Monday, March 31, 2014

King Lear @ The Polonsky Shakespeare Center @ The Theatre for New Audience

King Lear presented at the Theatre for a New Audience is an intimate, minimalistic portrayal of the Shakespeare classic. Directed by Arin Arbus, whose other Shakespeare credits include, Much Ado About Nothing, The Taming of the Shrew, and Othello, creates a stunning world in which the audience is given only the barest essentials of a set, leaving them able to concentrate on the actors’ imaginations.

Michael Pennington(King Lear) shines, his abundant work  in Shakespeare clear as he commands the space around him. Both powerful in his reign as King of Britain and pathetic as his madness takes over his body, Pennington straddles the inconsistencies of his character with grace and ease. Opposite in the roles of his daughters, Rachel Pickup(Goneril), Bianca Amato(Regan), and Lilly Englert(Cordelia) play their parts well. Rachel’s sexual manipulation compliments Bianca’s more political stance and together they are a force to be reckoned with as they plot to bring their father down and claim more power. Unfortunately for them, they sink their claws into the same man and in the end are done in by their own thirst for power and misplaced love. Lilly is the loveliest of the sisters and portrays her part perfectly. Innocence shines through her consistently. Her love for her father is the realest emotion among the women and she holds on to it with everything she is.  

Startling performance by Jake Horowitz as the Fool. His energy onstage was a joy to watch. Both comical and wise, joyful and in the end suicidal, Jake navigated a stage full of seasoned actors with a drive that was surprising in one so young. Chandler Williams(Edmund) is a more passive villain. His actions dictated by selfishness rather than pure evil. I found his performance a tad lackluster. Jacob Fisher(Edgar) while bland at the start of the play found his own when he took on the crazed role of Poor Tom after being set up by his brother. On the lam and running from a father that believes wanted to kill him, Jacob adopts the role of poor beggar but falls into the good graces of King Lear and eventually is responsible for leading his blinded father to safety after his brother frames their father for treason.  

Other talented cast members include Timothy Stickney(Kent), Terry Doe(King of France), Mark H. Dold(Oswald), Christopher McCann(Gloucester), Saxon Palmer(Cornwall), Graham Winton(Albany), and Robert Langdon Lloyd who all stood out in the parts as excellent speakers and actors. The ensemble includes Benjamin Cole, Jason Gray, Jonathan Hooks, Patrick McAndrew, Ryan McCarthy, Jon Stewart, Jr., Ian Temple, and Ariel Zuckerman.

As with all of Shakespear’s tragedies, this play contains several messages for the audience. Greed, power seeking, lust are just a few things that condemn the players and lead to the demise. Very few players escape death by the end of the play and the sins of those involved are to blame for the early demise of Cordelia and the consequent death of her father, Lear. Reunited briefly, they are only granted a moment respite before Edmund’s assignation order is completed leaving Lear to die of a broken heart after he carries the still body of his youngest onstage.
The set design was by far the most interesting tech element, with lights and sound design rounding out the feel of the play. The costumes I found to be incredibly distracting, as they didn’t fit the time that the play was clearly set in. Lastly, the music provided by Michael Attias, Pascal Niggenkemper, and Satoshi Takeishi was gorgeous.

King Lear runs at The Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn, NYC until May 4th, be sure to pick up your tickets here.

Review By: Aziza Seven

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Les Miserables @ The Imperial Theater

OH GOD! Go see it!
I’m sorry – that was blunt and forceful. In all seriousness now, GO SEE IT! Why haven’t you bought your tickets yet? Go ahead, do it now, don’t worry, I’ll wait.

The Imperial Theatre has been taken over by the barricades of 19th century France. Les Misérables, the classic musical based on the famous book by French author Victor Hugo, has taken charge and once again brought to life the classic story that theatre lovers everywhere have come to know and cherish. Set in the bowels of 19th century France and the impending second revolution, Les Misérables (or Les Miz for short) follows the story of the benevolent Jean Valjean (played by Ramin Karimloo) as he travels through life narrowly escaping the grasp of his counterpart, the law enforcing Javert (played by Will Swenson). Covering a span of nearly 20 years, Les Miz shows us the underbelly of the raw streets of France and the hell its citizens go through just to survive.

Ramin Karimloo leads the cast as Jean Valjean, with an incredible presence and air, if it’s not to bold to say he does original Colm Wilkinson proud. Karimloo was benevolent and beautiful. The highest moment in the show belonged to his rendition of “Bring Him Home”, a powerful ballad sung to Marius in the desperation of battle at the barricades. It was a true moment in which the audience knew something great was happening. It brought the height of desperation and humility. Caissie Levi brought an incredible grace to Fantine, the down-on-her-luck mother of young Cosette. Levi was eloquent, bringing new life into this tragic character. “I Dreamed a Dream” sounded like nothing else, both powerful and heart breaking. 
Andy Mientus as Marius and Samantha Hill as Cosette were complimentary as our young lovers. Mientus was innocent and quite enjoyable to watch, instantly loved and respected from the moment he walks on stage. Hill was gracefully naïve and brought a wonderful softness to this raw world. As adorable the young lovers were to watch, Kyle Scatliffe was a nice contrast of empowerment as Enjorlas, the brave rebellion leader. A stand out moment was not only his death, but the lighting of his lifeless body hanging off the back of a cart; so incredibly sad, with a scent of hopelessness. 
Nikki M. James plays a gripping Eponine, the tough, street-wise, back alley girl, who harbors a secret love for Marius. Her rendition of “On My Own” is another high point in the production and, oh gosh, was it heart wrenching to see her pass to a beautiful “A Little Fall of Rain”. Joshua Colley is wonderfully mischievous as Gavoroche, the king of street rats. But please, bring “Little People” back into the fold. With a Gavroche as adorable as Colley the audience pleads for more of him. Another highlight, in a glorious production was Will Swenson and his rendition of “Stars”. If Valjean is known for his benevolence, then Javert is known for his black and white loyalty to the law. He is a stoic character and Swenson plays him in a fine manner. And of course, who could forget the Thenardier’s! Played by Cliff Saunders and Keala Settle, Thenardier and his feisty spouse are larger than life and properly ridiculous scene stealers. Saunder’s Master of the House is a wonderful moment that leaves you wanting to join the debauchery occurring on stage. It’s a crowd pleaser and it is not hard to see why.
Les Miz is such a classic, well-known musical. Aspiring musical theatre aficionados have cherished it for years and will continue to do so. This revival is a wonderful addition to a famous legacy. Filled with beautiful moments and deep sincerity, it’s safe to say that Cameron Mackintosh has done a splendid job. The set was remarkable, setting Broadway caliber to a new height – with the creative use of beautiful projections that deserve special mention. The lighting was raw, with stark beams of light outlined in smoked used for special effect.

The whole experience was raw, dirty, urban, real, and incredibly astonishing.

Review By: Morgan Mack

Photos By: Matthew Murphy

Heathers: The Musical @ New World Stages Stage 1

Hold onto your hats 80’s cult movie fans! A new musical adaptation of your favorite 80’s movie Heathers has been turned into a stage musical and is the must see Off-Broadway production of the 2014 season! Filled with memorable songs, a hilarious script and ridiculously talented cast, Heathers: The Musical restores your faith in the theatre world’s ability to take a known movie title and transfer it into a success stage production.

Heathers: The Musical, which features a book, music and lyrics by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe, is essentially your Mean Girls of the 1980s. Its September 1989 at Westerberg High School and the entire school is being terrorized by the “Heathers”. These girls manage to get away with just about anything until newcomer J.D. Dean comes along and decides to put them in their place. With the help of Veronica Sawyer, together J.D. and Veronica help destroy the high school society’s they know only to learn even more things they wish they never knew in this hilarious new musical loving ripped off of the screenplay of the same title by Daniel Waters. There is major credit that needs to be given to Murphy and O’Keefe who have just landed an A plus across the board when it comes to the score and script with this production. The focus is clear. The piece moves very well and you never find yourself waiting for another musical number. Oh, about the musical numbers. They deliver memorable song after memorable song with a score of A plus tunes. You can tell O’Keefe has put his classic charming touch onto the songs with it being about something ridiculous only to come across with a lyric that smacks you right in the face. “You are the only right thing about this broken world” sticks out in my mind.

Barrett Wilbert Weed stars as Veronica Sawyer and gives a stand out performance with strong acting choices and solid vocals throughout the entire piece. She is a knockout and clear force of talent. Weed wins you over from the very beginning as she narrates her journey from average girl to Heather sidekick to God or Gods unwilling assistant as her and J.D. takes matters into their own hands over time. Speaking of, J.D. Dean played by Ryan McCartan is a strong force to be reckoned with as the productions leading man. He makes bold acting choices throughout the pieces and also enjoys some really beautiful moments throughout the score. Weed and McCartan share a beautiful chemistry on stage you can’t help but love.

The Heathers, played by Jessica Keenan Wynn (Heather Chandler), Elle McLemore (Heather McNamara) and Alice Lee (Heather Duke) are over the top ridiculous in all the ways you want them to be. From their first entrance to songs like “Candy Store”, they are your quintessential plastics of high school. They’re so evil in what they do; you can’t help but love them. Evan Todd who stars as Kurt and Jon Eidson who stars as Ram deliver hilarious performances as your typical high school jocks. They’re over the top choices and ridiculous antics show just how far we’ve come since the 1980’s but the nonsense we can still manage to get away with in high school.

The ensemble is filled with all of your typical high school stereotypes (Nerds, Goth, Cheerleaders) that also double as adult roles throughout the piece. The ensemble is consistently present but not in the way where they become bothersome or distracting. They only add to the story with their vocals and help bring to life some of the largest and most vibrant numbers of the entire production.

Heathers: The Musical not only scores when it comes to the production’s talent but also it’s technical elements. Timothy R. Mackabee provides a simple and yet adequate scenic design that allows for characters to move freely about and doesn’t leave us crammed for when it comes to the bigger production numbers. Amy Clark gives us a beautiful costume design and Jonny Massena’s sound design is spot on when it comes to not only mixing in the band with the vocals but for the special cues as well. The be all to end all of the technical elements is the ridiculous lighting design provided by Jason Lyons. His lighting designs shines (No pun intended) as bright as the stars themselves or even brighter as he hits you with cue after cue of rolling effects, beautiful mixes and fantastic marks.

Do yourself a favor and make sure to get to experience Heathers: The Musical now in performances at New World Stages. It will restore your faith in musical theatre film adaptations but more importantly, it will restore your faith in theatre. Heathers not only brings to life a hilarious cult movie on the stage but an important topic in society with youngsters and how we define ourselves. While I’ll let them be sure to teach you everything you need to know, all you need to know from me is that like the anthem of this production, it is Beautiful.

Review By: Chris Luner

Photos By: Chad Batka

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Beyond Therapy @ The Beckett Theatre @ Theatre Row

Christopher Durang’s Beyond Therapy finds its way back to New York City this spring at the Beckett Theatre. The Actors Company Theatre (TACT) has revived this piece for the first time on a New York City stage in thirty-two years.  Though a laudable effort to bring back a piece from a writer who has had recent success and popularity, Beyond Therapy should, perhaps, have been left in the vaults.
Beyond Therapy is a story about two lost souls, Prudence and Bruce, on the Upper East Side looking for their special somebody in 1982.  Both are in therapy and have decided that the personal ads are the best chance they have.  They meet and do not get along, but when re-encouraged to try the personal ads, they find each other again.  This leads them to take a bit more time to get to know one another and in the end, to start a relationship.  There are some complications though.  Prudence’s therapist Stuart has already slept with her and is incredibly jealous of another man coming into the picture.  His inadequacies are laid bare for all to see in his often role reversed sessions with Prudence, culminating in discussions about his problems with premature ejaculation.  Bruce’s therapist Charlotte is absent-minded enough to give Bruce advice that she may have meant for another.  Deciphering that advice is hard enough with Charlotte forgetting common words and then losing her thoughts completely while trying to think of the word she missed.  If all that is not enough, there is always Bob…Bruce’s live in lover.  Did I mention Bruce was bisexual?  All of this adds up to one crazy mess as the characters try to navigate through their daily relationships.
Now delivered as a period piece, Beyond Therapy holds all the potential to be a relevant work for our time.  The complications of third party dating connections, of complex relationships, of people in authority taking advantage of you or being just as lost as you; All of these ring true for audiences of a modern time, whether they are delivered through kitchy 80’s pop references or through every day persons.  Unfortunately, in order to be relevant to any audience, you must first connect with them. Beyond Therapy turns everything it touches to unabashed satire.  This makes for some amusing comic punch lines while leaving any connection to actual life or to its characters at the door.
Content aside, the cast tries with all their might to inject some real life and flair to their characters.  Liv Rooth as Prudence and Mark Alhadeff as Bob will the audience to want something for their characters. It is obvious that they did a great deal of work to add depth to characters that have little by writing alone.  Their performances are solid and nearly succeed in buying our investment, though sometimes to the detriment of comedic timing.  Rooth’s outbursts are hilarious, however; truly well set up and executed.
The therapists, played by Cynthia Darlow (Charlotte) and Karl Kenzler (Stuart) are the source of the running gags and antics.  Their over the top performances and often child like responses are exactly what the satire needs to elicit hearty laughter from the audience.
The flow of the show is a delight, with credit going mainly to Scott Alan Evans.  The scene changes, delivered like campy '60s TV sitcom dance breaks, are inspired and are a pleasant distraction while also keeping the audience engaged in the action.
Despite some truly thoughtful performances and imaginative directing, in the end the show is nothing more than cheap laughs that ring hollow just past the doors to the theater.

Review By: Paul Morin

Photos By: Marielle Solan Photography

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Rocky @ The Winter Garden Theater

“And now for the main event!”

Whether you are a hardcore fan or have never heard of the movie, ROCKY on Broadway is a must see!

Somewhere in downtown Philadelphia, a down-and-out fighter named Rocky Balboa struggles to stay on his feet. But when the chance of a lifetime comes along, he takes his best shot at becoming a champion… and his last shot at finding first love. The iconic underdog story ROCKY has inspired an innovative new stage production, brought to extraordinary life by a five-time Tony Award®-winning creative team, including director Alex Timbers (Peter and the Starcatcher), songwriting team Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Ragtime), and book writers Thomas Meehan (The Producers) and Sylvester Stallone (Rocky, the Oscar®-winning Best Picture).

Any ROCKY fan will agree that Alex Timbers direction does the film justice and far exceeds expectations. He transfers the movie into a fantastic three dimensional realization, breaking the “fourth wall” left and right. Timbers also includes the obligatory training montage in the most clever and seamless way possible. The music and lyrics by Ahrens and Flaherty keeps a steady thread throughout the piece, successfully folding in classic ROCKY themes as if they were simply part of their own score. The piece as a whole however is not as lush or compelling as some of their other works.

Andy Karl as Rocky Balboa is quite possibly the hardest working man on Broadway.  He brings Rocky to life, infused with anticipated Stallone inspired bites while also brightening up the character with Karl’s own flare. His physical performance seems to equate to the stamina needed for competing in an Ironman Triathlon.  His super hero-like showcase is most obvious in the scene where Karl is belting out some impressive vocals while easily doing pull-ups.  This combination of mental, vocal and physical demands would bring most actors to their knees, but it highlights Karl’s strength and talent.

Two other performances to take note of are Terance Archie as Apollo Creed and Margo Seibert as Adrian.  Archie oozes with charisma as the arch nemesis Apollo.  His portrayal is perfect, leading us to hate Apollo while we smile uncontrollably each time Archie’s rich voice sings or speaks.  Margo Seibert’s Adrian has a wonderful character arc; the more that Adrienne grows in the storyline, the more Seibert’s vocals shine with the reflection of her character.  Archie, Seibert and the rest of the cast ignite the streets of Philadelphia with fiery passion.

The set, designed by Christopher Barreca, is everything that we have come to expect from a big ticket Broadway show.  The audience is drawn into the day to day life of each character with very detailed and intricate sets. We see Rocky’s worn wallpaper, fish swimming in a wall of aquariums in Adrian’s pet shop and Creed’s sleek mirrored business office. In the end, the set transforms to draw the audience into the action of the boxing ring. This set allows the audience to develop an intimate connection with each character and then leaves you feeling as if you didn’t just see a Broadway show, but that you were actually part of a boxing event! It is ingenious, not only in appearance but in functionality.

The fight choreography in this piece is probably the most impressive you will ever find in any Broadway show. Even sitting in the front row it is impossible to see “staged” punches. All of it looks authentic and is executed like a perfectly synced ballet.   It is so real that the audience can’t help being swept into cheering for their favorite contender.

This tremendous spectacle brings the classic movie to life in the most sensational way possible. ROCKY will leave you feeling exhilarated and wanting more.  Don’t miss it!

Review By: Staci Morin
Photos By: Chad Batka

Friday, March 21, 2014

Tales from Red Vienna @ New York City Center Stage 1

Travel back in time to Vienna to experience a wonderful story filled with comedy, hope and romance in the world premiere production of Tales From Red Vienna at New York City Center’s Stage 1 produced by Manhattan Theatre Club.

Tales From Red Vienna is written by David Grimm and tells the story of a young woman, Helena, who finds herself living a double life. After her husband’s death, Helena does what she must to keep herself functioning in society. However, how society views her as compared to how her friends view her are two entirely separate looks. However, when Bella Hoyos shows up, he has the chance to ruin everything and expose Helena for who she actually is.

Nina Arianda stars as Helena Altman and once again proves herself on the New York Stage. Arianda, best known for her Tony Award winning performance in Venus in Fur, captivates the audience from moment one and brings forth an instant connection we can all make. She is outstanding and she hits every emotional spectrum throughout the piece and brings to life the young girl trapped in a life she clearly never planned for. Michael Esper stars opposite as the lovable Bella Hoyos who you can’t help but fall for. While at first he may appear slimy in his ways, hang in there. Esper proves not only himself but the character in the end showing that there is more to people than we see at first.

Tina Benko stars as the hilarious Mutzi von Fessendorf who can’t seem to get enough of life despite having it all. She proves as a comedic force throughout the piece with her consistent over the top appearances.  Speaking of comedy, Kathleen Chalfant, who stars as Edda Schmidt, will have you laughing nonstop during her time on stage. From consistently drinking to her hilarious one-liners, Chalfant makes most of her time on stage bringing the audience to joyous moments repeatedly.  Lucas Hall makes the most of his minimal time on stage starring as Karl Hupka. During his short time on stage, his character brings to life someone the audience not only grows to dislike but doesn’t want to see as he looms over the production making statements and gestures we unfortunately know people deal with in real life relationships daily. Michael Goldsmith stars as the adorable Rudy Zuckermaier. Despite his short appearance as well, his moments on stage matter in the sense of relationships and a sense we have all felt before; hopelessness. He is an important stepping-stone in this show’s gradual rise to it’s ending.

The show is performed in three acts with two intermissions. You will be transported to Vienna in the 1920’s through the scenic design provided by John Lee Beatty and the costume design by Anita Yavich. Peter Kacorowski’s lighting design plays perfectly off the scenic and costume elements given to him and create beautiful pictures throughout much of the piece. Rob Milburn and Michael Boddeen provide a great sound design with fantastic music that appear consistently throughout the production.

One may never know if the Tales From Red Vienna are true or not. While a tale is defined as a story that is imaginatively recounted, I think the recounting here is in what is the most important things that matter in our every day lives. People matter. Connections matter. What we do and what we do not do matters. But most importantly, love matters.

Review By: Chris Luner
Photos By: Sara Krulwich

Saturday, March 15, 2014

No Exit @ The Pearl Theater

“Hell is other people” is a line from Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit which sums up the entire plot and feeling of the play itself.
The Pearl Theatre Company presents a translation of Sartre’s No Exit written by Paul Bowles, which is directed by Linda Ames Key, and starring Jolly Abraham (Inez), Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris (Estelle), Bradford Cover (Cradeau) and Pete McElligott (Valet). The show looks at the idea of Hell being just a room that you are trapped in…with other damned souls picked specifically to push your buttons.
It’s apparent right off the bat that all of the actors are highly talented and fully invested in their characters. All of the characters are distinctly unique from each other, from the way they stand and move to the cadences and rhythms of each of their speeches. Abraham (Inez) is very grounded and moves like a cat stalking her prey while always having fire in her voice. Luqmaan-Harris (Estelle) flits around the stage with an affected upper class quality to her voice. Cover (Cradeau) is loose and lugubrious with his body and sarcastic and unaffected in his speech. McElligott (Valet) makes good use of his limited stage time with a distant, no nonsense, clipped quality to his voice and physicality.  
One of the main problems of the play comes from the writing. Sartre was a philosopher as well as a playwright, so many of the characters lines end up being long lugubrious philosophical monologues, or long monologues examining life back on earth. While this is certainly part of style of the play, it made the show feel a lot longer than its relatively short length of 95 minutes. Things would considerably speed up and became more enjoyable whenever the characters were allowed to play with each other. But it depends on what we go to the theatre for. If it’s for entertainment, No Exit is a bit heavy. But if it is to examine our lives and see them reflected in a thought-provoking way, then No Exit is the right show to go see.
Part of the heaviness of the show comes from the very quick shifts of atmospheres and emotions. One minute, the characters will be flirting with each other, then they would be screaming and angry and then suddenly they were laughing once more. The shifts were a bit jarring, but that could have been the point the director Linda Ames Key, wanted to make. The intimate space of the theatre made the audience really feel each emotion, and felt very claustrophobic. But that’s what the characters are feeling as well.
The additional crew of No Exit includes: Technical Director and Production Manager Gary Levinson, Production Stage Manager April Ann Kline, Interim Artistic Director and Dramaturg Kate Farrington, Sound Designer Jane Shaw, Scenic Designer Harry Feiner, Lighting Designer Ann G. Wrightson, Costume Designer Devon Painter and Fight Director Rod Kinter.
If you want to see a show that really makes you think, No Exit is certainly not something you should miss. It will only be at The Pearl Theatre Company until March 30th.

Review By: Chrissy Cody

Photos By: Al Foote III