Friday, January 30, 2015

Nevermore: The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe @ New World Stages, Stage 1

As a disclaimer, I am not a professed Edgar Allan Poe fanatic. I enjoy his work very much but I cannot claim to be an enthusiast.

Nevermore, written, composed and directed by Jonathan Christenson was a look into the imaginary life and mysterious death of Edgar Allan Poe. Christenson sought to bring the audience into a world where the macabre gears within Poes mind churned. Production designer Bretta Gerecke took Christensons vision and set a simple stage: six panels and strategic lighting.
Sound designer Wade Staples accentuated the actors portrayal of Poes compatriots while flaunting very Poe-vian costumes. Eerie ravens, horse heads, large and decrepit hats all came together like a scene out of a Tim Burton film. To me, it was the right amount of eerie and weird.

The play began with Edgar Allan Poe (Scott Shpeley), lost and alone until he is met with strangers who claim to have known his mother. Edgar is confused by their knowledge and asks them to remind him of his past. With this, the audience is taken into an intimate narration of Edgars earliest years in Boston and onto his last breath in Baltimore.

Shpeley portrays Edgar as a pessimist trying to battle against his tender heart and gentle disposition.Edgar is a tormented man, not just by his own inner visions but from the difficult life that continuously beats him. The musical is a narration of his life.

The audience was left to imagine Edgars feelings through each setback, and it reminded me of the emotions that we experience when reading his work. Delving into someones mind via art is a imaginary process, I enjoyed that the musical followed that vein.

The performance covered many facets of Edgars complicated life. Important female figures such as Edgars mother, Eliza Poe (Lindsie VanWinkle), his foster mother Fanny Allan (Beth Graham), his high school sweetheart Elmira Royster (Shannon Blanchet), his cousin-bride Sissy Clemm (Beth Graham), sister Rosalie Poe (Beth Graham), and aunt Muddy Clemm (Lindsie VanWinkle) culminated into the many but sparse lights that at times brought Poe out of his own darkness. Each actress had the right amount of humor attached to the strangeness of their performances that, again, can be described as Poe-vian.

Edgars male counterparts included his father, David Poe (Garett Ross), his foster father Jock Allan (Garett Ross), his ever-optimistic brother Henry Poe (Garelan Beatty) and the infamous Rufus Griswold (Ryan Parker). Aside from Henry, the men that influenced Edgars development were inclined toward evil, drinking or defamation. Each actor delved into his character and pushed Edgar further toward his odd obsessions.

In addition to their many roles, each actor also participated in the ensemble. Narrating Edgars life, the audience was left to look through their own glass to understand Edgars deadly inclinations. The musical was an avenue of understanding of Edgar Allan Poes life, in a way that was visually appealing and I hummed the music for a few hours after leaving.

I am unsure if an Edgar Allan Poe fanatic would approve of the tribute but I left feeling as if I understood some of Edgars torment. The play was strange, odd and a bit long but it held laughter, pity, and eerie decadence very well.

Review By: Alexandra Lipari
Photos By: Joan Marcus

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Winners @ Ensemble Studio Theatre

They say that the face of marriage in the United States is deranged. Beneath the many facets of long term relationships lurks some unforgettable moments and unforgivable deeds. Compound the love and marriage of a middle class family with teenage children and a setting for a play filled with laughter and conflict is born. Ensemble Studio Theatres Winners comedically captured the modern family and its struggle to cope.

Director Pamela Berlin was granted an outstanding cast by McCorkle Casting & Tom Rowan. Jason Simmsset was imaginative and brought Maggie Bofills play to almost anyones living room, kitchen and bedroom. Berlin played to the strengths of each cast member and had the audience laughing and leaning in throughout the entire performance.

The play began with immediate conflict over the proper use of cooking utensils. Which, of course, is a very serious topic. Brian, (Grant Shaud) had engrossed himself in home cooking since the teetering job market had banned him to the stove rather than the suit packed pavement. Shaun was a pleasure to watch and his grasps at frustration while maintaining himself as a father were both relatable and moving.

Mabel, (Florencia Lozano) is Brians wife and now sole breadwinner of the household. Faced with added responsibility and a breakdown of marital communication, Lozano depicts a woman struggling to find her new footing and mutual understanding with her husband. Generally discontented and frantic, Lozano captures the dissatisfied wife very well.

Their son, Tommy (David Gelles) is battling his sixteen year old fog while gripping for adulthood and the meaning of responsibility. Gelles and his sister, Gabby (Arielle Goldman) have great chemistry together.

Gabby is hiding her ten ear old fall into reality with a quirkiness that was endearingshe quickly became my favorite character. Goldmans ability to capture Gabbys strange tint was well executed.

An old colleague of Brians, Bill (Scott Sowers) is a manager at a nearby Gap store. Bills mysterious choice to liken his managerial role to a civic duty made his intentions questionable. Sowers certainly made me grip my seat, but youll have to see the play to understand why.

Bills wife, Lilly (Polly Lee) is the touched by God employee of Saint Marys private school. In charge of the Christmas play, Lee endures Gabbys very dark renditions of Christmas night with trained astonishment; super hero capes and all. Lee presents a holy conservative woman whose fabric is somewhat shaken by the Winners family.

And lastly, the comic relief to the otherwise laughter inducing playthe cat and dog. Of the two, my personal favorite was Marie Antoinette (Stephanie Hsu). Hsu truly conveyed every facial expression I would expect to see from a cat-human hybrid. A beatnik and ballerina cat was a perfect addition to the play.

Of the most cherished characters was Buck (Curran Connor). Connor played the household dog with a constant smile and big dog mannerismshappiness, playfulness, eating garbage and the intense need to pee. Connors monologue in Act II has me looking at my own dog differently.

Ensemble Studio Theatre and the Radio Drama Networks presentation of Winners was a pleasure. The play runs from Wednesday, January 14th to Sunday, February 8th. Grab a ticket and go enjoy yourself for an evening.
Review By: Alex Lipari
Photos By: Gerry Goodstien

Friday, January 16, 2015

Honeymoon in Vegas @ The Nederlander Theater

Romance, scandal, comedy and music collide in Honeymoon in Vegas.
The show tells the story of Jack, a Brooklynite with an extreme fear of marriage, who finally gets up the nerve to ask his girlfriend Betsy to marry him. But when smooth-talking gambler Tommy — looking for a second chance at love — falls head over heels for Betsy, Jack must go to extreme heights to win back the love of his life. A romantic romp from New York to Vegas to Hawaii, HONEYMOON is non-stop, laugh-out-loud Broadway fun!
Composer & Lyricist Jason Robert Brown, who is best known for dramatic works such as The Last 5 Years, Parade and Bridges of Madison County steps outside his comfort zone to bring us a musical comedy! While some of the score reflects melodies found in some of JRB’s other works, most of Honeymoon in Vegas is a surprisingly fresh detour. Jason Robert Brown’s lyrics are both witty and a hilarious cliché. The audience roared for numbers such as “Never Get Married”, “Friki-Friki” and “Higher Love”, while tunes like “You Made the Wait Worth While” counter the laughs with a simplistic sweetness.
The orchestra, led by Tom Murray, starts the show off with a bang. At the top of the show the band is center stage-turning the typical overture into a standout Vegas style performance.  The music is energizing and sets the palpable emotional whirlwind of the show.
Rob McClure plays Jack with a nerdy likability and Nancy Opel is hilarious as Jack’s overbearing dead mother. Tommy Korman is reminiscent of characters many of us have seen Tony Danza play before, making him seem like an obvious choice for the role. Danza does a technically fine job singing and dancing but his charming charisma might be more easily captured on film.  Every moment Brynn O’Malley is on stage as Betsy she is fully present and engaging. David Josefsberg is a delight as both Buddy Rocky and nearly stops the show as Roy Bacon. The ensemble of Honeymoon in Vegas is stellar. They shine in their individual moments but also bring the dance and vocal numbers to life with ease. The choreography by Denis Jones is vibrant, but what really sells the movement is the unique personality each ensemble member brings to their respective character.
Director Gary Griffin knows how to squeeze every last possible laugh out of each scene. Sometimes outrageous and sometimes understated, Griffin seems to have found the perfect blend to compliment Andrew Bergman’s book. Brian Hemesath’s costume designs are fun and completed with the hair and wig designs by Charles G Lapointe. The scenic and projection design by Anna Louizos is top notch as is the seamless sound design by Scott Lehrer and Drew Levy.
Honeymoon in Vegas is overall an enjoyable show. It will leave you with a smile on your face. Go see it! The team over at the Nederlander made it worth the while!
Review By: Staci Morin
Photos By: Sara Krulwich