Sealed For Freshness

The press release hails Sealed for Freshness, the new Tupperware comedy written and directed by Doug Stone as “a hilarious journey of self discovery.” Don’t be taken in as there is nothing even remotely hilarious about this tasteless tale. Everything about the evening including the script, the set, the costumes and most definitely the direction is decidedly tacky. Sure you will laugh at the absurdity that anything about the play resembles a journey of self discovery, and you will roll your eyes in horror all the while laughing. No doubt there is an audience for this sort of exaggerated gross humor that pokes fun at five totally unconscious women and their attempts to spice up their lives with a Tupperware party, but I doubt that audience spends much time in a real live theatre.

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Butley **

Nathan Lane is giving what many will consider a dazzling performance as the title character in the troubled revival of Simon Gray’s 1971 play Butley that premiered back in 2003 at Boston’s Huntington Theatre. Mr. Lane is undoubtedly one of the few bankable Broadway stars around today, and he appears to be the main reason for the re-staging of this rather dated study of a brilliant, but self loathing college professor.With a reported three million dollars in advance ticket sales, what remains to be seen is if the limited run will have the legs to be a bona fide hit and ultimately be extended.

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Adrift in Macao

Playwright/lyricist Christopher Durang and composer Peter Melnick have crafted a zany new musical, Adrift in Macao, a parody of romantic Hollywood film noirs from the 1940s that is an entertaining romp from the docks of exotic Macao to a nearby smoky nightclub. The musical directed by Sheryl Kaller with seductive style is a playful love letter to films that featured alluring women, mysterious men, shady characters, and a murky Orient atmosphere where nothing is what it seems.Although little more than a gleeful lampoon of old Hollywood films set in the mysterious orient, Adrift in Macao is a little musical with a big heart, and little is the operative word here. The plot is paper thin, the characters barely two dimensional, the songs modest pastiches, and there is even some dancing. The mini-musical fits beautifully onto the relatively small stage of 59E59 Theater and everyone involved has made the send-up appear larger than life. References to the classic film Casablanca are obvious, but there are nods to Alfred Hitchcock and winks at various archetypes as well.

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BFF

Photo: Max Ruby

Imagine a lyrical little play couched as political theater and you would have a strange anomaly, like this new play “BFF” produced by WET, a young feminist theater company whose important voice is beginning to get heard. The subject appears way too simple. Call it mawkish if you like, but it’s certainly not trite. The story is about two girls who take the oath to be best friends forever, hence the title, “BFF”. But they wake up to adolescence, self consciousness and the fear that their affection for each other makes them lesbians. There are other problems, too, about family and loss that interfere with their coming of age. But the story clearly probes the impenetrable shell young women build around themselves and which we carry into adulthood, should we last that long.

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A Spanish Play

Photo: Joan Marcus

Who knows what this play by Yasmina Reza at The Classic Stage Company is really all about? But who cares, when it’s so fascinating to watch this cast of characters, all actors in the titular A SPANISH PLAY about a family who act like they’re constantly in the throws of some catastrophic telenovella.

In fact, two of the sisters are actresses. As the famous movie star Nuria, Katherine Borowitz offers the evening’s eye candy. Deciding what she should wear to the Goya Awards (Spain’s version of the Oscars), she models a series of transparent frocks by costume designer Donna Zakowska. What she finally realizes looks shameless also bares all the trappings of beauty.

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All That I Will Ever Be

Photos: Joan Marcus

Omar (Peter Macdissi) knows how to look good naked. Very good. Similarly, writer Alan Ball knows how to find the pulse of his self pitying, self destructive characters in ALL THAT I WILL EVER BE.

Ball, whose knack for writing has produced such works as SIX FEET UNDER and AMERICAN BEAUTY deftly turns a stereotype into an all consuming, all engrossing presence. Even more exacting is his sense of dialogue and the way he captures social nuance. In fact, the entire first act, structured around several quick scenes, runs like a series of digital photos or a video wall in which the characters’ poses speak volumes.

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Jay Johnson: “The Two & Only”

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.

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High Fidelity

Photo: Joan Marcus

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.

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Translations

Photos: Joan Marcus

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.

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Grey Gardens *****

*****

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.

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Chicago with Usher

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.

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The Little Dog Laughed

Julie White and Tom Everett Scott

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.

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Tarzan

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.

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Company

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.

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The Apple Tree

Photo by Joan Marcus

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.

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