Tag Archives: Danny Burstein

Talley’s Folly – Review

talley's folly

The curtain-less stage, set for Talley’s Folly (by Jeff Cowie) is impossible to ignore. The southern weathered boathouse littered with rusted and discarded objects begs for the arrival of Miss Havisham. The small apron of the Laura Pel’s stage is festooned in large cartoon-like flowers, setting the stage if you will for this realistic play that knows it’s a play.

Lanford Wilson’s 1979 Pulitzer Prize play begins with eliminating the fourth wall. Matt Friedman (Danny Burstein) walks through the house and onto the stage and announces how long the play will be and why he’s there. He repeats his opening speech (at a higher speed) for latecomers. For audience members who cling affectionately to the fourth wall, this is somewhat terrifying. But before we have time to rethink our choices, a halting and delicate story unfolds and we are immersed, enthralled and utterly smitten. We meet Sally Talley (Sarah Paulson) whom Matt has traveled to woo. Theirs is not an easy courtship. In fact at times it would seem that whatever courtship there is only exists in Matt’s mind. Sally is a lovely blonde woman from a wealthy family that is less than thrilled with the existence of the obviously Jewish and vaguely European Matt. That the play takes place during World War II is interesting but not all that relevant. The family’s attitude is timeless as is the story of Matt and Sally. To outline what occurs between them in the course of 90 minutes would deny potential audiences the real pleasure of this play.

Mr. Burstein who if truth be told, owns any role he plays, is Matt Friedman. True the role will always conjure its creation by Judd Hirsch’s (in 1979), but Mr. Burstein is not in anyone’s shadow. He is larger than his physical self yet not in anyway overblown. He plumbs the humor while swallowing the pain. Matt Friedman could easily become pitiable, but Burstein never allows that to occur. Ms. Paulson could easily become set dressing in his presence but under Michael Wilson’s direction they shine equally upon the stage. While we at times we become frustrated by Sally, we never once doubt her. The actors capture the realism and the poetry of Matt and Sally; we ache for them and we cheer for them.

The Roundabout Theatre’s Talley’s Folly opens on March 5th

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Posted by on February 28, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Follies – Review

I knew upon entering the utilitarian Marquis Theatre that my instincts were right about seeing FolliesThe theatre, located in a Las Vegas styled Marriott, is hardly known for its charm.  But there it was, draped in dingy, droopy, graying muslin.  The draping was so authentic, most did not know it was not part of the theatre.  The set, (Derek Mclane) so realistically evoked a decaying vaudeville theatre, that I knew attention had been paid.Now I must interject that the only Follies I have seen was an Encores! (staged concert) version.  I may not be the most reliable reporter of the event.  Follies, while not a hit when it opened in 1971, is a wonderful mix of poignancy, period styling, and Zigfield Follies/Busby Burkeley pageantry.  The songs (Stephen Sondheim,) you would recognize many, are gorgeous, and there is more than one show stopper.  Follies holds an additional, while rare, distinction; it is an incredible showcase for women of a certain age.The premise is a reunion of the Weissman Girls before the closing of a theatre.  The Weissman Follies spanned “the years between the world wars” and the reunion is set in 1971.  A younger cast is employed to evoke the performers past selves.  This would be when I start gushing about the costumes (Gregg Barnes.)  I was reminded of those scenes in The Women and That Touch of Mink.  You know, when the ladies sit in a comfortable seat and watch the fashion show while mentally choosing what they’ll buy?  The 1920s and 1930s costumes were dreamy, as were the 1971 gowns.  Mary Beth Peil (Women on the Verge, The Good Wife) was ravishing in a form fitting black stretch gown and cascading gray hair.   Elaine Paige was equally gorgeous on the other side of glamor in an electric blue satin gown trimmed in mink.  But enough about the clothes.  For now.What a cast!  The two couples at the center of the storyline; Buddy and Sally and Ben and Phyllis, are played respectively by; Danny Burstein, Bernadette Peters, Ron Raines and Jan Maxwell.  Danny Burstein is always fun to watch (if Bert Lahr and Wallace Shawn had a singing and dancing son it would be Danny Burstein) but he is far too young for this role.  The problem with a show about aging, and one that announces the characters age from time to time, is there is not a whole lot of wiggle room in chronologically blind casting.  Bernadette Peters suffers from this fallout as well.  At one point she declares herself “49” and there is sputtering in the audience.  I feel certain they meant no harm, it was just so outrageous.  Ron Raines is not served well by a declaration of his being “53” either.  Both Mr. Raines and Ms. Peters are in their 60s, a fact that is only highlighted by pairing them with Mr. Burstein, who is in his 40s.  Ms. Maxwell is probably the only principal who is the right age.  If one can suspend reality (which needs to include the premise that a 5’2” Ms Peters could ever be a show girl,) this whole thing should not be such a problem.  Although I find it interesting that during a time of such enormous weight given to appearances, that we choose to overlook the obvious for the slightly more subtle which is fame.This would be the time to shout a big hurrah, that Mr. Raines is on the Broadway stage.  He is a veteran concert and regional performer, and known to some for his daytime television work (Guiding Light.)  His voice is so old school rich and reverberating, it took my breath away.  He’s a bit easy on the eyes as well.  He was a delightful match for Ms. Maxwell, who tore the place up with her “Could I Leave You.”  The lack of chemistry between Mr. Raines and Ms. Peters was perfect for the story.  I know I am in a very small minority in never seeing Ms. Peters’ stage appeal.  I adored her in the Steve Martin films, but find her voice to be thin and nasally.  Her role is not huge, but I was left wondering how incredible it would have been to hear “Losing My Mind” sung by Tyne Daly.  I had little time to sulk, as I had the transcendental experience of hearing Miss Elaine Paige sing “I’m Still Here.”  I still have chills and a lump in my throat.  Now in between all these rich, gorgeous songs brimming with pathos, are some of the best performances you will see on stage.  “Who’s That Woman?” is a tap, chorus line, number performed by most of the women.  While most of the principal cast are not dancers, Terri White is.  She plays Stella Deems and tears up the stage in this number.  Holy moly!  (Ms. White may be familiar to readers of the New York Times.  She was profiled a couple of years ago while performing in Finian’s Rainbow.  At 60 years old she found herself homeless.)   Her performance needed an Encore desperately.  I would not be surprised if one is added (the show is currently in previews.)I suspect that this might not be the quintessential Follies.  My guess is that a more appropriate casting of Sally and Buddy would launch this production into the history books.  That said, it is without a doubt a must-see!

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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown – Review

It seems utterly absurd to even try and review a show after viewing what was ostensibly a dress rehearsal.  But it is indeed that very phenomenon that compels me to blather.  I have often paid to see dress rehearsals (most often of City Center’s Encores) and find nothing terribly off putting about the experience, it can in fact, even be exhilarating, deluding me into feeling as if I am part of the experience.  What was particularly off putting about yesterday’s performance was that on top of being a very difficult show (technically) it was also a brand-new show.  What specific brand of arrogance drives the creative team to not engage in out of town tryouts?  I’ll never know.
I have not seen the movie upon which this musical is based.  I’m not sure that should be a precursor for seeing a show anyway.  I did not enter the theatre with any of my usual “book” fatigue, derived from recent movie-to-show productions or television-to-movie productions (really? have all the writers been swept away by evil aliens?)  I entered the clumsy yet beautiful Belasco theatre, knowing I was in for an adventure and having zero expectations.
Let it be said straightaway, that an opportunity to see Miss Patti LuPone, Laura Benanti and (even an under utilized) De’Adre Aziza even sitting on a stool and talking about what they have loved and loss and wore, would get me to the theatre.  As completely crazy as Women on the Verge is (and it is) I feel I got my $50 worth just with Patti singing on a bare stage wearing nothing but a little black dress and with Laura running across the stage in her underwear (during a technical glitch) stage whispering to the audience “everything’s
gonna be fine.”  Priceless.
But the show?  Do I start with the obvious; the absurd Spanish accents yet utter lack of Latinos in any of the leads?  Do I mention the miscasting of Brian Stokes Mitchell, or perhaps the mis-writing of his character?  How about the superfluous constant moving of huge scenery and scene-ettes that do nothing to move the story?  Then there are the gratuitous scenes (so many of them) that reek of an unchecked ego.  (All that was needed was a no-man on the creative team.)  There is a cab (driven by the wonderful Danny Burstein) that simply must be stopped.  It is awkward, cumbersome and does nothing except make ridiculous amounts of noise.  Speaking of noise; the sets are really really loud!
The sound is completely off on the show, but I’ve no doubt that will be ironed out in time.  You know it’s bad when Patti can’t be heard over the orchestra!  The orchestra is divine, by the way, and it was wonderful to hear an overture (no matter how truncated.)  The voices are all dreamy too, as is the not very memorable music.  The lyrics themselves?  Eh.  The songs and structure of the show are very formulaic.  Everything in between is nuts though.  Speaking of which, I can’t help but wonder about the expression on the face of the insurance underwriter when he/she discovered that his female leads would be dangled from harnesses, swinging on pool toys.  Miss Benanti has a history of very serious neck injury, and Miss LuPone is a national treasure.  Was that visual effect (used twice) really worth the risk?  And what did it mean anyway?  Speaking of risk; what’s with the large incredibly stinky fire that is lit on stage?  Excessive and scary in such a technically awkward show, not to mention a serious liability for anyone in the audience with breathing difficulties.  I couldn’t help but think, while watching some of these gimmicks, that a 14 year old boy had staged this show.
I’m still not entirely sure what the story was/is.  The characters aren’t given much room to develop and the transitions to songs which ostensibly are to move the story forward, simply don’t exist.  I don’t mind that there isn’t much of a story and the action is confusing.  I really don’t.  I mind laziness and arrogance and weird out of context dance numbers.
All that said, I would see it again.  When would I ever again have the chance to see Sheri Renee Scott, Patti, Laura, De”Adre belt out (even a middling number) together?

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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Uncategorized


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