Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Lombardi @ Circle in the Square Theatre

Vincent Lombardi once said, “Nobody’s perfect. Some of us strive for it, but nobody’s perfect.” Clearly, he never saw the play Lombardi, the new Broadway smash currently playing at the Circle In The Square theatre, because it quite simply is “perfect.”

Lombardi tells the incredible true story of Vincent Lombardi, the best coach that football has ever seen. Getting nowhere with his football career, Lombardi (played by Dan Lauria) is about to pack it all in and become a banker; however, a call comes in from the Green Bay Packers offering him the head coach position. It is not long before Lombardi and his wife Marie (played by Judith Light) are off to Green Bay, where he is about to change the face of football forever. It is now seven years later, and Lombardi now has two NFL Championships under his belt, and is working towards his third. In the wake of this, news writer Michael McCormick (played by Keith Nobbs) is sent out to Green Bay to write an article about him and the 1965 Packers team. Famous players from this team included Dave Robinson (played by Robert Christopher Riley), Paul Hornung (played by Bill Dawes), and Jim Taylor (played by Chris Sullivan). McCormick desperately tries to capture the tempered but loveable Lombardi in his full glory just before a big game. With excitement, heart, soul, and style, the play Lombardi shines, and rightfully takes its place as the great new American play.

The six person ensemble of Lombardi works stunningly together to give this stunning new play affection that it deserves. Dan Lauria (known from television’s The Wonder Years) brings Vincent Lombardi back in a big way, delivering a performance that is truly moving. Lauria does a brilliant job at showing that many sides of Lombardi – husband, father, Christian, and coach. His vision of how soft the famous hot headed Lombardi was just stunning; he took the audience on a journey of the ups and downs of football and family. It was clear that Lauria loved playing this part as much as Lombardi loved football – a whole lot. Playing the sometimes tipsy but always loving Marie is Judith Light (known from television’s Guiding Light and Ugly Betty). Light delivers a sure to be Tony nominated performance in this role. She showed just how hard it can be to be in love with someone who loves something else more a few months out of every year. Light, as Marie, shows the love for husband, that Lombardi shows to his players. With moments of humor, pain, celebration, and remorse, Light give a truly radiant performance that was nothing short of brilliant. Playing the only fictional character in this production is Keith Nobbs (known for his works in The Lion in Winter and Dog Sees God) as the reporter Michael McCormick. Being the narrator of a production is never easy, but Nobbs does it with such ease and heart that the audience cannot help but feel for his character. He gives a grade A performance, which could not have come easy considering that he is the only member of the cast that could not fully research his character. Each of the other five actors, had access to countless photos, reels, and speeches of their characters. The partnership with the National Football League allowed for these talented actors to have access to anything that they needed to fully become that coach, player, and wife. These moves definitely pay off because the entire ensemble delivers a simply stunning performance.

Lombardi features wonderful technical aspects as well. With a script penned by Eric Simonson (who also penned Slaughterhouse–Five), based upon the bestselling biography When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi by David Maraniss, Lombardi delivers a truly heartwarming message of hope. This stellar script comes to life with a fantastic production team lead by director Thomas Kail (director of Broadway’s In the Heights). Directing and designing Lombardi was no easy feat, given the fact that the production is done in the round giving the play the awesome look and feel a football stadium. While putting a show in the round (meaning that audience members surround the stage) could cause some problems, Kail does a great job of constantly keeping the scenes moving in a way that is easefully and never slows down the movement of the show. Scenic design by David Korins (last seen on Broadway with The Pee-Wee Herman Show) and projection design by Zachary Borovay (currently with design in Rock of Ages) made this piece even more amazing. The scenic elements were all very simple, but never left the audience guessing where the scene was taking place; and, the projections were designed to show on the floor of the stage allowing for a great flow of scene changes. The stand out of this production technically was the brilliant lighting design by Howell Binkley (currently represented on Broadway by Jersey Boys, Million Dollar Quartet, and Memphis). Mixing the styles of stadium lighting and theatre lighting, Binkley created the perfect atmosphere for Lombardi. His design was exceptional, intricate, and just plain beautiful.

Bringing together theatre lovers and football fans that have never before seen a theatre, Lombardi is a new Broadway must see! “We are never finished.” Hopefully, Lombardi’s words ring true and this great new play lasts on Broadway for a long, long time.

Review By: James Russo & Ryan Oliveti


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Through the Night @ Westside Theatre (Downstairs)

Renowned award winning actor, singer, writer and composer, Daniel Beaty, has done it again in this hilarious and moving one man show. Through the Night, now playing at the Westside Theatre on Monday evenings, is a laugh out loud and heartfelt approach to the story of five African American men whose lives are all intertwined as they fight their way through their struggles in the projects.

A young boy, named Eric, tries desperately to mix herbal teas with healing properties to save those around him; while his father, Mr. Rogers, tries to save those around him from poor nutrition, like the Bishop, who is trying to save himself and overcome his addition to his favorite snack treat, Ho Hos. The Bishop is father to a man named Isaac, who is fighting himself about whether or not he should accept his homosexuality, crushing his father, or be true to who he is. Isaac is mentor to recent graduate, ‘Twon, who is also fighting to get out of the projects and be a better man than his nonexistent father was, where as Dre, a recently clean addict is trying to be responsible and take care of the woman who is soon to birth his child… his child who just might be HIV positive.

Lost yet? To non typical theatre go-er it might be a little over whelming trying to keep all five of these characters straight within one man’s body, but Beaty does a profound job of personifying each of the characters down to a “T” without a single costume change. From the Bishops’ waddle, to Eric’s nine year old, innocent demeanor, each character comes to life with such precision. Although this reviewer would have liked Mr. Beaty to have gone just that extra step in making them all a little bit larger, yet director Charles Randolph-Wright has the right notion of having his actor hold back just that much as not to make the characters seem farcical and over the top, especially in such a small performance space, made the characters quietly honest and not mocking representations.

With only three boxes and a textured backdrop, Beaty keeps the audience engaged not only with his personification of touching characters, but with his words. What at first seems more like a play about five men whose lives just happen to be intertwined, become so much more, as the words of plot and exposition melt away and become a lyrical masterpiece. Such segments as “Run, black man, Run,” and “Dance, momma, Dance,” become chilling glimpses into the very souls of these men.

Throughout these dramatic moments, poiant music can be heard, thanks to the help of Lindsay Jones, who wrote an original score for this production. Without overpowering the music, that was the lyrics themselves, Jones leaves hints and swells of hope and integrity not just a mere back track. Even the sound effects, though minimal as they are, help to quietly fill out the grey areas that Beaty cannot paint on his pallet alone, with the tinkling of a spoon in a glass to the beeping monitor and murmur of a hospital waiting room. There were, however, a few transitional tracks that broke the spell, trying to establish the urban grunge of the inner city, but it only subtracted from what had been created.

Lighting, although nicely done, seemed to be a little rough around the edges. Transitional lighting fell short, as Beaty was constantly out of his light, however there was a clear establishment of setting of characters and mood with the changes in color, if under realized at times.

Although this might spoil the ending for some, it is left at a cliffhanger with the story of Eric is concerned. The question on everyone’s lips is, “Will this young boy live or die.” If this reviewer walked away with any message it is this: only the actions of each audience member beyond the end will set his sentence. Not sure what that means? Well you’re just going to have to brave through the night to see it.

Review By: Ryan Oliveti & Sarah Hogan-DePaul


Friday, January 14, 2011

The Importance of Being Earnest @ American Airlines Theatre

In the new era of Broadway, where everything is high tech with flying, fancy lights, and projections, The Importance of Being Earnest is a refreshing look back at the old time styles of the Great White Way.  Oscar Wilde’s classic tale of “who’s who” comes to life with breathtaking acting and scenic design in this latest Roundabout Theatre Company production. 

The Importance of Being Earnest shines on Broadway where it is currently playing at the American Airlines Theatre.The Importance of Being Earnest tells the witty tale of two upper class men, Algernon (played by Santino Fontana) and John (played by David Furr), who like to lead double lives.  Before long, both men are pretending to a man named Earnest so that they can escape their normal lives and pursue the loves of their lives.  These woman, Gwendolen (played by Sara Topham) and Cecily (played by Charlotte Parry), quickly learn that their fianc├ęs are not who they appear to be.  Add in an over protective mother (played by Brian Bedford), a teacher with a huge secret (played by Dana Ivey), and a womanizing reverend (played by Paxton Whitehead) and you get a hilarious night of good, old fashioned, humor.

The entire company of The Importance of Being Earnest works extremely well together to bring this classic tale to life.  A stand out in this ensemble was Santino Fontana (seen on Broadway in Sunday in the Park with George and Billy Elliot) playing the role of the flamboyantly clever Algernon Moncrieff.  Fontana delivered a strong performance that was truly funny; he took the time to find the humor in each and every single line.  Fontana was constanly reacting to every element on stage, had great comedic timing, and was making faces that had the audience in stitches before he even said the punch line.  Fontana’s brilliant performance will not soon be forgotten.  Playing opposite Fontana was David Furr (seen on Broadway and tour in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) playing the role of the uptight John Worthing.  Furr had moments of stiffness and over tension where he appeared to be pushing for a laugh or emotion; however, he does pull it together to deliver a great performance.  Both Fontana and Furr worked extremely well with each other.  Their many scenes together were dynamic and funny, and moved the play along with wonderful ease.  Playing alongside these two men, were the hilarious Sara Topham (making her Broadway debut) as the overly proper Gwendolen Fairfax and Charlotte Parry (seen on Broadway in Coram Boy) as the love struck Cecily Cardew.  These two women had a wonderful radiance on stage and were extremely fun to watch.  Their scenes together delivered that spot on humor that Oscar Wilde is known for.  The supporting cast was superb as well.  Dana Ivey (a Broadway vet who has also been seen in the hit movies Legally Blonde 2 and The Addams Family) plays the secretive Miss Prism and Paxton Whitehead (a veteran of the stage and seen in such television shows as Desperate Housewives and Ellen) plays the lustful Rev. Canon Chasuble.  These two work seamlessly with one another to portray a hysterical look that shows that no matter old people may be, they still do crazy things when they are in love.  Brian Bedford (who also serves as the director of this production) delivers an elegant performance as the over-protective Lady Bracknell.  There were moments throughout the production where Bradford was focusing strictly on acting like a woman; these stresses on dialect often made it hard to fully understand what he was saying.  However, with great poise and wit, Bedford delivers a funny performance.  The Importance of Being Earnest is truly an ensemble piece that was wonderfully fulfilled with this Broadway revival cast.

The Importance of Being Earnest had stunning technical elements to it.  Oscar Wilde’s clever script was brought to life by director Brian Bedford.  The thought of having a featured role in the same production that you are directing may sound daunting, but Bedford pulls it off with style and ease.  There were some moments in Act I where the direction did go a bit south and the use of an outside director could have come in handy; however, these moments were quickly forgotten with the easeful flow and grace of Act II and Act III.  The entire production was brought out even further with the amazing scenic and costume design by Desmond Heeley.  The beauty of the scenic design started before the show even began with the gorgeous curtain.  Hand painted pictures of royalty and upper class symbols designed with bold colors and streaks of gold, the curtain set the mood perfectly for the entire night of theatre.  The set was designed to look like a portrait.  Every element appeared to be hand painted with precise precision and care.  This stunning background of pastels allowed the costume design to truly shine.  The use bright colors, vibrant reds and greens and stunning whites, allowed each character to pop out of the designed portrait and come to life.  These elements were expanded even further with an elegant lighting design by Duane Schuler.  With bold artistic choices, like having a room brighten every time Lady Bracknell enters a room, gave this comedy the true beauty that it needed.

Roundabout Theatre Company’s new production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is a stunning piece of theatre.  With witty and clever dialogue, spot on acting, and a stunning design, The Importance of Being Earnest is a refreshing reminder of how simple can sometimes be better.  Who needs flying superheroes and state of the art projections when there is a wonderful story?  The Importance of Being Earnest plays at the American Airlines Theatre through March 6, 2011.

Review By: James Russo & Ryan Oliveti


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles @ Neil Simon Theatre

The year, 1964. The event, The Beatles land for the first time in America. The reason, to perform for millions on the Ed Sullivan Show. The reactions, these four guys single handedly change the face of music and start what will come to be known as “Beatlemania.” Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles not only chronicles this momentous event, but also follows the Fab Four’s entire career from start to finish. This breath taking musical finally lands on Broadway after years of touring the United States and captivating fans both young and old.

Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles takes a personal look at not only the successful career of The Beatles, but all so the world around them. Fused with clips of news stories, famous speeches, and commercials of the 1960s, Rain opens with a re-enactment of the famous Beatles performance on the Ed Sullivan Show. The audience is then transported to a little over one year later, August 15, 1965, to see The Beatles rock out Shea Stadium. Performed to over 55,000 screaming fan, this is the first ever stadium rock concert in the history of music. Before long, the audience moves to June 1967, and watch as Sgt. Pepper takes over. When the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band record is released, the face of music is once again changed with the world’s first ever concept album. Sporting the classic neon, satin costumes, Rain band members rock out to some of The Beatles greatest hits, including “With A Little Help From My Friends” and “When I’m Sixty-Four.” Moving right along into the late 1960s, the idea of flower power takes over The Beatles music as they become more acoustic and release what has come to be known as the “White Album.” On the last and final stop of this Beatles tour, Rain band members take the audience to Abby Road. Here the final two Beatles albums are performed to a screaming crowd who simply do not want this night of pure “Beatlemania” to come to an end.

Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles is performed each night by five extremely talented musicians: Steve Landes (vocals, rhythm guitar, piano, and harmonica), Joey Curatolo (vocals, bass, piano, and guitar), Joe Bithorn (vocals, lead guitar, guitar synth, and sitar), Ralph Castelli (vocals, drums, and percussion), and Mark Beyer (keyboard and percussion). Together, these five men bring The Beatles back together for one last concert. If one was to close their eyes, he or she would swear that The Beatles were standing in front of them performing together again. These amazing vocals are enhanced even further with the stunning technical work that was done for this production. Rain features scenic design by Scott Christensen and Todd Skinner. While the scenic design is simple, it helps tell the story of The Beatles in a big way. With each shift in time and record, the scene around them changes. Album covers, television studios, and baseball parks shined as the Rain band took us through history. Adding greatly to the scenic design was the breath taking video design by Darren McCaulley and Mathieu St-Arnaud. Using a mix of old time footage, original animated design, and live feed of the Rain band, this is some of the best video design to ever hit the Broadway! Starting out with a mix of live feed and actually historical clips of the Ed Sullivan Show performance and the Shea Stadium concert, the video design then moves into a mix of live feed and psychedelic original animations. Rain then ends with a bang by having a live feed of the audience being projected onto the two large television shaped screens. This unique touch took Rain to a whole new technical level; and, speaking of brilliant technical work, one must mention Stephan Gotschel’s stunning lighting design. Combining a unique blend of both concert and Broadway lighting, Gotschel gives Rain the perfect feel that it needs; flashy lighting mixed with brilliant Broadway style. Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles flourishes with high end style that gives theatre goers a one of a kind experience!

One of the best parts about Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles cannot actually be found in any summary of the show, Playbill, or program. Not one single person can be credited with this element; however, thousands of people make this element happen each and every performance. This element, of course, is the audience of Rain. Consisting of a typically older crowd, this show has the task of transporting its audience back to a time when they were young, rebellious, and in love with rock n’ roll. The astonishing Rain band has the audience on its feet, dancing, and singing along (and, in some cases, crying and jumping along). The live pans of the audience at the end of the show truly show the power of Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles. Moms, dads, grandparents, and children all catch some “Beatlemania.”

For an experience like nothing else on Broadway right now, go see Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles, currently playing at the Neil Simon Theatre through January 15th (and re-opening at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on February 8th). This is the perfect feel good musical of the season!

Review By: James Russo & Ryan Oliveti

Colin Quinn: Long Story Short @ Helen Hayes Theatre

Remember those long-winded history lectures from middle school, high school, or even college, presented by a teacher who belongs in the history books? Now, take that memory, but replace the ancient-looking teacher with former Saturday Night Live star Colin Quinn (seen on Broadway in An Irish Wake and on the big screen in Grown Ups) and you have the laugh-out-loud, hilarious lesson plan called Long Story Short, directed by (television comedian and stand-up) Jerry Seinfeld. Currently performing at the Helen Hayes Theatre, Long Story Short is an original one-man play that hilariously walks audiences through the entire history of the world – from the big band to the present war in Iraq – in just 75 minutes.

From the Greeks, to the Italians, to the French, to the English, to Snooki, funny man Colin Quinn explores how civilization today is not all that different from civilization at the dawn of time. “Americans like two choices, Democrat or Republican, McDonald’s or Burger King. You know who the real troublemaker is? Wendy’s.” This truthful, humorous take on the history of the world is nothing short of genius. Colin Quinn’s overall sense of comedic timing and rhythm keeps audiences laughing throughout the entire performance; Quinn’s part in writing the entire script might also have something to do with the hilarity of the show. The script is broken up into different sections and is perfectly designed to examine various empires that have risen to and fallen from power. The audience is given the opportunity to journey through time and examine the world in which we live. It was smart, funny, and all around entertaining. Jerry Seinfeld (creator and actor of televisions Seinfeld) makes his directorial debut with this piece and does an exceptional job of bringing Quinn’s script to life. He took the time to add details to every single culture, story, and punch line. These elements of acting, writing, and direction were enhanced ever further with wonderful design from David Gallo (Memphis and The Drowsy Chaperone) who provided the scenic and projection design and Howell Binkley (Lombardi and Jersey Boys) who provided the lighting design. The scenic and projection design were beautifully crafted. Featuring ancient steps, a throne, a column, a stage sized map, and a huge projection screen, the set looked like a picture ripped directly from the pages of a history book (that is a really “cool” history book). The projections added to the storytelling with images of all of the different emperors, leaders, people, and of course, a globe that took the audience around the world and back. The lighting design was bright and colorful, and gave the show energy and spunk. Each story had its own color that would fill the stage and this hilarious tale the energy that it needed. Great acting, writing, direction, and design are the reasons why Long Story Short is a Broadway smash!

Do you want to know the reason that the Egyptian pharaohs crashed and burned? Or, the reason that Roman Empire failed? Or, what America would say to Iraq in a bar fight? Well then, you need to head to Colin Quinn’s Long Story Short, now playing on Broadway at the Helen Hayes Theatre through March 5th only! It is the perfect new comedy!

Review By: James Russo & Ryan Oliveti