Theater Review

Silly, Silly American History

bloody-jacksonBloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson
Bernard Jacobs Theatre, NYC

A biography of President Andrew Jackson set to Emo music and converted into a Broadway musical may sound like a random joke one might hear on Family Guy, but Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson makes it a reality to be reckoned with. Fresh from its Off-Broadway run at The Public, this new musical offers audiences something original through its bizarre blend of subject, genre and style. Read more »


critical-mass-playCritical Mass
The Lion Theater at Theater Row, NYC
Through November 7, 2010

Imagine this: You arrive at the Lion Theater for a performance of Critical Mass, just as intermission is ending. Frustrated and annoyed with yourself for being late, you seat yourself as the second act commences. For the most part, you truly enjoy it -- and so you mentally kick yourself for missing the first act. The reality: If you had been on time, you may have experienced a frustration and annoyance equaling or surpassing that of having been late. Read more »

UPS delivers packages…

nightmare-nurseNightmare: Superstitions

…or so we were told by a frail and disturbed inmate, bleeding from her rear through a filthy hospital gown, intently whispering to our group as we waited to enter Nightmare: Superstition. This year’s theme is focused on superstitions and the fears that feed them, setting the haunted house in Bloomingdale's Lunatic Asylum. Visitors are instructed to follow the requests of the residents they encounter or suffer the consequences.

Nightmare: Superstition employs a wide variety of tricks and techniques to put its guests on edge, toying with four of the five senses, leaving only your nose free from drawing in the terror. Avoiding some of the problems from last year's manifestation, this creep show relies less on confrontational, in-your-face ghouls and more on ingenuity and craft. Creator/Artistic director Timothy Haskell and his creative team celebrate the limitations of this chosen theme, mining it for all its potential horrors. Read more »

Waiting for This Life to be Over

life-theater-photoA Life in the Theatre
Written by David Mamet
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, NYC
Through January 2, 2011

Someone out there must be determined to have a new Mamet revival on Broadway every season. With this current revival of A Life in the Theatre, it appears that they are scratching the bottom of Mamet's literary barrel. In the end, neither Patrick Stewart’s ample skills as an actor nor Neil Pepe's able direction can put any real meat on this half-baked sketch of a play. Read more »

Gimme Some Leg Action

legs-and-all-playLegs and All

Legs and All provides the audience with a disarming and engaging hour of nearly wordless pantomime. Current theatergoers may indeed find it refreshing to be comfortably and thoroughly entertained as a whimsical boy/girl saga unfolds, conveying all that needs to be known without the often shrill and histrionic chatter of "the stage." The whole undertaking is silently played with a child-like charm and equally child-like intensity that could melt the heart of even the most hardened, cynical, world-weary audience (AKA New Yorkers).

The players and co-creators of this physical comedy are Summer Shapiro and Peter Musante. Both are highly skilled in the broad and subtly humorous ways of the face and body and, more important, have real presence. Read more »

Broadway Stands Still

time-stands-still-playTime Stands Still
Cort Theater, NYC

In a theatrical world weighted down by revivals, it is always refreshing to see an original play go into a Broadway house, but discouraging when the new ends up feeling much like the old. Donald Margulies's Time Stands Still is one of those plays: it is a new work, it is a fairly solid production with a passable cast and it ultimately fails to leave any lasting marks.

Margulies seems to be pushing for something deeper than his play is able to wrap itself around. Read more »

Every Picture Tells A Story

larry-kroneLarry Krone (with Janet Kennedy)
Picture of Dorian Gray
Smack Mellon
October 7, 2010

Performance artists usually fall into one of two groups: those who eschew traditional tropes and practices of theater, like Matthew Barney and Ann Liv Young, and those who embrace their theatrical-hybrid past. Larry Krone falls into the second category, having evolved from a highly-skilled sculptor/draughtsman/installation artist into, in his words, “artist/entertainer.” In his most recent piece at Smack Mellon, Picture of Dorian Gray, Krone showed no signs of wanting to switch camps, giving the audience its full measure of both art and entertainment; with his attention to detail in handmade costumes and props he doesn’t just embrace theater, he gives it a huge bear hug and sloppy wet kiss. Read more »

You've Got Hate Mail

hate-mailA comedy solely dramatized from emails and text messages? So the promotional materials claimed. Would I be looking at computer screen projections for an hour and a half with no intermission? Or perhaps a long comic PowerPoint presentation? When the house lights dimmed and the stage lights went up, I was relieved see no screen upon which to project anything, as five live actors seated themselves in front of laptops neatly spaced out on The Triad's narrow stage.

What unfolded was a hilarious, riotous, and over-the-top evening's presentation of a meticulously crafted bedroom farce sans bedroom (or any "room," for that matter). The story was played out by the five actors, speaking as they email and text, all seated for the duration. Read more »

Hellman's Hungry Foxes

the_little_foxes_3Upfront confession: I've never particularly cared for Lillian Hellman's plays. To me they are unsubtle, cruel, obvious, and -- worst of all -- moralistic. That said, the New York Theatre Workshop production of The Little Foxes, directed by Ivo van Hove, does possess the merit of stripping the text down to its essence. We see, hear, feel the deep commitment of the characters to their fiercely hungry greed. From the moment they stride on stage, they take the space. The three Hubbard siblings -- Ben, Oscar, and Regina -- are the little foxes grown up, fighting for money and power, and licking their chops over imagined riches. There is no sub-text. Read more »

Creepy Addams

common-air-playThe Addams Family

Though it opened some time ago, seeing The Addams Family recently reminded me that one can occasionally enjoy a musical while still recognizing that it is not a particularly good show. The issues with the show are easy to recognize, yet I have to admit that I found The Addams Family to be surprisingly entertaining.

This new Broadway musical is, of course, based on the famous Charles Addams characters, who have previously appeared in cartoons, in a 1960s television series, and in feature films. Read more »

In False Alarms We Talk

common-air-playThe Common Air

One-person shows are a risky business that generally feel more like a showcase for the artist rather than a play for the audience. The Common Air is a one-man show that rises above this common pitfall, delivering a commentary on America through a selection of engaging characters brought together in conversation while being held under what turns out to be a false alarm.

Alex Lyras (the one-man) deftly creates six separate characters: an optimistic, immigrant cabdriver, an art dealer battling with a life-changing decision, a quick-talking lawyer, a hapless DJ, a Texas professor with son in tow, and an American of Iraqi descent who has just returned from his first journey to the country of his birth. Read more »

Tony Awards Thoughts and Ruminations

Fela_BroadwayFor a theater fan, no awards show comes close to the Tony Awards, which will take place on June 13 from Radio City Music Hall and will be televised live on CBS. Yes, it goes up against the NBA Championship series on ABC, but since my Cleveland Cavaliers were unceremoniously eliminated by the Boston Celtics in the second round, I don’t have to worry about being torn between basketball and the Tonys. Of course, with the announcement of the nominations, there are inevitably predictions about who should and/or will win, along with some regrets about those not nominated. I have seen a lot more of the musicals this season than the plays, so I’ll focus mostly on the musicals.

There are mixed responses to the 2009-2010 theater season when it comes to new musicals. None received universal raves or became sellout hits, like Billy Elliot did last year. The musical that is doing best at the box office, The Addams Family, received poor reviews and was not even nominated for Best Musical. Only two of the new musicals featured original scores composed for these shows. Read more »

No Risks in New York Theatre Workshop Production

Restoration_ClaudiaClaudia Shear's new play, Restoration, takes us to contemporary Florence with the middle-aged art restorer who wins the prize of restoring Michelangelo's famous statue of David for its 500th birthday celebration. This job is certainly a coup in the art world, and Giulia, the heroine, works hard on her task, clambering up and down the scaffolding, arguing with the handsome museum guard, fighting to use the methods she has invented, resenting the press, ignoring the tourists -- in short, she connects to the high art of the Renaissance and gives herself over, heart and soul, to David. He is young, he is heroic, he is marble, he is beautiful.

But what does one do with a play that is neither very good nor very bad? Describe it with kindness, I suppose.

The play is entertaining, witty at times, clever in its staging, but essentially tame. It reminds me of the worst of Wendy Wasserstein -- plays for people who don't want to be over-stimulated. Restoration is a play without risk or significant conflict. Read more »

Low-Key La Cage Still Triumphs

la-cage-broadwayLa Cage Aux Folles

"The Best of Times" has always been one of my favorite Jerry Herman songs. I love the way it develops, from the yearning and even a bit of melancholy in its early stages, then slowly building until it ultimately explodes into a joyous celebration. Even in the less than perfect 2004 revival, "Best of Times" was one of the high points. But I don't know if the number has ever been as glorious as it was in the new revival now playing on Broadway, where it flat out stopped the show cold, and quite deservedly. Read more »

Promises Not Delivered!

promises-promises-broadwayPromises, Promises

I was in college when the original Promises, Promises played on Broadway. It was 1968, and the musical featured a score by the noted pop team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, with a book by Neil Simon, based on Billy Wilde's Oscar winning movie The Apartment, which starred Jack Lemmon. The score marked another example of the infusion of pop music into Broadway scores, and Promises, Promises proved to be a big hit, running for over two years. It wasn't a great musical, but it was highly enjoyable, and Broadway legend Jerry Orbach won a well-deserved Tony for his performance in the leading role. Read more »

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