Tuesday, July 22, 2008

[title of show] (Lyceum Theatre)

Susan Blackwell, Jeff Bowen, Heidi Blickenstaff & Hunter Bell. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Zak and Molly saw [title of show] with the intention of writing a Point/Counterpoint review; turns out they both really liked it and there wasn't a Counterpoint to speak of. So in the self-referential spirit of [title of show], here's why Zak and Molly highly recommend it. (The following is an excerpt from the conversation they had online after seeing the show.)

Zak: How should we write this review?

Molly: I don't know, it would've been easier if one of us didn't like it.

Zak: Too bad it was actually good, it's harder to write a positive review than a negative one.

Molly: Yea, I have nothing to slam or mock, this feels weird. It's refreshing to see new, original musical theatre...but I think they bring that up in the show so now I'm just paraphrasing their script. Well, I feel the need to get people out to see it so what can we tell them that will make them buy a ticket?

Zak: If we wanted to be cheesy we could say, "it's a love letter to Broadway for anyone who has ever had a dream." Or we could just say it's pretty damn good. Orrrrrr we could use the standby: "you'll laugh, you'll cry, it was way, way better than CATS."

Molly: I'm pretty sure you stole that. Do you think [title of show] is too inner-circle? There are a lot of jokes that you'll only get if you're in the theatre industry. I'm not sure German tourists would get it.

Zak: Do a lot of German tourists visit theatreiseasy.com?

Molly: Good point.

Zak: But it's true, it's a little inner-circle. But I still think the "every man" will enjoy themself. It's about four people trying to make the best of their lives in the city, trying to do what they love and be happy. So I think everyone will find something to relate to.

Molly: There is a "human" aspect to it.

Zak: Of course, an avid theatre goer or anyone remotely associated with the arts will hardcore flip their shit over it, which is what it seems like they want to achieve with the show (and I think they fully succeeded). We should also mention that you immediately love all four of these people.

Molly: It's true, you see yourself in all of them.

Editor's note: this conversation continued for another half-hour but was waaaaay too redundant to warrant placement in this review. Suffice it to say Zak and Molly really enjoyed [title of show] for myriad reasons. They definitely think you should see it because it has a ton of heart and is really super funny and self-deprecating. And it's also extremely relatable and uplifting. It's a full Broadway musical with 4 cast members, 4 chairs and a guy on a keyboard and it's brilliant in its simplicity. [title of show] is the story of the 2 guys in the show writing a musical called [title of show]. And that's really all you need to know. Hope you love it too!

(Check out [title of show] at the Lyceum Theatre, 145 West 45th St. Shows are Mon., Tues., Thurs., Fri., Sat at 8pm; Sat. and Sun. at 3pm and Sun. at 7:30pm. Tickets are $26.50-$101.50...buy them at telecharge.com or by calling 212.239.6200. [title of show] also does a front row ticket lottery...click here for more info and scroll to the bottom of the page. Visit titleofshow.com for more show info and to see some YouTube clips.)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Damn Yankees (NY City Center)

BOTTOM LINE: A sexy little musical from the '50s that feels pretty campy in 2008; it stars Sean Hayes (Jack from Will and Grace) and Jane Krakowski (Jenna from 30 Rock). It's traditional American musical theatre, and a very fun way to spend a couple of hours.

The Encores! series at NY City Center presents revivals of great musical theatre, but only in short runs for just a couple of weeks. Led by a kick-ass orchestra (who sits on stage behind the action), Encores! shows are mounted truthfully to the show's original production with as much effort as time and money allow, and they usually have some big names involved to draw a crowd. Last summer, Encores! presented Gypsy, starring Patti LuPone. The show was so well-received that it garnered its own Broadway production (still playing at the St. James Theatre). I'm not sure Damn Yankees will have a life after Encores! but it's totally worth seeing now–just make sure you see it soon, it closes July 27th.

Damn Yankees takes place in the mid-'50s, when the Yankees were unbeatable. It's the story of Joe Boyd, a die-hard Washington Senators fan who sells his soul to the Devil (Hayes) for the chance to become a young baseball phenom who can win it all for the Senators. Turns out the Devil is untrustworthy (imagine!) and has some other bets which require the Yankees to beat the Senators. The Devil sics seductress Lola (Krakowski) on Joe to distract him from the game. But in the end all Joe wants is to be his old self (he misses his wife) and he ditches the young-ball-player-high-life to go back home. The plot isn't totally solid, but it makes for funny relationships and interesting characters. Add to it funky choreography from Bob Fosse and it's definitely respectable entertainment.

With Encores! attention to the preservation of the original production, this revival has moments that seem a bit outdated. But the actors inhabit their roles with seemingly acute attention to the campy potential of their characters. The performances are somewhat self-aware, and this makes the production seem more farcical and humorous. Any lagging or inconsistency in the script and direction is overcome by the performances (or at least it was for me).

Jane Krakowski is the perfect Lola: fiesty and seductive while maintaining a pin-up girl panache. Somewhat reminiscent of her character on 30 Rock, Krakowski embraces the role with an overly-confident charm. Sean Hayes is perfunctory as the Devil; he's pretty funny as the quirky manipulator and throws in some bit moments for extra laughs. But Hayes isn't a musical theatre guy and he really can't sing that well. However he is a concert pianist and he accompanies himself as he sings the Devil's big number...it's pretty cool. The rest of the cast is strong as well; there is a humor about these characters that is shared with the audience.

All-in-all Damn Yankees is a fun time at the theatre. You should absolutely check it out if musical theatre pleases you. The production is a throw-back to what musical theatre used to be, and there is an overall charm that goes along with it. Krakowski's performance is delightful and it's nice to see Hayes try something new.

(Damn Yankees plays through July 27: Tues. July 23rd at 7pm; Wed. July 24th at 8pm; Thurs. July 25th at 8pm; Fri. July 26th at 8pm; Sat. July 27th at 2pm and 8pm. Tickets are available at 212.581.1212, $25-110. Visit citycenter.org for more info.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Shells: Slumber Party! SUNDAY JULY 20TH

Last month I saw Shells perform her hilariously neurotic cabaret act at Joe's Pub and I'm pleased to tell you she's back with more drunken debauchery this Sunday, July 20th. Read the Shells: Just Us Girls review here.

And check out Shells: Slumber Party! at Joe's Pub, Sunday at 9:30pm. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at joespub.org.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Scenes from an Execution (Potomac Theatre Project)

(Jan Maxwell as Galactia and David Barlow as Carpeta. Photo by Stan Barouh)

BOTTOM LINE: A fictional story set in 15th century Venice with a somewhat classical feel and a somewhat academic script; it's about the struggle for artistic integrity against conservative authority. Jan Maxwell's performance is awesome and worth seeing, but the play might be too wordy for those adverse to historic dramas.

Potomac Theatre Project is a Washington D.C. based company that now brings its summer repertory season to New York, presented at the Atlantic Theatre Company's Stage 2. PTP's artistic mission involves presenting work that is thought-provoking and revealing, dealing with culturally relevant issues. This summer, they offer 2 nights of entertainment–the first includes 2 one-acts, and the second includes one full play, Scenes from an Execution.

Scenes from an Execution
takes place in 15th century Venice. It's the story of the painter Galactia (played by Jan Maxwell). Galactia has been commissioned to create a giant mural to be displayed in the city about Venice's triumphant (yet incredibly bloody) Battle of Lepanto. Galactia refuses to compromise truth, and therefore paints a gorey and unsettling portrait of the battle even though the heads of the city decide it's way too offensive for the masses. She won't relent and ends up being thrown in jail as punishment for disobeying.

The story is conflict-laden and the script is witty and playful. A lot happens and it's a lot to digest in a sitting. I recommend it for people who like academic entertainment because it occasionally feels like a history lesson. But even though it's scholastic in nature it's not at all hard to digest. And really there isn't anything inherently academic, it's more about the delivery and the way in which the piece is performed that up its culture quotient.

Jan Maxwell's performance is really, really great. She is a seasoned actor who was nominated for a Tony last year for Coram Boy. Maxwell's Galactia is sincere and not whiny; it's hard to be a female and an artist in a society in which neither are respected and the audience understands her plight. She is perfectly cast in this role and it's fun to watch so adept an actor in such an intimate space. Maxwell is joined on stage by a competent cast and the production itself is cleanly defined and directed. The production is well-executed but the subject matter might not be universally appealing.

(Scenes from An Execution - Evening B - plays at Atlantic Stage 2, 330 West 16th Street between 8th and 9th Aves. Future show times are: Thurs. July 17th at 7:30pm, Sat. July 19th at 7:30pm, Sun. July 20th at 2pm, Tues. July 22nd at 7:30pm, Wed. July 23rd at 7:30pm and Sat. July 26th at 2pm. Run time is 2 hrs. 10 min. Tickets are $24 and $10 for students; buy them at www.ticketcentral.com or call 212.279.4200. Visit www.potomactheatreproject.org for more info.)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Passing Strange to close July 20th

Well, I did not see this coming...Passing Strange announced this week it will close July 20th. So if you were planning on seeing it and just putting it off, better get to the Belasco Theatre pronto. But never fear, this little-show-that-could isn't going away for good; in fact, it's going to be immortalized in film by none other than Spike Lee. Lee will film both the matinee and evening performances on July 19th and create a documentary about the show. In Lee's words, "the story, the musicianship, the acting – it was revelationary." So I'm expecting a pretty sweet film to capture it all.

Read Theatre Is Easy's review of Passing Strange here.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

a Perfect Couple (DR2 Theatre)

BOTTOM LINE: A great play with first rate performances that examines relationships in a fresh and exciting way which should not be missed.

Amy and Emma have been friends since college. Amy starts dating Isaac when they‘re in their mid-twenties. Amy, Isaac and Emma become lifelong friends. The three gather together as Amy and Isaac finally plan their wedding. Their happy existence is rocked when Amy discovers a diary from Isaac’s recently deceased stepmother, in which she says that she believes her step son is not in fact in love with Amy, but is meant to be with Emma. This is the seemingly simple setting for Brooke Berman’s new play, A Perfect Couple, now playing at the DR2 Theatre. What happens next is a refreshing look at what it means to be in a relationship as you approach middle age. Do you settle for a life that is easy because that is what you have always wanted, or are you happy and brave enough to be alone until you find that person that you know is out there for you?

Ms. Berman, who recently penned the critically acclaimed Hunting and Gathering at Primary Stages, creates characters that are so rich and complex that you find a small part of yourself in each of them. She has the courage to address issues that sometimes make people uncomfortable in an honest manner. The entire cast give wonderful performances. Annie McNamara (Emma) creates a woman who is comfortable with her choice to be alone as she approaches forty and doesn’t view this as the problem that everyone around her seems to think it is. One of the highlights of the evening comes during a heart-felt scene between Dana Eskelson (Amy) and Elan Moss-Bacharach (Josh), who plays the recent college graduate who is helping James Waterston (Isaac) clean out the attic. He presents a different view on what it means to be in relationship that’s worthy of a bestselling self-help book. It’s so simple in it’s philosophy, but ultimately so true to life. Trust me, it’s kind of brilliant.

Bottom line, this is a really, really good play. At only an hour and half, the time flies by. I can’t say anything more about it because I don’t want to ruin the story, but you will like it. You will see a part of your self in every one of these characters and maybe examine why you made the choices you did in life or why you are making the choices you’re making right now. It examines what happens to us from the time we are in our mid-twenties and are full of hope and a little bit of fear as we approach forty and filled mostly with fear and only a little bit of hope. So, if you're twenty, forty, or have ever been either of those ages, I think you will find something to identify with in the finely crafted play. I hope that Ms. Berman continues to have success in the New York theatre scene because this is the kind of play that makes Off-Broadway theatre exciting. It challenges and entertains an audience.

And for a one-two punch of kick ass theatre see A Perfect Couple at 8pm on a Friday or Saturday and then catch the late show of Fuerzabruta right next door. You’d be hard pressed to find a better way to spend your evening.

(A Perfect Couple plays at the DR2, 103 East 15th Street, but only through July 19th. Shows are Monday through Saturday at 8pm; final performance on July 19th is at 6pm. Tickets are $25-$45; student rush tickets available, ask box office for more info. For tickets call 212.239.6200. Visit www.wetweb.org.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Fuerzabruta (Daryl Roth Theatre)

BOTTOM LINE: Go and see this show NOW!!!! It’s unlike anything you have seen before and you will hate yourself if you miss it!!!

After picking up your tickets at the box office for Fuerzabruta, you are handed a piece of paper telling you that you will stand for the length of the show, be asked to move freely about the space, and might get wet. As you enter the Daryl Roth theatre, you encounter a large, empty room with various flashing lights and a house DJ spinning tracks that can only be described as new world meets house music. You are told to take your place in the giant circle that is drawn on the floor and join the dance party already in progress. Suddenly, the music stops, the lights go out, and you are in for the ride of your life.

What happens for the next 65 minutes is hard to explain, but it will definitely rock your world. The producers describe the evening as an “event where worlds collide, dreams are real and reality takes a back seat.” I say that is a pretty accurate description. From the producers who brought you the in-your-face De La Guarda, Fuerzabruta is nothing short of spectacular. The word Fuerzabruta is literally translated as “brute force,” which is a pretty accurate portrait of what you will see. It’s hard for me to say exactly what this piece is about other than that it is a complete bombardment of all the senses that will mean something different to every person who has the privilege to be a part of this wondrous theatrical event.

You are presented, among other things, with a man who must fight to stay aboard a giant treadmill as he busts through buildings and is transported throughout the space, several aerial acts that rival the best that Cirque du Soleil has to offer, and a giant pool that lowers from the ceiling and rests literally inches from your face where women glide, slide, and manipulate water in truly imaginative ways. If any of that sounds intriguing to you, you must go see this show. As I said before, every person will take something completely different from this show, and that is what makes it truly brilliant.

The audience ranged from hipster East Village types all the way to middle-aged Midwestern women, but every single person in the theatre loved every minute of what they were seeing. You could feel it in the air. The audience truly becomes a part of the action and it is electric, unlike anything you’ve experienced in a theatre, culminating in a full-out house party where every single person in the audience was dancing to the music along with the cast as it rained on a portion of the theatre as they danced their hearts out. I left the theatre completely soaked (you can escape the downpour, since it rains on only a part of the crowd, but why would you pass that up?) When you go see this show-and you should go and see this show-don’t bring a bag unless you want to check it, wear comfortable shoes, and possibly a change of clothes. It is one of the best things that I have seen in a long time, and I hope it will be playing for quite a while. Bring your friends from out of town, bring your adventurous parents, bring your friends, just go and see this show as soon as you can.

(Fuerzabruta plays at the Daryl Roth Theatre, 101 E. 15th St. Performance Schedule: Tuesday- Thursday, at 8pm, Fridays at 8pm & 10:30pm, Saturdays at 7pm & 10pm, and Sundays at 7pm.
Tickets:212.239.6200. Tickets are $75 but you can get discounts if you look online, generally for $39.95, and a limited number of $20 rush tickets are available two hours before the show.
Check out www.fuerzabruta.net for more information.)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


Summer is down time in the professional theatre world. New shows will open in September for the '08-'09 season and shows that did well at the Tonys will ride that wave through tourist season. So this month's installation of Best Bets reflects the past year and what's made it through.

Take your parents: Gypsy
(one of the best American musicals ever, with a tremendous cast and a trifecta of Tony-winning performances from the three leads).

Take a date: In The Heights
(yes it's absolutely the obvious choice, but it's also endearing, sweet and will make you feel all warm and happy inside)

Before it closes: Stitching
(a very storytelling experience in a great downtown space, closes July 19th)

Best off-Broadway: Fuerzabruta
(why did it take us so long to see this show?)

Most exciting new cast member: Beth Leavel in Young Frankenstein
(the show is still selling out despite mediocre reviews and as most of the leads leave this summer the cast gets some fresh blood; Beth Leavel is sure to be a rockin' Frau Blucher)

Because you know you should see it: August: Osage County
(yes, it's a long, talk-y drama, but that doesn't mean it isn't damn entertaining! see this Pulitzer Prize winning, Tony Award winning, really stellar production before it's gone and you wish you had)