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New York City - Theatre


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

Christopher John Campion's
Escape From Bellevue
Wednesday–Saturday @ 8PM
Open Run
The Village Theatre

Reviewed by Sharyn Jackson

There is perhaps no better symbol of New York's ability to wreak havoc on the mind than the psychiatric institution of Bellevue Hospital. Chris Campion, front man of the indie rock band Knockout Drops, had three stints in the infamous ward between 1983 and 2000. A rocker who partook in all the peripheral indulgences associated with that lifestyle, Campion now chronicles his encounters with poverty, addiction and suicidal depression in Escape From Bellevue. He offers an "anthem to unhinged misfits everywhere" of vibrantly acted monologues and catchy tunes at The Village Theatre, in the very neighborhood where he repeatedly self-destructed years ago.

Campion's hilarious circular tale could only have taken place in New York. He vividly brings the artist's Greenwich Village of yore to life, and his descriptions of Bellevue's atmosphere and fellow patients both tickle and provide the perfect amount of noir—"Bellevue was a never-ending Fellini movie."

The climax, expectedly, involves Campion's escape during his second committment, the first escape from Bellevue since 1963. As he runs from the hospital into the taxi-traffic-filled streets, he and the Knockout Drops exalt city life with the perfect high-energy soundtrack. Campion takes it one step further, tying in the 2003 blackout, and his sobriety, in a post-9/11 New York. It's a different city—a different Bleecker Street, even—than it was when Campion first encountered his demons. Campion is back where he started, but this time, with the ammunition of hope and a fine storytelling and musical sensibility, he's a New York survivor.

Written and performed by Christopher John Campion with live music by Knockout Drops. Directed by Alex Timbers.

Tickets $30 advance / $35 door for Wednesday & Thursday @ 8 PM; and $35 advance / $40 door for Friday & Saturday @ 8 PM. at and 212-307-7171. For more information:

The Village Theatre | 158 Bleecker St

Legally Blonde - The Musical
Wednesday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Thursday 8:00PM
Friday 8:00PM
Saturday 2:00PM & 8:00PM
Sunday 2:00PM, 7:00PM & 8:00PM
The Palace Theatre

Reviewed by Katharine Heller

To compare Legally Blonde the Musical to great theater would be like putting a Twinkie up against the Miso Black Cod at Nobu. But goddamn it, sometimes, nothing beats a good Twinkie.

Based on the box office hit of the same title, Legally Blonde rarely strays from the original script. For the five of you who are not familiar with the premise of the story, I'll sum it up. Beautiful Delta Nu sorority sister Elle Woods is crushed when her beau Warner dumps her before leaving for Harvard Law. Elle applies and gets
accepted to Harvard (even though I would assume the application deadline had passed- I never quite got that part, although the rest of the story is perfectly plausible) in hopes to win back her man. Long story short she realizes she doesn't need Warner, makes some new friends and solves a murder case in court along the way.

The stage translation is exactly what you would expect, complete with spunky dance numbers, an energetic young cast and tunes so catchy I might consider quarantine for a good few hours after the show. I still cannot get the opening number, aptly called "Omigod, You Guys!" out of my head. No, seriously, it's pretty frustrating.

The fresh faced and immensely talented Laura Bell Bundy as Elle carries the show with grace and confidence. Right behind her are Richard H. Blake as the arrogantly hilarious Warner and Christian Borle as her sweet love interest, Emmett. The obvious cast standouts however are Chico as her faithful Chihuahua, Bruiser, and Chloe the Bulldog as Rufus. (Rufus is the dog of Elle's friend Paulette played
by the singly named human, Orfeh.)

The amusing book, written by Heather Hach with music and lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe and Nell Benjamin, includes other engaging numbers such as the infamous, "Bend and Snap!" and "Gay or European". With crisp direction and choreography by Jerry Mitchell, this family friendly show is a lot of fun. Just make sure those you see it with have a sweet tooth.

Tickets $40.00-$110.00 212-307-4747

Palace Theatre | 1554 Broadway


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


Jason Schafer's
I Google Myself

Thursday & Friday @ 8PM
Saturday 2 8PM & 10:30PM
June 14 - July 7
Opening night June 21st

Under St. Marks

Reviewed by Katharine Heller

I really can’t think of a better title for a show than I Google Myself. Me and said search engine are so tight I often wonder if I should change careers and purchase a pipe and trenchcoat. This show is much like Googling an old flame: often entertaining, sometimes surprising, but unfortunately scattered with too many unrelated page hits.

The show opens with an “interview” between Man #1, played by the extraordinarily odd Tim Cusak, and Man #2, a porn star, played by the very talented Nathan Blew. The only thing these two have in common is a name (which is never mentioned). When it becomes apparent that Man #1 didn’t just invite Man #2 to talk about “his career” and is rather just looking for someone who shares his name and therefore life-energy, Man # 2 reveals that it is indeed just a stage name, stolen from a childhood bully (John Gardner). Naturally Man #1’s obsessive nature leads him to the bully.

This is where the show takes a disturbing turn. I found myself intrigued by Man #1’s struggle to identify with complete strangers, but an absurd plot twist transforms the show from a stimulating conversation about identity to a wacky situation comedy. I Google Myself, written by Jason Schafer, is a hilarious piece of work but dangerously toes the line between one act play and an extended sketch.

Charles Foster’s murky lighting and Matthew Pritchard’s sound effects set an eerie and exciting mood to the show, and the talented cast, under the direction of Jason Jacobs, is worth checking out. I Google Myself is a show with a lot of laughs, but needs to take itself a little more seriously in order to be relevant.

Jack Canfora’s
Place Setting
New Jersey Rep
The Run is Over

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

New Jersey Rep has taken another chance, and it has paid off in an incisive and penetrating new play written by Jack Canfora.

Set on the eve of the new millennium (the much-ballyhoo’d 1999 into 2000, not the real new millennium for those geeks who care), Place Setting focuses on a dinner party and it’s aftermath. The bash is tossed by a freakishly controlling Andrea (Carol Todd) and her henpecked husband Greg (the playwright Jack Canfora). Andrea’s spunky and verbose sister Laura (Kristen Moser) is in attendance with her pretentious German filmmaker-wannabe beau Richard (a hilarious Peter Maclin). Rounding out the ‘table’ are Greg’s sweet but dull brother Lenny (David Bishins) and his stunning girlfriend Charlotte (Guenia Lemos).

As the witty barbs fly, we become privy to the fact that Greg and Charlotte are secretly in love. This revelation is the springboard for the rest of the play’s action.

Nicely directed by Evan Bergman, Place Setting cleverly manages to touch on some very important and universal themes such as the need for passion in one’s life vs. the allure of complacency and stagnation. Fears are exposed, marital and otherwise and Canfora balances the comedy and drama with ease. And his love of film comes through as well, which made this critic gleeful.

Kristin Moser stands out in a stellar cast. Her Laura is filled with anger, resentment and longing (and we can understand why she is so bitter once we spend a bit of time with her sister Andrea!) Moser is killer with comedy yet handles the more poignant and dramatic moments with equal conviction. She basically steals every scene she is in. Someone get this gal a sitcom!

The Andrea character is difficult to stomach, partly because she’s a calculating and manipulative bitch, partly because she’s trying to hold on to something the audience feels she has no right having. Todd does a fine job with her and even manages to eke out some sympathy from us.

Canfora wears both hats quite impressively. I had no idea that the funny and charismatic actor onstage had also written the play. There’s nothing showy about his performance.

Lemos’ Charlotte is a feisty, desperate figure who craves love and passion. The play, unfortunately, does her a great disservice by making her disappear completely in Act Two, yet tosses out quite damaging character dialogue that Charlotte is never allowed to address. Consequently, Lemos’ rich performance is undercut once we are led to believe she’s a vamp.

My only complaint is with the very final moment of the play where Andrea does something so very against her character, it pulled me out. Otherwise the play and the production rocks!

Kudos again to New Jersey Repertory Company for continuing to present exciting new work in a state where theatre companies are usually reviving Godspell for the seven thousandth time and wondering why they have no patrons!

For more

Photo Credit: Richard Termine

St. John Hankin's
The Return of the Prodigal
Tues - Weds -Thurs @ 7PM
Fri - Sat @ 8PM
Sat - Sun @ 2PM
May 29 - July 8
The Mint Theatre

Reviewed by Allison Ford

For most theatergoers, few things are as snore-inducing as the idea of watching a revival of an obscure play by an obscure playwright, written over a hundred years ago. The Return of the Prodigal, written by St. John Hankin in 1905, sounds like the sort of play that someone would only go to see if their friend or roommate was in the cast, and even then, only if it was free. Fortunately, this production (incidentally, the New York premiere) is in the eminently capable hands of the Mint Theater. The mission of the Mint Theater is to take these lost and neglected plays of the past, and make them relevant and timely, hopefully capturing the imagination of a new, contemporary audience.

The story is not an unfamiliar one...The middle son of a prosperous middle-class English family has returned from abroad, penniless and desperate. The family has prospered in his absence; the father running for Parliament and the older brother set on marrying a girl of the local gentry. Eustace Jackson, the prodigal son, is, at first glance, a loveable loser who cons his way back into their lives, looking only for a warm bed and a square meal. As Eustace begins to overstay his welcome, however, the play turns from lighthearted social satire into a bleak and cynical treatise on status, aspirations, and human character. Many of the themes of this play are particularly relevant to current debates, including the issue of nature vs. nurture and the uniquely American “boomerang generation.”

As the play opens, anyone who has ever seen or read The Importance of Being Earnest will be at home with the one-liners and witticisms found often in this period of British playwriting, most notably in the writing of Oscar Wilde. St. John Hankin was a contemporary of both Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, and there are many similarities in the dialogue here. While the writing is not quite as snappy or acid-tongued as Wilde’s, there is an intriguing darkness that pervades the text, and foreshadows that the rest of the story will unfold less like Earnest and more like The Seagull.

The change from lighthearted to naturalistic is unexpected, and it is a credit to the director and actors that it is not foreseen by the audience. Through the first act, Eustace Jackson is an extremely likeable, if slightly unsavory character. In the second act’s moment of confrontation, Hankin finally reveals the question his play seeks to answer - Can any person ever really change who they are in life?

Many of the characters have aspirations in the play - Mr. Jackson to Parliament, older brother Henry to earn his fortune and marry into the upper class, and younger sister Violet to escape the fate of spinsterhood. Only the prodigal Eustace Jackson accepts his life and his character for what they are, and although he does not profess to be happy about it, the audience respects him for that, despite his failures and misdeeds. In a play full of characters all yearning for something, whether status, money, or freedom, only Eustace has the courage and the insight to see himself for what he is, with all his shortcomings, and it is this acceptance of self that allows him to exert his will over his family. A person with nothing to lose cannot be manipulated, after all, and Eustace realizes that his father and brother’s aspirations make them susceptible to his maneuverings. At times, he feels like the moral center of the play, surrounded by Russian sisters yearning for Moscow, or English sisters for wealthy husbands.

Although the action of the play obviously takes place in Britain, director Jonathan Bank has removed any trappings that would identify it with any particular period. The well-chosen sets and costumes belong to no specific time; rather, they meticulously reflect only a general sense of upper-middle-class comfort. Also, the actors do not perform with British dialects. The overall effect is very successful, although, curiously, there does not seem to have been any effort made to standardize the accents or mannerisms of the cast. Many of the actors have distinctly American accents or physical habits, which, at times, are quite jarring. Despite this, the dialogue usually feels modern, or not antiquated, anyways.

The cast is comprised of mostly older actors, all with impressive classical and period credits to their resumes, although the true standout is Roderick Hill as Eustace Jackson. The only scene in which he does not perform is the very first in the play, and from the second he steps on stage, his effect on the pace and the energy of the play is tangible. He is charming and charismatic, and breathes vibrance while eliciting the sympathy of the audience, even as Eustace reveals his despicability. Eustace, along with brother Henry Jackson are the most well-conceived characters in the play. Although the father and sister have their moments of poignancy, most of the other characters merely flit on and off-stage, little more than set pieces, delivering a quip here and there and never really achieving a full dramatic treatment. Tandy Cronyn gets easy laughs as the daffy mother, Maria Jackson, by channeling Katherine Helmond’s portrayal of Jessica Tate in Soap.

Despite the play being well-directed and capably performed, at the end it leaves some confusion in the eyes of the audience. Was this play a comedy, or was it a tragedy? It seems that Hankin himself never quite figured it out. The play comprises the wit and verbal volley of Wilde, the social observations of Shaw, and the bleak determinism of Chekhov. It doesn’t quite belong to any one genre, but rather carves an interesting little niche for itself, both a product of its own time, and modern enough for ours.

Tickets: May 29 - June 10 : $45 - June 12 - July 8: $55

The Mint Theater Company | 311 West 43rd Street, Suite 307| New York, NY 10036 |

Tom Rowan's
The Second Tosca
Thursdays-Saturdays at 8PM
Sundays at 3PM
June 8th - July 1st, 2007
The 45th Street Theater

Reviewed by Katharine Heller

Behind the scenes of a contemporary opera house you may find the
ingénue, the diva, her little dog, and of course the opera ghost among
others. On the stage of the 45th Street Theatre you'll find all of that in The Second Tosca, a new play that is both heartfelt and humorous.

Written by Tom Rowan, whose first play, Kiss and Cry, was nominated
for a 2007 GLAAD Media Award, explores the histrionic world of opera,
specifically, this backstage is set on the weeks leading up to a performance of Tosca at Opera California. We are first introduced to the lighthearted Lisa Duvall, lead soprano at the opera house and her ambitious fiancée/conductor, Aaron Steiner. They are in preparation for the arrival of prominent diva Gloria Franklin, who will be playing the lead in Tosca. Lisa is acquiesce in her placement as the
understudy which causes tension between her and Aaron who is convinced
she was better suited to play the part, as Gloria may be past her prime.

Lisa's world is turned around when a fanatic young student, Nathaniel,
shows up to ask Lisa if she'd look at songs he wrote for her. To say he is an admirer would be an understatement, yet a curious friendship is forged between the two when they discover a commonality. It is during this time as tensions rise between her fiancée, Gloria and a very stalwart opera ghost, that Lisa knows she has to make some difficult decisions. Her journey corresponds with a continuous
struggle to understand the character of Tosca.

It should be noted that the talent of this cast is immeasurable. Rachel DeBenedet
as Lisa is wonderful as the confused anti-diva and Mark Light-Orr makes an unlikable character surprisingly pleasant. Vivian Reed is marvelous as Gloria, a star whose light has dimmed. Melissa Picarello as Darcy, Gloria's assistant, is a shining mix of young energy and fine acting. Lisa's brother/manager Stephen is played
to perfection by Carrington Vilmont; he takes delicate care to create a character that is both real yet delightfully amusing. Eve Gigliotti shines as the emperamental opera ghost, with a voice so hauntingly beautiful you'd believe she was a true apparition. Jeremy Beck's Nathaniel stands out as a conflicted young soul in a performance so heart wrenching it was difficult to stop thinking about him even after he left the stage. While the character of Ben seems almost unnecessary, the talented Tug Coker is wonderful as the grungy and sexy stage manager. Oh and Mickey was excellent in this stage debut as Gloria's dog, Princess Eboli.

Kevin Newbury's direction is strong as the performances are bold, honest and accurate. Rowan is on the right track with this new show, but I wish the character of Lisa was more at-risk; I never had any question that she would succeed in the end. Because of that, I found the through line to be weak and a bit uninteresting. Nathaniel's storyline was wonderfully written and executed, so I have no doubts that with a few rewrites, we can get more into Lisa's struggles.
Still, The Second Tosca is a worthwhile and amusing piece of theater.


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

Tuesday @ 8PM
Wednesday @ 2PM & 8PM
Thursday @ 8PM
Friday @ 8PM
Saturday @ 2PM & 8PM
Sunday @ 3PM
Opened July 10, 2007
Helen Hayes Theater

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Okay, how bloody tiresome has it become for the Broadway theatregoer to have to withstand yet another screen-to-stage translation? In recent years, we’ve had to suffer through the abysmally bad (Saturday Night Fever, Footloose) and the not-so-bad-but-why-the-frig-bother (The Wedding Singer, Legally Blonde). And then there’s Disney, in the ‘ you own the world so just stop it already’ category. All this appropriation has shown a complete lack of originality and proven producers have no faith in the audience.

Of course, no one has tackled the bad Hollywood movie musical adaptation yet. Then again, exactly how many bad Hollywood movie musicals can actually boast having a terrific score? Not that many. Certainly very few in the last thirty years. Actually one. A notorious debacle from 1980 known as Xanadu.

Now, I have to admit to having my own personal love/hate relationship with the screen mess known as Xanadu. Every time I watch it (and yes, I have watched it many times) I keep waiting for it to be different. I keep wanting the performances to improve and I keep praying someone will come along and actually DIRECT and CHOREOGRAPH those great songs (written by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar) in some way that isn’t catastrophically impossible to watch. Alas, I am always disappointed.

Yet I keep revisiting Xanadu. Why? I have never quite figured it out. It isn’t even a very campy film--the kind that’s so bad it’s good. But it does feature Olivia Newton-John and Gene Kelly...and a tiny spark of a good idea...and have I mentioned the fantastic score?

When I read about plans to bring it to Broadway, I thought: “well, it couldn’t possibly be as bad as the film.” Then I read that Douglas Carter Beane, thanks to the dogged persistence of producer Robert Ahrens, had been cajoled into writing the book. At that point, I knew it would have some merit. And I knew that if anyone could tap into the reason why so many folks are Xanadu-obsessed, it was Beane. After all he was responsible for the brilliantly biting and insightful play, The Little Dog Laughed, the funniest work to hit Broadway in the last few years. (and of course it closed prematurely!) My hopes were high.

Then casting problems followed as well as the leading male (James Carpinello, the only good thing in Saturday Night Fever) being injured while skating and having to be replaced. Was all this a sign?

I am elated to report that--Spring Awakening notwithstanding--Xanadu is the best musical currently running on Broadway! Actually, it’s the smartest and most entertaining musical to open in quite a long time!

How could this be, you ask?

It’s fairly simple. Assemble the best creative team possible. Cast actors who are working at the top of their game. Shake. Stir. Shimmy. Skate!

Part of the heavenly ‘magic’ on display at the Helen Hayes Theatre has everything to do with a keen awareness of the tongue-in-cheeky satire at play. But no one ever condescends to the audience. Quite the contrary, they invite the audience in on all the jokes (and they are legion).

Beane has written an intelligent, witty and clever script and manages to work several miracles in the process. Firsty, he remains faithful to the original film while drastically improving the story, making spendid script alterations and adding much-needed character dimensions. He creates a believable, old-fashioned love story where the audience roots for Kira and Sonny--even though she’s a Greek daughter-of-Zeus pretending to be an Australian and he’s a mere mortal AND struggling artist.

Beane also does justice to each and every one of his cast of characters, so rare in a musical, especially one that clocks in at ninety minutes! Finally, he has penned a ton of ovation-inspiring one-liners that will have you howling with laughter.

The tremendously talented director, Christopher Ashley (along with choreographer Dan Knechtges), ingeniously finds enormously entertaining ways to stage those wonderful ditties mentioned earlier (so poorly rendered onscreen). From the delightful opening number, “I’m Alive” to the sensational title tune at the end, Xanadu explodes with an exuberant and euphoric energy and life, most musicals would kill for.

A new Broadway star is born in Kerry Butler. She is absolutely remarkable as Kira/Clio. Having seen her shine in Hairspray, Little Shop of Horrors and the devilishly delightful Bat Boy, I was still wholly unprepared for her performance here. She has perfect comic-timing and displays so much verve and charisma, you will truly have a tough time taking your eyes off of her. She also happens to be quite stunning. Her Kira is a rich parody of Newton-John infused with some daffy Nicole Kidman, yet she creates a loveable, complicated and quite memorable character that is ultimately her own. She also happens to have a powerhouse voice and is particularly divine singing “Magic” and “Suspended in Time.” Butler fascinates right up until the curtain call.

When you are able to look away from Butler, Cheyenne Jackson (All Shook Up) provides delicious eye-candy, but so much more than that. From his very first bit of dialogue, he seduces the audience and endears himself as a loveable lump of a hunk, wide-eyed and earnest. It’s a fabulous performance, filled with comedic gem moments. Jackson is also an excellent songman, tearing the roof off with the showstopping “Don’t Walk Away.” And, boy, does he look good in those denim shorts. Yikes!

Tearing through the production like two hungry tigresses are stage vets Mary Testa (as Melpomene, muse of Tragedy) and Jackie Hoffman (as Calliope, muse of Epics). These two scenery-chewing vamps have a bloody blast with their parts. The duo’s rendition of “Evil Woman” is rousing and ‘nasty’, in the best sense of that word. Testa’s turn is particularly Tony-courting.

The rest of the ensemble seem to be having the time of their lives as well with Curtis Holbrook providing a killer tap dance during “Whenever You’re Away from Me”. Veteran stage actor, Tony Roberts has his own fun in the Gene Kelly role and really impresses as Zeus. One of the oh-so-may highlights involves both the song “Have You Never Been Mellow” and the Harryhausen film Clash of the Titans. I can’t say more, lest I spoil a classic musical theatre moment.

So, what is it that Beane and the Xanadu team are able to do what the original filmmakers couldn’t? Because...they have found the magic in Xanadu as well as the irony and the joy. They tell a simple love story in a complex and interesting way. They comment on art and the creative gifts that are given to us. And they show us a damn good time while doing it. What more could we ask for? Okay, maybe just ninety minutes more, because once you see this show, you will want to see it again...

Xanadu Tickets $51.25-$111.25 Buy tickets online - Phone 212-239-6200 & 800-432-7250

Helen Hayes |240 W. 44th Street




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