Phantom of the Opera Celebration

As Theatrical Phenomenon Phantom of the Opera Celebrates 30 Year Reign on Broadway Andrew Lloyd Webber Looks Back

By: Ellis Nassour

A gala performance on Wednesday [January 24] will celebrate Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart’s The Phantom of the Opera hitting 30 years [actually on January 26, with 12,500 performances – which includes 16 previews] and continuing as Broadway’s longest-running show.

Tony Awards – Michael Crawford sings Music of the Night – 1991 

As Theatrical Phenomenon Phantom of the Opera Celebrates 30 Year Reign on Broadway Andrew Lloyd Webber Looks Back

By: Ellis Nassour

A gala performance on Wednesday [January 24] will celebrate Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Charles Hart’s The Phantom of the Opera hitting 30 years [actually on January 26, with 12,500 performances – which includes 16 previews] and continuing as Broadway’s longest-running show.

Tony Awards – Michael Crawford sings Music of the Night – 1991 

Sixteen years ago, POTO became the longest-running show in Broadway history, surpassing the composer’s “now and forever” Cats’ 7,485 performances. Who could’ve predicted reaching 25, and now breaking into a fourth decade?

The Tony-winning Best Musical, with additional lyrics by Richard Stilgoe and his book with Lloyd Webber has played to 18 million at the Majestic Theatre – where it opened in 1988 with a then-record advance of $18-million. Four years earlier, the show, based on Gaston Leroux’s Le Fantôme de L’Opéra, premiered on London’s West End, already surpassing 30 years.

However, on that long ago opening night Andrew Lloyd Webber, pacing and nervous, wasn’t sure he and co-producer with the composer’s Really Useful Company Cameron Mackintosh had a hit on their hands – or that it would go on to win more than 70 theater awards, including seven 1988 Tonys and three London Olivier Awards.

Since 2010, beyond Broadway, the national tours, and a special production for Las Vegas, thousands of high school and university productions have been licensed through R&H Theatricals.

Though London advance sales and audience reaction during previews suggested an unstoppable hit, LloydWebber states. “I wish I could say I had the best time of my life during those heady days. Phantom is the only show I’ve done that was entirely unchanged during previews. Our brilliant director Hal Prince was so certain we’d be a hit that he suggested we take a holiday and return for the opening.



“At openings,” he continues, “even when you feel you have the public with you, you’re at your most vulnerable. I couldn’t bear to sit through the show.” Everyone looked around, but there was no Lloyd Webber.

Mackintosh exited and found him and got him back for the curtain call. Amid the thunderous applause, LloydWebber explains in that moment he yearned to have loved ones around him. But (then) wife, Sarah Brightman, playing Christine, was basking in audience adulation with her Phantom, Michael Crawford. “While all were celebrating,” Lloyd Webber says, “I felt alone and frightened.”

It didn’t help when the first review, by the London Sunday Times critic, read, “Masked balls.” “Those were the only words uttered,” LloydWebber notes. “Most composers, let alone producers, would be suicidal to receive something like that from a major newspaper. It didn’t faze Cameron one bit. He called while having a jolly good breakfast and said nothing any reviewer wrote could alter the fact that Phantom had chimed with audiences.”

LloydWebber, even after blockbuster hits Jesus Christ Superstar, Cats, and Evita, was used to critical snipes. He points out POTO’s reviews “were wildly polarized between those who really did or really wouldn’t surrender to the music of the night.”

What was most upsetting was ruinous gossip that Brightman, an alumna of the West End Cats who’d been onstage since her teens, got the role because she was his wife.

“The fine line between success and failure is perilously small,” states the composer. “I’m struck 30 years hence with the phenomenon Phantom has become. Much credit goes to the late Maria Björnson for her dazzling design and costumes.  And would another choreographer have understood the period as well as former prima ballerina Dame Gillian Lynne (Cats)?”

In 2014, Miss Lynne, now 90, made a DBE (Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth in the New Year Honours List.

In the matter of the famed chandelier, Lloyd Webber notes, “Many said that moment could never work. It turns out to be the most theatrical moment I ever conceived – a moment that can only be achieved in live theater.”

Multi-Tony-winning director Prince says he was instantly hooked on the idea that Leroux’s classic was musical material. “The secret to the show’s unparalleled success was the team of consummate professionals – producers, musicians, our super-prodigious choreographer and fabulous designer – who were always ready for anything. Andrew’s idea to make the emotional center of the show a love triangle struck a chord with audiences. It’s the crucial difference between our musical, the novel, and other versions of the story.”

POTO certainly hasn’t been without its crisis moments.

Lloyd Webber wanted to work with his old friend “and master book and lyric writer” Alan Jay Lerner, who accepted the challenge. As plans for the musical proceeded, it became obvious that Lerner wasn’t well. His condition worsened and the day he was to start working on the lyrics, he rang Lloyd Webber to say he must bow out. It soon became known Lerner had cancer. Sadly, he never recovered.

“Now, we had to find a replacement,” explains Lloyd Webber. “This led to bringing aboard Charles Hart, a talented young lyricist I had observed at a musical writers competition and whom was commended highly.” Hart was sent a melody to set lyrics to and the result convinced Lloyd Webber he’d made a good choice.

When the move to Broadway was eminent, “the only Achilles heel we had was Sarah,” recounts Lloyd Webber. “American Equity refused to allow  the girl without whom  there would have been no Phantom to play Christine. I felt Sarah’s slight as if it were directed at me.” With millions of dollars in ticket sales at stake, a deal was hatched. Brightman made her Broadway debut, and won a Tony for her performance.

In addition to POTO, Lloyd Webber has School of Rock, written with Glen Slater and book adapted from the film by Julian Fellowes (Downton Abbey). A new production of Tony-winning Best Musical Cats returned this season for its first revival since closing in September 2000 after 7, 485 performances over 18 years. It closed December 30.

An estimated 140 million people in 35 countries (15 languages) have surrendered to POTO with what many feel is Lloyd Webber’s best score. The  two-disk original cast album spent five years on Billboard’s  charts; and a single-disc highlights recording spent over six years on the magazine’s Pop Album chart.

There’ve been 15 actors in the title role. Returning to the cast for 30th Anniversary performances is Platinum-selling Swedish recording artist Peter Jöback (through March 31), who also donned the mask on the West End. Co-starring are Ali Ewoldt as Christine Daaé (the first Asian-American actress in the role) and Rodney Ingram as Vicomte de Chagny Raoul.

There are six current productions of Phantom around the world: London, New York, Sapporo (Japan), Budapest, Prague, and Stockholm — with an engagement to begin in August in Sweden. 

For more information on the 30th Anniversary of The Phantom of the Opera, visit www.PhantomBroadway.com.

Marcus Lovett, Moonlighting ****

By: Paulanne Simmons

Fans who know Marcus Lovett best as the star of musicals such as Phantom of the Opera and Carousel, had a very pleasant surprise at Feinstein’s/54 Below on January 19 and 20. Supported by a six-piece combo, Lovett sang a repertoire that included songs by Lyle Lovett, Billy Joel and Jim Croce, not exactly Broadway fare.

By: Paulanne Simmons

Fans who know Marcus Lovett best as the star of musicals such as Phantom of the Opera and Carousel, had a very pleasant surprise at Feinstein’s/54 Below on January 19 and 20. Supported by a six-piece combo, Lovett sang a repertoire that included songs by Lyle Lovett, Billy Joel and Jim Croce, not exactly Broadway fare.

Perhaps this is why Lovett calls his show Marcus Lovett, Moonlighting. Somewhere in the middle of the evening, Lovett even gives the audience the dictionary definition of moonlighting: a second job, in addition to one’s regular employment. However, considering that Lovett’s career has taken a very different direction in recent years, exploration might be a much better word.

Lovett’s voice is not only the trademark for Good Morning America, This Week with George Stephanopoulos and, for seventeen years, The David Letterman Show; he is also the voice-over in thousands of commercials and promotions for television and radio. Given this versatility, it’s not unlikely that Lovett should turn his attention to cabaret, where he wants to “experiment with the genre and synthesize all the things that excite and inspire me.”

Clearly, Lovett is inspired by Jim Croce, who, according to Lovett, once said, “If you mean what you say, people will understand.” Lovett sang Croce’s last recorded song, “I Got a  Name” with great feeling. Lovett is also inspired by Lyle Lovett (“I’ve Been to Memphis), Sting (“Roxanne”) and Barry Manilow (“Could It Be Magic”).

But despite his ease with jazzier songs, Lovett did not ignore his roots. His choice of Broadway tunes ran from the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein “If I Loved You” (Carousel) to Sondheim’s “Putting It Together” (Sunday in the Park with George), Schönberg and Boublil’s “Master of the House” (Les Misérables) and “You’ll Be Back” from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton.

Stacy Sullivan

One of the highlights of the show was the appearance of cabaret veteran Stacy Sullivan, a longtime friend of Lovett who joined him in “If I Loved You.” But with Sullivan or alone, Lovett’s rapport with the audience never faded. HIs career in cabaret, still in its early stages, shows much promise.


Feinstiens 54Below
254 W 54th St. Cellar, NYC 10019
Tickets & Info:  (646 476-3551

 

 

John Lithgow: Stories by Heart ****

By: David Sheward 

The funniest moment on Broadway so far this season is not provided by a witticism from a beloved comic or a pointed political observation by an astute social commentator. It’s the incredibly accurate recreation of a parrot’s expression as it asks a roomful of stuffy British types if they would like to share a nut. The priceless simulation of avian inquiry is provided by the incomparable John Lithgow in his solo show Stories By Heart, presented now by the Roundabout Theater Company at the American Airlines Theater after previous versions had a short run at Lincoln Center and a national tour. Lithgow’s eloquent mouth twists and curves into an elongated bill, his eyes bulge and twitch, and he emits a sound between a bark and a squawk.

By: David Sheward 

The funniest moment on Broadway so far this season is not provided by a witticism from a beloved comic or a pointed political observation by an astute social commentator. It’s the incredibly accurate recreation of a parrot’s expression as it asks a roomful of stuffy British types if they would like to share a nut. The priceless simulation of avian inquiry is provided by the incomparable John Lithgow in his solo show Stories By Heart, presented now by the Roundabout Theater Company at the American Airlines Theater after previous versions had a short run at Lincoln Center and a national tour. Lithgow’s eloquent mouth twists and curves into an elongated bill, his eyes bulge and twitch, and he emits a sound between a bark and a squawk.

The format of the show is simplicity itself: the actor performs two classic short stories, “Haircut” by Ring Lardner and “Uncle Fred Flits By” by P.G. Wodehouse (the parrot appears in the latter). Before each, he relates their significance during different points in his relationship with his father, also an actor and a director. It’s an intimate celebration of the art of storytelling, the actor’s craft, and the love of literature and family.

Lithgow has always been an exemplary artist who could read the phone book and draw plaudits for his interpretation. The most striking example of his limning skill was his six-season run on the goofy NBC sitcom Third Rock from the Sun. He managed to take the gimmicky role of an alien posing as a university professor and turn it into a tour-de-force comedy turn, full of subtext and depth. His base material is of higher quality here, but he performs a similar feat of alchemy, transforming raw materials into theatrical gold.

He begins each act with a deceptively laid-back chat, explaining how each tale fit into his life. The Lardner was an early favorite read by his dad to young John and his siblings during their peripatetic childhood as Lithgow Senior eked a career as a director of Shakespeare festivals in the Midwest. The Wodehouse lark was read by John to both of his parents as they were suffering the advances of aging and he had temporarily moved in to care for them. He starts each by reading from the very anthology of stories his family owned and gradually acting out each role and action.

“Haircut” imperceptibly evolves from a folksy portrait of 1920s small-town America to a grim indictment of sexism and small-mindedness. The narrator is a gossipy barber unspooling the local scandals to a newcomer. Lithgow endows him with a giggly maliciousness as well as heartbreaking, unexpected empathy. “Uncle Fred” is a riotous romp satirizing British middle-class snobbery in which the author creates a roomful of varying citizenry representing a cross-section of physicalities, attitudes and classes.

Daniel Sullivan’s subtle direction, John Lee Beatty’s handsome drawing-room set, and Kenneth Posner’s cozy lighting compliment Lithgow’s tour-de-force turn perfectly. This one-man show has artistry as well as Heart.    

John Lithgow: Stories by Heart ****
January 11—March 4, 2018
Roundabout Theatre Company at American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St., NYC. Tue 8pm, Wed 2pm & 8pm, Thu—Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm. Running time: two hours including intermission. $39—$139. www.roundabouttheatre.org.

John Lithgow
John Lithgow
John Lithogow

 

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom ***1/2

By: Paulanne Simmons

Hamilton may be offering Broadway audiences a history lesson about the formation of our country. But further uptown Sanctuary Theater at the Center at West Park is presenting a lesson much closer to our own times. This one-woman show is called Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom, and it tells the true story of Lynda Blackman, one of the youngest participants in the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965.

By: Paulanne Simmons

Hamilton may be offering Broadway audiences a history lesson about the formation of our country. But further uptown Sanctuary Theater at the Center at West Park is presenting a lesson much closer to our own times. This one-woman show is called Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom, and it tells the true story of Lynda Blackman, one of the youngest participants in the Selma to Montgomery March in 1965.

Adapted from Blackman’s autobiography and directed by Ally Sheedy, Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom features Damaras Obi as Blackman, a civil rights activist who was jailed nine times before her 15th birthday. It is a challenging role, as Obi receives little support from props, set, lighting or sound effects.

At times the lack of bells and whistles in this production is beneficial, allowing the audience to focus entirely on the story. But sometimes the show becomes a bit monotonous, even though Sheedy works tirelessly at moving Obi around the stage, frequently for no apparent reason.

A few visual aids would have helped enormously in establishing time, place and mood. The sounds of the dogs barking and the policemen screaming orders would have brought the audience much more effectively into the moment.

Fortunately, although Obi is young, she is also extremely talented. Her performance is often riveting and always believable. She never lets Blackburn’s commitment morph into self-righteousness, or her pain become self-pity. Her fear and her faith are what make her most attractive.

Martin Luther King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Fifty years after after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., this story of a young girl who braved prison, insults and injury needs to be told more than ever.

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom  runs through Jan. 20, 2018 at Sanctuary Theater at the Center at West Park, 165 West 86 Street.
Photography: Mark Greenberg

Damaras Obi
Damaras Obi


 

Ahrens & Flaherty Once On This Island

Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, Composers, Once On This Island: 35 Years and Counting

By: Ellis Nassour

Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics), one half of the Tony-winning Broadway composing team with Stephen Flaherty (music), who are celebrating their 35th year of collaboration, delights in reminiscing about the origin of their 1990 musical Once On This Island, now back on Broadway at Circle in the Square in a jawdroppingly sumptuous staging that pumps new life – and magic – into an already exhilarating work.

Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, Composers, Once On This Island: 35 Years and Counting

By: Ellis Nassour

Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics), one half of the Tony-winning Broadway composing team with Stephen Flaherty (music), who are celebrating their 35th year of collaboration, delights in reminiscing about the origin of their 1990 musical Once On This Island, now back on Broadway at Circle in the Square in a jawdroppingly sumptuous staging that pumps new life – and magic – into an already exhilarating work.

“It was May 1988 and Stephen and I had just completed the run of our first Off Broadway show at Playwrights Horizon, Lucky Stiff. It was an incredible experience, and we wanted to start another project right away. I went hunting for ideas in a Barnes & Noble. Back then, they had a used section.

“My hand and eyes went right to a shelf with a thin volume with a colorful beach scene cover,” she continues. “It was titled My Love, My Love or the Peasant Girl [a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid] by Trinidadian writer of young adult fiction Rosa Guy [pronounced “gee”]. I opened the book and started reading. It began ‘There is an island where rivers run deep, with the sea sparkling in the sun.’ I thought, ‘This sounds so musical.’”

She bought the book for $1.50, went home, and read it “in one big gulp.” I quickly fell in love not only with the story, but also the novel’s language in the novel. It was so evocative and beautiful.” She hailed a cab to Flaherty’s apartment. When he opened the door, Ahrens said, “I’ve found our next musical.”

“The music scene was jumping and there was a lot of music experimenting going on,” notes Flaherty. “I was inspired by Brazilian music, Paul Simon’s Graceland with its motifs of South African music, Caribbean beats. All sorts of music ran through my head. Our process was quite different from Lucky Stiff. It became a musical adventure. By using an array of world music elements, I embarked on creating a theater score unlike any I’d heard.”

Once On This Island premiered in May 1990 at Playwrights and in October transferred to the intimate Booth on Broadway, one of the earliest shows to be performed without an intermission. It ran 13 months and just shy of 470 performances, starring LaChanze [in her third show and first lead role] and garnering her a Tony nod. Next, she had the lead in Ahrens and Flaherty’s Dessa Rose, co-starred with Once On This Island revival co-star Kenita R. Miller, at LCT’s Mitzi Newhouse.

 

When there was interest in reviving Once On This Island by lead producers Ken Davenport and Hunter Arnold, Ahrens and Flaherty met with director Michael Arden (Deaf West’s Spring Awakening). His idea was to do the show in the round.

“We thought, with storytelling often happening around a camp fire or with people gathered in rapt attention, that was an exciting idea,” explains Ahrens. “The show’s concept is telling stories to a little girl of how she came to be and how she evolves into a goddess.”

Flaherty was poised to start all over with new orchestrations. AnnMarie Milazzo (Spring Awakening, Finding Neverland, If/Then) collaborated with original orchestrator, two-time Tony winner, Michael Starobin (If/Then, Next to Normal, Assassins, Sunday in the Park with George, My Favorite Year, Falsettos), age 90.

In the original, Flaherty used “a lot of highly polished and glossy keyboards and synth. We wanted a grittier sound in line with Michael’s vision.” Milazzo and Starobin came up with the idea that much of the keyboard music could be done by the human voice. “That really upped the ante in terms of the actors’participation.”

“Being in the round adds a fresh dimension,” explains Ahrens, “as audiences are drawn into the poignant story of first love and heartbreak and the importance of family amid voodoo, class bigotry, and the trees and wind creating the music of the competing powerful entities: Goddess of Love, Mother of the Earth, God of Water, and Demon of Death.”

“Michael (Starobin),” recalls Flaherty, “had an offbeat idea. Much of the castoff debris could be made into musical instruments. There was something quite profound about creating something of beauty from trash (such as percussion instruments, a wind machine crafted from a trashed bicycle, a xylophone made from shards of glass, and an ocarina made from a bottle).” Music supervisor Chris Fenwich made good use of everything. In addition, he gets an amazingly full sound from his five-member band.

The composers haven’t tampered with the musical’s themes, but that Ahrens tweaked her script. “In the original,” Flaherty notes, “the setting wasn’t a particular place, just a fictitious magical place. Michael wanted to bring in the roots of Haiti, especially in light of recent, destructive events.”

The composers consider Arden’s concept, the design by Dane Laffrey (Deaf West’s Spring Awakening; MTC’s Fool for Love revival; Drama Desk winner, Lighting Design, 2010 Off Broadway revival, Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band), and the lighting by multiple Tony winners Julies Fisher [whose wife Graciela Daniele choreographed/directed the original Once On This Island] and Peggy Eisenhauer brilliant. The lighting becomes an effective co-star, creating different environments in nanoseconds – most stunningly, with the fade from the island’s sandy devastation to a stunning lit-by-candles palace ball with the island’s “grand homes” [aristocrats and landowners.] 

The Circle is a challenging venue to light. Standard grids would blind audiences on the four sides. Fisher and Eisenhauer installed overhead lighting, which solves that problem, and some non-intrusive side lighting.

The cast have bonded. Merle Dandridge, Quentin Earl Darrington, Alex Newell, and Tony and Olivier winner Lea Salonga are multi-talented performers declares Ahresn. “From our young Hailey Kilgore (Ti Moune, or little orphan) down to the swings, everyone’s wonderful and have some of the most amazing voices we’ve heard. The chemistry between Philip Boykin (Tony nominee, Porgy and Bess), who plays Tonton Julian, and Kenita R. Miller (Mama Euralie) is amazing.”

“Lynn’s mad about Philip,” kids Flaherty. However, it turns out to be true. Ahrens pushes back, “He’s magic, sunshine, hilarious, and so sweet and giving.  And that voice! I’m in love with him. Don’t tell my husband, but if Philip wasn’t married, I’d get a divorce and marry him!”

Flaherty says that finding Kilgore, all of 18 and a native of Happy Valley, Oregon, was a miracle. “Michael and Telsey + Company literally scoured the nation looking for our Ti Moune, who segues from a mere human and orphan to a goddess and gets involves in a bittersweet love triangle. Hundreds around the country audition, and in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.”

“Hailey was recommended by a call from her music teacher,” states Ahrens. “She’s a beautiful, raw talent with a terrific learning curve. You’d think she’s been around for years, instead of just walking onto the theater scene.”

“She’s an absolute natural,” Flaherty assures. “She was coming to go to school here. Telsey + Company reminded Michael if he wanted her, he had to let her know as she was about to the deposit down on her dorm.”

“We wanted her!” the duo exclaim. “It was a wise decision,” stresses Flaherty. “She’s a trouper. She rehearsed like she was prepping for the Olympics. It’s quite an experience to see a young amateur balloon into a star right before your eyes.”

During previews and going forward, Ahrens and Flaherty have seen something they’ve never seen before – “At least at any of our shows,” says Flaherty. “Audiences standing up after numbers in the middle of the show.”

Flaherty finds exciting “having the audience in the round to interface with the performers. The staging is immersive. It’s different every performance. It keeps the cast on their toes. There’re no wings. Once you’re out there, you’re out there.”

As the audience enters, they see water lapping onto a Caribbean island village shattered by the type of tempest wreaked by recent Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Peasants “with their brown skins,” amid displaced chickens and a goat, wade through sand and debris gathering what they can. Cast members do clean-up tasks and interact with audience members. 

Ahrens: “That makes them part of the story. It’s important for them to get an understanding of who these characters are and what their arc is going to be.” Flaherty: “Michael didn’t want audiences to think they were entering a theatre. He wanted to feel they were entering the story, the island, its world

Camille A. Brown, making her Broadway debut, has created energetic choreographic movement throughout [often to the point of audiences being unaware] and African dance traditions that are true to time and place.

In these frigid temps, the one tropical place to be is at Once On This Island. The only persons not thrilled with the show are those on the clean-up crew. There’s a ton of sand from the Jersey Shore, hauled in daily, with cast members traipsing through it and water, it creates muck that is spread everywhere. Then, audience members track it on the stairs.

Was the original production ahead of its time? Is the message of race and tackling bigotry stronger now? “There’s never a bad time for good messages,” states Flaherty. “With what we’re experiencing today, it would seem to be a perfect time for Once On This Island to return.”

“The message,” adds Ahrens, “is one of the reasons Michael [Arden] got interested. “America is divided right down the middle in terms of politics, beliefs, and what we hope for. Fortunately, for Stephen and I, Ken [Davenport] wanted to do another show with him. They’re a close-knit producer/director team.”

 

Kismet brought Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty together in 1982.

He arrived from the Midwest and was accepted into BMI’s prestigious Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop. She was an ad agency copywriter, jingle writer/singer and wrote for Disney’s TV series Schoolhouse Rock! She’s been nominated for four Emmys – winning the Outstanding Children’s Informational/Instructional Programming Award for H.E.L.P – Dr. Henry’s Emergency Lessons for People (1979). Soon, she thought of writing for theater and was accepted into the BMI workshop.

“My first session was like the song from South Pacific,” she laughs, “‘You may see a stranger, across a crowded room and somehow you know.’ I liked what Stephen was presenting.”

Flaherty admired how quickly she got into the game. “Lynn was a very clever wordsmith,” he recalls. “It really was like some enchanted evening. We became friends, seeing each other again and again and working together.”

Soon they were writing a musical. “One,” says Flaherty, “we thought had infinite possibilities,” adapted from the Peter Cook, Dudley Moore film Bedazzled (1967) [about a man who sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for seven wishes, but still has trouble winning the girl of his dreams], However, notes Ahrens, “There were rights issues. We learned a good lesson.”

The score hasn’t been lost. In several club engagements, they’ve done tunes from the musical; and from their 2014 Kennedy Center production of Little Dancer, set against the harsh backstage world of the Paris Opera Ballet, where the ballerina posing for Edgar Degas’s sculpture suddenly becomes the world’s most famous dancer.

Though Ahrens is happily married and Flaherty happily partnered, both agree that their long collaboration relationship has been nothing short of a mutual love affair.

Collaborating for 35 years leads to more than just a working friendship. “We’re like brother and sister,” states Ahrens. “And we’ve been known to fight like brothers and sisters! There’ve been times we wanted to throw objects at each other! Actually, we’re more than that, we love each other. We have separate lives, but we socialize, have taken trips together, and included each other in family events.”

He recounts Ahrens’ best and worst traits: “She’s tireless, always focused, always honing, polishing to make things better. She’s like a dog with a bone. Betty Comden said, ‘She takes her work seriously, but she doesn’t take herself as seriously.’ Lynn will be the first to have a good laugh. Her worst quality? Let me think on that. Maybe it’s when we hit a snag on a lyric and she won’t budge. Finally, I’ll say,. ‘We need to let go of that and move on.’”

Ahrens hesitates to mention Flaherty’s best and worst traits. “He’s a wonderful person. As a composer, he has great flexibility of style and sensitivity to lyrics.” Then, she ribs him. “If there is a worst trait it’s how he falls madly in love with everything he writes, whether it works or not. And, sometimes, it just doesn’t.” He attempts a weak smile.

First and foremost, Ahrens says they always begin by talking. “We talk and talk – about what the characters are feeling, what the drama is, what the emotions are. Stephen’ll play a few notes. I’ll scribble something. Before you know it, something starts to gel. He’ll send a melody or I’ll send a lyric. I love it when he sends the music, because that’s where the emotion dwells and I can hear the characters singing.”

They’ve won eight Tony nominations and an Olivier for Best Musical for the original Once On This Island; Tony and Drama Desk Awards and received two Grammy nominations for Ragtime; Drama Desk and Grammy nominations for Seussical; and five Drama Desk nominations, including Best Musical, for LCT Off Broadway production of The Glorious Ones. They also received two Oscar and Golden Globe nominations and Gold Record status for their songs and score of the animated feature Anastasia, now expanded and a Broadway hit. And a not- so-good-time: the sadly short-lived musical adaptation of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky, which has a book by the late Tony-winning Thomas Meehan (The Producers, Annie) [which was challengingly translated into German for its premiere].

The duo’s Broadway and Off-Broadway credits include Chita Rivera: The Dancer’s LifeA Man of No Importance; Dessa Rose (Drama Desk nomination); My Favorite Year; and Lucky Stiff (Washington area’s Helen Hayes Award, Best Musical).

The composers are 2015 inductees into the Theater Hall of Fame. They’ve also co-chaired the Dramatists Guild Fellows program for emerging writers.

Individually, Ahrens’ credits include co-book writer and lyrics for A Christmas Carol (10 years at Theater at Madison Square Garden) and the NBC Hallmark Hall of Fame TV adaptation. Flaherty has composed for symphonies and wrote the score for Loving Repeating: A Musical Of Gertrude Stein (Chicago’s Joseph Jefferson Award for Best New Musical.)

Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty are still at it, with a long list of dream projects, “But,” says Flaherty, “Everything takes time, and there’s never enough of it.”

Shadowlands ***1/2

For some reason English scholars seem to have a predilection for writing novels for young people. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, was a mathematician and Anglican deacon best known as the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. J.R.R. Tolkien was a philologist immortalized by The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. And his friend, C.S. Lewis, was a medievalist and theologian beloved by children for The Chronicles of Narnia.

For some reason English scholars seem to have a predilection for writing novels for young people. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, was a mathematician and Anglican deacon best known as the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. J.R.R. Tolkien was a philologist immortalized by The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. And his friend, C.S. Lewis, was a medievalist and theologian beloved by children for The Chronicles of Narnia.

Sometimes these staid academics had rather extraordinary episodes in their lives. Carroll liked drawing and photographing nude children. Lewis had major relationships with two women: his deceased army buddy’s mother, Jane Moore,whom he lived with and cared for until she was hospitalized; and Joy Davidman, an American writer, a former Communist and a Jew who became an atheist and later converted to Christianity.

This relationship with Davidson became the basis of William Nicholson’s play, Shadowlands, now restaged at Theatre Row’s Acorn Theatre by Fellowship for Performing Arts. The original Broadway production starred Nigel Hawthorne as Lewis and Jane Alexander as Davidman, and the film, Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. This production, directed by Christa Scott-Reed, features Daniel Gerroll as Lewis and Robin Abramson as Davidman

The love story the play relates is unlikely but true. Davidman corresponded with Lewis before she separated from her alcoholic and abusive husband, novelist William Gresham, and came to England with her two sons [in the play, only one son, Douglas (John McCarthy or Jacob Morrell)]. They became friends and eventually were married in a civil ceremony so she could remain in the United Kingdom. 

However, after Davidman was diagnosed with terminal bone cancer, the two realized their relationship went far beyond intellectual companionship. They were married in a religious ceremony by the Rev. Peter Bide (no easy feat as Davidman was divorced and according to the church not eligible for remarriage).

This might seem to have all the earmarks of a sentimental, even smarmy drama. But Shadowlands narrowly avoids this fate through the vivid contrast between the very rigid and formal Lewis and the very Jewish and extremely outspoken Davidman. If Abramson pushes her portrayal a bit too far into the realm of stereotype, Gerroll occasionally manages to surprise us with the depth of his feeling.

Best of all, the play is not infrequently quite funny. This is partly a function of the mismatched relationship but also due to the interactions of Lewis’s colleagues who take an ironic and jaded stance on most issues.

But in the end this is a romance, and a tragic one, onstage, the very best kind.

Shadowlands runs through Jan. 7 at the Acorn Theatre, Theatre Row, 410 West 42 Street.
Tickets: 212-239-6200  or FPATheatre.com
Running Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (one intermission)
Closes: Jan. 7, 2018
Photography:Jeremy Daniel

Daniel Gerroll, Robin Abramson, Jack McCarthy

 

Golden Globe Awards

Seth Myers Hosts Sunday’s Golden Globes with Tightest Competition in Years

By: Ellis Nassour

With betting odds too close to call in the Picture and Acting categories, Sunday’s 2018/75th Anniversary Golden Globes, presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and telecast live on NBC at 8 Eastern from the Beverly Hilton International Ballroom, should be one of the most exciting in years.

Seth Myers Hosts Sunday’s Golden Globes with Tightest Competition in Years

By: Ellis Nassour

With betting odds too close to call in the Picture and Acting categories, Sunday’s 2018/75th Anniversary Golden Globes, presented by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and telecast live on NBC at 8 Eastern from the Beverly Hilton International Ballroom, should be one of the most exciting in years.

The party atmosphere – with free-flowing bottles of wine and cocktails, will be enhanced by the Twin Peaks style of SNL alum Seth Myers, in his first hosting  gig since the 2014 Emmys. He says: “Hollywood, we have a lot to talk about!” and it’s not all good.

Myers follows in the recent footsteps of SNL alum Amy Poehler and Tina Faye. Myers is quite adept working an audience. It will either be a walk-on-egg-shells evening with the sexual harassment issues of the last few months – or a no-holds-barred fest of witty repartee.

The GGs will air in more than 210 countries and is one of the few award ceremonies to include movies and TV achievement.

With too-close-to-call [the closest in years] nominees in several categories and the Oscars almost two months away (March 4), hardly anything is a done deal in the wild ride to victory. That bodes well for suspense and surprise at the first-out-the-gate GGs.

Drama frontrunners are Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy romance The Shape of Water, which racked up seven nods including Best and Supporting Actress honors for Sally Hawkins and Oscar-winner Olivia Spencer’s performances; romantic sexual-coming-of-age drama Call Me By Your Name; and vengeful black comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Then, there’s Steven Spielberg’s All the President’s Men-type expose drama of the publication of the Pentagon Papers, The Post; and Christopher Nolan’s WWII “can we get our boys home alive” drama Dunkirk, which shows all too-vividly the horror of war [but with too much CGI].

The Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical field, which this year has little of both, seems to be in the service of improving wins or giving exposure to deserving films, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird leads the pack with four nominations including a Best Actress nod for Saoirse Ronan. I, Tonya follows with three.

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey will receive the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille Award, which Golden Globes’ board of directors bestows “on a person who has made an incredible impact on the world of entertainment.” It seems years too late, but certainly couldn’t be more well-deserved for the impact Ms. Winfrey has made and continues to make.

Dunkirk (Warner Bros./Syncopy)
The Post
(Dreamworks/20
th Century Fox)
The Shape of Water (Double Dare You/Fox Searchlight)
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
(Blueprint/Fox Searchlight)

All five nominees have reaped acclaim as have the actors in four of the films. Cold War fantasy romance The Shape of Water leads the field with seven nominations, closely followed by six for Steven Spielberg’s The Post, which has a daunting pair of beloved GG darlings, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. But in this year of top-grossing indies, Call Me By Your Name and Three Billboards… may cause an upset.

Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical
The Disaster Artist
Get Out
The Greatest Showman
I, Tonya
Lady Bird

The Greatest Showman mixes history, often turning it upside down with lots of contemporary and hip twists – and is too reminiscent of the style of Moulin Rouge. Director Craig Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers achieve the impossible: meld true-life incidents, stupidity, and violence into a well-crafted satire on winning at all costs. Hilarious, sometimes sad, and devastatingly well-written Lady Bird tackles mother/daughter tensions. Get Out offers the unique combination of biting social satire and a metaphor on racism. In the indiest indie of the year, Disaster Artist, James Franco takes a cow’s ear and spins gold and, once and for all, proves he’s a triple threat: actor, director, and [co-] producer [along with Seth Rogen and 20 others].

Motion Picture, Actress, Drama
Jessica Chastain, Molly’s Game
Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water
Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Meryl Streep, The Post
Michelle Williams, All the Money in the World

Even with strong contenders Hawkins, Streep, and Williams, could a GG finally go to McDormand, with six GG nominations, for her poignant portrayal of a mother out for revenge?

Motion Picture, Actor, Drama
Timothée Chalamet, Call Me By Your Name
Daniel Day-Lewis, Phantom Thread
Tom Hanks, The Post
Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour
Denzel Washington, Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Can the expertly-played performances of three powerhouse artists prevent a win, in the heated competition between Chalamet in a stirring sexual coming-of-age tale and longtime favorite Oldman, who is transformed into British statesman Winston Churchill. While Oldman, with his jowls, paunch, and cadence, gives audiences a living, breathing Churchill, it’s hard to top Chalament’s final silent, tearful moments in stark close-up in front of that roaring fireplace.

Motion Picture, Actress, Comedy or Musical
Judi Dench, Victoria & Abdul
Helen Mirren, The Leisure Seeker
Margot Robbie, I, Tonya
Saoirse Ronan, Lady Bird
Emma Stone, Battle of the Sexes

Not long after Greta Gerwig came on the scene as Hollywood’s new darling, Ronan came calling. The two acclaimed up-and-comers have bonded for Lady Bird with Gerwig not only in her directorial debut but also directing Ronan. One also has to admire Robbie’s ability to make ice-skating-world’s talented but not well respected Harding a sympathetic character.

Motion Picture, Actor, Comedy or Musical
Steve Carell, Battle of the Sexes
Ansel Elgort, Baby Driver
James Franco, The Disaster Artist
Hugh Jackman, The Greatest Showman
Daniel Kaluuya, Get Out

Jack-of-all-trades and master of most Franco brilliantly captures the absurdist and I-Can-Do-That spirit of indie jack-of-all-trades and master of none Tommy Wiseau. He has stiff completion from Kaluuya as Get Out’s  young black terrorized by his white girlfriend’s family; and Elgort (The Fault in Our Stars) as the partially hearing-impaired getaway driver caught up in the comedy camper Baby Driver‘s crime maelstrom.

Motion Picture, Supporting Actress
Mary J. Blige, Mudbound
Hong Chau, Downsizing
Allison Janney, I, Tonya
Laurie Metcalf, Lady Bird
Octavia Spencer, The Shape of Water

It’s even odds between 2017’s overbearing, shoot-from-the-hip and damn-the-consequences mothers: the always magnificent Metcalf of Lady Bird and I, Tonya’s equally magnificent Janney.

Sadly, and most puzzling, the nominators didn’t recognize Oscar winner Melissa Leo’s Jeykll and Hyde benevolent/monster-from-hell Mother Superior in Novitiate.

Motion Picture, Supporting Actor
Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project
Armie Hammer, Call Me By Your Name
Richard Jenkins, The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer, All the Money in the World
Sam Rockwell, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Plummer excels in director Ridley Scott’s brave reshoot of over 20 sequences for All the Money in the World, but, after waiting years for him to find the role that will place him back in the big leagues, in Three Billboards… Rockwell delivers one of the most memorable performances ever – akin to Cagney, grapefruit in hand, in Public Enemy.

Motion Picture, Director
Guillermo del Torro, 
The Shape of Water
Martin McDonagh, 
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Christopher Nolan, 
Dunkirk
Ridley Scott, 
All the Money in the World
Steven Spielberg, 
The Post

In the what-were-the-nominators-thinking shocker that you can bet the Oscars
won’t repeat, they forgot this was the year of female empowerment and racial diversity in the industry. Not one woman made it into the category. Oscar winner Kathryn Bigelow (Detroit), Oscar-winner Sofia Coppola (Beguiled), Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman), and Dee Rees (Mudbound) made films that were, in most cases, acclaimed and box office champs.

TV Series, Drama
The Crown (Netflix)
Game of Thrones (HBO)
The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Stranger Things (Netflix)
This Is Us (NBC)

TV Series, Comedy
black-ish
 (ABC)
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
Master of None (Netflix)
Smilf (Showtime)
Will & Grace (NBC)

TV Movie or Limited-Series
Big Little Lies
 (HBO)
Fargo (FX)
Feud: Bette and Joan (FX)
The Sinner (USA)
Top of the Lake: China Girl (Sundance TV)

For more information, a complete list of motion picture and TV
nominations, clips, and photos visit www.nbc.com/the-golden-globe-awards.

New Year’s @ Gurneys

2018 on the Edge of the Atlantic Ocean in Montauk 

Revelers at Scarpetta Beach at Gurney’s Resort on Old Montauk Highway rang in
the New Year dancing and partying in style at a casino night themed event with rollicking live music by The  Rakiem Walker Project. DJ Vikas Sapra added to the festivities where many were dressed in sequin adorned outfits for the glittering evening.

Photography: Barry Gordin

2018 on the Edge of the Atlantic Ocean in Montauk 

Revelers at Scarpetta Beach at Gurney’s Resort on Old Montauk Highway rang in
the New Year dancing and partying in style at a casino night themed event with rollicking live music by The  Rakiem Walker Project. DJ Vikas Sapra added to the festivities where many were dressed in sequin adorned outfits for the glittering evening.

Photography: Barry Gordin

Manager Avery Britton, Scarpetta Beach, Olivia Tsalatsanis
Nija Whaley, Rakiem Walker, Christopher Swift
DJ Vikas Sapra, DIrector of Hospitality Piero Zangarina
Danik Therrien, Fernanda Therrien
DJ Vikas Sapra

Alex Griffin, Sarina Clement
Janice & Ward Keveny

JuliaSmoroda Dayne Andersone, Inya Tatina
Patrick Christiano
Frank Saris, Connie Maglaras

Breannne. Arissa, Michell
Pepie & Ari
Kelly Spencer, Shannon Greene, Susan Eskew
Christopher Swift
Gloria Ryann

The Children **** Farinelli and the King ***

By: David Sheward

The year ends with two emblematic productions for Broadway—The Children presented by Manhattan Theater Club as part of its subscriber season and Farinelli and the King in a commercial limited run at the Belasco. Both are transfers from London complete with British casts. We Yanks are supposed to salivate over these shows because of their snob-appeal pedigree. Both feature exquisite acting, but only The Children connects to its audience on a level deeper than stagecraft. Farinelli stars one of the finest actors in the English-speaking world, Mark Rylance, but his breath-takingly realistic technique is in service of an overly familiar, underwritten play.

By: David Sheward

The year ends with two emblematic productions for Broadway—The Children presented by Manhattan Theater Club as part of its subscriber season and Farinelli and the King in a commercial limited run at the Belasco. Both are transfers from London complete with British casts. We Yanks are supposed to salivate over these shows because of their snob-appeal pedigree. Both feature exquisite acting, but only The Children connects to its audience on a level deeper than stagecraft. Farinelli stars one of the finest actors in the English-speaking world, Mark Rylance, but his breath-takingly realistic technique is in service of an overly familiar, underwritten play.

There are no actual kids in Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children; the title refers to adult offspring and possible future generations of the three characters, all in their 60s. The setting is a remote cottage in a very possible near future where a nuclear accident has devastated Britain. (Miriam Buether’s askew set parallels the disastrous outlook for the world of the play.) Retired married scientists Robin and Hazel are coping with rationed food, electricity and bleak prospects. Rose, a former colleague of the pair and lover of Robin’s, pays them an unexpected visit. To reveal anymore would lessen this deceptively simple plot’s impact. Suffice it to say that Kirkwood structures her compassionate, heart-wrenching treatise on social responsibility with such craft, you become wrapped up in the interrelations of this trio without even realizing they are symbols of modern society, poised on the brink of annihilation, yet struggling to redeem itself.

James Macdonald’s direction keeps the action on a credible level with a welcome lack of showy theatricalism. This subtlety is echoed in the acting, particularly by Deborah Findlay as Hazel. She keeps the character’s bottled-up rage well corked, allowing it to burst out in short spurts, and then pushing it back down. We see all of Hazel’s anger, love, and finally fear mixed together through Findlay’s eloquent expressions and gestures. Ron Cook is equally understated as the Robin and convincingly conveys his sorrow over the scientific tragedy and Robin’s resolve to make it right. Francesca Annis as Rose is little too reserved in the Masterpiece Theater style for my taste, but she does limn the interloper’s conflicted attitudes towards her hosts with depth.    

Though this production is definitely praiseworthy, it raises a red flag. Manhattan Theater Club brought it over directly from its Royal Court Theatre run with the British ensemble. Their previous production at the Friedman this season was Prince of Broadway, a plotless musical revue, and the next show will be a revival of Shaw’s Saint Joan. Hopefully they are not abandoning presenting new American plays on Broadway.

Like The Children, Farinelli has an intriguing concept, but the execution is wanting. Based on historical events in the 18th century, the play focuses on the strange relationship between the mentally erratic Spanish King Philippe V and the heralded castrato Carlo “Farinelli” Broschi. The unhinged monarch was soothed by the dulcet tones of the high-voiced singer who became a member of his court. Like The Madness of King George III, the play traces a royal’s bizarre behavior and how a civilian attempts to cure him. But unlike George’s dramatist Alan Bennett who skillfully constructed an intricate portrait of power and insanity, Farinelli’s author Claire Van Kampen is a first-time playwright and she fails to develop her premise beyond some keen acting opportunities for her husband Mark Rylance (who plays the king) and staging possibilities for director John Dove.

We get the familiar tropes of court intrigue, backstage politics, a few speeches in praise of high musical art, and a hastily stuck-in romantic triangle, but there are no real stakes here. It’s never fully explained why we should care if Philippe is deposed, if the gorgeously-voiced singer stays or leaves the court, or if the Queen acts on her attraction for Farinelli.

Mark Rylance
“Farinelli and the King”

Fortunately, Rylance delivers his usual magnificent work, delivering Van Kampen’s somewhat cliched dialogue as if it were Shakespeare and imparting Phillipe’s shattered sensibilities with a combination of humor and pathos. His debate with a goldfish which opens the play is priceless. Sam Crane captures the tortured Farinelli’s struggle between his craft and living a normal life. In an arresting stroke of staging, the castrato’s singing is done by famed countertenor Iestyn Davies (alternating with James Hall at certain performances) in identical costumes to Crane’s (Jonathan Fensom designed the luscious period sets and clothes). The musical interludes are beautifully staged by Dove with two performers expressing the gorgeousness of Handel’s arias and the inner turmoil of the artist. With the candlelit atmosphere and period instruments expertly played, these moments are superb mini-concerts. Farinelli makes for an entertaining historical curio, but not a full dramatic experience like The Children.

The Children ****
 Dec. 12—Feb. 4. Manhattan Theatre Club and Royal Court Theatre at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, 261 W. 47th St., NYC. Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm & 7pm, Thu—Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun, 2pm. Running time: one hour and 45 mins. with no intermission. $60—$149. (212) 239-6200. www.telecharge.com.
Photos: Joan Marcus

Francesca Annis “The Children”

Farinelli and the King ***
Dec. 17—March 25. Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St., NYC. Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm & 8pm, Thu 7pm, Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm. Running time: two hours and ten mins. including intermission. $32—$157. (212) 239-6200. www.telecharge.com.
Photos: Joan Marcus

lestyn Davies and Sam Crane “Farinelli and the King”
Iestyn Davies, Mark Rylance, Huss Garbiya, and Melody Grove “Farinelli and the King”
Sam Crane, Melody Grove, Lucas Hall, Huss Garbiya, Edward Peel, Mark Rylance “Farinelli and the King”

London’s Hamilton opens

Hamilton Is Set to Take London’s West End by Storm

By: Ellis Nassour

After a problem-plagued delay, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning phenomenon Hamilton, opened December 21 on London’s West End at the historic Victoria Palace Theatre (Victoria Street, London SW1E 5EA) in Westminster in the shadow of the newly-renovated Victoria Station. Lead producer is Broadway’s Tony-winning Jeffrey Seller, with original director Thomas Kail helming. The musical has been in previews since December 6, a slight rescheduling because of ongoing exterior construction. Performances have been met with pandemonium response from audiences. The musical is shaping up to be a bloody triumph, no doubt with a Royal Command Performance in its future.

Hamilton Is Set to Take London’s West End by Storm

By: Ellis Nassour

After a problem-plagued delay, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony-winning phenomenon Hamilton, opened December 21 on London’s West End at the historic Victoria Palace Theatre (Victoria Street, London SW1E 5EA) in Westminster in the shadow of the newly-renovated Victoria Station. Lead producer is Broadway’s Tony-winning Jeffrey Seller, with original director Thomas Kail helming. The musical has been in previews since December 6, a slight rescheduling because of ongoing exterior construction. Performances have been met with pandemonium response from audiences. The musical is shaping up to be a bloody triumph, no doubt with a Royal Command Performance in its future.

The excitement of a London Hamilton has been building since the opening on Broadway in August, 2015.  The box office is booking through next June.

Starring in the acclaimed musical is Jamael Westman as Hamilton [with Ash Hunter in the role at certain performances]. Co-starring are Allado (Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds), Rachelle Ann Go (Eliza Hamilton), Tarinn Callender (Hercules Mulligan/James Madison), Michael Jibson (King George), Rachel John (Angelica Schuyler), Jason Pennycooke (Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson), Cleve September (John Laurens/Philip Hamilton), Giles Terera (Aaron Burr), and Obioma Ugoala (George Washington).  Featured is an ensemble of 19.

Andy Blankenbuehler returns to choreograph. Musical supervision and orchestrations are by Alex Lacamoire. The musical is based on Alexander Hamilton by history biographer.Ron Chernow.

Previews were delayed two weeks, 16 performances, because of construction delays – including roof reconstruction, concerns over an ancient underground tunnel the theatre is built over, and city licenses and ordiances.

Some 16,000 ticket holders were affected. Seller and Sir Cameron issued apologies for the inconvenience, which did little to assuage anger and disappointment and, in some cases, money down the drain for those with discounted preview tickets, and the lot flying in to be at the first performance and the announced opening. Not to mention, some who paid £2,800 [over $3,700] or more on the ticket resale market in spite of some safeguards the producers and Tickemaster put into place.

“We are extremely sorry to disappoint patrons who we know expended time, effort and valuable resources to purchase tickets for our first performances,” said Seller. “But they will be given immediate priority so that they can be reseated as early as possible.”  Regarding compensation for out-of-pocket travel and hotel costs, a spokesman for Delfont Mackintosh promised that “patrons would be contacted by Ticketmaster to discuss specific circumstances.”

Miranda also expressed regrets, “I share the frustration of everyone who has to get re-seated. This was an unprecedented renovation of the Victoria Palace. I’m anxious to see it and get to know the British cast.” On a lighter note, he told the Telegraph, “I’m anxious to see how the comedic portrayal of King George III [the monarch who lost the American colonies] is received – especially since the theatre is in close by Buckingham Palace. He’s a favorite with every actor, every rapper. There’s something about the character that has him become an audience surrogate.” He added he didn’t think the fact that detailing another country’s history would be an impediment to enjoying the musical.



Lest anyone doesn’t know, Miranda’s musical with its score of hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, R&B, and traditional theatre, tells of America’s “Founding Father,” born out of wedlock in Nevis, in the West Indies. After the death of his mother and being abandoned by his father, he was sponsored to travel her for his education at King’s College [Columbia University]. When his study was interrupted by the British occupation, he joined a militia and was soon promoted captain. He came to the attention of Revolutionary War commander George Washington, to whom he became senior aide. After the War, he shaped many of the foundations of the United States – including our Constitution and Treasury. He was often at odds with Jefferson and Burr. Ultimately, that latter conflict led to a duel in which Hamilton was mortally wounded.

Hamilton captured 11 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and the 2016 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album. The musical is still running strong at Broadway’s Richard Rogers, as well as in Chicago, and on tour.

The last show to play the Victoria Palace was Lee Hall and Elton John’s Billy Elliot (2005), which ran 11 years. The venue, part of Delfont Mackintosh Theatres, has a capacity of 1,500. Last month, it turned 106. It was designed by renowned theatre architect Frank Matcham). Sir Cameron undertook an estimated £40-50-million [$50-60-million] top-to-bottom renovation and reconstruction. “I wanted it to be glamorous and contemporary,” he told media, “to be compatible with 21st-century production needs.”

The overhaul includes the restoration of the ornate marble lobby, murals, ornate plaster molding, boxes [with additional boxes, with private facilities], and the opulent Tudor Room; the “Lynne Promenade” [honoring famed Brit prima ballerina and Olivier and Tony-winning choreographer, and director Dame Gillian Lynne (Cats, Phantom of the Opera, The Roar of Greasepaint…; the 2014 U.K. premiere of Jerry Herman’s Dear World]. There’s plush news seating, a state-of-the-art sound system, and numerous additional loos [restrooms]. Backstage hasn’t been overlooked. There’s an artist’s green room for receptions and new dressing rooms with showers.

The producers [which include Sander Jacobs, Jill Furman, the Public Theater and Sir Cameron] and Delfont Mackintosh are working to combat unauthorised profiteering of third party resellers and agencies. They have “pioneered” a paperless ticket system, powered by Ticketmaster. It appears to have had little effect.

Official box office prices are £37.50, £57.50 and £89.50, with premium seating at £137.50 and £200. Performances are Monday – Saturday at 7.30 P.M. and Thursday and Saturday at 2.30 P.M. For more information, visit www.hamiltonthemusical.co.uk, where there are details of the daily Hamilton West End £10 lottery via the official Hamilton app which can be downloaded from http://hamiltonmusical.com/lottery.

Production Photos: Matthew Murphy

Farinelli and the King ***1/2

By: Paulanne Simmons

King Philippe V of Spain has gone mad. Neither his wife, Isabella, nor his doctors can help him. Then Isabella, brings Farinelli, the famed Italian castrato, to the court, and the sound of his divine voice brings the king back to sanity. Such is the slender plot on which musician and academic Claire Van Kampen bases her  first play, Farinelli and the King.

By: Paulanne Simmons

King Philippe V of Spain has gone mad. Neither his wife, Isabella, nor his doctors can help him. Then Isabella, brings Farinelli, the famed Italian castrato, to the court, and the sound of his divine voice brings the king back to sanity. Such is the slender plot on which musician and academic Claire Van Kampen bases her  first play, Farinelli and the King.

The fact that the play has made it to Broadway owes much to the casting. Philippe is played by none other than Kampen’s husband, the extraordinary Mark Rylance, whose cynical sanity brings the king to life.

Of course the play has a lot more going for it. Director John Dove is a veteran of the London stage and has worked with Kampen and Rylance extensively. And designer Jonathan Fensom has turned the Belasco stage into a Baroque theater, complete with candlelit interiors, sumptuous costumes and a life-sized horse for the restored king to mount.

lestyn Davies and Sam Crane

And then there’s the music. While Sam Crane plays Carlo, Handel’s arias are sung by countertenor Iestyn Davies (and occasionally James Hall), as the two stand side-by-side onstage. Although it’s not clear why Dove made this choice, Crane is excellent in balancing restraint and passion, and Davies could make even the most disturbed among us throw away their tranquilizers.

But once the king has been cured, what’s left for Act II? Turns out the king now prefers the solitude of the country to the bustle of the court and refuses to return to his royal duties. What’s more Farinelli (to the surprise of everyone in the theater except the actors) has fallen in love with Isabella (Melody Grove), but they’re both too loyal to the king to become lovers.

The play gets some steam from these twists, but seems to lose momentum whenever Rylance is offstage. The intrigues of the court are just not that intriguing. After the king exits for good, only the superb music can keep the audience awake.

Philippe makes some insightful comments on the lack of choice even the most privileged among us really have: he has not chosen to be king and Farinelli did not choose to be castrated at the age of 10 by his brother. And the play is surely a commentary on the nature of power. However, Farinelli and the King is mostly a treatise on the curative power of music.

This is indeed an old story. It certainly goes back to the Bible and the Greeks, and probably to the first man or woman who banged a branch on a hollowed-out tree trunk. Farinelli and the King looks good but it’s not exactly the music of the spheres.

Farinelli and the King is at the Belasco Theatre, 11 West 44 Street, through March 25, http://www.farinelliandthekingbroadway

Photography: Joan Marcus

Sam Crane, Melody Grove, Lucas Hall, Huss Garbiya, Edward Peel, Mark Rylance.
Iestyn Davies, Mark Rylance, Huss Garbiya, and Melody Grove

The Children **1/2 Once on this Island ***

By: Isa Goldberg

It seems so quotidian –  the conversation that is – at least as it starts out, in Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children. Having been out of touch for decades, Rose (Francesca Annis) arrives unexpectedly at Hazel (Deborah Findlay) and her husband Robin’s (Ron Cook’s) cottage by the sea. Alone for now, the two women discuss the inevitable – children, grandchildren, aging, and “women looking like stretched eggs – trying to hide it when all it’s doing is shouting it out loud isn’t it, “I’m old and I’m frightened of it!” Hazel insists.

By: Isa Goldberg

It seems so quotidian –  the conversation that is – at least as it starts out, in Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children. Having been out of touch for decades, Rose (Francesca Annis) arrives unexpectedly at Hazel (Deborah Findlay) and her husband Robin’s (Ron Cook’s) cottage by the sea. Alone for now, the two women discuss the inevitable – children, grandchildren, aging, and “women looking like stretched eggs – trying to hide it when all it’s doing is shouting it out loud isn’t it, “I’m old and I’m frightened of it!” Hazel insists.

For the most part, their conversation is banal, a kind of endless, drawing room banter that prevails, even when the conversation turns to the disaster. Rose asks about it – an apocalypse of sorts.

As Hazel describes it, the kitchen was shaking, the road cracked down the middle, the sea looked like boiling milk, and there is talk of radiation hanging in the air. The cottage, too, as designed by Miriam Buether, is tilted from the eroding earth. And there is talk of the terrible smell!

While the disaster closely resembles the meltdown of the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, it feels remote. It’s the words that hang in the air here – not the sense of urgency of a nuclear power plant exploding down the road.  In fact, it takes a while before we can understand why these people are connecting at all, after all these years.

Finally, Deborah’s husband Robin gets home from feeding the cows –  in his retirement, he’s taken on the very demanding job of running a farm, he tells Rose. The triangulation that occurs sparks a sense of absurdity, reminiscent of Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, or Pinter’s Old Times.

Indeed, their behavior becomes as childish as it is childlike. Rivalry between the two women over Robin leads to lots of acting out – a recurrence from the past. In the midst of it, Robin rides a tricycle around the kitchen, and the three of them dance to the rock ‘n roll of their youth.

Clearly now we see that it is the disaster that has brought Rose back to the place where they had all worked and lived, building the nuclear power plant that is now pushing the world to the edge of extinction. Amidst the focused realism of this production, imported from London’s West End, the surreal emerges. Video projections (by Peter Mumford) of tsunami-like waves batter the world outside the cottage.

To Kirkwood’s credit, the ending leaves us with nothing much more than our own uncertainty. Will Rose succeed in her mission to shut down the nuclear power plant, at the expense of her own life and theirs, or will they sit back and get killed from the radiation pouring into the environment?

Truly it is a quintessential question of our age and as presented here, it’s simply up in the air. Maybe we’ll pull through, but the possibilities appear slim, and the commitment to saving the world hard to muster.

Masterfully directed by James Macdonald – known for his productions of Caryl Churchill’s plays in New York –  Macdonald helms a cast of seasoned British actors.

Quentin Earl Darrington “Once on This Island”

Once on This Island

Whether you’ve travelled to a tropical island, or watched the weather reports about Maria, Irma and the other nasty girls rattling these small and unprotected isles, you may find the opening of this musical a little too familiar. Fortunately, it is far from that.

As in Romeo and Juliet, or the more modern version, West Side Story, Ti Moune (Hailey Kilgore) and Daniel (Isaac Powell) come from two different worlds that were never meant to meet. “The peasants labor. The grands hommes eat!”

But the outcome here transcends the fatalism of those romances. Spirituality of a nearly pagan sort, with the trees and the wind creating the music of the gods, intervenes to save them – each in their own way – that is.

Opening on a catastrophic flood, sand, detritus, a live goat, chicken, people in torn beach wear, and the remnants of homes and sailing vessels, designed by Dane Laffrey, set the stage. A little girl, Ti Moune, (meaning little orphan) “torn from her mother,” survives the onslaught by hiding atop a tree. And she is saved by a loving older couple, who take her in in spite of their poverty.

At the core, however, the story is about the meeting of the two young lovers. As described, Ti Moune was set on her journey by the gods. A journey that will “test the strength of love…  Against the power of death.”

As directed by Michael Arden, the production, speaks to our senses with sound effects of birds and sea, as well as speeding cars and cocktail shatter. Workers sweep the sand off the oriental rug, as the littered beach turns into Daniel’s family’s elegant palace.

Similarly, Jules Fisher’s and Peggy Eisenhauer’s lighting brings to life the natural beauty of the tropics, along with the radiance of the cultivated social halls graced by the rich.

Indeed, the musical speaks to the necessity for social action and change – the need to break down the barriers between class, and race.  As is her wont, librettist/lyricist Lynn Ahrens, tells the story through song. Songs that are as functional in telling the story, as they are rife with beautiful imagery. “Who knows how high those mountains climb? Who knows how deep those rivers flow?  Who knows how wrong a dream can go, Ti Moune?”

Similarly, Stephen Flaherty’s melodies capture the enchantment. Making their Broadway debuts, Isaac Powell and Hailey Kilgore create wonderful stage chemistry.

Interestingly, the musical, a revival from 1990, is especially timely in its evocation of youthful heroism. Note the current popularity of the film Ladybird, and the success of the Netflix series, Stranger Things. In children we trust.

The Children **1/2
Samuel J. Friedman Theater
261 West 47th Street
Running time: 1 Hour, 50 Minutes with no Intermission
Photography: Joan Marcus

Deborah Findlay, Ron Cook “The Children”

Once On This Island ***
Circle in the Square Theatre
235 West 50th Street
For Tickets call 1 800 447-7400
or Click HereOnceOnThisIsland
Running Time 1 Hour, 30 Minutes
Photography: Joan Marcus

Mia Williamson, Alex Newell, Hailey Kilgore and cast in “Once on This Island”

 

Broadway Update

B’way Update: Logjam in Spring 2018: Early 2018-19 Announcements

By: David Sheward

So many Broadway theaters are booked and so few shows are closing there is a logjam of venues this spring. Therefore many shows have announced their openings for the next fall.

B’way Update: Logjam in Spring 2018: Early 2018-19 Announcements

By: David Sheward

So many Broadway theaters are booked and so few shows are closing there is a logjam of venues this spring. Therefore many shows have announced their openings for the next fall. Usually a number of productions shutter right after the holiday season, but in addition to the perennials like Wicked, Lion King, and Chicago, a number of productions which received middling reviews but strong word of mouth are still going into 2018 including Anastasia, A Bronx Tale and School of Rock, as well as Tony winners Dear Evan Hansen, Come from Away, and Kinky Boots. Tracey Letts’ The Minutes has an announced opening of March 8, but no theater yet. They’d better hurry and grab one.

Glenda Jackson will return to Broadway after a 30-year absence in “Three Tall Women”

Glenda Jackson will return to Broadway after a 30-year absence in “Three Tall Women”.

The all-star revival of The Boys in the Band with Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, and Andrew Rannells had originally been slated as an April opening in order to qualify for the Tonys, but it’s just been announced as opening on May 31, meaning it will eligible for the 2019 awards. The shift may have been due to director Joe Mantello’s heavy workload. He will also be staging the revival of Three Tall Women starring Glenda Jackson in her first Broadway role in 30 years (the Scottish play with Christopher Plummer in 1988 was her last) which opens just two months earlier on March 29. Laurie Metcalf and Alison Pill are the other two women.

Additional shows making early announcements for 2018-19 include To Kill a Mockingbird, Getting the Band Back Together, King Kong, The Prom, Pretty Woman, a Kiss Me, Kate revival from Roundabout starring Kelli O’Hara, and the Cher Show. Cher is not the only pop artist to have a musical based on her life and/or work in the planning stages. Others include Summer: The Donna Summer Musical (which has booked the Lunt-Fontanne for this April according to Michael Riedel of the NY Post), Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical, Jagged Little Pill (Alanis Morrisette), and a Pat Benatar musical.

Here’s a rundown of Broadway and Off-Broadway openings as well as dates for award nominations and ceremonies for 2018 and beyond.

Jan. 8–Mankind (Playwrights Horizons)

Jan. 11–John Lithgow: Stories by Heart (Roundabout/American Airlines)

Jan. 30–He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box (TFANA/Polonsky Shakespeare Center)

Feb. 1–Fire and Air (CSC)

Feb 5–Hangmen (Atlantic Theater Company)

Feb. 22–Hello Dolly with Bernadette Peters and Victor Garber (Shubert)

Feb. 22–Jerry Springer The Opera (Signature Theatre)

March 1–Amy and the Orphans (Laura Pels/Roundabout)

March 8–The Minutes (Theatre TBA)

March 8–Good for Otto (The New Group/Signature Center)

March 12–Admissions (LCT/Mitzi Newhouse)

March 15–Escape to Margaritaville (Marquis)

March 20–Rocktopia (Broadway)

March 21-Angels in America (Neil Simon)

March 22-Frozen (St. James)

March 26–Lobby Hero (Second Stage/Helen Hayes)

March 29–Three Tall Women (John Golden)

March-April–The Winter’s Tale (TFANA/Polonsky Shakespeare Center)

April 8–Mean Girls (August Wilson)

April 11–Children of a Lesser God (Studio 54)

April 12–Carousel (Imperial)

April 19–My Fair Lady (Vivian Beaumont/LCT)

April 22–Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Lyric)

April 24–Travesties (Roundabout/American Airlines)

April 25–Saint Joan (MTC/Freidman)

April 26–The Iceman Cometh (Bernard B. Jacobs)

April 26–Drama Desk Nominations Announced

April 2018–Summer: The Donna Summer Musical (Lunt-Fontanne), The Flamingo Kid

May 1–Tony Nominations Announced

May 31–The Boys in the Band (Booth)

June 3–Drama Desk Awards (Town Hall)

June 10–Tony Awards

June 21–Skintight (Roundabout/Laura Pels)

July 2018–Straight White Men (Second Stage/Helen Hayes)

Aug. 16–Pretty Woman (Nederlander)

Aug. 18–Getting the Band Back Together (Belasco)

Nov. 8–King Kong (Broadway)

Nov. 15–The Prom (Theater TBA)

Dec. 18–To Kill a Mockingbird (Theater TBA)

Fall 2018–Pretty Woman, The Cher Show (Neil Simon)

2019–Burn This

Feb. 2019–Kiss Me, Kate (Roundabout)

Future–Death Becomes Her, Hadestown, Moulin Rouge the Musical, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations, Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical, The Devil Wears Prada, Jagged Little Pill, Working Girl, Half-Time, Roman Holiday, The Wiz, Camp David, Photograph 51, An Enemy of the People, Sherlock Holmes, Singin’ in the Rain, Pat Benatar Musical

2017-18 Broadway Season 

New Plays

1984

The Children

Farinelli and the King

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Junk

Meteor Shower

The Minutes

The Parisian Woman

New Musicals

The Band’s Visit (transfer from Off-Broadway)

Escape to Margaritaville

Frozen

Mean Girls

Prince of Broadway

Spongebob Squarepants the Broadway Musical

Summer: The Donna Summer Musical

Play Revivals

Angels in America

Children of a Lesser God

An Enemy of the People

The Iceman Cometh

Lobby Hero

M. Butterfly

Marvin’s Room

Saint Joan

Three Tall Women

Time and the Conways

Travesties

Musical Revivals

Carousel

My Fair Lady

Once on This Island

 Specialties/Solos

Home for the Holidays

John Lithgow: Stories by Heart

Latin History for Morons

Michael Moore: The Terms of My Surrender

Rocktopia

Springsteen on Broadway

2018-19 Broadway Season

New Plays

To Kill a Mockingbird

Musicals

The Cher Show

Getting the Band Back Together

King Kong

The Prom

Pretty WomanPlay Revivals

The Boys in the Band

Straight White MenMusical Revivals

Kiss Me, Kate

Originally Posted on The David Desk 2 on December 18, 2017

Paulanne Simmons Unscripted

It’s Ten O’clock, and Your Children Are Not in the Theater

The numbers are out and they’re not good. According to the latest number-crunchers, less than 10 percent of Americans goes to the theater. And some people want to get to the root of these appalling statistics.

It’s Ten O’clock, and Your Children Are Not in the Theater

The numbers are out and they’re not good. According to the latest number-crunchers, less than 10 percent of Americans goes to the theater. And some people want to get to the root of these appalling statistics.

So what’s the matter? Is it the exorbitant price of a Broadway or even off-Broadway ticket? Is it subject matter that often has little to do with the day-to-day life of the average citizen? Is it competition from so much other media, online, on television and on the big screen? No, no and again no.

It seems the reason so many people are not going to theater these days is that most youngsters lose interest way back in high school when they are subjected to the likes of The Crucible, A Raisin in the Sun… and horror of horrors… Shakespeare! The classics, we are told, are boring and hard to understand.

But have no fear. Every problem must have a solution, and so does this one. The way to increase audiences is to bring new plays into high schools. These plays, apparently, will focus on issues that are relevant to young people today. People of color need stories about people who look like them. Women need plays written by other women. The LGBTQIA teen community needs plays that chronicle their struggles.

Now, I certainly agree, these plays would be a welcome addition to the canon. But I think it’s a sorry state of affairs and a disservice to our young citizens to assume they are so interested in their personal state of existence that they can only relate to the immediate and they do not want their imagination and intellect stretched to encompass the unfamiliar, as well.

Shakespeare may not have been a woman, but he certainly understood woman. And if you’re not convinced, read Othello, As You Like It or Romeo and Juliet. The Crucible, which takes place during the time of the Salem witch trials, is a timeless commentary on mass hysteria and demagoguery. And last I heard, A Raisin in the Sun is a play about African-Americans, written by an African-American woman.

Young people today do indeed love theater. Ask anyone associated with Netflix, Hulu, or your local cinema. Just give them the right story and a fair price, and they’ll give the piece a chance.

Describe the Night **** Twelfth Night **

By: David Sheward

Mixing myth, urban legend, conspiracy theory, and historical fact, Rajiv Joseph creates a weird tapestry of truth and lies in his new drama Describe the Night at the Atlantic Theater Company. Set in various parts of the former Soviet Union and Europe over nearly a century of political turmoil, this overwhelming saga asks hard questions on the relationships between government and media, regular citizens and dictators, and how people manage to live through decades of upheaval. As in his Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo and Guards at the Raj, Joseph depicts individuals caught up in the tide of history, swept along by both fanciful and real events.

By: David Sheward

Mixing myth, urban legend, conspiracy theory, and historical fact, Rajiv Joseph creates a weird tapestry of truth and lies in his new drama Describe the Night at the Atlantic Theater Company. Set in various parts of the former Soviet Union and Europe over nearly a century of political turmoil, this overwhelming saga asks hard questions on the relationships between government and media, regular citizens and dictators, and how people manage to live through decades of upheaval. As in his Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo and Guards at the Raj, Joseph depicts individuals caught up in the tide of history, swept along by both fanciful and real events.

Shifting back and forth between regimes and locales, Night traces the difficult and slippery path trod by writers and journalists through the dark forest of various forms of Russian tyranny. Real Stalin-era figures such as Odessan novelist Isaac Babel, and Soviet secret police chief Nikolai Yezhov are connected with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 2010 plane crash which killed the entire top level of the Polish government. In fascinatingly poetic and detailed dialogue, Joseph links the various epochs, demonstrating how the truth can be twisted to suit the purposes of whoever happens to hold the reigns of power, be it Stalin, Putin, or—by extension—our current US President.

The title is derived from the opening scene where the idealistic Babel and the brutish Yezhov become unlikely friends while presenting their alternative impressions of the night after a battle in 1920 Poland, the same area where the plane crashes 90 years later. By a series of coincidences, Babel’s journal, a symbol of artistic freedom, passes from hand to hand right up until Putin’s regime. The plot stretches credulity—some characters live to be over 100—but in Joseph’s shadowy world, it doesn’t matter. This is a dreamscape of epic proportions enveloping theatergoers with Joseph’s storytelling magic as it stuns with unrelenting anger at authoritarian monsters.

Yet none of the multi-layered characters are completely good or evil; each has a mixture of both. Babel is a gentle soul but also launches an affair with his friend Yezhov’s wife, Yevgenia. In turn, Yezhov commits numerous atrocities as Stalin’s stooge and also lovingly seeks to shield his wife and granddaughter from government purges. Vova, who closely resembles a certain Russian president, is a thug, but also a damaged child seeking his mother who abandoned him. Giovanna Sardelli’s subtle and sleek staging emphasizes this ambiguity as do the shaded performances, particularly Danny Burstein’s charming but wary Babel, Zach Grenier’s bearish Yezhov, Tina Benko’s delicate yet steely Yevgenia, and Max Gordon Moore’s brutal, insecure Vova.

The cast of “Twelfth Night”

Meanwhile, Classic Stage Company is presenting another Night but it’s not as complex or intriguing. The company is hosting Fiasco Theater’s staging of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. My only previous experience with Fiasco was their intimate and clever small-scale version of Into the Woods, so I was looking forward a new take on this oft-produced comedy. Unfortunately, the unimaginative direction by Noah Brody and Ben Seinfeld, who also play Count Orsino and the clown Feste respectively, never raises above the level of a competent college production. The concept seems to have been to plunk the dizzy lovers of the Bard’s Illyria down in a New England fishing village so the cast could warble atmospheric sea shanties in between scenes. There is not much spark between the various victims of Cupid’s arrows and those with comic roles push their zany schtick too hard to elicit any honest laughter. Too bad this is just a so-so Twelfth Night after such a brilliant take on Woods.

Describe the Night ****
Dec. 5—24. Atlantic Theater Company at the Linda Gross Theater, 336 W. 20th St., NYC. Tue 7pm, Wed 2pm & 7:30pm, Thu—Fri 7pm, Sat 2pm & 7:30pm, Sun 2pm. Running time: two hours and 45 mins. including two intermissions. $49.50— (866) 811-4111. www.atlantictheater.org.
Photography: Ahron R. Foster

“Describe the Night”

Twelfth Night **
Dec. 14—Jan. 6, 2018. Fiasco Theater at Class Stage Company, 136 E. 13th St., NYC. Schedule varies. Running time: two hours and 45 mins. including intermission. $61. (212) 677-4210. www.classicstage.org.
Photography: Joan Marcus

David Samuel, Tina Chilip, Andy Grotelueschen, Paco Tolson “Twelfth Night”