West Side Story **** The Cunning Little Vixen ****

Vanessa Becerra as Maria and Joseph Leppek as Tony in The Glimmerglass Festival’s 2018 production of Bernstein’s “West Side Story.”

By: David Sheward

August 12, 2018:  Casts and creative staff trained in opera don’t always gel with musical theatre material. The Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, NY, has sought to combine the two disciplines in its annual offerings since Broadway and opera director Francesca Zambella took over the reigns as artistic director. Under her leadership, of the four mainstage productions, at least one has been a popular musical. This summer, opera and theater blend almost seamlessly in Zambella’s staging of West Side Story, the landmark updating of Romeo and Juliet which electrified Broadway when it premiered in 1957. Street gangs replaced Shakespeare’s battling Italian noble houses. Jerome Robbins effectively integrated his explosive dance sequences and Arthur Laurents’ snappy book scenes. Leonard Bernstein’s innovative score balanced popular Latin American and jazz elements along with atonal and harmonious chords, expressing the clashing emotions of the characters. A young Stephen Sondheim’s intricate lyrics were sophisticated yet believable as uttered by unsophisticated youths. 

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Mike Birbiglia: The New One ****

By: Samuel L. Leiter

August 8, 2018:  Comedian, actor, filmmaker, and writer Mike Birbiglia (Netflix’s My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, Thank God for Jokes) knows that the most annoying things in life can, with a little distance, sometimes be the funniest. If, like me after seeing his show last night, he’d been stuck for over an hour while wearing shorts on an over-air conditioned A train in the East River tunnel, he’d probably make it into a story that would have his audience as close to peeing in its pants as I was during my MTA ordeal.

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Less Than 50% ***1/2   

Hannah Hale, Gianmarco Soresi

By: Paulanne Simmons

August 7, 2018:  Statistically, less than fifty present of marriages in America will end in “death do us part.” This depressing prediction is the theoretical basis for Gianmarco Soresi’s semi-autobiographical show now at 59E59 Theaters. Less Than 50% is directed by Jen Wineman, and features Soresi as himself and Hannah Hale as his long-suffering on-again-off again girlfriend, Laura.

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Evita ****1/2

Arianna Rosario

Evita Soars at Bay Street Theater
Thrilling revival of classic Andrew Lloyd Webber musical soars at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor.

By: Patrick Christiano

August 5, 2018:  The thrilling revival of Evita, the classic biography of Eva Peron with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, soars through the rafters at Bay Street with a luminous staging by Will Pomerantz, also the Associate Artistic Director of Bay Street Theater.  He impeccably incorporates every element into a visually lush evening that scores emotionally as well as musically. His Latin American cast is sensational led by a radiant Arianna Rosario as Eva, with a sensual Trent Saunders as Che and a strong Omar Lopez-Cepero as Peron. Pomerantz has able assistance from Marcos Santana’s spirited choreography, and Anna Louizos’ imaginative set that transforms the theater into a working-class tango bar in Buenos Aires circa 1962.

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Head Over Heels **** Twelfth Night **** Fiddler on the Roof **** This Ain’t No Disco **

Andrew Durand, Taylor Iman Jones, Jeremy Kushnier, Bonnie Mulligan, Peppermint, Tom Alan Robins, Alexandra Socha, Rachel York in “Head Over Heels”

By: David Sheward

August 4, 2018:  A quartet of musical productions on and Off-Broadway mash up musical styles, time periods, and cultural perspectives. Three of these blenderizings result in diverse delight, while one produces a pulpy mess. Head Over Heels on Broadway and a new adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night in Central Park employ Elizabethan romantic romps as their template and deliver modern messages of inclusion while a Yiddish-language staging offers a new and moving view of the beloved Fiddler on the Roof.

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Neptune ***

Timothy DuWhite

By: Paulanne Simmons

July 29, 2018:  Whatever our ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, many of us want to tell our story. The question is how can we tell that story in a way that is meaningful and moving to others? Timothy DuWhite, who is black, gay and H.I.V. positive, does this in his solo show, Neptune, through the strength of his formidable acting and inspiring physicality. He is well directed by Zhailon Levingston. But DuWhite’s reliance on familiar tropes robs his story of nuance and complexity.

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Straight White Men *** Mary Page Marlowe ****

Stephen Payne, Josh Charles, Armie Hammer and Paul Schneider in “Straight White Men”

By: David Sheward

July 28, 2018:  Second Stage’s two current productions are mirror images of each other. On Broadway at the company’s newly renovated Helen Hayes Theatre, Straight White Men examines majority males’ crisis of self from an Asian female playwright’s perspective. Off-Broadway at the Tony Kiser, Mary Page Marlowe is an ordinary woman’s journey through life written by a male dramatist. Both deliver insights into how we cope with the identities—ethnic, sexual, or racial—that society proscribes for us. The direction and acting are polished and confident in both.

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Miracle of Miracles: Fiddler On The Roof ****1/2

Steven Skybell and Ensemble

By: Samuel L. Leiter

July 24, 2018:  In 2016, one year after the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene celebrated its centenary, it began producing an annual Yiddish-language musical production in the attractive Edward J. Safra Hall at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, located in Battery Park. I nominate this location, with its parks, its river views, its restaurants, and its historic monuments as the best place in New York for a beautiful summer evening at the theatre.

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The Peculiar Patriot ****1/2

Liza Jessie Peterson

By: Lauren Yarger

July 20, 2018:  We all get a chance to pull up a seat at a table in the visitor’s room of a prison in Liza Jessie Peterson’s gripping look at incarceration, The Peculiar Patriot, getting a remount at Dr. Barbara Ann Teer’s National Black Theatre.

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The Originalist ****

Edward Gero, Tracy Ifeachor

MONSTER ON THE BENCH: THE ORIGINALIST

By: Samuel L. Leiter

July 19, 2018:  Who would have thought a play about an ultra-conservative Supreme Court justice, especially one as reviled by liberals as the late Antonin Scalia (1936-2016), could rivet a New York audience for an intermissionless hour and 50 minutes and even snare the self-righteous Solon some sympathy? But, despite its flaws, that’s what John Strand’s The Originalist actually does, no small share of the credit going to Edward Gero for a performance that captures Scalia’s bulky appearance and oversize personality with startling authenticity.

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On a Clear Day You Can See Forever **1/2

Stephen_Bogardus, Melissa_Errico

By: David Sheward

July 16, 2018:  In the world of Broadway musical theater, do terrific songs offset a limp book? That’s the question posed by Irish Repertory Theater’s small-scale revival of Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane’s 1965 curiosity On a Clear Day You Can See Forever. This is one of those tuners that has more than its share of flaws, had a modest original run, and is occasionally hauled out of the closet for its memorable melodies. Lerner’s brilliant lyrics and Lane’s smooth, sweet music are always a pleasure to listen to, but you have to suffer through Lerner’s sitcom-like book, unmitigated by director-adaptor Charlotte Moore’s alternations.

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On a Clear Day You Can See Forever ****

John Cudia, Melissa Errico

By: Paulanne Simmons

July 12, 2018:  Unlike most of the shows produced at the Irish Repertory Theatre, Burton Lane and Alan Jay Lerner’s On a Clear Day You Can See Forever does not have an Irish connection. That is, unless you think its magical story of a woman with ESP and the ability to get in touch with a previous incarnation resembles other whimsical musicals such as the very Gaelic Finian’s Rainbow (music also by Lane) and Brigadoon (book and lyrics by Lerner).

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Cyprus Avenue **

Stephen Rea

By: David Sheward

July 11, 2018:  Though it takes place in Northern Ireland, Cyprus Avenue, the shockingly dark comedy now at the Public Theater after acclaimed runs in Dublin and London, addresses issues of violence, racism, and nationalism afflicting many other parts of Europe and the US. The playwright, the ironically named David Ireland, satirizes bigotry and the death-struggle between Protestants and Catholics in his native land, but the venom could be found anywhere hatred motivates violence.

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Borders ***1/2

Avital Lvova. Graham O’Mara

By: Samuel L. Leiter 

July 5, 2018:  A bit of background first: in 2002, British playwright Henry Naylor, formerly a writer and performer of topical comedy, took his career in a new direction after visiting Kabul, Afghanistan, with a correspondent friend. In his program note for Borders, which opened recently at Next Door at NYTW, he points out that he “visited refugee camps—met war victims and women who’d been forced to wear the burqa—saw the effects of bombings, landmines and extreme poverty—visited Bagram airbase and mujhadheen [sic] strongholds . . . and came home feeling there were certain stories which couldn’t be dismissed with a glib joke or skit.”

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Log Cabin **, Skintight **

Eli Gelb, Idina Menzel and Will Brittain in “Skintight”

By: David Sheward

July 2, 2018:  You can trace the rising trajectory of the gay community in America through recent revivals of landmark plays presented on New York Stages. From vicious self-pity in The Boys in the Band to questing romance in Torch Song to revolutionary anger and AIDS advocacy in Angels in America, LGBTQ characters have transformed from pathetic outsiders to fierce warriors. Jordan Harrison’s new comedy Log Cabin, depicting a clash of ideals between two gays couples and their transgender friend, arrives Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons as the latest theatrical commentary on the gay/trans experience. Harrison has previously captured cultural collisions in incisive and moving plays such as Maple and Vine and Marjorie Prime, but here his conflicts feel manufactured and his protagonists are little more than animated talking points.

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