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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 www.telecharge.com and 212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250

New World Stages|340 West 50th Street




Mark Greenfield”s
IE: In Other Words
May 17 - June 16
The Flea


Reviewed by Corey Ann Haydu on Wednesday, May 30th

IE: In Other Words, the newest creation of The Flea’s resident acting company The Bats, is a whirlwind of linguistic comedy and tongue-in-cheek commentary on small town and city life: the clichés; the benefits; and the array of characters living within both settings. More, it is the story of one man’s journey to find himself, the quintessential story of leaving home to find home and then finding a way to return home. The lead character Sam, played by the very solid Teddy Bergman, leaves his small town and the girl he loves to find himself in the big scary city. He works as a dog walker for a disturbed therapist and waits tables at a bohemian health-food café. He takes a performance art class and gets mugged. In short, Sam experiences every right of passage that young artists encounter when they move to the Big City.

The play is presented almost entirely in a kind of “mad libs” approach to playwriting. Characters emote fully but don’t have an original set of words with which to do it. For instance, when one is upset they might yell something like “Insert angry outburst!” or they might call their loved ones “endearing pet name” instead of sweetheart. The shtick teeters uncertainly between funny and tired for the entire ninety minute production. There is a lot to admire about IE: In Other Words. The writing is smart and witty, commenting on theatrical conventions in a refreshing way. The talented cast pulls off the odd convention with surprising ease and the audience stays laughing in spite of the wordy dialogue.

However, at times the play is slow; the cartoonish characters lose their charm and you have to wonder if the clever idea might have worked better as a sketch than a full production.

Despite all this, there is enough talent and humor to keep the audience interested and entertained. Playwright Mark Greenfield and director Kip Fagan have come together to create a unique, intelligent work, but the real accolades go to the actors. It is a large ensemble piece and there is a not a weak link in the bunch. Standout performances include Havilah Brewster as the dark, cynical waitress with a chip on her shoulder. Brewster proves her acting chops with a complex character. She infuses the waitress with equal amounts depth and comedy, finding the excellent balance between truthful acting and strong character choices. Richard Kass as Dr. Sid, the awkward, needy therapist is also a joy to watch; Kass is simply brilliant in this role. He is deadpan, creepy and hysterically funny. His performance is reason enough to see IE: In Other Words.

Fagan’s staging is clean and exciting; he works well with this large, exuberant cast. Greenfield has written a truly original comedy. Though it is certainly not theatre for the masses, Greenfield has proven that comedy can be smart, literary and complicated and still get a good hearty laugh. In these times, originality and thoughtfulness can go a long way and The Flea always strives to embrace both these qualities. It is clear this excellent company understands the importance of pushing the boundaries of theatre. Even better, they push the boundaries with the help of exceptionally talented actors, writers and directors by their side. Few other companies can say the same and few other companies challenge and engage their audience with as much energy and passion as seen at The Flea.

In Other Words runs May 17 - June 16, performance schedule varies. Tickets are $25, available at 212-352-3101 or www.theflea.org.

The Flea Theater |41 White Street
Between Broadway & Church Streets
Accessible from the A,C,E,N,R,Q,W,6,J,M,Z to Canal or 1 to Franklin Street


 



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
katharineheller.com


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 www.ticketmaster.com

Palace Theatre | 1554 Broadway


 


Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s
Company

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 www.telecharge.com

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
katharineheller.com

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.


 


Evan Laurence's
My Inner Mark Berman

The Run is Over

Theater of the Gay Absurd

Reviewed by W. S. Gooch

In a time before the politically correct, ‘Disneyfied’-movie musical dominated the white lights of Broadway, there existed a downtown scene where confrontational, no-holes-barred musicals tackled subjects that educated as well as entertained--Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, The Fantastiks, and Nunsense come immediately to mind. My Inner Mark Berman, playing at the Theater for the New City, May 3-20, is just that type of downtown musical. My Inner Mark Berman asks the question, when juxtaposed against the real world, is the surreal world more interesting and glamorous. Or in the words of protagonist, Cricket Santiago, “what if you move from a dimension you don’t know to another one you do know.” Told through clever songs and sidesplitting dialogue, My Inner Mark Berman pokes fun at gender, psychotherapy, conformity, and religion.

Consisting of a bare black set and only five cast members, My Inner Mark Berman accomplishes what few shoestring-budgeted shows are able to do; create mood and evoke time and place. With musical styles ranging from glitter glamrock to hip-hop, composer Mark Laurence intelligently weaves music that illuminates each character and advances the plot.

The plot centers on Mark Berman, a sensitive gay man who can’t handle gay life and rejection, who recreates himself as Cricket Santiago, a flamboyant, tough-as-nails, gay diva. Berman some how ends up in a psyche ward and as Cricket Santiago—his alter ego—he is able to get the hospital’s cast of looney workers to free themselves from their insecurities and inhibitions.

Evan Laurence as Cricket Santiago (Mark Berman) carries off a pretty good Spanish accent and also has the right amount of sass and fire to make his character believable. David Slone as Berman’s rabbi/therapist completely captures the angst of a Jewish man torn between two worlds—the solid, respectable Orthodox world of his father and a modern world of adventure and questioning. With his deep, basso profundo, Sloane devours his musical numbers with a panache one would expect to see on Broadway. He is especially effective in the scene where he attempts to bring Berman back to reality by singing a Yiddish lullaby.

Christopher Noffke as Nurse Terry Sass-Poo, a transsexual, has the best one-liners in the show. After having a sex change in which the surgeon removes from her a humongous penis, Sass-Poo looks at her complete transformation and says, “These boobs were made for walking, and I can go where I want to go.” Do I hear Tina Sinatra? Noffke’s portrayal of Nurse Sass-Poo is reminiscent of those stock characters seen in Bob Fosse’s Pippin and Chicago that stand wide-eyed on the stage and react to every bumble or guffaw with silent-screen bemusement.

Danny Smith as the oversexed Head of Hospital is effective as an administrator who is too in touch with his sexuality and everyone else’s. And Richard C. Laurie brings just the right tone to Sgt. Misconception, the superhero who is committed to ridding the world of sexual untruths.

Although My Inner Mark Berman is still in a workshop stage, the musical shows great promise. This show artistically brings sexy and raunchy back to where it belongs: on stage, front and center. And we are all the better for it.




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 http://www.minttheater.org/boxoffice/

The Mint Theater Company | 311 West 43rd Street, Suite 307| New York, NY 10036 | info@minttheater.org




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
katharineheller.com

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 www.telecharge.com

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


 

 


 

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