Theater Review

Suddenly Last Summer with Sudden Comedy Moments

White Horse Theater Company
Tennessee Williams: Suddenly Last Summer
Hudson Guild Theater
September 16 - October 2, 2011

Suddenly Last Summer is considered to be Tennessee Williams's most poetic play. Williams's carefully crafted words are heard primarily in two long monologues within the play, around which the action takes place. The 1959 film version is a staple of Turner Classic Movies, and I was curious to attend a version based on the original stage script, apparently mounted in honor of the hundredth anniversary of Williams's birth. Read more »

Feels Like She’s Losing This Song…

Marquis Theatre, NYC

As far as musical theatre goes, there are few shows as epic as Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece Follies. Originally opening at the Winter Garden in 1971, since its closing it has created a cult of dedicated followers who eagerly attend every revival hoping to catch a glimmer of fading ecstasy. The current production at the Marquis may not be able to scale such overwhelming expectations, but it certainly makes a respectable and entertaining attempt.

Jan Maxwell plays a sexy Phyllis of great power and seething restraint, pulling off the unlikely trick of making "Could I Leave You?" the show stopper that "Losing My Mind" would normally be. Read more »

Legendary Sondheim Musical Revived

Stephen Sondheim: Follies
Marquis Theatre, NYC

Among musical theater enthusiasts, there are few musicals as revered and discussed as Follies, the legendary 1971 musical featuring a magnificent Stephen Sondheim score and a book by James Goldman. The original production ran for only 522 performances, and audiences did not always respond, but it is regarded by its fans as an opulent, brilliant, and never-to-be-duplicated production of a groundbreaking musical. I saw that original, and I have always felt I may have been a bit too young to fully appreciate it. Since then, among others, I have seen the 1987 London production, a well-regarded mounting at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, a scaled-down Broadway revival ten years ago, and a concert version that was part of the Encores series several years ago. Fans of the show flock to each new production, always hoping that this will be the “perfect Follies” we have long awaited. All the versions I have seen had their attributes and their standout performances, and all have had elements open for legitimate debate and criticism. Has any musical ever inspired as much passion, differing opinions, and intrigue as Follies? Read more »

War Horse a Thrilling Ride

War Horse
Lincoln Center, NYC

The acclaimed production of War Horse is a triumph of theatricality with its stunning mix of a brilliant production, strong staging, and amazing puppetry. If there has been a criticism of War Horse, it has been that the writing does not measure up to the production itself. That is a fair point – War Horse is not a literary masterpiece. But it really doesn’t matter. The story is involving enough, and the overall show is so well constructed with such awe-inspiring theatricality, that you don’t need a Tom Stoppard or Edward Albee-type script to make for a powerful evening of theater. Read more »

It still hasn’t found what it’s looking for....

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
Foxwoods Theatre, NYC

Between the confused book that’s there and the music that you wish weren't, it's difficult to say who failed Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark more: Julie Taymor or Bono and The Edge. Considering the combined track records of these entertainment heavyweights, it is shocking that they should get together only to deliver an overpriced, finely polished turd dressed up as a musical, but after years of delays and an unprecedented seven months of previews, the result cannot match the hype that has surrounded it. Fast forward to the action sequences, because there’s nothing else to see here.

Taymor, an undisputed master of theatrical design and ingenuity, has proven that she is better utilized when limited to the fields she knows. Among her many failings as the piece's book writer (including the introduction of a new villain with the lame name Swiss Miss), she misguidedly foists a figure out of Greek mythology, Arachne, into this comic book world, and while this provides an excuse to create some stunning moments of aerial acrobatics, it demonstrates both her deficient understanding of the genre and a lack of respect for dedicated fans of the series. Read more »

John Leguizamo as John Leguizamo

Ghetto Klown
Lyceum Theatre, NYC

Going to see a one-man show is always a dicey venture, as the details of one’s personal life are bound to hold much more weight for the person who lived them than the one who has to listen to them. While Ghetto Klown, John Leguizamo’s latest one-man show, does not disrupt that trend, Leguiszamo manages to keep it entertaining. Those fond of him and interested in the story of his life will most likely feel he pays the bill for this on-stage therapy session, generously giving energy, humor, and sincerity for his time on the couch. Read more »

Theater of the Sublime: Another Tennessee Hustler

We've been slightly battered over the past decades into believing that if a Tennessee Williams play wasn't already part of our beloved theatrical canon, it was a lesser work. In recent years, though, thanks to daring companies such as The New Group and Tectonic Theater Project, we've learned the problem was a conglomeration of lesser critics (e.g. John Simon), not so much a lesser genius.

Proving the point is Moises Kaufman's brilliant adaptation and direction of a neglected Williams short story, which had been turned into an unproduced screenplay and then forgotten. "One Arm," which was released in a collection of short stories back in 1967, has been kept in print ever since by New Directions Publishing under the exquisite leadership of one Barbara Epler. Read more »

Thoughts About the Tony Awards: The Musicals

It has been a good season for musicals on Broadway. The Book of Mormon is a huge hit, and several other new shows seem poised for nice runs. Nine new musicals opened featuring original scores, as compared to just two last year. We have also had two praised and successful musical revivals. A lot of these musicals proved to be entertaining and crowd-pleasing. How will all this play out on June 12, when the annual Tony Awards are presented?

It is not going out on a limb to predict that The Book of Mormon (pictured) will have a good night. It is almost a sure bet that Mormon will win not only Best Musical, but several other awards. That said, given the strength of the season, there are some competitive races with many worthy nominees. Read more »

Mayday, Indeed!

Mayday! Mayday!

Written and Directed by Dale Walkonen
A Staged Reading

Mayday! Mayday! is an extraordinary and brilliant play, written and directed by Dale Walkonen. A bold statement -- yes! As I enumerate the reasons for such a blunt proclamation, you may get the impression that I am joking, because the play is centered on what might be considered a preposterous array of both global and personal issues, which in other hands would result in a mélange of overblown oration and artificiality. Ms. Walkonen takes on, in turn, early 20th Century feminism, environmentalism, war profiteering, capitalistic manipulation, government censorship, covert and overt propaganda, pacifism, the challenges of the young coming into adulthood, national origin prejudice, the squalor of the Manhattan slums, and then some. Read more »

Who's Your Mommy?

Questions My Mother Can’t Answer
Performed and Written by Andrea Caban
soloNOVA Arts Festival
May 23, 2011

Getting slammed to the pavement by a New York taxi is as fine an occasion as any for the start of a "vision quest." Just such an incident jars Andrea Caban to begin the journey. The Native American vision quest can be defined as: "the learning and initiation process of the apprentice under the guidance of elders." Both women and men engaged in such quests. For Andrea, the comprehensive trauma of her accident and its repercussions leave her with "time out of joint," an uneasy bewilderment, and a kind of universal aversion. Her customary daily life is decidedly "off," and she wishes to regain what she calls her "flow." Thus commences Andrea Caban’s excellent and ultimately profound solo play Questions My Mother Can’t Answer. Read more »

A Normal Heart of Uncommon Strength

The Normal Heart

With Marriage Equality moving to the forefront of the political spectrum, the past two seasons of theater have responded with revivals of some of the strongest gay-themed plays and musicals in the American canon. Despite some very worthy competition, the current revival of The Normal Heart stands out as the strongest production.

After close to three decades from its Off-Broadway début, Larry Kramer's play about the initial silence and lack of government response to the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic still retains the power and emotional potency to render its audiences silent, with the exception of muted sobs of righteous outrage. Read more »

How Daniel Radcliffe Succeeds on Broadway

You have to give credit to Daniel Radcliffe.  With his Harry Potter success, the young star could have played it safe with movie and occasional stage roles.  Instead, he made a terrific stage debut a few years in the demanding play Equus.  Now he is back on Broadway, this time taking on the challenge of musical comedy in a revival of Frank Loesser's prize-winning 1961 musical, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.  Radcliffe makes a winning musical theater debut, and with able help from director/choreographer Rob Ashford, How to Succeed is a thoroughly enjoyable evening of musical comedy. Read more »

МЫ ОТДОХНЕМ! (We will rest!)

This production features the words of Anton Chekhov in his native tongue and, through the use of technology, allows English-speaking audiences to hear the words as they were written with one ear while receiving the line-by-line translations with the other. Read more »

Spotty Sister Act Thrives During Musical Highlights

Sister Act
Broadway Theatre, NYC

Several trends were in evidence during the recently concluded 2010-2011 theater season. First, we continued to see new musicals based on hit motion pictures -- three among this season's newcomers. Musical comedy continues its comeback; at least three of the new musicals, along with both musical revivals, were shows that emphasized the laughs and spirit of old-fashioned musical comedy. Another trend, at least for me, was that the new musicals, while entertaining and often fun, did not rise to the level of greatness.  Read more »

South Park Creators' Broadway Debut

The Book of Mormon
Eugene O'Neill Theatre, NY

Clearly the hit musical of the season and a heavy favorite to win multiple Tony awards, including Best Musical, The Book of Mormon is the new musical by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, along with Robert Lopez, a Tony Award winner for the delightful Avenue Q. The three have collaborated on the book, music, and lyrics, while Parker co-directed the show with Casey Nicholaw, who also did the inventive choreography. But though it is irreverent, funny, slick, and tuneful, the show did not totally win me over. Read more »

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