Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Doctor Zhivago @ The Broadway Theater

Doctor Zhivago is based on Boris Pasternak's novel and its 1965 film. It takes place in Russia during the Russian Revolution of 1917 through the beginnings of World War 1. The aristocratic Zhivago is a doctor and a poet, who is thrown into the war as he becomes torn between his wife and childhood friend Tonya and the mysterious Lara, whom several men also pine for. The story is a romantic epic, throwing the audience directly into the warzone, experiencing its tragedies and moments of tenderness along with the characters. The book is by Michael Weller (Ragtime), music by Lucy Simon (The Secret Garden), and lyrics by Michael Korie (Grey Gardens).

The moment you walk into the theatre you are immediately transported into another world. The stack of chairs piled high center and the black and white checkered floor gave just a tease of the spectacular scenery that was to come, while setting the tone of Czarist and revolutionary Russia. Each place in the show was distinct, thanks to the amazing use of the sike - which utilized various multimedia to really set the locations. Video imaging on the sike and large set pieces on either side of the stage wee used to transform the space into lavish mansions, Russian streets, the countryside, war lines, etc. all with beauty and ease. 

I was absolutely enamored by the spectacle the entire show, both in set and performances. My focus was captured constantly, as I wanted nothing more than to see how the lives of these characters would unfold. While the show is dense and dark, and has a running time of 2 hours and 40 minutes (incl. intermission) it didn't feel long or dragging. Something was consistently happening to keep you invested in the action. The story is the pure definition of epic, with explosions and tremendous journeys taking place. It is not light-hearted, though it has its sweet romantic moments, Doctor Zhivago is not afraid of handling its heavy material, and does so in a manner that is riveting and affecting. The only reason I ever wanted a break was so I could talk with my fellow theatregoers about the wonder that was occurring on the stage.
Tam Mutu and Kelli Barrett were wonderful as the two leading lovers. Zhivago's internal struggle of what kind of man he wants to be was touching and gripping, as Mutu's resounding voice carried the show's beautiful tunes and captivated the audience's attention every moment he was on stage (which was a majority of the night). 
The standout performance came from Paul Alexander Nolan as Pasha/Strelnikov. His vocals soared, and Nolan got to show off his impressive dancing skills in one of the show's most fun and unexpected numbers- "It's a Godsend". Nolan wonderfully traversed Pasha's tragic journey, from the enthusiastic young lover of Lara who only wants equality in Russia to a hardened commander and killer. He was absolutely enthralling, and I intend to follow Nolan's career, as he was a wonder.

You do not need to be a fan of the original novel/film, or even familiar with it (as I went into this show completely fresh) to be invested in the action. Adding to the cinematic feeling are the titles that appear above the stage, identifying the time and place that the upcoming scene is happening. This allows everyone to know exactly what is going on at all times. If you are a longtime fan, it is amazing to see how this story is transformed on the stage, and for newcomers it is just as amazing to see the epic unfold.

One word of discretion: There are postings when you enter the theatre warning about realistic gun shots and explosions. They mean it. The show is littered with the booms (helpfully and stunningly adding to the gruesomeness and violence of the times) but some can be quite startling. Along these lines, there is an abundance of blood and gore (and vomit at one point), so those with weaker constitutions should use discretion and sit further away or know when to look away.

Overall, I left the theatre absolutely amazed by the majesty I had just seen. The story was riveting, the sets and effects spectacular, and the performances beautiful and overflowing with talent. It was so filled with passion and glory and was a moving piece that transported me back in time. This truly was an epic night of theatre that I cannot stop talking about. So Doctor ZhivaGO see this show.

Review By: April Sigler
Photos By: Sara Krulwich

CredSara Krulwich

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Fun Home @ the Circle in the Square Theatre

Great shows seem to be a dime a dozen this Broadway season. Amazing shows are also pretty prevalent, but a little rarer. Fun Home is one of those amazing shows-mixing humor and poignancy in a profoundly moving way.

Fun Home tells the story of the life of cartoonist Alison Bechdel in a non-linear time bending way. It looks back on her childhood growing up in a funeral home/living museum (the Fun Home of the title), and how she came out to her parents in college only to discover her father was gay as well and had been sleeping with men throughout her entire childhood.

This play focuses on three different versions of Alison Bechdel and each one is a triumph. One of the quietest roles, and yet still the most compelling is Alison played by Beth Malone. She is a constant unobtrusive presence looking back on her life, and sometimes commenting as well.
Malone strikes the perfect balance of sometimes being at the forefront of the scene and then deftly stepping back to let the other characters have their moment. It’s a difficult skill that Malone makes look easy. Emily Skegg wonderfully plays up the awkward college years of Middle Alison, while making her endearingly heart-felt. Her first encounter with Joan (Roberta Colindrez) is a high spot of comedy and heart. Small Alison (Sydney Lucas) is a little firecracker with youthful energy, but with some hint of being wise beyond her age.

The supporting cast is outstanding as well, with a particular focus on Bruce (Michael Cerveris) and Helen (Judy Kuhn), Alison’s parents. Kuhn, a Broadway legend, was extraordinary as always. She created enormous depth to her character out of just a little, as the script mostly focuses on Bruce. Her eleventh-hour number “Days and Days” is a wonder to behold. Cerveris is also a Broadway vet, and he deftly moves between the loving father and the stern authoritarian, easily showing that underneath a lot of swagger, he feels something is wrong. Both Cerveris and Kuhn more classical voices translate gorgeously to the more contemporary score.Speaking of the score, the music by Jeanine Tesori blends beautifully with the book and lyrics by Lisa Kron.

In supporting the theme of shifting time, the music shifts through singing and underscoring like moving through water. Themes happen and then move away and slide back for more poignancy and thought. Particular standouts go to Kuhn’s “Days and Days”, Middle Alison’s bombastic declaration of love in “Changing My Major,” Small Alison’s first hints at homosexuality in the anthem “Ring of Keys,” and my personal favorite, the awkward moving attempt at a serious conversation that never really happens between Bruce and Middle Alison, replaced by Alison for a moment in “Telephone Wire.”

Fun Home is beautiful, stark, and full of life with just the right amount of “fun.” Do. Not. Miss. This show is one for the books.

Review By: Chrissy Cody
Photos By: Joan Marcus

Friday, April 24, 2015

Finding Neverland @ the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

The heartwarming Finding Neverland is a fantastic new musical brought to life by director Diane Paulus (Pippin, the Gershwin's Porgy and Bess), with music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy and the book by British playwright James Graham. It is the talk of the town and rightfully so.

At the curtains rise, post tinker bell's entrance of course, we are introduced to Mr J.M. Barrie himself (an incredible Matthew Morrison) setting the scene on how his life was before Peter, the boy & the story, entered his life. We see the denouement of a life artificial when Barrie sits in the park and discovers Peter and his family. This naturally turns into a love story betwixt Peter's mother Sylvia (the gorgeous Laura Michelle Kelly) and Barrie. We trace their relationship as the story line progresses of a boy who never wants to grow up and experiences great loss. Sylvia grows sick, so Barrie and his cast perform opening night at the nursery. It concludes the death of a mother and introduces a new guardian in Peter and his brothers lives, Barrie.

Peter (Aiden Gemme) and his siblings give tangible life to the story we all know and love. We see. Peter's story is a story of loss and struggle, which makes the audience reevaluate the depths of one of fairy tale's most beloved characters.

The show is littered with small nods to the original story- the character of Elliot mirrors Smee, a dog that looks like Nana, and allusions to mermaids and Tinkerbell to name a few. But half the fun is finding them yourself!

All the while, the show has spectacle and laughs but most importantly, an honest look on being a grown up, a child and what got lost along the way. You walk in smiling to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre expecting an experience of flight and whimsy and leave having received so much more.

Review By: Brittany Goodwin

Photos By: Carole Rosegg

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Airline Highway @ The Samuel Friedman Theater

The Hummingbird Motel is the church where retired burlesque club owner and prophet to those with “bad luck, bad tempers” who suffer “no bullshit, no pretending” conducts one last sermon to her congregation of duckies in “Airline Highway by Lisa D’Amour and directed by Joe Mantello. Miss Ruby is about to meet her Maker so her flock is going to give her a send-off complete with booze, music and tortilla chips-be-damned in the place where they “don’t bury all [their] dirty stuff under the sidewalk.”

With young Zoe, guest of former resident bad boy, as the witness to the event, her query for high school sociology paper on subcultures spotlights the “messy and honest and real” lives of these morally questionable misfits. The characters, as colorful as the streamers and a New Orleans funeral procession have mostly reconciled the ghosts of their past, integrating them into their lives. And where they haven’t, there is inconsolable grief and heartache. Miss Ruby scolds all for letting the world make them feel small and disposable. Her greatest encouragement is to revel in the mystery of our sexual selves.

Thoroughly entertaining, the cast delivers an authentic presentation of these down-and-out, has- beens, wannabes, and parental disappointments in such a way to endear them to us. We are at once grateful to not be in their situation while also envious of their loyalty and dedication to each other. For them, there is no greener grass; reflecting upon what might have been is a luxury they cannot afford. And in that place, they find freedom where there is “no magic fucking fairy dust” to give them any delusions about who they are and their place in the world.

As I left the Samuel Friedman, I saw several of the cast mates out chatting with the matinee crowd. Maybe that it was the first warm, sunny day in the City for months had something to do with it, but it seemed more likely that these people truly enjoyed what they created and presented to us and were happy to bask and reminisce.

Opening night is April 23 and I say “Go!” And then maybe make your way down to New Orleans for some beignets at Café du Monde where you can sit and watch people, much like the Hummingbird Motel residents, headed home in the wee hours, who will ask nothing of you other than to live your life the best you can and to not forget them.

Review By: Michele Seven
Photos By:Sara Krulwich

Sunday, April 19, 2015

It Shoulda Been You @ The Brooks Atkinsons Theatre

Clichéd characters, phoned-in performances, and less-then-memorable music make It Shoulda Been You a wedding best enjoyed after a few drinks or by simply staying home.

 The musical, by Brian Hargrove and Barbara Anselmi, leads us into the chaotic wedding night of Rebecca (Sierra Boggess) and Brian (David Burtka), all being overseen by Rebecca’s sister, Jenny (Lisa Howard).  Throughout the show we’re introduced to the feuding in-laws-to-be, Rebecca’s parents Judy (Tyne Daly) and Murray (Chip Zein), and Brian’s parents Georgette (Harriet Harris) and George (Michael X. Martin), an always competent and always witty wedding planner, Albert (Edward Hibbert), and an apparent former lover of Rebecca’s, Marty (Josh Grisetti). Also featured in the cast are Anne L. Nathan, Nick Spangler, Montego Glover, and Adam Heller.

 While it has all the individual elements of a typical wedding comedy, including prenuptial, a drunk in-law, an underappreciated sister/bridesmaid, and a love triangle, the musical seems to lack drive, and its big twist, though original in the context of this story, seems odd and somewhat totally out of left field.  It lacks the heart of a solid musical, and when it does cling to serious themes, Shoulda can become fairly preachy.

 It is worth noting that Howard’s performance is stellar, delivering the only character that seems well-balanced between comedy and seriousness. Vocally she’s a standout, and she shines brighter than her material. Boggess and Burtka give decent performances, albeit ones not worth the price of admission. 
Daly, who has star power and a stunning career under her belt, walks through the show as if it’s still a rehearsal, never truly giving it her all.  Harris’ performance is much stronger than her counterpart, giving laughs almost every time she appears on stage.

Paired with Hibbert’s sassy and sharp performance, the two easily are the most consistently enjoyable throughout the show.  Glover’s performance as Anne is noteworthy, as well, as she brings both sweetness and hilarity to the role.  It’s also worth noting that Anna Louizos’ set may give one of the best performances, serving as both a spectacle while still and a versatile space fantastic for telling the story at hand. 

Unfortunately, Shoulda tries to be an original wedding comedy – something new and funny – but the space between its wonderful one-liners tends to leave much to be desired, and its many less-than-brilliant performances make this piece one wish you were at a real wedding, because at least there’s usually an open bar.

Review By: Jacob Hines
Photos By: Joan Marcus

Living on Love @ The Longacre Theatre

 There are obviously funny shows on Broadway all the time. And there are some that like have laughs from start to finish. Living On Love is one of those shows-there were laughs galore from the opening announcement to turn off your cell phones (in a pseudo-Italian English) all the way to the final bows.

Living on Love is a screwball comedy set in the penthouse of “El Maestro” Vito De Angelis (Douglas Sills) and “La Diva” Raquel De Angelis (Renée Fleming) and chronicles the dramatic turns as two highly overdramatic people attempt to outdo each other and each write an auto-biography, which is really written by two ghost writers, Robert Samson (Jerry O’Connell) and Iris Peabody (Anna Chlumsky). Hijinks, thrown cutlery, and fabulous music occur at every hilarious turn.
One of the most pleasant surprises of the show is just how dang funny Flemming is as Raquel. She has one of the greatest voices on the planet, which is shown off to lovely effect and got applause practically every time she sang one stunningly beautiful note. But Flemming’s comic timing is also superb. She is well adept at the overly dramatic moments, which stem from the larger than life opera world, she comes from but was also poignant in the quieter moments that she shared, particularly the striking moment where Raquel explains exactly why opera is better than real life.

Sills as Vito fully matches up to the dramatics needed for the Maestro and is a master of physical comedy and wonderfully quippy one-liners. He also has some lovely quieter moments shared with his wife of 35 years and when discussing the music that has so shaped his More down to earth, but no less hilarious are the “straight men” of the show, writer Robert Samson and editor/accidental writer Iris Peabody. Movie star Jerry O’Connell deftly plays the neurotic high-energy Robert who melts at the feet of “La Diva.” Chlumsky’s wide-eyed portrayal of the ambitious Iris is a breath of fresh air 1/3 of the way into the show and simultaneously grounds the plot, and yet sparks even more hijinks along the way.

In a show with such high-energy, over-the-top characters andsituations, it’s hard to pick out one particular scene stealer. In this case, there’s two: the long-suffering servants of the De Angelis’, Bruce (Blake Hammond) and Eric (Scott Robertson). Every time they would enter the scene, it would be delightful, especially during their high energy set resets, particularly one featuring some excellent four-hand piano playing.

Living on Love is deftly directed by Kathleen Marshall, with the quips and physical comedy moving seamlessly almost like a dance. Or just like an amazing opera. The opulent scenic design by Derek McLane pairs wonderfully with the lavish costumes by Michael Krass. You never want to blink while watching this show for fear of missing out on another gorgeous treat for the eyes or simply for another laugh.

For a barrel of laughs mixed with some amazing music, go see Living on Love at the Longacre Theatre. This is definitely not one to miss. Living on Love opened on April 20th and will remain on the stage for a limited engagement so don't wait, buy your tickets here!

Review by Chrissy Cody
Photos by Andrew Eccles

Monday, April 13, 2015

Hamlet @ Classic Stage Company

    Classic Stage Company’s production of Hamlet was extraordinary. Director Austin
Pendleton took Shakespeare’s age-old prose and brought it to life with a masterpiece set, designed by Walt Spangler. This thrust theatre was decorated to suit a lavish wedding—complete with an alcove stage left equipped with a bar and a separate sitting room stage right.

Atop the reception table was a gorgeous canopy of white flowers, perfectly accented by Justin Townsend’s lighting design. Each corner of the stage was accompanied by white settees which Pendleton oft chose to place Ophelia—consistently watching the mania unfold. With this, we were transformed into a modestly modernized Hamlet. The performance itself was peppered with eerie music, designed by Ryan Rumery. The play was indeed an event, with superb blocking and never an empty glass of wine, brandy or vodka. Constance Hoffman outfitted each actor with an appropriate modern suit and gown.
    Peter Sarsgaard manifested a contemptuous Hamlet. Ever sarcastic, Sarsgaard swept somewhat ancient lines into a layman’s understanding. Suddenly, the Shakespeare that crawled across our desk during high school was swept from its pages and brought to life in ways I could scarce have imagined. His stage presence was palpable and his supporting cast did not disappoint.  King Claudius was played by Harris Yulin. An older gentleman, Yulin did not come to the
stage a murderer, but a loving husband. Deliberate in his speech, Yulin demonstrated a steady new king rather than a cold-blooded usurper.

His new wife, Gertrude (Penelope Allen) was the ever-attentive and loving mother.
Longing to understand Hamlet’s madness, Allen went to great depths of emotion throughout her
performance. Her tears were moving and her misunderstanding of her husband’s original
intentions believable.
   Laertes burst onto the stage, red faced and loud. Glenn Fitzgerald was entertaining where necessary and a noticeable force where essential. His chemistry with Ophelia was endearing and his connection with his own character noticeable. Lisa Joyce revealed a strange Ophelia. While we could follow Sarsgaard’s descent into psychosis, Joyce’s was abrupt. Ophelia’s fall into hysteria over her father’s death was not mis-presented by Joyce. However, its chosen direction was not as predictable and therefore mildly disjointed with the rest of the performance.
     Stephen Spinella gave the audience a laughter eliciting Polonius. Spinella’s interpretation of Polonius’ character was both witty and quirky. I found my eyes often on the king’s steward, awaiting his next line and my answering laugh or smile. Hamlet’s faithful Horatio was presented by Austin Jones. The silent observer, Horatio frequented the bar and took stock of Hamlet’s story—later surviving its tale. Whereas Ophelia moved from corner to corner, Jones would float into the scene.
     Daniel Morgan Shelley (Reynaldo, Guildenstern, Lucianus, Priest, Fortinbras), Scott Parkinson (Rosencrantz, Player Queen, Gravedigger) and Jim Broaddus (First Player, Player King, Captain) completed Hamlet’s cast. My personal favorite was Scott Parkinson who was a mostly silent but highly enjoyable Player Queen and Gravedigger. Jim Broaddus’ take on the First Player was superb.
     Classic Stage Company’s rendition of Shakespeare’s classic was both impressive and thought provoking. Take the time to see the play, this seasoned cast reckoned a distinct interpretation of his/her character you shouldn’t miss. You can purchase tickets here! And hurry in, Hamlet will only be on the stage until May 10th!

Pictures by Carol Rosegg
Review by Alexandra Lipari 

Hand to God @ The Booth Theater

Robert Askin’s satirical new play, Hand to God, goes to all extremes in a rich look into a religious family’s broken home and the foul-mouthed sock puppet determined to unleash the devil in us all. 
The play mostly takes place within the blue painted cement walls of the church’s basement-a place for hope and God’s love, as the poster’s on the wall would have you believe anyway. Here we open to a puppet class, a welcome distraction for Margery(Geneva Carr) whose husband died six months earlier and is now at a loss as to how to fill her time. Enter Jason(Steven Boyer), shy, good hearted and seriously crushing on hipster Jessica(Sarah Stiles), while Timothy(Michael Oberholtzer) makes snide comments(he after all needs a place to crash during his mother’s 12 step) while simultaneously trying to woo Marg, in a Stacy’s Mom sort of fantasy. The puppet class is hardly something to be proud of with only Jason finished, his sock puppet Tyrone lovingly placed on his left hand and a rendition of “Jesus Loves Me” in his back pocket. Nevertheless, the show must go on as insisted upon Paster Greg(Marc Kudisch), whose “empty arms” need to be filled and whose “empty ears” need to listen. 

All is as it should be until Jason delivers a fabulous rendition of the famous “Who’s on First”  monologue in the hopes of wooing Jessica. Accepted immediately, Jessica wonders aloud if he made that up himself, “Yes.”

“Liar,” replies the previously voiceless Tyrone in what escalates as full out war on morality led by what might be the devil himself.

Boyer shines in his dual personality role, somehow able to convey both party’s emotions and lines. Though we can see his mouth moving the entire time, the audience cannot help but recognize Tyrone as another player. Unable to dismiss the rest of the cast as caricatures despite their hilarious idioms, Stiles deadpan delivery and Oberholtzer’s physical comic timing come to mind, one cannot help but be pulled into their very real struggles. 

The noteworthy Carr delivers as the frantic Texan mother, hell bent(see what I did there) on being good and honoring her dead husband’s memory, but quite unable to quell her very bad decisions. Her decline into humanity is both achingly familiar and entertaining to observe. 
Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel this triumphant Cinderella-esque story for theatre, Hand to God started Off-Broadway at the MCC Theatre, only to be enriched on the Broadway stage. Scenic design by Tony award winner Beowulf Borrit, Lighting Design by Jason Lyons, Costume Design by Sydney Maresca, Sound Design by Jill BC Du Boff, and Puppet Design by Marte Johanne Ekhougen. 
Philosophical, at times horror driven, intelligent, and all the while incredibly funny, Hand to God brings a rousing good time to the theatre stage

Review By: Aziza Seven 
Photos By: Joan Marcus

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Iow@ @ Playwrights Horizons/Peter Jay Sharp Theater

Jenny Schwartz and Todd Almond find a place to let loose at Playwrights Horizons this spring.  The story of Becca as she deals with her mother’s impromptu engagement, iOW@ is a theatrical soiree into the disjointed world of slam poetry.  With the pending nuptials, Becca is forced to move Iowa – and forced to leave everything she knows and loves.  At 14, that kind of change is world shaking, affecting everything we are and pulling the anchor of our lives out from under us. 
Jill Shackner who portrays Becca, connects brilliantly to an underlying storyline and flow that the writing does not offer.  Her acting breathes much needed life into the driving character of iOW@.  Another solid performance comes in Carolina Sanchez.  She delivers every character she has (from the best friend Amanda to a polygamist’s’ wife) with undeniable conviction and presence.  Kolette Tetlow as a young Becca, sets the stage with a solid presence and Annie McNamara steps into the stereotype Cheerleader with wonderful timing.  Lee Sellars is a versatile tour de force on stage as every male character needed.  He transfers from teacher to father to pony (yes pony) in the blink of an eye.  Karyn Quackenbush is a wonderfully crazy Sandy.  As Becca’s mother, although some of her run on monologues land flat, she owns the stage through her electric energy.
Accompanying the cast is the trio of musicians who make up the pit.  With J Oconer Navarro on the piano (also the musical director), Brian Ellingsen on Bass and Sarah Haines on Viola, Todd Almond’s music couldn’t sound more perfect.  Almond delivers thick and beautiful harmonies akin to a movie score and although most of the songs lack a melodic line, his choir-esc vocal arrangements are a delight to the ear.  Jenny Schwartz adds lyrics to the mix with a Philip Glass like style.  Her writing is poetic as it flows from idea to idea like a series of word associations.  Though Schwartz’s book and lyrics often leave the audience with no clear idea of where the story is, it does always stays true to the language of the verse.
The bare set by Dane Laffrey keeps the visual stimulus simple and plain, allowing time to focus on the language of the show.  Laffrey gets a chance to show the audience a small amount of his ability at the end of the show when we arrive in Iowa, leaving me wishing his talents had been used more throughout.  Arnulfo Maldonado’s costumes are an eclectic variety, complementing the feel of the show perfectly.  Though the physical movement of the show sometimes struggled, it seems clear that Ken Rus Schmoll laid the groundwork for strong character study with the actors, allowing them to give their best.
If you want to see great acting and hear beautiful harmonies, iOW@ is a good night out.  It plays now thru May 10th at the Playwrights Horizons.

Review By: Paul Morin
Photos By: Joan Marcus

Friday, April 10, 2015

Wolf Hall: Parts One & Two @ The Winter Garden Theatre

Adapted to the stage by Mike Poulton and Directed by Jeremy Herrin, Wolf Hall Parts 1 and 2 should be savored slowly and all day. Part 1 tackles the annulment of Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, as he decides that the younger, more beautiful Anne Boleyn is the only one that can bear him a male heir, after Catherine’s many miscarriages. Denied by the church and unable to bed Anne without marrying her, Henry is at a loss until Thomas Cromwell, blacksmith’s son, and lawyer, comes along with an ingenious plan, have Henry be the head of his own church therefore granting him absolute power over the state of his own marriage. Catherine now in exile, Anne carrying his presumed heir, and Mary declared a bastard, everything seems to go swimmingly until Elizabeth is born and there is no son. Two years later and not only has Anne not been able to carry a son to term, King Henry’s wandering eyes have caught sight of Jane Seymour, and his current wife’s shrew behavior and loose ways are finally brought to the court. And so Part 1 ends, with an audience on the edge of their seats, knowing full well what history has entail for Anne Boleyn but unable to help the indrawn breath that inevitably happens with good theatre.

And so we’re back after a two hour reprieve to recover and savor the previous hours’ entertainment only to find King Henry is in a bit of a moral pickle and Cromwell at a loss as to how to proceed. Henry, convinced Anne is a witch who bewitched him wants another annulment, and Cromwell, well established at court with the respect he never had before, is going to get him one. Cromwell not only finds her “lovers” but in a trial that can only be described as fixed, he manages to find “evidence” of incest, adultery, and ultimately treason effectively tying the noose around the five men accused and Anne Boleyn, herself. In a gripping scene we see the terrible corruption of absolute power as King Henry signs away six lives for immediate execution. King Henry marries Jane 11 days later and once more the audience is left knowing the end, but enraptured nonetheless.

Ben Miles shines at Thomas Cromwell. He portrays the hero protagonist so well that the audience can’t help but remember and question their history lessons. An emotional performance that speaks volumes, Miles is the epitome of virtue, a man with the morals of a saint as he navigates the treacherous waves of the court he grew up so far from filled with the likes that had no respect for his common stock. From losing his mentor, the Chancellor Wulsie(Paul Jesson), to his wife Lizzie(Olivia Darnley), and his daughters, Miles portrays a new, more sentimental anti hero, one that the public can identify with, even as his actions are directly responsible for the death of possible innocents. Bravo Miles!

Lydia Leonard tackles one of the most memorable female characters of history with flourish and grace. Her conniving planning to become Queen of England is admirable even as her fading French accent grates. Playing both innocent ingenue and knowing seductress, she seamlessly floats between personalities, a trait one would most certainly find in the royal women of those days. Her ambition shines through her performance, but there is nothing sympathetic about her character.

Nathaniel Parker as King Henry VIII is an overworked, petulant boy/man. His sole desire is to be in love with a family full of heirs, but can’t seem to find a wife suitable to his growing religious needs. Parker also creates an empathetic character, one the audience hopes will be happy with his current state, but who know that it is an impossible feat. Bending, breaking, and ignoring the rules, he breaks down in what can only be called a paradox of character, when he must sign the death warrant of Francis Weston. “Weston? But he’s so young…” the line trails into silence as the quill is put to paper. Rules are rules, and if one must be erased for a monarch’s pleasure, than they all must be.

What is a show without the myriad of actors that make up all the other players? It should be noted that this troupe is filled with talent and skill. Eight hours of theatre is no easy feat and this cast was impeccable. Their timing, both comedic and dramatic kept the audience engaged to the very end and I cannot help but applaud such fortitude.

A character unto itself, the scenic and costume design by Tony and Olivier winner, Christopher Oram is flawless. The set is minimalistic providing a backdrop for movable set pieces that create and break down each scene perfectly. The solid greyness of the walls provide the canvas for the impeccably designed period costumes to be displayed against. Academy Award winning composer Stephen Warbeck’s music is breathtaking. One cannot help being acutely aware of the music heightening one’s feelings, while also being helpless to it’s pull.

Ironic laughter and hushed silence is what awaits you at The Garden State Theater for this fifteen week engagement.

Review By: Aziza Seven
Photos By: Johan Persson

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Gigi @ The Neil Simon Theatre

Neil Simon Theatres Gigi was remarkable, and not because of Vanessa Hudgens. Director Eric Schaeffer was blessed with an incredible cast and decidedly talented scenic designer Derek McLane, costume designer Cathrine Zuber, lighting designer Natasha Katz, and sound designer Kai Harada. Heidi Thomasadapted play Gigi was a pleasing look into 1900 Paris; where all the Parisians are obsessed with love and we are privy to a journey to find out why.

The allure of 20th century Paris was accentuated by moving set pieces, miniature but nevertheless lifelike versions of the Eiffel tower, and adroit use of color and lighting. The stage was an impeccable enhancement to the performance.

This all-star cast was led by Vanessa Hudgens, whose vocal ability was amateur compared to her more seasoned supporting cast. This difference was mitigated by her comfortable portrayal of Gigi, a coming of age girl grappling with the truth of her lotshe must become desirable to secure comfort in her later years but resents this impending reality of her gender.

Corey Cott presented the reluctantly famous Gaston Lachaille. Equally disgruntled as Gigi over his expectations in society, Gaston would rather strive for furthering his mind than his loins. Enrolled into the Parisian obsession with love and love affairs, Cott fell into his role of Gaston with an ease that was reflected on the stage, his voice equally as strong as his compatriots.  

Gigis caretaker, affectionately known as Mamita by Gaston is masterfully played by Victoria Clark. Exceedingly deserving of her Tony award for The Light in the Piazza, Clark was met by resounding silence when she entered the stage. The beauty of her voice took any other from the room, my breath included.

Where Mamita was the affectionate grandmother that only wished for Gigi to aim for happiness instead of social status, her great aunt Alicia (Dee Hoty) had different aims for her niece. Tony nominated for Footloose, The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public and The Will Rogers Follies, Hoty brought an easy lightness to the stage. High in chemistry with Clark, Hoty evoked laughter from the audience and assuaged us into her plan to force Gigi into a high status life, full of fights with lawyers and multiple men to mistress.

Close with Mamita in their distant past, the dapper Honoré Lachaille (Howard McGillin) was the uncle of Gaston. A will not marryman, Honoré propels his nephew into the limelight of his considerable fortune-backed fame and freedom to pursue many women. McGillin, perhaps best known for his record-setting run in The Phantom of the Opera, did not disappoint. Like Victoria Clark, McGillins voice and performance were exceptionally memorable.

Gastons most acclaimed mistress, Liane dExelmans was played by Steffanie Leigh. Only interested in the pursuit of Parisian high societal attention, Leigh pulled the eyes of the stage with her throughout her scandalous performance. Her presentation of the airy Liane was precise.

Gigis ensemble consisted of Justin Prescott (Charles), Amos Wolff (Sandomir), Ashley Yeater (Marie-Louise), James Patterson (Dufresne), Manny Stark (Bonfils), Max Clayton (Martel) and the Parisians (Preceding and Madeleine Doherty, Ashley Blair Fitzgerald, Hannah Florence, Brian Ogilvie, Tanairi Sade Vazquez).

The most notable was Justin Prescott as Charles; who portrayed the snooty butler. Prescott made a show of pulling chairs from under unsuspecting lawyers and other antics that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Also noteworthy, was Joshua Bergasse. Gigi’s dance sequences were a mix of traditional and laugh eliciting entertainment. His choice of choreography to announce gossip at Maxim’s was both disjointed and somehow perfect for the occasion.
See Gigi, it lives up to its hype.

Review By: Alexandra Lipari
Photos By: Margot Schulman

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Disenchanted @ Westside Theatre (Upstairs )

This show is overflowing with hilarity, wit, great music and astounding talent. Disenchanted features many of the Disney princesses like you’ve never seen them before.  Writer/composer Dennis T. Giacino delivers this un-fairytale production under the direction of Fiely A. Matias with non-stop laughter cocktailed with the sweeping music. The classic Disney princesses are taking a stand against “the princess complex” for the night. They are tired of having to be perfect, thin, sweet, objectified and a list of other gripes .  They are less the typical Disney princesses and more feminist ambassadors. With witty banter and multiple 11:00 numbers, this show delights the audience’s ears and funny bones.
The original Disney princess Snow White, played by Michelle Knight, leads this troupe of surprising royalty with her domineering looks. With her over expressive eyes Knight seems to have invented the phrase “if looks could kill”. Becky Gulsvig portrays Cinderella as a ditzy, sweet, blonde with incredible comedic timing and adorableness.  Sleeping Beauty, played by Jen Bechter, may not be the stereotypical ideal Disney princess but she is perfect as the narcoleptic girl who loves herself just as she is.
Alison Burns plays Belle, The Little Mermaid and Rapunzel. Belle has gone insane from dishes singing to her (among other things) with frazzled hair, crazy eyes and even a strait jacket. Ariel has become an alcoholic who longs to trade her legs for fins. And her Rapunzel will have you rolling in the aisle as the angry German forcing the audience into a sing-off!  Rounding out the cast is Anthea Neri portraying Mulan and Pocahontas and Soara-Joye Ross as The Girl Who Kissed the Frog.  All of Neri’s songs are power ballads seasoned with laughs and Ross can give Beyonce a run for her money in the diva department.
All of these women are nothing short of fierce. Their vocals soar easily even on the highest belt notes, their stage presence is captivating and their chemistry rivals each other in the best way possible.
Costumes by Vanessa Leuck are a nod to the classic Disney fairytale wardrobe but are also reinvented with fresh sass. The costumes help to keep the audience connected to the traditional stories but also allow the imagination to play in this over the top production.  The lighting design by Graham Kindred keeps the mood appropriately groovy and dramatic. Keeping the music on point is musical director Michael Raabe.  Raabe plays keyboard, with Bobby Brennan om electric bass and Gregg Monteith  on percussion. They might be a trio but the sound is as full as a symphony.
The only thing that could have made this show a little more poignant would have been to swap the personality traits of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Cinderella still possesses many traditional princess qualities (dainty, girly, thin), while Sleeping Beauty is portrayed as breaking the princess mold (crude, loud and curvy).  Sleeping Beauty’s sings a songs titled “Perfect” which is about loving oneself regardless of social expectancies. This message may have been stronger if Cinderella (the classic Disney beauty) exuded a crude and loud vibe while Sleeping Beauty (the curvy girl) exuded a dainty and girly essence.  It would have been nice to see not just the “Disney princess” stereotype broken down but also the “character actress” stereotype broken simultaneously.
This 95 minute show is a riot, go see Disenchanted you will love every second of it!

Review By: Staci Morin
Photos By: Matthew Murphy