Monday, September 24, 2018

Review of "Make Believe"


How do the traumas and events of our childhood shape our adult lives?  This is the central question in the disappointing world premiere of playwright Bess Wohl’s Make Believe, playing at Hartford Stage through September 30th.
 

L-R: Sloane Wolf, Roman Malenda (background), RJ Vercellone, Alexa Skye Swinton

The show begins with an interesting set-up.  Four pre-teen children, waiting for the arrival of their mother, are entertaining themselves in their spacious rec room, effectively and meticulously conceived by Scenic Designer Antje Ellermann.  But we soon realize that play time is not all innocent fun, filled with sugar and spice and everything nice.  These are kids that have been brought up in an unloving profanity-laced environment and it shows in their interactions and foolery.  We learn some of the backstory from a serious of voice mails left on the telephone (this is the pre-cell phone era of the mid-1980’s) during their wait.
 

L-R: Molly Ward, Megan Byrne, Brad Heberlee

Almost a third of the way through the production the cast of children seamlessly changes over, with three of them morphing into their adult selves.  They have reunited, some 30 years later, for a funeral.  Gathered in the old playroom, their splintered and distressing struggles come into full view as they reminisce, pontificate, and contemplate their present lives.

While the premise of the show has potential, it is not fully realized and leads to unfulfilling characters who invite little sympathy and compassion.  The problems and the ordeals of the adults read like a laundry list of hardships and quandaries—divorce, alcoholism, gay relationships, pill popping, infidelity, dysfunctional relationships and even autism is thrown in to the mix.  We obtain a cursory understanding of each role, nothing more.  Delving further into the psyche of the characters would have produced a more satisfying result.
 

Chris Ghaffari in "Make Believe."

The cast is uniformly fine.  The four child actors—Alexa Skye Swinton (Addie), Sloane Wolfe (Kate), Roman Malenda (Chris), and RJ Vercellone (Carl)—deserve praise for, on the whole, holding the audience’s attention as they lay down the foundation of the play. The adult performers portraying their childhood counterparts--Megan Byrne (Kate), Brad Heverlee (Carl), and Molly Ward (Addie)—aptly demonstrate angst, regret, and a dollop of self-loathing, but their portrayals lack a substantive core, which hampers a more well-rounded performance. Chris Ghaffari, adds a touch of comic relief (or is that numbskull relief) as Chris’ friend Chris.
 

RJ Vercellone in "Make Believe."

Director Jackson Gay is more successful guiding her small charges through their paces.  She has the freedom and flexibility of composing playful games and routines for them while also bringing forth the darker side of their lives.  The adult segment is less compelling except during the moments that are punctuated by silence and lack of intimacy.  By having the siblings be more distant to each other, even though close in proximity, Gay effectively illustrates their non-relationships and damaged persona.  The most telling part of the entire production occurs when the grown-up Carl begins to cry and neither sister reaches out to comfort him.

Make Believe, a work that could use some further refining, playing at Hartford Stage through September 30th.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

September 16, 2018 Radio Show

There are two ways to listen to my weekly radio program:
Click & Listen - You can click here to listen to this week's episode.  There are also hundreds of past episodes available on my website.

Podcasting - Each week a new program will be available by podcasting. If you have iTunes you can subscribe to the weekly "On Broadway" podcast or download it.

The podcast address is:
http://www.broadwayradioprograms.com/podcasts/Broadway.xml

TONIGHT'S THEME - Remembrances
We remember recently departed Neil Simon and Marin Mazzie and celebrate the legacy of Leonard Bernstein. The first Sunday of the month is an all-request program. Tonight, cast albums A - L.

Name of Song
Name of Show

There's Gotta Be Something Better Than
Sweet Charity
Here's to Us
Little Me
A Fact Can Be a Beautiful Thing
Promises, Promises
My Rules/Elliot Garfield Grant
The Goodbye Girl
When You're in My Arms
They're Playing Our Song
Back to Before
Ragtime
Go Wild, Simply Wild, Over Me
Bullets Over Broadway
I Remember How Those Boys Could Dance
Carrie
Third Letter
Passion
I Hate Men
Kiss Me, Kate
Build My House
Peter Pan
One Hundred Easy Ways
Wonderful Town
America
West Side Story
I Can Cook Too
On the Town
The Best of All Possible Worlds
Candide

Sunday, September 2, 2018

September 2, 2018 Radio Show

I am now linking my weekly Broadway radio show, "On Broadway" via my blog.  There are two ways to listen:
Click & Listen - You can click here to listen to this week's episode.  There are also hundreds of past episodes available on my website.

Podcasting - Each week a new program will be available by podcasting. If you have iTunes you can subscribe to the weekly "On Broadway" podcast or download it.

The podcast address is:
http://www.broadwayradioprograms.com/podcasts/Broadway.xml

TONIGHT'S THEME - September 2018 Requests
Below is the playlist from September 2, 2018. The first Sunday of the month is an all-request program. Tonight, cast albums A - L.

Name of Song
Name of Show

Outside of That I Love You
Louisiana Purchase
I Married an Angel
I Married an Angel
Breathe
Bandstand
The World is Upside Down
Finding Neverland
A Little Luck
Honeymoon in Vegas
If I Were You
All-American
Blue Skies
Holiday Inn
I'll Build a Stairway to Paradise
An American in Paris
Sister's Pickle
Amelie
Truly Alive
Amazing Grace
You Deserve Me
I Had a Ball
Cross the Line
Big
Always Starting Over
If/Then
If I Knew My Story
Bright Star

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Review of "Pretty Woman"


Is the new musical, Pretty Woman, a great musical?  No, but, at times, it’s a captivating and charming adaptation of the iconic film. 
 
Andy Karl and Samantha Barks from "Pretty Woman."
As with the Richard Gere/Julia Roberts movie, the story introduces Edward Lewis (Andy Karl), a workaholic billionaire that buys up distressed companies only to turn around and sell off the assets for huge profits.  By chance, he meets Vivian Ward (Samantha Barks), a gorgeous hooker on Hollywood Boulevard and, through some implausible plot twists, hires her to be his weeklong companion while he conducts business in Los Angeles.  After some false starts, a touch of meddling and prying from friends and colleagues, and a dash of more improbable incidents, romance blossoms and a fairytale ending is secured.

The book of the musical by the movie’s director Garry Marshall and its screenwriter J.F. Lawton follows the film’s plot and scenarios much too closely.  Most successful movie to musical transformations need to reinterpret the celluloid version, avoiding a strict rote presentation, which the creators have effected too often here.  The romantic and fanciful storyline that incorporates a hint of Pygmalion and essence of Cinderella has always been hard to swallow, especially in its sanitized view of prostitution.  However, the public has not seemed to mind as it has responded enthusiastically to the whole contrivance.

The score by 80’s rocker Bryan Adams and his longtime songwriting collaborator Jim Vallance is a mix of power pop confections and more conventional Broadway melodies.  There are enough hooks and well-crafted numbers to satisfy an audience seeking original, appealing songs.


Samantha Barks and the cast of "Pretty Woman."

The chemistry between the central cast members Andy Karl and Samantha Barks is the strength of the show.  They look good together, feel natural, are frisky and sexy.  Andy Karl, who has been in a number of recent movie to musical creations (Rocky, Groundhog Day), is charismatic, playful, and debonair as the extremely successful businessman, Edward Lewis.  At times, though, he is too laid backed and unbothered.  The steeliness and central focus of someone so intent on profits is missing, which undermines the overall impact of his character.  Ms. Barks is a stunner with a powerful voice.  Within the constraints of a musical comedy the actress is able to convey a diverse array of emotions as she sets forth on her life-changing journey.

The supporting players—Eric Anderson as the Happy Man and, more importantly, the Beverly Wilshire Hotel manager Mr. Thomapson; Opreh as Vivian’s best friend Kit; and Tommy Bracco as the bellhop Giulo—are all superb and handsomely complement the production.

Director/Choreographer Jerry Mitchell seems to play it safe with too few innovations or modifications from the source material.  It is a tricky road to travel—how much of a transformation to impose on a beloved film as it is reconceptualized for the Broadway stage?  With only a few embellishments and adjustments the show does not achieve its full potential.

Pretty Woman, a pure delight for fans of the movie, but more pedestrian for the rest of us.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

August 26, 2018 Radio Show

I am now linking my weekly Broadway radio show, "On Broadway" via my blog.  There are two ways to listen:
Click & Listen - You can click here to listen to this week's episode.  There are also hundreds of past episodes available on my website.

Podcasting - Each week a new program will be available by podcasting. If you have iTunes you can subscribe to the weekly "On Broadway" podcast or download it.

The podcast address is:
http://www.broadwayradioprograms.com/podcasts/Broadway.xml

TONIGHT'S THEME - School's Back in Session
Below is the playlist from August 26, 2018. With the start of the school year, we mark the occasion with songs from musicals of the K – 12 years.

Name of Song
Name of Show

Sincerely, Me
Dear Evan Hansen
School of Rock
School of Rock
There She Goes!/Fame
Fame
No More Giving It Up
Lysistrata Jones
Naughty
Matilda
Where Do You Belong?
Mean Girls
I Think We Got Love
Zanna Don't!
Alma Mater/Alma Mater (Parody)
Grease
Nobody Tells Me How
Working
Why Not Me?
Carrie
Pandemonium
25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
It's All Happening
Bring It On - the Musical
The Best Of Friends
Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?
Things I Learned in High School
Is There Life After High School?
Jonny Don't Go
Zombie Prom
=

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Review of "A Chorus Line"


When A Chorus Line opened 43 years ago it was a groundbreaking event.  Never before had a Broadway musical elevated the dancers comprising the chorus to star status.  With its emphasis on the character’s individual stories and the high-powered dance numbers infused into the show, A Chorus Line became a landmark production that, for many years, was the longest-running show in Broadway history.

The Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning musical is a big show and requires actors and actresses that can sing and dance convincingly.  The production, currently running at the Ivoryton Playhouse through September 2nd, succeeds in all counts.  It is a highly satisfying theatrical presentation that has lost none of its relevance or power over the decades.

The plot is bare-boned.  A large group of dancers are auditioning for a part in the chorus of an unnamed Broadway musical.  Through dance, song and confessional monologues the characters come to life as they are winnowed down to the final, select eight.

The book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante utilizes excerpts from soul-searching meetings the authors and original Director/Choreographer Michael Bennett facilitated with Broadway dancers.  This touch of realism, revolutionary at the time, produces moments of sheer joy, tenderness, and heartbreak.  While dance does take center stage at its core A Chorus Line is a show that succeeds by taking audience members on an emotional rollercoaster.

The score, with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban, is full of biographical numbers that are humorous as well as touching and poignant.  In addition to traditionally structured songs Hamlisch and Kleban have crafted a series of song montages that creatively blend music, lyrics and dance, which add depth and intensity to the production.

The acting troupe is composed, for the most part, of proficient performers.  There are some miscast roles and not everyone is a skilled dancer or singer.  Nonetheless, as a whole, they come across as a practiced and nimble group.  Some of the notable members of the cast include Stephanie Genito as the prideful and resilient Cassie and Ronnie S. Bowman, Jr. as the athletic and energized Richie.  Sam Given is over-the-top and very funny as Bobby; Edward Stanley is rightfully detached and demanding as the overseer Zach; and Max Weinstein is nimble and aloof as Zach’s assistant Larry.

Director/Choreographer Todd L. Underwood keeps the large cast ordered and disciplined.  There is a restrained and controlled chaos to the production with all the parts moving in precise harmony.  The choreography emulates, more often than not, the work of original dance master Michael Bennett.  The second act solo routine by the character of Cassie, an expression of prideful exuberance and one of the focal points of the musical, could have been more dynamic and compelling.

A Chorus Line, a rewarding production worth the trip to the Ivoryton Playhouse, through September 2nd.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

August 19, 2018 Radio Show

I am now linking my weekly Broadway radio show, "On Broadway" via my blog.  There are two ways to listen:
Click & Listen - You can click here to listen to this week's episode.  There are also hundreds of past episodes available on my website.

Podcasting - Each week a new program will be available by podcasting. If you have iTunes you can subscribe to the weekly "On Broadway" podcast or download it.

The podcast address is:
http://www.broadwayradioprograms.com/podcasts/Broadway.xml

TONIGHT'S THEME - It's a Beautiful Day
Below is the playlist from August 19, 2018. It was a beautiful day in Hartford, CT (our broadcasting home) so, tonight, all songs are "beautiful."

Name of Song
Name of Show

The Body Beautiful
The Body Beautiful
We Make a Beautiful Pair
Shenandoah
The Beautiful Land
Roar of the Greasepaint-Smell of the Crowd
Big, Blonde and Beautiful
Hairspray
Beautiful
Beautiful
Beautiful
Sunday in the Park with George
Oh, What a Beautiful Morning
Oklahoma
Beautiful, Beautiful World
The Apple Tree
Everything Happens at Night
110 in the Shade
A Fact Can Be a Beautiful Thing
Promise, Promises
Beautiful
A Family Affair
One More Beautiful Song
A Class Act
Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful
Cinderella
All Things Bright and Beautiful
Marry Me a Little
You are Beautiful
Flower Drum Song
Prologue: Beautiful Girls
Follies

Friday, August 17, 2018

Review of "Gettin' the Band Back Together"

Can a simple-minded, highly derivative musical (with no real stars) succeed on Broadway?  That’s the question Getting’ the Band Back Together needs to be asking itself as it begins its uncharted journey on The Great White Way.

The story is as basic as they come.  Mitch, a 40-year-old stockbroker, is fired and moves back to Sayerville, NJ with his mother.  There, he reunites with high school chums who were all in a band (Juggernaut) that won the area’s Battle of the Bands their last year in school.  Fast forward to the present—the members of the quartet are in unfulfilling careers, with Mitch unemployed and, due to a razor thin plotline, end up, once again doing battle with their arch rival Mouthfeel, the band they defeated for that long-ago title.  At the show’s end, with a gratifying twist, the bandmates find fulfillment and purpose in life.

The book of the show, by Ken Davenport (also the lead producer) and a dizzying array of writers known collectively as The Grundleshotz, have mined for inspiration material from such musicals as School of Rock, The Wedding Singer, and The Full Monty.  You can even throw in the movie Karate Kid.  The material has been recycled many times before—men in the throes of midlife crisis, reviewing their hopes and aspirations, and not being afraid of chasing your dreams. 

The developments are clichéd, but can also be very funny and entertaining in a low brow, goofy manner.  New Jerseyans in the audience, like myself, will be amused with all the Garden State references sprinkled throughout the show (I’m exit 8A off the Turnpike).  Act I is more streamlined and purposeful, but the second act seems overlong and padded with filler as we wait for the ultimate climax.

The happy-go-lucky score by Mark Allen is at its best when producing high octane silliness such as the title number, the opening song, “Jersey,” and even a rap version of “Hava Nagila.”  They are infectious as well as disposable.   

The characters are loosely sketched.  The cast doesn’t have to stretch their acting muscles for their roles.  The main criteria is for them to have fun and emote within broad set parameters.  While each performer is just fine, three stand out.  There is the ageless Marilu Henner as Mitch’s mom, Sharon.  Her spirit is bubbly and infectious.  Jay Klaitz is affable and dopey as the portly Bart Vickers, Mitch’s best friend and possible paramour for his mom.  Sawyer Nunes gives the best performance as the band’s new teen recruit, Ricky Bling.   He exudes self-confidence, is highly excitable, slightly arrogant, and a very talented musician.

The limited choreography by Chris Bailey can be exuberant in a fist-pumping, in-your-face style.  John Rando guides his crew with energy and freeness.  There’s not much subtlety or nuance in his direction.  The goal, it seems, is to keep the pacing quick and effortless.

Getting’ the Band Back Together, a lightweight entry to the new Broadway season.


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Review of "Head Over Heels"


I was very disappointed with Head Over Heels, the new Broadway musical that incorporates the songbook of the Go Go’s, one of the most influential female groups of the New Wave era.  The book of the production, based on the Arcadia by 16th century writer Sir Philip Sidney, is convoluted and not well suited to the musical compositions of the band.  The show also tries, with muted success, too hard to be hip and politically in tune. 

The story, conceived and written by Jeff Whitty, begins in the land of Arcadia where King Basilius (Jeremy Kushnier) rules with his wife, Queen Gynecia (Rachel York) and their two daughters—the eldest, Princess Pamela (Bonnie Mulligan) and her younger sister Philoclea (Alexandra Socha).   The full-figured and egocentric Pamela, who her parents are trying to marry off, continuously rejects suitors while her plain and innocent sister yearns for the simple, kindhearted shepherd Musidorus (Andrew Durand). 

In quick succession, the king goes before the Oracle of Delphi (the actress Peppermint), listens to her dire predictions for the kingdom, and packs up his family for a vacation in an attempt to flee from the gloom and doom prophecy.  During their traveling through the forests outside the realm love, in its many forms and guises, makes its mark on each of the central characters just as the Oracle had predicted, which leads to happiness, song and dance for everyone.

The book of the show comes across as overly elaborate for a jukebox musical and, in the end, engenders disinterest in the plot and characters.  Not to say a show like Mamma Mia is the pinnacle of these types of productions, but that long-running ABBA musical got it right.  The libretto was neatly crafted, full of frivolity and frothiness, and utilized the Swedish group’s song catalogue to perfection.  Whitty’s construction for Head Over Heels would have been better served with a storyline that was more lighthearted and took less effort to follow.

The score utilizes Top 40 songs by the Go Go’s, popular numbers, and lesser known works such as “We Got the Beat,” “Our Lips are Sealed,” “Vacation,” and the title number “Head Over Heels.”  They are briskly and good-naturedly delivered by the cast.  A well-rehearsed, musically adept five-piece female band (who are revealed to thunderous applause at the conclusion of the show) provides indispensible support.  As good as the songs may be, the overall impression is how most feel shoe horned into scenes.

The cast is game for what Mr. Whitty and Director Michael Mayer throws at them.  They cavort around the stage, gnash their teeth, primp themselves, fret and, as in the case of Andrew Durand, find their inner femininity.  The two cast members of note are Bonnie Mulligan, who is appropriately over-the-top and assuredly confident as Princess Pamela and Peppermint, who it has been noted, is the first transgender performer to play a lead in a Broadway musical. She is appropriately flamboyant and high-spirited and is the sole person who’s portrayal has best grasped the silliness and irreverence of the production.

Director Michael Mayer has a difficult task, trying to fold the cumbersome book into a well-paced, vibrant Broadway musical.  There are flourishes that work, such as the “Vacation” production number and the meeting of the Oracle in the serpentine forest and others that are strained and pedestrian such as the king and queen’s shadowy carnal moments.

Choreographer Spencer Liff ‘s ramped up dance routines give a manic feel that proves distracting and takes away from the enjoyment of the songs.  This is exemplified right at the top of the show with “We Got the Beat.”

Head Over Heels, an inauspicious start to the new Broadway season.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

August 12, 2018 Radio Show

I am now linking my weekly Broadway radio show, "On Broadway" via my blog.  There are two ways to listen:
Click & Listen - You can click here to listen to this week's episode.  There are also hundreds of past episodes available on my website.

Podcasting - Each week a new program will be available by podcasting. If you have iTunes you can subscribe to the weekly "On Broadway" podcast or download it.

The podcast address is:
http://www.broadwayradioprograms.com/podcasts/Broadway.xml

TONIGHT'S THEME - Overtures & More
Below is the playlist from August 12, 2018. Tonight, we focus on overtures and ballet music from Broadway shows.

Name of Song
Name of Show

Overture
The King and I
Overture
Bajour
The Bathing Beauty Ballet
High Button Shoes
Overture
Promises, Promises
Overture
It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman
Overture
How to Succeed in Business
Sadie Hawkins Ballet
L'il Abner
Overture
Candide
Overture
Funny Girl
Overture
Mack and Mabel
Overture
The Boys From Syracuse
Overture
Man of La Mancha
Overture
Finian's Rainbow
Overture
My Fair Lady

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Review of "Straight White Men"


A family reunion during the Christmas holiday is the setting for playwright Young Jean Lee’s mostly terrific play Straight White Men.  The men, in this case, are an aged father and his three grown-up sons, in their mid to late 30’s.  Together, for their yearly celebration, the quartet of guys are goofy, reminiscent and, at certain points, serious-minded. 

Their comradery and constant teasing can be very funny.  Let’s just say I will never think the same way of a certain type of protein and Chinese food ever again.  It is during this traditional meal that a hint of instability is first raised as Matt, the eldest son, breaks down in tears for no apparent reason.  This incident serves as a vehicle to propel the production forward as, in between the horseplay and exuberance, the other two siblings and their father attempt to help, even fix, what they perceive to be their brother’s problem.

Ms. Lee’s play can be very, very funny.  Where it starts to go astray is trying to decipher what message the author wants to convey to the audience.  There is much talk of white privilege—when the boys were young and their mother was alive she taught them about social justice and caring about the downtrodden--but there are also discussions of mental health and about people fulfilling their potential.  With no consistent slant, it is hard to grasp the central thrust of the play.

Then there is the loud, very loud, music that greets theatergoers as they take their seats.  The reason, as presented before the show begins by two characters - “Person in Charge 1 and 2” – is supposed to make the audience uncomfortable, just like these gender non-specific performers may feel in a world of Straight White Men.  The idea provides interesting food for thought, but distracts from the primary focus of the show.

The ensemble cast works so well together.  Josh Charles (Jake), Armie Hammer (Drew), and Paul Schneider (Matt) have an ease and comfort level that come across as genuine and unaffected. Their interactions and tomfoolery appear heartfelt and true to life.  Paul Schneider, who portrays their father Ed, has an easy-going, old-fashioned disposition, which subtly provides a stabilizing presence within the endless barrage of shenanigans.

Director Anna D. Shapiro has fully grasped the playfulness, togetherness, and smoldering tensions within a maturing family.  Her guidance appears almost effortless during the scenes that relive family traditions and memories.  Her task is more challenging, and less successful, in putting forth a cohesive point of view of by the author.

Todd Rosenthal’s set design is homey and reminiscent of every comfy den from what seems like the 1980’s.

Straight White Men, at times hilarious even as its more serious side can be convoluted.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

August 5, 2018 Radio Show

I am now linking my weekly Broadway radio show, "On Broadway" via my blog.  There are two ways to listen:
Click & Listen - You can click here to listen to this week's episode.  There are also hundreds of past episodes available on my website.

Podcasting - Each week a new program will be available by podcasting. If you have iTunes you can subscribe to the weekly "On Broadway" podcast or download it.

The podcast address is:
http://www.broadwayradioprograms.com/podcasts/Broadway.xml

TONIGHT'S THEME - All-Request (OCR M - Z)
Below is the playlist from August 5, 2018.  The first Sunday of the month is an all-request program. Tonight cast recordings M - Z..

Name of Song
Name of Show

Bikini Bottom Day
SpongeBob – the Musical
Waiting for Life
Once on this Island
Something's Cooking
The Spitfire Grill
Never
On the 20th Century
It's Today
Mame
Oom-Pah-Pah
Oliver!
There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This
Sweet Charity
What’s Goin’ on Here?
Paint Your Wagon
Someday
The Wedding Singer
No Time at All
Pippin
Don Jose of Far Rockaway
Wish You Were Here
Overture
Promises, Promises
Welcome to the Renaissance
Something Rotten

Review of "Barefoot in the Park"


For a good part of the 20th century, from 1961 through 2003, Neil Simon was the most successful and prolific playwright on Broadway.  His output was a staple of regional and community theater productions, it seemed, forever.  [Trivia Note:  He is the only writer to have had four of his works playing simultaneously on the Great White Way.]

While his latter plays, most notably Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, Broadway Bound, and Lost in Yonkers have continued to prove popular, his earlier works now appear more anachronistic and dated.  They have seemingly dropped off the radar screen.

This brings us to the production of Barefoot in the Park, Simon’s 1963 hit comedy, currently running at the Sharon Playhouse through August 12th.  The show has its charms and there are scattered laughs throughout the production.  However, this tale of two newlyweds starting off life together in New York City comes across more as a relic of bygone days.

The plot is simple.  Corie Bratter, a woman full of life in her mid-20’s, and Paul Bratter, a junior lawyer, have been married for just about a week before setting up house in a six story Manhattan walk-up.  Besides the steep climb, there are problems with their new abode, which causes consternation and some angst.  Adding to the young couple’s adjustment is Corie’s widowed mother, Mrs. Banks and Victor Velasco, an idiosyncratic charmer living on the rooftop apartment.  As the action progresses the trials and tribulations of starting life together shows some strain.  Slight misunderstandings and spats turn into something much grander, which become magnified with the involvement of the two “mature” adults, before a happy resolution is realized.

Neil Simon’s strength has always been his ability to mine the everyday, especially when it comes to marriage, with amusing circumstances and characters.  When Barefoot in the Park originally opened, its situational comedy style was hip and refreshing, but now seems tame and out of favor. 

The older cast members—Rex Smith as the flamboyant neighbor Victor Velasco and Susan Cella as Mrs. Banks—are very comfortable in their roles and elevate the quality of the production.  Smith, a 70’s heartthrob singer and actor, cultivates a bon vivant and lively spirit.  He adds a spark to the play whenever he sashays on stage.  Ms. Cella is a wonderful counterpoint to Smith—a ying to his yang.  More low-key in her performance she, nonetheless, has a light comedic touch, which produces some of the funnier moments of the play.  Rebecca Tucker, can be somewhat hyperactive and scatterbrained in her role as the recently wed Corie Bratter.  Like actor Craig Bryant Belwood, who portrays husband Paul, there could have been more nuance and variation to their performances.

Randall Parson’ set design, with its large vertical windows towering over the stage, perfectly captures the look and feel of a small, cramped New York City apartment.  Think of a much more modest version of Monica and Rachel’s dwelling in the TV series Friends.

Director Clayton Phillips brings a mostly harried pacing to the production.  This is coupled with occasional kooky and humorous episodes. The interactions that include Rex Smith and Susan Cella work better as there is more effervescence to their scenes.  He does an excellent job creating the illusion of a tiny NYC apartment and the utter exhaustion of mounting six flights of stairs.  There could have, however, been more subtlety in guiding Ms. Tucker and Mr. Belwood through their paces.

Barefoot in the Park, a weathered Neil Simon warhorse, playing through August 12th.

Monday, July 30, 2018

July 29, 2018 Radio Show

I am now linking my weekly Broadway radio show, "On Broadway" via my blog.  There are two ways to listen:
Click & Listen - You can click here to listen to this week's episode.  There are also hundreds of past episodes available on my website.

Podcasting - Each week a new program will be available by podcasting. If you have iTunes you can subscribe to the weekly "On Broadway" podcast or download it.

The podcast address is:
http://www.broadwayradioprograms.com/podcasts/Broadway.xml

TONIGHT'S THEME - Case #2
Below is the playlist from July 29, 2018.  Tonight, there is no theme.  Just songs from my case #2 of original cast recording CDs.

Name of Song
Name of Show

A Hundred Million Miracles
Flower Drum Song
The Rain in Spain
Forbidden Broadway, Vol 2
Just One Day
Freaky Friday
Man
The Full Monty
Doing Good
It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman
My Cup Runneth Over
I Do I Do
I Love My Wife
I Love My Wife
You I Like
The Grand Tour
Timeline
john and jen
kid Inside
Is There Life After High School?
Stranger in Paradise
Kismet
August Winds
The Last Ship
I Love Betsy
Honeymoon in Vegas
The Country's in the Very Best of Hands
L'il Abner

Review of "Oliver!"


Oliver! Is that musical where you know most of the songs, even if you don’t know you know them.  This makes the show, with book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart, a perfect Goodspeed style presentation.  Surprisingly, there has never been a production of Oliver!at the East Haddam theater.  [Trivia Note: selections from Oliver! were performed on The Ed Sullivan Show the same night The Beatles made their American debut on the television show.]

“Food, Glorious Food” The cast of Goodspeed Musicals’ Oliver!, now playing at The Goodspeed through September 13.  Photo Credit © Photo By: Diane Sobolewski

The story is based on Charles Dickens classic, Oliver Twist.  It’s a time where orphaned children were warehoused and poorly treated in squalid workhouses.  Michael Schweikardt’s set, consisting of an elevated steel catwalk with metal stairs descending to the minimally designed stage, gives a dark tonal quality to the show as well as an impression of early 19th century London. 

We are introduced to Oliver and his fellow youthful denizens, all overseen by the cruel and apathetic Mr. Bumble and Widow Comey, as they somberly, and rhythmically, march down for their daily portion of gruel. Oliver’s impudence  - “Please sir, I want some more” – sets off a chain of events where he is sold off to be apprenticed with an undertaker, escapes and travels to London, and is befriended by the Artful Dodger, the pre-teen leader of a gang of youthful pickpockets.  The ringleader, an aged criminal named Fagin, welcomes the fresh recruit and introduces him to the ways of his new world.  Mixed in with the group are two former members, Nancy, a tough, but tenderhearted young woman and Bill Sikes, a twenty-something thug.  Circumstances quickly change for Oliver as he is nabbed by the police on his initial outing.  This leads to a drastic change in his destiny as well as the fortunes of all others.
“Consider Yourself, one of the family” Gavin Swartz (The Artful Dodger) and Elijah Rayman (Oliver Twist) in Goodspeed Musicals’ Oliver!, now playing at The Goodspeed through September 13.  Photo Credit © Photo By: Diane Sobolewski

Lionel Bart’s score offers a dizzying array of well-known numbers that have such diverse influences as the English Music Hall and traditional Broadway melodies.  They are tuneful, full of life, and will have you humming as you leave the theater.  They include the opening “Food, Glorious Food,” “Where is Love?,” “It’s a Fine Life,” and “As Long as He Needs Me.”

James Gray’s choreography is used sparingly in the show but when utilized provides a welcome Oom-Pah-Pah to the production.

“You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two” The cast of Goodspeed Musicals’ Oliver!, now playing at The Goodspeed through September 13 Photo Credit © Photo By: Diane Sobolewski

The cast is superb led by the outstanding performance of Donald Corren as Fagin.  He fits the role perfectly.  He is a mischievous rascal, more comic foil then villainous scoundrel.  He delivers his two signature numbers, “You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two” and, especially, “Reviewing the Situation” with showmanship and panache.  Elihah Rayman’s portrayal of Oliver seemed forced and slightly tentative, at first.  But, as an orphan, this would be his natural inclination.  As the show progressed he became more assured and natural in the role.  His innocence becomes a beacon of hope and optimism.  Gavin Swartz is a cocky and confident Artful Dodger.  As a boy living on the edge he does seem too clean-cut and well mannered.  His performance, though, fittingly complements the virtuousness of Oliver.   EJ Zimmerman gives Nancy a tough exterior but she also imbues the character with an inner tenderness and understanding.  The actress also possesses a powerful singing voice. Brandon Andrus is appropriately menacing as the grown rapscallion Bill Sikes.  He is a towering presence that says little, but carries a big stick with disturbing results.  Richard R. Henry and Joy Hermalyn as, respectively, Mr. Bumble and Widow Comey, provide strong support and a fine comedic touch to the production.
“Oom-Pah-Pah” EJ Zimmerman (Nancy) with Megan Loomis, Jamie LaVerdiere, Andrew Mayer and Karen Murphy in Goodspeed Musicals’ Oliver!, now playing at The Goodspeed through September 13.  Photo Credit © Photo By: Diane Sobolewski

Director Rob Ruggiero has a firm hand on the musical whether it’s staging a large-scale, boisterous production number or delivering a lighter touch on the more tender moments.  He effectively starts off the show with a bleaker outlook that parallels the Dicken’s novel before methodically changing course with a more uplifting and enriching ambiance.  Scenes flow smoothly into one another, giving the musical a satisfying pacing.  He also deserves praise for corralling the young performers into a cohesive, workable ensemble.

Oliver!, a golden opportunity to see this rousing, rarely performed classic.  At the Goodspeed Opera House through September 13th.