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New York City - Theatre



Tracy Letts' August Osage County
Open Run
The Music Box Theater

August Osage County won the Pulitzer Prize and the
New York Drama Critics Circle Awards

From Wendy R. Williams' March Theater Column

I saw only one play last month, The Steppenwolf Theatre Company's production of Tracy Letts' August Osage County. August was written by Tracy Letts (off Bug and Killer Joe fame) and directed by Anna D. Shapiro. August stars: Ian Barford as Little Charles Aiken (Cousin); Deanna Dunagan as Violet Weston; Kimberly Guerrero as Johnna Monevata (Housekeeper); Francis Guinan as Charlie Aiken (Uncle); Brian Kerwin as Steve Heidebrecht (Karen’s Fiancé); Dennis Letts as Beverly Weston; Madeline Martin as Jean Fordham (Granddaughter); Mariann Mayberry as Karen Weston (Youngest Daughter); Amy Morton as Barbara Fordham (Eldest Daughter); Sally Murphy as Ivy Weston (Middle Daughter); Jeff Perry as Bill Fordham (Barbara’s Husband); Rondi Reed as Mattie Fae Aiken (aunt).

I am a big fan of Tracy Letts. I reviewed Bug the play and Bug the movie. Both were excellent and were covered in my June 2007 Theater Column.

Bug was witty and eerie and had supernatural elements, so I was expecting something of the same genre with Lett’s new play. Well, I was certainly surprised. August Osage County may be set in heartland like Bug, but there the similarities end. August Osage County is one of the most brutally realistic plays I have ever seen. It is also one of the most brilliant.

August Osage County tells the story of the Weston family, a family headed by a paterfamilias, the (failed?) poet Beverly Weston. When the play opens we see Beverly, a talkative older man, interviewing a taciturn young American Indian woman, Johnna (played by Kimberly Guerrero) for the job of family housekeeper. He tells her that her main duty will be to care for his wife, Violet (played by Deanna Dugan), who has mouth cancer and needs to be driven to her doctor’s appointments. He also tells her that his wife does not believe in air conditioning (it is August in Oklahoma!!!) and that he and his wife have struck a bargain in life – he drinks and she takes pills.

In the next scene we find out that Beverly has disappeared and the extended family has been summoned to “help.” First to arrive is Violet’s sister, Mattie (the hysterically funny Rondi Reed). Mattie is talking to her husband Charlie (played by Francis Guinan) and she proceeds to give the audience some of the funniest exposition I have ever heard. She verbally dices and fillets all the expected family members and informs both Charlie and the audience just who is expected to arrive and when.

Already on the scene is the middle daughter Ivy (Sally Murphy). Ivy has never left town and is simply appalled that her father has left and now she will have to deal with her mother. But that is not all Ivy will have to deal with. Soon afterwards, the other two daughters, Barbara (played by Amy Morton) and Karen (played by Mariann Mayberry). And with the two daughters come additional baggage, Barbara’s husband Bill (played by Jeff Perry), Barbara’s precocious pot-smoking fourteen-year-old daughter Jean (played by Madeline Martin) and Jean’s new pedophile boyfriend, Steve (played by Brian Kerwin).

The program for August Osage County has a family tree of the Weston family, complete with photos of all the cast members (there are thirteen of them). But thirteen or not, it would take more than twelve additional cast members to handle Mamma Violet Weston.

When we first see Mamma Violet, she carefully creeps down the stairs of Todd Rosenthal’s excellent set. She actually appears harmless; an old woman suffering from cancer whose husband has gone missing. Well, when Beverly hired someone to “take care” of his wife, perhaps he should have considered hiring Britney’s body guards. Over the course of the next two and a half hours of the play (the play is over three hours long), Mamma proceeds to verbally destroy everyone who has come to “help” her. Anyone who has ever dreaded their own Thanksgiving dinner should see this play and its family dinner simply to get a little perspective.

The apple, however, has not fallen far from the tree and we quickly find out that Mamma’s oldest daughter, Barbara, would be perfectly capable of getting Hannibal’s elephants across the Alps, killing any and all who get in her way. And Barbara’s eerily precocious daughter Jean is no victim either. It may be hotter-than-hell and there may be pills, booze and a pedophile on-the-loose, but the Westons family produces warrior women. And Johnna, the housekeeper, delivers a few whacks too.

Tracy Letts wrote an astounding script for August Osage County. The characters in this play may have learned "to wit" before they learned to walk, but they are all rawly human. The play has been beautifully directed by Anna D. Shapiro. The show is also blessed with a fabulous set by Todd Rosenthal and an original music score by David Singer. But even with all of these advantages, the play could have easily floundered. It is over three hours long and has a cast of thirteen actors. If any one of these actors had not held their own, the show could have dragged. But every actor in this cast gave a wonderful performance and watching them duke it out on stage was a theatrical experience I hope to remember forever.

On a sad note, Michael McGuire has just taken over the role of Beverly Weston. The part had previously been played by Dennis Letts (Tracy Lett’s father), who died last week.

Tickets are $26.50-$99.50 and can be ordered by phone at 212-239-6200 & 800-432-7250. Tickets can also be ordered online at telecharge.com.

For more information, log onto augustonbroadway.com

The Music Box Theater |239 West 45th Street, New York, NY 10036.




Michael Tucker, Jill Eickenberry and David Kolowitz
Enter Laughing, The Musical
Photo Credit Carol Rosegg

Enter Laughing, The Musical
Schedule Varies
Previews begin September 3, 2008
Opening Night September 10th
Now Extended Through October 26th
The Theatre at Saint Peter's

Still Funny After All These Years

Reviewed by William S. Gooch

It is very difficult to make stock characters funny and relevant, especially when the caricatures are decades old. For example, most people are familiar with the overbearing Jewish mother and the guilt-ridden son stereotypes. In Enter Laughing, The Musical, the masterful weaving of innuendo and edge elevates the characters beyond stereotype and brings humor and relevance to the tried-and-true storyline.

Based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Carl Reiner, Enter Laughing, The Musical tells the story of a stage struck guy (David Kolowitz) from the Bronx who wants to leave the humdrum life of a machinist to become a big time New York City actor. With no apparent training, David gets a scholarship to a questionable acting academy and lands the lead in one of the academy’s productions.

With music and lyrics by Stan Daniels (Fiddler on the Roof, Zorba) and book by Joseph Stein, Enter Laughing, The Musical is an amalgam of Borscht Belt humor, Jewish folk melodies and farcical romping. Many of the songs have a light, love-for-love’s sake quality, reminiscent of Cole Porter’s “Begin The Beguine” or Ivor Novello’s ”Land That Might Have Been.” Also, the script’s rapid banter brings up memories of characters from Reiner’s The Dick Van Dyke Show and Your Show of Shows.

As David Kolowitz, Josh Grisetti authentically captures the naiveté of a Bronx-born guy who is captivated by the bright lights of Broadway. Grisetti’s lanky, wide-grinned Kolowitz is in love with love, lust, life, and fame. Every shapely young woman is an opportunity. Every bright idea is a golden adventure not yet realized. Grisetti’s salacious rendering of “I’m Undressing Girls With My Eyes” portends sexual freedom that young men of the 1930s could only dream about. And the kitschy choreography with the spinning stools was an ingenious approach to the limitations of a small stage.

As the exasperated theater director, Harrison Marlowe, Broadway veteran George S. Irving brings his inimitable wit and charm to a stock character that could have been muddled down with overacting and clichéd gestures. Instead, Irving infuses Marlowe with arch, innuendo and nuance. Irving is especially effective in “The Butler’s Song.” Using a Rex Harrison-like singsong banter, Irving’s comic timing in this song is unparalleled.

Noticeable mention goes to Janine La Manna (Angela Marlowe), Jill Eikenberry (Emma Kolowitz), and Allison Spratt (Miss B). All three actresses give layered, comedic performances.

As a musical comedy, Enter Laughing, The Musical has stood the test of time. In its fifth incarnation, the humor still tickles, the dialogue still resonates, and the characters still amuse. Enter Laughing was funny fortysome-odd years ago, still is, and will always be.

Enter Laughing, The Musical is currently playing at The Theatre of Saint Peter’s through October 26th. Tickets $57.50 212-935-5820 ovationtix.com/trs/pr/46011
yorktheatre.org/EnterLaughing.html

The Theatre at Saint Peter's (Lexington Avenue just south of 54th Street).



Equus
Monday 8:00pm
Tuesday 7:00pm
Wednesday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Thursday 8:00pm
Friday 8:00pm
Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Previews Start:
September 5, 2008
Opens September 28, 2008
Closes February 8, 2009
Broadhurst Theatre

Horseplay Until Someone Loses An Eye

Reviewed by Adam Ritter

The hysteria conjured by Daniel Radcliffe's stagecraft in Equus was evidenced by the coven of audience members paying to stand in the rear of the Broadhurst Theater throughout his performance as Alan Strang, a jingle crooning, stallion maiming youth.

Having recently completed a London run, Equus (Latin for horse) arrived to Broadway on the wings of frenzied hype, the most glaring of which related to the full frontal nudity of its famous young star.

The play, first performed in 1973, was inspired - most unfortunately - by an actual incident in the U.K. where a stable of horses was blinded by an obviously troubled teenage boy. Describing the gruesome crime as having sparked "Intense fascination" within him, Playwright Peter Shaffer created a lattice of fictional, messianic circumstance that could plausibly result in a protagonist (though granted, a seriously unbalanced one) who commits an act of such barbarity.

Institutionalized by his conflicted parents, Alan is treated by Doctor Martin Dysart (Tony winner Richard Griffiths); a psychiatrist enduring something of a 'professional menopause' while simultaneously struggling to unravel the mystery of the neighing demons that haunt his tortured patient.

Indeed the doctor's analysis of Alan is saddled with doubt over the precise constitution of insanity and his ponderous uncertainty of why he still goes to work every day. Alan, invigorated by his horrid fascination of horses, seems more alive than Dr. Dysart, who is awash with the banality of everyday life and a ho-hum marriage.

Although I can only imagine the shock and puzzlement that must have followed that brutal crime decades ago (and the reception afterwards of this fictional account), the global interconnection of the information age has flooded our consciousness with bundles and bundles of desensitization to acts of inexplicable psychosis (let's call them Collateralized Derangement Obligations).

If you are on any news-of-the-weird distribution lists or just following our presidential election, you may wonder; how did a nearly three-hour drama emerge from THAT?

What's next, a psychosexual interlude about a girl whose faculties unravel after gnawing the severed finger in her take-out chili? Somebody get Dakota Fanning on the line.

To his credit, Mr. Radcliffe immerses himself convincingly in this role and doesn't bear the vaguest resemblance to what's-his-name; that spell-spouting countenance with whom Mr. Radcliffe (mutually to his advantage and detriment) is most closely associated.

In fact, one supposes the gulf of disparity between this equine-eroticizing mutilator and a certain boy wizard, as having played significantly in luring Mr. Radcliffe to the role and the result is something of a conundrum…

Were this piece performed in a more intimate venue (like the wonderful Flea Theater in SoHo for instance), I would anticipate an audience moved to profound contemplation, no doubt re-imagining their impression of a typecast actor.

Conversely, its presence as a naked Broadway spectacle owes exclusively to the very celebrity its star is attempting to restructure. Somehow I doubt Jonah Hill as Alan Strang would arouse as much interest in this nuanced stage drama when it opened at the East Jabib Playhouse.

Serious plays that become theatrical "events" detract from the gravitas of the performances and the provocative nature of their subject matter.

It also results in the coughingest assembly of late arriving, seat-shifting, over-paying tourists that I have witnessed in recent memory (and the voluntarily-corralled mob salivating by the stage door). Certainly by the two-hour mark this audience must have been regretting the decision to not see Hairspray rather than sitting here, awaiting a glimpse of Mr. Radcliffe's magic wand.

Perhaps it's not the size of the broom but how you ride it, but this huge production of Equus, no matter the popular lead's warm reception, comes up a bit short.

 


 


Gypsy
Monday 8:00pm
Tuesday 8:00pm
Wednesday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Thursday 8:00pm
Friday 8:00pm
Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Opens March 27, 2008
Open Run
St. James Theater

Reviewed 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 seemed limitless.

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 pursue it.

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 intended.

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!

Gypsy, originally 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.




Photo Credit: Ryan S. Brandenberg

In Conflict
Tuesday 8:00pm
Wednesday 8:00pm
Thursday 8:00pm
Friday 9:00pm
Saturday 4:00pm & 9:00pm
Sunday 4:00pm
Opens September 24, 2008
Open Run
Barrow Street Theater



Reviewed by Bryan Close

To paraphrase William Blake, the road to mediocre theater is paved with good intentions.

In Conflict is a docudrama that originated at Temple University, which Culture Project has brought to New York. The play is an adaptation, by director Douglas C. Wager, of journalist Yvonne Latty’s book of Studs Terkel-style interviews with soldiers who have returned from the war in Iraq. Good for Latty, Temple, Wager and progressive Culture Project; surely these are projects that journalists and undergrads, directors and downtown theaters ought to be doing.

The problem is, that in spite of the often-powerful material and several talented actors in the young cast, the play just isn’t very good as a play.

For the record, lots of out of town reviewers disagree with me – the show comes with a load of raving blurbs. Not quite sure what those folks were watching, but it isn’t the artlessly conceived string of over-performed monologues currently running at Barrow Street Theatre. There is obviously a strong and thoroughly human temptation to grade documentary-style art about important social issues on a curve of some kind. This would be a mistake. Such plays can, and often do, stand up on their own as great theater. The Exonerated and the work of Moises Kaufman and Anna Deavere Smith come to mind.

The stories told here of the shattered bodies and psyches of these young people are important. The heroism of these soldiers and the vacuous leadership that caused their lives to be ripped apart inspires humility and even reverence. Heroic, too, were Latty’s efforts in compiling and publishing these stories – some of which, as you might expect, are extremely moving.

If you don’t know that the lives of combat veterans are often wrenchingly difficult, then you should see In Conflict. It will open your eyes. If you’re so disgusted with our cynical and ineffectual foreign policy that you’re willing to suspend your own critical faculties to bask in anything that further exposes the architects of this disastrous war, then you might enjoy it. Or even if you’re just somebody who feels it would be good for you to spend a little time hearing from the men and women on the front lines of this war, then, by all means, go see this play. I’m not telling you not to.

What I am telling you is that In Conflict is theatrically unsatisfying. Ultimately, Wager doesn’t seem trust the stories that inspired him to create this potentially important play in the first place. If he did, he wouldn’t have his cast – again, several of whom are genuinely fine young actors – overdo so much of it the way they do, diluting the payoff moments. He wouldn’t have them perform vignettes between the monologues that range from mildly cheesy to genuinely embarrassing – and which significantly undercut any momentum the cumulative power the stories might generate.

Damon Williams, playing both an alcoholic train wreck of a man haunted by images of a young mother he killed and as an amputee who tries heroically – and fails heartbreakingly – to maintain a positive outlook on life, is the strongest of several strong actors. Stan Demidoff, Joy Notoma and Tim Chambers also stand out.
The set design by Andrew Laine is interesting – spinning panels with a huge map of Iraq on one side and an even huger American flag on the other. Interview clips with author Yvonne Latty are surprisingly effective (video design by Warren Bass), although Latty’s realness (even on video) points up the unnecessarily heightened style of so much of the acting. And it is not without some real heart-in-the-throat moments – such as during the curtain call when the cast turns and applauds images of the actual soldiers they’re portraying.

In Conflict is a play to root for, and the stories that it tells deserve to be heard. I’m glad it exists, and, as an American citizen, I’m glad I saw it. But none of that makes it a very good play.

Tickets $35.00 & $15.00 student w/ID ovationtix.com/trs/pr/67692

Barrow Street Theatre |27 Barrow Street
New York, NY 10014
Tickets: 212-352-3101
866-811-4111(toll free)



 



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 Courtesy of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo
Tue–Wed 7:30pm
Thu–Fri 8pm
Sat 2pm & 8pm
Sun 2pm & 7:30pm
No performance Christmas Day
December 14th, 2008 – January 4th, 2009
The Joyce Theater

Keeping the Tradition Alive

Reviewed by William S. Gooch

Staging the great ballets of the Romantic and Classical Eras is always an arduous task for most ballet companies. There is always the challenge of interpretation, period-appropriate style and nuance, as well as relevancy for contemporary audiences. Case in point, if the mime sequences in the first act of Giselle are not staged properly, Giselle could turn it a real snooze of a ballet. And if the lovely solo variations in Paquita are not imbued with brio and zest, then Paquita remains just a pretty divertissement, nothing else.

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, in spite of its zany onstage antics, not only has some of the best staging of truncated ballet classics, but injects nuance and an appreciation of style sorely missing from more traditional ballet companies. Don’t be fooled by the bulging thighs, hairy chests, and questionable pointe work. These guys are well schooled in the classical repertoire and understand the world that existed around that repertoire. Trockadero performs Grande pas de deux as an expression of the Russian imperial court, not just a pas de deux with a lovely hyperextended ballerina. Each characterization is a detailed rendering of Romantic and Classical styles with arms softly curved, and variations performed with vibrancy and panache.

At the Joyce Theater on December 19, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo performed five ballets, four from the traditional lexicon, and one knockoff of a Balanchine classic. In their Giselle Act II, many of the onstage gags have been seen before and need to be reworked; however, this version of Giselle is passionately danced in the correct Romantic style. Lariska Dumchenko (Raffaele Morra) as Giselle should be noted for her ethereal portrayal of the doomed heroine. Her petite allegro is soft and swift and her jete elance appropriately darting and sharp. Also, Morra has that rare ability of working his whole foot in pointe shoes, a rare feat for a man.

Peter Anastos’s Go for Barocco was danced with concentrated intensity. Even the corps de ballet devour the choreography in this takeoff of Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco. With their clear classical lines, soloists Vanya Verikosa (Brock Hayhoe) and Katerina Bychkova (Joshua Grant) are reminiscent of leggy Balanchine ballerinas Carol Sumner, Gloria Govrin, and Patricia Neary. Balanchine always said he liked choreographing for tall women because there was more to see. Obviously, he was not thinking of the Trocks, but the Amazon-like Bychkova and Verikosa do display the effectiveness of Balanchine-like neoclassical style on statuesque bodies.

The highlight of the evening was Marius Petipa’s Paquita danced with imperial grandeur by Olga Supphozova (Robert Carter). Supphozova’s campy onstage antics don’t detract from her role as prima ballerina assoluta. Supphozova is a true child of the stage with every studied gestures and sustained movement milked for full effect. Supphozova also possesses the rare quality of knowing how to phrase movement while staying in character. Whether holding an extended balance or executing a series of creamy fouettes, Supphozova’s demonstrates that in performance prima ballerinas always make the difficult look easy.

Pratfalls, barrel-chested men in tutus, and catty ballerinas used to be Les Ballets Trockadero’s calling card, but they are now so much more than that. The Trocks, in their own way, are helping to preserve a tradition in classical ballet that extends from the Russian Imperial Theatre to contemporary choreographers of the 21st century. And they look pretty good in toe shoes, too!!

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is performing at the Joyce Theater from December 14 through January 4, 2009. Ticket Price $49; $35; $19, Joyce Members $37; $26.

For more information, visit at www.joyce.org

The Joyce Theater | 175 8th Avenue





Photo Credit Carol Rosseg

Bob Johnston and Jeff Hochhauser's
My Vaudeveille Man, A New Musical

Through January 4, 2009
The York Theatre


Reviewed by Lauren Possee

If you are looking to see a show this holiday season, and want to avoid Broadway ticket prices, My Vaudeville Man is the perfect choice. Now playing at the York Theatre, this two-person musical is a heartwarming story detailing the life of Vaudeville tap dancer Jack Donahue, and his mother, whose one goal in life is to get her son out of show business and back home to earn a “real living”. The show is based on the book, Letters of a Hoofer to his Ma by Jack Donahue, and is set in New England in 1910.

The show stars Shonn Wiley as Jack (understudied by Sam Underwood), and Karen Murphy (understudied by Susan Hoffman) as his mother, “Mud”. Both Wiley and Murphy are extraordinary, and have that special “it” factor that is necessary for a show like this. Both actors fully transform into three-dimensional characters, full of humor, wit, and depth.

Shonn Wiley commands the stage as Jack. Not only is his tap dancing impressive and charismatic, but also his vulnerability in the scenes with his mother truly demonstrates the range of his skill. Jack’s passion drives him to continue his Vaudeville career, despite his mother’s desire to have him live at home, get a job at the lumber factory, and support his family.

Karen Murphy’s performance as “Mud” is beyond amazing. Her character struggles throughout the show to accept her son’s decision to pursue show business. Beyond that, her marriage is deteriorating due to her husband’s drinking problem. In the second act, Murphy sings “So The Old Dog Has Come Home”, in which she struggles to decide whether or not she should take her husband back. This song is the reason to see this show. It was the single most powerful moment of the night, and Murphy was impeccable.

Music for My Vaudeville Man by Bob Johnston, and book by Jeff Hochhauser, were both outstanding. The set and costume designs were both delightfully simple and effective. James Morgan designed the sets, and David Toser designed the costumes.

All in all, My Vaudeville Man is not to be missed. Full of charisma and humor, heartache and struggle, this is a story about love, passion, and family. It is a delightful and refreshing piece of live theatre.

My Vaudeville Man plays at the York Theatre Company, 619 Lexington Ave., through January 4th. Tickets are $57.50 for adults, and $20.00 for students with a valid ID. Please call 212-935-5820 for tickets and information. For information visit www.yorktheatre.org.

THE YORK THEATRE COMPANY in Saint Peter’s Theatre,
Lexington Avenue, just South of 54th Street
E, V train to Lexington Avenue or 6 train to 51st Street
For more information, check out www.yorktheatre.org


 



Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

Rock of Ages
Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at 8:00pm
Friday at 7:00pm and 10:00pm
Saturday at 2:00 and 8:00pm
Sunday at 3:00pm
New World Stages

Rock of Ages Breaks the Mold

Reviewed by William S. Gooch

When I was first invited to review Rock of Ages I thought to myself, “Here we go again, another musical based on pop songs; I barely survived All Shook Up, Hot Feet, and the self-indulgent Lennon.” My theatrical appetite was not whetted with yet another attempt to bring tourists into the theatre by fitting insipid, jukebox, love songs of the last couple of decades into an underdeveloped plot about boy meets girl, girl meets boy, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Rock of Ages, to my pleasant surprise, is not like the current clichéd crop of pop musicals. In Rock of Ages, writer Chris D’Arienzo successfully marries familiar pop rock songs of the 80s with period-appropriate storylines, nuanced character development and good choreography. Unlike many of its jukebox musical predecessors, the music choices in Rock of Ages are an organic response to what is happening on stage. No big ballads, vocal feats, or guitar riffs solely for special effect or tearjerker moments. In the tradition of George Wolf’s Jelly’s Last Jam or Last Party, the music supports the action onstage, never referencing something that is about happen or some abstract event offstage.

The music of Pat Benatar, Journey, Quiet Riot, Quarterflash, Twisted Sister, White Snake, Poison, Survivor, REO Speedwagon, and Van Halen transports audiences to a seedy rocker club (The Bourbon Room) on the Sunset Strip that is about to become the victim of urban redevelopment. The rocker group, Arsenal, as a favor to ex-hippie club owner Dennis (Adam Dannheisser), agree to do a farewell concert at The Bourbon Room to give the club viability. Drew (Constantine Maroulis) a bar back at the Bourbon Room sees the farewell concert as his opportunity to showcase his Steve Perry–like vocal acrobatics and impress Sherrie (Kelli Barrett), a recent Kansas transplant with Hollywood dreams who has eyes for Stacee Jaxx (Will Swenson), Arsenal’s salacious lead singer.

Constantine Maroulis (American Idol Finalist) makes up in vocal fireworks what he lacks at times in stage presence. His lyrical tenor serenades in Survivor’s “Living for a Dream” and Steve Perry’s “Oh Sherrie.” And he appropriately rocks out in Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian.”

Kelli Barrett brings an 80s rocker girl authenticity to her portrayal of Sherrie. Though starry eyed and unsophisticated, this girl is no stranger to lust, love, and titillation. And her rendering of Journey’s “I Want to Know What Love Is” while having a sexual romp with Stacee Jaxx in the bathroom is the most hilarious scene in the show.

As Lonny, the sound guy at the Bourbon Room, Mitchell Jarvis puckishly interpolates the action on stage. Whether impishly whispering asides to the audience or zanily inserting himself into stage buffoonery, this rocker hallelujah man understands how to shine without overwhelming.

The standout in the cast is Will Swenson as the vice-ridden lead singer, Stacee Jaxx. Modeled after Van Halen lead singer, David Lee Roth, Swenson’s generates a glam rocker sex appeal without taking himself too seriously. Lending his incredible pipes to Journey’s “Any Way You Want It,” Swenson conjures up the frenetic energy and emotion of 80s pop rock balladeers. Other noteworthy performers are Adam Dannheisser (Dennis), Lauren Molina (Regina), Wesley Taylor (Franz), and Paul Schoeffler (Hertz). And the ‘Solid Gold’–inspired choreography is worth noting for its 80s-style bump n’grind, biker chick incarnation.

If Rock of Ages played Off-Broadway seven or eight years ago, maybe some of the producers of current jukebox musicals would have had an example of how to put a cohesive, entertaining show together. Ah, wishful thinking!!

Rock of Ages is currently playing at New World Stages. For more information, go to www.rockofagesmusical.com. Tickets range from $46.50. Premium Tickets offering seat-side cocktail service are available for $126.50. A limited number of $26.50 RUSH tickets will be available at the Box Office, day of purchase ONLY. Tickets may be purchased through www.telecharge.com or by calling Telecharge at (212) 239-6200, or at the New World Stages Box Office. For group rates and tickets, please call (800) 251-2979.

New World Stages | 340 West 50th Street (between 8th & 9th Avenues)


 

 

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




Peter O'Connor and Grace Gummer
Photo Credit Thomas Hand Keefe

Lukas Bärfuss'
The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents
November 6th through 22nd. @ 8pm
The Wild Project

Reviewed by Bryan Close

The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents, by Swiss playwright Lukas Bärfuss (translation by Neil Blackadder) examines the fallout when a developmentally challenged teenage girl is taken off the cocktail of medications that have kept her in a vegetative state for years.

What we get is Dora, a sweet, lollipop-sucking girl with neither much conventional intelligence nor any guile at all (and no clear justification why she was ever so doped up to begin with). This play follows Dora’s Dante-esque journey of sexual discovery that takes her, and us, to darker and darker places.

The production is a mixed bag, but Grace Gummer, as Dora, is a fascinating creature. Gummer’s inspired deadpan impressions of the authority figures in her life – her parents, her doctor, her abusive lover – combined with her ability to shift emotional gears on a dime, make Dora’s negotiation of her conflicting desires to please everyone – not least herself – riveting. The young actress’s arresting stage presence and pitch-perfect comic timing in her New York debut recall the work of no less gifted a thespian than her mother, the until-now-inimitable Meryl Streep.

Much of Bärfuss’s text is compelling, especially Dora’s earnest sexuality and her doctor’s attempts to explain the rules. In other places – including the odd allusion to Freud’s Dora, who bears no real resemblance to this one – it feels a bit obvious.

And in what seems to be a misguided effort to throw focus on Dora’s specialness, director Kristjan Thor has the rest of his cast behaving like animated automatons. Many of the actors (especially the delightful Kathryn Kates as the mother of Dora’s boss) have strong moments, but too often they struggle against an imposed stylistic choice that probably sounded better in a production meeting than it plays on the stage.

Ultimately though, Gummer’s performance is so good, and the play’s story sufficiently interesting, that the production gives the audience plenty to enjoy.

Tickets are $18 and can be purchased by phone by calling 212-352-3101 or online at www.electricpear.org.

The Wild Project | 195 East Third Street
Between Avenues A & B


 

 



Mike Mendiola and Matthew DeCapua in
The Time of your Life

William Saroyan's
The Time of your Life
October 3 - November 1, 2008
The Storm Theatre



Reviewed by Bryan Close

The Time of Your Life, William Saroyan’s 1940 drama about the near-impossibility of finding happiness and the necessity of dreams, is a sentimental masterpiece. Sprawling and occasionally self-indulgent, sure, but also moving, inspiring and wise.

Most of the 27 characters who spend their time drinking in Nick’s Pacific Street Saloon, a honky-tonk “in the worst part” of San Francisco, are balanced precariously somewhere between delusion and despair. Joe, the “well-heeled loafer” at the center of the story, spends his days – and his mysterious fortune – ensuring that delusion at least has a fighting chance.

That may not seem like a great deal to aim for, but given the crushing disappointments and humiliations that most of these marginal people have already survived and the way society has stacked the deck against them, it winds up being quite a bit. Like Blanche Dubois, Joe and the lost souls he takes pity on don’t want reality; they want magic.

Unfortunately, in director Peter Dobbins’s production of the play at Storm Theater in midtown, magic is in short supply.

Todd Edward Ivins’s set is authentic-looking and nicely integrated into the playing space, but almost everything else about the production fails to gel. Most of the cast looks both over-coached and under-rehearsed. Several lines are delivered sarcastically, in clear opposition to their intended meaning. (Saroyan may be the most earnest great writer in the history of American theater; only his villains stoop to sarcasm.) Incongruous acting choices, ranging from mugging to smirking to apparent disinterest, abound. Few of the actors seem like they belong in the same play. Even fewer seem to belong in this particular play.

One delightful exception is Ross DeGraw, who is terrific as Nick, the long-suffering, good-hearted proprietor of the place. DeGraw gives Nick exactly the right combination of macho bluff and tender-hearted goodness. More importantly, he’s usually the only one on the stage who’s not pretending. (Joe Danbusky as Krupp, the beat cop with a conscience, also acts with integrity, and Kate Chamuris is interesting in the small role of Mary, “an unhappy woman of quality and great beauty.”)

In spite of the production’s flaws, three wonderful moments stand out as pure Saroyan: During a gum-chewing contest deep in act two, Michael Mendiola (Joe) perks up and Matthew DeCapua (his sidekick, Tom) calms down and the two of them actually look like they’re having some fun; so, for a while, is the audience. When 10-year-old Matthew Wescher stands on a chair and sings “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” the theater is temporarily transformed into the magical place that The Time of Your Life needs it to be. And Degraw’s quiet toast to Nick’s dead wife is heart-breakingly beautiful.

The cast still has time to discover more of Saroyan’s bittersweet wonder. As Joe says, "Living is an art. It's not bookkeeping. It takes a lot of rehearsing for a man to learn how to be himself."

The same can be said for theater.

Tickets are $20 and are available at www.smarttix.com, 212-868-4444.

The Storm Theatre | 145 W 36th St. 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10036



 



Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg

[title of show]
Monday 8:00pm
Tuesday 8:00pm
Thursday 8:00pm
Friday 8:00pm
Saturday 3:00pm & 8:00pm
Sunday 3:00pm & 7:00pm
Lyceum Theatre


Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Self-reflexive. Self-indulgent. Self-aware. Self-referential. Self-reverential. [title of show] is all of the above. And that, dear theatergoers, is a very good thing.

[title of show] was masterminded by it’s two male leads, the bizarre but winning duo of Jeff Bowen and Hunter Bell, both gay, both theatre aficionados, both struggling artists.

Jeff is the hunky, well-spoken, perfectly groomed, gay eye-candy. Hunter is the shlubby, ill-grammarred (that one is deliberate) Oscar to Jeff’s Felix. Hunter also happens to be the book writer for the long-awaited spoof Silence! The Musical, a lunatic satire on the Oscar-winning film Silence of the Lambs.

These two had the crazy idea of writing a show about writing a show. But that’s not the crazy part since it’s been done to death. The crazy part is that they would chronicle their journey as faithfully as possible, right down to the mundane minutiae-filled moments and allow themselves to break character as well as the fourth wall and comment on these moments. And, for the most part, the execution of this daring notion, works marvelously.

Bowen, in particular, has fantastic comic timing and his constantly correcting Bell is a hilarious running gag that never gets tired.

But the dynamic sho-mo duo aren’t alone onstage; they are joined by the uber-odd but hilarious Susan Blackwell and the more traditionally appealing Heidi Blickenstaff, who also happens to have a unique and astoundingly good voice.

The quartet have a wild time tearing apart the structure of musical-comedy and then putting it back together in it’s own unique way. At one point, Bell turns to his fellow actors and, with an understood wink to the audience, announces that the scene they are playing feels too long. In a second there’s an instant blackout. It’s difficult not to enjoy the style, although it does wear a tad thin after a while.

The book is sometimes clever for the sake of clever and the references are sometimes terribly obscure, but so what? Both those things make you feel closer to the characters because we feel just how much they are immersed in their craft, their art…the theatre. For the record, the Into the Woods references had me in stitches!

The songs erratically range from the forgettable (some of the earlier numbers, I forget which!) to the inspirational (“Die Vampire Die”) to the profound (“Nine People’s Favorite Thing”) to the sublime (“A Way Back to Then”). Not a bad collection, actually.

The show asks the key question: Will audience bother to shell out a hundred bucks for a musical with no real set, costumes or stars? And a song asks: “Is art a springboard for fame?” It will be interesting to see just how long [title of show] runs and whether it will be able to build the kind of audience Spring Awakening (an unlikely but bracing hit) has managed to.

What saves [title of show] from being a gimmicky, theatre-geek-appeal-only show is the last quarter of the play where everything turns quite serious and scarily real. The grit in these moments leading up to the finale bring the show home, so to speak, and give the audience a glimpse into how difficult it can be to follow your dream and persevere until you are lucky enough to be living that dream.

[title of show] stands as one of the most original musical to open along the Great White Way in years. And while it’s not as mesmerizing and tantalizing as the innovative and groundbreaking Passing Strange, it’s extraordinary and refreshing in it’s own way. And that is reason enough to celebrate!


Ticket $36.50-$101.50 $201.50 Premium - Phone 212-239-6200 or telecharge.com

Lyceum Theatre 149 West 45th Street



Thomas Middleton's
Women Beware Women
Tuesday 8:00pm
Wednesday 8:00pm
Thursday 8:00pm
Friday 8:00pm
Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Sunday 3:00pm
Opened on December 9, 2008
Closes on January 18, 2009
Theater at St. Clement's

Reviewed by Bryan Close

During the reigns of England’s Elizabeth I and James I, that country produced a canon of dramatic literature astonishing in both its quantity and quality. No news there. The Red Bull Theater Company, though, goes a bit further. It exists to prove that the thesis would be equally true even if you didn’t count all those really famous plays by that one really famous guy. These days we’re all pretty much brushed up on our Shakespeare; with it’s current production of Women Beware Women, artistic director Jesse Berger and company make a strong case that most of us have been missing out on our Middleton.

Thomas Middleton’s Women Beware Women, that is. Although the play is less emotionally enganging than Middleton’s more celebrated tragedy The Changeling, under Burger’s snappy direction, Women Beware Women becomes a delicious confection of theatrical hamfoonery. Burger and his talented cast wisely milk the melodramatic moralizing and wholesale fifth act bloodletting for laughs. The complicated plot involves various love betrayals and then everyone getting murdered, and calls to mind familiar tropes from Shakespeare and Moliere, network soap operas and 70’s variety shows and, in one inspired bit of staging, the Friday the 13th movies.

The play has two main plot threads. The first starts with poor but industrious Leantio (Jacob Fishel) leaving his new wife Bianca (Jennifer Ikeda) with his widowed mother (the formidable Rebecca Maxwell) while he leaves town on business. The lascivious Duke of Florence (Geraint Wyn Davies) spies Bianca, and falls in love with her. He gets his friend Livia (the excellent Kathryn Meisel) and his aide Gaurdiano to lure the young woman to a secluded room in his fancy court (distracting her mother-in-law with a double entendre-filled chess game), where Bianca immediately lets herself be seduced.

Meanwhile, Isabella (the funny and spunky Liv Rooth), daughter to Fabritio (Everette Quinton) and niece to the unscrupulous Livia (the aforementioned excellent Meisel) is all set to marry Guardiano’s idiotic nephew Ward (Alex Morf, doing inspired clown work), but not until Livia helps her other brother, Hippolito (Al Espinoza, the cast’s weak link), seduce Isabella.

At this point, the plot twists and reversals are still just beginning, and this production is a solid, silly, satisfying ride through Middleton’s funhouse of politics (both sexual and otherwise) and betrayal.

What it isn’t, emphatically, is Shakespeare. While Middleton’s blank verse gallops crisply and entertainingly by, it never achieves much in the way of rhetorical power or transcendent windows into the soul.

But that’s beside the point here, and you shouldn’t let it interfere with the fun. The cast – helped by Clint Ramos’s over-the-top seventeenth century Project Runway costume extravaganza as much as by Berger’s sharp direction – sure doesn’t. And the gusto the actors bring to Middleton’s dastardly worldview helps makes Red Bull’s the best production of Women Beware Women you are ever likely to see.

Ticket Prices $20.00-$50.00 Tickets by Phone: 212-352-3101 For more information on Women Beware Women: www.redbulltheater.com

Theatre at St. Clement's 423 West 46th Street
New York, NY 10036
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