Theater Review

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 »

Theater of the Awkward

callous-cadCallous Cad

With the downtown theater scene disappearing in a rapid fashion, if it hasn't vanished already, Tom X. Chao is one of the persistent playwrights working to keep it alive. Callous Cad, Chao's newest play, showing at the new Dixon Place theater, makes for a refreshing evening as he conducts a quirky exploration of his unsatisfactory love.

The kind of love pushed in commercials and the movies is often something people don't experience, or only for a short while in the beginning before the realities of human relations have time to sink in. Tom X. Chao finds his subject in that discontentment that is more commonly felt and less likely to be advertised. Read more »

Memphis, Maam!

memphis-broadwayMemphis

It is probably merely coincidence, but the subjects of race relations and music's impact on American culture are prevalent in a number of New York musical productions this season. Three revivals -- the enchanting Finian's Rainbow, Dreamgirls, which is playing an engagement at the legendary Apollo Theater before beginning a national tour, and Ragtime -- all deal with the issue of race.

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Dreamgirls at the Apollo

dreamgirls-apolloOver many years of theatergoing, I don't know if any show has been as consistently exhilarating, thrilling, and powerful for me as Dreamgirls. I have seen five different productions, starting with the original Broadway production, and was excited about the prospect of seeing my sixth, especially given that it was a new production at an historic venue, Harlem's Apollo Theater. After all, Dreamgirls is a musical that had never let me down. I can't say that this production, which runs until December 12 at the Apollo, then heads out for a national tour, is a major letdown. If I had never seen Dreamgirls before, I am sure I would have been thrilled by the many sizzling moments.

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Bringing the Terror Home

mid-east-piecesMid-East Pieces

With the health care debate in the forefront, the situation in the Middle East seems to have taken a back seat in the American news, but that's probably because the war isn't being fought in our backyard. What Barefoot Theatre Company successfully does with Mid-East Pieces is bring that terror onto home turf. This is one of most moving plays depicting the current conditions in the Middle East, and playwright Israel Horovitz is to be commended for handling it in such a blunt and unbiased manner. Read more »

Family Friendly Zombie Joe

GOLDFISH_TWINS_PHOTO_8The Goldfish Twins Swim the Big Blue Sea!

Last year New York got its first taste of Zombie Joe and his mastery of adapting horror to the stage. This year he’s back, under the name Limecat Family Theatre Company, with an all-new children’s show, The Goldfish Twins Swim the Big Blue Sea!, proving equally adept at entertaining children now as he did lovers of Edgar Allen Poe last season.

Playing at both St. Luke’s Theatre (The Tortoise and the Hare’s Holiday Hoop-La) and Actor’s Temple Theatre (this show), with alternating casts, Limecat is a theater company to keep in mind for families looking to entertain and educate their wee ones through efforts of the stage. Read more »

The Vibrator Play: A Thrilling Premise

Vibrator_PlayWho knew that some doctors in the medical community of 1880s America were using electric vibrators to treat hysterical women? Playwright Sarah Ruhl knew, that’s who. And apparently novelist Ami McKay, and historian Rachel Maines. But still, it is hardly a widely known practice for most theatergoers. If Ruhl’s In the Next Room or The Vibrator Play is successful, a whole slew of people will be aware of this rather unorthodox late 19th and early 20th century approach to dealing with hysterical patients.

Ruhl’s play opens with the perfect image of the Victorian wife, a lovely young woman, standing on stage in her parlor, holding an infant to her chest. She is the angel in the house, dressed in an elegant gown, wearing a corset, beaming with happiness in this domestic scene. Read more »

Fighting for Revival

finians-rainbowThere’s an interesting operation going on at the St. James Theatre. An old musical is in the ICU, with a dusty book and a catchy score, and they’re trying desperately to revive it. It looked like they might lose it in the first act during some real moments of touch and go where a fatal flat line of boredom seemed eminent but the good news is, by the end they manage to stabilize Finian’s Rainbow.

How they pick what musicals should be revived will forever remain a mystery to me, and this current revival of Finian’s Rainbow didn’t shed any light on that question. Read more »

This Bird Has Flown

bye-birdieI saw the Roundabout Theatre Company’s current revival of Bye Bye Birdie before the mostly negative reviews were published. Yet even then word was out, via the internet chat boards, that this was a very problematic production. So I found myself wondering as I walked into the newly renovated Henry Miller's Theatre whether this production could possibly be as bad as some of the scathing online comments would indicate. Well, after seeing the revival, I would say that this Birdie is not quite the total misfire that some have portrayed. But unfortunately it was not the winning production it should have been, just a modestly entertaining show. Because of the strength of the material itself, there are some charming moments, but overall it is a revival undermined by major casting and directorial issues. Read more »

The Laughs Will Go On

therapy-celineChristana Cataldo plays a hilarious personal catastrophe caught in the headlights of unrequited love, looking for laughs in all the right places. Exploiting the music of Celine Dion for its comic value, this one-woman show made its one night appearance in the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) this past Tuesday night to a sold out house, and if there’s any prophecy in audience reaction, you hopefully will get another chance to see In Therapy with Celine some time in the very near future.

Serving up drug, food, and alcohol abuse with a side of stalking, this fast-paced cabaret piece will appeal to both Dion fans and haters alike. Read more »

Inferior Follow-Up: Superior Donuts

superior-donutsTheatergoers attending Superior Donuts in hopes of seeing another Tracy Letts play of the caliber of his award-winning August: Osage County will be sorely disappointed. It’s not really good and it’s not entirely bad; what it does manage to be is thoroughly mediocre.

The chief flaw with this production lies in its writing. Letts uses the central figure of burned-out draft dodger Arthur Przybyszewski, aptly played by Michael McKean, to act as the kingpin in a very weak commentary on America and the many races of people it is comprised of. Read more »

Laughter in the Land of Celebrity Self-Love

Rachel_DratchCelebrity Autobiography is screamingly, laugh-out-loud funny. In its fall run, it draws a young, excited audience. The stage is simple, the concept is simple too, but the product is brilliant. First conceived by actor and producer Eugene Pack, the subtitle of the show is “In their own Words,” and that is exactly what occurs on stage. Wonderfully talented actors and comics step up to the mike and read from the published autobiographies of such luminaries as Joan Lunden, Tommy Lee of Motley Crue, the Jonas Brothers boy band, Liz Taylor, Lonnie Anderson, and my personal favorite, the ever cool, narcissistic, and horny Burt Reynolds.

Pack claims he used to entertain his friends by reading out loud from such works, and his pals would insist he must be making it up. Read more »

New and Improved Next to Normal

next-to-normalI first saw the musical Next to Normal back in January 2008, when it was in previews for its Off Broadway run at the Second Stage Theater. I had some reservations at the time, but there was also much to admire, in particular a second act that ultimately became gripping and powerful. I returned to the show later in its off Broadway engagement, and it had become tighter and had clearly improved. But the authors correctly recognized that still more work was needed. The musical resurfaced earlier this year for an engagement in Washington, then made the move to Broadway, where it opened this past spring and went on to win three Tony Awards, including Best Score and a Best Actress award for the terrific Alice Ripley. Read more »

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