Friday, August 19, 2016


A review takes a lot of time and thought. I find myself highlighting and crossing out a myriad of words and sounds that my brain dictated to my hand in the moment, and I sit here, hours later, deciphering my own thoughts and thinking to myself:  wtf?

But when my buddy Benny told me their Magical Adventure of Benny and Griff: the Musical was nearly sold out Saturday and had a few seats left on Friday, I rushed to my computer in a valiant attempt to notify the masses (hey, that’s you!)

I can not say bigger or better things about Benny and Griff’s bizarre, vaudevillian variety show nor their troupe that pushes the story backwards, forwards, in a cave (dressed in GARBAGE BAGS, btw), through the ocean and right back to The Royal Theatre at The Producer’s Club. They unearth crowd favorites (no seriously, people are clapping and singing along) as they tackle a new magical adventure, never been seen before.

Oh, let me tell you about Benny and Griff! Benny and Griff look like Snap and Crackle and the missing POP is in their amazing energy and countless unified personas.  They are everything you wanted to be in the 90s. Dave Columbo is Benny and Griff’s incredible Salesman, who is hilariously reminiscent of the dead Oxyclean Guy. Columbo also plays Dave, a pivotal character in Benny and Griff’s world, but I wont tell you why- you’ll have to find out for yourself.

Rounding out the ensemble is the brilliant Nolan Hennelly playing Captain Barry, a sexy pirate exploring his base range, fighting off River Beasts and Dark Ones all with a martini glass/boxed wine/tall boy in hand. Matt Leary and Eric Dolan each play a ridiculous range of characters quickly, tremendously and unapologetically.

For more on Benny and Griff’s magical adventures- check in on them on all forms of social media. So don’t be a Gallump- go check them out NOW!

Review: Brittany Goodwin
Photos: Dave Columbo

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Reliving the Memory: Cats at the Neil Simon Theatre

The original 1982 production of Cats was a game-changer for the Broadway musical. It was one of the first mega-hits of New York theatre, and quickly became the must-see musical. The run lasted nearly 18 years, and held the title of Longest Running Broadway Musical for some time, and you know what? With good reason. The concept was simple, the intent was sweet. Based on TS Eliot’s 1939 poetry collection “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” which introduces an array of feline characters, each with their own unique attributes. Add a show-stopping score from Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, memorable choreography by Gillian Lynne, and lauded direction from Trevor Nunn, and you’ve got a recipe for a hit.  It was a musical that appealed to a wide audience: seasoned theatergoers and new young audiences alike flocked to the Winter Garden to see Cats. It was a production audiences would see multiple times, which until then was not common. After winning 7 Tonys and giving 7485 performances, it became a beloved, iconic piece of musical theatre.

& now, its back!

When I was 8 years old, my mother took me to the Winter Garden for my first Broadway musical. That performance of Cats has stayed with me to this day. The cats coming into the audience and one of them rubbing its head on my knee.  Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer’s double-cartwheel. The cats using their findings in the junkyard to dress up as dogs. Victoria, the white cat’s solo that I tried to recreate in my living room for months after seeing the musical.  So when it was announced Cats was making its return to Broadway, I pounced (no pun intended).  Cats was responsible for my falling in love with theatre. I had to relive the ‘Memory’ (pun absolutely intended). 

The new Broadway production of Cats now lives in the Neil Simon Theatre, once again under the direction of Trevor Nunn, with new choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, holding true to the original work by Gillian Lynne. The junkyard set was just as I remembered it, now stretching throughout the theater into the mezzanine. When the overture began and the glowing green eyes started appearing in the aisles, an eruption of applause began, and I realized I was not the only one reliving the beloved theatre experience of The Jellicle Ball. 

Broadway revivals will commonly reimagine the original production, with new staging or concepts, like when the West End run of Cats last year updated Rum Tum Tugger from the Elvis-esque character to a hip-hop star; too much criticism from the purists. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find Nunn kept this production nearly identical to his original (giving us back the well Rum Tum Tugger we know and love). A smart move by the director, as there are so many iconic moments and beloved nuances. 

Nunn’s changes are few but subtle, and they work well. He simply enhanced the theatrical experience by utilizing the advancements in theatrical technology, showcasing the incredible dancers of our generation, more props, more bells, more whistles. 

Before, “Bustopher Jones: the Cat About Town” was a throwaway number about a fat cat. Now we get to see the fat cat (played by Christopher Gurr) dining in restaurants and clubs, which is much more interesting to watch. The deletion of the arguably racist song “Growltiger’s Last Stand,” is another smart move by Nunn, who now utilizes “The Awefull Battle of the Pekes and the Pollicles” as Gus the Theatre Cat’s (once again Gurr) return to the stage. Even then, there still is a questionable line from Gus, which Jellicle right-hand cat Munkustrap (Andy Huntington Jones) plays off in a very similar fashion to the way you say “Don’t mind grandma, she’s from a different time.”  Production numbers that were always regarded as show-stoppers, like “Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer” or “Magical Mister Mistoffelees” have somehow been made more impressive with Blankenbuehler’s new choreography. I got my fix of the double cartwheel, but Mungojerrie (Jess LeProtto, of Newsies and So You Think You Can Dance fame), and Rumpelteazer (Shonica Gooden, fresh from mega-smash Hamilton) showed off so many more impressive tricks, I was reminded why that was always my favorite scene.  So You Think You Can Dance winner Ricky Ubeda is given the opportunity to show his incredible range as a dancer as Mister Mistoffelees, in a number that includes several dance styles, more magic tricks, and a noteworthy update to the light-up jacket the character has always been known for. 

British pop singer Leona Lewis makes her Broadway debut as Grizabella the Glamour Cat, the role which made Betty Buckley famous and introduced the world to probably the most well-known Broadway ballad of all time, “Memory.” It seems an odd choice to have the old, washed up cat played by someone so young and beautiful, and Lewis at times seems a little too well put together to be a cat fallen from her prime. It sometimes shows that Lewis is not a “theatre performer” in the way she moves onstage, but it works for the character, who supposed to be out of touch with the other cats. Lewis absolutely delivers with her vocal abilities, getting a roar of applause during that iconic key-change in “Memory.”  What at first seemed like an odd casting choice now made sense.  

I went into Cats looking to be reminded of fond memories, and I was. I was reconnected with familiar characters and scenery that brought back the same feeling I had seeing the show at age 8 with my mother. And then, in the seat in front of me, I spotted a young girl around age 8 with her mother, and every time a cat would come up and interact with her, she would squeal with delight. And then it made sense as to why Cats, a musical that is literally about a group of singing and dancing cats, has become so adored by audiences  now for 34 years; because there is a certain magic to it that you can’t help but enjoy yourself. This revival reminds old fans why they love it, and allows new fans fall in love with live musical theatre.  

                Cats opened at the Neil Simon Theatre on July 31, 2016
Review By: Kelcie Kosberg
Photos By: Christophe Ena

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Inferno: A New Work about Sin @ the FLEA

Ever since man could pick up a pen, the muses have inspired countless accounts of hell in all its grotesque grandeur. Why? Who knows. We are forbidden fruit junkies I guess. But every once in a while, you come across someone illustrating hell as maybe something smaller… not necessarily in scale but in concept. Like maybe there’s a little hell right inside you clamoring to get out?

Justin Giachetti wrote and directed a marvelous NEW work about sin called Inferno. Absolutely no current topic has been spared in the writing and editing of this masterful piece. I found myself squirming in my chair as images of bulimia, police brutality and a school shooting danced before my eyes in the intimate Flea Theatre down in TriBeCa.

Darin Earl II leads the ensemble as, you guessed it, Damian- a misunderstood giant of the devil incarnate. We find Earl appearing in vignette after vignette (a Sgt. General father , a pothead, a schizophrenic voice…) all the while commanding control and sophisticate nuance the duration of the sinners stories as well as his own.

Liz Carlin plays his angelic opposite Phoebe- the love of his life who sacrificed herself. Carlin is an amazing antithesis to the collection of angst-ridden sinners and provides a new scope of suicides in the afterlife. Dressed all in white against a sea of black, Phoebe quickly becomes our voice box as to what is wrong in our world.

Other stand out performances are Joe Piserchio as Gus, a heavyset boy struggling with his homosexuality in the 1950s. Piserchio’s entire demeanor encapsulates that sugar sweet generation and the evils that lie beneath. Heather Baisley and Eme Bentancur led the ensemble of lost souls with eerie finesse. Baisley’s “Mama Rose” embodiment paired with Bentancur’s alcoholic father persona could shake even the hardest of hearts to the core.  Deborah Bjornsti plays a heartbreaking shell of a ballerina, Paul Rahter has his finger to the pulse on current police brutality, Dylan Scifo makes a damned good druggie, and Jenna Moschella will scare the shit out of you.

I found myself leaving the Flea a bit wiser and a bit more at ease. With all the goings on in the world these days, we need to find answers within art and communication. This is it guys. Will I see you in hell?

Here's a little teaser, complete w. cast/playwright interviews:

Oh, & here’s the dates:
Thursday, August 4 at 7pm
Friday August 5 at 7pm
Saturday, August 6 at 2pm
Saturday, August 6 at 7pm
Sunday, August 7 at 2pm
Sunday, August 7 at 7pm
Wednesday, August 10 at 7pm
Thursday, August 11 at 7pm
Friday, August 12 at 7pm
Saturday, August 13 at 2pm

Saturday, August 13 at 7pm

Monday, August 1, 2016

Small Mouth Sounds @ The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre @ Pershing Square Signature Center

In musicals, we sing because words cannot express how we feel, and when singing fails us our body takes over and we dance. What people fail to realize is that the most powerful thing we can do is be silent. (Kind of odd an odd statement since our world is a scary violent place right now.) Small Mouth Sounds brings everyone in the audience back to neutral. It’s a therapeutic retreat that none of us signed up for, yet you feel like a part of the show, and end up questioning your own self.  

The space is bare, except for six chairs. The only music you here is coming from pure nature, raindrops, rustling of the bushes, and a casual audience member. As we anticipate how this show is going to start, Max Baker (Jan) enters and simply sits. We watch him for what feels like an eternity just sit there. Yet I couldn’t look away. Slowly but sure we see the rest of the cast file in, and get just enough exposition to learn what is going on before we go on the journey of, silence.

This show has an incredible team of actors. Marcia DeBonis (Joan) gives a heart breaking yet hopeful performance. She manages finding the light even in the darkest times and you can’t help but smile along with her. Opposite DeBonis, we have, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, who somehow made me feel like I was listening to her talking. The way you watch her body transform from beginning to end is unbelievable. She took me on a journey I was not prepared for, and it was breathtaking. Every show needs a consistent heartbeat and Max Baker did exactly that. He only says about five words total the entire show, but they are the most powerful. Watching Mr. Baker on stage made me feel comfortable and warm and all I wanted to do was hug him. He was the heart of the show. Every show needs a little comedy, and Babak Tafti (Rodney) fulfills that playing a true yogi. He perfects the physical comedy, and talk about great comedic timing, which is even more impressive, because they are silent! Matching his comedic chops we have, Zoe Winters (Alicia). She plays a woman who clearly on the verge of a breakdown, might be a little snobby, yet you can’t NOT root for her. And lastly, rounding out the cast, Brad Heberlee (Ned).  Herberlee is the only actor on stage that gets a full monologue. And IT BLOWS YOUR MIND! He has such ease to his performance; you almost feel you are intruding in his personal space. From his comedic moments, to his deep secrets, you can’t take your eyes off him.

It’s fascinating when you lose the power of speech, how every movement you make tells a story. How you sit, stand, even sleep.  We also see how much noise we can actually make by not making any. Small Mouth Sounds was truly a beautiful piece of theatre. It was refreshing, inspiring, and even spiritual. Thank you Small Mouth Sounds. You have changed me.

Review By: Briana Burnside
Photos By: Sara Krulwich