Thursday, March 28, 2013

Breakfast at Tiffany’s @ Cort Theater

Sometimes, it is not always best if the guy gets the girl.  Richard Greenberg’s adaptation of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s shows a young writer’s struggle, Fred, to overcome his seemingly hopeless love for his magnetic neighbor, Holly Golighty.  This production is quite artistically dynamic, and does a wonderful job of telling a classic story.

When most people think Breakfast at Tiffany’s, they immediately think of the image of Audrey Hepburn wearing sunglasses in the 1961 movie.  This production was based on Truman Capote’s novella, which tells a slightly different story.  Many of the iconic scenes, like the scene in which Holly talks about the cat not having a name, are in the play.  It is important however for audience members to remember that it is going to be different and not to expect a line by line reenactment of the film version.

With that said, different is not always a bad thing, especially in the case of this production.  One of the most successful aspects of this show was the scenic design, done by Derek McLane.  The apartments and the bar were both had very intricate and realistic design, but the truly impressive part was how the set was changed.  Large panels were moved across stage with images of buildings projected on them, making the characters seem as though they were moving through the city.  Projection designer Wendell K Harrington deserves a lot of credit nfor this as well, as the projections fit the style of the show very well, and the building projections had a very 50s feel to them.

Another area of the show that was very strong was the acting.  Corey Michael Smith makes his Broadway debut in this play as Fred, and it almost certainly will not be his last performance on the great white way.  Fred is a young writer trying to find his way through the city, and Smith does a wonderful job of finding the innocence of the character and his inability to catch up to the city life as fast as he should be in the beginning of the play.  He is easy to relate to, and his love for Holly can be very sad at times.  As the protagonist of this play, Smith does a great job of guiding the audience through the story, and his narrations do a great deal to clarify a story that could be a little confusing without him guiding the way.

Playing opposite of Smith was actress Emilia Clarke (HBO’s Game of Thrones), who played Holly Golightly.  Clarke’s performance was spot on.  She was just Hepburnish enough to keep the avid movie fans in the audience happy, and was also able to find her own ways to make the character of Holly as loveable and completely magnetic as she needs to be for this story to work.  

Probably the most famous member of this ensemble is George Wendt of Cheers fame, who played the character of bartender Joe Bell.  Joe Bell is the voice of reason Fred’s life, and Wendt does a very good job trying to steer Fred in the right direction.  There is a strong sincerity in his performance, it shows a different side of him than that which fans of Cheers are used to.

          Although the play is quite different than the movie, it is most assuredly a play that is worth going to New York to see.  It is a touching love story, and audiences of almost any age will be able to take something away from this play.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Hit the Wall @ Barrow Street Theatre

It is a daunting task putting a show like this into words -- fitting it all into this one review. Too often stories like this are passed over, forgotten, and made ‘unclear’, but when one person spreads the word we keep the memories alive. However, the fight for equality is still ongoing, and as the community moves towards its future we must remember the lessons of the past. Struggling to find acceptance in the world of 1969, members of the gay community in Greenwich Village, New York break out in riots of chaos and passion, and although reports of those nights in particular are ‘unclear’ we are exposed to those who stand up loud and proud, screaming, “ I WAS THERE!”

The action focuses on one night within the week of the Stonewall Inn Riots, June 27-28, 1969, the same night in which the city suffered some of the hottest days that summer and the funeral of idol Judy Garland. Following several intertwining stories, the play exposes the discrimination against gays at this time and shares those souls who were brave enough to speak out at the boiling point.

The Barrow Street Theatre, which has the home field advantage of being located in the historic Greenwich Village, provides an intimate arena stage. Aesthetic distance is non-existent as the audience becomes both participants and observers in this slice of history. The enclosed space allows for raw vibe that surrounds the audience and makes them feel as though they themselves are knee deep in the danger that surrounds them. The stage is set in Christopher Park and inside the Stonewall Inn. It is dressed with two double doors, back lit with a red wash. Two side-by-side windows with an amber backlight and blinds and a classic 1960’s sign that reads “Stonewall Inn Restaurant”.

The lighting fixtures remain general for most of the show, the design reflecting the underlying themes of seclusion, discrimination, and isolation with a rustic practical light above the inn’s entrance and within the inn – serving as police headlights bright, unfiltered lights blind the audience and add to the authentic sense of fear of persecution that seeps in and light focused on specific acting areas as they are in use. A prime example of this simple but effective design is the “Bathroom” scene, in which two characters are tortured and sexually molested. The soft, dull wash of the lights only adds to the jarring experience of witnessing such an event. Yet, the “riot” sequence is when this light design really shines, (get the pun?). Using colors similar to those used in an underground club -- saturated blues, reds, and purples, this scene provided a chaotic atmosphere that added a sense of freedom and was topped off by a strobe light which helped emphasis movement within the show.

            Carolyn Michelle Smith opens the show as Roberta, an outspoken women’s rights activist with a commanding presence. A proud “dyke” who believes in owning her labels Roberta provides the initial introduction to the rhythmic language of the play. Smith posses a vocal quality that not only sounds supported by is also inviting, which as the opening of the show remains a most important factor. As she becomes more intertwined within the show Roberta becomes a key voice in this machine and Smith does wonderfully.

            A true compliment to the contemporary vibe of the show lies within Arturo Soria (Tano) and Gregory Haney (Mika). These two partners in crime offer quick wit and a modern tonality in their language which helps to propel the characters and action forward. Soria, who is reprising his original role from the world premiere of “Hit the Wall” in Chicago, and Haney have a truthful and raw quality. Both actors prove to explore a deep space within their characters of how at this time one’s safety is always in jeopardy. Yet, in an otherwise serious drama, Soria and Haney offer a comic relief as well as a dramatic performance that keeps the audience invested.

            Nick Bailey offers a fresh innocence to the cast as Newbie. Bailey plays the new kid on the block, a rebel without a cause, a young man who learns to be what he is. “YOU WERE THERE—THERE WAS MUSIC EVERYWHERE … EVERYTHING I JUST SAID IS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED.”  Throughout it all, Bailey offers a perspective of a young man comfortable with who he is. The theme of hiding in not apparent in the Newbie, on the contrary, a nude streak in the middle of the “riot” scene points toward the opposite end of the spectrum. Bailey is brave and a joy to watch.

            In direct opposition to Bailey’s innocence comes Nathan Lee Graham’s character Carson. With the air of someone who has experienced much, Carson gives out a fragile air yet surrounds herself with a strong persona. Carson is a cross dresser, and on this night, the night of her idol’s funeral, Carson dreams of saying goodbye in her true self. Yet, with persecution and disdain around every corner she is forced to hide. “LOOK AT ME.” Graham transforms into a tragic character that undergoes great suffering – her suffering becomes one’s own as the audience is drawn into to Carson’s very real struggle. One is able to ride this emotional, turbulent, rollercoaster with a sense of great sadness. Graham’s work is good and it shows. 

            Peg, a “stone butch” lesbian, played by Rania Salem Manganaro, offers a look into the true unheard horrors of those nights. Manganaro puts forth a vulnerable young lesibian who is just looking for a way to make it on her own. Surrounded by the same discrimination engulfing her peers Peg is the first to speak out against the forces that suppress her. “NO MORE WATCHING.” Her spiritual and physical trails not only draw the audience in, but they also drag the audience down into the dark pit that most of these characters are forced to deal with in the week of these famous riots. Manganaro delivers a memorable performance that will stick with her audience for years to come.

            Rounding out the cast are the incredibly talented Jessica Dickey (Madeline), Ben Diskant (Cliff), Matthew Greer (Alex McArthur), and Sean Allan Krill (A-Gay). Also, providing life underneath the show is the Stonewall Band which includes Jonathan Mastro, Ray Rizzo, and Indigo Street. In an ensemble based show each character plays an intricate part in telling this incredible story. “I COULD NEVER LOVE YOU ONCE I KNEW – WHEN DID WE LOSE YOU?” “YOU DIDN”T LOSE ME, NOT ONCE. YOU LEFT ME!” “IT’S NOT OVER.” “CAN’T STOP, WON’T STOP.” “OUT OF THE CLOSET, INTO THE STREETS.”

            Yet, every show is only as good as its language. Holter provides a rhythmic, contemporary poetry in his dialogue that sets “Hit The Wall” apart from all the others. A modern tonality flows throughout this incredible production and its cast as they explore “reading” each other. “Reading”, according to Nathan Lee Graham, is a duel, a battle with words – an honorable combat between worthy opponents. However, along with “reading”, the music of the language gives it life and its poetic scheme lends a raw reality to this 1960’s atmosphere.

            So travel back and be exposed to this jarring, raw, bold production and put faith in the fact that once one surrenders to this world they will forever be changed. Listen up, speak, and be heard because history is important.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike @ John Golden Theatre

What’s all the fuss? There must be truly something special about this star filled show Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Moving to Broadway on its second transfer, the audiences are wondering what is going on that makes it so great. Is it the stars? Sigourney Weaver, David Hyde Pierce and Kelsey Neilson star as brother and sisters, what could be better? Or is it the hilarious book by Christopher Durang?

Vanya and Sonia have never left the confines of their childhood home in Bucks County, PA, while their sister Masha has been gallivanting around the world as a successful actress. A surprise visit from Masha and her 20-something boy toy, Spike, throws the normally quiet household into utter chaos as its residents and visitors get swept up in an intoxicating mixture of lust, rivalry, regret, and the sudden possibility of escape.

Sigourney Weaver (Hurlyburly) portrays Masha, the famous and big headed sister of Vanya and Sonia. After Masha leaves home to peruse her acting career she finally returns home to stir up some trouble. Weaver stays very true to her character but couldn’t help be feel extremely annoyed every time she enters on stage. It may have been her characters personality but there is a difference between acting like your character and over acting. David Hyde Peirce (La Bete) plays the gay and calm brother of the pack, Vanya. Peirce brings his very dry comedy to the show, which leaves the audience in stitches. A highlight of his performance is his fifteen minute rant about how no one in the world is connected and how nothing is how it used to be; quite possibly the best rant of 2013. Sonia, the over dramatic, lonely and down on herself sister is done by Kelsey Neilson (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson). Neilson brought a light to the stage the had the audience rooting for her when she felt really down on herself. When she put on the sparkling blue dress and started acting like Maggie Smith, she truly glowed. Billy Magnussen (The Ritz) played Spike, The 20- something boy toy of Masha. Magnussen is hilarious and also very draining to watch, how someone has that much energy is amazing: Oh and he wasn’t bad to look at either. The best part of the show was quite possibly Shalita Grant (debut) who played Cassandra, the voodoo diva housekeeper. Her repetition and loud energy had the audience rolling on the floor. Every time she walked out on stage, the audience was anxious to see what she was going to do. Genevieve Angelson (debut) played Nina, the next door neighbor who is an aspiring actress. Although Angelson is adorable, her performance was very dull and boring.  

Directing the twice transferred comedy is Nicholas Martin (Present Laughter). Clearly if a show is transferred from regional to Off Broadway to Broadway then someone is doing his job right. Martin knew how to work with each different type of comedy in each different character and did wonderful job of mixing them all together. David Kornis (Motown: The Musical) did the  Set Design, was very simple but worked very well and didn’t distract from this very full show. Justin Townsend (The Other Place) was responsible for the light design. The lights, much like the set, were very simple and kept the well-known saying, “Bright is Funny”. Emily Rebholz (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) did a wonderful job with costume design. There is one tech element the gets to truly shine in this show is the costumes because of how much they are referenced and Rebholz does not disappoint.

          Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike plays at the John Golden Theatre until June30, 2013. This is one of the funniest shows on Broadway right now; make sure not to miss out of the utter chaos. So head over to the Golden Theatre and find out what happens when three siblings are reunited after years of not seeing each other.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Ann @ The Vivian Beaumont Theater


             With a personality too large for even Texas to handle, it was only a matter of time until former governor of Texas Ann Richards made her way onto a Broadway stage.  Written and performed by Holland Taylor (Two and a Half Men), Ann gives the audience a  both fun and interesting look at the life of a woman that overcame a great deal of adversity to help change the state of Texas. 

           Holland Taylor succeeded in this production in every way that she possibly could.  While Ann Richards’ story is one that is worth being told, it is far from the most captivating tale ever to make its way on to the stage.  Taylor’s ability to tell the story is masterful, and the fiery personality of the character she is playing really helps guide the audience through moments that could become rather slow moving.  The play is driven by the Taylor’s commitment to the character and she does a fantastic job of bringing Ann Richards to life.

         One of the few flaws that this production had was that some of the humor will be lost on a younger audience.  While the character of Ann is quite compelling and does create most of the show’s humor through the situation, there were several on liners that made references that not many people under the age of 30 would understand.  To get the full effect of the humor of this production, it would be beneficial to a theatergoer to be well versed in the politics of the late 80s and early 90’s.

         Although it was a one woman show written and performed by Taylor, she did have a lot of help from the people behind the scenes.  Both set designer Michael Fagin and lighting designer Mathew Richards were able to help Taylor travel from a commencement speech to her office in Texas, and then all the way to New York City.  The play could have easily been performed on a simple set simple lighting, and it would have been just ok.  Fagin and Richards brought a life to the moving pieces of the stage, and made many of the technical aspects of the production stand out.  The giant moving set pieces changed the location of the action effortlessly, and the smooth transitions coupled with the meticulous detail made the set really stand out.

        Taylor and director Benjamin Endsley Klein did a great job of bringing the story of Ann Richards to life.  Audiences can laugh and listen to what this great lady had to say, making a Ann a production that a fan the theater will not want to miss.