Theater Review

Magic/Bird Is Missing its Balls

Once more into the nostalgic sports bio-play breach, dear friend, once more. Following up his portrayal of legendary coach Vincent Lombardi, playwright Eric Simonson digs back into the annals of epic NBA rivalries to lend his hand to the story of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in the bluntly titled Magic/Bird. This play offers about what you would expect of it, provided you're not looking for actual athletic action on the stage or any deep, meaningful insight about the two title figures. 

Flawed Mikado Better Than No Mikado

The Mikado
Collegiate Chorale
American Symphony Orchestra
Carnegie Hall, April 10, 2012

The roaring applause and cheers at the close of The Collegiate Chorale's concert presentation of The Mikado made it abundantly clear that the audience was utterly pleased. Gilbert and Sullivan's once most-frequently performed creation rarely gets an airing in New York, and to hear and see it in this concert version, with a full orchestra, a huge chorus, and guest principals, is certainly a welcome event.

Peter Pan Prequel: Peter and the Starcatcher

Peter and the Starcatcher 
Brooks Atkinson Theater, NYC

Just about everyone knows the Peter Pan story. But how did Peter, Tinkerbell, the Lost Boys, and Captain Hook happen to end up in Neverland? That story is told in Peter and the Starcatcher, a new play that gives us the Peter Pan back story and is opening on Broadway. The show, which is based on a 2004 best-selling children's novel, had a successful and highly praised two-month run off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop a year ago. I wish I could share the enthusiasm that was expressed about the off-Broadway run. While Peter has its assets, including an imaginative production and a good deal of theatricality, much of it, unfortunately, played out in a manner that seemed more tedious than enchanting. 

The Power of Myth

The Soap Myth
Written by Jeff Cohen

Directed by Arnold Mittelman
Produced by National Jewish Theater

Great theater is not always a comfortable experience -- indeed, a measure of unease might be a requirement for compelling drama. The Soap Myth, a superbly written, acted, and directed play, richly compensates the audience for whatever discomfort they might experience along the way to this play's conclusion. The action of this chamber drama is carried forward by a series of amazingly crisp, powerful, and natural conversations among the four-person cast. There are various pairings and groupings of the four, with two players portraying additional characters. The topic is one man’s passionate and relentless quest to conclusively answer what has become a lingering question: Did the Nazis actually manufacture soap from the body fat of their Jewish victims?

Extra, Extra, Read All About Hit

The Nederlander Theatre, NYC

The new Disney Broadway musical Newsies, adapted from the 1992 movie of the same name, tells a fictionalized story, but it is based on real events: the 1899 strike by New York newsboys against publishers including Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. The 1992 movie, which starred Christian Bale, was a flop, grossing less than $3 million, but it developed a cult following. The show arrived on Broadway after a successful Fall run, at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, that received rave reviews.

Falling Slowly Against the Grain

Bernard Jacobs Theatre, NYC

Adapting movies to stage musicals has become a staple on Broadway. The latest example is Once, based on the well-regarded 2006 low-budget film that had success both at the Sundance Film Festival and with art-house audiences. But Once is not your typical movie turned into a musical. It is an intimate, delicate piece, as opposed to flashy, big-budget musicals such as Sister Act or Priscilla Queen of the Desert. Once has a different feel than those, or almost any other Broadway musical. While I didn't totally respond to its story and its music, it is hard not to admire the musical's warmth, sweetness, and artistry.

A Slice of Life Worth Serving

Look for the Woman
Richmond Shepard Theatre, NY

I am leery about attending "slice-of-life" plays. The phrase is credited to French playwright Jean Jullien of the late 19th/early 20th Century, as a goal for those who wished to emphasize naturalism as an antidote to the stiff artificial theater of his era. For me, the phrase had come to mean gritty, often vulgar and clichéd dramas about colorless people "trying to be a somebody" against the odds of their circumstances, and on and on. Yet, how delightfully pleased I am to have attended Look for the Woman, a new play by Christie Perfetti. Look for the Woman, with fine direction by Matilda Szydagis, skillfully elevates and exalts the slice-of-life family drama and generously presents a thoughtful and moving evening of theater.

Challenging Late Williams

Tennessee Williams: In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel
292 Theater
March 7-31, Wednesday-Saturday, 8:30 PM

For those who are up to a fascinating venture into an emotionally dark treadmill fun/horror house, one created by Tennessee Williams in 1969, I highly recommend 292 Theater's production of In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel. For those who are merely up to fine theater, I once again recommend experiencing this example of Williams's later oeuvre, where themes of his earlier great plays are explored within the walls of a demure red-toned Tokyo hotel bar in the late '60s.  

Front & No Longer Center

The great promises that come with a Classic Stage Company production of Bertolt Brecht's Galileo starring F. Murray Abraham are all fulfilled and exceeded. A phenomenal cast lead by a very capable director combines with an inspired production design and the irascible and biting words of Brecht to make a level of production which one often hopes for but so seldom gets. This is theater at its best.

F. Murray Abraham is truly a national treasure of the American theater. Making it all look so effortless, Abraham eases into the title role with relaxed deliveries, a quiet energy that burns with the intense inner fire of discovery, and subtle gestures that regularly strike upon incidental comic notes. His presence is commanding and his interaction with his fellow actors thoroughly human and natural. He is one of those few actors in possession of an Academy Award who is also undeniably a man to the stage born, and we can consider ourselves blessed for his continued appearances thereon. 

Two-Dimensional Characters on Three-Dimensional Horses

Last year, James Miller reviewed War Horse for CultureCatch. Now, with interest in the show growing after the recent release of the movie, which is up for six Oscars, C. Jefferson Thom weighs in with a dissenting opinion.

What is it about animals that pulls on our sense of compassion? An invading alien army can spend the better part of a disaster film evaporating countless numbers of people, but as long as a single dog escapes its death rays there’s a collective sign of relief. Are animals somehow easier to love and care for? War Horse would certainly suggest that this is the case.