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June 23, 2010

Cabaret Review: "Alan Cumming"

by Jonathan Warman

A room like Feinstein’s at the Regency tests the mettle of a singer; some of the most powerful singers of our time – Christine Ebersole, Betty Buckley, Ann Hampton Callaway, Marilyn Maye and Feinstein himself – have done major shows here, and it's also where the legendary Rosemary Clooney did her last New York shows, as did Kitty Carlisle Hart. Taking that stage must be a little intimidating.

If Alan Cumming is intimidated, he sure doesn't show it. He is easily one of the most charismatic performers to take that stage, his take on songs-by composers ranging from Sondheim to Steven Traskp-so very original and fresh, his singing as bold, big and beautiful as can be.

The show also deals with Alan's journey into becoming an American citizen, introduced by the scathing song “American” by his music director Lance Horne, a nasty little ballad that lays bare all that is worst about Cumming's adopted country.

Cumming's patter is nothing if not frank, and the show as a whole is very emotionally direct, which makes for an experience that is both intimate and expansive. Oh, and did I mention really, really funny? It was his naughty sense of humor as much as anything else that made his Tony winning turn in the revival of Cabaret a “star-making” one.

He's just as sassy and silly here, singing Cabaret's “Mein Herr” with a teasing restraint that crescendoes into a roar; still, the fact that the song is about a break-up has never been clearer. Cumming can be hilarious and heartbreaking in the very same moment, no small gift.

His show is also easily one of the gayest shows to be seen in this increasingly gay-friendly venue. Feinstein himself has become more candid about his life as a gay man, and his duet show with Cheyenne Jackson was full of gay pride and songs sung to other men. Cumming goes further still, into frank political commentary (he promoted the pro-gay marriage action group FightBackPac.blog) and a very personal song he himself wrote about the pleasure of waking next to his husband Grant. What a perfect and posh choice for Pride Week.

This week only, through 6/26. For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

June 22, 2010

Theatre Review: "Nunsense"

by Jonathan Warman

Nunsense creator Dan Goggin more or less stumbled on the idea of writing a comic musical about nuns in the early 1980s and it's clear that he has a knack for making affectionate fun of the sisters. And that's really all Nunsense is, affectionate, harmless, silly fun – diverting, for sure, but not a millimeter deeper than that.

The show follows five nuns from the Little Sisters of Hoboken, who put on a benefit for burial costs when one of their own, a terrible cook named Sister Julia, accidentally poisons to death 52 fellow nuns. There's very little plot; it would be easy to call it contrived, but that would suggest that Goggin had some anxiety about making Nunsense plausible.

On the contrary, he shrewdly avoids showing any evidence of being concerned about anything but making sure an evening's worth of nun jokes – some clever, some cliché – land effectively. Song titles tell the story: "Nunsense is Habit-Forming," "Baking with the BVM" (Blessed Virgin Mother, that is), "Holier Than Thou" and so forth.

The tunes Goggin wrote to go along with those titles are nonchalant pastiches of traditional musical comedy. They're not particularly memorable, but they are pleasantly bouncy, serve the comic timing and then get out of the way.

Goggins' most successful creation in this particular show (he's written a bunch of other “nun vehicles” since this one first hit 25 years ago) is Sister Mary Amnesia who lost her memory when a cross fell on her. She's the most orginal character here, a real gift to an actress, and Jeanne Tinker happily plays her with enthusiastic, daffy athleticism.

In the final analysis,
Nunsense is good old-fashioned fun, and nothing more. Which is both its blessing and its curse.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

June 18, 2010

Cabaret Review: "Sutton Foster"

by Jonathan Warman


Sutton Foster is a character actress in an ingenue's body, with the vocal chops of a classic musical comedy leading lady. In her Cafe Carlyle debut, Foster performs an eclectic evening of standards, pop and Broadway, including selections from her debut album Wish. She uses her comedy chops with great intelligence, especially in Christine Lavin's risque “Air Conditioner,” enumerating all the potential lover's aspects that don't matter as long as he has the title appliance.

Of course she really lets the shtik (and belting) fly for “Show Off,” her big number from The Drowsy Chaperone; it was a showstopper in the musical, and gets a well-deserved big hand here. Foster successfully shows some range with her emotional rendition of Jeff Blumenkrantz's “My Heart Was Set on You” – her take is by turns tender and heartbreaking. And she shows immaculate musical taste in her glowing rendition of Duke Ellington's “I Like the Sunrise” from his 1947 Liberian Suite.

She also gives plenty of back story on the shows she worked on, including a particularly engrossing story about how Denniker & Razaf's “'S'posin” in Thoroughly Modern Millie overnight became Tesori and Scanlan's “Say That” – using exactly the same orchestration. Only to be cut altogether before the show made it to Broadway.

All aspects of her talent come together in a segment of the show entitled “The Big Book of High Belt Songs.” She throws the titles of several songs of that type into a big cup, from which an audience member pulls one at random. On the night I was there, the selection was “Defying Gravity,” a gratuitous display of range, pure technique, a bit of sly comedy, and abundant high dramatics. Foster is most at home triple-threating in a Broadway musical, but she seems as comfortable (and engaging) as can be on the Carlyle stage.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

June 16, 2010

Cabaret Review: "Michael Feinstein"

by Jonathan Warman


Michael Feinstein just keeps getting better: the man is without a doubt in the best voice of his career. He’s consistently gained new vocal strength, and now he’s really soaring and belting with the best of them. In his latest cabaret show Cool Swing he brings together a set of the timeless standards that he's known for --- of which he is arguably the greatest defender and conservator --- and rearranged them with music director John Oddo in classic swing style.

“Cool swing” is a bit of an odd phrase: swing music is by definition hot, and when you think of cool jazz you think of something that, while still rhythmically exciting, doesn't swing particularly hard. “Cool swing,” however, could practically define the style of John Oddo's arrangements, not just here, but everywhere. Oddo's arrangements are always elegant and tasteful, but there is also always a restrained passion and rhythmic excitement in them.

Cool Swing, then, finds Feinstein fully inhabiting Oddo's style and making it his own. The show opens with the standard “Too Close for Comfort”. Michael doesn't give the familiar interpretation, which favors playing rhythmically with the song's complex melody. Instead, he really pays attention to the lyrics, which are in fact pretty uneasy. Obvious, right? Discomfort is right there in the song title --- yet somehow I had never really noticed it. Feinstein “swings it lightly,” while giving the cautious reserve of the lyrics full play. Cool swing, indeed.

Michael’s special guest is virtuoso Andy Stein, who plays classic jazz violin, which adds yet another layer of cool. Still, just under the surface of this sophisticated show runs the unstoppable optimism that pervades all of Feinstein's work. For example he sings “I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” which he recently recorded with Oddo. For this show they've opened up the arrangement some, giving reed player Aaron Heick and trumpeter Tony Kadleck lots of room for joyous Dixieland-style soloing.

Whether they're cooling out a hot hit, or swinging a cool tune, Feinstein, Oddo and company put on a really engaging show that adds chic fun to the summer season, without breaking a sweat.

One week only, through 6/19. For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

June 10, 2010

Theatre: 2010 Tony Picks

by Jonathan Warman

Every year, my boyfriend and I look over the Tony nominees and pick our favorites. Not who we think will win, mind you, but whom we would choose if we were Tony voters. Here is a list of whom we would like to win with a guess or two at who will. Enjoy.

Best Play

In the Next Room or the vibrator play

Next Fall


Time Stands Still

Our pick: Red. Playwright John Logan did a tremendous job of capturing how much Art mattered to Modernist painter Mark Rothko. Time Stands Still is as smart and well-written, but not as insightful.

Best Musical

American Idiot



Million Dollar Quartet

Our pick: Memphis. This is a very good – but not great – show, that in a more competitive season might not capture the prize. This season, however, it is easily the most well-rounded, successful musical. Both American Idiot and Fela! were more ambitious, but neither show quite achieved everything they aimed for.

Best Book of a Musical

Everyday Rapture Dick Scanlan and Sherie Rene Scott

Fela! Jim Lewis & Bill T. Jones

Memphis Joe DiPietro

Million Dollar Quartet Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux

Our pick: Memphis. Joe DiPietro’s book is inspirational, heart wrenching and devastatingly smart — sometimes all in the same moment. It's not the most tightly plotted show ever, but its emotional arc rings very true.

Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre

The Addams Family Music & Lyrics: Andrew Lippa

Enron Music: Adam Cork, Lyrics: Lucy Prebble

Fences Music: Branford Marsalis

Memphis Music: David Bryan, Lyrics: Joe DiPietro, David Bryan

Our pick: Memphis. David Bryan’s music, while it is more ’60s rock & soul than ’50s r&b, is miles more sophisticated than his work on The Toxic Avenger or anything he did with Bon Jovi. It isn't a very competitive season in this category, with Memphis featuring the only successful musical theatre score of the season.

Best Revival of a Play


Lend Me a Tenor

The Royal Family

A View from the Bridge

Our pick: A View from the Bridge. The entire production was a class act. It didn’t suddenly become my favorite play by Arthur Miller, but this production was rock-solid, hitting every level of this play and adding a few more.

Best Revival of a Musical

Finian's Rainbow

La Cage aux Folles

A Little Night Music


Our pick: La Cage Aux Folles. I have to say that it’s the most authentic, fun and touching version of this drag-centric story I’ve ever even heard of. From the Chorus of Cagelles on up, a sassy, heartfelt winner.

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical

Kelsey Grammer, La Cage aux Folles
Sean Hayes, Promises, Promises
Douglas Hodge, La Cage aux Folles
Chad Kimball, Memphis
Sahr Ngaujah, Fela!

Our pick: Douglas Hodge, La Cage aux Folles. I don’t think I’ve seen an Albin that’s as believably a drag diva as the one Hodge gives us. He doesn’t just add a fey layer to the songs he sings, as some Albins do. He sings this line as Piaf, this line as Dietrich. Nagaujah was hot as Fela Kuti, and its very much apples and oranges. Egregiously overlooked: Nathan Lane working his tuchus off in Addams Family.

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical

Kate Baldwin, Finian's Rainbow
Montego Glover, Memphis
Christiane Noll, Ragtime
Sherie Rene Scott, Everyday Rapture
Catherine Zeta-Jones, A Little Night Music

Our pick: Montego Glover, Memphis. She positively glowed as beautiful, black rhythm and blues singer Felicia. Sherie Rene Scott gets an A for hard work and charisma, and Zeta-Jones was better than anybody expected, but this should be Montego's.

For my complete Tony Picks, see my blog Drama Queen.

Continue reading "Theatre: 2010 Tony Picks" »

June 03, 2010

Cabaret Review: "Nellie McKay"

by Jonathan Warman

It’s not very often that a singer performing at Feinstein’s does their own immaculate jazz arrangements and also plays distinctive jazz piano – and very expressive, um, ukulele. Okay, so this is the first time I’ve seen it. Nellie McKay is a highly individual talent, with wildly crazy creativity to match her razor-like interpretive ability.

Her underlying gifts as singer and pianist are solid but essentially modest; it’s what she does with these instruments, and the taste with which she does it, that’s so impressive. She is a supreme stylist, with broad, substantial musical intelligence to back it up. Her combination of irony and heart-on-sleeve sincerity is utterly unique, her performance style multifarious and unpredictable, drawing ideas from extremely diverse eras and genres.

So you can imagine that her tribute to Doris Day gleefully alternates totally authentic and heartfelt recreations of Doris’s repertoire with startlingly original interpretations that pick up on, for example, an oddly colonialist strain in Day’s songs. For example, her take on “Black Hills of Dakota” is musically very simple, but works stylistically on several levels. If you don’t know anything about the Black Hills, her lightly melancholy interpretation is just ear-pleasing.

But if you know that Wounded Knee—one of the most deeply symbolic places in Native American history (site of an 1890 massacre and a 1973 protest)—is in those Dakota Black Hills, it takes on a much deeper meaning, one that moved me personally to the edge of tears. McKay is clearly aware of all of the layers at work, and navigates through them with great skill. Her sincere “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans?” is every bit as poignant, as are equally sincere tributes to Lynn Redgrave (“Georgy Girl”) and Kitty Carlisle Hart (“Lullaby of the Leaves”).

McKay has expressed admiration in the New York Times for Day’s “warmth and feeling,” and there’s plenty of that here, too. Sunny interpretations of Day’s bigger hits like “Sentimental Journey” and “I Want to Be Happy” are great fun, and Nellie’s own nutty appeal is on ample display in an absurd(ist) dance routine to “Dig It”. McKay does a clutch of her own songs as well, opening up vocally on “Mother of Pearl”, “Bodega” and “The Dog Song”. She’s a true original, and it’s an exceptional pleasure to hear her in such an intimate setting.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

May 17, 2010

Theatre Review: "The Kid"

by Jonathan Warman


The Kid is a modest musical that hits its modest marks, but with subject matter this promising, you hope for a little more. Based on the book of the same name by sex columnist Dan Savage, the show follows Savage (Christopher Sieber) as he and his boyfriend Terry (Lucas Steele) decide to start a family. 

The show’s greatest strength is its book by Michael Zam, which deftly captures the kindly smirking tone of Savage’s writing. The score by Andy Monroe (music) and Jack Lechner (lyrics) is sturdy pop/rock (except for some creaky recitative) which on a few occasions rises to the level of the memorable. There’s a terrific duet for Dan and Terry called “Gore Vidal” in which the couple amusingly recall how a shared affection for that author solidified their relationship.

Jangly, dreamy, every-so-slightly jazzy mid-tempo pop songs seem to be Monroe and Lechner’s comfort zone. Several of the best songs are in that vein, but there are enough of them that they blend together a bit.

Director Scott Elliott has assembled a tasty array of musical theatre’s quirkier talents. Sieber has to carry most of the show on his shoulders, and he does so amiably and ably. Steele plays “I’m so much more than a pretty blond” to a T.  Susan Blackwell gives adoption agent Anne a coolly disciplined edge, barely concealing great wells of compassion. Sterling musical comedians Ann Harada, Tyler Maynard and Brooke Sunny Moriber are their usual hilarious selves in a collection of roles.

The Kid
addresses the important issue of gays adopting in a largely satisfying way. It’s not the best show in town, it’s a bit on the long side, but it does the job and manages to be more entertaining than not.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

May 15, 2010

Theatre Review: "Everyday Rapture"

by Jonathan Warman

In many ways, Sherie Rene Scott’s Everyday Rapture is a glorified cabaret act — an eclectic selection of songs with more or less autobiographical patter in between, with Scott’s brassy humor and soprano on splendid display throughout. The accent, however, is definitely on the “glorified,” since Scott has brought in a crackerjack creative team (including American Idiot director Michael Mayer) and a full band for this show.

Everyday Rapture
entwines spirituality and show biz.  It follows a young woman as she grows from a Mennonite to a Manhattanite, with many psychological and spiritual challenges on the way.  That woman is named Sherie Rene Scott, and is similar to, if not exactly identical with, the woman of the same name who plays her. Gay men, Judy Garland and two preachers named Fred all form major parts of the tapestry Scott weaves.

One of those Freds is Phelps, of “god hates fags” fame; apparently Sherie sang in a church choir with his daughter, only to wonder why she now screams instead of sings. The other Fred is Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood fame (yes, he was an ordained preacher); she does a medley of his songs, singing them slowly and reverently, beautifully drawing out the deep humanity underlying their deceptively simple word and melodies.

Scott and collaborator Dick Scanlan put all this and more into a smart and funny “book.” In the Off-Broadway run of this show, the end was marred by a bit of maudlin hand-wringing. The content of the end is largely the same for the Broadway version (perhaps a bit trimmed), but Scott plays it more simply and with more humor, which makes a big difference. The ending still feels like it could be tweaked, but there’s obviously been some smart clean-up done already.

One might be concerned that an intimate show like this would be swallowed up by the cavernous American Airlines Theatre, but that concern would be misplaced. Ms. Scott fills the space even better than some large cast shows that have passed through there. An earlier incarnation of this show was titled You May Now Worship Me and I think that’s an entirely appropriate attitude to take.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

May 14, 2010

Theatre Review: "Collected Stories"

by Jonathan Warman

Manhattan Theatre Club and Donald Margulies have a symbiotic relationship: the Freidman Theatre, MTC’s Broadway stage, played host earlier this spring to a fascinating Margulies premiere, Time Stands Still (which will be returning for a commercial run in the fall), and now a revival of his Collected Stories. Little wonder, in a way: His Sight Unseen was the first play to be an unqualified success in their Broadway theatre in 2004.

Collected Stories
follows the relationship between successful New York author Ruth (Linda Lavin) and young student Lisa (Sarah Paulson) to whom she becomes a friend and mentor. The great majority of the play carefully examines the often fraught mentor/mentee relationship. Where Time Stands Still examines people slightly missing connections, Collected Stories spends more time exploring the joys and dangers that come with a deeply connected friendship.

Towards the end, their relationship deteriorates, and Margulies shifts his focus onto the ethics of appropriating people’s personal stories for the purpose of writing fiction. Was the first two-thirds of the play leading up to this all just set-up? Hardly: Margulies’s gift is filling his relatively simple plots with rich tapestries of people faced with moral and emotional ambiguity, and there’s plenty of that here.

Time Stands Still
was filled with subtle and quiet moments. Collected Stories, while still very intimate, is more rambunctious, focusing as it does on the lives of driven and ambitious writers. Lavin, in particular, plays many colors, from gentle disciplinarian to conflicted supporter to wounded animal. If Lisa does in the end betray Ruth, Paulson plays it as though she has thought the act through very precisely. Paulson does wonderful work with what is innately the less interesting role.

This isn’t the best play of the season, or even the best Donald Margulies play of the season. It is, however, decidedly well written, directed (by Lynne Meadow) and acted, a rewarding if not revelatory night in the theatre.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

May 13, 2010

Theatre Review: "Fences"

by Jonathan Warman

Truth be told, Fences isn’t my favorite August Wilson play. Oh, it’s a hell of a play, with extraordinarily vivid characters. But Wilson’s plays after he wrote Fences became increasingly mystic, epic, funny, and, to my taste anyway, more profoundly original.

He’s already a master playwright with Fences
, but one still strongly influenced by Arthur Miller and Eugene O’Neill. Troy Maxson, the central character in Fences, is a tyrannical American father very much in the mold of O’Neill’s James Tyrone (Long Day’s Journey into Night) or Miller’s Joe Keller (All My Sons). His personality is 100% Wilson, but his tragic trajectory has a familiar ring to it.

Maxson is haunted by the discrepancy between his past success in the Negro baseball leagues and his future, unpromising at best. Denzel Washington is magnificent as Troy, playing him as a man who never doubts himself — even when he probably should — a man who would rather be angry at the world and everybody who loves him, than ever admit he’s wrong or in pain. Viola Davis won a Tony for playing one of Wilson’s wronged, powerful women (Tonya in King Hedley II), and here she gives just as powerful a performance as Troy’s long-suffering wife Rose.

The character most redolent of Wilson’s later plays is Gabriel, Troy’s brother who was wounded in World War II. He was left with a substantial amount of shrapnel in his head. Gabriel’s wounds left him simpler than before, but also more in touch with the supernatural. This is a realm that grew in importance as Wilson continued to write, and Mykelti Williamson effectively magnifies this flavor, in a performance that successfully restores the mystery to Fences’s often grimly desperate world. Branford Marsalis pitch-perfect 1950s-style jazz and rhythm & blues score also give subtle, supple support.

Fences is by any measure a great American play, and director Kenny Leon has given it a suitably thoughtful and soulful production. Well worth seeing.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.  

May 12, 2010

Theatre Review: "Promises, Promises"

by Jonathan Warman

When they are confidently in their element, the stars of Promises, Promises can shine pretty brightly. When Sean Hayes is called to do breezy, light comedy, he excels. Give Kristen Chenoweth a number, ballad or up-tempo, that she can belt to the back wall, and she’s as delighted as she is delightful. Both are given plenty of opportunities to use their respective gifts, a fact that keeps the evening buoyed up.

Unfortunately, though, Promises, Promises
features many shifts in tone and focus, and there are many times when these great talents appear a bit at sea. Many of those shifts in tone can be chalked up to the weird combination of authors involved. Jokester Neil Simon seems uncomfortable adapting Billy Wilder’s worldly screenplay for The Apartment to the musical theatre. And then we have the brilliant lyric writer Hal David, wittier than either of them, but also more deeply humane. That’s a set of sensibilities shooting in all sorts of contradictory directions.

Hayes, as Consolidated Life Insurance Company employee Chuck Baxter, is fine as long as he gets to play Baxter’s leering charm or rueful cynicism (in an effort to advance his career, Chuck lends executives his apartment for their adulterous trysts). He doesn’t land the thrilling title number, however, somehow missing its big, joyful, even redemptive dimensions, going right for aw-shucks lightness.

Chenoweth, as Chuck’s deeply conflicted love interest Fran Kubelik is more successful, landing every number she’s given and nimbly navigating all those odd shifts. Problem is, in the interest of beefing up Fran’s part, for this revival she’s handed a couple of songs that make precious little sense. She sings and acts the hell out of them, but there’s only so much she can do.
Katie Finneran is given the much easier task of milking comic floozy Madge for all she’s worth. Finneran (queen of immaculate comic timing) couldn’t be better cast, and her performance is the happiest marriage of performer and role in the show.

It’s not that Promises, Promises is hopeless. The gorgeous score by David and pop composer Burt Bacharach is worth the price of admission, and in the right hands, those shifts in tone could be made into the theatrical equivalent of a thrill ride. But that didn’t happen here, and I’m not altogether sure why: director/choreographer Rob Ashford is one sharp cookie. I’m flabbergasted.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


May 11, 2010

Theatre Review: "Sondheim on Sondheim"

by Jonathan Warman

My husband put it very accurately: Sondheim on Sondheim is like a PBS American Masters documentary on Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim — minus interviews with anybody but the man himself, or any kind of narration. And with his songs song by some really wonderful musical theatre talents. Which, more or less, works for me.

The core of the show is a series of interviews, some new some from deep in the archives, with Sondheim, ingeniously splayed over dozens of plasma screens by video designer Peter Flaherty. These do indeed offer a few engrossing insights into the psyche and artistic process of musical theatre’s most acclaimed songwriter.

I was most pleased to see Sondheim’s comic, even manic, side — not what you think of when contemplating this famously shy and laconic man. He occasionally gets a slightly crazy energy in his eyes, mostly when he’s offering his sharpest insights into the actual mechanics of writing a really good lyric. Who knew he could be this much fun!

As for the live performances, individually they’re mostly marvelous, but together add up to less than the sum of their parts (the usually nimble director James Lapine has for some reason staged them somewhat lazily). I’m not surprised that Leslie Kritzer and Euan Morton have the lion’s share of great moments — you’d have to be nuts to deny that these two are among the very best young musical theatre performers anywhere.

The most moving moment for me: Sondheim muses on the importance of teaching, on his teachers, and those he’s taught. Then, immediately, Barbara Cook launches into a soaring (one might even say definitive) version of “Send in the Clowns”— as Leslie and Euan and the rest of the cast look on. That’s a hell of a high level of artistic education, the best of one generation showing the best of a later generation how it’s done. That made this son of two teachers kvell.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

May 10, 2010

Theatre Review: "American Idiot"

by Jonathan Warman

I’ve long found punk’s articulate rage distinctly theatrical, and as a director have from time to time tried to find a way to put that rage to actual theatrical use. American Idiot is the first musical on Broadway to attempt to bring punk downstage center, and I’m excited to report that it does so very successfully.

Based on Green Day’s concept album of the same name, American Idiot follows three young working-class friends carving parallel but diverging paths through Dubya-era America. The guys migrate from the suburbs to the city — or a battle zone in Iraq — on the hunt for meaning, or even just release.

Director Michael Mayer, the driving force behind this adaptation, has crafted a show that more than delivers on the excitement that punk promises. The visuals, music and story all come at you with mosh-pit speed and energy, but also with power chord sharpness and clarity.

I wasn’t as moved as I thought I’d be by the arrival of an aesthetic (punk) that means a lot to me, at a place (Broadway) that means just as much. Upon reflection, though, it’s not surprising that the impact of American Idiot is more on the brain and the gut than the heart. Punk was always stridently anti-sentimental. In this show, our guys do go through wrenching situations, but we aren’t dragged into sympathy. Instead, we’re made to look at the fucked-up world that put them (and by extension us) in this position. American Idiot is, in a way, currently Broadway's headiest, smartest musical.

Oh, and did I mention the boys are, like, way
cute? John Gallagher, Jr. is every inch the charismatic rock star as central character Johnny, Stark Sands is ever so hunky (and occasionally shirtless) as Army enlistee Tunny, and Michael Esper seethes proletarian sexiness as “the one who stayed home” Will.  My fave, though, is Tony Vincent as St. Jimmy, who is either Johnny’s drug dealer or a hallucinogenic symbol of his inner demon — or both. Vincent thoroughly embodies punk’s skinny boy slinkiness as he whips himself up and down stairs and across the stage.

This literally demands to be seen, for its fresh ideas, innovatively designed lights (Kevin Adams) and video (Darrel Maloney), and raw heat. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I think what it has to show and tell deserves your attention.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.  

May 04, 2010

Cabaret Review: "Terri White"

by Jonathan Warman

Terri White made quite a splash in the recent Broadway revival of Finian’s Rainbow, belting the bluesy “Necessity” for all it was worth. During her run with Finian it came out that, less than two years earlier, White was truly destitute, unable to find work as a singer.

That’s truly criminal, because as White demonstrates in her Feinstein’s debut “Life Is Good!” she’s one of the best singers imaginable. White interprets rhythm & blues, standards and showtunes with a fire usually only seen in rock and roll, and a razor-sharp wit and intelligence all her own.

White makes reference to her troubles with songs like “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.” At the climax of that song, in one of several electrifying moments in the show, White swings the microphone away from her mouth and belts away with just as much volume. This display of elegantly controlled rage and breathtaking vocal firepower gave me goosebumps.

White is uniquely capable of tapping into powerful emotion while remaining in rigorous control of her phrasing. During the moving “Everything Must Change” tears were streaming down her face; the surge of feeling spurred her, not to break down, but to take her interpretation to new heights. The drama is very real and so is the artistry.

It’s not all high drama, though. White is wickedly funny and her caricature of Nell Carter (for whom she understudied in Ain’t Misbehavin’) is a riot, if a bit too long. She also gets every last bit of bawdy comedy out of “When You’re Good To Mama” from Chicago (in which she is currently playing Mama Morton).

Another astonishing cabaret act! What a year for cabaret 2010 is turning out to be! This one might be a bit under the radar, with only two performances at Feinstein’s: the one I saw on May 3 and a special Mother’s Day performance on Sunday, May 9. Take my advice — if you can afford it, there isn’t a better place to celebrate Mother’s Day.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.  

April 30, 2010

Theatre Review: "Million Dollar Quartet"

by Jonathan Warman

This makes a rollicking good time out of what could so easily be a corny tribute show. Million Dollar Quartet tells the story of what happened on December 4, 1956 at Sun Records’ storefront recording studio in Memphis, when Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley unexpectedly showed up at a Carl Perkins session, where Jerry Lee Lewis was playing piano.

Whether it was all a photo opportunity set up by Sun honcho Sam Phillips, or a pure chance occurrence, is the subject of some debate. However it came about, the four jammed on into the night, and Phillips kept the tape running as they played 40-some songs ranging from Chuck Berry rock songs to bluegrass, country and gospel.

If one read the show’s book (by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux) on the page, it would seem like corny, hero-worshipping fluff — it does a good job of capturing the personalities involved, but doesn’t go much further. Director Eric Schaeffer and his cast have, however, performed some kind of alchemy and have truly captured the raucous, decidedly Southern flavor of roots rock.

Perhaps the most crucial decision Schaeffer made was casting performers with extensive experience as working rock and roll musicians. Robert Britton Lyons clearly knows in detail what it means to play guitar like Carl Perkins, to the degree that his guitar is practically another character in the show. Perhaps the most impressive performance comes from out (and sexy) performer Levi Kreis as Jerry Lee Lewis. Of the four, Lewis had the brashest persona and the most flamboyant, out-of-control performance style, and Kreis very successfully “goes there.”

Lance Guest as Johnny Cash and Eddie Clendening as Elvis Presley also go miles beyond impersonation, finding human beings underneath the legends of “The King” and “The Man in Black”. If you have even the slightest taste for 1950s rock ’n’ roll, this is not to be missed.
For tickets, click here. 

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

April 27, 2010

Theatre Review: "The Addams Family"

by Jonathan Warman

The Addams Family works passably well as an entertainment, a spectacle to pass the time. It doesn’t work, however, as a musical, nor does it successfully capture the spirit of Charles Addams’s gleefully ghoulish New Yorker cartoons.

It’s been observed by many that the plot of The Addams Family
is old-fashioned: odd girl Wednesday brings “normal” boy Lucas home to meet the family. Well, that’s not necessarily the central problem here — sturdy old plots like this can be made to generate fresh sparks, given some creative prodding. It seems here, though, that the prodding has been unfocused and in the wrong direction.

Perhaps that biggest flaw in the book is a misguided attempt to make it “relatable” by, for example, showing Morticia fretting about getting older. This fundamentally misses the joke that makes Charles Addams’s characters so perversely appealing. The Morticia we know and love would positively relish getting older, find irresistible the image of “crow’s feet” showing up on her face.

Note to all bookwriters of musicals based on non-realistic source material: don’t build dreary kitchen sink back story for otherwise fabulously over the top characters. This is not the first time I’ve seen this happen, and it doesn’t do a damn thing for anybody, actors or audience. Follow the direction the material is already going in, don’t fight it.

All that said, The Addams Family features one of the hardest working casts on Broadway. Nathan Lane plays Gomez as a manic master of ceremonies. Jackie Hoffman (as Grandma), as usual, shamelessly works every funny moment for every drop of comic juice that it’s got, and rightfully gets the evening’s biggest laughs. Bebe Neuwirth hitches up Morticia’s skirt to dance a charming “Tango de Amor”. Kevin Chamberlain makes a truly lovable Fester.

Master puppeteer Basil Twist also provides some engaging visual magic, animating Cousin Itt, making Fester airborne for a pas de deux with the moon, and giving life and comedy to a giant squid. The Addams Family is far from being a total waste of time, but it’s equally far from being as fun as it should be.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

April 23, 2010

Theatre Review: "La Cage Aux Folles"

by Jonathan Warman

Nobody covers drag queens like I do! For well over 10 years, I’ve been to every nook and cranny of this dirty town to see all kinds of drag acts. All I needed from them was a press release that let me know that they’d done something with their act to bring it to the level of a cabaret performance or a theatrical evening, and I’d be there. And like any show queen worth their salt, I’ve also seen plenty of plain old drag shows in bars from the glitzy to the grimy. Often enough, I’d find the greatest geniuses lip-synching in the bars, and the biggest fakes charging legit prices for their wares in Midtown.

So when I heard that Brit director Terry Johnson had concocted a production of La Cage aux Folles that had more to do with grimy gay bar geniuses than Vegas glitter, I was deeply intrigued. That production, originally at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory, has made it to Broadway, and I have to say that it’s the most authentic, fun and touching version of this drag-centric story I’ve ever even heard of.

Georges (Kelsey Grammer) is the impresario of a trashy but charming drag club in St. Tropez on the French Riviera, where his husband, high-strung drag performer Albin (Douglas Hodge), is the star. They lead a happy existence, until their son announces his engagement to the daughter of a conservative right-wing politician — who’s coming to dinner.

This production announces its intentions right away, with its drag chorus, Les Cagelles. They’re not the collection of drag chorines you see in other productions of La Cage. They are six individual drag queens corralled into performing together. The casting of such distinctive performers as Terry Lavell, Nick Adams and Sean Patrick Doyle signals right away that any of the girls they play could headline. I’m not as familiar with the other Cagelles, but they make just as sharp an impression.

I also don’t think I’ve seen an Albin that’s as believably a drag diva as the one Hodge gives us. He doesn’t just add a fey layer to the songs he sings, as some Albins do. He sings this line as Piaf, this line as Dietrich, and his line readings are every bit as delicately over-the-top as, say, Charles Busch. Grammer has a surprising sweetness and warmth as Georges, and together they are a truly endearing couple.

Johnson has also taken great care to create the world of 1970s St. Tropez, the better to make sense of the place that Albin and George have in it. There are certain locals who “get” them, some others not quite so much. Johnson has brought a level of realism and detail that La Cage has never had before, making it more poignant, stirring and tender — and more entertaining — than ever before.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

April 21, 2010

Theatre Review: "My Trip Down the Pink Carpet"

by Jonathan Warman

My own blog, Drama Queen, has the tag line “What’s Good and What’s Gay in New York Theatre and Cabaret.” Well, queens, it doesn’t get much better — or much gayer — than Leslie Jordan’s one-man show My Trip Down the Pink Carpet. Leslie, who describes himself as “the gayest man I know,” also claims that he was put on this Earth to be a comic scene-stealer (who met his only match playing opposite Megan Mullally on Will & Grace). This innate gift gives the fey, diminutive Jordan more than enough power to thoroughly command a stage all by himself.

Pink Carpet isn’t just a laugh-so-hard-you-cry look at the world through ultra-gay eyes (though it is that in spades), it’s also an often moving look at the very best and worst of what gay culture has to offer. Every so often loud disco music interrupts and Leslie gleefully yelps “Gay Bar Music!!!!” as he launches into some first-class disco dancing. There’s a particularly funny bit where Jordan demonstrates “how we dance,” making hilarious distinctions between “butch queens” and “just queens — because honey, they’re all queens!”

He also looks at the profound self-doubt that comes with growing up and gay and hyper-effeminate in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the booze and drugs he used to overcome that doubt. As emotional as things might get, though, a laugh is never far off in this show, whether it’s about Jordan’s active fantasy life that he shares with his diary, or outlandish reports of “how I got that role.” Mostly there’s a lot of dish about Hollywood: No outing, but we definitely get the lowdown on who is truly crushworthy in person — and who is nothing but a mean, nasty bitch.

I can’t think of another autobiographical show that is more pure, unadulterated fun than Pink Carpet — it makes a convincing case for Jordan being one of the very greatest gay comic talents of our time.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


April 13, 2010

Theatre Review: "Red"

by Jonathan Warman

Alfred Molina, playing great American abstract painter Mark Rothko in Red, makes you feel that the act of painting is the noblest thing one could possibly do, the only thing really worth doing. You feel like you should be painting, and asking the same questions about painting that Rothko does, demanding as much from art as he does.

Playwright John Logan shows us Rothko
in 1958, having received an immense commission: he is to create a series of murals for the then-new Four Seasons restaurant on Park Avenue. Rothko hires a young assistant, Ken (played by Eddie Redmayne) to help him finish this immense task.

At the heart of the play are exchanges, often heated ones, between Rothko and Ken, about art. It is to Logan’s great credit that these conversations never become dry or academic; art is vitally important to both Ken and Rothko, and we are made to feel their passion in a very immediate way.
Rothko’s high seriousness is both inspiring and challenging to anyone involved in the arts. At times Rothko asks too much of both art and people; Logan has wisely used the character of Ken to give articulate voice to criticisms a person could validly level at Rothko — a person who cares as deeply about art as Rothko does, but thinks differently about it. Rothko, in his turn, is allowed to defend himself, sometime intelligently, sometimes irrationally.

Personally, I find art and intellect very hot, and Red is very sexy indeed in the fervent hands of Molina (all weighty, glowering intensity) and Redmayne (all wiry, youthful zeal). Director Michael Grandage keeps the ball bouncing with great concentration, never letting the pace lag for a second. I haven’t been as stimulated in a Broadway theatre, in all different kinds of ways, for quite some time.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

April 11, 2010

Theatre Review: "Lend Me a Tenor"

by Jonathan Warman

Playwright Ken Ludwig’s Lend Me A Tenor has been a favorite of community theatre since its original Broadway production closed some 20 years ago. It’s light, funny and set in 1930s Middle America (Cleveland to be exact). Its operatic subject matter may give it a sheen of highbrow snob appeal, but most of the time Ludwig aims for big, lowbrow laughs.

Tito Merelli (Anthony LaPaglia), a flamboyant Italian divo, arrives in Cleveland, Ohio to sing a benefit performance of Verdi’s Otello with the local opera. He’s not feeling well, and, through a series of blunders, he takes too many sleeping pills and can’t be roused in time for the performance.  Local impresario Saunders (Tony Shaloub) conspires with his ambitious assistant Max (Justin Bartha) to cover for Tito’s absence. This is farce, so chaos reigns supreme by Act II.

Stanley Tucci, making his Broadway directorial debut, has put together a very game and fun-loving cast who are plainly having a great time hamming this silliness up. Tony Shaloub may be having just a little too much fun, as he has a tendency here to milk his comic moments, getting laughs for himself, sure, but slowing down the frantic pace that is the soul of successful farce. On the other hand, Jan Maxwell, as Merelli’s hot-headed wife Maria, shows us all how it’s done, going way over the top as she zooms through the long-suffering woman’s jealous hysteria.

Justin Bartha does a fine job as the good hearted guy caught in the middle. Max is the sentimental center of the play, and Bartha plays even his goofiest moments with great charm and warmth. LaPaglia plays Merelli with a raffish charisma, lending credence to both his philandering and his generosity.

This isn’t deep. It’s easygoing fun, and Tucci’s production plays to those virtues. Now if only he could get Shaloub to just pick it up a little…

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.  

April 04, 2010

gaysocialites.blog's theatre critic, Jonathan Warman, quoted on 'Temperamentals' advertisement


You know that we here at gaysocialites.blog are not afraid to toot our own horns when we need to give ourselves a little credit!

Today we're tipping our hats to our well renowned theatre critic, Jonathan Warman.  Jonathan is quoted in the latest advertisement for the Temperamentals Off-Broadway!  Check it out below:


That's major! Do you know how many reviews they read and had to pick from?  Lots!  We're pleased that they quoted our very own Jonathan Warman!  You can read his full review of the Temperamentals here.

A well known figure in the theatre community as an acclaimed director, Warman is the former theatre critic for the New York Blade and HX Magazine (both of which no longer exist).  That's why we say that our amazingly talented theatre critic is our gift from the fall of gay print media!  Thanks for going under, you guys!

Congrats Jonathan, we're proud to have you on our team!

Theatre Review: "Come Fly Away"

by Jonathan Warman

It’s not entirely random that Twyla Tharp would follow her successful Billy Joel “dance musical” (Movin’ Out) and her unsuccessful Bob Dylan show (The Times They Are A-Changing), with another evening-length Broadway dance extravaganza to the music of Frank Sinatra. She’s been choreographing to Sinatra’s music since the late ‘70s, both short dances and evening-length works.

I’d have been happier with a collection of those pieces, with no attempt at connecting them, than sit through the ultimately pointless and boring narrative -- about four couples falling in and out of love at a crowded nightclub -- of Come Fly Away. I’m not a big fan of Sinatra’s work, so I’m a little surprised that music, not dance, was the most exciting part of the evening for me.

A few of the dances are done to the recorded versions of Frank’s songs that we’re familiar with. But most feature his vocals (or that of a live female singer) with new arrangements played by a crack onstage band. You could close your eyes, and experience the evening as an extraordinary musical celebration of vocal jazz and the Great American Songbook.

I’m not say the dancing isn’t great -- it is in fact really, really good. Choreographically, this is as much a tribute to jazz music and jazz dancing in general as it is to Sinatra personally. Tharp quotes and gently parodies the great innovators of jazz dance like Hermes Pan, Katherine Dunham, Jack Cole and Gower Champion, throwing her own modern dance moves into to the mix to create technically dazzling dances, which are performed by an equally stunning company of dancers.

But Come Fly Away is decidedly less than the sum of its parts. By forcing these set pieces into a very loose narrative, she dissipates what power they have on their own. The story is unclear and awkward; there should either be a lot more of it, or much, much less. It’s an impressive evening, but only intermittently rewarding in any way.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

March 26, 2010

Theatre Review: "The Glass Menagerie"

by Jonathan Warman

Finally I’ve actually seen a Glass Menagerie that resembles the wonderful, wistful Tennessee Williams play I’ve read so many times. Director Gordon Edelstein has blown decades of dust off the play by simply treating it as if it were a brilliant new play, by an author whose other works we don’t know. This is Tennessee Williams without any attempt to play a generalized “Tennessee Williams style,” which is so damn refreshing.

For one thing, Tom Wingfield (played with warm humility by Patch Darragh) finally appears onstage as a repressed young gay man. That dimension of the character has been hiding in plain sight on the page for over 60 years, observed by any gay man that read it. Darragh plays that, but with enough subtlety that it never overpowers the central story of Tom’s concern for his beloved sister Laura (Keira Keeley), but rather makes it richer and deeper.

Best of all though, is Judith Ivey’s compassionate but unsentimental interpretation of Tom’s mother Amanda. She’s terrified that her fragile children will be crushed by the hardness of late 1930s St. Louis, Missouri.  She does her best to toughen them up, but ends up damaging them even more.

Amanda is often played as either a monster or as tragically misguided. Ivey has none of that: This Amanda is dysfunctional, to be sure, but no more than any other overbearing, overprotective, loving mother. This Amanda, in the end, is just as fragile as Tom or Laura, maybe even more so — and that’s perhaps the most moving revelation Ivey offers us.

This is how Williams should be done, with no sheen of weepy lyricism, but with clear eyes. Tennessee Williams played without “Tennessee Williams style” but with profound attention to the details of the very specific story and character he introduces us to in the play at hand. This is Tennessee Williams not as a museum piece, but as vibrant, gripping theatre!

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

March 24, 2010

Theatre Review: "All About Me"

by Jonathan Warman

Low expectations helped me enjoy All About Me. Not low expectations about Michael Feinstein, mind you. I’m a big fan of the work he does in preserving and popularizing the Great American Songbook, and have been very pleased by the way he has blossomed over the last ten years into a very powerful singer, indeed. I’ll go on record as saying I didn’t have exactly high expectations for Dame Edna, but they weren’t exactly low either. I respect her abilities as a comic and improviser —she’s just not my particular cup of funny.

No, my low expectations came from the buzz surrounding this show, suggesting that it’s a disaster in the making. It’s not that bad, it just never quite gels. It starts out as a Feinstein concert, and while the show is in that mode, it’s quite satisfying. Michael is in top voice, and they have a musical dream team: John Oddo (orchestrations), Glen Kelly (additional arrangements) and Rob Bowman (musical direction). Great songs, “gold standard” arrangements, passionate singing and a fantastic band — what’s not to like?

I should also pause to say that the show looks fantastic, too. Anna Louizos’s set is an all-white bandstand of sheer Hollywood elegance, and Howell Binkley’s lights play over it in loving, painterly ways.

Well, about 20 minutes in Edna make a spectacular entrance, has Michael taken offstage, and launches into her stand-up bits and famed audience interactions. I was more taken with the comedy than I expected, but I’d still rather be listening to Feinstein.

Then the two are refereed by a drill-sergeant-like stage manager (played with great panache by Jodi Capeless). The show’s central conceit is that Edna and Michael have booked the same theater and the same night, a framing device that never rises above the hokey. Capeless certainly rises above it, belting out a tremendous and funny “And the World Goes Round” as the two stars make costume changes.

This is where the show falls apart. Maybe if the set-up weren’t so strained we’d be more able to accept “The Michael and Edna Show” that makes up the last half-hour or so. Certainly Feinstein has successfully shared the stage of the nightclub that bares his name with many big personalities, most memorably Cheyenne Jackson. The medleys and comedy numbers are simply too tame for Edna’s tart best and too cheesy for Michael’s romantic elegance. There are individual moments of pleasure, but the show as a whole is structured in a way that makes it mighty difficult to enjoy.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


March 23, 2010

Cabaret Review: "KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler"

by Jonathan Warman

10 years ago, Soprano KT Sullivan and pianist/entertainer extraordinaire Mark Nadler, starred in a very smart revue of Gershwin songs called American Rhapsody. The two of them packed the stage of the Triad Theatre with more talent than many a Broadway musical, and the show ran for nine months. Now, ten years later, they’re playing an entirely new Gershwin show at the Algonquin Hotel’s Oak Room, titled Gershwin… Here to Stay, and it’s every bit as engaging as American Rhapsody.

Nadler is the showier of the two talents: At one point during American Rhapsody he leapt from floor to piano bench, tap-dancing madly, singing and keeping steady eye contact with the audience—all this while playing a complex passage on the piano without even glancing at the keys. He does play, sing and tap dance in the new show, but only two at a time. The result is still pretty stunning.
Stunning, too, is Sullivan’s singing; classically trained, she has also become a master of pop phrasing, bringing the best of both worlds to the Gershwin’s songs. And of course the songs are stunning: I like a Gershwin tune, how about you?

Nadler also does most of the musical arrangements and theatrical conception for the duo’s shows, and he has truly outdone himself here. There’s always some unspoken subtext to the shows that Mark puts together, which actually does give them extra oomph.

Here there seems to be something about angels and demons going on, which beautifully suits Nadler’s manic energy and Sullivan’s smoothly gliding physicality and vocals. He and Sullivan also make excellent use of the Oak Room’s notoriously difficult long and narrow layout, exiting and entering from opposite ends, playing to — and in — every nook and cranny.

For fairly long stretches of the show, Nadler leaves the piano playing to the terrific Jon Weber. In one of the shows most exhilarating moments the two of them do a four-handed piano transcription of George Gershwin’s “Concerto in F.” Once again, stunning.

So far 2010 has been a spectacular year for cabaret, with glittering shows like Christine Ebersole knockin’ us flat at the Carlyle, and major talent Marilyn Maye returning to the major rooms with a run at Feinstein’s. GershwinHere to Stay
is in that same, electrifying league.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

March 20, 2010

Theatre Review: "Looped"

by Jonathan Warman

Playwright Matthew Lombardo’s Tea at Five, his one-woman show about Katherine Hepburn, had a charming light touch. If only Looped, his full-fledged play about Tallulah Bankhead, had that touch. I know, one doesn’t automatically think “charming light touch” and Tallulah Bankhead go together, but the woman was as intelligent and complex as Hepburn — which is barely hinted at in Looped.

Except, that is, in Valerie Harper’s full-throttle performance as Tallulah. From the moment she barks her entrance line “Fuck Los Angeles!” as she enters a 1965 Hollywood sound studio, Harper gives a performance that fills in many of the blanks in Lombardo’s tale. She turns out an entirely credible physical and vocal recreation of Tallulah, and has captured much of the mercurial rebel spirit that burned in her.

In Looped, Bankhead attempts to re-record (or “loop”) one line of dialogue for Die, Die My Darling, her last film. Tense film editor Danny Miller does his best to corral her, without much success. The first act of Looped is largely structured as “Tallulah, Stand-Up Comedian,” as Bankhead hurls all of her most outrageous quips and anecdotes at the unresponsive Miller. Yes, Bankhead had a raunchy wit, but piling all of these quips together, one after the other, reduces the effectiveness of all but the best of them.

The second act recovers somewhat as Tallulah sobers up a bit and compassionately helps her nemesis Danny deal with his problems — turns out the boy’s a bit of a closet case. A touching scene or two, sure, but what is this supposed to tells us about Tallulah, I have no idea. In general, Lombardo seems to be playing fast and loose with the truth about Bankhead’s talent, character and even the facts of her career. Looped
is intermittently entertaining, and Harper’s performance worth seeing, but I would in no way call it essential.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

March 13, 2010

Theatre Review: "A Behanding in Spokane"

by Jonathan Warman

Another play I don’t like by a playwright I do like. This is getting discouraging. At his best, Playwright Martin McDonagh offers a guardedly hopeful and redemptive vision for the violent, pathetic fuckers and hardnosed bitches that populate his plays. And aren’t we all at one time or another a pathetic fucker or a hardnosed bitch?

Unfortunately, there’s not much hope or redemption in A Behanding in Spokane, so we’re just left with violence cropping up in pathetic situations. In this little charmer, a man who has been searching for his missing hand for 47 years encounters two young con artists in a fleabag hotel.

Christopher Walken plays Carmichael, the handless man, in a very “Christopher Walken” performance. I didn’t love his performance as much as a lot other people seem to, but seeing him perform in person I did gain a new appreciation for his very “live” sense of timing.

Anthony Mackie, as the cagey young dope dealer Toby, delivers the most recognizably human performance of the evening. Toby’s the closest thing to the sympathetic clueless sucker who generally gets half a clue by the end of a McDonagh play.

Here, though, Toby seems to leave pretty much as he came in. He was wasting his time trying to sell Carmichael a hand, and Behanding wastes both our and McDonagh’s time. Give some poor guy half a brake next time, won’t you, Martin?

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

March 11, 2010

Theatre Review: "The Miracle Worker"

by Jonathan Warman

I’m happy to have the story of blind-deaf activist Helen Keller back on Broadway, but I can’t help wondering if William Gibson’s 1959 drama The Miracle Worker is still the best way to tell this particular story. Under Kate Whoriskey’s able direction it’s getting a passionate revival, whose only major flaw is awkward in-the-round staging that obscures many important moments. The acting’s quite good — more about that in a moment.

The play itself has not held up extraordinarily well. It’s melodramatic and sentimental, and not particularly subtle. Set in Tuscumbia, Alabama in the 1880s, The Miracle Worker
tells the story of the young Keller, who became blind and deaf after a childhood illness, and the woman, Annie Sullivan, who taught her to communicate with the world. It doesn’t go into Keller’s later life as writer and activist, which I think might interest a 21st century audience more than it would have the more conservative 1950s audience.

Characters repeatedly say that it would “take a miracle” to get through to Helen, which gives you an idea of the general level of Gibson’s writing. He does manage some moments of insight: into the jumble of feelings that go with raising a disabled child; into Sullivan’s conflicted yet determined psyche; and into the North-South tensions that make Sullivan’s interactions with the Kellers even more difficult. Nonetheless, the play is visibly creaky, and shows signs of its first life as a 1957 made-for-TV script. Perhaps it’s time for someone to write a new play about Keller to replace this old chestnut.

It’s wonderful, then, that we have actors as good as Allison Pill, playing Annie, and Abigail Breslin, playing Helen. Pill builds a believable, fiery woman out of Gibson’s sketchy outline, and Breslin, without any lines, marvelously conveys a raging intelligence thoroughly frustrated by her limitations.
The final scenes, in which Helen finally begins to understand the sign language Annie has been teaching her, still pack an emotional wallop — there was hardly a dry eye in the house. If only the dialogue that led up to this shattering moment were better!

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

March 10, 2010

Cabaret Review: "Lea Salonga"

by Jonathan Warman

I first saw Lea Salonga in the Broadway “revisal” of Flower Drum Song, which gave her some great acting opportunities but gave a lot of the best songs to other performers — though Salonga did turn it out on “A Hundred Thousand Miracles” and “Love, Look Away”. And of course I knew her voice from Princess Jasmine’s limited singing in the Disney animated film Aladdin (Linda Larkin did the lines for Jasmine in that film). I have to admit that I haven’t yet seen Mulan, where Salonga had more to sing.

So I knew this woman could sing, but that’s about all I knew — truth be told, I heard her sing more in her New York cabaret debut at Café Carlyle than I had heard her sing before. And I was suitably impressed! Salonga is a big star in her native Philippines, where she lives now, and her full-throated yet emotionally subtle singing style is surely the reason.

Her Carlyle act is best when Salonga tells her unique story, the path she took in transforming her success in Filipino musical theatre into international stardom as Kim in Miss Saigon on the West End and then Broadway. Included along the way are traditional Filipino songs like “Salamat, Salamat Musica” and “Waray Waray” (the latter, Salonga notes, was sung on the Carlyle stage by Eartha Kitt), as well as “Too Much for One Heart”, a lovely ballad cut from Saigon, and “Reflection”, a big number from Mulan.

She even does a goofy version of “A Whole New World” in which the band members sing Aladdin’s part, comically pointing up how he keeps interrupting Jasmine throughout the song. Salonga dips into the Great American Songbook a couple of times, with Rodgers & Hart’s “My Romance” and the Gershwins’ “Someone to Watch Over Me”. She has a knack for going to the heart of these songs — I personally would have liked more along these lines. Not the greatest cabaret act ever, but an entertaining way to frame Salonga’s undeniably gorgeous voice.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

March 04, 2010

Cabaret Review: "Marilyn Maye"

by Jonathan Warman

Ella Fitzgerald once called Marilyn Maye “the greatest white female singer in the world”. I saw her for the first time in her latest club act at Feinstein’s, and I can tell you that’s no exaggeration. There are younger singers who might posses more powerful voices. However, I can think of no other singer who possesses Maye’s combination of interpretive ability, rhythmic verve, and, yes, vocal range (at 81, her voice may not be what it once was, but it’s certainly still the envy of just about any singer 20 years her junior).

Her new show, “In Love Again” — created exclusively for Feinstein's — features her signature hits “I Love You Today” by her mentor Steve Allen and one of her most requested songs, “Guess Who I Saw Today.” This is a classic act in every sense of the phrase. Maye is a jazz-pop singer worthy of being included in the company of Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn or Blossom Dearie, and her phrasing is the finest I’ve heard in that style from a living singer.

Her repertoire for the evening ranges from Marlene Dietrich’s signature song “Falling in Love Again” and a dazzling Cole Porter medley to Sondheim, and even Lionel Richie’s “Hello”. Maye exquisitely tailors her style of singing to the individual song, smooth for the ballads, swinging for the standards, and truly gritty for the bluesier numbers.

Maye appeared on Johnny Carson’s edition of “The Tonight Show” a total of 76 times, a record not likely ever to be beaten by any other singer with any other host. She’s been enjoying a New York renaissance recently, making critically acclaimed appearances at the Cabaret Convention and the Metropolitan Room.

Her run at Feinstein’s brings her back into “Café Society” and there couldn’t be a more magical marriage of singer and venue. If you love classic songs sung like they’re meant to be sung, it doesn’t get any better than this.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

Theatre Review: "The Temperamentals"

by Jonathan Warman

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you must see this. Not just because it’s an excellent gay-themed production. Not just because it’s a chance to see Michael Urie of Ugly Betty fame in a live theatre setting, showing some very strong acting chops. No, you must see this because it brings to life an essential but too-little known part of gay history, in a surprisingly moving and engaging way.

The Temperamentals
is, more than anything else, the story of two men in love in the early 1950s: sometime actor and constant activist Harry Hay (Thomas Jay Ryan) and the fashion designer Rudi Gernreich (Urie). Above and beyond their mutual sexual attraction and romantic feelings, they both passionately commit to building the first gay rights organization in American history, the Mattachine Society.

Urie is winsome and whip-smart as Gernreich, but the performance that most elevates this production is Ryan as Hay. Hay is one of my very few personal heroes, and Ryan vibrantly portrays everything that I found admirable about him: his lightly borne erudition, his love of revolution, his spiritual sense of the place of gays in the world, his puckish humor and his habit of tearing up when politics and music mix (happens all the time to me too).

The Temperamentals
is the little show that could. It started in 40-seat black box for a sold out run, and promptly moved to a larger Off-Off-Broadway house. Now, after a bit of a break, it has moved to the New World Stages Off-Broadway complex. Director Jonathan Silverstein has managed to preserve the “you are there” intimacy of the original black box.

Perhaps the most noticeable upgrade is in designer Clint Ramos’s costumes. Several key moments involve Hay discovering his “plumage” — clothes that leave no doubt that the wearer is gay — at first a flamboyant woman’s shawl. In the original production, near the end, Hay put on some vaguely genderfucking outfit that signified his evolution into the founder of the Radical Faeries. It was moving, but now Ryan dons an even more colorful outfit that identifiably resembles clothes Hay actually wore, which deepens the impact.

I repeat – you must see this! This lovely and rewarding show needs to be seen by the broadest audience possible, but for gay men, it is required viewing!

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

March 01, 2010

Theatre Review: "Mr. & Mrs. Fitch"

by Jonathan Warman

I like Douglas Carter Beane a lot, so I’ll try to be kind about Mr. & Mrs. Fitch, a comedy I really wanted to like, but couldn’t. Mostly, I have a lot of questions.

Right off the bat, I want to know: Douglas Carter Beane, do you talk like your two titular gossip columnists at home? Mr. Beane and I are neither that far from being Mr. (or Mrs.) Fitch — urbane New Yorkers reporting on pop culture, trying to find witty ways to respond to often witless stimuli. So I ask again: Douglas, do you talk like these overeducated name-droppers at home? Cuz, overeducated as I might be, I sure as hell don’t.

If Beane’s trying to create a cartoon version of an urbane couple fighting to bar the barbarians from the gate, well, it’s not cartoonish enough. In the very first scene, we feel that we’re in a realistically represented Manhattan apartment, and the too-clever banter rings awfully false. Does Beane mean for us to find them as hollow as they appear? And then expect us to give a damn what happens to them over the course of two acts?

There’s evidence that this wasn’t Beane’s plan. The only part of the play that truly held my attention was the final scene, in which the Fitches experience an epiphany, and find the courage of their convictions, both moral and artistic. The Fitches I glimpse in that final scene were people I wanted to get to know better. That they arrive at such an admirable point suggests that Beane wanted us in some way to identify with them. And because of those hollow first impressions, I never did.

Douglas Carter Beane, I know you are capable of creating characters that are vapid (Sonny in Xanadu) or perhaps even a bit evil (Hollywood agent Diane in
Little Dog Laughed), whom the audience somehow still cares about and follow through your plots. My biggest question: How did you fail to do that here?

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


February 26, 2010

Theatre Review: "Yank!"

by Jonathan Warman

Set during World War II, the new musical Yank! follows a young serviceman named Stu (Bobby Steggart) as he nervously explores his attraction to men. Bookwriter David Zellnik has created a compelling voyage of discovery for Stu, as he finds true love, promiscuous sex and underground gay culture in ways that overlap and conflict. Cutie-pie Steggart imbues Stu with a very winning combination of sweet good humor and tender longing.

In fact, this is one of those musicals where the book is often more interesting than the music. The energetic and functional score by Joseph Zellnik (David’s brother) captures the general flavor of 1940s pop, but something’s missing. This is a show that practically begs for music that is jazzy, breaks out and swings, and that rarely happens. I don’t know whether it’s Zellnik’s songs themselves, or the way that they’re arranged and played, but the underlying musical rhythm here is decidedly, and unfortunately, “square.”

One song that does successfully swing is “Click,” in which Artie (Jeffery Denman), a gay reporter for Yank
magazine (which gives the show its title) shows Stu the ropes of how one gets laid in this man’s army, through the metaphor of tap dancing. Denman, who’s great fun in the role, also choreographed Yank! and gets points for the lively tap routine. He needs them, because he also gets some demerits for the pretty but pointless dream ballet in Act II. It does indeed stop the show, but in all the wrong ways.

Director Igor Goldin does a marvelous job of keeping the action brisk and fluid. Nancy Anderson playfully portrays a series of radio chanteuses — and a very cagey lesbian army officer. Yank! is amusing and occasionally though provoking; I just have the nagging feeling that there’s a better show in there that hasn’t quite found its way out yet.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

February 24, 2010

Cabaret Review: "John Standing"

by Jonathan Warman

On one of the funnier episodes of Will & Grace Lorraine said to Will: “You're a natty dresser. Are you English?” To which Will responded: “Oh, no, I'm gay.” “Well, it's the same thing.” Playwright, songwriter and singer Noël Coward, being both English and gay, was very English and very gay. 

John Standing, currently performing Coward songs at the Café Carlyle, may not be gay, but he is himself so incredibly English that he is more than comfortable with Coward’s gayness. On the night that I was there, Standing got a testimonial from no less than Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York — that’s right, kids, the original Fergie. That’s how damn English Standing is.

Standing has no problem putting Coward’s gayest lyrics up front and center. He opens the show speaking the lyrics of “I’ve Been to a Marvelous Party,” all of them; several of the less often heard ones are homoerotic double entendres (or even single entendres). Standing delivers them with panache almost equal to Coward’s own. He seems very nearly as
racy, worldly and sophisticated as Noël, whom John first met at the age of ten (Standing’s mother, Kay Hammond, played Elvira in the original Broadway production of Blithe Spirit).

Standing readily admits that he has “a voice like a shoe”. That’s not really a problem, however, since he acts every lyric with great style and intelligence (Coward himself had only a serviceable, if expressive, voice). Wit flows and sparkles like champagne in this show and Standing’s deep affection for both Coward and his songs shines through. Fun just doesn’t get more chic than this.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

February 23, 2010

Theatre Review: "The Boys in the Band"

by Jonathan Warman

The Boys in the Band for a long time had an unfair reputation as being the worst kind of gay play: full of self-hating homos, representing a whole spectrum of stereotypes. It gained this reputation largely because it was among the first commercially successful gay-themed plays. It was the late sixties, and at the time the more forward-thinking gays in the theatre wanted the general audience to see self-possessed, healthy gay characters. The characters in The Boys in the Band may show flashes of self-possession, but they are neurotic (and alcoholic) as hell.
Now, after 40 years which have seen a wide variety of successful gay-themed American plays, The Boys plays a bit differently. It’s actually an intelligent, even penetrating, examination of internalized homophobia. Even that makes it sound less interesting than it actually is. Some smart theatre person once observed that Chekhov’s The Three Sisters isn’t about three moping women who never get to Moscow, it’s about three exciting, vibrant women fighting like hell to get there. Similarly, Boys is, at its root, about a group of exciting, vibrant men fighting like hell for self-respect and love.

Michael, a recovering alcoholic, hosts a birthday party for his friend Harold in his Upper East Side apartment, with six of their closest friends.
The evening begins with this group of friends celebrating, singing and dancing — when left to their own devices these guys are happy. But when the world comes knocking in the form of Michael’s straight college friend Alan — or the form of dysfunctional toxicity between Michael and Harold that emerges when Michael falls off the wagon — staying happy seems like a steeper climb.

Director Jack Cummings III has staged the play in an actual penthouse loft, transformed into Michael’s 1960s apartment. The audience sits on all sides, creating an intimate, three-dimensional environment. This was a very effective choice; being that close to these men allows you to get a really strong read on precisely when the jokes are kind, and when they’re cruel. It’s a solid production that casts an insightful eye toward both gay history and plain old human psychology.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

February 12, 2010

Theatre Review: "Clothes for a Summer Hotel"

by Jonathan Warman

I’m a great advocate of the lesser-known works of Tennessee Williams (I recently directed one, and am working on directing another), so I am always excited when I hear about productions of plays of his that haven’t become “brand names.”Clothes for a Summer Hotel, the last Williams play to open on Broadway during his lifetime, imagines an otherworldly encounter between the agitated ghosts of great American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda.

is being revived by director Cyndy A. Marion, who, a couple of seasons back, directed a compelling, eye-opening production of another unfamiliar Williams play, In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel. While this Clothes is less focused and sharp than her Tokyo, Marion has clearly worked with her ensemble to develop a good overall sense of the melancholy mood of the piece.

If anything, this production goes a bit too far in the direction of treating Clothes as a mood piece. There is already enough melancholy and insanity in the script; to play it reverently and melodramatically, as the cast often does, makes even the tensest scene a bit sleep-inducing.

Kristen Vaughn is generally effective as Zelda, zeroing in on her frustrated intelligence and sexuality. Vaughn does have a tendency, though, to play Zelda as if she were some other Williams heroine, such as Blanche Du Bois or Amanda Wingfield. Playing a generalized “Tennessee Williams style” (which, in acting terms, doesn’t really exist at all) is an error many actors make, and Vaughn is no exception. Better that she should have concentrated her efforts on recreating the real-life Zelda Fitzgerald, and completely ignored the playwright’s name.

The play takes engaging liberties with time and place, as the Fitzgeralds’ ghosts seem to experience past, present and future simultaneously. In his stage directions for Clothes, Williams says “the extent to which the characters should betray an awareness of their apparitional state will be determined more precisely in the course of a production.” That determination doesn’t seem to have happened here, or if it has, it is played too vaguely. Much excitement could have been generated by exploiting the tension between times, excitement this production definitely needs.

One scene truly “popped” however: when the ghosts of Scott and Ernest Hemmingway come to terms with the homoeroticism in their works, and even in their own competitive relationship. I attribute this scene’s singular success to Rod Sweitzer’s portrayal of Hemmingway. He’s the one actor who seems to have figured out how best to effectively manipulate the shifts in perspective.

In the final analysis, while this production of Clothes for a Summer Hotel is by no means definitive, it is certainly done with enough intelligence to be of interest to Williams fans.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

February 09, 2010

Theatre Review: "When Joey Married Bobby"

by Jonathan Warman

What a startlingly entertaining comedy this is! Sweetly bland gay hunk Joey (Matthew Pender) decides to marry the never-seen Bobby. But, title to one side, that’s not the real story here.

Joey's Southern socialite mother Sarah Edwards is the real central character, a fantastic comic creation of the Atlanta-based playwrighting team that goes by the name “William Wyatt.” It isn’t that Sarah opposes the wedding as such — she’s glad to see her son happy — but she does have an overwhelming desire to keep up appearances, and that’s the engine that drives most of the play’s comedy.

When Joey Married Bobby
is a tasty vehicle for the actress playing Sarah, a well-intentioned slightly-off-her-beam snob, and the diminutive, fast-talking Tina McKissick plays the living daylights out of the part. Her firecracker performance alone is worth the cost of admission.

But Sarah’s not the only comic showpiece that William Wyatt has devised. None other than legendary drag queen Lady Bunny plays the powerful but clueless Baptist Minister's Wife, Charity Divine (interestingly enough, Charity doesn’t oppose the wedding either, mostly because she’s incredibly self-centered and flighty). Bunny’s been hamming the hell out of her song parodies for ages, and I am delighted to report that she is just as riotously funny milking Wyatt’s dialogue for every possible laugh.

But even though the William Wyatt team has certainly created a satisfying comic entertainment, they haven’t created a play where all of the parts fit well, or every joke lands. There’s plenty that could, no, should be cut here, not because the play is too long (it isn’t), but because they’re laugh lines that just aren’t funny and don’t get laughs.

I recommend that the guys behind When Joey Married Bobby
go on what the great director Jack O’Brien calls a “clam hunt”. During the show keep a script in hand and make a mark next to what gets a laugh; the bigger the laugh the bigger the mark. Repeat for several performances to counteract odd audiences. If something you wrote for a laugh has only tiny marks next to it, ditch the sucker. Then, When Joey Married Bobby will not only be a lot of fun (which it already is) it’ll also be airtight.  

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


February 05, 2010

Cabaret Review: "Christine Ebersole"

by Jonathan Warman

Undiluted pleasure. A major cabaret event, cabaret history, even. So supreme, the very finest entertainment that New York has to offer. Faaaabulous!

All of those would be apt descriptions of Christine Ebersole’s dazzling new show at the Café Carlyle. She has a high mark to live up to: The act that she did in late 2001 at the much-missed cabaret Arci’s Place is the stuff of cabaret legend. It caused me to write that she is “one of those talents that comes along just a handful of times every generation,” something she proved in spades in her Tony-winning run as Little Edie Beale in the Broadway musical Grey Gardens.

I’m delighted to report that this show is in the same league as the Arci’s Place act. First off, Christine is working with the magnificent John Oddo, like she did last year at the Carlyle. Oddo was musical director for the late, great Rosemary Clooney and he worked with jazz legends like Woody Herman, and it shows in the tight, elegant and powerful arrangements and piano playing he brings to the table.

This also finds her reuniting with director Scott Wittman, who has his own Tony for co-writing the score of Hairspray, and who directed that magical Arci’s Place act. Ebersole, Oddo and Wittman are all working at the top of their powers here, and the results are dumbfoundingly fantastic.

The show opens with the band tearing their way through a pounding rendition of “Hawaiian War Chant” effectively building the excitement for Christine’s entrance. Looking gorgeous and glamorous, she raises the temperature further, with, appropriately enough, “Too Darn Hot”.

She then goes into the witty patter that Wittman is so brilliant at helping singers to develop (though few deliver it with the sparkling élan that comes so naturally to Ebersole), letting us know that we are in for a show on hot topics like “sex, politics, religion…and weather!” The comment about weather gets a laugh, but one of the undeniable high points of the evening is a truly thunderous rendition of “Stormy Weather” that goes miles beyond any other rendition I’ve ever heard.

Ebersole also did a wonderful performance in Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit on Broadway last season, and ever since has been working on an album (soon to be released) of Coward songs. She does a handful of his songs in the act, including the lyrical “Matelot” and the sentimental “I’ll See You Again”. If this is any indication of how good the album will be, I can hardly wait.

You absolutely, positively must see this; I’m simply not giving you any other option.

For tickets, click here. Seriously. Now.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

February 03, 2010

Cabaret Review: "Betty Buckley"

by Jonathan Warman

It’s no accident that Betty Buckley’s doing a lot of Broadway in her latest cabaret act — “For The Love Of Broadway!” — she says that Feinstein’s got complaints about the jazzier slant of her earlier acts at the club. “We came to see Betty Buckley; we want to hear Broadway, dammit!” She even comically complains about the situation in a very funny specialty number called “When I Belt” written especially for this act by John McDaniel and Eric Kornfeld.

Whether that’s all true or not (it certainly makes for funny patter), it’s a real pleasure to hear her tear into songs as varied as Pal Joey’s “Bewitched,” Avenue Q’s  “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” and The Wiz’s “Home.” Musical director Kenny Werner’s arrangements are original and dynamic, and Buckley’s delivery smart, big and powerful. Particularly touching was her take on Jacques Brel’s “If You Go Away” in which you could almost sense the lover addressed in the song slowly turning away.

The act, however, is a bit on the
ballad-heavy side. This brakes what I consider to be one of the few rules about building a solid cabaret act: go easy on the ballads (you want an audience that is in love, not asleep). You can’t fault her often-riveting interpretations, though, and there’s just enough spicy up-tempo stuff to make this a generally enjoyable evening.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

January 28, 2010

Theater Review: "Time Stands Still"

by Jonathan Warman

Manhattan Theatre Club does very well with plays by Donald Margulies. His Sight Unseen was the first play to be an unqualified success in their Broadway theatre in 2004 (called the Biltmore at the time, now called the Friedman). His Brooklyn Boy received a similar reception the following season. Now, after a break of a few seasons, the Friedman will play host this spring to not one but two Margulies premieres, Time Stands Still and Collected Stories.

Time Stands Still also reunites Margulies with his leading lady from Sight Unseen, the luminous Laura Linney. Here Linney plays brilliant and acclaimed photojournalist Sarah, who has been seriously injured by a bomb while working in a war zone. Her journalist boyfriend James (Brian d’Arcy James, fresh from Shrek), is nursing her back to health, and is also nursing the notion of them leaving war coverage behind and settling down.

Margulies is best at portraying the subtle, quiet moments when people connect or ever so slightly miss connecting, and there’s plenty of that here. He’s also probing into the ethical and psychological baggage of relatively privileged people who make it their business to document the world’s worst miseries. 
Sarah stands squarely at the crux of this probe, as the character most driven to cover the world, in spite of nearly losing her life in that pursuit. Linney is a marvel, investing Sarah with serious gravitas and deep emotions that percolate suddenly and unexpectedly to the surface. James definitely holds his own opposite Linney, making a very strong case for the simple, comfortable life.
Eric Bogosian and Alicia Silverstone make terrific appearances as Sarah’s editor and his new girlfriend, putting the central couple’s struggle in the context of the wider world. If I have one beef with Margulies, it would be the play’s lack of an explicit argument for the importance of the press.

That said, the play’s powerful final moment makes a sudden, visceral impression that pulls the whole thing together in one potent image — arguably what Sarah’s been doing all along.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


January 27, 2010

Theatre Review: "A View from the Bridge"

by Jonathan Warman

For once, finding homophobia in a play doesn’t offend me. When Brooklyn longshoreman Eddie Carbone, the protagonist of A View from the Bridge, says that Rodolpho, a fresh-off-the-boat Italian immigrant, “isn’t right” or is a “punk,” he’s certainly insinuating something about his sexuality.

Clearly, though, the homophobia we’re seeing isn’t a reflection of playwright Arthur Miller’s own attitude toward homosexuality (whatever that might have been). Eddie is covering up the real reason he doesn’t like Rodolpho, namely that the newcomer has very heterosexual intentions towards Eddie’s 17-year-old niece Catherine — to whom Eddie has himself developed an uncomfortably possessive attachment. Also, Miller wrote the play in 1955, a long time before anybody knew what the word homophobia even meant.

It also doesn’t hurt that Eddie is being played with great sensitivity by one of the most intelligent and talented hunks of the American stage and screen, Liev Schreiber. Catherine is being played with equal grace by Scarlett Johansson. Most gratifying is her complete commitment — we feel we’re watching a seasoned stage pro disappear in the part, with not even the slightest hint of a movie star slumming on Broadway.

In fact the entire production is a class act, which director Gregory Mosher has helmed with modest dignity and subtle power. This is my first encounter with this particular Miller play, and I feel like I’ve seen a production that advocates for it very well. It didn’t suddenly become my favorite Miller, but this production is rock-solid theater that I can highly recommend.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


January 23, 2010

Theatre Review: "The Orphan's Home Cycle, Part Two"

by Jonathan Warman

Horton Foote’s The Orphan’s Home Cycle follows a modest, honest Texan soul, Horace Robedaux (played with quiet dignity by the handsome Bill Heck), from childhood through adulthood, over the course of nine one-acts spread out over three evenings. Part Two takes place just under 100 years ago, and focuses on Horace’s married life.

The late Foote focused on genuinely humane individuals trying to make worthwhile lives in the face of attacks from the many human monsters that small-town Texas begets. The monsters in this part are less obvious than in the more desolate Part One, but our hero Horace certainly isn’t getting any kind of free ride. No onstage deaths from alcoholism this time, but we hear of a few, and see a few booze addled creatures come and go.

In The Widow Claire, Horace loves the titular lady, but is stymied at every turn — even beaten up at one point — by Val, a violent, whiskey-guzzling moron who is also “courting” Claire. Claire finally agrees to marry a third, older man, leaving Horace in the lurch.

Luckily, he falls even more deeply in love with one Elizabeth Vaughn in Courtship but comes up against her overprotective father (played with great subtlety by James DeMarse). In Valentine’s Day the couple, who had to elope, reconcile with Elizabeth’s father, while Horace finally has enough security to really feel the loss of his father, and abandonment by his mother. The strongest of the three plays, Valentine’s Day brings into sharper focus the themes of the cycle as a whole.

The Orphan’s Home Cycle
is emerging as one of the more interesting events of the season — I’ve enjoyed the first two, and am very curious to see how the whole thing comes to a close in Part Three.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


January 21, 2010

Theatre Review: "Present Laughter"

by Jonathan Warman

In aging matinee idol Garry Essendine, the central character in Present Laughter, playwright and gay sophisticate Noël Coward created one of the great comic monsters of the modern theater. All the greater because behind his arrogant, preening exterior, Garry is actually a truly compassionate, loving person, surprisingly devoted to the friends he so often bullies and insults. He just can’t help getting dazzled by his own brilliance (“I still maintain I should have been magnificent as Peer Gynt!”) — and who can’t identify with that?

It’s a truly delicious role, and Victor Garber seems to be having a wonderful time sinking his teeth into it. While other actors have had great success comically playing up Garry’s ego, Garber lets that take care of itself and takes Garry’s relationships with his tight-knit circle of friends totally to heart. This makes for what is easily the most textured Present Laughter I’ve ever seen. Even as you’re rolling your eyes at the excuses Garry makes for himself, you know he sincerely means well and is trying to get it right.

While Garry struggles to plan his upcoming tour of Africa, his elegant London flat is invaded by all manner of vivid characters. The flat itself is packed with character — Alexander Dodge’s set is a luscious Deco marvel. Lisa Banes is delectably dry as Garry’s estranged wife Liz, and Harriet Harris is her usual wickedly funny self as his indispensible secretary Monica.

Perhaps best of all is Brooks Ashmanskas as queer-in-every-sense playwright Roland Maule. Coward intended this character to seem like he’s truly touched; Ashmanskas is insanely over the top, truly from a different planet — or maybe just high camp heaven!

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

January 20, 2010

Cabaret Review: "Tyne Daly"

by Joanthan Warman

In Tyne Daly’s previous nightclub act at Feinstein’s, her cabaret debut, she couldn’t find a theme to connect the songs she wanted to sing, so she simply titled it “Songs.” This time, in a show called “The Second Time Around,” Daly has settled on the theme of the blessings and curses that the passage of time brings. It’s a more reflective show, with Tyne showing a more subtle side that’s equal parts expansive emotion and steely-eyed realism.

That’s not to say the stage and screen persona for which she’s known — a “broad” who’s so brassy that it’s dangerous (many have called her 1989 performance as Mama Rose in Gypsy “terrifying”) — doesn’t make an appearance. Her take on Bessie Smith’s murderous “Send Me to the `Lectric Chair” is satisfyingly intense, and she makes a very solid case that she should play Countess Aurelia, The Madwoman of Chaillot, in Jerry Herman’s Dear World (by way of a climactic medley from that show).

More typical of the tone of the show, however, is her wistful take on Bill Withers’s “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Thoughtful and hushed, it’s a more textured approach than you might expect from Daly, although what she gains in nuance, she loses in magnetism. This way of working is a mixed blessing, intriguing but not what I would call compelling.

That said, there isn’t a moment that Daly doesn’t exude both a heartening confidence and a surprising vulnerability. It’s not a rousing evening, but it is in its own way quietly rewarding.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


January 15, 2010

Theatre Review: "Ruddigore"

by Jonathan Warman

Unlike The Mikado, a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta which has long been a favorite of mine — and which I reviewed last week — I have never seen that team’s 1887 operetta Ruddigore, or The Witch's Curse. The New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players have mounted an entirely new production of this lesser-known show, with largely positive results.

The designs for this production were inspired by the illustrations of the late Edward Gorey, most famous these days for designing the animated opening credits for PBS’s Mystery. You can see the Gorey influence most strongly in the gothic set for the second act, but it’s generally so muted that I wouldn’t have noticed it, if it hadn’t been pointed out to me.

I can easily see, however, how directors Albert Bergeret and David Auxier would have made a connection between Ruddigore and Gorey’s dark whimsy.
The Murgatroyd family, Baronets of Ruddigore Castle, was apparently cursed in ancient times by a witch: the head of the family must commit a crime of some sort each day, or face an agonizing death. Ruthven, the most recent Baronet, has escaped this fate by hiding in a fishing village under an assumed name. When Ruthven’s true identity is revealed, he is forced to assume his birthright, perhaps losing the hand of his ladylove in the process.

It’s all the clever, high silliness one expects from G&S. Perhaps because this is a new production, and not a remounting like their Mikado, the ensemble comes closer to the kind of fizzy, tizzy madness that makes this kind of stuff really work. In particular David Macaluso, who was a workmanlike Ko-Ko in The Mikado, really lets loose as Ruthven, finding all kinds of bright comic colors in this shy, reluctant nobleman. I could have done with a heavier Gorey touch, and a bigger dose of insanity overall, but all in all this is a pretty good way to meet Ruddigore.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


January 10, 2010

Theatre Review: "The Mikado"

by Jonathan Warman

I remember seeing a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1885 operetta The Mikado when I was a kid and thinking it was one of the most hilarious things I had ever seen. So, when I saw that, in this slow-as-usual January, the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players would be presenting it, I jumped at the opportunity to see it again.

Even though it’s set in a Japanese village, The Mikado is about as jolly British as you can get — I was also curious to see if it was more racist than I remember. Hardly! It’s far too briskly silly and willfully inauthentic to be taken as saying anything about Japan or the Japanese. Casting a few more Asian actors who could use the work might have been nice (I counted one), but Japan is an almost arbitrary setting that mostly justifies colorful costumes (which costumer designers Gail J. Wofford and Kayko Nakamura delivered in spades).

In the village of Titipu, beautiful school girl Yum-Yum loves the romantic minstrel Nanki-Poo but is engaged to Ko-Ko the executioner (who has a list of potential victims but is too sensitive to actually perform his duties). This romantic triangle is further entangled by the arrival of the fearsome Katisha, claiming Nanki-Poo as her "perjured lover," and later the emperor, or “Mikado,” himself.

This production hits the right tone of silly fun but doesn’t go far enough with it. To my taste, the more The Mikado is done with barely controlled insanity, the better it is. While a handful of performers approach this — particularly Louis Dall’Ava as the comically corrupt bureaucrat Pooh-Bah — in general the humor in this production is too tame by half. It’s often half-hearted, but at least that half is in the right place.

There is nothing half-hearted about the musical side of this Mikado, though, and the principal pleasure here is hearing the score, one of the most glittering in all of operetta, done with such passion and dedication. This Mikado will not likely create any new lovers of operetta, but should satisfy the already converted.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

January 07, 2010

Cabaret Review: "Elaine Stritch: Singin’ Sondheim…One Song at a Time"

by Jonathan Warman

Broadway legend Elaine Stritch’s latest cabaret show Singin’ Sondheim…One Song at a Time (has anyone ever dared to do two at a time?) finds her doing her very favorite songs by her fellow Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim, including some written with such collaborators as Leonard Bernstein, Richard Rodgers and Jule Styne. With her longtime music director Rob Bowman leading a six-piece band, Elaine works overtime to entertain audiences with Stephen’s biggest showstoppers. 

Stritch is most famous today for her wildly successful autobiographical 2002 theater piece Elaine Stritch at Liberty. In her late seventies at the time of At Liberty, her voice was ragged but she acted the hell out of any song that came her way. Soon to be 85, the voice is more ragged still, but the power of her acting has not diminished one whit. The second song is “Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy — let’s just take a moment to applaud the balls it takes do that epic as your second number! — and I have never seen a more frighteningly lucid Rose. This Rose knows she’s batshit crazy and doesn’t give a damn. Eek!

Stritch has a tender story to tell about the love of her life, John Bay, and his Sondheim-approved parody of “Send in the Clowns” as a Groucho Marx song. Turns out that she and John, Londoners at the time, had stayed at the Carlyle when they first came to see the show “Clowns” comes from, A Little Night Music. Today, she commutes to the show. an elevator ride down from her residence in the Carlyle Hotel, the very same room she shared with Bay.

She does some unusual takes on well-known songs: she delivers “Broadway Baby” as the wistful rumination of a Broadway star looking back on her gypsy days, and delivers the lyrics of “Every Day a Little Death” as a devastatingly effective monologue. Perhaps best of all is her ruefully tender encore of “The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me” from Sondheim’s most recent, Road Show. By and large, though, this is Broadway comfort food (in a good way) as Stritch sells every clever Sondheim-ism to the back row.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.

Theatre Review: "The Orphan's Home Cycle, Part One"

by Jonathan Warman

The late Horton Foote is known for his detailed, closely observed plays about lives in small-town Texas. That might sound dry and dreary, but his plays are anything but; Foote focuses on genuinely humane individuals trying to make worthwhile lives in the face of attacks from the many human monsters that the Lone Star State begets.

The Orphan’s Home Cycle follows one such honest soul, Horace Robedaux, from childhood through adulthood, over the course of nine one-acts spread out over three evenings. Part One takes us all the way back to 1902, showing an even more desolate and monstrously forbidding environment than Foote’s other plays.

There are not one but two onstage deaths from what we would recognize today as liver failure due to alcoholism. It’s a harrowing way to go, and director Michael Wilson has not flinched from portraying it honestly. The first such death is in Roots in a Parched Ground, in which Horace’s father Paul (played by Bill Heck, who plays Horace for the great majority of the cycle) lies in his deathbed, having taken to drink after his marriage fell apart.

Paul’s family is an educated, scholarly, citified bunch originally from Galveston, ill-suited for the hard realities of surviving in a small town. The impressionable young Horace goes from wanting to be a lawyer like his father to wanting to turn his back on his family and learn a trade.

He thinks he’s going to be helping run a store, but the second play finds him guarding the titular Convicts, and helping out the irascible plantation owner — and Confederate Civil War veteran — Soll Gautier (a towering performance by James DeMarse). Gautier suffers the second alcohol-induced death of the evening, but where the elder Robedaux went quietly, Gautier undergoes acute paranoia and hallucinations, which turn his inborn meanness into an unpredictable, grotesque horror. Fun stuff!

Lily Dale
, the third play, finds Horace (now played by Heck) in 1910 Houston, visiting his mother (who more or less abandoned him when his father died). He tries to reach out to his sister Lily Dale (Jenny Dare Paulin), but is stymied at every turn by his stepfather Pete Davenport (a terrifying Devon Abner), an abusive man whose affection for Lily is more than a little creepy. The least effective piece of the three, it’s still an evocative slice of Texas as it moves into modernity (Davenport works for the railroad and Lily plays rags in addition to classical pieces on the piano).

The Orphan’s Home Cycle
is classic Foote — I am excited about seeing parts Two and Three in the coming weeks.  

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


December 28, 2009

"Queer as Folk" star Sharon Gless gets a new gig

Sharon Gless is set to star in a new play by Jane Prowse, based on the best-selling book “A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance” by Jane Juska.

According to the New York Times:

It tells what happened when the author, a semi-retired high school English teacher, placed a personal ad in The New York Review of Books in 1999 that read: “Before I turn 67 — next March — I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.” The play is scheduled to begin previews on Jan. 5 at the Theater Artaud in San Francisco, where it will open on Jan. 16 and run through Feb. 7.

Gless, who starred in "Cagney and Lacey" and "Queer As Folk," also had the lead role in the recent film “Hannah Free,” about a lesbian love affair.

December 19, 2009

Theatre Review: "In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play"

by Jonathan Warman

While I enjoyed In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play, I don’t think I’m its audience. For various reasons, I know a bit more than your typical theatergoer about feminism and the history of sexuality, so while Ruhl’s play revealed a few salient details I wasn’t aware of, I wasn’t as shocked or titillated as the rest of the audience seemed to be.

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December 17, 2009

Theatre Review: "Fela!"

by Jonathan Warman

Fela! dances, shimmies, shakes, pulses, thrusts and explodes in a way never seen on Broadway before. About Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and his tumultuous life as political activist and innovative musician, this “musical” is less a book musical and more of a wholesale reconstruction of a unique place and time.

Director/choreographer Bill T. Jones takes us to Fela’s nightclub, “The Shrine” in Lagos, Nigeria, on a hot summer night in 1978. And he really takes us there — set designer Marina Dragihci has covered every available inch of the Eugene O’Neill Theatre with colorful, funky, Afro-centric decoration. The very hottest of today’s Afrobeat bands, Antibalas, is jamming the entire time the audience is entering. Throughout the evening, the imagery never stops, and neither does the groove.

Actually, we get “The Shrine Plus”: surely Fela’s club never featured lights as dynamic as those designed by Robert Wierzel, or projections as powerful as Peter Nigrini’s. Plus, Jones has Fela telling big chunks of his life story in a more or less chronological fashion, which would have never happened at a real evening in the Shrine, which were very spontaneous and pot-fueled.

That said, the evening actually isn’t structured enough — the attempt to catch the wild atmosphere of the Shrine means that somewhere in Act II our interest slacks, in spite of a tremendous 11 o’clock appearance of the incomparable Lillias White as the deified spirit of Fela’s mother Funmilayo.

Also, this is decidedly “Fela’s Fela,” Anikulapo-Kuti presented as he himself would have wished, as a folk hero. A few important faults go unreported: Fela’s attitude towards his 27 wives, and women in general, veered wildly between worshipfulness and genuinely shocking sexism. We are only shown the worshipful side.

Further, he wrote songs against condom use and portrayed AIDS as a “white man’s disease” — while in a deeply ironic turn, he died of the disease himself in 1997 (it bears saying that his family has been deeply involved with AIDS advocacy ever since). AIDS is not even mentioned in the show, save for a slogan on a coffin at show’s end. Given that Jones did a groundbreaking dance about AIDS in 1994 called Still/Here, this omission is odder still.

Still, Fela! is an energetic, exciting part of an ongoing infusion of new ideas and approaches into the Broadway musical. For that alone, it is well worth seeing.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


December 16, 2009

Theatre Review: "A Little Night Music"

by Jonathan Warman

This musical, set in the very earliest years of the 20th century Sweden, is as optimistically romantic as Stephen Sondheim ever got. Even here there are generous helpings of his wry cynicism, but never enough to truly darken the sweetly swooning mood. Based on Ingmar Bergman's film Smiles of a Summer Night, A Little Night Music the story follows lawyer Fredrik Egerman (Alexander Hanson) and his renewed entanglement with glamorous actress Desirée Armfeldt (Catherine Zeta-Jones) after many years apart.

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December 13, 2009

Cabaret Review: "Michael Feinstein and David Hyde Pierce"

by Jonathan Warman

Yet another duo cabaret act from Michael Feinstein, after two terrific match-ups with Cheyenne Jackson and Christine Ebersole (the show with Jackson was so successful that it was subsequently made into a terrific studio album). The previous shows were studies in contrasts, with Feinstein playing more or less the straight man to his more flamboyant partners.

This latest act with David Hyde Pierce finds Michael in the hot seat, playing the romantic next to Pierce’s classical, restrained, hilariously deadpan persona. Pierce goes quite literally Classical with “Ill Wind,” a Mozart concerto set to ludicrous, tongue-tripping lyrics by English comedian Michael Flanders.

Immediately after, Feinstein sits down at the piano and goes into an instrumental version of Cole Porter’s “So in Love” that sounds like Romantic composer Rachmaninoff. This segues into the rip-roaring John Oddo arrangement of that song that was such a hit in the Cheyenne show (and CD). Oddo, perhaps best known as Rosemary Clooney’s music director, is also music director here, and did all of the arrangements. It bears saying from time to time that there are few things in cabaret finer than a John Oddo arrangement.

This pattern holds for most of the evening, Michael belting out showstoppers like “I Wanna Be Around” and “A Lot of Livin’ to Do,” while David patters through stuff like his big number from Spamalot, “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway (If You Don’t Have Any Jews).” There’s one breathtaking exception, when Pierce sings the brief “Your Face” by out composer John Kander. Written in the 1960s, it tenderly describes his lover’s face as he sleeps. Pierce delivers it with such warm simplicity, that—well, if it doesn’t make you kvell, you’re just not gay.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


December 12, 2009

Theatre Review: "The Lost Lounge"

by Jonathan Warman

The Lost Lounge, the latest from downtown lesbian troupe Split Britches, is hardcore group performance art. How much you like the show therefore depends a great deal on how much you like performance art. If you love it, this is some of the very best performance art out there. If you don’t love it, you may find a thing here or there to enjoy about The Lost Lounge, but ultimately it won’t be your cup of tea.

I like, but don’t love, performance art, so I had a good, but not great, time. It helps a lot that Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver, the couple at the heart of Split Britches, are skillful and charismatic performers. The subject of The Lost Lounge is the loss of many things that made New York special; I think that it hurts the show that we don’t really get a sense of the things lost, just a generalized sense of angst over their loss.

The show is at its best when Shaw (the suavest butch anywhere) and Weaver (a wry, tough, self-aware femme) sing and dance through the pain, when they deadpan their way through a faux Louis Prima & Keely Smith number (Vivian Stoll providing the music), or put their backs into Stormy Brandenberger’s evocative choreography. This is exceptionally well put together performance art, that maybe needs to dig a little bit deeper and think a little bit harder.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


Theatre Review: "Race"

by Jonathan Warman

Rich white man Charles (Richard Thomas) has been accused of raping a not-rich black woman, and hires a law firm led by partners Jack (James Spader) and Henry (David Alan Grier) with associate Susan (Kerry Washington). Sounds like a promising set-up for a David Mamet play, right? Think again.

The most compelling thing about the production is the opportunity to see Mamet as directed by Mamet. In general, I think it’s a mistake for a writer to direct his own work. In the case of Race, though, Mamet’s direction clears up one very important thing about performing his plays: Don’t let the rhythm hypnotize you.

Yes, as everybody says, this playwright picks his words very carefully. But there is not some great mystery in this, no right rhythm that overrides the sense of what he’s written. The words mean what you think they mean, and they’re spoken in the way a real human would say them. Sometimes they dance, but just as often they halt and change directions. Spader in particular masterfully delivers the lines with maximum economy and impact.

That said, there’s a lot more economy than impact in the writing of Race. In terms of content, the play, while smart, isn’t even up to insight of a third rate episode of Law & Order. I’m thinking in particular of a (first-rate) episode of L & O: Criminal Intent (co-written by playwright Teresa Rebeck), dealing with a street gang run with the precepts of Marcus Aurelius, that digs a lot deeper than Race does. Mamet wrote Race because he could, not because he needed to, or had anything really new to say to us.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


December 03, 2009

Theatre Review: "Our Town"

by Jonathan Warman

Director David Cromer’s revival of Thornton Wilder’s haunting evocation of a small New Hampshire town at the turn of the last century is intimate, even a bit claustrophobic. Between the years of 1901 and 1913, change comes slowly to the town of Grover’s Corners, and a stage manager (originally played by Cromer himself, now Jason Butler Harner, with great dryness) shows us scenes of the townspeople’s daily lives, loves and deaths.

Cromer, however, has the cast dress in 21st century rehearsal clothes, with only slight evocations of period dress. No noticeable Yankee accents, either.

He’s staged the action amongst the audience, sometimes having actors performing within inches of a given audience member’s face. It’s hard to single out any one performance for praise in this production, so strong is the sense of ensemble playing. Cromer’s aim seems to be to make the play as immediate as possible, and he’s succeeded admirably.

This approach also strips away the sentimentality of most productions of Our Town. Most noticeably, many of the town’s adult males are portrayed as hard-nosed, grimly provincial and even intolerant, instead of most productions’ strong silent types with hearts of gold.

This brings into stark relief the plight of alcoholic church organist Simon Stimson (Jeremy Beiler) — in this production he reads as distinctly gay, but completely repressed, destroyed by a complete lack of any avenue for expression of his true nature. Except, that is, through the tortured, dissonant piano music he plays at various points throughout the evening.

Cromer has even made the evening’s biggest chestnut, a scene late in the play bidding farewell to Grover’s Corners, into something freshly exciting, even sensual.

This Our Town may be innovative, but it’s also highly successful. On Wednesday, December 16, performance #337 will make this staging the longest-running Our Town in the 71-year worldwide history of the classic play. The announcement was made by Tappan Wilder, the playwright’s nephew and the literary executor of his uncle’s intellectual properties.

According to Tappan, there have been “tens of thousands” of productions/licenses of Our Town that have been performed in more than 26 countries and translated into 22 languages.  The longest-running of those productions was the original 1938 Broadway version. Personally, I heartily hope that Tappan was right when he said, “this production will most certainly have a lasting effect on future versions of Our Town around the world.”   

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


December 01, 2009

Theatre Review: "Ragtime"

by Jonathan Warman

Ragtime dials the clock way back, looking at the emergence of ragtime in the 1900s. It doesn’t tell the story of that music’s evolution; instead, it uses it as a metaphor for the convulsive changes then happening in America. Based on E.L. Doctorow's epic novel set in New York’s combustible melting pot, Ragtime in fact weaves together three distinct stories — those of a sheltered New Rochelle housewife, a indomitable Jewish immigrant on the poverty-stricken Lower East Side and a passionate young Harlem piano player.

I didn’t see the 1998 Broadway debut of Ragtime; my first exposure to it was Stafford Arima’s 2005 production at Paper Mill Playhouse. The Arima production and this one (directed and choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge) share a heated minimalism, as well as a lead actor, Quentin Earl Darrington as ragtime pianist Coalhouse Walker. In both productions, Darrington makes Coalhouse the soul of the show, playing him with real danger, passion and sorrow.

Other standout performances include Christiane Noll giving a surprising wryness to the WASPy “Mother” and Bobby Steggart as surely the most earnest (and cutest) “Young Brother” ever. Robert Petkoff brings great humanity and humor to the role of Orchard Street artist turned filmmaker Tateh. Derek McLane’s set is a masterpiece of functional elegance and flexibility. Santo Loquasto’s costumes tell a story all by themselves, especially his vaudeville costumes for Evelyn Nesbit.

As for the show itself, I’m not in love with the tendency of composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist to do “stand downstage center” arias. Ragtime’s strongest moment are the ensemble numbers, including the rousing title song (which Dodge has stage with great intensity and intelligence) and “New Music.” All in all, a very strong entry in the musical season.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


Theatre Review: "The Understudy"

by Jonathan Warman

Is The Understudy a love letter or a poison pen letter to the theatre? Playwright Theresa Rebeck looks at one of the most infamous positions in the theatre: the understudy. The play, Rebeck’s best and funniest in years, certainly celebrates what the theatre is capable of, but it also has piercing insight into hard show biz truths.

It’s fitting that the “understudy rehearsal” which makes up the play is for a Broadway production of a newly discovered play by Franz Kafka. The Understudy reveals the ways in which show business is like one of Kafka’s nightmare bureaucracies — everybody is standing in for somebody else more powerful.

We may initially think that Harry (rubber-limbed Justin Kirk) is the titular understudy, but Jake (Mark-Paul Gosselaar, looking great in a tight t-shirt) the minor movie star whose role Harry’s “covering” is himself understudying the role of an even bigger movie star, the unseen Bruce. And Roxanne (Julie White, hilarious as always) may be a much-loved (in more ways than one) stage manager, but she also has acting ambitions herself. Rebeck even hints at the idea that commercial theatre as a whole is a much-abused “understudy” of the movie industry, aping its moves and jealously eyeing its bigger paychecks.

Beyond all this, however, we get to see glimpses of the dream that motivates all three characters. Harry has a great instinct for tone and physicality, Jake, real passion for the philosophical seriousness of Kafka, Roxanne, penetrating insight into the possibilities of cross-gender casting. When all three do the Kafka play’s finale, an absurd yet passionate dance, it’s a moving homage to what the theatre can do when humble artistry triumphs commerce-driven nerves.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


November 15, 2009

Theatre Review: "Finian's Rainbow"

by Jonathan Warman

This musical revival charms from the word “go.” Finian’s Rainbow follows the charismatic Irish dreamer of the title (played with genuine magic by Jim Norton) and his fiery daughter Sharon (Kate Baldwin) through a fanciful version of the American south, where they go up against an intolerant Senator, a credit crisis, a wronged leprechaun, and, of course, a complicated love affair.

This is assuredly the best-sung Finian’s Rainbow that ever was. There’s no arguing with Cheyenne Jackson’s glittering delivery of “Old Devil Moon” (there’s a too-easy dirty joke in hunky Cheyenne playing a character named Woody, but I’ll leave it be). I’ve never heard a more luscious “How are Things in Glocca Morra” than the one Baldwin gives us. “Necessity” was never more passionate and moving than when sung by Terri White, and Chuck Cooper rattles the rafters in “The Begat” (I’d bet anything they turned his mic off more than once, he sings so strongly).

Director/choreographer Warren Carlyle has in general done a solid job of keeping what could have been hopelessly dated fresh and brisk. In his very briskness, though, he’s tended to gloss over some key things. The actual moment that Sharon and Woody fall in love, well, it just didn’t seem to happen. Boom, they’re in love --- which could have been magic, too, but wasn’t. Also, lyricist Yip Harburg wrote some of the funniest, jokiest lyrics in musical comedy, but as often as not the cast zoom right by the jokes.

It’s clear that choreography is Carlyle’s great strength --- when this Finian dances, it soars. If only the book scenes were as agile. These are quibbles, though, with a show that’s more often than not a genuine pleasure and delight.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


October 30, 2009

Theatre Review: "Brighton Beach Memoirs"

by Jonathan Warman

I’ve never been much of a fan of Neil Simon’s work, so I haven’t made much of an effort to get to know Brighton Beach Memoirs or its companion plays Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound in the twentysomething years they’ve been around. Yes, I know that they are regularly praised as his best work, as the plays in which he successfully goes beyond his sitcom-y reputation (without turning his back on it). These reports piqued my interest, but never quite enough to read them or see regional productions.

So I came to this production with moderately low expectations, and was moderately pleasantly surprised. This semi-autobiographical play focuses on young Jewish teen Eugene Morris Jerome (loosely based on Simon himself) and his extended family living in a crowded home in late `30s Brighton Beach.

Brighton Beach Memoirs still trades somewhat on formulas that have success on television, but more in the direction of good soap opera than situation comedy. It is very tightly plotted, and Simon deftly builds suspense. There are still the expected one-liners (including one tasteless and mean one at the expense of a fat gay kid).

Director David Cromer has given us a production that is miles more grounded and humane than any other Simon play I’ve seen. The cast is uniformly strong, although I’d definitely single out Laurie Metcalf and Dennis Boutsikaris as Mama Kate Jerome and Papa Jack Jerome—these characters are the heart of the show and Metcalf and Boutsikaris’s performance are unsentimentally full-hearted.

Brighton Beach Memoirs will be playing in repertory with Broadway Bound, generally agreed to be the best play in the trilogy that Memoirs opens. For possibly the first time ever, I’m actually looking forward to seeing a Neil Simon play.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


October 23, 2009

Theatre Review: "Memphis"

by Jonathan Warman

I love this show! Another show that Memphis director Christopher Ashley directed, All Shook Up, featured the early Elvis Presley song “That’s All Right.” That song is deceptively simple, but Ashley’s staging of it mined all of its implications, most vividly the racial tensions that lay under the success of Elvis, “the white man who sang like a black man.”

In Memphis everything that was implicit in that riveting moment becomes electrifyingly, grippingly explicit. In July 1954, a Memphis DJ named Dewey Phillips was the first DJ to broadcast “That’s All Right” the young Elvis Presley's first commercially released record. Memphis fictionalizes Phillips into the character of Huey Calhoun, who defies the racism of Memphis to express his love of rhythm and blues --- and not coincidentally his love for beautiful, black rhythm and blues singer Felicia.

Everybody here is working at the very top of their game. Ashley, best know for his gifts at staging comedy, proves he can be even more compelling and engaging (and entertaining) when dealing with dead serious themes like racism and the fear of success. David Bryan’s music, while it is more ‘60s rock & soul than ‘50s r&b, is miles more sophisticated than his work on The Toxic Avenger or anything he did with Bon Jovi.

Joe DiPietro’s book is inspirational, heart wrenching and devastatingly smart --- sometimes all in the same moment. Chad Kimball kicks ass as Huey, and Montego Glover positively glows as Felicia. If I were to pick one performance out of the stellar supporting cast, it would be Derrick Baskin as Gator, arguably the show’s wounded but joyous soul.

Of course it’s not perfect: Ken Travis’s sound design frequently obscures the vocals, rendering a fair portion of the lyrics unintelligible. What lyrics I can make out are of a piece with DiPietro’s wonderful book, so I really do miss hearing them. Nonetheless, if somebody were to ask me what the Broadway musical at its very best is capable of accomplishing, I would give Memphis as a prime example.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


Theatre Review: "After Miss Julie"

by Jonathan Warman

While I like a lot of plays by Swedish playwright August Strindberg, I really don’t have much use for his play Miss Julie. It focuses on the fallout from a one night stand by the titular young woman of the landed gentry and her father’s footman Jean. It may have been groundbreaking in its frank dealings with sex and class in 1888, but it just seems mean, slow and overwrought now.

Patrick Marber’s adaptation After Miss Julie transposes the play to an English country house on the eve of the Labour Party’s historic landslide in 1945.  He does Strindberg’s original a few favors, taking the edges off of Jean’s misogyny, and making Julie herself a touch more sympathetic. Still, this is mostly the same Miss Julie that has always bored my pants off, and while director Mark Brokaw’s production has its virtues, I still don’t really give a damn about these characters.

For what its worth, this version is well acted. Sienna Miller has the right caged heat for poor little rich girl Julie, Marin Ireland has the spine of iron that the role of Jean’s fiancée Christina (my favorite part in the show) requires, and Jonny Lee Miller is all tightly controlled, brooding sex as Jean.

For the most part, Brokaw keeps things in motion, with the exception of a handful of long silences that I suppose are intended to be filled with tension and suspense --- but just weren’t. But I have such a strong prejudice against the original play (which this did nothing to change) that I suggest you seek out the opinions of other critics.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


October 22, 2009

Cabaret Review: "Victoria Clark and Ted Sperling"

by Jonathan Warman

Seeing how she won a Tony Award for her turn in Light in the Piazza, Victoria Clark would be perfectly within her rights to go the Broadway diva route and create a cabaret act that was all about her. It’s very refreshing, then, that her debut Feinstein’s engagement is called “The Vicki & Ted Show” and is equally split between her and her old friend --- and star Broadway music director --- Ted Sperling.

This isn’t technically the premiere of this show: it had an acclaimed run at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater in Washington DC. It celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of their remarkable friendship that began when they were students at Yale University. Since then they have, separately and together, been involved with many hit  Broadway shows, including How to Succeed in Business..., Titanic and The Light in the Piazza (Ted also won a Tony for that show, by the way, for his sumptuous orchestrations).

They both are deeply musical people who, when they began their careers, had classical music ambitions. That makes for musically rewarding show that includes terrific songs from the likes of Sondheim, Berlin and John Pizzarelli & Jessica Molasky (one of several songs written especially for Clark).

The good news is that Sperling is a terrific singer, if not quite in Victoria’s opera-worthy league. As well sung as it is, the act could definitely benefit visually from a director’s touch: Sperling is often hidden from sight by his sheet music (even when he’s singing!) and Clark often delivers stuff to him that would been more effectively delivered to the audience. Still, when Victoria sings such sweeping songs as “In Buddy’s Eyes” and “Fable” from Piazza to Teds equally grand arrangement, this is pretty hard to resist.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


October 20, 2009

Theatre Review: "Bye Bye Birdie"

by Jonathan Warman

Boy what a mess! I don’t know what Robert Longbottom did here, because this revival of Bye Bye Birdie seems very nearly un-directed. Let’s start with the casting: Gina Gershon is a talented actress and a gifted comedienne, as was very clear from her performance in last season’s Boeing Boeing. But her role here, Rose Alvarez, was written specifically for Chita Rivera, a formidable singer and dancer, and Gershon is formidable in neither capacity. Longbottom clearly hasn’t helped her to “sell” the numbers either, as Joe Mantello did so successfully in 9 to 5 earlier this year with non-singer Allison Janney.

Let’s move on to the visuals. The design does evoke the early sixties, but only in the most general way. The show’s story follows hip-swingin’ teen idol Conrad Birdie (Nolan Gerard Funk), who’s been drafted into the army.   Birdie's manager Albert (John Stamos) and Albert’s secretary Rosie (Gina Gershon) cook up a plan to send him off with one last kiss from a lucky teenage fan from Sweet Apple, Ohio.

Thing is, Sweet Apple looks nearly identical to Albert’s office in Manhattan. The most stark example: A Sweet Apple bar looks more like a brand new airport bar than a roadside house in small-town 1960 Ohio. The costumes have everything to do with color composition, but very nearly nothing to do with character. And the splashy glass panels that frame the stage make what should be a warm fuzzy show feel icy and lifeless.

Then there is the complete lack of consistency in the performance. Bill Irwin is hilarious as small-town dad Harry, but he seems to be in a completely different show (a more fun show to be sure). When Jane Houdyshell steps on-stage as Albert’s mother Mae, she wipes the stage with everybody else. It’s simply because she’s making strong choices and playing them with total conviction, not a common occurrence here. Funk plays Birdie with just as much confidence, plus a hint of raging libido underneath his pretty-boy exterior. Three strong performances, with not the slightest sense that Longbottom has put a second’s thought into what theatrical world would encompass all three.

There’s lot of talent here, but every time this Birdie hits a mark it feels like a happy accident.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


Theatre Review: "Oleanna"

by Jonathan Warman

I liked Oleanna more than I thought would. That is, I didn’t like it that much, but I didn’t hate it. I’ve never been a big fan of David Mamet, but I have enjoyed his more recent comedic stage and film writing. Something of Oleanna’s vintage (1990s or earlier) didn’t seem likely to work for me.

So I was intrigued to find that Oleanna does dig just beyond the surface of political correctness. Instead of pitting formidable opponents against each other, Mamet portrays two egotists mired in mediocrity: John (Bill Pullman) a male university professor and Carol (Julia Stiles) one of his female students. What limited power and insight the play has, comes from their very mediocrity. Watching them vying for power with words they don’t fully grasp, in worlds inevitably out of their control, we get a very strong feel for the proverbial “banality of evil.”

In 2009, the debate over “political correctness,” the topic of Oleanna, isn’t as vexed as it was when the play was written. On the plus side, PC has contributed to heightened sensitivity to the realities of racism, sexism and homo- and trans-phobia. And the more heinously punitive uses of PC have, I hope, heightened our collective “bullshit meters” when encountering poisonous idiots like Mamet’s John and Carol.

This insight comes more from the perspective of time, however, and not from director Doug Hughes’s admittedly tight production.  Stiles has perhaps found the best angle for the least believable character, giving us a sense of violence and abuse in Carol’s background, which may inform her overblown reactions to John’s bumbling. Pullman’s John bumbles a little too much: this guy should be a little more of a stuffed shirt for the action of the play to make dramatic sense.

I liked this a lot more than last season’s American Buffalo and Speed-the-Plow. That’s not saying much, though—I really detested those two shows.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


October 19, 2009

Theatre Review: "The Royal Family"

by Jonathan Warman

I’ve really been looking forward to The Royal Family, more than any other show at the Friedman Theatre since Manhattan Theatre Club reopened it (as the Biltmore) in 2003. It’s a classic by Georgre Kaufman and Edna Ferber, and Kaufman is one of my favorite comic playwrights of all time. Although it feels like director Doug Hughes has let a handful of sure-fire laughs get away from him and his cast, this production is nevertheless as solid and rewarding as anything MTC has done in years.


We are in the lavish Manhattan apartment of the Cavendishes, a famous family of stage stars, not so loosely based on the Barrymores. And what an apartment it is: Scenic designer John Lee Beatty delivers a magnificent jewel box of a set that could only belong to a truly histrionic family of actors.


The Cavendishes exchange scripts like other families trade glances, going through personal problems between matinees and evenings, trying to balance the need for love with the need for the stage, not always with success. The cast is uniformly wonderful, right down to downtown queer marvel David Greenspan in the small but plummy role of Jo the butler.


The wonderfulness starts at the top, with Rosemary Harris glowing as matriarch Fanny, definitely a creature breathing the air of the 19th century elegance and melodrama. Also terrific are John Glover and Ana Gasteyer as Herbert and Kitty Dean, the somewhat less successful relatives. And Reg Rogers is great fun as the clan’s swashbuckling Hollywood prodigal son.


But the play belongs to Julie Cavendish, the biggest star in the family. Comic stalwart Jan Maxwell finally gets to play a part worthy of her talent in a production that’s up to her standard. Maxwell locates both Julie’s deep, almost spiritual love of the stage and her longing for a more leisurely life, and plays them beautifully and effusively. Truly one of the more satisfying nights I’ve spent in a Broadway theatre in a while.


For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


October 17, 2009

Theatre Review: "Superior Donuts"

by Jonathan Warman

Is Tracy Letts a “Great American Playwright” in the tradition of Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams? Or is he simply a playwright with a gift for engaging, entertaining characters who gives them just enough grit to make his plays seem weighty?

The truth probably lies somewhere in between, and we probably won’t actually know until he’s written a few more plays. His August: Osage County flirted with greatness enough to deserve the term “masterpiece,” putting him in a harsher spotlight than most playwrights ever have to face.

Superior Donuts artfully dodges the issue: it’s a comedy with more than a little sentimentality (but then again didn’t O’Neill write Ah Wilderness and Williams The Rose Tattoo). While things aren’t tidied up in a contrived way at the end, we can see the last few plot points coming (to Letts credit, the exact way they arrive is actually satisfying).

It is above all a very successful character sketch. Michael McKean plays Arthur, the owner of a Chicago donut shop who has cocooned himself away from the world. A Vietnam draft dodger, he suffers from the gnawing feeling that he’s a coward.  But a bright-eyed, very intelligent young black kid named Franco (Jon Michael Hill) asks Arthur for a job, beginning an unexpected friendship that will change both their lives in ways that neither expects. 

McKean delivers a knockout performance, really getting under Arthur’s skin. If there’s anything great about Donuts it’s the lead role, and McKean should definitely get his share of nods come award time.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


October 16, 2009

Theatre Review: "A Boy and His Soul"

by Jonathan Warman 

Boy, do I feel Coleman Domingo! A Boy and His Soul is an autobiographical one-man show, but it escapes almost every single pitfall of that genre. Domingo views his own story through the life-giving lens of soul music (which I love very nearly as much as he does), imbuing that story with a glowing, rich texture and warmth.

We’re not talking just one genre of soul music, either, but the whole gamut of R&B music from Aretha to “quiet storm” to orchestral disco to synthesized funk. If any one style predominates, it’s Philly soul, created in Coleman’s hometown of Philadelphia. It’s almost as though the piece is more about the music, with his personal story as a subplot, a very refreshing angle.

Director Tony Kelly founded a theatre company in San Francisco called Thick Description, and the thickness of the details in A Boy and His Soul contribute mightily to the show’s appeal. Domingo paints very specific pictures with very specific soundtracks, which makes his stories crackle with vivid life and humor.

I really identify with the joy Domingo expresses as he thumbs through cartons of soul LPs, that rush of memory, of pure energy. A Boy and His Soul is also, in part, a coming out story, and Domingo’s use of Teddy Pendergrass’s “You Can’t Hide From Yourself” gives that story a touch of profundity even as “The Hustle” and “I’m Coming Out” bring out it’s campy highlights.

I’m a great believer in the power of music to tell stories that words can’t fully express, and of dance (or hell, any kind of movement) to add even more dimension.  A Boy and His Soul is packed so full of that power that it positively vibrates, making it one of the most deeply pleasurable experiences I’ve had in the theatre.

For tickets, click here.

For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see dramaqueennyc.blog.


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