Theater Review

The Contender!

Rocky
Winter Garden Theatre, NYC

Turning successful motion pictures into Broadway musicals has become the norm in recent years.  Whether the iconic 1976 Sylvester Stallone film, Rocky, was a movie that cried out for a musical adaptation is open to question.  But, Rocky has arrived on Broadway and, somewhat like its title character, the musical has a bit of a bumpy road but is triumphant in the end.  Rocky, of course, tells the story of the small time, well meaning Philadelphia boxer, Rocky Balboa, his romance with meek girl friend Adrian, and his improbable chance to fight for the heavyweight championship.

Not The Busch Leagues!

The Tribute Artist
 by Charles Busch

Directed by Carl Andress
59E59 Theaters, NYC
Through March 29, 2014

 
Towards the end of this uproarious farce by veteran playwright and actor Charles Busch, Mr. Busch--as Jimmy Nichols, a long-in-the-tooth “female impressionist tribute artist” (a/k/a unemployed drag performer)--delivers a line that in any other play, comedy or otherwise, would befuddle the audience due to its complete nonsense. Proclaimed in tones of voice that would, in an era long gone by, indicate the pronouncement of a grand life-transforming revelation, Jimmy declares “The more honest you are, the more people believe you.” Without a doubt, only Charles Busch could make such an utterance not only appear reasonable, but in the process bring the house down shrieking with laughter.

I Feel The Earth Move, Almost

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Stephen Sondheim Theatre, NYC

Describing Beautiful by comparing it to Jersey Boys seems unfair. Jersey Boys, of course, is a long running smash hit musical, and holding any new musical to the high standard of a major hit is asking a lot. But, while watching Beautiful, it is difficult not to think of the new Carole King musical as Jersey Boys Lite. That does not mean Beautiful is lacking in assets -- it has a terrific performance by Jessie Mueller as King and is filled with great songs, written by King and Gerry Goffin, as well as some from the team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. The result is an entertaining musical, but one that does not rise to the dramatic or emotional heights desired in a great show.

So Much Time, So Much To Do

Much Ado About Nothing

Directed by Christian Amato
The Theater Project

Feb. 14 - March 1, 2014

The Players Theater, NY

It may be winter in Manhattan, but it looks like a long hot summer for Beatrice, Benedict, Hero, Claudio, and the gang. So hot that feral cats are a’scampering over the hot tin roofs of Sicily’s port city of Messina, the setting for Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. New York theater has been awash with Bardish productions everywhere. You can take your pick: traditional, modern dress, deconstructions, etc. Among so many offerings, I highly recommend you sashay on down to the li’l ol’ Players Theater and take a gander at their Much Ado About Nothing, rendered beautifully and hilariously in smoldering tempestuous Southern Style.

Pride of the Paycock

Juno and the Paycock
Directed by Charlotte Moore
The Irish Repertory Theatre 132 W. 22nd St., NYC
October 20-December 29, 2013

 

Watching “Captain” Jack Boyle’s pronouncement regarding Ireland’s civil strife -- “We’ve got nothin’ to do with these things, one way or t’other.  That’s the Government’s business, an’ let them do what we’re payin’ them for doin’” -- about 24 hours after a more than two-week government shutdown lent a little extra resonance to the Irish Repertory Theatre's production of Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock. The personal is always the political in O’Casey’s work, and Juno, part of his acclaimed Dublin Trilogy, skillfully interweaves the two as it follows the Boyle family’s fortunes’ (imagined) rise and fall in a 1922 Dublin tenement.  

Shades of brown dominate the peeling walls of James Noone’s set, which the cast fills admirably.  The titular characters, the goddess of the homefront (J. Smith-Cameron) and her strutting husband (Ciarán O’Reilly), turn in strong, nuanced performances, as does John Keating, coming off a similar and similarly well-executed role in the Irish Rep’s staging of The Weir, as the “daarlin’” Joxer Daly.

Fine Dining, New York Style

Separate Tables

Directed by Lin Snider and Justin Bennett

Out of the Box Theatre Company

West End Theater
, 263 West 86th Street, NYC
October 2-5, 2013 (Closed)

If you know of stage play more perfectly realized than Out of the Box Theatre's polished realization of Terence Rattigan's Separate Tables, let me know and I will rush to see it. However, that is unlikely, as co-directors Lin Snider and Justin Bennett have created a profound rarity indeed: a flawless production. Everything about this rendering of Rattigan's play, which opened in London in 1954 and on Broadway in 1956, is sheer perfection: every performance, the set, the costumes, the invisible effortless direction, the brief musical interludes -- all make for one of the most exhilarating evenings of theater I have ever experienced. It is unfortunate that such a fine production was limited to only six performances: a production of this outstanding caliber deserved a much longer run, or even transfer to a Broadway theater.

Terence Rattigan, most remembered for the film versions of his plays The Winslow Boy and The Browning Version, created Separate Tables as two interconnected one-act plays set in the early '50s at the shabby but genteel Beauregard Private Hotel in the English resort town of Bournemouth. In England, such hotels were often the residences for pensioners and others who found themselves in "reduced circumstances."

It's Alive!

Written by C.J. Thom
Directed by John Harlacher
The Connelly Theater, NYC
Through September 14, 2013

Franklin Stein is a horror story told in the tradition of Theater of the Absurd as practiced by Eugene Ionesco, the early work of Edward Albee, the plays of Samuel Beckett, and other international playwrights commencing in the late 1950s. Such plays are meditations on the absurdity of human existence, in which conventions of plot and characterization are distorted to convey, as one dictionary defined it, "the irrationally of existence and the isolation of humanity." Playwright C.J. Thom, with an exceptionally fine cast and artistic team, succeeds in presenting a powerful evening of theater which asks the question: What does it take to have heart against the backdrop of the pernicious corporatization of human life and interaction?

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Directed by Gayle Stahlhuth
East Lynne Theater Company
Cape May, New Jersey
Through August 31, 2013

Washington Irving's venerable ghost story, first published in 1820, contains virtually no dialog, but abundant pondered ambiguities -- so it is up to the writer and director who is adapting the story in a performance medium to "dramatize" it. Many a writer has tried, in film, animation, stage, and musical versions. Playwright James Rana has taken up the challenge and provided the freshest of takes on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in a delightful production mounted by East Lynne Theater Company in picturesque Cape May, New Jersey. Deftly directed by Gayle Stahlhuth, the company's artistic director, and with a talented cast of seasoned professionals, the hour and twenty minute presentation breezes by on the wings of disarming charm and dramatic authenticity.