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Articles by Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (274 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

James & Jamesy in the Dark

September 17, 2018

"James & Jamesy in the Dark" is apparently the product of a long trial and error rehearsal process according to the aforementioned program notes.  The self-involving process, unfortunately, seems to have insulated them from unintentionally synthesizing themes from the works of Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco (isolation, repetition, existential angst).  Their endless wanderings about the stage mirror Waiting for Godot and their nonsensical dialogue could easily have come directly from" The Bald Soprano." [more]

Me the People: Fire and Fury Edition

September 16, 2018

You’d need a ten ton truck to haul away all the slings and arrows slung and shot at Donald Trump in "Me the People: Fire & Fury Edition," the red-hot political revue currently on stage at the Laurie Beechman Theatre. Written by the sharp-witted Nancy Holson whose hilarious lyrics repurpose many well-known songs for her nefarious criticisms of our misbegotten president, the show is an update of an earlier version. [more]

beep boop

September 11, 2018

"beep boop," Richard Saudek’s hour-long sad-sack romp through modern man’s constant love/hate bout with technology, is at HERE, the avant-garde arts center in SoHo. Its deft combination of mime, music, audio-visual effects and—yes—modern technology is worth a visit to this very active performance space, if for nothing else than to see Saudek disappear into his laptop. [more]

The Gospel at Colonus

September 8, 2018

The complexities of this Greek tragedy are shoe-horned into a Gospel service with songs ranging from the thoughtful (“The Invocation”) to the formal (“Creon Comes to Colonus”) to the awe-inspiring (“The Descent of Oedipus”) and finally to the heartbreaking (“The Sermon” and “Closing Hymn”), all variations on the well-known Gospel/Blues/Christian Hymn musical repertory. [more]

The Sarasota Ballet: Summer 2018

August 17, 2018

The Sarasota Ballet, under the direction of Iain Webb, a former leading dancer with the Royal Ballet, has, to the benefit of the dance world, been collecting works by the British master choreographer, Sir Frederick Ashton.  Even Ashton’s artistic home base rarely performs his work, despite the fact that that troupe’s elevation from Sadler Wells Ballet to Royal Ballet was largely due to Ashton’s efforts.  (The troupe’s repertory also includes works by Ashton’s contemporaries, such as Antony Tudor, Dame Ninette de Valois, Agnes de Mille and Michel Fokine.) [more]

This Ain’t No Disco

August 7, 2018

"This Ain’t No Disco" is a compressed, zany look at the years in the 1970s that Studio 54 ruled the social whirl of New York City, complete with debauchery, drugs, loud music, semi-nudity and dancing (brilliantly evocative choreography by Camille A. Brown—herself no slouch with "Once on This Island" under her belt.) The libretto hews closely to the facts about the rise and fall of this mecca of A-list celebrities, including real people—Steve Rubell, Andy Warhol (here called The Artist)—and a host of fictional characters who represent a cross-section of the clientele, from pretty boy bartenders/drug dealers to undercover government agents looking for a chink in Rubell’s armor.  The Mudd Club also makes a guest appearance as well as the homes of several of the characters whose mixing and matching drive the play. [more]

MOMIX: 2018 Season

August 6, 2018

It’s easy to see why MOMIX is one of the most popular dance troupes in the world.  Beauty, strength, ingenuity combine in often ingenious choreography.  A generous program of short works that range from raunchy to sensual to dreamy is pulling in audiences at the Joyce Theater where MOMIX regularly plies its colorful wares. The repertoire this season was handpicked from a smorgasbord of several previous programs, but also included a impressive new work called “Paper Trails.”  [more]

My Life on a Diet

August 2, 2018

Hence:  "My Life on a Diet," a comically rich stroll through her career in TV, theater and film.  Written by Taylor and her late husband, Joseph Bologna and originally directed by Bologna, Diet is currently at the Theatre at St. Clement’s where a contagiously comfortable Taylor, elegantly attired (gown by Pol’ Atteu) settles down in Harry Feiner’s kitschy, carpeted set to schmooze with her audience.  Taylor, now in her eighties, begins with some self-deprecating humor about aging, after showing herself at various stages in her life. [more]

Tevye Served Raw

July 30, 2018

Three actors—Yelena Shmulenson, Allen Lewis Rickman (Velvel in the Coen Brothers’ “A Serious Man”) and Shane Baker (“the best-loved Episcopalian on the Yiddish stage today”)—manage the feat of bringing five of Aleichem’s stories—adapted and translated by Baker and Rickman—to life under Rickman’s incisive and warm direction.  Sourcing the original, nitty-gritty shtetl-soaked tales, makes "Tevye Served Raw," if possible, more passionate and involving than the musical. [more]

Fiddler on the Roof (The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene)

July 28, 2018

Steven Skybell’s Tevye warms up from a salt-of-the-earth, everyday philosopher to the much put-upon tragic existential hero upon whom God—to whom he speaks frequently—has heaped much tsouris.  By the time he has lost a third daughter Khavele, this time to a Russian Christian, his interpretations of the songs and his line readings are heart-breaking. [more]

Batsheva – The Young Ensemble: “Naharin’s Virus”

July 16, 2018

Naharin is known for having “invented” a movement language called Gaga.  Frankly, I’ve never been able to distinguish Gaga from any other movement palette.  If Gaga means disconnected bits of movement utilizing hints of modern, ballet, hip-hop, mime and even ethnic movements, then it’s not particularly original.  All these movement vocabularies were on display in “Naharin’s Virus” whose sixteen-member cast was put through their paces for an overlong hour.  (The work could easily have been edited down by at least twenty minutes and been more effective, particularly by eliminating a long monologue about a self-abusing young lady.) [more]

Sean Dorsey Dance 2018

June 26, 2018

Sean Dorsey is a transgender and queer choreographer whose movement palette in “The Missing Generation” is a gentle, swirling combination of twisty, floor-bound, organic movements with a rich gesture vocabulary.  Where the revealing series of speeches about gay life previous to, during and after the Epidemic provided the facts, Dorsey’s movements provided the emotions that even the depressing stories couldn’t.  A look, a touch, a quick lift, all turned this cast of mature dancers—Dorsey, Brian Fisher, ArVejon Jones and Will Woodward—into a fount of emotion, sometimes too intense to take in. [more]

Women/Create! A Festival of Dance 2018

June 24, 2018

Jennifer Muller, of Jennifer Muller/The Works, whose artistic history includes a long association with José Limon, provided “Shock Wave,” a world premiere to a cello-heavy score by Gordon Withers.  “Shock Wave,” with its suggestive title, showed how darkness and loneliness can pervade a microcosmic set of people—The Works’ members—as they are stopped in their paths by a loud explosion and have to cooperate to re-group and go on. [more]

Philadanco! (The Philadelphia Dance Company)

June 21, 2018

The theme running through the four works presented, three of them New York premieres, was of sadness and anger.  Even “Folded Prism” by Thang Dao, an abstract dance work, had an unsettled ambiance.  The cast of nine, dressed in Natasha Guruleva’s pale, form-fitting costumes, were initially found in a tight group, occasionally breaking up into quick solos and duets, but always returning to the cluster of performers.  The work ended when one recalcitrant young lady is carried back into the fold.  The ever-changing, but quiet score of John Levis and the somber lighting of Nick Kolin helped sustain the mood. [more]

Manufacturing Mischief

June 18, 2018

Noam Chomsky, Karl Marx, Ayn Rand, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and a “Tiny” Trump all on stage at the same time, verbally jousting with each other?  Pedro Reyes’ "Manufacturing Mischief" at the Tank does, indeed, throw these historic figures together in a play that is intellectually stimulating and quite witty as these giants tear each other apart. [more]

All I Want Is One Night

June 16, 2018

Part of 59E59’s Brits Off-Broadway 2018 festival, Jessica Walker’s "All I Want is One Night" takes place in an odd combination of cabaret and antique shop.  Theater B in the 59E59 Theaters complex has been done over as an intimate café with moody lighting by Kate Ashton and extraordinary period perfect costumes (uncredited).  It is 1980 in Haut de Cagnes and Suzy Solidor (Walker) in her dotage is about to be painted by Lindstrom (Alexandra Mathie who plays multiple characters in Solidor’s life quite convincingly) and is being cared for by a much younger lady, Giselle (Rachel Austin who also plays Daisy, later in the play). [more]

Our Lady of 121st Street

June 3, 2018

The current staging of "Our Lady" at The Pershing Square Signature Center, directed by Phylicia Rashad, magically now comes across as an addled, profane sitcom.  It’s entertaining and at times moving, but the real magic is that the very same words can be tended by a solid director—this one obviously experienced in sitcoms—and refresh a theatrical experience so completely.  Rashad has shown that scathing can be scathingly funny.  This time I left laughing. [more]

There’s Blood at the Wedding

May 29, 2018

Packed into Theodora Skipitares’ "There’s Blood at the Wedding" are multiple takes on how authorities have abused their powers, too often killing innocent people.  By theatricalizing and stylizing their stories, Skipitares zooms past the political and digs deeply into the emotional debris left over after a series of brilliantly staged traumatic scenes. [more]

Paradise Blue

May 25, 2018

In many ways Dominique Morisseau’s "Paradise Blue" shares similarities with August Wilson’s brilliant, if long-winded, Pittsburgh based plays.  "Blue" is part of Morisseau’s Detroit Project, a three-play cycle that takes place in three different eras.  Blue, developed with the aid of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, the Public Theater and the McCarter Theatre is a snapshot of desperate people occupying a part of Detroit on the verge of vast changes—read gentrification. [more]

Parsons Dance Company 2018

May 22, 2018

The new work, “Microburst,” was a quartet performed to classical Indian music composed and played live by Avirodh Sharma.  Brilliant and audacious, “Microburst” took the four dancers, all wearing black, fringed outfits—by Barbara Erin Delo— through complex rhythmic patterns that magically fit together as if the four were having a hyperkinetic conversation with their feet.  The agility of the four dancers—Geena Pacareu, Eoghan Dillon, Zoey Anderson and Justus Whitfield—was breathtaking and entertaining. [more]

Alternating Currents

May 15, 2018

Despite the complexity of the interactions of the people of Electchester and the poor folk at Pomonok, Kraar manages to end on a promising note.  "Alternating Currents," produced under the auspices of the Working Theater, is a diverting look what happens to an idyllic place after decades of reality intrude. [more]

The Iceman Cometh

May 7, 2018

Denzel Washington, the raison d’être of this production (coming way too soon after several recent stagings), gives a boisterous, almost pleasant performance as Theodore Hickman, aka Hickey, who is the “Godot” of "Iceman," in whom the godforsaken characters put too much faith, a faith that, by the end of the play, is shown to be clearly misplaced. There is absolutely no foreboding in his interpretation.  He takes the glad-handing aspect of Hickey too literally so it is difficult to understand his sway over the denizens of Harry Hope’s saloon.  True, these depressives look forward to his regular visits, but Washington’s Hickey simply doesn’t fit in. He’s more worshiped than embraced. [more]

The Alice-in-Wonderland Follies

May 3, 2018

Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s two Alice books and cleverly choreographed by Keith Michael, the "Follies" was preceded by Byer’s usual pre-show, uplifting audience-participation talk on the wonderful world of movement.  She got the many kids in the audience—well over half the attendees were seven and under—to get up and copy the postures and movements of some of the talented students from the New York Theatre Ballet School, all of whom had impeccable stage deportment. [more]

Mlima’s Tale

April 26, 2018

Structured like Arthur Schnitzler’s wicked "La Ronde," "Mlima" begins with a harrowing hunting scene.  Mlima, the giant elephant, is portrayed with dignity and astonishing physical vitality by Sahr Ngaujah ("Fela!," "Master Harold…and the boys"), in traditional African garb (character-perfect costumes by Jennifer Moeller) and colorful stripes of makeup. His opening moments involve an internal dialogue describing his dire situation chased by hunters.  He speaks of his tight family connections and his regrets just before he is slaughtered. [more]

Martha Graham Dance Company: Spring Season 2018

April 23, 2018

"Ekstasis,” danced by PeiJu Chien-Pott, her hair loose, her costume a tight tube of form-fitting jersey (designed by Graham, herself), stood still as eerie clacking percussion and quiet woodwind music passed through her body, eventually causing her hips to jut from side to side and her bent arms to move in increasingly large circles.  “Ekstasis” is clearly a remnant from Graham’s days with the Denishawn company which specialized in soft-focused versions of ethnic dance forms from all over the world, using them for their decorative effect rather than expression of deep emotions.  Ms. Chien-Pott was terrific, unabashedly decorative, yet adding emotional depth through her personal style and commitment. [more]

Ballet Hispánico: Spring Season 2018

April 19, 2018

The dancers displayed a new depth of expression, particularly in the world premiere “Espiritus Gemelos,” a sensitive, beautifully acted duet about a brief same sex encounter performed by Chris Bloom and Omar Román De Jesús.  Choreographer Gustavo Ramírez Sansano was inspired by the real-life relationship between the doomed writer, Federico García Lorca and the surrealist painter, Salvador Dalí, two famous Spaniards.   He used dim, but colorful music by Manuel de Falla and Jacinto Guerrero to accompany his movements and tell his emotionally rich story. [more]

Symphonie Fantastique

April 8, 2018

Twist’s “Creator’s Note” in the program alludes to Wassily Kandinsky’s musical metaphorical paintings and Twist’s youthful attraction to the possibility of using abstract puppetry in combination with music.  The five-part Symphonie, subtitled “Episode in the life of an Artist,” called to him for its color and storyline which vaguely guide his creation although only the changing moods, rhythms and colors of the score seem be the inspiration for the series of moving abstract images that were mostly treats for the eyes, if not the mind—seductive, clever, dreamy, sensually involving, but more a vacation for conscious thought than an intellectual challenge. [more]

A Walk in the Woods

March 30, 2018

The two talented, delightfully understated actors have taken on these roles with energy and sincerity.  Manning makes Honeyman both simple and complex at the same time while Van Treuren mines Botvinnik’s uncanny ability to charm and frighten at the same time.  You root for them from beginning to end and hope against hope for them to actually produce a treaty. [more]

Escape to Margaritaville

March 29, 2018

The ups and downs of the road to true romance provide the show with its ties to the Buffett songs.  Tully opens the show with “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Boat,” to show his romantic nature and “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” to reveal his easygoing philosophy of life.  Similarly, Rachel offers her story in “It’s My Job,” and romance blossoms when she sings “Three Chords” (the new Jimmy Buffet song) with Tully as he teaches her to play the guitar. Tammy begins to fall for Brick with their sardonic “We Are the People Our Parents Warned Us About” and cements their love with “Come Monday.” Of course, there is the title song “Margaritaville,” Buffett’s biggest hit.  The songs are written in various styles ranging from pop to calypso to reggae and are meant to incite the audience to sing along which they are sometimes actually prompted to do. [more]

Hal & Bee

March 23, 2018

Baker’s lines are spiky and colorful, often dark, sometimes banal, but his portrait of these two and the two lesser characters is always illuminating and full of real emotion.  The fade-out, a quiet revelatory moment, is simply lovely—and sad. [more]

An Ordinary Muslim

March 14, 2018

The trouble is that there is nothing new or daring or particularly interesting about the play despite its intriguing subject matter.  It is an old-fashioned play—think warmed over Clifford Odets with a touch of Chekhov and more than a few hints of Greek hubris—that deals with the treatment of Pakistani-British Muslims in Great Britain, specifically West London, 2011.  It is full of clichéd writing including having characters appear just as their name is brought up. [more]

Locked Up Bitches

March 6, 2018

All the good jokes get lost in the onslaught of cast members vying for their moments and looking for the audience’s approval, which admittedly was offered freely.   "Bitches" becomes chaotic, crude and in your face, not to mention clichéd, the clichés hiding behind dirty jokes and blatant shtick.  Raine clearly can’t rein in the cast’s enthusiasm even though they are portraying animals with animal passions. [more]

Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo: Homelife & The Zoo Story

February 28, 2018

Lila Neugebauer has directed these two one-acts to bring out their naturalism. In the past, "The Zoo Story" was usually performed with an odd, surreal quality.  Neugebauer has given the conversations a flow that reveals this play to be about people, not walking symbols, a lesson Albee had thoroughly absorbed by the time he wrote "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"   [more]
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