Sunday, April 30, 2023
Monday, April 17, 2023
Before Smokey Joe’s, Five Guys Named Moe, Eubie! or Black and Blue, there was the Fats Waller revue Ain’t Misbehavin’. The original Broadway production was a huge success, winning the 1978 Tony Award for Best Musical and running over 1,600 performances.
Thirty-six years ago (1987), I was the Associate Director of Student Activities at Barnard College in New York City. I ran a ticket booth, purchasing discount tickets from the Theater Development Fund and reselling them to students, faculty, and staff at a slight mark-up. As a certified musical theater geek (I currently operate the 24/7 online Broadway radio station, SoundsofBroadway.com), I was always keeping up with the latest shows currently on Broadway, playing out-of-town engagements and residing on the London stage.
Sunday, April 16, 2023
Dazzling. Magical. The Broadway production of Yann Martel’s novel, Life of Pi, is stagecraft at its best. Director Max Webster incorporates life-sized puppets, inspiring sets by Tim Hatley, a thundering sound design by Carolyn Downing, and dramatic lighting by Tin Luktkin to create an extraordinary tale of hope and survival.
Playwright Lolita Chakrabarti has synthesized the essence of the book to present a concise, well-structured play. She has managed to jettison aspects of the book without hurting the narrative or highly-charged portions of the novel. What is understandably missing is the richness and detail in Yann Martel’s original work. However, knowledge of the source material is not necessary for audiences to enjoy and be entertained by the stage production.
The show begins, in a sense, at the end of the story. Pi Patel, after spending hundreds of days adrift in the Pacific Ocean, has washed ashore in Mexico. He is in a hospital being questioned by a shipping firm official about the unexplained sinking of the vessel that claimed all lives except the young Indian boy. What, he asks, can you tell me?
The story then shifts to the events leading up to the fateful ocean journey. We are introduced to Pi Patel, who lives with his sister, mother and father. The family owns a zoo in India and this fact allows for the very early introduction of the marvelous and fanciful animal creations by Puppet Designers Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell. There is OJ the gorilla, a zebra, and a Bengal Tiger, named Richard Parker. Due to growing civil unrest, Pi’s father decides to move the family and the contents of the zoo to Canada. During the early part of the voyage the ship sinks during a raging storm. There are no survivors except Pi and a few of the animals - OJ, a menacing hyena, an injured zebra, and Richard Parker - afloat on a large lifeboat. Very soon, the hyena starts attacking the other animals and when all is said and done, there is only Pi and the Bengal tiger remaining. So, starts an uneasy alliance between the two as they drift aimlessly in the Pacific Ocean.
Pi perseveres with help from dreamscape encounters with a survival guide author and departed family members. The action jumps back and forth between the hospital room, where he relates his tale and the exploits on the high seas. All the time, Richard Parker lurks, prowls, challenges until Pi and the tiger settle into a symbiotic relationship as they endure hunger, thirst and treacherous waters.
In the end, at the hospital, an incredulous shipping administrator discounts Pi’s story as delusional. Pi responds with a much more palatable tale, without animals. Satisfied with the “other” rendering, the official and his partner depart leaving Pi alone with his thoughts and the truth of what really happened.
The superb cast is led by the breath-taking performance of Hiran Abeyskeera as Pi. On stage for just about the entire play, the actor deftly portrays a teen who’s world has suddenly imploded. He is at times sullen, combative and introspective. Other notable actors/actresses include Rajesh Bose (father), Mahira Kakkar (mother), and Brian Thomas Abraham (cook)..
Director Max Webster’s vision and execution is spell-bounding, incorporating elements of fantasy, whimsy and realism. At some points, it is almost cinematic in scope as he blends Andrzej Goulding’s Video Design and Andrew T. Nackay original musical compositions into the production. His staging of the interplay between the life-size puppets and Pi is both threatening and exciting.
Recognition needs to go to all the puppeteers that bring all of Puppet Designer’s Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell creations to life. Bravo.
Life of Pi, a show not to be missed.
Friday, April 7, 2023
Let me start off by stating what the revival of Bob Fosse’s Dancin' is not. The show is not a retrospective of the multi-Tony Award winning choreographer/director’s career a la Jerome Robbins’ Broadway. Fosse created iconic dance numbers for The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, Sweet Charity, Pippin and the movie version of Cabaret. In the revival, directed and musically staged by Wayne Cilento, who was Tony nominated in the original 1978 production of the show, the routines occasionally pay homage to some of these shows, but that is the extent of any connection to his previous works.