The Happy Sad
Breakup and The Happy Sad
Friday and Saturday
Sunday and Monday at 7pm.
Previews begin March 6
Opens March 22 @ 9PM
Closes April 7, 2008
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).
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
Kelvin Ortega, Justin Levine, Joie Bauer
Photo Credit Ruiz
Man of La Mancha
Thursday through Saturday at 8pm
Sunday at 3pm
Additional performances on Tuesday, March
18 at 8pm
and Wednesday, March 19 at 8pm.
March 18-30, 2008
by Bryan Close
daring new production of Man of La
Mancha at the beautifully restored
DUO Theater on East 4th Street definitely
gets an A for effort. It gets A's as well
for its imagination, its set and sound
design, and for the level of commitment
of its young cast. For execution and storytelling,
however, in spite of the obvious talents
of director Joshua William Gelb and his
star, Justine Levine (also credited as
the musical director), it fails badly.
the well-known musical story of Don Quixote
entirely in a crowded prison cell –
either during the Spanish Inquisition
(according to the words) or more-or-less
now (according to the design) and stages
the whole thing, essentially, with eight
actors, two guitars, some sticks and a
bucket. That he does this with relatively
limited changes to the text of the popular
musical is such an audacious choice, it
will almost certainly cause some fans
to overlook the show's many flaws.
gorgeous red curtain rises (when's the
last time you saw that off-off-Broadway?)
to reveal a fantastically skeezy raked
set (Eric Southern) with seven prisoners
acting out an elaborate pantomime of –
something to do with the hierarchy in
their little world. We hear some exciting
clanging and commotion (sound by Brittany
O'Dell), and the prisoners quickly assume
Abu Ghraib-inspired stress positions.
A black-clad, gun-toting guard (unbilled)
ushers in Don Miguel Cervantes (Levine)
and his servant (Rusty Buehler) and, in
a voice that sounds like Darth Vader talking
through a toy walkie-talkie, tells them
the Inquisition will be with them shortly.
go quickly from bad to worse for our heroes
when the prisoners tell them they first
have to stand an impromptu jailhouse trial
to see if they even make it to the formal
state-sponsored one. Cervantes decides
his defense against the charge of being
"an idealist, a bad poet and an honest
man" will be to perform his novel
– in this version we're supposed
to pretend he's written it as a play –
starring himself as Don Quixote, his servant
as Sancho Panzo and the rest of the prisoners
in assorted roles which match at least
superficially with their roles in the
so good. But there's more than an hour
and a half to go, and the show's problems
soon become too serious to overlook.
far too concerned with forcing big, emotional
moments at the expense of telling the
story. A few of those moments –
especially the violent ones (fights by
Drew Leary) – are quite powerful.
But ultimately, the story is a confusing
is clearly a talented young man, but he
is wildly miscast in this role (twenty
years too young), and his poorly calibrated
performance is full of over-the-top schmaltz.
And while his guitar playing is skillful
and even witty, his musical direction
is uninspired – the show contains
a lot of weak singing and sloppy percussion.
other actors, Dorian Shorts has strong
moments as the victimized Aldonza and
Kelvin Ortega is hilarious playing a peasant
woman. Buehler also gets some laughs as
servant/Sancho. The design is inconsistent,
with David Mendizabal's confusing costumes
not quite keeping pace with Southern's
effective set. The lighting was a mess,
but the DUO – beautiful though it
is – has significant technical limitations,
and that may have been a factor.
like your theater smart and raw, Room5001
is a company to keep an eye on. They are
dreaming the impossible dream that is
producing daring theater in this city,
and for that, Don Quixote himself would
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