Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Irreversible @ The Theater at the 14th St Y

Director Melanie Moyer and the Red Fern Theatre Company have taken on Jack Karp’s captivating Irreversible.  Running three weekends at The Theater at the 14th St Y, it is a deep look into the decisions we make and more importantly, must live with.
Robert Oppenheimer (Jordan Kaplan) and his brother Frank (Josh Doucette) are desperately racing to beat the Nazis to the world’s first nuclear bomb in the throes of World War II, but when they finally see the power of their new weapon, the two men are torn apart in a battle between conscience and ambition.
Being a story based in science, Irreversible could potentially make for a tedious book.  Luckily for us, Karp keeps the plot in motion with wit, humor, drama, love and sex.  The dialogue is interesting and very human.  The most inventive aspect of Karp’s writing is displayed in the form of multiple conversations all centered around the lead character, Robert, in different locations and points of time that intertwine to present a fluid through line.  Josh Doucette delivers Frank with honesty and completely in the moment - keeping the audience engaged.  Other noteworthy performances are Amelia Mathews as Jean and Dan Odell as Niels Bohr.
The scenic design by Andrew Mannion is a creative blend of indoor realism and outdoor expressionism.  A simple desk, chalkboard and sofa are dispersed throughout the three quarter style staging with a large bull’s-eye target on the floor. In the back, there is the hint of dessert hills. Scene transitions are done effortlessly by draping linen over the sofa, turning a table around or removing entire pieces.  Having all the stage elements consistently present kept the audience imagination present as well.
Lighting Designer Marie Yokoyama also adds her spark to this production.  Right from the start the audience is blinded, first by darkness then by light.  The twinkling of stars gives a welcome air of romance.  Yokoyama also utilizes some slow fades for dramatic emphasis and washes of red-orange to enhance the reality of a nuclear bomb.
Also adding his mark on this production is sound designer Andy Evan Cohen. From the moment you enter the theatre you are welcomed by the romantic sounds of the 1940’s. Once in the throes of Irreversible, Cohen uses a deep rumble and low waving tones to compliment the “nuclear” aspect while heightening the drama on stage.
For a thoughtful look at the start of the arms race we still feel today, go see Jack Karp’s Irreversible, playing at The Theater at the 14th St Y weekends until March 29th.

Review By: Paul Morin
Photos By: Red Fern

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Hunchback of Notre Dame @ Paper Mill Playhouse

Paper Mill Playhouse presents Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame: a truly stunning and emotion grabbing hit. Inspired by the classic Victor Hugo novel and the only stage collaboration between two giants of American musical theater. Music by Alan Menken (Disney's The Little MermaidBeauty and the BeastNewsiesLittle Shop of Horrors), lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (WickedGodspell, Pippin). An intimate retelling of the famous love story, with a lush, emotionally rich score and a production that will leave you inspired.

Leading the cast is the incredible Michael Arden. Arden is a force to be reckoned with, when he first walks out on stage, he grabs the audience in his fists and drags them along for a performance of a lifetime. Patrick Page portrays the Froillo, Quaz's guardian, Although in the disney movie and original story Froillo is presented as evil and unlikeable, this productions give his a back story that allows you to feel for him. Page's Hellfire was truly stunning to the point where the audience was brought to their feet in the middle of the act. Rounding out the cast is Ciara Renee as the sexy gypsy Esermelda. Renee is lovable and sexy, and her voice is just as electrifying as her dancing. 

The Hunchback of Notre Dame opened at Paper Mill Playhouse on March 4th 2015 and plays through April 5thth, 2015. If this production doesn't move to Broadway, then you will mess out on a truly remarkable production.

Review By: James Russo
Photos ByKevin Berne

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Audience @ The Gerald Schoenfeld Theater

Helen Mirren being extraordinary, amazing acting, gorgeous costumes, and two corgis running around; what more do you need in a Broadway play? In reference to The Audience by Peter Morgan, absolutely nothing.
The Audience is about the relationship of Queen Elizabeth II and many of her Prime Ministers. Each week, the Queen and the Prime Minister meet in private to discuss the past week and what’s coming ahead for the United Kingdom. Throughout these meetings, the Queen attempts to guide her country through the Prime Minister. Even though these meetings are not presented chronologically, we still clearly see how the Queen changes throughout her long realm and how she deals with almost being a figurehead monarch.
Obviously one of the biggest draws of the play is the astonishing Helen Mirren, reprising the character of Queen Elizabeth II after playing her in the film, The Queen, and winning an Oscar, Golden Globe, SAG, and BAFTA Award for the her extraordinary work there. So, obviously this is a character that Mirren knows down to her bones and the work shows. Mirren sails smoothly between different ages, from the optimistic sharp newly crowned queen to the warm grandmotherly presence of today’s Queen and every cheeky and sharp turn in between. It’s a masterclass in maintaining a character even through shifting physicalities and ages. Helen Mirren plays Queen Elizabeth II as if it were the easiest thing in the world, even though it most certainly is not.
Not to say that the play itself and the supporting characters are shadowed by Mirren’s mastery. Peter Morgan’s script deftly weaves through various time periods and draws parallels between each Prime Minister-including one particularly deft one between Sir Anthony Eden and Tony Blair and their reactions to problems in the Middle East. The subject matter of the play could be viewed as dull due to less skilled writers, but Morgan weaves the story so well that boredom is never even a question. The script is smart and sharp-Elizabeth remarks at one point “I’ve found all of my Prime Ministers to all be distinctly human.” This is true of the work of all the supporting characters who play Prime Ministers. Each one is a well-rounded interesting human being. Particularly praise goes out to Dakin Matthews as Winston Churchill and Judith Ivey as Margaret Thatcher for still creating fully rounded humans out of people that are considered icons.
A special note goes out to the amazing design work by Bob Crowley. The sets were beautifully austere and cozy when the time was needed. And the costumes were absolutely extraordinary. Each helped instantly set up the time period, which is needed in an non-linear show, and more than that, the costumes were simply beautiful. I actually gasped when the coronation gown was revealed, because it was so beautiful.

The Audience is a stunning play that fully engulfs any audience into its skilled hands. Do not miss this amazing piece of theatre! It is currently playing at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on West 45th Street.
Review By: Chrissy Cody
Photos By: Joan Marcus

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

John & Jen @ The Clurman Theatre @ Theatre Row

John & Jen is a musical by Tom Greenwald and Andrew Lippa that details the relationships between one woman, Jen (Kate Baldwin), and her brother and her son, both named John (Conor Ryan). The show originally debuted Off-Broadway in 1995, and is now revived twenty years later Off-Broadway at Theatre Row by the Keen Company, directed by Jonathan Silverman.

Baldwin’s performance leaves nothing to be desired, as she has all but perfectly captured the essence of each stage of life, from child to mother, and packaged it into a strong performance.  Her vocals are technically and dramatically brilliant, and even left some in the audience wondering when she found moments to inhale.  Unfortunately, her counterpart Ryan’s performance, though by no stretch of the imagination a bad one, paled in comparison.  While Ryan’s vocal talent was fine enough, there seemed to be a disconnect between the fairly young performer and his two characters. At times, it would have seemed the two separate individuals were totally indistinguishable from each other.  Both actors, though, brought an immense amount of charm to the stage.  The scenic designer, Steven C. Kemp, gave an unusual and conversation-provoking set, and each of Sydney Maresca's costume designs seemed to be spot on.

Perhaps one of the most jarring elements of the performance was the almost nonexistent chemistry between Baldwin and Ryan.  Whether it is simply a difference in the caliber of actors, the source material, or an off day, it is noticeable that the two almost seemed as if they didn’t enjoy each other’s presence on a personal level.
As for the musical itself, the first act trudges from John (Jen’s brother) and Jen’s childhood and adolescence in the seemingly innocent 50’s into the turbulent conflicts of political and personal ideals of the radically different 60’s, but does so neither with a particular sense of enthusiasm nor in a particular hurry.  When the act ends with John’s death, it’s almost hard to care, as the characters have done very little to develop a relationship worth mourning.  The second act brings us through the life of John (Jen’s son) with just as little enthusiasm and even less tonal consistency, adding in an unusual number wherein John and Jen act as daytime talk show hosts and point out every flaw in their relationship, despite having been stressed as a strained relationship to begin with.  

The second act frames the issues to come when Jen gives her son her dead brother’s name, clothes, baseball, catcher’s mitt, and personality in an attempt to make reparations for the relationship so feebly established and demolished in the first act, whether he wants these things or not. For a two person cast, the two hour runtime is a very long haul, and eventually the songs seem to become very redundant, lacking strong (read: enjoyable or noticeably varied) melodies and strong (read: interesting and coherent) lyrics.

Overall, though Baldwin gives a remarkable performance and Ryan gives his all, their individual charm isn’t enough to save John & Jen from itself. Its poor pacing, forgettable songs, and overly long runtime make it a musical that could either use some long overdue rewrites or another twenty-year break.

Review By: Jacob R. Hines
Photos By: Carol Rosegg