Theater Review

So So Sondheim

road-showMining for gold is a process that can occupy years of effort only to yield very small returns. This draws an appropriate parallel to the amount of time that Stephen Sondheim has put into the many incarnations of Road Show only to end up with a mediocre musical that bears his name but none of his genius. Just as the characters in this story are trying to hustle a series of cons, these actors and director are trying hard to sell this musical that just isn’t worth buying.

As a criticism of American capitalism, the theme is ripe and brought to the stage with perfect timing; unfortunately the exploration lacks depth and scratches at clichés of the flaws in our national character rather than probing with the vigor that the topic deserves. Read more »

From Sinner to Saint: A Man for All Seasons

man-seasonsThe Roundabout knows well how to tell a rich and colorful story with the use of one basic, functional set. Keeping the presentation simple allows the focus to rest on the performances of the actors, and with Frank Langella leading the pack, this proves successful in this current production of A Man for All Seasons by the Roundabout Theatre Company. Langella last appeared on Broadway as Richard Nixon, so it is in a much different cloth that he comes to us as Sir Thomas More, though his command of the stage remains consistent. Read more »

Making Something Out of Nothing

39-steps-broadwayThere is spectacle and there is theater. Spectacle often works to dress up nothing to make it look like something, whereas theater, true theater, can take nothing and magically transform it into something. The 39 Steps is unquestionably theater as its cast of four plays fifty, changing worlds and characters with the use of hats, costumes, flashlights, shadows, and welcomed suspension of disbelief. Nearly a year after its opening, one theater later with another theater to go, this comedy defies gravity as it changes venues and continues to thrive. I recently revisited this production, having originally seen it shortly after its opening, curious to see how it was holding up. Aside from missing Cliff Saunders, who originated the role of Man #1, this current cast is keeping the spirit alive of a very fun and entertaining piece of theater.

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The Great Rip-Off at the Belasco

american-buffalo-playThe extremely miscast revival of David Mamet's American Buffalo at the Belasco Theatre is one more depressing instance of confusing the screen actor with the stage actor. They possess different skills. We don't expect hockey stars to play NFL football, so why, again and again, do we see untrained screen or television actors taking lead roles on Broadway? Is this just one more case of the dumbing-down of America? The producers fear that audiences won't come without big names that they recognize. Read more »

Going for the Political Jugular

Farragut-North-posterThe primary and election season seemed to go on forever. But at last we have a newly chosen president, which makes me wonder just how relevant the satirical drama Farragut North will prove. Beau Willimon’s quite humorous yet dark new play opened November 12 in an Atlantic Theatre Company production, directed by Doug Hughes. It takes place during several crucial days in a presidential primary campaign, the year being 2008, as the two leading Democratic candidates at the Iowa caucuses are battling for victory. A former political operative himself, Willimon is fascinated with the behind-the-scenes battles, strategies, and betrayals of those who run the campaign: not the candidates (whom we never see on stage) but the professional spin-masters. Their commitment to the process -- the game -- is like pit bulls at a dog fight. It’s an adrenalin rush. Read more »

In Defense of an Epic Musical

tale-two-citiesThe critics were not kind to the new Broadway musical version of the Charles Dickens classic A Tale of Two Cities. Reviews ranged from mixed (critics referring to the novel’s famous first lines in saying the musical wasn’t the best of shows, but wasn’t the worst either) to harsh. While Tale certainly recalls shows such as Les Miserables and does not break any new ground, for me, at least, it tells a great story in a compelling, atmospheric, and dramatic fashion. Some critics feel that the era of epic musicals is past. But if the audience is given a good production of a strong story, I don’t see any problem with that. Read more »

The Beast is Back

urban-deathLike a deck of demented cards, Zombie Joe reveals his latest creation at The Players Theatre, masterfully tainting old MacDougal Street with all sorts of blood, guts, and gore. Whatever your secret nightmares may be, Zombie Joe's Underground has something to unleash for your vicious fantasies.

Presented as a night of horrific scenes and personified fears, Urban Death was the perfect way to usher in the ghosts and demons of All Hallow's Eve and remains relevant for the horror that the upcoming holiday season can bring.

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The Power of Full Presence

meeting-bodhisattvaIt's been said that the 20th century belonged to the West, and particularly to the United States of America, while the 21st century will belong to Asia, particularly China. If this is indeed the case - and it seems likely - then we of the falling-off empire need to know more about the Eastern world on many levels. Art is certainly one window into these Asian cultures. Right now at BAM's 2008 Next Wave Festival one can experience a stunning theatrical work from Taiwan, Meeting with Bodhisattva.

The U Theatre, directed by Liu Ruo-Yu, presents - through movement, drumming, vocal sounds, and ritual - a compelling 80-minute performance marked by commitment, discipline, and synchronization.

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Watch the Little Man Be Destroyed

woyzeck-bamIcelandic theater director Gisli Orn Gardarsson has brought a very dark, very disturbing production of Georg Büchner's Woyzeck to BAM's 2008 Next Wave Festival. Of course Woyzeck, written in German in 1836, assembled after the author's death, published in 1879, and first staged in 1913, is a famously brooding work, considered by many the first truly modernist play. In 25 or so short scenes depicting a kind of everyman's destruction, Büchner captured the abysmal state of poverty and powerlessness experienced by many in his time. But this weird, expressionistic narrative of dominance, cruelty, jealousy, and betrayal has continued to seem relevant. Read more »

Cracking Up

enter-laughing-playIt is rare for a failed musical to be given a second chance over thirty years after its unsuccessful debut and turn out, in its new production, to be a rousing success. But, that is exactly what is happening at the York Theatre, where Enter Laughing has not only been given a delectable mounting, but has also gotten great reviews and become a solid hit.

You may have heard of Enter Laughing, but probably not its musical rendition. It debuted back in 1958 as a "semi-autobiographical" novel by Carl Reiner, and was turned into a successful Broadway play, starring Alan Arkin, in 1963.

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Wild Ride to Hell & Back

beast_artAt the heart of Michael Weller’s new play Beast is a metaphor that captures the deep alienation of soldiers returning from Iraq. They exist in a kind of in-between world of the living and the dead, not truly of either, so changed, both visibly and invisibly. Directed by the talented Jo Bonney and produced at the New York Theatre Workshop, Beast is the surreal tale of two seriously wounded and disfigured veterans returning to the States from a military hospital in Germany. One of them, Jimmy Cato, has suffered facial scars and a missing arm, while his best pal and sergeant, Buddy Voychevsky, seems to have suffered the loss of an arm, massive burns, and a major head injury that has left him looking like a monster with a bowling ball for a head. Read more »

Nude Ambitions

equusMuch of the buzz surrounding the revival of Equus revolves around the Broadway debut of Daniel Radcliffe, best known for his Harry Potter role in the very successful series of movies. I’ve never seen a Harry Potter movie, but I was excited to see the play itself for a different reason. I saw the original production, which had come to Broadway after it had premiered in London back in 1973. The other lead role, that of psychiatrist Martin Dysart, was originated on Broadway by Anthony Hopkins, who gave a dynamic and memorable performance, and was later played by Richard Burton, who recreated the role for the film version. Read more »

Something Wicked This Way Comes…

poe-zombie-joe“Edgar Allan Poe’s Masque of the Red Death & The Tell-Tale Heart & The Bells”

A strange wind has blown us a dark delicacy from Los Angeles in the form of Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group. Breaking more than the fourth wall, this staged adaptation of Poe, currently playing at The St. Luke’s Theatre, is a welcomed change from the norm.

If you’re looking for a night of traditional theater, this is not the show for you. However, if you’d to take a gamble on something you haven’t seen before, then look no further. The audience is attacked from all angles, including the lobby, as blood and sexuality ooze from the stage, providing a taste of the dark side for lovers of the macabre. Read more »

Carvajal Wears Contacts

green-eyes-playNormally a musical without a book would represent a work-in-progress, but this is not the case with Green Eyes. Although this new “boy meets girl” love story does not shoot for the moon, it hits what it aims dead-center.

Making its New York debut in this year’s Fringe Festival, Green Eyes tells a sweet and simple love story using only song and dance, no dialog. It is a basic story about two twenty-something lovers who meet, fall in love, have a fleeting relationship, face conflicts, and ultimately split up. Read more »

Squeaky Clean HAIR by Pantene Pro-V

hair_playThe most offensive thing about The Public’s current production of HAIR is how much we need an honest revival of this musical and how the opposite was delivered.

Fault falls first with the director, Diane Paulus. In directing a play that was intended to be for “the people,” as was announced from the stage before the show began, Paulus decided to stage the majority of the action for one third of the audience. Particularly disturbing about this move is the fact that most of the people who actually waited in a very long line all day for their tickets were sitting on the two sides of the house that were not being played to at all. Read more »

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