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Photo Credit - Carol Rosegg
Altar Boyz
Monday - Friday @ 8:00PM
Saturday 2:00PM & 8:00PM
Sunday 3:00PM & 7:00PM
New World Stages

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Breezy, slightly-subversive, silly-at-times, too-often-safe…yet damned entertaining, Altar Boyz has been running to packed houses for over a year and it's pretty obvious why. It's the type of show that makes you instantly want to revisit it, with new friends, so you can gage their reaction AND so you can have some mindless fun all over again!

The musical is not groundbreaking or daring and it doesn't pretend to be. You can enjoy yourself whether you're a practicing Catholic or an atheist. But along the merriment way there are a few important messages that seep through about acceptance, tolerance and not selling out to the “evils” of the world and remaining true to yourself.

All that and five cute boys who sing their pants off (okay, not literally…this is NOT Naked Altar Boyz Singing..hmmm…maybe it should be-perhaps in the Amsterdam version…)

The plot is flimsy: Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham (yes, Abraham!) are on a "Raise the Praise Tour" and their goal is to save every soul in the audience. That's pretty much it.

The score itself isn't the most memorable. Except for the exciting opening “We Are the Altar Boyz” and the moving finale, “I Believe”, most of the songs are generic pop. It's the way the boyz perform them that make it a joy to experience.

From the gleefully ironic, “I'm a Catholic,” sung to gay perfection by newcomer Zach Hanna, to the stamina-challenging “Body, Mind & Soul” which Ryan Duncan sings the crap out of, the boyz prove their stage prowess over and over.

As Matthew, Jason Celaya holds the show together and is the key standout performance. With more energy and sly sex appeal than all the Boy Bands, Celaya sends sparks whenever he's onstage (and that's the entire show, folks!)

For sheer kick-ass entertainment, seek worship with the inspirational and cute-as-the-devil Altar Boyz!

Book by Kevin Del Aguila; Music and Lyrics by Gary Adler & Michael Patrick Walker;
Conceived by Marc Kessler & Ken Davenport; Choreographed by Christopher Gattelli; Directed by Stafford Arima. Starring: Jason Celaya (Matthew); Zach Hanna (Mark); Andrew C. Call (Luke); Ryan Duncan (Juan); and Dennis Moench (Abraham).

Tickets $25.00-$75.00 at and 212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250

New World Stages|340 West 50th Street

Photo Credit Mary Blanco

Les Ballets Grandiva at Symphony Space
Apr 16 & 17, 2007
The Run is Over

Beyond Genderbending

Reviewed by William S. Gooch, III

What makes a ballerina great or memorable? Is it her pristine technique, her lyricism, or her onstage allure? Rarely in the dance world do you get all these attributes embodied in one dancer, the exceptions are perhaps, Margot Fonteyn, Suzanne Farrell, Virginia Johnson or Sylvie Guillem, to name a few. During its April engagement at New York City’s Symphony Space, Les Ballets Grandiva comes close to showcasing ballerinas that are memorable, if not quite yet great.

Unlike their predecessors, Grandiva has gone far beyond the joke of hairy-chested men in tutus and pointe shoes. With quality productions, good choreography, and male dancers that can rival female ballerinas, Grandiva has made the phenomenon of all-male ballet comedy into an artform.

At its April 17th performance, Les Ballets Grandiva presented a very diverse repertoire, opening with all-time favorite, Pas de Quatre. This 18th century classic centers on four rival ballerinas of that era—Marie Taglioni, Fanny Cerrito, Lucile Grahn and Carlotta Grisi—who dance together, and exhibit their individual talents in four distinct solos. Traditionally, at the end of each ballerina’s variation, rival ballerinas cordially bow to each other and give the spotlight to the next dancer with just a hint of condescension. However, in Grandiva’s rendering, the backstage jealousies and cattiness are brought on stage, front and center. Ballerinas trip each other, roll their eyes, and mug for applause. Natalia Macabre (Brian Norris) as prima ballerina assoluta, Marie Taglioni, is the celebre of the group. Even though she is aging and runs of out of steam during the more technically challenging sections, Taglioni is still the HBIC (head ballerina in charge).

In its New York premiere, They Who Wore White Flowers, a ballet in the style of Anthony Tudor’s Lilac Garden, tells a story of misplaced Victorian love and abandonment. Unlike Lilac Garden, the misplaced affection in They Who Wore White Flowers is sometimes same-gendered. Choreographer Brian Reeder borrows heavily from the Tudor lexicon of dance emotions: swooning couples with hands draped dramatically over the forehead and the all too familiar Tudor apoplectic stillness. And in Grandiva’s tradition, supported lifts have hands ending up in naughty places. This is a ballet that could fit easily into the repertoire of more mainstream companies.

Spartacus, choreographed by Grandiva’s artistic director, Victor Trevino, is a parody of Yuri Grigorivich’s Spartacus. Nina Minimaximova (Victor Trevino) portrays Phrygia, Spartacus’s (George Callahan) love interest. The extrapolated adagio is an acrobatic and kitschy send-up of the style that the Bolshoi Ballet brought to America in the 60s. And of course, the performance would not be complete without excessive, deep bows and the batting of fake eyelashes.

In Grande Tarantelle, the company has the opportunity to show off its technical virtuosity. To music by Louis Gottschalk, the dancers show that they are equally adept at men’s technique, such as double tours en l’air and double sauts de basque, as well as multiple fouette pirouettes on pointe. Flashing megawatt smiles and banging tambourines, the dancers jump and spin through the difficult choreography as though it were just another night at the ballet. The real standout in this Balanchine knockoff is Pearl Lee Gates (Ari Mayzick). Gates has the most luscious legs in the troupe and executes the exacting steps with saucy aplomb.

Karina (Allen Dennis) has been dancing The Dying Swan for over two decades and yet manages to keep the interpretation fresh and interesting. Karina’s portrayal is hauntingly beautiful, despite the double-jointed antics and Mommie Dearest-like facial distortions. Using her pointe shoes like steel daggers, Karina picks the over the stage as though she is avoiding landmines. This is not the passive, wilting swan of Anna Pavlova, but one on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

With more than ten years of history under its belt, Les Ballets Grandiva has proven that all-male comedy ballet can be more than slapstick, bad wigs and big calves. Good dancing is good dancing, and with Grandiva that is what really matters.

Click her for the Victor Trevino Interview

Click here for the Ballet Grandiva Feature



Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s

Tuesday 7:00pm
Wednesday 2:00PM & 8:00PM
Thursday 8:00PM
Friday 8:00PM
Saturday 2:00PM & 8:00PM
Sunday 3:00PM
Barrymore Theatre

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

On April 26, 1970, one of the most significant and groundbreaking musicals of the modern era opened to rather divisive notices. A year later, Follies would receive similarly polarizing reviews. Yet these two musicals and the creative artists involved in them, would go on to dominate and define the decade.

Thirty-seven years later, Company proves to be as timely as ever and the new production, brilliantly directed by John Doyle, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre is, by far, the most intelligent and thought-provoking musical now running on Broadway. (A decade ago a rather disappointing revival had a brief Broadway run.)

In a career that boasts some of the greatest stage musicals of all time including, Follies, A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods and Sunday in the Park With George (my choice for the best of the best), there is no question that Stephen Sondheim is one of the few true geniuses of the musical theatre. What is remarkable is just how strong and lasting his work truly is. One would think that Company, so grounded in the late sixties/early seventies milieu, would prove impossibly dated today. And even a great revival would be nothing more than a fun evening of nostalgia. But Company is as vital and relevant today as it was back in 1970, it actually feels even more urgent in 2007.

Raul Esparza plays Bobby, the seemingly happy bachelor surrounded by a slew of married couples who appear, on the surface, to be content. But deeper therein lies the rub.

As Bobby embarks on a searing psychological journey of self-discovery, spearheaded by his 35th birthday celebration, the audience become privy to the exploration of the complex lives of his friends. And that is part of what makes Company so unique. It actually delves into the characters thoughts and hopes and wishes and failures with such honesty, that the viewer sometimes feel like voyeurs.

The deft and dramatic book by George Furth is complimented by Sondheim’s demanding and dynamic score.

Raul Esparza is the key to the show’s success. Here is a Bobby who is able to convey the pain and confusion of being single, married with the delirious freedom and excitement that is also par for the bachelor course. Esparza has an adorability and sexual-ness that makes one want to rush up onstage and hug and/or lick him! He never overplays the part and is always fascinating to watch.

Bobby’s Act One tour de force, “Marry Me a Little” (amazingly cut from the original production) is a heartbreaking moment for him.

Doyle used the ‘gimmick’ of having all the actors play musical instruments last year in his much celebrated production of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. It is repeated here to greater effect, especially since Bobby is the only performer who does not take part. The metaphor is not lost on the audience and once he does finally take to the piano on the spectacular, “Being Alive,” we have been anticipating the moment with great desire. It is our needed climactic catharsis.

Doyle expertly stages the couples (book) scenes, never allowing the bickering to get on our nerves. And the musical numbers are handled with equal expertise.

Early in Act One, three of Bobby’s girlfriends group together to sweetly attack him in the song, "You Could Drive a Person Crazy." All three gals sing as they play sax, making the instruments a part of the commentary. It’s a fantastic moment.

In the hilarious number “Getting Married Today,” Heather Laws plays a neurotic bride who needs to decide whether to take the plunge or not. What ensues is giddy and inspired madness.

Barbara Walsh kicks musical ass performing the classic (Elaine Stritch signature) “The Ladies Who Lunch”. Walsh is one of Broadway’s hidden treasures and her Joanne is destined to be Tony nominated.

The exquisite “Barcelona” feels like a short film and is one of the best songs ever about a fleeting sexual encounter. Elizabeth Stanley is the delightfully ditzy flight attendant April and the end of the song hits way too close to home for anyone who has ever been in that...predicament.

Arguably the best number in the show and a song that masterfully personifies the New York experience is “Another Hundred People” It is given a rousing and just rendition by Angel Desai.

David Gallo’s symmetrical set impresses and Thomas C. Hase’s lighting is also to be commended.

The entire production is an astounding success and the irony is that the show satirizes the precise group of people that often patronize the theatre: bored, upper class Manhattanites who are looking for meaning in their mundane lives. If only they had Sondheim around each morning to poke a little fun at them, perhaps they would like themselves more...

Ultimately, Company is about the anxiety, ambivalence and angst that comes with being 35, living in New York and not being coupled...the entire cast and crew should be congratulated for a perfect production. And Raul Esparza should now easily enter the pantheon of Broadway stars!

Tickets $36.25-$111.25

Barrymore Theatre| 243 W. 47th Street


Five in the Morning
April 5 – 8
PS 122
The Run is Over

Reviewed by Corey Ann Haydu on April 7, 2007

Performance Space 122 is always an excellent destination for experimental theatre and physical performance. This month they have invited British troupe, Rotozza, to do two pieces both exploring live theatre through unrehearsed action. Five in the Morning is one of these two pieces and it features two women and one man, dressed in bathing suits, following orders spoken through a loudspeaker. The orders are at first simple—where to stand, who to touch, what to do with their towels. As the evening progresses, however, the instructions grow stranger and stranger—the actors must create a “human tower” with the heaviest actor on top, and so on. These challenging are interesting to watch, and the two women and one man are comfortable and easy on stage, but it remains unclear, even after reading the program, whether or not they know what is coming, or if this is a completely unrehearsed production. The premise would suggest that these three actors are hearing their instructions for the first time, but some of the moments in the play would suggest otherwise as the end is distinctly performative.

Rotozza delivers a unique theatrical experience that for most of the short show is both entertaining and odd. The show is at its best as a kind of comedy, the actors are charmingly confused and the voices are the “straight men”, always giving robotic commands that often create delightful behavior on stage. These light moments are an excellent study in human behavior and the show is a compelling exploration of these three actors in an unknown circumstance.

Where the performance struggles is in its deeper themes. Though the show appears to be saying something, it is hard to hear what it is. In the description of the material, there is a suggestion that what was once funny will turn dark and disturbing. This, however, never really happens and what is meant to be “dark” is in fact just confusing and misplaced. The stage becomes chaotic and the disorder is difficult to watch or comprehend.

The piece, though somewhat misguided, is a new kind of performance, and one that is certainly intriguing. It is compelling to watch confusion and freshness on stage, and you get both in Five in the Morning. Performance Space 122 is always exceptional in its willingness to try new things and take on new challenges, new strategies in performance. Five in the Morning is a solid example of what is possible in experimental theatre, and the many doors that can be opened when traditional form is abandoned to make way for unique perspectives.

For more on Five in the Morning:


Steve Sater & Duncan Sheik’s
Spring Awakening
Monday 8:00pm
Wednesday 8:00pm
Thursday 8:00pm
Friday 8:00pm
Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Sunday 2:00pm & 7:00pm
Eugene O'Neill Theatre

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

When I first heard that Spring Awakening was moving to Broadway, I was a bit concerned. Would such an intimate show lose all potency and urgency in a big Broadway house?

Well the answer, thank the theatre gods, is a resounding no!

I am elated to report that this exciting, enthralling and oddly-enchanting production thrives at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. And it’s improved greatly from the version I saw this past summer.

It’s still audacious and ambitious but it now has a wonderful sense of humor as well. The original production took itself a wee too seriously. But the gifted director Michael Mayer has found the perfect blend of comedy and pathos here. And it doesn’t hurt to have the extraordinary Christine Estabrook on board.

Based on Frank Wedekind’s highly controversial 1891 play The Awakening of Spring (not produced until 1906), and adapted by Steven Sater (book & lyrics) and rock star Duncan Sheik (music), the ‘play with songs’ (quoted by Sheik) focuses on adolescent schoolboys and girls at the age of sexual and spiritual awakening. The central figures being the good looking, wave-making Melchior (Jonathan Groff), his sweet, naive girlfriend Wendla (Lea Michele) and his troubled, oddball friend Moritz (John Gallagher, Jr.) as well as a slew of other angst-ridden, sexually-stirred, hormonally-bonkers characters.

Spring Awakening is mesmerizing to the eye--and ears. It’s a deliberately hard-edged visual and aural cacophony of the evils of repression--religious and societal (usually one begets the other).

The richly-rewarding anachronistic nature of the work adds to its originality and freshness. Although the piece is set at the turn of the last century, the actors whip out mikes and perform raw, intensely-modern rock songs. The device achieves a Brechtian break in the ‘period’ action. It’s as if the audience has warp-sped a century to a modern day rock concert. But the songs are the inner monologues and emotional mind states of Everykid. And that is why it works so well.

Sheik’s music is extraordinary, whether it be a heart-wrenching ballad (”The Song of Purple Summer”) or an angry rant (the fantastically fun “Totally Fucked”) and are matched by Sater’s intelligent lyrics and by the extraordinary ensemble’s vitality and conviction in song as well as performance. These guys were great last summer. They’re even better and seem more assured now.

“The Bitch of Living”, in particular, raises the levels through the rafters!

Melchior is that perfect blend of youth: a walking sack of sexual energy mixed with smarts and savvy and Jonathan Groff brilliantly brings him to life...and to despair as is necessary. Groff has a command now that is dazzling to behold.

Moritz is a tad more difficult since, as written he goes from frustration and confusion to doom very quickly, yet Gallagher, Jr. transcends the trappings and let’s us inside the loopy/scared mind of this tragic hero (especially in Act Two’s Don’t Do Sadness”).

Michele’s Wendla still feels too tentative as Wendla but she conveys naiveté much better and has an amazing voice. Lauren Pritchard’s Ilse still brims with sex appeal and evoked the perfect combo of tumult and rebellion. And king of smarm and charm, Jonathan B. Wright nails his role down perfectly as the gay survivor about to feast on his prey. His self-pleasure moment is a riotous combo of delight and embarrassment. Special mention to Gideon Glick as the adorable Ernst.

Newly added cast members Stephen Spinella, and especially, Christine Estabrook give the show a great lift as well.

Beyond the masterful score, near-perfect performances and deft direction, I had
a problem last time with feeling emotionally caught up in the lives of the characters. This, too, has changed. I DID feel passionately drawn into their worlds and I did care about their fates.

Spring Awakening is a triumph that should be seen by anyone who cares about the future of musical theatre.

Tickets $66.25-$111.25 at

Eugene O'Neill Theatre | 230 West 49th Street | New York, NY 10036


Richard Foreman’s
Wake Up Mr. Sleepy!
Your Unconscious Mind is Dead!

Tuesday 8:00pm
Thursday 8:00pm
Friday 8:00pm
Saturday 8:00pm
Sunday 8:00pm
Closes on April 1, 2007
The Ontological Theater at St. Mark's Church

Reviewed by Katharine Heller

Much like an unfamiliar dish to the palate, Richard Foreman's work can be an acquired taste. And sometimes you never quite know what you ingested.

Take Foreman's latest piece, Wake Up Mr. Sleepy! Your Unconscious Mind is Dead! at the Ontological-Hysteric Theater. For those of you who have theatre-geek-chic friends who like to engage in serious discourse about 4th walls and mise-en-scene, chances are you have been dragged to one of his annual productions. If you are like me and is the person doing the dragging, often you will get strange looks from said friends after the show. Which is why this time, I went alone.

It is safe to say that Foreman has proven himself to be one of the foremost avant-garde playwrights to date. Having completed over fifty productions since 1968, when he founded the Ontological-Hysteric Theater, he is notorious for his stylized use of disassociated scenery and staging that take on the feel of a playground atop a minefield.

That is to say, anything can happen. Foreman doesn't utilize the common idea of plot, character or narrative; rather, he evokes emotions and feelings through visuals, lights and sound. He has been known to use obstacles as set pieces, deliberately placed strings or even plexiglass in front of the action so you can also observe the audience watching the show.

This particular production is different than most of his others as it is the second time he has incorporated film into his work. When you are ushered into the intimate theater, there are two screens above the stage, and the space is littered with various set pieces such as flowers, chairs and mannequins. Directly above hangs a small airplane piloted by a hoard of baby dolls. The hour long show that follows is a delicate balancing act between five live actors onstage, interacting with and reacting to the pre-recorded film of another set of actors. (The film portion was shot in a functioning mental hospital in Lisbon, Portugal under the direction of Mr. Foreman and his collaborator, Sophie Haviland.)

The performances from the onstage ensemble are strong and consistent throughout the show. The "characters" are eerily similar to each other yet each have a chance to break free and often suffer consequences for their curiosity. At first I found it difficult to absorb the film and the live show as a unified event, but once I did (thanks to the talented cast) the effect was gripping.

One of the main themes of this show is the theory of the unconscious mind. According to Freud, unconscious, as opposed to subconscious, is a state that is nearly impossible to access and yet responsible for much of our neurosis. Over the course of the show, it is insinuated that the invention of the airplane and other such superficial creations are responsible for a "mortal blow" to the unconscious. The stage then becomes a delirious battleground where the frenetic actors fight for a chance to renew what has been lost.

Now if you are like the mother of the NYU student I was sitting next to, you'd want to know what the play really meant. At least that's what she asked me in the restroom after the show. At the risk of sounding pretentious, I might just say that the meaning is meaningless. Foreman's style of presentation is akin to the remnants of a particularly vivid dream. You don't quite know what is going on, but react strongly to it so much that when you wake up, you cannot stop thinking about it. It's a different kind of theater, and very well executed at that.

If you are looking for a more traditional show, this might not be for you. But if you choose to stray from the conventional menu, I think you'll find it's pretty tasty.

Tickets are $23 (Tues. Thurs. Fri. & Sun.) and $28 (Saturday). Running time: 1 hour and 5 minutes. Tickets through 212-352-3101

The Ontological Theater at St. Mark's Church | 131 East 10th Street
At Second Ave.



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