Thursday, December 17, 2015

Once Upon A Mattress @ The Abrons Arts Center

Everyone knows the fairy tale of the Princess and the Pea. Or at least, they think that they do… The outrageous and hilarious retelling of the classic fairy tale, Once Upon a Mattress, is currently raking in the laughs at the Abron Arts Center.

This fractured fairy tale tells the story of a kingdom where no one get married until the Prince Dauntless (Jason SweetTooth Williams) does. Except his overbearing mother Queen Aggravain (John “Lypsinka” Epperson) is determined that no one will ever be perfect enough for her son, or to replace her as Queen. But she may have met her match in your not so typical Princess Winnifred (Jackie Hoffman).

As Winnifred, Jackie Hoffman is a tour de force of broad physical comedy that seems off-the-cuff and natural, but is obviously the hard work and experience of a Broadway comedy veteran. Hoffman stops the show with her side-splitting songs and Ethel Merman-esque belt, particularly in her introductory number “Shy.” John Epperson is almost the exact opposite, exhibiting careful control as the Tyne Daly crossed with Ru Paul Queen. This control is part of the character and makes her a great foil for Winnifred.

The supporting cast is equally as wonderful. Zak Resnick as Sir Harry and Jessica Fontana as Lady Larken have exquisite classical voices and really shine at playing what would normally be the traditional leads in a romance. The Minstrel (Hunter Ryan Herdlicka), the Jester (Cory Lingner) and the King (David Greenspan) provide wonderful, heartfelt comedic relief in a show already bursting with comedy. The ensemble are a collective of funny quirky individuals that each get a moment to shine.

The direction and artistic design of the show really highlights the idea of simple and specific. The scenery is just line drawings of backgrounds that are seemingly tweaked in real time, adding the genuine nature of the production. Director and Transport Group Artistic Director Jack Cummings III really knows when to just let the actors, story and music speak for themselves and knows exactly when to be bombastic and when to just pull back.

In short, Once Upon a Mattress presented by the Transport Group Theatre Company is a hilarious and smart production that has the audience rolling in the aisles. Do not miss out! Once Upon a Mattress will be playing at the Abrons Arts Center until January 3rd.
Review By: Chrissy Cody
Photos By: Carol Rosegg

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

These Paper Bullets @ The Linda Gross Theater

I may come off as a snob in this review, but when I heard “Billie Joe Armstrong has a new musical coming out and its based off of Shakespeare!” I kind of turned up my nose and thought “it won’t be the end of the world if I miss it.” MAN WAS I WRONG! These Paper Bullets just became my new favorite play! If you enjoy music, if you enjoy Shakespeare, if you enjoy a classic farce, make your way to the Atlantic Theater Company!

The setting is in London, 1964 and the world is going crazy for the boy group, The Quartos, which have a severer resemblance to the Beatles. We meet the band backstage in their dressing room (naturally) after they give a rock star opening! We meet the girls Higgy and Bea, one the model, the other her fashion designer. Then the door opens are we see flying bras and underwear, and the boys make their appearance: Pedro the Drummer, Claude the lead singer, Ben on guitar, and dark mysterious Balth on Bass.

Like any great farce we have rumors, lies, and false identities, which comes to life from this brilliant ensemble! We follow the struggle to marriage for Higgy and Claude who fall in love at first sight, and the commitment issues Ben and Bea experience because both are to stubborn to express their feelings. Ariana Venturi portrays Higgy who does an amazing job at capturing an over dramatic drama queen and yet making her lovable, and polar opposite Claude, played by Bryan Fenkart, who manages to make “straight lace/ average/ boring” type, fun and hilarious. Once we finally get Higgy and Claude on the same page, we have Ben and Bea’s “relationship” hit the fan. Bea played by Nicole Parker is a standout STAR! Her comedic timing was perfection, she commanded the stage, and I couldn’t stop watching her. And then we have her partner Ben, played by the talented Justin Kirk, who had the audience eating out of his hand. He’s the “guys, guy” that all the men want to be friends with, and the sexy man all the ladies want to marry. The cast has so many great comedic actors that you must see this show to see it yourself.

Jackson Gay does a fantastic job directing this piece. The staging was wonderfully done, and the show has so many great stage pictures that if I couldn’t hear I would know what exactly was going on. The show had an amazing balance between Shakespeare and rock n roll, that it helped modernize the piece and honestly made it easier to follow the story line. Everyone should take a note from Rollin Jones, because this is how you successfully modernize Shakespeare and make it a hit!

If you are a fan of great music (thanks Billie) the 1960’s lifestyle, and a good ole farce, make your way to see these paper bullets! It will be a night of fun, and who knows, you might actually meet the Queen of England at a royal wedding.

Review By: Briana Burnside
Photos By: Walter McBride

Monday, December 14, 2015

Plaid Tidings @ York Theater Company

If you want a fun, warm, feel good musical that takes you back in time, you need to head over to The York Theater Company and see Plaid Tidings. This musical is a special holiday edition to Forever Plaid written and directed by Stuart Ross. Going into this show I was nervous that I haven’t seen the original musical, but the writing was so clever that I did not miss a beat.

Stuart Ross sets the musical in modern time, the Plaid Lads have been brought back to life and try to find the reasons why they have been brought back to earth, and they rely on the audience to help them discover their mission. The crazy plaid boys do a brilliant job of enticing the audience and bringing us along for the adventure.

The company consists of only four actors. We have Frankie portrayed by Bradley Beahen, who grounds the show, he’s the leader of the pack, and has a fantastic reality check with Rudolph the red nose reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. Next, we have Sparky, who lives up to his name. Sparky is played by Jose Luaces who managed to light up the stage whether he was singing, or just crossing the stage. Then we have Jinx, who was the shy plaid, but man did he have a voice! Ciaran McCarty plays this role perfectly, and you can’t help but fall in love with him. And the last Plaid Lad, Smudge. John- Michael Zuerlein plays Smudge, and in my opinion is the heart of the group. He can’t seem to keep up with the choreography and has the best physical comedy bits, but he breaks down and tells us the “uber dream” for the group, which is to have a Christmas Special on broadcast and to make people feel warm and gooey inside. And lets not forget the wonderful pianist, James Followell, who is on stage the entire time and deals with the Plaid Lads, but never misses a beat!

Along with a fantastic cast, the set was very impressive. It took you back in time and you feel like you are in the audience for a live taping. You enter the theater and all you see are Christmas lights and four mics. Little did you know that throughout the show, pop out platforms, and revolving doors would surprise you the entire night. The costumes were classic. They capture the “old school feel” and there was plenty of plaid.

Smudge talks about the Plaids uber dream and making the audience feel warm and gooey, and I must say, mission accomplished! I could not stop smiling during this show. The only thing that would make it better is if I had a cup of hot chocolate, because this space was so intimate, you really feel like you are at home watching a Christmas special on TV. This show was an amazing time, everyone should see it this holiday season, and you are guaranteed a smile and lots of laughs!

Review By: Briana Burnside
Photos By: Carol Rosegg

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Gigantic @ The Acron Theatre @ Theatre Row

Beginning its journey in 2009 at the NYMPF as Fat CampGigantic has finally landed off-Broadway with the Vineyard Theatre at The Acorn, and it is a huge enjoyment. This musical about a group of teenagers at Southern Pennsylvania’s number 3 weight-loss camp is an absolute joy, that will have you laughing the entire night. 

            Robert (Max Wilcox) is sent off to fat camp, with only one goal in his sight- to get kicked out. That is, until he meets Taylor (Ryann Redmond), and there may be, just may be, a love connection. The two, along with their other fellow campers must work hard to meet Camp Overton’s weight-loss goal so they won’t be shut down and turned into storage units; but they have to face heartbreak, make-out sessions, a “candy ring”, and some hot-headed cheerleaders and new Junior Counselor Brent to get there.

            Scott Schwartz’s (Bat BoyThe Hunchback of Notre Dame) direction is nothing short of wonderful. He knows exactly how to extract as much whimsy out of each moment, while maintaining its soul and truthfulness. The music by Matthew roi Berger is pop/rock glory, reflecting the real music that these teens would be listening to, is huge and undeniably joyous, filling everyone with the urge to move and dance. Randy Blair and Tim Drucker’s book creates a colorful cast of characters, each with different quirks. While a show about overweight teenagers at a fat camp feels like it could be contrived or mean-spirited it is far from it. Each character is looked at with sincerity and it is absolutely endearing to see this group of misfits as they work together, learn to accept themselves, and love their individualities. 

Aptly, Gigantic is the epitome of a “campy” show- it has no problem with exploiting the ridiculousness of some of the situations or exaggerating obvious punch lines while adding a curveball. Some of the funniest moments come when the characters go meta, like acknowledging that they can’t sing after screeching in attempt or when getting to the titular song stopping all action to point out this fact. Its over-the-top nature is done in a way that it is nothing but pure fun. The show knows it’s campy and isn’t afraid to use that to its advantage, and it is done so with heart and a whole lot of humor, making for a great 2 and a half hours. Even when entering the theatre, you are greeted with a station to write cards to home as if you were at camp, complete with “Hello, my name is ___” nametags, putting you directly in the spirit of the show.

            The cast is truly what makes this piece so entertaining and sweet. Everyone plays their part expertly, each adding a different layer of fun. Ryann Redmond’s (If/ThenBring it On) Taylor is the heart of the show, as you cheer her along on her journey and revel in the beauty of her vocals. Comedic standouts come from Katie Ladner (Heathers) as Britta and Leslie Kritzer (Legally Blonde) as camp counselor Sandy. Kritzer’s timing and energy is positively infectious, with just the right amount of over-the-top for the kooky counselor. Ladner, as super douche Brent’s “loser” sister, steals the show every moment she is on stage. Her facial expressions and inflections (complete with a metal mouthpiece) were perfectly crafted to get as many laughs as possible and the audience ate every bit of it up.

            From the first moment the curtain dropped and the music blared to the last sweet seconds of bows a huge smile was plastered on my face. If you’re looking for a feel-good musical that will keep you laughing, run over to The Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row before Gigantic ends its run on December 20. (You might get the last contraband Butterfinger!).

Review By: April Sigler
Photos By: Chad Batka