Tag: NYC

Theatre Review: “She Loves Me”

SHE LOVES ME 2 0162_Laura Benanti and Zachary Levi, photo by Joan Marcus 2016

This always was and always will be an utterly charming musical. It is much loved in certain corners, and deservedly so. The score by Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) beautifully demonstrates how to be simultaneously sophisticated and light-hearted – this is my kind of sugar sweet show.

She Loves Me follows Georg and Amalia, two parfumerie clerks in 1930s Budapest who get off on the wrong foot and are constantly sparring. Amalia, however, has been writing to a “lonely hearts” pen pal who sought correspondence in a newspaper ad…but, unbeknowst to both of them, that pen pal is Georg.

Director Scott Ellis’s nimble staging flows like champagne out of a bottle: shimmering and effervescent. David Rockwell’s candy-colored jewel-box set design is packed with surprises. Laura Benanti is perfectly cast as Amalia, capturing both the character’s charm and the steely determination underneath. In the vocal department Benanti finds just the right balance between operetta-like pyrotechnics and musical comedy expressiveness.

But we knew Benanti had this in her. The bigger surprise is Zachary Levi as Georg – he’s well known as an affable and good-looking comic actor. He’s proven he can do musicals with the Disney movie Tangled and his Broadway debut First Date. But both those pieces are in a more contemporary pop/rock vein; She Loves Me is as classic musical comedy as it gets, and he handles this arguably more difficult genre with effortless aplomb. This is particularly true in the title song – he finds and lands all the emotional beats and comic bits in it, and even gives us a cartwheel to boot!

The leads’ work is made all the easier by the sterling supporting cast. To me the names Byron Jennings, Peter Bartlett, Michael McGrath, Jane Krakowski and Gavin Creel all symbolize a joyful professionalism and they do not disappoint here (they never do). This is first class fun and highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

Cabaret Review: Latrice Royale


Latrice Sings! And she’s actually pretty damn good at it! There’s no attempt at giving you “girl singer” – “Barry White in drag” is how she describes her basso stylings – but she clearly models her approach to song interpretation on the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin. She may not have the pristine vocal instrument of those titans, but she certainly understands their lessons in musicality and expression. And her take on cabaret standard “Here’s to Life” (also the name of the show and her CD) marks the first time I’ve heard it as a determined look at the future rather than a wistful look back.

Here’s to Life is solidly in the mold of traditional autobiographical cabarets. It’s more talk than song, and the large and in charge diva’s story-telling is well served by her warm authenticity and infectious positivity. Latrice traces her tale from growing up gay in Compton, to finding her drag vision in Miami, and ultimately to the trail of tribulations that led up to the “unfortunate incarceration” she sometimes referred to when she was on Season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Latrice Royale is backed by a very able jazz trio led by her boyfriend Christopher Hamblin on the piano. Here’s to Life feels more polished than the cabaret acts I’ve seen from other Drag Race alumni, while still running a bit on the long side. There were precious few backstage stories from Drag Race, but her humor, soulfulness and candor more than make up for it. Latrice is the real thing, and I want to hear much more from her as a singer. Highly recommended.

For tickets, click here.

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

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.

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