Tracy Letts' August Osage County
The Music Box Theater
Osage County won the Pulitzer Prize and
New York Drama Critics Circle Awards
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
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
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) arrive. 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 mouth 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
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.
July 2 - August 2, 2008
on the Rise: Battleworks Dance Company
Reviewed by William S.
Should music dictate movement
or should movement be supported by music?
It’s kind of like what comes first,
the chicken or the egg? The argument of
what comes first or which discipline serves
the other has been argued by choreographers,
dance critics and dance fans for decades,
if not centuries. The great neoclassical
choreographer George Balanchine said, “First
comes the music,” while some choreographers
confess to begin with the steps.
On the programs presented
by Battleworks Dance Company at the Joyce
Theater, July 29-August 2, artistic director,
Robert Battle attempts to showcase the range
of his choreographic abilities to music
that spans classical, jazz, and electronic
new age. The mixed program performed at
this short engagement had some triumphs
and some disappointments. Battle is most
successful when he allows the music to inform
the dance. When this doesn’t happen,
Battle’s choreography gets weighted
down with movement that doesn’t take
the audience anywhere special.
In Reel Time,
Battle has created a work that emphasizes
the fluidity of the lower body juxtaposed
against a rigid torso. At times, Battle
brilliantly uses backward running circles
and other steps that complement the pulsating
rhythms of John King’s score. At other
times Battle’s choreography does not
keep up with the demands of the music. Also,
the intricate rhythms of the music often
seem beyond the capabilities of some of
his dancers. The one exception is Samuel
L. Roberts who demonstrates a deep understanding
of the intricacies of the score and the
of the evening was Ella. In Ella,
Battle unwisely chose to choreograph to
the music of Ella Fitzgerald. Ella Fitzgerald
scatting is such a work of art in itself
that making a dance piece that can rise
to her brilliance is a tall, tall order.
Battle valiantly uses lots of diving rolls
and Graham-based falls and releases, but
the frenetic movement interpretations to
Fitzgerald’s scatting misfires.
Bach’s Air on
a G String is a risky choice for any
choreographer in that many choreographers
have used this familiar piece of music before—case
in point Martha Graham’s seminal modern
dance work by the same name. In Overture,
Battle effectively uses the modern dance
triplet and Graham-like contractions in
counterpoint to the introspective tone of
the music. Battle’s dancers look most
comfortable in this tender work.
The choreography in In/Side
works because Battle has chosen a dancer
who approaches movement organically and
knows how to get inside of the haunting
voice of Nina Simone’s. When not consumed
by the demands of Battle’s emotionally
charged, pyrotechnical choreography, Samuel
L. Roberts understands that stillness, as
an expression of movement, can be just as
effective as high jumps or multiple air
Like many young choreographers,
Battle is still trying to find his distinct
voice. With his fearless choreographic abandon
and prodigious talent, success is guaranteed.
Saturday 2:00pm & 7:00pm
Closes October 12, 2008
Ensemble Studio Theater
Reviewed by Bryan Close
There are a lot of good
reasons to see Close Ties, the
ambitious family drama by Elizabeth Diggs
playing now at Ensemble Studio Theater's
52nd and 11th outpost. The fact that this
essential company is alive and well and
continuing – despite the tragic 2007
death of founder Curt Dempster – to
strive for theatrical excellence is just
one of them.
With its strong central
female character presiding over an intergenerational
web of family tensions and power plays,
Close Ties shares marked similarities
with August: Osage County by Tracy
Letts. This is intended to be high praise,
as August is one of the best American
plays in years. Most theater no longer aspires
to the weight and heft of plays like this
– big family dramas full of conflicts
and revelations. Even if Close Ties
were less effective than it is, Diggs would
deserve a lot of credit for aiming so high.
Director Pamela Berlin's production doesn't
always hit its lofty targets, but when it
does, the results are impressive.
Another strong reason
to see this production is the wonderful
lead performance by Judith Roberts as Josephine
Whitaker, the feisty matriarch of a sprawling
New England clan, and her battle with approaching
senility. Josephine is a proud woman whose
haughty stubbornness is softened by a laser
wit and a real affection for her mostly
grown grandchildren. Watching Roberts rage
against the dying of her reason's light
is both mesmerizing and terrifying.
The detailed stage business
taking place on Michael Schweikardt's sturdy
set – a fully functioning 1982 kitchen
– is something if a marvel. I lost
count of how many food items and hot and
cold beverages were made and consumed on
stage. Perhaps I was distracted by the smell
of cooking bacon that filled the theater
at the top of act two.
Polly Lee and Julie Fitzpatrick
deliver terrific supporting performances
as everybody's favorite and everybody's
least-noticed, respectfully, of Josephine's
granddaughters. David Gelles Hurwitz, as
the 16-year-old who wants to quit school
to take care of his grandmother, and Tommy
Schreider, as the boyfriend of the unpleasant
middle granddaughter, Evelyn, also do nice
Other performances are
less successful: Carole Monferdini struggles
to flesh out Bess, Josephine's repressed
(and underwritten) daughter, and Jack Davidson
doesn't make much of an impression as Bess's
calculating husband Watson. At the other
end of the spectrum, Fiona Gallagher dials
Evelyn's hysterical misanthropy a couple
of notches too high.
The production isn't perfect,
but Close Ties does provide several
deeply satisfying pleasures: Diggs's sensitive
and ambitious play, Roberts's magnificent
performance, and the feeling it gives that
E.S.T., like the dysfunctional Whitaker
family at the play's end, will, in spite
of the odds, somehow weather the loss of
its defining personality and guiding spirit.
$15.00 student/senior 212-352-3101 www.ovationtix.com
Studio Theatre |549
W. 52nd St.
Take the 1, 9, C, E trains to 50th Street.
Jul 5 - 27, 2008
Starring: Sean Hayes;
Jane Krakowski; Cheyenne Jackson; and Randy
Music by Richard Adler
and Jerry Ross
Book by George Abbott and Douglass Wallop
Based on the novel "The Year the Yankees
Lost the Pennant" by Douglass Wallop
Choreography by Bob Fosse
Music Director Rob Berman
Reviewed by William S.
Bob Fosse: The Real Star
of Damn Yankees
Broadway has an insatiable
need to cast television stars in musicals
and revivals in the hopes that name recognition
will bring in tourists and nascent New York
theatergoers— case in point, Megan
Mullally in Young Frankenstein,
Christina Applegate in Sweet Charity
and more recently Mario Lopez in A
Chorus Line. Box office receipts indicate
that star power is making Broadway producers
richer, but whether these television luminaries
bring anything particularly special to Broadway
is a point of contention for audiences and
Sean Hayes (Will and
Grace) and Jane Krakowski (30 Rock)
add their combined star power to the revival
of Damn Yankees at New York City
Center. Both bring unique interpretations
to the roles of Applegate (The Devil) and
Lola (the Siren). Hayes and Krakowki’s
fresh approach to the musical’s dated
material—particularly the double entendres—enliven
dialogue that would otherwise fall flat
on contemporary audiences. However, solid
performances from Hayes and Krakowski are
not enough to make Damn Yankees
a City Center success. The real star of
this current production is Bob Fosse’s
In Damn Yankees
we get to see Fosse developing his signature
tilted pelvic grinds, inverted ronde
de jambes par terre, and isolated torso
undulations. Also worth noting is Fosse’s
affectation for dancers with strong classical
training. Many of Fosse’s leaps and
turns are bastardized versions of standard
ballet steps. Case in point, the ballplayers’
barrel turns in Act 1 are quite similar
to the circular ménage Nureyev
performed in Le Corsaire. Fosse
also incorporates Graham isolations, vaudeville
hoofing, and Jack Cole undulations, demonstrating
in Damn Yankees that he is a master
at blending different movement schools and
approaches into a cohesive, unique style.
Gwen Verdon’s famous
dance solo to “Whatever Lola Wants”
is further evidence of Fosse’s melding
of dance styles. In this solo we find bastardized
ronde de jambe par terre, Jack
Cole’s bosom undulations ala Marilyn
Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,
as well as erotic hip rotations ala Katherine
Dunham. Instead of imitating Gwen Verdon,
Krakowski wisely approaches the famed solo
as a pure theatre dance piece, evidenced
in Krakowski’s well-stretched feet
and taut leg extensions. By slightly altering
the phrasing and avoiding signature Verdon
gestures, Krakowski creates a solo that
is organic and memorable.
Fosse was also one of
the first Broadway choreographers to put
black and white dancers together on stage.
It’s hard to imagine a baseball team
today without any African Americans; however,
in the original cast of Damn Yankees,
all the ballplayers were white. Early on
in the show’s run, Fosse replaced
one of the white ballplayers with Louis
Johnson, a classically trained dancer from
Balanchine’s School of American Ballet.
Johnson, who went on to choreograph Aida
at the Metropolitan Opera and the movie
version of The Wiz, is also prominently
featured in the film version of Damn
Damn Yankees has survived the test
of time because of Fosse’s choreography
and a few well-known songs—“Heart”
and “Whatever Lola Wants.” A
true star in the constellation of Broadway
choreographers, Fosse continues to excite
the imagination, titillate the senses and
always, always entertain.
Jill Eickenberry and David Kolowitz
Enter Laughing, The Musical
Photo Credit Carol Rosegg
Laughing, The Musical
Previews begin September 3, 2008
Opening Night September 10th
Now Extended Through October 26th
The Theatre at Saint Peter's
Funny After All These Years
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
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
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
The Theatre at
Saint Peter's (Lexington Avenue just south
of 54th Street).
(Every Good Boy Does Fine)
Part of FringeNYC
Wednesday, August 20 @ 10PM
Friday, August 22, @ 2:15PM
Sunday, August 24, @ 12PM
Clemente Soto Velez
Cast: Krista Amigone;
Roy Koshy; Henry Kaiser; T.J. Mannix; Duncan
Murdoch. Directed by: Deanna Fleysher
by Katharine Heller
Jerry Seinfeld once observed
that no matter how crazy a New York City
yellow cabbie is driving, you always feel
safe inside. They could be cutting off other
taxis, swerving through lanes and narrowly
missing pedestrians but you still relax
and enjoy the ride. That is probably the
best way I can explain the unique experience
of watching the skilled improv troupe Face
that currently has a show at the New York
International Fringe Festival entitled:
Face (Every Good Boy Does Fine).
Like with most long-form
improv shows, this unstructured forty-five
minutes is an amalgam of on-the-spot set
up, scenes and transitions. What differentiates
this show from any other I've seen is the
stunning collaboration between the actors
and a live jazz trio onstage. Improv is,
by design, very similar to jazz music in
the sense that the performers have to work
seamlessly together to create the ebb and
flow that is a completely new piece every
time. The failure of some improvised theater
can be blamed on lack of teamwork due to
an unbalanced cast or individual egos. Luckily,
the strength of Face is their extraordinary
ability to tune into each other, thereby
keeping the audience enthralled by both
the unique concept of the show and its execution.
It is unfair to talk about
cast standouts as each of the five actors
work so hard at making the scenes clear,
driven and interesting. As a result the
show is constantly entertaining, and I found
myself sometimes watching the offstage actors,
as the focus and energy of the team could
be felt throughout the entire theater.
On the particular show
that I saw, the audience gave a suggestion
of "The Olympics" as a jumping
off point, and what followed was a hilarious
and touching montage of scenes and stories
involving an unhappy wife, a man with the
sad misfortune of sharing the same name
as swimmer Michael Phelps (but spelled with
an F), a jingle writer, a stunt woman and
a jealous husband. Sometimes the cast broke
out into song, often one would add to scenes
while speaking or making sound effects into
one of the two microphones onstage. A particular
highlight involved the all cast musical
number about the perils of "work love".
So, much like that cab
ride I was talking about, by way of design
the show is invariably at times completely
out of control. However with the extraordinary
cast at the steering wheel, (sorry, I had
to), I never felt unsafe. Face is
improv at its most beautiful.
$15. Purchase tickets
Soto Velez Flamboyan Theater|
107 Suffolk & Rivington St
Wednesday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Opens March 27, 2008
St. James Theater
by Frank J. Avella
As an entertainment journalist
and critic, I am hyper aware of the overuse
of certain adjectives when describing a
work you are taken with. Many of my colleagues,
print and online, suffer from the same cyber-superlative-diarrhea-
gushing I have been guilty of. Some shamelessly
want to be quotable; others, like me, have
pet words and phrases they love to reuse.
I am promising right now that I will make
a valiant effort to curb my “amazings”
as well as my “astonishings”
–but it will have to wait until after
this particular review.
Every once in a decade
or so, theatergoers are afforded the opportunity
to witness a truly transcendent, instantly
classic performance—the stuff legends
are made of. The nature of live theatre
and audience subjectivity is that often
what is felt to be a great performance by
one person is simply good or acceptable
by another’s standards. Sometimes,
though, tragedy smiles at comedy, and there
can be no denying sheer magic has taken
place before everyone’s eyes.
There aren’t enough
praise-infused adjectives in all existing
thesauruses to describe how right Patti
LuPone gets it in the new revival of Gypsy.
Fresh on the heels of the celebrated Encores!
performance, LuPone completely commands
the stage as she richly redefines a classic
character who has been embodied by some
of the best in the business (Ethel Merman,
Angela Lansbury, Betty Buckley and Bernadette
Peters, to name the best of the best).
I am a proud and true
LuPoner, meaning I have seen everything
the woman has done on Broadway since my
parents brought me to the Broadway theatre
in the early 80’s to experience Evita
when I was a wee lad. I was bitten by the
Patti bug and have been a fan and admirer
ever since. Over the years I have seen her
in: Anything Goes; Oliver;
The Accidental Death of an Anarchist
(lasted less than a week—but I loved
it); The Old Neighborhood; Patti
LuPone on Broadway; Noises Off;
Master Class and last year’s
revival of Sweeney Todd.
At Encores, a few months
ago, I was blown away by LuPone’s
Mama Rose. It was a tour de force from her
barreling onto the stage and shouting: “Sing
out, Louise!” to the closing moments,
LuPone was a restless tornado for three
solid hours. She was the personification
of the old adage “give ‘em what
they want.” She certainly did as each
number proved a show stopper. Her energy
The absolute genius of
the Broadway performance, and how it differs
from Encores, has everything to do with
how carefully modulated her steps are now.
There is an amazing and calculated build
to her fury…to that ultimate tour
de force (‘Rose’s Turn’).
LuPone now shows us the character’s
arc. She painstakingly develops Mama Rose
from the unrelenting stage mother to the
frustrated and angry star wannabe she actually
is. By the end of act one, you may find
yourself disappointed in her rendition of
“Everything’s Coming Up Roses,”
because she is not singing the shit out
of the song. But be patient, because there’s
an urgent reason for that. Mama’s
on a journey. She’s not a Broadway
belter blowing her wad, wad after wad, with
each musical number. She is a real, hurting,
breathing theatre person filled with idiosyncrasies
and foibles. She is not just a stage mother,
she is everyone who once had a dream and
felt they, for whatever reason, could not
By the time this Mama
Rose is ready for her turn, she infuses
that (literal) eleven o’clock number
with all the angst and regret and desperation
that’s been building all night long.
She manages to strip away layers of the
character throughout the show until she
is rawness personified. And we are lucky
enough to have been along for the ride.
The final image of her reaching up at the
footlights trying desperately to catch a
moment for herself: “For me,”
is a moment that I will never forget. Patti
LuPone is diva Broadway personified, but
she is also one of the best stage actresses
of our generation. She has earned her place
in the pantheon and deserves every type
of accolade possible for her turn. Pun rightfully
But let’s not forget
she is also blessed with an amazing cast.
Boyd Gaines is the definitive
Herbie. It’s a pleasure to see him
as a virile and sensitive character as opposed
to the sad schmo cartoons from the past
Herbie canon. Gaines’ Herbie may be
henpecked but he chooses to be out of devotion
to his Rose, not because he’s a silly
shlub everyone walks all over. And the sexual
tension between LuPone and Gaines is palpable.
(LuPone, it should be stated, is also the
sexiest Mama Rose ever.)
The exquisite Laura Benanti
perfectly underplays Louise so that when
she finally finds herself and emerges as
the notorious Gypsy Rose Lee in Act Two,
we are thunderstruck and mesmerized. She
has become a tigress before our eyes and
we believe the transformation wholeheartedly.
The dynamic Leigh Ann
Larkin’s angry and resentful Dainty
June is a perfect match for Benanti’s
forgiving Louise and they both bring the
house down with “If Mama Was Married.”
It’s a moment that bonds the sibs
in an extraordinary and poignant way.
Another non-LuPone showstopper
is “You Gotta Have a Gimmick,”
with a hilarious Alison Fraser as Tessie
Tura and the scene stealing Marily Caskey
as Electra, the oldest woman in burlesque!
staged in 1959, features a book by Arthur
Laurents, music by Jule Style and lyrics
by Stephen Sondheim (one of the last times
he would agree to writing lyrics only).
At ninety years old, Mr. Laurents has directed
this current production—quite masterfully.
I have always had my problems
with Gypsy. I also know that admitting
that will get me in trouble since it’s
considered one of the great American musicals.
And I have had a rocky journey believing
that. The Sam Mendes version, five years
ago, had me liking it more than I ever have.
And Bernadette Peter’s revisionist
Mama Rose was a joy to behold.
This production, however,
inches me closer to understanding the power
of the story. It’s a quintessentially
American a story that defines a time and
an art form (Vaudeville) that has long since
vanished but has influenced every other
art form that followed. It is also about
the pursuit of the American dream—in
this case: stardom. It almost has a Nathanial
West quality about it. And Rose is the ultimate
American monster mother who dreamed big…FOR
her children, but really FOR herself.
Still, there are certain
songs I felt never worked (“All I
Need Now is the Girl,” “Little
Lamb”) and one major fault I have
always had with the book; the fact that
June is never brought back in Act Two. I
still feel this was a misstep in the original
book and would have added so much. Regardless,
there are no perfect musicals (except for
Sweeney Todd and Sunday in the Park
with George…), but this Gypsy
comes quite close.
Last year, I boldly stated
that Meryl Streep’s performance in
Mother Courage was among the truly
great stage performances of all time. Add
Ms. LuPone’s Mama Rose to that very
small but priceless list.
Ryan S. Brandenberg
Saturday 4:00pm & 9:00pm
Opens September 24, 2008
Barrow Street Theater
Reviewed by Bryan
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
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.
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
& $15.00 student w/ID ovationtix.com/trs/pr/67692
Street Theatre |27
New York, NY 10014
- 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 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.
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
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.)
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
Johnson as Quentin, Linda S. Nelson as Leona
and Tommy Heleringer as Bobby in Small
Photo Credit Joe Bly
Small Craft Warnings
Closes October 5, 2008
Musings and Exclamations:
Williams’ Small Craft Warnings
by William S. Gooch
happens when a great playwright is free
from artistic restraint and past inhibitions?
Does he stay with the tried-and-true formula
that made his pockets rich or does he
take a chance on presenting his truth
in raw, revealing language not made to
sweeten the ears of devotees and critics?
In Small Craft Warnings, Tennessee
Williams chooses the latter.
enriched by brute honesty and pathos,
Small Craft Warnings examines
the hopelessness of lives filled with
regret and unresolved trauma. Set in a
small, rundown seaside bar, wretched barroom
regulars kvetch, postulate, and ruminate
about missed opportunities and life’s
inequities. Based on the earlier one-act
play Confessional, Small
Craft Warnings also gives insight
into what it means to live on the precipice
of disaster and ruin.
Williams’ earlier plays– Suddenly
Last Summer, Cat on a Hot Tin
Roof, A Streetcar Named Desire
–- have a homosexual subtext
that is often veiled in mystery and abstraction.
Moral constraints of the 1940s and 50s
didn’t afford Williams the latitude
to delve openly into gay characterizations.
(The APA defined homosexuality a subversive
behavior until the late 1960s.) With Small
Craft Warnings, which opened Off-Broadway
in 1972, Williams abandons gay abstractions
for a realism that is reflective of the
sexual revolution and his own life.
Craft Warnings has the raw edginess
and guttural outburst found in similar
plays of the 70s –- Manuel Pinero’s
Short Eyes and Ntozake Shange’s
For Colored Girls come to mind. Small
Craft Warning is also a great example
of a hybrid style that Williams was experimenting
with in the 1970s. This style is a melding
of the flowing banter of his earlier style
synchronized with the later experimental
phase in which mood and reverie are more
important than complex characters and
staged by the White Horse Theater Company
is notable for its respect and understanding
of the cultural morays in which Williams
sets the work. The men have the confident
swagger of the ‘me generation,’
and the women, though liberated in actions,
still need male companionship to help
them through hard, lonely times.
Nelson portrays Leona as a brassy, out-of-control
drunk who uses bravado and alcohol to
mask deep feelings of remorse and abandonment.
Nelson’s performance though forced
and out of focus at times, is admirable
in its exuberance and flailing energy.
the gay screenwriter, Christopher Johnson
brings an authentic candor to a character
that believes life holds no surprises.
Quentin is the archetype of the well-heeled,
jaded gay man of the 1970s who has had
too many sexual encounters that lead to
standout in the cast is Andrea Maulella
as Violet. Maulella completely embodies
the character of Violet evidenced from
her despairing moans for help to the tremulous
musings on her abused life. Violet is
a character study in neglect and emotional
abuse. At moments there is clarity and
foresight, but the abuse runs too deep
to support long-term lucidity.
Craft Warnings, Tennessee Williams
normalizes loneliness and desperation.
And even though there is some light, the
glow may be too small to eradicate the
midnight of the forlorn soul.
For information, go to www.whitehorsetheater.com.
Company - Main Stage Theater
312 West 36th Street | New York, NY 10018
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,
Photo Credit: Carol
Saturday 3:00pm & 8:00pm
Sunday 3:00pm & 7:00pm
Reviewed by Frank
Self-aware. Self-referential. Self-reverential.
[title of show] is all of the above.
And that, dear theatergoers, is a very good
[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
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,
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
Theatre 149 West 45th Street
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