Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cirque Du Soleil: ZARKANA @ Radio City Music Hall

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Cirque du Soleil has once again returned to New York City, however, this time the craziness has been unleashed in the “Showplace of the Nation” – Radio City Music Hall.  Zarkana, being marketed as “An Irresistibly Odd Escape,” is just that ~ a strange and twisted escape into a world of snakes, spiders, clowns, and space creatures that are all impossible to resist.  With acrobatics, jugglers, aerialists, and a sand painter all meshed together with that signature Cirque du Soleil flare, this latest creation is the perfect summer show that the whole family will love.  Zarkana is the perfect summer attraction!
Known for its complex storylines, Cirque du Soleil pulls back a little bit for Zarkana gearing the show towards families.  Zark, a magician who has lost his magic powers, is going on the adventure of a lifetime in order to find his lost love, Lia.  Along the way he discovers a world that is truly bizarre.  Launched from an abandoned theatre filled with clown ghosts with tons a humor, an amazing juggle, and a high climbing ladder-balancing duo, Zark soon finds himself in a land filled a gracious aerial duet, a death defying Russian bar, a quartet on a high wire, and images of his love in both flower and snake form.  Before the audience even has time to process the jungle that they are in, two lead clowns Hocus and Pocus are blasted into space with creatures that are masters of the cyr wheel and aerial hoops.  If at any point the audience gets lost, there is no need to fear; a sand painter comes up from the bowels of the theatre to recreate the entire show in sand.  With no means of stopping, Zark now envisions his wife as a spider amidst a high flying grand volant team.  Close to finding his love, Zark now passes through two daredevils on a “Wheel of Death,” a gravity defying hand-balancer, and a team of leaping and balancing banquine. At the end of this twisted world, will Zark regain is powers and find his one true love, Lia?
In creating the exciting world of Zarkana, Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté assembled a team of highly skilled creators and designers all lead by writer and director François Girard (films The Red Violin and Silk).  Girard does a fantastic job of bringing this idea from paper to stage, creating images that are a true feast for the eyes.  While the story was simple, it jelled the different world class acts together perfectly, allowing for stunning transitions that were filled perfectly with the comedy styles of performers Daniel Passer and Wayne Wilson as Hocus and Pocus.  The backdrop to this is created by Nick Littlemore (member of art-rock band Teenager and close producer to Sir Elton John) who provides the lush rock n’ roll score.  With songs that advance the storyline and add an element of awe and wonder to the acts, Littlemore goes above and beyond the work of some of today’s best composers.  Bringing this new world to life is a team of extremely talented designers.  Stéphane Roy dazzles with an extremely large and complex set that fills the large space of Radio City Music Hall perfectly; Alan Hranitelj provides costumes that are bright, vibrant, and perfectly weird; Alain Lortie sets the mood for this rock opera with a great blend of concert and theoretical lighting; and, Eleni Uranis makes the whole cast pop with a make-up design that forms just who these characters in the unique world truly are.  The whole piece is done with normal Cirque du Soleil flair – which is definitely a good thing!
Zarkana comes to Radio City Music Hall this summer with death-defying stunts, beautiful design, and amazing talent.  This is without a doubt the perfect summer show for the entire family!  This summer, skip Dorney Park and treat the whole family to a day in the Big Apple with tickets to the performing arts!


Friday, July 22, 2011

Death Takes A Holiday @ The Laura Pels Theatre

Death Takes A Holiday ~ a love story with a twist . . . death.  This new musical, with a book by Thomas Meehan (The Producers and Hairspray) and Peter Stone (Titanic and 1776) and music & lyrics by Maury Yetson (Nine), asks the question, “Is love stronger than death?”  However, the question that goes through the audiences head is somewhat different, “Is this simple story worth the two and a half hour investment?”  With a simple score and predictable plot, this old-fashioned musical (while sweet) fails to deliver big time thrills.  In the defense of this new piece, Roundabout Theatre Company stocked it with big time talent that makes every subdued song pop and every minor joke funny; thus leaving one with an “okay” feeling about the piece as a whole.
As one might have guessed from the title, this piece (based on the dramatic play by Alberto Casella) tells the story of what would happen if Death took a few days off and entered the human world.  The problems all begin when Grazia Lamberti and family are heading home from her engagement party, and her husband-to-be, Corrado Montelli, decided to drive a little too fast on a long dark road.  Without much warning, Grazia is thrown from the car and mysteriously survives without even a scratch.  It is soon revealed that for the first time in thousands of years, Death could not kill has was planned to do; instead he comes up with a brilliant scheme.  Appearing before Duke Vittorio Lamberti, Grazia’s father, Death convinces him to let him stay on at his house for the weekend posed as a Russian prince.  It is not long into Death’s holiday that he begins to stir up trouble in the Lamberti household as he ultimatley falls in love with Grazia leaving her with the choice of love or life.
This new romantic musical features a spell binding cast of 14 players that poor their heart and soul into this show each night.  Leading the cast are conflicted lovers Jill Paice (Curtains) as Grazia and Julian Ovenden (Butley) as Death.  The two work wonderfully together filling the theatre with their class music theatre style voices that lend themselves to the score perfectly.  The two work wonders with the material that they are given forcing the audience to invest in these two characters fully.  Ovenden shines 100% with the song Alive, which features an up-beat tune that allows the full potential of his comedic acting and strong vocals to shine through.  Other standouts in this talented ensemble were Mara Davi (A Chorus Line) as Alice Lamberti, Jay Jaski (Children and Art) as Lorenzo, and Alexandra Socha (Spring Awakening) as Daisy Fenton.  Davi portrays Grazia’s lively sister-in-law who has recently become widowed with the passing of Grazia’s brother.  Davi fills the dark piece with life and energy – always there to dance in the halls or brighten up a full cast music number.  Jaski brings in the big laughs playing the nosey butler to the Lamberti household.  His performance is fresh, funny, and all around entertaining – a true performer.  Fenton plays Grazia’s down-on-her-luck friend.  Hopelessly in love with Grazia’s fiancé, she is more than overjoyed to see Death enter the household.  Fenton is light on her feet, yet grounded in her personality making her irresistible to watch.  All three of these performers blend nicely into the rest of the ensemble that features some big name talents such as Matt Cavenaugh (West Side Story), Michael Siberry (Spamalot), and Rebecca Luker (Mary Poppins).
This simple story was re-imagined by a group of truly talented writers, unfortunately, it was a little too close to feeling like real life death.  With songs that are not memorable, a book that was a little to dated, and a plot that was way too predictable, Death Takes A Holiday was just a little bit too old fashioned.  While one can assume that was the overall approach that these creators were going for (seeing how the piece is set in the year 1921), the whole show, and pardon the upcoming pun, needed a bit more life.  With all of this said, however, this new work was a visual pleasure.  With directon by Doug Hughes (Tony Award winner for Doubt), scenic design by Derek McLane (Tony Award winner for 33 Variations), costume design by Catherine Zuber (Tony Award winner for South Pacific), and lighting design by Kenneth Posner (Tony Award winner for The Coast of Utopia), this musical defeated the week writing to create a fest for the audiences eyes.  Stunning plants, columns, and spiral staircases accented the vibrant costumes ripped right from the ‘20s that were lit with a certain ambience that was both romantic and bone chilling at the same time.  The technical elements of this Off-Broadway piece were not lacking in any way to most full scale Broadway musicals.
Death Takes A Holiday takes a traditional love story and flips it upside down.  While the story and score might not be as glamorous as one might hope, this new musical is sweet and filled with heart.  With a Tony Award winning creative team and a cast that is full of energy, this piece might be just what an avid theater go-er wants to see.  It is a gracious reminder of how musicals were before all of the expensive special effects and flying craziness.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Master Class @ Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

Maria Callas – the name alone brings chills to every opera fan, not to mention the voice that took the world by storm.  Callas has once again found her way back to the Broadway stage in Manhattan Theatre Club’s revival of Master Class.  Written by famed playwright Terrence McNally this stunning piece mixes facts with fiction while telling the incredible story of Maria Callas – this time played by the larger than life Tyne Daly.  This revival is funny, smart, elegant, passionate, and loaded with talent that will leave you speechless.
The famous Maria Callas had a very fast rise to fame and an even faster fall with a career that only lasted about ten years.  Master Class takes a look at what might have happened in the later years of Callas’ life as she was known to hold open master classes to pass down her knowledge of performance and vocal technique.  Along the way however, Callas cannot help but be sucked into her past where she lets the audience in on past events of her life – the struggles with being overweight, the divorce of her first husband Battista Meneghini, the wonders of her new love Aristotle Onassis, the abortion that ended the relationship, the loss of voice that ended the career, and the heart break of ending up alone.  Playwright Terrence McNally takes the audience on a journey that not only lets all who attend see the genius behind her voice but also her life’s journey on how she got to where she is.
Tyne Daly proves why she is considered one of the best actresses of this decade.  Known for both her work in film (Zoot Suit), television (Judging Amy), and stage (Rabbit Hole), Daly brings a whole new meaning to the word “diva” when taking on the role of Callas.  Daly commands the stage with every line she speaks and movement she makes – the audience cannot help but want to listen to every line that she says.  Virtually unrecognizable under the make-up and wig, Daly transforms into the opera superstar.  In a role that wings from humor to drama, she tackles it all with ease and sophistication.  One cannot help but feel like the other actors on stage with her are receiving a master class within Master Class – it is hard to imagine not learning from a woman who has mastered her craft in a way that so few others have been able to do.  These fellow players are Alexandra Silber (West End’s The Woman in White), Sierra Boggess (Disney’s The Little Mermaid), and Garrett Sorenson (national opera performer making his Broadway debut).  Silber gives a lovely performance as Sophie De Palma – a young performer intent on learning from one of the world’s best.  Silber has a lightness to her that is wonderful to watch.  She is so passionate and heartfelt that the audience has no choice but to fall in love with her character.  Boggess pulls out all of the stops with gorgeous opera and acting chops.  Playing Sharon Graham – a strong singer with a weak heart, Boggess portrays the exact opposite of what Callas would consider a “performer.”  Her work with Daly leaves the audience speechless as they battle what it truly means to be a world renowned performer.  The last of the three students is Anthony Candolino, played by Sorenson.  While only in the piece for a short time, Sorenson sends chills through the audience as he performs a piece that could turn opera-haters into opera-lovers.  This piece, driven by Daly, mixes music, drama, and comedy into one extremely compelling night at the theatre.
Behind all great successes stands the creative team – or “those that I seem to always forget about” as Callas might think.  Making his Broadway debut, director Stephen Wadsworth does a remarkable job giving life to this classic piece.  Wadsworth tackles long monologues and scenes with grace and perfect movement – never letting the piece drag along.  Creating wonderful images of Callas and her students, this is definitely a successful run for a Broadway newcomer.  Thomas Lynch (Tony nominee for Contact) brings his scenic design talents to the project creating a simple, yet detailed set.  With the simple interior of a rehearsal room, Lynch uses natural woods to create a back drop that is accented by golden stage lights hanging directly above the actors – thus creating one of the most elegant class rooms fit for an opera superstar.  Illuminating this design is the work of David Lander (Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo). While the piece tended to be a little too dark in some sections, the lighting overall was well done and done in a creative way – always having Callas lit just a little bit brighter than everyone else on stage.  These details in direction and design gave this piece even more power – making it the perfect summer revival.
“Never miss an opportunity to theatricalize” – these words spoken by Callas in Master Class sum up the entire production perfectly.  With grace and classiness, this wonderful play has come back to Broadway is a way that is hard to resist.  Now playing throughout the entire summer, one has no excuse not to go see Tyne Daly and the rest of this spellbinding cast.  It is the perfect master class on how real theatre should be!