One Night in Miami ***1/2, Little Wars ***, Falling Stars ***

One Night in Miami… Malcolm x, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke

By: David Sheward

February 6, 2021: When I was a kid back in the 1970s, PBS used to run a series called Meeting of the Minds. Created, written and hosted by the comedian-writer Steve Allen, the show brought famous figures from history together to exchange ideas. While the series has been largely forgotten, the genre lives on with numerous plays and films throwing prominent personages in a room and seeing what happens. Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls is probably the most effective of this type of amalgam debate play because the discussion between time-tripping characters was a springboard for the protagonist’s conflict. Two new examples of this kind of fly-on-the-wall, what-if drama aren’t as successful or imaginative as Churchill’s fascinating work, but they offer some sharp insights.

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Dog Act ****

By: Isa Goldberg

February 3, 2020: Liz Duffy Adams’ “Dog Act,” published in 2009, currently in revival by The Seeing Place Theater on Zoom, is an absurdist farce couched in classical verse and song. It’s also riddled with malapropisms, laced with obscenities and some alarming made-up words. Visually it’s equally arousing.

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Little Wars *****

By: Paulanne Simmons

January 28, 2020: When a playwright decides to write about a group of literary luminaries, he’d better be able to turn a phrase or two himself. Fortunately, Steven Carl McCasland is the man for the job. His Little Wars, which begins streaming on Broadway On Demand February 1 as a “rehearsed reading,” is set in Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas’s wartime retreat at the foot of the French Alps. This is not exactly their salon at 27 rue de Fleurus, but soon their guests arrive.

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Falling Stars *****

Peter Polycarpou and Sally Ann Triplett in “Falling Stars”

By: Paulanne Simmons

January 27, 2020: The opening scene of Falling Stars, a musical revue from the UK that will stream on Broadway On Demand beginning February, features the talented singer/actor Peter Polycarpou wandering into an antique shop on the East Finchley High Road and discovering an old, tattered songbook. When he decides to buy it, the proprietor (an offstage voice) demands outrageously high prices until he agrees to sing a number from the songbook. 

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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom ****

Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis

By: David Sheward

January 9, 2020: In the 20th century, the number of African-American playwrights who have had financially successful, non-musical productions on Broadway can be counted on the fingers of one hand—Lorraine Hansberry (A Raisin in the Sun) and August Wilson (Fences, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, etc.). The situation has not improved much in the 21st. The record of transferring the plays of these authors to the screen has been even spottier.

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The Prom ***, Meet Me in St. Louis ****, Estella Scrooge **

James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells, Meryl Streep in “The Prom”

By: David Sheward

December 21, 2020: With Broadway shut down at least until June of 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, one must rely on streaming services and the occasional broadcast network special for a musical theater fix. The holiday season is usually rife with new shows and we have had to make due with filmed versions of Broadway hits such as Netflix’s The Prom. Directed by Ryan Murphy of Glee and American Horror Story fame, this adaptation of the 2018 tuner attempts to capture the snarky bite of Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin’s original book, but comes up short. Nevertheless, this is a fun, if overlong, romp for theater fans and might win over non-Broadway fanatics.

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A Christmas Carol in Harlem ****

The Cast of “A Christmas Carol”

By: Paulanne Simmons

December 13, 2020: With the pandemic surging, many theater companies are celebrating the holiday season by steaming shows from previous years. So, if you missed The Classical Theatre of Harlem’s 2019 A Christmas Carol in Harlem, you now have the chance to watch a video of the live performance.

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Ute Lemper: Rendezvous with Marlene *****

By: Paulanne Simmons

November 29, 2020: In 1988, when Ute Lemper received the Molière Award for her performance as Sally Bowles in Cabaret in Paris, she was certainly very happy. But what really amazed and delighted the German-born actress, was when she was compared to the legendary Marlene Dietrich. As Dietrich was also living Paris at the time, Lemper sent her a postcard addressed simply to Dietrich at Avenue Montaigne. Not long afterwards she got a phone call.

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Give Me Your Hand ****

Dearbhla Molloy

By: David Sheward

October 18, 2020: The Broadway League recently announced that the hiatus for all of its member theaters has been extended until June of 2021. That means at least seven more months of no live performances on New York stages. Fortunately, many Off-Broadway companies are filling the gap with Zoom and virtual performances. The Irish Repertory Theater has been cleverly adapting performances pieces to the new media with actors filming from separate locations or acting in a properly socially distanced space. Their latest offering, Give Me Your Hand, places two actors in an empty, intimate London theater, combining theater, poetry and painting for a refreshing reminder of the importance of these arts while we are given limited access to them.

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Incidental Moments ****

Incidental Moments of the Day: The Apple Family: Life on Zoom

By: David Sheward

September 15, 2020: Dr. Anthony Fauci recently predicted we may not be able to sit safely in theaters until the end of 2021. If that is the case, we’ll have to make due with the new hybrid form of theater, the Zoom play of which Richard Nelson has become the main practitioner. His latest piece Incidental Moments of the Day: The Apple Family: Life on Zoom is his deepest and most profound of a Zoom trilogy, examining the impact of national social currents without descending into political propaganda or overt symbolism. We are listening in on the achingly real dialogue of believable people wrestling with the overwhelming polarization of their country, with no concrete solutions, only questions and anxiety.

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Murder at River Crossing Book Club *****

By: Paulanne Simmons

August 30, 2020: One of the promising developments in the entertainment industry during the pandemic is the many creative ways companies have met the challenge of not having a live audience in a theater. Not least of these innovations is Live in Theater’s series of interactive Zoom experiences. The series uses Zoom technology to bring interactive theater into the homes of audiences. The first show in the series is Murder at River Crossing Book Club. created by Carlo D’Amore, Collin Blackard, Phoebe Dunn, Natalia Yandyganova; and written and directed by D’Amore.

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Love, Noel: The Songs and Letters of Noel Coward ***

Steve Ross & KT Sullivan

By: David Sheward

August 13, 2020: The intimate environs of cabaret will probably be the last aspect of the entertainment industry to return to normal in this COVID world. Patrons squeezed shoulder to shoulder at tiny tables, mere inches away from performers projecting potentially infectious air particles is a scary atmosphere these days. Until a reliable vaccine becomes available, we will probably not be enjoying this unique, direct art form. Fortunately, the Irish Repertory Theatre has translated a delightful gem of a cabaret piece to the digital medium for a brief stay. Love, Noel: The Songs and Letters of Noel Coward, devised by Barry Day, assembles a sparkling sampling of the witty correspondence and the 300 songs by the brilliant polymath Coward. One of the great entertainers of the 20th century, Coward wrote some of the most durable light comedies of the repertoire (Blithe Spirit, Private Lives, Hay Fever, Present Laughter), composed heartfelt and fizzy songs, and dazzled audiences as an actor and singer on stage, film, television, and the cabaret and concert stage. Pianist Steve Ross and singer KT Sullivan are the amiable hosts of this marvelous party. Director Charlotte Moore smoothly paces this delightful pastiche of Coward’s martini-dry wit and throbbing sentiment in the elegant Players Club amid the memorabilia of centuries of show business.

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Liberty or Just Us: a City Park Story ***1/2

TEACH IT RIGHT OR RIGHT TO TEACH — An administrator witnesses the struggle of public school students and a teacher against privatization in “Teach It Right, or, Right to Teach,” Theater for the New City’s 2015 street theater production, which will tour City streets, parks and playgrounds throughout the five boroughs through September 20. L-R: Libby Del Campo, Lily Fremaux, Michael David Gordon, Justin Rodriguez. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

By: Paulanne Simmons

August 14, 2020: For over four decades New York City summers have been blessed with Theater for the New City’s annual Street Theater tour, which visits all five boroughs and entertains while it raises social awareness. This year, street theater has become virtual theater as Crystal Field and her band of troubadours embrace technology to bring their latest creation into the homes and hearts of New Yorkers.

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The Weir ****

Amanda Quaid

By: David Sheward

July 24, 2020: Five lonely people swap ghost stories in a secluded Irish country pub in Connor McPherson’s touching play The Weir. This woes of this disheartened quintet are strikingly relevant for the COVID-19 era. They are attempting to make human connection despite the psychological barriers that separate them. Shuttered along with all other Broadway and Off-Broadway theaters because of the pandemic, the Irish Repertory Theater has adapted its 2013 staging of the play for remote streaming, subtitled “A Performance on Screen,” and created a hybrid between theater and video, emphasizing the isolation of the characters. Each of the five actors filmed their roles in different states from Vermont to North Carolina, performing against green screens (set designer Charlie Corcoron created the atmospheric, homey environment). Director Ciaran O’Reilly has seamlessly woven together the bits and pieces into a cohesive whole, creating the illusion they are all together in the same space.

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The Line ****

Lorraine Toussaint, Santino Fontana, and John Ortiz in “The Line” Credit: The Public Theater

By: David Sheward

July 14, 2020: The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the closures of theaters and reinforced the feeling of being in suspended animation. With no live dramatic reaction to this national crisis which has brought all of our lives to a near screeching halt, it feels as if there has been scant considered reflection or introspection—just talking heads endlessly pontificating on cable news shows and a disconnected chief executive engaging in magical thinking. We have had Richard Nelson’s Apple Family Zoom plays give us some perspective through an artistic lens, and now the Public Theater has commissioned documentary theater-makers Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen to assemble the heart-breaking real-life stories of first responders in a unique, interwoven series of monologues called The Line, available on the Public’s YouTube channel through Aug. 4.

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