Sunday, September 28, 2008
Counting Squares Theatre is a new company whose mission involves making theatre that deals with the human condition. Their newest piece, Woyzeck, exposes the touchy subject of a soldier returning home from war and dealing with severe post-traumatic stress. It's poignant and thought-provoking, with enough of a performance-art edge to make the production unique and distinct.
Franz Woyzeck comes home to his wife and baby after some time fighting abroad (presumably in Iraq), but finds he can't reintegrate himself with society. He hears voices and begins to act on what the voices instruct. He gradually begins to self-destruct until he loses his mind completely; the voices take over and he is no longer the functioning man he used to be. He doesn't have access to adequate medical care and resources so he can't get the help he needs.
Woyzeck was written in the mid-1800s by Georg Büchner. It has been adapted many times since, and it works well in the present time because we're stuck in a war that is leaving veterans with problems both physical and mental, without appropriate options for recovery. This production is staged to be in the current time. The script translates seamlessly to the 21st century, although the text is evocative of a couple of centuries ago; it's more formal, almost poetic in its verbage. It's a more sophisticated way to hear a play and the production feels somewhat traditional because of it.
The truly impressive thing about this staging is that it's is really a play with music. The chorus performs Andrews Sisters' songs throughout, with the main trio of singers as the "voices" in Woyzeck's head. They are dressed in eerily dark makeup and tattered dresses that still seem feminine and playful. The songs performed include "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and "Miss Otis Regrets" and the contrast between the depressing reality of Woyzeck's downward spiral and the upbeat harmonies of these tunes makes a beautiful contradiction. The Andrews Sisters' music was popular during World War II, as an escape from the desolate realities of life during wartime. To tell this tragic story with this music as a backdrop creates a dichotomy that brings to life the pain the characters experience.
Director Joshua Chase Gold does a fine job of weaving in and out of dramatic scenes and song-and-dance breaks in which the cast turns on the charm and performs out to the audience. The structure of the play is easy to follow and kept my attention, although there isn't an intermission. It's a unique way to tell this story and with actors who are all extremely capable of executing a show like this with two faces, it's an interesting theatrical experience. Plus, Woyzeck performs at Under St. Marks which feels like an underground bunker, so the experience becomes even more visceral. I'm not sure audiences who prefer mainstream theatre will jump on board right away, but I think Woyzeck is a effective and entertaining play. I definitely recommend it for theatre fans who like avant-garde productions and unique adaptations.
(Woyzeck plays at Under St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Place between 1st Ave. and Ave. A, until October 29th. Show times are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7pm. For tickets visit horseTRADE.info or call Smarttix at 212-868-4444.)
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
BOTTOM LINE: It's not the best of musicals, it's not the worst of musicals.
I don't want to compare A Tale of Two Cities to Les Miserables because ATOTC, in its own right, is an original musical based on the Charles Dickens novel of the same name, with book, music and lyrics by Jill Santoriello. It uses innovative lighting concepts and intricate sets and costumes to bring the story to life. Plus, all of the music is original. Technically speaking, ATOTC is an new and unique work. But since the comparison has already been made (whoops) I might as well elaborate. It's a musical about the French Revolution. It's musically traditional with a full orchestra and many ensemble songs involving boisterously elegant harmonies. The altruistic everyman stuggles to triumph above the evil bourgeoisie despite hardships and death. A sense of conquest over sorrow hangs in the air.
A brief synopsis (of this lenghty tome): a British man is wrongfully imprisoned in the French Bastille. He is finally released and reunited with his daughter, Lucie, who meets and falls in love with Charles Darney, a Frenchman who is an aristocrat though he has denounced his heritage because he disagrees with his family's abuse of power. After Lucie and Darney marry and start a family in England, the revolution begins to break out in France and Darney must go back to help a friend. He can't deny who he is and the people want him dead because of his lineage. Lucie's friend Sydney Carton (who's also in love with her) ends up the hero as he finds a way to help Darney.
ATOTC is an inherently good story, although this adaptation has a tendency to hit the audience over the head with plot points. It brings a sort of sit-back-and-relax vibe to the experience; there isn't much work involved with digesting the narrative. Sometimes passivity can be rewarding, especially if you prefer to go to the theatre for escapism and entertainment. If you prefer to be an active audience member however, you'll need to work to sink into your seat and just enjoy the show.
Also worth mentioning is the tremendously talented cast. They all command the stage and sing beautifully; all are perfectly cast in their roles. Leading the ensemble is James Barbour as Sydney Carton (Jane Eyre, Assassins), Brandi Burkhardt as Lucie Manette (Lil' Abner, Jekyll & Hyde) and Aaron Lazar as Charles Darney (Les Miserables, The Light in the Piazza). The ensemble of 38 powerful voices sounds fantastic, although the music itself is just perfunctory. I didn't have a desire to purchase the cast recording, although in the moment it was a completely adequate way to showcase the talent of the cast and orchestra.
(A Tale of Two Cities plays an open-ended run on Broadway at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 45th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues. For tickets visit telecharge.com or call 212.239.6200. Theatre Is Easy will let you know when discount codes are available, please check back.)
Monday, September 22, 2008
Read the Theatre Is Easy review of [title of show] here.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Thursday, September 18, 2008
BOTTOM LINE: Howdeeeeeee! She's back from the dead to try her hand at showtunes. Minnie Pearl Does Broadway might be the most fun you can have on 46th Street.
Minnie Pearl, the legendary Hee-Haw star, country singer and stand-up comedian is back on Earth (embodied by Mark Alan Jones) for an evening of Broadway standards. You see, when Don't Tell Mama cabaret has a performer cancel, Minnie graciously offers to come down from Heaven and fill-in, as she's always had a hankerin' for showtunes. Joining her onstage is her cantankerous yet harmonic Uncle Nabob (Darron Cardosa).
Minnie is "jest so proud to be here" as she happily performs her audience-participatory act for you. Her set list includes the gems Razzle Dazzle (Chicago), I Can't Say No (Oklahoma), Nothing (A Chorus Line), and Ease on Down the Road (The Wiz), just to name a few. You'll also get some personal anecdotes, jokes, and a question and answer session. And if you're lucky, you might even win a door prize.
Minnie Pearl Does Broadway is tounge-in-cheek cabaret at its finest with talented performers to carry it through. Jones has a great voice, making you think Minnie should've canned Nashville and headed straight for New York in the first place. And the song list is upbeat and energetic; its hard to be in a bad mood when Minnie's belting. Cardosa, as Uncle Nabob, is the perfect sidekick.
If you like cabaret, especially of the gender-bending, touch-of-country, ironically comedic fashion, then this show is certainly for you. It's a great time with a great energy. Hopefully Minnie Pearl Does Broadway will secure a weekly gig, but for now you can check back here at Theatre Is Easy for updates and performance times.
(You can catch Minnie Pearl Does Broadway next on October 6th at 7pm at Don't Tell Mama, 343 West 46th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues). There is a $12 cover and a two drink minimum.)
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
There is a lot to like about The Marvelous Wonderettes. First and foremost are the Wonderettes themselves, who are in fact, quite marvelous. Farah Alvin, Beth Malone, Bets Malone and Victoria Matlock are four ridiculously talented women who shimmy, bop and sway in unison, and who sing a catalogue of 50’s and 60’s songs I defy anyone not to be entertained by. And they don’t just sing, they sing! All four women are able to mine the maximum amount of emotional value from one iconic song, then turn around and belt the shit out of another equally identifiable one. Watching them unleash their interpretive and vocal powers for two hours, one gets the sense that no matter what happens with this show, these four ladies have major careers ahead of them. And not just in musical theatre, any one of them could easily have pop, R&B or even jazz and blues success. Simply put, they are amazing – goose bumps amazing – and alone are worth the price of admission.
While nothing else that happens during the show carries the impact of the stars, several other creative touches are worth noting: the theatre has been converted into a high school gym on prom night circa 1958 (and, in Act II 1968), and all the details are there. The offstage band is hot and manages to maintain the integrity of each song, while at the same time making it sound fresh and alive. Each Wonderette is dressed in a period appropriate prom dress that, with the aid of color and cut, helps identify the archetype she represents. Wigs and glasses and other accessories and such have all been well thought out and executed. This show certainly delivers a lot to look at and listen to.
The one thing the play does not deliver, however, is anything resembling an interesting, believable or compelling plot. This is a problem mostly because after the first thirty minutes or so, you wish they would dispense with the dialogue that is meant to resemble a narrative and just focus on the music. It would have been fine with me if the plot was: “It is 1958 and you are at a Marvelous Wonderettes concert. The end.” There is no need to create one-dimensional characters and then try to find silly reasons to tie songs together and make a story. I don’t think this play exists because writer director Roger Bean had an epic story inside of him that needed to be let out. I think he wanted to celebrate and pay tribute to the songs and idealism of a more innocent time. It’s just too bad he didn’t trust the music and his Marvelous Wonderettes enough to let them do the job for him.
(The Marvelous Wonderettes plays off-Broadway at The Westside Theatre, 407 West 43rd Street. The run is open-ended and performances are Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 7pm, and matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 3pm. Buy tickets at telecharge.com or by calling 212.239.6200. Tickets are $75. Visit marvelouswonderettes.com for more show info.)
Photo by Carol Rosegg...Front: Bets Malone; Back: Farah Alvin, Beth Malone, Victoria Matlock
Thursday, September 11, 2008
BOTTOM LINE: phone sex, angry North Americans, cancer, surrogacy, text messaging limited by generation, Spring-Winter romance, God’s existence, insomnia, first and third world’s colliding, masturbation, loneliness within a marriage….you name it and There or Here deals with it.
There or Here is the kind of theater I love to see. Not only is this play funny and dramatic, it also touches on so many intriguing subjects from outsourcing surrogacy to technology’s impact on our culture to battling cancer in a struggling marriage.
Jennifer Maisel’s playwrighting is brilliant; she eloquently deals with so many issues in today’s world. Her characters and dialogue seamlessly transport you into the world of the play. My only complaints are that she cheats us at the end of the play by not showing us what could have potentially been one of the play’s most interesting scenes, and I would have liked to see a little more evidence of the affection and love between the two main characters, Ajay and Robyn-evidence of the love they are trying so hard to get back to.
There or Here has an incredibly strong ensemble of actors including Annie Meisels, Alok Tewari, Purva Bedi, Judy Rosenblatt, Shalin Agarwal, and Deepti Gupta; each actor is specifically smart in the character that he or she plays. Amy Feinberg’s direction is superb; her staging is flawless and the 95 minute performance captivated my attention the entire play. Highly recommended.
(There or Here runs through September 28th at The 14th Street Theatre, 344 East 14th Street (between 1st and 2nd Avenues). Performance times are Thurs. at 7pm, Fri. & Sat. at 8pm and Sun. at 2 pm. Tickets are $18, available at 212-352-3101 or www.TheaterMania.com. For more info visit hypotheticaltheatre.org.)
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
This is Burlesque is a complete burlesque show with a hilarious host, beautiful women, and sexy red lighting. The host of the show, Murray Hill, is a DRAG MASTER! He is also one of the best comedians I have ever seen; he has mastered the art of improv. His interaction with the audience is pure brilliance and he is right at home in the world of burlesque. This show is perfect for a fun night on the town!
The dancers include Angie Pontani, Peekaboo Pointe, Helen Pontani, and Ms. Saturn. Angie Pontani is the “Reigning Queen of Burlesque” as she just won “Miss Exotic World 2008” in Las Vegas. She is absolutely gorgeous and has a refreshingly curvy body. In her opening act, she mounts a drum and actually plays it; I have to say it was pretty damn sexy.
Helen Pontani is beautiful and amazingly talented. Not only is she a fabulous tap dancer, she also is the costume designer of the show (and the costumes are all gorgeous, sexy, and creative). Peekaboo Pointe does things with tassels that I didn’t think were possible. And Ms. Saturn is incredibly skilled as the queen of the hula hoop; at one point she had so many hula hoops going on her body that I lost count.
Corio is the restaurant that houses this burlesque show. As for the food, the prices are very expensive (even for New York) but it definitely smells good. Check out Corio's menu here. However, I was less than enchanted with the glass of Shiraz that I ordered. What you really need to know: Beer runs $7-9, wine is $8-10, and mixed drinks are $12-13. Side note: the chairs without backs aren't very comfortable, make sure you request a table with seats with backs if you care about that sort of thing.
Monday, September 8, 2008
Kidstuff is a charming play about the things we do, the things that are done to us, the choices we make, the choices others make and how hard it is to come to terms with and make sense of it all.
Partial Comfort Productions has done a lovely job staging this play and the cast is in fine form. All the players handle their multiple roles with aplomb, but ultimately it is Sarah Nina Hayon in the role of Eve that makes the play fly. Hayon is able to masterfully maintain a delicate balance of emotions that elicits true empathy but never crosses the line into pity. Watching her navigate her way through her highschool experiences as revisited in group therapy and her adult life (which looks curiously similar to her highschool one) in real time is a great ride, and Hayon proves to be a great emotional vessel. He face, body and voice are able to suggest all the physical and emotional complications of her circumstances without ever being didactic. Certainly a trap into which an actor of lesser skill could easily fall. Kudos, too, to director Erica Gould for steering the entire cast clear of the obvious – and therefore much less interesting – choices.
My only criticism is that I wanted more. Edith Freni has written a really wonderful play with themes basic to the human condition and I wanted to be engaged longer and more fully. The play clocks in at not much more than an hour, so a second act is certainly a possibility. Not really a criticism, I guess, but the topics touched upon in this play are big and emotionally packed and totally universal and I found myself wanting issues to be more fully investigated. I was curious, for example, about Eve’s relationship with her mother. I wanted to know and understand why her brother is so angry and her father so distant. The list goes on. It seems to me that the fine people at Partial Comfort Productions decided to take a less-is-more approach to this play. And while that's a rule I usually think that is a good idea, in the case of Kidstuff, maybe more is more too. Although what you do get from this show is certainly a lot.
(Kidstuff plays at The Kirk Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street at 9th Ave, through September 27. Showtimes are Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm. Visit ticketcentral.com for tickets and see the show's website, partialcomfort.org for more info.)
Saturday, September 6, 2008
For myriad reasons, Rent spoke for a generation (and not just because my high school friends and I would sing the score from beginning to end on all road trips). The story resonates deeply with its audience: young people living in New York, trying to maintain their artistic integrity and not sell out despite the lure of a cushier life. The characters encounter love and loss, drug abuse, self-revelation and living with HIV. Rent is a rock opera and the tone of the production both musically and visually was hip and approachable for teens and young adults. At the same time, the show's marketing incorporated a grungier look than what other Broadway shows had, making it visually attractive to its target audience. Rent is a show about coming into one's own and it was gratefully appreciated by millions of people who understood exactly what it was trying to say.
It's kind of amazing that so much can happen in a mere 14 years. Rent is now somewhat of a period piece, and when it's revived down the road it will surely define Generation X (and sometimes Y). The show takes place in Manhattan, specifically in the slums of the East Village. With frantic gentrification, living in the East Village is hardly slumming it anymore, what with a Starbucks on every corner and $2000/month studio apartments. Also, a major theme in the show is the prevalence of AIDS in America. When Rent opened in 1994, the AIDS crisis was a terrifying epidemic. Fourteen years later, it's a wonderful thing to say that the disease is much less of the death sentence it used to be.
Rent has found enormous success throughout the world and will continue to tour (a 2009 tour with original cast members Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp is in the works). The show has been translated into every major language and has been performed on six continents. Here in New York, it closes as the 7th longest running show in Broadway history. From its original off-Broadway run at New York Theatre Workshop to a Broadway run that grossed over $280 million dollars, Rent holds a solid place in musical theatre history. And when it's revived in a few decades I'm going to feel really, really old.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
BOTTOM LINE: romantic, artsy, well-executed. A love story told through different narrative structures with just a two person cast. It includes original music (but not enough of it) and lovely performances.
Read the full Theatre Is Easy review here.
For more information, visit the show's website at disgracedproductions.com.