Friday, September 20, 2013

Cinderella @ The Broadway Theatre

“The Glass Slippers are so back!” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella adaptation makes its Broadway debut and offers a new romantic twist on the ultimate rags to riches makeover story. The musical mixes fresh comedy with the fairy tale's well-loved classic elements - the pumpkin, glass slipper, masked ball and more. In addition to musical numbers from the original score - including "In My Own Little Corner," "Impossible/It's Possible," "Ten Minutes Ago" and "Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?" -This Cinderella will include several new songs from the Rodgers & Hammerstein duo.  

This huge production is led by two-time Tony nominee Laura Osnes. As Ella, Osnes is the perfect fairytale princess; she brings a rare elegance to the stage that makes the audience fall in love with her immediately. Santino Fontana plays the tortured Prince Topher. Handsome, lovable, and sweet, he is everything young girls have grown up wishing for in a man. The audience can’t help but feel that Osnes and Fontana belong together.

Joining the cast is Rebecca Luker, replacing Victoria Clack as Crazy Marie/Fairy Godmother. Luker brings wisdom, magic, and illusions; she is flawless, faultless, and completely deserving of her character’s “crazy.” The exemplary Ann Harada, Marla Mindelle, and Harriet Harris bring a big twist to the well-known step-sisters and stepmother. Harada is quirky and hilarious and steals the show with her song “Stepsisters Lament,” while Mindelle is nerdy, heartwarming and adorable. Harris is the ultimate villain, charging onstage with wit, sass and just enough nastiness to make an audience root for Cinderella’s dreams to come true at the expense her ugly step-mother.
With a show this big, there needs to be a top notch production staff, as a group they need to be able to create magic onstage. The set design was done by Anna Louizos, consisting of moving trees, secret doors, and giant picturesque set pieces. Tony Award winner William Ivey Long is responsible for the ingenious designs that turn Cinderella’s dress from rags to riches and Crazy Marie into the Fairy Godmother with a mere flick of the wrist. Kenneth Posner’s light design ties all the technical aspects together with perfect mood lighting, making this production a truly stunning piece to watch.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella opened on Broadway on February 21, 2013 at the Broadway Theatre (1681 Broadway). This is a great show for the whole family, so grab the kids and waltz over to the Broadway Theatre for a truly magical evening that will leave you believing in the power of wishing. 

Review By: James Russo

Monday, September 16, 2013

Mr. Burns, a post-electric play @ Playwrights Horizons

If you're like most people, you're reliant on your technology. Going even an hour without your smart phone feels like an eternity. If you miss the latest episode of Breaking Bad, there's nothing to talking to your coworkers about come Monday morning. Imagine if our technology-based society was suddenly left without electricity, the precious power we rely on so heavily. Set in a not-too-far-away Post Apocalyptic America, "Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play," which opened September 15, gives an insight on just who we've become, as well as what we could be.

Act One shows the immediate aftermath of Nuclear Power Plants shutting down, leaving no power, and a large part of the population killed by excess radioactivity. We meet a small group of strangers, survivors who have come together to find lost love ones. To keep themselves entertained, they are retelling the "Cape Feare" episode of The Simpsons. It's not a perfect reenactment, with Matt (played by Matthew Maher) drawing blanks and spitting out "Oh I know this is really funny!" but nevertheless, spirits are kept up. That is, until another survivor arrives. At this point it is hard to tell if anyone is an ally or an enemy. Act Two fast forwards to seven years later, still no power, but society seems to have gone on. Troupes of re-enactors battle for the best "episodes" of beloved, long missed shows. Remembered lines have become a commodity, and live "commercials" try to get  us to remember how much we miss drinking Diet Coke, taking hot baths, and listening to Britney Spears (as troupe member Susannah [Susannah Flood] states, 'We have an opportunity to provide meaning'). A sudden, fatal stand-off brings us to intermission.

At this point, I wasn't quite sure what I was watching; the first two acts are very vague in explaining relationships, and what exactly has happened to lead up to this point. It wasn't until an older woman sitting in front of me turned around and we began to have a conversation (she asked I didn't use her name) that things began to make sense. She pointed to her husband next to her and told me, "We grew up through World War II, so we've seen exactly how people have changed over the last few decades. People have become so glued to their devices they've forgotten about true beauty. The smell of the trees, the sound of leaves crunching under our feet. Now it's only the superfluous stuff that matters. I'll walk onto an elevator, and say 'Good morning!' to the people on there. They all then pull out their headphones and give me confused looks because to them I didn't say anything important." At that moment, Mr. Burns' message became painfully clear to me. Have we become so invested in the "superfluous stuff" that we've gotten so out of touch with the beauty in simplicity? Or basic human interaction? Even as I spoke to her, I felt the need to check my iPhone and see if I had any new Facebook notifications or if any celebrities had tweeted anything interesting, even though I was in the middle of one of the most insightful conversations I'd had in quite some time.

Act Three brings us even farther into the future, 75 years to be exact. Electricity seems to exist, but only by means of man-powered generators, so it is still very limited. The Simpsons are still being re-enacted, however it's not the family you and I are familiar with now. Masked performers give us an almost tribal music-based rendition of that same "Cape Feare" episode. Based only on the memories of past actors, the once comedic cartoon has become twisted into a dark piece of performance art, laced with bits of pop culture from the past (including Eminem, The Flintstones melody, and the haunting theme of the Halloween movies). Bart Simpson (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) has become a young hero, singing ballads about overcoming obstacles and avenging the death of his parents. Mr. Burns (Sam Breslin Wright) is now an evil villain with a poison touch, along with doting sidekicks Itchy and Scratchy (Flood and Maher, respectively). After the villain is slain and the hero lives to see another day, the company remove their masks to end their show with a song about "being a true American."

As the lights came back up, I said good bye to the woman in front of me, gathered my things, and walked back into reality to see the swarms of New Yorkers with their eyes fixed onto their phones and tablets. What would happen if all of this was suddenly taken away from us? What would remain? If Mr. Burns, and my intermission companion have any indication, it's human interaction and our ability to create art. To be able to convey our emotions through music, and in turn inspire others. Who knows? In 75 years, people may be singing Britney Spears' songs like we do with Frank Sinatra now.

Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play is produced by Playwrights Horizons and runs through October 20.

Review By: Kelcie Kosberg

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Machine @ Park Avenue Armory

 The U.S. premiere of British playwright Matt Charman’s new play, The Machine, takes over Park Avenue Armory’s vast Wade Thompson Drill Hall September 4-18. The play, a co-commission of Park Avenue Armory, Donmar Warehouse, and the Manchester International Festival, depicts the headline-grabbing 1997 New York chess tournament between Grandmaster Garry Kasparov and Deep Blue, a super-computer developed by technology giant IBM. An epic battle between a human genius and a state-of-the-art machine, The Machine will be staged the Armory’s 55,000-square-foot drill hall as a sports event complete with a 4-sided arena; a giant, electronic scoreboard; and video cameras capturing and broadcasting the action on a jumbotron.  

In 1997, Garry Kasparov, the world’s greatest chess player, arrived in New York City for the biggest match of his life. His opponent wasn’t a fellow Grandmaster, but a faceless super-computer, Deep Blue, built by tech-giant IBM and masterminded by Dr. Feng-Hsiung Hsu. The man versus machine match was conceived as a publicity stunt by IBM in a bid to raise its profile and its stock price. An international celebrity and the undisputed master of his art, Kasparov came to America for freedom and glory. What he didn't expect to confront was the lifelong dedication of another young genius, Deep Blue’s wunderkind inventor Doctor Hsu. What followed was one of the most compelling stories of our time—a collision of human brilliance, foibles, greed, and artificial intelligence. Under the direction of the Donmar Warehouse Artistic Director Josie Rourke, the cast features Hadley Fraser as Garry Kasparov, Francesca Annis as Garry’s mother, Clara, and Kenneth Lee as Dr. Hsu.

The production is a truly unique experience and to have it in the Park Armory was just incredible. Set in the round, the audience sat through intense technical elements, impressive and mind bending material and impeccable acting. This production will really get you thinking!

The Machine runs at Park Avenue Armory September 18, 2013. Do not miss out of this amazing experience. 

Review By: James Russo