Have You Seen This Dog? A review of “The Play That Goes Wrong”

Have You Seen This Dog?
A review of
“The Play That Goes Wrong”
at the Lyceum Theatre
April 6th – 7:00pm

When I saw The Play That Goes Wrong during its first week of previews, I was approached at intermission by one of the members of the ‘Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’, who are attempting to put on a 1920s’ murder mystery, asking me if I had seen a man with a yellow shirt I told him that I was wearing a yellow shirt to which he replied, “You’re no help at all!” and scurried away muttering under his breath.

At my second viewing last night, as a representative of the Press, I was reprimanded by another ‘Drama Society’ member for my scarf/tie was “Inappropriate for Theatre wear” and “Didn’t anyone ever teach you how to dress?” and followed up with other cast members apologizing to me and arguing with him about how he treats the American audiences.

Such are the antics before the show and during intermission contributing to arguably the funniest and most well executed comedies I have ever seen in my life!

The Play That Goes Wrong now playing at the Lyceum Theatre (149 West 45th Street, NYC) is every door slamming, pratfall, missed cue, early entrance farcical comedy you have ever seen rolled into one and on steroids! It is nearly two hours of constant laughter, guffaws and “Oh no!” moments ever put on stage.

As I mentioned above, the members of the ‘Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’, are attempting to put on a 1920s’ murder mystery called, “The Murder at Haversham Manor”, written by Susie H. K. Brideswell, but that play isn’t really important, as a matter of fact, after two viewings, I’m still not sure ‘whodunnit’ or why! It’s the performance, or lack thereof, of the play that is the point here.

You can already sense that things are going to get out of hand from the moment you enter the Theatre and see the crew, led by Annie, the stage manager, played with a subtle brilliance by Bryony Corrigan (during previews I saw Nancy Zamit who was equally great) and Trevor, the company’s lighting and sound operator, played with expert daftness by Rob Falconer, (who spends most of the play in a box above stage right working lights and sound while texting and not paying attention),  who are puttering around on the stage fixing last minute set and prop problems. They even enlist the help of an unsuspecting audience member down front. Did I mention the completely inappropriate pre-show house music playing while all this is going on?

When the lights go down we are introduced to Chris, played with appropriate snootiness and skill by Henry Shields, who is the head of the ‘Drama Society’, ‘Director’ of the play, and who plays the character of Inspector Carter. He is obviously stalling for time as the crew is still readying the set, which keeps falling apart as quickly as they can fix it.

From here it gets crazy, so pay careful attention. Each person is three people. The Actor, the ‘Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’ member, and the character they portray in “The Murder at Haversham Manor”. Got it? Ok. Moving on…

The play within a play opens with Jonathan playing Charles Haversham, (played with deafening subtlety by Greg Tannahill, the worst corpse ever) who is dead (?) being discovered in his study at his engagement party by Robert (the purposefully overacted, pompously riotous, and agile Henry Lewis) playing Thomas Colleymoore, Charles’ best friend, and Dennis (daftly played by Jonathan Sayer) playing Perkins, Charles’ manservant, who can’t remember his lines and shouts most of them.

After discovering the body they try to figure out the best way to break the news to Sandra (delightfully hammed up and overplayed by Charlie Russell) playing Florence Colleymoore, Charles’ fiancè and Thomas’ sister who has also been having an affair with Max (who as portrayed with calculated silliness by Dave Hearnplaying Cecil Haversham ( who gets distracted by audience laughter and applause), Charles’ brother (as well as Arthur the Gardener).

Confused? GOOD! That’s how it’s supposed to be. But it’s not about who plays whom – it’s about the timing. TIMING IS EVERYTHING and it has never been better timed than by this group of actors. While what goes wrong, and I refuse to spoil it for you here, seems to be a sequence of random events ‘just happening’ they are, in reality, a series of perfectly staged ‘accidents’. What impressed me most is that there is nothing happening on that stage that isn’t planned down to the precise moment of execution by this amazing cast. In addition, the physical humor and the agility of the actors getting slammed by doors and trays plus the acrobatics perpetrated by all, including some of the, shall we say, heftier actors, is a thing of beauty as well. Combine that with the acting, overacting, missed cues, forgotten lines, and pratfalls and you have the audience laughing non-stop through both acts and remembering The Play That Goes Wrong long after the curtain (and more) comes down.

In The Play That Goes Wrong whatever can go wrong does go wrong and boy, does every second of it feel so right!


I would like to also mention that this all comes together under the expert Direction of Mark Bell, featuring a beautiful and perfect set design by Nigel Hook, with lighting design by Ric Mountjoy, sound design by Andy Johnson (with special thanks to Duran, Duran) original music by Rob Falconer; the real production stage manager, Matt DiCarlo, and exquisite period costume design by Roberto Surace.

Last but not least, a huge shout-out to J.J. Abrams who, on a rare night off from filming Star Wars in London, asked to see some original English theatre and fell so much in love with this play that he decided to bring it here to the Colonies for all of us to enjoy!

Thank you J.J.!

Oh… I almost forgot…

The Play That Goes Wrong (Running Time: 2 hours including one intermission) stars the original Olivier Award winning West End cast featuring Rob Falconer, Dave Hearn, Henry Lewis, Charlie Russell, Jonathan SayerHenry Shields, Greg Tannahill and Nancy Zamit.  (Bryony Corrigan was on for Nancy Zamit at this reviewed show).

Produced by Kevin McCollum, J. J. Abrams, Kenny Wax, Stage Presence Ltd. and Catherine Schreiber.

Co-written by Mischief Theatre company members Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, The Play That Goes Wrong is a riotous comedy about the theatre. The play introduces The ‘Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’ who are attempting to put on a 1920s’ murder mystery, but as the title suggests, everything that can go wrong…does, as the accident prone thespians battle on against all the odds to get to their final curtain call.

The Play That Goes Wrong is playing at The Lyceum Theatre – 149 West 45th Street, in New York, NY. For tickets call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 or 800-447-7400, or purchase them online.

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GUEST REVIEWER: Return to the Comet

On revisiting NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812, I was pleased to discover that several points in my original review of December 3, needed updating for the better.
The reconsideration will come before the original review. 
Thank you,
Moshe Bloxenheim
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Return to the Comet

 Some additional thoughts about
the current Broadway Production of

 NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812

At the Imperial Theatre
February 19, 2017

by Moshe Bloxenheim 

Perhaps some performances have improved since December 3, or maybe on that night I had caught some cast members who were not at their very best.  It might even be that I needed a second visit to better appreciate the performances and the nuances of Ms. Rachel Chavkin’s direction.  Whatever the reason, I am delighted to say that I like NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 even more now than when I had seen the show on December 3, 2016 and much of the “roughness” I had then perceived has been smoothed out.
While I still believe that Pierre’s Act One number “Dust and Ashes” is an unnecessary and badly placed song, it is now harder for me to resent Mr. Josh Groban’s star turn because his Pierre has become an excellent portrayal of the alienated and injured man who saves himself by saving Natasha’s reputation and throwing off his affected cynicism.
While Ms. Denée Benton’s previous performance already revealed the naïve and adored young lady who is the charming Countess Natasha, I now find Natasha’s state of high emotion and eventual despair in Act Two when her world collapses far more sympathetic and believable.  Natasha is no noble heroine but a real human being gripped in the power of an infatuation that she does not fully understand.  It is through Ms. Benton’s interpretation that we feel for Natasha and appreciate this innocent girl’s desperation when love, attraction and desire threaten her ideals, reputation and life.
Mr. Lucas Steele has added subtlety to his already admirable Prince Anatole, heightening the sense of a swaggering, self-involved predator who can easily delude himself that he and his amour share the same fascination.  There is less of the Muscovite Frat-Boy out to score now and more of the man who is lost in the sense of his own desirability and need for pleasure: never deliberately evil or out to harm, but extremely dangerous and so very alluring.
Finally, thanks must go to Mr. Nicholas Pope for achieving a better level of amplification.  There is less far less sonic blasting in the show than there had been at the December 3rd show and the voices are clear and can be far more easily associated with the performers who produce them.
 
Now on to the original review…
 

Back from the Front  

A review of the new Broadway Production of

NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812

At the Imperial Theatre

December 3, 2016

 
NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 is a remarkable show that sweeps the audience into the chaotic and hedonistic world of Moscow during the Napoleonic wars.
Based on several chapters on Mr. Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel WAR AND PEACE, the story focuses on the Countess Natasha’s life-changing journey to this imposing city.  She and her cousin and dearest friend Sonya have gone to visit Natasha’s godmother Marya D. while she waits for her fiancé Prince Andrey to return from the war.  After paying a disastrous call on Andrey’s sister, the sacrificing Princess Mary, and his vicious and elderly father, Prince Bolkonsky, the distraught Natasha encounters the dangerously alluring Prince Anatole.  He is the brother-in-law of Pierre, an old family friend of Natasha.  Pierre has made a very unhappy marriage to Anatole’s sister, the unfaithful and manipulative Hélène.  In disgust at his life, Pierre isolates himself in his books, keeping a kindly but vague eye on the distressing world around him.
With the assistance of Hélène and his comrades, Anatole overwhelms the naïve Natasha with his fervent declarations of love. Ignorant of the fact that Anatole is already married, Natasha throws over her engagement to Andrey and prepares to elope with the romantic Anatole.  Sonya and Marya D. do their best to save Natasha in spite of herself, but it is Pierre who must try to put back the pieces of Natasha’s wrecked world and in doing so, discovers that he is not as isolated from life as he believes himself to be.
 
Ms. Denée Benton exhibits a girlish charm as the beautiful Countess Natasha.  Natasha knows she is pretty, loved and admired – especially due to her advantageous engagement to Prince Andrey – but in spite of the resentment this could have created, Ms. Benton shows the innocence of a girl discovering the big world that makes her very assumptions of rank and privilege downright endearing.   Ms. Benton lets us feel Natasha’s bewilderment as she rapidly finds herself clearly out of her depth and thrill to her discovery of what passion can be.  She has a fine acting range but in Act 2 there are moments that jar against the overall portrayal of the desperately heartbroken Natasha.  Perhaps it is the direction and staging, but Ms. Benton’s character sometimes comes across as shrilly self-dramatizing.  Musically, however, Ms. Benton is wonderfully consistent and does Natasha full justice at all times.
With her delightful vocal catch and country artlessness, Ms. Brittain Ashford’s Sonya is a delight to watch and hear.  She is truly an affectionate cousin, taking joy in being with Natasha, but when Natasha rushes into danger, Sonya understands that saving her dearest friend might cost her the friendship that she values so highly and Ms. Ashford’s performance of “Sonya Alone” is truly profound and honest.
Marya D. is a warm and caring hostess of these two young ladies while they are in Moscow and the glorious Ms. Grace McLean gives her role a booming enthusiasm that makes it impossible not to feel that she is welcoming the entire theater.  Whether Marya D. is chaperoning her charges and showing them the suitable pleasures of Moscow, or trying to avoid a disaster, Ms. McLean is no stranger to the grand manner, tossing off vital exposition in so matter-of-fact a way that it feels downright conversational.  Ms. McLean is always a vital presence in the show and unforgettable in the songs “In My House” and “A Call to Pierre” where she brings out Marya D.’s visceral turmoil in the face of Natasha’s crisis.
As the man who turns Natasha’s world upside down, Mr. Lucas Steele expertly plays Prince Anatole.  One can appreciate why Natasha loses her head over this charmer who is so invested in his own pleasure and aware of his own desirability that he assumes that everybody else will have a good time too, even his victims in amour.  In his acting and singing Mr. Steele never misses a note, whether Anatole is enticing Natasha at the ball, gathering up his resources for the elopement or having to face the ruin of his plans.
Hélène, Anatole’s sister is another fascinating and dangerous person and Ms. Amber Gray beautifully conveys her manipulative and dissolute allure.  In the alluring number “Charming,” Ms. Gray’s Hélène is the consummate seductress who turns Natasha’s head and makes the young Countess even more susceptible to Anatole.  Even when winning this young girl over Hélène exudes a slightly smirking air of someone who has lost all morals.  Hélène could be a truly evil character but Ms. Gray manages to let us feel the sadness of this lady who cannot comprehend anything better for herself than her lovers and her feckless brother.
If Hélène is a siren without virtue, Natasha’s intended Prince Andrey – starkly played by Mr. Nicholas Belton — provides the unspoken rebuke to all the indulgence that is going on in the face of war.  Though he is Natasha’s valiant hero, Andrey’s ideals seem better at a distance.  When Andrey does return, his rigid lack of empathy makes one feel that Natasha has a knack for unfortunate entanglements.  Mr. Belton also doubles in the role of Andrey’s father the decrepit and unpleasant Prince Bolkonsky.  Perhaps it fits in with the tongue-in-cheek conceit of this production, but I think that Mr. Belton’s dress-up charade of an elderly Prince could have been better developed to bring out more of the possessive decaying man who is out to embarrass his daughter and disconcert Natasha.
On the other hand Ms. Gelsey Bell’s Princess Mary is a brief but memorable character.  Both she and Mr. Belton are a worthy duo in “The Private and Intimate Life of the House” where Mr. Belton’s aged Prince Bolkonsky grinds down his selfless daughter, but it is Ms. Bell’s Princess Mary whose character gets fully shaded in as she combines the resentments and aggravation of this duty-bound young lady whose life is passing by with the protectiveness and even love that Mary feels as she watched her father’s deterioration.  The Princess Mary may be the only one who really cannot appreciate the fortunate and beautiful Natasha but Ms. Bell’s plain, spinsterish Mary with her isolation and anxieties deserves our sympathy.  Ms. Bell also makes a surreal impression in Act One as a stylized opera singer.
Speaking of stylized opera singers, Mr. Paul Pinto is quite striking as the other grotesque and stately performer at the Opera, and it is his rollicking, don’t-give-a-damn performance as the troika Driver Balaga that is a highlight of the evening.
Dolokhov’s role is described as “Minor” in the Prologue, nevertheless Mr. Nick Chokis ensures that he is a vital figure, providing a notable delivery as Hélène’s lover, noted duelist and Anatole’s comrade in dissipation.
The Prologue also asks: “What about Pierre?”
Mr. Josh Groban’s performance is very much in keeping with the outsider nature of everybody’s friend, the awkward and unhappy Pierre.  Unfortunately the direction Mr. Groban receives often seems to be intent on giving the audience their money’s worth of this famous star which does not assist the unity of the show.  There are times where he would be better served retreating into Pierre’s oft stated discomfort and confusion on the sidelines or offstage rather than remain left out on center stage (primarily in the piano pit where he plays some of his numbers).  It may not be Mr. Groban’s fault that he cannot become the definitive Pierre and we must settle for a star who gives a decent performance while singing beautifully.
The rest of the cast is made up of circuit party Muscovites, peasants and gypsies who are often undistinguishable from contemporary clubbers and that is both part of the fun and enhances the timelessness of the story.  They are certainly picturesque but are never mere window dressing.
 
Mr. David Malloy who created the book, music and lyrics of this fascinating adaptation of Mr. Leo Tolstoy’s novel does not attempt to create a period piece nor a modern reworking.  He presents the situations and the people and lets it all take place.  This creates some high powered storytelling where the action often happens at the same time as the narrative which describes it which can also shift speedily between a character’s viewpoint and that of the people around them.  Perhaps this is not always in keeping with typical musical theater but there are elements of a classic operatic mode and even something of a dramatic recital too.
Most of the incredible score is inseparable from what is happening.  Starting from the delightfully catchy opening Prologue which thumbs its nose at the current disdain for exposition and gleefully sets forth who is who in show, Mr. Malloy takes us through a variety of styles that push the story onwards – a folk song can become a dance rave; a quiet duet becomes an operatic challenge.  Conductor Or Matias and Music Coordinator John Miller both perceive how integral the music is and allow their skillful musicians to become part of the story.
For me, the only flaw in the dynamic score of NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 is Pierre’s number “Dust and Ashes.”  It is a marvelous and thoughtful song and Mr. Josh Groban makes it a showpiece.  But it is the only song in the entire musical that does not add new insight to a character nor carry the action forward.  Instead, Mr. Groban takes the stage to sing a poetic and introspective song that restates much of what Pierre has already established, causing everything to grind to a halt for a badly placed star turn.  The audience loves “Dust and Ashes” but more for Mr. Groban’s sake than any other reason.  Placed where it is, the song actually weakens the show.
Besides the occasional highlighting of Mr. Groban, Director Rachel Chavkin obviously has worked hand in hand with Choreographer Sam Pinkleton in the inventive staging, uniting the different types of acting and singing and bringing the audience along as each step of the story unfolds.  Characters flow in and out of scenes and practically populate the Imperial Theater as they all head towards the shattering climax and its aftermath.  Even Ms. Mimi Lien’s flowing multileveled settings and Mr. Bradley King’s varied lighting schemes get into the act with performers in the audience, massive doors slamming and lights constantly moving and changing as if to comment on the story.
A show occurring in 1812 might be expected to have costumes firmly set in that time frame, but while much of Ms. Paloma Young’s attractive costumes and Ms. Leah J. Loukas’ wigs and hair designs are rooted in that era, these Napoleonically garbed performers could easily find themselves at home at the current Goth scene or one of today’s more baroque downtown gatherings.  This sense of timelessness allows even the use of modern light up sneakers or neon glow bands fit into the show as if in mocking comment on the idea that humanity is so much better now than in the turbulent years of the early 19th century.
Mr. Nicholas Pope is one of those Sound Technicians who sadly has yet to learn that even the loudest moment of a show can be handled with clarity and subtlety.  In justice, Mr. Pope’s sound design make the most quiet moments clear to the audience, but he cannot seem to comprehend what harm he is causing Mr. Malloy’s fine score, the excellent actors and the audience’s eardrums by his constant over amplifying of the show’s louder sequences.
Considering all the players and musicians who have to circulate through both the stage, orchestra and mezzanine areas of the theater, Production Stage Manager Karen Meek and her staff do first-rate work to make everything flow as seamlessly as it does.
 
While it might have its rough spots, NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 is an amazing and engrossing show with a score that is unforgettable and I highly recommend it.
 
One final thought:  Since so much happens all over the Imperial Theatre, the best place to see NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 is the Mezzanine.  Even the Rear Mezzanine gives a great view of all the proceedings.

About the reviewer:

MOSHE BLOXENHEIM
I am a computer programmer, wannabe writer who loves theater and just got into the habit of inflicting my theatrical opinions.
I live in New York.
Moshe can be reached at MB1224@aol.com

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NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812
Runtime
2 hrs. and 30 min. Open Ended Run

Credits Book, music and lyrics by Dave Malloy; Directed by Rachel Chavkin

Cast Josh Groban (thru 7/2), Denée Benton, Dave Malloy (on select performances 5/4-6/27), Okieriete Onaodowan (starting 7/3), Brittain Ashford, Gelsey Bell, Nicholas Belton, Nick Choksi, Amber Gray, Grace McLean, Paul Pinto, Scott Stangland, Lucas Steele, Sumayya Ali, Courtney Bassett, Josh Canfield, Ken Clark, Erica Dorfler, Lulu Fall, Ashley Pérez Flanagan, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Nick Gaswirth, Alex Gibson, Billy Joe Kiessling, Mary Spencer Knapp, Reed Luplau, Brandt Martinez, Andrew Mayer, Azudi Onyejekwe, Pearl Rhein, Heath Saunders, Ani Taj, Cathryn Wake, Katrina Yaukey and Lauren Zakrin

3 WAYS TO PURCHASE TICKETS

BOX OFFICE HOURS: MON – SAT, 10AM – 8PM SUN, 12PM – 6PM

RUSH POLICY

A LIMITED NUMBER OF $39 RUSH TICKETS WILL BE AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE IN PERSON AT THE IMPERIAL THEATRE BOX OFFICE AT 10AM (12PM ON SUNDAYS) ON THE DAY OF THE PERFORMANCE. LIMIT OF TWO TICKETS PER PERSON. SUBJECT TO AVAILABILITY. CASH AND MAJOR CREDIT CARDS ACCEPTED. SEATING LOCATIONS WILL BE AT THE DISCRETION OF THE BOX OFFICE.


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GUEST REVIEWER: THE VISIT At the Lyric Theatre

Be our guest.

A review of
THE VISIT
at the Lyric Theatre

April 12, 2015 and April 21, 2015 – Opened April 23, 2015

THE VISIT offers so much that one does not usually get in a typical new musical nowadays: a score with memorable songs, a plot that is thought provoking and best of all, a Star Turn of the Highest Caliber. THE VISIT is also a brave show, in the sense that it does not try to stroke the audience’s sensibilities and even dares to make them work at understanding what happens onstage. In the VISIT, the citizens of the desperately poor Swiss town of Brachen welcome Claire Zachanassian, the richest woman in the world, who is returning to the hometown that she had fled long ago. The impoverished villages hope that they can persuade Claire to use her wealth to revitalize the town. To their surprise Claire agrees but lays out a deal. She will endow the village with untold billions if they kill the man who loved her, impregnated her and then denied being the father of her child, forcing her to flee Brachen when she was a young girl and make her own way in a cruel and dangerous world. That man is Anton Schell, an impoverished shopkeeper who can’t even win the respect of his own family. The leaders of the town indignantly reject such a horrendous offer, but soon after townspeople start buying expensive items from Anton’s store, charging their purchases to some unmentionable windfall they expect and talk darkly about how Anton had so foully wronged poor Claire…

Mr. Terence McNally has created an often powerful book based upon the original play by Mr. Friedrich Dürrenmatt and Mr. Fred Ebb’s lyrics and Mr. John Kander’s music further hone the sharpness of this Brechtian Fractured Fairy Tale. Justice, revenge, the violent collision of love and self-interest, and the moral fluidity of honorable people are all covered in rather raw terms, but somehow there is a humor and even lightness that flavors even the most severe and unsavory moments of this story with a touch of vaudeville. Messrs. McNally, Ebb and Kander work very carefully together contrasting the diverse feelings of the Brachen denizens with their attempts to form a united front in the face of poverty with such numbers like the community glee “Out of the Darkness.” They eventually show these same people descending into moral self-delusion with the bitterly entertaining “Yellow Shoes.” As far as Claire is concerned, her very first entrance provides her with firm dramatic footing augmented with strong numbers like the unforgettable matrimonial success catalogue “I Walk Away” or Claire’s soulful description of her feelings for and about Anton and their broken past in “Winter.”

Admittedly, not every song is a gem – Anton’s first number “I know Claire” has a very general feeling as if it could be from any show at any period from 1965 to the present. In fact there is sometimes an uneven style that seems less an attempt at being rustic and more a case of needing more work. Nevertheless much of what is on offer is choice indeed.

The opening scene of THE VISIT makes for a most appropriate introduction to the threadbare inhabitants of Brachen: Ms. Diana Dimiarzo’s plays the Mayor’s wife and local gossip and Messrs. David Garrison, Rick Holmes, Aaron Ramey, Timothy Shew and Jason Danieley are the town’s Mayor, Priest, Policeman, Doctor and Schoolteacher respectively: all are excellent as desperately respectable people who will throw aside all scruples if they have to, all the while convincing themselves of their decency.

Just as bad – and very good – are the members of Anton’s own family. Ms. Mary Beth Peil is wonderfully acerbic as Matilde Schell, a wife who never hesitates to reminds Claire that she is the woman who married Anton, yet doesn’t even find much satisfaction in that fact. Mr. George Abud is Anton’s son Karl and Ms. Elena Shaddow plays daughter Ottilie, showing a very effective indifference for a father who couldn’t even afford to let them have things from their own family store. The promise of prosperity brings this family and the town to life, even though they all have to keep tamping down that little part of them that knows what the price will be. Mss. Piel and Shaddow and Mr. Abud make this painfully clear in the song “A Car Ride;” a pleasant and simple number sung with Anton where the Schells enjoy what is the first happy family moment that they have had in many years. Everyone is delighted but the unspoken cost is still there.

Contrasting the dingy indigence of Brachen’s people is Claire Zachanassian’s astonishing entourage led by Mr. Tom Nelis’ imposing Butler Rudi. Mr. Matthew Deming is Eunuch Louis and Mr. Chris Newcomer takes the role of Eunuch Jacob. All three are always dressed in dapper suits, carefully hatted and walking in eye-catching footgear. These performers shine in their marvelously fantastic roles, often taking the spotlight with remarkably controlled insanity beginning with the Eunuch’s startling backup chorus in “I Walk Away.”
Since this is a show about a present that can never escape the past, the figures of the young Claire and Anton are part of every scene whether reenacting their amour or watching the current situation. Ms. Michelle Veintimilla and Mr. John Riddle truly haunt the show, vividly showing the joy of young love and standing aside as observers to the demands and cruelties of the real world. When Ms. Veintimilla and Mr. Riddle join their present counterparts (such as in the beautiful song “You, You, You”) the contrast of destroyed youthful romance and the cynicism, hurt and longing that has taken its place is deeply moving.

Of course the present Anton has long been a beaten down man who cruelly sacrificed love for security and has since had to make do without either. Mr. Roger Rees plays this role expertly rising from the miserable storekeeper to the hopeful former lover who dares to hope a little. Mr. Rees displays every turn of amazement, disgust and realization that is inherent in Anton Schell as he sees the past catch up with him and the future demand his removal. Mr. Rees makes it painfully clear that anyone in Brachen could have been as cruel and stupid as Anton had been in his youth, but there are times in the middle of THE VISIT when Anton is less caught by the story than bogged down in it.

Of course it is a task indeed for Anton to approach the level of the fabulous Claire Zachanassian – especially when Ms. Chita Rivera so embodies that adjective. This is natural, not only due to Ms. Rivera’s phenomenal performance but because Claire’s presence simply permeates the play – even when the action does not focus on Claire, it occurs because of her. Ms. Rivera imbues this glamorous and wealthiest of women with the world weary brio of one who is always in charge, but when Claire turns to the only happy memory of her past, Ms. Rivera lets the joy and pleasure of that youthful love melt her hardness. This is one of the reasons that Claire Zachanassian is not a monster of vengeance, but someone all too human and desperate to take back something that had been stolen from her so long ago. This performance keeps the play’s ending from being the grotesque finale that it might have been and transforms it into something that ought to be seen to be appreciated: a true example of Theatrical Power at its height.

Director John Doyle does amazing work with THE VISIT giving the story the universal feeling that a fable ought to have. But Mr. Doyle wisely never paints anyone as an outright villain, making the wrongs committed all the more real. People can disassociate themselves from bad actions that happen in the present just as they did so many years ago. Other folks may demonstrate what can happen when justice is withheld. But the moral caprices are far from alien. Unfortunately, while the show engrosses and appeals and appalls two thirds of the way through THE VIST seems to get stuck. The depiction of Anton feeling trapped and his putting up with the emotional justifications of an apologizing villager is essential but the storytelling at this point seems to go awry and put a drain on the energy of THE VISIT’s surreal narrative. Maybe Anton ought to have more or different emotional power as he watches his own world turn on him, but as done now, Anton, Mr. Doyle and THE VISIT seem to just soldier through this void, until theatrical balance returns. Happily the ending is well worth it.

Ms. Graciela Daniele’s choreography lets the citizens of Brachen make much use of Mr. Scott Pask’s spare scenic design with its decrepit railroad station setting and Claire’s vast pile of luggage and coffin. With the addition of Mr. Japhy Weideman’s lighting, we are taken all over Brachen from station to hotel to woods to past and present with amazing clarity, giving a wonderful meaning to the idea of dealing with people’s baggage. Then also, both Mr. Doyle and Ms. Daniele gives nodding acknowledgement to the notion that Claire Zachanassian now has some trouble with her limbs, but they allow Ms. Rivera to soar gloriously beyond such commonplaces as physical infirmity in this mythic role. When handling the young Anton and Claire too, director and choreographer are amazingly able to let these shades be a part of the action and still keep them firmly in the past.
Music Director David Loud contributes mightily with the orchestra allowing the different types of numbers – choral to star solo to ghostly echoes – to shine and fit the action even when the music suddenly shifts from one style to another.

The costumes by Ms. Ann Hould-Ward with hair and makeup by Messrs. Paul Huntley and J. Jared Janas are downright spellbinding with the dusty threadbare denizens of Brachen contrasted strikingly against the glamorous and dapper beings that are Claire and her crew and the cream white garb of the young Claire and Anton.

As it is now, Ms. Chita Rivera and Messrs. Kander and Ebb’s score make THE VISIT a truly amazing spectacle to behold and well worth the trip to the Lyceum Theatre, but there is still a feeling of inertia in the middle of THE VISIT that cannot be ignored and must be endured as one goes from the extraordinary start to its dazzling finish.

Running Time: 95 minutes, no intermission

LYCEUM THEATRE
149 West 45th Street
Between 6th Avenue and Broadway
Box Office Hours:  Mon – Sat: 10am – 8pm | Sun: Noon – 6pm
Online Tickets: Or Call 212.239.6200

About the reviewer:

I am a computer programmer, wannabe writer who loves theater and just got into the habit of inflicting my theatrical opinions.
I live in New York.
Moshe can be reached at MB1224@aol.com

EDITOR’S UPDATE: 04/28/2015

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GUEST REVIEWER: ON THE TOWN – Lyric Theater – October 21, 2014

Bringing up Gabey.

A review of the revival of
ON THE TOWN
At the Lyric Theater

October 21, 2014

by Moshe Bloxenheim, Guest Reviewer

When the house lights dimmed in the Lyric Theatre on 42nd Street and the audience hushed expectantly, no strains of Bernstein rose from the orchestra pit – instead we heard the stately notes of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Ours was doubtless not the first performance where everyone looked at one another in confusion, but soon enough all rose from their seats, hand over heart, and began to join in singing the National Anthem – first unsure of themselves but finishing the first stanza in full. It was only then that the curtain – itself a large US flag – rose and the show began.

A cynical scheme to make sure no one could hate this show?

No, we are traveling back to 1944 and wartime when New York was truly part of the Home Front and all theater performances started off with this tribute to our embattled country before taking the audience away from the grim realities of battle news, casualties, blackouts and rationing.

Happily there is no rationing or actor shortage in this revival of ON THE TOWN. Nicely cast, cleverly staged and lushly orchestrated, the new production is an enthusiastic valentine to a bygone New York City: a glorious eyeful and earful that goes far to please the audience.
The premise of ON THE TOWN is simple: Ozzie, Chip and Gabey are three US Sailors who have 24 hours leave in New York City before they ship out. As they ride the subway from the Navy yard, Gabey sees a picture of the latest month’s “Miss Turnstiles” and longs for the exotic young lady who has been so honored by the New York City Board of Transportation: Miss Ivy Smith. The three young men agree to split up and use clues from the Miss Turnstiles poster to locate her. As they search, Chip meets the delightfully direct ex-cabbie Hildy Esterhazy and Ozzie encounters a soul-mate in the volatile anthropologist Claire de Loone. But poor Gabey must endure many more obstacles before he can meet the Ivy Smith of his dreams.

Jay Armstrong Johnson, Tony Yazbeck and Clyde Alves

Jay Armstrong Johnson, Tony Yazbeck and Clyde Alves

These three young men and three young ladies may be the lead roles, but the starring spot is reserved for the setting of ON THE TOWN itself; the big, confusing, often tawdry New York City that even in wartime offers a magic wonderland that beats the organized, rational happiness of Disneyland hollow.

To populate such vibrant metropolis, the company has to be large by necessity and many performers play multiple roles: exiting as one citizen of the fair city and reentering the scene as another different character, each one with his or her own story to tell, be they sailor, cop, schoolgirl, commuter, lover or employee of Mr. Godolphin. Such careful delineations are certainly due to the efforts of the director and the choreographer, but a long and hearty ovation surely must go to these actors who never devolve into walking stage properties.

One of these many-faceted players is the very talented Mr. Stephen DeRosa. He plays a motley series of individuals and the spectator is hard put to recognize the tired shipyard worker, wise guy bill poster, harried professor, hackneyed club hosts, etc., as one and the same person even though Mr. DeRosa often adds his own funny touch that makes the most of each individual.

Mr. Phillip Boykin is another skillful actor who adds to the multitude, with his warm booming voice and the ability to go from the sleepy worker who memorably opens the show to the campily shrill announcer for the Miss Turnstiles contest and finishes off as a gritty Coney Island carny.

Megan Fairchild and Jackie Hoffman

Megan Fairchild and Jackie Hoffman

If other actors are giving us a remarkable parade of the New York public, Ms. Jackie Hoffman gleefully rounds up her various personalities to show how many people can be a singular pain in the neck. Whether she is a crotchety Old Lady who objects to our heroes or becomes each of the various club singers who must moan the most inconveniently depressing of songs, Ms. Hoffman is hell bent on demonstrating how ruining everyone else’s fun can be a grand activity, especially when she is playing the chief obstacle between Gabey’s and Ivy’s meeting: the dipsomaniacally mercenary singing teacher Maude P. Dilly.

Though Mr. Michael Rupert only inhabits one role –Judge Pitkin W. Bridgework – he makes the most of this slowly building gag who is Claire’s relentlessly understanding fiancé. For the good Judge, realism is not worthy of a hearing.

Just as gratifying in her small, but vital part is Ms. Allison Guinn as the definitive drip and third wheel, Lucy Schmeeler.

So what of our sailor’s and their ladies?

Jay Armstrong Johnson and Alysha Umphress

Jay Armstrong Johnson and Alysha Umphress

The cutely handsome Mr. Jay Armstrong Johnson definitely gets a merit badge for his performance as the boy-scoutish Chip, who wants to see the big city but is there for his pals. One can easily see why Hildy is determined to get this Sailor away from his guidebook. Not that sensible Chip can resist Hildy for long, and who can blame him? The marvelously named Ms. Alysha Umphress provides a deliciously voluptuous and direct young lady who knows what she likes and is happy to let us all in on the secret. Vocally Ms. Umphress belts her numbers with a wonderfully knowing air that makes her singing “I Can Cook Too” one of the highlights of the evening.

In direct contrast to Hildy is Claire de Loone: she also knows what she wants, but is trying to make do with what she believes would be better for her – such as her fiancé Judge Pitkin W. Bridgework. But deep down Claire knows that better isn’t always best. She is a healthy mademoiselle who tries desperately to maintain a cool, intellectual facade only to give way to vigorous explosions of enthusiasm as she amusingly explains in the whimsical song “Carried Away.” Unfortunately Ms. Elizabeth Stanley never quite strikes the balance between a vessel of simmering passions about to hilariously blow her top or a cartoonish basket case who is dangerously close to putting her carefully manicure index finger to her rosy lips and going Bliblbliblblibl… Still, when avoiding the outright caricature, Ms. Stanley’s Claire can be quite a girl.

Ozzie might get carried away too, but the excellent Mr. Clyde Alves keeps it all in fun and avoids psychiatric undertones. Here is a likeable fellow who might get a bit full of himself but his reaction to the overwhelming Claire shows that he has a thing or two to learn.

Tony Yazbeck

Tony Yazbeck

As a farm boy from the Midwest, one might think the innocent Gabey would have a LOT to learn, but in spite of all his friend’s advice, Mr. Tony Yazbeck’s sweet and boyish Gabey does better relying on himself. From the moment he falls for Miss Turnstiles’ poster, Gabey has everybody rooting for this heart-struck young man. A one dimensional character would be hard put to convey the helpless loneliness of “Lonely Town” or the jubilation of “Lucky to Be Me,” let alone bring the audience along in Gabey’s nightmarish fantasy search of “Imaginary Coney Island.” Yet, Mr. Yazbeck makes it all feel real.

Megan Fairchild and the cast of On The Town

Megan Fairchild and the cast of On The Town

Happily for Gabey, Ms. Megan Fairchild’s Ivy Smith is just what he needs – a nice and pretty girl who is far from the exotic creature that was conjured up by the Miss Turnstiles campaign. Ms. Fairchild can soar in a fantasy ballet and do a Miss Turnstiles strut, but her Ivy is a likeable down-to-earth person who is more than a little bewildered by everyone else’s expectations for her and she proves a droll foil for Ms. Hoffman’s conniving Maude P. Dilly.

Such a big cast could easily engulf a less carefully thought out stage, but Mr. Beowulf Boritt provides a mix of sets, curtains, moving panels and projections that is well worth seeing on its own merit. Under the expert lighting of Mr. Jason Lyons, streets rush by, clubs spring up, subways hurry through a fantastic city that can seamlessly expand to handle the show’s biggest dances and contract to focus on the most intimate moments. This is ON THE TOWN’s native environment and everyone and everything involved seem to belong here and take sheer joy in the energy and motion of the show – even the Status of Liberty’s torch, which would have been blacked out during the war years, beams approvingly over the goings on.

If Messrs. Borrit and Lyons provide the world of 1944 New York, then the costumes, hair and makeup designs of Mr. Jess Goldstein, Ms. Leah Louks and Mr. Joe Dulude II do a fine job of filling the streets with believable 1944 New Yorkers, strikingly imaginary people for the dream ballets, eye-catching carnies and lots and lots of handsome sailors.

On the whole the direction is quite good with Mr. John Rando effectively keeping the development of the characters and their situations flowing smoothly and enjoyably. Unfortunately Mr. Rando does not always know where the fine line lies between the believably funny or the flatly cartoonish. There are, of course, downright caricatures like Judge Pitkin W. Bridgework and Maude P. Dilly where any degree of actuality would ruin the fun, but I somehow wondered if Director Rando had something to do with poor Claire de Loon’s operatic excess. Also Hildy’s speedy moderation of her initial “Duh Bronx” accent with its “Youse” and “Dese” inflections to a more pleasing enunciation show how much this was just a sloppy and unnecessary gimmick to establish character.

But I thought Mr. Rando’s staging had one misstep which went beyond funny-papers “haha” to downright crude: When the Announcer of the Miss Turnstiles competition struggles to relieve the unwilling Ivy of her crown at the end of the month, he looks like he is ripping it off her hair.

It is unfortunate that such lapses are there for both the actors and the audience to endure, but they are happily outnumbered by Mr. Rando’s better choices, Adding to the plusses, Conductor James Moore, the orchestra and the singers clearly appreciate Mr. Leonard Bernstein’s music and (Assisted by Mr. Kai Harada’s subtle sound designs) give it a glorious sound. Ms. Betty Comden and Mr. Adolph Green provided the lyrics as well as a fun book and, along with Mr. Bernstein, convey their own youthful enthusiasm for New York and life and optimism about the future. The songs are gems and more than a few are classic hits starting with the unforgettable “New York, New York (a helluva town).” From the blissful “Lucky to Be Me,” to the endearingly raunchy “I Can Cook Too,” to the sweeping ballet pieces, and the heartfelt “Some Other Time” it is clear that even in their twenties Ms. Comden and Messrs. Bernstein and Green could cover emotional and dramatic ground with a skill that seems harder and harder to find in modern musicals.

ON THE TOWN is a show that was inspired and in part developed by the legendary Mr. Jerome Robbins. Choreographer Joshua Bergasse understands this heritage, giving us a city where dance inhabits every onstage motion without any air of “art for culture’s sake”; it is often funny, frequently beautiful and more than one moment brings a lump to the throat.

With all the people and sets that must pass on and off the stage in such a smooth and continuous progression, it would be ungrateful not to offer up an extra round of applause to the Production Stage Manager Bonnie L. Becker. I bet her backstage work with its split second timings of cast and properties would be another fascinating performance to behold.

At any rate what is offered on stage is a true jewel of Musical Theater. It may not be a flawless pearl, but ON THE TOWN is still to be valued and delighted in.

————————————————————————-

Leaving the theater I was left with an interesting question; how many people below a certain age would now see ON THE TOWN as anything but three goofy sailors who have left their ship for a day?

When ON THE TOWN opened in 1944, the musical had dramatic undertones that were felt by everyone whether onstage or in the audience: At the end of their 24 hour leave, these three sailors who had already undergone combat would be shipped off once more to a possibly dangerous destination from which they may never return. Additionally, the three girls were discovering themselves in a world changed by war and no one knew what the outcome would be even at home. Even after 1945, further unrests in the world and the possibility of the draft must have lent the show’s final moments poignancy that I fear many of today’s younger people must miss – living as we now do in a compartmentalized world where the US can be fighting wars that have far less affect back at home than they once might have had. Who would have the nerve these days to talk of a home front or ask anyone to make sacrifices for our nation’s good?

I began my review by mentioning how the show attempted to evoke 1944 by the singing of the National Anthem. Perhaps the sense of those uncertain times could have been enhanced by the addition of one more lighting effect to the dazzling array of projections: a discreet image of World War II news sliding across the Times Square News Ticker.

One more notion: Although it might ruin a desired measure of surprise for the show, I think it would be a little more respectful to both the audience and the National Anthem if everyone had fair warning that the “Star Spangled Banner” was imminent before they got to their seats. It just isn’t something one ought to spring on people.

————————————————————————-

On the Town Tickets

ONLINE AT TICKETMASTER.COM
BY PHONE (877) 250-2929
or at the
BOX OFFICE
Lyric Theatre 213 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036

RUNTIME
The performance is 2 hours 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

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About the reviewer:


I am a computer programmer, wannabe writer who loves theater and just got into the habit of inflicting my theatrical opinions.
I live in New York.

Moshe can be reached at MB1224@aol.com

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GUEST REVIEW: “Soul Doctor” at the Circle in the Square Theater

There is a scene in the first act of “Soul Doctor,” one that features the characters of Nina Simone and Rabbi Shlomo, a piano, a chair, and a tip jar.   She smokes and plays, he sits and frets, and through the scene they invariably sew their souls together in conversations of race, heartache and loss, and the healing and spiritual power of music.  The scene, lovingly performed by Eric Anderson as Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and Amber Iman as Nina Simone, is at the heart of “Soul Doctor,” which opens on Broadway tonight at the Circle in the Square Theater.   As wonderful as this scene is, unfortunately the soul of this musical has been buried in Rabbi Shlomo’s storied rise to Jewish music stardom; the show suffers, as with many biographical plays, the need to incorporate one person’s timeline in flashbacks, a series of “highlight reel” scenes, and offers many unanswered questions while never taking the time to explore all the varied themes it introduces.

I attended Wednesday’s matinee with an open…well, an admittedly empty mind.  I didn’t know the true history of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who traveled with family as a boy to escape pre-Nazi Vienna only to become a “Rock Star Rabbi” in 1960s America.  He broke with Traditional Jewish norms and took European Hebrew music into modern rock and roll and folk riffs, updating it, writing new melodies to ancient words, and connecting it to the youth of the day.  He even held his own version of a Synagogue on the corner of Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco.  The audience sitting with me was an older crowd and more knowledgeable about the subject matter: the mere mention of “Rabbi Schneerson” caused a low murmur to ripple across them.  So, I felt a bit in the dark in my half-Jewish/half-Catholic, mostly-ignorant state.

 In “Soul Doctor,” the story of Reb Shlomo unfolds on stage like the pages of a well-worn and comfortably familiar book – the staging is simple, the set does not get in its own way to flow from scene to scene, and the story is straightforward.  There are few shocks or twists and turns to his story, although from an insider’s perspective I may be dismissing this as age-old “stuff my Mother’s generation went through” angst.  Humor (both Jewish and universally funny guffaw-inducing moments) keep the script fun and not too heavy-handed.   The show itself strives to tell the story of his journey to forgive Vienna and his enemies through song (all music is by Carlebach, with translated lyrics by Carlebach and additional narrative lyrics by David Schechter).  The show questions “how can you change the world with a song?” and “what good are the words if you forget the melody?”…basically, what good are you as a religious leader in knowing all the words written in the Torah if you are not instigating action and creating life-changing connections with your congregation?  After these questions were posed, I waited to be shown how Shlomo answered them during the times when he wasn’t singing; yet, only in one scene did we get a glimpse how the Rabbi taught his form of Judaism to his congregation without the use of a guitar.

Eric Anderson sings and performs Shlomo to great effect, with high energy and fervor at times, and at most times with a true inner peace and understandable love.
Amber Iman as Nina is fierce, funny, vocally spectacular, and showed her own Rabbinically spiritual side in music effortlessly.  The rest of the cast was also very wonderful, although at times some non-traditional gender and race casting within the multiple-character storytelling knocked me out of the mostly historically accurate world.  The music itself was well arranged and at times beautiful and stirring; however, Carlebach’s music flowed from one melody to the next without much of a hook, and I felt certain scenes to be over-melodized rather than simply spoken.  This is not a show to walk out humming the hit theme song (and “I Put A Spell On You” from Nina Simone won’t count), although from the audience’s reaction there were many of the Rabbi’s hits featured.  The standing ovation at the end was more a clap-along than applause.  It did make me smirk from a musical point of view when Nina encouraged the “congregation-audience” of her Baptist church to clap on the 2’s and 4’s, only have the entire audience clapping on the 1’s and 3’s instead…some cultural rhythms take time to learn, I guess.  The show also allowed for some beautifully acted moments; Zarah Mahler as Ruth, Shlomo’s student saved from the shadow of Washington Square Park, has a gorgeous song, “I Was a Sparrow (Schifchie),” which offers Mahler a chance to take the Rabbi’s lyrics and tenderly carve her heart into them.

 But back to the scene between Nina and Shlomo – their story truly hooked me, how two different people on opposite sides of the race, gender, and religion spectrum could connect so lovely and with so much fervor.  I would almost say their scenes in the show are reason enough to see this on Broadway, and to allow the introduction of his life into one’s consciousness.  Shlomo’s ostracization by his family and religious overseers became emotionally second to the relationship he had with Nina on stage.  Indeed, after seeing this scene my heart ached for a two-person show featuring conversations and combinations of Nina Simone’s “African-American Classical” music (as she put it) and Reb Shlomo’s reinvented Hebrew music, rather than a glossary-glance biomusical that left some questions unanswered.  Since the show blossomed out of Carlebach’s own daughter’s one-woman show idea, I felt the addition of so many scenes and characters diluted the messages inherent in his message and glimpses of his soul we were able to see were left largely untouched.

I’m not sure if I’m the target audience of this musical, although the emotional questions it offers are universal in nature – human pain, striving to deal with one’s feelings of hopelessness, and the attempts to heal our hearts through music and forgiveness are the same no matter where you hail from or what your religious beliefs are.  Seeing it caused me to hit Wikipedia and YouTube the Rabbi himself, and although my parents didn’t remember hearing about him during their time in 1960s San Francisco, I do believe his story is important to learn about, as his teachings certainly changed a specific generation’s world through story and song.   I only wish the book by Daniel S. Wise delved deeper.
-SI-


Eric Anderson plays Shlomo, the role that garnered him a 2013 Drama Desk Award nomination for Best Leading Actor in a Musical, for his performances Off-Broadway, and Amber Iman, making her Broadway debut, will play the role of Nina Simone.  They will be joined by a multi-cultural cast including Jacqueline Antaramian, Dianna Barger, Richard Cerato, Tara Chambers, Maria Conti, Alexandra Frohlinger, Afra Hines, Abdur-Rahim Jackson, Jamie Jackson, Ethan Khusidman, Dillon Kondor, Zarah Mahler, Vasthy Mompoint, Ron Orbach, Ian Paget, Heather Parcells, Michael Paternostro, JC Schuster, Eric J. Stockton, Ryan Strand and Teddy Walsh.

The award-winning design team for Soul Doctor includes scenic design by Neil Patel ([title of show]), costume design by Maggie Morgan (David’s Red-Haired Death), lighting design by Jeff Croiter (Newsies) and sound design by John Shivers (2013 Tony®-winner for Kinky Boots) and David Patridge.  Orchestrations and additional arrangements are by Steve Margoshes, music supervision and arrangements are by Brian Koonin and music direction and arrangements are by Seth Farber.

This production is produced by Jeremy Chess, Jerome Levy, Robert Beckwitt, Edward Steinberg, Joel Kahn and Danny Boy Productions.

The new Broadway musical Soul Doctor, about the life and music of Shlomo Carlebach and his unlikely friendship with Nina Simone, begins performances on Wednesday, July 17 at Circle in the Square Theatre (1600 Broadway, entrance on 50th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue), with an official opening set for Thursday, August 15.

All tickets are $135 and can be purchased through www.SoulDoctorBroadway.com, by calling (212) 239-6200, or at the Circle in the Square box office.  For groups of 10 or more, please visit www.groups.telecharge.com or call (212) 239-6262 or (800) 432-7780.
CIRCLE IN THE SQUARE THEATRE
(1633 Broadway, Entrance on 50th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue)

     – Sierra Rein-
(646) 961-3942
sirein@sierrarein.com
www.sierrarein.com
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twitter.com/MarqueeFive
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“Either you die slowly or you find the strength to go crazy” – J.B. Hapgood, “Anyone Can Whistle”

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Elli singing “The Impossible Dream” @TKTS 40th Anniversary Celebration in Times Square

Elli singing “The Impossible Dream” from “Man of La Mancha”
at the TKTS 40th Anniversary Celebration in Times Square

June 26th, 2013 – Official TKTS Video

Make sure to change settings to 720p for best viewing

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Review of “Porgy & Bess” on Broadway by Sierra Rein, Guest Reviewer

Review of “Porgy & Bess” on Broadway by Sierra Rein, Guest Reviewer

I almost pinched myself whilst sitting in the balcony of the Richard Rogers theater Friday night (August 3, 2012) – finally I would be able to see the Broadway production of “Porgy and Bess,” featuring at least three amazing musical theater performers – Norm Lewis, Audra McDonald, and David Alan Grier. I had never seen a production of it before, neither on stage nor on the screen. I had only heard clips, and of course have heard “Summertime” in both classical and cabaret styles over the years. But I never knew the show from top to bottom, the characters, the plot, and am not an expert on the score or the history of the show. I went in with innocent/virgin ears and eyes.

It was brilliant. Moving, gorgeous, amazing music, vocals to die for (in both the classical and the more modern musical theater sense). The running time was obviously cut down to reflect Broadway audience schedules, but I could have seen another 1/2 hour of material. I know there are purists who rail against the cuts, the edits, the character changes, how certain songs do not have the original orchestrations or vocal harmonies as the original. And I say that I understand this; however this Broadway version whets my appetite to want to see more, so in a way it’s a great introduction to the original show.

What I appreciated the most about this production was the care the director and actors took to make these people absolutely, 100% real and emotionally present. Not a moment was glossed over, not a down-dirty piece of information was missed. Drugs, rape, babies, love, death, poverty, obsession, hope, nature, racism, big city vs. country life – all were dealt with from the ground up, nothing ignored. I felt immense tension all through my body watching some scenes; others made me tear up and have a lump in my throat, they were so gorgeously done; still others were perfectly attuned to the comic side for relief.

This was one time of many that I had seen Norm Lewis perform on stage, and unsurprisingly his Porgy was amazing. He just radiated hope and love and care, a true hero you wanted to root for. He was in constant struggle with his physicality, his crippled state, and it was brilliant to see him consistently hold that physicality for the entire show. His “nothing” with a wry smile into “I Got Plenty O’Nothin” was pitch-perfect, you just instantly fall in love with him and want to follow his journey with your whole being.

His Porgy was the perfect antidote to Audra McDonald’s Bess. She burned with the physicality of a druggie, from her speech (a bit of a stutter), to her sensuality, to a leg tremble that appeared at intense moments of decision. I have never seen her perform on stage (I have only listened to her amazing voice on CD) and I was awestruck by her ability to make Bess a truly conflicted character, and I followed her struggle and the love she had for Porgy (and moments of hopelessness for that love to survive) until the end. Her stellar vocals aside, I would watch that woman on stage doing anything – she was specific, grounded, consistent, and mesmerizing.

Indeed, the entire cast floored me with the exact same strengths. I rose to give them a Standing O as soon as the curtain came up for bows. This music is not easy, and to perform it with full emotional power is not easy as well (and sometimes dangerous to the vocal chords). Not one person held back, and the other characters on stage GAVE of themselves in full. I loved the care that the director made to make their stories as vibrant and as fully human in scope and power as Porgy and Bess’ love affair. I was rooting for everyone, and interestingly enough I understood where the villains and antagonists of the story were coming from too – they were 3D villains and a part of the world of the play (as a**holes are in the real world), not stereotypes. Yes, this is an OPERA and has the breadth and scope of an operatic story, but everything was done with such specificity that the audience should be able to track the true emotions of everyone involved.

And David Alan Grier…what can I say?! He played the scoundrel Sporting Life with stray cat pizazz, hitting the light and the dark sides of his character perfectly. It wasn’t too hard to imagine his character strutting down the streets of New York. I’m hoping someone in the future might write the sequel to “Porgy and Bess” (uh oh, do I hear a “blasphemy!”?) just so I can see how this scoundrel does his thing in New York. He invoked an evil Cab Calloway, and was pretty amazing.

I praise this production for introducing me to the world of “Porgy and Bess,” and look forward to seeing the original in one form soon. In the meantime, the souls of the story are being brilliantly portrayed on Broadway – it closes September 23rd, so go see it! My husband stated that it was the best musical he had ever seen (he’s a stickler for character motivation and storytelling, and he was just as thrilled as I).

About the Reviewer:

SIERRA REIN
SAG-AFTRA • AEA

Sierra was last seen at Goodspeed Musicals in “City of Angels” as Angel City 4 Alto and Donna/Oolie understudy. She also has performed with members of the New York City Opera in a reading of the new opera “Strange Fruit” and had her New York City stage debut with Theater Ten Ten’s “Ruddigore.”

Her vocal group, Marquee Five (www.marqueefive.com) won a MAC Award for Vocal Duo/Group and released their debut CD, “8-Track Throwback,” in 2011. She yearly sings with the Definitely Dickens Holiday Carolers. She has also performed in numerous composer showcases in New York and has become a regular at The Salon open mic. She has regularly appeared at open mics, for composer showcases, and has shot many videos with her puppet, Kay “ThePal” Pringle. Along with her husband, Pete, they perform online puppetry via www.ThePal.us (his puppet’s name is Jay ThePal).

Favorite credits: Chiffon in “Little Shop of Horrors” (Utah Shakespearean Festival), Sister Sophia in “Sound of Music” and Nimue in “Camelot” (Fullerton CLO), Nadia in Ovation-winning “bare” (Hudson Theater), Second Soprano in “Master Class” (Odyssey Theater), roles in “The Pajama Game” and “The Boys from Syracuse” (Reprise!), and Ellen Beach Yaw in cult favorite “A Mulholland Christmas Carol” (Theater of N.O.T.E.). In 2007, she premiered “Ridin’ High,” her debut cabaret show (directed by Calvin Remsberg). Read a more detailed bio here.

www.sierrarein.com
sirein@sierrarein.com

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Guest Review of Encores! Concert Revival of GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES

The Merchant of Venus.

A review of Encore’s! Concert Revival of GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES
At New York City Center

by Moshe Bloxenheim, Guest Reviewer

May 13, 2012

Let’s face it: “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” may not have the historical significance of “Show Boat” or “Oklahoma” but this past weekend, Encores! proved most delightfully that a show that promises good songs, brilliant comedy and an all out hilarious time well deserves to be rediscovered by a new generation.

Based upon Ms. Anita Loos’ classic novel of the same name, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” introduces the audience to the deliciously motivated Lorelei Lee; a young lady from Little Rock, Arkansas who departs the Prohibition America of 1924 for Paris. Gus Esmond Jr., Lorelei’s wealthy young button manufacturing Sugar Daddy, is reluctantly sending her to Europe for “education,” though it is soon all too obvious that France has more to learn from Lorelei than France will ever teach Lorelei. As Lorelie’s travel companion and occasional accomplice Dorothy Shaw is Paris bound too. Dorothy will never have Lorelei’s mercantile charms but she knows how to enjoy her own brand of romance. On board the “Ile de France” the girls encounter a wealth (both figuratively and literally) of attentive men ranging from the attractively athletic US Olympic team to the wandering Sir Francis Beekman – husband of the tiara selling dragon, Lady Phyllis Beekman. Also making the journey is the dipsomaniacal society matron Mrs. Ella Spofford whose son Henry, Lorelei feels, would make a perfect match for Dorothy. Lorelei’s own love (and financial) life is troubled by Gus Esmond Jr.’s possible discovery of some events in her past and the presence of the determinedly clean living zipper magnate Josephus Gage.
All this and Paris too…

I must say that the gentlemen of the cast all did the one thing necessary to ensure the success of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes:” They never acknowledged that they are the joke. Being the unequal participants in the battle against sex, all men WANT to be used for Lorelei’s convenience. And from Gus Esmond, Jr. down to the cabin attendants on the “Ile De France” there was an earnestness of urge over intellect that assured the success of every plot twist and joke that came along.

Gus Esmond, Jr. the standard young businessman of the period: a man who wants to maintain the success of his father’s button business. Mr. Clarke Thorell gives Gus a sort of Wall Street “Ghee Whiz” persona that can make us believe that, for all her demands, Gus really loves Lorelei and would throw over the fastener fortune for her (against her better judgment). Better still Mr. Thorell never lets Gus exhibit an inkling that his fortune might have some influence on Lorelei’s ardent passion for him. Even when Gus utters such a belief, it is more the insult of a jealous lover than a man who fears a gold digger.

Gus’ primary reason for jealousy is his discovery of Lorelei wearing the first Paris dress to use a ZIPPER! A zipper manufactured by his father’s competitor Josephus Gage to be precise. Josephus is a gleefully prime example of the unnervingly healthy, athletic exponent of exercise and proper diet and Mr. Stephen R. Buntrock cheerfully lets the whole world know what a moving experience really can be. As far as Mr. Buntrock is concerned, Lorelei can get Josephus under her spell, but it a supremely wholesome hex.

Mr. Aaron Lazar makes Henry Spofford start out as a rather uptight, main line stick of a young man – the sort who usually interferes with romance – but the more Lorelei forces him and Dorothy together, the more he relaxes and wins everybody over, becoming the fellow that a girl would happily move to Philadelphia for.

On the other hand, when Mr. Simon Jones concludes as he began: having a lot of fun playing Sir Francis Beekman as a the eternally routed roué who will try to sneak in as good a time as he can have, when his formidable wife isn’t watching. Sir Francis would be putty in the hands of any girl so his scenes around Lorelei are entertainingly inevitable.

Also predictable in the best way possible are the father and son duo of Monsieur’s Robert and Louis Lemanteur, detectives hired by Lady Beekman to pursue Lorelei. In the persons of Messrs. Brennan Brown and Steven Boyer, the Lemanteurs are genuine stage Frenchman of the sort who are here less to move the story forward than to remind us that everyone is in France. They may be crude caricatures of the amorous “Oooh La-La” mode but they are enjoyable, fondly drawn parodies.

Another duo that is part of the Paris scene is the song and dance team of Mr. Philip Atmore and Mr. Jared Grimes who join Ms. Megan Sikora (as the ever rehearsing dancer Gloria Stark) in the show stopping number “Mamie is Mimi.” Messrs. Atmore and Grimes are billed under their own names and with their talents, certainly have no need to be onstage in any other guise.

Other notable males are the willing athletes of the 1924 U.S. Olympic Team. Led by Mr. Luke Hawkins, as “Frank,or the Olympic Team” and Mr. Eric Bourne as “George of the Olympic Team,” along with their teammates, these eye catching men may work hard to keep their amateur status, but they are pros delivering some wonderful dances and backing up the ladies on the “Ile de France” to the hilt.

If the men cannot see their status as prisoners of war in the Battle of the Sexes that is “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” the women are all eager combatants and the general who rules the field is clearly Ms. Megan Hilty as Lorelei Lee. Ms. Hilty does not so much steal the show as slip it happily onto herself like one of Lorelei’s diamond bracelets or a luxurious mink coat. She shows us a young lady who is not so much confident of her charms as she is unconscious that it could be any other way. Lorelei accepts it as natural that the best favor she can do for a man is to accept anything that he can offer her – especially something valuable. Such a character could easily seem greedy and venal, but Ms. Hilty understands that for Lorelie there is a generosity in receiving as well. Her pleasure in receiving gifts of bonds and jewelry is both that of a child getting a birthday present and of a benefactor who loves to see the thrill men get when they give her something. Additionally, while Lorelei can often seem childish and naïve, there is clearly a formidable brain ticking away in this young lady’s head, and Ms. Megan Hilty is brilliantly hilarious as someone who vaguely knows that Europe is somewhere near France yet can convince an unwilling businessman than she understands his business better than he does. And while keeping in this superbly comic character Ms. Hilty performs her musical numbers with unforgettable panache, truly stopping the show when she delivered the Broadway standard “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Here is truly one of the great Lorelei Lees.

Though Ms. Hilty may be the unqualified star of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” Ms. Rachel York earns much laughter and applause for her part in the proceedings. As fellow good time girl and travel companion Dorothy Shaw, Ms. York is darned good company for both Lorelei and us. Dorothy views Lorelei as we do: she is an audience member who is fascinated and amused by her friend, even smiling at Lorelei’s obvious disapproval of her own admittedly unprofitable tendencies in love. Then when Dorothy does fall in love, Ms. York makes it a believable process allowing us to see a girl who is first amused, then intrigued and finally smitten.

Mrs. Ella Spofford, the mother of Henry, is a dithery matron who can’t understand why her son won’t let her have a little drink. Ms. Deborah Rush knows how to keep Ella funny and likable as the lady who just wants to enjoy herself – even if she tends to fall into the bottle when doing so – and Ms. Rush keeps us amused even with Ella’s sillier moments.
Mrs. Spofford’s opposite is Lady Phyllis Beekman, a lady of imposing proportions and demeanor. The excellent Ms. Sandra Shipley knows that she is playing a cartoon of a gorgon and never lets us down as chief villainess, whether she is keeping an eye on her constantly wandering husband or continually demanding proper payment for the diamond tiara that Lorelei was born to wear.

Ms. Megan Sikora plays another one of the archetypes of the 1920’s, the constantly working showgirl who enjoys her time with the boys. Gloria Stark aspires to the comforts of a sugar daddy, but is all too often practicing her dance routines for an impending show. Happily when she has her chance to perform numbers like “The Practice Scherzo” and “Mamie is Mimi” Ms. Sikora lets us see that she well and truly deserves her time on stage.

The rest of the cast are all up to the same standard, joining gleefully in the comedy and tunefully in the music whether we are in New York, shipboard or in Paris. They are a pleasure to watch and deserve fulsome praise for their part in the success of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

In the original musical Ms. Loos and Mr. Joseph Field had written a romp that parodies sex appeal yet even now has a surprising and rather refreshing innocence to it. In adapting this show to the concert stage Mr. David Ives clearly has understood that even if “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” is called a “Book Musical” the authors had intended that such a thing was never meant to get in the way of out and out entertainment. Instead of worrying overly much about plot development and motivation, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” occasionally lets a number take over the stage while the storyline takes a breather and we are all the better for it. Especially when being treated to the music of Mr. Jule Styne and the lyrics of Mr. Leo Robin who provide a truly great score consisting of songs like the uproarious confessional “I’m Just a Little Girl from Little Rock,” the insanely diverting “It’s Delightful Down in Chile” and the absurdly essential “Button up with Esmond.” Music Director Rob Berman leading the Encores! Orchestra deliver a polished sound that makes it all sound fresh and alive using Mr. Don Walkers original orchestrations to give us the feeling that we are listening the sound of 1948.

Mr. Randy Skinner’s eye catching choreography is just fun, moving things forward when it has to or deliberately recollecting a time when a chorus was there to set an atmosphere or simply show off the available talent.

Like everything else, Mr. John Lee Beatty’s minimal scenery, effectively lit by Mr. Peter Kaczorowski, and Mr. David C. Woolard’s costuming never try to directly evoke the 1920’s, but rather how the 1920’s looked to those were remembering them in the late 1940’s. Mr. Woolard’s attire for Dorothy as the chic flapper alone would have deserved high praise but his celebration of Lorelei’s ripely voluptuous charms clearly assisted Ms. Megan Hilty in creating her unforgettable characterization.

For the most part Mr. Scott Lehrer’s sound design was good, but there were occasional lapses of clarity for the singers. Indeed, I thought that part of the problem with the least successful song; “Keep Cool with Coolidge” was an inaudibility of lyrics that left the audience rather puzzled.

There is an old saying that “it isn’t only what you do but how you do it” and Director John Rando certainly makes “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” do IT! Blessed with a great cast, good material and a solid production, Mr. Rando makes sure that even when story is standing still, the show MOVES. He clearly knows that comedy must be performed earnestly and that absolutely nothing on stage should give a hint that this is farce. And Mr. Rando wisely allows everyone a chance to shine, knowing that this makes Ms. Hilty’s success as the star even more impressive.

As with every Encores! production, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” was a limited run that has already sadly ended. But between the excellent reviews, the ecstatic audiences and the demand for tickets, I would not be the least surprised to learn of this production being moved to another venue for a more extended run and I can only say that I should be delighted for the chance to enjoy it again and would recommend it to everyone I can.

About the reviewer:
I am a computer programmer, wannabe writer who loves theater and just got into the habit of inflicting my theatrical opinions. I live in New York.
Moshe can be reached at MB1224@aol.com

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Arje Shaw’s “MOOLAH” An Industry Reading May 7th 2012

On Monday, May 7th 2012, I was privileged to be invited to a reading of Arje Shaw’s newest play, Moolah starring Joe Pantoliano and Mario Cantone.

Directed by Charles Messina, (The Accidental Pervert), Moolah is fast moving, one word, Who’s On First type vaudvilian humor and it’s very enjoyable. Here’s what the invitation said about it:

MOOLAH tells the story of two con men who fall out of favor with the Mob.
Ant’ny is a dandy, sharp-talking shyster and small-time bookie.
His younger cousin Sonny, a gay hit man, runs a hair salon by day and moonlights as a contract killer by night. Sonny’s salon slogan: cut by day, clip by night.

This darkest of comedies reveals the fortunes and misfortunes of the two in a “Waiting for Godot” meets “The Sopranos” thriller which penetrates the core issues of love, money and sexuality.

These men are desperate.
Each one with a bounty on his head.
Each one conning the other only to discover they have only conned themselves.

I got a chance to chat with Messrs Pantoliano, Cantone and Shaw after the reading and they were wonderful to chat with as you will see below. Enjoy!

Oh, and if you’d like to become a Producer of Moolah and help see this marvelous piece go to Broadway by investing, please contact Mr. Shaw by email and tell him Elli at broadwaykingdom sent you!

Special thanks to Chinua Thomas for Videography.

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PRESS RELEASE: ANDREA MCARDLE TO JOIN READING OF LOST IN LOVE THE AIR SUPPLY MUSICAL

For Immediate Release:

ANDREA MCARDLE, BROADWAY’S ORIGINAL ANNIE, SIGNS ON FOR READING OF LOST IN LOVE THE AIR SUPPLY MUSICAL—FINAL CASTING ANNOUNCED 

Andrea McArdle, Broadway’s original ANNIE, joins Tony-nominated actor Constantine Maroulis (Rock of Ages, American Idol) and Justin Matthew Sargent (Rock of Ages, Bonnie & Clyde) for the April 23, 24 industry-only reading of LOST IN LOVE, a new musical based on the hit songs of Air Supply. McArdle sprang to fame in early 1977 when she became the youngest performer ever to be nominated for a Tony Award as Best Lead Actress in a Musical. She has continued to perform as an actress and singer and is well-known for her alto range and strong vocal belt.

 

Ms. McArdle will read the role of MRS RUTLEDGE, an aristocratic woman of a certain age who seems to know everything about everyone. McArdle will be performing one of the four new songs written for the show by Graham Russell.  Mr. Russell was in town last week for the final casting and had a hand in picking the cast.

 

Mr. Maroulis plays a young prince, EDUARDO, whose intentions come into question as he pines for KATHERINE, Kristin Piacentile (“When Midnight Strikes,” Off B’way, “Chautauqua!” at The Public) while wooing her best friend MARGO, Lynn Craig (“Cats” nat’l tour, “The Legend of Julie Taymor” – Fringe).  Margo’s billionaire industrialist stepbrother ARMITAGE, played by Paul Jackel (“The Secret Garden,” B’way, “The Fantasticks,” Off B’way) has an eye for antiquities and for Katherine.

 

Rounding out the cast as LORD AND LADY ASHTON are Broadway veterans Beau Allen (“Best Little Whorehouse,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” original production, and “Obama in Naples” opening April 25th at the June Havoc Theater) and Adinah Alexander (slated to for “Kinky Boots” later this year and the original Broadway casts of “Wicked” and “The Wedding Singer”). Other casting includes William Blake (American Idol, season 4); Brian Golub (Disney’s “When In Rome,” film; “Naked Boys Singing,” Off Bway), Georgia Haege (“Lizzie Borden the Musical,” Off Bway, and tours with singer Meatloaf), and Jamie Epstein (“The Velveteen Rabbit,” “The Little Mermaid” with Literally Alive Children’s Theater).

 

Graham Russell, who composed many of Air Supply’s hits, has written four new songs for the musical and is working hands-on with book writer Melissa Bell.  Concurrently, Ms. Bell is working with director Tommy Tune and producer Stevie Phillips (Best Little Whorehouse) on the content development of the new musical “54.”

 

Robyn C. Lee directs. A former Broadway performer (Merlin, 5 6 7 8 Dance!) Ms. Lee has directed several Off Broadway shows (Adore the Spirit, HELP/DESK) and is author of In the Moment: The Art of Being and The Book of TABs: Meditations on Acting Life.

 

David M. Beris is Stage Manager (B’way: “Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s Life,” The History Boys”) and Jonathan Ivie “Jivie” is Musical Director (“Rock the presidents,” regional). Josh Freilich is Assistant Musical Director.

 

Air Supply will be performing such mega-hits as “All Out of Love,” “The One That You Love,” and “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” at BB Kings in NYC on April 20.

LOST IN LOVE is set in England in the early 1900s and has a Downton Abbey feel.  As royalty and emerging American wealth collide, a man and a woman must decide to follow tradition or live for love.

The staged reading is scheduled April 23 & 24 in New York City.  For information on obtaining an invitation, please email LostInLovetheMusical@gmail.com (Industry/invited only).

Press contact: Steve Levesque/Chrissy Sutphin at LUCK Media & Marketing, Inc.

info@luckmedia.com / (818) 232-4175

 

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