Monday, October 29, 2018

Review of "The Waverly Gallery"

The portrayal of a person descending into the depths of dementia is nothing new on the New York stage.  Most recently, Frank Langella won the 2016 Tony Award in The Father for depicting someone in such a state.  In The Waverly Gallery, a poignant, funny, and bittersweet examination of a family going through the throes of the syndrome, playwright Kenneth Lonergan treads through familiar territory while also adding fresh and affecting elements to a heartrendering story.

He is aided by the outstanding performance of Elaine May as Gladys, the elderly, independent woman who has become a difficult handful for her immediate family.   Ms. May anchors the production with a superb sense of timing, whether through simple observation or mile-a-minute chattering.

Gladys owns a small, not very successful art gallery on Waverly Place in Greenwich Village, a place she has run for decades.  While nominally a business it is really a place for her to spend time out of her cramped apartment.  Her immediate family, daughter Ellen (Joan Allen), her husband Howard (David Cromer) and grandson Daniel (Lucas Hedges) live on the Upper Westside of Manhattan and cope with her eccentricities and setbacks, sometimes with compassion, most often with anger and resentment.  A fifth character, Dan (Michael Cera), is also part of the mix.  An unaccomplished artist from Lynn, MA he happens upon the gallery where he ends up residing and becoming, in effect, an ex-officio member of the family and care team.  The everyday rhythm of Gladys’ days ultimately worsens, abetted by life-changing circumstances, until the inevitable end.

Kenneth Lonergan’s work plays against the usual presentations around a loved one with dementia.  Here, exasperation, irritation, and outright antagonism are front and center.  This is a loving family at wit’s end.  They have the financial means to provide for the aged Gladys, but their reserve of empathy and patience is almost exhausted.  The playwright astutely incorporates constant repetition by Gladys to demonstrate her diminishing capacities.  The circumlocutions eventually become tiresome, but what better way to dramatically portray the distressing existence felt by all those involved.  Lonerman also uses the character of Daniel to occasionally break the 4th wall of the theater by providing exposition and illumination.  The asides do not distract from the flow of the show.  They enrich and add clarity.

The cast is terrific.  Their strength is in how they overtly and subtly react and play off Ms. May as they all go through their everyday routines, as jumbled and as maddening as they may be.

Lila Neugebauer’s staging keeps the focus on Elaine May.  The actresses’ ramblings and histrionics are skillfully rendered, making them appear natural and unforced.  The use of overlapping dialogue has a spontaneity and genuineness to the action.  The director handles Daniel’s soliloquys to the audience with aplomb.  Sometimes it seems the characters shout too much, but that is from the perspective of an outsider looking into a world he has not experienced.

Scenic Designer David Zinn has created three relatively straightforward set pieces.  Their wizardry, though, is in the quickness with which they are transformed within a very short blackout.

The Waverly Gallery, a moving portrait of an all too familiar scenario with a bravo performance by Elaine May.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Review of "The Roommate"

 Most of us have had a roommate at some point in our life, maybe as an incoming college Freshman or when looking for someone to share costs for a just attainable big city apartment.  Roommates are usually for the under 30 age group.  But what about older adults?  What would that be like?  In writer Jenn Silverman’s play, The Roommate, she takes two, early 50’s aged women and weaves together a mildly amusing comedy.

We are introduced to Sharon (Linda Powell), an Iowan homeowner, who takes into her house native New Yorker, Robyn (Tasha Lawrence).  The two divorced women could not be more different in looks, demeanor, and background.  Their tentative relationship quickly develops into a more solid rapport and, finally, friendship.  While their personalities and backgrounds are distinct, they do share some common ground, most notably an unsettled bond with their grown child.  Sharon, introverted, with few interests, becomes enamored with Robyn’s more colorful past and seeks to emulate her exploits, which ends up changing the dynamics of their relationship and, in the end, each other’s lives.

Jen Silverman’s script is mostly entertaining as the contrasts between the two characters is emphasized.  The theme has been reworked for the stage many times before, most notably with Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple.  The scenarios and camaraderie between the protagonists feel natural.  The playwright’s ambiguous ending rings true as the audience is left to come up with its own conclusions.  I do quibble with how Sharon’s reactions to Robyn’s New York City roots, sexual orientation, and former “professions” are portrayed.  While humorous, the gasps and incredulousness of Sharon come across as somewhat cliched in today’s world.

The two actresses fully embody their disparate roles.  Linda Powell imbues Sharon with an unadorned poise that, initially, is wide-eyed with a gaping disposition.  As the story develops, she effectively transforms from a somewhat reclusive, directionless persona to someone who develops into a confident woman with a devil-may-care approach to living.  Tasha Lawrence convincingly instills Robyn with an air of mystery and even danger.  The actress displays a well-spring of conflicting emotions and uncertainties, at times hardened and confused as she looks to jumpstart her life.

Director Mike Donahue adroitly keeps the interaction between the characters within the kitchen area of Dane Laffrey’s expansive, detailed set design, which encompasses a spacious, airy kitchen and dining and living rooms.  This affords him the opportunity to focus the audience’s attention on both familiar domestic life rituals, such as the drinking of morning coffee, with the more uncharacteristic conversations and activities the two characters have.  A two-person play is always difficult when it comes to pacing and variations in staging, but the director effectively mixes up the action by introducing an assortment of props and conversations on a land line telephone.

The Roommate, diverting and engaging, playing at Long Wharf through November 4th.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Review of "The River"

I saw The River on Broadway a few years ago.  The production starred Hugh Jackman and I was anticipating a scintillating piece of theater.  Instead, by the end of the 80 minute, intermission-less show I was scratching my head trying to figure out the play’s meaning and purpose.  When it was announced to be part of the 2018-2019 Theaterworks season I thought it would be a good opportunity to reevaluate my previous appraisal.

Unfortunately, The River is still a meandering meditation on a man’s search for the perfect “catch.”  There are many fish(ing) metaphors in the play.  The characters talk about fish, reminisce about fishing exploits, and one is even prepared on stage. 

The show is centered in a rustic cabin, fastidiously designed by Brian Pather.  The one room dwelling is crammed with nooks and crannies and flanked on either side by birch tree saplings.  We are introduced to characters simply titled The Man (Billy Carter) and The Woman (Andrea Goss).  The dialogue, when not centered on the aquatic animals, is very lyrical and poetic but I just kept thinking that people don’t talk like this.  Very beautiful to listen to, but disharmonious within the setting. 

Within a very short time The Woman leaves the stage and The Other Woman (Jasmine Batchelor) enters, just about replaying the previous scenes.  Who is she?  What happened to The Woman?  Playwright Jez Butterworth seems to showing the man at different points of his life and how the women he falls in love with are never the right one so he always deems it necessary to throw them back and out of his life.  Will he ever succeed?  Back and forth the two women enter and leave the stage until The Man is, finally, alone.

One could wax poetic about the play or talk about the mythical underpinnings that Butterworth is trying to convey but, in the end, the audience needs to be entertained and in The River not much happens.  The inaction undercuts whatever message the playwright is trying to impart.  The play is the type of production one either falls under its atmospheric spell or ponders and wonders.

The cast - Billy Carter Andrea Goss Jasmine Batchelor - is earnest and committed to fortifying their characters with passion and deeply held convictions.  They are expressive whether displaying feelings of angst or disquietude.

Director Rob Ruggiero brings an intensity to the events within the small confines of the onstage room.  There is a lilting quality to his direction, which effectively draws out the sometimes raw emotions of the performers. He also handles the time shifting component of the production with aplomb and a seeming nonchalance.

The River, playing at Theaterworks in Hartford through November 11th.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Review of "Evita"

One of Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice’s first musicals was Evita.  This normally large-scale theatrical work, which traces the rise and fall of Argentina’s former first lady Eva Peron, has been reimagined for the small stage by ACT of Connecticut Artistic Director Daniel Levine.  The result is a rousing, passionate production that can be riveting and emotionally satisfying.

The story of Eva Maria Duarte, later Eva Peron after marrying Army officer and future Argentine President Juan Peron, is one of determination and fortitude.  From a poverty-stricken background, she literally claweda her way to the top to become, in the late 1950’s, one of the most revered and authoritative woman in the world.  The musical traces her life from her teenage years, through her ascent to power, to her untimely death at a very young age.  Webber and Rice have cleverly added the character of Che Guevara, a contemporary of Eva Peron, but someone not in her sphere, to act as a one man Greek Chorus, commenting on the action and serving as a moral compass during the show.

The score, by the duo behind such works as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Jesus Christ Superstar, is stirring and impassioned, delivered with a fervor and zeal by the talented performers.  Since there is no book to the show, the compositions need to communicate the dramatic narrative, which they do with a burst of boisterous gusto and ardent exhilaration.  There is the musical’s signature song, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina,” but that is just one of many finely crafted numbers.

The entire cast is superb, from the leads to the supporting players to members of the ensemble.  They are led by Julia Estrada as Eva Peron.  The actress is seductive, elegant, and charming as she transforms from a diffident, but resolute young woman to a self-confident, mature leader.  Ms. Estrada also possesses the vocal power to belt out the demanding score.  Angel Lozada’s Che is the soul of the production.  The actor brings a dynamic intensity that commands the audience’s attention.  As Juan Peron, the elected Argentine leader, Ryan K. Bailor is more muted in his performance, but he exudes a forceful presence that is a perfect counterpoint to the other very charismatic and vibrant central characters.

Director Daniel Levine has successfully laid out his artistic vision of presenting the musical in a more stripped down version without sacrificing quality or emotional synergy.  He has the acting troupe well-drilled as they swing from highly charged performances to more nuanced work.  The director adroitly inserts the character of Che into the center of the Perons’ orbit, which allows the story to be more expansive and finely layered.

Choreographer Charlie Sutton has fashioned lively, vigorous dances that are expressive and affective.

Jack Mehler’s minimal scenic design and lighting set-up provide just enough of the essential production elements for the musical to succeed.

Evita, a spirited and impressive presentation, playing at ACT of Connecticut in Ridgefield, CT through November 11th.

Friday, October 19, 2018

October 14, 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:

TONIGHT'S THEME - New Digital Releases
Five new cast recordings from recent Off-Broadway musicals.

Name of Song
Name of Show

Music to Me
Who’s Your Baghdaddy?
Speak to Me Tomorrow
Who’s Your Baghdaddy?
We Deserve Better
Who’s Your Baghdaddy?
Who’s Your Baghdaddy?
You Wish
Tonya & Nancy – a Rock Musical
It’s Our Whole Life
Tonya & Nancy – a Rock Musical
This Is It
Tonya & Nancy – a Rock Musical
Miss You Like Hell
Miss You Like Hell
Miss You Like Hell
Now I’m Here
Miss You Like Hell
Dance With Me
Miss You Like Hell
The Empty Chair
Session Girls
I Dreamt of You
Session Girls
I Got a Key
Session Girls
Nobody Understands Me
Session Girls
Wicked Clone
Wicked Clone
Up and Down
Wicked Clone

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Review of "The Drowsy Chaperone"

Flirtatious fun, an apt description for The Drowsy Chaperone, the delectable diversion playing at the Goodspeed Opera House through November 25th.  The production, a spoof of 1920’s giddy, harebrained musicals, is effervescently entertaining and will put a smile on your face.
John Scherer as Man in Chair in Goodspeed Musicals’ The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing at The Goodspeed through November 25. Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
The featherbrained plot centers around the upcoming nupitals of a glitzy, famous actress to a handsome son of an oil magnet.  Complications, of course, ensue as competing forces vie for the wedding to proceed and be called off.  The stylized characterizations include a fretting best man; a bumbling, Latin Lothario; a flustered producer and his ditzy girlfriend; two disguised gangsters; the liquored-up bride’s chaperone; and a jolly, self-depracating narrator, who anchors the production. 

The role of the narrator, known as the Man in Chair, elevates the musical from a breezy send-up to splendiferous entertainment as he lobs bon mots and keeps up a steady stream of wisecracking banter.  He begins the musical, alone on stage in his comfy easy chair, explaining to the audience that when he is blue he enjoys listening to Broadway cast recordings on his record player.  His favorite?  The Drowsy Chaperone, which he then proceeds to play while chronicling the action and backstory of the scenes and performers as they come to life in his small, nondescript apartment. 
“I Don’t Wanna Show Off” Stephanie Rothenberg (Janet Van de Graaf) with the cast of Goodspeed Musicals’ The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing at The Goodspeed through November 25. Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
The book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, which won the 2006 Tony Award, is cleverly structured, saucy, and high-spirited. There is a loving and knowing nod to Broadway musical aficionados that is good-natured and quite humorous.

The score by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison is exuberant, frothy, and full of opportunities for individual cast members to shine.   
“Toledo Surprise!” The cast of Goodspeed Musicals’ The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing at The Goodspeed through November 25. Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
The performers attack their roles with gusto and a genuineness that adds to the hilarity and vivaciousness of the production.  They are led by John Scherer in the pivotal role of Man in Chair.  He is assured, charming and amusing from the onset, setting a mirth-filled tone to the show.  The actor’s antics and droll repartee has the audience in stitches almost immediately. 

Other notable cast members include Stephanie Rothenberg as Janet Van de Graaff, the radiant and attractive starlet.  She nimbly skates through a range of emotions from teary-eyed bride-to-be to bubbly luminary.  While delightful, the performance could have been strengthened with a bit more panache.
John Scherer (Man in Chair) with Parker Slaybaugh (Gangster 2) and Blakely Slaybaugh (Gangster 1) in Goodspeed Musicals’ The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing at The Goodspeed through November 25. Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Clyde Alves, as the groom Robert Martin, is a handsome bon vivant.  There’s not much depth in the role but he, nonetheless. Is a good sport dashing on and off stage handling each predicament with a playful exasperation.  Jennifer Allen is flippant and brash as The Drowsy Chaperone, but she could have been even more audacious and impertinent.  John Rapson is suitably over-the-top as the Latin lover Aldolph.  The Slaybaugh brothers, Blakely and Parker, just about steal the show as the two gangsters disguised as pastry chefs.  They are outrageously funny and are talented hoofers.  Let’s hope they continue to grace Connecticut productions.

Choreographer Chris Bailey delivers a handful of high-stepping dance routines and tap dancing extravaganzas.  His work is used sparingly within the musical, but each time produces crowd-pleasing enthusiasm.
“Rhythm make dem cold feets hot!” Tim Falter (George) and Clyde Alves (Robert) in Goodspeed Musicals’ The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing at The Goodspeed through November 25. Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Director Hunter Foster has a light touch as he guides the large cast on and off the small Goodspeed stage.  He seamlessly integrates the Man in Chair with the other elements and scenes from the show.  Each segment of the musical is skillfully presented as a miniature vignette focusing on the individual characters and their distinctive plights.

The scenic design by Howard Jones deftly interweaves a meager apartment layout with more lavish sets associated with the rich and whacky.  He even manages to land an airplane on stage.
Escape the everyday with the cast of Goodspeed Musicals’ The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing at The Goodspeed through November 25. Photo Credit © Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Gregg Barnes’ costume designs are elaborate creations, gorgeous to gaze upon.  He truly captures the sumptuousness and grandeur of the high-flying upper class.

The Drowsy Chaperone, a sparkling, lighthearted musical, playing through November 25th.

Monday, October 8, 2018

October 7, 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:

TONIGHT'S THEME - October 2018 Requests
All request program with cast albums M - Z.

Name of Song
Name of Show

Bikini Bottom Day
SpongeBob - the Musical
Man of La Mancha
Working on the Land
Martin Guerre
I Ain't Down Yet
The Unsinkable Molly Brown
The Lambeth Walk
Me and My Girl
Perfect Strangers
Mystery of Edwin Drood
Oh, Brother!
Das Chicago Song
New Faces of '68
My American Moment
War Paint
Engine of Love
Starlight Express
Man Say
Women on the Verge...
Lullaby From Baby to Baby
The Mad Hatter
I Hate Musicals
I'm Alive
Light on Your Feet
Puttin' on the Ritz
Young Frankenstein

Review of "Jekyll & Hyde"

The musical Jekyll and Hyde is usually staged as a large-scale, lavish production where bombast and over-the-top vocal performances and poignant ballads are the norm.  The show, now playing at the very intimate Music Theatre of Connecticut playhouse, deemphasizes the grandiloquence and focuses on the characters as they are swept up in the unholy research of Henry Jekyll.  For audience member familiar with, and who enjoy, the over-the-top Frank Wildhorn songs, rest assured.  They are still intact in all their blazing glory.

Set in 19th century London, the show loosely follows the Robert Louis Stevenson novella of a respected doctor, Henry Jekyll, looking to separate a person’s good side from their bad, thus creating a better world where evil is eradicated.  Using himself as the test subject for his unproven formula, Dr. Jekyll is intermittently transformed into the malevolent and violent Edward Hyde and back to his rational and lucid self.  In his new persona, he seeks revenge on those he feels shunned and mocked the experiments of his alter-ego, while also terrorizing the city’s populace.  In the end, all who come in contact with the well-meaning scientist—his fiancé, best friend, and the lady of the night he befriends—are irreparably harmed.

Leslie Bricusse’s adaptation of the iconic story plows forcefully, if somewhat repetitiously, towards the inevitable Act I transformation.  The second act speedily advances, coming at a somewhat rapid rate, as corpses pile high and the tragic and heartrending finale comes to its conclusion.

Andrew Foote gives a penetrating performance as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde.  The actor, who has played the role numerous times, brings an intense passion to the character of Dr. Jekyll, but also imbues him with a brooding detachment.  As Edward Hyde he is a semi-controlled madman—cruel and vicious.  Elissa DeMaria’s Lucy Harris, a prostitute that befriends the good/bad doctor, is spirited and feisty, but also vulnerable.  She has a powerful voice that beautifully delivers the Frank Wildhorn/Leslie Bricusse songs.  The supporting cast, including Carissa Massaro as Emma, the love interest of Dr. Jekyll, is first-rate.  Their performances add a richness to the production.

The Frank Wildhorn/Leslie Bricusse score includes a number of dynamic, powerhouse songs that show off the vocal capability of the performers.  These include “Façade,” “This is the Moment,” “Someone Like You,” and “Dangerous Game.”  They vary from the overwrought to the emotionally intense.  In a musical like Jekyll and Hyde they are appropriate and affectingly rendered, helping to heighten the drama of the show and passion of the characters.  They are accompanied by a talented group of musicians under the direction of David Wolfson.

Director Kevin Connors skillfully guides the good-sized cast within the small performance space, utilizing the various entranceways and exits with precision.  He handles the murderous rages with a savvy restraint, while still effectively mining their chilling frightfulness.  Some of the scenes come across as overwrought but, thankfully, the director keeps them to a minimum.

Lighting Designer Michael Blagys has incorporated some straightforward lighting effects, which provide a simple remedy for unnecessary blood-letting and, working in conjunction with Director Connor, aids in Jekyll and Hyde’s back and forth transformation during the “Confrontation” sequence.

Jekyll and Hyde, a well-crafted production, at the Music Theatre of Connecticut through October 14th.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Review of "Peter and the Star Catcher"

 Almost all the elements of Playhouse on Park’s production of Peter and the Star Catcher work marvelously.  The acting is glorious, the productions values superb, and the direction is inspired and inventive.  The problem is playwright Rick Elice’s adaptation of the Dave Barry/Ridley Pearson novel, which burdens the show with too much exposition, robbing the play of its fluidity and straightforward narrative.
Miss Sandra Molongo as Smee, Thomas Daniels as Bill Slank, James Patrick Nelson as Lord Leonard Aster, Colleen Welsh as Mrs. Bumbrake, Matthew Quinn as Black Stache, Nicholas Dana Rylands as Cpt Robert Falcon Scott, James Fairchild as Alf.  Photo by Curt Henderson.
The specifics of the story can be somewhat confusing.  Therefore, instead of providing a comprehensive overview of the plot with its various twists and turns, it’s best to share a broader outline of the adventures, giving audience members a dollop of understanding instead of a whole scoop of comprehension.

The story is devised as a prequel to J.M. Barrie’s iconic Peter Pan where we learn the origins of The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up, Captain Hook, Neverland, and more.  The set-up of the play is imaginative.  We are presented with a group of actors putting on a show for our entertainment.  Props and sets are kept to a minimum and have a more thrown together feel, which is perfectly in line with the intent of the show.  The action shifts from a pirate ship and its rowdy crew to an English royal vessel to a secretive island where hostile natives rule and the mysterious starstuff, a transformative substance, is centered.  At its conclusion, loose ends come together and we are brought, in essence, to the beginning of the timeless story.
Elena Levenson, Natalie Sannes as Molly, Brianna Bagley as Prentiss, Nick Palazzo as Ted, Jared Starkey as Boy/Peter. Photo by Curt Henderson.
The actors work well as an ensemble, taking the guise of numerous characters, while also shining in their singular roles.  Standouts include Matthew Quinn as the self-aggrandizing, mustached pirate, Black Stache.  Quinn is appropriately over-the-top and adds a silly zest to the production.  Natalie Sannes’ Molly is brimming with curiosity and is full of adventure and gusto as she leads Peter and the Lost Boys on their mission. The actress, small in stature, nonetheless, exudes a confidence and zeal, which anchors the show.  Jared Starkey, initially, is quite underwhelming as Boy (Peter Pan), but the character is meant to be unnoteworthy until he finds his purpose and mojo near the play’s conclusion.  The actor convincingly evolves from scared follower to self-confident protector.  Colleen Welsh is gregarious and full of spunk as the nanny Mrs. Brumbake.  She provides a consistent comic touch to the production.

The songs by Wayne Barker provide an extra element of fun.  They are jauntily sung by the cast and, as with the mermaid number at the top of Act II, deliver a dash of merriment for the performers and audience.

Shawn Harris pulls out all the stops coming up with a creative and resourceful vortex of directorial flourishes.  His artistic decisions make the small Playhouse stage come alive as actors frolic with giddiness and enthusiastic purpose as they set sail for adventure.  What he has not been able to negotiate is making the unwieldy script more digestible and attention-grabbing.

Scenic Designer David Lewis, who received the 2018 Connecticut Critics Circle award for The Diary of Anne Frank, has once again fabricated a set that completely meets the needs of the production.  In this instance, whimsy and functionality are melded into a wholly satisfying assemblage.

Peter and the Star Catcher, a show that can be entertaining and exasperating at once.  Playing at Playhouse on Park through October 14th.