Broadway’s newest star, Jay Johnson, is the talk of the town and in his one man show, The Two and Only. His 11 co-stars feature puppets, a vulture, a snake, a monkey, a nutcracker, a tennis ball, inanimate objects, and human caricatures, which Mr. Johnson brilliantly brings to life by giving them voice and personality. Mr. Johnson, a man many regard as the world’s greatest living ventriloquist, is probably best known for his starring role as the schizophrenic Bob and Chuck in the cult 1970’s comedy classic TV series “Soap.” In his hilarious new show Johnson demonstrates his amazing art and why he deserves the vast accolades. His show is not exactly new since Mr. Johnson premiered a very similar much acclaimed show off Broadway at the Atlantic Theatre in 2004. He was scheduled to take up residency at the Helen Hayes Theatre last season, but was bumped due to the extended successful run of Bridge and Tunnel. Now finally here we can shout for joy! Johnson recounts a captivating tale as he chronicles his journey to Broadway that feels like destiny.
Nothing much happens in the new Broadway musical High Fidelity, but the enthusiastic cast works hard trying to convince us otherwise. They dance with athletic bounce and deliver the not so bad pop/rock tunes with committed zest, but the evening directed by Walter Bobbie fails to engage and is most notable as an exercise in what not to do.
In bringing High Fidelity (based on the Stephen Frears’s 2000 successful film of the same name that was itself adapted from Nick Hornby’s 1996 novel) to the stage the producers of the mega hit musical Rent have latched onto a smart idea; turn the romantic comedy into a rock musical about hip young urban adults. In an obvious attempt to capitalize on the success of Rent, they have put together a high profile team of talent that seems to have missed the point of the source material.
Brian Friel’s play Translations is being given a handsome revival by the Manhattan Theatre Club, in a production that focuses on the beauty of Mr. Friel’s powerful language. Indeed the power of language and the challenge to communicate are themes found in the unfortunately flawed play.
Translations was given an American premiere almost 25 years ago in 1981 produced then by MTC as well, and the play was revived again in 1995. The story takes place in 1883 and is set in the Irish speaking fictional Gaelic town of Ballybeg, a place the playwright has explored in his play Dancing at Lughnasa. The story depicts clashing cultures and the misfortunes in miscommunications.
Christine Ebersole received a Drama Desk Award, an Obie, an Outer Critics Circle Award, a special citation from NY Drama Critics, and the Drama League Award last season for her towering performance in the limited run off Broadway production of Grey Gardens, set in a 28 room mansion in East Hampton. If you weren’t lucky enough to see this sublime actress in her awe inspiring portrayal, count your lucky stars, because the musical inspired by the Maysles brother’s 1975 cult documentary of the same name has opened on Broadway.
There is a dazzling new smile on Broadway packing audiences into the Ambassador Theatre where the long running revival of the 1975 Kander and Ebb musical Chicago has been playing for a number of years. The charismatic smile belongs to the one and only Rhythm and Blues superstar, the one name wonder Usher. His presence in the acclaimed musical that has also been made into an Oscar winning film has revitalized the box office to such an extent that the show’s now scarce tickets have become a hot item in much demand.
The self proclaimed “Ultimate Entertainer” is making his Broadway stage debut branching out into his newest yet career arena. He plays the cynical silver fox Billy Flynn, following in a long line of leading men who have tackled the part of the hard edged criminal attorney including Jerry Orbach, who originated the role, James Naughton, who won a Tony, and Richard Gere who possessed a captivating charm that snared him an Oscar nomination in the recent film version.
Playwright Douglas Carter Beane takes on Hollywood hypocrisy and the cost of fame in his clever new comedy, The Little Dog Laughed, which may be the tastiest treat in town. Directed by Scott Ellis with a crisp engaging style that mines all of the play’s tangy zingers, the evening is an audience pleasing feast.
Disney Theatrical Productions reportedly spent over 15 million dollars to launch the musical spectacle Tarzan on Broadway. Based on their 1999 animated film with a hit soundtrack by Phil Collins that includes the Oscar winning song “You’ll Be in My Heart,” the extravaganza sailed into town amidst a tremendous publicity blitz and boasting a lush box office advance of 20 million dollars. Big money seems to be the name of the game and Disney has single handedly changed the complexion of the Broadway scene becoming a major player here by turning their animated films Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King into expensive long running hits. Only time will tell if Tarzan succeeds as well, but irregardless the mega show is not a major artistic achievement, despite some staggeringly outstanding special effects by the talented designer-director Bob Crowley.The amazing opening sequence of a ship being tossed across the sea in a thrilling technologically created storm replete with thunder and lightning is the highlight of the evening. The drama begins simply with a blue scrim curtain on which moving images of the continent of Africa are projected until a ship sails into view on the blue ocean. These images are morphed into a violent sea storm enhanced by a soundtrack that brings you inside the ship, as a man, a woman, and a child struggle frantically against the powerful waters. We witness bodies twisting in the air and falling through space against a background of horrendous sounds until the family is ultimately thrown upon the beach with a blast of lightning. In a momentary flash the blue ocean is transformed into a green forest of tangled hanging vines where their struggle to survive continues. They claw their way across the beach until a black panther descends upon them, killing the parents, and leaving only the crying baby behind.
The British director John Doyle reinvented Sweeny Todd last season with an imaginative production that won him the Tony Award for Outstanding Direction of a Musical. In his revolutionary staging he did away with the orchestra and instead had the cast double as musicians. Now he has applied the same idea to his current Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s classic 1975 musical Company, which recently premiered with the same cast to excellent notices at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park this past spring. What worked marvelously for Todd, however, hinders Company. The concept interferes with the momentum draining the evening from any sense of urgency and taking the actors out of the moment.
The Jerry Bock/Sheldon Harnick musical The Apple Tree hasn’t been revived on Broadway since the original 1966 production, which starred Barbara Harris in a Tony Award winning performance. Esteemed director Mike Nichols helmed the show and the leading lady received capable support from Alan Alda, but the musical was considered rather slim even back then. Now the Roundabout Theatre Company has brought a revival based on the acclaimed 2005 New York City Center Encores production to Studio 54. The Apple Tree directed by Gary Griffin is still slender; however, the cast headed by the dynamic Kristin Chenoweth with Brian d’Arcy James and Marc Kudisch delivers top notch robust comic work in hopes of filling the gap.
Paul Rudnick’s newest play Regrets Only, a modern day social comedy set in a lavish Manhattan penthouse is jam packed with hysterical dialogue and witty one liners. There are many madcap moments in his new comedy, which takes on topics like friendship and gay marriage, but the evening fails to engage with thought provoking relevance. Mr. Rudnick, who won awards for his early play Jeffrey and had an Off Broadway hit with The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, is a very funny playwright, indeed, but his work about political awakening with characters boarding on caricature is unfortunately underdeveloped.
Hallelujah! The Color Purple, the new Broadway musical, is a joyous celebration of the human spirit. Culled from Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, the impassioned tale is a shimmering mosaic that is more than a triumph in every way. Here is a reason to rejoice! The Color Purple is a serious musical graced with intelligence and humor that is destined to become a classic.
The Manhattan Theatre Club misfires again with the new British import Losing Louie directed by veteran Jerry Zaks. The comedy is Simon Mendes da Costa’s second play and was nominated for an Evening Standard Award in London where it debuted last season. The playwright shows promise, but the Americanized production gracing the stage of the Biltmore is a one dimensional mess.
Cameron Mackintosh, who brought us Cats, The Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon, is presenting a Broadway revival of his long running smash hit musical Les Miserables just over three years after the show, which is still running in London, closed a successful run here in May of 2003. Directed by John Caird and Trevor Nunn, the same team that directed and adapted the first, this new version with fresh orchestrations by Christopher Jahnke has been slightly scaled down for the smaller stage and boasts an entirely new cast of excellent singers, but the evening feels like a vibrant carbon copy of the masterful original without its stirring heart.
George Bernard Shaw is a world renowned British playwright, a literary figure whose impressive body of work lists several novels and more than 50 plays including Pygmalion (1912), which was turned into the perfectly sublime musical My Fair Lady. At the time of his death in 1950 he was considered by many to be one of the greatest playwrights in the English language. His plays are filled with wit and are striking because of his comments on contemporary issues and values that encourage the audience to become engaged in evaluating the world.
David Hare’s new drama, The Vertical Hour, the first of his plays to premier on Broadway, continues his discussion of the war in Iraq, which was the basis of his most recent New York production, Stuff Happens, at the Public theatre. The central character is played by the much acclaimed film star Julianne Moore, an actress whose film work reflects thoughtful subtleties. Making her Broadway debut here she is decidedly miscast in a role that appears to be complex, but which is unfortunately underdeveloped.