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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




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






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
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

 



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 Evan 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, Slone 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. Lurie 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.




 

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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