Friday, September 30, 2011

Quarter Three Theater Roundup!!

What a quarter! Hurricane Irene darkened Broadway but spared the city. Stephen Sondheim gave the creative team behind The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess a pen lashing. And I saw a mishmash of theater. Some delighted and some disappointed. 

As I look through my theater roll for the quarter, the number one spot is easy (did someone say something about a horse); however, selecting two and three are a bit more difficult. But after some thinking, here is my final answer. 

1. War Horse - I shed a tear for this wonderful story about a boy and his horse. On Christmas day, Steven Spielberg's film version comes out. Now, millions will get to enjoy this engrossing story.

2. Silence The Musical - I did not get a chance to blog about this parody of the Oscar award winning film - The Silence of the Lambs - maybe because I tried to describe it to a colleague and had a hard time because the show is just so racy. However, a fan of the original film, improv and shows such as SNL, I just got such a kick out of it and giggled my butt off. I am happy to see that it is returning and will begin playing at PS122 late October. If you are a fan of parodies and the film, this is a must see.

3. Hero The Musical  - This was my first Korean musical and I found it and the history of Korea-Japan relations completely fascinating. The amazing train scene as well as the court scene will remain in my memory for a while. I would love to see more Asian shows on the New York City stage.

So, there you have it. However, as the previews begin for this season, I do not have much time to look back at Quarter Three. Already lined up for October 2011 are the following: The Mountaintop, Chinglish and The Atmosphere of Memory. Oh, did I mention that Nina Arianda is coming back to Broadway. I am so excited! 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Did I Make a Folly Seeing "FOLLIES"?

So, what did I like about FOLLIES currently playing at the Marquis Theatre.

  1. Wonderful classics by Stephen Sondheim.
  2. I loved the set and how the grey torn fabric extended to the whole theater.
  3. The concept - reconnecting with the ghost of our younger selves.
  4. This production went all out with a huge cast and big production.

However, the following fell flat for me.

  1. I was a little disappointed with Bernadette Peters' performance. I was so looking forward to seeing her but her performance was not remarkable. I am the first to get choked up at the theater but Bernadette Peters' performance of Losing My Mind evoked little emotion in me. Jan Maxwell however was a delight to watch.
  2. There was so much going on in the first act. Was I watching a musical or just a revue?
  3. The dialogue - a few words and then walk off stage - I did not like this in Baby It's You and I did not like it in FOLLIES.
  4. The transition to Loveland. Excuse me, but did I blink and miss something?
With the star power of Bernadette Peters, Jan Maxwell and Elaine Page and rave reviews from many many critics, I should have loved FOLLIES. However, while I found some moments wonderful, overall, my experience at FOLLIES was not the most memorable and at Broadway ticket prices, I am disappointed.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Quote from Stephen Sondheim - "Sondheim on Sondheim"

From Broadway's Sondheim on Sondheim:
My first serious relationship occurred when I was 60 years old and I fell in love. I think that it did not happen until then because I was not open for it. I wasn't ready for it. I was brought up as an only child. I enjoyed being an only child. I enjoyed being alone. I still enjoy often being alone. But I think that I had gotten in the habit of it. And when I met somebody, that habit got broken.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I Can’t Believe They Say “Cheese and Crackers” in this Play

As I flipped through TDF’s current offerings, I noticed a show entitled The Bus. I do not know anything about this show but since it is also the title of one of my favorite tunes from the musical Caroline, or Change, I decided to click on it and could not help but notice the following audience advisory.
Audience advisory (from the show's website:) The Bus is appropriate for mature teens and adults. It contains strong language, sexual situations and a teenager's report on menstruation. Two boys faces get awfully close to each other. The words 'god' and 'dude' are both used as a noun and an exclamation. There's an exchange of shirts. A mention of musicals. At one point an old man shouts, 'Cheese and crackers!'
Do the creators really have this message on their website? Using some “google power” I quickly uncovered that they do in fact have fun with the advisory. But what was more interesting is how the play, which runs from Oct 4th - 30th at 59E59 Theaters, was produced. 

The journey is summarized somewhat on, a site used by creative souls to fund their projects. To help bring the play to Off Broadway and then to a baptist church in Topeka Kansas, the creators raised $50K by offering tickets and tchotchkes to some 396 backers for pledges ranging from $1 to $5000. Using updates on, they outline everything from launching their website, building the set, the cast, the director, rehearsals and more. 

So, what do I love about this project from what I've read. It is grassroots, the creators seem to be about educating (after Kansas, they want to move on to other Midwestern towns) and they use humor. Now, I just may have to add this play to my theater lineup for October. I just don't know if  I can take all the "cheese and crackers" language.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bacchanal Time for the Lost Generation

Unseen woman one row behind me asks unseen man how is he enjoying the show. Unseen man says he doesn't know; they just seem to be having a good time. Unseen woman says that's the point. 

Ever since I missed Gatz, I have been intrigued with the Elevator Repair Service theater group, which somehow manages to successfully stage American classics verbatim. So when I finally got around to noticing that they are doing an abridged version of Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, I had to check it out.  

As I waited for the performance to begin, I checked out the set of The Select (The Sun Also Rises), It looked like some aged dive bar with torn streamers clearly the remnants of some previous festivities. Oh, by the way, did I mention the booze - A LOT of booze. In general, the acting and pace of the show were very good and the bullfight scene was absolutely engrossing. I have never seen a group of people (on stage or anywhere) drink and party as much as this bunch does as they journey from Paris to Pamplona.

I did have some problems with the actor playing Jake Barnes. As an audience member noted, he was reminiscent of a young Paul Giamatti and that did not quite add up for me. Also, I just did not see the chemistry between Jake and Brett nor did I feel their love. But getting back to the unseen man and woman, I get that the Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises is a classic in part for chronicling the "lost generation" but The Select (The Sun Also Rises) left me not really caring one bit about any of the characters as they drowned their souls in booze and just partied.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How Shake Shack Reminded Me of One of My Favorite Musicals

The line was unusually short as I passed Shake Shack on 8th Ave. Could it be? I can actually enjoy one of the tastiest cleanest burgers in NYC before catching a 8PM show Off Broadway. 

I jumped on the queue and scoped out the number of opens seats available. I then looked up at the menu on the wall (even though I knew exactly what I wanted - simple burger and fair shake) and noticed a concrete called Jelly's Last Donut, and for a few minutes, I was transported back to the early 1990s when I experienced one of my favorite Broadway musical of all times - Jelly's Last Jam (book by George C. Wolfe and lyrics by Susan Birkenhead), which featured the late and multi-talented Gregory Hines as Jelly Roll Morton who arrogantly claims to be the architect, the originator, the inventor of jazz.

When I think about the 1992 musical, I naturally think of my favorite song from the musical - The Banishment sung by Gran Mimi played by the amazing Ann Duquesnay, who I have not seen on the stage since Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk. The Banishment is not a song that makes Broadway CD compilations. It is neither upbeat nor some longing number about love. It is a harsh song about rejection by one's family with stinging lyrics such as " get away from my door"  "if you spit in the water there is no going back to the well" "you shame the memory of your mother" and "if you lie down with dirt you are going to carry that smell". While raw, this 4-minute song is beautifully and powerfully sung by Ms. Duquesnay and will always be a favorite of mine. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"The Submission" Left Me Conversation Less

The Submission by Jeff Talbott

I was intrigued by Jeff Talbott’s The Submission. The MCC play is directed by Walter Bobbie, and Rutina Wesley, who I watch each Sunday night on HBO’s True Blood, appears in it. But most of all, the plot seemed interesting. 

So, let’s get a bit into the plot. Danny, a white gay playwright encounters a group of young black kids on the subway. The black kids make disparaging and homophobic remarks to him and this inspires him to write a play about a black mother and her son living in the projects. The play just pours out of him and it is the best thing he has ever written. He submits the play to a festival, but in a self-limiting move, he submits it under a made up black female name - Shaleeha G'ntamobi's – because he thinks that no one will take a play written by a white male about the “ghetto” seriously. The play is well received and the festival decides to produce it and a famous black director takes on the project. Danny is now in a quandary so he hires a black woman to pretend to be the playwright and after it opens the plan is that they will reveal his true identify. Of course, this is not as simple as it sounds and drama ensues.

Last year, The Submission won the first ever Laurents/Hatcher Foundation Award for exploring “cultural authenticity in authorship”. But to me this play is not written or staged to explore authenticity in authorship. This play is about race, specifically relations between white people and black people and the explosive things SOME would like to say to each other. In an interview, the playwright – Nebraskan Jeff Talbott – says that he hopes that the play will start a conversation about what people have said or heard said. However, this black woman left a recent preview at the Lucille Lortel Theatre not in a very talkative mood - conversation less and hoping for more than explosive words.  

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Play That Would Like You to Take a Leap for Our Children

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I walked passed the famous The Apollo Theater and continued on down 125th Street to Fifth Avenue to The National Black Theatre to see Radha Blank's SEED about single social worker Anne Colleen Simpson and her friendship with Chee-Chee, a bright 12 year old boy from the projects.

The playwright in an interview notes that she is a child of hip hop. Therefore, SEED is infused with with a few hip hop rhymes which are great to listen to on their own. The rhymes ranged from humorous to profound. However, they do not quite weave through the story seamlessly for me. Recently black filmmaker Tyler Perry tried to weave text and poetry during his big screen adaptation of Ntozake Shange's choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf and that did not quite work for me as well.

However, what is great about SEED is its theme about taking a leap for our children. There always seems to be a child welfare story of some kind in the headlines. As I write this, there is a story about a mother who allegedly left her 8 month old in the tub while she ate cereal and then took a nap; this mother is now wanted for negligent homicide and endangering the welfare of a child. If you are a person interested in cases such as this, if you are a social worker, if you are a person who works with kids, then SEED is definitely worth seeing.  

If you are not a Harlemnite, do what I did and make a day trip out of it  – take in the powerful Harriet Tubman memorial sculpture, browse the Studio Museum store, scoop up some Shea butter and incense and grab a bite to eat at a local restaurant such as Sylvia’s, Red Rooster (from the cute Marcus Samuelsson - be sure to RSVP) or Chez Lucienne.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Quote by Samuel L. Jackson in New York Magazine

From New York Magazine article – Tell It on the Mountain – by David Keeps. Samuel L. Jackson stars in The Mountaintop this fall. 
It wasn’t until I let go of the idea of the brass ring that it showed up…

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Noctu" - It Means Bare, Strip, Uncover

When I read the description and saw the banner for Breandán de Gallaí's Noctu with its lounging dancers dressed simply in white, I was not expecting to be reminded so much of traditional Irish dancing and of course - Riverdance. Touted as a departure and pushing the boundaries, Noctu is traditional Irish dancing at its core - erect posture, unmoving arms, and quick powerful movement of the legs. But it is also more intimate with only 15 or so dancers.

The dancers share their experiences - from desiring to dance while not quite having the right body type to being teased for being a "sissy". The pieces are all nice but the gem in this Irish dance play is the end and it is absolutely wonderful!!

I found a clip of the piece - Firebird/Underworld - on and am a little hesitant to include it here since it does not do justice to experiencing it in person and seeing the dancers stare intently at you as they dance in the cocoon of the Irish Repertory Theatre.

But here it is anyway...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

By the Way New York Post, "Porgy and Bess" is Coming to Broadway

Last week, the New York Post reported that there was some doubt about whether The Gershwin's Porgy and Bess would make it to Broadway. Well, according to, it is coming. The Gershwin and Heyward estates have blessed the production and McDonald, Lewis and Grier are already confirmed for the transfer.

Previews begin December 17, 2011 and tickets are now available through Ticketmaster

Personally, I will be waiting for a discount, and I hope that I won't have to write an ode to this one.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"Carmen Jones" - A Broadway Revival I Would Love to See!!

As I sat on the plaza at Lincoln Center enjoying the beautiful post Irene weather waiting for the free outdoor summer screening of Carmen in HD to begin, I was reminded of a visit to London many years ago when I saw a wonderful performance of Carmen Jones.

Carmen Jones of course is based on the opera Carmen but with a black cast. According to Wikipedia, it originally appeared on Broadway in 1943 and was later made into the well done film in the 50s with the sassy Dorothy Dandridge (Halle, you have nothing on Dorothy) and the talented Harry Belafonte. 

Year after year, various revivals come back to Broadway but no Carmen Jones. How I would love to see it again. 

Please bring Carmen Jones back to Broadway.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ode to the Shows I Missed


I wanted to see you. I swear I did. 
The critics loved you. I swear they did. 
I will see you one day. I hope I will. 

Gatz: We've all been there. You pick up a novel that draws you in so completely that you complete it in one sitting.  When the Rain Stops Falling: After the Horton Foote season, I craved another family drama and thought that this multi-generational piece set in London and Australia would be it. I would have had the patience to sit through you as you moved back and forth in time and across continents. A View From the Bridge: There was no way I was going to get tickets after the favorable reviews for this American drama with big Hollywood names. A Streetcar Named Desire (BAM): Cate Blanchett was hailed for bringing life to Blanche DuBois. Somehow I just see her in this role and just know that her performance was great. In the Next Room (or the vibrator play): Come on - A play about vibrator therapies on women in the 1800s. Need I say more. Finally, Sweeney Todd: Excellent scary actors and musicians who are one in the same. How clever!!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

20at20 is Back!!

From September 6th through September 18th, theater lovers can roll up to the box office for any of the 33 Off Broadway shows participating in the 20at20 campaign 20 minutes before the curtain time and if tickets are available, the price is only $20. Just remember to ask for the 20at20 tickets. A few years ago, I walked up to the box office and paid only $20 while the woman behind me clueless about the campaign paid $50 for the seat right next to me.  

The number of participating shows seem to grow each season and there is something for everyone. My picks are:

Freud's Last Session
I'll pay $20 any day to partake in an intellectual debate. Check out my blog entry about the session I had with Freud.

Million Dollar Quartet
Million Dollar Quartet has gone to the retirement village for former Broadway shows - New World Stages. However, while theatergoers have to pay Broadway ticket prices just a few months ago, you can get to see Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis on the stage at the same time for a mere $20 in this musical.

Irish dancing but more intimate than we are accustomed to. This one is worth it just to see the Firebird and Underworld numbers. More to come on this one shortly.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Quote by Jan Maxwell in the New York Post

From the New York Post real estate article - Maxwell House - by Micki Siegel. Jan Maxwell is currently starring in Follies on Broadway. 
I still worry that I’ll never work again. Every actor worries about that...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" - From Cambridge to Broadway (Part III)

At this moment, tickets are all sold out to The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, even for the date when Audra McDonald will not be performing. The marquee is up and ready at the Richard Rodgers Theatre here in NYC. And Ticketmaster is ready and waiting. But now, the New York Post reports that after the Sondheim lashing and Ben Brantley's New York Times review, the production team has "doubt" about coming to NY. 

The Post article goes on to take a few jabs at Ms. McDonald by saying "that she's yet to prove her worth at the box office" and remind us that Marie Christine was a dud. To add insult to injury, in an unrelated article in the Financial Times, Brendan Lemon  notes that he has"...never quite warmed to the singing voice of Audra McDonald...there’s a harshness beneath the glittering steel that makes for tough extended listening."

Getting back to Porgy and Bess, I do believe that there is an audience for this production in NY. The critics are not the end all. Perhaps, the production team will learn from its run in Cambridge and the feedback received, especially surrounding the staging and the ending, and continue its journey to Broadway. I am not sure how much Evita grossed but as we saw in Patti LuPone's memoir, even after negative reviews, word of mouth and marketing can turn a production around.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"Voca People" - Don't Give Me Cute, Give Me Jazz

Originally a sensation, Voca People features a talented cast of eight wonderful a cappella singers. The only problem is that the production is surrounded by a flimsy plot where these talented singers play aliens trying to garner energy in the form of music for their aircraft.

As I sat in the audience of the Westside Theatre, I was very entertained by the cast's voices and instrumentation. However, I found myself being reminded of Teletubbies and Pee Wee's Playhouse over and over and the cutesy audience interaction and short medleys left me wanting a more mature production with lengthier numbers.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

There is a Good Play in Here Somewhere

Tony Georges’ Tricks the Devil Taught Me has been beaten up pretty badly by theater critics. And the beating is not completely unjust. Asking an audience to trudge through almost three hours of meandering dialogue is a lot to ask. And at the summer afternoon matinee I saw in a steamy Minetta Lane Theatre, I could sense as much from the audience. And on top of that it seems that Tony Georges, the writer and director of this piece, allegedly owes a few disgruntled people money.

While I can't comment on Tony Georges' financial woes, I can make a few comments on Tricks the Devil Taught Me and will even go out on a limb by saying that I think that this play about a unhappily married couple in West Texas has some potential.

First, the play is well acted; Beth Grant's credible performance is amazing. Also, I got a kick out of the quirky set which includes a tree and a mountain lion protruding from the walls of the Minette Lane Theatre. However, for a good portion of the play, an abrasive Betty (played by Ms. Grant) spews nasty and condescending venom at her husband of 20+ years Don (played by Peter Bradbury) and son (played by TJ Linnard). The audience is beaten over the head with this abusive language as we slowly learn (amongst other things) how Betty became so abrasive and why Don seems to be plotting his exit from the terrible marriage.

During the play, Lorraine (Betty’s friend played well by Jodie Lynne McClintock) laments that she was born in a world full of possibilities and could have been anyone yet ends up living a pathetic life – homeless and obese. Just like Don and Betty’s marriage, we see that you get to this point by years and years of not doing anything about your circumstances and living in denial.  

Had Tricks the Devil Taught Me, which closed after less than one month on stage and 10 days after officially opening, focused on this theme (i.e., life and how it can slowly become bitter and toxic when there are inaction and little effort) with a shorter, tighter plot, I think that it would have the makings of a good play.

However we may never find out.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Why Are Relationships Soooo Hard??

Itamar Moses' Completeness playing at Playwrights Horizons' Mainstage Theatre is a comedy about the romantic relationship between two brainy graduate students - Elliott (a computer scientist) and Molly (a molecular biologist). After meeting in a university computer room, Elliott (the strongest member of this cast played wonderfully by Karl Miller) attracted to Molly (played by Aubrey Dollar) agrees to program an algorithm to help her sort through data related to her yeast experiments.

Originally inspired it seems by the traveling salesman problem according to this interview with Itamar Moses, Completeness spends a great deal of time going through the experiments that these two scientist are working on. Equations are scribbled all over the set. At the performance I saw a few days ago, the set blew out temporarily when a computer program projected on the stage is suppose to go haywire; two of the actors - Meredith Forlenza and Brian Avers - broke character, returned to the stage, and chatted with the audience until the technical issues were addressed.

During intermission, I overheard an audience member say that he was a bit lost with all the algorithms. While understandable, overall, I like this "geeky" comedy - algorithms, yeast experiments and all - and think that the play works best when it deals with directly not so much science but the awkwardness of meeting, dating, being romantic for the first time, and openly admitting that you are in love when your heart has been broken in the past.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

"The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess" - From Cambridge to Broadway (Part II)

Does Sondheim have egg on his face now that the reviews are in for The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, which opened last week at the American Repertory Theater (ART) in Cambridge?

The original musical team - including George Gershwin, DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin - may have been primarily male but it takes a team of women to make Bess the gem in this not so "re-imagined" production. Overall, the critics like The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess and love Audra McDonald.

According to Patti LuPone in her memoir, the only theater reviews that matter are those in The New York Times. So, let's see what Ben Brantley has to say after his atypical trip north to review an out of town production.

He is mixed but the production is worthwhile due to Audra McDonald. He feels that the "re-imagined aspects" make the production "oddly abstract and diffuse." The lighting is "attention-grabbing" but overall the set is "abstract and sparse." The "story lacks urgency" and the various musical styles are "unassimilated." However, Audra McDonald's Bess is "a heartbreaking melange of audacity and trepidation" and "she also brings out the best in her leading men..." (even though her voice sometimes overpowers them).

From all the reviews I've read, it turns out that ART's production is not as unrecognizable as we thought it would be after Sondheim's outburst. As an accessible two-act musical with a running time now of only two hours, The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess has dialogue and is not completely sung. With its sparse set and and the interactions between the residents of Catfish Row cut out, the strong sense of a bonded African American community seems to be gone but so is the minstrelsy. Porgy no longer gets around on a goat cart (but he also does not in the DVD I just watched). The happy ending from the previews is gone and Bess tosses away the "happy dust" given to her by Sporting Life but she still runs away with him to New York.

Porgy and Bess is likely to remain controversial. Sondheim does not have egg on his face; purist and true fans of the original may never really appreciate the changes. While I have not seen the production, it seems that Bess is a stronger more developed character. That she does not succumb to drugs in the end is interesting but then leaving Porgy, the man she loves (and we are suppose to feel this love even more in this production) and running off with Sporting Life afterwards, does not quite add up for me. What will the final version look like when it hits Broadway? Can't wait to find out when this journey from Cambridge to Broadway ends.

For some theater reviews of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, check out:
The New York Times
The Boston Globe
The Boston Phoenix