Theater Review

Peter Pan Prequel: Peter and the Starcatcher

Peter and the Starcatcher 
Brooks Atkinson Theater, NYC

Just about everyone knows the Peter Pan story. But how did Peter, Tinkerbell, the Lost Boys, and Captain Hook happen to end up in Neverland? That story is told in Peter and the Starcatcher, a new play that gives us the Peter Pan back story and is opening on Broadway. The show, which is based on a 2004 best-selling children's novel, had a successful and highly praised two-month run off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop a year ago. I wish I could share the enthusiasm that was expressed about the off-Broadway run. While Peter has its assets, including an imaginative production and a good deal of theatricality, much of it, unfortunately, played out in a manner that seemed more tedious than enchanting.  Read more »

The Power of Myth

The Soap Myth
Written by Jeff Cohen

Directed by Arnold Mittelman
Produced by National Jewish Theater

Great theater is not always a comfortable experience -- indeed, a measure of unease might be a requirement for compelling drama. The Soap Myth, a superbly written, acted, and directed play, richly compensates the audience for whatever discomfort they might experience along the way to this play's conclusion. The action of this chamber drama is carried forward by a series of amazingly crisp, powerful, and natural conversations among the four-person cast. There are various pairings and groupings of the four, with two players portraying additional characters. The topic is one man’s passionate and relentless quest to conclusively answer what has become a lingering question: Did the Nazis actually manufacture soap from the body fat of their Jewish victims? Read more »

Extra, Extra, Read All About Hit

Newsies
The Nederlander Theatre, NYC

The new Disney Broadway musical Newsies, adapted from the 1992 movie of the same name, tells a fictionalized story, but it is based on real events: the 1899 strike by New York newsboys against publishers including Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. The 1992 movie, which starred Christian Bale, was a flop, grossing less than $3 million, but it developed a cult following. The show arrived on Broadway after a successful Fall run, at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, that received rave reviews. Read more »

Falling Slowly Against the Grain

Once
Bernard Jacobs Theatre, NYC

Adapting movies to stage musicals has become a staple on Broadway. The latest example is Once, based on the well-regarded 2006 low-budget film that had success both at the Sundance Film Festival and with art-house audiences. But Once is not your typical movie turned into a musical. It is an intimate, delicate piece, as opposed to flashy, big-budget musicals such as Sister Act or Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Once has a different feel than those, or almost any other Broadway musical. While I didn't totally respond to its story and its music, it is hard not to admire the musical's warmth, sweetness, and artistry. Read more »

A Slice of Life Worth Serving

Look for the Woman
Richmond Shepard Theatre, NY

I am leery about attending "slice-of-life" plays. The phrase is credited to French playwright Jean Jullien of the late 19th/early 20th Century, as a goal for those who wished to emphasize naturalism as an antidote to the stiff artificial theater of his era. For me, the phrase had come to mean gritty, often vulgar and clichéd dramas about colorless people "trying to be a somebody" against the odds of their circumstances, and on and on. Yet, how delightfully pleased I am to have attended Look for the Woman, a new play by Christie Perfetti. Look for the Woman, with fine direction by Matilda Szydagis, skillfully elevates and exalts the slice-of-life family drama and generously presents a thoughtful and moving evening of theater. Read more »

Challenging Late Williams

Tennessee Williams: In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel
292 Theater
March 7-31, Wednesday-Saturday, 8:30 PM

For those who are up to a fascinating venture into an emotionally dark treadmill fun/horror house, one created by Tennessee Williams in 1969, I highly recommend 292 Theater's production of In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel. For those who are merely up to fine theater, I once again recommend experiencing this example of Williams's later oeuvre, where themes of his earlier great plays are explored within the walls of a demure red-toned Tokyo hotel bar in the late '60s.   Read more »

Front & No Longer Center

The great promises that come with a Classic Stage Company production of Bertolt Brecht's Galileo starring F. Murray Abraham are all fulfilled and exceeded. A phenomenal cast lead by a very capable director combines with an inspired production design and the irascible and biting words of Brecht to make a level of production which one often hopes for but so seldom gets. This is theater at its best.

F. Murray Abraham is truly a national treasure of the American theater. Making it all look so effortless, Abraham eases into the title role with relaxed deliveries, a quiet energy that burns with the intense inner fire of discovery, and subtle gestures that regularly strike upon incidental comic notes. His presence is commanding and his interaction with his fellow actors thoroughly human and natural. He is one of those few actors in possession of an Academy Award who is also undeniably a man to the stage born, and we can consider ourselves blessed for his continued appearances thereon.  Read more »

Two-Dimensional Characters on Three-Dimensional Horses

Last year, James Miller reviewed War Horse for CultureCatch. Now, with interest in the show growing after the recent release of the movie, which is up for six Oscars, C. Jefferson Thom weighs in with a dissenting opinion.

What is it about animals that pulls on our sense of compassion? An invading alien army can spend the better part of a disaster film evaporating countless numbers of people, but as long as a single dog escapes its death rays there’s a collective sign of relief. Are animals somehow easier to love and care for? War Horse would certainly suggest that this is the case.  Read more »

The Foreigner

The Foreigner
The Heights Players

The Foreigner is rock solid hilarious -- I have not laughed this hard or as continuously during a play in quite some time. The Foreigner, as performed by Brooklyn Heights' venerable theater company, is farce at its most pure: unrelentingly absurd, energetic, ridiculous, and downright funny. All the compounded twists and turns, all of the comic potential of the play written by the late Larry Shue, are artfully and skillfully displayed to the max by a spirited and talented cast, carried along by Noel MacDuffie's ingenious direction. Read more »

If I could smell her....

The 9th Space Theatre at P.S. 122, NYC

Of the many attempts to chase the legacy of the 1982 benchmark in horror/comedy of the musical variety that is Little Shop of Horrors, Silence! makes a fair play to place. Brandishing a well-equipped arsenal of deadpan, vulgarity, camp, and a wide array of theatrical references, this musical parody of Silence of the Lambs makes killing look easy.

While it is doubtful that any score in this unlikely sub-genre will ever live up to the catchy, simplistic brilliance of Alan Menken (before he whored himself out to Disney), Silence! picks up a ball that was dropped Off-Broadway years ago and has been shamelessly fumbled ever since. In short, it's now safe to go see a musical mock-up of a horror film classic again. Read more »

The History Mystery

The History Mystery
The TADA! Resident Youth Ensemble

Charming, charming, charming! The premise is simple. The History Mystery opens with students in study hall complaining how boring it is to study history, to the tune of "It's a Mystery." One student pops up exclaiming that the figures of history, about whom they are compelled to memorize dates and events, were actually children once themselves. Shortly a magical mystery tour of history commences, taking three students back though time, where they engage with Ben Franklin, Laura Ingalls, the Wright Brothers, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., and others as kids. Read more »

Menders

Menders
Flux Theatre Ensemble

When departing from The Gym at Judson after the opening night performance of Menders, written by Erin Browne and directed by Heather Cohn, I was acutely aware that I had just witnessed real theater. I know this to be true when a particular mood/mindset overtakes me at the conclusion of a play. Although it will eventually diminish, though not entirely, I want that mood/mindset to last forever. Menders moved me to question what it is to be a human being against the backdrop of the bigger or biggest issues that confront us. Read more »

Wintertime and the Watchin’ Ain’t Easy

If the current production of Porgy and Bess accomplishes anything, it is to prove Stephen Sondheim’s preemptive concerns about its approach to this classic piece of American theater to be well-founded. The triumvirate of would-be re-creators consists of Audra McDonald, Diane Paulus, and Suzan-Lori Parks; only McDonald remains standing after the curtain falls.

Seeking to add dimension to the musical’s famed characters while drastically abbreviating its legendary score is a curious undertaking and, in the end, qualities worthy of note are those that long pre-date this version. Drastically reducing the cast’s size had little effect on providing the remaining characters with any enhanced depth but successfully whittled down any grand sense of scale. Ironically, this more resulted in fostering the impression of isolated incident over that of representing a larger world that should be implied as existing outside of the story’s specific realm. This is a two-sided shortcoming shared between director Diane Paulus’s lack of implementation and her cast’s inability to live up to the challenges of this legendary score and libretto. Read more »

Fear No More…

Cymbeline
Fiasco Theater at Barrow Street Theatre, NY
Through January 15

Theater in its purest form is an exercise in magical simplicity. Much of what passes for theater today is far closer to the craft of spectacle, which is wonderful in its own right but should not be confused with the art of transforming a relative empty space into another breathing world through the efforts of actors, a director, and a script. Cymbeline is one of those most miraculous of manifestations; armed only with six very talented actors, the immortal words of the Shakespeare and a handful of props and set pieces, they have summoned the muses and created one of the most memorable stage productions of 2011. Read more »

Goofing Greek Again…

Lysistrata Jones

Greek mythology, camp, and Douglas Carter Beane have made what feels like a less-than-ecstatic reunion in Lysistrata Jones. Those with fond memories of Xanadu are likely to feel something is missing from this current effort, but comparisons aside, Lysistrata has some charms of her own. Read more »

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