Friday, May 24, 2013

Murder Ballad @ Union Square Theatre

Back after its extremely successful run at Manhattan Theater Club, critically acclaimed Murder Ballad, finds its way downtown to the completely redesigned Union Square Theater where it holds an extended run thru the summer.

A love triangle gone wrong, Murder Ballad centers on Sara, an Upper West Sider who seems to have it all, but whose downtown past lingers enticingly and dangerously in front of her. This sexy, explosive new musical explores the complications of love, the compromises we make, and the betrayals that can ultimately undo us.

Three of the original cast members are reprising their original roles and Caissie Levy (Ghost: The Musical) replaces Karen Olivo in the role of Sara. Levy doesn't missed a beat, she brought strong emotion and the powerhouse voice that audiences have come to expect from her. Rebecca Naomi Jones (American Idiot) plays the Narrator, and she brings a creepy yet fun quality to this dark show. She was on stage the entire time and she really kept the audiences attention. Will Swenson (Priscilla Queen of the Desert) portrays bad boy Tom, the once lover of Sara. Swenson acts the hell out of this role, but his voice type didn't seem to fit the show. Lastly, John Ellison Conlee (The Full Monty) played Michael, Sara's current husband. Conlee bring a soothing warmth to the show and makes the audience fall in love with him.

Taking residence at Union Square Theater, this theatrical experience has completely alter the performing space to fit this show. Mark Wendland puts the audience smack dab in the middle of a bar, and turned this once proscenium space theater into a Theater in the Round. Audience members are encouraged to go an buy drinks for the bar where later the central action takes place. The lighting by Ben Stanton was so well controlled and full of color. Unfortunately as great as the space was, it seemed too big, which made this extremely intimate show, significantly less intimate. 

Murder Balled plays at the Union Square Theater until September 29th, 2013. This unique theater experience is not one to miss, so get a tickets, grab a beer and enjoy the trip. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Spandex The Musical @ The 777 Theatre

             Feel the burn! Spandex: A New Musical for All Sizes brings the all of the energy, fast-paced music, and teased hair of competitive Aerobics of the late 80's to the New York stage. Inspired by the viral YouTube video of the 1987 Crystal Light National Aerobics Championship, hosted by Alan Thicke, Spandex tells the story of how the empowerment of a good aerobic workout can bring a shy housewife out of her shell, a former star back in the lime light, or even spark a romance.

           Tucked away in the Off Broadway 777 Theatre, Spandex is a hidden gem of musical comedy. Julian Blackmore and Daniel F. Levin's score is reminiscent of the infectious tunes of the late 1980's (days after seeing it, I still have the melody of the title song running through my head). The band, made of only three members, sat above the stage and became a part of the company themselves. From catchy pop tunes ("I Could Get Used to This") to tear-jerking ballads ("Now That You're Gone"), I found myself wanting to get up and dance along with the cast and wishing I had this soundtrack to take to the gym with me.

          Lis Piccoli's choreography blends intricate aerobic steps with dance to create something of a spectacle onstage (I'm looking at you, Circle Wheel of Push-ups), and it doesn't hurt that the cast are some of the strongest dancer-athletes I've seen in a long time. From start to finish, the cast succeeds in not only landing every step, but hitting every note at the same time, which is quite an impressive feat, considering that almost every song included jumps, leaps, lifts, or squats. Stand out performers include Sims Lamason as Aerobic Queen Lorraine (who boasts a life of a former gymnast herself), Jaquez Sims as Fitness Guru Trip Allen, and Paige Sommerer as the hilariously ambiguous Deacon Doekstra (I'm sorry-- Derk-stra). With most of the cast making their New York debuts, I can't wait to see what each and every one of these young performers' careers have in store.

            However, for how remarkable the talent aspects were, the production values itself fell as flat as your hair the day you run out of Aqua Net. For the amount of sponsors the show boasts, most notably Crunch Gym, I was hoping to see visuals that matched the content. The stage was painted half brown, half black, with a movable set of lockers with a bare-wood backing. A minimalist set is fine, but I would have liked to see the bright neons of the costumes matched on the set so as to create a world of The 1987 Crystal Light National Aerobics Championship, hosted by Alan Thicke for an audience to go to. This makes this hidden gem of musical comedy more of a diamond-in-the-rough.

            All in all, Spandex: a New Musical for All Sizes is a hilarious and original piece of musical theatre and deserves to be brought to a wider audience.