Tag Archives: Theatre Review

On The Town (Broadway) – Review

On The Town

A town’s a lonely town, when you pass through and there is no one waiting there for you, then it’s a lonely town.

A surefire (at least temporary) cure for that loneliness is to head over to the Lyric Theatre for the most recent (nearly perfect) revival of On The Town. Leonard Bernstein’s moving and joyful score (conducted by John Miller) and Jerome Robbins’ inspired dance would be enough to lift one’s spirit and believe that New York is in fact a helluva town. But the execution of Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s Book & Lyrics are what make this production soar. Much attention is paid to the dance and that’s the way it should be. On The Town is first and foremost a dance show (originating from by Mr. Robbins’ ballet, Fancy Free.)

Director John Rando understands and allows the dance and general movement to tell much of the story. He choreographs additional movement having the actors move through the house several times (to varying effect.) This device works best during Lonely Town as Ensemble members sing plaintively to the house. This might not work with every cast but this Ensemble is flawless and inspiring. There seems to be nothing they can’t do. Much of the principals are equally up to the task. Tony Yazbeck is a poignant Gabey, and I wished for more stage time for him. His sailor brothers, Jay Armstrong Johnson (Chip) and Clyde Alves (Ozzie) are no less wonderful but saddled with much more distraction than Gabey. The purest moments happen when Gabey is on stage.

That purity (otherwise known as relying on the brilliance of the material) is widely in place. The orchestra (Yes, and actual in-house orchestra!) is stupendous and spot on. The sets are clean (Beowulf Boritt) yet evocative and only add to the experience. Much of the casting generates the same effect. Megan Fairchild (Ivy) is a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet and makes her acting debut  with On The Town. She holds her own up there and is a brilliant dancer. It’s never quite clear what the attraction is between she and Gabey however. Alysha Umphress is a very entertaining Hildy, and while my heart still belongs to Leslie Kritzer (in the NY City Center Encores! 2008 production) Ms. Umphress was very good. Elizabeth Stanley plays Claire, who is obsessed with the primitive man, or any man for that matter. She has a lot of personality but might not be best suited to the role. Not a dancer and by nature a booming singer, her performance was a bit too burlesque for that of Claire (originated by Betty Comden.) The characterization made for very little difference between Hildy and Claire. Mention must be made of Philip Boykin who opened the show with I Feel Like I’m Not Out of Bed Yet. He enlivened and deepened every character he played and was an absolute joy to behold. The audience’s favorite however was Jackie Hoffman. Playing the Little Old Lady, Maude P. Dilly and others; she is on stage an awful lot. This role was played by Andrea Martin in the 2008 Encores! production. Ms. Martin was funny and lovely and pitch perfect. I longed for her. Ms. Hoffman’s portrayal (of everyone) was cartoonish and the audience loved it. But nothing, not even the thickest slice of ham can spoil this New York specialty. Yes the costumes (Jess Goldstein) were more suited to the Guys & Dolls gangsters and gals. The addition of overt sexuality and discomforting homosexual stereotypes was distracting and in very bad taste. And yes it was a bit odd to have the show stopped to sing Happy Birthday to & discuss the career aspirations of (presumably) a child of one of the (THIRTY) producers. But the truth of the matter is that three hours flew by and there was never a dull moment. And sitting with all those wonderful people in the dark, soaking in one of the great American Musical was the panacea for a lonely town.


Posted by on October 14, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Macbeth – Review

When a mind is lost where does it go? If you are Alan Cumming at Lincoln Center you venture into the world of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth; not the man, the play. In this ostensibly one-man play Mr. Cumming plays all the most vivid and recognizable parts while a patient in an institution. He descends into custody after a criminal event. The play opens to the stirring pantomime of him being undressed by attendants (Ali Craig and Myra McFadyen.) Evidence is collected, gently and cooly from; beneath his nails, inside his wounds and mouth. He is allowed to hold onto one evidence bag. A bag we assume holds the emotional evidence of the crime. The attendants climb the stairs and reach for the door as the first audible lines are spoken; “When shall we three meet again.”

So begins the tour de force that is this Macbeth production from the National Theatre of Scotland. It is a Herculean undertaking this play within a play. To convincingly construe a device to deliver a one-man Macbeth is no easy feat. Directed by John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg this stunning production hits the mark with only one or two relatively small hiccups. The creative alchemy of the; storyline, set (Merle Hensel,) sound (Fergus O’Hare,) image (Ian William Galloway,) characterization and staging work to keep the audience mesmerized. Without the excellent staging or performance it would be impossible to follow this play. Mr. Cumming easily transforms himself into (at times dueling) characters. He often achieves this with only his body and voice although there is a prop or two also engaged. We are helped to follow these transitions with real time projections.

What is most remarkable about this Macbeth is not Macbeth. It is a tale, told through Macbeth of a man’s descent into insanity. Clever devices such as the attendants appearing to periodically anesthetize Cumming, or the closed circuit cameras (producing the projections) in his locked ward remind us of what we’re watching. We are forced outside of Macbeth at the appearance of the Lady’s bloody hands. The lady’s hallucination becomes the patient’s hallucination becomes stigmata as the attendants look fruitlessly for a source for the blood. We are reminded of the ill man on display during more than one emotional collapse. A heart wrenching yet contained Cumming dissolves and curls into himself. One of these devolutions has an attendant carrying him to the bed. This event can only be called a pas des deux. There is much beautiful movement (Christine Devaney) in this production, but it is this particular dance that clutches the heart.

It can be seductive to forget that we are not watching a Macbeth, but a man who is lost in the world of Macbeth. Cumming’s portrayal of all the characters is so convincing (and at times very funny.) He manages to capture the sexual chemistry between husband and wife with nothing more than his own body. Toward the end of the play we discover the content of his evidence bag. Our imaginations easily construe countless plausible explanations for this man’s psychiatric demise. It is not clear he will ever recover. The last words spoken are; “When shall we three meet again” suggesting we are inside the endless loop that is his mind.


Posted by on July 9, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Clybourne Park – Review

The power of Clybourne Park is not immediately evident, but instead it creeps up and takes hold; a stranglehold.  The construct of the play seems so simple, almost a graduate thesis on: Raisin In The Sun Ever After?  Written by Bruce Norris, the first Act takes place “apres Raisin” in 1959 and the second Act is in 2009.  Seven actors play the act’s different roles (or are they different?)  The second Act characters are often shadows of the 1959 characters.

The story (in 1959) is that Bev (Christina Kirk) and Russ (Frank Wood) are preparing to move from their Clybourne Park home.  Their housekeeper Francine (Crystal A. Dickinson) and her husband Albert (Damon Gupton) lend a helping hand.  Ms. Dickinson and Mr. Gupton’s posture and demeanor portray more about the life of African Americans in 1959 than any narrative.  They are simply magical.  Soon Karl (Jeremy Shamos) and his wife Betsy (Annie Parisse) show up to confront Bev and Russ.  It seems the house has been sold to a Negro family (unbeknownst to the owners.)  Tensions are high and things get a bit ugly.  It is uncovered that the owner’s son killed himself upstairs (this is seen as a real estate set-back for some reason.)  Karl threatens to spill the beans to the new owners.  The minister (Brendan Griffin) makes the ensemble less coupled.

The second Act curtain rises to the sight of the set ransacked, abused, neglected and abandoned.  Graffiti scrawls the (once updated) wallpaper.  Empty beer bottles, trash, and a baseball bat are the only decor.  A neighborhood meeting is taking place to review the architectural plans for a new house in the place of the crumbling one before us.  It is 2009 and the concerns over racial infiltration have been turned upside down.  The African American couple is (somewhat) challenging the plans of the white couple and everyone has a lawyer.  There are tremendously powerful (and often funny) moments, as Mr. Shamos’ Steve gets more and more defensive.  Personal narratives unfold and we discover the modern characters connections to the neighborhood and each other (perhaps too tidily.)  There is a lovely synchronicity at times.  The day of the week in Act I is the same as Act II.  There are several other references that make things feel solid.  A great takeaway moment is the reversal of outrage (between acts) when one male character touches another male character.  It is a bit confusing to see the new owners (of a house they’re going to raze) become distraught with the news of a suicide occurring upstairs (fifty years ago.)  We expect to discover a horrific incident in the new owner’s past.  But no.  Just the idea that someone once killed themselves in the same latitude and longitude that their media room will inhabit is enough to send them around the bend.

At times, Pam MacKinnon’s direction is slightly halting and a bit overwrought.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the roles played by Christina Kirk.  Her characterization of Bev in the first Act brought to mind Corky Sherwood (Murphy Brown) in her flailing mannerisms and extreme annunciations.  This was no doubt intentional and brought a point home that was lost on me.  Ms. Kirk is brilliantly delicate in her moments with Betsy (Annie Parisse.)  Ms. Parisse is unrecognizable as a (deaf) neighbor great with child.  Speaking (convincingly) as a woman deaf since birth (and being thoroughly ignored) she creates a telling vignette of her own upstage with Ms. Kirk.  (It is mildly disconcerting to have this plot device alongside Ms. Kirk and her real, if slight, speech impediment.  It’s distracting trying to determine if there’s intention behind the casting.)  Jeremy Shamos certainly has a great role and knows exactly what to do with it.  He is simply wonderful.

Clybourne Park is the story of power; who has it, who’s losing it and who desperately needs it.  Race is part of that story.  These are large issues Mr. Norris is discussing.  Their power transcends the sometimes awkward delivery system in play.  What is magnificent is how the characters (in both acts) speak and interact with each other. The dialogue is jammed packed and often tumbling out and over in competing conversations.  There are painfully accurate vignettes (some involving capitals of countries) that demonstrate just how myopic we really can be, and tragically, how we probably always will be.

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Posted by on May 17, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – Review

NY City Center Encores! production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes belongs to the Ensemble, and it’s in very good hands!  Rob Berman’s orchestra is superb and is neatly paired with Randy Skinner’s lush choreography.  This show is filled with dance and cast with actual dancers.  The chorus is actual singers as well.

There is a number towards the end of Act I, “In the Champ de Mars” when the chorus does not use body microphones.  They stand on the edge of the stage and sing out.  It is practically disorienting to hear sound and be able to locate its source.  These singers do not need amplification or tricks of any kind, they are the real thing.  If hearing truly talented singers unplugged isn’t enough to knock your socks off there are Attmore & Grimes.  Yowza.  This tap-dancing duo (in real life as well) perform “Mamie is Mimi” with Megan Skiro (a spit-fire dancer brimming with all kinds of personality.)  It has been a very (very) long time since I have seen this kind of dancing anywhere but in an old MGM movie.  Simply stunning.

While Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Music: Jule Styne, Lyrics: Leo Rubin, Book: Anita Loos & Joseph Fields) is not the most riveting of musicals, director John Rando made much of it.  There is enough fun and powerful talent in this production that I found myself fantasizing of a dream team of Kristin Chenoweth and Laura Benanti as Lorelei and Dorothy.  Those roles are currently filled with Megan Hilty and Rachel York.  The audience loved them, and Mr. Rando predicted it.  Every number of Ms. Hilty’s was split into three parts, allowing the audience to applaud in triplicate.  Ms. York came in at the end of dance numbers to throw her arms up and receive applause.  I’m not sure Dorothy needs to be a dancer, so it’s best to keep her off the stage and allow the dancer’s their moment.  The audience was so enamored with Ms. Hilty that at one point they wildly applauded her dress.  Yet I found this duo unsettling.  Ms. York almost disappeared as Dorothy (when she wasn’t taking a bow.)  Ms. Hilty’s interpretation seemed more Betty Boop (with blond wig) than Lorelei.  When the second act opens, Dorothy and friend enter in red dresses.  The blond with her seemed so much more toned down than in Act I.  I let out a small sigh of relief.  Then I realized the blond was in fact Mrs. Spofford (Ella Rush) and not Lorelei.

See this show for the dancing and the incredible orchestra.  See this show to remember what songs sound like with out technical tricks.  See this show to experience an Overture and Entr’acte.  None of these elements should be taken for granted.  If you’ve ever experience a Broadway musical at which the conductor is waving his arms to an empty pit (the music being piped in from the basement and locales unknown) you know exactly what I mean.

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Posted by on May 10, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The Columnist – Review

The Columnist, by David Auburn, is based upon the true story of Joseph Aslop.  The play, directed with breathtaking precision by Daniel Sullivan, spans approximately fifteen years (1954 – late 1960s.)  The storyline is tightly woven into the time periods.  We experience the cold war, the Kennedy administration and; (the elephant in the room) the Vietnam War.

There is a reason this period of time is often used as a backdrop; it is simply riveting.  Movies and television have played with the cultural and political extremes of the period.  There’s no “playing” in The Columnist.  This is a true story.  There seems to be many plays about real people that are little more than monologues impassionedly delivered to the balcony.  This is not one of those.  This is a well-crafted story with three-dimensional characters.  The play works so solidly that you needn’t know the people were real.  (Clearly many in the audience had no framework for “real” as the murmuring explanations of the Kennedy assassination would indicate.  Really?  How many times did the actors declare it was November 1963?!  What are they teaching in high school?)

John Lithgow is Joseph, perhaps it’s more accurate to write that “he plays Joseph” but to this viewer he was Joseph.  Mr. Lithgow is entirely comfortable in the skin of a man not entirely comfortable in his own skin.  Joseph is a popular columnist (syndicated in 190 newspapers – are there still 190 newspapers in this country?)  He is well-educated and talented conservative columnist with the ears of the nation’s leaders.  He also prefers the company of men, leading to a blackmailing incident that is a bit of a thread throughout the play.  Joseph does marry; a lovely widow and perfect hostess for his many parties; Susan (the dreamy Margaret Colin.)  Ms. Colin is almost unrecognizable as Susan, not physically; she’s as beautiful as ever.  She is every inch the Susan as Mr. Lithgow is Joseph.  Their family unit is rounded off by Joseph’s brother Stewart (Boyd Gaines) and Susan’s daughter Abigail (Grace Gummer.)

Mr. Gaines has a wonderful role in Stewart.  His interactions with David Halberstam (Stephen Kunken) allow us to see the wheels turning and the guards shifting.  Stewart, unlike his brother, relishes intimate connections.  (We suspect Joseph hosts Robert McNamara and Westmoreland partly to avoid personal dinner table chitchat.)  It is on Mr. Gaines’ face and in his posture that we see the weight of life’s events.  Ms. Gummer on the other hand becomes lighter and freer as she grows into a turbulent time.  She (brilliantly) evolves from a child to a woman.  Her relationship with Joseph creates some of the more joyous moments of the play.

There is a school of thought that cautions that it’s never good news for a play when it’s the set that is mentioned.  Rubbish.  The dramatic seamless transitions of time and space are intricately linked to the magic of John Lee Beatty.  “Seamless” is the operative term as so many shows introduce their lumbering sets with the sound of pulleys, wheels or grunting stagehands.  The Columnist set is brilliantly used to support the play and the actors.  The same is true for Rocco Disanti’s projection design.  A favorite moment is when the overhead typed words melted into falling snowflakes.

The Columnist is perfectly performed and produced (by Manhattan Theatre Club) and is a breath of fresh air in the “true politics and figures as characters” category of theatre.  The story is compelling and the tempo never falters.  The play does not however pack much of an emotional wallop.  There is a moment, delivered without any sentimentality by Ms. Gummer that creates a bit of a lump in the throat, reminding us of this absence.

The Columnist is at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre until June 24th.


Posted by on May 9, 2012 in Uncategorized


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