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.