Friday, October 25, 2013

Big Fish @ The Neil Simon Theatre

Sometimes, life's stories can be more extraordinary than any fairytale. Big Fish gives account of the tall-taled days of Edward Bloom (Norbert Leo Butz), a man whose life seems to come out of a story book. Although Will's(Zachary Unger as the child, and Bobby Steggert as the adult) mother Sandra (Kate Baldwin) and wife Josephine (Krystal Joy Brown) indulge in the truth of Edward's fanciful tales, Will refuses to believe until he can uncover for himself what is real and what is fantasy. What results is the manifestation of all of Edward's best memories woven into present day to show us that in fact, "The ones who face their fears lead the most interesting lives."

                Butz is the true definition of a Leading Man. His presence is commanding, and with a velvety voice and ease in dance, you don't want to take your eyes off of him. Even more impressive was his ability to seamlessly transform his age from an elderly man, to a teenager, to an adult, and back again within a matter of moments; I'm not even sure how old Butz really is he transitioned so well. The same goes for Baldwin. We get to watch Sandra gracefully change from girl to woman, all while being lucky enough to hear her beautiful voice ring out. Bobby Steggert(Older Will) stands his ground with the heart wrenching performance of a son struggling to believe in the man he has looked up to his entire life.

            From the very moment the lights came up, the stage is flooded in rich beautiful color; Julian Crouch's scenic design transforms from a dark forest to a warm, modest household to bright USO show. William Ivey Long's costume designs could be considered their own characters with dresses becoming swaying trees and crackling campfires, men turning into giants, and women into mermaids.  From Ashton, Alabama to Central Park, to the Calloway Circus, each new world is more fantastic than the last. Use of projections made the impossible a reality, and technical aspects including a stage full of daffodils and dancing elephants made it a spectacular. Andrew Lippa's bright score and Susan Stroman' s exciting choreography are reminiscent of the classic Golden Age of Broadway with big production numbers ("Be the Hero") to tear-jerking ballads ("I Don't Need a Roof"). Together, everything blends to make a fresh, modern take on the classic Musical Theatre structure. 

            Many will notice that although the story is still from Daniel Wallace's novel, it is not the same as the Big Fish we know from Tim Burton's film. On screen, the life of Edward Bloom was much darker and oftentimes more like a fable, whereas onstage it's closer to a fairytale. In my opinion this was a smart move by John August, who penned both the screenplay and the musical's book. The bright version of Big Fish for stage is energetic and engaging, which is needed for a piece of musical theatre to be successful. Many shows that come to Broadway now are inspired by films, so oftentimes it can be difficult to stick out and be memorable. Where Big Fish gets it right is its ability to stand as its own piece of theatre, you don't need to be a fan of the movie to fall in love with the piece on stage.

Big Fish opened October 6 and is now playing at The Neil Simon Theatre. 

Review By: Kelcie Kosberg

The Snow Geese @ Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

The 1900s come alive in Snow Geese, the world premier drama by Sharr White directed by Daniel Sullivan and starring Emmy and Tony award winner Mary Louise Parker.

Recently widowed, Emily Gaesling(Mary Louise Parker), had decided to throw her annual hunting party to honor her eldest son, Duncan(Evan Jonigkeit), on his deployment overseas and her late husband’s memory, despite the fact that his spendthrift ways have left the family buried in debt. She is determined to believe that they are just as well off as they always were, refusing to listen to her younger, more level headed son, Arnold(Brian Cross).

Mary Louise Parker is no stranger to the theatre and has been seen in such shows as Proof, How I Learned to Drive, Angels in America, and of course her award winning television show “Weeds”. Usually dynamic and volatile onstage, I found her performance to be somewhat stilted due to the mannerisms she had adopted for the role. The effect made her less personable and relatable to the audience eliminating any sympathetic feelings for her character.
Brian Cross made his confident Broadway debut as the younger Gaesling brother. His chemistry with his older brother made them a strong familial duo with Evan Jonigkeit proving to be a great example of a leading actor of our generation.  While Cross’s love story with the maid, Victorya(Jessica Love) a Central European refugee from a once prominent family, created empathy.

Worth mentioning, is Victoria Clark’s performance as the discreetly intervening sister, Clarissa, and her immigrant husband Max(Danny Burnstein), who despite being an American citizen for thirty years has been ostracized due to growing German hostility stemmed from the war. Heartwarming, engaging, and truly stunning are just a few words that come to mind to describe Clark and Burnstrein. Their story is heartbreaking and poignant.

Jonigkeit’s exuberance over “fixing” the problems overseas are sharply contrasted with Cross’s accounts of the rising casualties and Victorya’s personal accounts of hardship bringing to mind the harsh realities of war. The audience can’t help but draw a parallel between World War I and the modern day conflicts in the Middle East creating a drama worth talking about long after the curtain goes down.

The set designed by Tony award winner John Lee Beatty, was simply stunning. The set would rotate to create different dimensions throughout the play. I felt completely immersed into their world.  Japhy Weideman, the lighting designer, made the set come alive and set the mood perfectly.

Snow Geese is playing at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre and is only running through December 15th, so get your tickets now. 

Photos by: Joan Marcus
Review By: James Russo & Sarah Brown

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Time to Kill @ The John Golden Theatre

When I walk out of a theatre, I enjoy listening to the conversations from the audience. A good play is one that inspires, evokes emotion, and compels - “A Time to Kill,” missed the mark.

             Written by Rupert Holmes and directed by Ethan McSweeney, the play is the stage adaptation of John Grisham’s famous courtroom drama, that takes place in a deep southern county in Mississippi during the early 1980’s.  Racing through rape, murder, the KKK’s destructive rituals, and courtroom politics, I was curiously disappointed by a lack of urgency in the play. McSweeney had all the resources to create a show that compelled and shocked an audience with the truth of the South’s no so distant history, and instead other than a persistent use of the “n” word, there was nothing provocative about the performance and nothing to show the audience that civil rights had been “granted” just ten years before and some areas were still chafing from the fact that they could no longer legally treat other humans as inferior.

            Truthful performances given by Sebastian Arcelus(Jake Brigance), Tom Skerritt(Lucien Wilbanks), and Patrick Page(Rufus Buckley) make it worth seeing. Disappointed that John Douglas Thompson(Carl Lee Hailey) only seemed to have two volumes and no chemistry with onstage wife, Tonya Pinkins(Gwen Hailey), while supposedly, peppy, whip-smart, Bostonian law student, Ashley Williams(Ellen Roark) had no Boston accent, and seemingly only one stage cue – to half-heartedly seduce Jake Brigance.

            The three women lacked any of the Southern traditional female qualities that help create empathy, while the women who were instrumental in Grisham’s novel, Jake’s wife and daughter, and Carl Lee’s daughter, were demoted to a telephone call and projection. A mistake, as they would have brought depth to their male counterparts. How could an audience react to seeing a broken, ten year old girl onstage? I can guarantee it would bring the urgency that was lacking but essential to creating empathy for Carl Lee.

            A revolving stage and gorgeous projections make scene changes pass smoothly, while also giving background to the area, the plot, and the dramatic moments. For such a horrible, awful subject, there were no tears and far too much laughter from the audience provided by unnecessary one liners in the script. To me, that defeats the purpose of performing a culturally traumatic drama such as this. A Time to Kill fell short. 

A Time To Kill opened October 20th , 2013 at Broadway's Golden Theatre.

Review By: Aziza Seven

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Night with Janis Joplin @ The Lyceum Theatre

A Night with Janis Joplin is a musical journey celebrating one of the most influential female rock in roll artists of all time – Janis Joplin. Her biggest musical influences – trailblazers Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Odetta, Nina Simone and Bessie Smith, make guest appearances to further explore what it means to be a female icon in a then male dominated world.

Like a comet that burns far too brightly to last, Janis Joplin (Mary Bridget Davies) exploded onto the music scene in 1967 and, almost overnight, became the Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll. The unmistakable voice filled with raw emotion and tinged with Southern Comfort made her a must-see headliner from Monterey to Woodstock. It would take a woman filled with the same gumption to pull off such a performance and while Mary Bridget Davies can sing and act like Janis, her stage presence was lacking.
Mary Bridget Davies is reprising her role as Janis Joplin on Broadway, having previously taken the country by storm with her critically acclaimed performance.

It seems a shame that a woman with a voice like Mary’s, was what looked like banned to the corner of the stage to tell her story.  Out of all the hits, I found the song selection disappointing. Redeemable moments were Mary’s performance “Another Little Piece of My Heart,” and her duet with Aretha Franklin that closed Act I. Despite the promising cast and Mary’s voice, this stage adaptation doesn’t compare to a concert given by the Queen herself, but it’s a close second!
The choreography done by Patricia Wilcox(Motown) lacks the creative flare that it could have been, but the set and lighting design done by Justin Townsend (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) more than makes up for it. Townsend's designs put the audience in a glorified warehouse while the lighting sets the mood for a rock concert worth attending.

A Night with Janis Joplin opened October 10, 2013 at Broadway's Lyceum Theatre.

If you are a true Janis Joplin fan, then this show is definitely worth seeing.

Review By: James Russo

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Glass Menagerie @ The Booth Theatre

Tennessee Williams’s ‘The Glass Menagerie’ returns to Broadway under the direction of John Tiffany. Amanda Wingfield (two-time Tony® Award winner Cherry Jones) is a Southern belle past her prime, living with two grown children in a small apartment in St. Louis. Amanda dreams of a better life for her shy and crippled daughter Laura (two-time Tony Award nominee Celia Keenan-Bolger), so she pushes her son Tom (Zachary Quinto, Angels in America), to find a “gentleman caller” for the girl. However, the arrival of the gentleman caller (Brian J. Smith, The Columnist) sends shockwaves through the family and causes cracks to form in the delicate fantasies that have kept them going.

This brave new interpretation of this Tennessee William's classic is being portrayed by a truly, beautiful, thoughtful and inspiring cast. Cherry Jones(Amanda) plays the very protective, stubborn mother. Both overbearing and warm, Jones’ talent is indescribable and a must-see. Celia Keenan-Bolger(Laura) is the crippled daughter tackling the burden of being a completely able bodied actress playing a physically challenged role. If I hadn’t known she wasn’t disabled, I would never have known so great is her immersion into the role.  She was full of grace and confidence which really made her shine through. Zachary Quinto(Tom) is making his Broadway debut and delivers the performance of a lifetime, leaving the audience speechless. Lastly, Brian J. Smith(Gentleman Caller) is all the things a good romancer is supposed to be, charming, alluring, and charismatic.

The technical aspects of this show only enhance the performances. Bob Crowley designs both the set and the costumes. The set is three platforms, displaying a minimalistic apartment surrounded by a dark abyss, perfect to keep the audience engaged in the action on stage, without being distracted by pointless decoration. Natasha Katz has once again delivers a beautiful elegant mood that’s perfect for this show.

The Glass Menagerie opened September 26, 2013 at Broadway's Booth Theater (45th Street) and runs a strictly limited run through Jan 05, 2014, so get your tickets soon! 

Review By: James Russo & Lisa Kosak