Theater Review

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 »

Blow Up Dolls Are Cheaper

zombie_play

If you're looking to spend an hour with the moderately creepy, then Zombie might be for you. This one-man play -- based on a novella by Joyce Carol Oates -- is about serial killer Quentin, who resembles Jeffrey Dahmer in his desire to create a zombie for his own personal uses. This production was adapted for the stage by Bill Connington, who also acts in the piece. Connington attempts to create a character of extreme emotional control, and he succeeds in doing so; the problem is, this can be very tedious to watch. In similar regards he maintains a nearly monotone, nasal voice for most of the piece, somewhat reminiscent of "Gavin," the Bruce McCulloch character from Kids in the Hall. Read more »

Risking Life and Limbs

craveIt is good to see theater groups take artistic risks, and for the second summer, the Potomac Theatre Project has come to New York City for a month to show their work at the Atlantic Theatre Stage 2. Sarah Kane’s Crave and the New York premiere of Neal Bell’s Somewhere in the Pacific opened in previews on July 1. This company prides itself on presenting works that “are unapologetically political in nature.” Political, here, includes the personal since they believe “the personal is always political.” Read more »

The Show Within a Show Within a Show...

title_of_showThe first new musical of the Broadway season isn’t exactly brand new. In fact, [title of show] has been on the scene in New York, off and on, over the past four years. It originated in 2004 at the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF), where new musicals are presented for limited runs; as a result of achieving a good response there, [title of show] had a successful off-Broadway run in 2006 at the Vineyard Theatre. Last year, the authors, who also are the show’s stars, created a successful series of web episodes, which can be viewed on You Tube and on the musical’s own website, called “The [title of show] Show.” Read more »

George Carlin May 12, 1937 - June 22, 2008

george_carlinGeorge Carlin has died of heart failure. Considered one of the two or three greatest stand-up comedians ever, he started doing comedy in 1960 and recorded his first solo album in 1967. Long an astute observer of hypocrisy, language usage, and material avoided by most comics as too controversial, Carlin became notorious for his use of taboo words when that was a rarity in mainstream comedy. His routines involving the "seven words you can never say on TV" provoked an FCC lawsuit in 1973 that went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled against radio station WBAI in 1978. Read more »

Watered Down Pinter

caretakerPinter’s work can be very tricky. With all the purposeful pauses and odd behaviors, there needs to be an underlying drive in the characters, pushing the tension and action forward. Something almost subterranean. And this is what is unfortunately lacking in the production of The Caretaker at the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, now in its 80th season. Of the three actors on stage, only one is fully up to the demands of his part. Jonathan Epstein as the old derelict Davies, brought indoors from a café fight to the single room where all the action occurs, is excellent. He has the requisite paranoid distrust that drives Davies, the endless resentment, and at the same time the cunning self-pity and delusions. Read more »

Neon Lights Are Bright This Year

xanaduThe end of May also marks the end of another Broadway season. The awards season is upon us, with the Tony Awards upcoming (Sunday, June 15). It makes this a good time to take a look back at the Broadway musicals of 2007-2008.

It was a season marked with a fascinating contrast between the revivals and the new musicals. The four major musical revivals include three revered classics of American musical theater: Rodgers and Hammerstein's glorious South Pacific; the brilliant Gypsy, an iconic show many fans believe is the greatest American musical ever written; and Stephen Sondheim's Pulitzer Prize-winning Sunday in the Park with George. Read more »

Young Frankenstein

young_frankenstein.jpgI'm actually one of the few who never saw Mel Brooks's movie Young Frankenstein. I also felt that his Broadway hit The Producers, while a lot of fun, didn't quite live up to all its hype. But when some good seats opened up for Brooks's musical version of Young Frankenstein, which opened late last year at the Hilton Theater, I went for them. I had read both the pros and cons about Young Frankenstein and went in with minimal expectations. Given that background, did it deliver? Yes and no.

Overall, I found the show to be modest fun. It's quite a visual spectacle, with some terrific Robin Wagner sets being one of the definite highlights. Read more »

Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Something

sound_furyWhen William Faulkner put us inside the head of an idiot in section one of his 1929 novel, The Sound and the Fury, it was a radical stylistic choice. An early American practitioner of the stream-of-consciousness style, introduced by such European modernists as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, Faulkner went one step further than Joyce and Woolf by his choice of an idiot narrator, one whose brain was even more chaotic than the ordinary, disorganized mental stream of most humans. What the group Elevator Repair Service has created at New York Theatre Workshop is the stage version of such an experience. Read more »

The Surreal Rock of Stew on Broadway

passing_strangeHas the influence of pop and rock music on the Broadway musical ever been more evident than this season? The Tony nominees have been announced, and all four nominated musicals feature scores heavily influenced, in varying forms, by pop or rock. Of the newcomers, no show pushes the boundaries of how people might look at a Broadway musical more than Passing Strange, which has landed at the Belasco Theatre after having been previously produced at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, then off Broadway last spring at the Public Theater.

The show is a semi-autobiographical story of an artist’s journey and search for self-fulfillment. Its star and creator, Stew, AKA Mark Stewart, founded the critically acclaimed Los Angeles band The Negro Problem in 1995 (and also has among his credits the composition of a song for Spongebob Squarepants). Read more »

Out on a Limb in Damascus

damascusA Scots man, trying to sell a series of multicultural textbooks that teach English to foreigners, lands in contemporary Damascus, Syria. He is quite unsophisticated, sleep-deprived after the long flight there, and eager to return to his home. From this simple premise of “rube out of his depths,” David Grieg’s Damascus opens up a whole world of cultural and erotic possibilities during Paul’s three-day visit and stay at a three-star hotel, under the tutelage of its friendly young desk clerk Zakaria and the lovely school administrator Muna. Read more »

Cry Baby

cry_babyOne of the joys of theater can be the element of surprise. It is going into a new musical with minimal expectations, only to be pleasantly surprised to find that the show is genuinely entertaining. That happened when I saw Cry Baby, the new musical based on the John Waters cult movie (which starred Johnny Depp). I thoroughly enjoyed the Broadway Cry Baby. It is by no means a great musical, and it certainly doesn’t break any new ground, but I had a smile on my face through most of the evening. While Cry Baby doesn’t have the show-stopping excitement or emotional pull of Hairspray, the hit Broadway musical also based on a Waters film, I found it to be far superior to other Broadway movie adaptations such as High Fidelity and The Wedding Singer, and better than the likable but uneven Legally Blonde, which has been running for over a year now. Read more »

It's ENDGAME in Brooklyn

endgameThe "endgame" could go on for years. Every day is a bit of the endgame. But then, one day, it might actually be the end of the endgame. This is Samuel Beckett's insight, his truth, played out in his works, whether the play is Happy Days or Waiting for Godot, or the actual Endgame.

In chess the endgame is the period when the game is dwindling down, most of the power pieces have been lost on both sides, leaving the two kings, perhaps a few pawns, and mostly self-protective moves. It's likely to end in stalemate unless one opponent grows bored or distracted so that the other can actually move to checkmate. Read more »

In the Heights

in_the_heightsI had heard so many good things about the new Broadway musical In the Heights that I was hoping for more from this show, set in the largely Latino Washington Heights section of Northern Manhattan around a July 4 holiday. I didn’t dislike it; in fact, I very much admired its spirit and energy. The score, written by the show's star, newcomer Lin-Manuel Miranda, is appealing, with its Latin-flavored, hip-hop, and rap numbers mixing with some more traditional Broadway sounds. There were plenty of virtuoso performances, and the second act had some touching moments. But, overall, largely due to book and story issues and a major lack of character development, I just couldn’t get totally involved in In the Heights. Read more »

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