Saturday, December 24, 2011

Lysistrata Jones @ The Walter Kerr Theatre

What happens when you take an ancient Greek play and mix modern day music, choreography, and a little bit of spunk? You get Lysistrata Jones, a brand new musical that modernizes the ancient story of Lysistrata, the woman who refused to satisfy her man, unless she got what she wanted.  Instead of taking place in ancient Greece, the show takes place in modern times at a college that has seen some less than amazing basketball games. 

The musical closely parallels the plot of the ancient Greek play Lysistrata, with some artistic liberties to bring the story in to the 21st century. In the original play, Lysistrata leads the women of Athens to stop having sex with their husbands and lovers until the long-lasting war is finally ended. In the musical, the men's Basketball team at the fictional Athens University has lost every game for the last 30 years, when finally a cheerleader named Lysistrata Jones transfers to the school.  She is tired of everyone giving up so she inspires the girls at the school to stop having sex with the basketball team until they finally win a game.

Although the entire product of the show was excellent, some of the acting talent had the audience wondering, “How were they casted?” Patti Murin (Xanadu, Give it Up!)  played the title role and she was a Greek Elle Woods, in the sense that she was a blonde college girl willing to do anything to get what she want. Whenever she’s on stage, her tiny body suddenly becomes 12 feet high and you can’t take your eyes off of her. Sure, she’s a knockout but her performance was everything you want it to be in a show like this: fun, spunky and bursting with personality. Liz Mikel (Give it Up!, Friday Night Light's) was the eldest member of the cast and brought wisdom to the stage. Mikel acted as the narrator, or Greek Chorus, of the show, as well as the “lady of the night” in which everyone turns to for help. Her performance was nothing less than god-like. Josh Segarra (Fat Camp:The Musical) played the popular team captain and hidden poetry buff, Mick. Besides from Segarra’s abs, his performance was less than impressive. Sure his singing was great but his acting and dancing was no greater then a high school performance. The two "outsiders" at the school are the brainy feminist, Robin, played by the phenomenal Lindsay Nicole Chambers (Hairspray, Legally Blonde), and the introverted activist, Xander, played by the brilliant Jason Tam (A Chorus Line, Les Miserbles). Jason won over the audience with his impeccable dancing and vocals, especially on "Hold On." Lindsay with her quick wit and shining enthusiasm had the audience in stitches the entire performance. This show  relies heavily on the ensemble and half of them seemed to have let the team down. The male ensemble members singing were off-key, they weren’t hitting jokes and the acting was awful to say the least. Thankfully the female ensemble was truly inspiring; each and every one of them brought something different to the table which filled the stage with light.

Dan Knechtges (Xanadu, Sondhiem on Sondhiem) both directed and choreographed the production. The choreography was overall impressive but at times seemed to be sloppy, but not the numbers you would think; the musical numbers that had more technical dance was all clean, it was the simple choreography that was all over the place. Lewis Flinn(Like Love, On Girl) wrote the music and lyrics for this show, and if there is anything about this musical that is all around stunning, it would be the music. The constant upbeat songs had the audience dancing in their chairs the entire performance. Douglas Carter Beane(Xanadu, Sister Act)  wrote the book and although comedy wise it was brilliant, the other serious material was less then satisfying.

The technical aspects were the saving graces of this show. The set design was done by Allen Moyer (Grey Gardens, After Miss Julie). He put you smack dab in the middle of a college basketball court, which worked well even when the scenes were happening in other places. Thomas Charles LeGalley (Broadway Debut) and David C. Woolard (West Side Story, All Shook Up) collaborated on the costumes and they were nothing less than perfect. They gave us the sense of the atmosphere and a sense of place and character, especially the costumes for the college toga party. Michael Gottlieb (Broadway Debut) designed the light and he kept it bright to help support this fun and upbeat musical.

Overall the performance was fun and exciting to see.  Some things need improvement, but there are a lot of good aspects to this show.  The music is phenomenal and some of the vocals are amazing.  If you want to see something different, and something that will keep you entertained, go see Lysistrata Jones, now playing at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bonnie & Clyde @ The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

While it may be true that Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow are famous murders and bank robbers, it is almost impossible not to fall madly in love with them in the new Broadway musical Bonnie & Clyde.  Throwing away the traditional “all guns and no back story,” this new piece explores the lives of these two individuals that will forever be in the American history books.  Starting from the ages of ten, the audience is let into the world of these criminals to see what truly made them tick.  With a book rich in accuracy and fresh tunes, Bonnie & Clyde is a new and exciting piece of theatre for history and theatre buffs alike.
Bonnie Parker is a luscious red head with dreams of becoming the “”it girl;” the only problem is she makes minimum wage at a rundown diner in the middle of nowhere.  With her father and grandmother deceased, her only family is her momma, Emma Parker.  Clyde Barrow is the classic bad boy - been in and out of jail and always causing trouble, yet is a huge hit with the ladies.  Always on the hideout, his support comes from his brother, Buck Barrow, who is also in the game of auto theft.  As the fates would have it, Bonnie and Clyde meet one night and share a night of passion that quickly turns into one of the most famous pairing in the world.  After some jail time and an escape that ends in murder, the two love birds decide to live life to fullest.  It is now them verses the world, and as the world would soon learn, there would be no forgetting Bonnie and Clyde.
Leading the cast are two of Broadway’s rising stars, Laura Osnes (Anything Goes and Grease - winner of the NBC series) and Jeremy Jordan (West Side Story and the recent out-of-town run of Newsies).  Together these two actors share a passion on stage that that has enough gun powder to blow out the theatre.  Osnes does a stunning job of portraying Bonnie Parker - a strong headed woman who slowly loses her innocence from page one through to the end.  Bonnie is a woman who thrives off of attention; Osnes brings this quality to the character without making her feel desperate.  Her lighter than air presence and knock out voice come together to form the perfect image of Bonnie - the red head who was so desperate to make it, she feel for Clyde Parker.  Jordan brings his charm, smile, and wonderful voice to the role of the misguided killer.  Clyde is a man who never set out to kill, which makes him all the more vulnerable when he kills his first police officer.  Jordan keeps the tough guy act for a bit too long breezing past wonderfully written moments where the heart of Clyde is intended to come out.  While the performance is strong, there are some emotions missing from the performance; however, combined with Osnes, the two take all of the punches and leave plenty of bullets about the stage.  Supporting Bonnie and Clyde is yet another pair, Blanche and Buck Barrow.  This duo is brought into this piece with brilliant performances by Melissa Van Der Schyff (Big River) and Claybourne Elder (Public Theatre’s Road Show).  Representing the one that wants to do right, but always gets pulled in the other direction due to love, family, and the almighty dollar; Van Der Schyff gives a performance that is sweet, funny, and deeply emotional.  Elder portrays Buck, the brother who always wants more, with an open heart, allowing the audience to see the soft side of a fugitive who will never fully be clean.  The whole ensemble works wonders around these two couples to represent the height of the depression in 1930s America.  With rich voices that blend well to the different styles of music created for the piece, every member of the cast works extremely well together to create a wonderful piece of theatre.
Bonnie & Clyde is re-imagined for a whole new generation thanks to the efforts of Ivan Menchell (The Commentary Club) on book, Don Black (Sunset Boulevard) on lyrics, and Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde) on music.  One of the main goals that this production prides itself in is “back story.”  In order to understand all of the killing and robbing, it is extremely important to know how all of that madness came to be.  Menchell did his homework to put together a book that is historically accurate, witty, sexy, and smart.  He reinvents these characters so that by the end of the show, the audience is almost routing for them to win.  The only flaw is that Act I is all back story, leaving the audience wanting a bit more (which surely get delivered in Act II when guns go blazing by).  Black and Wildhorn come together to create a song book that is full of genera after genera, all fused with that Wild West tone.  While a lot of the songs did not POP as one would have hoped, each song worked well to advance the plot and add some key character details; one can only wish that goal was accomplished with one or two “stuck in your head” songs.  If there is a down flaw to this piece, it lies in the hands of director Jeff Calhoun (Grey Gardens and the upcoming Newsies). The direction felt very choppy and over blocked.  While this could be a fault to the actors, a lot of the movements felt forced; however, this overall uneasiness could be attributed to the scenic design of Tobin Ost (Brooklyn).  While the raw wooden set looked amazing, the many elevations and slops in the stage made it hard for actor movement throughout scenes.  Strong lighting design by Michael Gilliam (Big River) and projection design by Aaron Rhyne (Second Stage’s The Blue Flower) were nice elements that added greatly to the piece.  Using real-life images brought the audience back to the 1930s, and served as a wonderful reminder of just how true this story really is.  The overall elements of this piece were impressive - a reality checking book, lush score, and strong design focus all helped take this new musical to high heights.
Bonnie & Clyde is a stunning new musical that is shooting up the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.  If you are in New York and looking for a fresh piece of theatre, stop by and hear the tale of Bonnie and Clyde.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Seminar @ The Golden Theatre

Fame.  Seduction.  Sex.  Love.  Temptation.  Words.   Stories rely on powerful words to captivate their audience’s attention.  Without a strong lead and emotionally moving events, a story can fail to win over the heart of its reader.  Seminar, the new dark comedy from playwright Theresa Rebeck, tries to unveil the truths behind writing the perfect piece of fiction.  With strong acting, a modern and compelling design, and raunchy rumor, this new piece is smart, sexy, and highly entertaining; however, several hours after the audience leaves the theatre and begins to reflect on the meaning of the piece, it might be hard for them to find an answer.  This issue is a small problem for a piece that centers on writing the perfect story - developed characters, strong plot, and a message that reaches out and attacks its audience.  Seminar, while funny and grand in the moment, fails to live up to the potential of the perfect story.
In the heart of New York City, a group of five people meet each week.  Some are rich, while others have recently lost their apartment.  Some have family connections, and other sleep their way to the top.  One is the master, and four are young writers desperately trying to impress the master - by any means necessary.  Kate, a young woman who has put love aside to write one great story, lends her apartment out for a fiction writing master class led by the prestigious Leonard.  Douglas with family connections, Izzy with a sex appeal, and Martin with a complex join Kate to make up the class.  Before long, it becomes clear that Leonard hits below the belt and does not give two shits whether you like what he has to say or not.  Writing is not easy.  It requires you to pour your whole body and soul into pieces of paper.  As four ambitious writes start this journey in fiction writing, they soon learn that Leonard is about to give them a seminar in the importance of words, love, and life.
An ensemble of five pushes this piece to the brink delivering performances that are passionate despite the wordiness of the piece.  Alan Rickman (known around the world for his portrayal of Professor Snape in the Harry Potter film saga) takes top billing for his portrayal as Leonard, the balls to the wall seminar leader. Rickman is considered one of the best actors of this generation; while this performance will not go down as one of his top five, he still shines in a role that others would not even begin to know how to create.  Leonard is written extremely fierce, unloving, and almost inhuman; however, Rickman finds this characters heart and little by little allows it to shine through to the characters surrounding him, especially Martin the timid played by Hamish Linklater of The New Adventures of Old Christine fame.  Linklater is the true shining star in the piece.  While the others came off as characterizations at times, Linklater always kept Martin based in reality - always feeling human and vulnerable.  His strong compassion for his work drives each and every move he makes, relationship he starts, and page he types.  While the character might come across as crazy, jealous, and insecure, Martin is the silent but deadly type brought into full reality by shining star Linklater.  Lending out your space only to be crushed by person after person is no easy task for Kate, played by Lily Rabe (Tony Award nominated for The Merchant of Venice).  Rabe plays the “’every girl” - the one that people can easily see themselves in.  Love just never comes knocking; family ties leave false impressions; and, work just never appears to be good enough.  Rabe takes this part and runs with it, pulling on the hearts of the audience; however, with no fault to her own, the character takes a strange nose dive in an awkward direction leaving the audience to feel lost and confused as to who Kate really is as a writer and person.  Rabe battles again this strange plot point to develop a character that shows the daily life of most Americans.  Tagging on for the master class of their lifetime is Douglas the arrogant, Jerry O’Connell (films Jerry Maguire and Scream 2), and sexy Izzy, Hettienne Park (Public’s production of Tiny Kushner’s The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide…).  O’Connell is full of energy and life upon the stage, bringing his character boyish charm mixed with sophisticated arrogance.  Park, however, lands a little flat (excluding when she flashes the entire audience only ten minutes into the piece) in her performance.  Taking the laid back approach to Izzy, Park consistently stays at one level.  While this level is strong and captivating, her character never travels anywhere to have the journey that the others do.  Seminar relies on a cast that can gel well together; this ensemble works extremely well with one another to take a piece that could easily land face down in the dirt and make it a master class in ensemble work.
Theresa Rebeck (The Understudy and Omnium Gatherum) brings the underground scene of fiction writing into the world of theatre, creating a dark comedy that is funny, but ultimately goes against what the piece is about - writing the perfect story, or play.  With extremely wordy dialogue and underdeveloped characters, Seminar coast through as a fun show to watch, but not one to stop and reflect on.  This fun 90 minute piece is driven by director Sam Gold (Drama Desk nominated for Circle Mirror Transformation at Playwright Horizons).  While Rebeck delivers a fast moving script, Gold at some points went against that allowing for longer sifts in scene leaving the audience edgy and a bit bored.  The movement of the actors was crisp, but never really allowed for charter choices to be made.  Pretty picture were created by Gold, but there never felt like there was strong motivation behind the movements.  Creating the atmosphere around and on the actors is scenic and costume designer David Zinn (costume design for the current Other Desert Cities).  Creating the world of upper-class New York, Zinn does a nice job of bringing together modern style and color to create a space that most people in the audience wish they had to call their own.  Lighting this world is designer Ben Stanton (Off-Broadway’s recent production of Angels In America - Parts 1 and 2), who used bright light mixed with cooling blues to give the feel of New York City nightlife.  This lighting, however, quickly sifted to extremely dark and ominous when the action shifts to Leonard’s apartment for the final scene.  While the intent of the design is creatively thought out, the stage is simply to dark for such a crucial final moment in the play.  Bringing the design together is an original score written by John Gromada (the current Man and Boy).  With sharp notes that blend jazz and pop, the score fits the style of the piece perfectly; however, it is over showed by the long shifts in scenes that damper the production.
Seminar works hard to deliver a piece of theatre that will make you think; however, it simply makes you laugh.  While this is not a bad quality, the show needs some more care and attention before it will impact the lives of the audience each night.  If you think Alan Rickman is super cool, you want to see a bright young actor form in Hamish Linklater, or you simply want to enjoy a laugh at the theatre, then Seminar will definitely entertain, it might not move to become the next best fiction writer.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Private Lives @ The Music Box Theatre

What happens when two former lovers, who are recently divorced, accidentally bump into each other on their honeymoons with their new spouses? And, toad to the drama, they are in the exact same hotel room, next door to each other! In Noel Coward’s Private Lives, Kim Cattrall (Sex in the City, Wild Honey) and Paul Gross(Sail Away) take the audience by storm and lock them in to watch this rollercoaster of a relationship.

Glamorous, rich, and reckless, Amanda (Kim Cattrall) and Elyot (Paul Gross) have been divorced from each other for five years. Now both are honeymooning with their new spouses in the South of France. When, by chance, they meet again because they just so happened to have rooms right next to each other. They end up meeting on their hotel balconies where their insatiable feelings for each other are immediately rekindled. They hurl themselves headlong into love and lust without a care for scandal, new partners or memories of what drove them apart in the first place...for a little while, anyway.

Gross is magnificent as a cad; handsome, dismissive, entitled and with a cowardly nasty streak that allows him to think it's just fine to slap around his wives, but won't fight back when a man challenges him. But, it's Cattrall, who starred in this in London before the production came here, who wows. Cattrall’s depiction of Amanda is sensual and stubborn, smart and brave. Just as Sybil was a product of her time, thinking she could manage through manipulation, so was Amanda, whose open-mindedness was hardly unknown during the Jazz Age. The two of them work very well together, had great comedic timing and had us believing they were in a screwed up relationship all these years. Simon Paisley Day is perfect as a stiff upper crust man and wonderfully dull as Amanda's significant other. Anna Madeley(The Philanthropist) is an incessant talker as Sybil, Elyot's new wife, driving the poor chap mad. All four actors came together and truly gave the performance of their lives. They all worked very well together, and were able to play off of each other in a way that felt very natural and real.

Although the acting talent was extraordinary, the technical aspect was less then exceptional. David Howe (The Norman Conquests, Primo) was responsible for the so called light design. Although the lights had the audience believing they were smack dab in the middle of a soap opera, the actors kept walking in and out of dark spot, taking the attention away from what was going on onstage. Rob Howell (Her Naked Skin, Buried Child) was wearing two hats during this production, scenic and costume design. Although the two of them went together very well, one seemed to have gotten more attention than the other. In this show there are two places where the actions happen, One, on a hotel balcony in France and the second in Amanda’s apartment in Paris. Amanda’s apartment was very well executed but seemed to appear too modern for the 1930’s and the hotel set had a ton of sight line issue. The biggest issue was the front balcony rail that obscured the faces of the actors if they sat down. Maybe these issues wouldn’t have been over looked if the designer only on one aspect of tech.

Private Lives is now playing at The Music Box theatre until December 31st 2011. If you don’t have a ticket, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR! You do not want to miss out on this awesome night of entertainment.

Review By: James Russo

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Godspell @ The Circle in the Square Theater

Down the row of theatres on 50th and Broadway, Steven Schwartz is a very busy man.  It is not easy to have one dominating show on Broadway, Wicked, yet alone another one trying to make the same climb, Godspell.  Do not let the name of this rock musical fool you, the theme of religion runs through it; however, the ideas of life, love, and passion are at the very core of this piece.  An ensemble of ten performers creates an organic theatre experience that takes musical theatre to a whole new level.  Director Daniel Goldstein, has the audience become a part of what can only be described as a master acting and movement class with God as the teacher.  The ensemble gives an authentic and real performance – they simply have fun!  This is definitely one of the best revivals to hit Broadway this year – Godspell is simply irresistible.
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord” because a hip new prophet named Jesus is in town to share the word of his Father and save the people of Earth.  Step one: get baptized.  Step two: share the lessons that will save all of mankind – the parables of the Prodigal Son, Lazarus, the Good Samaritan, and more.  Step three: have one last supper.  Step four: be betrayed by one of your own, Judas.  Step five: die to save the entire world.  Step six: rock out while doing all of the previous five steps.  While it is true that the center of the story is Jesus and the Bible, there is so much more to this production.  The cast comes together to share their passion – performing.  The life and energy of this show is so authentic; the cast is clearly having a blast on the stage each night.  Godspell comes to Broadway with soulful performances, stunning imagery, and a message of hope!
In a piece that can tend to feel heavy and preachy, this cast of ten makes audiences believe in the power of theatre.  Hunter Parrish (Spring Awakening and television’s Weeds) as Jesus leads this troupe to the ways of the Lord with style, sexiness, and warmth.  His depiction of the Son of God might not be what typical Christians learned about in CCD, but it is sure as hell entertaining.   Parrish finds the humor and soul in the piece making the audience captivated by his charm and wit; however, he was also able to step away from that element to deliver a performance that is deeply emotional and moving.  Wallace Smith (American Idiot) as Judas with a whole new look is magnificent to watch.  Smith’s approach feels almost innocent – the audience sees it as if Judas’s actions were out of love not hate.  This made his character much more loveable and open to faith and friendship.  Surrounding these two is an ensemble of eight talented actors singing, dancing, and performing their asses off in order share their story.  Uzo Aduba (Coram Boy) owns the stage with her quick wit and soulful voice.  Nick Blaemire (Cry-Baby) takes the song “We Beseech Thee” to new heights.  Celisse Henderson (television’s 30 Rock) takes out all of the stops playing the bongos and ukulele while whaling and rapping.  Telly Leung (television’s Glee) imamates every famous movie and actor, all while playing piano.  Lindsay Mendez (Grease revival) takes on the gospel showstopper “Bless the Lord” and bring the house down.  George Salazar (Spring Awakening national tour) uses his strong comedic timing to bring each parable to life.  Anna Maria Perez de Tagle (film’s Fame remake) takes on the classic hit “Day by Day” and does a stunning job.  Understudy Julia Mattison, who has been in this role for a few weeks following a minor injury of original cast member Morgan James, uses a laid back approach that works wonders when see opens Act Two with “Turn Back, O Man.”  There are truly not enough positive things to be said about this company!
The John-Michael Tebelak and Steven Schwartz musical, which was originally written as a Master’s thesis, has landed back on Broadway under the direction of Daniel Goldstein (Mamma Mia! national tour resident director).  Goldstein has created organized chaos in the round at the Circle In The Square Theatre.  The piece is set up to feel like ten actors found a script of Godspell on the floor and decided to put all of their acting techniques to work.  It is truly a giant acting class complete with Pictionary, charades, and jokes on current events.  This master class takes place in a space that looks like a rundown vaudeville theatre thanks to designer David Korins (Lombardi in the same theatre).  With the band spread throughout the audience, trampolines, a mini-pool, and a piano built into the stage, this design is original and fresh – matching the feel of the show perfectly.  Flashy lighting, designed by David Weiner (The Normal Heart), that takes over each time a song breaks out truly adds to the rock n’ roll feel of the show.  And, pulling the whole look together, are smart costumes from designer Miranda Hoffman (Well).  The mix and match of the costumes brings that acting troupe feel together beautifully – especially when they physically throw away the traditional Superman tee-shirt!  The whole design just enhances the brilliance of this fresh concept!
It is time to learn your lessons well while preparing day by day in the beautiful city where this light of the world musical is playing.  Ignoring the phrase of puns, Godspell is an absolute delight!  It is hard to imagine another revival being any more brilliant than this one!  Schwartz defiantly has a reason to rejoice once more!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Chinglish @ The Longacre Theatre

More and more, it is impossible to find a product that reads “Made in the U.S.A.”  Ch¢ing×lish, the new comedy from David Henry Hwang (Tony Award winner for M. Butterfly), explores the ideas of overseas business.  While at first, this concept might now seem to be the most interesting of material, Hwang successfully blends comedy, passion, English, and Chinese to form Ch¢ing×lish, currently playing at the Longacre Theatre.  This piece, however, must come with a disclaimer – due to the fact that there is a great deal of the piece spoken in Chinese with the English translation projected on the walls of the set.  So, if you are ready to do some reading, Ch¢ing×lish is a unique theatre experience that really takes risks that pay off.
Daniel Cavanaugh is an American business man trying to establish business in China.  With the city of Guiyang preparing to open a brand new state of the art theatre, Daniel plans to enter this city and pitch perfectly translated signs for the theatre.  After enlisting the help of an English man who speaks fluent Chinese, Peter Timms, Daniel enters his first big business meeting in China.  The head of the operation Minister Cai Guoliang and Xi Yan seem to positively react to Daniel’s proposal; however, as the scenes progress, it becomes clear that not everything is as straight forward as it seems.  Relationships are twisted, personalities are stretched, and families are pushed to the brink.  In the end, everyone is forced to understand Ch¢ing×lish, a combination of language, culture, and business.
With a very relaxed and laid-back persona, Daniel is portrayed by Gary Wilmes (Adam Rapp’s Red Light Winter).  Wilmes starts the piece with a very strong voice and personality – taking a clam command of each situation, from business to love.  This personality, however, never reaches new levels; as dramatic and life changing events happen in Daniel’s life, he never shares any emotion above clam – leaving the whole performance feeling a bit flat.  This flatness was brought further into light when acting side by side with the beautiful and talented Jennifer Lim (film’s 27 Dresses and television’s The Good Wife) as the determined business woman in a man’s world, Xi Yan.  Lim takes control of the stage in each and every scene, commanding attention and focus.  Lim takes Yan to new dimensions that leave the audience longing for her success and happiness – especially when the reason behind her twisted games is revealed.  Lim combines Chinese and English to truly representing the meaning behind the title, Ch¢ing×lish.  Minister Cai Guoliang, the head of the company developing the theatre and Xi Yan’s boss, comes to life by Larry Lei Zhang (a graduate of the Shanghai Theatre Academy).  Zhang delivers an entire performance in Chinese; however, with great expressions and larger than life movements, Zhang could do the entire performance without the provided subtitles.  His mannerisms were clear and direct making his performance highly entertaining and exciting to watch.  Unfortunately, Stephen Pucci (Royal Opera House’s Absent), playing interpreter Peter, falls victim to the flat lining syndrome that effected Wilmes. His approach to the character is full of life and importance; however, it never develops from there.  Pucci and Wilmes never take their characters on a journey throughout the piece, leaving the end result no different from point one.  Props have to given to the rest of the Ch¢ing×lish ensemble – constantly coming in and out of scenes as different characters each with a strong intent and direction is not easy; however these three actors do a truly brilliant job.
Ch¢ing×lish features direction from Leigh Silverman (Well) that is well focused and nicely done.  While some scenes fall a bit flat with actors simply sitting in chairs and not moving for a few minutes at a time, these mistakes can be forgiven for when the strong movements come into play.  Moving actors around a crazy good scenic design, creates the illusion that there is life outside of the four walls that the main characters live in.  David Korins (the current Godspell and An Evening with LuPone and Patinkin) takes the piece to a new level with his extremely intricate and rotating scenic design.  Moving from one location to another, Hwang’s script calls for many scene changes and different locations, each spinning on and off with ease and moving ensemble members to create scenes during the scene changes.  With walls and accessories appeared to be pulled right from the pages of a Chinese magazine, Korins delivers some stunning work.  Jeff Sugg (33 Variations) and Shawn Duan (Yo Gabba Live!) team up to create the extremely important projection design for the piece.  With each line of Chinese needed to be translated for the audience, Sugg and Duan produce projections that flow with ease and are easy to read and follow.  The piece is over all directed and designed nicely with great intent and strong story telling.
Ch¢ing×lish takes a strong risk in entering the world of Broadway.  Will theatre goers be able to connect to a story where over half is spoken in a different language?  The answer is yes they most certainly can!  With a powerful script, strong characters, and nice design, Ch¢ing×lish unleashes a new fusion of language to the American public.  Bring your glasses, get ready to read, and share a laugh because this is definitely a piece for theatre fans to check out.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Relatively Speaking @ Brooks Atkinson Theatre

Relatively speaking, three wrongs do not make a right.  This phrase still stands true for the new Broadway piece, Relatively Speaking, currently playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.  Made up of three One-Act comedies from playwright greats Ethan Coen, Elaine May, and Woody Allen, Relatively Speaking looks to explore the themes of the underdog; unfortunately, this underdog did not rise to the occasion.  Featuring a large ensemble that just never appeared to jell, technical elements that felt ignored, and simple direction that had the characters never fully being able to develop, Relatively Speaking has an interesting concept that simply never gets fully realized.
Opening up the play is “Talking Cure” by playwright Ethan Coen (films No Country for Old Men and True Grit).  With a similar twist to the Robert De Niro Analyze This series, “Talking Cure” looks at the relationship between a patient and his therapist.  After a recent blow up at his job, the patient is placed under medical watch and assigned a doctor who has a few problems of his own to sort out.  Before long, however, it becomes clear that the patient’s problems stem back to before birth as his parents turn out to be a bitter quarreling couple who have lost the love in their lives.  While the piece had its overall moments, Coen could have dug a lot deeper into his characters problems, lives, and souls.  The acting duo was Danny Hoch (television’s Nurse Jackie) as the patient and Jason Kravits (The Drowsy Chaperone) as the doctor.  While the two worked well together and the material did not give them very much to work with, both actors played their respective parts very stereotypically – the patient goes from gangster to graduate as the doctor goes in the reverse direction.  Thus, the audience was left feeling a bit worried at the conclusion of piece one.
Piece two is “George is Dead” by playwright Elaine May (films The Birdcage and Primary Colors).  When one puts a woman who feels everything and a woman who feels nothing in the same room, there is guaranteed drama and craziness.  Carla has major mommy issues and is on the verge of divorce number two.  The last thing that she needed was empty headed Doreen knocking on her door to confess that her husband, George, has just died.  With a strange dynamic between the two women that causes constant mixed feelings, the audience almost feels the need to pick what corner they wish to stand on – Carla (played by Lisa Emery – The Women) or Doreen.  The obvious answer is Doreen, mainly because the charter is played by the talented Marlo Thomas (television’s That Girl) who steals not only this piece, but the other two pieces as well.  Thomas took hold of her character, made strong choices, and simply owned the stage.  She took the audience on a journey and captivated their hearts.  The only problem was that the piece unfortunately had to come to an end in order for and intermission to take place.  Thomas is to be commended for giving a beautiful performance despite the lack of support from the cast around her.  “George is Dead,” much like “Talking Cure,” leaves the audience hoping that one of the masters of comedy, Woody Allen, will be the savior of this play.
“Honeymoon Hotel,” by playwright Woody Allen (films Annie Hall and Midnight in Paris), is a quick, funny piece that is one hundred percent over acted – bring what could have been a brilliant one-act down to an average piece of theatre.  What appears to be an average night for a happy-go-lucky bride and groom soon turns into a family crisis.  Affair after affair is revealed, a rabbi keeps handing out eulogies, and a wise pizza man puts all to rest.  The usual Allen humor, antics, and mishap are all intertwined in a wonderfully written script.  The problem, however, lies in the acting.  While the supporting cast, featuring Caroline Aaron (film Edward Scissorhands) as the bitter wife and Julie Kavner (voice of Marge on The Simpsons) as the sharp witted mother-in-law, was strong, the two leads were way too over the top and corny.  Steve Guttenberg (film Three Men and a Baby) and Ari Graynor (Little Dog Laughed) played opposite one another as the love birds with a very big surprise to share.  The direction both actors took was very characterized and untrue to real life.  This then forced the others around them to be over the top even when it was not called for in the script.  This over all cheese fest left the audience felling a bit unsure as to why they paid to see an Allen one-act get fluffed to the point of bursting.
Staging and presenting a play made up of three one-acts is not an easy feet; unfortunately, this piece needed some more love and attention.  In the hands of actor great John Turturro (films Mr. Deeds and Transformers series), Relatively Speaking fell flat – missing the Broadway WOW factor that a show usually comes with.  Standard blocking left three pieces with little movement; therefore, it never really allowed advances in character or plot development.  It just left the pieces feeling unattended and abandoned.  To add to this, sloppy lighting design by Kenneth Posner (Catch Me If You Can) and poor sound design by Carl Casella (Baby It’s You!) left the audience feeling a bit cheated.  Strange angles of lights left awkward dark patches and shadows while awkward microphone placement allowed for dropped lines and annoying static.  To make up for this, scenic designer Santo Loquasto (Fences) designed three gorgeous sets for this production.  Each set had a fully developed concept and view bring the ideas and words of the playwrights off of the pages and onto the stage.  While the scenic elements were pleasant, it was not enough to bring this play into the world of truly stunning theatre.
Relatively Speaking can be commended for its attempted to bring the Off-Off-Broadway scene to the mainstream theatre world.  However, with a worn out theme, plots that never really lifted off the ground, and overall dull technical elements, Relatively Speaking is not the next big Broadway hit.
Review By: Ryan Oliveti

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Mountaintop @ Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre

April 3, 1968.  Memphis, Tennessee. The Lorraine Motel – Room 306.  The date and setting for the new powerful drama that re-imagines the final night of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life.  The Mountaintop is the spell binding and deeply emotional new piece by playwright Katori Hall that leaves the audience shocked, laughing, tearing up, and inspired.  Featuring the talents of Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett, this piece of theatre features strong acting, tremendous writing, and stunning direction.  The Mountaintop is one of those plays that will have the audience leaving the theatre changed forever.
A few hours after delivering the famous “Mountaintop” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. checked into room 306 at the Lorraine Motel.  The event that followed changed the face of the world forever – the civil rights movement took on a whole new front.  Many people have often wondered how one of the world’s greatest leaders lived his final hours.  The Mountaintop takes a look at these last few hours.  Opening with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. coming in from the harsh rain, this piece quickly takes off exploring the idea that MLK was an average man, too.  He had faced some of the same problems as the rest of the world – body pains, smelly feet, the need to smoke, the desire for a cup of coffee in order to pull an all-nighter, and much more.  It is not much later that MLK has his cup of coffee delivered by Camae, a maid who is currently working her first shift at the Lorraine Motel.  Before long, it becomes apparent that MLK does not want to be alone, and Camae is more than willing to share her opinion with the preacher.  Exploring the common themes of faith, death, life, and belonging, The Mountaintop takes a whole new look on these themes and the common perception of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is too often that stars are brought to the Great White Way to sell seats, regardless of whether this star fits the bill; however, this is definitely not one of those times.  Most reviews coming out today, and in the future, will more than likely be praising Angela Bassett – and rightfully so; this review, unlike the majority, would like to start with Samuel L. Jackson, who delivers the performance of his life.  Portraying one of the most famous men in history, that many still worship and admire, is no easy feat.   Jackson, known for his smooth moves in such films as Iron Man 2, Snakes on a Plane, and Pulp Fiction, transforms into MLK – the way he moves, talks, and reacts.  Jackson took “the preacher” off of the high pedestal and made him a man.  A man who is smart.  A man who has flaws.  A man who has his faith.  A family man.  A transformation that truly took the audiences breath away.  What little breath the audience might have had left was taken up by Jackson’s leading lady, Angela Bassett of film’s What’s Love Got to Do with It and television’s ER.  The wise cracking, self-loving, instigator of a maid is given a heart and plenty of soul with Bassett behind the wheel.  Delivering one of the most passionate performances Broadway has seen in a long time, Bassett enters the scene full of passion and keeps the drive going for the entirety of the ninety minute run time.  Bassett makes this character of fiction seem so real that it is hard to imagine Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s final hours existing without her.  When these two dynamites join forces, souls are left on the stage each and every performance creating one of the best theatrical events a theatre go-er could ask for.
Bringing this epic night to life was a creative team that worked diligently to make sure that every detail of that famous night was created perfectly.  Starting with the atmosphere, scenic designer David Gallo (Memphis, Xanadu) brought room 306 to the New York stage fabric by fabric and piece of furniture by piece of furniture.  Gallo actually visited the real Lorraine Motel in order to have Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fully realized for The Mountaintop.  Giving the characters a wardrobe right from the 1960s is costume designer Constanza Romero (Fences).  Dressing MLK in the classic blue suit and tie and Camae in a vibrant yellow maid outfit, Romero draws the line between the two worlds of the praised and the help.  Shedding some light on the scene is designer Brian MacDevitt (the upcoming Chinglish).  Exploring the dull lights of a 1960s motel room fused with the bustling life of the outside world that is about to be changed forever, MacDevitt creates a wonderful tone for this piece.  Handling the whole package with care is director Kenny Leon (A Raisin in the Sun).  With a piece that crosses the line and addresses such topics as religion and race using a national icon, Leon drives the piece with a loving hand giving it the flow and grace that it deserves.  Katori Hall’s words are crafted so diligently and tended to so well allowing The Mountaintop to become one of the next great classics.
Every once and a while a show comes along that makes you stop and think – The Mountaintop is that piece.  Smart, powerful, and deeply moving, this new production takes the theatre world by storm.  When Jackson and Basset come together to tell Katori Hall’s story, the audience cannot help but join Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the mountaintop.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Man and Boy @ American Airlines Theatre

          Adding another classic to their astound company, Roundabout Theatre Company puts Terence Rattigan’s Man and Boy on the Great White Way. With elaborate characters and a twisting plot line, this piece delivers laughs, tension, and an ending that will leave you saying, “Did that just happen?” Lead by legendary Frank Langella, the cast of Man and Boy delivers an emotional journey that supplies quality, truly Broadway at its best. No doubt, a completely satisfying experience.

          At the peak of the Great Depression, cutthroat financier Gregor Antonescu’s (Frank Langella) business is at an extreme low and is at risk of failing. In order to avoid the press and public, Gregor tracks down his estranged son Basil (Adam Driver) with the hopes of using his little Greenwich Village apartment as a place to make company saving deals.

          You know how you can tell a show has good acting in it? You are not thinking about the acting. When the audience is completely entranced by a show they don’t often take notice of the technical bells and whistles that go into an actor’s performance. Yet, is this a bad thing? After all, the main job of an actor is to tell a story. Man and Boy featured its actor/characters in pairs; each one the yin to the others yang. The dependence and need established between the characters added an intricately dynamic ribbon throughout the production. Adam Driver (Basil Anthony) played the distraught son of the great Wall Street tycoon, Gregor Antonescu. With one of the most intricate back stories, Driver delivers the emotionally battered and beaten son beautifully. Basil Anthony left his father and the world he knew after a falling out between the two. Starting out with a strong hatred for his father and their past, Basil goes on an emotional roller coaster and takes the audience along for the ride. After Ms. Penn (Kull) exits, we see Basil slowly crumble and fall back into the habit of idolizing his famous father leading him to feel remorse towards leaving him. Driver displays an ease within his role and adds the creative behavioral gesture of a stammer whenever he is talking of Antonescu. He produces a strong energy in each entrance and exit leaving the atmosphere richer with each line of text. As stated earlier, each character is presented as part of a pair - some characters are involved in more than one and each relationship radiates a different light. The push and pull of the play revolves around the tension each character creates. The atmosphere of the production thrives on the existence of such contrasting characters. The most intriguing relationship was that of Basil Anthony (Driver) and Mr. Gregor Antonescu, played by the astounding Frank Langella. What the audience is exposed to is a broken relationship between father and son. Most eminent in certain moments, Langella and Driver worked well together producing both chemistry and tension in enormous amounts. What intrigues the audience most is how Basil and Gregor relate to each other. To Gregor, Basil is his own conscience. Gregor operates his business as successfully as he does because he has no feeling of remorse. To have Basil in his presence is to have a constant threat to his way of life. Basil feels as though his father misunderstands him, views him as weak. Although he expresses hatred towards his father, Basil still worships Gregor in a way. Towards the end of the play Basil is the only one who shows Mr. Antonescu true loyalty. Gregor is aware of the fact that his son idolizes him & feels that this only justifies how weak and easily mislead his son is. Throughout the play Gregor views his son as a tactic (probably a view he has of most people he come into contact with) and uses him as he sees fit. It becomes clear through all their interactions that Gregor’s biggest disappointment in his son is that he refuses to see who the real Gregor Antonescu is. The moment right before intermission Basil tells Gregor that he is nothing. As the play goes on the audience starts to realize that this statement is not only completely true, but the hardest truth to accept. Frank Langella graces Broadway as Wall Street giant Gregor Antonescu. Antonescu is facing the possible demise of his empire and turns to the only escape route he has left, his estranged son. Gregor exploits all those in his surroundings for his business and is left alone. He faces continuous abandonment from his inner ring and pushes away the only person who stuck around, his son. Langella’s manner, air, and rich vocal abilities add a majestic air to the character. The confident air with which Antonescu holds himself seems to be a natural step for Langella. He had an ease on the stage which made the emotional downfall which Antonescu descends that much more believable. Sven, played by Michael Siberry, was not only the rock, but the hard place as well. Acting as a puppet master in some cases Sven possessed an unspoken control or power over the other characters. He was an expert in getting his way, always believing he was doing the right thing. It was intriguing to see Sven presented as in Gregor’s control and then slowly come to the realization that Sven was consulted before Gregor even took a breath. We see that Sven becomes the only continuous source of power in the entire show. Siberry actively produces an energetic atmosphere which is impressive because the character of Sven is a strong and silent, get to the point type of guy. His strong posture, movement and vocal tension helped bring the character to new levels. Virginia Kull, who opened the show as the Carol Penn (Basil Anthony’s girlfriend), established a strong “yin and yang” relationship between Basil and herself. The two were very intimate with each other which not only clarified their relationship, but also added credit to their dependence on each other. She seemed to be the anchor in the relationship. Basil is strong with her by his side and crumbles when she leaves. Kull’s voice quality was full and displayed realistic emotion throughout her time on stage. As stated before, the character relationships in this production revolve mostly around partnerships. Everyone is a pair. The two who conveyed this message the most are Mark Herries (Zach Greiner) and David Beeston (Brian Hucthinson). Mr. Herries and his accountant Mr. Beeston bring Antonescu’s criminal activities to light. Although the two enter together, they leave at separate times and in two different emotional states. Mr. Herries accusations are reliant upon Mr. Beeston’s numbers. Yet Gregor Antonescu is a force to be reckoned with, breaking down Mr. Beeston’s logic. Once Beeston is questioning himself, Herries’s cool fa├žade begins to fade. Greiner and Hucthinson emit good chemistry and incredibly in sync comedic timing. The regal character of Countess Antonescu just brought the ugly, disloyal side of Mr. Antonescu’s life to light. We see the first act of betrayal in the Countess. She insists on being treated as Gregor’s wife, but in his time of need she turns her back on him. Francesca Faridany displayed quick timing and clear intentions displaying the Countess as not only shallow, but even brought a sympathetic air to her character, invoking pity from the audience.

          The technical perfection was just the cherry on top of an already incredible show. The original music and sound design by John Gromada set the perfect atmosphere, with train rumbles consistently passing through. Gromada created and maintained an outside world which could be forgotten even for a minute. The light design by Kevin Adams established the lower class feel of Basil’s apartment, by using interesting shadow to make the clear assumption that there isn’t any really any kind of quality lighting. The set design by Derek McLane put the audience smack dab in the middle of a crappy Greenwich Village apartment, while still keeping to the time. It’s not often when you find the most effective moment of a play overlapping Intermission. As part of an overall creative directing process, the moment before Intermission was the moment the audience returned to afterwards. Viewing this as a risk that paid off, the choreography off this particular moment pulled the audience back into the world of the production in an original and effective way. Although the production in its entirety was enthralling, there were moments in the staging of the production that were bothersome. In this production every moment leads to something important or is important in itself. Which is why is was incredibly irritating when an actor would come on stage and deliver an important moment with his back to the audience. It not only made it incredibly hard to understand what was happening, but also demeaned the importance of the moment. (In reference to the missing wall on the set) It was incredibly irritating to see actor’s interact with an object that was not there. Although the set design was beautiful and the missing wall not only produced an unique touch to the overall look of the set, but also symbolized the crumbling world that the characters seem to be functioning in, to see actors interact with it broke the willing suspension of disbelief.

          Will the reunion of father and son help them reconcile? Or will the father use his son to save himself and then toss him aside? Well don’t wait to get a ticket and find your way over to the American Airlines Theatre for a theatre experience of a lifetime, that will leave you guessing who is the Man and who is the Boy.

Review By: Morgan Mack

Guest Writter: Morgan Mack