo Butz) and Jan (Elizabeth Marvel) appear to have it all. He's an architect with a small boutique firm. She's a former dancer now in an Internet-database start up business of her own. Their only son Greg, age 9, is off for his first sleepover with a friend. Since it's the first time they've been alone together in 9 years, it's the perfect opportunity to confess and batter each other with all the sins, regrets and recriminations that have made up their 18 year relationship.

It begins with inconsequential bickering, which doesn't quite boil up to a full argument, followed by reminiscing over how they met, which does.

He's immature and self-centered. She's cold and insensitive. Fireworks ensue culminating in a slap which leads to a significant episode of passion. He sees the passion as reconcilement. She sees it as one for the road.

Much like The Beast, Mr. Weller has an interesting premise, but it only wanders around itself for an hour and 45 minutes. His Adam and Jan are painfully co-dependent and almost bi-polar. Mood swings of 180 degrees are frequent for both, but only occasionally justified by the script.

Mr. Butz and Ms. Marvel are indisputably talented actors, and muddle through the muck valiantly. They both bring a humanity to their roles that begs the audience's indulgence. For any of you who might have seen "In Treatment" on HBO, the dynamics of their power struggle reminded me of the couple from the first season of that show.

Director Austin Pendleton does well to find the laughs in some of the horror of their battle, but as a one-act the play feels long. the pace is fine, but clocking in at one hour, 45 minutes, he either needs to trim a bit or add an intermission. Too, it's early in previews so there is time before locking the show down for the run.

Neil Patel's Brooklyn brownstone interior is spot on with the Viking range, stainless appliances and Pottery Barn fixtures and accessories, but I think Michelle Habeck as overworked the light plot. For me, the sign of good lighting is not noticing it. I've never seen a first floor kitchen with such cinematic ambiance.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Beast

New York Theatre Workshop, September 6, 2008

I haven't seen lots of what you might call "political theatre," mostly because that's not the kind of theatre I'm drawn to.

Michael Weller's The Beast, now in previews at NYTW is such a play, pushing a very strong anti-war message. Jimmy Cato (Logan Marshall-Green) is mourning his sergeant, Ben (Corey Stoll) who was died after an attack in Iraq. Both had been wounded and lost limbs (Jimmy's left arm, Ben's right arm) and both were badly burned. Ben died unexpectedly and Jimmy is lost without his hero.

Well, Ben pops up out of the coffin and leads Jimmy on a tour of murder and havoc from Germany to Mt Rushmore to Crawford, Texas (exactly). The stage is not littered with bodies in Shakespearean fashion, but the results are gruesome nonetheless.

As a play, The Beast is still in its developmental stage. Mr. Weller was inspired to write in December of 2007 and finished the script at the end of January 2008 (fast track approval, huh?). He has a strong story and incorporates some very interesting and effective concepts, but it feels particularly unrefined as yet.

In the title role of Ben, Mr. Stoll's make-up becomes an impermeable mask. What's left is a lot of bluster and the sounds of forced emotion. Mr. Weller's script doesn't provide much for him to work from, either. The transitions from ghost to monster reveal appear in toggle switches from one to the other.

As Ben's side-kick Cato (Green Hornet, anyone?) Mr. Marshall-Green is much more successful. He has the advantage of a better-drawn character and a lighter make-up burden to bear. His opening grief over Ben's death is palpable, and we see his excitement at Ben's resurrection slowly degenerate into resentment, then apathy. It's a highly effective performance.

Supporting in multiple roles is Dan Butler, first as a sleazy Captain selling arms intended for US forces in Iraq to terrorists, then as GW (as in George W. Bush), taken hostage by Ben and Jimmy at the end of their quest for a mission with meaning. I won't reveal their horrific plan here (which does involve Mt. Rushmore). Mr. Butler has a grand time playing these two scheming, yet painfully short-sighted men.

Also worth note is Lisa Joyce, playing multiple roles from a German barmaid, to a blind hooker, to Ben's wife. She clearly delineates each character and is almost unrecognizable from one to the next.

Eugene Lee's sets incorporate some interesting concepts. I liked way he kept increasing the number of flag-draped coffin pieces which served as various furniture pieces, building up to a full flag backdrop in the final scene. It's a telling statement, our flag created from the bodies of soldiers killed in a war of questionable purpose and value.

NYTW is also offering the following to you:

Tickets for performances August 29 – September 7 are just $40 each (reg. $65).

Tickets purchased by September 15 for performances September 9 – October 12 are just $45 each (reg. $65).

Use code BST4LES when ordering.

To purchase tickets, call (212) 947-8844 or visit

New York Theatre Workshop also offers both Student Tickets and CheapTix Sundays.

CheapTix Sundays: All tickets for all Sunday evening performances at 7pm are just $20 each! Tickets are available in advance but must be purchased at the NYTW box office on a cash-only basis.

Student Tickets: Full-time students with a valid student ID may purchase $20 tickets for all performances (subject to availability). Limit one ticket per ID. Tickets must be purchased in person and require an ID at the box office.

The NYTW box office is located at 79 East 4th Street (between Second Avenue and Bowery) and is open Tuesday - Saturday from 1pm - 6pm.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Summer 2008 Recap

Ok, ok.

I was a little busy over the summer and only posted about myself. (Isn't a certain level of narcissism required to be an actor/blogger?)


It was not as if I didn't see anything. There were several, but I didn't find any to be particularly outstanding.

Marriage of Bette and Boo (Roundabout at the Laura Pels) June 14, 2008
Christopher Durang's version of Albee, but funnier. Nice turns by Julie Hagerty and Victoria Clark and Zoe Lister-Jones.

Some Americans Abroad (Second Stage Theatre) July 5, 2008
American academia can act stereotypically British - who knew?

Damn Yankees (Encores!) July 13, 2008
I love me some Cheyenne Jackson. I really need to get back and see Xanadu with him in the cast. Sean Hayes can play the piano, too!

[title of show] (Lyceum Theatre) July 19, 2008
The little show that could - now has! The set looked a bit too "set-like," but otherwise they've stayed true to their vision.

Impressing the Czar - Royal Ballet of Flanders (Rose Theatre - Lincoln Center Festival) July 19, 2008
I've never been a big fan of contemporary ballet, and this piece did tend to drag after the first act, but it's a splendid production and marvelously visual. Go Jessica Teague!

South Pacific (Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont) August 2, 2008
I stood in line for cancellations and boy, was it worth it!! Kelli O'Hara continues to refine and shade her performance. Matthew Morrison was in excellent voice and Paulo Szot is still as hot as ever!

Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy (Broadway Theatre) August 5, 2008
Definitely geared for an audience of children, it's homogenized Cirque for pre-teen and tweens.

Spring Awakening (Eugene O'Neill Theatre) August 8, 2008
My fourth time seeing the show. Several understudies performing, but the piece is holding up very nicely.

The Lisbon Traviata (The Center) August 11, 2008
Gay comedy turns into operatic tragedy in the last scene, though the tone is more Lucia than Violetta.

A Tale of Two Cities (Al Hirschfeld Theatre) August 25, 2008
Where to start on this train wreck? I could borrow from Mr. Alessandrini "I know I've seen this show before." Or, "At the end of the play you're another year older." The show is 20 years in the making which might date its inspiration (not to mention writing and musical styling) to another little piece based on a large 19th Century novel which features a French revolution.

The Tempest (Classic Stage Company) September 4, 2008
Prospero as Shylock via Mandy Patinkin (when he wasn't repeating pages of dialog after being distracted by cell phones). Stark Sands adds beefcake to his talent as a lovely Ferdinand. Elizabeth Waterston, willowy and equally lovely as Miranda. Costumes were only flattering on the pretty people. Production was otherwise kinda flat.

Not a stellar summer, but heaven knows it could have been worse!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

First Notice from is the first to weigh in on the quality of the visit to Bed & Breakfast. Check it out here. also weighs in on the proceedings. Click here to read it.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Look Ma, I'm Dancin'! Carnegie Hall!!!

At long last I have pictures from my appearance last year with Karyn Levitt in "The Age of Romance: From Vienna to Broadway."

My original post is here.

The photos are here.

(All photos by Paul Nickelsberg)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Stills From "The Night Janitor"

The link below takes you to the website of Adam Harvanek, who directed this film. The photographs were taken by Sangwon Jung.

Photo Stills

I'm really looking forward to seeing the finished product.

We have one more sequence to shoot in July. Adam is scouting for rooftop locations with great views of Manhattan.

2008 Tony Winners

2008 American Theatre Wing Tony Awards, June 15, 2008

I did a little Manhattan party-hopping last night, starting at Sarah B's (Adventures in the Endless Pursuit of Entertainment) and ending the celebration with the company of South Pacific at O'Neal's. A neighbor in my building plays in the SP orchestra and extended the invitation to join her.

No, I didn't get to meet Paulo. :-(

Here are the results. Winners are noted with a *.



* In the Heights

Passing Strange



* August: Osage County

Rock 'n' Roll

The Seafarer

The 39 Steps




* South Pacific

Sunday in the Park With George


* Boeing-Boeing

The Homecoming

Les Liaisons Dangereuses



Cry-Baby, Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan

In the Heights, Quiara Alegría Hudes

* Passing Strange, Stew

Xanadu, Douglas Carter Beane


Cry-Baby, Music & Lyrics: David Javerbaum & Adam Schlesinger

* In the Heights, Music & Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda

The Little Mermaid, Music: Alan Menken; Lyrics: Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater

Passing Strange, Music: Stew and Heidi Rodewald; Lyrics: Stew


Ben Daniels, Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Laurence Fishburne, Thurgood

* Mark Rylance, Boeing-Boeing

Rufus Sewell, Rock 'n' Roll

Patrick Stewart, Macbeth


Eve Best, The Homecoming

* Deanna Dunagan, August: Osage County

Kate Fleetwood, Macbeth

S. Epatha Merkerson, Come Back, Little Sheba

Amy Morton, August: Osage County


Daniel Evans, Sunday in the Park With George

Lin-Manuel Miranda, In the Heights

Stew, Passing Strange

* Paulo Szot, South Pacific

Tom Wopat, A Catered Affair


Kerry Butler, Xanadu

* Patti LuPone, Gypsy

Kelli O'Hara, South Pacific

Faith Prince, A Catered Affair

Jenna Russell, Sunday in the Park With George


Bobby Cannavale, Mauritius

Raul Esparza, The Homecoming

Conleth Hill, The Seafarer

* Jim Norton, The Seafarer

David Pittu, Is He Dead?


Sinead Cusack, Rock 'n' Roll

Mary McCormack, Boeing-Boeing

Laurie Metcalf, November

Martha Plimpton, Top Girls

* Rondi Reed, August: Osage County


Daniel Breaker, Passing Strange

Danny Burstein, South Pacific

Robin De Jesus, In the Heights

Christopher Fitzgerald, Young Frankenstein

* Boyd Gaines, Gypsy


de'Adre Aziza, Passing Strange

* Laura Benanti, Gypsy

Andrea Martin, Young Frankenstein

Olga Merediz, In the Heights

Loretta Ables Sayre, South Pacific


Maria Aitken, The 39 Steps

Conor McPherson, The Seaferer

* Anna D. Shapiro, August: Osage County

Matthew Warchus, Boeing-Boeing


Sam Buntrock, Sunday in the Park With George

Thomas Kail, In the Heights

Arthur Laurents, Gypsy

* Bartlett Sher, South Pacific


Rob Ashford, Cry-Baby

* Andy Blankenbuehler, In the Heights

Christopher Gattelli, South Pacific

Dan Knechtges, Xanadu


Jason Carr, Sunday in the Park With George

* Alex Lacamoire and Bill Sherman, In the Heights

Stew and Heidi Rodewald, Passing Strange

Jonathan Tunick, A Catered Affair


Peter McKintosh, The 39 Steps

Scott Pask, Les Liaisons Dangereuses

* Todd Rosenthal, August: Osage County

Anthony Ward, Macbeth


David Farley and Timothy Bird & The Knifedge Creative Network, Sunday in the Park With Geroge

Anna Louizos, In the Heights

Robin Wagner, Young Frankenstein

* Micheal Yeargan, South Pacific


Gregory Gale, Cyrano de Bergerac

Rob Howell, Boeing-Boeing

* Katrina Lindsay, Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Peter McKintosh, The 39 Steps


David Farley, Sunday in the Park With George

Martin Pakledinaz, Gypsy

Paul Tazewell, In the Heights

* Catherine Zuber, South Pacific


* Kevin Adams, The 39 Steps

Howard Harrison, Macbeth

Donald Holder, Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Ann G. Wrightson, August: Osage County


Ken Billington, Sunday in the Park With George

Howell Binkley, In the Heights

* Donald Holder, South Pacific

Natasha Katz, The Little Mermaid


Simon Baker, Boeing-Boeing

Adam Cork, Macbeth

Ian Dickson, Rock 'n' Roll

* Mic Pool, The 39 Steps


Acme Sound Partners, In the Heights

Sebastian Frost, Sunday in the Park With George

* Scott Lehrer, South Pacific

Dan Moses Schreier, Gypsy


Stephen Sondheim


Chicago Shakespeare Theater


Robert Russell Bennett

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Another Bit of Self-Promotion

I've just accepted the role of Terrence in Bed & Breakfast, a comedy by Sam Sommer. It's a short run as part of the Fresh Fruit Festival in July.

For tickets, visit

Our first read-through is set for Thursday of this week.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Say It Ain't So, Pee Wee

I thought his cat had put an end to this nonsense.

Apparently not.

If you must know, click here. Have a drink first.

(BTW, Is he gearing up to replace George Wendt in Hairspray?)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Trapped In The 11th Grade

"reasons to be pretty" presented by MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, May 23, 2008

In his preface for this play, Mr. LaBute discloses that this is the first play he's written that the protagonist is " of the few adults I've ever tackled."

Well, according to Mr. LaBute, an adult is:
  • Someone who still loves his girlfriend after she reads two pages of insults out loud to the food court at the mall
  • Someone who stays friends with the jock bully who lies and cheats on his wife
  • Someone who reads 19th Century American literature because he likes it
  • Someone who lies to the jock bully's wife when she asks about his affair
  • Someone who only summons the courage to beat up the jock bully after he insults the ex-girlfriend
  • Someone who doesn't take back said girlfriend when he has the chance
Mr. LaBute presents some of his stock characters, the conflicted male lead (our "adult") and the misogynist bully. He also mixes in four direct address monologues from each of the four characters, Greg (Thomas Sadoski), Steph (Alison Pill), Kent (Pablo Schreiber) and Carly (Piper Perabo). The monologues felt like Mr. LaBute hadn't been able to figure out a more interesting way to provide the exposition of each. In the end, it feels like a repeat of high school. "Greg doesn't think I'm pretty so I'm breaking up with him." And hence, the melodrama begins.

As Greg, Mr. Sadoski apologizes his way through this "adult" role, giving it his best, but never able to raise the level above the script. Inexplicably, this Greg who reads Poe and Hawthorne on his midnight lunch breaks working in a grocery distributor warehouse with Mr. Schreiber's Kent, never went to college. This Kent is a classic LaBute bully, a muscle-headed man-child who still acts like he's the high school football captain dating the head cheerleader. Mr. Schreiber imbues his Kent with every taunt, insult and threat a bully reserves only for his best friend.

As Carly, Kent's wife, Ms. Perabo bemoans the downside of being pretty - warding off unwanted suitors, feeling stalked at every turn. She's not the sharpest knife in the drawer. In one exchange with Greg, she asks about the book he's reading. "It's Poe. It's pretty dark." he says.
She replies, "I know. It's night out." "I meant the book." he explains.

Ms. Pill plays yet another angry young woman. The play opens with an argument between her Steph and Greg following a high school-styled "he-said, she-said" exchange relayed to her by Carly. The language approaches Mametian proportions, the result of which is uncomfortable hysteria rather than exposition or character development. The talented Ms. Pill does her best with the material, but much like Mr. Sadoski, there's only so much she can do.

Director Terry Kinney also works hard with a talented cast, keeping things apace. The scene flow feels clumsy, however, bouncing irregularly through time and tripped up by the various monologues.

David Gallo's warehouse set overpowers the proceedings, distracting from the plot, though David Weiner's lighting does what it can to minimize this.

Mr. LaBute has been relatively prolific over the last several years, producing at least one new play each year. I can't wonder if a bit of focus on quality over quantity might have it merits.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Concept by James Baldwin

"Passing Strange" at the Belasco Theatre, May 17, 2008

(Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

After an acclaimed run at Joe's Pub at the Public Theatre downtown, this rock cantata by the singly-named Stew has opened on Broadway to good notices. There has been much talk that the show hasn't "found its audience" yet, but based on the full house last Saturday night, somebody's catching on. I did track that the audience demographics were sharply different from that of the cast.

The story is Stew's memoir from high school through early adulthood. Stew, who serves as narrator and chorus in his own tale, frequently plays with audience expectations. Early on, he turns them on end when he interrupts his mother's (Eisa Davis) first appearance to correct the "black version" to his more accurate middle class upbringing in Los Angeles. His younger self, only described as Youth (Daniel Breaker) bristles under his mother's love and desire for him to find his way in the world. She manages to force him into the church choir, but he dashes off to Europe at the first opportunity to experience the world and find his art.

Amsterdam, with the hash/coffee houses comes too easy for him. He's taken under wing by the locals who open the world of love and sex to him. If it's art, doesn't it have to require suffering? So he then moves on to Berlin, "a black hole with taxis." Now living in an artists' commune of sorts, home continues to reach out to him as his mother calls. She wants him home for Christmas. He pulls away again, looking forward to a new kind of holiday with the angst-loving roommates. When he announces he has a new song cycle to present to them for Christmas, they all are going home to their families for the holiday. The message is that family, no matter how crazy they make you, are a part you can't remove from your art.

I found it interesting that Stew adopted Mr. Baldwin's concept of "passing" as the foundation for his show. At first Youth is passing as an angry young teen, rebelling against the mother who loves him unconditionally. In Amsterdam, he's passing as more sophisticated and worldly than he really is. In Berlin, he's passing as the angry, ghetto, black man, repressed by the capitalist white society of the U.S. All along, he's passing as a young man in denial of how important his family, his mother, is to him. Only when she dies, can he realize his wasted effort in all the passing of his life.

As an evening of music, it's a rock concert with all the overpowering amplification you might expect. Sadly, a lot of the story gets lost in the ear-pounding volume. Musically, Stew has found some theatricality, notably in a riff on "Tea for Two" as part of "We Just Had Sex." I also thought it interesting that of all the performers on the stage, including the musicians/backup singers, Stew seemed to exhibit the least visible passion when he sang.

The supporting cast of four, de'Adre Aziza, Colman Domingo, Chad Goodridge and Rebecca Naomi Jones play the various people who came through Stew's life. Ms. Aziza, last seen in Playwrights Horizons' mediocre "Doris to Darlene" shows how the power of good material and a good director can bring out the best in an actor. Director Annie Dorsen has cleverly staged this cantata, creating mood and atmosphere with merely a couple of chairs. She gets remarkable performances from the entire cast, ranging from back-pew trouble makers at church, to Dutch stoners, to German nihilists.

I have described this show as a rock cantata. It's not a traditional musical in any sense of the word, even less so than last season's "Spring Awakening." (Kevin Adams' lighting does bear a resemblance to his Tony-winning turn from SA - suitable for the concert staging.) Story is told as much in song, divided between Stew's narration and the actors' performances. Still, I can easily see next month's Tony Awards honoring this production with Best Musical. (Don't forget Susan Stroman's "Contact" winning the award several years ago with hardly a song sung.) Though I haven't seen "In The Heights" yet, "Passing Strange" is the best new musical I've seen on Broadway this season.

Starwatch: Former Public Theatre director George C. Wolfe in the audience


"Inner Voices: Solo Musicals" presented by Premieres at The Zipper Factory Theater, May 14, 2008

(Photo credit: Andy Criss)

The synopsis from

Inner Voices: Solo Musicals features the world premiere of three commissioned works, presented by Premieres.

Tres Ninas, by Ellen Fitzhugh and Michael John LaChiusa, will be directed by Jonathan Butterell, with music direction by Todd Almond. Tony Award Winner Victoria Clark stars. The musical tells the story of a white American woman's affecting and being affected by 'The Other" at three stages of her life.

Alice Unwrapped, by Laura Harrington and Jenny Giering, is directed by Jeremy Dobrish with music direction by Julie McBride. Jennifer Damiano stars. In it, a fifteen year-old girl has big shoes to fill with her dad missing in action, Mom refusing to come out of her bedroom, and a younger sister demanding normalcy - or else.

A Thousand Words Come to Mind, by Michele Lowe and Scott Davenport Richards, is directed by Jack Cummings III, with music direction by Jon DiPinto. Tony Nominee Barbara Walsh stars. When a mother's legendary silence is broken as she lies dying in a hospital room, her daughter embarks on a journey into the power of the unspoken word.

Ms. Clark continues to redefine the term "singing actress," a term first exemplified by the inimitable Barbara Cook. In "Tres Ninas," she's a ten year-old living in federal housing in a small town just south of San Diego in 1952. She and her friends have witnessed a Mexican family smuggled over the border and staying in a cave before pressing on to a new life in the U.S. Dressed in a blue nylon slip and pantyhose, her hair wadded up on top of her head, her young self reminded me just a bit of Lily Tomlin's Edith Ann as she told of sneaking food to the illegal immigrants. Fifteen years later, she's a divorced mother of two girls trying to make ends meet while working for Pacific Telephone. In another ten years, she's a bartender with a drinking problem, describing a drunken sexual encounter with an eighteen year-old migrant worker. The arc of her character depicts the life of woman who loses her way, not realizing how bad it's gotten until it really can't be corrected. Ms. Clark's performance is fearless, never shying away from the confessional and sometimes tawdry nature of her tale. She is in immaculate voice as ever, clear and pure in tone and emotion. It's a masterful appearance.

In "Alice Unwrapped," Ms. Damiano has the toughest job of the evening - - following Ms. Clark. Her Alice, helmeted and clad in foam packing sheets held on with duct tape. The exposition of her father missing in the Middle East and her mother's withdrawal drags on a bit. It's not until Alice has to pick up Ella, her eight year-old sister, from school that it gets interesting. Ms. Damiano manages the teenage existential rant part well enough, but she warms up as she relates the argument and negotiation that goes on in the back of a taxi with Ella during the ride home - literally and emotionally unwrapping herself for her sister's sake. Some of the piece was lost due to the piano volume overbalancing her voice.

Ms. Walsh's dutiful daughter in "A Thousand Words Come to Mind" takes us through the middle stages of role-reversal (a particularly dear and painful phase of life, for those of you who haven't had a taste of it yet) as her mother lies in the hospital, diagnosed with cancer. In a morphine-induced stupor, mother thinks she was the inspiration for a character in "The Human Stain" by Philip Roth after meeting him in a bar one afternoon. After flirting with the clerk at Borders, she buys the book to bring to her mother. Still unmarried, she sees potential in most of the men she meets during her mother's illness, the non-responsive doctor, the bookstore clerk, etc. Totally unconvinced about the Philip Roth story, mother goes on to identify herself in books by John Irving, John Updike and Norman Mailer, so all of those books come to the hospital too. She calls Mr. Roth's agent in an attempt to verify the tale, but is put off by his assistant, "We get calls like this ALL the time." A few days after she dies, she gets a note from Mr. Roth, telling her of a most uncomfortable encounter in a bar with her mother. Ms. Walsh relates the daughter's approaching middle age with a subtle reality, sometimes jaded and yet always hopeful. It's a nicely balanced performance.

All three acts have been directed with simplicity and economy in the bare-bones Zipper Factory. Accompaniment ranged from a single piano to piano and guitar, and piano and bass.

The show runs through May 30. They haven't spent much on marketing, which is quite a shame. These performances shouldn't be missed.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Yes, Yes, Nanette!

"No, No, Nanette" presented by Encores! at City Center, May 11, 2008

You just can't beat a nostalgic show with good tap dancing.

And, Encores! has brought us one of the best. Using the 1971 revival of the 1920's original, this was the show that brought Ruby Keeler back to Broadway after a 42 year absence.

Now in 2008, Encores! brings back Sandy Duncan as Sue Smith, the loving and trusting wife of philanthropist bible-seller, Jimmy Smith (Charles Kimbrough) raising their niece Nanette (Mara Davi). Jimmy's attorney Billy Early (Michael Berresse) is married to Lucille (Beth Leavel), Sue's best friend. Their nephew Tom Trainor (Shonn Wiley) has been dating Nanette. Round it out with Pauline (Rosie O'Donnell) as the wise-cracking maid.

It's all very sweet, isn't it? Actually, it is. I think this could be described as the




Director Walter Bobbie lets the sweetness flow at the helm of this gem. Simple staging allows Randy Skinner's excellent tap and soft shoe choreography shine through (I didn't find some of the other numbers quite so shiny).

Ms. Duncan is in fine form and still kicks to the right with the best of them (to the left, not so much), but she looks great and sets a standard for the rest of the cast.

As her husband Jimmy, Mr. Kimbrough (of "Murphy Brown" fame) stammers and stalls his way through the well-meaning character, often resorting to his signature "I want to be happy" reprise to deflect focus from his "...philandering with those three lovely girls. Especially, the big one."

The girls are Betty from Boston (Jennifer Cody) in a Rosie Perez-inspired turn, Winnie from Washington (Nancy Anderson) all sweetness and light, and Flora from San Francisco (Angel Reda) as "the big one."

Mr. Berresse's Billy dances best (though "Telephone Girlie" went about two phrases too long), while Ms. Leavel literally stopped the show with "The 'Where-Has-My-Hubby-Gone' Blues." I'm pretty sure that was the song which won Helen Gallagher her Tony and Drama Desk awards for the role in 1971.

As Nanette and Tom, Ms. Davi and Mr. Wiley embodied old-school-style good kids in love. Both sang and danced beautifully.

But it is the score that is the star of this show. With songs like "Tea for Two," "I Want to Be Happy," and the aforementioned show-stopper, Encores! was very fortunate to have the ever-talented Rob Fisher as musical director and conductor.

It's been 35 years since the last revival closed. I'd love to see a full-scale revival of this show back on Broadway (not just a transfer like the recent "Apple Tree" and "Wonderful Town").

There Are No Words

"Substitution" presented by The Playwrights Realm at the Soho Playhouse, May 7, 2008

(photo credit: T. Charles Erickson)

In the title of this post, Calvin's Mom (Jan Maxwell) sums up how most people respond to a parent who has just lost a child. Calvin was on a boat carrying his high school ethics class on a field trip which exploded, killing every one on board. The identification of Calvin's body was by deduction, since every one else was accounted for, except one faceless body. She is joined by Paul (Kieran Campion), a substitute teacher who volunteered to help her clean up the flowers and toys left as tributes to the dead students. She is immediately put off by his rambling, nervous, well-meaning and endless patter - all the words she doesn't want to hear anymore. He seems to know a lot about Calvin which she finds disconcerting.

Anton Dudley, who wrote this play with Ms. Maxwell in mind has done beautifully by her. He hasn't done so well by the rest of the cast, however. The monologues which Ms. Maxwell delivers are completely natural in their expressions of pain, anger and resentment. Had he left well enough alone, it could have been an evening of significant catharsis about a single mother dealing with the death of her only child. His initial focus on words and language and their role in the grieving process was provocative. Instead, Mr. Dudley also pursues a misguided subplot about beauty. Paul turns out to be not only Calvin's substitute teacher, but also a substitute father, a beautiful young man who has fallen in love with Calvin's mother before he's even met her. He flings guilt onto Calvin's' Mom relentlessly, thinking it will bring them together so they can share their grief. He pushes too far and too hard. "We have Calvin in common." he says. She recoils, stung, and rejects Paul completely. Even when Paul packs up Calvin's artwork from the classroom for her, she destroys the work in an effort to push Paul away.

Mr. Dudley also intersperses a couple of scenes between two of Calvin's classmates Dax (Brandon Espinoza) and Jule (Shana Dowdeswell) on the bus for the fateful field trip. I suppose these were meant to give a perspective on Calvin, "Think of the least memorable person in our class." she says. "Calvin" he replies, beginning a conversation on how one can identify the least memorable, since that requires remembering them at all. It's a clunky plot convention. A final monologue from Dax as he sees his friends floating in the water above him creates some interesting imagery, but the language is no longer Dax's and it undercuts the effectiveness.

Mr. Campion works hard to make his contradictory role functional. His rapid-fire delivery convey the nervous insecurity of a lonely man reaching out. His movie star looks, however, undercut the author's proposition that Paul dates very little or has very few friends. I think this is another flaw in the writing which keeps credibility at bay, giving Paul the physical beauty that Calvin's Mom no longer reflects on the outside.

Ms. Maxwell is mesmerizing in her monologues. Her pain is palpable and there is not a moment or word wasted in her direct address passages. Mr. Dudley pushes her to the point of shrewish as she rejects Paul over and over again, which belies the love she feels for her lost son.

Katherine Kovner seems to have made every attempt to work through the awkward transitions, but without some rewrites, it's a bumpy ride. Fortunately, much of it smoothed by Ms. Maxwell.

I believe this is the inaugural production for The Playwrights Realm. They have made a noble effort and I look forward to seeing what's next.

2008 Tony Nominations

The 2008 Tony Award Nominations

Best Play

August: Osage County
Author: Tracy Letts
Producers: Jeffrey Richards, Jean Doumanian, Steve Traxler, Jerry Frankel, Ostar Productions, Jennifer Manocherian, The Weinstein Company, Debra Black/Daryl Roth, Ronald & Marc Frankel/Barbara Freitag, Rick Steiner/Staton Bell Group, The Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Rock ‘n’ Roll
Author: Tom Stoppard
Producers: Bob Boyett & Sonia Friedman Productions, Ostar Productions, Roger Berlind, Tulchin/Bartner, Douglas G. Smith, Dancap Productions, Jam Theatricals, The Weinstein Company, Lincoln Center Theater, The Royal Court Theatre London

The Seafarer
Author: Conor McPherson
Producers: Ostar Productions, Bob Boyett, Roy Furman, Lawrence Horowitz, Jam Theatricals, Bill Rollnick/Nancy Ellison Rollnick, James D’Orta, Thomas S. Murphy, Ralph Guild/Jon Avnet, Philip Geier/Keough Partners, Eric Falkenstein/Max OnStage, The National Theatre of Great Britain

The 39 Steps
Author: Patrick Barlow
Producers: Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Harold Wolpert, Julia C. Levy, Bob Boyett, Harriet Newman Leve/Ron Nicynski, Stewart F. Lane/Bonnie Comley, Manocherian Golden Prods., Olympus Theatricals/Douglas Denoff, Marek J. Cantor/Pat Addiss, Huntington Theatre Company/Nicholas Martin/Michael Maso, Edward Snape for Fiery Angel Ltd.

Best Musical

Producer: Adam Epstein, Allan S. Gordon, Élan V. McAllister, Brian Grazer, James P. MacGilvray, Universal Pictures Stage Productions, Anne Caruso, Adam S. Gordon, Latitude Link, The Pelican Group, Philip Morgaman, Andrew Farber/Richard Mishaan

In The Heights
Producers: Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller, Jill Furman, Sander Jacobs, Goodman/Grossman, Peter Fine, Everett/Skipper

Passing Strange
Producers: The Shubert Organization, Elizabeth Ireland McCann LLC, Bill Kenwright, Chase Mishkin, Barbara & Buddy Freitag, Broadway Across America, Emily Fisher Landau, Peter May, Boyett Ostar, Larry Hirschhorn, Janet Pailet/Steve Klein, Elie Hirschfeld/Jed Bernstein, Spring Sirkin/Ruth Hendel, Vasi Laurence/Pat Flicker Addiss, Wendy Federman/Jackie Barlia Florin, Joey Parnes, The Public Theater, The Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Producers: Robert Ahrens, Dan Vickery, Tara Smith/B. Swibel, Sarah Murchison/Dale Smith

Best Book of a Musical

Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan

In The Heights
Quiara Alegría Hudes

Passing Strange

Douglas Carter Beane

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre

Music & Lyrics: David Javerbaum & Adam Schlesinger

In The Heights
Music & Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda

The Little Mermaid
Music: Alan Menken
Lyrics: Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater

Passing Strange
Music: Stew and Heidi Rodewald
Lyrics: Stew

Best Revival of a Play

Producers: Sonia Friedman Productions, Bob Boyett, Act Productions, Matthew Byam Shaw, Robert G. Bartner, The Weinstein Company, Susan Gallin/Mary Lu Roffe, Broadway Across America, Tulchin/Jenkins/DSM, The Araca Group

The Homecoming
Producers: Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Jam Theatricals, Ergo Entertainment, Barbara & Buddy Freitag, Michael Gardner, Herbert Goldsmith Productions, Terry E. Schnuck, Harold Thau, Michael Filerman/Lynne Peyser, Ronald Frankel/David Jaroslawicz, Love Bunny Entertainment

Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Producers: Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Harold Wolpert, Julia C. Levy

Producers: Duncan C. Weldon & Paul Elliott, Jeffrey Archer, Bill Ballard, Terri & Timothy Childs, Rodger Hess, David Mirvish, Adriana Mnuchin, Emanuel Azenberg, BAM, The Chichester Festival Theatre

Best Revival of a Musical

Producers: Paul Nicholas and David Ian, Nederlander Presentations Inc., Terry Allen Kramer, Robert Stigwood

Producers: Roger Berlind, The Routh-Frankel-Baruch-Viertel Group, Roy Furman, Debra Black, Ted Hartley, Roger Horchow, David Ian, Scott Rudin, Jack Viertel

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Producers: Lincoln Center Theater, André Bishop, Bernard Gersten, Bob Boyett

Sunday in the Park with George
Producers: Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Harold Wolpert, Julia C. Levy, Bob Boyett, Debra Black, Jam Theatricals, Stephanie P. McClelland, Stewart F. Lane/Bonnie Comley, Barbara Manocherian/Jennifer Manocherian, Ostar Productions, The Menier Chocolate Factory/David Babani

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play

Ben Daniels, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Laurence Fishburne, Thurgood
Mark Rylance, Boeing-Boeing
Rufus Sewell, Rock ‘n’ Roll
Patrick Stewart, Macbeth

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play

Eve Best, The Homecoming
Deanna Dunagan, August:
Osage County
Fleetwood, Macbeth
S. Epatha Merkerson, Come Back, Little
Amy Morton, August:
Osage County

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical

Daniel Evans, Sunday in the Park with George
Lin-Manuel Miranda, In The Heights
Stew, Passing Strange
Paulo Szot, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Tom Wopat, A Catered Affair

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical

Kerry Butler, Xanadu
Patti LuPone, Gypsy
Kelli O’Hara, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Faith Prince, A Catered Affair
Jenna Russell, Sunday in the Park with George

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play

Bobby Cannavale, Mauritius
Raúl Esparza, The Homecoming
Conleth Hill, The Seafarer
Jim Norton, The Seafarer
David Pittu, Is He Dead?

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play

Sinead Cusack, Rock ‘n’ Roll
Mary McCormack, Boeing-Boeing
Laurie Metcalf, November
Martha Plimpton, Top Girls
Rondi Reed, August:
Osage County

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical

Daniel Breaker, Passing Strange
Danny Burstein, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Robin De Jesús, In The Heights
Christopher Fitzgerald, The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein
Boyd Gaines, Gypsy

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical

de’Adre Aziza, Passing Strange
Laura Benanti, Gypsy
Andrea Martin, The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein
Olga Merediz, In The Heights
Loretta Ables Sayre, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific

Best Scenic Design of a Play

Peter McKintosh, The 39 Steps
Scott Pask, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Todd Rosenthal, August:
Osage County
Ward, Macbeth

Best Scenic Design of a Musical

David Farley and Timothy Bird & The Knifedge Creative Network, Sunday in the Park with George
Anna Louizos, In The Heights
Robin Wagner, The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein
Michael Yeargan, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific

Best Costume Design of a Play

Gregory Gale, Cyrano de Bergerac
Rob Howell, Boeing-Boeing
Katrina Lindsay, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Peter McKintosh, The 39 Steps

Best Costume Design of a Musical

David Farley, Sunday in the Park with George
Martin Pakledinaz, Gypsy
Paul Tazewell, In The Heights
Catherine Zuber, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific

Best Lighting Design of a Play

Kevin Adams, The 39 Steps
Howard Harrison, Macbeth
Donald Holder, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Ann G. Wrightson, August:
Osage County

Best Lighting Design of a Musical

Ken Billington, Sunday in the Park with George
Howell Binkley, In The Heights
Donald Holder, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Natasha Katz, The Little Mermaid

Best Sound Design of a Play

Simon Baker, Boeing-Boeing
Adam Cork, Macbeth
Ian Dickson, Rock ‘n’ Roll
Mic Pool, The 39 Steps

Best Sound Design of a Musical

Acme Sound Partners, In The Heights
Sebastian Frost, Sunday in the Park with George
Scott Lehrer, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Dan Moses Schreier, Gypsy

Best Direction of a Play

Maria Aitken, The 39 Steps
Conor McPherson, The Seafarer
Anna D. Shapiro, August:
Osage County
Warchus, Boeing-Boeing

Best Direction of a Musical

Sam Buntrock, Sunday in the Park with George
Thomas Kail, In The Heights
Arthur Laurents, Gypsy
Bartlett Sher, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific

Best Choreography

Rob Ashford, Cry-Baby
Andy Blankenbuehler, In The Heights
Christopher Gattelli, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Dan Knechtges, Xanadu

Best Orchestrations

Jason Carr, Sunday in the Park with George
Alex Lacamoire & Bill Sherman, In The Heights
Stew & Heidi Rodewald, Passing Strange
Jonathan Tunick, A Catered Affair

Tony Nominations by Production

In The Heights – 13
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific – 11
Sunday in the Park with George – 9
August: Osage County – 7
Gypsy - 7
Passing Strange – 7
Boeing-Boeing – 6
Macbeth – 6
The 39 Steps - 6
Les Liaisons Dangereuses - 5
Cry-Baby – 4
Rock ‘n’ Roll - 4
The Seafarer – 4
Xanadu – 4
A Catered Affair – 3
The Homecoming – 3
The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein – 3
The Little Mermaid – 2
Come Back, Little Sheba – 1
Cyrano de Bergerac – 1
Grease – 1
Is He Dead? – 1
Mauritius – 1
November – 1
Thurgood – 1
Top Girls – 1

For more info about this year's nominations, visit

Monday, May 05, 2008

Update: Dude, We WERE on Broadway

"Glory Days" at the Circle in the Square Theatre, May 4, 2008

I think I've become my father.

As I sat through the endless and intermissionless 90 minutes of "Glory Days" I kept thinking, "What could these kids possibly have to say at their age?" (I also kept looking around to see if my Dad was standing behind me whispering that in my ear, but alas, no.)

Will (Steven Booth) has assembled his three best buds a year after graduation for a midnight plot to get back at the football players who tormented them through their four years of high school. Skip (Adam Halpin) the army brat, turns up with long hair after suffering through a lifetime of father-imposed military crew cuts (novel!). Skip and Jack (Jesse JP Johnson) went to different colleges, but Will and Andy (Andrew C. Hall) were roommates their freshman year. In the new millennium, one of the boys has just come out of the closet and may bring another one of them with him, much to the expectation of the third and consternation of the last.

Nick Blaemire's music and lyrics feel like poor knock-offs from Jonathan Larsen, without the irony or interest. James Gardiner's book feels like he wrote it before he finished high school. Anyone who's finished high school remembers that there usually isn't that much to report in your first year out, particularly enough on which to base a show. The exposition comes in faux-rock recitatives, interspersed with banalities like "I'm still me, I swear" foreshadowing the coming out confession to come. There was an exception or two. "Open Road" was a rather tender song to ease the coming out tale. Andy's reaction to it was also about the only honest moment in the script.

As the group disintegrates over the announcement, Will's composition book is read by the other three. When Will says of it after Andy has torn it up in anger, "Everything I ever felt was in this" it was a pretty slim volume for five years of feelings during high school. Will's final song, "My Next Story" sounded a lot like Jo March.

Wonder if they meant this to be "Little Women" for boys?

Mr. Booth's Will came across like Zach Braff's JD from "Scrubs" before med school. Mr. Call's Andy blusters appropriately for the wannebe-jock, muscle head, but doesn't reveal much other than his chest. Mr. Johnson's Jack fares a bit better. He finds a nice arc for his character. Mr. Halpin's Skip probably fares best. This Skip wears his new-found humility with pride and wields it like a weapon on the other three.

James Kronzer's bleacher set gave me a few gasps as I foresaw some tragic slips and falls which didn't occur as the boys dashed up and down. Mark Lanks' overambitious lighting distracts more than it adds (and the Tarzan green for the pre-show stage is pretty awful).

Director Eric Schaeffer, who did such a nice job with "Passion" during the Sondheim Celebration at the Kennedy Center a few years back hasn't managed to find the point to this production. There's good energy, but that can't make up for a mediocre score with empty lyrics and a weak book. Messrs. Blaemire and Gardiner are young men with brand new Broadway careers (Mr. Blaemire is currently in the cast of "Cry-Baby.") Maybe with a little more life experience, they can channel their talent into something a bit more substantial.

Update: "Glory Days" has closed, immediately following the opening night performance of May 6, 2008.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Passing Generations

"The Little Flower of East Orange" co-presented by LAByrinth Theatre and the Public Theater on the Martinson Stage, May 3, 2008

(photo: Monique Carboni)

Steven Adly Guirgis' new play is about to close its run at the Public. It's a compelling story with some terrific performances.

Danny (Michael Shannon) opens the play in handcuffs, presenting the story as a memory. He's an alcoholic and drug addict, at one time a successful writer but has been unable to repeat his early success. He tells the story of a girl "...who could roller skate on rooftops...," his mother Therese (Ellen Burstyn) who was raised by deaf Irish immigrant parents during the Depression. Her father Francis James (Howie Seago) falls to the Irish stereotype of proud, drunken and abusive. His abuse leaves his mark primarily on Therese, who spends most of her adult life as an invalid. Tired of being a burden on her children, Therese takes off in a nightgown in her wheelchair and topples herself down some park stairs, refusing at first to identify herself to the hospital staff when she regains consciousness. Eventually, the doctor (Ajay Naidu) dupes her into revealing her name and contacts her daughter Justina (Elizabeth Canavan), who tracks down Danny in rehab in Arizona to return to NYC. Dysfunction only begins to describe the family bond.

Caring for her in the hospital are nurse Magnolia (Lisa Colon-Zayas) and orderly Espinosa (David Zayas). They begin by sparring over the care of patients (she cares, he's bitter because of the poor pay rate). Both become very protective of Therese once she comes to. This occupies most of Act I.

Once Therese's children arrive, Act II the memory narrative seems to vanish with a very linear, almost traditional approach to story-telling. During this act, we learn much more about Therese's life and tribulations with her father, finally learning of the extent, impact and the ultimate cost to Therese. Danny forces this confession from her, hoping she will love herself as much as he loves her, but her loyalty and respect for her father prevents the catharsis from completing. The confession is only painful for her as she refuses to blame her father for the physical and emotional pain he caused.

Mr. Guirgis has managed to capture a very unique perspective of the generation represented by Therese. Late in the second act, Therese (Ellen Burstyn) talks about her physically abusive father with such a sense of love and respect for a man who brought her such physical pain. It reminded me very much the way my mother still speaks of her parents (though the physical abuse was never a factor for her). It was a time for children when parents were just parents, not friends. Children knew their parents loved them, whether they said it or not. Parental expectations for children to behave and strive for achievement was understood. A disgusted look of disappointment was much worse punishment than a spanking or a lecture. Danny never makes this connection, very much the same way that Therese never links her father's actions as being responsible for the physical pain she endured most of her life.

Mr. Shannon's performance as Danny is a fearless demonstration of a man with demons, some of which he's trying to exorcise, others he just can't approach. It's also a loud performance, since his point-making technique is usually shouting.

Ms. Burstyn's Therese is both manipulative and heart-breaking, particularly in her co-dependency with Danny. I'm glad I've finally gotten to see her perform on stage - it's a truly remarkable performance of talent and skill.

Mr. Zayas' Espinosa is another performance of note. Full of bravado and braggadocio, his loud complaints about the low pay and hassles of troublesome patients are a facade over a caring and thoughtful man. A particular moment of note was a scene in which he talks the son of another dying patient off the ledge of the hospital roof - saintly bullying, you might say.

The rest of the cast was pretty uneven. Ms. Canavan's Justina was little more than histrionics and shrieking, never quite reaching believability. Mr. Naidu's doctor barely achieves a second dimension. Mr. Seago's Francis James had some very nice moments, notably a scene when he learns that Therese as a young woman might never walk again.

I don't have documentation of it, but it's my understanding that Mr. Guirgis is in the habit of beginning rehearsals for his plays before they are finished. That seem evident here in the stark difference in tone between Acts I and II. He has left a couple of interesting moments unexplored. For example, when Danny arrives at the hospital for the first time, he's accompanied by Nadine (Gillian Jacobs in a very underwritten role) another escapee from the rehab center. She sees the same visions of Francis James that Therese does, but it only happens once and she's quickly banished to off-stage references, never to be seen again. Also missing were Therese's husband and mother. These felt like pretty large gaps to me.

Director Philip Seymour Hoffman has made the results as cohesive as possible. He's extracted fine performances from Mr. Shannon and Ms. Burstyn and keeps a compelling pace.

Narelle Sisson's set makes clever use of translucent panels that evoke both an intensive care setting as well as effective screens for shadows and projections, complemented nicely by Japhy Weideman's lights. Mimi O'Donnell's wardrobe was serviceable and appropriately unremarkable.

This was my first LAB/Public show. I look forward to the next.

Saturday, May 03, 2008 Calvin Klein

"A Body Without a Head" at Manhattan Theatre Source, April 29, 2008

(photo: Tom Zuback)

After the death of his brother, poet George Carr wrote a series of poems in tribute based on the story of Saint Torpes, a martyred gladiator beheaded by the Romans whose corpse was set to sea and landed on the Mediterranean coast. The body, accompanied by a rooster and dog who were expected to feed upon it, landed untouched where the city of Saint-Tropez was founded.

Mr. Carr's late brother was a creative head of design for Calvin Klein, as well as an artist. One of his drawings serves as cover art for the playbill. It and other drawings are displayed at Manhattan Theatre Source during the run.

Mr. Carr's lovely poetry is filled with lush visuals. Inexplicably, he has felt it necessary to stage the series as a theatrical evening and himself, directs.

He has assembled a visually lovely cast of men and women, clothed by Kevin Carrigan and Calvin Klein. Unfortunately, the program makes it nearly impossible to identify the cast since their "characters" are not directly connected with each poem or segment.

The proceedings come across as an extended CK fragrance commercial with barechested, handsome young men and nubile young women who recite the poetry with quivering voices and crocodile tears. Not even the markedly professional appearance of Brandon Ruckdashel as the fallen gladiator who comes in for only the final segment can pull the overwrought evening into focus.

It was, however, an obvious labor of love for Mr. Carr in tribute to his brother. I think publishing a small volume of the text along with his artwork interspersed would have been more successful.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Hitchcock Homage

"Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps" at the Cort Theatre, May 2, 2008

Transferring from its limited run at the Roundabout Theatre Company earlier this spring, "39 Steps" has transferred to an open-ended commercial run.

The movie has been remade several times, including by Hitchcock himself in 1959's "North by Northwest." This adaptation by Patrick Barlow takes on the 1935 classic film with a cast of four, three men and one woman playing every role in the story.

It's definitely a physical actor's dream gig - slapstick, quick changes, minimal sets and props to create everything from a London flat, to a train (both interior and exterior) to a police station to a rural inn, all using trunks, chairs and a table.

Charles Edwards plays Richard Hannay, the protagonist (antagonized?) hero of the story about a man dragged into the tale of intrigue. Jennifer Ferrin plays three of the female roles, spending most of her time as Margaret, one of the original Hitchcock blonds. Cliff Saunders and Arnie Burton play the rest of the characters, both male and female.

I was truly intrigued when I first heard this production was coming to NYC after an Olivier-winning run in London's West End. I was anxious to see it, now that it had transferred to a commercial run.

Now that I've seen it, though I really admired the clever and resourceful direction and production, I can't help but wonder if something like this wouldn't be better served in a venue like New World Stages. The combination of slapstick and farce produced on such a low-tech approach seems to have off-Broadway written all over it. I can almost see it taking a reputation as the kind of show, like "Blue Man Group" or "Stomp" that is a perennial favorite among visitors to NYC.

The four actors gave a nice effort tonight, but I couldn't help but feel that some of the novelty is starting to wear off. I was glad to see director Maria Aitken was in the back row of the mezzanine taking notes. Hopefully she can re-inject some of the energy back into this production.