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New York Cool - Ask Miss Wendy

 



“Fun Home”
Sunday @ 3PM
Tuesday @ 7PM
Wednesday @ 2Pm & 8PM
Thursday @ 8PM
Friday @ 8PM
Saturday @ 2Pm & 8PM
The Circle in the Square Theater

Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel.

Music by Jeanine Tesori

Book & Lyrics by Lisa Kron

Directed by Sam Gold.

Starring: Michael Cerveris, Judy Kuhn, Beth Malone, Sydney Lucas, Emily Skeggs, Roberta Colindrez, Zell Steele Morrow, Joel Perez & Oscar Williams.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

“Fun Home” reached levels of the profound for me, and for a Broadway musical nowadays, that’s saying a lot.

The show bowed at the Public Theater last year to rave reviews but I missed it. In a way, I’m glad because I had little knowledge of the plot and I was stunned by the experience.

Creators Lisa Kron (book and lyrics), Jeanine Tesori (music) and Sam Gold (director) pack a dense amount of themes into a show that runs less than two hours and the results are truly remarkable.

Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, this non-linear piece chronicles the life, work, thoughts, feelings and recollections of a lesbian cartoonist at three different ages.

43-year-old Alison (Beth Malone) is trying to come to terms with who her father, Bruce (Michael Cerveris) was and why he committed suicide. “I need real things to draw from because I don’t trust memory,” she explains to her dead father. Nothing about her past seems clear so she does her best to recreate what she can recall and challenge those memories in the process.

19-year-old Alison (Emily Skeggs) is her coming-to-terms-with-coming-out college student self who falls for an out-and-proud Joan (Roberta Colindrez, wonderful). The morning after her first sexual experience with a woman (Joan), Alison sings a song that perfectly defines that sexual awakening excitement, “I’m Changing My Major to Joan.”

Flashing back even further, 9-year-old Alison (Sydney Lucas) is dealing with those odd bourgeoning feelings while competing with her two siblings for her parents love.

Older Alison is on a mission to discover who her parents were, in particular, her father and how that shaped who she became. Her suburban mom, Helen (Judy Kuhn) is a struggling actress married to a man who cannot love her the way she deserves to be loved. But it’s the 1970s when wives stayed with their closeted husbands and closeted husbands stayed in the closet and did things in the shadows.

Bruce runs a funeral home (where the title comes from, overtly anyway) and can be rather shameless about the men and boys he carouses with. Helen knows and must deal with Bruce taking his frustration out on her. And in turn, she sometimes takes her angst out on the kids. Even when Bruce is arrested for “furnishing a malt beverage to a minor,” she still stands by him.

Teen Alison sees her dad as “an intellectual, liberal, broad-minded bohemian,” never fully realizing his suffering. “I had no way of knowing my beginning would be your end,” she admits, in a devastating moment.

“Fun Home,” while based on autobiographical material, is the closest thing to an original musical we have had bow on Broadway in years and that alone is worth celebrating. The fact that it’s so accessible to anyone who has had parents and who has wondered why they did/do what they do (basically, almost everyone) is amazing.

Then there’s the gay aspect of the show that follows two generations of the cultural climate in the U.S. and how acceptance (or lack thereof) affected the path LGBT people were forced to take. Watching someone dealing with his/her hidden sexual orientation in the ‘70s compared to a still-scary but more plausible coming out in the ‘80s is especially fascinating because of just how far we’ve come in terms of acceptance.

The parents in this show are real. They have foibles and idiosyncrasies and behave badly and their kids are fucked up because of it. It happens in every generation. Simply because parents read books and take classes today doesn’t mean they’ll act any less selfishly.

In a particularly piercing moment, mom plays piano as the three kids are literally almost glued to the television in the living room. Meanwhile dad is seducing a former student in another room of the home. “The Brady Bunch,” they’re not.

Repression is one of the key themes explored, via Bruce’s journey. He’s not simply someone who cannot be who he is, but he’s a maddening, bi-polar mess (before that was a diagnosis). He’s a far more complex character than musical theatre audiences are used to. He is filled with self-loathing yet has a giant ego and is far too concerned with other people’s opinions and reactions. (In that respect he’s the quintessential suburban parent of the ‘70s!!!) Bruce seems to love restoring homes much more than spending time with his family. Oh, and he has a penchant for teen boys. All that and we still relate to him and try not to judge him too harshly because Alison refuses to. And because Michael Cerveris portrays him in such a painfully honest manner, it’s penetrating. You can’t hate Bruce because, if you do, you hate that dark side of yourself.

Cerveris deserves the Tony Award. And speaking of Tony Award…

Judy Kuhn delivers a heartbreaking performance as the long-suffering wife. Her anguish is all over her face but so is the fact that the life she is stuck in has held her back, emotionally, spiritually and sexually. She’s a near- broken woman yet as Kuhn portrays her, she’s not completely destroyed. In her tour de force number, “Days and Days,” she unearths all her heartache and suppressed rage.

Judy Kuhn made her Broadway debut in 1985 in “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” In 1987 she originated the role of Cosette in “Les Miserables,” and a year later delivered an astonishing performance as Florence in the outrageously maligned, “Chess.” The latter two garnered her Tony nominations. One more would follow for the 1994 revival of “She Loves Me.” Let’s hope four times is finally a charm.

And how do I even explain how good the three Alisons are and how intertwined the actresses performances are?

Malone is onstage for almost the entire running time, observing and reacting to her life unfolding and imploding and she’s so interesting an actress that it’s hard to take your eyes off her. Lucas and Skeggs are both riveting as well.

Tesori’s music and Kron’s lyrics reminded me of Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George,” probably the highest compliment I can pay them.

Director Gold keeps things moving at a swift pace, weaving us in and out of this extraordinary mosaic of a production. And the entire design team is to be applauded for transforming Circle in the Square into this astonishing “fun home.”

Early in the show, Alison is recalling an incident when she was 9, where her father called her into the embalming room as he works on a cadaver, asking her to grab the scissors from the tray and hand them to him. That moment has stayed with her and, obviously, marked her. “Dad showed me a dead body today, went swimming, got a new Hardy Boy book, had egg salad for lunch.” she sings.

Then older Alison goes through a litany of reasons why he might have called her in, trying to figure out what he must have been thinking asking a child to come into a room with a corpse. She concludes with, “Maybe you just needed the scissors.”

Sometimes we make everything about us when, in reality, there’s usually some more obvious, less paranoid, explanation for things. Or maybe not.

Like I said, profound.

For Tickets visit: funhomebroadway.com or call 212-239-6200.

The Circle in the Square Theater | 235 W. 50th St.



“It Shoulda Been You”
Sunday @ 3PM
Tuesday @ 7PM
Wednesday @ 2PM & 8PM
Thursday @ 7PM
Friday @ 8PM
Saturday @ 2Pm & 8PM
The Brooks Atkinson Theater

Directed by David Hyde Pierce.

Book & Lyrics by Brian Hargrove

Music & Concept by Barbara Anselmi

Starring: Tyne Daly, Harriet Harris, Lisa Howard, Sierra Boggess, Josh Grisetti, Edward Hibbert, David Burtka, Montego Glover, Chip Zien, Adam Heller, Michael X. Martin, Anne L. Nathan, Nick Spangler.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Reviewers note, I found myself pretty schizophrenic when I thought about this show—liking it/not liking it. Here is some of my internal dialogue. And yes, I will be getting therapy—as soon as I can afford some!)

Everyone onstage seemed to be entertained. Everyone in the audience was certainly having a blast. So what’s the problem with “It Shoulda Been You,” the new musical comedy playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theater? Well, for starters, it really feels like it shouldn’t be on Broadway.

Stop/Wait/Why?

Because it reeks of regional, even community (good community) theatre, dinner theatre. It’s not sophisticated enough for New York audiences.

You’re a snob. The audience I saw it with had a blast.

Probably tourists.

That’s unfair. Can’t we just have some good clean, dirty fun anymore? And this production even has some daring things to say about gay marriage.

Shhhh. Don’t give that away! I didn’t see it coming. And, it’s hardly daring anymore.

It is for this kind of show.

Exactly. For this kind of show. The kind that is culled from memories of TV, film and theatre from years gone by.

So what? And what do you mean?

You blend an episode of some broad ‘60s sitcom like “The Mothers-in-Law” (rent it on Amazon Prime) with a silly American sex comedy like the ones Jane Fonda made before she transformed herself (“Any Wednesday,” “Sunday in New York”) Then add a classic Catskills stand-up routine and toss in a modern politically correct twist, in an attempt to be hip and current. Then someone writes some forgettable music and someone else pens some empowering lyrics. Then get a 90s sitcom star to direct it (probably because his sig-other is the semi-clever book and lyric writer). Then cast it with two divas that all the gays worship.

Okay, you’re convincing me…to want to see it again!

Oy! Let me try again. It’s the ultimate stereotypical situation where two families from vastly different social and religious backgrounds must come together for a wedding. The abrasive mother of the bride (Tyne Daly) who, of course, is Jewish, must go toe-to-toe with the WASP-y, boozy mother of the groom (Harriet Harris).

They’re so good together. Like Linda Evans taking on Joan Collins in “Dynasty!”

Exactly, and anyone under 30 just asked, “WTF?”

Oh, so it doesn’t matter that Daly (switching gears after killing it in the drama, “Mothers and Sons”) is wickedly funny and transcends the clichés of the character? A great example is a key scene, late in the production, where she gives her daughter this subtle but knowing look filled with pride and amazement, like she was seeing her for the very first time.

Yes, there’s that.

And Harris’s hilarious variation on her oft-played cranky bitch stealing the show when she reacts to her son’s announcing he’s –

Uh! Stop right there.

Right. You really didn’t see that twist coming?

I actually didn’t.

Sounds to me like you liked the show more than you’re willing to admit.

I—wait, what about the most insulting player. That tres fey gay wedding planner (Edward Hibbert), a character that will set gays back decades if we’re not careful…

I didn’t like that either. But that best man (Nick Spangler) was hunky and hot and VERY masculine.

You just wanted to do him.

You got me there. What about the fat girl?

You mean big-boned. We can’t say fat.

Her. She’s the star of the show.

And that’s another major problem. As much heart as Lisa Howard has, she’s just not charismatic enough to command our attention. She’s like a bland Faith Prince.

I always though Faith Prince was a bland Faith Prince. Howard sings well.

There’s that. Speaking of, I did like the opening number. It established everything that needed to be established and held my interest. And I appreciated a lot of the banter. And most of the performances.

Okay, so you liked aspects of it.

I did. And director, David Hyde Pierce keeps the action moving nicely.

So what are you kvetching about? What’s the problem again?

I don’t know. Maybe there is no problem. Maybe it’s the stupid title. Maybe “It Shoulda Been You” belongs on Broadway because it’s a spirited, hopeful comedy that carries a few important messages that people from other parts of the country (your tourists) can benefit from hearing, while they’re laughing hysterically.

Now, you’re just getting carried away!

For Tickets visit: itshouldabeenyou.com or call 877-250-2929.

The Brooks Atkinson Theater | 256 West 47th Street



Lerner and Loewe’s
“Gigi”
Broadway Revivial
Sunday @ 3PM
Tuesday @ 7PM
Wednesday @ 2Pm & 8PM
Thursday @ 7PM
Friday @ 8PM
Saturday @ 2Pm & 8PM
Opens April 8, 2015
The Neil Simon Theatre

Directed by Eric Schaeffer.

Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Victoria Clark, Dee Hoty, Howard McGillin, Corey Cott.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

There are two shows opening this month (April) that have a great deal in common, “An American in Paris and “Gigi.” Both are Academy Award recipients for Best Picture from the 1950s (1951 and 1958, respectively). Both were MGM musicals directed by the revered Vincente Minnelli. Both take place in Paris and contain spoon-fed opening narration about time and place (probably necessary for American audiences). Both feature opulent set, lighting and costume designs as well as divinely orchestrated scores. Both, shockingly, take the spirit of the original work but re-conceive it for its specific medium. And while “An American in Paris” achieves a level that can be considered innovative and groundbreaking for Broadway, “Gigi” is no slouch. It’s decidedly a more traditional book musical but the tweaks and alterations as well as the welcome dose of feminism, makes this production, dazzlingly directed by Eric Schaeffer, a "magnifique" treat.

Based on the 1944 novella by Collette, “Gigi” was first adapted for the stage by Anita Loos in 1951 and starred Audrey Hepburn on Broadway. Seven years later Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe composed original songs for a new MGM screen version with Leslie Caron (who, ironically, bowed in “An American in Paris”) in the titular role. The film was arguably MGM’s last great musical. Today, “Gigi” remains an excellent film but feels a bit stilted in its musical sequences and too prudish and careful in its storytelling (although, in it’s time, quite daring, since the subject matter was pretty verboten).

Fifteen years after the success of the movie, Lerner and Loewe reteamed for a stage version of the musical. It ran for 103 performances and is considered a flop.

Set in Belle Epoch Paris, the simple story follows the blossoming of a spirited young girl, Gigi (Vanessa Hudgens), who is being groomed to be a courtesan by her eager great Aunt Alicia (Dee Hoty), whose footsteps she’ll be following as well as her more apprehensive grandmother (Victoria Clark). It’s a “My Fair Lady” of sorts, before L&L decided to take that story on directly.

Gigi has enjoyed a sweet and playful friendship with a charming and rich young rogue, Gaston (Corey Cott), whose every move is reported by the press. Now that Gaston wants to bring Gigi out into Parisian society, deals must be negotiated to secure Gigi’s financial future. But what about what Gigi wants?

Heidi Thomas is credited with adapting this stimulating new version and she has infused it with a welcome modern sensibility while still keeping the customs and morals of 1903 France alive.

For “Gigi” to soar we must fall in love with Gigi as Gaston does. And I am gobsmacked to report that as played by Vanessa Hudgens, you can’t help but adore the girl! Spunky and energetic at first, Hudgens is a joy to watch from beginning to end, acquitting herself nicely in the song and dance as well as the acting department. I say this because “High School Musical” never allowed her to display much range, so who knew? In addition she has great stage presence but never upstages anyone. Hudgens does a fabulous job of fully realizing Gigi’s arc, capturing all the thrills, confusion and pain that go along with her transformation.

“The Parisians,” a song inexplicably cut from the ‘73 version, is a definite Hudgens highlight where she shows all the naïve exuberance necessary, and then some!

And she has good chemistry with Cott, which is vital to the work.

As Gaston, Cott does a splendid job but, unlike the rest of the cast, he doesn’t attempt even the slightest French accent making his portrayal too American. It’s a definite misstep and a damn shame because it takes away from the characterization and pulls you out of the story. Cott does have tremendous appeal and performs the Oscar-winning title song magnificently.

Howard McGillin as Honore’, Gaston’s skirt-chasing uncle, looks and sounds great in the part Maurice Chevalier made famous, a role that now, sadly, feels superfluous. McGillin seemed to struggle with his accent, but at least he had one.

Fear not, though, stage icons Dee Hoty and Victoria Clark shine bright as Aunt Alicia’s jewels and are onstage often enough, and play the period perfectly enough, to make up for the boys not bringing it.

Firstly, what a delight to watch two towering Broadway actresses, who happen to be over fifty, in well-written roles that showcase their tremendous talents! When was the last time that happened? And they get to practically walk away with the show!

Hoty, one of the underrated wonders of the musical theatre, dons her best Dowager Countess superiority, but underneath is a fierce protection of her great niece. She’s lived the good life and knows the dangers. Hoty is simply delicious. Of note, the great character actress, Agnes Moorhead, played this role on Broadway in 1973!

Clark adds gravitas to whatever role she takes on. Here she magnificently and poignantly gives us a glimpse of what her dreams were and how they must now manifest through her granddaughter. It’s a lovely, nuanced performance.

Quite a number of modifications have been made from the ’73 staging as well as the film. Almost all of them better the story, including the fact that a climactic decision is now Gigi’s and not left in the hands of others.

Most likely concerned with the creepy factor of having an older man sing, “Thank Heaven for Little Girls,” the creators choose to give the song to Aunt Alicia and Mamita, which is a bit off-putting at first but, ultimately, works very well since Clark and Hoty make it into a critique but, also, an homage.

One of the notable changes is the inclusion of the song, “Say a Prayer,” which Gigi sings near the end of the MGM film and which was discarded completely when it bowed onstage ‘73. It’s brought back here, with minor lyric changes, as a tour de force moment for Clark and may win her a second Tony.

The relationship between Honore’ and Mamita is developed more than it was in the film and they have two enchanting duets, the evocative “I Remember It Well” and the rousing “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore,” which is usually a solo for Honore’.

Oddly, Gaston is given an aviation fascination, an admirable attempt to make him more interesting and not “bored” by everything, but it feels superficially tacked-on rendering it ill conceived.

And as much as I enjoyed “The Contract,” written for the ‘70s version, it felt stylistically out of place with the other numbers.

The best book addition is an exchange between Gigi and Gaston where she has the courage to speak out about her limited opportunities as a girl in turn of the century Europe.

Every technical aspect feels right from Catherine Zuber’s period-perfect costumes to Derek McLane’s gorgeous and cinematically changing sets to the lush orchestrations by August Eriksmoen.

And a great deal of the credit for the brilliantly balanced handling of period and modern must go to director Eric Schaeffer.

Rest assured, “Gigi’ is not simply old-fashioned fluff, like a few recent revivals lacking in substance and merely providing a few laughs, a dash of romance and a flash of glitz. The production spotlights a time when women had all their decisions made for them and showcases a brave young girl (unaware of her audacity) who stood up for herself and insisted on choosing her own destiny. I heartily recommend a matinee of “Gigi” followed by and evening performance of “An American in Paris,” for an exciting and fascinating Parisian experience.

ticketmaster.com

Gigionbroadway.com

The Neil Simon Theatre | 250 W. 52nd St.



Robert Askins’
"Hand to God"
Sunday @ 3PM
Tuesday @ 7PM
Wednesday @ 2Pm & 8PM
Thursday @ 8PM
Friday @ 8PM
Saturday @ 2Pm & 8PM
Opens April 7, 2015
The Booth Theatre

 

Directed by Moritz Von Stuelpnagel.

Starring: Steven Boyer, Marc Kudisch, Geneva Carr, Michael Oberholtzer & Sarah Stiles.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

When I saw Robert Askins’ uproariously funny, deviously clever play, “Hand to God,” one year ago at MCC’s Lucille Lortel Theater, I was impressed but I felt the play needed some work, especially certain overwritten areas in Act Two. I did feel the intimate space was perfect for a play that cuts to the core of why early humans felt the need to create religious doctrine and rituals in place of dealing with things head on themselves (and need to continue to fallacy). You may not fully agree with Askins but it’s a fascinating theory and the joy is in the bold execution.

Moving to a larger space, the Booth (the smallest Broadway house), the piece loses little of its intimacy but director Moritz Von Stuelpnagel misses key chances to truly take advantage of the new location—specifically with the effects, which felt right in the Lortel, but come across as underwhelming and borderline cheesy now.

That aside, “Hand to God” is even more uproarious and biting than it was last year. And that’s saying a lot.

In the move, the producers smartly chose to keep the same cast and they’ve grown in leaps and bounds.

Having originally bowed at Ensemble Studio Theatre in 2011 to great acclaim (and deserved awards for master puppeteer and actor, Steven Boyer), the play is in its best incarnation yet.

The setting is a Lutheran Church classroom in Cypress, Texas where a devout, but troubled widow, Margery (Geneva Carr) is cheerleading three fairly odd and apathetic teens into taking part in a puppet show that will celebrate Jesus. Among the kids is Margery’s troubled son Jason (Boyer), a geeky but sweet Jessica (Sarah Stiles), whom Jason secretly crushes on, and the tall, lumbering Timothy (Michael Oberholtzer) whose hormones are raging…specifically for…Margery. Rounding out the cast is Pastor Greg (a solid Marc Kudisch) who is also smitten with Margery—that vixen!

Things take a turn for the outlandish when Jason’s puppet, Tyrone, begins to seemingly inhabit a large chunk of Jason’s being and starts spewing forth a barrage of profanity-laced truisms at Jessica and, soon, at everyone else in Jason’s life, including his repressed and truly messed up mother—who decides she wants a piece of 15-year-old Timothy and, abandoning all her inhibitions and (possibly put-on) religious beliefs, has all kinds of wicked sex with the boy. Their S&M relationship is a taboo hoot! Margery “You’re one stupid piece of trash, ain’t you littie Tim?” Timothy: “You’re one crazy, f**ked up bitch, ain’t you Mrs. Stevens.” These lines are spoken in the midst of the two delighting in hurting each other.

Jason must deal with his literal demons in what Timothy calls his “Dr. Jekyll and Miss Piggy Act,” or else Tyrone will destroy everyone.

The play is part surrealistic farce, part absurd melodrama and the blend works.

Askins writes hilarious one-liners: “You are so far in the closet, you’re in Narnia,” Jessica says to Timothy after he pisses her off for the umpteenth time. And through the funny we get a poignant story of a boy coming to terms with the fact that adults disappoint just as much as children.

Von Stuelpnagel keeps the action moving nicely. And he handles a sex bit between puppets, Tyrone and Jolene, masterfully (as do Stiles and Boyer, perfecting the crazy).

Stiles is more comfortable with Jessica and her concern for Jason. “I will tell you right now, we can’t go to the homecoming dance as long as you have that thing on your arm,” she firmly states, (while her puppet Jolene rides Tyrone, right before he climaxes and falls onto her.)

Carr has now modulated her performance so that her motherly manipulations and repressed outbursts are balanced with true confusion and pain.

The uber-magnetic Oberholtzer has a blast playing the lanky, sexually explosive Timothy. His talk feels even nastier. His walk and posture is borderline sleazy (in that seductive way) as is the inviting way he sits. He’s every teen boy, take away the filter and add lots of yearning and a touch of audacity.

But the show still belongs to Boyer who is just astounding. Balancing the shy, innocent and damaged Jason with the demonic, devious and dastardly Tyrone, Boyer keeps us enraptured right up until the end. And the various ways he tries to get Tyrone off his arm had me (and my audience) squirming in uncomfortable agony and giddy glee.

Is “Hand to God” blasphemous? Only if you think purging yourself of pain and hurt and simply being honest about your (repressed) feelings makes you somehow Godless.

Is Jason truly possessed by Satan in the form of a puppet? Or are the things he’s saying and doing simply his subconscious speaking his real thoughts and feelings? After all most religions teach us to bottle things up, no matter how painful, and when we act out in unacceptable ways, we are sometimes told that it must be the devil making us do things.

Askins isn’t afraid of telling us how he really feels through zany characters we can’t help but cheer for in situations many of us can strangely relate to.

http://handtogodbroadway.com/

Tickets: $67.00 - $137.00 (Ticket prices include a $2.00 Facility Fee.)
telecharge.com

The Booth Theatre | 225 W. 45th St.




“Something Rotten”
Sunday @ 3PM
Tuesday @ 7PM
Wednesday @ 2PM & 8PM
Thursday @ 7PM
Friday @ 8PM
Saturday @ 2Pm & 8PM
The St. James Theater

Music & Lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick & Karey Kirkpatrick

Book by Karey Kirkpatrick & John O'Farrell

Conceived by by Wayne Kirkpatrick & Karey Kirkpatrick

Directed & Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw.

Starring: Brian d'Arcy James, John Cariani, Heidi Blickenstaff, Brad Oscar, Kate Reinders, Brooks Ashmanskas, Peter Bartlett, Gerry Vichi, Michael James Scott.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

I have to say I was bowled over with laughter throughout most of “Something Rotten,” the riotous, uproarious, silly but exceedingly clever new Broadway show that opened at the St. James Theater. We are blessed this season to have some new musicals bowing that are not adapted from films. But you can’t call “Something Rotten” original. To do so would probably insult the creators! And with good reason since the show’s success is based on appropriation as well as accusation (in jest, of course) that the greatest thief in the history of all written stage work was the (alleged) master himself, William Shakespeare!

Concocted by the lunatic minds of the brothers Wayne and Karey Kirkpatrick, with the help of co-bookwriter, John O’Farrell and master “Book of Mormon” director/choreographer, Casey Nicholaw, “Something Rotten” is a shameless, tongue-in-cheek parody, a broad, over-the-top farce, a kitchen-sinked satire, a pull-all-stops-out-and-pull-again-harder comedy—okay, you get the point. This is the kind of show that only a mean and grumpy person (or a “little bitch") wouldn’t enjoy.

The insanity is set in late ‘90s (the 1590s) London around the antics of two struggling-playwright brothers, Nick (Brian d’Arcy James) and Nigel (John Cariani) Bottom (imagine the puns). In order to keep their patrons happy and insure that their theatre group remains intact, they must come up with a bold and original work that their MUCH more popular and celebrated contemporary, Shakespeare (Christian Borle) has not yet written.

Nick seeks the advise of a crazy old soothsayer who goes by Thomas Nostradamus (an absolutely hilarious, scene-stealing Brad Oscar) to get an idea of what is popular in the future and, also, what Shakespeare’s biggest (not yet written) hit will be. The addled seer comes up with “Omelet,” as the title of Shakespeare’s masterpiece. He does, also, predict that the musical will become very popular one day, giving us the show stopping song, “A Musical.”

Meanwhile we meet good ol’ Will and he’s an arrogant, egotistical, self-deluded rock star who steals all his best work from others. He’s introduced as “the man who put the “I Am” in iambic pentameter.”

For anyone, like me, who has grown tired of EVERYTHING Shakespeare; this is the show for you. ‘Who talks like this?” Nick wonders, sick of Shakes-speak. “GOD I HATE SHAKESPEARE,” he exclaims a few moments later.

There are homages and references to shows like, “Les Miserables,” “Cats,” “Phantom of the Opera,” “The Music Man,” and “Mary Poppins,” to name a few.

I won’t reveal any more. I can’t. You have to experience it.

The characters seemed to be deliberately fashioned after the personalities of well-known musical theatre superstars like Kevin Kline, Nathan Lane, Kristin Chenoweth and Marin Mazzie, again, to name a few, but each actor brings their own dazzle to their roles, especially the highly underrated Brian d’Arcy James and the delightfully vainglorious Christian Borle, who appears to be channeling both Freddie Mercury and the vampire Lestat.

The brothers Kirkpatrick have no limits as far as what they won’t lambast and the humor can be quite Mel Brooks-base at times: (“WHAT'S THAT CREEPING ROUND YOUR PEEPEE AND YOUR VAGINA? THE BLACK DEATH (BLACK DEATH, OOH!)” but it’s all in good fun.

And right beneath the surface of the seemingly superficial lies some very real and biting insights into the cult of celebrity and the art of creation.

For Tickets visit: rottenbroadway.com or call 212-239-6200.

The St. James Theater | 246 W. 44th St.





Wendy Wasserstein’s
“The Heidi Chronicles”
Broadway Revivial
Sunday @ 3PM
Tuesday @ 7:30PM
Wednesday @ 2PM & 7:30PM
Thursday @ 7:30PM
Friday @ 8PM
Saturday @ 2Pm & 8PM

The Music Box Theatre

Directed by Pam MacKinnon.

Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Jason Biggs, Bryce Pinkham, Ali Ahn, Leighton Bryan, Elise Kibler, Andy Truschinski and Tracee Chimo.

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Wendy Wasserstein was a playwriting god as far as I’m concerned. Growing up, I related to her plays as much as I did to the work of other author heroes like Tony Kushner, Terrence McNally and Christopher Durang. The trio often focused on gay men and their struggles. Wasserstein’s heroines were relatable since they were grappling with issues like equality, self-esteem and the need to be taken seriously as artists and as people who weren’t born straight white men.

Could women have it all? Did they want it all? Regardless, shouldn’t they be given the same opportunities to be able to seek it all and then decide?

Heidi Holland is an art historian who is trying to sift through the paradoxes of her own feelings and desires and blend them with what she thinks her life should be. Where she ends up depends on how you interpret the final scene.

When I saw the original production of “The Heidi Chronicles” on Broadway I was incredibly affected by it. Sure the acting, specifically, Joan Allen and Boyd Gaines, was impressive, but Wasserstein seemed to be trying to correct notions of “happily ever after” and how that impossible expectation can destroy people, specifically women. Another intuitive female playwright, Beth Henley wrote about ideas of momentary happiness in her Pulitzer Prize-winning, “Crimes of the Heart,” earlier in the ‘80s.

Wasserstein appeared to be saying that sometimes we fight so hard for something but then find that what we feel inside can betray what we were fighting for.

The structure of the play spans twenty-five years and flashes back on the life of the titular character from the USA’s political and sexual revolution of the 1960s, through the tumultuous awakening to reality in the 1970s into the greedy Reagan 1980s.

The uneven revival that opened at the Music Box Theater digs at that internal conflict but only slightly. The production lacks the kind of immediacy it had in 1989 and that has nothing to do with the fact that it’s a revival and more to do with a lack of cohesion of style, tone and presentation of content.

In one of the opening scenes, a reticent Heidi (Elizabeth Moss of “Mad Men”) arrives at a school dance with her bestie Susan (Ali Ahn). It’s 1965 and randy Susan wants to have fun and meet boys. Heidi, however, would rather be reading, “Death Be Not Proud,” a book she actually brings with her. A few wallflower moments after Susan has abandoned Heidi, she meets Peter (Bryce Pinkham) someone who will be very important in her life—a soul mate of sorts. It’s a key scene, wonderful in it’s awkwardness. It establishes Heidi as confoundingly enigmatic and the important people in her realm as larger than life and overpowering in presence.

She’s a bit of blank canvas here (as we all tend to be in our teens) and there are so many possibilities (to quote “Sunday in the Park with George”)

The rest of Heidi’s journey is a mixed bag of missed possibilities and lumbering scenes coupled with some truly inspiring moments of insight and hilarity. Perhaps this was deliberate, but the end result made me wonder if the text is more time capsule than I thought. Does the play speak to today? I think it does. But this particular version does not probe deep enough.

It does have its moments like the scene on an early morning talk show that perfectly illustrates how men (gay and straight) tend to speak for women and not allow them their own voice. And in later scenes with Scoop (Jason Biggs) and Peter, Heidi comes into clearer focus via her two key relationships via realizations she comes to.

The ensemble has no real unifying style and range from amazing to disappointing.

I never fully believed Biggs as a journalist (a cad, yes) and the actor appears to be trying too hard (and speaking too quickly in the early scenes).

Ali Ahn’s take on Susan is way too stylized and borderline campy.

Pinkham plays Peter with a flamboyancy that works since he manages to carve in enough depth that we see his witticisms are about deflecting, hiding and coping. And in his last scene in Act Two (with Moss) he is especially moving. When the actor wasn’t onstage, I longed for his return.

Moss more than has her moments.

Heidi isn’t an easy role. Inasmuch as the play is titled, “The Heidi Chronicles,” the character spends most of her time on the outside of her life looking in (one of the points Wasserstein is trying to get across about her heroine). So Moss must grab the moments she can to provide the subtext needed to make us care about her and her journey and, for the most part, she takes advantage (as Joan Allen did in the original), but the character still remains a bit too elusive and maddening.

I was hoping for a facial expression at the very end to convey a “Graduate” type of panic or confusion and Moss gave a slight indication of just how desperate Heidi is.

It’s in the honest and devastating Act Two speech that Moss is allowed to let go and speak truths. As Heidi describes a gaggle of gals in the locker room of her gym, she explains her feelings of being, “stranded.” See Heidi has worked so hard to make sure the next generation of women can “have it all,” but no one seems to give a damn. She feels abandoned and wonders whether it was all worth it. That sense of despair, of disgust and of wanting to throw in the towel is conveyed brilliantly and this is where the play soars and one wishes director Pam MacKinnon had decided to wash the entire production with the palpable resonance achieved here.

Heidi is on a mission, a mission we can all relate to since it deals with the most profound questions about life and why we’re here and whether we can ever really be satisfied and/or fulfilled. And this production, at least, reminds us of Wasserstein’s witty and wonderful world and how it reflects what has been accomplished and how far we still have to go.

For tickets call 212-239-6200 or visit telecharge.com
theheidichroniclesonbroadway

The Music Box Theater | 239 West 42nd Street, NYC




Kander and Ebb’s
“The Visit”
Sunday @ 3PM
Tuesday @ 7PM
Wednesday @ 2Pm & 7PM
Thursday @ 7PM
Friday @ 8PM
Saturday @ 2Pm & 8PM
The Lyceum Theatre

Book by Terrence McNally

Directed by John Doyle

Starring: Chita Rivera, Roger Rees, Jason Danieley, David Garrison, Mary Beth Peil, Michelle Veintimilla & John Riddle

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Experiencing “The Visit” and “Fun Home” in the same week gave me newfound hope for the Broadway musical. Both are, in their own way, startling, daring and astonishing works. Both, without meaning to, flip the bird to packaged, pandering craptacular shows like “Finding Neverland” and “Doctor Zhivago.” “Fun Home” is the more groundbreaking of the two. But “The Visit” is no slouch and has Chita.

Based on the 1956 Friedrich Durrenmatt play that blended German expressionism with French and Italian existentialism resulting in a startling and sinister work about how money will corrupt even those considered above repute, this is certainly no fluff source material and the creatives never give into the temptation to go the easy route and entertain instead of inspire and alienate.

The stirring tale opens with the people of the fictional town of Brachen awaiting the arrival of Claire Zachannassian (Chita Rivera), an uber-wealthy widow returning to the now poor place where she grew up. The citizens are hopeful that she will help infuse their village with much needed capital. When Claire arrives, she announces that she will do just that, on one condition, they must execute Anton Schell (Roger Rees), the man she once loved, when she was 17, and the man responsible for her being thrown out of their precious town, pregnant and destitute.

“The world has made me into a whore,“ Claire offers in a searing song, “I make the world my brothel now.” After being spurned by Schell, Claire’s child died and she was forced into prostitution. She swore she would one day return and unleash her vengeance and she now promises to not only help the town financially but also gift each citizen a large sum of money.

The townsfolk are shocked and, initially, refuse. “I’ll wait,” Claire drolly responds. Slowly minds begin to change ever so slightly. Claire has been physically, emotionally and spiritually scarred by Schell and these people and now seeks her retribution.

Not really the stuff of your traditional Broadway shows, eh?

And director extraordinaire, John Doyle, keeps the mood dark and the focus keenly on Claire.

This is the last musical by the uber-gifted songwriters John Kander and Fred Ebb and has taken 14 years to make it Broadway. (Ebb died in 2004). It’s a fitting farewell to the team that gave us “Cabaret,” “Chicago” and “Woman of the Year.” Most songwriters become more complacent and take fewer risks, as they get older. Kander and Ebb decided to challenge themselves instead, resulting in a score that is disturbing, contemplative and satiric, a truly remarkable achievement.

Terrence McNally, who is responsible for writing the book for the two musicals that have garnered Rivera her Tony Awards (the underrated “The Rink” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman”), does a smashing job of whittling things down to the bare bones and keeping the bite and bile of Durrenmatt’s work but adding an amorous dimension that gives the show more gravitas. Sure, Claire is out for blood, but she’s also still in love with Schell—or at least in love with the man she needs to remember him as.

A surprisingly good film version was made in 1964 directed by Bernhard Wicki and starring a deliciously wicked Ingrid Bergman and sad sack Anthony Quinn. But the only way to see it is via a bootleg (since it’s never been released on VHS, DVD or Blu-ray) or when it occasionally airs on TCM. The film is marred by an ending that is too in keeping with old Hollywood and audience alleged-expectations.

McNally does not mess with the pungent ending, although it’s curious that there was a significant change made between the time the script was locked (and given to press) and the final performance. A more obvious choice was made, probably due to audiences needing to be spoon-fed their dramatic moments.

Each and every performance is admirable. Roger Rees is wonderfully understated as Anton, showing us that he’s truly penitent for what he did when he was boy, driven by greed and ambition.

Michelle Veintimilla & John Riddle are captivating as younger versions of Claire and Anton, a clever and inspired twist McNally adds to the devious mix.

And then there’s Rivera, a true legend, a marvel to behold and, at 82, giving one of the best stage performances I’ve witnessed in a while (and I’ve seen virtually everything along the Great White of late). Rivera isn’t simply astonishing because of her age; this is a really terrific, nasty, lovely, brutal, complicated portrayal of a woman who has been wronged and has lived for justice—her own demented version of it, anyway.

In one of the most beguiling moments, Claire dances with her younger self and the audience is completely transported into the mind of an older woman coming to terms with her life and her age, but also feeling all the old feelings she once felt. The body may age, but the mind need not follow.

I can only imagine what Rivera channels to achieve such a sublime moment. Graciela Daniele brilliantly choreographs the dance.

“I’m unkillable,” Claire explains to Anton, after telling him about a plane crash she survived. Rivera has been a part of “The Visit” since it’s inception, a decade and half ago, so the line is rich with added meaning.

At the performance I attended, as Chita made her entrance from far upstage slowly walking towards the orchestra pit, the audience burst into thunderous applause. The adulation was clearly for a Broadway legend who has given us some of the most impressive stage portrayals of all-time. At the show’s end, the spontaneous ovation and cheers seemed to be for an actor who had just transfixed a crowd of theatergoers for 100 minutes and taken them on an unexpected journey.

“The Visit” is a haunting, spellbinding treat that I pray will attract audiences.

Go for the genius set, the spectacular costumes, the divine lighting. Go for the scary eunuchs. Go because we are all a little obsessed with revenge. Go for the gorgeous score. Go for the intelligent Brechtian book. Go for the director’s audacity. Go because it’s the darkest musical I think I’ve seen since “Sweet Smell of Success.” Wait, I’m not selling it for mass audiences anymore, am I?

Fine. Go for Chita Rivera, in the performance of the season.

For Tickets visit: TheVisitMusical.com or call 212-239-6200.

The Lyceum Theatre | 149 W. 45th St.








 

 


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