Theater Review

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 »

Who's The Idiot Now?

american-idiot-broadwayAmerican Idiot

I had no idea how I would react to the new Broadway production American Idiot. I grew up in the '50s and '60s, so I certainly am not the target demographic. I’ll confess that I know almost nothing about Green Day and their music, and I had never listened to the album upon which the musical is based. I’ve been a fan of some rock-oriented musicals, such as Movin’ Out, Spring Awakening, and Tommy, but have been less enthusiastic about Rent, Hair, and Passing Strange. After that preamble, my bottom line on American Idiot: I very much enjoyed it. Read more »

Let's Slap Some Lipstick on this Pig

American-Idiot-play.jpgAmerican Idiot

They had nothing to say and they said it loudly. Despite the very energetic efforts from a cast of attractive young men and women, American Idiot is weighted down by a pervading sense of apathy which escapes the confines of its thematic intent and infests the overall tone of the production.

The book, or what little of a book there is, skips out on the bill early on, leaving the music of Green Day with a tab it couldn't possibly cover. These songs may be able to carry a concert, but they lack the meat to make up for this music's missing components.

The story is fragmented and random, loosely following the lives of three friends who end up divided between three contrived extremes: they part, things happen, they meet again. Read more »

Why The Boys in the Band Is Still Relevant

boys_in_bandThe Boys in the Band

Upon its first staging in 1968, The Boys in the Band was seen as a groundbreaking work of true daring and honesty. Its hilarious portrayal of a group of gay men in New York was unapologetically queer, and for the first time none of the homosexual characters would “bump themselves off at the end of the story.” Yet, in just three short years, by the time the film version was released, attitudes towards the play and film had changed. The characters then seemed dated, stereotypical, and worse, self-loathing. Read more »

A Comic for All Ages - Mike Birbiglia

mike-birbigliaSome comedians are clean and inherently appeal to a more conservative crowd, while others defy censorship and naturally draw a less sensitive audience, but it is rare to find a comedian who can play to both sides of that spectrum. Mike Birbiglia is one of those rare comedians, offering a unique performance that three generations of the same family could attend together and collectively enjoy.

Birbiglia, currently testing out new material at Caroline’s in New York City, continues to develop his blend of stand-up and storytelling, craftily weaving jokes into a compelling narrative that has a beginning, middle and end, punctuated with clever callbacks. Read more »

A Talent to Provoke: Corin Redgrave 1939-2010

corin-redgrave.It is hardly surprising that Corin Redgrave became an actor. His father was one of the leading theatrical knights of his generation (which included Olivier and Richardson); his grandparents were also in the profession, as was his mother. His sisters Lynn and Vanessa are also leading lights, and they became a respected dynasty, but as with such a lineage, controversy, scandal and tragedy featured as much in their personal lives as it did in the parts they played. He virtually forsook his calling following a trajectory into radical politics, but finally returned to his roots, successful, rewarded, and respected.

Redgrave was born in 1939 on the eve of the Second World War, and was christened after a character in As You Like It. His childhood was idyllic in Bromyard, well out of reach from the bombs that devastated London, a period he brilliantly evoked in 1995 via his unorthodox but touchingly insightful biography My Father, Michael Redgrave. Read more »

Heavy Minstrel Blues

Scottsboro-BoysThe true saga of the Scottsboro Boys has been told in books and on television. It doesn’t seem like an obvious candidate for a story that would be made into a musical. In 1931, nine young African Americans, aged nineteen and younger, were on a train to Memphis when they were arrested and falsely accused of raping two white girls. They were jailed in Scottsboro, Alabama, where they were convicted in a mob atmosphere by an entirely white jury. Protests ensued outside of Alabama, and there were re-trials and even hearings before the Supreme Court in this story about one of the uglier and more unfortunate situations in U.S. racial history.

The great songwriting team of John Kander and Fred Ebb, who successfully musicalized the rise of Nazi Germany in Cabaret and the story of the “merry murderesses” in Chicago, came up with a conceit, as they did in those two earlier musicals, that allowed this story to be told as a musical. Read more »

A Mixed Bag of Cheap Laughs

happy-poorhouse-playBetween the absurdity of its characters and the contrivance of its conflicts, Happy in the Poorhouse gives off the prevailing feeling of a network sitcom on the verge of jumping the shark. Returning after last season’s much-hyped The Pied Pipers of the Lower East Side, The Amoralists and playwright/director Derek Ahonen have provided us with another ambiguous comedy, muddled with messages, uncertain of what it's trying to say or do.

Ahonen writes freely, unafraid to ramble in Tarantino-like banter that tries to fill the many potholes in his bumpy plot. There are comic moments that connect with some clever dialogue, but these few hits fail to justify the close to two hours of failed attempts. Read more »

Yank! Offers a Musical Twist

yank-broadwayThe musical Yank! that opened off-Broadway this week at the York Theatre refers to itself as “A World War II Love Story.” It is, indeed, but Yank! is not your conventional wartime love story, but rather a love story between two gay soldiers. The plot revolves around Stu, a young soldier grappling with and coming to terms with his own sexual orientation, and Mitch, who is having a more difficult time dealing with the obvious attraction he has for Stu.

What makes Yank! so ingenious is that its creators, Joseph and David Zellnik, wrote it in the style of an old-fashioned 1940s musical, with plenty of standard musical comedy and dance moments, even a dream ballet. Read more »

The Temperamentals Review

temperamentals-musicalThe Temperamentals

As was recently pointed out in a New York Times article, this theater season is loaded with productions that explore gay themes. They range from such musicals as the off-Broadway Yank! and a Broadway revival of La Cage Aux Folles to off-Broadway plays old (a revival of The Boys in the Band) and new (The Pride), plus a new play that has made the move from off-Broadway to Broadway (Next Fall), just to name a few. Another entry is Jon Marans’s fine and intriguing play The Temperamentals, which had an off-off-Broadway run last summer and has now opened for a commercial run at the New World Stages. Read more »

Come Worship at the Shrine: Fela!

fela-musicalIf you want of taste of what it must have felt like to attend the original Broadway production of HAIR, skip seeing its current revival and head straight to Fela!. Music, movement, drugs, sexual liberation, political protest, and the fight for human rights are all in full swing at the Eugene O'Neill Theater in a new, musical exploration of one of Africa's most daring and inspiring gadflies, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

Born in 1938, Fela showed musical inclinations early in life. At the age of twenty he began traveling abroad, learning different ethnic styles of music that he would eventually combine with traditional African beats, obtaining international fame with an entirely new genre known today as Afrobeat. Read more »

Race: Quasi-Legal

race-mametRace, written and directed by David Mamet, is an hour and fifteen minutes of legal rhetoric that toys with a meaningful examination of racial relations but ultimately can’t reach a compelling verdict. Too long to be a one-act and too short to be anything else, this stocking stuffer of a drama completes it bah humbug with a "12 minute intermission" which was added so people wouldn’t think they paid full price for half a play.

Deserving more blame as writer than director, Mamet battles with what one can safely assume is a suppressed case of white-boy guilt hidden beneath blanket statements regarding race. Read more »

Pants-Down, the Best Musical of the Season

little-night-musicStephen Sondheim: A Little Night Music

The usually warranted anxieties and irritations over ill-equipped film actors polluting the Broadway stage can happily be put to rest for the current revival of A Little Night Music. It will come as no surprise that the legendary Angela Lansbury delivers once again, but Catherine Zeta-Jones does something few have done for some time now: makes a leap from film to the stage that we can only hope she will repeat.

If you are not familiar with the work of composer Stephen Sondheim, this production presents the perfect opportunity for an introduction. If you already know and love the musical master, then it’s time to treat yourself to an early Christmas present. Read more »

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