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.