Tag: editorial

Theatre Review: “Disaster!”

DISASTER! 3 6525_Faith Prince, Kevin Chamberlin, Kerry Butler, photo by Jeremy Daniel Photography, 2016

When the willfully silly Disaster! is funny, it’s one of the funniest shows in town. Plus, you will simply not hear the 1970s disco and pop rock songs that make up its score sung better anywhere – in some cases they outshine the original. Broadway musician and comedian Seth Rudetsky got together with director Jack Plotnick to write this loving tribute to disaster movies of the 1970s (The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, etc.). They’ve added an extra thick layer of camp, making Disaster! musically to 1970s pop rock what Rock of Ages is to hair metal.

Rudetsky also plays “disaster expert” Ted, who everybody thinks is crazy for predicting Manhattan’s first floating casino and discotheque is destined for all kinds of trouble. “No,” says Ted, “I’ve asked a therapist and humorless and crazy are not the same thing!” It’s a funny line, but don’t you believe it – Rudetsky’s deadpan timing is actually pretty damn hilarious.

Plotnick’s direction is deft, dynamic and fluid, aided and abbeted by witty, driving work from choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter. Rudetsky and Plotnick are both beloved in the Broadway community, so it’s hardly surprising that they put together a stunning cast, particularly Faith Prince as a Long Island housewife with a dark secret (with hilarious symptoms), and Jennifer Simard as a nun whose demeanor runs from comically repressed to manically released.

Designers Tobin Ost (sets) and William Ivey Long (costumes) combine the necessarily over-the-top tackiness of the subject with theatrical cleverness and a certain glee. Disaster is plenty of fun – at its best, close to comedy heaven – and recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.blog.

Opera Review: “Don Pasquale”

Don Pasquale

Of Donizetti’s comedies, I think I like Don Pasquale the best. I mean, it’s still a little too light for me, it doesn’t glitter like Rossini’s La Cenerentola or have the rich complexity of Verdi’s Falstaff. But it does dig ever so slightly deeper than the main line of 19th Century Italian opera buffa, and reaps the benefits both dramatically and musically.

Don Pasquale tells the story – as old as comedy itself, stretching back to the ancient Greeks – of clever young people tricking a blustery old man into letting them have their romantic way. Except in this one, that old man isn’t just the usual angry caricature, he’s genuinely a bit sad about where he’s at in his life. The opera is named after him, when in general operas of this type bear the name of the head trickster or the romantic heroine.

Director Otto Schenk – in a generally very traditional production – leans into this quality, bringing out the piece’s humane, compassionate streak, the very thing that makes it unique. This time around, the cast sports several exciting performances. Making her Met debut, Italian soprano Eleonora Buratto is a true bel canto find as heroine Norina. Her sparkling high notes are a joy, but she also acted and sang with an alluring ease.

As Don Pasquale, bass Ambrogio Maestri – who was a marvelously forceful Falstaff a few seasons back – proves equally capable of playing Pasquale’s vulnerability. As the romantic hero Ernesto, rising star tenor Javier Camarena hit all the high notes with dazzling volume and breath control. If you like bel canto, you’ll find much to enjoy here.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.blog.

Cabaret Review: Judy Gold

Judy Gold-Full-Body-1

Out lesbian Judy Gold has a long history as a successful stand-up comedian, and that’s exactly what she’s doing at her current run at Feinstein’s / 54 Below (one hilarious cabaret-mocking musical number to the side). Her material is largely observational and personal, and so there is some overlap with what I’ve seen in more structured shows of hers like 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother (a self-explanatory title) or The Judy Show (a sitcom-themed show about being a lesbian mother).

The audience was raucous on the night I went, her first night ever performing in a cabaret setting, and Gold seemed to be having the time of her life. This is both an ideal audience for Gold, and by the same token, this is probably the best way to experience her no-holds-barred stand-up.

About that opening number: it’s by Bette Midler favorites Eric Kornfeld (lyrics, though Gold said she wrote a lot of it) and Bette Sussman (music). It’s a medley of too-damn-happy songs which culminates in “Up Up & Away” – it celebrates the joyous fun that’s a major part of cabaret, while progressively undercutting that with the deep cynicism that’s one of the big attractions of Gold’s biting humor.

Before and after everything else, however, Gold is among the funniest stand up comedians working today, and she’s at her best when she’s scoring bulls-eyes with piercing observations. I’ll just put this plainly: Judy Gold is fucking hilarious, and can also be very touching. Her act at Feinstein’s / 54 Below is tons of fun and I can’t recommend it enough, you really should see it.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.blog.

Cabaret Review: Joan Osborne

Joan Osborne Photo Credit David Andrako 2016_03_08_CafeCarlyle_08

Very smart: Folk rock singer/songwriter Joan Osborne, for her Cafe Carlyle debut, has chosen to do a show devoted exclusively to one of the greatest songwriters associated with New York, Bob Dylan. When Carlyle “debutantes” put that much thought into their act, and do some kind of tribute to the classic “New York-ness” of the venue, the results are usually stellar – and Osborne easily hits that mark.

Osborne is a Dylan interpreter of long standing. She first came to the public’s attention with her hit 1995 album Relish, which included a Dylan cover, “Man in the Long Black Coat”. In fact, she’s much like Carlyle regular Judy Collins – a female folksinger with a beautiful voice, and a sly, canny way as an interpreter of complex songs.

Osborne covers the full range of Dylan’s songwriting, from the goofy sing-along “The Mighty Quinn” to the surreal and dense “Highway 61 Revisited” to the straight-ahead gospel from his born-again days, “Saved”. Osborne’s affection and respect for Dylan’s craft comes across in her attention to detail – and Dylan wrote some of the most detailed, intricate song lyrics of all time.

The musicianship of Osborne’s backup – Keith Cotton (keyboards) and Jack Petruzzelli (guitar) – is impeccable. Between the two of them, they frequent produce the impression of a much larger band. This act’s major strength is great songwriting delivered with great understanding, skill and emotion. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.blog.

Theatre Review: “The Humans”

THE_HUMANS_-_Sarah_Steele__Jayne_Houdyshell__Arian_Moayed._Photo_by_Brigitte_Lacombe

This is a major play, no doubt about it, but what a lot of critics and commentators seem to have missed is what a deeply political play it is. It focuses on the Irish-American Blake family, who have come to youngest daughter Brigid’s (Sarah Steele) sketchy tenement Chinatown apartment (a “duplex” by virtue of extending into a basement) to celebrate Thanksgiving. All of them are dealing with serious problems of one sort or another, which they face with a mix of willful but warm good humor and stoic endurance. What struck me was the lack of any social safety net to help them with their problems.

Even the arguably most affluent family member, lawyer sister Aimee (Cassie Beck), has no defense against being fired for not having enough billable hours, even though the reason was a debilitating illness. And working class father Erik (Reed Birney) and mother Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell) from Scranton? Forget it, they just have to do whatever it takes to get by. This family could be poster children for the Sanders campaign.

What the critics didn’t miss – how could you – is that The Humans is a deeply humane and compassionate play, and, in spite of tackling difficult subjects, a sparklingly funny one. If society and government don’t have the backs of the Blake family, they certainly have each others’ – even in the most trying of circumstances, as the play’s last burst of dialogue suggests.

The cast is uniformly extraordinary, with my personal favorite being the always sparkling Houdyshell. Director Joe Mantello delineates ever turn of this intricate play, never missing a detail or a nuance. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.blog.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see his blog Drama Queen.

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