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Anna: Love in the Cold War
Wednesday-Saturday at 8pm
Sunday at 2pm.
No 8pm performance on Wednesday, April 27th
April 22nd - May 8th
Dorothy Strelsin Theatre

For those of us living in the west, it’s hard to imagine living under a regime like Josef Stalin’s. Consider that every move you make and everything you say are under unrelenting surveillance -- even your thoughts might not be your own. This is the backdrop of Nancy Moss’ Anna: Love in the Cold War a small gem of a play now at the Dorothy Strelsin Theater.

The play’s subject is the poet Anna Akhmatova. When the play opens she’s living in a tiny apartment in Leningrad. She’s considered an enemy of the state for no other reason than she’s a poet, and poets and other artists are dangerous to totalitarian states. She’s no longer allowed to publish her “subversive” poems but must eke out a living as a translator. Worse than this, it’s right after the war when life in the battle scarred Soviet Union would have been tough anyway. Her rations have been reduced from one to three, and she must rely on her friends to survive.

When the Russian/Jewish/British intellectual Isaiah Berlin arrives at her apartment to pay homage, her world and outlook brighten, just a little. The play is a chronicle of their platonic quasi-romance; it condenses the handful of meetings they had to one.

Joshua A. Kashinsky directs the essentially two person play (there’s a shadowy figure who steals in and removes a listening device from Anna’s chandelier when she’s out of the apartment) with a quiet authority. April Woodall is marvelous as a brilliant and proud woman who refuses to be broken even as she knows she must be cautious. Though traumatized by her circumstances, Anna’s energy is like that of a volcano people only think has gone dormant. Matt W. Cody is also good as the boyishly enthusiastic Berlin, who doesn’t quite understand why it’s so dangerous for a drunk Randolph Churchill to stand outside in the street yelling for ice for caviar or whatever he’s doing. Chris Minard’s set design says much about Anna and the world she lives in. Her linens are hung on a line to dry in her room, her furniture is not quite shabby. The walls are painted army green -- when asked about this at a Q & A at the end of the play it was revealed that the Russian army had surplus green paint and gave it out to civilians. Costume designer Valerie Therese Bart dresses Anna in a dark, dignified dress, sensible shows and shawl, and Berlin in a natty three piece suit. The suit says much about the society he’s privileged to live in; Britain too was dingy after the war but at least a person was allowed some agency. Duane Pagano’s lighting design, especially the suspicious flickering chandelier over Anna’s kitchen table, evokes the paranoia of her time and place. Anna: Love in the Cold War is a solid and important play. It’s at the Dorothy Strelsin Theater, 312 West 36th Street, till May 8.

Tickets are $18.00, $15.00 for students and seniors. For group rates, please contact John Chatterton at john.chatterton@gmail.com.

Reservations: 212-868-4444 or www.smarttix.com.
Information: http://www.facebook.com/pages/ANNA-by-Nancy-Moss/176418189071632

Dorothy Strelsin Theatre | 312 West 36th Street
(between 8th & 9th Avenues) on the first floor


 


Tom Stoppard's
Arcadia
Broadway Revival
Tuesday 7:00pm
Wednesday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Thursday 7:00pm
Friday 8:00pm
Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Sunday 3:00pm
Opened on March 17, 2011
Closes on June 19, 2011
Barrymore Theatre


Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

That ravenous yet often elusive quest for knowledge that has permeated the lives of scholars and poets throughout history is diligently explored in David Leveaux’s exquisite revival of Tom Stoppard’s enigmatic and entertaining play, Arcadia.

Leveaux is a master at picking the lock to Stoppard’s often maddening, always fascinating work. He almost improved on the original production of The Real Thing a few years ago (a near impossible feat) and is back to bring order to disorder and make three hours feel like twenty minutes with his latest Stoppardian undertaking.

Originally staged (by Trevor Nunn) in London in 1993 and then on Broadway in 1995, (with then-newcomer Billy Crudup smashing in the role of Septimus), Arcadia is a labyrinthine comedy that takes place in 1809 and the present and moves back and forth between both time periods, in the same setting, a room in an elegant home in Sidley Park in England.

“Septimus, what is carnal embrace?” asks thirteen year old Thomasina Coverly, who is a mathematical genius. Her dashing and roughish tutor responds in an initially evasive manner, but she continues to inquire until she gets a more definitive answer—one she doesn’t quite understand.

This feverish need to know answers to all questions—whether they are mathematical, philosophical, historical or sexual pervades the play. And once we meet the present day characters, the theme of historical accuracy is introduced and Stoppard brilliantly probes just how—despite how found evidence can allegedly prove certain theories true--it can also only tell a fraction of the story or in some cases said evidence can actually be misconstrued so the proven notions turn out to be completely false. Basically, we can never really know the entire story unless we are there—and even then…

Arcadia is a rich and dense work requiring the best theatre professionals to enable an audience to comprehend all of what is going on. And thanks to Leveaux’s superb direction (as well as an extraordinarily talented design team), the audience is halfway there.

A perfect cast would have completed the journey, however, some actors soar while others fail to ignite the appropriate sparks.

At the top of the kudos list is newcomer Tom Riley. Arcadia should do for him what the original New York production did for Billy Crudup—instantly establish him as a formidable leading man and an actor in demand. Riley’s command of Stoppard’s difficult and witty dialogue is commendable and his outwitting of Chater (a terrific David Turner), in particular, is a delight to behold. But the true magic in this performance is how he displays a poignant longing in Septimus that is both lovely and devastating.

He is nearly matched by the graceful Lia Williams who manages the impossible, making Hannah sympathetic. It would be easy to play Hannah as frigid and man-hating, but Ms. Williams conveys a shyness and yearning that make Hannah instantly likeable. It’s a wonderful performance.

Billy Crudup is a bit too pretty for Bernard but does dominate the stage as the ambitious and egocentric academic desperate to make a name for himself. He may be miscast, but he proves pretty potent.

Both Bel Powley as Thomasina and Raúl Esparza as Valentine seem to fumble with their roles—accent-wise and otherwise. They’re not bad, but should be much better than not bad.

Most disappointing is Margaret Colin who underplays Lady Croom to the point of boredom. Imagine a young Helen Mirren or Maggie Smith in the role, commanding the stage and oozing sex appeal and you’ll immediately know what is missing from her portrayal. There’s no zest here, which is a shame.

In addition, Arcadia is not a perfect play and I realize I may be committing theatre heresy here but some of the work is overwritten—especially Act One. Stoppard does plant many clues to what will come later in the first act but a trim here and there wouldn’t hurt.

Regardless, this Arcadia is splendid and once we get to the final scene, all the faults are forgiven and the work takes on a transcendence that is absolutely exhilarating.

Tickets $57.00 - $121.00 212-239-6200 & 800-432-7250
telecharge.com

Barrymore Theatre | 243 W. 47th Street
New York, NY 10036




Jordan Tisdale as Dexel Springs, Mara Lileas as Contessa Springs
and Anna Stromberg as Jackie Goldstien in
Bring Us The Head of Your Daughter
Photo Credit Larry Cobra

Derek Ahonen’s
Bring Us The Head of Your Daughter

Monday 7:30pm
Wednesday 7:30pm
Thursday 7:30pm
Friday 7:30pm
Saturday 7:30pm
Sunday 3:00pm
Opened March 31, 2011
Closes April 24, 2011
P.S. 122

Reviewed by Arlene McKanic

First, the decapitated head of no one’s daughter shows up in the Amoralists' latest production, Derek Ahonen’s Bring Us the Head of Your Daughter. The Amoralists and its stellar cast of writers have a reputation for dealing with the morally gnarly, but this play doesn’t get quite that morally gnarly. But make no mistake -- the characters in this tragicomedy are jagged little pills. Yet, each one of them has a moral code that they live by.

Life has become problematic for Contessa Springs and her lover Jackie Goldstein. Their daughter Garance is going around the country cannibalizing housewives and mothers. She wears blackface and her signature tune is Al Jolson’s version of “Mammy.” Shades of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” in M! Thanks to the internet everyone knows who Garance’s family is, and her Moms receive bizarre angry messages on their voice mail, not just because their daughter is a ravening cannibal, but because they’re lesbian.

On top of this Jackie is a drunk and doesn’t even pretend to want to stop. She drinks herself into urine soaked oblivion every night where she screams at Tessa and/or tries to kills herself. Then Tessa’s long lost half-brother Dexel shows up, and things really start to get interesting.

As in other Amoralists' plays the characters, no matter how weird or even reprehensible, always believe in something, whether it be love or fellowship or what passes for them as transcendence. Garance, who finally shows up wearing a burka, huge sunglasses, a Hello Kitty backpack and sporting a British accent, is crazy as a bed bug and borderline evil, but she’s a believer. She’s famous now, she has power, that’s what’s important! Dexel thinks he wants to atone for a horrible crime he committed years before. Jackie loves and believes in Tessa, and in Garance, in spite of everything. Tessa acts out of a morality as unshakable as Jane Eyre’s, and like Jane’s, born of suffering. Tessa has learned to view the world with the bitter stoicism of the Nina Simone songs we hear throughout the play. The actors, Mara Lileas as Tessa, Anna Stromberg as Jackie, Jordan Tisdale as Dexel and Sarah Roy as Garance, are excellent; they make you stay with their characters even when their characters are at their worst.

Ahonen brings a sure hand to the direction and his dialogue moves easily between comedy and tragedy, between moments of tenderness and moments of raw fury. Props also go to set designer and fight choreographer Alfred Schatz (yes the play needs a fight choreographer), sound designer Brian Lazuras and lighting designer Jeremy Paper -- note how the fluorescent light in the kitchen flickers out a second after all the other lights. Kudos also to Ricky Lang, for Garance’s burka and the pajamas Tessa never takes off -- she even runs out into the street with them on.

Bring Us the Head of Your Daughter is another success for The Amoralists. It’ll be at P.S. 122, 150 First Avenue, till April 24. By the way, take time when you get the program to read the notes. Unreal!

Tickets $40.00 - $20.00 Student
ovationtix.com/trs/pr/813605
212-352-3101 & 866-811-4111
www.theamoralists.com

P.S. 122 | 150 1st Avenue (@ Corner of 9th Street)
New York, NY 10009




Maxwell Caulfield, Jenni Barber, Lois Robbins and Anthony Reimer
In Cactus Flower
Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg

Abe Burrows's
Cactus Flower
An Off-Broadway Revival
Tuesday 7:00pm
Wednesday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Thursday 8:00pm
Friday 8:00pm
Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Sunday 3:00pm
Closes on May 29, 2011
Westside Theater

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

As classic motion picture comedies go, Cactus Flower is among the best, not because of it’s timeless plot (it’s time-capsule 60s all the way) or it’s genius dialogue (poor man’s Neil Simon) but because the legendary Ingrid Bergman and then newcomer Goldie Hawn (who won a Supporting Oscar) are so delectable in their roles they make you forget all the flaws and simply enjoy the film. Oh, and Walter Matthau is no slouch as Julian.

The original Broadway play opened in 1965, starred Lauren Bacall, Barry Nelson and Brenda Vaccaro and ran for three years. I can only imagine how good those three must have been.

The only reason to revive the play would be to place some modern spin on it, extract some of the hidden comedic possibilities and/or hire actors who are able to put their own stamp on these already twice richly-stamped roles. There’s a good reason this play is rarely revived in New York.

The basic sex-farce plot was racy back then, but so tame by modern standards. A womanizing, bachelor dentist falls for a much younger, kooky girl and in order to avoid the trappings of marriage tells her that he is already married with three children. Complicating the story is the fact that his efficient, age-appropriate nurse carries a torch for him and is convinced to play the part of his wife.

Daryl Roth Productions and Stonemill Productions are presenting the play at the Westside Theater Upstairs, starring Maxwell Caulfield, Lois Robbins and newcomer Jenni Barber. The results are terribly mixed.

Directed by Michael Bush, this production is less of a reinvention and more of an attempt at homage. Bush’s direction is sloppy and uninspired and most of the cast either attempt impersonations (Barber has the Goldie Hawn hairdo but lacks her sweet spirit) or simply awkwardly stumble through their roles (Caulfield is strangely good and bad depending on the scene and seems to be doing all he can to not be Matthau). Only soap vet Lois Robbins exonerates herself nicely and gives up a character that is refreshingly multi-faceted and makes us almost forget how good Bergman was in the film.

The supporting cast performs well in mostly broad stereotypical turns. The most miscast is Jeremy Bobb who, despite being quite good as Toni’s neighbor Igor, simply looks too old for the part.

The terrifically timeless songs featured during set changes include: “What the World Needs Now;” “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’;” “I’m a Believer;” “I Know a Place,” Satisfaction;” “Respect;” “Red Rubber Ball;” “Born Free;” “Downtown;” “Cherish” and “I Got You Babe.” These classic songs transport us back to the decade that changed our country forever in a way the play never does.

Tickets $75.00 | 212-239-6200 & 800-432-7250
telecharge.com
http://www.CactusFlowerOnStage.com

Westside Theatre | 407 W 43 ST

 




Priscilla Queen of the Desert
Monday 8:00pm
Tuesday 7:00pm
Thursday 8:00pm
Friday 8:00pm
Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Sunday 2:00pm & 7:30pm
Opened March 20, 2011
Palace Theatre

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

As the orchestra begins to play the Overture--a classic blend of camp classics that span three decades--for Priscilla Queen of the Desert, a mirror ball drops to alert the audience that they're in for a fun time--whether they like it or not! A nerve-shattering Mamma Mia!/Rock of Ages feeling shot through my body. Both those shows insisted I have a good time and I loathed and detested both for their pandering qualities and sheer stupidity.

Would this latest entry into the ridiculously fast-growing screen-to-stage musical adaptation onslaught be another mess that excites audiences simply because they can sing along to songs they know? What happened to karaoke bars? Would this be another 9 to 5, where the film is painfully and unsuccessfully recreated on stage with no caring about medium differentiation?

I shook as the lights came up and three drag queens/divas (they are actually female--Jacqueline B. Arnold, Anastacia McCleskey and Ashley Spencer) dropped from the sky and, in mid-air, began singing "It's Raining Men." Was I in some post-death gay bar?

Yet something odd began to happen as the characters were introduced and the scenes, revered songs and spectacularly campy costumes zoomed by, the party atmosphere gave way to an absolutely absorbing and engaging show that wasn't just randomly choosing songs that simply stopped the show dead so audience members could relive something nostalgic. Each song was cleverly commenting on the inner workings of the characters and, in some cases, moving the plot along. This was not a traditional jukebox musical nor was it another lazy and ill-conceived movie adaptation; it actually had something to say. Sure it was saying it in the most gaudy and loud of ways--but that was actually faithful to its source material and part of the fun.

The original film, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, depicted the lunatic journey of three Australian drag queens (one is a transsexual) from Sydney to a more backwards area of the country (think Kansas as a US equivalent). Written and directed by Stephan Elliott and starring Terrence Stamp, Hugo Weaving and a scene-stealing Guy Pearce, the movie won an Oscar for Best Costume Design and became somewhat of an instant classic.

The stage version was conceived in Australian and boasts the costumes of Oscar winners Tim Chapel and Lizzy Gardiner--going even more overboard in crazy. The plot borrows from the film, but mercifully doesn't try and recreate it scene for scene--it does, however, retain--while reconceiving--the most potent moments.

Stephan Elliott and Allan Scott give us a smart book that is both hilarious and
poignant, while Simon Phillips direction keeps things moving. I was particularly struck by the audience reaction to the defacing of the bus as well as how well a bashing scene was handled. Some numbers do border on overkill (costume and staging-wise) but the sheer exuberance with which they are performed allows for forgiveness. The choreography did feel stale, but the company dances with ebullient glee.

Phillips decision to have the drag queens sometimes lip-synch to the live singing of the "Divas," is absolutely inspiring. And the rethinking of songs like "Material Girl" --as a hot strip number--as well as "MacArthur Park"--which capitalizes on a signature line from the film--are a treat to behold.

But the real treat comes from watching the trio of talented actors embody these roles with such gusto and, in one instance, daring.

La Cage Aux Folles-alum Nick Adams is a hoot as Felicia, the newbie, delivering nasty one-liners like a true smart-ass. His "Sempre Libre" moment kills it. I just wish his role had been fleshed out more.

Will Swenson (so good as Berger in Hair) balances the pride Tick feels when he performs with the shame he's afraid his son will feel when he realizes who and what his father is. And while this plot twist may feel a bit dated to some, one must realize that there are many places in the world--hell, in this country—where folks are still very unaccepting of homosexuality. Swenson is fascinating to watch as he finds himself and his boy without giving up what he is.

The show, however, belongs to Australian sensation Tony Sheldon. Besides his brilliant line deliveries, his full embodiment of Bernadette (reminiscent of Douglas Hodge's La Cage performance insomuch as it's unique and elegant) is truly remarkable and grounds the show in a reality it might not normally find. It's a bold and rich portrayal. Sheldon never once overcamps Bernadette up, nor does he go for the cheap sympathies. He simply makes us believe in her and root for her.

Priscilla is a tribute to a certain type of sensibility-not just a gay sensibility although the gays in my audience were eating it up. And the camp factor and kitsch factor are tres' high as well but it's so much more. Priscilla is a tribute to everyone who has ever been made to feel less about themselves because they are "different" or have a non-conformist lean about them. This show dares everyone to fly their freak flag and challenges the audience to not see it as a freak flag at all, but instead, a celebration of an individual's passion and creativity. For that, this extravaganza-of-the-outrageous is well worth the trip.

Tickets by Phone 877-250-2929
ticketmaster.com

www.priscillaonbroadway.com
Palace Theatre | 1554 Broadway
New York, NY 10036




Frank Wildhorn's
Wonderland
Tuesday 7:00pm
Wednesday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Thursday 8:00pm
Friday 8:00pm
Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Sunday 3:00pm
Opened April 17, 2011
Marquis Theatre

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

To say I am not a fan of Frank Wildhorn musicals is to put it mildly. He is responsible for co-creating what I believe is the worst musical done on Broadway in my lifetime, The Civil War (Did you see that one Ben Brantley? Because trust me Spiderman, Turn Off the Dark is a masterpiece in comparison. Are you happy you’ve destroyed Julie Taymor’s vision, Ben Brantley? That Spidey will now be a “family-friendly” musical with all dark elements banished, Ben Brantley? Oh, dear, I am digressing at the speed of a falling Spidey ensemble member…)

Back to Wonderland

Then I read that The Civil War lyricist, Jack Murphy is responsible for the Wonderland lyrics and is also the co-book writer. Yikes. This can’t be good…

Besides the travesty mentioned above, Wildhorn has mucked-up Dracula, The Scarlett Pimpernel and Jekyll & Hyde (although I did like elements of the latter). To be fair, his music is lovely to listen to but when presented on Broadway seems to take on a bombastic, cacophonous verve that’s head-splittingly irritating. In addition, there never seems to be a cohesive-style to his work except for his need to write lift-able, sugary ballads that Broadway divas (male and female) can sing the shit out of…

Finally, most of his shows are cast with talented singers, rather than good actors who can also sing—so you end up with dazzle over substance.

It’s safe to say I’m not a fan.

That is exactly why I was nonplussed by Wonderland. For the most part it’s a vibrant, spirited, appealing new show with--and yes, I am shocked to be writing this—with a charming and cohesive score that satirizes yet pays homage to different musical styles that represent each character brought to life in this modern take on themes and characters presented in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. So, this time, in being hodge-podgily pastiche-y, there is actually a method to the Wildhorn madness. And it all blends rather magnificently. I wish the same could be said for the book, which can be quite smart at times but also comes off as forced and contrived.

The other major boon here is that most of the cast members are wonderful actors as well as fabulous singers.

The delightful Janet Decal plays this incarnation of Alice, a teacher who wants to write children’s books. She has a daughter (Carly Rose Sonenclar) and is recently estranged from her husband. Exhausted by her tattered life, she falls asleep on her daughter’s bed and finds herself in the anarchically zany world that Carroll’s Alice found herself in, meeting each character (The Caterpillar, The Cheshire Cat—here called El Gato, The White Rabbit, etc…) And before you can say The Wizard of Oz, they’re all helping her on her journey to find her way home. But not before they sing a number or two.

Along the way, she meets up with gender-twisted Mad Hatter, played fabulously by Kate Shindle, who is out to decapitate the Queen of Hearts (Karen Mason) and seize the thrown for herself.

Shindle has a terrific burlesque number in Act One and brings the house down in Act Two with “I Will Prevail,” one of the best songs in the show.

Not to be outdone, Mason sings a jazzy intro song in Act One and has her diva showstopper, “Off With Their Heads,” in Act Two. The latter is good but should have been better.

Helping Alice out is a cartoonish yet dashing White Knight, played to the dapper-hilt by Darren Ritchie, who boy-bands-out with, “One Knight,” another show highlight.

Alice runs into Mr. Carroll in the musical’s most clever sequence and Wildhorn pops out with “I Am My Own Invention,” a “love yourself” ballad that I should have hated but I rather liked.

The sets and costumes are exceptionally colorful and outrageous and director Boyd keeps things moving.

Besides all variations on Oz—especially Wicked, which the show seemed to want to desperately emulate, there were elements that reminded me of a 1989 Tony-nominated musical called Starmites.

Ultimately, this musical is all about finding the person you always wanted to be and rebooting your life so you can figure out who it was you once were so you can set off on that journey once again. There is no nonsense here, just the opposite. It’s almost like the anti-Alice--an Alice for the self-involved new millennium.

SPOILER ALERT

The bookwriters feel the need to force a simplistic and silly ending after telling an interesting and entertaining saga.

The final fifteen minutes of story (last song notwithstanding) is a mess. The show’s ‘message’ is spoon-fed to the audience and we are given a forced and wholly unbelievable happy ending. Alice’s estranged husband appears and—even though we have never seen them together before (not counting the fact that the actor plays Jack as well), they make up and become one big happy family because Alice has finally found her true self. The sentiment is nice but impossible to buy since we’ve never KNOWN these two together—so we can’t really care. In addition we are told exactly what we should be feeling. I’m not certain just how many transformations this finale has had but, it’s in need to major tweaking to ring true.

As problematic as the ending is, the rest of the show makes up for it and is definitely worth seeing.

Tickets $56.75 - $139.75
$30.00 Student Rush
877-250-2929
ticketmaster


WonderlandOnBroadway.com

Marquis Theatre | 1535 Broadway



 


 


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