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.