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Vanessa Williams in After Midnight

After Midnight
Sunday @ 3PM
Tuesday @ 7:30PM
Wednesday @ 7:30PM
Thursday @ 7:30PM
Friday @ 8PM
Saturday @ 2Pm & 8PM
Brooks Atkinson Theatre

Conceived by Jack Viertel

Directed & Choreographed by Warren Carlyle

Starromg: Vanessa Williams, Dule Hill, Adriane Lenox

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Tremendous talent elevates the pastiche revue, After Midnight, to a joyous level. It’s not a traditional musical by current standards—certainly not a book musical—and it could have (and, perhaps, should have) been. What it is is ninety minutes of sheer entertainment.

Most of the songs featured are by Duke Ellington, Dorothy Fields & Jimmy McHugh and Ted Koehler & Harold Arlen and one rousing vignette begets another.

It’s 1932 and we are at the Cotton Club, which took to presenting “celebrity nights,” where famous performers would alternate with the regulars. Besides Dule Hill as our MC, we are treated to a changing roster of guests every month or so. Fantasia Barrino was the first. I had the great good fortune to be treated to the divine and ageless Vanessa Williams.

The true superstars of the show, of course, are the extraordinary musicians who appear (and stay) on the stage. It’s their night. Everyone else just gets to share in the fun. And, boy, do they!

Besides the extraordinary vocalists (of which Williams reigns pretty supreme) there are crazy-good tap routines, energetic dance numbers, and terrific song interpretations.

Vanessa Williams has four solo spots. First she delights with a sensual rendition of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” then a sultry “Stormy Weather.” But her highlight is an attitude-laced, “Zah Zuh Zaz,” where she channels Mae West and gives the word “sexy” new meaning.

The show’s best solo number involves Carmen Ruby Floyd killing it with “Creole Love Call.” The song has no lyrics, it is just Floyd hypnotically vocalizing. And it’s magnificent.

My favorite bit involved five dancers moving in remarkable unison, and returning later in the show.

And, of course, the show features the sassy Tony-nominated Adriane Lenox telling us the way it is with, “Woman Be Wise,” and sauntering out to warn of how bad men can be with, “Go Back Where You Stayed Last Night.”

Dancers Virgil “Lil O” Gadson and Julius “iGlide” Chisolm are astonishing to watch. They move as if they had no bones in their respective bodies.

Swiftly directed and inventively choreographed by Warren Carlyle, After Midnight, with its gorgeous blue background is a jazzy, snazzy, razzmatazzy, pizzazzy show that had me beaming and applauding my hands off.

Besides the severely underrated and underappreciated, The Bridges of Madison County, which is the finest musical of the year and, possibly, the last ten years, After Midnight comes closest to being the year’s best new musical.

Tickets $60 - $199 (800) 745-3000

Brooks Atkinson Theatre | 256 West 47th Street, NYC.

Sharr White’s
Sunday @ 3PM
Tuesday @ 7PM
Wednesday @ 2Pm & 7PM
Thursday @ 8PM
Friday @ 8PM
Saturday @ 2Pm & 8PM
The Acorn Theater at the New Group, 410 W. 42th Street, NYC.

Directed by Bart DeLorenzo.

Starring: Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Depending on where you’re looking when the lights come up, the first sight you might see in the New Group’s production of Sharr White’s Annapurna, is a naked ass. And your eyes will keep returning to that ass. But, rest assured, this is not for titillation purposes but to show just how devastated the life of our main male character has become. Ulysses (Nick Offerman) lives in the same nasty trailer in the who-knows-where-mountains of Colorado for over twenty years. Once a promising poet, by his own admission he’s only written one poem in the last ten years.

Now, Ulee wears an oxygen tank on his back for survival and a filthy apron so that when he cooks sausage he doesn’t scald his privates. The man is a lost mess.

Enter (the trailer) his ex-wife Emma (Megan Mullally) who is showing up for the first time since she mysteriously left him twenty years ago, five-year-old son in tow. Why has she returned? Why did she leave in the first place? And what has happened to their child? These are the two key questions in this short uneven play.

The suddenly ubiquitous Sharr White (The Other Place, The Snow Geese) has penned a Sam Shepard meets NBC sitcom play and the two styles never truly gel. The Snow Geese suffered from writing that did not feel period enough. Here the dialogue strains to be funny and clever.

In addition there is constant mention of a third character so we hope against hope (if you’ve glanced at the program or poster) that that character will actually appear and liven things up a bit. It doesn’t happen and while the big reveal avoids the obvious, it never feels honest and plunges our two actors into moments of maudlin melodrama.

Offerman and Mullally are real-life spouses and both found fame on NBC sitcoms (Parks and Recreation and Will and Grace, respectively) so it’s nice to see them acting together and there are some truly poignant moments. Offerman embodies Ulee so completely that we feel his anger, frustration and tremendous pain. It’s his towering performance that makes this production worthwhile.

Tickets $75 (212) 239-6200

The Acorn Theater at the New Groupv| 410 W. 42th Street, NYC.

Fly By Night
Sunday @ 2:30PM & 7:30PM
Tuesday @ 7PM
Wednesday @ 7PM
Thursday @ 8PM
Friday @ 8PM
Saturday @ 2:30Pm & 8PM
Through June 29, 2014
Playwrights Horizons

Conceived by Kim Rosenstock.

Book, Music & Lyrics by Will Connolly, Michael Mitnick and Kim Rosenstock.

Directed by Carolyn Cantor.

Starring: Henry Stram, Adam Chanler-Berat, Peter Friedman, Patti Murin, Allison Case, Michael McCormick and Bryce Ryness.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Playwrights Horizons production of the delightful new musical, Fly By Night is better than any of the four Tony-nominated musicals of the 2013-2014 season. Now that may not be saying much since the idiot members of the committee failed to nominate the only great musical of the season (The Bridges of Madison County—yes, I will not let that go—ever!), but what it does say is that the most exciting musical theatre is happening off-Broadway. You can keep your craptacular Rocky spectacles, Fly By Night is a sincere, deeply moving show that tackles the elusive nature of life and karma and connection.

Of course the last musical that dealt with the spiritual aspects of life and choosing our own destiny, If/Then, wasn’t well received. Today, creative artists who dare to explore the metaphysical are labeled “dopey,” by certain self-important, “little bitch” critics out there (bow to James Franco). Well, pay these out-of-touch haters no mind, this musical wants to look at the world in a more Eastern religious/cosmic, less Judeo-Christian way and because of that, it is always fascinating and, in the end, transcendent.

We are told up front that the story is a triangle between two very different sisters and one young man.

The plot is non-linear and most of the action takes place in NYC in 1964-65, although we do spend some time in South Dakota. Adorably oddball Adam Chandler-Berat plays Harold, who works in a sandwich shop, but dreams of being a songwriter. Harold falls for the ambitious actress-wannabe Daphne, played winningly by Rachel Spencer Hewitt, who has forced her chipper sister Miriam to uproot her South Dakota self and move to the big bad NYC with her. Miriam (a gloriously good Allison Case) lacks self-esteem but is great at pumping up her sister. Once Harold meets Miriam, he realizes she may be his true love—and I won’t give away how or much more.

The weaving together of story with these characters and some others--a perpetually pissed off sandwich shop owner (Michael McCormick), a grieving widower (Peter Friedman), a perpetually dissatisfied playwright (Bryce Ryness) as well as a slew of other folk all played by our narrator (Henry Stram)--is part of the magic of Fly By Night. So is a particularly unexpected historic event that plays significantly in the plot.

Spiritedly and impressively directed by Carolyn Cantor, the musical features a terrifically eclectic confection of insightful poppyrock songs and a buoyant company.

Sure there are elements I could have done without (a fortune teller and her predictions and the pedestrian choreography, come to mind) but these are minor complaints.

Fly By Night soars (well, it does!)

Tickets: 212-279-4200,

Playwrights Horizons | 416 West 42nd Street, NYC.

Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging

Sunday @ 3PM & 7PM
Mondays @7Pm
Tuesday @ 7PM
Wednesday @2PM
Friday @ 8PM
Saturday @ 2Pm & 8PM
New Davenport Theatre

Created and Written by Gerald Alessandrini.

Directed by Philip George and Gerald Alessandrini.

Starring: Carter Calvert, Scott Richard Foster, Mia Gentle, Marcus Stevens & David Caldwell on piano.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

I have been a fan of this show for a very long time and, while I have not see every version, I have always had a great time when I did attend, despite the sometimes unevenness of the material. This incarnation is no different. Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging continues the clever satire of productions along the Great White Way, skewering a few until they’re cinder yet going too easy on others.

Writer, co-director and creator Gerald Alessandrini is to be applauded for his breathless timeliness and the tireless cast is to be commended for their exuberance and ability to change costumes so bloody quickly.

Forbidden Broadway has always been a show tailored to those in the Broadway know. It makes no apologies about that, nor should it. So whether you fully appreciate it or not will depend on how much you’ve been able to afford to see.

At his Best, Alessandrini works satirical miracles. “Oh, What a Night” from Jersey Boys becomes, “Oh, What a Blight,” commenting on the cavalcade of jukebox musicals that pervade NYC, beginning with Mamma Mia! and currently continuing with the bio-musical, Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. (“And You Will Hate Me Tomorrow”)

The Bridges of Madison County number is a definite highlight with composer Jason Robert Brown captured as a megalomaniac with crazy hair (Marcus Stevens, killing it dead).

The never-ending lampooning of Les Miserables is still funny because the show seems to never go away. And Mia Gentile (my favorite cast member) is a hilarious Eponine (“On My Phone”).

Some easy targets providing chuckles include Fran Drescher (currently whining in Cinderella), Idina Menzel (“Let it Blow,” meaning her vocal chords), Cyndi Lauper (“Girls Just Want to Win One—a Tony), Trey Parker & Matt Stone (a solid Book of Mormon send-up) and Mandy Patinkin, in a particularly amazing moment (and a tour de force for Stevens). Oh, and, yes, Liza Minnelli (Carter Calvert embodying the diva with perfect campy weirdness).

Alas, they don’t all work. The Carrie Underwood Sound of Music segment did little but tell us what we already painfully knew; that Underwood was terrible. The Rocky spoof could have gone much further in taking the latest (and worst) screen-to-stage debacle to task. It’s cutesy when it should be lacerating. The Aladdin and Matilda scenes I forgot while they were still going on. And the Bullets Over Broadway skit fell flat. So much there and all we get is one Mia Farrow joke?

Alessandrini certainly has the talent to push the envelope but he played it too safe with some of the shows. Though with the finale, he is back on black comedy track, sticking it to mega corporations (“And Broadway Belongs to Me” via Cabaret). Sure the actors wear corporate armbands instead of swastikas but we know full well that there’s more than a whiff of totalitarian takeover in the air. Take that, Disney!

Ticket $29 - $110 (212) 239-6200

New Davenport Theatre | 354 West 45th Street, NYC.

Penelope Skinner’s
The Village Bike
Sunday @ 3PM
Tuesday @ 7PM
Wednesday @ 7PM
Thursday @ 8PM
Friday @ 8PM
Saturday @ 2Pm & 8PM
Through July 13, 2014
The Lucille Lortel Theatre

With: Greta Gerwig, Max Baker, Jason Butler Harner, Lucy Owen, Cara Seymour, Scott Shepherd.

Directed by Sam Gold

Presented by MCC Theater

Review by Frank J. Avella

Greta Gerwig has made indelible indie film impressions in Frances Ha, Greenberg and Woody Allen’s underrated To Rome with Love, mostly playing loveable neurotics. Who would have expected her to completely immerse herself into a deeply disturbing, daring portrait of a young woman as, gulp, a sexual being. Perhaps, not since Looking for Mr. Goodbar, has female sexual exploration been so bold. Of course, that book and film ended with the heroine paying the price for her “sins.” More on that in a few paragraphs.

In The Village Bike, Becky (Gerwig) is a pregnant schoolteacher on summer vacation in her new home in a country village somewhere in middle England. Her husband, John (Jason Butler Harner, effectively cast against usual type) is excitedly prepping for the baby’s arrival and showing no interest in sex. “I don’t want to kill the baby,” he sincerely yowls. Becky feels quite differently. In fact, she’s hornier than ever. She finds John’s porn stash and starts masturbating to it. And once she buys a barely-usable bike from a hot, gruff bloke, Oliver (smoldering Scott Shepherd), who lives nearby, sparks fly. Pretty soon the married cad, Oliver, and Becky are pawing at one another and the sexual energy is palpable.

Much more happens in this deft and mostly rewarding play, but some of the joys and seat-squirming surprises should be kept mum.

Ballsy playwright Penelope Skinner (really, Frank, did you have to select a masculine adjective?) turns the usual story of a married partner losing interest in sex while the other careens in the opposite direction, on it’s tit (better?). It’s bracing to see the male in the relationship explain his refusal to have sex because it is something “precious and sacred.” This is always the female perspective. Instead, our Becky sluts-out and, initially, has a ball doing it (pun intended, since Skinner loves them so much).

The Village Bike opened in 2011 in Britain to critical hosannas and one can see why. Skinner tackles themes most playwrights, male and female, are terrified of. First and foremost, the delusion that women cannot have sex without getting involved. But then Skinner seems to cheat that wonderful notion by capitulating to the standard idea that feelings eventually do come into play (forgivable) and sexual promiscuity can only lead to doom (kinda unforgivable)—as in Goodbar all those years ago.

Becky becomes obsessed and for me that’s where the piece becomes judgmental and falls apart; that and the fact that John comes off as buffoon in his last moments with Becky.

Still, so much is exciting and impressive here and, as directed masterfully by Sam Gold, always compelling.

Skinner writes very clever dialogue that can be cutting and self-reflexive and she pours on the double-entendres, keeping us on the alert. She’s incisive as well. In a telling moment where Becky is trying to express her feelings to Oliver, she asks, “What if we could have both?” His reply: “ I don’t want this with my wife.” That Madonna/Whore brainset is still there for many men and Skinner wants to rip it wide open and reveal the contradictory and limiting nature of that mode of belief (ingrained in so many cultures).

Gerwig’s performance is so natural it’s difficult to not follow her anywhere, even on this most precarious journey. And even when, in the final moments, she comes off as “desperate,” she plays it from a pure place and we feel sympathy and empathy.

Shepherd is just sex in pants, and sometimes in skimpy underwear. Not sexy in the traditional sense, his Oliver radiates charisma and animal charm.

And in a ridiculously brief scene, Lucy Owen kills it as Oliver’s perspicacious wife. She’s so good I wished for an immediate sequel that would center on her character (and could feature Shepherd in a scantily clad supporting role—let’s reverse some stereotypes!).

One of the whackadoodle scenarios presented in the play is where Oliver breaks into Becky’s home and they play out a rape fantasy while her husband is in the other room. Or it would have seemed crazy to me had a friend not told me about his doing the exact same thing, many times, a few years ago. What makes people behave so perilously? Libido? A desire to not be in the relationship they’re currently in? Or perhaps it has nothing to do with hurting the partner and everything to do with pushing the boundaries of sexual fantasies. Men have perfected the art of cheating. Skinner is perhaps saying that women are no different. Actually, they have more finesse and are less likely to be suspect.

The title is Brit-slang for whore: someone who everyone in the Village has ridden. It almost always refers to females. Male whores are called…men.

For tickets visit:

The Lucille Lortel Theatre | 121 Christopher Street, NYC




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