Photo Credit: Gabe
The American Dream and The Sandbox
Wednesday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Opened April 1, 2008
Closes May 19, 2008
The Cherry Lane Theatre
Starring: Judith Ivey;
Lois Markle; and George Bartenieff.
Reviewed by Bryan Close
The last few years have
been good for Edward Albee fans, a group
which, if there were any justice, would
include all theater lovers. New York stages
have been crowded with revivals of the master's
greatest hits, while Albee, now eighty,
has continued to generate impressive new
work (his newest play opens next month).
Now The Cherry Lane Theater,
Albee's original artistic home, takes its
turn with revivals of The American Dream
and The Sandbox, directed by Albee
The American Dream
is a savage send-up of middleclass family
values and mores. The ostensibly polite
Mommy (the remarkable Judith Ivey) and Daddy,
with the help of an inconvenient truth-telling
Grandma (they sometimes forget whose mother
she really is) and two mystery visitors,
expose themselves as shockingly hollow people.
The production is less than perfect, in
part because the first play feels a bit
dated, but even if it were far worse than
it is, it would still be required viewing
to see Albee stage two of his important
See it soon, though,
because rumor has it that Ivey is leaving
the production before it closes. As the
chipper, soulless Mommy, Ivey gives a master
class on hypocrisy and insipidity. You've
heard of the banality of evil? Ivey and
Albee shine a bright light on the evil of
banality. George Bartenieff (Daddy), Lois
Markle (Grandma) and Kathleen Butler (Mrs.
Barker) are all distinguished performers
with lots of Albee on their resumes. But
while each has his or her moments, none
of them is in quite the same class as Ivey.
The American Dream,
which helped establish Albee's reputation
as an absurdist, may be the more complex
of the two plays, and its themes of childlessness,
adoption and the lies we tell ourselves
to survive resonate throughout Albee's work.
But in this production at least, The
Sandbox is more fully realized. A companion
piece to The American Dream featuring
three of the same characters, The Sandbox
is a surrealist depiction of Grandma's
funeral and death.
Compared with Albee's
greatest work, The Sandbox is fairly
slight. But it packs a lot of laughter,
wisdom and pathos into a very entertaining
fifteen minutes that make up a perfect coda
to the evening. Markle shines here as the
likeable Grandma, whose uncommon sense helps
us feel a little better about our species.
But Although Grandma
has the last word, Ivey's wickedly smug
Mommy gets the last laugh – she's
the one who's likely to show up in our dreams.
They won't be pleasant.
212-239-6200 800-432-7250 and telecharge.com
Cherry Lane Theatre |38 Commerce Street
Wednesday through Friday at 8 pm
Saturday at 2 and 8 pm
Sunday at 5 pm
Previews Start Thursday April 3rd
Opening Sunday April 6th
45th Street Theater
Hillary Bettis and Kira Sternbach
Reviewed by Bryan Close
Girls, now playing at the 45th Street
Theater, a surprising and original new voice
is making its debut. I have no idea how
old Hilary Bettis is, but she is certainly
young enough to impress as a 14-year-old
in her new play, skillfully directed by
Jeff Cohen for Dog Run Rep, a company known
for developing new talent. Alongside Bettis,
Kira Sternbach is just as impressive as
the play’s only other cast member.
The story of American Girls is
deceptively simple. Katie and Amanda, two
Jesus-loving Iowa girls fresh out of middle
school, are obsessed with becoming famous,
mainly, it seems, so that the local boys
will love them and the local mean girls
will suffer from crippling envy. To this
end, they take a bus to “the city”
to enter an amateur dance contest…
Do you see where this is going? If so, you’re
way ahead of Katie (Sternbach), the sadder
and more naïve of the two. Amanda (Bettis)
is more comfortable with her looming strip
club debut: “Jesus would not have
made us as hot as we are if He didn’t
have a plan for us,” she cajoles her
wavering friend. “Seriously, we would
be like blaspheming Him if we didn’t
Amanda is also more comfortable with her
hypocrisy, and with using her slightly pathetic
– and thoroughly heartbreaking –
friend. When Katie expresses genuine pain
and regret (Sternbach is wonderful here),
at what she did in the “audition tape”
the two made after the show with a “Hollywood
talent agent,” Amanda manipulates
her ruthlessly, twisting her words until
Katie is the one apologizing and begging
Amanda’s forgiveness. It is a great
scene, and the young actresses navigate
it expertly. And Amanda is just warming
up. This girl is wasting her gifts as an
evangelical – she has what it takes
to be a first class Jesuit.
As for the strip scene, Cohen’s staging
is brilliant – both comfortingly tasteful
and alarmingly… um… effective.
Let’s just say that our girls, dancing
in silhouette (lighting by Evan Purcell),
no longer look 14. Moments later, as Katie
squeezes her pink backpack like a doll and
Amanda slips in her retainer, they don’t
even look that old. The contrast is shocking
and powerful, and is underscored by Gail
Cooper-Hecht’s youthfully accessorized
The set (Ryan Kravetz) is simple and clever,
featuring a large megachurch-type cross
and four video monitors. The video segments,
designed by Greg Winslow, include home movies,
the opening moments of the “audition”
video which inevitably hits the Internet,
a triumphant/redemptive TV talk show, etc.
These tend to go on too long, as they lack
the tautness of Bettis’s and Sternbach’s
According to Dog Run Rep’s press release,
young Miss Bettis “draws on her experience
working in the adult entertainment industry.”
Hopefully, she is a lot older than she looks.
At any rate, one can only admire the sophistication
she employs in fashioning such a morally
ambiguous story out of personal experience.
It would have been so easy to make this
merely an issue-of-the-week-type play railing
against the sexual exploitation of young
girls – a pretty easy target. Instead,
Bettis gives us something more interesting
– a world where the lines between
victimhood and single-minded striving for
glory are blurred.
American girls – and boys –
haven’t heard the last from this impressive
Please note: American
Girls has mature themes and may not
be suitable for audiences under 14 years
Tickets for all
performances will be $55 and can be purchased
by calling SMARTTIX at (212) 868-4444 or
online at www.smarttix.com.
There also will
be two types of RUSH tickets available 30
minutes before curtain: General Public RUSH
tickets for $25 and Student RUSH tickets,
for students 21 years and younger, for $10.
All RUSH tickets are Day of Performance,
cash sales only, subject to availability.
The 45th Street
Theater| 354 W. 45th Street (between 8th
& 9th Avenues).
The Happy Sad
Breakup and The Happy Sad
Friday and Saturday
Sunday and Monday at 7pm.
Previews begin March 6
Extended April 10 – April 26
Reviewed by Bryan Close
The Flea Theater's commitment
to providing work for a young company of
talented actors – "the Bats"
– is laudable and often generates
very good work.
With that conscience-clearer
out of the way, it now falls on me to report
that The Breakup and The Happy
Sad, the bill of two short plays directed
by Sherri Kronfeld and starring those same
Bats, is unexceptional. While there are
several strong performances – notably
Pete Forester and Felipe Bonilla as a gay
couple struggling with fidelity issues and
Havilah Brewster as a schoolteacher slowly
losing her mind – the evening is mostly
The problem begins with
the first play, if you can even call it
that. Tommy Smith's The Breakup is
the sort of one-joke skit that might work
on MadTV, but that seems awfully
thin on stage. It provides some laughs,
but it isn't satisfying, and it feels like
it was included as an afterthought.
Ken Urban's The Happy
Sad – the longer and more substantial
of the two pieces – would almost certainly
be better served standing alone. Urban's
story of artsy Brooklyn twenty-somethings
dealing with relationship and family problems
has some real strengths. The fewer-than-six-degrees-of-separation
among the seven characters underscores its
themes of doubt and lostness.
Unfortunately, the protagonist, Annie (Annie
Scott, who is working a little too hard),
is less interesting than some of the supporting
characters – notably, Aaron and Marcus
(Forester and Bonilla), the increasingly
bizarre Mandy (skillfully underplayed by
Brewster) and the sexually confused Stan
(an engagingly befuddled Stephen O'Reilly).
The Happy Sad
is clever and at times even touching, but
it also feels a long way from finished.
Some very taught writing is juxtaposed with
some fairly slack dramaturgy. I left wanting
to know a lot more about some of the characters
and a lot less about some of the others.
Tickets are $20. For a
complete performance calendar and ticketing,
or call 212-352-3101.
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).
Performance Space 122
March 17-30, 2008
Reviewed by Bryan Close
playing at P.S. 122, is a tour de force
for Kevin Augustine, its star, writer, co-director
(with Ken Berman) and lead puppeteer. The
play is produced by the Lone Wolf Tribe,
which is composed chiefly of Augustine and
his foam rubber puppets.
A quick word about these
puppets – they are creepy, bizarre
and fascinating. They have a dark, almost
gothic quality that evokes Terry Gilliam
(The Fisher King, Brazil,
Time Bandits) more than Jim Henson
(Kermit, Grover, Oscar), and they help make
Bride almost as compelling as it
is weird. Since it is very weird indeed,
this is high praise.
Augustine dominates the
action onstage, literally playing God. But
this is no ordinary Supreme Being. Augustine's
version of the Creator is a half-senile,
yellow-green wretch with a face like Freddy
Krueger's, wearing garters and what looks
like Mormon underwear underneath a bathrobe
that could have belonged to Ming the Merciless.
And He is far from omnipotent. Tormented
by the non-stop demands of his job (dozens
of phone lines are constantly ringing with
petitions from the faithful), memories of
the past (his coup against the other gods
which has left him lonely) and frustrating
companions (including a monkey servant and
a dismembered giantess in the basement),
He takes comfort in… a New Idea.
The New Idea is a hideous
but adorable foam rubber puppet –
actually, it's a series of puppets of increasing
size, masterfully maneuvered by Augustine
and his small army of black-clad lieutenants.
If I understood the story correctly, God
has to teach his New Idea to dance for its
debut before the world. The little dancing
puppet is beautiful and hilarious, but God
is a tough taskmaster, and isn't as easily
impressed as the rest of us.
Other players include
Rob Lok (the bouncing monkey man) and James
Graber, a talented dancer. They production
also features video segments, guns, smoke,
a dubious but entertaining cosmology and
giant foam rats. It only flags a couple
of times, and that's when the script gets
too wordy, as Augustine's verbal images
don't measure up to his visual ones. On
the whole, though, Bride provides a thoroughly
satisfying trip into the unconscious, animated
by moments of real theatrical delight.
PS122 | 150 First Ave
at E.9th Street
Photo Credit Diego
Multidimensional Beach Party Play
Thursday - Saturday @ 8pm.
(Note: doors open at 6pm for a pre-show
April 10 - May 3
3LD Art & Technology Center
Reviewed by Bryan Close
In an effort to
simulate the environment of a beach party
(or maybe just to win the audience’s
goodwill), 3-Legged Dog, the theater company
producing Charles Mee’s Fire Island
at the 3LD Arts Center in lower Manhattan,
begins the night by giving away food and
I’m not too proud to say, they had
me at free beer and cheeseburgers.
But then something unpleasant happens that
undoes all the substantial goodwill generated
by free beer, wine, sodas, cheeseburgers
and hotdogs, and that spoils an otherwise
perfect evening: the play itself, which
is not good. Fire Island is a multimedia
mish-mash with no real story, only a theme:
relationships are hard, and they go wrong
in all sorts of ways. As one character says,
“The only way I can keep you is by
making you feel anxious/ keeping you on
edge/ making you feel I'm about to drop
you/ so the way to have you/ is to reject
you/ and if I don't reject you/ then I don't
It isn’t that there is nothing in
Fire Island to admire. Mee is a
smart, provocative playwright (the Signature
Theatre has devoted its current season to
him, no small honor), and snippets of his
dialogue, such as a throw-away exchange
about whether quince is an herb or a fruit,
are entertaining. The production itself
is ambitious, with more than 100 artists
and technicians attempting to present the
fleeting images of a beach weekend through
fractured bits of conversation, both live
and on enormous projection screens, which
surround the playing/viewing space. Director
Kevin Cunningham mixes audience and actors
together in a crowded-beach-like jumble
of folding chairs and blankets. A small
army of techies and ASMs also double as
performers. There is also a great band (more
on them later), a woman walking around with
an 8-inch chef’s knife, a sexy trumpet
player and a scary-faced clown. Plus all
that free food.
The whole, though, is a lot less than the
sum of the parts, and in the absence of
strong acting or a compelling story (or,
really, any story), the conceit of seeing
live actors perform alongside filmed images
of them is only interesting for so long.
And whatever the virtue of such close proximity
with the actors, it is undone by having
them all wear microphones, so even when
they’re standing right next to us,
their voices come to us from far away. (NB
– Letting the AV kids run amok in
the theater department rarely makes for
a better play. In the hands of experts –
The Wooster Group, for example – going
tech-crazy can be part of interesting deconstructions
of classics, but it seldom results in improved
storytelling. Whoever first decided it was
a good idea to mike actors in a live performance
did the theater a terrible disservice. End
There is one exception to this ocean of
disappointment – the live band, led
by Tuvan throat singer Albert Kuvezin, is
great. Listening to Kuvezin growl out witty
covers of rock standards like “Play
with Fire” and “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”
in his hypnotizing Siberian glottal fry
is far and away the highlight of the show.
(If you’ve never heard this guy sing,
his presence might be reason enough to go.)
But Kuvezin and his merry band (some of
whom also double as actors) – though
excellent – can’t save the play.
On the night I saw the show two members
of the audience near me fell asleep. Another
man had a conversation on his cell phone.
Behind me a group of drunks spent fifteen
minutes talking louder than the actors.
There is so much ambient electronic noise
built into the production and so little
to focus our attention, that it took a while
to realize they weren’t actually part
of the show.
The piece is only 90 minutes, but it feels
much, much longer. The best line of the
night came from the audience member sitting
near me who, about 75 minutes in said to
his companion, “I feel like I’ve
been trapped at Fire Island all summer,
and I’m just waiting for September
so I can go home.”
Tickets are $30, $15 for
students available at 212-352-3101 or www.3LDNYC.org.
3LD Art & Technology
Center|80 Greenwich Street
At Rector Street -- accessible from the
1 train at Rector Street)
Wednesday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Opens March 27, 2008
St. James Theater
by Frank J. Avella
As an entertainment journalist
and critic, I am hyper aware of the overuse
of certain adjectives when describing a
work you are taken with. Many of my colleagues,
print and online, suffer from the same cyber-superlative-diarrhea-
gushing I have been guilty of. Some shamelessly
want to be quotable; others, like me, have
pet words and phrases they love to reuse.
I am promising right now that I will make
a valiant effort to curb my “amazings”
as well as my “astonishings”
–but it will have to wait until after
this particular review.
Every once in a decade
or so, theatergoers are afforded the opportunity
to witness a truly transcendent, instantly
classic performance—the stuff legends
are made of. The nature of live theatre
and audience subjectivity is that often
what is felt to be a great performance by
one person is simply good or acceptable
by another’s standards. Sometimes,
though, tragedy smiles at comedy, and there
can be no denying sheer magic has taken
place before everyone’s eyes.
There aren’t enough
praise-infused adjectives in all existing
thesauruses to describe how right Patti
LuPone gets it in the new revival of Gypsy.
Fresh on the heels of the celebrated Encores!
performance, LuPone completely commands
the stage as she richly redefines a classic
character who has been embodied by some
of the best in the business (Ethel Merman,
Angela Lansbury, Betty Buckley and Bernadette
Peters, to name the best of the best).
I am a proud and true
LuPoner, meaning I have seen everything
the woman has done on Broadway since my
parents brought me to the Broadway theatre
in the early 80’s to experience Evita
when I was a wee lad. I was bitten by the
Patti bug and have been a fan and admirer
ever since. Over the years I have seen her
in: Anything Goes; Oliver;
The Accidental Death of an Anarchist
(lasted less than a week—but I loved
it); The Old Neighborhood; Patti
LuPone on Broadway; Noises Off;
Master Class and last year’s
revival of Sweeney Todd.
At Encores, a few months
ago, I was blown away by LuPone’s
Mama Rose. It was a tour de force from her
barreling onto the stage and shouting: “Sing
out, Louise!” to the closing moments,
LuPone was a restless tornado for three
solid hours. She was the personification
of the old adage “give ‘em what
they want.” She certainly did as each
number proved a show stopper. Her energy
The absolute genius of
the Broadway performance, and how it differs
from Encores, has everything to do with
how carefully modulated her steps are now.
There is an amazing and calculated build
to her fury…to that ultimate tour
de force (‘Rose’s Turn’).
LuPone now shows us the character’s
arc. She painstakingly develops Mama Rose
from the unrelenting stage mother to the
frustrated and angry star wannabe she actually
is. By the end of act one, you may find
yourself disappointed in her rendition of
“Everything’s Coming Up Roses,”
because she is not singing the shit out
of the song. But be patient, because there’s
an urgent reason for that. Mama’s
on a journey. She’s not a Broadway
belter blowing her wad, wad after wad, with
each musical number. She is a real, hurting,
breathing theatre person filled with idiosyncrasies
and foibles. She is not just a stage mother,
she is everyone who once had a dream and
felt they, for whatever reason, could not
By the time this Mama
Rose is ready for her turn, she infuses
that (literal) eleven o’clock number
with all the angst and regret and desperation
that’s been building all night long.
She manages to strip away layers of the
character throughout the show until she
is rawness personified. And we are lucky
enough to have been along for the ride.
The final image of her reaching up at the
footlights trying desperately to catch a
moment for herself: “For me,”
is a moment that I will never forget. Patti
LuPone is diva Broadway personified, but
she is also one of the best stage actresses
of our generation. She has earned her place
in the pantheon and deserves every type
of accolade possible for her turn. Pun rightfully
But let’s not forget
she is also blessed with an amazing cast.
Boyd Gaines is the definitive
Herbie. It’s a pleasure to see him
as a virile and sensitive character as opposed
to the sad schmo cartoons from the past
Herbie canon. Gaines’ Herbie may be
henpecked but he chooses to be out of devotion
to his Rose, not because he’s a silly
shlub everyone walks all over. And the sexual
tension between LuPone and Gaines is palpable.
(LuPone, it should be stated, is also the
sexiest Mama Rose ever.)
The exquisite Laura Benanti
perfectly underplays Louise so that when
she finally finds herself and emerges as
the notorious Gypsy Rose Lee in Act Two,
we are thunderstruck and mesmerized. She
has become a tigress before our eyes and
we believe the transformation wholeheartedly.
The dynamic Leigh Ann
Larkin’s angry and resentful Dainty
June is a perfect match for Benanti’s
forgiving Louise and they both bring the
house down with “If Mama Was Married.”
It’s a moment that bonds the sibs
in an extraordinary and poignant way.
Another non-LuPone showstopper
is “You Gotta Have a Gimmick,”
with a hilarious Alison Fraser as Tessie
Tura and the scene stealing Marily Caskey
as Electra, the oldest woman in burlesque!
staged in 1959, features a book by Arthur
Laurents, music by Jule Style and lyrics
by Stephen Sondheim (one of the last times
he would agree to writing lyrics only).
At ninety years old, Mr. Laurents has directed
this current production—quite masterfully.
I have always had my problems
with Gypsy. I also know that admitting
that will get me in trouble since it’s
considered one of the great American musicals.
And I have had a rocky journey believing
that. The Sam Mendes version, five years
ago, had me liking it more than I ever have.
And Bernadette Peter’s revisionist
Mama Rose was a joy to behold.
This production, however,
inches me closer to understanding the power
of the story. It’s a quintessentially
American a story that defines a time and
an art form (Vaudeville) that has long since
vanished but has influenced every other
art form that followed. It is also about
the pursuit of the American dream—in
this case: stardom. It almost has a Nathanial
West quality about it. And Rose is the ultimate
American monster mother who dreamed big…FOR
her children, but really FOR herself.
Still, there are certain
songs I felt never worked (“All I
Need Now is the Girl,” “Little
Lamb”) and one major fault I have
always had with the book; the fact that
June is never brought back in Act Two. I
still feel this was a misstep in the original
book and would have added so much. Regardless,
there are no perfect musicals (except for
Sweeney Todd and Sunday in the Park
with George…), but this Gypsy
comes quite close.
Last year, I boldly stated
that Meryl Streep’s performance in
Mother Courage was among the truly
great stage performances of all time. Add
Ms. LuPone’s Mama Rose to that very
small but priceless list.
Wednesday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Show Closes April 13, 2008
Ian McShane as Max; Raul Esparza as Lenny;
Eve Best as Ruth; Michael McKean as Sam;
James Frain as Teddy; and Gareth Saxe as
Joey. Directed by Daniel Sullivan.
by Wendy R. Williams
The Homecoming is a splendid entry
into the world of Broadway “talkers,”
joining two other excellent plays that also
opened this year, The Seafarer
and August: Osage County (see my
2008 Theater Column). There are no gimmicks
in these plays; each relies on the playwright’s
gift for language to mesmerize the audience.
And The Homecoming, like the other
two recently opened plays, is set in that
familiar factory for evil, the nuclear family.
scene of The Homecoming is set
at night. First we see Max (Ian McShane)
and his son Lenny (Raul Esparza) verbally
sparring, sitting in the living room (Eugene
Lee’s excellent set) and fighting
about nothing. Then Max’s brother
and co-owner of the house Sam (Michael McKean)
arrives home from his chauffeuring job and
Max starts picking on Sam. In the course
of all this bickering, we find out that
the house is inhabited by two brothers (Max
and Sam) and two of Max’s sons, the
acerbic Lenny and the slow-witted boxer
Joey (Gareth Saxe). We now know where we
are; the stage is set for the action.
goes to bed and then the play really begins.
A third son, Teddy, a philosophy professor
who immigrated to America (James Frain)
arrives with his beautiful wife Ruth (Eve
Best). It is the middle of the night when
they arrives, everyone else is asleep. Teddy
and Ruth begin to gently spar. Teddy is
unerringly cheerful; one would think he
had arrived at a warm and loving home. But
whatever Teddy suggests, Ruth wants no part
of it and Teddy eventually wanders upstairs
to see to sleeping arrangements, leaving
his wife behind.
wanders downstairs to find Ruth. He is surprised
to see her because he has no idea that Teddy
has arrived or for that matter than Teddy
is married. Lenny and Ruth then play their
first game. Lenny attempts to dominate Ruth
and Ruth quietly stands her ground.
Soon it is morning and all the other players
arrive and the battle begins. And it is
a battle. Max verbally attacks Ruth and
she seemingly swats him away like an annoying
fly. All the men of the household act like
a pack of wolves, moving in for the kill.
And Ruth does not even seem to notice; she
has some innate power that allows her to
conquer while she is both dominated and
plays the dominatrix. Ruth’s langorous
sexuality stops-the-clock when she merely
crosses her legs.
There are silences in The Homecoming.
But these are the kind of silences you would
see in a lair filled with coiled snakes.
And no one is innocent. Not even the one-who-got-away,
Teddy. The men in the household play a homoerotic-gang-bang
game of get-the-new-sister-in-law, alla
Edward Albee’s hump-the-hostess in
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
The director, Daniel Sullivan, has done
a beautiful job of reinterpreting Pinter’s
work. It is just as shocking and disturbing
now (per my read of the old reviews) as
it apparently was forty years ago.
And how do the actors do? Very well indeed.
Ian Mcshane leaves his well-known Deadwood-powerful-but-wicked
performance style to portray Max, a nasty
old man whose powers are waning. Raul Espparza
is mesmerizing as Lenny. Michael McKean
plays the ineffective Uncle Sam with grace
and Gareth Saxe turns on a dime as the dim-witted
Joey. And as I said before, Eve Best is
utterly spellbinding as Ruth. And James
Frain as Teddy gives one of the most haunting
performances of the night. When we first
meet him, he seems like the “normal”
outsider, the character through whom we,
the audience, will enter the play. But before
the end of the evening, we find that he
has been dipped in the same evil vat of
poison as the rest of his family.
The Homecoming is playing at the
Cort Theater (138 West 48th Street) through
April 13, 2008. Tickets 212-239-6200 &
800-432-7250 & telecharge.com.
For more information, log onto: thehomecomingonbroadway.com
Cort Theater |138
West 48th Street
- The Musical
2:00pm & 8:00pm
Saturday 2:00PM & 8:00PM
Sunday 2:00PM, 7:00PM & 8:00PM
The Palace Theatre
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.
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
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.
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.
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
by the singly named human, Orfeh.)
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.
$40.00-$110.00 212-307-4747 www.ticketmaster.com
Through April 5th
Saturday 3:00pm & 7:00pm
The Flea Theater
by Bryan Close
like theater and you believe that stories
matter (and you do, right, or why would
you be reading this?) give yourself a
generous gift and buy a ticket to see
Lower Ninth, running now at The
Flea through April 5.
is set on a New Orleans rooftop in the
wake of Hurricane Katrina (in the mostly
poor, mostly African-American Lower Ninth
Ward, to be precise). Don’t let
that fool you; this not a documentary
or issue-of-the-week type play. Like any
great work of art, Daniel Goldstein’s
production of Beau Willimon’s powerful
play transcends the specifics of its time
and place and reverberates with universal
is simple -- a young man and an old man
are waiting on a warped rooftop (a perfectly
claustrophobic set by Donyale Werle) for
something, anything to happen. They have
nothing with them but a bible, a pocket
knife, a lighter and a corpse, all of
which are used, before the night is over,
to ingenious theatrical effect.
opens with Malcolm (the extraordinary
James McDaniel), a wise and weary former
sinner, preaching up a storm over the
body of Lowboy, the local drug-dealing,
head-cracking badass who drowned in the
hurricane. Young E-Z, his audience of
one, is unimpressed with the sermon --
a particularly impenetrable stew involving
the blood of Baal and Jezebel’s
vengeance and Elijah hiding hungry in
the woods -- and their skirmishing begins.
Before it ends, we’ll see Becketesque
wordplay, Shepardesque violence, a reanimated
corpse (Mary Shelly-esque, I guess that
would be…), the story of Noah told
arrestingly over an almost-unimaginably
daring stretch of pitch blackness (kudos
to McDaniel for somehow pulling this off)
and a physical sacrifice that can be pretty
fairly described as Christlike.
moves his actors briskly and confidently
through this gumbo of a story with very
few false steps (there is some extraneous
inter-scene tableau-striking that’s
hard to figure out).
to McDaniel – a New York theater
veteran best known for his recurring role
on NYPD Blue -- the cast includes
young Giaus Charles (NBC’s Friday
Night Lights) as the angry, sensitive
E-Z and Gbenga Akkinagbe (Chris Paltrow
on HBO’s The Wire) the
mesmerizing thug Lowboy brought to life
as in E-Z’s dehydrated fever dream.
If Charles doesn’t quite have the
chops to match the resonant McDaniel and
the frightening Akkinagbe, he has an earnest
sweetness that helps compensate.
is flawlessly evocative, with detailed
costumes, deep amber lighting and melancholy
jazz nicely complementing Werle’s
much talent on such ample display, the
story itself -- about difficult choices
and unfair circumstances and the power
of stories to help us through it all --
somehow manages to remain the star. Willimon’s
play is smart, funny, substantive and
like theater (and we’ve already
established that you do), go buy a ticket
to this play. Because some stories really
$40.00 - $45.00 212-352-3101 https://www.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/30741
The Flea Theater
New York, NY 10013
Sater & Duncan Sheik’s
Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Sunday 2:00pm & 7:00pm
Eugene O'Neill Theatre
Reviewed by Frank J.
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,
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
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”).
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
Beyond the masterful score,
near-perfect performances and deft direction,
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
is a triumph that should be seen by anyone
who cares about the future of musical theatre.
Theatre | 230 West 49th Street | New York,
Tuesday @ 8PM
Wednesday @ 2PM & 8PM
Thursday @ 8PM
Friday @ 8PM
Saturday @ 2PM & 8PM
Sunday @ 3PM
Opened July 10, 2007
Helen Hayes Theater
Reviewed by Frank
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
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
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.
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
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...
Tickets $51.25-$111.25 Buy tickets
- Phone 212-239-6200 & 800-432-7250
Helen Hayes |240
W. 44th Street