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New York City - Theatre



The Breakup

The Happy Sad

The Breakup and The Happy Sad
Friday and Saturday at 9pm
Sunday and Monday at 7pm.
Previews begin March 6
Opens March 22 @ 9PM
Closes April 7, 2008
The Flea


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 forgettable.

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, visit www.theflea.org 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).


Harold Pinter’s
The Homecoming
Tuesday 7:00pm
Wednesday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Thursday 8:00pm
Friday 8:00pm
Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Sunday 3:00pm
Show Closes April 13, 2008
Cort Theater

Starring: 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.

When Animals Attack

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

Harold Pinter’s 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 March 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.

The opening 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.

Everyone 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.

Lenny 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


 

 



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



Beau Willimon’s
Lower Ninth
Through April 5th
Tuesday 7:00pm
Wednesday 7:00pm
Thursday 7:00pm
Friday 7:00pm
Saturday 3:00pm & 7:00pm
The Flea Theater

Reviewed by Bryan Close

If you 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.

The play 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 themes.

The story 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.

The play 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.

Goldstein 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).

In addition 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.

The design is flawlessly evocative, with detailed costumes, deep amber lighting and melancholy jazz nicely complementing Werle’s set.

With so 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 moving.

If you like theater (and we’ve already established that you do), go buy a ticket to this play. Because some stories really do matter.

Tickets $40.00 - $45.00 212-352-3101 https://www.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/30741


The Flea Theater |41 White Street
New York, NY 10013
www.theflea.org




Beau Edmondson, Kelvin Ortega, Justin Levine, Joie Bauer
Photo Credit Ruiz Photos

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
DUO Theater

Reviewed by Bryan Close

Room5001's 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.

Gelb sets 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.

The DUO's 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.

Things 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 prison hierarchy.

So far, 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.

Gelb seems 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 muddle.

Levine 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.

Among the 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.

If you 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 be proud.




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




Xanadu
Tuesday @ 8PM
Wednesday @ 2PM & 8PM
Thursday @ 8PM
Friday @ 8PM
Saturday @ 2PM & 8PM
Sunday @ 3PM
Opened July 10, 2007
Helen Hayes Theater


Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

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 a sign?

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 ask?

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. Yikes!

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 theatre moment.

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...

Xanadu Tickets $51.25-$111.25 Buy tickets online www.telecharge.com - Phone 212-239-6200 & 800-432-7250


Helen Hayes |240 W. 44th Street


 

 


 

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