Monday, October 31, 2016

Les Liasions Dangereuses @ The Booth Theater

Since its initial 1987 Broadway debut with Lindsay Duncan and Alan Rickman, Les Liasions Dangereuses has returned to the Booth Theatre starring Janet McTeer and Liev Schreiber. A performance filled with the underbelly of intrigue and sexual manipulation of ancien régime France comes from Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos’ 1787 novel.

Directed by Josie Rourke, Dangereuses witty lines and scintillating tales scurry across the stage in beautiful period garb designed by Tom Scutt. Scutt also designed the unit set that resembles an old art gallery—the walls peeling and gorgeous paintings lying about, waiting to be properly marveled at.

Janet McTeer plays La Marquise de Merteuil, a happily widowed aristocrat who gains her pleasure from the power she imposes on others—her success measured only by the misery and destruction that falls before her. Expertly, she hides her intentions behind her perfect mannerisms and military-like strategy. Her aim is to exercise the only power she can possibly possess as a woman and achieve its ends better than a man. Her competitor is Liev Schreiber, Le Vicomte de Valmont, serially unwed and searching for the highest conquests to earn him fame and legend (from his loins). His intentions only hidden by his quick wit and easy command of a woman’s virtue (or lack thereof).

Their major victims are a 15-year-old virgin, Cecile Valanges (Elena Kampouris), her true love Le Chevalier Danceny (Raffi Barsoumian), and a happily married and virtuous woman Madame de Tourvel (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen). La Marquise desires revenge on a former lover and tasks Valmont to deflower Cecile before her impending marriage and Valmont wishes to become an irresistible yearning of Madame de Tourvel; enough for her to drop her religious afflictions and leave her husband. A feat he views as the height of his career; so impossible that only he can achieve its end.

What ensues is Schreiber and McTeer commanding the stage and performance. Each one pulled from the audience a sense of overarching foreboding and hopelessness. Rourke was careful to include comedic relief wherever possible. The acting was without flaw and the play itself a dark undertaking where characters shed their innocence, their feelings of true love and desires for the art of the game.

Difficult as it is to bring all aspects of a novel to life, Les Liaisions Dangereuses does its best and is graced with a very capable cast. While there was a lot of comedy and talent to bridge the gaps of a thin plot and overt hideous intentions that did not always run deeper, Dangereuses opened an eye to the musical chairs of lovers and destroyers of pre-revolution France.

Review By: Alex Lipari
Photos By: Joan Marcus

Thursday, October 20, 2016


A few minutes into “Oh, Hello” I noticed in front of me a well dressed older man with a disinterested posture. Maybe he wasn’t a fan of the stand up comedy of John Mulaney or Nick Kroll or the sketches from Kroll Show, the latter’s Comedy Central series that birthed the characters of two stylized curmudgeons from the Upper West Side who were now lighting up the historic Lyceum Theater. Maybe he had already decided this was a pop culture cash in and there was nothing for him here, but as the two began their descent into a near perfect deconstruction of the theater (surprise surprise, the show is wonderful), one thing became clear: It wasn’t IF they’d break through to the stiff man in front of me, but when. 

Mulaney and Kroll play George St. Geegland and Gill Faizan, two decades long best friends who are thrown to the wind after the comfort of their rent stabilized apartment is taken away. The plot doesn't dig much deeper, but the story itself is just a springboard for the two to completely dismantle both cliches of the theater and New York in a rapid fire series of disjointed vignettes. The narrative is broken constantly, peppered with asides to the audience, requests for bathroom breaks, criticism from one another about their delivery, etc. It’s the slapdash, shooting-from-the-hip vibe that gives it all a special charm, with all the silliness enhanced by the fever dream of a set, a cobbled together collection of props and other memorabilia from previous shows at the Lyceum that seems to constantly remind us not to take this too seriously.

The result is a laugh on nearly every line thanks to the incredibly polished script and endearing characters the two have delicately crafted, as well as something all too rare to Broadway, playful moments of improvisation that, thanks to their obvious friendship and comfortability, is (gasp!) actually just as funny as the dialogue. No moment overstays its welcome as the two pin ball their way from discussing their origin story to chewing out their unpaid intern in the booth for delayed sound cues to introducing genuine surprise celebrity guests for an impromptu talk show to addressing specifically expensive set pieces as specifically expensive set pieces, all culminating in a final bow that leaves the audience satisfied that there is not one more drop of humor to be squeezed from the evening. 

When the man in front of me eventually let out a satisfied laugh (during a very small moment when Mulaney’s Geegland showed genuine contempt for the audience for not being into Steely Dan enough to enjoy the show) I could tell he finally agreed he wasn’t seeing some flash in the pan novelty act, but something completely different. He relaxed like he was listening to an exotic instrument he had never heard before but that he couldn’t deny was fine tuned and being played with perfection. You don’t have to already love Kroll and Mulaney to find something special here, though like listening to copious amounts of Steely Dan it’s better for you in the long run. 

Review: Dave Columbo
Photo: Dave Kotinksy


I’d imagine there is a lot of pressure associated with staging, what most consider to be, the GREATEST American musical of all time. One must dissect the elements that make it to be just that: the greatest. Well, here she is boys, Phoenix of Red Bank’s stellar production of Gypsy at the gorgeous Count Basie Theatre, shining in all it’s glory.

Bernadette Peters once compared the character of Momma Rose to “the female equivilant of King Leer.” Under the ginger care of director Tom Martini, Loretta Boyle lead the cast with the verve and doggedness every Momma must possess.

 The diadem of this production, however, was within her daughter Louise, played by Kathryn Pentek. Pentek explored a vulnerability who’s depths jarred the audience. We watched her transform from the overlooked tomboy cast aside by her mother, to a sexualized demigoddess casting her mother aside. Miss Pentek’s performance was nothing short of heartbreaking, thoroughly embodying the spirit of the piece.

Bob Sammond musically directs a show with tight knit harmonies very reminiscent of the vaudevillian days. Elise Klinger's choreography matches that same level of grace and historical accuracy. 

Stand out performances littered the show with every twist and turn. Chris Lorenc took on the role of Tulsa, leaving every single person in my row breathless, and for good reason. His mastery of the time period nuances, execution of the dance and  sheer chemistry with every single person on stage was certainly infectious and memorable. Mikayla Petrilla lit up the whole stage with infallible energy as Electra and led her fellow strippers to victory in a hilarious rendition of “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.”’

Its always a wonderful feeling when you see a classic just done right. Phoenix Red Bank undoubtedly provided that sense of nostalgia and a toetapping good time.

Review: Brittany Goodwin
Photos by: Rick Kowalski

Saturday, October 8, 2016


My English teacher once admitted every story is a variation of a handful of tired archetypes. "The beauty," she said, "is in a familiar narrative being told in an exciting way."

 This was on my mind while watching “All The Ways To Say I Love You” at the Lucille Lortelle theater, thanks to the skills of playwright Neil Labute, director Leigh Silverman, and particularly Judith Light who all deliver us Mrs. Johnson, an English teacher bound by her curiosity of a student’s obtuse question about lying, her intrigue with the fluidity of the truth, and by her burden of transgressions she admits to but can’t in good conscience condemn. 

In a few minutes the familiarity of the rather simple story is clear, but malaise has no time to set in thanks to Judith Light’s portrayal. Her seemingly fragile frame is betrayed by a powerful drum beat of a performance, complete with moments of delicate calm interspersed with erratic explosions of movement and force. Her honesty is palpable and often moves faster than she can, resulting in us piecing the story together less from her enthusiasm but in the moments she recoils at simple words spoken before she’s fully ready to meet their emotional weight, leaving us with multiple pregnant pauses and the uneasiness that this teacher, who also acts as the school’s guidance counselor, is as in need of guidance as any of us.

There is an argument that the tone of her performance borders on unmotivated at times. She clenches her hands, clutches her stomach, and bellows air out of her like an animal, and some of these events do more to disrupt the pace than accent a moment, though all I had to do was remember the unpredictability of some of the more colorful teachers I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and suddenly these jarring outbursts seemed in the realm of possibility. On a few occasions though even I was thrown off by some of these choices, along with stiff motivations of movement around the small set that lacked the honesty of the rest of her performance. 

The claustrophobia of the set is telling, as we are treated to merely a portion of her classroom office lit by a lone ceiling light, and equally sterile office windows covered by blinds, the room cluttered and busy, framed tightly in about half the available space the of the theater which cuts off the proscenium to allow just enough space to let her move, but not enough to let her find comfort for longer than a moment. 

It’s hard to imagine this play working without Judith Light. LaBute’s writing is solid and specific as usual, but it’s Judith’s energy that coerces us to listen and her pain that we take with us on the ride home. This story has been told many times, but never quite this way. 

Review: Dave Columbo
Photo: Joan Marcus


The Producers is old-school musical comedy gold. Following the antics of two men who set out to produce the worst show in town so they can pocket the rest of the money, the night is filled with lots of glam, glitz, schtick, and hilarity. One of the hottest tickets in town during its time, winning a record 12 Tony awards, has had Susan Stroman’s original direction and choreography wonderfully recreated by Bill Burns and Don Stephenson (respectively) at a venue holding its very own Tony award- New Jersey’s own Papermill Playhouse. Robin Wagner’s scenery and William Ivey Long’s costumes were also based on the record-breaking production’s original designs, but still feel dazzling. While all of the designs are incredible, the main draw is the brilliant and hilarious cast.

With so many elements harkening to the 2001 show it is impossible not to draw comparisons, particularly to its two stars. Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick are synonymous with The Producers, but the two men taking on the roles here handle them remarkably. Michael Kostroff tackles “that slimy, sleazy” Max Bialystock opposite David Josefberg’s Leo Bloom. This dynamic duo has great chemistry and talent between them, working wonderfully together to take on their iconic roles in a way that alludes to Lane and Broderick while still making it their own. Kostroff particularly stands out in the monstrous second-act number “Betrayed”, which he hilariously remarks mid-song as a “son-of-a-bitch”, and Josefberg’s “I Wanna Be a Producer” dazzles as he is flanked by the very talented members of the ensemble.

While the titular couple lead the show spectacularly, it’s the featured colorful cast of characters that steal the scenes. Ashley Spencer’s Ulla is super Swedish, stretching out vowels to the extreme. While slightly difficult to understand at times, her Ulla is sweet, sultry, and spectacular. Spencer draws one of the biggest applauses of the night as she belts incredibly in “If You Got it Flaunt it”, her voice stunning and powerful. The Nazi pigeon-loving Franz Liebkind is given a gruff treatment by John Treacy Egan, who finds a nice balance with the character’s sensitive moments with his birds (which provided hilarious backup during “Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop”) and his more aggressive side. Some of the funniest moments come courtesy of the fabulous Kevin Pariseau and Mark Price as Roger De Bris and Carmen Ghia (respectively). Price’s elongated “S’sssss” is hyssssssterical and he certainly knows how to exit the room. Pariseau’s turn as the führer in the standout “Springtime for Hitler” is captivating and utterly marvelous, with the 10-minute number being a major highlight of the evening.

While a show that most theatergoers have seen and loved, Papermill’s production adds plenty of nuances to make it their own, at the same time still providing the iconic moments you expect to see. Many members of the cast have performed in The Producers in one of its various iterations, whether the original, tour, film, etc. and their expertise and closeness to the show allow for an expert handling of the material, knowing what to take liberties with and make things fresh, and milking every moment they can for as much laughs as possible.


The Producers is certainly a fun night at the theatre; it is impossible to leave without a smile on your face. The energy in the room from the performers to audience is infectious and exuberant, putting everyone in a good mood. If you’re looking for an evening filled with laughs check out 2016’s recipient of the Regional Theatre Tony Award, which provides Broadway-quality entertainment right in New Jersey, where a classic show has been brought to life again. Running now through October 23, make sure you head over to Paper Mill Playhouse before this riot says “Goodbye!” for good!

Review by April Sigler
Photos by Billy Bustamante

Saturday, October 1, 2016


I’ve heard it said that talk is cheap, though that cliche goes out the window to anyone willing to shoot 40 minutes out of the city down the NJ Transit line to the Chatham Playhouse to see cult favorite ‘Talk Radio’ by Eric Bogosian, a play in which we find ourselves in the middle of the hurricane that is Barry Champlain-- the mouthpiece of a talk radio show in the late 80’s as he juggles callers on the line, management and romantic interference, his own sense of safety, and eventually comes to question the point of all the noise around him. 

We piece the story together  in the din of at first disconnected conversations (akin to discovering the message unfolding in the seeming chaos in a Cohen Brothers film,) and it clips along with frenetic energy thanks to the superb direction of Michael J. Hegarty, who wastes none of our time and none of the stage telling Barry’s story solidly. 

Barry is brought to life by Dominick DeNucci, a gifted actor on his feet who achieves something even more special when behind his desk. There is a subtly to his work to be commended, whether he’s adjusting his watch, flicking a cigarette, or adjusting the microphone. 

It’s hard to take your eyes off him, though when you do, you are greeted by the rest of the staff; all cleverly staged behind glass during most of the proceedings, allowing us to always see their reactions to the constant influx of drama. They act as his satellites and all have moments to shine in telling their side of the story that led them to this fateful night, from his friend Stu, loyal yet sarcastic Joey Caramanno, his boss Dan, sheepish yet powerful Dale Monroe Jr, and his secretary Linda, vulnerable yet decisive Christine Talarico. Chip Prestera, Michael Sundberg, Ginger Kipps, and Brittany Goodwin are the talented voices we hear of those calling in, and their versatility breathe life into characters we only hear, but wholly believe exist in this world. Christopher Frazier brilliantly rounds out the cast as Kent in a most memorable performance that may be the only thing that leaves Barry speechless. 

Robert Lukasik’s set is a marvel. Every detail of an 80’s radio station is on display: ashtrays, coffeemaker, a computer displaying the green glow of the next callers, and my favorite, the partially obscured posters framed along the back hallway of other talk shows on the network only barely mentioned in the narrative itself. The love and care put into the believability of this set cant go unnoticed, all enhanced by the lighting design of Richard Hennessy, illuminating what needs our attention and leaving the rest in brooding, lonely shadow. 

A special mention must also go to the stellar sound design by Joe DeVico. Discussing politics, morality, and the meaning of life would be a handful in ideal situations, much less in dialogue between actors on stage and their counterparts calling into the show. All of this is expertly handled by DeVico, who seamless suppliments these intense conversations with music cues, news reports, and originally composed commercials. 

Good theater can sometimes happen on accident, but GREAT theater, and consequently an evening worthy of your time, can only come with the dedication on display by the Chatham Players. The cast, the crew, and the director are putting on a show worth talking about!

Review: Dave Columbo
Photos: Howard Fischer