Theater Review

Birbiglia Rides Again

Mike Birbiglia’s My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend
Barrow Street Theatre
Through Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mike Birbiglia has returned to the Off-Broadway stage, once again not only shedding the mantle of stand-up comedy in exchange for the theatrical, but accomplishing the rare feat of creating a one-man show truly worth seeing. Following the basic format he initiated with Sleepwalk with Me, Mike Birbiglia’s My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend is a different chapter from Birbiglia’s unlikely life told with the same distinctive voice that somehow makes awkward seem cool.

Anything Goes

Anything Goes
Stephen Sondheim Theatre, NYC

Early in Act One of the Roundabout Theatre Company's new revival of Cole Porter's classic 1934 musical, Anything Goes, Sutton Foster and Colin Donnell have the chance to sing one of Porter's great songs, "You’re the Top." It is quite sublime, and from that moment on, you know you're in good hands for the evening. This mostly smashing new production, staged by Kathleen Marshall, is, indeed, to quote another Porter lyric in the show, "delightful, delicious, and de-lovely."

Bringing in the Big Guns

La Cage aux Folles
Longacre Theatre, NYC

Despite what one may think of Harvey Fierstein's gravelly voice, he is an undeniably distinctive actor, and it is a true privilege to see him in the role he wrote for Broadway back in 1982. The current revival of La Cage aux Folles is coming up on its one-year anniversary, and with Christopher Sieber and Fierstein joining the cast, it exudes the freshness of a newly opened production.

Come Fly With Me

Catch Me If You Can
Neil Simon Theatre, NYC

In recent seasons, there have been numerous motion pictures adapted to Broadway musicals. Some have gone on to be big successes on Broadway -- Hairspray and The Producers are just two that come to mind. Others, like High Fidelity and Cry Baby, have been less successful, although I personally was quite fond of the latter show. This season, we have already had Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and Sister Act is currently in previews. The latest show to open is Catch Me If You Can, based on the Steven Spielberg hit movie that starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. It has been adapted by many of the people who brought Hairspray to Broadway.

Plaster Caster

Renovations by Andrew Gerle
White Plains Performing Arts Center, NY
Through April 3, 2011

Something about the opening night performance of Renovations (based on the memoir Renovations: A Father and Son Rebuild a House and Rediscover Each Other by John Marchese) prompted me seek out a copy of the original book it was based on -- which I found, oddly enough, in the "home improvement" section of the spiraling Strand Bookstore. The book is a memoir and not a "how-to" book. The play alternated between wonderfully tight speeches and merely functional dialogue, and I was curious to find out why.

After the play, I was inadvertently introduced to Mr. Marchese during the reception, and inquired how closely the play mirrored his book. He responded, "50/50." What I gathered is that the artful dialogue was drawn directly from the book, and the balance was the work of the playwright, Andrew Gerle. Mr. Gerle is a composer of musicals, arranger of others' compositions, and winner of multiple awards for his original music. Renovations is his first venture into a non-musical play.

His Life Was a Cabaret

Proud to Know You: A Cabaret Celebration of Doric Wilson’s Fifty Years as a Playwright
Billy Blackwell-John Wallowitch Musical Theater Project in association with United Stages, presented as a benefit for TOSOS (The Other Side of Silence)
Directed by Mark Finley
Musical Direction by Steve Ross
The Laurie Beechman Theater
March 19, 2011 (one night only)

Proud to Know You is the kind of event that could take place only in Manhattan, and perhaps only be fully appreciated in Manhattan with its proprietary array of local luminaries on stage and in the audience. It was a unique evening honoring playwright Doric Wilson.

The honoree, whose early work at Café Cino in the 1960s, subsequent plays, and his co-founding of The Other Side of Silence (TOSOS: the first professional theater company to address the gay experience openly and authentically) created his well-earned status as one of the pioneers of off-off-Broadway theater. The evening, hosted by Rick Hinkson and seamlessly directed by Mark Finley, included cabaret performances by long-time friends (not just acquaintances) of Mr. Wilson, interspersed with five scenes from Mr. Wilson's plays.

Low-Cal Desert Bliss

Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
The Palace Theatre, NYC

The concept of a jukebox musical, featuring, among other things, disco songs from the '70s and '80s, and telling the story of three drag queens traveling across the Australian desert in a bus may not instantly excite you. That is the idea behind Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the new Broadway musical, based on the 1994 cult film of the same name.  Don't let any preconceived reservations stop you from giving this musical a chance -- it is a thoroughly enjoyable, generously entertaining show that looks like a real crowd pleaser.

Naked Ambitions

Revealed Burlesque
UNDER St. Marks, NYC
 
Alan Watts, British expat writer about Zen, complained about women who said they did not want to be known for their bodies, but rather their minds (even though said "minds" were filled with petty, trivial notions and unexamined streaming and steaming prattle). Revealed Burlesque gives us the female body shorn of any such cerebral distraction. Each of the six strippers was an authentically class act, bearing scant resemblance to the floozy co-workers of Barbara Stanwyck in William Wellman's Lady of Burlesque. Nowadays, with female nudity ubiquitous, these beautifully bodied ladies resurrect a seductive naughtiness that is fresh and -- even yes -- exhilarating to behold.The evening is hosted by Bastard Keith, a young comic/actor/singer/writer, who is charmingly and disarmingly amusing. His contagious bombastic self-delight is evident as he introduces each stripper and keeps the evening moving swiftly.

History Relieves Itself

colin-quinn-play

Colin Quinn: Long Story Short
Helen Hayes Theatre, NYC
Through February 5, 2011

It's not terribly original nor is it incredibly insightful but Colin Quinn: Long Story Short offers a fair amount of humorous moments with a relaxed delivery and distinctly American approach. Scratching at history's surface, actor/comedian Colin Quinn works to combine comedy with historical commentary and is halfway successful. It feels like an American version of Eddie Izzard's Dress to Kill, simplified for an audience not as savvy in historical trivia and more inclined to respond to images on an over-sized screen than profundity. Instead of witty allusions to semi-obscure figures and occurrences, Quinn sticks to the basics with a lot of accents and character voices thrown in for good measure.