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.

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.

Unfortunately, though, that’s as much as ALL THAT I WILL EVER BE will ever be! The title ironically sums up the lack of depth that distinguishes these characters and ultimately makes for a pointless story, one whose resolution is not at all redeeming.

Essentially the tale follows two gay boys in LA. One, a spoiled rich kid lost in his sense of personal despair. When the hooker he’s with asks him why he doesn’t get a life, he replies with a series of “don’t wants” like, “I don’t want to live in the real world, don’t want to take CNN’s word for what’s happening, don’t want to have kids, don’t want to produce any more batteries for the matrix.” For all his negativity, Omar, his trick turned boyfriend is his match, competing for everything there is to hate and resist, especially references to his racial identity and justifiably allusions to “Arabs as terrorists”. It’s Omar who sums it all up for these depraved characters with “It’s a disgusting species, humanity. We really do deserve to be wiped out.”

From the onset Omar is revealed as a shrewd man, shrouding himself in a web of lies about who he is and where he’s from — Farouk from Saudi Arabia, Demetrius from Greece, Joseph from Armenia — all depending on those he’s with, the sex act they require or what Omar feels he can extort from them. But when an older man hires him from his ad for “The Arabian Stud”, Omar reveals himself. That’s if you believe him. And therein lies the play’s flaw. The character’s transformation from a male prostitute to an empathic character is no more believable than any of his other fronts. In that regard the play delivers the unfortunate message that this Arab character is not trustworthy; one can’t believe a word he says.

Peter Macdissi portrays Omar in his series of poses from envying the rich and terrorizing the weak to falling to his knees in childish fear, all perfectly adept strategies, but none of which build a character. The standout performance in this production is Austin Lysy as Dwight who has a dangerous bad boy quality and a beautifully innocent face.

By Isa Goldberg

All That I Will Ever Be
New York Theater Workshop
79 East 4th Street
1 212 239-6200

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.

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.

Beginning with a little history on ventriloquism, he quickly moves into the specifics of his own story and his infatuation with the craft. Mr. Johnson grew up in Texas, where at age 5, performing in a local show, he discovered the power of laughter while riding a stick pony across the stage. He became fascinated with ventriloquism when he picked up a Jerry Mahoney doll belonging to his cousin. A doll his cousin thought was broken since it was suppose to talk, but didn’t. When he was able to make the doll speak his cousin thought he had fixed it, and Johnson immediately had the family laughing.

Johnson is a regular guy with an engaging style that is easy to like. He details his early opportunities in Texas performing at local parties before turning professional as a teenager. He gained much experience working at theme parks in Texas and Georgia with Squeaky, his partner at the time, which he had created from his cousin’s doll, and together they did the same routine 918 times. The poignancy of his story is grounded in the relationships he carved out along the way often with his inanimate performing buddies, but especially with his mentor Arthur Sieving, a master ventriloquist.

At 17 he managed to contact Mr. Sieving, who was living in retirement with Harry O’Shea, his performing doll, and persuaded him to carve a doll for him. This would be the start of their lifelong friendship and a relationship that would have a profound impact on Johnson taking on the dynamics of a father/son mentorship that weaved a path through his tale resonating with some of the evening’s most moving moments. In his show, Johnson make a tennis ball speak, a monkey called Darwin curse and a bird named Nevermore had the audience howling.

Introducing him, Johnson said, “Don’t be shocked by the crowd.” “I’m shocked you could draw a crowd,” he retorted. He even brings life to a face he has just drawn, makes it sound as if someone is speaking from within a closed suitcase, makes voices sound as if they are far away or coming from the next room and he does it all without moving his lips. The performance will astound you for he is a talented actor and story teller as well.

Much wisdom has gone into shaping the evening that has been simply directed by Murphy Cross and Paul Keppel, who together with Johnson conceived the show. Although the evening is a laugh out loud riot, there are many affecting moments as well – a perfect place to spend time with the children in your life and the child in you. Johnson elevates the ancient craft to an art form weaving a magic spell that will touch your heart and lift your spirit.

gordin & christiano

Originally Published in Dan's Papers

Jay Johnson: The Two and Only! opened at the Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 West 44th Street, on Thursday September 28, 2006. For tickets call 212-239-6200, or Telecharge , or at the box office.

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.

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.

The book by David Lindsay-Abaire chronicles a tale about a young man Rob (Will Chase), who loses his girl, Laura (Jenn Colella) and then gets her back, adheres closely to the original novel, but the characters haven’t been fleshed out. There is no inherent struggle to change, and you wonder why they get back together in the end. Rob is an unsympathetic lout, who appears to sabotage his chances, but still Laura takes him back. In the film Rob, played by John Cusack, was obnoxious, but underneath was an endearing realness that made you like him anyway, so you understood her attraction to him. On Broadway Laura is underwritten and neither character evolves in any way. There are no complexities to their relationship, and we learn little of the dynamics that bind them.

Laura leaves Rob because he was unfaithful; they sleep with other people, and then reunite, but why. If Abair intended the story as a comment on the inability to break free of sexual addiction, I guess he makes a point. I believe, however, this is a love story with charm, and we need to become involved with the characters as they wrestle their internal demons and ultimately learn to adapt. This is fertile territory that could be layered with dichotomy and nuance, especially considering our society’s dysfunctional concepts of love. Nothing happens in Abair’s account to validate their reunion, and their journey is non-existent. These characters appear to feel nothing except when they break into song in vain attempt to prove otherwise.

Another problem that further distances us from the action is the lack of chemistry between the two leads. Will Chase has a likable quality, but his performance is one noted. Jenn Colella is lovely to look at, but displays little charm or quirky humor leaving us to wonder just what draws Rob to her.

The rock music by Tom Kitt is laced with heavy metal chords throughout giving it a manic intensity. The rhyming lyrics by Amanda Green are unfortunately rather corny and often startlingly vulgar in an attempt to be hip. There are, however, a few amusing numbers.

Photo by Joan Marcus

The very funny “I Slept With Someone” is the evening’s highlight. The leads have both just had sex with other people, and they are reflecting on their conquests in a witty duet. The song is beautifully staged by Mr. Bobbie on a whimsical set that is a marvel as it flips intricately to simultaneously reveal two separate bedrooms.

The vigorous choreography by Christopher Gattelli is punctuated with lively kicks and jumps, but it suffers with an animated vigor that keeps the evening in the same one track mode.The set by Anna Louizos, although decidedly tacky, makes arresting shifts that fold and shift with impressive ease to accommodate swift changes from the Rob’s apartment, to his record store, to a club, to the street and even to an upstairs apartment bedroom. However, when you leave the theatre thinking the set was the best part of the evening, something is dreadfully wrong.

gordin & christiano

Originally Published in Dan's Papers

High Fidelity opened at the Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, on December 7, 2006. For tickets call 212-239-6200 or visit the box office

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.

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.

The playwright introduces us to a “hedge school” set in an old grey barn that is now used as a schoolroom, where most of the action takes place. The school is run by the educated and hard drinking Hugh (Niall Buggy), who is assisted by his brooding son Manus (David Costabile).

The evening begins in the schoolroom where a mute woman is learning to speak her name. Soon thereafter a British regiment will arrive to re-make the map of the region, so it will comply with a Royal decree that all Irish names must be translated into English. The apparently simple task ultimately reveals an unfortunate scheme.

Part of the British contingent is the impressionable Lieutenant Yolland (Chandler Williams), who falls in love with the countryside, the Irish language which he cannot speak, and the feisty Maire (Susan Lynch), who is planning to run away to America.

The two actors have a beautiful love scene that works nicely with the plays central concept that the audience understands everything, but the Irish and English characters cannot comprehend one another. The scene is the evening’s highlight. She speaks not a word of English, and he cannot speak Gaelic, yet the two manage to communicate their passion for one another by demonstrating their feelings while repeating a list of Gaelic names. The result is comically endearing.

The wonderful cast includes Michael Fitzgerald, Morgan Hallett, Geraldine Hughes, Alan Cox, Graeme Malcolm and Dermot Crowley.

The play with its beautiful poetic language is challenging to produce and the production helmed by the Tony Award winning Irish director Garry Hynes is not without merit. The design by Francis O’Connor is very good, and the lighting by Davy Cunningham is outstanding.

Playwright Brian Friel has filled Translations with towering language, much like his play Faith Healer, that was given an acclaimed Broadway production last season , but he cannot disguise the play’s meandering structure or his ending that leaves you feeling confused. Friel’s beautiful poetic language is certainly impressively engaging, but much like Faith Healer, Translations failed dramatically to move me.

gordin & chrisiano

Originally Published in Dans Papers

Translations opened on Broadway at the Biltmore Theatre, 261 West 47th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue, on January 25, 2007. Tickets can be purchased by calling 212-239-6200, or online at HYPERLINK "http://www.telecharge.com" www.telecharge.com or at the box office.

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.

*****

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.

The story is based on East Hampton’s notorious recluses, Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter Little Edie, the "It Girl" of her generation; often referred to as Big Edie and Little Edie, they were known to the world as the aunt and cousin, respectively of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. They lived in a flea infested residence on West End Road off Georgica Beach with 52 cats and assorted raccoons.Turning a film about an eccentric mother and daughter living amongst decrepit squalor into a Broadway musical seems like an impossible task, but the creative team behind Grey Gardens has done a first rate job. The inventive staging flawlessly directed by Michael Greif has been improved upon since its premiere with subtle changes that clarify the women’s unique love/hate relationship. The absorbing book by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Doug Wright (I Am My Own Wife) is a thought provoking, even fascinating study of the women’s indomitable spirits that begins with a prologue set in 1973. Mr. Wright then expands upon the documentary with a first Act that goes back 32 years to a fictionalized summer day in 1941, when Grey Gardens was in its glorious heyday. Little Edie, now played charmingly by Erin Davie in the musical’s only cast change, was a young debutante then, a star in the social register known to members of the Maidstone Club as "The Body Beautiful."
When the act begins, we discover Edith Bouvier Beale played superbly by Christine Ebersole in the elegant living room, where she is rehearsing with her musical accompanist played by Bob Stillman, the songs she will sing that day at Little Edie’s engagement party to Joseph Patrick Kennedy. Matt Cavenaugh is convincing as the young Kennedy, who is madly in love with Little Edie, and his performance has grown in stature. The act ends with the younger Edie fleeing to Manhattan, when her engagement is abruptly broken off. Although somewhat long, Act I sets up the dynamics of the mother/daughter relationship and gives resonance to Act II, which recreates the 1973 filming of the legendary documentary. The audience becomes the camera as we are invited in for a guided tour of the squalid conditions. We are shocked by the women’s outrageous behavior that provides a touching look at their broken dreams and the bond that binds them.

Mary Louise Wilson, Christine Ebersole

In a smart casting switch Christine Ebersole now plays the 56 year old Little Edie and is absolutely sensational in a performance that feels channeled right from the soul of Edie herself. Mary Louise Wilson is equally brilliant as her elderly mother, Big Edie, and the two women are a match made in heaven. They are compelling, hysterically funny, yet gut wrenchingly sad, capturing the bizarre spirit of this unique relationship.

The music is by Scott Frankel, with lyrics by Michael Korie. In the first act they have created a loving pastiche to 1940’s show tunes by echoing the standard and style of the great American composers. The songs move the story along with clever exposition, but none of the tunes are exactly memorable. The lyrics, however, are cute and winning, especially "Peas in a Pod." The second act songs are edgier and darker, but it is hard to say how good they would be without these fabulous women. Here the outrageous lyrics expose the women’s conflicts and zaniness in oddly moving ways. "Another Winter in a Summer Town" is haunting, and Ms. Ebersole inhabits the song with heart stopping nuances that breathe life into every moment. Allen Moyer’s fashionable set turns into a dilapidated ruin in Act II mirroring the haunting turn of events. The costumes by William Ivey long are perfect.

Bravo to everyone, but Christine Ebersole anchors the evening first as Big Edie, and then as Little Edie. Her breath taking performance, now eligible for the Tony, demonstrates the art of living in the life of the play and may be a once in a lifetime achievement.

Grey Gardens opened on Broadway at the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street on November 2, 2006. For tickets call 212-239-6200 or visit the box office.

As Published in Dan's Papers

…gordin & christiano

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.

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.

The 27 year old Usher is much too young for the role and is required to play against type, but if he is not exactly up to the task – his acting is awkwardly wooden – he is nonetheless brimming with self confidence imbuing his singing and dancing with undeniable sex appeal. Usher knows what he is all about – sex. He has even said, “My style is sex walking,” and he instills Billy with a knowing sexual assurance that has the women panting. He is an undulating wonder of self styled charm that has little to do with the character’s darkness, but instead is more about showmanship and his megawatt smile.
His seductively alluring performance cuts against the gain of the character, but never mind audiences are cheering anyway. His dance moves are smoothly elegant, as he recreates the original Bob Fosse choreography beautifully streamlined here by Ann Reinking, and he looks as if he were born to wear a tuxedo. He has a good voice, which although romantically silky, lacks the required hard edge of the slick criminal attorney. He wisely, however, avoids his trademark R&B inflections, and his work in “We Both Reached for the Gun” is sensational.

Billy Flynn is really a supporting role in the story about two women criminals, who turn their notoriety into 15 minutes of fame, and Usher doesn’t make his first entrance greeted with hysterical adulation from his screaming fans, until almost 20 minutes into the evening, leaving much room for the outstanding ensemble. He is surrounded by a knock out cast of out performers, who work overtime to elevate the evening to its rightful place, and. if confidence is contagious; several have all caught the bug.

Bianca Marroquin has been playing the chorus girl Roxie Hart at the story’s center, who murders her lover, but avoids prison with Billy’s shrewd help, on and off since 2002. She is in one word fabulous! Not only a first rate singer/dancer she is also an excellent actress, and she brings a touching duality to the role displaying both self absorbed toughness and an innocent vulnerability that makes her Roxie ultimately quite moving.

Brenda Brazton, who portrays the other femme fatal Velma Kelly, is an outstanding singer and dancer, but her performance is more surface grit and less lived in.

The Tony Awarding winning star Lillias White is outrageously wonderful as Matron “Mama” Morton of the Cook County Jail. Her distinctive performance is dynamic and with her marvelous vocal styling she milks her big number, “When You’re Good to Mama,” for every last drop of comic effect. She is a tour de force of theatricality and the audience hoots in delight.

Also a winner is Kevin Chamberlin as Amos Hart, Roxie’s neglected husband, and his delivery of the song “Mr. Cellophane” is another audience pleaser. Lillias and Kevin will soon be replaced by two Chicago veterans, Roz Ryan and Rob Rarlett.

The show boasts a bevy of dancers that may be one of the sexiest chorus lines currently on Broadway, and the on stage orchestra under Leslie Stifleman’s conduction contributes immensely to the show’s winning achievements.

Star casting has enabled the clever producers, Barry and Fran Weissler, to keep the hit revival going for what will be 10 years this November. Revisiting the current production this is easy to understand. What you have here is a brilliant ensemble piece; a fantastic musical that was way ahead of its time in 1975 and now has tapped into the pulse of a new generation. Over the years the producers have been smart enough to make use of a long list of vastly different stars to play the five delicious roles, all of which can be standouts. The latest, Usher, is a Broadway gusher. Catch him in the show through October 14.
gordin & christiano
Originally Published on Hamptons.com
Usher opened in Chicago at the Ambassador Theatre, 219West 49th Street between Broadway and Eight Avenue on September 7, 2006. For tickets call 212-239-6200 or at the box office.

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.

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.

The play deals with what the playwright describes as “sort of the last taboo…” being gay in Hollywood. Beane, one of the freshest voices on the theatrical scene, hasn’t scored a resounding hit since his 1997 critically acclaimed As Bees in Honey Drown, which took on similar territory, fame and those in search of its honey. In that play he created a marvelously duplicitous character Alexa Vere de Veer, who took advantage of artists. Now he has created a wickedly funny Hollywood agent, Diane (Julie White in a bravura performance) whose motives to win at any cost are even more deceptively unscrupulous. On the surface she is a shrewd deal maker possessed of well intended sincerity, but underneath is a Machiavellian monster. Her major client Mitchell (an excellent Neal Huff) is a leading man on the verge of stardom, who suffers from “recurring bouts of homosexuality.”

Diane has learned of a critically acclaimed new play with a major gay character, a property that could turn Mitchell into a matinee idol. Everyone knows a straight actor playing gay is a lauded artistic achievement. As the play unfolds, the two travel to New York to take in the play and convince the gay playwright that Mitchell is just the tonic to make his play into a hit movie.

In New York all sorts of complications arise, when Mitchell in a drunken stupor calls a rent-a-boy service and a young hustler Alex (a likeable Johnny Galecki from the TV show “Roseanne in his NY stage debut) is sent over. Alex only has sex with men for money and has a naive girlfriend Ellen (a fine Zoe Lister-Jones) on the side, who knows how he earns his living. What happens when Mitchell falls for Alex, who becomes equally smitten, is the grist of The Little Dog Laughed.

Johnny Galecki and Ari Graynor

Planted firmly in the driver’s seat Julie White puts the medal to the pedal for an adrenaline spiked ride that is a laughed filled delight. She immortalizes a highly evolved cynical agent, a fast talking dynamo spinning on all cylinders, and makes quick maneuvers to keep herself several steps ahead of the pack.

The cast is uniformly wonderful, but if the fast passed direction doesn’t allow the actors to delineate the struggles inherent in their choices, I guess that’s minor quibbles. The smart evening remains a scathing indictment of not only Hollywood, but our society as well that is as refreshing as a vanilla float.

Second Stage Theatre has produced an outstanding show. Allen Moyer’s handsome set is simple, yet complex, like the story itself. He makes smart use of sliding panels, and there are two stacks of bamboo chairs on either side of the stage, reminding us of Diane’s comment about how much of her life has been spent sitting on banquet chairs during the numerous awards ceremonies she has attended. There is an elegant hotel suite concealed on an upstage platform, which moves smoothly downstage when needed and easily recedes back again carrying the actors along with it, as a gentle reminder that there are simultaneous lives to the action. The set mirrors the evening’s slick direction.

The play takes its title from a silly Mother Goose rhyme; Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle. The cow jumped over the moon. The little dog laughed to see such sport, and the dish ran away with the spoon.

gordin & christiano

Originally Published on Hamptons.com

The Little Dog Laughed is now playing at the Second Stage Theatre, 307 West 43rd Street, between Eight and Ninth Avenues on Tuesday at 7pm, Wednesday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 2pm and 7pm. For tickets call 212-246-4422 or 800-766-6048.

 

 

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.

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.

At first you feel Bob Crowley is following in the inventive model of Julie Taymor’s imaginative Lion King, but all such hopes fade rather quickly. The inspiration of the spectacular opening moments is not sustained, and the entire evening goes rapidly down hill. Most of the fault lies in the book by David Henry Hwang that reduces Edgar Rice Burroughs’s adventure novel into a simplistic formula of good verses evil. The plot rushes buy, and the people are turned into little more than cartoon characters. The message about outcasts discovering who they are and finding their place is, indeed, uplifting, but the journey is obvious and unfortunately not very engaging.

The helpless orphaned infant is discovered by two gorillas and taken under the protection of their gorilla tribe becoming part of their family. As a mature young man he encounters his first human, a beautiful young woman named Jane Porter, when a group of British explorers comes to the coast of West Africa. When Tarzan and Jane fall in love, their relationship becomes the catalyst for the story’s conflicts, which are played out without much tension or excitement. You smile at the silliness, but most everything is jaw droopingly corny and obvious.

In between the obligatory scenes and some dramatic staging effects you get acrobatic gorillas swinging about the set on vivid green vines. Pichon Baldinu (DeLa Gurda) has created some interesting aerial effects, which combine nicely with Meryl Tankard’s gymnastic choreography that are exciting the first time you witness them. As the evening moves along, however, they suffer from a sameness that is apparent in the rest of the show.

Josh Strickland sings well and is eye catching, if somewhat mannered, in the leading role. The entire cast is uniformly good making the most of the material as only outstanding professionals can. Each member has a quality that is appropriate for their respective role. The actors playing gorillas have the most difficult challenge coming off more like deformed hairy people instead of apes.

With a built in audience form the hit movie, the superb opening, and the popular music, might just carry the day for Tarzan. The children possibly won’t notice the lack of dramatic impact, and the story can coast by on its endearing message. In that case Disney will smile their way to the bank. Hopefully, however, in the near future, and Tarzan must be viewed as a transitional work here, all the elements of the new technological advances in both sound and special effects will be combined in revolutionary ingenious ways that combine music and story to ignite our spirits.

gordin & christiano

Originally Published in Dan's Papers

Tarzan is now playing at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 West 46 Street between Broadway and Eighth Ave. For tickets call 212-307-4100 or at the box office.

 

“Les Miserables” Returns to Broadway

Photography by Barry Gordin

Joe Benincasa (Actor's Fund, Executive Director), Playwright Tricia Walsh Smith
Rosie O'Donnell, Elizabeth Hasselbeck

Photography by Barry Gordin

Joe Benincasa (Actor's Fund, Executive Director), Playwright Tricia Walsh Smith
Rosie O'Donnell, Elizabeth Hasselbeck

Celia Keenan-Bolger

Daphne Rubin-Vega

Leann Lazar, Aaron Lazar
Ali Ewoldt, Adam Jacobs

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.

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.

Sondheim conceived the show with George Furth, who wrote the book, and the composer’s classic score is the best part of the evening. The songs include “The Little Things You Do Together,” “You Could Drive A Person Crazy,” ‘Someone Is Waiting,” and one of his most memorable “Being Alive.” The often witty lyrics are laced with irony concerning the conflicts of love and romance.

Comprised like a series of sketches the Furth book that has always been the musical’s weakest link, now feels oddly dated. The story takes place in the revved up New York City world of the 30 something set, where dating and mating is the ultimate pastime. The show that was a realistic look, for the 1970’s, at love and marriage concerns five sophisticated couples and their mutual friend Robert (Raul Esparza), a bachelor considering the option of commitment on his 35 birthday. His friends hover around him worrying that poor Bobby is going to end up alone. Today with a society drenched in compulsive behavior, commitment phobia, , and multiple marriages the emphasis now is more on career or moving on than fear of being along.

As opposed to engaging us in the tale, the production’s key elements actually distance us from the action. The modest set by David Gallo, which is dominated by a white column and a Steinway piano, has an elegant feel, but there is no sense of time or place. The design is decidedly cool and gives the feeling of a concert hall contributing to the actor’s challenge to create intimacy. As if creating relationships while acting and playing instruments at the same time weren’t difficult enough, now they must establish the living room space as well.

Photo By Barry Gordin

Doyle set Sweeny Todd in an insane asylum full of crazy characters so when the actors picked up instruments, the effect contributed to the feeling of madness and disconnectedness. In Company we need to see the attempt of the people to connect with one another and the instruments only get in the way.

With only a few exceptions the actors, although fine, are rather ordinary and little about the performances feels lived in. The result is that many of the songs suffer, and we miss the throbbing drone of the busy city beat.

Barbara Walsh playing the worldly Joanne is one of those exceptions turning in a wonderfully sardonic and jaded characterization. She sings “Ladies Who Lunch,” made famous by Elaine Stritch in the original, and makes the song totally her own powerfully building to a resounding climax.

Another is Elizabeth Stanley as April the airline stewardess, who has a one night stand with Bobby. When she sings “Barcelona” the following morning she is a total delight turning the number into one of the evening’s highlights.

Raul Esparza plays Bobby and while he has a rich beautiful voice that is well suited to the Sondheim songs, he does little to give any sense of the character’s struggle. As the lone member of the ensemble that isn’t required to play an instrument, his job should be made easier, but he registers as a bland cipher, and we wonder why all these hip New Yorkers are so concerned about him. He nails the ending; however, delivering a full blast rendition of “Being Alive” that unfortunately feels milked for emotion. Yes, he plays the final painful moment, but never once throughout the evening do you see his effort to become real, so the climax feels forced. We need to witness his attempts and then watch him cover his failures for the explosive finale to be truly successful.

Photo: Barry Gordin

The evening is a mixed bag of high concept theatre ideas that fails to totally engage. There are highs and lows, but the score still soars and Sondheim after all is Sondheim.

gordin & christiano

Originally Published on Hamptons.com

Company opened on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th Street, on November 29, 2006. Tickets are available via HYPERLINK "http://www.telecharge.com" www.telecharge.com /212-239-6200 or at the box office.

 

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.

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.

Ms Chenoweth, who won a Tony award herself in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, is returning to Broadway after being thrust to the ranks of stardom with her Tony nominated performance as Glenda, the good witch, in the hit musical Wicked. She’s a triple threat singer, dancer and actress, as well as a blonde bombshell with an hour class figure, and a comic diva with a classically trained soprano voice. Standing just barely five feet tall Chenoweth is, nonetheless, a powerhouse performer possessed with an abundance of energy making her an excellent choice to breathe life into the dated musical. She has a Carole Lombard quality combined with the comic zaniness of Lucille Ball. She commands the stage, and once you’ve experience her rare gifts, I promise you’ll never forget her.

As a showcase for her dazzling talents, the show is, however, little more than three lame elongated musical skits stretched to the bursting point. The three one acts are based on stories by Mark Twain (“The Diary of Adam and Eve”), Frank R. Stockton (“The Lady or the Tiger’) and Jules Feiffer (“Passionella”).

Setting the tone for the evening Act I transports us to the Garden of Eden for “The Diary of Adam and Eve,” where we get the stereotypical battle of the sexes wrapped in ultra cute trimmings. Influenced by the temptation of an evil snake, we watch as Eve lures Adam to partake of the forbidden fruit resulting in their banishment from the magical garden and being forced to live an ordinary human existence.

Photo by Joan Marcus

In Act II we are taken to a semi-barbaric kingdom from ancient times for “The Lady or the Tiger?” Chenoweth is a jealous princess brandishing a whip, who must decide whether her lover would be “better dead than wed.” The man must choose between two doors, one conceals a certain death, the other a maiden for marriage.

“Passionella,” a romantic tale from the ‘60s, competes the evening with a clever Hollywood twist on Cinderella in which a chimney sweep is transformed into a Marilyn Monroe look-alike, but only from 6pm till midnight. She becomes a film star and falls for a handsome Prince, in the guise of a British rocker.

Gary Griffin’s staging does little to expand on his earlier City Center production. In fact the evening is a bare boned rendering that relies almost exclusively on cuteness for effect, which ultimately feels heavy handed. Think an extended Carol Burnett show with lots of music and you get the idea.

Chenoweth’s two co-stars are uniquely talented themselves working with devilish zest to transform the tired script into something more.

Brian d’Arcy James as Adam is the perfect foil for Chenoweth’s Eve. The two navigate the treacherous material exchanging comic zingers with timing and brilliance that brings the corny jokes to an acceptable level.

Marc Kudisch makes a sultry snake with slinky body language while performing triple duty as the fairy godmother and also the narrator.

The score by Bock and Harnick, who gave us the classic Fiddler on the Roof, has a nice range and the songs have an upbeat charm that helps the evening immensely. They are aided by Jonathan Tunick’s orchestrations and Rob Fisher’s musical direction that is first rate.

The cast has wonderful voices doing more than ample justice to the 15 musical numbers. The three ultimate pros headlining the musical make terrific efforts to lift the evening, but they are caught in a vacuum of skimpy stories and one noted direction.

Kristin Chenowith

gordin & christiano

Originally Published in Dan's Papers

The Apple Tree opened on Broadway at Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street, on December 14, 2006. Tickets are available, by phone at 212-719-1300, online at HYPERLINK "http://www.roundabouttheatre.org" www.roundabouttheatre.org or at the theatre box office.

Upfront January 22, 2007

The Tony Award committee announced their rulings regarding the upcoming Tony Awards. No real surprises in that the revivals of A Chorus Line and Les Miserables will be ineligible in a number of categories (sets, costumes, lighting, direction) in which the two musicals merely presented “re-creations” of the original productions.

Kevin Spacey

Kevin Spacey apparently still riding the “ego trip” that propelled his recent film flop, “Beyond the Sea,” (based on the life of Bobby Darin) may have over priced himself as the star of the upcoming Broadway revival of Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten. He reportedly will receive just shy the $60,000 a week he wanted…truly amazing for a serious play of considerable length that will run for less than 90 performances, making it nearly impossible for Moon to break even; Kevin will have to best Julia Roberts at the box office if this show is going to turn a profit. Good luck Kevin; may the Gods be with you!

The Tony Award committee announced their rulings regarding the upcoming Tony Awards. No real surprises in that the revivals of A Chorus Line and Les Miserables will be ineligible in a number of categories (sets, costumes, lighting, direction) in which the two musicals merely presented “re-creations” of the original productions.

Kevin Spacey

Kevin Spacey apparently still riding the “ego trip” that propelled his recent film flop, “Beyond the Sea,” (based on the life of Bobby Darin) may have over priced himself as the star of the upcoming Broadway revival of Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten. He reportedly will receive just shy the $60,000 a week he wanted…truly amazing for a serious play of considerable length that will run for less than 90 performances, making it nearly impossible for Moon to break even; Kevin will have to best Julia Roberts at the box office if this show is going to turn a profit. Good luck Kevin; may the Gods be with you!

August Wilson, one our finest playwrights, recently past away at the young age of 60, well for just $15 you can see a superlative production of Two Trains Running at the Signature Theater. The company is putting on several of Mr. Wilson’s 10 play series on the black experience in America. The playwright has created a play for each decade of the past century.

Some cool happenings around the town:

Laila Robins, Peter Strauss, Sarah Grace Wilson, Molly Ward, Playwright Tricia Walsh-Smith, Debargo Sanyal, Patricia Conolly, Director Carolyn Cantor, Casting: Jack Doulin

On Monday the historic Westport Country Playhouse in Connecticut presented an engaging reading of the compelling new play, The Last Journey, by Tricia Walsh-Smith. The Edge Theater’s Carolyn Cantor directed the wonderful cast led by the marvelous Laila Robins starring as Annie. A stimulating talk back with the playwright followed the performance.

This past Friday Kristin Chenoweth, the bundle of dynamite now wowing audiences at Studio 54 in the Roundabout Theater revival of The Apple Tree, took a night off to make her Metropolitan Opera concert debut delivering a reportedly sparkling performance.

Tickets go on sale Saturday January 27 to see theater legend Angela Lansbury return to Broadway after a 25 year absence. She will star with Broadway’s beloved Marian Seldes in Tony Award winner Terrence McNally’s new play Deuce directed by Michael Blakemore. The limited run begins April 16 at the Music Box Theater.

Bryan McElroy currently appearing in the Robert De Niro film “The Good Shepherd” will join the cast of the long running off Broadway hit musical I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change at the Westside Theater. The little show has played over 4,000 performances in an 11 years, making it one of the longest running musicals ever.

Grey Gardens Opening Night

Photography by Barry Gordin

Christine Ebersole

Mary Louise Wilson, Donald Billings

Photography by Barry Gordin

Christine Ebersole

Mary Louise Wilson, Donald Billings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

John McMartin

Matt Cavenaugh, Jerry Torre
Albert Maysles, Jimmy Nederlander
Ben Brantley, Sally Quinn
Bob Stillman
Lee Radziwell

 

Regrets Only

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.

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.

The story unfolds when a wealthy married socialite Tibby McCullough (Christine Baranski) is preparing for a night on the town with her best friend, a legendary closeted gay fashion designer Hank Hadley (George Grizzard). Hank has recently lost his companion of nearly 40 years and is evaluating his life. When Tibby’s husband Jack (David Rasche), a high powered attorney, returns home and announces he has been enlisted by President Bush to come to Washington D.C. to help draft a proposed anti gay marriage constitutional amendment, Tibby and Hank are catapulted into evaluating their 40 year friendship. When the McCullough’s daughter Spencer (Diane Davis), who just that evening became engaged, decides to join her father and postpone her wedding the first act set up is complete.

The second act puts into motion all sorts of zany situations that arise on the day of Spencer’s wedding, when all gay people go on strike to amusingly dire results. The walk out has been arranged by Hank and for approximate 15 minutes act II works beautifully as acute political and social satire. Spencer is thrown into a tizzy as there are no florists on the day of her wedding, no dressmakers, and no hairstylists. When Tibby’s elegant mother Marietta Claypoole (Sian Phillips) makes her second act entrance encased in plastic garbage bags sporting shoeboxes on her feet instead of stylish shoes, the evening is at a highpoint. Not only is Marietta a victim of a gay fashion boycott, but she can’t get tickets to see any Broadway musicals either because the casts are out as well.

The clever concept holds great promise for outrageous high jinks, but the results turn decidedly tame as the playwright is quite content at stretching his bright idea under broadly conceived characters spouting his delicious dialogue. Since these rather one dimensional people behave in unrealistic ways, it is difficult to become involved with them or feel much empathy for their plight. Granted we go along for the laughs and have a good time in the process, but to what end? A serious issue, gay marriage, has been merely touched on not fully considered.

Further complicating matters, the Manhattan Theatre Club Production crisply directed by Christopher Ashley never decides if it wants to be a hip social comedy or an extravagant farce. The evening manages to succeed on both accounts, but feels schizophrenic without living in either world. The jostling back and forth between the two makes for a rather bumpy ride.

The vivacious cast makes a valiant effort to infuse the proceedings with more life than actually exists with mixed results. Christine Baranski is an absolute riot bringing layers to her characterization of the shallow socialite that aren’t readily apparent. Her delivery of the Rudnick zingers is simply marvelous as she adds a depth that is missing from the rest of the evening. Sian Phillips as her mother beautifully embodies the out of sink jaded sophistication of Marietta with a stylishly hilarious performance. Grizzard enlightens Hank’s challenge with added dimensions as he contemplates and ultimately realizes the cost of having lived a less than honest, closeted life.

David Rasche as the attorney Jack and Diane Davis as his hysterical daughter Spencer are less successful. Jack comes off as little more than a slick stereotype and Spencer is just another rich neurotic spoiled brat.

Photo by Joan Marcus

Mary Testa as the McCullough’s Jewish maid Myra is in a class of her own, since she isn’t asked to create a character or relate directly to the action. She pops in and out spouting different accents wearing various outfits for little or no reason except to inject comic adrenaline jolts.

The beautifully designed evening has a handsome set by Michael Yeargan and smart costumes by William Ivey Long.
Although Mr. Rudnick’s latest comedy scores high on the laugh track meter, the evening fails to satisfy with meaningful heartfelt theatre.

gordin & christiano

Originally Published in Dan's Papers

Regrets Only is now playing at Manhattan Theatre Club, 131 West 55th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. To obtain tickets call 212-581-1212 or visit the box office.

 

 

The Color Purple

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.

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.

At the center of the story is Celie, a 12 year old poor black girl living in Georgia just after emancipation. We follow her 40 year journey to survive against what seem insurmountable odds, poverty as well as physical, mental and sexual abuse. Celie has been raped repeatedly by the man she believes to be her father (a cruel JC Montgomery). Two children, Olivia and Adam, who have been taken from her at birth, are the product of these rapes. At 14 she is made a young wife and given to Mister (a strong Kingsley Leggs), who continues to abuse her and works her like a horse. She is soon separated from her sister Nettie (a radiant Renee Elise Goldsberry), her sole source of love and support. We watch her evolution from passive illiterate to a confident loving woman of means.

As Celie, the star LaChanze delivers a galvanizing performance in the role she originated when The Color Purple premiered in Atlanta at the Alliance Theatre. LaChanze, who made a memorable Broadway debut in Once on This Island and further cemented her reputation last season as the lead in the Lincoln Center production of Dessa Rose, absolutely soars as the embattled Celie. She creates a sympathetic affecting character that is utterly convincing and touchingly unforgettable. Her beautifully written solos, “Somebody Gonna Love You” and “I’m Here,” are splendid exultations of courage.

The book’s faithful adaptation by Marsha Norman, who won a Pulitzer Prize for ‘Night Mother, distills the many stories surrounding Celie in Ms. Walker’s epic novel to their essence, but adheres more closely to the source material than Steven Spielberg’s 1985 movie. There is still the story of Mister’s son Harpo (an exceptional Brandon Victor Dixon) and his love for the headstrong Sofia (an awesome Felicia P. Fields). Ms. Fields with her amazing alto and Mr. Dixon give us the hilariously raunchy “Any Little Thing.”

There is also the tale of Nettie’s missionary work in Africa, where she finds Celie’s children, which is told through their letters. Now, however, there is an emphasis on Celie’s inspirational, yet sexually explicit lesbian love affair with the rebel blues singer Shug Avery (a magnificent and sexy Elisabeth Withers-Mendes). The result is an involving musical adventure that not only culminates with love and redemption, but also resonates with a core of forgiveness.

The gospel, blues, African and pop songs by the music veterans Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray are simply outstanding and beautifully orchestrated by Jonathan Tunick. They are soulful expressions that speed the story’s development, as well as allowing the show’s underlying message to become even more accessible. The dynamic opening number “Mysterious Ways” is a big gospel that cuts against the grain of the show’s bleak center to rejoice in the joy of being alive. The music never lets up, but doesn’t feel pushed. We get other stirring testaments like “Hell No,” “Push Da Button,” “What About Love?” and the big production number “African Homeland.”

The choreography by Donald Byrd is an effective blend of raw sexuality and a blissful good time. The dancers thrust themselves about the stage with a total commitment that is a delight to witness.

John Lee Beatty’s ingenious yet simplistic scenic design is dominated by a radiant sky that Brain MacDevitt’s lighting turns into an ever changing luminous feast.

Commenting on the action throughout the evening are three gossipy women of the church, who function as sort of a Greek chorus and provide comic relief. They are the

wonderfully amusing Kimberly Ann Harris,Virginia Ann Woodruff, and Maia Nkenge Wilson.

Making an impressive Broadway debut director Gary Griffin has turned The Color Purple into a glorious rarity, a pure life affirming entertainment that is a thrill to behold.

gordin & christiano

The Color Purple opened on the Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway at 53rd Street, on December 1, 2005. Order tickets online HYPERLINK "http://www.Telecharge.com" www.Telecharge.com / 212-239-6200 or at the box office.

Originally Published in Dan's Papers