Monday, December 10, 2007

The Nutcracker (NYC Ballet)

BOTTOM LINE: brilliant choreography and music with a side of screaming children.

The Nutcracker is The Nutcracker and the NYC Ballet does an incredible job with some of the most talented dancers and musicians out there. It's an overly dramatized ballet with an easy to understand story line that makes you feel all gooey and Christmasy inside. I'm not going to lie, I enjoy this ballet despite the cheesiness with which it drips. And for $40, you can get a decent seat (albeit in the fourth tier). If you like ballet and can tolerate schmamy Christmas stories, The Nutcracker is a sure thing.

BIG GLARING HOWEVER: Since when did it become acceptable to allow screaming kids to run around a theatre during a live performance? Throughout the majority of the ballet, this insufferable two year old behind me talked incessantly. It was mostly indecipherable sounds of boredom, but sometimes she'd get really into it and let us know her thoughts ("I like the yellow one!") And most of time time her mother would let out an equally insufferable "sssssshhhhhhhhhh" to let us know she wasn't the crappy parent we all suspected. This continuted throughout the performance, but was dwarfed in annoyance when a crying baby a few sections over wouldn't shut up...oh, and its mother didn't think she needed to remove said baby either (until the usher told her she had to). After intermission when all the children returned with cellophane wrapped goodies from the lobby, it was the candy crinkling on top of the two year old's mutterings that took precedence in my brain...sorry Tschaikovsky. I'm all for taking children to cultural events and exposing them to the arts and to be fair, there were a lot of kids there that had really great manners. But the ballet is not the circus, even if it is The Nutcracker, and it's insanely disrespectful to the performers and audience members to allow a distraction like that to continue.

Maybe I was there on a rough night, and maybe it's better if you're not sitting in the fourth tier. Check out The Nutcracker if you're a fan of the ballet or of dance in general, just be warned that you might need to work a little harder to tune-out those around you.

(The Nutcracker is a seasonal show that ends in early January. You can get tickets at or by going to the box office at Lincoln Center.)

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Seafarer (Booth Theatre)

BOTTOM LINE: not a passive theatre experience...funny and interesting, but only if you can keep up.

The Seafarer is written and directed by Conor McPherson, an Irish guy who received critical acclaim last year for Broadway's Shining City. He's a fantastic storyteller and for The Seafarer he has created five interesting characters who are both farcical and sympathetic. The writing is witty and maintains that great dry humor from the UK. At times the script is wordy, but it's paced well and consistently funny so my interest was always piqued.

Here's where it gets tricky...between the Irish accents and quick pace, I had some difficulties keeping up with the details of the plot, especially at first. Also, the script requires work from the audience. It's not an easily digestible, fluffy story that absolves the audience of effort. It's somewhat challenging and thought-provoking, so if you're looking for the mind-numbing escapism that theatre can provide, this is not for you.

At the risk of revealing too much about the plot, I'll just borrow TheatreSource's synopsis: "It's Christmas Eve and Sharky has returned to Dublin to look after his irascible, aging brother who's recently gone blind. Old drinking buddies Ivan and Nicky are holed up at the house too, hoping to play some cards. But with the arrival of a stranger from the distant past, the stakes are raised ever higher. In fact, Sharky may be playing for his very soul."

The high points for me in The Seafarer were the performances and the humor. The cast is's five guys you've seen many times before but probably don't know their names. The low point was the story development. Even though Act One is all exposition, by the time the plot got to the main conflict, I wasn't really sure how we'd gotten there. And sure, I know I lost a few details (see second paragraph), but the plot still had a couple of big holes that were never fully explained. It didn't take away from my understanding of the play, it just left me with a couple of questions.

You should see The Seafarer if you like theatre that makes you think and if you like snarky humor from overseas. You should not see The Seafarer if you go to the theatre for escapism and light entertainment.

(The Seafarer is still in previews; it officially opens December 6th. It plays at The Booth Theatre at 222 W. 45th St.)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pygmalion (Roundabout Theatre Company)

BOTTOM LINE: a witty, interesting story with the creepiest Henry Higgins you've ever seen. Oh, and Claire Danes doesn't suck.

Pygmalion is the straight play version of the musical My Fair Lady and because it came before the musical, it's the original version of the story, told the way the playwright (George Bernard Shaw) wanted it to go. It's the story of a lower-class British girl (Eliza Doolittle, played by Danes) who meets an upper-class guy who is a master of phonetics (Henry Higgins, played by Jefferson Mays). Higgins makes a bet with his friend that he can teach the girl to act upper-class and even pass for a duchess. Eliza agrees to let him teach her and conflict ensues when she realizes that Higgins is a cold-hearted, creepy, pretentious man who only ever thought of her as an experiment. Which is NOT the way My Fair Lady portrays this relationship. Alas, this is not the musical and not only aren't there any songs, it's also in no way a love story. This play is endearing but definitely not warm and cuddly. In my opinion, the relationship between Higgins and Eliza is much more interesting this way, but there are definitely squirm-provoking moments.

Roundabout knows how to put on a show and this production is no exception. It's extremely polished and the sets and costumes are extravagant and lovely. The acting is precise and conscientious with an very talented cast under the direction of the very capable David Grindley. Maybe the reason the cast is so in sync with each other is because this isn't the first time they've shared a stage; Mays, Boyd Gaines (Colonel Pickering) and Jay O. Sanders (Mr. Doolittle) were all in Grindley's production of Journey's End last year.

Pygmalion is a funny play and this is good because when you get down to the meat of the story it's really quite creepy. Most of the relationships that are explored in this production work well and I was a big fan of the actors' individual work with their own characters. Jay O. Sanders has amazing timing and steals his scenes and the rest of the supporting cast does a great job rounding out the story. Boyd Gaines is perfect as Colonel Pickering, even though his relationship with Higgins is kind of strangely gay (I'll blame this on Shaw and not on the actors). Claire Danes acts her butt off and it's actually quite good. I'd much prefer to slam her performance but that would be unfair.

You should see Pygmalion if you're interested in the story and/or you want to see a high-quality play with an exceptional cast. If you're expecting something light and fluffy, this probably isn't your best bet. And be warned, it's not the musical and this Higgins is a bit disturbing.

(Pygmalion plays at the American Airlines Theatre until December are between $51 and $96 and are available by calling 212.719.1300. If you're under 35, get $20 tickets by signing up with for more information or call 212.719.1300)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Minimum Wage (Bleecker Street Theatre)

BOTTOM LINE: infectiously happy. For a good time, call Minimum Wage.

In a feat rarely seen, Minimum Wage is entirely original and entirely entertaining. It's not every day that a brand-new concept unearths itself and actually works. And Minimum Wage accomplishes that with quite a bit of success. Here's the schtick: the audience takes on the role of "new hires in training" at Happy Burger, a McDonald's-esque fast food chain. The cast of five are Happy Burger employees who are teaching the new hires all about the fast food world...they are also singers who have an acapella group that they are taking on the road to a competition immediately after the training. So as the Happy Burger employees take over the training (because communication with the higher-ups is shorted) much of it is sung and performed more ostentatiously by these caricatured burger boys (and girl).

Because of the nature of the show, the audience is an intregal part and there's a large amount of audience interaction. If you don't want to participate, don't sit too close. Although I'm normally not a huge fan of fourth-wall-breaking, it really worked for me with this play because it personalizes the story; it's not just a passive theatre experience. It made me feel a stronger connection with the characters and it definitely helped ground a rather goofy piece.

Minimum Wage is charming in its sincerity because the characters couldn't be more endearing. Although it's silly and even ridiculous at times, it has a ton of heart and there's actually a much deeper message to it all. Throughout the play, the characters reveal their insecurities and past failures and eventually their fear about the upcoming acapella competition. After a pep talk from the group's leader, though, they realize that they have to go after their dreams. The message isn't meant to be hidden and you definitely leave with a sense of empowerment (and these catchy lyrics in your head: "you gotta grab life by the balls, hold tight never let go, I'm busy hold all my calls, I'm stepping into the light.") Despite the thick layers of absurdity, the true message remains crystal clear.

So on top of it all, you have a really friggin' talented cast who can sing as well as anyone on any stage in New York. And the best part is, there isn't a back-up band. It's literally acapella. With some crazy beat-boxing and beautiful harmonizing, there's no need for instruments. For the sake of the talent alone, Minimum Wage is worth seeing.

If you like musicals, and/or you like quirky theatre, you'll probably love Minimum Wage. If you're in the mood for an original theatrical experience with a stellar cast, you'll probably love it as well. And if you're just feeling down and want something to boost your spirits, Minimum Wage is cheaper than a shrink and won't give you a beer belly.

(Minimum Wage plays at the The Green Room at 45 Bleecker...Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Saturday at 10:30pm...get tickets at

Monday, October 22, 2007

Young Frankenstein (Hilton Theatre)

BOTTOM LINE: It's just what you'd expect but you'll still think it's brilliant. Big budgets, cheap laughs, the finest schtick around.

Young Frankenstein has so many special effects and cool technical aspects it makes The Producers look like sock puppets in a kid's bedroom. I can't image what this budget was but I'm sure it will make it all back plus a whole lot more because this is definitely going to be the hot ticket this year (ok, next year too). The sets are fantastic and they actually use video played on the backdrop in a lot of the scenes (brilliant and visually interesting, it gives it more depth). They've done a great job of maintaining the visual integrity of a movie's story-telling, every set/scene feels full; every space is utilized comfortably and appropriately, nothing ever feels visually incomplete.

If you didn't like The Producers you're probably not going to like Young's the same thing...actually, i think some of the music and choreography is exactly the same. We're talking same writers, same director, same production team, even some of the same actors. It's gawdy and over the top, with x-rated jokes and obvious punchlines, and really showy costumes and sets. But it also maintains the same exceptional acting and singing with definitely the best cast I've seen in a really long time.

I have to be honest, Act I wasn't totally doing it for me. I love the movie Young Frankenstein and this staged version felt way too contrived at first. From a story-telling standpoint, I was having difficulty finding a character I cared about in a mess of pyrotechnics and production numbers. But by Act II I was sold...I loved everyone. I cared about everything that happened because I couldn't get enough of the cast; the performances are really exceptional. Megan Mullally may have been amazing on Will and Grace but the girl really deserves to be doing musical theatre...who knew she could sing like that? I'm glad her talk show didn't work out, this is a much better career path.

If you can get a ticket, see this show, even if it's just so you can say that you did. Check out the $25 ticket lottery before the show (every performance except Saturday nights, 3 hours before the show begins at the Hilton Theatre).

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind (Neofuturists)

BOTTOM LINE: a very downtown-feeling, consistently changing, always entertaining night of good theatre.... funny, offbeat, reliable.

Every Friday and Saturday at 10:30, you can see Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind and every time you see it it'll be a little different. Ok, this show is technically "experimental theatre" and yea, some of it walks the performance art line...but the majority of it is solid, entertaining comedy and it's sometimes even profound and thought-provoking. And the good news is, they do 30 different 2 minute plays in an hour, so if you're not feeling a particular play, you know it'll be over soon. And each weekend they change up the plays so you won't see the same show twice.

Too Much Light is its own beast...there's nothing else like it out there (except from the Chicago Neofuturists that is, the precursor to the New York company which still thrives out in Chicago). The Neofuturists play themselves and they write and perform all of the pieces in the show. Unlike other live, comedic performances, you're not seeing a single story unfold or seeing a series of jokes or sketches...rather, you're invited to share these people's experiences which can turn into a very raw and sometimes poignant moment. Most of the 30 plays are comedic, though, so it's not as heavy and deep as I'm probably making it sound. Subject matter of the plays varies; they are sometimes politically conscious, sometimes a comment on a funny experience, sometimes just hysterically ludicrous.

Too Much Light offers consistently high-quality entertainment from performers and writers who are not only good at putting on a show, they actually have something to say. See this's the perfect thing to do on a random weekend night and always a great New York performance to take guests to.

Tickets are $10 plus the roll of a single sided die (so yea, it's between $11 and $16 depending on your luck). There is a bit of audience participation so if you're sheepish about that, don't sit in the front or on the aisle (but good luck, it's a small space). They play at the Kraine Theatre, 85 East 4th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Speech and Debate (Roundabout Theatre Company)

BOTTOM LINE: This is a really great show: hysterical, clever, endearing.

Speech and Debate is incredibly well done. It's totally professional and it's obvious that the artistic heads involved have all done this before. It's a quality of theatre you don't normally get for $10. Which is awesome...and probably their point. Roundabout has a couple of new initiatives to get younger audiences. Hiptix is a great program paired with Time Out New York ( for info) where you can get tickets to Roundabout shows for cheap (I think they're $20). We're talking Broadway shows with famous casts, shows that deliver or at least look like they should. Speech and Debate is a Roundabout Underground show (I believe the first in this new series). Roundabout Underground's aim is technically to produce new work from emerging artists but it seems obvious that it's also about attracting younger audiences. If they keep producing work like Speech and Debate, it's highly likely they'll keep the audiences they attract.

The reason Speech and Debate works is because it's attainable without being dumbed down. It's definitely not heavy, but the topics resonate with anyone who has been a teenager (especially a teenager within the past 10 or so years). The three teenagers in the play are really solid actors and their characterization walks this perfect line of relatable realism and hysterical sketch comedy. The plot is solid, cleanly developed and leads you on a journey where you're always eager to know what happens next. It never lags.

For sure this play is as funny as any movie that's out right now and the production itself is so well done that the experience will resonate deeper than sitting in a crowded movie theatre. Plus you probably won't have someone chomping popcorn in your ear.