Friday, November 13, 2015

Allegiance @ The Longarce Theatre

Allegiance. A patriotic whirl.

George Takei put his soul into Allegiance. Known for being held in an internment camp in his youth, author’s Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione explain that his use of the word “Gaman” (meaning endurance and dignity) was inspiration for Allegiance. George’s deep-seated emotion regarding the 120,000 Japanese incarcerated during WWII was very evident in the play and Jay Kuo’s music and lyrics emulated it.

Directed by Stafford Arima, Allegiance began in 2001, where we meet a seasoned war veteran remembering Pearl Harbor in his old Army uniform. He is then approached by a knock at the door to reveal that his sister, one he has not seen in 50 years, has passed away. The performance then reels backward to Salinas, CA in 1941 where we meet the rest of the cast.

Portions of the play seemed out of order or misplaced until the very end, as its beginning brought the audience to the Kimura’s farm and the traditional Japanese celebration of the harvest. Setting the scene of a proud and boisterous Japanese family, costumes designed by Alejo Vietti and scenic design by Donyale Werle were complimentary and memorable. Lighting an sound by Howell Binkley and Kai Harada were also well matched and ushered in an artistic and historic atmosphere.

The Kimura family is a relatable bunch—a traditional Japanese father, Tatsuo (Christopheren Nomura), a sister forced to become a motherly figure, Kei (Lea Salonga), a brother trying to forge his way into manhood on his own terms, Sammy (Telly Leung) and a laughable and lovable Ojii-chan (grandfather, George Takei). The audience follows this family on their disheartening journey across the United States to their internment camp at Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Wyoming.

Kei (Lea Salonga) is lead on a personal journey throughout her time at the camp. Struggling with the weight of placing herself into a motherly role and stepping into her own, Salonga’s performance matches Kei’s struggles. Kei embodies more than just a woman’s obstacles during war and internment, Salonga brings to life the value of family and duty and how it can be juxtaposed to country.

Sammy (Telly Leung) is on a different path. Furious to think that he is not considered an American, Sammy bursts with energy and drive to bring the camp together and find a way to serve his country. Sammy emerges a national hero and Leung depicts Sammy’s stages of maturity and growth with ease. Sammy is the personification of the thousands of Japanese men who volunteered for service in suicide battalions and fought bravely to try to prove to the government that the Japanese people can be trusted and their families can be released.

Tatsuo (Christopheren Nomura) stood for honor and other traditional Japanese values. Not content to bow to an American government that has placed him in an internment camp, Nomura symbolizes the mental and emotional struggle of the 120,000 around him that have suffered the same fate.

Ojii-chan (George Takei) was my personal favorite. A light-hearted and deprecating Japanese grandfather, Takei brought Ojii-chan into the role of jokester and wise man. Coining the term “Gaman” when the town first arrives at Heart Mountain, Takei is the wayward spirit that brings order to his grandchildren and allows them to pursue the next levels of their lives.
Sammy’s lover, Hannah Campbell (Katie Rose Clarke) brought in the American people that were sympathetic to the interned Japanese while Kei’s lover, Frankie Suzuki (Michael K. Lee), showed the ability of the Japanese people to take a stand against the indecency of the American government.

Allegiance’s subject matter is seldom talked about and I appreciated that. Depicting historical events in a musical is always difficult and Allegiance struggled at points but triumphed at others. Truly I have not seen a much better interpretation of the dropping of the atomic bomb. However, the subject matter itself did not seem to leave a lot of room for artistic interpretation by the actors. Choreographer Andrew Palermo’s use of dance as an undercurrent was very well done. Although, costume designer Alejo Vietti did miss the mark on proper military uniform, a personal pet peeve of mine.

In closing, if you are a World War II history buff you may be disappointed. Allegiance was a work of art shedding light on a time of darkness, I enjoyed it but I would not see it a second time.

Review By: Alex Lipari
Photos By: Joan Marcus

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Comedy of Errors @ The Shiva Theater @ The Public Theater

Have you ever been mistaken for someone else? Have you ever gone looking for something? Have you ever been in love? These are the questions the audience is asked before the show begins. The Public Theatre’s production of The Comedy of Errors was a contemporary look at the Shakespearean classic filled with a lot of life, love, and as the title implies- comedy. 

Comedy of Errors follows two sets of identical twins who are separated at birth. Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant Dromio of Syracuse arrive in Ephesus where they are mistaken by the townspeople (including Antipholus of Ephesus’ wife Adriana and her sister Luciana) for their identical counterparts, Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus. This is the ultimate case of mistaken identities, wrongful accusations, and slapstick humor. 

Each Antipholus is played by Bernardo Cubría, with Lucas Caleb Rooney taking on each Dromio. Baseball caps for the boys from Syracuse and cowboy hats for the two Ephesus twins were used to help the audience distinguish between the characters. These two actors are exquisite, able to effortlessly transform between each twin within seconds, making them distinct and captivating. While the entire cast is marvelous and hysterical, these leading men really stand out and are commendable for their portrayals of the twins.

The Shiva theatre is a small intimate space, and the show uses this to its full advantage. The actors interact with the audience, sitting next to them, delivering soliloquies to them, and sometimes even bringing them onto the “stage” to be a part of the action. Seating is general and in the round, but no seat is a bad seat- you are right there with the performers. The only set provided is a square of grass and dirt, with a border-line painted between Syracuse and Ephesus. This allows the audience to really focus on the superb acting and the poetry of the language.

            When faced with a Shakespeare show most worry over the long hours they are about to endure, but there is no need to worry here: Running at 90 minutes with no intermission and constantly filled with infectious energy and fun the show breezes by- You can’t help but have a smile on your face for the entire hour and half.

This unique production is part of the Public’s Mobile Shakespeare Unit, which travels the five boroughs (and more) providing free entertainment to those in prisons, homeless shelters, and community centers. Director Kwame Kwel-Armah’s version is filled with contemporary references (border patrol officers, cell phones, etc.) that make it relevant to today and destroy the notion that Shakespeare is something “superior” that not everyone can understand. As is their mission, this production proves that Shakespeare is for everyone, and makes it enjoyable along the way. Now done touring, it is playing at the Public Theatre on Lafayette Street until November 22. If you’re looking for an evening filled with laughs and merriment make your way to The Comedy of Errors!

Review By: April Sigler
Photos By: Joan Marcus

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Lost Girls @ The Lucille Lortel Theater

One of the greatest things about NYC is how culturally diverse it is at any given moment.  The tourists, the many who have migrated here and those who were born and raised here, give NYC a feel like no other that often makes us forget there is any other place in the world.  However, we are starkly reminded that a world exists outside our stomping grounds in director, Jo Bonney’s hit, Lost Girls.

While some of the details were further from reality (like some of the accents), almost everything else transports you instantly to Manchester, NH.  Richard Hoover does an excellent job with the turntable set, complete with such subtle authentic touches like the framed picture of Tom Brady on the wall.  The vernacular used, while some may find offensive, was truthful with raw honesty.  John Pollono’s writing is modern, conversational and effortless; it is as if you are a fly on the wall in this New England home.

Lost Girls tells the story of Maggie (Piper Perabo), the single mom who lives with her mother, Linda (Tasha Lawrence) who is struggling to make ends meet and Lou (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), her recovering alcoholic ex-husband, and their search for their missing daughter during a winter snowstorm.  Maggie awakes to go to work and finds that her car has been stolen.  She calls the police to report the car stolen and Lou, who is a police-officer, comes by to take down the police report.  He brings his all forgiving, very devout, almost annoyingly perfect new wife, Penny (Meghann Fahy).  This quartet proves to be a great source of laughs, as you witness the completely uncomfortable situation of the four of them trying to make the best of this incredible awkwardness.  Ms. Lawrence has some great crass moments, and when combined with Ms. Fahy’s holier than thou responses, you cannot stop snickering.  When the group realizes that Maggie and Lou’s daughter has actually taken the car, the tone becomes more serious.  As the group struggles to figure out the whereabouts of their (grand) daughter, we learn about Maggie and Lou’s rocky past and how they are dealing with the difficulties of co-parenting with a new step-mom in the picture.  

The story turns as you meet the young girl (Lizzy DeClement) (who you suspect is the daughter of Maggie and Lou) and boy (Josh Green) who have runaway from their homes.  The unnamed duo have run away in an attempt to get the girl down to Florida to meet her significantly older boyfriend (who turns out to be her mom’s ex).  They get into some trouble when the boy stands up to a local guy who tries to get too handsy with the girl at a local bar.  They hurriedly return to their hotel room where while they are hiding from this tough guy,  the boy professes his long time love for the girl.  The girl decides to be with the boy and they have sex.  They

These two storylines are intermingled together as the set literally revolves to show each story as it unfolds.  You learn about Lou’s troubled past, including rough nights on the job and how they translated to his personal life and contributed to his failed marriage.  The story unfolds so naturally, with the actors doing a spectacular job of being totally present in the moment, you forget they are just acting.  While some of the bigger names might bring you in the door, there was spectacular performances throughout the cast; most notably through Mr. Green’s and Ms. DeClement’s candid performances playing angsty, irrational teenagers who make lifelong decisions about love, even going so far as creating a blood oath.  Ms. Fahy and Ms. Lawrence are spectacular as polar opposites that really shine when they come together.  And Ms. Perabo and Mr. Moss-Bachrach play excellent parents who are dealing with the fact that they are still in love with one another after all this time.  This is definitely one not to miss, so catch it at the MCC Theater at The Lucille Lortel Theater now playing through Nov. 29!

Review By: Renee Demaio
Photos By: Joan Marcus

Thursday, November 5, 2015

On Your Feet! @ The Marquis Theater

You don’t need to go to Madison Square Garden to hear great music this fall. Just head over to the Marquis Theatre and hear the amazing music of Gloria and Emilio Estefan, woven together with an incredible heartfelt story.
The plot of On Your Feet! is explained right in its subtitle: it’s “the story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan.” Stylistically, it’s as if Beautiful and In the Heights had a baby who was raised surrounded by a lot of glitter. There’s the biographical element of singing the songs of the show’s main character while the singer is performing, a la Beautiful and Jersey Boys. But some songs follow the more traditional musical theatre element of just telling the story with a popular song like Mamma Mia or All Shook Up. On Your Feet shines because it brings in the heartwarming aspect with an emphasis on family and following your dreams.
Ana Villafañe makes her Broadway debut as Gloria, and even though she’s only 19, she packs a lot of punch. Her voice is absolutely incredible and she does a wonderful job approaching the role as an actress just playing a person instead of just giving a great Gloria Estefan impression. She’s full of fire and love and passion and you can’t help but smile when she sings. The one downside of her youth is that visually it was sometimes hard to see her as an older woman, just because she looks so fresh faced. She seems stuck at the same age, even though Gloria ages a fair amount in the show. Josh Segarra is a much more subtle creature as Emilio, with a rough and soft-spoken vocal quality that was a wonderful constrast to Villafañe. Their chemistry together was white-hot and really helped sell the relationship.
As great as Villafañe and Segarra were – and they were excellent – Andréa Burns playing Gloria Fajardo walked away with the show. Every time she was onstage, I couldn’t pay attention to anyone else. She is a force to be reckoned with. Commanding, sarcastic, heartbreaking, she can do no wrong. Alma Cuervo as Consuelo also brings a lot of fun and warmth to her role as Gloria’s bombastic grandmother Consuelo.
The music of the show supported by the choreography by Sergio Trujillo is vibrant and fun. It is very much like going to a concert with the energy of the performers and bright lights on the stage that frequently go out and over the audience. The orchestra performs visibly onstage much of the time, and since many members of the orchestra were original members of the Miami Sound Machine (Gloria Estefan’s band) there’s an extra element of passion and adrenaline that accompanies any moment they are onstage.
Director Jerry Mitchell deftly helmed the production, keeping with the bright colors and sequins grounded with the heart-warming aspect of the importance of family. The audience was with the story every step of the way. Every laugh landed, lines got applause in the middle of the show, and there was plenty of cheering throughout. You could particularly see the joy in the Act I finale of “Conga” when the audience got directly pulled into the action, literally.
In short, On Your Feet! is a bombastic, feel god story with an amazing cast and fantastic music pulling everyone along for the ride. Do not miss out! On Your Feet! is playing at the Marquis Theatre for an open ended run.

Review By: Chrissy Cody
Photos By: Matthew Murphy