Thursday, June 30, 2016

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater @ The New York City Center

What happens when a mutli-millionaire starts giving away his money for relatively no reason at all?  People start to question his sanity of course!  That is exactly the case when it comes to Michael Mayer’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.

Originally produced in 1979, Encores! Off-Center at New York City Center’s reprise of Kurt Vonnegut’s funny little play, tells the story of eccentric millionaire, Eliot Rosewater (Santino Fontana), who is the president of the Rosewater Foundation.  The Rosewater Foundation has received notoriety by funding the local artists and business ventures from poetry to science.  It is run by the youngest generation of Rosewaters and its presidency follows suit.  We learn that as president Eliot gives freely and openly to all who request, much to the bane of his father, but also suffers from many breakdowns and bouts of alcoholism.  Eliot grows weary of this life and leaves to find himself, adventuring from volunteer fire brigade to volunteer fire brigade (yes, you read that correctly).  During one drunken evening, Eliot realizes that the way he can find himself is by going back to the town that shares his namesake.  While there, he changes the lives of all of the townsfolk for the better, which of course, catches the attention of newbie lawyer, Norman Mushari (Skylar Astin).  Norman has found a clause in the Foundation’s bylaws that states if Eliot is proven insane, his millions would transfer over to his next of kin.  Mushari, sensing a hefty fee, makes it his personal business to find the other Rosewaters and prove Eliot a basketcase.

Rosewater is presented as a concert performance for just three nights only, and while their scripts were in hand, the cast does a phenomenal job of bringing this play to life.  With music by Alan Menken, you cannot laugh to such hits such as, “Thank God for the Volunteer Fire Brigade”, “Cheese Nips”, and “Rhode Island Tango”.  While the subplots are a bit hard to follow and can sometimes be distracting, the overall storyline of a ridiculously wealthy, World War II veteran with PTSD, who gives up his relationships, his dignity and his character to do everything he can to help out a town everyone forgot make this something worth seeing.  Major kudos goes to the technical team as the subtle touches, such as dimly lighting the “postcard” of the town they were in during a particular scene, really helped round out this performance.

Should you miss this installment, the amount of effort put forth in this Encores! Off-Center show makes me want to come back for more.  This reviewer truly appreciated all of the hard work of those involved.  God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater is playing July 28-30th at the New York City Center.

Review By: Renee Demaio
Photos By: Joan Marcus

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Paramour @ The Lyric Theater

Spectacle. Wonderment. Awe-inspiring. These are just a few words that come to mind when thinking of the legendary Cirque du Soleil, the contemporary circus group that focuses on theatricality and is the largest theatrical producer in the world. Having permanent shows in Las Vegas and Florida, Paramour is the group’s venture to take on the Big Apple. The show combines Cirque’s signature circus arts with original songs, dance, and film, to create a new and breathtaking night at the theatre.
Paramour is billed as “A Cirque du Soleil Musical”, being the first of the entertainment company’s productions to have a fully integrated book/story attached to it. The plot follows three main players- renowned film director AJ Golden played by Jeremy Kushnier (Footloose, Rent), Ruby Lewis as redheaded singer striving to be a star Indigo James, and aspiring young songwriter Joey Green played by Ryan Vona (Once). After AJ recruits Indigo to be his new leading lady and enlists Joey to write the perfect love song for his film the three set off on a journey through the Golden Age of Hollywood, deciding between love, art, and one another. The musical features several songs, performed beautifully, but the main attraction of course comes with the circus acts.
Featuring a cast of 40 wonderfully talented artists, the Cirque performers are the real stars of the show. Performing mesmerizing tricks and stunts such as trapeze, contortion, trampolines, juggling, tumbling, and much more, the ensemble steals every moment they set foot on stage. The circus sections are absolutely enthralling and transport you back in time- leaving the audience feeling amazed and filled with wonder and wondering “how is that even possible?”. The dance sequences are extremely enjoyable, as the full cast comes together to show off their specific talents- whether that is singing high notes, doing four back flips in the air, or tap dancing (even in roller skates!). The number “Love Triangle” provides a wonderful hybrid of Paramour’s features, while having the three actors expressing their feelings through song a mirror-set of acrobats provide the physical exemplification of these words through their incredible movements, as the woman travels between one man on the ground and another up high in the trapeze. Identical twin acrobats Andrew and Kevin Atherton, through their absolutely astounding aerial-straps routine, present one of the standouts of the show. The two soar through the air above the audience, contorting their bodies and managing incredible feats, providing the most captivating minutes of the night.
Paramour is an all around spectacle. Aside from the amazing acrobatic and aerial routines, the design is remarkable. Playing at the Lyric Theatre, the second largest Broadway house seating almost 2,000 people, the gorgeous house provides the perfect aesthetic for the Golden Age era of the ‘30s and ‘40s with magnificent sets that transform between film sets, speakeasies, and city rooftops. The film theme is illuminated throughout the show with its use of live video, multimedia projections, and amazing lighting and shadow work, creating an integrated and immersive experience. There is always somewhere to look, around, above, even in the aisles.  
Paramour on Broadway is so much more than a show, it is an experience. For those new to Cirque, it is a good entryway, providing a sense of story to hold onto in between the incredible circus artistry, which will fill you with a child-like sense of amazement. If you’re looking for a spectacular evening of entertainment, with glitz, glamour, and gigantic talent, then hop, flip, or fly on over to the Lyric Theatre for Cirque du Soleil’s Paramour.

Review By: April Sigler
Photos BY: Sara Krulwich

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Total Bent @ The Public Theater

Attention all dreamers, outcasts, idealists, and rebels! Make your way to The Public Theater immediately and see, The Total Bent! If you are looking for a piece of theatre to question all your beliefs look no further! The Total Bent will take you on a ride that will make you rethink who you truly are as a person.

We are set into what looks like an old recording studio and all we see is a microphone with a single light. All of a sudden are ears are filled with the soothing voice of Joe Roy (Vondie Curtis Hall). The creators set you up to feel relaxed and then BAM! The band kicks in and a gospel rock fills the theater and he belts “That’s why he’s Jesus, and you’re not, whitey”.  We find out that Joe is a popular preacher in Alabama and his son; Marty (Ato Blakson Wood) is quite the opposite. The time is 1960 in the heat of the civil rights movement and Marty wants his father to make an album about protest. Throughout the show we see their struggle grow and intensify. Luckily with the brilliant music by, Stew and Heidi Rodewald they manage to give the show a satire feel with dark comedy undertones.

Ato Blankson-Wood (Marty) gives an outstanding performance. He gives off a magnetic energy that makes you root for him the entire show. We follow his journey from a teen that doesn’t like his father but too shy to truly stand up for himself, to a full on rebel (or in this case, sinner. Marty has the sex appeal to make every woman and man desire him, a true rock n roll STAR! In seeking revenge on his father, enter a sleazy music producer Byron Blackwell (David Cale) who manages to take everyone’s beliefs and throws it out the door. He loves black gospel rock and yet he asks why out of all the people in the world “why do black people still believe in god?” This causes the final break and Marty and Joe go to war. Vondie Curtis Hall (Joe Roy) gives you almost a cheesy car salesman vibe but he’s selling Jesus. “I’m a hoe and God is my pimp.” Despite his shallowness about making money and self-absorption, you still don’t hate him. Mr. Curtis Hall delivers a monologue towards the end about shooting the television  (he’s a TV preacher) because everything is a lie, essentially bringing us back to the beginning of who are we, what is our identity.

I know this seems like a lot of drama! But Thank goodness for the friends turned back up singers/dancers Andrew (Jahi Kearse) and Abee (Curtis Wiley). They bring us comedic relief whether it is a funny one liner or complete fear of papa Joe.  The band also interjects with the plot and with the audience, giving us the feeling of history with the character and its not just background music.

The Total Bent will change your life, mind and question everything you ever thought. It re- educated me and I didn’t even realize I needed the lesson. Which is a sad truth about most people today. Make your way to the Public Theater to see this important piece of theatre! 

Review By: Briana Burnside
Photos By: Joan Marcus