Saturday, December 31, 2016

Review of "A Bronx Tale"

The new musical A Bronx Tale has gone through many iterations—one person show, major motion picture and now big, splashy Broadway musical.  The show is based on the recollections of actor Chazz Palminteri during his formative years growing up in a tightly knit Italian neighborhood in the Bronx.  The musical is a traditionally structured production, as opposed to such other new, more innovative works as Dear Evan Hansen and Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812.  Nonetheless, A Bronx Tale is, an entertaining and satisfying piece of musical theater.
Bobby Conte Thornton (center) and Nick Cordero (right) and members of the cast from "A Bronx Tale."
The story follows the trajectory of Palminteri from little tyke through his teenage years during the late 1950’s to late 1960’s.  Known as Calogero, his life forever changes when he witnesses a daytime murder by the neighborhood wiseguy, Sonny, but doesn’t rat him out to the police.  To show his gratitude Sonny takes him under his wings, to the displeasure of his mother and, especially, his father who sees the local ruffian as a malignant influence.  However, the boy is transfixed by the hooligan’s lifestyle and respect he receives from people on the street.  As Calogero gets older and becomes more intertwined with the hoodlums the question becomes will the seductiveness these mobsters radiate be too great to resist?  Will he succumb to the appeal of the street or break free to pursue a better, healthier way of life?

As a playwright, Palminteri has crafted a memoir that is funny as well as poignant and introspective.  Having the teenage protagonist consistently step out of character to act as the narrator of the show helps frame the action and provide necessary exposition for the audience.  It’s not just a coming of age story about an impressionable young man and the trials and tribulations he faces growing up in an insulated section of New York City.  It is also a tale of choices and the clash of values and ethics he faces between the hard-working beliefs and ethics of his parents and those of his “adopted” family.
Nick Cordero and Hudson Loverro from "A Bronx Tale."
The music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater combine traditionally structured Broadway songs with doo wop numbers reminiscent of the times as well as rhythm and blues tinged vocals.  The score can by brash, high-spirited, and wistful. 

The cast is led by Nick Cordero as the wiseguy Sonny.  He’s charismatic, menacing and no-nonsense.  He gives the character a magnetic allure even though we are chilled by his demeanor and actions.  Bobby Conte Thornton, making his Broadway debut as the teenage Calogero, imbues the wide-eyed youth with internal conflicts and struggling allegiances.  He admirably grows as a character from a naïve, uncorrupted individual to a more mature person questioning his life, choices and direction.  
Hudson Loverro, as the younger Calogero, brings a spunky enthusiasm and professionalisms to his role.  Richard H. Blake, as their father, conveys an earnestness and principled firmness to his character.  Ariana DeBose as the teenage boy’s love interest, Jane, has an engaging presence, an independent-minded persona, and an attitude to take on and overcome all obstacles. 
Members of the ensemble from "A Bronx Tale."
Sergio Trujillo’s choreographer can be exuberant, as with the opening number, “Belmont Avenue.”   The production numbers move to the rhythms and sounds of the day.  As with his previous work in Jersey Boys, Memphis, and On Your Feet! they can be sexy, sultry, and full of energy as the dance routines  evolve naturally from the action on stage.

Directors Robert de Niro and Jerry Zaks know their way around the material—de Niro was the director of the acclaimed film version and both helmed the out-of-town tryout in Spring 2016 at New Jersey’s Papermill Playhouse.  They bring a knowing language and histrionics to the characters.  The duo spend the first act slowly developing and massaging the overall arc of the musical with a street smart sensibility. This gives them the opportunity to ramp up the storyline with a rush of material and commotion, culminating in a conclusion that neatly ties up the dramatic machinations of the show. 

A Bronx Tale, a welcoming addition to this season’s line-up of new musicals.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Review of "The Band's Visit"

In the sweetly lyrical, captivating new musical, The Band’s Visit, the Egyptian musicians of the Alexandra Ceremonial Police Orchestra invited by the Arabic Cultural Center of one Israeli town end up, through a miscommunication, in the wrong locale in the middle of the Israeli desert.  With no bus service until the following day, the group ends up stranded in the sleepy town with little money and options.  Thus begins the 24-hour odyssey of the Arab entertainers as they become warmly and enchantingly intertwined with the lives of some of the residents. 

The show, based on the 2007 film of the same name, focuses on three ongoing vignettes between some members of the band and the Israeli citizens.  They are poignantly portrayed, sometimes amusingly and at other moments with deep wistfulness.  What comes forth is how much alike people are, no matter what their background and beliefs.

As he has demonstrated throughout his theatrical career, composer David Yazbeck’s score is inventive and full of surprises.  There is no full-throttled production number like “Great Big Stuff” from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels or “Jeanette's Showbiz Number” from The Full Monty or “Tangled” from Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.  The songs form a gratifying whole that come across as more heartfelt and revealing with influences of Arabic and Klezmer music from beginning to end.

The cast is led by Tony Shaloub as Tewfiq who, at first, appears as a gruff, autocratic leader of the police orchestra.   As the play progresses and the actor begin interacting with the residents, especially the beautiful and alluring Dina, he subtly begins to change, becoming more wistful and reminiscent under the desert moon.  While not endowed with the most dynamic vocal chords he, nonetheless, suitably conveys his plaintive yearnings and passionate longings.  Katrina Lenk has a lovely and seductive voice.  She plays the shop owner, Dina, who is a tough, no-nonsense Israeli.  As with Tewiq, she initially comes across as dispassionate and tough.  But as the magic of the day progresses the actress becomes more absorbing and reflective, delivering a nuanced, fuller portrayal of a woman stuck in time with little options open to her.  John Cariani is a little too over-the-top as the husband Itzik, whose man-child antics cause a seemingly irreconcilable riff in his marriage.  Ari’el Stachel comes across, initially, as a lumbering, boorish Casanova as the trumpeter Haled.  Yet, as with the other characters in the play, the actor deftly sidesteps our introductory thoughts and develops into a more ingratiating and charming person. 

Director David Cromer plays up, at first, the drama caused by the sudden confluence of the two disparate groups.  But as the wariness quickly dissipates he brings into focus the relationships that slowly develop among the denizens of the small town and the traveling troubadours.  It’s the stories that draw the audience into the rhythms and flow of the action on stage.  This is an intimate piece of theater and Mr. Cromer, smartly, does not incorporate any unnecessary embellishments.

Scott Pask’s scenic design of an austere, unadorned, rotating structure in the center of the stage reminds us of both the plainness and stark nature of the resident’s lives and that life is a circle that continually revolves.  Sometimes we have the option of getting off, but other times the choice may just be fleeting.

The Band’s Visit, one of the more heartening and enjoyable new musicals this season.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Explaining Asperger’s Through "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time"

This column was originally posted when the show opened on Broadway.  I am reposting it as the play opens at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, CT.

In the new Broadway show, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a 15-year-old boy with Asperger’s is thrust into a journey of self-discovery and an examination of relationships with his mother and father, teachers, and others.  Audience members are given a window into the mind of an individual with this Austism Spectrum Disorder, thanks to the brilliance of the creative team and director, Marianne Elliott, and the remarkable performance of Alex Sharp in the lead role.  However, there are traits and actions that Christopher exhibits which are not fully explained in the drama, a hit in London before opening in New York this fall.   Why does someone like Christopher not want to be touched?  What is the significance of his model train-building obsession?  Why does he need to always tell the truth and be so literal?    

The following will provide playgoers background information on general Asperger’s characteristics.  Joining me in writing this column is my wife, Jane Thierfeld Brown, a national authority on students with Aspergers, who has co-authored three books on the subject and presents on the topic at colleges and universities across the country.  Our goal is to help enrich the theatrical experience of those attending a performance of this dazzling production by exploring some of the behaviors in the show at a more rudimentary level.

Cannot Lie  - Christopher informs people that he cannot lie. Many people with Asperger’s are literal and concrete in their thinking so lying does not make sense to them.  Lying, many times, takes premeditation, manipulation and forethought, something that is incongruous to individuals with Asperger’s.  Therefore, the character of Christopher needs to always tell the truth.  

Being Touched – In the show, Christopher does not like physical contact.  This is very common for individuals with Asperger’s.   Unwarranted or unexpected touching can be overstimulating for many persons on the spectrum. Often people’s senses are highly acute, much more so then their neurotypical counterparts. This can make individuals  with Asperger’s predisposed to becoming overly stimulated by lights, sounds, smells and touch.  For some people with Asperger’s being touched can produce unintentional violent behavior, which may lead to unnecessary restraint and further anguish by the person with Asperger’s.  In The Curious Incident of the Dog Christpher’s mother and father are the only ones able to touch and communicate with the boy by raising an upright hand, fingers apart.  The teenager can reciprocate the movement, by touching their outstretched hands for just a few seconds.  This ritual has a secondary effect of calming him down when agitated. 

Being Literal – Individuals with Asperger’s can be very literal in how they see the world and in their responses.  For example, in the show Christopher is told to be quiet.  His simple response is how long he needs to be silent?  He doesn’t understand this is just a figure of speech and, therefore, doe not know how long he actually cannot speak.  This can we be wearing on other teenagers and adults that do not realize this need.  Individuals like Christopher also do not comprehend the nuances of idioms or sarcasm, a fact which confounds his parents several times during the show.  

Trains – According to the website of the National Austism Society of the United Kingdom (, an obsession with trains can help individuals with Asperger’s “manage [their] anxiety and [give them] some measure of control over a confusing and chaotic world.”  Many people with Asperger’s are drawn to trains for two reasons.  First, is the preciseness of train schedules, which fits into their need for structure, order, and predictability.  Second, is the orderliness that train track patterns form.  In the show, Christopher spends most of the production laying out tracks in a certain pattern, which can be seen as one of his coping mechanisms.  In real life, a teenager like Christopher would always construct the train tracks in the identical arrangement, rarely varying its sequencing and organization.   A possible third reason is the television show, Thomas the Tank Engine.  The high interest in trains and the easily understood facial expressions of the trains draw many individuals with Asperger’s to this character/show.

The Grid – What makes the scenic design for the show so effective and meaningful is its basic floor-to-floor, wall-to-wall black grid system.  It synthesizes all the needs of Christopher—structure, order, control, predictability and preciseness into the basic math construct of graph paper.  The Grid is a conduit for showing the teenager’s traits, behaviors and defined movements.  Simple in concept, The Grid echo’s Christopher’s need for order and his way of perceiving the world. 

In The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time we are introduced to a teenage boy with Asperger’s.  During the production audience members are given a glimpse into Christopher’s world.  It can be confusing and unsettling for him as well as for people on his periphery.  Hopefully, the explanations presented above will make the theater-going experience more enlightening and further enhance the virtuosity of the production.  The information should also help us better understand individuals with Asperger’s we interact with in society.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Review of "In Transit"

For people that appreciate a cappella music for their stylized vocal arrangements and exquisite sounds then the new Broadway musical, In Transit, will be an entertaining treat. 

The show, with book, music, and lyrics by Kristen Anderson Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth, follows the lives of five individuals as they wrestle with personal crises, cope with unfulfilling relationships, and maneuver through the sometimes unforgiving city of New York and its transit system.  The plot of the musical uncovers no new emotional territory and retreads familiar themes, but the strength of the production is the vocal gymnastics, not the dramatic machinations. 

The score is comprised of songs that are tuneful and catchy, that bop and rock to the beat box backing of the talented Chesney Snow.  The focus is on the crisp, unadulterated singing performed by the actors and actresses.  The voices are beautifully blended and artistically arranged and orchestrated with tight harmonies and a sweetly satisfying balance.  Kudos for the a cappella arrangements by Deke Sharon and musical supervision by Rick Hip-Flores.  They deserve high praise for the wall of sound they have created for the acting troupe. 

The cast doesn’t have to stretch their acting muscles but, nevertheless, deliver sound performances that keep the audience modestly intrigued between songs.  Chesney Snow, one of the two rotating beat boxers in the production, is a proficient and masterly artist.  He handles many roles—accompanist (remember there are no instruments in the musical), narrator, and a somewhat linkage with the central stories. Justin Guarini as Trent and Arbender Robinson as Steven are agreeable performers portraying a gay couple trying to navigate their avowed relationship.  Erin Mackey as Ali is equally agreeable as a jilted lover.  James Snyder as the frazzled, career challenged, Nate and Margo Seibert as the struggling and driven actress, Jane have more developed characters then the other actors.  Their performances draw us in to their plights and make us want to cheer for them.

In her dual role as Director/Choreographer Kathleen Marshall gives the production a consistent flow and dynamism.  The actors playfully mimic the feel of a New York subway car, with all the bumps and tussles associated with a ride.  The musical is at its best when the entire ensemble is on stage.  It gives an opportunity for Ms. Marshall to up the energy as the theater pulsates with vibrancy, a reminder of the flurry of activity during the evening rush hour. 

The creative team, led by set designer Donyale Werle, Lighting Designer Donald Holder, Sound Designer Ken Travis, and Projection Designer Caite Hevner has meshed their talents to fashion a creditable subway station albeit with a number of added bells and whistles we wouldn’t normally see below ground.  A moveable strip down the center of the flooring gives movement to a static stage as an imaginary subway line arrives and departs on an infrequent timetable.

In Transit, an enjoyable and appealing musical not just for a cappella aficiandos.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Review of "Finian's Rainbow"

For musical theater enthusiasts there is no better way to spend a cold, frigid New York afternoon or evening then at the splendid, feisty revival of Finian’s Rainbow at the Irish Repertory Theater.  There is much to enjoy about this scaled down version of the classic show.  First, and foremost, is the talented cast led by Melissa Errico and Ryan Silverman.  They are wonderful performers with beautiful voices and a chemistry that is real and tender.  Second, is the theater.  It is a marvelous performance space that allows the audience to develop a special and close relationship with the actors and actresses on stage.  Lastly, is the timeless score by Burton Lane and E.Y. Harburg.  What other show has such remarkable, lyrical songs in one production?  They include "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?," "If This Isn't Love," "Necessity," and one of my all-time favorites, “Old Devil Moon.”  

For those not familiar with the 1947 musical, the plot centers on Finian (Ken Jennings) and his daughter Sharon (Melissa Errico), who have arrived from Ireland to settle in the south’s Rainbow Valley to make a new life for themselves.  Finian has brought with him a swiped pot of gold in the belief that if he buries it the land will become exceptionally fertile.  But Og (Mark Evans), a leprechaun has followed them to these shores to recover the stolen goods before he loses his otherworldly powers and turns human.

Melissa Errico and Ryan Silverman in "Finian's Rainbow."

Soon after father and daughter arrive they are quickly accepted by the towns folk, especially Woody (Ryan Silverman), who has a hankering for the young lass and they quickly become a couple.  At the same time Og develops a warm spot for Woody’s mute sister Susan (Lyrica Woodruff).  But trouble is brewing as the area’s bigoted Senator Rawkins (Dewey Caddell) has set his sights on underhandedly snatching the town’s fertile hillsides.  Yet, through some inadvertent magic the politician’s plans are thwarted.  The land is saved, marriages abound, and a happy ending resounds from the rafters.

The book by E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy, while whimsical, romantic, and carefree on the surface, stealthily addresses such meaningful issues as race relations, consumerism, and immigration policies.  Both authors were known for injecting a sophisticated wit and social commentary into their work.  Even though the show is over 70 years old the topics and subject matter, sadly, still resonate loudly in today’s political climate.
Mark Evans and Melissa Errico in "Finian's Rainbow."
Burton Lane and E.Y. Harburg have written a rousing score with beautiful ballads, joyous and celebratory numbers, and comedic gems.  But, as with the book of the musical, a number of the songs also have finely honed appraisals and pointed observations.

The set design by James Morgan is fanciful, somewhat flippant and full of imagery with, for example, musical notes painted on the walls of the small stage.   

Everyone in the cast is of the highest caliber.  The notables include Ken Jennings, mischievous and impish as Finian. Melissa Errico, broad smiling and shimmering voice, has an innocent charm and independent streak, which makes her portrayal so winning.  Ryan Silverman is charismatic and self-assured as Ms. Errico’s love interest.  He exudes a down home appeal and gallantry, as well as a roguish lure.  Mark Evans, tall, lanky, with a beguiling grin, provides a comedic spark throughout the production.  Lyrica Woodruff, graceful and elegant, beautifully conveys her thoughts and emotions through her artistically executed dance steps.
Members of the ensemble of "Finian's Rainbow."
Director Charlotte Moore skillfully does more with less by utilizing her small band of performers to give the production a full-bodied look.  The action on stage, when the whole cast is present, is bustling with energy and liveliness.   The flow of the movement comes across as natural without any fussiness or showiness.  She also demonstrates a lighter touch with the intimate and comedic moments as with the “Old Devil Moon” and “Something Sort of Grandish” numbers, respectively.

Finian’s Rainbow, a handsome, tuneful revival at the Irish Repertory Theater through January 29th.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Review of "Sweet Charity"

One of the best musical revivals in New York is taking place at the intimate Off-Broadway Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre where Sutton Foster is giving another bravo performance as the heart-of-gold dance hall hostess, Charity Hope Valentine, in the sparkling production of Sweet Charity. 

Ms. Foster has played sophisticated (Anything Goes) and serious (Violet), but her forte is musical comedy (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Young Frankenstein, Shrek – the Musical).  In Sweet Charity she brings a down-on-her-luck charm to the character, who is a hopeless romantic that just can’t catch a break in the love department.  Previous actresses have given the role a sexier edge, but Ms. Foster is more an everyday waif, a bit gangly in her 1960’s mini-dress, as she seeks her place in life as well as romance. 
Emily Padgett, Sutton Foster, and Asmeret Ghebremichael in "Sweet Charity."
What distinguishes the actress from other performers is her triple threat option—she’s a powerful vocalist, exemplary dancer, and convincing actress.  In Sweet Charity she’s funny, pensive, and determined, providing nuance and grit to the role.

The book by the prolific playwright Neil Simon is full of the customary laughs and comedic touches one would associate with the man who has written over 30 successful plays and musicals.  But, as with many of his shows, there is a depth and subtle complexity to the text that adds a more fully developed dimension to the production.

The plot is simple.  Charity, who has worked in a seedy Times Square dance hall for eight years, is continuously jilted by creeps, cads, and scoundrels.  Her complaints and excuses about their behavior fall on deaf ears with her best friends at the establishment – Nickie (Asmeret Ghebremichael) and Helene (Emily Padgett).  Then, one day, by chance she meets a mild-mannered, somewhat anxious accountant, Oscar (Shuler Hensley), who truly falls for her.  This time it seems Charity’s dreams will come true.  Even her tyrannical boss, Herman (Joel Perez), is happy for her.  But, in the end, will true love prevail?
Sutton Foster and Joel Perez in "Sweet Charity."

The other cast members constitute a well-groomed troupe of performers.  Shuler Hensley is sufficiently anxiety-ridden to make anyone watching nervous for him.  He gives his character a good-natured appeal who, unfortunately still has demons to slay.  Joel Perez shows his multi-faceted acting process playing various roles.  He is contemptible as Herman, the proprietor of the dance establishment; suave as movie star Vittorio Vidal, and outlandishly funky as Daddy Brubeck.  Asmeret Ghebremichael and Emily Padgett give the production some sass, but also imbue their performances with a world-weariness and inescapability from their lamentable lives.

The score by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields is filled with classics songs such as “Big Spender,” “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This,” and “The Rhythm of Life.”  They can be exuberant and celebratory, but also provide an emotional poignancy that explores the underbelly of big city life.

Choreographer Joshua Bergasse blends 60’s hipsterism with finely tuned, energetic ensemble pieces.  He skillfully engages the talents of his leading lady, whether with individual routines or within nexus of the group of performers. 

Director Leigh Silverman takes firm hold of the production in defining the musical’s upbeat as well as melancholy message.  She has taken a very small stage, with minimal props and sets, and created a vibrant portrayal of big city lives gone askew.  Utilizing multiple entrance and exit pathways, the director keeps the show fluid and agile.  Ms. Silverman has done a masterful job developing the characters of Charity and Oscar so they are not just caricatures of wayward souls. The supporting performers are also effectively utilized giving this intimate production a fuller feel.

Sweet Charity, with a laudable performance by Sutton Foster, is not to be missed.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Review of "Christmas on the Rocks"

This following is based on a previous review of the production.

The premise for Theaterworks’ entertaining production, Christmas on the Rocks, is very simple.  Ask seven playwrights—John Cariani, Jeffrey Hatcher, Jenn Harris & Matthew Wilkas, Jacques Lamarre, Theresa Rebeck, Edwin Sanchez, and Jonathan Tolins--to take iconic Christmas characters from holiday themed movies and television classics and reimagine them as older, more disenchanted and indifferent individuals.  The result—seven very short playlets (no more then 12 minutes each) that are at times funny, poignant, joyful, and touching. 
Jenn Harris in the Theaterworks production of "Christmas on the Rocks."
Each scene takes place in a seedy bar overseen by an aged bartender, played with a convincing worldweariness by Ronn Carroll.  The other two cast members, the Matthew Wilkas and Jenn Harris, portraying a variety of characters, rotate scenes until they unite in the finale.  Which portions of the linked plays did I like the most?  What about those I found only mildly amusing?  I’d rather not say, leaving the decision to each audience member.  Each of the seven had their own charm and wit.  Some I preferred might not have registered with other theater-goers and vice versa.  The plots?  Again, mum’s the word.  Half of the fun of Christmas on the Rocks is discovering who the character is when they walk through the bar’s front door.  However, be forewarned--brush up on your holiday films and TV shows before attending a performance.  This will maximize your viewing pleasure and understanding of the inside jokes.

All three actors were marvelous, displaying subtle, humorous or over-the-top portrayals, depending on the particular scene.  With a different wig and change of clothing both Harris and Wilkas were able to become a multitude of completely different, totally convincing characters.  Bravo.
Matthew Wilkas in the Theaterworks production of "Christmas on the Rocks."
Michael Schweikardt’s set design of the run-down pub was so authentic looking.  His attention to detail was superb.  Look for Kris Kringle’s cane and Tiny Tim’s walking stick to the side of the bar and the dollar bills taped to the mirror.  The address of the establishment—1225.  A lit chihuahua’s head at the top of the liquor cabinet was an offbeat touch.

Director Rob Ruggiero effortlessly connects each of the seven plays to form a seamless whole. He skillfully guides each performer to bring out the essence of their role whether it is the comic, the inspirational, or the nuttiness or all three.  Ruggiero perfectly paces each scene to elicit just the right blend of emotion and entertainment.

Christmas on the Rocks, hopefully a new holiday tradition in the Hartford area, playing now through December 23rd.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Review of "Other People's Money"

One of the top movie quotes of all time is “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good,” from the 1987 film Wall Street (#57 on the American Film Institute list of 100 Greatest).  That catch phrase sums up the basis for the 1986 play, Other People’s Money, which is receiving a spirited, captivating production at Long Wharf, through December 18th.

The mid-1980’s was a time when the press was full of stories detailing Wall Street mega-mergers, hostile takeovers and business excesses.  The battle between ruthless, capitalistic new wavers and old-lined, traditional companies was at its height.  Playwright Jerry Sterner has taken this notion and created a grippingly charged tale that seems ripped from the headlines thirty years ago but, sadly, is still relevant today.  Yet Sterner has crafted a show that is not as black and white as one would believe.  The lines are more gray when it comes to the intentions and desires of investors and stock holders verses the wishes of management.  The author has also taken the language of business and corporate takeovers and translated the vocabulary and terminology into easily understandable language for a widespread audience.
Jordan Lage and Steve Routman in Long Whart's production of "Other People's Money."

The show pits corporate takeover king Larry “The Liquidator” Garfinkle (Jordan Lage) against the established New England Wire & Cable Company.  Garfinkle wants the firm, led by the unpretentious, laid back owner Andrew Jorgenson (Edward James Hyland) and President Bill Coles (Steve Routman) to acquiesce to his demands to seize control of the company.  Jorgenson, comforted and fortified by his long time assistant and beloved, Bea (Karen Ziemba), refuse Garfinkle’s advances.  Instead, the trio convinces Bea’s daughter Kate (Liv Rooth), a high-powered New York lawyer, to help parry his advances.  There are tense meetings among Garfinkle and the other protagonists, with the most heated, yet playful exchanges, between Kate and the Wall Streeter.  In the end, alliances shift leading up to a surprising ending. 

The acting troupe is dynamic and full of intensity and passion, which makes the production such a treat to watch.  Jordan Lage’s Garfinkle is the key to the show.  The actor gives a richly hued performance as the pompous, vainglorious and totally self-serving Wall Streeter.  He is repulsive, yet also exudes a sexual aura.  This makes, for example, his one-on-one verbal confrontations with Ms. Rooth’s Kate so provocative and enthralling.  Edward James Hyland layers Jorgenson with down-to-earth charm and a steely reserve.  Liv Rooth, as Kate, is coolly self-confident in her attempt to save the firm from elimination.  She is more then a match for her nemesis in the production.  Steve Routman gives a fine Machiavellian tint to the shrewd, calculating character Bill Coles.  Karen Ziemba, as Bea, is fine in a role that doesn’t have the impact or flourish of her fellow cast members.
Jordan Lage and Liv Rooth in Long Wharf's production of "Other People's Money."

Director Marc Bruni keeps the action taut and engrossing, adroitly building the dramatic tension up to the startling denouncement.  Each character comes across as believable and true to their convictions.  He deftly integrates the action on stage with short bursts of narration and opinionated polemics from Garfinkle who, at times, prowls around the perimeter of the stage like a predator surveying his injured quarry.

Other People’s Money, a well-orchestrated production that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.  Playing through December 18th.

Review of "The Front Page"

The all-star production of The Front Page is a fun and entertaining show.  Every actor—from John Goodman to Sherie Renee Scott to John Slattery—is first-rate and has their role down pat in this well-oiled, comedic machine.  But the play doesn’t soar until the appearance of Nathan Lane towards the end of Act II of the three-act show.  His timing, facial expressions, manic gestures, and vocal inflections are pure delectation.  The actor’s performance elevates the rest of his cast members making The Front Page, towards the end, an irresistible laughfest. 

Playwrights Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, both former Chicago newspapermen, have created a love letter to the rough and tumble world of tabloid journalism practiced in the early part of the 20th Century.  The two have written a seamless piece where scenes literally burst upon one another with biting quips and wise-cracking banter coming fast and furious.  The players—reporters, politicians, police, and other colorful characters--are lovable louts, hapless losers, and self-important incompetents.  Bureaucrats and elected officials can’t be trusted and are blunderingly corrupt.  Cynical?  Yes.  But Hecht and MacArthur have the personal knowledge and writing background to infuse all the show’s disparate components into an enjoyable confectionary mix.
John Goodman and members of the cast from "The Front Page."
The plot they developed centers around Hildy Johnson (John Slattery), a brash, veteran reporter for the Examiner.  He’s just told his boss, Walter Burns (Nathan Lane), he’s leaving the business to get married and take a regular job in a New York advertising firm.  While saying goodbye to his colleagues at the jail house press room Earl Williams (John Magaro), a condemned man, escapes in their very building, setting off a massive manhunt and scattering of all the hardened scribes, except Hildy.  Just as he is about to leave the premises Williams smashes through one of the room’s windows, injured and dazed.  This scenario sets into motion a raucous and crazed series of events that involves the oafish sheriff (John Goodman), clownish mayor (Dan Florek), Joe’s would-be girlfriend (Sherie Rene Scott), assorted newspaper men such as the prim and proper Bensinger (Jefferson Mays) and a host of other broadly drawn characters.
John Slattery and Nathan Lane from "The Front Page."
The cast is led by the illustrious Nathan Lane as the cantankerous, loud-mouthed editor, Walter Burns.  The man can do no wrong on a Broadway stage.  Enough said.  Other notables in the exceptional cast include John Slattery, who is suitably dapper as the carousing, and pugnacious star reporter, Hildy Johnson. John Goodman is marvelous as the befuddled, bungling Sheriff Hartman; Dan Florek is marvelous as the bumbling mayor; Jefferson May gives the scribe Bensinger a fastidious pomposity; Sherie Rene Scott, is splendid as the downtrodden, misunderstood Mollie Malloy; and Holland Taylor is wonderfully flummoxed as the mother-in-law to be, Mrs. Grant.

Nathan Lane, Holland Taylor, and cast members from "The Front Page."

Director Jack O’Brien has effectively been able to take this notable group of actors and actresses and adroitly meld their considerable flair and savvy into a flawlessly rendered production.  He has every scene humming and judiciously mapped out with skillful movements and fast-paced repartee.  The interactions are sometimes too mannered and slick, but the overall composition is a harmonious success.

The Front Page, an admirable production, with a talented cast anchored by the virtuoso performance of the incomparable Nathan Lane.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Review of "Falsettos"

The original production of Falsettos opened in 1992 when the AIDS epidemic was front and center.  The story of a dysfunctional family and their friends confronting its affect on one of their own was a powerful theatrical event.  Now, almost 25 years later, the emotional wallop still resonates in this superb, forceful revival.

The musical is a merging of two one-act shows, March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland, by composer William Finn and librettist James Lapine [the creation of Falsettos was originally conceived at Connecticut’s Hartford Stage in 1991.]  The story involves Marvin, a neurotic and insecure man who has recently left his wife Trina and son Jason to take up residence with his male lover Whizzer.  In response, she begins therapy with the psychiatrist Mendel who, enraptured with the vulnerable woman, eventually marries her.  The five, however, stay intertwined as their complicated and complex lives play out.  In Act II, two lesbian lovers, Marvin’s next door neighbors, are added to the mix just as AIDS rears its ugly head, having a profound affect on all the characters.
Christian Borle and Andrew Rannells from "Falsettos."

The book by William Finn and James Lapine, a less then mainstream creation when it debuted in the early 1990’s, comes across as more matter-of-fact in today’s world.  At its core, the show is one of relationships and family and individuals coming together in the time of crisis.  The concluding scenes are still powerful and forceful stagecraft.

William Finn, who won the Tony Award for Best Original Score during the show’s original run, has written tender ballads, forceful anthems, and comedic gems.  Finn is skillfully able to produce material that delves into the soul of his characters, which gives voice to their frustration, rage, happiness, remorse, and, finally grief.
The cast of "Falsettos."

The seven member cast is stellar.  You would be hard pressed to find a better group of actors and actresses on a Broadway stage.  They are led by Christian Borle as Marvin.  Borle finally gets to portray a more regular, yet flawed, individual then he has done in his most recent Broadway outings.  He is somewhat arrogant and very much self-centered, but the actor tempers these traits with a well-rounded portrayal of a man still unsure of his place in the universe.  Andrew Rannells, as Marvin’s male companion Whizzer, gives a brash, self-confident performance.  He exudes a live-for-the-moment sexuality that, by the middle of Act II, has transformed him into a sorrowful, tragic figure.  Brandon Uranowitz is wonderful as Mendel the conflicted psychiatrist who is a bundle of nervous energy.   He can be overwrought and frenzied, but also provides stability and reflection to the characters when times get tough.  Stephanie J. Block, who plays the suffering wife, Trina, finally has a part worthy of her talents.  Her first act number, “Trina’s Song”, is a culmination of all her pent up feelings--indignation, exasperation, outrage, and anger.  It is a tour de force performance.  Tracie Thoms is satisfying as Dr. Charles, one part of the lesbian couple living next door to Marvin.  She adds a modicum of seriousness as the AIDS devastation takes center stage.  Betsy Wolfe gives the production a comedic lift as Dr. Charles’ daft, well-meaning companion, Cordelia.  Anthony Rosenthal is a self-assured youngster as the Bar Mitzvah aged Jason.  He easily holds his own with his more veteran cast mates and provides the central pivot, which everything revolves around.
Christian Borle, Anthony Rosenthal, and Stephanie J. Block in "Falsettos."

Director James Lapine, who also helmed the original production, obviously knows the material very well.  However, this is not a rote re-creation.  The musical is fresh and vibrant, helped along by the laudable cast.  Scenes seamlessly meld into each other and the interactions of the characters ring true.  Lapine also shows a deft touch by not hitting the audience over the head forewarning us with doom and gloom.  The urgency and seriousness of the storyline evolves slowly and naturally.

David Rockwell’s modular scenic design accomplishes a number of different functions.  They become the building blocks of the set and segment the stage into various backdrops.  It can also be seen as the interlocking pieces of the puzzle of life and a metaphor for individuals building and rebuilding their lives.

Falsettos, a riveting and captivating production with an outstanding cast and praiseworthy score.